I typically wouldn’t do an Inside feature on a “mixtape”, but as I told Naledge and his right hand man Dra, this is more than a mixtape…this is an album. But we just can’t technically call it an album For technical reasons, of course.
Last night I dropped by Mike Kolar’s Soundscape Studios to check out Naledge’s latest opus, The Chicago Picasso, tentatively scheduled for a June release. Hosted by a power trio of DJ’s: RTC , Timbuck 2 and Mick Boogie, and set to be released by Duck Down Records (home of Kidz in the Hall) via iTunes, The Chicago Picasso features all new material, freestyles and skits that set this “mixtape” apart from other projects in the same category.
Now, listening to material with the artist or producer in attendance is always an advantage and an added bonus (not to mention a few cups of Gentleman Jack), as you can really get into the mind of what the emcee was thinking when they created it. I doubt I will do it justice, but Naledge was able to vividly paint a picture of every song and concept on The Chicago Picasso. He described every song with precision point detail, and explained that each track was like a different portrait in an art gallery – each one sets a different mood or emotion, dealing with everything from love, to sex, to living in the projects. But the project is really Jabari Evan’s view of the world as a young, black man from the City of Chicago, and how he sees the world. Let’s get into it.
Focus feat. Rhymefest (Prod. by Xcel)
Naledge has so much material in the vaults, in fact over half a terabyte (according to Mike Kolar), and a lot of it sounds like it was recorded yesterday. Enter “Focus” featuring El Che, an Xcel-produced track recorded a short while back. The Brainiac kicks a crazy verse with ‘Fest coming in at the end giving fans that true revolutionary talk. There’s a great story behind ‘Fest’s verse, but I’m not sure I can share that here. Sorry. Treated.
Starstruck feat. J. Ivy (Prod. by Sa-Ra)
Yes, you read that correctly. Naledge over a Sa-Ra beat. And it’s fire. And it’s the first single. This track is as smooth as the day is long. Actually, someone needs to send that to me for my own listening pleasure ASAP.
Viva El Fantastico feat. Mickey Factz
A space age production from Brainiac Society producers Nez & Rio. These kids are crazy with it. You know how the Neptunes used to sound back when they were all cutting edge and did street-ish tracks? This is Nez and Rio. Naledge and Mickey Factz trade bars on this one, and Bari the Brain even has the New Yorker claiming he’s “Flickin” on the chorus. Hilarious.
Southside Shit feat. GLC & Fooch (Prod. by Analogic)
An ode to the side of Chicago that raised all three emcees on the track. One thing I will say about this mixtape album is that Naledge and company were really able to capture that “Chicago Sound” that many artists have abandoned in this day and age. He hits the nail on the head with this track. It even features one of GLC’s hilarious 1:00-long rants at the end of the song. Rotate.
Futuristic Shit feat. Vandylism (Prod. by Nez & Rio)
Another track with the authentic Chicago feel to it. I really can’t describe it, but you know it once you hear it. Naledge’s wordplay and lyrical acrobats just keep improving with age. Nez & Rio are crazy with the tracks, too.
Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous (Prod. by Nez & Rio)
A very introspective track, focusing on the pitfalls of what most humans will do in order to be famous. Everyone has a story and here Naledge tells every side of it. A lot of people leave Chicago to become famous, but it doesn’t always work out in their favor. Deep thoughts.
In My Own World feat. Mick Luter & Fooch (Prod. by Picnic)
A straight cypher track. Lots of bars on this one. Who murdered who, though? You’ll have to be the judge once this one comes out. Fury.
Brother’s Keeper feat. Vic Spencer
Maybe it was the way Naledge described the track, or maybe it was Vic Spencer’s verse, but somehow this ended up becoming my favorite song on the mixtape (at least upon first listen). Naledge: “It’s like if you take a picture of the projects in black and white, it’s always gonna look dope, even though that the people in those projects might not think it’s dope….It’s frozen in time and is classic.” Nuff said.
Look At Them Hips (Remix) feat. Bun-B, Curren$y & Bighomie DOE
The remix to the strip club-tested track that leaked a few months ago. Naledge was able to secure verses from heavy hitters Bun-B and Curren$y (who has a standout verse, I might add) and newcomer Bighomie DOE, who has been getting some serious looks lately. Certified dope. Look for it to be coming soon to a Gentlemen’s Club near you. Hopefully not within Chicago city limits, though. Because then they’d have to wear pasties if you want to drink.
I’ll close out by saying that this is a project you’ll want to check out if you want to be taken back to that old Common/Southside/No ID sound. Granted, I didn’t hear the entire mixtape (there are over 20 songs), but if they all sound like this, it can’t lose. I also got to hear some of the new Kidz In The Hall project (sorry Double O), but that’s all I can really say about that.