Angelo Mota, “Crystal Avenue” Review

(This piece was originally published through TeamBackPack.net.  It is republished here in it’s original form. TeamBackPack, the Truest Platform.)

Is there a single art scene in the world more crowded with quality content than the underground hip-hop community in New York City and the surrounding territories?  Probably not, but that hasn’t stopped a younger generation of top tier rapping purists and genuine artists working out of the five boroughs and surrounding areas from stepping into the ring and offering their contribution to hip-hop music and culture.  Angelo Mota is such a voice, and on Crystal Avenue, Mota proves that he has something to say and a unique talent for speaking in a tone that transcends the saturated New New York Sound.  

Listen to Crystal Avenue cover to cover if you haven’t already, and see what Angela Mota has to contribute to Underground Hip-hop

I’ll clear the air and admit from the jump that Crystal Avenue doesn’t sound much like most underground hip-hop mixtapes.  For one, the production is crisp and clear, mostly influenced or directly created by Mota’s own developing hand behind the boards.  And you can’t miss the wider concepts and narrative themes that make this 2015 release sound more like a full album than a typical tape.  But it’s this kind of atypical and hard to characterize approach to music that has made dozens of projects in the past months, from Acid Rap to Civilia, sound more like fully delivered albums than throw away “mixtape material.”  “Almost famous” ish: if Moto is going to make it big, it will be as his own artist.  

From the first track “love my life,” it’s clear that Mota isn’t interested in handling the same old subject matter with the same old hip-hop tricks.  The tracks echoing chorus is at once highly self-aware and touchingly self effacing: “Man I love my fucking life / let’s be hopeful, let’s be high / let’s be ignorant and blind / let’s be children all the time.”  If the semi-sarcastic delivery didn’t cue you off, the sonically shaking “yeah right” following each happy hook should help you listen carefully.  Yes, the production feels bouncy and upbeat and Mota is rapping about all the reasons he “loves his life,” but it’s clear that there is a lot more nuance and darkness in that love than most people Mota’s age usually confront; “loving you is complicated.”  

Angelo Mota knows how to write songs that carry universal themes but sound unique.  See: “I Love You.”

As the project’s themes develop, Mota’s self deprecating and tragically self-aware relationship to his own art and life are put front and center again and again.  Standout single “I Love You” sounds a lot more like a break-up song than the straight-forward “young rapper, young love” track that you might expect from that cliche’d title.  “Another night not alone” is a great example of Mota’s more obviously depressed and depressing song writing, but even as the New Jersey MC croons “I just miss you, I can’t help it,” the track’s production and melody sound like something Chance or Gambino would turn into a bright and uplifting neo-soul genre bender.  

But despite the lure of potential widespread commercial viability, and an obvious ability to write original songs on any subject and in any tone, Mota consistently resists the temptation to tell a happy story that isn’t his.  For every song on Crystal Avenue written in a major key or sporting organic and “upbeat” production, there’s a dozen references to drug abuse and self hate.  For every braggadocios line channeled straight from the young male ego, there are twenty doubting reflections on life, love, darkness, light, and all of the kinds of themes that you don’t hear young voices reflecting on deeply often enough.  

You don’t have to believe that Angela Mota is one of the best Underground Hip-hop voices coming out of New Jersey.  But after listening to Crystal Avenue, there’s an argument to be made.  

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Yes, Mota has a young voice.  Yes, his music is deliciously dark and deep without being overbearing, and communicates something instantly relatable in Mota’s eloquent handling of the scariest elements of an adult artist’s lifestyle.  Yes, his songwriting is at once musically complex and entirely accessible, but none of that provides the “it” factor that makes Crystal Avenue a success.

Angelo Mota’s music is undeniably good because it is undeniably his own.  That’s underground hip-hop done right: unique art with unique heart.

Mota knows he has a unique and talented voice, and isn’t afraid to defend it.  What’s more NYC hip-hop than that?

Looking deeper at “Crystal Avenue,” the thumping and ambient title track for the project, it’s clear that Mota’s work is about a lot more than cloud inspired hooks and accessible beats.  Here’s a look at some of my favorite lyrics:

Reincarnation of Jimmy, Fuck with me /

Tread past just like gum on his shoe /

Get stuck quickly, turna  dollar and a dream /

To a guap and a buck fifty

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Look, I get that every rapper worth his salt can rap about how dope they are and how much bread they stack.  But someone told me recently: hip-hop ain’t told in novels, it’s told in songs.  Subject matter only takes you so far.  Everyone can talk about their swag and their cash, but Mota proves, again, that tired themes can always feel fresh with the right use of the write words.

This my affidavit, I tried to read up on some Plato /

Tried to master phrasing /

And it don’t take a fucking party song to master statements /

I wrote it by the track between the grass and the pavement

Yup.  There are a lot of layers here.  From some nice wordplay (track like a song, track like a football field at the high school you lost your virginity at,) to some unique references (not many rappers talk about Plato these days,) to a look at his own art (you already mastered phrasing, Angelo,) to some nice statements and some nuanced storytelling, this short pack of bars has it all.

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And that’s Crystal Avenue in a nutshell; this project kind of has it all, like actually.  (Top tierhip-hop visuals too.)

The features are few, but strategic (shout out to Siimba always).  The details are all there, from some interesting and forward thinking mixing that highlights Mota’s duality with top tier sonic curation to the well composed and loose narrative outlined through Crystal Avenue’s series of very brief skits.  The big picture components are all polished, from Mota’s unique and complex flow to the project’s consistently dope bars and rhyme schemes, to the young MC’s incredibly developed artistic voice.  The songwriting is lush, the hooks are appropriate if not always simple enough to get stuck in your head.  I should stop the fanboying before developing a full blown Mota Standom, because ultimately, no art is perfect.  

But if you are looking for a perfect introduction to underground hip-hop from New Jersey, Angelo Mota gives listeners just that with a unique voice on 2015’s Crystal Avenue, this week’s Mixtape Monday showcase.  

 

Thank You, Artists.

Thank you for “Through the Wire.” The first time I heard that goofy sizzurp/bizerk line, I knew we’d get along just fine for a good long while. Thank you for “Late Orchestration;” thank you for the heart and soul in “Roses,” in Heartbreaks. For that deeply perfect, perfectly flawed modern psycho-analytic masterpiece that is “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” I thank you again on the weekly with every listen-through. And for what it took out of you to make all that, to deliver again and again on the highest level, to push your limits and constantly influence the aesthetic of an entire generation of artists and innovators, to create deeply and truly from your unique and damaged genius; deeply, truly, thank you.

The Masses have been quick to crucify you, but I’ve seen pain in your eyes for a long time now. It can’t be easy to be God famous all day every day. It can’t be easy to carry the weight of expectations, heaviest your own, through the sea of depression and paparazzi and power-lust fulfilled and ambitious self-destruction and drugs and money. It wasn’t easy for Kurt Cobain, either. So, uh, thanks. I know it hasn’t been easy. I know you’ve given a lot.

We’ve seen pain in your eyes for a long time now. Thank you for creating in defiance of that pain.

Sometimes we just need to slow down, take it easy, light up, ease off. Breath deep. Remember what we are grateful for. Today, I’m grateful for Kanye and all his music has given me. Can’t wait for the comeback, ‘Ye. I’m thankful for what 7 fuckin classics took out of Yeezy, for all he had to give, and for his tireless devotion to creating that always meant there wasn’t any other option. To every other artist, following their dreams and inspiring my own through the revolutionary act of creating, I owe you the same thanks.

Thanks for making art this raw.

Thank you for the music. The REAL fuckin music you make, the from the heart and in the streets and authentic to you grimy political boundary-pushing passion-crafted art you make, that shit deserves gratitude. Thank you for holding your head high and doing what you feel you were born to do. Thanks for not giving up when it’s always easier to give up. Thanks for creating, inspiring, thinking, feeling, seeing, making, crafting, speaking, raising your voice, organizing, art-ing.

Thanks for everything you do.

Whatever you are making, whatever you make it for, WHEREver you are making, know your art has value and that you change the world every time you bring a part of yourself into existence. Thank you.

And for all it takes out of you, Jesus Christ, thank you. I know rent ain’t cheap. I know that you don’t sleep enough, that you struggle with demons, that you just want to drink or watch T.V. or run-away some times. And I know that you create anyways because that’s what makes the darkest parts of your heart lighter. Thank you for giving us a part of yourself. Thank your for loving your art first and always.

Thank you for songs this important.

It’s discouraging sometimes, I know, when you like you’ve given everything and nobody gives a fuck. Trust me, we care. We’re grateful.

From Yeezy to the dude down your street rapping in his microphone in Mama’s basement, I’m grateful for everything that every artists gives me. This world makes more sense thanks to the things that you make. This world is less gray because you speak from your soul and create from your heart. Thank you. Keep ya head up, champ. We’re all grateful.

Agree with anything in this post?  Share this article with an artist that you are thankful for today.

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ARTISTS:  I’m offering 50% off on all of my “Artists Services” through 1/1/2017.  My way of saying “thanks” for all you do.  

5 Ways To Support Your Favorite Underground Hip-hop Artist Beyond A “Like”

underground hip-hop

I don’t care if it’s Tech N9ne signing his name on a million Strangers’ titties or Def-i responding to every Facebook comment on his fan page’s timeline; working underground hip-hop artists on every level depend on the same thing for their survival. The support of their fans. And as a fan of hip-hop, it’s in your best interest to support the bejeezus out of every artist whose music you enjoy.

If you want your favorite underground hip-hop artists to make music, support their dreams.  

But what’s “support” really mean?  Here’s a bit of news that shouldn’t serve as a wake up call to too many of you: “liking” your favorite rapper’s page or favoriting their latest tweet is peanuts.

Truly supporting hip-hop art takes more work than that. Here are five things you can do as a fan of underground hip-hop to more meaningfully and productively support your favorite artists.

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1. Spread The Music In Person

This past year, my New Year’s Resolution was to only play local underground hip-hop artists that I know in person and rock with on a personal level whenever the AUX chord comes my way. As a result, dozens of homies now name KWG among their favorite West Coast MCs and slide a track or two by Lost, the Artist or Notrotious next to Chance and Gambino on their own playlists.

That can cause a ripple effect, but it has much more impact than just helping the dude down the street who raps rack up a couple plays on SoundCloud.

Ultimately, artists like Tech only succeed in the long term because every Technician feels personally invested in Strangeland’s unique story. That kind of bond is only very rarely created through a digital exchange; Nina himself built his empire on years and years of touring and countless personal contacts.

Sitting a friend down and showing them an artist you really care about can recreate a shade of that personal experience, and give your homie a more unique reason to check out the rappers you ride for than if you just spammed their inbox with music videos. If you’re a DJ or trusted taste maker in your community, even better, but every fan can do their part in spreading the word on a personal and intimate level.

2. Stop Stealing Art You Believe In

Look, I’m not gonna front and pretend like I bought every album in my iTunes library. But if you really believe in the music that your favorite underground hip-hop artist creates, putting your money where your mouth is is hugely important.

When you can, buy albums outright and directly from artists themselves whenever possible. When you can only spare a buck or two, cop the single or donate on Bandcamp.

keep-calm-and-stream-itIf you hunger for more music than your wallet can support, start streaming things on Spotify or watching YouTube videos instead of reaching straight for the torrent search bar. Yeah, your favorite rapper barely makes a fraction of a penny when you stream things on most services, but it still counts for something if you leave that Tidal playlist on a constant loop.

 

“Buy my music, don’t steal it.”  –Vince Staples

Personally, I try to buy one album per month. Usually that’s my favorite drop by anyone from Nas to Jeff Turner to Kendrick Lamar; whatever I’ve listened to the most in a month or has moved me the most, I will support with my hard earned cheddar.

When I can, it’s a physical copy bought straight from the hands of a hungry artist at a merch booth in the back of a dirty bar. Because that’s just how it should be done. Speaking of which…

3. Go To The Fucking Show, Buy The Fucking Merch

Look, for years the headline hasn’t changed: the record industry is broken and dead and never coming back and probably barely worth mourning. Which is why everyone from Chance to Lil B to Alien Family needs YOU, as a fan of underground hip-hop, to step the fuck up.
Go to the fucking show and buy the fucking merch, or your favorite artist will starve and their kids will starve and they will stop rapping and go work at a bank and you will live in a cold and empty world where the only rapping left is corporate and contrived pop-trap and you will cry the late great real spill of yesteryear and you will only have yourself to blame. Yes, it’s that important.

To “raw-1get to the next level,” no matter what level they are currently on, underground hip-hop artists need to prove to venues that they can bring in heads. Go to the show and you get to support your favorite rapper’s ascension to bigger and bigger venues while seeing them do their thing in person. Win-win.

Plus, many of your favorite rappers probably play shows that are way cheaper than you’d assume. I recently saw KRS for fifteen bucks.

There’s NOTHING like seeing your favorite artists live.

And while most venues either give artists a cut of the door or pay them upfront based on how many heads can be expected, going to shows provides you with an even better way to support the art you want to see winning. Buy the fucking merch.

Shut up and do it: walk to the back of that bar and find that table with a stoned roadie or, very often, the artist you believe in in the flesh. Buy a shirt, have a conversation, and put a dollar into an underground hip-hop artist’s pocket all at once. Win-win-win. Maybe someone from Strange will even sign your girlfriend’s jiggly bits.

4. Support Their Wider Presence On The Hip-hop Interwebs

Unless you are a thirteen year old living in 2009, you probably know by now that there are a LOT of cool places around the web beyond Facebook and Twitter. Hip-hop lives in every single one of those places. And one of the most important ways you can support the underground hip-hop artists you love through digital means is checking out where else they reside around the hip-hop internet outside of the basic social media landscape.

giphyPeeping an artist’s website can be a great way to learn more about them and get all of their media and info in one place, but it can also help the artist directly by providing them with web traffic figures that can be leveraged to secure blog placements in the future.

And while you are on their site, jump on that indie rapper’s mailing list to make sure you never miss an important update about their art. Digital numbers like these aren’t as obvious of a way to show your support as a Facebook like, but they can be even more important for the continued success of artists.

Even better than browsing your favorite rapper’s site? Engage with material when they are featured in the media and on hip-hop blogs. If a blog chooses to do a write-up on an underground hip-hop artist that you believe in and that post gets a ton of shares, comments, and interactions, said blog will be more likely to do more write-ups on said artist in the future.

It ain’t rocket science, just another win-win-win that takes moments of your time but can do a ton in securing exposure for music you want to see supported.

5. Go Beyond Basic Social Media Interactions

If these other four ideas all sound like too much effort (and they aren’t, #BUYTHEFUCKINGMERCH) there are plenty of ways you can support good hip-hop quickly and easily through social media beyond a basic “like” on a page or status.

761.gifGenerally, every positive interaction on social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are a good thing since they will lead to greater exposure, but there is a very significant hierarchy to how much support these interactions really translate into on the artist’s end.

On Facebook and Instagram, likes that come immediately or very shortly after material is posted will help those posts have a further “reach” and cross more eyeballs. Comments are even more important in improving the reach of anything that an artist posts, and Shares/Reposts take the cake for being even more significant. Same goes for Twitter: re-tweets are king.

Don’t worry too much about how or why, just get it through your head: a comment and share does a lot more to show your support than clicking that thumb and hoping that a notification and a warm and fuzzy feeling will keep your favorite rapper’s bills paid.

If you really support an artist, SHOW IT.  

The Bottom Line?

It’s not the 90’s, when big labels had big funds to invest in acts like Tupac or Lauryn Hill, acts that could straddle the too often conflicting worlds of commercial success and artistic excellence. It’s not the early 2000’s, when indie legends like MF Doom could count on regular record sales and a deep catalog to keep the lights on.

In this shit-speckled stage in the evolution of the underground hip-hop industry, artists on every level need YOU in order to keep making music.

Which means it’s up to you to do more than just throw a few “likes” around and hope for a better XXL class next year. Support the music you want to see getting made in the hip-hop scene, and the hip-hop scene will keep producing the kinds of music you want to hear. Fail to show your support, and we can expect more Boats, less Writeousness, plain and simple.

It ain’t that hard. Especially if you stop making excuses and put your money where your ears are.

How else can you support underground music? Sound off in the comments below.