Tag Archives: Hip-Hop

Review: I Decided.

i-decided-cover
via Henncredibly Dope

I Decided. (2017)

Big Sean

Rap / Hip-Hop

GOOD Music / Def Jam


When you stack up Big Sean’s I Decided. against his previous albums like Hall of Fame and his debut Finally Famous, it is quite clear that the Detroit-based rapper has taken a more introspective turn in his career.  Songs like “Dance (A$$)” and “Guap” are a thing of the past compared to his more recent offerings.  Dark Sky Paradise was a good indication of this change, mixing fun and more lighthearted party rap with deeper, reflective tracks.  I Decided., Big Sean’s fourth studio album, is not unlike what other rappers have been doing lately, but it still is Big Sean’s best work yet.

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via Dancehall Hip-Hop

Things get rolling, theme-wised, in the album’s intro track.  Big Sean’s older self, voiced by actor J.R. Starr gets hit by a car and dies.  He is then reincarnated as his present self in another life.  The whole album serves as a reflection on Sean’s life, with his older self is giving him advice and wisdom every step of the way.  It is a cool theme, but one that is underused.  The intro track came and went but I was only reminded of the theme later in the album on “Halfway Off the Balcony.”  I Decided. has a clear and consistent message throughout, but I would have liked the bits with J.R. Starr to be sprinkled a little more throughout.

“Bounce Back,” the most popular song from the album, also happens to be one of the highlights from the project.  It is an upbeat banger about bouncing back after taking an “L”.  Big Sean has some great flow on the track, similar in style to the flow found on Drake’s song “6 Man.”  Next on the track list is “No Favors,” a controversial collaboration with everyone’s favorite rabble-rouser Eminem.  Produced by WondaGurl, the song marks the first time Eminem has appeared on a Big Sean’s album.  Big Sean’s verse is great, but the biggest take-away is Eminem’s verse, where he makes a bunch of verbal jabs, including a threat against Ann Coulter.  Whether he meant it or not (he probably did not), people are still taking some offense.  This is not the first time Eminem has said something controversial.  He is the king of controversy of course.  It should not be a surprise to anyone.

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via Saint Heron

These are not the only bangers that appear on the album.  “Voices in My Head/Stick to the Plan,” produced by Metro Boomin, is another great track with a double-edged sound.  In the song, Big Sean tells himself and his listeners to stay true to himself and to heed the advice of your elders.  Then things heat up and quicken as Metro steers the beat in a new direction with the second part, where Sean convinces himself to stay focused amid the endless distractions of drugs, money, and sex.  One of the more personal tracks, “Sunday Morning Jetpack,” is a song full of nostalgia and the struggles and how they made him the person he is today.  The song features The Dream, who gives a great hook over a breezy beat.  The song almost acts as an alternative “One Man Can Change the World,” one of the strongest offerings from Dark Sky Paradise.

Not every track is a slam dunk.  “Same Time Pt. 1,” featuring Big Sean’s lady friend Jhene Aiko, is an underwhelming ballad that features a less-than-stellar verse from Aiko.  I was expecting a little more from the TWENTY88 duo.  There is also “Inspire Me,” which is a cliché and sappy tribute to Sean’s mother and the role she has played in the rapper’s life.  It is sweet in concept but does not bring anything fresh to the table when compared to similar tracks from other rappers.

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via Stupid Dope

I Decided. is capped with “Bigger Than Me,” a booming track featuring Starrah and the Flint Chozen Choir.  Big Sean wraps up the album, going off about how he has made it to the top but still needs to improve as a person.  There are some great moments with the choir and a nice verse from Starrah.  The track ends with a phone call with Big Sean’s grandma, just like his previous albums.  A lot of I Decided. is predictable, but it is the culmination of Big Sean’s career in a good way.  Big Sean has matured as a rapper and a person and that is prevalent in almost every corner of his latest project.  There are bangers galore and reflection aplenty.  Big Sean fans will rejoice.

i-decided-score

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Country Music and My Mom

If you have read any of my reviews on the E-Fix, it is easy to see that my musical interests lie primarily in rap, hip-hop, pop, and EDM.  I have been trying to broaden my horizons, but at the end of the day I always come back to the familiar sound of hip-hop and rap.  It has not always been this way though.  This might be surprising to some, especially to people I know.  Before the days of my more recent musical tastes, I used to be a big fan of country.  I can attribute this to my mom.  She was the one that introduced me to country.

I started listening to country back when I was living in Frederick, Maryland.  I was in elementary school at the time, around third and fourth grade.  I was young and did not necessarily have a choice in the type of music I was listening to.  This was a time where I was not allowed to use the internet.  Digital music was not a thing.  Physical CDs were the norm.  I was not able to pick up the latest Lil Wayne album, even if I wanted to, because…well, I was in third grade.  What I listened to was usually whatever my parents were listening to.  My mom was a big fan of country and I can recall countless road trips where country was coming out of the car’s speakers.  Alan Jackson, Dierks Bentley, Toby Keith, Gretchen Wilson, Faith Hill, Kenny Chesney, Big & Rich, and Tim McGraw, to name a few, were some of the staples that we would listen to time and time again.  We did a lot of traveling back in the day.  When you are living in Maryland and the rest of your family lives in Pittsburgh, frequent road trips occurred around the holidays.  I would sit in the backseat of our mini-van, listening to songs about summer, small town nostalgia, pick-up trucks, and America as I slowly developed a taste for country music.

An album I considered a favorite back in the day was Sherrie Austin’s Streets of Heaven.  This is probably a deep cut to most fans of country.  Sherrie Austin was not a big name in country, but this album resonated with me.  Songs like “Singin to the Scarecrow,” “Small Town Boy,” and “Streets of Heaven” were some of my favorites, songs that I would play over and over again on my handy-dandy portable CD player.  Ah, the days before smartphones and MP3 players.  I continued to listen to country music for a couple of years, but times slowly started to change as I got older and moved on to middle school in Smithsburg, Maryland where I was introduced to new friends and different music.

It was in Smithsburg where I was introduced to hip-hop and rap.  I knew the genre existed, but I was never able to listen to it because of my age.  However, the friends I made in Smithsburg listened to rap, so through osmosis I started to pick it up and I quickly grew a liking for it.  Remember middle school socials?  Those (often awkward) experiences also opened up my musical horizons, introducing me to both classics and newer hits in pop, hip-hop, and rap.  It was also around this time when I asked for Chris Brown’s debut album, and a Rihanna album, for Christmas.  Yes…Chris Brown’s debut album was my first physical hip-hop album.  You can laugh at me all you want, but Chris Brown was one of the first artists that I grew a liking for in my early days of hip-hop listening.  Since then he’s gone south, but he was still important to me.

Time went on and I started growing up.  I moved from middle school to high school and from Smithsburg back to Pittsburgh.  As I grew older, my hip-hop and rap tastes became more seasoned as I broadened my knowledge of the genre.  I still kept up with Country music, usually because my mom would always show me the newest Carrie Underwood track.  She was my only connection to country music.  Even though my musical tastes started to diverge from hers, I still felt connected to country music in a weird way.  I stopped listening to it on a daily basis, but it was still a part of me.  

Then my life took an unexpected detour.  In the words of Carrie Underwood, “Jesus took the wheel.”

My mom was diagnosed with stomach cancer.  It was the summer of last year when she started to experience symptoms like throat pain when eating.  At the time we thought it was just some sort of indigestion or acid reflux, but after countless doctor visits and consultations, we were not getting answers.  After ruling out everything else, they decided to test for cancer…and that is when they found the cancer…which was already in its later stages.  There was still hope, but things started to look grim as time went on.  This was one of the toughest times in my life, and it only got tougher as her health started to degrade.

I will never forget one of the nights I spent with my mom in the hospital.  At this point, we knew she wasn’t going to make it.  After countless rounds of chemo and radiation, the cancer just did not want to go away.  We were sitting by her bed, me and other members of my family, and we started to go through the songs she wanted to play on her funeral slideshow.  To give you some background, the funeral home that took care of us put together a DVD slideshow that would play on the TV’s in the room.  The slideshow was comprised of pictures from her life and the DVD version would have an audio track with her favorite songs.  We were going through the list of songs she wanted to have on her slideshow, and one of them was Tim McGraw’s “Live Like You Were Dying.”  We played the song in the hospital room, which might have been the most bittersweet moment I have ever been a part of.  She was slowly starting to fall asleep as the song played on; family surrounding her.  

At the time the song meant so much to me.  In the song, a man in his early forties gets word that his father has a mysterious life-threatening illness.  The song’s a bittersweet story about taking life as it is and living each day to the fullest.  My mom lived her life the same way, taking each day and living it to the fullest.  I could not think of a more perfect song about her life.  She later passed away in March, surrounded by our family in the hospital.  It was the toughest moment in my life.  Losing a loved one is always tough, but when you lose parent it is on a whole other level.  When you lose someone that has played a big part in raising you through your most formative years, you life changes drastically when they are gone.  My mom meant so much to so many people.  She was my best friend.  She was also my connection to country music.

Just like all things in life, everything moves on.  I took the rest of my college semester off to help around the house.  It was a taxing time for me, so I thought it was best that I took a break for myself, while at the same time I was back at home to help out my dad and my little brother.  I later went back to college in the fall and that is when life started to become more “normal.”  I was back at school, but I always made sure to go back and visit whenever I could on the weekends.

It was on one of these trips back home when a flood of nostalgia hit me like a tidal wave.  I usually like to have something on during my road trips, whether it is a podcast or music.  This time around I decided to change things up and I found the country music station on the radio.  It was a while since I had listened to any sort of country music, so my tastes were out of touch.  My mom was my only connection to country music, so my tastes had lapsed.  After a couple of songs or so, Carrie Underwood’s newest song, “Church Bells,” came on the radio and that is when it hit me.  That is when the nostalgia hit me hard.

I started to think about what my mom would have thought of the song.  She was one of the biggest fans of Carrie Underwood I knew, so I immediately knew she would have loved it.  It was then that I looked up into the sky and I started cry.  Yep, there I was, crying in my car going down the highway with a Carrie Underwood song on the radio.  I probably sound like a middle-aged woman fresh off an ugly break-up, but I could not get through the full song without crying.  I started to think about all the times I listened to country with my mom on our various road trips across the country.  I did a lot of reminiscing on that trip back home and it was on this trip that I rekindled my taste for country.

On my weekends where I was home, I started to dig up my mom’s old country albums and I started to look at their tracklists.  I didn’t recognize most of the songs, but there were still a ton of songs that I started to put into my music library.  Country music now started to populate my library, taking a seat next to the other genres of music that had a handle on my library for the longest time.  I also started to seek out new country music.  There was a time where I scoffed at country music, but I quickly realized how silly I was.

Although my musical tastes still tend to lean towards hip-hop, rap, and EDM, I have gained a rekindled appreciation of country music.  These days I still find myself mostly listening to country songs from my childhood, but I am always broadening my horizons.  Country music has always been a part of me, despite my lapsed frandom of the genre, and this is all thanks to my mom.  I have tons of memories that I will always remember my mom by, but country music is something I will always remember her by.  She is probably up in heaven giving me her latest country music recommendations, and I could not be happier.  

Review: The Divine Feminine

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via 4umf

The Divine Feminine (2016)

Mac Miller

Rap / Hip-Hop

REMember / Warner Bros.


Remember the days when Mac Miller was just “Easy Mac with the cheesy raps”?  Yep, he was the dude in the Pitt basketball jersey sitting on his bed in what might be the most cringe-inducing mixtape cover out there.  He was immature with a little too much braggadocio.  Fortunately, Mac started to find his footing and started to mature over the years through releases like Best Day Ever, Blue Slide Park, and most recently GO:OD AM.  Each of these releases, whether they were mixtapes or studio albums, had a different theme but they all had one thing in common.  They were all stepping stones to where Mac is now in terms of his maturity.  With the release of his fourth studio album, The Divine Feminine, we receive a Mac that is way more mature and maybe way more complex than ever before.  It’s a unique album that demonstrates just how far the Pittsburgh rapper has come since his Taylor Allderdice days where he was slinging mixtapes in hopes of making it big.

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via Urban Islandz

First let’s begin with what makes Mac’s fourth go-around so unique in the current climate of Rap…it’s an album entirely focused on “love.”  Yeah, every single song explores the idea of love and relationships.  That’s not something you really see in today’s rap industry.  Rappers are always quick to brag about their money and their women, but Mac takes a softer and more sentimental approach with his latest project.  Look no further than the album’s premiere single, “Dang!” featuring the talented Anderson .Paak.  Mac straight up says it himself in his rhymes…he needs to find his softer and more sensitive side, something that goes against the grain of orthodox hip-hop.

There’s a lot of steamy material within the concise 10 song LP.  “Stay” is an intimate plea to Mac’s girl, begging her to stay the night.  The song’s laced with some great jazz instrumentals; an abundance of trumpets and saxophone that will make anyone snap their fingers.  There’s also “Skin,” which is the closest thing you’ll find to a sex-ready song.  Mac himself mutters, “So finally I made a f***ing song,” over a beat so smooth and sensual that it’s sure to fog up your windows.  Let’s not forget about Mac’s collaboration with Ariana Grande, “My Favorite Part,” that might as well be the announcement of the two’s relationship.  It’s a genuine song that wonderfully displays the two’s mutual feelings for each other in a passionate way.  What a couple.

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via Puna

Another thing to note is Mac Miller’s complexity that he brings to his lyrics.  Mac Miller isn’t new to exploring complex themes.  Just look at projects like Watching Movies with the Sound Off and Faces.  That same brand of intricacy makes its way onto the album on songs like “Cinderella” and “Planet God Damn,” which features a wonderful sounding hook from Njomza.  Despite this fact, there are still some immature lyrics that poke their way through some of the material that at times mucks up the final product.  Lines like “I just eat p***y, other people need food” made me shake my head.  C’mon Mac, there’s no room for juvenile remarks on such a complex album as this.  Hey, I guess everyone still has room to mature right?

Whether you like it or not, there’s also a lot of singing on the part of Mac Miller.  To be honest, I’m still not entirely sold on Mac’s singing voice, which made me a little worried going into the album for the first time.  He’s experimented with it in the past, and to be fair, he has improved as time’s progressed.  There are some songs on the album where his singing works really well, and other times where it sits at mediocrity.  In the end, I think I am more sold on Mac’s voice then I ever was before.  That’s a compliment that you can take to the bank.

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via Hype Trak

There’s a bevy of collaborators on the album, besides the ones I’ve mentioned already.  Bilal lends his voice to the outro for “Congratulations,” a song that floats on cloud-high piano melodies and mellow jazz.  Kendrick Lamar lends his ability to the album’s final track, “God Is Fair, Sexy Nasty,” an interestingly titled cut full of passion and lyricism.  Instead of rapping a verse, Kendrick harmonizes with Mac and acts as a supplement to the record, which works extremely well.  As a big Kendrick fan I was hoping to hear a beefy verse, but I can’t really complain with his contribution to the song.  The one feature that didn’t work too well was Cee-Lo Green, who’s featured on the simply-titled track “We.”  It’s a solid song with a goes-down-easy hook, but Cee-Lo Green just felt like an afterthought.  He didn’t really add much to the track and felt tacked on.

I have to give major props to Mac Miller for dedicating an entire album to the complex concept of love.  That sounds like a terrifying endeavor, an idea that could go horribly wrong if not handled with care and expertise.  Fortunately, Mac dives into the topic with complexity and maturity that makes The Divine Feminine a stand-out.  The album also has some of the best production I have heard from a Mac Miller project.  It’s almost worth releasing an instrumental mix of the record.  Although the album’s not completely perfect, it’s still prime Mac, a rapper who has come a long way since his days as Easy Mac with the cheesy raps.  (God…what an awful name for a rapper…)

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Review: Blank Face LP

via Rap God
via Rap God

Blank Face LP (2016)

ScHoolboy Q

Rap / Hip-Hop

Interscope / Top Dawg


When you glance at ScHoolboy Q’s album cover for his latest release Blank Face LP, it’s immediately apparent that this album might be a bit dark.  On what looks like a movie ticket, we see an image of branching tree limbs and fiery clouds.  In the bottom corner we see a mysterious looking man, presumably ScHoolboy Q himself, who has a mask covering his face.  I understand the fact that “Blank Face” has a deeper meaning, but calling the album Blank Face LP is perhaps doing this album a disservice.  This album is anything but blank, as ScHoolboy Q hones in on everything from his childhood to his current life.  With a smattering of psychedelically bizarre production, we get an album that’s honest and poignant, and perhaps Q’s best album yet.

via Rap Wave
via Rap Wave

Unlike his previous pieces of work, like Habits and Contradictions and Oxymoron which focused on his drug addictions, Blank Face LP is a broader canvas that covers a lot more than simply just his past drug addictions.  He has overcome those addictions and has moved on to a broader view of the world.  This might welcome criticism that the album isn’t focused and too broad, but Q manages to bring everything into a precise and focused picture.  There are some songs that don’t necessarily fit in the picture, but the vast majority of the album works well in harmony.  The song “TorcH,” which serves as the album’s intro, does a pretty good job at giving you a taste of what you’re going to get.

The album has a bigger focus on ScHoolboy Q’s gang banging lifestyle that he has been a part of in the past.  “JoHn Muir” is a song named after his former middle school in Los Angeles, which fits pretty well since middle school marked the time that Q began his gang lifestyle.  Other songs like the unnerving “Dope Dealer,” featuring E-40, and “Str8 Ballin” also go pretty in depth into his lifestyle.  He seems to want to move on however, as “Lord Have Mercy” is a darkish plea to God for mercy for his sinful lifestyle.  There’s a lot of earnest emotion here, laced over some seriously good production from Swizz Beatz.

via Booska
via Booska

Another thing I couldn’t help but notice is the similarities this album has to fellow label mate Kendrick Lamar’s last album To Pimp A Butterfly.  “Groovy Tony / Eddie Kane,” featuring Jadakiss, is a well-written song that has the type of storytelling that could be found on Kendrick’s album.  Kendrick, obviously, goes a little deeper and gets more metaphorical, but his influence on ScHoolboy Q is apparent.  Other songs like the erratic “Kno Ya Wrong” and the heavy cut “Ride Out” featuring Vince Staples have the type of flow and production that I could easily see on a To Pimp A Butterfly B-side.

Some other songs worth mentioning include “Neva Change” and “Black THoughts.”  “Neva Change” has some sweet and melodic production with a wonderful hook from R&B singer SZA while “Black THoughts” is a little darker.  The thing that these two songs have in common is their relevance, especially in the past couple of weeks with all the horrible violence that has been taking place in our country.  “Black THoughts” is a commentary on the current state of the black community and its culture, which has been facing a lot of hardships the past couple of weeks.  The sad part is, ScHoolboy Q acknowledges that he wrote these songs a year ago and they are still relevant and important today.  I guess things “Neva Change.”

via Okay Player
via Okay Player

As I mentioned before, ScHoolboy Q does a bang-up job at taking us through the many facets of his life, both past and present, through the majority of his songs.  Unfortunately, some songs don’t fit in with the bigger picture.  “Big Body,” a funky cut featuring Tha Dogg Pound and produced by Tyler the Creator, is a fun song that ultimately feels out of place compared with the dark and heavy beats that we have seen elsewhere on the album.  There’s also “Overtime,” a song that clearly panders to the label in hopes of getting some radio airplay.  It’s a radio ready song that loses it’s luster in an attempt to appeal to a broader audience.  The one redeeming quality of this song is Justine Skye’s smooth contribution to the track.

There’s some songs that I have failed to mention, like Q’s collaboration with Kanye West “THat Part,” the sequel to Habits and Contradictions’ interlude “Tookie Knows II,” and the T.I. “Whatever You Like” inspired electronic jam “WHatever You Want,” featuring Candice Pillay.  These are all good songs that deserve some attention.  The whole album deserves attention.  There’s some songs that could be cut and some tracks that could be made tighter, but the overall package is a brilliant snapshot of ScHoolboy Q’s life as well as his ability to put together raps.  As I mentioned with his previous release Oxymoron, Blank Face LP might not be for everyone, but it’s certainly ScHoolboy Q’s best piece of work to this day.  I think Kendrick Lamar has been a good influence on the guy.

2015 BET Experience - Ice Cube, Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dogg, Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, Jay Rock

Review: Bobby Tarantino

bobby tarantino cover
via DDOTMEN

Bobby Tarantino (2016)

Logic

Rap / Hip-Hop

Def Jam / Visionary Music Group


“This motherf***er made a number one album!  Made a mixtape after…and then he’s making another concept album…like his first s*** didn’t already go Number 1?!  This motherf***er’s like butter, he’s on a roll motherf***er!”  Perhaps there’s no better way to put it than these lines from Logic’s newest mixtape, Bobby Tarantino.  This dude is quite literally on a roll.  Fresh off the release of The Incredible True Story, the Maryland-based rapper has put out a new collection of songs, a fun little side project if you will, devoid of any deep or substantive material.  There’s some thoughtful material on the mixtape, but in the end Bobby Tarantino is meant to be a diversion in between his flagship releases and it succeeds on this front.

Logic Performs At Stubb's
via Pitchfork

Minus the rather unnecessary intro track “illuminatro,” a song that acts as a special message if played backward, we immediately are thrown some bangers that not only demonstrate Logic’s undeniable flow, but his killer ambition as well.  “Flexicution,” a single that was dropped prior to the mixtape’s arrival, is a heavy beat hip-hop track laced with an extra dosage of braggadocio.  “The Jam” is…a jam.  On a song that goes hard, Logic goes on about how he’s eventually going to be bigger than Kanye West, Beyoncé, and Jay-Z.  Those are some lofty claims…but hey, there’s potential.  Logic’s got a lot more work to do though.  Besides this point, this is a pretty great track.  It would have been flawless if it weren’t for the overzealous use of auto-tune though.

Continuing the fun, we get a very humorous interlude track called “A Word from Our Sponsor,” which sees the return of the recurring character Marty Randolph.  Longer than most interludes, the track takes the form of a phone conversation between Marty and Logic’s record label that puts Marty on hold for a ridiculous amount of time.  There’s some perspective to be gained from the track, but it’s relevance and worth are largely questionable.  However, it will probably make you laugh a lot more than you thought you would laugh listening to a Logic mixtape.

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via Follow News

The mixtape’s sole feature goes to Pusha T, on the collaborative track, “Wrist.”  The song tells the fictional story of a Colombian drug lord who decides to take an introspective walk through his inner being.  It’s a reflective track that displays some good storytelling work from Logic.  Pusha T was alright but it’s not like the track gained anything from his presence.  It’s probably safe to say that the track might have been better if Pusha T stayed on the sideline.

I think the best track off the mixtape is “44 Bars,” a well written and heavy introspective.  Over the course of the track, Logic delivers a 44-bar verse that dives into the pains and motivations that drive him to be the person that he is.  It’s a thoughtful track that cements the fact that Logic has some rapping chops…but I don’t think I have to convince you of his talent.  It might not be the most original or innovative track out there, but it’s a substantive track that stands out from most of the lighthearted fare on the project.

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via Rap Wave

There’s some blemishes over the course of the tape that are worth mentioning.  The sister tracks “Slave” and “Slave II” didn’t really grab me.  Aside from being redundant, they don’t really offer anything new.  The notion of “being a slave to the rap game” is an idea that has been battered over and over again over the course of rap’s history.  These tracks don’t bring anything new to the table.  They sound good, but that’s about it.  Then there’s “Studio Ambience at Night,” a chaotic track that should have been relegated to the chopping block.  It doesn’t serve that much of a purpose, other than to give a preview of what’s next for Logic.  However, good luck trying to parse what that means over the humble and bumble of the track’s noise, which mimics the sounds from a late night studio session.

At the end of the day, Logic has put forth another solid project worthy of a listen.  This dude has been hard at work creating music and his hard work and dedication shows.  Bobby Tarantino is successful by giving you something to chew and digest on while the rapper grinds out his next full conceptual release.  There’s a good bit of gems amid some duller rocks, but hey, this is a solid piece of work that honestly could serve as a full-on release if it wanted to.

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On a side note, it’s kind of tough to get the album for yourself.  As of right now, I’m pretty sure it’s only available to stream on services like Apple Music, Google Play, Soundcloud, and YouTube.  I don’t think you can actually purchase it for yourself, but I’m sure that will change soon.  Personally, he should have probably just released the mixtape on the usual services…but this is a mixtape so everything’s different.

Review: Peach Panther

peach panther cover
via Swagga Music

Peach Panther (2016)

Riff Raff

Rap / Hip-Hop

Neon Nation / BMG


There’s no denying that one of the most eclectic rappers in the rap game is Riff Raff aka Jody Highroller aka Versace Python aka the White Wesley Snipes aka the White Gucci Mane with a Spray Tan aka Rap Game Brett Favre.  (I could go on…)  Anyway, his brand of crazy antics either appeals to people or rubs them the other way.  It’s the same with his music.  It either resonates with people looking for a good time or grates on them like a rusted cheese grater.  With the release of his sophomore album, Peach Panther, we get more of the same.  This is great news for Riff Raff fans but bad news for people looking for an evolution or something different.

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via Rolling Stone

Peach Panther is chock full of fun and hard-edged bangers but lacks when it comes to depth.  Granted, Riff Raff hasn’t been much for “depth,” but it shouldn’t be a crime grasping for some inkling of depth from a rap album.  There’s honestly not much to talk about when it comes to the nitty gritty specifics other than a couple of things here and there.

The songs that worked best were “Carlos Slim” and “Chris Paul,” songs where he essentially compares himself to these figures.  (A thing that Riff Raff loves to do) They offer some hard production, thanks to the likes of 808 Mafia and Top Secret Productions, and show off the lyrics that Riff Raff has been known to craft.  If it wasn’t for the fresh sound, these songs would start to wear pretty thin, and this goes for the rest of the songs on the project as well.  There’s not that much variety when it comes to Riff Raff’s lyrics, which like I said previously, could be a good thing or a bad thing.  Perhaps the most creative song was “Only In America,” where he gets a little political, which was different for a rapper like him.  There was nothing intelligent on the cut, but at least he tried?

peach panther 2
via Hip-Hop DX

Typical topics you’ll hear about include Versace, diamonds, codeine, and Lambos.  That’s literally all he raps about.  Just listen to his previous releases…there’s not much there.  You think I’m over exaggerating?  Just take a listen to “Syrup Sippin’ Assassin,” where he literally repeats variations of the same lyrics.  It’s an autotune-abusing track that just begs you to hit the skip button a minute in.  There’s also “I Don’t Like To Think,” featuring Problem, where he literally repeats a line word for word from another song.  If you came looking for creativity, you sure came to the wrong place.  The writing leads me to believe that they just put a collection of words into a word generator and just pushed out twelve songs.  It’s kind of sad.

Speaking of sad, there’s also a host of featured artists on the album that make their appearance on the latter half of the album.  The highest profile names on the list include G-Eazy and Gucci Mane, while the others are a little more obscure like Dolla Bill Gates and King Chip.  Aside from G-Eazy’s verse on “Mercedez,” there’s really nothing worth writing home about.  The latter half of the album is probably the weakest part of the project, which might have some correlation with the rappers featured on its songs.

peach panther 3
via The Examiner

If you were a die-hard fan of Riff Raff’s premier studio album, Neon Icon, then you might find something to like about Peach Panther.  However, I don’t think this album is going to vibe with that many people.  It’s a master class in unoriginal lyrics and rehashed concepts.  The album’s sole redeeming quality is its hard-hitting production, which could easily find its way into the club.  There’s plenty of good beats to be had nowadays, so don’t feel bad letting this one pass in the wind.  You’ll thank yourself later.

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Review: Views

views coverViews (2016)

Drake

Rap / Hip-Hop / R&B

OVO Sound / Young Money / Cash Money / Boy Better Know / Republic


The 6 can finally rejoice!  Toronto’s very own is back with his heavily anticipated album Views.  Drake has been drumming up the release of the album for almost a year now, and the talk surrounding it only rose as we got closer to release.  Part of this is because of the long wait between albums.  His last album, Nothing Was the Same, came out three years ago.  The anticipation was also heightened thanks to Drake’s beef with Meek Mill, which was absurdly silly when you look back at it all.  (Drake got a Grammy for his diss track, so it worked out for him in the end I guess) Now that Views is finally on the streets, was the wait worth it?  Well…it’s the same Drake sound, so there’s that…

views 1
via The Fashionisto

Views is not a bad album by any means.  In fact, it is a solid release featuring some of the signature Drake sound that we have come to know and love over the years.  He’s almost his own genre at this point.  A Drake song has a unique sound that is distinguishable from the rest.  The problem with Views is that it runs a little long with tracks that just come off as lazy fillers.  There are some songs that are stereo killers, but then there are the lackadaisical R&B songs that should have just stayed at home.

The album gets off to a cold start with the intro track, “Keep the Family Close.”  It features some chilly production from OVO’s Maneesh and dives into Drake’s trust issues that have arisen as of late.  Right from the start, we hear the album play with the “seasons” motif.  We get a cold start that mimics Winter and then the album moves into a more upbeat and tropical sound that represents Summer.  Finally, the album takes us out with a switch back to the blustery cold sound that signifies the return of Winter.  It’s a cool idea that brings the album together, but it’s not an original concept.  If you remember, rapper Lupe Fiasco used the same “seasons” theme with his Tetsuo & Youth release last year.  In fact, I think Lupe’s album drove the “seasons” theme home with greater effect.

views 2
via NME

After the intro we get the album’s only real homage to Toronto, entitled “9,” which signifies how he has turned the “6” (read Toronto) upside down.  It’s a good track that will get anyone from Toronto roused up with pride, but it didn’t have that same effect on me.  After this song we get some filler tracks with “U With Me?” and “Feel No Ways.”  They are both sluggish meanders through Drake’s inner psyche, something that we have seen time and time again from the rapper.  It’s not bad thing when an artist takes a reflective journey, but there was a little too much on Views.  When you have an album running at twenty tracks, it’s extremely hard to have twenty knock-outs.  If Views would have had a fourteen song track list instead, with the fillers out of the equation, my views on Views (yep, bad pun intended) would have been a different story.

It’s during the “Summer” portion of the album where Views shines.  “Controlla,” produced by Boi-1da, features the great Beenie Man, giving the song a distinct reggae sound.  The song is essentially the younger brother to “Work,” Drake’s collaboration with Rihanna.  Speaking of Rihanna, she appears on the track “Too Good,” a tropical song with a fun and rhythmic beat.  Finally, “One Dance,” featuring the lesser known Kyla and Wizkid, was released as a single and happens to be one of my favorite cuts from the album.  The song is an afro beat song with dancehall inflections and features some great work from Kyla and Wizkid.  Some other tracks that deserve attention are “Hype” and “Weston Road Flows,” which samples Mary J. Blige’s “Mary’s Joint,” harnessing some 90’s R&B.  These two tracks don’t really fit into the same equation as the previously mentioned three reggae-inspired tracks, but they are worth mentioning.

views 3
via Hype Beast

“Views” is a five-minute closing track that brings the album to a close.  Sure, “Hotline Bling” is the last track on the album, but it was tacked on as a bonus offering.  “Views” mixes some gospel sounds over a track about loyalty and faith, something that we become familiar with over the course of the album.  It’s basically the roll-credits song to the whole album, an album that takes a deep look into the mind and emotions of the rapper.

Like I said before, this is a signature Drake album.  It features some mesmerizing slow-jam R&B tracks that take us on a walk through his inner-psyche.  It’s full of songs about relationships, his OVO team, and a whole range of other emotions.  Unfortunately, Views has a good bit of less-than-stellar tracks as well.  The reggae-inspired tracks are the best parts about the album.  Hype can be a blessing and a curse and in Drake’s case, the hype machine surrounding his album didn’t work in his favor.  Views is not a bad album by any means, it’s just an album that pales in comparison to his previous works, like Take Care and Nothing Was the Same.  If you’re a Drake aficionado, then you’re probably going to love this album.  If you’re not, well, then you’re going to enjoy the album but you’ll be confused as to why the album was hyped as much as it was.

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Review: The Stone Junction

the stone junction
via DJ Carisma

The Stone Junction (2016)

Audio Push

Rap / Hip-Hop

Interscope / Hits Since ’87


Oktane and Price of hip-hop outfit Audio Push have been around for a while now, a long while.  They’ve been making music since the days when MySpace was cool.  Time doesn’t always amount to major commercial success though.  Audio Push have been putting out mixtapes as their main source of music, with eleven free releases under their belt.  When your releasing free music, money usually isn’t at a premium.  After all these years, they have finally decided to change things up with their twelfth release, The Stone Junction, their first record that is being sold commercially.  It’s not necessarily an EP that is going to blow your socks off, but it’s a solid release that demonstrates the skill that the hip-hop duo have been showing off for years.

the stone junction 1
via Okay Player

The Stone Junction has a seven song track list featuring production from the likes of Slade Da Monsta, Rey Reel, Izze the Producer, and Ducko Mcfli.  You probably haven’t heard these names before but that’s okay, because they do a pretty good job with the production on the album.  Audio Push have tackled a diverse set of sounds over the years, ranging from bass-bouncing hip-hop to sensual R&B.  This might not be the most marketable trait to have as a rap group, but it shows off their impressive range.  This signature of range comes through once again on their first studio album.

The first cut off the project, “BBQ Spot,” has a nice beat to it, thanks to some Slade Da Monsta production, and features two great verses from both Oktane and Price.  The two have a flow that is characteristically rooted in a Californian sound.  There’s also “Servin,” the first single that was released off the record.  The song features BMac the Queen and contains feelings of urgency, touting their experience in the rap game while still rapping, “I feel like it’s me versus everybody.”  When you’ve been around for almost ten years but have no name recognition, things tend to feel this way.

the stone junction 2
via Non-Stop Hip-Hop News

Next on the list are “Vamanos” and “Hard,” arguably the two best tracks off the record.  “Vamanos” features Atlanta-based Mexican-American rapper Kap G and a trap influenced beat from Izze the Producer, who has some other credits on the album.  The song has a unique vibe with some great verses all around.  Then there’s “Hard,” which distinguishes itself from the rest due to its unique sound.  The song starts out with some…well, “hard” bass bumps and then transitions to some sweet-sounding piano melodies around the two-minute mark.  The song goes from bravado to emotional just like that.  It’s a little unexpected but it sounds great in the end.

Towards the end there are a couple of missteps.  “Vibed Up Shawty” contains a heavy use of 808s (which isn’t where the track falters) and hearkens back to their first major release, “Teach Me How to Jerk.”  Unfortunately, the song gets a little too repetitive and wears its welcome after only a minute in.  There’s also “Same,” featuring rapper Jace.  The song features some cool sounds from Ducko Mcfli, but the raps fell a little flat and sounded a little garbled at times.  It wasn’t a great way to end an album.

the stone junction 3
via Rap Wave

There’s still a lot to like about The Stone Junction.  They’re a wide array of sounds, which has become an Audio Push trademark over the years.  This is also their first official studio album, so perhaps this release will propel them into a brighter spotlight.  The record has some hiccups here and there and it’s not an album that necessarily can be considered mainstream, but Oktane and Price’s experience comes through tried and true.

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Review: Lemonade

lemonade cover
via This Is RnB

Lemonade (2016)

Beyonce

Hip-Hop / R&B

Parkwood


Last weekend Beyonce released her Lemonade into the world.  That last sentence might sound silly but it’s true, Beyonce didn’t release an icy drink but a full-length audio-visual album that debuted on HBO and Tidal.  Yes, you heard that last part right.  It released exclusively on Tidal, which makes total sense given her share in the company.  A new Beyonce album is a good reason for people to jump on the Tidal bandwagon.  However, with the album popping up on iTunes this morning, the whole release of this album further cements Tidal’s status as a joke, but that’s a story for a different time.

We’re here to talk about Lemonade.

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Lemonade might be the most personal album we have heard from the singer.  We’ve heard her get personal before, but this entire project feels like it was ripped straight out of her diary.  The diary contains pages about her relationship with Jay-Z, her family, feminism, and black activism.  Her message comes across loud and clear, a message that’s equal parts intimate and powerful.  It’s easy for an album’s overarching message to get lost in the sound but this was probably the clearest an album has been in a while.

Beyonce doesn’t waste time, immediately addressing the elephant in the room with her first batch of songs.  Her songs “Pray You Catch Me” and “Hold Up” address the relationship rumors between her and Jay-Z and the infidelity that is called into question.  She makes it clear that she still loves her husband, but she’s willing to go crazy to find out where his loyalties lie.  There’s also “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” a pointed track full of angst and thrashing guitars, thanks to some help from artist Jack White.  It’s a strong track that puts fear in even the most hardened souls.  With lyrics like, “If you try this shit again, you gon lose your wife,” things must have gotten pretty bad.  I don’t know what Jay-Z did, but after listening to this song all I got to say is he better watch his back.

lemonade 2
via Miss Info

There’s a lot of songs about her and Jay-Z’s relationship, which happens to be the core of the album.  “Love Drought” is a passionate plea to rekindle a relationship behind an airy cloud-synth beat in the background that really carries you away.  Then there’s “Daddy Lessons,” which might be my favorite cut off the album.  It’s Beyonce’s first foray into country, and she kills it.  It’s a song about her father and the similarities between him and Jay-Z.  It’s a deep song that really took me by surprise.  It’s not your typical Beyonce sound, but she harnesses some of her southern roots and gives us a sound that I want to hear more of.

Although songs of love cover most of the tracklist, there’s also some feminism and black empowerment to be found.  “6 Inch” is a song of female empowerment, featuring some vocal help from The Weeknd.  It’s a positive and upbeat song about the grind and success that comes when you’re willing to put in the work.  Lemonade’s sole single, “Formation” is a powerful black activism song that struck up some controversy for its imagery as well as its themes.  “Freedom” is another song about civil rights, featuring the always vocal Kendrick Lamar.  When you talk about issues of civil rights, Beyonce and Kendrick Lamar have definitely been on the forefront of conversation.  The track also ends in a touching way, with some words from Hattie White, Jay-Z’s grandmother.  She says, “I had my ups and downs, but I always find the inner strength to cool myself off.  I was served lemons, but I made lemonade.”  There we go, it’s a statement that quite literally sums up the entire album’s message.

lemonade 3

“Sandcastles” is the album’s turning point.  You can hear the pain and tears come through in her voice in one of the most personal songs off the album.  It’s on this song where she starts to contemplate what comes next.  She’s made promises in her life, some of which she wasn’t able to keep.  The same goes for Jay-Z.  Despite all of this, their sandcastles still stand strong, weathering the storm.  It’s a song full of imagery and hope.  The rest of the album features a message of redemption and optimism, especially for her relationship with Jay-Z, which is always a good sign.  “All Night” is the unofficial end to the album, topping it all off with some positivity.

Lemonade’s sound is just as powerful as her lyrics.  Featuring the production work of individuals like Mike Dean, Diplo, Hit-Boy, Ben Billions, Mike Will Made It, Vincent Berry II, and Just Blaze, the album has a wide range of sounds that all work very well.  You’re not going to find too many radio-ready songs on this release, with Beyonce favoring ballads over bangers.  This might be disappointing for some but this isn’t the type of album that’s supposed to play well on the radio.  It’s a deeply personal experience.

lemonade 4
via Ice Cream Convos

Now that the album is on iTunes, hopefully a bigger audience will be able to listen to Lemonade, which I might consider her best work to date.  It’s a fascinating project that puts you right in the center of her thoughts.  She opens up a lot in a surprising amount of ways.  Her message is emotional, powerful, strong, poignant, controversial, and most of all, hers.  She makes it clear, especially in “Sorry,” that she doesn’t care what you think.  This is her life and her message and she wants to put it all out there.  This is an album that we’re going to be coming back to a lot and it’s going to be the talk of the talk when it comes to album of the year.

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Review: The Art of Organized Noize

organized noize poster
via iDigital Times

The Art of Organized Noize (2016)

NR

Documentary / Music

Starring: Rico Wade, Ray Murray, Sleepy Brown

Director: Quincy Jones III


Outkast.  Goodie Mob.  TLC.  These groups have done a lot for hip-hop and music in general.  During their rise to fame, they provided a unique sound that was unlike anything anyone had heard before.  They fundamentally changed the landscape of hip-hop.  It’s true that these groups did a lot of good for the industry, but what about the crew behind them…the crew responsible for their music.  The underappreciated group Organized Noize, comprised of Rico Wade, Ray Murray, and Sleepy Brown, were the production visionaries behind groups like Outkast and Goodie Mob.  Their story, told by director Quincy Jones III in his documentary The Art of Organized Noize, is a fascinating story full of ups and downs.

organized noize 1
via E! Online

The Art of Organized Noize charts the rise of Organized Noize from their days working out of a basement in Atlanta to their days in major recording studios working with higher profile artists.  The documentary covers a lot of ground and does a good job at pulling everything together in a nice and easy timeline.  We get to see some early photos from their early days, which is some pretty cool stuff.  The crew talks a lot about their Dungeon Family days (The Dungeon is what they called their old basement where they did a majority of their work) and the family-first comradery that they developed with each other.

A good portion of the story is told through the eyes of Rico, Ray, and Sleepy but they are not alone.  Guys like Andre 3000, Big Boi, Big Rube, Cee-Lo Green, and Big Gipp, members of the Dungeon Family, are also on hand to give their accounts as well.  Notable producers like LA Reid, a big factor in Organized Noize’s success, make appearances as well.  One thing that’s nice about the documentary is that a lot of the history comes organically.  The guys do a lot of reminiscing as they sit around together, which leads to stories being told.  At times this led to some incoherence and off-topic conversations but it never got too out of hand.  There was a bit where they went into their time with drug usage which didn’t really seem to fit with the whole mantra of the story.

the art of organized noize
via Hip-Hop Wired

Towards the end, legacy started to become the topic at hand.  Quincy Jones and Organized Noize brought in a lot of people to talk about their legacy in the rap industry.  There were a lot of Atlanta based rappers that made an appearance, like 2 Chainz, Ludacris, and Future, that talked about their effect on Atlanta as well as the rap game.  Popular producers today like Metro Boomin and Sonny Digital also talked about how Organized Noize influenced them as producers.  This stuff was necessary for a documentary like this because that’s what makes Organized Noize so fascinating.  They never seemed to get the credit they deserved (the documentary talks a lot about this) yet they had such a profound impact on modern artists in the rap game.

It would have been nice if there was a little more archival footage featured in the documentary.  You get an occasional image flashed here and there, but nothing substantial.  The portions were they walked around their old house and their old studio space were cool, but I would have liked a little more.  You could see their Stankonia recording studio in the background of some of their interviews, but it would have been nice if they showed us around a bit.  I appreciate the abundance of interviews, but I would have liked a more substantial visual supplement to go along with them.

organized noize 2
via Okay Player

A lot of rap fans are not familiar with Organized Noize, a crew of producers responsible for a lot of the trends we see today in rap music, which is why this documentary is an important one.  It tells a really evoking story about the most underappreciated group in rap.  They worked day in and day out but never seemed to get the recognition that they’re peers, like Outkast and Goodie Mob, got.  The Art of Organized Noize is a story that you should make yourself familiar with.  Any fan of rap and hip-hop should enjoy this one a lot.

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