Alphonse Pierre think the Sabres should play in the Bronx.
Standing on the Corner– Red Burns
Red Burns is confusing. I’m not sure who, exactly, is in this Brooklyn collective of musicians that came together for an album filled with hip hop, jazz, and free form spoken word, but one thing I know for sure is that I love it. The official leader of Standing On the Corner is a 21 year old artist by the name of Gio Escobar and one of the main production contributors is Slauson Malone of the Brooklyn duo MedSlaus. I went into this album fairly blind, unsure of what, exactly, I was getting myself into, but when it ended I refreshed the page on Soundcloud and started it again.
The album, which clocks in at bit over a hour, plays like a Spike Lee movie. No, not Chi-raq era Spike, but 1989 Spike. The spoken word bits fit the same role as Samuel L Jackson in Do the Right Thing and the look into aspiring musicians navigating their New York life reminds me of Spike’s underrated Coltrane filled, Mo Better Blues.
The singing on the album isn’t particularly great—matter of fact neither is the rapping—but all of it is made up for in execution. The album is only available in one single file, so you essentially have no choice but to listen to it straight through which at first is irritating, but then eventually you get it. The point where Red Burns became something I could not shut off happens about 15 minutes in during a wild drum solo backed by one of the members who must have chipmunk sized cheeks blowing his all into the saxophone, transitioned into a cliche but effective “Let’s Get It On” sample.
Red Burns deals with a number of topics, with some of the most prevalent ones being the uplift of Black and Brown people; love of the motherland; and their complicated relationship with their home New York. About 29 minutes in, during one of the strongest moments of instrumentation on the album, a low pitched voice says, “I love New York, but why don’t it love me back?,” acknowledging how they appreciate New York for making them who they are, but the appreciation has a limit because they remain lower class citizens.
The album feels like a day in the life of Escobar’s New York, as we experience what he and the rest of Standing On the Corner do. They walk through Brooklyn skeptical of the police and even stop at one point to make sure the listener knows that they’re in “shorts and Puerto Rican slippers.”
Red Burns is the rare album that treasures all Black music from the random instances of African music to the bed creak sample that Triple 6 Mafia used to love (and to this day are the only artists to use it well). Red Burns is all over the place in where it reaches for inspiration yet still manages to be a cohesive piece of work. It made me think less optimistically about New York, in a way that I should have been before, but refused to.
I wrote all of this and yet still know nothing about Standing On the Corner, but I hope that changes. This is an album that deserves recognition for trying to be something more, and most of all telling the story of a group of young creatives thriving while everything surrounding them is attempting to make sure they don’t succeed.
Conway the Machine & Westside Gunn– “RIP Bobby”
Okay, I’m going to break my own rules here because this is a New York rap column and Conway the Machine & Westside Gunn come to us by way of Buffalo, which might as well be Canada. This track is divided into two parts, with the first part produced by Daringer, one of the most sought after producers in the underground, and the second by the legend Alchemist. The production not only captures New York in sound, but also by having a title that pays respect to one of the greats in an industry that has always thrived in New York: wrestling.
The two beats on the track are astounding. It seems like Daringer and Alchemist are in competition to see who can use their soul sample best. I’m sure most would say Alchemist is the winner, but I have to go with Daringer here because I am a sucker for the sped up soul sample (thanks Cam and The Heatmakerz).
Conway and Westside bounce off of each other effortlessly as they always do. Conway’s gritty flow that sounds like he’s the lost Boot Camp Clik member meshes beautifully with Westside’s high pitched shit talking, where you can tell the mic must be covered with saliva from how aggressively he enunciates.
The two halves of the song are divided by a Bobby Heenan promo as the track was released a couple of days after his death. Rap and wrestling have always had a strange relationship, from Method Man going ape shit in the crowd at Summerslam 1998 to Ric Flair’s never ending influence on the genre. Bobby Heenan was a man of many words and, although before my time, was someone I grew up appreciating, because as a lover of shit talking in rap it’s no coincidence that my favorite wrestlers happened to do the same. Madison Square Garden has always been the home of wrestling in my eyes and it’s satisfying to see two rappers from New York (kind of) honor one of the greats. RIP Bobby.
Princess Nokia– “ABCs of New York”
One of the standouts of Princess Nokia’s inconsistent debut album, 1992, is her homage to New York City, “ABCs of New York.” The song, which has an elementary acrostic poem theme that normally would be eye roll inducing (“A is for apple take a bite and spit it out/B is for bodega eating on your mama couch”), surprisingly works, as the throwback New York production and Nokia’s genuine enthusiasm for New York despite the city’s flaws won me over. Nokia on the track takes the listener on a trip with her through New York with imagery rivaling Wiki’s debut last month (“Motorbikes from every side/Flyin down the FDR”). With every subsequent line, Nokia is able to invoke some sort of reaction within me.
- “Subway trains goin by/Squad sittin St Marks.” I can picture myself sitting on a St. Marks curb with three of my friends eating dollar pizza from 2 Bros watching everyone walk by as we try to figure out how to get into the bars.
- “Undercover agents I can spot them all the way.” Every Italian guy posted up on a subway wall with a Yankee fitted and a clearance Modell’s Yankee jersey is an undercover cop, this is a fact.
- “Village Voice, six page.” Before there was a Halal truck on every corner of every borough I remember hopping on the Staten Island Ferry with a group of my friends just to get a mixed plate and would always happen to read the Village Voice in the process, as my friends laughed confused why the hell I found this paper so fascinating.
Big Baby Gandhi– “Life Is Great” & “Ugly Ppl Make Music Too”
Ask me who my favorite St John’s University alum is. Go ahead, ask me. Chris Mullin? No. I would never trust a White guy with a flat top. J Cole? No. Jaheim? Close, but no. Alright, I’ll just give you the answer. It’s Big Baby Gandhi. Rapper turned pharmacist turned rapper again, Big Baby Gandhi initially had me skeptical on his comeback album 27. Would he still be the same Queens bred high pitched Bengali rapper with a love for sampling and dick jokes? Thankfully, it was in fact the same Big Baby Gandhi, just this time a little older.
Two particular tracks stood out to me on 27. The opulent jazz sounding “Life Is Great” and the moody “Ugly Ppl Make Music Too.” On “Life Is Great,” we catch up with what has been going on in Big Baby Gandhi’s life since his retirement four years ago. Gandhi’s first lines on the track are “Life is great for me now/Lil Baby wow/There’s grapes fed to me now.” He’s practically shouting over the bombastic horns.
He raps for nearly five minutes straight which is admittedly way too long for me in 2017, but it’s his comeback and he has a lot to say so he gets a pass. The topics range from being Asian to his experiences in pharmaceuticals. Hearing a rapper that has worked a job before instead of being a 16 year who stumbled into a rap career with no life experience is refreshing.
Gandhi takes it back a notch on the more reserved “Ugly Ppl Make Music Too,” where he solemnly goes from topic to topic even exploring a newly developed singing voice. The Gandhi produced loop is soothing and his exhausted “ma” adlib is personally my favorite part. Lyrically, it can be corny at times, but the flow is smooth and really I’m just happy to have Gandhi back in my life making music. And hey, at least Nav is no longer the sole representative for South Asian rappers.
A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie– The Bigger Artist
Over the last year, A Boogie has become one of rap’s most under appreciated hitmakers. The only thing holding him back from cementing himself at the top of New York, crowned a generation that badly wants to give somebody the title, is the absence of a larger than life personality or character that has become essential in rap. Most people couldn’t pick A Boogie out of a lineup, with his first day of middle school haircut and a look that recalls every teenager in the South Bronx. Despite this lack of personality, A Boogie still had a chance to become a superstar with his debut album The Bigger Artist. While I don’t think he quite did that, A Boogie made a compelling post Drake album where he whines about Instagram with some New York flavor mixed in.
A Boogie took the safe route on The Bigger Artist, opting to abandon his style as a melodic Meek Mill rapping over Jahlil Beats rip offs, instead transitioning into a more industry friendly sound. The production on the album is handled by a revolving door of rap powerhouses from Metro Boomin and DJ Mustard to Cardo and Murda Beatz. The Metro tracks feel forced from the start as A Boogie—just like everyone else—attempts to create a new Metro tag with, “Metro Boomin make it boom.”
A Boogie is strongest when his New York attitude seeps out and he leaves both his vanilla love ballad and fitting Metro’s mold personalities behind. The standout track on the album is the PNB Rock and NBA Youngboy featuring “Beast Mode,” which has possibly the best A Boogie hook to date (and there are a lot of good ones). A Boogie and PNB Rock have developed into one of rap’s best tag teams and the addition of an engaged NBA Youngboy adds an element that they usually miss.
This element is again added on “Undefeated,” as this time 21 Savage (I think all the guest features signed a contract where they’re required to shout out A Boogie in their verse) adds an intensity to the Murda Beatz produced track where A Boogie finds himself in his element implementing strong quotables (“Now they call me evil/Laughing at these niggas with a desert eagle) and flowing seamlessly.
A Boogie reps New York on The Bigger Artist, but not to the extent I hoped for. The slang is there: “No Comparison” is filled with constant threats about his “Blixky” and Don Q joins A Boogie for possibly their most disappointing collaboration to date. Overall, A Boogie sounds like he could be from anywhere on the album. It’s a random collection of songs all with the goal of ending up as number 1 on the Rap Caviar playlist and that’s okay, but for somebody that had a lane bulldozed wide open for him it’s head scratching to see A Boogie not take advantage.
Also, it should honestly be a crime to have a Chris Brown ballad directly followed by pointless Trey Songz and Robin Thicke appearances. Do Chris Brown and Trey Songz features benefit anyone in 2017? I guess it tells you the lane A Boogie really cares about, and that’s fine, I’ll still support him. After all, he did say “And we come straight out the Bronx so we wildin’/Shoutout BK free Bobby, free Rowdy.” That’s good enough for me.