Monday, November 27, 2006

UGK back to reclaim throne.

Some say southern rappers are killing hip-hop, but the Houston-bred veteran duo UGK strongly disagrees on its first album in five years, Underground Kingz.

With member Pimp C incarcerated until late 2005, Bun B became one of the most prominent figures in hip-hop, working with artists ranging from Lil’ Jon to Beyonce . UGK hopes to ride that wave of fame into the release of its new record on Dec. 19.

Underground Kingz is set to feature production from Pimp C, in addition to Lil’ Jon, Scarface, Sleepy Brown, Jazzy Pha and Swizz Beatz. The album will also feature an eclectic mix of guest artists, including southern staples Three 6 Mafia, Slim Thug and Rick Ross, conscious New Yorker Talib Kweli, and British grime artist Dizzee Rascal.

UGK’s Web page features several new songs available for streaming, including “The Game Belongs to Me” and “Quit Hatin’ The South.” Additionally, XXL Magazine posted audio of “Up Next,” which features hip-hop veterans Big Daddy Kane and Kool G. Rap and production by the legendary Marley Marl.

Monday, November 20, 2006

More Jay-Z tidbits.

It seems every other blog post involves Jay-Z, but he’s a difficult subject to avoid when talking about hip-hop and its current state.

Jay-Z was on MTV’s Total Request Live today to discuss and promote his return from retirement, Kingdom Come, which will be released Tuesday. He also discussed the Hangar Tour he was part of Saturday, which involved performing seven concerts in seven major U.S. cities in 26 hours. Video clips of the concerts, plus a career retrospective featuring 10 years of music videos and performance footage, can be found at MTV’s Jay-Z Video Vault.

One of the most newsworthy items Jay-Z discussed on TRL was a Def Jam tour he plans to launch in spring 2007. He said he hoped to get most major Roc-A-Fella and Def Jam artists on the bill, and he named Nas, Ludacris, Young Jeezy, Rick Ross, Ghostface Killah and The Roots as possible performers. Jay-Z would presumably headline the tour.

If this tour occurs, it would be great for hip-hop. There hasn’t been such a large bill on a hip-hop tour since Jay’s own Hard Knock Live tour in the late 1990s, and by having a variety of east coast and southern rappers on the bill, the show would appeal to a broad audience.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Nas and Jay-Z collaboration arrives.

One of the most highly anticipated songs in hip-hop history has found its way to the Internet, a month before its official release.

The long-awaited collaboration between Nas and Jay-Z, called “Black Republican,” has made its way around various hip-hop sites and mixtapes. The song will be featured on Nas’s Dec. 19 release, Hip-Hop Is Dead.

The song samples an orchestral arrangement from the score of The Godfather II. Nas and Jay-Z rap one verse each, and the chorus compares two characters, the black republican and the black militant.

Nas and Jay-Z were bitter enemies for years, culminating in 2001 with Jay-Z’s “Takeover” and the Nas song “Ether.” In 2005 they reconciled, and in 2006 Nas signed to the Jay-Z-helmed Def Jam records.

XXL Magazine offers audio of “Black Republican,” although DJs Big Mike and Statik Selektah are speaking over parts of the song.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Kanye delays Graduation, continues working hard.

Kanye West, the ubiquitous rapper and producer, won’t be graduating until late 2007, according to MTV News’ Mixtape Monday report.

His third album, Graduation, has been pushed back for months, and now it seems like he will spend time perfecting the album he has been uncharacteristically quiet about. He did say, though, that a song titled “The Glory,” which was originally going to be the new Common single, should be released by year’s end.

For those not patient enough to wait for Graduation, West has been working hard producing for other artists. Besides working on upcoming albums from Common, Consequence, Mos Def and Nas, he has a plethora of production on several current releases:

- John Legend’s new single, “Heaven,” from the album Once Again, which can be heard on his MySpace page.
- Diddy’s “Everything I Love,” which features Nas and Cee-Lo, from the album Press Play.
- The Game’s “Wouldn’t Get Far,” from the album Doctor’s Advocate.
- Jay-Z’s “Do U Wanna Ride,” which features John Legend, from the upcoming Kingdom Come.
- Talib Kweli’s “In The Mood,” from the upcoming Ear Drum.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Gym Class Heroes: Punk vs. Hip-Hop

Gym Class Heroes is one of the best new hip-hop acts, but most hip-hop fans probably have no idea.

That’s because this Geneva, NY-based band is signed to Fueled By Ramen, a punk music label home to such big acts as Fall Out Boy and Panic! At The Disco.

Gym Class Heroes features rapper Travis McCoy and a backing-band, which is rare in hip-hop outside of The Roots. McCoy raps about everyday life occurrences like love and partying, with a heavy focus on the high school and college years.

What’s surprising though is the band’s warm embrace from the punk scene (mostly due to their affiliations with their labelmates) and general ignorance from the hip-hop scene. This is probably due to Fueled By Raman having no experience marketing to the hip-hop crowd, but it also seems like Gym Class Heroes has made it a point to not associate with hip-hop culture, which is appalling.

They have spent most of their major touring with punk bands (they are touring with All-American Rejects now), and their music is played on rock radio stations but not on hip-hop stations. This is what initially turned me off from them, but I eventually warmed up to their music. It still bothers me that they are ignoring the hip-hop scene, though.

Several of their songs can be heard on their MySpace page, including their current single, “The Queen and I.”

Monday, November 06, 2006

Timbaland started humbly with small-time R&B production work, but the rapper grown into the biggest producer of any genre of music at the moment.

He started early on producing for artists like Ginuwine, Missy Elliott and the late Aaliyah before taking up the microphone with his friend Magoo. Timbaland and Magoo were only moderately successful, but Timbaland became huge through his production work.

By the 2000s, he was one of hip-hop’s premier beatmakers, working with everyone from Jay-Z and Ludacris to Snoop Dogg and LLCoolJ. But little by little, he began dabbling into work in the pop world.

He is responsible for the majority of the music for two of the biggest album pop albums of 2006, Justin Timberlake’s FutureSex/LoveSounds and Nelly Furtado’s Loose. Every song available on Timberlake’s MySpace page and Furtado’s MySpace page page are produced by Timbaland.

As for the future, Timbaland is said to be working with Bjork and Duran Duran on their new albums.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Mayday refreshing to Miami drought.

Miami has always had a questionable hip-hop scene, but Mayday is here to change that.

The duo of rapper Bernbiz and producer/keyboardist Plex Luthor first hit it big when their debut video “Groundhog Day,” which features Cee-Lo of Gnarls Barkley fame, was watched more than one million times its first day on YouTube.

On their self-titled debut album, Bernbiz raps about everyday life while Luthor provides keyboard-heavy hip-hop backdrops with funk and rock elements. This brings a refreshing new sound to Miami hip-hop, which has usually been associated with the bass music of Luke and 2 Live Crew, the drugs-and-thugs of Trick Daddy and Rick Ross, and the latin club music of Pitbull.

As a Miami native, I can finally be proud of a local hip-hop group. The lyrics and music are both challenging and progressive and help lift the stereotype that Miami is only a city of scantily-clad women and drug trade.

Mayday are currently featured artists on mtvU, MTV’s college channel. Audio samples can be heard on their MySpace page.