The Fault Line Vol. 4

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For decades, the voicemail has been one of the unsung heroes in the art of the classic rap album. They’re rarely necessary and often warrant more skips than applause, but when properly executed, the perfect voicemail can help complete a song’s narrative arc and link together the entire album. Keeping it real is perhaps the most important quality in hip-hop, and there’s nothing more organic than ripping low-quality cell phone audio and throwing it on your album—content so real, you can’t even be bothered to re-record it into a proper mic.

On top of its authenticity, it’s is one of the most versatile tools in the game; it can be used to comedic effect, to share words of wisdom from an OG, or give an old flame a little airtime. Sometimes, it truly is the only way to get a song out to the public—just ask Gucci Mane, Mac Dre, and the countless other rappers who have recorded their verse over the phone while sitting behind bars.

Not every effort can be the best, however, so we decided to count down the top 10 album voicemails and phone messages to separate the weak from the strong. If you have a problem with anything about the list, you’re more than welcome to call my line and leave it after the beep, but be warned: if I like it, it’s probably ending up on my debut mixtape.

10. Isaiah Rashad - “Dressed Like Rappers”

More power to the man who hears the president of his own label call him and his dating habits “creepy” over the phone, and feels compelled to turn it into an outro. Voicemails from TDE president Dave Free are littered throughout Isaiah Rashad’s album The Sun’s Tirade, attempting to spur the rapper back into action as he struggled with addiction issues. “Dressed Like Rappers” is one of the funnier messages, finding the president appalled after rediscovering Isaiah’s age and comparing it to the women he’s involved with.

9. The Internet - “Palace / Curse”

This one gets heartfelt, as now-former band member of The Internet Jameel Bruner pays tribute to the rest of the group for everything they’ve done for him. There’s a shout out to Syd for teaching him how to “handle a drunk person appropriately,” Pat the bassist for taking him to prom, and the giddiest squeal on the world wide web as he reminisces about playing the bongos with Matt Martians in Europe. If you don’t get that excited about calling up your friends to thank them for being in your life, you might need some new friends.

8. N.W.A. - “Message To B.A. - Interlude”

Had history played out a little differently, “Message To B.A. - Interlude” probably would have landed much higher. In the midst of their high profile feud with Ice Cube after he split from the group, the remaining members of N.W.A. deemed it wise to stitch together voicemails from various fans insulting the former member’s street cred as well as his entire persona. Not only did N.W.A. lose the beef, however, but Ice Cube even sampled “Message To B.A. - Interlude” on his lethal diss track “No Vaseline” that still sits among the most vicious rap records in history. It’s bad enough to suffer defeat to someone you used to call your brother, but at least have the decency to keep your fans from taking the loss as well.

7. OutKast - “Nathaniel”

This 70 second song is nothing but the voicemail, as OutKast leaves room on their album for Supa Nate to rap an acapella verse from jail. Nate describes the harsh realities of life behind bars with a detached resentment, lashing out at the guards for their inhumane treatment and longing for the day he has his freedom back. When listening to Aquemini in order, it’s the perfect segway into “Liberation,” the nine-minute saga that further delves into the pitfalls and obstacles of growing up in their hometown of Atlanta.

6. Saba - “California”

Lupe Fiasco also leaves a voicemail on “California,” but that’s not the reason it qualified for a spot. Roast master Donterio Hundon ends the song by tearing Saba a new one, leaving no stone unturned as he rips him for everything from his hairstyle to his bank account. The bar “Yo ass look like the unpaid Future with no future” probably would have been enough for the song to make it on the list, and the fact that it’s not even the best line in the monologue makes it that much better.

5. The Notorious B.I.G. - “One More Chance”

This likely would have been number one if the category was answering machine messages rather than voicemails; an infant child telling the various women in Biggie’s life to “get off his dick” is not easily beaten. Unfortunately for Christopher Wallace and his wife, however, the plot didn’t work. Despite the warning, scorned women flock to Biggie’s inbox with a vengeance, only for him to double down on his ways for the rest of the song.

4. Kendrick Lamar - “Sherane a.k.a Master Splinter’s Daughter”

Now we’re getting into iconic territory. Kendrick’s parents hog up his voicemail inbox throughout good kid, m.A.A.d city, but it’s their first appearance at the end of the intro that’s the most noteworthy. Kendrick’s exasperated mother sets the tone for the rest of the album’s narrative, while his father’s incessant desire for pizza brings well-timed comic relief to the song. Can’t a man just get some damn Dominos?

3. Frank Ocean - “Be Yourself”

Sluggish, lazy, stupid, and unconcerned. Mothers around the world would echo the anti-drug PSA that comes on “Be Yourself,” as the parent of one of Frank’s childhood friends implores him to stay sober and be comfortable in his own identity. Over the atmospheric, wandering instrumental, it’s a heavy-handed wake up call that just might get you to put down the blunt and pick up other methods of stress relief. Or ignore her words and light one up anyway, cause, you know, rebellion.

2. Drake - “Marvin’s Room”

The premiere song about calling up your ex while under the influence wouldn’t be complete without her tinny voice asking “are you drunk right now?” through the speaker. The song begins with her words fading in and out of focus over sloshing synths, before Aubrey Graham enters the soundscape begging her to return to him. Before long it’s pretty apparent that his pleas aren’t going to work, but it’s still a valiant effort from Drizzy that’s undoubtedly inspired countless late night drunk dials in the process. But of course misery loves company, so it’s still a success in it’s own twisted way.

1. Kanye West - Blame Game

This one’s got everything: starpower courtesy of Chris Rock, hilarious quotables that have lived on in the years since, and the most foolproof ingredient to inspiring classic art—heartbreak. The all-star comedian rants for almost three minutes over how much his girl has improved between the sheets, while she’s sure to credit Kanye at every turn. Yeezy might not have wound up with the girl, but at least he secured an album purchase from the guy who took her, thanks to his brilliant teachings. And in the end, isn’t that all an artist can ask for?

For the late nights: Joseph Carter - “One Night”

Quick shout out to Paupa for lacing up half of LA with some of the best beats in the city. On the first song of Joseph Carter’s MANNISH EP, Carter glides over the fresh production with a melodic hook that’s smooth as butter, while rapping his verses to add interesting dynamics to the song. The “Bad Boy of R&B” and Paupa are a formidable combination throughout the EP, linking up on eight of the 10 tracks.

For the sugar babies: Vinny West - “Sugar Daddy”

Off his recent Draft Day mixtape, Vinny West flows in a monotone voice that’s a perfect match for the menacing instrumental underneath him. The blistering hi-hats give the track a bouncing energy, while Vinny finds the perfect pocket to take the song to the next level.

For the psychedelics: $K - “Mu$e”

Colors swirl and reality flutters when the 808’s drop for the first time on “Mu$e,” the latest song from $K that gives you the feeling of staring into a kaleidoscope. The music video is no less disorienting, complete with a turbulent sky and watery filters that warp the song into an alternate dimension.

The Faultline Vol. 3

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No matter how you feel about Los Angeles as a place to live, it’s impossible to argue that the city is lacking in iconic landmarks. As long as you’re willing to endure eternally congested freeways, there’s a sight to see that’s perfect for whatever your tastes are, with varying levels of excitement, edginess, or relaxation depending on what you pick.

Which, if you think about it, would be a pretty fair way to describe the local hip-hop scene too.

For decades, many of the landmarks as well as the rappers that call LA home have been exalted in their respective categories, but today I’m here to make the case that we’ve kept the two spheres separated for far too long. That as long as you’re willing to close your eyes and open your mind, you could place the current crop of rising talent next to the most notable scenery and find no difference between the legendary Hollywood sign and, say, a certain rapper buzzing out of Inglewood.

Let’s get to it.


Hollywood Sign = Rucci

There aren’t many people in America who would look at the emblematic sign in the hills and place its home as anywhere but Los Angeles. You don’t even have to listen to Rucci’s music to come away with the same idea; the cover art for his Dawgystyle mixtape, heavily influenced by that of Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle, gives away the secret.

Just like the Hollywood sign has become perhaps the most definitive symbol of Los Angeles, Rucci is now a staple in the city’s underground scene. Several mixtapes into his career, he’s helped shape the new LA movement, while paying homage to the pioneers before him with a classic sound that’s still clean and modern in 2018.

You could say the Hollywood sign has tried to keep up with the times as well -- most recently as last year, when an artist vandalized the sign to instead have it read “HOLLYWEED.” Women, weed and weather indeed.


Roscoe’s House of Chicken N Waffles = 03 Greedo

Since 1975, Roscoe’s has ridden the foolproof sweet and savory combination to a dedicated cult following, serving up full-flavored chicken and syrupy waffles all over the city. More recently, 03 Greedo has found success by working with a similar duality - bursting with energy one moment on songs like “Basehead,” then drowning you in saccharine melodies the next on “In My Feelings.” No matter which one you’re enjoying at the moment, the soulful passion is evident in his vocal delivery, just the same as the comforting nature found in all soul food throughout Roscoe’s menu.

Unfortunately they’re also both dealing with setbacks at the moment, with Roscoe’s battling through bankruptcy in the face of a $27 million dollar debt, and Greedo locked away in Potter County Detention Center for the next 20 years. Still, they’ve got the support of the city as they work their way through it; hopefully that day will come sooner rather than later.


Santa Monica Pier = Kalan.FrFr

The Santa Monica Pier takes the beach to another level. Forget the simple stretch of sand you thought you knew, now we’re throwing arcade games and a light-up ferris wheel just feet above the water. It’s refreshing, it’s energizing, it’s carefree… it’s Kalan.FrFr.

Feel the ocean breeze in the lush production on “Star,” whipping through your hair as you plunge down the roller coasters. Once you’re looking for something more relaxing, stretch out on the sand at the end of the day with “Atlanta.” Listening to Kalan.FrFr feels like enjoying LA at it’s best: posted by the water without a cloud in the sky.


Watts Towers = Almighty Suspect

The Watts Towers are as straightforward as they come. At the core and on the surface, they’re a potpourri of steel, concrete, wire mesh and similar materials, twisted into an aesthetically pleasing arrangement by the hands of a skillful creative. Or basically, Almighty Suspect.

Look no further than one of his biggest hits to date in “WhereYoSafeAt,” where teeth-rattling bass hits form a rock-solid foundation for Almighty’s proclamations. On this song and many of his others, his words hit like bricks thanks to his exaggerated delivery, punching his words into the air more so than speaking them. As hard as the towers themselves, it’s proof that you don’t always need to disguise great art behind unnecessary frills, especially when it’s bare essence is as captivating as it is.

Griffith Observatory = Huey Briss

Huey Briss has a raw lyricism, spilling his thoughts and his story over mellow beats that emphasize the wordplay over the production. Simply put, it’s music that makes you want to smoke a blunt and ponder the marvels and misgivings of the universe. Which is a lot easier to do when you have access to the best telescopes in all of Los Angeles.

The Griffith Observatory is one of the prime hubs for astronomy in the country, with its state-of-the-art planetarium and countless exhibits dedicated to science and space. It meshes seamlessly with the desire for understanding and enlightenment that comes from listening to Huey Briss unwravel wisdom in his verses, as he questions the “Strings of Life” on his recent EP Black Wax. Once you’ve learned all there is to learn in a day, switch your focus from the lyrics to the laid-back instrumentals, soothing your mind as you watch the sunset from the plaza outside the Observatory.


Disneyland = Holland Izz

Fine, Disneyland is technically in Orange County… but from Holland’s home city of Compton it’s closer than driving to certain locations within Los Angeles, so we’ll let it slide. Plus, the comparison is just too perfect to pass up.

Holland’s colorful beats paired with his youthful energy on the mic are the audible equivalent to visiting the “Happiest Place on Earth,” whether you’re there for the thrilling rides or just to see the shows. His squealing, high-pitched vocals on songs like “Summer Love” are akin to the screams you might hear while passing by the Matterhorn, equal parts excited and agitated as he questions his lover’s true intentions. Throw in a parade of beloved characters (features) for good measure, and you’ve got yourself a day (album).


STAPLES Center = Drakeo the Ruler

The STAPLES Center is one of the premiere arenas in the entire country, hosting three major sports teams as well as frequent marquee events. Seating nearly 20,000 people, the building has become a fixture in the Downtown area, with high-profile tours and awards shows affording it that colossal status. Even before LeBron arrived in LA, it was a venue fit for a King… or a Ruler.

The icy grandeur that permeates Drakeo’s music is the perfect parallel to the magnitude of the STAPLES Center, with his atmospheric yet authoritative production increasing the scope of his soundscape. Every moment feels bigger, whether it’s Kobe going for 60 in his final NBA game, or Adele selling out eight shows in twice as many days. Not to mention, his signature “sheesh” ad-lib definitely came from watching Shaq shatter backboards at will with all of his ferocious dunks.


For the plot: AzChike - “That Shit Again”

Starting your song with the delicate voice of a well-trained opera singer, before stretching her final note into an eerie synth made even more menacing by the skull shaking 808’s resonating underneath it? The Phantom of the Opera wishes it could be this sinister.

For the shooters: Bino Rideaux - “Bother You”

“Shawty you should let me bother you,” croons Bino Rideaux on the chorus, making his case for the girl on his mind with a playful confidence. Over classic G-Funk production, Bino uncovers new melodies in his verses, even tip-toeing into falsetto territory to show just how deep his passion for her runs.

For the twerk team: Ackrite - “G-Shit”

The hi-hats are bouncing off the walls on this one, and Ackrite’s infectious flow brilliantly matches the energy. “G-Shit” arrives off the Inglewood rapper’s forthcoming project No Remorse, and his delivery is equally unforgiving, as he details his lifestyle without fear of retribution.

The Fault Line Pt. 2

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The cardinal rule instilled into the minds of young journalists is the importance of objectivity. In classrooms as well as (supposedly) in newsrooms, we’re taught to prioritize the truth over everything else, as it’s the only way to maintain the integrity of the profession. Bias be damned, facts are to be sought out and sent out, regardless of whatever personal ties might make it difficult to do so.

Of course, writing about music is an exception; naturally, since any reaction to art is based on opinion. For the most part it’s foolish to view an album review or song critique as fact, but instead as one voice helping the culture move toward some sort of agreement. Still, that doesn’t mean other objective qualities should fall by the wayside as well, such as not allowing personal relationships to influence the direction of an outlet. Which is exactly why there’s a problem with entertainment blog Karen Civil’s actions over the past weekend. 

Recently, one of the company’s interns took to her personal twitter to chime in on Nicki Minaj’s upcoming album, arguing that “a new direction is needed” as she enters a new stage in her life. Nicki was quick to jump in her DMs with a barbed retort, and before long the blogger not only found herself swimming in a sea of resentment from the rapper’s fans, but out of an internship as well.

 First of all, it’s a reasonable opinion. Suggesting that Nicki Minaj could use a rebrand after relying on the same themes and marketing strategies for much of her career is far from absurd; rather, it’s the same pivot that’s allowed artists such as Jay-Z to keep an engaged audience deep into his career. And while other rappers (Jay Rock, for example) understand that such constructive criticism is essential to growth, Nicki’s resounding clapback shows that she hasn’t quite reached the same place.

But that’s beside the point. Regardless of how Nicki Minaj decided to react, choosing to fire the responsible intern shows how the people at Karen Civil value their insider relationships over promoting a healthy discussion. In an extended Twitter rant after the story came to light, Xtian Emiliano attempted to shed some light on the situation, claiming she had been let go for breaking the NDA she originally signed when coming on board.

However, while attempting to clear Karen Civil’s name — and seemingly breaking the same NDA by publicly sharing company details — Emiliano’s admission that Nicki Minaj is a client of the marketing department of the umbrella company shows where their priorities truly lie. In order for a blog to be trusted as an impartial, honest news source, it can’t be on the payroll of someone it reports on. It’s nearly impossible to avoid the conflict of interest, essentially making the platform a propaganda machine in the artist’s favor.

It’s certainly not the first time that business interests have overridden the story; not too long ago, MTV News found themselves in a similar situation after Chance the Rapper and his team took offense to a negative review. When a writer mentioned the “emotional disconnect” he experienced at a show during the rapper’s Coloring Book tour, Chance’s manager reached out to their contact at MTV, threatening to cut ties with the company due to the incident. Attempting to appease him, MTV quickly scrubbed the article from its website — just as it had done with another article the previous month after Kings of Leon had complained about it.

Criticism is essential to being a music critic, and it shouldn’t be swept under the rug just because an artist isn’t able to handle it. By default, not everything can be considered good, and someone has to be there to call it out when it isn’t. It’s the reason why the journalism and public relations industries shouldn’t be conflated together; let the writers worry about giving their honest take, and leave the blanket promotion to the PR team.

Anyway, here’s some new music that we genuinely believe in, and not because the artists threatened to run us out of the city if we didn’t.

For the solidarity: 03 Greedo - “Basehead”

It’s still Free Greedo until the Living Legend is allowed to live like it. Just before heading to prison to serve a 20 year sentence, the Watts rapper dropped off his second album of the year in God Level  to keep his momentum rolling while he’s away. “Basehead” is one that dials up the aggression, as Greedo raps over blown out bass that pounds the eardrums with a vengeance. There’s plenty of other standouts on the 27 track album, and since he still has hundreds waiting in the vault, there’s a good chance we’ll be gifted with even more songs before long.

For the feelings: Golden Boy Rich ft. A Blue - “Reminiscing” 

On “Reminiscing,” Two members from the Chain Reaction crew link up for a sentimental ode to losing a good one. The soulful chorus is allows the passionate verses space to breathe, as the two rappers spill their hearts to girls they’ve fallen out with. Sparse yet tender piano chords set the mood early before the vocals enter the frame, and and help give the song extra weight once they do.

For the afternoon cruise down PCH: Kalan.FrFr - “Star” 

Who doesn’t love a summertime drive by the ocean? Just ahead of the 4th of July, Kalan.FrFr released a new mixtape in TwoFr, and the second song has the perfect vibe for that waterfront setting. On “Star,” lush production courtesy of Hollywood gives the song an upbeat, relaxed energy, while Kalan’s melodic vocals beautifully blend into the soundscape. “I’m a star in my hood,” sings Kalan on the hook, and he’s certainly moving like it in 2018.

The Fault Line: Vol. 1

 SLAP's weekly overview of the underground. 

SLAP's weekly overview of the underground. 

From an aspiring artist’s perspective, the growth of the internet could be seen as the best thing to happen to underground hip-hop. It’s made it exponentially easier for anyone to share their music with the masses; however, just because it’s available doesn’t mean the masses are necessarily listening to it.

It’s no daunting task to rack up social media impressions by dropping a mixtape link below posts from any major account, but in 2018 it’s almost guaranteed to generate more memes than streams. In the eyes of many, the “underground” is simply an unorganized heap of misplaced ambition, tainted by a perceived lack of talent that makes the work of sorting through too unappealing

For every buzzing artist making media headlines by scoffing at hip-hop’s history, there’s a Huey Briss hovering outside of the major coverage bubble, paying homage to Gil Scott-Heron over boom-bap drums. If you’re weary of the hearing the same sounds dominate the mainstream, turn your head to look at a rapper like Blueface, who’s in a lane of his own with unconventional inflections and humorous wordplay.

Over time that innovation can turn to influence; take Drakeo the Ruler, for example. The South Central rapper has carved out a lane for himself with his creative cadences and coded language, incidentally creating a blueprint for a new wave of artists looking to emulate his sound. Even as he and other members of the Stinc Team fight a murder charge from behind bars, his impact can be heard throughout the city, while he still continues to build his own legacy in real-time.

It’s when that influence becomes widespread that the map truly begins to shift, as a new style validates itself and demands attention. Time and time again we’ve seen how rapidly these changes can take place; two years ago, you’d be hard pressed to find any members of the “SoundCloud rap” scene doing similar numbers to what they’re putting up today. Instead they were toiling away underground, creating music that they themselves were drawn to. For the supporters who’ve been listening since day one as well as those who joined the party along the way, their rise to prominence is a great thing. For those who grimace at each lyric and shudder with every blown out bass line, it’s not a reason to hate — it’s a reason to seek out the next big wave.

Artists need a lot of things to make it in the industry, but there’s one key element they need above all else: fans. If you’re unhappy what you hear in the current music landscape, take the time to peruse for what you do like, and share it with the group chat to help foster the movement. Even if you have no complaints with the current output, explore nonetheless, so that the same sounds can be here tomorrow instead of becoming another passing trend. It takes a past, present and a future for hip-hop to continue to be the juggernaut that it is; if you want that future to turn out the way you like, you’d better get to digging.

And of course, who better to kickstart your search than the good people here at SLAP Media?

Welcome to the first edition of “The Faultline,” a weekly column featuring thoughts and discussions on the world of hip-hop and the m.A.A.d. City we like to call Los Angeles. Along with several hundred words of my rambling opinions, you’ll find a curated list of the best new local music, as well as the perfect mood or setting in which to listen. Let’s get rolling:

For the mean mugs: JAG - “Ventino”

JAG spits harder than the gravel in his hometown of South Central on this one, relentlessly airing out boasts and vengeances without even pausing for a chorus. It’s an onslaught filled with barbed social commentary and clever wordplay throughout, as the rapper snarls over looped violins with passion. A highlight: “Everybody gassed off that Drizzy - Pusha T shit / Kill em both, put em on shirts, push a tee quick.” Sheesh...

For the vibe: Aysha Monet - “Like It” feat. Macc

Aysha Monet’s debut album Don’t Forget is filled with R&B gems, and the Macc assisted “Like It” is just one of them. Hard-hitting synths give the song a hip-hop edge, while Monet croons to her lover with a cold dominance. Play this one when the mood calls for something a little smoother, and dive through the rest of the album if you like what you hear.

For the smoke session: Iamsu! - “If U Want” feat. Drakeo the Ruler

On Iamsu!’s new album 06 Solara, the Bay Area veteran taps in with one of LA’s kings for a laid-back groove with a classic West Coast bounce. Drakeo the Ruler continues his hot streak with another smooth yet menacing verse, gliding over the beat with bravado. It’s the perfect contrast to Iamsu!’s melodic chorus, creating a hybrid track that’s best enjoyed with a hybrid of your own.