Tag Archives: Kendrick Lamar

Review: The Divine Feminine

divine-feminine-cover
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.

divine-feminine-1
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.

divine-feminine-2
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: 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.

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“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 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: untitled unmastered

untitled unmastered cover
via MCM

untitled unmastered (2016)

Kendrick Lamar

Rap / Hip-Hop

Top Dawg / Aftermath / Interscope


Here I am, late on a Thursday night (or early Friday morning) listening to a new Kendrick Lamar album.  Who would have thought?  Earlier today I didn’t have this intention but a couple of rumors here and a few tweets there and here we are with a new K-Dot album upon us.  This surprise followed the news that Top Dawg Entertainment was going to release new music from one of their artists, but none expected it to be from their magnum opus.

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via HNGN

untitled unmastered, the simply titled fourth studio album from the Compton rapper is a different breed of album than what you would expect. Within the confines of the eight track project are a series of, like the title suggests, untitled tracks that have been released and performed over the past couple of years, more specifically from 2013-2016.  Some of these tracks might sound familiar, while others are most certainly deep cuts that we are not too familiar with.  A lot of them have been performed on Late Night shows like The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and The Colbert Report.  So…why release an album full of untitled tracks?  Well, if you’re a rapper like Kendrick, why not?  However, you can probably point to Lebron James, who tweeted this out following Kendrick’s Grammy performance:

After replying back to the tweet, CEO of TDE Tiffith got to work putting the project together.  What we have is a unique project that contains a lot of thought-provoking raps mixed with some top-notch production.  Don’t let the second part of the album’s title fool you, there seems to be a lot of “mastering” that has been done, putting a nice audible touch on the album.

In terms of content, Kendrick’s verses are similar fare to what you can find on the rapper’s widely acclaimed album To Pimp A Butterfly.  Everything from the broken government system to minorities are rapped about among the different tracks.  The third track on the album, which was performed on The Colbert Show is a thought-provoking tune dives into the pieces of advice that different minorities have given Kendrick, with the major twist being the “piece” that white people have taken from the rapper.  It’s an interesting perspective that lends itself to a pretty cool concept.

Osheaga Music And Arts Festival 2015
via Pitchfork

Some other highlights include track five, which features some guest verses from Ab-Soul and Jay Rock.  These two weren’t the only guests to appear on the album either.  Cee-Lo Green, Terrace Martin, Bilal, Thundercat, and Anna Wise all lent their talents to the project.  Since the album was sparse on its credits, I could be missing a few names as well.  Finally, the second to last song on the album is a three-part powerhouse, produced by Alicia Keys and Swizz Beats’ five-year-old son, Egypt.  The track was mesmerizing and was diverse in sound as well, which was surprising given the fact that it was produced by a five-year-old.  Like, what?!  I have to tip my hat to Kendrick for allowing such a young and talented mind to be part of the project.  It’s something you don’t really see today in rap.

The album has a raw vibe to it and that is what I appreciated the most about it.  untitled unmastered is a fresh and unique piece of work that contains a diverse set of sounds along with some intelligent and mind-bending lyrics.  What else would you expect from Kendrick?  I wouldn’t mark this project as being superior to To Pimp A Butterfly or good kid, m.A.A.d. city, but I still think it is an essentially addition to his discography.

Cruilla Festival 2015 - Day 1

My Top 10 Albums of 2015

This year’s top ten album list was a little bit of a surprise to me.  If you don’t know already, I am a pretty big fan of rap music which means that most of the music I listen to during the year tends to be rap and hip-hop.  In turn, this leads to top ten lists that are mostly comprised of rap albums.  This year was a little different.  This year’s list, although still mostly rap, branched out a bit and brings some diversity to the table.  As usual, I should note that this list is my top ten albums that I listened to this year and is not indicative of the all the albums that came out in 2015.  The simple fact is there was a lot of music that came out this year and sometimes I didn’t have the time to listen all of it.  I can’t speak for albums that I haven’t listened to so I wouldn’t feel right putting them on my list, regardless of their critical reception.  With that out of the way, let’s get to the list…

Honorable Mentions: Mr. Wonderful – Action Bronson, Ludaversal – Ludacris, Everything Is 4 – Jason Derulo, Revenge of the Dreamers II – J. Cole and Dreamville Records


10. Title – Meghan Trainor

title cover
via Idolator

The world was introduced to Meghan Trainor in 2014 but we didn’t get her debut album until 2015.  Title is a strong debut for one of the more trending pop artists of 2015.  Not only does it include “All About That Bass,” the song that put her on the map, but it also includes lesser known tracks like the album’s intro “The Best Part” and the fun “Walkashame.”  Not to forget, the album also contains “Lips Are Movin” and “Dear Future Husband,” two of her other more popular songs.  The album has a diverse sound and there is a lot to like about it.


9. Dark Sky Paradise – Big Sean

dark sky paradise
via Idolator

For his third studio album, Big Sean reflects on his life and gets a little introspective.  It’s a change of pace when compared to the rapper’s previous albums and this change works really well.  Dark Sky Paradise was also largely produced by Kanye West, a.k.a. the album has a great sound as well.  You are already familiar with “I Don’t F*** With You,” one of the album’s premiere tracks, but the atmospheric and deep “Blessings” is another song that deserves a listen.  The album also has a strong introduction with “Dark Sky (Skyscrapers),” where he reflects on some of the past decisions that he has made in his life.  “One Man Can Change the World” proves that Big Sean opens up big time on his album, making it a necessary album on Sean’s discography.


8. GO:OD AM – Mac Miller

good am cover
via Idolator

Mac Miller’s career trajectory has been a little hard to predict.  He started off small with his release of Blue Slide Park and then moved to bigger and better (and profoundly different) things with Watching Movies with the Sound Off.  With his latest release, GO:OD AM, Mac seems to have dipped a little bit in terms of mainstream recognition, but certainly not in quality.  This also marks his first major label debut. GO:OD AM is a nice collection of tracks that mix some of the “trippy” Mac with his older sound.  “100 Grandkids” is the song that I point to because it is a good representation of what you are going to get with the album.  Other standouts include “Brand Name,” “Rush Hour,” and “Weekend” featuring R&B superstar Miguel.


7. At.Long.Last.A$AP – A$AP Rocky

at long last asap cover
via Idolator

2015 treated rapper A$AP Rocky pretty well…for the most part.  The death of Rocky’s good friend A$AP Yams was a punch to the gut, but he seems to be doing pretty well with a starring role in Dope and a great album with At.Long.Last.A$AP.  His sophomore album not only shows off the rapper’s talent, but it also acts as a dedication to his late friend Yams.  The album kicks off with the deeply meditative “Holy Ghost” but then moves on to the trip-fest that is “L$D.”  The album also contains “Everyday,” a collaboration between Rocky, Mark Ronson, Miguel, and Rod Stewart.  Yep, you heard that right.  A$AP Rocky was not afraid to experiment with different sounds and feels on the album, making it a unique experience.  Finally, the project wraps up with a touching tribute to A$AP Yams.  It wasn’t the best track on the album, but the energy was there.


6. Beauty Behind the Madness – The Weeknd

beauty behind the madness coverI will never stop being fascinated with The Weeknd’s voice.  It’s the single aspect that got me instantly hooked when I listened to his indie project Kiss Land.  For a time, The Weeknd was mostly underground, shying away from the mainstream light.  Beauty Behind the Madness is the artist’s first foray into the mainstream light, and he handles himself pretty well.  There’s a little bit of everything on the album to cater to a lot of tastes.  “Can’t Feel My Face” harnesses a strong Michael Jackson influence to cater to the masses while songs like “Often” and “The Hills” harken back to the artist’s previously dark sounds.  The album gave us the best of both worlds on top of some of the year’s best production.  All The Weeknd needs to do is just keep being himself and all will be good.


5. Tetsuo & Youth – Lupe Fiasco

tetsuo & youth cover
via Idolator

You’re probably looking at this album and probably wondering where the hell it came from.  I am going to go ahead and declare that Lupe Fiasco’s Tetsuo & Youth was the most underrated rap album of 2015.  I consider Tetsuo & Youth a smart man’s rap album.  There is everything from instrumental melodies to nine minute masterpieces.  Lupe also tackles topics like religion in tracks like “Madonna” and “Adoration of the Magi.”  The album’s best track is “Prisoner 1 & 2” which provides a unique perspective on incarceration and racial profiling.  These aren’t the only hot button issues that the album takes on either.  There is a lot to Tetsuo & Youth and it all comes together in a well-rounded package.  The album came out pretty early in the year and I knew the second after I finished listening to it that it was going to make it on this list.


4. Summertime ’06 – Vince Staples

summertime 06 cover
via Idolator

When I think about it, this might be the second most underrated album of 2015, although it gained wider mainstream acceptance due to word of mouth.  Vince Staples’ debut project is an interesting one because it is rooted in a story.  Over the course of the album, the rapper goes into the summer of 2006, a season that really changed him as a person.  Similar to some of the other albums on the list, Summertime ’06 is a reflective experience.  “Life Me Up” and “Birds & Bees” are great examples of the rapper opening up about his childhood and his life growing up on the North Side of Long Beach.  The double album has a cohesive theme that sticks the whole way through.  Summertime ’06 came out of nowhere for me and now I am looking forward to what is to come from Vince Staples.


3. Compton: The Soundtrack – Dr. Dre

compton cover
via Idolator

Who said the old man couldn’t hang out with the new guys?  Dr. Dre, who hasn’t released an album in almost sixteen years, proves with Compton that he hasn’t missed a beat.  Compton came out around the same time as the movie Straight Outta Compton, which really boosted the rapper’s resurgence in 2015.  The longtime producer was dormant for the longest time but he comes back with an energy uncontested by many.  Dre pays homage to his past with tracks like “Genocide” and “It’s All On Me” while at the same time looking where he has come since then in tracks like “Talking to my Diary.”  There is a lot of Dre on the album but there is also a bunch of guest features including the likes of King Mez, Justus, and Candice Pillay.  There is also a good bit of familiar voices like Eazy-E, Kendrick Lamar, Eminem, and Snoop Dogg that lead to some great collaborations as well.  The album has the old school Dr. Dre sound with a modern feel.  This could be the rapper’s last album, but what a way to shut it down.


2. Our Own House – Misterwives

misterwives 2What!?  An indie pop album from a New York based band as my second best album of 2015?  This was exactly the way I felt when giving this album a comfy spot high on the list.  My fascination with Misterwives’ music started with a free download of their song “Our Own House,” which later led to my purchase of the entire album.  It’s a really fun and energetic album.  “Reflection” and “Best I Can Do” are great examples of the energy that I am talking about.  The album goes to some deep places as well with “Oceans” and “Coffins.”  The group is super talented, fusing the fantastic voice of lead singer Mandy Lee with a mix of different instruments, yielding a final product that is unlike anything else on this list.  The album really resonated with me, making it perhaps my biggest surprise discovery of 2015.  The album is also great for blasting on long drives.  Trust me, it has happened.


1. To Pimp A Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar

tpab cover
via Idolator

It’s almost like Kendrick Lamar can do no wrong, right?  Kendrick is probably one of rap’s hottest commodities, having himself one of the best years he has had in a while.  It wasn’t going to be easy to top his previous album good kid, m.A.A.d. city but he did it.  He topped that album with To Pimp a Butterfly.  What an album.  Kendrick Lamar is one of the best lyricists in the game right now with a deep talent for storytelling.  Almost every song on the album is phenomenal, with standouts like “King Kunta,” “Alright,” “How Much a Dollar Cost,” and “The Blacker the Berry.”  Kendrick also dives into a bunch of cultural and social issues that have taken hold of our current society, making it one of the most relevant albums of the year as well.  I’m pretty confident in saying that this relevance won’t just stay in 2015 either.  I’m not lying when I say that this is an album that is going to be talked about years from now as one of the greats.  Yeah, the album is that good.  You should probably listen to it.

2016 Grammy Predictions

It’s that time of year again.  The nominees for the 58th Grammys were announced this Monday, which opened up the discussion on which artist had the best album/song and why they should win in their respective categories.  At some point or another you begin to hear the case for every nominee, which makes speculation a lot of fun.  With that being said, I am going to add my two cents into the fray on who I think will take away the awards music’s biggest night.

2016 grammys kendrick
via Urban Islandz

The Grammy nominations were almost dominated by Kendrick Lamar, which was quite a surprise considering the years that other artists have had.  However, Kendrick Lamar more than deserves these awards and I actually think he will take home a good haul on Feb. 15.  The two other artists that gained a good number of nods are Taylor Swift and The Weeknd.  No surprise there.  One glaring omission is Adele but hey, that’s just a by-product of how the Grammys work.  Just wait till next year, where she will most likely top the nominations list and take home a car full of awards.

Let’s get into the four major fields…

*Predicted winners denoted with ‘(Winner)’


Record Of The Year

“Really Love” — D’Angelo And The Vanguard

“Uptown Funk” — Mark Ronson Featuring Bruno Mars (Winner)

“Thinking Out Loud” — Ed Sheeran

“Blank Space” — Taylor Swift

“Can’t Feel My Face” — The Weeknd

2016 grammys uptown funk
via MCM

There’s a lot of pretty great songs here, but “Uptown Funk” is almost a sure-fire lock.  It was the song that took the radio by storm and dominated the airwaves for most of the summer.  At this point it has been over played, but maybe there’s a reason for that?


Album Of The Year

Sound & Color — Alabama Shakes

To Pimp A Butterfly — Kendrick Lamar

Traveller — Chris Stapleton

1989 — Taylor Swift (Winner)

Beauty Behind The Madness — The Weeknd

2016 grammys 1989

This is a tough category.  All of these albums are pretty great and have wide range in terms of style and sound.  My personal favorite album of the year is To Pimp A Butterfly but it’s hard to deny the kind of year that Taylor Swift has had.  Swift pretty much stole the summer with her massive 1989 tour and her album of the same name is just as great.  Her year is going to be topped off in the best way possible, a Grammy.


Song Of The Year

“Alright” — Kendrick Duckworth, Mark Anthony Spears & Pharrell Williams, songwriters (Kendrick Lamar)

“Blank Space” — Max Martin, Shellback & Taylor Swift, songwriters (Taylor Swift)

“Girl Crush” — Hillary Lindsey, Lori McKenna & Liz Rose, songwriters (Little Big Town)

“See You Again” — Andrew Cedar, Justin Franks, Charles Puth & Cameron Thomaz, songwriters (Wiz Khalifa Featuring Charlie Puth) (Winner)

“Thinking Out Loud” — Ed Sheeran & Amy Wadge, songwriters (Ed Sheeran)

2016 grammys see you again
via Billboard

Once again, this is another category that made me stop and really think.  “See You Again” serves as the theme song (of sorts) for Fast and Furious 7, paying homage to the late Paul Walker who died due to a fatal car accident.  Wiz Khalifa and the super talented Charlie Puth have given fans what they wanted and more.  You don’t even have to be a Fast and Furious fan to have an appreciation for their song.


Best New Artist

Courtney Barnett

James Bay

Sam Hunt

Tori Kelly

Meghan Trainor (Winner)

2016 grammys meghan trainor
via VIP Seats

The Best New Artist category is always a slightly entertaining category for me.  Because of the Grammys and their weird timing schedule, by the time the nominations are announced, the nominees for this award are not really “new” anymore.  When looking at these artists, Meghan Trainor stood out to me the most.  Title was a great debut album and she is generally just a likable person.  I think the voters will agree. However, Tori Kelly is a close second.

As for some of the other categories…


Best Pop Duo/Group Performance

“Ship To Wreck” by Florence & The Machine

“Sugar” by Maroon 5

“Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson Featuring Bruno Mars (Winner)

“Bad Blood” by Taylor Swift Featuring Kendrick Lamar

“See You Again” by Wiz Khalifa Featuring Charlie Puth


Best Dance Recording

“We’re All We Need” by Above & Beyond Featuring Zoë Johnston

“Go” by the Chemical Brothers

“Never Catch Me” by Flying Lotus Featuring Kendrick Lamar

“Runaway (U & I)” by Galantis (Winner)

“Where Are Ü Now” by Skrillex And Diplo With Justin Bieber


Best Rock Performance

“Don’t Wanna Fight” by Alabama Shakes

“What Kind Of Man” by Florence & The Machine

“Something From Nothing” by Foo Fighters (Winner)

“Ex’s & Oh’s” by Elle King

“Moaning Lisa Smile” by Wolf Alice


Best Alternative Music Album

Sound & Color by Alabama Shakes (Winner)

Vulnicura by Björk

The Waterfall by My Morning Jacket

Currents by Tame Impala

Star Wars by Wilco


Best Rap Album

2014 Forest Hills Drive by J. Cole

Compton by Dr. Dre

If Youre Reading This Its Too Late by Drake

To Pimp A Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar (Winner)

The Pinkprint by Nicki Minaj


Best Urban Contemporary Album

Ego Death by the Internet

You Should Be Here by Kehlani

Blood by Lianne La Havas

Wildheart by Miguel

Beauty Behind The Madness by The Weeknd (Winner)


Best Country Album

Montevallo by Sam Hunt

Pain Killer by Little Big Town

The Blade by Ashley Monroe

Pageant Material by Kacey Musgraves

Traveller by Chris Stapleton (Winner)


The best part about making these kinds of predictions is that they will most likely be totally wrong and someone you would never have expected will win the awards.  There was a lot of tough categories this year so I could see some of them going either way.  (Yeah, looking at the Best Rap Album was a doozy)  It’s going to be a fun night and I am pretty confident in one prediction: there’s going to be a lot of happy fans and mad fans.

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: Compton: The Soundtrack

via Rap God
via Rap God

Compton: The Soundtrack (2015)

Dr. Dre

Rap / Hip-Hop

Aftermath / Interscope


When’s the last time Dr. Dre released an album?  You’re telling me it’s been sixteen years?  It seems kind of crazy when you say it, but in fact it has been over sixteen years since the rapper/producer and former member of N.W.A. has released an official studio album.  His name has not been forgotten in that time, but musically he has been silent for a long time.  Now that his final album, Compton: The Soundtrack, has been released, the musical silence has officially come to an end.  You would think that Dre would be a little rusty on the hinges after all those years, but he delivers in every aspect, giving us what some have already been saying an “instant classic.”

What does a Dr. Dre album look like in the year 2015?  He’s come a long way since his rabble-rousing days roaming the streets of Compton with N.W.A.  He’s brought up some of the best names in hip-hop, most notably Eminem.  He has also produced a pretty honorable library of albums that hold a lot of regard critically.  Compton, the rapper’s grand finale showing, gives us a taste of old and new and aims to please everybody’s tastes.

via Hip-Hop n More
via Hip-Hop n More

Compton is like a personal ride through the city streets of Compton, with Dr. Dre rolling in the driver’s seat.  As you make your way through the city, which has gone through its fair share of triumphs and hardships, Dre earnestly tells a story full of recollections of past memories, reflective analyzations of the present, and glimpses of the opportunistic future.  Dre realizes the position that he stands in and the kind of influence that he has on the masses and he runs forward with eagerness and passion, without ever forgetting his humble and pain ridden beginnings.

The album, from beginning to end, contains almost no slip ups.  Dr. Dre is still sharp as ever and his classic flow comes back like a nostalgic knockout punch.  To my surprise, Dre leaves a lot of room for others on the album, both old and new, giving them room to breathe.  Former member of N.W.A. Ice Cube makes a loud appearance on “Issues,” a track that looks at the current state of rap and pretty much disses the entirety of it.  Dr. Dre puts it simply: “Man this industry to me, it feels like plastic.  I ain’t heard nothin’ that I’d consider a classic.”  Although it’s only a snippet, we also hear the voice of Eazy-E, one of the most iconic voices from N.W.A.   Snoop Dogg makes two appearances as well, providing lyrical back-up on songs like “One Shot, One Kill” and “Satisfiction,” a fitting look at the fake satisfaction that comes with the rap lifestyle.  Finally, “Loose Cannons” features the like of Cold 187um and Xzibit, who both give pompous performances on a track with an extremely dark ending. It was these features that really brought back the sound that we all came to know and love from back in the days.

via Softpedia News
via Softpedia News

There were also features from current hip-hop powerhouses like Eminem and Kendrick Lamar.  Lamar shares a lot in common with Dre, being that there both from the same hood, with his lyrics reflecting that.  “Darkside / Gone” and “Deep Water” are two tracks that the West Coast rapper appears on, but the most notable song is “Genocide.”  Dr. Dre, Lamar, Candice Pillay, and Marsha Ambrosius give a chilling, but real account of one of the biggest problems that the city of Compton faces; the murder rate.  Towards the end of the album, Dre and Eminem team up for probably one of the best tracks on the album; “Medicine Man.”  Dr. Dre gives us a great verse, but it’s Eminem that really takes the song by the reigns, delivering a fantastic verse that, in classic Shady fashion, covers a lot of ground in little time.  At this point, it’s almost like Eminem can do no wrong.  However, the song contains some alarming lyrics that made me frown.  Lines like “I even make the bitches I rape come” are not the kinds of lyrics that will go unnoticed.  There might be backlash, there might not be, but either way it still doesn’t bode well with most.

I have to give major props to some of the new talent that gets a lot of time on the album to shine.  Justus, Anderson .Paak, Marsha Ambrosius, and King Mez are all up-and-coming artists with a whole lot to prove.  Dre takes them under his wing and gives them a chance to take the spotlight on a number of songs on the album.  Songs like “Talk About It” and “It’s All on Me” are two of the tracks that really stick out.  Anderson .Paak truly makes a name for himself on “Animals,” a song that dives into the problems that black people face on a daily basis.  It’s well-trodden ground at this point, especially given the events that have transpired this year, but .Paak manages to demand your attention.

via Okay Player
via Okay Player

The journey through the city concludes with the finale, “Talking to My Diary.”  It’s a fitting end to our ride with Dre through his city of Compton.  As he flips through the pages of his work, he takes one final gaze at the road that he has travelled behind him and looks into the future with eagerness.  Compton shows that the rapper, although dormant for more than a decade, still has what it takes to grab listeners by neck and show them what real rap sounds like. I may not agree with his line about there being no classics out there today, especially given the amazing year of rap that we have had so far.  With that being said, I can agree that Dr. Dre has given us an epic final swan song, a masterpiece that has indeed earned classic status.

compton score

Review: Bush

via missinfo.tv
via missinfo.tv

Bush (2015)

Snoop Dogg

Funk / West Coast Hip-Hop

Doggystyle / i am OTHER / Colombia


When it comes to the classic west coast sound, arguably no one does it better than Snoop Dogg and Pharrell Williams.  The news that Snoop’s Bush would be entirely produced by Pharrell was good news, because Pharrell is one hot producer right now.  Bush is the rapper’s thirteenth studio album and it gets some things right, but largely did not stand out in the grand scope of the west coast rapper’s discography.

Snoop brings the funk 110% with a mix of hip-hop and R&B.  Any fan of Pharrell’s previous work will feel right at home, with a lot of real familiar sound that stays in touch with the producer’s past work.  It is a rather short offering, with a track list of ten songs all about getting high, among other things.  What else would you expect from Snoop?  He manages to provide a nice flow on the tracks, giving us a different sounding Snoop when compared to some of his previous work.

via The Stashed
via The Stashed

The beats are nice, with Pharrell providing a nice does of funky flavor along with some poppy instrumentals.  Its party music, and it will most definitely want to make you get off your feet.  Songs like “Peaches N Cream,” “So Many Pros,” and “This City” will make it hard for you to stand still.  They were some of the strongest tracks from the album.

Perhaps one of my favorite tracks comes with Snoop’s collaboration with rappers Rick Ross and Kendrick Lamar.  The two are probably some of the hottest in the game right now, and they live up to the hype by providing the heat on “I’m Ya Dogg.”  As always, Kendrick Lamar continues to showcase his trademark flow over his power punch of a verse and Rick Ross just continues to be a boss.

via The Stashed
via The Stashed

When most of your songs on the album sound the same, it’s hard to keep the party fresh.  A lot of songs off the album fell into a pool of mediocrity and just sound like top 40 wannabe’s.  That is the kind of vibe that I got from the album.  It seems like Snoop and Pharrell were trying to make an entire album that sounds like the kinds of songs that you would currently find on the top 40 airwaves.  Although this works for some of the tracks, like the ones I mentioned previously, the idea does not work as well as they would expect.

I probably struggled the hardest with what to say about the album.  I did not hate it, but I did not find it overly enjoyable either.  There really is not too many words to describe Bush.  The album has a cool California sound to it, but most of the songs did not manage to keep my attention for long.  This is not Snoop’s best piece of work, but there is some things that you can find to like about it.

bush score