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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

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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