It’s all my fault, and I’m not being sarcastic
The term “underground rapper” has very loose meaning nowadays. There are so many avenues to discover and collect new music that an “undiscovered” artist hiding in the shadows relegated to being known in only one region of the USA or the world altogether.
NoCanDo, real name James McCall, emerged in LA’s rap scene during Leimert Park’s Open-Mic exhibits and later as a Battle Rapper in the mid to late 2000s. As he continued to collect wins in the circuit, he began transitioning to making music. He released several EPs and appeared with fellow Leimert Park and Project Blowed veterans on wax before finally putting out his debut album “Jimmy the Lock” in 2010. He began the label “Hellfyre Club” with a few emcees out of the LA underground and actually released Anderson.Paak’s EP “Cover Art” (which first started pointing attention Paak’s way) through said label in 2013.
The label seemed to be on the up and up, containing many LA standouts like Open Mike Eagle, Busdriver, the aforementioned Paak, and milo. They even released a full length collaborative project to showcase the label’s versatility and reach with 2013’s “Dorner vs. Tookie”. Things would soon falter roughly a year later when disputes regarding the production and promotion of milo’s “A Toothpaste Suburb” album arose which resulted in, well, severed ties between Hellfyre Club, milo, Busdriver and Open Mike Eagle. While there never really seemed to be bad blood between Driver, OME and NoCan, Driver spoke on the issue by saying Hellfyre had its time and it was time to move forward. Since that time frame, NoCan has gone through his own personal struggles, such as divorce, while also achieving new heights, such as writing songs for “Empire” and more. “Severed” is conceptually, a nice culmination of the anger, frustration, newfound realization of reality and the American Dream.
Of all the artists that used to reside in NoCan’s circle, I always felt like he had the best chance to “make it big” because his style is the most digestible from a mainstream standpoint. He’s gritty, relies heavily on punchlines, but has enough of a storytelling element in his music that things don’t become boring or repetitive. He’s not necessarily a jack of all trades, he just does a few trades really well and he showcases that on this project. That being said, he gets a little more out there on this project, showcasing a little more of that anger and resorting to outright yelling on a few of the tracks.
El Camino might be my favorite song on the album, and definitely the heart of the project to me. Per HipHopDX:
“I made ‘Severed’ at a time when my relationship with my wife — my high school sweetheart and the mother of my three children — was coming to an end,” Nocando explained in a press release. “This was right around the time the rap crew side of my record Label Hellfyre Club began to disband and when I split from my business partners at Low End Theory of more than a decade. Plus, I was broke as fuck. The songs on ‘Severed’ are more personal, more vulnerable than anything I’d made before. The battle rap braggadocio that I held dear for so many years melted away. Every piece of my personal life was ripped apart and rearranged. I had no choice but to rebuild from the ground up.”
The album itself feels like a step in the right direction for NoCan, it feels cohesive, as if he’s processing one central theme as opposed to his first two albums. That’s not to knock those two albums, they were both solid in their own right (personally, Jimmy the Burnout is my favorite of his), but they felt like a collection of songs rather than an overarching theme or feel. He’s improved as an artist, pulled a little off the punchlines to tell his story. If you’ve never heard of NoCan or any of his music, this album might be rough as you might not have a feel for why he’s even telling his story, but it’s still a nice story to hear.
Least Favorite Tracks:
Final Thoughts & Rating:
“Severed” tells an important story in James McCall’s life and we’ll look back at this as a pretty major album in his development, should he continue down this path. He’s older, introspective, and able to understand that he’s as much at blame for what has transpired the last few years as everyone else. He’s willing to grow from it and you can feel that in this album. It can be better, but it could be much worse. 6.5/10
You can find “Severed” on iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify or any other streaming service you might use. Spotify link is below: