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Kidz Bop - Truth Hurts

"Damn," you remark to no one in particular, your voice muffled by the strip of cloth fabric that's become as much a fixture on your face over the past eight months as the perpetual stubble you long since gave up on shaving once you stopped going into the office.

You continue, this time directing your words towards the device in your hand that has now fully eliminated any need for interaction with other humans in this age of social distancing, "This dude hasn't written anything in over a year, and now he's posting two days in a row? He must have something really important to say."

Thoughts of the past year's social unrest, long-overdue protests against injustice, 1984-grade gas-lighting from the elected officials you were raised to trust, and a viral pandemic that has been as bad as any reality that Matt Damon could have predicted, race through your mind as your focus returns to the screen. "Maybe he's going to address the generational-defining election coming up in just a few days?"


"Give his take on how music creation and consumption has changed as a result of the quarantine?"


"Maybe he'll share his thoughts on how the latest Supreme Court appointee's approach to law could one day cause the existing standards of obscenity to be re-evaluated and how that might have an impact on hip hop."

Nah, son. A younger version of me would be writing page after page with my thoughts on all of that, and I reserve the right to come back to this site before Election Day and do just that, but today I just wanted to share a video. This video has elicited something very rare for me lately as I've attempted to juggle working from home with the duties of raising a baby without the guardrails of daycare and protecting some level of my own sanity: genuine laughter. Seeing how earnestly this blonde girl raps, "I'm 100% that girl" in place of Lizzo's original "That bitch" line makes me smile every single time I watch it. It's great. Take a minute to watch it.

Then go back and watch the original Lizzo video which I continue to argue to this day is one of the best rap songs of the past decade.

(And one last thought. Can anyone confirm that is Open Mike Eagle in Lizzo's video?)

10/28/2020 7:30:00 am posted by Fresh | Comment on this Post

As a way of intro'ing this post, I was going to make a really tortured metaphor equating 90's hip hop heads slash gatekeepers to a cargo cult performing intricate rituals involving Polo sweaters, Jansport backpacks, and long-dormant blogs in the hopes of conjuring up the second coming of Illmatic from the clouds. That metaphor was hitting a little too close to home, and required far too much research to understand what a cargo cult even is, so scratch that. The point I'm getting to is that this album that we're going to talk about in the next paragraph really speaks to me.

What you need to know: Cargo Cults is a collaboration from the homie Zilla Rocca and former Def Jux emcee Alaska. They recently ("recently" being a term of relativity, but given it's been over a year since I've posted then anything since January counts as recent) dropped an album, Nihilist Millenial. The album's filled with the kind of heaviness - heavy in regards to both Alaska's rhymes and Zilla's sample-laden beats - that fits the world's current mood quite nicely. Techno-paranoia, hints of ludditism, cynicism, fatigue; it's all represented in here, but delivered with a level of emceeing skill and laid over some great beats that make for an incredible listen regardless of what mood 2020 has put you in.

The song at the top of the post, U/X, is the standout track but give the entire album a listen over here: Cargo Cults - Nihilist Millenial
10/26/2020 7:30:09 am posted by Fresh | Comment on this Post

(Image: Dream Team: A Stokely Hathaway Joint)

You may not have been waiting for an independent hip hop album that was inspired by professional wrestling. You might not even be able to conceive what an album like that would sound like. But I'm here to tell you that Griff and Scorsese Shells' new project "Dream Team: A Stokely Hathaway Joint," a project that was originally motivated by Scorsese's connection to WWE Manager Stokely Hathaway aka Court Moore and features an appearance from Vic Spencer, is going to exceed your expectations, whatever they may be.

You don't really need me to tell you how I feel about this song we're featuring off of the project, "Rob Peter, Pay Paul (Heyman)" (a reference to wrestling promoter Paul E. Dangerously). Griff's been down with this site for over a decade, and I'd post a recording of him banging a couple of rocks together on the strength of the gratitude I have for that. But even if that weren't the case I'm a sucker for any beat that samples obscure D Block remixes of Obie Trice songs and, as I've said before, Griff's production is consistently exceptional. His Dream Team partner Scorsese Shells comes correct, and gets a nice vocal assist from Sauce Heist. Rather than read several more sentences on why this song is good, just hit play on it and read through the transcript of an impromptu interview we did over instagram:

Scorsese, on his choice for the Big Daddy Kane-inspired album cover:
"I had always loved that picture and I wanted to use that aesthetic that Kane represented during his era - unlimited cool, refinement, but supremely gangsta. Plus, I fucking love Kane as a rapper! That said, I wanted to make it really minimalist and turn that ideal into a target - hence why he is red and the chains are visible."

Griff, on the time that one of his songs was licensed by MTV's the Real World:
"We did not have a direct connection at MTV, but my business partner at the time had a connection at a third party company that does MTV's music placement. So after the album was finished we had sent that to him and highlighted that song in particular as one that would be a good fit for anytime in reality TV that there was a fight or an argument or whatever, which in reality TV is pretty much all the time.

We landed a few more sync deals off of that record, but that was the major one. I learned a lot about sync placements through that, because that song was classified as featured music as opposed to background music which paid out at a higher rate. It was awesome though because we recouped the entire album off of that one sync. Which was great because we spent way too much on that album anyways!

Griff on how he hooked up with Scorsese for this project:
"I connected with Scorsese when he was putting together producers to remix tracks for his last album, A World Only Gods Know. Zilla Rocca actually connected us. I did the remix of the title track for that album and then shortly after he had heard some of my beats on Instagram and I sent him one of them. [H]e laid something down on it that I thought was super dope at which point he told me the whole concept for the album and we started putting tracks together really with the intent of doing an EP, but it morphed into a full length album."

Even more from Griff on his approach to being a working producer in 2019:
"I don't really do Type beats and try to sell stuff on like Beatstars or go really hard on Soundcloud or whatever. Mainly just because I don't have the time. I have four kids and I still work a full time job outside of music, so I really have to make sure that whatever I'm working on musically is stuff that I'm really passionate about.

I do occasionally dabble with other styles of hip hop besides what you hear on the collaborations with Alex Ludovico [which you should really check out if you haven't already] and on the Dream Team stuff. So I do have a pretty decent size catalog of "keyboard beats" that I will eventually get into doing something with. There's a lot of electronic inspired stuff that I guess I would describe as a heavy Missy Elliot/Timbaland influence mixed with modern-day trap.

So maybe at some point in the future I'll pop up on Beatstars or one of those websites with an alias and start better financing my boom bap style stuff by doing contemporary bullshit. And I use the term bullshit loosely because I do enjoy a lot of that stuff and it's fun to make as well. With so many sub-genres of rap I don't ever want to pigeonhole myself into just doing one style.

And finally, since they're putting this project out under the name "Dream Team," I had to ask Griff who his favorite member of the original Dream Team was:

"Growing up in the Chicagoland area it would be sacrilege to say anything other than Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. But I will always have a special place in my heart for David Robinson. The first replica NBA jersey I ever bought was that number 50 Spurs, and I still have it in my collection."

To hear the rest of Dream Team: A Stokely Hathaway Joint, check out their soundcloud page.

For more from Griff, here's his Instagram page.

And for more from Scorsese, head ver to his IG page.
4/23/2019 7:30:09 am posted by Fresh | Comment on this Post

Lizzo - Truth Hurts

I don't normally take the time to post breakup-inspired female empowerment anthems on this site, but I came across the above this weekend from Minnesota-by-way-of-Houston-and-Detroit rapper slash singer Lizzo and it struck me as a star-making performance from someone that was completely off my radar. Given the millions of youtube views and even more millions of spotify plays that this song has garnered in the two years since its release, maybe you've already heard of her. In fact, given that in the time it took me to write those first two sentences today she's been profiled by CNN, Vulture, Pitchfork, and The Guardian, it's entirely possible that you already consider her to be played out. (Speaking of being played out, I appreciate how bad of a look it is that I'm "discovering" a rapper after cnn.)

Lizzo's music is new to me, though, and her ability to turn fairly simple lines into memorable catchphrases (see: "I put the sing in single") while switching seamlessly between rapping and singing is a pretty consistent recipe for success (see: "Drake"). This week seems to be the culmination of several years of effort on her part; while her previous work has had some relative success, over the past few days not only has she been profiled by multiple national news outlets as part of the rollout of her new album Cuz I Love You, her music was given the spotlight in a new netflix movie, and she made an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel.

I haven't done a full deep dive on her catalog of music, but from what I can tell she's made an effort more recently to head into pop territory. Her current sound is somewhere between Missy Elliot and Bruno Mars. If she ever goes back to the more direct rapping style of Truth Hurts I'll check for it, but I suspect the fame and success her latest moves are going to help her achieve will make that unlikely.

For a little more from Lizzo, here's an interview she did with the Bodega Boys Desus & Mero last year:

4/21/2019 3:05:01 pm posted by Fresh | Comment on this Post

Shakewell - Leglock

Given that this thing has 7 million views on it, I may not be putting you up on anything new. Prior to last week I had never heard anything from San Fernando Valley's Shakewell, but this vaguely menacing video for Leglock has me hooked. The beat is incredible, and Shakewell's rapping is solid, but the visuals are the highlight here. The director, Dan Streit, seems to be on the comeup, having done videos for Trippie Redd, Justin Bieber, Martin Garrix, and Dillon Francis. Check out his site for the full catalog.

Here's one other video from Streit featuring Shakewell again, alongside Fat Nick of the SuicideBoys:

Fat Nick featuring Shakewell - Pemex
4/14/2019 7:02:01 pm posted by Fresh | Comment on this Post

evitaN (Dres and Jarobi) - Give it to Me (produced by Bless1)

This post is about six years overdue, but did you know the legendary Dres from Black Sheep and Jarobi from A Tribe Called Quest formed a group called evitaN and put out an album named Speed of Life? Better yet, did you know our man Bless1 did some of the production on it? I completely missed this album when it originally came out, but from a quick listen it's got enough of that "golden era" sound to it without sounding like it's completely stuck in the 90's, and is a solid entry into the grown folk genre of rap that's been developing over the past few years (a topic I'll be addressing at some point in the future, but for those looking to study up on it in advance, Redman's IG page is a good source of it).

To round this post out, here's one of the other songs from the evitaN album featuring Sadat X:

4/1/2019 7:01:02 pm posted by Fresh | Comment on this Post

(Image: Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Samples)

Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Samples)

You don't need me to tell you that the Wu's debut album "Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)" is a classic, and you already know RZA is a musical GZA genius. What you might not be aware of is all of the samples RZA used for the production on that album, and I'm hoping that's enough incentive to check out the mix I put together. There are a few musical references I missed - the amount of callbacks to other works that Method Man makes in his self-titled song would be enough to fill at least an hour's mix on its own - but I did manage to grab the 25 or so songs RZA sampled for the beats themselves plus a few bonuses like the Hall and Oates inspiration behind Meth's chorus.

Here's the tracklisting for the mix, which I have creatively titled Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Samples):

Bring Da Ruckus - Wu-Tang Clan
Synthetic Substitution - Melvin Bliss
CB#2 - Ralph Vargas & Carlos Bess
Shame On A... - Wu-Tang Clan
Black and Tan Fantasy - Thelonious Monk
Different Strokes - Syl Johnson
Clan in da Front - Wu-Tang Clan
Honeybee - The New Birth
Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues-Are - Thelonious Monk
The Love You Save - Jackson 5
Wu-Tang: 7th Chamber - Wu-Tang Clan
As Long As I've Got You - The Charmels
Can It Be All So Simple - Wu-Tang Clan
The Way We Were / Try to Remember - Gladys Knight & The Pips
Da Mystery of Chessboxin' - Wu-Tang Clan
Tramp - Lowell Fulson
Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthing ta F' Wit - Wu-Tang Clan
Underdog Theme - W. Watts Biggers
Papa Was Too - Joe Tex
Nobody Beats the Biz - Biz Markie
C.R.E.A.M. - Wu-Tang Clan
Money Dollar Bill Y'all - Jimmy Spicer
Method Man - Wu-Tang Clan
Method of Modern Love - Hall and Oates
Disciples of Funk - Bootsy's Rubber Band
Sport - Lightnin' Rod
Chim Chim Cher-ee - Dick Van Dyke (Mary Poppins Soundtrack)
Protect Ya Neck - Wu-Tang Clan
The Grunt Pt. 1 - The J.B.'s
She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain - Folk Song
Tearz - Wu-Tang Clan
After Laughter (Comes Tears) - Wendy Rene
Get Me Back on Time, Engine Number 9 (Part 1 & Part 2) - Wilson Pickett
Wu-Tang: 7th Chamber - Part II (Conclusion) - Wu-Tang Clan
Make It Funky - Ralph Vargas & Carlos Bess
3/4/2019 4:05:02 pm posted by Fresh | Comment on this Post

Nina Simone - Sorry I Didn't Get Him!

Spotted this on Rocky Rivera's IG page, in honor of the late, great Nina Simone's birthday. If you have even a passing interest in her, the full interview is worth a listen.

These days you might know Simone by way of Lauryn Hill and the Fugees as much as anything else, but she was one of the greatest musicians of the past century. Her entire catalog is incredible, but here is my favorite of her songs:

Nina Simone - Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood
2/21/2019 7:05:01 pm posted by Fresh | Comment on this Post

(Image: Patterson Falls, Patterson, NJ)
Eventually I'll get around to writing full writeups on each of the producers below, but for now I just wanted to share a few instrumentals that I've been listening to from artists that have contributed a lot to this site over the years. Check 'em out:

He's Hers (aka Chris Brown/PE/Sans Rivals/No Equal) - Simula
Chris is living out in the Phillippines these days, and his younger brother Pips is a little more active in the music scene than he is at the moment, but he still puts out the occasional instrumental. Keep an eye on his bandcamp page for more updates, or go back through his older stuff on this site.

Bless1 - type beat
For my money, Bless1 is the best producer from Chicago to never have gone on a problematic twitter rant. He's consistently put out some of my favorite beats over the past decade and change, and has a loaded soundcloud page to prove it. For even more, check out some of our previous features on him.

View this post on Instagram

#BeatsAndBeers got this dope Mirror Universe by @fairstatecoop from @hipstagrahams MN delivery. . ???????????????????????????????????????? . ???????????????????????????????????????? . . . . . . . #music #rapmusic #producers #beats #samples #beatmaker #grownuprap #chicago #brooklyn #chicagohiphop #undergroundhiphop #indiemusic #musicvideo #craftbeer #rapdads #bass #boombap #hiphopheads #hiphoplife #inspiration #beer #vintagerap #beatmakermagazine

A post shared by Jason/Griff (@iamjasongriff) on

Griff - Beats and Beers January 15th Edition
Speaking of Chicago-based producers, Griff has been doing an ongoing instrumental series on Instragram called Beats and Beers. The above is my favorite of the bunch, and sounds like something that might have been pulled from RZA's archives. Keep an eye on this site for some more from Griff in the very near future.
2/13/2019 7:04:01 pm posted by Fresh | Comment on this Post

Mad Skillz - Soulquarians Visual DJ Set

Depending on your age, the first thought when you hear the name "Mad Skillz" might conjure up any of the following:
  • Legendary battle rapper who went up against the likes of Supernatural and MF Grimm
  • The originator of the VA rap scene with his first album, From Where????
  • The guy who rapped over that baby crying in the background of Aaliyah's Are You That Somebody
  • Creator of the year-end Rap Up Freestyles (and the guy who destroyed Uncle Murda after Murda jacked the whole Rap Up concept)
  • DJ Jazzy Jeff's hype man
  • Tour DJ for Nicki Minaj

  • Skillz has been one of my favorite emcees since I first heard the Nod Factor as an impressionable college freshman who, up until that point, had been unconvinced that there was anyone outside of NY or LA worth listening to. Until recently I was unaware of his turn towards DJing, but appparently he got into it near the end of his working relationship with Jazzy Jeff. He began teaching himself to DJ, and eventually went on tour with Nicki Minaj. The above audio/visual mix is his latest bit of work, featuring songs that were recorded at the legendary Electric Lady Studios (at the behest of D'Angelo) during the late 90's by the "Soulquarian" collective: Q-Tip, Dilla, The Roots, Common, Mos Def, D'Angelo, Erykah Badu, and Talib Kweli (and probably a couple of other names I'm neglecting).

    If you're interested in hearing Skillz break down his path to dj'ing in more detail, his appearance on the Reflections of a DJ Podcast is worth a listen. He talks about his falling out with Jazzy Jeff, his reaction to releasing his debut album on the same day that Fugees' The Score and Tupac's All Eyez on Me dropped, getting a beat that Biggie wanted and then sampling Biggie on that same song, and his semester as a Professor. Check it out:

    It would be a crime to post about Mad Skillz and not included his classic neck breaker:

    Mad Skillz - The Nod Factor

    For more from Skillz, head over to his site.
2/5/2019 7:00:03 pm posted by Fresh | Comment on this Post