All posts in February 2015

BADBADNOTGOOD and Ghostface Killah – Sour Soul (Extended Review)

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Not into reading? We understand that. Here’s a video version of this review.

After being enticed with three emphatic singles featuring the likes of Danny Brown, Elzhi, and the one and only MF Doom, Toronto genre-splicers BADBADNOTGOOD and Wu-Tang Clan member Ghostface Killah have finally bestowed onto us their joint album Sour Soul. The emcee of this album, Ghostface Killah, is a Wu-Tang alum, he was the first verse we heard on 36 Chambers, and he’s the member of Wu-Tang who I think has had the most longevity but that could be argued for any number of the rappers from the clan. The reason why I point to Stark is his impressive volume of qualityalbums after Enter The Wu-Tang. Many of those albums had the capacity to be considered essential, whether it be Iron Man, Fishscales, I’ve heard strong arguments for The Big Doe Rehab, and then even to more recent years with 2013’s 12 Reasons to Die.

That last album in particular was interesting because it thrusted GFK in front of the eyes of the modern Hip hop crowd. Its critical explosion really got Stark back into the Rap zeitgeist of 2013. Obviously this is at least partly due to Ghost’s skill on the mic but where its success is attributed most is in the very smart move of having 12 Reasons wholly produced by Adrian Younge, the composer of most notably the Black Dynamite soundtrack and a couple songs off of Magna Carta Holy Grail. This made the already heavily conceptual album even more so, with the two’s synchronicity pushing the album into very deep narrative territory. So, after hearing about this album collaboration with BADBADNOTGOOD, a Jazz group who I’ve been down with for a minute, I was pretty much sold. Sour Soul is here, and it may not quite live up to my admittedly high expectations (particularly after that Danny Brown single), but it certainly stands on its own as a crazy solid record.

My first wave of impressions was that this isn’t a slap-to-the-face kind of album. After “Six Degrees” and “Ray Gun”, my jaw wasn’t dropping. Not a deal breaker by any means, but since those wow-factor type projects are heavily sprinkled throughout contemporary Rap music to much success, it’s important to mention. However, Sour Soul marches right past that expectation with a really enduring air about the flows that Ghostface lays down and the beats  BBNG construct. The style of the production makes Sour Soul a project that has a lot of lasting power in Hip hop libraries. I mean, an album being this much of a carefully constructed work makes it age a lot slower than other sorts of albums. It’s like cell shading in video games, it adds style to help it look good for much longer. The album It doesn’t feel the need to be of its time. That’s the exact reason why most of the Drill artists out of Chicago won’t be considered classic in a broad, objective sense. That’s the type of music that, almost by definition, leans on practices and methods in Hip hop that are in fashion musically. The Trap style of production, violent lyricism, beats that go so hard you feel threatened by them, little kid rappers who are gang affiliated, et cetera. I think a level of timelessness and be struck when diving headlong into a sound while knocking it out of the park, like the Migos mixtape Y.R.N. for Trap, Flockaveli for southern hype, Hell Hath No Fury and T.I. vs. T.I.P for mid-2000’s hardcore Rap. These are almost musical relics caught in time. But I’m getting off topic. This isn’t any sort of line GFK and BADBADNOTGOOD needed to even worry about walking.

My main and pretty much only concern I had going into this project was that the three lead-in singles were so great that the rest of the album wouldn’t be able to live up to them. Plus, those tracks all had features, so when I saw the track listing and that only one other track had another rapper on it, the stacks were raised. It was all up to the collaborative abilities of Ghostface and BBNG. For whatever reason I’m always doubting GF, but, of course, he defies my skeptical nature. Stark sounds great here. He has continued to prove himself as the dynamic, well-aged rapper that he was with 12 Reasons. Much like that album, on Sour Soul he is present with rhymes that are always hitting their mark. His raps are heavy; lots of weight which is great for turning bars into hay-makers. One other small issue I can’t let the album get away with is its conclusion. I think the production does it in its own right with the closing track “Experience”, but this album doesn’t end with much oomph from the Rap perspective. The closing was less of a crescendo and more of a polite exit. In anything it’s always smart to end with a strong note, and this album unfortunately doesn’t have that.

Okay, despite what my qualms may be conveying, I really like Sour Soul. I think it is an awesome record. I personally moved past its nagging issues because there is a lot of heart encased in it. However, critically, those problems may hold it back from being anything past a really solid album. So, my skepticism be damned, Ghostface Killah and BADBADNOTGOOD hit a great stride together on Sour Soul. Much like many of Wu-Tang’s alum’s respective projects, this album flows beautiful through a river of unabashed character thanks to the synergy of rapping and production. They should definitely be commended for that, it’s definitely not as easy as they make it sound. I’m happy because Sour Soul is another project to really enjoy and get into, let naturally fall out of my listening rotation, and then excitedly rediscover in my iTunes some time later to then repeat the previous cycle. Just like that, all the way to my cheap, shitty, poorly dug grave.

Yo, don’t be taking my word for it, go listen to the album for yourself. BBNG have it in it’s entirety on their Soundcloud, which I will embed below. Also, for the realest supporters, here’s a link to it on iTunes and one for it’s vinyl release.

Personal Highpoints:

“Six Degrees” / “Mind Playing Tricks” / “Ray Gun”

Personal Lowpoints:

“Street Knowledge”

BBNG: Facebook  Twitter  Soundcloud

GFK: Facebook  Twitter  Soundcloud

Charlie Johns

OG Maco – 15 EP (Extended Review)

og mac 15

After arriving on the scene properly with the engaging, original, and exhilarating project that was his self-titled OG Maco EP, and quickly following it up with the release of his BREATHE EP, ATL newcomer OG Maco hits us again with another EP, this time entitled 15. OG Maco, OGG’s frontman, is very fresh on the Hip hop scene as well as the Atlanta Trap scene. He rose into his fame almost immediately after his self-titled EP netted him some commercial and critical success . He’s signed to Quality Control, meaning his initial company in music were Migos. And before we get too deep into his music, that is a tough situation to come up in. Not tough in the sense of any sort of struggle, but it must be like growing up in show business: people don’t generally come out of that completely solid and hinged. At any rate, OG Maco owes his success to the conviction of his first EP. He came in with an undeniably unique sound, i.e. shouting at us, that is understandably a little hard to swallow as a listener, at least in the beginning. And this only became harder when the production didn’t quite hand in hand with it sonically as it did on some of his tracks. His rapping was out there, so for me at least, it needed that compliment that comes with slick production. With that being said, his sound didn’t take too long to grow on me. I loved its confidence, its emotion, and its fucking head-held-high strut. It’s something that hadn’t been heard from a rapper in the more traditional rap circles, but god damn did he rock it. The subtle rasp and pitch of his voice undeniably lends itself to this shout rapping that he was doing and he showed us that. People began to realize that through getting more into his sound and consequently he had a track that got some big, important radio play with “U Guessed It”. That always helps with getting heard. But enough about his previous success, onto the project in question.

One of the 15’s biggest and unfortunately least forgivable or ignorable sins is its dramatic and unnecessary shift in tone, both with his rapping and his production choices. Maco was rocking a nice spin to a 2 Chainz-esque production style. The beats were big and grand but didn’t hesitate to dip into some more skeletal measures mid-track. Maco nailed this in his tracks seamlessly while not compromising the flow of the tracks that use this method. These beats tended to be interspersed among cloudy lean-beats, which I didn’t think fit his style quite as well, but it worked enough. That dodging between sounds didn’t do much for the project’s overall flow as a cohesive unit of music, but it spoke very well to Maco’s versatility. He always dug in deep and fit, whether that be through his confidence on the mic or otherwise. On 15 everything loose. It’s disjointed, it’s non-connected. It’s not without its peaks, like “Mirror Mirror”, pairing a sinister beat with a toned down but still attitude-driven flow or the titled track “15” with more subdued, muted production with some actually nice lyricism, but there are far more misses than I ever would have or should have expected. Brandon Thomas, formally known as DJ Black Boy, is OG Maco’s house producer. He has produced his more characteristic, some would say classic beats. There’s some great minimalistic keys he pulls out on these tracks. He helped make “U Guessed It” such a great song. But it’s not just that, it’s “Currency” on his Live Life 2 mixtape, it’s “Road Runner” on both that mixtape and his self-titled. But then Thomas is here on this project with that worst beat with “Long Nights”.

There are some pretty bad lows here. As I said before Maco came out with his BREATHE EP shortly after the self-titled. This project was released with at least the partial intention of proving himself as a lyricist. The quick three-track EP wasn’t bad in that department. It came in the height of the Ferguson social unrest that’s still going on to this day and the lyricism made his perspective much more clear and valid. Unfortunately, he does not keep this legacy on 15. I can listen to a song, again, like “Long Nights” on here and be witness to flat bars like “life is like the ocean if I call it how I see, cause ain’t no one to save you when the situation deep” over grating, chirpy, poorly mixed production and wonder why a track like it would even be released. I think this entire project would have benefitted from a bit more time in the oven, so to speak; a little more mastering in the studio, a little more time to write something compelling. Here it’s important to note that this project came out just two months after his previous project. Downloading this EP felt a bit like answering the door to see the delivery person ten minutes after I ordered Chinese food. There was no way two months is long enough to craft a fully realized and developed release.

And who knows, maybe there’s a reason why this is just another EP. Maco could have some shit he’s saving. If this dude came at us after a responsible and trustworthy amount of time, say 6-8 months, with a debut album that goes even deeper into the kick-in-the-teeth sound that the OG Maco EP exhibited, I will gladly eat my hat. I would love nothing more than his dude showing this dumb review and me up with his next release. This project is disappointing. And to add to that, for this review I needed to go back and listen to his previous three mixtapes before his self-titled earned him his acclaim and they were so freeform and fun. That is music being made to no standard or expectation past what would sound crazy to him and his OGG homies. A track like “Unleash The Kraken” off of his Live Life 2 mixtape is ferocious and unflinchingly predatory and that’s what makes it so great. It’s fucking different. OG Maco has a lot of personality that’s fun as hell to listen to when integrated into his music and it’s a damn shame that it was covered up, or at least turned down on this EP.

Do give OG Maco’s newest EP a listen. Some people will vibe with it, I’m just here for a different Maco. You can peep below or on his Soundcloud.

Personal highpoints:

“I Am Not Perfect” / “Mirror Mirror” / “15”

Personal lowpoints:

“Big Bucks” / “Homies” / “Night Like This” / “Long Nights”

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Charlie Johns

 

The Social Experiment – Lady Friend

chance the band member

Chance comes through on Valentine’s Day to show us hapless romantics up with silky vocals and soulful songwriting on “Lady Friend”. Here we get the latest and a personal favorite single of mine from the Social Experiment’s forthcoming debut, Surf. There are a ton of things going on within this track, with vocals, back up vocals, keys, saxophone, and trumpet playing just to name a few. I mention this because I think one of the biggest successes that each of these Surf singles have had is that they never seem busy, which is quite the feat when you’re throwing everything but the kitchen sink into your production. This song also goes to show how beautifully orchestrated an well put together this album will be. Chance revealed in a recent interview that Surf will be “a Beyoncé kind of thing,” clarifying that the album will most likely be released without warning. So stay up on Chance the Band Member and this awesome social experiment.

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Charlie Johns

Kendrick Lamar – The Blacker The Berry

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This, my friends, is the single what we’ve been waiting for. I liked “i”. In fact, I liked it quite a bit, but it really wasn’t what I was expecting from K-Dot. I thought it was toned back to the softer side of what the emcee is capable of, and with that it was a very save first single. After that, Kendrick appeared as Colbert’s last ever musical guest on The Colbert Report, dropping a presumably still untitled track that again impressed. This calmed any sort of worry that the next project would lean more towards the Pop-Rap sound of “i”; he went out there and delivered some rapping-ass-rapping over excellent, fast-paced production. Now for today and “The Blacker The Berry”. Man, after this song my excitement for his upcoming album is at its height. The hunger, the production, and lyricism; they all sound so perfected. I can’t say too much past that this is the most blown away I’ve been out of the three singles.

It’s the most we could ever hope for with this upcoming album, but it seems it has the potential to shake things up all over again.

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Charlie Johns

Migos – One Time (Prod. by Deko)

Migos one time

Nothing gets a phrase back into the slang zeitgeist quite like being the hook to a Migos track. The Atlanta Trap supergroup is back with the lead single to their forthcoming Y.R.N. 2 album, entitled “One Time”. Migos had a very busy 2014 with dropping two mixtapes as well as featuring on a slew of other artists’ tracks. The first of the two mixtapes, No Label 2, unflinchingly rocketed its way into listeners ears with bangers like “Handsome and Wealthy” and twerk anthems like “Fight Night”. The track list has its duds, but with the majority of the songs being absolute gold, I can get past them. No Label 2 was the project that had the farthest reach for the Migos, getting loads of plays over the mainstream radio waves. With it the self-proclaimed Versace spokesmen reached Atlanta legend status.

With this single we hear a less Trappy/hype-inducing track, but that style is respectfully replaced with bouncy synths that would feel right at home in Magic City. I know that these dudes will be back with some crazy gun-toting, booty shaking shit with their next single, so it’s nice to hear something partially fresh. As far as I’m concerned, Migos have been doing Trap right since the first No Label, so I have faith that Y.R.N. 2 will rock the brains of Hip hop heads once again.

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Charlie Johns

IshDARR – Vibe (Prod. by Jean Kengz)

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Milwaukee favorite Ishdarr has shown off all that makes him a rapper to look out for on this latest track. Every time this dude releases a track I’m reminded of a quote that Bliss & Alice said regarding Ish: “kid’s got a big mouth but he’s got the lyrics. He’s backing it up, he’s shining.” Ish has the right to say “I’m still reppin’ one time for the DJ, ’cause I’ll be satisfied whether or not if I get two plays / turning down the truth and turning up that shake your booty, so what if I do both I bet I’ll get more than two plays.” His flow is nice, his lyricism is thoughtful, and his production choices always have me moving. I can envision hearing his track over the radio waves sometime soon. It’s got the type of universal sound that anyone can groove to. I’m hoping that the Hip hop fans in Milwaukee will recognize what we have before . Keep shining, Ish. I’m eagerly looking forward to the next project.

While waiting for the March full-length’s release, vibe out with Ishdarr and a couple of his previous cuts: “Second”, “August”, and “Nothing”.

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Charlie Johns

Action Bronson – Big League Chew (Prod. by The Alchemist)

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We know that the Bronson and Alchemist connection is a sure-fire for success based off of the duo’s work on Bronson’s debut Rare Chandeliers, so they’re return to the collaboration with “Big League Chew” is awesome to hear. This may not be as drenched in personality as Bronson’s other recent cut off of Mr. Wonderful, which was very intentionally titled “Actin’ Crazy”, but I think the lack of “craziness” on the track lets the Queens rapper’s pure technical skill shine through. Here we hear Action rapidly dealing out his own destiny, dropping bars like “the stars all aline now, the cars I’ma buy now / the bitches I’ma fuck too, you ain’t got to like me fuck you.” I admire Action’s confidence, and I can’t disagree with him. Rapping about rapping has been a stable sect of Hip hop since its beginnings, and Action does it better than anyone I’ve heard in a very long time. Given the sound of all of its singles, I’m looking forward to Action’s next album very optimistically.

No release date on Mr. Wonderful yet, but with this being the third single it’s safe to start bracing yourself.

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Charlie Johns

Young Fathers – Rain or Shine

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Serving as the followup to their 2014 full-length debut, UK Experimental group Young Fathers has returned to us with details on their forthcoming album with a single to boot. I’ve personally been following Young Fathers since 2011 when they released their first project, Tape One. At this point, I would think I’d be able to describe their sound with pretty exact accuracy, but besides radical genre-splicing there isn’t too much more to say. Take the UK Grime Hip hop scene, blend it with strong soul poetry, and mix it all with an African drum circle. That’s Young Fathers in a nutshell.

I’m fumbling with my words because there is always certain progression with any Young Fathers release, but its tough to pin point it. It has an undeniable deliberacy to it that makes any sort of claims equating its lo-fi nature to being rough around the edges entirely moot. On “Rain or Shine” we hear a bit more polish on a product that is, as always, being further honed. They still have the poetic lyricism, the vocals are still lo-fi and stylized, but there is an underlying Pop-ish sound that I haven’t gotten from their music before.  According to the trio, this new album, entitled WHITE MEN ARE BLACK MEN TOO will fittingly be their “interpretation of what a pop album should be.” Look out for it on the 6th of April.

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Charlie Johns