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  • 'Hip-Hop, It Started Out in the Park': How Unity Park Created John Creasy

    "Urban renewal means negro removal." - James Baldwin 'My area? Niagara? Everybody wanted to be a rapper,' the emcee notes during an interview in August, 'everybody wanted to be a star and to come back and give back to their community where they grew up.' As an emcee, John Creasy has made quite the splash in recent years. With more projects than I can count with my hands, Creasy has contributed his fair share to the onslaught that this renaissance has created. Within the Western New York rap scene that has dominated modern underground waves, Niagara has received little attention. However, artists such as G4 Jag of Lord Mobb, TRUST's Jynx 716, Jamal Gasol and Creasy are just a few examples to indicate the significance of Niagara's contribution. This story follows that of John Creasy and Unity Park; a housing project near Highland Avenue in Niagara Falls, New York and subsequently, John Creasy's childhood residence. Creasy has publicly represented his roots before. Last year, the emcee recorded and dropped the song, aptly titled 'Unity Park' which illustrated the influence that the area had in shaping his identity. Exploring the history of Unity Park revealed patterns of government neglect, systemic racism and struggle; a story that finds itself woven into Creasy's lyrics throughout his catalog. My aim is to communicate the meaning of those threads. Unity Park 'N****s slight me. That's why I give them extra bars. They didn't think a n**** could do it out of Niagara Falls' - John Creasy, Bomb First. James Baldwin had once stated that urban renewal was equivalent to Black removal. A read through The Color of Law or The Origin of the Urban Crisis will prove just that. The story of Unity Park exists as one of a handful of anecdotes the city of Niagara has contributed to this failure of Americanism. The project, originally developed under the name 'the Lehigh Project' in the early 1970s, was a response to what Michael Boston describes as a demand for housing among Black Niagarans. In the late 1940s, America, under the Truman administration, developed the 'Housing Act of 1949,' an effort to fund urban renewal projects, highlighting a need to eliminate 'blight' and clear slums. This 'slum clearance,' as it is referred to in the act, allowed many municipal governments to secure funding that they hoped would better their community. As Niagara Falls began to enter a period of decline in the early 1960s, efforts were put in place to request federal funding for a series of urban renewal projects in the city. These projects, as Boston notes, predominantly affected the regions Black community. Areas that housed the Black community were often deemed 'slums,' which allowed for the government to clear the land and construct new units to house the now dispersed population. By 1971, after a series of these projects had taken place, the city of Niagara felt necessary to construct additional housing units to house many of the dispersed (often Black) members of the community. The topic of race was not ignored during the creation of Unity Park. Unlike the past urban renewal projects that the city had undergone, Unity Park was designed as an integrated housing complex, meaning it would house a mixture of low income and moderate-income residents. The aim was to diversify the demographics of the project, in hopes to prevent decay in future decades and appease much of White Niagara's racially motivated concerns with concentrated African-American neighbourhoods. In a meeting that took place in March of 1971, a resident of the neighbouring McKoon Avenue, stressed to the planning board, asking if 'Unity Park would be totally black?' The response from those in charge was clear; 'no one can guarantee one way or the other, but considering the rent structure the danger is that it will be all white.' Additional comments during this meeting proved, with hindsight, to be of note. Anne Myers of DeVeaux St. noted that she had 'never seen a public project that didn't fall to pieces in 10 to 15 years.' In this, she was asking who would be responsible for the upkeep. Charles Baker, who held the office of the president at Wright and Kremers, the developing corporation selected to construct the units, claimed that the units would be maintained by Wright and Kremer, and that rent money would be sufficient for any maintenance. Speaking directly to Mrs. Myers, Baker claimed, 'you're visualizing something that's never going to happen.' Two decades later, both of the objecting citizens’ concerns had been validated. Unity Park, had went from a mixed demography to a nearly all Black housing complex. Additionally, the units had begun to fall apart. By the late 1990s, the city was already beginning touch-up jobs and band-aid operations to help with the deterioration of the Highland Avenue project. This is the Unity Park where Creasy was raised. When I was younger, I would play basketball a lot. So, I had to go to different neighbourhoods and different community centers around, so I seen it all. The first time I ever held a gun in my hand I was seven years old. I was riding my bike, going across the street to Ms. Doominsting's house. That was our candy lady in the neighbourhood. She sold penny candy back in the day. I was riding my ten speed to her house to go get some candy, and thought it was a rock but I hit something and fell off my bike. I picked it up, and it was a big ass [gun.] I'm seven years old, right? it was an all-black joint, had the leather handle on it. So I wasn't sheltered at all. I seen everything. I seen crackheads overdose in front of me. All types of shit. So, I wasn't really sheltered at all. Just being around it, you become accustom and used to it. But yeah, me just seeing a gun and holding it in my hand at seven, I could have almost killed myself. But my cousin seen me - I had it in my hand - he like ran over to me. It was loaded and everything. It was a glock too. He ran over to me, grabbed it from me. So, I wasn't sheltered. I had seen needles; we'd be playing around the playground. There was used needles in the playground, empty weed bags, empty crack bags, empty crack pipes everywhere. So, I seen everything. Creasy was raised in 14 E Peace Walk in Unity Park I - an area of the units that was labelled 'Last Court.' South Gate, Center Court, Last Court, and the neighboring Jordan Gardens were all distinct sections of the Highland Avenue neighbourhood. These sections, consequently helped define the territorial borders for local gangs. A fact that the Niagara Police repeatedly emphasized when reporting to the press. As Creasy notes: You had people beef with different territories even though we all lived in the same apartment complexes. You could walk across a little pavement and you're in a whole different apartment complex. I mean, it was your average neighbourhood. It was gritty grimy, people selling drugs out there, doing what they gotta do to make a living. But [gangs] were prominent as you had older people out there showing you the rope. Younger kids trying to do what they see the older dudes do. [...] You had your top people. You had your captains; you had your bosses under them, you had your workers under them. Unity Park in Niagara Falls was on the west side. We had a different apartment complex over which was called Jordan Gardens. And Center Court was like down the street from Unity Park. So, you had these three different sections. Within Unity Park [you had] everybody beefin' with each other. By 2002, conditions had continued to worsen. From 1995 to 1999, the vacancy rate for Unity Park had increased by sixteen percent, with nearly forty-five percent of all units vacant by the turn of the century. The vacancy had become a means to nest further crime. Vacant buildings represented opportunity. 'You're giving people an opportunity to come to the buildings and do their thing in the vacant building,' Creasy spoke, 'when I was growing up, everything was coasting. I was a little kid, having fun. But by the time I got up out of there, it was definitely time to go. There was more drugs being sold out of there, there was fiends being hanging around out there.' Crime in Niagara had escalated. From issues of petty theft to gun violence, citizens stressed feeling unsafe with where they lived. Even larger displays of violence seemingly had the ability to fade in and out of the weekly news cycle. Perhaps the most grotesque example occurred on New Years Day 1997 at 3M's bar on the corner of College and Highland Avenue when a gunman entered the facility and 'opened fire' causing hundreds to flee the premises and six injured. The 1997 New Years mass shooting disappeared out of the media in a week, it simply wasn't shocking enough to the city of Niagara Falls for a permanent scar to be felt. As predicted in the 1971 meeting, Unity Park had come full circle. Within three decades, decisions were made to demolish the units and build anew. The process of urban renewal had failed - and the circumstances the process had intended to fix had returned. It's important to stress the feeling the city had in 2002 regarding Niagara's blight. Though the Niagara Beautification Commission was fighting the problem, community members were vocally fierce, frequently addressing their concerns in local papers. One citizen described Niagara Avenue and 18th Street (outside of Unity Park) as sprinkled with 'graffiti-stained eyesores, overgrown yards and blighted buildings.' To those in Niagara, Unity had become the worst of the worst. On August 24 of 2002, the residents of Unity Park wrote a formal complaint of their conditions and published it in the Niagara Gazette, the cities most widely distributed paper. The headlines read 'Neglected at Unity Park,' 'Residents complain apartments owned by state are falling apart,' and 'Unity Park II in disrepair.' The call for action was bold and powerful. 'Welcome to Unity Park II, the 35-year-old apartment complex where boarded-up windows, broken glass and peeled siding are the rule, not the exception' the statement read. The article raised several complaints with the maintenance of the properties. Residents had reported the neglect from management for issues ranging from broken screen doors and leaking roofs to pipes freezing and falling down cupboards. In one instance, residents received notice that the fuel company was soon to be turning off their power, a utility that was the responsibility of the landlord. For one house alone, the government was in arrears for nearly four thousand dollars in today's currency. A 1999 letter sent to commissioner Joseph Lynch from the State Comptroller revealed that Unity Park had been in mortgage arrears for an excess of two million dollars and that foreclosures were imminent. At this point, over sixty percent of the units were vacant. For those forty present that remained, they wrote 'something needs to be done out here. It's terrible.' The response should read as familiar. In light of the public outcry, just one month after the August write-up, headlines were made again as the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency and the Niagara Falls International Airport had agreed to 'renovate' the housing projects. In assessment, they determined that eighty-six of the apartments were unable to be repaired and had planned to demolish them. The remaining one-hundred-and-twelve would be renovated. Forty-three percent of all units were destroyed. The demolition and renovations began in 2006. The neighbours presently occupying Unity Park II experience improved living conditions, however a decline has already begun to be felt. Interviews in the community revealed that the COVID-19 pandemic was felt particularly hard in the neighbourhood - as jobs diminished and the appeal of illegal money became increasingly enticing. The cyclical nature of urban renewal does not appear to be over. John Creasy Raised alongside three brothers, Creasy was born in Niagara Falls and raised within Unity Park. His mother was a nurse from North Avenue and his father, a factory worker from Jerauld Avenue near Hyde Park. As a child, Creasy was into sports and idolized the great basketball legends of the 90s like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Rap, would come later. 'I wanted to be a basketball player growing up.' Creasy reflects. As basketball became more serious, music was beginning to resonate. As a middle child to twin older brothers, Creasy's musical influences were readily accessible in his home environment. Youth in the Highland Avenue region identified with street rap in New York City, primarily that which was coming out of Queensbridge. Havoc and Prodigy's apocalyptic vision of New York street life was powerful and intimate and reflected the circumstances Unity Park residents seen at home. QB area. I would say that's how Niagara Falls is set up. So, Nas, Mobb Deep, all those people from the Queensbridge, so I definitely related to that. The first song I ever heard was 'Trife Life' from Mobb Deep on The Infamous joint. I fell in love with that song. Everything they was going through, we was going through too. It may not be New York City, or Queens New York, but it's still Niagara Falls New York. It's still part of New York. We upstate, but the same thing that they was writing about, I was living the same thing too. As Creasy grew, priorities in basketball began to decline in substitute for rap music, weed, video games and having fun. Once again, Mobb Deep played a critical role, as Creasy claims it was Prodigy that ultimately made the choice clear in his identity; John Creasy wished to be a rapper. Prodigy man, he made me want to be a rapper. When I first heard P, he reminded me of myself. I'm a short dude in stature but I got a commanding voice. When I first heard Prodigy on 'Trife Life' I'm like; 'who is this?' My brother rewinds it back, I got to hear joints like 'Right Back At You', 'Survival of the Fittest', all of them joints. That's what made me want to be a rapper. Around that time, I should have played basketball, but I kept listening to music more. I'd say Mobb Deep had a heavy influence on my area, my hometown. That's all anybody was playing in Unity Park. Rap music was popular in Niagara Falls. As Creasy notes, everyone he knew in Niagara either wanted to be a sports player or a rap star - however it proved difficult for Niagara talent to be recognized on a world stage. As a result, Creasy and his friends began a rap crew called, 'Wild Squad.' While still in high school, this was an opportunity for friends to better their craft and take a plunge into hip-hop culture. As a unit, Wild Squad went through various iterations and names. 'Homicide Crew' was the active namesake for some time, then ultimately to H.O or 'Helluva Outcome.' Creasy's first performances were with H.O. and helped him come more comfortable with the idea of being an artist. Like most local rap groups, individual growth and life circumstances prevented the group from reaching their aspirations. Although some members had become disinterested, the brand was still loosely used in 2015 when Creasy decided to step away to focus on an alternative path for his artistry. Creasy remembers: We're still all cool, but we all kind of stopped. I personally, stopped repping the Helluva Outcome brand probably around 2015. That's when I thought I'd go off on my own and let my name speak for itself. A lot of people had their own vision and went and did their own thing. I figured I might as well do the same thing. But we all still talk. We're all family. That's one thing I can say. We may not all still do music together, but a lot of people I was doing music with before, that's my first cousin, or I grew up with this dude, so we're all still cool. They still check out my music. They still rooting for me. But as far as us being a group, and us being known as that - I would say around 2015-2016. That's when I decided to go my own way and do my own thing. In 2018, outside of Niagara Falls, emcees Pro Dillinger and Snotty were tossing strategies back and forth over the phone. How to make it in the underground rap space? The Umbrella came about from a necessity for resources, and the belief in an almost artistic socialism. The Umbrella was envisioned as a space for artists of a similar discipline and ethos to share resources and develop, grow and prosper as a unit. As a super group, the Umbrella has been responsible for some of the most exciting music to be coming out of the underground hip-hop landscape. When Snotty and Pro Dillinger were considering who to grab, John Creasy was in the initial roster. Dillinger recalls: I got cool with John Creasy. But Creasy was with Jamal Gasol and Piff and all that so I didn't think he would go with it, but he came with us. And that was like our first immediate roster. As Dillinger described to me, Creasy was 'an OG member made from the first cut.' The affiliation with The Umbrella had proven successful for Creasy. From rapping at talent shows over Mobb Deep instrumentals, Creasy reached a point where selling out vinyl units was the norm - built off name alone. From 2018 to present, John Creasy has dropped a barrage of releases and has written guest verses at an even more impressive rate, all of which had been under the Umbrella brand. In the past four years he has released over a dozen projects; a mixture of both LPs and EPs; ranging from works with Jamal Gasol, Wavy Da Ghawd, Ol' Man 80ozz, to the Unity Park producer Prxspect. A rapid fire release schedule that is only appropriate for this brand of underground rap. His latest vinyl drop; a deluxe edition to his 2018 project Power with producer Enrichment, is out through I Had An Accident Records, a label which has consistently released vinyl for artists within this new wave. The album, with bold and hardened artwork by C Dyer will undoubtably sell out as his other releases on the label have. Creasy has, at this point, solidified himself as a significant contribution to the rap renaissance. To Creasy however, his work is not over. Recently, John Creasy announced that he would be departing with the Umbrella brand but made it clear he wished to continue to push forward and further his own name within the industry. For Creasy, there's a more important mission at stake. Recognizing that his artistic output has had impact, there's a sense of urgency to 'put on' for his hood and do bigger and greater things. It's a big weight on my shoulders. I think of that every day. I want my hood to be a legendary spot in my city. Where one day I can go back and they may have a mural put up of me out there. So, I feel a big pressure and I want people to understand when I do my music, where it comes from, where I grew up and all the lessons I learned and everything. So, it's definitely a big weight on my shoulders. I think about that shit all the time when I do music. I feel like I've been a good representative. But there's still more work to do. I'm definitely not done yet. But as a representative of where I'm from, and where I grew up at? I feel like I'm doing a hell of a job of that right now. There's nobody that grew up with me, or grew up in my area, ever been on Shade45 before, just building relationships off of this music. Unity Park is my heart. I believe in that shit with every pump of my heart. Every breathe I take is always Unity Park. For me to be able to put on for my city, that's a major accomplishment for me. Once it does happen. Last year, the emcee wrote the Prxspect produced 'Unity Park' for much of these reasons. Creasy remarks that "when I do music, I don't want people to get it confused. I like to let people know where I'm from. Where my upbringing is from.' To Creasy, he figured the song would let himself 'paint a picture' of his childhood residence, to give fans a vantage point, some context, for the lyrics he raps. 'When I got that beat from Prxspect, to me, it talked. The horns on there, the loud rock joint, the drums, everything talked. It was Unity Park.' The song features video shot and directed by Nova Vision and was released on March 27 2021 on the Paka the Plug YouTube channel. Much like the story of Unity Park itself, John Creasy's story has come full circle. Today, he's able to return to Unity Park with love, support and a feeling of youthful nostalgia. 'It's a good feeling. Even though it don't look the same, it's still that same feeling. I get a warmth in my heart. I feel comfortable there,' he reflects. Through every lyric and every action, John Creasy is a product of Unity Park and the failures of the Americanized process of urban renewal. The struggles reflected on by Baldwin, or scholars like Sugrue and Rothstein, have renewed themselves in the twenty-first century and will be remembered in time through the stories of those that endured and the art that they create. John Creasy, is that art. It effects it a lot. How I grew up. The lessons I was taught. The shit that I've seen. The shit that I've done. The people that I've been around. The lessons that got talked to me. Looking up to my older brothers, my older cousins, I got taught a lot of game living there. If I didn't grow up there, I'm not saying I wouldn't have been a rapper, but my presence, my cadence on a track? Everything comes from me growing up in Unity Park. I'm very much thankful to Cecilia, Kevin and Richard at the Niagara Falls Public Library, Jeff at the Book Corner, John Creasy, as well as Ashley and Mike of Niagara who agreed to be interviewed for the article. The Origins Of Urban Crisis by Thomas Sugrue - https://press.princeton.edu/books/paperback/9780691162553/the-origins-of-the-urban-crisis The Color Of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein - https://www.epi.org/publication/the-color-of-law-a-forgotten-history-of-how-our-government-segregated-america/ Housing Act of 1949 - https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/COMPS-10349/pdf/COMPS-10349.pdf Blacks in Niagara Falls: Leaders and Community Development, 1850-1985 by Michael B. Boston - https://sunypress.edu/Books/B/Blacks-in-Niagara-Falls2 "Falls Planning Board Approves Unity Park After Public Hearing [March 23, 1971]" by Laura Winchester for Niagara Falls Gazette via Niagara Public Library. "Unity Park II: Complex Problems" by Rick Pfeiffer via Niagara Gazette - https://www.niagara-gazette.com/news/local_news/unity-park-ii-complex-problem/article_9f4d704d-776c-5300-9bf9-18351454778a.html John Creasy Photo by 1000words - https://www.instagram.com/p/CeG3i8VL9or/?hl=en Power (Deluxe) by John Creasy x - https://ihadanaccidentrecords.com/album/power-deluxe-edition C Dyer Artwork - https://www.facebook.com/CDyerArtDesign

  • Monumental by The Davis Way

    You, person discovering Detroit Hip-Hop but haven't found the eclectic and classical underground sound beneath the viral and street rap that has taken the nation by storm: this is a strong place to start. This city has 4 sides, if you wanted to find the part where the breakbeats and samples coalesce with the BARs, you're in the right place. Detroit-based Producer the Davis Way has unleashed his latest effort, Monumental, combining the powers of Detroit artists across generations and styles to make this a welcome entry to a carefully curated catalog of top notch Rap records. Punchlines fly like bottles in the club in the early 2000s on the stand-out "Impeccable," Supa Emcee and P-dot bring the Hip-Hop shop era aggression and wittiness people expect from Detroit, trading bars as Pierre Anthony glides gracefully on the infectious hook. The immensely talented Drew Green and MYNA hold down the smoky and hard edge "Beyond The Block," more bars traded but this time illustrating the paranoia and angst of being a young artist in a city akin to Gotham. Fans of this should undoubtedly check out Davis’ previous works and the rest of the wonderful music coming out of the Architect Entertainment camp. Also, if you don’t know the Vettese Twins, you don't get out enough in the city’s Hip-Hop scene, they’re kind of inescapable. When you see them, and you will, say χlo told you to tell them “What up doe!” words by Xlo Release Date: November 13, 2022 ALL SONGS PRODUCED BY THE DAVIS WAY VINYL: www.architect-ent.com/product/monumental-vinyl-/18

  • Last Night at the Loxy: How Underground Hip-Hop Was Experienced

    Dew, stained into the very infrastructure of the concrete pipelines. Lines that paint the city a web. Lines that however neutral, organise the inhabitants above. The underground becomes the heartland of the city. The grime, the hustle, the hardened shell - originates beneath the city streets. The subways not only move the people but encourage those people to participate in the city itself. For the homeless, the underground is shelter. As metaphor, the underground remains home to even more. Black markets, organized crime and subculture all root their identities in this imagined space. For most of the world, the underground represents death and decay. In the urban reality, the underground facilitates life, but of a variety not far removed from the cemetery's grim. For hip-hop, this underground has always been home. As the divisions between hip hop's corporate and the culture's grass roots grew - the very aura of hip-hop was dug deeper and deeper beneath the concrete slabs that made it. Before hip-hop had an identifiable 'underground,' the culture itself understood that it was this environment that spoke to them - over that of the sunlight above. When we started seeing the recordings, a lot of us in the Zulu Nation stayed away from that at first because people thought once it got into vinyl it was going to kill the culture. - Afrika Bambaataa. In Flemingdon Park, Toronto - these imaginations were realized. Although hardly a unique story, by the late 1980s, Flemingdon Park (or Flemmo as it is commonly referred) had incorporated hip-hop into its literal underground terrain. With underground pathways connecting building complex to building complex, through underground parking, and nearby subway routes - Flemmo had an underground that the youth felt particularly fashionable, alluring, and more importantly; hip-hop. There's no better example of this than the Loxy. The name given to an underground storage room for the duration of one summer, sometime near the turn of the decade - when hip-hop turned from Public Enemy to The Wu-Tang Clan and when African Medallions were being traded in for martial arts VHS tapes. The sheer obscurity of the space demands a sense of allurement - of myth. 'It was Johnny B's step-mother,' Chris Jackson remembers. She was the one who owned the joint. Deep in the basement of a Flemmo apartment complex was a regular storage room. However, to kids with access, this was an imagined hip-hop playground. A meeting spot for heads - a privatized community hub that catered to the hip-hop tradition. Furthermore, this was a space that felt, despite the opposing legalities, owned and operated by the hip-hop community - their own space, with their own name and identity attached to it. To many, this is just what kids do. But if we wish to understand how hip-hop was engaged, then we must admit, that we are speaking of the activities of the youth. 'They were the older kids,' Jackson remembers of Johnny B and his friends. They would bring boom boxes, cassette tapes of their favourite albums, food and drinks - all the ingredients for a good night. For Jackson and his friends; Fathead and Headquarters, they had an invite. The Loxy was basically an interpretation of what we thought New York hip-hop was, and what we wanted Flemingdon and Toronto hip-hop to be. [...] It was like a half door, so you had to scrouch down to get in. I was only there twice. But it was something that some of the older guys [would occupy]. We were all part of the hip hop scene in the city. In Flemmo. We had rap crews, and dance crews, and DJs. The older guys turned that room into The Loxy. They turned it into a space where they would just go hang out, play music, do some freestyle sessions. - Chris Jackson. Far too often a history is drawn from memories. Capstones of success within the timeline of a particular person, region, or industry are isolated and used exclusively to formulate a history. Yet remembering a highlight reel chooses to forget the mundane. The day to day lives that make a culture what it is. Hip-hop was, and still is, a youth movement. Although there's value in a macroscopic viewing of the culture, moments like the Loxy represent much of what hip-hop had been made of. Kids being kids; engaging in the culture that they love in the most authentic ways that they know how. The Loxy was shut down by the end of a summer. Johnny's step-mom discovered the enterprise and the operation was put to a halt. But Chris and his friends, Fathead and Headquarters, they continued. I'm sure in some capacity, so did the older kids that frequented the space. They found new ways to incorporate hip-hop into their lives. New spaces to occupy to build community, friendships, and art. For them, the Loxy was just a moment. For everyone else, it was forgotten. Underground subcultures, particularly of the New Yorkian variety, often take this shape. Hip-Hop, the Beats, the Fairies of Chauncey's 'Gay New York' - articulations of underground, sometimes literal, sometimes figurative, but always tinted with the identity of the culture itself. For the Loxy, this literal underground was not vandalized into a hip-hop aesthetic, but for the hours of the night that it was the Loxy, it was hip-hop through and through. From the music, to the clothing, to the dialect and to the mood - it was hip-hop. We don't want no trouble we just came to hang. Maybe sip a little something and shoot the breeze. Some of us high on life, others use the trees. No bloods no Crips, no guns no clips. Just a bunch of fellas running off at the lips. Cause hanging with your friends be the thing to do. Let me see if I can explain my gang to you. - Masta Ace, Me and My Gang https://alexkuchma.com/

  • Marlowe 3 by Solemn Brigham x L'Orange

    One thing is immediately clear after pressing play on Marlowe 3, the third installment of emcee Solemn Brigham and producer L’Orange joint project: these guys are having a blast making music together. Marlowe 3, the finest entry in the series to date, is 18 tracks of bouncy, horn-laden instrumentals courtesy of Seattle’s own L’Orange. These colorful soundscapes provide a natural canvas for Solemn’s energetic pen and melodic delivery. He rhymes with a permanent smile, but these tracks aren’t all sunshine. Take album highlight, “My People”, where Solemn details the travails he faced en route to triumph: “Came out the well Rang on the bell Live what I talk, I don’t do what you say, you ain’t been where I fell” Songs like “Light Trip,” “Past Life,” “Hold the Crown,” and “Clarity“, highlight Solemn’s hook skills and L’Orange’s soulful sample chops that manage to sound fresh and dusty at once. Solemn thankfully owns mic duties on most songs, but a few friends join the bar fest. Guests include Blu, Joell Ortiz, and Deniro Farrar. Each delivers a slick verse, but none steal the show; his growing confidence as an emcee allows Solemn to go toe to toe with the greats. After dropping their debut in 2018, the titular duo remain in impressive form. Solemn is aware of the rapper-producer chemistry that got them here, a positive sign for those of us hoping these two continue their dynamite run: “They said I’d never be here without L’Orange I told them facts could never do me no harm” Released: October 28, 2022 words by Alec Siegel

  • My Life Iz A Movie by RJ Payne x Stu Bangas

    Lazy, settled, stagnant are words that would never describe RJ Payne. The Brooklyn born MC, formerly known as the battle rap veteran Reign Man, has dropped his 5th full length project of 2022. In the last several years he has been one of the most active hip hop artists out there with a constant flurry of mixtapes and features. His approach to his career has been just as hungry and aggressive as his rhyme style. My Life Iz A Movie fully produced by Stu Bangas does indeed feel cinematic, it's a concept album that takes us through a few days in the life of RJ Payne as he slides through New York City and the surrounding boroughs. Stu Bangas, one of today's most consistent underground Hip Hop producers, does a great job of giving My Life Iz A Movie a cohesive sound, and keeping us engaged throughout the entire project. The legendary DJ Doo Wop also makes a guest appearance on the album as a tour guide who occasionally provides facts and stories about the various locations in RJ Payne's journey. It's a solid concept and executed well, one really gets a good sense of who RJ Payne is by the conclusion of the album. He's one of the best doing it these days and makes the craft look easy. This is a concept that could wear thin after a few songs but his wordplay, storytelling, and the motivational gems woven in between it all make for an engaging listen. One of the best example is on "Central Park Vibes" over Stu Bangas' sparse drums and piano keys he raps: "Rolling up the reefer, time is just beating faster Met this cat named Peter, he eager to be a rapper He recognized me as soon as he saw me Started smiling, and I gave homie dap, it's a beautiful story He said his time running out, I said N**** look at me, I just blew up at 40" It's never too late in general folks and it's never too late to get familiar with RJ Payne. He made it to the table late but he's gonna be here for a while. Released: October 13, 2022 words by Monk

  • Tales Of The Town: The Album

    It’s rare when multiple individual specialists come together to take aim at a singular target, but when it does happen you get things like The Dream Team, the Apollo 11 crew, The Vienna Philharmonic, and now the Tales Of The Town Compilation! Presented by the Hella Black Podcast (Oakland’s Abbas Muntaqim and Delency Parham) the album pairs together some of the best talent the Bay Area has to offer. From LaRussell, Guapdad 4000, Rexx Life Raj, to Jane Handcock, G-Eazy, Lil Bean and more - the whole roster showed up and gave all-star performances. At 11 tracks this project is concise, precise, powerful, intentional, and inspirational! Tales Of The Town is the soundtrack of a podcast that bears the same name. The latter is a deep dive into the history of the black presence in Oakland, CA, from the Great Migration all the way up into Gentrification. Delency and Abbas use narration, clips, and special guests to give us listeners a play by play description of everything that is black Oakland. The album sticks with that theme and delivers an array of proud pro black slaps. “Off the slave ship we was inhaling them blues/ riding through the West like I’m Huey P. Newton,” Koran Streets casually flows on the song "Black Jacobins," giving you an example of the historic and hometown pride intertwined throughout the project. A lot of compilations miss the mark by randomly combining artists and producers hoping name recognition alone carries the project. Not here. This album was carefully curated, performers paired together like fine wine and Michelin star dishes. But maybe the most important thing about the album is that all proceeds go to the Peoples Programs of Oakland, a true example of the community taking care of itself. Each artist, producer, engineer, etc donated their time and skill sets for the greater good. Every time I replayed the project it sounded even better knowing that each stream was going directly into the community. From community programs for children to food and care packages for the houseless, Tales Of The Town will go down in history as one of the most influential and important pieces of art to come out of California. RELEASED: October 21, 2022 words by Flynt Nixon

  • Blood Shore Season 3 by Xavier Wulf

    It's been years since we stood on the Crimson Sands of the Blood Shore… the third entry in the highly lauded series doesn’t disappoint. Xavier Wulf is one of those artists in the vein of Curren$y and Wiz where if you need ride-around music, you know they will hold you down with every new release. In an era where Memphis has risen up in prominence again with the likes of HitKidd (featured on "The Law") and DJ Paul cranking out tunes for a slew of celebrated young spitters, Wulf sticks to his iconic style and evolves it over shiny new dark and brooding melodies. The Hollow Squad HNIC wastes no time on "First Light" getting to the shit-talk and smoke, literally and figuratively. No concept records, no introspection, all blood and balling out and flexing for the duration of the project minus the very Project-X sounding "Last Moon." HE DELIVERED ON THE THEME, a man of culture. That is why he has such a strong following over a decade into his career, no half-hearted experiments that don’t land, no hour long slog full of rehashed themes. 21 minutes of menacing beats and bars to get sturdy to. Standouts are "The Reason," produced by MVW, a short and sweet encapsulation of everything this album delivers. "The Law" and "Charles Ruffingham" show you what kind of rapping chops Wulf has when it comes to more energetic tempos and wordplay. Wulf has an undeniable ability to rhyme and a vocabulary that completely takes you by surprise whenever he feels like it. Even though some, (it's me, I'm some,) would like a longer playtime when these rare drops happen. Released: October 18, 2022 words by Xlo

  • The L Ride by Starz Coleman

    The L Ride by Starz Coleman is his second project of 2022 following July's impressive, For The Views. The New Jersey native has had a busy past few years between dropping solid Hip Hop projects and shooting videos for rappers, athletes, and other movers and shakers. The L Ride also is pulling double duty as Starz Coleman's latest full length album, and it's also the official soundtrack to his upcoming film of the same name, due out November/December. As an MC Starz Coleman is great at nearly everything he attempts on The L Ride. Straight out the gate "Ivan Drago" produced by Ched hits you in the face with an energetic, urgent pace. Starz Coleman attacks and it's beautiful when an artist can command their voice in so many ways. We get tempo changes, vocal flairs, and cadences that push the confines of the beat to their limits. He's the perfect example of "it's not what you say but how you say it." The man is also funny as hell, and I blame his lively delivery for making me chuckle while he's in the middle of talking about some of the grimiest aspects of making a living in the street life. On "Salvador Dali." Starz Coleman brings along Planet Asia to trade verses over a glorious beat from 4ORD. Gametime, all love like Faizon But I can chop your head off and uplift you in the same line Big blunts with sticky in it, AMG Kitted, GT53 Mercedes tinted N***** finished, I'm really with the business I used to spin the block with two 30s like 60 Minutes, then I switched up the image Perhaps my favorite song on The L Ride is Constantinople. Ched comes through again with a haunting beat that's giving feelings of Daringer or DJ Muggs. I think this one shows Starz Coleman in all his greatness as he switches up his cadence several times and even hits some double time flows as he weaves some vivid street tales. Also the humorous delivery takes this over the top. My B**** from Tobago, she don't like n*****, she only like bank rolls I throw her some pesos, she blow out your brains and cut off your egg roll It's something that I don't see often, on the same song he's also talking about how his parents struggles impacted him as a young child. The L Ride also features more great MC's such as Jameel Na'im X, Rim, Dutch Brown, Bad Lungz, Fat Boi Dash, Spoda, and G4 Jag. They all contribute in various ways that make this ride one you don't wanna miss! Starz Coleman is definitely an interesting anomaly, I haven't seen anyone with his particular combination of skills and personality. Most funny MCs don't talk about the streets, and most street MCs aren't funny. His interesting approach to crafting his music ensures that I'll be keeping The L Ride in rotation and looking forward to what he comes up with next! Release Date: October 11, 2022 words by Monk

  • Frank Motion by Killa Fonte

    Philthy Rich’s FOD label has been making a lot of moves in The Bay Area, signing artist after artist after artist, they’re becoming a real force to be reckoned with. One of the standout signees is Oakland’s very own Killa Fonte, from charisma, to skill, style, respect, and a story to tell his star power is limitless. His latest offering Frank Motion is the stamp he needs to put himself ahead of the pack. From the intro track conveniently titled “Intro” the skill is evident, "drinking champagne to the neck I’m shedding tears while getting wasted cause I’m sick without my other half, ain’t worried about what others have happy about the route I took I coulda chose the other path," he paints a picture of reflection and appreciation. The project is full of real life rap, slap, and gems. A well rounded album, Frank Motion is the perfect introduction for a listener who might be hearing Killa for the first time. From uptempo anthems like "Off Them Thangs" and "Repty Season" featuring Paidro Classic, to songs like, "So Soon" dedicated to a loved one that passed away, all bases are covered. The future looks bright for Killa Fonte and as long as he keeps his foot on the gas there’s no telling where things can take him. Especially with the recent light being shed on Bay Area music the time is now! RELEASED: October 14, 2022 words by Flynt Nixon

  • True Story by Mac J

    Although Sacramento’s Mac J is speaking about his personal experiences throughout True Story, the album still served as a not so subtle universal reminder of the several deaths that continue to escalate among young artists within the Hip Hop realm. If you personally have grieved anyone or anything then you’re aware of the array of emotions and thoughts that can become plaguing or catalyzing. True Story represents what it means to express those grievances and more closely how to mourn those losses when they are your blood and/or chosen family. Despite the pain and confusion Mac J exemplifies what it simply looks like to keep going. How do we keep going? How do we celebrate and honor lives lost? While many have various ways of how they do or do not keep going — Mac J not only expresses his sentiments through lyrics and production but firstly through album art. Noticeably, there is Mac J in the middle of a cut out heart, red flag on head. Within the heart there are yellow flowers (often signifying friendship) and two people inside the heart with Mac J; on the left there is Bris, Mr. Tricky Dance Moves and on the right the late Young Slo-Be. Both, two very important figures in the new wave/era of rap coming out of Northern California, more specifically Sacramento and Stockton. Mac J's perceived perseverance through True Story and his 2021 release, Trickymode are inspirational while simultaneously recognizing the difficulty of “inspiration” when the basis of it is coming from loss and grieving. It takes a lot of courage and heart to be able to put out a vulnerable body of work that still allows space for play and high energy invoking songs. It’s a beacon of light in a time that may seem grim or ill-lit. When they took my lil bro they took the breath of me I had a meeting with my Soul to see what’s left of me The same ones that never listen want to lecture me Once I cut you off — don’t give a fuck about you texting me - Mac J, Angels “Angels” is one of those tracks where Mac J does really well at painting his current predicament. He keeps sayin’ he’s not feelin’ anything and that he’s trying to fix his heart. It doesn’t seem like it needs fixing but more so understanding the process of grieving, the phases and time that takes the acknowledge and know where to go from there. I’m still thuggin’ around this bitch because I got angels with me. He’s sittin’ you down to tell a story on this one with clever and personal lyrics. I can tell that they don’t want me to focus / even if I’m last picked, bitch I’m chosen. “Alicia Bleys” featuring Philthy Rich & AO Meally — alliances, not shaking hands with no enemies. This is one that could’ve been made for the radio that highlights the vicious side of emotions and also how to handle self moving forward with his alliances. “Gawd Did” — personal stand out track due to the soulful/gospel influenced production but the flow and lyrics represent a revival within Mac J. Where he’s got the bear off his back, came above water and here to deliver the fire of the narratives that tried to drown him and take him down. I can tell you what I know, play with fire and got burnt - it’s a blessing and a curse Bitch, I had to step it up I wasn’t hard enough I had to take my backbone and go and charge it up You know I took my own plate because they was starvin’ us I can’t meet you at no finish line because you didn’t start with us - Mac J, Gawd Did “Her Son Stoopin” featuring EBK Young Joc is largely about creating his own money and business… but also battling with emotions and how to feel; fuck what niggas sayin’, fuck what they heard / I’m havin’ trouble, bitch, I’m tryna get my heart to work / I don’t have no feelings, bitch I’m numb to it / buy a glock I’m tryna find a drum to it / ayy, tell ‘em pay attention, this that thug music / tell your mom you beefin’ with the gang like her son stupid. It’s an airing out of thoughts and questioning of emotion that come with circumstances while talkin’ his shit. Braggadocio raps from the Soul. “Inside” is catchy from jump because of the use of “Through The Wire” by Rod Wave alone delivers the energy of the song; so much pain built up deep inside, I try to control it / but the anger built up deep inside, leave me to exploding. Speaks on the deceptions of said “friends” or those that try to get a little too close… callin’ you “bro,” “fam,” “sis” when they have ulterior motives. “Feisty” featuring Bris is about the comradery of those within his circle. Their morals and what they live by when pressure is applied in any avenue. Get the money and protect the brotherhood over chasing women. Catchy hook and a verse on demon time delivered by Bris — this is very much about the street life and the lives lost that go with it whether the deaths are coming from your circle or you’re squeezing the trigger. “Love/Hate” addressing the balancing of loving the street, hating the street, how people love him then hate him — all around encompassing the fickleness of people and how things can change from minute to minute. How do you stay focused? They love you when you down bad but hate you when you on your feet. True Story in entirety tells one story by recounting many smaller moments and because of this every song holds importance to the narrative. On the track, “Loafa Bread” Mac J is conveying even deeper how he feels about his little brother’s death. Ayy, I think these niggas scared / I think they killed my bro over a piece of bread. There’s a lot of questions he’s askin’ and at moments it seems like survivor’s guilt. Eventually, some of the lyrical content makes it clear who and what he's addressing. How you drop the rock? How you let them niggas score — you could’ve blocked the shot How you seen the whole play from the parking lot? You got envy in your eyes, you want my brother’s spot -Mac J, Loafa Bread The final track track that really added to the narrative while also allowing a deeper glimpse into Mac J’s mind is, “Mirror Match,” in full the track shows the intuitiveness of the artist, where my feelings at? / it’s like I’m fighting with myself, this a mirror match. That's a historical battle in terms of chosen ones who are carrying the torch for their various lineages and missions; a mental and physical battle. True Story is a thoroughly impressive album from Mac J considering circumstances and content used to make it. And don’t get it twisted either — while many of these songs have topics of grieving and emotions the production is still gonna make you move your feet, shake your shoulders and try to figure out how the hell the producers sampled that and disguised it so well. This is a real timestamp in Mac J’s catalogue. The talent, energy and perseverance is all there… very much looking forward to what else he decides to do and use his artistry for. RELEASED: September 16, 2022

  • RUFFS by Kenny Mason

    RUFFS is the latest project from frequent J.I.D. collaborator and genre-bending artist Kenny Mason. In just under an hour Kenny gives us a tour through his mind across acoustic guitar, trap drums, post punk screaming, gigantic buzzsaw synths and more. He co-produces almost every record on the tracklist and it feels extremely personal as a consequence. In a sea of artists finding their sound by finding the producer that their stylistic contemporaries use, this feels like an original and fresh body of work. There's some soundcloud era chill here as well, Kenny as an MC is confident, technically gifted and witty. But more than that, he can craft a multitude of varied and interesting hooks full of distorted and layered vocals. Not quite JPEGMAFIA levels of experimentalism on display but much more listenable for people not ready for that level of challenging content as a consequence. In the words of the man himself: I don't give a fuck if this shit ain't lyrical I don't give a fuck if this shit ain't radio I don't give a fuck, nigga, it's spiritual - Kenny Mason, ZOOMIES words by Xlo Released: September 28, 2022

  • STUNNA by P-Lo

    The Bay Area's yellow Golden Child is back on scene with his latest release STUNNA! P-Lo has been a staple in the California music scene since his start with the legendary HBK Gang! From producing to rapping he’s carved a unique lane for himself and became a pseudo ambassador for the Filipino community. Tapping into hometown inspiration P-Lo’s recent project takes history and repeats it, beautifully. Let’s say you took the Hyphy movement and gave it the latest iOS update, when it powered off and came back on you’d have STUNNA. The album is full of samples, interview clips, and soundbites from Bay Area pioneers like E-40, Keak Da Sneak, Mac Dre, and even DB The General. The art lies in the way he flips and molds them into songs that fit the modern soundscape. He keeps the theme consistent throughout the project sometimes subtly in an if you know you know type way. With features from today's Bay all-stars like Larry June, 22nd Jim, Kamaiyah, and LaRussell only helps to bridge the gap between classic and current. Further confirming that hyphy never died, it just evolved! STUNNA is full of downright anthems, my favorites being songs like "Lightwitch" and "Viral." America’s Favorite Pinoy delivers again and further solidifies himself as a living legend. After a successful release party at the Chase Center, (home of the Golden State Warriors) it seems like P-Lo’s elevator only knows one direction, up! RELEASED: SEPTEMBER 2ND, 2022

  • New Money by Baby Money

    Since signing with QC, one of Detroit street rap's rising stars, Baby Money has been featured in Billboard and across the nation making rounds as one of the chosen new stars in the industry. His latest project, New Money is largely produced by one of the most iconic architects of the “Detroit sound'' being imitated in today's hip-hop landscape; Helluva alongside Antt Beatz and others creating the signature “horror movie minor-keyed melody but make it bounce” sound that has been a staple here for decades. The keys are frightening, the bass is heavy and Baby Money sounds like a grizzled and hungry vet over the project's 16 tracks. There’s the expected shit-talk and baller raps but Baby Money brings a brash wittiness and humor that doesn't overstay its welcome (unlike some of his more viral peers) to the tracks. If we playing cops and robbers, imma be the robber If we playing pharmacy imma be the doctor Put a bird on your head, you won't see the chopper I keep my 9 in each state, Andre Iguodala Standout records are the Antt Beatz Produced and Jeezy assisted “All Hustle," No Mask” produced by OG Dynasty, and the Ojay’s-sampled “Double Cross” produced by Helluva. If you’re already a fan of the sound, you know what to expect but the polish and charisma here really makes this project shine if you're looking for those familiar tempos and street rap content. words by Xlo Released: September 23, 2022

  • Results Take Time by Symba x DJ Drama

    From Sway In The Morning, to L.A. Leakers, all the way to Funkmaster Flex we haven’t seen an artist blazing studios with freestyles this consistently since the mixtape era in the early 2000’s. That golden era feeling is in the air and one of the few artists we have to thank for that is the Bay Area’s own…. Symba! After years on the grind locally, doors closing left and right, deals that didn’t materialize, he’s now in the national spotlight with all intentions on showing the world that Results Take Time. You know the saying, you only get one chance at a first impression? Well, that’s even more true when it comes to a debut album. The project that can finish you before you start or put you on the path to GOAT status. Symba has done the latter. Results Take Time plays like a biopic, sharing stories from the very beginning and the journey that landed him in the position he’s in today. “Overnight,” “Never Change,” “Sacrifices,” “Find A Way,” the tracklist reads like chapters in an autobiography. Symba left nothing for the imagination as he told his story in his own words over production that adds to the overall cinematic feel. With assistance from the likes of Roddy Ricch, Pusha T, and 2 Chainz the project feels like a major label debut. Blood, sweat, tears, and time are the only ingredients that can result in an album like this. Witty lines about being turned down by radio program directors, label A&Rs, all to stick to his guns and end up where they’d never thought he’d be. All this from rapping his real life without a gimmick! Results Take Time is the perfect middle-ground between hardcore lyric lovers and club anthem bottle poppers. An album everybody can enjoy that comes from an authentic place and an extremely talented individual. RELEASED: SEPTEMBER 16, 2022

  • Fair Exchange No Robbery by Boldy James x Nicholas Craven

    Only the real remember the ToothPick Clique, the semi official collective of Midwest and West Coast musicians which included: The Cool Kids, Pac Div, and some at the time lesser known but now massive talents including Cardo, the legend Sheefy MC Fly, and Boldy James. Way back in the blog era (2010 or so) when all the parties in and around Wayne State were the place to be when you weren’t taking a trip to East Lansing that weekend, TAUT(The Air Up There,) Iron Street, the Untitled Bottega days and Red Cup Sessions… Boldy James was already a local hero and became an internet blog sensation from his collabs. Shortly after his ascension with T.P.C. he signed with Nas, and had a debut album produced entirely by The Alchemist. A decade later Boldy is one of the most prolific artists in America, standing on par with other members of Griselda in terms of both skill and output. He’s held his own with some of the best of this generation from Freddie Gibbs to Big Sean, over everything from Alchemist, to Exile and Don Cannon has been over some of the best. His latest effort with the seemingly unstoppable Nicholas Craven is proof that quality equals longevity in the art of Hip-hop. Fair Exchange No Robbery is a concise and effective 35 minute addition to one of the most acclaimed catalogs in rap at this point. With only one feature, Boldly and Craven completed the recording of this album in just a matter of days, some of which was recorded with the now infamous paper towel mic stand. Sample chops and drum breaks rule the minimalist production, Craven is becoming one of the artists in conversation with Alchemist and Madlib when it comes to finding obscure forgotten records and using them to create a mood with just 4 bars. I'm glad to say I could not immediately identify ANY of the samples used on this album on my first 3 listens. But one cannot survive on loops alone. I hope to hear more interesting song structures and arrangements from Craven in the future, especially with Boldy who historically shines over challenging and varied production, as evident on his Manger on McNichols project with Sterling Toles (although that album had a CONSIDERABLY much longer incubation period.) A gritty and unpolished display of lyricism is what we have come to expect from Boldy, and he delivers as usual. What separates him from his peers like Roc Marciano, Mayhem Lauren and the like is the pervasive grittiness and bitter emotive moments in the tales he casually weaves. Having grown up in one of the most wild hoods of the west side of Detroit, losing friends and family to the life, no matter how fly or luxurious it sounds, there is always a solemn/sobering element especially on tracks like “Straight & Tall" and "Power Nap.” Grim and stark lyrics like: Catching pops at the Valero, I was selling dope Big can, barrel look like the back of a telescope Weather the storm, had the shivers, damaging my liver Had to plow through the snowstorm, now my neck a blizzard - Boldy James, Straight & Tall His baritone, (some might say monotone) and laid-back delivery meshes well with the sparse sample-driven soundscapes Craven crafts. Neither Boldy nor Craven misses a beat or overstays their welcome. Though each track is 3 plus minutes, it is broken up with conversations and instrumental changes interspersed. This album is for the fans and is a welcome addition to the library of a legend. words by Xlo RELEASED: SEPTEMBER 30, 2022

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