Freddie Gibbs – $oul $old $eparately: Review

It’s been three years since we’ve gotten a Freddie Gibbs solo album–I’m not talking about collaborations with one producer as they are on a tier all their own, but ones with many producers–despite the inconsistencies in quality, track-to-track, it’s regularly a must-listen when he drops. I say that primarily due to his ear for production since that’s one constant that keeps one gravitating back. That’s not the case with $oul $old $eparately, another conceptual album that tries too hard to present sonic layers that aren’t present; however, they aren’t an ear-sore but relatively more confusing. Most of that comes from forcing a narrative about Gibbs’ lackadaisical living in-between albums, leaving many around him annoyed and confused, like how fans feel about some of his beefs. $oul $old $eparately is different than his last non-collaborative with one producer, album, particularly in sound, as it shifts from his 2019 self-titled album’s more 80s Soul–R&B at the height of the Perm haircut’s popularity. It is more grounded in Hip-Hop, showing its hand and delivering some less than surprisingly inconsistency through the synergy with the beats and features where you’re coasting positively, for the most part.

$oul $old $eparately has a concept, and it’s simple: Freddie Gibbs is taking his sweet time, living luxuriously and carefree instead of releasing an album. We hear his hotel room’s phone voicemails with some slight annoyance from people in his orbit and some vocals from his Vegas hotel’s intercom. And we hear his manager and Jeff Ross, for example, and though he’s tackled various landscapes, many don’t fit within the bigger picture. I could understand Joe Rogan, but when one hears Jeff Ross, one can get confused. They tend to dilute the effectiveness of the tracks, especially as they round themselves with some forgettable beats. If you disregard some of the dialogue and vocal transitions, you’ll end up listening to the crisp lyricism and flows that have kept Gibbs fresh. Without balance in production, it loses its vanity. But as you listen to the album, you start to ponder things, one of which Jeff Ross brings up–what’s with the rabbits? Freddie Gibbs is about symbolism within gritty street rap bars, and it hits on a consistent level.

Freddies Gibbs raps about drug dealing, luxury, and violent notations among this plethora of topic subsidies that could relate to the three. It’s in line with the connotation deriving from the album title. Gibbs comes across as this soulless person who is zoned out and inviting random heads to a Vegas party involving many drugs as he lives his best life and warns people he doesn’t fuck with. Unfortunately, that soullessness transfers over many beats, with rare outliers popping out. “Feel No Pain,” “PYS,” and “Zipper Bagz” are some that instantly come to mind. The respective producers try something refreshingly new with the percussion, playing with the drum patterns on all fronts. “Feel No Pain” is audaciously grand, giving us nuances of the boom-bap style with live drums, while “PYS” contains that southern, slowed-down drum pattern influence boasting the grit of Gibbs and featured artist DJ Paul. Throughout the album, there isn’t a lack of quality with the lyricism. These tracks, along with others like “Blackest In The Room,” “Space Rabbit,” and “Gold Rings,” grasp you hard and keep you centered in the direction on hand, even when the features are lackluster.

Like most Freddie Gibbs albums, $oul $old $eparately contains a platoon of features that usually match the quality of Freddie’s verses. Some may come and deliver with typical frequencies, like Rick Ross, Pusha T (still producing a great verse), and Offset, but others elevate their respective tracks further. Some two notable ones, “Feel No Pain” and “PYS,” see Anderson .Paak, Raekwon, and DJ Paul add depth by providing the sauce on the platter through unique inflections that translate over the nuanced beats. Melodic features like Kelly Price and Musiq Soulchild balance Gibbs’ grit and present forth equilibrium that is mainly nonpresent. In retrospect, they boast the quality of Gibbs’ solo tracks as there is little reliance on features that sometimes don’t deliver, like Offset or Moneybagg Yo. And, since they don’t get strong beats to flow over, it causes them to feel more like an afterthought. They look like something spectacular could be conducted on paper, but the semi-half-assery doesn’t allow you to ingest what it’s saying at times.

The beats get handled by many producers. But as the expression goes: there are too many cooks in the kitchen. Oddly with that many cooks, the production isn’t all that interesting and never truly bloated. They are never immersive as you are just listening to Freddie Gibbs rap without sonic fluidity. It’s an intriguing experience that gets less enjoyable the more you lament the effectiveness of its concept and themes. There are lyrical and technical consistencies from Gibbs, but the beats flummox you as the quality shift is more apparent. The tracks that fail to make an impact aren’t that lavish and maintain a mundane percussion-driven core without trying to elevate the exterior sounds, which makes you feel that Gibbs works better with a producer who can deliver proper, linear direction for him.

There is enough to reflect and return to, but $oul $old $eparately isn’t the standout his 2019 release, Freddie, was. $oul $old $eparately aims to be something of grandeur, but that gets instantly forgotten because of its lackluster delivery on the exteriors. You’re left feeling that if he toned it down and let it stay focused on being a little more apropos, it would be a much stronger album. You’re given something great beneath the surface, but it requires a good amount of your attention before finding what tracks you truly like, unlike those collaborative efforts, which have clearer directions.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.

Marcus Mumford – (Self-Titled): Review

Marcus Mumford’s solo debut takes the simplicities of the folk-rock sounds from early Mumford & Sons and rarely evolves past the known–rustic power-driven strings and genial percussion. Titled (Self-Titled), it’s a tongue-in-cheek approach to the content we’re receiving. We’re getting bleak and hopeful reflections on Marcus Mumford’s life–not the folk artist who’s taken unique directions with his band’s albums like their Shakespearean-influenced debut, Sigh No More. As hard as he tries to separate himself from his band, he barely nudges toward an identity unless you count the lack of backing vocals and enigmatic instruments playing something distinct and vibrant. And this is not a knock on Marcus Mumford because he isn’t reflecting that lively energy like playing with friends and instead trying to give us a meditation of sounds and words that wants us to feel and put our hearts on our sleeve. It’s primarily rich in Mumford’s songwriting and vocal performances, but the production isn’t always captivating, leaving us lost in translation before the second half.

Marcus Mumford starts (Self-Titled) on a high note by reeling us with a powerful opening that details sexual abuse done to him as a minor. His detailed writing opens the curtains for the stage, and his words are world-building descriptively, horrifying experience sung in an angering, somber tone. “I can still taste you, and I hate it/That wasn’t a choice in the mind of a child and you knew it/You took the first slice of me and you ate it raw/Ripped it in with your teeth and your lips like a cannibal/You fucking animal.” Mumford never lets up, showing these gripping layers beneath the rustic strings and commandingly emotional percussion that reflects the lingering disdain fueling him beneath the surface. Unfortunately, that’s immediately lost when Mumford, and producer Blake Mills, continue to bring teetering tempos and tones. But when Mumford takes it slow and allows himself to feel vulnerable over loose acoustics, we hear that he is aiming at being slightly different. That doesn’t absolve it from the modest dullness offered.

“Grace,” “Prior Warning,” and “Only Child” reflect the drab dullness that makes you want to skip after a first listen. The acoustics–consistent in tonal inflections–isn’t that rich and leave Marcus Mumford’s performances feeling somewhat empty. His vocals, though not limited, can’t keep the songs afloat, so you’re left mum about the experience. “Dangerous Game” with Clairo is where it starts to gain some traction with these more free-spirited folk-rock productions that moderately shift past certain percussion conventions and allow Mumford to deliver something grand. However, it isn’t matched with significance by some of the featured artists, specifically Phoebe Bridgers, whose feature almost feels like glorified backing vocals. Similarly, Clairo performs somberly throughout, feeling distant in contrast to Mumford’s more colorful performance in the first half. They aren’t like “Go In Light” and “How,” where Mumford finds tremendous synergy with Monica Martin and Brandi Carlisle. They match his energy and add dimensions to the vocal performances as they embody the themes Mumford conveys.

On (Self-Titled), Marcus Mumford is confronting moments of the past–traumatic, moments of regret, and other times, looking at painting a more significant emotional picture using interesting analogies to speak to the invigorated complexities of Marcus Mumford’s person. Here, I’m talking “Better Angels,” which sees Mumford opening his mind to memories and the vigorously potent “How,” where Mumford beautifully connects with Brandi Carlisle–as examples. It’s a dynamic force as a closer that makes you forget the humdrum inconsistencies that preceded it. Unfortunately, having a powerful opening and closing can only do so much when there is much meat in the middle. I had some expectations that I’d find myself attracted to the musical simplicity, and even so, I couldn’t see myself loving it much, despite Mumford hitting it with his performances on a more consistent level. Maybe you’ll get more from it than me, but it was very middle of the road.

Rating: 5 out of 10.

Feid – FELIZ CUMPLEAÑOS FERXXO TE PIRATEAMOS EL ÁLBUM: Review

Continuing to soar through the Latin-Pop soundscapes, Colombian Reggaeton/Pop artist Feid has amassed popularity and a foundation that plateaus some of his contemporaries. Though he isn’t a powerhouse like the global superstars in his realm, he has been able to pave a path with crystalized glass reflecting the nature of his talent from varying angles. Feid’s vocal performances are just a fraction of that talent, as we witness the craftsmanship in his song structures, which see complementing melodies and harmonic transitions that enthrall the senses. We’ve heard Latin artists push past the perreo–the conceptual promiscuity, to develop depth within the confines of magnetic pop/reggaeton hits. He continues to stride on his follow-up to Inter Shibuya – La Mafia, FELIZ CUMPLEAÑOS FERXXO TE PIRATEAMOS EL ÁLBUM, which continues to shift the playing field. It weaves intricate overtures and subtleties within the production, creating more foolproof vibes that keep you enticed from start to finish, despite being the weakest component.

An album that imbues some sense of celebration, FELIZ CUMPLEAÑOS FERXXO TE PIRATEAMOS EL ÁLBUM is an expression of Feid’s lows and momentous highs through a musical reflection that transcends past surface-level club bangers. It builds hype within the first few tracks, notably the first two, where spoken audio elevates the potency of its delivery, making us bow to the rhythm. It grows and grows, keeping your body in motion, but the engine starts to putter along a semi-rocky ride. But that ride comes with significantly dynamic highlights you can’t help but find consistent replayability, whether it comes from the hypnotic melodies or the crisp lyricism, as the beat is there to back up Feid. Like on the captivatingly fun “Feliz Cumpleaños Ferxxo” or the enigmatic “Si Te La Encuentras Por Ahí,” we’re getting swaggering harmonic and melodic earwormy hits, and they stockpile on top of each other, despite lesser beats comparatively.

The production isn’t the most compelling aspect of FCFTPEA; however, that isn’t to say there aren’t any spectacular moments. The consistency isn’t as forthcoming as on Inter Shibuya – La Mafia–we still get moments like “Nieve,” “XQ Te Pones Así,” and “Quemando Calorías” shift the paradigm of conventionalism concerning the core influence that the beat takes from and embodies. “Nieve” is this radiant House track that sees Feid flexing while subtly showing his heart on his sleeves as he recounts who he is to this significant other. “Quemando Calorías” brings kinetic drum beats and nuanced electronic tones that escape the trappings of simple reggaeton. It’s a consistently unique surprise to hear these sonic shifts that take us away from the predominantly familiar but effective reggaeton hits. It isn’t like “XQ Te Pones Así,” which incorporates nostalgic percussion patterns that elevate the strengths of Feid and Yandel’s vocals.

Unfortunately, the beats aren’t as consistent as they’ve been in the past, instead of leveraging the slightly experimental nature of the album. Feid expresses bravado with his songwriting prowess, allowing the production to coast fluidly, but sometimes you can’t overcome some of its simplicities. “Lady Mi Amor” is too plain and suffers from being less than interesting after teasing something mystifyingly electric. Similarly, “Aguante” gives us these harmonious pianos and synths to start–when the drop occurs, the synths never change, keeping a consistent rhythm–later becoming more cumbersome to the simple but effective reggaeton beat. There’s modest consistency in that regard; it further leaves it up to Feid to stitch it all together. He couldn’t do so with “Normal,” another track with a less–than impressive beat but enjoyably pertinent lyricism. It makes you reflect on past work, notably the imbalance between excellent and meh. There’s a continuous show of highlights that you almost forget the aforementioned nothing burgers. Instead, you could be indulging in the vibrant “Belixe,” an EDM/Reggaeton hybrid that hits the right notes of sunset dance vibes. I know I’ll be.

FELIZ CUMPLEAÑOS FERXXO TE PIRATEAMOS EL ÁLBUM is fun and whimsical, at times, transformative, but it isn’t the quality one would expect after his last album. But that isn’t to say it was a cluster of a mess. I found myself lost in the rhythm, letting it replay with ease, but as it rounds out, I would still rather revisit the colorful flurries we get on Inter Shibuya – La Mafia. It’s still a big recommendation from me if you’re eager to explore more of the Latin-Pop/Reggaeton world.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Starcrawler – She Said: Review

Starcrawler have a raucous appeal where they sing to varying topics in fascinating ways, like making a love-rock anthem about giving and getting head or sending a message to a patriarchy enforcing this dangly appeal without reinforcing your distinct personality. That track, “Toy Teenager,” criticizes the plastic [Mean Girls] society in High Schools, focusing on visual appearance instead of understanding how the real world works. Mostly lyrically profound, Starcrawler has been able to get past few rock conventions, continuing to deliver headbanging music that will have you lifted with that rebellious spirit. Though it’s no surprise seeing their growth from the hard rock-focused Starcrawler to their third album, She Said, an album that would also mesh in the 80s with pivoting, apparent genre influences in the productions like new wave and post-punk. It builds from the known, shifting between tempos and instrumental effects to establish an almost radiant listen that sometimes falters due to slight ineffective production and limited scope with its approach to its themes.

Opening with hard-hitting bravado, Arrow de Wilde, frontwoman of Starcrawler, starts with a destructive and empowering anthem about leaving your bum of significant other and mowing them over, leaving them, like the song’s title, roadkill–metaphorically. It sets the overall sonic theme creating unique contrasts with its central themes–a reflection on relationships with others and oneself, giving us darkness and hope–it starts shifting based on the quality of the production. Between steel pedals and guitarists, they elevate the less driven drums coasting in inoffensive rhythms. Yet, they kept it interesting by incorporating radical instrumental changes, whether as a closer or in song transitions that shift the apropos mundaneness of “Stranded” in contrast to the new wave-influenced “Broken Angels.” Despite both having great songwriting, the former falter because there isn’t anything interesting done in the production. 

It isn’t so often the genre influences shine through a few layers of sounds. At times, Starcrawler brings forth characteristics we’ve seen evolve through the years–closing on guitar-centric instrumental, no vocals, that plays with ferocious electricity, for one. Additionally, they levy their post-punk/hard rock aurora to set a foundation and grow–with their sardonic and saddening lyricism shedding various emotional perspectives–not all have that oomph to keep me interested. Arrow De Wilde is angry, longing, and contemplative about the effects of change. These emotions strengthen certain songs and downplay others like “Runaway.” 

Depending on its sonic tone, Arrow De Wilde flows with enough consistency that you’re headbanging along. It’s almost as if she didn’t need to take that extra step to stop it from diverting from being stylistically nuanced with 80s rock, even if the songs aren’t consistently hitting. We get Arrow performing fiercely or with broken barriers and softening near-ballad-esque melodies, and it works well. But there is something to them that keeps these ears enthralled, and that’s their synergy. It gets heard like the melodic coating of “Midnight” or the continued new wave stylings of “Jetblack.” It’s a remarkable contrast to the drab sounds of “Thursday.”

There are elements on She Said that work great, but it’s thematically mundane, leaning too much into motifs instead of exploring more like past albums. It’s more prevalent with tracks focusing on aspects of longing; the interest levels wane, like with “Thursday,” which doesn’t do much to extend beyond a standard rock instrumental. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stay as consistent as their last album, Devour You, which consistently transitions between topics. We aren’t getting a more jovial-like song like “I Love LA” or artful and kinetic like “Chicken Woman.” However, it’s fun to hear this unique direction, especially as they give us songs that work and keep us headbanging for a while longer.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Oliver Sim – Hideous Bastard: Review

It’s been five years since The xx dropped an album; however, that hasn’t stopped the flow of music from the respective members, whether it be singles or EPs, and so forth. Oliver Sim is next at-bat with his debut album, Hideous Bastard–it speaks volumes lyrically but is often faint as the production by Jamie xx doesn’t boast his Sim’s vocal abilities beyond a safe zone. It’s ominous and compelling, adding layers beneath slightly mundane synth patterns. Sim noted in an interview with Rolling Stone: “Two thirds in[to the process of creating Hideous Bastard], having a good idea of what the record was about, I realised I’d been circling around one of the things that has probably caused me the most fear and shame. My HIV status. I’ve been living with HIV since I was 17 and it’s played with how I’ve felt towards myself, and how I’ve assumed others have felt towards me, from that age and into my adult life.” The album is about growth through reflection and boasting Sim’s confidence to express himself fluidly without worrying about the stigmas that underline who he is and what he has–though, without consistent production, it begins to fluctuate in its effectiveness.

On the surface, Hideous Bastard is adjacent to the known–hauntingly delivered compositions that emotionally grip you through varying perspectives, instead of the love-centric work of The xx–but the production’s consistency isn’t the most gripping. Sitting down and indulging the album, the beats never lean toward the make-or-break factor, but it’s something that aligns with preference. It sonically shifts depending on the approach Oliver Sim has to the central theme, like on “Sensitive Child,” where he notes being called a sensitive child as a kid, which has its unique connotation today. With being called sensitive today, he reflects on how that term made him feel like he got hardly acknowledged. Today, getting called sensitive may lead to people tiptoeing more frequently on what gets said in your presence; the acknowledgment may sour depending on said group. However, he fights back that notion with his vocal melodies and the production, where he’s more outspoken, playing more passionately. And Sim continuously reminds us that his songwriting ability doesn’t skip a beat, specifically in tracks like “Romance With a Memory” and “Saccharine.”

Unfortunately, there are tracks like “Confident Man;” it displaces tone with drab-avant-garde-like electronic components over slightly distinct piano keys and other percussions. Connecting to the album’s central focus–blossoming from a hardened shell of fright–“Confident Man” sees Oliver Sim singing about performative masculinity, wherein one shifts their demeanors to deflect harmful stereotypes about the gay community. There is something emotionally compelling here, but it doesn’t have smooth transitions, particularly in the second half, taking you through slight detours from this haunting sonic presence and delivering an explosive but meandering closer. It’s supposed to reflect a release from these fears, these doubts, but it doesn’t come across naturally. Unlike “Confident Man,” the aforementioned tracks and “GMT” have smoother transitions between its minimalism and modestly flirtation synth notes. Though the production continues to trek through with slightly mundane consistency, it doesn’t hinder Sim’s delivery. 

Oliver Sim isn’t frenetic as he lets his vocals guide you through wavering narratives that are more like questions. “Unreliable Narrator” makes that known; his music speaks with lyrical bewilderment that floods through these questions with no answers. Like “Confident Man,” it poses the thought on why they have this facade, using personal experience to reflect his questioning. “Never Here” has him questioning his memory and how growth alongside technological advancement has shifted our perception of memory. “Can we trust ourselves to relay what we know since one couldn’t document the past as efficiently as it is now?” In the chorus, he sings: “Pictures fade, technology breaks/I know the moment don’t exist within its colour and shape/I take it in just to throw it away,” adding connotations to his sentiments. Sometimes subtle, sometimes more apparent like the ones mentioned and the intro, “Hideous,” with the subtlety heard on “GMT.” The song sees him questioning this yearning for home during an escape from seasonal depression (aka winter). He ponders this notion of missing home–as in the city he grew up in, London–which has imparted various lessons and memories, building this creative love that has bled onto his music. He has beautiful bursts of sunshine every day, but it doesn’t boast that creative juice as potently as being in London at this moment.

It’s a flurry of emotions that I wish had more impact, but as I heard Oliver Sim’s words, I couldn’t help but feel the production doesn’t do him justice. It’s focused on one sonic theme, that the few times it shifts like “Romance With A Memory,” which brings out more of a rock aesthetic. It comes with some zeal, but I felt more disappointed in the production of Jamie xx. It isn’t perfect, though I find myself more captivated by his writing and performing than the production. So, if you sit and pay attention to his words, they can become a pushing wind that you can bypass to indulge in some of the remarkable reflections Sim delivers throughout. 

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Meechy Darko – Gothic Luxury: Review

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

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

“Democrat, Republican, they all evil to me

But remember that the Democrats started the KKK

I turn on CNN, they tell me be MLK

Instead of Malcolm X but they both died the same way

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

Operation Black Messiah, it’s the FBI paid

Epstein Island, Q-Anon, and then Pizzagate

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

But in ’66, they hated the Black Panther movement

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

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

– Kill Us All, Meechy Darko

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

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

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

Rating: 7 out of 10.

DJ Khaled – God Did: Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 5.5 out of 10.

Traumazine – Megan Thee Stallion: Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 6 out of 10.

The Game – Drillmatic – Heart vs. Mind: Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

DOMi & JD Beck – NOT TiGHT: Review

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.