JID – The Forever Story: Review

Having the gift of storytelling allows hip-hop artists to add depth beyond the apropos flexing as they take us on journeys toward understanding their message. We’ve gotten various styles, at times becoming more focused on the trickle-down effect–it works for many, but not all. JID is more linear, giving us these intricate flows as he builds the world around him with musical vibrance. Usually tonally split between being frenetic and soulfully slower, there is an equilibrium as it goes through JID’s life with themes centered on family, hip-hop, and his relationship with the people around him. Furthermore, his walls continuously crumble, adding innate vulnerability and giving us a sense of his character, specifically through the guise of Hip-Hop. The Forever Story continues to show the potency of his craft as he bridges styles with effervescent production that boasts the world JID builds with his rhymes, flows, and melodies.

JID and vulnerability are two entities that acquiesces cleanly, spearheading the conversation toward understanding JID’s character. He is world-building and allowing his connection points to progress his messaging. It starts coming at you ferociously with this myriad of songs like “Raydar,” which establishes interconnectivity within the black community, reflecting central aspects that speak broadly while staying close to retaining relativity. It’s on “Raydar” where JID reignites our view of song construction, levying what to expect: “I got the shit you could play for your mama/I got the shit you could play for the hoes/I got the shit you could sell to the trappers,” speaking to his artistic range. And he makes it known with his sonic range on The Forever Story, giving us some heavy hitters, intimate reflections, and mature flexes.

Following “Raydar,” the sounds that spread throughout shift from the darker percussion to the more neo-soul-influenced sounds containing the stability which allows the beat to coast smoothly. It has this crisp jitteriness, reflecting JID’s flow in likeness. We hear it effervescently on “Can’t Punk Me,” “Dance Now,” and “Surround Sound,” and it’s similarly the case with tracks that focus on the soulful undertones. These tracks embody aspects of JID’s person–“Can’t Punk Me” is a descriptive rag-to-riches tale–“Dance Now” tackles years of doubts, particularly when shifting the corner with a major record deal–“Crack Sandwich” sees JID sharing the dynamic between him and his siblings growing up in the south–JID is coming about these topics with maturity, especially when comparing where he was to now.

On the other end, tracks like “Kody Blu 31” and “Stars” embolden the jazz-rap overtones, playing with instruments and implementing them uniquely. With “Stars,” the live instrumentations steal the spotlight, shining through percussion, invigorating the verses from JID and Yasiin Bey. BADBADNOTGOOD’s input, the live orchestration, shines alongside the hip-hop producers Christo and Eric Jones. “Kody Blu 31” brings out that Blues/Soul influence brilliantly. The postwork on JID’s vocals highlights the emotional weight from predominantly singing when he’s known to mostly rap. That lyrical maturity also gets heard in how he expresses himself in choruses and verses, like the slight digs at stereotypes that come with stardom on “Stars,” speaking to its nature on a grounded scale, considering his status compared to that of label head J. Cole. It’s on these soulful songs where the synergy between the performers and production gets heard potently, especially with the features, one of many highlights on The Forever Story

Amongst the features in The Forever Story, there is a consistency that parallels JID’s masterful lyricism, running dry swiftly on “Bruddanem.” Lil Durk’s delivery isn’t up to par with the poignancy of his verse, which offers an illustrative view of brotherhood in Chicago as it transcends past simple camaraderie–taking bullets for another–further reflecting the lengths they go to protect each other. It gets heard, but it doesn’t match the levels of JID, whose more tame flow expresses the emotional cracks in his voice, like on “Kody Blu 31.” It’s more a testament to Durk not being fully assimilated past drill-like flows. Unlike it, JID shows consistency with construction, mirroring the production with aspects of his feature’s strengths and giving us standout performances that progress the story while staying personally reflexive in their regard. Whether it’s Ari Lennox or 21 Savage, JID creates synergy, enveloping tracks with effervescently purported notions. The Forever Story is grand, almost cinematic, how JID loses himself within the beat and paints these delicate and vibrant scenes.

The Forever Story is a triumph for JID, weaving together his strengths and compacting them cleanly in his own transformative journey. We get a balance between production styles, allowing them to connect through distinct transitions. It left me zoning, retaining it on repeat, and feeling the immersive nature of his music. And with features that boast the messaging of their respective tracks and equally great production, JID continues to add credence to his momentous strength as a lyricist/MC.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Meechy Darko – Gothic Luxury: Review

Brooding in the shadows of socio-systematic hypocrisy moving different communities toward avenues with diminutive lights that lead toward prosperity, Meechy Darko’s debut, Gothic Luxury, encompasses his stylistic personality with bravado, despite production that seems to feel normative at times. In essence, Meechy Darko evolves slightly past loose druggie perspectives on the system and his status amongst contemporaries, expressing contrasts with the ups and downs of fame. In the intro, Meechy utters in spoken word format: “The sinner in Saint Laurent, the demon in Dior/Durt Cobain be the other name, anyway/This album contains sex, drugs, love, pain, a lil fame/Shit that come with the game/Drive a nigga insane,” which lays a foundation for potent narcissism that makes your veins shiver as he goes from track to track. However, stumbling through gritty New York City streets that past rappers laid a platform for, Meechy slightly modernizes via vocals and sonic transitions, turning the beats into stabilized balance beams for illustrative lyrics.

If anything is apparent in Gothic Luxury, there’s instability between fame and different personalities; it’s transparent in verses where he expresses lavish, drug-induced lifestyle shifting between flows and tones on the perspective, like on “Never Forgettin’.” It reflects Meechy Darko’s upbringing trying to echo his will to survive through all the pushback from various external factors. Doubled down with “Kill Us All,” Meechy offers insight into more impetuous drug consumption and the systematic oppression that poorly castrates any sense of progress socio-politically. Though more apparent in the news today, he brings a more grounded perspective on the relationship between the audience and the messenger. He uses it to position himself amongst his contemporaries–in and out of music–who command the stage since Meechy sees himself on this hierarchy where his words have weight, as expressed in the first verse of “Kill Us All.” It adds credence to that outwardly lavish, drug-fueled life without him giving much of a fuck because he’s earned his success.

“Democrat, Republican, they all evil to me

But remember that the Democrats started the KKK

I turn on CNN, they tell me be MLK

Instead of Malcolm X but they both died the same way

You know what goes hand in hand, Hollywood and C.I.A

Operation Black Messiah, it’s the FBI paid

Epstein Island, Q-Anon, and then Pizzagate

It’s crazy ’cause America loved the Black Panther movie

But in ’66, they hated the Black Panther movement

History’s a trip, it’s crazy how they twist and flip the shit

But since the winners write the history, we will not lose again.”

– Kill Us All, Meechy Darko

Solo ventures to having features; the music is a trip through hell after stealing the lush riches of heaven, making the contrasting worlds have more synergy. Throughout Gothic Luxury, Meechy Darko’s turbulent but lavish lifestyle is the selling point. It delivers intricate anecdotes about who Meechy is–a prideful rapper who isn’t afraid to show his upscale presence while living the same outlandish life. Just because he’s making them benjamins, he’s still that rapper who smoked about 100 blunts and didn’t get high. He’s narcissistic, swimming in a pool filled with clothing from Birkin, Gucci, Prada, etc., and indulges amongst the riches his prayers have bestowed upon him while feeling blessed to a slight degree. We hear it clearly on the tracks “Get Lit or Die Tryin’,” “Prada U,” and “Lavish Habits (Gothika).” These tracks give us meaning regarding his perspective on life and hip-hop, specifically how he wants to express himself in a song. His free-flowing demeanor allows him to imbue that confidence without skipping a beat, though that doesn’t always translate to fantastic.

Gothic Luxury stumbles less frequently, but when it stumbles, it stumbles harder than expected. “Hennessey & Halos” has overindulgent production; “Prada U” has an uninteresting flow and percussion, which made me feel like it tries too hard to fit an atmospheric aesthetic instead of feeling natural like on “The MoMa.” The beat plays with jazz sounds, which lets both rappers breathe without over-textualizing the sounds. But what felt right were most of the features on the album; from Black Thought to Denzel Curry and Busta Rhymes, they imbue that darkened aesthetic smoothly–along with other features like Kirk Knight, relegated to chorus duties, and Freddie Gibbs with his slightly memorable verse.

Meechy Darko had a vision and delivered on it as best he could. It’s why we can feel a discernable consistency in the sonic aesthetic, despite the twists he takes vocally. Shifting away from the Flatbush Zombies, Meechy beautifully expresses who he is and offers an understanding of his style. He’s darker than the others from the group, and the sound boasts his identity in Hip-Hop. It’s enough to keep you intrigued as his career continues to grow beyond the Zombies, especially with the maturity he brings with the delivery of the underlying themes like excess and drug use. It was an interesting listen, one where I implore you to give a spin, specifically for another perspective on success.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

DJ Khaled – God Did: Review

Mid-way through the 2010s, DJ Khaled saw a significant pivot in quality, where an onslaught of mediocre singles and albums rolled out, leaving us with little to return. He wants to be like other heavyweights in the game, like DJ Drama, DJ Kay Slay, and DJ Don Cannon–to name a few–but he hasn’t found his voice after all these years. Instead of being respectable 100% of the time, Khaled is choosing to be more of a meme, rather, an apparition that haunts you whenever you question his presence, like this year’s Academy Awards. However, he’s still capable of orchestrating and producing quality tracks where the delivery is enough to reflect competency; though it wasn’t pertinent on his last album, his follow-up, God Did, mirrors the quality of Major Key, though that isn’t high praise. God Did bears intriguing features and directions for Khaled, which don’t always work, but it’s fresh to hear a concise approach as opposed to Khaled Khaled.

Given the context of how DJ Khaled constructs his albums–creating distinct hitmakers, at times wavering toward a concept–there is merely so much you can take away outside of hip-hop or reggae/dancehall club hits. You add them to rotation, and like the previously mentioned DJs, that DJ KHALED yell at the beginning is a signifier of bangers. But as he’s grown, he’s learned to over-sizzle his presence and bore us with basic motivational drab that you want to skip to the first featured artist’s vocals. It happens immediately after a quick and forgettable Drake intro with the title track and a bit more frequently than expected down the line. It delivers one of Khaled’s better tracks in some time, with a lot of credit going to detail to make an 8-minute epic feel epic. With Rick Ross and Lil Wayne offering crisp 16s before Jay-Z comes and raps for 4 minutes straight. Khaled sets up a kind of thematic motif that represents humbleness and grace as you rack up success, but it’s sonically displaced as Khaled fizzles the gospel approach to hip-hop that many enjoyed from Ye.

After, it’s one stumble before it begins to sway between various ideas that never go anywhere, like that spiritual-esque motif that shines on their approach when flexing–which becomes forgotten, at times hypocritically expressing what is considered sinful, like pride–or ineffective deliveries. With “It Ain’t Safe,” featuring Nardo Wick & Kodak Black–though the latter speaks for itself–Nardo Wick doesn’t mince words–in his first verse, he spits: “​​She see the way I pull a bitch/You see the way these diamonds hit/Nigga try to touch my chain, you gon’ see the way this 40 kick.” There are hints of pride and violent threats, but I digress as the song is effective on its own, but when you think about the direction Khaled is seemingly aiming for, it misses. It does so on the remix to “Use This Gospel,” a Ye track from Jesus Is King, remixed/produced by Dr. Dre, Timbaland, Federico Vindver & Angel López, and featuring Eminem. If you ever had doubts about Eminem on a gospel track with no cursing, expect the best he can without synergy since Eminem’s style doesn’t adequately parallel a style sketched by the original.

Other stagnant aspects deter from what one expects after listening to the first three tracks. Though that isn’t to say the–immediate–subsequent tracks falter. “Big Time” and “Keep Going” shine by encapsulating the featured artists’ strengths and allowing them to direct their perspective identity with the beat. It’s a consistent positive within Khaled’s talents; he can build something great in his mind, despite the execution never landing, like on “Let’s Pray” or “Beautiful,” where individual artist delivery can’t buoy the song from being more rudimentary comparatively. It doesn’t benefit from relegating SZA to a chorus role when Future is retreading verses from his last album, albeit a breezy flow. Likewise, other missteps become more apparent, like some sample use like on “Staying Alive.” It’s an egregiously dull and derivative use of a Bee Gee’s song–the base production is simple, outright basic, and unappealing. Adding the interpolations of the chorus with some overly monotonous Drake vocals makes it one of the more annoying stop-gaps that can halt any listen. It’s an absent idea that sees him wanting to find a trend between disco nostalgia and hip-hop but misses the mark. 

Lacking subtlety, its use of samples gets used to boast the effectiveness of Khaled’s sonic direction, offering a rich layer that’s either emotional or outright fun, like on “Party” with Offset & Takeoff. “Party” samples the Eddie Murphy hit, “Party All The Time,” and as I heard the filtered synth sample and the slightly distant reverb in the chorus from the song made me laugh at first. But as I kept returning, it dawned on me how effective its use is as they make it their own without an abundance of Khaled. Similarly, “Way Past Luck” beautifully incorporates samples of the production from “All This” by Barbara Jean English. Confident pivots leave tracks independent from the mold, capable of holding weight amongst as it stands on a corner delivering concrete fluidity. It’s especially the case with the three songs that immediately follow “Way Past Luck,” considering his inclusion of Juice Wrld was both enjoyable and respectable, as it builds hype toward a thrilling Jadakiss interlude. It may be stagnant, but DJ Khaled still somewhat delivers on the orchestration side.

God Did is a better album than DJ Khaled’s last outing, but the standards he has set for himself get properly reflected here, even if he could go higher. Though, like most Khaled albums, there are bangers to return to, despite wrought inconsistencies. I had a somewhat fascinating and fun time going through the album, which I expect from most, even if it doesn’t tread toward the quality of projects like Suffering From Success.

Rating: 5.5 out of 10.

Traumazine – Megan Thee Stallion: Review

Taking a shift from the excess and glamour of southern bass-heavy Hip-Hop of the Texas region, aka chopped & screwed and trap, Megan Thee Stallion delivers as expected on a lyrical and technical level. Unfortunately, the production doesn’t match the levels of Megan’s talent, as we get a darker approach to the sounds, like more piano. That isn’t to say it has a steady consistency of mediocrity since beneath the levels of percussion, the interest in details wanes poorly. It can be slightly excusable or somewhat overlooked, like with boom-bap percussion beats where their role is to coast and let the lyrical poignancy enthrall you to the depths of emotional understanding. Or it isn’t, because with certain styles like trap, where the redundancies in elements of the percussion make the sound come off dull. Unlike these two examples, Megan Thee Stallion is trying something different on Traumazine; she’s focusing on trauma from a shooting involving Tory Lanez, taking us through these complex emotions that reflect events. She does so fiercely, keeping us focused on her craft, despite the production being lesser.

After some fiery, hard raps to get the flow moving on Traumazine, Megan Thee Stallion starts to pedal back, getting lost within a vast chasm of sounds. Megan is spelunking with poorly refurbished material, barely keeping her against the wall as she digs deep and delivers a flurry of emotional prowess. She’s shifting the construct, letting the sounds flow through atmospheric motifs in the sounds, which mirrors a darker side of Megan. Despite these notable upticks in idyllic shifts, it never held firmly together–some structural and melodic stumbles take you away from the mystique of Megan’s person. She has the ferocity, the heat that keeps us sizzling–hot girl summer after hot girl summer. But parallel to the mundane beats, some of Megan’s choruses, bridges, and so forth lack the appeal of the captivating simplicity and sternness of “Sugar Baby” and “Body” off her debut Good News. Traumazine isn’t constantly stumbling from this since we get some allure from choruses/hooks on her more grounded raps, like the effervescent flex “Budget” or “Ms. Nasty.”

Unfortunately, as Megan Thee Stallion switches up the tonal complexion, we are left with unappealing genre-bending that makes me question the producers as much as the songwriters. Though not in a pessimistic, judgmental kind of way. But there are various moments where this doesn’t cross the mind, as Megan consistently finds enough correlation between style and substance. With “Anxiety,” there is excellent cohesion between the piano and drum patterns, allowing the choral backgrounds to mesh as an instrument along with the rest. Other moments arise from the level of energy Megan’s features bring, whether it’s that crisp braggadocio from Latto or that hardcore understanding like “Scary”–eerily reminds of Bad Meets Evil’s “Scary Movies” from the Scary Movie 1 soundtrack. It’s similarly the case with other rap features that match the direction with engaging verses, like Pooh Sheisty. But Megan reminds us she isn’t just fucking with other young guns; she delivers a fantastic posse cut with Sauce Walka, Big Pokey, and Lil’ Keke. They are on an upper echelon in their realm, especially the latter two. 

However, “Her” was that first moment it started to shift for me with the inconsistencies. At first, intrigue arose from its sound, but it becomes a dud with a hook that’s slightly more attractive and colorful, albeit dwindling from an overly basic house beat. It doesn’t transfix you with new dimensions, keeping a steady pattern that rarely switches to make your ears perk up, and Megan’s verses are a slight afterthought. Similarly, on “Red Wine,” Megan’s semi-aggro-flow and intimate chorus aren’t crafted with a smooth contrast that its switches aren’t coming across naturally. Though it’s after where we hear a steady progression of inconsistencies, whether from yawn-inducing choruses or verses that retread past sentiments/bars we’ve gotten. On the fritz, the second half, Megan finds herself steering toward pop with these performances from Lucki Daye and Jhene Aiko that are audibly beautiful, despite being contextually dry.

As I’ve said prior, Traumazine doesn’t stunt Megan Thee Stallion’s lyrical integrity and prowess, continuously finding ways to deliver her points even when the tracks are not desirable. Notably, “Sweetest Pie” gives us proper Megan colloquialisms and other checkmarks in her style–albeit the captivating fun in her delivery–it isn’t the best fully formed. Though catchy because of Dua Lipa’s dance-pop/disco-influenced melodies, I don’t hear the best synergy between the two–it’s like Megan’s backing vocals for Jhene Aiko on their track together. Fortunately, as the first single, it stunted my expectations and added oomph to some of the aforementioned tracks that stood out and others like “Plan B” and “Not Nice.”

I wasn’t the biggest fan of Traumazine, despite mixing intrigue from a slight deterrence of her more lavished debut. There was enough for a return, but it doesn’t breach past the constraints heard and never something with sonic depth. Megan Thee Stallion isn’t here to show a decline in talent as that is as pertinent as ever, but a lot of the surrounding factors make tracks stumble, that you might not be able to return for Megan’s verses. Give it a spin, as it might be more your speed as this time, it wasn’t mine.

Rating: 6 out of 10.

Danger Mouse & Black Thought: Cheat Codes – Review

When it comes to The Roots or Black Thought–as a solo artist–even the pseudo remixes on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon–Black Thought never disappoints, even when your anticipation is high. With Cheat Codes, his new album alongside musician/producer Danger Mouse, Black Thought emboldens his status in Hip-Hop, delivering an influx of lucid and poignant verses. There is constant intrigue in Thought’s words as he gives perspective parallels to the simplicity behind the realism, amongst other styles like flexing and relevant criticism. The music takes you by the horns, offering a refreshing album that finds home on stoops with the homies where you’re blaring it from speakers, despite some minor drawbacks from weak featured performances.

Black Thought morphs imagery fluidly, barely seeming to skip a beat like he’s some rap prodigy, but that’s been evident since trading bars with Dice Raw in the 90s. Cheat Codes takes us back 20-30 years when sampling was a check-mark component of Hip-Hop/R&B, though Thought and Danger Mouse craft it with nuance. It’s a driving force behind Cheat Codes, as it shifts through varying styles contextually, from reflective raps to evoking multi-layered flexes, etc. Though on a vague level, it is reflective of most rappers–how Black Thought writes and spews off the dome offers clean structures and intricate rhyme schemes. There’s innate synergy, especially with the shift toward a style more potent from 1993–2006–think J Dilla, DJ Premier, Dr. Dre, DJ Quik, The Hitmen, etc. Danger Mouse, a veteran from the era, brings seamless craftsmanship as the samples get incorporated into the beat/production for Black Thought to spit profusely. “No Gold Teeth,” amongst others, encompass these samples as the glue between sounds, allowing us to stay keen on the distinct switches between beats.

“No Gold Teeth” is a keen example of both and a favorite. It gives us a detailed retelling of Thought’s career and how the grind reflects the earned confidence he imbues with his status as a rapper–one example: “Philly ain’t known for cheesesteak sandwiches only, stop/Yo, I’m at the top where it’s lonely/I got everybody mean-mugging like Nick Nolte/But nah, I won’t stop, won’t drop, won’t retire.” Like “Close to Famous,” it’s an inner jolt where he doesn’t push aside the kind of feeling that comes with one’s history and allows it to be a given to maintain focus as a proper form of rags to riches. It’s how he can keep others mean mugging without relenting on the abundance of grandeur. He mentions chains in passing as an achievement instead of a representation of net worth. Danger Mouse incorporates the opening string orchestration and some humming from the song “Stop” by South African Trumpeteer Hugh Masekela, which gets used as a contrast to Thought’s tone. 

Similarly, with the sampling in “Saltwater,” Danger Mouse incorporates sequencing from Italian Rock Band Biglietto Per L’Inferno’s operatic “L’amico suicida,” establishing the tone for the track eloquently. Featuring Conway the Machine, Black Thought, and Conway trade verses that position themselves on this tentpole of unfuckwithable, or one not to fuck with based on how they describe themselves. Like when Conway raps, “Look, they heard me rhymin’, they wanna know where they find me at/The grimy cat from the May Street trenches, insomniac/Three in the mornin’, lurkin’ in that Pontiac/Where I’m from, you gotta take your pole even when you go to the laundromat (Keep it on you).” Black Thought intersects criticisms toward youths aiming to rap for the glamour–forgetting how some come from these grimy roots striving for a voice instead of the money, then shifting to display a difference when it comes to the power of words, like when he rapped: “We pass the baton like a drum major at Howard/We transfer the power for salt, water, and flour/My pen packs a dawah, Akira Kurosawa/My ideas is gunpowder, secure the tower.” The layers within this sequence are also potent throughout the album; it has more standing on the solo ventures, unlike most with features.

Conway, MF DOOM, Raekwon, Killer Mike, and ASAP Rocky have an excellent presence on these features, the former three more so than the latter two, but a few others seem to disjoint from what is effervescently flowing through Danger Mouse and Black Thought. There is a clear synergy between Thought and these featured rappers, but not all can match the lyrical and technical poignancy of the reference sheet Thought delivers. It’s especially the case with El-P on “Strangers” and Joey Bada$$ & Russ on “Because,” which brings forth ubiquitous bars that don’t feel fresh and new, instead becoming a reflection of past selves that aren’t as interesting. It feels more of a throwaway when pinned up against the complexities of “Belize,” which comes across as an expanded flex that attacks various angles from both Thought and MF DOOM– posthumously.

Cheat Codes continues to show Black Thought’s dominance as a lyricist, accompanied by fantastic production from Danger Mouse and delivering platters of whimsically thrilling verses. But like past realized projects, Thought seems to stumble with making sure the performances are up to par with the direction he wants to take, because there are many here. Though it isn’t hard to be too distinguishable, comparatively, some get notice, and you’re quickly yawning after the final outcome. It’s a fantastic album nonetheless and definitely encourage all hip-hop fans to take a seat and indulge.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

The Game – Drillmatic – Heart vs. Mind: Review

There is nothing cornier than hyping yourself up only to fail at delivering convincing arguments toward claims one boldly makes to get eyes and ears. There is an arrogance to it that you love when they can produce, and characteristically, I wasn’t surprised with all the chatter from The Game as we awaited the release of the new album, Drillmatic – Heart vs. Mind. From interviews to random posts on social media and more, he imparted a high standard for fans, who have been starving for consistency since 2016’s 1992. He comes proclaiming: “This album is better than Doctor’s Advocate. Shit, it’s better than The Documentary. I’m not here to gas shit, I don’t even shoot most of my videos, I don’t over promote, I don’t even give a fuck if one nigga buy it…This Drillmatic shit [is] different. This shit got Ye out the house on some different shit. This shit got niggas moving different.” It isn’t. But it’s there, alongside albums in the tier below The Documentary, meaning, despite a flurry of great tracks, it’s overlong, pumping the breaks early as you start to get tired before the last 40 minutes so end.

Though 1992 was a great follow-up, it became drowned amongst albums like Block Wars, Born 2 Rap, and Streets of Compton and some singles; fortunately, Drillmatic – Heart vs. Mind delivers some satisfaction on the consistency front, despite being another unnecessarily long album. At 30 Tracks and nearly two hours, Drillmatic – Heart vs. Mind felt more like a dwindling and tiring process that never proves Game’s point about it being his opus, though that isn’t to say we don’t receive some of his best work in some time. There are moments where, like in The Documentary, sadness, and pain get heard potently–his aggro-sounding flow temper in one direction, turning the notches on another. It gives us a greater understanding of why he makes confident proclamations, especially with certain tracks reflecting the nature of his talents, whether flows or lyricism. We hear these flows coming at a constant, eventually becoming redundant as it progresses, despite his lyricism still shimmering through the cracks.

It’s similarly the case with its production, which contains work from an abundance of producers with enough synergy to keep it afloat, even when some aren’t as interesting as the Game’s content within the track. We hear it on “Outside,” a classic west coast romp that personifies character within the gangster rap realm. “Twisted” similarly lacks the intrigue of other percussion-heavy beats, but like how the swagger boosts the potency of “Outside,” Game’s lyricism does so here. Having lesser production, comparatively, makes other tracks explode on repeat, like “Burning Checks,” Game’s attempt at Drill–and one of my favorites–or the nuanced sounds from late 90s/early 00s gritty NYC street rap on “K.I.L.L.A.S.” They hide amongst varying styles that remind you of radiant melodies and beats that offer stylistic overtures and subtleties within ever-shifting drum patterns on the over or underhead. We hear him rapping over beautifully eclectic percussion on “Nikki Beach,” and then there are the eloquent piano notes playing between rhyme schemes and verses on “Start From Scratch II.” Stagnant transitions aside, there isn’t much on that front that distorts how you take in the sounds.

Though it isn’t pertinent throughout, minor transitional pivots like between “Nikki Beach” and “Talk To Me Nice” push you aside harder as they are complete opposites tonally. Going from this incredible, slightly island-like production to the drilling loudness and annoyance that is Meek Mill’s flow doesn’t give you much to fall back on. It’s a second pair after two earlier tracks, “Chrome Slugs & Harmony” and “Start From Scratch II,” where the transitions sound more seamless, even though the former isn’t as strong, which is the opposite with “Nikki Beach” and “Talk To Me Nice” where the latter isn’t great as the former. That isn’t saying much when features on these tracks can sound mundane in comparison. The outliers here have distinctions in tempo, and these slightly wayward moments further affect the mellow-to-hard sonic transitions on more listen-through–specifically from “Burning Checks” to “La La Land.”

The influx of features on Drillmatic – Heart vs. Mind pushes the album to its limits with seven solo tracks of thirty, including albatross of a diss– “The Black Slim Shady;” it undermines the hardened, testosterone-pumping flows/raps, which contrasts the more personal tracks. Seeing the plethora of featured artists ahead of time offered no surprise as we’ve seen Game do it out the wazoo since The R.E.D. Album. And we’ve seen it work ceremoniously on The Documentary 2 & 2.5; however, it starts to feel more gimmicky, as if Game isn’t capable of giving us something tight and focused like 2016’s 1992. Though I’m not decrying the quality, as some don’t stick to the landing, thus adding more pressure on the project to be its best, but a weak verse or lackluster chorus/hook or even both derail the final product because you’ll then find it hard get through it. Some that come to mind are “O.P.P,” “Talk Nice To Me,” “.38 Special,” and “Universal Love,” further reminding me that Game is at his most consistent delivering tracks solo. 

You love to hear The Game express himself, delivering visceral depth in his storytelling, whether through flexing or being retrospective–especially as you forgive his consistent name drops–most of them are fantastic, like the smooth “La La Land.” But “The Black Slim Shady” stood out like the sorest thumb mostly because it was conceptually, lyrically, and ridiculously bad. I knew The Game was hungry for beef with Eminem after expressing fright in the past, and if you come talking big, one best deliver, and he doesn’t. I found myself picking apart the directions of his various satirizations, narrative pivots, and more; eventually, I started thinking Meek Mill’s first response to Drake is more of a piece of Mozart when it isn’t. It left me feeling mum, at times bored, because I’ve heard Game get down and dirty before and deliver it, specifically with disses, and coming at 110%. Comparatively, this is the first Game project I’ve liked since 2016.

It could have used some trimming to make it feel less bloated and more fluid. The Game tries to bring too much into the fray, making way for tracks to teeter in quality, especially as he tries to connect with the youth and incorporate them poorly, like Blueface on “.38 Special.” It’s like a roller coaster with an appeal to keep riding, even if it isn’t the most extravagantly designed ride. You’re sitting there, headphones plugged in or speaker blaring; the allure comes from your appreciation of the construction of the best tracks, which, in this analogy: the best twists, loops, and turns the ride takes you through. It doesn’t help that this ride will be long as the album caps at two hours, which can feel longer than after 70 minutes. Definitely give this a spin, as I can hopefully guarantee you’ll leave with at least 50% of the track finding rotation amongst your fave rap tracks of 2022, and if not, that’s okay; it isn’t every day you sit back and decide to listen to a two-hour album.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Joey Bada$$ – 2000: Review

Whether thematically or through an expansion of congruent or parallel tales in sequel albums, we’ve seen them match the quality of their predecessor at times, but not at the consistent peak of the original. We’re talking the Blackouts, Blueprint 2, Man on The Moon 2, Marshall Mathers LP 2, and Only Built For The Cuban Linx Pt. 2, to name a few, but we have had rare contrasting improvements, like with Tha Carter II, but ultimately, sequels are way too common. So, when a new one is released, the hype scale skews up and down depending, and there is no in-between. Joey Bada$$ joins the lot with his latest album, 2000, an update to his debut 1999 mixtape that bridges the two with lyrical content and production style, and your hype scale should heighten. Like 1999, 2000 has an excess of boom bap and jazz rap. 2000 reminds us that Joey can command a smokey jazz lounge with crisp flows and emotionally draining lyricism.

When P. Diddy utters these words rhythmically, “Can you say New York City?/Now as we proceed/To give you what you need(Bad Boy),” you get the ting that you’re in for something extraordinary. Though it isn’t the right word to define most choruses on the album, Joey Bada$$ at least reaffirms Diddy’s words, specifically calling him the baddest. Equipped with spectacular co-productions from Statik Selektah, Chuck Strangers, Kirk Knight, and Erick the Architect, amongst others, Joey comes with smokey flows and poignant lyricism, offering a breakdown of his person in front and behind the microphone. From expressing his career doubts throughout or a continuous bounce of confidence like in “Where I Belong,” Joey acquiesces with fluidity as we picture his emotions in these larger-than-life scenes within the verse. Doubling down on “One Of Us,” there is smooth progression between tracks, maneuvering our emotional reflection. 

Unfortunately, Joey still hasn’t grown much when writing choruses. That isn’t to say he’s an albatross, but it’s stagnated, and at times, mundane 1-2-3-4-5 old school choruses don’t have that same pizzaz. It makes individual songs have some that come across like speed humps on a residential road like the potent “Eulogy.” Joey Bada$$’s weakness for writing captivating choruses stays near the front, especially on some highlights: “Cruise Control” and “Brand New 911.” It doesn’t get pushed aside, but its verses and production are enough to keep you returning. The crisp and smooth boom bap–soul hybrid beat from Mike-Will-Made-It, Marz, and Cardiak on “Cruise Control”  focuses on the nuances of the genre, using pianos subtly beneath the percussion, guiding it through the confines of slight decentness. Joey has the right approach for the melody, but it isn’t that interesting. It’s another track that adds affirmation to Joey’s coolness when exuberating confidence that ends with Nas giving us a short speech about Joey’s character, grind, and talent. 

“Brand New 911” has more of a nothing burger of a chorus–fortunately, it isn’t one of those asking for a highlight, and we get lost in the whim of vocal gun noises and slick verses from Joey Bada$$ and Westside Gunn. Like Gunn, most features acquiesce with Joey’s boom bap/Jazz centrism, further giving us highlights to replay, like “One Of Us,” with the Larry June or JID on the aforementioned “Wanna Be Loved.” They properly balance with Joey’s solo tracks that there wasn’t a moment that left me feeling like they didn’t fit. However, that’s more due to the quality of work focused on, unlike Chris Brown, who comes as his haphazard self, offering nothing but an underwhelming verse in an otherwise underwhelming track. But in essence, 2000 is more of a reflection of his career, specifically in growth, as we hear him tackle varied reflection points, like that high feeling of achieving success on “Make Me Feel.” 

See, Joey Bada$$ dropped 1999 and got talked about as this old soul bringing a modern flavor to a style that wasn’t as prominent as the 90s, especially with his quintessentially driven flows. He had swagger and ways of weaving smooth, hypnotic fluidity through multi-syllabic bars, and I remember hitting me when I heard him go toe-to-toe with Capital Steez on “Survivor Tactics.” The growth of Joey Bada$$ has been gripping and pertinent amongst others in the New York scene of the 2010s like groups Pro Era, Flatbush Zombies, Underachievers, Phony Ppl, and more. His growth since Capital Steez’s suicide and his manager’s death; it’s been a rough ride for Joey. Though it wasn’t pertinent, the subtle darkness loomed at the sounds never got brighter with immediate releases from Joey. I remember how Summer Knights reflected darker overtones, and Joey reflects how everything’s been since. We heard it throughout 2000, but significantly on “Survivor’s Guilt.”

Ending with “Survivor’s Guilt,” we hear the emotional weight Joey Badass bared throughout the years, despite having proper clarification to defend particular actions. Like how he flies a bit high and mighty and still can’t offer sound reasonings for having someone like Chris Brown on a track–friendship isn’t the best defense, and it minimally dilutes its gravitas, especially with how poignant “Survivor’s Guilt” is. Though, as a whole, 2000 has a lot that merits multiple listens, specifically with the first half–that alone will offer a rewarding experience with hearing contrasting and parallel allusions between 1999 and 2000.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Westside Gunn – Peace “FLY” God: Review

The sheer persuasive prowess that Westside Gunn brings behind the microphone has no bounds. Though I’m being facetious, there is something to how he incorporates vocal gunshot noises before, between, and sometimes after a verse, boasting its poignancy. He’s done it in various ways, and yet, this time, it feels slightly different. Coming straight off the tail end of Paris Fashion Week, where one assumes he visited the Louvre, Westside Gunn delivers a mixtape with a construct akin to an abstract painting. Peace “Fly” God is Gunn’s new mixtape that’s grimy, rough, and naturally flowing; it has these soundscapes take us through exceptional complexions that parallel the artistic energy flowing through his veins at the moment. It’s altruistically flawed, creating a world unparalleled to the apropos standard Hip-Hop he has delivered with his Hitler Wears Hermes series. It follows similar thematic styles of the past; however, the way it’s constructed on these distinct canvases offers an elegant perspective into Gunn, Estee Nack, and Stove God Cooks. 

Peace “Fly” God isn’t something that hits you immediately. Its sonic composition shifts the parameters of what to expect, eventually hearing its fluidity through the verses. It’s a balance between abstract and core-drum beats that continues to batter you with slick bars–and to a lesser degree–flows. Unfortunately, there are moments where you’re left dazed by the production, and the rest becomes the same song and dance. However, Westside Gunn gives us some more gun sounds than the boom, boom, boom, boom, and that’s been enough to retain my attention, especially in the lackluster “Derrick Coleman.” All of that is pertinent in “Jesus Crack,” which takes content from a shallow puddle, but there is swagger and a smooth Brand Nubian sample. Beyond constructing a bold 8-minute epic flex, Westside Gunn takes a chance with Don Carrera’s atmospherically gritty and ghostly production. It’s a notable contrast to Madlib’s soulful work in the second half. 

Production doesn’t come from those two exclusively–Daringer and Conductor Williams taking the helm at the end–but they handle the bulk. In some ways, it plays like Westside Gunn’s journey from thoughts to microphone–feeling the highs within bars about gang life, hustling, and high fashion. It gets delivered to you through the varying production styles, which feed off lustrous moments like the wickedly wild piano overlays on “Ritz Barlton,” followed by a trove of spiritually connected verses that expands on each topic, like fashion on “Big Ass Bracelet.” It sees Gunn and Stove God Cooks focusing on the glitz while reminding us of their grit. Gunn does so with sequences like, “In the ghetto, AP strapped the coke out a soupie (Whip)/Neck full of Veert pearls, lookin’ all bougie” and “Anybody violate, I annihilate (Boom, boom, boom)/I switched the band on the Dick, you rockin’ time today.” Within the context, he offers a distinction that splits surface and reality. Stove God Cooks does similarly, after proclaiming to be a Jay-Z–MF Doom hybrid, with lines like, “​​Either way you die alone, my shooter Pat Mahomes (Brr)/My bullet thrower/I was court-side watching Syracuse play Villanova (Go).” Cooks echoes the accuracy of his shooter’s aim while reminding us of the casualness of his success.

The casual flaunting continues, focusing slightly more on the excess of their success. The flows are grounded and fluid, specifically Westside Gunn, who takes on two Madlib productions solo. They give you a proper descent into his emotional side, like with “Open Praise,” which twists the view of gang life violence, giving us a darker side than arrogance. From the flows to his emotionally gripping singing a the end–he sings about love and envy. There is a consistent quality within the penmanship of these artists, especially their gripping details and stylistic directions. However, the deliveries don’t consistently acquiesce. “Derrick Coleman” is one where the platter we get doesn’t offer anything new. It has crisp production from Madlib, but the flows make it feel more atypical. It’s similarly the case “Big Ass Bracelet.” We get a trove of complex beats that feel like mosaics, painted with great detail. Unfortunately, not all strokes look the same. There are minimal stumbles that deter me as the last two tracks mentioned, but it’s enough to find a place amongst the many releases by Westside Gunn.

Don’t get me wrong, Peace “Fly” God is fantastic and covers ground exponentially. It’s disappointing; however, there are still quality tracks which evokes the replay button, like “Ritz Barlton” or “Horses On Sunset.” It gives fans something to digest while awaiting his follow-up Michelle Records. So enjoy the appetizer cause Westside Gunn’s 2022 is only just getting started.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Kota the Friend – MEMO: Review

Within New York’s underground scene, Kota the Friend imbues that old-soul mentality in production, lyrical, and technical work. He’s bringing an influx of bars that keep themselves grounded in reality, specifically through the eyes of an independent hustler. It’s been pertinent from his yearly album releases and mixtapes that contain random 70-120 second tracks with loosie verses, allowing his fan to eat continuously. But as he keeps growing, there are only specific directions one can hear him trekking, and his latest release, MEMO, sees Kota taking one of them with something this is personal and flawed. Past projects saw him expressing distinct aspects of his life and his family; however, Kota’s passion allows MEMO to feel somewhat fresh, despite falling into basic flexes here and there. On MEMO, Kota The Friend has two sides, one, which offers a savory palette as he opens the door toward his hustle, and another that allows him to build character by rapping about the depths of his world inside and out of rap. 

Kota the Friend usually delivers raps relative to the range of accomplishments and his hustle to achieve them. It isn’t like last year’s To Kill a Sunrise, where Kota’s flexing gets nudged up slightly, eventually becoming redundant–on MEMO, there is little nuance as they still don’t feel as realized. It gets boasted by solid production, but it isn’t enough to keep you glued consistently. “Jumpman” is subjected to this as Kota retreads lyrical chalk on the pool stick for a table full of emotional gravitas. It isn’t like the more fluid and gripping “Needs,” which threads the needle smoothly. It’s dynamic with its approach to the subject matter of confidence in one’s successes and getting humbled on a daily. It isn’t like “Up,” where Kota speaks on his daily grind and hustle, but with mediocre trap flows and not so interesting Trap-Jazz Rap hybrid in terms of production.

It, again, becomes apparent, stylistically, on “Father’s Day.” It isn’t dynamic, or does it offer a sense of grit like “Daughters” by Nas. I could hear Kota express love, but he speaks for the present while taking shots at his baby moms. It loses traction, unfortunately landing, between the emotionally pertinent “Avery’s Interlude” and eye-opening “Dad’s Interlude.” Some tracks embolden themes of family, survival, and the will to continue without getting held back due to external forces. It could be personal or business-driven, as Kota would bring up on the album that he’d continue to produce at an independent label. It reflects the sounds which exuberate off the album, like on the acoustic-driven “Empty Cup” and the freeform jazz piano of “Soho House.” It is like many tracks on the album, which don’t adhere to radio conventions, having its own identity despite the not-so-captivating ones, like “Fone Call,” “Father’s Day,” and “Jumpman.”

“Empty Cup” is a 180 from the boom-bap-influenced production, outshining the lot. It’s a tender track about self-love and acceptance, which breaths solemnly, allowing Kota to break his wall down further. It exceeds the greatness of “Fone Call,” which adds little on both sides of the aisle. The production starts off interesting but then recedes into slightly more derivative percussion beats as Kota raps about love in various forms, whether sex or treatment of a significant other. It’s a perplexing direction that offers a weak contrast to “365 Days of Peace” and “Empty Cup” as his emotions and sounds flip drastically. For “Fone Call,” it starts with some quick and plucky guitar strings before becoming a redundant and near-whole sequence of hi-hats and drums.

Ultimately, what makes Kota the Friend’s work appealing–his flows and lyrics, explosive with rhythmic grace. It becomes more noticeable as you continue to progress after the first Interlude. We get fluid progression between the more explorative tracks–the previously mentioned “Empty Cup,” the two penultimates “Good To Be Home II,” and “Good Friday.” They offer something different and riveting, grounding the catchiness of the choruses, especially on “Soho House,” which continues the consistently significant work he puts out with Hello O’shay. It isn’t the most transcendent, or does it offer anything new; however, it is an effective summer track. The melodic catchiness will hook you like the opening track “365 Days of Peace” does. “Good To Be Home II” and “Good Friday,” like these mentioned, are perfect examples of Kota’s greatness, budding slick verses, and clean boom-bap beats.

With Kota, you get Boom-Bap and modern drum-heavy beats, but other times, you get surprised. MEMO has one surprise, and that makes up enough for the duds. Unfortunately, these duds are hard to look past, and the good amount of good is fodder for another Kota album that won’t match the clear synergy with that of last year’s To Kill A Sunrise. However, there is enough for fans to trek into and come out enjoying; I was one of them. 

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.

Lupe Fiasco – Drill Music In Zion: Review

Drill Music In Zion. On its surface, you’d expect Lupe Fiasco to rap over or incorporate elements of drill music, and who would blame you. Since Lasers, Lupe Fiasco has taken creative turns left and right, from concept albums to underwhelming sequels and stylistic changes. But Drill Music In Zion is different. Lupe is looking at hip-hop in its current state and juxtaposing–because of apparent negatives–Drill Music’s acceptance in Zion or the “Kingdom of Heaven,” considering the hypocrisy of haters and naysayers who call out Drill, but not the contextual musicality or cultural identity. There is understanding toward it. Lupe is creating conversations around history in music, and the socio-political spectrum, instead of sanctifying the sub-genre. And Lupe isn’t without bringing forth a topic and shifting our familiarity on its head, at times failing like on “Words I Never Said” and his perception of 9/11: 

“9/11, building 7, did they really pull it?/Uh, and a bunch of other coverups/Your child’s future was the first to go with budget cuts.” 

– Lupe Fiasco

On Drill Music In Zion, Lupe Fiasco is effective when he’s focused on one prerogative, but when there is a shift of topics in hip-hop, it affects the steady trajectory the album travels. That isn’t to say he misses the mark by incorporating the final piece of his “Murals” trilogy–which slaps–or his ability to blend both. Most flows are on point, boasting his lyricism. Unfortunately, some choruses don’t hit, breaking the construct, but Lupe’s verses stay consistent on the lyrical side; what he writes brings depth, but his flows aren’t always there. It’s what contrasts “Kiosk” from “Seattle” and so forth. 

The main criticism of Drill music comes from its violent content. That’s a central focus of Lupe on Drill Music In Zion, but it’s looked through different angles. From New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ war against the style for its “glorified violence” and ways to push forth violent threats under the guise of disses, it isn’t as predominant issue as they make it out to be. We’ve heard about Fivio Foreign’s Best Friend, TDOTT, and most recently, the Lil Tjay shooting in Edgewater, New Jersey. But that’s only the east coast; it’s everywhere. And It isn’t just drill music. Because of that, it adds more weight to the first verse of “On Faux Nem:” “Rappers die too much/That’s it, that’s the verse.” It subverts the directness delivered in the intro’s first four lines: “Drill music, pop that pill music, kill music/Desecrating the temples in the ghetto/Funeral processionals increase their frequency/Because we can’t break the spell of Geppetto.” When it’s trendy, it becomes the focus of conversation, which is off-putting because not all deaths and news regarding violence is gang-related–Pop Smoke was doxxed in LA by robbers, which went wrong. But it didn’t stop first instincts–something to do with his correlation to the Crips, but that is just one aspect. It’s an ongoing endemic (gun control and so forth) that isn’t all singled and rooted in a particular community.

From Tupac and Jam Master Jay to King Von and Young Dolph, Lupe reminds us it’s more than the surface layer of Drill music. What Lupe Fiasco wants to get across: external cultures infiltrate and establish a base within the genre. It’s more complex than Lupe’s lines in the interlude: “Nah, Nah we can’t, we can’t talk about that/We gotta talk about something else/I mean, because it’s hypocritical, nigga, you got guns,” pondering why they have to represent a lifestyle that one escaped through music. It further perpetuates new tonal meaning with sound. And It all comes down to the numbers, and it sells. That’s the unfortunate part.

Now, is there violent content? Yes. Is it glorified? That’s hard to answer, primarily because the bridge gets built between lyrics and beat. Think about how certain Juice Wrld tracks perpetuate his depression, and for some, it’s second nature because the production gets flurried with insane pop appeal. At that point, the listener should be able to separate the two upon further listens. So, to focus on that, when other genres like gangsta/reality rap, the east coast adjacent mafioso rap, hardcore, horrorcore, and more have been in the same boat. It’s not the music. It’s larger issues than it, like infrastructure, gun control, etc. The naysayers look at the genre through tinted lenses, where all that comes out, are the negatives. It’s scapegoating, and Lupe tries to keep that in focus, despite musical shortcomings, like the mundane histrionics about the commercialism within hip-hop–chains, spinning rims, etc–in “Kiosk,” which fails to hit the mark.

In other tracks, he is rapping about musical parallels that connect both sides, making way for non-drill listeners to open their minds; I mean, shit, it took me a while back in the day to get acclimated. And we hear it but he keens into it on tracks like “Precious Things” or “Autoboto,” where Lupe brings up past segregation, which created these distinct neighborhoods, which eventually got pitted against each other through external issues. He uses it to construct conscious parallels with his alter ego Carrera-Lu (his flashier side), one where each acknowledges who they represent–the aware Lupe and the swag-filled and sometimes violent Carrera. “Precious Things” uses anthropomorphism to bring forth the hypocrisy of homonyms, like the questioning of having body parts get incorporated, like arms.

Like “Precious Things,” most tracks carry an emotional depth that perfectly contrasts arguments made about the subgenre, but most importantly, the culture. It has a built foundation that it expands on, but at points, the production can feel wasted or singular. There are vibrant Jazzy, at times freestyling, like on the title track, and other times are more singularly driven, like “Seattle,” though it is a solid track, the production isn’t as interesting as his verses. They aren’t detractors, as they acquiesce in a great three-track run from “Drill Music In Zion” to “On Faux Nem.” Drill Music In Zion isn’t Lupe’s best, but he offers plates with material that might make you reconsider your opinion on Drill. 

Rating: 7 out of 10.