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No Pain, No Fame

Se'von

Kids who grow up on the streets of Detroit face their fair share of temptations. Some of them, like Se’von, dodge the dealers, boosters, and thugs through music. The rapper lets the streets inform his hip-hop, without letting them define him as a person. His songs are infused with ‘80s rock and R&B, like on “Greater” where an electric guitar wails into a motivational jam. “I’m just like everybody else,” the rapper insists. “From the gutter, no coat.” Sometimes to follow your dreams you’ve got to fly the coop. Se’von uses auto tune and a simple piano line to detail his departure on “I’m Gone,” rapping, “Love me while I’m here.” On the shimmering “Heaven,” he follows up that request with another: “Let my words be an epidural.” We’re not convinced of the power to cure labor pains through rap, but if it’s possible, Se’von’s laid-back methodology might do the trick.

Raise Your Tankard

Cannock Wood is a small village in Staffordshire, England known for its charming natural beauty. And in this bucolic land of rolling hills, green pastures and thick groves of trees, lives a man who wants nothing more than to loll about in last night’s jeans and drink beer. Now don’t get us wrong, as much as Kid Rad talks about his love of slacking off in his lackadaisical track “Melt Away,” the kid’s quite ambitious. The UK rapper is the first to have performed live on BBC Radio 2, and has steadily built some buzz around his mixtapes and live shows. But you wouldn’t know it from the picture he paints in “Melt Away” of “a lazy little git and a slob” who’d “rather drink beer under the sun.” Against a trilling piano and minimalistic beat, Kid Rad offers advice to worker drones who labor away in passionless positions: “If you don’t [like what you do], don’t do it.” Lucky for us, Kid Rad’s found something he enjoys as much as a pint. Cheers to that.

“Melt Away” – Kid Rad

 

 

Insomniac

J-Mike

Let’s get one thing straight. Hustlers don’t sleep. They just don’t. Exhibit A: the song “Husterlz Don’t Sleep” by J-Mike. The Houston rapper has made that his mantra, dividing his time between the studio, the stage and the street where he pushes his mixtapes. J-Mike’s determination comes through on the aforementioned track, where scratchy, erratic beats and cascading synths propel his words. “I’m gonna keep my mind on the hustle where it’s supposed to be,” he vows through the digital rainstorm. But even the most diehard hustler needs to cut loose, and on “Drink In My Hand,” J-Mike does just that. It’s a pitch-shifted, auto-tuned ode to champagne and trash can punch, and it’s kind of addictive. Haters get their comeuppance on “Ready or Not” and “Headlines Freestyle,” where the rapper delivers one verbal bitch slap after another. “You some Nextel cats, we no longer need your service.” Ouch. But hey, you can’t knock the hustle.

“Hustlerz Don’t Sleep” – J-Mike

 

 

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Check Baby, Check Baby

Mike Check

Mike Check started his career in music behind the kit, eventually trading sticks for a pen and becoming a songwriter. Turns out it was a good swap. Today Check is one of New York’s up-and-coming MCs, firing up audiences with fervent lyrics about anything from crime and poverty to Christian Laettner. On the bubbling, synth-driven “Mega Man” Check details his A-game with the ladies, promising to “fade away like Laettner” after its over. The mood gets heavier on “My Back Yard,” a lyrical tour of NYC set to a sample of Benny Mardones’ “Into the Night.” From Fifth Avenue to Ground Zero, Jamaica Queens, South Bronx and Brooklyn, Check explores the worlds of the haves and have-nots. The rapper’s fierce determination to move out of the latter category is on display in “For the Rush,” an adrenaline-filled banger about owning the audience. “Every time I close my eyes never seen another dream,” he spits, like New York’s version of Jimmy “B-Rabbit” Smith. If it’s true you gotta lose yourself in the music to really make it, Mike Check is well on his way.

“For the Rush” – Mike Check

Supernatural

A-Natural

With a gospel and jazz-singing mother and a guitar-playing, producing and songwriting father, it was almost a no-brainer for A-Natural to follow in the family business. In addition to music, religion was a constant in the singer/producer’s childhood, and a focus that’s continued in his career as a gospel-pop artist. That said, his song “Selah” would seem pretty secular if not for the title. Loosely translated from Hebrew as “pause, and think of that,” “Selah” indicates a musical interlude in the liturgy. The track jumps off with a monster beat, sounding like N.E.R.D. re-envisioning Janet Jackson’s “If.” Crunching, squealing textures lay the groundwork for the chorus, where A-Natural bleats “Selah” over and over. It’s hard to discern any piety in lyrics about going out to the club and dealing with the paparazzi. But maybe we’re missing the deeper meaning. We’ll pause, and think of that. You do the same.

Caring Is Creepy

SumKid

SumKid Majere’s hip hop education is as comprehensive as it gets—gleaned on city streets and country towns from sea to shining sea. Raised between Oakland and North Carolina, the rapper blends his bicoastal influences into a signature style: sentimental and sinister. “Kakalak All-Stars” pays homage to his Carolina roots. It’s a sunny, summertime shout-out to old friends and family. But, as the warmth spreads, it fades, like the last flickering images on an old Super 8. Then the dark starts creeping in. “We Be Pubbin” elevates boozing to an art form. It feels almost like an old-school track, with SumKid playing a menacing version of Shock G from Digital Underground. Sepulchral moaning and spooky, pitch-shifted vocals give “The Crawl” a similar foreboding. The track is about the good old days spent cruising around with the sub woofers blasting, but it sounds more like an elegy. We’re used to nostalgia feeling sweeter, but SumKid’s music seems to infer a danger in looking backwards too much. Or maybe he just likes a scary beat. Either way, the fear factor works.

Discourse & Dischord

The Good

Decemberists debut at Number 1 on Billboard

For the first time in their career, Portland folk rockers The Decemberists debuted at the top of the Billboard 200 with their latest offering “The King Is Dead.” Hitting the top of the charts is always a big deal for an independent band, but their sales figure—94,000 copies—is underwhelming. Still, it was enough to keep “Kidz Bop 19” from nabbing the Number 1 spot. And for that, we are eternally grateful.

Jeff Buckley biopic in the works

It’s been almost fourteen years since singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley drowned in the Mississippi River. In the years since his tragic death, his mother, Mary Guibert, refused to release his music for any of the hundreds of screenplays she saw. Now it seems like the right treatment has finally arrived. A Buckley biopic is in the works, with Robert Pattinson, James Franco, Jared Leto and James Mardsen all competing to play the iconic crooner. Guibert’s a tough cookie—we can’t wait to see who wins her approval.

The Bad

Nicki Minaj’s fans get her kicked out of London hotel

Nicki Minaj returned from a long day of press in London to find out she had been kicked out of her room at the Dorchester Hotel. The reason? Her fans, or as Minaj calls them, her “barbz.” Apparently a gaggle of barbz clashed with the paps, fights broke out and an ambulance was called. Nicki took to Twitter to thank her tenacious fans for their support, saying, “It got a bit CRAZY … hopefully the next hotel will be nicer.” And maybe undisclosed?

Charlie Louvin dead at 83

Charlie Louvin, one half of the legendary Louvin Brothers duo, passed away in Nashville after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Louvin and his brother Ira are widely recognized as the originators of the pure, honest harmonies that permeate and define country music to this day. Ira Lovin died in an automobile accident in 1965. R.I.P. Charlie.

The Ugly

Cher pissed over Oscar snub

The sweet nectar of her Golden Globe win for “Best Song” turned to sour grapes as soon as Cher realized her song, “You Haven’t Seen The Last of Me” for the movie “Burlesque” was passed over for an Oscar. She tweeted thusly: “We didn’t get a nomination 4 best song! That sucks! Diane’s song is so beautiful! It’s hard to understand how u win the Golden Globe 4 BEST SONG & not even get nominated by the OSCARS?” Cher, Cher, Cher …. SNAP OUTTA IT!

Ryan Murphy pissed over KoL snub

Oy vey. Here’s another bitter tale of rejection. When Kings of Leon passed up the opportunity to have their songs featured on Glee, the show’s creator, Ryan Murphy, reacted in a way that was less than age appropriate. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter he seethed, “F**** you, Kings of Leon. They’re self-centered a**holes, and they missed the big picture. They missed that a 7-year-old kid can see someone close to their age singing a Kings of Leon song, which will maybe make them want to join a glee club or pick up a musical instrument.” Chill, dude. A 7-year-old not hearing a rousing rendition of “Sex on Fire” is hardly the end of the world.

Miscellany

Discourse & Dischord

The Good

Bjork holds three-day karaoke protest


Everyone’s got their own way of protesting. Some people stage sit-ins, some people march, some people change their Facebook profile photo. Bjork—she sings. Along with tens of thousands of people. The Icelandic artist held a three-day karaoke contest in Reykjavik to protest a Canadian company’s planned takeover of Iceland’s HS Orka power plant. More than 45,000 people have signed a petition asking the government to reconsider its stance on the takeover. Which is really impressive, but we think sending the government a singing telegram, maybe wearing this, might be more fitting.

Black Keys want to take Tegan and Sara out


Indie cupid has plunged his arrow in none other than the Black Keys. In an interview with Spinner, drummer Patrick Carney says he and singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach want to take Canadian duo Tegan and Sara out on a date. The location? None other than Canadian donut franchise Tim Hortons. The problem? Oh, nothing. Except maybe the fact that their dates are lesbians. That’s all.

The Bad

Grown man gets Justin Bieber tattooed on his thigh


To repeat, a “Grown Man” got a tattoo of Justin Bieber on his thigh.

He’s … a grownup. With a tattoo of a 16-year-old hearthrob. On his thigh. Forever.

We have no words.

Kanye asks for a cover that would be outlawed


In an interview with The New Yorker, artist George Condo lets it slip that Kanye West asked him to create an album cover that would be banned for My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy. Which makes it especially poignant that no one banned it. West even tried to kindle some controversy by falsely accusing Walmart of banning his album. No dice. Guess My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy will go down in history as having the most banal cover of all time. Sorry Yeezy!

The Ugly

T.I. lands in hot water after getting frisky with his wife


T.I. and his wife didn’t keep their hands where guards could see them during a supervised visit at the big house this week. The overly amorous pair had their visit cut short after prison staff spotted them getting a little too feely. T.I. was moved to tighter security housing as punishment for the offense. Hopefully one with cold showers.

Miscellany

Hip To Be Square

Fullmetal F Dot

Being just like everyone else can be a lifesaving advantage in high school. It’s once you get out that blending in loses its luster. Lucky for Casey Colello, alias Fullmetal F Dot, being a self-proclaimed social outcast in his teens paved the way for some outstanding artistry in adulthood. The MC crafts whip-smart, street-smart manifestos about love, humanity and anything in between. On “Disconnected” he confesses his world weariness, saying “I need to find some brand new air to breathe in … teleport me out of here / I’ve had it with this atmosphere.” A synthetic kalimba and hand percussion create a gentle beat that belies the intensity of the rapper’s words. Similarly raw, “Open the Door” begins with tribal chants and clackety beat that sets the stage for Fullmetal F Dot’s savage flow. “You don’t know who we are / It would behoove you to call truce / Hip hop is still living / I’m delivering the proof.” Being a nerd never sounded so good.

The Heat Is On

Mambo Sauce

It’s no wonder both the Washington Wizards and Mystics use Mambo Sauce’s “Welcome to D.C.” as their theme song for home games—it’s almost impossible not to slam dunk something when you’re listening to it. Galvanizing synths and electric guitars sound the opening salvo, followed shortly by a fiery Latin chorus that sends your adrenaline through the roof. The track is not only a great fight song for D.C. denizens, it’s proven it has legs by climbing onto the Billboard Hip Hop/R&B Charts and moving into rotation on VH1 and BET. But “Welcome to D.C.” isn’t the only arrow in the band’s quiver. Check out “No Sleep” for Mambo Sauce’s signature blend of hip hop, neo-soul, synth rock, and go-go. The band’s two MCs—Alfred “Black Boo” Duncan and Joi “JC” Carter take turns delivering quicksilver manifestos against searing synths and metal guitars, keeping a breathless pace before slowing to the song’s monumental chorus. It’s a clever, flawlessly crafted rocker, but there are plenty of other flavors to be sampled in the Mambo Sauce songbook. Just mind the heat.

 


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