R. Kelly, The Buffet © RCA

R. Kelly Is Up To His Old Tricks on ‘The Buffet’

R. Kelly, The Buffet © RCA

R. Kelly • The Buffet • RCA • Release Date: 12.11.15

R. Kelly has never had a problem with being prolific – apparently, he wrote 462 songs for his latest album, The Buffet. After listening to The Buffet, one has to wonder what percentage of those 462 songs involved sex. Likely the percentage is high given the prevalence of sex throughout the course of The Buffet. But enough about Kelly’s obsession with ‘doing it,’ how does The Buffet stack up as its own entity and compared to Kelly’s previous output? It has its moments, never blows you away, and doesn’t come close to Kelly’s most distinguished work. 

“The Poem” sets the tone in salacious fashion – would we expect any less from R. Kelly? The most cringe-worthy part is when R. Kelly slurps like he’s slurping up a drink…geez! “Poetic Sex” naturally follows, chocked full of innuendo as only R. Kelly could execute it. Much like the “The Poem” preceding it, it’s a stretch and clumsy, particularly the cliché horn-dog lyrics, with the charge led by “My lyrics got a big d*ck and I just f*cked the sh*t outta y’all.” Hmm, real romantic there Kells…

“Anything Goes” featuring Ty Dolla $ign finds Kelly continue to ignore the fact he’s closer to 50 as opposed to being in his 20s. To each his own, but even as slick as “Anything Goes” is, isn’t hard to believe R. Kelly’s authenticity at this point? “Let’s Make Some Noise” keeps things sexy, amplified more thanks to Jhené Aiko’s guest appearance. The ‘sex’ ballad is respectable for what is, at least contextually within The Buffet. But still, this is explicit overkill! We get it already Kelly – you enjoy sex! Trey Songz didn’t invent it, you did because you’re a “sex genius.” Phew!

“Marching Band” proves that R. Kelly can compare any and everything to – you guessed it – SEX. Whether it makes you shake your head or laugh, give Kelly credit for “Marching Band”…or not. In addition to Kelly’s lyrics “She blow me like a tuba / I beat it up like a snare drum,” Juicy J delivers a bullet: “In the lobby Four Seasons with like ten or twelve broads / all head to my suite, it’s a million THOT march.” SMH!

If nothing more comes from the Lil Wayne and Jeremih assisted “Switch Up,” we learn that Kelly thinks “You done got way too comfy / girl you ain’t the only one that want me / hit you with the switch up.” “Wanna Be There” featuring Ariirayé is a moment of redemption following Kelly’s empty sexcapades – it marks are reunion with his formerly estranged daughter and his commitment to be better. 

Following “Wanna Be There,” there seems to be an upgrade of sorts, at least where subject matter is concerned. “All My Fault,” “Wake Up Everybody,” “Get Out of Here With Me,” and “Backyard Party” are more soulfully driven and less dependent on sex to fuel them. The best of the quartet are “Wake Up Everybody” and “Backyard Party.” “Wake Up Everybody” is sensual without being oversexed, while “Backyard Party” is tried-and-true R. Kelly – think Chocolate Factory or Love Letter neo-soul. 

“Sextime” may be shallow, but it’s lush and stands taller than say “Poetic Sex.” The standard edition of The Buffet concludes with “Let’s Be Real Now” featuring Tinashe. For those who like to splurge, the deluxe edition of The Buffet adds five tracks: “I Just Want To Thank You” featuring Wizkid, “Keep Searchin’,” “Sufferin’,” “I Tried” and “Barely Breathing.” The best of the bunch is “Sufferin’,” an enjoyable, well rounded throwback soul cut.

The verdict on The Buffet is as aforementioned; the album has its moments. At times, R. Kelly tries too hard, hence making the first portion album way oversexed. Once he settles in with some dashes of soul and backs off of all things profane, The Buffet is much more enjoyable. A classic – no, never, but definitely an improvement over Black Panties if nothing more!

Favorites: “Let’s Make Some Noise,” “Marching Band,” “Wake Up Everybody,” “Backyard Party” and “Sextime”


The Game, The Documentary 2.5 © Entertainment One

The Game Sounds Reinvigorated on ‘The Documentary 2.5’ (Review)

The Game, The Documentary 2.5 © Entertainment One

The Game • The Documentary 2.5 • Blood Money / Entertainment One • Release Date: October 16, 2015

West Coast MC The Game has been ‘on a roll’ in 2015. First, he kept it real on The Documentary 2, arguably among his best albums in years. Now he drops the ½ – better yet the .5 – sequel’s continuation, The Documentary 2.5. With The Documentary 2 clocking in at 74 minutes, one has to ask the question, how in the world can there be a Documentary 2.5? Ultimately, The Documentary 2.5 is even longer, running 77 minutes! Who does that these days…The Game apparently! The good thing is that The Documentary 2.5 has plenty to sink one’s teeth into, just like The Documentary from 2005, and The Documentary 2. Here are some highlights!

“Magnus Carlsen” features West Coast musician Anderson . Paak, who also appeared on Dr. Dre’s Compton album. Maybe more notable about the first full-length track on the set is the prominent Stevie Wonder sample. This isn’t unlike “On Me” from The Documentary 2 (featuring Kendrick Lamar), where Eryah Badu’s “On and On” was inescapable to the ear.

On “The Ghetto,” The Game pairs with Nas as well as will.i.am, whom he paired with on The Doctor’s Advocate (“Compton”). Nas fits right in, as the production is non-flashy with that old school sensibility that the MC has oft been backed by over the years. Even stronger is the soulful “From Adam,” which pairs The Game back with Lil Wayne. Game and Wayne previously had a minor hit with “Red Nation” from R.E.D. How does “From Adam” stack up comparatively? It arguably trumps the aforementioned; despite the fact Weezy has something of a subdued role. The Game’s ‘real talk’ is the draw, not to mention the throwback production.

On “Gang Related” what stands out is the hook, where the game uses the letter “B” as opposed to “C” when he spits, “I seen some BRAZY sh*t, my n***a…” Why a “B” instead of a “C”? Because the Bloods don’t use the letter C, something that YG informed the world on “Bicken Back Being Bool” from My Krazy Life. Authenticity for sure, sigh.

“Last Time You Seen” is another shining moment, with the Game honestly referencing the many dead and gone. He mentions 2 Pac (the main attraction), Biggie Smalls, and Hussein Fatal, dropping brilliant rhymes like “So many n***as in caskets, then turned ashes / some get shot, some Hussein Fatal in car crashes / I think it’s a conspiracy theory, Illuminati…” He gets a rock solid assist from Scarface and Stacy Barthe.

It’s not all grimy and dark – a portion of The Documentary 2.5 dives into sex, triggered by “Intoxicated” where ‘DJ EZ-Dicc is “killing you softly with intoxication and a song that’s guaranteed to put some dip in your hip.” “Quiks Groove” follows in feel-good fashion, much like, well, sex.

“My Flag/Da Homies” is malicious, unapologetic, and The Game on autopilot. It doesn’t hurt that the ever-popular DJ Mustard handles production duties – always good for a hit track. Arguably, “Da Homies” is the crème de la crème, particularly the infectious, yet ‘no BS’ hook: “The homies in the cut that’s on E, n***as turnt up and we ‘bout to hit the street / the homie on probation, make him sit up in the back / ‘bout to hit the weed spot and get another sack.”

The Documentary 2.5 packs a mighty punch at the end. “Like Father Like Son 2” follows up the original installment from The Documentary, featuring Busta Rhymes. “Life” samples Whitney Houston and finds The Game references the Charleston Church shooting, Farrakhan, Christianity, and NBA player Klay Thompson among other things. ‘Course it is closer “El Chapo” that steals the show – a killer collaboration between Game and Skrillex.

Ultimately, The Documentary 2.5 is as awesome as The Documentary 2. It’s too long, but at least what’s being offered is top-notch, West Coast gangsta rap. The Game definitely sounds reinvigorated in 2015.

Favorites: “From Adam,” “Last Time You Seen,” “My Flag/Da Homies,” “Life” and “El Chapo”


Andra Day, Cheers To The Fall © Buskin/Warner Bros

Andra Day, Cheers To The Fall – Review

Andra Day, Cheers To The Fall © Warner Bros

Andra Day ‘nails it’ on her retro-soul debut Cheers To The Fall

Andra Day • Cheers To The Fall • Buskin/Warner Bros • Release Date: August 28, 2015

For a while in 2015, it seemed the days of being excited about a new R&B artist or new R&B album were done.   The early part of the year nearly killed the vibe for all time. Luckily, R&B has clearly reenergized and with newcomer Andra Day, the energy has percolated to incredible heights. Retro soul may not appeal to everybody, even those who love their R&B, but for the purists and even jazz lovers, Andra Day’s debut Cheers To The Fall WILL be on repeat. Need a perfect example of how to kill it on your debut album? Look no further than Day’s Cheers To The Fall. 

“Forever Mine” is ferocious from the jump; it “roars like a lion.” Clearly Day is the “queen of the jungle” delivering a vocal master class on the romantic throwback soul opener. The lyrics are pretty rad too: “My heart has been a chessboard / making moves and losing out / played so many times before / and there ain’t nothing to brag about.” Get it Andra!

“Only Love” accelerates the tempo a might. Day remains feisty as her distinctive pipes continue to shine. The production remains firmly planted in the old school, but it’s fresh enough to sound hip and not anachronistic. Much like “Forever Mine,” the Amy Winehouse comparisons run rampant. Day synthesizes elements of soul and jazz coupled with an assortment of vocalists to create her distinct style and vocals.

Besting “Forever Mine” is a tall task, but “Gold” does a remarkable job of at least staying in good company with the valedictory opener. There’s a dash more hip-hop soul about “Gold,” even though it still would’ve been hot ‘back in the day.’ Day’s continual feistiness continues to enhance her winning formula.   What’s the best part of powerful follow-up “Not Today?” – Definitely the soaring refrain. Assertive without question, Day make it clear that “Tomorrow is not today.”

After flying high on “Not Today,” Day speaks upon her “Mistakes” and how she plans to avoid them. The script is ‘tried and true,’ but Day executes it flawlessly and compellingly. We clearly believe that she won’t “make the same mistakes.” Slowing things down once more is “Goodbye Goodnight,” which fittingly has the lullaby vibe going on. Still, not many lullabies are sung with the raw power that Day brings here, showing sheer breadth and depth of her instrument. Background vocals accentuate the groundwork laid by Day, making “Goodbye Goodnight” another ‘Grade A’ moment from Cheers To The Fall.

As she looks back on “Rearview,” Day uses the mirror as a brilliant metaphor. The relationship has ceased, yet apparently it just sort of ended without being a ‘closed case’ (“And it’s a cold case, cold case to break”). Portraying heartbreak exceptionally, the pain is perceptible throughout Day’s voice, particularly at the conclusion of the song. Keeping instep with relationship issues, “Red Flags” finds Day regretting the relationships – “I should’ve known” reiterated throughout the memorable, honest chorus. Does Day miss? Nope, never! 

“Honey Or Fire” smartly gives Cheers To The Fall a spryer tempo and more pronounced groove. Day continues to showcase her vocal prowess, notably poised yet incredibly effectively on the verses. She lets it unfurl more on the refrain, going straight for the kill. “Gin & Juice (Let Go My Hand)” takes it back to the 50s, driven by a driving six-eight groove that surrounded by lazy, chill production. The relatively simple production work is brilliant because it put the weight on Day’s shoulders, and she handles it remarkably. While “Gin & Juice (Let Go My Hand)” may find itself ‘down the totem pole’ compared to Cheers To The Fall’s elite it shouldn’t – it’s yet another gem.

“Rise Up” is arguably the best candidate to give “Forever Mine” a run for its money. What other adjectives are there to describe this or the rest of Cheers To The Fall? It’s masterful, sensational, and top-notch. Closing songs “City Burns” and “Cheers To The Fall” can’t duplicate the same level excellence, but like all of Cheers, both songs hold their own without question.

The question is no longer if Cheers To The Fall is a good album, it’s just HOW good is it? The answer is exceptionally good. There have been some great R&B albums and some no-so great ones issued in 2015. Day’s debut is one of the great ones without question. And her voice is clearly one of the best EVER. Thumbs up by all means.

Favorites: “Forever Mine,” “Gold,” “Not Today,” “Gin & Juice (Let Go My Hand)” and “Rise Up”  


Tame Impala, Currents © Interscope

Tame Impala, Currents [Track-by-Track Review]

Tame Impala, Currents © Interscope  

Tame Impala – aka Kevin Parker – takes us on a psychedelic, electro trip throughout Currents 

Tame Impala • Currents • Interscope • US Release Date: July 17, 2015

Australian alternative band, Tame Impala return with its third album, Currents. Highly anticipated, Tame Impala – aka Kevin Parker’s brainchild – was nominated for a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album for 2012’s Lonerism. Following up a Grammy-nominated affair isn’t easy, so how does Currents stack up? Well, here’s a track-by-track take for your reading pleasure!

On opener “Let It Happen,” Kevin Parker’s vocals seem to float atop the production effortlessly. Throughout the first portion of the song, there’s a cool, yet propelling energy that eventually percolates into an intense middle section. Lengthy at shy of eight minutes, “Let It Happen” is epic and worth the duration. This sets the tone.

“Nangs” is the total opposite, lasting under two minutes. There is one simple, constantly reiterated lyric: “But is there something more than that?” The best way to describe the record is that it’s lush and druggy in sound. The druggy part seems no coincidence; “nangs” refers to cans of nitrous oxide, used as drugs for a hallucinogenic high. So is it the perfect soundtrack? – Definitely!

“The Moment” follows, speeding up the tempo. Despite the exuberance established by tempo, the mood isn’t jubilant, but rather introspective. Parker seems to questioning the value and worth of a lifetime, or at least a specific “moment” within life. This introspection is evidenced from the start: “In the end, it’s stronger than I know how to be / and I can’t just spend my whole lifetime wondering.”

“They say people never change, but that’s bullshit, they do.” Apparently, as Parker tells it on “Yes I’m Changing,” he’s growing and progressing as a person. While this is as reflective as “The Moment,” the difference is there’s (1) a relationship component, (2) a slower pace, and (3) a major key and indisputable exuberance by Parker. “There’s a world out there and it’s calling my name / and it’s calling yours, girl it’s calling yours too.”

“Eventually” depicts the end of a relationship – “If only there could be another way to do this / cause it feels like murder to put your heart through this.” Moderately slow and once more in a major key, Parker’s happiness seeming comes from acceptance this is what’s best for the both of them, not that he has no use or holds disdain. Ultimately, “Eventually” is another standout within Currents.

Following instrumental “Gossip,” “The Less I Know The Better” delivers a groove that would easily be at home on the dance floor in the 70s. “The Less I Know The Better” isn’t a dance cut, but it’s groovy, carefree, and feel good. The narrative is simple – guy sees his ex in all her beauty, sees she has a new guy (“Trevor”), and the emotions of the past come flooding back. This triggers “From A Past Life,” where Parker takes a step back, contrasting the forwardness of “Yes I’m Changing” or “Eventually.” Musically, what’s most interesting about the record is the heavy use of vocal effects, particularly pitch shift on the spoken word verses.

Interlude “Disciples” continues to relive the past, as does “ ‘Cause I’m A Man” where Parker is “Lost in the moment for the second time / each f**king doubt I make, unleash a cry.” Another slower, introspective record, Parker’s answers to his state of mind authentically, yet quite simplistically: he’s a man who makes mistakes, even if he possesses better judgment than he always shows.

“Reality In Motion” proves true to its title, as things seem to ‘come to a head’ following a push and pull throughout Currents between past and the future. Parker has trouble committing to a direction, which makes “Reality” scattered (positively): “Put your arms around me, I can sense you doubt me / you don’t need to promise / that only leads to heartache, closer to an earthquake…”

Penultimate song “Love/Paranoid” contrasts “Reality In Motion” pronouncedly in sound. It marks something of a conflicted new direction, as the paranoia referenced within the title is clearly expressed.   “And suddenly I’m the phony one / the only one with a problem,” Parker sings on the third verse, “True love is bringing it out of me / the worst in me, and I know now.” The title of closer “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” says it all – “Two sides of me can’t agree.” While Parker has “changed” for the better, he still admits his flaws, which are the same old pitfalls.

How does Tame Impala’s third album Currents fare? Probably depends on who you are. If you are a naïve newbie to the Australian band’s previous two albums, Currents will likely get a more favorable view. Being a newbie who wanted a slice of the Tame Impala pie, listening to Currents tickled my fancy. However, those who have long lost their Tame Impala virginity may not be crazy about the new direction. Likely, this album lies somewhere in the middle of two extremes.

Favorites: “Let It Happen,” “The Moment,” “Eventually,” “‘Cause I’m A Man,” “New Person, Same Old Mistakes”


X Ambassadors, VHS © KIDinaKORNER/Interscope

X Ambassadors, VHS [Review]

X Ambassadors, VHS © KIDinaKORNER/Interscope

 X Ambassadors Show Incredible Potential on Debut Album ‘VHS

X Ambassadors • VHS • Interscope • US Release Date: June 30, 2015  

The following silly, probably pointless story will make some people quite sad. So, I often peruse iTunes to see what’s new and hot. For the longest time, I see this album from X Ambassadors and its pretty high on the totem pole – aka the albums-sellers list – and I wonder, who are these guys (add an expletive to that for fun if you’d like)? So I decide upon release to take a risk because there’s been so much talk about this alternative band, plus Imagine Dragons guest on the album, and the album was $6.99 – my iTunes card will cover most of it. Then I hear “Renegades”…it wasn’t the first time I had heard “Renegades”…I didn’t realize that it was X Ambassadors who performed “Renegades.” Yep, a sad state of affairs for the supposed-to-know-who-everybody-is music critic…

But this isn’t about me; it’s about these spirited, talented New York newbies X Ambassadors. They’re pretty good to say the least! If you have heard “Renegades” or maybe even some of their collaborations prior to the release of their debut VHS, then you know there’s plenty of talent their. Overall, these dudes get it done, but there are a few flaws along the way. None ultimately derail or kill the vibe set though.

“Renegades” is among the biggest attractions from VHS and certainly X Ambassador’s biggest hit within the mainstream. “Renegades” has all the cues working for it – it grooves, it’s catchy, and ultimately well delivered. Follow-up “Unsteady” is another well-rounded track, anchored by its urban sounding hard drums. The soulfully invested vocals of frontman Sam Harris are definitely a selling point.

“Hang On” is ambitious, maybe overambitious given the busy production. Still, give the band credit for having an experimental side that is prevalent throughout VHS. “Gorgeous” easily eclipses “Hang On,” embracing the popular urban-pop sound. In fact, “Gorgeous” sounds like a variant on Nick Jonas’ hit “Jealous.” With “Gorgeous,” think blue-eyed soul – Maroon 5 sensibility – always a pro.

“Fear” featuring fellow alt-rock band Imagine Dragons is quite an interesting listen – how could it be any less? The ambitious, experimental side rears its head, so “Fear” requires a couple of listens to follow it completely. Even if “Fear” is confounding, the big time chorus certainly exemplifies the spirit of rock…or alternative…something like that.

The overactive, hyper-busy (is that even a word?) groove of “Nervous” definitely suits its title. Yes, indeed it makes you a bit ‘nervous’ to listen to, but even if it is the slightest bit overproduced, the chorus is a pro. “Low Life” follows, slowing the pace and stripping back the heavy instrumentation of “Nervous.” Is “Low Life” as interesting without as many sounds? Actually yes, thanks to British singer/songwriter Jamie N Commons’ gruff, expressive vocals, which accentuate the song. Does it best “Renegades” or “Gorgeous?” That would be a NO.

The sounds on “B.I.G.” are definitely also true to it’s title – BIG! Heavy it is, there is more balance on “B.I.G.” compared to the jittery “Nervous.” You can argue what more comprises the substance of the lyrics than girth itself (LOL), but if crowd pleasing with sensational production is the modus operandi, X Ambassadors have it on lockdown here.

The timing (and of course the groove) of “Feather” makes it worthwhile, even if some may find its lack of straightforwardness a bit confounding. Give ‘em credit for going beyond common time or six-eight. The heat is ignited with “Superpower,” which definitely embodies the industrial sound – think Nine Inch Nails. Sure, it seems unlikely Trent Reznor would be quoting/referencing Superman, but you never know. Besides being among the elite, “Superpower” happens to be one of the reasons VHS gets the parental advisory sticker.

“Loveless” ditches the profane for the manic, characterized once more by quick pace and driving, hyper rhythmic groove. While it’s once more heavy, “Loveless” one-ups “Nervous,” even with so many similarities. Jamie N Commons returns for a second time on “Jungle,” which benefits from its epic, gargantuan sounds. Final full length joint “Naked” concludes VHS enjoyably and consistently.

Overall, X Ambassadors’ debut album is a strong showing. There are ample enjoyable records to whet any music fan’s taste buds. The eclecticism of the band is definitely one of their selling points. Is the album imperfect? Yes, but is there anything wrong with some imperfections? Nah, there are few perfect albums and the flaws on this effort by no way eclipse its pros. Worth the listen and money? Yes – go support X Ambassadors!

Favorites: “Renegades,” “Unsteady,” “Gorgeous,” “B.I.G.,” “Superpower, “Jungle”  


Mumford & Sons, Wilder Mind © Glassnote

Most Forgettable Albums of 2015 (So Far)

Mumford &  Sons, Wilder Mind © Glassnote

Not every album is memorable – in fact many albums can be like “watching paint dry.” Yeah that’s harsh, but true. Some of the albums on this list have earned their title as the most forgettable albums of 2015, while others are forgettable with some redeeming qualities. Regardless, these albums could’ve stood to have stepped their game up just a bit.

1) Chris Brown & Tyga, Fan of a Fan The Album

Chris Brown & Tyga, Fan of a Fan the Album © RCA : Cash Money

Not many fans have been on this one – just keeping it real. Personally, something told me “don’t go there” when I shelled out $10 and after listening the regret came full circle.

2) Mumford & Sons, Wilder Mind

Mumford & Sons, Wilder Mind © Glassnote

Who would’ve ever thought we’d be asking for the banjos to return? This album just didn’t bring much to the table. Honestly, how many alternative bands have released an album like this one, though perhaps more distinctively?

3) Jamie Foxx, Hollywood: Story of a Dozen Roses

Jamie Foxx, Hollywood- A Story Of A Dozen Roses © RCA

Easily the most blasé Foxx release since his lucrative period beginning in 2005. Honestly, Foxx’s quality has diminished since Unpredictable, but save for a few solid records such as “Like A Drum” and “Baby’s In Love,” Hollywood might’ve been completely lost.

4) Ne-Yo, Non-Fiction

Ne-Yo, Nonfiction © Motown

Was Ne-Yo’s last really accomplished album Year of The Gentleman? You could argue that Libra Scale and even Red had their moments, but Non-Fiction just lacks a certain oomph. When the album begins with “Run,” surely Ne-Yo and Schoolboy Q were referring to this boring affair. 

5) Shawn Mendes, Handwritten

Shawn Mendes, Handwritten © IslandThis kid has great potential – that can’t be taken from him. BUT Handwritten is no masterpiece, regardless if “Something Big” is happening according to 16-year old Mendes. The “Aftertaste” isn’t 100% satisfying in other words. 

6) Josh Groban, Stages

Josh Groban, Stages © Reprise

Groban’s voice is celestial – he must be angel trapped in a man’s body –but Stages like so many of Groban’s album is middle of the road. Yes, “All I Ask of You,” a duet with Kelly Clarkson is fantastic, but much of the album while ‘good’ isn’t particularly distinctive or memorable.

7) Kelly Clarkson, Piece By Piece

Kelly Clarkson, Piece By Piece © RCA

Clarkson sings her face/butt/everything off as always, but Piece By Piece doesn’t have the same magic as Clarkson’s last studio effort, Stronger. It definitely doesn’t have the caliber of hits or overall ‘fit and finish’ of her juggernaut, Breakaway. “Heartbeat Song” is not >= “Since U Been Gone” or “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You).” 

8) Imagine Dragons, Smoke + Mirrors

Imagine Dragons, Smoke + Mirrors © Interscope

Smoke + Mirrors is by no means a bad album – overall it’s solid. That said, save for the biggest hits like “Shots” and “I Bet My Life,” Smoke + Mirrors isn’t, say, among the best or most notable albums of 2015. Again it’s worthwhile, but not “the second coming.”

9) Madonna, Rebel Heart

Madonna, Rebel Heart © InterscopeThis is one of Madonna’s better albums in years. To quote Sarah Vaughan, “They Can’t Take That Away From Me.” Still, Madonna is past her lucrative prime and even with Rebel Heart being a respectable album, it’s not necessarily among the most memorable. Even being an “Unapologetic Bitch,” and asserting her preeminent status on “Bitch I’m Madonna” and “Iconic” just isn’t quite enough.

10) Rae Sremmurd, Sremmlife

Rae Sremmurd, Sremmlife © Interscope

Some will hate this pick and others might agree. There is certainly a ‘memorable’ factor about Rae Sremmurd given the distinct quality of their voices. Also there’s hits like “No Flex Zone” and “Throw Sum Mo.” Still, is this really the best or most memorable rap album of 2015? Compared to Drake, Lupe Fiasco, Snoop Dogg, or Kendrick Lamar? The answer is No. No shade, but maybe I’m just not into the Sremmlife like others are.

Jamie Foxx, Hollywood- A Story Of A Dozen Roses © RCA

Did Jamie Foxx Lose His Luster on ‘Hollywood: Story of A Dozen Roses?’

Jamie Foxx, Hollywood- A Story Of A Dozen Roses © RCA

May 18, 2015 saw the release of something folks hadn’t seen in five years – a new Jamie Foxx album (Hollywood: Story of a Dozen Roses). Jamie Foxx as a musician is extremely talented – a classical trained pianist and a soulful vocalist. In other words, Foxx’s talent rivals or bests many of his contemporaries that are full-time musicians without question. The problem is, his albums aren’t always as indicative of his musicianship. Unpredictable (2005) is arguably his best effort, while Intuition (2008) spawned the Grammy-winning hit “Blame It” featuring T-Pain. As for Best Night Of My Life, well – it was merely so-so. The same can be said of Hollywood: Story Of A Dozen Roses, which is Foxx’s weakest effort of modern times.

Listening to Hollywood, the question becomes, was this ‘comeback’ really necessary? The answer is a resounding NO as Foxx does himself little favors. While Hollywood received acceptable marks from me and some other critics, the general consensus is this is an album to serves little purpose and certainly doesn’t enhance Foxx’s career. Adding, “salt to the wounds” that exemplifies Foxx’s fifth project is that album sales are definitely suspect.

It isn’t surprising that the numbers are modest for Foxx for a number of reasons. One is that he’s been out of the game for five years and R&B has grown even cooler in appeal than it did when Best Night Of My Life arrived in underwhelming fashion. Another reason for Foxx’s modesty is the fact that Hollywood was quietly released as opposed to being promoted with great fanfare. Doesn’t it seem that major labels are unwilling to promote R&B albums as aggressively anymore? But then turning the other cheek, why promote something that isn’t likely to sell?

Ultimately, while no one is asking Foxx to forget about his music career, Hollywood seems uninspired and bored all the way around. Foxx needlessly uses f-bombs as a means to sound ‘hip’ and contemporary, while his come-ons just don’t fit the normal perception folks have of a 47-year old man. Then couple blandness and at times tastelessness with a lack of motivation on the part of RCA to aggressively promote the album, and Hollywood just seems unnecessary. Do I personally enjoy having another Jamie Foxx album in my collection? Of course, but after listening and indulging into the deluxe edition that cost two extra dollars, I can’t say that I couldn’t have done without it or will ultimately remember the album.

Tech N9ne, Special Effects © Strange Music

Review: Tech N9ne Delivers Epically Eclectic Effort with ‘Special Effects’

Tech N9ne, Special Effects © Strange Music

Tech N9ne • Special Effects • Strange Music • US Release Date: May 4, 2015

Tech N9ne is one of a kind. Yep, this is a cliché characterization that could be used to describe almost any musician, but in the case of Tech N9ne, it’s true. He ranks among the most eclectic rappers in the game, with most of his eclecticism coming from being an underground presence as opposed to a commercial figure. As of late, Tech N9ne has naturally built a more faithful commercial fan base, hence why many of his albums have consistent debuted in the top echelon of the Billboard 200. N9ne’s latest effort Special Effects is no different – it landed at a familiar spot – number four on the albums chart.

Special Effects is a big album – ambitious in scope and overextended in regards to duration. Even if its 80-minute run is overlabored, Tech N9ne offers an album that is strong from start to finish. Given his stylistic restlessness, Tech N9ne incorporates a little bit of everything on Special Effects and by everything that includes classical music as well!

On “Aw Yeah? (Intervention)” Tech N9ne ‘goes off,’ literally. He says it best himself: “I’mma yell while I’m walking through this hell cause I’m furious.” The sentiment of “Aw Yeah? (Intervention)” is anger, finding the rapper struggling with the loss of his mother. This is confirmed on the exceptional “Lacrimosa,” which like the Mozart requiem movement that fuels it, is a memorial of sorts (“Zoned out cause my mother is gone…my duty go if I’m moody yo, get up and get the song out…”).

The classical influence of “Lacrimosa” is completely worn off by the ‘Sunday Evening’ portion of Special Effects led by “On The Bible,” which is unquestionable hardcore, street-based rap. “Bible” is used as a source of morality within the title and contextually, but ultimately, there is little sanctified about “On The Bible.” “Shroud,” another winner (featuring Krizz Kaliko), is eerily dark, as N9ne raps, “This is darkness accumulated / over the years and heartless buffoons that made it.” Things grow their most disturbed on “Psycho B**ch III” featuring Hopsin. Honestly, no explanation is needed: “You’re just a shady b**ch, on the daily on some crazy s**t / you don’t f**k around with a lady, it’ll be a blaze where your Mercedes sit.”

“Wither” is nothing short of epic. Featuring Corey Taylor of Slipknot, has rap dude ever rocked out harder? This is one of the better metal/rap combinations you will ever here as both artists feed off of each other’s energy. “Wither” is the final full-length closing out ‘Sunday Evening’ before “Hood Go Crazy” dominates the ‘Monday’ portion of Special Effects. The production work of “Hood Go Crazy” allures and hypnotizes the listener before N9ne further ‘blesses’ the standout with his blunt rhymes. He gets some help from B.o.B. and 2 Chainz. How does N9ne follow it up? – With a joint featuring Lil Wayne, Yo Gotti, and Big Scoop (“Bass Ackward”).

‘Tuesday’ features just one song, “No K” featuring E-40 and mainstay Krizz Kaliko. Arguably Wednesday’s joints stand out more, including the Eminem guest spot on “Speedom (WWC2)” and the malicious, haunting groove of “Yates” featuring Marcus Yates. Of course N9ne eats up the production and the competition, proclaiming, “Lately I’ve been like f**k rap… cause all these tough cats really don’t have no nutsacks / trust that ‘nough scratch does back much wackness / flush that s**t…” On ‘Thursday,’ one of the more ‘pop-oriented’ records appears via “A Certain Comfort” featuring Kate Rose.

The remainder of Special Effects is consistent without outperforming the very best. For example, “Life Sentences” is another solid showing, but could never supplant “Psycho B**ch III.” Similarly, the classical touches of “Dyin’ Flyin” are stunning, but not quite enough to usurp the valedictory “Lacrimosa.” Still, that choir at the end though coupled with those strings – gorgeous and chilling!

Ultimately, Strange Effects is another superb album from Tech N9ne. Is it perfect? – No, but its pros (including ambition) easily outweigh its cons (mostly length). Yes it’s too long, but at least Tech N9ne knows how to do an album up right and keeps his audience engaged. Truly, there is something for everybody to spin over and over. For yours truly, its “Lacrimosa” and “Hood Go Crazy.”

Favorites: “Aw Yeah? (Intervention),” “Lacrimosa,” “Shroud,” “Psycho B**ch III,” “Wither,” “Hood Go Crazy,” “Yates,” “A Certain Comfort.”


Sam Hunt, Montevallo © MCA Nashville

Why Sam Hunt Represents The Future of Country Music 

Sam Hunt, Montevallo © MCA Nashville

The following statement may shock some folks but believe it or not, not everyone is a big fan of country music. Yes, that may sound like explicit sacrilege or blasphemy to those who enjoy their music with a little extra twang, southern hospitality, and of course pedal steel, but honestly, there’s many people who don’t enjoy it. Why exactly is it that some don’t enjoy hearing about sexy tractors and downing a few too many beers? Well there’s your answer Sherlock.

One guy who is changing the country game is former college football player Sam Hunt. No, it’s not that Hunt is eschewing tried and true country themes – that would be plumb foolish on his part. What Hunt is doing is incorporating elements of various musical styles into country music, which makes him sound fresh and appeal to a broader audience. Traditional and veteran country artists definitely aren’t the leaders in country anymore; it’s all about the ‘new guard.’ Hunt definitely represents the aforementioned new guard with nods to pop, R&B, hip-hop, and electronic music.

So… Considering the fact that Sam Hunt isn’t your traditional country artist, does that make him impure or undeserving of the characterizations of country music? The answer is a resounding NO. Hunt may be on the left of center, liberal side of the genre, but he still fits the mold with hip, contemporary adjustments. How? Well my friends just take a listen to his captivating debut album, Montevallo, which was released in Fall 2014. Though it first materialized then, Hunt’s profile has been greatly elevated in 2015, particularly with the popularity of single “Take Your Time.”

“Take Your Time” opens Montevallo with a bang, benefiting from a blend of country, pop, and a dash of urban sensibility. Here, Hunt approaches the verses of the song in a quasi-sung, quasi-spoken fashion that isn’t used that frequently. Sure, it’s not a ‘brand new’ concept to perform a song in such a manner, but few do this these days. On “House Party,” the country styling is in place, but the overall vibe of “House Party” is pop with an underlying urban/hip-hop groove.

“Break Up In A Small Town” has Drake written all over it. How does Drake, a blatant hip-hop artist, ever come anywhere close to country music? Listen to “Break Up In A Small Town” and the marriage works perfectly. Again, Hunt oscillates through singing and speaking, and his sung portions resemble Drake’s mellow rhymes/vocals. Another clear indicator of Drake’s influence – the rhythmic nature of the melodic lines. Follow-up joint “Single For The Summer” is arguably more country-based than “Break Up In A Small Town,” but electronic cues also give this cut a slightly more progressive sound. Hey, it definitely not Alan Jackson folks.

Montevallo has other notable moments, one of which is “Leave The Night On.” It doesn’t stand out like “Take Your Time” which it follows, but it’s not the least bit surprising it was chosen as a single. On the clever wordplay of “Ex To See,” Hunt is drenched in swag, sounding particularly cool and aggressive on the chorus singing, “And he walks in, it all makes sense / suddenly you’re climbing all up next to me, next to me / I ain’t no fool, you rascal you / you don’t want me, you just want your ex to see, ex to see.” On penultimate cut “Raised On It,” Hunt’s opening lyrics are “Snapbacks and Levi jeans / PBR and burnt CDs…” – how can you NOT like this guy?

How much potential does Sam Hunt have to open up country to a whole new crop of listeners? He has a great deal of potential to accomplish this! Having southern charm as well as swag definitely only improves his lot! If you haven’t checked out Montevallo, well you need to get on that, like NOW! 

Panic! At The Disco, Hallelujah © Fueled By Ramen

Panic! At The Disco’s “Hallelujah” Ranks Among The Band’s Deepest Songs

Panic! At The Disco, Hallelujah © Fueled By Ramen

On inspired, triumphant new single “Hallelujah,” Panic! At The Disco front man Brendon Urie asks “All you sinners stand up, sing hallelujah!” Yes, on the ‘sanctified’ chorus, Urie is all about sinners everywhere allowing the spirit to move through them: “And if you can’t stop shaking, lean back / let it move through ya.” Finally, he caps the hook off with “Say your prayers.” Everything from the title throughout the course of the refrain would suggest that “Hallelujah” is spiritually driven. Is it?

“Hallelujah” ranks among Panic! At The Disco’s deepest song of their career. The band has always been known for its theatrical side and while “Hallelujah” still possesses this, read further into the record and there’s much more to behold beyond the majority of their work. Yes, it was bold when Panic! At The Disco depicted a wedding from the groom’s perspective (“I Write Sins Not Tragedies”) or when “Miss Jackson” was so nasty, but “Hallelujah” is more transcendent and thought provoking; it should relate more to its audience.

“My life started the day I got caught / under the covers / with secondhand lovers / oh, tied up in pretty young things / in a state of emergency / who was I trying to be.”

On the first verse, Urie proceeds to confess his sins; it’s about being caught having sex. “My life started the day I got caught / under the covers / with secondhand lovers / oh, tied up in pretty young things / in a state of emergency / who was I trying to be.” Essentially, Urie suggests he was young and dumb and honestly being rebellious. Arguably, it could be said many young folks these days are rebellious, with many having sex at younger and younger ages. For Urie, being a Mormon, this confession is actually more rebellious given the strict rules of that particular religion.

That view of verse one is if you consider ‘sex’ to be literally ‘sex.’ Arguably, sex is used figuratively and could represent a range of sins, improprieties, mistakes, etc. Sex is the perfect vehicle for Urie’s message, but it’s important not to read too much into physical pleasure as opposed to a bigger picture.

“Then the time for being sad is over / and you miss them like you miss no other / and being blue is better than being over it.”

Then comes the pre-chorus, which seems to suggest a broken relationship. “Then the time for being sad is over / and you miss them like you miss no other / and being blue is better than being over it.” Like everyone can relate to, Urie has experienced missing his ex-girlfriend and rather than moving forward, many times people cling to being depressed about the loss, almost like a death. Again, does the loss have to be an ex or so specific? Not necessarily.

“I was drunk and it didn’t mean a thing / stop thinking about / the bullets from my mouth.”

On verse two, the lyrics seem to interpretable in multiple ways. “I was drunk and it didn’t mean a thing / stop thinking about / the bullets from my mouth.” Urie could be referencing empty sex/hooking up once more, or likely he’s referencing mistakes generally he’s made in the past and has come to realize how stupid and immature he was at the time. He shows his growth on follow-up lyric “I love the things you hate about yourself,” which suggests he’s older, wiser, and more focused on the present and the future. If you want to focus on the ‘sex’ thing again, this might show the progression from meaningless hook ups to embracing his life with his wife.

“No one wants you when you have no heart and /I’m sitting pretty in my brand new scars and / you’ll never know if you don’t ever try again / so let’s try.”

On the final verse, this newfound spirit and inspirational side of Urie shines as he sings, “No one wants you when you have no heart and /I’m sitting pretty in my brand new scars and / you’ll never know if you don’t ever try again / so let’s try.” This suggests that even though mistakes have been made and everyone is ultimately a sinner with the “scars” to prove it, it doesn’t mean you give up or don’t try to better yourself and move forward. Even more simply put, you can’t let the past ruin or rule the present or future – you have to keep on persevering.

Offering a different view of the final verse, and perhaps even more references to “loss” that occur throughout “Hallelujah,” the recent exit of Spencer Smith may play a role of pivotal inspiration; the Genius annotation suggests this viewpoint.

Ultimately, it seems that this song is directed toward the audience and not solely Urie himself. Sure, Urie uses his own experiences, but they are such common experiences as opposed to specific ones, anyone who listens to the song can relate. Hence, this would make “Hallelujah” more of a ‘congregational hymn.’ How good is “Hallelujah?” It’s fantastic!