Tag Archives: Rihanna

Country Music and My Mom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: Views

views coverViews (2016)

Drake

Rap / Hip-Hop / R&B

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


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

views 1
via The Fashionisto

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

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

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via NME

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

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

views 3
via Hype Beast

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

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

views score

SoundCloud Go: Is It Really Worth It?

Great, just what we need.  Another music streaming service.

A streaming service from SoundCloud is something that we have been anticipating ever since they started getting in cahoots with some big name label companies. Some time has passed and now here we are, the launch day of SoundCloud Go, the newest streaming service from the music platform known for its B-sides remixes and user-uploaded content.  What makes this service different from more established services like Spotify, Apple Music, and Tidal?  Well…almost nothing.

soundcloud go
via SoundCloud

First, let’s talk about the part that you care about; the price.  SoundCloud Go is on par with the other services, offering its services for $9.99 a month or $12.99 if you sign up on the iPhone app.  What does this mean?  It means you’ll want to sign up for the service on the website, regardless if you are going to be using the Android or iPhone app.  (iTunes’ three-dollar transaction fee is a real pain in the ass) Luckily, the service offers a 30-day free trial for anybody who is weary of signing up for another streaming service.  It’s during this time that you will quickly notice that SoundCloud Go might not be what it’s hyped up to be.

What do you get for the ten dollars a month?  Firstly, you get access to a premium library of content from well-known artists as well as some deeper-cuts.  SoundCloud has been working with record labels like UMG, Sony, Merlin, and Warner to give its premium users a larger library to choose from.  The service also promises its paying customers offline listening for individual tracks and playlists as well as an ad-free listening experience.  You know, your standard music streaming fare.  The only thing that sets SoundCloud apart from its not-so-surprising lack of music…which is a bad way to be different.

I decided to run some tests on the mobile app.  I did a search for Lupe Fiasco, which yielded these results:

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Search results for Lupe Fiasco…not bad.

As you can see, this provides an example of what the search results will look like for premium users.  Now take note of the number of tracks related to Lupe Fiasco.  151 isn’t a bad number.  The service seemed to have a good portion of Lupe’s library.

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I was impressed that SoundCloud Go had his latest, Tetsuo & Youth, on the service.

That was a good sign.  It’s when I started searching for other artists that I started to run into some problems.  Let’s take Adele for example:

Screenshot_2016-03-29-19-10-07
Again, not that bad…but could be better.

Once again, there was a good amount of Adele tracks, but there were some notable absences as well.  The service seems to have her albums 19 and 21 but her latest album, 25, is nowhere to be found.  The album’s key song, “Hello,” is the lone song available to users.  SoundCloud was boasting about having artists like Adele on their service…but if you’re going to boast about an artist you should probably have their library in its entirety.

What about Jay-Z?  Well…not too many marbles:

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Shout-out to that hot new track “When Is Someone Gonna Sue Jay-Z?” I heard its a banger.

This might have been a search destined to fail, considering the rap icon co-owns the streaming service Tidal, but his music can still be found on other services like Spotify.  Spotify has a robust Jay-Z library…which pulverizes SoundCloud Go’s current offerings…which isn’t much.  I did other searches for artists like Rihanna and Drake…and the lack of music was pretty consistent.

The service claims to have 125+ million tracks available to users on the platform.  However, what they don’t tell you is how this number breaks down.  Based on some reporting by The Verge, 110 million of those tracks are remixes of existing songs or user-uploaded content.  That leaves a measly 15 million tracks that are totally original.  This might seem like a large number, but it pales in comparison to its competitors.  SoundCloud has made it clear that they are working around the clock to bring more tracks to the service, but they have a lot of legwork to cover if they want to keep up with the other streaming giants.  These services are all about user-retention and SoundCloud isn’t going to keep too many of its paying customers with the library that they have now.

As you saw from the screenshots above, the mobile interface remains relatively unchanged, which is a good thing.  You don’t want too much change all at once.  One of the more frustrating aspects of the service hasn’t changed however and that is the organization.  Unlike other services, SoundCloud presents its song in an unorganized fashion.  For example, searching for Adele’s album 19 gave me this:

Screenshot_2016-03-29-19-15-22
Tis a barren wasteland of obscurity…

Nothing.  The service doesn’t organize its music by albums.  Your straight out of luck if you want to listen to an artist’s full album uninterrupted.  You have to go to each track individually and play them that way, which becomes super tedious and annoying.  Sure, you could get around this by creating a playlist by adding each song from an album individually…but who has time for that?  Album organization seems like a no-brainer…but you’ll just have to settle.

The Now Playing screen should look familiar to anybody who has used the SoundCloud app before:

Screenshot_2016-03-29-19-12-06
Standard stuff…nothing major in terms of options.

You can’t see it in this screenshot, but most tracks will have a download button that allows you to download the track for listening later, similar to most mobile streaming apps.  You can also start track stations that play similar sounds and you can add tracks to playlists.  You can then download these playlists for later listening.  This stuff seems to work pretty well…but that’s the least surprising thing about the whole experience.  If you have used another streaming service, then you should feel right at home.

SoundCloud Go still has a long road ahead of itself if it wants to catch up with its bigger and badder competitors. I always liked SoundCloud for it’s deep-cut remixes and tracks from up-and-coming artist and DJs.  Initial tests make it seem like this can all be done for free.  What you’re paying for is the bigger libraries from more well-established artists.  Unfortunately, the content availability is slim-pickings at this point, but more content should be coming in the future.  Enough to rival its competitors like Spotify and Apple Music?  Probably not.  If you primarily use SoundCloud to catch up with newer and more underground artists, then paying for premium features is probably not necessary.  As of now, SoundCloud Go isn’t worth your ten dollars a month.  Maybe the future will prove otherwise…but I don’t have good feelings for the service moving forward.

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: Anti

anti cover
via D4 Premiere

Anti (2016)

Rihanna

R&B

Westbury Road / Roc Nation


It was late last Wednesday night when I somehow ended up with Rihanna’s newest album for free.  Anti, the singer’s eighth studio album, was released for free through Jay Z’s streaming service Tidal.  I was just clicking around on Twitter and a few links later, her entire album was downloading to my computer.  I was already excited for Rihanna’s new project…but this put the cherry on top.  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised anymore, since the idea of a “surprise album release” is now commonplace in a music industry that is changing every day.  Rihanna always strives to be different from everybody else and in true Rihanna fashion, Anti is supremely different from her previous work.

rihanna-anti-album-cover-party-2015-billboard-02-650
via Wiki Starz

Gone are the high-octane hip-hop beats and fiery pop sound.  Anti is more of a slow-chopped R&B affair and it also happens to be one of Rihanna’s most personal records yet.  This creative freedom might be the result of RiRi’s label change, moving from Def Jam to Roc Nation.  The album consists of songs of reflection on relationships of the past.  In fact, most of the album gets personal about her love life, including her highly public (and probably abusive) relationship with Chris Brown.

The album opens up with “Consideration,” featuring singer SZA.  The song is about Rihanna’s music career and how there should be a bigger emphasis on being an artist rather than an entertainer.  Rihanna has writing credits on the song, as well as all the other songs that appear on the album, which is a big deal for her.  This is one of her first forays into songwriting and it pays off in big ways.  To give context, Rihanna’s album Loud featured zero writing credits from the artist.  She’s come a long way in terms of being an artist, which is what the song is all about.  It’s a strong opening for an album.

anti 2
via News AU

Anti then continues to get deeper and deeper.  The desperate “Kiss It Better” dives into the emotions of someone who just got out of a relationship but want’s their lover back, laced with some nice guitar riffs in the background.  “Work,” the lone single from the album featuring, teams up with Drake to deliver a lust-filled narrative of two lovers.  There’s an exotic reggae beat that goes along with the track that gives it it’s laid-back quality.  The album is incredibly diverse in terms of sound, dipping it’s toes into genres like dancehall and soul.

Taking a break from the moody offerings on the album, “Desperado” is an energized and powerful track about being in a relationship with someone “on the run.”  There’s also “Woo,” a collaboration with rapper Travis Scott, Rihanna’s first track with her esteemed lover.  It’s a pointed track that delves into Rihanna’s feelings about an old flame.  However, the best track on the album is not even Rihanna’s.  “Same Ol’ Mistakes” is a cover of Tame Impala’s “New Person, Same Old Mistakes.”  The song is essentially about her work towards not releasing songs that are “burnt out.”  It’s a smooth track that is top-notch.

anti 3
via Pigeons and Planes

There is some first-rate writing on the album thanks to Rihanna, making Anti an experiential experience.  This experience is complemented with some great sound production and engineering.  In order to achieve the moody sounds that Rihanna wanted on the album, she teamed up with producers like Hit-Boy, DJ Mustard, Brian Kennedy, Timbaland, and No I.D., among others.  Anti is a far cry from the EDM club and dance projects of Rihanna’s past, but this album’s distinct sounds is one of her best.

If songs like “FourFiveSeconds” and “American Oxygen” were any indication, Rihanna has seemingly changed her musical course of direction and delivers an album in Anti that stands strong on its own.  Rihanna opens up with a collection of moody and love-infused tracks that will have you feeling all sorts of emotions.  Although I loved the Rihanna of the past, I applaud her for the changes that she has made in order to deliver this fine product of her creativity.

anti score

The Weekly Drop: 4/18/15

This week saw the release of Tyler, the Creator’s album Cherry Bomb along with a mix and match of other singles as well.  Trey Songz delivered a surprise mixtape Intermission, and Rihanna released her newest single from her upcoming album, “American Oxygen.”  Here is what came out this week…


via Zumic
via Zumic

“American Oxygen”

Rihanna

Buy

Technically the song came out on April 5th on the new Tidal Music platform, but I was not really a fan of Tidal, so I decided to wait till it was available everywhere.  With that being said, this patriotic and energetic song is actually pretty good.  It is pretty significant because Rihanna, the island girl herself, is a black immigrant of the United States.  The song, which served as the theme song for March Madness, is about achieving the American Dream.  The song also has some obvious influences from Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA.”  “American Oxygen” gets me pretty excited for what is to come with Rihanna’s #R8, her highly anticipated next album, but this should do till then.


via Deezer
via Deezer

“Addicted to a Memory”

Zedd (feat. Bahari)

Stream

“Addicted to a Memory” is Zedd’s second offering off his new album True Colors which comes out on the 19th of this month.  It is a “what could have been” type of song, which has Bahari reflecting on a relationship that probably did not go as planned.  It has a deep techno kind of feel with a drop that will shake any dance club.  It started to run a little long towards the end, but overall it felt like a Zedd song.


via Josepvinaixa
via Josepvinaixa

“Darker than Blood”

Steve Aoki (feat. Linkin Park)

Pass

The other EDM track to come out this week came from the rage inducer Steve Aoki himself, along with the surprise help of Linkin Park.  This is not the first time that we have had rock mixed with electronic music, but it did not feel quite right with “Darker than Blood.”  The song, which supposedly has been in production for almost two years, did not quite have the effect that I thought it would have.  The song sounds like Steve Aoki, as well as Linkin Park.  It just made me realize that the song probably would have sounded better separated.  I would have rather had Steve Aoki release the song by himself, with Linkin Park doing the same.  Then we could have had a comparison.


via Dj Booth
via Dj Booth

“So Many Pros”

Snoop Dogg

Pass

Bush is on its way, and Snoop seems to be making a comeback, albeit with a new sound.  His second single “So Many Pros” has similarities to his other single “Peaches and Cream,” which makes it apparent that the album is going to have a smooth and more “pop-y” feel to it.  “So Many Pros” has production from Pharrell Williams, and some back up vocals from the talented Charlie Wilson.  It brought me back to Snoop’s earlier ballad “Sensual Seduction,” but “So Many Pros” failed to do it for me.  It just sounded like a tired and lazy pop song with little to no rap at all.  If I did not know better, I would not have guessed that it was a Snoop Dogg song.


via Rap Dose
via Rap Dose

“Best Friend”

Yelawolf (feat. Eminem)

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I have a strong feeling that Yelawolf has a good album coming our way to add to the collection of great hip hop albums that have come out this year.  “Best Friend” is his latest single from the upcoming release, which includes the only feature on the album; and no one better to fill that role than Slim Shady himself.  The two sound great together on the track, with Yelawolf getting a little more spiritual while Eminem delivers his trademark aggressive rhymes.  There’s a overarching spiritual tone to the song, which makes me excited for the kind of territory that the southern rapper will cover on Love Story.


via MWM Forum
via MWM Forum

Intermission

Trey Songz

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Trey Songz noted on his Twitter that he feels like he is at his best whenever he releases surprise music for his fans.  The mixtape, which could be called an EP, features a small collection of songs from the R&B singer.  Some of my favorites from the release are “Don’t Play” and “Talk About It.”  They both do the job of being pretty alright R&B songs.  The others on the EP are not knock-outs, but they were not bad.  Intermission was not Trey Songz at his absolute best, but he gives his fans something to grapple to during their wait for his upcoming project.

The Weekly Drop: 3/27/15

This is a new weekly series that I will start that will cover new singles and mixtapes that were released throughout the week.  Every Friday, I will go in depth and let you know whether you should download, stream, or pass on the newest releases.  On the blog, I have reviewed a lot of albums, but I have never really looked at the other types of releases that come out in a given week.  So, without further ado…

This week pretty much centered around Rihanna’s new single, “Bitch Better Have My Money.”  She has been releasing some snippets from the single, but on Thursday she finally released the full song.  We also saw a comeback from T-Pain.  In terms of other releases, we had some new stuff from Gucci Mane, Que, T.I., Yelawolf, Ludacris, and more.


via Beyond Gossip
via Beyond Gossip

“Bitch Better Have My Money”

Rihanna

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There was a lot of hype surrounding the single from Rihanna’s next big album.  “Bitch Better Have My Money” is the second single of her upcoming album R8.  The song features a mix of singing and rapping, with a bunch of confidence.  The bass heavy song, produced by Deputy, is no doubt going to be a hit for a while.


gibberish“Gibberish”

MAX feat. Hoodie Allen

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As it turns out, singer MAX and up-and-coming rapper Hoodie Allen are actually best buds.  That’s why it makes sense that they release a song together, entitled “Gibberish.”  The song, which is about meeting a girl and realizing that she is not who you thought she was, is something that we have all heard before in pop music, but it still manages to be pretty catchy.  Hoodie Allen also brings a good verse to the equation as well.  It’s definitely worth a listen, but that’s about all.


charge it to the rap game“Charge it to the Rap Game”

Ludacris

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Ludacris’ next album Ludaversal is going to be pretty big.  However, there hasn’t been too much released yet from the album, with “Good Lovin” being the only single released so far.  “Charge it to the Rap Game,” produced by Illmind, shows off that classical lyrical flow that Ludacris has been known for.  The rap game has a lot of highs and lows to it, and Ludacris weighs in on all of it.  This might not be a groundbreaking track by any sense of the word, but it is still pretty good.


via hulkshare.com
via hulkshare.com

“Project Steps”

T.I.

Pass

T.I. has made it known before that his past was not pretty, growing up in the hood of Atlanta, Georgia.  His newest song “Project Steps,” produced by Mars of 1500 or Nothin’, goes into the struggles that T.I. faces with not reverting to his past ways to solve the problems he comes across today.  A song as hard and raw as this seems like it should be faster and not as sluggish.  The beat in the background also got a little repetitive as well.  I was expecting more from T.I.


via Rap Wave
via Rap Wave

“I Go Hard”

T.I. feat. Kat

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This is the better of the two T.I. songs that were released this week.  “I Go Hard,” is inspired by Get Hard, the Kevin Hart and Will Ferrell comedy that comes out this week.  T.I. also plays a role in the film, starring as Russell, a former convict.  The song actually appears on the ending credits as well.  The track goes hard, with a loud and booming hook from Kat.  T.I. lays some hard rhymes over the tough sounding song.  The song definitely lives up to it’s name.


via Juno Download
via Juno Download

“Roll the Bass”

Major Lazer

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Major Lazer has been around for a while, with is third major studio album Peace is the Mission on the way soon.  “Roll the Bass”, a single from the new album, is an energetic mix of Major Lazer’s reggae style of music with the heavy beats of trap step.  It is fast and it is fun, and it will most likely have you dancing in no time.


via Rap Wave
via Rap Wave

“American You”

Yelawolf

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This song is actually pulled from Catfish Billy’s next album Love Story.  With Eminem and Malay handling production duties, “American You” has Yelawolf talking about the kinds of things that go through a young teenage American’s mind.  We get some nice vocals from the rapper, with a nice and easy sound.  There are some instrumentals in the background that really just make the song feel like an American piece of work.  It was surprisingly really good.


via XXL
via XXL

Dessert (EP)

Gucci Mane

Pass

If you are talking about the hardest working rapper in the game, you are most likely talking about rapper Gucci Mane.  Last week, the rapper released three full-length albums; Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner.  To top things off, he also released a three song EP this week as well, called Dessert.  The mixtape features some good production work from the likes of Mike WILL Made-It and The Honorable C-Note, but the three songs are just average at best.  “Don’t Make Me Mad” was probably my least favorite of the three tracks, with it sounding like a garbled mess at times.  It is hard not to applaud the work ethic that Gucci Mane puts out, but I would honestly like to see him channel that energy into making less albums, with a bigger focus on quality.  Putting out song after song, album after album, is not always a sound strategy of success.  This is a pretty good example of why that does not always work.


via Far Out Hip Hop
via Far Out Hip Hop

The 6th Man

Que

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Atlanta’s own Que is here with a new mixtape called The 6th Man.  The album is primarily a one man show, with the only feature from Young Dolph on “Weak.”  The mixtape includes a pretty good sounding intro, which leads into one of my favorite tracks from the project, “Type I Am.”  Some of my other favorites include “Stick Up Kid” and “Emotions,” a song that features some vocals from the rapper.  Not all of the songs are A-grade material however.  “Type of Party” gets a little repetitive after a while and “Digg It” leaves more to be desired.  However, the XXL Magazine nominated Freshman of the Year has some good flow and his lyrics roll off the tongue pretty well.  The mixtape also sounds good, with some production from up-and-coming producers like OZ and 30roc.  I do not think that the mixtape is worth a download, but I still think you should give the rapper a listen.


via All Hip-Hop
via All Hip-Hop

The Iron Way

T-Pain

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It’s been four years since the release of T-Pain’s Revolver.  Say what you want about the album, but it was not really a big commercial or critical success.  It was a good time for T-Pain to take a break and lay low.  Fast forward to 2015 and we now have The Iron Way, T-Pain’s comeback mixtape if you will, hosted by DJ Drama.  The tape contains twenty tracks, as well as a star-studded features list.  Lil Wayne, The Dream, Big K.R.I.T., Yo Gotti, Migos, and more lend verses to the project.  The Iron Way contains some hard and raw raps from the rapper, including the mixtapes intro “Kill These N*****,” as well as those seductive auto-tune ballads that you have come to expect from T-Pain, like “Let Your Hair Down,” featuring help from The Dream and Vantrease.  Some other good cuts are “15,” the bouncy club anthem, as well as “Let Me Through,” the feature with Lil Wayne.  It is interesting to note the apparent absence of T-Pains collaboration with Aaliyah, titled “Girlfriend.”  He played the song at a recent preview session in Manhattan, but perhaps the internet backlash was the reasoning for its cut off the album.  T-Pain’s intentions are clear and he wants a swift comeback.  If this spawns another album, that’s great.  If not, we at least got some more music from the auto-tune genius.

The Grammys 2015: Wrap-Up

grammysIf you watched the Grammys last night, you probably heard the phrase “Grammy Moment” over and over again.  It was the main theme of the night.  “So and so is going to make a Grammy moment.”  “Don’t miss the Grammy moment, coming up next!”  The 57th Annual Grammy Awards took place last night, and there were indeed a lot of moments…some more memorable then others.

Right off the bat, the award for Best New Artist, which was presented by Taylor Swift, was given to Sam Smith.  This surprised me a lot, considering the fact that Iggy Azalea was in the category as well.  (Although I really wouldn’t call her “new”)  This was the start of two new trends for the night.  Iggy, who was nominated for four awards, took home a big zero.  On the other hand, Sam Smith cleaned house with a grand total of four Grammy’s, including Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Pop Vocal Album, in addition to his New Artist award.  This was a big night for the emotional Sam Smith, who accepted the awards with a lot of gratitude.

grammys sam smith

Other notable award winners included Beck for Album of the Year for Morning Phase.  This was by far my biggest surprise.  Beck had a pretty successful and critically acclaimed album, but I didn’t think there was that much buzz around his album, especially compared to the other nominees in the category.  Kanye West must have thought the same thing, as he almost performed “I ’ma Let You Finish” Part 2.  Luckily, he refrained from interrupting Beck, but it was still one of my favorite moments from the night.  Others didn’t find it funny, calling Kanye a jerk.  This is true in a sense, but I don’t think Kanye did anything wrong last night…besides his later comments about Beck and his win.  Anyway…

Other award winners include Pharrell Williams for Best Pop Solo Performance for his song “Happy” and Beyonce for Best R&B Performance for her song “Drunk In Love” with her hubby Jay Z.  One surprising omission from the show was the absence of the Hip-Hop and Rap awards being presented live.  All of the awards for these categories were announced before the live show…for reasons I can’t really explain.  Either way, Eminem won Best Rap Album for The Marshal Mathers LP2 and Kendrick Lamar won Best Rap Performance for “I”.  There were a lot more awards that were left out of the picture during the live show, with only nine awards being given out at the big show.  The awards were three hours long and only nine were actually given out?  That only means one thing…performances.

grammys beck

So how were the performances?

Well, there were so much that host LL Cool J had to skip his normal comedic (that term used lightly) monologue in order to make room for the plethora of artists that made the stage.  This year there were twenty three performances, kicked off by the rock legends AC/DC with “Rock or Bust” and “Highway to Hell.”  It was a strong start to the show, and it probably had a lot of people confused as to why they were even up there.  Then things started to go downhill…

grammys acdc

We got some love songs from Ariana Grande and the duo of Jessie J and Tom Jones.  The two performances were alright, but they were nothing special.  We then got a rather forgettable performance from Miranda Lambert who sung “Little Red Wagon.”  Surprising to most, Kanye West picked things up a bit with his minimalist act of “Only One.”  It was then Madonna who gave a weird and often times uncomfortable performance of “Living for Love.”

There was then a long string of unmemorable performances that just didn’t make an impression on me.  Pharrell Williams however, gave a cinematic and epic performance of “Happy”, debuting a new elevator boy hat.  I hope the tradition continues every year.  Katy Perry, after a talk about domestic violence, gave a somber, yet dazzling performance of “By the Grace of God”, which was one of the standouts of the night.  One of the other standouts was the much anticipated performance of “FourFiveSeconds” by the trio of Sir Paul McCartney, Rihanna, and Kanye West.  It was an upbeat live showing of a song that just doesn’t get old.  They three had fun with it.

grammys four five seconds

The show closed with two final performances from Beyonce and John Legend, featuring rapper Common.  Beyonce performed an angelic version of “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.”  It was a powerful performance that further cemented Beyonce’s status of dominance in music.  As an encore of sorts, John Legend and Common performed the Oscar nominated “Glory” from the Oscar recognized Selma.  It was another epic performance, complete with instrumentals and a full choir.  The Grammys started strong and ended strong…but had a ton of rough patches in between held up by the occasional memorable performance.

The Grammys weren’t what I thought they were going to be this year.  They were kind of a let down.  Yes, some very talented musicians took home there well deserved awards, but I kind of wished there were more awards, instead of the performances that were just thrown in there to fatten up the runtime.  Half of the performances could have been cut out, leaving room for more awards and what ever else they could have come up with.  It was a big night for music, no doubt…but it could have been bigger.

grammys beyonce


Here were some of the winners from the night…

Record of the Year

Sam Smith – “Stay With Me”

Song of the Year

Sam Smith – “Stay With Me” [Darkchild Version]

Album of the Year

Beck – “Morning Phase”

Best New Artist

Sam Smith

Best Pop Solo Performance

Pharrell Williams – “Happy”

Best Pop Vocal Album

Sam Smith – “In The Lonely Hour”

Best Rock Album

Beck – “Morning Phase”

Best Rap Album

Eminem – “The Marshal Mathers LP2”

Best Country Album

Miranda Lambert – “Platinum”

Best R&B Performance

Beyonce ft. Jay Z – “Drunk In Love”

grammys happy


Now, what about my predictions?  Well…here’s how I did…

Record of the Year

I predicted… “Shake If Off” by Taylor Swift

Actual winner: “Stay With Me” by Sam Smith

Album of the Year

I predicted… In The Lonely Hour by Sam Smith

Actual winner: Morning Phase by Beck

Song of the Year

I predicted… “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift

Actual winner: “Stay With Me” [Darkchild Version] by Sam Smith

Best New Artist

I predicted… Iggy Azalea

Actual winner: Sam Smith

Best Pop Vocal Album

I predicted… Prism by Katy Perry

Actual winner: In The Lonely Hour by Sam Smith

Best Dance/Electronic Album

I predicted… While (1>2) by Deadmau5

Actual winner: Syro by Aphex Twin

Best R&B Performance

I predicted… “Drunk In Love” by Beyonce feat. Jay Z

Actual winner: “Drunk In Love” by Beyonce feat. Jay Z

Best Urban Contemporary Album

I predicted… Beyonce by Beyonce

Actual winner: Beyonce by Beyonce

Best Rap Song

I predicted… “I” by Kendrick Lamar

Actual winner: “I” by Kendrick Lamar

Best Rap Album

I predicted… The Marshal Mathers LP2 by Eminem

Actual winner: The Marshal Mathers LP2 by Eminem

grammys taylor swift

Basically, I didn’t do so well.  I knew Sam Smith was going to win some awards, but I wasn’t expecting him to take the show.  I also expected Taylor Swift to take his place with the top song categories.  Obviously that didn’t pan out.  As for the Rap categories, I did alright.  I also did a good job with predicting Beyonce to win big as well.  I could have done better, but I went with the popular route.  I should have known better…

Rihanna, Kanye West & Paul McCartney: The Unlikely Trio?

Back at the iHeartMedia Music Summit on January 21  of this year, Kanye West previewed a collaboration with Rihanna, Paul McCartney and himself on a new song.  When I heard of the news, I couldn’t be more surprised.  Rihanna, Kanye West & Paul McCartney?  The only thing Rihanna and Kanye West have in common with McCartney is their status as music icons.  Other than that…nothing really.

via Mister Scandal
via Mister Scandal

Flash forward to yesterday, when Rihanna herself released the new collaborative single “FourFiveSeconds” on her personal website.  The internet was instantly ablaze.  She wrote via Twitter, “First Glimpse At My New Music!!!”  So, how does the song actually sound?

The track, which was written by West, McCartney, Kirby Lauryen, Mike Dean, Ty Dolla $ign, and more, has McCartney on the instrumentals in the background including the acoustic guitar, organ, and the cello.  On vocals, we have both Kanye West and Rihanna, but not in the way that you would expect.  Both Rihanna and Kanye provide their vocals, which is different then their normal raps and “party ready” musical direction.

It’s a different sound from what I was expecting, but it sounded great.  Rihanna shows a more vulnerable side, which was also present in her hit song “Stay.”  Perhaps this is the beginning of a new direction for her.  The same can be said for Kanye West, who is working on a new album as well.  Perhaps this is a new sound for Kanye.

via Koolout
via Koolout

When both Kanye and Rihanna come in at the same time for the refrain, it’s a magical moment.  McCartney is on the acoustic guitar while the other two are belting it out in a 45 second refrain, which perfectly goes along with the title of the song.  What’s also surprising is the minimalist nature of the song’s production.  There isn’t much flair on this stripped-down acoustic, but it still has all of the flair of a knock-out hit.

Now as I look into the future, I am anticipating what is next for the trio. Will they do more songs together?  Or was this just a one time thing, signaling a new direction for the artists?  Either way, it’s all exciting.  The track demonstrates the range of talent that the artists have, with Kanye and Rihanna taking the spotlight.  This is good music folks.