Archive for March, 2008

M.C. Mars delivers reality of street life from a cabbie’s perspective


Reviewed by Howie Mitchell

M.C. Mars/Letz Cabalaborate

M.C. Mars is old enough to be your grandfather, but most of the stories he relates on Letz Cabalaborate probably wouldn’t digest well at the next family get-together. Mars takes you to the dirtiest streets of American society, a road he has traveled over and over again as a Bay Area cab driver, and he does so with the brutally honest X-rated dialogue and adult situations that reflect the daily existence of living in urban decay. What startled me most about Mars’ lyrics is not the salty dialogue; those of us who live with hip-hop can no longer be shocked by bad words. The surprise is in how smart Mars’ writing is, an explosive mix of Beat poetry intellectualism and underground rap vulgarity. If Lenny Bruce had lived long enough to front a hip-hop outfit, it’d sound like what Mars is doing here.

“Cabdriving Is a Video Game” combines spoken-word passages with straight-up rapping and an intense backbeat; imagine The Fast and the Furious from a cabbie’s windshield. “Hip Hop Taxi” celebrates carnal pleasures in the car while “Days of the Outlaw” goes the distance in revealing how dangerous driving a cab can be. You never doubt for an instance that Mars is writing from real-life experience here. “A-I-D-S Is a Manmade Virus” and “High Inner Vision” are both inspired by Mars’ battle with HIV. This is strong, powerful music.

Jam’g reinvents modern hip-hop with old-school style and positive messages


Reviewed by Howie Mitchell

Jam’g/Just (Because)

Is it possible for hip-hop to actually be fun again? After being dominated by gangsta rap and the bling-bling crowd, Jam’g arrives to steer the ship back to its original route. This old-school approach (for the lack of a better term) is best exemplified by “See You at the Lake” with its pulsating keyboards and colorful samples which sound like colliding alarm clocks.

Influenced by George Clinton and Prince, Jam’g records music with a different sensibility than most of today’s rappers. This isn’t music that gloats about having material items or glamorizes violence. In fact, when Jam’g does tackle serious subject matter, he does so with a sense of morality and social responsibility. “Life in San Quentin,” for example, strips away the MTV glow of thug life as its protagonist never wants to return to an existence behind bars. “Be 4 U Go” chastises a man for his playa ways. I love how Jam’g shows both male and female perspectives on this CD, giving equal time to both boy rappers and girl R&B vocalists.

On the surface, Just (Because) may seem like another party record. But pay attention to the words, especially on “Let’s Party Tonight,” which you may think is about getting it on with chicks in a club. It’s not. It’s actually an anthem for women who are seeking real love and not be treated like props. Bravo!

Eggshell Egoz outlast the Red Hot Chili Peppers with their funky energy


Reviewed by Howie Mitchell

Eggshell Egoz/Funky Poetz

To be fair, Eggshell Egoz don’t sound as much like the Red Hot Chili Peppers as they could’ve. Yes, the influence is definitely there – quite blatant, actually. But Eggshell Egoz do try to make their own flip on the fusion of rap, rock, and funk. In fact, they probably exert more energy on Funky Poetz than the Peppers did on their last couple of albums.

While the Peppers are entering their middle age and slowing nearly everything down to recapture the Top-40 magic of “Under the Bridge,” Eggshell Egoz are jumping out of the cage. The title track and “Slippery Slime” percolate with some über pulsating bass lines and face-slapping percussion. It is fun stuff, the kind of partying music you want blowing out of your speakers on a summer afternoon. “Riverbend” is driven by crunch-rock riffs and semi-rapped vocals that simply crush the bad memory of Sugar Ray. When Eggshell Egoz want to chill, such as on “Taking My Time” and “Manic Peaches,” they recall the best of Sublime without the haze of smoke.

Strong performances, not gimmicks, drive Lea Jones single

Reviewed by Howie Mitchell

Lea Jones/”Lucky Boy” (single)

To be honest, whoever ends up with Lea Jones will certainly be one lucky boy. However, those of us who are painfully aware that we are definitely out of the league of consideration can be content in admiring her talents. And “Lucky Boy” certainly jumps out of the gate with a sword-sharp beat utilizing funky guitars and bouncy keyboards that are actually not as thrust blatantly into the mix as most rap and hip-hop. Certainly, “Lucky Boy” isn’t purely in the rap genre, more like a crossover with pop. Jones doesn’t rap but guest Mike Pye does, adding color to her classy dance show. I like how slick yet minimalist this track sounds; producer Jean-Michel Soupraya doesn’t saturate it with artificial ingredients, keeping the music down-to-Earth and letting Jones drive the car mostly by herself. Not a lot of fancy tricks just strong performances throughout.