While restlessly waiting for its release we get yet another hot single from Jay Rock’s soon-to-drop full-length return, 90059. This album’s title track (which was released last week) was intense, but “Easy Bake” builds off of that, being unpredictable and completely explosive. Rock shows off some newly-honed style to his rapping, with his bars snapping more than ever while still maintaining his hallmark hunger. It’s also worth mentioning that his label mate K Dot dropped into the track to set his own respective verse ablaze with aggressive and passionate spitting. This will hopefully be the last single holding us over before the LP itself arrives, so go pre-order your digital copy on iTunes or an autographed CD directly from Top Dawg’s website.
Get ready people, this album is coming from TDE’s dark horse and original soldier, and from what we’ve been hearing, we are right to expect something great.
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.
Jay Rock, who is meant to be the next TDE member to drop an album, releases yet another single for his still untitled upcoming release. The other singles were great (including but not limited to the excellent “Parental Advisory”), but “90059” — named after Jay Rock’s home zip code — is something crazy, plain and simple. The ever-hungry Jay Rock utilizes vocal modulation and balancing to create an unnervingly ruckus sound. This combines with his sharp, thoughtful, yet hard-as-hell lyricism to make yet another reason to get excited about the album. In fact, this may be the final straw. Rock, we need this album, stat. These singles got all of us too hyped.
Peep the hot new single below, and be on the lookout for Rock’s new album coming soon.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
“Lift Me Up” / “Norf Norf” / “Lemme Know” / “Jump off the Roof” / “Señorita” / “3230” / “Street Punks”
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.
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.