Monday, April 22, 2013

Featured releases: Tom Charles, Kotic Couture, Holocaust as Robot Tank

Here are a few recent releases that I recommend.  Enjoy!

Tom Charles - A Week in Cali
Philly rapper Tom Charles collaborated with producer Casey Joe of Digital Keyz Productions for this impressive mixtape.  As indicated by the title, the project was recorded during a visit to Sacramento, CA for a performance last October.  "Goodbye" is a strong opener with a soothing sax sample and a provocative string melody that recalls a down town bar at close time.  This song, like many on the this release, display Tom Charles's knack for creating memorable hooks, which are as thoughtful as they are catchy.  Lyrically, the album is very introspective, focusing on the artist's experience of trying to find his place in a world full of characters confused by the same dilemma.  There is a confidence in his vulnerability as lyrics like "...but you ain't no king / but you pay for it though, cause money buys anything / had too much, asked him what he wants, he didn't have no dreams" question the value of material excess.  That very song, called "Merry Go" boasts a radio friendly hook whose laid back simplicity reminds me of the complacent mood of alternative rock in the mid nineties.  This style works perfectly throughout the mix.  The instrumentals have interesting dynamics as well as break downs and variation.  Casey Joe's production focuses on strong melodies and harmonies rather than the bass driven minimalism that dominates radio rap.  His style meshes perfectly with Tom Charles's relaxed delivery.  Tom Charles succeeds in establishing himself as an interesting personality with a story worth telling that's worth listening to.

Kotic Couture - Hey Hello Hi EP
Based in Baltimore, rapper Kotic Couture released his 'Hey Hello Hi EP' for free last week on his birthday.  Collaborating with producer and Unknowne Landes blogger Tha 1 Who Trevs, this EP covers charted and uncharted territory as a fine example of the future direction of hip hop as its culture becomes more tolerant and subsequently more diversified.  The result is a powerful mix of electronic dance music and hip hop with a punk edge.  Throughout, Kotic's delivery is robust and confident stating his case for industry supremacy quite clearly.  The title track has a future-retro style that sounds like a modern approach to the mid-late eighties hip hop sound.  "Shades" and "FTBS" have a strong club appeal with a potential for anthem status, especially "FTBS", which has a beat appropriate for the Baltimore club culture with ongoing variation.  "Do what you want, go get your life" repeats as the bass kicks increase dramatically halfway through while a high pass filtered square wave lead jumps around behind it, a sound that gets even more playful in the following chant of "middle finger in the air."  "Don't Give Up" deals with more personal issues.  "Straight Edge", a Minority Threat cover, is a unique addition, given the high priority that hip hop tends to give to intoxication.  The instrumental has elements of hip hop, drum and bass, and punk rock.  Kotic Couture touts his preference for sobriety, referencing Trinidad James with the line "Never popped a molly, woo!"  This song also demonstrates his willingness to incorporate influences from seemingly foreign areas of the musical spectrum.  There is a remix by Vitamin K of the title track that falls somewhere between dubstep and UK grime, giving the song a harder edge that is fit for large dance parties.  With 'Hey Hello Hi', Kotic Couture makes it clear that he will not be deterred from being himself and dares anyone to challenge that.

Holocaust as Robot Tank - The Sign of Hell's Winter
The Holocaust has been one of my favorite emcees since I first heard him in '98 on "Holocaust (Silkworm)" from RZA's first solo album.  He appeared on two songs on Killarmy's sophomore album, 'Dirty Weaponry'.  He also appeared on Wu Tang's Swarm compilations, random Wu affiliate member's releases, and on several radio freestyles.  Over time, his verses became more abstract.  In the early 2000's, he dropped two underground albums under the name Warcloud, which received mixed reviews.  His appearances remained sporadic until 2006, when he released 'Blue Sky Black Death presents The Holocaust', and incredible album that organized his chaotic thoughts into a cohesive, well produced product.  He has had an ongoing collaboration with American Poets 2099, but he eventually vanished once again.  He resurfaced with 'The Sign of Hell's Winter' in June of 2012 (though I just discovered its existence a couple of days ago).  I cannot find anything identifying the producers, but the sounds here are familiar, using samples from obscure old rock songs, movie scores, or world music with minimal beats on top of them.  This sound was popularized by Wu Tang in the mid nineties.  The style of production is also ery similar to Blue Sky Black Death's work.  Holocaust's delivery is more focused here with less of the slurring and off-beat rhyming of his Warcloud albums and even 'Blue Sky Black Death presents'.  However, the production quality has declined, though it is still very listenable.  Convention has taken a back seat here, even more so than previously as hooks/choruses (which some times are absent) are oddly placed, long winded, and often difficult to distinguish from verses.  The lyrics are full of references to literature, history, old movies, and folklore, though usually in the context of boasting about his rhyming talents.  Small spoken word pieces and introductory segments are precede some of the songs, including samples of dialogue from films, another mainstay of the Wu Tang sound.  This release is very strong, and as much as any fan of Holocaust could ask for, though his deeper exploration of abstract lyricism makes it difficult to single out memorable moments.  In that regard, this album is a bit of a step down from 'Blue Sky Black Death presents', but otherwise, Holocaust delivers another strong release that I will definitely be revisiting frequently.  If you're into interesting rhyme schemes, maze-like flows, and lyrical content that has you opening up Wikipedia or the dictionary, then definitely check this one out.

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