Kid Cudi – Entergalactic: Review

Kid Cudi isn’t devoid of ideas; however, he barely extends said ideas beyond its core aesthetic. We’ve heard greatness on Passion, Pain, & Demon Slayin’ as Cudi elevated his sound beyond the haziness of his melodic depressed stoner raps. He’s encouraging himself toward new plateaus, but it got immediately forgotten by subsequently released and forgettable albums, like Man On The Moon 3. It continues with Entergalactic, his first soundtrack, and his eighth studio album. It left me feeling hollow like the namesake TV Special released on Netflix. Recorded in 2019, it seems like Cudi didn’t take the effort to refurbish the work and keep it from sounding like a drab extension of Man On The Moon 3. It doesn’t lack quality tracks, but they are far, and in between, it almost feels like a chore to sit, listen, and distinguish the ups and downs. So much so, it’s hard for one to recommend this, as it fits the quality of the conjoining special–a hollow representation of love between gifted artists, except without the depth but a lot of animated sex. Entergalactic is monotone in tone and becoming too entwined with the atmospheric textures; it’s almost like it’s devoid of any external effort beyond a first thought.

Giving us a fascinating thematic and enlightening intro, Kid Cudi completely forgets his musical trajectory and loses himself after a few tracks. Stylistically, what Cudi aims for has succeeded, but he’s bringing depth lyrically and creating exuberant melodies and hums. We’re far from Man On The Moon: The End of Day and Indicud, but within the confines of Entergalactic, Cudi squeezes out some good tracks between mundaneness. The rough patches you have to cruise past to get to them aren’t rewarding–songs like “Do What I Want” and “Willing To Trust” are some that stand out, but for the latter, it takes a while for the front-to-back completionist. Featuring Ty Dolla $ign, it uses Ty’s strengths smoothly, allowing the beat to feel almost second nature, and you can coast through the blissful melancholy. It isn’t the same for a lot of Entergalactic. Starting strong with its intro, “New Mode,” and subsequent track, “Do What I Want,” it eventually becomes a forgettable heel turn in a career, which Cudi has now said he will be pausing to focus on creating visually.

Unsurprisingly ineffective, the production by Dot Da Genius & Plain Pat has been a mirroring downer. Their work translates to beats we’ve heard Kid Cudi create some of his best work, but the consistent blandness keeps it from being anything more than just a throwaway. It wouldn’t be that way if the accompanying visuals didn’t give it some purpose for being. You know when you get ecstatic for a B side or Deluxe edition with at least 10+ new tracks, but then you realize it’s all hype, leaving you feeling like the purpose for its release was moot? Entergalactic is that and more; it has rehashed elements between current and past beats never come across as unique. “Can’t Believe It” is a lesser, more muted version of “Do What I Want,” which is exponentially more of a banger. “Angel” overindulges in its synth samples of “In My Dreams (Cudder Anthem)” off Man On The Moon: The End of Day that you start waning and preferring to switch to his debut.

Despite the quality of work that may seep through the cracks, Entergalactic continues to come off monotone and tone-deaf. I say tone-deaf because it’s creatively stunted, barely getting past simple constructs and making one feel like fans won’t care as long as it’s new. For example, “Ignite the Love” opens with an intriguing acoustic sequence, eventually getting forgotten as it starts to shift back toward simple drum and synth patterns. You’d want to think it’s a dream, but Entergalactic is what it is, and it doesn’t aim to be anything with resounding depth.

It’s unfortunate because Kid Cudi has been able to deliver phenomenal work; he’s given us a hosh-posh of mediocrity, or outright imperfect, pieces of work; however, they come with something interesting to dissect and have conversations beyond the critical surface. Going back to WZRD or Speedin’ Bullet To Heaven, there is a sense of creative ingenuity that sees Cudi trying to express himself differently since he was never one to adhere to the standards of Hip-Hop. I can’t say the same here. Cudi is rarely intriguing, spending too much time finding ways to describe physical and spiritual connectivity between two artists, just without proper character dimensions. You’d want to think there is more to it, but it’s a soundtrack to a hollow TV Special, which it mirrors perfectly. Ty Dolla $ign gives us one solid feature, but 2 Chainz and Don Tolliver distort the balance because they come delivering what gets expected. For Tolliver, it’s been an ongoing thing where it’s almost hard to make him appealing in features due to artists sticking to that one melodic tone.

Entergalactic is a futile waste for both fans and non-fans. There is little merit, if at all, as it is a translation of the animated text released on Netflix, and it’s equally so. I started tuning out rather quickly, but when that extra spark of the joint hit, it kept me going. Though not with musical positivity radiating in my ears, more mediocrity and steps below.

Rating: 3 out of 10.

Freddie Gibbs – $oul $old $eparately: Review

It’s been three years since we’ve gotten a Freddie Gibbs solo album–I’m not talking about collaborations with one producer as they are on a tier all their own, but ones with many producers–despite the inconsistencies in quality, track-to-track, it’s regularly a must-listen when he drops. I say that primarily due to his ear for production since that’s one constant that keeps one gravitating back. That’s not the case with $oul $old $eparately, another conceptual album that tries too hard to present sonic layers that aren’t present; however, they aren’t an ear-sore but relatively more confusing. Most of that comes from forcing a narrative about Gibbs’ lackadaisical living in-between albums, leaving many around him annoyed and confused, like how fans feel about some of his beefs. $oul $old $eparately is different than his last non-collaborative with one producer, album, particularly in sound, as it shifts from his 2019 self-titled album’s more 80s Soul–R&B at the height of the Perm haircut’s popularity. It is more grounded in Hip-Hop, showing its hand and delivering some less than surprisingly inconsistency through the synergy with the beats and features where you’re coasting positively, for the most part.

$oul $old $eparately has a concept, and it’s simple: Freddie Gibbs is taking his sweet time, living luxuriously and carefree instead of releasing an album. We hear his hotel room’s phone voicemails with some slight annoyance from people in his orbit and some vocals from his Vegas hotel’s intercom. And we hear his manager and Jeff Ross, for example, and though he’s tackled various landscapes, many don’t fit within the bigger picture. I could understand Joe Rogan, but when one hears Jeff Ross, one can get confused. They tend to dilute the effectiveness of the tracks, especially as they round themselves with some forgettable beats. If you disregard some of the dialogue and vocal transitions, you’ll end up listening to the crisp lyricism and flows that have kept Gibbs fresh. Without balance in production, it loses its vanity. But as you listen to the album, you start to ponder things, one of which Jeff Ross brings up–what’s with the rabbits? Freddie Gibbs is about symbolism within gritty street rap bars, and it hits on a consistent level.

Freddies Gibbs raps about drug dealing, luxury, and violent notations among this plethora of topic subsidies that could relate to the three. It’s in line with the connotation deriving from the album title. Gibbs comes across as this soulless person who is zoned out and inviting random heads to a Vegas party involving many drugs as he lives his best life and warns people he doesn’t fuck with. Unfortunately, that soullessness transfers over many beats, with rare outliers popping out. “Feel No Pain,” “PYS,” and “Zipper Bagz” are some that instantly come to mind. The respective producers try something refreshingly new with the percussion, playing with the drum patterns on all fronts. “Feel No Pain” is audaciously grand, giving us nuances of the boom-bap style with live drums, while “PYS” contains that southern, slowed-down drum pattern influence boasting the grit of Gibbs and featured artist DJ Paul. Throughout the album, there isn’t a lack of quality with the lyricism. These tracks, along with others like “Blackest In The Room,” “Space Rabbit,” and “Gold Rings,” grasp you hard and keep you centered in the direction on hand, even when the features are lackluster.

Like most Freddie Gibbs albums, $oul $old $eparately contains a platoon of features that usually match the quality of Freddie’s verses. Some may come and deliver with typical frequencies, like Rick Ross, Pusha T (still producing a great verse), and Offset, but others elevate their respective tracks further. Some two notable ones, “Feel No Pain” and “PYS,” see Anderson .Paak, Raekwon, and DJ Paul add depth by providing the sauce on the platter through unique inflections that translate over the nuanced beats. Melodic features like Kelly Price and Musiq Soulchild balance Gibbs’ grit and present forth equilibrium that is mainly nonpresent. In retrospect, they boast the quality of Gibbs’ solo tracks as there is little reliance on features that sometimes don’t deliver, like Offset or Moneybagg Yo. And, since they don’t get strong beats to flow over, it causes them to feel more like an afterthought. They look like something spectacular could be conducted on paper, but the semi-half-assery doesn’t allow you to ingest what it’s saying at times.

The beats get handled by many producers. But as the expression goes: there are too many cooks in the kitchen. Oddly with that many cooks, the production isn’t all that interesting and never truly bloated. They are never immersive as you are just listening to Freddie Gibbs rap without sonic fluidity. It’s an intriguing experience that gets less enjoyable the more you lament the effectiveness of its concept and themes. There are lyrical and technical consistencies from Gibbs, but the beats flummox you as the quality shift is more apparent. The tracks that fail to make an impact aren’t that lavish and maintain a mundane percussion-driven core without trying to elevate the exterior sounds, which makes you feel that Gibbs works better with a producer who can deliver proper, linear direction for him.

There is enough to reflect and return to, but $oul $old $eparately isn’t the standout his 2019 release, Freddie, was. $oul $old $eparately aims to be something of grandeur, but that gets instantly forgotten because of its lackluster delivery on the exteriors. You’re left feeling that if he toned it down and let it stay focused on being a little more apropos, it would be a much stronger album. You’re given something great beneath the surface, but it requires a good amount of your attention before finding what tracks you truly like, unlike those collaborative efforts, which have clearer directions.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.

Sampa The Great – As Above, So Below: Review

Amongst friends, I’ve come to understand varying perspectives on Hip-Hop are ever-shifting based on the culture. Thus, the way I think Black Thought, Little Simz, or Rapsody are some of the hottest MCs, they’ll prefer to hype up the know–gritty Hip-Hop keen on bars, arrogance, moody drug rap, like Pusha T, Benny the Butcher, and A$AP Rocky. It’s perplexing as Hip-Hop’s growth has been more than just blending sonic influences from regional hip-hop in the US and UK. And it’s because of that growth we’ve been able to see artists embrace genres beyond the immediate know–like Jazz, soul, and R&B–these artists have been able to blend House and Hip-Hop, Regional African Music, past massive pop hits like Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy,” etc. Sampa the Great reflects this growth, offering a shift from past tracks, blending some minimalism with exuberant production. Sampa doesn’t mince words; she has these creative flows and unique rhythmic patterns that help push themes to the forefront. It’s as effervescent as ever on her follow-up to The Return, As Above, So Below.

As Above, So Below goes beyond to allow inflections of Sampa the Great’s verses to get heard. She’s always been one to express her Zambian heritage musically through features, production, and the incorporation of its languages to boast her identity as a rapper. Though we’ve gotten projects that demonstrated her masterful technical skills, it was only a matter of time: an expansion on the production’s use of African sounds to coat the core hip-hop percussion notes with the evolution of construction. Because of it, it’s focused on central thematic cores, allowing for simplistic themes about perseverance and individuality, like in “The Great Never Forget.” Featuring Zambian musicians Tio Nason, Chef 187, and Mwanje, they bring varying languages of the region, like Bantu and Bemba. It adds depth toward seeing Sampa’s vision, as her roots extend beyond the recent. Incorporating contemporary features boast Sampa’s talent, parallel to rappers like Denzel Curry, Joey Bada$$, and Kojey Radical. Woven in between tracks that hone in on her Zambian roots, which get reflected through language and sound, like the remarkable “Can I Live?” featuring Zambian Rock group Witch or Angélique Kidjo on the closing track.

Now, you might think: “It may be an extra step to translate,”, especially for some, but it’s worth that time as it opens the doors to Sampa’s world. Though we get varying sonic styles and features, Sampa’s Hip-Hop is at her core. She doesn’t forget that it’s a part of her, further shifting styles to embolden her MC-like skills. It’s a continuance of what we got loosely on The Return, seeing Sampa work with artists of varying regions, like South African rapper Ecca Vandal and South Sudanese-Australian Rapper Krown. We won’t hear a constant reverence toward non-sequitur Hip-Hop that matches the grooves and tones of an expected, instead reflecting the flows/rhythmic patterns of the performing artists like on “Lane” with Denzel Curry. Sampa has proven herself with past tracks like “Final Form” and “Freedom,” but when it comes to As Above, So Below, it tries to ground itself with a message before allowing herself to get lost in the metaphors and wordplay. Unfortunately, we hear her get lost delivering choruses and bridges, and at times, minimalist bars loosely, like the lines “Who took fabric, made that shit classic/That shit ain’t average/We did,” on “Never Forget,” or the weak refrain on “Bona.”

But I know Sampa the Great has bars equipped and ready, but what’s important to her is trying to convey a message that speaks identity more than reflecting on the stasis of her career and the future. Though we get some moments of that here, it reflects on her artistry instead of being about how her kind of style has made her successful enough where she exclusively flexes her riches. Her natural confidence only energizes the effectiveness of the themes getting relayed by both sides–blending different artists that shift our understanding of international artists. So when I searched the translation of Chef 187’s verse on “The Great Never Forget,” it dawned on me that understanding it in my native tongue isn’t like understanding how the inflections, flows, and phrasing from bar to bar for those who consume it regularly. It’s similarly the case with features that buoy over the strength of the production, like in the closing track “Let Me Be Great,” featuring Beninese Singer/Songwriter Angélique Kidjo. The feeling is musically joyous, specifically when looking at her clear direction and what she achieves. It’s an experience that elevates everything around it, from its colorful and expansive production to transitional consistency upping the volume of the performances.

As Above, So Below is a triumphant follow-up to The Return. It tells us who Sampa the Great is without taking away from what makes her a fantastic artist: her lyrical and technical skills, seemingly camouflaging within the beat and creating works of art that transcend past the core hip-hop-sphere. It left me hungry for more, despite a tightknit 40 minutes that feels hefty in its thematic depth. I’ll be returning to this frequently, and hopefully, what I heard gets captured similarly with you, the listener.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

JID – The Forever Story: Review

Having the gift of storytelling allows hip-hop artists to add depth beyond the apropos flexing as they take us on journeys toward understanding their message. We’ve gotten various styles, at times becoming more focused on the trickle-down effect–it works for many, but not all. JID is more linear, giving us these intricate flows as he builds the world around him with musical vibrance. Usually tonally split between being frenetic and soulfully slower, there is an equilibrium as it goes through JID’s life with themes centered on family, hip-hop, and his relationship with the people around him. Furthermore, his walls continuously crumble, adding innate vulnerability and giving us a sense of his character, specifically through the guise of Hip-Hop. The Forever Story continues to show the potency of his craft as he bridges styles with effervescent production that boasts the world JID builds with his rhymes, flows, and melodies.

JID and vulnerability are two entities that acquiesces cleanly, spearheading the conversation toward understanding JID’s character. He is world-building and allowing his connection points to progress his messaging. It starts coming at you ferociously with this myriad of songs like “Raydar,” which establishes interconnectivity within the black community, reflecting central aspects that speak broadly while staying close to retaining relativity. It’s on “Raydar” where JID reignites our view of song construction, levying what to expect: “I got the shit you could play for your mama/I got the shit you could play for the hoes/I got the shit you could sell to the trappers,” speaking to his artistic range. And he makes it known with his sonic range on The Forever Story, giving us some heavy hitters, intimate reflections, and mature flexes.

Following “Raydar,” the sounds that spread throughout shift from the darker percussion to the more neo-soul-influenced sounds containing the stability which allows the beat to coast smoothly. It has this crisp jitteriness, reflecting JID’s flow in likeness. We hear it effervescently on “Can’t Punk Me,” “Dance Now,” and “Surround Sound,” and it’s similarly the case with tracks that focus on the soulful undertones. These tracks embody aspects of JID’s person–“Can’t Punk Me” is a descriptive rag-to-riches tale–“Dance Now” tackles years of doubts, particularly when shifting the corner with a major record deal–“Crack Sandwich” sees JID sharing the dynamic between him and his siblings growing up in the south–JID is coming about these topics with maturity, especially when comparing where he was to now.

On the other end, tracks like “Kody Blu 31” and “Stars” embolden the jazz-rap overtones, playing with instruments and implementing them uniquely. With “Stars,” the live instrumentations steal the spotlight, shining through percussion, invigorating the verses from JID and Yasiin Bey. BADBADNOTGOOD’s input, the live orchestration, shines alongside the hip-hop producers Christo and Eric Jones. “Kody Blu 31” brings out that Blues/Soul influence brilliantly. The postwork on JID’s vocals highlights the emotional weight from predominantly singing when he’s known to mostly rap. That lyrical maturity also gets heard in how he expresses himself in choruses and verses, like the slight digs at stereotypes that come with stardom on “Stars,” speaking to its nature on a grounded scale, considering his status compared to that of label head J. Cole. It’s on these soulful songs where the synergy between the performers and production gets heard potently, especially with the features, one of many highlights on The Forever Story

Amongst the features in The Forever Story, there is a consistency that parallels JID’s masterful lyricism, running dry swiftly on “Bruddanem.” Lil Durk’s delivery isn’t up to par with the poignancy of his verse, which offers an illustrative view of brotherhood in Chicago as it transcends past simple camaraderie–taking bullets for another–further reflecting the lengths they go to protect each other. It gets heard, but it doesn’t match the levels of JID, whose more tame flow expresses the emotional cracks in his voice, like on “Kody Blu 31.” It’s more a testament to Durk not being fully assimilated past drill-like flows. Unlike it, JID shows consistency with construction, mirroring the production with aspects of his feature’s strengths and giving us standout performances that progress the story while staying personally reflexive in their regard. Whether it’s Ari Lennox or 21 Savage, JID creates synergy, enveloping tracks with effervescently purported notions. The Forever Story is grand, almost cinematic, how JID loses himself within the beat and paints these delicate and vibrant scenes.

The Forever Story is a triumph for JID, weaving together his strengths and compacting them cleanly in his own transformative journey. We get a balance between production styles, allowing them to connect through distinct transitions. It left me zoning, retaining it on repeat, and feeling the immersive nature of his music. And with features that boast the messaging of their respective tracks and equally great production, JID continues to add credence to his momentous strength as a lyricist/MC.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

DJ Khaled – God Did: Review

Mid-way through the 2010s, DJ Khaled saw a significant pivot in quality, where an onslaught of mediocre singles and albums rolled out, leaving us with little to return. He wants to be like other heavyweights in the game, like DJ Drama, DJ Kay Slay, and DJ Don Cannon–to name a few–but he hasn’t found his voice after all these years. Instead of being respectable 100% of the time, Khaled is choosing to be more of a meme, rather, an apparition that haunts you whenever you question his presence, like this year’s Academy Awards. However, he’s still capable of orchestrating and producing quality tracks where the delivery is enough to reflect competency; though it wasn’t pertinent on his last album, his follow-up, God Did, mirrors the quality of Major Key, though that isn’t high praise. God Did bears intriguing features and directions for Khaled, which don’t always work, but it’s fresh to hear a concise approach as opposed to Khaled Khaled.

Given the context of how DJ Khaled constructs his albums–creating distinct hitmakers, at times wavering toward a concept–there is merely so much you can take away outside of hip-hop or reggae/dancehall club hits. You add them to rotation, and like the previously mentioned DJs, that DJ KHALED yell at the beginning is a signifier of bangers. But as he’s grown, he’s learned to over-sizzle his presence and bore us with basic motivational drab that you want to skip to the first featured artist’s vocals. It happens immediately after a quick and forgettable Drake intro with the title track and a bit more frequently than expected down the line. It delivers one of Khaled’s better tracks in some time, with a lot of credit going to detail to make an 8-minute epic feel epic. With Rick Ross and Lil Wayne offering crisp 16s before Jay-Z comes and raps for 4 minutes straight. Khaled sets up a kind of thematic motif that represents humbleness and grace as you rack up success, but it’s sonically displaced as Khaled fizzles the gospel approach to hip-hop that many enjoyed from Ye.

After, it’s one stumble before it begins to sway between various ideas that never go anywhere, like that spiritual-esque motif that shines on their approach when flexing–which becomes forgotten, at times hypocritically expressing what is considered sinful, like pride–or ineffective deliveries. With “It Ain’t Safe,” featuring Nardo Wick & Kodak Black–though the latter speaks for itself–Nardo Wick doesn’t mince words–in his first verse, he spits: “​​She see the way I pull a bitch/You see the way these diamonds hit/Nigga try to touch my chain, you gon’ see the way this 40 kick.” There are hints of pride and violent threats, but I digress as the song is effective on its own, but when you think about the direction Khaled is seemingly aiming for, it misses. It does so on the remix to “Use This Gospel,” a Ye track from Jesus Is King, remixed/produced by Dr. Dre, Timbaland, Federico Vindver & Angel López, and featuring Eminem. If you ever had doubts about Eminem on a gospel track with no cursing, expect the best he can without synergy since Eminem’s style doesn’t adequately parallel a style sketched by the original.

Other stagnant aspects deter from what one expects after listening to the first three tracks. Though that isn’t to say the–immediate–subsequent tracks falter. “Big Time” and “Keep Going” shine by encapsulating the featured artists’ strengths and allowing them to direct their perspective identity with the beat. It’s a consistent positive within Khaled’s talents; he can build something great in his mind, despite the execution never landing, like on “Let’s Pray” or “Beautiful,” where individual artist delivery can’t buoy the song from being more rudimentary comparatively. It doesn’t benefit from relegating SZA to a chorus role when Future is retreading verses from his last album, albeit a breezy flow. Likewise, other missteps become more apparent, like some sample use like on “Staying Alive.” It’s an egregiously dull and derivative use of a Bee Gee’s song–the base production is simple, outright basic, and unappealing. Adding the interpolations of the chorus with some overly monotonous Drake vocals makes it one of the more annoying stop-gaps that can halt any listen. It’s an absent idea that sees him wanting to find a trend between disco nostalgia and hip-hop but misses the mark. 

Lacking subtlety, its use of samples gets used to boast the effectiveness of Khaled’s sonic direction, offering a rich layer that’s either emotional or outright fun, like on “Party” with Offset & Takeoff. “Party” samples the Eddie Murphy hit, “Party All The Time,” and as I heard the filtered synth sample and the slightly distant reverb in the chorus from the song made me laugh at first. But as I kept returning, it dawned on me how effective its use is as they make it their own without an abundance of Khaled. Similarly, “Way Past Luck” beautifully incorporates samples of the production from “All This” by Barbara Jean English. Confident pivots leave tracks independent from the mold, capable of holding weight amongst as it stands on a corner delivering concrete fluidity. It’s especially the case with the three songs that immediately follow “Way Past Luck,” considering his inclusion of Juice Wrld was both enjoyable and respectable, as it builds hype toward a thrilling Jadakiss interlude. It may be stagnant, but DJ Khaled still somewhat delivers on the orchestration side.

God Did is a better album than DJ Khaled’s last outing, but the standards he has set for himself get properly reflected here, even if he could go higher. Though, like most Khaled albums, there are bangers to return to, despite wrought inconsistencies. I had a somewhat fascinating and fun time going through the album, which I expect from most, even if it doesn’t tread toward the quality of projects like Suffering From Success.

Rating: 5.5 out of 10.

DOMi & JD Beck – NOT TiGHT: Review

Aftermath Records cemented homegrown superstars from the underground up, and these superstars have gone on to expand into managing themselves. Anderson .Paak is next up at bat, and the debut of his first signees isn’t much of a spectacle, but it offers insight into the direction he wants to take in his new venture. Unlike others who keened into hard-hitting lyricism, Paak aims for the magic behind the words, aka instruments. With DOMi & JD Beck, he has just that—breathing the fragrant essence of Jazz that teeters between coherent rhythms and purposely incoherent jovialness as they orchestrate an album that bends different soundscapes, most of which flourishing into some memorable tracks. The consistency isn’t high with the impact getting heard more so in the middle, but within that area, you’re not always gravitating towards it. Unfortunately, you’re left feeling musical hope for their future, even if NOT TiGHT isn’t the most robust debut.

As it begins, NOT TiGHT wanes in concept as it stiffens due to some standard overtures with its percussional rhythm; however, the varying degrees of instrumentations that overlay brings back your attention quickly as it continues to trickle through. Sometimes that feeling occurs because the drums contain yawn-inducing sequencing before getting wild and developing a sense of being. We first hear it in the latter half of “Smile,” which carries unique sounds that allow you to pick out and contrast as they play alongside contemporaries like Thundercat or legends like the incomparable Herbie Hancock. Within this microcosm of tracks in the middle, you get handed some intimate twists. It’s pertinent in the sounds that radiate from DOMi’s eclectic keyboard and drum playing, which JD Beck mirrors, allowing these shifts to form smoothly. Instead of singing, they let the instruments speak, and the synergy between them oozes into your veins, allowing the latent lounge to flourish with colors. Both “Bowling” and “Not Tight” feature Thundercat; the former is more soulful and melodic, while the latter feels like a free-form session that became a distinctive happy accident. 

Their instrumentations are critical in understanding their craft, as they balance between sounding freeform and conversational notes. At times, they don’t truly feel like tracks and instead act as sonic pads to reinforce the feature-heavy middle, containing both vocal and instrumental features. Some have a crisp roughness that gives us elegant contrasts to that more sustained sequencing that opened the album. “Space Mountain” and “Whoa” are instant hits, transcending past the norm and enveloping a proper cadence in their sequencing, allowing smoother textures to find balance with the nuanced avant-garde. “Whoa” does so more exponentially as the duo weave what sounds like a spectacular jam session into an extraordinary sense of Jazz bliss. The drum patterns switch focus with the strings and keys, letting the fragrance of the instrumental playing offer insight into their characteristics musically.

There are missteps with “Two Shrimps” and “U Don’t Have To Rob Me,” though it comes back around with “Moon,” featuring Herbie Hancock. Like Hancock’s performance, many hit the nail on the coffin, but unlike “U Don’t Have To Rob Me,” “Moon” benefits from having DOMi & JD Beck provide backing vocals, which adds layers to Herbie Hancock’s whimsically electric and smooth performance. They embody sensibilities of the past and modernize with rich undertones, specifically of the hip-hop variety. Anderson .Paak–with Snoop Dogg and Busta Rhymes–adds flavor to the boiling pots and steaming pans of sounds that embolden their flows. Paak delivers decadent flows over “Take A Chance,” while Snoop and Busta trade verses over a soulful-jazz instrumental. Though Snoop Dogg can’t match the laidback bliss from 2015’s Bush, he delivers a verse and flow that beautifully contrasts Busta’s softened bravado. Unfortunately, the brakes get applied early, and the last two tracks, in comparison, are mild and send you off feeling mum about the whole listen.

NOT TiGHT is a fun and mature debut that offers enough to keep your attention through and through, thanks to some clean transitions between tracks. There was stuff I liked, some that made me want to skip, but reactions may arrive differently for you, and that’s fine. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough for me to gush over and sell.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.

Lupe Fiasco – Drill Music In Zion: Review

Drill Music In Zion. On its surface, you’d expect Lupe Fiasco to rap over or incorporate elements of drill music, and who would blame you. Since Lasers, Lupe Fiasco has taken creative turns left and right, from concept albums to underwhelming sequels and stylistic changes. But Drill Music In Zion is different. Lupe is looking at hip-hop in its current state and juxtaposing–because of apparent negatives–Drill Music’s acceptance in Zion or the “Kingdom of Heaven,” considering the hypocrisy of haters and naysayers who call out Drill, but not the contextual musicality or cultural identity. There is understanding toward it. Lupe is creating conversations around history in music, and the socio-political spectrum, instead of sanctifying the sub-genre. And Lupe isn’t without bringing forth a topic and shifting our familiarity on its head, at times failing like on “Words I Never Said” and his perception of 9/11: 

“9/11, building 7, did they really pull it?/Uh, and a bunch of other coverups/Your child’s future was the first to go with budget cuts.” 

– Lupe Fiasco

On Drill Music In Zion, Lupe Fiasco is effective when he’s focused on one prerogative, but when there is a shift of topics in hip-hop, it affects the steady trajectory the album travels. That isn’t to say he misses the mark by incorporating the final piece of his “Murals” trilogy–which slaps–or his ability to blend both. Most flows are on point, boasting his lyricism. Unfortunately, some choruses don’t hit, breaking the construct, but Lupe’s verses stay consistent on the lyrical side; what he writes brings depth, but his flows aren’t always there. It’s what contrasts “Kiosk” from “Seattle” and so forth. 

The main criticism of Drill music comes from its violent content. That’s a central focus of Lupe on Drill Music In Zion, but it’s looked through different angles. From New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ war against the style for its “glorified violence” and ways to push forth violent threats under the guise of disses, it isn’t as predominant issue as they make it out to be. We’ve heard about Fivio Foreign’s Best Friend, TDOTT, and most recently, the Lil Tjay shooting in Edgewater, New Jersey. But that’s only the east coast; it’s everywhere. And It isn’t just drill music. Because of that, it adds more weight to the first verse of “On Faux Nem:” “Rappers die too much/That’s it, that’s the verse.” It subverts the directness delivered in the intro’s first four lines: “Drill music, pop that pill music, kill music/Desecrating the temples in the ghetto/Funeral processionals increase their frequency/Because we can’t break the spell of Geppetto.” When it’s trendy, it becomes the focus of conversation, which is off-putting because not all deaths and news regarding violence is gang-related–Pop Smoke was doxxed in LA by robbers, which went wrong. But it didn’t stop first instincts–something to do with his correlation to the Crips, but that is just one aspect. It’s an ongoing endemic (gun control and so forth) that isn’t all singled and rooted in a particular community.

From Tupac and Jam Master Jay to King Von and Young Dolph, Lupe reminds us it’s more than the surface layer of Drill music. What Lupe Fiasco wants to get across: external cultures infiltrate and establish a base within the genre. It’s more complex than Lupe’s lines in the interlude: “Nah, Nah we can’t, we can’t talk about that/We gotta talk about something else/I mean, because it’s hypocritical, nigga, you got guns,” pondering why they have to represent a lifestyle that one escaped through music. It further perpetuates new tonal meaning with sound. And It all comes down to the numbers, and it sells. That’s the unfortunate part.

Now, is there violent content? Yes. Is it glorified? That’s hard to answer, primarily because the bridge gets built between lyrics and beat. Think about how certain Juice Wrld tracks perpetuate his depression, and for some, it’s second nature because the production gets flurried with insane pop appeal. At that point, the listener should be able to separate the two upon further listens. So, to focus on that, when other genres like gangsta/reality rap, the east coast adjacent mafioso rap, hardcore, horrorcore, and more have been in the same boat. It’s not the music. It’s larger issues than it, like infrastructure, gun control, etc. The naysayers look at the genre through tinted lenses, where all that comes out, are the negatives. It’s scapegoating, and Lupe tries to keep that in focus, despite musical shortcomings, like the mundane histrionics about the commercialism within hip-hop–chains, spinning rims, etc–in “Kiosk,” which fails to hit the mark.

In other tracks, he is rapping about musical parallels that connect both sides, making way for non-drill listeners to open their minds; I mean, shit, it took me a while back in the day to get acclimated. And we hear it but he keens into it on tracks like “Precious Things” or “Autoboto,” where Lupe brings up past segregation, which created these distinct neighborhoods, which eventually got pitted against each other through external issues. He uses it to construct conscious parallels with his alter ego Carrera-Lu (his flashier side), one where each acknowledges who they represent–the aware Lupe and the swag-filled and sometimes violent Carrera. “Precious Things” uses anthropomorphism to bring forth the hypocrisy of homonyms, like the questioning of having body parts get incorporated, like arms.

Like “Precious Things,” most tracks carry an emotional depth that perfectly contrasts arguments made about the subgenre, but most importantly, the culture. It has a built foundation that it expands on, but at points, the production can feel wasted or singular. There are vibrant Jazzy, at times freestyling, like on the title track, and other times are more singularly driven, like “Seattle,” though it is a solid track, the production isn’t as interesting as his verses. They aren’t detractors, as they acquiesce in a great three-track run from “Drill Music In Zion” to “On Faux Nem.” Drill Music In Zion isn’t Lupe’s best, but he offers plates with material that might make you reconsider your opinion on Drill. 

Rating: 7 out of 10.

The Weekly Coos: Top 15 Albums of The Year So Far

15. Wet Leg – Wet Leg

“Wet Leg captures you with melodic mysticism and lush instrumentations morphing beyond surface layer cohesion between drum patterns and electric guitar riffs, especially when the band steers toward pop-rock instead of post-punk overtures.”LINK TO REVIEW

14. 070 Shake – You Can’t Kill Me

“You Can’t Kill Me isn’t like 070 Shake’s previous album, specifically in the construct of the production. It isn’t devoid of complex layering with the sounds, but it doesn’t deter you by taking a distinct direction that never lands, though some tracks fly past the radar because of uninteresting production. There is a frequency to it, and 070 Shake comes at it with full force and develops a sense of emotional gravitas.”LINK TO REVIEW

13. Avril Lavigne – Love Sux

“…I haven’t always been absent from her music – some highlights here and there – and it’s a good thing I wasn’t as Avril Lavigne has come with her best work since 2005’s Under My Skin. Love Sux is a dynamic shift from blending nuances of the past with oblique pop. Love Sux knows what it is: lyrically poignant, blending commercialized lingo with riotous rock or rounded pop-punk ballads.”LINK TO REVIEW

12. Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers

“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.”LINK TO REVIEW

11. Conway the Machine – God Don’t Make Mistakes

“When attempting to bring bangers, he doesn’t stray far from his identity, lyricism; it continues to be a staple of his craft. There’s constant activity on God Don’t Make Mistakes, his major-label debut. There is crisp production from a range of producers, who provide tonal consistency, and there is Conway’s lyricism that never falters.”LINK TO REVIEW

10. Hurray for The Riff Raff – Life On Earth

“LIFE ON EARTH lands on impact with moments of catching wind as their sound evolves through each track. Alynda Segarra is trying new things, and as she weaves these complex layers in her writing, the production builds till we don’t have one flavor; we have many.”LINK TO REVIEW

09. Florence + the Machine – Dance Fever

“From the more personal and soul-filled High as Hope to the radiant baroque-pop on Ceremonials, Florence & The Machine have delivered consistently remarkable work, especially with Florence Welch’s ability to meld within any style taken with immense bravado. It’s what has her shining through on their fifth album, Dance Fever.”LINK TO REVIEW

08. Daddy Yankee – Legendaddy

“Daddy Yankee made reggaeton what it is today, allowing for a free flow of ingenuity to become universally accepted as new artists create their foundation. LEGENDADDY takes various eras of reggaeton and weaves them into a musically transcendent timeline of music history, with Daddy Yankee surprising us at almost every turn.” – LINK TO REVIEW

07. Black Country New Road – Ants Up There

“On Ants from Up There, the band isn’t as altruistic musically; they immerse themselves into balancing the external with the internal. Because of this, Ants from Up There shines, spotlighting itself as one of the best rock albums over the last few years.”LINK TO REVIEW

06. Kilo Kish – American Girl

“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.”LINK TO REVIEW

05. The Weeknd – Dawn FM

“In a proposed trilogy, After Hours is now the appetizer, as we hear his progression in maturity – musically. However, The Weeknd gives us an afterthought – after the fun and thrills, what was it all for when you’re still left gutted with past regrets. He takes note of late-night radio and creates a similar atmosphere to parallel the sentiments of the average listener – it also maintains a proper balance of genre influence and his intricate ear for music with his producers.”LINK TO REVIEW

04. Rosalía – Motomami

“Motomami takes experimental directions, allowing Rosalía to explore beyond her comfort zone while retaining a sense of authenticity along the way. It breathes fresh air as she detaches from flamenco-pop past – there are minor blemishes, but it circulates into one cohesive romp that’s constantly catching you by surprise.”LINK TO REVIEW

03. Vince Staples – Ramona Park Broke My Heart

“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.”LINK TO REVIEW

02. Bad Bunny – Un Verano Sin Tí

“Though I wasn’t the craziest on El Último Tour Del Mundo, what he did with a futuristic concept lyrically, was awe-inspiring, especially as he continued to grow artistically. Similarly, the album prior, Yo Hago Lo Que Me Da La Gana, did as the title suggested. Bad Bunny came at it with something new and different, blending various notes from diverse genres and showing us a free-spirited approach to the music. That continues on Un Verano Sin Tí. It’s an album resonant on the vibes, particularly in its construction, which plays in a nearly perfect crescendo from start to finish. He brings fresh features and unique directions we’ve heard a sampling of before; however, here it’s refined, coming at you with various sounds fit its beach/summery aesthetic, despite some lesser tracks, comparatively. It all culminates in excelling the idea Bad Bunny had when creating Un Verano Sin Tí.”LINK TO REVIEW

01. Angel Olsen – Big Time

“After reinventing herself with different aspects of pop–All Mirrors–and past stark and flaky atmospheres in folk and rock, Angel Olsen continues to shape her art, making music resonant with her identity on her new album, Big Time. In an interview with Pitchfork for the album, Angel Olsen said, “I have learned to let go of the labels and embrace what I’m feeling in the moment. And I ended up making a country record, or something like a country record.” Big Time is emotionally potent and sonically harmonious, bringing new dimensions to her artistry. It skews from modern country conventions, rooting itself in more traditional country, giving her vocal performance depth, reeling you with captivating emotional performances and a sense of whimsy.”LINK TO REVIEW

Cochise – The Inspection: Review

Hyperactive and jubilant, Florida rapper Cochise can deliver encapsulating performances filled with bravado and slight corniness, especially over trancey hip-hop productions that expand his space. As evident from his album, Benbow Crescent, Cochise has shown us the influence of the enigmatic and erratically vibrant flows from artists like Playboi Carti; the only difference between the two is that Cochise focuses on spacey, more culturally pertinent styles. He’s crossed genre borders, bringing sonic influence from sounds he’s grown with, which isn’t as new or nuanced in hip-hop. However, It’s still vibrant as he creates some great bangers, displaying that despite not having the strongest bars in hip-hop, he’s still capable of making consistently fantastic work. It continues to be evident with his follow-up, The Inspection. It has solid production emulating from its array of percussion styles, and Cochise brings the energy emulating into a fun listen, albeit the drawbacks.

Benbow Crescent opened the floodgates. We begin to hear some dancehall-reggae percussion patterns, allowing Cochise to hone in on his ability to switch up flows. It laid the groundwork for what to expect through his vocal and lyrical side of the music. He glides through productions with ease, making way for one of the strengths of this style and allowing the energy to consume you profusely. It’s a style that isn’t for everyone; it’s constructed through the lens of a songwriter instead of an emcee. And that’s okay, as the emcee style can be equally derivative, but there is something to Cochise’s high-pitch stop-n-go that gives it a different palette. It’s especially the case on his new album, The Inspection, overlaying some introspection and flexes as Cochise raps over some crisp pianos and shifting drum patterns. 

Playboi Carti gives us headbanging, mosh-inducing chaos that has us, as some would say, die-lit. Cochise is luminously captivating, using the high pitch to counteract the nihilism of his peers, like Carti and Trippie Redd. In some ways, it’s a parallel to the cloud-melancholic-centric subgenre of hip-hop but within the realm of trap music. The only difference is that Cochise isn’t coming across burned out or stoned. Instead, he brings the energy and flows through beats that dance with unique sequences. Throughout The Inspection, Cochise continues to surround himself with varying production styles created by himself, 808iden, Harold Harper, Nonbruh, Paradyse, and Ransom (Producer), to name a few. It offers enough to have a consistent flow, but lyrically, Cochise can get stunted; some verses bleed too closely to the sounds, and what’s left are his enigmatic choruses and quirky anime references.

“I’m no longer trying to be an artist; I’m trying to be a trumpet on the beat and solo for two minutes. We’re reaching a whole different frequency with the music and production. It isn’t just about lyrics. It’s about the cadence of the sound. It’s about how your voice alternates. It’s about how the beat is dancing up and down.” 

– Cochise

Taking into account that quote, it’s evident in the subtle fun had in the song’s creation. From the pertinent flows in tracks like “Hunt” feat. Chief Keef and “Don’t Run,” which contains bleaker production contrasting the emotional cadence of the strings and jubilant flow on “Finally.” They acquiesce within the big picture–i.e. front-to-back listens. Cochise’s flows make it feel a part of the production, rounding out how he wants us to vibe with music. There are certified bangers like “Megaman,” “Halo,” and “Do It Again,” which illuminates his tenacity to shift from these more crisp headbangers to more introspectively driven “Finally.” There is a lot to take from them, specifically the grooves created. However, he isn’t at his peak. Having your voice get too entwined with the production makes way for some tracks to become forgettable. “Nice” feat. Yung Nudy and “Jet Flex” don’t offer enough to entice return, as they emulate these weak conventions in trap music and become feeble versions of tracks made better by artists like Future and Lil Yachty.

Cochise understands the most important thing about hip-hop as a genre, identity. There are a lot of great qualities in his craft. He shifts the parameters of what one is to expect from this style, specifically when comparing and contrasting with his contemporaries. He gives this style some light while maintaining composure and exploring techniques akin to others, like “Hunt” with Chief Keef, a certified banger. The Inspection carries some repeatability, even if it isn’t all there. There are high hopes for Cochise as he continues his journey, especially as he is now apart of XXL Magazine’s Freshman Class of 2022.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

The Inspection – Out June 24th, 2022 via Columbia Records.

Drake – Honestly, Nevermind: Review

You got to love it when artists experiment or expand beyond a comfort zone, where they deliver ambitious sounds that shift the parameters of what’s to expect as fans. Drake consistently does so, but we’ve never heard him embrace a genre fully and construct an album out of it until his surprise 7th studio album, Honestly, Nevermind, where he delves into the world of electronica, with influence from dance, Jersey Club, and house music. It’s a refreshing direction that avoids some lyrical Drakeisms, like name-dropping locations as a flex, which adds to the intrigue even if it reaffirms Drake’s limitations as a singer. It underwhelms the tracks with lush production from Black Coffee, DJ Carnage, 40, and Vinylz, to name a few. Drake may not always keep us on our tippytoes with complex lyricism in the singing-heavy tracks, but the melodies keep us in a groove, especially with a few rap verses to switch it up.

Teasing us with a clean 37-second intro, Drake delves into what the sound of Honestly, Nevermind will be. The drum machine starts to orchestrate mid-tempo hypnotism with catchy rhythms before the overlays of trancey synths. It’s a recurring motif that gives the best production on the album the best characterizations, like the shift in percussion styles from the ore house-focused “Falling Back” to the Jersey Club-focused “Texts Go Green” and “Flight’s Booked” or the dance-infused “A Keeper.” There’s a constant evolution in each track–whether apparent or subtle–in the second half, Drake enthralls on both ends. Unlike the first half, Drake’s limitations don’t halt him, and its inclusion of slick rap verses offers proper diversity. When “Sticky” plays, the momentum shifts, and the consistency mounts on with tremendous force.

As “Sticky” closes, Honestly, Nevermind continues its slick transitions within and between tracks. Drake flips from a stone-cold Hip-Hop banger to a House-Dance banger in “Massive,” which sees Drake fully engulfing the production and giving us remarkable melodies and sequencing. It fits the characteristics of the kind of House style it wants to embody. Instead of blending it with the other sonic complexions, Drake and producers, Carnage, Klahr, and Zastenke bring a constant rhythm with significant gaps between verses to let the sound breathe. It continues to retain that momentum before shifting back into some lush hybrids. However, these hybrids don’t contain slightly detaching Drake vocals; he blends into the rhythm, giving us a connection we can attach to. He’s crisp, delivering great melodies and making up for the abundance of perspectives about relationships with women, amongst other subjects. It levels my view of Drake’s ability to create meaningful singing-centric verses. 

Drake’s talent for creating extravagant and catchy choruses is unbound–sprinkled throughout the album, he creates a gravitating pull that makes you vibe with the production. Despite the not-so-captivating verses, they fade into a range of melodies, specifically beneath some jarring decisions. In the first half of Honestly, Nevermind, producers Black Coffee and DJ Carnage have a great base they are working from, but their choice of adding rusty bed springs of a $50 Motel bed on top of it drowns out Drake’s writing. In “Calling My Name,” the production starts slow; it’s plain for a dance record, but it shifts in the second half with livelier and more gravitating sounds. Unfortunately, it left me wanting a little more, as it only runs for 2 minutes and 10 seconds. It felt like there could have been more both Drake and the producers could have done to round it out and give another banger.

Drake is riding it solo–save for the final track–an antithesis of Certified Lover Boy, which is flooded with features that it lacks some cohesiveness. But Drake riding it solo has made the issues on Honestly, Nevermind more apparent; however, it doesn’t hinder how it’ll ultimately affect you. It’s an album that guides the listener through a distinct era where he’s evolving his production and vocal choices. It allows the album’s only feature, 21 Savage on “Jimmy Cooks,” to feel fresh and impactful, especially as a closer. The two flourish on the trap-heavy sounds from Tizzle, Vinylz, Tay Keith & CuBeatz, relaying bars that encompass their dominance in the rap game. Drake plays with his past using a double entendre in the title, which acknowledges his time as Jimmy Brooks at Degrassi. It adds to the brevity getting delivered throughout.

Honestly, Nevermind is another definitive turning point for Drake, one where he embraces and grows with the sound of today, giving us an essence that usually never misses–think “Passion Fruit” or “One Dance.” It’s vibrant, oozing moods ranging from the loungey to more dance-vibey while retaining a sense of identity. It makes it an album that’s better than it should have been, especially after Drake’s myriad of mediocrity between Scorpion and Certified Lover Boy. And for that alone, it’s given us something that feels slightly groovier through a different lens, making it a more replayable Drake album.

Rating: 7 out of 10.