Category Archives: Reviews

Album Review: Future – “Pluto”

By Hardcore Critic
Hip Hop Vibe Staff Writer

What Future has done over the past year is much bigger than himself and his Free Bandz movement. What Future has done over the past year has returned Atlanta to prominence in the rap game, following two years of obscurity. It was one year ago, around this time, when Future began living up to his name, delivering his “Tony Montana” hit, which would change his career.

Initially a mixtape track, “Tony Montana” became very popular, leading Drake to request to be on the remix. Following Drake, Lil Wayne even asked to be featured on “Tony Montana,” but Future turned him down because he did not want to be overshadowed. One year later, it is abundantly clear that Future is a star in his own right, regardless of who is on the track. A deal with Epic Records placed Future in the studio to record his Pluto debut.

Future has had no trouble gaining collaborations from big names, as T.I. requested to be featured on the next Future single, “Magic.” Well over six months after the release of “Magic,” the single is still popular, all over the radio. No trouble making hits, Future has returned with his “Same Damn Time” single, the first single with no feature from Future. While Future is not a mind-blowing lyricist, he makes music fans can enjoy, as all of his singles are something people can dance to.

Because of his laid-back style, it does not matter who is on the track with Future, each track is laid-back, yet still something people can enjoy partying to. However, the downfall of Pluto comes because Future is seemingly unable to change things up. In a rap game where diversity is coveted, Future’s music is very repetitive. While Future becomes repetitive, it should not stop anyone from checking out Pluto, as it is well worth the listen, as Future proves he can hold is own, as he shared tracks with Juicy J, Big Rube, Snoop Dogg, and R. Kelly, aside from the members of his own Free Bandz team.

Everyone has to start somewhere and after dominating the Atlanta mixtape scene, Future finally released his debut album, which became known as Pluto. With Pluto being a start, a good one at that, the “future” is bright for Future and fans should expect more quality album releases from him in the future.

Hip Hop Vibe’s Review: 6/10

Album Review: Obie Trice – “Bottoms Up”

By Hardcore Critic
Hip Hop Vibe Staff Writer

Despite his time in the game and the music he is made, Obie Trice is still best-known for his 2003 single, “Got Some Teeth.” The song was a typical Shady Records track, as it was comical, similar to the music Eminem was making at the time. At the time, many saw Obie Trice as a background artist in the Shady Records camp, not believing he could branch out on his own.

Regardless of what the people thought, Obie Trice left Shady Records, on good terms, in 2009. Obie Trice left Shady Records and launched his own label, Black Market Entertainment, and began working on Bottoms Up, his third studio album. After releasing two albums on Shady Records, the masses still did not know who Obie was, outside of the music he made with the label.

On Bottoms Up, which continues the drinking trend, Obie Trice establishes his own identity, as his own man. As Obie Trice stated in a recent interview, the album is classic Obie. While classic Obie, he does help to establish himself in his own right. Paying homage to where he came from, he did feature Eminem on the album on the “Richard” single, lyrically holding his own against Eminem, considered by many one of the all-time greats. The song caused a craze on the internet, but aside from the collaborations with newcomers Adrian Rezza and Drey Skonie, on “Battle Cry” and “Spend the Day,” alongside the collaborations with MC Breed on “Crazy” and the aformentioned “Richard,” Bottoms Up features no voice, other than Obie.

Remaining affiliated with the Shady/Aftermath camp, Obie Trice featured production from Dr. Dre on the album, also. In the end, another solid album was provided by Obie Trice.

Hip Hop Vibe’s Review: 6/10

Album Review: Nicki Minaj – “Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded”

By Hardcore Critic
Hip Hop Vibe Staff Writer

Since the release of Pink Friday, fans have been eagerly anticipating the next album release from Nicki Minaj. Throughout the year of 2011, Nicki Minaj has been vague about her next album. Late in 2011, Nicki Minaj revealed she had a new album in the works, which would be called Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded. The first release from the new album was delivered in early December, “Roman In Moscow.”

The first single from Roman Reloaded was panned by critics, but Nicki Minaj regained a lot of respect with “Stupid Hoe,” which was an obvious dig aimed at Lil’ Kim. However, as more music was released from the album, it was clear Nicki Minaj was more focused on making pop music than hip hop. To that end, Nicki Minaj’s following, which already spans much bigger than hip hop, was highly pleased with her new music.

When Nicki Minaj revealed her album would contain 22 tracks, many felt the album was too long, as most rap albums usually deliver 12 to 15 tracks. The changes in Nicki Minaj’s style have left many disappointed, especially those who remembered her from her appearances on street DVDs freestyling. However, from the very beginning Nicki Minaj saw more for herself than being a rap star. Instead, Nicki Minaj viewed herself as a multitalented star, who can sing, rap, act, and attract large audiences of fans.

Everything Nicki Minaj set out to do happened and, for that, she deserves respect. Nicki Minaj had every intention of delivering a pop album to her fans. However, those who are still trying to categorize Nicki Minaj as a rapper and a rap artist will be highly disappointed in the new music, as Nicki Minaj has always had commercial appeal, easily navigating between signing and rapping. Nicki Minaj allowed all of her personalities to come to life on this new record, another turn-off for many hip hop fans, but Nicki Minaj cannot be classified as a “rapper” or a “hip hop artist.”

Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded is not a rap album, but does contain elements of rap. The hip hop fans who may be interested in picking up the album would love “Beez in The Trap,” which features 2 Chainz and, of course, “Stupid Hoe.” However, as previously stated, the album is more for the general audience than for the hip hop community, specifically. Due to this, Pink Friday: Roman Relaoded may not stand out as a notable rap/hip hop album. But, as far as great bodies of work, crediting creativity, it is one of the most-interesting albums released in years.

If judged as a rap album, rap and hip hop fans should not expect much from Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, an otherwise good, solid, release.

Hip Hop Vibe’s Rating: 5/10

Album Review: Diggy Simmons – “Unexpected Arrival”

By Hardcore Critic
Hip Hop Vibe Staff Writer

At a time when albums are pushed back until they are forgotten, it is surprising when any rapper actually releases their albums. Diggy Simmons finally released his debut album, two years after being signed to Atlantic Records. Born into hip hop, it could have been easy for Diggy Simmons to let the pressure get to him. But, what is evidenced on the first song heard on Unexpected Arrival, Diggy Simmons is confident.

Even the “best” rappers in the game are afraid to be themselves, to a certain degree, but Diggy Simmons accepted himself and introduced himself. There were some who felt Diggy would not be accepted, because of his parentage and his part on the MTV series, “Run’s House.” But, it seems as if the fans resonated with Diggy Simmons, because he came out being himself. Last fall, Diggy Simmons spoke on cursing in his records, which he has opted to not do.

The last thing noticed on Unexpected Arrival is a lack of cursing, though. Diggy Simmons still gets his point across, without having to use offensive language, which would honestly come off as strange, given the life he has lived. One thing Diggy did not do, like other rappers who have wealthy backgrounds have done, is try to come into rap and present himself as a bootstrapper. As far as his own reputation, as a rapper, Diggy Simmons earned it on his own, but he was obviously born into wealth. From a lyrical standpoint, Diggy is far from the best, but he is also far from the young rappers who have come before him. A battle is currently going on between the younger and older hip hop fans about “real” hip hop, Diggy Simmons is trying to bridge the gap.

Just the fact Diggy Simmons is trying to bridge the gap proves he is more invested in rap than many who have been “running” the game for years. A void has been missing on the “teen hip hop” scene, as the teenagers have needed someone to follow and the girls have needed someone to post on their walls. With the music Diggy Simmons has made on Unexpected Arrival, curse-free, yet still hard-hitting, appeals to young men, young ladies, their parents, and possibly grandparents. Most importantly, however, is the respect the veteran rappers have for Diggy Simmons, which he has earned on his own. Jadakiss lent his vocals for Diggy Simmons on a track, which pays homage to the past, “88.”

In previous generations of hip hop, rappers used to attempt to get in good graces with the established veterans. Living in a world of social networking and iTunes, it is easy for rappers to build fan bases, while making the music they want. With this freedom, many scoff at the veterans who criticize them, writing them off as old. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but it has come as shock to many veteran emcees, many of whom went to the veterans for guidance. In this aspect, Diggy Simmons did bring hip hop back. He has been able to mix futuristic sounds with some old school sounds. As previously mentioned, Diggy Simmons is one of the few rappers to even try, which should earn him some points.

Unexpected Arrival is an album full of hits and there are very few topics Diggy Simmons does not touch. He even revisits the “N-word” controversy of 2007, going against his uncle, Russell Simmons, supporting the term “nigga,” but he did denounce “nigger.” Overall, the album is impressive, especially for a man who has yet to reach the legal age of adulthood. In many ways, Diggy Simmons has proven he is very intelligent and ahead of his time. Simmons is intelligent, but not in a way where he goes over people’s heads. He was very successful at bridging the gap, making music all hip hop fans can enjoy and also music parents approve of, which can only lead to more record sales.

Hip Hop Vibe’s Rating: 8/10

Album Review: Ja Rule – “PIL 2 (Pain is Love)”

By Hardcore Critic
Hip Hop Vibe Staff Writer

To get where he is at, Ja Rule has suffered many false starts, disappointing even his biggest fans. There was a time when every move Ja Rule made was tracked, the way it is now for Lil Wayne and Rick Ross. In a matter of months, his years of dominance were over. Ja Rule faced one of the biggest backlashes ever and worked hard to win fans back over, with only mixed reviews.

It was when Ja Rule stopped caring that things came together for him. Following the disappointment of his planned 2007 comeback and the subsequent delays in 2008 and 2009, Ja Rule had much to prove. With his back against the wall, Ja Rule tuned the world out and made things happen for himself. Working without Murder Inc., Ja secured his own distribution deal and began recording PIL 2 (Pain is Love).

While the album is named after his highly-successful 2001 album, Ja Rule has clearly changed over the past eleven years. Eight years since the retail release of his last studio album, Ja Rule is back as if he never missed a step, creating music no one would expect from him. The album starts off with “Fuck Fame,” a futuristic instrumental, which samples a bit of the intro of the original Pain is Love and then the album drops into the emotional “Real Life Fantasy.” For the first time in his career, Ja Rule appears to finally have the 50 Cent feud behind him, taking time to reflect on his lead single, “Real Life Fantasy.”

The industry has gone through many changes and Murder Inc.’s run at the top is the last thing on the mind of fans who follow the movements of Young Money and Maybach Music. Ja Rule reflects on his part in the Murder Inc. run, a dream of his come true, and then the downfall, his nightmare. On PIL 2, Ja Rule is displaying a new, futuristic, style, but Ja Rule is not Ja Rule without having a female R&B sidekick. As he prepares the third act of his career, Ja Rule has a new songstress riding with him in the form of Leah Siegal, but their style is much different than his styles with Lil’ Mo and Ashanti.

Ja Rule shines on “Parachute,” as he displays a bit of lyrical prowess and the typical Ja Rule emotion bleeds through the spacy track. It is a sharp change in what many would expect from Ja Rule, yet he does not come off as trying too hard, as he did on the previous tracks intended for his comeback album. With many ready to put a fork in him, some critics considering Ja Rule a retired rapper who now commentates on the industry, much like how NBA players do, Ja Rule showed them there is much life left in him, even though he is not as young as he used to be.

Five tracks into PIL 2, Ja Rule is still delivering solid content and the album enters the rock-influenced “Superstar” track, one of the gems of the album. On the track, Ja Rule explains the ups-and-downs of superstardom. In a game where originality is praised, Ja Rule delivers enough of this on “Superstar.” If anyone knows about the ups-and-downs of superstardom, it should be Ja Rule. There are many changes in Ja Rule’s style, as previously stated, but his strong references of religion remain the same, as he often calls on God on the “Superstar” track.

Another standout track of Pain is Love 2 is “Black Vodka,” a remnant of his Murder Inc. days. The song is obviously aimed at the radio, with a smooth summer melody. When the song was leaked to the internet, a few weeks ago, “Black Vodka” sent the internet buzzing, as it was met with positive reviews on nearly every hip hop website. Even the sites known for making light of Ja Rule, even his legal situations, had to give credit where it was due, when it came to “Black Vodka.” R&B remains a heavy influence for Ja Rule’s music, as the “Drown” track includes an R&B beat and is laced with auto-tune, of circa 2008-2009 fame.

Those who have doubted Ja Rule over the past few years will be stuck eating their words, after hearing PIL 2. Ja Rule owns up to the own part he played in his past demise and is now focused on the future. But, throughout the album, the only question is exactly what the future holds for Ja Rule. The lingering criticism against Ja Rule has been his near-obsession in proving he is “tougher” than 50 Cent and his frequent mentions of their beef. While not addressing the feud directly, Ja Rule is still inspired by it, as it played the most-pivotal part of his downfall.

It is easy to forget how talented Ja Rule is, when you look at all he faced, with the Shady/Aftermath/G-Unit feud. But, with all of those crews barely relevant and mostly past the feud, the timing was right for a Ja Rule comeback. On “Never Had Time,” Ja Rule proves he can continue to make the love songs for the ladies, but he can do so in a different manner. The biggest difference between PIL 2 and the previous Ja Rule albums is the lack of Irv Gotti production. Ja Rule recruited a number of new producers and has music, which sounds nothing like the current music out.

At a time when hip hop is transitioning, with artists of all different styles finding success, and with Ja Rule having nothing to lose, the timing was right for him to come out with something different. Unlike his last albums, and his attempted last albums, Ja Rule was also facing the end of his freedom. As he did when he addressed the feuds, Ja Rule owns up to his prison sentence, blaming himself and admitting regret, as he will miss two years of his life, as his children are getting older. Strangely enough, Ja Rule delivers his comeback opus, as he is sitting behind bars. But, being in prison has not stopped his music from being good.

Years ago, the stage was set for an epic Ja Rule comeback. Most-likely, if he had released his comeback album in 2007, or 2009, for that matter, the hip hop world would have embraced him with open arms. However, as both albums were shelved and 2010 was filled with promises of a new album, yet no new album, fans simply grew angry. Fortunately for Rule, there is nothing the world loves better than a good comeback. Many artists have delivered solid comeback albums, but only a few have actually been down for the count and was doubted by everyone. Eminem is praised for his comeback, but he chose to leave, Ja Rule was virtually forced.

Having worked with 7 Aurelius for years, Ja Rule had the luxury of completing an entire album with his complete production. Many of the biggest Ja Rule hits came on beats produced by 7 Aurelius, there should be no question why his latest album is filled with hit records. A decade after the bottom fell out and the hip hop world shunned Ja Rule, he finally delivered an album in which the listener hears him overcoming all of the adversity, track-by-track. Early in the year, hip hop fans do not expect to hear anything better than “good” albums being dropped, as the premier artists wait until the end of the year to release albums.

With Ja Rule being stuck on square one for so long, in many ways he was a new artist on PIL 2. Regardless of who Ja Rule is, how long it has been since he released an album, and who he feuded with, he has come back with the best album of the time. Lyrically, Ja Rule has stepped his game up. From a talent standpoint, Ja Rule has proved he is a certified hitmaker. Even before his feud with 50 Cent became public, fans were beginning to tune out from Rule, deeming him one-dimensional. It was a style, which worked for Ja Rule, but he has proven he has many different styles on this new album and he completely side-stepped the “gangsta” persona, he once adopted.

On PIL 2 (Pain is Love), Ja Rule has proven he deserves a spot in the conversation when discussing talented hip hop artists. Most importantly, Ja Rule has made himself relevant once again. However, the album sales will likely not reflect the gem in which this album is. Easily, Pain is Love 2 is the best album of Ja Rule’s discography and is the best album of 2012, so far.

Hip Hop Vibe’s Rating: 9/10

Album Review: Too $hort – “No Trespassing”

By Hardcore Critic
Hip Hop Vibe Staff Writer

Before judging this album for its contents, the first word to come to mind is longevity. The average span of a rapper is three years and two albums. One of the first albums released in 2012 is Too $hort’s No Trespassing, the nineteenth release of his career. It was twenty-nine years ago when Too $hort released his first album and nearly three decades later, he is still releasing new music.

A bigger win than the time Too $hort spent releasing records is the recognition he still receives. Without a doubt, most of the rappers he started out with have either fizzled out or moved on to another dream. Obviously, it was meant to be for Too $hort and hip hop, as he has retired and come back. However, he is contemplating calling it quits, once again.

If Too $hort does choose to end things after No Trespassing on a high note. The album continues with his “pimpin'” tradition. Even as he closes in on the age of fifty, Too $hort’s music never ages, with the young men of the current generation able to relate to what Short Dog has to say. Throughout his career, Too $hort has been able to maintain the components which make him Too $hort, this continues on No Trespassing. If a rapper makes it to the third album, most have completely changed their style, unrecognizable from looking at their debut album, nineteen albums deep and Too $hort has remained the same.

All in all, Too $hort still being, not only respected as a vetera, but still appealing to a wide audience, is a testament to the hard work he delivers every time he enters the studio to record an album. Alone, that should be enough for any true hip hop fan to take the time to at least listen to his music.

Hip Hop Vibe’s Rating: 6/10

Album Review: Maino – “The Day After Tomorrow”

By Hardcore Critic
Hip Hop Vibe Staff Writer

Immediately following the release of If Tomorrow Comes…, Maino announced his second album, The Day After Tomorrow. Much like with his debut album, Maino was delayed several times. Wanting to keep his fans updated, Maino turned to social networking, keeping his fans in the loop. The Brooklyn rapper released several mixtapes to keep the fans interested in his new music.

In the fall of 2011, Maino informed his followers the wait was almost over and released “That Could Be Us.” Primarily, Maino has been known as a street rapper, so the song surprised longtime Maino fans. However, Maino was able to maintain his street credibility. Speaking on the song, Maino said he wanted to put something together for the ladies, who are among the most-loyal fans.

However, upon listening to The Day After Tomorrow, Maino did not forget about the street audience he first catered to. Such tracks as “Gangstas Ain’t Dead” keep the street audience tuned in, as Maino, along with PUSH! and Mouse deliver some of the grimiest verses of 2012.  On his last album, Maino received criticism for being one-dimensional, he was able to hit all corners with this latest album, delivering songs for everyone. After listening to this album and watching how Maino holds his own on tracks with Meek Mill, Roscoe Dash, T.I., and Mista Raja, without going out of his comfort zone, Maino will never be called one-dimensional again.

While Maino is proves his versatility, he lacks the lyrical ability of some other artists. Fortunately for him, witty punchlines and top-notch production are able to keep the attention off his weaknesses. The Day After Tomorrow was well-organized and enhances the strengths Maino possesses, while being able to cover his weak points. So far, the 2012 hip hop landscape has been dominated by mixtapes, which topped many albums released during this period. Maino helps to balance things out, delivering a good album during a time when fans are more excited over mixtape releases. Overall, The Day After Tomorrow is a good listen and definitely worth purchasing.

Hip Hop Vibe’s Rating: 7/10

Film Review: “TheSexSymbol87”

By The Film Critic
Hip Hop Vibe Contributing Writer

In a city primarily known for its military bases, as opposed to a growing entertainment scene, one ambitious entertainer fought an uphill battle and made history. Always dreaming of being in front of the camera, Nelson Davis purchased a camera of his own and began filming. The final result was TheSexSymbol87, a film put together by Davis, with help from his friends, family, and aspiring entertainers in the area.

While the film was not about hip hop, it was heavily-influenced by hip hop, with the protagonist, Jimarcus, played by Davis, working as a marketing executive for a major record label. Jimarcus, along with his best friend, DeShawn, played by Donelle Davis, have made incredible lives for themselves, at a young age. The film served as an outlet for several artists on the Jacksonville, North Carolina hip hop scene.

TheSexSymbol87 is the definition of an independent film. Without many props, Nelson Davis and company made the most out of what they had. For many, it was obvious it was their first time acting, but this is easily overlooked with the passion delivered from each character and the addicting storyline. For a city, which has been overlooked by many others, within its own state, the film is something everyone can take pride in.

There are many who often talk about doing what Nelson Davis did. In small cities, it is usually difficult to put something as big, such as a film together, without conflicts arising. This was not the case, as Nelson Davis simply worked until the product was finally ready to be released. He did not hide behind his film being “independent,” either. Everything from the packaging of the DVD, to the red carpet at the film premiere party was up-to-par.

From looking at how both the premiere party and the DVD cover, one would have difficulty telling if Nelson Davis was completely independent, or had a financial backer. One thing is for sure, however, TheSexSymbol87 lives up to its tagline, “Love, Lies, Secrets, & Tragedy.” Most independent films have strong storylines, but are typically predictable. Another area in which TheSexSymbol87 stands out is in surprising everyone in the final stages, where the entire dynamics of the film change and then leaves you with a cliffhanger.

Within itself, TheSexSymbol87 is a classic, after looking at how the film was presented, and then the actual contents of it. However, on a bigger scale, the film is a major step in the right direction for a city with a budding entertainment scene. More than likely, TheSexSymbol87 will be the first of many films produced in the city of Jacksonville, North Carolina.

Hip Hop Vibe’s Rating: 7/10

Album Review: Tyga – “Careless World: Rise of the Last King”

By The Hip Hop Writer
Hip Hop Vibe Staff Writer

The West Coast hip hop scene received a much-needed shot in the arm when Tyga signed with Young Money. Tyga is one of the many fairly new Los Angeles rappers emerging into the hip hop scene. Since signing with Young Money, Tyga worked his way from the mixtape scene all the way to stardom, once again.

Late in the summer of 2011, Tyga released “Rack City,” which would go on to become a hit single for the rapper during the winter months. Tyga was able to unite several rappers for a star-studded remix of his lead single. Following the delay from the December release and the mid-February release, Tyga released Carless World: Rise of the Last King last night.

On his latest album, Tyga lives up to the Young Money trend of making creative music. The album is notable for such tracks as “Muthafucka Up,” with Nicki Minaj and “Faded.” Tyga also manages to establish himself among the acclaimed “New West” artists, such as Jay Rock and Kendrick Lamar, as he has released a full-length studio album.

Less of the album is focused on lyrical ability, with more of Tyga’s album focused on making upbeat, party music. For Tyga fans, this album will be everything they expected and is an overall entertaining album for hip hop fans.

Hip Hop Vibe’s Rating: 6/10

Hip Hop Vibe’s Album of the Year: The Throne’s (Jay-Z and Kanye West) – “Watch the Throne”

By Hardcore Critic
Hip Hop Vibe Staff Writer

Towards the end of 2010, there were rumors of Jay-Z and Kanye West working on a joint album. Many wrote this off as simple rumors, as Kanye West had released his comeback effort, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, only weeks before. Meanwhile, Jay-Z had become more focused on office work than recording music.

However, the duo reached out to the media and confirmed their album. Immediately after their announcement, Jay-Z and Kanye West unleashed “H.A.M.” on the world. The song was a major hit early in 2011 and came back into play later in the year. But, for months, there was no new music from Jay-Z and Kanye West, leading many to think there was no album coming.

When fans were ready to give up on Watch the Throne, the August 9 release date was announced and the album’s first official single, “Otis,” leaked. Following the success of the single, the album came, setting an iTunes record. Jay-Z and Kanye West came during the middle of the summer and took the game over, once more. The album was noted for the comeback of Jay-Z, who last released an album in 2009.

Watch the Throne had an impact on the entire rap game, as nearly every track off the album has been freestyled by nearly every rapper in the game. While “H.A.M.” was not featured on the album, Jay-Z’s “baby money” line was replied to by Lil Wayne on “It’s Good.” Late August into mid-September, there were questions about the re-ignited feud between Jay-Z and Lil Wayne, which both rappers played dumb about. In spite of how some may feel about Watch the Throne and despite the album being outsold by other albums, it had and is still having a major impact on the rap game, which says plenty about the influence Jay-Z still has over the rap game.