Tag Archives: Kanye West

Review: Power Rangers

power rangers poster
via IGN

Power Rangers (2017)

PG-13 / 124 mins.

Action / Adventure / Sci-Fi

Starring: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler

Director: Dean Israelite

I like to have fun at the movies.  There is a place for more complex and deeper stories, but a big fun, dumb action movie acts as tasty junk food from time to time.  The reboot of the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, simply titled Power Rangers, is that type of movie for me.  It is a ton of fun and the cheesy b-tier action sequences will keep a grin on your face from beginning to end.

power rangers 1
Photo by Kimberley French

Am I the biggest Power Rangers fan?  Definitely not.  In fact, I do not have the same affinity that some have for the beloved Saturday morning TV show.  I have watched the show a couple of times in my youth, but it was not something that I truly cared for.  I understand the show on a basic level, but never went out of my way to dig deeper.  Because of this, my expectations for the movie were at an absolute minimum.  I also had a couple of beers before the feature, so this might have attributed to my liking of this movie.  Let’s face it…beer can help make a lot of things better.

One of my favorite things from the movie, as well as one of my biggest issues, are the characters.  The five unlikely rangers include Jason (Dacre Montgomery) as the Red Ranger, Kimberly (Naomi Scott) as the Pink Ranger, Billy (RJ Cyler) as the Blue Ranger, Zack (Ludi Lin) as the Black Ranger, and Trini (Becky G.) as the Yellow Ranger.  The cast gels well together and they are all really likable.  They are quippy and humorous, especially Billy, who often steals the spotlight.  What makes his character even better is the fact that he is on the spectrum.  Most movies are hit or miss with their depictions of characters on the spectrum, but Power Rangers actually nails it and produces a fantastic character.  Despite how likable this crew is, almost all over their backstories and character moments are botched.  The first half of the movie, the weaker half, mostly serves to introduce the characters and their backstories.  It plays like a glorified YA novel.  There were a lot of character moments, besides Billy’s, that just felt flat on their face and could not get back up. Becky G’s character missed the mark. Zack’s story? Ehh…. Kimberley’s backstory? Kind of unimportant…and the same goes for Jason’s. I just could not get behind their stories. They were either poorly written or just plain uninteresting.

power rangers 2
Photo by Kimberley French

But what about the other characters?  Bryan Cranston voices Zordon, the Ranger’s mentor in their endeavors.  There is also Alpha 5, Zordon’s trusty robotic assistant, who is voiced by Bill Hader.  The two do a great job with their respective performances, especially Hader who serves up some of the movie’s more humorous moments.  The final notable character in this band of 90’s cartoon characters is Rita Repulsa, played by Elizabeth Banks.  She acts as the main villain in the movie, and god bless her for it.  Elizabeth’s character ranges from serious to tacky, hamming it up for the majority of the movie.  I really liked her performance and thought it brought along its fair share of laughs, but I might have preferred her character to take a more serous tone, especially during the movie’s final act.  I thought some scenes lost their intended tone because of her.

Power Rangers takes some time to morph into high gear (sorry…bad pun) but the final act is where it begins to take off.  There are some nostalgic callbacks that will make any Power Rangers super fan giddy with glee and the action that ensues fits perfectly with the show’s attitude.  The final fight includes some great shots and it is especially hard to not get hyped when Kanye West’s “Power” makes its way onto the soundtrack.  It was a full thirty minutes of B-movie action that just made me smile.  Sure it was corny. Sure it was laughable at times.  Sure, I had some beers in me so maybe it was the alcohol talking, but I really enjoyed the final act. There was even a galactic bitch slap that left me dying of laughter in the theater.

power rangers 3
via IMDB

Power Rangers never takes itself too seriously with its lighthearted fare, which might be a negative to non-fans. However, the original series was just as corny, so for the reboot to mimic that style is all the movie really needed. If you’re not a fan of the Power Rangers, then maybe this is not the movie for you. I went into this movie not expecting to be a fan…but I walked out pleasantly surprised. This movie is not winning any Oscars…but it was big, dumb fun…which I need every once in a while.

power rangers score


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

Bobby Tarantino (2016)


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.

bobby tarantino 2
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.

bobby tarantino 3
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.

bobby tarantino score

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.

Record Rewind: Sir Lucious Left Foot… The Son of Chico Dusty

sir lucious left foot cover
via Hip-Hop n’ More

Sir Lucious Left Foot… The Son of Chico Dusty (2010)

Big Boi

Rap / Hip-Hop

Purple Ribbon / Def Jam

The name Big Boi is a name that some might not be too familiar with.  He’s one half of the famous rap duo Outkast, where he played second fiddle behind the perhaps more popular Andre 3000.  Andre 3000 took the spotlight while Big Boi was the quiet one; the more unappreciated one.  Eventually he decided to go solo, with Sir Lucious Left Foot… The Son of Chico Dusty serving as his solo debut.  The album essentially acts as the formal introduction to Mr. Daddy Fat Sax Sir Lucious Left Foot Soul Funk Crusader.  Yes, that is the plethora of nicknames that Big Boi has accumulated over the years and no, people don’t call him that…at least not the full name.

Sir Lucious Left Foot is a masterpiece.  I’m going to say that right off the bat.  When the album initially reloaded back in 2010, the critics raved about it and it accumulated quite a bit of praise.  Big Boi breaks through and makes a statement.  He wasn’t just the shadow behind Andre 3000.  He’s just as talented…if not better.  There is not a song on the album that I didn’t like, each of them bringing something special to the table.  Usually albums tend to have little blemishes in the form of filler songs here and there but there is no filler on the album.  Sir Lucious Left Foot is a complete package that has that certified and authentic Atlanta sound, thanks in part to the Atlanta-based producers and collaborators that had their hand on the record.sir lucious left foot 1

The project was executively produced by LA Reid with other production at the hands of guys like Organized Noize, Andre 3000, Lil Jon, Cutmaster Swift, Knightheed, and more.  The album was recorded primarily at Stankonia Studios in the heart of Atlanta, Georgia.  Organized Noize have produced a lot of hits since they have been around and this project is no different.  There is a layered quality to each song that gives them a complex sound that is different and unique from what you heard around the time.  In fact, it’s still different than most of what you heard today.  Songs like “You Ain’t No DJ,” featuring the up-and-comer (at the time) Yelawolf, even talks about the state of radio DJs and the state of music back in 2010.  Sir Lucious Left Foot mixes heavy bass with sounds of 80’s synth-funk that works very well.  There’s a mix of instrumentals and samples that come together in the most idiosyncratic ways that gives the album one of the coolest sounds you will hear.

If you’re not familiar with the record already, you might be familiar with “Shutterbugg,” the main single from the album.  The song, which is a directed commentary on the paparazzi, has an old school feel to it thanks to producer Scott Storch.  This song marked the comeback of Storch, who was going through recovery at the time due to a strong cocaine addiction that cost him a lot of money.  This track, which has a unique sound to it, was the producer’s first song after coming back from his recovery, which makes it even more fascinating.  This is a lot of people’s favorite song from the album, or at least the one that got the most traction and radio play (including overseas), but in my opinion this isn’t even the strongest cut off the album.  There’s a multitude of tracks that are just as deserving of people’s attention, which says a lot about the quality of the album.

sir lucious left foot 2

My favorite songs on the album have to be “Daddy Fat Sax,” “General Patton,” and “Fo’ Yo Sorrows.”  “Daddy Fat Sax” acts as the true introduction to the album that goes into Big Boi’s early days, politics, Cadillacs, and the state of rap, all over a beat that just simply bumps.  The “rawest” song on the album, “General Patton,” is a song of triumph, or at least that’s how it sounds.  Big Boi compares himself to the famed General Patton of World War II over a beat full of blaring trumpet melodies and angelic choirs.  The latter song, “Fo’ Yo Sorrows,” features George Clinton, Too $hort, and Sam Chris.  Sam Chris delivers a really catchy hook while Big Boi and Too $hort deliver with the raps.  As it turns out, this was the song that Big Boi played for producer LA Reid to convince him to let him move from his old record label LaFace Records to Def Jam.  All it takes is a single listen and you’ll get why the showcase worked.

When talking about other notable tracks off the record, “Tangerine” is another that comes to mind.  The song is a collaboration with Atlanta rapper T.I. that rolls with a beat that just moves.  “Tangerine” is the type of song that I can see someone blaring out the speakers as they drive down the road.  It’s a good song to roll to.  Another favorite, “The Train Part 2,” comes later on.  Produced by Organized Noize, the song is the follow up the original song of Outkast’s Idlewild.  The song, once again, features a snazzy and addicting chorus from Sam Chris over brilliantly layered production.  The funk comes out on this song and the fact that this is the second to last song brings me to my only criticism of the record.  If it were my choice, I would have put this song as the conclusion instead of “Back Up Plan,” the album’s final track.  The two are great songs, but “The Train Part 2” would have felt a lot better as the wrap up to a brilliant piece of work.

sir lucious left foot 3

One thing that says constant over the fourteen song track list is the complexity of Big Boi’s voice.  If you followed Outkast this probably isn’t a surprise, but Big Boi really shines with his iconic flow.  At one moment he will have a steady cadence with his lyrics and then he will speed it up, only to slow it down again to a nice slow groove.  He keeps you on your toes and never lets up.  I don’t think I’m crazy when I say that Big Boi might have one of the best voices in rap, period.  The way he pieces his words together in a way that rolls right off the tongue is a marvel.

When you take a look back at 2010, the only other rap album that might rival Big Boi’s solo debut would be Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.  It was Big Boi and Kanye that pretty much dominated the conversation at the time with two solid albums.  As for which one stands as the best from the year, I would probably point towards Kanye’s release but Sir Lucious Left Foot… The Son of Chico Dusty is a super close second.  People had high expectations for Big Boi’s solo debut, but he exceeded expectations in every single way.  Sir Lucious Left Foot might not be album that comes to mind when talking about the best rap albums of all time, but it should at least be mentioned.  It’s an important record and one that is worth a listen.

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Review: The Life of Pablo

tlop cover
via rap.de

The Life of Pablo (2016)

Kanye West

Rap / Hip-Hop

GOOD Music / Def Jam

How about this Kanye West guy, huh?  What a character.  Over the past couple of months my opinion of Kanye West has changed…and not for the better.  Before the rapper’s media cycle for his latest work The Life of Pablo, I generally had a neutral opinion of the artist.  He didn’t have the best personality, but his music sure was great.  After a couple of album name changes, celebrity feuds, and social media rants, I have started to get more negative with my feelings for Kanye.  He still makes fantastic music, but boy is his personality garbage.  The release of The Life of Pablo, the rapper’s seventh studio album, was miles from perfect.  In fact, it was a flaming garbage pile of a mess.  However, when you strip back Kanye’s personality and the release of the album, TLOP is actually a well-produced and unique collection of songs.

tlop 1
via showlove

Within the confines of the eighteen song track-list is a smorgasbord of concepts, sounds, and ideas.  Some have said that the scattershot nature of the album serves as a portrait of Kanye’s mindset during the course of the album’s production.  All you had to do was follow the rapper on Twitter to get an idea of what I mean.  The wide range of concepts featured on the album isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  An album doesn’t have to have a singular cohesive theme for it to be good.  Unfortunately, the variety of tracks was sometimes a source of headache.

At this point, I might as well get my other negative out of the way, and that is the nature of some of Kanye’s lyrics.  Again, I normally don’t really care about the intensity or morality of lyrics in music.  I mean, I listen to rap, which is full of questionable lyrics.  On TLOP, I found myself cringing a lot more than normal, which usually isn’t a good sign.  Perhaps the biggest inducer was “Famous,” a track, featuring Rihanna, full of braggadocio.  The song has received a lot of word of mouth due to the line about Taylor Swift, where he goes ahead and proclaims that, “he made that bitch famous.”  First off, the line is not true and second…it just seems a little weird, especially considering he goes on to say he could still have sex with her today.  Where was Kim Kardashian during this song’s production?  Did she give Kanye the okay?  Was she like, “yes honey, I think these lyrics sound great.”  It raises a lot of questions.  There’s other songs like this one as well, including “Highlights” and “Freestyle 4.”  (Side note: Highlights would have been a great track if it wasn’t for Young Thug.  I don’t get the rapper’s appeal.  He just seems to muddle everything he works on.)

tlop 2
via MCM

Now, let’s move on to a more positive note, because that’s what Kanye would want, right?  Don’t let my negativity in the beginning give you the wrong idea, TLOP isn’t Kanye’s best work, but it is still full of great stuff.  The album’s first track, “Ultralight Beam,” featuring the likes of The-Dream, Kelly Price, Kirk Franklin, and Chance the Rapper, is an angelic and soulful offering that feels like it was ripped straight from a Sunday morning sermon.  There’s good production all over the song and Chance spits a great verse, further proving himself as one of today’s most underrated rappers.  There’s also “No More Parties in LA,” featuring A-list rapper Kendrick Lamar.  The two swap stories about the fakeness of Hollywood culture and their frustrations with the rich “elite.”  The song marks the rappers’ first collaboration and it shines brightly on the project.

“Wolves”, one of the more bizarre tracks on the album, features Caroline Shaw and Frank Ocean.  The song goes through a multitude of different emotions like love, fear, and hope, and features a lot of different ideas all smacked into one.  The crazy thing about the song is that Kanye was still working on the song, even after the full album released. Thanks to the age of the internet, I guess things like this are now possible.  A song that almost didn’t make the cut was “Waves.”  The song was basically on the cutting room floor until Chance the Rapper suggested the song to be included.  After some last minute fixes, the song made it back onto the album, and it’s a wonderful thing because I really enjoyed the offering.  Lastly, “I Love Kanye,” an interlude of sorts, is a self-aware and humorous track that breaks down some of the criticisms he has received and has a little fun with it.  At least he’s a little self-aware of the kind of person he is, right?

tlop 3
via News Oxy

It’s not often that we get an album like this.  The Life of Pablo can be incoherent and scattershot at times, but it is a fantastically produced collection of great songs from arguably one of the best rappers in the game.  Say what you want about his personality, but you can’t deny the amount of things that Kanye is doing for music today.  Unfortunately, the album is only accessible through Jay-Z’s streaming service Tidal, so it might be a little tough for you to give it a listen.  The decision to not release the album outside of the, well, crappy streaming service is a little head-scratching.  Hopefully you don’t want a physical release of the album either, because Kanye has kissed the physical CD goodbye forever.  We’ll see how long these promises last, but given the rapper’s stubbornness, it seems likely they will.  TLOP’s release was botched, to say the least, but the final product is an intriguing look into one of the loudest and most eclectic minds in rap.

tlop score

Review: Khalifa

khalifa album cover
via The Daily Loud

Khalifa (2016)

Wiz Khalifa

Rap / Hip-Hop

Taylor Gang / Rostrum / Atlantic

Today is the day that Kanye West’s new album, The Life of Pablo, releases to the world.  The album has been a storm of publicity, featuring everything from large-scale listening parties to Twitter rants.  Speaking of Twitter rants, Wiz Khalifa was on the other side of one of West’s social media rants which was sparked after the use of “kk” in one of Wiz Khalifa’s tweets.  It was a mess.  Maybe it benefited Wiz more than Kanye, considering Khalifa, Wiz’s sixth studio album, released around the same time as the Twitter feud, giving the album some publicity.

khalifa 1
via Rolling Stone

Khalifa, unlike Kanye’s newest project, pretty much flew under the radar in terms of publicity.  Wiz has been working on the album for a long time, releasing bits and pieces from the album here and there.  It was only a couple of weeks before the project actually dropped that we started to become aware of the album’s existence.  The lack of publicity for the album shouldn’t fool you however, as this is a solid album from the Pittsburgh rapper.

Wiz’s previous album, Blacc Hollywood, was pretty good…at least in my opinion.  The reaction was varied, with the most common critique being linked to the radio-ready pop sound that encapsulated the album.  It reflected Wiz’s career at the time, going from small-time Pittsburgh rapper to world-wide rap superstar, but a lot of people started to become fearful that Wiz was turning away from the sound that got him famous.  Luckily, Khalifa dials things back a bit and sounds more like the old Wiz Khalifa that we all fell in love with.

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The project gets off to a shaky start, but starts to pick up some steam with “City View,” a song that the Wiz has been working on since 2012, and “Cowboy,” a pointed song that delves into the gang violence that has taken place in the Pittsburgh streets.  There’s also “Bake Sale,” the album’s main single featuring Travis Scott.  It’s a marijuana-laced album that will make any Wiz fan feel right at home.

The album is at its strongest when we reach the last four songs (minus the actual last song) on the album, the first being “Most of Us.”  The song is a tough banger that serves as a edgier anthem for the Burgh, similar to “Black and Yellow.”  “Zoney” is the album’s most personal song, featuring the voice of Wiz and Amber Roses’ son, Sebastian.  It’s a solid song that ends with a heartwarming back-and-forth between Wiz and his son.  Sebastian mimics his dad’s famous laugh (“Do daddy’s laugh”) which gives way to one of the album’s best moments.

khalifa 3
via Zumic

“Lit” is another one of those “weed is good” songs with a nice beat, produced by guys like Dru-Tang and Big Germ.  It’s a two-part song that features two-different sounds.  The song also features Ty Dolla $ign.  It’s a classic Wiz song reminiscent of some of his past work.  Finally, the album (sort of) ends with “No Permission,” a song that he debuted last summer.  It’s another “old-school Wiz” sounding song featuring Pittsburgh’s own Chevy Woods.  The only reason why I say the album “sort of” ends with this song is because the albums actual final song, “iSay” is a bummer when matched up against the four songs that come before it.

When you talk to me about which projects rank the highest among Wiz’s work, I always point to his earlier stuff, but Khalifa is an album that feels nostalgic in a sense.  The album features production from a bunch of Pittsburgh names like Big Germ, TM88, ID Labs, and Sledgren who work to recreate some of the old-school Wiz sounds that got him famous in the first place.  The album might not compare to the rapper’s older work, but it’s the next best thing.

khalifa score

The VMAs 2015 Recap

via People
via People

MTV was hyping this year’s MTV Video Music Awards to be super crazy and off the rails.  There was even talk about the program being put on a slight delay.  Why?  Well, because Miley Cyrus was hosting them and let’s just say she knows a thing or two about crazy.  All you have to do is take a quick look at her Instagram to see why.  Ever since she left her squeaky clean Hannah Montana image behind her, she has redefined what it means to be an attention grabber.  With her hosting the VMAs, things were probably going to get weird…except they didn’t.  It was actually a relatively tame showing from Miley, with the emphasis being put on the multitude of performances.

Nicki Minaj started off the night with a raucous performance of “Trini Dem Girls,” complete with tribal dancing and vaginal slapping, pretty much par for the course when it comes to a Nicki Minaj performance.  She then moved on to “The Night Is Still Young,” where the crowd was met with a surprise when Taylor Swift came out to join her on stage.  If you didn’t know already, the two had some beef brewing between them, but if this performance meant anything, the beef between them had finally been squashed.  What a way to start the show.

With one celebrity squabble crushed another one was built up…by Nicki Minaj of course.  After being presented the award for Best Hip-Hop Video, Nicki Minaj proceeded to call out Miley Cyrus who was standing on the other side of the stage.  Miley Cyrus was talking negatively about her in an interview a while back and Nicki thought the bright stage of the VMAs would be the best place to settle things.  Things didn’t really settle however, but only got worse, leaving us with a pretty awkward moment.

via Hugo Gloss
via Hugo Gloss

Now that we’re on the topic of Miley Cyrus, let’s talk about her hosting performance shall we?  She was pretty tame in terms of the things she did.  She started with a brief little monologue talking about how MTV will probably go back to having no hosts by the time the night is over.  The monologue had some other jokes here and there that pretty much fell completely flat.  Miley Cyrus is better when she does her own thing, without a script put in front of her.  She had numerous wardrobe changes, some more interesting than others, as the night went on.  There were also a number of sketches that were sprinkled in between.  Aside from an “accidental” nip slip towards the end and a head scratching performance at the end, Miley wasn’t really the Miley that most were probably expecting.  In fact, she kind of left me disappointed.  She got progressively more annoying as the night went on and definitely less funny as well.  Perhaps the most surprising thing coming from her end was a surprise announcement of a free album, “Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz.”  Pretty bold move…

via Billboard
via Billboard

As far as other performances go, there wasn’t really any “bad” performances.  Macklemore and Ryan Lewis graced the outdoor stage outside the theater with a performance of their newest single “Downtown.”  The Weeknd gave a pretty solid performance of “Can’t Feel My Face,” complete with flames galore.  Twenty One Pilots and A$AP Rocky might have given us the most interesting and different performance of the night with a mash up of their songs.  I didn’t know what to expect from it at first, but I liked it.  Demi Lovato took the outdoor stage with a fun performance of “Cool for the Summer” with surprise guest Iggy Azalea…who no one particularly asked for.  There was also a cool performance from Pharrell Williams of his newest song “Freedom” that took place on the outdoor stage as well.  I thought the stage outside the Orpheum Theater in the streets of Los Angeles was a pretty cool setting in my opinion.

via Zimbio
via Zimbio

Justin Bieber made his return to the VMA stage after a five year hiatus.  That span of five years has been pretty tough for the young rascal and he looked like a changed man last night.  He gave an electric performance of “Where Are U Now,” followed by his newest song “What Do You Mean” which ended with Bieber literally flying in the sky performing some acrobatics.  After making his landing safe and sound, the artist was in tears…for no apparent reason.  Perhaps it was because he felt good to finally be back on stage again after all he has been through…or maybe it was the straps that might have rubbed him the wrong way…your guess is as good as mine.

via ET Online
via ET Online

As far as the televised awards go, Taylor Swift might have to be considered the big winner.  She took home the Best Female Video award for “Blank Space” and Video of the Year award for “Bad Blood,” among others.  Artist to Watch was given to Fetty Wap, most notably for his hit “Trap Queen.”  Best Male Video was given to Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars for their infectious jam “Uptown Funk.”  Finally, the award for Best Video with A Social Message went to Big Sean, Kanye West, and John Legend for “One Man Can Change the World.”  Big Sean probably gave the acceptance speech of the night, dedicating it to his late Grandma who was a war pilot.  It was a well-deserved award for Sean.

via Zimbio
via Zimbio

Let’s be serious though, perhaps the most talked about and most important portion of the night was the presentation of the Video Vanguard Award, which was presented to Kanye West.  It was only fitting that Taylor Swift would be the one to present Kanye his award because of their past VMA history.  Anyway, Kanye soon took the stage and just stood there for a good minute, soaking it all up.  The crowd was going crazy, shouting “Yeezy” chants left and right.  Kanye finally took the mic and started rambling on and on about a whole variety of different things ranging from his daughter to groceries to celebrity beef to award show and the culture that surround them.  I have to admit, I kind of lost him a couple of times, but it was still fascinating to watch.  He ended the big speech with a joke about running for president in 2020 before dropping the mic and walking off stage.  It was a very Kanye thing to do, setting the social media sphere in flames.

via Billboard
via Billboard

Even though the show could have done just fine without the “crazy” antics and mischief from Miley, 2015’s VMAs still had its fair share of fun and talk-worthy moments.  The emphasis was on the performances, which only makes sense in this day and age. No one watches award shows for the awards anymore.  It’s all about which performance topped them all, and this year’s VMAs gave us a whole lot of performances to think about.  I struggle to pick which one was my favorite because they were all equally great and exciting. The VMAs continue to provide a fun award show experience that tops most award shows on TV these days.  I hope this trend continues on…but let’s have Miley sit out next time please?

Here’s the full list of winners from the night…VMAs 2015 8

Video of the Year: Taylor Swift feat. Kendrick Lamar – “Bad Blood”

Best Male Video: Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars – “Uptown Funk”

Best Female Video: Taylor Swift – “Blank Space”

Artist to Watch: Fetty Wap – “Trap Queen”

Best Pop Video: Taylor Swift – “Blank Space”

Best Hip-Hop Video: Nicki Minaj – “Anaconda”

Best Rock Video: Fall Out Boy – “Uma Thurman”

Best Video With A Social Message: Big Sean feat. Kanye West and John Legend – “One Man Can Change The World”

Song of the Summer: 5 Seconds of Summer – “She’s Kinda Hot”

Review: Beauty Behind The Madness

beauty behind the madness coverBeauty Behind The Madness (2015)

The Weeknd

Pop / R&B

Label: XO, Republic

It’s been cool to watch the journey that Abel Tesfaye, more famously known as The Weeknd, has taken from his more obscure roots as an R&B croon to the mainstream star that he is today.  The Canadian artist first got his start putting out mixtapes and then proceeded to get noticed by record labels.  I guess it’s only ironic that the guy who relished being closed off from the world would go on to be noticed by more and more people.  Beauty Behind The Madness is Abel’s first foray into the mainstream and he takes the spotlight with grace.

via The Island Critic
via The Island Critic

I have to admit, I was pretty worried going in.  The tried and true tale of lesser known artists going mainstream and drastically changing their sounds is one we hear often.  I was worried the same would be true of The Weeknd.  His classic dark and atmospheric sound, fueled by his past, love, and drugs, was the sound that made me gravitate towards his unique brand of R&B.  It also doesn’t take a genius to recognize that this kind of sound doesn’t necessarily translate well to the top 40 airwaves.  (Just take The Weeknd’s first official album Kiss Land for example.  It was lauded well by critics but didn’t strike big among the general populace.)  Luckily for me, and probably everybody else, his doesn’t miss a step, taking his familiar sound to the mainstream spotlight while appealing to the masses.  Beauty Behind The Madness is simply the best case scenario for everybody.

Abel manages to fuse his addicting verses and melodies about troubled love and drugs with songs that are fit and ready to go on the radio.  Just take “Can’t Feel My Face,” for example.  The song manages to remain a “The Weeknd” song while at the same time providing us with one of the songs of the summer.  It’s also pretty easy to realize that Michael Jackson is a common influence through it all.  Literally, his influence rears its head on almost every note.  Other songs like “The Hills” and 50 Shades of Grey’s “Earned It” are great examples as well.

via All-Stars
via All-Stars

Don’t let the mainstream coating around the album scare you away if you were a fan of the old Weeknd though.  There is still a ton of material to keep you satisfied in between.  “Often,” which has been released in the past, makes another appearance on the album and continues to be one of my favorites.  Two songs towards the beginning of the album, “Real Life” and “Tell Your Friends,” act as good introductions to not only Abel’s music, but his life as well.  They go into his dark past and the decisions that he has made while going on and stating that he is not going to change his ways despite his new-found gust of fame.  He lays it out like it is.  Abel has been pretty open in the past, but the songs on Beauty Behind The Madness dive deeper into the shrouds that surround the intriguing crooner.

Another thing that makes the album pop is the amazing production that is interlaced through every single track.  The Weeknd handled a lot of the production on the album, but he also signed on the expertise of guys like Illangelo, Max Martin, Mike Dean, and even Kanye West for production duties.  Everything sounded very great, setting a mood and atmosphere that just kills.  On a side note, “Tell Your Friends,” produced in part by Kanye West, was in dire need of a Kanye verse.  Just saying…

via Okay Player
via Okay Player

The album is primarily a solo affair, which only makes sense for the kind of artist that Abel is.  The only features on the album are Che Pope, Ed Sheeran, and Lana Del Rey.  Aside from Che Pope, Sheeran and Del Rey are two artists that just go hand in hand with The Weeknd’s style.  The Weeknd and Sheeran’s “Dark Times” is a fantastic sounding song where the two feed off each other’s energy as the song goes on, culminating to a sweet sounding final duet.  “Prisoner,” featuring Lana Del Rey, presents us with the musical styles of both artists which ultimately goes together like peanut butter and jelly.  (Sorry, I had to use the PB&J analogy because it just makes sense.)

Beauty Behind The Madness is a textbook example by The Weeknd on handling new-found fame preceded by years of general obscurity.  A couple of songs lack the luster that the other’s bring to the table, but ultimately The Weeknd presents us with a final package that will please everyone in the end.  It’s a well put together album that will hopefully put The Weeknd on the map, if he hasn’t been put on there already.

beauty behind the madness score

Review: The Gold Album: 18th Dynasty

via missinfo.tv
via missinfo.tv

The Gold Album: 18th Dynasty (2015)


Rap / Hip-Hop

Last Kings

Way back in November of last year, Last Kings Entertainment was supposed to release Tyga’s new album The Gold Album: 18th Dynasty.  Things did not go as planned though, with a delay pushing back the release to December.  Things only got worse when it continued to get pushed back and back due to the altercations plaguing the Young Money/Cash Money scenario.  Long story short, things were looking pretty dire for the rapper’s fourth studio album.  Now, fast forward six months and the album finally has seen the light of day.  It was released this week on Spotify as a surprise, coming literally out of nowhere.  This should be good news, but the news is tarnished by the album’s quality in the end.

On the cover of the album, we see the Egyptian god Horus, which only makes sense for Tyga who is fascinated with Egyptian culture.  The Gold Album continues in the tradition of the rapper’s gloat fests, as this is the kind of style that Tyga rolls with though.  The album starts off with a banger named “Spitfire.”  It might not live fully up to its name, but the rapper does manage to spit some flame with his classic lyrical flow.  Two tracks later we have “Shaka Zulu,” in which the rapper compares himself to the most influential monarch of the Zulu kingdom.

via The Stashed
via The Stashed

The album started off pretty well, despite “Muh Fucka” which teetered on the line of repetition, but it started to turn stale and the tracks started to become more mediocre as I made my way through the eleven song tracklist.  Songs like “Hard For You” and “Down For A Min” had some potential, but ultimately fell flat in terms of execution.  Later in the album, Tyga’s collaboration with Lil Wayne, “4 My Dawgz,” also managed to fall short of what it could have been.

Tyga and Boosie Badazz’ filthy collaboration “Pleazer” had a great beat, but made me feel uncomfortable at the same time.  It gave off a lot of pedophilic vibes, not unlike some other songs on the album.  Perhaps it was the lyric “T nasty, ‘bout to catch a felony for it.”  Although Tyga explicitly stated that the line did not refer to his young girlfriend Kylie Jenner, it still does not make the weird lyrics seem any better.

via Fist in the Air
via Fist in the Air

The album has a solid production, which is one of the biggest things the album has going for it.  This time around, Tyga enlisted Kanye West, Mike Dean, and Jess Jackson as the executive producers, which can attribute to the album’s great sound.  If anyone wants an example of the album’s top notch production, “Bloodline” would have to be the track that I would direct them too.  It has a nice sound that offers up something different compared to the other offerings.

The hype and anticipation that was building up to the album’s release crumbles in on itself with a finished project full of mediocrity.  There was a select few songs on the album that were worth the time listening to, but most of the others were plain average.  Personally I was expecting a lot more from Tyga with his fourth studio project.  In a year that has been pretty great for hip-hop, The Gold Album: 18th Dynasty will probably be lost in the mix.  Not even the god Horus can do anything about it.

the gold album score

Review: A$AP Rocky’s At.Long.Last.A$AP

via News N Music
via News N Music

At.Long.Last.A$AP (2015)

A$AP Rocky

Rap / Hip-Hop

A$AP Worldwide / Polo Grounds Music / RCA Records

The unexpected death of A$AP Mob’s founder ASAP Yams hit rapper A$AP Rocky pretty hard back in January.  It still affects him to this day.  Yams played an integral role in Rocky’s career in music and he served as one of the prime influences on Rocky.  Yams has been with Rocky ever since he broke big, which means it only makes sense that Rocky’s sophomore album, At.Long.Last.A$AP, is dedicated to the late rapper.  What makes the story even better is that Rocky’s second offering is a stellar release; serving as the rapper’s best album to date.

ALLA starts off with the mellow and highly meditative “Holy Ghost” that features a lot of religious imagery, with Rocky almost begging for forgiveness by the end.  Its sets the tone for the rest of the album, which goes into multiple directions, taking a deep dive into the wild life that is Rocky’s.  The rest of the album explores the vices that the rapper enjoys and goes into some of the problems that the rapper has faced as well.

via Complex
via Complex

When it comes to the rappers vices, his tribute to LSD, appropriately titled “L$D,” gives you a good idea of what I’m talking about.  The drugged up ode to the highly addictive drug takes you on a literal trip through Rocky’s enjoyment of acid.  We also get “M’s,” which can be considered a ballad to moolah.  Lil Wayne appears on the track as well and Weezy gives it his all with his colorful verse.

What makes the album dynamic is the exploration of Rocky’s problems, especially “Better Things,” which goes into the rapper’s problems with women.  The track has gained greater relevance in light of the interview that had the rapper reveal that he had three orgies with nine different women at the last SXSW.  (Yep, nine of them…)  The song also delves a bit into his hook-up with singer Rita Ora, which had an ugly ending thanks to her “big mouth,” according to Rocky.

via Promo News
via Promo News

“Lord Pretty Flacko Jodye 2,” also known as LPFJ2, shows off the rappers ability to lay some great verses.  Not to mention, it also contains a bumping beat as well.  The two other tracks that stood out were “Jukebox Joints” and the star-studded “Everyday.”  “Jukebox Joints” features a vocal assist from the fellow fashionable rapper Kanye West.  The two rapper/fashion aficionados give us a nice collaboration that lives up to its potential.  If I had to pick my favorite song off the album, it would have to be “Everyday.”  The track features the legendary Rod Stewart, although technically it’s only a sample of one of the singer’s past performances.  All that aside, the song, which features a smooth hook from R&B croon Miguel, is a nice package of musical goodness.

It only makes sense that the album wraps up with a dedication to ASAP Yams.  “Back Home” is a track created with love and respect from both A$AP Rocky and Mos Def.  Although the song features a rather annoying beat, the intentions are in the best place possible.  The song wraps up with a vocal outro from Yams himself, concluding what is a stellar project from the Brooklyn-born emcee.

via Hip Hop Since 1987
via Hip Hop Since 1987

A$AP Rocky is a very talented and forward thinking part of the rap game and At.Long.Last.A$AP provides all the proof you need to come to this conclusion.  The rappers debut album Long.Live.A$AP was a pretty good album on its own and it has only gotten better for the rapper.  2015 has been a big year for hip-hop, and A$AP Rocky gives us a worthy addition to the honorable list of great album that have already made their way to release. ASAP Yams would be proud.

at long last asap score