Legend You Never Knew is a full length album from hip hop artist, Zone00 (pronounced “Zone double O.”) Zone00 grew up in Texas but is well-traveled thanks to his stint in the military. He’s been around the block musically as well and has released several independent projects.
While the album cover is pretty epic and grandiose, the album itself has a lot of artistic, grounded substance to it. There’s no empty flash and posturing here. It’s also awesome that Zone00 actually raps over a variety of productions to include LoFi beats, rather than canned, overproduced pop. It gives the songs an old school analog quality while retaining top notch mixing and production standards. These tracks are smooth and easy on the ears right from the get go with Birthday Flow. A lot of indie rappers are just dudes tinkering around and seeing what they can do, but Zone00 stands out as an obvious professional. These tracks are polished and meticulous, and he raps like someone you can tell has been in the game a long time and has his own style totally perfected. He makes it look easy in fact. Don’t try this at home folks.
The main single of this album is The Pimp. Even though it’s only the second track on the album, this is the jam where he reveals his power level. The piano backing gives the song an intensity which is matched by Zone00′s speedy delivery and substantive lyrics. He displays a knack for conversational storytelling and run-on monologues that would leave lesser men breathless. Each occasional well-timed pause and echoey vocal interlude functions as a unique moment for the listener to reflect with a “wow.”
Excerpt from The Pimp:
Bars in my bars
I never been behind the bars
But still hold down the bars
I never did buy the bar
but I also didn’t buy my bars
Also worth noting is that on the hook for The Pimp, Zone00 is paying homage to late great “Pimp C,” and one half of legendary super group UGK whom he is an absolute fan of.
Another notable track is Ride Wit Me, which features a kind of candyland, circus music beat which both charms and serves to provide a nice complement to the casual, laid back seriousness of the song itself. My favorite musical backing though is the one on Usual Suspects Part I (there is no part II yet.) It has a light folkish rock tune that is both futuristic and retro 50s/60s.
Every song on this album is worth listening to, and there’s both variety and artistic consistency. Zone00 clearly has a recognizable style and persona, something which is crucial for success as a hip hop artist. I kind of wish I had some constructive criticism to give so this review doesn’t seem too over the top gushing. This is just a really solid release and Zone00 is no amateur. He has this down an exact science.
Extra Mile is a new song from rapper/producer/singer-songwriter/composer/multi-instrumentalist, Khaleel Mandel. The son of professional bass player Carl Carter, Khaleel cultivated his interest in music at a very young age. Khaleel was born in Boston Massachusetts, and raised in Bridgeport, CT.
This particular track stands out for it’s groovin’ surf-like backbeat which reverberates throughout the song, creating a deep vintage ambiance. Mandel’s lyrical delivery is casual yet low-key passionate and physically expressive. The video helps to magnify this expressiveness and allows the listener to recognize Khalees as almost an avant-garde performance artist rather than just a mere musician. His rapping can stand on its own, like a slam poetry reading. The pacing is mellow and the timimg is unconventional, while the beat is psychedelically hypnotic. Khaleel doesn’t rely on smoke and mirrors. He’s clearly more interested in creating art than hype, and this song delivers the goods.
Beware is the long awaited album from Stephon Foster, an artist whose singles have been featured here a number of times in the lead up to this highly anticipated release. The songs on this album are notable for featuring Stephon Foster’s fun attitude, sincerity and often intensely personal lyrics.
The opening track Boy, I Quit is a brief but breezily catchy R&B/pop jam, which isn’t afraid to express emotional vulnerability while still being empowering. Songs like I’m Not the One venture further into hip hop territory, where Stephon frequently displays a more sassy side and incorporates guest rappers like “Noah Soundz.” The use of these guest hip hop artists brings an added element to some of these songs, as they often chime in unexpectedly with a rapping interlude, creating a multi-dimensional relationship dynamic to the composition. Rain (featuring Surron the 7th) is hypnotic and dreamy. It has an ethereal flow and is probably my favorite of the light hip hop songs on this album.
Stephon often displays an unpredictable and bold side. Every song shows a willingness to experiment and spice things up a bit with tonal twists and musical turns. Another consistent component is Stephon’s willingness to be emotionally honest. Every song on the album has a personal touch, and this heartfelt sincerity is ultimately what lends the record its charm. Many pop artists now (regardless of technical talent level) do not write sincere or substantive songs or lyrics which are about anything real. But Stephon Foster’s songs all have in depth backstories and deep personal meaning. There’s more than just a voice and a beat here. When you listen to Stephon’s song’s you’re getting a human being’s story on the real.
It’s a roller coaster ride and the album closes out strong, first with the romantically hopeful Wonderland. This is actually I think the catchiest, most well written and biggest “hit” song in the collection. Wonderland also contains what I believe is Stephon’s best vocal performance. It just comes together nicely. The final song is Blue, a sentimental and bittersweet track which could give any Disney tear-jerker song a run for its money Beware is an album which was a long time in the making. Filled with substantive lyrical content and substantial musical variety, this emotionally charged package was worth the wait.
Monster is a new song/video from Annapolis based band, “Water on Mars.” This track maintains a clean and polished sound for the duration. The production has almost a 90s quality to it, in that the music is high quality but not loaded to the brim with unnecessary effects and processing. Tonally, it’s a also a bit on the darker side, reminiscent of bands like “Garbage,” something which is accentuated with the female, avant garde vocals. The sound just has that special mix of alternative and rock, with maybe a bit of post-punk. The guitars are too crisp and meticulously performed to be classified as full on neo-grunge. There are however, some ambient interludes throughout the song that give off psychedelic, space age vibes.
Really this song is largely driven by the technically proficient yet radical guitars as well as the excellent and passionate vocals. Both exert a powerful musical presence, which give the song its energizing, adrenaline inducing vitality. This song will give you a bit of a rush. “Water on Mars” as a band definitely has a lot going for them talent wise. If we still lived in a just world, songs like this one would be on the radio, but at least you can still listen to these jams if you take the time to find them.
Underneath the Willow Tree is a music video from indie musician, Matthew Browning. I must say that judging by the production quality and cinematography here, they really pulled out all the stops for this one. This video is of major label quality and looks just as good as some vids I’ve seen which have cost over a million dollars.
Timewise, Underneath the Willow Tree clocks in at nearly 8 minutes, qualifying this as practically a featurette film. What really makes the video is the setting. It was shot in the “Jean Roach Dry Lake Beds” near Las Vegas, NV. With the desert wind, wide open space, and mountains in the distance, the scenery is simply epic. This backdrop matches well with the music, which is a well performed blend of post-progressive rock and ethereal soundtrack ambiance. You really can’t ask for much more than this. Powerful and maxed out on every level.
Vibe Children, Vol 1 is a new album from Dont Die Lei, a hip hop artist in Richmond, VA. Most of songs have a wonderfully dramatic, orchestral musical backing to accompany the beat, creating a sound that’s reminiscent of the soundtracks of mystical fantasy films. Only difference is we have the artist charismatically delivering rhymes on top of it. He seems to have a natural voice for hip hop monologues. His vocals are deep and commanding without being overbearing or monotonous. In fact, this guy could probably create a spoken word poetry or self help cassette album, and it would still be enjoyable to listen to.
The music here gives the songs an added meditative quality, and enhances the emotional aspect of some of the more socially conscious, “motivational” elements of the album. While some tracks are orchestral and “epic” in nature, others like End of the Day have more of a quietly groovy, soulful vibe. The collection of supporting vocals (male and female) give the songs a rhythmic, conversational feel and just blend very nicely. Production is professional studio quality while retaining vocal clarity and authenticity. Really this is a very fine album without a lot of frills and attitude. It will both relax and energize you at the same time.
Intoxicated is a new single from Neon Radiation (the musical project of London Based artist/producer/songwriter Gary Blake.) The track utilizes ambient synths with a subtly dark sound, fronted by soft yet charismatic female vocals. Intoxicated has the feel of a contemplative, late night drive through a city’s downtown and gives ‘after hours night club’ styled atmospheric vibes. In fact, “atmospheric” is a great way to describe this music. The synth pacing is slow but very full and energizing. The vocals are very hypnotic in that “indie pop” avant garde kind of way. The singer has a beautiful natural voice and the production here does it justice by not ruining it with effects and unnecessary processing. The reverb/delay effects which do exist actually enhance the sound and intertwine it nicely with the synths. All in all, this song is a solid entry and is probably only limited by the challenges of getting people to actually listen to new music when there’s so much out there. The song is slated for official release on Jun 21, 2019.
1000 Grams is a new single from GiDS, a rapper/producer from Tustin, CA. His delivery has an excellent flow, and he showcases an ability to reach impressive speeds when he wants to. The dramatic piano driven beat plays in the background while GiDS’s distinctive, slightly gruff vocals provide the action. This is one of the more technically skilled rappers I’ve heard in recent times. He really has a gift for letting the rhymes roll off the tongue in quick bursts, keeping in perfect time with the beat. The song also contains some choice lyrics like “no matter how much I spray Febreze I can’t cover up and start changin’ me.” This is a solid jam. Be sure and watch for GiDS’ upcomng album Impermanence.
View of the City is a jam from well known Atlanta based hip hop artist, David Lyric. The song has already amassed over 55,000 streams on Soundcloud (one of David’s other tracks Meantime has passed the one millon mark.) Lyric’s delivery style is casual, light paced and easy going, while retaining an emotional intensity that allows you to understand he’s a man with conviction, serious about what he says. View of the City has a crisp, piano driven back beat, with occasional synth ambiance to coincides with the song’s metropolitan nightlife vibes. In this song, he lays it all on the line and makes an offer to give the subject he’s communicating with, just what the title suggests, “a view of the city.” The suggestion here is essentially that if you’re with him, you can have it all. As someone who’s been around the block and knows all the secrets, hotspots and shortcuts, he’s willing to put himself out there if you agree to join him as a partner in crime. It’s a romantic track of course but can also be read as a metaphor: for if the listener rides with him on this musical journey, the music can make them experience something emotionally overwhelming and really take them somewhere. The chorus is catchy, and ultimately this song has a lot of pop crossover appeal. View of the City’s optimistic and uplifting tone the potential to resonate with a wide audience.
After a long hiatus, the humble yet iconic Norwegian musician “Janco” is ripe for a mini comeback. He has been involved in a wide variety of musical endeavors over the years. Janco also released an indie classic album called Pumpingstein(featuring Rob Alien & Torine Brunton) back in 1999/2000. This album is really a gem. The music was way ahead of its time. With elements of EDM, Industrial, rock and darkwave, it has a very Euro-futuristic sound. It’s quite appropriate for both the dreary post apocalyptic vision people had for y2K (as depicted in films like Strange Days) as well as the actual social dystopia we live in now. The Skybreaker for example is a powerfully emotive jam with slightly spooky accents around the edges. It has a very full and passionate sound. The deep guitars really enhance the electronic backing music, giving the sound some added weight and emphasizing the emotional gravity of the lyrics. Janco doesn’t consider himself a terrific singer, but he sings with heart on these recordings and the vocals here are well above average and certainly get the job done.
Janco also offers a service which provides musical backing tracks for songwriters who may have a limited budget, may not play an instrument or simply want to focus mainly on the lyrical or melody aspect of their song. The advantage of using Janco’s service over other “royalty free” music libraries is that you can add your own content to the song and then release the finished song as your own. These guys are clearly prolific musicians so I would imagine the songs in the library are comprehensive and top of the line.