Reviewed by: Ryan McLelland

I make no secret that I’m not the biggest fan of hip hop these days.  I try to avoid it like the plague especially when I hear the name like “Drake” or “Post” or “Malone” or whatever.  They should just call themselves “Crappy Crap.”  Actually I’m sure someone out there may have taken that name already.  Probably a wise move and they probably have 6 million spins over on Spotify.

I think that independent rap is the rap that will save hip hop and I truly hope that indy rap will rise up and take over whatever the hell hip hop actually is these days.  Trenton’s resident punk singer turned rapper Ray Strife is helping to bring great rap back to the masses.  He teamed with Ill-Omega last year for an EP titled “Preface: I Will Never Be Beautiful” – an album that I really liked a lot.  After reviewing that album (which you can read by clicking here) I really couldn’t wait to hear what Ray Strife would come up with next.

It’s been a year and it was very much worth the wait.  Ray Strife once again teamed with beatmaker Ill-Omega for the full length album Go For The Gusto.  While the Preface EP was good (I gave it a rating of A-), Go For The Gusto completely blows that EP out of the water.  This entire album is fucking genius from front to back.  It shows the mastery of beats by Ill-Omega who keeps you bobbing your head in amazement all the way through, while Ray Strife’s flow is second to none.    This shit is an instant classic.

Ray Strife’s flow can be compared favorably (or perhaps unfavorably if you don’t like it) to early Eminem, back when that rapper was really raw.  Eminem used to bring you into his songs and made you feel like you were there with him as he was writing.  It felt like you were in his head.  I feel the same way about Strife on this album.  His flow is similar at times to Em, but he brings you right into each song as vivid thoughts fill your mind.  As you listen it feels like you become a part of each track and that is damn impressive.

There is a multitude of guest rappers all over this album but, for the most part, I really love when Ray Strife is rapping on his own.  There’s some great tracks that he raps on by himself which include The Aging Punk, The Reason, Ugh, Cotton Weary, and Shane Falco (props for naming a song Shane Falco – seeing that made me think I’d love this album right away.  I was not wrong).  These five songs are amongst the best of the album and they are songs that I found myself repeating over and over again, not wanting to go on to the next song.

Now my favorite two songs actually have guest stars so I like that the album is able to balance my desire to listen to Strife on his own and getting some great tracks with other artists.  There is a posse track here called Pass the Mic which features Strife with Rich Quick, Big Breakfast, and Juicy Karkass.  The track has a vibe that reminds me of Tribe’s Steppin’ It Up (which probably dates me quite a bit) and I love the back and forth as an MC grabs the mike, spits his lines, and passes the mic to the next rapper.  Juicy Karkass is the last rapper to grab the mike and he truly steals the show.  His bars are perhaps the best on the entire album and he had me not only amazed but laughing as well.  I’ve never heard of Juicy Karkass before but he’s instantly found a new fan and I must find everything else he has ever put out.

The other huge standout is a track titled Don’t Wait Up.  This song doesn’t have Strife sharing bars with any other rapper but it does feature Molly Rhythm’s Nikki Nailbomb on the chorus.  The beats are fantastic, the rhymes phenomenal, and Nikki Nailbomb’s kickass vocals really elevate the song above many on the album.  I like Molly Rhythm and think that the group itself has some major talent, but Nikki Nailbomb is really able to break out on her own to show how badass she is.  Proof is right here as Don’t Wait Up is a track that you can listen to over and over and over again.  My god Nikki Nailbomb can fucking wail.

The other guest rappers (like Rocky, A Mankind Complex, RayRay Beats, Headtrip, DJ it’s just Ahmad, Kahlil Ali, and more) are welcome additions to Go For The Gusto though, once again, I seem to prefer the tracks where Ray Strife can just do his thing without having to worry about giving a couple bars to another rapper.  There is another standout rapper on the album and that is Trenton’s Roebus One, who comes in on back-to-back tracks Grandkids and Finishing Touches.  Roebus One’s vocals make him stand right out the second you hear him and having him on back-to-back tracks really shows the power of this great MC.  When the next song after these two hits, I was kind of sad that he was gone.  He’s another rapper from this album that I’ll have to go check out.

Is there any bad here?  No, not really.  This album really flows from front to back really well and there truly isn’t a bad song on the album.  Ill-Omega does a great job throwing his name in here and there so in case you forget who made all of these sick ass beats, he is more than happy to remind the listener.  I think if there is a downside it is some dialogue used throughout the album that comes from movies and TV shows.  Why is that bad?  It really isn’t since this is an independent release but I hope it doesn’t hinder Go For The Gusto in finding a bigger audience.  I don’t know if this stuff can be played/sold on Spotify or iTunes since I’m certain Strife didn’t get permission to use lines from South Park or Rick and Morty.  Again – just a very small gripe because I think this album deserves a huge audience and doesn’t deserve to be hindered in any way.

Go For The Gusto goes right back to those old school rap albums I used to love listening to from front to back in the nineties.  It really makes me believe that hip hop can be great again, even if you need to seek out independent artists like Ray Strife to hear some truly excellent rap music.  This album is a must own for any hip hop fan, especially for those who are tired of listening to shitty crap this is out on the market today.  Ray Strife and Ill-Omega are here to save us all.  Thank God for that.

RATING: A+

You can find Go For The Gusto (and more Ray Strife releases) at: https://raymondstrife.bandcamp.com/album/go-for-the-gusto

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