(New Album Review) Has-Lo & Castle- Live Like You’re Dead

So far, I haven’t talked about hip-hop in this journal. I’m not necessarily that into rap, but I try to keep up with some of it, and I’m happy to make my first post on this topic about one of the best hip-hop albums of the year, Live Like You’re Dead by Has-Lo & Castle.

I have mixed thoughts about how hip-hop has panned out in the 2010’s. I find myself listening to Main Attrakionz and Lil B mostly because I have so much difficulty appreciating other modern rap. You see, the late 90’s and early 00’s really were an interesting time for underground hip hop– amid the commercially-minded rap that was released in this period, there was a nearly endless list of releases from lyrically interesting emcees. Some of them were established artists soldiering on from the early and mid nineties, others were just getting on their feet– all the same, they had stories to tell and they loved their art. Now, for the most part, rap is often just so…lyrically uninteresting. For rap to be lyrical, it carries with it the stigma of being “backpacker”. It’s like this: Danny Brown is a hell of an emcee, but the sad truth is that, with his thoughtful content and wordplay, he often seems like sort of an anomaly in the current world of hip-hop. A lot of the other rappers around these days are just making commercial stuff put through an instagram filter, and much of Danny’s twitter rant from a few months back was right on the money– for the most part, it’s a business, and the crowds want stupid shit.

However, there are still some emcees out there making reality raps that read like they were written by a regular person, rather than a pandering star. If you look around, you can find them, scattered unevenly throughout this country, still working their fingers to the bone: two such emcees are Philadephia’s Has-Lo and North Carolina’s Castle.

My attention was drawn to this release by my deep appreciation for Has-Lo’s In Case I Don’t Make It, one of the best rap albums from the past 10 years. Has-Lo’s style, brutally candid, often self-deprecating, but with a very relaxed delivery, gives the impression of a soft-spoken One Be Lo. Castle is Has-Lo’s labelmate at Mello Music, and though he’s a little more aggressive, he has a similar thing going– a lot of introspection and anti-cool.

Both Has-Lo’s In Case I Don’t Make It and Castle’s Gasface were heavy fare, this new collaboration is not! Live Like You’re Dead is mostly tongue-in-cheek messing around to jazz-hop beats– particularly funny is “Hennessy Yak”, a drunken freestyle which takes some lighthearted shots at A$AP Rocky and Kanye West. One feature of this album that’s sort of interesting is the way that it ironically plays around with the “party rap” vibe. On “Yoga Pants”, for instance, the duo assume a tone that’s alternately lustful and mocking. And there’s also a lot of really witty, ironic self-mockery on this record, especially coming from the normally full-of-braggadocio Castle: “I hear socially awkward is the new sexy/God damn I was born in the wrong decade”.

As entertaining as the album is, part of what makes it worth re-listens (aside from the nice production work by Has-Lo, Castle, and Arcka) is the honesty in the lyrics. I can’t stress enough how much I appreciate this aspect of both emcees. In “The Uncomfortable Truth About Stardom”, Has-Lo levels about the frustration of making the rounds from venue to venue trying to stir some enthusiasm out of crowds that don’t want to pay for music and often don’t even dance. And the jokey elements of this album seem to fall in line with many memorable lines about how far the two rappers have come in their struggles to express themselves. And they’ve come pretty far: “Off the bench like a starter on the court/Trying to win the ring that cannot be bought”. You can sense that, in the recording process, the duo have some good times together just reminiscing.

I finally finished listening to Freddie Gibbs and Madlib’s new album, and while I liked that, and recognize that that will probably end up being the favorite of the year for many, I honestly prefer this. It’s really genuine and down-to-earth, and I’ll probably listen to it more this year. Check out the bandcamp page for the album, as well as this interesting interview with Has-Lo and Castle at Impose.



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