Lil Baby – It’s Only Me: Review

Pacing is key, particularly prevalent in Hip-Hop, where we’ve had years of monstrous albums that encompasses a feature-length film runtime. Despite the consistency in drops from it, the pacing isn’t always an issue, becoming more of an afterthought when the project is excellent. The number of tracks can become a catalyst based on its construction; other times, it could be because they carry redundancies. That’s the case with Lil Baby’s new album It’s Only Me, a 23-track 66-minute behemoth that feels bloated and repetitive. It doesn’t lack cohesiveness, but his selection of beats and a slight deficiency in variety make it an uneven product that could have benefited from more post-work and trimming. It doesn’t discredit the quality of work Lil Baby brings to the forefront from a technical lens; his flows and lyrics are on point, making up for a few retreads with potency. Unfortunately, it’s a slog from beginning to end, feeling meritless as it comes to a close since quality tracks get spread too thinly throughout; it’s another bloated, ticky-tacky Hip-Hop album that never ends, despite some keen reflections and features. 

Reflecting the nature of the album cover, It’s Only Me is a reflection of growth through the years of Lil Baby. He’s exploring varying themes relating to extravagance, love, personal growth, and more. After a while, it becomes redundant as Lil Baby forgets to add substance to the sandwich, and these tracks that cover similar ground further bloat the final product, leaving that 66-minute runtime feels too long. There isn’t a moment one will doubt that he won’t deliver the goods on the surface level–great metaphors and slick wordplay; however, it doesn’t usually translate to something of merit. “California Breeze” sees Lil Baby reflecting on his extravagant lifestyle, loyalty, and past relationships; over this downbeat trap beat, it offers little as it seems to be a lack of care for having it all relate. It’s done better and more vigorously on “Pop Out,” which plays with the beat, invoking a switch that then sees featured artist Nardo Wick deliver the sauce. 

It’s a barrage of different perspectives that correlate loosely with each other. Variations of that luxurious, braggadocio purview continue with “Stop Playin’,” which is another extension of while “Danger,” “In A Minute,” and “Top Priority” find varying angles to deliver the same bars about his luxurious life, without as much substance. It doesn’t need as much depth since these raps tend to be reflexive of technical skills instead of songwriting/story-telling skills; however, when you’re over-sizzle, it’s displacing the solid ones. It can best be described as this uneven roller coaster that was too promising on paper but got the wrong builders to accomplish the feat. Even though they aren’t complete linear reflections, it goads the pacing, creating costly spacing between the fantastic and mediocre tracks.

These reflections become less reliant on substance and more on tonal delivery as they usually equate to the underlying tenacity to be a hard-hitter. We hear Lil Baby rap similar anecdotes through different inflections, like back-to-back tracks “Forever” and “Not Finished.” The former is a humbling reflection of love that Lil Baby expresses tenderly, which is a 180 from the latter, which sees Lil Baby disregarding the love aspect of his relationships and vigorously trending toward that freaky-deeky and lavish lifestyle. “Not Finished” sees Lil Baby getting extra dirty and arrogant, adding nothing to the table. It encompasses this innate bravado that casts a shield upon himself, finding little in his braggadocio bars. “Forever” is more grounded and realized; we hear Lil Baby exploring the dimensions of his relationship, the toxicity between him and his lover, and so forth. There is no shade for the former, but it isn’t delivered effectively. 

What surrounds these middling issues are tracks that stand on their own, but the spacing is scarce. “Real Spill,” “No Fly Zone,” and “Cost to be Alive” are a few that push past the standard drum patterns spread through It’s Only Me. They see Lil Baby digging into his emotional bag and reflecting on his past, humbling himself while proclaiming dominance through success. He brings character, giving us something to look at and contemplate alongside him, specifically through these raw, encapsulating bars. It’s different from “Danger” or “Top Priority,” yet better; however, it doesn’t discredit “Danger” or “Top Priority” since they bring home that kind of bravado you’d want from Lil Baby at his peak. But as much as one can pick apart and say you can construct a more fluid album, it still wouldn’t have more than a personal benefit since the listen-through is a slog. In between, it’s retreading mediocrity that leaves you feeling empty with its experience.

In between, It’s Only Me has retreading mediocrity that leaves you feeling empty with its experience. It’s as if Lil Baby decided to flood us with stacking ideas that never go far, and you’re left sifting through 23 tracks to see which worked for you and which didn’t. For me, most didn’t, but it wouldn’t be right if I couldn’t say there were some recommendable tracks like “Cost to be Alive.” It leaves you sullen until you realize 2022 has many other noteworthy releases to look forward to. And till then, frisk through the ones of note that were genuinely great to see how it fares with you.

Rating: 5 out of 10.

Kanye West – DONDA: Review

A little over a year and one month have passed since Kanye West first announced his 10th LP, Donda, his long-anticipated follow-up to Jesus is King. In 2020, Kanye dropped two songs fans thought were singles in anticipation for his 10th LP, but only one of those songs matched the kind of energy and sound his new album brings onto center stage: “Wash The Blood.” After about a year, fans got three different live stream album listening parties, and each time a new version of Donda, whether improved or rearranged. Donda is a new creative journey for Kanye that sees an album conceptualized and delivered with broader ideas; at the same time, Donda is a personification of an established career with a treasure trove of features, despite having its missteps.

Listening party after listening party, we witnessed the creation of Donda slowly, as Kanye tried different mixes, track listings, features/his verses blended into one. Kanye is privy to an amphitheater-like performative art as he has done similarly with Jesus is King and The Life of Pablo. Like them, Donda isn’t a cohesively linear album, as he tests waters by containing alternatives to the songs and allowing us to create our version, which may shorten the overall length. Donda benefits from having a conscious idea of sounds to make your version as smooth as most albums.

Donda has two sides; one where we hear Kanye and his features on production that is operatic and bombastic; another where he brings gospel elements, like the array of organs and choirs elevating the production and vocal performance from Kanye and the featured artists. It becomes telling with the features that appear in the first half compared to the second — Fivio Foreign, Playboi Carti, Lil Yatchy, Baby Keem, and Travis Scott, instead of subdued lyricists like Jay Electronica, Westside Gunn, and Conway the Machine, to name a few. 

Many songs work in each half, and the few don’t work because of uneven tonal shifts. It sounds like Kanye is trying to represent a journey toward Heaven as he deals with his emotions, denial, grief, and past misgivings/mistakes while escaping Hell. These tonal shifts deliver new levels of depth from each respective featured artist. Fortunately, Kanye’s inclusion of alternatives allows for certain songs to carry different meanings. Before his Soldier’s Field listening party on August 26th, we received news of an exclusive Stem player — a device made for editing and mixing songs smoothly, though not an alternative — the performance made it evident why the promotion was there. Kanye introduced other versions of songs that day, specifically a longer version of “Junya” and “Jesus Lord” and an alternate version of “Jail” and “Ok Ok.” Instead of Jay-Z, the new version features DaBaby and Marilyn Manson.

“Jail Pt. 2” is problematic on paper due to controversial comments and allegations about the featured artists; however, one can’t neglect that DaBaby delivered the best verse of his career. Though one probably won’t understand Marilyn’s involvement, as his vocals are subtle within the chorus. Maybe it was for the sake of controversy, but a part of me wants to believe Kanye is just ignorant of the world. DaBaby’s verse, on the other hand, is a beautiful painting of his life and his rise from the ashes, relating back to the lord and family as his cruxes. 

Similar to DaBaby and Marilyn Manson, some of the features may not be free of sin, like the previously mentioned, and some have remote eyes on them due to allegations and affiliations that may overshadow one’s opinion, like Lil Durk and Don Tolliver. However, separating the art from the music, their respective songs are fantastic and slightly tame and hollow.

“Moon,” with Don Tolliver, is a high-pitched choral-centric song that lifts the listener’s spirits to an elevated plane. The symphonic organs, eerie electronic beeps, and haunting guitar riffs emphasize Don’s performance on the chorus, in turn contrasting Kid Cudi’s lower-pitch melodies on his verse. The beeps appear prior, on the Lil Durk and Vory featured, “Jonah.” “Moon” follows a similar path to “Jonah,” as the latter incorporates the beeps and spacey traits to Vory’s chorus and each verse by Durk and Kanye. Unfortunately, I’m not that crazy about “Moon” as others. It’s too focused on a mood instead of being this luscious lullaby that can have it both ways. Every time it plays, my focus shifts to Tolliver’s beautifully haunting vocals and the guitar riffs while everything gets muddled.

But on Donda, Kanye is more direct, displaying an understanding of the world around him. His emotions are in control, and we hear him at his rawest and lyrically astute within a triad of songs that precede the “closer,” “No Child Left Behind.” These songs — “Lord I Need You, Pure Souls, Come To Life” — represent a sullen nature he has been showing over the last year, which he has been fighting; especially, as he speaks to his mother in part of the verses of “Come To Life.” So whether it’s showing regret for his behavior and lack of understanding or subtle context clues like the line, “Brought A Gift for Northie/All she wanted was Nikes” on “Come to Life.”

Donda has a lot going behind it. I could progress and break down every aspect of this album, but the keen one is the idea that one can make their version. As mentioned prior, the alternatives are personifications of an artist trying different things to find the right one. If you prefer the version of “Ok Ok” with Rooga and Shenseea, then make a playlist and replace it the one with Fivio Foreign and Lil Yatchy. You can do it with others, and at the same time, create one where it has a consistent tone with your favorite songs. It has been an evident theme throughout each listening party, as he tried different track listing orders, versions, mixes, and so forth. It isn’t unlike Kanye to make this be a bigger spectacle than expected, and he has done so with what he has given the fans, as opposed to the more structured albums of the past. But within this theoretical island and others is the notion that Donda is more than just a tribute to Kanye West’s mother; it is the legacy of an artist who has shifted the musical climate in hip-hop and pop. 

With Donda being his 10th LP, it almost feels like a poignant mark in his career — he has been consistent and relevant throughout, despite negative publicity — it has shown a steady progression with his character as he finally listens to advice from others. Kanye wants to atone and be reborn, and he does so on the album. It is beautifully represented by being torched on fire for around 15 seconds as “Come To Life” transitioned into “No Child Left Behind” of the Chicago Livestream. It may not be Kanye’s best, but it leaves enough intrigue to keep returning.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Mariah the Scientist – RY RY World

As is with many genres, there are those who keep it traditional and others who adapt; however, there are those who find equilibrium with the two. Mariah the Scientist is one of these artists who has that cadence in their voice; the naturality of it immediately drawn to her swan song. Like her debut in 2019, Master, and onto her follow-up, Ry Ry World, take away from any impression that her voice and songwriting ability are the true selling point. She isn’t this profound singer with a standout quirk like Beyonce’s operatic range or Chris Brown’s ability to create infectious hooks, but she stands out with her own beauty. Ry Ry World is like an album coming to you with its natural beauty opposed to being overly glamorized to boost the attention they garner.

Like the cover art, Ry Ry World delivers what the photo represents. A satirical take on Cupid’s arrow, Mariah the Scientist is struck by it through the heart. And this isn’t your typical arrow, given the flesh wound through the heart. The smile on her face adds this beautifully exposed confidence giving further vindication to the everyday-hood of heartbreak. From this, she takes us on a whirlwind, 29-minute long, adventure full of smooth R&B/Soul ballads and minimalist dance numbers.  

Mariah the Scientist places a lot of focus on herself, with lone performances bringing forth a beautiful array of new compositions that feels a little too similar to Master, but packing its own punch to return. The content, displaying the various issues – mentally – with love and beauty within the growth, comes in a beautifully ribbon-tied package. Her tales of heartbreak align with situational issues that develop further, like a cheating partner on “Aura” or the inner turmoil (logically) one deals with when fighting them on “Brain.” She breaches into sensitive territory as she sings about suicidal thoughts on the track “RIP.”

As Mariah keeps herself in tune with her growing presence, she sings with an abundance of confidence, riding the waves of shoulder brushing with ease. Like anyone going through heartbreak it can be a roller coaster ride, and Mariah makes use the pivots to explore the aspects of the emotions, whether slow burning or impulsive. The cohesion gives it the spark needed to retain your attention because to some, the nuanced simplicity within the production may weaken the interest. Though to her credit, she finds ways to shine alongside notable features, even if they don’t always land. 

These tracks work with accomplishing their intentions, but that doesn’t benefit the overall feeling you’d receive. “Always n Forever,” featuring Lil Baby, displays the toxicity with blind love beneath the earnestness these artists evoke. They signal this blindness by the attention they put into this addiction or love. While Mariah delivers a solid performance, Lil Baby doesn’t offer much to leave an impression. It could be because I’m not in a financial state where buying a significant other a new car is financially responsible, so the relation runs thin despite the virtuoso talent he has.

The other track, “Walked In,” featuring Young Thug, cuts to the chase. It simplifies the intentions of – possibly many, but not all –millennial people – i.e. breathes the night club life or career focused that relationships are taboo, opposed to finding someone to deliver that missing stress reliever. “Walked In,” is a decadent dance number, sweating sex, literally and figuratively, as the groove is dirty, but slow. Young Thug comes with a solid verse that blends in well with Mariah in one of the few standout performances on Ry Ry World.

Like the aforementioned “RIP,” there are several performances that shine. “All For Me” shows Mariah expressing range beyond a melancholic tonal scale and getting her hands dirty with it. The powerful inflections on the chorus drives home the broken jealousy she has for the woman her man left her for. This comes across as the denial from her feelings that were expressed on “Aura,” which keens in on the cheating. She doesn’t give this performance a confident bravado and at-times sounding dismayed due to the slight doubt there is something wrong with her. Despite this the album can be a bit redundant, but the external factors keep you reeled in till the end.

Mariah feels comfortable in her skin, never seeming to find a necessity to be more grandiose than who she is. She has shown the ability to keep increasing her range as a singer, and growing as a songwriter. As redundant as Ry Ry World can be, full of heartbreak-tracks, there is enough originality to keep it afloat amongst fans as she continues to grow and possibly discover new content to approach.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Lil Baby & Lil Durk – The Voices of The Heroes – Review

Like people 1.5 times my age (27) and older, the intrigue in this new trend of melodic rap/hip-hop has been something we complain about when compared to others who deliver in more esoteric and nuanced ways, like Denzel Curry or 21 Savage. However there have been a few that have kept my attention, even if a little belated in the trend; and from the few that have, Lil Baby and Lil Durk have released their first collaboration, The Voices of The Heroes. This LP from the Atlanta and Chicago rappers, respectively, arrived with a lot of buzz and heartwarming gestures as it was pushed back a week so it wouldn’t compete with DMX’s Exodus. And despite the hype, the album delivers exactly as expected – mild. It’s riddled with so many sonic and contextual redundancies, it’s hard to distinguish these tracks apart without hearing the producer’s ad-libs at the beginning of the tracks, but there is enough to keep your interest at various moments. 

The initial hype behind the release of The Voices of The Heroes had some merit from Lil Baby’s monstrous 2020, and Lil Durk turning out some consistently great verses since Drake’s “Laugh Now Cry Later” and reaffirming on “Every Chance I Get,” off DJ Khaled’s latest release. But the production comes from 12+ producers that don’t bring much to the table, so the way the autotune is used to inflect and add layers to the flow gives it that extra boost to make the production become an afterthought and the rappers take center stage. 

A lot of the production hits the same notes, where the little differences come from them subtly sprinkling underneath the base of the production. You can tell who mainly produces what by the intro drop that hypes the producer’s name. And though a fan of it, it feels like this overly reliant on it to keep the monstrous percussion and bass keep its redundant consistency hidden from the overall spectrum. From Wheezy to London On The Track and Murda Beatz, the many co-producers make it seem that there should have been some derelict of the duty to make it sound different, but the landscape is a flat terrain. You’ll either find songs that are good and bad based on what Lil Baby and Lil Durk bring to the table with their verses, delivering auspicious themes. 

The Voices of The Heroes is filled with themes they’ve tackled before. Some pertain to the struggle imposed by societal and political influence on minorities, and others to their wealth in a generalized sense. And Lil Baby and Lil Durk bring a lot of energy and bravado in their deliveries on most of these tracks with enough momentum to keep some of these on loop. There are many moments that keep you flowing with that constant momentum like on “2040,” or “That’s Fact.” It benefits that a lot of the production has that repetitive consistency so it is almost natural for them to flow over them. But it’s when they steer in a more conscious – or rather conscious based on their standards – that they shine as rappers. 

On the London On The Track produced “Still Hood,” Lil Baby and Lil Durk vibrantly deliver this anthem where they exclaim with emotional weight the notion that you can take the kid away from the hood, but you can’t take the hood away from the kid, though in this regard its meaning is more aligned with the PTSD that comes from it. On the track, both Lil Baby and Lil Durk trade off verses, retelling their life and the huge contrasts it has to their person today. These artists have climbed the ladder of success and often let their appearance tell different stories about who they are, opposed to the person they rap on their tracks. And with unique twists, they take the approach to redefine music as they call out faux “hood” rappers and personalities on “Lyin’.” As they have done throughout tracks on the album, they’ve delivered bars after bars that carry depth about their past life and their current life. For example, we’ve seen rappers like YG flaunt like these artists, but like others he still has affiliation with a street gang and that life is still part of him, despite his monetary wealth. The same goes for Lil Durk. But as it is with them all, they try to spread awareness through their music. 

However, there are more moments than not where it treads too much on redundancy that you find yourself going back to older tracks evoking similar themes. “Okay,” is one of those where they spend too much focus on the flex, that everything that is already problematic with the production becomes more apparent. The percussion led production is one-dimensional and doesn’t go anywhere interesting. Lil Baby and Lil Durk can’t save this as they bring a slightly weak delivery that becomes sleep inducing. They do something similar on “Hats Off” with Travis Scott, where the construct is fun and infectious as they trade off on many occasions before Travis closes strong.

The Voices of The Heroes is muddled with a bloated tracklist running 18 tracks long, but there is fortunately enough to keep the music flowing. Lil Baby & Lil Durk have great chemistry and their future looks bright if they continue to collaborate. Their stylistic similarities and energy they have consistently stored in the tank can keep any fan somewhat invested throughout.

Rating: 5.5 out of 10.