Tag Archives: Reform School Music

100 Best Albums & EPs Of 2015 (Part One) – Triple Darkness / Sadat X / J-Live etc.

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It’s hard to believe, but even with the amount of quality releases that dropped throughout 2015, there are still people claiming that there isn’t any worthwhile or memorable Hip-Hop being made today.

I’ve always found that way of thinking frustrating, as there has never been a time when there wasn’t good music to be found, but in recent years that argument has become increasingly redundant due to the ever-growing number of talented emcees, deejays and producers out there who’re consistently delivering the goods.

Of course, in today’s digital age, there will always be a huge amount of sub-par material being regularly pumped out via popular platforms such as BandCamp and YouTube, and the mainstream, for the most part, continues to promote the same shallow, one-dimensional rap that it always has done.

But that being said, if you genuinely feel there isn’t anything out there for you as a fan of Hip-Hop, the problem isn’t necessarily with the music, the issue is with those same fans not listening and looking hard enough when it comes to new material.

As I always say when I put these year-end pieces together, the albums and EPs included here aren’t the only releases that were worthy of attention, but this list does reflect what stayed in heavy rotation for me personally.

So, in no particular order, here are the artists and projects that made my speakers thump throughout 2015…

Triple Darkness – “Darker Than Black” (KingUnderground / Suspect Packages) – Cementing their reputation as one of the most talented crews in Hip-Hop, this album from London’s Triple Darkness was a brilliantly-crafted hardcore masterpiece. With group members such as Melanin 9, Cyrus Malachi and Ray Vendetta spitting sharp lyrical darts over gloriously uncompromising production from the likes of Ringz Ov Saturn and 7th Dan, “Darker Than Black” was a shining example of intelligent, underground Hip-Hop at its very best.

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Lord Hakim – “Born With A Determined Idea” (LordHakim.BandCamp.Com) – Following in the footsteps of Rakim, Lakim Shabazz and Brand Nubian, Columbus, Ohio wordsmith Lord Hakim proudly repped for the Five Percent Nation throughout this self-produced album, dropping science on the everyday struggle with both passion and insight. Peace to the Gods!

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The Cornel West Theory – “Coming From The Bottom” (TheCornelWestTheory.BandCamp.Com) – Hailing from Washington DC, The Cornel West Theory delivered an instense, no-holds-barred listening experience with this lengthy album. Showcasing the group’s thoughts on politics, race and Hip-Hop in 2015 America, “Coming From The Bottom” channeled the spirit of late-80s Public Enemy and BDP, whilst clearly standing strong as a product of the present day.

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Big Toast – “The Wedding Fund LP” (Revorg Records) – So you’ve proposed to your significant other, your pockets are flat not fat, and now you have a wedding to plan for. What do you do?  In the case of UK emcee Big Toast, you hit the studio and release a dope album to raise cash for your big event. Combining the London lyricist’s blunt, working-class worldview and dry humour with quality production from Sam Zircon, Strange Neighbour and Ill Move Sporadic, “The Wedding Fund LP” was guaranteed to hit the spot both in sickness and in health.

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Sadat X – “Never Left” (Loyalty Digital Corp) – The Brand Nubian member proved yet again why he’s considered one of the game’s most timeless artists on his eighth full-length solo project. Steeped in NY pride and featuring appearances from Cormega, Craig G and Black Sheep’s Dres, “Never Left” found the Wild Cowboy drawing on both industry and personal experiences to craft an album that resonated with traditional Rotten Apple flavour.

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Paul Nice & Phill Most Chill – “The Fabreeze Brothers” (AE Productions) – If you came-up listening to Hip-Hop in the 80s, still insist on matching your sneakers with your outfit, and regularly use slang like ‘fresh’ and ‘fly’, then this collabo album from NY’s Paul Nice and Illadelphia’s Phill Most Chill was made with you in mind. Capturing the excitement and purity of old-school Hip-Hop with an infectious passion, the pair succeeded in their mission to pay tribute to the foundations of the culture whilst still bringing something unique to the table. Warning – this album should only be listened to whilst standing in a b-boy stance.

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Oliver Sudden – “Phenomenaler Steaz” (BoomBapPro.Com) – Straight outta Croydon, South London (aka The Cronx), the talented Sudden utilised his understated, deadpan delivery to great effect on this aptly-titled project, spitting true-school sentiments over top-drawer production from the likes of Giallo Point, Sam Zircon and Downstroke.

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Flip – “Reflections” (Ill Adrenaline Records) – With a sound rooted in golden-era boom-bap and mixed with soulful sensibilities, veteran Austrian producer Flip called on heavyweight emcees such as DITC’s AG, Detroit’s Phat Kat and Wu-Tang affiliate Killah Priest to bless his well-crafted soundscapes on this cohesive package of underground flavour.

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The Four Owls – “Natural Order” (High Focus Records) – Showing off their impressive lyrical wingspans once again, Verb T, Fliptrix, Leaf Dog and BVA collectively swooped down on the UK Hip-Hop scene for a second time with their sophomore crew album, gaining production support from none other than Gang Starr legend DJ Premier and reducing the so-called competition to mere bird seed in the process.

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Large Professor – “Re:Living” (Fat Beats) – Whilst the term ‘legend’ perhaps gets thrown around a little too easily nowadays, self-proclaimed live-guy-with-glasses Extra P is an individual truly deserving of the title. Having had an impact on 90s Hip-Hop that is still being felt today, the Queens, NY resident came correct in 2015, proving ain’t a damn thing changed but the year. With an approach to his craft that remains untainted and uninfluenced by rap’s mainstream circus, Large Pro’s “Re:Living” showcased the sound of an artist who really keeps it real…to himself.

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Supastition – “Gold Standard” (Reform School Music) – One of the most consistent emcees of the new millennium, the career of North Carolina-raised lyricist Supastition has undoubtedly contained its fair share of ups-and-downs. Yet throughout, Supa has maintained his honesty and integrity, making music that resonates with fans who are looking for Hip-Hop they can relate to. “Gold Standard” most definitely continued that tradition. Featuring beats from Praise, MoSS and Jonny Cuba, this album found the newest Soundsci member once again dealing with everyday issues, whilst also taking the opportunity to indulge in some good ol’-fashioned braggin’ and boastin’.

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DJ Soko – “Domino Effect” (Left Of Center) – Pulling together an impressive array of talent which included Guilty Simpson, Apollo Brown and Rasheed Chappell, Michigan native Soko’s debut project was a robust, speaker-rattling collection of thunderground excellence which avoided the hit-and-miss pitfalls of similar compilation-style releases.

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Definite Mass – “Soul Caliber” (Manifest Recordings) – Living up to its title both musically and lyrically, this gem of an album found West Coast wordsmith Definite Mass delivering personal and sincere verses over melodic boom-bap beats, with the likes of Blu and Supreme Cerebral passing by to offer microphone assistance.

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Kaimbr – “Bronze Horse” (Kaimbr.BandCamp.Com) – Maryland resident Kaimbr paid homage to Staten Island’s mighty Wu-Tang on this brilliantly-executed concept album, with the Low Budget crew member transforming into his alter-ego Wu Kaim to practice his well-honed microphone martial arts over dusty, Shaolin soul samples.

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White Mic – “Do It How You Wanna Do It” (Solidarity Records) – A distinctly personal collection of beats and rhymes, Bored Stiff member White Mic’s “Do It…” found the Cali-based emcee celebrating Hip-Hop’s potential to inspire and motivate, pouring his own life experiences into his music with memorable and emotionally-charged results.

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AKD & Deepstar – “Universal Language” (Monad Records) – Seeking to demonstrate the power Hip-Hop has to speak to people from all walks of life, UK emcee Arise King David and Australian producer Deepstar called on the likes of Rapsody, DJ Rob Swift and Phoenix Da Icefire to help make their point, resulting in an overall uplifting listening experience grounded in golden-era sonic values.

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J-Live – “His Own Self” (Mortier Music) – Since his mid-90s debut as part of the NY indie scene, the now Atlanta-based J-Live has consistently released intelligent, creative Hip-Hop, with the veteran wordsmith never afraid to show both artistic and personal growth in his music. “His Own Self”, the first of Live’s two full-length 2015 releases, continued to follow that pattern. Entirely self-produced and with no guest appearances, this album found the talented artist covering a variety of topics, ranging from personal finances (“Old S**t”) and teenage memories (“Red & The Kid”) to America’s racial climate (“I Am A Man”).

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DJ Wally Pish Posh & T.R.A.C. – “Operation: Revibe” (DJWallyPishPosh.BandCamp.Com) – With a grand plan to “set Hip-Hop back on its path to greatness”, NY duo Pish Posh and T.R.A.C. definitely went some way to achieving their goal with this pure, organic demonstration of the pair’s shared love and appreciation of Hip-Hop culture. Determined to provide listeners with a healthy musical alternative to the shallow waters of the mainstream, this producer / emcee combo definitely brought the best out of each other throughout this release.

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Blak Twang & Blackmale Beats – “The Pantheon EP” – Embracing his elder statesman status within the UK Hip-Hop scene, homegrown legend Tony Rotten teamed-up with London production outfit Blackmale Beats for this stirring six-track release. Whether dealing with social issues (“Elevation”),  recounting personal dramas (“Highs & Lows”) or reliving Hip-Hop memories (“Classiq Moments”), Twang’s authoritative verses were given even greater impact thanks to Blackmale’s ability to match the lyrical content on offer here with just the right musical tone and mood. Rottonous, indeed.

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80’s Babies – “Searching For Happy” (DeeJackson80sBabies.BandCamp.Com) – Detroit-raised producer Tall Black Guy joined forces with Chicago emcee Dee Jackson to deliver music for your mind, body and soul throughout “Searching For Happy”, an album that found the duo respectfully drawing on the passion and creative integrity of golden-era Hip-Hop, whilst proudly carving out their own unique sonic niche in today’s rap game.

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Part Two coming soon.

100 Best Albums & EPs Of 2014 (Part Three) – Blueprint / Essa / Timeless Truth etc.

Check Part One and Part Two.

Blueprint – “Respect The Architect” (Weightless Recordings) – Responsible for releasing a steady stream of quality music over the last decade-plus, Ohio producer-on-the-mic Blueprint channeled his life experiences, both good and bad, into this emotionally-charged body of work. Capturing a variety of moods and thoughts, Blueprint moved seamlessly throughout this album, from moments of powerful reflection to striking artistic defiance. Genuine soul music.

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Skanks – “The Shinigami Flowfessional” (Shinigamie Records) – Spreading love may well be the Brooklyn way as Biggie once said, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be delivered with a heavy dose of rawness, as evidenced by NY emcee Skanks’ impressive solo project. Backed by the rugged, thunder-clap production of France’s Kyo Itachi, the Bankai Fam member repped for both the streets of his Crooklyn stomping grounds and the culture of Hip-Hop with equal parts passion, aggression and determination. How about some hardcore?

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Wu-Tang Clan – “A Better Tomorrow” (Warner Brothers) – At one point it looked like “A Better Tomorrow” wasn’t likely to see the light of day, with there being discord within the Clan regarding RZA’s creative direction for the project. Yet, the brothers from the slums of Shaolin managed to find some musical middle ground. For the most part, this 20th anniversary album effectively balanced the Abbot’s grand ideas with traditional Wu-Tang slang, showcasing the still-impressive verbal skills of each member and also including some poignant rhymes for our troubled times.

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Dilated Peoples – “Directors Of Photography” (Rhymesayers Entertainment) – Viewing the world through a camera lens on their first group project since 2006, West Coast trio Evidence, Rakaa Iriscience and DJ Babu added more worthy sonic snapshots to their extensive musical photo album, which now spans almost two decades. With “Directors Of Photography”, the crew showcased their creative growth whilst remaining faithful to their underground Hip-Hop roots set in the 90s indie scene.

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Giallo Point & SmooVth – “Portrait Of A Pimp” (Crate Divizion) – SmooVth by name, smooth by nature, the Strong Island lyricist plundered UK producer Giallo Point’s beat stash for this sublime, low-key lesson in minimalist magic. Weaving subtle-yet-vivid rhymes around exquisite beats that ranged from cool-breeze loops to 70s soundtrack-style drama, SmooVth used his calm-but-deadly delivery to draw the listener into a cinematic world of fine women, fast living and slick street tales.

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Eff Yoo & Godilla – “They Came On Horseback” (Eff Yoo & Godilla) – Riding into town from the high plains of NYC and Pennsylvania respectively, mic-slingers Eff Yoo and Godilla stood as outlaws against Hip-Hop’s diluted mainstream, crafting an album for those who still appreciate genuine lyricism. Joined on their musical travels by the likes of Spit Gemz, Shabaam Sahdeeq and UG of the Cella Dwellas, this rough-and-ready posse made their way through the badlands of rap, inviting like-minded heads to ride alongside them. Saddle up!

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Lord Finesse – “The SP1200 Project” (Slice-Of-Spice) – The Diggin’ In The Crates legend unleashed a mammoth selection of masterful, sample-based beats on this brilliant instrumental project. Capturing the timeless essence of classic golden-era Hip-Hop, Finesse demonstrated why his reputation as one of the game’s illest producers remains firmly intact to this day.

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Essa – “The Misadventures Of A Middle Man” (First Word Records) – London’s Essa (formerly known as Yungun) is the perfect example of an emcee who has really kept it real over the years in the truest sense of the term. Having displayed consistent artistic growth, integrity and honesty since debuting in the early-2000s, this long-awaited album found Essa delivering expertly-written verses over a varied selection of musical flavours, from futuristic soul and afro-beat to traditional, drum-heavy Hip-Hop. Capturing Essa’s thoughts on topics such as his mixed-race heritage, religion and family, “The Misadventures…” offered insight into the world of an artist with a sharp mind and an equally sharp lyrical ability.

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Diamond District – “March On Washington” (Mello Music Group) – Successfully achieving the delicate balancing act of pushing creative boundaries whilst still satisfying original fans, DMV trio Oddisee, yU and Uptown XO’s follow-up to their 2009 album “In The Ruff” demonstrated both musical growth and a deeper lyrical approach. Spring-boarding off of Oddisee’s ever-expanding production palette, the group crafted a now-school album with influences that could be traced back to 70s soul and 90s Hip-Hop.

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K-9 – “The Re-Education Of King 9” (Rotton Products) – This self-produced album from London emcee K-9 is what KRS-One would no doubt describe as ‘edutainment’. Proudly displaying a strong reggae influence rooted in old-school sound-system culture, K-9 also drew heavily on his West Indian ancestry as he linked the social plight faced by many inner-city British Black Black youth to the experiences of older generations arriving in England in the late-40s and after. Tackling racism, injustice and colonialism, “The Re-Education Of…” is as much a history lesson as it is a snapshot of present-day Britain. Intelligent, entertaining and engaging. Overstand!

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Golden Brown Sound – “The Great Man Theory” (GBS) – Claiming to be bringing ’88 back, “not the place and time, but the state of mind”, Boston duo NoDoz and DJ On & On succeeded in crafting an album that, like so many golden-era favourites of yesteryear, was recorded with the intention of being valued and embraced by the Hip-Hop Nation first and foremost. NoDoz’s passionate social commentary and life observations sat tightly over On & On’s pounding production, resulting  in “The Great Man Theory” being a combustible mix of mental stimulation, energy and true skills.

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Various Artists – “Jamla Is The Squad” (Jamla Records) – With Statik Selektah on the ones-and-twos, this mixtape-style compilation of Jamla artists and allies showcased just how much talent is affiliated with the 9th Wonder-helmed label. Featuring the likes of Big Remo, Rapsody and GQ delivering expert wordplay over the soul-drenched boom-bap of Khrysis, Eric G and 9th himself, this album proved, as Busta Rhymes mighty say,  that Jamla really is the squid-aud!

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Keith Science – “Hypothalamus” (Central Wax Records) – Following up 2012’s impressive “Vessels Of Thought Volume II”, New Jersey producer Keith Science unlocked his lab to present this collection of atmospheric instrumentals. Ranging from mesmerising, late-night-flavoured beats, to sparse, neck-snapping rhyme-ready tracks, with “Hypothalamus” Science proved himself to be a true master of the sampling arts.

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Ray Vendetta & Greater Good – “Effortless” (GreaterGoodBeats.BandCamp.Com) – A member of talented UK collective Triple Darkness, London emcee Ray Vendetta stepped outside of crew ranks to drop this dope solo project. Combining life memories, positive sentiments and raw imagery with the hazy, head-nodding production of Greater Good,  “Effortless” was a hypnotic, and at times haunting listening experience, which stayed with you long after the last track faded away.

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Sonnyjim & Leaf Dog – “How To Tame Lions” (EatGood Records) –  Collaborations between particular emcees and producers may look good on paper, but don’t always translate well once both parties are in the studio. When done right, however, the final results can be a match made in Hip-Hop heaven, like this EP from Birmingham emcee Sonnyjim and High Focus Records production wizard Leaf Dog. Meshing colourful wordplay and rewind-worthy punchlines with sublime beats, the pair displayed a natural chemistry throughout “How To Tame Lions” which, hopefully, will be heard again on future releases.

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Von Poe VII – “Only Godz Relate” (Organized Threat) – An ambitious project of epic proportions, this thirty-track double-album from West Coast emcee Von Poe found the skilled artist unleashing intricate verses laced with socially conscious sentiments, street knowledge and a strong sense of cultural pride. Linking with equally talented wordsmiths such as Planet Asia and the UK’s Melanin 9, Poe also demonstrated a sharp ear for quality production, with “Only Godz Relate” possessing a strong sonic identity thanks to the ominous, piano-laced soundscapes of Saheed Sha, Endure and Faces. Peace to the Godz!

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Creestal – “Difference” (Munchie Records) – French producer Creestal’s instrumental project “Difference” (a dedication to the “dark and rugged” aspects of America) offered listeners a captivating sonic journey which conjured up images of New York City project buildings, late-night street-corner drama and lost record collections rediscovered in dusty basements. Meticulously pieced together from a variety of random sample material, “Difference” was as unpredictable as it was enjoyable.

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Timeless Truth – “Dominican Diner” (TimelessTruthNYC.Com) – Building on the strong foundations of their previous releases and continuing to carry on tradition, blood-related “Queens giants” Oprime39 and Superbad Solace repped proudly for their NY borough throughout “Dominican Diner”, accompanied by atmospheric production from the talented Fafu. Staying true to the golden-era codes and ethics of Rotten Apple Hip-Hop, Oprime and Solace respectfully paid homage to the NYC sound that raised them whilst making their own worthwhile contribution to the city’s rap legacy.

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Supastition – “Honest Living” (Reform School Music) – Written during a period in when North Carolina-raised, ATL-based lyricist Supastition found himself unemployed and looking for a j-o-b in an unsteady US economy, “Honest Living” was working-class Hip-Hop capable of resonating with anyone struggling to make-ends-meet and provide for their family. Backed by the melodic boom-bap of German producer Croup, Supa provided the perfect soundtrack for everyone out there counting down to payday every month.

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Jazz Spastiks – “The Product” (JazzPlastik) – UK production duo Coconut Delight and Mr. Manayana delivered a flawless album with “The Product”, a thoroughly-satisfying, head-nodding extravaganza which found the pair supplying the likes of Yesh, Apani B. Fly and Count Bass D with their classic brand of jazz-infused beats. Smooth horn samples, huge basslines and dreamy keys were the order of the day here, resulting in a warm, timeless listening experience.

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Part Four coming soon. 

New Joint – Supastition

Supastition – “Nothing Like It” (@Supastition_NC / 2014)

Motivational vibes from the North Carolina-raised emcee’s recent Croup-produced EP “Honest Living”.

Check my recent interview with Supastition here.

Old To The New Q&A – Supastition

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A true veteran of the underground Hip-Hop scene, North Carolina’s Supastition is no stranger to the ups and downs of the independent music world, having experienced a career which has seen him cross paths with reputable labels such as Rawkus and Okayplayer, whilst also sharing mic time on wax with the likes of KRS-One, Little Brother and Elzhi.

With his debut 2002 album “7 Years Of Bad Luck” introducing listeners to a raw, battle-ready lyricist, subsequent releases such as “Chain Letters” and “Leave Of Absence” found Supastition confidently carving out his own niche in the market, combining his uncompromising verses with production from the likes of Illmind, Jake One and Foreign Exchange’s Nicolay.

In 2008, Supa surprised many long-standing fans by deciding to step away from his original rap moniker, choosing instead to release his “Self-Centered” EP and subsequent “Splitting Image” album under his real name of Kam Moye. With the reason for the decision being given, partially, as the then Charlotte-based emcee wanting to evolve as an artist, the name-change confused some listeners, resulting in the RBC Records-released “Splitting Image” receiving a mixed reception.

Having publicly retired from music in 2010 for personal reasons, the rapper’s 2013 comeback release “The Blackboard” was met with open-arms (and ears) by loyal supporters, with the EP not only showcasing the Southern emcee returning to his trademark boom-bap sound, but also reclaiming the Supastition name.

Setting off 2014 with the recent release of his “Honest Living” EP, produced entirely by Germany’s Croup, the consistently impressive wordsmith is back with a new game plan and a rejuvenated passion for his craft.

Here, Supastition discusses his reasons for once again picking up the mic, the power of perception and his recent move to Atlanta.

You announced your retirement from the rap game in 2010 after almost a decade of releasing music. What prompted you to return at the beginning of last year with your EP “The Blackboard”?

“When I first started doing music, I did it just for the love and for the passion of it. So when it became a job for me, that’s when I began to hate it. So when I took those years off and just worked a nine-to-five and got to see what it was like to have someone bring you your paycheck every month instead of you having to chase people for your paycheck, I was coming home everyday and was like, ‘Yo, I don’t know what non-music people do.’ So I would still record and write, but nobody was hearing it and I had no intentions of releasing anything. But the thing that really made me get back into, I basically just started over and fell in love with the music all over again. I kinda stayed off of internet websites in terms of looking at music reviews and comments and just spent time listening to music that I enjoyed. So I avoided getting caught up in all the bulls**t music that people would be promoting online and I just focused on listening to the music that I liked and that I could relate to. Also, I was listening to different instrumental albums from producers and that would inspire me to sit down and write. So it really just came down to me falling in love with the music again and having that feeling to actually want to write and record.”

So it was really a case of you re-igniting your love for music in general as much as it was about your own music?

“Yeah. Plus, during that time that I was off, I got a call from Stoupe who used to be in Jedi Mind Tricks, and he wanted to do an album. Now, Stoupe’s not really an internet guy and a year had gone by since I announced I was quitting the music industry and he had no idea (laughs). So he was sending me beats and I was like, ‘Damn! Do I break the news to this guy or do I just roll with it?’ So I rolled with it and we ended-up knocking out a whole album together. Then it was after we finished that album that I started working on the “Blackboard” EP. So it was a slow transition back into it and really I just missed recording music. But I realised that instead of trying to chase the dream, there were people out there already who wanted to hear my music, so I wanted to put music out for them, rather than trying to chase the fans that everyone else has or focusing on trying to gain new fans. So I went into recording “The Blackboard” looking to make music for those people that had already been supporting me and really wanting to please them.”

Was it almost a liberating experience to cut yourself off from the internet for awhile and enjoy music the old-fashioned way again?

“Instead of following the hype that people would put out on Twitter or on their blogs, I would go into record stores and see that someone had a new album out. I would pick up the album, open up the CD and just ride around the city before I got home just listening to the whole album. I mean, when something new comes out now it almost get spoiled because of how it’s treated online. It’s almost like the difference between buying regular milk and soy milk (laughs). You buy regular milk and it only lasts you a matter of days, but you buy soy milk and that s**t will last you six months (laughs). So when I took that time off, I kinda stayed away from what was happening online because I feel that can spoil the music experience sometimes. So I went back to bumpin’ albums for like six months because I didn’t care about what was coming out every week and trying to keep up with everything. If I liked an album, then I was listening to it for six months because that’s the way that I used to do it when I would listen to an album like “Illmatic” for the whole summer after it dropped. So I really had to rediscover that feeling again.”

Prior to your retirement announcement, you’d released the “Splitting Image” album in 2009 under your real name Kam Moye. When we spoke at the time, you said the main reason for the name change was because you felt the music you were making then wasn’t as aggressive as the music people were used to hearing from you as Supasition so you almost felt trapped creatively by the expectations fans would have of any music you put out under that name. So with that in mind, why did you decide to still come back out as Supastition last year rather than Kam Moye?

“I guess with that, it was really more of a natural thing. I mean, the biggest problem I had with Supastition was that I never really knew what type of music people wanted out of me. I think the way I heard myself compared to how other people heard me was completely different. I mean, I’d look on some of these music sites like Pandora and it’d have a list of artists that were supposedly similar to what I did and I’d be like, ‘Yo! These guys aren’t like me!‘ But once I sat back and thought about how people heard me, I realised that they wanted music from me like they’d heard on “The Deadline” and “Chain Letters”. But with the Supastition / Kam Moye thing, at the time I did that, I really needed some type of  positivity in my life. I wasn’t surrounded by positive people at that point, so the only way I really knew how to bring out that element of positivity was through my music. So that kinda spurred me on to change the name and do the Kam Moye thing with the “Splitting Image” album. But since doing that I’ve learnt that I can have more of a balance, be Supastition and still make the type of songs that were on the “Splitting Image” album. I mean, if you listen to that album, the type of subject matter I was dealing with on there has been sprinkled throughout my albums since the beginning of my career. Even when I started recording under Kam Moye, people told me back then that it was all about perception and fans might not totally understand it. I mean, if McDonalds changed the name of the Big Mac tomorrow, there would be a million people that would say it just doesn’t taste the same (laughs). So I had to realise that perception is everything and people want to hear certain things from certain artists and I needed to come to grips with that.”

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In the years since you released “Splitting Image” you’ve been quite honest and open about the fact that you don’t think the album did necessarily connect with a lot of your core fan-base…

“I think that everything involved with it was just too much for people to digest at once. First of all there was the name change, then there was also a lot of features which I don’t think people were used to hearing on my albums. I’d never really had a lot of features on my albums, but when you get involved with labels they want features on your project to help it appeal to more people. So, it was almost like “Splitting Image” strayed away from everything that made me and I had to compromise with labels and distributors on guests. I mean, there was one guest in particular that I really didn’t want on the album and I had to fight with the label over it, but they were like, ‘Well, we’ve already paid for the feature so let’s put it on there anyway.’ I mean, when I go back and listen to that album, I do think it was a good album but it just wasn’t well-executed. I could have done it so much better. If you go back and listen to the Kam Moye “Self-Centered” EP that I put out in 2008, that’s what the “Splitting Image” album was supposed to sound like. But when you listen to the EP and the album back-to-back, they sound completely different, even though I was working with similar producers. But it was also a weird time for me to, because a lot of the producers I was working with like Illmind and M-Phazes started doing more non-sampled beats and that’s not the direction I wanted to go in. It was just a weird situation and too much for people to digest at once.”

Perhaps in years to come “Splitting Image” will become an album that people enjoy more in the wider context of your full discography?

“The comparison I use is that maybe one day people will look at it like Tribe’s “Beats, Rhymes And Life”. I mean, when I first heard “Beats, Rhymes And Life”, I didn’t really like it because it was so different to anything Tribe had done before. Consequence was on there and it had a different type of sound to their previous albums with the type of drums they were using. It was just hard for me to digest at the time. But now it’s probably one of my favourite Tribe albums (laughs). I mean, over the course of time, and as I’ve gotten older, it’s become one of those albums I can just put on, vibe out to and enjoy more now than I did when it first came out. So “Splitting Image” will hopefully become an album like that, with fans enjoying it more as time goes on”.

There was a line on the track “Indestructible” from last year’s “Blackboard” EP where you said how you “Never seem to please the elitists or the know-it-alls…” What inspired that particular lyric?

“Basically, when it comes to Hip-Hop purists, and I include myself in that, it’s very hard to please us. A lot of the things we say we want, when we get them, it’s still not enough (laughs). So that line was about me just continuing to do what I do, regardless. I mean, I’ve been making boom-bap music for the longest, but when it comes out, critics are going to give me a three-and-a-half no matter what (laughs). I know there will always be people out there who I can’t please, so I’m just going to make music for the fans who really enjoy what I do. Before, I used to really care about that and I wanted the purists and everyone to gravitate to my music, but it doesn’t always work out like that. I mean, there will always be people out there, especially online, who just like going against things and picking out what’s wrong. I always joke with a friend of mine, like, if Jesus was to return tomorrow there would be someone out there who would be talking about the fact he’s wearing sandals or they would have something to say about his robe (laughs). People find the weirdest things to complain about sometimes and are more likely to tell you what’s wrong with something before they tell you what they like about it.”

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What’s the concept behind your new “Honest Living” EP?

“At the time I’d stopped doing music, I’d been working at this one particular job for a couple of years. Y’know, going in everyday and just trying to be the best worker you can be, getting by. Then the company I was working for had lost a contract and so the entire operation was shut down and they were laying people off and all of that. I was just like, ‘Damn! This is almost like what I went through with music, with labels shutting down, distributors shutting down.’ So I was there thinking, ‘Where do I go from here?’ So anyway, everyone at my job got laid off, we were all unemployed, then shortly after that North Carolina became the first state in the US to cut federal benefits for unemployment. So you get a couple of weeks unemployment benefit and then that’s it. I was looking around and there were all these people who were out of work, then I’d watch the news and they were saying that employment was up! I’d be like, ‘I don’t know which jobs you’re checking.’ It was really hard to find a job at the time and that inspired me to sit down and write something because I felt I really needed to speak on this. I’d touched on working jobs in some of my songs before, but I really wanted to put something together for people who were going through it, people who were out there searching for jobs and people who’re working who feel under-appreciated at their jobs. So that’s basically what the “Honest Living” EP is about. Also, it’s almost like a warning to rappers, like, yo, you’re not always going to be on top. At some point, you might have to get a regular job and humble yourself, and that really takes a lot.”

It definitely seems like the gap between the haves and the have-nots in society is constantly shrinking. That comfortable, middle-class dream that people in our parents’ generation were sold is almost non-existent today…

“Me and my manager were recently discussing the same subject and we agreed that the middle-class has disappeared in everything. There’s really no middle-class with the economy, there’s no middle-class with music anymore, you’re either an independent unknown or a superstar (laughs). Nobody really cares about anybody in-between. It’s crazy how that’s happened.”

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Was there a particular reason why you chose to work exclusively with Germany’s Croup for the production on the new EP?

“I’ve had a lot of Croup beats over the years and as I started going through them I realised that I had more beats from Croup than probably any other producer I’ve worked with. So, I decided to record to a couple of them. Then I had rhymes that I’d recorded to some other beats but perhaps the production wasn’t really what I wanted. So I would send my vocals over to Croup and he’d remix it and literally create the music around my verses. We talked about it and I told him that I wanted a smooth, melodic vibe to the beats for this project. I mean, Croup has really proved himself to be a consistent producer and he’s been working with me since I put out “The Deadline” in 2004. He’s a humble guy and it’s real easy working with him. “Honest Living” is probably one of the most stress-free projects I’ve ever done and I definitely intend on continuing to work with Croup in the future. I love doing projects with just one producer. It’s almost like the difference between eating from a buffet or having a chef prepare something especially for you (laughs). That’s how I felt sometimes when I was working with bigger-name producers on some of my albums, you’d get to the buffet and everybody’s already taken all of the good stuff. So there I am at the buffet eating the macaroni and cheese when really I want some quality steak cooked exactly how I like it (laughs). I like having a producer tailor-make a beat for me and that’s how it was working with Croup on this new project.”

The production on the EP’s lead single “Eardrum” really reminded me of some vintage mid-90s Erick Sermon material with that warm bass, those melodic keys and the Redman vocal sample on the hook…

“Right, right. That’s what it reminded me of when I first heard it as well. I mean, when Croup sent me that beat I was like, ‘Hell yeah!’ It reminded me of a Redman / Erick Sermon joint off “Dare Iz A Darkside” or something like that. I was such a huge Hit Squad / Def Squad fan, so when I first heard that track I just thought it was perfect for me. I already liked the beat, but then when I heard that Redman sample on the hook, I was just like, ‘I’m going to murder this!’

Now that you’re balancing your working life with making music, do you feel you’re actually in a better creative space today than perhaps you were when you were concentrating on music full-time?

“I do. I mean, when I listen back to the music I’ve put out over the years, I think I recorded some of my best material when I was still out working before I was able to really start making a living off of music. There’s something about that struggle that gives me a certain edge and certain type of inspiration. It’s almost like when you listen to someone like an Eminem. I mean, to me, some of his best music was made when he was struggling. But then it’s gets to a point where it’s a case of how long can you rap about struggling when you’re not actually struggling anymore? I mean, when I started doing music full-time, I was travelling the world experiencing all these different things, so it was hard for me to go back and write the same type of music that I had been making. I was still getting inspiration, but it was a different type of inspiration. I mean, your mentality is definitely different when you’re relying on music full-time. Whilst recording this “Honest Living” project, going to work everyday and doing what I had to do, I could just make one hundred percent pure music and be okay knowing that whoever felt the music would gravitate towards it and support it, and if people didn’t like it then that was okay as well. When music is all you have to rely on, it’s easy to reach a point where you’re mentality is ‘If this album doesn’t sell then I’m screwed.’ I never wanted to get to that stage. I’m a dedicated father and a dedicated husband, and when you look at it, there aren’t too many happily married famous musicians (laughs). So with me, it actually feels better doing music on these terms because, like I said on the EP intro, when music is all you have, you can start doing a lot of things out of desperation. I got into music just because I wanted to make some dope s**t and that’s still how I feel about it.”

Was the job situation in North Carolina one of the biggest reasons for your recent family move to Atlanta?

“Yeah, that’s probably about ninety percent of the reason why we decided to move. There weren’t really a lot of job opportunities in North Carolina. Plus, there was also the education system which was a concern. I think North Carolina is one of the lowest paying states as far as teachers are concerned and sooner or later that starts to reflect in the quality of the schools. I mean, we’d go to our daughter’s parent / teacher meetings and we’d be some some of the only parents who would show up. So there were a number of things that contributed to the move. But now, we have more family, friends and opportunities in Atlanta than we had in Charlotte. Plus, when it came to my music, it was becoming really difficult to book shows locally because it was always spots that were either a hundred capacity  and less, or it was five hundred or more and there was nothing really in-between. There wasn’t really any college radio, the biggest record store in the area was closing down and becoming an F.Y.E. It almost felt like I was fighting a losing battle and when I decided to get back into music I vowed that I wouldn’t make the same mistakes that I had done before. I just couldn’t continue to have this loyalty to a place that as a whole didn’t support me. I mean, I do have supporters in North Carolina, but even they would tell me that I wasn’t being supported enough by my own town. So, overall, the move to Atlanta was a good thing to do, firstly for my family in terms of what we want to accomplish for our kids, but also for my music as well and what the scene in Atlanta has to offer.”

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Now you’re somewhat detached from the full-time music rat-race that you were once a part of, has that allowed you to really sit back and appreciate what you have achieved in your career?

“Exactly. That’s the perfect way to explain it. I mean, when I was a full-time artist, you’re comparing everything you do to other artists or other people you know in the game, and sometimes it would get frustrating because I’d feel like I wasn’t moving fast enough or that I hadn’t done enough. But I really didn’t realise how much I’d done until I stopped. It’s almost like I was travelling the path but was never looking back at my footsteps. But when I sat back, I thought about how I got into this music game just because I wanted to see my name on a record and to have people listen to it. So when I stopped to think about it, I’ve come so far past that point that I feel like I have achieved success. But when you’re in that music industry rat race, it’s easy to think that you’re not getting far enough fast enough. But when I took a break from music and looked back on my career, I realised that it was something to be proud of, and that in itself had something do with me wanting to start recording again.”

In the early stages of your career you were always quite outspoken about your frustrations with the music industry. So after all these years, has your opinion on the industry changed at all?

“To be honest, I still hate the music industry today as much as I did back then (laughs). But the biggest difference today is that artists have a lot more options and we don’t have to depend on people to do things, which is one of the things I used to dislike about the industry the most.”

So with your new approach to making music, do you have other projects planned or is it a case of you releasing music as and when time allows?

“I definitely have plans and it’s really great that I have a manager now who can really help keep things in perspective and figure things out while I’m just kinda living life. We still have the album with Stoupe and we’re really trying to work out all the marketing and distribution for that record, which has taken close to two years to get out of the way. But it’s funny how life works and how sometimes when you don’t try too hard, more things come your way (laughs). I’m constantly being approached by people who want to do things, so I’m really just playing things by ear and going where it really moves me. I’m also planning to do more producer-based projects, where I just team-up with one producer to put out an EP or album. I’m also definitely planning to start working on a new solo album before the end of this year. But in the meantime, hopefully this project with Stoupe will come out before the summertime and then there are a couple of other projects in the pipeline that I can’t really speak on. But I’m definitely working, man.”

Ryan Proctor

Follow Supastition on Twitter – @Supastition_NC

Supastition – “Two Weeks Notice” (Supastition.BandCamp.Com / 2014)

52 Best Albums & EPs Of 2013 (Part One) – Spit Gemz / Lewis Parker / Boldy James etc.

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With 2013 reaching its inevitable end, it’s about that time to take a look back over the last twelve months and give some well-deserved props to those artists who ensured we all had some quality music to listen to throughout the last year.

Whilst many continue to argue that Hip-Hop doesn’t have anything left to offer fans creatively, 2013 once again proved there are emcees, producers and deejays all over Planet Rock  who are still crafting beats and rhymes with both passion and integrity as their main motivation.

As always, the releases listed in this year’s round-up don’t represent the only albums and EPs that were worth checking out, but they are the projects that spent the most time blasting from my headphones and speakers.

So, once again it’s on…

Spit Gemz – “End The TV” (SpitGemz.BandCamp.Com) – Emerging from the galaxy of Queens with a razor-sharp delivery and a good ear for rugged beats, NYC’s Spit Gemz continued to carve out his own niche in the rap world with this latest full-length project. Backed by production from One-Take, Don Producci and Stu Bangas, the Outdoorsmen affiliate wove intricate verses throughout this album that encompassed everything from street knowledge and conspiracy theories to religious beliefs and old-school nostalgia. With the likes of Timeless Truth, Shabaam Sahdeeq and Ill Bill also sharing mic duties, “End The TV” stood as one of the year’s most potent doses of true-school Rotten Apple rap

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Efeks – “Contemporary Classic” (Revorg Record) – Having spent the last decade as the lyrical half of respected UK duo Prose, talented wordsmith Efeks stepped out of his creative comfort zone on his first official solo album with memorable results. Digging deep into his life experiences to give listeners a further insight into his personal world, the South London emcee utilised soulful, boom-bap-driven soundscapes from Jack Diggs, Keith Lawrence and Steady Rock to drop gems on a number of topics including fatherhood, technology and the struggles of an underground artist.

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Roc Marciano – “Marci Beaucoup” (Man Bites Dog Records) – Living proof of the old adage that sometimes less is more, Strong Island’s Roc has turned crafting lo-fi beats and brilliantly understated rhymes into an artform. If last year’s “Reloaded” took a sidestep around the heavy drums of its predecessor “Marcberg”, “Marci…” stripped the production down even further, with the UN emcee and allies such as Ka, Knowledge The Pirate and AG rhyming over minimalist, pimped-out loops that hung in the air like fresh blunt smoke. The result was a unique, atmospheric album that sounded like the Hip-Hop soundtrack to a never-before-seen 70s blaxploitation flick.

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Kid Tsu – “The Chase” (Headbop Music) – Teaming-up with NYC’s Headbop team, Australian-based producer Kid Tsunami was finally able to release his long-awaited compilation project in 2013 featuring an impressive list of golden-era greats such as OC, Percee P and Kool G. Rap. Clearly determined not to be outshone by his own guests, Tsunami ensured his production remained consistently dope throughout, balancing melodic samples and classic breaks with a natural, organic energy that kept everything cohesive.

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Lewis Parker – “The Puzzle Episode Two: The Glass Ceiling” (King Underground Records) – The veteran UK producer-on-the-mic returned with another sonic Hip-Hop espionage thriller of epic proportions packed with flawless, dusty-fingered production, cinematic concepts and appearances from the likes of $amhill, Mista Spyce and John Robinson. Masterfully executed, “The Glass Ceiling” further cemented Parker’s reputation as one of the nicest producers in the game.

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Gore Elohim – “Electric Lucifer” (Supercoven Records) – The former Non-Phixion member proved that he definitely hadn’t mellowed with age on this gritty follow-up to 2004’s cult favourite “The Art Of Dying”. Sounding like it had been recorded in a secret underground bunker somewhere in Brooklyn, “Electric Lucifer” found Goretex immersing himself in a shadowy world of government corruption, alien abductions and Illuminati conspiracies. As the man himself said, it’s that sinister s**t.

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Boldy James – “My 1st Chemistry Set” (Decon Records) – Detroit’s James has been bubbling on the underground for a few years now, with 3rd Bass’s MC Serch being one of many early supporter of Boldy’s brand of raw, unapologetic street-hop during his time on Motor City airwaves. But whilst the low-key rapper’s previous material was definitely noteworthy, pairing James with the brooding, hypnotic production of Alchemist for this album was a match made in a dark, D-Town back-alley.

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CZARFACE (7L & Esoteric / Inspectah Deck) – “CZARFACE” (Brick Records) – With its brilliant Marvel-inspired cover art and WWF vocal samples, this full-length collabo from Boston’s 7L & Esoteric and the Wu’s Rebel INS tapped straight into the memory banks of anyone who grew-up as a kid in the 80s discovering Hip-Hop, collecting comics and watching Saturday morning wrestling. The fact that the beats and rhymes contained here were equally as dope as the album’s artwork was almost just a bonus.

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Supastition – “The Blackboard EP” (Reform School Music) – Returning off a self-imposed hiatus from the music business that began in 2010, North Carolina’s Supastition gave fans everything they were hoping for and more on this hard-hitting release. Getting back to making music purely on his own terms, “The Blackboard EP” bristled with passion and energy as Supa demolished beats from the likes of Marco Polo and M-Phazes whilst exorcising personal demons, re-evaluating his place in the game and re-igniting his love for making quality Hip-Hop. Welcome back!

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Klaus Layer – “The Adventures Of Captain Crook” (Redefinition Records) – German-based producer Klaus Layer definitely did a thorough job of showcasing his seemingly effortless mastery of the MPC on this largely instrumental release. Bursting with full-bodied beats drenched in echoing horns and soulful samples, “The Adventures Of…” took the listener on a sonic voyage that was as therapeutic and relaxing as it was entertaining.

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Ryan Proctor

Check Part Two here.

New Joint – Supastition

Supastition – “Best Worst Day” (Supastition.Com / 2013)

Concept-driven track from the veteran North Carolina emcee’s impressive EP “The Blackboard”.

New Joint – Supastition

Supastition – “Black Enough” ( Reform School Music / 2008 )

Outspoken cut from one of North Carolina’s finest.