Rick Hyde – “Plates 2” review

Rick Hyde is a 31 year old emcee/producer from Buffalo, New York notable for being a flagship artist on Benny the Butcher’s very own E1 Music imprint Black Soprano Family Records. His debut album Plates that came out at the very beginning of 2019 was pretty solid & after a couple years of teasing a sequel, we’re finally getting it in the form of Ricky’s sophomore album & he’s pulling out all the big guns for it.

The intro with Tearz finds the 2 jumping on top of some keys & faint strings talking about being another product of the 80s whereas the Westside Gunn-assisted “Nova” speaks on their youngest shooters ‘til it’s all said & done backed by a smooth Daringer instrumental. Benny the Butcher & G Herbo tag along to tell motherfuckers to show their actions on the soulful trap banger “Alone” but after the “Booney on the Phone” interlude, the song “Hustler’s Prayer” enlists Heem to say they’re thankful for the paper & the holy vibe of the beat fits well.

Meanwhile on “Glorious Mourning”, we have Ricky jumping on top of a high-pitched vocal loop preparing for a mental funeral just before “Sarah” serves as an alluring 2-minute freestyle. Killa Kyleon comes in for the R&B-tinged “When I Go” produced by Sha Money XL talking about how people are still gonna love them when they’re both gone leading into “Momma Luv”, which is a crooning tribute to his Ma Dukes if you couldn’t tell by the title.

After the “Come Up” interlude, the Jay Worthy/Chase Fetti-assisted “Red Moon Rising” has a dope vocal loop throughout despite having some of the weaker performances on the album but then he & Meyhem Lauren make up for it by talking about making their homies bosses on the Harry Fraud-produced “Enrique” that comes up following the “Blasphemy” interlude.

The song “Skid Row” with Elcamino & T.F. finds the trio dramatically details their lives in the hood while the penultimate track “Slow Eddie” with Grafh & Skyzoo come together for some drug shit accompanied by a somber beat from the late DJ Shay. Then there’s “Black Sinatra”, where Benny & Heem join Rick to operatically compare themselves as such.

The first Plates is a bit better, but that’s not to say this isn’t a worthy follow-up. I think he overdid it on the features however, the production has improved & Ricky delivers a respectable thank you to Shay for help getting him where he is now.

Score: 3.5/5

FlexxBabyy – “Water” review

FlexxBabyy is a 26 year old rapper from Buffalo, New York who came onto my radar just last year after becoming the latest to sign to Benny the Butcher’s E1 Music imprint Black Soprano Family Records. This was followed up by a plethora of stand alone singles & is going into 2021 by dropping his debut EP.

The opener “ETHER” talks about watching his back now that he’s secured a record deal over some violins & hi-hats whereas the next song “Slob” talks about sex over an industrial/trap fusion. The track “So Wet” is Flexx pretty much bragging over a cacophonous instrumental while the song “Dead” is a distorted riot inducer that slows down in tempo during the 2nd half. The penultimate track “JOOP” talks about drug use over an atmospheric instrumental with some loud, rubbery bass-lines dominating the mix & then the closer “Bussin’” gets materialistic over a bombastic beat.

This is completely unlike anything one would expect from BSF, but it’s a good short listen nonetheless. In comparison to the traditional boom bap style that a lot of the other artists on the label stick to, FlexxBabyy takes things into a more Playboi Carti-influenced direction from his flows & sticky refrains to the experimental production as heard on Whole Lotta Red & even the babyvoice that Carti is known for at times. Nonetheless, I feel like this is only the beginning for him.

Score: 3.5/5

Vino La Mano – “Blood & Trust” review

This is the 10th EP from Texas emcee Vino La Mano. Breaking out a couple years ago after Benny the Butcher signed him to his E1 Music imprint Black Soprano Family Records, he’s been staying busy ever since by dropping a total of 9 EPs. But just a month after his previous one Circle of Trust, we’re already being treated to the follow-up Blood & Fire.

The EP starts out with “Live from the Krooked”, where Vino talks about trying not to get caught up in the game over a cavernous boom bap beat. The title track talks about going broke & starting back over a rock/boom bap fusion while the song “You Don’t Know What It’s Like” talks about having shit on his mind that he doesn’t show over an icy beat.

The track “Wolves Eat Sheep” flexes his mafioso lifestyle over an extravagant instrumental while the song “It’s Cut Throat” talks about how they gon’ acknowledge his pen over a morose boom bap beat. The penultimate track “YKTV” talks about his killers being on standby over a boom bap instrumental with a piano sample hanging in the background whereas then the closer “Gift & Curse” talks about what it took to get here over an incensed beat.

As much as I liked Circle of Trust, I think Blood & Fire is a step up from it. The Soul Monsters’ grimy production has improved quite a bit & you can really tell Vino was coming from the heart in his verses. If he’s got more EPs or even a full-length album in store for 2021, then I already know he’s gonna get better from hereon out.

Score: 3.5/5

Heem – “Long Story Short” review

Heem is a 27 year old MC from Buffalo, New York who caught my attention earlier this year after becoming of a protege of Benny the Butcher & signing to his E1 Music imprint Black Soprano Family Records. He also made a few appearances on the label’s showcase EP that dropped over the summer but just a few more weeks until 2021, here we are with his debut mixtape.

The intro talks about how no one living like him over a dreary instrumental from Ice Rocks whereas the next song “All Eyes on Me” talks about wanting his roses before he’s gone over a symphonic boom bap beat from the late DJ Shay. “The Realest” with Benny sees the 2 talking about keeping it 100 over a hypnotic vocal sample while the track “Mayhem” with Boldy James finds the 2 talking about how they don’t play over a lush beat.

The song “More Money More Problems” talks about risking his life for this over a comatose instrumental while the track “Menace to Society” talks about going through Hell & back over a grimy beat from TrickyTrippz. The song “Sacred Nights” gets murderous over a cinematic instrumental while the track “It Could Happen” with Benny & Rick Hyde sees the trio pondering a number of things over a boom bap beat with a piano loop.

The song “My Diary” gives the listeners a piece of him over a exuberant instrumental from DJ Green Lantern while the penultimate track “Warring Ave” talks about what it was like on his street over a deranged beat. The tape ends with “Letter to Shay”, where Heem pays tribute to DJ Shay over a churchy boom bap instrumental.

Coming away from this tape, I’m pretty impressed with it. The production leans towards that signature Griselda sound, but you get a good look at who Heem is & where he’s at now. This is only the beginning for him if you ask me.

Score: 3.5/5

Juicy J – “The Hustle Continues” review

Juicy J is a 45 year old rapper & producer from Memphis, Tennessee most notable for being a founding member of the seminal Three 6 Mafia. He’s also had the most successful solo career out of everyone in the Mafia, releasing 4 full-lengths & a handful of mixtapes. But after being released from Taylor Gang Entertainment/Columbia Records & starting up his own E1 Music imprint Trippy Music earlier this year, Juicy is celebrating by dropping his 5th full-length album.

Things start off with “BEST GROUP”, where Juicy claims Three 6 as the greatest hip hop group of all-time over a sinister trap beat. The next song “GAH DAMN HIGH” with Wiz Khalifa is an off the wall weed-smoking anthem as one would expect while the track “SPEND IT” with Lil Baby & 2 Chainz finds the trio talking about their wealth over a piano inflicted-beat. The song “PO UP” with A$AP Rocky sees the 2 paying tribute to all the celebrities we’ve lost in recent years over a supernatural-sounding instrumental while the track “KILLA” with Conway the Machine finds the 2 talking about being posted with their gangs over a maniacal trap beat.

The song “THAT’S THE WAY IT GOES” talks about how hoes gon’ be hoes over an instrumental with some keyboards & rubbery bass while the track “SHOPPING SPREE” with Young Dolph sees the 2 getting materialistic over a tense beat. The song “1995” with Logic finds the 2 talking about whippin’ through their cities over an uptempo instrumental while the track “WHAT I NEED” is a well-transitioned 2 parter about getting high.

The song “SHAWTY BAD” reunites with Logic to get raunchy over a rambunctious instrumental while the track “LOAD IT UP” with NLE Choppa sees the 2 getting braggadocious over a suspenseful trap beat. The song “SHE GON’ POP IT” with Megan Thee Stallion finds the 2 coming together for a fun, atmospheric strip club banger while the track “MEMPHIS TO LA” with Jay Rock & Project Pat sees the 3 talking about having options over some snares & keys.

The song “DATZ WHAT IT IZ” talks about how he ain’t cool with fuck boys over a grim instrumental with some hi-hats firing off like gunshots towards the end while the penultimate track “IN A MIN” gets celebratory over an exuberant beat. The closer “I CAN’T STOP” then discusses how a big booty bitch makes him feel rich & the bass on here just hits so goddamn hard!

Overall, I thought The Hustle Continues was pretty solid. I think Juicy kinda overdid it on the features but at the same time, he shows listener that he still has it all these years later on the mic & on the boards.

Score: 3.5/5

Black Soprano Family – Self-Titled review

Black Soprano Family Records is a Buffalo, New York-based independent record label founded in 2016 by Benny the Butcher of Griselda fame. Their roster has significantly grown throughout the years with the likes of Duffel Bag Hottie, Rick Hyde, Loveboat Luciano, Joneszy & even battle rap icon RJ Payne. The label just inked a distribution deal with E1 Music a couple months back & are releasing a DJ Drama-hosted collective effort to celebrate.

The EP kicks off with “Quarantine”, where Benny the Butcher promises his homies currently locked up that he’ll be rich when they come home over a violin-inflicted boom bap beat from Chup. The next song “Grams in the Water” by Benny, Loveboat Luciano & Rick Hyde of course talks about pushing coke over a dreary instrumental while “Da Mob” finds Benny, Heem & Rick talking about the crew being impeccable over a grimy beat from DJ Shay.

The track “In Love with the Streets” by Heem & Jonesy talks about what makes the hood so special over a boom bap beat with an alluring vocal sample while the song “Rick & Fonz” is a Rick Hyde solo cut about how he can’t go broke again over some synthesizers & some twinkling keyboards. The track “Paulie & Vito” by Heem & Rick goes at those who disrespect their names while the song “Valarie” is a Heem solo joint about what it was like growing up in Buffalo over a dark beat. The closer “It’s Over” by Heem, Rick & Benny then talks about wealth over a soulful Don Cannon instrumental.

Not a bad showcase effort from the Black Soprano Family. I was expecting it to be a little bit longer than just 8 tracks & 27 minutes, but everyone on the label stands out in their own way & does a fine job of giving the listeners what they’re capable of doing.

Score: 3.5/5

Royce da 5’9” – “The Allegory” review

Royce da 5’9” is a Detroit veteran that most are familiar with for being 1/2 of Bad Meets Ǝvil with local sensation Eminem. However his mark as one of the city’s illest lyricists has already been made with releases such as Death is Certain, Street Hop, Success is Certain, Layers & even Royce’s last album Book of Ryan. Also can’t forget to mention his work with longtime collaborator DJ Premier as the MC/producer duo PRhyme or with the now defunct quartet of all-star wordsmiths that was once Slaughterhouse. But with Black History Month almost over, Nickel is celebrating with The Allegory.

Things kick off with “Mr. Grace”, where Royce delivers some wisdom & I love how the instrumental constantly switches from horn to string samples throughout. The next song “Dope Man” with Emanny sees the 2 discussing how drug dealers are the kings of the streets over an infectious instrumental while the track “I Don’t Age” talks about how dope he still is over a boom bap beat with the lead riff switching off between a bass-line & a piano sample. The song “Pendulum” is laced with battle bars backed with a solemn boom bap beat while the track “I Play Forever” with Grafh sees the 2 talking about falling in love with the street life over some horns.

After the “Ice Cream” interlude, the song “On the Block” sees PRhyme getting together to discuss hustling over a mesmerizing instrumental & the Oswin Benjamin verse really took me by surprise. After the “Generation is Broken” interlude, the song “Overcomer” with Westside Gunn is about how the 2 rose above their shortcomings over a prominent vocal sample & I definitely can’t forget to mention Royce’s disses towards former collaborator/Shady Records artist Yelawolf not too long after his verse starts. Is he really a “vulture pundit” in my eyes? No, not at all. That being said, I do understand Royce’s point of view on the whole thing. After the “Mrs. Grace” interlude, the song “Thou Shall” with Kid Vishisis essentially both of the Montgomery brothers talking about their accomplishments over a spooky instrumental.

The track “FUBU” with Conway the Machine sees the 2 challenging anyone who opposes them over a demented instrumental & after the “A Black Man’s Favorite Shoe” skit, the song “Upside Down” with Benny the Butcher finds both wordsmiths getting violent over a cavernous boom bap beat. After the “Perspective” skit where Eminem discusses racism in the music industry, the track “Tricked” with KXNG CROOKED is pretty much both MCs cleverly breaking down the idea of deception over a tense instrumental. After the “Black People in America”, the song “Black Savage” is empowering anthem towards African Americans with both dEnAuN & 6 July helping Royce heavily sample the afro-rock band of the same name. The bars that CyHi the Prynce & T.I. both bring to the table are dope, but White Gold’s verse was kinda pointlessly short to me.

The track “Rhinestone Doo Rag” despite being short is about how the next generation is on those listening over a soothing instrumental while the song “Young World” with G Perico & Vince Staples sees the 3 sending an important message to the youth over a funky instrumental. The penultimate track “My People Free” has a respectable concept, but it seems like more of an Ashley Morrell song to as she dominates a bulk of it & Royce makes very little appearance on it himself. Then there’s the closer “Hero”, where Royce pays tribute to his father over an instrumental that’s sweet to the ear.

The album isn’t perfect, but it’s still a fantastic listen. A couple of the features were pretty weak & the interludes are pretty annoying but lyrically, this is definitely Royce’s most conscious effort to date. And for him to start getting behind the boards & self-produce damn near the whole thing, he does a pretty good job at it.

Score: 4/5

The Game – “Born 2 Rap” review

This is the 9th & allegedly final album from Compton rapper The Game. Initially taken under the wing of JT the Bigga Figga, his 2002 debut mixtape You Know What It Is would catch the attention of Dr. Dre & 50 Cent. Both of whom signed Game to a joint venture to their individually respective labels Aftermath Entertainment & G-Unit Records, distributed by Interscope Records. With their help, his debut album The Documentary the following year would go on to become a West Coast essential. However, a falling out between Game & 50 just months after the album’s release would result in Game moving over to Geffen Records to complete his 5-album contract. His next 4 albums Dr.’s Advocate, LAX, The RE.D. (RE-Dedication) Album & Je5us PiecE all showed that Game didn’t need Dre or 50 to make quality music. Once fulfilling his major label obligations, he went the independent route by founding his own label Prolific Records & showcasing the artists with a compilation entitled Blood Moon: Year of the Wolf in 2014. Game then put out an overloaded yet decent sequel to his debut with The Documentary 2+2.5 the next year as well as his previous album 1992 the year after. Fast forward to his 40th birthday, Game’s celebrating with his 2nd retirement album Born 2 Rap.

After the “City of Sin” intro from Ed Sheeran, we get into the first song “No Smoke”. Where Game challenges his competition over an atmospheric instrumental. The track “$500 Candles” gets braggadocious over a smooth instrumental & not only is the messaging on “The Light” is a nice callback to Je5us PiecE, but the harmonious boom bap beat on here is gorgeous. The track “Carmen Electra” with Mozzy & Osbe Chill sees the 3 talking about mobbin’ over a sample of D’Angelo’s “Devil’s Pie” while the song “Dead Homies” is a trite metaphor for a woman over a skeletal instrumental. The track “Gold Daytonas” with Dom Kennedy sees the 2 flexing over the same sample Junior M.A.F.IA. used for “Get Money” while the song “West Side” talks about life in Compton over a ghostly instrumental. The track “40oz Love” gets on the positivity tip lyrically over a soulful beat while the song “Gucci Flip Flops” talks about death over a slick instrumental from Swizz Beatz.

The title track talks about being the greatest over an instrumental that’s sweet to the ears while the song “Welcome Home” with the late Nipsey Hu$$le sees the 2 talking about staying woke over smooth instrumental. After the “Help Me” interlude, the fittingly titled “I Didn’t Wanna Write This Song” pays tribute to Nip as Focus… supplies a depressive instrumental. “The Code” with 21 Savage then sees the 2 talking living & dying by the rules of the streets over an instrumental that doesn’t really suit the tone while the song “Stay Down” with Bryson Tiller is of course a buttery love anthem. The track “Hug the Block” shows off over a somber beat while the song “Ask for Me” tells the story of & later forgetting her name over a grand instrumental. The track “Stainless” pays tribute to many West Coast artists over a smooth piano instrumental while the song “Gangsters Make the Girls Go Wild” is of course a tepid attempt at a radio hit.

The track “Blood Thicker Than Water” is self-explanatory backed by a churchy-trap beat from StreetRunner while the song “Rewind II” is a decent sequel to the Nas joint “Rewind” off his 2001 album Stillmatic. The track “1 Life” with J. Stone sees the 2 getting motivational over a bleak instrumental while the song “Cross on Jesus Back” with D Smoke is pretty much a response to Kanye West’s Sunday Service performances that he’s been doing all year. The album then finishes with “Roadside”, where Game reflects on his past life over an acoustic instrumental.

Score: 2.5/5

Royce da 5’9” – “Book of Ryan” review

With PRhyme 2 being released just a month & a half ago, renown Detroit underground MC Royce da 5’9” has now delivered his long-awaited 7th full-length album. After the intro, we go into the first song “Woke”. Here, Royce sends a message to those who’re sleeping confrontational over a Key Wane instrumental with some eerie choir vocals in the back. After the “My Parallel” skit, we go into the song “Caterpillar”. Here, Bad Meets Ǝvil reunites to tell the audience pretty much what Mark Jackson told Steve Kerr a few years ago over a hard hitting vibraphone instrumental from S1.

The track “God Speed” talks about making it of the hood over a smooth mR. pOrTeR instrumental while the song “Dumb” with Shady Records’ latest signee Boogie sees the 2 talking about the current state of the music industry over an S1 instrumental that sounds like something Dr. Dre & Scott Storch would’ve made together in the Early 2000s. After the “Who Are You” skit, we go into the song “Cocaine”. Here, Royce reflects on his dad’s issues with the drug over a murky DJ Khalil beat. The track “Life is Fair” talks about an ungrateful woman from his childhood over a heavy piano-Fuse instrumental while the song “Boblo Boat” sees Royce reminiscing about family trips to amusement parks & J. Cole reflecting on growing up in North Carolina over a soulful Cool & Dre instrumental.

The song “Legendary” talks about his status in the game over a bass-heavy electro instrumental from mR. pOrTeR while the track “Summer on Lock” with Fabolous & Jadakiss is filled with braggadocious bars over an eerie beat. The song “Amazing” reflects on his old neighborhood over a blissful beat while the track “Outside” vents about his fears over an atmospheric DJ Khalil instrumental.  The song “Power” talks about his family’s alcoholism over a piano/bass heavy instrumental from Boi-1da & after recalling an childhood incident at a basketball court during the “Protecting Ryan” skit, we go into the track “Strong Friend”. Here, Royce reflects on his past alcoholism with some dramatic strings & funky bass.

The song “Anything/Everything” gets conscious over some jazzy piano chords while the penultimate track “Stay Woke” thanks his Bad Meets Ǝvil cohort Eminem for his sobriety while also reminding us how dope he is during the 2nd half of it over an orchestral Frank Dukes & !llmind instrumental. The album then finishes with “1st of the Month”, where Royce gets with T-Pain recalls how happy they would be when they used to get welfare checks during the 1st day of the month over a luscious piano instrumental.

Overall, this is tied with Street Hop as Royce’s magnum opus. It sounds focused & passionate, the production is organic & we are truly getting Royce at his most personal point blank period with each track

Score: 4.5/5

Wu-Tang Clan – “The Saga Continues” review

When it seemed like 2014’s A Better Tomorrow would be the almighty Wu-Tang Clan’s final group album, they’re now returning with their 7th official full-length album (excluding the single-copy of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin) & they have enlisted Wu-Elements member Mathematics to produce it in it’s entirety. After a 91 second instrumental intro with a spoken word sample & then an actual spoken monologue from the Clan’s de facto leader RZA, we are then treated to the album’s first song “Lesson Learn’d”. Here, Inspectah Deck teams up with Redman to remind you that they never play around over a hard hitting boom bap instrumental & I also didn’t mind Deck’s jab at the Once Upon a Time in Shaolin purchaser Martin Shkreli near the end of his verse, given that he’s an evil culture vulture. The track “Fast & Furious” is pretty much Raekwon & Hue Hef getting mafioso over a menacing instrumental & while Hue was just ok, Rae definitely made up for it. After a short instrumental interlude that takes it back the group’s early days with a Kung Fu sample, we are then lead into the next song If Time’s Money (Fly Navigation). It’s pretty much a Method Man solo cut, but he makes up for his last album The Meth Lab by hopping on an instrumental you can really kick back to & spitting a long yet charismatic verse.

The track “Frozen” may have a lazy hook as it recycles a couple Rae & Ghostface Killah lines from “4 Horsemen”, but the verses from Meth about pushing the limit as well as the vivid storytelling from Killah Priest & the lethally angry Chris Rivers make up for it some keys along with a bass guitar & a regular guitar. After a 45 second skit with a soulful instrumental in the background, we then get into the next song “Pearl Harbor”. Here, the late Sean Price gets with Meth & RZA to confrontationally spit bars like being the greatest & telling your crew to wear shorts with an image of you on it over some gritty horns as well as some keys & an organ. I also love how RZA brings back his Bobby Digital alter ego during his verse & the one line he makes midway through his part about how he can turn Lady Gaga heterosexual again was pretty hilarious. The track “People Say” sees Deck, Meth, Rae & Masta Killa linking back up with Redman alongside to get braggadocious over a very soulful boom bap beat. “Family” is a 1 minute skit containing a sample of a mother talking about family (hence the title) & the next song “Why Why Why” is basically a conscious RZA solo cut over some funky bass & some decently sung vocals from Swnkah.

The track “G’d Up” is basically Meth & R-Mean talking about being just that & the beat is pretty luscious, but the Mzee Jones hook sounds like a cut-rate T-Pain. The song “If What You Say Is True” sees Cappadonna along with GZA & Masta Killa getting with Streetlife to spit some abrasive battle rhymes over some sinister horns. The “skit” Saga is less of a skit & more of RZA spitting about haters not wanting the Clan grow & even a cool reference to the Flint water crisis over some beautiful strings. The 91 second “Hood Go Bang!” has a decent Redman hook, but then lone verse that Method Man delivers nearly has the same rhyme scheme throughout that it’s crazy. The final song in the track listing is “My Only One”, where Cappa along with The Abbott & Tony Starks rap about their boos over a grimy instrumental. The next 2 tracks are just a 2 minute interlude with a funky instrumental & long spoken word sample & then a 45 second monologued outro from the RZA over the same instrumental as the one in the intro.

At the end of the day, this was a lot more consistent than the last few group albums. It feels more like a compilation considering the fact that there’s only 1 or 2 group members on a number of tracks & U-God not being on it at all, but everyone including almost all the features go & Mathematics probably made it the Clan’s most well produced album since The W

Score: 4/5