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.


You'd be correct in assuming that a hip-hop project from Portishead's Geoff Barrow would be nothing if not ambitious. But just look at the track listing on this album. That's right, there are forty-one tracks. There are thirty-five guest spots, not including the two producers besides Barrow involved. And the whole thing can be listened to in just under seventy minutes. Now, let's talk about ambition. While admirable, ambition doesn't always equal success. And when it doesn't land properly, it can have embarrassing results. Luckily, Barrow has been making music long enough to harness ambition and make it work, and it's never been as evident as it is on this album.

Enlisting the help of Stone Throw's Peanut Butter Wolf, Barrow enlisted the help of MCs of various styles and abilities. Some are old-school veterans (Dead Prez), some are modern MCs with a lot of clout (Guilty Simpson), and some are artists most people have never heard of (M.E.D.). All of them bring their A-game when it's their time to shine. Since the songs here clock in at around two minutes (and quite a few at just over a minute), most only get a few bars to make their mark, but they really step up when it's their turn. Look at opening single "Fitta Happier", in which Guilty Simpson and MED each get one verse to spit, and take full advantage of their limited time. Over the Arizona marching band covering "The National Anthem" by Radiohead, they do justice to the incredible sample, and come together to create one of my favorite hype-tracks in recent years, all without an actual chorus. In fact, most tracks don't have a hook of any kind. And yet the album is a breeze to listen to. It's almost 70 minutes of people straight-up rapping.

The album itself, with its scattershot, all-over-the-map style (due to both the various MCs and the production itself), almost comes across as a really great mixtape more than an actual album, but the quality of the tracks help keep it feeling like an actual piece of music. Influences vary, from the grimy Alchemist-style tracks like "Big Cat", "Jobless", and "The Turk". Some RZA-like, scarred soul-samples, as heard in "There It Is" and "I Like To Dance", to the Prince Paul funk of "What Chew Want" and others. That isn't to say the album itself if overly-derivative. Again, with 41 tracks, there's plenty of room for songs that have their own distinct sound and style, and there are many to be found in the mix.

The sad thing is, with the talent involved, this album should have been huge. Stone's Throw's fanbase is large and rabid, and with Barrow's involvement it had huge crossover potential with the indie rock heads who would otherwise never have given it a second glance. And it's such a high quality album. Yet, for some reason, it came and went quietly. I doubt we'll see another project under the Quakers' name, but I remain hopeful. And if you're reading this and haven't heard it, give it a listen, and give it the attention it's so deserving of.

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This review is a little late being that this album came out in late 2014 but better late than never. Being a rapper coming from a city like Chicago is hard enough, your inevitably going to be compared to some pretty big names such as Common, Twista, Rhyme Fest, Lupe Fiasco and of course Kanye; even if you have a style all your own. This is probably the biggest disservice that could be done to most up and coming rappers, now add being a Self proclaimed "Hella shy" 20 year old to the mix and you'll get an Idea of what rapper Saba is going through.

If you don't know who Saba is let me give you a quick run down. He's a 20 year old rapper from the west side of Chicago. He's been called  one of "the cities rising stars to look out for" by the Chicago Tribune. Comfort zone is his sophomore mixtape, Saba explained how being shy and quiet was holding him back and this album is his way of not only stepping out of that comfort zone but is also what Saba himself described on "the interview show" as a way to get things off of his chest. You can really feel that with songs like 401k, united center and (my peronal favorite) Scum. You get one of the most descriptive and in depth views of the struggles of many youths today trying to make due with what they have for the future.
 At the beginning of this review I mentioned how comparing artists can be a disservice but I feel like I have to at least mention Chief keef and I'm not the only one; Saba gives Sosa a quick nodd in 'Scum'. They come from the same city (Saba from the Westside and keef from the Southside) and there close to the same age (Keef is 19 and Saba is 20) but the similarities might just end there. With rhymes from 'Macaroni time' like "I see 1s and 5s in your bankroll right now But unh-unh you ain't flexin' boy you need some exercise..." and "Couple bucks for these bitches, let me slap them on they ass..." keef seems like he isn't struggling like he once was. Saba has a different approach to his style with lyrics like "For a fortune we'll change, can't afford to eat with change, real pain our tummy growlin', they money pilin', my mommy poutin" we can still feel his hunger to make it and reach the top though it would be much easier to try and be a carbon clone of Chief Keef. One style isn't better or worse than the other in my opinion they're just different. In fact that's what makes this mixtape so good, Saba embraces how different his perspective is. In time zone he just flat out says it "Cause I never wanted to be like them". Saba speaks more on seeing people like Keef and how he always had the option to act that way. He said in an interview with the Chicago Tribune how other rappers may talk about "drug deals or something like that...." but his raps are "a front porch kind of perspective."

 Saba has an ease with his lyrics that make you question his age . He's aware opeople receive it as shown in 'westside bound' when he says "Drop a tape and they lovin' it, It's in my genes my blood denim". He really got me with "Animal beats so I Dr. Doolittle them My pseudonym is GYM I stay working it out Killing the fear and the doubt". With lines like this I can definitely say we hope he keeps on "working it out" if he's putting quality this out nf his skill and how ow who knows what kind of gems he'll be spitting at 25.

 The quick references to burnout the video games, cat dog and Mace Windu were great and played well to my nostalgia of an early 2000s childhood. These one liners are easily missed in otherwise heavy content but never feel forced or out of place. That with some very soulful yet uptempo beats and a comprehensive range of flows make this mixtape a really easy listen. The number one selling point for this is that it's totally free on Saba website. Why wouldn't you download this project is beyond me. The mixtape is available now at / for free and let me know your thoughts down in the comments.

Editor notes from Icy. David Castillo is our newest member to the Star Pulse family, he is an avid Foodie, music connoisseur, and all around good gent. This Saba project has been a favorite of mine for almost a year. I want to show that it does not matter if you are first or next to last to a review, but more that a project like this is a Chicago Classic. No hype, no gas, this project is great from start to finish. Saba is the complete Alternative Rapper and the next up out of Chicago's damn near endless amount of talent. Seeing that today is election day in Chicago, go vote for Saba!

Steamed Snow Crab with Old Bay and Drawn Butter.

Think of your favorite food.
I’ll bet it doesn’t involve a fork and knife.
Barbecue baby back ribs, fried chicken, chicken wings, a juicy burger, pizza. These are all meant to be consumed with your hands; the way God intended. Conveniently, the above named dishes are ones you want to get in your face as quickly as possible. Why bring cutlery into it? I believe that eating food in this manner brings you closer to it, literally and figuratively. Also, they are incidentally foods you eat with friends and family. You wouldn’t order chicken wings on a first date. Maybe you would, but you’d be an idiot. You’re gonna get messy and you’re gonna look stupid. That’s why you put down a whole mess of ribs with your buddies while you hook down cheap beer, your faces all slathered with sauce, your buddy Chase laughing with meat in his teeth and nobody letting him know, because who gives a fuck? Today we’re going to cook another great fork-less, group oriented dish: steamed crab.
What you’ll need:
-today’s newspaper
-1/4 lb. salted butter
-2 lemons, quartered
-Old Bay
-lobster crackers
-5 gallon stock pot
-1 cup water
-1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
-3 lbs. snow crab clusters

I’ve always enjoyed eating crab. Like most shellfish, it’s naturally sweet, and when cooked properly, very juicy. Growing up a Southerner, however, I wasn’t made aware of Old Bay seasoning until I got to hang out in Maryland and eat crab with those folks. They lay brown paper over long picnic tables, set out apple cider vinegar and drawn butter for dipping, then dump bushels of whole steamed blue crab right onto the table and everyone just digs in. Even though the crabs themselves are already SMOTHERED in Old Bay during the steaming process, several containers of the stuff always make their way to the table. Now I never cook crab without it.
Obviously, this will be on a much smaller scale, but the same cooking technique will be applied. Most grocery stores, especially in central parts of the country, will carry previously frozen crab legs. While fresh product is always superior, these crabs are flash frozen, ensuring they’re damn near as fresh when thawed later as they were when they came out of the water. However, you never know how long they’ve been sitting in the seafood case at your local market. Most companies like Whole Foods and Fresh Market are very responsible in their handling and selling of shellfish, as they’re well aware of the dangers of consuming bad seafood. Just to be safe, talk to the fishmonger. Has it been frozen? If so, how many days has it been thawed? If the clusters look brown and dried out, don’t go for them. If they smell exceptionally fishy, that’s a deal breaker as well.

This is such a simple, speedy dish to cook that you’ll want to have everything laid out before you even start the crab. If the weather is warm, simply set the butter in two ramekins or small bowls on the porch for an hour to melt. If you’re more pressed for time, place them in the microwave, covered in wax paper (you do not want exploding butter) and cook for 45 seconds. Cut your lemons. Instead of cutting them in traditional quarters the way you would to serve with iced tea, slice the ends off, then cut around the center where the seeds live, much like you’d cut an apple. Cover your dinner table with newspaper. This makes cleanup a fucking breeze, which is what you’ll want after you’ve stuffed yourself with crab and butter and hopefully several beers, you goddamned glutton. All you gotta do is roll it up when you’re finished. Set a bowl of butter near each end of the table. Dump small mounds of Old Bay on the table next to each diner’s place, along with a lobster cracker. Scatter the lemon slices around the table. In the stock pot, combine the water and apple cider vinegar and place on a burner on high heat. Rinse the crab of any ice or debris. When the contents of the pot is boiling, place the crab legs, one cluster at a time, in the pot and cover liberally with Old Bay. Once all of the clusters are in the pot, cover with a lid and set a six minute kitchen timer. Now is the time to tell everyone to grab something cold to drink and sit down. When the timer goes off, carry the pot to the table, minding not to burn your Aunt Jean on the head, that is unless she’s hassling you about finishing your English degree, in which case, just give her a good scald and act like it was an accident. Using tongs, pull the clusters of goodness out of the pot and place them on the table.
Be selfish, you’ll wish there was more when it’s gone. 

As always follow Chef Kurt on Instagram.
Thanks to The Honest Thief for the photos!

Due to the fact it was released in such close proximity to the cultural sensation of 2015, To Pimp a Butterfly, as well as the fact that Sony apparently botched the roll-out he had planned, Earl Sweatshirt's I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside arrived with less fanfare than expected. In many ways, though, this fact fits perfectly with the album itself, which is so deeply personal it at times feels like it was created for Earl and only Earl, as a way to cleanse his own soul. It also happens to be his most mature release to date.

The main complaint that I've heard about this album is that it's too bleak, too down. That it sounds like Earl can't even be bothered to be there. And the first thing that came to mind upon hearing this complaint was...Sufjan Stevens. Now, before you close this review and write me off as crazy, let me explain. Stevens' most recent album is called Carrie & Lowell, and it deals with the recent death of his mother, whom he barely had in his life while she was alive (side note: it's also a totally stunning album and I can't recommend it highly enough). It's a sparse, tender album, and sonically it's a radical departure from his previous album, the sprawling electro-folk freak-out The Age of Adz. And I heard similar complaints upon the release of the first single. That it was a step backwards, that people missed the bombasity of Adz. In a recent interview with Pitchfork, when asked about the choice to go so small for this album, Stevens explained "This is not my art project; this is my life.". And that's exactly how I hear to I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside when I listen to it.

Earl himself has stated that this is his first release he himself is totally behind, so the argument that he sounds like he doesn't want to be there doesn't hold water. This is an album about depression and sadness, and albums that come from a place like this can manifest themselves in many ways. If you listened to Pinkerton and didn't pay attention to the lyrics, you'd would have no idea you were listening to something that is absolutely, uncomfortably personal, and assume it was simply a fun, upbeat album. Sometimes they come out that way, and sometimes they come out like I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside, an album in which you would make no mistakes that what you were hearing came from a bad and dark place.

The album opens somewhat innocuously, with the most "upbeat" track on the album, "Huey". It's also one of the shortest, and from there things don't come easy. "Mantra" follows, setting the tone for the rest of the album. The beats on this album are gorgeous, though all of them sound very scant, very desolate. Sonically, it sounds like they're coming from some sort of underwater place, as though the beats themselves are drowning. Anyone who's dealt with the feelings associated with depression will understand why this was a fitting choice, aesthetically. Even the first single from the album is called "Grief", and it opens with the line "Good grief, I've been reaping what I sow". Despite his anger at the rollout, which seemed to stem more from the fact Sony didn't seem bothered by their screw-up, I don't think Earl was concerned with sales.

The album also threads the needle perfectly between EARL and Doris, sounding like a weird combination of the two, while still feeling like the next logical step to take artistically after Doris. The beats themselves are like a hybrid of the two albums, and the lyrical bleakness harkens back to EARL, only instead of depending on shock-tactics to convey this, he instead relies on the maturity he was finding lyrically on Doris. It tackles his depression head-on, and at no point does it come across as simple navel-gazing, it's all brutally honest. Earl is sad, still haunted by the death of his grandmother, and he depends on Xanex and alcohol to cope. None of this makes for an easy listen, but it is a rewarding one.

For only having 10 tracks and clocking in at 30 minutes, highlights abound. "Faucet" slinks along with a warped production, a plinking synth layered over top. Closer "Wool, which has one of the few guest-spots in the Ying to Earl's Yang, Vince Staples, comes closer to early Odd Future than anything else on the album. However, it's also an album in the classic sense, and it should be digested as a whole. Earl kept the guest spots to a minimum, so basically for 30 minutes it's just you and Earl, as he dumps his problems and everything he's feeling on you with raw honesty. It's not an art project, it's his life, and it certainly isn't going to be for everyone. But if you're the kind of person who likes this kind of album, as I am, it's one of the best releases of the year thus far, and one that gives a lot of hope for what Earl has in store for the future, now that he's completely shed any pretense of making music anyone but himself.

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Hi, everyone.

My name is Kurt.

Let’s talk about food.

In the house I grew up in, we ate together as a family every night. It didn’t matter if I had basketball and soccer practice and my kid sister had dance and dad was late at the office. We could be saying grace at 5:30 or 8:30, but we always sat down as a family. My mother was, and still is, a great cook. I just assumed every family had it like we did. However, as I grew older and stayed the night with friends, I realized that not every family put value on eating dinner as a unit. Also, some of those mothers and fathers couldn’t cook for shit. I’ve maintained a close relationship with my siblings and with my folks, and I’m sure that having conversation daily at the table laid the groundwork for that. And a big part of that was my mother always putting something on that table that we loved, and would bring us together.

In essence, that’s what food does. It brings us closer with family. Family might mean blood, but it can also mean neighbors. It can mean the group of guys you’ve been running with since grade school. Simply put, your family is the people you value having around you throughout your life. And I can’t think of many things more special than sitting down with those people you love and sharing a delicious meal. The one thing I can think of, however, is sitting around with those people you love and sharing a delicious meal that YOU COOKED. For me, cooking for loved ones is the most soul-satisfying experience. When I became serious about cooking, my life improved exponentially.

I believe that having the ability to cook at least a few simple dishes for oneself is essential in being a well-rounded individual. I’ll be checking in with you guys from time to time to show you how to prepare simple food in a delicious manner. The degree of difficulty may vary, but they will all be dishes that can be prepared at home without fancy gadgets.

Today is a good example. We’re going to cook a steak. An eighteen ounce beef ribeye, to be specific. And we’ll serve it with braised cabbage. What you’ll need:

-3 quarts water -2 slices Applewood bacon -2 T apple cider vinegar -12 oz. – 18 oz. beef ribeye -kosher salt -freshly cracked pepper -3 T canola oil -2 oz. unsalted butter, cold -two garlic cloves -7 sprigs fresh thyme -cast-iron skillet -half head green cabbage, rough large chop

When most people think about cooking steak, they think grilling. But firing up the grill, moving all your ingredients outside, cooking them, then transporting them all back inside can be a bit of a production, especially if you’re cooking with live charcoal. Not to mention the cleanup process. You have to set aside a good amount of time, which can be stressful. Don’t get me wrong, I love a great grilled steak. However, cooking one indoors in one pan eliminates the time issue and cleanup is a snap. And I’ll just say it: I prefer a steak cooked in this manner.

Before we go any further, I must stress the importance of a QUALITY cast-iron skillet. I once bought a cheap one from Target simply for the fact that it was cheap, and it was a seriously poor decision. After less than a year and minimal use, I tried to make a frittata at two in the morning while intoxicated and damn near broke my foot. I pulled the fucking thing out of the oven and the handle broke off in my hand. I still need to replace that kitchen tile…

Anyway, Lodge makes great cast iron ware and has been doing so since the late eighteen hundreds. They WILL NOT BREAK. If you don’t own one, go buy one. You’ll have to season it, and everyone has their preferred method, so just find instructions on the internet and do what you like. Personally, I like to rub every inch of it in canola oil and put it in the oven on 350 F for five hours.

First, we’re going to get the braising liquid together for the cabbage. Combine the water, bacon, apple cider vinegar, ¼ c kosher salt and two sprigs of thyme in a handled pot and bring to a boil. Once the liquid is boiled, reduce the heat to low and simmer for at least 30 minutes. The cabbage only takes three minutes to cook. That’ll be our last step.

As soon as the braising liquid starts to simmer, turn your oven to 350 F and pull the ribeye out of the refrigerator. Don’t season it yet, simply allow it to reach room temperature. The only way you’re going to get that great brown color you’re looking for on this beautiful cut of meat is by ensuring that the steak isn’t cold when it hits the pan. When the smoky, tangy liquid has simmered for 30 minutes, season both sides of the steak liberally with salt and fresh cracked pepper. It’s damn near impossible to overseason a steak. Don’t rub it down like a rack of ribs, but you get the idea. Red meat loves salt the same way fish loves lemon. Place the cast iron skillet on the front burner on high heat. Add the canola oil. When the oil begins to shimmer, lay the steak in the pan with it falling away from you, so as not to splash hot oil on yourself. Using a medium sized metal spoon, move the steak around to ensure that the oil spreads evenly over the pan. Continue to cook on high heat for two minutes, or until the bottom side of the steak is a deep brown. Using tongs or the spoon, flip the steak over and cook the other side in the same manner. Once the bottom side is browned, add the butter to the pan and lay the garlic cloves and 4 thyme sprigs on top of the steak. Reduce the heat to medium low and begin basting the steak with the butter by tilting the skillet toward you, then spooning the butter over the thyme and garlic on top of the ribeye. Continue to baste for two minutes, then place the pan in the oven.

I like my steak medium rare, which means I only want to leave it in the oven for five minutes. If medium is more your thing, leave it in for 8-10 minutes. If you like your steak more cooked than that, I feel sorry for you and have no further advice. In fact, just stop reading this and go to Arby’s, because otherwise you’re just wasting a gorgeous cut of beef by turning it into boot leather and I can’t be associated with that kind of behavior, quite frankly. Remove the steak from the oven, then, using the spoon or tongs, transfer the steak to a cutting board, preferably wooden. This is the most important step. Resting. How many times have you cut into a steaming hot steak and watched all the juices seep right outta the thing all over the plate? It’s a goddamn tragedy. You want those juices to stay inside the steak. That’s how you get a truly exceptional bite of meat.

While your ribeye is resting, add the cabbage to the pot and increase the heat to medium. The cabbage will takes 2-3 minutes. Since we/re dealing with cabbage and not collards or mustard greens, we’re not going to cook it very long. We still want it to have some crunch. Simply keep tasting it. After 2 minutes, try a bite and if it’s to your liking, it’s done. If it’s not, give it another minute. Using a slotted spoon, remove the cabbage and bacon from the pot and serve. It’s time to slice the steak. Using a chef’s knife, slice the steak across the grain, meaning if the steak is resting longways on the cutting board, you will slice straight across it. Cut in ¼ inch slices, then fan out on a platter. Lightly season the slices with kosher salt and serve.

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Three 6 Mafia occupy a very interesting place in hip-hop history. It sounds weird to call any group who's sold 5.5 million albums, as well as winning an Academy Award, underrated. But in some ways, the Three 6 Mafia still kind of is. Prior to winning their Academy Award, they had a large underground following, but had yet to break through into the mainstream. This is despite having well-known tracks like "Tear Da Club Up", "Sippin' on some Syrup, and "Tongue Ring". After their Oscar win, the crossover was inevitable, which came with the album that followed, Most Known Unknown. But what isn't usually mentioned, outside of their Academy Award win and their number of units moved, is their incredibly far-reaching influence on hip-hop in general. Their largest influence is found in the subgenre of trap music, which they helped create and bring into the mainstream. Beyond that, their rise to become one of the largest bands in hip-hop (for a time) was done completely on their own, in the days before the internet could easily make your product available. Their original sound, dark and sinister, helped pave the way for acts like SpaceGhostPurrp, A$AP Mob, and Lil' Ugly Mane. And, currently, the "Migos flow" is essentially what the Three 6 Mafia members have been doing for 2 decades.

Regardless, Three 6 Mafia have carved their place in the annals of hip-hop history, despite maybe not getting the recognition they deserve in the present day. So basically, the Three 6 Mafia don't owe you shit. Which is why it was nice in 2013 when the members found new life, and delivered high-quality albums 20 years into their careers. Juicy found his new life on Wiz Khalifa's Taylor Gang Records, while the remaining members of Three 6 Mafia convened to become Da Mafia 6ix. The first Mafia 6ix mixtape was a throwback to their Mystic Stylez days, albeit with better production values. The beats were a return to their dark and sinister origins, and the subject matter flirted with the dark themes found on their earliest releases. It was a triumphant return to form from a band that had been suffering from diminishing returns on their previous release, Last 2 Walk. In the two years since 6ix Commandments dropped, they suffered multiple setbacks in the form of losing two core members. Lord Infamous, one of the most iconic members, sadly passed away just over a month after the mixtape's release. And Gangsta Boo departed, leaving just Koopsta, Crunchy and DJ Paul to carry the torch.

Despite these setbacks, Da Mafia 6ix have thankfully crafted yet another incredibly solid release in "Watch What U Wish". It feels like a departure from 6ix Commandments, in the same way Da End and World Domination were departures from Mystic Stylez. In fact, it almost sounds like a culmination of the sounds of those two particular albums. Lyrically, it's fairly standard late-era Three 6 Mafia stuff, which is fine. Despite not flirting with horror-films themes, it's not like most people listen to "Tear Da Club Up" for life-changing lyrics anyway. And they still have a way with clever turns-of-phrase, and unique deliveries. Everyone comes on strong, and the overall feeling is that they have a lot riding on this release. Koopsta has fully developed his vocals into sounding like he's a rapping snake, and I mean that as the highest compliment possible. And the few scattered Lord Infamous appearances seem to be culled from decades ago, the murky quality making him sound otherworldly, adding an odd poignancy to tracks with titles like "High Like an Eagle".

Of course, the big difference-maker here is DJ Paul's production, which is on-point for the entirety of the album. From mosh-worthy opener "Dat Ain't Inya" to closer "You Can't", the production remains mainly high-energy and immediate, with lots of subtle nods to the past in the form of samples from old tracks scattered throughout. Tracks like "Gimmi Back My Dope" hearken back to tracks like "Walk Up to Your House", both in lyrics and the mood they create. "Residence Evil" is the closest thing here to the first mixtape, and their original sound. The horror-film synths stab and pulsate, and the rally cry of "Mafia" makes it feel like a nod to the past, while still keeping an eye on the present.

The only real complaint I have is that at 17 tracks (19, counting the intro and outro) it could have had 2-3 songs shaved off of the playlist, and yet at the same time I have trouble picking a song (or 3) that should have been removed. Even the weakest track, the slightly meandering weed-anthem "Do Dabs", is followed by one of the strongest, the incredibly hyped-up "Come Get Sum", so it isn't even a pacing issue. None of the tracks are bad, it just becomes a bit much. However, this is a small nitpick (I mean my biggest complaint is simply that they gave us too much music), and in the end what we have is another triumph from a band who could easily rest on its laurels and tour reunion shows playing their hits and not worrying about creating albums. However, instead of just putting out half-hearted and lazy releases, you can feel the love put into each track. That alone is good enough, especially from a band who, again, doesn't owe anyone anything. That it also turned out to be good is the reason that they're one of the most important hip-hop bands of the last 2 decades, whether they get the recognition they fully deserve or not.

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This Might seem out of place for those who are unfamiliar with a hip-hop website, but the reality is simple. Cigars are a part of hip-hop culture. Even more so, so is the idea of them. Cigars can mean you have made it, you have arrived. For me, I am a fan of cigars and cigar culture. I get asked a lot about Cuban cigars and I would like to give you hip-hop fans that are looking for a reason to smoke, an understanding out why Cuban Cigars are so coveted.

Lets go back to August 10, 2009 in Zona Colonial, Santo Domingo, Republica Dominicana and my first encounter with a Cuban Cigar. Actually, it was my first cigar ever. From drinking wine, enjoying dark chocolate and high quality black coffee I believed I had a slight understanding to the tasting notes of cigars. I knew absolutely nothing about cigars, except that I should smoke one in victory of climbing Pico Duerte, the one I chose was a Romeo y’ Juliette Short Robusto. I had no idea that you could get that high off of a cigar.

There are many ways I recommend beginning your journey into cigars, the way I came into the cigar world was not appropriate or fair to myself. A lot of people come in smoking Acid’s, Tabak’s, Macanudo’s, Rocky Patels, you know, something normal and reasonable. To be honest, It’s more or less normal for me to come into any circle this way. I still would not recommend it, because you have to back track into bargain cigars, then come back to the realization that you only want to smoke $13.00+ cigars almost exclusively.

So lets begin the conversations about Cuban Cigars. Over the past almost 5 years I’ve smoked 10 different brands of cubans and countless sizes, styles and shapes. I’d say, i’ve smoked somewhere in the range of 370+ Cubans, once again, not enough to be an expert, but enough to get whats going on with the blends and the ethereal high you get from them. Cubans make up 2 to 3 of my top 5 cigars of all time, it really depends on how I am feeling and how great my memory is functioning.

My top 5 benchmark cigars are as follows: 1. Padron Lil’ Hammer No 45 Maduro 2. H. Upmann 2008 Jr Corona en Tubo (cuban) 3. Arturo Fuente Don Carlos 2006 4. Partagas D No 4 en Tubo (cuban) 5. Avo L.E. 07/No 5 Tubo 2007 All of these cigars have something very special to offer and set standards and precedents among their class and style of cigars. Granted, you might not be able to obtain any of these, but relax I can still recommend some great smokes that come close enough.

Now, back to the whole cuban cigar and what makes them so special. One thing I would attribute to it is the long withstanding tradition of making cigars, but really, it comes down to the soil. Like wine grapes, soil plays a major part as to why the cigars taste so different. It only makes sense considering that is where the plant gets its nutrients from. So what’s in the Cuban soil? Good question, who knows, some say it’s trace amounts of lithium and thats why you get so high others say, actually who cares what others say unless they have one in hand when speaking on it.

I have a love hate relationship with Cuban cigars, Davidoff’s have the same issue to me as previously discussed. The biggest problem with cubans is counterfeits. The only way I can guarantee you are getting a legitimate product is to purchase it in a tubo. Also another way is handle thousands of real and hundreds of fakes. A Fake is a great way to understand what makes a real cuban a real cuban. I’ve even seen fake Davidoffs. I’ve sold high end designer goods, so after a while, you can spot fake Gucci from 2 blocks away.

Unless you are out the country purchasing Cubans you can’t guarantee authenticity, even then, you need to make sure that you are shopping with a licensed dealer. The amount of fakes on the market is amazing. Even then, I’ve seen people smoking Partagas P No 2 fakes at really nice lounges. I felt bad having to break news to dude that he was smoking a counterfeit. Why was it fake you ask? The shape of a cuban Pyramide is not the shape of a torpedo that most are accustom too, the subtlety in the tapering of the Pyramide is distinct. The other problem was the Font, Font spacing and the fact that their was a “.” after the “P.”. Like a Davidoff, their are super specifics that make them real.

That last reason is more than enough for me to just not seek them out. I had a cuban source and could get them when ever I wanted, but he also got a lot of counterfeits. At least 2-3 boxes out of 12 were fake cubans. They were real cigars, but they were not real cubans. The other problem with it is simple, A good amount of people who peddle cubans try to double the price at which they purchase them from their source. I witnessed a cigar shop in Chicago do that, not only is it illegal, but it’s just dumb for business. Also, if you’ve never had a cuban, you aren’t missing that much.

I’ve smoked somewhere in the 5,000 range of cigars over the past almost 5 years. Out of 5,000 cigars am I fiending for a Cuban? No. Are they worth smoking, yes. Are they worth the headache of seeing if they are real, wondering if you over paid, wondering if they have been properly kept, No. I’ve smoked so many cigars that I can tell a difference between Cuban, Nicaraguan, Dominican, Honduran and Peruvian Tobaccos and at the end of the day, smoking a cigar is all about a relaxing experience.

The channels of obtaining cubans is more akin to scoring weed. In fact it’s easier to score weed than high quality cuban cigars to the average cigar smoker. Also, the only thing you really get from cubans is a super strong nicotine high that can be sickening at times. The flavor is often super muted, flat, uncomplex, slight sweetness, faint hints of citrus and white pepper. Also, if you need to get super high, just score some weed. It’s easier, more available and in some states way more legal than purchasing cubans.

More often than not, its the allure of the illegal and unobtainable that drives people to the product, not the quality of the product. Realistically, if the embargo ever ends, their will be a rush on Cuban Cigars for 2 years. Then people will go right back to their regular brands. Realistically you will be paying $35.00+ for cigars that are not that interesting all they will do is get you blown and help you pretend that you are boss. Also, once the stock piles of leaves are full depleted and they keep pushing under aged leaf onto the public for $35.00+ You will realize how much of a bargain those $24.00 Padron, Davidoff, Arturo Fuente, La Palina, Greycliff, and La Aurora cigars really are.

Stay Smokey, Icy

While an album can never be described as "perfect", due to the elusive and, ever changing definition of musical perfection, ‘Backpack Trap’ attempts to make the case that it should be in the running due to its ingenuity and originality. The evocative production supplied by DJ Victoriouz, and dynamic lyricism manages to be inventive, consistently thematic, and at times beautifully haunting.

Bruza The General’s tale opens with ‘Cold Souls’ a gritty emotive head banger that expertly introduces the listener to Bruza’s magic on the mic that will definitely cast a musical spell on you. It's not often you hear rappers asking ‘What’s Going on’ featuring YP(BackWood Jones), but if Bruza’s stirring track was playing you'd definitely be wondering as well. ‘Feel Like I Made It’ a somewhat unexpected Chill EDM like feel provides an ethereal otherworldly backdrop to Bruza’s boasts.

Ultimately no journey is without its missteps and concerns. There are a few tracks that don't quite hit, and as exceptional as this release is I would be remiss if I didn’t mention them. ‘Don Dada’; ‘Working With A Monsta’; ‘Bad Bitches Only’ The inclusion of these tracks is baffling. The straight dumbing down of Bruza’s lyrics and flow stands in stark contrast to the musical and lyrical gems that populate this album. Even as out of place as I find these tracks to be, they aren’t enough to dissuade me from my conclusion that ‘BackPack Trap’ is quite simply a great album.

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Welcome to the first edition of "The Overlooked", a column dedicated to bringing attention to forgotten classics or albums that may have slipped through the cracks. It only feels right that I kick this off with what I consider to be one of the most slept-on hip-hop albums of the 90s, if not of all time, and one that belongs in the same conversation as the mid-90s NYC classics, but doesn't get its proper due.

Onyx exploded onto the hip-hop scene with Bacdafucup, based on the strength of its massive hit single, "Slam". The song was completely inescapable in 1993, and because of it Bacdafucup went platinum within six months. The album itself was solid enough, and--most importantly--its mosh-worthy rap helped pave the way for artists like DMX to bring hard-rock aggression into mainstream hip-hop. To give an idea of how huge the album was, it helped pave the way for group members Fredro Starr and Sticky Fingaz to have acting careers in a time where a hip-hop album contract didn't come with an SAG card. So I can only imagine what Def Jam thought when they were given All We Got Iz Us as a follow-up.

All We Got Iz Us is a dark, morbid album. The main theme running throughout is suicide, and they show their hand right off the bat on the intro, in which Sticky Fingaz has an internal monologue about killing himself (and the intro ends with him actually doing so). Second, the aggression here is backed with production that doesn't intensify it, but rather flips it into something beautiful, while still managing to cast a pall over the entire album. If you're only familiar with Onyx because of the song "Slam", one word you'd never expect to hear associated with an Onyx album is "pretty". But the production on this album is absolutely gorgeous. Opening track "Last Days" is a perfect example of this, with Onyx rapping over a mournful beat underscored by a sample of Aretha Franklin's "A Song For You". This all works because Onyx didn't try to change their rapping-style. The loud, gravel-throated vocals are still intact, but they're given new life by going in a different direction with the mood they're trying to create. The same goes with "Purse Snatchaz", in which a song about growing up robbing people is rapped over a beat drenched in warped strings.

Even on songs where they're seemingly attempting to recreate the mood of their debut, the production betrays them in the best way possible. Two examples of this are the title track and "Ghetto Mentalitee", which could have had different beats and easily fit on Bacdafucup, yet (especially on the latter) instead are given beats that sound like something from a horror-film, adding the necessary weight to make them something above-and-beyond their previous work. The only song that sounds out of place (because it's actually a positive track) is "Live Niguz", which works because it's perfectly sequenced square in the middle of the album, almost to give a breather from the darkness surrounding. Most of all, this album gives a vivid picture of mid-90s NYC, and the album closer "Walk in New York" paints this picture better than any other track, perfectly summarizing everything that came before.

Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, the album failed to yield any major hits. It still managed to go gold, which is impressive since only "Last Dayz" charted on the Billboard Hot 100 (and at 89). In response to this, Onyx returned to the well of their debut on future albums, with highly diminishing returns. They even went so far as to make an album called Bacdafucup pt. II with a song called "Slam Harder". Yet aside from select songs, none of their albums after this one live up to the potential shown here. However, in doing some research before writing this, I've learned that I'm not alone in having strong feelings for this album. In 2008 Vibe named it the best-produced album of 1995 and later put it on a list of "20 Albums Every Hip-Hop Fan Must Own (But May Have Missed)". So, if you're reading this chances are you're a fan of hip-hop. If you won't take my advice, take Vibe's. Check this album out, and stop sleeping.

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