Editorial, rileysbest

Don’t front in the writers circle

There’s no shame in taking your place alongside (non top-5) eccentric super rich rappers like Dre, Puff (and way more…

There’s no shame in taking your place alongside (non top-5) eccentric super rich rappers like Dre, Puff (and way more that I’m sure would break my heart to learn about). Just don’t perpetrate penmanship in the writers circle.

If you have Twitter and are even remotely interested in hip-hop, then you’re up on last week’s can of worms, which was opened by Meek Mill. Mostly, he accused hip-hop’s poster boy du jour, Drake, of not writing his raps. The thought of it was laughable to fans at first. Then, rapper OG Maco followed up by pointing out that a second writer, one Quentin Miller, was credited with at least five songs on the latest album by the Toronto superstar. We all missed it apparently because it’s 2015, so most of us don’t own physical copies of anything. Funkmaster Flex stepped it up a by procuring what he claims are the actual reference tracks. In fact, a cease he posted to Instagram seems almost to confirm its authenticity. So the question is, is Quentin Miller Drake’s “ghostwriter”? Well, as Miller describes, no. Rightfully so. He’s a paid, credited collaborator, which in essence still means he “helped write the songs”.

The blowback from Drake’s camp seems to suggest that it’s bigger than just rap. Drake is a multifaceted artist – he composes music (like plays instruments and stuff), he changes the game (constantly) and sets trends. Meek Mill is one dimensional in comparison. You know what, I agree to that effect. Drake is a more powerful brand, and all around better artist than Meek. He’s more palatable by the masses, of all ages; although, the question stands. Does Drake write his raps? Not his compositions, not the singing on songs like Hold On We’re Going Home, but actual “hip-hop” rhymes on songs like Energy. The answer is a gray-area apparently. That’s the issue.

It’s not unusual, though, I mean have you ever really looked at the credits of your fave album? They are rarely clean and straight forward. Your heart wants to look at Illmatic and see nothing but N. Jones in the writing credits, likewise for Reasonable Doubt, and more recent efforts by the likes of J. Cole and others. I will acknowledge that rappers writers often credit mad people, such as friends and musicians (for various personal and legal reasons), as in the case of Nas, who credits multiple jazz musicians on Illmatic. But others are a bit more suspect and call the actual solo creative process of your fave artists in question.

I mean, if you have lyrics written for you, and it’s widely known/accepted, people get over it and just go for the ride – à la Puffy and Dre. You just won’t be acknowledged as a “writer”, which artists like those above are fine with. The problem is though, is that the hip-hop community is über competitive, and the thought that Drake isn’t ‘shakespearing’ his soliloquies is quite off-putting, no matter what average fans feel. The genre of hip-hop has become more of a business than a sub-culture, and there is much more smoke and mirrors that many of you know or can even imagine. It seems inevitable that multi-millionaires who are seemingly detached from the street would enlist hungry up and comers to help them stay fresh.

Does that make it ok? Well, No.

Hip-hop isn’t R&B, Rock or any other genre where not writing your shit it is considered “normal”. I’ve seen other blogs suggesting that hip-hop was “born” when Grandmaster Caz wrote Rapper’s Delight, so it shouldn’t be so taboo that it still happens today – except that it is. Rapper’s delight was a smash hit, but it’s a terrible example of artistic mastery in the field of hip-hop. There are plenty of artists who take the time to craft their lyrics – like literally million. Except we don’t always champion those artists. The music industry is full of pressures, and often, that means accepting input against your will. Hence, some of your fave artists don’t write their shit by themselves. Disappointing huh? Like finding out Santa isn’t real right?

I’ll broaden this because it’s bigger than Drake. It goes for everyone!

That being said, if you don’t write your lyrics, that’s fine – but please position yourself accordingly. It’s infuriating to actual writers. There’s no shame in taking your place alongside (not top-5) eccentric super rich rappers like Dre, Puff (and way more that I’m sure would break my heart to learn about). Just don’t perpetrate penmanship in the writer’s circle. We don’t take kindly to that sort of thing.

Riley here — father, artist, videographer, professional writer and SERIOUS hip-hop head. I'm a member of the Universal Zulu Nation, and I think everything is better on vinyl. Add me on Twitter! @specialdesigns
Editorial, Featured, Features

Heavy Hitters’ DJ Flee is About to Takeover

28-year-old DJ Flee, also known as Bodega Flee, is one of the hottest new tastemakers in Hip Hop. The Uptown…

28-year-old DJ Flee, also known as Bodega Flee, is one of the hottest new tastemakers in Hip Hop. The Uptown New York Dominican is a lustrious member of the legendary Hip Hop faction, The Heavy Hitters (DJ Enuff, Tony Tone). The former Basketball player made a name for himself in the city with his signature Uptown sound and irreparable tricks on the turntables.

Discovered by the same legends responsible for presenting the world to today’s legends from across the U.S. like DJ Felli Fel, Bootleg Kev, and Peter Parker. Flee has quickly become one of the most notable faces of the brand with his fast-growing fanbase and credible ear for breaking the undeniable next superstars to the East Coast.

Through his journey in radio, Flee has had the opportunity to discover plenty of new genres of Hip Hop that would help transform his style. Experimenting with trendy genres like Dirty South and Gangsta bouncing West Coast with a blend of his Dominican roots.

In Boston, Miami, Orlando, and New York, Flee is the most sought-after radio DJ in the ever-changing broadcast market. Keeling the prestigious pride and name of the Heavy Hitters brightly lit outside of the East Coast. Artists like Zoey Dollaz can credible a large amount of their popularity to DJ Flee’s exposure.

Hard work, dedication, experience has earned DJ Flee the tastemaking position he firmly sits in within today’s Hip Hop. Ready to transition himself into superstar status, the promising DJ continues to develop a signature style that infusion the old school traditions and new school evolution to the East Coast. Heatseeking, DJ Flee is easily becoming one of the biggest DJs in Hip Hop today, honestly, it’s only a matter of time before he is the biggest DJ in today’s Hip Hop. So stay tuned.

DJ Flee’s journey continues on, follow the Heavy Hitter sound today via Instagram and Twitter.

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#FireFriday, Editorial, interview

Famous Dex Talks New Album & Dual Identities In Exclusive Interview

“I didn’t [really] just discover them, it’s always been like that.”

Coated in Diamonds, with a Gucci bag draped at his hip, Chicago rapper Famous Dex took the stage in a black werewolf T-shirt at New York’s Gold Bar on March 27 to premiere his new album Dex Vs. Dexter, and to receive a gold certification plaque for his bouncy track “Pick It Up” with A$AP Rocky. The album, while still flux in braggadocio lyrics, demonstrates creative growth for the rapper. Released on April 6th, the date was personally chosen by Dex to coincide with the three year anniversary of his mother’s passing from breast cancer. “It’s influenced my hustle. Everything I do now has a greater purpose because of her,” Dex told Above Average Hip-Hop. “The decisions I make with my family and my career, I always consider what she would tell me.”

The project’s theme of separate entities, while not a foreign concept in Hip-Hop, paints the audacious artist as someone more than how he appears to fans. “I didn’t [really] just discover them, it’s always been like that,” the artist said of his two identities. “Dex is the romantic guy,” he said with a laugh, “Dex is single, well both Dex and Dexter are single, but Dex loves women, chilling, vibing, [and] not doing too much. Sometimes people see me on a video, and I’m really laid back, that’s Dex.” In contrast, ‘Dexter’ is the artist everyone is familiar with. “He’s a clown, wild, crazy with ad-libs and everything. Dexter is who most people know in my music.” The two characters are fully realized on the albums cover art, with “Dex” sprawled on a green leather couch with a girl on his lap, while “Dexter” zooms around the couch in an animated form.

 
In contrast to Dex’s previous work, the rapper’s official debut is heavy on pop influences. The hook on “Prove It,” is layered in a pop-rock guitar riff and steady 808 drums. “Take this ride with me, sip this Hennessy, I got bands on me…Ooh girl you so sweet,” Dex sings in the third verse. Another drastic musical departure for the mumble rapper comes in the form of “LIGHT,” a radio-ready single featuring pop-rock quartet Drax Project. “Aw man, Drax! I love those guys,” Dex said of working with the band. “It just happened, I don’t know exactly how it happened, but I’m not going to question God because it’s dope! I’ve never made a song like that before.” Dex sings on the track alongside the group, his gooey auto-tuned vocals harmonizing with Drax.

However, Dex still makes room on his debut to tackle familiar territory. “LIGHT” is followed by “Celine,” a barely-two-minute bouncy interlude that finds the rapper reassuring his fans not everything has changed. “My favorite track to get hype to is ‘Celine.’ That song is fire,” Dex said. “It’s so natural to me, and I love to perform it.” Other tracks like the lead single “Japan,” “Take Her” with Wiz Khalifa and the album’s intro “DMD” find Dex in his comfort zone as he tackles beats by Pi’erre Bourne and J Gramm, among others. “This whole album is a celebration,” Dex said. Even with a new album just released, Dex is already planning his next steps. “I’m already working on my next album, Rich Forever got something fire coming out soon, so be on the lookout for that.”

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Editorial, Main

A Beginner’s Guide to Ski Mask the Slump God

Talent is not always exciting. There are a myriad of artists in the mainstream as well as the underground with…

Talent is not always exciting. There are a myriad of artists in the mainstream as well as the underground with plenty of talent who don’t excite. Although Adele and Michael Buble can sing like nobody’s business, I am not particularly interested in either of them. That is not intended to be shade; that style of music, impressive as it is, just does not do it for me.

And then there is Ski Mask the Slump God. The 21-year-old South Florida rapper has talent coming out of his nose and he is, at the moment, one of the most exciting artists coming up in hip-hop. Known for his fast, wild flows and idiosyncratic personality, Ski started uploading his music online in 2015 and officially blew up last year with the releases of a four-track EP titled Slaps for My Drop-Top Minivan and his debut mixtape, You Will Regret.

In December, he teased fans with the tracklist and features for his next project, Beware the Book of Eli. With production by Timbaland on several tracks and guest appearances from Rich the Kid, Lil Yachty, Offset, and Busta Rhymes, it’s bound to be dope. Unfortunately, the tape has been delayed while the samples, one of which is the Boy Meets World theme song, get cleared. In the meantime, here are six Ski Mask tracks to get you up to speed.

“Rambo.”

The opening track on You Will Regret. This Phosphate beat features simple yet almost frightening keys and subtle record scratches over deep bass. In a way that reminds me of Rihanna’s “Work,” Ski’s words bleed together on a hook with a super catchy melody. The sole verse on the not-quite-two-minutes-long track is rapid, tight, funny, and precise. “No Hannah Montana, but bitch I look pretty on camera.”

 

“Bird is the Word.”

In a rare instance of a Soundcloud rapper pushing four minutes, Ski lethargically flips the bird to the police on a hook that is repetitive and mind-numbing in the best way. At the beginning of the track, his presence is announced by some sort of horn as if he is royalty. The most impressive aspect of this song, and others I will mention, is his ability to seamlessly alternate the speed of his flows. “I just want a cracker like a parrot named Polly.”

 

“BabyWipe.”

Produced by CashMoneyAP, this track is anchored by a snappy, funny hook that perfectly captures Ski’s electrifying personality. Once again, with unmatched finesse, he manages to completely switch up his flows halfway through both verses without a hint of awkwardness. On top of that, he drops some of the strongest bars on You Will Regret. “How is you feeling, vro? / Feeling like the four, bitch I feel fantastic / Which one would you be, though? / Mr. Fantastic cause the money like elastic.”

 

“Catch Me Outside.”

On his biggest hit to date, Ski raps over the Timbaland instrumental from Missy Elliot’s “She’s a Bitch” and shouts out Blue’s Clues on an undeniable pop hook. The shoutouts extend past the chorus, too; the verses are full of clever pop culture references to throwback figures including Garfield and Bow Wow’s character in Like Mike. “Put my sauce on lasagna, it could make Garfield purr.”

 

“With Vengeance” featuring Offset.

Another Timbaland joint, this is the first teaser track from Beware the Book of Eli and it brings a welcome change of pace. Ski momentarily drops the colorful, playful persona and raps with a deeply predatory tone. Offset steals the show with a chilling and energized guest verse that I wish we had seen more of on Culture II. “Snake venom vocals, flow got sicker / Sharper than sabers made straight from Darth Vader.”

 

“Wassup Wit the Bag” with Lar$$en and Jay Critch.

Although this is technically Lar$$en’s song, Ski and Jay unambiguously take over. I can say with confidence that this is the best banger you haven’t heard yet. Jamz’ beat, anchored by violins, is stupid fire. Ski goes full-blown ballistic on the hook and Jay snaps on his verse. “I just ate Mr. Krabs with some damn tartar sauce.”

 

I understand why many hip-hop fans are turned off by the Soundcloud wave. It is no secret that most of these guys have no interest in lyricism. In fact, from a technical perspective, some of them are simply not that good at rapping. However, I must emphasize that Ski Mask is different. He raps with skill, diversity, humor, and intelligence like not many others. I have yet to hear a song by him that did not have replay value. He is a rare and extremely young talent with enormous potential. Get on board as soon as you can.

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Editorial, Main

“Flower Boy” Should Have Won Best Rap Album

Allow me to begin with the obvious: I have nothing but love for K. Dot and I cannot think of…

Allow me to begin with the obvious: I have nothing but love for K. Dot and I cannot think of anyone in mainstream hip-hop who deserves more respect than he does. Overly Dedicated and Section.80 are criminally underrated projects. good kid, M.A.A.D. city is a triumphant work of conceptual art. I do not think it is out of line to declare To Pimp A Butterfly one of the top 20 albums of the last decade. Most recently, DAMN. earned Kendrick Grammy nods for, among other categories, Best Rap Album and Album of the Year. He won the former and, in a sad yet unsurprising turn of events, Bruno Mars took home the latter.

Now, to be clear, I love DAMN. I think it includes some of Kendrick’s most brilliant material to date: “DNA.,” “ELEMENT.,” “FEEL.,” “FEAR.,” “DUCKWORTH.,” and the first two and a half minutes of “XXX.” (I hit skip as soon as I hear Bono’s voice). Unfortunately, I think it also includes some of Kendrick’s weakest material to date, namely “LOYALTY.” featuring Rihanna and “LOVE.” featuring Zacari. Alternatively, the album that I think should have earned the honor of Best Rap Album, Tyler, the Creator’s Flower Boy, is just about flawless.

The hype for the Odd Future founder’s fifth full-length project began when he dropped arguably his two best singles to date: “Who Dat Boy” featuring A$AP Rocky and “911/Mr. Lonely” featuring Frank Ocean and Steve Lacy. The former is an outlandish banger anchored by a cinematic string section and Tyler’s incredible charisma. The second track rides a funky, soulful instrumental and showcases a vulnerable Tyler as he addresses the extreme loneliness with which he has struggled since achieving superstar fame. From an instrumental perspective, the third Flower Boy single, “Boredom,” is Tyler’s masterpiece. The chugging drums, melancholy keys, and blissful violins that conclude the track put Tyler’s genius on full display. The fourth and final hype track, “I Ain’t Got Time,” is a hand-clapped, throttling solo effort which reminds the listener that Tyler truly operates in his own lane.

 

As much as I love these four singles, the remainder of Flower Boy is far from filler. The opening track, “Foreword,” sets the tone for the album with some of the strongest bars Tyler has dropped in his career: “How many cars can I buy until I run out of drive? / How much drive can I have until I run out of road? / How much road can they pave until I run out of land? / How much land can it be until I run in the ocean?” With guest vocals from Kali Uchis, “See You Again” is a masterfully layered track which features gorgeous harmonies and one of the best rap flows in Tyler’s catalogue. Perhaps the most discussed song in the tracklist, “Garden Shed” is a delicate, confessional ballad on which Tyler solemnly addresses his deepest insecurities.

I could go on and on about all fourteen tracks on Flower Boy, but I think you get the point. It is a revealing and sonically diverse exploration of fame, depression, and identity that demonstrates Tyler, the Creator’s immense talents as a rapper, songwriter, and producer. It is a landmark in both a career and a life, and it is better than DAMN.

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Habeas Corpus: Interview With Willie D of the Geto Boys

In today's hip-hop climate, where artists are here today and gone tomorrow, terms like classic and legend are grossly overused....

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