Action Bronson – Cocodrillo Turbo: Review

Action Bronson, aka Bronsoliño, Bam Bam, Mr. Baklava, has returned to grace us with more animal noises, food metaphors, and intricate production choices as these Crocs (his fans) steady their hunger before pouncing. It’s comparatively tame, making us slowly indulge the scenery with colorful lyricism and production that makes you feel the multi-faceted layers on the tracks. It isn’t as immersive but more collected and structured as we siphon through the 10-track-album Cocodrillo Turbo. It hits the proper notes of a good Action Bronson album; it circles intricate flex raps and atmospheric complexions to good effect. Cocodrillo Turbo doesn’t keep me fully invested, but within this open swamp, there are still remarkable highlights that keep the Bronson in your ear on repeat.

Cocodrillo Turbo has quality tracks, no doubt. However, it doesn’t circumvent the somewhat boring verses that shroud the delicately rich production. Cocodrillo Turbo sets the tone: you’re on a porch smoking a joint and watching nature, night and day, along the swamps, reflecting and flexing through intricate allusions. From the getgo, it’s a slew of flex-rap building upon metaphors to reaffirm these claims. Though, they are nothing without the production, which brilliantly uses animal noises, forest sounds, and southern music to create a progressive sonic concept album. It uses these colorful productions to place us in a calming swamp where Action Bronson comes across as the gator and reminding listeners that it’s still hungry. Compared to the production, the amount of food presented by Bronson isn’t always as satisfying. He’s still lyrically detailed, but it isn’t always profound, like the production.

The production realizes the atmosphere and sonic complexions, which mirror what we’d hear in swampy, jungly areas. Whether it’s “Jaguar,” where we hear jaguar roars (and the death of a pig at the end) on the back of the production as he comes across fiercely, or the bass grooves and percussion on “Subzero,” it comes in troves as it buoys many, except for lesser tracks like “Estaciones” and “Turkish.” In the latter, there are nocturnal sounds encapsulating the production that poorly contrast the tone and lyrics of Bronson. Though it isn’t to say it’s devoid of additional issues. It has a poor opener in “Hound Dog,” where the production completely drowns Bronson’s verse that you almost forget he has one. It would have been more effective as an instrumental since his verse isn’t that special.

After “Hound Dog,” an ever-growing escalation of allusions to how hard Action Bronson loses its touch due to a lack of creativity. Despite the detailed lyricism within tracks like “Jaws” or “Zambezi,” it isn’t as clever as the ones in “Tongpo.” It switches rhyme schemes often when compared to the latter, weaving various layers instead of repeating the “-it” scheme. However, there are flares to the flows; it balances it out for “Zambezi,” not “Jaws.” But there are more times where Bronson brings this kind of flourish, like on “Subzero” or “Ninety-One.” But ultimately, it juggles keeping a consistent presence in front of the lavish production as it steals the spotlight. It comes down to personal preference on its effectiveness. For some, “Jaws” may have that impact “Ninety-One” had on me, head-bopping smoothness.

Furthermore, it doesn’t benefit Cocodrillo Turbo that its 30-minute run time comes and goes swiftly. When you get to track 3, “Estaciones,” Bronson’s lyricism starts to meld together with a similar frequency that you almost forget he’s coming at it differently. The flows stay shifting, keeping the interest level consistent enough. Though there are aspects to enjoy, Cocodrillo Turbo comes with some hiccups. It doesn’t keep you on your toes like Only For The Dolphins, but it’s enough to keep on the backlog of Action Bronson projects of lesser quality, like S.A.A.B. Stories. But it does have enough to pack a wallop from the Cocodrillo Turbo himself. I thoroughly enjoyed the good and kept the forgettable in the back as they don’t feel compartmentalized within the rest. The production maybe, but not always the verses. Due to that, it is a modestly underwhelming project.

Rating: 6 out of 10.

Hatchie – Giving The World Away: Review

Under the twinkling guise of its starry production, Giving the World Away by Hatchie takes us on an emotionally draining listen that keeps a consistent tone, which gets lost along the way. Hatchie’s musical core has linear brevity with whimsical guitar strings and vibrant percussion, which reminded me of listening to Familiars by The Antlers and Lovelife by Lush on those late nights gazing at glow-in-the-dark plastic stars on the ceiling. Unfortunately, these fleeting moments skip a beat with the production. You spend a few moments taking in the Dream-Pop/Shoegaze aesthetic and focusing on her lyrics that the bad meshes with the good. It becomes hard to discern what you like and what you don’t upon your first listens. This inconsistency is prominent in production that has a Dream-Pop core, But Giving the World Away is a decent sophomore effort from Hatchie, crafting these introspective lyrics to match the atmosphere.

Atmosphere has a heavy focus on Giving the World Away. It incorporates elements that reflect psychedelic and rock aspects of a Dream-Pop/Shoegaze aesthetic at its core. Once set, we get these various shifts that keep the nuance of the aesthetic while trying something new. Lead singles “This Enchanted” and “Quicksand” beautifully encompass this by incorporating elements of dance music, mystifying the effects of the instruments in synchronization with an energetic drumbeat in the percussion. They counter each other’s style; the former reflects the shoegaze-like rock elements, while the latter takes a more dreamy-electronic approach–there is some flip-flop, especially in its quality. 

The tracks with elements of shoegaze excel because of the level of ingenuity compared to the dryer dream-pop-like tracks. With something as simple as “Twin,” you hear the difference when you hear the eponymous track or “The Rhythm.” The former goes on a wild journey, playing with the percussion on many fronts, while the latter takes a slower tempo approach, with uproariously psychedelic percussion. These twists and turns are never reluctant and give you enough of a punch to swift you away with ever-changing production. It hits you from the beginning with “Lights On,” which is jubilant and danceable, mirroring “This Enchanted,” which follows it. In brisk moments you find yourself dancing on your own in the confinement of modest darkness. 

You’ll notice that there are two sides to Giving the World Away: ones with overly dreamy tones and nuanced shoegaze-pop. They get jumbled with some linear consistency, albeit not all positive. The tracks tend to lose themselves in the vortex of the atmosphere, shifting into an unduly colorful space. It isn’t to discredit the songwriting and its depth; the production is what befuddles my attention, as tracks like “The Key” and “Till We Run Out Of Air” have these heavy emotional vocals from Hatchie and its production fails to match. Unfortunately, other dream-pop-like tracks aren’t as interesting. I could say there is a balance between the two, but it’s moot when one outweighs the other. They fade into a void that keeps small increments of the music, but you forget it’s playing until a more creative front reopens and you remember who the artist is.

Unlike albums I’ve mentioned earlier, Giving the World Away’s inconsistency wanes hard on the final product. So, while “The Key” and “Till We Run Out Of Air” have great vocals, the production makes these tracks forgettable, blending into blandness. It doesn’t benefit from poor pacing, as tracks tend to run long like “Twin” and “Take My Hand,” even if it only extends a melodic retread of the chorus. As a whole, Giving the World Away stumbles and fades into an abyss where the sonic shades can’t offer proper visuals of what we are ingesting. Many times, you’re lost hearing mundane melodic vocals or drab production that drowns out other aspects of a song. It leaves you with hollow spaces that could have gotten filled with tracks that had more shoegaze/rock sensibilities.

Giving the World Away treads toward forgetfulness, leaving some good tracks that embolden styles it takes for influence. Hatchie brings great melodies for steady flows; however, along with some production, it isn’t enough for an okay album. I’d recommend the few tracks I positively highlight, but it isn’t worth diving into because there is little reward. One minute you’re listening to “This Enchanted,” and next, you hear faint choruses coming in and out before reaching “The Rhythm,” continuing the unique production on tracks with that shoegaze aesthetic. These moments fill you with life and energy while the others are lifeless drones of pop that barely offer anything interesting. 

Rating: 5 out of 10.

Pusha T – It’s Almost Dry: Review

We’re about four years removed from Ye’s infamous Wyoming series, which saw Pusha T deliver Daytona, his best work to date. It showed that we could have more with less, as it weaved a more concrete and tightly structured album–one with a definitive start-to-end without leaving much to ride the coattails of great production and rapping from Pusha. Being four years removed from his last joint, Pusha T is hungry–can you blame him? It’s a contingency for him to constantly deliver top-notch verses, but it doesn’t reflect the final creation. We’ve become accustomed to his coke raps, his intricate rhyme schemes, and (of course) his infectious, maniacal laugh. That stays constant on It’s Almost Dry, despite a heel turn after “Diet Coke,” where most tracks fail to hit the mark from external forces.

From the beginning, it starts coming at you, track by track, a plethora of energy jabbing you with these hard-hitting bars that make you want to rewind it back. Pusha T can deliver a plethora of coke and money raps, but he knows how to keep it consistently intriguing lyrically. He takes different avenues to re-enforce certain connotations of his status and wealth, using his dark drug-dealing past to relay levels on the don’t fuck with meter. It’s a cycle that has been formulaic while staying interesting. Pusha T’s control and command of his craft keep him driving with a mostly clean license, like someone with only a few parking infractions. Blemishes here and there, lyrically, but for the most part, it’s a driving constant that acquiesces with the bleak and murky production. However, Pusha takes a heel turn after “Diet Coke,” where most tracks awkwardly fade into obscurity.

Though playable, some of the tracks have individualized issues, some of which don’t come from Pusha T directly. From underwhelming features on “Rock N Roll” and “Scrape It Off” to the mundane delivery and production of “Open Air” and “Call My Bluff,” these issues create distractions, at times, making you wish he took more of a solo route. It doesn’t operate with the same consistency as the first six tracks, which come at you with Pusha exceeding past his peak. Two things are evident: the Kanye West features are underwhelming, and Pusha T shouldn’t have tried to push cross-appeal over his sonic style. Don Tolliver and Lil Uzi Vert add little to the track, except for basic melodies on the chorus from the former and a forgettably bland verse from the latter. They aren’t like Jay-Z on “Neck & Wrist,” which reminds us why they are in a tier all their own. They deliver verses that create goosebumps over eerie synth and high-pitched, slightly distorted percussion.

Production is key on It’s Almost Dry. It usually incorporates these varying subtexts in its stylistic approach, rounding out Push with an array of vinyl scratches, drum patterns, and dark synths. It keeps the bleak, grimy, and murky atmosphere while taking consistent, organic twists with their added building blocks. It’s a testament to the synergy between producers like Pharrell, Kanye West, BoogzDaBeast, and 88-Keys, to name a few. They keep us on a linear path without taking a sudden nosedive. “Rock N Roll,” for its faults, naturally emboldens a rock mentality over an electro-hop core that gets reinforced by Kid Cudi’s modulations. “Dreamin Of The Past” gives us a boom-bap core with nuances to soul music; “Let The Smokers Shine The Coupe” is a bombastic anthem that consistently plays with percussion. Sans “Call My Bluff,” each production, whether subtle or not, gives us something different than the past, adding to Pusha T’s limitless range. 

Pusha T’s first three singles built up hype; they have different production styles, and Pusha T never derails, constantly hitting from all avenues that they hit exponentially; these tracks: “Diet Coke,” “Neck & Wrist,” and “Hear Me Clearly.” Even though It’s Almost Dry isn’t twelve tracks of this quality, he makes sure to close the album on a high note. “I Pray For You” continues 2022’s return of Clipse in rare form as we hear Pusha T shifting toward a more spiritually driven production that isn’t experimental like his feature on Donda. The way an organ gets incorporated boosts the depth in No Malice and Pusha T’s verses. It’s a memorable high note that makes It’s Almost Dry an interesting run-through, especially as you go through it multiple times.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Camila Cabello – Familia: Review

Composed and structured, these are a few reasons why Familia by Camila Cabello resonates more musically compared to previous records. Unfortunately, that doesn’t say much as it still misses to hit the mark as a pop album. For the few times my ears perk up, they quickly flatten as Camila tries to blend flavorful Latin Pop within whatever bad ideas flow through her creative mind. It’s as if she tries to find a middle road between earwormy harmonies and melodies and consistently basic songwriting. She’s had some catchy and replayable hits, mostly coming from songs that have some roots in her native culture. Familia lets her vocals naturally materialize over its production and give us a pulse of vibrant Latin Pop textures, but some production and songwriting are still on the opposite end.

Unlike the glitz and glamour of pop that masked Romance, Familia has a more natural feel with its vision musically. It doesn’t get wrapped by overly produced pop textures; instead, it gets stripped, rearranged with the Latin music that influenced Camila Cabello in her youth and during her time with family during the pandemic. There are elements of Rumba, Salsa, Bachata, and Folk, but It’s not exclusive to those as they get blended into whimsical pop tracks with identity. It doesn’t matter the approach Cabello brings; there is synchronization between her vocal melodies, harmonies, and the production, which is the driving hook for more easy replayability. 

Unfortunately, going that route would be more for the synchronization that allows you to listen to 11 of 12 songs without taking a totally jarring detour. It gives the technical aspects of the music traction, even if songs teeter between more conventional or more vibrant, but it’s only as good as the writing. Camila Cabello isn’t known for having deeply enchanting choruses. Her writing can stand out, specifically in her verses, but for the most part, it stays mundane. It doesn’t match her melodies as they come across as radiantly captivating. It’s a happy medium that, despite the direction the production takes, it feels natural. It doesn’t make every song incredible, but it keeps steady for better or worse. It left me wishing she kept it tighter to being open face Latin Pop, but she takes a few directions, one works; the others don’t.

However, that isn’t to downplay some of the standouts on Familia. Opening with “Celia,” Camila Cabello hits the right chords as she evokes her inner Celia Cruz. It builds off the Salsa-like rhythm and creates this hypnotic pop song that mirrors what Celia kept going for us, the addiction to dance. Since Cabello’s solo debut, anytime the production utilized Latin music to guide the style, she’d shine. It was evident with the quality shift from “She Loves Control” and “Havana” to “Inside Out.” We don’t get an inconsistency in style on Havana since any shift in style still carries a consistent piece of Latin music built-in. The subtleties fuel any centric-glitzy pop and give them definition like the use of maracas, and other percussion notes, on the trip-hop-centric “psychofreak.”

Camila Cabello is mostly a hitmaker, and sometimes it shows when certain corners get cut to check off boxes like catchy choruses and earwormy melodies. None of those occasions come from songs about Shawn Mendes, as they tend to the more basic. That isn’t to say that Cabello isn’t capable of writing great verses, shining when she writes Spanish language songs and hybrids. It separates the greatness of “Celia” and “La Vida Buena” with “Quiet” and “Boys Don’t Cry.” The latter two aren’t as profound, embodying a little more conservative electro-pop notes and mundane lyrics, mirroring the simple but effective melodies. Some of the songs are personal, but the vocabulary isn’t always eye-popping like in “Quiet.” In the song’s verse, Cabello tries to deliver a sexy lead-in but falls flat with forgettable descriptions; on the pre-chorus, it’s the same with the lines, “It’s you, boy/I’m cool like an icicle ’til I see you, boy,” and her vocals mask it for the most part. It doesn’t make them good, despite having technical components down.

It’s similarly the case with the last two tracks on Familia. It left me with the same feeling as Camila Cabello’s previous albums, predominately underwhelmed. Through the hurdles of getting caught by catchy melodies, great songs do stand out amongst the others, which continue to show us Cabello’s strengths. It may be fun to get lost in, but it’s very memorable. Familia will deliver some tracks that can fit varying playlists, but those are minimal. Hopefully, Camila Cabello grows from this and makes more Spanish language hits.

Rating: 5 out of 10.

Swedish House Mafia – Paradise Again: Review

When it comes to supergroups in music, as fans, you won’t always get what you expected. Talent is derivative when you have multiple great minds working together, and they still deliver an album or song that is forgettable. Unfortunately, that’s how it is with Swedish House Mafia’s debut album, Paradise Again. Though one could forgive giving a benefit of the doubt, Until Now mix of remixes and originals never felt like it had a concrete direction. They had the hype and great music and continue to do so, but in the end, unless bias flows through veins, Paradise Again is another collection of forgettable music. So for every few great songs we get, there are momentous duds that sound half-written. Prior to its release, thoughts lingered, like are we getting a similar flop like Until Now or something refreshing for 2022? Unfortunately, so. Paradise Again has some solid songs, but a predominant lack of energy to grow beyond the standard keeps it from being anything more than an alright album.

The three artists who make up Swedish House Mafia, Axwell, Steve Angelo, and Sebastian Ingrosso, have two sides to their artistry, and both on the craft side. As live mixers and performers, they are some of the best, but as producers and writers, they tiptoe a line between blandness and an illusion of dreary-shadowy ambiance coded in this style of Electronic/House music. As producers, they are 50-50, usually hitting when they create a lavish pop coating, like on 2012’s “Don’t You Worry Child” and or 2021’s “Moth To A Flame.” Paradise Again isn’t devoid of them, and of the ones we get, most end up being great. Some include the vibrant EDM track “Heaven Takes You Home” and the darkly nuanced electro-pop “Another Minute.” The earwormy vocals match the energy–and elevate–the production’s impact.

Of their four singles released in anticipation for Paradise Again, “Moth To A Flame” and “Lifetime” are two that left an immediate impact. “Lifetime” blends melancholic R&B drum beats (subtle), and vocals, with contrasting dreamy and dreary synths. It shifts from some boorish sounds not too far back or forward in the tracklisting. Similarly, “Moth To A Flame” builds a beautiful synth-pop foundation and finds home within bleak overtures that Swedish House Mafia weaves together with The Weeknd’s ambient vocals. Despite hearing and understanding the context of their soundscape, the quality of music is rarer. Sure, parts of the album are grand and progressive; however, it slips with the one-dimensional like “Mafia” or lacks energy, like A$AP Rocky on “Frankenstein.” This lack of energy gets heard during the last third; you get entwined with conservative House and EDM, and you are left feeling underwhelmed–like other singles, “It Get’s Better” and “Redlight” with Sting, which came and went without leaving a burning sound bite in my head. 

“It Get’s Better” gets finicky with the percussion. It’s too warped into this need to get progressive that it loses touch on what was working for the first minute. It’s a rough EDM track with dronish snares and a stop-gap of jarring cowbells midway. However, “Redlight,” which follows suit, also has a similar shift mid-song, but it’s smoother as it retains its sonic motif of dreary ambiance. Interloping the first verse and chorus of “Roxanne” by The Police, Sting’s rerecorded vocals diminish its effectiveness. It has this essence where it would have worked better as an instrumental, like “Paradise Again,” which perfectly delivers a darkened ambient progressive house core. For “Redlight,” it could have had a little more life, and instead, I’m left drowning out Sting or skipping further down the tracklist. 

Swedish House Mafia, as producers, don’t bring many unique ideas into the fray, often showing both hands: one where all plain linings of EDM/House running through their veins, and another that offers more to build off. Think of it like Poker, where one of their hands contains a set of pairs, while you have a classic straight flush in the other. It’s evident how perplexing the differences between what works and what doesn’t are when it comes to the soundscape they give us. But when it comes to the good, and sometimes lavish, songs, they are shifting away from the standard complexions of EDM, like on “Can U Feel It,” or the wrought-house track “19:30,” and shift to production stacked with these various elements from other genres. Upon listening, you’d wish they had consistent energy flowing through their veins, and we’d get more stuff like “Lifetime,” but unfortunately, we’re left shuffling between a few half-assed ideas and superb works of music.

Like the final song, “For You,” the length of Paradise Again is overlong. The 67-minute album could have gotten trimmed down for a fluent progression in sound, but it’s disjointed and underwhelming. Though there are a lot of great tracks on here, and “Lifetime” will see an “exhausting” amount of replays, I won’t find myself returning to it from start to finish anytime soon.

Rating: 5.5 out of 10.

Wet Leg – Wet Leg: Review

After “Chaise Longue” got released in 2021, it became a viral hit. However, because it is a viral hit doesn’t mean the quality is good, evident with what they bring to the table on their self-titled debut. “Chaise Longue” comes from various angles; lyrically, it’s fun and innocent with verses containing sexual innuendos that aren’t explicitly dirty; adjacently, the production evokes consistent tones that feel taken from the pages from more basic punk rock bands, like Dirty NIL, who don’t thread the needle with that kind of instrumentation. Fortunately, it is a slight tumble as you cruise through the tracklist that improves on the simplicities of “Chaise Longue,” giving us a variety of melodies and instrumentations that define Wet Leg as a band. Wet Leg captures you with melodic mysticism and lush instrumentations morphing beyond surface layer cohesion between drums patterns and electric guitars riffs, especially when the band steers toward pop-rock instead of post-punk overtures.

When it comes to debuts, sometimes you have to match the levels of your first hit; if not, find ways to reinvent the wheel by evoking your artistic voice. For Wet Leg, they restructure and create parallels between vocals and production, predominantly focusing on melodies to reel us into great songwriting. Sometimes we’ll get a song about wet dreams or getting high and splurging–while acting fool–at a supermarket. It’s an effervescent consistency that gives us a sense of glee hearing how they can create potent lyricism while staying true to themselves instead of pushing for a more direct approach. As Rhian Teasdale sings on “Too Late Now:” “Now everything is going wrong/I think I changed my mind again/I’m not sure if this is a song/I don’t even know what I’m saying,” it continues to punctuate the kind of aesthetic driving the songwriting. It’s like being hit with an array of bright lights, and your only directive is to be yourself.

At its core, though, Wet Leg is creating a bridge between us and their music as the topics are relative aspects of our youths. For the most part, it works, and it’s easy to hear where it doesn’t. A definitive difference that shows its discernible quality is their youthful angsty songwriting which feels maligned when likened to more melodically driven songs. One of these differences comes from tonal shifts in the production; they juxtapose each other poorly, which causes a slight stoppage in the consistency. “Chaise Longue” is one of two that initially caused me to tune out a few seconds after playing; the other is “Oh No,” an explosive rock track that does little to make you feel that angsty annoyance of being home alone, though the lyrics don’t help either. It’s unlike “Ur Mom” or “Too Late Now,” which shows and uses a progression of sound or melodies as it goes on to round it out. They also play it more tongue-in-cheek with a lot of emotional depth where you can see yourself in their shoes.

Beneath the hiccups are strings of melodically driven pop-rock that entices a consistent return, considering they have great consistency. It’s ever so rare that these kinds of tracks have cross-appeal, where their authenticity stays keyed in making these infectious melodies without having to cut corners lyrically. They find a happy medium, where they make improper structures–sometimes venting, sometimes having fun–sound as refreshing as ever. I mean, their biggest song has them singing, jokingly, about the d or making a Mean Girls reference as Rhian Teasdale then sings about a chaise longue. She comes at most of these songs with cadence, and energy, painting luscious pictures through words. Though, none of it is possible without the vibrant range of riffs from Hester Chambers: Wet Leg’s lead guitarist. Beyond being the crux of the production, its guitar-heavy approach allows them to wane between emotional layers, like on “Ur Mom,” which plays over the last minute. It can come vibrantly like on “Piece of Shit” or “Convincing” or even full of character, like on “Angelica.”

Ultimately, Wet Leg reminds us that MGK is naive; guitar rock never left, and one of many bands reminding us of that. As far as debuts, it’s a thrill ride that offers some surprises and oh-so luscious melodies that I can’t help but have tracks like “Too Late Now” on heavy repeat.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Vince Staples – Ramona Park Broke My Heart: Review

The first sounds we hear are waves slowly crashing along the sands of Long Beach, California. We immediately fade into Vince Staples rapping as the faint sounds of the waves blend in the background, and we get reintroduced to inside his head. Ramona Park Broke My Heart is a shifting paradigm of lies and heartbreak, cornering any sense of hope to succeed. Vince Staples’ mind has hypotheticals, realizations, and growing pains that reflect how he views his career after many years under a label–sometimes, of his personality; other times, reflective of his career. But there is more to the project than the parallels in his potent lyricism, which is a constant on Ramona Park Broke My Heart. He is showing us behind the broken walls that surround him. Vince is giving us a lot to break down, from the emotionally-lyrical side and the production, which brings a continuation of greatness heard on his self-titled release last year.

Let’s hit play on “Papercuts”; Vince Staples raps about the importance money has on him as he pushes aside an element of internal happiness. Like Vince Staples, I’ve understood him to a degree; he feels slaved over in the industry, finding less care in creating at a certain speed because his craft takes time. He isn’t an everyday rapper willing to drop a few minutes to make a pop record–we have learned from J. Cole that he got told he needed a single to sell on his debut instead of keying in on a balance of authenticity with his style. Even with Vince’s most popular tracks, he kept it 100 to his style, which shows a parallel in his artistry, where he can elevate a pop song if asked to appear on one. He’s done it before with “&Burn” by Billie Eilish. Despite the directions he takes, it’s thematically and lyrically consistent because he is zeroing in on his heart, his home.

When rapping, Vince Staples has a tremendous effect on the album as he taps into a line where he can distinguish the love for Ramona Park and the music inspired by it. There are an array of emotions that push these songs into having definition within the confines of his arc. It all pans out as intended, except for “DJ Quik,” which left little impression on me, despite a great use of a “Dollaz + Sense” by Quik himself. The lyrics in the verses are on point, but his slightly basic and slightly dronish delivery on “DJ Quik” doesn’t make an impression, knowing “Magic” comes next. Though there isn’t a linear direction that Vince takes us through, it’s more like recollecting through pictures. It’s like he opened a picture book from his life in Ramona Park and compares and contrasts it with the present.

Thinking of it as such allows for contrasting flows between tracks to work, for the most part–née “DJ Quik” to “Magic.” These shifts can come out in a somber tone like on “East Point Prayer,” which adds gravity to its themes of gang violence and selling drugs; it’s the opposite with “When Sparks Fly,” where Vince personifies love through his flow. Unlike other tracks, these two have specific parallels that aren’t subtle. They carry more as the pivot point in the middle where the album begins to mold into a cohesive structure. Some parallels can come from the production side, like when it transitions from “DJ Quik” into “Magic” and “Rose Street” into “The Blues.” Or it can come from the lyrical side like “East Point Prayer” to “When Sparks Fly” or “Papercuts” to “Lemonade,” which shows two sides to his feelings behind making money.

However, for “East Point Prayer” and “When Sparks Fly,” the latter speaks about the love between a person and a personified gun, like how a gearhead names their car–it’s like a child. Another parallel comes with the content of “East Point Prayer,” which sees both rappers talk about their resilience in escaping a life set by the foundations around them. Lil Baby delivers an equally powerful verse that reflects the business side, showing that no matter the profession, you can grow and evolve from someone better than “a product of the environment,” as he raps. It’s all buoyed by its production.

The production contains a downbeat consistency with few overlays that make every track worth wild. Though, it’s hard to meet the production of tracks like “Lemonade,” “Magic,” and “Slide” has Vince Staples putting on his musical cap and trying to continue to reflect the eccentric flows and melodies of his first few albums. “Lemonade” and “Magic” are elevated higher by the featured artist, Ty Dolla Sign and DJ Mustard, respectively. The same goes for Lil Baby on “East Point Prayer.” The cloudy-synth base production drifts you into a terrain of open consciousness. There is a balance between the two, though it may not be for everyone, as Vince stays consistent with the introspective lyricism.

From the collection of producers, there is some equilibrium in bringing a sonic consistency that you can distinguish where you have to focus on his verse. Ramona Park Broke My Heart is a lot to unpack, and the experience is rewarding. We continue to get a different Vince Staples that isn’t bent on the avant-garde and instead keying in on his roots, specifically in its production. Personally, I felt immersed in Vince’s work as he took us down new avenues expanding sounds over the production’s base drum patterns.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Fivio Foreign – B.I.B.L.E: Review

Stepping out of the shadows of Pop Smoke, Fivio Foreign has grown into his own, continuing to establish drill as a dominant genre/cultural movement in Hip-Hop. These artists have a limited range as a lyricist as the style emboldens different technical feats that an artist masters behind the microphone, like emotional focus and proper diction. Unfortunately, coded within some drill music is hate and anger, with Hot97 DJ, DJ Drewski banning the genre during his show because of the violent-gang-related content that engulfs these songs, and it’s understandable as drill has a lot to offer. Others would follow suit, but like any genre, you can subvert it the known lyrically or musically, and artists like Pop Smoke and Lil Durk did so. Fivio is another one to add to the list, especially after his debut album, B.I.B.L.E, which shows off Fivio at peak strength as a rapper while still progressing with his musical range.

We hear B.I.B.L.E stumbling at times, but Fivio’s musical ambition runs high, and working with Ye boosts the production value made by all producers involved. It tries to do something different with each track, whether it works or not, but there is an intrigue that amasses from it due to the lengths Fivio Foreign can go. He brings emotional depth and the element of surprise, especially with his approach to the themes lyrically. There is nuance in the way he approaches this, reflecting with confidence like on “Slime Them”–featuring a great verse by Lil Yachty–or reflexive like on “Feel My Struggle.” On a lyrical level, Fivio is twiddling his thumbs and delivering half-assery but his rap bars that never feel antiquated. B.I.B.L.E shows us Fivio’s growth as a lyricist and technical rapper. We hear him trying to push different flows and different sonic complexions, which sometimes work, and other times, leaves me feeling underwhelmed due to a lack of synergy.

That synergy is sometimes lost with the features as they become forgettable quickly, like Coi Leray on “What’s My Name” and Chlöe’s verse on “Hello.” It continues with Blueface on “Left Side,” who brings the energy down, and “Love Songs,” where the only ear-popping moment is Ne-Yo singing his line from “So Sick” at the end of a luscious chorus. On the other hand, “Confidence” is the opposite; A$AP Rocky comes and shines, but Fivio is almost non-existent, and the track left me wishing it was longer. However, beneath the fumbles, Fivio doesn’t back down; his flows and verses are better, and it shows, while others falter. But Fivio is there to still catch you in a web of music, specifically from the solo tracks, as he refines and reminds us of his technical talent. I can’t doubt his lyrical prowess under the guise of drill music conventions anymore. His ambition is high, and we hear it as he still tries to rap over uniquely odd samples.

“World Watching” is the most ambitious, of the bunch; it is a hybrid of two variations of “Lights” by Ellie Goulding–the original and the Bassnectar remix. When Fivio Foreign, Lil TJay, and Yung Blue start to sing or rap, the production’s proximity to that of “Lights” overwhelms them, and it leaves me scratching my head. Similarly, “B.I.B.L.E. Talk” feels forced and unnecessary. It’s here to repurpose the meaning of the album, but it gets lost with no fault from DJ Khaled’s delivery. The only interlude, there is little to it that elevates the album anymore. You remove that, along with “World Watching,” there is more cohesion amongst the tracklists. 

Without that cohesion, we get a slight imbalance. Fivio Foreign wants radio-friendly tracks and songs for the ladies, like “Love Songs,” but they mostly miss. “Left Side” seems destined to make a splash on both sides because of the chorus, but Blueface doesn’t add anything to it, and others are mundane in comparison. Other times, the production comes across as overly ambitious, like “World Watching.” However, he has one that works, “Magic City” with Quavo, which perfectly mixes what we should expect from a rap single on the radio. We want to hear them flex, and it does so effortlessly. It doesn’t need the captivating chorus melodies from “Left Side” or “Love Songs” to keep going through some mediocre moments. 

Ultimately, there is a lot to like about Fivio’s debut, and I’ll be spinning for years to come. But like any debut, you will have growing pains, and for Fivio, it’s song construction. A few times, there were moments where I felt songs could have been longer, taken off, or reworked for a better return. It could have elevated B.I.B.L.E to a higher plateau, but it stands firm strong as a solid debut that will leave fans hungry for an even better follow-up.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Dreamville – D-Day: A Gangsta Grillz Mixtape: Review

Though it isn’t saying much, Gangsta Grillz’s current resurgence, especially amongst heavy hitters, has been a fantastic contrast to artists of different pedigrees. For every Call Me If You Get Lost, there is a Free Crack 2 or Dicaprio 2. I could go on and on, but that would be moot since DJ Drama elevates the hyphy exponentially as a mixtape host. So when J. Cole’s label, Dreamville, decided to bring along DJ Drama for their latest mixtape, D-Day: A Gangsta Grillz Mixtape, there was definite intrigue stemming at the core of its style. There are potent verses and vibrant production, and each member of Dreaville gets one great song, sometimes two. It’s safe to say the mixtape hits its target with what it wants to accomplish–sometimes parts of some songs underwhelm me–most times, their free-flowing energy keeps this tape in steady rotation. 

Over the past decade, J. Cole and Ibrahim Hamad have amassed themselves one of the better rosters amongst Hip-Hop/R&B labels. It shows in the quality of content they bring to a compilation album under the label and their respective works as solo artists. D-Day: A Gangsta Grillz Mixtape, like past Dreamville records, are a collection of great tracks that refines their reputation in Hip-Hop/R&B, even though not all of the artists aren’t at the heights of some features, like 2 Chainz and A$AP Ferg. With seven artists, J. Cole not included, under their belt, there is a flurry of styles that come on D-Day: A Gangsta Grillz Mixtape, from the club banger “Stick” to the introspective “Ballin In Newport,” there is an influx of styles that have proper cohesion, and DJ Drama is there to make it even more official. 

DJ Drama’s intros are the emotional grasp that keeps you entwined. So when he sets the stage for Ari Lennox’s second track, “Blackberry Sap,” you know some fire is about to laid down on production by J. White Made It (known for “Bodak Yellow,” “A Lot,” and “Savage”). Spoiler alert, the height of the fire is parallel to the explosions seen on the unappealing album cover. That description works for many tracks on the album, like “Like Wine” by Lute, “Freedom Of Speech” by J. Cole, and “Ghetto Gods Freestyle” by EarthGang, featuring 2 Chainz. The quality of verses stays consistent for most of the album, with short deterrents along the way, most of which come in the first half. In particular: Reason’s verse on “Hair Salon” and the overall delivery of “Starting 5.” DJ Drama can elevate any track with his presence, but he can only do so much when the tracks aren’t up to par.

However, what I’ve always admired about the label is its focus on well-rounded artists, especially on the lyrical side–it shows with the tracks above and plenty of others, and they match the strength of the production. There is incredible synchronization where they coast through the strength of the rappers while others stand out alongside the artists. Not all instrumentals will stick or add something new to the formula, but Dreamville gets you to listen, even when the beat gets elevated to a higher plateau. “Lifestyle” with Bas and A$AP Ferg delivers these great verses over these crazy overlapping drum patterns that shift on a whim and keep you on your toes as both rappers come with head-banging flows. It’s similarly the case with the flows on “Everybody Ain’t Shit” by EarthGang, “Coming Down” by Ari Lennox, and “Big Trouble Freestyle” by Cozz. On the latter, we hear Cozz rap over the instrumental to “Who Shot Ya?” by Notorious B.I.G., which initially turned my head but corrected it quickly. It’s always interesting to hear the new generation rap over classic beats, even if they aren’t up to par with the swagger held by the originator. 

D-Day: A Gangsta Grillz Mixtape picks you up on a whim, and you’re cruising through the whole tracklist, suddenly getting you mesmerized by the hard-hitting verses and their content. We could have received an album filled to the brim with heaters, but instead, there is an array of bangers and introspective flexes that offer some variety. Omen and Cozz, in particular, bring that variety with their more emotionally driven flows that continue to give us a deeper meaning to these artists’ personalities. In “Ballin In Newport,” Omen raps about his struggles and how they subtly taught him to be humble with his success. It’s a breath of fresh air, unlike many others, like Cruel Summer or Dr. Dre Presents: The Aftermath, in particular, considering they have a few highlights.

D-Day: A Gangsta Grillz Mixtape isn’t just another wayward compilation; it finds a home by not being poorly executed. Dreamville has a vision, and the artists reflect theirs, drawing a parallel of who they bring aboard. Their artists are lyrically gifted, and when given the right material, they flourish. It’s heard in their energy, specifically when they eclipse the parameters of what I’d expect on a compilation: B-tier material. Instead, we get a lot of A-tier material to replay amongst a great collection of Hip-Hop albums released this year.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Kilo Kish – American Gurl: Review

Kilo Kish is authentic to her craft, as she adds realized perspective in her songwriting. It has been a keen aspect of her talent; she has been able to draw up down-to-earth vocalizations and an array of whimsical, electro-grunge-R&B/Hip-Hop grooves that acquiesce in tangential bliss. 2013’s K+ put a spotlight on her because of it, and she continues to control it from mixtape to albums, including her new album, American Gurl. Building a foundation on Experimental and Alternative R&B/Hip-Hop, Kilo Kish branched out and used the basis of what works, adding elements that see her evoking elements of Pop; however, it can become forgettable, especially with her 2016 album, Reflections In Real Time. As a follow-up, America Gurl improves on some of the off-electronic overtones and transitions, with Kilo Kish growing more into who she is as an artist.

American Gurl is vibrant, switching styles and trying different ways to incorporate overarching themes that personify Kilo Kish’s life since her debut album in 2016. It’s a loose concept wherein she focuses on themes beyond what affects her on a personal level, as she creates parallels to her perspective on the “American Girl,” using themes like consumerism and personal freedom. She can give it to us with vibrant production and more dour-electronic synchronization between vocals and production, as it creates intricate transitions. We hear it through similar themes or ideas reflected in the songwriting or the production style. It’s a significant strength that shrouds over consistent details that already make her a great talent. Significantly, the stronghold of these songs is Kilo Kish’s intricate and hypnotic melodies, acting like the glue holding many of the tracks together.

American Gurl is great, and another reason is that Kilo Kish makes bold choices, specifically with her features. Unlike standard features, Kilo Kish uses them to elevate the sonic platform and add nuance to her vocals. She does this twice with “Death Fantasy” and “New Tricks: Art, Aesthetic, and Money.” “Death Fantasy” has Miguel delivering these ghostly vocals, which bring life to the song’s theme of death, like the death of a faux-pas physique that doesn’t reflect your inner. It speaks to more than self-worth, like how privilege–generally speaking–shields you from genuine freedom. “New Tricks: Art, Aesthetic, and Money” uses Vince Staples as a hype man for her unique flows and swagger.

There are varying transitions, whether through continuing to build on themes or by its production. “Distractions III: Spoiled Rotten” continues to build upon these illusions we have of attaining grandeur life to satisfy our insecurities; it’s expressed more personally in “Death Fantasy.” However, the transition in production delivers an interesting contrast to the more experimental “Death Fantasy.” While “Distractions III” uses elements of electro-pop, adding catchier melodies while retaining that experimental glitz, “Death Fantasy” is barer. It uses a balance of atmosphere and low synths to evoke its presence–something that is subtly vibrant beneath most productions.

The steady consistency in which Kilo Kish keeps turning heads comes from having an individualized identity to the songs on the tracklist. Like Rosalia’s Motomami, American Gurl has a different sound that barely parallels what we get. “Bloody Future” evokes an elegant island vibe; the cohesion between percussion and synthesizers is what spearheads it–that’s its identity. It continues as we get “New Tricks: Art, Aesthetic, and Money,” an experimental hip-hop track that explores more industrial electronic overtones over hip-hop-centric drum beats. The everchanging production breathes enough character that you’re left mesmerized by each direction it takes. It’s as if she took the best aspects of K+ and the best of Reflections In Real Time, and she, along with producer Raymond Brady, found a way to build something profound, though I can’t honestly say that about every track. 

As you navigate American Gurl, the moments that get you perked up, and sometimes those moments aren’t as consistent–positively speaking. “Choice Cowboy” with Jean Dawson is overly ambitious with its electronic notes, that you get lost in this uninteresting techno-dance-pop hybrid that can easily get skipped. It’s the most jarring, comparatively, as it lacks smooth melodies that keep you entwined from start to finish without taking focus away from her songwriting. It’s the only instance that turns me away and causes this from being a perfect album. 

American Gurl is fantastic; we see it blend an essence of life with musical progression. We get infectious melodies and unique percussion patterns that keep you attached to the lure, digesting what she sings about. It’s an album I recommend seeking out, along with her other work. More importantly, her words are grounded in reality and poignant.

Rating: 9 out of 10.