Archive for the ‘Album/ Mix-Tape Reviews’ Category

Philly True School’s Next Generation: DJ PHRESH SELECT

September 29, 2014

Over the years I’ve taken in as much of the local music culture as possible wherever I visit.  Whether paying a visit to discreet record stores in Boulder and Pittsburgh; hitting the Access Music storefront in San Diego or Gramaphone Records in Chicago, or Turntable Lab in LA, I always ask for (1) the best local DJ mixes and (2) the events’ [fliers rack] and [usually] leave having experienced each.  I can say with certainty the Philadelphia hip-hop scene, even the overall party scene, revolves around a bunch of incredible DJs that conform to fundamental hip-hop aesthetics and can shake the floor without touching a top-40 track.  For my 12+ yrs living there, !llvibe Collective, Scratch Mekaniks, Nex Millen, Jim Redz, Sega, Emynd & Bo Bliz, Ultraviolet, the Seclusiasis DJs, NoPhrillz, Dave Cramske, The Philadelphyinz, and DJ Low B’s irreplaceable HOLLERTRONIX, [the platform from which Diplo soon-after rocketed to stardom], had been working and are still working.  Each one of these individuals/crews have all been *the* Philadelphia DJs of my generation [30-40 yrs], and now more than half of them tour nationally, if not worldwide… If I were to give only one example of Philadelphia displaying “brotherly love” inside of its city limits, no doubt it would be in witnessing living legends like Jazzy Jeff, Rich Medina and King Britt mentor younger DJs, like Statik- now the world-touring, Mr. Sonny James, as well as Lil Dave- co-host of Eavesdrop Radio on WKDU, with listeners from multiple continents tuning in weekly.

But with a bar set so by by such a large group of A+ turntablists, I often wonder about what younger DJs are deserving of carrying on such a legacy… It won’t be DJ Damage, trust me [whole other story]…  Really, there’s no better way to sell me on an unfamiliar DJ than a cosign from Mr. Sonny James… MEET DJ PHRESH SELECTS: I just peeped his first Mixcloud installment, and it’s the first time I can honestly call a mix full of apparent trap influence “engaging and tastefully done”, also “not-requiring several Red Bull + vodka pints to get me on [his] wavelength”.  Enjoy…


#1 Instrumental Hip-Hop Album of 2012: *Cool Story, Pro* by Small Professor

December 31, 2012

On a hazy weekday afternoon circa 2005, during my occasional routine of MySpace “window-shopping” for undiscovered emcee talent to book on upcoming events, my attention was jolted by the name of a young, Philadelphia-based producer known as Small Professor.  My initial reaction, ignorantly misguided by his avatar of a vague, low-res ‘Wheelchair Professor-X’, was, “Okay, so is dude a paraplegic and/or scientist moonlighting as a beat-maker?  [Why else would someone justify such a bold appropriation a hip-hop pioneer’s namesake?]  …Whether an expression of homage or a convenient opportunity for self-deprecating humor, I better hear some BEATS.”

 Small Pro-black&white pic

Within minutes, my apprehensions dissolved in the echoes of Small Pro’s “Jamal Gray” instrumental (first track on the mix from link).  Its sublime harmony was most impressive for how perfectly it catered to Jamal Gray, aka THE LAST EMPEROR, our (coincidentally) mutual favorite emcee.  In the following seasons, Small Pro’s gift for absorbing specific techniques from a pack of influences and retrofitting them to a heavily melodic style.  Turning away from overdone 808’s and synths that suffocate the soul/funk/jazz elements inherent to Hip-Hop music built distinguished resume of contest victories and concept-based remix projects, plus instrumental collections, complete with irreverent titles and eccentric imagery, all of which amassed critical acclaim online for their musical vision and cohesive presentation.

…As the timeless saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.  For the forward-thinking Small Professor, the value of a melody is quite the same…  Since the early-2012 release of his Gigantic, Vol.1, MC compilation album, Smalls has continued to harvest his fan base through Bandcamp with a trilogy of sequels to 2011’s reliable Jawns instrumental projects, setting the tone for his latest musical evolution, Cool Story, Pro

csp1+2 (500x2)

Cool Story, Pro is not a drastic departure from its preceding releases, but it’s much, much more than an arbitrary collection of great hip-hop beats.  Best appreciated when played in its undisturbed entirety, each chapter of the glowingly soulful, 25-track opus is coupled with implicit titles like “She’s The One (I Think)”, “Signs”, and “Get Over It Already.”   The titles, as complemented by the dreamlike ambience, moody drums, and emotional vocal samples that weave throughout them, guide the listener through a kaleidoscope of all the sentiments that highlight the timeline of a romantic experience.  To me, Cool Story, Pro could play as the beginning-to-end cinema soundtrack to a love story that needs no dialogue… and subsequently wins ‘best movie’ at the Sundance Film Festival.

[PRESS] The Symphony Wins 1st @ BOTB w/ !llmind, Rook & S-1

December 25, 2012

Below the video and links to the official competition set on Soundcloud is the press release I drafted to celebrate my friend, Samik’s victory at iStandard Producers’ Beast of the Beats championship competition in NYC… You can also catch plenty of The Symphony’s latest music through The #BOARDROOM Living Compilation Album.


THE SYMPHONY on Soundcloud:


Saturday, December 1st:  a five-minute contagion of scrunch-face saturated Rebel nightclub during “Beast of the Beats VI” in NYC as Philadelphia-based producer, The Symphony, showcased an epic, 3-track set of music before a Grammy-winning panel of judges including S-1 (Kanye West’s “Power”), !llmind (50 Cent), and Rook from J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League.  When the smoke cleared, The Symphony won first place out of 70 reputed beatsmiths, each of whose resume, at minimum, boasts a first or second place score in one of the many regional iStandard Producer Showcases across the United States.  Aside from generous supplements to his repertoire of production tools and personal supply of Monster Energy Drinks, he was also awarded the opportunity to spend a couple days in the studio with G.O.O.D. Music recording artist, Cyhi the Prynce, in Atlanta.

With the potential of some non-disclosed, A-list collaborations on the horizon, The Symphony anticipates the of release many bigger records in time, trying his hand not only in hip-hop but dub-step and house as well.  Never one to shy from challenging his own musical aesthetic or customs of the industry, he has also been a major contributor to The Boardroom, a “living album” project online that remodels itself in accordance with fan feedback.  Check it out to hear his latest single, “Everywhere”, alongside his Business As Usual Entertainment colleagues PT, DS and 2ew Gunn Ciz, plus plenty of other new music…


MHz – A Legacy

October 30, 2012

With all the hysteria surrounding Meek Mill’s and Kendrick Lamar’s recent, breakthrough studio albums, it’s likely more than a few good projects will be trampled in the crowds.  Rallying behind ‘mainstream’ debuts of the underground’s young champions is almost instinctual, but today bears another landmark release deserving of attention from grassroots hip-hop’s most fervent supporters… The MHz Legacy LP showcases Copywrite, Tage Future, Jakki Da Mottamouth and RJD2 working together on an album for the first time in well over a decade despite the passing of their most charismatic member, the late Tero Smith (aka Camu Tao).  While “unsung” isn’t a strong enough comparison for the buzz of this release against that of Dr. Dre’s and Rick Ross’ protégés, a cult following of fans have been waiting for another MHz full-length since before K. Dot spit for Punch, before the first Flamerz mixtape was pressed to CD.

Clockwise from top-left: Copywrite, Tage Future, Jakki, RJD2… Click to hear new album on iTunes.


Before Tero’s untimely death presumably sealed the fate of the group, collaborations and accomplishments of its solo entities solidified their reputation as some of underground hip-hops finest- even without more than an appropriately titled Table Scraps album under their collective belt.  Early MHz vinyl singles were a cornerstone of the pioneer independent label, Fondle ‘Em Records, which laid way for Copywrite and Camu Tao to be catalysts in the rise of Definitive Jux Records as leaders of the Weathermen conglomerate with El-P, Tame One, Cage and others…

Camu Tao w/ Aesop Rock… Click for Camu’s posthumous Def Jux release, King of Hearts


I’m certain “Kendrick Lamar is going to change the game” is a frequent comment among hip-hop circles right now.  The ambitions today’s generation of purists has for volcanic underground acts like K. Dot, Danny Brown and Slaughterhouse are tantamount to the expectations many fans had for the Weathermen 10 years ago…  In fact, imagine a more dynamic, bugged-out version of Slaughterhouse, and you’ll have MHz…  Now more than double the number of group members, and you’ll have the Weathermen.

Although I haven’t had much time to digest MHz Legacy, it’s so far the evolution I’d hope for after such a long hiatus.   For the most part, they make no failed attempts at recreating the dusty, lo-fi ambience of their original catalog; and although the Camu Tao’s psychedelic influence is absent from this project, it seems each track was produced with the question, “how would Tero want this to sound?”, in mind.  Clever wordplay, electric delivery and edgy soundscapes are still the group’s trademarks, once again amalgamating into a forward-thinking aesthetic that challenges hip-hop’s contemporary norms.



June 4, 2012

Virginia-bred emcee/producer Nottz is one of the most silently influential movers in hip-hop.  Chosing not to brand himself through tag lines or gaudy video appearances in any of the records he’s produced for Grammy-winning artists, his name doesn’t resonate with co-eds and scenesters in the same fashion as Kanye West or other icons he works with.  Nottz doesn’t have to.  With a production resume ranging from Biggie to Lyricist Lounge to Snoop, as well as his own rap records that have filtered through the underground for over 10 years, he’s truly ‘your favorite artist’s favorite artist’…

In late 2010 Nottz released You Need This Music, a Soul Survivor-esque, half-solo record, half-producer compilation that masterfully synthesizes flavors from all reaches of hip-hop/pop culture, enlisting ringers such as Mayer Hawthorne, Black Milk and Travis Barker… In the likeness of that project comes his new EP, In My Mind, available tomorrow, June 5th (2012).  A bit muddier than the preceeding LP, Nottz, Royce Da 5″9, Pusha T and others stomp through the tracks with contributions targeted to the core hip-hop audience…  A must-have in my book.

FREE SAMPLER: Nottz – In My Mind EP

Celph Titled Interview: Passion of the Weiss

February 22, 2011

A few months ago, Jeff from asked me to interview Celph Titled.   Already somewhat of an icon for his omniscience in the NY underground movement and a cinematically flagrant (yet convincing) persona, Celph’s unsuspecting move to obtain Buckwild’s 1990’s production archives as the backdrop for his official solo debut made the opportunity even more undeniable…

Below are some highlights of the piece, which can be read in its entirety at …

Celph Titled (left) & Buckwild (right)


A lot of contemporary rappers pride themselves in ‘bringing the ‘90’s back’, but they’re not doing much more than just saying it. One of the things I like about Nineteen Ninety Now is it’s more cohesive than simply rapping over vintage (sounding) beats; it sounds like the scratches, arrangement, style of hooks, etc are all made to be consistent with the ‘90’s formula for hip-hop music…

Definitely… Being the first to do this concept, we had to basically pretend like this was the ‘90’s. Now, there are procedures on how to make songs and it’s mostly cookie-cutter: three 16’s and 8-bar hooks and that’s that. [Instead,] we got in the mindset of how dudes made records back then because so many things have been forgotten. Whether it’s cuts, not having a set amount of bars, using certain vocal samples as part of the hook or during the verse to answer a rhyme, or [in general] just being loose with it- all these details that are ignored anymore had to be paid very much attention to. So, our formula was about taking new lyrics and a new outlook, while staying within the frame of ‘How would they have made this record in 1994?’ and following that to a tee.

As a long-time fan of rap music, I feel like one of the main things that’s missing from songs these days- not just in the mainstream but now in the underground as well- is DJs doing scratch segments or sampling memorable punch lines from another emcee’s verse. It’s disappointing, because it’s one of my favorite parts of a good rap song.

Exactly, and who better to do [the scratches] than the world-famous champion, Mister Sinister? He did the cuts on Common Resurrection and all kinds of classic ‘90’s albums, so it was perfect that he was able to do it on my album. Going back to the ‘90’s thing, even the approach of rapping and DJ’ing is different nowadays. Everyone is really stiff. My style is more cartoonish and comical and it worked well since we all took a carefree approach and didn’t try to be so serious. A lot of fans get too superficial with their music. You have a lot of insecure people feeling like ‘I only need to listen to crime shit, hardcore, street rap’ and they’re scared to listen to something like this album because it’s actually fun… There are violent undertones, but it’s like an action movie. It’s like Die Hard, where Bruce Willis will blast somebody and then make a punch line about it- it’s fun.

I first became a fan of your music when I heard the “Chrome Depot Freestyle” with Apathy over DJ Premier beats, which was 10 years ago. So, for me, hearing Nineteen Ninety Now kind of brought things full-circle, and it was nice to basically hear the same Celph Titled I’ve been a fan of. I feel like a lot of other emcees that came up the same time in the late-90’s/ early-2000’s indie hip-hop movement, and gained notoriety as punch line/ battle rappers, have since abandoned that style in preference of alternative, genre-bending directions. Whatever the case, it seems doing a punch line song is taboo, or being regarded primarily as a battle rapper is now insulting for these artists. As someone who isn’t ashamed of that classification, what are your thoughts on all this?

A lot of that has to do with ego and fear of being irrelevant. When you start hearing backlash from people about punch line rap, like ‘there’s no substance’, this and that- an insecure artist who’s effected by that is going to question their shit and try to appeal to that [stigma]. They might convince themselves ‘This isn’t my natural growth. I need to go and make this a sad song with a story’, or just do all this weird stuff they didn’t do before. If you look at the long-standing, successful artists in hip-hop- even if they’re not critically acclaimed, guys like E-40 and Too Short never changed their formulas. They might have updated their production styles with the times, but they’ve always given their fans what they want and they’re still here, making plenty of money. I realize that I’ve created a brand through a certain vibe when you listen to me and I never want to let my fans down, especially because I enjoy doing it. I don’t care what other people think, like ‘oh it’s just backpack, rappity-rap’, because that’s what I like and I have enough fans… I’ve been disappointed by my favorite artists so many times, and what they could have done to have my support and everyone else’s was so simple. Trying to do something totally different makes fans mad a lot of times. It could be why a lot of the guys who came up with me and Apathy 10 years ago are gone, and I think the fact we’re still here doing this says a lot.

Nineteen Ninety Now actually isn’t the first time you’ve done a concept, collaboration album. Several years ago, you dropped the Boss Hog Barbarians project with J-Zone, which can be considered another, yet more comical, homage to early ‘90’s rap music. How was this concept and working with J-Zone different than working with Buckwild on the new album?

In a way, that album is the west coast version of Nineteen Ninety Now. Zone and I are such fans of that era and we both wanted to do something different at the time. He was having some issues where people were pigeonholing him into one sound, like the accordion beats, talking about his infatuation with Lucy Lu and that’s all people wanted to hear. As a growing artist, that would make him mad, so we did ‘Barbarians’ in a kind of rebellious way, like ‘this is what we came up on, what we love, and we’re going to make a very funny, killer project out of it.’ I think it went over a lot of people’s heads; they might have thought it was all a joke. There was definitely a joke aspect to it. We’re not super-serious guys- we like to make people laugh and we know how to have fun, but it wasn’t a whole parody. We really felt that project and there were a lot of concepts on it. We shared the mic duties and I did a couple beats that were my tributes to classic [San Francisco] Bay Area stuff… It was different because J-Zone is a friend of mine, and was a friend prior to making that album. We did the album because of our friendship and our admiration for each other’s talent. We would come up with ideas on the spot while joking around, laughing and being loose. With Buckwild, I didn’t know him beforehand. We met each other in order to do the album and I had to get to know him. We’re friends and we joke too now that we understand each other’s sense of humor and stuff like that, but it’s different when you go into a project already having that kind of personal rapport versus building the rapport while you’re doing it…

Celph w/ Treach of Naughty by Nature, who is one of many decorated rap hall-of-famers on "Nineteen Ninety Now"

Asher Roth: Not the First of His Kind

January 25, 2009


One of XXL Magazine’s mostly refreshing 10 emcees to usher rap’s future, and apparent wonder-crush of Steve Rifkin’s collegiate daughter, Asher Roth has garnered quite the buzz for being the white white rapper. Hipsters dig him because they think he’s ironic (even though hearing “The Lounge” on 98.9 The Beat or in the Palmer Club doesn’t really sound misplaced), but hardcore varieties of fans show a more genuine respect for his own, new brand of honkey swagger… and maybe even his mic skills (imagine that). Either way, people are embracing him as the first full-blown preppy emcee. While Mic Skillz dropped the “Andover Hospitality” Ludacris spoof almost 8 years ago, that was only one track. And although John Brown is the self-proclaimed King of the Suburbs, he still dresses like NY Undercover reruns urge him toward the extra-large South Pole/Enyce racks at JC Penny, even though he obviously fits size smedium. Asher, absent of any forced, synthetic urban tokens, can use this to his advantage and could be about to win on a major scale.

While the codes of Philly Fuckery require me to hate on him (since I am, in fact another Caucasian hip-hopper that views himself tougher), the fact that I’m not a rapper myself makes his style easier for me to digest than for a lot of my acquaintances, and I might be fan just yet. I haven’t heard enough to decide one way or the other though… The point of this post is not to praise or denounce the artist, but to acknowledge the power of packaging, and give credit to a true innovator when it’s due. Say what you will about young Roth, but I don’t think he initially intended to pursue the frat boy gimmick before a few recent press shoots and the “I Love College” track. There is, however, a different individual that was all over this angle from the jump, starting five-plus years ago.

Enter Troy Walsh, daring proprietor of Burb Life Records, who hails from an even more fuck-random Pennsylvania town than Roth. While his MySpace page and “Happy Hour” video speak for themselves, note that it was all the way back in 2004 that he enlisted ‘now’ street DJ, Lt. Dan to release his promo mixtape, decorated with nothing besides images of golf greens and an old colonial-style logo. Yes, a new Asher track is banging for its creative sampling of a Weezer melody, but Troy rocks with an entire band every show… and even straps on the old axe himself, bitch. Then there are Mr. Unlikely’s credentials (some notables listed below), which despite some lost promise, overshadow the 22-year Roth’s rather vague rap sheet of pre-SRC dues paid and even out Walsh’s gaudier reliance on presentation.

Granted, there are some fairly distinct image discrepancies. Asher is more the upper class, frat-boy white dude, whereas Troy is more of a grungy, redneck scenester white dude. But the rap game isn’t ready for that degree of genre-splicing just yet, so there’s only room for one of them in the current industry niche of extra-white rapper. Right now, I’d be pretty disgruntled if I were Walsh, but the tides could easily turn with one failure to deliver a trend and an eager big label looking to capitalize on a new gimmick.

For now, they should settle this with a drinking contest. Congrats for affirming binge drinking as the new white stereotype.

Roth Boys

Happy Hour


Freeway/ DJ NoPhrillz “Best Things in Life Are Free” Mixtape

January 5, 2009

Originally written by yours truly for Illadelph Magazine this past November.  Special thanks to Ccelli of Exponent Entertainment for the look on this one…

FREEWAY/ DJ NOPHRILLZ – “The Best Things in Life are Free”

Rap game reality check of 2008: while overzealous nerds and hippies have slowly made a snot rag of the “underground hip-hop” stamp in the past several years, their jock-ish, crackrap counterparts are now doing the same to the mixtape movement.  For a brief moment, street tapes were once again the symbol of raw hiphop- a refuge for even the most high profile emcees to remove their music from pop culture’s demanding influences.  However, the commoditization and overproduction of ‘street’ mixes has dulled the subculture’s edge, dissolving most of the endless releases to a puddle of uninspired takes on over-used industry beats.  And with the onslaught of new school, alternative buzz-acts turning the heads of fans and tastemakers alike, a lot of the identically-packaged corner favorites are finding it even more difficult to make their way to eager fans.  Lucky for me, living in what’s arguably the most talented rap city in the country, I’ll always have easy access to material from the likes of Freeway and DJ NoPhrillz so that I’m not looking for a needle in a haystack…

Appropriately titled The Best Things in Life are Free, Philly Freezer’s new mixtape takes me back to a recent past where an artist’s latest underground mix was more anticipated than formal studio projects.  This won’t become an express, conceptual ‘masterpiece’ among bloggers, like that of Wale and Jay Electronica, but it doesn’t need to be.   It’s the stripped down nature of the CD, free from gimmicks and cosigns that make it so enjoyable.  Sometimes we want nothing more than cadences and delivery, and Free has so much flow that even his verses sound like hooks.  And while spoofing other artists’ tracks is the mixtape norm, it’s rare to see an emcee do it with more charisma and wit to where the original versions are almost unlistenable.   The intense, rapid fire jabs and aggressive concept twist that make up his own version of Game’s “Big Dreams” not only manifest a more exhilarating rendition, but place Freeway’s lyrical creativity on a pedestal among the peers he’s often grouped alongside.  Another clever parody is his ode to PA via the Swizz Beats/ Busta Rhymes classic “NY Shit,” which brilliantly marks where Philly proudly distinguishes itself from the neighboring metropolis.  Most importantly, the actual content is 99% Freeway, and he keeps the concise, 12-track mix unpredictable without any posse filler or excessive verse juggling from NoPhrillz- to the point rap music… *Plays the M.I.A. ‘Paper Planes’ remix*

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