Category: Features

Mick Jenkins – Get Up Get Down (Single)

mick jenkins

We’ve got some future vibes here, folks.

Continuously-emerging Chicago emcee Mick Jenkins releases his third single for his upcoming project with “Get Up Get Down”, and it’s definitely the most hype-inducing track that we have heard from Wave[s] thus far. This track, which has me more excited for the upcoming project than I have been before, was released very soon after Mick announced a release date for Wave[s], which will land on the 21st of next month. Differently from the past singles this song exhibits a Mick we haven’t seen too much of, that being one aiming to drop a straight-up party track. Our emcee isn’t too off-color here however, delivering some heavily layed thought-provoking lyricism in his monstrous mid-track verse to cement the fact that this still is a Mick Jenkins record. However, I only mention that so I can say this: for this being a party/radio track — and fairly unabashedly so — it’s still mad respectable and just as easily enjoyable from a Hip hop head’s perspective.

I really dig it, and I think you will too. Peep the heat below.

Facebook  Twitter  Soundcloud

Charlie Johns

Vince Staples – Summertime ’06 (Extended Review)

vincent

There is a lot to say about this album, and to entice you to read further I can say it’s the realest competition that Kendrick has gotten this year opposing To Pimp A Butterfly in the album of the year race. Before going into the project, some light can be shed from what Vince posted along with the album art, and it serves as a powerful and sobering preface for the album itself:

Love will tear us apart. Nov 30th, 2005 was the beginning of the loss. The following summer multiplied it. Beaten paths, crowded with the hopeless. Same song every day, listening to the words of a dead man destroyed by his own mind and body. Why? Because at the end of the day we’re all dead anyway. At least where I come from. Love tore us all apart. Love for self, love for separation, love for the little we all had, love for each other, where we came from. Jabari, Chris, Shard, Tom, Richy, Tyson, Tony, Shelly, Phil, Marcel, Brandon, Steve, Jaron, Tay. Too many to name, too much to forget. Some lost to prison, some lost to Forest Lawn, some turned snitch. Some still here but it will never be the same. Bandanas, Stealing Levis and Nike Sb’s. Derringers and Sidekicks. Its crazy how little you notice and how greatly those things impact. Summer of 2006, the beginning of the end of everything I though I knew. Youth was stolen from my city that Summer and Im left alone to tell the story. This might not make sense but that’s because none of it does, we’re stuck. Love tore us all apart. Summertime ’06, June 30th.

Onto the review for Vince Staples’ debut album Summertime ’06.

I should start this by saying that I’m a big fan of Vince. His body of work has continuously impressed me, caught my attention, and become some of favorite Rap music. I’ve reviewed a couple of his projects in the past and if I can say anything it’s that he’s been one of the most consistently solid emcees in today’s rap game. And I don’t to stand too proudly on my soap box, but I really think he hasn’t been getting enough credit for it. His career properly started with Shyne Coldchain Vol. 1 which exhibited a Vince Staples showing his potential on short-and-sweet tracks like “Progressive”, “Trigga Witta Heart”, “Versace Rap”, and “Hostile”. Following that in 2012 landed Winter In Prague, which, in retrospect, is the only real misstep for Vince in his career. Moving on from that we had Stolen Youth in 2013. This was a mixtape entirely produced by Mac Miller under his pseudonym Larry Fisherman, and this was a collaboration that  gave the project a well flesh-out sound. This was also a growth period for Vince where he really started rapping like he meant it while simultaneously showing his reach by assembling an impressive cast of features to fill out the release. Vince’s lyricism also came into focus on this mixtape, being bookended by the bars “live from Delusion, die on the street or reside in the ruins” and “swinging like T Wood tryna earn my stripes, yeah that uppercut will fuck him up so say goodnight”. It was an impressive outing; admittedly less personal than Shyne Coldchain but very impressive nonetheless. Then came 2014 where Vince started gaining some mainstream traction by staying on his grind and continuing to work out any kinks from his sound. That year we got the sequel to Shyne Coldchain and later his major label debut in Hell Can Wait, which was released via Def Jam. I mentioned this in the year end wrap-up post but the EP that Vince put together in Hell Can Wait bubbled up to the surface and solidified as my personal favorite project of 2014. Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2 was great and “Truck Rattle” may be one of the literal best songs I’ve ever heard but there was something very universal about Hell Can Wait. It may be the beats, the album art, or the stark, macabre, yet relatable lyricism — probably a combination of the three — but everyone I showed the EP to loved it and wanted to know more. Luckily there was more to show them, being that to this point Vince has only released one subpar project with the rest of his career being just as impressive as this. So, with plenty of build-up, both hyped-wise and in thematic terms with Hell Can Wait‘s story arch, we have Vince Staples’ debut full-length album, Summertime ’06.

I had a really strong feeling that this album would be great, but I could never have predicted that Vince would drop an album that is this special. From the first time I gave the album a spin and the woozy knocking of “Ramona Park Legend Pt. 1″ filled my headphones and it was punctuated by the full-stop of a gun shot at the end of the record it was clear we were in for something more than just good. Stylistically, this album is a black sheep of sorts in today’s Hip hop landscape. Vince started this trend by releasing Hell Can Wait and finding his perfect combination of influences and talents and added an element of intoxication on this album. This pairs very well with his versatile loose-cannon rap style which he has been sharpening to this point. To start with his rapping, though, being that it still prevails past the great beats and solid atmosphere of this album as its shining feature, we really need to talk about Vince’s lyricism.

As the name of the album itself suggests, Vince is rapping from the perspective of himself during the summer of 2006. If you haven’t been keeping up with Vince in his interviews, let me tell you why that means so much and packs every single haymaker bar with even more emotional weight. Vince’s previous project Hell Can Wait was about the previous summer, before 9th grade, and continues up until his friend was murdered. The time is significant; this was a very different attitude than what we have heard from Vince thus far. As Vince has recalled himself, the rapping on the EP was from the perspective of a scrawny kid who was going into high school with a backpack that was too big and a mindset that was too high-risk. He was a young kid who was hanging out with the wrong group of dudes and was growing up in the wrong neighborhood. The perspective of a teenager is a good one for art, being that it’s such a tragically and necessarily flawed time of life. Vince used it well and the point-of-view rapping was executed incredibly with stories of drug-dealing fathers, police corruption, being entrenched in the gang lifestyle, and young love that wasn’t quite ready to blossom properly. It was also the first time that we heard a Vince Staples project with a sort of narrative thread, which noticeably improved his already stellar artistry. This is something that continued onto Summertime ’06, which we now see serves as a grand, fleshed-out coming-of-age story that Hell Can Wait was merely a prologue to. This, my music-appreciating friend, is where the gross majority of Summertime ’06‘s successes lie, its message. This album’s narrative starts almost right where the EP left off, beginning with a moment that changed Vince’s life.

A lot of people are pointing this out, but it’s important: Vince is playing the villain that you cannot help but root for on this album, and he does it really fucking well.  This is a Vince who doesn’t live to impress his circle of friends or prove that he’s mature by acting older than he is anymore; this is a young man who is scraping as ferociously as he can towards survival. Vince’s nuance as an emcee goes deeper than that, however. This is an album that lyrically reflects the stresses, coping mechanisms, and escapes of a teenager who was forced into maturity past his years. Now, let’s address some of the specifics. There are three tracks I’d like to focus on here: “Norf Norf”, “Señorita”, and “3230”.

“Norf Norf”: Set to a heavy, murky instrumental constructed by the beat-virtuoso that is Clams Casino, Vince paints an image of the grisly gang lifestyle he is surrounded by that is so beautiful you’d think the young emcee has an art degree. Vince is prideful of his soil, which sets him apart from the artists like Kendrick Lamar who justifiably point out what the hood hasn’t done for them far before what it has done. I would compare Vince here to a YG or a DMX, those being rappers who have made careers embellishing and romanticizing the gang-banging lifestyle (see “Bompton” and “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem” respectively), but Vince isn’t so heedless. He tells it like it is exclusively — as I’ve put it before, Vince has a certain eloquent bluntness to his raps — and this stoicism gives this portrait of the LBC on “Norf Norf” a lot of depth. Vince’s lyricism obviously shines here, but what punctuates it is a bar that summarizes what this song is about, the unending and uncaring need to persevere in a hostile and problematic environment: “folks need Porsches, hoes need abortions, I just need y’all out of my business.”

“Señorita”: Fitting into the cross section of its survivalist tone and younger, some would say juvenile perspective rapped from on this album, Vince does a whole lot of chest-puffing and muscle flexing on Summertime ’06. What separates Vince from the herd of other rappers who abide by the “I wish someone would try me” mentality is that he is a very believable antagonist. To add to this he’s also scarily confrontational, which plays out well in the first verse of “Señorita”: “fuck ya dead homies, run ya bread homie / got some lead for me, I’m on Artesia, parked in my Bimmer bumping my own shit”. To explain it in different terms: if you’re so brazen to want to run up on Vince, he’s courteous enough to tell you his exact location, which in this case is parked on Artesian Boulevard in his expensive car listening to his own music (which is an image that is too robust to even go into). With a beat whose bass knocks will send shivers down your spine and a sampled Future hook in tow, this served as a single that really gave an appropriate taste of this album’s tone and character. Vince has already proven himself to be on that real shit in his past releases — you’ll never catch Vince pump-faking — but this track takes his unshrinking menacing presence to a new level. “Señorita” will serve as Vince’s “Parental Advisory” or “Thuggin'”; or, in other words, the reminder to the opposition that Vince is not to be tested.

“3230”: Though this song also touches on the album’s motifs of intimidation tactics and being part of a very real human food chain, this record focuses more on the idea of being baseless (somewhat literally). Vince has gone into his home life in the past on tracks like “Screen Door” where he detailed dope-fiends knocking on his house’s screen door looking for his father, who was a supplier. Through his discography and even on other tracks on this album these hard-to-swallow images have been delivered from a detached place, maintaining the unbothered persona that is so important to the point-of-view Vince is rapping from. To juxtapose that while making Vince a bit more human, on “3230” we hear a bit more of how an eviction notice makes him feel. He doesn’t flat out tell us that it makes him sad like a less formidable emcee would, but the inflection he uses while spitting his bars is incredibly telling. He raps hard and he certainly sounds hungry but it has a layer of sorrow that conveys that there is more going on and this thuggish young Vince may be feeling more than he leads us to believe. This level of nuance is what’s brought consistently throughout Summertime ’06, which contributes to how much it deserves this commendatory review.

What adds to this and pushes the album to being Vince’s inarguable best work and one of the best albums of 2015 is its consistency. I talked about three tracks that managed to strike an excellent balance with great instrumentals and insanely sobering yet confusingly hype-inducing rapping while providing a vast amount of incite to Vince’s character and attitude in this album. But, with those three tracks thoroughly explained, I should let you know that almost every single track on this album is done to that level. There are plenty of things to talk about that are happening in tracks like “Lemme Know”, “Jump off the Roof”, and “Street Punks”, but I thought I’d leave some things for the listener to discover.

To summarize my thoughts into a concise TL;DR given that this review ended up on the longer side, I’d have to say that I’m excited for this album to be released on vinyl later this year so I can have it to listen to for the rest of my days. I am maintaining all objectivity when I say that Vince Staples released one of if not arguably the best album of this year so far. It’s honest, macabre, intense, stark, poignant, hard-knocking, game-shaking, and worth all of the immense hype that built in anticipation of its release. Vince Staples​’ career has been stellar thus far, but Summertime ’06 is something quantifiably different: it’s a magnum opus.

I went on a rant via Twitter to tell y’all this but I’ll say it here again: go cop Summertime ’06 and support the sharp and intelligent emcee responsible for it.

Personal highpoints:

“Lift Me Up” / “Norf Norf” / “Lemme Know” / “Jump off the Roof” / “Señorita” / “3230” / “Street Punks”

Personal lowpoint:

“Summertime”

Facebook  Twitter Website

Charlie Johns

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”

Facebook  Twitter  Soundcloud

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”

Facebook  Twitter  Soundcloud

Charlie Johns

 

Snoop Dogg – Bush (Extended Review)

Bush_Album_Cover

We get it. Who really likes to read anymore? Here’s a video version of this review for Snoop Dogg’s Bush.

Snoop Doggy Dogg: the rapper turned actor, brand-owner, podcast personality, and Redditor; one of our favorite foundational 90’s West Coast rappers is back under his proper moniker for a Pharrell-produced album entitled Bush. Snoop has had a long, influential, authentic, and undulating career in music. He has releases under his belt that are nothing short of classics in Hip hop and those albums have shaped the game more than Tha Dogg Pound could have ever imagined. Those releases – Doggystyle, Tha Doggfather, and R&G: The Masterpiece among others – have earned him a seat among the greatest to every do it. That won’t be the first time he’s been with them, however. Snoop has been butting elbows with the greats since the beginning. He was initially discovered by Dr. Dre – that wealthy Rap oracle – who then featured him on The Chronic, properly introducing him to the public as that album did tremendously. After that came Doggystyle and the career journey that resulted from was great and successful it was.

With this release I’m just glad that we are back from his mid-life late-career identity crisis. He was briefly Snoop Lion as well as Snoopzilla, but, if you’re a Hip hop fan, you don’t have to worry about anything that was or was not released under those names. However, I think that this release totally deserves your attention. It’s not a new magnum opus by any means – hopefully none of us were really expecting that – but I do think it’s genuinely enjoyable. It’s also proof that Snoop can still rap fairly well. Though, it’s very apparent on Bush that Snoop isn’t the top dogg of Hip hop anymore. In fact the reigning champ, the top dog of Top Dog Entertainment, King Kendrick Lamar drops in on “I’m Ya Dogg” and lays what I think is the best verse on the album.

I don’t mean this to be read in a condescending tone (because Snoop doesn’t deserve that) but that’s kind of sad to me. Snoop Dogg was once one of the trail blazing, pioneer artists who strengthen the laid back West Coast radio sound in response to the angry up-tempo aggression of Straight Outta Compton. I know his name along with his more overplayed radio hits are trite and don’t mean too much to a music listen who didn’t experience his music when it came out (or attempted to understand that perspective), but Snoop is an indispensable artist in Hip hop history. But today, in 2015 when there are pivotal artists who are changing the game as we speak, Snoop is the one playing catch-up. He’s trying to keep up with these fast-paced artists like, again, K-Dot, who closed out this album. Another artist who Snoop is with on Bush is Pharrell, who produced the album all the way through. So, with these type of collaborations, Snoop does a pretty good job staying with the times. Thanks to Mr. Williams Bush is full of funky, smooth, modern, radio-friendly music, as Snoop generally has rapped over his entire career. Sometimes it gets kind of soft and their pandering intentions are made more blatant, like with “R U A Freak.” But, while on the topic of Pharrell, he’s an artist who I really trust musically. I’ll be looking through the producers of albums that I like because I don’t have anything else to do with my time and find that Pharrell was the producer being odd and unexpected gems. There’s “Suicide” on My Name Is My Name, “Los Awesome” on the Grammy-snubbed Oxymoron, “Sweet Life” on Channel Orange, “good kid” off of GKMC, and some great work in modern radio music like Beyonce and Miley Cyrus. Also, let’s not forget this is the man who produced the immaculate, carved-from-fine-marble Hip hop classic that is “Drop It Like It’s Hot”. If anyone was going to bring Snoop back into some level of musical supremacy it would be Pharrell.

Okay, so the production on the album is great, if a bit of a one-trick pony. It’s classic Pharrell joints that sound great both to the music-appreciators ear and to the ear of the average radio listener. I love how smooth “California Roll” is, I dug how busy and bouncy “Edibles” was, I thought the synth on “I’m Ya Dogg” was nice, et cetera. My major complaint for the album is with the rapping. Maybe I’m missing it, but this album doesn’t feel passionate. I realize that Snoop has been laid back since day one, but he’s to the point of making an album that sounds like a cash-grab. His sound never really had real hunger, at least not to today’s standards, but this sounds like a step further into complacency. Maybe it’s just a sign that Snoop just isn’t for me, but I think it’s more accurate and telling to say that as a rapper he’s not great at keeping up with the times. Another thing that could have attributed to this is Snoop’s overwhelming volume of music he’s already released. It’s very possible — some would say probable — that the Dogg has released all the music he needs to. He has a handful of essential Hip hop albums to claim as his own, and maybe when he says “I do it for the riches” on “Peaches N Cream” he means it more literally than one would assume. It doesn’t really feel adventurous by any means either. None of these songs sound too different from each other let alone other music today. It does have YG’s My Krazy Life syndrome, which is marked by sounding pretty much the same all the way through.

This is an album that sounds nice but feels far too safe. You know, it isn’t like Snoop is tackling any dicey issues here. He’s rapping about what he always has, that being girls and weed. To be fair, he’s one of the best to ever do it, but maybe he’s finally at the end of his wits. Again, I’d like to underscore this point, I don’t think as an album it’s all that bad, Bush just isn’t too special. I suggest you listen to it through and make note of the few songs that you like the best. After that you really don’t need to worry about the others so much being that it’s all pretty similar.

Listen for yourself, though. Here’s a link to grab “Bush” on iTunes.

Personal highpoints:

“California Roll” / “Peaches N Cream” / “Edibles” / “I’m Ya Dogg”

Personal lowpoints:

“R U A Freak” / “So Many Pros” / “Run Away”

Facebook  Twitter  Soundcloud

Charlie Johns

Tyler, The Creator – Cherry Bomb (Extended Review)

tyler

Don’t want to read all of this? We get that. Here’s a video review for Tyler, The Creator’s Cherry Bomb.

Tyler, The Creator was made off of the hype generated by how aggressively polarizing his music was. With the buzz from “Yonkers” to going up on that stage to accept some MTV award and saying “for all the kids watching, you can do this shit yourself, fuck the system, Golf Wang”, he firmly cemented himself as someone in music who was going to do something big in this generation. I have an on-and-off non-committal relationship with Odd Future and its subsidiary acts. Every summer for the past couple of years — around the time the shorts and short-sleeve button ups come out again — I find myself returning to watching Tyler’s radio interviews, having Mellowhype back on my phone, and listening to Earl’s self-titled. That changed last summer for me when I got my first turntable. There were a few records that I knew I needed to nab with the swiftness: MBDTF, The Money Store, good kid m.A.A.d. city, and Wolf. When it was released in April of 2013, I wasn’t all that stoked about it. It was progression, but I just saw it as change from the artist who was making cool music that embraced anger and angst. The record had an excellent deluxe edition though, and I enjoyed the record enough. It arrived after work on a summer Friday when I had nothing else to do with no one else in the house so I dug in and let myself get engulfed. It was that listen where I really comprehended what Tyler was doing on that album. This was helped along by the cool edition of scan-ins of Tyler’s lyrics in his handwriting, pushing me into full immersion. That’s how Tyler, The Creator fully won me over and I grew to love Wolf. So, when Cherry Bomb was released last week, I downloaded it with confidence and without hesitation.

Cherry Bomb is the fourth full-length album from the Odd Future front man. His discography is one of the more interesting I’ve been able to witness first hand. He begun with Bastard, a project that has amassed itself a long list of adjectives that people labeled it with: unfiltered, raw, angry, rebellious, sophomoric, unforeseen, promising, crude, graphic, I could go on. This continued with Goblin in 2011, which was released to in the wake of the ever-so provocative and “shocking” video for “Yonkers”, which was skillfully shot in a stark black and white. That’s right around the time where Tyler was accepting a few awards and earning some praise from some critics and contempt by others. Past the buzz Goblin was a stronger, much improved project. The production was still raw, but it was tightened and sharpened. The lyrics were still incendiary, but there was more purpose and his intentions were a bit more clear. I will always suggest Goblin to people. “Yonkers”, “She”, “Tron Cat”, and “Burger” are all unflinchingly unique and very much their own. Continuing the trend, Wolf again stepped it up: the production was there, the lyrics were there, the songwriting was much improved. The main success of the album was the concept tracks as well as Tyler’s character playing, both of which were at a creative and artist peak on this album.

There was a time where Wolf was meant to be the end of its trilogy and the end of Tyler’s discography as a whole. However, back in November we got word through an excellent Fader cover story that Tyler was working on a follow-up project with the hope of dropping it out of nowhere during the Odd Future carnival, but sadly the timing wasn’t right. Last week it finally was the time and Tyler released a music video followed by an album a short time later right from under our noses, much like Earl did just last month with his I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside album.

Here we are with Cherry Bomb. And I’ll tell you, I went into that “Fucking Young” music video with confidence and was hit with something I really should have expected. On that track and on a lot of this album Tyler dives deeper into his influences in a very transparent, unapologetic way. This is done to the point where “Deathcamp”, the album’s opening track, sounds exactly like an N.E.R.D. fan just trying to emulate their Rock-Rap sound. To be fair, this could be because this is just that. Tyler is by no means the worse to do this, but it doesn’t feel like him. This influence can be seen on the album’s title track “Cherry Bomb” as well with it being very heavily inspired by the distorted work of Death Grips. The really interesting part of this album is that this could very well be the music that Tyler has been striving to make. It makes sense, really. His success has done big things for him, the most important of them getting him into the position of butting elbows with his influences. His success has also granted him with the slew of resources that make this album sound so great audio-quality wise, even if his style is still wild and chaotic.

Speaking of making the music he wants to make, Tyler has said on multiple occasions that he wants to be able to sing, but he can’t because his voice is too deep. Instead of pitch-shifting his vocals lower like he has in the past, Tyler attempts to fix this by doing the opposite, distorting his voice to what it is on “Fucking Young”. And the verdict? Eh. I’ve heard it done better. I also think Tyler had something pretty unique with his vocal effects. Let’s take it all the way back to the “French” video in 2010 (which I will embed below for your viewing pleasure). I think that sound has a lot more character than the sound on “Fucking Young”. It’s fits Tyler’s style so much better, and it’s an effect that doesn’t work with anyone else quite as well. But that, just like this entire review, is just my opinion.

His voice seems like it was made solely for the purpose of rapping. At this point he is really good at it, as he demonstrates at a couple points on the album, he just isn’t doing enough of it. I feel like he just needs to accept his fate and use it as an opportunity to be one to teach people a lesson as he got from Pharrell. Making the music you want to is crucial, but working with what you’ve got is important too. Speaking of that, on “Keep the O’s” — featuring our darling Pharrell Williams — has this voice effect is all over the place. It all feels a bit unnecessary. Maybe it’s just not my cup of tea, but even if it’s still unhinged and stream-of-consciousness this doesn’t feel like a Tyler, The Creator album to me. The point when all of this became clear to me was on “The Brown Stains”. Fuck man, Tyler snapped off. As someone who lives for this type of rappin’-ass-rapping, I was so happy a song like this make its way into this project. In fact, this track is really all that I love about Tyler. The beat is sharp but still frantic and the rapping is skillful and braggadocious to the point of being Tyler just talking his shit. He’s got a knack for that swag/flex-rapping, that was in part what made his so controversial in the beginning. Another great part of the track is at 1:38 when it becomes more skeletal for a few measures, this being a production choice that Tyler really started making his own on songs like “Tron Cat” and “Yonkers”. Also, as an added bonus we get a very clean ScHoolboy Q verse to close the track. This is a smart addition being that have proven their synergy on “The Purge” off of Q’s Oxymoron.

One of my major eyerolls I had and keep having with this album is Tyler’s lyricism. On “Deathcamp”, as he has done before, Tyler is laying out his alternative new age M.O. To quote him, “In Search Of… did more for me than Illmatic, that’s when I realized we ain’t cut form the same fabric.” This isn’t the first time we’ve heard Tyler explain himself in a track and we really don’t need something that brazen. Consider the entirety of Wolf: Tyler really laid himself out as an artist and as a person on tracks like “IFHY”, “Answer”, “Cowboy”, and “Colossus”. He was finally unfolding himself from this tight emotional bind that was on Bastard and Goblin. There are tracks on Cherry Bomb that do this, “Pilot” serving as one example, but songs like “Deathcamp”and “Cherry Bomb” do it in such a blatant, ham-fisted way. Where is the finesse? Tyler got the same type of point across on “Bimmer” when he said “pop some Tame Impala, your man got a lame Impala” and that doesn’t have the “I’m different” attitude. For another example, “IFHY” was a really unique, non-conventional way to address a girl, but then we got “Blow My Load”, which was just taking a step back to “Analog” which is a song that I think shows more immaturity than youthful spirit.

I would have a heart of pure blackness if I said I hated this album. Tyler seems to have really poured himself into this album and the love and intention resulting from this is clear in the music. I don’t at all mean to sound big-headed, but the way I judge music factors in the artists themselves. I think Drake and Big Sean are boring because they don’t have much personality in their music. Rapping doesn’t have this sort of reputation, but it’s a honest medium where you and your personality shine through. With this, I really enjoy the music of a grab-bag off-beat personality like Tyler, The Creator. I like Cherry Bomb, I do. I don’t think this is by any means his strongest work, in fact it may be my least favorite, but it’s not a black sheep among his discography. Again, it makes a lot of sense he would make this album at this point in his life. His Fader cover story but it best when it read “the album, like the reality he’s constructed, is one big wish list come to life, drafted by a child raised to affirm his identity by his own decisions.” That, my friends, is the excellent work an English degree grants you.

The argument Tyler is challenging in my mind is that of expression’s weight in judging music. I’m thinking of this as Tyler’s Yeezus. That album was Kanye West’s protest of typical radio-pandering Pop Rap. All the way from the beginning Tyler’s music has been coloring outside of the lines because that’s what Tyler likes. His music is what he wants to make to an unabashed, sometimes aggressive degree, and I can respect that. I’m not sure his vision made for a critically great album this time, but I can respect Cherry Bomb for what it is. Was my mind taken away to the same degree like it was with Wolf? No. Was I impressed with Tyler because he did something we thought he couldn’t? No. Do I enjoy having to say all of this? Of course not. I’ve been rooting for Tyler since “Yonkers” because I was at the perfect age for it. I would love to see him continue to progress (with the progression from Goblin to Wolf having been so outstanding). This doesn’t feel like Tyler moving forward and pushing himself into new territory as an artist and as a musician. It feels like him enjoying the place his previous successes have gotten him. Again, I can respect this, but I would have admired Tyler’s efforts much more if he moved forwarded rather than enjoyed stagnation.

You can download Cherry Bomb on iTunes or grab a physical copy here.

Personal highpoints:

“Buffalo” / “The Brown Stains”

Personal lowpoints:

“Blow My Load” / “Fucking Young” / “Okaga, CA”

Facebook  Twitter  Website

Charlie Johns

Young Fathers – White Men Are Black Men Too (Extended Review)

YF-wmabmt-cover-web

Don’t like reading? We got you.

The music of up-and-coming Scottish experimental genre-splicing trio Young Fathers is tough to explain. Since 2013’s Tape One they have been making charming, accessible, inventive music that combines influences from almost every corner of music. The typical Young Fathers fare — or at least where they began — blends the beat and tempos of African drum circles with industrial, sometimes lo-fi production to create a soundscape that I feel is really compelling, especially when you factor in their very approachable poetic lyricism which is carefully laid over top. So, this is all to say that their music has the potential to enchant you as it has myself for a while now. Their career has been starting to gain some good traction and they have found solid creative footing. On White Men Are Black Men Too, the group continues thriving in their own domain artistically. Also, in addition, they venture deeper into their musical influences, blending that inspiration well into what they are working with.

Even if at times it may be hidden over layers of stylistic sheen, the group has been steadily progressing with their sound since Tape One. One area where I think this is blaringly observable is in their production. They dress their music with small production embellishments, adding heart and character to their sound. Tape One had the initial experimentation with the drums and buzzing synths over soulful spoken word while Tape Two delved into some vocal effects, giving tracks like “Mr. Martyr” and “I Heard” a very cloudy, sexy vibe just as is accomplished in most of the Weeknd’s music. On DEAD, the group’s 2014 full-length, the tone got dimmer and a bit bleaker while incorporating a jagged edge to their production with more layers of smut. Now for this, the group’s sophomore album, released via Big Dada Recordings, which I feel is their most exploratory release yet while simultaneously being their most telling of the aim of their music.

Young Fathers’ music is dense by nature and WMABMT continues this trend. Their releases haven’t been over 40 minutes or so – this album being no different with tracklist of 12 which hangs right under 40 minutes – but it’s never a quick process for one to absorb their music. This album took quite some time for me to chew and digest. There’s a lot going on in here, and their continuation of experimenting with different oddball production quirks furthers this immensely. To be fair to the sound, though, it also makes it a lot more enjoyable. There are the twangy strings on “Old Rock N Roll”, the Indie-Rock-Of-Monsters-and-Men-ish whistling on “John Doe”, the scratchy synths on “Get Started”, and “27” with its Donkey Kong Country sounding bass-kicks. Again, these little quirks help to both solidify the profile of the music as well as bringing out its character and personality. This isn’t the first time first time we’ve heard this in their music, with, among others, a very notable jaw harp appearance on DEAD’s “JUST ANOTHER BULLET”, but it’s continuing to be something I obviously very much dig. The Young Fathers are really capitalizing and refining the unique groove in music they have so dutifully carved for themselves.

When I reviewed DEAD, I came across a Soundcloud comment that summed up Young Fathers with a level of brevity that I couldn’t even hope to achieve. TTK92 described their music as “endlessly inventive”, and those are words I associate with this endearingly alternative band to this day. With each of their releases they are doing something new while still maintaining the key through-line of making music that is both loud and sometimes confusing but still very well-organized. Their music is paradoxical in that way, and while we are on that topic I’d like to point out another achievement. I don’t think anyone could argue that this music doesn’t fall under the ever-growing experimental music label. However, one of the things we knew about the direction of this album was that it was Young Fathers’ “interpretation of what a Pop album should be.” There aren’t many genres that are farther apart, but they somehow nailed both. This is interesting for me to dig into and get my hands dirty with, but I could very easily see the contemporary ear accepting it. I can’t understand how they did that, but that’s probably why I don’t make music, I just advocate for it.

With that, go listen to White Men Are Black Men Too, because it really deserves to be heard. You can support the band by buying the album through iTunes or by snagging a physical copy.

Personal Highpoints:

“Feasting” / “Old Rock N Roll” / “Nest” / “Get Started”

Personal Lowpoints:

“Dare Me”

Facebook  Twitter  Soundcloud

Charlie Johns

 

Earl Sweatshirt – I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside (Extended Review)

earl-sweatshirt-i-dont-like-shit-i-dont-go-outside-cover

Don’t rock with reading? We get that. Here’s a video review of Earl’s I Don’t Like Shit.

Odd Future is the darling Rap group of the Internet age. Their growth was explosive and fairly unheard of for the genre, at least for the time they came up. One of the main emcees of the group while they were at their peak was Earl Sweatshirt, a loud-mouthed kid who could seriously rap his ass off. His career started with “Earl”, an off-the-wall ridiculous song made from bars that were both wordy and macabre all set to a music video which featured him and his friends throwing a load of elicit substances into a blender, making a concoction that morbidly kills everybody. It had that level of shock that young kids go for when they want both rebellion and attention, but it was provocative nonetheless. A few months after this music video went viral among the young and alternative, Earl dropped a self-titled mixtape which earned a huge amount of recognition for the then 16-year-old. It’s certainly not the honed or meticulously-created project, but that’s what people latched onto. There were also some really authentically homegrown joints that ended up sounding cool as hell. There was the aforementioned title track, as well as “Luper”, “epaR”, and “Pigions” (don’t be mistaken, that’s how it’s spelt in the tracklisting) among a few others. The young artist was then sent away for a while, which thusly spawned the “FREE EARL” campaign. This was one of OF’s first major victories in music; the phrase successfully stoked the hype fire for this new, edgy Earl Sweatshirt kid until he returned at the age of 18. When he came back he immediately entered the life of a international rap star, which I only mention because the effects of this dislodging process can still be seen on the album in question: I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside.

Staying very in line with his contrarian personality, Earl seems to be rejecting the hype-dependence of his first project with I Don’t Like Shit. His debut album, Doris, which landed in 2013, was kind of in the middle between viral anticipation and attempting to release an album out of nowhere, but I’ll get into that project a bit more later. So, let’s talk about this album with its long ass title and why I think it’s pretty weak compared to Earl’s past work. Before I get too negative, though, Earl deserves some praise.

The rapper on I Don’t Like Shit is worlds past the rapper on Earl when it comes to his actual skill on the mic. Earl’s flow is sharp, his style is tried and true, and his lyricism is still solid — no one can ever take away Earl’s bars. He keeps progressing, which is great since I could have totally seen Earl turning into a one-trick pony who keeps releasing projects like Earl with better and better production. This is an apprehension that Earl has addressed very openly in the past. In a slightly painful interview with the Huffington Post, Earl said this about OF’s expedited rise to popularity: “we got famous off of our shit ideas … you’re first drafts ever, we got famous off of our’s. So people were judging us and basing us off of our fucking first shit ever.” The big names of Odd Future have proven themselves with impressive and multi-dimensional personal efforts since its start, with Tyler, the Creator’s Wolf and Earl’s Doris in 2013, as well as some earlier stuff, like Mellowhype’s YelloWhite and BlackenedWhite. Even after their respective realeases, each one of these rappers have been working against a very strong sigma that has been following them from since the beginning. So, maybe the distain of I Don’t Like Shit is understandable.

Earl’s progression has been taking him into darker and dingier corners of his mind and away from the oh-so provocative vulgarity. His first step away from this was his debut album, Doris, a solid project that had a fair share of stinkers that luckily didn’t ruin the project as a whole, at least for me. I’ll still go back and listen to the songs that stood out to me: “20 Wave Caps”, “Hive”, and “Centurion” to name a few. Two of those tracks featured verses by Vince Staples, an emcee who came up at the same time as Earl and has been featured on every one of his projects. Vince returns once again on I Don’t Like Shit, this time on the last track, “Wool”, delivering a strong, full-bodied verse.

I’m a huge Vince fan, but if you’ve been reading for a while (or follow me on Tumblr) you’ve probably gathered that. I’ve always associated him with something that Earl said in an “Inside the Beat” episode: “with Vince, if you don’t fucking really go in, like, you’re going to sound so stupid … I’ve seen it happen.” Earl doesn’t sound stupid on “Wool”, he shows up and drops a solid verse, but Vince shows him up antagonistically. And this is my main issue with the album, Earl is constantly being outshined. For features he chose rappers who either have very unique voices or flows that pack a lot of energy. Earl is so nonchalant and even-toned that his verses are generally falling by the wayside, or at least they aren’t the main attraction. I don’t think his casual flow is a fatal flaw by any means, he has made a lot of really great music in the past, but it certainly didn’t bode well for him here. The best Rap music is made by its hunger, emotion, and genuine drama. There are moments, just like on past projects, where he steps towards it. One of those moments is “Wool”, but I can’t help but think that Earl heard that verse and consciously stepped it up not to sound, as he said himself, stupid. “DNA” is another moment with a refreshing dose of sentiment that makes Earl’s rapping a lot more poignant sonically. That track has a feature, which, unlike “Wool”, complimented Earl’s flow and style well. So, maybe it wasn’t all bad, I just expected a bit more after Doris.

Here, before you commit to the entire I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside album, listen to the project’s eighth track, “Inside”. If you find Earl’s plight compelling and his sound engaging, you’ll most likely enjoy this album. Earl is a good rapper, I just know he can do better. At any rate, here’s an iTunes link so you can decide your opinion for yourself.

Personal highpoints:

“DNA” / “Wool”

Personal lowpoints:

“Mantra” / “Grief”

Facebook  Twitter  Soundcloud

Charlie Johns

Death Grips – Jenny Death (Extended Review)

jenny-death-1200

Don’t like reading? We get that. Here’s a link to our video review for Jenny Death

To begin, Death Grips is perhaps the act in music I am most thankful for. I’ve been listening since The Money Store and it had been the best ride I’ve ever taken in my young music listening lifetime. They created a discography that is nothing short of essential to any critical music listener while creating a foundation for any band who strives to push the envelop of what’s accepted to the masses’ collective ear. Since this is supposedly their last album, and in lieu of being wholly objective and consequently boring as hell, let me tell you about my journey through the phenomenon that is Death Grips.

The trio of MC Ride, Flatlander, and Zach Hill formed a band whose mystique is so strong and engulfing that their music’s heft is multiplied by it. One of the big things that has built that aura of the unexpected was the manner in which Death Grips releases their music, that being out of god damn no where. I discovered Death Grips when I got put onto this crazy ass project called The Money Store by a good friend and became entranced by it. After getting connected on all social medias, I remember being between classes junior year of high school and checking my phone to discover No Love Deep Web by its tile floor and its erect dick and my brain melted. I had never seen anything like that so that so it was really so cool to me. Later on, I remember sitting in a psychology class when Government Plates dropped, again, out of no where. The first half of The Powers That B came unexpectedly the night before a long trip, so I was thankful to have the album to grip me during that. And then finally Jenny Death on the 19th while I was in a Geography exam. This whole out-of-the-blue thing gives me extreme anxiety as someone who tries to be timely with his reviews, but herein lines a key difference of Jenny Death. The anticipatory fervor of Jenny Death, with it being the second half of The Powers That B, a double album that is said to be the end of Death Grips discography being that the group broke up, has made it the most predictable release from the group yet. I preordered the vinyl, I had some notes ready for the review, and I was able to give myself a couple listen-throughs of their previous albums in preparation; the only thing that I wasn’t expecting was to be able to do those things. I’m not going to go around saying that it ruined it for me, I just think it’s important to note as something that was noticeably different with this album.

One of the main strengths of the Death Grips body of work is its unpredictability (yeah, again with the unpredictability). Each album, from Exmilitary (and their Death Grips EP, for that matter) to the second half of The Powers That B and each and every album in-between is quantifiably different than the last. With this, and it possibly being my last chance to do so, let me give one to two sentences that summarizes my feelings on each Death Grips release (I’ll also embed my favorite track if it’s available):

Death Grips: Man, this noisey ass psuedo-Hip hop group is super Punk and kind of wild beyond belief. Could you imagine if this grew into one of if not the most important experimental acts in music?

[Missing link to “Face Melter (How to do impossible things)”]

Exmilitary: Jarring sample-based bliss that is rough-around-the-edges in the name of aesthetic. Also, I’m super pissed I can’t get it on vinyl.

The Money Store: Front to back – “Get Got” to “Hacker” – The Money Store is absolutely essential. It’s surprisingly accessible, which is nice.

No Love Deep Web: As much as I love The Money Store, if we are speaking on the concept of Death Grips, No Love Deep Web is the trio’s peak.

Government Plates: Different from NLDW and that didn’t rub people very well. Though I think its new electronic sound was still very “Death Grips” while also giving the record a low barrier of entry to new listeners.

Niggas On The Moon: I’ll cheat and throw a link to my extended review here. In short, it’s not as bad as people originally thought.

Fashion Week: Someone could reasonably twerk to “Runway Y” and “Runway D” sounds like Death Grips was commissioned to make the intro song to a PBS special on the rain forest. That shit’s so bananas.

And finally… Jenny Death when? Right now, and what a day it is. Since this is long already I’m going to make this as to-the-point as it can be. Jenny Death, the second half of The Powers That B and the “final” Death Grips album is just as monumental as it should be. It may not be the most disturbing release we’ve heard the group, nor the most dynamic or unpredictable, but overall I’m not disappointed at all. And I say this like my opinion matters (it doesn’t), but on my list of favorite Death Grips albums, it tied at a solid third with Exmilitary behind the, if I’m going to be honest, untouchable Money Store and No Love Deep Web. That is a lot higher than I thought it would land on my retrospective favorites list. I say this because I wasn’t too genuinely impressed by “Inanimate Sensation” when we heard it in 2014, the wait was becoming drawn out and dangerously hyped, and, though great, I didn’t see “On GP” saving it from said hype.

It turns out the delays just made me overly cynical. Forget “On GP”, the rest of the album has it covered. But, also, don’t forget about “On GP” because that song is one of the best on the album. Along with being that, “On GP” is integral to understanding Death Grips as humans who formed a band rather than immortal musical beings who were so benevolent to bless this world. This song, with the entire discography apparently behind us, and if not entire than certainly one of considerable size, is one of the darkest, most honest, and least sugarcoated single songs out of the bunch. And, also to their credit, it was a very smart lead-in single to the release of the album. At its core “On GP” is about suicide, which admittedly isn’t the most unheard of subject matter in their music, but there were always aggressive and deviant sexual acts and instances of getting heavily #noided surrounding mentions of suicide, so I, along with most Death Grips listeners, never really took it as reality. However, this song is distinctly personal and very clearly based on real events. The song first verse ends with “Last night, 3:30 in the morning, Death on my front porch, can feel him itching to take me with him, hail death, fuck you waiting for / Like a question no one mentioned, he turns around, hands me his weapon, he slurs, ‘use at your discretion, it’s been a pleasure, Stefan.’” The moment is only amplified by the full-stop of realizing that that was the only time their music has referenced MC Ride’s real name. This song doesn’t seem to have been written with the aforementioned “Death Grips” mysticism in mind, which made the song scarily real and made that line a kick to the fucking gut for someone who has learned from and enjoyed this man’s music so deeply for years now. But, as I said before, Jenny Death didn’t need to be saved by this song.

The two albums that make up The Powers That B, though contrasted by one another in other ways to an excellent effect, are exercises of the maximal. It’s done tastefully, but not necessarily even-handedly. There are moments when your enjoyment would depend on if you’re listening to Death Grips purely for its shock factor, unheard of, and avant garde nature of their music or to witness the feat of great music achieved in a way you hadn’t heard before. For example, the first half of The Powers That B was the most tangled we had heard Death Grips yet. I said this in my review of the album, but there were moments where I was broken from my listener’s trance and really took notice of this crazy spectacle. “Up My Sleeves”, the opening track of the LP, sounded like I was standing in the middle of a twister with MC Ride yelling at me while there was a broken record whipping around my head. This is praise, don’t be mistaken, but this everything-and-the-kitchen-sink mentality in Death Grips’ production was a change that wasn’t the easiest to roll with as a listener. On Jenny Death, however, I feel this style was accomplished with a bit more finesse, which is quite the triumph being that they added guitar to the mix.

The music that is on Jenny Death is what I’d think people imagine when I tell them about Death Grips, that being the unorderly mingling of sinisterness and thrashiness. That’s what the music is like, though it may not be as unfurled as one could assume. Jenny Death isn’t completely free of moments of over doing it, with “Beyond Alive” feeling a bit like throwing every sound into it for effect. Though, I could very well hold that opinion because I didn’t like that song as much as the rest of the record. At any rate, it seems that their announced break up, whether it be real or not, allowed Death Grips to create their most undistilled product since Exmilitary. But it’s not only that, Jenny Death is also the amalgamation of every one of the respective traits that made each Death Grips project stand out from the rest. It’s got some of the stomach-churning lyricism of No Love Deep Web, the harsh electronic beats of Government Plates, the grit and unsanded feel of Exmilitary, and even the pseudo-mainstream accessibility of The Money Store.

If the break up is a reality, Jenny Death will serve as a great end to their discography, but it also could be used as a great starting point. If you haven’t listened to much Death Grips, 1.) good on you for getting this deep into the review, but more importantly 2.) use this album as your starting point. If you find yourself latching onto any of the points of interest that I listed above, give the corresponding album a listen. Each one of their albums have peaks that will stand this test of time both in the experimental music sphere as well as contemporary music as a whole. This message could be rendered premature if this break up doesn’t hold up (which would be so like Death Grips, wouldn’t it?), but thank you Death Grips. You touched music like no one else ever has. The music community could never thank you enough. So, with all the love and gratitude I can muster: Death Grips, please stay legend. We love you.

You can buy Jenny Death as the second half of The Powers That B here. Please do, if this indeed their last album, they should make enough money to buy a throne in which to get #noided on.

Personal highpoints:

“Pss Pss” / “The Powers That B” / “Centuries Of Damn” / “On GP”

Personal lowpoints:

“Inanimate Sensation” (It works for a lot of people, just not my cup of tea.)

Facebook  Twitter  Soundcloud

Charlie Johns

Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly (Extended Review)

kdotduckworth

Don’t like reading? We get that: here’s our video review for To Pimp a Butterfly.

Kendrick Lamar Duckworth is back to shake up the game once again, this time with his third studio album, the hotly anticipated To Pimp a Butterfly. This review requires a good amount of context to explain the weight of this album, so let me tell you a little bit about Kendrick’s previous release, the ever-important good kid m.A.A.d. city.

Much of GKMC‘s significance came from its popular reach. This album became monstrously prevalent because of its carefully crafted and expertly executed songwriting. Since his self-titled EP in 2009, Kendrick has been making records that appeal to all music listeners, casual and hardcore. So, with his last album, it was a combination of a lot of people buying the record because of tracks like “Poetic Justice” featuring Drake, “Swimming Pools”, “m.A.A.d. city”, and “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe”, and pretty much every Hip hop head falling in love with Kendrick’s clever songwriting and minute attention to musicality. So, this is to say it fed both audiences simultaneously very well. The song that I mentioned before, “Swimming Pools”, was a big radio hit, and it’s a good example of K-Dot’s all-satisfying lyricism. The hook to that song is “I wave a few bottles then I watch em all flock, all the girls want to play Baywatch / I got a swimming pool full of liquor and they dive in it, pool full of liquor Imma dive in it.” It’s a bit deceiving, especially when you hear it in the context of a frat party or something. Yeah, I’d turn up to that song, and maybe some of you have, but if you break apart that chorus it’s not too difficult to sense Kendrick’s commentary on youth drinking culture and the scary amount of glamour surrounding it. Listening to music is the former mindset, that being the frat boy’s, is of course valid, it may not be getting the whole picture but it’s valid. And the dollar that Chad from Delta-whatever-the-hell spent on that single is just another penance that goes into Kendrick’s bank account to fund more music that can strike such a duality. And that isn’t the only joint like that, almost every song is incredibly entertaining and engaging music on the surface level, but it’s also very dense lyrically and thematically. Chad helped start a positive feedback loop that we all hope would bring more classics that continue to influence and shape Hip hop as good kid m.A.A.d. city did.

Between albums Kendrick kept busy by being very selective with the doling of his features. This attention in addition to his obvious skill and finesse on the mic made his contributions to other emcees’ tracks some of the best we saw in the two-year span. To name just a few: the excellent “Nosetalgia” on My Name Is My Name (embedded below), the “Really Be” joint off of YG’s My Krazy Life (which GKMC almost exclusively inspired), Q’s “Collard Greens” off of Oxymoron“Never Catch Me” (which was my favorite collaboration of 2014) on the last FlyLo album, and one of my personal favorite posse tracks from this generation of rappers, “1 Train” on A$AP Rocky’s Long.Live.A$AP.

It’s fair to say that this third studio album had some big shoes to fill. Kendrick Lamar crafted a modern day Hip hop masterpiece with his portrayal of the fish-out-of-water story and crafted a grand musical memoir that was heard and loved by a lot of people. So, even if March is crowded with other huge Hip hop releases, it’s time to see how K-Dot did with his latest project:

To Pimp a Butterfly uses the vehicle of a metaphorical caterpillar and butterfly to paint an important perspective of struggle and the gnawing want for change. Where does one start with topics that are this big? Self-reflection; and that’s what this album focuses around. That and an ongoing dialogue with our first and late King of Hip hop, Tupac Shakur, which accumulates at the end of the album on “Mortal Man”. There are certainly some parallels to be drawn, with 2Pac being seen as the West Coast rapper when Hip hop was rising to cultural prevalence and Kendrick also coming from the West Coast, more specifically Compton. To go along with that, both used the reach of their music to illuminate the real issues and struggles one faces in this “ghetto” that people are so quick to joke about. This conversation — which is a great bow on the album’s wrapping – is used as a spiritual passing of the torch. This conversation between them is highlighted by a poem that is pieced together through the album. This piece Kendrick is reciting to Pac is fittingly mirrored in To Pimp a Butterfly’s tracklist. For example: there’s a moment where Kendrick finds himself in a hotel room fighting off the urge to “self destruct”, which is told on “u”. There’s also “Hood Politics” where he returns to his home in Compton and has overwhelming survivor’s guilt. This is Kendrick’s storytelling really coming into play, as it often does with his music, to a great effect.

In the past, one of the things that helped put Kendrick’s thematic moments into boldface, or at least give them a lot more emotion, was his character playing. With just a small change of inflection Kendrick was telling the same story from a completely separate character with different motives, struggles, weaknesses, and, most importantly, perspective. This gave songs like “m.A.A.d. city” all of their weight and emotional heft. This is a technique that I was very happy to see Kendrick utilize to even more success of To Pimp a Butterfly. Like, holy shit, I could hardly get through the latter half of “u”. And to mention it while we’re here, that’s probably the realest, most telling track I’ve ever heard Kendrick on, and I don’t say that lightly.

A Kendrick album is always a treat, but I am digging how many questions can be raised after listening through To Pimp a Butterfly. The title is a reference to To Kill a Mockingbird; are there any thematic parallels? And let’s talk about this album cover… This is a few choppers away from being the most stereotypical trap mixtape cover ever. In fact, someone over at /r/hiphopheads threw that together. Could this be another stab at the “biggest hypocrite of 2015” line from “The Blacker the Berry”, with this album being so conscious while the Trap scene is so much the opposite? In addition to all of this, the whole album is obviously lyrical, so there is a lot of reading-into necessary (or at least Rap Genius searching) to realize the full breath of To Pimp a Butterfly. This could be my music critic brain showing itself, though, so let’s address maybe the most pressing question. It’s unavoidable; with To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick now has a pretty sizable body of work, so let’s discuss: what’s the best K-Dot project? Or, to put it more simply, good kid m.A.A.d city or To Pimp a Butterfly? Obviously a big question, but I can say this: these both tell very different stories of very different Kendricks. GKMC told the universally relatable story of growing to accept and embrace one’s roots, and, as dark and as bleak as it may have gotten at times, To Pimp a Butterfly got much more so. Again, just listen to “u”. They both have their draws. TPAB is a lot more of an intimate and honest look into Kendrick’s mind. But, on the flip side, I think GKMC’s storyline took us through a greater variety of sounds, which helped with my overall engagement as a listener. Give me month and maybe I’ll be able to pick my favorite, but for now I’m satisfied with holding them both very dearly.

My last argument for good kid m.A.A.d city was what held me back significantly from embracing To Pimp a Butterfly with the instant classic label that the masses so quickly slapped it with. After my first listen-through of this album, I missed all the variety that we heard on GKMC. Also, I tend to latch onto the raw explosive emotion of a track like “The Blacker the Berry”, and there are only a couple of these audibly passionate peaks. Another was “i”, which got even better since we heard it in 2014. However, as much as I would have personally liked to hear an album more in line with tracks like “m.A.A.d city”, “Collect Calls”, or “The Blacker the Berry”, To Pimp a Butterfly is excellent and its excellence is completely undeniable. It’s everything we could have possibly asked for in a follow up to an album that changed Hip hop as GKMC did. It’s deeply personal, introspective, and reflective as well as culturally sensitive and smart politically. But, more significantly, it does all of this while having an incredible narrative and musicality that is beyond question. Kendrick’s potential (if you could ever call it that at this point) is limitless. He will be the reigning King of Hip hop for a long, long time. To Pimp a Butterfly felt like Kendrick reaching to his furthest extends as a rapper, and the product is almost unbelievable. I guess we’ll see if he can push it even farther with his next release. He’s given us two albums that are nothing short of seminal, so he can certainly take his time.

If you’re not listening to this album already, stop wasting your time by reading my stuff and learn yourself something.

Personal Highpoints:

“Wesley’s Theory” / “u” / “Hood Politics” / “The Blacker the Berry” / “i”

Personal lowpoints:

“For Free?”

Facebook  Twitter  Soundcloud

Charlie Johns