Meechy Darko – Gothic Luxury: Review

Brooding in the shadows of socio-systematic hypocrisy moving different communities toward avenues with diminutive lights that lead toward prosperity, Meechy Darko’s debut, Gothic Luxury, encompasses his stylistic personality with bravado, despite production that seems to feel normative at times. In essence, Meechy Darko evolves slightly past loose druggie perspectives on the system and his status amongst contemporaries, expressing contrasts with the ups and downs of fame. In the intro, Meechy utters in spoken word format: “The sinner in Saint Laurent, the demon in Dior/Durt Cobain be the other name, anyway/This album contains sex, drugs, love, pain, a lil fame/Shit that come with the game/Drive a nigga insane,” which lays a foundation for potent narcissism that makes your veins shiver as he goes from track to track. However, stumbling through gritty New York City streets that past rappers laid a platform for, Meechy slightly modernizes via vocals and sonic transitions, turning the beats into stabilized balance beams for illustrative lyrics.

If anything is apparent in Gothic Luxury, there’s instability between fame and different personalities; it’s transparent in verses where he expresses lavish, drug-induced lifestyle shifting between flows and tones on the perspective, like on “Never Forgettin’.” It reflects Meechy Darko’s upbringing trying to echo his will to survive through all the pushback from various external factors. Doubled down with “Kill Us All,” Meechy offers insight into more impetuous drug consumption and the systematic oppression that poorly castrates any sense of progress socio-politically. Though more apparent in the news today, he brings a more grounded perspective on the relationship between the audience and the messenger. He uses it to position himself amongst his contemporaries–in and out of music–who command the stage since Meechy sees himself on this hierarchy where his words have weight, as expressed in the first verse of “Kill Us All.” It adds credence to that outwardly lavish, drug-fueled life without him giving much of a fuck because he’s earned his success.

“Democrat, Republican, they all evil to me

But remember that the Democrats started the KKK

I turn on CNN, they tell me be MLK

Instead of Malcolm X but they both died the same way

You know what goes hand in hand, Hollywood and C.I.A

Operation Black Messiah, it’s the FBI paid

Epstein Island, Q-Anon, and then Pizzagate

It’s crazy ’cause America loved the Black Panther movie

But in ’66, they hated the Black Panther movement

History’s a trip, it’s crazy how they twist and flip the shit

But since the winners write the history, we will not lose again.”

– Kill Us All, Meechy Darko

Solo ventures to having features; the music is a trip through hell after stealing the lush riches of heaven, making the contrasting worlds have more synergy. Throughout Gothic Luxury, Meechy Darko’s turbulent but lavish lifestyle is the selling point. It delivers intricate anecdotes about who Meechy is–a prideful rapper who isn’t afraid to show his upscale presence while living the same outlandish life. Just because he’s making them benjamins, he’s still that rapper who smoked about 100 blunts and didn’t get high. He’s narcissistic, swimming in a pool filled with clothing from Birkin, Gucci, Prada, etc., and indulges amongst the riches his prayers have bestowed upon him while feeling blessed to a slight degree. We hear it clearly on the tracks “Get Lit or Die Tryin’,” “Prada U,” and “Lavish Habits (Gothika).” These tracks give us meaning regarding his perspective on life and hip-hop, specifically how he wants to express himself in a song. His free-flowing demeanor allows him to imbue that confidence without skipping a beat, though that doesn’t always translate to fantastic.

Gothic Luxury stumbles less frequently, but when it stumbles, it stumbles harder than expected. “Hennessey & Halos” has overindulgent production; “Prada U” has an uninteresting flow and percussion, which made me feel like it tries too hard to fit an atmospheric aesthetic instead of feeling natural like on “The MoMa.” The beat plays with jazz sounds, which lets both rappers breathe without over-textualizing the sounds. But what felt right were most of the features on the album; from Black Thought to Denzel Curry and Busta Rhymes, they imbue that darkened aesthetic smoothly–along with other features like Kirk Knight, relegated to chorus duties, and Freddie Gibbs with his slightly memorable verse.

Meechy Darko had a vision and delivered on it as best he could. It’s why we can feel a discernable consistency in the sonic aesthetic, despite the twists he takes vocally. Shifting away from the Flatbush Zombies, Meechy beautifully expresses who he is and offers an understanding of his style. He’s darker than the others from the group, and the sound boasts his identity in Hip-Hop. It’s enough to keep you intrigued as his career continues to grow beyond the Zombies, especially with the maturity he brings with the delivery of the underlying themes like excess and drug use. It was an interesting listen, one where I implore you to give a spin, specifically for another perspective on success.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

DJ Khaled – God Did: Review

Mid-way through the 2010s, DJ Khaled saw a significant pivot in quality, where an onslaught of mediocre singles and albums rolled out, leaving us with little to return. He wants to be like other heavyweights in the game, like DJ Drama, DJ Kay Slay, and DJ Don Cannon–to name a few–but he hasn’t found his voice after all these years. Instead of being respectable 100% of the time, Khaled is choosing to be more of a meme, rather, an apparition that haunts you whenever you question his presence, like this year’s Academy Awards. However, he’s still capable of orchestrating and producing quality tracks where the delivery is enough to reflect competency; though it wasn’t pertinent on his last album, his follow-up, God Did, mirrors the quality of Major Key, though that isn’t high praise. God Did bears intriguing features and directions for Khaled, which don’t always work, but it’s fresh to hear a concise approach as opposed to Khaled Khaled.

Given the context of how DJ Khaled constructs his albums–creating distinct hitmakers, at times wavering toward a concept–there is merely so much you can take away outside of hip-hop or reggae/dancehall club hits. You add them to rotation, and like the previously mentioned DJs, that DJ KHALED yell at the beginning is a signifier of bangers. But as he’s grown, he’s learned to over-sizzle his presence and bore us with basic motivational drab that you want to skip to the first featured artist’s vocals. It happens immediately after a quick and forgettable Drake intro with the title track and a bit more frequently than expected down the line. It delivers one of Khaled’s better tracks in some time, with a lot of credit going to detail to make an 8-minute epic feel epic. With Rick Ross and Lil Wayne offering crisp 16s before Jay-Z comes and raps for 4 minutes straight. Khaled sets up a kind of thematic motif that represents humbleness and grace as you rack up success, but it’s sonically displaced as Khaled fizzles the gospel approach to hip-hop that many enjoyed from Ye.

After, it’s one stumble before it begins to sway between various ideas that never go anywhere, like that spiritual-esque motif that shines on their approach when flexing–which becomes forgotten, at times hypocritically expressing what is considered sinful, like pride–or ineffective deliveries. With “It Ain’t Safe,” featuring Nardo Wick & Kodak Black–though the latter speaks for itself–Nardo Wick doesn’t mince words–in his first verse, he spits: “​​She see the way I pull a bitch/You see the way these diamonds hit/Nigga try to touch my chain, you gon’ see the way this 40 kick.” There are hints of pride and violent threats, but I digress as the song is effective on its own, but when you think about the direction Khaled is seemingly aiming for, it misses. It does so on the remix to “Use This Gospel,” a Ye track from Jesus Is King, remixed/produced by Dr. Dre, Timbaland, Federico Vindver & Angel López, and featuring Eminem. If you ever had doubts about Eminem on a gospel track with no cursing, expect the best he can without synergy since Eminem’s style doesn’t adequately parallel a style sketched by the original.

Other stagnant aspects deter from what one expects after listening to the first three tracks. Though that isn’t to say the–immediate–subsequent tracks falter. “Big Time” and “Keep Going” shine by encapsulating the featured artists’ strengths and allowing them to direct their perspective identity with the beat. It’s a consistent positive within Khaled’s talents; he can build something great in his mind, despite the execution never landing, like on “Let’s Pray” or “Beautiful,” where individual artist delivery can’t buoy the song from being more rudimentary comparatively. It doesn’t benefit from relegating SZA to a chorus role when Future is retreading verses from his last album, albeit a breezy flow. Likewise, other missteps become more apparent, like some sample use like on “Staying Alive.” It’s an egregiously dull and derivative use of a Bee Gee’s song–the base production is simple, outright basic, and unappealing. Adding the interpolations of the chorus with some overly monotonous Drake vocals makes it one of the more annoying stop-gaps that can halt any listen. It’s an absent idea that sees him wanting to find a trend between disco nostalgia and hip-hop but misses the mark. 

Lacking subtlety, its use of samples gets used to boast the effectiveness of Khaled’s sonic direction, offering a rich layer that’s either emotional or outright fun, like on “Party” with Offset & Takeoff. “Party” samples the Eddie Murphy hit, “Party All The Time,” and as I heard the filtered synth sample and the slightly distant reverb in the chorus from the song made me laugh at first. But as I kept returning, it dawned on me how effective its use is as they make it their own without an abundance of Khaled. Similarly, “Way Past Luck” beautifully incorporates samples of the production from “All This” by Barbara Jean English. Confident pivots leave tracks independent from the mold, capable of holding weight amongst as it stands on a corner delivering concrete fluidity. It’s especially the case with the three songs that immediately follow “Way Past Luck,” considering his inclusion of Juice Wrld was both enjoyable and respectable, as it builds hype toward a thrilling Jadakiss interlude. It may be stagnant, but DJ Khaled still somewhat delivers on the orchestration side.

God Did is a better album than DJ Khaled’s last outing, but the standards he has set for himself get properly reflected here, even if he could go higher. Though, like most Khaled albums, there are bangers to return to, despite wrought inconsistencies. I had a somewhat fascinating and fun time going through the album, which I expect from most, even if it doesn’t tread toward the quality of projects like Suffering From Success.

Rating: 5.5 out of 10.

Artist Profile – Telenova

Some of my favorite discoveries have been on a series from Australian DJ & Radio Host Triple J called, Like A Version. Within his show, the artist he interviews deliver two live performances, one original and one cover they want to do. And one artist that captivated me on both ends is Telenova, an Australian Electro-Pop/R&B band that offers intrigue to a world that can expand. I knew they could make something special from their performance of “Hung Up” by Madonna. I was on a cloud of whimsy as they delivered sonically while constantly expressing jubilance. From there, I started to dig further into their discography–two EPs and a few singles later, they have an identity built within their core, despite slightly shifting to standard sonic conventions we hear amongst their contemporaries. But that’s okay, as they follow a rhythmic pattern that makes our ears tingle with that pop-tinge from musical catchiness.

There’s “Bones,” this exuberant electro-pop groove that leans on the atmosphere, shifting between these whimsical strings and filtered synths. Contrasting that style is the percussion-driven “Haunted,” which recontextualizes atmospheric overtures as a subtle backing layer for the rhythmic and slight R&B-influenced vocals from lead singer Angeline Armstrong. There are various turns Telenova takes to make themselves stand out amongst the rest, and beyond the two tracks mentioned, they bring an excellent ear for certain instrumentations. We especially hear in the cadence brought out by the strings, whether from various guitars, mandolins, etc., weaving together the varying layers of synths and percussion into flirtations with pop. I’m an over-giddy fan who loves ambient/atmospheric electro-pop, specifically when it has an identity that separates them from contemporaries, like Chvrches. One of many indie bands I return to–I can’t wait  for the moment they release full length LP, but for now, check out their cover of “Hung Up” and EPs, and hopefully you’ll like them.

Check out their most recent EP, Stained Glass Love, here:

Traumazine – Megan Thee Stallion: Review

Taking a shift from the excess and glamour of southern bass-heavy Hip-Hop of the Texas region, aka chopped & screwed and trap, Megan Thee Stallion delivers as expected on a lyrical and technical level. Unfortunately, the production doesn’t match the levels of Megan’s talent, as we get a darker approach to the sounds, like more piano. That isn’t to say it has a steady consistency of mediocrity since beneath the levels of percussion, the interest in details wanes poorly. It can be slightly excusable or somewhat overlooked, like with boom-bap percussion beats where their role is to coast and let the lyrical poignancy enthrall you to the depths of emotional understanding. Or it isn’t, because with certain styles like trap, where the redundancies in elements of the percussion make the sound come off dull. Unlike these two examples, Megan Thee Stallion is trying something different on Traumazine; she’s focusing on trauma from a shooting involving Tory Lanez, taking us through these complex emotions that reflect events. She does so fiercely, keeping us focused on her craft, despite the production being lesser.

After some fiery, hard raps to get the flow moving on Traumazine, Megan Thee Stallion starts to pedal back, getting lost within a vast chasm of sounds. Megan is spelunking with poorly refurbished material, barely keeping her against the wall as she digs deep and delivers a flurry of emotional prowess. She’s shifting the construct, letting the sounds flow through atmospheric motifs in the sounds, which mirrors a darker side of Megan. Despite these notable upticks in idyllic shifts, it never held firmly together–some structural and melodic stumbles take you away from the mystique of Megan’s person. She has the ferocity, the heat that keeps us sizzling–hot girl summer after hot girl summer. But parallel to the mundane beats, some of Megan’s choruses, bridges, and so forth lack the appeal of the captivating simplicity and sternness of “Sugar Baby” and “Body” off her debut Good News. Traumazine isn’t constantly stumbling from this since we get some allure from choruses/hooks on her more grounded raps, like the effervescent flex “Budget” or “Ms. Nasty.”

Unfortunately, as Megan Thee Stallion switches up the tonal complexion, we are left with unappealing genre-bending that makes me question the producers as much as the songwriters. Though not in a pessimistic, judgmental kind of way. But there are various moments where this doesn’t cross the mind, as Megan consistently finds enough correlation between style and substance. With “Anxiety,” there is excellent cohesion between the piano and drum patterns, allowing the choral backgrounds to mesh as an instrument along with the rest. Other moments arise from the level of energy Megan’s features bring, whether it’s that crisp braggadocio from Latto or that hardcore understanding like “Scary”–eerily reminds of Bad Meets Evil’s “Scary Movies” from the Scary Movie 1 soundtrack. It’s similarly the case with other rap features that match the direction with engaging verses, like Pooh Sheisty. But Megan reminds us she isn’t just fucking with other young guns; she delivers a fantastic posse cut with Sauce Walka, Big Pokey, and Lil’ Keke. They are on an upper echelon in their realm, especially the latter two. 

However, “Her” was that first moment it started to shift for me with the inconsistencies. At first, intrigue arose from its sound, but it becomes a dud with a hook that’s slightly more attractive and colorful, albeit dwindling from an overly basic house beat. It doesn’t transfix you with new dimensions, keeping a steady pattern that rarely switches to make your ears perk up, and Megan’s verses are a slight afterthought. Similarly, on “Red Wine,” Megan’s semi-aggro-flow and intimate chorus aren’t crafted with a smooth contrast that its switches aren’t coming across naturally. Though it’s after where we hear a steady progression of inconsistencies, whether from yawn-inducing choruses or verses that retread past sentiments/bars we’ve gotten. On the fritz, the second half, Megan finds herself steering toward pop with these performances from Lucki Daye and Jhene Aiko that are audibly beautiful, despite being contextually dry.

As I’ve said prior, Traumazine doesn’t stunt Megan Thee Stallion’s lyrical integrity and prowess, continuously finding ways to deliver her points even when the tracks are not desirable. Notably, “Sweetest Pie” gives us proper Megan colloquialisms and other checkmarks in her style–albeit the captivating fun in her delivery–it isn’t the best fully formed. Though catchy because of Dua Lipa’s dance-pop/disco-influenced melodies, I don’t hear the best synergy between the two–it’s like Megan’s backing vocals for Jhene Aiko on their track together. Fortunately, as the first single, it stunted my expectations and added oomph to some of the aforementioned tracks that stood out and others like “Plan B” and “Not Nice.”

I wasn’t the biggest fan of Traumazine, despite mixing intrigue from a slight deterrence of her more lavished debut. There was enough for a return, but it doesn’t breach past the constraints heard and never something with sonic depth. Megan Thee Stallion isn’t here to show a decline in talent as that is as pertinent as ever, but a lot of the surrounding factors make tracks stumble, that you might not be able to return for Megan’s verses. Give it a spin, as it might be more your speed as this time, it wasn’t mine.

Rating: 6 out of 10.

Danger Mouse & Black Thought: Cheat Codes – Review

When it comes to The Roots or Black Thought–as a solo artist–even the pseudo remixes on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon–Black Thought never disappoints, even when your anticipation is high. With Cheat Codes, his new album alongside musician/producer Danger Mouse, Black Thought emboldens his status in Hip-Hop, delivering an influx of lucid and poignant verses. There is constant intrigue in Thought’s words as he gives perspective parallels to the simplicity behind the realism, amongst other styles like flexing and relevant criticism. The music takes you by the horns, offering a refreshing album that finds home on stoops with the homies where you’re blaring it from speakers, despite some minor drawbacks from weak featured performances.

Black Thought morphs imagery fluidly, barely seeming to skip a beat like he’s some rap prodigy, but that’s been evident since trading bars with Dice Raw in the 90s. Cheat Codes takes us back 20-30 years when sampling was a check-mark component of Hip-Hop/R&B, though Thought and Danger Mouse craft it with nuance. It’s a driving force behind Cheat Codes, as it shifts through varying styles contextually, from reflective raps to evoking multi-layered flexes, etc. Though on a vague level, it is reflective of most rappers–how Black Thought writes and spews off the dome offers clean structures and intricate rhyme schemes. There’s innate synergy, especially with the shift toward a style more potent from 1993–2006–think J Dilla, DJ Premier, Dr. Dre, DJ Quik, The Hitmen, etc. Danger Mouse, a veteran from the era, brings seamless craftsmanship as the samples get incorporated into the beat/production for Black Thought to spit profusely. “No Gold Teeth,” amongst others, encompass these samples as the glue between sounds, allowing us to stay keen on the distinct switches between beats.

“No Gold Teeth” is a keen example of both and a favorite. It gives us a detailed retelling of Thought’s career and how the grind reflects the earned confidence he imbues with his status as a rapper–one example: “Philly ain’t known for cheesesteak sandwiches only, stop/Yo, I’m at the top where it’s lonely/I got everybody mean-mugging like Nick Nolte/But nah, I won’t stop, won’t drop, won’t retire.” Like “Close to Famous,” it’s an inner jolt where he doesn’t push aside the kind of feeling that comes with one’s history and allows it to be a given to maintain focus as a proper form of rags to riches. It’s how he can keep others mean mugging without relenting on the abundance of grandeur. He mentions chains in passing as an achievement instead of a representation of net worth. Danger Mouse incorporates the opening string orchestration and some humming from the song “Stop” by South African Trumpeteer Hugh Masekela, which gets used as a contrast to Thought’s tone. 

Similarly, with the sampling in “Saltwater,” Danger Mouse incorporates sequencing from Italian Rock Band Biglietto Per L’Inferno’s operatic “L’amico suicida,” establishing the tone for the track eloquently. Featuring Conway the Machine, Black Thought, and Conway trade verses that position themselves on this tentpole of unfuckwithable, or one not to fuck with based on how they describe themselves. Like when Conway raps, “Look, they heard me rhymin’, they wanna know where they find me at/The grimy cat from the May Street trenches, insomniac/Three in the mornin’, lurkin’ in that Pontiac/Where I’m from, you gotta take your pole even when you go to the laundromat (Keep it on you).” Black Thought intersects criticisms toward youths aiming to rap for the glamour–forgetting how some come from these grimy roots striving for a voice instead of the money, then shifting to display a difference when it comes to the power of words, like when he rapped: “We pass the baton like a drum major at Howard/We transfer the power for salt, water, and flour/My pen packs a dawah, Akira Kurosawa/My ideas is gunpowder, secure the tower.” The layers within this sequence are also potent throughout the album; it has more standing on the solo ventures, unlike most with features.

Conway, MF DOOM, Raekwon, Killer Mike, and ASAP Rocky have an excellent presence on these features, the former three more so than the latter two, but a few others seem to disjoint from what is effervescently flowing through Danger Mouse and Black Thought. There is a clear synergy between Thought and these featured rappers, but not all can match the lyrical and technical poignancy of the reference sheet Thought delivers. It’s especially the case with El-P on “Strangers” and Joey Bada$$ & Russ on “Because,” which brings forth ubiquitous bars that don’t feel fresh and new, instead becoming a reflection of past selves that aren’t as interesting. It feels more of a throwaway when pinned up against the complexities of “Belize,” which comes across as an expanded flex that attacks various angles from both Thought and MF DOOM– posthumously.

Cheat Codes continues to show Black Thought’s dominance as a lyricist, accompanied by fantastic production from Danger Mouse and delivering platters of whimsically thrilling verses. But like past realized projects, Thought seems to stumble with making sure the performances are up to par with the direction he wants to take, because there are many here. Though it isn’t hard to be too distinguishable, comparatively, some get notice, and you’re quickly yawning after the final outcome. It’s a fantastic album nonetheless and definitely encourage all hip-hop fans to take a seat and indulge.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

The Game – Drillmatic – Heart vs. Mind: Review

There is nothing cornier than hyping yourself up only to fail at delivering convincing arguments toward claims one boldly makes to get eyes and ears. There is an arrogance to it that you love when they can produce, and characteristically, I wasn’t surprised with all the chatter from The Game as we awaited the release of the new album, Drillmatic – Heart vs. Mind. From interviews to random posts on social media and more, he imparted a high standard for fans, who have been starving for consistency since 2016’s 1992. He comes proclaiming: “This album is better than Doctor’s Advocate. Shit, it’s better than The Documentary. I’m not here to gas shit, I don’t even shoot most of my videos, I don’t over promote, I don’t even give a fuck if one nigga buy it…This Drillmatic shit [is] different. This shit got Ye out the house on some different shit. This shit got niggas moving different.” It isn’t. But it’s there, alongside albums in the tier below The Documentary, meaning, despite a flurry of great tracks, it’s overlong, pumping the breaks early as you start to get tired before the last 40 minutes so end.

Though 1992 was a great follow-up, it became drowned amongst albums like Block Wars, Born 2 Rap, and Streets of Compton and some singles; fortunately, Drillmatic – Heart vs. Mind delivers some satisfaction on the consistency front, despite being another unnecessarily long album. At 30 Tracks and nearly two hours, Drillmatic – Heart vs. Mind felt more like a dwindling and tiring process that never proves Game’s point about it being his opus, though that isn’t to say we don’t receive some of his best work in some time. There are moments where, like in The Documentary, sadness, and pain get heard potently–his aggro-sounding flow temper in one direction, turning the notches on another. It gives us a greater understanding of why he makes confident proclamations, especially with certain tracks reflecting the nature of his talents, whether flows or lyricism. We hear these flows coming at a constant, eventually becoming redundant as it progresses, despite his lyricism still shimmering through the cracks.

It’s similarly the case with its production, which contains work from an abundance of producers with enough synergy to keep it afloat, even when some aren’t as interesting as the Game’s content within the track. We hear it on “Outside,” a classic west coast romp that personifies character within the gangster rap realm. “Twisted” similarly lacks the intrigue of other percussion-heavy beats, but like how the swagger boosts the potency of “Outside,” Game’s lyricism does so here. Having lesser production, comparatively, makes other tracks explode on repeat, like “Burning Checks,” Game’s attempt at Drill–and one of my favorites–or the nuanced sounds from late 90s/early 00s gritty NYC street rap on “K.I.L.L.A.S.” They hide amongst varying styles that remind you of radiant melodies and beats that offer stylistic overtures and subtleties within ever-shifting drum patterns on the over or underhead. We hear him rapping over beautifully eclectic percussion on “Nikki Beach,” and then there are the eloquent piano notes playing between rhyme schemes and verses on “Start From Scratch II.” Stagnant transitions aside, there isn’t much on that front that distorts how you take in the sounds.

Though it isn’t pertinent throughout, minor transitional pivots like between “Nikki Beach” and “Talk To Me Nice” push you aside harder as they are complete opposites tonally. Going from this incredible, slightly island-like production to the drilling loudness and annoyance that is Meek Mill’s flow doesn’t give you much to fall back on. It’s a second pair after two earlier tracks, “Chrome Slugs & Harmony” and “Start From Scratch II,” where the transitions sound more seamless, even though the former isn’t as strong, which is the opposite with “Nikki Beach” and “Talk To Me Nice” where the latter isn’t great as the former. That isn’t saying much when features on these tracks can sound mundane in comparison. The outliers here have distinctions in tempo, and these slightly wayward moments further affect the mellow-to-hard sonic transitions on more listen-through–specifically from “Burning Checks” to “La La Land.”

The influx of features on Drillmatic – Heart vs. Mind pushes the album to its limits with seven solo tracks of thirty, including albatross of a diss– “The Black Slim Shady;” it undermines the hardened, testosterone-pumping flows/raps, which contrasts the more personal tracks. Seeing the plethora of featured artists ahead of time offered no surprise as we’ve seen Game do it out the wazoo since The R.E.D. Album. And we’ve seen it work ceremoniously on The Documentary 2 & 2.5; however, it starts to feel more gimmicky, as if Game isn’t capable of giving us something tight and focused like 2016’s 1992. Though I’m not decrying the quality, as some don’t stick to the landing, thus adding more pressure on the project to be its best, but a weak verse or lackluster chorus/hook or even both derail the final product because you’ll then find it hard get through it. Some that come to mind are “O.P.P,” “Talk Nice To Me,” “.38 Special,” and “Universal Love,” further reminding me that Game is at his most consistent delivering tracks solo. 

You love to hear The Game express himself, delivering visceral depth in his storytelling, whether through flexing or being retrospective–especially as you forgive his consistent name drops–most of them are fantastic, like the smooth “La La Land.” But “The Black Slim Shady” stood out like the sorest thumb mostly because it was conceptually, lyrically, and ridiculously bad. I knew The Game was hungry for beef with Eminem after expressing fright in the past, and if you come talking big, one best deliver, and he doesn’t. I found myself picking apart the directions of his various satirizations, narrative pivots, and more; eventually, I started thinking Meek Mill’s first response to Drake is more of a piece of Mozart when it isn’t. It left me feeling mum, at times bored, because I’ve heard Game get down and dirty before and deliver it, specifically with disses, and coming at 110%. Comparatively, this is the first Game project I’ve liked since 2016.

It could have used some trimming to make it feel less bloated and more fluid. The Game tries to bring too much into the fray, making way for tracks to teeter in quality, especially as he tries to connect with the youth and incorporate them poorly, like Blueface on “.38 Special.” It’s like a roller coaster with an appeal to keep riding, even if it isn’t the most extravagantly designed ride. You’re sitting there, headphones plugged in or speaker blaring; the allure comes from your appreciation of the construction of the best tracks, which, in this analogy: the best twists, loops, and turns the ride takes you through. It doesn’t help that this ride will be long as the album caps at two hours, which can feel longer than after 70 minutes. Definitely give this a spin, as I can hopefully guarantee you’ll leave with at least 50% of the track finding rotation amongst your fave rap tracks of 2022, and if not, that’s okay; it isn’t every day you sit back and decide to listen to a two-hour album.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Pale Waves – Unwanted: Review

Turning back the clock with Unwanted, Pale Waves reinvigorates the sounds that hooked us with My Mind Makes Noises, which felt slightly faint on Where Am I? Instead of reeling towards general rock complexions, Pale Waves ignites their emotions and lets them ride like waves as they shift between chords and effects. The strings are transparent and potent, allowing the drums and synths to be the sandpaper smoothing out the rough edges. It’s gripping at various moments–other times, we’re vain to the sounds that aren’t as triggering and leave us humdrum with esoteric genericism in the pop-punk aesthetic blanketed over the album, and the slight side-turns into acoustics. Though they teeter in this direction, it centers on taste, and it didn’t hit the proper tastebuds; the few missteps can get glossed over by the sheer consistency heard compared to their last album. And that isn’t to say I haven’t had this on repeat–cause I have exponentially, further showing how easy it is to get lost within that realm of sounds.

The realized consistency in Unwanted is as potent as ever, keeping you enshrined in this confined temple of relativity where Heather Baron-Gracie’s captivating melodies and the band’s overall riotous instrument playing keep you glued as it comes from multiple angles. It’s immediate with “Lies” and its tremendous drop, creating an identity toward the emotive tenacity these tracks will deliver. There is angst, and their fiery limits aren’t confined, giving Baron-Gracie the range to evoke emotions fluidly. She doesn’t get invariably angered by situations, sometimes getting lost within existential thoughts that get reflective based on personal social experiences. But it’s when Baron-Gracie truly immerses herself with these feelings, which are reflective amongst the best tracks on the album. “Lies,” “Jealousy,” and “Alone” are some that come with a fierce punch, propelling the straps to grip you into your seat and rocking to these sentiments we are or aren’t focusing on, especially with the latter two. “Jealousy” ferociously captures that essence of jealousy Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl” exhumed, just not as vanilla. The melodic strings and gripping drum patterns in the chorus bring out your inner emotional mosher, one where the body speaks on the production’s bravado. 

Unlike “Jealousy,” “Alone” reinforces a disdain for anyone who embodies an overly touchy persona and eagerness beneath that they can’t get beyond simply understanding someone’s preference to be alone. Heather Baron-Gracie exhumes these sentiments with personal integrity that you forget the universal appeal it brings; it’s akin to empowering anthems about being alone and striving, except it’s being alone, so she doesn’t have to deal with varying “repercussions.” Like she said in an interview with Apple Music: 

“I don’t think I’ve ever been as brutal as I am on this track. It’s about when you say no to someone and they just don’t leave you alone. So many times—in clubs, in bars, in goddamn Tesco—where someone comes up to you and they’re like, ‘Can I buy you a drink? Can I get your number?’ And you say, ‘Sorry, I’m not interested.’ And they still get all handsy and physical with you. Do you not get the message? Don’t touch me.”

– Heather Baron-Gracie

: there is an essence of being without becoming overly preachy, especially in the context of rejection songs. There is a balance that never downplays the themes, though not all tracks have gripping production, sometimes feeling like composites of other styles without adding anything distinguishingly new to set itself apart besides any catchiness within the chorus or melodies. 

Fortunately, we’re steering towards a triumphant set of tracks to close the album, especially as they imbue these exhilarating sounds that shift the parameters by allowing some of the simplicity to feed into the depth of the performances or the intricate production that steers you away from current pop-punk tones. “You’re So Vain” and “Reasons To Live” begin to ignite and exhume fumes of creative integrity. It’s pertinent to one’s enjoyment of the album as they slowly shift toward the sounds of Where Am I? except with stronger compositions that keep your ears glued. It caught me by surprise, with the final track finding itself on heavy rotation. Baron-Gracie has noted how negatively emotional Unwanted is and transcends the emotions loosely, like on “Clean,” which gives us some crisp, fun positivity where her sense of love gets explored physically and vocally. You hear and feel it when she sang: “I bang my hеad against the wall/Until I hear your voice/Yеah, I’ve come undone/I’m hooked and I’m withdrawn/And I don’t really care if it’s my fault,” as this composite of metaphorically intense love, and it’s delivered beautifully.

Amongst the wind of radiant consistency, some tracks minimally stunt progression or feel like a sonic retread of others that have done it better, which is the case with the more somber, acoustic-driven “The Hard Way” and “Numb.” They don’t sound like something special at first, as you get predominant lead-ins toward these crazy closers of rock bliss, but those lead-ins aren’t all effective and leave you feeling mum about the last 70 or so seconds of the tracks. “Only Problem” is not like them; it is one of these composites that feels like a poorly constructed throw away that doesn’t retread themes, instead sounding poor in comparison with what follows. These tracks have merit contextually lyrically, but the layering between vocals and production isn’t equally as strong, and that’s what keeps you engaged.

Unwanted is fantastic, albeit with a few hiccups along the way. It delivers what fans want and love and more, and from speaking to a few–post thought collection, which has been potent in our conversations. It keeps their formula intact as we shift in emotional range, becoming reflexive between vocals and instrumentations–we’re in a daze as we align with riotous melodies that make us feel heard during our inner personal jam session. And if you bypass the ineffective tracks, there is more to obtain from the sheer transitions within the pitch, style, and more, which will leave you with a rewarding listening experience.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

DOMi & JD Beck – NOT TiGHT: Review

Aftermath Records cemented homegrown superstars from the underground up, and these superstars have gone on to expand into managing themselves. Anderson .Paak is next up at bat, and the debut of his first signees isn’t much of a spectacle, but it offers insight into the direction he wants to take in his new venture. Unlike others who keened into hard-hitting lyricism, Paak aims for the magic behind the words, aka instruments. With DOMi & JD Beck, he has just that—breathing the fragrant essence of Jazz that teeters between coherent rhythms and purposely incoherent jovialness as they orchestrate an album that bends different soundscapes, most of which flourishing into some memorable tracks. The consistency isn’t high with the impact getting heard more so in the middle, but within that area, you’re not always gravitating towards it. Unfortunately, you’re left feeling musical hope for their future, even if NOT TiGHT isn’t the most robust debut.

As it begins, NOT TiGHT wanes in concept as it stiffens due to some standard overtures with its percussional rhythm; however, the varying degrees of instrumentations that overlay brings back your attention quickly as it continues to trickle through. Sometimes that feeling occurs because the drums contain yawn-inducing sequencing before getting wild and developing a sense of being. We first hear it in the latter half of “Smile,” which carries unique sounds that allow you to pick out and contrast as they play alongside contemporaries like Thundercat or legends like the incomparable Herbie Hancock. Within this microcosm of tracks in the middle, you get handed some intimate twists. It’s pertinent in the sounds that radiate from DOMi’s eclectic keyboard and drum playing, which JD Beck mirrors, allowing these shifts to form smoothly. Instead of singing, they let the instruments speak, and the synergy between them oozes into your veins, allowing the latent lounge to flourish with colors. Both “Bowling” and “Not Tight” feature Thundercat; the former is more soulful and melodic, while the latter feels like a free-form session that became a distinctive happy accident. 

Their instrumentations are critical in understanding their craft, as they balance between sounding freeform and conversational notes. At times, they don’t truly feel like tracks and instead act as sonic pads to reinforce the feature-heavy middle, containing both vocal and instrumental features. Some have a crisp roughness that gives us elegant contrasts to that more sustained sequencing that opened the album. “Space Mountain” and “Whoa” are instant hits, transcending past the norm and enveloping a proper cadence in their sequencing, allowing smoother textures to find balance with the nuanced avant-garde. “Whoa” does so more exponentially as the duo weave what sounds like a spectacular jam session into an extraordinary sense of Jazz bliss. The drum patterns switch focus with the strings and keys, letting the fragrance of the instrumental playing offer insight into their characteristics musically.

There are missteps with “Two Shrimps” and “U Don’t Have To Rob Me,” though it comes back around with “Moon,” featuring Herbie Hancock. Like Hancock’s performance, many hit the nail on the coffin, but unlike “U Don’t Have To Rob Me,” “Moon” benefits from having DOMi & JD Beck provide backing vocals, which adds layers to Herbie Hancock’s whimsically electric and smooth performance. They embody sensibilities of the past and modernize with rich undertones, specifically of the hip-hop variety. Anderson .Paak–with Snoop Dogg and Busta Rhymes–adds flavor to the boiling pots and steaming pans of sounds that embolden their flows. Paak delivers decadent flows over “Take A Chance,” while Snoop and Busta trade verses over a soulful-jazz instrumental. Though Snoop Dogg can’t match the laidback bliss from 2015’s Bush, he delivers a verse and flow that beautifully contrasts Busta’s softened bravado. Unfortunately, the brakes get applied early, and the last two tracks, in comparison, are mild and send you off feeling mum about the whole listen.

NOT TiGHT is a fun and mature debut that offers enough to keep your attention through and through, thanks to some clean transitions between tracks. There was stuff I liked, some that made me want to skip, but reactions may arrive differently for you, and that’s fine. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough for me to gush over and sell.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.

Calvin Harris – Funk Wav Bounce Vol. 2: Review

Funk Wav Bounce Vol. 2 lacks a track that captivates and tingles the senses of summer’s cadence. When we think of summer, the vibes that radiate are crisp, danceable, smooth, and sometimes percussion-heavy, and with Funk Wav Bounce Vol. 1, we got just that with the opening track, “Slide.” The gravitas behind each element is like that first bite of your favorite snack after a long-winded day that doesn’t resonate on Vol 2. There are some decent–at times–solid tracks, but the poor construction from an artistic lens gives us an essence of what could have been otherwise better moments. It’s evident with “Obsessed,” a track that becomes lost in third-rate vocals from Charlie Puth, or opening with “New Money,” which offers a lackluster intro that wastes 21 Savage’s talent. It says a lot about the parallel between albums, and though there isn’t much to it, a few highlights are there for you to pick out and play on repeat.

Though it wasn’t a major standout, Funk Wav Bounce Vol. 1 dropped with a dynamic one-two punch to start it off. That first punch,” Slide,” is something that has yet to get reflected in quality since its release. There was this whimsical synergy between Frank Ocean and Migos, along with beautifully incorporated percussion patterns at a minimalist level; there was a reason the mood and vibes equated to grandeur. It had the POP from beautifully delivered melodies and a verse from Frank Ocean, an otherwise surprising collaboration between two different sounds. The closest we get to that feeling that comes midway through the album on “Stay With Me.” It’s a memorable funkadelic-disco track that grows on you the more you listen. At first, it may not acquiesce with your senses, but as you focus, you hear these unique transitions between the different vocal styles of Justin Timberlake, Halsey, and Pharrell. A part of me wished there were more of a connection between it and the 1:24 minute “Part 2,” which would make an elegant and indulgingly longer dance track. Unlike it, others had me questioning the decisions behind each. It begins with a jarring mix between 21 Savage and a synth pop-rap beat where the two don’t blend well, and 21 just feels muted.

After you get past it, presented to you are an array of tracks that don’t aggressively range in quality, but some decisions shift the final outcome. “Obsessed” begins with forgettable vocals by Charlie Puth before Shenseea grabs the steering wheel and makes a powerful argument about removing Puth’s vocals–more so when he delivers a slightly pale and mundane vocal performance in the second half. Similarly, “Somebody Else” contains an imbalance with the potency of the performances/verses, but not enough to make me question the addition of Lil Durk as a foil for Jorja Smith. Durk delivers a smooth flow that blends with the production, but his verse isn’t as captivating, teetering more on decent comparatively to the various rappers who tackle this subject. It isn’t offensively bad and meshes well with the vibe, but it isn’t anything profound. Jorja Smith’s vocals have beautiful consistency, but it doesn’t get used well. It’s like “Potion,” which reminds us of Young Thug’s chameleon-like nature as he offers a great partnership with Dua Lipa. Unfortunately, their talent gets misused over an uninteresting EDM/Post-Disco Pop track.

Though Funk Wav Bounce Vol. 2 isn’t all confusing decisions and lackluster mixes, some highlights round out the tracklist. From “New To You” to “Nothing More To Say,” there is a crisp progression of tracks that offer something of quality, whether its the 80s R&B/Dance nuance of the former or an absorbing hype track in “Ready or Not,” which stays on a steady wavelength, agreeing with the kind of intensity the songs after offer. Among this string of tracks is the aforementioned “Nothing More To Say,” a definitive highlight that brings forth the strengths of all involved instead of plastering prevalent artists and seeing if they can make it work. The latter is evident with the lackluster concoctions we hear at the beginning and end, whether from production or artists involved. It’s particularly disheartening when Calvin Harris brings along Pusha T and fails to meet in the middle, further becoming a middling closer after two more forgettable tracks. It’s a cluster of mediocrity that never sees the light and instead keep shifting the faulty one with older, worn, but slightly effective ones.

Funk Wav Bounce Vol. 2 isn’t anything to write home to, especially as it leaves you feeling mum toward the whole listen. It felt more like a chore than anything else, and we’re left thinking about how it went wrong. And that’s because it comes across as something pushed through fan pressure allowing it to not flow naturally like the first. However, that’s also an issue he had calling the first Vol. 1, which in turn caused more hype and demand to reflect that hunger, and it’s safe to say I was not satisfied.

Rating: 3 out of 10.

Maggie Rogers – Surrender: Review

Like some, I’ve wondered where Maggie Rogers could take her career since her debut came and delivered intriguing genre stylings, like electronic-folk, and not like the Ellie Goulding kind that felt more pop. Instead of exploring it more, she expands what inherently worked more consistently on her debut: Heard It In A Past Life–that is electro-pop, rather loose, and more alternative-electro-pop. It’s what makes Surrender a fascinating journey that explores the notion of surrendering yourself, allowing an opening for a “transcendence of sex and freedom,” as Maggie Rogers would describe. She isn’t succumbing to the external pressures of the disco trend, allowing the melodies to shift and form these captivating tracks, which keep you engaged through most, retaining a sense of balance between that and quieter pop that slowly hits the pedal as it gets to the end.

Surrender doesn’t mince expectations, and it reminds you head on instantly. Disregarding the musicologist’s idea of the leading hitter squared at track two or three, Maggie Rogers hits you with varying sounds that radiate magnetic synergy. They encompass layers of rock underneath exquisite electronic overtones, specifically synths, taking you through these clouds of dance-bliss. You’re in your room, feeling and letting Rogers’ words empower you to surrender and be yourself instead of masking individual weaknesses. “That’s Where I Am” begins a new start after finding someone in “Overdrive,” which tells us where Maggie Rogers at mentally. It reminds us how she can make minimalist lyrics feel more effervescent. In the first verse of “That’s Where I Am,” Rogers sings: “I found a reason to wake up/Coffee in my cup, start a new day/Wish we could do this forever/And never remember mistakes that we made.” It establishes a mood before shifting into escaping with this person, offering emotional gravitas with how she structures and delivers her lyrics. It continues to ignite the sentiment of going overdrive in the previous track. 

Similarly, track three, “Want Want,” continues to expand on these notions that embrace growth, pleasure, and an understanding of having it both ways. It embraces coy humility as Maggie Rogers sings about her innate synergy sexually with this person. However, it isn’t a continuous reflection of this journey, and she gives us scenes of the past, weaving a parallel between then and today. We hear through sentiments that steer toward acceptance, like on “Shatter” or “I’ve Got A Friend,” where she surrenders herself to her emotions. There are elements to Rogers’ music that offers a balance between styles, from the electro-pop to more alternative, live instrument heavy indie-pop rock. She reels us with captivating melodies and a mix of crisp pop drum beats, eclipsing certain constraints and finding ways to make humbling minimalism feel realized. It’s pertinent as it tries to create a median with sounds, especially as we hear clean transitions between tracks. One of the better transitions comes between “Horses” and “Be Cool,” specifically on both sides of the spectrum, like “I’ve Got A Friend.” Between the former two, there is an escalating string section at the end that capitalizes on the emotional gravitas of “Horses” and then tempers us with “Be Cool.” Though these tracks carry weight on both ends, there are varying moments where Maggie Rogers’ writing shines, like with “I’ve Got A Friend” and “Horses.”

In “I’ve Got A Friend,” Maggie Rogers takes us to a time she met this person, her close friend; she was slightly stunted by how the friendship flourished, creating disbelief between the expected and the natural. As she notes in her first verse: “Who would’ve said/When I met you at a party/Everyone was drunk on 40s just south of Stuyvesant/That I would get to know your sisters/Bring them with us every time that we were in Austin,” she realizes how special their connection is, bringing some jovial jubilance when describing their closeness: “Oh, I’ve got a friend who’s been there through it all/Masturbates to Rob Pattinson, staring at the wall,” without swaying from the emotional complexities between them noting: “I’ve got a friend who’s tangled up inside/Tried to hold her hand the day her mother died/I’ve got a friend who’s been there through it all/Talked me out of jail, talked me off the panic rail.” It’s one of many examples that shows the meticulous care Rogers’ brings to the music, giving us a sense of being while offering personal reflections that feel personable.

Unfortunately, Maggie Rogers on overdrive isn’t something that lasts forever. As the album comes to a close, “Symphony” and “Different Kind of World” don’t offer equivocal strength when trying to capture your attention. The production for the former doesn’t have an elegant contrast with the minimalist-style writing, eventually overstaying its welcome at 5:11. Similarly, “Different Kind of World” broken down acoustics feels off when compared to the tracks we have that preceded it. In past songs, some acoustics contain a continuous balance of varying harmonic pieces that buoy the guitar or piano, and these elements carry oomph. It isn’t till we get close to the end that the track shifts into this uproarious sequence of kinetic drums and synths, but it doesn’t save it from being anything more than a forgetful ballad.

That isn’t to say there isn’t something to take from Surrender. Maggie Rogers is coming headstrong and giving us more personable tracks that have more definition than some of the core singles of her last album. Instead of creating more livid-dance sequences, there is an essence to the dancing and singing. Definitely an improvement from her previous album, it’s something I’ll be returning to soon more frequently in the nighttime and other times, in my room during the rain.

Rating: 8 out of 10.