Rome Streetz & Futurewave – “Razor’s Edge” (Album Review)

This is the 6th full-length album from New York emcee Rome Streetz. Breaking out in 2016 off his debut mixtape I Been Thru Mad Shit, he would make his presence known as one of the most skilled lyricists in the underground today off projects like Headcrack & the Noise Kandy mixtape series. His last album Death & the Magician that came out back in February is not only Rome’s magnum opus, but one of the best albums that I’ve heard all year with DJ Muggs’ production being a damn-near perfect fit for dude’s acrobatic lyricism. But after a 5 month break, Rome is re-enlisting Futurewave for a Headcrack sequel entitled Razor’s Edge.

The opener “Mud to Moet” operatically looks back on when his pockets were frail whereas “Most High” goes into boom bap turf talking about being made in the image of God. His wife Chyna tags along for the hypnotic title track touching down on maturity leading him talking about going through some things on the luxurious “Same Way”.

Meanwhile with “Emvy”, we have Rome & Daniel Son coming together for a morbid shot back at those who’re jealous of them just before he & Starker jump on top of an organ for “No Sample” to say they ain’t changing shit. “Dry Ice” opens up about having to learn the wrong turn burns on top of a tense instrumental prior to the bloodthirsty “Sage of Gunsmoke” with Ransom, which has some jazzy undertones in the beat.

“Bible or the Rifle” works in some heavy horns to say it’s game over for those who make the wrong moves while “Disconnected” jumps on top of a soulful instrumental to acknowledge how doubters wanna work with him now that his profile is increasing. The song “9 4 Judas” grimily proclaims the only thing you need to know is how to earn dough while the penultimate track “High Grand Strandz” with Plex Diamond devilishly calls out those who try to take shit from New York emcees. Then there’s “Rated R”, which works in a gospel sample to compare his life to the MPA rating of the same name.

If anyone puts Razor’s Edge over Death & the Magician, I wouldn’t be mad at it at all because this is just as spectacular. Wasn’t feeling a couple of the features, but everything about Headcrack from the pen-game to Futurewave’s production is being turned up to 11.

Score: 9/10

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Dave East & Harry Fraud – “HOFFA” (Album Review)

This is the sophomore album from Harlem emcee Dave East. Breaking out in 2014 off his 8th mixtape Black Rose, this resulted in the man signing a joint deal with Def Jam Recordings & even Nas’ independently owned Mass Appeal Records as well as a spot in the iconic 2016 XXL Freshman Class. However, his full-length debut Survival wouldn’t come out until 3 years later & was very disappointing in the sense that he tried appealing to a more mainstream audience that just didn’t exist. But when Westside Gunn announced that Hoffa was being produced entirely by Harry Fraud, I went into this album wondering if it was gonna be his best yet.

“The Disappearance” is a jazzy, soulful opener addressing those who’ve been asking him what’s up with the music whereas “60 for the Lawyer” is a bluesy follow-up saying he hope someone ain’t informin’ on him. “Diamonds” has a bit of a funky feel in the production & a chipmunk soul sample for Dave to say he been legit leading into him going at his competition for the bassy trap cut “Just Another Rapper”.

Meanwhile on the guitar-driven “Go Off”, we have G Herbo tagging along to snap on their nonbelievers just before the woodwind-infused “Uncle Ric” serves as a lethal prelude to his upcoming collab EP with Benny the Butcher entitled Pablo & Blanco. Things take a more atmospheric turn for him to say he’ll take a fight to pick up “The Product” prior to Jim Jones coming into the picture to talk about their accolades for the slick “Money or Power”.

“I Can Hear the Storm” is a heart-wrenching look back at his life before making it in the music industry whereas “Dolla & a Dream” brings in a glossy trap beat to talk about doing shit cats never seen. “Count It Up” with French Montana of course serves as a sumptuous ode to stacking paper, but Cruch Calhoun’s verse on “The Win” is wack as fuck despite the celebratory tone of it.

The penultimate track “Yeah I Know” with the late Kiing Shooter is a piano trap ballad about not needing any further reminders of both of them being the shit & then the album ends with “Red Fox Restaurant”, where Dave East & Curren$y come together to express gratitude for where they’re at now in luxurious fashion.

To me, this is what Survival should’ve been & quite possibly Dave’s best work yet. Westside Gunn helps him stay true to his street roots rather than trying way too hard to appeal to wider audience in terms of his lyricism & the production that Harry Fraud brings to the table. Really hope Dave continues to travel further down this road.

Score: 8/10

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Hologram & DJ Muggs – “American Cheese” (Album Review)

Hologram is a 36 year old MC from New York who came up as a part of The Outdoorsmen collective alongside his older brother Meyhem Lauren & Action Bronson under the original moniker Jay Steele. He’s been featured on a plethora of the latter 2’s projects in the past such as Bon Appetit……Bitch! & Gems from the Equinox, but is finally being treated to a full-length debut of his produced entirely by none other than Cypress Hill’s very own DJ Muggs.

After the intro, “No Off Season” is a hair-raising opener saying he always keeps the heat on him because he’s so cold whereas “Don’t Ride with the Drugs” enlists Action Bronson is a luxurious boom bap cut about thinking like a G. The title track is a rock-flavored cut saying the limit’s the sky but he’s gonna go higher just before the murky, self explanatory “Smoke Weed & Figure Shit Out”.

Meanwhile on “You Know My Name”, we have Hologram bragging on top of a cinematic instrumental leading into him saying if the gun ain’t on him it’s around him with the bell-heavy “Black”. He later tells his detractors their out their mind on the jazz-infused “Duck & Cover”, but then “808” is a 1-minute trap banger getting on his hustler shit.

“S.T.F.U. (Shut The Fuck Up)” works in a slowed down vocal sample for him to say he hustles for a sense of urgency & paper while “Moon Rocks” with Big Twins & Meyhem Lauren finds the trio proclaiming themselves as them front row cats over a lurid boom bap beat. Meyhem sticks around as he, Bronson & Hologram talk about wearing black on the gruesome “Colors” just before the brothers jump on the bleak “P.C.H.” by themselves to speak on smoking a couple pounds & hitting up Malibu.

The penultimate track “Traditional Bull Shark” brings in an organ & a guitar telling us he goes through life imitating art, but then “Murder at 5” finds Meyhem Lauren coming back into the picture to end the album by letting us know they’ll be counting money ‘til their hands break & I really dig the forlorn tone that the instrumental gives off.

If anyone out there is a fan of Meyhem, then you definitely gotta check out American Cheese because his lil bro Hologram proves that he can hold down an album of his own. His songwriting is at it’s best & the sounds Muggs goes for is a healthy variety ranging from boom bap to rap rock.

Score: 8/10

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Scum – “Dyin’ World Chroniclez 2: Red Groundz” (Album Review)

This is the 13th full-length album from Russian-American horrorcore veteran Scum. Coming up as the founder of the local independent powerhouse Lyrikal Snuff Productionz, the man has literally dropped dozens of projects either on his own or with side projects like M.M.M.F.D. & the 4 Horsemen. Dude just dropped Dyin’ World Chroniclez: Grey Skiez about 5 months ago & after a couple of new singles following that, we’re being treated to the sequel Dyin’ World Chroniclez 2: Red Groundz.

After the intro, the title track works in some violins for him & King Gordy portraying their own versions of Hell whereas “Beyond Comprehension” is a trap banger talking about how his intentions are clear. Smallz 1 tags along to let people know they’ll remain underground on the frosty “My Damnation” just before trapping cats into a “Lion’s Cage” with a demented instrumental.

Meanwhile on “We the Onez”, we have M.M.M.F.D. jumping on top of a skeletal trap beat to talk about parents warning their children of them leading into “Wonder” continuing to delve into that sound except it has more meat on the bone & Scum pondering what’s going through his victim’s mind. “Groundhog (Fri)day(13)” is an aggressive, high-tempo anthem to murder whereas “Intrauterine Cannibalistic” with Hex Rated goes into trap metal territory talking about making cats bleed when they catch ‘em.

The song “Humpty Dumpty” speaks on cracking people’s heads over a nocturnal instrumental while the penultimate track “Keep That Shit” works in some keyboards & hi-hats to admit that he’s sick in the head. Then it rounds out with “Nevaendin’ Story”, which is Scum talking about murder being addictive accompanied by a misty beat.

Scum has been putting it down for the underground wicked shit scene for a very long time at this point & the whole Dyin’ World Chroniclez series that he’s been doing lately turning out pretty hard. In comparison to the previous installment, I think this one sounds darker & rawer in terms of production choices & pen-game.

Score: 7/10

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KATAKANA EDITS: Vol. 109 (MORLACK)

At least as big a regular on Katakana Edits as he is on Breakbeat Paradise or even his own label Funk Blasters, Morlack now presides over Vol. 109 of Katakana Edits. A five-tracker, this one opens, in not unaccustomed manner, with the beefed-up eighties boogie of Anticipation providing a whistle wetter to the approach of the EP – if not always to the genre of the source material – as you’ll hear from the next track – a Little Beaver rework, Some Dues To Pay. Before you can even utter the words ‘genre tart’ though, Morlack leaps into the hi-NRG afro-pop of Zouk La Se giving that the once over and from thence moves to an inspired wonky bass take on Les 36’15’s 1988 pop cut Zoulous. Which just leaves Way Out to provide the – er – way out with an edit that ensures this release is bookended by beefed-up boogie.

Shoestring & Lennon Smiley – “Da Pandemic” (Album Review)

Shoestring is a 48 year old MC from Flint, Michigan who came up in the mid-90’s as a member of the trio The Dayton Family. However, it wasn’t until 1999 when he put out his solo debut Representin’ Till the World Ends under Tommy Boy Records & then followed it up 2 years later with the Reel Life Productions-backed Cross Addicted. Shortly after, Shoestring focused on DF for the next 15 years & eventually returned on his own in 2016 by dropping Fix My City. But as the 2 year anniversary of The Bake Up Boy came & went last month, he’s enlisting MonStar Entertainment in-house producer Lennon Smiley for his 5th full-length album.

The album begins with “Da Bomb Weed”, which works in some piano embellishments saying that’s what he chokes on. “Fuck Pop” is a grimy yet vibrant ode to stacking bread whereas “Get Rich” continues the themes of the previous cut except it takes a more hyphy direction. “Kill You” needs no further explanation with it’s combative lyrics or it’s baleful instrumental just before “Do Do Brown” works in these guitar licks & horns to spit that nickel bag hustler shit. 

Meanwhile on “Ice Cold”, we get Shoestring bragging about himself over a Bollywood-influenced beat leading into gruesome trap cut that is “Murderers”. The song “Timbos” gets back on the hustler shit over a glum instrumental while the penultimate track “2020” formidably talks about getting back to business after COVID fucked everything up last year. Finally there’s the closer “Coka Cola”, is a piano trap ballad ode to that powder.

If you ask me, Da Pandemic is one of the best solo efforts Shoestring has put out to date. Whether he’s by himself or with Bootleg & Backstabba, dude’s always been a seminal part of the gangsta rap subgenre & his writing on here are no different. Lennon Smiley is also becoming amongst my favorite producers out of this reviewer’s home state right now because the wide range of sounds he brings to the table is fantastic.

Score: 8/10

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WHATITDO ARCHIVE GROUP: Italian Love Triangle + Video

The monkey is sadly late to the party on this one but couldn’t pass up the chance to comment on a single called Italian Love Triangle. It is, of course, one of the tracklist centrepieces of Whatitdo Archive Group’s The Black Stone Affair – an LP which provides lost soundtrack thrills to an alleged lost spaghetti western/ noir/ caper/ giallo-flick. This one is the sixties bossa style instro which, on the album, cavorts around betwixt the moody library music of If Furto Di Africa and the tense blaxploitation funk of Last Train To Budapest – itself a triangle to conjure with, albeit of the musical variety. Naturally the track is accompanied by a suitably retro video – this one rather more Viaggio In Italia than Triangolo Amoroso Italiano as the camera flits promiscuously from women getting wet in Rome to a man polishing his fruit. Now I come to think of it – maybe it’s more apt than I first thought…
(Out now on Record Kicks)

Struggle Mike Recruits An All-Star Line-Up For “Ties” Compilation

Struggle Mike is an entrepreneur from Buffalo, NY who is well known in the customized car show scene. He started a clothing store in 2015 and built a top-of-the-line studio into it. Then, with the help of Tony Dinero and City Boy from BSF, he started putting together compilation albums full of buzzing names and up-n-comers alike. In only two short years he has put out four releases featuring names like Fred The Godson (RIP), Eto, 38 Spesh, China Mac, Che Noir, Hus Kingpin, and many more.

Mike is once again ready to bless listeners with a stacked comp titled “Ties.” Every track on the album is named after a notorious gangster. Two singles have been pumping in the streets for the last month or so: “Gotti (Dope Boys remix)” featuring Benny The Butcher, Heem and Smoke Bulga, and “Luciano” featuring Flee Lord and Heem. However, that’s just the tip of the iceberg, as the album also includes features from Rick Hyde, Eto, BodyBag Ben, Pounds, MC Eiht, Bubu The Prince, Che Noir, and many more!

With the success of his “Progress” project we covered last year which we rated a 8.5 out of 10, we feel Mike raised the bar level on this one so we are giving “Ties” a score of 9/10. The catalog of underground artists and produces that Struggle Mike works with is undeniably one of the reasons why many of these artist will find ultimate All-Star success in the future. These compilations Mike is putting out are a breath of fresh air, and the game definitely needs more influencers like him.

Be on the lookout for more of Struggle Mike’s work and follow him on Instagram.

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Illnes – “Straight Outta Quarantine” (Album Review)

Coming out of Santa Ana, California, Illnes is a bilingual lyricist who dedicates himself to expressing his truth to whoever will listen. This month saw the release of his latest album which is aptly titled “Straight Outta Quarantine”. This is a 13 track body of work that delivers some clean boom bap production and features from Hijo De Mata, Cable Vivo, Fred Word, Moha Umo, Alpha Ready, Salvadoreina and Cris The Kid. Let’s get into this!

“So Sick” is a stand out track that takes us through how Illness sees the world we live in. A relatable track to many as he delivers clever bars that are a nice mix of grit, depth and frankness. Hijo De Mata provides a clean assist on the hook and bridge, taking us to a nicely executed climax. Production wise, the track is simple. Melodic synths and classic hip hop drums. The slightly robotic sound scape was a nice touch!

“Now a Dayz” is the tenth track on the album and features Cris The Kid. Menacing, hard hitting hip hop production gets us started and really carries us home from start to finish. Cris is tasked with the opening and does a good job with impressive cadence. Illness comes in hard and drops some early bilingual bars in this track. Both rappers drop some slick bars and a sly little nugget at the end with that back and forth. Electric guitars to take us out and we have ourselves a dope track.

“Slashing Wanna Bees”, this track is just Illness spitting bars, heavy bars over a heavy underground hip hop beat. I’m feeling it. He is really in his element on this track. He dances all over the production with effective flow switches. His Spanish flow in the middle of the track is a true stand out. I’m not sure if I have ever heard anyone transition between languages so smoothly. Good job!

All in all this is a good body of work. Some of the production could have he’d a little more depth in them but Illness is consistent and is careful with his feature selection. If you’re into real, raw and bilingual underground hip hop music, this project is for you! Go follow Illness on Instagram: @illnesinfection

Score: 7/10

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MAGIC IN THREES: Diggin’ Dirt

It’s summer, the long-promised vinyl LP compiling all the digital singles (currently seventeen of them!) showcasing the best in current retro soul from Leipzig label Golden Rules’ is surely imminent and here is that seventeenth single – Diggin’ Dirt from Magic In Threes. The band hail from Nashville, Tennessee and the track combines cinematic, psych-soul sensibilities with a live-played boom-bap drum break that dominates the effort along with a brooding bassline. There’s plenty of space between those through which vibraphone, keys and guitar can craftily steal though and you’d expect nothing less from an all-star crew consisting of musicians signed to the G.E.D. Soul label.
(Out now on Golden Rules)