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Photo Review: Soundset 2013

By Craig McManus. Posted in Concert Review, Hip Hop, Rap | No Comments »


Memorial Day weekend in the Twin Cities brings independent hip hop label Rhymesayers Entertainment’s Soundset festival to Canterbury Park in Shakopee.  This year’s festival promised to be the largest yet with headlining act Snoop Dogg supported by Rhymesayers’ artists Atmosphere, Brother Ali, Aesop Rock, and P.O.S, plus national acts Mac Miller, Tech N9ne, Juicy J, and Schoolboy Q among others.  Also on the bill was the great Busta Rhymes, but for reasons as yet unexplained, Busta did not show for the festival.  Neither that disappointment nor the unseasonably cool weather and strong winds, though, failed to dampen the spirits of the 28,000+ hip hop fans who turned out for the show.

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In SYDLHH: Part 1, we looked at some of hip hop’s earliest influential tracks.  As mentioned therein, the DJs ruled the roost in early hip hop, and most artists got their start wanting to be DJs.  In fact, even Jay-Z notes in his memoir/book of annotated lyrics Decoded that he first wanted to be a DJ.  It didn’t take long, however, for MCs to take the hip hop crown, and with just a few exceptions (e.g. J Dilla, DJ Screw, the RZA, DJ Premier) they’ve never given it back.  In SYDLHH: Part 2 we will look at some of the earliest MCs and how they furthered the growth of the genre.  I intended initially to limit this overview to just one post, but there is simply too much to say about the 8 MCs I want to cover, so Part 2 will go up in two posts (and even limiting it to two posts requires me to repeatedly remind myself that this series is just an overview).

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Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five

Some facts about me: I’m white (a full fledged WASP actually); I’m middle class; I’m in my 30s; I’m a father; I live in the midwest; and I love hip hop.  It’s that last one that surprises people.  Due to the first five things listed I’m not supposed to like hip hop, even though I’m a huge music fan.  Nonetheless, whether it’s Golden Era East Coast, hardcore West Coast, southern, indie, or otherwise, if it falls under the hip hop umbrella there’s a good chance I listen to it.

The simple reason people are surprised by my hip hop fandom is it’s not ‘my’ music.  Hip hop, rose from the streets to tell the stories of the street.  Meanwhile, I’m about as ‘street’ as a labradoodle, and can’t pretend to relate to hip hop’s stories through personal experience.  Those stories, or at least the ones many people identify as wholly representative of hip hop, are largely made up of hustling, gang banging, and the like, and involve violence, drug dealing, misogyny, and other things utterly alien to my suburban, midwestern upbringing.  Obviously songs of this type are a subcategory of the broader hip hop spectrum, but the real problem with the assumption that I wouldn’t be a hip hop fan is the underlying presumption that just because I haven’t personally experienced these things I have no interest in the art that is being created as a result.  Good art should challenge its audience in some way and hip hop often does so by confronting its listeners with hard truths.

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Vital Albums – 2012 Free Mixtapes

By Craig McManus. Posted in Free Music, R&B, Rap, Vital Albums | No Comments »

Thus far, 2012 has been a fantastic year for free mixtapes and LPs.  While there hasn’t been anything with the widespread impact of The Weeknd’s 2011 trilogy, the depth and breadth of free releases demonstrates that artists across genres are taking advantage of the internet to get their music into people’s hands like never before.  In furtherance of our goal at Music is Good to highlight some lesser known, but no less important music, below are three that should be a part of any music collection:

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Concert Review: Soundset 2012

By Craig McManus. Posted in Concert Review, Hip Hop, Indie, Rap | 2 Comments »

Founded in 1995 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Rhymesayers Entertainment has risen to the top of the heap of independent hip hop labels.  Over the years it has grown from releasing albums solely by its founders, to becoming the home base for most of the surprisingly fertile Minnesota hip hop scene, and finally to being the label home for albums by indie hip hop greats regardless of hometown.  In fact, since its founding, Atmosphere, MF Doom, Brother Ali, Aesop Rock, and P.O.S have all called Rhymesayers home.

Despite this success, Rhymesayers continues to expand as it follows its mission to put its “dreams, passions, and destinies in their own hands.”  One of those dreams is to continue growing hip hop in the Twin Cities area, so in 2008 Rhymesayers founded the Soundset hip hop festival.  Held on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, Soundset started in the Metrodome parking lot, but has since moved to Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Minnesota.

More important then the location switch, however, the last five years have seen Soundset grow beyond showcasing solely artists on the Rhymesayers label to bringing both titans and the next generation of hip hop to the upper Midwest.  2012 was no exception as Ghostface Killah & Raekwon and Lupe Fiasco joined Atmosphere as scheduled headliners while Action Bronson, Kendrick Lamar, and Danny Brown played earlier in the day with Rhymesayers’ own I Self Devine and Evidence.

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This is part of a series suggesting ingredients for mixtapes or playlists on a variety of themes.

Every December I put together a mixtape of what I find to be some of the best tracks of the preceding year.  I say ‘some of the best tracks’ because in addition to including great songs I have two main goals: 1) For the mix to actually be a mix of sounds and styles; and 2) for the parts to make up a coherent whole.

As I noted in my best albums of 2011 post, I found the year somewhat weak when it came to top shelf albums.  When I sat down to put together my favorite tracks that was not an issue, though, and I had to do some serious cutting.  So while this list gives me a chance to recognize a number of bands that do not appear on the album list, tracks like Bon Iver’s “Holocene” (ridiculously good despite my indifference to the rest of that album), Tom Waits’ “New Year’s Eve”, Low’s “Witches”, and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s “Heart in Your Heartbreak” ended up being elbowed out.

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This is a part of a series on music that has influenced contributors to Music is Good.

I truly believe that music discovery is a life long process and one that should cross all genre barriers.  It is absolutely dumbfounding to me whenever I hear someone claim that “there isn’t any good music these days” or that a particular genre (usually hip hop or country) “is all crap”.  I certainly realize, mostly because my wife loves to remind me, I’m not a ‘normal’ person when it comes to music, but it seems elementary to me that if anyone explores a genre a bit they will find something that speaks to them.  Below are the 10 albums (in my personal chronological order) that have had the biggest impact on my life, and led me down my musical paths.

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2011 has been another good year for music, with a deep list of very good albums released.  This depth has allowed me to extend my usual Top Ten list to a Top Twenty that could easily have gone to 25 or 30 without me breaking a sweat.  That said, ordering the below albums was a little harder than usual because for me there weren’t any truly mind blowing albums released this year.  Ordinarily there is at least one album, if not two or three, that stand head and shoulders above the rest and demand the top spot(s), but that did not happen for me in 2011.  In fact, had this year’s #1 album been released in 2010 it would have been at most #5 on that list (behind Titus Andronicus, Kanye West, Owen Pallett, and Dessa).

I think a big part of my not seeing a true #1 album this year is simply a matter of taste.  A whole lot of lists are putting Bon Iver, Bon Iver at the top but that album simply does not work for me.  While I loved For Emma, its follow-up feels like it is trying too hard (although it would appear successfully) to cross over into the pop realm and sanded off the rough edges that made For Emma so fantastic.  I was even more disappointed in Watch the Throne, which comes off as nothing more than self-indulgent ego stroking.  Add to these disappointments the fact that I’ve never been a fan of Fleet Foxes or My Morning Jacket and some of the years best reviewed albums are off the table for me.

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Used with permission.

For the seven nights from December 4 to December 10, First Avenue and the 7th Street Entry in downtown Minneapolis will be taken over by the top hip hop crew in Minnesota: The Doomtree collective.  Doomtree Blowout VII is larger and more daring than any of the first six and celebrates the release of the collective’s new album No Kings, which received excellent reviews over the last couple of weeks from Pitchfork, the Onion A/V Club, and countless others.

Doomtree is a crew of hip hop musicians that initially came together around 2001 at Hopkins High School in a first ring suburb of Minneapolis, but has since seen some shift in membership to its current, seemingly static, form.  The collective as a whole creates highly literate lyrics to go with music and beats that are strongly influenced by punk rock.  This combination has certainly aided the group’s crossover into the type of indie rap that gets the attention of blogs like Pitchfork, and seems to have Doomtree on the verge of breaking through into the indie mainstream (if such a thing actually exists and if they haven’t done so already).  Now they are undertaking a massive homestand before heading out on a long tour in the new year.

The first five nights of the Blowout will be held at the Entry with each night being curated by one of the collective’s M.C.s who will be joined on stage by special guests.  Then the whole crew will convene in the First Avenue Mainroom on Friday and Saturday night for what I’m sure will be killer shows.  Before they do, though, the collective needs to be introduced to the fine readers of Music is Good:

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Is Tyler, The Creator Maturing?

By Craig McManus. Posted in Hip Hop, Rap | 2 Comments »

In a new SPIN interview, Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All ringmaster Tyler, The Creator says, “[t]alking about rape and cutting bodies up, it just doesn’t interest me anymore.  What interests me is making weird hippie music for people to get high to…I can’t rap about the same shit.”  If true, this statement will surely be unwelcome news to the indie blogosphere that has garnered thousands of clicks over the last couple of years as it endlessly debates whether the homophobia and violence against women contained in many OFWGKTA tracks is a sign of the downfall of society or just kids being kids.  It would also be yet another instance of the cycle of youthful envelope-pushing followed by steady maturation that we see every few years in popular music.

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