DJ Muggs vs. GZA, "Grandmasters"
3 out of 5 Ramheads
Okay, so the Wu Tang Clan can be called classic hip-hop at this point in time can't they? Or has it not been long enough for them to fall into the "classic pile" in hip-hop? The GZA's new album with DJ Muggs is definitely too fresh to be considered classic, but can it be considered "classical"?
"Grandmasters" is the combination of classical music soldered onto hip-hop beats and GZA's mumbled rhymes. "Classical" does not necessarily mean that there are orchestral arrangements nor is "Grandmasters" the hip-hop Nutcracker or anything; this album just simply takes different piano and guitar melodies in minor keys with dramatic string arrangements and laces turntables and heavy drums into the once soothing "classical" pieces. And even with a first listen, this formula is successful.
The album's first track is an intense instrumental piece simply titled, "Opening." It sounds like an anthem to an up rise, and ends with a scratchy-voiced spoken word stating that the "Grandmasters," (in hip-hop music), are returning to the classical heritage and they are discovering new depths to the great classical openings.
The outcome of the classical-meets-hip-hop combination has most certainly been done before, but this album will stand out as raw and original when a listener can take into consideration that most modern-radio-hit-hip-hop cannot go a few minutes without clapping beats, big asses, Bacardi and bling bling.
But any Wu Tang fan will know what to expect out of GZA. He had done a particularly ear-turning job working with the Mars Volta on the Handsome Boy Modeling School album "White People." His song with the Mars Volta was a fresh look into where GZA was going to be headed in his musical endeavors, combining funk-rock guitars and raw, acoustic percussion.
It is so nice to hear some new hip-hop that actually sounds revolutionary, as opposed to the usual club-hip-hop, typically characterized by plastic melodrama within absentminded party songs in some sad attempt to give the song some depth.
"Grandmaster" sounds somber and a little dark in places, but GZA's storytelling-style of rapping allows for DJ Muggs to fluctuate each song's intensity and tempo, exemplifying a dynamic that allows for the music to develop with GZA's social commentary lyrics.
Talib Kweli, "Right About Now"
5 out of 5 Ramheads
Talib Kweli claims on the cover of "Right About Now" that it is a "mix CD," as in a compilation of different tracks put together in what might not be considered an official album. But, judging by the complexity and production of the songs on "Right About Now," it is definitely a real album that deserves to be recognized in the hip-hop world.
You'll never catch Talib Kweli working underneath the spotlight of pop-rap; he is still an incredible writer that revels in the underground yet has worked with such mainstream artists such as Kanye West and Mary J. Blige. He's got the credibility he deserves, but he is also smart to stay away from being a celebrity.
Kweli has never discriminated against other artists and gives shout outs to different hip-hop styles all over the United States throughout the album. In other words, Kweli is all about encouragement.
On "Right About Now," as on his previous releases, Kweli is content in drifting away from normality and has always been successful in differentiating his beats, instruments, feelings and messages. Virtually every song on this album strikes a different chord in your ear and there seems to be a different sound for each of Kweli's subjects and styles within each song. Once again, Kweli has succeeded in making rock 'n' roll guitars work in unison with hip-hop music.
The album opens with title-track, Latin-grooved "Right About Now," propelling a circle of different hand percussion upholding the funky bass and head-banging beat. Planet Asia and Phil The Agony appear on the "set-it-strait" socially conscious organ-jam, "Drugs, Basketball & Rap."
"Fly That Knot," featuring MF Doom is one of the album's most energetic and best tracks. The song's swimming beat rolls smoothly over horn arrangements and some cool Western-style guitar work. "Ms. Hill," is a piano-based praise to the hip-hop queen from the Fugees', Lauren Hill. It is a very catchy and inspirational song, capturing Kweli's admiration for Lauren Hill's work as an artist and as a dreamer who is far too often discouraged in her search for spirituality within a world that is out to tear her down.
Ooh! For all the Black Star fans, Mos Def appears with Kweli on the jumpy and upbeat 70's soul jam "Supreme, Supreme." "The Beast" is an aggressive track categorizing police, sex, and talent as all different kinds of "beasts."