You already know Matt Moretti’s got five on it
Berner & B-Real – Prohibition Part 2
You have to give it to Berner. He’s had an incredible journey over the past 5-8 years, going from employee at a cannabis club to parlayed that that into becoming a local figure in the Bay Area rap scene (You like weed? Want some for free? Hey let’s rap). He then used that same approach to click up and be a part of Wiz Khalifa’s Taylor Gang, developed California’s most popular strain in Girl Scout Cookies, and now he’s an international spokesperson for the marijuana movement. Impressive.
With all of that in mind, Berner’s recent work with B-Real comes as a little bit of a surprise but makes a lot of sense. Despite the generational gap between the two, on a lot of levels their lives and their music seem to be in close alignment.
In anticipation for 4/20, the duo dropped their second collaborative album, Prohibition Part 2. As was the case with the first, this record finds itself more within Berner’s musical realm than B-Real’s. Slow melancholy and atmospheric instrumentals provide the backdrop for eight marijuana love songs. I don’t think anyone will be surprised by the fact that the project is a little one-dimensional, but with features from Cam’ron, Scarface, and B-Legit, this is definitely an enjoyable listen. “Blowing Money Fast” featuring Demrick and Scoop Deville is a low-key favorite. Call me a sucker for nostalgia, but I have countless teenage memories that involve Cypress Hill’s Back Sunday playing in the background. The bass heavy re-imagining of the album’s classic intro should inspire many a hazy stroll down memory lane.
Luniz – High Timez
To me, The Luniz’ debut album, Operation Stackola, is a top 5 Bay Area record of all time. In high school, everyone I knew had a copy in their car, and the music was a staple of the house party circuit. I still play it from start to finish on a regular basis. The beats somehow were both heavy and lush, while lyrically it represented a time where every rapper, regardless of their musical niche or hometown, cared about being a gifted MC. Operation Stackola introduced me to Dru Down, Richie Rich, Mike Marshall, and Tone Capone, and is also largely responsible for Yukmouth being my favorite rapper for almost 2 years.
While Yuk has had an extensive, and at times inconsistent solo career, the Luniz haven’t done much as a duo beyond Operation Stackola. In ’97 they dropped the underrated yet still enjoyable Lunitik Muzik, and prior to this month, the group hadn’t released anything together since 2002’s disappointing and largely forgettable, Silver & Black.
With High Timez the Luniz have released their first album in 13 years. While it may not be classic material, hearing the two MC’s together after more than a decade of silence is refreshing. After taking a look at the 4/20 release date, album title, cover art, and song names like “Ultimate Stoner,” “Still The Highest,” and “Can You Handle Yo Drugs,” one doesn’t really have to hit play to understand the album’s focus. Yet what was unclear, was whether the MC’s still have it. Despite the tired subject matter, I was relieved to hear that both Yuk and Num still sound good. The vocal presence is there, the ability to properly ride a beat is still there, and I was pleased to hear that there was still some hunger in both MC’s, particularly Numskull.
The duo also recruited an impressive supporting caste to celebrate their return to music, including B-Real, Ras Kass, J Stalin, Dru Down, HD and Bad Lucc. Yet I can’t help but feel like a moment like this deserved better production. The vast majority of the album featured pretty stale and generic Bay Area keyboard beats. Which is a shame, because this return is meaningful and calls for something more triumphant and attention grabbing. Hopefully, they’ll hit their stride with the next one.
J Stalin and The World’s Freshest – The Real World West Oakland Part 4
In 2010, J Stalin made the transition from being another Bay Area rapper to one of the region’s premier and most beloved talents. Every 2-to-3 years, the Bay has one local album that’s seemingly embraced by all of Northern California and can be heard practically everywhere. In 2009 it was The Jacka’s Tear Gas, and in 2010 it was J Stalin’s Prenuptial Agreement.
While Stalin and Livewire Records had been bubbling for a couple of years, the Prenup made them the most important musical force in the Bay (until The HBK Gang took that spot 2-to-3 years later). The World’s Freshest, formerly known as DJ Fresh, also rose to prominence right alongside Stalin and Livewire. Over the years, Fresh has differentiated himself from other local beat makers by producing entire albums for artists, as opposed to a few random tracks. The first volumes of his album series, The Tonite Show, featured Livewire artists like J Stalin and Shady Nate, before he expanding to include Bay Area legends such as Keak Da Sneak, The Jacka, and San Quinn, which eventually led to producing albums for artists from outside of The Bay including Raekwon, Freddie Gibbs and Trae Tha Truth. Yet through all of the new opportunities that Stalin and Fresh have been exposed to over the years, they continue to work together on a regular basis.
This month Stalin and Fresh released their latest joint project, The Real World West Oakland Part 4. The two artists often sound most in their element when working with 80’s samples, and that happens to be when this album is at it’s best. Tracks like “You Belong to Me,” “True Story,” “I Know What It’s Like” and “Back In The Day” feature street tales wrapped in 80’s funk, bass heavy drums, and Stalin’s distinct melodic delivery. It’s classic Oakland music that has enough going on to appeal across a couple of generations.
The problem is, despite being a double disc, we don’t get enough of what the two artists are best at. It sounds as if this go around, Fresh handed off a fair amount of the production duties to other producers, which is unfortunate. Stalin has started spending more time rapping about mackin’ girls than providing the honest and nuanced depictions of the criminal lifestyle that originally made his music so meaningful to so many. If they cut out the dead weight, there’s a really strong 10-14 track album in there.
RAZO – Final Xantasy
It seems like these days every teenager wants to be a rapper. It’s gotten to the point that kids pushing their garbage mixtape has become an Internet punchline. To Nipsey, the rap game may be a marathon, but in reality, young artists need to run more than a couple of races before they even start to attract the type of attention that can build a career foundation. Without a serious love and dedication for the craft, an insatiable desire to learn how the game is played, and a level headed demeanor for when things don’t go as planned, the work involved in becoming a well known rapper is often too much for the young upstarts simply trying to make a quick buck and bag some girls who’re out of their league.
With this in mind, seasoned rap listeners tend to not to pay the youngsters much attention. Yet every artist has to start somewhere, and occasionally, young MC’s with legitimate talent emerge on the scene and rise above the stereotype of the childish and superficial teenager. RAZO appears to be one of those MC’s.
Em Dub and the Thizzler staff have been telling me about RAZO for about a year now, and I’ve been looking forward to him to dropping a project. This month, I got my first real exposure to RAZO’s music with Final Xantasy, which he released to celebrate his 18th birthday. As an admitted Final Fantasy nerd, I appreciated the title, but what first impressed me was the beat selection. The production on this project is dark, muddy and sample-based, which was a pleasant surprise considering that beats like these are a rarity for Bay Area MC’s of any age. On top of that RAZO sounds surprisingly comfortable on the mic considering his rookie status.
He directs a lot of his thematic focus on drugs, alcohol, girls, and clothes, which is about the extent of what most high school seniors are thinking about. However, it’s balanced nicely with meaningful introspective thoughts about social anxiety and pill culture. While there’s definitely room for growth, at 18 years old Razo seems to have a lot of potential moving forward.
TyreseJohnsonMusic – Not A Day Later EP
Tyrese Johnson is a relative unknown in the Bay, but a little over a year ago I stumbled upon a video for his track “Nameless” and ended up replaying it 6 times in a row. The beat was smooth, his flow was on point, but most of all I appreciated the honesty in his music. He was confident about his skills, yet didn’t hold back from exposing the frustration he had in regards to where he was in life. I’ve since followed his progress, and while the production quality has fluctuated across his multiple albums, his lyrical ability continues to stay sharp, and honest expression continues to be the cornerstone of his musical identity.
On the last day of April, Tyrese came out with the Not A Day Later EP. Despite being only five tracks long, this project is creatively dense. Displaying myriad flows and technical growth, Tyrese touches on everything from nihilistic tendencies developed from growing up in Oakland, heartbreak, his love/hate relationship with making music, student loans, family and more. The beats range from jazzy, to abstract, to sparse and soulful, yet are consistently solid throughout. “Black Heart” in particular knocks in a way that a majority of his music hasn’t in the past.
Tyrese’s honesty and ability to self reflect on wax continue to be the highlights of his musical output. After listening to all five tracks, there’s a sense that music is more to him than an opportunity to become well known or famous. Rather it feels therapeutic, in a way that indicates that he’ll continue to produce meaningful art whether the accolades hop on board or not.