Mon Jan 17 2011, 10:14 PM // 2228 days ago

Ghostface Killah - 'Apollo Kids'

On paper, Apollo Kids appears to be Ghostface Killah’s least-promising release to date. The short track listing reveals a mostly-unknown production roster and guest verses on all but three songs, there’s no unifying theme like last year’s Ghostdini: Wizard Of I’m Not Typing All That Shit (AKA 14 First Singles About Girls), and no carefully-crafted or humorously-random skits. The piss-poor marketing push, generic school-themed artwork, tossed-off title, and this smoked-out video describing the LP as a “warm up” all suggest half-assed contractual obligation/tax write off.

In listening, Apollo Kids indeed lacks the meticulous cohesion and well-sequenced ebb and flow of his best works. More than any other Ghostface album, this feels like the sort of “collection of random songs” critics complain about when discussing modern rap records. Despite this, Apollo Kids manages to be a thoroughly-satisfying, fast forward-unfriendly addition to the MC’s discography.

Perhaps more than any other rapper, Ghostface understands quality control and knows how to select audience-pleasing production. Relative newcomer and 2009 Red Bull Big Tune winner Frank Dukes churns out the type of gritty, soul-sampled selections over which Ghost excels. His three contributions (the vintage Wu-Tang opener “Purified Thoughts”, dusted-out Theodore posse cut “Black Tequila”, and the predictable-yet-awesome back-in-the-days cut “In Tha Park”) resonate the deepest, with thick drums, pained vocal samples, and distorted blaxploitation guitars. The absurdly bass-heavy, Pete Rock-produced Fishscale outtake “Chunky” resurfaces as “How You Like Me Baby”, and instantly makes one long for the days when the Soul Brother’s name regularly appeared in album and remix credits. Recent behind-the-boards favorites Jake One and Scram Jones turn in similarly raw, street-level backdrops for Ghostface and company to demolish. With an utter lack of airplay concessions, Apollo Kids’ beat work ensures consistent comfort for the stodgiest of heads. Even the for-the-ladies cuts “2getha Baby” and “Handcuffin’ Them Hoes” pack enough soul to distinguish themselves from standard radio fare.

For his part, Ghostface Killah shows and proves why he remains one of hip hop’s most valuable and distinctive voices. The aforementioned “Purified Thoughts” concludes with a weirdly-profound volley typical of the Wally Champ:

Catch me in a little hut in Benin
Village style, feeding the children
Big pots of jasmine tea with Mandela
Africans chanting me on like Coachella
Ghostface boombaye
Kumbaya my lord, my death day, 24-karat tomb I lay
Wishing they could bury me next to the prophets
Nabila, Isa, Musa, Hadra, Muhammad

Though not as unforgivably cryptic or dense as on the beloved Supreme Clientele, Ghostface still manages to slip in his unique visuals throughout Apollo Kids (“Leave you hanging like your last name/Or an old man’s nuts that sag with no shame”, “Love my onions diced up real little”, “Have that ass sweating like T.D. Jakes”). The biggest problem is that there’s simply not enough Ghostface. The crowded guest list restricts our host to one or two verses per song. Aside from show-stopping appearances by The Game and Black Thought, and an expectedly-lame performance from Jim Jones, none of the other collaborations are positively or negatively notable.

Even at his most no frills, Ghostface Killah’s output manages to eclipse that of MCs from his, or any era. His clear dedication to making excellent songs and steering clear of his last album’s R&B-tinged sound makes Apollo Kids a winner, even if it’s not his most conceptual or cohesive LP.

Sat Jan 15 2011, 03:56 PM // 2230 days ago

Curren$y - 'Pilot Talk II'

Unlike other clichéd “remember when I was dope?” sequel hip-hop LP titles, Pilot Talk II truly plays out as an extension of it’s recent predecessor. Curren$y returns with the main cast of Ski and Monsta Beatz providing buttery smooth production, and the supporting cast of crew members Trademark and Young Roddy to help him extol the virtues of weed, women, money, marijuana, and fast cars. Also, kush.

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Mon Dec 13 2010, 02:08 AM // 2264 days ago

Redman - 'Reggie'

On the fifth installment of the “Soopaman Luva” series, our fearless hero fought to regain his lost mojo. Nine years later, it seems that his real-life Clark Kent, Reggie Noble, may be facing the same predicament.

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Thu Dec 09 2010, 02:21 AM // 2268 days ago

Kanye West - 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy'

It’s a testament to Kanye West’s artistry that he can effectively portray the psyche of a man living a life to which 99.973% of his audience could never relate. While I’d like to hear West return to a more soul/funk/jazz-influenced sound, I can’t deny his success at making a cohesive mood piece that expresses deep anger, sorrow, and paranoia.

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Sat May 08 2010, 03:13 PM // 2482 days ago

Murs & 9th Wonder - 'Fornever'

Overall, Fornever falls somewhere between the excellent Murray’s Revenge and the give-away Sweet Lord on the enjoyability scale.

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Mon Apr 05 2010, 02:01 AM // 2516 days ago

Method Man, Ghostface Killah & Raekwon - 'Wu-Massacre'

If nothing else, Method Man, Ghostface Killah, and Raekwon get props over here for not catering to radio trends, and sticking with what Wu-Tang does best. There’s no Speak ‘n Spell Auto-Tune, half-ass sing rapping, new Hokey Pokey dances, or whatever the fuck else the kids are doing these days. Yes, I’m old, and yes, I’d like it very much if you removed yourself from my lawn posthaste and pulled up your pants.

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Sun Aug 26 2007, 09:34 PM // 3468 days ago

Common - 'Finding Forever'

With the rare balance of critical acclaim and commercial success achieved by 2005’s Be, it’s no wonder that Common returned to the Kanye West-helmed, half short and twice strong recipe for its follow up, Finding Forever. But formula seems anything but common for an artist who, much like OutKast, The Roots, and A Tribe Called Quest, has made a career of natural album-to-album sonic evolution and reinvention.

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Wed Sep 04 2002, 04:00 PM // 5285 days ago

Cage - 'Movies for the Blind'

As with any good album, the positives far outnumber the negatives here, and Cage succeeds with a rock-solid debut LP. If you can look past the shock value and scare tactics of his rhymes, Movies for the Blind proves to be well worth the admission. Just be sure to leave your 3D glasses in the provided storage compartment on your way out of the theater.

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Sun Aug 11 2002, 12:53 PM // 5309 days ago

Mr. Lif - 'Emergency Rations'

Set up as a series of recorded messages from an emcee mysteriously gone missing after speaking out against political injustices, Emergency Rations largely eschews the more abstract and mechanical feel of Mr. Lif’s previous Def Jux release, finding him focusing on pre-existing societal ills and post-9/11 concerns.

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