Rick Ross keeps a good thing going strong on LP number six
Rick Ross • Mastermind • Def Jam • US Release Date: March 3, 2014
Six albums in, the best way to describe Rick Ross is that he ‘is what he is’. Ross’ high watermark artistically was his fourth LP, 2010 masterpiece Teflon Don. Up until Teflon Don, it seemed that Ross was just trying to find his artistic identity – his niche if you will. After finally finding himself, Ross spent fifth LP God Forgives, I Don’t ‘flexing’, something he carries over into Mastermind. Mastermind ultimately is another sound, enjoyable Rick Ross album, even if it lacks some of the excellent, luxurious rap of Teflon Don or even the exceptionalness of the best moments of God Forgives. Quibbles and nitpicks aside, Mastermind is another welcome addition to Rozay’s discography.
“Intro (Rick Ross/Mastermind)” opens familiarly with the “Maybach Music” intro – surprise, surprise. The intro as a whole references being a ‘mastermind’, hence setting the tone for the album. Sure, a brief interlude doesn’t equate Mastermind with epitomizing or embodying its title, but it does foreshadow Ross’ point… sort of. Apparently, Rick Ross’ idea of being a ‘mastermind’ is not synonymous with being an intellectual. This is confirmed on first full-length joint, “Rich Is Gangsta”. As to what that even means ultimately, who knows. Regardless, on the hook-less number, Rick Ross is “all about the Benjamins.” “I just upped my stock, f**k them cops,” he brags on the first verse. “If you love hip-hop, bust them shots.” Later, he even manages to brag about his success as a rapper: “Cocaine worth much more than gold, n***a / so what’s your goals n***a? / All my sh*t when gold, n***a.” Sure, Ross is overconfident with his bravado, but he does tell the truth… all his sh*t did go gold.
While “Rich Is Gangsta” sported exceptional, lush production work, sophomore cut “Drug Dealers Dream” features the MC more on ‘autopilot.’ He continues to count his stacks, evidenced by the intro (“Your checking account available balance is $92, 153,183.28”). Even though Rick is rich, the means is questionable by all means, yet Ross rides it for all its worth: “Murder, a mother f**kin’ murder / no you didn’t see it but I know you b**ches heard it / blood on the corner, damn I miss my dawg / I’m just thinkin’ ‘bout his daughter, in another life he ballin.” One relates to the sympathy that Ross has for his fallen comrade, which could be any person stripped of their life, yet on the other hand, the game of drug dealing, violence, and “I get shooters on clearance…” is just ugly. Unsurprisingly, interlude “Shots Fired” proceeds, with Rick Ross being alluded to (“We’re being told by people here on the scenes, specifically the manager that a famous rapper was riding in that car when someone opened fire shooting at the car…” Dark stuff – quality though.
“Nobody” didn’t appeal to me personally the first time I heard it, but it grows on you. French Montana continues to appear on every one’s track and here is no different as he delivers the hook: “Mama’s tryna save me / but she don’t know I’m tryna save her / man, them n***as tried to play me / man, ‘til I get this paper / you’re nobody ‘til somebody kills you.” Essentially, the theme of doing wrong and dangerous things to achieve riches continues on this track. The tone is aggressive, not merely because of Diddy’s pointed interludes, but also thanks to Ross’ unapologetic rhymes, including “The mortician, the morgue fillin’ with more snitches / we kill ‘em and taking their b**ches, R.I.P.” Ultimately, “Nobody” eventually reveals it’s magic if it isn’t apparent the first listen. Don’t let the Notorious B.I.G. sample (“You’re Nobody (‘Til Somebody Kills You)”) dissuade you.
“The Devil Is A Lie” benefits from sampling, maybe more so than “Nobody” did (“Don’t Let Your Love Fade Away”). Don’t call “The Devil Is a Lie” a song of praise… there plenty of blasphemy. “Big guns and big whips / rich n***a talkin’ big sh*t,” raps Ross on the hook, “…Bow your head cuz it’s time to pay tithes / opposition want me dead or alive / motherf**ker but the devil is a lie / the devil is a lie, b**ch I’m the truth…” If that’s not enough, Jay-Z’s religious beliefs are, well, unique: “Is it true or it’s fiction / Is Hov atheist? I never f**k with True Religion / am I down with the devil cuz my roof came up missin’ / is that Lucifer juice in that two cup he sippin’…” Well, regardless of where either MC stands spiritually, both acknowledge, “the devil is a lie.” It is up for debate whether that makes Rick Ross “the truth” though…
“Mafia Music III” keeps the momentum top-notch. Sporting unexpected reggae production, “Mafia Music III” seems to really fuel Rick Ross into some inspired rhymes. Not only that, Ross references Kenneth Williams (gang member), Bill Belichick, and Farrakhan – go figure. Mavado’s hook contributes to the overall success of the track as well, solidifying the tropical vibe. Keeping it G, “War Ready” brings in Jeezy for the assist, who seems to have dropped the ‘Young’ as a of late. Obsessed with ‘shooters’, Rick Ross continues to reference them for the millionth time as of late: “War ready / you got shooters, I’ve got shooters / we’ve got money / let’s do what them other n***as can’t do…” Mike Will Made It gives Ross and Jeezy magnificent, relaxed, yet malicious production work to do work over, which both do. Surprisingly, it is Jeezy who references the ‘Box Chevy’ (“Box Chevy hit the block, run the whole 50 shots / you just poppin’ ‘til you know you can’t pop ‘em no more…”) “War Ready” keeps things 100 and consistent.
French Montana makes his second appearance of Mastermind on “What A Shame”, a brief cut produced by Reefa and Stats. The production is excellent though the track itself could stand more development and ‘meat’ you might say. Unsurprisingly, Ross once more references those shooters, and they aren’t shooting jump shots. On “Supreme”, Rick switches from ‘magazines’ to “Clean Maybach, but it’s filthy as sh*t / they partitioning for the women, how busy we get…” So, you guessed it, with Keith Sweat lending his soulful new-jack pipes and Scott Storch infusing some soulful, swagger-laden production, “Supreme” is about the ‘fun’ things in life… I’ll leave it at that. “BLK & WHT” does have a play on race, but it’s not merely what you may think it is before listening. Here, Ross talks about ‘slanging’: “Young n***a black, but he selling white…N***a crib so big, it’s a damn shame / n***a sellin’ white for a gold chain.” If nothing else, “BLK & WHT” has a hypnotizing quality about it.
After the silly “Dope B**ch Skit”, The Weeknd drops a joint featuring Rick Ross… or at least that is how “In Vein” comes over. Sure it’s lush, and in the emo-alt R&B style that The Weeknd has come to be associated, but it doesn’t really show off Rick Ross himself. That said, standout “Sanctified” is more of a team-effort from Betty Wright, Big Sean, Kanye West, and Ross, but the overall product is satisfactory. Let’s face it – where would this track have been without Betty Wright’s soulful, un-credited vocals? No disrespect to Mr. West, but few of us need another “Yeezus” as he refers to during his verse – another My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, perhaps. Ross’ best line on his verse: “Soldiers all in gators, new Mercedes for cadets / Balmain uniform, you know Donda designed the vest…” Like “The Devil Is A Lie” though, I wouldn’t invest too much spiritually into this track, particularly with Big Sean’s hook (“All I wanted is 100 million dollars and a bad b**ch…”) At least he admits his sins.
“Walkin’ On Air” has a difficult act to follow after the ‘sanctification’, but it’s definitely not a shabby penultimate track. Again, the blasphemy can’t be good for Ross’ spiritual being: “Baptized by the dope boys, ordained by the a**holes / my salvation is the cash flow / whoa, oh I’m walking on air.” Even aside from misinformed spiritual allusions, lines like “She let me f**k early so she trustworthy…” certainly has no relation to the church. Meek Mill confirms this song is, um, sinful (“Make a call, call Papi for a brick / and papi call José, cause José got fish…”). “Thug Cry”, featuring Lil Wayne and produced by J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League closes Mastermind soundly. Don’t call the multi-sampling work a classic, but it definitely closes an overt album a gentler than it was throughout its course.
All in all, Mastermind turns out to be another well-rounded, enjoyable album from Rick Ross. There is more than enough wealth to please more casual and hardcore Ross fans alike. It won’t supersede the top two albums of Ross’ collection, but it definitely can hang. Not sure why the banging “Box Chevy” was omitted, but it is what it is. Not perfect, but well played, well played.
“Drug Dealers Dream”; “The Devil Is A Lie”; “Mafia Music III”; “War Ready”; “Sanctified”
Ah, who doesn’t love a good ‘come-up’ story? Schoolboy Q has reason to celebrate as his third LP Oxymoron takes over the no. 1 spot on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart. Apparently, them “Collard Greens” were pretty potent, as 139,000 people decided to add Oxymoron to their music collection. 139,000 copies isn’t the ‘end all be all’ in regards to album sales, but its definitely sound for what could be considered an up-and-comer, even three albums into a rap career. Compared to his colleague Kendrick Lamar, the numbers are less favorable (Good Kid M.A.A.D. City missed the top spot, but sold 241,000 copies), though Kendrick also had bigger buzz surrounding him at the time, not to mention the fourth quarter to propel him.
Schoolboy Q fended off that feisty Frozen Soundtrack, which continues to put up respectable numbers. This week, the magic number for the runner up was 91,000, which according to billboard.com was an increase from the previous week. Frozen kept another new release and veteran, Beck from the runner-up spot. Beck settles for no. 3 with 87,000 copies sold of Morning Phase, his first album in six years. Even though Beck couldn’t match a previous high watermark – a no. 2 peak for 2005 effort Guero – or its robust 162,000 copies start, he managed to outperform prognostications.
Surprise albums seem to be all the rage these days, with Kid Cudi’s oddball Satellite Flight: The Journey to Mother Moon fitting right into the trend. Kid Cudi doesn’t quite have the Beyoncé effect, but does debut at no. 4 with 87,000 copies. Compared to last year’s slightly more accessible Indicud, the numbers are down for the left-field rapper. In fact, Satellite Flight is Cudi’s lowest debuting album as of yet. The next closest in terms of his discography was his debut, Man on the Moon: The End of Day, which sold 104,000 good for a no. 4 bow. Previous album Indicud debuted at no. 2 selling 136,000 copies. Indicud was a drop-off itself, specifically from Cudi’s sophomore album, Man on the Moon: The Legend of Mr. Rager, which debuted at no. 3, but sold 169,000 copies. Is Scott Mescudi just too odd for sustainable commercial success? Perhaps.
Keeping things close (and new), Romeo Santos debuts at no. 5 with Formula: Vol. 2. Formula sold 85,000 copies, awesome numbers for a Latin album. Dierks Bentley didn’t quite get in on the “80s” action (80K that is), but Riser did debut at no. 6 with 63,000 copies. 63,000 copies doesn’t have much of a ceiling itself, but Bentley isn’t exactly country’s most consistent selling male artist. Still, 63,000 copies isn’t too shabby. The Fray would’ve enjoyed being even remotely close to 63K; they settle for a no. 8 bow and 37,000 copies sold of Helios. Seems like the popularity of “Over My Head (Cable Car)” hasn’t translated to the band’s more recent efforts. Other than Frozen, the only holdovers are Eric Church (The Outsiders), Now 49, and Beyoncé (Beyoncé). Good sales week – finally!
Pharrell Williams goes into next week’s chart with the momentum of retaining no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 (“Happy“). Pharrell’s second solo album GIRL is one of the competitive albums fighting for the top two spots on next week’s chart. Second solo album you ask? Well ole boy released In My Mind a couple of years back and snagged a Grammy-nomination for the LP. Rick Ross should have no. 1 locked up as he releases his sixth LP, Mastermind. With the exception of Ross’ best LP (in my opinion), Teflon Don, Ross has locked down no. 1 four previous times. Lea Michele wishes she could muster up the numbers expected from Ross or Williams, but according to Billboard prognostications, she won’t come close. And as for Eli Young Band, well 10,000 Towns is far behind. I won’t even mention Ashanti’s Brave Heart – it doesn’t have a shot.
Oh and going back to the Billboard Hot 100, what about my homeboy John Legend breaking into that top four (last week I believe)? Who would’ve thought that “All Of Me”, an old school, piano-driven ballad would be a hit in 2014? It remains at no. 4 this week according to Billboard. Rock on John, rock on!
The Opposite Sex Dominates Ty Dolla $ign’s Mind on Beach House (EP)
Ty Dolla $ign • Beach House (EP) • Atlantic • US Release Date: January 21, 2014
Ty Dolla $ign arrives in 2014 as a new voice in hip-hop; He’s an R&B singer, but he also has some rapping chops. As seems to be popular (and safe) for the newbie these days in urban circles, Ty releases an seven song EP, Beach House before dropping a full length album for Atlantic Records. Beach House ultimately lacks meaty substance. If the barometer of substance is the inclusion of socially conscious, political, or legitimate relationships, then Ty Dollar $ign fails miserably – like #EpicFail. Beach House is what it is – an EP that thrives on its excesses and perversion as opposed to delivering a message containing depth. Since Ty Dolla $ign represents what is trendy in both hip-hop and contemporary R&B, he is on his game contextually. That said, one has to question if there is truly more to Tyrone Griffin then what he presents at the beach house.
“Work” (featuring Nate Poetics, Casey Veggies, and Twista) initiates Beach House superbly, even if it lacks depth. Ultimately, it is well produced, and a change of pace during the bridge section keeps things fresh. Ty’s mind is focused on sex, specifically on strippers. “Work” is far removed from love or a relationship, evidenced by lyrics such as “I’m gonna work on it / you gon’ get this work, girl / I’mma throw these bands / you gon’ make it clap with no hands…” The hook further cements the sentiment of only ‘thinking with his pants’, as potential partners are referenced to as “hoes” – Charming. Twista definitely confirms the shallowness of “Work” during his guest verse, but at least he’s got a sick flow. Shameful it may be, “Work” stands out.
“Paranoid” stands out as well, particularly the first version featuring B.o.B. Things grow even dirtier, as it always seems better (and trendier) to “Double Up”, as R. Kelly would put it. “Both b**ches drive Range Rovers,” sings Ty on the first verse. “None of my b**ches can stay over / both of my b**ches look good as f**k / your b**ch look like a boogie wolf.” Later, Ty is truly “paranoid” because he believes his two girlfriends (or whatever they may be to him) maybe “tryna set [him] up.” Even more dramatic on the bridge is that Ty keeps it ‘one hunna’: “I’m f**kin’ around with two b**ches / but I never made them h**s my missus.” B.o.B certainly contributes to the raunchiness, managing to blaspheme in the process: “I put my name on it and that’s mine / p**** so wet she thought it got baptized.” SMDH!
A remix, featuring French Montana, DJ Mustard, and Trey Songz is even raunchier. Trey Songz quite possibly delivers the crudest line: “All of my b**ches eat p*** too…” Still, “Paranoid” is a highlight
“Or Nah” overdoes sex, or perhaps it’s the fact it follows three sexually-charged tracks. Wiz Khalifa guests and establishes the ‘culture’ of “Or Nah” pretty quickly: “Heard you not the type that you take home to Mom / is we f**king when we leave the club or nah?” Similarly, Ty asks this girl a number of perverted questions, with his funniest inquiry being “Can I bring another b**ch? Let’s have a threesome…” Geez! The outro is completely inappropriate, but appropriate in the context of the material as Wiz raps “Gonna make that a** clap…” Rappers love clappers… rhyme!
“Familiar” sports exceptional production work, a trend of this EP. The production work certainly compliments the lyrics, even at their most salacious. The familiarity of “Familiar” includes money and Ty’s name…to hoes. Basically, “Familiar” is your cocky, overconfident rap joint. Travis $cott and Fredo Santana come along for the ride, and it is definitely one worthy of asking for forgiveness or going to confession. Travis $cott claims to be “a snort addict, whore addict / and I’m a porn star attraction…I need two Miss Jacksons / a full pack of Magnums…” on the second verse while Fredo has little respect for women on the third verse (“Can’t trust these b**ches / I swear these h**s familiar / she kiss you / but swallow all my children…”). “Familiar”, content aside, isn’t bad. But it’s hard to feel truly ‘innocent’ listening.
“Wood & Leather” doesn’t switch gears in Ty’s topic of choice, but it definitely has a more distinct sound compared to “Or Nah” or “Familiar”. The production truly gives this cut ‘new life’ contextually within the album, even if Ty is still concerned about the action he’s getting: “I could take yo b**ch whenever / all my cars got wood and leather…if she ain’t got no a** she got some t**ties”. Being the confident, perhaps vindictive person is, Ty Dolla $ign makes sure he gets to you: “Every time you see me, man do nothing / I f**ked yo b**ch in the trap on the futon…” Ty, you know you can’t mess with another man’s girl!
In the context of Beach House, an street-smart set, “Never Be The Same” does possess the most substance. Basically, it is an introspective number about the pitfalls of ‘coming up’. Ty sings on the pre-chorus that he “know(s) the trouble the money and fame brings / this time I swear it’s different / I’m in the right place…” Still, the street is firmly planted in Ty on the chorus: “Some n***as hated on me / some b**ches never looked my way / now that I made it homie / there’s some things that’ll never be the same”. Jay Rock guests on verse two, rapping “Tryna make it up out the ghetto / the block is like the Olympics, we walk around with our medal.” It is a fitting close, even if it’s not the set’s best song.
Overall, Ty Dolla $ign shows he has great potential. If the street savvy of Beach House isn’t a deal breaker, it can be considered quite enjoyable. Still, the rub is that Ty Dolla $ign seems to put all his eggs in one basket – sex and more sex. Beach House’s unfavorable view towards the relationship versus it’s liberalized view about hooking up and lacking respect for women (misogyny) is questionable morally and even as a listening experience. Still, the potential is abundant, with some fine-tuning when a full-length album arrives.
“Work”; “Paranoid” featuring B.o.B; “Wood & Leather”
No other act received more criticism for their Grammy success then Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. Ultimately, the rap community was pretty pissed off. After so many years of rap being under recognized by the Recording Academy, now an act grabs a victory in one of the coveted big four categories (Best New Artist) and the fans are not pleased. Why the wall of hatred for Macklemore & Ryan Lewis? Ultimately, it’s not so much about the Seattle MC or his producer pal; it’s more about the perception of rap by the Academy voters. With a golden opportunity before them to award the more representative MC of the genre, Kendrick Lamar, the voters decided to go the safe route and in the process further alienate both a genre and make many question the Academy’s credibility.
Face it folks, the Grammys have screwed up multiple times over the years – yes Milli Vanilli comes to mind. In recent times, since OutKast was somehow victorious for Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, it seems that the rap album can’t get a break. Every time a gargantuan hip-hop album has presented itself worthy for recognition, the Grammys seem to avoid it like the plague, often only giving it recognition in rap categories. This year, if you were to ask rap purists who should’ve cleaned up the hip-hop categories, the answer definitely would’ve been Kendrick Lamar. Macklemore wouldn’t cross their minds… at least as a ‘traditional’ rap artist.
The Rap Slight – 2005 – Present…
2014 – Kendrick Lamar, Good Kid M.A.A.D. City (0 Grammys)
2011 – Eminem, Recovery
2009 – Lil Wayne, Tha Carter III
2008 – Kanye West, Graduation
2006 – Kanye West, Late Registration
2005 – Kanye West, The College Dropout
Yes, there is another elephant in the room – Macklemore is white and many of the serious rappers are black. Yep, and some folks might be quick to play the reverse racism card here. However, Eminem is highly respected and he’s Caucasian. While Eminem is the best example of a breakthrough Caucasian rapper, he’s not the only white rapper who has received respect from the hip-hop community. Paul Wall certainly had a run when the H-Town movement came-up in the mid 00s. Yelawolf, though not a commercial success, has also proven the legitimacy of his chops as what’s perceived to be traditional rap. Cleveland’s MGK definitely has mad skills, and certainly has little that is pop about him. But does Macklemore truly match the aforementioned rappers? No, he’s certainly different comparatively.
Personally, I thought The Heist was a solid album; I gave it a favorable view. That said, the only time I felt it would receive Grammy attention was when “Thrift Shop”, “Can’t Hold Us”, and “Same Love” blew up in pop circles. Still, the three songs don’t align with my idea of hip-hop; they all feel more pop. Generally, so does The Heist, even when the beats go a bit harder. Particularly compared to Kendrick Lamar’s good Kid M.A.A.D City, The Heist just didn’t feel like a perfect fit. Sure, it’s not as extreme as potentially nominating a Black Eyed Peas album in hip-hop categories, but it still seems a stretch. I think this, more than the say ‘race’ that some may point to, make the win more painful to rap enthusiasts.
There are two more reasons for the post-Grammy backlash. The biggest and saltiest rub is that rap’s newly proclaimed savior, Kendrick Lamar, was snubbed. Even Macklemore agrees, and it’s not even his fault! The backlash from the Recording Academy’s out of touch voting actually took away from Macklemore & Ryan Lewis celebrating – which they should. Macklemore doesn’t need to apologize to Kendrick Lamar for winning, even if he does feel guilty. He won… live it up, M. But the Academy ignored Kendrick, arguably the freshest breakout voice in rap in years. But unless one really studies and understands rap for what it is, then being out of touch seems the only option I suppose.
The more troublesome reason for the post-Grammy backlash is the future. Does this rather conservative voting in regards to such an overt, brash genre make it even more difficult for ‘pure’ rap artists and albums to receive their just due? Does pop now begin to invade hip-hop and cause it to have the identity issues that R&B has had in many regards as of late? If rappers are looking for recognition, do they begin to rely on a safer platform to succeed? Maybe this is completely too cerebral, but look over recent times and The Heist definitely seems a departure. I won’t even mention this is the first solo album (Yeezus) that Kanye West has been nominated for that didn’t win…
My personal opinion is that Macklemore & Ryan Lewis did deserve Grammys – I’m just unsure they deserved to sweep the rap category, particularly for Best rap album. At this point though, it’s a done deal and there is no reason for Mack to hang his head down. Still, It just doesn’t quite feel right.
2013 has been an exceptional year for rap album releases. Some were hot, while others were far from it – cold as Antarctica. Still overall, there were plenty of releases to be proud of, no questions asked. Below, you’ll find my ‘MIA’ list as well as my top 20 rap albums of 2013. This excludes mixtapes and previously released material FYI.
Missing in Action:
Had its moments, but didn’t feel nor sound like elite Jay-Z.
Lil Wayne, I Am Not A Human Being II
Tunechi wasn’t at his best.
Tyga, Hotel California
Felt completely uninspired compared to 2012 effort Carless World: Rise of the Last King
Lacked a strong musical personality; didn’t feel elite…
Rich Gang, Rich Gang
Sounds like all they think about is money and not quality.
Maybach Music Group, Self Made 3
A notch less satisfying than Self Made 2 was…
DJ Khaled, Suffering from Success
Plays like any number of DJ Khaled albums – that’s both a blessing and a curse…
B.o.B. • Underground Luxury • Atlantic • US Release Date: December 17, 2013
B.o.B. delivers a so-so effort on third LP Underground Luxury
B.o.B. had a hot start off to his rap career back in 2010 when The Adventures of Bobby Ray debuted at number one on the Billboard album charts, eventually being certified gold. “Nothing On You” was a number one hit on the Billboard Hot 100. Later, a huge record entitled “Airplanes” seemed to be just what B.o.B needed to establish a viable, lengthy rap career. If only the magical fairytale had worked out that way for the ATL MC. Second album Strange Clouds (2012), didn’t receive near the buzz or success of the first. Now after a ‘bomb’, B.o.B is forced to pick up the pieces on third LP Underground Luxury. Unfortunately, the many of the pieces seem to be bent or broken throughout this somewhat underwhelming effort by a relatively talented MC.
“All I Want” isn’t the greatest opener ever. Within the intro, the MC comes off a bit ‘shallow’, playing up hip-hop clichés: “Whether I can afford it or not, n***a / I want b*tches, I want cars, I don’t give a f**k, I want it all / that’s what the f**k we’re here for.” Really? B.o.B clarifies his attitude on the verses, softening his tone from the bravado: “I used to say I never cared about the money until I put food on my momma’s table / follow the trail / could’ve been in jail / the way that I live / could have been fatal / must have had an angel…” While his ambitions are more relatable after details of his ‘come-up’, “All I Want” doesn’t have the effect it could’ve had. Follow-up “One Day” doesn’t quite get it done convincingly either, even as B.o.B continues on a personal trek. The opening duo just feels like it lacks ‘magic’.
“Paper Route” isn’t perfect, but with the clapping drums and sharp-sounding synths, it sports more oomph than the previous tracks. B.o.B strikes gold with quite the opening lyrical salvo: “You don’t know who you f**king with / ain’t no democrat, and by far I’m no republican / this the type of talk that’ll probably piss off my publicist / and I ain’t even started, the water ain’t even bubbling…” He doesn’t let up off the gas, with his most meaningful line coming courtesy of verse three: “Don’t let these f**kers rob us for our freedom and your rights.” OK…
“Ready” proceeds, assisted by the ubiquitous Future, but doesn’t achieve the same level of quality as “Paper Route”. Future’s hook may use his signature trick (autotune), but the wordiness hinders it from being catchy. Luckily for Bobby Ray, “Throwback” is the banger Underground Luxury could’ve used earlier. Sure it’s a ‘booty’ cut, but at least it good one. As for Chris Brown’s guest rap on the second verse – he’s just plain nasty. Feminists won’t be pleased, and they shouldn’t.
Playing a seesawing game, “Back Me Up” isn’t horrid, but it’s not great either. Basically, B.o.B is stating he’s got support from everywhere: “East side gon’ back me up, gon’ back me up / West side gon’ back me up, gon’ back me up / South side gon’ back me up, gon’ back me up / North side gon’ back me up, yeah.” It works, but don’t call it a hit. “Coastline” leads a group of misses – just saying! “Wide Open” features Ester Dean who’s vocal role is as follows: “Bust it wide open, let you see what I’m workin’ with.” B.o.B. predictably talks about his plans to hook-up, making a comparison to a four by four. Shameful! “Fly Muthaf***a” is even worse. It’s as if B.o.B wants to see how many f-bombs he can drop to sound cool. “N***as don’t like it when you fly as f**k / but I’m fly as f**k.” Not on this track B.o.B!
“Headband”, another ‘booty’ anthem (featuring 2 Chainz) atones for the numerous improprieties of a horrid outgoing stretch. Of course it lacks depth and really isn’t respectable, but it’s the energy Underground Luxury needed at this juncture in the album. Still, B.o.B bragging about his favorite strand of weed and his sexual desires is by no means meaningful or truly enhancing. As for 2 Chainz, he’s just as bad if not worse: “Her a$$ would knock your a$$ out, you better stick and move / chain hang to my…” SMH! “John Doe” keeps momentum flowing, serving as a stark contrast to “Headband”. Priscilla handles a superb hook while B.o.B matches the song’s tone with more meaningful lyrics – he eschews another ‘cellulite’ ode.
After “John Doe”, things grow mediocre once more. “Cranberry Moonwalk” is a bore save for some stinging one-liners including “Killin’ through the presidents / that’s assassination…” (verse one) and “I got my own lane but I ain’t got no genre / I’m sh*ttin’ on n***as, you might need a plunger…” “Nobody Told Me” is an inspirational-style rap cut, but lacks memorability. “Forever”, similarly, doesn’t feel distinctive. Single “We Still In This B*tch”, featuring T.I. and Juicy J, closes the effort with a knockout punch. Even so, this anthem isn’t enough to ‘save’ Underground Luxury, which has plenty of flaws.
The verdict? Underground Luxury is B.o.B’s weakest album to date – no question about it. That may sound harsh, but Bobby Ray isn’t always on his ‘A’ game here. Even the good tracks don’t stack up with his best from his biggest claim to fame, The Adventures of Bobby Ray. Clubby anthems do help to close the gap between abysmal and say mediocre/average, but it’s not enough to alter the judgment of the album as a whole. Two and half stars out of five might be being generous.
“Paper Route”; “Throwback”; “Headband”; “Jane Doe”; “We Still in This B*tch”
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
To 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.
“Sweet 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 Name. Kelly 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.
“Nosetalgia” 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.”
- Pusha T reclaims his name (audiomob.wordpress.com)
- Pusha T- My Name Is My Name: a review (samxgillard.wordpress.com)
- Pusha T:The Underground Champion***messymandella*** (messymandella.com)
- Pusha T Says Popular Rap Has Become More About Fashion Than It is About Talent (subzinfo.wordpress.com)
- Pusha T – My Name Is My Name (recordhoarder.wordpress.com)
- Pusha T (ebaker4.wordpress.com)
- MNIMN album review (markweininger.wordpress.com)
- Album Review: Pusha T “My Name Is My Name” (theopnation.com)
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
Of 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.
Horace 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”
Danny Brown delivers one of the year’s most intriguing rap albums
Danny Brown⎪ Old ⎪ Fool’s Gold ⎪⎪ US Release Date: October 8, 2013
How does one describe Old, the new album release courtesy from one of rap’s brightest up-and- comers, Danny Brown? My ideal adjective for Old would be intriguing. Just how ‘intriguing’? Brown easily delivers one of the year’s MOST intriguing rap albums, hands down. That’s amazing considering the number of superb hip-hop releases that have graced the music industry this year. With the absence of that Kendrick Lamar-sized effort to woo us, the Detroit oddball rapper definitely directs his own pathway on this effort, which is infused with personal narrative, drugs, and of course sex. “Get ready, get ready, get ready!”
“Side A (Old)” kicks off Old both capably and boldly: “They want that old Danny Brown / to bag up and sell a whole pound / might have to go and get my braids back / matter of fact bring them AK’s back.” If the hook doesn’t bite ferociously enough, nasty lines like “…whore want it hardcore, squirt it…” should be enough to shut up haters. “The Return” is even stronger, with Brown once more alluding to his previous (“old”) self on lines like “This rap shit don’t work then its back to selling krills…” He gets the assist from Freddie Gibbs, who isn’t exactly reserved himself: “Eastside n***as keep roaches in the ashtray / twenty thousand out the public housing on a bad day…” It’s not charming stuff, but it’s real talk.
‘Shit gets realer’ on “25 Bucks” (featuring Purity Ring), where the production exemplifies the ‘hardcore’ rap sound as does Brown. While the delivery eschews sugarcoating things, the sympathetic listener can’t help but be moved by the message, regardless of its brash approach. “Arthritis in her fingers carpal tunnel in her wrists / ‘bout to feed her kids at night sleep between her leg and twists…” The dark, unhappy portrait continues to be painted exceptionally. As good as “25 Bucks” is, “Wonderbread” is and deniable standout, despite its disturbing message. While Brown’s rhymes about an unfortunate drug-related incident are hard to decipher without the aid of lyrics, his idiosyncratic approach and overall effect more than atone for a few quick-paced rhymes.
“Gremlins” continues consistency, dropping references to trendy clothing for young adults (Aeropostale and Hollister) as well as 2 Chainz. “Dope Fiend Rental” proceeds, brings in another hot MC to watch, Schoolboy Q. The cut definitely stands out above the rest, though its subject matter isn’t for the faint of heart. Brown touches on topics such as preparing drugs for sale (“Trail of blood on that baggie / I done scraped myself with that razor…”), brothels (“getting…in that trick house and I snuck out without paying her…), and pleasure. Q isn’t exactly refined either, certainly justifying the ‘misogynistic’ labels with lines like “Her mouth can be as wide as…” (we’ll stop right there) and “Hell no I don’t love that b**ch / hell yeah I’m gon’ enjoy that b**ch…” Contextually, “Dope Fiend Rental” is a winner.
“Torture” continues on honestly with a truly dark edge about it. Among the best, Brown continues to shock yet allure with his twisted tales. As good as it is, “Torture” definitely shouldn’t be played as a way to improve your mood; its content truly is torturous. “Lonely” is a ‘torture’ in its own right, as Brown holds things down without anybody’s help (“I don’t need your help homie / cause don’t nobody really know me…”) The best line could only come from a modern day hipster: “See that’s going on a limb / and I used to sell trees, and I used to rock Timbs / Radiohead shit, fiends with The Bends…” Alt-rock fans should be in awe. Brown finishes Side A brilliantly with “Clean Up” (“The thoughts all cloudy / in the marijuana sky, but it started raining molly”) and “Red 2 Go” (“codeine in my cereal / always behind a smokey / I’m sorta like a miracle, you rappers are venereal…”). Geez Louise.
“Side B (Dope Song)” is indeed ‘dope’, brilliantly playing with double meanings of the word. Of course a dope Danny Brown is also an incredibly offensive one, who continues to raise eyebrows with his rhymes. Moving on, “Dubstep” is cool because it not only utilizes cues of the sub-genre but also uses the word itself (“I had them dubs on the step…”). Not that Brown needed any help, Scrufizzer guests on the third verse, “…tryna get Maybach money / I’m a Mac Miller, spittin’ ASAP rookie…” Okay then.
“Dip” has so many one-liners that an entire essay could be written examining each and everyone. The premise of the song? Well Danny Brown is pretty wasted, period. The Forrest Gump reference definitely captures attention early on (“Like Lieutenant Dan, I’m rolling back to back / I keep on smoking…”). My favorite moment involves you guessed it, ‘molly’: “Now all these rappers talking ‘bout that molly / bet a million dollars these n***as ain’t dipping / pure MDMA, put it in a shot we talking ‘bout crystals / been thizzin’ hard up all day, rest in peace to Mac Dre…” And if you thought Brown had stopped ‘dipping’ among other things, “Smokin’ & Drinkin’” proves otherwise. “Drop a deuce in that soda / tell your h** to come over / coming straight out the Motor / sipping oil never sober…” Have I mentioned Danny’s not family friendly?
“Break It (Go)” just keeps on trucking with its colorful, oversexed rhymes that are nothing short of grimy. If you were looking for chivalry, it won’t come by way of Brown, particularly on the obligatory p-popping anthem “Handstand” which may ring in as one of 2013’s most explicit and dirty songs. I won’t share the embarrassingly freaky lyrics, but usually when the word “piranha” is used in a rap song, it’s not really talking about a fish. Mentioning a ‘handy cam’ probably doesn’t scream G-rated either.
“Way Up Here” sports some of the strongest production work of Old, definitely yielding some sick ear candy. Irresponsibility doesn’t end, with Brown making a ‘killer’ reference to art (“Run a mic like Michelangelo draw, too / while I turn this b**ch into Saw II”) or guest Ab-Soul’s agenda (“Puffing pop on a mountaintop / dipping in that bag / white girl on my countertop…”). Penultimate cut “Kush Coma” is just what it says it is… Brown is faded as a mudda mudda. It’s no surprise though as “Nuggets the size of Rakim rings / got my head looking like a fatality screen…” The best cut of the trio is the closer “Float On” featuring Charli XCX. Brown takes a subtler approach here but doesn’t lose any of the magic. Maybe “Kush Coma” found Brown his most to’e up, but “Float On” has a superb stoner sound about it that makes it bang.
So the question isn’t whether Old is good or bad but rather just how good is Old? The answer is exceptional. Sure Danny Brown’s idiosyncratic approach and his freaky potty mouth won’t appeal to the masses, but to trill hip-hop fans and the open-minded folks who love a humongous personality with some definite skill, Old is the perfect addition to your collection. I’m onboard… well, with the quality, not all the excesses.
Favorites: “The Return”; “Wonderbread”; “Dope Fiend Rental”; “Torture”; “Clean Up”; “Dip”; “Float On”
It’s hard enough to make a blockbuster album the first time. What’s even more arduous is following up a blockbuster and trying to achieve a similar level of commercial and critical success. Something that artists have done that surprises me personally is to opt for their follow-up album to be a ‘sequel’. I mean why take that considerable amount of pressure to live up to the original? As we all know in films, sequels tend to suck compared to the original. While the effects aren’t always as drastic for the sequel album, sometimes they are.
Many musical sequels have graced us including numerous in recent times. Some of them are strong enough, such as Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor II or even Jay-Z’s Blueprint 3 which may not have superseded the original, but did yield one Jay-Z’s most memorable hits, “Empire State of Mind”. Still, other sequels are purely wack as f… I’ve chosen three that I personally don’t quite match the glory of the original. One of these three in particularly isn’t too shabby of an album, but its still an ugly stepsister to a much better juggernaut.
The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2
Sequel to The 20/20 Experience (2013)
One could argue that Timberlake’s second album of 2013 is much more experimental and surprising than the first. When I first sat down to listen to the opener “Gimme What I Don’t Know (I Want)”, I was quite surprised and not necessarily positively. From my perspective, ultimately, I find The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2 to lack cohesion, be overproduced, and trend a tad bit too left of center compared to its older sibling. It has it’s moments, perhaps most notably moderate hit “Take Back The Night”, but it also leaves you wanting more.
Mary J. Blige
My Life II: The Journey Continues, Act I
Sequel to My Life (1994)
Honestly y’all, this one sort of hurts me, but I believe my rationale is sound… Following up a 90s R&B classic is a tall task; it ain’t no joke! If any diva was up to successfully accomplishing this, it would be the queen of hip-hop soul, Mary J. Blige. Her sequel to My Life (My Life II: The Journey Continues, Act I) oddly arrived 17 years after the original to less triumphant results. It was by no means a bad album, but following the heels of not only one of Blige’s most important albums as well as her recent resurgence (The Breakthrough (2005)), My Life II:The Journey Continues, Act I just doesn’t stack up against Mary’s best, whether she wants love “25/8” or not. I mean she sounds awesome, but the material is not among her best.
I Am Not A Human Being II
Sequel to I Am Not A Human Being (2010)
When Lil Wayne finally admitted and apologized to what we fans already knew in regards to a “lackluster” 2013, it seemed pretty ‘tired’, much like the sequel to I Am Not A Human Being was. For starters, Weezy’s first album was by no means the ‘cream of the crop’ of his discography, but it did have some bright spots including “Right Above It“. Personally, I like “Right Above It” because he made an awesome reference to my favorite college basketball team, the Kentucky Wildcats (had to throw that out there). As for his second installment, Tunechi’s reliance on all things oversexed is a major turn off. I can’t speak for his female fans’ opinion, but I’d certainly object to the MC’s misogynistic approach here. “Love Me” gets a pass barely, but otherwise, Weezy sounds like he’s just going through the motions. Whether “Sex Never Felt Better” or not (shout out TGT), perhaps toning it down and providing some thoughtful rhymes would’ve worked out much better for you Weezy.
- Must-Listen: Hear Mary J. Blige’s ‘This Christmas’ (essence.com)