Top 30 Albums of 2022

It’s past that time of year when publications feel like December is a month filled with nothingness, and end-of-year lists appear like Christmas ornaments at your local store in August. But sometimes gems appear, and they round out what made 2022 a powerful and wonderful year for music. Here’s my list for 2022, filled with varying genres defining the trajectory of universal love and acceptance beyond the surface-layer pop that dominates Hot 100 radio.

30. Love Sux – Avril Lavigne

Love Sux is a dynamic shift from blending nuances of the past with oblique popLove Sux knows what it is: lyrically poignant, blending commercialized lingo with riotous rock or rounded pop-punk ballads.” Link To Review

29. Cheat Codes – Black Thought & Danger Mouse

“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.” Link To Review

28. Home, Before and After – Regina Spektor

Home, before and after, has conciseness to its sound and style, where it makes you feel like it’s getting played during a session of merriment in the creative process. It reminded me of Fiona Apple’s last album, Fetch the Bolt Cutters, at times, where the vibrancy came from the naturalistic instrumentation–sans synths–that keeps it centered on its sound. It drives home the potent quality of the new Spektor album, even if it doesn’t tread new territory often.” Link To Review

27. Saturno – Rauw Alejandro

Saturno, by all accounts, aims to deliver futuristic overtures and undertones, whether through the production or from the vocals, to take us to the stratosphere of his mind, where we see how he musically thinks. It excels at that and some; it’s an album where the essence of reggaeton isn’t lost, but the electronic avenues he takes are astronomical, no pun intended. Sometimes you’re getting hints of dancehall, sometimes Miami Bass or EDM, but the overall vibe leaves you in a trance where you aren’t noticing your body grooving. Though I can’t speak to how you motion per tempo, the transitions between tracks are smooth – save for the interludes/skit. But the lavish futurism expressed through the eyes of a reggaeton artist getting past conceptual pop norms and taking his music to new heights. ” Link to Review

26. Unwanted – Pale Waves

“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.” Link to Review

25. De Toda Las Flores – Natalia LaFourcade

De Toda Las Flores continues demonstrating value by incorporating luscious sonic influences and seemingly expressing that fun with this variety of jazz, pop, salsa, and more. Co-produced by Adán Jodorowsky, son of famed filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky, Lafourcade visually catapults us back toward the emotional fortitude of life, giving us an eloquent musical breakdown that consistently keeps us engaged, even during the weaker moments. Whether brass or subtle, the music carries gravitas by capitalizing on Lafourcade’s strengths lyrically and vocally, despite some of its minimalist instrumentations never feeling realized.” Link to Review

24. Herbert – Ab-Soul

“Mentally exhausting but exuberantly rewarding, Ab-Soul’s new album Herbert takes us through hurdles as Soul reflects on life and emotional imbalances that have placed him into a zone where the focus was his mental health. 2014’s Stigmata felt like a linear direction of drug-infused beats built with the complexities of perfectly quaffed glass, and Do What Thou Wilt felt more of the same, just lesser in sonic appeal and construction. But that isn’t the case with Herbert, an album that feels more like the dark undercurrents beneath the percussion getting refined and letting it control are more linear approach instead of flip-flopping between the overly experimental and the “Ab-Soul, Asshole” that we’ve listened to since Longterm Mentality.” Link to Review

23. The Family – Brockhampton

The Family is a rich text that keeps most of Kevin Abstract’s words short and sweet but with resounding depth that you get incentivized with great music that you’d want to replay and understand further. It’s through Kevin Abstract’s flows, lyricism, and the production by bandmember bearface and producers boylife and Nick Velez, offering sounds that invoke memories atmospherically.” Link to Review

22. LEGENDADDY – Daddy Yankee

“Being his first album in a decade, we’ve seen reggaeton’s growth from nuanced ballads to pop-bangers which bridge samples of sonic influence. It’s all relative to your cultural roots and the music that inspired you from youth. Daddy Yankee made reggaeton what it is today, allowing for a free flow of ingenuity to become universally accepted as new artists create their foundation. LEGENDADDY takes various eras of reggaeton and weaves them into a musically transcendent timeline of music history, with Daddy Yankee surprising us at almost every turn.” Link to Review

21. As Above, So Below – Sampa The Great

As Above, So Below goes beyond to allow inflections of Sampa the Great’s verses to get heard. She’s always been one to express her Zambian heritage musically through features, production, and the incorporation of its languages to boast her identity as a rapper. Though we’ve gotten projects that demonstrated her masterful technical skills, it was only a matter of time: an expansion on the production’s use of African sounds to coat the core hip-hop percussion notes with the evolution of construction. Because of it, it’s focused on central thematic cores, allowing for simplistic themes about perseverance and individuality, like in “Never Forget.”” Link to Review

20. God Don’t Make Mistakes – Conway the Machine

God Don’t Make Mistakes is like a sucker punch that stops you in your tracks and forces you to sit and listen to Conway the Machine’s verses. More of an introspective composition, we see Conway attacking layers of his person, from confidence to early self-doubt and success…God Don’t Make Mistakes comes with surprises. We continue to hear Conway the Machine go toe-to-toe with rap’s heavyweights; we hear him adapting his technical and writing skills to the content he wants to reflect on the album. What Conway expresses is his true self, reaffirming the notion of God accepting the flawed like those deemed “clean.” The constant motion of the album allows it to have a steady run despite its minor issues.” Link to Review

19. Life On Earth – Hurray For the Riff Raff

“It doesn’t sound as profound on paper, but the depths that Alynda Segarra takes her songwriting and melodies with the band’s instrument playing, offer a whirlwind experience that will have you enjoying the overtures and subtleties that align within her work; it continues to be the case on their newest album, LIFE ON EARTH. The album is rich and earthy, fueled by some naturalistic punk coating that emboldens Segarra’s emotions.” – Link To Review

18. Denim & Diamonds – Nikki Lane

Denim & Diamonds is an amalgamation of Nikki Lane’s musical personality. She gives us temperate Americana and Blues/Roots music that reflects her more personal (diamond) side; the denim is that rough-trade, pick-up-your-bootstraps Country, finding the perfect synergy, despite the ups and downs. Sometimes she finds ways to blend the two into a beautiful blend that tames the senses, especially as you get the chance to feel and hear remarkable storytelling through different contextual moods.” Link to Review

17. Blue Rev – Alvvays

“Written by Molly Rankin and Alec O’Hanley, what gets brought to the table are an array of unique stories with colorful depictions that mold their emotional deliveries into something grander than expected. Many are visually engaging, taking you through these dailies that offer layered duality to themes getting approached. “Tile By Tile” sees Rankin doing busy-body work, letting her mind wander to the time she dropped the L (love) word on a ride with someone with who she feels this affection, but it’s nonreciprocal. It leaves her feeling like she left a good thing slip and seeing her anxiety shift with specific actions, like when she sings, “Am I still giving off the wrong impression?/I shouldn’t have ever dialed you up,” in the outro.” Link to Review

16. Ants From Up There – Black Country New Road

“Unlike their debut, Ants from Up There brings bright spots for the darkness. They take out the vitamins and make sure they don’t burn the concoction, delivering a fine fixture of delicious musical plates for indulging. I’ll tell you; it may have left me slightly over-bloated without regret. There are varying elements of different genres not heard in their debut, and mastering new territory to excel, like with Isaac Wood’s vocals, it grasps your ears with a chamber-pop-echo reinforcing the melodic bind between the vocal layers and production.” Link to Review

15. Muna – Muna

“Muna offers compelling consistency, and more so on their latest, self-titled release, MUNA, where the vibes are immaculate. There isn’t a moment you won’t find yourself in a mood to groove as the sounds shift in unique directions that it’s sometimes hard to keep up. But within the 11-track album, some tracks have replay value akin to “Silk Chiffon,” while others remind us of how their sonic complexities as artists elevate the sound, whether full-on or subtle. It may not be perfect, but MUNA has a lot to love and enjoy, and I hope you do.” Link to Review

14. The Forever Story – JID

The Forever Story is a triumph for JID, weaving together his strengths and compacting them cleanly in his own transformative journey. We get a balance between production styles, allowing them to connect through distinct transitions. It left me zoning, retaining it on repeat, and feeling the immersive nature of his music. And with features that boast the messaging of their respective tracks and equally great production, JID continues to add credence to his momentous strength as a lyricist/MC.” Link To Review

13. Dance Fever – Florence & The Machine

Dance Fever is full of musical ideas that build upon each other and take different directions; however, what’s different is how it’s pieced together into an album that takes chances and elevates itself by playing with some progressive soundscapes. Within these soundscapes, Florence Welch continues to weave–with co-writers and producers Jack Antanoff, Dave Bayley, Thomas Hull, Thomas Bartlett, and Robert Ackroyd–these personal conflicts that befallen her with complex production that never create an illusion of grandeur, further grounding the music with effervescent connectivity.” Link To Review

12. Dawn FM – The Weeknd

“We’ve heard The Weeknd flow in both directions – melancholic or heightened pop – and there is less of the latter. However, It’s something which this isn’t devoid of, evident with “Take My Breath,” produced by Max Martin and Oscar Holter. At first, you get a whiff of the upbeat 80s electronic and new wave dance styles – from the riffs to the synths, I was left in awe by the complexities within the production. It’s bombastic and fluid, encapsulating that visceral “Star Boy” energy while embodying different themes.” Link To Review

11. Motomami – Rosalia

Motomami never shies to explore, taking extra steps to inject rhythmic bliss. There are tender moments where the production strips down from an elevated pop track like “Saoko” or “Bizochito.” These moments deliver emotionally rich performances, particularly with uniquely titled tracks like “Hentai.” However, it doesn’t matter the direction; Rosalía finds a way to make each track have its own identity, and like many, we are just reeling in the greatness of Motomami. One minute you’re vibing with “Diablo” or “La Combi Versace,” the next you’re taken on a trip through powerfully moving ballads, like “Delirio De Grandeza” or “G3 N15.”” Link To Review

TOP 10 OF 2022


10. Ramona Park Broke My Heart – Vince Staples

Ramona Park Broke My Heart is a shifting paradigm of lies and heartbreak, cornering any sense of hope to succeed. Vince Staples’ mind has hypotheticals, realizations, and growing pains that reflect how he views his career after many years under a label–sometimes, of his personality; other times, reflective of his career. But there is more to the project than the parallels in his potent lyricism, which is a constant on Ramona Park Broke My Heart. He is showing us behind the broken walls that surround him. Vince is giving us a lot to break down, from the emotionally-lyrical side and the production, which brings a continuation of greatness heard on his self-titled release last year.” Link To Review

9. SOS – SZA

“Subtleness may be what SOS lacks, but it isn’t driving the strengths, meaning it doesn’t break the album. SZA keeps her sleeves bare with emotion as she laments and vents about her world, which correlates with sheer relevancy, giving SOS a grander platform for musical resonance. From the beginning, you are not getting hints; you get directness without a curtain failsafe to shield her when she makes a listener uncomfortable if that. After the title track, we get a stream of consciousness that envelops us through these auspicious, musically metaphorical dualities that boast her person in reflection with the lyrics she delivers.” Link To Review

8. Renaissance – Beyonce

“Taking on the current nostalgic disco trend, Beyoncé evolves past certain standard genre constraints today and takes new approaches, like shifting the dynamics between eras of evolution–Disco–House–Dance. With streaming, Renaissance contains subtle crossfades, which deliver a more cohesive mix without the DJ. Using this direction, Beyoncé develops her craft to fit the mold of what she’s giving, and specifically, with the help of her producers, Renaissance is a powerhouse.” Link To Review

7. No Thank You – Little Simz

“The explorative sounds of SIMBI are this extravagant continuation of genre-bending, this time boasting Hip-Hop undertones with Afro-Beat and Soul. The music of No Thank You gets toned to ease the blend of unique overtones with minimalistic percussion. We hear more Gospel and Soul, and Simz allows herself to focus on being instead of being pressured by multi-layered beats. No Thank You is laying a foundation that sees Simz confronting her truth – her feelings without boundaries, and keeping it 100 at the cost of lyricism.” Link To Review

6. American Gurl – Kilo Kish

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

5. Un Verano Sin Ti – Bad Bunny

“In an interview with The New York Times, Bad Bunny noted that the Un Verano Sin Tí is “a record to play in the summer, on the beach, as a playlist,” so it’s not something you can just play while sitting down and indulging. I’m not saying you can, but like many reggaeton albums, the impact’s embedded in the rhythm and how your hips vibe to the beat. He knows how to create these larger-than-life moods/vibes, and he has a constant synergy with his featured artists. We get to hear Bad Bunny with some great pop and reggaeton artists, like Chencho Corleone, Tony Dize, Bomba Estereo, and The Marías, and they don’t disappoint. It’s a monstrous smash that starts at the top of Track 1, “Moscow Mule.”” Link To Review

4. Cool It Down – Yeah Yeah Yeahs

“Like opening a box of fragrant pastries fresh out of the oven, the synths come at you with a direct punch of zeal that your ears and mind won’t forget, especially as you come to a close on a beautiful soliloquy that represents growth. “Mars,” like “Spitting Off The Edge of The World” and “Wolf,” are predominant moments that raise intrigue levels through a delicate layering of guitar, effect pedals, and varying synthesizers, which become central sonic themes as the tracks they finish and deliver have innate consistency. It makes the minor stumbles seen more like distant memories.” Link To Review

3. King’s Disease III – Nas & Hit-Boy

King’s Disease III sees Nas continuing to extend his prime, delivering heater after heater without the support of features and amounting to one of his most immaculate albums since 2012’s Life is Good. Hit-Boy produces sounds that flip between modern, large-scale Hip-Hop beats and ones that bring nuance to the influential elements of 90s Boom-Bap/Jazz Rap, amongst others. It all acquiesces into one strong gavel to the table as Nas makes an everlasting statement about his lasting legacy that will only grow more, especially with the consistency of the King’s Disease trilogy, where Nas assimilates and demolish Hip-Hop sub-genres momentously.” Link To Review

2. Yessie – Jessie Reyez

“The music of Yessie is swarthy, melancholy sounds, creating gripping relatability that takes different sonic outlooks that aren’t as predictable. From the bilingual electro-R&B “Adios Amor,” which continues to show Jessie Reyez’s coldness, to the similarly thematically driven rock-like “Break Me Down.” It’s a crisp progression of greatness as Jessie Reyez capitalizes on delivering a personification of herself with remarkable depth. It isn’t an album that exponentially breathes club, or dance bangers, instead letting it round out stylistically akin to the atmosphere/tones derived from the beginning, becoming more apparent or subtle as it goes along. It left me bewildered with excitement, as Jessie Reyez has been someone who’s shown to me that she can create something special, and she does so here.” Link To Review

1. Big Time – Angel Olsen

Big Time is a powerful emotional experience. Since the last time Angel Olsen spoke to us, she has gone through personal change–from coming out to the loss of her mother–Olsen brings a heavy platter of thoughts that expands on her story. In doing so, Olsen subdues the glitz of overly produced country music, opting for an extraordinary approach that elevates the emotional gravitas. It grips you from the first song, “All The Good Times;” the drums reel you in with melancholic bravado from Olsen, producing a feel for the direction of Big Time. The album is reminiscent of a traditional style from the 50s/60s/70s era, taking unique paths to actualize them to life. The creativity within the construction of the songs brings elements that enforce its stagey presence. The engineering is crisp, creating a foundation in a smooth crescendo where each section becomes audibly potent in creation, from the brass and horn sections to the percussion and strings.” Link To Review

Ab-Soul – Herbert: Review

Mentally exhausting but exuberantly rewarding, Ab-Soul’s new album Herbert takes us through hurdles as Soul reflects on life and emotional imbalances that have placed him into a zone where the focus was his mental health. 2014’s Stigmata felt like a linear direction of drug-infused beats built with the complexities of perfectly quaffed glass, and Do What Thou Wilt felt more of the same, just lesser in sonic appeal and construction. But that isn’t the case with Herbert, an album that feels more like the dark undercurrents beneath the percussion getting refined and letting it control are more linear approach instead of flip-flopping between the overly experimental and the “Ab-Soul, Asshole” that we’ve listened to since Longterm Mentality. It’s an evident relic of the past with its jazzy, at times lightly funkadelic tones that give us similar tendencies akin to the audacious and beautiful “Illuminate” from 2012’s Control System. It isn’t devoid of lyrical grit, where he can shift the parameters of his flows, keeping you engaged as Soul never diverts into songs that wane too much into darker experimentations.

As a lyricist, Ab-Soul’s content is kitschy compared to most populous rap in the above or underground scene. It may have been why he never got an Interscope Records co-sign, allowing him to get down to the nitty-gritty and deliver songs where his sleeves ache, and his grief is on full display like he did with “Closure” off Stigmata. That’s still prevalent here, along with more reflections that sees Ab-Soul constructing his multi-layered persona with vitriol. We hear it in the twinkly “Fallacy,” which details Ab-Soul’s hiccups and moments where he succeeds. It’s in the emotionally complex “Herbert” and “The Wild Side,” which shows us who he has been throughout the years – someone constantly on the side of the road where there’s an obstacle with every step. It’s a blissful melancholy that gets highlighted over beautifully resonant and sometimes minimalist (comparatively) production, continuously boasting the thematic prowess of Soul. Ab-Soul is one to knock out of the park more consistently when the nature of the tracks wanes on personable instead of flaunting and flexing, though there have been hits within that realm, like “Hunnid Stax.” We hear the essence of it on the gripping and smooth “Hollandaise.”

Time passes, and what you thought you knew may have been incorrect from the get-go. Recently, Edie Falco remarked in an interview about her role in Avatar 2: The Way of Water – when she filmed, what she thought it could make on opening weekend, etc. – Falco noted that she believed the film was released and flopped. Similarly, Ab-Soul’s mild silence since 2016, only appearing as a featured artist or short, fulfilling singles, reminded me of a pre-2015 Ab-Soul, where the focus on experimentation had him flying too close to the sun. Unlike Icarus or Falco’s thoughts on Avatar: The Way of Water, Ab-Soul didn’t flop and had been bettering himself, growing as an artist, and finding meaning on his journeys. We see that with the beautifully constructed and focused concept album that imbues the essence of who Soul, musically and spiritually.

Containing a spiritual connection brings confidence toward having a multitude of producers board the ship to give us something as coherent as listening to screamo with freshly clean ears. There is an underlying distinction in styles as it transitions, allowing for seamless continuations of narrative greatness. The production boasts the content getting reflected, whether mellow or more boisterous, like “Positive Vibes Only.” Unfortunately, as slick as the beat is, the track doesn’t have the lyrical frontness and feels too lost in its production to make anything out of it, unlike “Hollandaise,” which brings a lot of ammo. It isn’t like the nuanced and ever-growing sounds of “Art of Seduction” and “Do Better.” It’s a flurry of simplicity that retains depth with how it gets constructed, unlike the overly styled beats of past songs like “D.R.U.G.S.” and “Sapiosexual.” Here, there is a fine line between the two; sometimes, you can’t distinguish what hits and doesn’t at first. When Ab-Soul chooses production that goes the extra mile, like “Go Off,” that sense of doubt washes away swiftly as you hear Soul command the beat and take it to the next level. Unfortunately, featured rapper Russ doesn’t match the quality writing from Ab-Soul and Big Sean, but he’s only a quick slight that doesn’t deter from the quality of the final product.

Herbert is a fantastic return for Ab-Soul. He’s less reliant on creating an expansive piece on a limited canvas, instead aiming for something more constructive, linear, and oozing with melancholy; you can’t help but feel attracted to the lyrics and sounds. It’s a fantastic record that I’d wish released early because of the distinctively wrought process of dropping year-end lists during the first week of December as if it’s some desolate month with little to offer, yet, we’ve gotten two incredible hip-hop albums.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Little Simz – No Thank You: Review

Surprising us with an album at the end of the year, it sounds like the gears never stop churning for Little Simz. Her fifth album, No Thank You comes after a whirlwind of a year, where she delivered Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, boasting her status past the underground and getting recognized for the quality of work she continuously drops. Winning Best New Artist at the Brit Awards, Simz made it known she will continue to grow while retaining true to herself, especially with the win coming at the height of the critically acclaimed SIMBI. The explorative sounds of SIMBI are this extravagant continuation of genre-bending, this time boasting Hip-Hop undertones with Afro-Beat and Soul. The music of No Thank You gets toned to ease the blend of unique overtones with minimalistic percussion. We hear more Gospel and Soul, and Simz allows herself to focus on being instead of being pressured by multi-layered beats. No Thank You is laying a foundation that sees Simz confronting her truth – her feelings without boundaries, and keeping it 100 at the cost of lyricism.

On No Thank You, Little Simz expands detailed contextual alignment with themes regarding race, musical and personal growth, etc., allowing them to be heard effervescently in the confines of its lavish production. No Thank You starts reeling you with the opening track, “Angel,” where she focuses on faith, her blackness, and her legacy with an exuberant bravado. It’s awe-inspiring; it makes one wish all the songs cared to embolden the Soul/Funk/Gospel overtones, but some sidesteps to express an aspect of her nature lose traction by feeling like the odd duck of the clan or the plainish “Control.” But “Gorilla” is that odd duck, but not because of its quality. It has a smooth, funkadelic bass line and minimalist percussion, allowing Simz to flow off the dome in a braggadocious fashion. But It’s more linear and more of a cut from SIMBI, with the excess of its drum patterns. As well, it doesn’t have the soulful nuance of the Gospel notes riding through many beats, hitting a peak with “Broken.”

“Broken” is a sonic reflection of the style incorporated on a platoon of tracks that exceed five minutes; however, melancholic outros add additional depth to its more streamlined consciousness. The bars are slick, and Little Simz isn’t devoid of clever rhyme schemes and metaphors. It counterbalances the spiritual cadence of the choruses and in-song transitions, and significantly, the intros and outros, where the hip-hop elements fade behind the curtain, giving center stage to the soulful vocals from singer Cleo Soul and musician/producer Kojo. They ease transitions as Simz buoys her identity through potential hurdles as her popularity grows. It gives new and old fans a spiritual understanding of her craft that won’t change, especially as Simz continues to try new sounds. 

The range of sounds producer Inflo delivers for Simz continues to boast her flows, which has been familiar since 2019’s Grey Area; on No Thank You, there is a continuous delineation between the genre influence getting heard. From the string and percussion-heavy “Silhouettes” to the acoustic choral overtones that let Simz break additional barriers by pushing more weight onto her lyricism on “Control” and “Sideways.” There is a crispness to the mixing that highlights both sides of the songs, letting you hear each detail, each angle it takes, as Simz never takes the short path to deliver. She paces herself fluidly through many tracks, allowing for a streamlining listen that lets you get from point A to point B while intaking everything smoothly.

Parallel to “Sideways” is the empathetic and emotionally captivating “Who Even Cares,” where Little Simz opts for a more sing-songy flow and lets us hear a different side of her. Though it follows a third-person narrative focusing on humbled beginnings and rational selfishness so one can succeed toward their goals, retreading some familiarity, there is an essence of being that realizes it more than its production. It’s funkadelic to the nines, seemingly feeling like a relic of the 80s, where the bass grooves and synthesizers take you to new levels as it plays through your ears. It isn’t the first time we’ve gotten to hear Little Simz sing, though it’s been more in the chorus; this shifts the dynamic of its delivery, specifically as a contrast to the more boom-bap, street flows of other tracks, like “Control” or “X.”

There is an essence to No Thank You that pits it against some of the best rap albums dealing with pure reflection, with the occasional sidestep into flexing; however, it succeeds in accomplishing a narrative. Its themes are expanded and given purpose through switches between the first and third person, offering a rejuvenating sense of relatability. It left me feeling a lot and wanting to hear more and more from Simz, and the constant change in sonic direction adds to that.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

SZA – SOS: Review

Continuing to succeed in her sonic expressions with a diverse palette of sounds, SZA defines how we receive the music by the album title. Layered with emotional and thematic elements, CTRL saw SZA commanding the stage and giving us a concise and consistent range of work that doesn’t make you overthink to understand who she is presenting. She has control. It’s the opposite of the follow-up SOS; it takes you through various soundscapes, some that we haven’t heard from her prior. It’s SZA exploding with all these ideas built through the last four years and offers a reflection of an artist who’s yearning to get heard. It’s like she is on an island with creators, just making music day after day, but nothing is getting released, so she issues her own mental SOS so that she can let it out and we can further understand her artistry. There is crisp sequencing, allowing the album to hurdle through missteps deriving featured artists or simplistic percussion a few times; the minor hindrances don’t over-shroud the lot of fantastic music SZA gives us.

Subtleness may be what SOS lacks, but it isn’t driving the strengths, meaning it doesn’t break the album. SZA keeps her sleeves bare with emotion as she laments and vents about her world, which correlates with sheer relevancy, giving SOS a grander platform for musical resonance. From the beginning, you are not getting hints; you get directness without a curtain failsafe to shield her when she makes a listener uncomfortable, if that. After the title track, we get a stream of consciousness that envelops us through these auspicious, musically metaphorical dualities that boast her person in reflection with the lyrics she delivers. “Kill Bill” sees SZA using the film Kill Bill as a means to create these allusions to situations that have done her wrong; she likens herself to Beatrice Kiddo leading down her path of destruction, which may ultimately see her having to confront her ex’s new girlfriends. Similarly, there’s “Gone Girl,” a starry R&B Ballad that gives us an inside look at the mind of SZA as she contemplates leaving her lover and emphasizing her ghosting by using allusions to the novel and film of the same name.

SZA’s stream of consciousness continues to add weight to her shoulders, buoying a robust response from the listener. One of which keeps you engaged through her songwriting, which outshines the production more consistently than not. Using the title SOS as this allegorical meaning toward delivering an explosion of sounds adds credence to the quantity and varying styles on the album, but more so the latter. Though not inherently bloated, this fresh consistency blooms through all but two tracks, even if there are minor sidesteps. “Far” is one of three tracks that allow itself to feel distant from the pack on a sonic level as opposed to its lyrical textures, which adds to the sentiments getting delivered on SOS. That strong flow of SOS gets slightly drowned by two of the features, which aren’t as complementary, either in style or with the quality of their verse, leaving the songs emptier. Don Tolliver and Travis Scott are the featured artists I talk about; they add little to the 23-track macrocosm of riotous emotions within her delivery, becoming more of an afterthought that could have gotten removed for crisper consistency. 

Fortunately, these two hindrances don’t take away from the explosive work SZA gives us, especially with its song transitions. Continuing to explore contextual verbal duality, SZA begins a wave of beauty with “Gone Girl,” shifting into SZA delivering a rap verse on “Smoking On My Ex Pack,” then turning into this vibrant dream-pop collaboration with Phoebe Bridgers and rising further on the monstrous punk track “F2F.” “F2F” takes you back to the early 00s, when burgeoning female punk artists let their angst get heard effervescently. You get taken aback instantly, mainly because it’s something different, and its flows. Though predominantly R&B, some tracks come to you never feel perturbed due to an understanding of SZA’s concept that allows them to come to you freely.

SZA’s vocals naturally assimilate to each style she exhumes, whether it’s punk rock, soft singer-songwriter pop like on “Blind” and “Conceited,” or grand R&B powerhouses like “Notice Me,” “Shirt,” or the bravado of “Low,” with the thematic potency of songs akin to “Irreplaceable.” It shows an exuberant amount of confidence as she commands who she is, especially in her day-to-day life. Unfortunately, some of these tracks don’t get overly creative with the drum patterns, leaving many songs to rely on their building blocks of sounds and vocals to keep you engaged. SZA can take anything she’s given by the horns and steer it toward greatness, and it’s been evident pre-CTRL. “Good Days” is one of a few examples that makes you realize percussion is second nature to the synths, the strings, and an array of melodies that offer a spacious atmosphere for you to get lost in and contemplate. It may be a potential problem that can come from having a deep platoon of producers helping you deliver consistency on a canvas, some of which may add more than needed, like the slim sonic redundancy of “Far,” but SZA beautifully pieces it together. 

SOS is a fantastic collection of songs that delivers upon its concept with emotional splendor; you’re never cashing out as you want to keep this album on repeat. I was one of those to feel that I couldn’t stop leaving it on loop, as the melancholy, sometimes minimalist production, gives us an open space to dissect SZA’s lyricism. Definitely, worth holding out for your lists to give it a chance to break through, and it will, like it did with me.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

2022 Catch Up: Some Albums I Missed This Year

Rina Sawayama – Hold The Girl

Unlike her self-titled debut, Rina Sawayama’s follow-up, Hold The Girl, isn’t as refreshing or profound. It’s almost tiptoeing a line between more by-the-numbers electro-pop without extending her reach beyond minor tweaks here and there within its production, like the guitar riffs on “This Hell.” Beyond inconsequentially detailed anecdotes within the sounds, few songs barely make much of an impression, becoming nearly forgettable because they aren’t as surprising as the debut. That isn’t to say there isn’t something to take away since Sawayama has shown herself to understand the ebullient decisions made to orchestrate lavish paintings on her canvas. Even when songs tend to add a little flare, there is a slight disappointment, like the empty and straightforward “Frankenstein” and “Your Age.” They never get past replicating standard pop overtures that you’d find easily on an Ava Maxx – or Tiesto, Meduza, or any poppy EDM DJ – album.

That isn’t to say it is devoid of any good music. The title song of Hold The Girl is this rich and darkly vibrant electro-pop powerhouse that bridges symphonic vocals – akin to Lady Gaga – and her mysterious presence. With her debut, you never got a sense of what she is bringing with beat choices, and that kind of mystery isn’t as intriguing here consistently. There are varying songs that hit, like “Forgiveness” and “Imagining,” but it’s a predominantly predictable album that doesn’t feel as intriguing like when I first heard the metal rock influence “STFU!” on her self-titled debut. It’s a forgettable piece of work that defines the sophomore slump. But more so, it puts the album title into perspective as it feels like she restrains herself. It plays it safe, and in some regard, you can get something great out of it, but when you’ve debuted as someone who takes chances, it could have been more explorative on a follow-up.

Rating: 5 out of 10.

Arctic Monkeys – The Car

As I further listened to the new Arctic Monkeys album, The Car, I couldn’t help but feel like they were missing the spark. Though I was always keen to see them get further into slower tempo jams after AM, it continues to disappoint as they begin to rely on atmospheric and emotionally sifting vocals by Alex Turner and less at creating dense instrumentations. Their last album, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, tried to keep it slightly interesting by exploring new styles like Glam Rock on their lead single, “Four Out Of Five;” other similar moments consistently outshone their slower jams. On their follow-up, the effervescent presence of the slower tempo baroque pop and lounge pop. However, some of the finite details in the rock songs, like the funky undertones on “I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am.” Unfortunately, it never treads into murkier waters, and some notes become hollow.

Unlike the name of the song “Big Ideas,” there aren’t many here, but the little sparks that shine through give us these whimsically explorative tracks. Additionally, the use of funk in the album is inspired, but they never get FUNKY with it. The tempo stays slow and becomes derivative. It almost makes listening to Alex Turner’s engaging songwriting seem distant in the long run. That isn’t to say you find anything good here. “Jet Skis On The Moat” and “There’d Better Be A Mirrorballs” are some tracks that have stayed with me upon multiple revisits. The way these tracks incorporate the funk into their more loungey fair adds dimensions, unlike “Hello You,” which is broader in its approach. There is a consistency in the instrument playing, as they come with energy, despite the assignment being more a complete 180 from their Alt/Garage Rock days of the 2000s. I found The Car to be a solid effort as they deliver layered lyricism reflecting on memories and lessons learned through countless relationships. Though it may sound standard, Turner’s descriptive, poetic writing adds volumes.

Rating: 6 out of 10.

Soccer Mommy – Sometimes, Forever

As a fan of Daniel Lopatin’s work as an artist under the alias Oneothrixpointnever or his work in films making complementary scores, I jump the gun at anything he does or produces. However, something came over me, and the album he produced for Soccer Mommy flew by, and I forgot to return until recently. I sat beside myself lamenting over my neglect as the production of Sometimes, Forever is astronomically grand as it takes Sophia Allison (Soccer Mommy) to new levels that beautifully contrast the more structured songs of Color Theory. Though instrumental in keeping a core rock aesthetic, we hear more effects and experimentation with the instrumentations that you’re taken aback by some of the in-track shifts. For example, the noise-like guitar riffs at the end of “Bones” or the industrial/singer-songwriter punk-influenced “Unholy Affliction” and “Darkness Forever.” It is melodically rich and buoys fun explorations of different soundscapes, even though it isn’t the most lyrically profound.

Soccer Mommy retreads familiar themes, particularly ones enclosed to situations within a relationship, and almost seemingly loses herself in the moody production. Though the melodies are a strong focal point as they radiate an immense pull into its gravitational center, further entrenching us with fantastic sounds. Fluctuating between surprises and the more linear approach, it isn’t hard to get lost in her enigmatic work; Daniel Lopatin lets bass grooves ride waves of ferocity, taking us through elevated heights of darkness and vibrance. We hear it as it goes from the hopeful and whimsical “newdemo” to the dark and synth-heavy “Darkness Forever,” which sounds like a cross between atmospheric electronic wave music and punk. It’s a Rock album first, but how the two elevate it to be something grander shines a light on the dimensions within its emotional resonance, especially in those self-criticisms when reflecting on relationships or other what-ifs.

Sometimes, Forever is an album that I reflect on with glee. I am glad I’ve only gotten around to it now, as the past few weeks have seen some audacious and bombastic pieces of work that a moody and sonically expressive was what I needed. Despite a step back lyrically, it doesn’t hinder the final product; it leaves you in a foggy mist created by the expansive emotional range Soccer Mommy radiates through different inflections. You’d think Arctic Monkeys’ The Car would suffice, but the sounds are hollow by comparison. I know I’ll be spinning the new Soccer Mommy heavily, and I hope you love it as much as I do.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Metro Boomin – Heroes & Villains: Review

Heroes & Villains builds upon ideas that disassociate meaning that gets told through thematic perspectives from Metro Boomin and featured artists, where they purport a divide on who they are and what they believe. Or so that is what it wants to get across. You’ll instantly feel that from the album cover, which pays homage to Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here. Unfortunately, the assignment gets forgotten by all parties when the verses don’t always reflect what is laid in stone by the intro, which poorly contrasts John Legend’s angelic vocals with the cynicism and sadomasochism of Homelander from the Amazon Prime show, The Boys. Similarly, the concept becomes a bit more self-centered, losing focus on how these titles get perceived within the Hip-Hop community; rappers or producers who make it out and succeed gets that vague label of hero while the villainous notations come from their lyrical content. That’s here but refined to be more surface layer, despite the featured artists bringing sufficient consistency to make the production feel unwasted.

After a fantastic debut with Not All Heroes Wear Capes, Metro Boomin’s ascension gets heard behind the boards, and the collection of artists bring their B to A game lyrically. Unfortunately, the inner themes from the content getting spewed aren’t anything impressive, instead trivial with a light of creativity. Fortunately, it doesn’t hinder the individualized appeal of each track – the artists reflect grooves and flows that embolden its focus and lay the groundwork for club heaters – having its own potent gravitational pull that keeps us close to hitting replay instantly. It’s there with “Creepin,” “Metro Spider,” “Trance,” and “Feel The Fiyaaaah,” which engulf you in their style, offering cohesion, though that’s only naming the few that do this effervescently. We hear Metro Boomin’s effervescent production feeling realized as he takes us through these different, at times whimsical, piano keys and lusty drum beats. Though, it isn’t enough to circumvent some of its more unique choices.

For the positives that get laid out in Heroes & Villains, it makes some auspiciously oblique choices that falter the impact one can get from some tracks. It isn’t all Metro Boomin and more so a combination. Sometimes you’ll get these uniquely drab and typical verses that feel too entwined in laying out a style instead of feeling authentic, like on “Umbrella.” 21 Savage is known for his vocal, one-word ad-libs at the end of bars; however, “Umbrella” feels lost with 21’s constant use of “(Pussy),” which barely makes sense, like when raps: “Eastside vet, I’m a general (Pussy)/All my niggas twins, we identical (Pussy).” The ad-libs are him, but it feels more inserted than natural. Similarly, “Around Me” sounds basic as it tries too hard to let Don Tolliver’s vocals mistify you within this luscious Synth-Hop beat that would light up the crowd if it was better written; instead, it feels like any other Tolliver track. Additionally, “Walk Em Down” doesn’t emphasize Mustafa’s beautifully haunting vocals enough and waters down a great start by 21 Savage.

Few instances like this offer little to reflect on unless your expectations straddle a fine line compared to the more standard, apropos lyricists that have a focus beyond the beat. On Heroes & Villains, it meets expectations, especially when the subjects rarely shift from women, drugs, and emotions at the club. There are righteous melodies that hit triumphantly and some fantastic samples that get used beautifully, even if what comes after isn’t so appealing. We hear it in “Superhero,” where Metro Boomin samples “So Appalled” by disgraced artist/producer Kanye West before Chris Brown comes in and continues to diminish the negative connotations of the track, which sort of embellishes drug use. On “Creepin,” none of that is there, and we get this elegant sampling of “I Don’t Wanna Know” by Mario Winan (Feat. Diddy & Enya). The Weeknd makes it his own, and 21 Savage complements him and brings something profound, comparatively. Then there is “Feel the Fiyaah,” the closing track, which samples “pushin p” by Gunna and brings us another incredible verse from the late, great Takeoff of Migos. 

Heroes & Villains is a well-rounded album with a few pieces that don’t always connect, but there is a ton to recommend here, though there are a few stumbles along the way. From the quality of many verses and production, there is something here for everyone who has been a fan of Metro Boomin’ from the beginning, and for the new listeners, it’s a solid intro to the kind of music Metro makes and then some.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Because the Internet – A Look At the Best Rap Album Nominations For The 65th Grammy Awards

When The Fresh Prince and DJ Jazzy Jeff won the first Best Rap Performance, they didn’t go because they knew ahead of time their win wouldn’t get televised. After another year, that award wouldn’t see the light of day for 22 years. However, there have been more puzzling choices in the category beyond the album award, like “Hotline Bling” winning Best Rap Song when it isn’t a rap song – I guess Drake in name alone is rap? Hey Drake, resubmit a country song as rap and see if they bite. Jokes aside, one might understand the shiftiness of presenting live; the Grammys don’t show every award because they award over 70+ categories yearly, but when it 86’d a genre – of course – there would be protests. We didn’t have Best Rap Album till’ 1996, with a few performance categories that would subsequently get replaced with Melodic Performance and Rap Song. And still, one thing many in the general audience harp at is the nominations.

Like with the most prestigious awards, we balk at the nominations for categories we hold close to heart. But for Hip-Hop, we’ve had lapses in sub-categories and the shifting choice of which award to present. I prefer Best Rap Album as it is the cream of the crop, but sometimes it’s Best Rap Song, Best Melodic Rap Performance, or Best Rap Performance. Though we aren’t the only ones subjected to it, it’s the lack of a presence in the universal Gen-Pop awards throughout the years. Over the past two decades, we’ve seen slow growth in finding general acceptance in those awards, especially with the more Alternative albums (2) – to standard hip-hop – winning the big one – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and SpeakerBoxxx/The Love Below. These days, a win is a win, but it hasn’t been honkey dory, especially for us nomination balkers who see worst mistakes than the year the Academy gave Paul Haggis’ film Crash, Best Picture. Unfortunately, they still make mistakes, and this post is about nomination mistakes, especially in 2015 and today.

One of the most egregiously what the hell moments for nominations was in 2015, Iggy Azalea’s boorish pop-rap effort on The New Classic and Wiz Khalifa’s poor attempt at creating Trap music, “We Dem Boyz” aside. If either went on to win, it would have been the weakest winner among the many, but they are safe choices. 2015 had the albums, My Name is My Name by Pusha T, Piñata by Freddie Gibbs, PTSD by Pharoahe Monch, My Krazy Life by YG, and more that could have snuck to replace them, but like the film academy, niche styles won’t see the proper praise. I say this considering how focused it is on the G-Funk/Gangsta Rap My Krazy Life by YG is or the gritty percussion and synths of Monch and Pusha T. They reflect the genre discussion in film. I’m talking about the more whimsical work from creators like Wes Anderson, who rarely get looked at due to his niche style until it becomes more generally appealing, like The Grand Budapest Hotel. Fortunately, the last few years saw some consistency of diversity, as we saw artists you wouldn’t think the academy would find appeal in, like Tyler, the Creator, who has won twice, along with honoring albums that were some of the best that weren’t pop-like.

Additionally, we’ve seen nominations for Laila’s Wisdom by Rapsody and Victory Lap by Nipsey Hustle, two albums by rappers whose commercial appeal never translated into the vast world of pop but got nominated in back-to-back years, respectively. Though oddly, Nipsey’s world did converge with that of the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend fandom; however, I digress. It’s been many familiar faces, aka rappers with the highest commercial appeal, some non-debatable, others more so until recently, like that triumphant moment for Nas, winning his first Grammy after 27 years in the game. It’s been part great since 2015, but with an influx in quality from the growing number of artists, debates will continue to spark about what did and didn’t deserve a nomination.

2015 wasn’t the first time I felt flustered by the array of nominations considering the vast plains of music to get discovered outside the R&B-like Pop Rap of the 2000s. But it’s the first I’ve sensed they didn’t hear everything that was out there except for what’s on the radio. Universal Mind Control by Common, a winter 2008 release, was nominated in 2010, the same year as the overly dull and sugary R.O.O.T.S. by Flo Rida over more deserving entries like the DJ Quik and Kurupt Collab Album Blaqkout or Ludacris’ Theater of the Mind. It happened and happens currently because the Academy has a wonky, designated calendar for eligibility. Usually, their calendar year is October to October, disregarding the November and December months like film companies when they were releasing more potential critical failures, like wear found footage horror films, in January and February in the 2010s. Not saying those releases never brought forth greatness, but with an influx of covers and best-of lists, reviews can get drowned beneath it.

Rare moments like 2015, where many nominations weren’t reflective of the best work that year, and another came this year, where we saw three of the nominations bring out questions from fans. We got Jack Harlow, DJ Khaled, and one of Future’s weakest albums in his discography. And this isn’t to discredit these artists, as they have delivered fantastic surfeit work, Jack Harlow, aside. Unfortunately, the love for pop we’ve seen with Eminem and Kanye winning multiple, further making past flawed nominations make sense, especially since the late 00s. The Iggy Azaleas and DJ Khaleds – Khaled, who continuously finds himself in Best Rap Album, despite mediocre releases over the past decade – and legacy nominations that don’t always get heard through a critical lens and are nominated for the name alone – see the “Hotline Bling” nomination for Best Rap Song. It doesn’t discredit the 90% + nominations that merit the nomination. This year just left me floored when there are better albums viable for the award, like The Forever Story by JID and Traumazine by Megan thee Stallion – this includes non-submitted work like Gods Don’t Make Mistake by Conway the Machine and Cheat Codes by Danger Mouse and Black Thought.

I can understand the Future and DJ Khaled nominations, but with Jack Harlow, it felt like 2015, where there was little merit within the album to even come up with an argument for its inclusion. It’s what you’d expect from some white rapper who wants to be Drake but without much swagger. It was an overall boring album riding the highs of a Drake feature and a dope Fergie sample. Similarly, God Did by DJ Khaled is riding the coattails of a few decent songs, this remarkable Jay-Z verse on the title track, and memes. Future; well, it’s sad this is his first Best Rap Album nomination, considering how many great projects he’s released over the past decade. I didn’t hate I Never Liked You, but it isn’t Dirty Sprite 2 or Evol. It just leaves me flustered that they made it look like such a give-me for either of the other nominees, which I wouldn’t be mad if either won – Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers and It’s Almost Dry

2022 will be like 2015 all over again, with fantastic performances and a ceremonious win, where the big shock would come if Future upset the two clear front runners. Though one could expect Kendrick Lamar to win, he did lose to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, so anything is on the table. Unfortunately, Best Rap Album isn’t always “locked,” and here you could see Jack Harlow sneaking his way in for a win. His tacky apropos style never left anything to the imagination, almost feeling standard in approach – I Never Liked You isn’t tacky but is tried and, sometimes, forgettable. I’m here thinking about past years while trying to come to grips with it. And DJ Khaled, mediocre as it is, is forgettable outside that Jay-Z verse, so it leaves me curious about how it got nominated. It doesn’t define Hip-Hop/Rap, and frankly, I tune more into the yearly BET cyphers at their Hip-Hop awards, which is a much better and understanding award show about the world of Hip-Hop. Hope Kendrick Lamar wins, and cheers to the nominees…well, most of them.

Here are some past wins and speeches I’ve loved:

Issa Gold – Tempus II: Mirrors : Review

Following up the self-reflective and self-criticizing Tempus, Issa Gold follows up with Tempus II: Mirrors, an equally self-reflexive album bringing more of the same with more potent lyricism. It has little to gravitate towards besides excellent lyricism, some minor tweaks that boast the production slightly, and an abundance of heart. It isn’t an indictment on producers Chuck Strangers, Gates, Two Fresh Beats & Zayland as they deliver what’s expected with enough diversity and nuance to keep those who love lyrically focused rap albums. It may limit its audience because one usually gravitates to sound, but as it has been since the 70s, Hip-Hop has been about The Message, and that’s what Issa Gold delivers. Tempus II: Mirrors is raw and slick; Issa Gold flows smoothly, becoming one with the beat boasting the emotional complexities of each track as we hear Gold tackling fatherhood, music, and professionalism.

As much as I can herald Tempus II: Mirrors for its profound approach to keeping a balance between engaging the intimate, as sometimes one may not care for the deep layers of an artist’s personal problems, with the quality of their music coming first. So the stress builds from making sure the beat one is rapping over can keep the listener engaged; that’s why we hear varying songs with depressive anecdotes that have more catchy, captivating elements in their sound, whether through melodies or the production. It isn’t the case with Tempus II: Mirrors, where the catchiness isn’t profound, but the tweaks within the sonic layers of the beats keep the intrigue level high. Whether it’s bringing more focus to piano-driven overtures on “Lamelo” and “Crawling” or letting the electric guitar deliver rustic vibes on “Spiral” and “Lunar.” It brings more to the music than potent lyrics, rarely shining brighter than like on “Traded” and “Rockets.” Unfortunately, “Traded” isn’t as captivating comparatively. Though we get these unique situations where the beats feel more realized, it isn’t enough to make you feel like it’s something special. 

The uniqueness of its production is an adequately smooth touch that allows it to get past the monochromatic atmosphere of these kinds of raps. There is a nuance to them as they show introspective street styles that are moodier and incorporate more than just drum beats – think The Lox and Ultramagnetic MCs, just a little darker. It makes it easier to focus on the vocal layer instead of the production, as its heart stays in that lane. Due to that, it adds an extra layer that allows the music to flourish further.

At its core, Tempus II: Mirrors is for those old heads who prefer lyricists to the dominant Drill and Trap Hip-Hop that fills the airwaves, but Issa Gold offers more than that. He’s bringing varying flows driven by Gold’s dominant emotion, whether elevated egotistical swagger or pensive perspective, like on the melancholic “Indulge” and “Crawling,” which sees him rapping about family and fatherhood. It allows his words to get heard, more so than when he comes through spitting the former. However, there are fantastic tracks where Gold’s flexing is on full display. On “Lamelo,” Gold uses that melancholia in the beat to make his words feel humbling as his come-up saw him making choices so his music career could grow. As he raps on the track, “I never need the league, I knew the league needed me like Lamelo for the dream,” which shows how Issa Gold aims to succeed, despite his niche approach musically.

Tempus II: Mirrors doesn’t stand up to the masterclass that was the first, but it’s enough to keep the wheels turning as you keep listening. It’s a continuation of what Issa Gold does well, even if it isn’t as interesting. There isn’t much retread, but the production feels more like simple choices and nothing that is there to fit the grander scheme. It’s an album one can readily return to if they feel this type of rap, and those will be sufficiently satisfied.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Roddy Ricch – Feed the Streets III : Review

There is no denying Roddy Ricch has the talent to excel, and we’ve heard plenty; however, he still struggles to find proper balance in tracks that aim to evoke certain tones for radio play and falters by lacking captivating traction. Though I use the terms radio play loosely – hip-hop stations function differently from Pop/Hot 100 radio – it’s more apparent than ever that it usually revolves around themes of love and relationship dynamics. With Feed The Streets III, that need isn’t that transparent; Ricch is steering the vehicle through slick beats, delivering consistent good to great verses that build depth, and when Ricch teeters into the weaker output, it stumbles over similar mistakes – bland repetition. Feed The Streets III continues Roddy Ricch’s commercial run, giving him an established platform that his music becomes transparent in the direction he is taking. Focusing on bringing depth, it’s comparatively more vulnerable, giving us Ricch behind the mic, wearing his emotions on his sleeves, and humbling himself from his riches, which bring forth their own set of external issues. 

Hearing Roddy Ricch comes through with sheer vulnerability brought me closer to this tape. It’s one thing to have the consistency to flex without retreading familiar bars, but when we get that vulnerability, whether, with emotions or thematic inflections, it’s retroactively profound. With Ricch, it’s treading toward simple lyricism, like “Fade Away,” which begins like Ricch’s take on the “21 Questions” model of writing about love with emotional depth. Unfortunately, it shifts into a track that focuses on flaunting his significant other with gifts instead of adding layers to emotions felt through hypotheticals. It winds up feeling like one of a few throwaways that don’t give us enough to get a sense of anything beyond surface layer quality, akin to “#1 Freak.” It has a smooth rhythm and a solid Ty Dolla $ign feature, but it takes away from a functioning consistency of emotionally perversive lyrical captivity. 

From “King Size,” “Heavier,” “Pressure,” and “Letter To My Son,” there is a lot here that brings value as Roddy Ricch keeps himself focused thematically. We get to hear no-shame humbled rich flexes with “King Size” and “Aston Martin Truck” and the weight of depression and hope with “Heavier” and “Letter To My Son.” Though we hear Ricch acknowledging how he got there, he carries humility when expressing his colors when he flaunts his riches and promiscuity. Roddy Ricch stays vulnerable by allowing himself to get judged, as he isn’t creating a front, like some rappers do, and breaking walls to let us see beneath the cracks of his excess living, like in “Heavier.” All of this gets boasted by consistent Hip-Hop and Trap beats that bring enough character, despite having steady but overused drum patterns.

“Heavier” is a perfect example of what I mentioned; Roddy Ricch starts his first verse by showing us aspects of his life, rapping: “Eighty racks on the Goyard chect, uh-uh/The whole team pullin’ out Rocky like Sylvester, uh, uh/Denim suit or Prada (The Prada)/My bitch wanna rub me down with oil, my love life like a saga (Saga),” before getting closer to his heart. In the second verse, Roddy Ricch raps: Rest in peace Lil Keed (Yeah), hope the slimes proud of me (Yeah)/Hope the feds let ’em free (Yeah)/They don’t need to be locked in chains (Yeah, yeah)/Told Gunna Wunna to call me, I was out the city and missed it.” There is a level of authenticity that boasts the content of the tracks surrounding this, “Pressure,” and the final song, “Letter to My Son,” which imbues an extra set of layers on his more apropos flex ones. It lets you know that there is meaning behind his musical approach and needs to have captivating melodies to keep us entrenched in his sound and replaying with honesty. As you hear the array of tracks that may teeter between the known and unknown, expectancy and surprises, Roddy Ricch stays headstrong, so the will in his musical output never derails.

Though it tries to be this resounding moment of pure vulnerability, it may not show on the surface and makes one’s return to the quality tracks a slightly rewarding experience. There is no denying that it’s constructed standardly, checking off items off a list to be brought up, like monetary worth and pride, all while trying express layers of humbleness. It allows us to understand that it doesn’t like it lacks merit, which some can falter due to it. Some are mediocre or above average, but Feed The Streets III has more than what the others bring – it makes you want to return to understand the depth of other tracks you may not have understood prior beyond its surface layer. That isn’t to say it’s upper echelon since Roddy Ricch makes some interesting decisions, which never dilutes his writing – it’s beautifully expressive, and he knows how to craft choruses. Furthermore, Ricch never makes you think he’s taken sidesteps with his flows, finding a proper balance between straight spitting and melodically flowing, like on “Favor For A Favor.”

Feed The Streets III is another solid entry in Roddy Ricch’s Feed the Streets series, even if it isn’t a resounding blockbuster hit. Excellent songs flow smoothly from start to finish; sometimes, they spread the ambition sweating out Ricch’s pores as he raps them. Unfortunately, some missteps have made a few tracks skippable due to losing traction in flow, taking away from personal aspects of Ricch so he can make a track for the ladies. It leaves you feeling satisfied; even though it isn’t a five Michelin-star meal, it’s ample enough to say you left with enough to reflect on and replay.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Brockhampton – The Family: Review

Like most boy bands, there comes a time when they have to grow and succeed individually, though not everyone will come out with an established career beyond the group. It’s rare but not impossible. It’s like when people use Beyonce as an anecdote to describe the leader of the group, or rather the one with the most potential to excel; Justin Timberlake was that for N’SYNC, and Kevin Abstract for Brockhampton. Unfortunately, it’s Brockhampton’s time, so as they turn the page on their future, they leave fans with two final albums – The Family sees Kevin Abstract delivering nuanced tracks about their respective journey as bandleader – TM establishes that camaraderie through musicality. However, TM isn’t as strong, sometimes sounding like they are trying to slightly mirror different styles far from themselves and missing the mark occasionally. It tends to feel more like a gimmie, unlike The Family, which is the more concrete project – a personal reflection of new beginnings with weighted emotions about the past. It’s a fantastic sendoff showing Kevin Abstract’s naked vulnerability as he laments about various decisions.

In many ways, Kevin Abstract constructs The Family as this emotionally complex eulogy, reminiscing about the good times and the bad. On “RZA,” Abstract focuses on his failures to maintain consistency despite the separation. Wu-Tang Clan were able to expand and have their solo careers, but when the RZA uses his whistle, they come back and reconvene to deliver more heat. Abstract tells us this isn’t the case with Brockhampton; he opens the door and lets us know how it wasn’t the case for them and the issues that arose. But they are still family, and he reminisces about their past, like on “Gold Teeth,” where he reflects on the early days of Brockhampton making music and striving in Southern Texas. These days, it hasn’t been the case with varying issues and emotions weighing down on the members as they let the problems consume them – some understandably so – but there is this known that we will see them grow and mature as artists as they push forward.

It’s thematically poignant as we hear Kevin Abstract juggling through his emotions to deliver them with grace. We hear about new problems within the familial dynamic brought about by fame and riches, like colliding egos, Abstract branching into solo work as the band promoted their album iridescence, and his overly indulgent artistic direction with music videos, etc. Some of it gets brought up in “All That” and “The Family.” The former sees Abstract trying to lay his perspective, looking at moments and emotionally ever-long feelings that arose from their growth as a band. In it, Abstract raps, “As the checks grew, it became harder to leave/Everybody got an ego now, imagine bein’ me/Competition started off so healthy/’Til one day I looked up like, “Damn, you almost better than me”/I don’t feel guilty for wakin’ you up when you sleep/I don’t feel guilty for cuttin’ your verse from this beat.” It shows us the imbalance caused by egos or Abstract making music again with disgraced ex-member Ameer Vann. Issues arise, and Kevin Abstract takes accountability and offers an emotional apology on “Brockhampton,” the last song on The Family, which beautifully sends us off after a slightly imbalanced album.

The Family is a rich text that keeps most of Kevin Abstract’s words short and sweet but with resounding depth that you get incentivized with great music that you’d want to replay and understand further. It’s through Kevin Abstract’s flows, lyricism, and the production by bandmember bearface and producers boylife and Nick Velez, offering sounds that invoke memories atmospherically. We hear it on “(Back From The) Road” and “All That,” which beautifully samples the theme song to the classic Nickelodeon show of the same name. It brings nuance to the idea that everything that glitters is not gold, as it flips the positivity of the message toward a more pessimist one. There is a consistency to the production, never feeling overly produced and having balance as it boasts the vocal deliveries and lets us genuinely get within the trenches of what has been going on.

Unfortunately, The Family doesn’t have smooth pacing, letting a 17-track, 35-minute album feel more like a 17-minute EP. However, it doesn’t take you away from the raw emotion getting brought out. Brockhampton, or rather Kevin Abstract, lets it show, teetering between what works and what doesn’t, like the singing tracks compared to his more rapping ones. Spinning this left me feeling a lot, especially as I was one of the many who took this journey with them since the first Saturation, and it’s now time for new beginnings.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.