Talking About New-Age Hip-Hop with LaLion

Everyone has something to say about the ‘new’ wave of rappers, most of it being unfairly slated by old school hip-hop heads afraid to see the genre evolve or change. Rid yourself of this apprehension and you’re sure to find a bunch of extremely talented individuals (e.g Lou The Human) out there that have somehow flown under the mainstream radar, Seattle based rapper LaLion being just that. With his fast delivery, clever bars, and hard beats he’s slowly gaining the attention he deserves. With 2 albums already released, he’s targeting the big time.

The 21-year-old started rapping at the age of 11 and, much like the running theme of new age rappers, took inspiration from genres other than hip-hop. While he grew up listening to notable big shots like Biggie, 2Pac, and Kendrick, LaLion states “I spent most of my teen years playing in bands and practicing guitar. So, a lot of my inspiration comes from rock bands like Linkin Park, The Strokes, and Nirvana“.

A rock influence is nothing new for a lot of rappers nowadays but it has certainly helped the likes of LaLion to pave a new chapter for the genre they hold dear. Kurt Cobain went on to inspire a plethora of kids with guitars but he’s even gone as far to heavily influence hip hop long after his death, with his bleak and gloomy outlook becoming the foundations for others to build upon. Denzel Curry may just be the bluntest about this, naming a song ‘Clout Cobain’ which revolved around the consequences of fame while dealing with paranoia and suicidal thoughts. The late Lil Peep could have arguably been heralded as carrying the Nirvana’s star flame into the surge of SoundCloud rap.

LaLion has ensured that this gloomy aesthetic isn’t merely just that, his adamance about his music being more than just a look being truly palatable. “My music is made to cater to the person who is struggling through something in their life.  My music style reflects anger towards the modern normality’s that are causing kids to kill themselves. If we are talking stylistically my music is a mix between Bone-Thugs and Linkin Park.”

His childhood and surroundings have also played a part in his lyrical content too. “Seattle is a dark and depressing place. Growing up in the Seattle area has made an impact on my music.  We have grey clouds nine out of the twelve months and homeless people on every block.

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While he has his hopes set high, LaLion is a firm believer in staying humble and hopes to make that firm for any young rappers with lofty goals but don’t make time for their craft. “It is the most important thing you could do.  I see a lot of young artists with hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram, but they release one song every three months.  And that song ends up not sounding very good. But it depends on the type of artist you want to be. If you want to be the best, you need to work more than the rest.

The rapper also thinks it’s vital for youngsters to understand history of hip hop. “You need to understand who built the foundation for where you are standing”. With the conversation about culture vultures and appropriation in music still ongoing, it’s definitely a perspective worth bearing in mind.

Talking of the ‘new wave’, artists like Lil Pump, LiL Uzi Vert and Juice Wrld have faced criticism for their style of hip hop because of their so called ‘lazy lyrics’ and ‘auto-tuned effects’. However, there’s a place for every sound and most criticism these artists have faced can seem almost venomous. LaLion agrees and thinks there’s room for all types of hip hop. “The ‘new school’ rappers as you put, are club artists. So, if I’m in a club or a party, sure, put that shit on.” But he also believes it is extremely important to stay unique. “That’s probably why all these kids are getting face tattoos. They want to be impossible to copy with their image. Unfortunately, that doesn’t translate to the music and they end up sounding like the last guy.

But where does LaLion see himself in the coming years? His dream one day is to “Be the best in the game. Grammy’s. Most streamed. The best.” Just like his idol and favourite rapper of all time Eminem.

I wouldn’t say that I am recognised even now. But when I started this, yes.  I came into it with the thought I will be the best in the game without a doubt.  Confidence is key.” – Sanjeev Mann (@Ask_Sanjeevs)

Gig Review: NAS @ O2 Academy Glasgow

By Sanjeev Mann (@Ask_Sanjeevs )

One of the world’s biggest rappers hit Glasgow’s O2 academy just over a week ago, and boy, it really was a gig to remember (well, the main act was anyway). He returned to the UK for the first time since 2015 for a UK exclusive tour to along with an appearance at wireless festival in London. Known to many as having one of the greatest hip hop albums in history was realistically never going to disappoint – of course I’m talking about NAS.

I was there with plenty of time to spare, eagerly anticipating what was to come. It was only my second ever visit to Glasgow’s O2 Acadamy and it did feel smaller than I remember (not that it mattered). I was looking forward to the close atmosphere that larger venues such as the Hydro often fail to deliver on. Not to mention, as a wheelchair user the disabled seating was brilliant and almost right in the middle which again delivers over the larger venues where wheelchair seating is right at the back most of the time. 

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He’s one of 90’s biggest hip hop stars along with the likes of Tupac and Biggie, and lived to tell the tale after the West and East coast Rap divide.  His first album ‘Illmatic’ gained huge praise from both critics, and hip hop fans alike, really putting him amongst the best in New York and even the entire US.

Before we delve into the show, I need to talk about the warm-up but for all the wrong reasons. Shogun, (everyone’s favourite and only Scottish rapper) was scheduled for the warm up but apparently he was lifted on the way to the venue – believe what you will. Instead the rowdy Scottish crowd were treated to a group of rappers whom no one knew. My guess was that they were his ‘crew’. Not it matters because they were an absolute shambles. Not a single word was clearly heard on stage due to an oversensitive mic, an absolute distorted mess! There was zero reaction and I don’t think anyone remotely cared. Everyone was too busy in their own world waiting for the gig to start.

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Now that that’s off my chest I can talk about the man I went to see, Nas! From the get go, it was an energetic and entertaining performance. With so many hits to choose from, as well as the legendary ‘Illmatic’ album, a good setlist was almost guaranteed. The list consisted of 23 tracks, and things kicked off with ‘Get Down’, a song symbolic to his upbringing when down a treat and the crowd was brought to life. The medium sized venue suited it perfectly and as expected it was full to the rafters.  The iconic N.Y. State of Mind was up next and the atmosphere went up a notch: Glasgow were up for it, and so was he. This was exactly what his fans wanted to see. Speaking to some gig goers before doors opened, many were sceptical that the man from the Broncs wouldn’t play much of his hit first ‘Illmatic’, and instead play some of his newer pop influenced tracks such as ‘Nas Album done’ with DJ Khaled.  ‘Life’s A Bitch’ followed and literally the whole of the Academy sang along.

He definitely didn’t fail to disappoint and played songs from THAT first record, including ‘Halftime’ and ‘The World is Yours’. Oh can’t forget probably his most recognizable mainstream track ‘If I Ruled the World (Imagine That)’ which again received critical and mainstream success. You could almost feel the excitement building before and even throughout the packed set. One of the only complaints was the bass drowning out ‘rapping on occasion’ but wasn’t much of a problem because whole arena knew pretty much every word anyway. This in itself more than made up for it, and as said earlier brought a crackling atmosphere to the Academy.

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We even had the pleasure of a cameo from reggae’s finest Bob Marley in Nas’s extended version of his own track ‘One Love’. The crowd’s reaction was brilliant with basically the entire venue letting out a resounding cheer. The set also featured extended version’s featuring MJ, and even Eurythmics ‘Sweet Dreams’. The undeniable classics all appeared, and most definitely left people happy. ‘The Don’ -one of his quicker tracks- got everyone jumping second from last. Nobody had left and the Acadamy was in full voice as if he had just came out. =

Towards the end, the atmosphere was almost in appreciation of the man’s career than a direct reaction to the gig itself. Glasgow certainly appreciated the arrival of Hip Hop royalty, making for what could very well be the best gig I’ve ever attended.


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Ranked: Tupac’s Top 14 Songs

By Sanjeev Mann (@Ask_Sanjeevs )

Known to many as one of the best and most influential rappers of all time, the legendary Tupac Shakur supplied the world with hits year after year until his controversial death in 1996. The King of Rap has sold over 75 million records in his short career which spanned over 100 plus songs, and still remains one of the highest selling rappers of all time.

After the release of his biopic ‘All Eyez On Me’ last week, now is the ideal time to go through all of his tracks to find his 14 strongest songs and pick which one is not only the most important but the best.

  1. Smile
    Producer: Scarface, Mike Dean, Tone Capone
    Album: The Untouchable

The lead single for Scarface‘s fourth album Untouchable, Smile released 3 months after Tupac’s death. It was one of the last songs he recorded, and what a way to sign off. An introspective gem that let the world know more about the late legend, it was the perfect way to end the era of Pac and say goodbye to the world.

  1. Me Against The World

Producer: Soulshock & Karlin
Album: Me Against the World

This track shows the rappers true feeling after a tough life and bad experiences from court cases, shootings, and 18 months in prison while trying to pursue a career.  When all this happens to someone, it’s no surprise you’d get the feeling that the world is against you: it’s definitely a track that will resonate with many and act as a quintessential fight song.

 

  1. 2 Of Americaz Most Wanted

Producer: Daz Dillinger
Album: All Eyez On Me

One of Pac‘s riskiest songs was this collaboration with the one and only Snoop Dog, recorded while Snoop was facing a murder charge. It also showed the dominance of Death Row Records during the golden age of Hip Hop even at a time when the likes of Nas and the Notorious B.I.G. were on the scene. It was a collab for the ages from two of the genres biggest stars.

  1. They Don’t Give A Fuck About Us

Producer: Johnny “J”
Album: Better Dayz

Coming from arguably his most influential and cohesive album, Better Dayz, this defines how he and many others felt when it came to the treatment of black people by police at the time. It also was another jab from Tupac towards the countries elites. The title says it all, and these beliefs were echoed by Michael Jackson a few years prior in his song They Don’t Care About Us.

  1. How Do You Want it

Producer: Johnny “J”
Album: All Eyez On Me

Released in 1996 and featuring R&B duo K-C and JoJo, How Do You Want was a club banger, but with a message, including a dig at one of Gangsta Rap’s biggest critics, politician, and civil rights activist C. Delores Tucker. She, at the time, heavily criticised the genre and especially Pac for misogynistic and sexually explicit rap lyrics that degraded women but the case was dismissed. Tupac rapped; “C. Delores Tucker you’s a motherfucker / Instead of trying to help a nigga you destroy a brother” and this certainly sent the message.

  1. Only God Can Judge Me

Producer: Doug Rasheed and Harold Scrap Fretty
Album: All Eyez On Me

I couldn’t trust my own homies, just a bunch of dirty rats” sums it up. Pac couldn’t even trust his closest ‘homies’ at the time especially after the East/West rap divide. Tupac thought Biggie set him up to get shot when he was robbed in 1994, which in turn, began the warfare between the two coasts. Also this refers to Pac being judged his whole life. He also refers to being “trapped from birth” which is a common theme throughout his lyrics.

  1. Changes

Producer: 2Pac
Album: Greatest Hits

Easily one of his most recognisable songs and biggest posthumous releases, Changes made waves in commercial success, as well as socially. He talks about everyday struggle, and the reality of low income for many families in the US, especially the black community. He wanted to represent the poorer and less fortunate sections of society and he certainly did that with this hit. “Thing’s will never be the same” suggests that, even now, this change has been limited.

  1. Hail Mary

Producer: Hurt-M-Badd, Tommy Daugherty, Lance Pierre and Justin Isham
Album: The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory

Providing quote after quote of great lyricism, this track really hits home the rappers death. The track comes from his first posthumous album, and under a new stage name. Makaveli. Probably one of Pac’s most commercially successful singles, the song shows Makaveli leaving the violence behind him and praying to god with the introduction of Biblical messages, and references. “And God said he should send his one begotten son To lead the wild into the ways of the man“(a quote from John 3:1), ” Follow me! Eat my flesh, flesh of my flesh!” – get what I mean? It incredibly took only an hour to produce.

  1. Ambitionz Az A Ridah

Producer: Daz Dillinger
Album: All Eyez On Me

The first track on the legendary ‘All Eyez on Me’ album, ‘Ambitionz Az A Ridah’ was according to many the first song he recorded after his time in prison. It shows off some improved lyricism as well as a new record label. Pac had signed for the biggest hip hop label in the world, Suge Knight’s Death Row Records .”This life as a rap star is nothin’ without guard” shows the danger he faced even with women and money by his side, he was never safe. He also rhymes about his own problems such as suicidal thoughts but then talks about death to his enemies. The track also has references  to reincarnation, after making the move to Death Row, as well as leaving prison. He was a new man that had to get things off his chest.

  1. Me And My Girlfriend

Producer: Big D, Hurt-M-Bad, Makaveli
Album: The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory

This is when things get serious: it’s the top 5! Another track from his post prison album, ‘Me And My Girlfriend’ typified his change in style. From sending social messages, to now rapping about guns (yeah when he says girlfriend he’s talking about his gun). He had now fully embraced ‘gangsta rap’. It was a track with dark meanings of murder and shootings which shows the ‘reincarated’ Pac at Death Row. The metaphors are clever, including “Hands on the steering wheel, blush while she bail out bustin’” referring to Pac shooting out of the car window. Known for featuring one of his best hooks, the tracks chorus was used by various artists including Jay Z’s 2003 version ‘Bonnie and Clyde 03’.

  1. California Love

Producer: Dr. Dre
Album: All Eyez On Me

Arguably Pac’s biggest track, California Love defined the G-funk era. Dre was now the best producer around which made the collaboration between the two stars colossus and, from it, an anthem was born. But the relationship didn’t last long, when the pair fell out because Dre refused to testify at Snoop Dog’s murder trial.  It was released in 1995 as Tupac’s comeback single after prison, and is probably his most known and commercially successful single. The man himself said “I don’t want it to be about violence. I want it to be about money.” The song itself also pays homage to L.A. and especially black neighborhoods such as Watts and arguably the home of Hip Hop, Compton. “In the city, the city of Compton” mirror’s the status of Compton as one of founding homes of the genre. The beat from Dre was energetic, and Pac’s rhyming and rapping was on point. This really was an artist at their best.

 

  1. I Aint Mad At Cha

Producer: Daz Dillinger
Album: All Eyez On Me

This was Pac again showing his more peaceful and perhaps more ‘real’ self. It is an emotional track telling the story of a fragile and changing relationship (maybe an old friend of Pac) rather than your typical ‘gansta’ tune. It’s sensitivity marks comparison with the likes of ‘Brenda’s got a baby’ yet the opposite of the rebellious and outspoken Makaveli. He talks about how people always change, especially those spoken about in the song: “Change, shit, I guess change is good for any of us”. With the title of the song Pac announces he ‘aint mad’ at his friend for changing. Biggie Smalls also used this line as a diss on pack on ‘Long Kiss Goodnight’: “Slugs missed ya, I ain’t mad at cha”. All this is why Pac is often accused as playing ‘the good guy’ in an era of violence that he was undeniably a part of, but regardless, his gift of telling a meaningful story is  heartfelt.

  1. Hit Em Up

Producer: Johnny “J”
Album: B-Side

This was the moment it officially hit the fan between the east, and west coast. The war began with a bang and one of the biggest diss tracks of them all. Pac fired heavy shots and his ex-best friend, the one and only Notorious B.I.G.. The feud between the former ‘homies’ had begun. Pac was mad and felt betrayed by a friend. Most of you hip hop fans will know Pac accused him and Puffy (Puff daddy) of setting him up to be shot at a studio in 1994. It was started off with a royal “fuck yo’” to Biggie and all his family. He now felt he trusted a single person, not even his own crew the ‘Outlawz’. Tupac announced his allegiance to the West coast, and talks about death row killing the East’s most prominent label bad boy entertainment he rapped “West Side, Bad Boy killers“. He not only dissed Biggie, and Puff but his whole entourage too. This was the track that opened the gates to hundreds of disses between the two coasts and in turn created an ill-fated war that Hip Hop would never forget. It was most definitely a game changer.

  1. Dear Mama

Producer: Tony Pizarro
Album: Me Against the World

Here it is then, my no. 1 Tupac track is the incredible ‘Dear Mama’, a track that every single person on the planet can relate to through their admiration of their mother. This was all about his roots and exactly where he came from. Afeni Shakur was key to the Tupac we all knew and loved at the time, and he made sure that everyone knew about it. He was never one to be shy to rap about his own problems and frailties and this was a perfect example. When Tupac started out rapping, he lived a relatively stable lifestyle in comparison to many at the time, and he even got the chance to study at Baltimore school of Arts – on the other hand, his mother was struggling for work and was linked to the infamous black panther political party. Rapping “When I was young, me and my mama had beef Seventeen years old, kicked out on the streets” Pac was forced to move home to California, and this was when he began to live the street life. Regardless, the respect he held for his mother was huge. It was his “Mama” that kept him on the straight and narrow despite her various problems. This was owed to his mother, who was the only real inspiration he had in his life. “‘Cause through the drama I can always depend on my mama / And when it seems that I’m hopeless/ You say the words that can get me back in focus” “I gotta thank the Lord that you made me/ There are no words that can express how I feel/ You never kept a secret, always stayed real/ And I appreciate how you raised me.”


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Game Review: PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds

By Sanjeev Mann (@Ask_Sanjeevs )

Traversing across a field, making my way to the next zone with 40 people remaining, I knew something was going down. The circle was coming in by the second and I could hear bullets in every direction. With our group receiving an abundance of casualties, it was only myself and another teammate left to fend for ourselves. The bullets were coming closer and closer. Out of nowhere I was hit, but I had no clue where it came from. I frantically spun my camera in every direction possible and there it was, a muzzle flash from the roof of a nearby building: they were onto us.

Stuck in the open with only a corn field and a couple of trees for cover, panicking, I prone to increase health with bandages. My mate was languishing in a tree somewhere behind me barking out the directions of the bullets and laying down some suppression fire. My hands were sweating at this point, just waiting for my head to be blown off via a Kar98 sniper. It didn’t happen, but the waiting was terrifying to say the least.

This is exactly what you’ll get from the minute you land on the island of Player Unknowns Battlegrounds. Incredibly, the game is still in early access, which means it’s effectively incomplete, and is developed by the man that brought the battle royal mod for ARMA 3, Brendan Greene.

For those of you that aren’t aware, Battlegrounds is battle royale style shooter where players parachute onto a massive island with one objective: survive. Once players land, they must scavenge buildings on the island for a variety of different weapons that range from SMGs to Assault Rifles, Snipers, or even a cooking pan to swing in someone’s face!  

You also need to get a hold of bags to carry bandages, first aid, and weapon parts. The key to success is most definitely loot and, most importantly, gun attachments such as scopes and extended mags. This will make your life a whole lot easier and gives you a much needed upper hand on opponents – this set up will no doubt be familiar to those who are fans of games such as H1Z1 or PC blockbuster ARMA 3.

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Not only do you need to contend with 99 other players in solos, but also a circle which shrinks the play zone every few minutes, and being caught outside of the ‘circle’ results in receiving health damage – think Battle Royale (or its copycat Hunger Games) and you’ll get the picture. The game itself has 3 game modes: solo, duo and squads which consists of up to 4 players per team.

Now lets get down to the nitty gritty: is the game actually any good? Well to put it bluntly, it’s great! The way it makes every second as nail biting as the last is superb. No matter where you are on the map, there’s a part of you that knows an enemy could be around the corner. This is especially the case for high loot zones as a number of players will be frantically looking for loot at the beginning of every game. If you’re too late, you’ll more than likely die a miserable death after a mere few minutes after landing. The plane itself travels in a random direction in every game, which makes most landings different most games. This helps to give each game a different feel from the last. The fact that you can choose when to parachute out of plane adds to this too.

From the off you need a plan. Jumping early to a high loot zone right below the plane will see you fighting it out with plenty of other players, but the loot is more than worth the risk if you survive. You could always jump late and travel a good distance to a quieter part of the island where you’re almost guaranteed to be on your own, however the loot won’t be great and you risk being a distance from the circle when it spawns. Weapons are distributed randomly, but a decent weapon can get you so far.

Even after nearly 90 hours of gameplay, I’ve found myself in the last 10 without even firing a single bullet. Hiding from enemy players and quietly going about your business is a valid tactic for sure. Even when your steadily progressing, you always have a choice: you can stay around the edge of the force-field and wait for its next destination or you can risk it and go straight into battle. You may also find yourself stuck in a room from time to time, anxiously waiting it out, listening to every single sound around you and, dare I say it, on the floor below you! All of these various factors keeps you entertained without the feeling of repetition.

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Weapons are fun to use too, very well balanced , and you can feel a weight behind them. Also each weapon vary in rate of fire, and damage, and no 2 guns are the same.  You could go for short range guns such as the micro UZI, UMP and Shotguns to Assault rifles such as the AK or SCAR-L. Oh and don’t forgot long range guns like the Kar98 or AWM. And as said earlier each vary in damage. Damage also depends on the level of helmet equipped by the enemy. Level 1 being the weakest and level 3 being the best.

With the win percentage being so low, the hunt for victory leaves you addicted and hungry to go back. Winning a game gives you a huge satisfaction, something that is missing from so many games over the past 10 years.

The game isn’t perfect by any means: loot sometimes refuses to be picked up, annoying latency problems, and occasionally mushy textures can cause problems and prevent you from playing when in the plane or after launching out of it. Two issues which seem to have remained constant is the game not loading in time and game freezes for a small number of players. Thankfully, updates are coming out regularly which makes the £26 price tag seem worth it, especially considering most AAA publishers don’t even put this amount of effort into fixing their games’ issues. 

It’s no wonder that Battlegrounds has sold a ridiculous 4 million copies since its  release on Steam 3 months ago – breathing new life into the battle royale shooter genre, Player Unknown has provided a game that is equal parts exciting and anxiety provoking. It may not be a technically perfect game, glitches are common here, but the game does enough to alleviate any issues these might bring about. Overall, Battlegrounds can stand up proudly as an example of early access done right – a rare and valuable achievement. 

8/10


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