Tag Archive | music reviews

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:

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: ★★★★

Review: Ashanti, ‘BraveHeart’


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The long and oft-delayed BraveHeart is a much better album than expected… 

Ashanti • BraveHeart eOne/Written EntertainmentUS Release Date: March 3, 2014

Ashantiz1-20140127-169R&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.

Ashanti-PRN-105925Runaway” 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.

Ashanti-MSA-017274Never 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 Ashantiz-20140127-165majority 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.

Favorites:

“Nowhere”; “Runaway”; “Scars”; “Never Should Have”; “I Got It”

Verdict: ★★★½

Review: Schoolboy Q, ‘Oxymoron’


51HOVga9zOL._SL500_AA280_ Oxymoron proves to be a dark, captivating, yet sometimes difficult album to listen to 

Schoolboy Q • Oxymoron • Top Dawg/Interscope • US Release Date: February 25, 2014

Schoolboy Q keeps things 100 on Oxymoron – he keeps it real “from the jump” (catch the Drake reference?).  In fact, the MC keeps things so ‘real’ that at times Oxymoron is a truly difficult (polarizing) to listen to.  Sure, the old saying “honesty is the best policy” applies here and the candidness and frankness of Schoolboy Q is appreciated, but Oxymoron isn’t exactly the most endearing rap effort because it is so grimy and raw.  Schoolboy Q’s intentions seem to be emphasis on his machismo, his demons, and a trying, difficult life.  As always, the rap album (his third) serves as the ultimate ‘come-up’, with the rapper’s daughter playing a central role in his life-changing experience, judging by numerous references throughout.  Ultimately, Oxymoron, an album that is confounding yet impressive, ends up showing the range of abilities of the rapper.  It’s not perfection realized, but there are plenty of exceptional moments working toward that goal.

Schoolboy Q is a “G” from the get-go, as his daughter asserts on the intro of “Gangsta”: “Hello…hello? F**k rap, my daddy a gangster.” If the idea of being a ‘gangsta’ wasn’t firmly planted, Schoolboy Q ensures on the hook he repeats it a million times so that you know his status.  While merely stating a description of himself wouldn’t make him a ‘G’, Q backs up things with brash rhymes that he spits over incredible production work.  He also asserts he’s a pimp…he gets it in, easily.

As much as a bang “Gangsta” is, “Los Awesome” is better, sporting more agile rhymes and sick production courtesy of none other than one ubiquitous Pharrell Williams.  The hook slays from a first listen: “I’m a groove type n****a, rather two-step with you / pants sagging, rag dragging, rather gangbang with you / triggers squeeze, throw a palette, throw them thing-things with you / hot degrees, anti-freeze, chilling cool-cool with you…” Q doesn’t stop on the hook as he also spits ether throughout his verses: “Looking like a reaper in your driveway / strays through your living room / liable to drive-by on a summer day / July 4th will be in June…” He also gets the assist from Jay Rock, who complements the violent tilt: “N***as that’ll murder ya, steal you like a burglar / seemed the soul was long gone before I got them / he was dead before I shot him, it’s the reaper.”

Collard Greens” proceeds in top-notch form, retaining its greatness since being released as a single back in 2013.  From the opening groove by the drums, to the gimmicky, infectious hook, “Collard Greens” is quite distinct.  “Oh, oh luxury / chidi-chidi-ching could buy anything, cop that / oh, oh, collard greens / three degrees low, make it hot for me drop that”, Schoolboy Q raps on the hook.  Schoolboy Q is on autopilot, rapping “Kush be my fragrance, we love marijuana / function on fire, burn the roof of this mother f**ker”. Kendrick Lamar captivates on the second verse, providing a little bit of everything including Spanish and his signature gun sound effects.  Among Lamar’s best lines is when he proclaims, “I’m more than a man, I’m a God, b**ch, touché, en garde.” Stoners and non-stoners alike can indulge in the greatness of “Collard Greens” – the song itself that is!

Anytime 2 Chainz is featured on the track, well, you know there is probably an element of perversion and stupidity about it.  “What They Want” doesn’t go too dumb, but it is also sort of what you would expect – driven by sex.  The hook sums up Q’s intentions: “This the sh*t that they want / this the sh*t that they need / tell me where are you from / drop you pants to your knees, girl I’m capital G…” Even so, Q has his moments, like the clever “Might cop the Phantom, get ghost…” He ruins it with a line about his… and what he plans to do to her… but it is what it is! As for 2 Chainz, he goes the blasphemous route: “Oh Lord, she in Christians, all gold on my Adventist / pull it down and she kiss it, all gold where my wrists is.”

Hoover Street” is one of those difficult moments to listen to as Q expresses his ‘story’.  It is insightful, but certainly is an experienced that not everyone will relate to.  “I got that work, f**k Labor Day, just bought a gun / f**k punching in, throwing rocks, no hopscotch / Bet my 9 milli hit the right spot…,” he spits on the intro.  Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the narrative of “Hoover Street” comes on verse two, in which Q spits “Gangbanging was a ritual and grandma would help / should’ve never left her gun on the shelf.”  After “Hoover Street”, Q switches gears for a bedroom-joint, “Studio”, featuring the vocals of BJ The Chicago Kid.  Rather than focusing on shooting someone or violence, Q thinks with his pants (“See I’ve been in the studio just trying to get to you, baby / all night laying verses though I’d rather lay with you baby…”).  Ultimately, it works, providing a nice change of pace from the violence and darkness of “Hoover Street”.

Prescription/Oxymoron” proves to be an exceptional two-part track.  The first part, “Prescription” is all about being on drugs.  Throughout, Q alludes to addiction, epitomized by rhymes “Prescription drugs, I feel in love / my little secret, she gon’ kill a thug / my body numb, she like to give me hugs / I love her touch, I get a rush.”  While the line doubles as a sexual reference cleverly, Q is clearly under the influence of drugs, not love.  “Oxymoron”, the titular track, is truly an oxymoron as Q spits “I just stopped selling crack today…O-X-Y, a moron…” So he’s been addicted to drugs as well as sold drugs, which he was addicted to? That seems to be the sentiment of one of the better tracks of Oxymoron.  Not sure that it is compliment worthy given the danger of drugs and demons in general…

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? Mother f**ker this is war.”  Schoolboy Q plays right on 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.

Blind Threats” proceeds, but lacks the oomph that “The Purge” possessed.  Sure, having Raekwon guest on any track raises it up a notch, but as a whole, “Blind Threats” is a tad less enthralling than the best.  Still, “Aim that, shoot that, pledge allegiance / kill mine, kill yours, make it even / soul need saving, Mr. Preacher…” is a pretty awesome lyric. “Hell of A Night” is more ‘down to earth’ compared to edgier cuts like “Hoover Street” or “The Purge”, which makes it feel ‘looser’.  It isn’t that Schoolboy Q is giving up on his street savvy, but he’s more about having some fun, popping some bottles, and “making it do” as opposed to shooting someone or selling drugs.

On penultimate cut “Break The Bank”, Q keeps things ‘street-smart’, claiming its “My time to show out, finally the illest Crip / and I guarantee, I spit harder than concrete.”  He does spit pretty hard, so Schoolboy Q seems to be honest. “Man of the Year” concludes the album superbly, coming over more accessible than some of the edgiest cuts.   Still, he’s not forgotten where he came from.  “Fast forward getting real tell me now / every dog need a cat to meow, every once in a while,” he raps on the second verse. “I see hands in the crowds / see whites, blacks blazing a pound, jumping around…” Hey, he’s the ‘man of the year’, and by having a unified fan base coming out to see his shows, he’s really came up.

All in all, Oxymoron is a fine introduction of Schoolboy Q to many.  He shares what life has been like for him before becoming an up-and-coming MC in the rap game.  He’s honest, and seems to adhere to a no BS approach, which is something not all major label MCs can attest to.  Still, there’s a lot of grime and brutal honesty to sort through at times, which might be something Schoolboy Q may want to better balance out on his fourth studio LP.  Still, Oxymoron is well played.

Favorites:

“Los Awesome”; “Collard Greens”; “Prescription/Oxymoron”; “The Purge”; “Man of the Year”

Verdict: ★★★★

Review: Arctic Monkeys, ‘AM’


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Arctic Monkey’s AM Depicts Deep Infatuation At Its Best

Arctic Monkeys • AM • Domino • US Release Date: September 10, 2013

Arctic Monkeys-PFR-011330Listening back to The Arctic Monkeys exceptional debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, it is amazing how the amount of maturity the band has exhibited since then.  That maturity really shines on the collective’s fifth studio album AM. AM details the aftermath of a broken relationship, with its regrets and the continual infatuation.  Consistent from start to finish, AM proves to be a brilliant affair by all means.  AM was definitely a ‘sleeper’ album in 2013.

AM opens superbly with the show stopping number “Do I Wanna Know?”, the ultimate ‘drunken’ confession of love.  Set in a minor key, the sound is dark with distorted garage guitars, while the groove is both relaxed and infectious. Front man Alex Turner is infatuated – no doubt about it! “So have you got the guts?” Turner sings on the second verse, “Been wondering if your heart’s still open / and if so, I wanna know what time it shuts…” If Turner fails to convey his ‘drunkenness’ on the verses, he makes it obvious on the chorus: “Crawlin’ back to you / ever thought of calling when you’ve had a few? / Cause I always do / Maybe I’m too busy being yours to fall for somebody new / now I’ve thought it through / crawling back to you.”  “Do I Wanna Know?” is a brilliant opening statement.

Record Store Day smash single “R U Mine?” follows up “Do I Wanna Know?” capably, speeding up the tempo slightly, remaining in a minor key.  Turner’s love malaise continues: “I go crazy cause here isn’t where I wanna be / and satisfaction feels like a distant memory / and I can’t help myself / all I wanna hear her say is ‘Are you mine? / Are you mine?’”  Turner continues to pursue ‘her’, but doesn’t have confirmation that she’s his.  “One For The Road” is another cut where the bottle seems to play a clear role.  Songwriting continues to allure, with Arctic Monkeys delivering their third consecutive hit. The repetitive iteration of the titular lyric – in falsetto – is among multiple highlights.  Turner, during the bridge, claims “The mixture hits you hard / don’t get that sinking feeling / don’t fall apart / some out of tune guitar / soundtrack to disaster.”  Once more anchored by swagger-laden groove, “One For The Road” continues on an exceptional trek.

Arctic Monkeys-PFR-011322With girls deeply affecting the front man, “Arabella” has really got Turner bothered to the point he spends the entirety of the song ‘painting a picture’ of her. “My days end best when the sunset gets itself behind,” he sings on the pre-chorus.  “That little lady sitting on the passenger side / it’s much less picturesque without her catching the light / the horizon tires but it’s just not as kind on the eyes / as Arabella, oh / as Arabella.”  On follow-up “I Want It All”, the guitars rock out hard with some superb riffs.  Besides overall production, the vocal arrangement/production stands out here in particular.  The chorus is simple (“I want it all / I want it all”), while the verses express the band’s sentiment of ‘wanting it all’ be it “Blind faith, heartache / mind games, mistakes” (Verse one) or “Old dogs, new tricks…” (Verse two).

One would expect “No. 1 Party Anthem” to be quick and incredibly enthusiastic.  Instead, even in spite of the first major key of the album, “No. 1 Party Anthem” is slow and dramatic.  The harmonic progression is one of many pros, not to mention the colorful notes (accidentals).  Even at the slower tempo, Turner expresses plenty of lyrical swagger including lines such as “So you’re on the prowl wondering whether she left already or not / leather jacket, collar popped like antennae / never knowing when to stop…” (Verse one) and “Drunken monologues, confused because / it’s not like I’m falling in love I just want you to do me no good / and you look like you could” (Verse two).  His best lyrical triumph comes courtesy of the smart bridge: “The look of love, the rush of blood / the ‘she’s with me’, the Gallic shrug / the shutterbugs, the camera plus / the black and white, the color dodge / the good time girls, the cubicles / the house of fun, the number one party anthem.”  “No. 1 Party Anthem” is a definite stand out.

Arctic Monkeys-PFR-011331Mad Sounds”, opens sort of mysteriously with a interesting guitar lick.  The track continues on with consistency, though separates itself from other cuts with less convention songwriting structure.  A less predictable structure eliminates any predictability about AM as a whole.  “Fireside”, like “Mad Sounds” isn’t necessarily the elite of AM, but still a very sound, enjoyable number.  Still, hard to deny the honesty of the lyrics: “And I thought I was yours, forever / or maybe I was mistaken / but I just can’t help manage / to take it through the day without thinking of you lately.” A brief instrumental section is a nice touch, allowing the music itself to shine.

Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High” is among the elites, sporting a groove and theme similar to the opener.  As always, Turner finds himself ‘trailing’ in the pursuance of the girl.  “Somewhere darker, talking the same shite,” she sings on verse two, “I need a partner, well are you out tonight?”  The chorus is its crowning achievement: “Now it’s three in the morning and I’m trying to change your mind / Left you multiple missed calls and to my message, you reply / why’d you only call me when you’re high?”  Ultimately, the track rocks despite Turner’s lack of game.

Arctic Monkeys-PFR-011320The clever “Snap Out Of It” finds Turner trying to convince his love interest to leave her current boyfriend for him (“I wanna grab both your shoulders and shake baby / snap out of it (snap out of it) / I get the feeling I left it too late but baby / snap out of it…”). He really lays it on ‘convincingly’ the bridge: “Under a spell you’re hypnotized / darling how could you be so blind (snap out of it).”  On penultimate number “Knee Socks”, the bedroom is the only thing on the front man’s mind, evidenced in the chorus when he sings “…when you walked around your house wearing my sky blue Lacoste / and your knee socks.” In other words, his former flame walked around in his shirt and socks and nothing else…  By closer “I Wanna Be Yours”, Turner is D-E-S-P-E-R-A-T-E to be her boyfriend: “I wanna be your vacuum cleaner / breathing in your dust…” (Verse one) and “Let me be the portable heater / that you’ll get cold without…” (Verse two).   “I Wanna Be Yours” proves to be a soulful way to close AM.

All in all, AM is among the very best albums of 2013.  The biggest regret from a reviewer’s perspective is missing out on AM upon its arrival in September 2013.  Regardless, this album is one whose gifts will keep on giving throughout 2014, and for years to come.  Enthusiastically recommended!

Recommended spins:

“Do I Wanna Know?”; “R U Mine?”; “One For The Road”; “No. 1 Party Anthem”; “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?”

Verdict: ★★★★½

Review: Bun B, ‘Trill O.G.: The Epilogue’


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Bun B closes his Trill series superbly 

Bun B ⎪Trill O.G.: The Epilogue ⎪Rap-A-Lot ⎪⎪ US Release Date: November 11, 2013

Bun B-PRK-033872“It’s over, it’s over!” Why you ask? “‘Cause the best is back… b**ch!” That’s right, veteran MC Bun B has released the fourth effort of his Trill series, Trill O.G.: The Epilogue, which follows Trill (2005),  II Trill (2008) and  Trill O.G. (2010).  The highest profiled effort of the series was Trill, which arrived at a time when there was a resurgence in Texas’s rap scene.  Bun B’s impact commercially as a solo artist was never huge, but B remains an important fixture in hip-hop history and as a collaborator in my eyes.  Trill O.G.: The Epilogue is by no means ‘the second coming’, but it is a a well conceived rap album by all means.

Opener “The Best is Back” lives up to its titular bravado as well as Bun B’s consistency as an MC. Initiating with incredible confidence on the intro (“Guess who’s back in the mother f*ckin’ house? / the King of the trill b**ch, you guessed it…”), vet Bun B easily back up his ‘trash talk’. He certainly ‘goes off’, including memorable moments such as “Ladies and gentlemen, you already know that it’s him again / lettin’ ‘em hang, non-feminine, crunk like I’m gone off Ritalin / chopped off top, there’s no middle and throwed on that load again…”  He confirms his rap royalty status on the hook: “Guess who’s back? Me / There’s no competition…shut ‘em down / hurt-hurtin’ boys / it’s over, it’s over / cause the best is back b**ch.” Unapologetic, further inspired by banging, malicious production work, Bun’s on autopilot.

Cake” doesn’t let up off the gas, featuring his late, great UGK partner Pimp C on the catchy, electrifying hook: “Boss get cash money, smokin’ the vapors / don’t chase the cake, chase the paper / them thighs come with that shake / b**ch in yo mind, ho I got cake…”.  In that old-school, lush and luxurious rap style (produced by Big K.R.I.T.), “Cake” is certainly a gem.  Bun B continues to flex his rap muscles – what else does he have to lose? “When I see you lickin’ your lips, you wanna blow my whistle / but I got that harmonica, you can play it like Stevie / they say that pimpin’ ain’t easy, man it is if you be me.” Now that’s O.G.  Throw in sound guest verses from Lil Boosie (“I get cash in duffle bags, I don’t chase the cake / let ‘em ride, get ‘em high as I pay for cake…”) and Big K.R.I.T. (“The type of dick that run a chick some sh*t that she could bill for … I break her off ‘cause she bring it back to daddy”), and “Cake” is among the album’s best.

Bun B-PRK-033873Fire” caps off an exceptional trio of cuts for Bun.  Serani covers the hook: “When the heat is on we burn hotter than fire / people will burn up on, we burn hotter than fire / turn my enemies to dust, burn them up with fire / whether life or death, guess we’re far from fire”.  Following a similar format to “Cake”, Bun B sets the tone on the first verse (“Mother f*cker beware ‘til I retire or expire / cyanide in them, know that we are coming with more fire…”), while Rick Ross and 2 Chainz lend their ‘expertise’ on the second and third verses.  The results? Top-notch, did you really expect anything less?

No Competition” continues consistency, featuring Raekwon and Kobe.  The sound cut doesn’t achieve the same grandeur as the opening trio, but it certainly gives up little quality.  Bun B excels as he compares himself to everybody and their brother: “…I am Mike Jordan, Mike Tyson, Mike Phelps / Michelangelo with the flow bro and the mic helps / Ha! The mic stealth, that’s for the mikes health…” As always, Raekwon is nothing short of a ‘beast’.  Pimp C once more plays a vital role, even if it is posthumously on “Don’t Play With Me”.  Solid, I prefer its follow-up “Gladiator” (featuring Truck Buck), which is dedicated to the late MC.  The truly gladiator-fueled lyric? “They thought it was over, they thought that I was done / they said I wouldn’t last, I’m the last one / I’m “Still Standing” like the Goodie to the Mo-B / In a black hoodie, it’s the O.G., you know me.”  Riled up, Bun B definitely lives up to his ‘gladiator’ status.

Bun B ‘don’t play’ with another all-star cast on “Stop Playin’”, which brings in Redman and Royce Da 5’9”.  Brash with no bullshit, the tail-end of the hook best sums up this number: “… it’s not the sh*t you say, it’s the sh*t you not saying / you know better, show better, step it up and stop playing / stop playing”.  Hard as ever, both Redman and Royce Da 5’9” accentuate the edgy MC.  Kirko Bangz adds some ‘R&B swag’ on “Triller”, though with plenty of bite as he proclaims to be a “mother f*cking killer / H-Tow in this b**ch / and you know it’s for real.”  As for Bun B he spits nothing but truth: “P***y n***as need to stay off in they lane / sitting sidlines, want to quarterback the game / backseat drivers get to taking too much / but now when I’m around, cause they know they get touched…” Well, at least we know who’s “triller”.

Bun B-PRK-033874What’s better than two bangers in a roll? Three! “Dippin’ & Swervin’” is arguably the strongest of the three, giving Bun B something even the younger generation can bump. I mean, what wrong with B “…dippin’ through the city, fresh fitted on my dome / comin’ down candy and I”m sittin’ on chrome…”?  Additionally, his “pockets stay swollen, money [he] be holdin’…” He follows up the freshness with the smooth “On One” (featuring Devin the Dude and Gator Main), which favors “Cake”.  It’s not as polished mind you, but it’s solid.  Penultimate cut “The Legendary DJ Screw” is more notable, featuring numerous guest MC’s and paying ode to DJ Screw.  The closer “Bye!” could’ve been scrapped, but I suppose Bun B wanted to make sure you know what it is and who makes it do… or something OG and illy like that.  LOL.

Ultimately, Trill O.G.: The Epilogue is a solid close to the Trill series as well as a close to a chapter of Bun B’s career.   Save for the questionably included final cut, …The Epilogue is incredibly enjoyable and consistent.  It may not woo or compel the new generation of hip-hop fans, but this effort should certainly please Bun B, UGK fans, and the old-school.

Favorites:

“The Best is Back”; “Cake”; “Fire”; “Gladiator”; “Dippin’ & Swervin’”

Verdict: ✰✰✰✰

Thoughts: Lady Gaga featuring R. Kelly, “Do What U Want”


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Gaga strikes gold on ARTPOP’s second single “Do What U Want” 

Lady Gaga (featuring R. Kelly)⎪ “Do What U Want” ⎪Streamline / Interscope ⎪⎪ US Release Date: October 21, 2013

Lady Gaga-20131025-101I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t applauding too much over Lady Gaga’s first single “Applause” from her upcoming studio album ARTPOP due November 11.  It was merely ‘good’ in my opinion, but just didn’t stack up to juggernauts like “Poker Face”, “Bad Romance” or her numerous hit singles.  Believe me, I wanted to be ‘gaga’ for Gaga, but “Applause” just wasn’t enough.  But fear not fellow Gaga super fans – second single “Do What U Want” easily atones for any un-Gaga-ness that made “Applause” too safe.  This ladies and gentlemen is the single that we’ve been waiting for and can once more crown Lady Gaga and guest R. Kelly (shocker!) as the “Gaga of them all”… or something like that!

So many things are irresistibly delicious about “Do What U Want”.  First and foremost is that Gaga is among her most assertive I have ever heard her vocally.  As I was listening and evaluating the single on rdio.com, I couldn’t help but notice people making comparisons to Christina Aguilera.  I’d agree that Gaga’s grit and powerhouse vocals on this particular cut show her transcending dance-pop in itself, a sub-genre not known for top-notch vocals.  Is Lady Gaga Xtina? Of course not and in the regard of ‘lumping’ them as one and the same, that is unfair, but what is an accurate description is that Gaga definitely stepped her game up vocally.

R Kelly-ADB-029687So is “Do What U Want” really just a shallow sex-oriented pop cut? It can be interpreted that way given the suggestive lyrics such as “So do what you want / want with my body…”, but there is a deeper message.  If one pays closer attention to all the lyrics, it is best interpreted as a ‘double meaning’, maybe even ‘triple meaning’ depending on how one’s mind tends to wander.  Eschewing the simple sexual read, Gaga is suggesting that she’s more than just the ‘body’ that the media seems to be focused on.  She’s hence suggesting the media are ‘shallow’ because that’s all their focused on.  Because of this particular assertion, she suggests that the media and skeptics can do whatever they want with her ‘body’.  Maybe the sexual interpretations are more thrilling, but seems a stretch for Gaga to merely be objectifying herself in man’s eyes for sexual play.

lady gagag-20131024-94Going back to vocals and such – Yes I know, there’ll be that group that says that she had to considering that R. Kelly is definitely no subtle vocalist, even when he’s his most salacious and outrageous.  Honestly, who would’ve ever saw this duet coming? It’s odd enough and unique enough to work.  Surprisingly, the vocal chemistry and respective solo performances by both stars are electrifying.   Gaga is at her most memorable on verse one when she states “I, I stand up, and then I’m OK / but then you print some sh*t that makes me wanna scream…” as well as her powerful bridge (“Sometimes I’m scared I suppose / if you ever let me go / I would fall apart / if you break my heart / so just take my body / and don’t stop the party.”  Kelly stands out on the second verse (“Early mornings, longer nights / Tom Ford, private flights / crazy schedule, fast life / I wouldn’t trade it in, cause it’s our life…”) but definitely creates a stir at the end of his pre-chorus (“…yeah we taking these haters and roughing ‘em up / and we lay in the club like we don’t give a f*ck”).  Who would’ve thought it would be a match made in heaven?

As suggested, this song transcends its suggestiveness.  If that was the read many folks were adapting, the chorus definitely disproves such a hypothesis: “You can’t have my heart, and / you won’t use my mind but / do what you want (with my body) / do what you want (with my body) / you can’t stop my voice, cause / you don’t own my life but / do what you want (with my body)…” My take? Genius Gaga, bloody genius!

Verdict: ✰✰✰✰

 

Review: DJ Khaled, ‘Suffering from Success’


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Khaled’s Not ‘Suffering from Success’, perhaps suffers from a lack of innovation… 

DJ Khaled⎪ Suffering From Success⎪ Cash Money ⎪⎪ US Release Date: October 22, 2013

DJ Khaled-ZNV-001758If there is one reservation I (and likely others) have with DJ Khaled’s albums, it is that generally they all seem ‘one-dimensional’.  Maybe that is a harsh critique, or maybe it’s just actual reality.  Of the Khaled albums that I have partaken of in recent times, they’re always good for some top-notch club bangers (I’m On One), but cohesively, the albums feel like somewhat detached compilations.  Suffering From Success proves no different, ultimately yielding some pleasant, head-nodding moments, but eschewing the ‘second coming’.

After intro “Obama (Winning More Interlude)”, “Suffering From Success”, featuring Ace Hood and Future,  kicks off the album of the same title.  Ultimately, the production work (Young Chop) is dark, malicious, and characteristic of the hardcore rap idiom. Future delivers his first of many hooks, sounding his typical, auto-tuned self:  “Got too many racks on me, I can’t even go to sleep / just to get ‘em out V.I.P., I’mma need to see I.D. (I don’t trust you) / I’m sufferin’ / I’m sufferin’ from success / I’m sufferin’…” Really, “suffering from success”? Please! The best part of the so-so title track may be Ace Hood’s aggressive rhymes.

I Feel Like Pac / I Feel Like Biggie” is much stronger, sporting production from The Beat Bully.  Ah the weight that synthesized brass and a hard underlying beat carry! The inspiration seems to be full-fledged here, whether that’s just the mere mention of rap royalty or a star-studded cast including Rick Ross, Meek Mill, T.I., Swizz Beatz, and Puff Daddy.  Swizz Beatz’s  hook is definitely ‘on point’ as they say, while Meek Mill kills it on his verse.   The momentum is propelled even further on “You Don’t Want No Problems”, yet another juggernaut assisted by Big Sean (the hook), Rick Ross, French Montana, 2 Chainz, Meek Mill, Ace Hood, and Timbaland (who produces with Khaled).  There are numerous highlights, including memorable lyrical moments from Rick Ross (“On the phone at the light, Kelly Rowland’s a friend / Catfish in the Benz, Manti Teo’s a sucker…”), 2 Chainz (“They slept on me, I stopped sellin’ work and started sellin’ coffee…”), and Ace Hood (“My sanctuary’s that cemetery / my choppa, named it obituary…”)

Blackball” follows, again relying on the ubiquitous Future for a hook (“They tryna blackball me, they say I get too much money / they want my name from me because they know what it do…” etc.).  Plies and Ace Hood handle the verses, though compared to the previous duo, “Blackball” is less triumphant.  “No Motive” featuring Lil Wayne sort of falls into the same boat, sounding ‘solid’, but not exceptional.  The hook definitely didn’t take much thought: “F**k all you b*****s… f**k all you hoes… one million, two million, three, four…” “I’m Still” is enjoyable enough, but I feel like I’ve heard this cut over and over again.  Chris Brown excels at infusing some R&B into hip-hop, but at this point it’s not truly new or rousing.  Wiz Khalifa joins the lengthy credit list, rapping unsurprisingly “So high don’t see no problems / b**ch I’m on them trees like Tarzan…”  It works, but doesn’t excite.  Personally, I’m sick of hearing about Wiz getting high.

Drake-SIN-000189I Wanna Be With You” again brings in Future, but also sees another return from Rick Ross and a debut appearance from Nicki Minaj.  Minaj remains at her best when she’s raunchy, if you can handle her un-lady rhymes.  Even though Minaj is a “girl on fire”, Rick Ross has arguably the best line: “That ho chick gets you no play, all I talk is cocaine.” Hit “No New Friends” is a showstopper, again rekindling some magic between Khaled and Drake (“No new friends, no new friends…f**k all y’all n***as except my n***as…”).  Rick Ross hops on board (“…All I hug is blood n***a, Khaled that’s my flesh though / all I want is love n***a, money bring that stress though…”) as does Lil Wayne (“…B**ch we good-fellas, boy all them n***as with you they just pall bearers…”).  The production work is aligned with the ‘Drake’ sound as the track is produced by Boi-1da and Noah “40” Shebib.  A standout? Of course!

The remainder of the album is so-so.  “Give It All To Me” (Mavado featuring Nicki Minaj) sounds like it’s going to be a deal breaker initially, but it’s respectable enough.  “Hell’s Kitchen” has its DJ Khaled-20120821-53moments, thanks to the sound and solid rhymes from J Cole and Bas.  Still, “Hell’s Kitchen” sits too long.  Lengthy duration also hurts the super ambitious “Never Surrender”, which manages to utilize three R&B singers in John Legend, Anthony Hamilton, and Akon. Add raps from Scarface, Jadakiss, and Meek Mill to that mix and it’s quite ‘big’.  “Murcielago (Doors Go Up)” is not only ‘tired’ in name, but the song itself is a ‘C’ at best – merely average and unmemorable.  “Black Ghost”, credited to Vado is ok, but like “Murcielago”, it’s nothing to write home about.

Thoughts overall? Suffering From Success isn’t really suffering from success, but it may be suffering from a lack of innovative spirit.  It’s good enough, not great  If you’re looking for depth, avoid it.  If you want to get it poppin’ at the club, this is for you.

Favorites: “I Feel Like Pac / I Feel Like Biggie” ; “You Don’t Want These Problems” ; “No New Friends” 

Verdict: ✰✰✰

Review: Pusha T, ‘My Name Is My Name’


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Pusha T captures a darker portrait of life exceptionally on his ‘official’ solo debut

Pusha T⎪ My Name Is My Name ⎪Def Jam ⎪⎪ US Release Date: October 8, 2013

1240590_638300102870016_1677547831_nTo call ‘street life’ captivating would probably be an incredibly irresponsible statement to make.  What isn’t an irresponsible description is that Pusha T delivers and captures a darker portrait of life exceptionally on his official solo debut, My Name Is My Name.  Sure, the ‘dope game’ is nothing to glorify by any means, but something about Pusha T’s honest and authentic stories of a checkered past proves to be an interesting listen across these 12 excellent tracks.  If nothing more, one definitely knows where half of rap duo Clipse stands.

King Push” initiates with dark-tilted production work, driven by a marching band-like snare drum.  From the jump, Pusha T is confident and hardcore about his intentions.  This is evidenced by the hook: “I’m king Push, still King Push / I rap n***a ‘bout trap n***as / I don’t sing hooks.” Indeed Pusha T avoids sung hooks throughout My Name Is My Name and definitely sugarcoats nothing.  The unapologetic nature of “Numbers On The Board” is welcome, with Pusha T kicking off things in electrifying fashion: “I’m so bossy, b**ch, get off me / it’s a different jingle when you hear these car keys…” Adhering to the 2013 rap trend of ‘god status’, Pusha seems to have more oomph than many of his contemporaries as he spits “It’s only one God, and it’s only one crow / so it’s only one king that can stand on this mound / King Push, kingpin, overlord…” There it is.

1378225_645429358823757_1721314808_nSweet Serenade” isn’t true to it’s title, continuing to sound mysterious and dark.  Chris Brown’s usually enthusiastic pipes are subdued in effect to make the ‘sweet serenade’ a bit more ‘realistic’ you might say.  “Come on let’s toast the champagne, this one’s for the life / did everything you could do to be here for the night / man it feels good, everything feels right / energy is strong enough to bright city lights / my whole team winning, no vision on quitting…I risk my life to try everyday to go and get it…” The track wins and apparently the “team [is] winning”, so why so scary? Well it is Pusha T.  “Look, my ouija board don’t never lie to me / the best rapper living, I know who’s alive to me / yeah the competition’s all but died to me / Raah, I make these motherf**kers hide from me…” Maybe that’s why!

Hold On” brings in Rick Ross, a perfect collaborator for Pusha T.  Pusha never falls short lyrically, always delivering a compelling performance. Again, it is the brutal honesty that lifts Pusha, moments like “I sold more dope than I sold records / you n***as sold records never so dope/ So I ain’t hearing non of that street sh*t / cause in my mind, you motherf**kers sold soap…”.  Pusha T is also equally effective on socially-conscious lines like “They tipping the scale for this crackers to win / no reading, no writhing, made us savage of men…”, seeming a reference to the ‘lot’ of the black man.  Rick Ross balances the street and money on his guest spot: “Over night I seen a n***a go get a Carrera / two weeks later I had to be that boy pall bearer / young king bury me inside a glass casket / windex wipe  me down for the life after.”  Well we know one thing, Rozay has a thing about how he’s treated after death (see “Bury Me A G”).  Brilliant by all means.

Suicide” continues the enthrall and consistency, with Ab-Liva guesting on the third verse (“My future is bright hot, you never can last here / I’m top five, listen, who hot in the past year?”).  Naturally given its title, Pusha T is in it for ‘blood’, but he still manages to deliver the street with some eloquence you might say: “You n***as clique-ing up with my rivals / like the bible don’t burn like these bullets don’t spiral / like I can’t see the scene that you mirror in your idol / but a pawn’s only purpose is completely suicidal…”  On “40 Acres”, The-Dream lends his beautiful pipes to the hook of this reflective, autobiographical cut.  One of the more notable moments from Pusha references his mother’s broken marriage: “Unpolished, unapologetic / might have broke a heart or two but gave an honest effort / my nonchalant attitude is always ‘eff it’ / 35 years of marriage and my momma left it…” Consistency continues.

No Regrets” features Kevin Cossom singing the hook and Young Jeezy given his two cents on second verse.  Ultimately, “No Regrets” is nearly enjoyable if not as enjoyable as everything else, but it also seems a bit overproduced.   Still given the attitude conveyed here, the abundance of production and dynamically-loud moments doesn’t seem that far-fetched.  “Let Me Love You” softens the mood, something that feels right at this point on My Name Is My NameKelly Rowland is the perfect R&B diva to deliver sexiness vocally, singing “Boy you got that six in the morning / you got that thing that’ll make a girl feel high… boy let me love you.” Pusha T isn’t exactly thinking ‘chivalrously’ though: “Hey mama come f**k with the shotta / with the Givenchy toppa, shoe Balenciaga / if you act right, I can match you up proper / if it’s about a dolla thing, big like Poppa.” Can’t go wrong with a Notorious B.I.G allusion, right?

Who I Am” is nothing short of fire, no questions asked.  Sure Pusha T didn’t select the most ‘intellectual’ crop of MC’s to guest with 2 Chainz and Big Sean, but it works out superbly.  But honestly it should since all Pusha T really wants to do is “…buy another Rollie” and “…pop another band / I just wanna sell dope forever / Just wanna be who I am.” 2 Chainz does simple ambitions well, here rapping “Entrepreneur, strip club connoisseur / hot fudge sundae, pour it on you hallelujah…” – need I go further? Big Sean also keeps it simple and 100 at the same time, rapping “Pretty girls is my reputation / one on my arm, that’s decoration…” We all enjoy a good club track about excess though, so I give this one a pass…a highly recommended one at that.

1380240_642433222456704_1148407337_nNosetalgia” is a perfect follow-up, only made more perfect by featuring Kendrick Lamar.  The rap IQ here is off the charts, with “Nosetalgia” ranking among the top echelon, and that’s saying something considering how well put together this effort is.  One of Pusha’s best lines is his proclamation he was “Black Ferris Bueller, cutting school with his jewels on…what I sell for pain in the hood, I’m a doctor…” while Kendrick Lamar’s slaughtering verse is capped off with “Go figure motherf**ker, every verse is a brick.”  “Pain” is a solid penultimate cut, still very ‘heavy’ in content and in its overall sound.  Standout closing cut “S.N.I.T.C.H.” succeeds not only because of it’s production or Pharrell’s distinctive voice performing the hook, but because it continues to keep things real. The evidence lies lyrically: “Nowadays n***as don’t need shovels to bury you / pointing fingers like pallbearers how they carry you / so much for death before dishonor / might as well have a robe and a gavel like your honor…”

Now the burning question is just how great is My Name Is My Name? I’d say pretty great; one of the best rap albums of 2013.  Pusha T is quite underrated, but he is definitely one of the better MCs in the game.  Sure rap about dope may not be for everybody by itself, but Pusha T’s authenticity and honesty easily atone for any reservations.

Favorites: “Numbers On The Boards”; “Sweet Serenade”; “Hold On”; “Who I Am”; “Nosetalgia”; “S.N.I.T.C.H.”

Verdict: ✰✰✰✰½

 

Review: Us3, ‘The Third Way’


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20 years later, Us3 still got it

 Us3⎪The Third Way (Hand on the Torch, Vol. II)⎪Us3.com ⎪⎪ US Release Date: October 14, 2013

Us3-20130920-99Of latest album The Third Way, Us3 co-founder and bandleader Geoff Wilkinson calls it “the follow up album I never made at the time [of Hand on the Torch].  Throughout The Third Way, Us3 keep the hooks simple and the grooves infectious.  The formula is patterned after the band’s platinum-certified debut, once more drawing jazz classics as it’s basis (interpolations). The results? A fine jazz-rap sequel to the original, arriving 20 years after the first.  KCB, Tukka, and Akil Dasan rule the rhyming roost here, definitely doing the game justice.

Never Go Back” (featuring KCB & Tukka) opens The Third Way exceptionally, lifting from Dizzy Gillespie’s classic “Manteca” as its backdrop.  Old-school but incredibly hip, “Never Go Back” takes you back to Us3’s “Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)” days, sigh.  Solid production and a fantastic, simplistic hook make the opener a winner.  The dusty-sounding beat anchors the rhythmic pianist hits perfectly on “Be Bop Thing”.  The rhymes are agile and continue to embrace that ‘throwback’ vibe.  Why should the enjoyable, swinging “Be Bop” have it any other way? “Gotta Get My Hustle On” definitely ‘gets its shine on’, with its infectious Latin groove and Tukka’s reggae-rhymed contributions.  Akil Dasan’s none too shabby here himself, providing a welcome contrast to his colleague.

On “I Want One Of Those” (featuring Akil Dasan), the prominence of a the walking bass line truly shapes the overall production.  That’s not the sole highlight mind you; Akil Dasan continues to allure lyrically.  “Keep Your Head Right (Keep Your Fist Tight)” is undeniably delicious, thanks to its ‘funkifized’ soul-jazz groove while “The Out Crowd” is really ‘in’ considering it just  happens to sample notable jazz cut “The In Crowd” (Ramsey Lewis).   “Wha’ G’wan” allows for Tukka to flex his reggae muscles once more, painting his rhymes over replayed elements of Lee Morgan’s “The Sidewinder”.  Pretty awesome if you ask me.

Beautiful” is certainly more chivalrous than most rap of 2013, eschewing the overindulgent sexual references that characterize the more hardcore extreme of the genre.  Old school is well at work here, though the synthesized bass line is very much relevant for 2013.  “Dance With Me” gives the effort another Latin-jazz based number, incredibly suited given the title and theme of the number.  “What Would You Do?” definitely stands out not only because of the superb, thoughtful production, but also because of how superbly the MC’s deliver their respective verses.  KCB, Tukka, and Akil Dasan are truly electrifying here, perhaps more so than other performances from The Third Way.

Us3b-20130920-100Horace Silver provides the perfect inspiration on “Are You Nuts” with elements of his classic “Nutville” working full force.  Maybe KCB speaks of aloofness (“you’re out of touch / what are you nuts?”), but there’s nothing “nuts” here, just excellence.  “If You’ve Got It Flaunt It” is a bit less satisfying in my eyes.  It’s  interesting, but I’m not sure that the Duke Ellington lifting cut (“It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)”) is as consistent as the rest.  The nonsensical portions from the original may just be slightly too corny.  “I’m Goin’ (Come Along)” is certainly an interesting penultimate cut, certainly feeling much more modern in sound than the majority. It still has its ‘foot in the door’, but it also has ‘swag’.  “You’ll Never Come Close” (featuring KCB) closes The Third Way on a ‘high note’ – or rather a head-nodding groove and some sick-sounding horns.

Ultimately, The Third Way is an album that should definitely be receiving more attention.  Sure once more attaining the success of that an experimental effort from the 1990s attained is a tall task (and highly unlikely), but what isn’t too tall or unattainable is critical praise and success.  Personally, I find Us3’s jazz-rap endeavors to still be incredible captivating, 20 years later.

Favorites: “Never Go Back”; “Be Bop Thing”; “Keep Your Head Right (Keep Your Fist Tight)”; “What Would You Do?”; “You’ll Never Come Close”

Verdict: ✰✰✰✰

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