Scratched Vinyl Review - Guillotine Crowns - The First Stand 

Written by Chi Chi Thalken on July 30, 2020 

Chicago artist Short Fuze and New York artist Uncommon Nasa have been collaborating off and on for about ten years, but now the’ve decided to officially become a duo, going by the name Guillotine Crowns. Before they release their first full-length album of original material, they present this compilation of their collabs over the years, The First Stand. 

The first thing that hit me in listening to this compilation is that it’s about time that these two officially record as a duo, because this doesn’t feel like a comp – it feels like an album. And that’s because these two are so much on the same page musically, it just makes sense. They have similar deliberate flows on the mic, with a propensity for abstract imagery, and they both sound great on Uncommon Nasa’s left field proggy psychedelic beats. Over the course of this release, we also get some guest appearances from some familiar faces, such as Shortrock, Taiyamo Denku, Augury, Cirrus Minor, Last Sons, and Barrie McClain. My particular favorite is Barrie McClain’s soaring vocals on the majestic “Champions,” which will just get you pumped to do whatever it is you have to do. That’s the beauty of a compilation like this – there’s a good chance you either missed or maybe forgot about at least one of these songs over the years, and now you have a chance to go back and play catch up and uncover a gem or two. Any way you slice it, you’ve got a solid collection of underground hip hop from two artists that really feed off of each other’s energy very well. 

It will be a little bit longer before we get their official first full-length album, so The First Stand makes for a nice setup before it comes. As it reveals, Uncommon Nasa and Short Fuze have been a duo this whole time. 

Title:Guillotine Crowns - The First Stand 

Label:Uncommon Records 



The Riviera Autonomy Music Album Review 

Original Link: The Riviera by Jack

Artist: Short Fuze & Uncommon Nasa 
Album: Autonomy Music 
Record Label: Uncommon Records 
Release Date: 19th July 2016 

There are few in the underground Hip-Hop game who have been as prolific in recent years as Uncommon Nasa. Having been in contact with him for about three years now, a new project is always an exciting prospect- there's always the sense that it'll be a journey, a sort of post-modern re-visitation of ideas and values that are well-cited that then get re-claimed and re-dissected to comply with Nasa's personal achievements and world-view. 

Autonomy Music is Nasa's third collaborative project with fellow New York MC Short Fuze. Nasa sits back and takes control of the production reigns, leaving most of the literary character of this record to Short Fuze, whose dynamic rhyming system and sometimes intensely personal lyrical direction mean that Autonomy Music (more often than not) offers exactly the right amount of feel and atmosphere that one has come to expect from Nasa's ever-widening platform, Uncommon Records. 

The record's first half (save the sample-lead, reflective and re-constructive intro of 'Art Gallery of Autonomy') serves as a more direct helping, whether it be via Fuze's self-deprecating honesty on 'The Darkest Place I've Ever Been' or the gritty, hard-nosed dissonance of 'EMPD'. The production is brilliantly judged at almost every point, and gives enough space for Fuze's laid-back but urgent tones to take the front and centre stage. 

It's on the doom-laden 'Self Distortion' that things begin to get more poetically introspective. "Hell is a ferocious prison", quips Fuze with tangible vulnerability, with Curly Castro coming through with a verse the smacks of loss and disappointment. Though this track (and others before it) re-traces religious iconography, at first it's hard to know whether to take these references as sardonic or not, but on 'Time And Space' any rejection of nihilism is swiftly done away with; "Reaching for the teachings of God, when the hand that feeds is bitten off", jests Fuze cruelly, re-citing the same disdain for spiritual belief on the following 'Addicted to the Horn'. On the penultimate track 'Oddest Future', over Nasa's crushingly stomping boom-bap Fuze is almost reminiscent of Zach De La Rocha in his rapid fire, venomous righteousness. 

Though Autonomy Music doesn't ever really drop the ball in terms of its thematic guidance, there are some less memorable moments. When it's at its absolute peak (the last four songs) it's steam-roller momentum comprised of reflection, personality and lyrical providence offers a vast plain of thought-provoking and musically hard-hitting listening. These days, Uncommon Records has basically become synonymous with esoteric quality. 


Damn That Noise Review  

Original Link: Damn That Noise Review by Ralph Perez

Autonomy Music is the 2nd full-length album from Short Fuze & Uncommon Nasa with the last being 2010’s Lobotomy Music, and it is a ride through internal struggles, depression, and spiritual wrestlings’.Short Fuze is the kind of MC who does not rush through a song layering his lines with vague plays on words as filler, this man is thoughtful, calculated, and sure of his voice. Uncommon Nasa is a skilled and respected MC in his own right, but with this project he has taken a supporting role on the mic, but a Director’s role on the sonic aspect, as the main Producer for the entire project with excellent results collectively. 

If you came into this album hoping to not have to think then you’ve come to the wrong place becauseShort Fuze is going to question your stance on faith and science (“Time & Space”), our adolescent ideologies (“Beggar’s Buffet”), and also getting lyrically fit while paying homage to legends (“EPMD”). I respect MC’s like Fuze because you can hear from songs like the Curly Castro featured “Self-Distortion” that he carefully pens his thoughts out and lays out his vulnerabilities without apprehension, and anyone who can relay lines like “Of Course it’s come down to me and God and how much I’ve missed you. Father, you should’ve known I have commitment issues” is someone I want to continue to support and listen to. 

Hip-hop is rooted often times, in talking about how dope you are, how tough you can be, how hard your crew is, and how unfuck-with-able you are in general, so when you get vulnerable & honest music from MC’s like Short Fuze (and Uncommon Nasa) it is almost our duty to support and share the music with anyone in range. Autonomy Music is a progressive piece of music from Uncommon Nasa’smasterful production job to Short Fuze’s near Hemmingway-Esq approach to writing about life and it is our duty as members, visitors, founders, and lovers of Hip-hop culture to make sure this reaches all corners of the listening map. 

 Rating: 9/10

Scratched Vinyl Review 

Original Link: Scratched Vinyl Review by Chi Chi

Emcee Short Fuze and producer/emcee Uncommon Nasa have been frequent collaborators over the years. If you’re not already familiar with their music, all you have to do is listen to their third full length together, Autonomy Music, and you’ll immediately hear how well they complement each other. 

There are a lot of things to like about Autonomy Music. If you’re familiar with Uncommon Nasa’s production, this is more of what he does best – some dense, prog-inspired beats that balance the weirdness of the underground hip hop of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s in New York, alongside the gritty-yet-pop-friendly production of New York groups of the early ‘90s like Wu Tang and Mobb Deep. Lyrically, Short Fuze finds a similar balancing act, bringing in some more abstract philosophical discussion alongside concrete personal narratives and pop-culture references. What really elevates the album, though, is the back and forth between the two artists. There are a few moments spread out over the course of the album where Uncommon Nasa places some audio clips before songs, and while in general I advise artists to do this sparingly and to try to keep things short as to not kill momentum, Nasa has a knack for finding some really compelling and thought-provoking clips that get you thinking, only to have the music kick in and Short Fuze piggybacks off of some of the ideas presented with his rhymes. Add in some guest verses from Nasa and Philly emcee Curly Castro, and we have one incredibly solid indie hip hop album. It’s weird without being alienating, and it’s fun while still being challenging and not afraid to embrace its oddness. 

If you like your hip hop gritty and intellectual, but still having a pop sensibility and some humor, Autonomy Music is for you. Short Fuze and Uncommon Nasa really work well with each other, and the push and pull here has resulted in some really great hip hop. 

Title: Short Fuze & Uncommon Nasa - Autonomy Music 
Label: Uncommon Records 
Year: 2016 
Rating: 8/10

Spectrum Pulse Review 

Original Link: Spectrum Pulse Review by Mark Grondon

Let's talk a bit about cosigns. 

Because as a critic, I'm always pretty wary of them. You get plenty of artists who will pitch themselves as being 'like' a specific act, or being loosely affiliated with them, or using that one guest verse that was super tight to build a bridge of association that they'd never be able to hold again under tighter scrutiny. I tend to be a fair bit more forgiving when the act that I like outright endorses them, but again, I've always got a bit of skepticism. Sure, maybe this producer I really like helped cowrite or add verses to a project and he believes in its artistic intentions... or he's trying to give a friend a leg-up or use his status to elevate someone not ready for primetime. 

And yet my skepticism was sorely tested when Uncommon Nasa reached out to me about this project. Given how much I absolutely loved his last album Halfway last year, I was pretty damn optimistic when he said that he contributed both verses and all the production to Chicago MC Short Fuze, who worked with Nasa back in 2010 for his debut Lobotomy Musicand who showed up for a pretty good guest verse on Halfway. And from what I know of Nasa, he isn't about to cosign or work with artists he wouldn't fully support, so I had some faith that this project could really hit home, especially as it was just under thirty five minutes, the sort of ruthlessly tight project that left no room for error. So I made sure to dig into Autonomy Music - did it stick the landing and meet expectations? 

Well, in a way it did, because I definitely like this project, the sort of well-framed but slightly offkilter record that I would expect from these men - and yet I can't quite say I like it as much as I liked Halfway. Don't get me wrong, it's definitely solid with the brand of complicated lyricism and askew production that might initially disorient until you dig in - and yet it's also one of those projects that might be a little too scattershot and overstuffed for its own good, with the sort of density that doesn't quite reflect cohesion so much as so many ideas fighting for space. Oh, if you dig in deep to decode this record there is a framework around these ideas, but if I was looking for an album that could have used more time and room to breathe, it'd be this one. 

Granted, a big part of that is Short Fuze and Uncommon Nasa themselves. At first listen they have similar flows in terms of the way their bars are constructed, not so much spoken word but free flowing thoughts that coast over unconventional rhyming structures that are definitely an acquired taste but one I do like. And both Uncommon Nasa and the sole guest star Curly Castro acquit themselves well here with more immediately expressive tones, mostly thanks to Nasa's slightly higher register and Castro's thicker rasp. Short Fuze himself... his voice is authoritative and I respect how his content is more introspective here, but I'm not always certain he conveys the emotive range as well as he could, and he can come across a bit monotone, like on 'Oddest Future'. Or take 'The Darkest Place I've Ever Been', a song that literally focuses on coming to the brink of suicide, and while I understand depression wouldn't lead to an incredibly expressive delivery, it still feels a tad flat here, especially in contrast. 

Granted, it's not like Uncommon Nasa is giving Short Fuze easy beats to ride against, especially with as intricate and unconventional as these flows are. Much of this sample-heavy production is as noisy and dense as the rhyme patterns, including two sampled interludes that shows Nasa still has an uncanny knack for finding some poignant moments to further crystallize the themes. And like with Halfway, there are a few production choices that don't quite connect for me: the warping whir of squealing glitchy samples that seems to layer over a dense roiling beat and what might be a piano underneath on 'The Darkest Place I've Ever Been'; the buzzy synth that sprays over parts of the tapping beat, fuzzy blur of melody, and textured, slightly askew percussion on 'Time And Space'; the operatic vocal touches against the scratching of 'Oddest Future' feels like a weird blend of styles that doesn't quite mesh with an overlong hook; or the low oily tune behind the rattling bass and thicker cymbals on 'Beggar's Buffet' that builds into a blur of strings and heavier echo on the vocals on the hook. And again, I don't think that any of these production choices are bad - if you dig into the textures and instrumental you'll find real melody and potent hooks here - but again, this is material where it's going to take time to really appreciate, and it's not nearly as immediate or hard-hitting as other hooks here. And the thing is that those hooks are no less complicated - the keening layers of electric guitar that loop against noisy drums and trudging beat on 'Breakdance For The Def', the heavier bassline against the scratchy cymbals that plays off twinkling swells and a higher horn line that falls against the textured cushion of scratching and news samples on 'Perfect Health', the low synth against the stalking bassline, sparse percussion, thin horns and what sounds like seagulls echoing across the mix that builds to rattling faded elegance on 'Self Distortion', a vibe that later repeats on the horns, boom-bap beat, and low male backing vocals of 'Addicted To The Horn', all of which further impress that strong sense of New York atmosphere that's always permeated Nasa's production. And it's tough to pinpoint why those production choices work more for me - perhaps it's simply giving the track a little more room to breathe, or a stylistic experiment that clicks a little better - but I think it's more because the intricate production augments the complex flows and ideas, not obscures or muddies them. 

And make no mistake, there's a lot going on lyrically on this album, even if on the surface the theme is well-established early: art used as a way to ensure autonomy in modern life, the freedom to make one's own path. And yet this record starts on bleak notes, as the album begins with uncertainty and depression, not having that clear path until hitting the lowest point, which allows this record to truly click into recovery mode less than five minutes in. Bit of a wonky way to open a record - normally you'd expect low points like this one to occur later on, but this record isn't so much delving into Short Fuze's personal anxieties so much as a focus on his relationship with the art itself, and an industry set against denying a hungry public any sort of hope of release through regurgitated product. And what I like is how for both Short Fuze and Uncommon Nasa, hip-hop goes beyond pure lyricism but into graffiti and other forms of art that tie into the culture beneath it that can transcend class and social divides - although they also don't shy away from how that art focus can have its dangers. 'Perfect Health' is a great example, a song that focuses on graffiti and gang tags and how hip-hop helped save Short Fuze's life in the long term, but it opens with a sample of someone describing how the paint fumes ultimately landed him in the hospital, and how he'd trade all of it back for perfect health. 'Self Distortion' goes even darker, showing how Short Fuze's struggles with his faith have left him even further astray, with hip-hop culture and a broken society exacerbating it, something the violence of Curly Castro's verse further emphasizes - and yet it's one of the reasons I really like the interlude 'Electric Blanket Conversation', a moment where a person rejects the electric blanket for cutting him off from the cold at night and his compassion - you know, reality. And as the album continues, you can tell Short Fuze is battling between his introspective impulses to further explore himself through art and isolate - an addictive compulsion, something he even calls out and highlights on 'Addicted To The Horn' in both content and samples - and to make a larger message. Now if I were to criticize the content, it'd come in that larger message on 'Oddest Future', which goes into social commentary flogging the mass media, with a paranoid edge that's probably not as well framed as it could be, especially with lines about the 'New World Order' and 'Occupy Wall Street is the new form of torture'. I get the darker, paranoid framing is part of the point, which is even called out on the final track 'Beggar's Buffet' in further highlighting how Short Fuze's worst moments he channels and deals with through his art - it's analogous to what Aesop Rock did this year on 'Molecules' off of The Impossible Kid - but it doesn't quite hit with the same impact, as the writing doesn't quite feel as focused - this record could have used a slightly stronger ending. 

But really, that's nitpicking about details on a record that really does hold together well, and like any Uncommon Nasa-affiliated project reveals more details to appreciate with every listen. And make no mistake, this is definitely a record that demands a lot of repeated listens and has only gotten better in my eyes. I'm still a little on the fence whether I would say it was great - again, I think it's a shade weaker than Halfway in terms of focus and impact - but it has grown on me significantly over the dozen-plus times I've gone through it, and if the most major criticism I have is that it could afford to be expanded so we get more of it, that's a pretty minor complaint! So for me, I'm thinking a very light 8/10 and definitely a recommendation, especially if you're looking for some thoughtful, dense New York hip-hop to balance against the West Coast explosion this year. And Short Fuze, this is definitely what I like to see in a return to form, so definitely keep it up.