Cappadonna – “3rd Chamber Grail Bars” review

Cappadonna is a 53 year old MC from New York City notable for being a member of the almighty Wu-Tang Clan since the mid/late 90s. His verse on “Winter Warz” is still regarded by many to this day to be one of the greatest verses in hip hop history & as much as I love his criminally underrated solo debut The Pillage, I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say with all respect that his solo discography since has been nothing short of inconsistent ranging to be mediocre at best & complete trash at worst. But when it was announced that underground veteran Stu Bangas was going behind the boards for Cappa’s 15th album right here, my expectations for it were very high considering that Stu has been on a ROLL for the past few years now producing projects for the likes of Ill Bill & Recognize Ali only to name a couple.

After the intro, the first song “Bring It Out” sets it all off with some braggadocio on top of some suspenseful boom bap production whereas “Get Lost” takes a more solemn route talking about how the Wu’s the hardest team. After the “Discovery” interlude, Celph Titled tags along for the horn-laced “Toss the Blick” to get on their hardcore shit just before “How We Rolling” dives into more playful turf talking about a fun night out.

Meanwhile on “Continuous Threat”, we have Planet Asia accompanying Cappa over a keyboard-driven boom bap instrumental spitting some lethal battle raps leading into Sick Jacken coming into the picture for the dusty “Everything is Measured” talking about how fly both of them are. The track “No Fake Dreads” following the “Redemption” interlude works in some more horns to get that bread & prior to the outro, the final song “Tryna Survive” with Ill Bill ends the album on an uncanny note talking about life in the projects.

All 3 of the singles that Cappa has dropped throughout the summer had me anticipating 3rd Chamber Grail Bars to be amongst his best solo albums yet & not only did it achieve that status, but it’s also my favorite project to come out of the Wu-Tang Clan anthology this year. Stu Bangas’ production is a breath of fresh air compared to most of Cappa’s output post-The Pillage & lyrically, he reminds everyone exactly who the fuck he is.

Score: 4/5

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Diamond D – “The Rear View” review

Diamond D is a 54 year old MC/producer from The Bronx, New York who came up as a mentor of Jazzy Jay. He would then form the D.I.T.C. collective alongside Lord Finesse & Showbiz in ‘92 only to put out his classic full-length debut Stunts, Blunts & Hip Hop shortly after. D went on to drop 4 more albums & a couple mixtapes of his own but now that it’s been a year & a half since Gotham gave us their acclaimed self-titled effort, he’s back in effect for a 6th album.

After the Chris Rock intro, the first song “Life’s What You Make It” is a symphonic opener to the album produced by Focus… talking about never saying your word’s your bond & breaking it whereas “Live My Life” takes a groovier approach encouraging to let him glow. Westside Gunn tags along for the guitar-driven “Faithful” getting in their mafioso bag leading into the title track bringing back the strings thanks to Nottz taking about feeling so free.

Meanwhile on “Godly”, we have Diamond D over some dusty drums & pianos confessing that’s exactly how he’s feeling just before Dre comes into the picture for the classy “Neva Settle” talks about keeping their eyes up & that they gotta get it. After the “Joe Crack” interlude, “Ouuu” mixes some lavish keyboards & a crooning vocal loop reminding that nothing can stop you as long as you listen to your heart prior to the synth-laced “Smoke Sumthin’” dedicating a banger to all the chiefers out there.

“The Wrong Thing” comes through with a more smoother aesthetic getting on the more romantic side of things, but then the Posdnuos-assisted “Flying High” delivers a charming banger about being the hardest. The song “The Man’s Swift” returns to the boom bap spitting some braggadocio while the penultimate track “The Scorn” with KP laces some horns talking about wanting the chicken & there isn’t any other like them. “Inertia” however serves as a mystical finisher saying all he honors is his balls & his word.

As much as I admired The Diam Piece & it’s sequel for primarily focusing on Diamond D’s production skills, I’d still recommend giving The Rear View a shot for those who missed hearing him on the mic. A couple weak features here & there, but the production is a lot more laid back with more slower tempos & the man himself sounds rejuvenated lyrically.

Score: 4/5

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Canibus – “Kaiju” review

Canibus is 47 year old MC from Kingston, Jamaica who came up as 1/2 of the duo T.H.E.M. alongside C.I. back in ‘92. They eventually split up a few years later & Bis would blow up in ‘97 after appearing on the LL Cool J song “4, 3, 2, 1” that later resulted in a beef between both parties. He would then go on to make a lengthy yet consistent discography with albums like Rip the Jacker being breathtaking at best & then Mind Control being unlistenable at worst. Last we heard from him was in 2015 with the incredible Time Flys, Life Dies…Phoenix Rise fully produced by Bronze Nazareth & is now enlisting Body Bag Ben for his 16th full-length outing.

“Curmudgeon” sets off the whole album with a symphonic boom bap instrumental killing it for 4-minute about how bad-tempered he is whereas the “Entameta” remix sounds better than the original although the DMX feature is pointless because he doesn’t have a verse at all. “Hydra” takes a more dustier route ripping his opposition to shreds just before the production on “Live Action Role Play” seems ripped out of a horror flick portraying a dystopian future.

I have no doubt in my mind that “Travis Scott Concert” with Body Bag Ben himself & Born Sun was recorded before the ASTROWORLD Fest crowd crush that took place last month, but for him to keep it on the album just seems a little too soon if that makes any sense. However, “Animal Husbandry” picks things back up by declaring not giving a duck about much other than well-prepared bars on top of a dire beat. “COVID Santa” paints some incredibly vivid imagery having a more occult sound to it just before the intimidating “Kaiju Karaoke” continuing to slit doubters’ throats.

Meanwhile on “The Long Road”, we have ‘Bis on top of some dusty drums & shrilling synth melodies to take a ride out to the country side while the song “Verzuz”. As for the last 2 tracks: They’re both unnecessary remixes of the MF DOOM/Kool Keith loosie “Notebook 04” & “Desperados”, which was one of my favorites off Hus Kingpin’s last album The Firm.

For the 6 year wait, this is a fantastic comeback for the rapping scientist & arguably one of the best albums of his career thus far. He sounds incredibly focused continuing to rap circles around cats like it’s nothing & Body Bag Ben knocks it out or the park behind the boards.

Score: 4/5

Noveliss – “Book of Changes” review

Noveliss is a 33 year old MC from Detroit, Michigan who came up as 1/4 of the now disbanded Clear Soul Forces. However since 2018, he’s built an impressive solo career for himself with 8 EPs & the full-length debut Cerebral Apex. However in light of his born day earlier this week, he’s celebrating by dropping a sophomore album produced entirely by Dixon Hill.

“Empty” sets off the album on a jazzy note clearing out his mind whereas “Feng Sheui” takes a moody boom bap route talking about a dude with a stand alone complex. “Loss for Words” works in some pianos saying he don’t know better, but then “Sincerity & Reverence” is a lo-fi banger telling the story of his younger self. Meanwhile on “Scheminonameanin”, we have Noveliss contemplating the reason of life over an airy instrumental just before “Truthsayer” smokily gets on the conscious tip.

“Escaping” goes into a more moodier direction encouraging to embrace the highs & lows while the song “Spirit Bomb” spaciously talks about finding peace in a hyperbolic chamber. The penultimate track “Cold Mountain” once again returns into a more lo-fi kind of sound delivering nonstop wisdom & “Permanent Waves” closes out the album with an uplifting beat talking about being in search of such.

I’ve been following this guy alongside the rest of Clear Soul Forces for a minute & for the 3-year wait since Cerebral Apex, it was very much well worth it. Noveliss killed it with the basing the whole concept of the album on the I-Ching & Dixon’s production style couldn’t have been a suiting match.

Score: 4/5

Eternia – “Free” review

Eternia is a 40 year old MC from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada who came up in 2005 off her full-length debut It’s Called Life. This was followed up with Where I’m At & the MoSS-produced At Last but after taking a 12 year hiatus, so much has happened to her in life & has decided to tap in Rel McCoy for her 4th album backed by now none other than Fat Beats Records.

After the intro, the first song “Freedom99” with Wordsworth kicks things off with a boom bap cut about how the city used to be their playground leading into him & Shad addressing homelessness on the emotional “Home”. She & Rel come together on the piano-tinged “Cycles” to talk about their lives are like 1, but then her husband Mr. Lif come together with “The Story of Us” compassionately detailing how they met.

“Most PPL” works in a fuzzy instrumental tackling the themes of loyalty just before “Praise” almost has a bit of a funk flare showing love to the higher power. “Grow” is quite possibly Eternia at her most vulnerable moments talking about how the world as she knows it is gone whereas “All the Men” dramatically calls out her exes on wax.

The song “Wonderful World” almost has a bit of a dystopian sound taking shots at modern technology while the penultimate track “Secret” finds Mr. Lif reuniting on top of a hollow instrumental tackling the theme of fear. “Let No Dream Fall” finishes off the album by emotionally telling us how she feels inside at the moment.

I was wondering what happened to Eternia for a while now, so it makes me happy to see that she’s made a comeback on here. She rips up the mic like she never even left to begin with & Rel McCoy’s production is just boom bap galore.

Score: 4/5

Stezo – “The Last Dance” review

Stezo was a 52 year old MC/producer from New Haven, Connecticut who broke out in 1989 off his full-length debut Crazy Noise. This was followed up with the Where’s the Funk At? EP & C.T. (The Lost State) but now with his unexpected death a little over a year ago, Fat Beats is dropping a 3rd & final album containing his last recordings.

After the “Main Event” intro, “Keep the Grove” with Johnny Famous is a somewhat minimal opener calling out the industry. After the “Hip Hop Eulogy 1” interlude, we get a decent remix to the 1996 joint “Where the Funk At?” just before the cinematic “Opera House” goes at those who can’t flow.

Following the “Hip Hop Eulogy 2” interlude, Ed O.G. tags along with Masta Ace & Craig G for the grim “Psychopathic Maniac” declaring themselves as such. After the “Hip Hop Eulogy 3” interlude, we got Chubb Rock & Grand Puba coming in for the jazzy boom bap banger “Check 1, 2” flexing their lyricism.

“Rapzone” with Special Ed & Tash has a more futuristic sound taking listeners down a dimension of penmanship & after the the “Hip Hop Eulogy 4” interlude, “Lucky Me” is a gorgeous declaration of how grateful he was.

After the “Hip Hop Eulogy 5” interlude, Stezo & the late Biz Markie show an immaculate chemistry on “Steve N the Biz”. He later reflects on the hard times of his life for the airy “Homeless Stevie” & then the “It’s My Turn” sequel is just alright, as much I fuck with the original. Hakim Green & Tall T help flex their prowess on “Bring the Horns” with despite it’s title is heavy on some live drumming.

After the 6th & final “Hip Hop Eulogy” interlude, the penultimate track “Ruff N Rugged” is a dusty ode to the underground & the closer “4 Stezo” is basically a Shomari song given that Stezo himself isn’t on it at all. However, it’s a touching tribute to the man.

For a posthumous album, I think it’s pretty respectable. I think the remixes to older joints & the interludes are a bit unnecessary, but Chris Lowe’s production is raw as Hell & the guests do a great job at complimenting Stezo rather than just being there for a paycheck.

Score: 4/5

Bread – “A Breath of Fresh Air” review

Bread is a 45 year old MC from Los Angeles, California who first emerged in 1999 as a member of the group Kaliwild. He eventually went solo a couple years back by dropping his debut EP New Bread but after signing a joint deal with SomeOthaShip Records & Fat Beats Records, he’s ready to drop a full-length debut on top of everyone’s heads.

“Let Us Begin” is a 2-minute synth-laced opener saying it’ll be as it was in the beginning once it’s all said & done whereas the peaceful “Star” with Lord Jamar & Sadat X finds the trio saying they’re happy as such. Gemini, Keak da Sneak & UR67 tag along for the shimmering “Feels So Good” talking about being happy with where they are now just before the Nottz-produced “What Love Is” goes for a moodier sound & the lyrics detail the definition of love according to Bread.

Meanwhile on “Christie”, we get a slap happy tribute to a woman whom Bread proclaims as a mistress leading into him going into a more summery vibe asking for “Worldwide Peace”. He later boasts his rapping prowess with the luscious “Cornbead” while the song “Eye 4 Eye” works in a keyboard & dusty drums to get political. The penultimate track “God’z Return” with Planet Asia has a more minimal sound telling the Devil to get the fuck out & the Big Shug-assisted closer “Nice Like That” is a jazzy tribute to the late Guru.

As solid as New Bread was, I think A Breath of Fresh Air happens to be his best work yet. He achieves his goal of showing listeners that the style of hip hop that he brings to the table is still thriving with it’s refined production & improved lyricism.

Score: 4/5

Declaime – “In the Beginning” review

This is the 11th full-length album from Oxnard veteran Declaime. Debuting on “WLIX” off Tha Alkaholiks’ sophomore album Coast II Coast in 1995, it wouldn’t be until 2001 when Dudley Perkins started putting out albums under his own name by dropping Andsoitisaid. Last we heard from him was in 2017 when he released Young Spirit but as the 4 year anniversary of that album approaches next month, dude is unearthing 13 joints that were recorded with longtime collaborator Madlib from 1993-1996 & putting them out to the public in the form of In the Beginning.

“Enuff” kicks things off with Declaime & even Madlib himself jump on top of some bass licks & handclaps talking about not letting stress wound, but then “One on One” works in a lo-fi beat & battle rap lyricism. The pair later go into boom bap territory on “Cool Ways” saying he’ll never slip up whereas “2 to da Head” has these dusty drums & what sound like Seagull noises addressing the days we’re living in.

Meanwhile on “Madman”, we have Dudley giving us a rowdy look at someone who’s insane before diving into the “Declaime Speaks” interlude as well as the fuzzy “Black” jabbing at the racist system. “Wake Up” is yet another boom bap cut themed around battle rap while “Out Like Dat” has these vinyl cracklings throughout it’s 2 minute run & Declaime saying there’s no turning back when you hit the street.

After the “Meltdown” interlude, the track “All Over the World” with M.E.D. serves as a funky crowd-mover propping up both the West & the East while the last actual song on the album “2 MC ‘95” is a keyboard-laced take on the Hamlet quote “To be or not to be”. Then there’s “Outrose”, which serves as a 2-minute instrumental piece to finish the album off.

Although the material In the Beginning presents to us was recorded 25-28 years ago, it still sounds really good now & that shouldn’t come a surprise given how well these guys have bounced off each other in the past. Madlib’s production is much more rawer on here & the topics that Declaime covers range from social commentary to braggadocio.

Score: 4/5

Th1rt3en – “A Magnificent Day for an Exorcism” review

Th1rt3en is an East Coast hip hop trio consisting of Marcus Machado on guitar, Daru Jones on drums & Pharoahe Monch on the mic. The trio have been working together for a little over a year now but with Joe Biden being inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States earlier this week, it’s only right for them to come together for their full-length debut.

Things kick off with “Cult 45”, where Monch takes a well-written dig at the Trump administration over a dingey boom bap beat from Nottz. The next song “Triskaidekaphobia” gets on the horrorcore tip over a bloodcurdling instrumental from Monch himself alongside Parks of The Joe Budden Podcast while “The Magician” compares himself to such over a rap rock beat. The song “666 (3-6 Word Stories)” is a unexpected & decent recreation of the Black Sabbath joint “Hand of Doom” while the track “Goat’s Head” reminds listeners of his lyrical prowess over a beat with a crunchy ass guitar line.

The song “Scarecrow” talks about being on the yellow brick road over an anarchic instrumental from Shylow while the track “Fight” talks about racial injustice over a rock/boom bap fusion. The song “Racist” compares the skinheads to Satanists over an infernal beat while the track “Oxygen” talks about needing this woman in his life over a supernatural instrumental from Marco Polo.

The song “Kill ‘Em All Again” talks about those who can’t see the bigger picture over an impassioned beat while “The Exorcist” makes numerous references to the apocalypse & Medusa over yet another boom bap/rock fusion. The penultimate track “Amnesia” expresses his desire to hold this woman in his arms over a more unwinding instrumental & then the albums ends with “Kill Kill Kill”, where Monch talks about losing his mind some fast drumming along with a guitar & a organ.

When artists make an album stylistically departing from their signature sound, it can turn out 50/50. However, Th1rt3en knocks it out of the park. Not only do Marcus & Daru do a good job with the live instrumentation, but Pharoahe Monch comes through with some of his most political lyrics yet reflecting on all the hardships we faced in 2020.

Score: 4.5/5

Vangarde – Self-Titled review

Vangarde is a newly formed MC/producer duo from Boston, Massachusetts consisting of veterans Mr. Lif & Stu Bangas. They first united at the beginning of the year after appearing on Stu’s latest EP Beats & Blood but fast forward 10 months later, they’re coming together for an official full-length debut.

After the “Global Shift” intro, the first song “Shelter in Place” enlists the help of Blacastan to discuss wanting America to do better over a noisy boom bap beat whereas the next track “Basquiat” boasts his lyricism over a dreary instrumental. The song “8:46” with Reef the Lost Cauze, Blueprint, MURS & Puma Ptah serves as a response to George Floyd’s murder over a funky boom bap beat & after the “Old World Brokeness” interlude, the track “Wave the Flag” talks about COVID-19 over an ominous instrumental.

The song “Sonar” finds The Perceptionists reuniting to get on the woke tip over a diabolical beat & after the “New World Adjustments” interlude, the track “Now’s Only Now” talks about not losing hope for the future over a monstrous boom bap beat with some keys & strings. “The New Normal” pays tribute to Gang Starr over a charismatic instrumental & then the closer “No Hitter” talks about being meant to rebel over a quasi-jazzy beat.

Stu Bangas has been having a Hell of a 2020 musically & Vangarde’s eponymous debut is no exception whatsoever. He continues to remind listeners of his place as one of the greatest producers that the underground has to offer & his sound meshes with Mr. Lif’s ever-thought provoking lyricism very well. Would love to see these 2 veterans work more with one another in the future.

Score: 4/5