Lil Yachty – Let’s Start Here: Review

When Lil Yachty had an album leak in December, intrigue was raised from the music community as they heard a shift from his typical trap beats to a more alternative sound. That hint left many eagerly waiting to see if the official release would contain some of these songs or get reworked. Whatever it was, one thing is true after listening to Let’s Start Here: this sound works for Yatchy, and though there are some hurdles to overcome, the production has personality and is vibrant, despite being too much Tame Impala and Yatchy chilling on the Dark Side of The Moon. The production’s consistency is high, but the final product is either elevating or de-elevating with the vocals. Yatchy teeters too far into monotonous melodies, delivering nothing more than autotuned typicality. It’s a stark contrast to the featured artists who take command of the songs and make many of them worthwhile. Though Yatchy has moments where he’s enlightening over the production, it isn’t enough to push Let’s Start Here to the levels it could reach with better vocals.

Let’s Start Here brings a lot to the fray, mostly sonically. It’s contextually rich, boasting these whimsical ideas that mirror something off a Tame Impala album or something edgier, though it still finds footing with its identity. Lil Yachty doesn’t stray far from his lyrical bag of typicality (simplistic wording) as he develops and establishes themes relating to drug use, loneliness, love, and regret; however, there is rarely a moment he sounds uniquely profound. Yachty has moments where it makes you think there is something here for future endeavors, but unlike “The Black Seminole” and “Should I B,” Yachty is sizzling the effects for too long or doesn’t take full advantage reflecting some choices he made. Like with “:(failure(:” or the outro on “We Saw the Sun,” which boasts these theological ideas on failure, happiness, and wealth, and with the latter, the notion of feeling free to express oneself without stress, don’t get reflected poignantly. More than half the time, Yachty benefits from his featured artists, singers who skillfully acquiesce with the psychedelic overtones of the album.

Depending on the song, a featured artist could elevate their respective track to a higher plateau, like Diana Gordon does with “Drive Me Crazy” or Foushee on “Pretty,” two standouts on the album. The smooth funkiness of “Drive Me Crazy” oozes vocal vibrancy, giving us this beautiful moment where the two harmonize eloquently, while giving us complementary performances in their respective verses. “Pretty” is similar to it, except for its production, a rich and slowed-down psychedelic rock song that lets its vocalist command and steers it toward this enriching listening experience. Yachty understands the rhythm and offers one of his better performances on the album; additionally, Foushee’s luscious spacey, soulful vocals boast the final impact, despite Yachty’s slightly corny and provocative lyrics. Justine Skye and Daniel Caesar also elevate theirs by adding more personality than Yachty, even when the song isn’t all that great, like on “Running out of Time.” 

There’s a lot to like about this Lil Yachty album, but the moments that had me sparkly-eyed at first don’t deliver with the same potency upon replays. Part of it’s that Yachty seems sonically all over the place without purpose and lacks a sense of pacing. At first, you’re entranced, then it’s a fatiguing experience as you get no sense of consistency in style but are still keen on the quality of the respective songs. At 14 tracks and 58 minutes, it doesn’t feel like such, almost becoming a slightly daunting experience with Yachty’s more monotonous melodies. Though he brings some edge, especially with the rap verse at the end of “Drive Me Crazy,” some performances are tried and predictable from his style. It’s a daunting experience that aims too close to the moon but takes a wrong turn before returning. I’ve shared praise for “The Black Seminole,” but like “I’ve Officially Lost Vision,” it starts to feel overlong after a certain point. It doesn’t creatively expand beyond a few switches and breaks. Fortunately, he has a good run from track 4, “Pretty,” to track 8, “Drive Me Crazy,” where even the streamlined aspects of Yachty’s vocals are still captivating enough for you to return.

Let’s Start Here does precisely what the title suggests, but here is just a beginner’s step. Yachty tries to elevate his craft to new heights, despite getting in the way of himself by implementing some tried melodies that never go above and beyond. Throughout my listens, I found a lot to commend, pick apart, and realize how great it could have been. I know Yachty can take this and learn and further his alternative psychedelic rock journey and maybe deliver something purely fantastic from around the edges to its center.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.

Ice Spice – Like..?: Review

Living in a world where going viral is as vital, if not more, than steady consistency amongst artists, it’s no surprise that Ice Spice took the wheel swiftly and continued to build on the success of her viral hit “Munch (Feelin’ U).” She continued that skyward trend with her following single, “Bikini Bottom,” a track that takes sonic influence from the Bikini Bottom title theme of Spongebob Squarepants and is as awe-inducing as it is confusing. Like “Munch,” Ice Spice doesn’t so much establish this jubilant and vibrant tone for the dance floor; she exhumes confidence that would otherwise be addicting if the writing had any level of depth, especially when her flexes are bare. However, Ice Spice has shown that she can bring varying dimensions to her writing, whether comparing and contrasting or fired-up metaphors, while staying bare and still meshing with the slick production by RIOTUSA, her frequent collaborator, on her debut EP, Like..?. It brought some intrigue to build within, but it fizzles swiftly with brisk pacing and an overall forgettable listening experience.

If there is one element of Like..? to thoroughly commend, it’s RIOTUSA’s production, which keeps the listener fluffed and on their toes – even if it’s the most lavish – hoping for some moderately good flows and verses from Ice Spice. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Though Ice Spice picks up steam with “Princess Diana” and “Gangsta Boo,” what surrounds them are tracks with poorly written brash lyricism that pushes sexual ferocity, liberty, and confidence. She exhumes vocal confidence that her candor circumvents the simplicity of some verses and choruses, allowing some to brush aside retreads and inhale the mixture of music getting produced. In this recent wave of New York Drill, creativity is scarce, and though the production brings a lot of consistency, it’s boasted to higher levels because the beats sound like RIOTUSA took the time to make them.

Since the viral sensation “Munch (Feelin’ U),” Ice Spice hasn’t fully separated herself from it lyrically. She references it twice outside of “Munch,” but they never come off organically. There’s some casualness, like in “Actin’ A Smoochie, where she rapped, “N***a a munchie, he eat me like food, damn (Grrah)/He eatin’ it up, kitty on water, he beatin’ it up (Beatin’ it up).” The bars aren’t as gripping. Each time it happens, there is no sense of oomph riding it, making it seem like she’s forcing an inorganic identity, like the mundane producer callout. It’s never in alignment with the flexing and trying to make it seem like eating pussy is prestigious these days, unlike in the past. We hear this on “Bikini Bottom,”  she raps, “Balenciaga baddie, got a bag (A bag)/N***a munchin’, ate it from the back (The back)/N***a fiendin’, gotta play it cool (Huh?).”

That sexual liberty gets surrounded by simple flexes, party-like bars, and more sexual liberation which never takes that extra step, like the lines “In the party, he just wanna rump (Rump)/Big boobs and the butt stay plump (Stay plump)/She a baddie, she know she a ten (Baddie, ten)” and “Goin’ viral is gettin’ ’em sicker/Like, what? Let’s keep it a buck (Huh)/Bitches too borin’, got ’em stuck in a rut (Damn)” off “In Ha Mood.” She’s spitting relative randomness without constantly focused on storytelling, unlike the main highlight, “Gangsta Boo” with Lil TJay. It samples the iconic “I Need A Girl Part 2” and uses it beautifully, but the percussion still follows a simple flow, so Ice Spice stays comfortable. Ice Spice brings her all here and shows promise that she can deliver some great verses in the future.

Though I’ve commended the production, its creativity comes from everything outside the drums; it can feel somewhat fresh. It’s more energizing with “Princess Diana” and “Munch (Feelin’ U),” but as it comes back full circle, what everyone has been touting since “Munch” became a viral hit. Ice Spice doesn’t try to hide it, but it isn’t all that cool or great since she lacks variety on a technical level. I was left shrugging as I couldn’t fathom returning to this EP and re-evaluating its sure fire miss. It is something I had some hope, it would excel past expectations, but even with my low confidence in its quality beforehand, I wasn’t shocked when I felt justified that Ice Spice isn’t totally there yet, but there is still room to grow and hopefully, she does.

Rating: 4 out of 10.

Ladytron – Time’s Arrow: Review

Ladytron’s latest album, Time’s Arrow, is not as expansive, keeping an almost two-dimensional with many synth patterns and the production’s range in guitar and percussion usage. It takes a while for the wheels to get rolling as lead singer Helen Marnie deconstructs innate reflective points with vigor on many songs. Her vocals add dimensions to each song’s atmosphere and psychedelia tones, seeping into these intricate thoughts that have us viewing some layered dimensions of our being, whether impersonal or not. Marnie, along with co-writers Daniel Hunt, Jonny Scott, Mira Aroyo & Vice Cooler, don’t leave you with ambiguity – the verses speak fluidly through its poetic approach, allowing you to visualize their world, interconnected with yours. It values time beyond the centralized generalizations we’ve heard prior – we get another solid effort that could have gone through another round in the think tank but still a serviceable release.

Starting strong, Time’s Arrow begins to keep its pacing steady, leaving you mystified by its ambiance and fluid melodies. Unfortunately, the synthesizers sometimes feel less intriguing and more of an added commodity that takes away from the small details that underlie the production coating. It isn’t until the later half of “Faces,” the second song on the tracklist, it starts to make sense of its direction – time is linear, but there are rifts that take you in unique sidesteps. It’s playing a bit loose with this concept, sonically, veering and making moments last long or short. It’s a straight shot of pure reflective bliss that stumbles to make anything imperatively potent with the sounds. There are some memorable notes within the production, but its consistency of impact is lesser than their last album. 

Sometimes Ladytron’s use of synths can over-sizzle, and other times it’s a little stale, but rarely in between. However, they never take you away from lyricism that’s lavishly poignant and resonant with one’s inner journey with themselves on a few tracks. In “Misery Remember Me,” we hear Ladytron looking back at one’s disdain for reflecting a person they’re not; it has gospel influence boasting the ponderous chorus and elevating its sense of self while letting the synths take a back seat. Not every track has this lyrical astuteness. Sometimes it teeters toward mundaneness with depth-less simplicity on “Faces” or the lackluster chorus of “California.” Fortunately, it is within the mid-point where the album takes chances beneath the abundance of synths caught between a drought and a rainstorm. Overlaying its poetically influenced lyricism are waning tempos with the different synthesizers they are using; in the long run, it took me away from finding much intrigue with “City of Angels” and “Sargasso Sea.” It’s a disappointing variation in production that keeps it from having a powerful opening and closing.

That middle sector of Time’s Arrow is where it starts to come to life. Beginning with “Flight of Angkor,” the tone gets set with a more fruitful array of synths that bring twinkles to your ears instead of confusing you. Continuing till “The Dreamers,” elements of Dream-Pop get incorporated to buoy the smooth cohesion between monochromatic ambiance and starry melodies. We don’t hear an overreliance on keeping you reeled with atmospheric electronic bliss. It lets the vocals breathe through the thick layers of synths, letting the backing vocals shine through. Additionally, we don’t get this small cluster of contrasting and complementing synths and percussion like in the title song; it oddly works at points, but comparatively, it’s a weaker-written song than the others. It doesn’t negate the vocal performances that radiate beneath harrowing synths that fail to make you return more than twice. 

Time’s Arrow sometimes feels like a distant memory, and remembering leaves you with some slight disappointment. It has these uniquely fantastic moments, but surrounding it, are some less-than-attractive synth layers. The synths don’t take away from the atmospheric aesthetic it imbues. It keeps a steady play consistency that can get a new listener to flow with it, but for fans of Ladytron, this was a lesser effort I wish I could like more than I do.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.

Margo Price – Strays: Review

Continuing to expand on elements of folk and rock, Margo Price brings a different coating to her sound on Strays, her newest album. More atmospheric and streamlined, its country core becomes more potent, opening up a new stage for her vocals to explore new foundations. I was surprised by my initial enjoyment, gravitating closer to the distinct vocal textures supplemented by its consistent production. However, that surprise waned when I saw the production credits, and it all made sense. Produced by Johnathan Wilson, whose production you’ve heard effervescently on Father John Misty’s albums and last year’s Big Time by Angel Olsen, my favorite of 2022, the album switches sonic context, choosing a lane without overstepping with some of the atmospheric coatings. Unlike Big Time, Margo Price doesn’t always have a level of nuance in her writing and performances, sometimes skewing the pacing or having a proper balance between production and vocals; however, a good amount of tracks standout, leaving some of these issues as bumps on the road.

Opening with a triumphantly radiant and psychedelic country-rock song, “Been to the Mountains,” it drives forth sensibilities Margo Price wants to imbue with the themes on both sides of the aisle. In the liner notes written for the album, “This was one of the very first songs that flowed out the next day after we came down from our mushroom trip. I just really wanted to incorporate poetry. I wanted it to be really psychedelic, and I wanted this album to be able to serve as a record that people could put on if they were going to maybe dabble in psychedelics.” The sounds become more potent and the lyrics more poignant as the wheels continue to turn and the music starts to become whole. Unfortunately, these psychedelic tendencies can sometimes modestly overreach parameters to steal the spotlight from Price’s vocals. She has a command of it, but the mixing can slightly dilute sonic components, letting the instrumentations have control while you get lost amidst the captivating electric and string sections.

Unlike “Been to the Mountains,” the times the instrumentation levels are higher are heard in “Change of Heart” and “Hell In The Heartland,” where the guitar strings, synths, and effect guitars overcome varying aspects of the song. It’s similarly the case with “Light Me Up;” however, a key difference is that “Light Me Up” focuses on its vibe, exponentially increasing particular layers like a roller coaster. Building from an opening acoustic set, it picks up steam after the first verse, especially Price’s vocals. It doesn’t let Mike Campbell’s slick guitar playing deviate, instead synchronizing beautifully through the different sonic complexions. Though I’m not saying her vocals are inaudible, levels don’t sound balanced, and some words aren’t as clear, turning your attention back to the instrumentations. After a first listen-through, you start to pick up the pieces and hear the poeticism controlling Price’s fingers as she writes both lyrics and music. It’s stylistically consistent and pertinent to Margo Price’s direction with Strays, sometimes mellowing out from the rock-driven aesthetic to something more folkish, like the lovely “County Road.” 

Like many tracks on the album, Price gets reflective no matter the perspective – whether personal or interconnected, the uniquely wild stories get boasted by great songwriting. Despite this, like “Hell In The Heartland,” not everything translates well; some have pacing that tends to leave you lost in the winds with certain tracks, like “Lydia” and “Light Me Up.” Though the pacing is an issue, it isn’t that bothersome as the music ends up being rewarding when you understand the gravitas of the themes getting presented – a wandering mind looking to comprehend their surroundings as the music’s melancholy and rockabilly finds the proper equilibrium for clarity. That message comes across as robust, and the notions brought about in the album write-up get the shine. It gets subdued in its psychedelic tones, leaving a lot to pedal effects, Wurlitzer electric piano, and synths. There’s some nuance, though elevated by her vocal performances; the split comes with those notions from the album/liner notes, which focuses on the influence Psilocybin had on her mental direction, allowing us to see this palliative hybrid between the low and high octanes in the instrumentations.

Strays was a good listen, despite its issues. It expresses elements beyond the country aesthetic Margo Price has molded herself with, opening new avenues to play with the genre and deliver these fantastical atmospheric pieces. They take us away from her slightly more traditionalist nature of previous albums, producing something pensive and radiant. I didn’t necessarily love it all, but there were enough tracks to return, especially with some the moxie expressed in the vocals and production.

Rating: 7 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.

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.

Drake x 21 Savage – Her Loss: Review

Her Loss, the pseudo-collaboration album between Drake and 21 Savage, had the makings of being something grand; unfortunately, that isn’t the case–for the most part. After teasing us with “Jimmy Cooks,” a play on Drake’s character on Degrassi: The Next Generation, they further bolster their connectivity after the earlier collab “Knife Talk.” They double down on the bars, attempting to go beyond the corniness of Jimmy Brooks raps in the show, and Aubrey “Drake” Graham’s own casualness of it in his verses, to keep you engaged.  Though some of Drake’s corniness seeps into 21 Savage, causing us to hear weak bars like this double entendre: “I don’t show ID at clubs, ’cause they know that I’m 21.” Though the corniness is slightly more scarce and lyrical than musically like Certified Lover Boy, it isn’t as cringe unless you’re overly critical of Drake’s weak ineptitude of dissing people who won’t respond. Jokes aside, it retreads familiar waters structurally, making it less enjoyable, but there are enough tracks that make a splash.

Her Loss goes on a tear with the first few tracks, making the subsequent rollercoaster of great and mediocrity in the second shine more glaringly. It isn’t trying to be thematically rich or profound with their rhetoric, as Drake and 21 Savage retread content, making them as intriguing based on the quality of their storytelling or flows/wordplay. From “Rich Flex” through “Hours In Silence,” the consistency is heard with beats and hooks that teeter on the line between expectancy and interesting but hit smoothly in comparison to “Circo Loco” and “Pussy & Millions,” the latter of which contains an insipid verse from Travis Scott. “Circo Loco” continues to show Drake tapping into his inner Game (Rapper), just not that nuanced, as his disses come off as childish and in poor taste while having an albatross of a sample usage, with the melodic interpolation of “One More Time” by Daft Punk. On it, Drake “subliminally” disses Megan Thee Stallion and her situation, flipping the script of his “casual” misogyny, which is tired and something that hasn’t evolved beyond surface-level cruelty.

Drake is obviously talking his shit, which is in line with the focus of Her Loss–i.e. savagery. He disses Ice Spice, NYC’s current trending rapper, and implies different motives for the Ye reconciliation, disregarding the past, which one wouldn’t blame him considering Ye’s damaging anti-semitic rhetoric. However, he takes shots at random people just because, almost feeling pointless when he disses Alexis Kerry Ohanian, Serena Williams’ husband, and co-founder/executive chairman of Reddit.com. Other times his bars feel on brand, despite being effective. It’s janky in approach and delivery, becoming forgettable like some of the weak on-brand misogyny, like the line “I blow a half a million on you hoes, I’m a feminist.” It isn’t nuanced and is too surface-layer to create anything less than a forgettable surprise shock.

Drake is trying to match the viciousness of 21 Savage. But he isn’t consistently concentrated compared to the the verses club bangers “On BS” and “Spin Bout U.” The first half may be grand, but it isn’t enough to counteract the inconsistencies in the second. There are hooks that aren’t captivating, and a few standard hip-hop/trap beats relying on the quality of their flow delivery. Ultimately, it tries to balance the savagery with the not-so-esoteric club tracks, and it predominantly works, like the solo tracks. “3 AM on Glenwood” is 21 Savage’s only solo; it sees him getting introspective over this luscious, melancholic (comparatively), Hip-Hop/Trap beat. The two composites doesn’t acquiesce smoothly, feeling like it could have benefited from a different flow, but the raw depth 21 Savage brings in his verse boasts the quality. It’s a constant from 21–the rare corniness aside, he shines brighter than Drake, further making the ratio between the two on solo tracks a disappointment as half of Drake’s solo tracks is forgettable.

“I Guess It’s F**k Me” and “Jumbotron Shit Poppin” don’t have captivating flows, and Drake isn’t doing anything interesting with content in his verses. The former reminds me of those gray Drake love songs; however, it is bloated with drab bars, some of which don’t have the same value as ad-libs and their everlasting strength. For Drake, it’s whatever comes similar to “And the six upside down, it’s a nine/You already know the vibe.” “Jumbotron Shit Poppin” starts with promise, specifically with how it uniquely incorporates the backing vocals into the beat like an instrument; it swiftly becomes a rudimentary trap track without much going for it. Unlike them, “BackOutsideBoyz” and “Middle of the Ocean” are more refreshing, the latter due to Drake’s slick one-liners and crisp wordplay; the former is jovial, bringing forth that Lil Yatchy-Trap influence (which Yatchy co-produced). These tracks are detours from the bigger picture, and that is: how consistent can they keep it from start to finish? It’s pretty consistent, but it isn’t always in quality, where sometimes it could be just the verses like in “Rich Flex.”

There is no denying Drake and 21 Savage’s obscure synergy, specifically through their vocal levels/tones. Though 21 Savage can bring sonic energy with his production choices, his audio levels don’t always match Drake’s visceral energy. But they are on a steady wavelength that sees them beautifully bouncing off each other and expressing camaraderie. They have something going on here, but they can’t deliver with consistency, making me feel like it could have gotten trimmed around the edges for something more compact than this poorly-paced collection of tracks. It rounds out to something that works for them, but you can sense they could have come harder and wiser in their approach.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.

Armani Caesar – The Liz 2: Review

With hungry MCs in the game, fans have been propping up independent rappers for years before their evidential rise to prominence within the world of pop. Though not everyone aspires to reach these heights, pushing aside notoriety for identity, rappers have been able to define themselves instead of being defined by archetypal trends within their genres. Armani Caesar stands out amongst her contemporaries, bringing natural flows and virtuoso dirty rap lyricism with cadence while disregarding any chance to hit celebrity. Her growth has been subtly grand from the mixtape Hand Bag Addict to The Liz. And The Liz 2 is no joke. Continuing that veracity, Armani Caesar continues to flex, weaving beautiful melodies in between ruthless lyricism over crafty boom-bap-inspired gritty beats that embolden whichever style Caeser evokes through her flow and words.

Inspired by the bravado and influence of Elizabeth Taylor as an auteur, Armani Caesar evokes similar sentiments, taking us through these varied turns that establish her art in the same vein. Evident through oil painting album covers, The Liz 2 sees Armani Caesar feeling rejuvenated after delivering a hard-hitting intro with The Liz. The bars are raw, and the content and styles shift, allowing Caesar to flex in varying ways, like with raw and emotional singing on “First Wives Club,” where she expresses her ways of living with relationships and having control instead of vice-versa. It’s part of the bigger picture that predominantly sees Caesar talking her shit. Caesar makes sure it’s known with the intro, which incorporates an interview with Elizabeth Taylor done by Barbra Walter; the audio clip centers on Taylor’s lack of care for the public opinion of her based on attire–think “never enough shoes” mindset, except with jewelry. 

[Intro: Elizabeth Taylor & Barbara Walters]

Elizabeth, I have never seen anything so magnificent as all of this jewelry.

It’s just staggering, not to mention what you’re wearing

I acquired this about a month ago; isn’t it the most gorgeous?

Really?

That— it’s unbelievable

You bought this for yourself?

Yeah

How nice of you, you’re so good to you

Well, there’s not anyone else around

Do people still go out and wear jewelry? Do you still wear this?

Well, honey, I do.”

After the intro, Armani Caesar reminds us of her ferocity, followed by a luscious, melancholic beat that complements Caesar and Kodak Black’s luxurious flexes on “Diana.” Rapping through these darker, intimidating beats and more intimidating verses keeps you engaged, whether the track is two minutes with one verse and a sick intro or a longer construct that explores unique structures and delivery. “Liz Claiborne Jr. 1 & 2” comes fiercely as a nuanced extension of “Survival of the Littest.” The latter explores Armani Caesar’s growth from working as a stripper to becoming a rapper, throwing modest shade at Cardi B and how she sold her past. “Liz Claiborne Jr. 1 & 2” establishes these contrasting perspectives, one that explores the ferocity she has to gain respect amongst her peers, and the second shows us Caesar understanding her worth.

Though these flexes have inherent value, themes get coded deep within the confines of the album’s progression. After the crisp duality of “Liz Claiborne Jr. 1 & 2,” “Meth & Mary” continues to establish Armani Caesar’s person, defining her loyalty for those she’s been close with for ages. Furthermore, Armani Caesar delivers content related to success, materialism, and differentiating mentalities. It’s pertinent with tracks like “Big Mood,” “Mel Gibson,” and “Snofall.” We hear Caesar express how extended that clip is as she walks with a bag she copped from Saks Fifth rather frequently. Despite its shift in thematic approach, at times, there is no denying that The Liz 2 contains some repetitive bars; however, that doesn’t always constitute a dip in quality, as The Liz 2 is quality.

The Liz 2  continues to show Armani Caesar’s wicked talents through various beats, elevating her lyrical craft further. It’s a testament to the consistency in the Griselda collective/label, and I’m here for it. I’ll be spinning this as frequently as others from the area, like Che Noir, and I hope you hop on this train too, as these artists have something artists like Cardi B and Drake don’t, raw lyrical prowess beyond the boujee.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.