Has-Lo & Castle: Live Like You’re Dead [Album Review]

Has-Lo & Castle

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A nonchalant macabre quote from Malcolm X is heard, and one imagines Philly’s Has-Lo and North Carolina’s Castle mouthing “I don’t give a fuck” in time with the funky keys and guitars that open Live Like You’re Dead. The two emcees had previously collaborated on Castle’s Gasface album, and they take turns rhyming and producing LLYD, save for one production credited to Arcka. “Yoga Pants” is a tune to keep the smile up with references to Black Twitter and working at Shoney’s sounding novel. Already, I have to check the tracklist and make sure that I’m not listening to some lost Native Tongues shit. It’s not entirely that flavor of jazz-hop, but it shares the same good-natured ease of Tribe or De La Soul circa ’91.

Sometimes the beats sound like the progression of De La’s “He Comes” as Has-Lo mixes forcefulness and laziness with lines like “Double on me like alimony, with a side of child support.” I also hear some MellowHype in there, especially on “Agassi & Ashe.” The Arcka-produced “D.L.S.” contains a line from Castle that I have to share with the disclaimer that it made me once laugh and then immediately feel incredibly ashamed: “Hard like a retard trying to spell indictment.” I’m a weak man, but I am not scared to admit that I double-checked my own spelling of indictment. “D.L.S.” is a good listen, with Has adding in a few choice bars of his – “Another bloody-ass act/the Honey and Jack” and “Can’t spell chromosome without that chrome” – among those that I predict I will rattle off as non sequiturs to particularly understanding friends. These are the same friends who smiled and told me to shut up when I tried to make them listen to CunninLynguists’ “Fukinwichu,” so maybe I need new friends.

While there’s nothing overwhelming, LLYD‘s fresh and the musicians are skilled enough to keep the proceedings from becoming stagnant. One of the biggest surprises was “The Big Ol’ Ass.” From the title, I thought it would be a comprehensive discourse on the ineffectiveness of FEMA as compared to racial and socio-economic demographic analysis, so you can imagine my amazement when I figured out it was actually about butts. The beat was excellent, some early “Welcome 2 Detroit” style J Dilla vibes to be had there. I also hear a happier version of Edan’s sampling technique throughout the record.

While the general theme here is goofy joy, Has-Lo proved on In Case I Don’t Make It that he can embrace his own tendrils of darkness. The duo gets into a similar, although not as severe mood on “Stubborn Vice,” which sounds like it was produced by Oddisee even though I know it isn’t. Mello Music Group artists mesh together very well, and the fact this album sounds as good as it does is tribute to that.

I know I’ve heard the main sample in “The Uncomfortable Truth About Stardom” before. Maybe your boy is trying too hard to prove his point, but I’m very sure that Chanson’s “D’Un Jour D’Hiver” was also sampled by Left Brain for MellowHype’s “Loco.” When Has-Lo dropped his “Gave a lot of energy/everybody stared” line, I let out an audible “damn” that bothered the person across the room of this library where I sit to type. The Has/Cas track in question is about the fool’s paradise inherent in trying to be a “rap star” or whatever the nomenclature (Mogul? Idol? Rap God, Em?) is preferred in the current moment. It’s curious to me as I can’t see either one of these gents blowing up to the levels of a Meek Mill or even a Chingy. They’re not about the same goals, and they might as well not be in the same business, at least for purposes of comparison; almost sorry that I went there.

The title track is the manifesto for the release, an exhortation to the listener to get out of the house. In this sense, it serves as a higher-brow version of Murphy Lee’s “Gods Don’t Chill” from Derrty’s criminally underrated Murphy’s Law. Seems weird to put it so late in the album, as it contains so much energy that the remaining two tracks are set up to be afterthoughts. Shame too, because “Off the Bench” is a vintage Mello collaboration and reminds your smiling author of Has-Lo’s “Maxell-UR.” It’s one of the best tracks on the album, but it would have brought the album more balance if it were placed before the title track and preferably towards the beginning of the album.

Check out Live Live You’re Dead out if you want to listen to rappers who care about topping the verse they just wrote. Castle sounds like a sort of Busta Rhymes who faithfully takes his Ritalin, and Has-Lo has raised himself even higher in my regard. I’m waiting for Has to drop a proper sequel to Conversation B, which was a somewhat of a proper sequel to In Case I Don’t Make It. It’s almost redundant at this point, but Mello Music Group has once again found two artists who play well with each other and created a dope release.

A nonchalant macabre quote from Malcolm X is heard, and one imagines Philly’s Has-Lo and North Carolina’s Castle mouthing “I don’t give a fuck” in time with the funky keys and guitars that open Live Like You’re Dead. The two emcees had previously collaborated on Castle’s Gasface album, and they take turns rhyming and producing LLYD, save for one production credited to Arcka. “Yoga Pants” is a tune to keep the smile up with references to Black Twitter and working at Shoney’s sounding novel. Already, I have to check the tracklist and make sure that I’m not listening to some…

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Has-Lo & Castle: Live Like You’re Dead [Album Review]
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