Talent Attracts Talent: A Look at Talib Kweli Collaborations

Talib-Kweli

One of the greatest parts of Hip-Hop is the emphasis on collaborating and putting multiple artists on a single track.  There are plenty of classic jams throughout Hip-Hop history built on this idea, and one thing’s for sure: Talib Kweli is really good at being involved with them.  Either being recruited, or starting them himself.

Lyricists appreciate other good lyricists, usually out of plain love for the music.  Studying the game and recognizing other good musicians is just as important as making the music yourself.  Being surrounded by talent makes Talib easy to recognize, as he’s frequent collaborators with Mos Def, The Roots, Lauryn Hill, and Common, to name a few.  The collaborative album Black Star with Mos Def is an album that has been specially preserved in the gallery of Hip-Hop history. Their names were arguably the biggest on Rawkus Records in the late 90s.  Impressive legacy, to say the least.

Today, I’m going to look at three especially impressive tracks, including one recent track that might be the best Talib collaboration yet.

Talib Kweli – Guerilla Monsoon Rap ft. Black Thought, Kanye West, and Pharoahe Monch

“Get By” is what really propelled Quality into classic record territory, but it would be foolish to pass up on this posse cut gem in the middle of the album.  The most underrated MC of all time (Black Thought), the syllable king (Pharoahe Monch), the creatively mad genius (Kanye West), and Talib all on one track? Quite an impressive feature list for the first solo album of your career.

To be completely fair, Kanye doesn’t have a verse, but he does provide the beat and the hook.  All these guys go in, as per usual.

Reflection Eternal (Talib Kweli & DJ Hi-Tek) – Just Begun ft. Jay Electronica, Mos Def, and J. Cole

The coolest part about this collaboration is the snapshot of where both Jay Electronica and J. Cole were in their respective careers.  Jay Electronica had his infamous signing to Roc-A-Fella Records that very same year, and the Hip-Hop community was swept up in his mystique.  With no legit album (and a constant promise of an approaching project), people wanted to hear more and more.  A lot of fans were dying to hear more and more music.

J. Cole’s position was quite different at this time.  During his Friday Night Lights era, he was definitely not getting the same respect he gets nowadays, post-Sideline Story.  One thing I’ve always respected majorly about Cole is his ability to write poetically.  The guy’s been doing it his whole career, and the verse on this is no exception.

You can tell on this track that all of these artists knew what was at stake.  A Jay Electronica appearance was a huge boost to the importance of the track, raising the bar for what needed to be written among all four rappers.

Talib Kweli, Elzhi, and Phonte – No Competition (prod. by Khrysis)

“No Competition” is a gift to Hip-Hop heads across the world.  All three of these rappers have been praised individually for their lyrical prowess and songwriting in general.  It’s impressive that all of them are still doing it as well as always to this day.  It all comes together over nice production by a rising star in the Hip-Hop game, Khrysis.

This cut is on the album Jamla Is The Squad, which just released on January 28th.  Be sure to check it out.

-Ronzo

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J. Cole – Crooked Smile (The Making Of)

J-Cole

 

“Crooked Smile” isn’t one of my favorites off of Born Sinner, but that’s okay.  It’s catchy as hell, and it’s only one part of a superb album.  Plus, the meaning behind it is meant to be positive; It would be unfair to say it doesn’t serve a purpose.  The radio hit relates to many people throughout the U.S., and the whole world in general.

In this short video, Jermaine explains the details behind what inspired the tune.  Whether it was random inspiration (meeting a girl he’d never seen, who eventually inspired the hook melody), or his own desire to succeed, you can tell he put everything into the lyrics he wrote.

LIFE & RHYMES: J. Cole – “Crooked Smile”

-Ronzo

The Best Kendrick Response Tracks (So Far)

Control

As expected, the responses have already poured in from a handful of artists.  While none of the responses have been from the artists mentioned (besides interview responses from Wale and Meek Mill), we still have some pretty good music from recognizable artists.

Some names have been thrown into the foray in order to be placed among the list of contenders for the King of New York title.  Joell Ortiz, Astro, and Cassidy have all submitted tracks for the running, and a lot more is to be expected.

Others, such as Lupe Fiasco, now have a chance to do their own critiques of the rap game in song form.  The floodgates have been open for anyone to speak their mind, and now is as good of a chance as ever.

Some of the artists mentioned may take the high road and not respond, whether it’s because of a busy schedule or just simply because they don’t see the need to.  Big K.R.I.T. actually took the shout out as an opportunity for advertisement, a chance for fans who may not have heard his music before to now listen.  Probably an indication of him not making a direct response track.

We’ll have to wait and see if we hear from more artists, or if the whole thing is over.  Personally, I would love to see  J. Cole, A$AP Rocky, or Meek Mill respond.  My guess is that we’ll hear from at least one of them.

Well anyways, here’s my favorite response tracks as of today:

Astro – KONY

One of the newcomers to the New York hip-hop scene, as well as a rapper I’ve been keeping an eye on for awhile now, was one of the first to respond to “Control”.  Astro has been impressing rap heads with his groovy and effortless flow.  Coming here with a more direct shot at Kendrick, he really puts together a nice response track.  Clever lines such as “Saying that you king of the state? That’s time wasted/You kicked harder lines on Miguel collaborations” really help him get his point across.  Hey, why not compete for the title? The championship is up for grabs at this point.

Joell Ortiz – Outta Control

Joell Ortiz is another name in the running for King of New York, and also one of the better lyricists out there that didn’t get mentioned in Kendrick’s verse.  Yaowa really goes in on this one, aiming for Kendrick, the industry, and whack rappers all at one time.  Being very eager to respond and claim KONY, Joell was actually the first one with a response.

During the verse, he mentions the fact that neither him or his crew Slaughterhouse were on the list.  He actually says Kendrick paid him respects in person at one point, reasoning that maybe that’s why he left their names out of the verse.

Either way, Joell Ortiz really gave a great performance, and it’s arguably the best response so far.  However, the only detractor is that he did it over the original “Control” instrumental.  Enough to dethrone Kendrick, though? Not so much.

(This is why we need the big name guys to step up)

LOS – Control (Freestyle)

LOS, a lesser-known, newer MC signed to Bad Boy Records, sent a firing squad armed with lyrical bazookas at Kendrick Lamar.  While no direct shots are taken, LOS really took advantage of the spotlight and came with his best lyrical performance.  The flow switch-up and and vocabulary is definitely enough for the young rapper to gain a couple new fans in the process.

-Ronzo

Tuesday Grooves

Sorry for the slightly late update, my friends. Mondays for me are quite busy these days.

Like it or not, Ronzo’s Word is back with another three grooves for you to vibe out to this week.

Kendrick Lamar – Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst

It’s been almost a year since Good Kid m.A.A.d City dropped, yet you still hear its singles all over the radio station (I heard “Swimming Pools (Drank)” last summer, and it still remains one of the top songs on the radio). Not only that, but if you’ve been around for the past year, Kendrick is everywhere. His guest verses are sprinkled everywhere, he’s been invited for guest appearances on television shows, and he seems to be performing at almost every music award show (If you saw the BET Awards recently, it seemed like Kendrick was out there every 20 minutes).

Can’t hate the man for blowing up though, K. Dot has been and always will be an incredibly deep lyricist. “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” is no exception, involving some of the most meaningful lyrics on the entire album.

Each verse takes you deep inside the life of Kendrick Lamar. The first verse summarizes the main plot of the entire album, showing the raw emotion from a man stuck in a dangerous cycle. The fact that Kendrick saw his good friend’s brother killed right in front of him is incredibly shocking. Enough material to write an entire song about, even. Somehow, he finds a way to fit it into one meaningful verse, fulfilling the wishes of his deceased friend.

The second verse focuses on the mindset of a “girl damaged by the system”. Taking place over a phone call, the girl accuses Kendrick of damaging the name of her sister, the subject matter of a song from Section.80. He uses an incredible technique at the end of the verse;
He fades the vocals out, as if he was beginning to ignore her.

The rest of the song focuses on inner reflection, playing with the idea of accepting death. This leads to the second half of the track, “I’m Dying of Thirst”. The theme of holy water, and starting a new non-violent life is the focus of this part, stressing that they’re “tired of running”.

J. Cole – She Knows

On an album as good as Born Sinner, its hard to pick just one track that stands out from the rest. I believe that “She Knows” is a strong consideration for the choice, combining Cole’s melodic style with the deep emotion heard throughout the album. Girls seem to be one of J. Cole’s favorite topics to rap about, usually the basis for many of his radio hits. This track is different, however. Even though the subject matter is similar, the mood is much darker, focusing on the struggles of a relationship while being a star rapper.

Even though the track stays a bit dark throughout the whole thing, its still very radio-friendly. I wouldn’t be surprised if this song made it to the singles charts within the next couple months. That is what’s so great about it. J. Cole managed to fuse raw emotion and subject matter with pop sensibility. That is a win in all regards.

Mac Miller – Matches ft. Ab-Soul

All of these albums from June 18th (https://ronzopleaj.wordpress.com/2013/06/21/june-18th-the-conclusion/) have stayed in constant rotation, and for absolutely good reason. Watching Movies With the Sound Off was the album of the three most fit for party environments, besides the few tracks based around self-reflection and deep thought. Standing out from the rest, for me, was the track “Matches ft. Ab-Soul“. Mac Miller’s growing relationship with TDE is definitely turning out for the best. His nonsensical style works perfectly with the complexity of Ab-Soul’s rhyme schemes. The track isn’t exactly about much other than drinking, smoking, and general debauchery, but that’s all you need for a party song.

Featuring one of the best beats on the entire album, Mac and Soul go toe-to-toe lyrically, with each one outdoing the other in different ways. I hope to hear much more from these two together in the future, as well as other collaborations between Mac Miller and the rest of the TDE camp.

*“Geez ft. Schoolboy Q” is another dope collaboration between the two camps worth checking out

-Ronzo

J. Cole – Let Nas Down (Remix) feat. Nas

Villematic

When one reads a title like that, you have to ask the question: “How did this come to fruition? I thought Cole disappointed Nas. Now he’s on the song about that exact topic?”

The best part is, Nas completely kills this track. Dominating almost 3 minutes of track, he continues his revitalized performance on all music he touches in recent history. In the verse, he clearly shows that he is not disappointed in Cole.

“Now I’m playing Born Sinner loud, saw you live, rock the crowd
Like wow, you made your n***a Nas proud”

Maybe Cole jumped too quickly for this one, as there is clearly no problems between the two rappers. Fine with me, it’s always great to hear Nas come through and kill another track.

Thank you for liberating this remix so quickly, Cole. This one was dope.

-Ronzo

June 18th: The Conclusion

june-18One of the greatest days in recent Hip-Hop history happened on the Tuesday of this week. Three albums battled for sale number supremacy, and they all made a valiant claim to be at the top, with all three making huge strides in their musical careers. The real winners of this monumental period are the hardcore Hip-Hop fanatics, though. After all, we’re the ones who get the incredible material to listen to.

Each one intrigued and surprised me in different ways, but I can say one thing: all three projects deserve multiple spins.

1. Kanye West – Yeezus
Kanye West - Yeezus

I’ve always respected Kanye’s knack to venture into the unknown, but I’m not usually the first one to say I love the music. I usually tend to throw that in with the idea of myself being a Hip-Hop backpacker of sorts, a Conservative for the classic boom bap sounds of the mid-to-late 90’s. This happened to me when both My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and 808’s and Heartbreaks came out, as both were albums that pushed the envelope for what was being offered in the Hip-Hop world.

(In fact, in a recent conversation with friends, it was brought to my attention that Drake’s style is heavily based on the 808’s project. Not entirely based around it, but heavily influenced)

The thing is, after multiple listens to projects like Yeezus, their cohesive ideas and strong cultural messages start to sink in a little bit. Kanye is completely aware of this, however. He loves his music to be avant-garde, something that you truly can’t understand the first time you hear it. The words and rhythms need to sink in and becoming meaningful. Even the small intricacies of all the screaming and strange noises throughout the project have purposes for the mood and soul of the album.

After listening to the project 5 plus times, I finally understand why some people love it, some hate it. But that’s exactly what Kanye wants.

As for me, I prefer the soul-driven beats and goofy but meaningful lyrics from College Dropout, Late Registration, and Graduation. Artists are always evolving though, and the direction is understandable in his shoes. This project does not quite fit into my lane, but maybe with a couple more listens that could change.

2. J. Cole – Born Sinner
J. Cole - Born Sinner

“Power Trip” has been on the radio for quite some time, harkening back to his days of Sideline Story. However, the majority of this album is not anything too much like Cole’s Freshman debut. The lyrics and beats sound matured and delivered with a musical intensity that I have not heard from J. Cole since his Friday Night Lights mixtape days. With all of the softer, melodic, ready for radio tracks Sideline Story had, Cole was bound to make an album that would appeal to the masses of Hip-Hop heads. With deep lyrical meaning and intricate flows, Cole shows the versatility of the flow and subject matter previously unknown.

J. Cole himself has mentioned that depression haunted him throughout the making of, and you can tell. A lot of the album has to do with self-reflection, and focusing on the betterment of himself. Many artists in the history of Hip-Hop, and much music in general, have shown that depression truly brings out the strongest feelings and moods. Usually, this is good for songwriting, as the lyrics brought out can relate to many people listening.

Something strange about this album, was Cole’s idea to rework a lot of classic beats. Being the innovative and talented producer he is, one would think he would try to make some original beats without the most obvious of samples (although, one could argue Cole has always been like this, based on songs like “Work Out” with the easily noticeable Kanye sample). Songs such as “Forbidden Fruit” and “Land of the Snakes” both have noticeable samples from Outkast, and A Tribe Called Quest, respectively. “Forbidden Fruit” features Kendrick Lamar, but he is unfortunately only featured on the hook.

(Still waiting on that collaboration album…)

This Sophomore effort is very enjoyable, though, and is the most impressive outing from J. Cole I have heard so far. Lyrical content can really take you far in trying to impress a guy like me.

Born Sinner is the clear winner in the June 18th showdown.

3. Mac Miller – Watching Movies with the Sound Off
Mac Miller - Watching Movies with the Sound Off

Mac Miller has always been hot and cold in this game of ours. Everyone loved his debut to the major public in K.I.D.S., then the same people openly berated him for being too one-dimensional and “boring” once his studio album Blue Slide Park hit shelves (Seriously, check out this scathing Pitchfork review: http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/16113-blue-side-park/).

Even with all of this critiscism, Mac has stuck to his true style and made it well-rounded. Lyrically, he has never been unimpressive. Watching Movies with the Sound Off has many intelligent and creative rhyme scemes that any Hip-Hop fan in their right mind can respect and enjoy.

One thing I have noticed about Mac Miller is his neglect of moving out of his style of throwing gibberish, and non-sensical mumble jumble together in sentences that fit together simply because they’re creative rhymes. While this can be impressive at times (a la Odd Future), I could see how that could become frutrating to many long-time listeners, including myself.

I’m thoroughly impressed with the musical aspect of this album, as all the beats are expertly made, perfect for the vibe Mac brings to the table. Features from Ab-Soul and Action Bronson make the album stronger, as both provide excellent verses. It’s refreshing to see Mac link up with other rising MC’s in the game, and it shows the true unity of this up-and-coming class of Hip-Hop legends.

I seriously hope to hear more of this from Mac Miller, as Wacthing Moves with the Sound Off is a huge step in the evolution of an artist still trying to find his identity.

-Ronzo

The Crystal Ball – 2013

2013...what's in store?

Today’s been a good start to the weekend so far, but any weekend would be good when it starts off with going to the all-you-can-eat pizza buffet by where I live. Got a good little food coma going on about now.

But anyway, today I’m going to give you guys a look into some things I’m excited for in 2013. A lot of interesting things have come already, and it’s only been a month. Let’s hope it continues that trend:

1. Sophomore albums from Big Sean and J. Cole

As proven by how popular Guap has been, Hall of Fame should be a really exciting release from Big Sean. The project has mostly been kept under wraps, but that comes as no surprise knowing how Kanye operates. The album has been steadily building hype for a March release, as his lead single has been getting extremely heavy radio rotation. 2012 was a fantastic year for Big Sean, it will be interesting to see if he can continue the momentum (especially after how successful Finally Famous was).

J. Cole became a major success with the release of Cole World, after years and years of consistent grinding and being low profile. 2013 will be an important year for Cole, as he has been pretty dormant for the majority of 2012. Aside from a couple feature verses, a couple songs, and some teasers for Born Sinner, seems like the main focus has still been on Cole World. Which is fine, but it will be exciting to see his sophomore effort, as well as this elusive collaboration project with Kendrick Lamar that’s been in the works.

Should be a good year for both of these artists.

2. The Return of Kid Cudi
Indicud should be dope

After a long and strange absence from rap music, it’s nice to know that Kid Cudi is finally releasing his third studio album. Let’s hope it stays away from the depressing vibes that Man on the Moon II tended to have. It sounds like Kid Cudi realizes this as well, as he tweeted:

“The overall tone of Indicud is positive and confident,”

He’s also claimed that it’s “his version” of Chronic 2001. Honestly a pretty bold claim, since Chronic 2001 is one of the most prolific albums of all time. If it’s anything like Man on the Moon: The End of Day, honestly it may have a chance.

3. Gotta Love Collabs
dope collabs

The past couple years have sure been high in high profile collaborations. From Eminem and Royce Da 5’9″, to Jay-Z and Kanye West. Not to mention a bunch of other planned collaborations that still have not been confirmed or talked about much since (Rick Ross and Drake, Currensy and Wiz Khalifa, and I hate to say it, but Outkast as well). Talk about a J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar collaboration has been circling the internet for a litle over a year now, constantly being pushed back as time goes on. Reasons for being pushed back have been because of Good Kid M.a.a.D City, as well as more recently, Born Sinner. Will this ever come out? It’s gotta be the most anticipated thing in 2013, personally. We’ll see how it plays out.

Some other collaborations that look promising includes Big K.R.I.T. and Yelawolf’s Country Cousins. With a still unknown release date, this project is also still up in the air. The combination of these two lyricists should be interesting, especially because hearing Yelawolf over K.R.I.T.’s southern beats might lead to incredible music. Being that they’re both southern artists, the flavor produced from the sounds on this should be pretty tasty.

Also, The Man & The Martian by B.O.B. and T.I. should be pretty interesting as well.

4. Emergence of A$AP Rocky and Joey Bada$$

Ironic that both of their names have dollar signs in them.

A$AP Rocky has had the most fantastic year so far, in this young 2013. Even though his album Long. Live. ASAP. leaked almost a month before it dropped, it still managed to sell over 200,000 copies and top the Billboard charts. Not only has he been getting attention for his album, his lead single Fuckin Problem, featuring major appearances from 2 Chainz, Drake, and Kendrick Lamar, has gone insanely viral. Nowadays, seems like the local 97.9 plays it nonstop. It will be interesting to see where A$AP goes from here.

Another up and comer from the New York area is an MC named Joey Bada$$. Recently releasing a track produced by DJ Premier, Joey has been gaining popularity. Starting off as a regional success (on an underground level), he has gone far and beyond that. Landing himself on tours with Juicy J and Mac Miller, as well as giving a performance for the aforementioned A$AP on 1 Train, has really boosted him for future success. 1999 was originally what got him known, but hopefully we’ll see his debut come sooner than later.

5. Maybe a Little Less 2 Chainz
This guy is everywhere

Don’t get me wrong, I like 2 Chainz just as much as the next rap fan (from what I’ve heard, this is in range from total hatred to adoring). Is it too much to ask, though, for 2013 to be a little less 2 Chainz dominant? Let’s hear someone else take a run for top spot. Radio rotation is filled with his singles, and his goofy lyrics seem to be over everyone’s hooks lately.

You gotta respect the man’s grind for writing so many verses, and appearing on every household name rapper’s tracks from Drake to Game. Not to mention, he has talent to make incredibly catchy hooks. Tracks such as No Lie feat. Drake are proof of how big 2 Chainz features can make a song. Oh, did I mention he’s on Kanye’s team too?

I’m sure we’ll be seeing plenty more of him.