Aesop Rock – “Garbology” review

This is the 9th full-length album from New York emcee/producer Aesop Rock. Universally revered for his massive vocabulary, the man has put out a handful of underground hip hop essentials throughout the decades whether it be his solo catalogue or his membership of groups like Hail Mary Mallon or Malibu Ken. Last we heard from him was Spirit World Field Guide & now with the 1-year anniversary of that coming up over the weekend, long-time collaborator Blockhead is being brought in to produce Garbology from start to finish.

After the “Only Picture” intro, the first song “Jazz Hands” is a cloudy kickoff to the album serving as a “love note to the fuck show” whereas “Wolf Piss” grimly talks about making motherfuckers disappear if they trip the wrong light. “Legerdemain” goes into a more funkier route saying he went home different leading into the tuba, boom bap infused “Difficult” finds him admittedly bugging.

Meanwhile on “All the Smartest People”, we have Aesop over a drumless instrumental telling listeners that the titular type he knows personally are paranoid just before the dusty “Oh Fudge” talks about metaphorically having no bones. “More Cycles” weaves in some synthesizers saying he doesn’t ever blink first, but then “Flamingo Pink” ominously calls out his idols as cons.

Lice reunites for the psychedelic “All Day Breakfast” reminding everyone of how well they mesh with each other whereas “Fizz” groovily talks about a dude being a lame. The song “That’s Not a Wizard” incorporates some pianos speaking on bare-witnessing the second first step while the penultimate track “The Sea” has a more scrubbier vibe talking about how it all falls below. “Abandoned Malls” closes out the album on a more dramatic note talking about the death of his close friend Kurt Hayashi.

Blockhead has produced some of the best songs of Aes’ career, so it was only a matter of time that they came together for an entire album & it’s exactly how I imagined it to be. The whole concept of examining material discarded by a society to see what it really means is well-thought out & as talented as he is behind the boards, it’s nice to see him take it back to basics.

Score: 4.5/5

Atmosphere – “Word?” review

This is the 12th full-length album from renown Minneapolis duo Atmosphere. Coming up as a trio in the late 90’s off at their critically acclaimed debut Overcast!, they would later go on to build an independent empire with their Rhymesayers Entertainment label whether that be signing acts from Brother Ali to the late Eyedea or putting out their best bodies of work like God Loves Ugly or Sad Clown Bad Dub 9. But for the last 3 years now, Slug & Ant have been treating their fans to a new album every year starting out with Mi Vida Local. Now with the 1 year anniversary of The Day Before Halloween coming at the end of the month, Atmosphere is continuing their new tradition by dropping Word?.

“Fleetwood” is a rich boom bap opener saying he’s glad he’s not the same person as he once was whereas “Something” thunderously encourages listeners to get back up when pushed down. Evidence & Muja Messiah both come into the picture for the bass guitar-infused “Crumbs” speaking on their obsessive compulsions, but then “Woes” glisteningly details that you can’t love without misery.

Meanwhile on “Strung”, we have Musab accompanying Atmosphere on top of a melodic vocal sample expressing that they’re feeling tense just before “Clocked” is a misty declaration that time is killing us. “Sleepless” works in some keys & hi-hats as Nino Bless tags along to tackle the theme of insomnia leading into the eerie “Distances” pleads to leave him & his family alone.

“Carousel” mesmerizingly talks about wanting to protect myself from his lover’s sting while “Vanish” is a short yet vibrant & funky little freestyle. “Pressed” serves as a tribal posse cut with Anwar HighSign, Lateef the Truthspeaker & Sa-Roc being amongst the best of the 6 while the song “Skull” hauntingly details a night where he or Ant was supposed to die.

The penultimate track “Nekst” works in some acoustics & handclaps airing out someone he loved ending up betraying him, but then “Barcade” with Aesop Rock & the late MF DOOM ends the album with a complete lyrical annihilation with the Hellish beat fitting into the mix ever so flawlessly.

As much as I liked The Day Before Halloween for it’s experimentations, I think the hardcore fans are gonna dig Word? a bit more. Ant takes it back to the duo’s signature sound & Slug’s lyricism is as lighthearted as it was back in their prime almost 2 decades ago.

Score: 3.5/5

Evidence – “Unlearning” review

Evidence is a 44 year old MC/producer & former graffiti artist from Venice, California coming up in the early 90’s as part of the trio Dilated Peoples alongside Rakaa & DJ Babu. He’s also established himself as a solo artist along the way, dropping his debut album The Weatherman under ABB Records in 2007 & making himself at home with the renown Minneapolis powerhouse Rhymesayers Entertainment since ‘09. Last time we heard from him was at the beginning of 2018 when he dropped Weather or Not & now after putting out 3 singles throughout this spring, Ev’s making his return by putting out his 4th full-length album.

“Better You” kicks things off as a grimy ode to self improvement with The Alchemist on the boards whereas “Start the Day with a Beat” jumps on a jazzy boom bap instrumental from the weatherman himself to say he’s a rare breed. Ev tells listeners to sink or swim on the guitar-laced “Sharks Smell Blood” just before addressing the shit he’s been dealing with on the Animoss-produced “Pardon Me”. Boldy James tags along to reminisce on where they started for the psychedelic “All of That Said” & then going on to speak about someone whose heart has gone south on the forlorn “Won’t Give Up the Danger” with Mr. Green on the boards.

Things go back into boom bap territory with the help of Daringer on “Moving on Up” as he & Conway the Machine talk about how they’ll never stop chasing their dreams leading into the stripped back, sincere “Talking to the Audience” produced by Khrysis. Meanwhile on “All Money 1983”, we get a soulful look-back on when Ev met Al Pacino almost 40 years ago before bringing in a vintage sample on “Pray with an A” for him & Navy Blue to look back on their past.

Lost in Time (Park Jams)” speaks on smoking weed at a park over a heavenly instrumental from Nottz while the Fly Anakin-assisted “Delay the Issue” is a luxurious reminder that life is too short. The penultimate track “Taylor Made Suit” is a bluesy cut produced by V Don about how his funeral suit is the same as his wedding suit & the the album ends with the churchy “Where We Going From Here…”, which is about how it’s the first day in a while where he woke up on the right side of the bed.

From front to back, this is a really dope album in my book. It’s refreshing to hear him move away from the weather-theme of his previous solo output, his writing is clever than ever & the production is on point as well.

Score: 4/5

Aesop Rock – “Spirit World Field Guide” review

Aesop Rock is a 44 year old MC/producer from New York known for his massive vocabulary. Dude has put out a handful of underground hip hop essentials throughout the decades whether it be his solo catalogue or his membership of groups like Hail Mary Mallon or Malibu Ken. Last we heard from Aesop on his own was in 2016 with the release of The Impossible Kid but as we approach the end of 2020, the man is delivering his 8th full-length album.

The album kicks off with “Hello from the Spirit World”, where Aesop describes the concept of the album over a xylophone-infused instrumental. “The Gates” then talks about being detached from society over a video gamey-beat while the song “Button Masher” talks about being buzzed over an abstract instrumental. The track “Dog at the Door” is literally about a dog barking at his door over a funky beat while the song “Gauze” talks about being watched over some drums & a bass guitar.

The track “Pizza Alley” talks about an experience he had in Peru over an entrancing beat while the song “Crystal Sword” talks about being nary of a known other over a funky boom bap instrumental. The track “Boot Soup” gets on the battle bar tip over a buzzing beat with some explosive drums while the song “Coveralls” talks about being on his old shit over a quirky instrumental.

The track “Jumping Coffin” talks about letting the combatants in over an electro-flavored beat while the song “Holy Waterfall” talks about a paranormal energy being waken & gaged over a synth-enlaced instrumental. The track “Flies” talks about cleaning his whole crib from insects over a calming boom bap beat while the song “Salt” talks about an unknown condition over an atmospheric instrumental.

The track “Sleeper Car” talks about feeling like losing it all again over a whimsical beat while the song “1 to 10” talks about having a bad back over a bare piano instrumental. The track “Attaboy” takes listeners to different levels of the spirit world over a dark beat while the song “Kodokushi” talks about dying alone over an Atari-esque instrumental.

The track “Fixed & Dilated” talks about a list of people he plans to haunt over a paranormal instrumental while the song “Side Quest” talks about skating the store at night over some bass & live drumming. The penultimate track “Marble Cake” talks about wanting to meet the maker over a tense beat with a brief switch-up near the end of the first half then the album ends with “The 4 Winds”, which describes sideways rain over a exploitation-esque instrumental.

I know this literally just came out, but I’ll honestly go as to far to say that this is one the best albums Aesop Rock has done yet. The outdoorsmen concept of the whole thing is very well executed & his production has only gotten better with time.

Score: 4/5

Atmosphere – “The Day Before Halloween” review

Atmosphere is an highly regarded duo from Minneapolis, Minnesota consisting of producer Ant & emcee Slug. They’ve released a handful of classics through their label Rhymesayers Entertainment including Lucy Ford, You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having, Sad Clown Bad Dub 9 & my personal favorite: God Loves Ugly. But for the past couple years now, Slug & Ant been grinding like crazy by dropping Mi Vida Local in 2018 & then Whenever last winter. They just put out Felt 4 U with MURS over the summer & now a couple months later, Atmosphere is back with their 11th full-length album.

The album starts off with “Where the Road Forks”, where Slug talks about how he knows he doesn’t articulate himself correctly over a synthesizer heavy instrumental. The next song “Space is Safe” addresses someone who thinks he’s suffering from depression over a demented beat while the track “She Loves My Not” talks about a woman who only misses him when she’s drunk over a frightening instrumental. “The New People” talks about someone who doesn’t give him a reason to live over an portentous beat while “The Future is Disgusting” talks about romance over an 80s-style instrumental.

The song “DoubleTown” discusses how everybody knows somebody, but nobody knows anybody over a grim beat while the track “Stardust” tells everyone to stop biting his rap style over a monstrous instrumental. The song “Blotter Acid Reflux Syndrome” talks about having trouble on his mind over a futuristic beat while the penultimate track “Party Crashers” speaks for itself over a synth-funk instrumental. The album finishes off with “Sleep Apnea”, where Slug talks about how he wouldn’t commit to this chick if he could over an eerie beat.

This is almost as enjoyable as Felt 4 U in my personal opinion. Ant’s production is very synth-heavy except with a darker edge to it & Slug’s paints some very dope imagery from start to finish. Can’t wait to hear where they take things going forward.

Score: 3.5/5

Sa-Roc – “The Sharecropper’s Daughter” review

Sa-Roc is a 38 year old MC from Washington D.C. who’s dropped a total of 6 albums a rarities compilation, 2 EPs & 2 mixtapes throughout the the first half of the previous decade before signing to Rhymesayers Entertainment in 2015. But after several years of singles, we’re finally being treated to her debut on the label & her 7th full-length album overall.

The opener “EmergencE” tells her haters to look at her now over a quasi-jazzy instrumental whereas the next track “Gold Leaf” flexes her prowess over a boom bap beat with a well-incorporated flute. The song “Rocwell America” with Styles P sees the 2 tackling the corruption in our country over a beat with a somewhat mystical vibe to it while the track “Something Real” talks about wanting to get to know her partner over a sample of Alicia Keys’ “You Don’t Know My Name”.

The song “Hand of God” talks about proving one’s authenticity over a boom bap beat with an old school video game feel to it while the song “Deliverance” talks about elevating in a stress-free zone over a nocturnal instrumental from Evidence. The song “Lay It Down” talks about counting your blessings over an operatic beat while the title track over a funky, psychedelic beat. “The Black Renaissance” with Black Thought is a phenomenal ode to the Black Lives Matter movement with a piano-inflicted beat while the song “r(E)volution” talks about nothing’s gonna change but them over some popping drums & what sounds like a bass guitar.

The track “Goddess Gang” talks about being royalty over some horns & plinky keys while the song “Forever” talks about being a star over an slow beat. The track “40 & a Mule” comes through on the battle bar tip over a beat with a nice, faint background vocalist while the song “Dark Horse” talks about how they can’t deny her strength anymore over a thumping instrumental. The album finishes with “Grounded”, where Sa-Roc talks about being right about herself over a J Dilla inspired boom bap instrumental.

To me, this is Sa-Roc’s magnum opus & I think it further solidified her as one of the illest female spitters hip hop has to offer currently. The production is a lot more refined in comparison to her previous efforts & the listener gets a great look into her upbringings.

Score: 4/5

Felt – “Felt 4 U” review

Felt is a duo consisting of underground veterans MURS & Slug. The pair made their debut in late 2002 with a self-titled full-length produced by The Grouch, but would step their game up a lot much more on their 2005 sophomore effort that featured front to back production from Ant. Last we heard from them was in ‘09 with a 3rd album that was entirely produced by Aesop Rock but after a dropping a loosie earlier this week, MURS & Slug are hooking back up with Ant to drop Felt 4 U out of nowhere.

The album kicks off with “Never Enough”, where the duo talk about leveling up over a funky beat. The next song “Find My Way” talks about forever paying the price over an instrumental to cruise down the street to while the track “Don’t Do Me Like That” talks about getting into arguments with their wives over a mellow beat. The song “Trees” sees the 2 trading bars back & forth over a boom bap beat with an organ loop while the track “Through the Night” gets romantic over a sensual instrumental.

The song “Freeze Tag” is a crowd mover with a somewhat disco inspired beat while the track “Sticks & Stones” looks back on their childhoods over a heavenly instrumental. The song “Underwater” gets back on the love side of things over a fittingly aquatic instrumental while the track “Alexander F’real” continues to show their chemistry over a slick beat. The song “Hologram” with The Grouch & Aesop Rock sees the 4 talking about how they don’t give a fuck what people be hollering over what could possibly be the darkest instrumental on the whole album while the penultimate track “Crimson Skies” talk about being at the crossroads over a cinematic boom bap beat. The album finishes with “Borboleta”, where Felt talks about how far they’ve come & how far they have left down the road over an summery instrumental.

These guys have never disappointed me personally & this is a pretty damn good comeback for them. Ant absolutely kills it on the boards whereas both MURS & Slug both sound like they never left because the way they compliment each other is still as fantastic as ever.

Score: 4/5

Atmosphere – “Whenever” review

This is the surprise 10th full-length album from revered Minneapolis emcee/producer tag team Atmosphere. Who’ve released a handful of classics through their label Rhymesayers Entertainment including Lucy FordYou Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re HavingSad Clown Bad Dub 9 & then of course God Loves Ugly. Last time we heard from them was with Mi Vida Local last October, but they’re finishing off the decade with Whenever.

The opener “Bde Maka Ska” finds Slug talking about serenity over a boom bap beat with a killer guitar lead whereas the next song “Push Play” tells the story of him meeting this chick over a tense instrumental. The track “Postal Lady” talks about a day in the life of Slug over a sensual funky beat while the song “Love Each Other” talks about if he was woman’s lover over a buttery instrumental. The track “Romance” talks about just that over a spacious instrumental while the song “Dearly Beloved” with Mujah Messiah as well as Rhymesayers co-founder Musab continues the themes of love over a smooth instrumental.

“The Hands of Time” vents about heartache over what I believe is a sitar sample while the titular song with Gifted Gab, Haphduzn & MURS is a decent 4 minute cypher with a warping instrumental. The track “Lovely” is another funky romance anthem while the song “Son of Abyss” talks about how he can’t believe he used to love this chick over a gloomy beat. The penultimate track “You’re Gonna Go” talks about this chick who he’s not afraid to admit he loved over a piano instrumental & then there’s the closer “The Ceiling”, where Slug talks about working his whole life over a ghostly instrumental.

This was a pretty solid effort from the duo. Ant’s production is really mellow & the album’s theme of reclamation is invigorating. Really looking forward to see what the 2 are gonna be doing going into the new decade.

Score: 3.5/5

Brother Ali – “Secrets & Escapes” review

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This is the surprise 7th full-length album from Minneapolis veteran Brother Ali, the activist/battle emcee that first exploded in the underground with his 2003 sophomore album Shadows in the Sun along with his 2007 follow-up The Undisputed Truth. He just made a fantastic comeback in 2017 with All the Beauty in This Whole Life & with the Halloween season being over, he has teamed up with Evidence for Secrets & Escapes.

The opener “Abu Enzo” talks about where he comes from over a lush instrumental while the next song “Situated” with Pharoahe Monch finds the 2 spitting battle bars over a boom bap beat with a soul sample cutting in & out. The “Greatest That Never Lived” charismatically brags over a spooky instrumental while the song “Father Figures” talks about the people Ali looks up to over a reclining beat. The very short “Apple Tree Me” gets threatening over a ghostly instrumental while the song “Red” finds both Ali & Evidence showing off their own levels of lyricism over a suspenseful beat.

The title track talks about internal conflict over a chilling instrumental while the song “De La Kufi” with Talib Kweli of course sees the 2 kicking knowledge over savory soul sample. The track “Red Light Zone” disses those who be clout chasing on the internet over a funky beat & even though “The Idhin” is brief, Ali comes through with some vivid bars over an almost ambient-like instrumental. Then there’s the closer “They Shot Ricky”, where Ali shows off his storytelling talents over this jazzy instrumental.

Wasn’t expecting this, but it’s one of his best efforts yet. Even though it’s a little over a half hour long, there’s a prominently fantastic chemistry between Evidence’s top notch production & Brother Ali’s intelligent lyricism. If you wanna hear 2 underrated titans from the midwest & the west coast, then PLEASE give this a listen.

Score: 4/5

Malibu Ken – Self-titled review

Malibu Ken is a new duo consisting of indietronica producer Tobacco out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania & legendary New York wordsmith Aesop Rock. They announced their formation late last year & after a few singles, they’re delivering their full-length debut with the help off Rhymesayers Entertainment.

The album kicks off with “Corn Maze”, where Rock talks about privacy over an 8-bit sounding instrumental. The song “Tuesday” describes an average titular day over a druggy beat while the track “Save Our Ship” gets cryptic over some synths & guitars. The song “Sword Box” spits battle bars over some haunting synths while the track “Dog Years” looks back at his youth over another 8-bit sounding beat.

The song “Acid King” vividly recalls the story of his friend Gary being murdered over a minimal synth instrumental while the track “Suicide Big Gulp” seems to be discussing depression over a synth-funk beat. The song “1+1=13” talks about luck over a spacious beat while the track “Churro” vividly talks about an eagle killing a cat over over a trippy beat. The album then finishes off with “Purple Moss”, where Aes goes back to a more introspective approach over a somber beat.

Overall, this is a pretty solid album. It’s too short only running at 34 minutes, but Aesop Rock’s lyricism is more intelligent than ever & Tobacco’s synthesizer heavy production suits his stories very well.

Score: 4/5