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Review: Iggy Azalea, ‘The New Classic’


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Aussie newcomer Iggy Azalea shows potential on her debut rap LP 

Iggy Azalea • The New Classic • Island • US Release Date: April 22, 2014

Iggy Azalea-20131010-57“Oh what, a white girl with a flow ain’t been seen before?” Um, well, not really – at least not that much?  Fact – you can name how many Australian rappers are killing the game stateside – yeah, few NONE come to mind.  Newbie Iggy Azalea hopes to breakthrough in the US.  The barriers certainly lie in front of her as the white girl legit rapper from “down under”, but as she proves throughout her debut The New Classic, she ain’t never been scurred.  If she does nothing else on The New Classic, she asserts she is one bad muthaf – “Shut yo mouth!”  The New Classic isn’t perfect, but Azalea keeps it interesting and definitely has her moments.

Walk The Line” kicks off The New Classic soundly, possessing a surprising, unexpected maturity.  While very much an introductory track, the track sets the tone and gives the listener ‘food for thought’.  “Not where I wanna be but I’m far from home / just tryna’ make it on my own,” she sings on the hook. “And unless destiny calls, I don’t answer phones / this is the line and I walk alone.”  While Azalea could’ve rapped about shallower topics, she keys in on her personal journey (“I was wide awake and got slept on / I had everything and then lost it / worked my a$$ off, I’m exhausted”).  After “walking the line” all by herself, Azalea “Don’t Need Y’all” – really, she don’t.  “I remember when I wasn’t this big / and now y’all wanna act like y’all helped me get here,” she accusatorily spits on the hook.  Basically, Azalea drops the tried-and-true ‘fake friends’ theme. Throw in the Drake sentiment of “No New Friends” and you catch on to Azalea’s drift pretty quickly.

Iggy Azaleaz-20140127-158100”, like the clichéd sentiment of “no new friends” also plays on tried-and-true territory.  Sure, the cut is interesting thanks to production, Azalea’s quick-paced rhymes, and Watch the Duck’s expressive vocal hook (also produces), but it’s nothing particularly ‘brand new’.  “Change Your Life” may not be a game changer to the audience’s lot in life, but it is definitely notable. Azalea initiates her verse with a bang: “You used to dealing with basic b*tches / basic sh*t, all the time / I’m a new classic, upgrade your status / from a standby, to a frequent flyer.”  Sure the hook keeps it simple (“I’mma change your life, I’mma change it…”), and maybe T.I.’s not quite as ‘electric’ as he once was, but ultimately, “Change Your Life” is a new classic – well a good song.

Fun single “Fancy” lives up to its title (or the antithesis rather) and Azalea doesn’t waste any time.  “First things first I’m the realest”, she fiercely spits on verse one. “Drop this and let the whole world feel it / and still I’m in the murda bizness / I could hold you down, like I’m givin’ lessons in physics.” Azalea doesn’t only ‘create her own shots’ – she brings in a burgeoning Charli XCX to assist.  The assist definitely makes “Fancy” click on all cylinders, winning the game easily – jump shots, dunks, etc.  Going back to the whole antithetical fancy notion, well Charli XCX’s definitely supports such an assertion: “Trash the hotel / let’s get drunk off the mini bar…chandelier swinging, we don’t give a f*ck.”  Yep, fancy all right.

New B*tch” is an incredibly proud check – whether it should be or not.  Keeping up with the notion that she’s “the new classic” exemplified, Azalea is just what the title asserts – “his new chick”.   As to why the track is censored on the explicit edition of the album is anybody’s guess, but perhaps Azalea was trying to be classy… After all, she does say, “Damn she is too bad, oh you mad?” It’s all part of being The New Classic.

Iggy Azalea-MTO-010737Work” is definitely a standout from The New Classic. “Walk a mile in these Louboutins / but they don’t wear these sh*ts where I’m from,” Azalea spits assertively on the first verse. “I’m not hating, I’m just telling you / I’m tryna let you know what the f*ck that I’ve been through…” The hook clarifies the title: “I’ve been up all night, tryna get that rich / I’ve been work, work, work, work, working on my sh*t / milked the whole game twice / gotta get it how I live / I’ve been work work, work, work, working on my sh*t / now get this work.” A solid track with quick-paced, agile rhymes, “Work” is definitely the valedictory showing from The New Classic.

Impossible Is Nothing” features an inspired message throughout, particularly on Azalea’s beautiful sung chorus (“Keep on livin’, keep on breathin’, even when you don’t believe it / keep on climbin’, keep on reachin’, even when this world can’t see it…impossible is nothing”).  Perhaps the optimism of the track is surprising, given the mysterious, darkness about the production.  Even so, the production work is stunning (The Invisible Men and The Arcade) and beautiful in spite of its minor key.  If “Impossible” possessed too much ‘redeeming’ substance, “Goddess” is a bit more ‘blasphemous’.  Azalea is definitely cocky and confident here, going so far to spit “While I make wine out of water, turn rappers into martyrs / set it off whenever I-G-G in the place” (verse two).  Of course, Azalea also makes reference to her non-stereotypical rap status (“Oh what, a white girl with a flow ain’t been seen before?”) Don’t call it the ‘second coming of Christ’.

Black Widow” brings in the up-and-coming Rita Ora.  Like much of The New Classic, the production stands out in tremendous fashion.  During Rita Ora’s hook, the rhythmic synths drive hard, matching the pop singers energy.  During Azalea’s verses, the production is slicker, anchored by cool beat and accentuated by swagger-laded synths (is there such a thing).  “Lady Patra” is awesome, if for no other reason then its references to Frank Sinatra and Phantom of the Opera: “Classic, Sinatra, Bad, Phantom of the Opera / Shuffle the deck, I’ll be the queen in the pack / gotcha, Lady Patra”.  Yes, ole girl is certainly oozing with self-assuredness, but there’s nothing wrong with being confident – hey, that’s what Justin Bieber said at least :-/ Anyways, the swagger exhibited by “Lady Patra” in all facets (rapping, production, Mavado’s guest spot) makes it a winner.  Of course, it also doesn’t hurt when you’re Australian and can make reference to Shabba, LOL.

Iggy Azalea-LMK-109868F**k Love” would definitely be right up Nicki Minaj’s alley; it’s brash and manic.  However, judging by Iggy’s overconfident, shallow lyrics, sounds like it’s going to be one lonely life for here: “F*ck love, give me diamonds / I’m already in love with myself / So in love with myself…” I’d love to say there is a greater realm of possibility where interpretation of the lyrical content is concerned, but ultimately, I highly doubt there is.  I can sympathize partially – at least with the “fuck love” part.  The deluxe edition of The New Classic includes three bonus cuts: the danceable “Bounce”, the broken relationship joint “Rolex” (“Rolex’s don’t tick tock / but dammit baby my time costs / and dammit baby my time is money / so I need payback for all the time lost”), and its companion cut  “Just Askin’” (“…And are you still coolin’ with that lame girl?”).

If nothing else, The New Classic exhibits a massive amount of potential.  For a first album, Iggy Azalea pleases.  Even if Azalea views herself so highly as “the new classic”, the album itself isn’t quite on that level yet. In other words, Iggy isn’t quite on that autopilot swag just yet – LOL.  Still, in a drought of the female rap game, it is nice to hear a female MC – particularly an unlikely one by stereotypical standards – be poppin’…or nearly poppin’.  Overall, I’m onboard.

Favorites:

“Walk the Line”; “Change Your Life” ft. T.I.; “Fancy” ft. Charli XCX; “Work”; “Lady Patra” ft. Mavado

Verdict: ★★★½

August Alsina Finds His ‘Testimony’ Stuck Behind Frozen at No. 2


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51Q2c-T9xKL._SL500_AA280_No one can stop the unstoppable Frozen Soundtrack – it grows sales to a whopping 259,000 copies! It’s nearly May, but the winter hit continues to be the much-needed gift that keeps on giving to the music industry, keeping it afloat.  August Alsina sells 67,000 copies of his full-length debut album, Testimony.  To be the closest to Frozen (no. 2)is to be “oh so far away” as it wasn’t even a close contest in the least.   While 67,000 copies are great for an R&B upstart, I wish that Alsina could’ve moved even more – Testimony is truly a great album (in my opinion).  NEEDTOBREATHE move 49,000 copies of latest album Rivers In the Wasteland, good enough for the no. 3 spot.  Jason Derülo, an artist who has suffered from chart success where his albums are concerned, lands at no. 4 selling a respectable 44,000 copies of Talk Dirty.  The success can likely be attributed to the ubiquitous single of the same name.  Ingrid Michaelson wasn’t to be denied a top five showing as Lights Out sells 37,000 copies, bowing at no. 5.

81CdwhWvDFL._SL1500_Otherwise the top ten is more of the same according to Billboard, with familiar artists including Luke Bryan, Pharrell Williams, and Lorde rounding out things.  As my new motto is, “it is what it is”.   Pharrell is no. 1 on the Hot 100 for the millionth week – well 9th week, but that’s quite an achievement – with “Happy” continuing to strike a hopeful chord everywhere.  As far as new entries next week, some interesting albums should impact that charts with Neon Trees (Pop Psychology), Future (Honest) and Iggy Azalea (The New Classic) among them.

Review: Asher Roth, ‘RetroHash’


51ehHeonFjL._SL500_AA280_ It’s pretty safe to say Asher Roth is one high mellow dude on RetroHash

Asher Roth • RetroHash • pale fire • US Release Date: April 22, 2014

Asher Roth-20111215-34“That party last night / was awfully crazy, I wish we taped it / I danced my a** off / and had this one girl completely naked,” sings Roth on one of the more memorable songs of 2009, “I Love College”.   Yep, “I Love College” was Roth’s ‘ace in the hole’ for debut album Asleep in the Bread Aisle, which managed to debut at in the top five of the Billboard 200 Albums Chart. Even so, Asleep in the Bread Aisle didn’t exactly set up Roth to be the next great MC. Until his 2014 LP RetroHash, Roth hadn’t released a proper sophomore album. RetroHash isn’t quite the ‘second coming’, but it is definitely a big step up from Asleep in the Bread Aisle. AR definitely comes up.

Parties at the Disco” initiates RetroHash in mellow fashion – who’s surprised? The high from the stoner vibe hits the listener from the jump, which is what we’ve come to expect from Roth during his brief career. Still, there is something more abstract and unique working here. He gets a nice assist from ZZ Ward vocally. “Dude” finds Roth collaborating with Curren$y, giving RetroHash a big hip-hop guest spot. The overall production is old school, very much in the Philly rap sensibility (dusty drums, prominent bass). This soulful production is definitely a blessing, providing a superb palette for Roth to spit over. Curren$y’s verse provides a sound contrast both stylistically and vocally compared to Roth. “Tangerine Girl” is a complete contrast to anything else that Roth has released up until this point. Finding Roth singing throughout the majority, “Tangerine Girl” is incredibly alluring. On the final verse, Roth does bust a rhyme, including a reference to the ‘nasty’ (“If you wanna fly better come inside / come along we’ll go for a ride”). I’m onboard – with the song that is.

Asher Roth-PFR-012668Pull It” definitely has a hook that inescapable if initially random: “One finger in the air just like this / one finger in the air and I’m gon’ pull it / yes I’m gon’ pull it, yell, I will pull it / yes, I’m gon’ pull it, yes, I will pull.” The verses clarify what Roth is referencing, with lyrics like “Only relation, I ain’t good at relationships / I ain’t no angel, but no, you never gave a sh*t…but separated, you call my name in ecstasy.” Basically, Roth is good at making love, but sucks with a more substance-requiring relationship. “Something for Nothing” proceeds, featuring Coyle Girelli. It’s not a bad track – certainly as mellow and chill as everything else – but perhaps it ‘floats’ just a tad too much. Still, the falsetto is sort of like whipped cream – light and fluffy, LOL!

Fast Life” follows, featuring Vic Mensa guesting on the second verse. The groove and overall production has more soulfulness and bit more bite compared to “Something For Nothing”. If nothing more, the hook is truthful: “Fast life, someone’s always caught up in the fast life.” “Last of the Flohicans” catches the eye if for no other reason then its title. Major Myjah provides a sometimes-indecipherable hook for Roth (“…Just learn the truth / it’s all out of focus, focus…”), while the MC seems on autopilot, at least where his flow is concerned. If nothing else, Roth opens with a bang: “Last of the Flohicans / Go in for no reasons / Snowing for four seasons / F**ked up my whole weekend…” Major Myjah stays on board for the equally soulful “Be Right”. The beat and overall production – luxurious! Honestly, “Be Right” might edge “Last of the Flohicans”. If nothing else, Major sounds stronger here.

Asher Roth-PFR-012671“I be on my own / scouring the globe in designer clothes”, sings Roth on the hook of penultimate track “Pot of Gold”, “Surfing on the waves, million dollar boats / really want to stay, but I gotta go / searching for the pot of gold.” While boasting of a come-up is fashionable, understandably so by many MCs, Roth seems to almost brush off the fame or all of the misconceptions with being famous. Honestly, a track like “Pot of Gold” makes you have more respect for the MC as he rises above the shallower things in life. And then of course, there’s the closer – SMH!   “Keep Smoking”, featuring Chuck Inglish is definitely and appropriate closer, given Roth’s love of reefer. While it is sad that Roth invests in weed to almost atone for his issues, the approach he takes makes you sort of sympathize. Weed isn’t the answer obviously – even Roth sees that – but Asher just can’t let go of Mary Jane.

Overall, despite being incredibly low-key, RetroHash is a solid album. It’s not your standard rap album by any means – they won’t be playing this one in the club – but it is definitely enjoyable. RetroHash is definitely deeper than Roth’s major label debut album was. It’s not perfect mind you – the lyrics aren’t always ‘out of the box’ – but Roth has his moments by all means.

Favorites:

“Parties at the Disco” ft. ZZ Ward; “Dude” ft. Curren$y; “Tangerine Girl”; “Pot of Gold

Verdict: ★★★½

Music Shopping List: Albums for Your Consideration, April 22, 2014


NeonTrees-100510-0004 Keeping things 100, April hasn’t been the best month of new music releases.  While April has saved my budget, still I’d love to see a gargantuan week of new music releases –  “Do it for the music industry!”  This week’s releases (new release day being Tuesday, April 22) don’t have any monumental releases necessarily, but does have some interesting albums to check out.

81JN-g1SCkL._SL1500_ Pop Psychology

Neon Trees

Island / Mercury 

It wouldn’t be far-fetched to see Neon Trees make a bigger splash with latest LP Pop Psychology.  “Everybody Talks” certainly did just that (a no. 6 Billboard Hot 100 hit), elevating the collective’s profile.  The brief Pop Psychology – just over 36 minutes – is led by single “Sleeping With A Friend”.

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Honest

Future

Epic

The autotune loving MC returns with his second major label album, Honest, following 2012 effort Pluto.  While Pluto wasn’t necessarily my cup of tea, there were some solid tracks, led by club banger “Same Damn Time”, not to neglect “Turn On The Lights”.  The Kanye West assisted single “I Won” is a notable new track, if you are a Future fan.

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Bastille

Virgin

Don’t call it a new album – it’s not.  Bastille, known for a ‘little hit’ entitled “Pompeii” rerelease 2013 album Bad Blood as All This Bad Blood with plenty of extras.

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The New Classic

Iggy Azalea

Island / Def Jam

Naming your debut album The New Classic is a bold move.  Hopefully, Iggy Azalea has the goods to back up such an assertion.  Definitely not what one would stereotype as a rapper, it should be interesting to see how Iggy fares ultimately.

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Deitrick Haddon’s LXW (League of Xtraordinary Worshippers)

Deitrick Haddon

Tyscot Records

The cover of Deitrick Haddon’s new album, Deitrick Haddon’s LXW matches the superhero theme the gospel singer is promoting.  While perhaps the superhero sensibility may not spill over into all of the track titles, its obvious the ‘worship’ side of things is covered tremendously (“With God”, “We Need Your Power”, “Healing Virtue Flow”, etc.)

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Food

Kelis

Ninja Tune

The major label route was never a good one for Kelis, even though she released solid material.  With her first indie album, Food, arriving four years after Flesh Tone,  Kelis can be as out-there as she wants to be. Perhaps there isn’t another “Milkshake” to be had, but knowing Kelis’ restlessness artistically, Food is bound to be both bizarre and interesting at the same time.

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Ready Steady Go!

Drake Bell

Surfdog

Ready Set Go! is Drake Bell’s first album since 2006 effort, It’s Only Time.  If for no other reason, Ready Set Go! is interesting because of the title of single “Bitchcraft”, which was co-written with Brett Boyett.   The album also features covers of Billy Joel (“It’s Still Rock and Roll To Me”) and Queen (“Crazy Little Thing Called Love”) among others. 

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Give ‘Em Hell

Sebastian Bach

Frontiers Records

The metal artist seems like a definite sinner, given the title of his latest LP.  While the title is ‘tried and true’, its definitely easier to spell and more conventional sounding than Abachalypse Now – LOL.

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BLUESAmericana

Keb Mo

Kind of Blue Music

The blues guitarist follows up his 2011 effort, The Reflection.  Yep, that’s about all I have to say about it.  

[Single] Review: Future, “I Won” (ft. Kanye West)


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Future Continues Relying on Autotune on Latest Single “I Won”

Future featuring Kanye West“I Won” (Single) • Epic • Release Date: April 8, 2014 

Future-20131113-56Future 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’sFuture2-20131113-55 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.

Verdict: ★★★

Review: MKTO, ‘MKTO’


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MKTO don’t reinvent the wheel, but deliver worthwhile pop music

MKTO • MKTO • Columbia • US Release Date: April 1, 2014

MKTO-PFR-011985Every 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…”

MKTO-PFR-012360Could 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!

MKTO-PFR-012376Penultimate 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.

Favorites:

“Thank You”; “Classic”; “Could Be Me”; “Forever Until Tomorrow”; “Wasted”

Verdict: ★★★½

Dancehall Artist Vybz Kartel Sentenced to Life in Prison


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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 & Trey Songz Miss The Mark on Single “Smoke”


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50 Cent ft. Trey Songz • “Smoke” • G-Unit • US Release Date: April 1, 2014

Curtis Fifty Cent Jackson-DWO-00106250 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!

Trey Songz-AES-108973As 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.

Verdict:

Shakira Settles For No. 2 as ‘Frozen’ Keeps The Top Spot Warm


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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.

51Z9GVuOpnL._SL500_AA280_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.

Review: YG, ‘My Krazy Life’


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Overall, YG delivers a compelling debut with My Krazy Life

YG • My Krazy Life • Def Jam • US Release Date: March 18, 2014

YG-KSR-015031YG 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.”

YG-KSR-015028Meet 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.”

YG-20140307-1471AM” 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.

Favorites:

“I Just Wanna Party”; “My N***a”; “Do It To Ya”; “Who Do You Love?”; “Really Be (Smokin N Drinkin)”

Verdict: ★★★★

Grantland

Sports and Pop Culture from Bill Simmons and our rotating cast of writers | Grantland

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