The long and oft-delayed BraveHeart is a much better album than expected…
Ashanti • BraveHeart • eOne/Written Entertainment • US Release Date: March 3, 2014
R&B Ashanti’s career began much more promising than it has been as of late. Two number one albums, a Grammy win for best contemporary R&B album (now best urban contemporary album), and some notable hits. While third album Concrete Rose would yield another platinum-certified album, its number seven debut signaled the first notion of Ashanti’s former commercial success taking a hit. This hit was more pronounced on The Declaration (2008), which debuted a slot higher at number six, but sold considerably less copies. Ultimately, The Declaration would fail to go gold and her fifth studio album, BraveHeart, would only materialize after numerous delays, which would total just shy of six years. Six years is an eternity, particularly given the fragility that has become Ashanti’s once fruitful career. Regardless of the setbacks, BraveHeart ends up being a much better than expected album, particularly from an artist who has received plenty of criticism vocally. It’s neither the best album of the year, nor the best R&B album either, but Ashanti gets many things right on BraveHeart.
“Intro – Braveheart” is more than just an interlude; it also includes the album’s title track, an actual full-length song. The intro rightfully exhibits ‘strength’, which establishes the tone and exemplifies the album title. The attached full-length continues to showcase the aforementioned strength, relating the idea of possessing a “BraveHeart” to love (“I’m so lucky to have you by my side / I know it ain’t easy baby”, from verse two), later confirming it on the refrain (“…We both gotta have a BraveHeart”). “Nowhere” follows up nearly perfectly, confirming strength once more through a rock solid commitment: “I ain’t going nowhere, you ain’t gotta worry / ain’t nobody perfect, but what we got is worth it.” Ashanti still isn’t what you’d characterize as a powerhouse vocalist, but unflashy as she may be, she sings “Nowhere” soundly. On the bridge and towards the end, the singer shows a bit more grit and nuance vocally. The message and song don’t feel new by any means, but definitely tried and true.
“Runaway” continues the consistency, delivering a commanding, incredibly enjoyable number. Like the opening “Intro – Braveheart”, “Runaway” is set in a minor key, with a darker sound suiting the hard, old school hip-hop soul beat perfectly. “I try to make it work,” sings Ashanti on the catchy, emotional chorus. “I try to make it work, but I just end up hurt / I tell you it’s okay cause I don’t wanna leave / but you make it so hard for me to stay so I run away.” More so than “Nowhere”, Ashanti ‘lets it rip’ a bit more vocally. “Count” has a more modern R&B edge, with its thumping 808s and gimmicky chorus (“Baby don’t make me / count, count…count”). “Count” is by no means ‘the second coming’ of anything, but it definitely possesses the swagger of a solid club joint. Don’t call it a masterpiece (it ain’t), but it’s not too bad. On “Early in the Morning”, Ashanti taps French Montana for the assist. Again, Ashanti thinks contemporarily and about love. Ultimately, “Early in the Morning” is thoughtful, but lacks lyrical depth.
If nothing else, “3 Words” benefits from its exceptional production work. Still, aside from the production itself, it has its thoughtful lyrical moments. Certainly deeper than either “Count” or “Early in the Morning”, “3 Words” has more momentum working in its favor. “There’s only so many words I could use to tell you whatchu do / to me physically, sexually penetrating my immunity,” sings Ashanti, later going on to say “I just can’t explain it / Picasso couldn’t paint it / but these three words say it all / I love you.” On “Love Games”, Ashanti gets another assist, this time from Jeremih (known for hits “Birthday Sex” and “Down On Me”). Given Jeremih’s sensually driven past musically, he matches up well with Ashanti on this ‘sex’ joint. While calling “Love Games” tasteful would be an overstatement, it certainly isn’t as raw as some contemporary cuts that come time mind. Ultimately, it works out well for Ashanti.
Still, “Scars” works out even better, with its hip drum programming, slick synths (and production in general), and overall attitude. Sure, there is still a cool energy about Ashanti vocally, but that doesn’t seem like it’s going to change. Perhaps she lacks the same bite that a Mary J. Blige or Fantasia might deliver on this cut, but Ashanti still ends up with the desired effect (“You could have kept the pain / my heart is slain / nothin’ remains, no more / but scars”). The outro at the end of “Scars” is definitely a thoughtful way of ending the standout by all means, even if the cut ends up clocking in just shy of six minutes in duration.
“Never Should Have” gets the incredibly difficult task of following a juggernaut. The cut contrasts “Scars” sporting a more enthusiastic, and pop-driven R&B sound. Think bright, adult contemporary-oriented R&B that ends up being just as effective as “Scars”, centered in a major key. Still, Ashanti shows her reservations despite the optimism in sound: “You never should have loved me / you never should have touched me / you never should have / never should have told me you loved me and you would never leave me / ‘cause everything that you would do / it made me fall in love with you…” “Never Should Have” is easily another #winning moment for Ashanti – a sister’s in it to win it.
“She Can’t” is filled with attitude, evidenced by lines like “You gotta let him know what he got on his hands / and if he tend to forget, betta remind his a$$…” (Verse one) or “Long as you keep me on a pedestal / and nobody ever made you feel like I make you feel” (verse two). Is Ashanti overconfident on “She Can’t”? Nope! She’s just a strong woman with a “Brave Heart” – did you expect something different? On “Don’t Tell Me No”, Ashanti’s confidence continues to factor in, as she knows he still want her: “I still look in your eyes and / I can tell that you want it / Baby, don’t tell me no / give me what I’m lookin’ for…” There it is! Oh and by the way, if Ashanti is turning the table when she puts the ‘desire’ all on the man’s plate, she sort of takes a back step when she states “Baby, I just want that old thing back.”
“I Got It” brings in Rick Ross, who unsurprisingly drops a line about money (ever heard that Gucci Mane track that Ross guests on, “All About The Money”?). Staying in character, on his guest verse (verse two), Ross brags about all the lavish things he can give his girl as well as plugging his latest album, Mastermind (“Mastermind coming, still running from the fed”). That’s promotion. Don’t call “I Got It” a tour de force, but like the majority of BraveHeart, it’s definitely enjoyable and worthwhile. And ultimately, as Ashanti alludes to, “if you got it, flaunt it”. “First Real Love”, featuring Beenie Man, closes the standard edition of BraveHeart with a mix of reggae and R&B in mind. It is manic, but much like the album as a whole, it ends up being much better than anticipated. The iTunes deluxe edition of BraveHeart features two bonus cuts, “Perfect So Far” and “Never Too Far Away”.
Ultimately, BraveHeart ends up being a surprising affair. It’s by no means perfection realized, but its also nowhere near being a train wreck of any sorts. BraveHeart is a solid and enjoyable R&B album with truly little pressure on it. Honestly, what did Ashanti have to lose after a six-year hiatus? Nothing. BraveHeart won’t reignite her career commercially, but critically, it finds the singer in a much better spot than she was before. Perhaps the biggest flaw of BraveHeart is the lack of ‘selling it’ – better promotion certainly brings better awareness. It is what it is though.
“Nowhere”; “Runaway”; “Scars”; “Never Should Have”; “I Got It”
Kid Cudi is one of the most unique artists of recent times. He’s classified as a rapper, but he’s definitely from the left-field breed. Ultimately, Scott Mescudi is incredibly eclectic, and for hardcore fans, they wouldn’t have the artist without his eclectic spirit. Over the course of five years, the Kid has managed to release four studio albums (a fifth as part of WZRD). All four are quite captivating in their own way but let’s face it – they can always be ranked by level of importance, quality, and creativity. Coincidently, personally, I rank Cudi’s four albums in the order they were released.
Satellite Flight: The Journey to Mother Moon
Following the new ‘shock value’ trend of releasing albums, Kid Cudi joined the bandwagon by surprising everyone with his fourth album, Satellite Flight. Compared to his previous efforts, Satellite Flight might be the rapper’s oddest effort yet. Of its ten tracks, four are instrumental, or 40% of the album. To be a ‘hip-hop’ album, that is definitely a healthy portion. The standouts, such as “Going To The Ceremony” or title track “Satellite Flight” are reminiscent of Cudi’s work on Indicud from the previous year. Ultimately a solid effort despite feeling more ‘mixtape’ than studio LP, Satellite Flight is the rapper’s fourth best album, but contextually, it is still a worthwhile listen, particularly for hardcore fans.
Indicud was much more anticipated than Satellite Flight; it had been three years since Cudi’s sophomore album bowed. Indicud featured more production from Kid Cudi himself, something that some were indifferent to. Overall, Indicud was a shade less enthralling than Man On The Moon II was, but not too far off base. Tracks like the confident “Unf**kwittable”, The Kendrick Lamar assisted “Solo Dolo, Pt. 2”, and “Girls” were bright spots. The Father John Misty sampling “Young Lady” was interesting as well, not to mention “Just As I Am” and “Beez”. At 71 minutes though, Kid Cudi was perhaps a bit too profound. Still, there were plenty of highlights.
Man On The Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager
Man On The Moon II was a solid continuation of the excellence of Cudi’s debut, Man On The Moon: End of Day. Like Indicud is to Man on the Moon II, Man on the Moon II is a hair less notable than Cudi’s debut album. That said there is plenty of ‘meat’ for one to sink their teeth into. “REVOFEV” is incredibly bright and unique, while the Mary J. Blige assisted “Don’t Play This Song” is incredibly emotional and honest (“Wanna know what it sound like when I’m not on drugs / Please, please don’t play this song”). Then there’s a whole joint (no pun intended) dedicated to Mary Jane entitled “Marijuana” (“Pretty green bud all in my blunt, oh I need it”), the cocky and confident “Mojo So Dope” and of course the infectious, cleverly titled “Ashin’ Kusher”. Ultimately, Man on the Moon II is stacked with plenty of songs that open the door to deep analysis and personal revelations into Scott Mescudi.
Man On The Moon: End of Day
When I first heard Man On The Moon: End of Day, I considered it to be one of the oddest albums I’d ever heard. Even so, it was brilliantly odd. Rather than getting your standard rap effort, Man on the Moon: End of Day was conceptual and completely left of center. It wasn’t an album for everybody, particularly if your idea of hip-hop is what pops in the club, but I considered it one of the more notable albums of the past decade. “Day ‘N’ Night” would be the breakthrough Kid Cudi would need to get commercial footing, even if the track was by far extraterrestrial. Still it would peak at no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. “Make Her Say” would give Kid Cudi another hit, pairing him with Common and Kanye West, not to mention an incredibly-timely (in 2009) Lady Gaga sample (“Poker Face”). “The Pursuit of Happiness” brought some positivity despite dissatisfaction, led by it’s irresistible hook: “I’m on the pursuit of happiness and I know / everything that shines ain’t always gonna be gold / hey, I’ll be fine once I get it, I’ll be good.”
The list of standouts could go on and on; Man on The Moon was just that good. No matter how consistent successive albums have been by Cudi, his first is truly his masterwork. All hail King Wzrd’s best.
Kid Cudi’s surprise fourth LP is both ‘creative’ and ‘off-putting’
Kid Cudi • Satellite Flight: Journey to Mother Moon • Republic • US Release Date: February 25, 2014
Describing Kid Cudi as merely “one of a kind” might be the biggest understatement ever…change that – it is the biggest understatement ever. Album release by album release, the left-field/alternative rapper (or singer or both) continues to deliver music that is, well, completely different from everybody and everything else out there. Kid Cudi’s surprise fourth album, Satellite Flight: Journey to Mother Moon, is no different from previous Cudi albums in regards to the fact that the artist is in his own world, beating to his own drum. Satellite Flight is different than previous Cudi albums in regards to the fact that it is only ten tracks long and of those, four are instrumental. Non-standard and unconventional, Satellite Flight is a true-fans type of album that is more mixtape than studio album worthy. Hardcore fans will ‘eat it up’ while the more casual listener will find it off-putting.
“Destination: Mother Moon” initiates the effort, opening unsurprisingly mysterious with ‘Cudi-ness’ written all over it. One of four instrumentals (40% of the album), it is exhilarating and interesting to listen to. The real heat comes with “Going To The Ceremony”, the first vocal track of Satellite Flight. Opening uniquely itself with spoken word intro (“Now certainly we all recognize the extremely, extremely low probability / of life existing on the moon”), the track dives right into the rock-rap, left-of-center approach that Kid Cudi as well as WZRD has come to be known for. This includes the typical humming, the repetitive lyrics (“But I don’t know where I’m going / where I’m going, it’s all happening / I’m going, it’s all happening”), as well as the driving, minimalism. “Going To The Moon” is familiar fare for the artist. So is its follow-up, “Satellite Flight”, an equally alluring, oddball offering that is as cosmic as the title. “Satellite Flight” is all about ‘vibe’: “Com on don’t be shy / let your guard down and work it.”
“Copernicus Landing” continues with the ‘vibe’ and all things cosmic. It is the second instrumental of the effort. Ultimately, a few minutes gives you the idea while the totality of the cut may overwhelm you with its minimalism. From a classical or electronic music perspective, the techniques are legit. For a mainstream album, maybe this isn’t what you’d expect. Atonement arrives with “Balmain Jeans”, which is by far the freakiest track of the album. Face it, it’s all about the three-letter word, with the confirmation coming on the clever, but salacious “Can I come inside your vortex…” Vortex? I’ll leave that one alone, but I’m sure it’s being used as a substitute for another word… But even subtler, having Raphael Saadiq guesting confirms that the Cudi isn’t that extraterrestrial… he’s still a man who enjoys the things men enjoy… yeah…
“Too Bad I Have To Destroy You Now” is even better, even if it Cudi sets aside pleasure in favor of more direct rap. Kid Cudi is a rapper, but he’s definitely not a gangster. “Too Bad I Have To Destroy You Now” doesn’t change his lot, but it does find him spitting with a mad, agile flow. The hook hooks, and he has some memorable verse lyrics to match, including “All hail King Wizard in the f**kin’ house / been chill for a minute quiet as a mouse / now I got the juice, call me Bishop when you see me round / I be showin’ love / showin’ love baby…” The evolution and pacing of “Too Bad I Have To Destroy You Now” contributes to its success. Unfortunately, “Internal Bleeding” which proceeds isn’t quite the triumph. It’s not bad, but it is definitely more a B than an A grade cut. Still, lyrics like “Cut me down / slice me deep / I dare you / burn my crown / spit on my grave…I’ll haunt you…” makes it worthwhile.
“In My Dreams 2015” is a variation on Cudi’s track from Man On The Moon: End of Day. Lasting under two minutes, it’s a pleasant instrumental. The proceeding instrumental and penultimate cut, “Return Of The Moon Man” (Original Score) should’ve been a drag, particularly at over five minutes, but it is actually an enthralling listen. The best of the four instrumental cuts, “Return of the Moon Man” sports jagged, rhythmic lines and thrives off its minimalism. Very much in the Cudi style, “Return Of The Moon Man” doesn’t feel out of place in the least; it fits the album’s off-putting narrative. Concluding cut “Troubled Boy” is appropriately placed, particularly given vibe, but don’t call it a classic. It fits, but it doesn’t rival the top echelon juggernauts.
So, how does Satellite Flight: Journey to Mother Moon stack up? It is a solid, but ultimately off-putting album. Give its incredibly ambitious, yet easily forgettable title (I continually must check the title on my iPod), the contents work perfect contextually. Title aside and accessibility considered, well, Satellite Flight is all-over-the-place. Cudi’s albums are ‘all-over-the-place’ naturally, so in that regard, he’s still “In-di-cud”. But perhaps where a standard, accessible effort is concerned, Satellite Flight is more jumbled. Again, this album will appeal most to hardcore fans while those who want a ‘cohesive’ taste of Kid Cudi’s work may be better served with his earlier efforts, particularly the Man on The Moon series. I’m onboard for the most part though, but I’m not hailing it the ‘second coming’.
“Going To The Ceremony”; “Satellite Flight”; “Balmain Jeans”; “Too Bad I Have To Destroy You Now”; “Return Of The Moon Man (Original Score)”
Rick Ross keeps a good thing going strong on LP number six
Rick Ross • Mastermind • Def Jam • US Release Date: March 3, 2014
Six albums in, the best way to describe Rick Ross is that he ‘is what he is’. Ross’ high watermark artistically was his fourth LP, 2010 masterpiece Teflon Don. Up until Teflon Don, it seemed that Ross was just trying to find his artistic identity – his niche if you will. After finally finding himself, Ross spent fifth LP God Forgives, I Don’t ‘flexing’, something he carries over into Mastermind. Mastermind ultimately is another sound, enjoyable Rick Ross album, even if it lacks some of the excellent, luxurious rap of Teflon Don or even the exceptionalness of the best moments of God Forgives. Quibbles and nitpicks aside, Mastermind is another welcome addition to Rozay’s discography.
“Intro (Rick Ross/Mastermind)” opens familiarly with the “Maybach Music” intro – surprise, surprise. The intro as a whole references being a ‘mastermind’, hence setting the tone for the album. Sure, a brief interlude doesn’t equate Mastermind with epitomizing or embodying its title, but it does foreshadow Ross’ point… sort of. Apparently, Rick Ross’ idea of being a ‘mastermind’ is not synonymous with being an intellectual. This is confirmed on first full-length joint, “Rich Is Gangsta”. As to what that even means ultimately, who knows. Regardless, on the hook-less number, Rick Ross is “all about the Benjamins.” “I just upped my stock, f**k them cops,” he brags on the first verse. “If you love hip-hop, bust them shots.” Later, he even manages to brag about his success as a rapper: “Cocaine worth much more than gold, n***a / so what’s your goals n***a? / All my sh*t when gold, n***a.” Sure, Ross is overconfident with his bravado, but he does tell the truth… all his sh*t did go gold.
While “Rich Is Gangsta” sported exceptional, lush production work, sophomore cut “Drug Dealers Dream” features the MC more on ‘autopilot.’ He continues to count his stacks, evidenced by the intro (“Your checking account available balance is $92, 153,183.28”). Even though Rick is rich, the means is questionable by all means, yet Ross rides it for all its worth: “Murder, a mother f**kin’ murder / no you didn’t see it but I know you b**ches heard it / blood on the corner, damn I miss my dawg / I’m just thinkin’ ‘bout his daughter, in another life he ballin.” One relates to the sympathy that Ross has for his fallen comrade, which could be any person stripped of their life, yet on the other hand, the game of drug dealing, violence, and “I get shooters on clearance…” is just ugly. Unsurprisingly, interlude “Shots Fired” proceeds, with Rick Ross being alluded to (“We’re being told by people here on the scenes, specifically the manager that a famous rapper was riding in that car when someone opened fire shooting at the car…” Dark stuff – quality though.
“Nobody” didn’t appeal to me personally the first time I heard it, but it grows on you. French Montana continues to appear on every one’s track and here is no different as he delivers the hook: “Mama’s tryna save me / but she don’t know I’m tryna save her / man, them n***as tried to play me / man, ‘til I get this paper / you’re nobody ‘til somebody kills you.” Essentially, the theme of doing wrong and dangerous things to achieve riches continues on this track. The tone is aggressive, not merely because of Diddy’s pointed interludes, but also thanks to Ross’ unapologetic rhymes, including “The mortician, the morgue fillin’ with more snitches / we kill ‘em and taking their b**ches, R.I.P.” Ultimately, “Nobody” eventually reveals it’s magic if it isn’t apparent the first listen. Don’t let the Notorious B.I.G. sample (“You’re Nobody (‘Til Somebody Kills You)”) dissuade you.
“The Devil Is A Lie” benefits from sampling, maybe more so than “Nobody” did (“Don’t Let Your Love Fade Away”). Don’t call “The Devil Is a Lie” a song of praise… there plenty of blasphemy. “Big guns and big whips / rich n***a talkin’ big sh*t,” raps Ross on the hook, “…Bow your head cuz it’s time to pay tithes / opposition want me dead or alive / motherf**ker but the devil is a lie / the devil is a lie, b**ch I’m the truth…” If that’s not enough, Jay-Z’s religious beliefs are, well, unique: “Is it true or it’s fiction / Is Hov atheist? I never f**k with True Religion / am I down with the devil cuz my roof came up missin’ / is that Lucifer juice in that two cup he sippin’…” Well, regardless of where either MC stands spiritually, both acknowledge, “the devil is a lie.” It is up for debate whether that makes Rick Ross “the truth” though…
“Mafia Music III” keeps the momentum top-notch. Sporting unexpected reggae production, “Mafia Music III” seems to really fuel Rick Ross into some inspired rhymes. Not only that, Ross references Kenneth Williams (gang member), Bill Belichick, and Farrakhan – go figure. Mavado’s hook contributes to the overall success of the track as well, solidifying the tropical vibe. Keeping it G, “War Ready” brings in Jeezy for the assist, who seems to have dropped the ‘Young’ as a of late. Obsessed with ‘shooters’, Rick Ross continues to reference them for the millionth time as of late: “War ready / you got shooters, I’ve got shooters / we’ve got money / let’s do what them other n***as can’t do…” Mike Will Made It gives Ross and Jeezy magnificent, relaxed, yet malicious production work to do work over, which both do. Surprisingly, it is Jeezy who references the ‘Box Chevy’ (“Box Chevy hit the block, run the whole 50 shots / you just poppin’ ‘til you know you can’t pop ‘em no more…”) “War Ready” keeps things 100 and consistent.
French Montana makes his second appearance of Mastermind on “What A Shame”, a brief cut produced by Reefa and Stats. The production is excellent though the track itself could stand more development and ‘meat’ you might say. Unsurprisingly, Ross once more references those shooters, and they aren’t shooting jump shots. On “Supreme”, Rick switches from ‘magazines’ to “Clean Maybach, but it’s filthy as sh*t / they partitioning for the women, how busy we get…” So, you guessed it, with Keith Sweat lending his soulful new-jack pipes and Scott Storch infusing some soulful, swagger-laden production, “Supreme” is about the ‘fun’ things in life… I’ll leave it at that. “BLK & WHT” does have a play on race, but it’s not merely what you may think it is before listening. Here, Ross talks about ‘slanging’: “Young n***a black, but he selling white…N***a crib so big, it’s a damn shame / n***a sellin’ white for a gold chain.” If nothing else, “BLK & WHT” has a hypnotizing quality about it.
After the silly “Dope B**ch Skit”, The Weeknd drops a joint featuring Rick Ross… or at least that is how “In Vein” comes over. Sure it’s lush, and in the emo-alt R&B style that The Weeknd has come to be associated, but it doesn’t really show off Rick Ross himself. That said, standout “Sanctified” is more of a team-effort from Betty Wright, Big Sean, Kanye West, and Ross, but the overall product is satisfactory. Let’s face it – where would this track have been without Betty Wright’s soulful, un-credited vocals? No disrespect to Mr. West, but few of us need another “Yeezus” as he refers to during his verse – another My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, perhaps. Ross’ best line on his verse: “Soldiers all in gators, new Mercedes for cadets / Balmain uniform, you know Donda designed the vest…” Like “The Devil Is A Lie” though, I wouldn’t invest too much spiritually into this track, particularly with Big Sean’s hook (“All I wanted is 100 million dollars and a bad b**ch…”) At least he admits his sins.
“Walkin’ On Air” has a difficult act to follow after the ‘sanctification’, but it’s definitely not a shabby penultimate track. Again, the blasphemy can’t be good for Ross’ spiritual being: “Baptized by the dope boys, ordained by the a**holes / my salvation is the cash flow / whoa, oh I’m walking on air.” Even aside from misinformed spiritual allusions, lines like “She let me f**k early so she trustworthy…” certainly has no relation to the church. Meek Mill confirms this song is, um, sinful (“Make a call, call Papi for a brick / and papi call José, cause José got fish…”). “Thug Cry”, featuring Lil Wayne and produced by J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League closes Mastermind soundly. Don’t call the multi-sampling work a classic, but it definitely closes an overt album a gentler than it was throughout its course.
All in all, Mastermind turns out to be another well-rounded, enjoyable album from Rick Ross. There is more than enough wealth to please more casual and hardcore Ross fans alike. It won’t supersede the top two albums of Ross’ collection, but it definitely can hang. Not sure why the banging “Box Chevy” was omitted, but it is what it is. Not perfect, but well played, well played.
“Drug Dealers Dream”; “The Devil Is A Lie”; “Mafia Music III”; “War Ready”; “Sanctified”
Ah, who doesn’t love a good ‘come-up’ story? Schoolboy Q has reason to celebrate as his third LP Oxymoron takes over the no. 1 spot on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart. Apparently, them “Collard Greens” were pretty potent, as 139,000 people decided to add Oxymoron to their music collection. 139,000 copies isn’t the ‘end all be all’ in regards to album sales, but its definitely sound for what could be considered an up-and-comer, even three albums into a rap career. Compared to his colleague Kendrick Lamar, the numbers are less favorable (Good Kid M.A.A.D. City missed the top spot, but sold 241,000 copies), though Kendrick also had bigger buzz surrounding him at the time, not to mention the fourth quarter to propel him.
Schoolboy Q fended off that feisty Frozen Soundtrack, which continues to put up respectable numbers. This week, the magic number for the runner up was 91,000, which according to billboard.com was an increase from the previous week. Frozen kept another new release and veteran, Beck from the runner-up spot. Beck settles for no. 3 with 87,000 copies sold of Morning Phase, his first album in six years. Even though Beck couldn’t match a previous high watermark – a no. 2 peak for 2005 effort Guero – or its robust 162,000 copies start, he managed to outperform prognostications.
Surprise albums seem to be all the rage these days, with Kid Cudi’s oddball Satellite Flight: The Journey to Mother Moon fitting right into the trend. Kid Cudi doesn’t quite have the Beyoncé effect, but does debut at no. 4 with 87,000 copies. Compared to last year’s slightly more accessible Indicud, the numbers are down for the left-field rapper. In fact, Satellite Flight is Cudi’s lowest debuting album as of yet. The next closest in terms of his discography was his debut, Man on the Moon: The End of Day, which sold 104,000 good for a no. 4 bow. Previous album Indicud debuted at no. 2 selling 136,000 copies. Indicud was a drop-off itself, specifically from Cudi’s sophomore album, Man on the Moon: The Legend of Mr. Rager, which debuted at no. 3, but sold 169,000 copies. Is Scott Mescudi just too odd for sustainable commercial success? Perhaps.
Keeping things close (and new), Romeo Santos debuts at no. 5 with Formula: Vol. 2. Formula sold 85,000 copies, awesome numbers for a Latin album. Dierks Bentley didn’t quite get in on the “80s” action (80K that is), but Riser did debut at no. 6 with 63,000 copies. 63,000 copies doesn’t have much of a ceiling itself, but Bentley isn’t exactly country’s most consistent selling male artist. Still, 63,000 copies isn’t too shabby. The Fray would’ve enjoyed being even remotely close to 63K; they settle for a no. 8 bow and 37,000 copies sold of Helios. Seems like the popularity of “Over My Head (Cable Car)” hasn’t translated to the band’s more recent efforts. Other than Frozen, the only holdovers are Eric Church (The Outsiders), Now 49, and Beyoncé (Beyoncé). Good sales week – finally!
Pharrell Williams goes into next week’s chart with the momentum of retaining no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 (“Happy“). Pharrell’s second solo album GIRL is one of the competitive albums fighting for the top two spots on next week’s chart. Second solo album you ask? Well ole boy released In My Mind a couple of years back and snagged a Grammy-nomination for the LP. Rick Ross should have no. 1 locked up as he releases his sixth LP, Mastermind. With the exception of Ross’ best LP (in my opinion), Teflon Don, Ross has locked down no. 1 four previous times. Lea Michele wishes she could muster up the numbers expected from Ross or Williams, but according to Billboard prognostications, she won’t come close. And as for Eli Young Band, well 10,000 Towns is far behind. I won’t even mention Ashanti’s Brave Heart – it doesn’t have a shot.
Oh and going back to the Billboard Hot 100, what about my homeboy John Legend breaking into that top four (last week I believe)? Who would’ve thought that “All Of Me”, an old school, piano-driven ballad would be a hit in 2014? It remains at no. 4 this week according to Billboard. Rock on John, rock on!
Singer/songwriter Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent) delivers big-time on St. Vincent
St. Vincent • St. Vincent • Loma Vista/Republic • US Release Date: February 25, 2014
After several albums, St. Vincent (Annie Clark) still isn’t what you’d call a household name. It’s a shame given the singer/songwriter’s most recent self-titled effort is nothing short of captivating, filled with some truly exceptional material. On St. Vincent, the groove seems to propel every track, and there’s not one thing wrong with that. The songwriting throughout isn’t too shabby either, making this alt/indie-pop affair quite the musical treat. St. Vincent isn’t perfect (“Perfect Isn’t Easy”), but there are very few flaws for even the most nitpicky of nitpickers. You could say being ‘different’ pays off for St. Vincent, like big-time.
“Rattlesnake” captures the ears from the onset, delivering quite a unique sound. The mix of distorted guitars, drums, and synths definitely highlight. As previously mentioned, the groove itself is killer from the onset, inviting the listener to ‘move’ to the music. Sure, “Rattlesnake” is by no means an alt-dance song or club-cut, but the music itself gives it a pop sensibility. Lyrically, its all bread and butter with lyrics like “I see the snake holes dotted in the sand / as if the Seurat painted the Rio Grande / am I the only one in the only world?” If that’s too ‘abstract’, perhaps repetitive lyrics like “Running, running, running, rattle behind me…” are more lighthearted and fun.
“Birth In Reverse” would capture anybody’s attention, if for nothing else than the title itself. St. Vincent isn’t literally referring to ‘birth in reverse’, but she does seem to be figuratively playing on the idea of ‘death’ or sort of the predictability and boringness that can be everyday life. “Oh what an ordinary day,” she sings on the first verse. “Take out the garbage, masturbate / I’m still holding for the laugh…” Essentially, it’s as if there is no change of pace – the routines remain the same. Because St. Vincent captures this lyrically, “Birth In Reverse” shines marvelously.
“Prince Johnny” doesn’t let up off the gas, delivering a moody cut that proves to be equally beautiful. Lyrically, St. Vincent’s lyrics are ingenious, as she sings through numerous allusions and metaphors. The character Prince Johnny ends up being incredibly complex, but then again, St. Vincent relays that lyrically at the onset (“Prince Johnny, you’re kind but you’re not simple / By now I think I know the difference”). Among St. Vincent’s most clever allusion is to Pinocchio, in which she sings “Saw you pray to all to make you a real boy…” “Huey Newton” proceeds in hypnotic fashion, with an air of mysteriousness. Lyrically, St. Vincent continues to allure, whether its overt moments like “F**kless porn sharks / toothless but got a big bark / live children blind psychics / turned online assassins…” or more poetic ones such as “entombed in the shrine of zeros and ones / you know, you know /with fatherless features, you motherless creatures.” Annie Clark, you’re truly something!
“Digital Witness” is a definitely standout, with its soulful, groove-laden production work. St. Vincent definitely criticizes social media/networking, and how it’s affected traditional social relationships. “People turn the TV on, it looks like a window.” Basically, St. Vincent seems to suggest that real-life interaction has been supplanted with any number apps and social networking avenues. “Digital witnesses / what’s the point of even sleeping,” St. Vincent sings on the chorus. “If I can’t show it if you can’t see me / what’s the point of doing anything?” Does she overreact to the power of social media? Perhaps or perhaps not, but she makes one awesome song in the process.
“I Prefer Your Love” is another meaningful moment from St. Vincent. Written about her mother, Clark confidently sings, “I prefer your love to Jesus”. Lyrics throughout give away the fact that it is a dedication to her mother, including “Mother, won’t you open your arms and forgive me of all these / bad thoughts I’m blinded to the faces in the fog”. Relaxed, yet still rhythmic, “I Prefer Your Love” is easily one of the year’s most touching ballads. “Regret” is a contrast to the slow tempo of “Love”, incorporating more of a ‘rock’ nature about it, driven by the distorted guitar. “Regret” doesn’t quite have the same oomph of the cream of the crop, but there is still plenty of lyrical and instrumental personality exhibited. I mean, lyrics like “I’m afraid of heaven because I can’t stand the heights/ I’m afraid of you because I can’t be left behind…” will always standout regardless of the song itself.
“Bring Me Your Loves” thrives on lyrical repetition as one of its weapons. Unusual sounding at the onset, “Bring Me Your Loves” is also quite appealing. “I thought you were like a dog / I thought you were a dog, but you made a pet of me…” Wow, St. Vincent, wow! She goes on later to say “I took you off your leash / but I can’t, no I can’t make you heel.” She can’t control her man – he’s controlling her? Seems that way. Then there’s “Psychopath”, which is consistently rhythmic throughout. The use of acoustic guitars gives the cut a nice timbre. Still, the lyrics certainly aren’t what you would call ‘warm and fuzzy’: “Wanna make a bet whether I can make it back cause / I’m on the edge of a heart attack.” “Every Tear Disappears” benefits from its quirkiness, a pro that characterizing the entire of album. Simple, yet clever lyrically, that’s just the way Annie Clark rolls apparently. “Severed Cross Fingers” closes exceptionally; the harmonic progression shines, the groove anchors, and St. Vincent is, well St. Vincent.
Ultimately, St. Vincent ends up being a superb album. It is creative, quirky, and incredibly enjoyable. St. Vincent doesn’t go for the ‘humdrum’, but instead is forward thinking and truly thoughtful from both a lyrical and musical perspective. Sure, the singer/songwriter has been a round for years and the premise hasn’t changed, but St. Vincent continues to think outside of the box and plays against clichés rather than playing into them. Because of this, St. Vincent is one of the year’s best.
“Rattlesnake”; “Prince Johnny”; “Digital Witness”; “I Prefer Your Love”; “Severed Cross Fingers”
On March 3, 2014, Rick Ross released the sixth album of his career, Mastermind. At this point, Rick Ross has established himself as one of the more consistent rappers, scoring four number one albums, one number two album (Teflon Don missed no. 1), and five gold-certified albums. Six albums in, an examination of where Ross’ five albums rank seems appropriate. Let’s go!
The Academy Awards was filled with a lot of predictability ultimately, but there were some interesting moments as well. For the music world itself, there was plenty to rejoice about. Jared Leto, who’s been more associated as the front man of 30 Seconds To Mars as opposed to acting as of late, won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for an exceptional role in Dallas Buyers Club. 20 Feet From Stardom (Morgan Neville, Gil Friesen and Caitrin Rogers), a brilliant documentary that focuses the attention on the background singers as opposed to the star, won deservingly for Best Documentary Feature. Darlene Love, one of the featured background vocalists gave praise to God, belting out a powerful rendition of “His Eye Is On The Sparrow” onstage while accepting. And what about the victorious Documentary short, The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life, about a Holocaust survivor Alice Hertz Sommer, a pianist? Sommer passed away just a week before the telecast, making the victory for The Lady in Number 6 even more special.
Music was well recognized at the 86th Annual Academy Awards. All Original song nominees would have their chance to perform, with perhaps the most infectious being Pharrell Williams’ no. 1 hit, “Happy”. The performance itself was enough to brighten even the cloudiest day, especially to see children and actors alike feeling the good vibes. Idina Menzel would have her name butchered by John Travolta before performing “Let It Go” from Frozen, but a questionable performance of the ubiquitous children’s favorite wouldn’t undo the momentum or ultimate win in a tightly contested category. U2 would evoke some magic with “Ordinary Love” from Mandela: A Long Walk To Freedom while Karen O (Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and Ezra Koenig (Vampire Weekend) would mysteriously and quietly perform “The Moon Song” from Her. The multiple times victorious Gravity (winner of seven), would also get some music swag, with Steven Price snagging Music – original score.
Other non-award related performances are worth noting. Bette Midler, who is 68, performed her classic ‘ace in the hole’, “The Wind Beneath My Wings” following the In Memoriam segment. Midler’s performance couldn’t be called technically perfect, but at her age and having never performed live at the Oscars, it was solid. P!nk surprising eschewed being suspended in air (surprisingly), to perform “Over The Rainbow”, with Liza Minnelli in the audience. Don’t call it a classic performance by Moore, but it worked.
Ultimately, this years Oscars not only recognized a Mexican Best Director (Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity), or the first black Best Picture winner (Steve McQueen becomes the first black producer to win) for 12 Years A Slave, but it also recognized the music world too. Whether directly or indirectly, the academy has truly embraced music and shown the world its importance and relevance.