Coat of Many Colors


Lots of rappers spit about the spoils of their stardom”Bentleys, diamonds, Louis Vuitton luggage. Not many, and maybe none, have taken all that money they’ve made through record sales and donated it to charity. Except, that is, New York rapper and activist Awkword. His album, World View, featured contributions from artists in 20 countries and benefited Guns 4 Cameras, a nonprofit dedicated to ending street violence. And though his mission is serious, Awkword’s got a quicksilver wit that permeates most of his tracks. On the buoyant, reggae-influenced Stay Spittin’, Stay Flowin’ he takes listeners through the chambers of the heart, from the vena cava to the aorta. Then, on Colors, he turns his attention to the color wheel, rapping My blood is red, but I stay blue like Barack over a Motown loop. Only on Requiem do you get a sense of Awkword’s intensity. I’m here to lift you up / I can also take you down. Stay on his good side; it’s a pretty inspiring place to be.



Spirituality is a personal thing. Some people wear theirs on their sleeve, witnessing to anyone willing to listen. Others prefer to keep their religion between them and their god ¦ or gods ¦ or goddesses. You get the picture. Wesley Forte, a.k.a. Undergrad, is definitely a member of the first camp. Raised in the church, Forte kept to the straight and narrow, dedicating his life to his beliefs. As Undergrad, he funnels his ministry into pious hip-hop and R&B. On Man In The Mirror he declares he’s trying to build up the Lord’s turf while a female chorus provides the song’s soulful hook. Digital arpeggios rain down in What’s Your Mission as the rapper spits out witty lines like Is your mission to be like Microsoft and Excel? On the swaggering Spark The Dark things get more urgent. People selling their souls like retail / I gotta give glory to God. Preach on, preacher man.

Check Baby, Check Baby

Mike Check

Mike Check started his career in music behind the kit, eventually trading sticks for a pen and becoming a songwriter. Turns out it was a good swap. Today Check is one of New York’s up-and-coming MCs, firing up audiences with fervent lyrics about anything from crime and poverty to Christian Laettner. On the bubbling, synth-driven Mega Man Check details his A-game with the ladies, promising to fade away like Laettner after its over. The mood gets heavier on My Back Yard, a lyrical tour of NYC set to a sample of Benny Mardones’ Into the Night. From Fifth Avenue to Ground Zero, Jamaica Queens, South Bronx and Brooklyn, Check explores the worlds of the haves and have-nots. The rapper’s fierce determination to move out of the latter category is on display in For the Rush, an adrenaline-filled banger about owning the audience. Every time I close my eyes never seen another dream, he spits, like New York’s version of Jimmy B-Rabbit Smith. If it’s true you gotta lose yourself in the music to really make it, Mike Check is well on his way.

“For the Rush” – Mike Check

Discourse & Dischord

The Good

Kanye’s Monster gets the Muppets treatment

Watching the Muppets rap Kanye West’s Monster is both hilarious and distressing. Count Von Count opening with Bitch I’m a monster / No good bloodsucker is entirely apropos, but then when Beaker delivers the line about the you-know-what in a sarcophagus you can almost feel your entire childhood imploding. Watch at your own risk.

Josh Groban sings Kanye’s tweets

It’s a very Kanye Friday everyone. Before you cry Enough! be sure to watch this one last clip. GRAMMY-winning singer Josh Groban put all of Mr. West’s tweets to music for a bit on the Jimmy Kimmel Show. If you thought they sounded ridiculous in cyberspace, just wait. Our favorite aria has to be I make awesome decisions in bike stores. Find out what yours is by watching the clip below.

Love is in the air ¦ so is anti-love

The celebrity musician zeitgeist got a workout this week with multiple hook-ups and break-ups. In one corner we have Kelly Pickler and Carlos Santana getting hitched (not to each other) and Selena Gomez getting with the Biebs. In the other corner, John Mellencamp announced his divorce from Elaine Irwin and Taylor Swift and Jake Gyllenhaal split. Love wins by a hair (a Bieber hair, the most powerful kind).

The Bad

Chuck Berry collapses onstage during Chicago concert

Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry collapsed onstage in Chicago on New Year’s Day as his guitar was being tuned before the show started. After being rushed off stage, the 84-year-old legend returned 15 minutes later and tried to pick up his guitar to play. A man approached Berry and escorted him back offstage. Finally Berry returned to apologize to fans for being too weak to perform. They’re afraid I’ll do my scoot, he explained. Berry’s rep later reported that the singer was suffering from exhaustion.

The Ugly

Will Oldham attacks Bill and Melinda Gates Charity Foundation

Will Oldham

Bonnie Prince Billy wasn’t so bonny in an interview with Fogged Clarity this week. The man behind the alternative folk act, Will Oldham, had a lot to say about the ulterior motives behind Mr. and Mrs. Gates charity efforts. His take on Bill Gates thought process went thusly: I want to eradicate cholera, so I can get another motherfucker to buy my computer. We’re not sure that third-world kids will be rushing to the nearest Best Buy to buy a Dell, but what do we know?

Courtney Love’s tweets lead to defamation lawsuit

Courtney Love

After Courtney Love was asked to pay up for custom clothing made for her by designer Dawn Simorangkir, the singer reacted with her characteristic grace, calling the designer a drug-pushing prostitute on her Twitter page. Now Love is being sued for defamation of character. The trial is set for February. Hope one of those bespoke garments is proper courtroom attire.


Hip Hop Habit: Mick Lawrence

A transitional year in the world of hip hop, 1998 straddled the change from the gangster rap of the mid 90s to the epidemic of suburban white boy rappers  in the early ’00s. There were many notable releases to drop that year (Jay-Z, Lauryn Hill, OutKast, DMX), but nothing that gripped the nation quite like their predecessors’ efforts years before or their heirs’ creations to come. Yet, regardless of what occurred in the mainstream hip hop world during those 365 days, 1998 still remains the very year this week’s HHH featured artist Mick Lawrence took up a hobby that would eventually turn into his lifelong passion.

A product of a lesser known Jacksonville ( in North Carolina, not Florida), Mick’s mission is to conquer the fake one hit wonders plaguing hip hop today with the realness his lyricism brings to the table. Ambitious yes, but if there’s a particularly advantageous place to begin that battle it’s with a piece like Eulogy, a song about as real as they come. Opening with a bleak synth triad loop that sets the tone for the grim speech that follows, Mr. Lawrence proceeds to lecture on the unwritten rules of the streets through a non-chronological narrative about a casualty of the game named Marcus. Part urban legend, part hauntingly realistic, Mick tells his story with the wisdom of an old ghetto mystic who’s seen it all, further lending the credit of authenticity (and in this case, fright) to his work, as the chorus warns I hear them say patience is a virtue/ it’s easy to lie but a lie might hurt you/ careful who you talk to in your circle/ it’d be the last man that you think might murk you.

Mick Lawrence OurStage Hip Hop HabitThe dark clouds part in Brainstorming as Mick sheds light on the brighter patches of his history. His adoration for hip hop shines through in lines like I’d rather die doin’ what I love then to die without tryin’ sayin’ ˜aw because’, as does a slim portion of his philosophy and current state of mind: Life is short/ I’m just trying to hold down the fort/ hopin’ this last shot I make it in from half court/ hopin’ that light burnin’ over there’s a flame torch/ guiding me like a ship/ out the ocean to the port. A down home anthem at its core, Lawrence uses Brainstorming as a vehicle to make localized shout outs to everyone from corner bootleggers to area BBQ joints and expresses remorse over the divisions money has wedged in friendships, all the while vowing to right them and beat the system together as a team. The backing soundtrack is of course warm and fuzzy, as a fat bass interplays with chirping, soulful strings, contributing to the overall mood of nostalgia and optimism for the future.

Parallel to his growth as an artist has been his development as a businessman, a journey that now sees him sitting atop the label he’s created, Black Page Entertainment. As his music will express, success hasn’t always come easy, but his vision is more focused now than ever before and will likely see him continue on his upward path until it peaks. He’s already accomplished such feats as landing a Top 10 award for this summer’s Drake “Thank Me Later” competition, so listen to his material and let us know how far you think he’ll go in the comments!

Hip Hop Habit: Yes Lord

Hip Hop Habit LogoAs a man with familial connections to Northern Philadelphia, I’ll be the first to tell you the day-to-day existence there is less than rosy. Needless to say, growing up in that environment is tough, but surviving it with the goal of becoming rap’s next superstar? That’s downright ambitious. Luckily for Yes Lord (born Jamal Tillery), ambition is innate.  Although Tillery bounced in and out of trouble as a teen and had difficulty staying in the same school for an extended period of time, he found his drive after attending college. Since then, he has churned that motivation into 1 BA , 2 MBAs and even runs his own businesses. The music? Well you could say that’s pretty ambitious too.

As is often the case with singles these days, the song Yes Lord’s received the most recognition for here on OurStage is not his strongest. Winning first prize in last November’s Converse Get Out of the Garage Urban Competition, the tongue and cheek Hold Me Down blithely describes the emcee’s adoration for the lady in his life over a moderate beat that leaves listeners asking for more. What’s important to note about this piece is that it carries a trait resoundingly present in much of Tillery’s content: desire. As noted above, Yes Lord has proven himself to be a very motivated person, and once he wraps his mind around what he wants, there’s no stopping him. Such is audible in Hold Me Down, where it’s heard through the satisfaction of successfully pursuing the woman he loves. However, his dream chasing really gets inspiring is in ghetto-documenting Life in the City

Yes LordThis track follows the one time delinquent down both the rabbit hole of drug addiction and the rare yet resilient comeback. Opening with promising vocals from featured singer Jeremie Morris over an ironically calming beat, the slow tempo automatically places Yes Lord’s tone into a category of resolve; he’s not happy with the present but he’s confident in what the future can hold. But, if there’s any truth to Slug’s (of Atmosphere) line Junkies won’t bounce ˜till they hit the ground then Tillery provides the supporting evidence. Referring to himself as a coke sniffer, chain smoker, perk popper, and weed mover, it’s safe to say he was going nowhere fast: Graduation nah I was agitated/ and fascinated with dice as they scratched the pavement passing payments/ cash that was actually tainted/ crack acquainted/ marijuana sacks is flaming. After a bust introduces him to rock bottom, Tillery uses a new year as fuel to power his goals of replenishing cash flow and doubling up on real estate.  His story is truly moving.

With enough earned business know-how to run his career independently, it’s pretty safe to say that Yes Lord controls his own destiny. He’s won various awards and performed at multiple hip hop events, but time will show these things were just steps along the way to the big time. Check his tracks out in the player below, and let us know if he enthuses you in the comments!