Boldy James & Real Bad Man – Killing Nothing: Review

Hip-Hop collective Real Bad Man; that’s a name that’s synonymous with ethereal and soulful production that stays on a tempo that keeps you lifted. The percussion styles have great and subtle nuance, and a tangible slow tempo gives whichever rapper a boost when delivering their verses. Though his most prominent work has come with Boldy James, continuing to strive with their follow-up to Real Bad Boldy, Killing Nothing. As it is with many Boldy tapes, there is a collection of carefully constructed tracks that fits the tone. It doesn’t matter whether Boldy is speaking on the realities around him through anecdotes of street life or expressing characteristics molded by it. Entwined with the production by Real Bad Man, Killing Nothing is another record to get stored and kept spinning as Boldy James and Real Bad Man keep the back-to-basics street raps fresh, despite its flaws.

Like Real Bad Boldy, Killing Nothing continues to pick up where the last left off with a flurry of tracks that paint a picture of Boldy James. The track progressions layers depth to the mountable areas Boldy goes into, like the gang violence and regrets in “Water Under the Bridge” and “5 Mississippi.” Boldy’s constantly coming in different directions with the content, applying realistic details in his storytelling to build the world around you as you listen. It’s what keeps these tracks in a consistent tangent of greatness for him. Killing Nothing is like its namesake within the crevices of these street-hustlin’ type tracks, Boldy is expressing the duality between lives he’s been living with a history dating back years. In “Hundred Ninety Bands,” Boldy raps about his successes in contrast to his past life in a rags-to-riches-like structure. His themes recycle, but Boldy stays consistent.

It’s a consistency that keeps you keened in at most of the lyricism, like when he rapped, “See straight through these pussy niggas like a CAT scan/Pockets full of blue money or a trap benz/I’m just tryna get my top blew, fuck a lap dance” on “Ain’t No Bon Jovi.” Though it isn’t much to praise his lyricism, as Boldy James has consistently delivered verses with multi-layered reality spread with direct detail and a tightened story arc. However, Boldy’s weakness remains front and center, and it’s the lack of effort in the hooks. They feel like extensions to the verses that rarely build you up toward anything; other times, he delivers dull hooks, like on “Medellin,” which loops the lines “Since a youngin’, been peddlin’, put that on Evelin/We the medellín, while these niggas just be medellin’.” It’s one or the other, and often you lose sight of the hook as sometimes it recycles aspects of past flows, which is uninteresting. It’s the case with “5 Mississippi” and “Seeing Visions,” which have me waning interest for 20ish seconds of a track. Though it isn’t the case for many, Boldy’s more personal ones bring a flip in energy as his vocals become slightly sullen, or he takes a fun turn with “Bo Jack (Miller Lite).”

Killing Nothing is effervescently transitioning track to track, swaying you by the hazy flows and consistently great lyricism. Though it can be a detriment as every track can’t keep the locomotive moving. “Sig Saur” and “Cash Transactions” are two tracks that get lost within the fold of the tangential production that keeps it afloat, along with Boldy James’ verses. There are moments where the tracks fade into the abyss as it hides amongst the others surrounding it, like the quality verses from Boldy and features Crimeapple, Rome Streetz, and Stove God Cooks. These faults make Killing Nothing a slightly jumbled album that has many prominent aspects that represent 75 percent or so of a track, but there are some things you have to let slide for the spin to stay consistent. Though a hefty piece, it buoys on the complexities of the production by Real Bad Man, who circumvents these beats in a linear direction with subtle scratches and soulful samples within. 

But underneath the scriptures, Real Bad Man shines. Their production work takes different shapes, sometimes showing the subtle influence from the 90s low-tempo dark-boom bap and west coast, except adding some midwestern flair to match Boldy James’ direct approach with the rhythm. “Medellin” and “All The Way Out” are examples of such: the former gives us a subtle but effective percussion-heavy bap, and the latter takes funkadelic notes, notches it up, and weaves it in with a unique pattern that elevates Boldy ten-fold. But it’s ever-shifting, at times bold, with the overhead style, like on “5 Mississippi,” which uses an acoustic guitar to give the track a dark western twang.

Killing Nothing is this excellent record with replayability and slight shortcomings, but it has enough in the tank that you never worry about it running on E. The more you listen, the more you pick up on different anecdotes in the production that have me putting it on a similar pedestal with his other albums. Though it may not be as strong as last year’s Bo Jackson, Boldy James keeps reminding you why he is a potent lyricist.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Florence + the Machine – Dance Fever: Review

Florence & The Machine has always had this machination with musical imagery and stylistic vocal performances that have given them a platform to succeed. Album-to-Album, they consistently brought something unique to the equation and gave us the depth of character the songs evoke. From the more personal and soul-filled High as Hope to the radiant baroque-pop on Ceremonials, Florence & The Machine have delivered consistently remarkable work, especially with Florence Welch’s ability to meld within any style taken with immense bravado. It’s what has her shining through on their fifth album, Dance Fever. It takes root in the meaning of choreomania: a social phenomenon of dance fever between 14th and 17th century Europe.  Having those sensibilities in mind, Florence & the Machine transition between danceable vibes and introspective melancholia, where the rich text beneath them elevates them to a new plateau where it’s hard to turn it off.

Dance Fever is full of musical ideas that build upon each other and take different directions; however, what’s different is how it’s pieced together into an album that takes chances and elevates itself by playing with some progressive soundscapes. Within these soundscapes, Florence Welch continues to weave–with co-writers and producers Jack Antanoff, Dave Bayley, Thomas Hull, Thomas Bartlett, and Robert Ackroyd–these personal conflicts that befallen her with complex production that never create an illusion of grandeur, further grounding the music with effervescent connectivity. “Free” sees Florence singing about anxiety, specifically hers, and the disillusion medication may have, as dancing is the budding melatonin that keeps her afloat. Jack Antanoff and Dave Bayley produce “Free” with Florence, creating a sound that fits the title literally. It’s loose and free-flowing, with elements of synth-pop and dance rock connecting through its enigmatic and energetic percussion, that you get left feeling similar energy. 

That energy is felt throughout the album, delivering on the literal meaning of its namesake. It takes chances by budding them with more melancholic production, especially when Florence Welch fluidly transitions between the two on “Cassandra.” For Dance Fever, it gives you a consistent progression of pop that gets you in a spiritual groove, with the few stoppages coming from these centered pieces, like “Back In Town” and “The Bomb,” where she converses with herself. She offers a sense of reality within these mystifying slow songs that counteract and balance the various dance vibes. There’s a significant balance between them and the introspective dance tracks that spread infectious moods with fervor. Florence Welch isn’t creating these dance tracks to divide sides; the songwriting and vocal performances match the emotional gravitas of each song, which allows them to have depth beyond the complexities of the sounds. 

“My Love,” along with “Choreomania” and “Dream Girl Evil,” are a few examples that bridge the context of the lyrics with the emotional bravado delivered by Florence Welch. “My Love,” like “Free,” is an energetic wave of disco-influenced electro-pop that may dance your writer’s block away. Florence’s content understands the divide between its themes and production, allowing us to hear the remarkable juxtaposition between distraught and intuitive notions beneath the music that makes groove. “Dream Girl Evil” is this remarkable Art-Pop-Rock anthem that fights back against misogynistic societal norms seen for women in a satirical fashion, where Florence imparts this notion of turning evil against them. “Choreomania” is another dance-rock song that buoys its emotional energy with the kinetic and unrelenting motion that the production injects into you. It’s a sonic theme that runs through the veins of Dance Fever. It’s progressive and interjects these auspicious themes that make you feel whole.

The complexities of Dance Fever don’t get hidden within the crevices; it’s there for you to breathe in. It begins with “King” and ends with “Morning Elvis,” a beautiful continuation in grounding her humanity. Florence Welch sings about these stories that reflect her core emotions, and also ours, as this relativity keeps us entwined with the music. Unfortunately, it isn’t all perfect. Some of the shorter interlude-like tracks combine a harmonic spoken word vocal delivery with broken down instrumentations, though it’s only impactful on “Heaven Is Here.” The others, “Restraint” and “Prayer Factory,” fit the mold of what the album wants to deliver, but it doesn’t have much-staying power as a transition between stylistic sectors. They feel slightly forgettable as they drown out in-between these luscious dance songs.

Dance Fever is a fantastic record that delivers on Florence + the Machine’s strengths on both ends and keeps us in a constant state of contemplative dance. It does something unique with its sonic concept that keeps you invested; the complexities of the production offer vibrancy that boasts the vibes that got injected into you by it. I left a memorable imprint in my ears, especially “My Love.” There is enough to take away and love, especially when you want to get up and dance alone in your room.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers: Review

Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers. The title isn’t reading a mouthful, but the new album by Kendrick Lamar has created a conversation that makes you feel like you were reading one. It’s a complex text that wants you to decipher beyond the surface layer verbiage, and Kendrick doesn’t make it pleasant. It’s provocative, but that’s a given for him. With complex text, there is complex production, but here, he is building toward growth and showing us a reenergized side of him. However, it isn’t an immediate masterpiece or a straight one. It’s progressive but flawed. Kendrick brings many ideas to the fold based on experience where he flourishes in delivering his message; unfortunately, the second half (Mr. Morale) gets a little muted by certain decisions made. It left me hoping it had the same impact as the first (The Big Steppers), but he stumbles over some creative choices that don’t pan out. Though both offer a lot to digest as we let ourselves get consumed by the proverbial introspections from Kendrick.

Kendrick Lamar closes Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers with “Sorry I didn’t save the world again/I was too busy rebuilding mine my friend/I choose me, I’m sorry.” It’s a gut-wrenching punch that hits you in the brain as it establishes in your mind that the style and perspectives taken are the way they are. Kendrick is at an apex where some would think a drop from him would “save Hip-Hop.” But Kendrick is more than just hip-hop; he isn’t out here to sell you popular records, and he isn’t here to deliver a myriad of styles like on DAMN, but he is taking us through the looking glass. Kendrick takes a nosedive with such effectiveness that it breathes intrigue into understanding where he is getting at. This commonality gives it this vitriol that boasts the topics he speaks on, which offers a platitude of reflections that cloud him as he progresses through various aspects of his life, like fatherhood and grief. These notions align within the texts of “United In Grief” and “Father Time,” two of the best tracks on Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers

Unfortunately, some lose impact, like “Auntie Diaries” on Mr. Morale and “Rich Interlude” on The Big Steppers, because intention gets slightly derailed due to artistic decisions which drive immense discussion into his approach, but more so the former. “Aunties Diaries” sees Kendrick tackling the double standard with the usage of slurs in hip-hop, reminiscing on his adolescence where he admired his transgender familial members for their heart and hustle. He goes on to mention how it was one of them who showed him his first sheet of 16s, helping to ignite his early love of hip-hop. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stick, as Kendrick’s focus on obtuse song structures has him missing the point. He’s sticking to reality where he deadnames and misgenders his family when there were other avenues he could have taken without censoring himself. “Rich Interlude” loses semblance due to Kodak Black and his controversial history, where he doesn’t embody the wholesome image of success, which further and poorly encapsulates Kendrick’s “product of our environment” theology. Furthermore, it has me question whether Kodak’s inclusion was more musical kinship or a shot at musical redemption.

While Kendrick Lamar values the exploration of parallels through experience, there is further understanding of the dynamics that shape our socio-political discussions and progression toward true equality. However, what’s getting represented is Kendrick’s true nature. We may not acquiesce, but that’s because they evoke “I choose me, I’m sorry” subtly. He subverts our perception of him within these various themes to tremendous effect, despite the complexities of his music. We hear themes like his conflicted normality, his relation to hip-hop, trauma, etc. In “Savior,” he reminds us, “Like it when they pro-Black, but I’m more Kodak Black,” implying that despite the pro-black political bubble we’ve placed him in, his opinions on particular things aren’t far from artists/entertainers like Kodak and Kyrie Irving. It’s a sentiment we get from the lines “Niggas is tight-lipped, fuck who dare to be different/Seen a Christian say the vaccine mark of the beast/Then he caught COVID and prayed to Pfizer for relief/Then I caught COVID and started to question Kyrie,” where Kendrick’s mental lining isn’t far off, but willing to learn. 

Kodak Black’s presence stems from appearing on an interlude to backing vocals and a track that feels lost as it juxtaposes the lyrical content with the embodiments of the rest. “Silent Hill” is more radio-driven; the production is minimalist, weaving these intricate soulful harmonies and crazy percussion patterns, while the two rap about their status and money. Despite Kodak Black delivering a solid verse, it is the only instance where he doesn’t have you slightly groaning, unlike his brief appearance in “Worldwide Steppers.” It’s a unique contrast to The Big Steppers, which has “We Cry Together,” a solid track that speaks on Kendrick’s abusive and dysfunctional relationship with Hip-Hop. It’s heavier like the music on Mr. Morale, while “Silent Hill,” a fine song, doesn’t have any merit within the overall construct.

Surrounding the little that didn’t work is an abundance of mental exploration. Kendrick Lamar spreads lyrical vibrancy with emotional gravitas, so whether he is rapping about trauma with “Mr. Morale” and “Mother I Sober” or talking his shit like on “N95” and “Worldwide Steppers,” he is giving us these auspicious bars/ideas to break apart. On top of that, he is incorporating production that perfectly matches the levels of nuance he offers in his verses. We hear this flurry of big-scope, little-scope productions that fit the nature of the content without getting overdone or undercooked. It buoys many of the various artists Kendrick brings to help build his narratives.

Though pertinent with the Beth Gibbons feature on “Mother I Sober,” their innate-great consistency of them shows in The Big Steppers. From the luminously mystifying vocals of Sampha to Taylour Paige’s remarkable performance on “We Cry Together,” there is a cadence to them, specifically as they work their style over potential reference sheets. But there are some that miss, like Baby Keem on “Savior Interlude.” His verse lacks integrity in the art, and he continues to show how much of a proxy he is for Kendrick when they work together. Fortunately, Keem and Kodak are the only two featured blemishes on the album that weigh it down, and their appearances are brief.

“Die Hard” and “Purple Hearts” have these contrasting shimmers reflecting on the track’s components. Both have dual features, and both use them differently. On “Die Hard,” Kendrick Lamar brings Blxt and Amanda Reifer of Cover Drive to deliver a balanced remedy of soulful melodies in the chorus and post-chorus to complement Kendrick’s flow as he raps about his fears in opening up in a relationship. “Purple Hearts” sees Kendrick, along with Summer Walker and Ghostface Killah, delivering visceral verses relating to love in a relationship and the hardships which come from it. Summer Walker is a standout all-her-own, like Taylour Paige, both of whom encapsulate the last two tracks on Mr. Morale. In the previously mentioned “Mother I Sober,” Kendrick Lamar takes trauma head-on; he’s rapping about his past, reflecting the directions taken to escape memories, like in the second verse where he notes: “​​I remember lookin’ in the mirror knowin’ I was gifted/Only child, me for seven years, everything for Christmas/Family ties, they accused my cousin, “Did he touch you, Kendrick?”/Never lied, but no one believed me when I said “He didn’t,”/Frozen moments, still holdin’ on it, hard to trust myself/I started rhymin’, copin’ mechanisms to lift up myself.” There is a lot to digest and endure as he pours out his heart with more than internal conflictions.

But that is what Kendrick does, he tackles trauma and other themes head-on. More so in past albums, but he is keeping centered despite missing the mark a few times. Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers reestablishes Kendrick’s artistry at a cost, but he does so in his own right, even if we don’t see eye-to-eye with the way perpetuates these thoughts.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Bad Bunny – Un Verano Sin Tí: Review

Though I wasn’t the craziest on El Último Tour Del Mundo, what he did with a futuristic concept lyrically, was awe-inspiring, especially as he continued to grow artistically. Similarly, the album prior, Yo Hago Lo Que Me Da La Gana, did as the title suggested. Bad Bunny came at it with something new and different, blending various notes from diverse genres and showing us a free-spirited approach to the music. That continues on Un Verano Sin Tí. It’s an album resonant on the vibes, particularly in its construction, which plays in a nearly perfect crescendo from start to finish. He brings fresh features and unique directions we’ve heard a sampling of before; however, here it’s refined, coming at you with various sounds fit its beach/summery aesthetic, despite some lesser tracks, comparatively. It all culminates in excelling the idea Bad Bunny had when creating Un Verano Sin Tí.

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

Opening with a decadent reggaeton number in “Moscow Mule,” it teases you with a perfect concoction containing great harmonies, melodies, and infectious lyrics without being overly ambitious. Like its namesake, the production hits on all fronts, adding a mellow dance vibe while still working as the starter pistol as you casually fix yourself a drink. But with the mentality of a playlist for Un Verano Sin Tí, you can start with any track, the enjoyment will still be there, but it won’t have the same impact as that smooth crescendo from start to finish. He uses the simple and core rule of making a linear playlist–clean patterns between the track’s tempo. After a modest ascension with “Moscow Mule,” it takes you through some incredible songs with vibrant sounds, like “Despues De La Playa.

“Despues De La Playa” has luscious synths riding an electronic vibe before flipping in style after a minute. Bad Bunny turns it on its head, blending various percussion elements of mambo and merengue. It sounds like something aligned with what prominent artists did to crow the groove, like Juan Luis Guerra and Miriam Cruz. When Bad Bunny does this, it returns with some of his most significant hits, like “Yonaguni” and its use of J-Pop-like synths and subtle percussion. He doesn’t want to feel confined to be all reggaeton, but he allows it to be a stepping stone for other directions he can take. It isn’t all reggaeton, and instead, it’s an eclectic mix that feels free as it diverts from the confines of standard album construction by filling the album with numerous “Track 3s,” or the powerhouse hook that reels you many guaranteed hits. 

These hits are continuous in heavy spurts with incredible momentum. The ever-shifting styles offer a lot, even when certain styles hit you better than others. So whether you love a riotous variety of electronic vibes–“Ojitos Lindos,” which incorporates touches of cumbia, or the more house-driven “El Apagón”–reggaeton bangers–“Tarot” and “Me Porto Bonito”–island vibes–“Me Fui De Vacaciones”–Un Verano Sin Tí has something for you. It’s ever-shifting without detracting you during its play. As I revert to that one anecdote from his New York Times interview: “a record to play in the summer, on the beach, as a playlist,” having that consistency to keep a loop where, if played as he described, or home alone dancing, it’ll be an excellent time for the 81 minutes. It has seamless transitions that keep it from being overly rough. In a continuous loop, you’ll feel varied emotions, translating from your pace of dancing, whether speedy or tempered.

This synchronization boosts the overall quality as Bad Bunny takes us in different directions without getting hindered by the switches in tempo. One moment you’re on a melancholic-acoustic vibe on “Yo No Soy Celoso,” and the next, he is throwing curveballs with a smooth reggaeton banger featuring Tony Dize on “La Corriente.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t always translate as you get lost in the winds of the vibe. Despite lauding a smooth crescendo from start to finish, the only drawback is that some tracks are mild compared to others with a similar tone. The weak chorus and verse deliveries in the first half of “Tití Me Preguntó” take away from the whimsical shift in the second half, where it isn’t an issue. It’s like “Al Apagón,” however, that shift adds to and elevates the song exponentially. Similarly, “Efecto,” compared to the other reggaeton tracks, isn’t as strong but still effective. Since Bad Bunny included the 2019 track “Callaíta,” switching “Yonaguni” with “Efecto” would have offered some extra sauce on the palette he is serving. 

Un Verano Sin Tí succeeds as intended with visceral production and monstrous melodies. It’s an album with awe-inducing consistency that elevates not only the tracks but how they mesh within the confines of a tangential mix orchestrated to play like a playlist. It honestly left me happy by how much of an improvement this was to El Último Tour Del Mundo, though keeping in line with expanding his range and delivering hybrids as impactful, if not more, than some of his past singles. However, it is a vibes album, and it’s hard to quantify how it will translate come to Winter, but it’s hitting hard now and will for the rest of the summer.

Rating: 9.5 out of 10.

Wet Leg – Wet Leg: Review

After “Chaise Longue” got released in 2021, it became a viral hit. However, because it is a viral hit doesn’t mean the quality is good, evident with what they bring to the table on their self-titled debut. “Chaise Longue” comes from various angles; lyrically, it’s fun and innocent with verses containing sexual innuendos that aren’t explicitly dirty; adjacently, the production evokes consistent tones that feel taken from the pages from more basic punk rock bands, like Dirty NIL, who don’t thread the needle with that kind of instrumentation. Fortunately, it is a slight tumble as you cruise through the tracklist that improves on the simplicities of “Chaise Longue,” giving us a variety of melodies and instrumentations that define Wet Leg as a band. Wet Leg captures you with melodic mysticism and lush instrumentations morphing beyond surface layer cohesion between drums patterns and electric guitars riffs, especially when the band steers toward pop-rock instead of post-punk overtures.

When it comes to debuts, sometimes you have to match the levels of your first hit; if not, find ways to reinvent the wheel by evoking your artistic voice. For Wet Leg, they restructure and create parallels between vocals and production, predominantly focusing on melodies to reel us into great songwriting. Sometimes we’ll get a song about wet dreams or getting high and splurging–while acting fool–at a supermarket. It’s an effervescent consistency that gives us a sense of glee hearing how they can create potent lyricism while staying true to themselves instead of pushing for a more direct approach. As Rhian Teasdale sings on “Too Late Now:” “Now everything is going wrong/I think I changed my mind again/I’m not sure if this is a song/I don’t even know what I’m saying,” it continues to punctuate the kind of aesthetic driving the songwriting. It’s like being hit with an array of bright lights, and your only directive is to be yourself.

At its core, though, Wet Leg is creating a bridge between us and their music as the topics are relative aspects of our youths. For the most part, it works, and it’s easy to hear where it doesn’t. A definitive difference that shows its discernible quality is their youthful angsty songwriting which feels maligned when likened to more melodically driven songs. One of these differences comes from tonal shifts in the production; they juxtapose each other poorly, which causes a slight stoppage in the consistency. “Chaise Longue” is one of two that initially caused me to tune out a few seconds after playing; the other is “Oh No,” an explosive rock track that does little to make you feel that angsty annoyance of being home alone, though the lyrics don’t help either. It’s unlike “Ur Mom” or “Too Late Now,” which shows and uses a progression of sound or melodies as it goes on to round it out. They also play it more tongue-in-cheek with a lot of emotional depth where you can see yourself in their shoes.

Beneath the hiccups are strings of melodically driven pop-rock that entices a consistent return, considering they have great consistency. It’s ever so rare that these kinds of tracks have cross-appeal, where their authenticity stays keyed in making these infectious melodies without having to cut corners lyrically. They find a happy medium, where they make improper structures–sometimes venting, sometimes having fun–sound as refreshing as ever. I mean, their biggest song has them singing, jokingly, about the d or making a Mean Girls reference as Rhian Teasdale then sings about a chaise longue. She comes at most of these songs with cadence, and energy, painting luscious pictures through words. Though, none of it is possible without the vibrant range of riffs from Hester Chambers: Wet Leg’s lead guitarist. Beyond being the crux of the production, its guitar-heavy approach allows them to wane between emotional layers, like on “Ur Mom,” which plays over the last minute. It can come vibrantly like on “Piece of Shit” or “Convincing” or even full of character, like on “Angelica.”

Ultimately, Wet Leg reminds us that MGK is naive; guitar rock never left, and one of many bands reminding us of that. As far as debuts, it’s a thrill ride that offers some surprises and oh-so luscious melodies that I can’t help but have tracks like “Too Late Now” on heavy repeat.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Vince Staples – Ramona Park Broke My Heart: Review

The first sounds we hear are waves slowly crashing along the sands of Long Beach, California. We immediately fade into Vince Staples rapping as the faint sounds of the waves blend in the background, and we get reintroduced to inside his head. Ramona Park Broke My Heart is a shifting paradigm of lies and heartbreak, cornering any sense of hope to succeed. Vince Staples’ mind has hypotheticals, realizations, and growing pains that reflect how he views his career after many years under a label–sometimes, of his personality; other times, reflective of his career. But there is more to the project than the parallels in his potent lyricism, which is a constant on Ramona Park Broke My Heart. He is showing us behind the broken walls that surround him. Vince is giving us a lot to break down, from the emotionally-lyrical side and the production, which brings a continuation of greatness heard on his self-titled release last year.

Let’s hit play on “Papercuts”; Vince Staples raps about the importance money has on him as he pushes aside an element of internal happiness. Like Vince Staples, I’ve understood him to a degree; he feels slaved over in the industry, finding less care in creating at a certain speed because his craft takes time. He isn’t an everyday rapper willing to drop a few minutes to make a pop record–we have learned from J. Cole that he got told he needed a single to sell on his debut instead of keying in on a balance of authenticity with his style. Even with Vince’s most popular tracks, he kept it 100 to his style, which shows a parallel in his artistry, where he can elevate a pop song if asked to appear on one. He’s done it before with “&Burn” by Billie Eilish. Despite the directions he takes, it’s thematically and lyrically consistent because he is zeroing in on his heart, his home.

When rapping, Vince Staples has a tremendous effect on the album as he taps into a line where he can distinguish the love for Ramona Park and the music inspired by it. There are an array of emotions that push these songs into having definition within the confines of his arc. It all pans out as intended, except for “DJ Quik,” which left little impression on me, despite a great use of a “Dollaz + Sense” by Quik himself. The lyrics in the verses are on point, but his slightly basic and slightly dronish delivery on “DJ Quik” doesn’t make an impression, knowing “Magic” comes next. Though there isn’t a linear direction that Vince takes us through, it’s more like recollecting through pictures. It’s like he opened a picture book from his life in Ramona Park and compares and contrasts it with the present.

Thinking of it as such allows for contrasting flows between tracks to work, for the most part–née “DJ Quik” to “Magic.” These shifts can come out in a somber tone like on “East Point Prayer,” which adds gravity to its themes of gang violence and selling drugs; it’s the opposite with “When Sparks Fly,” where Vince personifies love through his flow. Unlike other tracks, these two have specific parallels that aren’t subtle. They carry more as the pivot point in the middle where the album begins to mold into a cohesive structure. Some parallels can come from the production side, like when it transitions from “DJ Quik” into “Magic” and “Rose Street” into “The Blues.” Or it can come from the lyrical side like “East Point Prayer” to “When Sparks Fly” or “Papercuts” to “Lemonade,” which shows two sides to his feelings behind making money.

However, for “East Point Prayer” and “When Sparks Fly,” the latter speaks about the love between a person and a personified gun, like how a gearhead names their car–it’s like a child. Another parallel comes with the content of “East Point Prayer,” which sees both rappers talk about their resilience in escaping a life set by the foundations around them. Lil Baby delivers an equally powerful verse that reflects the business side, showing that no matter the profession, you can grow and evolve from someone better than “a product of the environment,” as he raps. It’s all buoyed by its production.

The production contains a downbeat consistency with few overlays that make every track worth wild. Though, it’s hard to meet the production of tracks like “Lemonade,” “Magic,” and “Slide” has Vince Staples putting on his musical cap and trying to continue to reflect the eccentric flows and melodies of his first few albums. “Lemonade” and “Magic” are elevated higher by the featured artist, Ty Dolla Sign and DJ Mustard, respectively. The same goes for Lil Baby on “East Point Prayer.” The cloudy-synth base production drifts you into a terrain of open consciousness. There is a balance between the two, though it may not be for everyone, as Vince stays consistent with the introspective lyricism.

From the collection of producers, there is some equilibrium in bringing a sonic consistency that you can distinguish where you have to focus on his verse. Ramona Park Broke My Heart is a lot to unpack, and the experience is rewarding. We continue to get a different Vince Staples that isn’t bent on the avant-garde and instead keying in on his roots, specifically in its production. Personally, I felt immersed in Vince’s work as he took us down new avenues expanding sounds over the production’s base drum patterns.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Kilo Kish – American Gurl: Review

Kilo Kish is authentic to her craft, as she adds realized perspective in her songwriting. It has been a keen aspect of her talent; she has been able to draw up down-to-earth vocalizations and an array of whimsical, electro-grunge-R&B/Hip-Hop grooves that acquiesce in tangential bliss. 2013’s K+ put a spotlight on her because of it, and she continues to control it from mixtape to albums, including her new album, American Gurl. Building a foundation on Experimental and Alternative R&B/Hip-Hop, Kilo Kish branched out and used the basis of what works, adding elements that see her evoking elements of Pop; however, it can become forgettable, especially with her 2016 album, Reflections In Real Time. As a follow-up, America Gurl improves on some of the off-electronic overtones and transitions, with Kilo Kish growing more into who she is as an artist.

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

American Gurl is great, and another reason is that Kilo Kish makes bold choices, specifically with her features. Unlike standard features, Kilo Kish uses them to elevate the sonic platform and add nuance to her vocals. She does this twice with “Death Fantasy” and “New Tricks: Art, Aesthetic, and Money.” “Death Fantasy” has Miguel delivering these ghostly vocals, which bring life to the song’s theme of death, like the death of a faux-pas physique that doesn’t reflect your inner. It speaks to more than self-worth, like how privilege–generally speaking–shields you from genuine freedom. “New Tricks: Art, Aesthetic, and Money” uses Vince Staples as a hype man for her unique flows and swagger.

There are varying transitions, whether through continuing to build on themes or by its production. “Distractions III: Spoiled Rotten” continues to build upon these illusions we have of attaining grandeur life to satisfy our insecurities; it’s expressed more personally in “Death Fantasy.” However, the transition in production delivers an interesting contrast to the more experimental “Death Fantasy.” While “Distractions III” uses elements of electro-pop, adding catchier melodies while retaining that experimental glitz, “Death Fantasy” is barer. It uses a balance of atmosphere and low synths to evoke its presence–something that is subtly vibrant beneath most productions.

The steady consistency in which Kilo Kish keeps turning heads comes from having an individualized identity to the songs on the tracklist. Like Rosalia’s Motomami, American Gurl has a different sound that barely parallels what we get. “Bloody Future” evokes an elegant island vibe; the cohesion between percussion and synthesizers is what spearheads it–that’s its identity. It continues as we get “New Tricks: Art, Aesthetic, and Money,” an experimental hip-hop track that explores more industrial electronic overtones over hip-hop-centric drum beats. The everchanging production breathes enough character that you’re left mesmerized by each direction it takes. It’s as if she took the best aspects of K+ and the best of Reflections In Real Time, and she, along with producer Raymond Brady, found a way to build something profound, though I can’t honestly say that about every track. 

As you navigate American Gurl, the moments that get you perked up, and sometimes those moments aren’t as consistent–positively speaking. “Choice Cowboy” with Jean Dawson is overly ambitious with its electronic notes, that you get lost in this uninteresting techno-dance-pop hybrid that can easily get skipped. It’s the most jarring, comparatively, as it lacks smooth melodies that keep you entwined from start to finish without taking focus away from her songwriting. It’s the only instance that turns me away and causes this from being a perfect album. 

American Gurl is fantastic; we see it blend an essence of life with musical progression. We get infectious melodies and unique percussion patterns that keep you attached to the lure, digesting what she sings about. It’s an album I recommend seeking out, along with her other work. More importantly, her words are grounded in reality and poignant.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Daddy Yankee – LEGENDADDY: Review

2022 has been one helluva of a year–from the postponement of the annual Grammy Awards to April 3rd to Maury Povich retiring and Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon performing this summer at Lollapalooza–nothing has churned more emotions than the announcement of Daddy Yankee’s retirement: the architect of who defined reggaeton as a genre. It’s bittersweet for fans, but he leaves with a monstrous send-off on his 8th and final studio album, LEGENDADDY. Being his first album in a decade, we’ve seen reggaeton’s growth from nuanced ballads to pop-bangers which bridge samples of sonic influence. It’s all relative to your cultural roots and the music that inspired you from youth. Daddy Yankee made reggaeton what it is today, allowing for a free flow of ingenuity to become universally accepted as new artists create their foundation. LEGENDADDY takes various eras of reggaeton and weaves them into a musically transcendent timeline of music history, with Daddy Yankee surprising us at almost every turn.

Let’s not mince words: we’ve heard singles throughout the last few years, each showing different directions with auspicious production and captivating flows and melodies as Daddy Yankee ignites a flame into these new, younger artists who he’s influenced. LEGENDADDY features some of these artists as they match wits with the DY, expressing themselves within the sounds they’ve refined themselves. Myke Towers joins Daddy Yankee for “PASATIEMPO,” a stellar dancefloor electro-pop/reggaeton anthem that incorporates more melodies than the reggaeton-trap hybrid “ZONA DEL PERREO” and “HOT.” Whenever Daddy Yankee is trying to command the dancefloor, he juxtaposes these sounds to give us an essence of his range in style. Following “PASATIEMPO,” Daddy Yankee sings and raps over tropical-laced percussion on “RUMBATÓN,” taking away the house-pop sample for authentic representation. 

We hear elements of salsa, bolero, or bachata in its rhythm phase of the 2000s, to its hip-hop side and trap/perreo side of today. It’s organized chaos, allowing us to marvel at the work he delivered throughout the years. The production is as vibrant as ever, and each track has its value on the dance floor. Unfortunately, not every track lands on all notes. “ZONA DEL PERREO” suffers from redundant lyricism; it’s a simple track about dancing, particularly perreando or dancing Doggystyle. The production is lush and feels like a waste, as Natti Natasha and Becky G become forgettable with poor mixing and autotune. It isn’t like “AGUA” with Rauw Alejandro and Nile Rodgers, which precedes it. “AGUA” mixes the complexions of reggaeton with disco, bringing a slightly funky bass to round it out while Daddy Yankee and Rauw Alejandro rap and sing in a beautiful tangent.

Daddy Yankee is more than the surface layer reggaeton tracks we hear. Beneath the production, Daddy Yankee rarely takes a step-back with his lyricism, as he flexes and expresses these emotions in coded melodies that have us gyrating whenever we stop doing the 1-2-3 step of Bachata. Within these songs, we hear Daddy Yankee flexing his status as a legend, his humble beginnings, and aspects of relationships–like “IMPARES,” which sees Daddy Yankee lamenting the emotional distance between him and his wife due to his mistakes. Following the previous song, Daddy Yankee raps about his imperfections while finding acceptance in his faults as he justifies opposites attract–this gets juxtaposed by how it expresses hiccups within the relationship. The multiple layers on these tracks come from commanding confidence behind the board and microphones, as Daddy Yankee and his producers create these productions that feel fresh and different than last.

Beyond proclaiming his status on “CAMPEÓN,” Daddy Yankee takes the time to reaffirm it. After a few danceable and emotional bangers, Daddy Yankee comes with “UNO QUITAO Y OTRO PUESTO,” which encapsulates his youth with potent energy in an attempt to lay down his legacy in music form. It’s a true reggaeton-hip hop hybrid that he is known for–it has been one of the reasons I’ve personally been in awe of his talent, from the “Rompe Remix” to “Gangsta Zone” and “TATA Remix,” there isn’t a moment that he fails to show how extensive that utility belt is. This energy is rampant throughout LEGENDADDY, showing in different ways, but nothing as mesmerizing as tracks where he drapes it with powerful verses, like on “ENCHULETIAO,” where he raps about being hooked to the hustle.

LEGENDADDY is a triumph. It shows why Daddy Yankee has been the driving force behind the escalation of the genre today with his influence for the next generation, bridging many genres and languages together. We forget Daddy Yankee was making songs with Fergie and Snoop Dogg before we saw Bad Bunny make a song with Will Smith or DeLaGhetto making a song with Fetty Wap. It’s a fantastic album that plateaus him higher than most pop artists, and his name will remain in the ears of many for years to come.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Conway the Machine – God Don’t Make Mistakes: Review

Conway the Machine has organized rhyme schemes and potent lyricism while broadening the transitions from song to song. One of few technical talents that fit him, and his Griselda cohorts, except each, come with different perspectives for style. Conway has brought about greatness on every front, from his ear for production and his masterful writing skills. It’s been the case through his many projects, from album to mixtape, and delivering an innate and hypnotic consistency for fans of lyricism over the more radio-centric sounds. When attempting to bring bangers, he doesn’t stray far from his identity, lyricism; it continues to be a staple of his craft. There’s constant activity on God Don’t Make Mistakes, his major-label debut. There is crisp production from a range of producers, who provide tonal consistency, and there is Conway’s lyricism that never falters.

God Don’t Make Mistakes is like a sucker punch that stops you in your tracks and forces you to sit and listen to Conway the Machine’s verses. More of an introspective composition, we see Conway attacking layers of his person, from confidence to early self-doubt and success. Conway opens the album with visceral confidence on “Lock Load,” featuring Beanie Siegel. Trading bars, Conway and Beanie bring energy and emotional depth to the lyricism. Conway raps: “Momma start thinkin’ I’m crazy, baby mama think I’m nuts/Ever since them n****s shot me, I just stopped givin’ a fuck,” in the first verse, using people in his life to define his attitudes as he progresses to rap more poignantly violent bars. It’s a softer percussion-based production, focusing on the atmosphere as the two add weight with their delivery. 

Unfortunately, there is a minor drawback in “Lock Load” – it happens twice – the audio levels of some of the features drown them out. It may bother some, but returning to piece the bars together with the production is part of its greatness. Beanie Siegel’s verse is audible in decibels, and it’s the same with TI on “Wild Chapters.” There is some disappointment since there are other tracks that have a proper polish for every artist – whether they are heavyweights like Lil Wayne & Rick Ross or underground rappers like 7xvethegenius, everyone delivers and make these tracks well rounded. It feels like those verses lacked that second look, but they are just blemishes on an otherwise outstanding album. 

However, it’s more than just a collection of fantastic verses and performances from Conway and the features that buoy God Don’t Make Mistakes to greatness. The producers bring an individualized identity on each track while keeping you invested, even when some songs don’t always work, like “Wild Chapters” with TI. It has agency, but it doesn’t land as strong as the others, specifically “Tear Gas,” “Guilty,” “Piano Love,” and “Chanel Pearls.” “Guilty” and “Piano Love” stand out as Conway’s solo performances, with the latter seeing Conway flexing eloquently over a piano-laced production from The Alchemist. The former takes the piano keys and gospel backing vocals to complement Conway’s introspective rap about a shootout that left him with Bell’s Palsy. It’s a testament to Conway’s talent. He breaks down barriers, bypassing his swagger simply to keep it real within less loud drum-banging productions.

With “Chanel Pearls,” well, it is an essential favorite – it has one the better productions on the album; the subtle simplicity gives it a sticky drum line, a 1-2-3 punch that allows an uproot from other instruments to build upon it. Piano keys return with elegance, particularly boosting Jill Scott’s rap verse and chorus. It tells a remarkable story – storytelling being a key talent – between two lovers, making it feel unique compared to others that do similarly. It roots itself into the emotions of the two, taking it to a personal level, allowing us to visualize the musical back and forth in our minds. 

God Don’t Make Mistakes comes with surprises. We continue to hear Conway the Machine go toe-to-toe with rap’s heavyweights; we hear him adapting his technical and writing skills to the content he wants to reflect on the album. What Conway expresses is his true self, reaffirming the notion of God accepting the flawed like those deemed “clean.” The constant motion of the album allows it to have a steady run despite its minor issues.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Benny the Butcher – Tana Talk 4: Review

There isn’t a moment where a member of Griselda strives, each manifesting a hearty platter for hungry fans to indulge. Album to album, mixtape to mixtape, there have rarely been moments that see them dwindle toward the sometimes tried consistency of Curren$y, instead offering up something fresh on the lyrical side and the production side, as they embody a different approach to the music. Benny the Butcher is constantly mounting layers in his lyricism, even when he’s speaking about the trials and tribulations of the drug game, during and after one’s shift to a different career path – case in point, rap. On his third studio album, Tana Talk 4, Benny offers up that finely chopped lyricism and perfectly cooked sauce from Beat Butcha, The Alchemist, and Daringer. 

Benny the Butcher is keen. He knows what he wants and delivers translucent flows, immersing himself in the production. It makes his verses flourish through the different tempos, whether it goes on an uptick or downtick based on the content. He delivers with impact, along with sous chef J. Cole on “Johnny P’s Caddy,” trading verses detailing their rags to riches as an artist through the eyes of respect. It fits the mold of the Tana Talk series as it has been personal to Benny the Butcher, and it weaves a path that covers subjects like violence, drug use, and humbling yourself amongst your riches due to past reflections. On “Super Plug,” Benny starts laying it down and describing the differences between vague verbiage and detailed imagery when describing the horrors of dealing. It’s given a perspective that gets used to lure in those to the drug game: riches for the family and homies quicker than your 9-to-5. Benny isn’t just talking drugs to talk about drugs; he is rapping in-depth to his perspective – which can be akin to others. 

These sentiments get reestablished throughout Tana Talk 4, notably on “Bust A Brick Nick.” Benny the Butcher reminds rappers why they can’t talk shit on his level – it refers to the shit that Benny went through –for example: getting shot during an attempted robbery, he just happened to be there – it’s similar to 50 Cent as he kept mentioning his nine bullets wounds on Get Rich or Die Tryin’. Benny doesn’t sugarcoat why he puts himself on this upper echelon. On “Bust A Brick Nick” he raps: But it’s over, and that was my fourth felony, certainly/Got a warning, I’d be in Lewisburg right now if they search me/Locked in with plugs, so I know that shit y’all coppin’ no good/To get the drop (What’s that?), I’m the type to send fiends to shop in your hood,” boasting his status, while on the other end having perspective as evident with the line: “Blue steel knife for the jugg so don’t be that life that I took (N***a).” It’s a constant reminder that he keeps mentioning.

He is always looking to bring something creative into the fold, like on “10 More Commandments,” featuring Diddy. Many of us fans have gotten used to hearing his explicit and detailed talk about the drug game, reminding us as much with a follow-up to The Notorious B.I.G. song and showing us how things have changed over a decade. Opening with the lines: “Soon as they let me eat, knew the streets was my expertise (Uh-huh)/I kept discreet contacts with my connect, so they let me eat (Uh-huh)/A rapper, but I was a drug trafficker ‘fore I left the streets/These ten more crack commandments, Frank White, rest in peace.” Diddy comes in to talk about generational culture and how values transfer, despite the system faltering progressions in the community. 

But Benny the Butcher speaks more than just his time in the drug game – listen to The Plugs I Met 1 & 2 – it gets to other personal levels, ones where Benny senses self-doubt. The depth and quality of his lyricism hold no bounds, delivering a beautiful parallel with the production that shifts in tempo from the dreamy “Tyson vs. Ali” to the jazzy heavy “Thowny’s revenge,” there wasn’t a moment that I drew back due to quality. There is this effervescent charm and energy that derives from Benny’s demeanor and approach, you can’t help but feel entrenched by his words.

Unfortunately, the lows on Tana Talk 4 come from poorly timed lines, like on “Billy Joe” and slight redundancy on “Uncle Bun” and “Back 2x” with 38 Spesh and Stove God Cooks respectively. The latter two pass by quickly, one becoming forgettable as I listened on and the other just an oversaturation in concept without nuance. The former – though not “bad” – it feels poorly timed with the lines: “They give a dope boy life, say we destroyin’ communities/I let ’em make me out the villain, I stay poised as Putin be,” considering where we are. Hindsight being 20/20, there are other allusions one can make – though I don’t know how the process works, I don’t know if the track could have been removed prior.

Benny the Butcher continues to show up and deliver, even when the subject stays more consistent than manufactured beer. Tana Talk 4 lives up to the wait and delivers hard-hitting bars that shine brighter than its production, while still allowing it to thrive, especially during repetitive beats in content. As far as Hip-Hop projects, there has been a consistent uptick in Q1 of 2022 that brings glee to my ears – Benny is just one of many.

Rating: 8 out of 10.