Tag Archives: Milano

New Joint – Milano x Showbiz

Milano x Showbiz – “Cavalli Champ” (DITCStudios.BandCamp.Com / 2021)

Smooth-but-rugged Rotten Apple flyness from the Diggin’ In The Crates duo’s recent EP “Eating But Still Hungry”.

New Joint – Milano x Showbiz

Milano x Showiz – “Night And Day” (DITCEnt.Com / 2021)

Rotten Apple wordsmith Milano Constantine demonstrates yet again why he should be considered one of the nicest on the mic device with this dope cut off his new release “Eating But Still Hungry” produced by Diggin’ In The Crates legend Showbiz.

100 Best Albums & EPs Of 2019 (Part One) – Roc Marciano / Nems / Jeff Smith etc.

Every year this ‘best-of’ list becomes increasingly harder to put together, with 2019 possibly having been the most challenging round-up to compile yet. Not because there haven’t been enough worthy projects released over the past twelve months, but because there has potentially been too many!

I initially sat down with a list of approximately three hundred albums and EPs that had dropped this year which I felt deserved to be considered. Three hundred??!! After plenty of deliberation and arguments with myself, I finally managed to get that list down to the one hundred releases you’ll find featured in this five-part 2019 overview.

Of course, there are going to be artists not included who some heads will feel should have been. That’s the beauty of music – everyone has their own opinion. But if a particular album or EP hasn’t been mentioned, that shouldn’t lead anyone to automatically assume I didn’t rate that project at all. As previously stated, I started with three hundred releases. When scaling that list down I had to really just consider which albums and EPs I’d enjoyed the most. It was as simple as that. No politics. No favours. Just the thoughts of a lifelong fan of beats and rhymes.

As always, huge props to all the talented artists out there (whether included in this list or not) who put their time, effort and creative energy into making music that adds something of value to this incredible culture called Hip-Hop.

Now, like we always do about this time….

Roc Marciano – “Marcielago” (RocMarci.Com) – As one of the most influential artists of the last decade it’s fitting that ten years after the release of “Marcberg”, an album that made an indelible impact on the sound of underground Hip-Hop, Strong Island’s Roc Marci would book-end his incredible run of releases with a project that further solidified his position in the game. Once again proving himself to be a master of his craft (both lyrically and musically),  the NY favourite fused vivid, larger-than-life rhymes with smooth, atmospheric (largely self-produced) beats and loops. Cinematic mood music best heard late at night in a haze of weed smoke.


roc cover

Nems – “Gorilla Monsoon” (Lyfer Gang) – Brooklyn emcee Nems is no newcomer, having released a string of projects over the past fifteen years. But on this album, the Mayor Of Coney Island appeared to capture Hip-Hop lightning in a bottle, elevating his skills to new heights in the process. Backed by the masterful production of fellow BK resident Jazzsoon, whose beats thumped harder than a heavyweight boxer working a punch-bag, Nems paid homage to the traditional Rotten Apple sound without getting caught up in nostalgia, delivering rhymes that ranged from aggressive, competition-crushing bars to brutally personal and honest life stories. Powerful music.

nems cover

Joker Starr – “G.A.W.D.” (FlukeBeatMusic.BandCamp.Com) – The irrepressible UK artist made a welcome return at the beginning of the year with another quality collection of unrestrained lyricism to add to his catalogue, at times sounding about ready to burst out of the speakers like a Hip-Hop Hulk. Largely produced by Micall Parknsun (with input from Anyway Tha God and OphQi), the UK wordsmith mixed social commentary and Black pride with larger-than-life emcee bravado throughout this entertaining showcase of raw hardcore talent.

joker starr cover

Vic Spencer & Sonnyjim – “Spencer For Higher 2” (Daupe Media) – Chicago’s Vic Spencer delivered slick wit and smooth arrogance over sublime production from the UK’s Sonnyjim on this sequel to the pair’s original 2018 “Spencer For Higher” project. A naturally gifted emcee, Spencer dominated the beats and loops on offer here with seemingly effortless skill, sharing a creative chemistry with Sonnyjim that lent the project a satisfyingly seamless and organic feel.

Funky DL – “Life After Dennison” (FunkyDL.BandCamp.Com) – Following on from 2018’s “Dennison Point” project, which captured Funky DL’s memories and experiences between 1992 and 2005 as a resident of Stratford, East London, “Life After Dennison” found the multi-talented UK artist bringing listeners up-to-date with his personal journey in his inimitable warm and witty style, accompanied by his jazzy and soulful trademark production sound.

Pitch 92 – “3rd Culture” (HighFocus.Com) – An album of epic proportions, this project from Pitch 92 fully showcased the Manchester music man’s range as a producer, incorporating Hip-Hop, jazz and soul influences into one smooth and cohesive listening experience, featuring a long list of top-tier UK talent including Jehst, MysDiggi and DRS. An ambitious and thoroughly enjoyable release.

Jeff Smith – “Fear Of A Black Messiah” (GiftedJeffSmithStore.BandCamp.Com) – In today’s divided and troubled times, music from artists such as Virginia’s Jeff Smith is needed more than ever. Following in the footsteps of acts such as Public Enemy, Paris and Kam, the outspoken emcee delivered an uncompromising look at what it means to be Black in Amerikkka today from his own perspective. Dealing with racial, social and political issues head-on, Smith proved that edutainment is still alive and well in Hip-Hop.

The Legion – “Three The Bronx Way” (FBDistribution.BandCamp.Com) – Grounded in memories of 80s Bronx block parties, street-corner ciphers and nights at the Latin Quarter, NY trio Molecules, Chucky Smash and Dice Man (aka Cee-Low) jingle jangled their way through this uncompromising dose of traditional Rotten Apple rap. The BX keeps creating it.

Damani Nkosi and ill Camille – “HARRIETT” (DamCam.BandCamp.Com) – West Coast duo Damani Nkosi and ill Camille combined their talents on this full-length project, determined to satisfy your soul and stimulate your third-eye via an organic blend of smooth, melodic production and uplifting lyrical content which was influenced by the past, grounded in the present and looking towards the future.

Infinite Thoughts – “Instrumentals” (1990SomethingLLC.BandCamp.Com) – Washington’s DJ NOZs and E Boogie delivered a stunning selection of uplifting, soulful beats on this brilliantly crafted project, showcasing not only their passion for boom-bap but also their shared ear for quality musicianship, blending dusty, basement-style drums with melodic keys and horns.

Showbiz x Milano – “Boulevard Author” (DITCEnt.Com) – A shining example of quality now-school Rotten Apple rap, this concise collection of dusty-fingered beats and well-executed, laser-precise rhymes found the Diggin’ In The Crates duo each residing at the top of their game. Milano has been a lyrical force to be reckoned with since his debut in the late-90s and Show’s ear for an ill loop definitely hasn’t faded over time, with this album carrying on DITC tradition and proudly supporting the classic sound of NYC.

Lisaan’dro – “M.A.D.E. (My Allies Died Early)” (Lisaandro.BandCamp.Com) – Gang Starr’s Guru once said it’s mostly the voice of an emcee that sets him or her apart from the competition. If Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal were still here today he would no doubt hold NY’s Lisaan’dro up to prove his point. The Long Island lyricist’s immediately recognizable raspy flow does indeed give his music a unique quality, but aside from that, as showcased on this album, Lisaan’dro also has a real talent for penning verses filled with pimpish slick talk and street-wise observations, which were backed up here by production from the likes of The Custodian Of Records, Leaf Dog, Flashius Clayton and more.

Es – “Social Meteor Vol. 1:Inspired By My Timeline” (EsMusik.BandCamp.Com) – If you were already familiar with Canadian emcee Es before 2019 via previous albums such as “Aspire To Inspire” (2014) and “We Are Only Getting Older” (2017), then you would have already been well aware that this talented wordsmith offers plenty of food for thought in his music. This latest project continued that tradition, with Es tackling the pros and cons of social media and our obsession with Twitter, Facebook and Instagram etc, accompanied by production from Pro-Logic, DJ QVP and Rel McCoy.

O The Great – “This Art Is Real” (OTheGreat,BandCamp.Com) – NY’s O The Great swung a heavy lyrical sword throughout this project, which bristled with a true passion for the art and culture of Hip-Hop. Mixing contemplative rhymes and observational jewels with raw bravado, the skilled emcee (who also produced the majority of this release) held the listener’s attention with ease via his sharp delivery and down-to-earth attitude. The album also featured worthwhile appearances from the likes of  Supreme Cerebral, BanishHabitual and Supreme Magnetic.

Benny Diction & Able8 – “Oak Dreams” (MillenniumJazz.BandCamp.Com) – Recapturing the creative chemistry heard on their brilliant 2013 collabo album “Life Moves”, UK emcee Benny Diction and Australian producer Able8 joined forces once again for this EP on the Millennium Jazz label. A concise collection of honest, thoughtful lyricism and forward-thinking soundscapes, “Oak Dreams” was yet another worthy addition to Benny’s already impressive catalogue.

WateRR & The Standouts – “The Honorable” (WateRR.BandCamp.Com) – Chicago emcee WateRR appeared to have found the perfect sonic backdrop for his swaggering, forthright rhymes in the form of Texas production duo The Standouts, who supplied the Windy City wordsmith with a strong selection of attention-grabbing loops and samples on this impressive long-player.

Finale – “62” (FinaleDet313.BandCamp.Com) – Longstanding supporters of Detroit’s Finale will already know he is an emcee determined to fill his verses with substance, honesty and integrity. This latest album from the Motor City wordsmith continued in that tradition, with Finale offering personal rhymes about family, relationships and fatherhood over a well-chosen selection of soulful production.

Otis Mensah – “Rap Poetics” (OtisMensah.BandCamp.Com) – Unique, refreshing and possessing an undeniable mastery of words, flow and language, UK rapper-slash-poet Otis Mensah packed this six-track EP with a seemingly effortless stream of vivid imagery, stimulating lyricism and magnetic energy, all delivered over a nice selection of crisp, jazzy beats.

Super Duty Tough Work – “Studies In Grey” (SuperDutyToughWork.BandCamp.Com) – The idea of a live band making Hip-Hop is nothing new, but it is a concept that takes real skill to execute effectively. At the top end of the scale, groups like The Roots and the UK’s Mouse Outfit have consistently released incredible music based around the live band format. But when done badly, the end product can sound limp and bland, lacking the thump and grit many Hip-Hop fans demand. Based on this EP, it would appear that Canadian band Super Duty Tough Work are definitely masters of their craft, balancing head-nodding beats and nimble rhymes with smooth instrumentation, incorporating vibrant keys, lively bass and punctuating horns.

Asun Eastwood & Onaje Jordan – “Danger My Ally” (AsunEastwood.BandCamp.Com) – Canadian artist Asun Eastwood has steadily built himself a reputation over the last couple of years as one of the nicest emcees making noise in the underground. This latest release (produced by Chicago’s Onaje Jordan) offered more of the raw, uncut wordplay that supporters have grown accustomed to, reflecting the darker side of Toronto’s streets.

Part Two coming soon.

Mentaltainment EP Sampler – The P Brothers

p brothers cover

Nottingham’s Paul S and DJ Ivory return to burn once again with their forthcoming “Mentaltainment” EP, featuring Daniel Son, Doo Wop, Milano and Your Old Droog getting busy over the UK production duo’s trademark brand of high-quality beat science.

New Joint – SmooVth / Milano Constantine / Sean Rosati

smoovth cover

SmooVth ft. Milano Constantine & Sean Rosati – “Road Warriorz” (@SmooVth / 2016)

Producer Vic Grimes supplies Strong Island emcee SmooVth with some mellow madness for this track off the forthcoming “SS96J” album.

Halftime Show Freestyle – Milano

Milano – “DJ Eclipse Halftime Show Freestyle” (@Milano7Warriors / 2012)

The D.I.T.C.-affiliated emcee just posted this vintage freestyle up on his Soundcloud page which is lifted from the 2005 mixtape “Spanish Harlem” – definitely worth a listen while you’re waiting for that new ish.

Milano recently sent me over a couple of new joints from the Barbury’N project with D-Flow and Majestic Gage and they’re definitely reppin’ that ill Rotten Apple rap with pride and true skills.

Bars Of Steel – Barbury’N

Footage of the Barbury’N crew (Milano, Majestic Gage and D-Flow) dropping some rhymes on NYC’s Halftime Show – everyone handles their business in this clip but Gage’s second verse almost sets the mic on fire.

The Constantine Tape…The Best Of Milano Mixtape Download – Milano

The D.I.T.C. affiliate drops this new mixtape featuring classic collaborations with the likes of Showbiz, The P Brothers and Big Pun plus material from his new crew Barbury’N – download here for a heavy dose of that Rotten Apple rap.

Old To The New Q&A – Milano

Having spent the last decade blessing hungry Hip-Hop fanatics with a sporadic stream of cult classics such as 2000’s “Deal With A Feeling”, D.I.T.C. affiliate and NYC native Milano has definitely proven that sometimes less actually is more.

Whilst some artists have flooded the market in recent years with mixtapes and endless freestyles, only to be forgotten as quickly as they arrived, Milano’s considered approach to his craft has helped the Uptown Manhattan resident gain and maintain a dedicated fanbase.

Surrounded by Hip-Hop heavyweights since the beginning of his career, from catching the ear of Big Pun in the late-90s to working with esteemed producers such as Showbiz, T-Ray and the UK’s P Brothers, the Rotten Apple rhymer has consistently honed his talents and perfected his own style of observational, street-wise wordplay by combining the influences of his golden-era mentors with his own new-school flavour.

Now returning as a member of new crew Barbury’N alongside longtime D.I.T.C. cohort D-Flow and recent recruit Gage, the gritty emcee is focussed on building on his already strong foundations to leave his mark in the rap game throughout 2012 and beyond.

In this extensive interview, the man also known as Constantine speaks on working with his new crew, learning tricks of the production trade from Showbiz, and his plans to finally release his much-delayed “Blvd. Author” project.

You’ve recently introduced your new group Barbury’N to the rap world – considering you’ve always been known as a solo artist explain how the crew came together?

“Basically, I was building in the studio with Showbiz and we were talking about how we could still bring that D.I.T.C. flavour out there but try to do it in a new format with a younger generation. Show suggested that we put together a little group and I already knew D-Flow from the joints he’d done with A.G. and Party Arty and then there was a young kid we knew called Gage who’s sick with it, so that’s how we formulated the group. We decided we couldn’t just have a regular name and we were joking in the studio talking about how we kill bars and I said ‘Bars, we bury them’ and that turned into the group name Barbury’N (laughs). It goes deeper than us just looking like savages or something, it’s about how we kill those bars and really give everything in our rhymes. So the group concept really evolved from there.”

Does the music that will be coming from Barbury’N just have Showbiz on production?

“The mixtape project that we just completed just has Show on production, but for the album project Show will of course be on there and we were hoping to get DJ Premier to put something together. I’ve also dabbled in some beats myself so I’ve got two joints on there which are real powerful.”

So Barbury’N is definitely an official group rather than just a few emcees coming together to drop a one-off mixtape?

“I would say so and at the same time I’m still manifesting my solo thing. Hopefully that will give the project a little more umph as you know how fans tend to gravitate towards family-orientated crews. So we really wanted to create some buzz with Barbury’N and then we can still continue to put music out as a group but that buzz will hopefully mean that we can get a little more attention when we drop solo material. I know people are still looking out for Milano solo projects, so my plan is to drop a mixtape after this Barbury’N project and then put an album or EP out soon after that.”

You mentioned earlier about Barbury’N being the next generation of D.I.T.C. which is a tag that you’ve been carrying since you came out over a decade ago with singles like “Deal With A Feeling” – considering the legacy of D.I.T.C. is that something you’ve ever felt pressured by?  

“I just roll with it because if you’re cut from the cloth then that feeling will naturally come out in my music. I come from the essence of it and I’m at where it all began everyday so it’s not something I really have to study because it is what it is. I understand that to add on to that D.I.T.C. legacy I still have to bring forth music that’s high quality and stay in my zone but when I make music and write my rhymes I’m coming from the essence of what this music is, so as long as I continue to do that then I feel that what I bring out will be successful in giving people what they’re hoping for.”

How did you initially become part of the D.I.T.C. family?

“I knew Show through a family member from when I was about twelve-years-old and I always used to run up on him telling him that I could rhyme. Even back then, Show would be like ‘Wow! The s**t you’re saying is crazy for someone your age. You sound like Nas or someone.’ Hearing someone who was already in the game and working with some great emcees say stuff like that really kept me going. So I continued rhyming which then lead to me meeting Big Pun during a cypher up in D&D which is how I then got to do the “Where Ya At?” joint with Pun for the D.I.T.C. album. At that time I was having a lot of fun and really living in a dream world. I mean, Pun was still coming off the success of “I’m Not A Player” and his debut album so for him to say he wanted to do a song with me at that time was crazy. I was like, ‘You’d love to do a song with me?! I’d love to do a song with you!’ That feels like it was a long time ago now, so for me to still be relevant to people today and for them to love the feel of the music I make is something that’s heartfelt and it’s why I keep going whether making music is a lucrative situation or not. It comes from my heart and I think the people out there can feel that in everything I do. It’s just all about me staying in my zone, so it goes back to what I said on that joint I did with The P Brothers for their “Gas” album (laughs).”

Do you think artists today are too quick to try and please everyone rather than actually concentrating on creating their own unique style?

“If you stay in your own time capsule then nothing else around you can penetrate that. You see other artists out there making music that has a Midwest type of feel or has a Southern twang to it now and the music they came out with before wasn’t like that. I just stay in my lane. A lot of artists out there are confused right now and don’t know what to do because of all these new trends that come along. So they make music that sounds confused because they’re trying too hard to be something that they’re not just to keep up with new trends. F**k the trends! That’s all bulls**t anyway because trends come and go but some people still seem to fail to realise that. But I’ve seen artists go through that and that’s why I feel good when I come out and people tell me that my music always has that same essence to it because I just stay in my lane and make the music that comes from my heart.”

With that being said, do you feel you have a responsibility to keep that traditional New York sound alive?

“I feel that I must because I was with the greats like Big L and Big Pun and I would be doing artists like that an injustice if I didn’t come with that East Coast essence everytime that I came out. I’m trying to do my part to help keep their spirits alive and also represent the legacy of so many other great New York artists in my music. You have to do that. I might go off and do something a little different on some digital s**t, but it’s still coming from that original essence because Bambaataa was digital when he came out with Soul Sonic Force. But yeah, I do feel that I have a responsibility to keep that traditional New York sound alive because to know your past is to know your future, so it’s important for these new emcees coming up today to understand what came before them and know the foundations that they’re standing on.”

What do you consider to be the main differences between the underground scene you came up in during the 90s and today’s underground scene?

“The music now is not as strong as it was. There’s a lot of bulls**t out there, and if people keep pushing it out there that it’s the bulls**t that’s hot, then that in turn is going to evolve into there being a lot of bulls**t artists. That’s why I just have to stay in my area because a lot of the music that’s being made today isn’t really what I’m about. I mean, you have the Internet now which is really helping a lot of these young kids get out there. I can’t really hate on the new generation because they’re putting their own flavour in the music, but to me the essence just isn’t there. I mean, of course the music will always adapt and evolve, but I don’t think that should happen to the point where it’s completely removed from what it started as. So I just maintain and do what I need to do. I mean, it’s not as organic as it used to be because some of these kids are doing everything online whereas we were out in the trenches rhyming in cyphers and really having to show and prove. In my opinion, coming up during the time period that I did really contributed to me being more of an all-round artist and I feel privileged to have come up during that time and been around the artists that I was around. It was more about the actual music back then and skills whereas today it’s very much a visual era. Today, an artist can just go to store and you can have someone filming it, edit it properly, put it on YouTube and people will watch that. It’s very much about being seen constantly and keeping your name out there, but people need to remember that you still have to have quality music.”

Looking back over your career, are there any particular moments that you feel helped define you as an artist?

“The whole Pun situation was crazy when I was in that D&D cypher which started off with twenty emcees and then ended with just me and Pun rhyming, so that was something great. I remember being in the studio with Big L one time and he was someone who always wanted to rhyme. There were eight emcees in the studio with us at the time and I saw him tear up every single one, one after another. I was like ‘Wow! He just went bananas on these dudes.’ There was another time I was with L at D&D and we were getting ready to leave the studio and were downstairs. L had a session up there and he leaned out the window and was like, ‘Yo! Give me five minutes so I can lay this verse and I’ll be right down.’ I’m thinking it’s impossible for someone to lay a verse and do ad-libs in five minutes. The next thing I know, guess who’s downstairs in the car with me? I’m like, ‘Yo? You finish your verse?!’ L just looked at me and was like, ‘Yeah, the s**t is done, don’t even worry about it.’ The next day we went back to the studio and heard the song he’d knocked out his verse for in those five minutes. I can’t even bulls**t you, I can’t remember exactly what song it was, but listening to that verse knowing he knocked it out in one take, I was like ‘Yo, I really am around masters of this music.’ It really hit me then that if you weren’t striving to become a master of your own s**t then at some point someone in the crew was really going to embarrass you. From then on, I always stayed on point so that if anyone asked me to rhyme, my sword was always ready. I mean, Pun was the same way with how he approached his craft. He used to carry his rhyme book around everywhere, and he’d pull it out with all these food stains on it (laughs). Whenever I’d see Pun he’d ask to hear something and I literally had to rhyme for him everytime he asked. It had to be something new that he hadn’t heard from me before and it had to be something crazy. That was something that would keep any emcee on their toes. You had to be ready at all times…”

And back then catching a loss in a battle or freestyle session was pretty much considered the be-all-and-end-all to any emcee worth their rhyme book…

“Exactly. You had to always be ready because you never knew when you were going to have to show and prove which could then lead to opportunities. So those are some of the memories that really stand out to me when I think back. I remember another time when I was working with T-Ray, he’d just flown out to New York from the West Coast and he called me up to tell me The Beatnuts were in session downtown for their “Milk Me” album and he asked if I wanted to go to the studio with him. I was like, ‘Of course I want to go to the studio! I love The Beatnuts!’ When we got to the studio they really showed me so much love and were like ‘Yo! You wanna be on the album?’ I’m like, ‘Of course! You’re the epitome of that raunchy, hardcore Hip-Hop, I love that s**t!’ (laughs) So straight away I got on the track and did my thing. It’s moments like that and the ones I mentioned with Pun and Big L that were pivotal in me doing what I do today.”

When you look at crews such as the Juice Crew, Wu-Tang and D.I.T.C. it seemed as if everyone was pushing each other to elevate their craft because there was so much talent within each camp and nobody wanted to be the emcee that fans weren’t feeling as much. Nowadays, it seems like many artists are happy to be mediocre and because that seems to be the general standard rappers aren’t really inspiring each other to step their game up anymore…

“You’re right and unfortunately that’s just how it is nowadays where a lot of emcees really aren’t pushing themselves to keep their skills sharp. But if the overall standard is low then the bar that people feel they need to compete with is also very low. But that’s why it’s good that you still have crews out there in the mainstream like Slaughterhouse and even the members of The Lox who are still showing that you do have to keep that bar raised. I mean, when I joined forces with D-Flow and Gage to form Barbury’N, in my mind I was thinking that those are the kind of crews that we’d be competing with, so we couldn’t come with any bulls**t. So all three of us knew individually that we each had to bring our best to the table. If you’ve made some bulls**t, you’ve got no-one else to blame but yourself. I mean, a lot of artists have a lot of ‘yes’ men in the studio with them telling them their verses are crazy when they’re more likely the worst thing they’ve ever done. We don’t have anybody like that around us in the studio. I mean, even if we think something sounds finished, someone like Show might come into the session and tell us the hook on a track doesn’t sound as strong as it could and needs doing over. So we’ll do the hook again. I mean, when I’m writing my rhymes, I’ll read them over and maybe pick up on a certain word that sounds okay, but then I think I could go further into my brain and pull out a better choice of word for what I’m trying to say. So I’m always pushing myself. But it’s not like that with a lot of emcees nowadays, they’ll write something real quick and be like ‘That’s cool. That’s good enough.’ I could never be like that with my rhymes. My whole thing is about being descriptive with it to the point where if a blind person was sitting down listening to my music they would be able to see everything I’m talking about in their mind through my rhymes and really picture it. People need to get back to really putting effort into their lyrics.”

Do you think part of the reason why some emcees don’t put that sort of effort into their rhymes today is because music is viewed by many as disposable now with downloading etc so artists don’t even expect people to be listening to a track or album for a long period of time?

“You’re right because a lot of artists today aren’t trying to make music with longevity in mind because everything now moves so fast. But that’s why, although my music might come in installments rather than a constant stream, I try to make sure that each installment is worthy of praise. I really zone out with my rhymes and I always like to really make sure there’s a marriage between what I’m saying and the music. I just try to bless it correctly and only when I feel that I’ve done that will I present it to the masses.”

Radio has always played a massive part in the New York Hip-Hop scene but in recent years a huge gap seems to have appeared between what’s being played on stations like Hot 97 and what people are actually listening to on the street. How much influence do you feel radio still has in NYC?

“It’s been said before, but if you turn on the radio in New York you’d think you were down South somewhere (laughs). It’s wild. I mean, God bless everyone from wherever they’re at, because every location has had their own struggles to get where they are as far as Hip-Hop is concerned. But now that the radio sounds the way it does, a lot of New York rappers feel they have to transform their sound and emulate what’s being played and that’s where everything starts to go wrong because instead of being originators we’re being followers. It’s a strange time.”

That must really be a bitter pill to swallow though for artists who’re making quality, traditional East Coast Hip-Hop to not get that hometown support from certain radio stations?

“But that’s what happens when it becomes a job to people and the politics become involved along with all the bread and under-handed stuff that goes on to make sure certain records get played. You know how the industry is. But that’s why it’s important to just keep pumping them and building your buzz, playing the game a little and getting those visuals out there for people to bite on, and then it gets to a point where the people at those radio stations have to pay attention to what you’re doing and have to support you. So aside from dropping fly, quality music you also have to show that you’ve got just as much drive and initiative as these other dudes that are coming up with mediocre music.”

Switching the subject, you mentioned earlier that you’re producing beats now…

“I thank God that I’ve acquired the ability to make quality beats. I think when you hear them you’ll flip out Ryan, like ‘Oh s**t! That’s alright. I love how he chopped that up!’ (laughs) I’m chopping samples up like a savage and Show is listening to my beats like, ‘This is crazy! That’s my man!’ (laughs) So I feel great that I’m honing in on that and really coming up with some quality beats.”

Was production something that you always intended to get involved with or did it happen by chance?

“It was always something that I wanted to get into when I had the opportunity. I had a very musical family, with my mother, my father, God bless the dead, and my brother. My father was always into his jazz, so I was hearing a lot of Thelonious Monk and music from greats like that. My brother was all about early Hip-Hop, so I was hearing all the original classics and breakbeats. Then my mother, who’s Spanish, she was listening to all the merengue, the Fania All-Stars, Hector Lavoe and all of them. So that being said, I always had rhythms and sounds in my head, so from early on I was bringing tracks that I wanted to sample to Show and asking him if he could listen to it, do what he do and chop it up for me. But while he was doing that, I was in there watching everything that he was doing and learning how to use the equipment. So it was a natural progression from me knowing what samples I wanted to use, to me actually taking those samples myself and getting it done.”

I’m guessing that Showbiz must have been quite a hard mentor when you were asking for feedback with him knowing you’d be coming out telling people he played a part in schooling you on making beats?

“Yeah, man, for real (laughs). I really took it seriously though and just really watched everything he did. Being around Lord Finesse was a huge help as well, because you know that Finesse is a master when it comes to these beats. I was in the studio watching how Finesse rock out, I was watching how Diamond D bang out his stuff, watching how Ahmed would chop stuff up. I was just in there like a quiet apprentice taking it all in, watching and learning.”

Now that you’re familiar with the production process, has that changed the way you listen to other producer’s beats when people who might want to collaborate send you tracks etc?

“Now, I would probably have to hear something that I think is out of this world because sometimes now dudes will play me beats and I’ll be like, ‘Well, I could’ve made that myself.’ So I’m not going to take a beat from someone that I could’ve done myself. It would have to be something that I think is really crazy. I get a lot of emails from dudes sending me beats and most of them will be something that’s trying to sound like a beat Showbiz or DJ Premier would make. If I want someone to make me a beat that sounds like Show or Premier, I’ll just go get it from them (laughs). But working on my own beats has definitely given me an insight, so I pick up on different things now when I’m listening to beats from outside producers and I can tell whether it was a slap-dash five minute job or if someone has really put their time in on a track.”

Getting back to the lyrics, do you have a particular creative process you go through when writing rhymes?

“Usually, during the day I’ll be out walking in the street, picking my son up, reading the newspaper, hearing conversations, and mentally I’m collecting thoughts and words all day. Then I’ll sit down at night and start putting things together. Maybe a particular word I heard that day might spark a thought, or something I’ve seen, and I’ll just sit and start zoning and creating a rhyme based around that. If I have a particular beat that I’m trying to write to, I’ll be putting rhymes together in my head during the day, thinking of things, and then when I get home I’ll jot it all down and start putting it down. I can pretty much write anywhere though. I’m not one of these dudes who can only write in the studio or something like that. I just kind of go inside myself.  If I was in some small West African village, I could just zone out and write. If I was in Siberia somewhere, I could still write (laughs). As long as I’m peaceful and calm, I can zone out and come up with something.”

You’ve definitely always been an emcee that you really have to sit down and listen to because you pack so much into your verses. You seem to have a real skill for using the streets as the context for your rhymes but then you take the listener outside of that world and give some real food for thought that’s universal and not just relevant to people living that street life…

“I’ve learned that sometimes you can go to far with it and go over someone’s head so it’s not about clubbin’ people over the head with some scholarly s**t all the time, it’s about achieving a balance in your writing so that anyone can take something from it. The thing is, when I was growing-up on my block, I wasn’t selling crack as a teenager or bustin’ guns, but that was around me. So when I started rhyming, I couldn’t say that I was doing that, so the challenge to me was to incorporate what I was seeing in my environment and write about it correctly so that I would still be respected for being street-wise and the streets would still feel me. So I came at it from a different angle just trying to be descriptive, breaking everything down so that when you listened to my music I was taking you for a walk through my environment and you would be able to see everything that goes on there. From a rat running across the street, to someone looking out their window seeing what’s going on, to someone stood on the corner doing their thing. But at the same time, I was no fool, I went to school, I studied English and things of that nature, so I still wanted to give people that proper grammar and then flip it back to the streets. I felt that if I could incorporate all of those elements in my rhymes, then I would really have something. Then once I really started to work at it I really started to move into my own zone and come with my own style that had that balance.”

Unfortunately a lot of emcees today aren’t trying to achieve that same balance though, it’s about style over substance and flow over content. In my opinion, to be considered a great emcee you of course have to have your own style and be nice with your delivery, but on top of just sounding good what you’re actually saying also has to have some substance beyond just being words that rhyme…

“Exactly, and I always bring it back to me being around some of the top emcees in the game early in my career because that was something that I learnt from them. I mean, do you remember when Big L dropped “Ebonics”? That was crazy! Those rhymes sounded incredible but there was also so much thought that went into them. So from early on, I was thinking ‘Okay, this is the level of quality that I have to maintain.’ If you played a lot of Pun’s rhymes from back then today, he could still take out a whole crew with just one verse because he used to pack so much in there with his flow, the imagery he’d use and his punchlines.”

It’s funny you should say that as I was just listening to Fat Joe’s second album the other day from 1995 and when Pun dropped his “Snatch the moon out the sky and blow the sun away” rhyme on “Watch Out” I was thinking the same thing…

“Yeah, I remember that rhyme, that was when he was still known as Moon Dog. But you can hear the hunger in that verse and that’s the way I was approaching my rhymes back then as well because it was always a dream for me to come out but I just never knew when it was going to happen. So I was always trying to write rhymes that went beyond the time I was in that I felt would still carry an impact in years to come, and that’s still how I approach what I do today.”

So what are the plans for 2012?

“We just finished the artwork on “The Constantine Tapes” which is going to be a mixtape with about ten or twelve songs. I’m also looking to finally drop that “Blvd Author” project and we got the Barbury’N album coming after the mixtape. So we’re definitely looking to get our brand out there and I’m also working with a partner of mine to get our own label Fiyah Sounds up and running. So for 2012 I’m just looking to be wherever I need to be to get the ball rolling and let people know that I’m still out here with quality music.”

Ryan Proctor

Barbury’N – “Living At Still” (Mugshot Music / 2011)

It Must Be Magic – Milano

D.I.T.C. affiliate Milano drops this “Magic Freestyle” in preparation for the forthcoming Barbury’N mixtape coming early 2012.

The Hurt Locker Mixtape – Milano

Download Diggin’ In The Crates affiliate Milano’s new mixtape here.

New Joint – The P Brothers / Milano

The P Brothers ft. Milano – “Digital B-Boy” ( Heavy Bronx / 2008 )

Taken from the Nottingham-based production duo’s long-awaited album “The Gas”.

Hip-Hop Single Reviews (Originally Printed In IDJ / Mr Scruff Cover / October 2008)

Hip-Hop Single Reviews By Ryan Proctor

M9 – “Strange Fruit” ( Dark Matter / Kilamanjaro )

Fresh from the recent underground success of Triple Darkness’s ‘Anathema’ album, London word warrior M9 is striking out on his own with this potent example of powerful street reportage from his forthcoming solo offering ‘144,000’. The darkly hypnotic production from Jon Phonics is the perfect match for M9’s raw portrayal of inner-city life, as the gifted lyricist attempts to elevate the council estate of mind of those around him with dense metaphors and a passionate plea to stop the violence. 4 / 5

Skreintax ft. Graziella – “Breathe” ( Dented )

This is one of those tunes that puts a smile on your face and reaffirms your faith in the ability of artists to create truly heartfelt music in today’s stifled creative climate. The first single from Skrein and Dr. Syntax’s forthcoming collaborative long-player, ‘Breathe’ is a mellow head-nodder that delivers on all fronts. Over impeccable production, the pair touch on everything from environmental issues and teenage pregnancies to predictable radio playlists. If you’re not feeling this then you really need to question your sanity. 5 / 5

Million Dan – “Inner City Got Plenty Cases” ( Million Dappa / Hip-Hop Village )

Lifted from his critically-acclaimed album ‘Spektrum’, this latest single from the Dan man finds the former Demon Boyz member abandoning the club vibes of previous releases in favour of a more melodic sound. Utilizing a vintage soul sample, Million warns of the perils of ghetto living in a sincere tone without being overly preachy. Could be big on radio with the right push.  4 / 5

The P Brothers ft. Milano – “Digital B-Boy” ( Heavy Bronx )

As seasoned purveyors of uncut boom-bap bliss, Nottingham’s P Brothers can always be counted on to supply true-school die-hards with their hip-hop vitamins. This sparse collaboration with NYC’s Milano is yet another example of Paul S and DJ Ivory’s ability to create music that’s firmly rooted in rap’s early traditions without sounding dated or cliché. Knocking beats, crashing cymbals, twisted synths and colourfully inventive rhymes make this a certified new-school banger with an old-school twist. Essential.  5 / 5

The Alchemist ft. Evidence – “Calmly Smoke” ( ALC )

Taken from Al’s recent ‘Cutting Room Floor 2’ compilation, this moody tribute to blazing up bags of that sticky icky injects new life into its tried-and-tested subject matter thanks to both the Mobb Deep affiliate’s subtle production touches and some stoned-yet-skilful rhymes from Evidence of Dilated Peoples. Just remember, take two and pass. 3 / 5

The Lox ft. Bully – “Cocaine Music” ( White Label )

When it comes to hard-edged East Coast gangsta rap, few have been as consistent as NY’s Lox crew. Having always maintained a level of lyricism head-and-shoulders above many of their block-huggin’ peers, Jadakiss, Sheek Louch and Styles P might not necessarily be saying anything new, but they do say it with style and flair. ‘Cocaine Music’ continues that trend as the trio drop their usual street-related rhymes with a heavy dose of likeable arrogance over a tense, piano-led track. 3 / 5

Cubbiebear – “The Hulk” ( The Rape )

Sure to appeal to fans of underground acts such as Aesop Rock and El-P, this leftfield cut from rising Baltimore-based MC Cubbiebear is a scathing, sarcasm-packed critique of today’s hip-hop scene, with fake gangstas, unskilled rappers and record labels all taking some serious lyrical blows. The track’s disjointed, chaotic production doesn’t make for easy listening, but this is a definite grower. 3 / 5

Danny Spice – “Down & Out” ( Cog )

A nice jazzy bubbler produced by “the man with the golden sound” Lewis Parker, ‘Down & Out’ finds UK wordsmith Danny Spice encouraging listeners to “take the positive from every situation” as he offers words of wisdom to those caught up in the downward spiral of day-to-day life. Aided by an undeniably catchy hook, Spice’s latest offering shines thanks to its genuine feel-good factor. 3 / 5