H.A.R.D. – “Harbor City” review

This is the sophomore album from hardcore hip hop super-duo H.A.R.D. a.k.a. the Housing Authority Rap District. Consisting of Joell Ortiz & KXNG CROOKED, both these guys had notorious label issues at the start of their careers only to see success as members of the supergroup Slaughterhouse along with Royce da 5’9” & Joe Budden from the late 2000s up until the mid-2010s. The quartet had quietly disbanded in 2016 after Joe’s retirement from making music even though it wasn’t confirmed until 2 years later, but the other 3 members have been keeping themselves busy ever since. H.A.R.D. introduced themselves a couple months after the pandemic hit with an incredible eponymous debut EP followed by their full-length debut The Rise & Fall of Slaughterhouse earlier this spring. But as the 3rd quarter of the year draws to a close in a couple weeks, Crook & Joell are taking the world through Harbor City.

After the “Rookie’s 1st Dead Body” intro, the first song “Heat Wave” kicks off the album with a gospel-tinged instrumental to get into their hardcore bag whereas “Welcome to Harbor City” takes a more airier route thanks to DJ Silk talking about the titular California location. “Energy” works in a deadpan beat to describe how they walked out of the projects, but then “Drip Club” fuses a piano & a hi-hat for a party anthem.

Meanwhile on “Holy Water”, we have H.A.R.D. officer a flute-heavy trap instrumental talking about having permission to take a higher road leading into AZ tagging along for “Vibrate Higher” over some crooning boom bap production provided by The Heatmakerz dodging all the bullshit. “Brooklyn” is a rock-flavored Joell solo cut paying tribute to one of the biggest cities in NY & after the “BK LB Blend” interlude, “Community Center” blends some strings & congo drums reflecting on the days where you used to find them.

“Long Beach Blvd.” is of course a rugged KXNG CROOKED solo joint talking about his neck of the woods while “Pawnshop Jewelry” shoots for a jazzier aesthetic bragging that they have a waterfall full of diamonds. After the “Officer Pirelli Schools the Rookie” interlude, “911” has a more chaotic vibe airing out the biggest gang in America while “1-800-Get-Hard” & “Stop Playin’ with Kim” are 2 skits going up back-to-back with each other.Continuing from there with “Don’t Forget About Her”, H.A.R.D. jumps on top of a high-pitched sample vividly describing a woman who’s unforgettable while “Dead Body” following the “Nahdeadassyo” interlude ghoulishly paints the image of a corpse floating besides themselves.

After the “Pirelli Doesn’t Like Us!” interlude, “Underground” is a soulful Yaowa solo cut talking about getting what you gotta get & staying clear while the track “Ocean Terminal” with Lin-Manuel Miranda dives into calmer yet melodic territory providing inspirational lyricism. And prior to the “Who Shot Ya?” outro, “Game Over” is a gully finisher calling for everyone to quit snitching on themselves.

Now if you loved H.A.R.D.’s self-titled EP & their full-length debut like I did as someone who was a big fan of Slaughterhouse back in my teen years, then you’re gonna wanna check Harbor City out because it’s their 3rd consecutive banger together. I think the production on here is a bit better than Rise & Fall of Slaughterhouse, but I do admire that they took it back to the basics of self-titled as far as lyricism goes & I like how they bring in more features than they did on their earlier work. Also, I feel like the amount of “commercials” & “dialogues” were a bit excessive.

Score: 4/5

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H.A.R.D. – “The Rise & Fall of Slaughterhouse” review

H.A.R.D. is a hip hop super-duo consisting of Joell Ortiz & KXNG CROOKED. Both of whom have had notorious label issues at the start of their careers, but would go on to see success as members of the supergroup Slaughterhouse along with Royce da 5’9” & Joe Budden from the late 2000s up until the mid-2010s. The quartet had quietly disbanded in 2016 after Joe’s retirement from making music even though it wasn’t confirmed until 2 years later, but the other 3 members have been keeping themselves busy ever since. H.A.R.D. introduced themselves a couple months after the pandemic hit with an incredible eponymous debut EP & with the 2 year anniversary of that approaching in the spring, they’re coming back in the form of a debut album.

After the “Birth” intro, the first song “Vacancy” is a gospel-laced opener produced by The Heatmakerz talking about putting the business in the back & get back in business whereas “Ain’t Nobody Mad” follows it up with an organ provided by DJ Silk addressing those who be asking them why they still be talking about that bullshit. “Backstage” takes a more soulful route wishing real life was like being in a green room just before “Flood Waters” mixes some sputtering drums with pianos talking about how paradise ain’t what it used to be.

Meanwhile on “Fukglasshouse”, we have H.A.R.D. pretty much shooting down any remaining hope of Glass House seeing the light of day over a catastrophic trap beat from DJ Pain 1 leading into a dope sequel to “Brother’s Keeper” off Yaowa’s 3rd album House Slippers. “Almighty” weaves some horns in to get on their battle rap shit, but then “Smoke” comes through with a more calmer sound talking about not doing all the industry functions.

“Coastin’” has a more tenser sound calling out someone who ain’t down to ride while the song “Still in My Feelings” is a worthy sequel to “In My Feelings” off Joell’s latest solo effort Autograph. The penultimate track “Look Mama” serves as a touching dedication to both of their mothers & lastly, “Sorry” closes out the album with a chipmunk soul sample apologizing to everyone for the way Slaughterhouse ended.

I think the self-titled EP has better production, but Joell & Crook come harder on here lyrically. Coming from someone who was once a big fan of Slaughterhouse, it’s a little fucked up that they didn’t tell Royce or Joe about it until it was announced but I can’t deny how interesting it is to hear these guys looking back on their time in the group.

Score: 4/5

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Joell Ortiz – “Autograph” review

This is the 8th full-length album from Brooklyn veteran Joell Ortiz. Emerging after being featured in the Unsigned Hype column of the March 2004 issue of The Source Magazine, he went on to sign to Aftermath Entertainment for a brief period of time before leaving to drop his official debut The Brick: Bodega Chronicles under MNRK Music Group. I also can’t forget to mention when Slaughterhouse rose to prominence off their self-titled debut], which led Eminem signing the supergroup to Shady Records a decade ago already. But sadly, their major label debut welcome to: OUR HOUSE that came out the next summer would unfortunately end up being their last & everyone has been doing their own thing since. But with the 2-year anniversary of Monday coming & going over the summer, Yaowa is back on the scene in the form of Autograph.

“In My Feelings” is a confessional opener with a mesmerizing Heatmakerz instrumental whereas “Uncle Chris Car” takes a more chipmunk soul route telling listeners to imagine a world full of peace. “Housing Authority” of course finds H.A.R.D. coming together for some battle rap shit even though Hesami’s production is just ok, but then “1 Day” weaves in a heavenly Apollo Brown beat looking back on the days when he wasn’t as big as he is now.

Meanwhile on “Masked Up, we have Joell on top of a minimally tribal beat getting in his shit-talking bay just before the Salaam Remi-produced “Sincerely Yours” serves as a jazzy victory lap. “OG” pays homage to those in the rap game who’ve gotten to be around long enough to be considered as such over a high-pitched vocal loop, but then “Lifeline” has a twangier vibe dedicating the joint to his woman.

“Goin’ Thru It” passionately encourages people to fight through the tears to live your life until CyHi the Prynce tags along for the cutthroat “Holy Ghost” & I love how Namir Blade’s production switches from a simple bass-line into some dusty boom bap shit. The song “Therapeutic” brings in some sweet background vocals comparing music to therapy while the penultimate track “Love is Love” with Sheek Louch finds the 2 talking about still being street over some tense vocal chops. Finally, “Doors Up” ends the album by on a more lighthearted note opening up on the famous life.

For all the Yaowa fans that enjoyed Monday as much as I did, then you’re gonna dig Autograph just as much if not even more. It fantastically picks up right where the previous album left off in terms of the content being even deeper with the usual suspects behind the boards like The Heatmakerz & Apollo Brown continue to bring the best out of this most vulnerable side of him.

Score: 4/5

H.A.R.D. – Self-Titled review

This is the brand new collaborative EP from Brooklyn & Long Beach veterans Joell Ortiz & KXNG CROOKED. Both of whom have had notorious label issues at the start of their careers, but would go on to see success as members of the supergroup Slaughterhouse along with Royce da 5’9” & Joe Budden from the late 2000s up until the mid-2010s. The quartet had quietly disbanded in 2016 after Joe’s retirement from making music, but it wasn’t confirmed until 2 years later. However after the 3 remaining members got back together on “I Will” off of Eminem’s latest album MUSIC TO BE MURDERƎD BY, Yaowa & Crook are teaming up on H.A.R.D. (Housing Authority Rap District).

The title track finds the duo talk about being humble for too long over a Heatmakerz instrumental with some beautiful background vocals whereas the next song “Get Ya Money” talks about how there’s 6,000,000 ways to make bread over a boom bap beat from Erick Sermon. The track “Caddy Bump (LBC)” is a Crook solo joint about growing up in the eastside with a ghostly instrumental from !llmind while the song “Catchin’ Bodies” sees the 2 getting back together for some vicious battle bars over a grand instrumental from Apollo Brown.

The track “Lose My Mind” talks about growing up where they come from over a lone acoustic instrumental while the song “Wolves (BRKLYN)” is a solo Joell joint where he totally airs someone out over bloodcurdling beat from the J.U.ST.I.C.E. League. The penultimate track “Lovely” talks about waking up to the same thing over a shadowy beat & then the EP finishes with “Memorial Day”, where Crook & Yaowa pay tribute to those who’ve passed away this year.

If this is the closest we’ll ever get to a new Slaughterhouse project then coming from someone who used to be a huge fan of the supergroup back in the day, then I’d be totally ok with it. The production is grimy as Hell & the chemistry between both MCs is fantastic as well. 

Score: 4/5