The Squeezebox: Herajika Tracks- Love Universal (2011)

14 03 2011

Tranquil Hip Hop Instrumentalists Herajika Tracks create a Rare Album of beats consisting of carefully placed samples and well constructed, thought out song structures. Calm and precise- gently sculpted out of Beautiful, complex piano pieces (Which  one the members Koki plays live, rather than being sampled) complemented with Heavy drums, Flutes, strings, and  Soul crooning Vocals. Instead of dwelling within  the City boundaries like most Hip-Hop, There’s a distinct Sense of Nature on this album- on any given (Herajika) track you can hear a bubbling stream or a wind brushing Chimes into motion and a bird call echoing in the background. Like walking through a lush, secluded Forest, Love Universal wraps around you warmly with their peaceful Methods and approach to Zen-like Hip Hop.

85% -Armordillo


Fresh Fish: J-Live – No Time To Waste (2011)

14 02 2011

Immenent NYC Hip Hop guru J-Live kicked off the new year last month with the release of his latest single, “No Time to Waste,” produced by classic D.I.T.C. DJ Diamond D and featured on J-Live’s upcoming album, SPTA Said Person of That Ability.  As has come to be expected from this crew, Diamond D keeps the sound fresh and tight, with some well placed piano trills, string-ensemble-driven harmonics and, it goes without saying, smooth, smart and relevant rhymes with a sense of urgency and necessity.  It’s almost as if J-Live isn’t rhyming because he wants to, but because he needs to.  These words must be heard, y’all, and who else can spit them better?

Reading the liner notes on the Bandcamp page, though, I came across production credits that mention a Triple Threat production studio in Atlanta… what?  Are D.I.T.C. and Triple Threat not NYC-based?  Is this a sign that J-Live is expanding his record label to the Dirty South?  After much sleuthing and investigation all over the internet, I still have come up with nothing.  This question thus remains a mystery, and until J-Live answers it himself, it looks like we’ll all be sitting in the dark, wondering what that ATL tag means…


The Squeezebox: Cheeks – The Potential EP

19 01 2011

Southeast Michigan Hip Hop just keeps the reppin strong with the latest from Tree City‘s Cheeks, the smiley third of the Ann Arbor-based team.  After killin it on Black Trees and Thus Far with the rest of Tree City, Cheeks drops The Potential, featuring some hot production by various Ann Arbor-area friends, including L05 of Celcius Electronics, Mason’s Motif and Man In Charge.  “The Wiz,” The Potential‘s hottest single, brings in a sample from MJ’s perennial Wizard of Oz remake and mixes it with some great vocalizations from K-mass and Dominick from Breathe Easy Music.  The result is priceless: an uplifting anthemic crowd-mover that’ll have all the kids bopping their heads.

Like the album’s title, all the tracks on this release really show Cheeks’ lyrical and creative potential.  Embedded rhymes, clever meter change-ups, intelligent and contemplative lyrics, all of it portrays Cheeks’ prowess.  In The Potential, Cheeks gives off an aura of solid, if slightly narcissistic confidence and pride for his home and his people.  But the best part about it is that it doesn’t feel aggressive or ostracizing; you don’t have to be a poor black guy from the ghetto to appreciate Cheeks’s music.  You just gotta appreciate good Hip Hop.  Is that you?

A great start for yet another great emcee from SE Michigan.  Looking forward to more.  91/100 A-


Cop The Potential here

Cheeks – The WIZ feat. K-mass and Dominick from Breathe Easy Music

Artist Profile – Man In Charge (of Celcius Electronics)

12 12 2010

There’s plenty of hype surrounding the Detroit Hip-Hop scene these days.  What with Big Sean, Slum Village, Guilty Simpson and the like garnering plenty of national focus with big album releases this year, the D-Town scene is blowing up in ways it hasn’t done since the J Dilla days.  With all this attention focused on the 313, it becomes easy to overlook all the other great hip-hop coming out of SE Michigan.  But we here at Balafonic will hold the banner high for any good music that comes out of our hometowns, and to be honest, a lot of the independent hip hop coming out of the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area these days is some of the best I’ve heard.

The collaborative atmosphere in the Ace Deuce, a popular local pseudonym for Ann Arbor, is one of its strongest points.  Emcees and producers from the area, including the popular electro-rap duo Celsius Electronics and Ann Arbor heavyweights Tree City have recently created the Branch Out Collective, a space where these Hip Hop artists and others can work together, promote each other and share their work with the world.

Man In Charge, one half of the tag-team combo Celcius Electronics with producer/emcee L05, has been featured on the Branch Out show since October, with the free online release of his debut solo album, Pentelligent (download here), 16 tracks of Man In Charge and friends rhyming, flowing and grooving to some of the sickest beats to come out of the Deuce this year.

I’ll just say this.  I’ve downloaded a fair number of free mixtapes and albums over the past year, mostly from emcees in the SE Michigan area, but Pentelligent, in my opinion, blows them all away.

As anyone who listens to good music knows, without Dope Beats a hip hop album would be nothing.  Man In Charge drops them in spades.  He keeps them interesting by bringing in so many outside producers that, for at least the first half of the album, there’s a new producer and a new feel to every track.  Grimy, Daft Punk-esque electro-beats wash in and out, pan left and right and layer all over each other in Mikey Digital, produced by Eric Garcia.  Then Doc Illingsworth comes in on Ode to the Pen and brings out the string, horn and live drum samples to give us that vintage feel reminiscent of Madlib’s Shades of Blue.

The second half features productions mostly by Man In Charge himself, but fear not, citizens.  Man In Charge knows his way around all the standard production tools and his beats can stand up to the best of ’em.  But where Man In Charge really shines is in his flow.

I will admit I am a bit of a stickler when it comes to flow.  You can come up with the greatest rhymes in the world, but if it doesn’t come out good, if the flow doesn’t gel with the song, it’s just not worth it.  For this reason I find it very difficult to get into guys like Gucci Mane, Styles P, Danny Brown and the like.  Gangsta rap just doesn’t do it for me.  But Man In Charge’s flow is right on point, his rhymes are tight and his style is sick.  It just sounds right.

Pentelligent is a great introduction for what looks to be a new star rising out of the Ann Arbor nebula, and I can’t wait to watch its shine grow.


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