Future Continues Relying on Autotune on Latest Single “I Won”
Future featuring Kanye West • “I Won” (Single) • Epic • Release Date: April 8, 2014
Future has to be one of hip-hop’s more divisive artists – and NO I’m not throwing any shade. It’s not because of the content of his music, but rather his reliance on such a heavy dosage of autotune. The use of autotune is a divisive topic in itself, but even more so in hip-hop circles. Future definitely has developed his career around relying on the effect, but other artists have used it as well. Even though Jay-Z proclaimed “D.O.A.” (‘Death of autotune) on Blueprint 3, he threw in a dash of it himself. And we know that Kanye West made an entire album, 808s & Heartbreak, not to mention the epic “Blood on The Leaves” from Yeezus. Still, it’s hard not to form a strong opinion one way or the other in regards to Future. I was on “Same Damn Time” as well as “ Bugatti” (Ace Hood), but the MC/pop-rapper still hasn’t established himself in my eyes as a hip-hop force or an artist with strong appeal to my sensibilities. I wouldn’t doubt others feel the same way.
Future’s latest single, “I Won” doesn’t change up the formula from the rapper’s debut, Pluto, the album housing “Same Damn Time” among other standouts like “Parachute”, and “Turn On The Lights”. “I Won” is single from Future’s upcoming sophomore album, Honest, which arrives April 22, 2014. While the notion of “winning” is a chivalrous message – particularly by rap standards – don’t think that Future doesn’t ‘get down’: “Get to f**kin’ on the dresser just to make that p***y wetter”. Folks, that’s the opening line from his first verse – geez! He calls on Kanye West to provide the assist on the second verse, where the MC suggests “Baby, we should hit south of France / so you could run around without them pants.” Slick Mr. West, very slick. Even if Future “won…a trophy / a trophy”, it appears to be one who satisfies his physical hungers… like let’s get “Physical” (Olivia Newton-John).
Ultimately, it isn’t all/that bad considering who Future is artistically, but it certainly doesn’t supplant edgier rap that eschews the effect, nor does it supplant a good ole contemporary R&B joint. Still, to each his own is the best way to deliver the verdict about “I Won”. Some will like it, while others will proclaim “That’s that sh*t I don’t like” (“I Don’t Like”, Chief Keef). Personally, my opinion is somewhere in the middle.
MKTO don’t reinvent the wheel, but deliver worthwhile pop music
MKTO • MKTO • Columbia • US Release Date: April 1, 2014
Every year, there are new pop acts that come and go. Some make a gargantuan impact and either exemplify current trends soundly or begin a new trend. Others fall by the wayside, going unnoticed. For MKTO, made up of actors/musicians Malcolm Kelly and Tony Oller, they don’t reinvent pop’s wheel (if there is such a thing), but they do execute pop’s current trends very well. Don’t call MKTO the saviors of pop or perhaps even the next ‘great’ thing, but the twenty something duo definitely have something to offer. With Kelly handling the rhymes and Oller handling the soulful vocals, debut album MKTO definitely shows there’s something there.
“Thank You” begins MKTO incredibly positive and upbeat; there isn’t the slightest ounce of negativity. Calling “Thank You” something previously unheard in pop music would be a major overstatement, but in the context of a debut album, MKTO get off to a solid start. If nothing else, the vocal grit courtesy of a soulful Tony Oller is noteworthy. While “Thank You” is a highlight, “Classic” is even stronger. Don’t go so far as to say it exemplifies its title, but it is definitely irresistible pop. I mean lyrics like “I wanna thrill you like Michael / I wanna kiss you like Prince…” are just, scrumptious and that’s not even the chorus (“You’re over my head / I’m out of my mind / thinking I was born in the wrong time…you’re one of kind living in a world gone plastic / baby you’re so classic”)! Malcolm’s pop-rap swag seals the deal (“A 70s dream and an 80s best…Girl you’re timeless, just so classic.”)
“God Only Knows” isn’t bad, though it doesn’t quite live up to the bar established by “Classic”. Still, “God Only Knows” is no waste, once more benefiting from catchy lyrics, most notable on the chorus (“God only knows /how much I need you…”). A song of both emotional investment and physical desire (“When you touch me with your body / and all that I can think is how to lose our clothes”), “God Only Knows” is highly relatable to all ages. “American Dream” opens with the statement, “Do something with your life”, a definite foreshadow to the positivity of the song. Where Malcolm played a minimal vocal role previously on “God Only Knows”, “American Dream” allows the MC to shine as well. The results are none too shabby, though again, nothing incredibly innovative or ‘brand new’. Still, hard to deny clever lyrics like “This ain’t the same summer that you used to know / ‘cause Jack left Diane thirty years ago…”
“Could Be Me” brings pop-soul singer/songwriter extraordinaire into the mix, Ne-Yo. Like everything else, the results are definitely pleasant, particularly adding Ne-Yo’s smooth vocals. As expected, “Could Be Me” is a soundly crafted pop cut with great potential to appeal to multiple audiences. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of “Could Be Me” is that Malcolm doesn’t allow the perceived ‘innocence’ of “Could Be Me” hold him back when it comes to his rhymes: “She keep on searchin’ for the wrong man / with the iced out Cartier on hand / So mean but he look like Tarzan / little b*tch but he act real hard man.” A little gutty-ness never hurt anyone, right? “Forever Until Tomorrow” cedes no momentum, as the duo continue to please. The lyrics are revolutionary, but simplistic, conveying emotions everyone experiences: “Girl I, I’m gonna love you / forever and ever and ever / girl I, I’m gonna hold you / forever and ever and ever…”
If there was any doubt that MKTO had some rebelliousness despite their ‘feel good’ pop, “Wasted” definitely proves this – all it takes is one f-bomb, right? Honestly, “Wasted” is the edgiest song of the otherwise ‘sunny’ debut, and the only ballad up until this point of the effort. “Am I crazy to think that I could be in love when it all ends up,” sings Oller on the chorus, “…I’d give you my heart, but I’d just f*ck it up / we’d end up, we’d end up wasted / la la la…” The sharp song manages to reference “Jack and coke smokin’ on the fire escape” as well as the religiously skeptical lyric “If I believed in God I’d pray, to God I’d pray.” Maybe it won’t appeal to those who enjoy everything being utopian, but personally, a little edge never hurt anyone.
Atonement arrives on “Heartbreak Holiday”, in which a quicker tempo and bright sound returns to MKTO. Even so, it’s pretty safe to say that MKTO don’t enjoy February 14: “(Baby I hate) I freaking hate / (Valentines Day) Valentines Day / (I’m feeling this pain) It cuts like a blade when I think about you…” Even through Oller’s soulful disdain for being without his baby, the listener is treated with another winner overall. The opening of “Nowhere” is certainly suggestive…um, just plum freaky (“Breakfast in bed, bacon and eggs… she keeps me fed / breast and some legs / well done, yeah, well done”). It is what it is… hey MKTO are comprised of two twenty something guys – what do you expect? Ultimately, MKTO aren’t going “nowhere” anyways, though one has to question if it’s merely the emotional benefits of the relationship… just saying!
Penultimate cut “No More Second Chances” opens lovely, with Oller displaying the sheer beauty of his pipes on the chorus (“No more second chances, no more plastic lies / no more giving me reasons to make me have to say goodbye”). It follows with quasi-rap/spoken word by Malcolm, who gets a slight change of pace with the production to progress the cut. Sure, Malcolm goes a bit stupid, but the reference to Waka Flocka and a variant on the f-bomb does capture one’s attention: “She trying to be my flame like Waka Flocka with the focka”. A guesting Jessica Ashley definitely shines here, providing another contrasting voice to the mix and eliminating any sense of predictability. In regards to the production, “No More Second Chances” works well. Closing cut “Goodbye Song” puts the sentiment of ‘goodbye’ out there explicitly: “Ya I’mma put your sh*t out on the lawn / leave my heart and take your bone / there’s nothing left to say so long / this is your goodbye song.” Well, at least the album ends with a bang.
Overall, MKTO is an enjoyable, solidly conceived pop album. Like many of the albums it competes with, the rub is its lack of big-time innovation. Though MKTO isn’t particularly innovative or strikingly different from other pop/hip-hop hybrid acts, it’s still one of the better albums using this style. There are no misses, just certain numbers hitting home more than others. There is room for improvement, as there is with a number of artists and bands, but MKTO certainly get off to a good and speedy start.
“Thank You”; “Classic”; “Could Be Me”; “Forever Until Tomorrow”; “Wasted”
As Snoop Dogg once rapped in reference to his own trial, “Murder Was The Case” indeed for Vybz Kartel, a popular Jamaican dancehall artist. Kartel has been sentenced to life in prison after previously being convicted for the murder of Clive “Lizard” Williams according to the Associate Press. Apparently Williams’ murder was one of extreme cruelty – brutal – with the corpse never being recovered. While Kartel’s musical impact is more notable in Jamaica, Kartel has collaborated with highly regarded musicians in the U.S.A., including Missy Elliott (“Bad Man” from album The Cookbook), Rihanna (“You Don’t Love Me (No, No, No)” from album Music of the Sun), and Pitbull (“Descarada (Dance)” from album El Mariel).
Jail time typically doesn’t bode well for the artist. Usually upon release, the artist has become a has-been and washed-up. No matter the petitions and the excitement by the most loyal fans in support of the respective artist, regaining footing is perhaps more arduous than the jail time itself. Save for a few exceptions (T.I. and Lil Wayne coming to mind most notably), there seems to be little success after the pen – the penitentiary that is.
Kartel’s sentence without the eligibility of parole anytime soon (35 years into the sentence specifically), seems to end what has been described as a bright, though ‘controversial’ career. Being a musician personally, I truly hate to see the end of any artist’s career. That said, no matter whether you’re an artist or not, you must be/take responsibility for your actions. Unfortunately for Kartel, his actions – or involvement in those actions – have likely cost him his career. What a price to pay for controllable negligence.
50 Cent ft. Trey Songz • “Smoke” • G-Unit • US Release Date: April 1, 2014
50 Cent’s best days as a relevant MC seem far behind him, at least judging by his blasé, uninspired comeback single, “Smoke”. Assisted by an equally lackadaisical Trey Songz, “Smoke” manages to compare sex and smoking – preferably blunts judging by the hook. While the notion may seem like it has potential to be interesting if far-fetched (two examples of pleasure), the ultimate results are nothing short of EPIC FAIL. This single truly reveals just how far 50 Cent’s game has fallen, particularly since his last truly monumental album The Massacre, from 2005. Sure, 50 had Curtis in 2007, but until “Ayo Technology” came along, the album struggled to find a hit single. And as for 2009 effort Before I Self Destruct, well, the numbers weren’t there in the least. Since those efforts, 50 has tried to reinvigorate what was once an unstoppable career, but he’s shot nothing but blanks. “Smoke” is yet another.
Besides questionable performances from 50 and Trey Songz, even Dr. Dre’s production seems like a leftover, and mind you some leftovers shouldn’t be served ever again! “Smoke” is clunky, lacking the usual magnificence and hit-quality that has come to be associated with Dr. Dre. From the start, the production just doesn’t seem as fully invested, which is a bad signal for the lyrical content. I mean when is the Doc not on?
Now onto 50 Cent’s compelling – cough – horrid performance. 50 Cent stumbles through two verses, with the second coming off incredibly clumsy with lyrics such as “Shawty hot, she full blow, she hot now / 100 degrees, that’s with or without the top down / but when she get to working her hips you know the temperature rise…” I suppose he has a slight moment on the first verse when he spits “I don’t want forever, I just wanna taste her love sample…she’s a narcotic, that bomb sh*t burning, we smoking…” but nothing else quite matches that lyricism, if that’s what you’d deem it to be that is, LOL. Still, all of 50’s rhymes considered, the swag isn’t upon us, the listeners. We are the victims!
As for Trey Songz, well the “they say all I talk about is sex” singer can’t even save the track. The hook doesn’t even latch: “… Girl what the f*ck you done to me / you got me feeling like you just rolled up for me…” Please! Trey sucks any legitimate emotion (aka a committed relationship with all facets working soundly) out of lovemaking, instead supplanting it with ultimately meaninglessly material things like blunts. Reefer, really Trey – she’s like Mary Jane? Ole boy even gets his own verse/bridge, but it just further prolongs the mediocrity that is “Smoke”: “Everybody showing the love when she at the door / turn this b*tch down, that’s fire in the hole / I’m trying to get it and hit it, I don’t wanna pass that…” There goes those empty, material references to a blunt again – Ayi yi! Even worse, Trey is more concerned about ‘getting it in’ then establishing a legit connection. SMH!
If “Smoke” is the fruits of 50 Cent’s labors, WELL then he needs to hang up them MC shoes for good. Honestly, for those who enjoy good lovemaking or a nice smoke (who am I to judge), it’s an insult! It is what it is – and that’s pretty B-A-D. “Smoke” only receives curses from me – no blessings to be had here.
On the Billboard 200 Albums Chart this week, multiple new albums graced the top ten. Unfortunately for them, not were able to take down reigning champ Frozen Soundtrack, which once more sells six figures (161,000 copies) according to Billboard. The new releases underperformed where numbers are concerned, keeping Frozen easily ahead of them. Frozen, led by ubiquitous Academy Award winning song “Let It Go” seems unstoppable. As to what or who could kill Frozen’s vibe, I don’t know.
Shakira was unable to stop the beloved soundtrack, as Shakira. debuted in the runner-up slot with only 84,000 copies. 84,000 copies is nothing to snicker about, but for the pop diva, the numbers are underwhelming. Johnny Cash’s lost album Out Among the Stars comes in third place, selling 54,000 copies. The gap between nos. 2 and 3 is incredible, and the ride continues as Memphis May Fire land at no. 4 with 27,000 copies sold of Unconditional. The difference between the top four album totals at 161,000, 84,000, 54,000, and 27,000 is incredible. The top four albums sold approximately 326,000 copies.
Erica Campbell couldn’t squeeze her way into the top 5, but she did make it to no. 6 with her gospel solo debut Help, selling 23,000 copies (a piece off from her Mary Mary albums). Barry Manilow wasn’t far off from Campbell, as Night Songs fell one spot behind with 22,000 copies sold. My Chemical Romance’s May Death Never Stop You (Greatest Hits) sold 20,000 copies, good for a no. 9 debut. Still, examining the 20K copies of each of the aforementioned, the ceiling of each album seems incredibly low. Sure, you don’t expect a gospel album (Campbell’s Help) to go extremely far on the pop charts, but still, given the crossover appeal of Campbell/Mary Mary, you might expect slightly more enthusiastic numbers.
Judging by titles issued this week, the charts may still be only so-so come next week. Releases from MKTO (MKTO), Ronnie James Dio (This Is Your Life), Chevelle (La Gargola), Nickel Creek (A Dotted Line), or Christina Perri (Head or Heart) don’t exactly scream big-time hit potential, no offense.
Overall, YG delivers a compelling debut with My Krazy Life
YG • My Krazy Life • Def Jam • US Release Date: March 18, 2014
YG is the latest rapper on a long list of hopefuls to release his major label debut, searching for his ‘come-up’. Judging by its title (My Krazy Life) as well as the content enclosed, Y.G. has good reason to eye stardom and the hope for a ‘better’ life. Throughout this dark 14-track set (18 tracks on deluxe editions), YG tells the story of his life, in all its explicit details – sometimes its even TMI. Overall, YG ends up delivering a compelling effort, though it’s not perfect. While the MC has a sensational flow, he’s not as quite alluring (yet) as the very best in the game. Still, for his first album, this west coast effort is more thrilling than not and shows tremendous potential.
“Momma Speech Intro” definitely foreshadows and establishes the tone: “…I hope you ain’t outside hanging with them gangbangers / you gon’ end up in mother f**king jail, like your damn daddy.” A heavy way to kick things off, it’s truly just a facet, a piece of YG’s Krazy Life. The following “BPT” is brief, and continues to find YG sort of introducing him self and the way he has/does live. “I’m from BPT (West side)…400 Bruce Street”, he raps on the hook. On the verses, he delivers incredibly agile rhymes with a rough and tumble sentiment: “That 40 Glock snap like Insta, ain’t no need for a caption / I got put on by four n***as, wasn’t need for no bandage…” “BPT” ends abruptly, sort of like a cliffhanger – you must keep on listening to discover what’s to come essentially. “BPT” sort of confuses early on taken out of context, but it makes perfect sense later on.
“I Just Wanna Party” can be considered to be the first full-length cut. Here, YG, assisted by Schoolboy Q and Jay Rock, spits “But I just wanna party, I don’t wanna hurt nobody”, but also states “I’ll beat the f**k out of a n***a.” YG definitely talks some trash, but if you can get past the street savvy, he’s also being trill, particularly rapping “All these hoes f**kin’, but they don’t wanna seem like a ho / so you gotta hit ‘em on the low…” Schoolboy Q handles the second verse, boldly bragging he “could sell a key to God”, referencing drugs, specifically kilos. Jay Rock, who takes the third verse is all gangster: “I ain’t got a stunt double / you ain’t got no hands so you might let the gun touch you…” “I Just Wanna Party” is certain edgy, but also the first standout from My Krazy Life.
“Left, Right” (featuring DJ Mustard) ends up being an exceptionally produced club banger with booty on the mind. YG is definitely in full-on salacious mode, leaving few elements of sex to the imagination. “…She can divide her legs on this d**k like a fraction,” he naughtily spits on the first verse, “right, right, left, hit ‘em with that right, left”. Of course, “Left, Right” is nothing more than physical as YG could care less about his partner: “… if you cheated on me, I won’t care, right?” He follows up his emotionless hook-up with the eye-catching “Bicken Back Being Bool”. Why such an odd title? Apparently, the Bloods, a prominent gang in California, avoid the use of the letter “C” or words using “C”. This would be because of the rivalry with the Crips. So, if you can rewrite the title of the song, it’s likely “Kickin’ Back Being Cool” (“K” would have the same sound as “C” and wouldn’t be in true Blood style likely). Another enjoyable cut, among my favorite lyrics were “Wifey don’t like SEGA, I don’t play that b**ch.”
“Meet The Flockers” seems like a titular play on the Ben Stiller movie Meet The Fockers, but more relevantly, it’s a joint about robbers (“flockers”). If normal people think of “flocks” referring to geese, YG is using “flockers” as slang for robbing in groups. “Meet the mother f**king flockers / make some noise if you ever stole something in your life…make some noise if you ever stole a dollar out your mama’s purse,” YG spits on the hook, “When she wasn’t lookin while y’all was in church.” He gets an assist on the second verse by Tee Cee. “My N***a” ends up being one of the album’s highlights, despite its overuse of the controversial African-American reference to “homie” or “bro”. A Slickly produced skeletal cut impacted by punches of 808, “My N***a” really says very little, but it doesn’t need to say much to be successful. Jeezy and Rich Homie Quan come along for the ride contributing verses, with Rich also handling the hook (“I said that I’mma ride for my mother f**kin’ n***as…”).
Sex becomes the focus of the next two cuts, “Do It To Ya” (featuring Teeflii) and “Me & My B**ch” (featuring Tory Lanez). “Do It To You” isn’t a love song given its physical nature, but it sounds like one from YG’s perspective. A standout it is, the obligatory “Face down, a$$ up / that’s the way we likes to…” definitely is nowhere in the gentleman’s handbook and eschews chivalry. “Me & My B**ch” also fails to be the traditional love song, but deeper examination makes one relate to YG’s sentiment. Tory Lanez’s sung hook explains part of YG’s lot: “Used to have a girlfriend / now all I got is hoes / just looking for a down girl / but she was f**kin’ on the low.” Basically, YG’s “ride or die” wasn’t being faithful (“…Damn she was with him last weekend”), despite how much he cared and invested in her (“I was claiming her when we was … wasn’t using condoms no nothing…”). In the end, YG’s chick tries to use possible paternity to get him back because he’s rich now. It’s a twisted tale, but a compelling one.
“Who Do You Love?” brings in Drake, who definitely steals the show – no disrespect to YG, who also has some sound lyrical moments (“I’m that n***a on the block / police pull up, I’m tryna stash the Glock”). “I’m the general, just makin’ sure my soldiers straight,” raps Drake on verse two, “Had to leave my n***a, homie got an open case / But I’m big in the south / so we gon’ pay some people off, we gon’ figure it out.”
“Who Do You Love” is followed by arguably the album’s best cut, “Really Be (Smokin N Drinkin)”, featuring Kendrick Lamar. Not one for subtlety, YG speaks his mind without a filter from the onset: “I woke up this morning, I had a boner / I went to sleep last night with no b**ch…I was a loner.” While YG keys in on ‘not getting any’, ultimately the MC is actually referencing the stress of various things on his mind, and smoking and drinking help to alleviate that stress. As for KL, well he goes H.A.M. as usual: “I swear this industry sh*t, to me is one big a$$ lick / I walk inside of a buildin’, tell the A&R n***a strip / Tell ‘em I need all of my chips, my life been on Section 8 / I’ve been a welfare case, AFDC pump fake.”
“1AM” has a difficult act to follow, but handles the pressure well. Another autobiographically driven number, YG references the lack of discipline he received in his youth, specifically from his mother. Hence, such irresponsible actions including unprotected sex and empty relationships make perfect sense. “Thank God (Interlude)” features singing from Big TC (verse one) and rapping from RJ (verse two). RJ’s rapping alludes to jail time/making bail for Y.G., going back to his ‘flocking’. On sincere closer “Sorry Momma”, where YG is assisted by Ty Dolla $ign, Y.G. takes responsibility for his own actions and apologizes to her. Ty Dolla $ign conveys this superbly via the hook: “I’m sorry Momma / let me take some weight off your shoulders / I’m singing to momma / you ain’t gotta worry now, them days is over.” The production for the closing cut is lush and simply beautiful.
My Krazy Life isn’t quite comparable to the epic nature of big-time debuts like Kanye West’s The College Dropout, Drake’s Thank Me Later, or Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid M.A.A.D. City, but YG definitely has a compelling story to tell. The fact that My Krazy Life can be examined so analytically beyond the overt nature of its rhymes is a testament to the potential of YG There are truly no misses to be found as every track has a relevant role to the larger narrative. Perhaps it’s not the next rap classic, but it’s definitely one of the best rap albums of the year as of yet.
“I Just Wanna Party”; “My N***a”; “Do It To Ya”; “Who Do You Love?”; “Really Be (Smokin N Drinkin)”
Sigh, sometimes even the biggest artists make some of the most foolish decisions during their careers. 2014 hasn’t been shy of stupid choices from today’s musicians. There have been enough missteps to make one roll their eyes or simply shake there heads. What better way to ring in April, specifically April ‘Fools’ Day then to examine artist’s moments of shame? Here are four examples of foolishness that make me SMH.
#1: Justin Bieber’s Every Move
Salvaging a successful career initially characterized by its cleanliness continues to become more and more distant for one Justin Bieber. If 2014 was thought to be a year of mature growth and redirection for Bieber, it has been more of a repeat of 2013, only much more extreme. An artist who once thanked “God” and “Jesus” during an acceptance speech seems to have completely given into devilish intentions as of late. Too much noise continues to tarnish the Biebz’s image and definitely does nothing for delivering new music or truly establishing his artistic niche in his twenties. Additionally, the crowd the pop star chooses to hang with is questionable at best. Music seems the furthest thing from the artist’s mind at this point.
#2: Chief Keef’s ‘I.D.G.A.F.’ Attitude
Chief Keef is utter foolishness exemplified…I’m convinced that Chief Keef is going to destroy his own career pretty early on. He truly doesn’t give a buck. I’m no fortuneteller, but all indications would predict this given the irresponsible and rebellious tone of his music in addition to his highly publicized personal issues at such a young age. Songs like “I Don’t Like”, “Hate Being Sober” and the most recent “F*ck Rehab” certainly are neither positive nor redeeming, showcasing an artist who’s incredibly immature and irresponsible. Keef definitely means what he raps about, but perhaps he should choose both better lyrical choices and be mindful of his actions (“actions speak louder than words”).
#3: Miley Cyrus… Enough Said
Miley Cyrus is one of a kind – that’s an understatement. Ole girl took artist transformation to a new level in 2013 and never looked back. Maybe she should have… Personally, reinventing yourself is no sin or crime in the least – its making yourself relevant to gain a bigger and broader fan base. That said, isn’t there a limit to the reinvention that separates it from utter foolishness? Doesn’t shock value have a short leash before it grows incredibly annoying and in bad taste? “Wrecking Ball” wasn’t a shocking song in itself last year, but Cyrus opting for being nude on the wrecking ball was. This year, “Adore You” takes the prize, with Cyrus going so far as to touch herself, to put it kindly. Of course, there’s been all the stories of blunts, tongue action, viral prom date videos, etc. Foolishness – definitely!
#4: Reality Singing Competitions
The biggest reality television enthusiast (myself) has lost interest in reality singing competitions, so much so that I’ve avoided both American Idol and The Voice. And let me just say, I feel like a tremendous burden has been released! With X Factor already booted, how far behind are the rest? American Idol has proven that a viable music career can be built from success on a television show (Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood among others), but it has also shown that it doesn’t consistently happen (Kris Allen, Lee DeWyze, and Candice Glover). For every triumph on Idol, what about the disgruntled Idol contestant that didn’t taste that same slice of success? Then for every success, what about those who only got 15 minutes and no more?
The Voice at this point is arguably the more entertaining show of the two given Adam Levine and Blake Shelton’s inseparable ‘bromance’, but aside from an okay opening week from victor Cassadee Pope, the commercial success is missing big time. Entertaining these shows can be to an extent, aren’t they just toying with potential artists, who might benefit more with a different approach to achieving their shot? Foolishness – YEP!
March was a rich month for music releases. After listening and reviewing multiple albums, it is always fun to pick out one big time standout. Sometimes it is a difficult choice, while other times it’s the only choice (particularly on a sub-par album). After looking back through my late-February and March reviews, I’ve compiled a playlist of one favorite from each album.
From the album Morning Phase
Note: Morning Phase was a late February release that wasn’t reviewed until March.
Folks, Beck is the man. Morning Phase was yet another stacked album from the hipster with numerous top-notch songs. A personal favorite was the first full-length track, “Morning” of which I penned the following:
…Constructed with lush strings at its core, “Cycle” foreshadows the electrifying opener, “Morning”. Sure, “Morning” lacks tempo by all means, opting for balladry, but it’s extremely beautiful and perfectly suits Beck’s unique voice. Beck breaks enough with the ‘acoustic resolve’ here, with Roger Joseph Manning, Jr. adding some synthesizer color. The ‘color’ element is something found throughout Morning Phase, even if it is subtle. Lyrically, the entire song is thoughtfully penned, with the chorus standing out tremendously: “This morning / I let down my defenses / this morning / it was just you and me…” Clocking in at over five minutes, “Morning” is no drag by any means.
Schoolboy Q featuring Tyler, The Creator & Kurupt
From the album Oxymoron
Note: Oxymoron was a late February release that wasn’t reviewed until March.
Schoolboy Q exhibits grittiness about him throughout the course of Oxymoron, which ultimately proves to be a solid album. It’s not the most pleasant album to listen to in regards to its content mind you, but the quality is there. “The Purge” was among my favorites:
“The Purge” is a beast, produced by and featuring Tyler, The Creator. Again, Schoolboy Q’s daughter establishes the tone: “My daddy said drown, n***a.” The significance of the line seems to be “the purge” that Schoolboy Q references within the title and song. “Coming in for yours / n***as got them choppers and they knocking at your door,” Tyler, the Creator spits on the hook. “The sirens getting louder when the bodies hit the floor / why you look confused? Motherf**ker this is war.” Schoolboy Q plays right into the maliciousness, referencing kilos, drug money, and guns. Q’s most notable moment comes during a bridge between verses: “Bust my gun all by myself / rock cocaine all by myself / poured propane all on myself / go so hard might harm myself.” Oh, and did I mention Kurupt also guests on the third verse? “The Purge” goes hard.
“Going To The Ceremony”
From the album Satellite Flight: Journey to Mother Moon
Note: Satellite Flight was a late February release that wasn’t reviewed until March.
Kid Cudi is an oddball – as left field as they come. This nonconformity is what makes him shine, yet also hurts his overall accessibility to many Earth dwellers. A surprise fourth album in Satellite Flight proves to be as confounding as it is interesting. Still, “Going To The Ceremony” was a moment where the Kid was at his best/true to himself:
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.
From the album St. Vincent
Note: St. Vincent was a late February release that wasn’t reviewed until March.
From one oddball to another, it should be noted that St. Vincent once guested on a Kid Cudi album – Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager to be precise. On her own self-titled album, St. Vincent awes with her incredible songwriting abilities, with none usurping the brilliant “Digital Witness”:
“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.
Karmin’s full-length debut has its moments, and its misses
Karmin • Pulses • Epic • US Release Date: March 25, 2014
Making a viral urban-pop act translate into a commercial recording artist can be a challenge. Duo Karmin (Amy Heidemann and Nick Noonan) made a gargantuan splash via YouTube building a notable fan base by covering popular songs. However, making their viral success with those covers translate into radio-friendly commercial success requires adding more structure and a bag of pop tricks to the mix. Some of the rawness of an electrifying interpretation of “Look At Me Now” falls by the wayside.
Additionally, more production and sheen are required to make Karmin truly fit the pop billing. Even as the duo goes through their ‘adjustment’ period towards pop stardom, first full-lengthy album has its moments. Don’t call Pulses a masterpiece – it’s not by any means or any sense of the word. It does, however, show some of the potential of the duo as well as kinks that must be worked out to make them truly a viable commercial commodity. Ultimately Pulses is a mixed bag as opposed to an acclaimed tour de force.
“Geronimo Intro” opens Pulses, um, off-putting. What’s the point of the slick 0:36 intro – “That is the question!” All I got personally from it was something about “dum-dum-di-di” whatever that is supposed to be. “Pulses” makes up for any confusion, proving to be quite enjoyable and catchy. Amy’s raps aren’t too corny – strike that – they are pleasantly corny: “I wanna raise pulses / La chica with the most-est / not in the mood for the average Josephs / coming unglued, baby this is explosive / Uh, I wanna raise pulses.” Nick’s chorus is addictive: “I wanna make your heart beat / I love it when it beats for me…I’mma make sure that you feel alive.” In addition to the lyrics, the gimmicky hip-hop oriented production is a highlight. On underrated single “Acapella”, things continue to look up for the duo, from the irresistible hook to the key lyrics “Mama/Daddy always said…” which get hip-hop rhythmic treatment. “Acappella” is also corny and gimmicky, but it works, particularly given the perceived identity of the duo.
Single “I Want It All” also ‘works’, driven by its soulful groove and throwback horns. Honestly, “I Want It All” would’ve fit perfectly on Pharrell Williams’ G I R L – sort of hard to believe he had nothing to do with this cut! The message is simple, but effective, exemplified by the chorus: “All I need is one more night with you / it’s amazing what just one more night can do / I want it all / I want it all.” After being three-for-three (“Pulses”, “Acapella”, and “I Want It All”), “Night Like This” isn’t quite as triumphant, but it’s okay and nothing more. Perhaps it’s the overenthusiastic rhythmic guitar that holds “Night Like This” back, or the slight overproduction in general? “Neon Love” goes for pop balladry territory, intact with piano, strings, and slackened tempo. Beginning initially more restrained, “Neon Love” ascends into a more powerful cut, assisted by Nick’s harmony vocals reinforcing Amy’s lead. The results are again, decent/okay if a bit of a bore.
“Drifter” has a sick beat and sick production, if nothing else. A gimmicky urban-pop cut, Amy sings and of course channels her inner Nicki Minaj-ness – without the profanity. Again, if you don’t mind your rhymes utterly stupid, then maybe you can appreciate Amy’s skills (“Million dollar boat, million dollar breeze / steer clear to the top of the world with ease / Diddy money dirty, chilling ‘cross the seas… ”). Still, she’s more effective vocally, really. On “Tidal Wave”, Nick seems to get his most assertive role in – well ever. Vocally, Nick has his own solos here, in equal importance to Amy. The duet is also powerful, mostly because of vocal production that respects each voice equally. “Tidal Wave” certainly isn’t the greatest pop song ever written or performed, but there is potential. The songwriting on the chorus certainly catches the ear: “The tidal wave is forcing us to swim at a distance / so our love is washing away / with all the push and pull we’re caught up in / can we brave the tidal wave.”
On “Gasoline”, Nick continues his assertiveness, leading the charge. “Gasoline” ends up being a combination of urban, pop, and reggae sensibilities – chocked to the brim! Don’t call “Gasoline” a true ‘fire starter’ or the most memorable cut contextually, but its good…enough that is. “Puppet” allures more, a sentiment one experiences from the start. The drums bang hard, the production is manic (in a positive way), and Amy does her thing. Oh BTW, you know that ridiculously silly pop-rap duo 3OH!3 – they serve as co-writers with Nathaniel Motte sitting in the producer’s chair. “Puppet” has that ‘swagger’ that some preceding cuts such as “Gasoline” and “Drifter” are lacking in. What’s incredibly impressive is how soulful Amy’s vocals are – she definitely has some sick vocal riffs here. The confidence transfers lyrically as well: “Don’t you get the feeling that you’re tangled up / I can pull a string until it’s good enough / but don’t you love it, love it / when you’re my puppet, puppet.”
There’s nothing wrong with the four on the floor groove of “Hate To Love You” – not to mention its bright, sunny sound – but an argument could be made that the familiar sounding pop is more conservative than “Puppet”. Amy and Nick sing well here by all means, even if the track sounds comparable to a host of other big pop records. This is the duo’s “I Gotta Feeling” (Black Eyed Peas), only less notable. Penultimate joint “Try Me On” again resurrects Amy’s inner rap diva (for better or for worse) while the minor key centered “What’s In It For Me” is exceptionally produced and expectedly tongue-in-cheek. Karmin’s own Lady Gaga track – perhaps that’s a sound description for “What’s In It For Me”.
All said and done, Pulses does just enough (if that) and little more. The front portion of the album is worthwhile as “Pulses”, “Acapella”, and “I Want It All” builds some incredible momentum. As the effort progresses – save for the occasional spark or two – things are mediocre. Perhaps Pulses isn’t quite, um, terrible, but it’s definitely neither cohesive nor great. It’s time for Karmin truly develop an artistic identity that is conducive to commercial success. The singles from Pulses as of yet haven’t landed the duo a big-time pop breakthrough (no “Brokenhearted” here), so finding the right record will be crucial to future successes.
“Pulses”; “Acapella”; “I Want It All”; “Puppet”