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Stop Sleeping On Earthgang

In case you’ve been snoozing on the duo, here’s a slap back to reality.

Earthgang is Atlanta’s newest humble offering to the ever-growing genre of “conscious rap.” When I first heard them in my friend’s apartment, we played the video for” Missed Calls,” a song off of their album Strays with Rabies. I recall being shocked at how well done the song and video were and immediately looking them up and downloading all of their music.

The duo, Doctor Dot & Johnny Venus, have released three full-length albums and more recently two EP’s titled Rags and Robots, respectively.

They had been consistently laying down bars for years (and years) with little mainstream recognition; however, they were recently signed to J Cole’s Dreamville records—a step in the right direction for Cole’s creative vision. One of the duo’s strengths is storytelling, which is apparent given their knack for creating real albums. Every project released by Earthgang is cohesive; pulling the listener in with storylines, vivid imagery, and some of the most intricate, unique rapping styles of this generation.

The Rags EP begins with the haunting instrumental on “Meditate” coupled with a dense verse by J.I.D. and Earthgang’s bone-chilling lyrics. This particular song brings the duo to the heart of conscious rap by directly referencing the dark state of American politics, something often discussed by Earthgang but rarely called by name.

The video for this song is like a feature-length documentary, but the most striking scene is Johnny Venus rapping while swinging from an American flag turned noose. It is a need to watch video.

The EP then swiftly takes a lighter turn back to the duo’s niche with some skits, trap beats, and robust features from Childish Major and Mick Jenkins. The best thing about this EP is that no matter what beat the two are thrown into it always sounds like they spent weeks perfecting it with airtight lyrics. Even faster trap beats are filled to the brim (and I mean filled) with their quick, raspy, and sonically unique lyricism.

The Robots EP starts with a skit and quickly falls into the first track, 
”Artificial,” an ode to the EP’s questioning of consciousness and emotion, hence “Robots.” The title track in all-caps has a clunky machine-like sound that makes the listener feel like they’re in a creepy factory surrounded by artificial intelligence. The duo comes in with some singing, but mostly they’re spitting bars, and with machine-like precision. The next track has a strong feature from TDE’s SiR on a three-minute beat that bridges the gap between the EP’s bangers and vibe-ers. The last songs are beautiful R&B/rap runoff that would easily get lost and left behind during a night out, but rediscovered at the end of a playlist after coming home and plopping on the couch.

While the success of the album rests on the simplicity of its fantastic sound, the rappers are writing for those who read more in-depth into the lyrics. Robots is a journey to and from consciousness with more meaning and rhythm in its six tracks than the last albums I’ve heard put together. Every track is completely oversaturated with lyrical depth and gritty rapping which makes Earthgang so playable; you always find something new and beautiful in their verses that easily could have been lost in the mix.

Their upcoming EP Royalty drops February 16.

Currently obtaining my undergrad for Film & Media Studies in beautiful Tampa Bay Florida, I love hiking, biking, rock climbing, surfing, and most importantly: hip hop. My favorite rapper is MF DOOM and my top writer is Hunter S. Thompson.
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Expect Excellence from Fashion Startup [strive/arrive]

To its 21-year-old founder, fashion brand [strive/arrive] does much more than put out dope apparel; it utilizes raw emotion, promotes…

To its 21-year-old founder, fashion brand [strive/arrive] does much more than put out dope apparel; it utilizes raw emotion, promotes self-empowerment, and thrives on community involvement.

The official brand entitled & stylized as [strive/arrive] was created in 2017 by then 20-year-old Anwar Alston in Greensboro, North Carolina. From the get-go, Anwar placed a heavy emphasis on pushing clothes to his community and keeping everything local. Frequenting the Greensboro Cultural Center for runway fashion shows, Strive has become a stylish symbol of the city’s youth culture and garnered an “if you know you know” type of following.

According to Anwar, every article of clothing visually represents his state of mind throughout his design process. This has led Strive to produce a variety of custom pieces like jackets and jeans scribbled with a vibrant sharpie, to professionally tagged and branded collared shirts and sweatpants; each incorporating different meanings and phrases within them. Strive’s garments showcase eloquent diversity in style and function, and continue to evolve in colorways and material. My personal favorite from the Strive catalog is a baby blue t-shirt reading: HANDLE THE PRESSURE, in a simplistic square outline.

While diverse, the main thing you will notice is consistent in Strive’s clothing is the use of bright colors. Anwar notes that this is intended to promote positivity and mental wellbeing; both important factors to his creative process. One upcoming drop stylized as s[PRIDE] will advocate for the LGBTQ community by incorporating the pride rainbow into t-shirts as well as a thought-provoking design reading “love is ____.”

And though Strive makes an effort to push clothes locally, the brand is also making big moves internationally. This summer will mark the brand’s first major collaboration with London based streetwear brand: Amien Ghaker Jomaa. The drop is scheduled for mid-July along with a separate line of athletic wear. s[PRIDE] is currently available for pre-order on strivearrive.com and in the meantime, Anwar will be holding a fashion show periodically in the Van Dyke performance space of the Greensboro Cultural Center.

Stylish, refreshing, and impressively busy— [strive/arrive] is a growing company that fashion scouts must undoubtedly keep an eye on.

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REVIEW: Redemption by Jay Rock

As a follow up to his nostalgia influenced 2016 album 90059, REDEMPTION sounds as if Jay Rock has finally broken…

As a follow up to his nostalgia influenced 2016 album 90059, REDEMPTION sounds as if Jay Rock has finally broken through to his final form of artistry and is forging his way ahead. The project came with two documentary-style visuals, Road to Redemption parts 1 & 2, that show the TDE rapper’s evolution since signing with Warner Bros Records in 2007, to signing exclusively with Top Dawg and Interscope. The visuals also portray the extremely positive impact the rapper has had on his community in Watts, California since flourishing in the music industry. This mini-doc series serves as a visualization to many of the concepts on this album and provides insight into Rock as a person and his perception in Hip Hop. There is truly no slowing down for the TDE spitter, who showcases his striking ambition for life and Hip Hop on this exemplary 13 track album.

1) The Bloodiest

“The Bloodiest” is Rock’s opening track. Perhaps it’s name is a metaphor for his past life as a violent criminal, perhaps a prelude for the album’s rawness, but either way it’s a hell of an opening statement. The Devil thought he had me I was on back burners, are the words that start the song. Emanating chills, he continues with ghostly, technical bars before wrecking the beat with quick & agile rhyme schemes he matches with the dense subject matter. The listener cannot help but focus like attending a college lecture. The beat, while fire, is the least important aspect of “The Bloodiest,” because Jay Rock is able to say so much in so little time.

2) For What it’s Worth

Track two. “For What it’s Worth.” I’m not even gonna front, at first listen I skipped this song because of the background singing that is now a staple of “woke” Hip Hop. But I’m glad I went back and listened in depth because it is by far the strongest song on Redemption. It’s mellow- but if you hone in on what Rock is spitting you will literally get chills up and down your spine. Exploring the problems of having a relationship during the brink of success, the TDE MC explains how dangerous pussy can be. That pretty flower will spoil you then it poisons you, is just one quick outtake of all the truth he spits on this male-centric, relationship anxiety inspired second track.

3) Knock it Off

“Knock it Off” immediately lightens things up by upping its tempo while Jay Rock touches on a new and less serious subject. The track is dedicated to exposing fakes that try to be like Jay Rock and TDE. The groove is spit over the now classic flute enhanced rap instrumental. “You ain’t me n*gga knock it off!” The background vocals on this track are saucy as hell but don’t overpower Rock’s energy; showcasing the tastefulness of the mix.

4) ES Tales

“Back in these projects/back in these projects/ I lost it all…now I’m back in these projects,” is the haunting opener to Rock’s next track: “ES Tales.” The tone of the album switches up at this point to a digital sounding, video game inspired upbeat tempo; though Jay Rock sticks to his Watts inspired storytelling rap style. At this point in the album, he has outdone himself in regards to lyrical capacity and rhyme scheme, and this track is perhaps one of the strongest in showcasing how many different flows the artist is capable of.

5) Rotation 112th

“Rotation 112th” maintains an upbeat tempo with the fire flute samples that complement the lyrical transitions from low sing/rap to high energy yelling. This song is impossible not to nod your head to; it’s a perfect filler track in the sense that it fits the mood thus far in the project but doesn’t too much to progress its major themes. A smoke break to Rock’s relentlessly meaningful content.

6) Tap Out

TDE calls upon Jeremih’s soothing vocals for the mid-album radio song: “Tap Out.” I call it a radio song because its bound to be stuck in your head. Not in an annoying mainstream way, but in a way that you don’t even notice until you’re humming the lyrics at random times all day. Other reviewers called this track the token sex song of the project.

7) OSOM

I was happy that TDE showed J. Cole some love on this next track; because even if you claim you hate Cole you can’t hate on TDE, especially on this track. “OSOM” (outta sight outta mind) is a tribute to paranoia, as shown in the visuals that recently dropped featuring Cole and Rock together fighting off an overwhelming feeling of dread after a botched robbery. Cole always spits with uncharacteristic rawness when featured and this track was no different.

8) King’s Dead

I don’t even have to go into “King’s Dead” since it was Redemption’s first single. But if for some reason you haven’t heard it yet: it’s fire. K Dot freaked it.

9) Troopers

“Troopers” is an ode to loyalty; noting the kinship that comes with drug dealing and crime. “you ain’t gotta question when its brackin’” is a nice line that sums up the unspoken allegiance Rock feels to his closest homies in Watts. The track is ominous in sound and subjects with the chorus continuously warning his momma that he might not make it home from his escapades with the streets. Though not a hype track or a deeply lyrical journey this track is a good Segway between “Kings Dead” & “Broke+-.”

10) Broke +-

Track 10 is the densest of this project. The Black Hippy rapper delves into American history, capitalism, and personal morals before painting a sonic image of what it means to be “broke” in America. B is for the blood/R is for the ropes/O is for oppression/K is for the kush need it just to cope/E is for the evolution. The words are rapped over a slow, gloomy beat and does well to ground the project after taking its listeners up and down.

11) Wow Freestyle

Wooooow. K dot and Jay Rock reminisce on this joint. It’s a fun sounding track that lightens the mood with back and forth from Rock to Dot and back again. Rock also experiments with his voice adding a little crack to his breathier bars; similar to what Kendrick does on songs like “u.” It gives his words an exasperated effect and adds a nice variety to his cadence.

12) Redemption

Aaaaaand the title track where Jay highlights his near-fatal motorcycle crash that inspired a lot of this album’s subject matter and sound. He explains how he imagined his funeral would be while hooked up to various machines in the hospital helping him breathe. The track is also a testament to second chances; which is what Rock felt life gave him after he made a full recovery from a broken femur and pelvis among other severe injuries. The song isn’t pushing itself to be too strand out, but includes beautiful words from TDE’s one and only: SZA, making it an objectively fire and insightful title track.

13) WIN

“WIN” is a perfect closer to the album. It’s almost a corny track with the chorus a repetitive Win, win, win, win trademarked with Kendrick’s backing vocals. It doesn’t have as much lyrical depth as the rest of the album but it doesn’t need that because it’s almost like a summation of what the album felt like. A thin slice of tiramisu after a hearty meal; eaten simply as a compliment.

REDEMPTION is one of my favorite albums thus far in 2018. It contains the quintessential components of what makes a Hip-hop album fire; from concepts to storytelling to hype tracks. And for Jay Rock specifically, the album represents his growth and development through life and as an artist. If you listen to Hood Tales and Redemption back to back you can really grasp these changes and see how much ground a rapper can cover with a lucrative career. The crew at Above Average is hyped for what TDE will follow this project with!

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#IndieSpotlight: Meet Chicago MC Hunnid

Leaning back in a vintage Bryant Park Chair with a ‘life is good’ smile, award-winning Chicago MC, Hunnid was in…

Leaning back in a vintage Bryant Park Chair with a ‘life is good’ smile, award-winning Chicago MC, Hunnid was in great spirits for our interview in New York City. Now back at his childhood home in the Southside of Chicago known as the Wild Wild 100’s – where he was born and raised – he tells me in depth of what is was like growing up in a poverty stricken environment. “First off, It’s fun, but It’s wild being exposed to a lot of things that you really shouldn’t be exposed to so young. – like crime. Nonetheless, it just embedded a lot of principles in me I wouldn’t change for nothing. That type of struggle you just have to experience and learn from it. Made me strong, aware, and  intelligent,” he notes.

In just a matter of years, Chicago has become the home city for a lot of the hottest hip-hop talents out right now since the early 2000’s. Chance The Rapper and a dozen of hungry new acts are making a way for themselves coming out of Chi-Raq. Hunnid, being one of the emerging talents, tells me staying grounded and passionate is the key to his way into the game. Hunnid is a person who is going to get it by any means necessary. “It’s no pressure [coming from Chicago] because I’m in my own lane, I don’t do drill rap – I don’t categorize myself,” he states. Music been in Hunnid’s life since an early age; he played drums and written poetry. “God chose music for me.”

Coming off his Love V.S. Lust EP, which dropped last June, Hunnid makes sure to drop buzzing tracks for his fans until his next project. Hunnid’s “Money Up” single, which its video premiered on AAHH, racked up over 50k plays to date. This is an anthem about hard work, endurance and dedication – which are what his career rooted from. As he is known for his lyrical flow, “Money Up” takes a less complexed style. Hunnid clarifies why he released it. “I really put value in connecting with the crowd and understanding my crowd. I feel like you got to dumb it down if you want to appeal to masses to some degree,” he says. His upcoming single, “Bust That,” has a different kind a vibe; afro-beat and R&B. “I describe a women’s body movements to firearms,” notes Hunnid.

 
Hunnid and I started discussing the state of hip-hop and where it’s heading in the near future. We both agree that it is changing due to lack of talent. “I feel like a lot of this music is fast food now because it lacks passion. If you passionate about a lot of things and it can be felt — its real, it will never die.”

Like a lot of hip-hop heads, there’s a lot to say or not about the newly released XXL 2018 Freshman List. Does the list still matter?  “I don’t pay attention to it anymore,” says Hunnid. “I don’t. Were in a different age where popularity can make you whatever you want to be. There are so many dope individuals. But they’re just not out here selling their souls. People can take it how they want it – I feel like you have to sell yourself in some way [face tats, color hair] to draw attention to yourself because you lack skill.”

Towards the end of our conversation, we touched on the violence going down in his hometown. “Long Live Streetz is the last thing I want to say,” he says. His cousin, Streetz was an emerging hip-hop mc that was murdered alongside Chicago journalist/blogger Zach TV just a few weeks ago. “I want to make it to that platform where I can say something, and it’ll literally happen. The only person with that type of platform [making a change] is Chance the Rapper, but everybody else is not doing much.”

Hunnid plans on making it big in the game because music is indeed his passion. While on his way to stardom, he wants to take action in his community on gun violence and wants to tell the rest of his story to change the world.

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Kaiju The Unconquerable Returns With A New Episode

Nobody is f@$king with this mans videos!

Kaiju The Unconquerable is one of those artists that fails to ever settle into anything — in the best way possible. “Episode 7: Ultraman” found it’s way to my inbox this past April, and I was amazed at how different Kaiju’s vibe was. Jarring isn’t quite the right word, but the shift in tone from “CYBERPUNK 2050” to “Ultraman” should a to of range, with the quality of the video being the constant.

His latest is easily my fave release from him to date. “Episode 8: Got II,” also dubbed “Restoration Of Akumetsu,” sees Kaiju playing the role of a cyber vigilante/assassin who — we learn through the excellent long-form news intro — is slaughtering important officials, earning himself (by the end) $2 billion bounty. As Akumetsu, donning a wild rad mask (who one newscaster described as exploding), he and his cohort Swisha take out a target and everyone in the way. A highlight is right before he first enters the location and cuts off the security guard’s hand.

Much like his other pieces  — and kind of like “This Is America” by Childish Gambino — his visuals and songs can stand alone. As a juxtaposition to the more easy-going “Ultraman,” which was in many ways more playful and littered with delicious nerd-centric references, Episode 8 is much more aggressive. Upon first listen it was reminiscent of DMX’s aura on his debut record; specifically the chorus put me in mind of “Damian,” so seeing in the credits that it was in fact inspired by X was a neat addition on his part.

With a slow trappish instrumental, Kaiju’s flow is impeccable — at one point almost matching the cadence of Kendrick Lamar as he spits: “always intentional, my niggas keep it traditional, yeah you talking the fictional being my words to the physical … black is beautiful, yeah my people nutritional, they try to kill us with chemicals, lord don’t make me get biblical.”

While staying to a similar format, Kaiju manages to continually reinvent his sound, making each piece of his puzzle fit together while also standing out from the crowd. This latest chapter is no different; while I have no idea what this is building towards or the grand vision, I’m excited to see the wonders that Episode 9 holds!

Early.

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Vast Aire Of Cannibal Ox & Producer COSMIQ Prepare To Drop “AIREPLANE”

It’s been three years since the release of Blade Of Ronin and Vast and COSMIQ are on the verge of...

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