Conway the Machine – Won’t He Do It: Review

Consistency has been essential to the greatness of Conway The Machine. He keeps his listener engaged with these multi-faceted layers in his verses, expanding the horizons of his raps with these unique reflections of the past and future. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about the production, as Conway comes with noticeable highs and middling lows, leaving you hungry for something more potent on the production side; it’s the case with “The Chosen” off his new album Won’t He Do It, where the beat isn’t as entrenched into its sound as Conway and Jae Skeese (featured artist) are with their verses. It’s a recurring issue that leaves the follow-up to God Don’t Make Mistakes more underwhelming than anticipated, but in a way, levels the hype one would have with the sequel dropping later this year. The beats sound confined to reaching standard levels for quality without expanding in new directions. It’s a blend of the dark-piano-influenced New York Street Rap Beats and Jazzy-Dark Boom-Bap that never does anything unique, and you’re left with a slate of some great verses to keep you fed until future releases without much of a reward.

As I sifted through this clunky, at times drab album, I heard Conway The Machine get lost in locating the proper avenues to get his words through. It’s a blend of braggadocio flex raps and reflections on his life, relationship, and the changes success has on the performer and the people around him. How he approaches the album offers insight into his direction, especially that of an arranger/conductor with a thematically poignant cohesion of tracks on an album. For the faults Won’t He Do It has, Conway doesn’t try to make us pay too much attention to the beats, making his lyrics a focal point, but he isn’t as triumphant there. Fortunately, there is an understanding of song-to-song transitions – it’s making similar tones and themes align, never side-stepping for something of grandeur, humbling the rappers performing over the beat; that is, until the final track. It’s a testament to Conway’s detailed construction, specifically when it comes to having the featured artists deliver verses aligned with the thematic direction of the track, rarely missing in quality – I say it’s a testament since it’s an album containing a load of features – some standard and one unique pseudo-closer “Super Bowl,” a bonus track that didn’t get marketed as such.

Conway the Machine takes a moment to turn the tables of what has gotten heard and takes us through a bounce and percussion-laced trap beat. It’s different from other beats, making it sound more refreshing than usual, but even with that, the beat isn’t that different from the apropos Juicy J beat. Sauce Walka & Juicy J make their stamp on the track, slightly overshadowing Conway, who doesn’t feel totally at home with the production. His flows don’t match the smooth southern cadence of its featured rappers, but at least Conway finds his way trying to make it work lyrically. Leading into the song, we’ve been on a journey with Conway the Machine – one of self-reflection and perseverance, yet, that gets lost with this unique final track that does more than expected. In a way, it makes you reflect and appreciate the tight focus Conway gave the album in its standard 13-track run. From the opening notes, horns are lowlily blaring, contrasting the grimy percussion and laying a foundation for its aesthetic, which has moments of glimmering greatness.

Unfortunately, as Conway the Machine weaves these intricate bars together, you get left feeling whiffed by the weak production from producers you’ve heard better from. It ranges between the J.U.S.T.I.C.E League, Khrysis, G Koop, Daniel Cruz, and Daringer – to name a few – others bringing unique additions from other artists/producers, like Norwegian Pop musician Aurora, who adds this special touch to the atmospheric complexions on “Won’t He Do It,” blending beautifully with the percussion and programming work of other producers on the track. It isn’t to say these producers bring a bunch of lackluster beats, but at times I found myself latching to production that, comparatively, sounds different than others. It’s what separates the greatness beneath the rock and roll influence in “Flesh of My Flesh” to the low and hollow “Water to Wine,” which comes off as a standard Hip-Hop/R&B hybrid without that extra push, unlike “Kanye.” On “Kanye,” there is more nuance within the performance, never feeling standard or sub-standard as it toes the line with some gospel influence and letting it envelop the performative direction by its artists. Additionally, it sounds like some of that work on Donda influenced the palette for Conway’s output on this more personal album, Won’t He Do It.

Like “Kanye,” one can’t get through Won’t He Do It without hearing the thematic poignancy that aligns itself from front to back. It’s disappointing; some features don’t shine, feeling rudimentary to their character, never pushing through to give us something new. It especially goes for Westside Gunn, Benny the Butcher, and Dave East, though Conway isn’t as innocent either; some choices, though beneficial to its direction, don’t give us the best from everyone involved. I’ve noted how these features deliver following the themes, but that doesn’t always result in something memorable or significant. Though verses from the ones mentioned aren’t inherently flawed, they aren’t that distinguishable within the confines of the production, unlike the solo tracks, in which we get four of thirteen, where Conway feels at home and flows in a zone. It keeps this from being outright forgettable, as the creativity in the production is lacking a bit.

Won’t He Do It isn’t something to write home about; it’s an album that does little to improve as the production progresses. Conway the Machine doesn’t mince words, keeping many of his verses digestible; however, when it’s all said and done, the beats aren’t enough to make you return with gusto. It’s there, and if it’s your steelo, you’ll find enjoyment, but if not, it’s mostly forgettable. Here’s hoping the follow-up brings an uptick in the beats.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

IDK – F65

Weaving a cohesive, thematic sonic palette, Maryland rapper IDK has shown skilled proficiency in creating fantastic albums doing so. We’ve seen significant growth from straight rapping to divulging into varying sounds that beautifully align with the strength of his vocals when singing. It got heard poignantly on his last album, Simple, a collaboration with producer/musician Kaytranada. It continues with F65, his latest album, where the influence on the production is more locational as its sounds become more aligned with cultural bravado, boasting IDK’s rapping and singing about luxuries, race, lavished living as opposed to drugs, which was a pertinent theme on SubTrap, an album/mixtape IDK noted F65 was a more matured version of. For fans – one can readily see the parallels, from its thematic construction to similar elements, like interludes and vocal samples, that established more meaning behind the words IDK raps. Unfortunately, F65 sometimes gets lost between directions, becoming slightly bloated with tracks that mediocrely retread themes or losing touch with what’s been a strong suit for it.

Continuing on F65, IDK shows his hand at penning words at his will over any production, keeping his lyrics explorative and potent through metaphoric conjectures. However, after an emphatic three-track run, the album teeters slightly between thematic directions, especially as it loses touch with what he proclaims in the song “Champs-Élysées.” IDK notes how focused he’s been on particular genres and lifestyles. Though specifically, the spectacle of racing in Europe, additionally speaking to the avenue in France known for its inclusion in the Tour De France, luxury cafes, and the Arc de Triomphe. It’s an established sense of grandeur that adds depth to many of the bars IDK spits but an oft-contrasting direction to the more grounded tracks that have a heavier focus on themes of race. It’s like he’s trying to have his cake and eat it as well, with the way he tries to blend these tracks in, further making the album more bloated than it needs to be. It’s all despite coming with some great lyricism that allows it to keep an entwined presence after a first listen, where you will have a curiosity to return to the content.

Though much of F65 speaks to living lusciously and luxuriously, having fun, and reflecting on issues that have come with being a person of color, specifically with law enforcement, it isn’t the most compact. It’s like we’re getting a few more loose, vibrant songs that see IDK getting into his party bag and finding unique ways to express himself to the fullest, like the fun and energetic “Salty,” which has IDK and NLE Choppa performing about neglecting past lovers and live in the now with all these beautiful, big booty twerking women calling them salt shakers. Songs like “Salty,” – “Pinot Noir,” “Elmina,” and “Still Your Man” – bring forth greatness within IDK’s more fun side, and they are real standouts, but others also similarly, even as they tread in a different direction thematically. It’s as if IDK has written two separate albums and blended them; it misses what could have gotten set up if he was more lyrically direct to the aesthetic. There is never a proper balance to keep the transitions clean, but even though these stumbles, like retreads in “Up the Score” and “St. Nicholas & 118th,” which feel like a forced reminder to IDK’s love of racing entrenched in the sound. 

When it comes to that divide in direction, “Thug Tear” becomes an essential point where IDK builds upon his character, adding a hardened shell that allows him to bring these nuanced reflections on race, a life that shrouds them, causing friction where they have to tout and flex guns to create a safe space. It’s a template to the way IDK could have brought more to the tracks, which have that heavy focus on race, in a vague sense, but it’s never as tightly constructed, and more so trying too hard. It isn’t lost sonically, as the production holds a consistent motif, emboldening the drums and wind sections, specifically the flute and saxophone. It allows the music to bring a sense of being without overly tiptoeing away from the slight summery vibes, and more so with tracks where IDK’s flexing and introspection are at a peak, like in the run of songs, which includes “Télé Couleur,” “Rabbit Stew,” and “850 (We On Top),” making up for a lackluster attempt at being more catchy with “Radioactive.”

F65 is produced by a platoon of producers who bring a consistent cadence with the tones, keeping you entwined within this love IDK has expressed about this world he lives through and the divide while also expressing virtuosity and pride with his race. The latter doesn’t get lost with the album’s ridge in contextual direction, but there isn’t a significant balance to have consistent, smooth lyrical transitions. It’s a contrast to the production, which IDK arranges beautifully. That arrangement has two fantastic moments with runs that gives us those strengths we’ve heard of IDK as a songwriter. I’ve spoken about that opening three-track run; the second comes after an interlude with Musiq Soulchild, where it notes this lost perspective on attention – it leads into an incredible run of flex raps, which I’ve mentioned prior; flows get switched, lyrics are raw and creative, and the Rich the Kid feature hits hard.

There’s quite a bit to like about F65, specifically its remarkable soundscapes that make going through the album less of a chore. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do much with its concept, almost leaving it to the sounds to make it apparent. It’s centering itself in one area but going off tangentially with the context of the lyrics. It makes F65 a slightly jumbled mess but a listenable one that won’t leave you with regrets for spending 50-something minutes on it. I enjoyed it thoroughly, despite wishing it had better-connecting points and cohesion; as it’s packaged, there is no surprise some songs will find rotation, especially with summer approaching as the vibes hit for the season smoothly.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Avalon Emerson – & the Charm: Review

Explorative and melancholic, Avalon Emerson takes what she has learned via making music and performing music since first tapping into it at an early age, eventually leading to her delivering a fantastic debut with & the Charm. It isn’t a reflection of histrionics and more so a tempered and expansive POV into the mind of someone who aims to take that next step in musical creation, furthering from the more House/Dance aesthetics of past EPs – fewer vocals, more dance grooves – tapping into the corners of varying sub-genres of Electronic music. In doing so, Avalon Emerson continues to dig deeper into the performative aspect of creating an album, one where she doesn’t have to thoroughly rely on the production to form a sense of being as a means for the listener to get instantly catapulted into a positive stupor emboldened by vibes. As you hit play, you get lost within this wormhole of Electronica, some Trance, and Ambient, that Avalon Emerson weaves, allowing us to dig deeper into the complexions of her artistry and sense how poignant her songwriting is.

& the Charm isn’t your ordinary electronic album. It’s composed within this world where the cross-fading mixture isn’t as important as letting the music smooth over as it reflects its themes beyond a danceable mode through viscerally moody vocal performances. It isn’t so much this curated, eclectic mix of songs that fits the specific flow conjectured between genres, whether going from pop or funk to some form of spacey House music or just a mix of tracks that only have an underlying dance motif instead of something viscerally thematic. It takes a more realized approach to a direct conceptual journey you embark on but never truly tire of. When it comes to albums that are the opposite, like from more producer-driven musicians, it can sometimes feel overly hokey, and more often than not, its misses standout out more than the hits. It’s a fundamental distinction that allows Electronic music to have clearer blank canvases to weave their instrumental technical magic from all corners and create something that sounds everlasting, and that’s what we get with & the Charm.

Avalon Emerson doesn’t try to hide within the production despite a few instrumental breaks. She’s letting her vocals become a potent piece of the puzzle – something that envelops the route she set up for herself to through, particularly setting up a melancholic consistency where the vibes become a potent strong point. It’s one thing to get lost in the vibe of the music, almost forgetting that certain parts don’t work entirely, but it’s another when it hits the proper parameters toward what works and doesn’t work for the listener. Though more of something that’s deriving from a personal vibe, it’s very much universal with its sonic appeal that one mustn’t take away from the best element within & the Charm: the live instrumentations, which brings a grounded sense of reality, especially as you heard Emerson sing and create these songs that feel more confined to the roots of intimate pop music than the more esoteric, colorful dancefloor vibe we’ve gotten from various artists, like Nia Archives and Pretty Girl. The eclectic bass grooves bring an emphasis to the subtle dance notes guiding the chillness of the songs, and the music benefits highly from it.

Lyrically, Avalon Emerson treads some familiar thematic territory we’ve heard countless times, but she takes it upon herself to take a differentiating approach instead of being too straightforward and simple. It’s like listening to her perform out of a journal filled with poems that beautifully capture emotional depth within more drawn-out and stylistically atmospheric melodies that boast these notes emphasizing loneliness, love, relationships, and time, particularly how it can shift perspectives on the needs and wants of oneself, through the vocals and production. However, some songs feel more played down and derivative to a fault. It’s like she’s trying to find equilibrium within certain textures, that it rarely dips towards new vocal territory – for the most part, Avalon Emerson finds ways to make it have character, unlike the slightly repetitive  “Hot Evening.” Despite this, running at nine songs, and 40 minutes, it’s more compact as it finds meaning within the conjectures of sound and emotionally resonant performances, whether behind the boards or the microphone. In doing so, it helps build a clear distinction between effectiveness, specifically with its stylistic approach to the melancholy vibes of the final product. It’s what makes “A Vision” more of a standout than “Hot Evening” and “Karaoke Song,” such a hypnotically smooth and empathetically curious performance.

Going into & the Charm, I knew little, having only heard Avalon Emerson’s DJ-Kicks album, but as I kept digging and exploring the caverns of these nine songs, there wasn’t a moment I was bored. It’s captivatingly consistent in vibe and tone, circumventing genre exploration for a direct flow. It’s nontangential, but that isn’t to say it lack depth. There is a lot moving with greatness, from the lyrics to the performance; it opens the door for it to become realized with a sense of personable relativity. I couldn’t recommend this more than the score I give. It was a significant surprise for me, one where I didn’t want to press pause, so there is no denying this is staying in my rotation.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Yuné Pinku – Babylon IX: Review

Yuné Pinku has been slowly making splashes in the Electronic music scene. Though not as transverse on her debut EP Bluff, she rearranges her landscapes, flattening the sonic terrain to allow the synthesizers and percussion to flood and elevate the unique world she creates on Babylon IX, her latest release. Like burgeoning producers from the UK area getting influenced by the constructive and vibrant club scene repopulating in prominence as more and more continue to make grander splashes within the Electronic Music and Pop scenes. Like those already on the forefront – Nia Archives, PinkPantheress, and Shygirl – Yuné Pinku has found opulence within her melodically driven construction; it keeps listeners engaged with the music on a level beyond the club floors and into our brain waves. As it’s been with various Electronic musicians, that bridge between club pop appeal and introspection has been the dividing factor towards where I lean, and that’s why I got hypnotized by the detailed construction, notes, and influential references Pinku weaves together.

Babylon IX is as esoteric as one could expect. Its foundation for its electronic base is more simple than it is complicated, but Yuné Pinku builds over it beautifully. It keeps a consistent cadence in the production, where percussion and synth changes feel more nuanced compared to additional programming work within some songs, like the more pragmatic “Heartbeat,” where it plays with breakbeat notes in tempo. Though delicate with its sounds, there aren’t many avenues Yuné Pinku isn’t willing to go; since she was younger, she played around with soundscapes, learning to build songs around her vocals. In an interview with NME on the 29th of March 2022, she noted, “I’ve always really liked writing, but I wasn’t making music to go anywhere. So I just started adding bits and bobs.” Ben Jolley continues by writing While she originally only utilised her vocals as a backing to her music, over time Yuné’s voice came to the forefront of her creations: “I think you can carry what you’re trying to say or what the feeling is [in your music] a bit more when there’s words to it.” 

As mentioned in the NME writer/interview with Ben Jolley, he makes this note about the song “DC Rot”: “built on piano house keys and a steady kick drum before Yunè’s nonchalant vocals chime in, an unexpected rumbling breakbeat then engulfs the atmosphere and sends the song spiralling into a different direction, before it’s then pulled back on course.” “DC Rot” is a song off her Bluff EP – as great as it is, it doesn’t have the profound nuance of Babylon IX, where the production feels more centralized and pivots to new areas to stay captivatingly smooth. Whether it’s the House percussion of “Sports” or the Trance-like nature within the non-instrumental breaks on “Fai Fighter,” the music doesn’t get lost as swiftly in repetitiveness, becoming more of a non-factor in keeping consistency. Additionally, “DC Rot” carries a specific melodic gear Yuné Pinku uses that’s audibly resonant with individual patterns, like the percussion on “Blush Cut” or subtle sub-portions of melodies within “Fai Fighter.”

From a songwriting aspect, it’s more intimate and personal, reflecting these internalized notions we harbor, like longing or the trials and tribulations of a relationship as it progresses. It’s modest and austere, with its depth coming from Yuné Pinku’s vocal performances, which have this abstentious sense of reality as it never opts to get glitzier than the production suggests. She works around the complexions of the song’s aesthetic as she finds new avenues to get enveloped in, like the Deep House notes of the opening track “Trinity” or the twinkly and glitchy EDM spirit of “Night Light.” The more you listen, the more you get hooked by its beautiful complexities, which boast the nature of Pinku’s mental progression in creating music. Like Pinkpatheress, she’s a producer/singer who’s come out of the bedroom woodwork; the approach to music is more expressive and chill, allowing the vocals to become these poignant layers that do more than just keep you entranced with the same melodic dribble. It’s what separates DJs like Shygirl, Yuné Pinku, Porter Robinson, and Yaeji from those who mastered the tried and true method like Tiesto and David Guetta.

Babylon IX is one of the more well-rounded EPs I’ve heard this year. It meets in the middle, where both sides of the construct excel beyond expectations. It’s one of those things where even if certain core aspects of the performance or its nuanced writing seem to feel lesser, you aren’t wrong for thinking so, as Yuné Pinku takes what works and uses its strengths to make sure what we hear is what was intended. Its hypnotism is at a peak; at 24 minutes, it doesn’t feel like a quick breeze in the park but more spaced out and ingestible. I’m excited to hear where Yuné Pinku goes next in music, but one thing is for sure, if she ever tours the States, know I’m going to try hard and be there.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Jack Harlow – Jackman: Review

Like Jack Harlow, many of us aren’t strangers to the critical appraisal his last album received. Predominantly lukewarm to bad, Come Home the Kids Miss You, as a title, Harlow took a contrived concept while embodying the ghost of many Drake wannabes and poorly delivered an album that adds little to the imagination. It reflects a detachment from the hungry young rapper dropping mixtapes in Kentucky. DJ Drama helped push his name to the stratosphere, and his presence is evergrowing, continuing to prove his co-sign’s worth. Though Come Home the Kids Miss You was a dud, Harlow tries to remedy the situation by engrossing us with some lyrical fortitude over downbeat, soulful production, which retroactively guides him through these emotional complexities of his character, even if it isn’t all there, on his latest album Jackman. Keeping it short and straightforward, Harlow tries to bring us into the corners of his mind and incorporate some depth beyond his weak brags and tired choral melodies. As the latter remains, Harlow improves lyrically; with some songs coming across as hollow, it’s a slight improvement from his last, albeit shorter.

Jack Harlow understands who he is, bringing a modest, humbling nature to some of his raps on Jackman, staying aware of the perception of his music and the corniness of it. On “Denver,” Harlow raps, “Nemo said to keep my foot on necks ’cause I can’t let ’em just forget me/But the brags in my raps are getting less and less convincing/So I’d rather just (Wonder),” bringing a sense of understanding toward who he wants to be and shifting style to be taken more seriously than just another pop rapper. It’s heard through tracks where he speaks on wanting more of a grounded reality instead of flexing too much excess, using reflections on his roots to support his attitude and renewed humbleness. “Denver” reflects that beautifully; named after the city where he dropped his first verse, it amplifies his technical skills at its peak, particularly storytelling. We’ve heard this strength throughout his career, and as he switches gears on Jackman, getting to listen to him explore this foundation more is like a breath of fresh air.

It can’t all be humble; Jack Harlow has a moment where he brings pointless bragging on “They Don’t Love It,” where he delivers an asinine brag that’s purely vague and too much of a conversation starter that shouldn’t be one. On the track, he raps, “The hardest white boy since the one who rapped about vomit and sweaters/And hold the comments ’cause I promise you I’m honestly better.” Speaking through a commercial purview, you can easily find validity with that, but how one quickly forgets the late great Mac Miller and his popularity and poignant importance in Hip-Hop. It’s pushing vague lines, allowing people to create a conversation, but its effectiveness would have been more impactful if the previous album was any good. It’s a weak pivot that loses steam, especially retroactively, as the album gets more and more introspective, and the need for cockiness becomes lost within the conceptual flow of the rest. It isn’t as bad as his approach to the theme of bro code skepticism with “Gang Gang Gang,” where the shock doesn’t match the direction of the production and tone, feeling hollow and poorly conceived to deliver its message. 

These moments slightly take away from the solid work surrounding it, like the excellent commentary on “Common Ground,” where he’s looking at how white suburbanites have this fascination with the dominant culture of other races, particularly black people and hip-hop here. The way he picks apart the awe one has with the other is eloquently delivered, showcasing particular stereotypes toward a certain lifestyle we’ve seen of white people who grew up with excess wealth or the parents who find disgust with the lyrics their kids listen to. The latter has been a topic of conversation for years in hip-hop, and Jack Harlow’s exposure to the same continues to establish a trend within the surface layer, changing the attitudes of the same people. From there, sans “They Don’t Love It” and “Gang Gang Gang,” Harlow has a fluid flow within tracks where the production equally tries to take the spotlight away from him.  

Like typical major label Hip-Hop album drops, Jackman has a platoon of producers. Working with 17 different producers and instrumentalists, there is awe within the consistency, which gets brought from front to back. There’s this soulful aesthetic that Jack Harlow is going for, and they deliver without teetering far from the path. The beats carry nuance to boom bap at its simplest form, letting the percussion be more melancholic to boast the raspy, focused flows that bears heavy emotions as Harlow goes through his ups and downs. Unfortunately, at 24 minutes/10 tracks, having those two moments where it pivots poorly hinders the depth that could have shined brilliantly. Instead, it gets stunted, feeling short and less poignant as you break apart the lyrics of his misses, despite the intentions. It’s a solid surprise that could have been greater but misses the mark, especially as Harlow keeps his thoughts quickly and to the point while still bringing a much-needed change than the wannabe Drake-isms of Come Home the Kids Miss You.

I wanted to enjoy Jackman more, but unlike the many fans raking in the positives, they misplace what doesn’t work by missing to reach the depths of the lyricism. It is better than Come Home the Kids Miss You, no questions asked, yet, it lacks that oomph to round the edges better. Harlow brings forth lyrically sharp performances, even with shortcomings; however, it’s short and brief, leaving you wanting more, even if it’s just for another six minutes. It’s something I may not find myself returning to frequently, but it leaves me optimistic about what future drops could sound like.

Rating: 6 out of 10.

Down Memory Lane: Acid Rap 10 Years Later

During my second semester at Pace University, I was introduced to Chance the Rapper when my friend played me the music video of “Juice.” It was playful and beautifully outlandish, something unlike the seriousness of non-commercial Hip-Hop, where it’s not too comical for parody, as Chance let it all breathe, setting up what would be a tremendous step in his evolution as an artist. The production wasn’t as slow but more colorfully eclectic, weaving its structure like the drug that influenced Acid Rap, LSD. It was a predominant vibe entrenched within one’s mental stasis, where they reflect on the highs and lows while expressing this fluidity about their youthful core. It resonated when I saw him live, opening to Mac Miller, and in my rambunctious youth, that performance brought joy. When he brought out Ab-Soul for “Smoke Again,” I had to spark it up again. But I slightly digress; I’m here to talk about Chance’s extraordinary moment on the come-up, where he garnered over a million downloads on DatPiff, a music hosting service predominantly serving the Hip-Hop community before streaming became what it is today. It’s about the music, how it made me feel, and what’s everlasting about it.

At the time of release (April 30, 2013), Acid Rap became a peak of my musical journey where I could experience a wide range of music beyond apropos Hip-Hop and Indie/Alternative Pop, and it bled through the number of plays shown on an old 2011 MacBook. I kept digging more into non-commercialized hip-hop and zoning, whether through rapping on the side via freestyles or wearing a penguin cap just to dance to it; not my proudest moment, but there are no regrets on my end. It all came together during a performance, opening before Mac Miller in the summer of 2013, where Chance the Rapper brought the charm; he’s an optimistic young adult who loved the presence and the music and relished in it. It gave me a new perspective on his performative nature, which doesn’t come as a surprise based on his musical roots in Chicago, especially that of being in a dance troupe. As Acid Rap replayed, I kept falling in love with the music, especially when we got a weaker verse from Ab-Soul that felt lost within the assignment. It feels like an artifact from a time when the music was looser as avenues hip-hop took were more boastfully esoteric.

Acid Rap was part of a shift in Hip-Hop where new, intriguing soundscapes became more pertinent than drops by Styles P or Busta Rhymes seem not as hot as they were in the early 00s. I may sound a little facetious, but its growth came at an apex where what was hot on the streets wasn’t what we were used to. These older rappers dropped heaters, sometimes as a featured artist on a pop song remix; it wasn’t anything new, unlike these distinct sounds we were acclimating to, like the Houston chop-n-screwed influence within A$AP Rocky’s first few tapes. What made Chance the Rapper unique was that he came off as playful, colorful, bombastic, and profound to the point where you can just plug and play and go about the world like you just dropped a tab of acid, and you get left with your vices. I am no stranger to LSD or hallucinogens in general, having gone through my misadventures with them, and the more I kept taking them, I was stuck between two sides of Acid Rap. I was juggling between the introspection of “Paranoia” and “Acid Rain” and having lively fun with “Good Ass Intro” and “Smoke Again,” using the latter song as a calling cry to spark up again. 

The mixtape had such a wild rotation that if I leave it for a year and return, I’ll remember the lyrics easily. It continuously brings back memories. I was chain-smoking cigarettes because I felt free from the hold of my family and going on wild journeys through Brooklyn and Manhattan. I remember the mixtape playing a lot on shuffle with a few friends I had. Memories are endless, and many of Chance the Rapper’s lines spoke true to the nature of my being, whether it was rolling and puffing at Prospect Park in Park Slope, Brooklyn, or varying areas of Central Park and Riverside Park. I was just a joyful loose canon trying to get into the production world before concerts became part of what made music that universal love. I was always a fan of music; hell, it was what I grew up loving as much as The Simpsons that I used to pretend to be performing on stage. That extended toward a short-lived joke with college friends where we’d get stupid high and record me in a penguin winter hat and just dance. I did so with my introduction to Acid Rap, “Juice,” an energetic song that fit the tones of the intro, “Cocoa Butter Kisses,” and “Favorite Song.”

The contrasting introspection and the non-colorful track vibes have come from the confines of the non-lucid moments of a hallucinogenic trip, keeping a balance between the shifting moods and vibes, whether you’re toning down in the visual department or slightly elevating your thoughts. Chance the Rapper expands his horizons, taking us through his thoughts on the socio-political climate around him (“Everybody’s Somebody”) or weaving a tale of lovers who realize they aren’t fit for each other(“Lost”). The paths he took the music in gave it the purpose of being more than just what it is on the surface layer. The production on Acid Rap breathes with consistency, allowing each track a moment to linger within our minds as we come to our conclusions. It’s no more present than on the second track, where Chance starts this transitional shift between when he goes deeper into his mind and flexing. There are so various avenues Chance goes, and multiple times, coming out on top with a track that stays with you, despite it only being ten years. It’s especially so with the songs that offer more personal perspectives, which comes from his inner thoughts.

Chance the Rapper gives us varying layers within the writing or performance, that was rather absent on his last album, The Big Day. It isn’t something to marvel at, like listening to Raekwon or Ice Cude, as Chance keeps it real with his POV approach to the delivery and fluidity with rhyme schemes, playing to his strengths, like when he rapped, “With my drawers hid but my hard head stayed in the clouds like a lost kite/But gravity had me up in a submission hold/Like I’m dancing with the Devil with two left feet and I’m pigeon-toed/In two small point ballet shoes with a missing sole/And two missing toes,” on “Everybody’s Somebody.” It plays with different suffixes, keeping the rhyme intact with these overlong syllabic lines that come off phonetically smooth. Same with the slightly sullen and deep “Acid Rain” or the soulful “Chain Smoker.” It may not be the most astute, like the masterwork wordplay we’ve heard from better lyricists, but Chance takes it to the nines by giving what the beat entails.

On “Good Ass Intro,” we get to hear Chance the Rapper rap with glee and marvel at his success, rapping, “Did a ton of drugs and did better than all my Alma mater/Motherfucker money dance, hundreds xan, gallon lean/Make a joke ’bout Leno’s hair then piggyback on Fallon’s spleen/Balancing on sporadicity and fucking pure joy/Nightly searches for a bed and I just came off tour with Troy.” Here, Chance goes off with joy, reflecting on what he did. More importantly, he brings a significant stamp by noting he was touring with Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino, and exposing himself to the world. In turn, that exposure allowed Chance to get the clout to boast and bring the Chicago rappers emerging alongside Chance, like Saba, Vic Mensa, and Noname, and ones that have made a name for themselves, like Twista. I also include Action Bronson from Queens, New York, who has been materializing underground prominence. Additionally, Chance plays with the name at the end of that set of bars, using Troy, his character from the cult NBC comedy Community. The little things, like allusions and alliterations, like the bars, “Get a watch with all that glitters, come in clutters, different colors/Ben-a-Baller, Benford, butlers, chauffeurs, hit a stain-er, did I stutter?,” which brings dimensions to his writing and flows, keeping you entwined and returning to such an enriching experience.

So as Chance the Rapper takes these distinct pivots, I’m constantly reminded of an LSD trip, though part of that comes from having done the drug. The mixtape’s musical concept getting built under the influence directing these jazzy, soulful, playful, sometimes moody components into the lyrics and music, elevating Chance’s performance in the studio. His flows aren’t totally on par with some heavyweights, but it stays original as Chance switches from melancholy to expressing innate fun that boasts the sonic structure it embodies. Between its more stylized and sometimes compartmentalizing production from Blended Babies, brandUn DeShay, Cam O’bi, Ceej, DJ O-ZONE, Jake One, Ludwig Göransson, Nate Fox, Nosaj Thing, Peter CottonTale & Stefan Ponce, the quality stays high, giving Chance that extra push. We’re listening to smooth transitions between styles, witnessing this modestly trippy music guide us through the different sounds we get, especially as it shows maturity within Chance’s choice of beats. It isn’t a perfect mixtape, as he poorly chooses to spit a homophobic slur on “Favorite Song,” where his approach to nuance isn’t the strongest or even correct – similar to “Smoke Again,” with a slightly lesser verse from Ab-Soul that isn’t the good type of comical. Yet, what surrounds it is greatness that I had to write about it, especially with its importance in my young adult life.

So as I sit back and reflect on Acid Rap, there is so much that gets funneled through my mind; I get a little zany just remembering the live performance, the drugs, and the music that allowed me to feel free and expand horizons beyond the pop, commercial hip-hop, and techno/electronica. I still find myself replaying the tape more regularly than Chance the Rapper’s others, specifically Coloring Book, which I think is a step above Acid Rap. However, Acid Rap is remarkable as it takes a construct and evolves it beyond the known stereotypes, like the slow, hazy beats or simpler rhyme schemes. It has beautiful range and dynamic synergy with the listener, where you can feel that grounded writing Chance delivers. So as you finish reading this, take a moment to open your music player and play that old Datpiff downloaded audio from 10 years ago. It’s a fantastic mixtape that truly drives home multi-faceted dimensions toward feeling and living, and hell, it’s an overall fun listen.

Zombie Juice – Love Without Conditions: Review

Like his rap partner Meechy Darko, Flatbush Zombie, Zombie Juice has come into 2023 with a debut that speaks wonders to the character development written within the crevices of the bars. Love Without Conditions is viscerally tight, keeping itself focused on the task at hand instead of losing itself within the aesthetic; it can work for some, but Zombie Juice predominantly placates that joyful wordsmith and give fans something more genuine. The production shifts from the overstated druggy-laced synths or other electronic notes over potent percussion like another Zombie record. It’s tempered, keeping itself centered on divulging character. It gives us more of a direct proponent of the non-esoteric sounds within the beats, allowing us to coast through the 34-minute album easily. Unfortunately, that swift breeze can feel flummoxing as Love Without Conditions doesn’t feel as long as it is or keeps itself centered on the emotional complexities of Zombie Juice and the creative path paved for him since childhood. Listening through a few times brings out the dimensions of the songs, specifically through the lyricism, which stays strong even when it transitions to slightly obtuse sounds comparatively, surprising me significantly.

To call Love Without Conditions surprising isn’t without merit, as it’s been rarer for Zombie Juice to get this way, as when Flatbush Zombies flexed written linguistics, Juice never stood out as consistently. He is this jovial foil that kept it going hard when others took it to the inner depths of the oceans with these multi-stacked bars, all contributing to lavish-druggie lifestyles while retaining composure as an everyday human. LSD’s slight reemergence within the prevalent drug cycle became more and more pertinent, especially during my college tenure; it began to infiltrate and blend with the more boisterous weed raps. As someone who has done LSD, the focus it brings to one’s mind, driven by mood, gets mirrored on the album, specifically how you let it lead your mind through varying avenues of reflection, except at the beginning when the visuals are more potent. Instead, Zombie Juice is tapping into his thoughts rather than full colorful writing, creating a distinct reflection cycle that kept returning to LSD and other hallucinogens, but as the days go on, like Zombie Juice, all one has left is their thoughts, reflecting on their growth since the first time they jumped headfirst into the world they inhabit. Juice makes that more pertinent with the first few tracks, especially the first two, “Melancholy” and “Hikari.”

Love Without Conditions feels like a lucid trip, except in reverse, as the contemplative work comes at the beginning and end; the midway point brings more of that aggro-druggie typicality we’ve heard from the Flatbush Zombies and The Underachievers prior. Though I could call this a two-track pivot in the middle more of that heightened visual pretense that you get told about when it comes to LSD, but not as unique. It’s what happens when it becomes habitual, or more recurring, that its visual effects aren’t as potent like the first time. They have a leveled balance that would make fans of the groups rejoice with delight as these two groups were significant cornerstones in the shift of NY East Coast Hip-Hop in the early 2010s; it just doesn’t all work here since they feel more like blank slates to flex over. It’s like they are the visuals, coming late to the party, letting the listener/user feel engulfed in their thoughts. It’s a downturn from the intricate and intimate balance within tracks like “Hootz” or “Say Enough,” where the piano becomes a vital component, fleshing the base of the beat by Tyler Dopps to new heights. It directs the tempo, the flows, and the mood, even boasting the effects of its chorus, as Zombie Juice sings, “Gotta say enough, it’s been a long year/Hope y’all remember me, so I wrote this song here/Years of memories, up and down the road/Years of memories, goin’ up in smoke.”

There is an emphasis on Zombie Juice’s narrative, but as is the case with some, their occasional push for the known, in conjunction with, usually fails to hit the mark. It gets jumbled trying to find ways to deliver a bridge between the more somber sections, even when it’s lyrically typical to Juice’s colloquialism in the druggie world. The lyricism continuously shows Juice’s authenticity to stay consistent; it’s just that the bridge doesn’t feel like it belongs, as they are more of the antithesis of some themes, like love and family, leading into and upon finishing “Drizzy” and “Dr. Miami.” As I’ve noted before, it’s a distinct pivot in the complexion of the front-to-back directive. It isn’t to discredit the quality of bars from his features on both, but they don’t feel that entrenched with the standards expected after listening to the smooth cadence on the first two tracks. A significant difference comes from its style, as others tread more straightforward narratives, weaving a story into the confines of a 16-to-24 verse.

That top-tier quality shines with the other rap features, Curren$y and Devin The Dude, who get put on tracks more akin to their flow and rhythm and still follow the assignment with the delivery of their verses. But as it steers the conversation Zombie Juice wants to have with us, it shows the discrepancy in effectiveness. It’s what helps fully round out the album to be this fantastic exploration of the mind of Zombie Juice, taking the opposite approach to the gothic nature of Meechy Darko’s album last year. It’s as if I never felt the need to press pause, like with others. This is a lax cruise. Much of it has to do with its swift pace, which allows you to cycle over and over without feeling like time is getting wasted as it has been with many of the Beast Coast rappers releasing solo projects, from Nyck Caution to Issa Gold and CJ Fly. It’s definitely one of the better hip-hop releases this year so far, and I mean that so wholeheartedly. Go spin Love Without Conditions and hear for yourself.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Lloyd Banks – The Course of The Inevitable 3: Pieces Of My Pain: Review

Heard, via countless albums and mixtapes that Lloyd Banks has released, he’s been showcasing skills as a storyteller and visually composite writer, letting you ride through directional focus that translates between verse and chorus. Instead of captivating you with the catchy hook – Banks has shown a knack in delivering such – he’s been flipping the script with his latest series, The Course of The Inevitable. On his latest, The Course of The Inevitable 3: Piece of My Pain, Lloyd Banks reflects on deeper complexions of his character, flowing the pain through the flexes and the reflections of life while still whipping up that flavorful mastery with the featured artists. Choruses aren’t catchy more so keen on backing up what gets heard through the verses and offering visceral imagery as the words come together in your ears. So, for lack of a better phrase, Lloyd Banks keeps it real how he accentuates the emotional brevity with what he’s rapping. Additionally, the production brings complex depth consistently; even though you will find yourself hearing the typical beat here and there, it doesn’t fully drag as you’re gifted some quality New York Rap that hits everso effervescently.

Thematically mirroring what we heard via previous releases, there is more of a consciousness that smooths the edges of the more hardcore lyrical content on The Inevitable 3: Piece of My Pain. Lloyd Banks raps about who he is and what has gone on in life that is more contemplative. It’s what separates the more apropos flex raps and the bearing of his heart on his sleeve. The previous album has more of the former; this has more of a balance, adding to the strength of Banks’ sobering tone with his inflections with the way he weaves contrasts. Not every track will have excess confidence, though, as flexing comes with a price, as he notes on “Money Machine” with the line, “I ducked a few court orders, my Zodiac’s a natural cool born Taurus,” speaking to a consistency of neglect in the hustle. It’s a continuing indictment on the behavioral dissidence that goes within one’s growth – especially with how they grow up – as heard on the previous track with the lines “Growin’ up we had the foulest examples, the supervisors/The work I put in ground level improves horizons.” We hear elements within this worldview on the following track, “Cliffhanger.” It speaks on the down pivots faced when distinguishing who he calls friends, especially within both areas Banks has grown up in, whether it’s the streets or the studio. 

The balance between content isn’t central to understanding the album’s flow as it’s incorporating a direct contrast between the common, the flex of grandeur, and what is hidden beneath. It’s like listening to something of yesteryear, but a little more modern. We’ve heard throughout the years how potent it is to relish in your success, yet nuance gets lost within the sounds of the production, as you’re usually never listening to flex tracks as frequently on more dark, percussion-driven beats as Banks does on few songs, like “Money Machine,” which hard-nosed gun noises and slightly brood-ish piano notes, the same with “Onyx AMG.” But as it is, the production has this profound effect on how we digest it track to track, despite sometimes teetering with simple beats on “Opened Gates,” “LSD,” “Daddy’s Little Girl,” and “Deceitful Intentions.” Fortunately, the latter two get that predominant boost from lyricism that goes above and beyond the production to counteract the dipped quality. Though these instances don’t over shroud the brilliance of the beats on tracks like “Automatic Pilot” and “Red Alert.” Even with the more introspective tracks like “Cliffhanger” and the poignantly resonant “Voices.”

“Voices” sees Lloyd Banks speaking on his fears, getting a firmer grip on the negatives of reality, as opposed to the positives within them. He opens the track with a gut punch, rapping, “Took a significant loss and it ain’t been the same/Thought that we split through divorce, but I’m still in pain/Thought about turnin’ shit off, then my children came/Can’t let ’em see me feel, I’d be drownin’ in shame,” being an antithesis of his more abrasive self-titled intro. Both focus on pain as a central theme, though one speaks to the life lived where it was never safe or ideal, and the other gives us a view of his mental health. What pops through the verses are these distinct interjections between wordplay and storytelling, giving us well-rounded music that embodies the foundational fortitude of Banks’ craft throughout the years, especially on “101 Razors” and “Deceitful Intentions.” But as noted earlier, the production of the contemplative “Voices” and “Cliffhanger” have nuance within its 00s, New York Hip-Hop influence, which incorporates more strings and piano keys to embolden its sullen moods, adding depth to Banks’ delivery. Though, whichever direction he’s going with the content, he’s showing us a mastery of his skills, especially when painting scenes, like on the standout “Movie Scenes.”

The Course of The Inevitable 3: Piece of My Pain is another fantastic addition to the series started by Lloyd Banks in 2021. It may be up to par with the second, but it creates these auspicious moods with his poignant lyricism and unrestrained delivery that’s it’s hard to miss. It may not even be one of the hottest releases of 2023, yet Hip-Hop Heads will rejoice as you hear Banks continuously kill it as he did during his G-Unit days. Highly recommend it to fans of Hip-Hop and more so to those exploring from the grassroots to today in New York Hip-Hop.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Feist – Multitudes: Review

Singing from the heart, Multitudes by Canadian Singer-Songwriter Feist offers a glimpse of her journey since her adopted daughter’s birth, where different moments have relayed powerful, emotional reflections. Some are awe-inspiring, while others get trapped within the circumference of sounds that have a lesser consistency; Feist’s vocals elevate these Alt Pop-Rock complexions on these sensibly attractive constructions that can sometimes feel meek compared to others. Though Multitudes incorporates different instruments that allow the orchestration to have a more realized worldview, when you get more tempered, ballad-like, and broken-down production, it doesn’t always reflect this visceral vividness heard on the opening track “In Lightning.” It doesn’t have an expansive purview sonically, but as it subtly aligns and balances the powerful writing and vocals from Feist rounds the dimensions to make the production feel more potent through its purposefulness. That purposefulness is due to the instrumentations giving space to let Feist shine over these modestly complex instrumentations, where the tenderness reflects the melancholy within Feist, even when most songs aren’t as profound.

Guitar strings glide through Multitudes with character, almost taking control of the directional production it takes. The acoustics bleed beautifully through the layers, guiding the tones of other instruments like the Electric strings (guitar & bass), cello, drums, and more. The way it deconstructs the production keeps us more centered on Feist’s writing and performance as she speaks with so much viscosity you’re bound to feel her vocals more powerfully, which can be beneficial. We get to hear the rawness in her voice as it reflects themes of identity, relationships, love, etc., through intricate storytelling and visually vibrant wording, like in “Become the Earth.” In the song, Feist takes on the perspective of a tree, giving us a look at how people close to you change, especially their relations to you over time. As she would sing, “Flee ’til you’re free, and stay loving me/Some people have gone and the people who stayed/Will eventually go in a matter of days,” visualizing the reality of life, especially when it comes to the connections made, and the history shared. Think about The Giving Tree and how it reflects its themes; Feist does so here, though more illustrative through words.

Feist’s writing is an essential guiding force that makes Multitudes feel emotionally invigorating, especially compared to the more colorful Pleasures, where there are lesser broken-down acoustics and more atmospheric and melodically driven performances. We hear more broken-down composites and fewer tendencies to let non-natural atmospheric backing harmonies become a defining principle. It wants us to feel the energy she imbues through her performances, like the feeling of loneliness in “Sad Song for A Friend,” which brings togetherness through a composite of emotions piling from the pandemic. Most of these feelings come from the era where I bet many of us spent time reflecting on ourselves and where we’re going less, as seen through people leaving jobs to chase something they love. We hear it beautifully and vividly in “Hiding Out In The Open,” an oxymoron title where Feist reflects on a connection she made with someone because there was no hiding amidst a pandemic where you got limited with many outdoor activities. We hear it when she sings, “Hiding out in the open/Maybe I’m gonna let you down/Nothing’s gonna make us new/What’s done is not gonna undo,” making us feel complete exposure.

With past albums having balanced acoustics blending within a current of Alt Pop-Rock rhythms, incorporating more synths and bass, Multitudes takes it to another level where the essence of background depth gets displaced for a more enriching experience. It pushes Feist’s vocals down different avenues, like on the astute “I Wish I Didn’t Miss You,” which plays a lot with shiftiness in vocal levels and harmonies. It further boasts the depth of its chorus, bringing grainy and ghostly electric harmonizations that bridge the meat of the verses. Though it can be slightly more downtempo, its use of the instruments offers a balanced platform that boosts the performative attraction of Singer-Songwriters. Keying into unique minimalist production with some songs, it still carries depth within the crevices like violin and piano notes on “Of Womankind” and “Love Who We Are Meant To,” or the subtle backing drums on “Martyr Moves.” 

However, Multitudes does take turns where its production adds some vibrant notes, weaving unique sounds reflective of Feist’s self. Aside from the opening track, we get the enigmatic “Borrow Trouble,” where the production takes its instruments and pushes more than just a few notes to the forefront, unlike some slower-tempo songs. It has distinctive moments of grandeur to showcase her vocal range, but more so reflects this explosion of emotion. On them, she weaves these pop cadences over these beautifully layered instrumentals. Sometimes you’ll get a powerful twist with culturally Irish instrumentations, like what we get midway through “In Lightning” or the wonderfully simple but captivating “Calling All The Gods.” But many times, it’s more tempered and free-flowing with the emotional weight of what is getting reflected by Feist. It’s the essence of being that we hear how poignant the writing ends up being. Feist constructs it through first or third perspectives that embolden its themes further, letting you feel immersed, like with this sensation of a different life and worldview on “The Redwing.” 

More intimate and metaphorically direct, Feist truly lets us in with Multitudes. A lot is working for the album, but sometimes it can get muddled as the minimalist instrumentations aren’t always as compelling. With enough oomph from Feist’s vocals, it levels many songs toward the side of fantastic, and as I sat there, enthralled, I can likely guarantee you will be too.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

El Michels Affair and Black Thought – Glorious Game: Review

As with any new album or collaboration album by Black Thought, there is an expectancy for greatness behind the microphone, and that’s no mistake, as Thought is one of the most consistent rappers. His ear for production has stayed so; last year was with Danger Mouse, and in 2023, with El Michels Affair, a group led by multi-instrumentalist Leon Michels, on Glorious Game. It’s easy to create dialogue about the music and the effervescent lyricism since Black Thought can turn varying content & themes and flip them into these auspicious songs which embolden their surroundings, allowing the listener to hear and see the bigger picture. With production from El Michels Affair, the soundscape mirrors the atmospheric notion of intimate shows, where the occasional crowd is heard in reprises, through cheers and claps, to bring these notions to life, especially as the flows come more tempered and retrospective. It’s more soulful and jazzy, giving the listener these rich layers to dissect what gets heard due to fluid post-production mixing that fleshes these songs further, even if it doesn’t have a total oomph factor.

Glorious Game differs from past collaborations, where Black Thought used producers that are antiquated within the world of Hip-Hop, except they haven’t lost their footing. Beyond the live instrumentation production, what separates the production of El Michels Affair from others is their consistent shift in focus in which instrument gets a significant boost. It’s not like the behind-the-board producers who balance the technical side with some live creations to fine-tune a balance with the sonic components – Salaam Remi’s unique string orchestration on Streams Of Thought, Vol. 2 or Sean C and LV’s gritty musical world-building. As the album continues on repeat, you hear this blissful equilibrium that keeps you centered and focused on both, even through the simpler moments like with “Alone,” where the production comes in louder than the vocalist, feeling off-kilter to the senses. However, they create these unique compositions that shift from the dense “Protocol” to the purposeful “Hollow Way,” where the percussion’s character is louder despite coming behind the strength of Thought’s voice. Going through the album, you hear the seamless harmony of the flows with the production.

It isn’t as grand, levying more tempered sounds that feel like Black Thought is working the slight antithesis of The Roots’ more provocative and loud; El Michels Affair is less ingrained in artistic grandeur and more tepid within its tempos. It lets Thought’s lyrics guide through on top of the instrumental–heavy clouds finding ways to make a stamp with his words, like the ferocity on “The Weather.” It’s like coasting on cloud nine as Black Thought flows with a beautiful cadence in his voice, where no word feels weirdly enunciated to force a rhyme. Each time, Black Thought finds new degrees to retread familiar content, but his sense of originality keeps you interested through the words he spits, like his flexing on “Glorious Game.” For some, it can be something to swiftly tune out as there are few moments where Thought placates his more focused demeanor to continue his expansive and tempered delivery. 

Though Black Thought’s lyricism is astute, some may not find his flexing as refreshing, but more importantly, the shift between the dualities. With “That Girl” and “Miracle,” Black Thought becomes keen on reflecting on a relationship with a significant other; however, as the production and vocals mold, the former turns to the most interesting of the two, even with similar flow and instrumental tempos. It’s as much about the content as the delivery, and it’s harder to when it runs 12 tracks, 32 minutes, but it doesn’t feel as such. It feels like a swift EP that’s not as satisfying as you finish the run without realizing it has done so. It grooves through vast introspections and reflections; I yearned for more as the music continued to feel more compositely streamlined, where it’s hard to find something more than the expectancy. Black Thought brings a lot to the fray as his writing takes interesting turns through distinct metaphors and wordplay, but there are two times it isn’t as powerful. With “I’m Still Somehow,” it feels like Thought is just flowing off a paper, losing any sense of emotional gravitas, while “Alone” can’t seem to find an agreement between production and vocals. 

These detractors pushed me from loving this album to the levels of Cheat Codes with Danger Mouse or Streams Of Thought, Vol. 1 with 9th Wonder & Khrysis, but there is still enough fantastic work to keep in the loop. The lyrics are raw, and the production quality remains as consistent as ever, keeping your ears ingrained to beats as they flood through your headphones. Though it’s lesser than some other projects, that doesn’t mean much when you get quality consistently from both artists. Highly recommend the album, even if it isn’t as profound, you’re bound to find songs to enjoy fully.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.