Marc Cabrera has nothing better to do than watch a lot of movies and television, and listen to a lot of music. Luckily, he has a job that pays him to blog about local and national arts, entertainment and pop culture. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It's the holidays, which means record labels are pushing their big records for the shopping season. Already, we've seen albums from Jay-Z, The Game, Clipse, Shady Records, Snoop Dogg and Fat Joe.
But there are still some albums that are set to drop in the next few weeks. To build a buzz, they've been leaked to the music-downloading public, so record labels can gauge listener reaction. That's how the industry works nowadays.
Here are some quick reviews of four albums that leaked in the last week and-a-half.
Nas - Hip-Hop Is Dead: I've only listened to three-fourths of the album, but judging from what I've listened to so far, it's a banger. Nas is fully confident for the first time in a long time, holding back nothing. The album's concept, the artistic death of hip-hop music, is prevalent throughout. Songs like the title track and the ensuing song "Who Killed It?" take no prisoners, indicting the record labels, artists and fans who have turned their back on the music's roots. "Carry on the Tradition" is a rallying mantra for the true meaning of the music, while "Where Are They Now" name checks rappers of old, from K-Solo to Oaktown 357 (!), asking what happened to the old school artists who first brought to life hip-hop's soul. I fast-forwarded to the final track, an acapella joint called "Hope." The song brings it all back with a somber spirituality, saying that there is hope yet for the music. With this album, Nas has proven that he is a big part of that hope.
Ghostface - More Fish: It's strange to me that Ghostface would release a second album in the same calendar year (He released "Fishscale" in the spring). Even more strange that it would appear to be mostly outtakes from the first album. An album of leftovers, if you will. But "More Fish" has some tasty leftovers, and a more appropriate title might have been "Cold Pizza." Ghost sticks with a lot of the same producers he messed with on "Fishscale" - MF Doom, JDilla, Pete Rock. Those are considered underground elite. Songs like "Alex" bang with the old soul grooves that have made Ghostface the most relevant and celebrated Wu-Tang Clan member. "Josephine" is another soul song that tells the sad, tragic tale of a young female crack addict. Ghostface has always been a soulful, personable artist, and he flexes those muscles once again on "More Fish."
Mos Def - Tru3 Magic: I'm not sure if this is the official album, as it has two mixtape joints. "Dollar Day" was released last year in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, a song in which Mos implores every person on planet earth to donate a dollar to the victims of the hurricane. "Crime and Medicine" jacks the old GZA song "Liquid Swords," with Mos singing the hook. The entire album is filled with Mos singing and rapping. His voice is interesting enough to go back and forth and pull it off over 14 songs. His Brooklyn accent and low tenor carry a low-fi, almost indy rock sensibility. It's the musical accompaniment that keeps the pace movinging. When he's not rapping over sonic thump on songs like "A Ha," he's crooning over '70s acid funk like "Sun, Moon, Stars" and "There Is A Way." The latter is a song I've seen him perform twice over the past year. Hearing it in recorded form adds a smooth sophistication to the mix, with it's simple lyrics becoming a complicated chorus. This guy still has the magic touch, as far as I'm concerned.
Young Jeezy - The Inspiration: Thug Motivation 102: Of all the leaks, this one was possibly the most disappointing. Jeezy is capable of monster singles, and he has a few on this album ("Mr. 15, "I Luv It" and "J.E.E.Z.Y." are dramatic, soulful ear grabbers). But Jeezy doesn't challenge the listener, sticking with the same ad-libs and vocal stylings that made his first disc a smash hit. Jeezy manages to bring in a few up and coming producers that bring out the best in him, but his hired guns end up shooting blanks. The song with super producer Timbaland ("3 A.M.") sounds like a Missy Elliott throwaway track, and the collaboration doesn't work. The lazy "I Got Money," featuring T.I. and Kanye West, is a tired concept that sounds pasted together. When Jeezy has it, he has it, but this album is lacking the depth of his street classic debut.