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Full Clip: June's Hip Hop Albums Reviewed By Gary Suarez
Gary Suarez , June 9th, 2015 08:21

Gary Suarez looks at Ka and reviews new LPs by Georgia Anne Muldrow and Troy Ave

The problem with Ka is our problem, not his. By all rights, the Brownsville, Brooklyn-based emcee deserves to be spoken in the exultant hyperbolic tones currently reserved for the likes of Dilla and Doom. Yet time and time again his name remains absent from our frequent public conversations about hip hop, in New York or otherwise. A dilemma designed for existential detectives, even those who heart Ka’s hucklebuck somehow can’t deal with his infinite nature.

Part of this is because he doesn’t fit in. Much like fellow Gothamite outsider Billy Woods, Ka acts as an intelligent isolationist in a multitudinous era of crews and posses. His accomplishments and sins all his own, he’s not out here repping A$AP or BSB or GS9. He goes it alone because nobody else understands, even if they can somehow relate. Ka doesn’t make records for the trap house, though one suspects he could do so in his assuredly insomniac moments of sleep.

While The Night's Gambit made for one of 2013's best rap albums, it was a dense and intense listen, making casual repeat play a somewhat unappealing option. Days With Dr. Yen Lo is even more obstructionist by comparison, a lonely and even suffocating downtempo set saturated in a grey haze of noir. Like Tical experienced through blackout curtains, producer Preservation matches Ka’s mental musings with smoldering soul sonics and a pervasive sense of unease.

Appropriating the name Dr. Yen Lo from a character in the 1962 Frank Sinatra picture The Manchurian Candidate, this brief immersive record runs much like a sordid thriller would, albeit from the singular perspective of the would be perpetrator. His chronology out of order like a shredded diary, Ka spits elaborate knowledge darts in the forms of riddles and observations, hints and allegations. On Day three, he surveys the streets and doesn’t like a lot of what he sees. On Day 93, he wonders if the police sirens are there for him. By Day 912, his motive becomes as clear as it could: we are the ones he’s conditioning and grooming.

Beatnick Dee - Creative Medicine

As the rap world at large regrettably lurches towards rapprochement with the failed state known as grime, this transplanted Briton instead identifies with his adopted Los Angeles confines. Surrounding himself with American rappers, Beatnick Dee presents a series of beats that reflect his range, from the left coast cosmic groove of ‘Luxurious Rain’ to the twinkly trip-hop of 'Be Free.' As with most producer showcases, Creative Medicine succeeds or falters depending on who’s spitting on the track, though Dee handles the predicament better than many with good partners and superior beats. Frequent collaborator Cashus King graces the record’s most funkadelic beat, as close to a West Coast anthem as we’ve heard in recent years (‘Ketchup & Mustard’). Thes One drops conscious poetics over the gliding synthwork of ‘Thicker Than Blood,’ while gruff-voiced Mobb Deep affiliate Big Twins provides necessary contrast to the clean somber soul of ‘Never Look Back.’ His subdued productions imbued with meaning and emotion, Dee accomplishes a lot of good here.

Iglooghost & Mr. Yote - Milk Empire

Given how so many rap artists lately seem hell bent on maturing their sound by way of serious jazz and soul, there’s something brilliant about those who don’t. This transatlantic collaboration between a Sacramento alt-rapper and a UK-based producer doesn’t genuflect at the altars of Miles Davis or George Clinton. Fueled by a certain millennial mania, Iglooghost disregards the polite conventions of hip hop production by affixing to his beats flashes of footwork (‘Matcha + Cream’), hardcore techno hits (‘Flyknit Shoes’), and galloping glitches (‘Mutts’). There’s a glint of garage on ‘Riskytoad’, its title one of several inside references to the expansive world of Pokemon. Somewhat resembling Flying Lotus’ Captain Murphy, Mr. Yote’s oft-modulated voice adds further depth to his affable flow. Amid the bilious video game chaos, it’s hard to tell sometimes if he’s conjuring these lyrics off the cuff or playing doctor-poet with the cut-ups (‘Braids’, ‘New Bark Town’). Either way, the duo have put together something multi-faceted, unique, and truly special.

Georgia Anne Muldrow - A Thoughtiverse Unmarred

Though primarily known for her jazz and soul records, drawing favourable albeit predictable comparisons to Nina Simone, this talented singer has always hewed closely to hip hop. Having made progressive R&B records with artists like Madlib and Dudley Perkins, Muldrow now seeks to better demonstrate her rapping abilities than before with this high-minded eloquent outing. Producer Chris Keys presents Muldrow with a series of luxuriant beats, each one resonating with an organic, late-night feel (‘Arkansas’, ‘Fifth Shield’). With track titles like ‘Great Blacks’ and ‘Tungsten Babalawo’, those familiar with her Afrocentric and wilfully idiosyncratic catalogue no doubt expected nothing less of her. Her concerns are both earthbound and otherworldly, her words teeming with existential yearning and righteous self-determination. Songs like ‘Child Shot’ and ‘Pop Iconz’ casually yet skilfully challenge the systems and attitudes that keep people of colour down - including hip hop itself. Though she lacks the sort of mass appeal of Kendrick Lamar, her voice should be part of a vital public conversation.

Troy Ave - Major Without A Deal

To this determined Brooklynite, realness is some cisgendered combination of ill-gotten wealth-making, hypermasculine posturing, and larger-than-life street cred - the same tropes that remind why the contemporary New York hip-hop’s reputation remains in shambles. Lacking the narcotized good humor of Coke Boy French Montana, the repetition-prone BSB capo takes everything deathly serious, endeared to a bloodied romanticism of life lived on the block. Having yet moved past emerging artist status, he boasts of non-existent radio hits and obsesses over weirdos, his catch-all term for anything different from what he sees in his rap game tunnelvision (‘I’m Bout It’). Based on the tragically named ‘Doo Doo’ and ‘Young King’, singing isn’t Troy’s forte either. He’s got plenty of high-profile features on deck, though, including scene-stealing spitters like Cam’ron and Jadakiss. Former naysayer 50 Cent’s contribution on ‘Bang Bang’ should be treated as a personal triumph. But Fiddy typically tempered his raps with a few wicked laughs, something ‘Fake Butt Busta’ strives for but never reaches.

BONUS: One Hitters:

The Alchemist - Israeli Salad With samples both familiar and unfamiliar at his disposal, the storied beatsmith takes his sound further than before and delivers his best instrumental LP yet.

A$AP Rocky - At. Long.Last.A$AP The untimely loss of sensei Yams leaves Lord Flacko Jodye rudderless, his spark scarcely seen on this sophomore slumping affair that in effect dissolves the A$AP Mob.

Boosie Badazz - Touch Down 2 Cause Hell His dream deferred, the liberated Louisiana rapper takes full advantage of his early release with this well-done feature-packed return.

Lil Durk - Remember My Name After the vast promise of his prior mixtapes, the Chiraqi citizen comes through with an acute case of amnesia on this long-awaited major label debut.