The Hip Hop Speakeasy

hip hop speakeasySo, I recently became a contributing writer over at The Hip Hop Speakeasy, a site dedicated to spreading the word about good Hip-Hop music. You’ll find a lot of music from some really dope artists that I guarantee you haven’t heard of before. The reviews are concise, unbiased, and unabashedly written. If you’re a fan of Hip-Hop, definitely check out their site. I’m happy to be a part of the team.

You can check out my first editorial on competition in Hip-Hop here: http://hiphopspeakeasy.com/2013/06/validation-in-hip-hop-why-competition-is-necessary/

Laterrr,

-Kia

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Rhythmic American Poetry

JG The Jugganaut: Rhythmic American Poetry Review

You might remember JG The Jugganaut as the poetic force behind the intro to Yungg Soja’s, I Am Klasik Vol. 1. Setting the tone for that project, JG proved that his chops as a spoken word artist are not something that can be easily ignored. Rhythmic American Poetry is a testament to his lyrical skills as a poet, while giving an undeniable ode to what is perhaps one of his greatest influences: Hip Hop.

Rhythmic American Poetry (RAP) is not a Hip Hop album or a spoken word album, but a combination of both that aims to uncover the poetic roots of rapping through the use of spoken word against a variety of beats. The Hip-Hop influence is evident on J2 The Villain where JG uses a braggadocious, poetic flow against a heavy beat with lines like, “As heroic as I try to be, the Jugganaut is a villain, the prime suspect in a string of open mic killings,” presenting himself as a competitive emcee residing in the body of a spoken word artist. As atypical as combative rhymes may feel when it comes to poetry, it definitely sets the tone for what seems to be one of the running themes throughout the project: JG is a poet who has felt more at home with Hip-Hop than he has in his own lane as a spoken word artist. The skits throughout the album, like You Ain’t Got No Kufi? drives home the point that he is sometimes a displaced artist because he doesn’t follow the trends and stereotypes associated with being a spoken word poet. The inherent dichotomy in trying to be a poet who spits with the competitive soul of a rapper is further pushed in a track called Rhythmic American Poetry, penned after the name of the album:

When I first got hooked on poetry

they reeled me in and studied me

they said I sound too much like rap

they cut down my lines then they tossed me back

now rap, rap heard my words

rap said my flow was crack

but I never rhyme about rims and the trap

and Interscope ain’t found a way to market without that

JG also talks about his insecurities and desires when it comes to relationships on tracks like Marital Issues, where he discusses having marital issues as an unmarried man, Brick Walls, or I Need where he talks about all the qualities he wants in a woman; qualities that are subtly contradictory at times, which only adds to the complexity of the poem. Sperm Donor could be seen as a story of what happens when all that goes wrong, with a child inevitably trapped in the middle, while Black Widow is probably one of the most solid tracks on the album in terms of story-telling and matching the production with JG’s booming voice.

He continues to pay homage to Hip-Hop with 1995, reminiscing on his high school days growing up in Columbus, Ohio, and being influenced by artists like Wu-Tang, Biggie, Raekwon, Nas and Lauryn Hill. It’s another solid track, the production forcing you to reminisce right along with him.

While I won’t dive into every track on the album, I think that the ones that I mentioned are proof of JG’s abilities to craft stories with poetic wordplay. At times the poems can come off as rehearsed as opposed to performed because the emotion behind them doesn’t match the words on display. While the tracks on the album are, on average, the length of any Hip-Hop songs you might hear, the project feels long as a whole when combined with the skits. There’s definitely a theme to RAP, but I think it starts to get lost in the arrangement of the tracks and the length of the album, making it feel less cohesive.

None of that takes away from the fact that it showcases spoken word as something intrinsic and necessary to rap as an art, instead of a distant cousin far removed from it. JG talks about the conflicting nature of being a poet who feels like a rapper, while at the same time proving that the two are one and the same. If you’re a writer, a fan of poetry, or a Hip-Hop head who really listens to lyrics, then I would recommend this for you. Go cop it at the link below.

Until next time.

-Kia

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JG The Jugganaut

JG  The Jugganaut is a spoken word artist from Ohio whose album, Rhythmic American Poetry, was recently nominated for album of the year by the National Poetry Awards. You can vote for him on their website and download the album at the links below.

Rhythmic American Poetry Download: http://www.mediafire.com/download/gjb6juq8jo59db2/Rhythmic_American_Poetry_(final).zip

National Poetry Awards: http://www.thenationalpoetryawards.com/

JG’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jugganautical?fref=ts

The “Real Hip Hop” Argument

A few nights ago, I woke up to a boy’s yells cutting the air followed by three distinctive pops, crisp and disappearing almost as quickly as they came. The silence that followed was unusual – no voices, no sound of car tires hitting the dip in the pavement as they went by, no people, not even the sound of the breeze that was moving the trees in the distance. It was as if time stopped in that moment – like it was waiting for something.

What came next were the sounds of Nikes, Chucks, Timbs, hitting the pavement, and a jumble of words, “Let’s go!” and “Hurry the fuck up!” intermingled in the rhythm of feet stampeding the sidewalk. The sound of cars coming to life were only outmatched by the thunderous roar that followed as they sped off, leaving the same dank silence that now offered the question of whether or not a body lay at the opposite end of the street.

Last year, I stood at the gate that separated my apartment building’s driveway from that same street, and watched as hundreds of people marched in the direction of the police precinct. They waved picket signs like crosses, chanting the tune of an eighteen year old boy who, just a week earlier on the block behind mine, had been shot and killed in his bathroom by a police officer who chased him into his home. Allegations that the boy had a gun were deemed false.

My friends tell me about being stopped by cops for walking the streets at night, for looking suspicious, for having too much rhythm in their steps, or for driving a car that looks too luxurious to have Kendrick Lamar, Nas or Future ripping through it’s system. Tales of young men being shot because they’re unfamiliar faces in the wrong neighborhood are regularly told  in our circles, around a campfire of speakers, iPhones, and Dre Beats, sparking the lyrics of Hip-Hop’s golden era classics, and those now carrying the flame.

I’ve often wondered if Hip-Hop is to blame.

Many times it has been the martyr for and messiah of every situation that I’ve mentioned, and many more, creating a rift that leaves people debating over what defines “real” Hip-Hop. However people describe it, it’s never exact. Sometimes it’s based on how socially conscious an artist is, or lyrical ability, or even how much boom-bap is found in an instrumental; how much it taps into that 90’s era nostalgia. Whatever the case, the explanation of real Hip-Hop usually comes from someone grasping at pieces of a whole, forming an abstract concept of what that person feels defines it in his own mind, but never something that is a truly satisfiable definition of what it actually means.

The truth: people no longer know exactly what Hip-Hop is, so they define it by what it’s not.

Real Hip-Hop is not radio, it’s not the glorification of money and violence, it’s not pop, it’s not rap, it’s not anything past the early 90’s or lacking that golden era influence, it’s not Soulja Boy, Chief Keef,  Drake, or anything that we didn’t grow up on, and it’s not mainstream.

But in fact, Hip-Hop is all of those things, whether you personally like it or not.

There is no such thing as real Hip-Hop, because it can’t be put into one tangible, rigidly defined category. It’s not any one thing. At it’s core, Hip-Hop will always be a dichotomy because it is a culture; one that is a direct reflection of the people who created it, good and bad.

This yin & yang has always existed. Grand Master Flash dropped “The Message” only a few years after Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight.” Tupac made “Brenda’s Baby” and “I Get Around.” Big L made “Street Struck” and “All Black.” Even Rick Ross rapped on both “Oil Money Gang” and “Poor Decisions.” Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid M.A.A.D City illustrated the effects and inner struggles that exist at both ends of the spectrum. Even he did “HiiiPower” and “Fuckin Problems.”

If the culture of the people is at odds with itself, then you can expect Hip-Hop to be just as unsure of what it should be. It can be revolutionary and powerful, and at the same time be violent and insecure; it can be uplifting and socially conscious, or it can be misogynistic and full of materialism. It can be a variety of things but it can’t be chopped up into pieces that are conveyed as something separate from the whole, no more than we can separate from the dichotomies that make us who we are. That’s why I believe that only penning certain things as “real Hip-Hop” is an illusion based on the ideal of what some people individually desire it to be. Hip-Hop is as real as the culture behind it, because it is a window into the hearts and minds of the people that developed and continue to invest in it’s name.

The protesters who marched down my street echoed the frustrations of a discrimination that would target people like Angela Davis and Assata Shakur  to Sean Bell, Trayvon Martin, and countless others that go unreported and unmentioned in your news feed. They are every bit a part of Hip-Hop culture as the boy that would fire shots at another in the name of nothing but his ego; every bit as real to Hip-Hop as young men bragging about how much money and how many bitches they have, or someone like Chief Keef glorifying violence over Twitter. All of these incidents are rooted in the same emptiness that made Hip-Hop necessary in the first place. In fact, it has become a reflection of that emptiness which it attempts to alleviate through all of it’s conscious, humane, violent, and materialistic struggles.

To attach the label “real” onto Hip-Hop, then proceed to ignore the aspects of it that you don’t like, and then to separate it into categories so that anything undesirable is far removed from some idealistic pedestal, is both nostalgic and irresponsible. It ignores the fact that for Hip-Hop to be so dismembered, it means that there is something intrinsically broken in our culture. The misogyny, the violence, the materialism are just as relevant to Hip-Hop as the revolutionaries, the purveyors of the art form, and those who inspire us to uplift ourselves and others through the mic. This dichotomy shows Hip-Hop’s strengths, and exposes the wounds in our culture that have yet to heal; the void and the emptiness that still exists since it’s spark was first ignited in someone’s basement in the Bronx as an answer to the world’s indifference.

If Hip-Hop is flawed, it’s because we are. It doesn’t get any realer than that.

-Kia

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The legal stuff:  This post was written exclusively for Spraypaintandinkpens.com by Takeia Dunlop. It may not be redistributed without permission.

The Power Of The Acapella

Whenever I talk to people about who is lyrically nice in Hip Hop today my first question is, how would that person sound acapella? I argue that if you strip the beat out from under a lot of artists, all of a sudden they sound like they’re Dr. Seussing their rhymes. The beat carries them, and while lyrics are just one part of what makes an emcee (the other being flow), it’s the element that adds depth to the music. Without it, you get an artist who could possibly have a nice flow, but isn’t saying anything to make you really listen. He’s basically background music. At it’s core, rapping is a poetic art form and the best of emcees use poetic device, so that even if you don’t like an artist’s style of rapping, you can’t argue that she understands the science behind putting words together in a compelling way. So that being said, here are some artists that I think most  reflect that concept when spitting acapella:

If there are any artists that you listen to that you think deserve to make this list, feel free to drop a link in the comments!

-Kia

Yungg Soja – I Am Klasik

Yungg Soja -I Am Klasik

Dream Big, Live Klasik.

That’s the new motto of Columbus, Ohio emcee, Yungg Soja, and the theme behind his newest mixtape, I Am Klasik Vol. 1. The intro sets the tone for the type of lyricism you’re going to hear from this project – complex, gritty, and meticulous. But its the riveting spoken word of JG the Jugganaut following Soja’s lyrics that sets the tone for the entire mixtape by begging the question, “Are you classic?”

The idea of what makes an emcee classic becomes the conceptual basis for the entire mixtape. Soja often goes back and forth between asking himself that question, and answering it with life experiences and lyrical ability. Songs like Shoelaces and Hell Under Water paint a picture of someone with self-doubt searching for inner determination, ultimately contrasted by the more confident Crown Me Emcee, where he talks about his personal growth as an artist. At the same time, he’s not afraid to call out certain types of rappers on The Exception: those who want to be the exception to failure and want all the success without any of the work.

He goes on to pay tribute to the influence of Hip Hop in his life with tracks like Heart 2 Heart and All I Need, both cleverly disguised as more intimate love songs. The Feel is probably one of my favorite tracks on the whole mixtape as it questions the essence of the current state of  Hip Hop compared to where it has been, and you can hear the theme of being classic resonating between the bars:

I’m not knocking your flava/

I’m just saying don’t compare it to mine/

Cuz Hip Hop with that feel/

was in a different place and time

I’m not going to say that this is a perfect project by any means, but Soja’s growth, especially with penning concepts, is definitely there. There’s a solid theme going on here that is relatable to anyone with a dream. In the end, it’s clear that his stance on becoming classic is that it’s something that requires constant evolution and the willingness to step your game up.

Oh yeah.

And the ability to really spit. Let’s not forget that.

 

You can visit yunggsoja.com to download the mixtape for free. You can also follow Soja at the links below:

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/yunggsoja

Reverb: http://www.reverbnation.com/yunggsoja

Dream Big, Live Klasik guys. Until next time.

-Kia

Yungg Soja – Rhyming With No Boxes

Anybody who knows me – like, really knows me – knows that I’m a sucker for lyrical prowess when it comes to Hip Hop. It almost doesn’t matter what’s being said for me so long as how it’s being said is dope. I listen for the poetry in it which is, no matter what, the true essence at the core of rhyming. Combine that with good storytelling, passion, and heart, then you’re golden in my book.

So it was a blessing when Soja hit me up with some new tracks from his upcoming EP titled No Boxes, a project the young emcee openly admits he’s doing in order to test himself. “I want to bring back the art of concepts and clever wordplay,” he said when I asked him what his mindset was while writing and producing the project. “I feel like it’s missing and I feel I am versatile enough to not be limited in a creative box.”

The two singles “Fly High,” and “Let Go” follow the precedent that Soja is setting with this project. Set against hard-hitting, thumping beats that are quickly becoming his trademark, Soja’s lyrics paint a vivid picture of someone who is breaking any and all restraints and really going hard with his craft. “‘Fly High’ is me saying I’m done holding back,” he explains. “I’m freeing my mind and aiming for higher ‘cause I’m dope enough and more advanced than these rappers lyrically.” Soja’s confidence definitely comes through in this song, and is a nice contrast to “Let Go,” which focuses more on his attempts to move past his self-doubts. “‘Let Go’ is a very emotional song for me,” he admits. “It’s literally me letting go of the doubt, the hurt, the confusion – reaching within self and letting it all out and going beyond your own expectations. That song means everything to me.”

In an era of music where the material things get more shine than genuine, from-the-heart, skillful rhymes, I think Soja is refreshing and is saying things in his music that we can all relate to. But I know you’re tired of hearing me talk, so I’ll let you listen for yourself. You can get both singles on iTunes for $0.99 each. And look out for No Boxes, dropping early 2013.

Leave a comment and let me know what you think!

Later,

-Kia

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Singles on iTunes: http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/fly-high-single/id561719388

Yungg Soja on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/yunggsoja614

Yungg Soja on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/yunggsoja

Yungg Soja on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/sojamusik

Food For Thought

Yesterday Columbus, Ohio native emcee/producer, Yungg Soja, hit my Facebook wall with a handful of links that included new music, interviews, and performances. Among them was Vol. 2 of his collabo project with fellow Columbus emcee, Turnz, called Deadly Combination.  Another rhyme, one that really stood out for me,  was Food For Thought, a lyrically intricate message that observes blatant social issues while making the point that we are often the cause and solution to those problems.  Soja chimes:

Get your job right,

cause we on the verge of self destruction,

unlawful structure soaked in the stench of urban corruption

In an era of Hip Hop that’s more testes-hugging skinny jeans and pop than anything, it’s nice to see someone take it back to a street-conscious level. And, having heard Soja’s rhymes for a little while now, I can tell you one thing…social messages aside, this kid is about nothing but raw lyricism; that kind that you have to rewind to catch, making it seem like everyone else is just Dr. Seuss-ing their raps. I’m not going to say too much else. I’ll just leave  you with the links and let you hear for yourself. But drop a comment…let me know if you dig it.

Oh, and if you’re in the Columbus area, Soja and Turnz will be opening for Raekwon at Skully’s on April 23rd.

 

 

 

Yungg Soja & Turnz – Deadly Combination 2: 

http://limelinx.com/files/b464bc191310d5d4a90e46ed19e52124

Yungg Soja on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/yunggsoja/info

Raekwon at Skully’s: 

https://www.facebook.com/events/371435259562862/

Rhymes N’ Updates

Hey guys!

Soooo…how’s it going?

I know, I keep pulling vanishing acts. New things on my plate, and hopefully with them, new opportunities. But I’m not here to make excuses. I’ve been bad, and I love you guys, so I don’t want us to break up…figuratively speaking.

Right now, I’m planning on restructuring how my blog is updated. To be honest, when a lot of things hit me at once, I’m the worst at staying organized. But I’m working on it.

Anyway, it’s important to me to keep this blog updated, especially where the artist interviews are concerned. There’s too much unknown talent out there, and it’s still my mission to bring you fresh doses of new talent on a regular basis. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to update those interviews weekly anymore, but I think doing one featured artist a month is more feasible. It gives the artists lots of time to get back to me, and gives me more time to write up the articles. I’ve met and interviewed some awesome artists in the past few months, and I want that to continue.

So while I work this out on my end, here’s something I recently did for Yvonne Nicolas, a writer of erotic stories and fiction. These are two of her characters – magic wielding priestesses named Indigo and Dominique from The Dragon Queen Series. It was colored by the awesome Kyle Chaney, and you can see him throwing down the colors in the video below. We’ve been working together on a few commissions for her, and I’m loving it so far.

And that’s not all. I have some ear candy for you too. Few people know that I actually write poetry and rhymes, and even fewer have actually heard it. So I promised a friend that I would write and record two things and put it out there for the world to hear. I called this one “Just To Be Rhymin” because…well…I just wanted to rhyme. No big story there.  Anyway, one down, one to go. I’ll post the next one on here too. Later folks.

What’s in the Headphones

Despite what people say about hip hop music dying, the mainstream taking over, etc., etc., I actually think 2011 was a good year for Hip Hop. But there are three albums for me, specifically that stay in my headphones from the past year.

 

Elzhi – Elmatic 

Nas’ Illmatic is, and will always be, one of my favorite albums of all time. There’s no question to that. I used to listen to New York State of Mind just to get my day started. So when Elzhi dropped Elmatic, I was skeptical because Illmatic has a special place in my heart. I was so wrong. Elzhi not only paid homage to Nas’ classic, but he did it justice and took it to another level musically. His renditions of songs like Memory Lane, Represent, and The World Is Yours really made me think back to the first time I heard Illmatic and made me fall in love with it all over again.  Like I said, Illmatic will always be in my top, but Elmatic earned a special spot in my hip-hop loving heart too.

 

 

Pharoahe Monch – W.A.R.

Pharoahe Monch’s W.A.R. (We Are Renegades) combines two of my favorite things – hip-hop and revolutionary lyrics. Some people might not like his style of spitting behind the beat, but his lyrics are undeniable. W.A.R. just so happens to be my favorite song off the album, but Evolve and Assassins are a close second, if for no reason than it features one of my other favorites, Jean Grey. W.A.R. also has one other thing that I think most albums are missing nowadays – a complete concept. From beginning to end, the entire album fits into the overall theme of revolution.

 

 

 

Kendrick Lamar – Section.80

Even though Kendrick Lamar had been on the underground scene for a minute, he recently started getting more recognition in the mainstream. People have been wondering when Hip-Hop is going to get back to raw lyrics, and I think Kendrick Lamar is evidence of the second coming of that lyrical era. I know HiiiPower is the song off Section.80 that everyone talks about (well, those who have heard it), but there’s good reason. Kendrick Lamar doesn’t spit about the usual, and when you listen to this song, you’ll know that this guy understands the power behind his words. Not many artists approach their music today as a craft, but Kendrick Lamar is one of the few who I think actually studies the art of rhyming. Anyway, dope album, dope artist. Go listen.

 

Remembering Heavy D

I know that by now, everyone has heard about Heavy D’s untimely passing. But I figure the most positive way to talk about it is to remember the music. He’s worked with Jay-Z, DJ Premier, Michael and Janet Jackson, Carl Thomas, Beanie Siegel, and more. I’m not going to pretend like I followed Heavy D religiously in everything he was doing, but I did like his music and he had that classic Hip Hop sound that I loved growing up. Here’s an interview he did with Tim Westwood in the UK not too long ago, and two songs that, even though they were meant for Troy Dixon of Heavy D and the Boyz, are pretty appropriate. The last thing he said on his Twitter account was BE INSPIRED, so I’ll leave you with that. Later!