eLZhi – “Zhigeist” review

This is the 4th full-length album from Detroit veteran eLZhi. Rising to prominence as a member of Slum Village shortly after the departure of the late J Dilla about 2 decades ago, he eventually saw success of his own with his classic solo debut The Preface in the summer of ‘08 & was followed up 8 years later with Lead Poison. His last album 7 Times Down, 8 Times Up just celebrated it’s 1 year anniversary a few months back & that happens to be my 2nd favorite of his behind The Preface due to JR Swiftz’ stellar production as well as it’s resilience heavy concept. However, eLZhi is now enlisting Georgia Anne Muldrow behind the boards for Zhigeist.

After the “News from the Ship” intro, the first song “Amnesia” sets off the album with a peppy ballad advising not to forget that you’re loved whereas “Every Moment” goes into soulful territory talking about decorating every day in your own way. “King Shit (Say Word)” mixes some pianos & synthesizers to declare himself royalty leading into “Understanding”, which swaps out the synths for a funky bass-line talking about comprehending one another.

Meanwhile on “Already Gone”, we have eLZhi keeping the funk going describing himself as somewhat of a mystery just before “Strangeland” works in some keys & dusty drums to talk about being king. “Pros & Cons” comes through with a powerful dedication to all his peoples while the song “Nefertiti” goes into a more romantic direction & it’s just alright. But after the interlude, “Compassion” closes out the album fantastically by going back into a funkier route thanking listeners.

I’m always excited for new eLZhi given that he’s one of my top 5 emcees to ever come out of my hometown & he sure did deliver here. I find it intriguing the way Georgia blends elements of multiple genres in her production & together, they deliver a damn near perfect love letter to people of color.

Score: 4.5/5

Stalley – “Blacklight” review

Stalley is a 39 year old MC from Massillon, Ohio who came up in 2008 off his debut mixtape Goin’ Ape. This was followed up with MadStalley: The Autobiography & Lincoln Way Nights, which led Rick Ross signing him to Maybach Music Group. However, he would only put out 4 tapes & the full-length debut Ohio under Rozay’s wing before leaving in 2017. New Wave & Another Level both came out through Real Talk Entertainment which were kinda mediocre honestly, but the Nature Sounds-backed sophomore effort Reflection of Self: The Head Trip wound up being his best since Saving Yusuf. But now in light of his deal with Mello Music Group, it’s only right for Detroit’s very own Apollo Brown to produce Stalley’s 4th album from front to back.

After the “Hidden” intro, the title track is a rich opener about everything you’re hiding behind coming to light whereas “Love Me, Love Me Not” with Skyzoo joyously follows it up by calling out those who pray on their downfall. “No Monsters” works in some piano melodies to speak on those who don’t understand where the hunger comes from leading into the psychedelic boom bap banger “We Outside” encouraging to stay on your grind.

Meanwhile on “Humble Wins”, we have Stalley taking a more orchestral turn talking about catching the Ws in silence just before the synth-heavy “Breathe” finds him not letting the pressure fuck with his focus. “Lost Angels” almost has a bit of a gospel influence to it admitting a spiritual connection with the block, but then “Catch Up” incorporates some choir vocals getting on some grown man shit.

Joell Ortiz tags along for the whimsical “Bobby Bonilla” to chase that bag while “The Realest” declares himself as such over a jazz/trap fusion. “Broad Spectrum” has a more nocturnal sound to it talking about victories coming with a price-tag while the vulnerable “Stay Low” gets on some introspective life shit. The final song “What the Hook Gon’ Be?” brings in a woodwind & live drums talking about bringing pressure to the streets, but then “Omari’s Lament” ends the album with a spoken word piece.

Even though I enjoyed Stalley’s output back in the Maybach days, I think Blacklight has surpassed all of those projects in terms of quality. He’s always shown his potential as lyricist, but it all comes full circle here & Apollo Brown’s production is top notch as to be expected.

Score: 4.5/5

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

Guilty Simpson – “Ego” review

Guilty Simpson is a 47 year old MC from Detroit, Michigan who came up as a member of the Almighty Dreadnaughtz collective & a frequent collaborator of the late J Dilla. However, it wasn’t until late March of 2008 where he officially branched out on a solo career by having Stones Throw Records back his incredible full-length debut Ode to the Ghetto. He has since followed it up with a handful of equally great projects including his Madlib-produced sophomore album O.J. Simpson, the Apollo Brown-produced Dice Game & the Oh No-produced Simpson Tape just to name a few. But with the 2 year anniversary of his 5th EP Actus Reus approaching in a little over a couple weeks, Guilty is having Mello Music Group help put out his 6th full-length album & is enlisting Gensu Dean to produce it in it’s entirety.

The title track starts off the album with a guitar loop getting on his battle shit whereas “Don’t Pull” is a much more confrontational boom bap cut. “Break’em Off” passionately throws shots at those who’ve betrayed him, but then the piano-laced “Could’ve Been” confesses that he’s only here for his people.

Meanwhile on “Deep Breath”, we have Marv Won & Black Milk tagging along to aggressively continue to go at their opposition’s throats just before “Talk to Me” spookily details how people will kill you for $1K. “Hating” takes a chipmunk soul route as Guilt & Skyzoo address their doubters leading into the gruesomely vile “Dead Breathing”.

“Only” introspectively expresses his desire to have good vibes around him from hereon out while the song “You’re the One” takes a more soulful approach getting romantic. The penultimate track “Right Mind” with Yarbrough brings in some dusty drums talking about taking their people out of their sanity & the organ-laced “Cohiba Smoke” ends the album by attacking his enemies.

Guilty has always been amongst the illest MCs to emerge out of this reviewer’s hometown & Ego has to be one of the best albums he’s out out yet. His ever so sharp pen-game & Gensu Dean’s signature boom bap production coming together as a whole is just as satisfying as PB&J.

Score: 4/5

Homeboy Sandman – “anjelitu” review

Homeboy Sandman is a 40 year old MC from Queens, New York who came to my attention when he dropped his 4th album albeit his Stones Throw Records debut 1st of a Living Breed almost 9 years ago at this point. The dude would go on to drop 3 more full-lengths & 7 EPs with them before jumping ship to Mello Music Group in 2019. His first album on the label Dusty was alright, but the Quelle Chris-produced Don’t Feed the Monster. that came out last October was much better. But after forming the duo Lice with local wordsmith Aesop Rock & dropping 3 EPs together, we’re actually getting a change of pace as Sandman’s letting Aes produced his 8th EP from front to back.

“Go Hard” is a charismatic opener about being in beast mode with some guitar licks whereas “West Coast” is a g-funk banger with references to “Hail Mary” & “Hand on the Pump”. Meanwhile on “F.Y.I. (For Your Information)”, we go into a bit of a rock direction for Sandman to talk about how he’s still dope after a decade just before continuing to bust into a more speedier flow on “Cow’s Milk” & the beat on here is kin to 70’s exploitation films. The penultimate track “No Beef” is a powerful vegetarianism anthem & the closer “Lice, Lice Baby” works in a piano instrumental possibly preluding Lice 4.

I think Anjelitu has to be my favorite project that Sandman has dropped under MMG so far, although I do enjoy the vulnerability of Don’t Feed the Monster. It’s really interesting to hear him put his own spin on the whole yin/yang concept in Ancient Chinese philosophy & it just goes to show that we don’t talk about Aes’ production skills as much as his massive vocabulary.

Score: 4/5

Skyzoo – “All the Brilliant Things” review

Skyzoo is a 38 year old MC from Brooklyn, New York rising in the underground off l the 9th Wonder produced Cloud 9: The 3 Day High. He continued to make a name for himself with a lengthy yet very consistent discography that includes the full-length debut The Salvation, the !llmind produced Live from the Tape Deck, A Dream Deferred, Music for My Friends, the Apollo Brown produced The Easy Truth, In Celebration of Us & my personal favorite: the Pete Rock-produced Retropolitan. Last time we heard from Sky was a year ago with the Father’s Day-themed EP Milestones & knowing his grind, he’s back at it with his 7th album.

“Free Jewelry” starts the album off by sampling Gap Mangione’s “Diana in the Autumn Wind” & lyrics looking back on Sky’s career whereas “St. James Liquor” is a celebratory boom bap banger. Al Skratch of all people appears on the jazzy “A Tour of the Neighborhood”, is which literally a look into the area they grew up in. “Rich Rhetoric” is a intricate breakdown of the wealthy backed by a dusty beat while “Bodega Flowers” incorporates some kick-drums & a somewhat funky bass-line accompanying lyrics about appreciation.

Meanwhile on “Something to Believe In”, we get a sample of the iconic Roy Ayers joint “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” along with the concept of being blessed even when Satan is testing him & even though “Humble Brag” speaks for itself conceptually, the vocals in the background are pleasant to the ear. “I Was Supposed to Be a Trap Rapper” takes a look at Skyzoo’s past with JR Swiftz’ production constantly switching from gritty to jazzy while “Plugs & Connections” has rich instrumental & the theme of this is: “ain’t nobody tell nobody what’s to be expected”.

“The Scrimmage” has a hypnotic vocal sample as well as lyrics about minding your limits while we go back to into jazz territory for “Culture-Ish”, which is about passing it down until the baton’s gone. The song “Bed-Stuy’s Burning” speaks on the gentrification of the titular neighborhood accompanied by a live band while the self-produced penultimate track “What Money Taught Us” tells us just that over some keyboards. The album then ends with “Soft Eyes”, which is a glossy romance tune.

It’s always a rejoicing thing whenever this dude drops a project & this is no different from that. Not just because the production has some jazzy undertones to it & some great sample choices, but the whole concept of new era of cultural appropriation is well executed.

Score: 4/5

Namir Blade – “Imaginary Everything” review

Namir Blade is a 28 year old MC/producer from Nashville, Tennessee who first emerged at the beginning of 2018 off the strength of his debut album O.S.T. Worlds & Dreams. However, a lot of people (including myself) weren’t really familiar with the cat until he signed to Mello Music Group & dropped his critically acclaimed sophomore album Aphelion’s Traveling Circus this past fall. 8 months later, L’Orange is being tapped in to produce Namir’s 3rd full-length outing from start to finish.

The titular opener has these grand horn sections & Jimi Hendrix-esque guitar lead that I really like, but Namir’s vocals are totally buried in the mix. The next song “Lyra” continues to go into rock territory with lyrics about possibly becoming the next big thing whereas “Nihilism” is a wailing look into just that. Quelle Chris jumps on the boom bap flavored “Point to Point” to help talk about spending time on the road & despite the brevity of “Out East”, I love the Chappelle’s Show homage at the start & the overall charm of it.

We go back into that rap rock sound on “Corner Store Scandal”, which is literally about a unique purchase he made at a corner store. Fly Anakin jumps on the bass guitar-tinged “Gassed Up” to depict “pulling a shinobi” while “Shotgun” talks about holding it down backed by an instrumental that kinda has a psychedelic-flare to it. The peppy “Somebody’s Anthem” opens up the struggles of being “black on the interstate” before going into a more soulful direction to talk about wanting a lil life.

Meanwhile on “Murphy’s Law”, we get a warping beat as Namir foreshadows a shitty day before going melodic for 2-minutes on the minimally-produced “I Can Change”. The album then finishes off with “Pipe Dream”, where he & Marlowe jump on a spacey instrumental to boast their lyrical skills.

I was curious to hear where Namir Blade was gonna take things after Aphelion’s Traveling Circus, but man he really killed it on Imaginary Everything. Easily his best work to date in my opinion. His writing has improved & L’Orange’s production is otherworldly. If their goal was to make something extravagant out of the mundane, both parties have succeeded.

Score: 4/5

Che Noir – “As God Intended” review

Che Noir is a 26 year old MC from Buffalo, New York that I’ve been keeping up with for the past couple years now. I first caught wind of her through here extensive collaborations with 38 Spesh whether it be Che featured on his projects or Spesh producing a couple of her EPs. But to change things up, she’s enlisting Detroit veteran Apollo Brown for her full-length debut.

The album kicks off with “Anti-Social”, where Che talks about being a star since she was a kid over a boom bap beat with a luxurious piano-lead. The next song “Blood’s Thicker” paints a picture of what it was like for her growing up in Buffalo over a vintage soul sample while the track “Hustle Don’t Give” with Black Thought finds the 2 spitters being money hungry over an upbeat instrumental. The song “Money Orientated” lyrically needs no further explanation over a mystical beat while the track “12 Hours” tells the story of Che killing her man after catching him cheating on her with her friend Lisa over a desponding instrumental.

The song “Hold It Down” with Ty Farris sees the 2 talking about fighting until they die over an orchestral beat while the track “Daddy’s Girl” talks about her father being absent in her life on top of a spacious instrumental. The song “Worth Gold” talks bout being an adolescent over a somber boom bap beat while “The Apple” with Planet Asia finds the 2 making a dedication to black women worldwide over over a peaceful instrumental.

The song “Freedom” tackles racism in the United States over a woozy boom bap beat while the track “Follow the Wisdom” with Skyzoo displays a churchy beat & the way Apollo flips Scarface’s “My Block” on the hook is just incredible. The song “Winter” talks about how this man loves the streets more than her over a jazzy beat while the penultimate track “Live By the Code” over a tempting instrumental. The album then finishes with “’94”, which is a tribute to some of Che’s influences from Biggie to G-Unit over a meditative boom bap beat.

Buffalo has really been taking over the hip hop scene in recent years thanks to Griselda & this album only proves that Che Noir is on her way to becoming one of the illest female spitters out today. Throughout its 51 minute runtime, you’ll find some of her best songwriting to date accompanied by Apollo Brown‘s ever-so-phenomenal set of production.

Score: 4.5/5

Skyzoo – “Milestones” review

This is the 6th EP from New York veteran Skyzoo. Rising to prominence with the 9th Wonder produced Cloud 9: The 3 Day High, the man continued to make a name for himself with a lengthy yet very consistent discography. This includes his full-length debut The Salvation, the !llmind produced Live from the Tape Deck, A Dream Deferred, Music for My Friends, the Apollo Brown produced The Easy Truth & In Celebration of Us. But I really think it wasn’t until last September where he really outdid himself & dropped his magnum opus Retropolitan, which was entirely produced by the revered Pete Rock. However with Father’s Day coming around the corner, Skyzoo is celebrating with Milestones.

The opener “Memory Serves Me” fondly looks back on the early years of his childhood over a jazzy boom bap beat & keep in mind: This is a sound that’s prominently featured all over the entire EP. Following that is the next song “At Least I Got One”, where Skyzoo speaks on being grateful for having a father figure in his life in such a profoundly fashion.

The track “Turning 10” then  talks about his relationship with his father adjusting as he got older & this subject matter is continued on in the song right after “Duffel Bag Weekends” as he looks back on what it was like for him having to visit both his parent’s individual houses as an adolescent.

Then the track “Eyes Wide Shut” continues to speak from the heart as Skyzoo discusses how his father has ”been up” since the Christmas Eve he was born & that he himself has “been up” since late 2017. The song right after is a touching dedication to all fathers worldwide & then “Duly Noted” is a great way to finish things off as we delivers a long verse full of wisdom on top of a blissful piano lead.

Skyzoo has always had an impeccably consistent discography & this is no exception at all. I really love the way he incorporates the jazz elements into the production & it’s refreshing to hear an MC talk about fatherhood in a more positive fashion.

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