Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Reviews:: Modulok - Cities And Years

It seems somehow fitting that although this is the third album involving Toronto MC Modulok that I've reviewed in a relatively short timespan, I've only now realized that Modulok was also the name of a He-Man villain. I say fitting because Cities and Years appears to be the most revealing record Modulok has put out to date. Certainly Moe's lyrics on this album have more interesting things to reveal than a connection to a popular 80's cartoon, but the comparison works for my purposes.

You know what else works? This album. I have to say, if a young MC were to ask me what a hip hop album should look like in '09, this is the one I might point to now. It's eight songs of straight forward hip hop goodness: no fifty guests and no un-necessary gun talk or forced, tight-pants hipster rap nonsense. Solid beats and thoughtful rhymes are enough for me. I know this isn't enough for most folks these days, but it really should be.

Cities and Years also does something not enough albums do these days: its opening song sets the pace for the rest of the album. Cool and Deadly has a laid back, yet thumping, beat, which is augmented with some guitar licks and scratched snippets of classic hip hop tracks, laced with some contemplative lyrics from Modulok (and Apollo Creed on this song, who I enjoyed after first encountering him on his last outing with Modulok. He drops "stay gold Ponyboy", which should also endear him to the Ack). I have to admit, this kind of hip hop is pretty much exactly in my wheelhouse - the Premier-esque, 90's combo of rugged drums and scratched samples, so if you can do it well in this day & age, I'm on board. Modulok and producer Leon Murphy, who I think produced this whole album, have done it really, really well here.

I think I'll go out on a limb and say Your Boyfriends' A Cokehead might be one of the better hip hop songs you'll hear this year. The almost comical name is in contrast to the wistful, almost sorrowful, tone of the song, created by the mournful horns and Moes lyrics that find him opening up about his wish that the object of his affection would drop her sniffy boyfriend and let him take his spot.

Your boyfriend got a flimsy handshake.
Your boyfriend dresses like Justin Timberlake.
Your boyfriend won't take you to rap shows.
Your boyfriend snorts white shit up his nose


I can't do the lyrics justice without Modulok's deadpan, matter-of-fact delivery of them, but this is really a great song in my humble. As is the confessional A Certain Time Of The Day, built on a static-y bed of thumping drums and twinkly piano loops, it is certainly a more personal view of Modulok as more than an MC - admitting he feels down from time to time, but hip hop and the buzz of the city pulls him out of his funk.

Honestly, just listening to the cut-up samples in Timewalker (Jay, DOOM and (I think) The Grand Wizard Ghettosocks!) and Miserable Existentialist (Mobb Deep, Mos Def, and an awesome Cee-Lo Green) makes me very, very happy, but the beats and rhymes on both are also really solid, so it's win-win. Album closer Keep Moving offers some light-hearted hip hop life philosophy from Moe, Apollo Creed, and Abyss, but I have to say, I think Apollo steals the show with his Blueprint-esque flow.

Quite often we say things here like "I hope this album reaches a lot of ears", but in this case I mean it in spades. I'm not sure how well-know Modulok is in Canada, outside of Toronto, but he and his crew at Takaba Records are doing the kind of hip hop purists are always clamoring for, so here's hoping they reach as many ears as possible. You should do your part and get a copy of Cities and Years.

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Posted at 12:42 PM by naedoo :: 0 comments

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Reviews:: Dragon Fli Empire - Redefine

I think Redefine, the new album from Calgary duo Dragon Fli Empire is now my favorite Alberta rap album. I know you're likely thinking "What do I care about what some dink in Halifax thinks about Alberta rap?". Well that's a logical question to ask, but what if I told you that I've become a go-to reviewer for Alberta hip hop, reviewing an inordinate number of Albertan albums over the last couple years? What? You still think I'm a dink? That seems harsh.

Anyway, regardless of where it ranks in my Alberta rap rankings, the MC/DJ tandem of Teekay and Cosm respectively have a great album on their hands. Here's why I like it so much: DFE have done the best job of anything I've heard recently, of capturing the spirit of the hip hop albums of the late 80's and early 90's that we all loved. I mean there's a reason we love all those old albums - like (some of) us, they are getting old now - '89 was twenty years ago, that is crazy stuff. Well, there are a number of reasons, but the main for me was the vibe of those old records, dudes were able to take what they were doing seriously, make good music, but still have fun with it. I think that with the current state of the world, we could stand to go back to that aesthetic a little bit. Hip hop could use more enthusiasm for the music and the culture, and less hardman, gun-talk.

It's obvious that DFE have plenty of enthusiasm for hip hop, and plenty of skill to translate that enthusiasm into really enjoyable, really listenable music. Cosm and Teekay inject their production with a jazzy, golden age sensibility that mixes thick basslines and knocking drum tracks with flourishes of other instruments like organs & piano to give it a modern feel. As I pointed out whilst reviewing their EP last year, DFE still utilize the DJ for scratching, not just loading the right track in iTunes, and that remains true on Redefine, so bonus points for that. Teekay also does fine work on the lyrical end of things - he's clearly a thoughtful guy, but he also has enough charisma to hold your attention whether he's breaking out the battle rap styles on a track like Just That Nice, or getting into storytelling mode on a song like Spanish Story.

There's goodness to be found right from the opening bell on Redefine, as DFE get the party started with the throwback goodness of Fastbreak, a zippy, sub-two minute jam with a nice fast-rap beat, which suits Teekay just fine as he wraps a couple nice verses around a scratch breakdown, and the afore-mentioned Just That Nice - another fun song built on a solid bassline and organ hits. It's hard to fron on a good road trip song, and Ride On is just that, with a big funky beat, some nice chunky horns, and a guest verse from Raashan Ahmad of the Crown City Rockers. Nothing shows the jazzy influence I mentioned earlier better than the title track, which uses a piano-filled track that almost reminds me of a laid-back version of the Dream Warriors, gameshow-theme jacked My Definition. It's a nice beat, and it provides the backdrop for Teekay to run down his story, and how he evolved into the MC is is today.

The excellent, Cadence Weapon featuring Outside Inn was included on DFE's EP, and our Alberta mixtape, and my enthusiasm for it's marching band drum rolls and funky geetars hasn't dimmed. Paradise is a floaty jam about putting life in perspective, and it also features the hardest working man in the Canadian rap-biz, Moka Only, who is in fine form on the opening verse and some chorus croonage. The new-style rap-house of Floor To The Roof seems to be somewhat in vogue in Canadian hip hop, but this is kind of a reserved version of that style, and it works. Watch Ya Front is a jazzy track dedicated to haters and hardheads in the club, and the guest-verse done by Halifax's favorite Martinez, Josh, kind of reminds me of De La's The Art of Getting Jumped. If you like hip hop, I think you're required to like Rise, which features a nice verse from revered vet Masta Ace ("on any kind of beat, I be hyped to speak, cause my daughter needs some things, and clothes are expensive, I use a level of care when I write that's intensive" - Ace is still great).

So Redefine is my favorite Alberta rap album, but is it also currently my favorite Canadian hip hop album? Yes it is. I know the year is young, but I feel confident that it will rank near the top when '09 come to a close and I compile my "Best of Canadian Hip Hop List" (doing it for sure this year Ack, promise!). But there's no need to wait for that, if you find yourself in the need of some throwback hip hop done in a thoroughly modern way, go get yourself acquainted with Dragon Fli Empire.



Dragon Fli Empire ft. Cadence Weapon - Outside Inn

Keep The Funk Alive

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Posted at 3:23 PM by naedoo :: 0 comments

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