Swain – Valley Tan

Valley Tan

Street: 06.27
Swain = Guru x Lettuce

If you need a sound bed for summer hiking, downtown biking or park barbecuing, then Eric Swain is someone you may want to follow. Valley Tan is a soundtrack for Utah hip-hop heads looking to get out and be active in the outdoors. The album features smooth, soothing instrumentals, funk-laden samples and monotone lyrics that range from introspective to lighthearted. Swain can carry a note, too, and he gets his Drake on in several instances on the album. It breaks up his lyrical barrages quite nicely and it isn’t gratuitous enough to warrant questions of whether or not he should be an emcee or an R&B singer.

Combining funk with easygoing lyrics is a risky endeavor in the rap genre right now if you want to glean spins and get signed. Contemporary young rappers have started subscribing to conventions, which include chanting, frequent drug references, name drops and product endorsements. You’ll find none of that on Valley Tan. At its core, this is classic hip-hop with an old-school feel from a young emcee who isn’t afraid to represent Utah. Who would have thunk it?

The strongest cuts on the album are “Hot Tonight,” “The Life and Grind” and “Funk and Groove,” a track that evokes memories of a blaxploitation movie, or at least a fun weekend afternoon at the skating rink. Swain has a veteran ear for samples and sounds that belie his age and appearance—and his lyrics match as he talks about relationships, his passion for music, goals and, of course, the valley we call home.

If all that isn’t enough, Swain offers his carefully crafted beats in addition to the songs, so you can zone out and enjoy them while you get your Valley Tan (and I don’t mean whiskey). Listen to Swain’s sounds at soundcloud.com/ericgswain and/or download Valley Tan at ericgswain.bandcamp.com/releases. –Keith McDonald

Dusk – Can't Stop the World

Can’t Stop the World

Street: 07.26
Dusk Raps = Atmosphere x Everlast

Ryan Worwood, better known as Dusk (or Dusk Raps), ends summer ’16 with a Pen Pointz–produced project that is unashamedly old school, but what do you expect from “Da Gawd”? SLUG Magazine’s favorite emcee is an O.G. in the arena of Salt Lake City hip-hop, where his croaky crooning and delivery is about as noticeable among Utah emcees as his slender-eyed, solemn caricatures are in the local art scene. Can’t Stop The World flows from start to finish, leaving the listener satisfied yet craving more.

The album opens with an instrumental and a lecture. Pen Pointz, a Canadian beat maker, felt the need to inform us on ways to listen better before blessing us with seven ensuing tracks of solid, polished work, reminiscent of the classics sounds of Marley Marl and Rick Rubin. If you enjoy boom bap and smooth breakbeats, Can’t Stop The World will not disappoint. Recorded with Chance Lewis at House of Lewis Studios, this underground album has the same sound quality as the signed artists you’d hear on the radio.

Dusk refrains from compromising on this nine-arrowed quiver of songs: Trap beats and chants are not the move—old-school lyricism with a bluesy tinge of the Wasatch Front is what you’re going to get from this veteran Utah rapper. Adjust your ears accordingly. Songs like “Cold Cold World,” “The Bottom” and “Thirty Deuce” deserve a place in your “Utah Rap” playlist. Dusk rhymes about everyday things like paying the rent, keeping his sanity and his favorite-sized beverage, among other things. Guests like Omekka, Illin’ P, Rez the Silverback and DJ Skratchmo add vocal variety, dope lyrics and their own styles to round out this short but potent offering.

If you haven’t heard of him yet, go to music.duskraps.com and pick up All Is Fair before diving into this new project. You can also check out a few loose singles, like “Yung Oshea,” a tribute to the gangster rapper–turned–family movie star. Dusk is well due for major recognition, as he’s held down the Lake since ’96. Find out how you can purchase his music and watch for his shows at facebook.com/dusk.raps, because after listening to this release, it’s clear that Dusk is far from losing steam.
Keith McDonald

The Outsiders | Pancakes for Dinner | Self-Released

The Outsiders
Pancakes for Dinner

Street: 04.02
The Outsiders = A$AP Mob x Pete Rock & CL Smooth

Whether it’s at Coachman’s, Penny Ann’s Café or IHOP, pancakes for dinner is the ultimate affront to American suppertime tradition. Forgoing the burgers, steaks, pastas, pizzas and chicken wings (and even the salads) of the menu world, you were bold enough to embark on a journey, albeit it late in most people’s eyes, that few have the courage to undertake.

Welcome to the club. You, my friend, are an outsider.

The Outsiders are a rap group made up of rappers L.O.E & Forawx Tha Rhythmical Junkie beat makers, Sly and Hip-e out of Provo, Utah and DJ Chunk on the turntables. “We talk different, we create different, we perform different,” says L.O.E. “We carry ourselves different. That’s what being an Outsider is to us, and we’re more than okay with that.”

They reside in a realm that incorporates old-school boom-bap backpack production and complex rhyme schemes with contemporary trap 808s with slow BPM, rapidly paced hi-hats and chanting hooks. Their moniker fits them pretty well. They blend the two styles without fitting into either category fully. No matter the instrumental sound bed, the content is heartfelt and genuine, meant for their own catharsis as well as the mental well-being of their listeners.

Pancakes for Dinner features Utah emcees such as Dumbluck, Erasole James, Burnell Washburn, Rhyme Time, Rayd and more. It’s powered by bangers like “Werk,” “B.I.Z.,” “Kingship” and “Gifted.” “Werk” is probably the track that most signifies what the group represents musically and morally (with “Call It” being in the race, too). The sound is spooky and somewhat somber, but doesn’t take a depressing tack on the subject of gettin’ busy. Rather, The Outsiders use the three-minute track to motivate their listeners and help get them on their grind. Despite the obvious trap influences, they don’t use rinsed “aye” and “yeah” ad libs for timing and emphasis, instead using their rhetoric to get their point across.

Get ready to add one of Utah’s dopest groups into your morning playlists. You can download or listen to Pancakes for Dinner on iTunes, Tidal, Spotify and other music outlets, along with their earlier project, a six-track EP called Volume 1. –Keith L. McDonald 

Jay Citrus: So Vivid

Jay Citrus
So Vivid

Jay Citrus = Kid Cudi x Isaiah Rashad

You never know what you’ll get when your editor sends you a new album to review. Will it be trash? Will it be pedestrian? Will it inspire you to write your best review ever? It’s hard to tell … Nevertheless, I must admit that I slept on Salt Lake City’s Samuel Hall, aka Jay Citrus for a minute and for that I apologize to our readers — I should have reviewed this album a while ago—it’s dope!

So Vivid was recorded by Stephen Carr at Groundworks Studio with Regular Ass Dude on the beats, and his girlfriend Rikki Mae Arguelles lending her artistic talent to the album cover. The listener is taken on a journey through the dreams, aspirations meanderings of a 21 year-old rap artist: on weed (see Jon Stewart in Half Baked). 

One thing that stood was how well the production mixed the slower and faster aspect of the instrumentals. The album is well-put-together sequentially, the tracks blend well, and the melodies and cadences switch up in the right place as to not make the project sound monotonous. The pace speeds up and slows down, dips and ascends, typified by Track 3, “Heavenly Breaks,” and Jay’s flow complements the roller coaster nicely. If they stick to this formula and keep working hard in the studio, I can’t see them losing.

Granted, Jay Citrus’s five-track offering is painfully short, but it says something when an artist leaves you wanting more. His next endeavor, tentatively named Sunshine, drops on Dec. 30th at Metro Music Hall during the Hip Hop Roots show. It features various artists Utah might know, such as Khensu, Burnell Washburn, DJ Bask, Sunny Tang and his groupmates, Big C and Saner.One (better known as Lucid). Listen to So Vivid: jaycitrus.bandcamp.com/releases.Keith L. McDonald

Cig Burna

Cig Burna
Devil’s Food

Street: 08.10
Cig Burna = T.I. x Devin the Dude

Cig Burna, the cynical, slim cigar–loving, West Valley–repping herbal connoisseur, sticks to the formula with beats by BriskOner and features by Lefty 2 Guns and Concise Kilgore for his second studio offering, Devil’s Food. Cig’s flow, along with his vocal talent, is at the forefront, as it was in his first album, Paradise Lost, cementing him as one of Utah’s premiere solo emcees. Devil’s Food is multifaceted—it goes from the felonious to psychedelic to the introspective to the lighthearted. “Bigger and Better” is a lyrical tag team with the aforementioned contributors; “Still Burnin’” is a tribute to ganja; ”Understand This” is an unapologetic sonic confessional; and “Devil’s Food,” the album’s namesake, features a crazy soprano siren sample and wraps the album up on just the right note. The world may or may not feel it, but if you live in the valley and “ain’t got no Cig Burna yet, baby you oughta.” R.I.P. Yung Rip. –Keith McDonald

Glife – One-Life

G. Life

Street: 09.18
G. Life = Tech N9ne x Nelly

One-Five is a time capsule from one of Utah’s most polished artists in the game—the Salt Lake City emcee boasts a clothing line (They’re Here Gear), sponsorships, solid production (Self Expression Music and Melvin Junko), college radio spins and a stateside tour on top of that. If all that’s not enough, he is accompanied by DJ Pookie and a live violinist by the name of MasterQ, who adds refreshing live riffs for the majority of the album. Whatever you want to call him—G. Life, George Life, or his government name, George McDonald—you can tell he put his heart and soul into this album. He tackles societal unrest, undergoes self-examination and covers romantic relationships all in the span of 19 tracks. With features from Adlib to local guest spots by Utah veterans Joe Bacca, LAM and Sefo, One-Five is definitely a project that will make an imprint long past its release. –Keith McDonald

Rhyme Time | GNARLY | House of Lewis

Rhyme Time

House of Lewis
Street: 11.15.16
Rhyme Time = Ludacris x Kurtis Blow + Missy Elliot

Like a Stan Lee story, mild-mannered printing company director Scott Knopf transforms into a full-fledged rap beast when exposed to a microphone and an instrumental—but he’s actually more Jigglypuff than Hank McCoy. In his music, and live performances for that matter, Rhyme Time gives you all he has vocally, physically and creatively. Gnarly, his third studio album, was delayed and re-released due to him and his bandmates, House of Lewis, making an appearance on America’s Got Talent. Technically, you could say that he’s reached the national or even international scale at this point.

The 11-track offering, Gnarly, is bubbly, jazzy, synthetic and soulful (and skillful). It’s a nostalgic encapsulation on everything Knopf likes or liked about the ’90s, so put on your neon tracksuit and pop the CD in your boombox for a listen. Knopf brings his usual antics—writing songs about partying with Snoop Dogg, partying in general, wrestling, namedropping his favorite celebs and even sending a gumshoe to spy on his wife. Some fans might find it a bit too comical or jovial for their liking, but I find it refreshing to listen to a rapper who has no qualms with being a good guy (with good literary devices, of course). The title track stands out, as well as “Bringing Saxy Back” and “Name Droppin’.” Charming, witty and full of passion, Rhyme Time has without a doubt earned his place in the pantheon of dope Utah emcees.

You might not like his style, but you have to respect the work he’s put in since his battle rap days. If you aren’t familiar with one of Utah’s true hip-hop gems, you’re sleeping. Be sure to check out his previous work before you consume this platter. Thanks for the Burgers, The Roger EP and Topanga are available on 801atheist.bandcamp.com (Atheist being his previous moniker). –Keith L. McDonald

Hemis & Saul T. – White Folks

Hemis & Saul T.
White Folkes

Street: 08.28
Hemis & Saul T. = Gangstarr x Atmosphere + I.C.P.

White Folkes is a reference to Iceberg Slim’s novel Trick Baby in which a black man with fair skin, blonde hair and blue eyes passes for white—a black person in white skin essentially. Hemis—whose real name is Jimmy Crapo—is an aspiring rap artist, and Saul T. (the beat maker) is a soldier in the Army who is stationed in Louisiana. The two have been ridiculed by their communities for enjoying a pastime once thought by many to be solely for inhabitants of the ghetto. “It’s supposed to make you nervous / It’s supposed to make you laugh / It’s supposed to make you pay attention when I’m laying raps,” Crapo says in the title track. The concept of the album and the depth in which Hemis articulates his viewpoints make up for the fact that he only has had a year and a half in the game to polish his skills. Some of the beats are bare as skeletons and the rhyme schemes are a bit offbeat in some spots, but White Folkes is definitely a work of art for hip-hop fans of all complexions to enjoy. –Keith McDonald

[Correction: This album is not Hemis’ debut—he has also released an album with Young Mindz.]

Crab Cakes Vol. 2

Street: 04.29
Bijuu = Kanye West x Madlib

Alex Monday, otherwise known as Bijuu, released his first official album at Uprok in Salt Lake City on April 29 among 30 or so close friends and acquaintances.  The 43-track offering evokes feelings of “the old Kanye”—you know, before his persona was bigger than his music. “I’ve been massively influenced by Kanye,” Bijuu says. “I’m not gonna try and hide it.”

Barely old enough to make it into your favorite dive bar (he made 21 in December), you wonder how a young buck from the valley has such a refined ear for creating loops, choosing beat patterns and selecting samples from the ’70s. Nonetheless, armed with his trusty Maschine Mk II and SP 404 sampler, he has pressed out four total “beat tapes,” if you will (you gotta check out Raspberry Jams, Volumes 1 and 2). Crab Cakes Vol. 1 was an obvious ode to Rocafella’s hip-hop prominence, and Vol. 2 is as well, but the second installation ventures into more current, sample-less, synthetic sounds. With that many tracks, you have to stitch it up, right?

“There’s that trap influence that comes from the South,” says Bijuu. “I’ve been working with some Atlanta-based artists …  I decided if I was gonna do trap music, I was going to put a different spin on it, because [the genre] is really oversaturated. Most of the melodies towards the trap end of the album are samples from old NES games.”

Work like “rooibos,” “she don’t,” “got 2 b,” “good ass job” and “encounter of the 6th Kind” are sure to make heads bob in the Beehive State and beyond because of Bijuu’s knack for putting pleasing sounds together. Trained ears will hear bits and pieces of groups like Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tears for Fears, Alabama Shakes, Tower of Power, Syl Johnson, Shadow of the Colossus (a Playstation 2 game) and, yes, even the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. If you have an album, podcast, video or dance performance coming up, Bijuu is willing and ready to work with locals and anyone else for that matter. You can listen to his instrumentals at soundcloud.com/liveatthebijuu and bijuu.bandcamp.com. –Keith McDonald

If you’re not familiar with basketball, you may not know the significance of the “starting five.” Each basketball team can only field five players at any given time on the court, and the first five players that the coach selects to start the game are usually the best the team has to offer. Being a part of the starting five is something that any player who strives for greatness wants to be a part of (at the very least). In other words, a Stockton, Malone or Donovan Mitchell would never be happy with a bench role, Jazz fans.

Mass Appeal, the recording agency out of New York that started from a popular zine, is promoting a quintet of talented artists. Their stop in Salt Lake City at Metro Music Hall was the perfect opportunity for SLUG to ask the artists of Mass Appeal about their “top fives” in various categories: musicians, movies, Hollywood stars, Nas songs, and NBA players. One-by-one, the artists came downstairs from the green room to meet me at a black [high]table by the bar, Fashawn, Ezri, Cantrell, Stro and 070 Phi.  Here’s what they had to say about their chosen fives:

SLUG: Fashawn selected his starting five in the form of a band.
My five would be … I would have Barry White on baritone, at the bottom, and I’ll have El Debarge on the falsetto. I’d probably have like Carole King on background vocals. James Taylor on guitar and vocals. Stevie Wonder, He’d be the guru of the whole camp, he’d be the writer and he’d be sprinkling keys on everything. He and James Taylor together? Crazy group—crazy band…

Fashawn: Smoke weed everyday.

SLUG: Ezri chose to speak about his favorite films (with actors & directors mixed in).

Ezri: Top 5 Movies, and this is no particular order: Django Unchained (I like Quintin Tarantino). I like movies like Interstellar and Inception (written and directed by Christopher Nolan). I like American Gangster (Denzel Washington) a lot. I like Good Will Hunting (I like Robin Williams and Matt Damon). My old school classic would be Menace to Society. So yeah …

Ezri: Starting 5 Tour, came to settle the score …

SLUG: After some deliberation, Cantrell chose to discuss his favorite thespians.

Cantrell: Jim Carey, that’s my top guy. To go along with his humor, he’s such an intellectual. He cares about people. I love his insight, too. Health Ledger … because of Dark Knight. That’s probably my favorite on-screen performance, ever (that I can think of). Eva Mendez, ’cause I had a crush on her. That was my celebrity crush growing up. Will Smith because He’s the next GOAT after Denzel Washington. [After some thought] I’ma go with Regina King. For one, she’s been around for the longest—her longevity is crazy. Doing the voice acting —that’s legendary!

Cantrell: To have a gift is to have a responsibility.

SLUG: These are Stro’s top 5 Nas songs of the moment.

Stro: I’m a student of Nas. Of course, I’ma say (in no particular order) “Take it in Blood.” I’ma definitely go “Life’s a B*tch.” I’ma definitely go with “If I Ruled the World,” “Black Girl Lost” and “2nd Childhood.”

Stro: “Thank you.”

SLUG: O7O Phi (pronounced “0h-7-0h Fee”) chose his favorite ballers.

O7O PHI: I got Kyrie at point. I’ma put Klay Thompson at shooting guard. Then, I’ma put Kevin Durant at small forward. I’ma put Lebron [James] at power forward. Then, for center I’ma go with Demarcus Cousins. That’s my starting five, right there.

SLUG: Why is Lebron James your top player?

O7O PHI: Lebron is not only my top player because of how good he is at basketball, but I think no other player has stood up for what he’s stood up for so out there in the open. He started a schoolthat’s different. You can start businesses, you can make as much money as you can, but when you’re actually doing something for the culture, it means something, you know?

O7O PHI: We some Storm Troopers.

Each artist was cordial, thoughtful, articulate and unique in their own right. Who knows what the tour has brought them between Salt Lake and where they are at press time, but on their chosen career arch, I know they’ll be coming out with new material individually soon. In the meantime, you can check out their collaborative effort, The Starting 5 Tour Vol. 1 on all major music platforms.

Mass Appeal Top 5’s (In No Particular Order)

Fashawn (Band)

  1. Barry White
  2. El Debarge
  3. Carol King
  4. James Taylor
  5. Stevie Wonder

Ezri (Movies)

  1. Menace to Society
  2. Interstellar
  3. Inception
  4. Goodwill Hunting
  5. Django

Cantrell (Thespians)

  1. Jim Carey
  2. Eva Mendez
  3. Will Smith
  4. Heath Ledger
  5. Regina King

Coach: Denzel Washington

Stro  (Nas songs *of the moment)

  1. Take it in Blood
  2. Life’s a Bitch
  3. 2nd Childhood
  4. If I Rued the World
  5. Black Girl Lost

070 Phi (NBA Players)

  1. Kyrie Irving
  2. Klay Thompson
  3. Kevin Durant
  4. Lebron James
  5. Demarcus Cousins