Heroes & Villains builds upon ideas that disassociate meaning that gets told through thematic perspectives from Metro Boomin and featured artists, where they purport a divide on who they are and what they believe. Or so that is what it wants to get across. You’ll instantly feel that from the album cover, which pays homage to Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here. Unfortunately, the assignment gets forgotten by all parties when the verses don’t always reflect what is laid in stone by the intro, which poorly contrasts John Legend’s angelic vocals with the cynicism and sadomasochism of Homelander from the Amazon Prime show, The Boys. Similarly, the concept becomes a bit more self-centered, losing focus on how these titles get perceived within the Hip-Hop community; rappers or producers who make it out and succeed gets that vague label of hero while the villainous notations come from their lyrical content. That’s here but refined to be more surface layer, despite the featured artists bringing sufficient consistency to make the production feel unwasted.
After a fantastic debut with Not All Heroes Wear Capes, Metro Boomin’s ascension gets heard behind the boards, and the collection of artists bring their B to A game lyrically. Unfortunately, the inner themes from the content getting spewed aren’t anything impressive, instead trivial with a light of creativity. Fortunately, it doesn’t hinder the individualized appeal of each track – the artists reflect grooves and flows that embolden its focus and lay the groundwork for club heaters – having its own potent gravitational pull that keeps us close to hitting replay instantly. It’s there with “Creepin,” “Metro Spider,” “Trance,” and “Feel The Fiyaaaah,” which engulf you in their style, offering cohesion, though that’s only naming the few that do this effervescently. We hear Metro Boomin’s effervescent production feeling realized as he takes us through these different, at times whimsical, piano keys and lusty drum beats. Though, it isn’t enough to circumvent some of its more unique choices.
For the positives that get laid out in Heroes & Villains, it makes some auspiciously oblique choices that falter the impact one can get from some tracks. It isn’t all Metro Boomin and more so a combination. Sometimes you’ll get these uniquely drab and typical verses that feel too entwined in laying out a style instead of feeling authentic, like on “Umbrella.” 21 Savage is known for his vocal, one-word ad-libs at the end of bars; however, “Umbrella” feels lost with 21’s constant use of “(Pussy),” which barely makes sense, like when raps: “Eastside vet, I’m a general (Pussy)/All my niggas twins, we identical (Pussy).” The ad-libs are him, but it feels more inserted than natural. Similarly, “Around Me” sounds basic as it tries too hard to let Don Tolliver’s vocals mistify you within this luscious Synth-Hop beat that would light up the crowd if it was better written; instead, it feels like any other Tolliver track. Additionally, “Walk Em Down” doesn’t emphasize Mustafa’s beautifully haunting vocals enough and waters down a great start by 21 Savage.
Few instances like this offer little to reflect on unless your expectations straddle a fine line compared to the more standard, apropos lyricists that have a focus beyond the beat. On Heroes & Villains, it meets expectations, especially when the subjects rarely shift from women, drugs, and emotions at the club. There are righteous melodies that hit triumphantly and some fantastic samples that get used beautifully, even if what comes after isn’t so appealing. We hear it in “Superhero,” where Metro Boomin samples “So Appalled” by disgraced artist/producer Kanye West before Chris Brown comes in and continues to diminish the negative connotations of the track, which sort of embellishes drug use. On “Creepin,” none of that is there, and we get this elegant sampling of “I Don’t Wanna Know” by Mario Winan (Feat. Diddy & Enya). The Weeknd makes it his own, and 21 Savage complements him and brings something profound, comparatively. Then there is “Feel the Fiyaah,” the closing track, which samples “pushin p” by Gunna and brings us another incredible verse from the late, great Takeoff of Migos.
Heroes & Villains is a well-rounded album with a few pieces that don’t always connect, but there is a ton to recommend here, though there are a few stumbles along the way. From the quality of many verses and production, there is something here for everyone who has been a fan of Metro Boomin’ from the beginning, and for the new listeners, it’s a solid intro to the kind of music Metro makes and then some.
When The Fresh Prince and DJ Jazzy Jeff won the first Best Rap Performance, they didn’t go because they knew ahead of time their win wouldn’t get televised. After another year, that award wouldn’t see the light of day for 22 years. However, there have been more puzzling choices in the category beyond the album award, like “Hotline Bling” winning Best Rap Song when it isn’t a rap song – I guess Drake in name alone is rap? Hey Drake, resubmit a country song as rap and see if they bite.Jokes aside, one might understand the shiftiness of presenting live; the Grammys don’t show every award because they award over 70+ categories yearly, but when it 86’d a genre – of course – there would be protests. We didn’t have Best Rap Album till’ 1996, with a few performance categories that would subsequently get replaced with Melodic Performance and Rap Song. And still, one thing many in the general audience harp at is the nominations.
Like with the most prestigious awards, we balk at the nominations for categories we hold close to heart. But for Hip-Hop, we’ve had lapses in sub-categories and the shifting choice of which award to present. I prefer Best Rap Album as it is the cream of the crop, but sometimes it’s Best Rap Song, Best Melodic Rap Performance, or Best Rap Performance. Though we aren’t the only ones subjected to it, it’s the lack of a presence in the universal Gen-Pop awards throughout the years. Over the past two decades, we’ve seen slow growth in finding general acceptance in those awards, especially with the more Alternative albums (2) – to standard hip-hop – winning the big one – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and SpeakerBoxxx/The Love Below. These days, a win is a win, but it hasn’t been honkey dory, especially for us nomination balkers who see worst mistakes than the year the Academy gave Paul Haggis’ film Crash, Best Picture. Unfortunately, they still make mistakes, and this post is about nomination mistakes, especially in 2015 and today.
One of the most egregiously what the hell moments for nominations was in 2015, Iggy Azalea’s boorish pop-rap effort on The New Classic and Wiz Khalifa’s poor attempt at creating Trap music, “We Dem Boyz” aside. If either went on to win, it would have been the weakest winner among the many, but they are safe choices. 2015 had the albums, My Name is My Name by Pusha T, Piñata by Freddie Gibbs, PTSD by Pharoahe Monch, My Krazy Life by YG, and more that could have snuck to replace them, but like the film academy, niche styles won’t see the proper praise. I say this considering how focused it is on the G-Funk/Gangsta Rap My Krazy Life by YG is or the gritty percussion and synths of Monch and Pusha T. They reflect the genre discussion in film. I’m talking about the more whimsical work from creators like Wes Anderson, who rarely get looked at due to his niche style until it becomes more generally appealing, like The Grand Budapest Hotel. Fortunately, the last few years saw some consistency of diversity, as we saw artists you wouldn’t think the academy would find appeal in, like Tyler, the Creator, who has won twice, along with honoring albums that were some of the best that weren’t pop-like.
Additionally, we’ve seen nominations for Laila’s Wisdom by Rapsody and Victory Lap by Nipsey Hustle, two albums by rappers whose commercial appeal never translated into the vast world of pop but got nominated in back-to-back years, respectively. Though oddly, Nipsey’s world did converge with that of the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend fandom; however, I digress. It’s been many familiar faces, aka rappers with the highest commercial appeal, some non-debatable, others more so until recently, like that triumphant moment for Nas, winning his first Grammy after 27 years in the game. It’s been part great since 2015, but with an influx in quality from the growing number of artists, debates will continue to spark about what did and didn’t deserve a nomination.
2015 wasn’t the first time I felt flustered by the array of nominations considering the vast plains of music to get discovered outside the R&B-like Pop Rap of the 2000s. But it’s the first I’ve sensed they didn’t hear everything that was out there except for what’s on the radio. Universal Mind Control by Common, a winter 2008 release, was nominated in 2010, the same year as the overly dull and sugary R.O.O.T.S. by Flo Rida over more deserving entries like the DJ Quik and Kurupt Collab Album Blaqkout or Ludacris’ Theater of the Mind. It happened and happens currently because the Academy has a wonky, designated calendar for eligibility. Usually, their calendar year is October to October, disregarding the November and December months like film companies when they were releasing more potential critical failures, like wear found footage horror films, in January and February in the 2010s. Not saying those releases never brought forth greatness, but with an influx of covers and best-of lists, reviews can get drowned beneath it.
Rare moments like 2015, where many nominations weren’t reflective of the best work that year, and another came this year, where we saw three of the nominations bring out questions from fans. We got Jack Harlow, DJ Khaled, and one of Future’s weakest albums in his discography. And this isn’t to discredit these artists, as they have delivered fantastic surfeit work, Jack Harlow, aside. Unfortunately, the love for pop we’ve seen with Eminem and Kanye winning multiple, further making past flawed nominations make sense, especially since the late 00s. The Iggy Azaleas and DJ Khaleds – Khaled, who continuously finds himself in Best Rap Album, despite mediocre releases over the past decade – and legacy nominations that don’t always get heard through a critical lens and are nominated for the name alone – see the “Hotline Bling” nomination for Best Rap Song. It doesn’t discredit the 90% + nominations that merit the nomination. This year just left me floored when there are better albums viable for the award, like The Forever Story by JID and Traumazine by Megan thee Stallion – this includes non-submitted work like Gods Don’t Make Mistake by Conway the Machine and Cheat Codes by Danger Mouse and Black Thought.
I can understand the Future and DJ Khaled nominations, but with Jack Harlow, it felt like 2015, where there was little merit within the album to even come up with an argument for its inclusion. It’s what you’d expect from some white rapper who wants to be Drake but without much swagger. It was an overall boring album riding the highs of a Drake feature and a dope Fergie sample. Similarly, God Did by DJ Khaled is riding the coattails of a few decent songs, this remarkable Jay-Z verse on the title track, and memes. Future; well, it’s sad this is his first Best Rap Album nomination, considering how many great projects he’s released over the past decade. I didn’t hate I Never Liked You, but it isn’t Dirty Sprite 2 or Evol. It just leaves me flustered that they made it look like such a give-me for either of the other nominees, which I wouldn’t be mad if either won – Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers and It’s Almost Dry.
2022 will be like 2015 all over again, with fantastic performances and a ceremonious win, where the big shock would come if Future upset the two clear front runners. Though one could expect Kendrick Lamar to win, he did lose to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, so anything is on the table. Unfortunately, Best Rap Album isn’t always “locked,” and here you could see Jack Harlow sneaking his way in for a win. His tacky apropos style never left anything to the imagination, almost feeling standard in approach – I Never Liked You isn’t tacky but is tried and, sometimes, forgettable. I’m here thinking about past years while trying to come to grips with it. And DJ Khaled, mediocre as it is, is forgettable outside that Jay-Z verse, so it leaves me curious about how it got nominated. It doesn’t define Hip-Hop/Rap, and frankly, I tune more into the yearly BET cyphers at their Hip-Hop awards, which is a much better and understanding award show about the world of Hip-Hop. Hope Kendrick Lamar wins, and cheers to the nominees…well, most of them.
Following up the self-reflective and self-criticizing Tempus, Issa Gold follows up with TempusII: Mirrors, an equally self-reflexive album bringing more of the same with more potent lyricism. It has little to gravitate towards besides excellent lyricism, some minor tweaks that boast the production slightly, and an abundance of heart. It isn’t an indictment on producers Chuck Strangers, Gates, Two Fresh Beats & Zayland as they deliver what’s expected with enough diversity and nuance to keep those who love lyrically focused rap albums. It may limit its audience because one usually gravitates to sound, but as it has been since the 70s, Hip-Hop has been about The Message, and that’s what Issa Gold delivers. TempusII: Mirrors is raw and slick; Issa Gold flows smoothly, becoming one with the beat boasting the emotional complexities of each track as we hear Gold tackling fatherhood, music, and professionalism.
As much as I can herald TempusII: Mirrors for its profound approach to keeping a balance between engaging the intimate, as sometimes one may not care for the deep layers of an artist’s personal problems, with the quality of their music coming first. So the stress builds from making sure the beat one is rapping over can keep the listener engaged; that’s why we hear varying songs with depressive anecdotes that have more catchy, captivating elements in their sound, whether through melodies or the production. It isn’t the case with TempusII: Mirrors, where the catchiness isn’t profound, but the tweaks within the sonic layers of the beats keep the intrigue level high. Whether it’s bringing more focus to piano-driven overtures on “Lamelo” and “Crawling” or letting the electric guitar deliver rustic vibes on “Spiral” and “Lunar.” It brings more to the music than potent lyrics, rarely shining brighter than like on “Traded” and “Rockets.” Unfortunately, “Traded” isn’t as captivating comparatively. Though we get these unique situations where the beats feel more realized, it isn’t enough to make you feel like it’s something special.
The uniqueness of its production is an adequately smooth touch that allows it to get past the monochromatic atmosphere of these kinds of raps. There is a nuance to them as they show introspective street styles that are moodier and incorporate more than just drum beats – think The Lox and Ultramagnetic MCs, just a little darker. It makes it easier to focus on the vocal layer instead of the production, as its heart stays in that lane. Due to that, it adds an extra layer that allows the music to flourish further.
At its core, TempusII: Mirrors is for those old heads who prefer lyricists to the dominant Drill and Trap Hip-Hop that fills the airwaves, but Issa Gold offers more than that. He’s bringing varying flows driven by Gold’s dominant emotion, whether elevated egotistical swagger or pensive perspective, like on the melancholic “Indulge” and “Crawling,” which sees him rapping about family and fatherhood. It allows his words to get heard, more so than when he comes through spitting the former. However, there are fantastic tracks where Gold’s flexing is on full display. On “Lamelo,” Gold uses that melancholia in the beat to make his words feel humbling as his come-up saw him making choices so his music career could grow. As he raps on the track, “I never need the league, I knew the league needed me like Lamelo for the dream,” which shows how Issa Gold aims to succeed, despite his niche approach musically.
TempusII: Mirrors doesn’t stand up to the masterclass that was the first, but it’s enough to keep the wheels turning as you keep listening. It’s a continuation of what Issa Gold does well, even if it isn’t as interesting. There isn’t much retread, but the production feels more like simple choices and nothing that is there to fit the grander scheme. It’s an album one can readily return to if they feel this type of rap, and those will be sufficiently satisfied.
There is no denying Roddy Ricch has the talent to excel, and we’ve heard plenty; however, he still struggles to find proper balance in tracks that aim to evoke certain tones for radio play and falters by lacking captivating traction. Though I use the terms radio play loosely – hip-hop stations function differently from Pop/Hot 100 radio – it’s more apparent than ever that it usually revolves around themes of love and relationship dynamics. With Feed The Streets III, that need isn’t that transparent; Ricch is steering the vehicle through slick beats, delivering consistent good to great verses that build depth, and when Ricch teeters into the weaker output, it stumbles over similar mistakes – bland repetition. Feed The Streets III continues Roddy Ricch’s commercial run, giving him an established platform that his music becomes transparent in the direction he is taking. Focusing on bringing depth, it’s comparatively more vulnerable, giving us Ricch behind the mic, wearing his emotions on his sleeves, and humbling himself from his riches, which bring forth their own set of external issues.
Hearing Roddy Ricch comes through with sheer vulnerability brought me closer to this tape. It’s one thing to have the consistency to flex without retreading familiar bars, but when we get that vulnerability, whether, with emotions or thematic inflections, it’s retroactively profound. With Ricch, it’s treading toward simple lyricism, like “Fade Away,” which begins like Ricch’s take on the “21 Questions” model of writing about love with emotional depth. Unfortunately, it shifts into a track that focuses on flaunting his significant other with gifts instead of adding layers to emotions felt through hypotheticals. It winds up feeling like one of a few throwaways that don’t give us enough to get a sense of anything beyond surface layer quality, akin to “#1 Freak.” It has a smooth rhythm and a solid Ty Dolla $ign feature, but it takes away from a functioning consistency of emotionally perversive lyrical captivity.
From “King Size,” “Heavier,” “Pressure,” and “Letter To My Son,” there is a lot here that brings value as Roddy Ricch keeps himself focused thematically. We get to hear no-shame humbled rich flexes with “King Size” and “Aston Martin Truck” and the weight of depression and hope with “Heavier” and “Letter To My Son.” Though we hear Ricch acknowledging how he got there, he carries humility when expressing his colors when he flaunts his riches and promiscuity. Roddy Ricch stays vulnerable by allowing himself to get judged, as he isn’t creating a front, like some rappers do, and breaking walls to let us see beneath the cracks of his excess living, like in “Heavier.” All of this gets boasted by consistent Hip-Hop and Trap beats that bring enough character, despite having steady but overused drum patterns.
“Heavier” is a perfect example of what I mentioned; Roddy Ricch starts his first verse by showing us aspects of his life, rapping: “Eighty racks on the Goyard chect, uh-uh/The whole team pullin’ out Rocky like Sylvester, uh, uh/Denim suit or Prada (The Prada)/My bitch wanna rub me down with oil, my love life like a saga (Saga),” before getting closer to his heart. In the second verse, Roddy Ricch raps: Rest in peace Lil Keed (Yeah), hope the slimes proud of me (Yeah)/Hope the feds let ’em free (Yeah)/They don’t need to be locked in chains (Yeah, yeah)/Told Gunna Wunna to call me, I was out the city and missed it.” There is a level of authenticity that boasts the content of the tracks surrounding this, “Pressure,” and the final song, “Letter to My Son,” which imbues an extra set of layers on his more apropos flex ones. It lets you know that there is meaning behind his musical approach and needs to have captivating melodies to keep us entrenched in his sound and replaying with honesty. As you hear the array of tracks that may teeter between the known and unknown, expectancy and surprises, Roddy Ricch stays headstrong, so the will in his musical output never derails.
Though it tries to be this resounding moment of pure vulnerability, it may not show on the surface and makes one’s return to the quality tracks a slightly rewarding experience. There is no denying that it’s constructed standardly, checking off items off a list to be brought up, like monetary worth and pride, all while trying express layers of humbleness. It allows us to understand that it doesn’t like it lacks merit, which some can falter due to it. Some are mediocre or above average, but Feed The Streets III has more than what the others bring – it makes you want to return to understand the depth of other tracks you may not have understood prior beyond its surface layer. That isn’t to say it’s upper echelon since Roddy Ricch makes some interesting decisions, which never dilutes his writing – it’s beautifully expressive, and he knows how to craft choruses. Furthermore, Ricch never makes you think he’s taken sidesteps with his flows, finding a proper balance between straight spitting and melodically flowing, like on “Favor For A Favor.”
Feed The Streets III is another solid entry in Roddy Ricch’s Feed the Streets series, even if it isn’t a resounding blockbuster hit. Excellent songs flow smoothly from start to finish; sometimes, they spread the ambition sweating out Ricch’s pores as he raps them. Unfortunately, some missteps have made a few tracks skippable due to losing traction in flow, taking away from personal aspects of Ricch so he can make a track for the ladies. It leaves you feeling satisfied; even though it isn’t a five Michelin-star meal, it’s ample enough to say you left with enough to reflect on and replay.
Like most boy bands, there comes a time when they have to grow and succeed individually, though not everyone will come out with an established career beyond the group. It’s rare but not impossible. It’s like when people use Beyonce as an anecdote to describe the leader of the group, or rather the one with the most potential to excel; Justin Timberlake was that for N’SYNC, and Kevin Abstract for Brockhampton. Unfortunately, it’s Brockhampton’s time, so as they turn the page on their future, they leave fans with two final albums – The Family sees Kevin Abstract delivering nuanced tracks about their respective journey as bandleader – TM establishes that camaraderie through musicality. However, TM isn’t as strong, sometimes sounding like they are trying to slightly mirror different styles far from themselves and missing the mark occasionally. It tends to feel more like a gimmie, unlike The Family, which is the more concrete project – a personal reflection of new beginnings with weighted emotions about the past. It’s a fantastic sendoff showing Kevin Abstract’s naked vulnerability as he laments about various decisions.
In many ways, Kevin Abstract constructs The Family as this emotionally complex eulogy, reminiscing about the good times and the bad. On “RZA,” Abstract focuses on his failures to maintain consistency despite the separation. Wu-Tang Clan were able to expand and have their solo careers, but when the RZA uses his whistle, they come back and reconvene to deliver more heat. Abstract tells us this isn’t the case with Brockhampton; he opens the door and lets us know how it wasn’t the case for them and the issues that arose. But they are still family, and he reminisces about their past, like on “Gold Teeth,” where he reflects on the early days of Brockhampton making music and striving in Southern Texas. These days, it hasn’t been the case with varying issues and emotions weighing down on the members as they let the problems consume them – some understandably so – but there is this known that we will see them grow and mature as artists as they push forward.
It’s thematically poignant as we hear Kevin Abstract juggling through his emotions to deliver them with grace. We hear about new problems within the familial dynamic brought about by fame and riches, like colliding egos, Abstract branching into solo work as the band promoted their album iridescence, and his overly indulgent artistic direction with music videos, etc. Some of it gets brought up in “All That” and “The Family.” The former sees Abstract trying to lay his perspective, looking at moments and emotionally ever-long feelings that arose from their growth as a band. In it, Abstract raps, “As the checks grew, it became harder to leave/Everybody got an ego now, imagine bein’ me/Competition started off so healthy/’Til one day I looked up like, “Damn, you almost better than me”/I don’t feel guilty for wakin’ you up when you sleep/I don’t feel guilty for cuttin’ your verse from this beat.” It shows us the imbalance caused by egos or Abstract making music again with disgraced ex-member Ameer Vann. Issues arise, and Kevin Abstract takes accountability and offers an emotional apology on “Brockhampton,” the last song on The Family, which beautifully sends us off after a slightly imbalanced album.
The Family is a rich text that keeps most of Kevin Abstract’s words short and sweet but with resounding depth that you get incentivized with great music that you’d want to replay and understand further. It’s through Kevin Abstract’s flows, lyricism, and the production by bandmember bearface and producers boylife and Nick Velez, offering sounds that invoke memories atmospherically. We hear it on “(Back From The) Road” and “All That,” which beautifully samples the theme song to the classic Nickelodeon show of the same name. It brings nuance to the idea that everythingthat glitters is not gold, as it flips the positivity of the message toward a more pessimist one. There is a consistency to the production, never feeling overly produced and having balance as it boasts the vocal deliveries and lets us genuinely get within the trenches of what has been going on.
Unfortunately, The Family doesn’t have smooth pacing, letting a 17-track, 35-minute album feel more like a 17-minute EP. However, it doesn’t take you away from the raw emotion getting brought out. Brockhampton, or rather Kevin Abstract, lets it show, teetering between what works and what doesn’t, like the singing tracks compared to his more rapping ones. Spinning this left me feeling a lot, especially as I was one of the many who took this journey with them since the first Saturation, and it’s now time for new beginnings.
After delivering an exuberant delicacy of sounds on Vice Versa, Rauw Alejandro returns with new and expansive soundscapes that shroud over typical reggaeton tracks mixed within. There is no denying Alejandro’s allure of the electronic genre as a whole; from sounds that evolved from regions and eras, Alejandro is using it as an influence during this ascension as a master of the dance floor. He’s finding himself amongst the stars, taking us inside this futuristic hive where reggaeton grows beyond the perreo and dembow, allowing itself to be something grandiose. Saturno, or Saturn, is taking us through varying levels, or rings, surrounding the core aspects of the album and delivering many danceable heaters. Though it’s easy to understand the lyricism you’ll get from reggaeton artists: danceable, flavorful tunes focusing on sex and seduction, amongst similar themes within that realm – it isn’t all black and white, and the depth brought about by luscious melodies and fruitful choruses and verses make it a bewilderingly fun ride with a few missteps along the way.
Saturno, by all accounts, aims to deliver futuristic overtures and undertones, whether through the production or from the vocals, to take us to the stratosphere of his mind, where we see how he musically thinks. It excels at that and some; it’s an album where the essence of reggaeton isn’t lost, but the electronic avenues he takes are astronomical, no pun intended. Sometimes you’re getting hints of dancehall, sometimes Miami Bass or EDM, but the overall vibe leaves you in a trance where you aren’t noticing your body grooving. Though I can’t speak to how you motion per tempo, the transitions between tracks are smooth – save for the interludes/skit. But the lavish futurism expressed through the eyes of a reggaeton artist getting past conceptual pop norms and taking his music to new heights. We’ve heard it done before with the disco and funk elements of Rauw Alejandro’s last album, Vice Versa. Here, he’s taking that influence from the transitional period where Disco became more Post-Disco/House/Electronica with an essence of life with his vision as he runs the pop gambit.
It predominately flows like a steady river with no rapids; however, that isn’t to say there are bumps along the way, with certain rocks (tracks) spotting up that make you shift, aiming to avoid it, even though it’s still there. But the way these sounds continuously expand and express visual splendor – you hear it from “Verde Menta,” “Corazón Despeinado,” and “Dime Quen?” – it’s an electrifying EDM track, resonant of the late 80s, early 90s Eurodance, an adequate but rudimentary EDM/Reggaeton hybrid, and luscious Miami Bass, respectively. But with that more standard track in the middle, the surrounding songs keep it afloat as Alejandro’s melodies continue to capture that futuristic aesthetic.
Unfortunately, Saturno sometimes retreads particular rhythms and sounds in reggeaton that doesn’t grip you, like on “Lejols Del Cielo” or “Ron Cola,” which barely grows beyond the straight line it follows. Additionally, there is a moment that feels like off-choices in the tracklisting – the skit near the end doesn’t add anything toward the overarching futuristic theme, more so acting like a hype-centered bridge between sections of tracks. It doesn’t fit like two previous interludes with viscerally pungent beats. Its translucent nature allows it to absorb these dark yet luminous synths into its ecosphere, where the engagement is high, and its futuristic tech shines through. In “Más De Una Vez,” we hear these laser synths shoot in the backdrop and through the stars of its Electronic/Reggeaton core. We get the essence of this through varying tracks, as his producers use it to envelope more than its core genre complexions, like on “Dejau,” which adds notes of Afrobeat or “De Carolina,” and its use of light industrial electronica. It isn’t like Vice Versa, where the influx of pop grandeur laid a smooth path of consistency, where you couldn’t help but keep it on a loop.
Saturno is lavish and inspiring, though it’s a little far from perfect. Rauw Alejandro carries an identity he vigorously puts forth as producers eloquently build these electrifying beats with him. Though that isn’t to say it’s perfect, a few issues here and there causes it to lose traction as this steady locomotion of dance bravado. But most times, Alejandro is winding up and delivering a fast one, melodically, almost allowing for the sidesteps to become afterthoughts. They are still there and ultimately take away from the levels this could have reached. It makes a splash and is ready to fire us up as winter dawns, even if it isn’t to the highest temperature, like a 2000s Sean Paul song.
Expected, but when? That was the question following the release of King’s Disease II by Nas & Hit-Boy. As we were aware, Nas was too, letting us know on the opening track, “Ghetto Reporter,” spitting the line: “Niggas know I don’t drop this often so cherish it (So cherish it).” With King’s Disease III out now, it makes one feel blessed as a fan with their release of Magic, as it now feels more of a present to them because the third King’s Disease is the best of the trilogy. Nas is as raw and lyrically astute as his best work, reminding the world that the tank is never emptying and the Henny bottles never end. But as you hear “Queens in the House” throughout “Thun,” you’ll quickly learn the mark King’s DiseaseIII leaves. Nas shows listeners the pristine condition that his motor remains behind the mic and pen. Past King’s Disease albums saw Nas beautifully acquiescing with the evolving sounds of Hip-Hop and implying his talent is akin to a king able to command the flow of society. King’s Disease III has Nas taking off his crown, showing us his ferocity as he sways from humbling riches to elegant ammo, and that ammo is never-ending.
Without sputtering and then asking for oil, Nas goes on a tear throughout without seeming to tire out mentally with his verses because Nas is bearing slight shortcuts with the choruses, which don’t come off with the same energy as the verses. But Nas is one to quickly return with crisp bars that fluctuate between humbling riches, toying with history, and a barrage of metaphors and slick wordplay to keep you engaged. At one point playing coy with Jay-Z on “Thun,” as Nas relays the lines: “In a Range Rover, dissectin’ bars from “Takeover”/Sometimes I text Hova like “Nigga, this ain’t over,” laughin.’” But this is only a sampling of what Nas brings to the table. There are unique allusions to his partnership with Hit-Boy on “Michael & Quincy” and engaging takes on the social-political climate with “Recession Proof,” which doubles as advice to his listeners about investing and saving.
However, none of this exists without Hit-Boy’s production, which adds subtle details to the beats that allow them to transition from one to the other while keeping it interesting, like on “Legit.” “Legit” incorporates live acoustic crowd noises to amplify Nas’ bravado – that stoic confidence that allows him to feel rejuvenated and fresh despite age. There are inflections of streetwise boom-ba – ala Boogie Down Productions and Craig Mack – centered jazz rap, and varying type beats influenced by 90s Nas, with Hit-Boy shifting the parameters for Nas to go hard on them. He’s able to deliver past the nevers; one minute as is rapping through this delicate take on late 90s New York rap, which incorporated more Soul and R&B, in “Hood2Hood,” and another, he’s rapping over this luscious boom bap beat on “First Time.” Like “Reminisce,” Nas gets introspective, giving us a sense of blissful nostalgia as he recounts the first time he listened to certain favorite artists. Despite laying a foundation, Nas brings mirroring relativity to his listeners without feeling tacky or gimmicky.
Unfortunately, as glowing as I’ve been with King’s Disease III, the choruses aren’t as strong. It’s something you might have to set aside mentally because they aren’t consistent. Some aren’t as creative or have energizing gravitas, but pushing the weaker ones aside, allows for a more transcendent experience as the music eclipses these hollow points and makes you forget about them for a second. It left me in a daze after a few spins, and that’s what Nas aims for, a legacy of records spinning with fresh content no matter the era. So whether it’s the drab, emotionless chorus on “I’m on Fire” or lacking energy like on “Get Light,” Nas approaches the hooks as simple bridges that aren’t supposed to be ear-popping, like how the borough bridges are eye-popping, but they get the job done. That isn’t to say he doesn’t have some spectacularly hyphy hook delivery, like on “30” and bonus track “Till My Last Breath,” which has visceral energy that encourages the inner New York within.
King’s Disease III sees Nas continuing to extend his prime, delivering heater after heater without the support of features and amounting to one of his most immaculate albums since 2012’s Life is Good. Hit-Boy produces sounds that flip between modern, large-scale Hip-Hop beats and ones that bring nuance to the influential elements of 90s Boom-Bap/Jazz Rap, amongst others. It all acquiesces into one strong gavel to the table as Nas makes an everlasting statement about his lasting legacy that will only grow more, especially with the consistency of the King’s Disease trilogy, where Nas assimilates and demolish Hip-Hop sub-genres momentously.
Her Loss, the pseudo-collaboration album between Drake and 21 Savage, had the makings of being something grand; unfortunately, that isn’t the case–for the most part. After teasing us with “Jimmy Cooks,” a play on Drake’s character on Degrassi: The Next Generation, they further bolster their connectivity after the earlier collab “Knife Talk.” They double down on the bars, attempting to go beyond the corniness of Jimmy Brooks raps in the show, and Aubrey “Drake” Graham’s own casualness of it in his verses, to keep you engaged. Though some of Drake’s corniness seeps into 21 Savage, causing us to hear weak bars like this double entendre: “I don’t show ID at clubs, ’cause they know that I’m 21.” Though the corniness is slightly more scarce and lyrical than musically like Certified Lover Boy, it isn’t as cringe unless you’re overly critical of Drake’s weak ineptitude of dissing people who won’t respond. Jokes aside, it retreads familiar waters structurally, making it less enjoyable, but there are enough tracks that make a splash.
Her Loss goes on a tear with the first few tracks, making the subsequent rollercoaster of great and mediocrity in the second shine more glaringly. It isn’t trying to be thematically rich or profound with their rhetoric, as Drake and 21 Savage retread content, making them as intriguing based on the quality of their storytelling or flows/wordplay. From “Rich Flex” through “Hours In Silence,” the consistency is heard with beats and hooks that teeter on the line between expectancy and interesting but hit smoothly in comparison to “Circo Loco” and “Pussy & Millions,” the latter of which contains an insipid verse from Travis Scott. “Circo Loco” continues to show Drake tapping into his inner Game (Rapper), just not that nuanced, as his disses come off as childish and in poor taste while having an albatross of a sample usage, with the melodic interpolation of “One More Time” by Daft Punk. On it, Drake “subliminally” disses Megan Thee Stallion and her situation, flipping the script of his “casual” misogyny, which is tired and something that hasn’t evolved beyond surface-level cruelty.
Drake is obviously talking his shit, which is in line with the focus of Her Loss–i.e. savagery. He disses Ice Spice, NYC’s current trending rapper, and implies different motives for the Ye reconciliation, disregarding the past, which one wouldn’t blame him considering Ye’s damaging anti-semitic rhetoric. However, he takes shots at random people just because, almost feeling pointless when he disses Alexis Kerry Ohanian, Serena Williams’ husband, and co-founder/executive chairman of Reddit.com. Other times his bars feel on brand, despite being effective. It’s janky in approach and delivery, becoming forgettable like some of the weak on-brand misogyny, like the line “I blow a half a million on you hoes, I’m a feminist.” It isn’t nuanced and is too surface-layer to create anything less than a forgettable surprise shock.
Drake is trying to match the viciousness of 21 Savage. But he isn’t consistently concentrated compared to the the verses club bangers “On BS” and “Spin Bout U.” The first half may be grand, but it isn’t enough to counteract the inconsistencies in the second. There are hooks that aren’t captivating, and a few standard hip-hop/trap beats relying on the quality of their flow delivery. Ultimately, it tries to balance the savagery with the not-so-esoteric club tracks, and it predominantly works, like the solo tracks. “3 AM on Glenwood” is 21 Savage’s only solo; it sees him getting introspective over this luscious, melancholic (comparatively), Hip-Hop/Trap beat. The two composites doesn’t acquiesce smoothly, feeling like it could have benefited from a different flow, but the raw depth 21 Savage brings in his verse boasts the quality. It’s a constant from 21–the rare corniness aside, he shines brighter than Drake, further making the ratio between the two on solo tracks a disappointment as half of Drake’s solo tracks is forgettable.
“I Guess It’s F**k Me” and “Jumbotron Shit Poppin” don’t have captivating flows, and Drake isn’t doing anything interesting with content in his verses. The former reminds me of those gray Drake love songs; however, it is bloated with drab bars, some of which don’t have the same value as ad-libs and their everlasting strength. For Drake, it’s whatever comes similar to “And the six upside down, it’s a nine/You already know the vibe.” “Jumbotron Shit Poppin” starts with promise, specifically with how it uniquely incorporates the backing vocals into the beat like an instrument; it swiftly becomes a rudimentary trap track without much going for it. Unlike them, “BackOutsideBoyz” and “Middle of the Ocean” are more refreshing, the latter due to Drake’s slick one-liners and crisp wordplay; the former is jovial, bringing forth that Lil Yatchy-Trap influence (which Yatchy co-produced). These tracks are detours from the bigger picture, and that is: how consistent can they keep it from start to finish? It’s pretty consistent, but it isn’t always in quality, where sometimes it could be just the verses like in “Rich Flex.”
There is no denying Drake and 21 Savage’s obscure synergy, specifically through their vocal levels/tones. Though 21 Savage can bring sonic energy with his production choices, his audio levels don’t always match Drake’s visceral energy. But they are on a steady wavelength that sees them beautifully bouncing off each other and expressing camaraderie. They have something going on here, but they can’t deliver with consistency, making me feel like it could have gotten trimmed around the edges for something more compact than this poorly-paced collection of tracks. It rounds out to something that works for them, but you can sense they could have come harder and wiser in their approach.
In the 2000s, it became a blend of the 80s and 90s–we got dance dramas and bleak and realized music dramas that contain violence and more realities of the streets, like pimping and drug slanging, amongst other life choices based on nature. From Honey and Step Up to ATL, Get Rich or Die Tryin’, and Hustle & Flow, we got some great films, some duds, and others that fell in the middle. It wasn’t like past films, which tried to show how others appropriate the culture, like with the drab Black and White by James Toback. Most of these dramas, which aren’t always great, understood how to frame and deliver upon the aesthetic and grounded understanding of their world, specifically in the dialogue. For example, Honey, directed by Hip-Hop/R&B music video director Billie Woodruff, felt homier, less cinematic, and framed simply, unlike Get Rich or Die Tryin’, which was the opposite as it felt more like something to appeal to a broader audience. Honey only had the general appeal of a young Jessica Alba, while the other notions felt more inclusive and empathetic to its community, like Stomp the Yard.
In 2002, 8 Mile, the semi-autobiographical drama starring Marshall “Eminem” Mathers, came and made an immediate impact from all angles. From the music to the performances and filmmaking, it felt like this unique moment in 2002 where something outside the norm could come and make gangbusters, considering its monstrous box office return. But 8 Mile was different; it had nuance, the cinematography was enthralling, and it rarely felt artificial. It follows a path where the surroundings and situations boast reasonings for the escalated drama. However, at the crux of the film and the reason for its lasting history is music. The soundtrack is grand, a memorable piece of art that you can have with you after seeing the film in 2002, and like the films of the 80s and 90s, it made sure it kept you centered on reality. It had retention beyond its alignment to the film, keeping a steady progression of tracks you’ll return to instantly, like “Rabbit Run.”
We return to 8 Mile because of its lead actor and presence in Hip-Hop culture, and proof music dramas of this ilk can be excellent and successful. Ithas the music and a script with linear direction, even if it doesn’t have the overall resounding depth beyond its central figure. None of this absolves 8 Mile for its problematic groundedness with its reflection of heavy homophobia and misogynism in Hip-Hop as leading us through this semi-autobiographical battle rap fairytale. One could excuse its representation of the era–mid-90s–its surface layer, never ushering a discussion with nuance, instead just there as we see Eminem’s character Jimmy “Rabbit” Smith Jr come from a choke job to beating the defending champ. 8 Mile isn’t some masterpiece of Hip-Hop cinema but left an impression that made it seem artists can gravitate toward their history and deliver a grounded performance in reality in a studio film. But when it’s something that has been with you since the beginning, you can’t help but express bias-tinted lenses for the enjoyment you get watching it repeatedly, primarily because the final payoff is phenomenal for the exhilarating, emotionally draining moments.
8 Mile had a soundtrack that fluidly incorporated the instrumental Hip-Hop influenced score from the movie impacting the beats, like that of “8 Mile Road” and “Rabbit Run.” The former has these eloquent, dark, slow percussion variations that we hear during Jimmy “Rabbit” Smith Jrs.’ trip to work on the bus, where he writes and contemplates the next step. Though that moment, it gets reworked and slowed down to fit the mood and aesthetic, while the album version gets slightly sped up. “Rabbit Run” is the most profound, like many tracks and verses in Eminem’s career (“Speedom 2.0” by Tech N9ne, for example). It sees Eminem delivering a thin veil of duality as we see Eminem mirroring aspects of his and Jimmy “Rabbit” Smith Jr.’s life for a straight 3 minutes, which at the time, to a young Kevin, was out of this world. Obviously, we’ve seen better since, like Wayne Brady’s constant murder of Sway’s Five Fingers of Death or Chiddy Bang’s record-breaking 24-hour freestyle, but “Rabbit Run” is explosive. It capitalizes on being the closer as its harsher, bleaker lyricism contrasts the hopeful nature of “Lose Yourself.”
But 8 Mile: Music from and Inspired by the Motion Picture came with this plethora of audacious, original rap tracks from various artists, which kept us enthralled. It had tracks from Jay-Z & Freeway, a coy introduction to Obie Trice, and a brand new 50 Cent single, hyping us for his eventual debut with Get Rich or Die Tryin’. We got new RAKIM, some Gangstarr, and Macy Gray, all fitting an aesthetic driven by the tones of the film. The production helps embolden these tones with the dark strings, piano keys, and gripping percussion. Orchestrated by Eminem, the themes and tales the artists deliver match the complexities of the film, even if it wasn’t the case with every track. Nas came with a diss track aimed at Jay-Z, who did the opposite and delivered some flare on a reflective song that boasts his change for the better. This distinctive inflection arrives fresh as a reflection point for the underlying beef in the film; it keeps that energy flowing like those final rap battles did for us at the end.
The two main outliers are “Lose Yourself” and “Wanksta.” One speaks for itself, and the other was one of 50 Cent’s earliest hits. I remember the music video vividly. I was with my cousin, who got the Get Rich or Die Tryin’ album, while I had a censored mixed CD. That CD came with the video, and we popped it in his PS2; it further cemented a love for hip-hop, but more so an interest in rap, as before, it was all Eminem for me. It wasn’t until later in 2003, on Christmas Eve, when I caught the first few minutes of 8 Mile before my family decided to drive home. And since then, I’ve had two rotating songs on many playlists in my formative years, “Wanksta” and “Lose Yourself,” the latter left a lasting impression through prestigious eyes that can steer discussions about its quality in pop culture discussions. “Wanksta” has a fun and lively demeanor where the swag oozes with each swaggering step as he continues the dissing–in this case, fake gangsters–like the rap battles of the film. It was bombastic, gritty, and beautifully orchestrated. There are its issues, including some modest production, comparatively to said producer’s other beats, and themes that meander due to past raps about them. On “Rap Game,” where D12 raps about the effects of the industry as artists who aren’t seen on the same, a topic we’ve heard before from varying artists; however, as great as their synergy is, the track isn’t as interesting, but it flows.
What can I say about “Lose Yourself” that hasn’t been said before? The piano-driven production boasts waves of anger, resilience, and success in harmonic bliss. The lyricism brings resounding depth, wordplay, and beautifully direct storytelling. Blend these two you get a fantastic song with emphatic replay value and memorable lyricism. It also won the Academy Award for Best Original Song, the first Hip-Hop track to do so. Eminem & Luis Resto & Jeff Bass were the winners, and their competition was Paul Simon and U2, two artists who, back then, were more revered and loved than Eminem. He was amidst social scrutiny for his language from a barrage of angry parents, considering his skin color allowed him to have a wider reach compared to the past. A few months prior, he released The Eminem Show, containing “White America,” a satirical dig at parents who lambast his music. However, there was a shift here, and though the wins and nominations stay stagnant, having more Hip-Hop songs make the Academy’s shortlists is a proper step in the right direction for their inclusivity. It’s especially gleeful when not long after the win for “Lose Yourself,” we got our following winners: Three Six Mafia for “It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp,” beating out Dolly Parton. I feel like many of us reacted the same, if not more enthusiasticallyally than Queen Latifah when she handed them that award.
As the years progressed, we’ve had plenty crack the shortlist or vie for a nomination, like Kendrick Lamar, Alicia Keyes, and Hans Zimmer, with “It’s On Again” from The Amazing Spiderman 2 and “100 Black Coffins” by Rick Ross from Django Unchained. I still find it a travesty that it wasn’t nominated, especially with the gravitas and potency of Ross coming off the fantastic B.M.F. album. It boasted by having the stylistic focus of Django Unchained in mind, but eventually, we’ll go back to that instead of playing it safe with “Glory” or “Stand Up For Something.” We’ve seen Hip-Hop artists get nominations for non-Hip-Hop tracks, like M.I.A. and Pharrell, for their work in Slumdog Millionaire and Despicable Me, respectively. It didn’t so much open the doors, and instead, it made history, along with Three Six Mafia, for winning in years where their style of music may not have been winners; Eminem has a controversial past, and Three Six Mafia…well, “they’re pouring me some pimping mang.” It is part of its everlasting history and will stay so for years.
Like those who knew of its rerelease, I saw 8 Mile in theaters over the weekend; I felt possessed as I sat there mouthing every freestyle, every verse, and more, due to its personal history with me. But at that moment, punches from the music started hitting harder, and it made me remember the early years; I’d vigorously loop “Rabbit Run” to try and learn every word, even matching the flow, down to the minor breaths in between rhyme schemes. I was one with the music like numerous people have been with the film. We instantly return to the soundtrack, and the final rap battles, before thinking of rewatching the film in its entirety; however, no matter the decision, it’s an experience worth revisiting if not for the faint of curiosity but for the music and character details explored with Jimmy “Rabbit” Smith Jr.
Natalia Lafourcade has always delivered a range of sounds by valuing history and allowing it to beautifully encompasses her artistry. From Musas: Un Homenaje al Folclore Latinoamericano en Manos de Los Macorinos and Mujer Divina: Un Homenaje a Augustin Lara to her Un Canto Por Mexico, Lafourcade has been able to make a sizeable splash at a consistent level. She has us hearing how the music she grew up with influences the cadence in her vocals while being able to fall back into orchestrations that incorporates vibrant Alt-Rock, Folk, and Pop Rock sounds. De Toda Las Flores continues demonstrating value by incorporating luscious sonic influences and seemingly expressing that fun with this variety of jazz, pop, salsa, and more. Co-produced by Adán Jodorowsky, son of famed filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky, Lafourcade visually catapults us back toward the emotional fortitude of life, giving us an eloquent musical breakdown that consistently keeps us engaged, even during the weaker moments. Whether brass or subtle, the music carries gravitas by capitalizing on Lafourcade’s strengths lyrically and vocally, and though it isn’t perfect, as some instrumental minimalism never feels realized.
De Toda Las Flores begins plucky, focusing on varying string arrangements that match the black-and-white aesthetic of its Shakespearean-influenced album cover, like the first track, “Vine Solita” (translated to “Came Alone”). It somberly transitions between classical string instruments, piano, and electric guitar, as she sings about this destination for self-reflection. When you look at the album cover, an immediate thought might be this album will be intimate, and it is, though Natalia Lafourcade does different things–with Adán Jodorowsky–incorporating auspicious blends that boast some acoustic textures. You hear it as the haziness of “Llévame Viento” (take me wind), and her words describe the place she yearns to be, a beautiful, tropical jungle with varying animals. Beneath the shift to a jazzier lounge-like aesthetic, you can hear the brustling wind meshing smoothly and bringing this track about escapism to life.
Natalia Lafourcade sings and writes about various thoughts in her mind, and the way she delivers them is mainly refreshing. On “Pajarito colibrí” (hummingbird), she sings about taking a chance and taking on the world; on “Canta la arena” (the sand sings), she allows happiness to grace our presence with life, beautifully working in conjunction with the previous song “Muerte” (death). On “Muerte,” she sings about learning to live life from death, which feels like a slight homage to lessons learned within her culture, Dia De Los Muertos, while simultaneously giving thanks to aspects of her country that make her come with such bravado. Through this slight, spoken word-like melody, she sings: “Le doy gracias a la muerte por enseñarme a vivir/Por invitarme a salir a descifrar bien mi suerte/Tomando mi mano fuerte, llenándola de vida.” It gives us a grounded understanding before she evokes more spiritual, infusing melodies with beautifully cathartic brass instrumentations. It makes way for an acceptance of death, allowing her to indulge and dance on the beaches of Veracruz without care.
Its themes are powerful, and the songwriting is visually detailed, letting you understand her perspectives and the kind world Natalia Lafourcade inhabits. The production is dense beneath its more realized productions, and the minimalism that shrouds beginnings before the complexities show you beautiful synchronization. Yet, it isn’t as consistent. The minimalism doesn’t do much for Lafourcade’s vocals, leaving her to carry the emotional gravitas. You hear it on “Que Te Vaya Bonito Nicolás” (Good Luck Nicolas), where the stings are faint, and Lafourcade is sometimes distant vocally, almost losing the will to take that next step forward. It’s as if she isn’t contextualizing the sounds until it reaches the end, and it starts to make sense with its theme of moving on, particularly acceptance of the light in death. And “Pasan Los Dias” (Days Go On) tries to play the chords slowly to match thought and meaning to make it seem more realized, but even so, the pacing doesn’t stay consistent. It isn’t like “Pajarito colibrí,” where the pacing remarkably suits the shift it envelops with themes surrounding personal growth. The instrumentation flutters as it levels down to embrace those moments as you listen.
De Toda Las Flores has three tracks that don’t exceed the four-minute marker, and the rest exceed five minutes. On the surface, it may be a detractor; however, “Pasan Los Dias” is one where the pacing doesn’t match the ever-long days it tries to replicate. Others get filled with emotional fortitude, allowing you to gravitate to the words and gain a rewarding experience, but it feels entrapped in its concept without trying anything different. It’s especially so with the production during the album’s middle section, where we hear more saxophone and trumpets becoming one with the fantastical, whimsical-like strings that guide you. Switching the tempo from casual to danceable, and vice versa, like the transition from “El Lugar Correcto” (The Correct Place) to “Pajarito colibrí” and back to “Maria La Curandera” (Maria the Healer), a lot is going for the album.
Still, it fumbles through some inflection of the instruments and pacing. But it holds, as what surrounds the two weak tracks are these beautiful Latin-pop instrumentations grounded by Natalia Lafourcade’s flare for melodies, especially “Maria La Curandera,” which drives home the cultural aesthetics beneath the pop. It kept me returning and digesting the music further, as it will with you. It’s powerful and memorable, and as you keep playing “Maria La Curandera” and “Canta la arena,” you’ll feel what she feels and more, especially if English speakers translate as they listen and listen, over and over again.