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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 8 out of 10.

6 Albums I Can’t Wait To Plug My Headphones Into 🎧!

2023 is finally here, and with it, one hopes for a platoon of exceptional new projects from artists we love and debuts, leading to fresh discoveries. However, since Beyonce released her self-titled album, we’ve been getting many more unique rollouts, far from the apropos single, single, eventual album model. Often, we don’t get announcements till closer to; other times, they just drop surprisingly with a little word in edge-wise. It makes it harder for one to properly talk about what we can anticipate without sometimes looking like Charlie – from It’s Always Sunny – in that meme where he has his hands over a board that’s connecting dots to a mystery. I won’t be him today; instead, I’ll be talking five albums with surefire, or set releases in stone, that I’m anticipating for this year.


Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd – Lana Del Rey

While many loved the lavish, overly produced tempo of Norman F**king Rockwell, it didn’t feel as refined, unlike Lana Del Rey’s subsequent album, Chemtrails Over The Country Club, which bolstered her vocals exponentially. It hit me instantly on the standout “White Dress,” which continued throughout this album, and the subsequent Blue Bannisters, which continued to let Lana expand her horizons with more minimalist, but decadent production. The first single off the new album, Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd – the self-titled track – opens the floodgates toward this more melancholic and operatic divide. Her vocals have distinct textures within similar stylistic sounds within chamber-pop-like production. It feels reminiscent of the work done early in her career, along with what Lana Del Rey has been brewing since Chemtrails. I’m excited to see what this new album takes us, especially with Del Rey’s unique and petty promotion with the billboard in her Ex’s residential area.

Don’t Be Dumb – ASAP Rocky

When news came out about A$AP Rocky’s upcoming release, pre-name change – from All Smiles to Don’t Be Dumb – my eyes and ears stayed glued to anything relating to the album, especially when we heard Rocky is working with Morrissey. The idea of two arrogant, egotistical, no-filter artists coming together to expand on their musical strengths just sounds like something to behold. Granted, it won’t automatically equate to greatness, but with the music Rocky released over the past couple of months, I was intrigued. We got two singles that maneuver his direct nihilism in flow and lyricism, feeling reminiscent of early 2010s ASAP Rocky – playing less with melodies and more with multi-layers songwriting. It keeps my eyes and ears perked for any news, especially with the hype Rocky has been bringing in performances and more; it’s now only a wait-and-see as fans indulge in his latest two singles and feel the vibe Rocky is most likely aiming for with Don’t Be Dumb.

Cracker Island — Gorillaz

Dropping single after single appears like the new approach for Gorillaz as of the release of their last album, bewildering us with unique tunes and delivering a tracklist with standout features; unfortunately, the wait can be ever-long. Unlike Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez, Cracker Island shifts the clock back a bit, looking to release and find equilibrium between its use of features, and retaining a sense of individualized identity on their solo tracks. Here, we see both, but the solo tracks get rounded out by unique features; Gorillaz have shown us how fluidly they can make these combos work, like when they did a song with Elton John and 6lack. Cracker Island gives us a few to hold over, like the funkadelic “Cracker Island,” which incorporates luscious bass grooves and vocals from Thundercat, who adds a decadent, and softened layer that oozes in a soulful undercurrent that keeps Damon Alburn’s melodies vibrant.

Gorillaz’s feature-laced albums are a few in between, but when Gorillaz come with an album that isn’t all Damon Alburn for 50%+ of the album, they have excelled in creating something more artistically profound. We heard it on the fantastic Humanz and Plastic Beach, and hopefully, glimpsing a crisp equilibrium in the tracklist of Cracker Island, along with the singles I’ve heard, leaves me with some impression that it will be a hit like 3/5 of their albums between 2010 and 2020.

Utopia Travis Scott

Utopia has been in discussions for months, and years, seemingly leaving us bewildered by when and what. Travis Scott has released singles like the darkly atmospheric trap track “Highest in the Room,” co-opting collaborations with his label Jack Boys, and settling the fires of the Astroworld tragedy. Being in the public eye can skew decisions made, and it isn’t surprising that his name doesn’t have the lightest presence, further pushing Utopia’s release until 2023. Though, to be honest, it could be a product of Scott’s ever-growing teasing and constant business ventures, from working varying avenues of the music industry to fashion and fatherhood, one could find reasons for the delay. However, the promotion leading to has been nothing short of excellent before the Astroworld tragedy; plus, a week-long residency in Vegas this past September and some Billboards certainly helped too. I’m curious to see how different Travis Scott comes, specifically to see if he slightly reinvents himself sonically to reflect the constant musical growth he’s gone through.

This Is Why Paramore

After a five-year hiatus from making music as a collective, Paramore left 2022 with the news of a new album after the remarkably vibrant synth-pop/dance-punk laced After Laughter (2017). It was a continuation of the aesthetic have them hitting a momentous stride, as you see their musical growth and assimilation with these new influences driving their decisions. When they started releasing singles for the upcoming album, it felt like a slight change of pace from the angsty emo/pop-punk sound of their first three albums. Paramore’s new album, This Is Why, seems to see another shift, or so I assume, with a more expansive influence getting brought to these songs, like the Math-Rock “The News” to the Funk and Dance-Punk latent “This Is Why.” It’s safe to assume we’ll see another shift in sound, which bolsters the band’s chemistry as they mesh new and past sounds from the past two albums that are nothing short of grand. It may be less than a month away, but I’m all souped up to listen ASAP!

Star line Gallery Chance the Rapper

Chance The Rapper hasn’t necessarily been dormant since the criticism and fizzling out of his popularity since The Big Day (2019); the corniness and sometimes overly loose flows and features didn’t offer much of a platform to balance on. Come 2022, we saw a significant year for the Chicago rapper, dropping four singles that have shown us he has chosen to focus and whip up some of that pre-Coloring Book era where the lyricism matched the potency of the production. At first, Chance kept us focused with his intricate lyricism, but he brought me back with “Wraith,” significantly more on “Yah Know.” The bombastic Afro-Beat influence within “Yah Know” takes the listener to exponential lengths as the beat comes rich with a crisp Hip-Hop base, then escalates it with these rich drumlines and boisterous horn section. It’s an experience that feels like it’s yearning for a stage presence, where the sounds can get amplified and further entice the dance nerves in your body to force some jubilant movement.

“The Highs & Lows” and “Wraith” were two of the other four songs dropped by Chance the Rapper in 2022, but I bring these two up because Chance brings this unique cadence in his flows, seemingly guiding the music emotionally as he did with Coloring Book. There are deep seeded conversations within these songs; we hear Chance having with himself and the listener as he balances his faith and stability through life that we’ve seen tackle since the constant clowning post-The Big Day. “Wraith” had us listening to Chance focus on literal and metaphorical layering between bars to distinguish who he is in this world without feeling overly preachy. Similarly, with “The Highs & Lows,” we hear Chance challenging himself to bring captivating flows and lyricism to match the potency of featured artist Joey Bada$$. It leaves a door open full of intrigue as one awaits, like myself, for an album that explores new foundations and sees Chance shifting gears from neutral to Drive 3, or third gear.

Ab-Soul – Herbert: Review

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Little Simz – No Thank You: Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 9 out of 10.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drake x 21 Savage – Her Loss: Review

Her Loss, the pseudo-collaboration album between Drake and 21 Savage, had the makings of being something grand; unfortunately, that isn’t the case–for the most part. After teasing us with “Jimmy Cooks,” a play on Drake’s character on Degrassi: The Next Generation, they further bolster their connectivity after the earlier collab “Knife Talk.” They double down on the bars, attempting to go beyond the corniness of Jimmy Brooks raps in the show, and Aubrey “Drake” Graham’s own casualness of it in his verses, to keep you engaged.  Though some of Drake’s corniness seeps into 21 Savage, causing us to hear weak bars like this double entendre: “I don’t show ID at clubs, ’cause they know that I’m 21.” Though the corniness is slightly more scarce and lyrical than musically like Certified Lover Boy, it isn’t as cringe unless you’re overly critical of Drake’s weak ineptitude of dissing people who won’t respond. Jokes aside, it retreads familiar waters structurally, making it less enjoyable, but there are enough tracks that make a splash.

Her Loss goes on a tear with the first few tracks, making the subsequent rollercoaster of great and mediocrity in the second shine more glaringly. It isn’t trying to be thematically rich or profound with their rhetoric, as Drake and 21 Savage retread content, making them as intriguing based on the quality of their storytelling or flows/wordplay. From “Rich Flex” through “Hours In Silence,” the consistency is heard with beats and hooks that teeter on the line between expectancy and interesting but hit smoothly in comparison to “Circo Loco” and “Pussy & Millions,” the latter of which contains an insipid verse from Travis Scott. “Circo Loco” continues to show Drake tapping into his inner Game (Rapper), just not that nuanced, as his disses come off as childish and in poor taste while having an albatross of a sample usage, with the melodic interpolation of “One More Time” by Daft Punk. On it, Drake “subliminally” disses Megan Thee Stallion and her situation, flipping the script of his “casual” misogyny, which is tired and something that hasn’t evolved beyond surface-level cruelty.

Drake is obviously talking his shit, which is in line with the focus of Her Loss–i.e. savagery. He disses Ice Spice, NYC’s current trending rapper, and implies different motives for the Ye reconciliation, disregarding the past, which one wouldn’t blame him considering Ye’s damaging anti-semitic rhetoric. However, he takes shots at random people just because, almost feeling pointless when he disses Alexis Kerry Ohanian, Serena Williams’ husband, and co-founder/executive chairman of Reddit.com. Other times his bars feel on brand, despite being effective. It’s janky in approach and delivery, becoming forgettable like some of the weak on-brand misogyny, like the line “I blow a half a million on you hoes, I’m a feminist.” It isn’t nuanced and is too surface-layer to create anything less than a forgettable surprise shock.

Drake is trying to match the viciousness of 21 Savage. But he isn’t consistently concentrated compared to the the verses club bangers “On BS” and “Spin Bout U.” The first half may be grand, but it isn’t enough to counteract the inconsistencies in the second. There are hooks that aren’t captivating, and a few standard hip-hop/trap beats relying on the quality of their flow delivery. Ultimately, it tries to balance the savagery with the not-so-esoteric club tracks, and it predominantly works, like the solo tracks. “3 AM on Glenwood” is 21 Savage’s only solo; it sees him getting introspective over this luscious, melancholic (comparatively), Hip-Hop/Trap beat. The two composites doesn’t acquiesce smoothly, feeling like it could have benefited from a different flow, but the raw depth 21 Savage brings in his verse boasts the quality. It’s a constant from 21–the rare corniness aside, he shines brighter than Drake, further making the ratio between the two on solo tracks a disappointment as half of Drake’s solo tracks is forgettable.

“I Guess It’s F**k Me” and “Jumbotron Shit Poppin” don’t have captivating flows, and Drake isn’t doing anything interesting with content in his verses. The former reminds me of those gray Drake love songs; however, it is bloated with drab bars, some of which don’t have the same value as ad-libs and their everlasting strength. For Drake, it’s whatever comes similar to “And the six upside down, it’s a nine/You already know the vibe.” “Jumbotron Shit Poppin” starts with promise, specifically with how it uniquely incorporates the backing vocals into the beat like an instrument; it swiftly becomes a rudimentary trap track without much going for it. Unlike them, “BackOutsideBoyz” and “Middle of the Ocean” are more refreshing, the latter due to Drake’s slick one-liners and crisp wordplay; the former is jovial, bringing forth that Lil Yatchy-Trap influence (which Yatchy co-produced). These tracks are detours from the bigger picture, and that is: how consistent can they keep it from start to finish? It’s pretty consistent, but it isn’t always in quality, where sometimes it could be just the verses like in “Rich Flex.”

There is no denying Drake and 21 Savage’s obscure synergy, specifically through their vocal levels/tones. Though 21 Savage can bring sonic energy with his production choices, his audio levels don’t always match Drake’s visceral energy. But they are on a steady wavelength that sees them beautifully bouncing off each other and expressing camaraderie. They have something going on here, but they can’t deliver with consistency, making me feel like it could have gotten trimmed around the edges for something more compact than this poorly-paced collection of tracks. It rounds out to something that works for them, but you can sense they could have come harder and wiser in their approach.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.

The Music of 8 Mile: 20 Years Later

In the 2000s, it became a blend of the 80s and 90s–we got dance dramas and bleak and realized music dramas that contain violence and more realities of the streets, like pimping and drug slanging, amongst other life choices based on nature. From Honey and Step Up to ATL, Get Rich or Die Tryin’, and Hustle & Flow, we got some great films, some duds, and others that fell in the middle. It wasn’t like past films, which tried to show how others appropriate the culture, like with the drab Black and White by James Toback. Most of these dramas, which aren’t always great, understood how to frame and deliver upon the aesthetic and grounded understanding of their world, specifically in the dialogue. For example, Honey, directed by Hip-Hop/R&B music video director Billie Woodruff, felt homier, less cinematic, and framed simply, unlike Get Rich or Die Tryin’, which was the opposite as it felt more like something to appeal to a broader audience. Honey only had the general appeal of a young Jessica Alba, while the other notions felt more inclusive and empathetic to its community, like Stomp the Yard.

In 2002, 8 Mile, the semi-autobiographical drama starring Marshall “Eminem” Mathers, came and made an immediate impact from all angles. From the music to the performances and filmmaking, it felt like this unique moment in 2002 where something outside the norm could come and make gangbusters, considering its monstrous box office return. But 8 Mile was different; it had nuance, the cinematography was enthralling, and it rarely felt artificial. It follows a path where the surroundings and situations boast reasonings for the escalated drama. However, at the crux of the film and the reason for its lasting history is music. The soundtrack is grand, a memorable piece of art that you can have with you after seeing the film in 2002, and like the films of the 80s and 90s, it made sure it kept you centered on reality. It had retention beyond its alignment to the film, keeping a steady progression of tracks you’ll return to instantly, like “Rabbit Run.”

We return to 8 Mile because of its lead actor and presence in Hip-Hop culture, and proof music dramas of this ilk can be excellent and successful. It has the music and a script with linear direction, even if it doesn’t have the overall resounding depth beyond its central figure. None of this absolves 8 Mile for its problematic groundedness with its reflection of heavy homophobia and misogynism in Hip-Hop as leading us through this semi-autobiographical battle rap fairytale. One could excuse its representation of the era–mid-90s–its surface layer, never ushering a discussion with nuance, instead just there as we see Eminem’s character Jimmy “Rabbit” Smith Jr come from a choke job to beating the defending champ. 8 Mile isn’t some masterpiece of Hip-Hop cinema but left an impression that made it seem artists can gravitate toward their history and deliver a grounded performance in reality in a studio film. But when it’s something that has been with you since the beginning, you can’t help but express bias-tinted lenses for the enjoyment you get watching it repeatedly, primarily because the final payoff is phenomenal for the exhilarating, emotionally draining moments.

8 Mile had a soundtrack that fluidly incorporated the instrumental Hip-Hop influenced score from the movie impacting the beats, like that of “8 Mile Road” and “Rabbit Run.” The former has these eloquent, dark, slow percussion variations that we hear during Jimmy “Rabbit” Smith Jrs.’ trip to work on the bus, where he writes and contemplates the next step. Though that moment, it gets reworked and slowed down to fit the mood and aesthetic, while the album version gets slightly sped up. “Rabbit Run” is the most profound, like many tracks and verses in Eminem’s career (“Speedom 2.0” by Tech N9ne, for example). It sees Eminem delivering a thin veil of duality as we see Eminem mirroring aspects of his and Jimmy “Rabbit” Smith Jr.’s life for a straight 3 minutes, which at the time, to a young Kevin, was out of this world. Obviously, we’ve seen better since, like Wayne Brady’s constant murder of Sway’s Five Fingers of Death or Chiddy Bang’s record-breaking 24-hour freestyle, but “Rabbit Run” is explosive. It capitalizes on being the closer as its harsher, bleaker lyricism contrasts the hopeful nature of “Lose Yourself.”

But 8 Mile: Music from and Inspired by the Motion Picture came with this plethora of audacious, original rap tracks from various artists, which kept us enthralled. It had tracks from Jay-Z & Freeway, a coy introduction to Obie Trice, and a brand new 50 Cent single, hyping us for his eventual debut with Get Rich or Die Tryin’. We got new RAKIM, some Gangstarr, and Macy Gray, all fitting an aesthetic driven by the tones of the film. The production helps embolden these tones with the dark strings, piano keys, and gripping percussion. Orchestrated by Eminem, the themes and tales the artists deliver match the complexities of the film, even if it wasn’t the case with every track. Nas came with a diss track aimed at Jay-Z, who did the opposite and delivered some flare on a reflective song that boasts his change for the better. This distinctive inflection arrives fresh as a reflection point for the underlying beef in the film; it keeps that energy flowing like those final rap battles did for us at the end.

The two main outliers are “Lose Yourself” and “Wanksta.” One speaks for itself, and the other was one of 50 Cent’s earliest hits. I remember the music video vividly. I was with my cousin, who got the Get Rich or Die Tryin’ album, while I had a censored mixed CD. That CD came with the video, and we popped it in his PS2; it further cemented a love for hip-hop, but more so an interest in rap, as before, it was all Eminem for me. It wasn’t until later in 2003, on Christmas Eve, when I caught the first few minutes of 8 Mile before my family decided to drive home. And since then, I’ve had two rotating songs on many playlists in my formative years, “Wanksta” and “Lose Yourself,” the latter left a lasting impression through prestigious eyes that can steer discussions about its quality in pop culture discussions. “Wanksta” has a fun and lively demeanor where the swag oozes with each swaggering step as he continues the dissing–in this case, fake gangsters–like the rap battles of the film. It was bombastic, gritty, and beautifully orchestrated. There are its issues, including some modest production, comparatively to said producer’s other beats, and themes that meander due to past raps about them. On “Rap Game,” where D12 raps about the effects of the industry as artists who aren’t seen on the same, a topic we’ve heard before from varying artists; however, as great as their synergy is, the track isn’t as interesting, but it flows.

What can I say about “Lose Yourself” that hasn’t been said before? The piano-driven production boasts waves of anger, resilience, and success in harmonic bliss. The lyricism brings resounding depth, wordplay, and beautifully direct storytelling. Blend these two you get a fantastic song with emphatic replay value and memorable lyricism. It also won the Academy Award for Best Original Song, the first Hip-Hop track to do so. Eminem & Luis Resto & Jeff Bass were the winners, and their competition was Paul Simon and U2, two artists who, back then, were more revered and loved than Eminem. He was amidst social scrutiny for his language from a barrage of angry parents, considering his skin color allowed him to have a wider reach compared to the past. A few months prior, he released The Eminem Show, containing “White America,” a satirical dig at parents who lambast his music. However, there was a shift here, and though the wins and nominations stay stagnant, having more Hip-Hop songs make the Academy’s shortlists is a proper step in the right direction for their inclusivity. It’s especially gleeful when not long after the win for “Lose Yourself,” we got our following winners: Three Six Mafia for “It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp,” beating out Dolly Parton. I feel like many of us reacted the same, if not more enthusiasticallyally than Queen Latifah when she handed them that award.

As the years progressed, we’ve had plenty crack the shortlist or vie for a nomination, like Kendrick Lamar, Alicia Keyes, and Hans Zimmer, with “It’s On Again” from The Amazing Spiderman 2 and “100 Black Coffins” by Rick Ross from Django Unchained. I still find it a travesty that it wasn’t nominated, especially with the gravitas and potency of Ross coming off the fantastic B.M.F. album. It boasted by having the stylistic focus of Django Unchained in mind, but eventually, we’ll go back to that instead of playing it safe with “Glory” or “Stand Up For Something.” We’ve seen Hip-Hop artists get nominations for non-Hip-Hop tracks, like M.I.A. and Pharrell, for their work in Slumdog Millionaire and Despicable Me, respectively. It didn’t so much open the doors, and instead, it made history, along with Three Six Mafia, for winning in years where their style of music may not have been winners; Eminem has a controversial past, and Three Six Mafia…well, “they’re pouring me some pimping mang.It is part of its everlasting history and will stay so for years.

Like those who knew of its rerelease, I saw 8 Mile in theaters over the weekend; I felt possessed as I sat there mouthing every freestyle, every verse, and more, due to its personal history with me. But at that moment, punches from the music started hitting harder, and it made me remember the early years; I’d vigorously loop “Rabbit Run” to try and learn every word, even matching the flow, down to the minor breaths in between rhyme schemes. I was one with the music like numerous people have been with the film. We instantly return to the soundtrack, and the final rap battles, before thinking of rewatching the film in its entirety; however, no matter the decision, it’s an experience worth revisiting if not for the faint of curiosity but for the music and character details explored with Jimmy “Rabbit” Smith Jr.

Armani Caesar – The Liz 2: Review

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

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

[Intro: Elizabeth Taylor & Barbara Walters]

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

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

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

Really?

That— it’s unbelievable

You bought this for yourself?

Yeah

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

Well, there’s not anyone else around

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

Well, honey, I do.”

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

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

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

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

YG – I Got Issues: Review

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 7 out of 10.

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.