All posts in June 2015

Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment – Surf (Extended Review)

Surf_(Donnie_Trumpet_cover) (1)

Chance: the Acid Rapper, the soccer hacky sacker, the cocky khaki jacket jacker. Do allow me to recall his tale. Chancelor Bennett was merely a normal participant of the Chicago youth who happened to get a ten-day suspension from school. He then turned that into an overwhelming positive with 10 Day, the mixtape that earned him respect among the Chicago music camps and jump-started his musical career. After recording a couple less notable projects, Chance got a verse on Childish Gambino’s Royalty mixtape. He then opened for Bino in his 2012 US tour which won him some much-deserved recognition. Then in 2013 lands Acid Rap, a classic contemporary Hip hop mixtape from “Good Ass Intro” to “Good Ass Outro”. The mixtape is eclectic in influence and in execution. When it was released it gained huge mainstream appeal and got a lot of spins on the radio. You may be thinking, “praising Hip hop that was on the radio? In this dull and oversaturated Rap game?” Heresy, I know. What made me love this project and what made those radio spins so integral to that revolves around Acid Rap being great Hip hop. And, for great Hip hop, something that generally falls by the commercial wayside, this had incredible reach and longevity. Go to any dumb college frat party and 70% of the time Acid Rap will be in the crap DJ’s rotation. I’d rather have the success, both in terms of recognition and dollar amounts, that reach like that breeds benefitting an artist making great music rather than the sometimes shallow, artistically one-dimensional artists who traditionally get the radioplay. But, as everyone has been quickly reminding you, this isn’t a Chance the Rapper project, rather one by Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment. So, be ready for me to recycle this intro when Chance drops some solo new new.

Surf is an album I was hotly anticipating for 2015, and that anticipation was only fed by each of its singles, which all impressed me in an unexpected and distinct way. I remember over a year ago now when a still very hot Chance dropped a song called “I Am Very Very Lonely” on his Soundcloud featuring production from this rag-tag group called the Social Experiment, which was then comprised of Peter Cottontale, Nate Fox, and Donnie Trumpet. I initially loved how different this track was. The production was busy but obviously had a lot of attention paid to it. The instrumental had a welcome shift into something more than just a Hip hop beat – much more “Good Ass Intro” than “Smoke Again” to clarify further. The vocals, both in a literal sonic sense and in its execution, were unfamiliar for Chance. But, if you listen for yourself, I think you’ll agree with me when I say that it was done well. Next came “No Better Blues”, another song I loved from my very first listen. Chance proved that he was a voice no one should be missing with Acid Rap but with this track he proved his versatility as a vocalist as opposed to strictly a rapper. This song’s structure is all internal rhymes which are damn entertaining and engaging musically; I will listen to that song just for that “I hate my hands, handshakes, pancakes, child-resistant locks on the pill case” bar. There was also the song “Lady Friend”, which again showcased Chano’s range again as a singer, most notably with a killer falsetto. And, lastly, and probably the best came in the form of “Sunday Candy”, which really did have it all: soaring and sunny production, bright and shining vocals, and thoughtful and effective songwriting. But, to get into Surf itself, much to its detriment, the album was absent of all but one of these tracks. Now, not having the songs that I like is one thing, but replacing them with lukewarm pop music that doesn’t work well together is another.

Unfortunately, this review will short because of just that. Surf, despite having overwhelming potential and showing that they can capitalize on that potential together with its singles, isn’t that enjoyable as a whole. This just could have been such a knock out of the park. Chance is a commercial and critical explosion hiding in the shell of this young performer with a truly one-of-a-kind voice who has great friends with past-proven talent. There isn’t a good reason why this is so underwhelming. The album was framed by journalists and anyone who talked to Chance as a collaboration among friends who lift each other to an upper-echelon to make the music they all want to make. Why I got so excited was because the singles sounded just like that. I mean, they recorded a version of the Arthur theme song which was really fun in addition to felling heartfelt and genuinely carefree. That’s what made me so excited, the stars seemed to be alining and this album promised to be bright, colorful, off-beat, and universal. What we got, though it may be some of those complimentary adjectives, felt very off-balance and didn’t commit to any of the feelings that felt worthy of more attention.

Okay, so I recognize that I must sound like a massive asshole, especially after lashing an album that explores sound and emotion in a timeless way such as this. This album is nice, just shockingly unimpressive. Honestly, there were only two times my jaw dropped due to them doing something I was totally not expecting: 1.) the inclusion of “Familiar” — which Genius.com so eloquently summarized as “the Social Experiment’s ode to basic bitches” — and it benefitting in an odd way from both a King Louie and Quavo verse (those being two individuals who have a wealth of experience with this breed), and 2.) the final track, “Pass the Vibes”, in its blissful entirety. Surf did have its moments, and that’s part of the reason why this album is such a tremendous missed opportunity. This may be me being a pessimist who is connecting the dots backwards when a piece is already complete, but its emotional through-line could have been better fleshed out. Okay, so the main thing this album explores is feels, eventually landing on gratitude, generosity, love, and optimism with its final two songs. This ending is great, and those final two songs are two of the best on the album because of it, but I wish I had more positives to mention past that. That optimistic happy-climax at the end of this project could have been heightened further if the journey through the album that led to it was more personal, focused, and treacherous, for lack of a better term. I don’t mean to return to this again, but if we had even two more of the singles for this album, “No Better Blues” and “I’m Very Very Lonely” for example, I think I’d be able to give Surf a lot more praise. If those two songs were integrated into this album where they would fit thematically, we would have a more filling experience. In the state that it is at after its release, I can’t call it more than a good idea that I wish had its potential fully realized.

That is just my opinion, though. Go listen for yourself. The album has some really cool stuff going for it. As of this reviews release, the album is still up on iTunes for free, so you do not have an excuse not to listen.

Personal highpoints:

“Miracle” / “Windows” / “Sunday Candy”

And a much needed shout out to “Pass the Vibes” for being its own in a spectacular way.

Personal lowpoints:

“Warm Enough” / “Caretaker” / “Go”

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Charlie Johns

A$AP Rocky – At.Long.Last.A$AP (Extended Review)

AtLongLastASAPCover

We understand if you don’t mess with reading, fams. Here’s our video review for A$AP Rocky’s A.L.L.A.

Lord Pretty Flocko – otherwise known as A$AP Mob’s ringleader A$AP Rocky – is a different type of rapper for today’s evolving Hip hop landscape. In fact, many could attribute some of that progression to his confidently distinct style. Meterosexual not be the most apt comparison, but it’s been a while since we’ve had a rapper who cares more about his outfit getting into Vogue than getting the cover of Complex, or who shouts out the French high fashion brands he is wearing more than the gangs he does or doesn’t affiliate with. He isn’t an artist who is going directly against the grain, but he certainly isn’t cookie-cutter, and his own unique blend of influence has been boding quite well for the Harlem emcee.

Rocky has an outstanding, albeit brief discography in this new New York sound renaissance we have seen with the emerging Beast Coast movement. In my opinion, his two previous releases were classics of this era of Rap with his blend of solid, witty, punchline-heavy spitting and grand production that has clearly had much attention paid to it. In the spirit of being upfront, however, I’d like to say that I wasn’t too big on Rocky at the beginning. Live.Love was really cool but I didn’t find myself returning to it much. When Long.Live dropped, I enjoyed it, but it took until just recently for me to finally get in-sync with it and start genuinely loving it as a substantial and admirable debut album.

This album, titled At.Long.Last.A$AP, comes at a very important part of Rocky’s career. He has had as classic a trajectory as there is. He had his debut single that exploded, a nice debut mixtape with a remix of said song, and a killer freshman album with strong features from big commercial and underground artists that helped push the album along the tightrope between mainstream and underground recognition and respect. Now comes the highly-hyped sophomore album, which is a part of the ideal career when many artists trip up, eventually popularizing the sophomore slump terminology. But, from what I’ve heard, Rocky went into the recording process of this album with high spirits and good intentions. He really was doing everything right, but then came a very large and devastating monkey wrench. The man who was at the ground level of the A$AP Mob, the one who got the original video for “Purple Swag” popping on Tumblr, the marketing mind who made the A$AP Mob into the most influential New York team, A$AP Yams passed away suddenly, bringing any momentum or flow with the album to a screeching and unavoidable halt.

So, after a couple understandable delays we have this album that comes in the wake of personal tragedy. Music can be very cathartic, and Rocky himself described this album very openly as the healing component in the grieving process for Yams. So, with this being his sophomore album and it happening at a significant time in his life, the craze for this album was pretty ridiculous. From that, as people do, people were calling it a real contender for album of the year straight out of the gates. To begin, give it some time to sink in. That’s the reason why these reviews come out a week after release. Something obviously sticks after one’s first listen, but not close to the album’s full potential. This is all to say that the album is egregiously overhyped. It’s pretty easy to see why people got so excited about an album like this; struggle does breed some of the best art, after all. I never mean to sound patronizing nor above any other music listener, because I’m just another one of them, but strive does not an album of the year make. I think this is a solidly great album for different reasons, but it doesn’t do much past perhaps adding to the weight of the album.

If I could give this album one compliment – though I intend to give it many more – it’s that it’s quite the launch forward in terms of Rocky’s maturity as an artist. Long.Live was a great album but it lacked complete focus. It went from its sharp, thumping intro to “Pussy, money, weed is all a buddy need” to radio pandering, a Skrillex produced dubstep song, a quintessential posse track, a song with a two-and-a-half-minute long intro sequence, to character playing, to telling the story of a drug kingpin, to end on a track featuring the Florence sans the Machine. It was all over the place. Very good and undeniably impressive, but very much all over the place. Whether it be as a result from the death of A$AP Yams or otherwise, this album was nice and exploratory and had more honest and poignant emotional lows – lows we haven’t gotten from Rocky this openly in the past. These combined for a release more evenly-centered and satisfying. Though a pleasant one, this came as a real surprise to me. I was expecting Rocky to continue the successful trend of improving on the winning formula he had going with his short but impressive discography. A$AP Rocky didn’t do this; he stuck his next out and treaded some new creative ground. Ultimately, this is what helped make this into one of the best releases we’ve gotten in 2015.

My thoughts on the album proper took quite the while to come to. I didn’t quite know what to think after my first full listen. I could have been in the wrong mood or due to the fact that it was so contrary to my feeble assumptions, but that’s why we listen to an album more than once, no? To start with the worst of it, I do have a couple outlying complaints with the project: firstly, the strength of Rocky’s rapping is his smooth and fiery bars that pack incredible punch. For me, aside from five or six of the joints on this album, I was left wanting far more from a vocal standpoint. The songs that hit well hit it really hard, with “Max B” being particularly noteworthy with Rocky slugging it with the “buccaneers of rugged gear” opener. Overall the track that went in most ferociously was “Lord Pretty Flocko Jodye 2” but, unfortunately, it was the second shortest track on the album at two minutes and ten seconds. It’s little things like that that contribute to this album lacking some always-appreciated oomph and spice. The project just goes numb at points. Sometimes it’s the tempo that kills it, other times it’s a lack of substance overall. “L$D” is particularly noteworthy to me because to me it seemed like a pretty bad judge of versatility and range that came in the form of a single. Along with that this track just never really amounts to anything, and besides small pulses of life integrated into the instrumental at 2:00 and 2:30 or so the song is fairly barren and frankly a bit boring. Other tracks that disappointed in much the same way were “Westside Highway” and, surprisingly, “Fine Whine”, which is most generously a seven (out of ten) despite the noble effort of both an M.I.A. and Future verse.

Now, I do not hate the album as that paragraph may have led you to believe. To move along to the production, we have an eclectic twist to Rocky’s style of grand and sleek production. I get a lot more of a Madlib-type vibe out of this project, that being one that has more color and breaths in and out of its inspirations seamlessly. It’s a great sound for Rocky, who has proven to be a fairly versatile rapper in the past. Sonically, the production is less explosive, admittedly, but it makes it more thoughtful and widens the sound. This positive a caveat with the record, however. A$AP Rocky’s two albums — this and Long.Live.A$AP — satisfy two different tastes. There is definitely a sizable cross section of that ven diagram, but they are quantifiably different. There are moments where Rocky is at his most somber and sobering, and this is good because we haven’t heard these low emotions much from him in the past but he shows some inexperience in those moments that is absent from the rest of the album. This album lacks the heartbeat of raw hype that made his past releases so stunningly enjoyable. I think he makes up for it with other positives, but it’s something to know going in. On of those saving gracing for me is his obvious growth. The dude has done it a few times in the back but he nails intrinsic lyricism. Even if it’s the first track, I think he impressed me the most with this on “Holy Ghost”, and it became one of my personal favorites because of it. In fact, my initial experience with that song helps explain my overall opinion of At.Long.Last.

There I am, A.L.L.A. just dropped and I’m getting a text from a buddy who I write with saying “dude, this is a contender.” So, I peeped, obviously, and the sample of “Holy Ghost” started up and in came this really nice, moody, and smooth instrumental. After that comes the main attraction, our emcee A$AP Rocky, spitting conscious raps with the exciting, effortless flow he’s proven he has so impressively in the past. I was pretty psyched; the Rocky I had enjoyed in the past being more intrinsic than ever before, showing some maturity on a track with a nice instrumental with some beautiful vocals to close out the track? Brilliant. I’m way into this. As the album unfolded after “Holy Ghost” and, though it has its lows that break its momentum, it builds and builds into a complete and fulfilling experience. You can hear all of Rocky’s emotions on this album, even if sometimes they didn’t make for the greatest Hip hop tracks. Overall, this may be a much less punchy and explosive experience compared to his previous album, but it performs much better under the classic definition of an album, that being a well-crafted musical experience front to back. A.L.L.A. is well-made, but you should know going in that it may not scratch the itch that his previous releases have. Progression is good, and this is a marked progression and a solid step forward for the reigning king of new New York Hip hop.

Despite any opinion one could have of this album, At.Long.Last.A$AP is undeniably complex. If you aren’t listening to it yet, here’s an iTunes link. It’s a Hip hop release you don’t want to miss this year.

Personal highpoints:

“Holy Ghost” / “Canal St.” / “Max B” / “Everyday” / “Back Home”

Personal lowpoints:

“Fine Whine” / “West Side Highway”

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Charlie Johns