Skyzoo & The Other People – The Mind Of A Saint: Review

Hip-Hop isn’t a stranger to concept albums where rappers choose a perspective and build a narrative between fiction and non-fiction, whether it’s Black Trash: The Autobiography of Kirk Jones by Sticky Fingaz or American Gangster by Jay-Z. Skyzoo & The Other People take on this approach and deliver an album that takes us through the perspective of Franklin Saint, the lead character in the FX drama, Snowfall. As one who hasn’t seen the show, it’s not hard to connect the parallels to the era it reflects, but there is no doubt if a listener is a fan of the television series, they’d get exponentially more out of the album. The music profoundly reflects attitudes of the 80s, Saint’s will to survive, and personal growth through daily interactions with those in and outside The Family. Though the latter can respectively leave some empty pockets, there’s enough for one to see its greatness, specifically when boosted by fantastic production. The Other People implement modernized nostalgia, using elements of Gold Age Hip-Hop and Boom Bap into this alluring cohesion of music, furthering one’s allure to the project.

Like Black Trash: The Autobiography of Kirk Jones, Skyzoo keeps the narrative in constant motion, keeping the aesthetic realized from production to the verses, and never breaking character, keeping the swagger intact. The Mind Of A Saint is effusive and personal, at times expressing that sly coldness that comes with one’s own comfortability flexing this kind of success at the expense of the common folk and their addictions. It’s raw and honest, making you zero in on the nuances of his bars, and it starts to hit you in the middle as Skyzoo brings Franklin Saint to life, and keeping it real – the tracks, “Straight Drop,” “100 To One,” and “Bodies!” It doesn’t stop there as it continues toward a strong ending. Unfortunately, not all tracks are dense, as some allusions to interactions in the show can leave you with questions; it’s a positive that it’s significant enough to possibly influence one to watch it as it did with me.

Waxing poetics, Franklin Saint (Skyzoo) rarely delivers bad bars, weaving concrete storytelling that builds emotional dexterity with the escalation and de-escalation in his directness and metaphors. On “Bodies,” Saint raps about people who’ve died throughout his career hustling, describing to us why or why they didn’t deserve death. He’s bringing a sense of broken trust within the family and do-or-die survival selfishness. He brings us an overview of his community and a life ingrained in the song “Views From the Valley,” which beautifully paints a picture of the kind of up and downs Franklin Saint deals with through the everyday motions of others around him, like his uncle. 

There are audio queues that steer the narrative of a drug kingpin getting into the studio for the first time and emotionally flowing naturally – others add depth to the overall worldview Saint is living. Other audio comes from the show, though the first is from the pilot, they use specific exchanges that describe his rise or a mix of ads influenced by the “Just Say No Campaign” and a speech by Ronald Reagan about the war on drugs. It gets used to bringing his world to life and understanding the character he wants to present to us. The studio audio is potent in the six-minute verse emotional opus “100 To One,” which sees Saint rapping eloquence. It gets mirrored in “Purity,” which sees Franklin Saint delivering this crisp understanding of the dangers and turmoil that can come with life, adding depth to what we’ve heard; Saint keeps that coldness, so his weakness never shines bright. 

Beyond the scope reflective of the television series and its themes, The Mind of A Saint reflects that early 90s style where rappers who retroactive slang drugs and painted a portrait of the streets – think Illmatic or Ready To Die. There was never a need to hide the struggles of eventual paths artists took before making it in music, like The Notorious B.I.G. and Jay-Z did with their respective debuts. They incorporate these soulful, at times jazzy notes and samples that embolden the time we’re supposed to be getting on this album. For example, we get a captivatingly loungey beat in “100 To One,” which incorporates jazz piano and strings within a subdued tempo; “The Balancing Act” adds soulful textures with backing vocals and percussion, bolsters the sentiments behind his emotional delivery. It’s like his distinct slower tempo version of “Juicy,” as he mirrors similar themes. It’s the best part of the album as it shifts sonic complexions while maintaining a cohesion that can be heard separately from the slight niche lyricism.

As great as this project is, there is a thin wall separating what you get out of it with or without watching the show. The Mind of A Saint did influence me to start the show and learn to later re-listen and get closer to the words of Franklin Saint (Skyzoo). However, it’s still effective in replicating a story of a young hustler growing to become a kingpin and the nuanced themes written within the verses about survival and success with the life given. Sometimes, it feels like opening a time capsule. It doesn’t feel dated, almost a testament to the time – Skyzoo grew up with that style; the influence gives him that natural cadence in the flow, and he beautifully reflects that with this. The smooth cohesion from start to finish offers a crisp listening. 

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Ab-Soul – Herbert: Review

Mentally exhausting but exuberantly rewarding, Ab-Soul’s new album Herbert takes us through hurdles as Soul reflects on life and emotional imbalances that have placed him into a zone where the focus was his mental health. 2014’s Stigmata felt like a linear direction of drug-infused beats built with the complexities of perfectly quaffed glass, and Do What Thou Wilt felt more of the same, just lesser in sonic appeal and construction. But that isn’t the case with Herbert, an album that feels more like the dark undercurrents beneath the percussion getting refined and letting it control are more linear approach instead of flip-flopping between the overly experimental and the “Ab-Soul, Asshole” that we’ve listened to since Longterm Mentality. It’s an evident relic of the past with its jazzy, at times lightly funkadelic tones that give us similar tendencies akin to the audacious and beautiful “Illuminate” from 2012’s Control System. It isn’t devoid of lyrical grit, where he can shift the parameters of his flows, keeping you engaged as Soul never diverts into songs that wane too much into darker experimentations.

As a lyricist, Ab-Soul’s content is kitschy compared to most populous rap in the above or underground scene. It may have been why he never got an Interscope Records co-sign, allowing him to get down to the nitty-gritty and deliver songs where his sleeves ache, and his grief is on full display like he did with “Closure” off Stigmata. That’s still prevalent here, along with more reflections that sees Ab-Soul constructing his multi-layered persona with vitriol. We hear it in the twinkly “Fallacy,” which details Ab-Soul’s hiccups and moments where he succeeds. It’s in the emotionally complex “Herbert” and “The Wild Side,” which shows us who he has been throughout the years – someone constantly on the side of the road where there’s an obstacle with every step. It’s a blissful melancholy that gets highlighted over beautifully resonant and sometimes minimalist (comparatively) production, continuously boasting the thematic prowess of Soul. Ab-Soul is one to knock out of the park more consistently when the nature of the tracks wanes on personable instead of flaunting and flexing, though there have been hits within that realm, like “Hunnid Stax.” We hear the essence of it on the gripping and smooth “Hollandaise.”

Time passes, and what you thought you knew may have been incorrect from the get-go. Recently, Edie Falco remarked in an interview about her role in Avatar 2: The Way of Water – when she filmed, what she thought it could make on opening weekend, etc. – Falco noted that she believed the film was released and flopped. Similarly, Ab-Soul’s mild silence since 2016, only appearing as a featured artist or short, fulfilling singles, reminded me of a pre-2015 Ab-Soul, where the focus on experimentation had him flying too close to the sun. Unlike Icarus or Falco’s thoughts on Avatar: The Way of Water, Ab-Soul didn’t flop and had been bettering himself, growing as an artist, and finding meaning on his journeys. We see that with the beautifully constructed and focused concept album that imbues the essence of who Soul, musically and spiritually.

Containing a spiritual connection brings confidence toward having a multitude of producers board the ship to give us something as coherent as listening to screamo with freshly clean ears. There is an underlying distinction in styles as it transitions, allowing for seamless continuations of narrative greatness. The production boasts the content getting reflected, whether mellow or more boisterous, like “Positive Vibes Only.” Unfortunately, as slick as the beat is, the track doesn’t have the lyrical frontness and feels too lost in its production to make anything out of it, unlike “Hollandaise,” which brings a lot of ammo. It isn’t like the nuanced and ever-growing sounds of “Art of Seduction” and “Do Better.” It’s a flurry of simplicity that retains depth with how it gets constructed, unlike the overly styled beats of past songs like “D.R.U.G.S.” and “Sapiosexual.” Here, there is a fine line between the two; sometimes, you can’t distinguish what hits and doesn’t at first. When Ab-Soul chooses production that goes the extra mile, like “Go Off,” that sense of doubt washes away swiftly as you hear Soul command the beat and take it to the next level. Unfortunately, featured rapper Russ doesn’t match the quality writing from Ab-Soul and Big Sean, but he’s only a quick slight that doesn’t deter from the quality of the final product.

Herbert is a fantastic return for Ab-Soul. He’s less reliant on creating an expansive piece on a limited canvas, instead aiming for something more constructive, linear, and oozing with melancholy; you can’t help but feel attracted to the lyrics and sounds. It’s a fantastic record that I’d wish released early because of the distinctively wrought process of dropping year-end lists during the first week of December as if it’s some desolate month with little to offer, yet, we’ve gotten two incredible hip-hop albums.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Little Simz – No Thank You: Review

Surprising us with an album at the end of the year, it sounds like the gears never stop churning for Little Simz. Her fifth album, No Thank You comes after a whirlwind of a year, where she delivered Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, boasting her status past the underground and getting recognized for the quality of work she continuously drops. Winning Best New Artist at the Brit Awards, Simz made it known she will continue to grow while retaining true to herself, especially with the win coming at the height of the critically acclaimed SIMBI. The explorative sounds of SIMBI are this extravagant continuation of genre-bending, this time boasting Hip-Hop undertones with Afro-Beat and Soul. The music of No Thank You gets toned to ease the blend of unique overtones with minimalistic percussion. We hear more Gospel and Soul, and Simz allows herself to focus on being instead of being pressured by multi-layered beats. No Thank You is laying a foundation that sees Simz confronting her truth – her feelings without boundaries, and keeping it 100 at the cost of lyricism.

On No Thank You, Little Simz expands detailed contextual alignment with themes regarding race, musical and personal growth, etc., allowing them to be heard effervescently in the confines of its lavish production. No Thank You starts reeling you with the opening track, “Angel,” where she focuses on faith, her blackness, and her legacy with an exuberant bravado. It’s awe-inspiring; it makes one wish all the songs cared to embolden the Soul/Funk/Gospel overtones, but some sidesteps to express an aspect of her nature lose traction by feeling like the odd duck of the clan or the plainish “Control.” But “Gorilla” is that odd duck, but not because of its quality. It has a smooth, funkadelic bass line and minimalist percussion, allowing Simz to flow off the dome in a braggadocious fashion. But It’s more linear and more of a cut from SIMBI, with the excess of its drum patterns. As well, it doesn’t have the soulful nuance of the Gospel notes riding through many beats, hitting a peak with “Broken.”

“Broken” is a sonic reflection of the style incorporated on a platoon of tracks that exceed five minutes; however, melancholic outros add additional depth to its more streamlined consciousness. The bars are slick, and Little Simz isn’t devoid of clever rhyme schemes and metaphors. It counterbalances the spiritual cadence of the choruses and in-song transitions, and significantly, the intros and outros, where the hip-hop elements fade behind the curtain, giving center stage to the soulful vocals from singer Cleo Soul and musician/producer Kojo. They ease transitions as Simz buoys her identity through potential hurdles as her popularity grows. It gives new and old fans a spiritual understanding of her craft that won’t change, especially as Simz continues to try new sounds. 

The range of sounds producer Inflo delivers for Simz continues to boast her flows, which has been familiar since 2019’s Grey Area; on No Thank You, there is a continuous delineation between the genre influence getting heard. From the string and percussion-heavy “Silhouettes” to the acoustic choral overtones that let Simz break additional barriers by pushing more weight onto her lyricism on “Control” and “Sideways.” There is a crispness to the mixing that highlights both sides of the songs, letting you hear each detail, each angle it takes, as Simz never takes the short path to deliver. She paces herself fluidly through many tracks, allowing for a streamlining listen that lets you get from point A to point B while intaking everything smoothly.

Parallel to “Sideways” is the empathetic and emotionally captivating “Who Even Cares,” where Little Simz opts for a more sing-songy flow and lets us hear a different side of her. Though it follows a third-person narrative focusing on humbled beginnings and rational selfishness so one can succeed toward their goals, retreading some familiarity, there is an essence of being that realizes it more than its production. It’s funkadelic to the nines, seemingly feeling like a relic of the 80s, where the bass grooves and synthesizers take you to new levels as it plays through your ears. It isn’t the first time we’ve gotten to hear Little Simz sing, though it’s been more in the chorus; this shifts the dynamic of its delivery, specifically as a contrast to the more boom-bap, street flows of other tracks, like “Control” or “X.”

There is an essence to No Thank You that pits it against some of the best rap albums dealing with pure reflection, with the occasional sidestep into flexing; however, it succeeds in accomplishing a narrative. Its themes are expanded and given purpose through switches between the first and third person, offering a rejuvenating sense of relatability. It left me feeling a lot and wanting to hear more and more from Simz, and the constant change in sonic direction adds to that.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Because the Internet – A Look At the Best Rap Album Nominations For The 65th Grammy Awards

When The Fresh Prince and DJ Jazzy Jeff won the first Best Rap Performance, they didn’t go because they knew ahead of time their win wouldn’t get televised. After another year, that award wouldn’t see the light of day for 22 years. However, there have been more puzzling choices in the category beyond the album award, like “Hotline Bling” winning Best Rap Song when it isn’t a rap song – I guess Drake in name alone is rap? Hey Drake, resubmit a country song as rap and see if they bite. Jokes aside, one might understand the shiftiness of presenting live; the Grammys don’t show every award because they award over 70+ categories yearly, but when it 86’d a genre – of course – there would be protests. We didn’t have Best Rap Album till’ 1996, with a few performance categories that would subsequently get replaced with Melodic Performance and Rap Song. And still, one thing many in the general audience harp at is the nominations.

Like with the most prestigious awards, we balk at the nominations for categories we hold close to heart. But for Hip-Hop, we’ve had lapses in sub-categories and the shifting choice of which award to present. I prefer Best Rap Album as it is the cream of the crop, but sometimes it’s Best Rap Song, Best Melodic Rap Performance, or Best Rap Performance. Though we aren’t the only ones subjected to it, it’s the lack of a presence in the universal Gen-Pop awards throughout the years. Over the past two decades, we’ve seen slow growth in finding general acceptance in those awards, especially with the more Alternative albums (2) – to standard hip-hop – winning the big one – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and SpeakerBoxxx/The Love Below. These days, a win is a win, but it hasn’t been honkey dory, especially for us nomination balkers who see worst mistakes than the year the Academy gave Paul Haggis’ film Crash, Best Picture. Unfortunately, they still make mistakes, and this post is about nomination mistakes, especially in 2015 and today.

One of the most egregiously what the hell moments for nominations was in 2015, Iggy Azalea’s boorish pop-rap effort on The New Classic and Wiz Khalifa’s poor attempt at creating Trap music, “We Dem Boyz” aside. If either went on to win, it would have been the weakest winner among the many, but they are safe choices. 2015 had the albums, My Name is My Name by Pusha T, Piñata by Freddie Gibbs, PTSD by Pharoahe Monch, My Krazy Life by YG, and more that could have snuck to replace them, but like the film academy, niche styles won’t see the proper praise. I say this considering how focused it is on the G-Funk/Gangsta Rap My Krazy Life by YG is or the gritty percussion and synths of Monch and Pusha T. They reflect the genre discussion in film. I’m talking about the more whimsical work from creators like Wes Anderson, who rarely get looked at due to his niche style until it becomes more generally appealing, like The Grand Budapest Hotel. Fortunately, the last few years saw some consistency of diversity, as we saw artists you wouldn’t think the academy would find appeal in, like Tyler, the Creator, who has won twice, along with honoring albums that were some of the best that weren’t pop-like.

Additionally, we’ve seen nominations for Laila’s Wisdom by Rapsody and Victory Lap by Nipsey Hustle, two albums by rappers whose commercial appeal never translated into the vast world of pop but got nominated in back-to-back years, respectively. Though oddly, Nipsey’s world did converge with that of the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend fandom; however, I digress. It’s been many familiar faces, aka rappers with the highest commercial appeal, some non-debatable, others more so until recently, like that triumphant moment for Nas, winning his first Grammy after 27 years in the game. It’s been part great since 2015, but with an influx in quality from the growing number of artists, debates will continue to spark about what did and didn’t deserve a nomination.

2015 wasn’t the first time I felt flustered by the array of nominations considering the vast plains of music to get discovered outside the R&B-like Pop Rap of the 2000s. But it’s the first I’ve sensed they didn’t hear everything that was out there except for what’s on the radio. Universal Mind Control by Common, a winter 2008 release, was nominated in 2010, the same year as the overly dull and sugary R.O.O.T.S. by Flo Rida over more deserving entries like the DJ Quik and Kurupt Collab Album Blaqkout or Ludacris’ Theater of the Mind. It happened and happens currently because the Academy has a wonky, designated calendar for eligibility. Usually, their calendar year is October to October, disregarding the November and December months like film companies when they were releasing more potential critical failures, like wear found footage horror films, in January and February in the 2010s. Not saying those releases never brought forth greatness, but with an influx of covers and best-of lists, reviews can get drowned beneath it.

Rare moments like 2015, where many nominations weren’t reflective of the best work that year, and another came this year, where we saw three of the nominations bring out questions from fans. We got Jack Harlow, DJ Khaled, and one of Future’s weakest albums in his discography. And this isn’t to discredit these artists, as they have delivered fantastic surfeit work, Jack Harlow, aside. Unfortunately, the love for pop we’ve seen with Eminem and Kanye winning multiple, further making past flawed nominations make sense, especially since the late 00s. The Iggy Azaleas and DJ Khaleds – Khaled, who continuously finds himself in Best Rap Album, despite mediocre releases over the past decade – and legacy nominations that don’t always get heard through a critical lens and are nominated for the name alone – see the “Hotline Bling” nomination for Best Rap Song. It doesn’t discredit the 90% + nominations that merit the nomination. This year just left me floored when there are better albums viable for the award, like The Forever Story by JID and Traumazine by Megan thee Stallion – this includes non-submitted work like Gods Don’t Make Mistake by Conway the Machine and Cheat Codes by Danger Mouse and Black Thought.

I can understand the Future and DJ Khaled nominations, but with Jack Harlow, it felt like 2015, where there was little merit within the album to even come up with an argument for its inclusion. It’s what you’d expect from some white rapper who wants to be Drake but without much swagger. It was an overall boring album riding the highs of a Drake feature and a dope Fergie sample. Similarly, God Did by DJ Khaled is riding the coattails of a few decent songs, this remarkable Jay-Z verse on the title track, and memes. Future; well, it’s sad this is his first Best Rap Album nomination, considering how many great projects he’s released over the past decade. I didn’t hate I Never Liked You, but it isn’t Dirty Sprite 2 or Evol. It just leaves me flustered that they made it look like such a give-me for either of the other nominees, which I wouldn’t be mad if either won – Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers and It’s Almost Dry

2022 will be like 2015 all over again, with fantastic performances and a ceremonious win, where the big shock would come if Future upset the two clear front runners. Though one could expect Kendrick Lamar to win, he did lose to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, so anything is on the table. Unfortunately, Best Rap Album isn’t always “locked,” and here you could see Jack Harlow sneaking his way in for a win. His tacky apropos style never left anything to the imagination, almost feeling standard in approach – I Never Liked You isn’t tacky but is tried and, sometimes, forgettable. I’m here thinking about past years while trying to come to grips with it. And DJ Khaled, mediocre as it is, is forgettable outside that Jay-Z verse, so it leaves me curious about how it got nominated. It doesn’t define Hip-Hop/Rap, and frankly, I tune more into the yearly BET cyphers at their Hip-Hop awards, which is a much better and understanding award show about the world of Hip-Hop. Hope Kendrick Lamar wins, and cheers to the nominees…well, most of them.

Here are some past wins and speeches I’ve loved:

Issa Gold – Tempus II: Mirrors : Review

Following up the self-reflective and self-criticizing Tempus, Issa Gold follows up with Tempus II: Mirrors, an equally self-reflexive album bringing more of the same with more potent lyricism. It has little to gravitate towards besides excellent lyricism, some minor tweaks that boast the production slightly, and an abundance of heart. It isn’t an indictment on producers Chuck Strangers, Gates, Two Fresh Beats & Zayland as they deliver what’s expected with enough diversity and nuance to keep those who love lyrically focused rap albums. It may limit its audience because one usually gravitates to sound, but as it has been since the 70s, Hip-Hop has been about The Message, and that’s what Issa Gold delivers. Tempus II: Mirrors is raw and slick; Issa Gold flows smoothly, becoming one with the beat boasting the emotional complexities of each track as we hear Gold tackling fatherhood, music, and professionalism.

As much as I can herald Tempus II: Mirrors for its profound approach to keeping a balance between engaging the intimate, as sometimes one may not care for the deep layers of an artist’s personal problems, with the quality of their music coming first. So the stress builds from making sure the beat one is rapping over can keep the listener engaged; that’s why we hear varying songs with depressive anecdotes that have more catchy, captivating elements in their sound, whether through melodies or the production. It isn’t the case with Tempus II: Mirrors, where the catchiness isn’t profound, but the tweaks within the sonic layers of the beats keep the intrigue level high. Whether it’s bringing more focus to piano-driven overtures on “Lamelo” and “Crawling” or letting the electric guitar deliver rustic vibes on “Spiral” and “Lunar.” It brings more to the music than potent lyrics, rarely shining brighter than like on “Traded” and “Rockets.” Unfortunately, “Traded” isn’t as captivating comparatively. Though we get these unique situations where the beats feel more realized, it isn’t enough to make you feel like it’s something special. 

The uniqueness of its production is an adequately smooth touch that allows it to get past the monochromatic atmosphere of these kinds of raps. There is a nuance to them as they show introspective street styles that are moodier and incorporate more than just drum beats – think The Lox and Ultramagnetic MCs, just a little darker. It makes it easier to focus on the vocal layer instead of the production, as its heart stays in that lane. Due to that, it adds an extra layer that allows the music to flourish further.

At its core, Tempus II: Mirrors is for those old heads who prefer lyricists to the dominant Drill and Trap Hip-Hop that fills the airwaves, but Issa Gold offers more than that. He’s bringing varying flows driven by Gold’s dominant emotion, whether elevated egotistical swagger or pensive perspective, like on the melancholic “Indulge” and “Crawling,” which sees him rapping about family and fatherhood. It allows his words to get heard, more so than when he comes through spitting the former. However, there are fantastic tracks where Gold’s flexing is on full display. On “Lamelo,” Gold uses that melancholia in the beat to make his words feel humbling as his come-up saw him making choices so his music career could grow. As he raps on the track, “I never need the league, I knew the league needed me like Lamelo for the dream,” which shows how Issa Gold aims to succeed, despite his niche approach musically.

Tempus II: Mirrors doesn’t stand up to the masterclass that was the first, but it’s enough to keep the wheels turning as you keep listening. It’s a continuation of what Issa Gold does well, even if it isn’t as interesting. There isn’t much retread, but the production feels more like simple choices and nothing that is there to fit the grander scheme. It’s an album one can readily return to if they feel this type of rap, and those will be sufficiently satisfied.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Roddy Ricch – Feed the Streets III : Review

There is no denying Roddy Ricch has the talent to excel, and we’ve heard plenty; however, he still struggles to find proper balance in tracks that aim to evoke certain tones for radio play and falters by lacking captivating traction. Though I use the terms radio play loosely – hip-hop stations function differently from Pop/Hot 100 radio – it’s more apparent than ever that it usually revolves around themes of love and relationship dynamics. With Feed The Streets III, that need isn’t that transparent; Ricch is steering the vehicle through slick beats, delivering consistent good to great verses that build depth, and when Ricch teeters into the weaker output, it stumbles over similar mistakes – bland repetition. Feed The Streets III continues Roddy Ricch’s commercial run, giving him an established platform that his music becomes transparent in the direction he is taking. Focusing on bringing depth, it’s comparatively more vulnerable, giving us Ricch behind the mic, wearing his emotions on his sleeves, and humbling himself from his riches, which bring forth their own set of external issues. 

Hearing Roddy Ricch comes through with sheer vulnerability brought me closer to this tape. It’s one thing to have the consistency to flex without retreading familiar bars, but when we get that vulnerability, whether, with emotions or thematic inflections, it’s retroactively profound. With Ricch, it’s treading toward simple lyricism, like “Fade Away,” which begins like Ricch’s take on the “21 Questions” model of writing about love with emotional depth. Unfortunately, it shifts into a track that focuses on flaunting his significant other with gifts instead of adding layers to emotions felt through hypotheticals. It winds up feeling like one of a few throwaways that don’t give us enough to get a sense of anything beyond surface layer quality, akin to “#1 Freak.” It has a smooth rhythm and a solid Ty Dolla $ign feature, but it takes away from a functioning consistency of emotionally perversive lyrical captivity. 

From “King Size,” “Heavier,” “Pressure,” and “Letter To My Son,” there is a lot here that brings value as Roddy Ricch keeps himself focused thematically. We get to hear no-shame humbled rich flexes with “King Size” and “Aston Martin Truck” and the weight of depression and hope with “Heavier” and “Letter To My Son.” Though we hear Ricch acknowledging how he got there, he carries humility when expressing his colors when he flaunts his riches and promiscuity. Roddy Ricch stays vulnerable by allowing himself to get judged, as he isn’t creating a front, like some rappers do, and breaking walls to let us see beneath the cracks of his excess living, like in “Heavier.” All of this gets boasted by consistent Hip-Hop and Trap beats that bring enough character, despite having steady but overused drum patterns.

“Heavier” is a perfect example of what I mentioned; Roddy Ricch starts his first verse by showing us aspects of his life, rapping: “Eighty racks on the Goyard chect, uh-uh/The whole team pullin’ out Rocky like Sylvester, uh, uh/Denim suit or Prada (The Prada)/My bitch wanna rub me down with oil, my love life like a saga (Saga),” before getting closer to his heart. In the second verse, Roddy Ricch raps: Rest in peace Lil Keed (Yeah), hope the slimes proud of me (Yeah)/Hope the feds let ’em free (Yeah)/They don’t need to be locked in chains (Yeah, yeah)/Told Gunna Wunna to call me, I was out the city and missed it.” There is a level of authenticity that boasts the content of the tracks surrounding this, “Pressure,” and the final song, “Letter to My Son,” which imbues an extra set of layers on his more apropos flex ones. It lets you know that there is meaning behind his musical approach and needs to have captivating melodies to keep us entrenched in his sound and replaying with honesty. As you hear the array of tracks that may teeter between the known and unknown, expectancy and surprises, Roddy Ricch stays headstrong, so the will in his musical output never derails.

Though it tries to be this resounding moment of pure vulnerability, it may not show on the surface and makes one’s return to the quality tracks a slightly rewarding experience. There is no denying that it’s constructed standardly, checking off items off a list to be brought up, like monetary worth and pride, all while trying express layers of humbleness. It allows us to understand that it doesn’t like it lacks merit, which some can falter due to it. Some are mediocre or above average, but Feed The Streets III has more than what the others bring – it makes you want to return to understand the depth of other tracks you may not have understood prior beyond its surface layer. That isn’t to say it’s upper echelon since Roddy Ricch makes some interesting decisions, which never dilutes his writing – it’s beautifully expressive, and he knows how to craft choruses. Furthermore, Ricch never makes you think he’s taken sidesteps with his flows, finding a proper balance between straight spitting and melodically flowing, like on “Favor For A Favor.”

Feed The Streets III is another solid entry in Roddy Ricch’s Feed the Streets series, even if it isn’t a resounding blockbuster hit. Excellent songs flow smoothly from start to finish; sometimes, they spread the ambition sweating out Ricch’s pores as he raps them. Unfortunately, some missteps have made a few tracks skippable due to losing traction in flow, taking away from personal aspects of Ricch so he can make a track for the ladies. It leaves you feeling satisfied; even though it isn’t a five Michelin-star meal, it’s ample enough to say you left with enough to reflect on and replay.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Brockhampton – The Family: Review

Like most boy bands, there comes a time when they have to grow and succeed individually, though not everyone will come out with an established career beyond the group. It’s rare but not impossible. It’s like when people use Beyonce as an anecdote to describe the leader of the group, or rather the one with the most potential to excel; Justin Timberlake was that for N’SYNC, and Kevin Abstract for Brockhampton. Unfortunately, it’s Brockhampton’s time, so as they turn the page on their future, they leave fans with two final albums – The Family sees Kevin Abstract delivering nuanced tracks about their respective journey as bandleader – TM establishes that camaraderie through musicality. However, TM isn’t as strong, sometimes sounding like they are trying to slightly mirror different styles far from themselves and missing the mark occasionally. It tends to feel more like a gimmie, unlike The Family, which is the more concrete project – a personal reflection of new beginnings with weighted emotions about the past. It’s a fantastic sendoff showing Kevin Abstract’s naked vulnerability as he laments about various decisions.

In many ways, Kevin Abstract constructs The Family as this emotionally complex eulogy, reminiscing about the good times and the bad. On “RZA,” Abstract focuses on his failures to maintain consistency despite the separation. Wu-Tang Clan were able to expand and have their solo careers, but when the RZA uses his whistle, they come back and reconvene to deliver more heat. Abstract tells us this isn’t the case with Brockhampton; he opens the door and lets us know how it wasn’t the case for them and the issues that arose. But they are still family, and he reminisces about their past, like on “Gold Teeth,” where he reflects on the early days of Brockhampton making music and striving in Southern Texas. These days, it hasn’t been the case with varying issues and emotions weighing down on the members as they let the problems consume them – some understandably so – but there is this known that we will see them grow and mature as artists as they push forward.

It’s thematically poignant as we hear Kevin Abstract juggling through his emotions to deliver them with grace. We hear about new problems within the familial dynamic brought about by fame and riches, like colliding egos, Abstract branching into solo work as the band promoted their album iridescence, and his overly indulgent artistic direction with music videos, etc. Some of it gets brought up in “All That” and “The Family.” The former sees Abstract trying to lay his perspective, looking at moments and emotionally ever-long feelings that arose from their growth as a band. In it, Abstract raps, “As the checks grew, it became harder to leave/Everybody got an ego now, imagine bein’ me/Competition started off so healthy/’Til one day I looked up like, “Damn, you almost better than me”/I don’t feel guilty for wakin’ you up when you sleep/I don’t feel guilty for cuttin’ your verse from this beat.” It shows us the imbalance caused by egos or Abstract making music again with disgraced ex-member Ameer Vann. Issues arise, and Kevin Abstract takes accountability and offers an emotional apology on “Brockhampton,” the last song on The Family, which beautifully sends us off after a slightly imbalanced album.

The Family is a rich text that keeps most of Kevin Abstract’s words short and sweet but with resounding depth that you get incentivized with great music that you’d want to replay and understand further. It’s through Kevin Abstract’s flows, lyricism, and the production by bandmember bearface and producers boylife and Nick Velez, offering sounds that invoke memories atmospherically. We hear it on “(Back From The) Road” and “All That,” which beautifully samples the theme song to the classic Nickelodeon show of the same name. It brings nuance to the idea that everything that glitters is not gold, as it flips the positivity of the message toward a more pessimist one. There is a consistency to the production, never feeling overly produced and having balance as it boasts the vocal deliveries and lets us genuinely get within the trenches of what has been going on.

Unfortunately, The Family doesn’t have smooth pacing, letting a 17-track, 35-minute album feel more like a 17-minute EP. However, it doesn’t take you away from the raw emotion getting brought out. Brockhampton, or rather Kevin Abstract, lets it show, teetering between what works and what doesn’t, like the singing tracks compared to his more rapping ones. Spinning this left me feeling a lot, especially as I was one of the many who took this journey with them since the first Saturation, and it’s now time for new beginnings.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Nas – King’s Disease III: Review

Expected, but when? That was the question following the release of King’s Disease II by Nas & Hit-Boy. As we were aware, Nas was too, letting us know on the opening track, “Ghetto Reporter,” spitting the line: “Niggas know I don’t drop this often so cherish it (So cherish it).” With King’s Disease III out now, it makes one feel blessed as a fan with their release of Magic, as it now feels more of a present to them because the third King’s Disease is the best of the trilogy. Nas is as raw and lyrically astute as his best work, reminding the world that the tank is never emptying and the Henny bottles never end. But as you hear Queens in the House throughout “Thun,” you’ll quickly learn the mark King’s Disease III leaves. Nas shows listeners the pristine condition that his motor remains behind the mic and pen. Past King’s Disease albums saw Nas beautifully acquiescing with the evolving sounds of Hip-Hop and implying his talent is akin to a king able to command the flow of society. King’s Disease III has Nas taking off his crown, showing us his ferocity as he sways from humbling riches to elegant ammo, and that ammo is never-ending.

Without sputtering and then asking for oil, Nas goes on a tear throughout without seeming to tire out mentally with his verses because Nas is bearing slight shortcuts with the choruses, which don’t come off with the same energy as the verses. But Nas is one to quickly return with crisp bars that fluctuate between humbling riches, toying with history, and a barrage of metaphors and slick wordplay to keep you engaged. At one point playing coy with Jay-Z on “Thun,” as Nas relays the lines: “In a Range Rover, dissectin’ bars from “Takeover”/Sometimes I text Hova like “Nigga, this ain’t over,” laughin.’” But this is only a sampling of what Nas brings to the table. There are unique allusions to his partnership with Hit-Boy on “Michael & Quincy” and engaging takes on the social-political climate with “Recession Proof,” which doubles as advice to his listeners about investing and saving.

However, none of this exists without Hit-Boy’s production, which adds subtle details to the beats that allow them to transition from one to the other while keeping it interesting, like on “Legit.” “Legit” incorporates live acoustic crowd noises to amplify Nas’ bravado – that stoic confidence that allows him to feel rejuvenated and fresh despite age. There are inflections of streetwise boom-ba – ala Boogie Down Productions and Craig Mack – centered jazz rap, and varying type beats influenced by 90s Nas, with Hit-Boy shifting the parameters for Nas to go hard on them. He’s able to deliver past the nevers; one minute as is rapping through this delicate take on late 90s New York rap, which incorporated more Soul and R&B, in “Hood2Hood,” and another, he’s rapping over this luscious boom bap beat on “First Time.” Like “Reminisce,” Nas gets introspective, giving us a sense of blissful nostalgia as he recounts the first time he listened to certain favorite artists. Despite laying a foundation, Nas brings mirroring relativity to his listeners without feeling tacky or gimmicky.

Unfortunately, as glowing as I’ve been with King’s Disease III, the choruses aren’t as strong. It’s something you might have to set aside mentally because they aren’t consistent. Some aren’t as creative or have energizing gravitas, but pushing the weaker ones aside, allows for a more transcendent experience as the music eclipses these hollow points and makes you forget about them for a second. It left me in a daze after a few spins, and that’s what Nas aims for, a legacy of records spinning with fresh content no matter the era. So whether it’s the drab, emotionless chorus on “I’m on Fire” or lacking energy like on “Get Light,” Nas approaches the hooks as simple bridges that aren’t supposed to be ear-popping, like how the borough bridges are eye-popping, but they get the job done. That isn’t to say he doesn’t have some spectacularly hyphy hook delivery, like on “30” and bonus track “Till My Last Breath,” which has visceral energy that encourages the inner New York within.

King’s Disease III sees Nas continuing to extend his prime, delivering heater after heater without the support of features and amounting to one of his most immaculate albums since 2012’s Life is Good. Hit-Boy produces sounds that flip between modern, large-scale Hip-Hop beats and ones that bring nuance to the influential elements of 90s Boom-Bap/Jazz Rap, amongst others. It all acquiesces into one strong gavel to the table as Nas makes an everlasting statement about his lasting legacy that will only grow more, especially with the consistency of the King’s Disease trilogy, where Nas assimilates and demolish Hip-Hop sub-genres momentously.

Rating: 9.5 out of 10.

Westside Gunn – 10: Review

Hitler Wears Hermes 10, or simply 10. A decade later, Westside Gunn continues to be as ferocious as ever, weaving intricacies of his characters with auspicious production that shifts on a dime as he explores foundational growth as an artist. Though Westside Gunn isn’t present on all the tracks, his energy, and stylistic virtuosity breathe through them. It’s a semblance of Gunn’s craft, buoying rich writing over distinguished production as he reflects on ten years of the Hitler Wears Hermes series. Adding a platoon of features, Westside Gunn doesn’t deliver the best of the series as some come and go with typical expectancy but stands as a statement about his everlasting legacy through memorable adlibs and flows. Many mixtape series have a lasting impact, like Trap or Die, The S.O.U.L. Tapes, and Dedication, amongst others; Hitler Wears Hermes 10 stands tall amongst the many with its consistency and shifting intrigue from tape to tape.

10 opens with a beautifully delivered spoken word verse that captures the depth of art; despite the content, there are layers to the verses than the surface layer of humdrum some conservative people attack hip-hop for being. As Bro A.A. Rashad speaks in the “Intro,” “​​You, the listener, with all due respect/Some of us are here for the art/Some of us are here to try to be far too discerning/When it comes to cultural iconography/And narrative unfoldment within historical alignment to greatness;” it expresses this need to see more than just the apropos rhetoric on display. For Westside Gunn, he is more than the street-slanging luxury; he imbues an essence of humbled living after years of adversity. 10 has themes surrounding gang life, systematic racism, and more, as we see a solid contrast between tracks. With its features, they come understanding and delivering on the assignment, which boasts that success we’ve seen throughout the years.

Westside Gunn comes through with the heat on “Super Kick Party” and “Mac Don’t Stop” with the fierce integrity we’ve heard when he rides solo on a beat, but 10 rides or dies by the features. Though it isn’t a surprise, especially with the last two in the series, Westside Gunn brings in features and subverts our expectancy due to the stylistic area Gunn revolves. However, this time, that isn’t the case; Gunn brings features that offer nuance bars containing histrionics and boasting themes further. Everyone comes with reflections and physical characteristics that establish an identity, whether it features Busta Rhymes with the members of Wu-Tang Clan, along with Stove God Cooks, or Run the Jewels, again with Cooks. Gunn finds ways to incorporate that subtle celebratory aspect by conducting these tracks that fit the mode thematically while having an essence of grandeur.

Unfortunately, despite being a fan, 10 brings Stove God Cooks fatigue, becoming a slight deterrent with his presence being as frequent as Gunn’s. That isn’t to say he doesn’t deliver, but sometimes the lyrical repetitiveness and redundancies can come across as reductive, like on “BDP” and “Science Class.” The latter would have been nice to see Gunn with the last verse instead. However, there are moments where Cooks is fantastic, reflecting greatness when given a proper footing to spit, like on “Switches on Everything” or the glorious posse cut “Red Death.” Beyond Cooks, other features come and deliver on a high, save for Westside Pootie, which is cute but not that effective. Fortunately, most leave a lasting memory with their verses like the aforementioned rappers, Doe Boy on “FlyGod Jr.,” A$AP Rocky on “Shootout In Soho,” and Blackstar on “Peppas.” They assent with Westside Gunn’s style, especially the latter three, who blend into gritty, boom-bap beats, which are equally memorable.

Produced predominantly by Griselda signee Conductor Williams, 10 contains additional production by The Alchemist, Pete Rock, RZA, and Swizz Beatz, to name a few. Besides The Alchemist, the beats from the others bring that New York grit and swagger we’ve come to hear throughout the years. Westside Gunn smoothly shifts from the boom bap to the gritty street-percussion-heavy beats or sometimes jazzy golden age modernism. It helps round out Gunn’s history in the industry and growing prominence mixtape after mixtape. The production allows him to bring continuous intrigue, despite the dark tonal consistencies that shroud these beats atmospherically, but that’s the style fans get accustomed to–for the new audiences, just going through tape-by-tape, you’ll see growth in production choices and quirks within his lyricism.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Armani Caesar – The Liz 2: Review

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

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

[Intro: Elizabeth Taylor & Barbara Walters]

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

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

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

Really?

That— it’s unbelievable

You bought this for yourself?

Yeah

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

Well, there’s not anyone else around

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

Well, honey, I do.”

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

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

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

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.