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INsiders Guide: Apollo Brown and Philmore Greene, Westside Gunn, Marlowe, 38 Spesh & Harry Fraud, Vado, SILICON DOCKS, A STARR, Kool G Rap….

What are the consequences of living in this f**ked up world? Within the first few seconds of their collaborative album, Cost of Living, rapper Philmore Greene and producer Apollo Brown articulate this question with unequivocal clarity. It’s an inquiry that looms at the core of their elegiac and existential soundtrack to modern inner city life. How can one escape the systemic traps that have ensnared generations since time immemorial? What does it mean to make the right choices? And if you emerge from the chaos to live a beautiful life, how do you overcome the survivor’s guilt and lingering trauma? 

Cost of Living is an album full of authenticity that can’t be faked. These are songs that betray the scar tissue. Contemplative fire. Verité films of the westside of Chicago. It’s this noirish part of town that nourished Greene and gave him nightmares. The place where he saw his first dead body in his early teens, where he lost his brother to the street violence only a few years later, and where he turned to the pad, pen and microphone as a refuge and way to share his hard-fought wisdom. 

The themes are nothing less than life and death. A lifestyle of endemic poverty, opportunities denied and dreams deferred. With a roll of the dice you can receive death, prison, or a path out. As the scratched vocals of Common echo on the hook to “Steep Life:” “rappers and hoopers, we strive to be like.” Greene is all too aware of reality. Like the former Common Sense before him, he has created a canon of morals and integrity that eschews sanctimony. The testimony of someone who has seen dope runners and villains, broken passions and cold-blooded betrayals, the consequences that can befall you in the concrete jungle if you’re not careful (or even if you are).

Behind the boards, Apollo Brown creates a cinematic backdrop of tense, moody strings and hand-of-god drums. A reminder of why he’s already become a rightful heir to the throne of Pete Rock, J Dilla, and DJ Premier. As Pitchfork recently raved, the Detroit producer’s “fidelity for the grime and grit of rap’s second Golden Age goes beyond simply trying to recreate DJ Premier beats. Flourishes across his instrumental projects and over a dozen collaborative albums unearth the passion he puts into his art.”

Philmore Greene is an ideal match for Brown’s sumptuous canvasses, an MC who the Chicago Reader has hailed for making “confident, luxuriant boom-bap.” But it’s his ability to convey complex emotions, empathetic street narratives, and heartbreaking pathos that make him singular. Consider the sharp detail of his words on “Welcome to the Ave,” where he namechecks the dice games, “all my n**’s grinding in the same clothes as yesterday,” the robberies and larcenies, the street pharmacies, the “question marks where the fathers be.” 

On the Evidence-assisted lead single “Paradise,” Greene unspools his gift for classic rap storytelling, comparing Chicago to Pakistan, noting the sex workers, church bells, and constant paranoia. He cites the hypocrisy of a world where you can get 40 years for drug trafficking and be out in three for murder. 

The centerpiece might be “This is Me,” where Greene details his own personal struggles and psychological turmoil. The murder witnessed at age 14 that sent him to therapists and shrinks, “fighting a battle inside of my mind.” You can almost hear the lurking footsteps inside his skull, as he worries about being watched and followed by the killer. He takes you back to being a teenager, wondering if he’d make it to 25. You flash forward a decade later, and Greene wakes up on his 25th birthday, crying tears of gratitude for the fact that he’s still breathing.

The cost of living may be high, but Greene and Brown allow you to understand that it is not insurmountable. There are too many losses and not enough gains, but as long as there remains a belief in something deeper and the possibility of something better, hope remains alive. This is soul music in the deepest sense, not as an aesthetic but as a physical place, where heart, philosophy, and the spirit reside. This is something for the ages, a work of tragic timelessness. After all, these issues have been here before us, and they’ll be here long after us. 

When Westside Gunn released the first edition of #HWH ten-years ago, Griselda was still in its infancy stage.   Now, GXFR is a global brand and he is the industry’s pre-eminent multi-hyphenate artist/label owner/creative/curator/fashion icon.

With Griselda’s core, Westside Gunn, Benny The Butcher, and Conway The Machine now established stars, The trendsetting label is regenerating, revitalizing, and re-inventing itself.  Westside Gunn has assembled GXFR’s next generation of stars; Stove God Cooks, Armani Caesar, Rome Streetz, Jay Worthy, and his son Flygod JR (all of whom appear on 10).

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Every year as the seasons change and fall announces itself, it’s become a reflex of sorts for fans to begin clamoring and waiting on a new edition of #HWH.  It’s become tradition, and a rite of passage.  For as much of a visionary as Westside Gunn is, he is also a devout traditionalist. 

Last year at this time, Westside Gunn released HWH8 as a double-album in two different installments with Side: A (which topped the iTunes Charts) and Side: B.

Keeping his plans under-wraps until the very last moment, Westside Gunn unveiled #HWH’s final installment; aptly-titled, 10, on 10-28-22 and it again topped the iTunes Hip-Hop chart upon its release. 

10, not only signifies completion but celebrates what has already been set in motion; and there is no disputing this notorious series will live on and influence for generations.  

“It’s only right that we end here.  All special things get a memorial release” Westside Gunn reflects.  “The last double-album was going to be the final one, but it felt weird leaving off at nine and not 10.  I had to celebrate this series which has meant so much to fans.  Everything I do sounds nothing like the last thing I did.  That’s the creative in me, and I’m always going to push the culture forward.  I’m ending this on a really special note with 10.”

After premiering the album’s first visual, FlyGod JR,” featuring DJ Drama and DoeBoy with Fader, Westside Gunn is back with a new dual video for “Mac Don’t Stop” & Nigos Louis”: the dual videos are a movie that encapsulates everything Griselda; trendsetting music, videos, fashion and culture.

Westside Gunn’s 10 features appearances and production from A$AP Rocky, Run The Jewels, Black Star, Ghostface, Raekwon, Busta Rhymes, DJ Drama, Benny The Butcher, Conway The Machine, Stove God Cooks, Armani Caesar, Rome Streetz, Jay Worthy, Robby Takac (of the Goo Goo Dolls), RZA, The Alchemist, Swizz Beatz, Pete Rock, Conductor Williams and fresh essence from Flygod JR.

The electrifying Hip-Hop tag team L’Orange and Solemn Brigham are back with a brand new visual for “My People,” a standout cut from their album Marlowe 3, out now on Mello Music Group. The album reached #1 on Bandcamp and #2 on the UK iTunes Hip-Hop charts in addition to garnering critical support from Pitchfork, HipHopDX, Brooklyn Vegan, FLOOD and more. “My People” is a daring, high-octane track that perfectly demonstrates Marlowe’s unique sound. Solemn Brigham raps with the unrivaled energy and charisma that he showcases in his live performances. Solemn says, “My People is definitely inspired by live performances this joint carries a boldness that I feel represents Marlowe well.” On the creation process for the “My People,” L’Orange adds, “We worked on this song forever. There were a lot of changes but we knew we had something and wanted to get it just right.” Marlowe 3 is the third studio album from alt rap dyad, L’Orange and Solemn Brigham. The 18-track project features rap titans Joell Ortiz and Blu on the explosive posse cut Royal; fellow North Carolinan Deniro Farrar on Godfist, as well as a skit from British comedian Romesh Ranganathan in Romesh Says. Album highlights include the laidback introspective Light Trip and Jazz-infused lead single Past life. The track President the Rock was hailed by NPR as “a high-energy song that challenges the old guard, by taking the traditional and breathing fresh life into it.” A testament to their tremendous growth, Marlowe 3 is the duo’s most focused release to-date and superlative completion to the Marlowe trilogy. L’Orange states, “This album feels like a maturity to who we are as a group. We set out to make something that was big, energetic, fun and explosive and I feel like we did that without losing control. I feel like Solemn and I are the best we’ve ever been.” Solemn Brigham concludes, “I want to let all the people know that I feel a closeness to anyone who relates to our music and everyone that I shook hands with on tour or hit me online, thank you it’s definitely been a trip. Let’s keep it moving”

38 Spesh has been so focused on producing for the last year, rappers finally got a chance to breathe. But that ended with the release of 7 Shots (which topped the iTunes Rap Chart upon its release), which once again demonstrated how effortless emceeing is for the Rochester mastermind.

Though Spesh has been content to play the background while helping others move to the forefront, his promised epic run (which started with 7 Shots), proceeds accordingly with the announcement of his forthcoming project Beyond Belief.  Produced entirely by Harry Fraud, Beyond Belief is the most personal, and intimate album in Spesh’s decorated career; and it promises him a seat at the table with rap’s elite. 

Harry Fraud thrives on being entrusted with artists’ most personal statements; recently, producing chart-topping projects for French Montana (Montega, which hit Billboard’s Top 200 chart), Curren$y (The OutRunners), Dave East (Hoffa), Lil Peep (High Fashion), Benny The Butcher (The Plugs I Met 2), Jim Jones (The Fraud Department), Jay Worthy’s You Take The Credit, We’ll Take The Check and also contributing production to two highly-anticipated sequels; Wale’s Folarian II (“Down South” Feat Maxo Kream & Yella Beezy), Russ’ Chomp 2 (“Top Of The World” Feat Jay Electronica), and Cormega’s The Realness II (“Man Vs Myth”). 

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Spesh and Harry’s collaborative album, Beyond Belief, is now available, and along with it, a new visual for “Warm Winter” was also released. 

“Harry and I have been putting this project together piece by piece since the beginning of the year, and had been planning to do an album together since Spring 2021. We didn’t want to rush the creative process, so we waited to record until we could get in the studio together” 38 Spesh explains.  “I went out to Harry’s studio in the Hamptons for about a week, so this isn’t just some ‘over the internet’ shit; we got in the studio and created a masterpiece together. With Harry as the conductor, I elevated my game to a new level. The fans are going to go crazy for this one.”

Beyond Belief is the first album since the start of the pandemic that I was able to create EVERYTHING from scratch; with the artist in the same room” Harry Fraud remarked.  “Working with Spesh was a breath of fresh air because being a producer himself, he’s able to translate his ideas into a language I can completely understand. The result is a fully formed collaborative effort.”

38 Spesh & Harry Fraud’s Beyond Belief features guest appearances from Wiz Khalifa, Curren$y, Benny The Butcher, Jim Jones, Conway The Machine, Stove God Cooks, Ransom & Elcamino.

Vado is back with the third installment of his Long Run series.  Long Run Vol. 3 features multiple guest appearances from Jim Jones, and 2/3 of his The Council group members Lloyd Banks and Dave East. 

Long Run 3 is my best album yet and I can’t wait for the fans to hear it” Vado confidently asserts.  “I’m in the game for the Long Run.  Collab albums with Dave East & 38 Spesh in 2023!”  

Vado’s Long Run Vol. 3 is now available.

You can now purchase, stream, add and favorite Long Run Vol. 3 at your preferred DSP:



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Plain Sight Feat Lloyd Banks

Fast Life FEAT Dave East

Up Down Feat Jim Jones

By The Stove Feat Dave East

Ferina Feat Cartier Nellz

Broken Record Feat Lloyd Banks


Pop Ghost Feat Cartier Nellz 

FWM Feat S&S & Rich Ice

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Wolph’s Bar FEAT Cartier Nellz & Young Keeks

Over here in Ireland we have scores of U.S. tech corporations operating in a place called Silicon Docks. It’s a smallish area just minutes from where I grew up in the eighties and was really different back then. This seismic shift in my native city has really made me reflect on everyday tech users, regular tech workers and just our modern tech society as a whole.

So I thought it might be interesting to conduct a little experiment. What happens if we take a sample group, let’s say 10 early pioneers of the web and subject them to the same kind of dorkish distortions that everyone else endures online in the 21st century? How will these doctors of the internet react to a taste of their own medicine!

In SILICON DOCKS, precisely such a group of tech bros are prohibited from visiting one another’s European HQs or hotels during the early days of Covid-19. Nevertheless, they must urgently agree on whether or not to sign a critical EU pact and so end up on a kind of weird quest to find one Irish pub that is still open. The satirical urban odyssey features great conflict between Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and his arch nemesis Evan Spiegel who created Snapchat, also tension between space racers Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk – not to mention many other dramas endured by the cold and frustrated tech millionaires & billionaires as they stumble around locked-down Dublin in desperate need of a pint…

This has definitely been one of my best experiences as a writer-director, but it was Kasia Wiśniewska who animated these characters and the cast who made it truly real. We all made this little movie in a totally voluntary capacity using incredibly limited resources, primarily to stop ourselves from going stir-crazy during the pandemic – and the entire feature is freely available for anybody to watch non-monetised on YouTube. Custom-made for the web, it’s a film that empowers us to test the boundaries of internet culture. We are effectively inviting everyone to participate in a giant social media science experiment.

Grace Power, Shane Lynch, Brendan McDonald, Fiona Bawn-Thompson, Bobby Calloway, Rob Smith, José Naghmar, Gerry Cannon and Matthew McMahon

Tomboy” is the second single from A STARR following her debut release “No Filter,” which was co-written with Grammy-nominated songwriter/producer Poo Bear (Justin Bieber, Usher, Mariah Carey, Jennifer Lopez) and produced by Grammy-nominated DJ/Producer Shndō (Justin Bieber’s “Peaches”). The track quickly garnered over two million streams following its release, along with media support from Ones To Watch, Spindle Magazine, and HAZZE Media and finds A STARR unapologetically and authentically introducing herself to the world. 

Gravitating towards music since she was a toddler, A STARR quickly found a creative outlet through entertaining and began to develop her presence as a performer, acting in multiple school plays and performing in talent shows. It wasn’t long before A STARR caught the attention of Poo Bear who saw something different in the young artist and they immediately dove into writing and recording with the legend’s support, unlocking her talents like never before.

Hip Hop’s golden era constituent, Queens’ native, the godfather of Mafioso rap, legendary and influential emcee,  Kool G Rap, broke out in the late 80s and early 90s as one-half of the duo with DJ Polo. Together, Kool G Rap and DJ Polo released three undisputed classic albums; beginning with their debut album, Road To The Riches(1989), Wanted: Dead or Alive (1990) and Live and Let Die(1992).

Simultaneously, G Rap and DJ Polo gained notoriety as members of the Juice Crew, whose noteworthy membership includes DJ Marley Marl, Big Daddy Kane, Masta Ace and Roxanne Shante At the height of hip-hop’s golden age, The Juice Crew was the definition of innovative and not only influenced the culture as a whole (style, lyricism, creativity), but also impressed the importance of style, substance and technique upon the next wave of street ambassadors.  

After a successful run with DJ Polo and the Juice Crew, G Rap embarked on a solo-career, with his solo debut, 4, 5, 6(1995), which was preceded by Roots of Evil(1998) and The Giancana Story(2002).  Since then, we’ve only been intermittingly blessed by bodies of work from the Kool Genius Of Rap; Half a Klip(2008), Riches, Royalty, Respect (2011), Return Of The Don (2017) and Son Of G Rap with 38 Spesh (2018).

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The recent National Hip-Hop Museum inductee announced his return with fellow icon and Juice Crew member Big Daddy Kane with “Fly Till I Die,” and “Critical” featuring NEMS.  Now, G Rap is back with “Born Hustler” featuring AZ & 38 Spesh. 

Kool G Rap’s Last Of A Dying Breed features collaborations with AZ, Sean Price, NEMS, Vado, 38 Spesh, Royal Flush and Big Daddy Kane; with production supplied by Domingo.

Over the course of his distinguished and influential career, AZ has been nominated for Grammy’s, sold millions of albums, created hit singles, and lent his voice to some of Hip-Hop’s most timeless music. 

It had been a decade since AZ graced fans with an album, but his long-teased sequel, Doe Or Die II, became one of 2021’s undeniable success stories and was a mainstay at the top of the DSP charts upon its release.  Doe Or Die II featured appearances and production from Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, 2 Chainz, T-Pain, The Alchemist, Conway The Machine, Dave East, Pete Rock, Statik Selektah, Idris Elba, Bink, Buckwild, Kaygee, Heatmakerz, Rockwilder, and Baby Paul. 

“My last release was at the top of 2022 with the Doe Or Die 2 Deluxe.  I feel really enthusiastic about releasing new music” AZ attests.  “I wanted to drop a new single, “Respect Mines,” before year-end, to prepare listeners for my upcoming album that will be released in early 2023.” 

AZ’s new single, “Respect Mines,”produced by Buckwild & B Hawk is now available.


Socials: @neillfrazer

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