Common – Nobody’s Smiling

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When an artist reaches the 10th album milestone, there is inevitably a cloud of doubt hanging above its release. In a constantly shifting landscape, can the artist keep the music fresh? Do they really have much left to say at all? 22 years after his debut album and nearly a decade after the massive success of Be, Common returns with a reflection on his tumultuous early years as an aspiring rapper. Joining long time collaborator No I.D., who helmed the production for the entire album, the 42 year old rapper doesn’t tread any uncharted waters, but instead provides a convincing argument that he still has a lot to say.

Sticking to No I.D. for the project’s length proves to be very fitting as Common shares with us some very dark times in the early stages of his career. Opening tracks “The Neighborhood,” “No Fear,” and “Diamonds” are very moody pieces that find Common rapping about very personal stories of the struggle he’s been through and the tragedies he’s witnessed his friends and peers fall victim to. Production on these tracks matches the mood perfectly, which should come as no surprise as No I.D. was a great friend of Common’s during most of these difficult times. “The Neighborhood” contains a very appropriate, aggressive verse from Lil Herb, while “Diamonds” features Big Sean who still proves to be red hot since dropping Hall of Fame.

“Speak My Piece” lives up to its title as Common drops some dense verses, but the album immediately shifts in tone with the inevitable banger “Hustle Harder.” Although Common isn’t the typical club-single rapper, the song works well and Snoh Aalegra comes through with a verse that doesn’t try too hard and simply rides the beat. From there the album sees another shift with the soul infused tracks “Real,” “Kingdom,” and ” Rewind That.” These tracks move away from the moody production in the front half and match Common’s typical style, and the stories told are slightly more positive. The highlight track of the album, “Kingdom,” has a nice gospel hook that stays with the production throughout the song, and Vince Staples breaks out of his typical style with a great feature. Common brings an interesting duality to the song, pairing his religion with the struggles he had (“My whole life I had to worry about eatin’/I ain’t have time to think about what I believe in”).

With only a few stumbling blocks, mainly title track “Nobody’s Smiling” and “Blak Majik,” which couldn’t be saved by the Jhene Aiko feature, Common proves that he still has an interesting and relevant story to be told to the rest of the rap world. Whether its owning up his mistakes while Vince Staples raps about inevitably making the same ones on “Kingdom,” or running the gamut of all his friends that have passed, and how important the ones that are left are to him on album closer “Rewind That,” Common doesn’t appear to be running out of ideas any time soon. There may not be anything revolutionary here, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important.

7/10

-Taylor Pope

Artist of the Month: Ez Craven

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Hailing from Limerick, rapper Ez Craven and his brother Paulie PunchEz together make Brotherz Grimm. Two of the few Irish hip hop artists who sound like they belong in Wu Tang Clan rather than Blazin Squad. Ez together with his brother who produces all the music, have created a grimy, classic Irish hip hop sound. Check out his latest video ‘Disgusting and Despicable’:

The two artists have completed their solo albums (Ez- Class A Narcotics, Paulie – Kaos of the Brain) and are just waiting for artwork to be finished before they release them. With a double album also in the works, it’s clear that neither artist is afraid of a bit of hard work and are set to take take the Irish hip hop scene over with a nostalgic yet refreshing sound.

While we wait for the album releases, check out Brotherz Grimm album, ‘Death Collectors’ here:  http://brotherzgrimm.bandcamp.com/album/death-collectorz

Bloodshed Records

After hearing that Mobb Deep would be playing the Voodoo Lounge on the 1st of August, I was intrigued to learn more about the promoters, Bloodshed Records, who would be hosting what could be the best hip hop gig of 2014. Founded by Tall-Order and Rew, Bloodshed have already signed female MC, Bexi, Young Jay, and 9 year old sensation Ben-R, who appeared on Ireland’s Late Late Show In February this year.

After releasing Tall-Order’s mixtape featuring the likes of Kool G Rap and Killah Priest, his follow up album ‘The Tree of Life & Death’, was the first Irish hip hop album to reach number one of the itunes charts. He’s is currently working on his second studio album after writing, starring in and completing the soundtrack to upcoming Irish film, ‘Control’.

Following the tragic death of Rew’s younger brother in August 2013, they set up a fundraising event which featured Tupac affiliates The Outlawz. After the success of this gig, they brought Onyx to Dublin in May and are now set to host The Infamous Mobb Deep August 1st. Tickets are available from ticketmaster and it will feature support acts from Ireland, U.K and U.S, with Mobb Deep hitting the stage at half 11.

Twitter: @blooodshedinc

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BloodshedRecordsInc

UPDATE: Bloodshed Records presents Serial Killers (B-Real, Xzibit & Demrick) live in the Voodoo Lounge, Dublin September 25th. Tickets are €33.90 and are on sale now, available from Ticketmaster.

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Nardwuar The Human Serviette

Everyone’s favorite Human Serviette, Nardwuar, is one of the best music journalists of our time. Some may be put off by his wacky demeanor, but there is no one else who goes as in depth with their research as him. He constantly surprises artists  with information he knows and rapper constantly ask him if he’s ‘with the feds’. He gives better gifts to his interviewees than those you’d get from family members at Christmas & a lot of the time it is the artists who is grateful to be interviewed by him, rather than the other way around. Here are 3 of my favorite Nardwuar interviews:

Nardwuar vs. Earl Sweatshirt & Syd Tha Kyd

Having already interviewed the other member of Odd Future, Nardwuar took the time to interview to of the most reserved members of the group. He greets them with plenty of MF DOOM related memorabilia, much to the delight of Earl.

Nardwuar vs Nas

Nas seems taken aback by Nardwuar at first in this one. He begins to warm to him and somewhat open up but after being told that he couldn’t keep a certain record you can see he gets offended.

Pharrell vs Nardwuar

After years of interviewing the top names in music (Nirvana, Snoop Dogg, Motorhead to name a few) Pharrell Williams finally turned the tables on him and interviewed him in 2013, complete with Nardwuar’s signature gifts and interview style.

Ham Sandwich, Whelans 15/7/14

Ham Sandwich (not just a tasty lunch time snack) are an Indie rock band based in Dublin. They got great feedback from their recent gig at Marlay Park supporting Arcade fire and the Pixies, their biggest so far. I’ve been a fan for a couple of years, and since I missed Marlay park, I was happy to find tickets for 17.50 for the Whelan’s 25th anniversary special.

Whelans is celebrating its 25th year of bringing some of the best music from Ireland and all over the world to Dublin’s doorstep. To commemorate this special event they have set up a few special gigs featuring some of the best Ireland has to offer, such as The Frames, Damien Rice, Paddy Casey and of course Hamsandwich.

The act that supported Ham Sandwich was The BQ Trio, whom I never heard before that night. The three lads sing in three part harmonies that are accompanied by a trumpet and acoustic guitars. The trio use their layered vocal harmonies intricately to contrast the gentle minimalism of their instruments in their mostly melancholic song which makes for a very easy listening style of music. The band has their most recent track on Youtube called ‘These are Steps’ live from Unit1 studios. They are definitely one to keep an eye on with their upcoming ‘Minimal Country Disco’ on itunes later this year.

Ham Sandwich played songs from both their first album ‘Carry the Meek’ ’08 and ‘White Fox’ ’10. A contrasting male and female voice that works well together is one of my favourite attributes to find in music. The mellow but powerful feminine voice of Niamh and the deep baritones of Podge give the band their niche. Their style of song starts off quietly with slow gentle rhythms that lead to a chorus that will have you up and dancing, such as their single ‘models’.

The atmosphere would rival some of the best gigs I’ve been to; this was made evident by the band themselves. They put a great amount of energy into their performance and didn’t miss a beat. A band that sound just as good live as they do on an album is something rarely seen today.

Niamh reminded me of David Bowie or Debbie Harry, with glittery eyes and killer dance moves, where they get their inspiration is clear by her voice. To show some of the music that influences them they did a couple of covers that included ‘Running up that Hill’ by Kate Bush, ‘No Surprises’ by Radiohead and my personal favourite of the night Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’.

Throughout the performance the members of Hamsandwich thanked the crowd and everyone who helped them many times. It’s refreshing to see a band so humble. They were amazed that so many people came to see them on a Tuesday. As their encore they played perhaps their most famous single ‘Ants’. This was a perfect way to wind down the audience after the Donna Summer classic.

Ham Sandwich are working on their 3rd album which will hopefully be released towards the end of 2014 or early 2015.

-Emma Boughton