Hip Hop

Blade Of The Ronin (CD)

Blade of the Ronin, the long-awaited follow-up to the Harlem duo's debut, The Cold Vein, solidifies the return of Cannibal Ox to the underground hip-hop scene. Having been nearly 15 years since a Can Ox release (barring a live record and 3 song sampler) rappers Vast Aire and Vordul Mega haven’t missed a beat. The duo approach the reunion of sorts with their trademark lyrical innovation and insight fully intact. In fact on paper the only missing part of the equation that made for their critically acclaimed debut would be the production of EL-P. But instead of lamenting that loss Blade of the Ronin moves forward in a similarly lush fashion without retracing steps. Largely produced by Bill Cosmiq the sound is fresh, futuristic, and hardcore. All elements that made the duo spark in the early 2000s. Cosmiq has accomplished no small feat creating the foundation for the duo's triumphant return. Featuring guest appearances from MF Doom, U-God, Artifacts and more, Blade of the Ronin is as exalted a return of the underground hip hop duo that one could ask for.

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Yawn Zen (CD)

Luscious, mind-bending synth music comes to us from Mndsgn, the latest signee of the ubercool Stones Throw Records. Taking synth-funk jam “Message From the Stars” by The Rah Band and filtering it through a cavalcade of analog effects on “Txt,” Ringgo Ancheta creates a new cult classic of his own. Tracks like “Homewards” sprawl out on chilled out beats and landscapes that sound like they’ve had acid sprayed across them, gently disintegrating over you like melting ice cream. It’s not all dayglo synth jams though, as some of Yawn Zen’s dark corners are equally intriguing, like “Sheets,” with an introspective vocal that gets chopped up by a death-march lo-fi beat, and “Frugality’s” strange, spaced-out gurgling sounds. Trippy and odd yet lively and playful, Yawn Zen makes for a magical introduction to an intriguing new artist in the Stones Throw fold

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Hallways (CD)

Homeboy Sandman’s second LP for Stones Throw should hopefully take the Queens-born rapper’s detailed, honest accounts to an even wider audience. Tracks like “Problems” offer funny, poignant lyrics that touch on both everyday and serious concerns, from STDs to cigarette smoke hanging on a sweatshirt. “I’m surrounded by hipsters; what does that say about me?” he asks funnily while contemplating his relationship to independent film over music that sounds like glasses clanging against each other in a smokey jazz club. On “America, the Beautiful,” Sandman offers a heartfelt (but not heavy handed) pep talk for feeling nationalistic, describing the random, perhaps overlooked things that make our nation relatively safe and livable by international standards, from the post office to child labor laws, saying “the streets aren’t paved with gold, but at least they’re paved” and “we are the 99% locally, we are the 1% globally.” It speaks to Sandman’s ability to say what’s on his mind without succumbing to pressure to appear harder or angrier than he really is. Production-wise, Hallways is a smorgasbord of great underground producers and showcase for Stones Throw labelmates like Jonwayne, who produces standout “America, the Beautiful” and also creates a moving landscape for “Refugee,” while longtime collaborators 2 Hungry Bros go heavy on the bass for “Loads” (featuring Blu) and Oh No set out a great, trippy landscape on “Heaven Too.” Homeboy Sandman’s ability to be really real may not be for everyone as some tracks may feel frivolous, but it feels like a nice counterpoint to the more self-serious underground stuff. Those who appreciate honestly and true personality in hip-hop storytelling should flock to the engaging Hallways.

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Mr. Wonderful (CD)

Mr. Wonderful is the first major label release from the Queens, NY based rapper Action Bronson. The former gourmet chef turned rapper has been developing his chops over the last eight or so years, consistently gaining significant critical acclaim in the underground rap scene. After spinning that acclaim into several knock out collaborations (notably Statik Selektah, Well-Done and The Alchemist, Rare Chandeliers) it was only a matter of time til’ the rest came calling for Bam Bam. Mr. Wonderful, featuring production credits from the likes of Mark Ronson and guest spots from Chance the Rapper (both featured on “Baby Blue”) is a self-proclaimed “Life’s Work.” Which means Bronsolini ain’t pulling any punches! Leading off with the Billy Joel sample on “Brand New Car,” Bronson's energy is witty and profound, and leaves you hungry. A big step for Action Bronson, Mr. Wonderful is only the beginning for this Zagat rated rap star.

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