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.

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.

Hurray for the Riff Raff – LIFE ON EARTH: Review

Alynda Segarra and her band, Hurray for the Riff Raff, have always walked the thin ropes of Folk music, slowly shifting from certain norms to evolve the sounds with a blend of flavors. We’ve heard her tackle the traditional side with My Dearest Darkest Neighbor, slowly branching into Americana and then rock with The Navigator. It doesn’t sound as profound on paper, but the depths that Alynda Segarra takes her songwriting and melodies with the band’s instrument playing, offer a whirlwind experience that will have you enjoying the overtures and subtleties that align within her work; it continues to be the case on their newest album, LIFE ON EARTH. The album is rich and earthy, fueled by some naturalistic punk coating that emboldens Segarra’s emotions.

LIFE ON EARTH lands on impact with moments of catching wind as their sound evolves through each track. Alynda Segarra is trying new things, and as she weaves these complex layers in her writing, the production builds till we don’t have one flavor; we have many. She compartmentalizes the core – for example: “WOLVES” has a punk aesthetic coating a more tame chord progression before it gets flipped on “PIERCED ARROWS.” Segarra’s ability to weave cohesion shows from the start, slowly acclimating into one colloquial sequence. There are moments that Segarra’s vocals growl with the same energy as the production, which for Segarra and the band, shows a kind of understanding of their core. In the realms of pop music, the production of “ROSEMARY TEARS” would embolden a powerful range from artists like Adele to Mumford & Sons. But for Segarra, she finds parallels that impact at the same level.

“ROSEMARY TEARS,” like other songs, is woven through Alynda Segarra’s mind with visceral imagery, letting the vocal emotions carry the depth. As someone who frequents herbs in the kitchen, rosemary is a faint smell, but slightly potent if brought attention to – similar to, Segarra is singing about how her significant other’s tears and the lack of transparency. In the closing bridge, she sings: “I already know/(You never show up and I’m always heartbroken)/(Had to grow tough skin).” To her, she has an understanding of her relationship, but this small piece of hope still lingers. It’s about inflection, and at times, it doesn’t work as well as “ROSEMARY TEARS.” “JUPITER’S DANCE” is the prime example of this – we hear beautifully rustic strings that echo a hybrid between punk undertones and folk-rock coating, especially with the subtle wind instruments.

For most of LIFE ON EARTH, Alynda Segarra flows through old and present memories that reflect on her life – other times, she creates these larger-than-life stories, reflecting issues resonating with her culture: Latina. “PRECIOUS CARGO” speaks on Segarra’s view of Louisiana, where she resides, through the perspective of family, especially as a Nuyorican who sees how immigrants get treated by I.C.E as they search for thriving new opportunities. In the first verse, Segarra speaks through the view of a provider trying to make it through the waters, swimming, only to get caught and treated like animals. The songwriting matches some accounts we’ve heard about, but she keeps it grounded to pieces, allowing the words to speak louder as Segarra delivers a tired essence to the ordeal. The album has many moments like that – moments I’m left in awe by the songwriting, like with “WOLVES” and “RHODODENDRON.”

“RHODODENDRON” sees Hurray for the Riff Raff at their best: poetically resonant and instrumentally captivating – for the most part, that is what we get throughout the album, albeit my reservations on “JUPITER’S DANCE.” The production embodies a rough and empathetic acoustic rock drive, giving a natural cadence to the kind of rock elements they bring. You hear it at various points in The Navigator as it becomes more pertinent in their craft. We hear it continue through LIFE ON EARTH.

LIFE ON EARTH shines brighter than previous albums, as it continues to prove Alynda Segarra’s penmanship and musicality are at their apex. It reflects a growing presence in artistry that was beautifully glowing over the past decade. Like The Navigator, there is no doubt LIFE ON EARTH will continue to stay on repeat.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Black Country, New Road – Ants from Up There: Review

Last year Black Country, New Road delivered auspiciously vibrant production in their debut, For the First Time. I was captivated almost immediately, from their rustic jazz undertones to experimental instrumental layering within the post-punk genre that it left me slightly optimistic. Unfortunately, that optimism has stepped back slowly upon lead vocalist Isaac Wood’s departure – as for now, Ants from Up There is a remarkable pivot for the band whose last album had minimal variation. It had these different ideas relative to the external nature of song composition instead of adding more depth. On Ants from Up There, the band isn’t as altruistic musically; they immerse themselves into balancing the external with the internal. Because of this, Ants from Up There shines, spotlighting itself as one of the best rock albums over the last few years.

For their debut, Black Country, New Road re-recorded past singles and began to create the mold for its sound. It had chaos; it had ingenuity; most importantly, it had too many ideas, some of which were superfluous. At times, their talent and songwriting tinted my headphones, which covered some of the poor freeform vitamins in the mix. Unlike their debut, Ants from Up There brings bright spots for the darkness. They take out the vitamins and make sure they don’t burn the concoction, delivering a fine fixture of delicious musical plates for indulging. I’ll tell you; it may have left me slightly over-bloated without regret. There are varying elements of different genres not heard in their debut, and mastering new territory to excel, like with Isaac Wood’s vocals, it grasps your ears with a chamber-pop-echo reinforcing the melodic bind between the vocal layers and production.

In an interview with Apple Music, bassist Tyler Hyde said: “We wanted to explore the themes we’d created on that song. It’s essentially three songs within one, all of which relatively cover the emotions and moods that are on the album. It’s hopeful and light, but still looks at some of the darker sides that the first album showed.” She is speaking about the track “Basketball Shoes” – it combines three different art-rock-driven songs into a 12-minute three-part arc that flows tangentially from start to finish. Within the three-song variation, there are nuances to the sonic motifs throughout the album, while mirroring elements of the intro, there is tame chaos. It’s paradoxical, but the album emboldens a beautiful parallel, where the instruments play at an elevated level. We get these contextualized and bright instrumentations while embodying complex, poetic songwriting, a good amount of which are about different things within a failing relationship.

Ants from Up There bridges Isaac Wood’s songs about a relationship with emotional exuberance. On “Chaos Space Marine,” the band plays with joy in every note as Wood sings about taking the next spiritual step into maturity. “Mark’s Theme” overly contrasts “Chaos Space Marine” in tone. Unlike seeing the light at the end of a proverbial journey, this metaphorical light ends for Saxophonist Lewis Davis’s uncle, who passed away from COVID. It’s a dreamy saxophone-centric production that embodies Davis’s emotions. It’s heartwrenching and adds a sense of unison amongst the band. They transform elegantly on “The Place Where He Inserted the Blade;” it takes influence from 70s Bob Dylan in its rustic production and lyrical elements from a song off Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys, specifically “I Know There Is An Answer.”

There is a remarkable evolution unfolding on Black Country, New Road’s new album – one where the world is at your fingertips. You can take yourself to a place where the canvas is covered in vibrant colors in different hues, allowing them to transfix you as you divulge themes. Musically speaking, there is an ethereal array of jubilant instrumentations. Charlie Wayne’s percussion brings elements of hypnotic bliss, while Tyler Hyde’s groovy bass lines and Georgia Ellery’s violin playing deliver nuances of the dark chaos at times seen in post-rock. It’s expressive throughout, especially in the track “Good Will Hunting.” It’s a steady progression, leading to the 40-second mark where it blossoms into one of the best songs on Ants from Up There

However, within the confines of Black Country, New Road’s album, you start to infuse yourself within the confines of their sound, “Snow Globes” muddles in the background. The production drowns out Isaac Wood’s vocals, leaving you thrusted into an intense shake of a snow globe. It doesn’t hinder it and works on its own. Unfortunately, it isn’t until the second half that it recaptures your attention for the closer, “Basketball Shoes.”

Black Country, New Road’s shift from the chaotic, jazzy, punk rock hybrids of their debut adds a new light on their talent, especially as they maneuver while making a concert audience cheer louder than before. As they take these elements of art-rock and chamber-pop vocals and blend them into one, it leaves me feeling excited for new music, despite slight sadness from their canceled tour.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Joy Crookes – Skin: Review

Making comparisons can wane any influence someone can have on an artist before exploring their music. To put it mildly — a comparison hit me when I first played Joy Crookes. It was the feeling from listening to the Amy Winehouse album Frank for the first time. And as little as this comparison weighs, on her artistry, I couldn’t help but become enamored with Joy’s vocal performances, as it beautifully layers over elegant soul-centric production — sprinkling a touch of Jazz and R&B undertones. Joy Crookes’ vocal range and delivery carry a simple nuance to Amy’s traditionalist style while standing firmly on two feet. Listening to her debut, Skin, Joy Crookes steps up to the mount, pitching change-ups in between a few curveballs, giving us a wide range of music that made me feel like I was listening to Frank (2003) for the first time, again.

When I listened to Skin for the first time, I had to stop before returning due to the chills that ran down my spine from the vocal nuances. It takes me back to the late 2000s where I first listened to Frank, and the reverb on the backing vocals gave it new dimensions we’ve yet to see in modern traditionalist vocal pop-jazz. You felt Amy Winehouse’s pain, desires, hope, and at times, fun promiscuity with her vocal inflections. With Joy Crookes, it is the same as Skin takes you through various turns in her life, singing about themes about family and identity as she lets loose emotions reflective of the context. However, one specific performance took me back; on “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now,” her melody switches between the pop, soul, and jazz aspects. It’s similar to “Take the Box” off Frank

Skin opens with two songs rooted in identity, flipping in style from the somber “I Don’t Mind” to the unrestrained “19th Floor.” The former focuses on an ex-relationship — predominantly on the sex — Joy Crookes delivers her vocal performance with a reflexive and uplifting manner that contains some nuances of empowerment. It deals with her controlling her body and the situation by constantly reminding the lad that she will leave if he garners any feelings. With the kind of dynamics looming over society, like having the nuclear family or stability, Joy is trailblazing. She makes it okay to have more ownership and to have this different dynamic without feeling external pressure. 

“19th Floor” tackles identity through visceral metaphors and allusions to her life growing up in South London and reflecting the differences between her and her mother and grandmother’s life before immigrating to London. In the song, she revisits her hometown, where she was born, reflecting on far she has gone since — making allusions to immigrants who yearn and achieve success, only to reminisce about memories of the past, good and bad. As she sings: “Nothing same but nothing different/Hear the people cry concrete lullabies/I never thought I’d say I miss it” — you’re nostalgia inducers are hit. You miss the consistencies. And for Joy, she starts to feel more rooted in her mother’s side, using histrionics to put herself in her grandmother’s shoes — noting in the bridge: “Bopping down Walworth Road, bubblegum blow/Sliders and Sunday clothes/Doing like my Nani, 70s steez”: she is feeling herself and more connected. She may have doubts, but taking her mind back to and summoning their energy adds positive brevity. 

Joy Crookes has a vocal range that plateaus most singers these days, allowing ease when switching between neo-soul/jazz style vocalizations/production and more traditionally produced/performed songs. She establishes a fine line between the two, leaving room to explore with modern tweaks from producer Blue May, whose fingers predominately touch and mix keynotes of the production. And as evident with the first two songs, it feels more natural. 

Blue May, amongst others, sprinkles elegant touches of operatic and choral strings that vibrate and give off effervescent sounds that keep you engaged as Joy Crookes bares her soul into some of the themes of Skin. It makes Skin akin to albums like To Pimp A Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar or What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye, where the focus was to ride powerful themes instead of focusing on whether or not the next record will do gangbusters. Few songs on Skin make me feel like the aesthetic focused on finding its way onto radio, with “Trouble” being something similar to “Alright,” where the song’s rooted in being anti-pop in sound. Similarly, it’s reflective with “Wild Jasmine,” as she speaks to her alter-ego and steers her from other trouble in the form of a manipulative male who is with you for the skin and not what comes with it. It has a poppy-soul and fluid production that shifts to melancholy and back. Though the subtleties allow for an easier transition — from the flourished and catchy chorus performances to the intricate songwriting of the verses — Joy can transfix you on every front. 

It isn’t the only time she teeters around these kinds of soundscapes, giving the same treatment to “Kingdom” that she did with “Trouble.” It’s catchy and filled to the brim with vibrant jazz percussion that makes you want to find your groove within the pack of songs that elevates her vocal performance to a different level than the piano ballads. The title song, “Skin,” centers on mental health and keying in on ideas like suicide and depression. Joy asks herself a simple question, What if you decide that you don’t wanna wake up, too? It comes over an eloquent piano-centric production that keys in at tugging the core of your emotions — Skin has me against the ropes, delivering jabs of unique songs — jabs that repeat, something new about it hits me, specifically, “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now.” 

Skin is unreal. It left me juggling many emotions while leaving me in awe of the varying performances and styles by Joy Crookes and her producers. However, any minor problems with the album come from “Skin” having a wrought (song-type) but effective delivery and “Power” being a little bit forgettable at first. But that doesn’t stop me from finding pure joy and admiration from her talent and focus in her phenomenal debut, as I know you might when listening to Skins.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Common – A Beautiful Revolution Pt. 2: Review

At the end of last year, Common released A Beautiful Revolution Pt. 1 — an album that spoke to the lingering underbelly of societal unrest in its purest form. Common spoke in tangents about blackness, courage, and a consistent struggle to make a voice heard. Though I genuinely liked it, it was a slight modernization of his opus from the 2010s, Black America Again. It retreads familiar territory, but Common keeps it fresh with his lyricism while the production focuses on being music for protest. It also benefits from having a renowned drummer and producer, Karriem Riggins, behind the machine. Karriem had co-producers on Pt. 1, and on Pt. 2, he rides solo creating more culturally vibrant production reflecting the sound of a revolution drawn within Common’s mind.

In last years reviews of A Beautiful Revolution Part 1, I said:

A Beautiful Revolution Part 1 works on many levels and delivers half of what seems to be an eventually great side B. Common doesn’t sugarcoat his emotions in his delivery and lyricism, leaving messages of courageousness, self-love, and empowerment. 

Part 2 makes the word seem a past doubt, and instead, is seen as a new sentence. A Beautiful Revolution Part 1 works on many levels and delivers what is a better Part 2. Part 2’s sound is far from the nuanced soul and jazz production of the first. It contains more retroactive and cultural influence from the string arrangements and elevated percussion pattern — a consistent sonic theme throughout. 

Reflecting on the focused and poetic nature of Common continues to show us that this is when he is at his best. Like 2016’s Black America Again and 2005’s Be, Common finding the middle ground between nuanced connectivity and creating commentary has outshined any notion that he may come across as preachy. Fortunately, that isn’t the case with A Beautiful Revolution, as it works around becoming a backdrop for the moment instead of forcing in-your-face dialogue.

Like Part 1, there is an open and ending narration by spoken word artist Jessica Care Moore, who delivers themes and visceral imagery of familial connectivity and an understanding of their roots. In part — it speaks on a bigger picture, where one uses this to form a path toward a better future. So while Part 1 focuses on music that embodies a movement with sound reflecting unity, and Part 2 speaks on the bright future we see little by little, as the improvements show — subtly. 

However, what hit me immediately was the production of the album. After years of work from Common, there is an expectancy to the quality of his lyricism. And Common sounds as fresh as usual. He doesn’t cut corners as he has tried various styles, with misses coming from attempting a new identity — Electric Circus and Universal Mind Control: the two albums where Common experiments with electronic hip-hop to lesser effect. The percussion fluctuates from African rhythm to colorful soul, which sees Common flowing with auspicious consistency. It’s refreshing and adds new layers to the music that was slightly missing in Part 1.

A Beautiful Revolution Part 2 flourishes with dynamic rhyme schemes and steadfast bravado in Common’s emotional deliveries. We hear Common hopeful, and we hear Common lamenting the roots planted by ancestors and the visions they saw for them today. It creates parallels through assumptions and history, as Common speaks on his firmness and confidence to challenge the world when it challenges him. In the opening — full hip-hop song — “A Beautiful Chicago Kid,” Common raps: Family came together like a partridge/Ain’t playin’ ya game, I got my own cartridge/Only playin’ I do is with Lynn Nottage/I found silence sittin’ in my own cottage — it reflects the nature of the nuances of life, maintaining his family’s history while creating his own at the place it once began — his family home.

Common is our avatar, expressing the music through his perspectives. He finds parallels between life now and how it’s affected by the common issues in the world today, like racism and the post-effects of the judicial system after an event goes awry. It’s why throughout A Beautiful Revolution Part 2, Common reflects varying views on his version of a brighter future, like on the songs “Majesty(Where We Go From Here)” and “Imagine.” Common’s visions split; on “Majesty,” where he tells his soulmate about a prosperous future together. 

On  “Imagine,” Common reflects on an ideal utopia. He delivers whimsical ideas, which in retrospect, are not so outlandish. Some of these include ones like:

“Imagine layers in a game where we all players/No more stargazing or police car chasing/Imagine life that bring us Lauryn Hill-type of singers.”

“Imagine having a woman like Betty Shabazz/Steady with class, ready to blast ’til the chariots pass.”

It starts to resemble the underlying systematic racism that has been problematic without being overly preachy. Common makes anecdotes that resemble an alternative perspective than what we have today — Betty Shabazz, for example, had a semi-tarnished image due to her marriage and prominence during the Civil Rights Movement, especially as the wife of Malcolm X.

Other times, Common finds himself growing and reaching high, despite the fuck ups along the way. In “Saving Grace,” Common finds himself being lifted through his mistakes and into an inner plane where he feels saved. It flummoxes Common that, beyond his life, it is similar to others who deal with similar issues. He reflects this in beautiful-rhythmic symmetry: My heart is why the parts all died, I can’t deny/I realize your eternal eyes see through my disguise/These falls, what do they symbolize?/I know that you made me to rise/I need pain to feel alive when racism still alive. It’s like Common saying it’s hard to have one without the other — a proponent in Common’s understanding of a brighter future.

A Beautiful Revolution Part 2 is more than the bare bones on the surface. It builds upon the sound of the first, shifting its direction to add layers of depth and perspective. The first has songs that have a groove to return to, but the second transfixes you with the lyricism and intricate production — the grooves are an afterthought as it leaves you in awe. The two make up for the draining and foreboding Let Love.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Little Simz – Sometimes I Might Be Introvert

Little Simz is unlike the more popular UK rappers bridging oceans. For one, she doesn’t devote herself to making pop songs and instead focuses on the concept and lyricism — it benefits her that she had a pivotal supporting role in Top Boy, becoming popular from involvement on the soundtrack from artists like Drake. It has been the case since her early, more underground releases like Stillness In Wonderland and Black Canvas. Since then, she has grown exponentially as an artist, honing her craft and delivering gritty and depth-filled braggadocio raps at the same consistency as her more auspicious conscious raps. Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is less gritty but filled to the brim in detail; this detail is part of the journey through her subconscious, showing us a deeper understanding of her person and artistry.

Sometimes I Might Be Introvert isn’t the first time Little Simz has made a concept album; however, it is the first time one hits from start to finish. Simz opens the album without sugarcoating her doubts and fears into these emotionally complex bars that set the stage for the album. She has been keen on keeping her raps authentic to her vulnerably poetic rhythm and flows. These kinds of raps have been part of her identity, like blending two cultures in her music. Unfortunately, as she would mention later in the album, it is her authentic self — she brings forth production that takes influence from sounds that are less Pop, allowing her to deliver flows naturally. 

From this, Little Simz pushes herself to make these doubts an absent memory as she hones her introversion and makes it an artistic and personal strength. Throughout the album, Little Simz raps about lessons learned, visions understood, and her place in this new woke culture, as she fits within the demographic of her peers. Through her perspective, she allows the music to speak to the subtleties an introvert deals with, like love, familial relationships, and in her case, her musical career. It begins with “Introvert,” which centers all the themes into an explosive conscious rap with BLARING horns and intense percussion. 

After the strong opener, Simz shifts the focus to beautiful women — her daily influences — this is an external force, which boosts her confidence, especially as a rapper. “Women” adds a deep perspective toward the cultural influences women of all races have delivered throughout the years. In turn, she reflects this influence with the production her regular producer, Inflo, creates with refined details, especially the interludes — they deliver a combination of whimsical wind instruments and piano keys, subtly laying layers over the primary vocals and faint background harmonies. 

Sometimes I Might Be Introvert goes beyond the crevices, with Little Simz relaying situations that may have caused her introversion, as a guardian angel, voiced by actress Emma Corrin, guides her throughout the journey we take in Simz’s shoes. Inflo’s delicate and nuanced gospel and soul-influenced choir sectors add brevity to the words of Emma — or in this case, her guardian. Emma Corrin is best known for her performance as Princess Diana on the Netflix drama, The Crown. And like Princess Diana’s influence on the world, Corrin brings a similar tender approach to her conversations with Little Simz. She becomes a semblance for living for Little Simz — in a non-suicidal way — particularly, the life of her music career.

It begins at the end of “Introvert,” Emma Corrin says: “Your introversion led you here/Intuition protected you along the way/Feelings allowed you to be well balanced/And perspective gave you foresight,” and that is where the similarities begin. With Emma Corrin’s glowing presence throughout the album, the back and forth adds unique insight into Little Simz’s life and acknowledging self-worth. 

Emma Corrin’s appearance at the end of “Introvert” reminds me of the narrative structure of the Lars Von Trier film, The House That Jack Built. In the movie, Jack converses with Verge as he descends into Hell, and within the conversation, he recounts his journey through five murders. However, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is not narcissistic, like The House That Jack Built. Instead, it follows a hollow structure where the conversations become intermittent with the stories in between. It is as far as this similarity goes. 

In between the songs, whenever Emma Corrin appears with an angelic effect built around the choir and horn instruments, particularly the trumpet and trombone. The way Emma inflects her voice adds a contrasting light to Simz’s doubts through the various subjects explored. It is pivotal to understanding and enjoying the album from start to finish, especially when peeling the skin of her emotions.

One thing that comes from being an introvert is the complexion of your emotions when let out. Without a proper way of inflecting your tone and words, the build-up can be immense; however, Little Simz doesn’t get phased by dropping all the weight down. Whenever Sometimes I Might Be Introvert isn’t focusing on Simz purview of the world and instead focuses on her relationships with the people in her life. In the song “Little Q Pt. 2,” Simz shifts the perspective to her cousin, who grew up on the south side of the UK. Due to Simz’s introversion, she lost touch with certain people — like family. And on “I See You,” Simz creates a love song through the eyes of a self-conscious introvert.

At a midpoint, Little Simz brings out an inner realization about amounting her worth to her surroundings. It’s one thing to be a pop star or a signature star in general, but it’s another to have enough to command a stage, especially at a festival. In the song “Standing Ovation,” Simz finds her way to express her status amongst the crowd, going as high as proclaiming her and the rest of the behind-the-scenes people deserve applause. The clever double-entendre sees Simz breaking apart her reasoning, with intricate rhymes about her patience and commitment to authenticity without forcing a chart-topper.

Apart from a slow burn that eventually takes you to the scene-stealing “Standing Ovation,” Little Simz goes about revitalizing her technical and lyrical strength as a contrast to the prominent theme of introversion. On “Rolling Stone,” we hear her diving to her younger roots with a rapid-fire flow and slick wordplay, marking it as a reminder of her skills, albeit the consistently introspective turns she takes in her music. This kind of confidence is heard back-to-back on “Point and Kill” and “Fear No Man.” It carries a consistent vibe with Simz digs into her Nigerian roots and implements aspects of the culture in the music. “Point and Kill” features poet and spoken word artist, Obongjayar, and his presence on the chorus flourishes with the key afrobeat influenced horns and production. 

No matter how you view it, the nuance and culture Little Simz and Inflo bring are more than the depth of the lyrics. Sometimes Simz is distraught, but she reassures herself, unapologetically, on “Point and Kill.” And it continues as she closes Sometimes I Might Be Introvert strong with “How Did You Get Here” and “Miss Understood.” After draining her emotional weight and discovering herself, she has the confidence to explain how she got to where she is and the misunderstanding of her music.

Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is Little Simz’s best. There is no denying it. Within the tracks, there are individualized highlights that carry repeat value, but as a whole, it’s all repeatable. It isn’t this bombastic hip-hop/pop album that makes noise through wavelengths, but Simz’s distinct carefulness makes it a compelling record. It’s rare to dig into the next level, as artists tend to seal it off when their success inflates their ego and comfortability factors.

Rating: 10 out of 10.

Dave – We’re All Alone In This Together

Psychodrama was unlike many rap albums at the time; it never reached in spreading meaning, i.e. making tracks radio-friendly. In doing so, it makes these track’s repeat value misguided in hip-hop. It all comes from the stigma imparted on it. So it becomes hard to speak your truth when you know that fans are usually in it for the production, and the minimally few are there for the content/themes. Dave reaffirms his truth, opening more curtains to the outside world, on his sophomore album, We’re All Alone In This Together

Throughout his career, Dave has focused on the external forces that can define your mental strength. These forces are Environment, Relationships, and Social Compass. He resurfaces these ideas as an effervescent breeze follows him and continues to impart conflict. On his new album, We’re All Alone In This Together, ​​Dave finds relation with fans by seeing a correlation between each other’s demons. Opening with “We’re All Alone,” Dave recaps messages from fans who usually reach out due to Dave’s openness to fight the stigmas of mental health imparted by society. He tries to bring an immersive experience for his fans, allowing them to be understood.

As a way to show this, he has Daniel Kaluuya record vocal stories where he relates to Dave and his struggles. This is in part due to having a similar cultural background. Like his first album, this feels like a therapy session, except on a boat. And on this boat, it’s him and Daniel Kaluuya, talking about life. It’s what fills the canvas with vibrant lyricism and production.

Dave continuously weaves thought-provoking themes centered around what affects mental health. He raps about how it can affect a personal relationship, which he mentions in “Survivor’s Guilt.” He had an impasse in a relationship due to cultural differences from a thin veiled stereotypical glass that hides their truth. It comes after mentions of his ex, who he describes as white as ivory. Bringing these ideas is bold, considering depression has become a taboo subject in music. It doesn’t matter how they approach the subject; it matters on the impact it has on the listener. He does this by finding relativity with fans, who are around his age.

“Verdansk” and “Heart Attack” are two tracks that exemplify Dave’s artistic growth. He delivers unique metaphorical creations based around the allure of pop culture references. “Verdansk,” for example, uses referential analogies to dignify his status beyond music. As he has mentioned in past tracks, he is no stranger to the structured chaos, which comes from associating with the wrong people. “Heart Attack” is different from “Verdansk.” It’s a continuation of both style and themes of the track “Panic Attack” from his EP Six Paths. Like “Panic Attack,” the emotional levels of “Heart Attack” consistently boost as Dave spills his guts with everything running through his mind. 

It’s like one of the final scenes of the film, Waiting, where the new guy lets everyone know his feelings about their character. The production mirrors the escalation one has in these moments, using the lack of instrumental sound to express the heart attack’s peak. Dave continues to rap, despite the attack flatlining in the final seconds. The tighter work on the album usually comes from this, as opposed to the more radio-friendly tracks.

Psychodrama had one issue: the track with crossover appeal, “Location,” didn’t leave an impact, despite fitting within the bigger picture. He slowly makes a difference on We’re All Alone In This Together. The most pop-appealing track, “System,” splits between two styles, one that’s focus on the themes, and the other tries too hard to breach into the pop-sphere with Wizkid’s infectious vocal performances. The track is a well produced and executed one, but it doesn’t feel. It isn’t like the lead single “Clash” or “Both Sides Of A Smile.”

“Clash” buoys itself along with the tracks with the infectious production, bringing jabs of grime, hip-hop, and electronic sounds. “Clash,” parallels Dave, and featured artist Stromzy, successes with their roots. “Both Sides Of A Smile,” on the other hand, isn’t like “System,” where Dave brings in too many ideas. Instead, it plays like a film scene where UK rapper ShaSimone performs as his girlfriend, detailing the underlying issue between them. Dave’s ideas are thought out and work as one near perfect unison, despite one track that feels off and another that is forgettable: “Law of Attraction.”

We’re All Alone In This Together isn’t much of an improvement from Psychodrama, but it stays afloat and matching with the brilliance of his debut. Dave is a little more reliant on the airwaves and it doesn’t deter his focus on quality “Clash” having a home within the construct of a concept album. The consistent curiosity that stems from Dave’s artistry comes from understanding his flaws, no matter the tough-guy attitude that comes across. Dave is one of the best young rappers whose flaws keep staying apparent on the many pop singles he hops on from other artists, but never lets them become the problem in his projects.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Issa Gold – Tempus: Review

Throughout the years, one half of the duo The Underachievers, Issa Gold has always presented himself as the most sincere and conscious rapper of the two. It adds equilibrium when performing with his counterpart, AKTHESAVIOR, whose reality-driven apprehensiveness is reminiscent of the early days of reality rap (Gangsta Rap). This constant from Issa has made him stand out amongst his New York peers, who deliver with heightened personalities from the production. It breathes with the way he delivers his verses with a heightened focus on the themes, ranging from depression, suicide, drug abuse, and more. On his new album, Tempus, Issa takes us on a journey of self-exploration as he breaks down his stories to deliver proper relativity. 

Issa Gold calls Tempus a self-conscious rap album, which by my understanding is less social commentary and more personal. Unlike conscious, backpack rappers of the 00s like GLC and Kanye West, it isn’t using social commentary to buoy his themes, and instead, he uses it as pen and paper to evoke what he feels as if it were a personal show without the preachy therapy part. This music speaks to a deeper audience who deal with constant self-doubt, trying to find understanding within the good-bad parts of life. He reflects one aspect of it, by detailing these varying actions that have affected many relationships down the line, like on the track “Regret,” which has Issa mounting these things he regrets like lying to his parents and skipping class to take prescription drugs and get faded off liquor.

This introspective journey goes deep into a lot of rooted issues of the common man, broken into squadrons filled with remnants of stories that don’t morph together in a tangent timeline. Instead, they are seeds that grow quickly as you pick each one like it was a sample CD player and headphones at your local record store. Issa Gold brings attention to this with the fluctuating production that flips between slower-tempo ballad-like hip-hop and more energetic doubt with the dark instrumental overtones. He benefits from the producers who graced him with beats to boast his themes. Many of them stemming from the localized-hip hop tree as they have a history of working with artists more in tune with their geographical representation in style, opposed to universal appearance. It’s this morphed chemistry that allows him to find ease when inflecting his words with emotional grit in rhythm and flow.

Fortunately, Issa Gold doesn’t deviate from his sense of focus consistently, except for the times he flexes his provocative technical skills. He doesn’t sugarcoat anything ad the range of his verbiage, as is evident with the few tracks that open the project, like the aforementioned “Regret” and “Withdrawn,” which expresses his weaknesses with being as open as he thinks he should be. It morphs around relating to people who carry with them a reserved demeanor in life. It’s an inflection that surrounds him with doubt, despite any form of reassurance. It creates staggering ideologies; specifically with how he implements his views on Christianity in his verses, attributing spurts of assurance that human’s basic timeline is more than bleak. 

Issa Gold processes these ideas further on the track “Fictions,” dividing thoughts about the subjective perspectives that define good and evil, as parts of evil remain dormant within like he mentions in the opening lines of the first verse: “I heard God love his children, even Satan got his heart / So why everybody ’round me walk around inside the dark? / I heard life is like a beach ’til you learn that there was sharks.” He raps about this constant turmoil with himself that swims around his being with a snapping nature of a silent ocean killer, like a shark.

If there is anything to strike Tempus with is the swiftness of the ending, as the last track and a half swiftly move in pace and you’re right away taken to the start – “Envy,” beginning a new cycle. However this can be a minimally consistent issue, the tracks don’t lose sight of the delivery. You could be going through two to three tracks at 2 minutes 30 seconds each, and despite a moderate pace, there is rarely a moment you forget what Issa Gold is rapping about. It’s ever so rare to see an album with enough purpose and direction, that one iota is to contain enough relativity that an artist reaches beyond the measures of the technical walls that split them from the fans – i.e. sending direct messages on social platforms.

Tempus exceeds beyond the parameters of the walls it imposes on itself for a marketable reach, but Issa Gold has never been one to glamorize success as his mental health still hits him in strife. These recurring themes have been a looming shadow on the rapper as he comes to grips with the way life changed. He may not have the appeal of New York rappers who encompass, the currently trendy, New York Drill sound and expand it to fit the unique niche of their verbal artistry.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Tyler, the Creator – Call Me If You Get Lost: Review

Tyler, the Creator has always been fidgety as a producer, showing range in what he makes, despite maintaining detailed and stylistic consistencies. He was always making something different, constantly evolving as an artist and getting better as he shifts focus on what is incorporating, like soul and rock elements. So when the roll-out began for Tyler, the Creator’s new album, Call Me If You Get Lost, my mind got lost in the whimsy from the photo-ops, marketing, and the first single, “LUMBERJACK,” which delivered an example of what was to come upon the album’s release; Tyler recreating a style once forgotten in time, the Gangsta Grillz style. Tyler follows up his last album, Igor, with shades of the past, fully transfixed in a conceptual style made famous by DJ Drama, who elevates his music to new heights and delivers to us Tyler’s best album to date.

DJ Drama’s presence is dynamic throughout the album. His incorporation is to keep the momentum going with the sequences of tracks as a way to reflect hype behind music, sonically created by artists who go a DIY approach. The first half of the album is dominated by tracks that have Tyler, the Creator flexing his own successes and reinforcing that there is no doubt to it. 

With the initial release of “LUMBERJACK” making a statement about the direction Tyler, the Creator would take; it came to a surprise as it felt as a style that only seemed to match with Tyler’s energy. The content of his music and sonic styles he has steered towards prior was opposite to the complexions on this. But Tyler and DJ Drama co-create the atmosphere and refine the direct style Tyler is making, using his energetic charisma and bravado to shower over this album.

This is to no surprise, as Tyler, the Creator’s strength as a producer has shown continuous growth and has become as renowned as a classic Laurence Olivier play from the 50s. This expectancy gives fans a genuine surprise when they hear him create these lavish productions, always different and always new. He can shift from arrogant cues from the noise of the percussion and blaring horns to melodic piano and strings, both of which constantly bring backing power to the vocal harmonization on the more soulful moments, like the broken hearted track, “Sweet/I Thought You Wanted To Dance,” with Brent Faiyaz and Fana Hues; even though it has a slow pace, you never feel like a moment is fully wasted when it ends. 

He switches tempo and BPM in his production, creating these unique contrasts that has allowed him to show his range in sound and technical construction, like the way “RISE!” shifts from an elevated blues-soul chorus to these slightly intense braggadocio rap verses from Tyler; however with these shifts, it shows us a new peak for Tyler that has been culminating throughout the years. He humbles himself and brings an outside voice to add to the production; electronic producer and DJ, Jamie xx, comes to help on the track “RISE!” and with Tyler, incorporates a hollow acoustic ambiance in the percussion within the transitions of the track.

The strengths with Tyler, the Creator and collaborations have shown within the orchestration of the tracks to reflect minimal comfort for the artists he brings as features. He has been able to give a lot of new rappers a platform to shine. He smoothly incorporates them without making it seem glaringly there for sales. This time around he brings Detroit’s 42 Dugg and Louisiana’s YoungBoy NBA on subsequent tracks, “LEMONHEAD,” and “WUSYANAME,” respectively. These two artists bring an A game, compared to what I’ve heard in the past from them. This could be due to them working with someone as meticulous as Tyler, but even so, not every feature lands. “JUGGERNAUT,” featuring Pharell and Lil Uzi Vert, fails to hit the marker as Lil Uzi completely steers you off the beaten path, despite Pharell’s attempts to bring you back in line. It continues to show the off-brand awkwardness that sometimes arises from Lil Uzi Vert rapping a flex-centric verse. 

Other times we hear Tyler, the Creator lamenting on his past and his current stasis as he weighs many aspects of the world around him in contrast to his success. He focuses on topics like his struggles as an artist till the realization that he made it, freedom/travel, amongst others. These tracks start to transpire within the second half of the album, with tracks like “MASSA” and “WILSHIRE,” the former of which contrasts Tyler’s placement in the industry and his rise to prominence. The latter laments on conflicts within a platonic relationship with someone he had feelings for, but that person was seeing a close friend of his and he didn’t want to create a rift. The way Tyler executes these verses as stories let’s his technical ability as a rapper shine and reaffirm his stature amongst others.

Call Me If You Get Lost shows Tyler, the Creator consistent ascension toward greatness as he continues to surprise us with new sounds, album after album. After a slew of great releases that didn’t always come together tightly, Tyler finds an equilibrium that highlights his strengths as an artist in what could be deemed his best work of his career and creating a landmark within generalized nostalgia trends going about these days. 

Rating: 9 out of 10.