Black Soprano Family Records – “Long Live DJ Shay” review

This is the 2nd showcase compilation from Buffalo independent hip hop label Black Soprano Family Records. Founded in 2016 by Benny the Butcher of Griselda fame, the roster has significantly grown throughout the years with the likes of Duffel Bag Hottie to Rick Hyde & even battle rap icon RJ Payne. The label has maintained a distribution deal with MNRK Music Group since everything was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic a couple summers back & put out an eponymous debut EP hosted by DJ Drama not too long after, but is following it up in the form of Long Live DJ Shay.

The intro kicks it all off with a sinister boom bap instrumental from the late DJ Shay himself & Fuego Base popping in during the last minute or so after a spoken word piece from Westside Gunn going at B$F’s opposition whereas “Shay Face” by Benny & Rick Hyde works in some piano chords to remind everyone of their authenticity. “297 Parkside” by Elcamino, Rick & Stove God Cook$ brings a high-pitched sample to the fold thanks to Camoflauge Monk paying homage to the titular street in NY prior to “Danger Zone” by Heem, O.T. the Real & Ricky grimly talking about spending many nights in the titular space.

Meanwhile on “Pandemic Flow”, we have Conway the Machine & Cory Gunz accompanying Rick Hyde over some spooky Uncle Al production to brag how crazy they go leading into the Heem solo cut “Bastard Child” declaring himself as such over a flute-tinged boom bap beat. After the “Sit Down with Preemo” skit, Benny returns alongside Heem & Ricky for the dusty “Times is Rough” laced by none other than DJ Premier confessing they’re running out of reasons to sympathize just before “Mustachios” by Boldy James, Chase Fetti & Heem brings a guitar & hi-hats into the fold talking about the mafia lifestyles they live.

“Li-Lo” by Elcamino, Krayzie Bone & Loveboat Luciano comes through with a summery love anthem & the song “Bigger B$F” by Armani Caesar, Benny, Heem & Rick following the “Respect to Shay” interlude sees the quartet ruggedly bragging about their increasing profile. The penultimate track “Brody” by Elcamino & Heem has a more soulful tone to it confessing that the streets made them who they are today with “Mr. Pyrex Man” by Benny ending the album with a glistening trap instrumental spitting that hustler shit.

If you enjoyed the self-titled EP that B$F put out a couple years ago, then you’re probably gonna like Long Live DJ Shay even more. The production has improved, everyone on the label roster sounds even hungrier than last time, the features are all well-picked out for a good majority of the album & I think it would all make Shay more than proud.

Score: 3.5/5

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FlexxBabyy – “Barbara’s Son” review

This is the 4th EP from Atlanta recording artist FlexxBabyy. Coming up in the spring of 2020 after Benny the Butcher signed him to his MNRK Music Group imprint Black Soprano Family Records, he has gone on to drop a plethora of singles & 3 EPs since being taken under the Buffalo emcee/entrepreneur’s wing. He just dropped OutKast a few months back & is already following it up in the form of Barbara’s Son now that we’re about halfway through the summer at this point.

“1 Day” is a short yet catchy trap opener talking about how cats stay mad at him whereas “Bothering Meh” works in a rage beat to confess that he has shit buggin’ him. “Other Hand” shoots for a more cloudier aesthetic to chase the bag leading into the bassy yet somewhat mystic “Racks In” continuing to thirst for the bread.

The song “Stuck to Meh” returns to hypertrap detailing a bitch that’s stuck to him like they use honey while the penultimate track “Wraith” takes it back to a cloudy trap sound talking about trying to pull up in the Rolls-Royce of the same name. “That’s Yo Word” closes the EP with an airy beat with some bells woven in to describe how bad this other bitch is.

Even Benny himself has said in the past that he has bigger plans for BSF by bringing in artists that separate themselves form the boom bap sound that the label has become known for & FlexxBabyy is a good example of that. His hunger only increases by the minute, the songwriting is getting catchier & I can’t knock on the fact that he’s continuing to refine his rage-influenced sound.

Score: 3.5/5

RZA – “Bobby Digital & the Pit of Snakes” review

This is the 5th EP from New York emcee, producer, actor & filmmaker RZA. Widely known as the de facto leader of the almighty Wu-Tang Clan, he was actually the 2nd & last person of the group following GZA to come out with a solo effort before their full-length debut Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers by dropping his debut EP Ooh I Love You Rakeem under Tommy Boy Records just 5 months after The Genius put out his full-length debut Words from the Genius under Cold Chillin’ Records. The Abbott eventually put out his own debut album Bobby Digital in Stereo in the fall of ‘98, which I personally think gets criminally overlooked because people were expecting The Cure & I think it’s safe to say it’s never seeing the light of day at this point. Digital Bullet was a worthy sequel too, but I can’t say the same for Birth of a Prince or Digi Snax. He returned from a 14 year hiatus back in March to drop the DJ Scratch-produced Saturday Afternoon Kung Fu Theater & I still maintain that it’s RZA’s best solo effort since Digital Bullet even though the overall reception was mixed, so I was definitely curious to hear how Bobby Digital & the Pit of Snakes would play out especially since he’s back on the boards for the whole thing also.

“Under the Sun” is a guitar-driven opener talking about how we are all 1 whereas “Trouble Shooting” mixes boom bap & rock to confess that trouble keeps finding him. “Something Going On” has a grander tone to the instrumental as RZA talks about not wanting to die alone just before “We Push” works in some pianos to remind everyone that there’s more to the story.

The track “Cowards” brings back the rock influences which is nice except that the singing throughout is absolutely God awful while the penultimate song “Fight to Win” shoots for a more solemn aesthetic striving for victory. And prior to the “Live Your Own Rhythm” outro, “Celebrate Life” finishes the EP with a colorful ballad about commemorating our time here on planet Earth.

Saturday Afternoon Kung Fu Theater might be a tad bit better in my personal opinion, but that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy Bobby Digital & the Pit of Snakes for what it is because RZA really did drop 2 great EPs back-to-back. The whole concept of him figuring out the nature of his reality & himself is well thought out with him continuing to evolve as a producer & actually suiting him compared to the Wu sounding like they didn’t fit over a majority of the beats that he cooked up for the Clan’s last 2 group albums 8 Diagrams & A Better Tomorrow.

Score: 3.5/5

Rick Hyde – “Stima” review

This is the 9th EP from Buffalo emcee/producer Rick Hyde. One of the flagship artists on Benny the Butcher’s very own MNRK Music Group imprint Black Soprano Family Records, he would go on to drop the impressive full-length debut Plates at the beginning of 2019 after warming everyone up with his first 7 EPs a feature-studded sequel last summer that was preluded by an EP of it’s own. But coming fresh off that, Ricky’s still applying pressure by releasing Stima.

“Who Am I?!” opens up the EP with a chipmunk soul banger properly reintroducing himself to the world whereas “Y Bother Talkin’?” works in some operatic vocal loops to declare no mercy on the weak minded. “Arrivederci” takes a more sinister approach in terms of sound dissing the wankstas leading into the braggadocious “La Spina”, which goes into somewhat of a more futuristic direction with the instrumental.

Meanwhile on “Like This”, we’re treated to a dusty yet raw B$F posse cut describing what real d-boys look like while the song “Ms. Young” gets on his hustler shit & the beat here is kinda similar to that of “Lemon” off Conway the Machine’s classic debut From King to a God. The penultimate track “Poza” with Rome Streetz finds the 2 over a brassy Alchemist instrumental belittling their competition & “Perspective” finishes it off on a glossier note talking about where he’s at now.

For an EP, I’d say Ricky delivered some of the best work of his career with Stima. In comparison to his last album, I really admire how he decided to step it up in the production department & tone it down on the features so he remind everyone that he can undoubtedly hold it down on his own because some of his best pen-work pops up here.

Score: 4/5

Heem – “High Art” review

This is the debut EP from Buffalo emcee Heem. Catching my attention earlier this year after becoming of a protege of Benny the Butcher & signing to his MNRK Music Group imprint Black Soprano Family Records, he also made a few appearances on the label’s showcase EP that dropped a couple summers back before following it up with the impressive debut mixtape Long Story Short a day after my birthday that same year. A year & a half later, he’s now returning with some High Art.

“Don Mega” is a boom bap opener with a crooning vocal loop declaring himself as such whereas “Soul Food” works is some organs talking about smoking weed. The song “Cheech & Chong” keeps the stoner vibes coming down to the psychedelic instrumental while the penultimate track “Hydro Plane” mixes chipmunk soul with pianos talking about weed of course. “Buddah Love, North Fire” ends the EP on a jazzier note asking for an ounce.

Yeah it’s been a little over a week since 4/20 but as a pro-weed advocate himself, I still think High Art is still an awesome offering to all the smokers out there. Marc Spano’s production is some of the best of his career & Heem comes through with some clever raps about his love for that good kush.

Score: 3.5/5

Cypress Hill – “Back in Black” review

This is the 10th full-length album from South Gate’s very own Cypress Hill. Consisting of B-Real & Sen Dog on the mic as well as DJ Muggs on the boards & Eric Bobo on percussion, the quarter would take the west coast by storm a little over 3 decades back off their eponymous full-length debut with Muggs’ unique production style & their pro-marijuana legalization themes. Other standouts in the group’s discography include Black Sunday, my personal favorite Cypress Hill III: Temples of Boom, the criminally underappreciated Cypress Hill IV & even their last one Elephants on Acid. But with the 4 year anniversary of the latter coming up in the fall & since DJ Muggs has been busy fully producing projects for other people ranging from Rome Streetz to more recently Rigz, they’re bringing in Detroit veteran Black Milk to produce Back in Black.

“Takeover” is an energetic opener talking about the return of the group on top of a cloudy boom bap instrumental whereas “Open Ya Mind” goes into a funkier direction celebrating weed being legal in their home-state. Demrick comes into the picture for the groovy “Certified” rightfully bragging about their legacies just before the Dizzy Wright-assisted “Bye Bye” pensively details the warzone that is the hood & the drums are so goddamn dusty.

Meanwhile on “Come with Me”, we have Cypress Hill coming through with a decent homage to the iconic Outlawz joint “Hail Mary” leading into “The Original” taking a funky boom bap route to talk about being OGs in this shit. “Hit ‘Em” finds B-Real & Sen Dog on top of some hi-hats to get anthemic while the song “Break of Dawn” works in a guitar talking about never stopping. The penultimate track “Champion Sound” mixes some elements of trip hop & digital dancehall to declare themselves champs, but then “The Ride” ends the album by jumping on top of a vibraphone & some bongos to tell the story of a crack dealer.

Now for all the fans who weren’t really fucking with Rise Up, then you’re gonna like Back in Black a lot more. In fact, I think it’s one of the best albums that Cypress has put together yet. After all the experimenting that they did on Elephants on Acid, they manage to get one of Detroit’s greatest producers to take them back to their roots & succeeding.

Score: 4/5

RZA – “Saturday Afternoon Kung Fu Theater” review

RZA is a 52 year old MC, producer, actor & filmmaker from New York City who’s widely recognized as being the de facto leader the almighty Wu-Tang Clan. But he was the 2nd & last person of the group following GZA to come out with a solo effort before their full-length debut Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers, dropping his debut EP Ooh I Love You Rakeem under Tommy Boy Records just 5 months after The Genius put out his full-length debut Words from the Genius under Cold Chillin’ Records. It wasn’t until late ‘98 though where RZA put out his own debut album Bobby Digital in Stereo, which I think gets criminally overlooked because people were expecting The Cure. He then followed it up with a worthy sequel Digital Bullet, but I can’t say the same for Birth of a Prince or the conclusion to the Bobby Digital trilogy Digi Snax. But after teasing it during Method Man & Redman’s 4/20 Verzuz, he’s returning from a 14-year break in the form of his 4th EP produced entirely by DJ Scratch.

After the intro”, the title track kicks it all off on a symphonic note as Bobby Digital makes his glorious return whereas “Pugilism” mixes some keyboards & strings to get in his shit-talking bag except his vocals are mixed WAY better than it was when he originally dropped it on YouTube last spring. “Never Love Again” keeps the orchestra vibes going getting lovey dovey while the song “Fate of the World” dispiritedly vents about the current state of the world. The penultimate track “Fisherman” goes into jazzy territory talking about how “no one knows for whom the bell tolls” & lastly, “Kaiju” ends the EP getting conscious on top of a militant beat.

I really didn’t know what to expect from this EP given how mid Birth of a Prince & Digi Snax were as well as the 14 year time gap, but I can honestly say this is The Abbot’s best solo effort in 2 decades. I love how DJ Scratch’s production is pretty much a love letter to The RZA’s unique sound down to the Kung Fu movie samples as he details the collision between him & his alter-ego.

Score: 4/5

Wreckage Manner – Self-Titled review

Wreckage Manner is a newly formed superduo from Queens, New York consisting of Styles P & Havoc. The latter most notable for formerly being 1/2 of the seminal Mobb Deep alongside the late Prodigy & the other coming up as 1/3 of The LOX with his childhood friends Jadakiss & Sheek Louch. Now we’ve heard these guys together a few times before on songs like on “Hard Life” off Filthy America…It’s Beautiful or the Billy Danze loosie “Chasin’ Money”, but was very much looking forward to their full-length debut over here given the impact both of them have on the culture.

“Fuck Around” is an amazingly eerie opener about how the duo don’t play no games whereas “Move How We Wanna” incorporates some heavenly background vocals saying they follow their own blueprint. The strings that “Fiend For” brings to the table are really cool talking about money, power & respect just before “Pay Me in Cash” does a good job of angrily demanding that paper over a dusty boom bap instrumental.

Meanwhile on “21 Gun Salute”, we have Wreckage Manner teaching the youth that keeping it real will get you further in life with the production enhancing a serious tone to it leading into “YO 2 QB” weaves in some more strings serving as a fresh homage to their neck of the woods. “Havoc & the Ghost” is a nice change of pace sonically talking about how they just wanna gross while the song “Good as Gold” calmly declares family over everything.

The penultimate track “Hymn to Him” has a dope lil guitar wailing in the background sending a warning to anyone who dares to cross them & finally, “Nightmares 2 Dreams” is a great sendoff to the album by grimly calling out cats who don’t understand them saying those people don’t even understand themselves.

Now if these guys are gonna make any more albums with each other down the road, then sign me the fuck up because this is a great debut. Havoc’s production remains unmatched & lyrically, he & Styles P sound really good with one another.

Score: 4/5

Grafh – “Stop Calling Art Content” review

Grafh is a 39 year old MC from Queens, New York who came up in 2003 off his debut mixtape The Bang Out. However, he went on to release 7 more tapes before dropping his first full-length album Autografh only a few years later. But with a total of 18 mixtapes & an EP under his belt now, Grafh has signed to Benny the Butcher’s very own MNRK Music Group imprint Black Soprano Family Records for his official sophomore effort produced entirely by the late DJ Shay.

After the intro, the first song “God Bless” is a rich opener praying that his homies make it out the hood whereas “Very Different” with Benny the Butcher works in some high-pitched saxes to compare & contrast themselves to their opposition. “No Reason” has a more settler boom bap tone talking about being the top chef, but then “Chosen” takes a more occult route comparing himself to that of a prodigy.

Meanwhile on “Out the Pot”, we get some keyboard embellishments & dusty drums to talk about how it’s all in the wrist leading into Heem & Rick Hyde tagging along for the uptempo “Promise” which despite it’s annoying hook has a great message to it about staying true to their words. CyHi the Prynce & 3D Na’Tee come into the picture for the ominous “Slums” detailing their way up to the top just before the soulful “From the Start” with Bun B & Styles P speaks on foreseeing their success.

“Bellini” has a bit of a theatrical tone instrumentally talking about doing it all while the organ-laced “Crystals” spitting that slanger shit. The penultimate track “Valid” with Ransom & Sheek Louch sinisterly talks about everything being well-founded & if you couldn’t tell by the title of “God Must Love Me”, it serves as a heartfelt closer thanking the higher power for where he is today.

I’ve enjoyed a couple of this dude’s tapes every here & there throughout the year, but Stop Calling Art Content really exceeded my expectations coming away from it. Quite possibly his finest hour in my opinion. Even though Shay has been gone for almost a year now, his sound & Grafh’s lyricism bounce off each other so naturally on this album.

Score: 4/5