Recently, a friend of mine tossed me an earful concerning the lack of Pittsburgh hip-hop represented on speed of the pittsburgh sound. I couldn’t deny his accusation. I paid attention to the biggies: Wiz Khalifa, Boaz, Discuss, Grand Buffet, Commonwealth Family, but not much else. I decided I needed to search for a goldmine, a mammoth mix tape that would provide a primer to Pittsburgh’s (apparently thriving) underground hip-hop scene.
After my search had ended, I found two things. 1, STiLLTOWN, far and away the best hip-hop blog in town complete with album reviews, interviews, mixtape downloads and Pittsburgh scene news galore, run by upstart steel city producer and all around renaissance man Rory Webb. 2, Defining Ourselves Through Music Presents: Stilltown Vol.1, first of two consummate Burgh hip-hop compilations released late December 2009, featuring heavy hitting MC’s (Jack Wilson, Apex, Jasiri X, Ayatollah Jaxx) and producers (Shade Cobain, Chim Beats, Spaed) from Pittsburgh and beyond. I couldn’t help myself and reviewed my favorite cuts. Tracks after the jump.
Jack Wilson – Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (Prod. by SPAED)
Jack Wilson and Pittsburgh based beatmaker DJ Spaed broke open Wilson’s 2009 mixtape Take the Fire From My Hand with “Clap Your Hands Say Yeah,” a tumbling, robust party burner with little white space to lull the proceedings. “Clap Your Hands” got the nod for track one status on Stilltown as well, kicking the doors off the comp and showcasing Wilson’s tongue twisting rhyming prowess and Spaed’s knack for making classic soul samples seem bright and modern. Wilson sums up the collaboration pretty nicely: “it’s seamless/ we make it look easy but we puttin in work.”
Ayatollah Jaxx – Nothing Like You Ever Heard (Prod. by Chim Beats)
Hip-hop, like any other art, is based on picking apart influences: gathering the useful pieces and discarding the rest. Ayatollah Jaxx takes this to heart something wicked, knowing full well there’s a world of MC’s out there who emulate the biggest names in the game only to try and cash in on a huge payday. On “Nothing Like You Ever Heard,” Jaxx skeptically relates how “they” describe him: a “militant Lupe,” a “Saigon Kanye” before he admits in a rallying cry, tinged with self-awareness, that he’s just “a backpacker with some shit on my mind.” It’s those slight moments of humility that ground the magnanimous horns in the production and Jaxx’s boasts in a sympathetic reality. Without it, “Saigon Kanye” would sound like a compliment.
Lone Catalysts ft. Mood – Beware
“Beware” is a groove, plain and simple. Bouncing back and forth on the legs of the distorted lounge guitar sample, some massive soul clips and bongo infused production, Lone Catalysts refuse to rely on the hazy atmosphere and chilled out mood. MC J. Sands spins a brutal street parable out of simply being apprehensive walking around deteriorating neighborhoods. “Shit, I can’t afford to walk” he concludes, trying to avoid all the obvious points contention, “I got bigger things to do than f***ing with you/I hear your words kid but nothing is true.” The reality of the rhymes brings the groove into stark focus, revealing confidence betrayed by paranoia. Sometimes it’s not enough to try and stay on the outside, you gotta have eyes in the back of your head.
Davu – Get Loose (Prod. by Shade Cobain)
Pittsburgh DJ and producer Shade Cobain takes the sparse, kick drum based jazz production of early Tribe Called Quest and puts it front and center on “Get Loose,” which could probably pass for a Low End Theory outtake. This allows San Fransisco based MC Davu and his relaxed delivery to run the course, weaving one verbose head spinning rhyme after another without breaking a sweat. Even his chorus, deftly camouflaged amid a blur of syllables, is easily missed on the first listen. “Get Loose” is an MC’s track, sure, but Cobain’s old school sense of less is more works brilliantly. If the mix was a little heavier, who knows? God forbid you miss even one of Davu’s staggering couplets. Don’t worry, Shade Cobain knows this better than anyone.