Black Star – “no fear of time” review

This is the highly anticipated sophomore album from Brooklyn duo Black Star. Consisting of Yasiin Bey & Talib Kweli, the pair started off as childhood friends before dropping their self-titled debut in the fall of ‘98 to universal acclaim. Both parties would go on to have very successful solo careers of their own, but reunited with Madlib in late 2019 when they recorded no fear of time & is finally seeing the light of day thanks to Luminary.

“O.G. (On God)” opens up the album talking about how the real don’t die over a bass-guitar & some strings hanging in the background whereas “So Be It” has somewhat of a rugged quality to the instrumental going at the throats of anyone who wants to step up to them lyrically. “Sweetheart. Sweethard. Sweetodd” takes a more soulful route getting romantic just before “My Favorite Band” works in a crooning vocal sample to make a dedication to their favorite group of human beings.

Meanwhile on “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing”, we have Yasiin & Kweli on some pianos & dusty drums talking about how automatic they are leading into the entrancing “Yonders” delivering bars like “Real G’s try to stop the violence” as well as how Satan runs everytime they smell him coming. The track “Supreme Alchemy” shoots for a more mellow sound talking about paying tribute & commemorating shortly after while the penultimate song “Freequency” with Black Thought finds the trio over a beat with some jazzy undertones to it repping the few that can sell you their life stories. The title track ends the album by keeping the jazz going talking about floating on.

I didn’t think this album would ever see the light of day, but I’m sure happy as Hell that it did because this is a stellar follow-up to their self-titled debut. Madlib’s production is a bit more abstract in comparison to the duo’s debut, but both of them sound incredibly laser-focused & manage to deliver the conscious hip hop we’ve all come to know & love them for as if it hasn’t been almost 24 years.

Score: 4.5/5

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

Madlib – “Sound Ancestors” review

This is a brand new album from Oxnard icon Madlib. Getting his start as 1/3 of the trio Lootpack, he would go on to become one of the most well respected producers in all of hip hop from his unique ear for sample to his vast discography ranging from Madvillainy to WLIB AM: King of the Wigflip & his 2 albums under the high-pithed alter ego Quasimoto. However to finish off the first month of 2021, the Beat Konducta coming through with a new batch of beats.

After the futuristic “There Is No Time” intro, the first instrumental “The Call” throws it back to the days of ’70s blaxpoitation films whereas the “Theme de Crabtree” dabbles into boom bap territory. The “Road of the Lonely Ones” instrumental has a bittersweet, soulful vibe that I like a lot while “Loose Goose” is probably the quirkiest beat in the tracklisting. The “Dirtknock” instrumental cleverly fuses elements of boom bap & trip hop while “Hopprock” experiments with sound collage & field recordings. The “Riddim Chant” instrumental is the perfect track to smoke to with it’s stripped-back sound while the title track dives right into spiritual jazz territority.

The 2-parter “One for Quartabê / Right Now” starts off by going into a Latin direction à la The Medicine Show 2: Flight to Brazil, but then transitions into something more smoother. The “Hang Out (Phone Off)” instrumental jumps right back into that traditional boom bap sound while “Two for 2” is a super funky tribute to the late J Dilla. The “Latino Negro” instrumental switches gears back into Latin territority while “The New Normal” makes me feel like I’m being ascedened to the pearly gates. The “Chino” instrumental fuses together elements of boom bap & soul very well whereas “Duumbiyay” obviously throws it back to Beat Konducta, Vols. 3 & 4: Beat Konducta in India with it’s Middle Eastern samples.

Dude is one of my all-time favorite producers & he does not disappoint on this new album whatsoever. It’s amalgoration of all the sounds he’s dabbled with in the past from experimental hip hop & jazz to Indian & Brazilian music. If you’re a true fan of Madlib’s production, then this is a must listen in my eyes.

Score: 4/5

The Professionals – Self-Titled review

The Professionals are a hip hop duo from Oxnard, California consisting of Oh No on the mic along with his older brother Madlib on production. Both of whom have made household names for themselves in the West Coast underground in their own rights. An album together has been long overdue in my opinion & has been hinted at since 2008, but it seems like we’re finally getting it a little over a decade later.

After the “My House” intro, we get right into the first song “The Pros”. Which is a very short but gritty way for the duo to reintroduce themselves to the listener. The next track “Payday” of course talks about making money over a nondescript instrumental while the song “Give N Take” tells the story of Oh No trying to sleep with a woman at 3am over a somewhat funky instrumental with this vocal sample relaying in & out like a radio transmission. The track “Superhumans” with Chino XL & eLZhi sees the 3 comparing themselves to superheroes over a haunting instrumental while the song “Buggin'” talks about people annoying him over a somber beat.

The track “CDP Breakdown” talks about wanting to fight someone over a grimy boom bap beat while the song “Timeless Treasure” gets conscious over a tense instrumental. The track “I Jus Wanna” talks about wanting to relax over a mellow boom bap beat while the song “Away Too Long” talks about the rap game over an extravagant instrumental. The track “Make Due” is a dedication to people putting their last buck on trying to get it over a gorgeous instrumental while the song “Tired Atlas” is another politically charged cut much like “Timeless Treasure” over a hypnotic loop. The album then finishes with “Dishonored Valor”, where Oh No talks about the soldiers who went A.W.O.L. over a vintage sample.

I personally have been waiting on this album for a long time & now that we finally got it, it’s not as perfect as I’d hoped yet solid. Madlib’s production is creative always & Oh No’s rapping is sharp, but it could’ve used a couple more features in my opinion. Nonetheless, I’m still happy with the outcome of what the 2 legendary Oxnard siblings did together.

Score: 4/5

MadGibbs – “Bandana” review

MadGibbs is a super-duo consisting of the renown Oxnard, California producer Madlib & Gary, Indiana rapper Freddie Gibbs. The 2 started out releasing a handful of EPs throughout this decade, but it wouldn’t be until 2014 that saw the release of their iconic full-length debut Piñata. 5 years have passed & the duo have released their long-awaited sophomore album.

After the “Obrigado” intro, we go into the first song “Freestyle Shit”. Where Freddie pretty much raps about wanting it all over a jazzy beat. The track “Half Manne Half Cocaine” canes about the things he deserves over a surprisingly banging trap beat that later switches into something more nocturnal while the song “Crime Pays” of course talks about drug dealing over a soothing instrumental. The track “Massage Seats” flaunts about his new lifestyle over a prominent with a female vocal sample while the song “Palmolive” with Pusha T talks about making money & the sample that Madlib incorporates into the cut is alluring.

The track “Fake Names” tells the story of someone who was like a brother to him over a somewhat funky boom bap beat that later switches up into some relaxing woodwinds while the song “Flat Tummy Tea” gets mafioso over an intoxicating boom bap beat that later switches up into something more atmospheric. The track “Situations” talks about being a representer over a meditative beat while the song “Giannis” with Anderson .Paak sees the 2 spitting some game to the youth over a Middle Eastern sample. The track “Practice” is dedicated to the mother of his child over a luscious soul sample while the song “Cataracts” gets charismatic over an uplifting instrumental that later switches into more orchestral.

The track “Gat Damn” is a heart-wrenching ode to one of his fallen homies over a boom bap beat that suits the mood while the penultimate song “Education” with Yasiin Bey & Black Thought sees the 3 giving the listeners just that over a luxurious beat. The album finishes off with fireworks on “Soul Right”, where Gangsta Gibbs talks about getting his life together over a synth-heavy instrumental.

There seriously isn’t a single second of this album that I personally dislike, I really think MadGibbs just came through with the best album of 2019 & one that’s just as equally flawless as Piñata was 5 years ago. Madlib’s production is more dynamic than the last album, yet it maintains a unique sound that makes a perfect musical background for Freddie’s coke raps in the vein of an incredible blaxploitation film for the second time in a row.

Score: 5/5