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

Royce da 5’9” – “The Allegory” review

Royce da 5’9” is a Detroit veteran that most are familiar with for being 1/2 of Bad Meets Ǝvil with local sensation Eminem. However his mark as one of the city’s illest lyricists has already been made with releases such as Death is Certain, Street Hop, Success is Certain, Layers & even Royce’s last album Book of Ryan. Also can’t forget to mention his work with longtime collaborator DJ Premier as the MC/producer duo PRhyme or with the now defunct quartet of all-star wordsmiths that was once Slaughterhouse. But with Black History Month almost over, Nickel is celebrating with The Allegory.

Things kick off with “Mr. Grace”, where Royce delivers some wisdom & I love how the instrumental constantly switches from horn to string samples throughout. The next song “Dope Man” with Emanny sees the 2 discussing how drug dealers are the kings of the streets over an infectious instrumental while the track “I Don’t Age” talks about how dope he still is over a boom bap beat with the lead riff switching off between a bass-line & a piano sample. The song “Pendulum” is laced with battle bars backed with a solemn boom bap beat while the track “I Play Forever” with Grafh sees the 2 talking about falling in love with the street life over some horns.

After the “Ice Cream” interlude, the song “On the Block” sees PRhyme getting together to discuss hustling over a mesmerizing instrumental & the Oswin Benjamin verse really took me by surprise. After the “Generation is Broken” interlude, the song “Overcomer” with Westside Gunn is about how the 2 rose above their shortcomings over a prominent vocal sample & I definitely can’t forget to mention Royce’s disses towards former collaborator/Shady Records artist Yelawolf not too long after his verse starts. Is he really a “vulture pundit” in my eyes? No, not at all. That being said, I do understand Royce’s point of view on the whole thing. After the “Mrs. Grace” interlude, the song “Thou Shall” with Kid Vishisis essentially both of the Montgomery brothers talking about their accomplishments over a spooky instrumental.

The track “FUBU” with Conway the Machine sees the 2 challenging anyone who opposes them over a demented instrumental & after the “A Black Man’s Favorite Shoe” skit, the song “Upside Down” with Benny the Butcher finds both wordsmiths getting violent over a cavernous boom bap beat. After the “Perspective” skit where Eminem discusses racism in the music industry, the track “Tricked” with KXNG CROOKED is pretty much both MCs cleverly breaking down the idea of deception over a tense instrumental. After the “Black People in America”, the song “Black Savage” is empowering anthem towards African Americans with both dEnAuN & 6 July helping Royce heavily sample the afro-rock band of the same name. The bars that CyHi the Prynce & T.I. both bring to the table are dope, but White Gold’s verse was kinda pointlessly short to me.

The track “Rhinestone Doo Rag” despite being short is about how the next generation is on those listening over a soothing instrumental while the song “Young World” with G Perico & Vince Staples sees the 3 sending an important message to the youth over a funky instrumental. The penultimate track “My People Free” has a respectable concept, but it seems like more of an Ashley Morrell song to as she dominates a bulk of it & Royce makes very little appearance on it himself. Then there’s the closer “Hero”, where Royce pays tribute to his father over an instrumental that’s sweet to the ear.

The album isn’t perfect, but it’s still a fantastic listen. A couple of the features were pretty weak & the interludes are pretty annoying but lyrically, this is definitely Royce’s most conscious effort to date. And for him to start getting behind the boards & self-produce damn near the whole thing, he does a pretty good job at it.

Score: 4/5

Joell Ortiz – “Monday” review

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Joell Ortiz is a 39 year old rapper who first gained recognition after being included in the Unsigned Hype column of The Source in 2004. He then signed to Aftermath Entertainment in 2006, who allowed him to release his debut album The Brick: Bodega Chronicles with E1 Music in the next year. Yaowa would eventually leave Aftermath in 2008 & form Slaughterhouse with Royce da 5’9”, KXNG CROOKED & Joe Budden shortly after. The supergroup rose to prominence with their self-titled debut that just celebrated it’s 10 year anniversary this year & would go on to sign with Eminem’s Interscope Records imprint Shady Records in 2011. But sadly, their major label debut welcome to: OUR HOUSE in the summer of 2012 would unfortunately end up being their last. Joell has been focusing on his solo career ever since then & not even a year after his Apollo Brown produced Mona Lisa, he’s hitting fans with his 7th full-length album.

After the titular intro, we go into the first song “Captain”. Where Joell talks about his place in hip hop over a stylistic Heatmakerz beat. The track “Sip Slow” is filled with clever battle bars over a joyous boom bap beat from Apollo Brown while the song “Champion” declares himself as just that over a tribal instrumental from Nottz. The track “Anxiety” vents about his insecurities over a soulful acoustic instrumental while the song “Same Time” talks about hearing a lot all at once over a boom bap beat with some strings.

The song “Learn You” talks about the sacrifices he made to chase his dreams over a grand Big K.R.I.T. instrumental then the track “Screens” talks about his kids & reflecting on his own childhood over a colorful instrumental. The song “Jamaican Food” is a lust anthem with a sweet minimalist beat while the track “Before Hip Hop” talks about his life before making music over some bongos & soulful background vocals. The penultimate track “Momma” of course pays tribute to Yaowa’s mother over an piano that suits the vibe & then the album ends with “Grammy”, where Joell talks about doing him over a boom bap beat with some more beautiful keyboard passages.

This is easily one of Yaowa’s best releases to date. The production is sweet to the ear & the lyrics are some of his most personal yet.

Score: 4/5

Royce da 5’9” – “Book of Ryan” review

With PRhyme 2 being released just a month & a half ago, renown Detroit underground MC Royce da 5’9” has now delivered his long-awaited 7th full-length album. After the intro, we go into the first song “Woke”. Here, Royce sends a message to those who’re sleeping confrontational over a Key Wane instrumental with some eerie choir vocals in the back. After the “My Parallel” skit, we go into the song “Caterpillar”. Here, Bad Meets Ǝvil reunites to tell the audience pretty much what Mark Jackson told Steve Kerr a few years ago over a hard hitting vibraphone instrumental from S1.

The track “God Speed” talks about making it of the hood over a smooth mR. pOrTeR instrumental while the song “Dumb” with Shady Records’ latest signee Boogie sees the 2 talking about the current state of the music industry over an S1 instrumental that sounds like something Dr. Dre & Scott Storch would’ve made together in the Early 2000s. After the “Who Are You” skit, we go into the song “Cocaine”. Here, Royce reflects on his dad’s issues with the drug over a murky DJ Khalil beat. The track “Life is Fair” talks about an ungrateful woman from his childhood over a heavy piano-Fuse instrumental while the song “Boblo Boat” sees Royce reminiscing about family trips to amusement parks & J. Cole reflecting on growing up in North Carolina over a soulful Cool & Dre instrumental.

The song “Legendary” talks about his status in the game over a bass-heavy electro instrumental from mR. pOrTeR while the track “Summer on Lock” with Fabolous & Jadakiss is filled with braggadocious bars over an eerie beat. The song “Amazing” reflects on his old neighborhood over a blissful beat while the track “Outside” vents about his fears over an atmospheric DJ Khalil instrumental.  The song “Power” talks about his family’s alcoholism over a piano/bass heavy instrumental from Boi-1da & after recalling an childhood incident at a basketball court during the “Protecting Ryan” skit, we go into the track “Strong Friend”. Here, Royce reflects on his past alcoholism with some dramatic strings & funky bass.

The song “Anything/Everything” gets conscious over some jazzy piano chords while the penultimate track “Stay Woke” thanks his Bad Meets Ǝvil cohort Eminem for his sobriety while also reminding us how dope he is during the 2nd half of it over an orchestral Frank Dukes & !llmind instrumental. The album then finishes with “1st of the Month”, where Royce gets with T-Pain recalls how happy they would be when they used to get welfare checks during the 1st day of the month over a luscious piano instrumental.

Overall, this is tied with Street Hop as Royce’s magnum opus. It sounds focused & passionate, the production is organic & we are truly getting Royce at his most personal point blank period with each track

Score: 4.5/5

Joe Budden – “Rage & the Machine” review

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53 weeks have passed since Slaughterhouse member Joe Budden gave us a near perfect ending to his Love Lost trilogy but now, he’s teaming up with araabMUZIK to give us his 8th & most likely final album. The opener “3” tells the listener what to expect going into this thing & the choir vocals in the background are just beautiful. The track “Uncle Joe” pretty much addresses the current state of hip hop over some piano chords from a personal point of view & the song “Serious” is a gritty duet with fellow Slaughterhouse member Joell Ortiz about how you shouldn’t fuck with either MC. The track “By Law” talks about keeping it real over a militant instrumental & the Jazzy hook isn’t too bad either. The song “Flex” with Fabolous is a smooth sex tune & the Troy Lanez hook fits like a glove. The track “Forget” is only 91 seconds long, but I can totally get where he’s going when he confesses about meeting so many people that he forgets them over a beautiful soul sample. The song “I Gotta Ask” gets into battle rap mode & the Into the Woods soundtrack sample was surprising, yet interesting. The track “Time for Work” is another sexual jam, but the production here is more energetic than it was on “Flex”. The song “Wrong One” has a chaotic instrumental that fits perfectly with Joe’s hardcore bars & the track “I Wanna Know” gets reflective on his life over a beautiful Manhattans sample with an equally beautiful hook from Stacy Barthe. The closer “Idols” is Joe naming all of his influences over a mellow instrumental if this really is Joe’s final album, then this was a perfect close the book. The production is on par with his previous album All Love Lost & Joe lyrically is getting into an OG’s perspective on things.

Score: 4/5

Slaughterhouse – “welcome to: OUR HOUSE”’ review


After signing to Shady Records & Interscope just a year prior, Slaughterhouse is finally releasing their long-awaited sophomore album/major label debut. The album officially starts off with a 76 second skit where they tell you that there’s no fake MCs aloud, but then things don’t officially start popping until the first song “Our House”. Here, the supergroup teams up with Shady founder Eminem to talk about their desires of being the greatest to ever do it over an ominous instrumental, but my only complaint about this song is that the Skylar Grey hook is absolutely God awful. The next track “Coffin” aggressively spits about murdering wack MCs over a chaotic instrumental from Hit-Boy & the Busta Rhymes hook is so energetic, that it actually makes me sad that he doesn’t have a verse on here. The song “Throw That” is conceptually about flirting with strippers, but the Eminem hook is meh & the beat is just average at best. The track “Hammer Dance” contains more murderous bars & the araabMUZIK instrumental has this unexpected KoЯn sample in it, but it was simultaneously really cool. The song “Get Up” has an motivational tone to it lyrically & the rap rock production from No I.D. is pretty catchy as well. The track “My Life” sees the 4 MCs bragging about fame over an radio friendly instrumental & the Cee-Lo Green hook was average at best. The song “Flip a Bird” talks about selling drugs, but the vocal sample that you’ll hear during each verse & the hook kinda gets annoying after a while. The track “Throw It Away” is a decent club anthem with a hard hitting beat from D12 member mR. pOrTeR & to be quite honest, the Swizz Beatz hook on here actually doesn’t bother me as much as I thought it would. The song “Rescue Me” vents about each member trying to get it together & the beat on here is ok, but the Skylar Grey hook on here is as equally terrible as the one on “Our House”. The track “Frat House” is another club banger, except this one is pretty bad. However, the way Joe Budden & Joell Ortiz go back & forth during the final verse wasn’t too bad except for the lyrics. The song “Goodbye” sees everyone minus Royce da 5’9” rapping about Joe’s girl having a miscarriage along with the deaths of Crooked I’s grandfather & Joell’s grandmother over a sugary instrumental from Boi-1da. While it is sincerely delivered, the hook is painfully corny. The track “Park It Sideways” is a comedic jab at all of the wack MCs out there, but the beat really sounds like it could’ve been on a Lil Wayne album. The song “Die” rapidly goes in about popping a cap in your ass & the beat from mR. pOrTeR on here is a lot more hard hitting than the other song he did. The standard edition closer “Our Way” talks about making it which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the instrumental on here is very bland. The first bonus track “Asylum” has a serial killer vibe to it lyrically & as for Eminem’s production, there’s not a whole lot to it during the drums throughout & the guitar that comes in solely during the hook. The next bonus track “Walk of Shame” talks about 4 separate 1-night stands between each member, but the beat is super nondescript & the auto-tuned hook from Royce is super cringey. “The Other Side” is basically everyone minus Crooked insightfully talking about being human despite fame along with a gold digger & not being perfect over uplifting instrumental from the J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League & the final bonus track “Place to Be” sees the supergroup hooks up with B.o.B to talk about being somewhere far away from the bullshit over an awkward club instrumental, but the way everyone got together for the last verse was very creative. There are a few highlights on here & as much as I love Slaughterhouse, this was disappointing. The lyrics are decent, but it sounded way more commercial than it should’ve from the production to the hooks. I get trying to make a commercial album, but the whole pop rap sound doesn’t fit Slaughterhouse’s style at all. Just take a couple joints & stick with the prelude mixtape On the House

Score: 2/5

Slaughterhouse – Self-titled EP review

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Over a year & a half has passed after the release of their fantastic self-titled debut album & with the announcement of them signing to Shady Records & Interscope just a month prior, Slaughterhouse is releasing another self-titled project albeit it’s their 1st EP. The EP opens with “Back on the Scene”, where the supergroup talks about their triumphant return over an abrasive rap rock instrumental from M-Phazes. The next song “Sun Doobie” sees them getting hardcore on wack rappers over a piano boom bap beat from D12 member mR. pOrTeR. The track “Everybody Down” has a hard hitting beat from Black Milk & if you couldn’t tell by the title, the supergroup aggressively spits about sticking you up. The next song is actually a remix of “Put Some Money on It” off of Joell Ortiz’s sophomore album Free Agent & honestly, I think the additional verses make it even better. The penultimate track is a remix of “Fight Club”, which was the bonus track off their self-titled album. However, I think this new instrumental (from the same dude who produced the original oddly enough) fits the supergroup’s confrontational bars a lot more than the original. The EP closes out with “Move On”, where everyone tells the listeners to let go of a significant moment in each member’s past over some somber set of pianos & the hook is pretty catchy as well. Overall, this was almost as great as their self-titled album was. The production & verses are as equally hardcore, but I feel like the 2 remixes should’ve been released prior to this

Score: 3.5/5