ICECOLDBISHOP – Generational Curses: Review

Do you remember those commercials for V8 Juice, where the person smacks themselves on the head, telling themselves they could have had a V8 instead of the overly sugary drink in hand? That was me, except when getting around to listening to LA Rapper ICECOLDBISHOP’s debut album, Generational Curses. ICECOLDBISHOP isn’t mincing words, giving us a purview of broken systems and the struggle of life imitating art, where there is no overly glimmering sight of hope, instead underlying the limited acceptance had with the notion of having hope, following in the lineage of what’s afforded to said community. Imagine hyperactive commentary on all that, explored through West Coast, G-Funk-influenced beats, and potent lyrics with poignancy, while the underlying production tends to be milder. There are a lot of great things going on in this debut; what sticks is that Generational Curses speaks to the sneering doom within ICECOLDBISHOP’s heart and mind as he sees a consistent cycle, keeping generation after generation feeling cursed as the socio-political climate teeters like an ill-conceived roller coaster; it kept me at the edge of my seat, despite inconsistent production and being a little derivative of a style. 

If not for ICECOLDBISHOP’s writing, Generational Curses would be something that would have easily gotten forgotten, like the poignant display of gun violence on Wara’s 2015 album, P.S.A. Instead, it’s a profound album, using its subject matter to make the listener contextualize the words he’s spitting. There isn’t a genuine pop single (popular), opting for tone and gripping imagery to weave these tales that sees ICECOLDBISHOP giving us these perspectives of violence in gang life like an aspect of the culture involving chain snatching, which we hear on the phenomenal “Out The Window.” It’s a constant motif that guides the album as these ups and downs transpire before Bishop and his family, whether advert or inadvertent. We hear an example through the excellent commentary on “The Gov’t Gave Us Guns.” On the track, Bishop attacks legislators and gun laws, playing with the loose laws, allowing him to get a gun and go home the same day without background checks, noting that the Government low-key wants us to kill each other. 

ICECOLDBISHOP isn’t negligible of the world outside of his immediate zone. He gives us a perspective through his community; he writes by creating parallels with issues that have been awash for ages, like drug use, gang violence, and misguided funds creating hardships for particular communities to excel, thus finding some people feeling the bread is in hustling. It’s a little derivative of the overly animated vocalizations heard through artists like Kendrick Lamar and Danny Brown, but the writing is crisp enough to look past most of it. On “D.A.R.E.,” ICECOLDBISHOP speaks on visual influence and perpetuating evil with the wrong descriptors. Named after a program that helped youths say no to drugs, Bishop plays with a double entendre, as the program is given to pre-teens (Aged 12) when we’re more impressionable, sometimes making us think differently about drugs. When I looked at posters explaining the effects of something like ecstasy, it reflected addiction instead of loose users, who may take it three times a year when they go to an Electronic music festival. Bishop plays coy with the chorus and opening of his verses, talking about these thoughts about trying different drugs because words don’t offer the same weight as visuals, and if one is told cocaine does this, but another person you trust more does it, it skews perspective.

It’s balancing anger by spicing it up with dread-filled tones and acute directness as ICECOLDBISHOP feels his generation, like the previous, is cursed. He’s delivering an overly violent actualization of his words, circumventing them into this zone that messes some people’s lives – it isn’t to say it’s parallel to what is happening around ICECOLDBISHOP. It’s as if most avenues for success and exploration beyond the impoverished or systematically corrupt are limited – thus, Bishop’s slight casualness behind the constant apropos violence and hustle and drug issues getting rapped about. Bishop makes it known how viscerally horrific it is, compared to others who have more of a streamlined life, where instead of getting your first Gameboy at 15, you’re flipping from the TEC to a MAC-10. It’s about the influence in front of you and how you get steered, even when sometimes you feel like you have little choice. 

We hear violent content Generational Curse consistently, but more so showcasing the darker path at the fork in the road, considering the world ICECOLDBISHOP develops phenomenally, especially the tracks “Full Fledge,” “Bad Influences From My Uncle,” “I Can’t Swim,” “Out The Window,” and “Cursed. They carry with them this absorbent depth that keeps a listener engaged from beginning to end; unfortunately, there are moments its content can get derivative, but it’s regaling to the point you can sit back and let it coast without much hesitation. It doesn’t benefit it much that the production is too aligned with the sound of the West, that it doesn’t try hard to push boundaries, sounding like composites of a style produced where it has enough glitz to add a medium-lit aurora around the vocals. Consistency is essential, especially when constructing that first album – ICECOLDBISHOP had a direction and kept it fluid throughout, never veering off the beaten path to shift the sound on a quick paradigm. That’s one of the better qualities you seek in a debut because it leaves the space between the now and the ceiling an artist can reach, and ICECOLDBISHOP still has room to grow.

I thoroughly enjoyed Generational Curse, despite its flaws. It opens the doors for a rapper hungry to take that next step and realize his potential. Though he’s mirroring this assertive style that has creative limitations, ICECOLDBISHOP keeps it authentic to his craft, and that elevates it further. I’d say the ceiling is high for him, and this album made me excited for more. Give it a listen, and let me know what you think.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Conway the Machine – Won’t He Do It: Review

Consistency has been essential to the greatness of Conway The Machine. He keeps his listener engaged with these multi-faceted layers in his verses, expanding the horizons of his raps with these unique reflections of the past and future. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about the production, as Conway comes with noticeable highs and middling lows, leaving you hungry for something more potent on the production side; it’s the case with “The Chosen” off his new album Won’t He Do It, where the beat isn’t as entrenched into its sound as Conway and Jae Skeese (featured artist) are with their verses. It’s a recurring issue that leaves the follow-up to God Don’t Make Mistakes more underwhelming than anticipated, but in a way, levels the hype one would have with the sequel dropping later this year. The beats sound confined to reaching standard levels for quality without expanding in new directions. It’s a blend of the dark-piano-influenced New York Street Rap Beats and Jazzy-Dark Boom-Bap that never does anything unique, and you’re left with a slate of some great verses to keep you fed until future releases without much of a reward.

As I sifted through this clunky, at times drab album, I heard Conway The Machine get lost in locating the proper avenues to get his words through. It’s a blend of braggadocio flex raps and reflections on his life, relationship, and the changes success has on the performer and the people around him. How he approaches the album offers insight into his direction, especially that of an arranger/conductor with a thematically poignant cohesion of tracks on an album. For the faults Won’t He Do It has, Conway doesn’t try to make us pay too much attention to the beats, making his lyrics a focal point, but he isn’t as triumphant there. Fortunately, there is an understanding of song-to-song transitions – it’s making similar tones and themes align, never side-stepping for something of grandeur, humbling the rappers performing over the beat; that is, until the final track. It’s a testament to Conway’s detailed construction, specifically when it comes to having the featured artists deliver verses aligned with the thematic direction of the track, rarely missing in quality – I say it’s a testament since it’s an album containing a load of features – some standard and one unique pseudo-closer “Super Bowl,” a bonus track that didn’t get marketed as such.

Conway the Machine takes a moment to turn the tables of what has gotten heard and takes us through a bounce and percussion-laced trap beat. It’s different from other beats, making it sound more refreshing than usual, but even with that, the beat isn’t that different from the apropos Juicy J beat. Sauce Walka & Juicy J make their stamp on the track, slightly overshadowing Conway, who doesn’t feel totally at home with the production. His flows don’t match the smooth southern cadence of its featured rappers, but at least Conway finds his way trying to make it work lyrically. Leading into the song, we’ve been on a journey with Conway the Machine – one of self-reflection and perseverance, yet, that gets lost with this unique final track that does more than expected. In a way, it makes you reflect and appreciate the tight focus Conway gave the album in its standard 13-track run. From the opening notes, horns are lowlily blaring, contrasting the grimy percussion and laying a foundation for its aesthetic, which has moments of glimmering greatness.

Unfortunately, as Conway the Machine weaves these intricate bars together, you get left feeling whiffed by the weak production from producers you’ve heard better from. It ranges between the J.U.S.T.I.C.E League, Khrysis, G Koop, Daniel Cruz, and Daringer – to name a few – others bringing unique additions from other artists/producers, like Norwegian Pop musician Aurora, who adds this special touch to the atmospheric complexions on “Won’t He Do It,” blending beautifully with the percussion and programming work of other producers on the track. It isn’t to say these producers bring a bunch of lackluster beats, but at times I found myself latching to production that, comparatively, sounds different than others. It’s what separates the greatness beneath the rock and roll influence in “Flesh of My Flesh” to the low and hollow “Water to Wine,” which comes off as a standard Hip-Hop/R&B hybrid without that extra push, unlike “Kanye.” On “Kanye,” there is more nuance within the performance, never feeling standard or sub-standard as it toes the line with some gospel influence and letting it envelop the performative direction by its artists. Additionally, it sounds like some of that work on Donda influenced the palette for Conway’s output on this more personal album, Won’t He Do It.

Like “Kanye,” one can’t get through Won’t He Do It without hearing the thematic poignancy that aligns itself from front to back. It’s disappointing; some features don’t shine, feeling rudimentary to their character, never pushing through to give us something new. It especially goes for Westside Gunn, Benny the Butcher, and Dave East, though Conway isn’t as innocent either; some choices, though beneficial to its direction, don’t give us the best from everyone involved. I’ve noted how these features deliver following the themes, but that doesn’t always result in something memorable or significant. Though verses from the ones mentioned aren’t inherently flawed, they aren’t that distinguishable within the confines of the production, unlike the solo tracks, in which we get four of thirteen, where Conway feels at home and flows in a zone. It keeps this from being outright forgettable, as the creativity in the production is lacking a bit.

Won’t He Do It isn’t something to write home about; it’s an album that does little to improve as the production progresses. Conway the Machine doesn’t mince words, keeping many of his verses digestible; however, when it’s all said and done, the beats aren’t enough to make you return with gusto. It’s there, and if it’s your steelo, you’ll find enjoyment, but if not, it’s mostly forgettable. Here’s hoping the follow-up brings an uptick in the beats.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

IDK – F65

Weaving a cohesive, thematic sonic palette, Maryland rapper IDK has shown skilled proficiency in creating fantastic albums doing so. We’ve seen significant growth from straight rapping to divulging into varying sounds that beautifully align with the strength of his vocals when singing. It got heard poignantly on his last album, Simple, a collaboration with producer/musician Kaytranada. It continues with F65, his latest album, where the influence on the production is more locational as its sounds become more aligned with cultural bravado, boasting IDK’s rapping and singing about luxuries, race, lavished living as opposed to drugs, which was a pertinent theme on SubTrap, an album/mixtape IDK noted F65 was a more matured version of. For fans – one can readily see the parallels, from its thematic construction to similar elements, like interludes and vocal samples, that established more meaning behind the words IDK raps. Unfortunately, F65 sometimes gets lost between directions, becoming slightly bloated with tracks that mediocrely retread themes or losing touch with what’s been a strong suit for it.

Continuing on F65, IDK shows his hand at penning words at his will over any production, keeping his lyrics explorative and potent through metaphoric conjectures. However, after an emphatic three-track run, the album teeters slightly between thematic directions, especially as it loses touch with what he proclaims in the song “Champs-Élysées.” IDK notes how focused he’s been on particular genres and lifestyles. Though specifically, the spectacle of racing in Europe, additionally speaking to the avenue in France known for its inclusion in the Tour De France, luxury cafes, and the Arc de Triomphe. It’s an established sense of grandeur that adds depth to many of the bars IDK spits but an oft-contrasting direction to the more grounded tracks that have a heavier focus on themes of race. It’s like he’s trying to have his cake and eat it as well, with the way he tries to blend these tracks in, further making the album more bloated than it needs to be. It’s all despite coming with some great lyricism that allows it to keep an entwined presence after a first listen, where you will have a curiosity to return to the content.

Though much of F65 speaks to living lusciously and luxuriously, having fun, and reflecting on issues that have come with being a person of color, specifically with law enforcement, it isn’t the most compact. It’s like we’re getting a few more loose, vibrant songs that see IDK getting into his party bag and finding unique ways to express himself to the fullest, like the fun and energetic “Salty,” which has IDK and NLE Choppa performing about neglecting past lovers and live in the now with all these beautiful, big booty twerking women calling them salt shakers. Songs like “Salty,” – “Pinot Noir,” “Elmina,” and “Still Your Man” – bring forth greatness within IDK’s more fun side, and they are real standouts, but others also similarly, even as they tread in a different direction thematically. It’s as if IDK has written two separate albums and blended them; it misses what could have gotten set up if he was more lyrically direct to the aesthetic. There is never a proper balance to keep the transitions clean, but even though these stumbles, like retreads in “Up the Score” and “St. Nicholas & 118th,” which feel like a forced reminder to IDK’s love of racing entrenched in the sound. 

When it comes to that divide in direction, “Thug Tear” becomes an essential point where IDK builds upon his character, adding a hardened shell that allows him to bring these nuanced reflections on race, a life that shrouds them, causing friction where they have to tout and flex guns to create a safe space. It’s a template to the way IDK could have brought more to the tracks, which have that heavy focus on race, in a vague sense, but it’s never as tightly constructed, and more so trying too hard. It isn’t lost sonically, as the production holds a consistent motif, emboldening the drums and wind sections, specifically the flute and saxophone. It allows the music to bring a sense of being without overly tiptoeing away from the slight summery vibes, and more so with tracks where IDK’s flexing and introspection are at a peak, like in the run of songs, which includes “Télé Couleur,” “Rabbit Stew,” and “850 (We On Top),” making up for a lackluster attempt at being more catchy with “Radioactive.”

F65 is produced by a platoon of producers who bring a consistent cadence with the tones, keeping you entwined within this love IDK has expressed about this world he lives through and the divide while also expressing virtuosity and pride with his race. The latter doesn’t get lost with the album’s ridge in contextual direction, but there isn’t a significant balance to have consistent, smooth lyrical transitions. It’s a contrast to the production, which IDK arranges beautifully. That arrangement has two fantastic moments with runs that gives us those strengths we’ve heard of IDK as a songwriter. I’ve spoken about that opening three-track run; the second comes after an interlude with Musiq Soulchild, where it notes this lost perspective on attention – it leads into an incredible run of flex raps, which I’ve mentioned prior; flows get switched, lyrics are raw and creative, and the Rich the Kid feature hits hard.

There’s quite a bit to like about F65, specifically its remarkable soundscapes that make going through the album less of a chore. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do much with its concept, almost leaving it to the sounds to make it apparent. It’s centering itself in one area but going off tangentially with the context of the lyrics. It makes F65 a slightly jumbled mess but a listenable one that won’t leave you with regrets for spending 50-something minutes on it. I enjoyed it thoroughly, despite wishing it had better-connecting points and cohesion; as it’s packaged, there is no surprise some songs will find rotation, especially with summer approaching as the vibes hit for the season smoothly.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Jack Harlow – Jackman: Review

Like Jack Harlow, many of us aren’t strangers to the critical appraisal his last album received. Predominantly lukewarm to bad, Come Home the Kids Miss You, as a title, Harlow took a contrived concept while embodying the ghost of many Drake wannabes and poorly delivered an album that adds little to the imagination. It reflects a detachment from the hungry young rapper dropping mixtapes in Kentucky. DJ Drama helped push his name to the stratosphere, and his presence is evergrowing, continuing to prove his co-sign’s worth. Though Come Home the Kids Miss You was a dud, Harlow tries to remedy the situation by engrossing us with some lyrical fortitude over downbeat, soulful production, which retroactively guides him through these emotional complexities of his character, even if it isn’t all there, on his latest album Jackman. Keeping it short and straightforward, Harlow tries to bring us into the corners of his mind and incorporate some depth beyond his weak brags and tired choral melodies. As the latter remains, Harlow improves lyrically; with some songs coming across as hollow, it’s a slight improvement from his last, albeit shorter.

Jack Harlow understands who he is, bringing a modest, humbling nature to some of his raps on Jackman, staying aware of the perception of his music and the corniness of it. On “Denver,” Harlow raps, “Nemo said to keep my foot on necks ’cause I can’t let ’em just forget me/But the brags in my raps are getting less and less convincing/So I’d rather just (Wonder),” bringing a sense of understanding toward who he wants to be and shifting style to be taken more seriously than just another pop rapper. It’s heard through tracks where he speaks on wanting more of a grounded reality instead of flexing too much excess, using reflections on his roots to support his attitude and renewed humbleness. “Denver” reflects that beautifully; named after the city where he dropped his first verse, it amplifies his technical skills at its peak, particularly storytelling. We’ve heard this strength throughout his career, and as he switches gears on Jackman, getting to listen to him explore this foundation more is like a breath of fresh air.

It can’t all be humble; Jack Harlow has a moment where he brings pointless bragging on “They Don’t Love It,” where he delivers an asinine brag that’s purely vague and too much of a conversation starter that shouldn’t be one. On the track, he raps, “The hardest white boy since the one who rapped about vomit and sweaters/And hold the comments ’cause I promise you I’m honestly better.” Speaking through a commercial purview, you can easily find validity with that, but how one quickly forgets the late great Mac Miller and his popularity and poignant importance in Hip-Hop. It’s pushing vague lines, allowing people to create a conversation, but its effectiveness would have been more impactful if the previous album was any good. It’s a weak pivot that loses steam, especially retroactively, as the album gets more and more introspective, and the need for cockiness becomes lost within the conceptual flow of the rest. It isn’t as bad as his approach to the theme of bro code skepticism with “Gang Gang Gang,” where the shock doesn’t match the direction of the production and tone, feeling hollow and poorly conceived to deliver its message. 

These moments slightly take away from the solid work surrounding it, like the excellent commentary on “Common Ground,” where he’s looking at how white suburbanites have this fascination with the dominant culture of other races, particularly black people and hip-hop here. The way he picks apart the awe one has with the other is eloquently delivered, showcasing particular stereotypes toward a certain lifestyle we’ve seen of white people who grew up with excess wealth or the parents who find disgust with the lyrics their kids listen to. The latter has been a topic of conversation for years in hip-hop, and Jack Harlow’s exposure to the same continues to establish a trend within the surface layer, changing the attitudes of the same people. From there, sans “They Don’t Love It” and “Gang Gang Gang,” Harlow has a fluid flow within tracks where the production equally tries to take the spotlight away from him.  

Like typical major label Hip-Hop album drops, Jackman has a platoon of producers. Working with 17 different producers and instrumentalists, there is awe within the consistency, which gets brought from front to back. There’s this soulful aesthetic that Jack Harlow is going for, and they deliver without teetering far from the path. The beats carry nuance to boom bap at its simplest form, letting the percussion be more melancholic to boast the raspy, focused flows that bears heavy emotions as Harlow goes through his ups and downs. Unfortunately, at 24 minutes/10 tracks, having those two moments where it pivots poorly hinders the depth that could have shined brilliantly. Instead, it gets stunted, feeling short and less poignant as you break apart the lyrics of his misses, despite the intentions. It’s a solid surprise that could have been greater but misses the mark, especially as Harlow keeps his thoughts quickly and to the point while still bringing a much-needed change than the wannabe Drake-isms of Come Home the Kids Miss You.

I wanted to enjoy Jackman more, but unlike the many fans raking in the positives, they misplace what doesn’t work by missing to reach the depths of the lyricism. It is better than Come Home the Kids Miss You, no questions asked, yet, it lacks that oomph to round the edges better. Harlow brings forth lyrically sharp performances, even with shortcomings; however, it’s short and brief, leaving you wanting more, even if it’s just for another six minutes. It’s something I may not find myself returning to frequently, but it leaves me optimistic about what future drops could sound like.

Rating: 6 out of 10.

Down Memory Lane: Acid Rap 10 Years Later

During my second semester at Pace University, I was introduced to Chance the Rapper when my friend played me the music video of “Juice.” It was playful and beautifully outlandish, something unlike the seriousness of non-commercial Hip-Hop, where it’s not too comical for parody, as Chance let it all breathe, setting up what would be a tremendous step in his evolution as an artist. The production wasn’t as slow but more colorfully eclectic, weaving its structure like the drug that influenced Acid Rap, LSD. It was a predominant vibe entrenched within one’s mental stasis, where they reflect on the highs and lows while expressing this fluidity about their youthful core. It resonated when I saw him live, opening to Mac Miller, and in my rambunctious youth, that performance brought joy. When he brought out Ab-Soul for “Smoke Again,” I had to spark it up again. But I slightly digress; I’m here to talk about Chance’s extraordinary moment on the come-up, where he garnered over a million downloads on DatPiff, a music hosting service predominantly serving the Hip-Hop community before streaming became what it is today. It’s about the music, how it made me feel, and what’s everlasting about it.

At the time of release (April 30, 2013), Acid Rap became a peak of my musical journey where I could experience a wide range of music beyond apropos Hip-Hop and Indie/Alternative Pop, and it bled through the number of plays shown on an old 2011 MacBook. I kept digging more into non-commercialized hip-hop and zoning, whether through rapping on the side via freestyles or wearing a penguin cap just to dance to it; not my proudest moment, but there are no regrets on my end. It all came together during a performance, opening before Mac Miller in the summer of 2013, where Chance the Rapper brought the charm; he’s an optimistic young adult who loved the presence and the music and relished in it. It gave me a new perspective on his performative nature, which doesn’t come as a surprise based on his musical roots in Chicago, especially that of being in a dance troupe. As Acid Rap replayed, I kept falling in love with the music, especially when we got a weaker verse from Ab-Soul that felt lost within the assignment. It feels like an artifact from a time when the music was looser as avenues hip-hop took were more boastfully esoteric.

Acid Rap was part of a shift in Hip-Hop where new, intriguing soundscapes became more pertinent than drops by Styles P or Busta Rhymes seem not as hot as they were in the early 00s. I may sound a little facetious, but its growth came at an apex where what was hot on the streets wasn’t what we were used to. These older rappers dropped heaters, sometimes as a featured artist on a pop song remix; it wasn’t anything new, unlike these distinct sounds we were acclimating to, like the Houston chop-n-screwed influence within A$AP Rocky’s first few tapes. What made Chance the Rapper unique was that he came off as playful, colorful, bombastic, and profound to the point where you can just plug and play and go about the world like you just dropped a tab of acid, and you get left with your vices. I am no stranger to LSD or hallucinogens in general, having gone through my misadventures with them, and the more I kept taking them, I was stuck between two sides of Acid Rap. I was juggling between the introspection of “Paranoia” and “Acid Rain” and having lively fun with “Good Ass Intro” and “Smoke Again,” using the latter song as a calling cry to spark up again. 

The mixtape had such a wild rotation that if I leave it for a year and return, I’ll remember the lyrics easily. It continuously brings back memories. I was chain-smoking cigarettes because I felt free from the hold of my family and going on wild journeys through Brooklyn and Manhattan. I remember the mixtape playing a lot on shuffle with a few friends I had. Memories are endless, and many of Chance the Rapper’s lines spoke true to the nature of my being, whether it was rolling and puffing at Prospect Park in Park Slope, Brooklyn, or varying areas of Central Park and Riverside Park. I was just a joyful loose canon trying to get into the production world before concerts became part of what made music that universal love. I was always a fan of music; hell, it was what I grew up loving as much as The Simpsons that I used to pretend to be performing on stage. That extended toward a short-lived joke with college friends where we’d get stupid high and record me in a penguin winter hat and just dance. I did so with my introduction to Acid Rap, “Juice,” an energetic song that fit the tones of the intro, “Cocoa Butter Kisses,” and “Favorite Song.”

The contrasting introspection and the non-colorful track vibes have come from the confines of the non-lucid moments of a hallucinogenic trip, keeping a balance between the shifting moods and vibes, whether you’re toning down in the visual department or slightly elevating your thoughts. Chance the Rapper expands his horizons, taking us through his thoughts on the socio-political climate around him (“Everybody’s Somebody”) or weaving a tale of lovers who realize they aren’t fit for each other(“Lost”). The paths he took the music in gave it the purpose of being more than just what it is on the surface layer. The production on Acid Rap breathes with consistency, allowing each track a moment to linger within our minds as we come to our conclusions. It’s no more present than on the second track, where Chance starts this transitional shift between when he goes deeper into his mind and flexing. There are so various avenues Chance goes, and multiple times, coming out on top with a track that stays with you, despite it only being ten years. It’s especially so with the songs that offer more personal perspectives, which comes from his inner thoughts.

Chance the Rapper gives us varying layers within the writing or performance, that was rather absent on his last album, The Big Day. It isn’t something to marvel at, like listening to Raekwon or Ice Cude, as Chance keeps it real with his POV approach to the delivery and fluidity with rhyme schemes, playing to his strengths, like when he rapped, “With my drawers hid but my hard head stayed in the clouds like a lost kite/But gravity had me up in a submission hold/Like I’m dancing with the Devil with two left feet and I’m pigeon-toed/In two small point ballet shoes with a missing sole/And two missing toes,” on “Everybody’s Somebody.” It plays with different suffixes, keeping the rhyme intact with these overlong syllabic lines that come off phonetically smooth. Same with the slightly sullen and deep “Acid Rain” or the soulful “Chain Smoker.” It may not be the most astute, like the masterwork wordplay we’ve heard from better lyricists, but Chance takes it to the nines by giving what the beat entails.

On “Good Ass Intro,” we get to hear Chance the Rapper rap with glee and marvel at his success, rapping, “Did a ton of drugs and did better than all my Alma mater/Motherfucker money dance, hundreds xan, gallon lean/Make a joke ’bout Leno’s hair then piggyback on Fallon’s spleen/Balancing on sporadicity and fucking pure joy/Nightly searches for a bed and I just came off tour with Troy.” Here, Chance goes off with joy, reflecting on what he did. More importantly, he brings a significant stamp by noting he was touring with Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino, and exposing himself to the world. In turn, that exposure allowed Chance to get the clout to boast and bring the Chicago rappers emerging alongside Chance, like Saba, Vic Mensa, and Noname, and ones that have made a name for themselves, like Twista. I also include Action Bronson from Queens, New York, who has been materializing underground prominence. Additionally, Chance plays with the name at the end of that set of bars, using Troy, his character from the cult NBC comedy Community. The little things, like allusions and alliterations, like the bars, “Get a watch with all that glitters, come in clutters, different colors/Ben-a-Baller, Benford, butlers, chauffeurs, hit a stain-er, did I stutter?,” which brings dimensions to his writing and flows, keeping you entwined and returning to such an enriching experience.

So as Chance the Rapper takes these distinct pivots, I’m constantly reminded of an LSD trip, though part of that comes from having done the drug. The mixtape’s musical concept getting built under the influence directing these jazzy, soulful, playful, sometimes moody components into the lyrics and music, elevating Chance’s performance in the studio. His flows aren’t totally on par with some heavyweights, but it stays original as Chance switches from melancholy to expressing innate fun that boasts the sonic structure it embodies. Between its more stylized and sometimes compartmentalizing production from Blended Babies, brandUn DeShay, Cam O’bi, Ceej, DJ O-ZONE, Jake One, Ludwig Göransson, Nate Fox, Nosaj Thing, Peter CottonTale & Stefan Ponce, the quality stays high, giving Chance that extra push. We’re listening to smooth transitions between styles, witnessing this modestly trippy music guide us through the different sounds we get, especially as it shows maturity within Chance’s choice of beats. It isn’t a perfect mixtape, as he poorly chooses to spit a homophobic slur on “Favorite Song,” where his approach to nuance isn’t the strongest or even correct – similar to “Smoke Again,” with a slightly lesser verse from Ab-Soul that isn’t the good type of comical. Yet, what surrounds it is greatness that I had to write about it, especially with its importance in my young adult life.

So as I sit back and reflect on Acid Rap, there is so much that gets funneled through my mind; I get a little zany just remembering the live performance, the drugs, and the music that allowed me to feel free and expand horizons beyond the pop, commercial hip-hop, and techno/electronica. I still find myself replaying the tape more regularly than Chance the Rapper’s others, specifically Coloring Book, which I think is a step above Acid Rap. However, Acid Rap is remarkable as it takes a construct and evolves it beyond the known stereotypes, like the slow, hazy beats or simpler rhyme schemes. It has beautiful range and dynamic synergy with the listener, where you can feel that grounded writing Chance delivers. So as you finish reading this, take a moment to open your music player and play that old Datpiff downloaded audio from 10 years ago. It’s a fantastic mixtape that truly drives home multi-faceted dimensions toward feeling and living, and hell, it’s an overall fun listen.

Zombie Juice – Love Without Conditions: Review

Like his rap partner Meechy Darko, Flatbush Zombie, Zombie Juice has come into 2023 with a debut that speaks wonders to the character development written within the crevices of the bars. Love Without Conditions is viscerally tight, keeping itself focused on the task at hand instead of losing itself within the aesthetic; it can work for some, but Zombie Juice predominantly placates that joyful wordsmith and give fans something more genuine. The production shifts from the overstated druggy-laced synths or other electronic notes over potent percussion like another Zombie record. It’s tempered, keeping itself centered on divulging character. It gives us more of a direct proponent of the non-esoteric sounds within the beats, allowing us to coast through the 34-minute album easily. Unfortunately, that swift breeze can feel flummoxing as Love Without Conditions doesn’t feel as long as it is or keeps itself centered on the emotional complexities of Zombie Juice and the creative path paved for him since childhood. Listening through a few times brings out the dimensions of the songs, specifically through the lyricism, which stays strong even when it transitions to slightly obtuse sounds comparatively, surprising me significantly.

To call Love Without Conditions surprising isn’t without merit, as it’s been rarer for Zombie Juice to get this way, as when Flatbush Zombies flexed written linguistics, Juice never stood out as consistently. He is this jovial foil that kept it going hard when others took it to the inner depths of the oceans with these multi-stacked bars, all contributing to lavish-druggie lifestyles while retaining composure as an everyday human. LSD’s slight reemergence within the prevalent drug cycle became more and more pertinent, especially during my college tenure; it began to infiltrate and blend with the more boisterous weed raps. As someone who has done LSD, the focus it brings to one’s mind, driven by mood, gets mirrored on the album, specifically how you let it lead your mind through varying avenues of reflection, except at the beginning when the visuals are more potent. Instead, Zombie Juice is tapping into his thoughts rather than full colorful writing, creating a distinct reflection cycle that kept returning to LSD and other hallucinogens, but as the days go on, like Zombie Juice, all one has left is their thoughts, reflecting on their growth since the first time they jumped headfirst into the world they inhabit. Juice makes that more pertinent with the first few tracks, especially the first two, “Melancholy” and “Hikari.”

Love Without Conditions feels like a lucid trip, except in reverse, as the contemplative work comes at the beginning and end; the midway point brings more of that aggro-druggie typicality we’ve heard from the Flatbush Zombies and The Underachievers prior. Though I could call this a two-track pivot in the middle more of that heightened visual pretense that you get told about when it comes to LSD, but not as unique. It’s what happens when it becomes habitual, or more recurring, that its visual effects aren’t as potent like the first time. They have a leveled balance that would make fans of the groups rejoice with delight as these two groups were significant cornerstones in the shift of NY East Coast Hip-Hop in the early 2010s; it just doesn’t all work here since they feel more like blank slates to flex over. It’s like they are the visuals, coming late to the party, letting the listener/user feel engulfed in their thoughts. It’s a downturn from the intricate and intimate balance within tracks like “Hootz” or “Say Enough,” where the piano becomes a vital component, fleshing the base of the beat by Tyler Dopps to new heights. It directs the tempo, the flows, and the mood, even boasting the effects of its chorus, as Zombie Juice sings, “Gotta say enough, it’s been a long year/Hope y’all remember me, so I wrote this song here/Years of memories, up and down the road/Years of memories, goin’ up in smoke.”

There is an emphasis on Zombie Juice’s narrative, but as is the case with some, their occasional push for the known, in conjunction with, usually fails to hit the mark. It gets jumbled trying to find ways to deliver a bridge between the more somber sections, even when it’s lyrically typical to Juice’s colloquialism in the druggie world. The lyricism continuously shows Juice’s authenticity to stay consistent; it’s just that the bridge doesn’t feel like it belongs, as they are more of the antithesis of some themes, like love and family, leading into and upon finishing “Drizzy” and “Dr. Miami.” As I’ve noted before, it’s a distinct pivot in the complexion of the front-to-back directive. It isn’t to discredit the quality of bars from his features on both, but they don’t feel that entrenched with the standards expected after listening to the smooth cadence on the first two tracks. A significant difference comes from its style, as others tread more straightforward narratives, weaving a story into the confines of a 16-to-24 verse.

That top-tier quality shines with the other rap features, Curren$y and Devin The Dude, who get put on tracks more akin to their flow and rhythm and still follow the assignment with the delivery of their verses. But as it steers the conversation Zombie Juice wants to have with us, it shows the discrepancy in effectiveness. It’s what helps fully round out the album to be this fantastic exploration of the mind of Zombie Juice, taking the opposite approach to the gothic nature of Meechy Darko’s album last year. It’s as if I never felt the need to press pause, like with others. This is a lax cruise. Much of it has to do with its swift pace, which allows you to cycle over and over without feeling like time is getting wasted as it has been with many of the Beast Coast rappers releasing solo projects, from Nyck Caution to Issa Gold and CJ Fly. It’s definitely one of the better hip-hop releases this year so far, and I mean that so wholeheartedly. Go spin Love Without Conditions and hear for yourself.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

El Michels Affair and Black Thought – Glorious Game: Review

As with any new album or collaboration album by Black Thought, there is an expectancy for greatness behind the microphone, and that’s no mistake, as Thought is one of the most consistent rappers. His ear for production has stayed so; last year was with Danger Mouse, and in 2023, with El Michels Affair, a group led by multi-instrumentalist Leon Michels, on Glorious Game. It’s easy to create dialogue about the music and the effervescent lyricism since Black Thought can turn varying content & themes and flip them into these auspicious songs which embolden their surroundings, allowing the listener to hear and see the bigger picture. With production from El Michels Affair, the soundscape mirrors the atmospheric notion of intimate shows, where the occasional crowd is heard in reprises, through cheers and claps, to bring these notions to life, especially as the flows come more tempered and retrospective. It’s more soulful and jazzy, giving the listener these rich layers to dissect what gets heard due to fluid post-production mixing that fleshes these songs further, even if it doesn’t have a total oomph factor.

Glorious Game differs from past collaborations, where Black Thought used producers that are antiquated within the world of Hip-Hop, except they haven’t lost their footing. Beyond the live instrumentation production, what separates the production of El Michels Affair from others is their consistent shift in focus in which instrument gets a significant boost. It’s not like the behind-the-board producers who balance the technical side with some live creations to fine-tune a balance with the sonic components – Salaam Remi’s unique string orchestration on Streams Of Thought, Vol. 2 or Sean C and LV’s gritty musical world-building. As the album continues on repeat, you hear this blissful equilibrium that keeps you centered and focused on both, even through the simpler moments like with “Alone,” where the production comes in louder than the vocalist, feeling off-kilter to the senses. However, they create these unique compositions that shift from the dense “Protocol” to the purposeful “Hollow Way,” where the percussion’s character is louder despite coming behind the strength of Thought’s voice. Going through the album, you hear the seamless harmony of the flows with the production.

It isn’t as grand, levying more tempered sounds that feel like Black Thought is working the slight antithesis of The Roots’ more provocative and loud; El Michels Affair is less ingrained in artistic grandeur and more tepid within its tempos. It lets Thought’s lyrics guide through on top of the instrumental–heavy clouds finding ways to make a stamp with his words, like the ferocity on “The Weather.” It’s like coasting on cloud nine as Black Thought flows with a beautiful cadence in his voice, where no word feels weirdly enunciated to force a rhyme. Each time, Black Thought finds new degrees to retread familiar content, but his sense of originality keeps you interested through the words he spits, like his flexing on “Glorious Game.” For some, it can be something to swiftly tune out as there are few moments where Thought placates his more focused demeanor to continue his expansive and tempered delivery. 

Though Black Thought’s lyricism is astute, some may not find his flexing as refreshing, but more importantly, the shift between the dualities. With “That Girl” and “Miracle,” Black Thought becomes keen on reflecting on a relationship with a significant other; however, as the production and vocals mold, the former turns to the most interesting of the two, even with similar flow and instrumental tempos. It’s as much about the content as the delivery, and it’s harder to when it runs 12 tracks, 32 minutes, but it doesn’t feel as such. It feels like a swift EP that’s not as satisfying as you finish the run without realizing it has done so. It grooves through vast introspections and reflections; I yearned for more as the music continued to feel more compositely streamlined, where it’s hard to find something more than the expectancy. Black Thought brings a lot to the fray as his writing takes interesting turns through distinct metaphors and wordplay, but there are two times it isn’t as powerful. With “I’m Still Somehow,” it feels like Thought is just flowing off a paper, losing any sense of emotional gravitas, while “Alone” can’t seem to find an agreement between production and vocals. 

These detractors pushed me from loving this album to the levels of Cheat Codes with Danger Mouse or Streams Of Thought, Vol. 1 with 9th Wonder & Khrysis, but there is still enough fantastic work to keep in the loop. The lyrics are raw, and the production quality remains as consistent as ever, keeping your ears ingrained to beats as they flood through your headphones. Though it’s lesser than some other projects, that doesn’t mean much when you get quality consistently from both artists. Highly recommend the album, even if it isn’t as profound, you’re bound to find songs to enjoy fully.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Eladio Carrión – 3MEN2 KBRN: Review

Eladio Carrión is one of the better lyricists in Hip-Hop/Rap that speaks Spanish. It could be hard to quantify that as his music comes with a language barrier where translations can only help as much as understanding some of the influential sounds in the beats. While others like Bad Bunny, Myke Towers, and Rauw Alejandro expand with vibrancy, making these multilayered bops that embolden their strengths while following the melodic pop formula to keep listeners replaying, Carrión brings this subtle balance between the Latin flair and Hip-Hop aesthetic. However, it’s slightly absent as he focuses more on the Hip-Hop aesthetic, whether in structure or relaying trending styles, and giving an edge to his rap features on his latest album, 3MEN2 KBRN. Reflecting on life and music, Carrión takes us on a journey filled with some excellent new solo tracks; the featured artists and remixes make 3MEN2 KBRN inconsistent, leaving you with enough firepower to deliver something substantial while remaining bloated. 

Hitting immediately, like when you list the top off a sizzling pot of chowder, and the smell reaches your nostrils potently, 3MEN2 KBRN is full of fantastic tracks, but getting through them can be a chore like the patience needed for that chowder to finish cooking. It ultimately makes the album bloated with some half-baked remixes where the only new verse added comes from the featured artists, giving less weight to the impact of originality. It’s as much to do with quality as it’s with the pacing, which gets hindered due to them crowding space and deflecting from the good. For some, the quality of the tracks allows them to excel past the typicality of it, like with “Mbappe (Remix)” and “Friends (Remix),” where it comes down to how these artists give us greatness over the beats. Future, and Lil Tjay and Luar La L do so in each track, respectively, and in doing so, make these tracks more replayable than “Gladiator (Remix),” which has us hearing a weak Lil Wayne verse. Others minimally pass the threshold, making them as playable as the solos, specifically as the non-solos tread similar, redundant paths of Hip-Hop, despite rising above a satisfactory level.

Many featured artists assimilate by influencing the sounds that mirror theirs, like with Fivio Foreign and the more apropos New York Drill beat. It’s efficacious, but it never establishes something new with the music, making us have to get a make-or-break feeling from the verses. It becomes an oft contrast as the following track, with Hydro and SHB, brings a cadence with its more broken-down drill beat while delivering flows more creative than Fivio’s. There is some enjoyment with the Fivi track “M3,” but “Betty” brings the sauce. Fortunately, the slight Latin spice and energy boast it further, making everything come together naturally. The producers deliver these nuances that can help them distinguish the New York aesthetic from track to track, like the smooth pianos on the street beat of “Si Salimos” with 50 Cent or the Salsa notes within the trap beat of “Peso a Peso” with Rich the Kid, Quavo, and Ñengo Flow. 

With such an influx of features, there came intrigue, which left me satisfied, as the balance between languages has to bridge so tracks can have an impact instead of getting a random Wisin & Yandel track where T-Pain just sings the chorus. These features come with a purpose, but the few like “Gladiator (Remix)” and “M3” are comparatively modest, and you’re left keeping others on replay like the fantastic flows on “Coco Chanel” with Bad Bunny and “Si La Calle Llama” with Myke Towers. With the production feeling streamlined, instead, a slight improvement from the last KBRN project, which was looser as a mixtape, it adds depth to the flows, allowing the rappers to take it by the horns and capitalize with a set of slick bars. It’s especially pertinent when you can hear the parallels in quality between English and Spanish. It’s an album that can get enjoyed either way; it has the balls-to-the-walls creativity of Hip-Hop today while retaining soul, which comes from the solo tracks.

With at least half the tracks being solos, they help to continue Eladio Carrión’s lyrical prowess, especially when he has to spearhead them without falling into some typical trappings, like redundant sing-song flows. With “Cuevita,” which sees him trying to replicate thematic resonance alongside tracks like “Flashing Lights,” that commentary gets lost with an inflated ego. It doesn’t bring the trap flavors of “Padre Tiempo” or the slickness of “El Hokage” or “Quizás Tal Vez.” Eladio Carrión continuously delivers captivatingly visceral lyricism shining through with intricate allusions, metaphors, and wordplay, like when he raps the lines “Treinta mil en Champs-Élysées, otros veinte mil en Brantôme/Los tengo buscando la receta como Plankton/De día brillando como el techo de un Phantom/¿Blanco o negro? Tú escoge’, Danny Phantom,off the final song, “Air France.”Though it reflects life through braggadocio means, the multi-syllabic scheme gives us a sense of style, lavish excess, and personality within a quick four.

The new Eladio Carrión album is fire, despite the flame puttering between tracks, as if its lacking the splints to raise the levels. With an influx of Hip-Hop, we get to hear Carrión feel right at home without having too vast of a delineation from a perspective direction, which we get. Unfortunately the album is more of a chore, running 18 tracks for one hour, making it feel slightly longer and drab. Not everything lands, and just to get through to hear what does, feels more bothersome than not, but the with the ones that do, you’re left digesting some quality raps, even if you come in it with a language barrier.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Che Noir & Big Ghost Ltd: Noir or Never: Review

Big Ghost Ltd, an internet blogger and music producer, has had a solid two-week run. First, he delivered solid production for his collab tape with NY rapper Rome Streetz; the following week, he came with another fantastic collaboration, this time with Che Noir. Another raw lyricist making waves from Buffalo, New York, Noir consistently demonstrated the depth of her writing underneath this luscious 90s Hip-Hop flow. It may be niche, comparatively – because of production style – considering the landscape of Hip-Hop through a popular music lens, yet, Noir reminds us that she’s a force to be reckoned with constant output that rarely falters. Noir Or Never continues that outcome with rich lyricism from Noir and her features, along with some good production from Big Ghost Ltd. Noir’s lyrical fortitude matches wits with the best of them. Unfortunately, Noir or Never feels more like a Big Ghost Ltd than a collab album with this abundance of features, and with a short run time doesn’t allow it to leave a stamp following the visceral intro, but it still packs a punch with what they deliver.

Noir Or Never opens with an intimate interview where Che Noir speaks on her influence while bolstering her confidence to remain true to their style (lyricism first) instead of selling out with more popular sonic aesthetics. Within this audio, we hear a slight toward popular hip-hop music that retreads similar themes through surface layer lyricism, never relaying depth beyond what said tracks aim to stylistically deliver. Think songs with the simplicity of “Pop Champagne” by Ron Brownz and how that gets more attention instead of raw lyricism that spreads layers of truths instead of booty bounce hip-hop with little to say. Listen, I’m a sucker for it, and I vibe with the occasional pop-Hip-Hop style music flooding airwaves. Noir and Big Ghost Ltd set this push for bringing light to lyricist dominant Hip-Hop, and though there is, it chooses to bring features to let listeners hear a variety of these artists, but it would have landed better if Noir went at it solo.

Though it misses on having a more significant impact than what we get, it isn’t entirely undermined as the features deliver great verses over modern boom-bap that brings an element of whimsy over the percussion patterns guiding the rhythmic flows. It chooses a different path, and within that path, Noir matches wits with great and established rappers like Ransom, 38 Spesh, Flee Lord, and Skyzoo, to name a few. They come delivering their A-Game and keeping you enthralled by the quality. From the vinyl-scratching bliss of “Brilliance” with Skyzoo & D-Styles to the bass-heavy “Veracruz” with 7xvethegenius, there is a consistent outpouring of greatness. It’s disappointing that they come on a simple throwaway album, especially after her intriguing turn in the self-produced The Last Remnants. They are significant enough that it’s worth a listen, especially with the consistency of some of these established rappers, like Ransom and Skyzoo, the latter of which I praised on his concept album The Mind of A Saint earlier this year.

We do get two solo tracks, which stand out above the rest. “Resilient” and “Low Altitude” beautifully encompass Noir’s resilience to keep growing. The former reflects how it’s been a hustle since a young age, listening to HOV and Foxy Brown, becoming a foundational human striving, and the latter on her push to deliver. She’s rapping about critics who deem her style less appealing in lyrical quality and changing the narrative. The content of the music shifts from introspective reflections to lavish flexes that keep the reminder of her technical potency at bay for listeners. Big Ghost Ltd, having been around the music industry, usually doesn’t falter in establishing beats that don’t over-sizzle despite using some more simple percussion, comparatively, as he masks it beneath these overtures that shine. We get this bleak, twinkly aesthetic with doom-like piano keys contrasting the high pitches from said piano and a bass groove on “Cap Locks,” for example. To distinguish that song’s usage of drums, Big Ghost Ltd shines with the lavishly drum-heavy “Bad Apple,” which incorporates intricate layers of snares, kicks, and hi-hats, with some horns for good measure.

There are a lot of fantastic elements boasting Noir or Never, and it becomes a slight disappointment with some of its decisions. It chooses to take a different direction, and though it’s effective, capping off at 23 minutes makes it run by quickly, not allowing you to digest the music adequately. It moves by swiftly, making you want more but for what you receive there is enough quality to replay, even if you prefer the features to the solo work.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Maxo – Even God Has A Sense Of Humor: Review

Southern Californian rapper Maxo surprised fans with the release of his third album, Even God Has A Sense Of Humor, on his birthday; unfortunately, as much a surprise as the album was for fans, it’s almost equally so with the quality of music getting delivered. Maxo has set a foundation for his Alternative, more so Experimental music, that saw him taking on these beats with consistently unique directions and vocal inflections. That isn’t to say Maxo’s new release isn’t any good. Frankly, we hear more of a soulful and slight boom-bap aesthetic lining the base production, giving Maxo easier, slimmer beats to flow over. It offers a sense of nostalgia to boast the lyrical fortitude fans have known him to have. That doesn’t get lost in Even God Has A Sense Of Humor; Maxo keeps listeners engaged with distinct flows and performances, adding depth to otherwise lackluster beats. It follows a consistent mapping while lacking a wow factor to keep us remembering the production alongside the performances, yet, as it closes, you get reminded why you first spun Maxo’s records.

Maxo never showed himself bereft of confidence, especially when rapping about profound issues that imbue him. He’s reflecting on depression, the weight of his success contrasting his desire to raise the playing field and letting his words have an imposing weight. His natural cadence and gripping delivery separate him from any typical release from Styles P or Snoop Doggs today, creating a split between relevancy, as sometimes new tales from the hood aren’t as poignant, even if the verses are potent with slick wordplay. Even God Has A Sense Of Humor comes with some noteworthy highs; some reel you in tight like the bait got taken with openmindedness(“48,” “Face of Stone,” and “Still”), and other times, the taste doesn’t linger enough to keep you hooked (“Both Handed” and “Nuri”). Maxo brings it through swift sparks that compact the song toward being resonant of modernization, but it never goes beyond being reasonably enjoyable. Fortunately, both ends get a spread of producers adjusted to quality jazzy-soul-influenced sounds that boast Maxo’s delivery.

It’s more surprising that the beats chosen for the project don’t fully encapsulate what Maxo’s producers can do beyond surface-layer percussion patterns. It becomes more noticeable at the peak of “Both Handed,” which has co-production from Karriem Riggins, showing me the divide between his drums and what others incorporate. Riggins painted a more established image with his work on the last few Common albums – with the Maxo album, there isn’t a balance between unique overtures, sometimes taking away from the great percussion patterns, but it’s never a detraction. It’s the same with others, like the production of “Free!.” It’s the opposite of the electronic notes of “Falls Down,” possessing some fascinating choices, elevating itself by embracing its highs and hitting it harder. Surrounding it is a frill of the drum-drunk boom-bap soul conjectures with interestingly good textures, but I’m not as constantly enthralled with his lyricism. 

I’m not here to decry the production; it isn’t astute (sure), but it tiptoes a fine line that fits the aesthetic to its fullest, making it work for the musical direction taken. It’s more structured in nuance and nostalgia, giving us enough range that you can sense where Maxo’s going. It’s less lack of quality and less impressive as he doesn’t drive that experimental nature further. Karriem Riggins delivers quality beats that aren’t necessarily boring; however, when you’ve heard what he can do with the drums, you’ll understand how it can get underwhelming. It’s the same with the experimental beats, like “Who Gives Me Breath,” which doesn’t feel as inspired. It’s a fine bridge between electronica and hip-hop, focusing on mood, but doesn’t add new elements to the table. Maxo carries it with his verses. And at least we get a great beat from Madlib.

The superfluous rawness in his lyrics adds dimensions to the music, bolstering the hum-drum production and making it so you can find yourself latched on to his flows. From the mundane percussion on “Nuri” to the hollow simplicity of “onedayatatime,” there is only so much Maxo can do to elevate one’s attraction to the music. His writing is poignant and technically astute, and you hear through his detailed penmanship captivating you with great storytelling. One example of his songwriting that has stuck with me is the song “Free!.” On it, Maxo raps, “Tryna get why I’m stuck in the game/Can’t even rely on my/closest homies I’m dolo riding/It seems sometimes I’ll prolly die lonely/Tunnel vision, couple million on me,” bolstering sentiments which express positives and negatives that come with success. It’s unfortunate the beat isn’t as strung together with something memorable. It’s more typical boom-bap jazz. It’s heard frequently, and when you get down to it, the strength makes giving it a chance a worthwhile experience.

Maxo’s latest continues to express what is so listenable about him. He’s balancing levels, balancing styles to create an effervescently introspective experience. Like music resonant with the boom-bap/jazz/soul metamorphosis, the lyricism has a more engaging job as it weaves the listener through these refreshing beats. Some may not be adjunct to the sounds feeling limited in scope, but they bring a sense of balance. It does that for Maxo and makes sure to get it flowing, even if I wanted to see a little bit of a push for more eccentricity.

Rating: 7 out of 10.