Conway the Machine – Won’t He Do It: Review

Consistency has been essential to the greatness of Conway The Machine. He keeps his listener engaged with these multi-faceted layers in his verses, expanding the horizons of his raps with these unique reflections of the past and future. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about the production, as Conway comes with noticeable highs and middling lows, leaving you hungry for something more potent on the production side; it’s the case with “The Chosen” off his new album Won’t He Do It, where the beat isn’t as entrenched into its sound as Conway and Jae Skeese (featured artist) are with their verses. It’s a recurring issue that leaves the follow-up to God Don’t Make Mistakes more underwhelming than anticipated, but in a way, levels the hype one would have with the sequel dropping later this year. The beats sound confined to reaching standard levels for quality without expanding in new directions. It’s a blend of the dark-piano-influenced New York Street Rap Beats and Jazzy-Dark Boom-Bap that never does anything unique, and you’re left with a slate of some great verses to keep you fed until future releases without much of a reward.

As I sifted through this clunky, at times drab album, I heard Conway The Machine get lost in locating the proper avenues to get his words through. It’s a blend of braggadocio flex raps and reflections on his life, relationship, and the changes success has on the performer and the people around him. How he approaches the album offers insight into his direction, especially that of an arranger/conductor with a thematically poignant cohesion of tracks on an album. For the faults Won’t He Do It has, Conway doesn’t try to make us pay too much attention to the beats, making his lyrics a focal point, but he isn’t as triumphant there. Fortunately, there is an understanding of song-to-song transitions – it’s making similar tones and themes align, never side-stepping for something of grandeur, humbling the rappers performing over the beat; that is, until the final track. It’s a testament to Conway’s detailed construction, specifically when it comes to having the featured artists deliver verses aligned with the thematic direction of the track, rarely missing in quality – I say it’s a testament since it’s an album containing a load of features – some standard and one unique pseudo-closer “Super Bowl,” a bonus track that didn’t get marketed as such.

Conway the Machine takes a moment to turn the tables of what has gotten heard and takes us through a bounce and percussion-laced trap beat. It’s different from other beats, making it sound more refreshing than usual, but even with that, the beat isn’t that different from the apropos Juicy J beat. Sauce Walka & Juicy J make their stamp on the track, slightly overshadowing Conway, who doesn’t feel totally at home with the production. His flows don’t match the smooth southern cadence of its featured rappers, but at least Conway finds his way trying to make it work lyrically. Leading into the song, we’ve been on a journey with Conway the Machine – one of self-reflection and perseverance, yet, that gets lost with this unique final track that does more than expected. In a way, it makes you reflect and appreciate the tight focus Conway gave the album in its standard 13-track run. From the opening notes, horns are lowlily blaring, contrasting the grimy percussion and laying a foundation for its aesthetic, which has moments of glimmering greatness.

Unfortunately, as Conway the Machine weaves these intricate bars together, you get left feeling whiffed by the weak production from producers you’ve heard better from. It ranges between the J.U.S.T.I.C.E League, Khrysis, G Koop, Daniel Cruz, and Daringer – to name a few – others bringing unique additions from other artists/producers, like Norwegian Pop musician Aurora, who adds this special touch to the atmospheric complexions on “Won’t He Do It,” blending beautifully with the percussion and programming work of other producers on the track. It isn’t to say these producers bring a bunch of lackluster beats, but at times I found myself latching to production that, comparatively, sounds different than others. It’s what separates the greatness beneath the rock and roll influence in “Flesh of My Flesh” to the low and hollow “Water to Wine,” which comes off as a standard Hip-Hop/R&B hybrid without that extra push, unlike “Kanye.” On “Kanye,” there is more nuance within the performance, never feeling standard or sub-standard as it toes the line with some gospel influence and letting it envelop the performative direction by its artists. Additionally, it sounds like some of that work on Donda influenced the palette for Conway’s output on this more personal album, Won’t He Do It.

Like “Kanye,” one can’t get through Won’t He Do It without hearing the thematic poignancy that aligns itself from front to back. It’s disappointing; some features don’t shine, feeling rudimentary to their character, never pushing through to give us something new. It especially goes for Westside Gunn, Benny the Butcher, and Dave East, though Conway isn’t as innocent either; some choices, though beneficial to its direction, don’t give us the best from everyone involved. I’ve noted how these features deliver following the themes, but that doesn’t always result in something memorable or significant. Though verses from the ones mentioned aren’t inherently flawed, they aren’t that distinguishable within the confines of the production, unlike the solo tracks, in which we get four of thirteen, where Conway feels at home and flows in a zone. It keeps this from being outright forgettable, as the creativity in the production is lacking a bit.

Won’t He Do It isn’t something to write home about; it’s an album that does little to improve as the production progresses. Conway the Machine doesn’t mince words, keeping many of his verses digestible; however, when it’s all said and done, the beats aren’t enough to make you return with gusto. It’s there, and if it’s your steelo, you’ll find enjoyment, but if not, it’s mostly forgettable. Here’s hoping the follow-up brings an uptick in the beats.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Jack Harlow – Jackman: Review

Like Jack Harlow, many of us aren’t strangers to the critical appraisal his last album received. Predominantly lukewarm to bad, Come Home the Kids Miss You, as a title, Harlow took a contrived concept while embodying the ghost of many Drake wannabes and poorly delivered an album that adds little to the imagination. It reflects a detachment from the hungry young rapper dropping mixtapes in Kentucky. DJ Drama helped push his name to the stratosphere, and his presence is evergrowing, continuing to prove his co-sign’s worth. Though Come Home the Kids Miss You was a dud, Harlow tries to remedy the situation by engrossing us with some lyrical fortitude over downbeat, soulful production, which retroactively guides him through these emotional complexities of his character, even if it isn’t all there, on his latest album Jackman. Keeping it short and straightforward, Harlow tries to bring us into the corners of his mind and incorporate some depth beyond his weak brags and tired choral melodies. As the latter remains, Harlow improves lyrically; with some songs coming across as hollow, it’s a slight improvement from his last, albeit shorter.

Jack Harlow understands who he is, bringing a modest, humbling nature to some of his raps on Jackman, staying aware of the perception of his music and the corniness of it. On “Denver,” Harlow raps, “Nemo said to keep my foot on necks ’cause I can’t let ’em just forget me/But the brags in my raps are getting less and less convincing/So I’d rather just (Wonder),” bringing a sense of understanding toward who he wants to be and shifting style to be taken more seriously than just another pop rapper. It’s heard through tracks where he speaks on wanting more of a grounded reality instead of flexing too much excess, using reflections on his roots to support his attitude and renewed humbleness. “Denver” reflects that beautifully; named after the city where he dropped his first verse, it amplifies his technical skills at its peak, particularly storytelling. We’ve heard this strength throughout his career, and as he switches gears on Jackman, getting to listen to him explore this foundation more is like a breath of fresh air.

It can’t all be humble; Jack Harlow has a moment where he brings pointless bragging on “They Don’t Love It,” where he delivers an asinine brag that’s purely vague and too much of a conversation starter that shouldn’t be one. On the track, he raps, “The hardest white boy since the one who rapped about vomit and sweaters/And hold the comments ’cause I promise you I’m honestly better.” Speaking through a commercial purview, you can easily find validity with that, but how one quickly forgets the late great Mac Miller and his popularity and poignant importance in Hip-Hop. It’s pushing vague lines, allowing people to create a conversation, but its effectiveness would have been more impactful if the previous album was any good. It’s a weak pivot that loses steam, especially retroactively, as the album gets more and more introspective, and the need for cockiness becomes lost within the conceptual flow of the rest. It isn’t as bad as his approach to the theme of bro code skepticism with “Gang Gang Gang,” where the shock doesn’t match the direction of the production and tone, feeling hollow and poorly conceived to deliver its message. 

These moments slightly take away from the solid work surrounding it, like the excellent commentary on “Common Ground,” where he’s looking at how white suburbanites have this fascination with the dominant culture of other races, particularly black people and hip-hop here. The way he picks apart the awe one has with the other is eloquently delivered, showcasing particular stereotypes toward a certain lifestyle we’ve seen of white people who grew up with excess wealth or the parents who find disgust with the lyrics their kids listen to. The latter has been a topic of conversation for years in hip-hop, and Jack Harlow’s exposure to the same continues to establish a trend within the surface layer, changing the attitudes of the same people. From there, sans “They Don’t Love It” and “Gang Gang Gang,” Harlow has a fluid flow within tracks where the production equally tries to take the spotlight away from him.  

Like typical major label Hip-Hop album drops, Jackman has a platoon of producers. Working with 17 different producers and instrumentalists, there is awe within the consistency, which gets brought from front to back. There’s this soulful aesthetic that Jack Harlow is going for, and they deliver without teetering far from the path. The beats carry nuance to boom bap at its simplest form, letting the percussion be more melancholic to boast the raspy, focused flows that bears heavy emotions as Harlow goes through his ups and downs. Unfortunately, at 24 minutes/10 tracks, having those two moments where it pivots poorly hinders the depth that could have shined brilliantly. Instead, it gets stunted, feeling short and less poignant as you break apart the lyrics of his misses, despite the intentions. It’s a solid surprise that could have been greater but misses the mark, especially as Harlow keeps his thoughts quickly and to the point while still bringing a much-needed change than the wannabe Drake-isms of Come Home the Kids Miss You.

I wanted to enjoy Jackman more, but unlike the many fans raking in the positives, they misplace what doesn’t work by missing to reach the depths of the lyricism. It is better than Come Home the Kids Miss You, no questions asked, yet, it lacks that oomph to round the edges better. Harlow brings forth lyrically sharp performances, even with shortcomings; however, it’s short and brief, leaving you wanting more, even if it’s just for another six minutes. It’s something I may not find myself returning to frequently, but it leaves me optimistic about what future drops could sound like.

Rating: 6 out of 10.

Zombie Juice – Love Without Conditions: Review

Like his rap partner Meechy Darko, Flatbush Zombie, Zombie Juice has come into 2023 with a debut that speaks wonders to the character development written within the crevices of the bars. Love Without Conditions is viscerally tight, keeping itself focused on the task at hand instead of losing itself within the aesthetic; it can work for some, but Zombie Juice predominantly placates that joyful wordsmith and give fans something more genuine. The production shifts from the overstated druggy-laced synths or other electronic notes over potent percussion like another Zombie record. It’s tempered, keeping itself centered on divulging character. It gives us more of a direct proponent of the non-esoteric sounds within the beats, allowing us to coast through the 34-minute album easily. Unfortunately, that swift breeze can feel flummoxing as Love Without Conditions doesn’t feel as long as it is or keeps itself centered on the emotional complexities of Zombie Juice and the creative path paved for him since childhood. Listening through a few times brings out the dimensions of the songs, specifically through the lyricism, which stays strong even when it transitions to slightly obtuse sounds comparatively, surprising me significantly.

To call Love Without Conditions surprising isn’t without merit, as it’s been rarer for Zombie Juice to get this way, as when Flatbush Zombies flexed written linguistics, Juice never stood out as consistently. He is this jovial foil that kept it going hard when others took it to the inner depths of the oceans with these multi-stacked bars, all contributing to lavish-druggie lifestyles while retaining composure as an everyday human. LSD’s slight reemergence within the prevalent drug cycle became more and more pertinent, especially during my college tenure; it began to infiltrate and blend with the more boisterous weed raps. As someone who has done LSD, the focus it brings to one’s mind, driven by mood, gets mirrored on the album, specifically how you let it lead your mind through varying avenues of reflection, except at the beginning when the visuals are more potent. Instead, Zombie Juice is tapping into his thoughts rather than full colorful writing, creating a distinct reflection cycle that kept returning to LSD and other hallucinogens, but as the days go on, like Zombie Juice, all one has left is their thoughts, reflecting on their growth since the first time they jumped headfirst into the world they inhabit. Juice makes that more pertinent with the first few tracks, especially the first two, “Melancholy” and “Hikari.”

Love Without Conditions feels like a lucid trip, except in reverse, as the contemplative work comes at the beginning and end; the midway point brings more of that aggro-druggie typicality we’ve heard from the Flatbush Zombies and The Underachievers prior. Though I could call this a two-track pivot in the middle more of that heightened visual pretense that you get told about when it comes to LSD, but not as unique. It’s what happens when it becomes habitual, or more recurring, that its visual effects aren’t as potent like the first time. They have a leveled balance that would make fans of the groups rejoice with delight as these two groups were significant cornerstones in the shift of NY East Coast Hip-Hop in the early 2010s; it just doesn’t all work here since they feel more like blank slates to flex over. It’s like they are the visuals, coming late to the party, letting the listener/user feel engulfed in their thoughts. It’s a downturn from the intricate and intimate balance within tracks like “Hootz” or “Say Enough,” where the piano becomes a vital component, fleshing the base of the beat by Tyler Dopps to new heights. It directs the tempo, the flows, and the mood, even boasting the effects of its chorus, as Zombie Juice sings, “Gotta say enough, it’s been a long year/Hope y’all remember me, so I wrote this song here/Years of memories, up and down the road/Years of memories, goin’ up in smoke.”

There is an emphasis on Zombie Juice’s narrative, but as is the case with some, their occasional push for the known, in conjunction with, usually fails to hit the mark. It gets jumbled trying to find ways to deliver a bridge between the more somber sections, even when it’s lyrically typical to Juice’s colloquialism in the druggie world. The lyricism continuously shows Juice’s authenticity to stay consistent; it’s just that the bridge doesn’t feel like it belongs, as they are more of the antithesis of some themes, like love and family, leading into and upon finishing “Drizzy” and “Dr. Miami.” As I’ve noted before, it’s a distinct pivot in the complexion of the front-to-back directive. It isn’t to discredit the quality of bars from his features on both, but they don’t feel that entrenched with the standards expected after listening to the smooth cadence on the first two tracks. A significant difference comes from its style, as others tread more straightforward narratives, weaving a story into the confines of a 16-to-24 verse.

That top-tier quality shines with the other rap features, Curren$y and Devin The Dude, who get put on tracks more akin to their flow and rhythm and still follow the assignment with the delivery of their verses. But as it steers the conversation Zombie Juice wants to have with us, it shows the discrepancy in effectiveness. It’s what helps fully round out the album to be this fantastic exploration of the mind of Zombie Juice, taking the opposite approach to the gothic nature of Meechy Darko’s album last year. It’s as if I never felt the need to press pause, like with others. This is a lax cruise. Much of it has to do with its swift pace, which allows you to cycle over and over without feeling like time is getting wasted as it has been with many of the Beast Coast rappers releasing solo projects, from Nyck Caution to Issa Gold and CJ Fly. It’s definitely one of the better hip-hop releases this year so far, and I mean that so wholeheartedly. Go spin Love Without Conditions and hear for yourself.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

El Michels Affair and Black Thought – Glorious Game: Review

As with any new album or collaboration album by Black Thought, there is an expectancy for greatness behind the microphone, and that’s no mistake, as Thought is one of the most consistent rappers. His ear for production has stayed so; last year was with Danger Mouse, and in 2023, with El Michels Affair, a group led by multi-instrumentalist Leon Michels, on Glorious Game. It’s easy to create dialogue about the music and the effervescent lyricism since Black Thought can turn varying content & themes and flip them into these auspicious songs which embolden their surroundings, allowing the listener to hear and see the bigger picture. With production from El Michels Affair, the soundscape mirrors the atmospheric notion of intimate shows, where the occasional crowd is heard in reprises, through cheers and claps, to bring these notions to life, especially as the flows come more tempered and retrospective. It’s more soulful and jazzy, giving the listener these rich layers to dissect what gets heard due to fluid post-production mixing that fleshes these songs further, even if it doesn’t have a total oomph factor.

Glorious Game differs from past collaborations, where Black Thought used producers that are antiquated within the world of Hip-Hop, except they haven’t lost their footing. Beyond the live instrumentation production, what separates the production of El Michels Affair from others is their consistent shift in focus in which instrument gets a significant boost. It’s not like the behind-the-board producers who balance the technical side with some live creations to fine-tune a balance with the sonic components – Salaam Remi’s unique string orchestration on Streams Of Thought, Vol. 2 or Sean C and LV’s gritty musical world-building. As the album continues on repeat, you hear this blissful equilibrium that keeps you centered and focused on both, even through the simpler moments like with “Alone,” where the production comes in louder than the vocalist, feeling off-kilter to the senses. However, they create these unique compositions that shift from the dense “Protocol” to the purposeful “Hollow Way,” where the percussion’s character is louder despite coming behind the strength of Thought’s voice. Going through the album, you hear the seamless harmony of the flows with the production.

It isn’t as grand, levying more tempered sounds that feel like Black Thought is working the slight antithesis of The Roots’ more provocative and loud; El Michels Affair is less ingrained in artistic grandeur and more tepid within its tempos. It lets Thought’s lyrics guide through on top of the instrumental–heavy clouds finding ways to make a stamp with his words, like the ferocity on “The Weather.” It’s like coasting on cloud nine as Black Thought flows with a beautiful cadence in his voice, where no word feels weirdly enunciated to force a rhyme. Each time, Black Thought finds new degrees to retread familiar content, but his sense of originality keeps you interested through the words he spits, like his flexing on “Glorious Game.” For some, it can be something to swiftly tune out as there are few moments where Thought placates his more focused demeanor to continue his expansive and tempered delivery. 

Though Black Thought’s lyricism is astute, some may not find his flexing as refreshing, but more importantly, the shift between the dualities. With “That Girl” and “Miracle,” Black Thought becomes keen on reflecting on a relationship with a significant other; however, as the production and vocals mold, the former turns to the most interesting of the two, even with similar flow and instrumental tempos. It’s as much about the content as the delivery, and it’s harder to when it runs 12 tracks, 32 minutes, but it doesn’t feel as such. It feels like a swift EP that’s not as satisfying as you finish the run without realizing it has done so. It grooves through vast introspections and reflections; I yearned for more as the music continued to feel more compositely streamlined, where it’s hard to find something more than the expectancy. Black Thought brings a lot to the fray as his writing takes interesting turns through distinct metaphors and wordplay, but there are two times it isn’t as powerful. With “I’m Still Somehow,” it feels like Thought is just flowing off a paper, losing any sense of emotional gravitas, while “Alone” can’t seem to find an agreement between production and vocals. 

These detractors pushed me from loving this album to the levels of Cheat Codes with Danger Mouse or Streams Of Thought, Vol. 1 with 9th Wonder & Khrysis, but there is still enough fantastic work to keep in the loop. The lyrics are raw, and the production quality remains as consistent as ever, keeping your ears ingrained to beats as they flood through your headphones. Though it’s lesser than some other projects, that doesn’t mean much when you get quality consistently from both artists. Highly recommend the album, even if it isn’t as profound, you’re bound to find songs to enjoy fully.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Larry June & The Alchemist – The Great Escape: Review

Within Rap music, we have artists with the viscosity to deliver many projects throughout a 12 Month span. There’s Curren$y, Boldly James, Papoose, Termanology, and G Perico, to name a few, but on the opposite end of the LA coast where G Perico hails from, there’s Larry June from the Bay area of California. Entrenched within soulful vibes, it becomes a guiding principle that boasts the production’s eventual turns as we get hints of refined melancholic sounds, which places a board for June to deliver visceral lyricism akin to his world. That’s what we get with the resoundingly beautiful The Great Escape, an album collaboration with famed Hip-Hop producer The Alchemist. Considering the hype behind both artists, it’s safe to say that the album delivers and then some; it keeps a smooth vocal cadence throughout, immersing the listener within the transparent sounds that push the writing to the front. It fits within June’s repertoire of music that follows a similar aesthetic; however, between less engaging choruses, there is so much to love about the album, especially Alchemist’s production.

As it opens to the sounds of rain crashing against the window in calming fashion, horns begin to blare as the percussion subtly forms, and that’s when Larry June comes in and flows fiercely and seductively. It’s a robust strength of his as he brings a slight casualness to his reflections of life, noting his own stigma with distrusting banks and reminding us to do our taxes appropriately; it shifts the luxurious content which shines like the cars and watches June flexes to something more rounded. Like the artists mentioned, June is part of a collective where the subjects can overlay from album to album, but his creativity has shown us a consistent shift in delivery. For example, he raps about the fundamentals of saving and hustling on “89 Earthquake,” named after the famous Earthquake during the 1989 World Series. The music speaks to common topics relayed through varying artists; however, June keeps it straight and humbling, never fully taking on excess as a means of having it all. Instead, he’s seeing it as this plus where he can spend time buying over $1,000 worth of candles at the Palisades in California. 

Larry June’s lyrical content is reminiscent of Jeezy in the late 00s, where we’d hear him flex while retaining a sense of accordance with minor laws, like speeding, so he could enjoy what he’s showing to the fullest without setbacks. One example that comes to mind is Jeezy’s verse on “I’m So Hood Remix,” where he flexes his expensive luxurious whip while reminding us he doesn’t speed or use tints, which turns into less hassling from police enforcement. Though June is far from that, he’s one to keep it genuine in between feeling enriched with his success. There’s “Summer Reign,” where June notes how a true man looks to keep pushing toward success while remaining true to their family. As the first verse closes, we see this incredible parallel where taking chances can take you as June raps, “Spendin’ money on assets for rainy days/I’m more focused on ownership, not the fame/Grab an oolong tеa, then jump in this thing/We just touched down, but right back on thе plane.” It shows this sense of fiscal responsibility and comfortability. 

It’s captivatingly relaxed, and with its lyrically explosive nature, the nuances of life and humbling successes have compelling depth. June keeps it so that the balance between lyrical content never teeters too far to each side. Going through the music, you get enough to understand the depth beneath these fantastic braggadocio tracks, like “Porsches In Spanish” or “Barragán Lighting” featuring Joey Bada$$ & Curren$y. Sometimes you’ll hear him talking about the hustle on “Left No Evidence” or reflecting on how some anecdotes and notions amongst musical mutuals aren’t the same as before with “What Happened To This World?” It’s one of the two Wiz Khalifa features of the weekend, and for both, the verses are fantastic, especially on the June verse, as he flows over production with the nostalgia of that Kush & OJ flows. And as it continues to formulate and deliver, it’s mesmerizingly smooth from front to back, making some of the lesser choruses blend in to create a more seamless listen-through.

It’s all boasted by The Alchemist’s production, which brings a fundamental understanding of June’s style, assimilating and pushing boundaries to let particular instruments shine amongst the base percussion. We get the string sections of “Exito,” bridging guitar with classical, which slightly becomes reminiscent of folk music or the bridging boom-bap of “Orange Villiage,” June’s track with Slum Villiage. He brings sheer brilliance, opening the floodgates for June and the featured artists to take command and deliver with their distinct sense of greatness. It rounds out an excellent album that will see heavy rotation in the summer breeze. It fits the summery aesthetic and more, but beyond that, it’s a beautifully coordinated and written album you’ll find more than just the aesthetic to love. 

Rating: 9 out of 10.

DJ Drama – I’m Really Like That: Review

Synonymous through his voice, imprint, and relevance in Hip-Hop’s growth through varying cultural hurdles, DJ Drama will always stand tall amongst the varying legends in the genre, even when his albums aren’t as potent as the albums he hosts. For the east, whether it was DJ Clue or the late great DJ Kay Slay, these tapes have always been prevalent in breaking apart and delivering personifications of themselves musically, as they don’t host or co-produce to fit someone else’s style. Kay Slay showcased lyricism at its finest, Clue brought more club heaters, and Drama is that happy medium where you’ll know what you get based on the artists featured on each track. It’s a benefit for those with this love for Hip-Hop who will comprehend what they may or may not like ahead of time – it’s been that way through Drama’s Quality Control series, amongst others, and it continues with the slightly humbling I’m Really Like That. For all the positives come some stumbling negatives, specifically as Drama’s purview on choruses comes off a bit one note, and some rappers don’t bring that A+ flavor keeping the consistency rocky.

I’m Really Like That isn’t anything special like the many curated albums by DJs who work as the lead artist, but for those who have a fondness for hearing rappers work with each other where they wouldn’t otherwise on a solo project, it’s enough to push the intrigue level higher. You won’t feel your time fully wasted due to it since what gets heard are some amazing rap verses, above-average hip-hop production, and some repetitive melodic choruses that never have a lot of character. DJ Drama’s spoken word between verses and in the intro of certain tracks have more character than the choruses, which are there to showcase the singer’s strengths. Unfortunately, this doesn’t do that, even when you’re getting an angelic performance by Vory, but they tiptoe a balancing beam where their effectiveness can bridge verses. Still, they aren’t at the forefront as constantly – happening somewhat twice, with the second being “FMFU” but none of them are captivating, especially “HO4ME,” which delivers typicality from A Boogie With A Hoodie and Lil Baby. It’s more underwhelming as it comes after the excellent “Legendary” with Tyler, the Creator.

Fortunately, I’m Really Like That takes a more powerful pivot at track 5, where DJ Drama gives us one phenomenally high energy and frenetic moment with “Free Game,” which sees 42 Dugg & Lil Uzi Vert coming with pure ferocity. Matching that potency is many rappers: Benny the Butcher, Symba, Wiz Khalifa, Jim Jones, G Herbo, and Jeezy, to name a few, and it’s their potency that helps round out the tracks they get featured on since the choruses are repetitively simple. Some outshine others, like Symba and Wiz Khalifa on “No Weakness,” the latter snapping on the beat and making one wish they cut out the lackluster T.I. verse. It’s the only instance of this, but as these rappers come and deliver, what could be forgettable ends up less so, leaving you with some tracks to keep in rotation. It’s especially true for the songs “Andale,” “Been A While,” “I Ain’t Gonna Hold Ya,” “Free Game,” and “Raised Different.” Especially the latter that delivers two A+ verses from Jeezy and the late extraordinary Nipsey Hustle.

Like the quality from song to song, Drama shifts between delivering humbling motivational speeches and flexing his ego. It makes sense to hear him expand his ego because Drama’s history within the Underground scene, alongside Don Cannon, has been pivotal in elevating the pedigree of artists. He’s earned it as he’s opened the doors for many, but at the same time, not everyone becomes the next phenom, and one of his recent discoveries, Jack Harlow, went on to be that. He was right about Harlow’s gift and appeal for growth. Unfortunately, Harlow can’t boost that ego-flex as his verse isn’t that interesting, taking off-kilter directions with the metaphors and allusions on “Mockingbird Valley.” For example, when he rapped, “Spent my first advance in Lenox (Gangsta), haven’t been back in a minute/Love me ’cause I’m so authentic, Mitch McConnell still in Senate/Ocean risin’ by the minute, just like us, we came to win it.” For what it is, the bars are corny and offer little as he alludes to his authenticity by making parallels to a backward politician and talking about his consistent rises like global warming and the rising water levels in the oceans. It left me feeling numb and uninterested in returning to any of Harlow’s music for the immediate future.

Jack Harlow isn’t the only outlier with the verses of Gucci Mane and Lil Wayne on “FMFU,” which are below average, and “350” is more atypical for a slightly pushed add-on for a track that’s three years old. “HO4ME” neglects to bring a verse from Lil Baby, relegating him to this bland chorus to match the drab bars from A Boogie. It’s similarly the case with two of the last three tracks, “Iron Right” and “We Made It.” It further makes the insipid need to boast too many character dimensions, as the album reflects varying styles, from the more sing-songy melodic rap vibes to the more apropos New York tones on “Forever.” It becomes this one big roller coaster ride that’s reflective equally through varying channels, like Drama’s vocals and content. It’s an album where you can lower your standards and still be beyond satisfied with the quality of work you get, and you get left with a reminder that DJ Drama still has it.

Rating: 6 out of 10.

Myke Towers – La Vida Es Una: Review

Sometimes typical amongst Reggaeton albums is the range length filled with enough filler that its listener is bound to find the right vibe attached to a slew of repetitions. They can be fantastic and consistent, but the components around them have to be captivating. For Myke Towers, it becomes more evident when he leans to the trappings of Reggaeton he falters, despite the talent we hear behind the microphone, with the pen and paper always on hand. Though there is a lot to like about his last album, Lyke Myke, I can’t say the same about his follow-up, La Vida Es Una, which shifts back to the stylistic palette of his first album, Easy Money Baby, except not as firm. Towers has the skills to deliver thought-provokingly visceral visualization with his writing. Still, as he teeters towards the dance elements of Reggaeton, he begins to lose touch with an inconsistent bout in supplying choruses and sensuality in the voice. It makes these tracks feel lesser as he tries to assimilate but misses the spark to take it over the top.

In an interview with MuscoloTV, Myke Towers noted that La Vida Es Una, previously titled Michael, aimed to be the sonic antithesis of his previous album, which imbued a hip-hop core through its pores. It modestly included some Latin flair beneath the high-energy drum patterns, but as he staggers back to the foundational sounds of Reggaeton, there’s only so much he can accomplish. Evident with the choruses of “Voodoo,” “Mundo Cruel,” and “Sábado,” there is a lower ceiling Towers can reach as his singing is as consistent. He has shown moments where he can accomplish a modest delivery, but his swagger doesn’t match the sensuality behind the thematic content. Myke Towers raps and sings a lot about relationships, flexing his status and sex appeal while rarely being reflexive on the nature of this approach. There is little depth to how he approaches themes, as you’re trying to bounce between anecdotes that boast the characteristics of his love or Myke Towers rapping about how awesome it would be to go on a date with him or be with him.

It leaves you twiddling your thumbs as you get through the 23-track, 75 minutes album. As it approaches the second half, La Vida Es Una starts progressing quickly as some songs blend with the others thematically and sonically, shifting from the slightly tepid and smooth pacing in the first half. The slightly disappointing downshift after “Cama King” rarely allows him to breathe, instead just letting it chug along with slight neglect. As Myke Towers continues to rap and sing, it becomes more inconsistent, with tracks like “Lo Que Pide,” “Don & Tego,” and “Flow Jamaican” being clear standouts amongst the redundancies, like “Tu Rehén.” They showcase Towers’ inflated ego under the scope of relationships, never feeling as fresh or fleshed out, sometimes sounding more familiar comparatively. It sounds like he’s trying to focus on being part of this trendy aesthetic instead of finding an avenue full of originality. 

The sounds aren’t as rich or diverse – it keeps itself tight-knit on the summery vibe, eventually becoming a cornerstone of the production’s weakness. It loses itself to the rhythm as you try to feel out the vocal performances that bring you back through some hollow layers. Each time Myke Towers delivers with a featured artist, the sounds get more profound, and the choruses have some melodic depth. It benefits Towers that these features perform fluidly through them, that they can circumvent some of Towers’ lesser qualities and rounding them with enough definition where they become easily replayable. You can get taken aback as you start to sense the distance in performative prowess between them, like on “ULALA (OOH LA LA),” where Daddy Yankee’s singing is more refined and captivating. It’s the same with “Conocerte,” where Ozuna keeps it focused and predominantly catchy as you find yourself vibing, easily.

Though not all the features do this, sometimes there to help round out the song around Towers’ verses, but on “Don & Tego,” it’s the opposite. One of the rare times we hear that essence of Hip-Hop, nothing felt more refreshing than hearing two poignant lyricists bouncing off each other, delivering two heaters. You get that with Myke Towers and Arcángel, who keep it 100. Additionally, there are great moments where you hear Towers trying different flows, like the trap-influenced “Lo Logré.” It makes you wonder where Towers wanted to go with this, especially as he continues to refine his sound through Reggaeton & Hip-Hop. There isn’t a part of me that doesn’t feel like Myke Towers is getting there, picking apart varying elements of the music he loves, and contributing to wonderfully, and finding the best happy medium, like his debut. There are many great moments on the album, but as you round the bases, there are some hurdles that put weight on delivering at full impact. It leaves you with a less-than-pleasing experience, but with those great moments, there’s no denying you’ll find enjoyment.

La Vida Es Una initially felt like something with promise, and as it replayed, similar issues continued arising, especially its repetitiveness. It left me feeling like his adventurous nature was slighted by trying too much and too hard to let out some vulnerability; ultimately, it’s when he’s rapping that the music excels consistently, unlike songs where he sings. It was something that I wanted to like more, but its overlong runtime felt like a chore and less rewarding as it went on since the hurdles to get through from good song to song aren’t as forgettable.

Rating: 6 out of 10.

JPEGMAFIA & DANNY BROWN – Scaring The Hoes: Review

Danny Brown & JPEGMAFIA’s collaboration on their new album Scaring The Hoes is like witnessing the impact of two eclectic asteroids colliding, creating meteorites of songs that drip upon their audience with chaos. You’re getting a dish containing JPEGMAFIA’s more industrial and experimental style with Danny Brown as the subtle ingredient holding it together. Unfortunately, the album can sometimes feel less of a collaboration and more like a JPEGMAFIA album featuring Danny Brown; however, Brown delivers with enough character to find individualized placement without feeling like he gets relegated to the back. It’s a byproduct of Danny Brown sounding less assimilated to the avant-garde/experimentalism of JPEGMAFIA’s producing style – JPEGMAFIA seemingly fits, especially having an understanding of his craft, unlike Brown, whose music is more audible chaos, comparatively. It culminates into this uniquely great project that misses the mark due to the mixing of a few songs, where their vocals don’t get propelled forward, but the chaos is nigh at every turn, keeping the intrigue tapped for constant replays.

Beyond the distinctively oblique album and song titles, Danny Brown & JPEGMAFIA’s prowess pushes them to the side as the music comes as expected – with consistency. It benefits the album as the surface layer writings can be detractors for some, especially when you want to talk about the greatness of a song titled “Steppa Pig” or “Jack Harlow Combo Meal,” but that’s their appeal, and it shouldn’t be so. However, the music and titles reflect the musical antithesis of the more popular-driven hip-hop. The music eclipses the norm and delivers an intricate array of production that’s the antithesis of prevalent hip-hop sounds today. Though the equilibrium of the two doesn’t get heard in the first song, “Lean Beef Patty,” so effervescently. It begins to take form with “Steppa Pig,” where we get this fantastic beat switch from streamlined hip-hop to more experimental, right in the second verse from JPEGMAFIA. From here, Danny Brown becomes that force who glides through most beats easily. It reinforces the notions that keep it focused on delivering quality music instead of keeping eyes on the surface layer weird.

After another beat-switching track, “Shut Yo Bitch Ass Up / Muddy Waters,” it starts hitting and missing often as the music begins to oversaturate the loudness with “Kingdom Heart Key” and “God Loves You” while minimizing impact with the shortened “Run The Jewels.” It isn’t as held together individually, despite flowing with the rest. It doesn’t allow Danny Brown or JPEGMAFIA to feel as immersed within the beat, instead getting shrouded over by them. The production’s rhythmic bombastic nature on “Kingdom Heart Key” and “God Loves You” is modestly compelling, but as the sounds get implemented, they begin to feel like a try-hard attempt to feel larger than life. That feeling seeps in slightly at the end of “Where Ya Get Yo Coke From?.” In turn, it makes one want to search the lyrics on Genius to get through these with an understanding beyond the production notes. Like with “Kingdom Heart Key,” where JPEGMAFIA overemphasizes the video game sounds at certain moments, taking away from the vocals.

It’s a slight detriment as sometimes you want to hear Danny Brown and JPEGMAFIA’s verses like the smooth “Orange Juice Jones” or the kinetically frenetic “Fentanyl Tester” since they bring forth some deliciously fun bars and relativity. One moment, for example, comes from “Orange Juice Jones,” where Danny Brown raps: “Off that Casamigos, got her taco drippin’ on the floor/If them is your people, tell them chill before we up that pole/Off that Britney Spears, got me dancing like I lost control,” really letting out his inner self instead of flaunting odd excess and lifestyles. The lyricism stays consistent through most of the album, whether the two are flexing by their stylistic means or weaving thematic bars based on the song title, like on “Burfict!” named after former Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict. Coming hard like a linebacker, the Danny Brown and JPEGMAFIA bring a cadence with their flows as the horns from the NFL theme blare beautifully in the back. With “Orange Juice Jones,” you get that R&B smoothness influence being beautifully resonant throughout.

Through its up and downs, these tracks reinforce the meaning behind the album title, Scaring the Hoes – the antithesis to the current era of hip-hop, which makes more party-friendly, club bangers and sensual love tracks. These songs get more audio play instead of the alternative brilliance behind the respective artists. JPEGMAFIA isn’t a stranger to weaving an idealogy toward music where he speaks truth to himself instead of steering toward creating synthetic pop-raps, ala Drake. We’ve heard JPEGMAFIA satirize and build sensibilities through “Drake Era” off Veteran, but whatever nuance is left gets thrown out the window. Scaring the Hoes isn’t here to bring out those bumping “Too Sexy” from Certified Lover Boy, but rather the music heads who thrive off off-kilter production. It’s especially the case with its satirical sampling of pop songs, like “Milkshake” by Kelis, or the interpolations of others like “Get Em High” by Kanye West. 

Scaring the Hoes is one chaotic journey that accomplishes what it sets out to do, never truly limiting the artists, despite some technical issues. It all culminates into an engaging listen-through that isn’t so much transformative but instead greater during the moment. It leaves you feeling the vibes, allowing the intricate wordplay to lay unique metaphors to boast its thematic conjectures as it goes through the motions. Danny Brown and JPEGMAFIA keep distinguishing themselves through the beats, even when certain moments aren’t audible, but it all comes around to a listen that will match expectations for many.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

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.