Resurrected Beats & Tireless Lyrics…

February 19, 2013

“Hey, you, what’s that sound? Everybody look what’s going down!” – Astro, Stro is the Name

To answer that question, it’s the sound of real hiphop. The young, Brooklyn-based MC The Astronomical Kid, aka Astro, released his latest mixtape Deadbeats & Lazy Lyrics yesterday (February 18, 2013), and it’s a mixtape that has proven to be a project of note.

Though many people know him from America’s first season of X Factor, and others from before that with his viral video Stop Lookin’ At My Moms, Astro proves, once again, that he is more than a mere gimmick, “reality tv star”, or internet sensation. A couple of weeks before the release of his mixtape, Astro released a video single from the project called He Fell Off, a seeming response to the masses who thought his end on X Factor was the end of his career. In contrast to those sentiments, Deadbeats & Lazy Lyrics is a mature, solid project from start to finish, proving the exact opposite; not only has he not “fallen off”, but he is not going anywhere for a long, long while.

Here are my Top Five Reasons Why Deadbeats & Lazy Lyrics is a Solid Project:

1. Past, Present, and Future

“Relevancy” is so important for an artist. With the intentions of trying to be relevant, many artists fall into the trap of simply copying the sound and style of what is current and happening. This leads to that cookie-cutter, commercial pop music that makes the differentiation between artists and songs on the radio very difficult. Likewise, you find some artists who struggle to move with the times, and become irrelevant because they are stuck in the past, and others who are always trying to push the limits of what music “will be”, and therefore their music generally goes over the heads of the masses, at least until music catches up to where they were, if it ever does, and then they have already moved on to somewhere else.

In Deadbeats & Lazy Lyrics, Astro somehow delivers a style that feels like the past, present, and future of hiphop, whilst also maintaining a lyrical voice that is distinguishably his own. Astro’s technique was no doubt influenced by the hiphop of the 80s and 90s, but it also feels current and in no way stuck in the past. Because the sound and feel of modern commercial rap is so different to Astro’s style, it is easy to see how he is bringing back the vintage methodology and taking hiphop to new places.

2. Paying Homage to Hiphop’s Glory Days

Deadbeats & Lazy Lyrics is like an audio version of a Jamel Shabazz photograph, capturing the glory days of both Brooklyn and hiphop. Astro’s relentless flow over boom bap beats is a salute to hiphop at its finest hour, teleporting us to the streets of a pre-gentrified Brooklyn that might be found in Spike Lee’s film Crooklyn. In double homage, Astro shows respect to two of hiphop and BK’s finest, Biggie and Jay-Z, through moments of flow emulation, mentions, and line citations. You can feel Astro’s love for Brooklyn and hiphop in every bar of this project.

jamelshabazz_1

3. No Features

The rap industry is currently obsessed with features. These days, you rarely see a rapper release a full-length project without at least two to six features from other artists. Though Astro is currently signed to L.A. Reid’s Epic Records, and probably could have had a handful of “big names” on this tape, there is not one single feature from any other artist in Deadbeats & Lazy Lyrics. In Stro is the Name, Astro even says, “I don’t need no co-signs, to hold mines,” and he proves that with solid delivery in his genuinely solo project.

The closest thing to features on Deadbeats & Lazy Lyrics can be found in the production, featuring a variety of producers: 9th Wonder, BrandUn DeShay, ThatLoserLaron, and MF Doom, plus three tracks produced by Astro himself. It is great to see a young artist staying true to friends, as ThatLoserLaron is one of his childhood friends. However, it is obvious that the beats made by ThatLoserLaron, and Astro himself for that matter, were in no way obligatory inclusions, because they stand up next to, if not higher than, the beats of well established producers like 9th Wonder and MF Doom.

4. Strong Story Telling

Much of today’s rap lacks the aspect of good story telling. Most commercial rap songs are just dance tracks with meaningless, catchy hooks surrounded by materialistic, misogynistic, vulgar, fluff-filled verses. Contrarily, many of the artists who would fall under the classification of “underground MC’s”  (like Joey Bada$$ and the Pro.Era collective) have definite lyrical substance, but often lean towards a more stream of consciousness flow, which is impressive, but commonly lacks good strong storytelling. Kendrick Lamar is an example of an artist who is a good storyteller, but has also managed to make music that is commercially viable, but he is far from the norm in today’s music industry.

In Deadbeats & Lazy Lyrics, Astro shows that he is not only a skilled lyricist, but he is also a good storyteller. Standout examples of his storytelling skills are evident in tracks like Corduroy Couch, Cheese, and Dead Beat. This storytelling element is another factor that takes us back to the days of when MC’s not only rocked the mic and the crowd, but they took us on a lyrical journey as they did it.

5. Good Because It’s Good

Many comments on online forums include patronizing statements like, “He’s really good for a kid,” or “He’s still young. He’s going to be great one day.” Though I think it is alright to point out the fact that he is young and talented, I don’t think Deadbeats & Lazy Lyrics is “good for such a young rapper”, I think it’s good because it’s good. If anything, since we are comparing musicians by age, we should be pointing out how these “old” rappers’ raps are silly in comparison to the skill level and maturity of this “kid”. I think Astro proved this point when he made Drake’s original Started From the Bottom track seem like child’s play compared to his remix of the track. It’s time we stop recognizing Astro as “great for a kid”, and admit he is just great, period.

If you haven’t downloaded  Deadbeats & Lazy Lyrics yet, do it. It’s free! You don’t have to believe me, you can judge for yourself.

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I’ve been missing you…

November 17, 2011

I knew the Astronomical Kid was destined for stardom way before X Factor. What I liked most about the young passionate MC was that he represents a type of hiphop that you rarely see these days, at least amongst young people. And when I heard he was going to be on X Factor I wasn’t sure how he would fare, not because he lacked talent or x factor (because he has both to spare), but because these types of competitions are dominated by singers, and no rapper has ever made it very far.

However, week after week Astro has proven that he is not only a strong contender, but he is one of the favorites, by far. Amazingly to me, he has  managed to do this without selling out and doing corny club tracks. He’s kept real to who he is and how he wants to represent hiphop, within the perimeter of the show’s box. He’s really made hiphop proud! This week was no different as he took things to a whole new level.

The guitar riff of The Police’s “Every Breath I Take” (also later redone by Puff Daddy as “I’ll Be Missing You”, a tribute to BIG) started, and Astro sat on mock-up Brooklyn stoop, modeled after the very type of New York City porch steps that held up the forefathers of hiphop, as they beat-boxed and rhymed their way into history. And then he jumped in,

“Uh! This is dedicated to her, the one and only girl that’s known all over the world. She’s forty years old but I still try and speak to her. We talk all the time and my heart beats through her. She messed with the wrong dudes and now she’s messed up. Started doing drugs and showing the kids that stuff…”

Before this point I thought Astro might have been talking about his mom, or a really old (forty-year-old to be exact) girlfriend. But when he mentioned the drug part I figured that’s not it, because he wouldn’t put that out there like that. Then I realized he’s not rapping about a girl, he’s rapping about hiphop, and I got chills. What followed was a beautiful ode to what hiphop was, a lament for what it has become, and an honest, raw love song in tribute to this “girl” he cares so much about.

He paid homage to Biggie with a couple of lines, mentioned how he met hiphop through The Sugarhill Gang, and painted a picture of the blinged out mess that hiphop has become. Then he passionately started rapping about how he wants to, “get her back to the old her,” and the beat started to build. Astro threw his hand in the air and said, “But good news for anybody missing her like I do, your boy’s bringing hiphop back!” I believe him! And if this is the direction hiphop is moving again, I couldn’t be happier. Keep doing your thing Astro! Bring that real hiphop back!

 


UNDUN – The Roots…

November 16, 2011

“Undun is the story of this kid who becomes criminal, but he wasn’t born criminal. He’s not the nouveau exotic primitive bug-eyed gunrunner like Tupac’s character Bishop in Juice… he’s actually thoughtful and is neither victim nor hero. Just some kid who begins to order his world in a way that makes the most sense to him at a given moment… At the end of the day… isn’t that what we all do?” – The Roots

In this era of big money-made, cookie cutter, commercial, plastic artists who just release a bunch of songs and call it an album, it is extremely refreshing to see a project like The Roots’ upcoming album UNDUN, breaking the monotony, and standing out. UNDUN is not just a collection of random tracks. No. It tells a track-by-track story, it has vision, it is conceptual, it is an album. I can’t wait for December 6th to come, but the album can be pre-ordered now (click on the album cover below).

Until the 6th, The Roots have given us a series of short films, to give us a taste of what’s to come. I must admit, I teared up watching the short film for “Make My” (Check the short films and “Make My” lyrics below). I’m thankful for groups like The Roots, representing real hiphop, giving us the music we want with the message we need.

Make My

(Big K.R.I.T.)

I did it all for the money, Lord
That’s what it seems
Well, in the world of night terrors it’s
Hard to dream, cash rules everything
Just call it cream,
Cause when it rises to the top, you get the finer things
Oceanfronts, rolling blunts with model chicks
And saying grace over lobster and steak
Like please forgive us for
Riding Benzes with camera plates
Too busy looking backwards for jackers to pump my brakes
For help sign to symbolize the lives that hunger takes
Addicted to the green, if I don’t ball I’ll get the shakes
I’d give it all for peace of mind, for Heaven’s sake
My heart’s so heavy that the ropes that hold my casket break
Cause everything that wasn’t for me I had to chase

(Hook)
They told me that the ends
Won’t justify the means
They told me at the end
Don’t justify the dreams
That I’ve had since a child
Maybe I’ll throw in the towel
Make my, make my…
Hardship from the world

(Black Thought)
Tryin’ to control the fits of panic
Unwritten and unraveled, it’s the dead man’s pedantic
Whatever, see it’s really just a matter of semantics
When everybody’s fresh out of collateral to damage
My splaying got me praying like a mantis
I begin to vanish
Feel the pull of the blank canvas
I’m contemplating
That special dedication
To whoever it concern,
My letter of resignation
Fading back to black, my dark coronation
The heat of the day, the long robe of muerte
That soul is in the atmosphere like airplay
If there’s a Heaven I can’t find
A stairway

(Hook)
They told me that the ends
Won’t justify the means
They told me at the end
Don’t justify the dreams
That I’ve had since a child
Maybe I’ll throw in the towel
Make my, make my…
Hardship from the world


Astronomical Kid!

February 10, 2011

Astronomical Kid, a big name to live up to, with skills capable of that challenge, “And uuuh, I came from the bottom to the top. I’m representing real hiphop!” And at only fourteen-years-old his words couldn’t be more true. I stumbled upon him on Youtube, like many people probably did, my attention immediately grabbed by his track “Stop Lookin’ at My Mom”, which saw millions of hits worldwide.

I thought the track was catchy, and a nice mixture between tough and innocent. I was impressed that there was no profanity in his lyrics, he didn’t promote gangsterism and drug use, and he wasn’t degrading towards women (the opposite really in that particular track, as he warns guys not to gawk at his Mom). But I wondered if this Astronomical Kid was another “one hit wonder”, or just another kid who got lucky with one viral video, possessing nothing much to follow-up with. So I went to his Youtube page and listened to some more of his tracks, from various different mixtapes.

I was blown away by what I heard. Honed skills, originality, diverse flows, and some serious lyrical content, with a large vocabulary…actually used properly. I know grown adults in the Cape Town hiphop scene who improperly throw around big words, just for the sake of using them, trying to look intelligent but achieving the opposite, really. No ABC rhymes from the Astronomical Kid. This kid spits next level stuff.

What really excites me is to see his passion, motivation and love for music, but also his seeming desire to express it in a positive way. Sure, he rhymes about wanting to make money, but there are more gems to find under that gold, and no negativity to speak of. That became very clear to me when I saw a video he just posted today on Twitter of a cypher he went to. These older dudes went first and they were rapping like, “Blah blah blah mother f@&%ing late, blah blah take you on a mother f@&%ing date.” I wasn’t impressed. But then the Astronomical Kid stepped up to the plate, the DJ kicked the beat,  and Astronomical Kid started bobbing his head.

He opened his mouth and started rapping a bold, fluid stream of verse, with solid punchlines, using no profanity at all, and switching flows at least seven times. If you ask me, he EMBARRASSED a bunch of grown men. I hope if the mic got passed back around to them, they passed it up. It excites me to see such young talent in a kid who is a role model and inspiration to kids, and even adults. I don’t think it will be long before the kid gets signed, but I’m sure he can use all the support he can get. You can follow him on Twitter, check out his Facebook page, his website, or his Youtube page.

And here’s the video of him putting grown men to shame: