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.

James Blake – Friends That Break Your Heart: Review

After the release of The Colour of Anything, one thing flowed through my mind, can James Blake be as complex and ethereal as this album? The short answer — somewhat. From Assume Form to his mini-project released last year, he has been on a steady path of consistent okay-ness. Unfortunately, it continues on his new album, Friends That Break Your Heart. It wanes between delivering with the same cadence James has brought in past work and also middling on forgettability — after some time, it sonically stays on a tangent, and you forget what just played as they begin to sound a little too similar. With co-production from Jameela Jamil and others like Take A Day Trip, Dominic Maker, and Metro Boomin, to name a few, they bring additions to the respective work, keeping James mid-way to the mantle he once sat on calmly.

Like Assume Form, Friends That Break Your Heart carries a few things in common, besides being a spiritual tonal-successor to the former. One, in particular, is the first half, which comes out strong, followed by one and a half solid songs in the second that is only okay to good. What defines the strength of the first half is James Blake’s tender vocals, as the reverbs and other modifiers create a crescendo with his different deliveries. It matches the smooth and steady production from Blake, Dominic Maker, and Jameela Jamil — who’ve also had a steady hand in the production of Assume Form. Their connected mind resonates with the stylistic choices made by Blake, but after some time, it dwindles on mediocrity.

The first half contains many highlights — some more so than others — before slowly shifting into slight mediocrity. A lot of it stems from James Blake’s directness, weaving ways to let his message linger without losing focus from the simple complexions in the production. Unfortunately, James Blake’s directness begins to wane away meaning from the big picture. He barely plays with metaphors and analogies, losing sight of making the themes have more relevance. 

However, “Coming Back,” “Frozen,” and “Life Is Not The Same” demonstrates James’ capabilities of finding unique concepts outside of the simple synths, percussion, and the occasional string instrument. “Coming Back” and “Frozen” do the most with the percussion, elevating the hip-hop elements of these songs — it gives us these unique parallels with the featured artists bringing him out of his comfort zone and into something repeatable. 

“Coming Back” features James Blake in a duet with SZA, creating two sides to the production, elevating their respective vocal ranges. As Blake begins with somber — dark-like synths — and slow progressions, it picks up steam as the percussion turns beautifully bombastic, comparatively. Like “Coming Back,” “Frozen” sees Blake taking a step outside his comfort zone, using distortions and a hip-hop-centric percussion to let JID and SwaVay go off on their respective verses. And It’s disappointing when SwaVay shines brighter than Blake. He is an artist who has never been on my radar, but his verse on “Frozen” packs a hard punch — he blends metaphors smoothly into his storytelling style: “Took him to JJ’s and had him turnt by the end of the day/End up hittin’ the lick for two nights and then went to the banks.”

However — In the second half — James Blake isn’t breaking new territory, like “Coming Back” — most importantly, he isn’t fully immersing himself in the music, despite trying to keep his voice centered. As it begins to break apart, two songs leave a lasting impact. “Foot Forward” and “If I’m Insecure” sees James leaping, extending the simplicity of the atmospheric textures. Though, his innate use of synths starts to drown the production as it shifts in different directions, like the melancholic sounding, “Friends That Break Your Heart.”

“Foot Forward,” co-produced by Frank Dukes and Metro Boomin, adds intricate percussion styles, leaving room for James Blake to immerse himself in the production and deliver one of his better performances. The array of percussion and piano keys plays as James Blake croons about forgetting the past and leaping forward for his mental health.  The production on“Foot Forward” mirrors the percussion patterns of “Life Is Not The Same” —  the best aspect of the latter. It isn’t a complete parallel, but it integrates different percussion styles until it loses focus due to Blake’s dry delivery. Like “Life Is Not The Same,” others that follow a similar style of vibrant percussion patterns bring enough to sustain your attention, and Blake fails in that regard.

But for the most part, James Blake stays thematically and tonally consistent, that he barely teeters off the path. Unfortunately, like the two songs I previously mentioned, it seems rare for him to keep me invested throughout the whole project. The lapses in mediocrity make you want to hit skip immediately. And as it breaches into the second half, more songs become just that. Friends That Break Your Heart was something I was looking forward to, and it didn’t hit the mark as it should have. But there are a few songs that do, and most of which aren’t because of James.

Rating: 4.5 out of 10.