Review #3: J-Ron “1994”

By Charlie Gordon

Part 1: An Introduction

Whenever I approach new music, I tend to do so with a certain amount of reserve and hesitation. Naturally I don’t adopt new music into my regular rotation easily because I’m an opponent to changing my routine, and also because the majority of new music falls far below most expectations. The end result is a picky music head with a pessimistic outlook.

This is the attitude I had when I approached J-Ron’s “1994” mixtape, a 10 song tape where a third of the song titles refer to drug use and one song is titled “Pimp Shit”.  I must admit I wasn’t too excited but I decided to face it with as much of an open mind as I could muster. The outcome: a pleasant surprise and a new frame of mind (kinda).

Part 2: The Review

The first song on the album is important because it is supposed to set up the listener to the rest of the album. It is made to set the tone and be our introduction to the artist. An ideal opening song is one that can encompass the artist and give you the most accurate image of their music. Going off the intro song of 1994 “BLESS ME”, a few assumptions can be made about J-Ron:

  1. He likes beats that would not feel out of place on an Outkast album.
  2. He is a southern style rapper; made clear by his accent and his boasting about being from Texas.
  3. J-Ron has a steady flow and a decent enough vocabulary to keep the song from getting boring or repetitive.

All in all, I’d say he picked a good song to start his album with.

Lyrically J-Ron is somewhere between Chief Keef and Big Boi (you’ll have to excuse the Outkast references that pop up but I have never been submerged too deeply into Southern Rap and their name kept ringing a bell in my head through this whole album). Chief Keef’s lyrical ability is on the same level as a 3rd graders vocabulary book and Big Boi has an excellent vocabulary and an ability to incorporate it. None of J-Ron’s lyrics made me rewind a song so I could hear a line again and exclaim my astounding praise for how good it was. On the flip side, none of his lyrics made me cringe and wince just to get through a song.

You can catch me coming down Robinson

slab looking hotter than a basketball wife

on VH-1 ya’ll should watch it with

I’m in your local area make a quick trip to the QT

flirt with the cutie at the counter now she feelin me

30 on 3, I make it move I never stand by

she asked for a break she takes a glance I understand why

she’s looking for a stand up guy I’m never slouching

make it do what it dew and I ain’t talkin’ bout a mountain

This is the verse J-Ron uses to finish the song “Blow My High”; a smooth flowing chill out beat carried by a guitar loop in the background. He lays this verse after the beat fades out and it is a solid enough verse that it can stand up A Cappella. I was enjoyably surprised when I looked up what the QT (Quik Trip) was and found it’s like a larger 7/11. I liked the word play of taking a quick trip to the Quik Trip. This passage is a good representation of J-Ron’s lyrical ability, nothing about it will blow you away but it is full of solid lines that can stand up under scrutiny.

The best aspect of J-Ron’s rapping is far and away his flow. One of the biggest problem with up and coming rappers is that often times they lose the beat in their verses and it gives a very choppy feel to the song. J-Ron has no problem keeping a steady flow consistently on a number of different beats. I was bobbing my head from side to side on every song because his delivery comes off extremely smooth and does justice to the beats he is rapping over. J-Ron sounds a lot like a deeper voiced Fonzworth Bentley (almost an Outkast reference but not quite) with a flow that can go either fast or slow and sounds relaxing in either situation. No song is a better example of this than “Riding Slow” which was my favorite song off the album and has made its way into my regular rotation. A beat with a relaxing bass line and a group of horns used beautifully to give the song a very jazzy feel. With strong verses, a catchy bridge and a perfectly executed chorus, this song is an excellent listen.

The production on this album is strong. For the most part it was a great selection of beats that he seemed very comfortable on. The only real low part of the album would be the production of some of the vocals. J-Ron plays around with a lot of filters for his songs, most of which sound just fine, but there are a few instances where the vocals are over powering and could have been recorded better. A perfect example is the song “Mondayz” where the hook comes off as obnoxious because the vocals are pressed forward and end up drowning out the beat. I have nothing against J-Ron’s voice, but when it’s amplified over the beat he can’t hold a beautiful tone and it makes the song suffer. There are few other instances throughout the album where his vocals need to be turned down a little but overall it isn’t a terrible glaring problem.

Part 3: The Epilogue

Status: Highly Recommended

I liked this album a lot. As far as Southern Rap goes I listen to Fonzworth Bentley, Outkast, T.I. and some Bun B mixtapes so I certainly can’t say I’m a huge fan or expert when it comes to Southern Rap but this was a very solid project. With a laid back style that carried through most of the album and a smooth delivery that gives the songs a very natural feel, I would recommend this to anyone who likes Southern Rap or would like to get into it. I’d even recommend it to someone who doesn’t like Southern Rap because this is not an album that can only be appreciated by a southern connoisseur.

I would have to say the only problem I could really find with J-Ron is that nothing about him really stood out to me as overly memorable. He comes off almost as generic. I don’t mean that in a negative way. It just means that J-Ron needs to distinguish himself from other Southern rappers because at the end of the day, this is a very Southern album, which isn’t bad, but it would be nice to hear some new and different things on the next mixtape (and I do hope there is another to come). J-Ron definitely has the ability and I think the more he does with his music, the better it is going to get.

http://soundcloud.com/yinyu/sets/1994-1

Review #2: Psyonik “Black Velvet: The EP”

By, Mathieu N. Frasier

Part 1.  An Introduction

Following up our last Rap Genius tournament competitor is Psyonik, a man who was not only placed as the top favourite among judges during the qualifying round but has also earned third place among the four finalists of the tournament. Like the artist from my last review, Psyonik has gathered a cult following from Rap Genius, albeit on a larger scale, and is often given acclaim from the Rap Genius community, although the acclaim may be for completely different reasons than Isaiah. Where Isaiah G. was seen as someone who was battle hungry, providing punchline after punchline almost like a boxer with his opponent backed into the ropes, Psyonik was praised on a level of consciousness, much to the liking of emcees such as Black Thought, Brother Ali and KRS-One.

Below is my review of Psyonik’s “Black Velvet” EP, (actually the official title is “Black Velvet: The EP”, but let’s not get too wrapped up in the specifics) an online mixtape in which Psyonik speaks on topics ranging from a brief meeting with a woman in an airport, glorification of classy behaviour, and, in typical rapper fashion, his own inflated sense of self worth. But the question on my mind, and I’m sure this is the question on your mind as well, is, just how much does this confidence hold up? Is Psyonik really as good as he says he is, and just how effective is his music in spreading consciousness and capturing mood? Well, let’s take a look.

Part 2.  The Review

This EP shows a lot of technical skills in terms of lyricism and it’s topped off with a somewhat unique flow and delivery. There are a lot things that Psyonic, as an emcee, and especially as a conscious emcee, is doing right on a level of vocals and writing. He avoids a lot of amateur mistakes, keeping his rhyme scheme more focused on being consistent to the mood or tone of the song as opposed to being designed to impress. As opposed to going out of his way to sound technical and complex which, ironically, manages to make many amateur emcees sound sloppy and uneducated in their respective craft, Psyonik never over does anything in terms of rhyme schemes or sentence structure. The techniques are subtle, and make our host sound refined and almost professional as opposed to hungry, or even aspiring for that matter. (Which, in context of his style, is most definitely a good thing.) On “Tip Your Glass”, our host says:

I graduated from this swag, now it’s modus operandi
Bikini on the bottom of my chick, call her Sandy
You bust a lyrical back flip I’ll pop the brandy
Messin’ with these young mothers while I’m tryna’ make the Grammys

A lot of great lyricism, especially for conscious emcees, doesn’t bombard you with noticeable rhymes and big words, and even the great lyricism that does still keeps those words relevant to the subject matter and keeps them seeming natural in relation to the craft of lines. There’s a complexity in simplicity here that Psyonik is clearly using to the best of his abilities, and it gives him a sense of refinement and professionalism. On the surface, you only see the “andy” rhyme scheme at the end of each sentence, but when you break it down further, you see the “op”, from the word “operandi” rhyming, or creating assonence sounds, with “bottom” or “pop”, and small rhymes like “flip” and “chick.” You might think these small rhymes don’t have much impact on the line but, in a lot of cases, these small, almost unnoticable internal rhymes help hold verses together. (If you listen to Guru of Gang Starr, you’ll see this happen a lot. ) This also helps because it makes him sound as if he has nothing to prove, even when he’s boasting. (Which is somewhat oxymoronic, but if I’m going to let Jay-Z get away with it, I don’t see why I won’t do the same for this guy.) As a result, Psyonik, when he wants to, can have a battle style that makes hungry emcees look like amateurs, and comes off as so effortless that if an emcee shows more skills than Psyonik, or has a better verse in general, Psyonik’s calmness and ability to sound effortless in his work could fool the audience into thinking he wasn’t even trying to compete, and ultimately make him appear to be the more talented of the two.

The production on this mixtape compliments the tone and style of our host just as much as the lyricism and vocal presence. The instrumentals provided have a very easy going feel, from the piano strikes on “Tip Your Glass” and “Francesca”, to the sampled moaning and soft percussion on “Green Tea Swag”, and even to the synthetic sounds of “Delilah.” The hardest instrumental on the album, and it still stays consistent to the rest of the EP, is “Mr. Main Event” which incorporates horn and piano samples, what I believe to be a boxing bell (or possibly a light sounding gong, I’m not really sure) and, of course, a few sharp hitting drum sounds, among other things. In order of where these beats are placed on the mixtape, they seem to mesh into each other about as well as I could imagine them, and every instrumental on the EP blends well with the vocals. Nothing about the instrumentals stand out very much, but they have so much chemistry with our host that it seems somewhat insignificant.

Psyonik’s lyrics are well written and highly poetic on the technical side of things, and it would be hard for me to pick out a flaw with his line structure, especially considering how well he uses his technical qualities to fit his own tone and style. Every lyric goes well with the music being supplied, and Psyonik is no hack in the beat department either. However, problems do arise when you take the meanings and ideas behind the lyrics into account. Psyonik is clearly a conscious emcee, or at least that’s the style he seems to portray, and, for the record, that falls into the range of sub-genres of Rap music that I a) listen to a lot, and b) know a lot about. From Mr. Lif to Brother Ali to Tupac Shakur to Killah Priest, conscious Rap is, and always will be, a welcome meal in my daily musical diet. (Which, as of last week, is completely free of high fructose corn syrup.) As mentioned earlier, Psyonik does play the part of a conscious emcee well, at least for the most part, but he sounds like just another conscious emcee. If you look at Common, Black Thought and Talib Kweli, they all fit in the same category when you think of different types of rappers, and they are all very reminiscent of each other, but each one of them adds a different kind of flavour to their overall sound and feel, and they each present different ideologies and concepts in their lyrics. Common has his preachy, yet confused style, where he searches through his life and mind state in order to find the truth and brings it to the audience as further speculation. (See “The Sixth Sense” and his verse on “Respiration.”) Talib Kweli presents his stream of consciousness as if, as opposed to searching for the truth, he already knows the truth, as he makes statements and presents his lyrics with such conviction and confidence in what he says. (See: “Hostile Gospel pt 1” and “Get By”) Black Thought, who is probably the most versatile of the three, has a higher tendency to evoke passion in his delivery and lyrics, (although it is matched by a few songs from the other two members of this trio, such as “Get By” by Talib Kweli, once again, and “Respect for Life” by Common) and he’s the best story teller of the three. (Even “I Used To Love H.E.R.” by Common, although a better song, doesn’t have as much substance in terms of imagery and pacing as songs like “You Got Me” or “Make My” by The Roots.) These three emcees are probably some of the most similar conscious rappers I can think of, but all of them bring something different to the table, and do a prominent job separating themselves from each other. And once we start getting into guys like Slug of Atmosphere, or Swamburger from Solillaquists of Sound, distinctive attributes only become more noticeable. But as for Psyonik, he doesn’t seem to be doing any one thing more effectively than any of the rappers listed above, or any other well established conscious emcees for that matter. He doesn’t have the imagery of Black Thought, he doesn’t have as much introspective as Common, he doesn’t have the authority of Talib Kweli, he doesn’t have the cleverness of Slug, and he doesn’t have the rapid style and constant stream of conciousness that Swamburger has. Even the sense of refinement and professionalism that I mentioned earlier is already being done by Jay-Z on a higher scale, so I’m having a hard time seeing how Psyonik stands out in a positive way. I’m also having a hard time understanding what would make me want to turn on “Black Velvet: The EP” when I have so much music from other rappers who not only have more depth behind their lyrics, but also have more refined and exploited specialties that help distinguish them from other artists?

Another problem I have with our host is that what his lyrics describe seem kind of vague, at least in some cases. Take these lyrics from “Green Tea Swag”, for example:

You hate it on the inside – but say you love it
You know nothing about the situation but you judge it
You never step back – just thinking
Mind looking the Titanic – sinking
Headlights blinking – car’s still rollin
Checkout this mess that you tossed you soul in
And you thought odds were slim
That you’d end up looking like most of them
And now you’re stuck in the middle of such a bad riddle
Cow’s over the moon the cat’s playing the fiddle
And you don’t know what to do
The world expects great things from you
So you try to perform you try to show em that you’ll always know em, they’re
the reason you write songs and write poems
Now the Green Tea’s brewing, such a cold morning
Life is the story this all just goes on

I find it hard to tell whether Psyonik’s lyrics are sticking to one constant concept with this verse, or if he’s brainstorming and touching upon different ideas. There seems to be no set up or hints towards the meaning of his statements and similes, only words that, without direction, could be attributed to a variety of things. Do you remember those “connect the dot” activities that came in kid’s colouring books?

That’s what this reminds me of. When I was a kid I would ignore the numbers next to the dots and, as a result, the rabbits or the chickens that I tried to draw would never actually show up on the paper. Instead I would have a bunch of strategically placed lines that were meant to replicate the shape of a classic, recognisable figure, but were actually just strategically placed lines that looked like they were placed at random. I put a lot of thought into where I would draw my next line, but for some reason I never thought of the significance of the numbers. In the present, had I not been following the numbers I wouldn’t have found out that the arranged dots above are the outline for a telephone.

A crummy looking telephone, but a telephone nonetheless.

It seems like, to me, Psyonik is arranging his dots but leaving the numbers off the page. In order for his lyrics to be coherent in terms of the message he wants us to uncover, he has to have at least some theme or idea established. Hints towards the theme or idea should be subtle, but not so subtle that it becomes ambiguous. He needs to provide the numbers so that the dots can be connected. But unfortunately, Psyonik’s lyrics in this verse cross the thin line between subtle and ambiguous. To be fair, this is only one song on the entire mixtape that suffers from this problem on a large scale. Most of the other songs are pretty clear about the messages they want to convey, (with a few lyrics here and there that don’t follow this standard, but this only brings us to another problem. The other messages don’t seem to have as much ideology and social consciousness representative in the lyrics. Besides “Francesca”, “Green Tea Swag” seems to be the song with the most depth, but that might only be due to the fact that the lyrics don’t really help me understand what Psyonik’s trying to get at. (Although I’m giving a lot of credit for “Francesca.” Simply put, that’s a damn good song and it’s relevant to a topic that I haven’t heard tackled in music. It’s no masterpiece, but I couldn’t imagine what Psyonik could be doing better in context of his styles and abilities. It all seems to fit into place about as well as it possibly could considering the limitations of the emcee behind the piece, but at the same time I don’t know how another artist could do the concept more justice. All in all, this was a job well done.) You could make the argument that Psyonik’s music isn’t meant to propel ideas of social consciousness, at least to the levels of the emcees listed above, but considering the overall tone and style of the mixtape, from the beats to the lyrics to the flow to the delivery, the lack of social consciousness suggests an inconsistency in the music.

Part 3.  The Epilogue.

Status: Highly Recommended.

Had this not been so short, it would of only recieved a “Recommended +” mark, but at five songs and approximately fourteen minutes, it’s hard to not “Highly Recommend” listening to it. All of the music here is good music, and Psyonik is proving himself talented technically as an emcee, and talented as a producer. The problems with this album are mostly that of a conceptual basis. The mixtape is corny, but corniness in Rap music is easy to live with. Common is corny. RZA is corny. EPMD is corny and they’re in my top ten favourite Rap acts of all time. Psyonik might take the corniness a bit too far, but it’s probably not totally necessary to work on. I could see him working around that and putting out a lot of solid, and even successful, albums, but his corniness is something he should probably work on changing anyways. More importantly, our host provides no new ideas or perspectives and, considering the whole conscious feel of this album, it presents itself as inconsistent. Reading the lyrics, it almost comes off as if the consciousness this album implies is simply a bluff, and that Psyonik is mostly playing off the consciousness of other emcees. Our host also, despite doing a lot of things right on a level of sound, simply does not have the ability to leave a lasting impression on a large scale. Had “Black Velvet: The EP” been released on a wide scale, I could imagine it being forgotten about pretty quickly.

There is a reason that AZ, despite having the technical abilities of Nas, could never break out of the “underrated” category: he doesn’t stand out. His music has always sounded like Nas-light, with a bit more exploitation of his own lyrical abilities and a lot less social consciousness and ability to feel like a fleshed out human being. Like Psyonik, AZ is very skilled technically and in terms of lyricism, delivery, flow, and so on. But without being somewhat different in the eyes of the audience, appreciation is going to be limited, regardless the technique and talent on display. So, beyond anything else, I think Psyonik should try to be more original. He should think of themes, epiphanies and ideas that other rappers are simply passing over, and if he has any eccentricities or obscure personality traits that aren’t shining through in the music, he should try and exploit it appropriately.

Despite those flaws, this mixtape is most definitely worth your time. Give it a listen and judge for yourself.

http://soundcloud.com/psyonik/sets/black-velvet-the-ep/#play

 

Second Update: The new members and the future plans.

The results are in, and the new members have been chosen. We have two new contributors to the site, as well as two possible contributors pending. There names will be placed on the “About the Authors” page very soon.

We’re planning on starting reviews as soon as possible, and hopefully we can pump them out on a pretty constant basis, at least for the beginning of the blog’s lifespan. Of course we still need more mixtapes, and we are working on obtaining them, but I’m planning on starting the writing process tomorrow. I’ll be assigning mixtapes to contributors and hopefully gaining more mixtapes for review through shameless self-promotion. Stay tuned for further content.

First Update: Changes to format, and volunteers wanted.

My pilot review was just released, and I can safely say that I put more work into it than any of the essays I wrote during my first year of university. (Which is to say, far too much work.) The “pilot” mainly serves the purpose of seeing what does work and what doesn’t work in context of everything from formatting to writing style. First of all, I’ve learned that the concept of doing a track by track breakdown becomes tedious, and that I can get across approximately the same exact message without scrolling through every fraction of a second of a body of work. So, from here on out, all reviews will be written in a more traditional manner. (General essay format.) It will save time for the writer(s), it will save time for the readers, and it will probably be a much more interesting lead. Any other suggestions on how to improve the reviews, whether it be in context to writing style, formatting, scheduling, or whatever, please place the suggestion in the comment section of this post.

I’m looking for writers who want to contribute to this blog, as well as mixtapes for review. If you are interested in having your work reviewed, please send your mixtape to the following e-mail, and if you are interested in being a co-contributor to this blog, please send  an e-mail with some of your sample writing to the same address. This is the address:

mathieu_n_frasier@hotmail.com

I would prefer if the sample writing is based around Rap music analysis, but if that’s unavailable I’ll be willing to take sample writing about any given subject matter. And if there is a specific sub-genre that you believe you have a more in-depth understanding of than most people, it might help make my choices easier if you tell me what it is.

So anyone interested, please get back to me.

-Mathieu N. Frasier

The Pilot Review: Isaiah G. “Global Empire”

By Mathieu N. Frasier.

Part 1.  An Introduction

Nobody is quite sure when exactly Isaiah G. made his internet debut. But if you were to go out and ask people when he started really gaining notoriety, most people who know who exactly Isaiah G. is would say that he began getting prominent recognition when he entered the Rap Genius Rap Battle, which is taking place from late March to the present day. For those who don’t know, Isaiah G. had ranked fifth favourite among judges out of 60+ contestants, and was able to make it to the semi finals before losing to Duba2424, much to the dismay of Isaiah G’s cult fan base. Nonetheless, Isaiah G. left the tournament with a well established reputation and, as far as alternative Rap websites go, a new found following.

Earlier this week, the world was introduced to a new mixtape by Isaiah G. himself, featuring artists such as Nova C.A.I.N., Dub A. (or Duba2424 for those who know him from the Rap Genius competition) and Tre, who might want to work on changing his name to something that stands out a little more. The mixtape was, at least to the extent it can be with such low scale opportunity for press and advertising, welcomed with open arms, and appears to be well accepted among most of the listeners who provided feedback. But how much of the good feedback is well warranted? Let’s take a look at the mixtape, song by song, and find out.

Part 2.  The Review

Song #1: Global Empire

We don’t get off to the best start. The piano in the first thirty seconds would be fine for working up the mood of the mixtape on it’s own, but our host’s attempts at keeping up with the tone and feel of the opening piano segment seem uninspired and forced. There’s a certain lack of potency when speaking of “the darkness of the abyss” or “the sharpness of a razor kiss”, especially seeing as to how unnatural the rhymes within the sentences are. First of all, our host seems to be relying on cliches in order to evoke emotion from our listeners. These cliches include, but are not limited to, “darkness”, “the abyss”, “lerking devils”, “mist”, and so on. It almost seems like Isiah is counting on the words themselves to be potent as opposed to the craftsmanship of the sentences in relation to the subject matter. Secondly, our host seems to be writing lines based more so around the rhyme structure, as opposed to writing natural, more tone oriented sentences. Rhymes are not meant to be forced into songs, they’re supposed to fit in naturally like puzzle pieces. That being said, I happen to find that it usually sounds corny when people are rapping with no drum beat in the background, especially for an intro or outro, and yet people still do it so it may have it’s appeal, and it may mean that I’m not the best person to come to for analyzing this intro.

After the first thirty seconds, our host does manage to set the mood for the rest of the mixtape, and the instrumental is still more than of a high enough standard, but the slow flow is kind of boring (although well delivered), and the boasts and punchlines lack imagery impact. Not only that, but they are sometimes baffling, (when he says, “flow is technological without electricity”, I keep thinking of robotic Rap flows, and I just don’t see how that’s a good thing. Clearly something is going over my head) but for the most part I think it’s the flow that really gets me.

Song #2: Morts (Featuring Nova C.A.I.N.)

As opposed to the last song, I can definitely get behind this one. Despite my complaints about the last song, the instrumental for it was more than enjoyable, and the instrumental for this song is even better. My problems with Isaiah G.’s “boring” flow in the first song is completely demolished, as he switches to a rapid fire pace that complements his ferocious delivery. Although the lyricism may still have some kinks in it that need to be worked out, most of which I’ve outlined in my review of the song before this one, it is still a significant step up from the last song as those problems are further minimised and well hidden by everything our host is doing well. I’ve also noticed that Isaiah G. has a tendancy to throw out punchline after punchline after punchline, and considering his skill set, it’s probably the best method to take. Many of his punchlines are only sub-par when it comes to cleverness and structure, but they still provide enough imagery, and are backed up with such flow and delivery that they’re convincing as well as entertaining. And, through the massive barage of punchlines he pumps out, Isaiah G. manages to hit you with some lines that do more than impress. (And he gets bonus points for when he says, “Call of Duty, nuke the game”. That’s not only a clever use of pop culture, but delivered with more sincerity than most of my favourite rappers could even conjure up. It’s also one of those lines that are simple and yet, due to the subtleties of the structure, really leaves an impact after hearing it.)

When I heard this mixtape, I already knew what to expect, at least to an extent, from Isaiah G. due to what I heard from him in the Rap Genius competition. But when it came to Nova C.A.I.N., I never heard anything from him. I kind of assumed he was just one of Isaiah G.’s weed carriers, like The Outlawz to Tupac, but I was beyond wrong. Isaiah G.’s problem of forced rhymes is not a problem with Nova C.A.I.N.’s verse. As a result, Nova’s technical rhymes are not as complex as Isaiah G’s, but his sentences are so well crafted in terms of just understanding language and sound that they come off as more effective than Isaiah G.’s lyrics, or at least they thoroughly blur the lines between whose lyrics are better or worse. Remember on the first song before this one where I said, “Rhymes are not meant to be forced into songs, they’re supposed to be fit in naturally like puzzle pieces.” This is a rapper who clearly understands that. If you look at his internal rhyming, most of it is kept out of the spotlight in order to work on a subconscious level, and his sentences get the message across on a very thorough degree. As for his delivery and voice, it’s very distinctive and charismatic, and his flow, along with being sufficient, is well complimented by his cadence and character. Nova C.A.I.N. is a bit more polished than Isaiah G., and comes off smoother, but Isaiah’s energy and presence helps provide balance, making it hard to tell who does a better job.

If I could personify this song in one word, that word would be “hungry.” Both emcees come out swinging and ready to prove themselves, and in their own respective ways they each succeed. Even the producer, who I’ve discovered is Dub A., the man who defeated Isaiah G. in the Rap Genius competition, does a valid job of showing off his producing skills. If these rappers were any hungrier, they would starve to death.

Song #3: Good Holidays

I’ve got a soft spot for non-digital sounding samples and instrumentals. That’s not saying that I don’t enjoy listening to digital sounding instrumentals, but I’m more than satisfied to hear this beat, especially as a change up from the last two songs. And the best part about it is that, although it provides a jazz flavour much different from the last two songs on the mixtape, it still fits in and feels appropriate as a whole listening experience.

Our host sends out several boasts about his Rap skills, several punchlines, many of which don’t do anything for me but some of which stand out and are clever and funny. Isaiah. G. doesn’t necessarily do anything wrong here. He comes off as corny, (especially in the chorus) but it’s still fun and it’s certainly not enough to make you not listen. It’s a good song, but it’s only a good song. Nothing, besides the beat, really stands out about it or warrants a second listening.

Song #4: Hakuna Matata

First of all, I’d like to thank Isaiah G. for influencing me to re-listen to the entire “Hakuna Matata” song from “The Lion King”. Secondly, despite the fact that it references “The Lion King”, I just simply don’t like this hook. I wouldn’t really be able to dissect why, ( but if I were to guess, it’s mostly just the rhyme and sounds of words like “Gaga” and “Matata.”) I just don’t like it. As for the verses, they’re full of punchlines, and the delivery is ferocious once again. The problems I had with the first two songs in terms of his lyricism are non-existent, at least on a noticeable scale. I won’t say this song is better than “Morts”, but Isaiah is doing a few things on this song which, had he used on “Morts”, would have made the song even better. This song is Isaiah at his hungriest, which in his case seems to mean Isiah at his best.

But the only reason the beat doesn’t steel the show on this one is that Isaiah’s delivery is as “in your face” as it gets. (That’s a compliment in this case, by the way.) The beat is phenomenal, at least during the verses. It’s new age bombastic styling is not only one that is neck fracturingly decent, it’s one that has the ability to appeal to every kind of Rap fan, from the hardcore nineties purists to the new age pop listeners. Isaiah G. is proving himself to be a talented emcee with the potential to be an underground favourite, but Dub A., who produced every beat on this mixtape thus far, might be too good to be producing the mixtape of some no-name internet rapper. (No offence, Isaiah.)

Song #5: Cultural

Another well produced track, (That’s a fucking surprise -_- ) one in which Isaiah uses to rap about…subject matter? Oh, snap! That’s a change up. Don’t get me wrong, I was totally fine with the constant punchline Rap, but that could only get a rapper so far. Isaiah G. tackles racism and stereotypes, and even though he adds absolutely no new perspective or insight on the situation, he still does a good job keeping the mood and staying relevant to the subject matter. And at the very beginning, using the different cultures as a way to boast about himself was a nice, clever touch. Another solid song. (With all that said, the vocal sample used to make the beat is astoundingly off topic in contrast to the rest of the song, but, whatever, it sounds good!)

Song #6: Adulthood

This song isn’t bad, it just doesn’t do much for me. You can tell he put a lot of heart into it and the lyrics are well crafted, but the song is kind of corny, (especially in the chorus) and it might just be a bit too over the top in terms of the emotion our host is trying to convey. It’s not quite as impactful as it wants to be, but it was a worthy effort. As for Isaiah’s story telling, in which he takes us from a young age towards adult hood, it doesn’t really give you the image that the song desperately needs.

As for the instrumental on this track, it’s unfortunately underwhelming. Not because it’s a bad beat, in fact it’s quite enjoyable, but the beat just comes off as a tad too soft and too sentimental. I’m not sure what I should blame more for where this song fails: Isaiah’s over the top rhymes or the production that demands so much emotion and effectiveness from the emcee, but nonetheless, somebody dropped the ball. Luckily, not disasterously enough to cost them the game.

Song #7: Kicking It Old School

Not sure which decade Isaiah was going for exactly, but he didn’t capture the sound or the spirit precisely. That’s alright because the song is still pretty good. (But this guy, along with approximately every rapper who has ever existed, has to work on writing a good hook. His two line chorus which is designed to exploit his “Bruce Lee, kicking it old school” line isn’t good enough to keep repeating as a replacement for creative and inspired hooks that will get listeners fucking screaming at the top of their lungs. By the way, my neighbors hate me.) Unfortunately, Isaiah’s forced rhymes make a return after making a four song long coffee break. There are moments where you’ll be able to tell that Isaiah is only getting onto a new topic or rhyming a certain word because he can’t think of any other words that rhyme, and that is very distracting. (Take into account where he says “admiration for the things you have forsaken”, or when he spontaneously brings up the fact that he is “emancipated”) Nonetheless, another solid song for the mixtape.

Song #8: Polyrical

This is the second Dub A. beat that kind of bores me. (The first being the beat for “Adulthood”, but even then I think it was the overall tone of the song as opposed to the instrumental itself.) It doesn’t quite hold up to the other work of his that I’ve heard. It has a lot of Dub A.’s trademark sound and style, but they’re just not put to the best work.

Vocally: another corny hook, borderline boring delivery, and approximately the same caliber of punchlines we’ve been hearing thus far. It’s possible that at this point, I’m also just tired of hearing him. Hard to tell. I’ll let you know after I hear the next song.

Song #9: F.U.

Isaiah talks about himself, and not in the way he usually does. We don’t quite get an understanding of his psychology or how exactly he was influenced by his life experiences, but we do start seeing him more on a personal level. The personal subject matter is what really makes this song for me. This song stands out, and works on a level beyond album filler, because it shows Isaiah on a human level, something which hasn’t been done to such an extent on the mixtape until this point, and Isaiah’s delivery and sometimes very descriptive and well constructed lyricism hits the right nerve in terms of conveying the mentality he has. Isaiah tried to give us a sense of himself as a real human earlier on the album, but for the first time on the entire mixtape, Isaiah truly pulls it off.

And, yeah, I am getting bored with this mixtape. It’s nice to hear such a change up from his usual style, and his next song is similar in terms of keeping the sound somewhat fresh, but I just don’t think that Isiah has the necessary skill set to keep a mixtape going this long. But maybe he can still turn this around.

Song #10: Juxtapositioned Progress (featuring Dub A. and Tre)

Like I said, this song, along with the last one on the mixtape, changes the tone from what we’ve heard up to this point. Honestly, I’ve taken a break from listening to this mixtape in order to judge this song on its own merits without attachment to the rest of the recordings, (although I did re-listen to this mixtape three times in sequence just to make sure that I was right about the mixtape’s sustaining power.) and on its own it is a pretty good song. (At least up until the three and a half minute mark.) Isaiah comes in with some pretty good penmanship. Not necessarily Common or Eminem, but it does the job. His delivery is a tad bit over the top, but even then it doesn’t warrant any real complaints outside of informal critical analysis. Once more, the producer showcases his musical skills, and, actually, he show cases his lyrical skills as well. Dub A. proves himself to be, most definitely, a good lyricist, and, judging from this song, he very well may be currently better than our host on a technical level. But Dub A. fails at showing as much charm as Isaiah, as well as potential. Charm, I know, is only an advantage on a subjective level, but I think more often than not his charm will help him stand out more. So even if you don’t like this quality, it certainly does help him stand out.

After the three and a half minute mark, the beat changes to something that is over produced. If I were listening to the mixtape casually, I wouldn’t even know what Isaiah was saying because the loud mesh of unfitting sounds, combined with the over the top delivery of our host, is far too distracting to even care what he’s saying. Now, having heard and analysed what Isaiah is saying, he speaks of rising above the paths set for him and people with his ethnicity and culture, but it sounds more like he’s boasting about himself. Tre makes his guest appearance, but only to repeat a four line sub chorus. Don’t really know what to say about it honestly. Overall, this was a pretty solid song about race and class relations within American community, politics and culture, but you might want to skip the ending.

And, by the way, I don’t think ATM machines provide change. I’m pretty sure they only provide bills, but maybe American ATMs are different. So the line where Isaiah says “this is not an ATM, but I’m still seeking change” doesn’t work. Then again my experience with these magical money providing devices is limited.

Song #11: Cold Soul

Isaiah G. remembers the movie “Wrong Turn”? I thought I was the only one! It’s another song where Isaiah G. boasts, and it’s another song where he does it well. Complaints? I can’t complain about anything that I haven’t complained about on former songs. This is pretty much just more Isaiah G. rapping, and he’s doing the same thing he’s been doing on a lot of these songs, just with a bit less kinks and flaws. It’s nothing I haven’t necessarily heard before, but why fix what’s not broken.

By the way, fucking awesome beat. I was actually surprised to find out that this wasn’t a Dub A. beat, mostly because of it’s quality. It very well might be my favourite on the mixtape. Rap fans, from what I can tell, are typically fans of the Boom Bap sound, and this is Boom Bap in one of it’s most classic forms. Again, it’s nothing I haven’t necessarily heard before, but, like I said, why fix what’s not broken.

Extra notes: that freestyle at the end is charming and well fitting for the song, the “lyrical janitor” line might be a bit too over the top, and this is, without a doubt, one of my favourite songs Isaiah G. provided.

Song #12: Implosion

Isaiah’s style doesn’t quite fit this instrumental. The beat seems to be something that fits into Isaiah’s range, and I could see Isaiah going over an instrumental with similar features, but taking into consideration the instrumental’s current, and final, form, it just doesn’t sound quite natural for Isaiah to rap to it. It’s well produced, and it certainly seems like it caters to a certain audience, although that audience may not be me.

Rap-wise, it’s more of the same. I probably would have liked the lyrics more if he hadn’t already done similar lyrics earlier, but also more effectively, and if it was over an instrumental a bit more tailored to me. Nonetheless, despite a few prominent flaws that were already outlined, Isiah contributes sound lyrics to create another, relatively, sound song.

Song #13: International Style.

The drum beat sounds overly digitized, choppy, and somewhat repetitive, and they are followed by base noises that have similar qualities. Eventually our producer adds some screeching noises to accompany us, and then follows it with soothing piano music and colourful strings during the chorus’, which, as rationality would tell me, should sound out of place and distracting. So why do I like this beat so much? For the record, I have somewhat of a past of liking instrumentals that everyone else hates, so that maybe what’s going on here, and the fact that I didn’t necessarily enjoy the last instrumental would suggest that I may just have bad taste, but if you ask me, this is a hit.

Quite frankly, I’m tired of talking about Isaiah’s rapping style. It’s not because I have anything against it. In fact, I’m sure you’ll find that I have quite a few good things to say about our host at the end of this review, but it’s relatively the same style with the same flaws on every one of his battle songs, and having to hear it this frequently is not necessarily mind numbing, but it certainly doesn’t give me much to write about. As I’ve said earlier, it’s a good style, but one can only take so much without noticeable twists.

Song #14: My Avenue

“My Avenue” is about, as you may have guessed, Isaiah G.’s avenue. The songs reminds me “Juxtapositioned Progress”, mostly because many of the problems Isaiah tackles on “Juxtapositioned Progress” tigh into “My Avenue.” The major difference is that “Juxtapositioned Progress” discussed race and class reliations within the United States and how they affected people and environments, and “My Avenue” seems to be a bit more about living in one of those environments that are so negatively effected by negative race and class relations. They’re both good songs, each with some very distinctive features, but it might have not been the best idea to have them both on the same mixtape. Regardless, it is another good addition to Isaiah’s catalogue.

This time, the instrumental, besides sounding good in the background, doesn’t leave much of an impression. But that’s the first time in a long time.

Another plus: It’s got a pretty good hook, as far as Rap hooks go. That’s not something I can say about most of the other songs on this mixtape.

Song #15: Song for Erbie (Unforgettable)

I really hoped this song was perfect, just so that I wouldn’t have to feel the guilt of ragging on a heartfelt song about a dead eighteen year old boy. Well, no song is perfect, but it was passionately written, not to mention well written, well produced, and performed sufficiently enough. I could force out some nitpicks, but it would only be nitpicks and I’m kind of tired of writing this. The one criticism I have is that mentioning that “(this is) a song for Erbie Underwood” during the chorus may not be the most poetic of ways to go about writing your tribute. Other than that, no real complaints.

Part 3.  Epilogue

Remember earlier when I said, “Why fix what’s not broken?” Well, Isaiah G.’s style is certainly not broken, but it may need a bit of fixing up. Considering his current status as an emcee, he simply does not seem to have the skill set to keep you interested for a whole hour. (Much like I may not have the skill set to keep you interested for close to four and a half thousand words.) Taking into consideration the mixtape I’m reviewing, Isaiah G. really does have the talent to pump out, at the very least, good song after good song after good song, (with a few bad to mediocre songs thrown into the mix) but when you add all those songs up, they don’t provide the best listening experience for the consumer. My advice to Isaiah G. (who has proven to have more potential than any amateur rapper I’ve heard thus far) is to release LPs with a group of rappers (if he’s not in one already) and release solo EPs until he has mastered his style, and advanced it enough to release solo LPs of a higher caliber. Quite frankly, I don’t believe it will be much work before he reaches the level of talent to do so, but a little work can go a long way.

This may be labeled Isaiah G.’s mixtape, but it showcases a lot of production talent as well, particularly from the main producer, Dub A., so let’s talk about him as well. I want to take the time out to address some of the praise I gave to the production, because re-reading it now, I’m not sure if it’s as well warranted as I originally thought. Dub A.’s production for this mixtape truly is outstanding compared to what I’ve heard from most unheard of producers, and does rank up there with a lot of producers who actually do have strong followings, but there is one major fault with Dub A.’s producing and here it is: it limits the abilities of our host.I’m a big fan of Kutmasta Kurt, so let’s use him as an example. If we compare Dub A.’s instrumentals to instrumentals by Kutmasta Kurt, I wouldn’t expect most people to tell me that Kutmasta Kurt is the better producer on a purely musical level. With no vocals over beats, Dub A.’s music is, simply put, more pleasant to listen to. But as a Rap music producer, one of your primary concerns is to make instrumentals that rappers can rap to without limiting the skills or creativity of the emcee in question. And, as it would seem, the instrumentals are a bit more focused on being their own thing as opposed to support for the rapper they were designed for. As a result, it seems that Isiah isn’t always provided with enough room to reach his creative and technical prime. Meanwhile, Kurt is someone who makes instrumentals that seem to cater to the potential and stylings of the rappers he makes beats for on a much broader scale, which actually accentuates the positive attributes of an emcee as opposed to limiting them. If we were looking at the production on this mixtape from just an instrumental standpoint, there would be no problem. But as beats designed for rappers, many of them seem to suffer from this one major fault. But keep in mind, it’s only one major flaw.

Overall, you might be wondering if this mixtape is worth a listen. Well, it’s deffinately worth at least one. There’s a lot of talent here, and more importantly a lot of potential being showcased. And if you’re a fan of hunger filled battle raps, you might want to listen to this mixtape and look out for Isaiah G. in the near future.

Status: Highly Recomended.

The Mixtape: