AWKWORD featuring MarQ Spekt, T.Shirt & Kel Spencer – “Before Before”

I like this track. It feels as though Awkword said to his counterparts, “Define your version of ‘before,'” and each delivered their own interpretation. Awkword opens with a series of current events from the past decade or so, along with a few hints at his own personal hurdles. MarQ Spekt follows with a different approach, detailing more abstract and cerebral concepts surrounding the meaning of “before.” Then T.Shirt chimes in with his life before the music, who he was, what he did, and how he did it. Finally, Kel Spencer takes a historical approach, highlighting the before way before there even was a before. Get the message? Good. Now listen to the song. Awkword’s career is going straight up, so check him and his brethren out now so you can say you knew them all “before before.” – Kathy Iandoli (@kath3000)

Listen to “Before Before” by AWKWORD f. MarQ Spekt, T.Shirt & Kel Spencer

Martin Sky – “Invitation”

Not only is Chicago emcee Martin Sky “different than a simple-ass rapper with a passion for Black & Milds and gun sounds,” he also has the music video to beat for the rest of 2012 thanks to Visual Mecca Entertainment. First off it helps that Martin spits lines that begin at the edge of the atmosphere and seconds later drop us straight into a ratty couch. “The sun making out with the horizon, the blunt to the roach and I just got finished writing.” While we’ve heard recent “Cloud Rap” artists attempt the same juxtapostions, Martin’s “Invitation” is the first track that has been given visuals that are on the same peyote-fueled orbit through the cosmos as the rhymes. With Visual Mecca in the driver’s seat and some ski masks turned into makeshift green screens, we get a tye-dyed psychedelic trip  projected directly onto the faces of Martin and his crew. This is offset by footage filmed in black-and-white with a splash of setting sun. Add to that some falling stars and mirror image footage of Martin over more purple-drenched space footage and you get sequences that look like cough syrup was spilled on Parliament’s Mothership Connection album cover. Visual Mecca and Martin Sky were able to join forces and create something both brilliant sounding and brilliant looking that can’t be summed up in print. Now there’s one more step required to finish the cycle…you hitting play. – Michael Sheehan

Shawn Pen featuring Malik Yusef & Styles P – “About That Life”

It’s hard to endure a 20-plus-year career in Rap. Formerly known as “Little Shawn” and signed to Capitol Records in the early ’90s, Shawn Pen sounds (and produces) better than ever in his latest work. “About That Life” is a nice balance of street-supported wisdom with creative imagery. G.O.O.D Music affiliate Malik Yusef delivers some powerful poetry, while the chorus embodies tough-guy soul. Styles seals it with the type of verses he’s known for. This is stop-and-go traffic music, and one of the finer offerings I heard this week, amidst all the headlines of guys trying to “be about that life.” – Jake Paine (@Citizen__Paine)

Listen to “About That Life” by Shawn Pen featuring Malik Yusef & Styles P

RELATED: Shawn Pen Speaks About The Quad Studios Attack On Tupac, His History With Bad Boy And Roc-A-Fella Records [2011 INTERVIEW]