Ice Spice – Like..?: Review

Living in a world where going viral is as vital, if not more, than steady consistency amongst artists, it’s no surprise that Ice Spice took the wheel swiftly and continued to build on the success of her viral hit “Munch (Feelin’ U).” She continued that skyward trend with her following single, “Bikini Bottom,” a track that takes sonic influence from the Bikini Bottom title theme of Spongebob Squarepants and is as awe-inducing as it is confusing. Like “Munch,” Ice Spice doesn’t so much establish this jubilant and vibrant tone for the dance floor; she exhumes confidence that would otherwise be addicting if the writing had any level of depth, especially when her flexes are bare. However, Ice Spice has shown that she can bring varying dimensions to her writing, whether comparing and contrasting or fired-up metaphors, while staying bare and still meshing with the slick production by RIOTUSA, her frequent collaborator, on her debut EP, Like..?. It brought some intrigue to build within, but it fizzles swiftly with brisk pacing and an overall forgettable listening experience.

If there is one element of Like..? to thoroughly commend, it’s RIOTUSA’s production, which keeps the listener fluffed and on their toes – even if it’s the most lavish – hoping for some moderately good flows and verses from Ice Spice. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Though Ice Spice picks up steam with “Princess Diana” and “Gangsta Boo,” what surrounds them are tracks with poorly written brash lyricism that pushes sexual ferocity, liberty, and confidence. She exhumes vocal confidence that her candor circumvents the simplicity of some verses and choruses, allowing some to brush aside retreads and inhale the mixture of music getting produced. In this recent wave of New York Drill, creativity is scarce, and though the production brings a lot of consistency, it’s boasted to higher levels because the beats sound like RIOTUSA took the time to make them.

Since the viral sensation “Munch (Feelin’ U),” Ice Spice hasn’t fully separated herself from it lyrically. She references it twice outside of “Munch,” but they never come off organically. There’s some casualness, like in “Actin’ A Smoochie, where she rapped, “N***a a munchie, he eat me like food, damn (Grrah)/He eatin’ it up, kitty on water, he beatin’ it up (Beatin’ it up).” The bars aren’t as gripping. Each time it happens, there is no sense of oomph riding it, making it seem like she’s forcing an inorganic identity, like the mundane producer callout. It’s never in alignment with the flexing and trying to make it seem like eating pussy is prestigious these days, unlike in the past. We hear this on “Bikini Bottom,”  she raps, “Balenciaga baddie, got a bag (A bag)/N***a munchin’, ate it from the back (The back)/N***a fiendin’, gotta play it cool (Huh?).”

That sexual liberty gets surrounded by simple flexes, party-like bars, and more sexual liberation which never takes that extra step, like the lines “In the party, he just wanna rump (Rump)/Big boobs and the butt stay plump (Stay plump)/She a baddie, she know she a ten (Baddie, ten)” and “Goin’ viral is gettin’ ’em sicker/Like, what? Let’s keep it a buck (Huh)/Bitches too borin’, got ’em stuck in a rut (Damn)” off “In Ha Mood.” She’s spitting relative randomness without constantly focused on storytelling, unlike the main highlight, “Gangsta Boo” with Lil TJay. It samples the iconic “I Need A Girl Part 2” and uses it beautifully, but the percussion still follows a simple flow, so Ice Spice stays comfortable. Ice Spice brings her all here and shows promise that she can deliver some great verses in the future.

Though I’ve commended the production, its creativity comes from everything outside the drums; it can feel somewhat fresh. It’s more energizing with “Princess Diana” and “Munch (Feelin’ U),” but as it comes back full circle, what everyone has been touting since “Munch” became a viral hit. Ice Spice doesn’t try to hide it, but it isn’t all that cool or great since she lacks variety on a technical level. I was left shrugging as I couldn’t fathom returning to this EP and re-evaluating its sure fire miss. It is something I had some hope, it would excel past expectations, but even with my low confidence in its quality beforehand, I wasn’t shocked when I felt justified that Ice Spice isn’t totally there yet, but there is still room to grow and hopefully, she does.

Rating: 4 out of 10.

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.

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:

Issa Gold – Tempus II: Mirrors : Review

Following up the self-reflective and self-criticizing Tempus, Issa Gold follows up with Tempus II: Mirrors, an equally self-reflexive album bringing more of the same with more potent lyricism. It has little to gravitate towards besides excellent lyricism, some minor tweaks that boast the production slightly, and an abundance of heart. It isn’t an indictment on producers Chuck Strangers, Gates, Two Fresh Beats & Zayland as they deliver what’s expected with enough diversity and nuance to keep those who love lyrically focused rap albums. It may limit its audience because one usually gravitates to sound, but as it has been since the 70s, Hip-Hop has been about The Message, and that’s what Issa Gold delivers. Tempus II: Mirrors is raw and slick; Issa Gold flows smoothly, becoming one with the beat boasting the emotional complexities of each track as we hear Gold tackling fatherhood, music, and professionalism.

As much as I can herald Tempus II: Mirrors for its profound approach to keeping a balance between engaging the intimate, as sometimes one may not care for the deep layers of an artist’s personal problems, with the quality of their music coming first. So the stress builds from making sure the beat one is rapping over can keep the listener engaged; that’s why we hear varying songs with depressive anecdotes that have more catchy, captivating elements in their sound, whether through melodies or the production. It isn’t the case with Tempus II: Mirrors, where the catchiness isn’t profound, but the tweaks within the sonic layers of the beats keep the intrigue level high. Whether it’s bringing more focus to piano-driven overtures on “Lamelo” and “Crawling” or letting the electric guitar deliver rustic vibes on “Spiral” and “Lunar.” It brings more to the music than potent lyrics, rarely shining brighter than like on “Traded” and “Rockets.” Unfortunately, “Traded” isn’t as captivating comparatively. Though we get these unique situations where the beats feel more realized, it isn’t enough to make you feel like it’s something special. 

The uniqueness of its production is an adequately smooth touch that allows it to get past the monochromatic atmosphere of these kinds of raps. There is a nuance to them as they show introspective street styles that are moodier and incorporate more than just drum beats – think The Lox and Ultramagnetic MCs, just a little darker. It makes it easier to focus on the vocal layer instead of the production, as its heart stays in that lane. Due to that, it adds an extra layer that allows the music to flourish further.

At its core, Tempus II: Mirrors is for those old heads who prefer lyricists to the dominant Drill and Trap Hip-Hop that fills the airwaves, but Issa Gold offers more than that. He’s bringing varying flows driven by Gold’s dominant emotion, whether elevated egotistical swagger or pensive perspective, like on the melancholic “Indulge” and “Crawling,” which sees him rapping about family and fatherhood. It allows his words to get heard, more so than when he comes through spitting the former. However, there are fantastic tracks where Gold’s flexing is on full display. On “Lamelo,” Gold uses that melancholia in the beat to make his words feel humbling as his come-up saw him making choices so his music career could grow. As he raps on the track, “I never need the league, I knew the league needed me like Lamelo for the dream,” which shows how Issa Gold aims to succeed, despite his niche approach musically.

Tempus II: Mirrors doesn’t stand up to the masterclass that was the first, but it’s enough to keep the wheels turning as you keep listening. It’s a continuation of what Issa Gold does well, even if it isn’t as interesting. There isn’t much retread, but the production feels more like simple choices and nothing that is there to fit the grander scheme. It’s an album one can readily return to if they feel this type of rap, and those will be sufficiently satisfied.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Roddy Ricch – Feed the Streets III : Review

There is no denying Roddy Ricch has the talent to excel, and we’ve heard plenty; however, he still struggles to find proper balance in tracks that aim to evoke certain tones for radio play and falters by lacking captivating traction. Though I use the terms radio play loosely – hip-hop stations function differently from Pop/Hot 100 radio – it’s more apparent than ever that it usually revolves around themes of love and relationship dynamics. With Feed The Streets III, that need isn’t that transparent; Ricch is steering the vehicle through slick beats, delivering consistent good to great verses that build depth, and when Ricch teeters into the weaker output, it stumbles over similar mistakes – bland repetition. Feed The Streets III continues Roddy Ricch’s commercial run, giving him an established platform that his music becomes transparent in the direction he is taking. Focusing on bringing depth, it’s comparatively more vulnerable, giving us Ricch behind the mic, wearing his emotions on his sleeves, and humbling himself from his riches, which bring forth their own set of external issues. 

Hearing Roddy Ricch comes through with sheer vulnerability brought me closer to this tape. It’s one thing to have the consistency to flex without retreading familiar bars, but when we get that vulnerability, whether, with emotions or thematic inflections, it’s retroactively profound. With Ricch, it’s treading toward simple lyricism, like “Fade Away,” which begins like Ricch’s take on the “21 Questions” model of writing about love with emotional depth. Unfortunately, it shifts into a track that focuses on flaunting his significant other with gifts instead of adding layers to emotions felt through hypotheticals. It winds up feeling like one of a few throwaways that don’t give us enough to get a sense of anything beyond surface layer quality, akin to “#1 Freak.” It has a smooth rhythm and a solid Ty Dolla $ign feature, but it takes away from a functioning consistency of emotionally perversive lyrical captivity. 

From “King Size,” “Heavier,” “Pressure,” and “Letter To My Son,” there is a lot here that brings value as Roddy Ricch keeps himself focused thematically. We get to hear no-shame humbled rich flexes with “King Size” and “Aston Martin Truck” and the weight of depression and hope with “Heavier” and “Letter To My Son.” Though we hear Ricch acknowledging how he got there, he carries humility when expressing his colors when he flaunts his riches and promiscuity. Roddy Ricch stays vulnerable by allowing himself to get judged, as he isn’t creating a front, like some rappers do, and breaking walls to let us see beneath the cracks of his excess living, like in “Heavier.” All of this gets boasted by consistent Hip-Hop and Trap beats that bring enough character, despite having steady but overused drum patterns.

“Heavier” is a perfect example of what I mentioned; Roddy Ricch starts his first verse by showing us aspects of his life, rapping: “Eighty racks on the Goyard chect, uh-uh/The whole team pullin’ out Rocky like Sylvester, uh, uh/Denim suit or Prada (The Prada)/My bitch wanna rub me down with oil, my love life like a saga (Saga),” before getting closer to his heart. In the second verse, Roddy Ricch raps: Rest in peace Lil Keed (Yeah), hope the slimes proud of me (Yeah)/Hope the feds let ’em free (Yeah)/They don’t need to be locked in chains (Yeah, yeah)/Told Gunna Wunna to call me, I was out the city and missed it.” There is a level of authenticity that boasts the content of the tracks surrounding this, “Pressure,” and the final song, “Letter to My Son,” which imbues an extra set of layers on his more apropos flex ones. It lets you know that there is meaning behind his musical approach and needs to have captivating melodies to keep us entrenched in his sound and replaying with honesty. As you hear the array of tracks that may teeter between the known and unknown, expectancy and surprises, Roddy Ricch stays headstrong, so the will in his musical output never derails.

Though it tries to be this resounding moment of pure vulnerability, it may not show on the surface and makes one’s return to the quality tracks a slightly rewarding experience. There is no denying that it’s constructed standardly, checking off items off a list to be brought up, like monetary worth and pride, all while trying express layers of humbleness. It allows us to understand that it doesn’t like it lacks merit, which some can falter due to it. Some are mediocre or above average, but Feed The Streets III has more than what the others bring – it makes you want to return to understand the depth of other tracks you may not have understood prior beyond its surface layer. That isn’t to say it’s upper echelon since Roddy Ricch makes some interesting decisions, which never dilutes his writing – it’s beautifully expressive, and he knows how to craft choruses. Furthermore, Ricch never makes you think he’s taken sidesteps with his flows, finding a proper balance between straight spitting and melodically flowing, like on “Favor For A Favor.”

Feed The Streets III is another solid entry in Roddy Ricch’s Feed the Streets series, even if it isn’t a resounding blockbuster hit. Excellent songs flow smoothly from start to finish; sometimes, they spread the ambition sweating out Ricch’s pores as he raps them. Unfortunately, some missteps have made a few tracks skippable due to losing traction in flow, taking away from personal aspects of Ricch so he can make a track for the ladies. It leaves you feeling satisfied; even though it isn’t a five Michelin-star meal, it’s ample enough to say you left with enough to reflect on and replay.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Brockhampton – The Family: Review

Like most boy bands, there comes a time when they have to grow and succeed individually, though not everyone will come out with an established career beyond the group. It’s rare but not impossible. It’s like when people use Beyonce as an anecdote to describe the leader of the group, or rather the one with the most potential to excel; Justin Timberlake was that for N’SYNC, and Kevin Abstract for Brockhampton. Unfortunately, it’s Brockhampton’s time, so as they turn the page on their future, they leave fans with two final albums – The Family sees Kevin Abstract delivering nuanced tracks about their respective journey as bandleader – TM establishes that camaraderie through musicality. However, TM isn’t as strong, sometimes sounding like they are trying to slightly mirror different styles far from themselves and missing the mark occasionally. It tends to feel more like a gimmie, unlike The Family, which is the more concrete project – a personal reflection of new beginnings with weighted emotions about the past. It’s a fantastic sendoff showing Kevin Abstract’s naked vulnerability as he laments about various decisions.

In many ways, Kevin Abstract constructs The Family as this emotionally complex eulogy, reminiscing about the good times and the bad. On “RZA,” Abstract focuses on his failures to maintain consistency despite the separation. Wu-Tang Clan were able to expand and have their solo careers, but when the RZA uses his whistle, they come back and reconvene to deliver more heat. Abstract tells us this isn’t the case with Brockhampton; he opens the door and lets us know how it wasn’t the case for them and the issues that arose. But they are still family, and he reminisces about their past, like on “Gold Teeth,” where he reflects on the early days of Brockhampton making music and striving in Southern Texas. These days, it hasn’t been the case with varying issues and emotions weighing down on the members as they let the problems consume them – some understandably so – but there is this known that we will see them grow and mature as artists as they push forward.

It’s thematically poignant as we hear Kevin Abstract juggling through his emotions to deliver them with grace. We hear about new problems within the familial dynamic brought about by fame and riches, like colliding egos, Abstract branching into solo work as the band promoted their album iridescence, and his overly indulgent artistic direction with music videos, etc. Some of it gets brought up in “All That” and “The Family.” The former sees Abstract trying to lay his perspective, looking at moments and emotionally ever-long feelings that arose from their growth as a band. In it, Abstract raps, “As the checks grew, it became harder to leave/Everybody got an ego now, imagine bein’ me/Competition started off so healthy/’Til one day I looked up like, “Damn, you almost better than me”/I don’t feel guilty for wakin’ you up when you sleep/I don’t feel guilty for cuttin’ your verse from this beat.” It shows us the imbalance caused by egos or Abstract making music again with disgraced ex-member Ameer Vann. Issues arise, and Kevin Abstract takes accountability and offers an emotional apology on “Brockhampton,” the last song on The Family, which beautifully sends us off after a slightly imbalanced album.

The Family is a rich text that keeps most of Kevin Abstract’s words short and sweet but with resounding depth that you get incentivized with great music that you’d want to replay and understand further. It’s through Kevin Abstract’s flows, lyricism, and the production by bandmember bearface and producers boylife and Nick Velez, offering sounds that invoke memories atmospherically. We hear it on “(Back From The) Road” and “All That,” which beautifully samples the theme song to the classic Nickelodeon show of the same name. It brings nuance to the idea that everything that glitters is not gold, as it flips the positivity of the message toward a more pessimist one. There is a consistency to the production, never feeling overly produced and having balance as it boasts the vocal deliveries and lets us genuinely get within the trenches of what has been going on.

Unfortunately, The Family doesn’t have smooth pacing, letting a 17-track, 35-minute album feel more like a 17-minute EP. However, it doesn’t take you away from the raw emotion getting brought out. Brockhampton, or rather Kevin Abstract, lets it show, teetering between what works and what doesn’t, like the singing tracks compared to his more rapping ones. Spinning this left me feeling a lot, especially as I was one of the many who took this journey with them since the first Saturation, and it’s now time for new beginnings.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Nas – King’s Disease III: Review

Expected, but when? That was the question following the release of King’s Disease II by Nas & Hit-Boy. As we were aware, Nas was too, letting us know on the opening track, “Ghetto Reporter,” spitting the line: “Niggas know I don’t drop this often so cherish it (So cherish it).” With King’s Disease III out now, it makes one feel blessed as a fan with their release of Magic, as it now feels more of a present to them because the third King’s Disease is the best of the trilogy. Nas is as raw and lyrically astute as his best work, reminding the world that the tank is never emptying and the Henny bottles never end. But as you hear Queens in the House throughout “Thun,” you’ll quickly learn the mark King’s Disease III leaves. Nas shows listeners the pristine condition that his motor remains behind the mic and pen. Past King’s Disease albums saw Nas beautifully acquiescing with the evolving sounds of Hip-Hop and implying his talent is akin to a king able to command the flow of society. King’s Disease III has Nas taking off his crown, showing us his ferocity as he sways from humbling riches to elegant ammo, and that ammo is never-ending.

Without sputtering and then asking for oil, Nas goes on a tear throughout without seeming to tire out mentally with his verses because Nas is bearing slight shortcuts with the choruses, which don’t come off with the same energy as the verses. But Nas is one to quickly return with crisp bars that fluctuate between humbling riches, toying with history, and a barrage of metaphors and slick wordplay to keep you engaged. At one point playing coy with Jay-Z on “Thun,” as Nas relays the lines: “In a Range Rover, dissectin’ bars from “Takeover”/Sometimes I text Hova like “Nigga, this ain’t over,” laughin.’” But this is only a sampling of what Nas brings to the table. There are unique allusions to his partnership with Hit-Boy on “Michael & Quincy” and engaging takes on the social-political climate with “Recession Proof,” which doubles as advice to his listeners about investing and saving.

However, none of this exists without Hit-Boy’s production, which adds subtle details to the beats that allow them to transition from one to the other while keeping it interesting, like on “Legit.” “Legit” incorporates live acoustic crowd noises to amplify Nas’ bravado – that stoic confidence that allows him to feel rejuvenated and fresh despite age. There are inflections of streetwise boom-ba – ala Boogie Down Productions and Craig Mack – centered jazz rap, and varying type beats influenced by 90s Nas, with Hit-Boy shifting the parameters for Nas to go hard on them. He’s able to deliver past the nevers; one minute as is rapping through this delicate take on late 90s New York rap, which incorporated more Soul and R&B, in “Hood2Hood,” and another, he’s rapping over this luscious boom bap beat on “First Time.” Like “Reminisce,” Nas gets introspective, giving us a sense of blissful nostalgia as he recounts the first time he listened to certain favorite artists. Despite laying a foundation, Nas brings mirroring relativity to his listeners without feeling tacky or gimmicky.

Unfortunately, as glowing as I’ve been with King’s Disease III, the choruses aren’t as strong. It’s something you might have to set aside mentally because they aren’t consistent. Some aren’t as creative or have energizing gravitas, but pushing the weaker ones aside, allows for a more transcendent experience as the music eclipses these hollow points and makes you forget about them for a second. It left me in a daze after a few spins, and that’s what Nas aims for, a legacy of records spinning with fresh content no matter the era. So whether it’s the drab, emotionless chorus on “I’m on Fire” or lacking energy like on “Get Light,” Nas approaches the hooks as simple bridges that aren’t supposed to be ear-popping, like how the borough bridges are eye-popping, but they get the job done. That isn’t to say he doesn’t have some spectacularly hyphy hook delivery, like on “30” and bonus track “Till My Last Breath,” which has visceral energy that encourages the inner New York within.

King’s Disease III sees Nas continuing to extend his prime, delivering heater after heater without the support of features and amounting to one of his most immaculate albums since 2012’s Life is Good. Hit-Boy produces sounds that flip between modern, large-scale Hip-Hop beats and ones that bring nuance to the influential elements of 90s Boom-Bap/Jazz Rap, amongst others. It all acquiesces into one strong gavel to the table as Nas makes an everlasting statement about his lasting legacy that will only grow more, especially with the consistency of the King’s Disease trilogy, where Nas assimilates and demolish Hip-Hop sub-genres momentously.

Rating: 9.5 out of 10.

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.

Grip – 5 & A F*** You: Review

Georgia Rapper Grip came soaring exponentially with 2021’s I Died For This?! after a great mixtape the year prior. He continues to persevere and establish himself as one of the better lyricists Eminem has signed under Shady Records. And as told by the lines “Might just pull a DMX and drop two in a year/More truth to spew in your ears in lieu of my peers/A loose screw in the mood to ruin careers,” Grip brings the heat, delivering fortitude that speaks further toward his future with his hunger surpassing many young guns, even if the numbers don’t show. Compared to his contemporaries who are more trap driven, there are layers of grit, excellent song construction, and potently emotive flows that make Takeoffs flow on the opening track of Only Built For Infinity Links feel like a distant memory. Albeit fantastic, there is a rawness to Grip that makes 5 & A F*** You a superb follow-up that sees fully developing the craft of the hook as he continues to offer rhythmically resonant flows and some evolution past the know.

You can chalk the opening track, “Cook Up,” as a lyrical exercise that goes through bullet points that will either work or not based on one’s feeling toward the style, but as it progresses, you’ll notice Grip’s someone to keep those ears perked on. Think how Curren$y and his fandom ride through his style and find the brilliance in the bars he spits–here, Grip flexes hard, weaving crazy double entendres between the quality of his craft behind the microphone and stove. It may not be the most profound, but when “‘94 Flow” kicks in, you hear this rework of lines from “Scenario” by A Tribe Called Quest over these nuanced 90s, dark–tone kicks and gritty layers pushing it further. There is usually something different going on with the beats, and it’s working exponentially. It reminds me slightly of the Amine tape, onepointfive, which was a shift from the more poppish, fun hip-hop work of his debut, Good For You. Here, Grip isn’t changing much from the known, but he’s still crafting and evolving past normative styles we’ve heard since he started becoming more prominent in 2020, like the bombastic, rhythmically destructive “The F Word.” 

5 & A F*** You is a personification of Grip through the turbulence of his post-success life. Some reflections are lighter, barely retreating toward darkness, unless that darkness gets imposed on by his powerful, confident appeal leveling the confidence with humbling lyricism. “Many Thanks” is Grip delivering a beautiful message that speaks to you like he won an award, and his speech is this spirited performance that makes it feel grounded. Even when Grip is flexing, it feels grounded with relatability. In “Da Benzo,” Grip notes he is dropping money on a Benzo and demonstrating other personable issues pointed from the choral lines, “5 Series just got swapped, needed a Benz/My girl say I’m fuckin’ on thots, she leavin’ again (Where you goin’?).” That’s who he’s been as a lyricist, continuously finding ways to evolve and give us greatness. It’s dependent on the production’s tone and the core percussion that paves the field for Grip to rap.

Using status and the tools at his disposal, Grip brings back collaborators from his major label debut to put in the work on this follow-up. Noting it in “Many Thanks,” Grip says in the outro, “Shit, how ’bout we make a project in a week/Like a EP in a week, so, you know, I hit a couple producers/Man, um/Yeah, it was just like, “Yo, I’m tryna do somethin’ in a week”/You know what I’m sayin’? Like, quick, quick as hell type shit.” With it, we hear these crisp beats that add to his credentials as Grip flows remarkably, like the uniquely moody drum and piano patterns as he comes at the music industry and how they care more about a trending song on TikTok over the world around them. How Grip switches flow throughout with finesse, allowing it to be the emotional ship that delivers his true feelings. It isn’t like “Cory N’ Mel” and “Value Mall,” which have more rudimentary, trap-like flows that aren’t so captivating. But as it rounds out, the continuity is fantastic, and ​​5 & A F*** You is another to add to his repertoire of easily replayable albums.

There isn’t much more I can say, really. Just go and seek out this tape and Grip’s other projects cause I guarantee you’ll have a killer time listening.

Rating: 8 out of 10.