Archive for Hip-Hop Reviews

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!

Skip-Dawg offers moving tales in ‘The Illest Emcee’

Reviewed by Howie Mitchell

Skip-Dawg/The Illest Emcee

Praise Skip-Dawg already for sounding nothing like Eminem. Now that Eminem has become the model for white rappers to be compared to instead of – thank God – Vanilla Ice, it’s inevitable that the E-word would be brought up once Skip-Dawg’s skin color was seen. In fact, upon its arrival at the Fear of a Rap Planet office, the first words that our secretary uttered was, “Eminem wanna-be?” Nope, not even close. In fact, I don’t think Eminem has ever rapped with as much heartfelt emotion as Skip-Dawg does on here. On “Here We Go Again,” Skip-Dawg empathasizes with the young men going off to war but then wonders when the American governnment will clean its own streets of injustice and violence. Has Eminem ever displayed such depth?

“Cousins Track…(To Say Goodbye)” is something you rarely hear in rap. It seems to be an autobiographical look at Skip-Dawg’s lung surgeries and the sad feelings of mortality that can overcome a person, especially one as gifted as this, during such a stressful ordeal. “Times in My Life” is a tasty ode to his lady love with witty come-ons like “You do me like the wind does the chimes.” It only clocks in at about a half-hour, but The Illest Emcee will stick in your memory banks far longer than that.

Christian rapper Gleam Joel preaches from the mean streets


Reviewed by Howie Mitchell

Gleam Joel/The Call

Christian rap has, if you pardon the pun, received somewhat of a bad rap in the hip-hop community. A large part of this is because there’s so much mediocrity in the genre, and the lyrics are often critical of the bad-boy rap lifestyle, making some people self-conscious. What Gleam Joel has done on The Call is bring the streetwise authenticity of rap and fused it with a Biblical message. There are some heavy beats here, such as on the title track which slams hard against the pavement. Yet what Gleam Joel is trying to convey is incredibly positive. He returns to his old gang-infested neighborhood, beaming with his newly-found discovery of the Word of God.

Gleam Joel is not being preachy. You get the sense, from the seemingly autobiographical lyrics, that he’s speaking from experience. When Gleam Joel is attacking drugs on “Life Is Short,” it’s not a simplistic Nancy Reagan-era “Just Say No” theme. He rails against the drug dealers that tear families apart, leaving kids dead in their wake. There’s no holding back in Joel’s words; they are fierce, honest, and brutally realistic.

I don’t know how some rappers will take to “Hip-Hop Is Dead,” which openly chastises the commercial and secular rap scene for their glorification of violence. Actually, Gleam Joel takes it further than that, slamming wanna-be gangstas for romanticizing thug life while they’re living the rich life and their fans are dying on the streets. This is intense and very real music; whether you’re Christian or not, you will be affected by it.