Tag Archive | rap 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: ★★★★

Chief Keef Offers Little Substance on “Rehab”


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Chief Keef • “F*ck Rehab” • Glory Gang / Interscope Single Release Date: March 13, 2014

51sWsU0kKtL._SL500_AA280_Chief Keef – that’s that MC that I don’t like… just keeping it one hunna… Maybe that’s too harsh or an unfair statement to make, but Chief Keef failed to impress on his 2012 debut LP Finally Rich. Few would deny the potency of “I Don’t Like” from Finally Rich (I was onboard), while some may be even more generous and give the MC a nod for “Love Sosa” or the incredibly irresponsible “Hate Being Sober”. Still, the album as a whole was lacking in quality material.  Additionally, it was an epic fail as far as commercial aspirations – ole boy didn’t make money of ironically title album itself! Yes, Chief is a young dude (a teenager) and surely development and progression will hopefully develop him into a well-rounded MC.  However at this point, in the present, Chief is so-so at best.  Some might even say he sucks, but we won’t take the criticism to that level.  Latest single “F*ck Rehab” certainly doesn’t find Chief upping the ante where depth of lyrics or themes is concerned, that’s for sure.

Chief Keef2-20121023-78F*ck Rehab” sort of piggybacks on Keef’s better songs, namely “I Don’t Like” and “Hate Being Sober” with its unapologetic sentiment.  This unapologetic approach is a strong suit and isn’t where the skepticism lies. The problem is, this five-minute plus track isn’t nearly as good or catchy as the MC’s “aces in the hole”.  Sure, Keef at least has basis for “F*ck Rehab” given the alcoholic indulgence of “Hate Being Sober”, but the rhymes again lack, well, substance, despite their approval of substance abuse.  The hook, much like the title just lays it all out there: “F*ck rehab! Oh no no no…” As they say in AA, “the first step is admitting that you have a problem” and apparently, the rebellious, rambunctious MC doesn’t think he does.

Throughout the track, the references to Keef’s dope usage are prevalent.  “B*tch I be smoking dope what you mean?” Chief Keef-20121023-77Keef raps on the opening line of his verse.  He truly throws up double birds to the notion of entering rehab later within the verse: “Let me get them hitters, I’m counting out the cut, getting loud now / and that ain’t even registered, they come and clean the sh*t up like pronto / I could be on the block running round shooting sh*t up like Rambo / but the judge gonna lock me up for smoking a little dope.”  An assisting Big Glo only encourages bad habits, rapping about “uppers” and being “numb” from using them.  Adding to the irresponsibility is reference to violence, specifically resorting to guns: “Sosa’ll buck, we might just go shoot up a club / that sh*t ain’t gon’ cost but a dub / my lawyer gon’ give me some plug.”  SMH!

Ultimately, “F*ck Rehab” is as much an open book as Chief Keef has proven to be so far into his career.  He doesn’t care ultimately.  And if he doesn’t care enough to deliver songs with some true lyrical substance behind the tough-nosed attitude, why should we, the hip-hop fans give a [bleep]? I’ll admit, I don’t care for “F*ck Rehab” as a song nor as a message.  Additionally, I’ll admit I had no desire to like it even prior to listening.  Call it biased, but the title itself gives you all you need to know and the song offers little beyond that.  Ultimately, “F*ck Rehab” isn’t too hot.

Verdict: ★½

Review: Young Money, ‘Rise Of An Empire’


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Young Money’s Rise Of An Empire is a fail… an ‘epic’ one if you will 

Young Money • Rise of An Empire • Cash Money / Motown • US Release Date: March 11, 2014

Lil Wayne-20140317-70It is incredibly difficult to be unbiased towards compilation efforts prior to listening.  Honestly though, the compilation often incurs issues that the studio album/ solo studio album seems to avoid.  There’s just something about random tracks with no rhyme or reason that hurt the overall cohesiveness that many sound and exceptional albums possess.  Sigh* Young Money, following a five year hiatus, return to release their second compilation album, Rise of an Empire. Young Money, their previous album, actually had some fine moments, including the raunchy “Every Girl”, “Bedrock”, and “Roger That”.  Rise of an Empire isn’t as ‘wonderfully made’ you might say – it has some…umm…yeah, just read on!

We Alright”, featuring Euro, Birdman, and Lil Wayne, opens Rise of An Empire, umm interestingly.  On the first verse, Euro raps “They said I’d never do it, now I’m looking like, ‘N***a, what’s never?’ / and now they run from us when they see us, boy, that money’s pressure.”  Umm yeah…on the hook, the rapper confirms the message: “Long as my n***as right then we alright / long as the women right then we alright / long as the drinks on ice then we alright / long as these private flights…” – yeah you get the idea.  Birdman dumbs it down on his second verse, opening with a reference to money (“Yeah, it’s money over everything”).  Lil Wayne has the most interesting rhymes, most notably “You just a crocodile, I drink a full cup of his tears / can’t recognize you n***a, like Santa cut off his beard.”   Don’t call it a hit… please don’t, I’m begging you!

Drake-20140317-36Trophies” follows “We Alright”, led by the honorable Drake.  If nothing more, the pounding beat rocks.  “Trophies” is driven by rappers other favorite topic (besides money and sex) – the ‘come-up’.  The off-beat hook says it all: “…I’m just tryna stay alive and take care of my people / and they don’t have no award for that, trophies, trophies…” Overall, “Trophies” isn’t a bad track, but don’t call it Drizzy’s best either.  All said and done, “Trophies” won’t be awarded in trophies over much of the material from Nothing Was The Same when it’s all said and done.  Contextually, it is better than the opener.  But really, isn’t this another “Started From The Bottom”, sort of?

Bang” comes courtesy of Sonny Digital who is always good for a malicious production job.  Lil Twist, Euro, and Corey Gunz handle the rhymes here.  Lil Twist spends a portion of his verse referencing pro ballers, before bragging about his cliché threesome.  Euro drops references to being like the four ‘Michaels’ at the beginning of his verse: Michael Jordan, Michael Tyson, Michael Phelps, and Michael Jackson.  Besides being awesome, he references shooting, sexing, and of course money.  Corey Gunz drops lines like “War paint like a baboon and my b**ch got a red a$$ on” as well as referencing shooting, money and drugs.  True to its sound, “Bang” couldn’t be characterized as a ‘warm’ track.

Nicki Minaj9-20131105-2Senile” features the talents of Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, and Tyga.  Tyga kick starts thing with an agile verse over the slinky, minimalist production work.  In addition to delivering nastiness on the opening verse, Tyga delivers the simple, but addictive hook: “Can you see now? Are you senile? / Can you see now? You could see now…” Nicki Minaj does her normal thing on the second verse, fitting right in with the guys – shocker! Lil Wayne takes the final verse, closing it out classically: “I’m in this mother f**ker gettin’ money ‘til I’m senile, Tunechi!” Compared to “Bang”, “Senile” is more creative. Don’t call it a masterpiece, but it definitely gets the club poppin’… or something like that.

Euro gets his third moment to shine on his solo track, “Induction Speech”.  Think of it as more “trophies”: “I think I’m getting wasted tonight / I realized that I made it tonight /you gotta hear just how I made it tonight / ‘cause it’s crazy how I made it / and tonight is the night…I know what it takes to get here, and I’m glad that you could make it tonight.”  So essentially, Euro is now successful and he is going to live it up.  Fair enough.  Yet another ‘I came up’ tale – Is what it is.  Could’ve been shortened – brevity ain’t a bad thing.

One Time” features quite the crew: Lil Twist and Tyga once more, with the addition of YG.  What is common between the three? Well all three get raw – nasty if you will.  Unsurprisingly both the production and hook set the tone: “I’mma mack, on this ho, one time…If you a pimp, break a b**ch…” Lil Twist’s is confident (“You know the life? B**ch, I’m living that / now do that 100 yard dash and run that money back…”), Tyga’s cocky/misogynistic (“My n***a told me bout ya, had to see what you was worth / that p***y come a dime a dozen, you’ll be mine, you know it…”), and YG is the worst (“Too much money, I’ll never f**k a fat lady / now that’s a fact baby, sit on my lap baby”). “One Time” is enjoyable if you enjoy the objectification of women and like low IQ tracks.  Otherwise, one just sort of shakes your head at the shamefulness/shamelessness that pours out through the speakers.

Here’s the moment all have been waiting for – the controversial Nicki Minaj feature, “Lookin A**”, which opens with the ‘electrifying’ introduction “Look at y’all n***as…”. Can you sense the sarcasm? Honestly, examining the lyrics and listening, I sort of want to see how many times Nicki Minaj uses the word n***a because that’s what the whole song sound like – how many times can Nicki use the ‘n-word’. There’s nothing wrong with an edgy, aggressive Nicki Minaj (I loved the raunchy-fest of “Beez in The Trap” as much as anybody else), but a bit more substance would’ve been nice.  Judge for yourself – that’s my advice!

Fresher Than Ever” enlists the duties of Birdman, Gudda Gudda, Flow, Jae Millz, and Mack Maine.  Guess what the MCs spit about – $$$.  Yep, that’s hella fresh… Gudda Gudda offers the most ‘original’ lyrics of the album: “Yea, man we came from the bottom / Stunna told me get these n***as so I got ‘em!”  Please – how tried-and-true/tired is this! Birdman’s immense rhyming skills shine throughout a series of interludes…NOT: “Yeah, number one in that field…Stacks on top of stacks / b**ches, whips, floss, gettin’ in puttin’ it in…” After multiple references to material, Jae Millz does make a clever Roy Hibbert (Indiana Pacers center) reference, even it is still “for the love of money”: “Money stand tall as Roy Hibbert, hater forget it”.  Mack Maine chooses Captain Phillips as his cool reference (“Young Mack my driver but I’m Captain Phillips n***as”).  Fresher than ever really – Nope, not by any means whatsoever!  I call it recycling…maybe garbage…LOL.

Tyga2-20140221-51Back It Up” leaves little to the imagination, but honestly, would you expect any more from Lil Twist & Tyga? That is rhetorical times a million – literally. What’s the point of analyzing the rhymes if the content and theme is clearly laid out without explanation?  Don’t Twist and Tyga know there is more to life than the strip club? That’s a rhetorical question too by the way – SMH!

Moment” gives Tunechi a ‘moment’ literally – LOL.  Before he even gets into it, he’s high (“I’m so high I feel weightless) and like Rick Ross, he’s got shooters (“All my shooters courageous”).  On the hook, which precedes the verses, Weezy wishes to “Have my cake and eat it too, I want a bakery…” while later stating “I’m gon’ shoot it if I wave it, shoot it if I wave it / do yourself a favor, save yourself cause I can’t save ya.” “Moment” isn’t Lil Wayne’s best track ever, but the classic cues are in play, particularly references to weed, guns, money, and sex (see the final line of verse three).

Lil Wayne2-20140317-71You Already Know” has at least one bright spot – featuring up-and-coming R&B singer PJ Morton.  Additionally, Mack Maine, Gudda Gudda, and Jae Millz handle the rhymes.  Listening through the standard edition closer though, it’s not anything to write home about.  Where memorability is concerned, “You Already Know” has little of it.

So the verdict is in…drum roll please! The verdict is that Rise Of An Empire is not a great title for this album.  Perhaps “fall of an empire” would be more appropriate.  Rise has a few moments worthy of a second listen – namely “Trophies”, “Senile”, and perhaps even “Moment” – but otherwise, it falls into the normal pitfalls of the compilation.  Compared to the first album Young Money, Rise leaves more to be desired… My advice to Young Money is to ‘step out of the box’ or maybe in some cases, out of the booth.

Favorites:

“Trophies”; “Senile”; “Moment”

Verdict: ★★

Review: Kid Cudi, ‘Satellite Flight: Journey to Mother Moon’


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Kid Cudi’s surprise fourth LP is both ‘creative’ and ‘off-putting’

Kid Cudi • Satellite Flight: Journey to Mother Moon • Republic • US Release Date: February 25, 2014

KidCudi-081310-0001Describing Kid Cudi as merely “one of a kind” might be the biggest understatement ever…change that – it is the biggest understatement ever.  Album release by album release, the left-field/alternative rapper (or singer or both) continues to deliver music that is, well, completely different from everybody and everything else out there.  Kid Cudi’s surprise fourth album, Satellite Flight: Journey to Mother Moon, is no different from previous Cudi albums in regards to the fact that the artist is in his own world, beating to his own drum.  Satellite Flight is different than previous Cudi albums in regards to the fact that it is only ten tracks long and of those, four are instrumental.  Non-standard and unconventional, Satellite Flight is a true-fans type of album that is more mixtape than studio album worthy.  Hardcore fans will ‘eat it up’ while the more casual listener will find it off-putting.

Destination: Mother Moon” initiates the effort, opening unsurprisingly mysterious with ‘Cudi-ness’ written all over it.  One of four instrumentals (40% of the album), it is exhilarating and interesting to listen to.  The real heat comes with “Going To The Ceremony”, the first vocal track of Satellite Flight.  Opening uniquely itself with spoken word intro (“Now certainly we all recognize the extremely, extremely low probability / of life existing on the moon”), the track dives right into the rock-rap, left-of-center approach that Kid Cudi as well as WZRD has come to be known for.  This includes the typical humming, the repetitive lyrics (“But I don’t know where I’m going / where I’m going, it’s all happening / I’m going, it’s all happening”), as well as the driving, minimalism.  “Going To The Moon” is familiar fare for the artist.  So is its follow-up, “Satellite Flight”, an equally alluring, oddball offering that is as cosmic as the title.  “Satellite Flight” is all about ‘vibe’: “Com on don’t be shy / let your guard down and work it.”

Kid Cudi-20131113-5Copernicus Landing” continues with the ‘vibe’ and all things cosmic.  It is the second instrumental of the effort.  Ultimately, a few minutes gives you the idea while the totality of the cut may overwhelm you with its minimalism.  From a classical or electronic music perspective, the techniques are legit.  For a mainstream album, maybe this isn’t what you’d expect.  Atonement arrives with “Balmain Jeans”, which is by far the freakiest track of the album.  Face it, it’s all about the three-letter word, with the confirmation coming on the clever, but salacious “Can I come inside your vortex…” Vortex? I’ll leave that one alone, but I’m sure it’s being used as a substitute for another word…  But even subtler, having Raphael Saadiq guesting confirms that the Cudi isn’t that extraterrestrial… he’s still a man who enjoys the things men enjoy… yeah…

Too Bad I Have To Destroy You Now” is even better, even if it Cudi sets aside pleasure in favor of more direct rap.  Kid Cudi is a rapper, but he’s definitely not a gangster.  “Too Bad I Have To Destroy You Now” doesn’t change his lot, but it does find him spitting with a mad, agile flow.  The hook hooks, and he has some memorable verse lyrics to match, including “All hail King Wizard in the f**kin’ house / been chill for a minute quiet as a mouse / now I got the juice, call me Bishop when you see me round / I be showin’ love / showin’ love baby…” The evolution and pacing of “Too Bad I Have To Destroy You Now” contributes to its success.  Unfortunately, “Internal Bleeding” which proceeds isn’t quite the triumph.  It’s not bad, but it is definitely more a B than an A grade cut.  Still, lyrics like “Cut me down / slice me deep / I dare you / burn my crown / spit on my grave…I’ll haunt you…” makes it worthwhile.

In My Dreams 2015” is a variation on Cudi’s track from Man On The Moon: End of Day.  Lasting under two minutes, it’s a pleasant instrumental.  The proceeding instrumental and penultimate cut, “Return Of The Moon Man” (Original Score) should’ve been a drag, particularly at over five minutes, but it is actually an enthralling listen.  The best of the four instrumental cuts, “Return of the Moon Man” sports jagged, rhythmic lines and thrives off its minimalism.  Very much in the Cudi style, “Return Of The Moon Man” doesn’t feel out of place in the least; it fits the album’s off-putting narrative.  Concluding cut “Troubled Boy” is appropriately placed, particularly given vibe, but don’t call it a classic.  It fits, but it doesn’t rival the top echelon juggernauts.

KdCudi-091710-0001So, how does Satellite Flight: Journey to Mother Moon stack up? It is a solid, but ultimately off-putting album.  Give its incredibly ambitious, yet easily forgettable title (I continually must check the title on my iPod), the contents work perfect contextually. Title aside and accessibility considered, well, Satellite Flight is all-over-the-place.  Cudi’s albums are ‘all-over-the-place’ naturally, so in that regard, he’s still “In-di-cud”.  But perhaps where a standard, accessible effort is concerned, Satellite Flight is more jumbled.  Again, this album will appeal most to hardcore fans while those who want a ‘cohesive’ taste of Kid Cudi’s work may be better served with his earlier efforts, particularly the Man on The Moon series.  I’m onboard for the most part though, but I’m not hailing it the ‘second coming’.

Favorites:

“Going To The Ceremony”; “Satellite Flight”; “Balmain Jeans”; “Too Bad I Have To Destroy You Now”; “Return Of The Moon Man (Original Score)”

Verdict: ★★★½

Review: Rick Ross, ‘Mastermind’


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Rick Ross keeps a good thing going strong on LP number six 

Rick Ross • Mastermind • Def Jam • US Release Date: March 3, 2014

Rick Ross-20131008-27Six albums in, the best way to describe Rick Ross is that he ‘is what he is’.  Ross’ high watermark artistically was his fourth LP, 2010 masterpiece Teflon Don.  Up until Teflon Don, it seemed that Ross was just trying to find his artistic identity – his niche if you will.  After finally finding himself, Ross spent fifth LP God Forgives, I Don’t ‘flexing’, something he carries over into Mastermind. Mastermind ultimately is another sound, enjoyable Rick Ross album, even if it lacks some of the excellent, luxurious rap of Teflon Don or even the exceptionalness of the best moments of God Forgives.  Quibbles and nitpicks aside, Mastermind is another welcome addition to Rozay’s discography.

Intro (Rick Ross/Mastermind)” opens familiarly with the “Maybach Music” intro – surprise, surprise.  The intro as a whole references being a ‘mastermind’, hence setting the tone for the album. Sure, a brief interlude doesn’t equate Mastermind with epitomizing or embodying its title, but it does foreshadow Ross’ point… sort of.  Apparently, Rick Ross’ idea of being a ‘mastermind’ is not synonymous with being an intellectual.  This is confirmed on first full-length joint, “Rich Is Gangsta”. As to what that even means ultimately, who knows.  Regardless, on the hook-less number, Rick Ross is “all about the Benjamins.”  “I just upped my stock, f**k them cops,” he brags on the first verse. “If you love hip-hop, bust them shots.”  Later, he even manages to brag about his success as a rapper: “Cocaine worth much more than gold, n***a / so what’s your goals n***a? / All my sh*t when gold, n***a.”  Sure, Ross is overconfident with his bravado, but he does tell the truth… all his sh*t did go gold.

Rick Ross-20131126-35While “Rich Is Gangsta” sported exceptional, lush production work, sophomore cut “Drug Dealers Dream” features the MC more on ‘autopilot.’  He continues to count his stacks, evidenced by the intro (“Your checking account available balance is $92, 153,183.28”).  Even though Rick is rich, the means is questionable by all means, yet Ross rides it for all its worth: “Murder, a mother f**kin’ murder / no you didn’t see it but I know you b**ches heard it / blood on the corner, damn I miss my dawg / I’m just thinkin’ ‘bout his daughter, in another life he ballin.”  One relates to the sympathy that Ross has for his fallen comrade, which could be any person stripped of their life, yet on the other hand, the game of drug dealing, violence, and “I get shooters on clearance…” is just ugly.  Unsurprisingly, interlude “Shots Fired” proceeds, with Rick Ross being alluded to (“We’re being told by people here on the scenes, specifically the manager that a famous rapper was riding in that car when someone opened fire shooting at the car…” Dark stuff – quality though.

Rick Ross-SIN-000357Nobody” didn’t appeal to me personally the first time I heard it, but it grows on you.  French Montana continues to appear on every one’s track and here is no different as he delivers the hook: “Mama’s tryna save me / but she don’t know I’m tryna save her / man, them n***as tried to play me / man, ‘til I get this paper / you’re nobody ‘til somebody kills you.” Essentially, the theme of doing wrong and dangerous things to achieve riches continues on this track.  The tone is aggressive, not merely because of Diddy’s pointed interludes, but also thanks to Ross’ unapologetic rhymes, including “The mortician, the morgue fillin’ with more snitches / we kill ‘em and taking their b**ches, R.I.P.” Ultimately, “Nobody” eventually reveals it’s magic if it isn’t apparent the first listen.  Don’t let the Notorious B.I.G. sample (“You’re Nobody (‘Til Somebody Kills You)”) dissuade you.

The Devil Is A Lie” benefits from sampling, maybe more so than “Nobody” did (“Don’t Let Your Love Fade Away”).  Don’t call “The Devil Is a Lie” a song of praise… there plenty of blasphemy.  “Big guns and big whips / rich n***a talkin’ big sh*t,” raps Ross on the hook, “…Bow your head cuz it’s time to pay tithes / opposition want me dead or alive / motherf**ker but the devil is a lie / the devil is a lie, b**ch I’m the truth…” If that’s not enough, Jay-Z’s religious beliefs are, well, unique: “Is it true or it’s fiction / Is Hov atheist? I never f**k with True Religion / am I down with the devil cuz my roof came up missin’ / is that Lucifer juice in that two cup he sippin’…” Well, regardless of where either MC stands spiritually, both acknowledge, “the devil is a lie.” It is up for debate whether that makes Rick Ross “the truth” though…

Rick Ross-SIN-000262Mafia Music III” keeps the momentum top-notch.  Sporting unexpected reggae production, “Mafia Music III” seems to really fuel Rick Ross into some inspired rhymes. Not only that, Ross references Kenneth Williams (gang member), Bill Belichick, and Farrakhan – go figure.  Mavado’s hook contributes to the overall success of the track as well, solidifying the tropical vibe.  Keeping it G, “War Ready” brings in Jeezy for the assist, who seems to have dropped the ‘Young’ as a of late.  Obsessed with ‘shooters’, Rick Ross continues to reference them for the millionth time as of late: “War ready / you got shooters, I’ve got shooters / we’ve got money / let’s do what them other n***as can’t do…” Mike Will Made It gives Ross and Jeezy magnificent, relaxed, yet malicious production work to do work over, which both do.  Surprisingly, it is Jeezy who references the ‘Box Chevy’ (“Box Chevy hit the block, run the whole 50 shots / you just poppin’ ‘til you know you can’t pop ‘em no more…”) “War Ready” keeps things 100 and consistent.

French Montana makes his second appearance of Mastermind on “What A Shame”, a brief cut produced by Reefa and Stats.  The production is excellent though the track itself could stand more development and ‘meat’ you might say. Unsurprisingly, Ross once more references those shooters, and they aren’t shooting jump shots.  On “Supreme”, Rick switches from ‘magazines’ to “Clean Maybach, but it’s filthy as sh*t / they partitioning for the women, how busy we get…” So, you guessed it, with Keith Sweat lending his soulful new-jack pipes and Scott Storch infusing some soulful, swagger-laden production, “Supreme” is about the ‘fun’ things in life… I’ll leave it at that.   “BLK & WHT” does have a play on race, but it’s not merely what you may think it is before listening.  Here, Ross talks about ‘slanging’: “Young n***a black, but he selling white…N***a crib so big, it’s a damn shame / n***a sellin’ white for a gold chain.”  If nothing else, “BLK & WHT” has a hypnotizing quality about it.

Rick Ross-SIN-000261After the silly “Dope B**ch Skit”, The Weeknd  drops a joint featuring Rick Ross… or at least that is how “In Vein” comes over.  Sure it’s lush, and in the emo-alt R&B style that The Weeknd has come to be associated, but it doesn’t really show off Rick Ross himself.  That said, standout “Sanctified” is more of a team-effort from Betty Wright, Big Sean, Kanye West, and Ross, but the overall product is satisfactory.  Let’s face it – where would this track have been without Betty Wright’s soulful, un-credited vocals? No disrespect to Mr. West, but few of us need another “Yeezus” as he refers to during his verse – another My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, perhaps.  Ross’ best line on his verse: “Soldiers all in gators, new Mercedes for cadets / Balmain uniform, you know Donda designed the vest…” Like “The Devil Is A Lie” though, I wouldn’t invest too much spiritually into this track, particularly with Big Sean’s hook (“All I wanted is 100 million dollars and a bad b**ch…”) At least he admits his sins.

Rick Ross-20131202-36Walkin’ On Air” has a difficult act to follow after the ‘sanctification’, but it’s definitely not a shabby penultimate track.  Again, the blasphemy can’t be good for Ross’ spiritual being: “Baptized by the dope boys, ordained by the a**holes / my salvation is the cash flow / whoa, oh I’m walking on air.”  Even aside from misinformed spiritual allusions, lines like “She let me f**k early so she trustworthy…” certainly has no relation to the church.  Meek Mill confirms this song is, um, sinful (“Make a call, call Papi for a brick / and papi call José, cause José got fish…”). “Thug Cry”, featuring Lil Wayne and produced by J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League closes Mastermind soundly.  Don’t call the multi-sampling work a classic, but it definitely closes an overt album a gentler than it was throughout its course.

All in all, Mastermind turns out to be another well-rounded, enjoyable album from Rick Ross.  There is more than enough wealth to please more casual and hardcore Ross fans alike.  It won’t supersede the top two albums of Ross’ collection, but it definitely can hang.  Not sure why the banging “Box Chevy” was omitted, but it is what it is. Not perfect, but well played, well played.

Favorites:

“Drug Dealers Dream”; “The Devil Is A Lie”; “Mafia Music III”; “War Ready”; “Sanctified”

Verdict: ★★★★

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: ★★★★

Retrospective Review: Kanye West, ‘The College Dropout’


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The College Dropout sounds as fresh as ever, ten years later. 

Kanye West • The College Dropout • Roc-A-Fella • US Release Date: February 10, 2004

Kanye West-20131126-42“Sometimes I feel no one in this world understands us / but we don’t care what people say.”  True that, true that.  The aforementioned quote from “We Don’t Care” is a fitting characterization of Kanye West.  Over the course of his career as a rapper, Kanye West has been one of the music’s most polarizing, idiosyncratic characters.  Incredibly creative yet also incredibly complex and likely misunderstood, West has often found himself in trouble for being loud-mouthed and extremely opinionated.  That creativity and frankness has served Mr. West’s music well, even when it’s personally hurt perceptions of him as a person.  But as West would tell anybody, he “gives no f***s”.  Charming.  He certainly gives none on The College Dropout, his tour de force that is the ripe old age of ten.  As difficult as it is to believe, it was ten years ago that The College Dropout changed the rap game forever.  Listening to it ten years later in 2014, the album remains superb losing none of its edge. 

The College Dropout initiates with a silly, though funny “Intro” performed from the by West’s ‘college professor’. “Me and the other faculty members was wonderin’ could you do a lil some…/ somethin’ beautiful, somethin’ that the kids is gon’ love when they hear it,” The professor states. “… somethin’ for the kids for graduation to sing?” The intro serves as the perfect precursor to full-length opening joint, “We Don’t Care”, West’s answer to his professor’s request (“Oh yeah, I’ve got the perfect song for the kids to sing”).

On the real-talk, rebellious  “We Don’t Care”, the hook sums up the sentiment of its title: “Drug dealin’ just to get by / stack ya money ‘til you get sky high (Kids sing, kids sing!) / We wasn’t supposed to make it past 25 / joke’s on you, we still alive / throw your hands up in the sky and yell: We don’t care what people say.” Kids, indeed literally sing the hook, fitting in line with the highly structure narrative/concept of the album.  In addition to the memorable, ‘f**k you’ mentality of the hook, West gives specific examples throughout the verses of the ‘hard-knock’ life and black culture.  Filled with notable lyrics, among my favorite lines is from verse two, as West raps that “The drug game bulimic, it’s hard to get weight / a n***a’s money is homo, it’s hart to get straight / but we gon’ keep bakin’ til the day we get cake / and ‘we don’t care what people say’”.  Unapologetic, West begins the game ferociously.

Unsurprisingly, the professor is unhappy with West’s song choice, opening interlude “Graduation Day” with “What in the f**k was that Kanye!”  The professor goes off on a rant that is as comical as it is offensive.  A then little known John Legend concludes the interlude, referencing different ambitions compared to what others might have.  Even though it is Legend who performs this interlude, he is essentially speaking from West’s perspective.  West, a college dropout, chose a different path (music) as opposed to staying in school (the traditional route).

Popular single “All Falls Down” proceeds, featuring Syleena Johnson channeling her inner Lauryn Hill (Hill’s “Mystery of Iniquity” is interpolated here).  The hook is incredibly simple, yet was one of the most memorable of 2004, being mindful the original appeared in 2002.  “Oh when it all, it all falls down / I’m telling you all, it all falls down,” sings a soulful, raspy Johnson.  West is on autopilot, delivering honest and hilarious rhymes.   Among the best of those is from the first verse: “But she won’t drop out, her parents will look at her funny / now, tell me that ain’t insecure / the concept of school seems so secure / sophomore, three years, ain’t picked a career / she like, f**k it, I’ll just stay down here and do hair.”  The acoustic guitar-driven production and brilliant conception makes “All Falls Down” just another vital reason why The College Dropout is one of music’s modern masterpieces.

Following an interlude entitled “Fly Away” (literally the church tune “I’ll Fly Away”), the brilliant “Spaceship” takes off.  “I’ve been workin’ this graveshift and I ain’t made sh*t / I wish I could buy me a spaceship and fly past the sky,” West sings on the memorable hook.  A song much like “We Don’t Care” depicting the hardships of, “Spaceship” finds West getting the assist from Consequence and GLC.  All three MCs paint a gloomy, though honest picture that’s as vivid as a book.   Over a thoughtful sample of Marvin Gaye’s “Distant Lover”, “Spaceship” was as consistent as the singles from The College Dropout, despite receiving less buzz.   Even though “Spaceship” is pessimistic, Kanye West definitely feels entitled to his newfound success: “Lock yourself in a room doing five beats a day for three summers…I deserve to do these numbers”.  Indeed Mr. West, indeed.

The crowning achievement for The College Dropout was one of the most unique records of 2004, “Jesus Walks”.  Thoughtful, yet not quite ‘sanctified’ in a religious sense, “Jesus Walks” was a pivotal part of West’s career.  The fact that West associated Jesus and rap – two unlike things – was shocking.   Still, Wests makes numerous relevant points throughout, some of which could easily be supported biblically – well with modern interpretation that is.  West’s most memorable series of rhymes reside in his second verse: “We rappers is role models; we rap, we don’t think / I ain’t here to argue about his facial features / or here to convert atheists into believers / I’m just trying to say the way school need teachers / the way Kathie Lee needed Regis that’s the way I need Jesus.” Amen…I think.  Still, I don’t think too many clergymen will take too kindly the line “we eat pieces of sh*t like you for breakfast…” Just saying!

More ‘important’ songs overshadow “Never Let Me Down”, but it’s still high quality work.  This is an early collaboration where West works with his ‘big brother’ Jay-Z, as well as poet J. Ivy. Continuing the practice of sampling (Michael Bolton’s “The Power of Love”), “Never Let Me Down” rolls right along with little to quibble about.  Similarly, “Get Em High” is another solid track overshadowed by better ones.  Notable aside from guests in Talib Kweli and Common is the fact that sampling isn’t employed… shocker.  As always, West’s rhymes are entertaining, though West raps about his ambitions on the first verse: “My teacher said I’s a loser, I told her why don’t you kill me / I give a f**k if you fail me, I’m gonna follow / my heart, and if you follow charts / or the plaques or the stacks / you ain’t gotta guess who’s back, you see.” There it is.  Oh and in regards to the hook, West can’t resist the opportunity to play the double meanings game (i.e. high on weed, hands in the air).  Remember, he don’t care!

After “passing the dro” on “Get Em High”, “The New Workout Plan” was a later single released from The College Dropout.  “The New Workout Plan” definitely has little to do with exercise… it’s all about sex.  West’s hook says it all: “It’s been a week without me / and she feel week without me / she wanna talk it out but / ain’t nothing to talk about / unless she’s talking about freaking out / then maybe we can work it out.”  Of course, even before that, the first verse states West’s intentions: “one and two and three and four get them sit ups right and / tuck your tummy tight and do your crunches like this / give head, stop breathe, get up, check your weave / don’t drop the blunt and disrespect the weed…” I guess West is allotted one track with less depth.

Keeping with he sensual vibes, “Slow Jamz” – a former number one hit – remains as great as it was ten years ago. “Slow Jamz” is reprised on The College Dropout; it originally appeared on Twista’s Kamikaze. Jamie Foxx’s hook is as effective and memorable as ever: “She said she want some Marvin Gaye / some Luther Vandross / a little Anita / Will definitely set this party off right.”  Hearing Twista at his artistic peak on the third verse – sigh – “Those were the days!”

Ludacris comes along for the ride on “Breathe in Breathe Out”, delivering the catchy hook over a killer loop.  “Yeah, breathe in, breathe out / if ya iced up, pulla ya sleeves out / push a big truck, pull ya keys out / girls go wild and pull ya deez out…” The hook is typical Ludacris for sure.  While “Breathe in Breathe Out” is as consistent as anything else, I prefer “School Spirit” and its Aretha Franklin sample “Spirit in the Dark” (from 1970 album of the same title).  As soulful as “School Spirit” is with the sample itself, Tony Williams’ backing vocals add even more sweetness.  A skit both precedes and follows “School Spirit”.

Two Words” follows the final skit of the effort, “Lil Jimmy Skit”.  Like many of the non-singles, “Two Words” could actually go ‘toe to toe’ with the most notable, hyped cuts.  It doesn’t hurt having help from the likes of Mos Def and Freeway, not to mention The Harlem Boys Choir.  Each MC begins their respective verse with the titular lyric, which is a nice unifying touch.   The Harlem Boys Choir truly enhances the hook, offering a legato passage (“Throw your hands up high / ‘til they reach the sky”) underneath West’s brasher rhymes (“Now throw ya hands up hustlers / busters, boosters, hoes / everybody, f**k that / still nowhere to go, still nowhere to go…”).

Kanye West-20131125-70Through The Wire”, perhaps West’s most personal single, still sounds as relevant ten years later as it did in 2004.  The intro sums it up best: “…They can’t stop me from rapping, can they… I spit it through the wire…” The story behind the song was West’s horrific auto accident, which he was fortunate to recover from.  Fittingly, “Through The Wire” samples Chaka Khan’s classic, “Through the Fire”.  “Family Business” is nothing flashy, but is both sound and soulful.  A track like “Family Business” will always register near the bottom of the hierarchy, but still epitomizes West’s total artistry.  Juggernaut “Last Call” receives appropriate placement, given its length and how it sums up the album and West himself.  “Last Call” details West’s ascent and ‘come-up’.  It’s a cut that the listener is less likely to spin, but it does give insight into West.

Ten years later, The College Dropout remains a rap masterpiece.  Scratch that – it’s a masterpiece.  The College Dropout is one of those pivotally important albums of recent times.  Sure, it is hard to find certified classics in the new millennium, but this particular effort is definitely a candidate.  Consistent, creative, and certainly a contrast to other hip-hop albums out at the time, The College Dropout and Kanye West were trailblazers, ushering in the new movement of hip-hop.  Even now, it’s remarkable how exceptionally well this album is assembled.

Favorites:

 “All Falls Down”; “Jesus Walks”; “Spaceship”; “Slow Jamz”; “Two Words”; “Through The Wire”

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

 

Grantland

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