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Newness for your ears: Invisible Man, Shinobi Stalin

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Cover artwork for Invisible Man

I discovered Shinobi Stalin quite a few years ago and I told you about him on several occasions, including with my review of his debut album Zombie School and with an interview I did with the Orlando-based artist, so it is with great pleasure that I now present you his sophomore album.
The highly-anticipated Invisible Man was released last week and it was definitely worth the wait. With this new project, Shinobi Stalin proves, once again, how gifted he is when it comes to penning lyrics and expressing them over instrumentals. While he invited several of his frequent collaborators, including his Vets of Kin crew, as well as other independent hip-hop artists such as Roc Marciano, he clearly shines on this project, from start to finish.
From the very first seconds of Anticipation, a heart-felt track, he steps out of the shadow and goes straight into the heart of the matter, taking the listeners on a journey through his thoughts and feelings, equipped with clever rhymes and seamless flow. Here Not There, which could have been the subtitle for the album, is probably the best explanation of its name. The beautiful, slightly hypnotic instrumental serves a perfect backdrop to what is probably the most relatable track for me, as it describes how you can sometimes be present physically but actually somehow aloof. This is something you can also find later on Energon, where Shinobi Stalin explains how he is more of an observer, something I can definitely relate to. 
The MC then proceeds to touch upon relationships (Game Should Never Play), politics, history and the media (ControlHis Story), or his Black-Puerto Rican heritage (Nigger Rican), among other topics. He also offers an ode to his city of Orlando, FL, nicknamed the Ozone, on the aptly-titled Welcome to Ozone, and invites the Vets of Kin and Kap Kallous for N.I.K.E., a posse cut that makes my ears quite happy. Another guest worth mentioning is Mike Rosa, who is none other than his brother, as well as a talented skateboarder, and joins him for Brothers Influence.
In addition to the great quality of Shinobi Stalin’s lyrics and flow, I can’t but mention the wonderful instrumentals, provided by talented producers Reeplay, Abbott, Tempermental, Soy Is Real and Shinobi Stalin himself, among others. The different soundtracks match his flow perfectly and create a very pleasant atmosphere, which helps increasing the level of replayability (yep, that’s a word). I need to give a special mention to Control, which, in addition to being my favourite track in terms of lyrical content, benefits from the most beautiful instrumental you could ever dream of (shouts out to Tone Blare). Also, Sing The Blues is a wonderful combination of lovely production and honest lyrics that stands out as one of the most personal and compelling tracks of the album. 
Overall, Invisible Man is a comprehensive and cohesive project that serves both as a worthy follow-up to Zombie Skool and a testament to the MC’s brand of quality, timeless-sounding music. If you are just discovering Shinobi Stalin, this should make you want to dig deeper and listen to the rest of his discography, both on his own and with his crew.

You can now discover Invisible Man by heading to Shinobi Stalin’s Bandcamp page, or simply by clicking on the link below. Enjoy, share and support!

As a bonus, here is the official video for Welcome to Ozone, complete with cameos from his Vets of Kin crew members and other Orlando MCs.

Find out more about Shinobi Stalin on Facebook & Twitter.

Newness for your ears: [DAY] Dream EP, TzariZM

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Cover artwork for [DAY] Dream EP

If you read the blog regularly, you may remember a time when I said I had quite a few overdue posts to share with you and that I would do so as soon as possible. Well… that obviously didn’t happen, but I am finally catching up, at least with one of them. TzariZM’s [DAY] Dream EP came out in November 2011, but you all know that there is no such thing as a late pass when it comes to music. So, for those of you who missed it or those who want to rediscover it, let me tell you about this great project.

I first heard of TzariZM through various projects by fellow Orlando (aka Ozone) residents, including Sean J or IMAKEMADBEATS. Part of Doxside Music Group, the MC and producer regularly collaborates with members of his extended musical family and it was quite interesting for me to discover him on a solo project. As the title and (beautfiul) artwork suggest, this EP is a journey into the artist’s mind and an exploration of his [DAY] Dream(s). I have a thing for short, concept EPs and that’s exactly what TzariZM offers the listeners. Alternating different moods and atmospheres, as well as solo track and collaborations, the MC/producer makes us travel through time (Wonda Years) and music. The EP and how it follows the evolution of a day actually reminds me of fellow producer and half of his group Strangaz Productions, IMAKEMADBEATS with his Daylight/Nightlight EP. More

Interview: Shinobi Stalin

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Picture of Shinobi Stalin

I first told you about Shinobi Stalin when I reviewed his debut album Zombie Skool last year (time flies!) and as he is about to release his new project entitled Invisible Man, I got a chance to catch up with him and ask a few questions. The Orlando-based MC and producer, who is part of the Vets of Kin and Civil Mics among others, has quite a few interesting things to say and it is a real pleasure for me to share those with you now. I want to thank him for taking some time to answer my questions, and Civil Mics’ creator Twist for putting me on his music in the fist place. Without further delay, here is Shinobi Stalin, in his own words…

First of all, for people who are not familiar with you and your music, who is Shinobi Stalin? I have to say the name somewhat puzzled me when I first heard it. Any interesting story behind this seemingly unlikely association?

I am just your run of the mill half Black Puerto Rican, Eastside Ozone rhyme spitter, nothing special about me except the fact that I write pretty good. My rhyme name is on some middle school shit honestly. I came up with the first part in like 7th grade. My favorite game on the Sega Genesis is “Shinobi 3”. He wasn’t a typical ninja all in the shadows sneaking up on fools. He wore all white and walked throwing daggers exploding his enemies. I took that, and saw the daggers Jewells dropped and the enemies as the minds of those listening creating the spark and big bang. The Stalin part came as a joke. My homie Kazarian and I used to make beats at his crib, play a game called “Medal of Honor” on the PC, and watch mad WW2 documentaries. We called ourselves the Axis Power Click just messing around and that’s how I got the Stalin part. I took Stalin because he was known to erase his enemies or threats from history. This dude would literally take cats names out of books, take their faces off of photographs, and send cats to Siberia, homie was nuts. 1 + 1 = 2 and the name sounded rather unique so I ran with it.

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Album review: I Should Have Kept My Mouth Shut, Kap Kallous

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After discovering Kap Kallous’ universe with two previous projects, The TV EP and The She EP, that sounded like appetisers to my ears, I was quite impatient to hear his debut album, I Should Have Kept My Mouth Shut. I may have been overwhelmed at the time of the release and I have to admit I didn’t give it the time it deserved. But as soon as I listened to it I knew the wait was worth it. Why I took so long to write about it will remain a mystery but I hope you (and Kap Kallous) won’t be too mad at me for keeping “my mouth shut” for so long.

As soon as you read the title and see the album cover, you know you’re in for some raw, lyrically violent and brutally honest content, which is one of Kap Kallous’ trademarks. This is clearly not for the faint of heart, easily shocked or under-aged people, so if that’s your case you may as well stop reading now. What you may not expect, though, is a very eclectic and genre-crossing project, where the MC delivers lyrics providing food for thought over varied and original instrumentals. Apart from Nothings Free, which chorus sounds way too mainstream and unoriginal to my ears, I was very pleasantly surprised by the musical direction of the album, all the more so as I was not predicting such openness and variety. Thumbs up to Kap Kallous, then, for going beyond expectations and not being afraid to express himself by broadening his artistic horizons. With influences and elements borrowed to rock, electro or even dubstep, there is something for every one and your ears will probably enjoy this journey into different sonic dimensions. Whether you are an appreciator of those genres or not, there is a way for you to indulge in them as they are blended with others and sound more universal in this context that they may have otherwise. Despite this variety, a constant remains, that is the heaviness of the drums which will keep your head nodding hard to the rhythm of the beat.

Lyrically, there is no surprise. Kap Kallous is true to himself and the irony of the title will not be missed. It is quite clear the MC didn’t intend on keeping that mouth shut and I am quite sure people are grateful for this (well, those who appreciate his music that is – I guess some may be offended). His previous projects proved that he didn’t really care about what people may think and made it a point to say exactly what was on his mind. What I got to appreciate with the EPs, I can find once more on the album. More diverse than the EPs, which were very conceptual, the album allows Kap Kallous to express his thoughts and feelings on different subjects, from his personal life, struggles and love for music to more universal ideas on society, conspiracy theories or simply ego-tripping. Other tracks like Where Did She Go or Portrait Of An American Family are yet another occasion for him to showcase his excellent story-telling skills as well as his cynical but accurate visions on life and love. There is also a cinematographic dimension on several of the tracks, which is something I could already appreciate with his previous projects. All in all, I would say I Should Have Kept My Mouth Shut is the addition of the themes of TV/cinema/society we could find in The TV  EP and a bleak yet realistic take on love which was the central element of The She EP, with more general or personal tracks which all exude a great energy, sometimes bordering violence but always very cleverly expressed. This album sounds like an outlet for Kap Kallous and I guess many of us can relate to this need to let off some steam and anger, to simply express what we have inside and that needs to get out. I can’t but salute the MC’s courage to do so, as it is quite inspiring and salutary.

Now, to get an idea of what I talked about in the previous paragraphs, I will share two of the official videos for the album. First of all, the latest is the visual rendition for Hush, one of the most energetic and compelling tracks, which shouldn’t leave anyone unmoved. As stated in the disclaimer, this is for mature audiences ONLY. You’ve been warned…

Then, one of my favourite tracks and one of the most original ones is the mesmerising Like I Do, with beautiful vocals courtesy of S.K.I.P. I find the video very interesting and a great interpretation of the themes and lyrics of the song. Once again, not for the faint of heart.

If you like what you’ve heard, head to Kap Kallous’ Bandcamp to get the album, or simply click on the link below.

Find out more about Kap Kallous: FacebookTwitter

Newness for your ears: Penguin Files: Beats for Lovers, Soy is REAL

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Cover artwork for Penguin Files

    On Valentine’s Day, I was spoiled. Not by a lover, not with chocolates or flowers. I was given two amazing musical presents. The first one I already told you about, it was Kap Kallous’ The She EP (in case you missed it, catch up HERE). The second one is super-talented producer Soy Is Real’s incredible collection of beats, entitled Penguin Files: Beats for Lovers. While I still ponder on exactly what penguins are doing in the mix, I have absolutely no doubt about the quality of Soy’s music. I already had several opportunities to get a measure of his skills, especially with his collaborations with Sean J on his album A Tree By Itself and The Ego Egg mixtape or with their Who The Flip? project, released under the group name FTG. But Soy seems to have the ability to surprise me, to go beyond my expectations and make my eyes open wide in awe. In the same way as Shade Cobain impressed me with his Anti-Love Theory, where he injected his innermost feelings and told a story with his music, Soy uses his beats to convey emotions and touch the listeners. As the producer explains himself this project is a compilation of beats from the vault that explore his love/hate relationship with music’. It features some of his work from early 2010 to now and showcases his taste for beautiful, soulful samples that will definitely make you smile and feel like you want to love everybody. Thirty tracks deep, the project is quite long but every second of it is worthy and playing it after a long, stressful day at work will work wonders. It’s like a soothing balm for your soul and will undoubtedly lift your spirits if you are in need of escapism and healing. Even if that’s not the case, you will most probably indulge in the positive vibrations and get caught in the beauty of the music. What is quite remarkable is how the different beats all have a story to tell and explore all the different nuances of feelings love can put you through, from the darkest moods to the most elated ones. I had already heard some of the beats on previous projects but most of them were new to my ears and the overall effect is that of fresh, timeless music that will never suffer from being put on heavy rotation. The highlights of the mixtape are way too numerous to mention and I will leave you to make your own list.

      Get your fix and enter the beautiful universe of Soy is REAL on his Bandcamp or by clicking on the link below. Enjoy the journey, support and spread the word!

          Find out more about Soy is REAL on his blog, Facebook, Twitter

            Newness for your ears: Robots & Laces presents: The Underachievers Vol.2

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            Cover artwork for The Underachievers Vol.2

            On this cold and grey Sunday afternoon, when everything seemed to be on a standstill, I decided to go and find some music to lift my spirits. Of course I have more than enough albums and singles in my personal ‘library’ but it’s always great to discover something new. So I finally took some time to open some of the emails that had been waiting in my inbox for weeks or even months. And I have to say when you discard the uninteresting ones there are some gems! One of those is courtesy of The Underachievers, part of Robots & Laces, a collective of artists based in Orlando, Florida. I guess my previous posts and connections with some of the most talented ‘Ozone’ MCs (Sean J, Shinobi Stalin, Kap Kallous, etc.) gave me the privilege to receive this email and I’m quite glad it did end up in my inbox. This project is simply a collection of unwanted beats the Underachievers kept in store and decided to share with us, because the think they deserve some shine. I won’t argue with them on this point, as these instrumentals are quite good and definitely made me feel better today. They are mostly quite chilled, with some very nice samples and are quite appropriate for a Sunday. They provide a good dose of escapism and a virtual ray of sunshine that is much needed and appreciated.

            You can discover the beautiful universe of The Underachievers on their Bandcamp or simply by clicking on the link below. You can also listen to and download those tracks and a few others on Soundcloud. Enjoy!

            Newness for your ears: The She EP, Kap Kallous

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            In the same way as I couldn’t care less about any commercial holiday, Valentine’s day is just a regular day for me. I believe you shouldn’t need a special day to tell people you love them and show them you care. If you really do, it’s 24/7, 365 days a year. But that’s just me though and that’s not really the point. For me, one of the best presents anyone can give me is music. And I was kind of spoiled today, with many of my favourite artists releasing singles or projects. One of them is Kap Kallous, with his very special The She EP. After The TV EP a few months ago (catch up HERE), the Orlando-based MC is presenting a very powerful, personal concept EP that will probably not leave you unmoved. The She EP is simply 5 songs describing the evolution of a love story, from meeting and falling in love (Thank you) to lust (Purely physical), lies and cheating (Forget me not), uninhibited fantasies (Dream chicks) and finally breaking-up (Love is dead). Once again, I can find the same combination of great productions that match the content perfectly and seamless flow that complements some very well-written lyrics that I discovered with The TV EP. What I greatly appreciate about Kap Kallous on this project, in addition to the qualities I just mentioned, is his incredible openness and how he is sharing some quite personal elements of his past and his innermost feelings, from the most pure and beautiful to the darkest and most destructive ones. This is the definition of art to me, this ability to express yourself and at the same time touch people. And for the Gemini that I am, constantly split between dreams of romantic love and extreme cynicism, this EP is some kind of reflection of my moods, even though it tends to lean heavily towards the dark end of the spectrum. In any case I really appreciate its rawness and bluntness and it is a confirmation of Kap Kallous’ talent, which only leaves me to look forward to more from him.

            Discover The She EP on Kap Kallous’ Bandcamp, or simply by clicking on the link below. You can also find more information and download it on Ever Ready Records’ website. Enjoy!

            You can also have a look at the little video promo he put together. I really like it and I think it’s very well-done, giving you a good idea of the contents of the EP.

            Newness for your ears: Bomb Run, Shinobi Stalin

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            Picture of Shinobi Stalin

            While 2010 was quite an awesome year for Civil Mics, with many projects and singles, I had a feeling it was only the beginning. When I listen to Bomb Run, the latest single from Shinobi Stalin, I am definitely convinced of this. After the release of his first full-length Zombie Skool back in 2008, the MC is currently working on the follow-up, entitled Invisible Man. I am obviously looking forward to hearing the new project, as well as all the solo releases from the Vets of Kin member scheduled for this year. From the very first seconds of Bomb run, I was caught up in the great prod, courtesy of Tek The Intern. The atmosphere of the track is quite dark and moody, almost hypnotic and it was clearly impossible not to nod my head to its rhythm. To complement this beautiful instrumental, Shinobi Stalin’s flow and lyrics are on point. Matching some of the feelings I may have in regards to the state of the world and its future, the words are a mixture between pessimism and realism. There is also a sort of martial feeling to it, which I could already notice in several Vets of Kin earlier releases. To put it simply, I will play this track quite regularly, to indulge in the beautiful darkness of the production and the quality of Shinobi Stalin’s flow and lyrics.

            You can indulge as well, by going to Shinobi Stalin’s Bandcamp, or simply by clicking on the link below. You can also download Bomb Run HERE

            Album review: Daylight/Nightlight, IMAKEMADBEATS on FlyDef

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            Cover artwork for Daylight EP

            Cover artwork for Nightlight EP

             

             

             

             

             

             

             

             

            This is just a quick update to let you know that I have a new review featured on FlyDefinition.com. After writing about Greymatter’s self-titled debut album back in September, I now express my thoughts on IMAKEMADBEATS‘ double EP featuring Butta Verse and MidaZ the Beast. The Daylight/Nightlight EP was originally available digitally as two separate radio edit parts, but it will later on be released as one physical copy for sale via Doxside Music Group’s shop.

            EDIT: It looks like the original post with my review on FlyDefinition was deleted, but fortunately I kept the document, so I will share it with you now.

            Musicians and artists who create conceptual albums are becoming more and more difficult to find nowadays and it is a great pleasure for me to discover that they haven’t disappeared completely. Music is and should remain a creative form of self-expression, as is writing, and it should be a means to express your thoughts and feelings, translating them into notes and words. With that “Daylight”/”Nighlight” EP, not only did IMAKEMADBEATS craft a great conceptual project musically, but he teamed up with two talented MCs to provide the lyrics to match the atmosphere he created. With Butta Verse on the daylight side and MidaZ the Beast on the nightlight one, we discover two different moments of the day, but also of life as this double EP is filled with numerous metaphors and images related to light/darkness, positive/negative and all the nuances in between. This is no simplistic good vs bad dichotomy though, it’s much deeper and complicated than that, as nothing is either black or white and I really appreciate the producer and MCs’ decision not to give in to facility by providing a very positive “Daylight” and a completely negative “Nightlight”.

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            Interview: MyGrane McNastee

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            Cover artwork for SSMII

            I can always count on Civil Mics and Domination Recordings to provide me with quality independent hip-hop. After the recent release of Vets of Kin’s album Pestilence, it is now time for MyGrane McNastee to present his Supa Spic Memoirs 2. Probably not for children, but definitely a nice Christmas present for hip-hop appreciators, the mixtape is showcasing MyGrane’s great lyrical talent and his ability to play with words. To tell you more about him, his music and the mixtape, here is a quick interview with the man himself…

              First of all, for people who are not familiar with you, could you introduce yourself?

              MyGrane McNastee! Spontane, also called Shortee Tallz

              You’re part of several crews and groups, including Vets of Kin and Civil Mics, along with your brother AmIAm. He told us in a recent interview that you both initiated Vets of Kin. Could you tell us more about that? And how did you get involved with Civil Mics?

              Vets came together inevitably. We were all mutual peers of one another, who have the same passion and vision. I was introduced to Civil Mics by Shinobi Stalin, we clicked and Boom! We over here now!

              Something I really appreciate about you is the ‘randomness’ and DIY approach of your promo, which obviously makes people laugh but at the same time makes them curious to find out more about you and discover other aspects of your personality. How did you come up with the idea of the YouTube video blogs and self-made music videos and promo?

              I try to capitalize my spontaneity and out the box creativity. And I also want to bring that un-filtered vibe of Hip Hop back. I’m just expressing my self freely.

              Contrasting with the random aspect of your videos is the great quality of your lyrics and your amazing ability to play with words and flow. Do you think people and artists should focus more on the lyrical and technical aspect of hip-hop?

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