Boldy James & Real Bad Man – Killing Nothing: Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Jack Harlow – Come Home The Kids Miss You: Review

Establishing himself as an artist with great potential, Jack Harlow delivers less than projected on Come Home The Kids Miss You. Unlike the visceral shiftiness of That’s What They All Say, this follow-up by the Kentucky rapper misses the mark. It’s underwhelming. Jack Harlow is too linear as a lyricist, layering corny rap bars that are nuanced to his character but still lack that oomph of peak creativeness. There is never a sense that Harlow is trying to use his storytelling talent to its max potential. He has matured, but that maturity feels askew as he boasts himself to an established globe-trotter that has amassed a kind of lifestyle mirrored by his analogies. Within Come Home The Kids Miss You, some solid tracks come together by fit, but at times, Harlow sounds like he is drowning in establishing something he isn’t, which is a modest carbon copy of Drake. There are some clean beat-flow switches and some smooth lyrics in the crevices, though ultimately, there isn’t much to herald in high regard. 

When Jack Harlow came through with the first single for Come Home The Kids Miss You, “Nail Tech,” something cliqued that might have made you think Harlow would grow exponentially from a technical perspective. It got subsequently reaffirmed with the boldness of “First Class,” which saw a wicked awesome flip on “Glamorous” by Fergie as he rapped humbly about his growth in music. Though it gets subverted with the slight boredom deriding Harlow’s flows and content–which doesn’t stray from its core themes of excess and success–certain tracks slide over others due to quality, despite not being as great as the two singles. A lot of it becomes more apparent between the more stripped-down production, allowing him to show vanity, but you hear a discerning difference compared to more cross-appeal-driven tracks. On “Poison,” he becomes the third fiddle to the eloquence of the production and Lil Wayne’s fun and short verse. It isn’t the first time for Harlow; the beats take the wheel consistently, even when they are tame.

What’s striking about the production: it stays on a consistent wavelength tonally. It plays with percussion to elevate or deescalate the tempo without detracting you, and it gives enough Jack enough range to switch between trap and direct rap. It’s similar to Jack Harlow’s straight and linear bars that are as corny as lamenting the times he chased after the girls he was attracted to, one that specifically wore Aeropostale and Abercrombie. His creativity wanes, and if you listen closely, it becomes more apparent how poor it is. On “Movie Star,” after it becomes a snooze-fest with his first verse, Harlow raps: “But I’m just so inspired by the way you wear that thong/You know I like to dictate things, Kim Jong/I know that drink strong/You know we keep that bourbon out the barrel, Diddy Kong.” He’s trickling down to using off-color references to make a rhyme connect. That’s only one aspect of Harlow’s poor lyricism on the album, but often it doesn’t get balanced by his flows, as it feels like Harlow is trying too hard to assimilate styles cohesively.

Unlike the production, Jack Harlow’s lyricism makes you take a step back with lines like “I don’t care what frat that you was in, you can’t alpha me, keep dreamin’/Pineapple juice, I give her sweet, sweet, sweet semen” on “First Class.” In “I Got A Shot” amidst flexing, Harlow drops this sidebar: “She think I’m cold, I seen her nipples (Seen ’em).” In “I’d Do Anything To Make You Smile,” Harlow offsets the weirdness with cordial corniness with lines like: “Nice dress but your birthday suit’s a better outfit.” Surrounding these lines, Jack is rapping about women and his successes concerning status without much effect. He never keeps it interesting as sometimes it mirrors aspects of Drake, like the flow switches and writing structures, and the sound of it makes me want to listen to CLB instead, even if it’s as weak as Come Home The Kids Miss You. Though no fault of his, as he tells us early on, he wants to drop the gloves and brush off the humbleness; however, there is no arrogance or emotional finesse to hook you vigorously; he’s simply there, and his features do so similarly. 

But Jack Harlow has shown us he has earned an elevated status in hip-hop and pop, but the final product shows us differently. It sounds more like an artist delivering on auto-pilot without taking the time to listen to himself. Harlow brings plenty of interesting features to Come Home The Kids Miss You, some of which reflect the hierarchy of his state. Unfortunately, most are afterthoughts like Justin Timberlake on “Parent Trap.” It was a feature–on paper–that immediately piqued my interest but muddled when the chorus hit. Justin Timberlake continues Harlow’s streak of feeble choruses, though it gets interesting in the second half as it implements more break-hip-hop styles instead of the simple soul chords. Other than Timberlake, Drake, and Lil Wayne, bring quality verses and properly outshine Harlow on his record.

Come Home The Kids Miss You is boring, and it’s disheartening; you’d hope Jack Harlow to add more than some standard rap bars about flaunting his successes. But at the end of the day, it’s retroactively forgettable and a step back for him. If you’re a fan, there will be some stuff to enjoy, but ultimately, you’re better off just keeping Future on repeat. I mean that wholeheartedly.

Rating: 4 out of 10.

Future – I Never Liked You: Review

Recently, GQ dropped a profile on Future where they declared him the best rapper alive. Though the writer may have his merits, he clearly doesn’t understand or listen to hip-hop as a whole, which may have swayed the title. It isn’t to discredit Future, as he is amongst the best to ever do it; however, his lyrical and technical prowess is only as strong as the construct backing it. We’ve heard him at peak greatness with his first three albums, subsequent mixtapes, and dwindle with his last few Hip-Hop albums. It continues to be the case with his new album, I Never Liked You. There are excellent tracks, but it flops as it juggles weak features, boring content, and poor contrasts of similar styles.

Future begins I Never Liked You strong, but it becomes a misconception of how the rest of the plays out. It’s inconsistent; Future is tapping into boastful and sensitive emotions, trying to display range, but sometimes it left me yawning. It’s what separates the appeal between tracks that go hard like “I’m Dat N****” and “Love You Better.” While the former expresses that keen flex-Future, the latter tries and fails to capture the nuances of Future’s R&B moment with HNDRXX. But there are like-minded tracks that flow better within the R&B-sphere, like “Voodoo” with Kodak Black. Though Future is primarily rapping, he brings melodic flows matching the potency of the moody-piano-driven production. Kodak and Kaash Paige add remarkable harmonies to the fold in the chorus and bridge, respectively. It all intertwines into one a great heart-break banger.

Unfortunately, Kodak Black is one of three features that land and the one that doesn’t fit the mold of the album since Future’s choruses barely reach that level of singing at its core. Most of the features fall flat, which includes Drake’s first verse, who comes dialing it in with little emotion or ingenuity. It turns “Wait For U” from a heartfelt dance track to a write-off that should have been left on the cutting room floor, like the previously mentioned track “Love You Better.” But we get a handful of Future’s boastful–rightfully so–which has a soft layer of nuance as he comes with a perfected craft and a consistent delivery that gets lost through levels of inconsistencies like the oblique verses from Gunna and Young Thug on “For A Nut.” Future is composed, instead of Young Thug who raps “I just put some diamonds in her butt (Butt)/And I seen it shinin’ when she nut (Nut).” 

Kanye West’s appearance on “Keep It Burnin” is delivered with arrogance excellently; he contrasts Future’s eloquent confidence and modesty, further creating this bombastic banger that stands as one of the best tracks. It’s there with “I’m On One,” which is the second track with Drake. Like Lil Yatchy, hearing Drake on trap beats is fun, ear-popping with his braggadocio persona coming across naturally with hard-hitting bars. His verse is snarky and smooth with dominant lines like: “I don’t know why the fuck niggas tryna test me, what/I’m just all about my goals like Ovechkin, what.” Contextually and musically, it offers a great contrast in style between features, as they elevate each track with Future. Though it doesn’t say much since I Never Liked You boasts a handful of quality tracks, and they are undermined by the bad, which are poor features and boring content. 

Adjacently the content of some tracks doesn’t have enough creativity and feels half-baked, like “Massaging Me” and “Chickens.” Or they carry some redundancies like on “The Way Things Going;” it creates these oblique moments that take you away from the good on a first listen, that it could’ve used some trimming on the fat to have a more concise album, where the extra tracks are weighted properly. Though it’s more stagnant in appearance, it keeps I Never Liked You from being more than just an okay album with enough in the tank to replay. Besides Future, a lot of it is due to the consistent production from some usuals, like ATL Jacob, Wheezy, and Southside. The percussion stays on a path of vibrant consistency, giving you something fresh and new as it’s incorporated within these distinguishing overlays, like the energetic, hard-hitting “I’m Dat N****.”

There is enough to marvel and enough to throw in the trash bin, which has been the case with Future. It’s hard to mask the weak within explosive rhymes, but maybe that’s what he meant by the track “Mask Off.” I kid; this album by Future doesn’t incur the thought, as it carries the external potency expected of a Future album, without much of the gravitas.

Rating: 6 out of 10.

Action Bronson – Cocodrillo Turbo: Review

Action Bronson, aka Bronsoliño, Bam Bam, Mr. Baklava, has returned to grace us with more animal noises, food metaphors, and intricate production choices as these Crocs (his fans) steady their hunger before pouncing. It’s comparatively tame, making us slowly indulge the scenery with colorful lyricism and production that makes you feel the multi-faceted layers on the tracks. It isn’t as immersive but more collected and structured as we siphon through the 10-track-album Cocodrillo Turbo. It hits the proper notes of a good Action Bronson album; it circles intricate flex raps and atmospheric complexions to good effect. Cocodrillo Turbo doesn’t keep me fully invested, but within this open swamp, there are still remarkable highlights that keep the Bronson in your ear on repeat.

Cocodrillo Turbo has quality tracks, no doubt. However, it doesn’t circumvent the somewhat boring verses that shroud the delicately rich production. Cocodrillo Turbo sets the tone: you’re on a porch smoking a joint and watching nature, night and day, along the swamps, reflecting and flexing through intricate allusions. From the getgo, it’s a slew of flex-rap building upon metaphors to reaffirm these claims. Though, they are nothing without the production, which brilliantly uses animal noises, forest sounds, and southern music to create a progressive sonic concept album. It uses these colorful productions to place us in a calming swamp where Action Bronson comes across as the gator and reminding listeners that it’s still hungry. Compared to the production, the amount of food presented by Bronson isn’t always as satisfying. He’s still lyrically detailed, but it isn’t always profound, like the production.

The production realizes the atmosphere and sonic complexions, which mirror what we’d hear in swampy, jungly areas. Whether it’s “Jaguar,” where we hear jaguar roars (and the death of a pig at the end) on the back of the production as he comes across fiercely, or the bass grooves and percussion on “Subzero,” it comes in troves as it buoys many, except for lesser tracks like “Estaciones” and “Turkish.” In the latter, there are nocturnal sounds encapsulating the production that poorly contrast the tone and lyrics of Bronson. Though it isn’t to say it’s devoid of additional issues. It has a poor opener in “Hound Dog,” where the production completely drowns Bronson’s verse that you almost forget he has one. It would have been more effective as an instrumental since his verse isn’t that special.

After “Hound Dog,” an ever-growing escalation of allusions to how hard Action Bronson loses its touch due to a lack of creativity. Despite the detailed lyricism within tracks like “Jaws” or “Zambezi,” it isn’t as clever as the ones in “Tongpo.” It switches rhyme schemes often when compared to the latter, weaving various layers instead of repeating the “-it” scheme. However, there are flares to the flows; it balances it out for “Zambezi,” not “Jaws.” But there are more times where Bronson brings this kind of flourish, like on “Subzero” or “Ninety-One.” But ultimately, it juggles keeping a consistent presence in front of the lavish production as it steals the spotlight. It comes down to personal preference on its effectiveness. For some, “Jaws” may have that impact “Ninety-One” had on me, head-bopping smoothness.

Furthermore, it doesn’t benefit Cocodrillo Turbo that its 30-minute run time comes and goes swiftly. When you get to track 3, “Estaciones,” Bronson’s lyricism starts to meld together with a similar frequency that you almost forget he’s coming at it differently. The flows stay shifting, keeping the interest level consistent enough. Though there are aspects to enjoy, Cocodrillo Turbo comes with some hiccups. It doesn’t keep you on your toes like Only For The Dolphins, but it’s enough to keep on the backlog of Action Bronson projects of lesser quality, like S.A.A.B. Stories. But it does have enough to pack a wallop from the Cocodrillo Turbo himself. I thoroughly enjoyed the good and kept the forgettable in the back as they don’t feel compartmentalized within the rest. The production maybe, but not always the verses. Due to that, it is a modestly underwhelming project.

Rating: 6 out of 10.

Pusha T – It’s Almost Dry: Review

We’re about four years removed from Ye’s infamous Wyoming series, which saw Pusha T deliver Daytona, his best work to date. It showed that we could have more with less, as it weaved a more concrete and tightly structured album–one with a definitive start-to-end without leaving much to ride the coattails of great production and rapping from Pusha. Being four years removed from his last joint, Pusha T is hungry–can you blame him? It’s a contingency for him to constantly deliver top-notch verses, but it doesn’t reflect the final creation. We’ve become accustomed to his coke raps, his intricate rhyme schemes, and (of course) his infectious, maniacal laugh. That stays constant on It’s Almost Dry, despite a heel turn after “Diet Coke,” where most tracks fail to hit the mark from external forces.

From the beginning, it starts coming at you, track by track, a plethora of energy jabbing you with these hard-hitting bars that make you want to rewind it back. Pusha T can deliver a plethora of coke and money raps, but he knows how to keep it consistently intriguing lyrically. He takes different avenues to re-enforce certain connotations of his status and wealth, using his dark drug-dealing past to relay levels on the don’t fuck with meter. It’s a cycle that has been formulaic while staying interesting. Pusha T’s control and command of his craft keep him driving with a mostly clean license, like someone with only a few parking infractions. Blemishes here and there, lyrically, but for the most part, it’s a driving constant that acquiesces with the bleak and murky production. However, Pusha takes a heel turn after “Diet Coke,” where most tracks awkwardly fade into obscurity.

Though playable, some of the tracks have individualized issues, some of which don’t come from Pusha T directly. From underwhelming features on “Rock N Roll” and “Scrape It Off” to the mundane delivery and production of “Open Air” and “Call My Bluff,” these issues create distractions, at times, making you wish he took more of a solo route. It doesn’t operate with the same consistency as the first six tracks, which come at you with Pusha exceeding past his peak. Two things are evident: the Kanye West features are underwhelming, and Pusha T shouldn’t have tried to push cross-appeal over his sonic style. Don Tolliver and Lil Uzi Vert add little to the track, except for basic melodies on the chorus from the former and a forgettably bland verse from the latter. They aren’t like Jay-Z on “Neck & Wrist,” which reminds us why they are in a tier all their own. They deliver verses that create goosebumps over eerie synth and high-pitched, slightly distorted percussion.

Production is key on It’s Almost Dry. It usually incorporates these varying subtexts in its stylistic approach, rounding out Push with an array of vinyl scratches, drum patterns, and dark synths. It keeps the bleak, grimy, and murky atmosphere while taking consistent, organic twists with their added building blocks. It’s a testament to the synergy between producers like Pharrell, Kanye West, BoogzDaBeast, and 88-Keys, to name a few. They keep us on a linear path without taking a sudden nosedive. “Rock N Roll,” for its faults, naturally emboldens a rock mentality over an electro-hop core that gets reinforced by Kid Cudi’s modulations. “Dreamin Of The Past” gives us a boom-bap core with nuances to soul music; “Let The Smokers Shine The Coupe” is a bombastic anthem that consistently plays with percussion. Sans “Call My Bluff,” each production, whether subtle or not, gives us something different than the past, adding to Pusha T’s limitless range. 

Pusha T’s first three singles built up hype; they have different production styles, and Pusha T never derails, constantly hitting from all avenues that they hit exponentially; these tracks: “Diet Coke,” “Neck & Wrist,” and “Hear Me Clearly.” Even though It’s Almost Dry isn’t twelve tracks of this quality, he makes sure to close the album on a high note. “I Pray For You” continues 2022’s return of Clipse in rare form as we hear Pusha T shifting toward a more spiritually driven production that isn’t experimental like his feature on Donda. The way an organ gets incorporated boosts the depth in No Malice and Pusha T’s verses. It’s a memorable high note that makes It’s Almost Dry an interesting run-through, especially as you go through it multiple times.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Vince Staples – Ramona Park Broke My Heart: Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Fivio Foreign – B.I.B.L.E: Review

Stepping out of the shadows of Pop Smoke, Fivio Foreign has grown into his own, continuing to establish drill as a dominant genre/cultural movement in Hip-Hop. These artists have a limited range as a lyricist as the style emboldens different technical feats that an artist masters behind the microphone, like emotional focus and proper diction. Unfortunately, coded within some drill music is hate and anger, with Hot97 DJ, DJ Drewski banning the genre during his show because of the violent-gang-related content that engulfs these songs, and it’s understandable as drill has a lot to offer. Others would follow suit, but like any genre, you can subvert it the known lyrically or musically, and artists like Pop Smoke and Lil Durk did so. Fivio is another one to add to the list, especially after his debut album, B.I.B.L.E, which shows off Fivio at peak strength as a rapper while still progressing with his musical range.

We hear B.I.B.L.E stumbling at times, but Fivio’s musical ambition runs high, and working with Ye boosts the production value made by all producers involved. It tries to do something different with each track, whether it works or not, but there is an intrigue that amasses from it due to the lengths Fivio Foreign can go. He brings emotional depth and the element of surprise, especially with his approach to the themes lyrically. There is nuance in the way he approaches this, reflecting with confidence like on “Slime Them”–featuring a great verse by Lil Yachty–or reflexive like on “Feel My Struggle.” On a lyrical level, Fivio is twiddling his thumbs and delivering half-assery but his rap bars that never feel antiquated. B.I.B.L.E shows us Fivio’s growth as a lyricist and technical rapper. We hear him trying to push different flows and different sonic complexions, which sometimes work, and other times, leaves me feeling underwhelmed due to a lack of synergy.

That synergy is sometimes lost with the features as they become forgettable quickly, like Coi Leray on “What’s My Name” and Chlöe’s verse on “Hello.” It continues with Blueface on “Left Side,” who brings the energy down, and “Love Songs,” where the only ear-popping moment is Ne-Yo singing his line from “So Sick” at the end of a luscious chorus. On the other hand, “Confidence” is the opposite; A$AP Rocky comes and shines, but Fivio is almost non-existent, and the track left me wishing it was longer. However, beneath the fumbles, Fivio doesn’t back down; his flows and verses are better, and it shows, while others falter. But Fivio is there to still catch you in a web of music, specifically from the solo tracks, as he refines and reminds us of his technical talent. I can’t doubt his lyrical prowess under the guise of drill music conventions anymore. His ambition is high, and we hear it as he still tries to rap over uniquely odd samples.

“World Watching” is the most ambitious, of the bunch; it is a hybrid of two variations of “Lights” by Ellie Goulding–the original and the Bassnectar remix. When Fivio Foreign, Lil TJay, and Yung Blue start to sing or rap, the production’s proximity to that of “Lights” overwhelms them, and it leaves me scratching my head. Similarly, “B.I.B.L.E. Talk” feels forced and unnecessary. It’s here to repurpose the meaning of the album, but it gets lost with no fault from DJ Khaled’s delivery. The only interlude, there is little to it that elevates the album anymore. You remove that, along with “World Watching,” there is more cohesion amongst the tracklists. 

Without that cohesion, we get a slight imbalance. Fivio Foreign wants radio-friendly tracks and songs for the ladies, like “Love Songs,” but they mostly miss. “Left Side” seems destined to make a splash on both sides because of the chorus, but Blueface doesn’t add anything to it, and others are mundane in comparison. Other times, the production comes across as overly ambitious, like “World Watching.” However, he has one that works, “Magic City” with Quavo, which perfectly mixes what we should expect from a rap single on the radio. We want to hear them flex, and it does so effortlessly. It doesn’t need the captivating chorus melodies from “Left Side” or “Love Songs” to keep going through some mediocre moments. 

Ultimately, there is a lot to like about Fivio’s debut, and I’ll be spinning for years to come. But like any debut, you will have growing pains, and for Fivio, it’s song construction. A few times, there were moments where I felt songs could have been longer, taken off, or reworked for a better return. It could have elevated B.I.B.L.E to a higher plateau, but it stands firm strong as a solid debut that will leave fans hungry for an even better follow-up.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Kilo Kish – American Gurl: Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Denzel Curry – Melt My Eyez See Your Future: Review

Denzel Curry’s new album, Melt My Eyez See Your Future, is unlike previous work, with a deviation in tone and lyrical approach. It has more introspective raps than past work, which focused on balancing a sound engulfed with nuances of past Hip-Hop sounds from Florida/The South and lyrical grit as he delivers comparative flexes–think J. Cole when he flaunts his education. However, Denzel doesn’t need to flex his lyrical prowess, as he has been amassing respect as an emcee and artist. Albeit offering technical consistency, it bears shortcuts in its production. While Zuu brought elevated and monstrous production, Denzel Curry matches its energy–it creates a product that offers repeat value to his other projects. Unlike Zuu, Melt My Eyez See Your Future gets built upon minimally, and instead, the percussion starts to take command as he keeps his raps centered and introspective.

It’s been odd. Hip-Hop/Rap albums are usually structured to keep a balance and style opposite a standard construct, which is a strong opening and closing while dwindling in the middle. Unfortunately, that consistency isn’t here, as Melt My Eyez See Your Future starts to get lost–each decision after “Troubles” seems to churn my head or leave me in a haze of mundaneness. The album begins treading down a stream of consciousness that focuses on style over substance. It’s especially noticeable with “Zatoichi,” featuring a very forgettable Slowthai. His vocals on the chorus get drowned out by these grungy electronic overtones that I had to doubletake as I thought I missed Slowthai on the first go-around. It isn’t rare for a single to miss, but it didn’t have the gravitas of “Walkin,” which lets instrumental play without an over-emphasis on its complexities–further allowing Denzel Curry to explore lyrically. 

In past work, Denzel Curry’s talent for creating melodies is usually unfound as he has adapted it to boast his over-arching sound/style. Despite Denzel rapping more fluidly, he doesn’t stray too far from melody-driven tracks. “The Last” rides waves as he surfs through with hypnotic and authentic melodies that get buoyed by rich production. “X-Wing” parallels the greatness of “The Last,” with an emphasis on the trap sound with an uninteresting flow and tiring choral melodies. It’s a predominant issue with this second half, even with small moments like “Angelz” and “The Smell Of Death,” which feature production from Thundercat. Unfortunately, the funkadelic nuances and sick verse/delivery left me wanting more after finishing at 1:52. Though the way it connects with “Angelz” offers an uptick in an otherwise forgettable second half.

Through its faults, Melt My Eyez See Your Future has a powerful first half, starting with gut-punching drum beats and rustic jazz overtones on “Melt Session #1.” It embodies the atmosphere of the studio’s sound stage, which adds natural emphasis to his verse. Denzel Curry continues to stride with these remarkable verses that explore intricate themes, like life, religion, capitalism, and society, using his experience and emotional perspective to back it up. Though that doesn’t always equate to something great, there are still compounding factors that make his verses last or lost within the production, which is evident with the posse cut. However, this is Denzel’s album, and his work speaks higher on solo tracks like on “Worst Comes To Worse” and “Mental.” With “Mental,” you hear Denzel deviate in an open frame, walls get torn down, and he raps about his struggles with suicide. 

There is a consistent surge of quality bars in Denzel Curry’s verses that keep you entwined, even when he slightly deviates from the introspective raps, like on “John Wayne,” a flex rap. Using John Wayne as a reference point, Denzel raps about why he sees himself with the same gusto John Wayne embodies in westerns, especially with the gun-totting skills: “Walk around the hood like I’m John Wayne/Nine on my hip, I’ma let that bih bang.” The track’s polished and eccentric production by JPEGMAFIA rounds it out to near perfection. Overall, the production is consistent, even when it envelops him and his featured artists in a shroud of load percussion. It’s a lot to reflect on, but at the same time, I hear the lost potential as it doesn’t land as smoothly as past albums, like the phenomenal Zuu.

Melt My Eyez See Your Future continues to tell us Denzel Curry is here to stay, despite his eccentric style. We get a flurry of great production and solid verses, but they don’t always acquiesce with consistency. There is consistency in the first half, more so than the second, which ultimately left me feeling underwhelmed as I listened to it.

Rating: 7 out of 10.