Category: Chill

Mac Miller – Break The Law (Single)

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After revealing his new major label debut GO:OD AM with a release date, a tour, and its first single, Mac Miller quickly returns with a crazy-fun new cut from the upcoming project entitled “Break The Law”. On this track, Mac dubs himself “Mr. Love to Grab His Nuts”, and that pseudonym perfectly sums up the attitude of this single. “Break The Law” is fast-paced, ridiculous, dangerously entertaining, zany, and brimming with quotables. This isn’t even mentioning the flow, which, as Mac reminds us in this song, is stellar.

GO:OD AM‘s two singles have been all that I need to rest assured that this album is going to be an entertaining and worthwhile Mac Miller project. Luckily, the wait is almost over. September 18th is the day, mark your calendars Hip hop heads.

 

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Charlie Johns

Earl Sweatshirt – Off Top (Official Music Video)

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Earl Sweatshirt has had quite the year in his own rite, even if, by the sounds of his latest album, it’s been a lonely one. Plucked from 2015’s I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, “Off Top” is a somber ballad set to uneasy and fuzzy production where Earl is probably the most transparent we’ve ever seen him. The California emcee drops bar after telling bar outlining the changes that his life has seen, in terms of his music, family life, and fame. My personal favorite, and what perhaps sums up Earl’s feelings the best, is near the end of the track when he tackles the hype that is stapled to any music he releases: “I’m only happy when there’s static in the air ’cause the fair weather fake to me.”

Enjoy Earl’s Beavis and Butthead/Schoolhouse Rock-esque visuals below.

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Charlie Johns

Danny Brown and Clams Casino – Worth It

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Over the past couple of years Adult Swim has prevailed as a surprisingly dependable and competent source for nice-ass Hip hop music. Just last year we were gifted gems such as “Coupe” from Future and “Oh My Darling (Don’t Cry)” from Run The Jewels, but we are real lucky to be getting the tracks that we are this summer. In the coming months we can prepare for joints from Shabazz Palaces, DOOMSTARKS, Flying Lotus, and another from Run The Jewels, but today we have the track I was perhaps most excited for: “Worth It”, brought to us by the collaborative efforts of Detroit rapper Danny Brown and producer extraordinaire Clams Casino. The two combine in a strange yet cohesive way to make “Worth It” the track to send a jolt of energy through your slow Monday. Peep their track below and let us all be thankful for Adult Swim‘s benevolence and altruism.

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Charlie Johns

Mick Jenkins – Get Up Get Down (Single)

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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.

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Charlie Johns

Vince Staples – Norf Norf (Official Music Video)

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LBC emcee Vince Staples returns two weeks after the release of his studio full-length debut with a music video for one of our favorite tracks, “Norf Norf”. The track, produced by the one and only Clams Casino, paints a vivid picture of his hometown of Northside Long Beach. We’ve grown to love Vince for his haymaker bars that are as artistically poignant as they are ruthlessly blunt, but this track off of Summertime ’06 brought it to a different level. As I wrote in my review for the project as a whole (which you can peep here), this track combines an excellently murky, almost sinister and foreboding instrumental with Vince’s staple stoic lyricism. The song as a whole is great, 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.”

Enjoy the music video below.

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Charlie Johns

The Underachievers – Take Your Place

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Plucked from their rapidly approaching full-length Evermore – The Art of Duality, the Beast Coast duo of Issa Gold and AK the Savior release a solid single to hold-over those hungry for more Underachiever raps. We already know that these two can swap verses like no one else can right now, so the fact that this track flows well between them is nothing too shocking. What I do think is of note in this song is how hungry both of these dudes sound. They aren’t unfamiliar with a little bit of ferocity in their flow, but “Take Your Place” exhibits something more. They are really hitting these bars hard, which pairs well with a flashy, thumping beat. Props to UA: I wasn’t too big of a fan of their last release, but this single tells me that they have moved forward into a place that I can really dig.

Peep the fresh heat below:

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Charlie Johns

Vince Staples – Summertime ’06 (Extended Review)

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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”

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Charlie Johns

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

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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)

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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

 

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”

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Charlie Johns