Thursday, December 31, 2015

My Picks for the Top Twenty-Five Albums of 2015.

One of those years where I initially couldn't think of 10 records I listened to off the top of my head, but when I went to my iTunes I realized there was a solid tally of full-lengths I at least half-assedly sat through over the course of the past year. There's a lot of great free rap music out there, people! Take advantage.

25. Boosie Badazz - Touchdown 2 Cause Hell/In My Feelings (Goin Thru It)

This dude guested on a bunch of my favorite rap tracks this year and when I checked out his solo shit I got more than I bargained for. Touchdown 2 Cause Hell (pictured) is a dark, surprisingly sincere record from a guy clearly going through a bunch of shit. He'd later in the year reveal what that shit was, oddly announcing on social media that he'd been diagnosed with kidney cancer. He then, at some point, deleted those posts and eventually released In My Feelings (Goin Thru It), a 10-track album that directly addresses his illness in a sometimes brutal way. Word is he's now cancer-free and planning a joint LP with C-Murder. Never a dull moment!


24. Young Thug - Barter 6/Slime Season/Slime Season 2

This prolific weirdo. I totally understand why people hate his music to the point of declaring it sacrilege against everything that encompasses the ever-fluid definition of "real hip-hop," but rap music in the 2010s needs instigators who dig deeper than typical rap beef, and when Young Thug shows up online in skirts and bitter, shriveled dickheads like Lord Jamar get pissy about it, we can all revel in the changing of the guard. I'll be the first to admit some of his songs are huge misses, but I'll also cop to listening to Barter 6 on the regs while driving between thrift stores on the weekends.

"Can't Tell (feat. T.I. and Boosie Badazz)"

23. T.I. - Da' Nic

I've been warming up to T.I. in recent years, and it'll probably apex with this five-song EP, which is front-to-back a solid listen. Dude can kick out a verse.

"Broadcast Live"

22. Tairrie B. - Vintage Curses

I love Tairrie B. from way back, and I looooove that she's still rapping. Her voice sounds great, and this album is a crazy horrorcore/old-school rap/huge-drum bitchcraft opus that somehow also manages to rep for the West Coast. Wild.

"Beware the Crone"

21. Action Bronson - Mr. Wonderful

We may have reached peak Bronsolino in 2015. The awkward Ghost beef didn't do anyone any favors (come on, Starks), and this album, while definitely decent, felt strangely grating compared to the dab-doused, effortless excellence that was Blue Chips 2. There's some good tracks on here, but shit like the "Thug Love Story 2017 (The Musical)" skit (clocking in at almost two and a half minutes) is just lazy garbage.

"Actin Crazy"

20. G-Unit - The Beast is G-Unit

The auto-tuned hook for a track - in the year 2015, mind you - titled "Ballin'" that kicks off this EP didn't give me much hope, but the raps on that song are solid and the whole thing gets better from there. I'm still getting used to the addition of Kidd Kidd - to the point of not being fully sold on him yet - but he's not a hack, which I can live with. I mean, christ, Tony Yayo's batting cleanup on some of these cuts. The bar ain't sky high.

"Doper Than My Last One"

19. Raekwon - Fly International Luxurious Art

Jesus, that album title is the most dumb-trying-to-sound-deep shit since I Move More Officially by Implementing Loyalty and Respect in the Youth. That being said, and ignoring a few guest spots (to think we used to get pissy about Nas showing up!), there's an OK set of songs here. Put it in Rae's "could have been worse" pile!

"4 in the Morning"

18. Mr. Muthafuckin eXquire - Live Forever

eX is working steady to not get pushed into a party-rap corner, and hearing him get serious is somehow just as wild as his drunky raps. The beats on this are rock solid, and dude's verses are getting denser, doper, and occasionally hpyer-complex. Not bad at all.

"Ice Cups"

17. Busdriver - Thumbs

The most "challenging" Driver album in a while, and we should have all seen it coming. Perfect Hair was the build, and now here we are. Bits of this somehow feel dickish in their refusal to submit to a steady beat, but his records are always worth powering through. I just maybe didn't get as much out of this one as a few others.


16. _______ - The Catcher Of The Fade

_______ is Hellfyre Club. But you know they gots to be wacky! So, yeah, in other Busdriver news, this 4-song EP was a cool little surprise from he and his cohorts (Open Mike Eagle, milo, etc.) where they just rap on some weird-ass beats. Shit's cool to me.

The Catcher of the Fade

15. Young Buck - 10 Bullets/10 Bricks/10 Pints

Young Buck rapped his ass off in 2015. 3 mixtapes in one year with barely a feature in the whole batch? Dude's got a point to prove. Is he saying anything new? Nah. But that's never been what this is about. Good to see Buck back with G-Unit and putting in wooooork.


14. Two-9 - B4FRVR

This Atlanta collective is young and sometimes I think they doth flex too much, but the beats are engagingly weird and this thing had me hooked for a second early in the year. They aren't saying much new, but they do seems to have a new way of saying it.

"World Gone Crazy"

13. Kool A.D. - O.K.

Not gonna lie and act like I've attentively listened to even half of the 100 tracks on this free album, but what I have heard I've loved, and come on: it's 100 songs. Three hours long. Guest spots you actually want to hear. I'm mad down for all of this.


12. Method Man - The Meth Lab

Man, I had such high hopes for this one. The title track dropped early and it was decent, and then "Straight Gutta" came out, which is easily one of my favorite posse cuts of the year. But once again I got up for a Mef solo album, and once again I got one that is not awful, but just aggressively spotty. The raps on "Soundcheck" are dope, but man: that beat is boiling hot garbage, and so is Cory Gunz biting his dad's hook on "50 Shots," a track that sounds like a Tommy Boy-arranged pop-jam tailor made for heavy rotation on Rap City in 1999. But of course there's some solid rapping all over this thing. Maybe on The Crystal Meth (teased at the end of this one) he'll pull it all together. Maybe.

"Straight Gutta"

11. The Earnest Lovers - Sing Sad Songs

Pete Krebs' new throwback honky-tonk outfit. I contributed to the Kickstarter! This six-song EP is not in the style I usually listen to, but it's a barn burner.

"I'm Still Missing You"

10. Death Grips - Jenny Death

"I Break Mirrors With My Face In The United States," with its refrain of "I don't care about real life," is a heavy booted, full-on kick in the dick, and so is the rest of this record. I saw Death Grips live again this year and they continue to be something that everyone else is not.

"The Powers That B"

09. Heems - Eat Pray Thug

Not sure Heems got his proper due for this one! He's another rapper trying to shake his drunky party-boy image, and I'm all for the natural transition of things. If this is the beginning of what's next for him, I'm genuinely curious to see where the rest of it goes.


08. 50 Cent - The Kanan Tape

This 7-track mixtape is one of my favorite things Fif's done in years. It ain't too long, he doesn't rap on it more than he needs to, and all the tracks are fleshed out and realized. I guess the title is about his character on whatever TV show he's on, but this seems like standard gangsta shit, done like 50's capable of doing it. He's blatantly following musical trends now instead of instigating them, but he's careful and crafty enough to pull it off right here and there. This is one of those.

"Too Rich"

07. Peaches - Rub



06. Built to Spill - Untethered Moon

The most reliable 40-something band in rock? They're right up there with The New Pornographers. Does this album close with an eight-and-a-half minute shredhole named "When I'm Blind?" Yes. Yes it does.

"Never Be the Same"

05. Paris - Pistol Politics

Hadn't heard from Paris in a while - his last solo album was 2008's Acid Reflex - but you knew when he came back he'd come back strong. This LPs a beast, boasting 27 tracks over 90+ minutes, and it's both a return to form for him and an expansion of shit he's touched on in the past, and that goes for both the lyrics and the production. Paris has always been a tenacious beatmaker, but a track like "Turning Point" is not something I'd expect to hear from him. That being said, tucked between two guerrilla-funked thumpers, it somehow makes perfect sense.

"Night of the Long Knives"

04. Dr. Dre - Compton

People acting like this was a disappointment and the Straight Outta Compton movie was amazing. You got that shit backwards.

03. Supersuckers - Holdin' The Bag

It was a year where lone remaining Supersucker Eddie Spaghetti announced he had cancer, was successfully treated for said cancer, and somewhere in there also dropped this, a worthy addition to the 'Sucker's country catalog. I've bought it twice and I'm getting ready to buy it again!

"Holdin' The Bag"

02. Kurt Vile - b’lieve i’m goin down...

My god I listened to this record a lot this past year. Maybe more than any other. Of course I bought the deluxe extend-o version Matador trotted out, and next thing you know I was ponytail-deep in nine and a half minutes of "No Stranger to the Ball Bust." I can see why Kurt Vile doesn't do it for some people - my wife loathes his murky slack-folk with the white-hot passion of a thousand suns - but man, if you can get with it, put this on during a long drive and let that shit roll.

"Pretty Pimpin'"

01. Faith No More - Sol Invictus

Hey remember when we thought the Pixies would never get back together, and then they did and it was cool for a while but then they put out three EPs that took their borderline flawless legacy and sprayed diarrhea all over it? Right. But hey: remember when we thought Faith No More would seriously never get back together, and then they did, and then they put out an album that actually sounds like a logical follow-up to their last record 18 years ago and is really good and somehow they pulled the whole thing off? That's because FNM is the best.

"Black Friday"

Saturday, November 7, 2015

October Record Shopping at Reckless in Chicago, Part Two.

I left the downtown Reckless and headed over to the larger one on Broadway, leaving myself about two hours to do as much damage as possible. I bought about 10 rap tapes that I already put away for some reason, so I won't be talking about those, but rest assured they are sweet.

This is a great record store. The other Reckless is good, too, but it's just a much tighter space. This one feels less chaotic and has more stuff, so it's a more pleasant experience. Here's what I grabbed:

Arabian Prince - Brother Arab (1989)

One of those albums that I always thought about buying when I was young, when I was crazy into NWA, but I never pulled the trigger. I can't remember if someone told me it wasn't great, or if I was just going off Arabian Prince's verse on "Something 2 Dance 2." Either way, this isn't a terrible record, it's just bad compared to Straight Outta Compton. And nary an NWA member in sight...

House of Pain - Truth Crushed to Earth Will Rise Again (1996)

You would think House of Pain vinyl would be readily available on the cheap. I mean, you'd really probably guess that, right? I've been actively looking for HoP records for like five years, in different parts of the country, and my collection, before finding this not-mint-at-all white-label promo copy of their final album, consisted wholly of a "Who's the Man" 12," and it's been three years since I found that one. Shit's a commodity, apparently.

King Tee - At Your Own Risk (1990)

Another tape that I looked at all the time when I was a teenager, but never ended up with. Beats on this are serious West Coast shit. Dope track with Ice Cube that catches him fresh out of NWA, too.

Tone Lōc - Cool Hand Lōc (1991)

Think I might have paid two bucks for this. It's actually not a record I see that often. Listening to it right now. It is not very good. Two and Tone's out!

Madhouse - 8 (1987)

Prince's jazz-fusion band, that is really just Prince and another dude. Man, the shit that guy pulled in the 80's. Realized it's high time I upped my Prince Side Project game. And I wasn't done yet!

The Family - The Family (1985)

I'd seen this record floating around some Prince sections before, but I never realized exactly what it is. First off, it's one of those projects where Prince is writing all the songs but isn't in the band and gives the liner-note writing credits to someone else. But, on this one he does take credit for one track: the original version of "Nothing Compares 2 U," sung here by St. Paul, the dude on the cover. And that's not Wendy Melvoin: it's her twin sister Susannah. Great blog post about this group right here that tells the whole story. I found their "The Screams of Passion" 12" a few days ago here in Portland and that's pretty much their full discography.

The Conscious Daughters - Ear to the Street (1993)

Female hard-ass rap duo, produced by Paris in 1993. I had heard their name before but never put the Guerrilla Funk connection together. Beats on this go hard, as expected. And the flows are smoooooth.

Slick Rick - The Great Adventures of Slick Rick (1988)

This was an album that I knew of when I was younger, but never owned a copy myself. Got a nice one here: original copy in great shape. Never really been a Slick Rick fanatic. More of a Dana Dane man.

Chris Stamey Group - Christmastime (1985)

With special guests The dBs! College-rock Christmas from what I can tell. My Christmas crates are getting deep.

Merle Haggard - Merle Haggard's Christmas Present (1973)

And deeper. Seems like this will complement the shit out of the Johnny Cash one I got. Pilled-up country Christmas!

Dr. Charles A. Bucher - Slimnastics (1960)


Diane Dufresne - Chanson Pour Elvis Strip Tease... (1979)

No idea. Though it's already more bizarre than I thought it might be.

Smooth Ice - "Do it Again" 12" (1990)

I picked up Smooth Ice's sole LP earlier this year at Amoeba in LA and ever since, I've been mad curious about this dude.

Here's the deal: Run-D.M.C. started two record labels in 1990: JMJ Records, which put out stuff by the Afros and eventually Onyx - and was Jam Master Jay's imprint, and JDK Records, which Run and D started with a guy named Kijana. (The JDK stood for "Joe Darryl Kijana," natch.)

Smooth Ice is the guy Run and DMC picked to be the premiere artist on their new label. They made a really expensive-looking two-part video for two singles - "Do it Again," the track from this 12", and "Smooth But Def." In the clips, Smooth Ice is shown skydiving, piloting a helicopter, engaging in hand-to-hand combat while scuba diving, and commandeering a submarine with his name on it that transforms into a rocket ship. When Run-D.M.C. appeared on Rap City in 1990, right after these singles dropped, Run referred to him as "The James Bond of hip-hop."

The videos - not to mention the LP, which was front-to-back produced by Run-D.M.C. - are notable, in my opinion, for the sheer amount of money and cosign given to a guy who has no charisma, no lyrics, and looks anything but comfortable in front of a camera or while holding a mic. Dude's kicking '85-era battle raps in a post-Amerikkka's Most Wanted world while rocking a leather Kangol and a fat dookie rope. Shit's bizarre. And to add another level of strange, apparently he produced a few tracks for Nikki D.

JDK Records only ever released music by one other group, FU2, which didn't work either, and JDK was over. In that Rap City clip, though, DMC runs down a list of names of groups that were going to see release on the label in 1991: Royalties of Rap, The Mic Professor, Proper Authority, and Top Quality, who is the only one who seems to ever have released any music at all.

Dark days for the world's greatest rap group.

Nice & Smooth - "Funky for You" 12" (1990)

I really should have listened to more Nice & Smooth when I was a teenager. Been trying to track down their vinyl and it's tough. Think this might be my first slab. Dub, remix, and non-album track. Solid.

Shango - Shango Funk Theology (1984)

Bambaataa and Bill Laswell. Oh damn.

Here's a dog that was hanging out behind the counter at Reckless:

Big Daddy Kane - "I Get the Job Done" 12" (1989)

Guess I didn't have this. Now I do.

Genius - "Pass the Bone" 12" (1994)

Early days of the ol' GZA. I think this might even be a repress, post-Wu-Tang blowing up. It was like 2 bucks.

Northern State - "Better Already" 7" (2008)

Closing it out with a single I didn't even know existed. Kablam.

All in all, a damn fine trip. One of the rap tapes I got is Daz's first album, and that was worth the effort alone. Left a bunch there that I wanted, though. I'll get back.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

October Record Shopping at Reckless in Chicago, Part One.

I went to Chicago about a year and a half ago, did some record shopping while I was there, and made off with a solid haul. So, when I found out I was going back this year, I hoped to hit the spots I did last time and then some. That didn't happen. I ended up with about 4 hours on a Sunday night, so I played it safe and rolled with the Reckless within walking distance of my hotel, followed by a quick shot out to the bigger one on Broadway.

I didn't have any trouble finding stuff, though now that I'm looking at everything I scooped up in a time-crunched frenzy, I'm realizing it's a heady melange of impulse buys and snatch-grabs, with some legit shit mixed in.

Most of the time when I write these I leave out the dollar records and other niche stuff I buy, but I'm going full-on with this one, if nothing else so you can get a real clear picture of the sickness that manifests itself in me dragging all this shit back across the country in a suitcase I half-filled before I left. It's dark.

I hit the Loop Reckless first; the one that's downtown-ish. For some reason I got really caught up in the Christmas section. Here's what I got:

Reaction Formation - "Looking at You" 7" (1986)

Private-press 45 from a Champaign, Illinois mod-rock band. Song is mad catchy.

Annie Ample - "Annie Ample in The Voyeur" flexi (1981?)

This is a square, cardboard flexi-disc that features Annie Ample talking real filthy for about five minutes. Best I can tell it was an insert in a High Society magazine. Couldn't not buy this. If you want a better look at the record or to hear it, go right here.

Fishwife - Fishwife 7" (1990)

I saw Fishwife open for the Supersuckers in Corvallis in 1992. I bought one of their LPs at some point in the last few years. This is their debut single on marbled blue vinyl. Still not really sure what their deal is.

ZZZZ/Uz Jsme Doma - "Assassination Polka"/"Triska" 7" (2005)

ZZZZ was a band featuring lead Sweep the Leg Johnny sax dude Steve Sostak and - I think - Sweep's bass player. I found their full-length at Music Millennium a few years back, and it's real good. Didn't even know this split existed. Currently trying to determine if this version is the same one from the LP. No idea about the other band.

Mari-An - "Santa's Holiday" 12" (1988)

Dance mix, TWO different radio mixes, and an instrumental. Pure 80's-synth cheer.

Illinois Youth Chorale - We Wish You the Merriest (196?)

Local-to-Chicago private-press gatefold Christmas album with some fun pictures on the inside. Good-looking group.

Pink Lady - Pink Lady (1979)

If you've never seen Pink Lady & Jeff, I don't know whether I should feel sorry for you or relieved. Pink Lady runs deep, but this is their accompanying US-push disco LP. What a time to be alive.

The Blue Riddim Band - Alive in Jamaica (1984)

Bought this because I wanted to hear what a mostly-white reggae band from Kansas City playing "Chariots of Fire" in front of a Jamaican crowd would sound like. About what I expected. Probably won't keep this one.

Merle Evans - Circus Spectacular (1967)

I think I collect clown LPs now?

Here's a picture of the inside of Reckless:

Jim Galloway And Milt Hinton And Gus Johnson And Ralph Sutton - The Sackville All Star Christmas Record (1986)


Sesame Street Christmas Sing-Along (1984)

I have a lot of Christmas records, but not a lot of kids' Christmas records.

Merry Christmas from Sesame Street (1975)

Great cover on this one.

The Language and Music of the Wolves (1971)

Promo version with big fat sticker. Were they thinking this would get radio play? Robert Redford apparently narrates the second side.

Johnny Cash - The Christmas Spirit (1963)

4 bucks. Would've been 10 in Portland.

Rudy Ray Moore - The Sensuous Black Man by "The Prince" (1972)

Dolemite gets ribald. It's records like this that you hardly ever see in Oregon.

The Sensational Saints - You Won't Believe It (1973/2014)

I thought this looked a little clean to be an original... Whatever. Looking at it now, actual copies of this sell for upwards of 100 bucks, so I'm assuming the music on this must be worth listening to. Very faithful reissue. Cover is dope.

The UBC - 2 All Serious Thinkers (1990)

Had never heard of these guys, but I was listening to this LP this morning and it's pretty dope. Check it.

V/A - Scrooged (1989)

Reckless keeps their actual LPs behind the counter, so when you buy something you just bring the sleeve up and then they get the record from the back. This one, on the price sticker, indicated that it was green vinyl, and a reissue. I've never come across this record before (though I've never really looked), so I said what the hell. When they brought the record out, it was black. They explained to me that that meant they were told they were getting green but got black. I just sort of said "whatever" and bought it, then immediately regretted paying that much for a record I could pay 2 bucks for on eBay. And I put back a sealed copy of Compton's Most Wanted's debut during the whole thing, too. Split-second decisions and eventual regret, brother.

I also passed on this, which I almost regret now and probably will at some point:
Next up: I go to the other Reckless and put in work. Here's the outside of this one: