Fresh off the release of MMJB Feat Black Thought, STS & Truck North waste zero time in giving us a fast track into the land of amazing Philly Raps. The Phantogram flip and the take no prisoners lyricism gives shine to a new era of elite emcees. Don't front, don't hate just enjoy the lyrical ride.

Look, Just listen to it. The End.

Editors Side Note: Just listen to the god damn song.

Are you an adult? Do you miss the days when rappers actually had a deep skill set? The days when they spoke in full sentences and used ACT Words? Well wait no more!!! Truck North and DJ Cuzzin B are giving your at age reading level loving self a glorious project.

Truck North comes from a pedigreed line of emcee's and writers. In Case You Missed It by Truck North & Dj Cuzzin B is a project that cohesively balances while seamlessly blending parts of Truck's outstanding body of work thus far. #ICYMI features standout performances on songs by The Roots, Little Brother & the Money Making Jam Boys as well as a torrent of freestyles that hit the net but never had a home. Dj Cuzzin B does a masterful job of telling Trucks story through fluent mixing to provide an appetizer before the main course coming soon

Act fast because a lot of the talentless, brain dead artists are taking up precious airwaves and mental space with not just the youth, but also your 30 year old self. There used to be a vetting process in which only real emcee's could touch the mic. Your music in the back shouldn't just be absolute singy-songy-rippy-rappy Dylan shit. Get some depth in your raps and listen to this project.

Fire up that grill this weekend and pump this over your hifi. Be an adult. Listen to raps with college level words in it.

TiRon and Ayomari are part of a California rap crew named The Cafeteria Line, who have put out a slew of solid releases over the course of the last few years on their Bandcamp page. TiRon has both Ketchup and Mustard to his credit, while Ayomari has The PB&J Solution. Both have appeared on each others' work, and almost every time those songs were the highlights of the album. So a collaborative effort from just these two members of the crew makes complete sense. And the fact that it would turn out to be something special shouldn't have been a surprise either, but even I was unprepared for just how good of an album these two managed to make together.

Making a concept album on the nature of relationships, either dissolving or thriving, is not a new thing. However, what makes this album (a hip-hop album, no less) unique is that it's written by two men, yet it has a viewpoint that is told in equal parts from the male and female perspective. In fact, it could be argued that it leans more on the female perspective side of things throughout. Making something like that sound honest, as well as making sure it never borders on schmaltz, is a tricky task to pull off. Thankfully TiRon and Ayomari make it work with excellent lyrics throughout, with the help of some great production to back them up.

Album opener "Jack Kerouac" starts with the sound of cars driving down the freeway at night, before the strings that back the track kick in. Lyrically, it equates love with hitchhiking, with the chorus including the line "Got bags on my shoulder and I wish someone’ll slow down". Following that is the possible highlight "Her Theme Song", with a bouncy piano laying the foundation for a song with a sweetly sung chorus about a woman who "if you threw her up in the air, it'd turn to sunshine". Other things the album touches on are the obsession with the female form on "Perfect", feminism on "Denouement", and that feeling of knowing it's time to end a relationship that just isn't working on the mournful, Oddisee produced album closer "Fin".

There aren't any attempts at a radio song on the album, though "M.F.G." would probably be the closest anything comes. It's the only one with a driving beat and really catchy hook, at least in comparison to the rest of the album. But the highlights abound, from "A Lot On Your Mind" to "The Neighbors", almost every track is a gem. There's plenty to love here for the hip-hop heads, and a lot of appeal for people with a passing interest in hip-hop as well. And if TiRon & Ayomari never do an album together again, they've said all they need to say about what they can do together with A Sucker For Pumps.

L'Orange has slowly been making a name for himself over the last few years with a series of releases, most notably The Mad Writer, which featured smoky-soul, J Dilla indebted beats. Aside from occasional guest-spots, they remained largely instrumental affairs. The few guest spots he did have included MCs like Has-Lo and Blue, who made perfect sense to spit over his dusky beats. When I heard he was making an album with Jeremiah Jae, I was taken aback. Jae, whose debut album I discussed here, made albums with quasi-industrial, manic beats. Think Death Grips on Quaaludes, only good. So, when I first listened to The Night Took Us In Like Family, I had no idea exactly how to gauge my expectations. How did it work out? Rather excellently, I'm pleased to report.

L'Orange handled all of the production, and Jae's syrupy drawl of a delivery turns out to be a perfect counterpoint for his style of production. It also helps that L'Orange seemed to take a few cues from Jae, adding slight hints of weirdness to each track. The end result is a grimy album filled with vivid imagery, one the draws you in closer with each listen. The album itself is a concept album, a gangster noir-tale told in five parts, using samples from old gangster films to fill in the details. "Do My Best To Carry On" sets the tone for the album, with its boom-bap indebted beats that are warped and twisted into something else completely, old samples sounding like they're coming from some dusty phonograph layered and woven throughout. The L'Orange dirty soul comes out in full-force on "Underworld", with a piano-driven beat carried along by a warped sample of a chipmunk-voiced female lounge singer adding a haunting quality to the song.

The songs also venture into some dark territory, which is to be expected from an album telling this type of story, with the funeral-dirge beat of "The Concrete Some Call Home" and "Kind of Like Life" being the two most prominent examples. There are also jazz-indebted tracks like "I Was Invisible Nothing" and grimy gangsta beats like "Kicking Glass" to keep the entire affair from ever becoming redundant.

There are only two guest-spots, leaving almost the entirety of the rapping duty to Jae. This works in favor of the album because Jae is a very capable rapper, and it helps make the story being told all the more engrossing. The two times the reins are handed to someone else are on "All I Need" (featuring Gift of Gab) and what could have been the album highlight, "Ignore the Man To Your Right", which features Homeboy Sandman. However, the album highlight is the penultimate "Starry-Eyed Balcony Walkers", with horns and organs giving the track a cocky, menacing tone. It's a huge track, and as of this writing my current favorite hip-hop song of 2015. It also helps draw the story to a perfect close. I won't tell you how it ends, as it's well worth taking the time to listen and get wrapped up in the world it creates. While you're at it, you'll be treating yourself to one of the finest hip-hop releases of the year.

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(Note: this is a review I had written for this album when it came out. Next week I will be reviewing a new album by L'Orange and Jeremiah Jae, so I decided to put this up as a precursor)

Experiments, no matter how well intentioned, don't always end well. In fact, sometimes when they don't work, they end in disaster. While the stakes in experimenting with music obviously don't carry the weight of life-or-death, they can end/derail a career very quickly. I'm sure Chris Cornell had nothing but good intentions when he was making Scream, which was the definition of "disaster". The shadow of that album hung over him for years, even up to today. So it takes a brave soul to push limits as much as Jeremiah Jae does on his debut album, Raw Money Raps. Moving from Chicago to LA and signing to Flying Lotus' Brainfeeder label (after the two became friends online a half decade ago) certainly helps his chances of success, since Brainfeeder is a typically outside-the-box label as is, but even by those standards this album is really out there. However, Jae is a legit talent, and for the most part the experiments work.

The album makes its statement right from the opening track, "Guns Go Off". With a chugging, twitchy beat produced by Jae (who did a majority of the production on the album), the vocals sound like they're drowning in the beat. This is a common thing on the album, and something that works both for and against it. Jae's lyrics are abstract--and very good--but the beat suffocates them on a lot of tracks. This invites two things, which bring us back to the "work for and against" part. One is frustration, and the other is curiosity. Frustration due to not being able to easily make out what he's saying a lot of time, and curiosity because it makes you want to hear what he's saying, which leads to closer listening, and this is an album that requires it in many ways. It's an album that begs to be heard through a good pair of headphones.

All of this isn't to say that Jae doesn't show that he's adept at creating more common-sounding hip-hop at certain points. Tracks like "Greetings", "Money And Food" (which takes large swipes at radio hip-hop), as well as two album highlights--"Seasons" and "Cat Fight", play it slightly safer. The former still lowers the vocals, but the structure of the beat is more accessible. I've seen other reviews bag on "Cat Fight" (which was produced by Lotus himself) as being too much like Madlib, but I fail to see how that's a detriment. Using chipmunk-distorted soul samples, it's easily one of my favorite tracks on the album.

Obviously, his technique doesn't always work. But aside from one track, "Guerilla (Evolution Pt. 1)", they're all interesting enough to keep your attention for multiple listens. Essentially, they're the kind of tracks that could be skip-able depending on the kind of mood you're in when you hear them. Either way, it's an album that deserves to be heard, especially by fans of weird hip-hop. And while it definitely isn't going to be an album for everyone, to those it is for it's quite a revelation, and one that gives a lot of excitement as to where Jae can go from here.

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There's this overwhelming idea in art--and especially in music--that once someone reaches a certain age they begin to fall off, creatively. That once you reach a certain age, it's time to hang it up, or risk embarrassing yourself. Now obviously, there are exceptions to this rule. I don't think anyone is going to suggest that Tom Waits, for example, needs to step away from the piano and give it a rest. But in hip-hop, these examples barely exist. It's unfortunate that in a genre that was defined by its innovators, some of whom got their starts at a time when hip-hop was considered nothing more than a flash in the pan like disco, with no lasting power, that it seems that after a short shelf-life rappers are expected to be put out to pasture. The Roots have somehow avoided this trap, however, and they've done so by having one of the most consistent discographies in hip-hop.

Now, you might be saying to yourself, "Well, yeah, but what do The Roots have to do with this?". Well, the Money Making Jam Boys is a super-group of sorts, and one of the members is none other than Black Thought. It also features fellow Philadelphians (and frequent Roots collaborators) Truck North and Dice Raw, as well as Sugar Tongue Slim, Peedi Crakk and P.O.R.N. And after 20+ years of making music, even Roots side-projects have that intensity and creativity that has helped keep them relevant after all this time.

The tape comes out swinging with "500 Horses", featuring DJ Jazzy Jeff (!). The song is a small departure from The Roots sound, with a beat that sounds like something prime-era RZA might have made. Everyone spits their bars as though they have something to lose, and not that this is a throwaway project done for fun, which is the way the entire album feels. "Tear it Down" moves back into familiar-sounding Roots territory, which is obviously not a bad thing.

Stylistically, the album tries a lot of different sounds. There's the aforementioned RZA style. some Roots comfort food, some New York boom-bap (Day Job, Look Funny), and more in this tape. It's a mixtape in the truest sense of the word. It lends it’s production points to long time Roots producers, Khari Mateen, DJ Bear One, Questlove, Frank Knuckles and a few others. The album is divided into to two projects. Hard hitting rap classics and party anthems to keep you moving your feet.

The larger problem at hand when a project like MMJB is simple, it’s too much to dense lyrical content to consume in a simple listen through. Each song features the ensemble cast intentionally looking to out rap, out write and out style eachother on wax. The end result is rap lyric fans dream of potent quotables and bad mother fucking things to quote. “We play hard, we stay high, we work hard, never say die. We kill everything never say why. Don’t fuck with us n***a keep your day job.” © STS. from Day Job.

One might think, naw Icy, this project isn’t that tough. But, you’d be wrong. Each song is a new nugget of punch you in the mouth aggression all while wearing Lanvin sneakers, because with Money Making Jam it’s a magical affair of verbal pugilism. An affair that will leave you senseless and gasping for air to process what you just heard. No dumbed down antics, no chance for you Cornball rappers spitting all those stale raps and Dice Raw sounded like a Hellcat.

The focus on the project is each emcee gets 3 attempts to get their best bars off, if you make the grade you make the grade. Even Peedi Crakk remains this, lyrical genius, you can’t see him but he can see the Venus. Crakk can see the future, and for you, nothing changes. For you that might be strange but for them, it's how it goes. It's relentless lyrical murder from Black Thought who has 500 Horses in his Panamera Porsche and he’s lyrical sharp shooter like he in the US Armed Forces. The Jam Boys are set to turn you sons into orphans. If there is one word to describe this project it would be Relentless.

By the end of this relentless lyrical assault, you are sweaty, confused, filled with the fear that you are an inferior emcee. That your lyrics will never produce a Yacht that comes with a car. Yet you find yourself grateful that you took this verbal ass whooping from the finest Emcee’s that came from the land of Illadelph the land where the killers dwell. How does one even stand a chance? It’s simple, stay sleep while the Jam Boy Magic does their dirt and find yourself whimpering until you find your new day job. Because these International Playboys came to lay down the law, and you stand no chance to resurface again. Quality material never fades, gets old or is ever too late to discover the beauty of a piece.


Editor side note. This project review could easily go on for 30 pages. The fact that this video has less than 4,000 views 4 years after it's launch lets me know, ya'll like staying schleeeep. Do yourself and your ear drums a favor. Listen to this project and stop bothering Black Thought about a solo project. Ya'll slept on this, why should we give you another mattress to do back flips on? This was co-written by written by Eric and Icy Mike. He's an animal on founding this overlooked series. Sugar Tongue Slim drops his project with RJD2 on May 5th. You can buy it on iTunes. Truck North & DJ Bear One Drop #BlackDaniels this upcoming May. Truck North will also be releasing a few in the next couple of months.

We have come to the point in the year where we transition our wardrobes from coats and scarves to jackets, shorts and shades. Summer is that you? Not yet, well at least we can spring forward into come cooler clothing. Since you've already rid your closet of unneeded items and donated them(click here to learn more), its time to put that empty space to use. Yes you can get a refill, but how about we shop local this time around.  Some may think, shop local, i do that all the time, who travels to shop "insert Kanye shrug". Shopping local is supporting the local and independent retailers and boutiques in your respective city. In Chicago, there is a grand opportunity to put your dollars right back into your city. But it is really deeper than that. Choosing to shop ouside the malls, the big box stores, you have the opportunity to find unique pieces for your wardrobe. Thats right! You're going to be unique. That blazer that everyone has,;it'll be everyone but you because you chose to by that vintage blazer for half the price. It's actually pretty awesome. You create a bold new look, while supporting those who were bold enough to take an idea into reality. Lets take a look at a few shops in Chicago who are doing it right.

J Toor is located inside the 900 N Shops building housing Bloomingdales and there well known retailers. What makes J Toor standout is that it is a Chicago based brand offering gentleman bespoke clothing options. In a time when much of fashion trends are very Itailian and Japanese driven, J Toor offers a collection that is American and English inspired. For the discerning gentleman, a fitting session with one the stylist here is a must. 

Haberdash is another destination for the gentleman who wants a complete wardrobe.  Haberdash has been a stable in Chicago menswear since 2005. The company now has 3 locations, offering ready to wear or off the rack items along with a dedicated store for bespoke clothing. Its about classic style when you walk through the doors. Here you will find classic brands and clothing and accessories from the new brands making bold moves.  Haberdash is proud to bring you many American made brands like New Balance, Shinola, Baldwin Denim and Allen Edmonds. No matter how you classify your style, there's no doubt that you can find unique items to add to your closet. 

Originally housed in the Bronzeville neighborhood in Chicago, Leaders set up shop in River North and has been a powerhouse in Chicago Fashion for years. Leaders is the go to store, for what some deem "urban" fashion. The fact is this: Leaders is for the people., all people. You can spot anyone from high schoolers to the family man sporting  Leaders clothing. Its often a stop for entertainers to come and grab something uniquely Chicago. From the latest sneakers to coveted signature hoodies and hats, with an item out of this store, your style shows who is leading and not following the masses. 

 Over the years, thrifting has become all the rage. The good people over at Market Supply in Pilsen have essentially curated an eclectic collection of vintage items for resale. From vintage sneakers to classic Filson and Levi products, Market Supply is your stop to gain a signature piece for any season. 

What happens when you classic menswear merges with urban street style? You get Sir & Madame. This store encompasses  a unique collection of vintage and contemporary inspired clothing. You can always be sure to find out some of the newest styles inside Sir & Madame. Sir & Madame also offers a branded collection. Often in limited availability, everything from tees, hoodies and jackets become coveted items in the store and definitely must buys. The store will sometimes host pop up  shops to showcase new releases for clothing brands.   

Face it, it would be nice to have a walk-in closet full of clothes. There's something to be said about having options. On the other hand, it's been said, quality over quantity. At Independence you will definitely find quality pieces to add to your wardrobe. Featuring American made items, Independence is all about classic pieces that you can wear for years. Housed in the same location is Oak Street Boot Makers. Based in Chicago for over 20 years, these boots are designed in house and yes made in America. Liberate yourself from simply buying tons of clothing that may not stand the test of time. Head over to Independence and make the investment to choose quality. 

The Silver Room has the goods. The Silver Room is infamous for selling locally and independent made items.  At any given time you can find a selection of clothing, shoes and bags.  The jewelry is where its at. Items for all and accessories that are trully one of a kind. With a recent relocation to the Hyde Park neighborhood, it will be interesting to see what else the Silver Room has in store for the new location.

The great thing about shopping with independent businesses, is that they are extremely hands on with their company and really have all the answers to the questions you're dying to ask. Whats trending this season? Can I wear brown shoes with a black suit? When is a pair of skinny jeans, too skinny. Shopping local becomes shopping with the experts. These are the people who are passionate about what they do, and meticulous about what they offer to their clientele. When you spend your hard earned money, don't you want to feel like its going somewhere well deserved? 
So, now that you know where to go, its time to go shopping. Will you continue to follow the pack or will you stand out and make a statement? Gianni Versace stated " Don't be into trends. Don't make fashion own you, but you decide what you are, what you want to express by the way you dress and the way you live." 

Tag you fashion and style finds with the hashtag #flairBlvd . You'll be able to see where people are heading for their wardrobe refits and even get inspiration for your various #ootd "outfits of the day".

Happy style hunting. 

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Trackstar the DJ (of Run the Jewels) and longtime cohort Feekee (AKA Wafeek) present #NeonBlack from their new project Animals. #NeonBlack is the first visual endeavor from Animals and offers a heavy dose of comedic relief, cynicism, and high-speed lyricism balanced by an Office Space motif. If Animals is all about putting your friends in a position to prosper then #NeonBlack is all about taking advantage of that opportunity. It's about more than shining a light on the unseen, it's about showcasing that light shining within.
Animals fully releases on Wednesday, April 29th.

Editor side note. Wafeek has been putting out material for years and took some time off from rapping to life.
Stay Icy

Something you should know about myself is that I am a consumer of fine things, albeit food, cigars, clothing and especially music. I can't always keep up with detailed reviews about all the ins and outs of all of these songs and or videos. However I recognize that their needs to be some context to some of this amazing material that is constantly being released.

Many of these artists are repeats on this page, also if you were completely unaware I have been working in the music industry for quite some time and it can appear that I show absolute favoritism. In which you would be correct, I favor dope material. The cover photo is Peter Cottontale whom is the keyboard synth rabbit wizard of Chance The Rappers band call The SOX. They happen to be exceptionally talented group of people.

Having been a contributor for this site for over a year now, I have been able to watch the audience grow as well as the people that have been featured grow. I too have become increasingly more busy now that I am managing Roots Crew Affiliate member Truck North. This has been a wonderful journey of growth and rise in this industry. As always I specialize in showcasing next up and on the rise talent and sometimes people I know in real life and want to promote.

Call it favoritism, call it insider trading, call it what you want, just know you can call all this #IcyApproved and do your homework, I've been working with greatness for years.

Follow Icy Mike on Instagram to see all that happenings of a young nerd in the City Of Wind.

Is it April already? Well it is time to spring forward and embrace the sunshine, the milder temperatures, and let go of the many layers of clothes holding us hostage over the winter. What will we do with those extra layers? Some of us will pack them up while others will simply find a way to see what we can rid from our closets. While some will take to the nearest trash can, I encourage you to donate your unwanted clothes (choose any of the places listed here). Its always in season to pay it forward to someone who might be in need. 

There might be those reading who are quite fine with the size of their wardrobe. Then you might be in the wonderful position to give something even more valuable: time. Many people donate their money, others give their unneeded or underused valuables to charity. There is a great opportunity to show up and show out, where all you need to do is be present.  Volunteering often only requires you to be available for a set amount of hours; training or simple instruction is usually given upon arrival. So where do you start? You can search online for opportunities or even head to many of the volunteer databases like Volunteer Match and One Brick . Below you can find a few noteworthy organizations, some of which I contributed to.  

Donating and volunteering is not just giving back , but it is often an investment into the future of someone else. Open Books is opening doors and minds to children and adults alike. Open Books is a literacy program servicing  children across Chicago. What do they do: Open Book goes into the schools for 1 on1 mentoring with students. The program also invites students to their home office for literary field trips. On the field trips, students get hands experience writing poetry ad short stories. How can you get involved? Open Books has a small staff, so volunteers like you and me are quite essential. Volunteers are trained to work with students at their respective schools or those who come to the Open Book campus. If timing doesn't allow you volunteer with the children, don't worry, there are other ways to get involved. The heart of Open Books are their book stores. Donated new and used books are sold to the public and all proceeds are used to fund the program. There are numerous ways to get involved so check out their website here. Open Books is just one of numerous programs set up with a focus on children. Cabrini Connections, a program originally rooted in the Cabrini Green housing development has been running since 1992. The program's goal is to help students succeed in high school and continue that success into college. The program is always looking for mentors who have the time to pair with teens. Take a look at their website to learn more about Cabrini Connections.

Food drives are a popular way to get an  entire community, school, or team involved with volunteering. The Chicago Food Depository is a non profit that many are aware of. They are not alone in their fight against hunger. #HashtagLunchBag, has literally taken the streets by storm. Hashtag  began in Los Angeles in 2012 and using the power and influence of social media, Hashtag has inspired people all over the country to band together and provide meals for those in needs.  How do they do it?  It's really quite simple. Organizers announce the staging ground over social media and the people (you), come to gather for meal prep. Once food is bagged and ready, volunteers hit the streets and hand out lunch bags to those on the streets and at shelters.   For those unable to make it to the staging or delivery portion, you can make a monetary donation to help with the purchase of food. To see if your city is involved, just check out the website.  There are groups that not only serve those in need but also educate them. Check out the following organizations: Inspiration Kitchen, Common Threads, Purple Asparagus, and Share our Strength. All of these organizations are focused on educating children and adults on how to prepare healthy meals while also supporting the fight against hunger in needed neighborhoods.

Remember, you're doing something that will help others, but your service can also benefit you. Many companies encourage worker to participate in outreach. Talk to your manager or HR department about company sponsored activities. Some companies also will compensate you with "hours worked" on your timecard. If you're donating money or goods, your contribution can also be tax deductible. 

You don't have to rely on existing organizations and groups to facilitate outreach. All it takes is time, a few people and a desire to help. It is amazing what just a few people with big hearts can accomplish. Organizations like The Simple Good started with just three people and has grown to a encompass a full network of supporters. It's not hard to believe that many of the groups mentioned above started out simply with the desire to  of one or a few people wanting to do good in their respective communities. You can create the resources or contribute to existing programs. Most importantly than how is that you just do!

Have an event or volunteer opportunity coming up? Participating in outreach activities? Just want to share your favorite non profit organization or volunteer service? Tag  and Share it with everyone using the hashtag #DoGoodChi.

Inspired yet? Then GO DO GOOD!

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The Legendary Roots Crew affiliate Truck North and longtime collaborator G.O.L.D DJ/Producer Bear-One leak "Black Amsterdam" the first release off their new project as Black Daniels! Both of Money Making Jam Boys fame drop this unapologetically Philly Rap Noir single. As Truck says, "they won't know whether you jumped or you got pushed" Black Daniels is here to assault your audible sensibilities.

Bear One gives us this super aggressive opening as a sonic kick to the ear drums and senses to let you know what you are getting yourself into. Truck North delivers a noir prose of Rising Down essence, angry, yet refined rage filled with raw aggression borderline contempt. This is the opening sequence to this lush black and white sonic art album. Black Daniels is slated to be launched later this Spring.

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