Down Memory Lane: Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ 20 Years Later

Time is a fascinating concept. As I get older, memories I’ve thought have vanished quickly creep back up, and those moments of awe and an innate fascination come back. A few weeks ago, it hit me that Get Rich or Die Tryin’ is turning 20 on February 6, 2023, and I got hit with this memory of being at my cousin’s house. We were in his room, and he was showing me something brand new; he consistently gifted new systems and tech, but he strived to achieve greatness; it was his reward. I was focused on cartoons and exploring the creative side of sketching pictures, though with limitations living in a religious household. I remember this one time I drew a werewolf, and they believed something was wrong with me for a few minutes; I was around 7. However, I digress. My cousin was flexing this newly acquired album from his uncle, Get Rich or Die Tryin’, and we began bumping from start to finish. As a young white Latino, I was enthralled, shifting toward 50’s vicious swagger as he beautifully produces smooth flows, especially in the song “Wanksta.” From there, I knew my heart belonged to New York Hip-Hop, despite having universal love for Hip-Hop from all regions.

There was no denying my love for hip-hop was growing swiftly, especially with what my cousins from New York City introduced me to during my youth; however, something about 50 Cent’s debut had stood with me throughout my years. Was there a slight bias because he was signed and pushed by Eminem? Slightly, but on his own, 50 Cent had an identity, and it exhumes powerfully. That’s what hit a young Kevin, listening to the album, but more importantly, “Wanksta.” The beat was smooth, and the chorus was catchy; it made me push to avoid being a wanksta, but I kept changing with the trends as a teen, so I failed. My failure aside, I was never perturbed from listening to it, not even the G-Unit/Game beef, considering Get Rich or Die Tryin’ and The Documentary are some of my favorite rap albums. But unlike the cold, gritty Gangster Rap/G-Funk from The Game, 50 Cent brought a lot of swagger, and it reigned supreme. 

50 Cent’s swagger had an effervescent presence that came from songs like “High All the Time,” ‘Many Men (Death Wish),” “Bloodhound,” “Poor Lil Rich,” “P.I.M.P.,” “Like My Style,” and “Heat” made the content he’s rapping about more appealing to dissect. Whether violent or sensual, 50 Cent reflects on his life, never shying from the downs and allowing us to see how the mentality isn’t for everyone as the sound stays authentic to the musical direction. His lyrical prowess is a reason his music stayed on heavy rotation with my friends and me, listening to “Heat,” “Poor Lil Rich,” and “Many Men,” which was the commonly shared track appearing through our varying mixed CDs. “Many Men” is the true heart of the album. The visceral lyricism and direct coldness imbued by 50 Cent made this track killer. It was 50 boasting his status, literally and metaphorically; we hear him boasting how great he is while lambasting the shooters who couldn’t finish the job. 50 was supposed to release an album in 2000 titled Power of the Dollar – after his shooting, Columbia Records backed away from their deal. It adds depth to 50 Cent’s comeback, boasting the narrative that makes 50 seem tougher than expected. In retrospect, it adds layers to the other songs, as it boasts his near-death comeback narrative; he didn’t need it to have that coldness and swagger.

But now, 50 Cent is living, and through that, 50 breathes organically on every track while embroidering himself with lavish club-hip-hop and soulful down-tempo beats – apropos streetwise style of New York with creative overtures – and hardcore percussion-heavy beats containing drug noises. He’s creating gangster party tracks, emotional density as he speaks on love and survival, the hardships in slanging drugs, and boasting how hard he is, compared to most gangstas. 50 even has class as he casually name-drops Patti LaBelle as means of empowerment. The more radio-friendly singles, “In Da Club,” “If I Can’t,” “P.I.M.P.,” and “21 Questions,” established a foundation that never perturbed 50 from expressing his gangster alignments, like when he rapped: “Look homie, ain’t nothin’ changed: hoes down, G’s up/I see Xzibit in the cut, hey, nigga, roll that weed up! (Roll it!)/If you watch how I move, you’ll mistake me for a player or pimp.” He may be clubbing, but that doesn’t mean he lets his guard down with his enjoyment lyrically; he sees himself as top of the chain (“If I Can’t”), and that’s heard through his swagger and confidence. “21 Questions” gave us this tender look at 50 Cent breaking down and pondering his relationship through his incarnation, showing a sensitive side to a gangster. He isn’t a hollow person, and it lets him express a sense of vanity, a man who’s scared of loss – it gets reflected in “Gotta Make It To Heaven,” too. For “21 Questions,” we see it develop beautifully from start to finish, whether from the cadence in 50’s flow or the emotional depth instilled in the chorus. It’s stood the test of time as gangster’s love song that wasn’t overly hokey or derivative and instead more smooth and direct.

There’s no mystique to Get Rich or Die Tryin’; it eloquently (for Gangster Rap) tells us tales of survival, glamor, and success that sees 50 Cent describing the complex layers of a gangster (himself), specifically within his cultural ecosphere, aka the streets. It’s one smooth rollercoaster ride that boasts different elements between its lyrics and production; it flows with hunger as 50 Cent doesn’t let a moment come by with weak bars boasting the ferocity of his singles. It didn’t matter the content or style, whether “Many Men” or “In Da Club,” 50 came with the heat. It’s reminiscent of The Notorious B.I.G.’s lyrical strength–tenacity to keep the bars tight, no matter style with the singles getting released. For B.I.G. and Ready To Die, it went with the introspective smooth club banger, then the smooth braggadocio, and third the lyrical exercise that brings poignant depth with its themes of Death and Survival. It’s a loose comparison of the distribution of content. The main difference, 50 had more singles in the tank, all bolstered by incredible beats from Dr. Dre, Eminem, Mike Elizondo, Sha Money XL, Dirty Swift, Darrell “Digga” Branch, Mr. Porter, and Luis Resto. 

Dr. Dre, Eminem, and Sha Money XL have their hands on most of the album, but the beats from other producers, like Rockwilder, Megahertz, and Mr. Porter, who produce “Like My Style” and “Gotta Make It To Heaven” and “P.I.M.P.,” respectively. The beats have eclectic percussion patterns, and 50 Cent attacks them naturally, giving us some smooth and hardcore flows. Whether straight and narrow like what he and Tony Yayo spit in “Like My Style” or introspective with the violent, humanistic depth of “Gotta Make It To Heaven,” there’s an enduring storytelling strength, which adds more layers to his persona. The former has swagger-filled percussion that takes form underneath darkly glimmering keys and hi-hats, but the latter brings the funk, soul, and jazz elements to its streetwise drum beats, making it feel grander than it seems. “P.I.M.P.” has a bottle-popping flavor with its snappy keys that overlay luscious, smooth drum beats. It’s this bravado creating replayable momentum – I can’t help but keep finding myself latched to Get Rich or Die Tryin’ in my school days. And that goes for all the beats on Get Rich or Die Tryin’, which are an eclectic blend of hardcore New York Street style, which focuses more on the drums, while the singles bring in more electric strings to add some flare, some character. For example, “P.I.M.P.” and its hypnotic bass grooves and snappy keyboard notes, aka the gin to the juice that is the central drum pattern.

There’s a lot to this album where it sounds timeliness, and it’s one of the predominant reasons for its heavy rotation throughout my years; well, that and the New York bias, having grown up an hour outside Manhattan. It’s rich in style and poignant with its gangster narrative, allowing his listeners to feel and understand the complexities of his character despite being seen as this masculine leader. 50 Cent made something profound, and I’m forever thankful. It kept the resurgence in New York Hip-Hop flowing in the early 2000s, and its potency keeps it moving without a moment of pause. It’s a classic through and through; unfortunately, 50 Cent hasn’t matched this greatness since, but it remain with me for years to come.

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?


That— it’s unbelievable

You bought this for yourself?


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.

YG – I Got Issues: Review

Consistency is key. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been a key for YG since the release of his sophomore album, Still Brazy. Teetering between raw, authentic Gansta-Rap/G-Funk and West Coast Hip-Hop style influenced by So-Cal flavored popular rap hits, YG has this esoteric identity–it now shifts, stunting by pandering features and weak beats and hooks. He’s trying to find ways to make his style more vivacious. Though this isn’t to discredit YG since he still delivers full skillets of different food of quality, and on his latest album, Issues, he returns to past recipes that has better consistency. I Got Issues is leveled, giving us an exuberant force of those West Coast Hip-Hop and Gangsta Rap/G-Funk bangers boasted by layers of authenticity and unique samples. He’s bringing levity musically, flexing his range, and having fun at times, as he relays these delineations of issues YG’s been through and still goes through, as he continues to cement himself as one of the younger heavyweights killing.

Opening with “Issues,” you’ll immediately start to get whiffs of what has been present in past albums but not as effervescent since his solo tracks on Stay Dangerous. YG gives us four straight songs that embolden YG’s essence. It’s what is in the middle of the album where most stumbles appear, specifically from the artist’s side and some of the production. Though he’s treading toward keeping himself relevant through certain features–I mean, let’s face it, YG isn’t hopping on something as poppy as that song with Fergie, “L.A.LOVE”–they are predominant misses. It’s easy to find yourself veering back toward his solo tracks, especially with his clear direction. “Go Dumb,” “Sacred Money,” and “Sober” aren’t the most gripping, at times feeling distant; some don’t have lavish production like “Go Dumb” and “Toxic,” and others have weak features that tune you out like Post Malone. 

When it comes to beats, the consistency is high, but there are a few blemishes. “Toxic,” you get a gut punch immediately as you hear “Be Happy” by Mary J. Blige get sampled. As it progresses, your sense of positivity with slight bewilderment starts to fade with lackluster verses and a nearly monotone beat. It’s similarly the case in the middle as YG whips up some poor concoctions that get lost by the features’ drab performances from ones you wouldn’t expect. One of the first tracks you’ll notice on the tracklist, “Sacred Money,” will be so because of the names J. Cole and Moneybagg Yo, but push that aside since it explores particular characteristics YG has beaten to death lyrically. It’s not like the crisp street-cut “How To Rob A Rapper,” which features D3szn & Mozzy, two artists that understand the assignment. The aforementioned “Go Dumb” and “Sober” show levels of mediocrity as YG tries to adhere to radio standards, except these tracks aren’t that memorable. Even when YG shifts in this direction, there are some highlights due to the sheer fun he has had making tracks like “Go Loko” with Tyga and Puerto Rican rapper Jon Z. I Got Issues isn’t absent from that kind musical fun, though it can be more subtle than apparent.

From the crisp gangsta-rap-influenced bleakness of “No Love” and “Killa Cali” to the more adventurous “Baby Momma” and “I Dance,” YG is coming with his all, even though not all translations work. There is musical depth amplified by its sonic layer, mirroring elements from other hip-hop subgenres and allowing us to finally see YG express a slight melodic digression from the known. “No Weapon,” featuring Nas, creates harmonious equilibrium as the producers bring elements of Jazz-Rap and that Southern Cali sound of the 90s, more modernized. “Baby Momma” isn’t far from your normative G-Funk track; the funk is subtle, the percussion fruitful, and YG is jovially performing about his disdain for baby momma. Fortunately, these tracks are smooth surfaces on the dirt path you take toward your destination. And on this path, that flurry of greatness elevates the I Got Issues further, especially with the external layer coming from the perspective of his performances. “I Dance” sees YG attempting to bring that So-Cal Latin/Hip-Hop hybrid to the forefront, but unlike “Go Loko,” this one has more flavor and potent featured work from Californian singer-songwriter Cuco and Argentine reggaeton artist Duki.

Listening to I Got Issues wasn’t so much rejuvenating because that essence of gangsta/west coast hip-hop has seen variations, and here, it’s more consistent. My Life 4Hunnid gave us “Blood Walk” and “Out On Bail;” 4Real 4Real gave us “In The Dark” and “Stop Snitchin’,” and so on and so on, but when that flavor spreads more thoroughly, you get something that’s more repeatable. Coming in hot with “Issues” and captivatingly closing on a somber note with “Killa Cali” I Got Issues is a YG album I’ll be returning to rather swiftly.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Westside Gunn – Peace “FLY” God: Review

The sheer persuasive prowess that Westside Gunn brings behind the microphone has no bounds. Though I’m being facetious, there is something to how he incorporates vocal gunshot noises before, between, and sometimes after a verse, boasting its poignancy. He’s done it in various ways, and yet, this time, it feels slightly different. Coming straight off the tail end of Paris Fashion Week, where one assumes he visited the Louvre, Westside Gunn delivers a mixtape with a construct akin to an abstract painting. Peace “Fly” God is Gunn’s new mixtape that’s grimy, rough, and naturally flowing; it has these soundscapes take us through exceptional complexions that parallel the artistic energy flowing through his veins at the moment. It’s altruistically flawed, creating a world unparalleled to the apropos standard Hip-Hop he has delivered with his Hitler Wears Hermes series. It follows similar thematic styles of the past; however, the way it’s constructed on these distinct canvases offers an elegant perspective into Gunn, Estee Nack, and Stove God Cooks. 

Peace “Fly” God isn’t something that hits you immediately. Its sonic composition shifts the parameters of what to expect, eventually hearing its fluidity through the verses. It’s a balance between abstract and core-drum beats that continues to batter you with slick bars–and to a lesser degree–flows. Unfortunately, there are moments where you’re left dazed by the production, and the rest becomes the same song and dance. However, Westside Gunn gives us some more gun sounds than the boom, boom, boom, boom, and that’s been enough to retain my attention, especially in the lackluster “Derrick Coleman.” All of that is pertinent in “Jesus Crack,” which takes content from a shallow puddle, but there is swagger and a smooth Brand Nubian sample. Beyond constructing a bold 8-minute epic flex, Westside Gunn takes a chance with Don Carrera’s atmospherically gritty and ghostly production. It’s a notable contrast to Madlib’s soulful work in the second half. 

Production doesn’t come from those two exclusively–Daringer and Conductor Williams taking the helm at the end–but they handle the bulk. In some ways, it plays like Westside Gunn’s journey from thoughts to microphone–feeling the highs within bars about gang life, hustling, and high fashion. It gets delivered to you through the varying production styles, which feed off lustrous moments like the wickedly wild piano overlays on “Ritz Barlton,” followed by a trove of spiritually connected verses that expands on each topic, like fashion on “Big Ass Bracelet.” It sees Gunn and Stove God Cooks focusing on the glitz while reminding us of their grit. Gunn does so with sequences like, “In the ghetto, AP strapped the coke out a soupie (Whip)/Neck full of Veert pearls, lookin’ all bougie” and “Anybody violate, I annihilate (Boom, boom, boom)/I switched the band on the Dick, you rockin’ time today.” Within the context, he offers a distinction that splits surface and reality. Stove God Cooks does similarly, after proclaiming to be a Jay-Z–MF Doom hybrid, with lines like, “​​Either way you die alone, my shooter Pat Mahomes (Brr)/My bullet thrower/I was court-side watching Syracuse play Villanova (Go).” Cooks echoes the accuracy of his shooter’s aim while reminding us of the casualness of his success.

The casual flaunting continues, focusing slightly more on the excess of their success. The flows are grounded and fluid, specifically Westside Gunn, who takes on two Madlib productions solo. They give you a proper descent into his emotional side, like with “Open Praise,” which twists the view of gang life violence, giving us a darker side than arrogance. From the flows to his emotionally gripping singing a the end–he sings about love and envy. There is a consistent quality within the penmanship of these artists, especially their gripping details and stylistic directions. However, the deliveries don’t consistently acquiesce. “Derrick Coleman” is one where the platter we get doesn’t offer anything new. It has crisp production from Madlib, but the flows make it feel more atypical. It’s similarly the case “Big Ass Bracelet.” We get a trove of complex beats that feel like mosaics, painted with great detail. Unfortunately, not all strokes look the same. There are minimal stumbles that deter me as the last two tracks mentioned, but it’s enough to find a place amongst the many releases by Westside Gunn.

Don’t get me wrong, Peace “Fly” God is fantastic and covers ground exponentially. It’s disappointing; however, there are still quality tracks which evokes the replay button, like “Ritz Barlton” or “Horses On Sunset.” It gives fans something to digest while awaiting his follow-up Michelle Records. So enjoy the appetizer cause Westside Gunn’s 2022 is only just getting started.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Cypress Hill – Back In Black: Review

Stoner rap has had an evolution that is not quite like other sub-categories in Hip-Hop. From being its own genre to dissolving into more prominent forms, though it’s never lost the essence of what made it great. It’s become lazier, trying to fit two criteria, slow-to-mid-pace beats and rapping about smoking marijuana or displaying the culture in passing as the topic steers in another direction. Cypress Hill are the masters of it, and they continue to prove that on their 10th studio album, Back In Black. Prominent for acquiescing stoner-culture (positively) with gangsta rap and Chicano rap has given them a platform to bring out themes of gang violence and cultural differences, allowing the fans to indulge in smooth weed raps with layers in the song’s personality. Back In Black continues to show there is enough in the motor, especially after a solid return with Elephants on Acid–B-Real and Sen Dog are back in prime form; however, the production eventually begins to sound too similar–specifically the percussion. 

Back In Black is poignant and smokey, delivering darker lyricism about life or blissful tracks about smoking weed. As constructed, the tracks have a consistent aura while transitioning from topic-to-topic. It can shift from a realistic view of adolescence and young adulthood to taking us on a journey to get higher. “Come With Me” is an immaculate vibe with its lusty hi-hats and trickly guitar strings as they interlope “Hail Mary” by 2Pac on the chorus to fully reel you into the verses. B-Real and Sen Dog deliver with lines that work as both soothing and inspiration, from B-Real’s first verse with the lines: “Blessed by the desire to create the fire/I must get you higher/You’re required to enjoy it, it inspires,” and Sen Dog’s second verse: “Mind reaching for higher levels, I never settle/I was a young pup from out of the ghetto that set the tempo/God bless the leaf, rest in peace/To anyone that stands between the legalization that we want to see,” blending beautifully as the two trade-off eights-bar verses. It’s simple to make tracks like this interesting, as there as easy ways out–slow tempos = easy to flow–making it uninteresting–you just have to make it fun for those to kick back and replay.

There aren’t many tracks like “Come With Me” on Back In Black as they tackle musical and street growth, and legalization, specifically in the track “Open Ya Mind,” which takes a stance on issues that underline why it’s needed. From reform in the judicial system to the economic benefits that stem from it, they keep it grounded while explaining, though it’s not hard when they tell us to smoke and open up our minds. It has a funkadelic core with hard-hitting snares entwining us with its smokey demeanor, making it a track that is painless to repeat. It goes the same for the others, which oozes with that braggadocio confidence, which has been one of their best traits–they have an innate swagger that comes off naturally to them. They introduce with that swagger on “Takeover” as a reminder to the listener about their greatness. As well, It’s fitting when they trade bars with rapper Demrick on “Certified” and “The Original,” which sees the two keeping it OG. They ooze a semblance of their past work at its peak.

Unfortunately, after “The Original”–the three tracks that follow meld together into a coherent mess of orchestration as you lose yourself forgetting when “Hit Em’” starts and then wishing for “Champion Sound” to end, as it comes across as a little forced–the percussion patterns begin to mirror each other too closely. “Hit Em’” isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s as forgettable as Dizzy Wright’s verse on “Bye Bye.” His softened and raspy voice offers little to the track, though it properly mirrors Sen Dog’s equally forgettable verse–his voice gives him presence, so it isn’t difficult to remember it like that, but it isn’t one of his strongest verses. While three of the last four tracks offer little to be desired, it doesn’t disappoint like “Bye Bye.” B-Real offers rhythmic gymnastics, with his multi-syllabic flow that can cause tongue twisters if you were to rap along. It wastes a solid song, but it’s easy to skip and indulge in the other great songs Cypress Hill has to bring.

Back In Black shows that Cypress Hill has enough in the tank. If we consider 2010’s Rise Up as a fluke pivot to try something new, especially when Sen Dog sounded burnt, then Elephants On Acid shows that their deviation didn’t have the personality from when they were at their peak. It’s a fun ride that is slightly forgettable but a thrill to have them continuing to make solid gangsta/stoner raps.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Westside Gunn – Hitler Wears Hermes 8 B-Sides Review

Two things may not be pivotal to you, but these things root themselves in a sub-group of hip-hop that remains dormant within pop — fortunately, it doesn’t matter with the grand scheme as fans back their favorite artists from the get-go. One is their bold approach toward shock value — usually done to stir eyes before the sound flows through the headphones and into your ears; the other is maintaining consistency with a series of projects under one title. Rappers like Lil Wayne, Curren$y, Wale, and Young Jeezy are some names that may come to mind quickly. Unfortunately, like some of these rappers, it has to come to an end, and it did for Westside Gunn this past weekend. WSG has released the B-Sides for the final tape in his Hitler Wears Hermes series, which is a marginal improvement from the A-Sides — there are fewer songs with Stove God Cooks features and a little more variety. 

Hitler Wears Hermes 8 B-Sides is a culmination of the best parts of the series, from the production to the multi-faceted lyrical layers weaved by Westside Gunn. Referring back to the last paragraph — along with being a series of projects, it carries a shock factor through intricate drug and flex raps and a title that shakes the dimensions of PC and woke culture in terms of phrasing. Hermés is a luxury clothing brand, and in some respect, WSG sees himself as this erratic icon that shifts perspective through his bars and influences a new wave of lyrical hip-hop. You can also make the argument that Hitler, in this regard, represents an anti-pop rap movement that currently houses some great lyricist who lacks the exposure of someone like Moneybag Yo and Fivio Foreign. Griselda transfixes that notion, and Hitler Wears Hermes 8 B-Sides continues to back WSG’s growing prominence.

Hitler Wears Hermes 8 B-Sides isn’t the best of the series, but it sticks true to the nature of these projects as WSG contributes in peak form, despite trading bars with other more established rappers like Jay Electronica and Tyler, the Creator. WSG holds his own, despite releasing many projects over the past two years — for some, it becomes oversaturated or bored by the work due to partial redundancies. There is very little of that on the B-Sides, as it becomes warped into a transcendental flow for mixtapes — DJ and All.

Like many DJ Hosted mixtapes, Hitler Wears Hermes 8 B-Sides contains one to keep the hype in rotation, even though it isn’t as typical as the more centered projects like a Gorilla Grillz tape. It takes cues from the New York Area with the transitions and hype, transporting us to the past where producers like DJ Green Lantern and DJ Clue, amongst others, were sovereign entities for the metro area — similar to DJ Drama in the South and Don Connon in the midwest. Today, we DJ Drama has prevalence, more so than others, but another DJ continues to make his name known through his hosted mixtapes, especially in the south, Trap-A-Holics. It goes in an uncanny direction, starting with an instrumental and Trap-A-Holics keeping a subtle presence after “Julia Lang.”

Westside Gunn isn’t a novice to having a host DJ on his mixtape, with DJ Drama low-key delivering the Gorillaz Grillz flair to the mixtape while never hindering WSG’s mainstay — the vocal gunshots behind the verses. And DJ Green Lantern produced and hosted Hitler on Steroids, with other singular song producers, like The Alchemist, Jay Versace, and Madlib, to name a few, they bring distinctions to the sound; unfortunately, the producers who do the most end up hitting or missing on a few.

In between the slightly atypical production, WSG carries the weight of steering the project with some high-profile features and contemporaries of equal status, like Mach-Hommy of New Jersey or the other Griselda and Buffalo, NY cohorts. Fortunately, they hold their own over the production that sounds tailor-made for a definitive style, slowly exploring little by little. Sometimes, it matches the energy from the rappers, like on “Survivor Series 95,” which uses ominous mood-setting orchestral strings — fitting perfectly with the kind slow and effective flow deliveries.

“Free Kutter” is another example where the production matches the energy of the rappers leading the charge, especially Jay Electronica, who takes command of the microphone and raps gymnastics over Westside Gunn as he keeps up with one of the more repeatable songs. Unfortunately, this isn’t usually the case for certain parts of the mixtape, like 2 Chainz’s verse on “Forest Lawn,” as he turns into a sort of — nothing character — creating a surge to slightly fast forward to Armani Ceasar’s verse, which has a lot of personality compared to 2 Chainz. And on “The Fly who couldn’t Fly Straight,” it muddles WSG as it pushes him to the side as Tyler, the Creator ends up as the memorable part of the song.

However, this doesn’t discredit the countless layers Westside Gunn brings to her verses, like on the Madlib produced, “Richies,” which sees WSG bringing a cadence to the broken duality behind rags-to-riches — in the literal sense. Similarly, he shows that consistent veracity with “Best Dressed Demons,” matching bars with Mach-Hommy over the bleak piano keys that guide the percussion and quiet string sections to keep with the atmospheric nature of the mixtape’s production. WSG isn’t always this consistent, but as the saying goes — you win some, you lose some. It’s a testament to WSG that every Hitler Wears Hermes starts and ends on a high note. And the B-Sides is no exception, as WSG reflects on those we lost — personal and impersonal — on the song “Big AL,” before artist Keisha Plum ends the mixtape on an introspective note, leaving you with a moment to reflect on this journey.

As the mixtape Hitler Wears Hermes 8 comes to a close, Westside Gunn rides off in Gucci and Hermes in s new ride as he continues his prominence in hip-hop. Some rappers don’t see their respective series end or continue with consistency — Lil Wayne’s Dedication series started to dissipate after four. Westside Gunn keeps it authentic, without falling into similar redundancy that made others poor — as well, similarly to Cabin Fever 3 by Wiz Khalifa, which feels like a retread of the same song and dance. I implore you to check this out and the rest of his HWH series, as it is one of the better series of mixtapes that we’ve received over the past decade.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Pop Smoke – Faith: Review

When news broke of Pop Smoke’s passing a little over a year ago, one of many thoughts ran through my mind; that thought was based on the details about how and why? As one who has been located on a social channel through another user having the ability or software to locate another based on IP address, seeing that he was slowly watched over through his social channels makes the world scarier and adding technology to the list of enemies, falling right under our anguish and doubts with faith. Upon hearing Pop Smoke’s debut album, posthumously released, one could easily hear the young rapper’s talent and exponential growth from his mixtapes. He’s had his fair share of criticism, and though it may not be warranted – it has never benefited Pop to have a plethora of features scribbled throughout. In his follow-up to Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon, Faith, continues to remind us of that talent albeit the features and production choices making or breaking the overall need to want to return.

When the features for the track list were unveiled the day before the release date, the amassed hype grew exponentially amongst fans from various communities. On the surface level, they appeal to a broader audience. But with his untimely passing still generating attention, I can’t help but think this was some charitable ploy to get artists he probably wouldn’t work with immediately based on his style and eclectic energy; The Neptunes, and Dua Lipa in particular. Like the eclectic list of features, the album delivers enough obtuse energy you might ponder the intentions behind this project. 

The construction of Faith feels like a poor representation of Pop Smoke’s artistry, where at times it feels like they forcing marketability in pop music. Pop Smoke has shown in the past that he is limited when it comes to creating pop records, despite releasing some quality ones. Faith is like if his manager, Steven Victor, studied the first Michael Jackson posthumous album and didn’t learn from the mistakes on it. It’s a butchery of the work that has been recorded from Pop Smoke. You can sense it in some tracks, like “Demeanor” where Dua Lipa’s vocal and performance sounds exactly as it was, a forced add-on. 

Fortunately, they allow Pop Smoke to shine as an individual, despite a good chunk of tracks feeling like it would have been best to have left them in the vault. The oddity behind it makes it feel like a beautiful exploration into new territories Pop Smoke had the capabilities to branch into, despite falling short from most of these featured collaborators; especially in the features and partially the production. 

Pop Smoke’s keen dominance in New York Drill and Gangster Rap has been a focus for him and us as listeners who saw an ascension in this beautiful hybrid that mirrored two different cultures. And for the most part, the production has great fluidity, but some are pure head-scratchers. “Top Shotta,” for example, is the track produced by legendary production trio/duo The Neptunes, and while the production is fine, the reggae-bounce nature doesn’t mesh well with Pop Smoke’s flows and lyrical style. This goes for the various directions this album takes with his recorded products, like the off-brand and aforementioned “Demeanor” and “Manslaughter,” which takes too many creative choices with the mixing. The Dream doesn’t usually deliver mediocre or yawn-inducing performances, but it begs to differ on “Manslaughter.”

It starts to become a nuisance because you’re delivered, on a silver platter, a project with a minimal margin for error, and it barely leaves that margin. You’re more likely to see the Yankees blow a 5 run lead in the last two innings than think these established veteran rappers would deliver something of substance, but here we are. They orchestrate features like Pusha T, Rick Ross, Kid Cudi, and Chris Brown, and the final products are a bunch of tracks that you’re more likely to skip if you have high expectations for them. Ironically, the new class of rappers outperforms the veterans, bringing their all in tracks where the production elevates their strengths, like on “Genius” with Lil Tjay and Swae Lee or up-and-coming New York rapper Bizzy Banks on “30.”

The moments the album steers itself toward Pop Smoke solo tracks or these tracks with the new class, we are delivered the best tracks on Faith. Other tracks lack an essence of life, mostly because there has to be some empathy to hop on a record and do so with a sense of understanding. “Demeanor” featuring Dua Lipa and “Tell The Vision,” are prime examples of this outside of “Top Shotta.” Dua Lipa and Pop Smoke are some of the most nonsensical pairings between two artists that should have never happened. Dua Lipa’s overly glitzy pop falsetto on “Demeanor” doesn’t compliment Pop Smoke’s overtly twisted and rough ways on the microphone and it’s apparent. The same goes for “Tell The Vision,” which teased potential new, and of quality, verses from Kanye West and Pusha T, only to be left with blue balls from a weak intro and a redundant verse, respectively.

It’s always been evident that Pop has always had the talent, and with what has been said to be in the vault you’d expect better from the producers and orchestrators. But ultimately they took the opportunity to cash in on his legacy to find a happy medium between tracks for the fans and those to reel in the money. And though there is minimal-moral problems with it, you’d think they’d try harder to deliver something of worth, opposed to continuous snooze fests that will easily have you turning this off quicker than the stove when the pasta is burning.

Rating: 4 out of 10.