Kid Cudi – Entergalactic: Review

Kid Cudi isn’t devoid of ideas; however, he barely extends said ideas beyond its core aesthetic. We’ve heard greatness on Passion, Pain, & Demon Slayin’ as Cudi elevated his sound beyond the haziness of his melodic depressed stoner raps. He’s encouraging himself toward new plateaus, but it got immediately forgotten by subsequently released and forgettable albums, like Man On The Moon 3. It continues with Entergalactic, his first soundtrack, and his eighth studio album. It left me feeling hollow like the namesake TV Special released on Netflix. Recorded in 2019, it seems like Cudi didn’t take the effort to refurbish the work and keep it from sounding like a drab extension of Man On The Moon 3. It doesn’t lack quality tracks, but they are far, and in between, it almost feels like a chore to sit, listen, and distinguish the ups and downs. So much so, it’s hard for one to recommend this, as it fits the quality of the conjoining special–a hollow representation of love between gifted artists, except without the depth but a lot of animated sex. Entergalactic is monotone in tone and becoming too entwined with the atmospheric textures; it’s almost like it’s devoid of any external effort beyond a first thought.

Giving us a fascinating thematic and enlightening intro, Kid Cudi completely forgets his musical trajectory and loses himself after a few tracks. Stylistically, what Cudi aims for has succeeded, but he’s bringing depth lyrically and creating exuberant melodies and hums. We’re far from Man On The Moon: The End of Day and Indicud, but within the confines of Entergalactic, Cudi squeezes out some good tracks between mundaneness. The rough patches you have to cruise past to get to them aren’t rewarding–songs like “Do What I Want” and “Willing To Trust” are some that stand out, but for the latter, it takes a while for the front-to-back completionist. Featuring Ty Dolla $ign, it uses Ty’s strengths smoothly, allowing the beat to feel almost second nature, and you can coast through the blissful melancholy. It isn’t the same for a lot of Entergalactic. Starting strong with its intro, “New Mode,” and subsequent track, “Do What I Want,” it eventually becomes a forgettable heel turn in a career, which Cudi has now said he will be pausing to focus on creating visually.

Unsurprisingly ineffective, the production by Dot Da Genius & Plain Pat has been a mirroring downer. Their work translates to beats we’ve heard Kid Cudi create some of his best work, but the consistent blandness keeps it from being anything more than just a throwaway. It wouldn’t be that way if the accompanying visuals didn’t give it some purpose for being. You know when you get ecstatic for a B side or Deluxe edition with at least 10+ new tracks, but then you realize it’s all hype, leaving you feeling like the purpose for its release was moot? Entergalactic is that and more; it has rehashed elements between current and past beats never come across as unique. “Can’t Believe It” is a lesser, more muted version of “Do What I Want,” which is exponentially more of a banger. “Angel” overindulges in its synth samples of “In My Dreams (Cudder Anthem)” off Man On The Moon: The End of Day that you start waning and preferring to switch to his debut.

Despite the quality of work that may seep through the cracks, Entergalactic continues to come off monotone and tone-deaf. I say tone-deaf because it’s creatively stunted, barely getting past simple constructs and making one feel like fans won’t care as long as it’s new. For example, “Ignite the Love” opens with an intriguing acoustic sequence, eventually getting forgotten as it starts to shift back toward simple drum and synth patterns. You’d want to think it’s a dream, but Entergalactic is what it is, and it doesn’t aim to be anything with resounding depth.

It’s unfortunate because Kid Cudi has been able to deliver phenomenal work; he’s given us a hosh-posh of mediocrity, or outright imperfect, pieces of work; however, they come with something interesting to dissect and have conversations beyond the critical surface. Going back to WZRD or Speedin’ Bullet To Heaven, there is a sense of creative ingenuity that sees Cudi trying to express himself differently since he was never one to adhere to the standards of Hip-Hop. I can’t say the same here. Cudi is rarely intriguing, spending too much time finding ways to describe physical and spiritual connectivity between two artists, just without proper character dimensions. You’d want to think there is more to it, but it’s a soundtrack to a hollow TV Special, which it mirrors perfectly. Ty Dolla $ign gives us one solid feature, but 2 Chainz and Don Tolliver distort the balance because they come delivering what gets expected. For Tolliver, it’s been an ongoing thing where it’s almost hard to make him appealing in features due to artists sticking to that one melodic tone.

Entergalactic is a futile waste for both fans and non-fans. There is little merit, if at all, as it is a translation of the animated text released on Netflix, and it’s equally so. I started tuning out rather quickly, but when that extra spark of the joint hit, it kept me going. Though not with musical positivity radiating in my ears, more mediocrity and steps below.

Rating: 3 out of 10.

Freddie Gibbs – $oul $old $eparately: Review

It’s been three years since we’ve gotten a Freddie Gibbs solo album–I’m not talking about collaborations with one producer as they are on a tier all their own, but ones with many producers–despite the inconsistencies in quality, track-to-track, it’s regularly a must-listen when he drops. I say that primarily due to his ear for production since that’s one constant that keeps one gravitating back. That’s not the case with $oul $old $eparately, another conceptual album that tries too hard to present sonic layers that aren’t present; however, they aren’t an ear-sore but relatively more confusing. Most of that comes from forcing a narrative about Gibbs’ lackadaisical living in-between albums, leaving many around him annoyed and confused, like how fans feel about some of his beefs. $oul $old $eparately is different than his last non-collaborative with one producer, album, particularly in sound, as it shifts from his 2019 self-titled album’s more 80s Soul–R&B at the height of the Perm haircut’s popularity. It is more grounded in Hip-Hop, showing its hand and delivering some less than surprisingly inconsistency through the synergy with the beats and features where you’re coasting positively, for the most part.

$oul $old $eparately has a concept, and it’s simple: Freddie Gibbs is taking his sweet time, living luxuriously and carefree instead of releasing an album. We hear his hotel room’s phone voicemails with some slight annoyance from people in his orbit and some vocals from his Vegas hotel’s intercom. And we hear his manager and Jeff Ross, for example, and though he’s tackled various landscapes, many don’t fit within the bigger picture. I could understand Joe Rogan, but when one hears Jeff Ross, one can get confused. They tend to dilute the effectiveness of the tracks, especially as they round themselves with some forgettable beats. If you disregard some of the dialogue and vocal transitions, you’ll end up listening to the crisp lyricism and flows that have kept Gibbs fresh. Without balance in production, it loses its vanity. But as you listen to the album, you start to ponder things, one of which Jeff Ross brings up–what’s with the rabbits? Freddie Gibbs is about symbolism within gritty street rap bars, and it hits on a consistent level.

Freddies Gibbs raps about drug dealing, luxury, and violent notations among this plethora of topic subsidies that could relate to the three. It’s in line with the connotation deriving from the album title. Gibbs comes across as this soulless person who is zoned out and inviting random heads to a Vegas party involving many drugs as he lives his best life and warns people he doesn’t fuck with. Unfortunately, that soullessness transfers over many beats, with rare outliers popping out. “Feel No Pain,” “PYS,” and “Zipper Bagz” are some that instantly come to mind. The respective producers try something refreshingly new with the percussion, playing with the drum patterns on all fronts. “Feel No Pain” is audaciously grand, giving us nuances of the boom-bap style with live drums, while “PYS” contains that southern, slowed-down drum pattern influence boasting the grit of Gibbs and featured artist DJ Paul. Throughout the album, there isn’t a lack of quality with the lyricism. These tracks, along with others like “Blackest In The Room,” “Space Rabbit,” and “Gold Rings,” grasp you hard and keep you centered in the direction on hand, even when the features are lackluster.

Like most Freddie Gibbs albums, $oul $old $eparately contains a platoon of features that usually match the quality of Freddie’s verses. Some may come and deliver with typical frequencies, like Rick Ross, Pusha T (still producing a great verse), and Offset, but others elevate their respective tracks further. Some two notable ones, “Feel No Pain” and “PYS,” see Anderson .Paak, Raekwon, and DJ Paul add depth by providing the sauce on the platter through unique inflections that translate over the nuanced beats. Melodic features like Kelly Price and Musiq Soulchild balance Gibbs’ grit and present forth equilibrium that is mainly nonpresent. In retrospect, they boast the quality of Gibbs’ solo tracks as there is little reliance on features that sometimes don’t deliver, like Offset or Moneybagg Yo. And, since they don’t get strong beats to flow over, it causes them to feel more like an afterthought. They look like something spectacular could be conducted on paper, but the semi-half-assery doesn’t allow you to ingest what it’s saying at times.

The beats get handled by many producers. But as the expression goes: there are too many cooks in the kitchen. Oddly with that many cooks, the production isn’t all that interesting and never truly bloated. They are never immersive as you are just listening to Freddie Gibbs rap without sonic fluidity. It’s an intriguing experience that gets less enjoyable the more you lament the effectiveness of its concept and themes. There are lyrical and technical consistencies from Gibbs, but the beats flummox you as the quality shift is more apparent. The tracks that fail to make an impact aren’t that lavish and maintain a mundane percussion-driven core without trying to elevate the exterior sounds, which makes you feel that Gibbs works better with a producer who can deliver proper, linear direction for him.

There is enough to reflect and return to, but $oul $old $eparately isn’t the standout his 2019 release, Freddie, was. $oul $old $eparately aims to be something of grandeur, but that gets instantly forgotten because of its lackluster delivery on the exteriors. You’re left feeling that if he toned it down and let it stay focused on being a little more apropos, it would be a much stronger album. You’re given something great beneath the surface, but it requires a good amount of your attention before finding what tracks you truly like, unlike those collaborative efforts, which have clearer directions.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.

Nikki Lane – Denim & Diamonds: Review

As it is with many, when the subject of Country music gets brought up, we can immediately become dismissive since its gen-pop style has us express slight disdain from the more honky-tonk country akin to early Kenny Chesney. But, when you remind yourself that ignorance isn’t bliss, it extends to music as a whole. Country’s extensive history, and nature, have given us fantastic stories with whimsical subtexts, stylistic ingenuity bridging blues and roots music, and a plethora of incredible artists not named Dolly Parton or Kenny Rogers, or gen-pop hoe-down tonk. Nikki Lane is another one you can add to that list, especially now, with the dynamic Denim & Diamonds. Her writing has had a resounding presence, getting elevated by keying into characteristics of the Roots Rock and Outlaw Country genres. In her own way, Lane is an outlaw in Country, as she stays true to herself and makes her music that kind you can actually rock out to feverishly without overbearing notes.

See, there is something about Country music that gives me some momentary bliss from the overly glitzy and produced instrumentals that start to tire you out because you can’t always be in synthesized trance. The genre has its own within its mass ecosphere, but the nuanced, melodic styles of the past have kept my inner, old soul afloat. Some great, some mediocre, and some bad, digging further into this world has given my ears new dimensions. Nikki Lane is that but with rugged rockadelic sounds that will have your eyes reflecting those diamonds in the rough. With Denim & Diamonds, we get music with clever songwriting that keeps you on your toes, buoyed by wildly creative and fun harmonies and melodies that some weaker instrumentations become ingrained into the final product. But there are a few times where it might be more difficult as the well-intentioned fail to capitalize on better deliveries. “Try Harder” fails to have as significant an impact as the opening “First High.” “Try Harder” is monotonous instrumentally like “Faded,” lacking a spark until the end when we get a wicked guitar semi-solo; fortunately, the album sparks brightly.

“First High” makes a distinguished impact, like the many tracks on Denim & Diamonds. Nikki Lane begins with a reflection on her roots, particularly the first time she fell in love with rock-n-roll and played her first note; however, we’ve heard her grow. Her first album was more rock, and the follow-ups brought in more country, and this one finds perfect synergy between the two. So when “First High” shifts from the melancholic strings (resonant with blues) into this more audaciously deep rock layers, which incorporates pedals, transfixing you into her musical world. Produced by Josh Homme, founder of Queens of the Stone Age, the two create an elegant hybrid that tiptoes around centralized genres expressing her unique identity. We hear it contextually within the production, further building the instrumentations with nuance, especially within the string sections; some of its rhythmic patterns, subtle or unsubtle riffs, or solos beneath a rich orchestration. 

“Good Enough” evokes an old Country soul, incorporating the fiddle as a contrast to its plucky guitar, all underneath the atmospheric coating that oozes the feeling one can describe as home is where the heart is,” vaguely. It’s grounded in reality as it never gets the urge to overdevelop, especially in the strings arrangements. Nikki Lane is tender, focusing on lessons learned through a relationship, which elevated her mental help finding solace in understanding she’s good enough.  “Black Widow” contrasts the style of “Good Enough,” as we hear Lane expressing her true badass self in a thrift store leather jacket and jeans over rustic and anthem-like instrumentations driving through the lyrical connotation given to us in “First High.” It’s a third-person extension of “Born Tough,” a potent country rock anthem that delivers with oomph and a sense of empowerment that gets boasted by its colorful instrumentations. We hear both sides of her–the personable like “Pass It Down” and the more impactfully driven bravado of the others mentioned.

Denim & Diamonds is an amalgamation of Nikki Lane’s musical personality. She gives us temperate Americana and Blues/Roots music that reflects her more personal (diamond) side; the denim is that rough-trade, pick-up-your-bootstraps Country, finding the perfect synergy, despite the ups and downs. Sometimes she finds ways to blend the two into a beautiful blend that tames the senses, especially as you get the chance to feel and hear remarkable storytelling through different contextual moods. You get this naturalistic feeling in most instrumentations–more importantly, in her melodies and songwriting as she finds unique avenues to express the platitude of layers within. Lane inflects sheer individualist bravado, letting herself feel one with the elevated country undertones as it blends with other styles and, at times, becomes the central force driving you home.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Marcus Mumford – (Self-Titled): Review

Marcus Mumford’s solo debut takes the simplicities of the folk-rock sounds from early Mumford & Sons and rarely evolves past the known–rustic power-driven strings and genial percussion. Titled (Self-Titled), it’s a tongue-in-cheek approach to the content we’re receiving. We’re getting bleak and hopeful reflections on Marcus Mumford’s life–not the folk artist who’s taken unique directions with his band’s albums like their Shakespearean-influenced debut, Sigh No More. As hard as he tries to separate himself from his band, he barely nudges toward an identity unless you count the lack of backing vocals and enigmatic instruments playing something distinct and vibrant. And this is not a knock on Marcus Mumford because he isn’t reflecting that lively energy like playing with friends and instead trying to give us a meditation of sounds and words that wants us to feel and put our hearts on our sleeve. It’s primarily rich in Mumford’s songwriting and vocal performances, but the production isn’t always captivating, leaving us lost in translation before the second half.

Marcus Mumford starts (Self-Titled) on a high note by reeling us with a powerful opening that details sexual abuse done to him as a minor. His detailed writing opens the curtains for the stage, and his words are world-building descriptively, horrifying experience sung in an angering, somber tone. “I can still taste you, and I hate it/That wasn’t a choice in the mind of a child and you knew it/You took the first slice of me and you ate it raw/Ripped it in with your teeth and your lips like a cannibal/You fucking animal.” Mumford never lets up, showing these gripping layers beneath the rustic strings and commandingly emotional percussion that reflects the lingering disdain fueling him beneath the surface. Unfortunately, that’s immediately lost when Mumford, and producer Blake Mills, continue to bring teetering tempos and tones. But when Mumford takes it slow and allows himself to feel vulnerable over loose acoustics, we hear that he is aiming at being slightly different. That doesn’t absolve it from the modest dullness offered.

“Grace,” “Prior Warning,” and “Only Child” reflect the drab dullness that makes you want to skip after a first listen. The acoustics–consistent in tonal inflections–isn’t that rich and leave Marcus Mumford’s performances feeling somewhat empty. His vocals, though not limited, can’t keep the songs afloat, so you’re left mum about the experience. “Dangerous Game” with Clairo is where it starts to gain some traction with these more free-spirited folk-rock productions that moderately shift past certain percussion conventions and allow Mumford to deliver something grand. However, it isn’t matched with significance by some of the featured artists, specifically Phoebe Bridgers, whose feature almost feels like glorified backing vocals. Similarly, Clairo performs somberly throughout, feeling distant in contrast to Mumford’s more colorful performance in the first half. They aren’t like “Go In Light” and “How,” where Mumford finds tremendous synergy with Monica Martin and Brandi Carlisle. They match his energy and add dimensions to the vocal performances as they embody the themes Mumford conveys.

On (Self-Titled), Marcus Mumford is confronting moments of the past–traumatic, moments of regret, and other times, looking at painting a more significant emotional picture using interesting analogies to speak to the invigorated complexities of Marcus Mumford’s person. Here, I’m talking “Better Angels,” which sees Mumford opening his mind to memories and the vigorously potent “How,” where Mumford beautifully connects with Brandi Carlisle–as examples. It’s a dynamic force as a closer that makes you forget the humdrum inconsistencies that preceded it. Unfortunately, having a powerful opening and closing can only do so much when there is much meat in the middle. I had some expectations that I’d find myself attracted to the musical simplicity, and even so, I couldn’t see myself loving it much, despite Mumford hitting it with his performances on a more consistent level. Maybe you’ll get more from it than me, but it was very middle of the road.

Rating: 5 out of 10.

Feid – FELIZ CUMPLEAÑOS FERXXO TE PIRATEAMOS EL ÁLBUM: Review

Continuing to soar through the Latin-Pop soundscapes, Colombian Reggaeton/Pop artist Feid has amassed popularity and a foundation that plateaus some of his contemporaries. Though he isn’t a powerhouse like the global superstars in his realm, he has been able to pave a path with crystalized glass reflecting the nature of his talent from varying angles. Feid’s vocal performances are just a fraction of that talent, as we witness the craftsmanship in his song structures, which see complementing melodies and harmonic transitions that enthrall the senses. We’ve heard Latin artists push past the perreo–the conceptual promiscuity, to develop depth within the confines of magnetic pop/reggaeton hits. He continues to stride on his follow-up to Inter Shibuya – La Mafia, FELIZ CUMPLEAÑOS FERXXO TE PIRATEAMOS EL ÁLBUM, which continues to shift the playing field. It weaves intricate overtures and subtleties within the production, creating more foolproof vibes that keep you enticed from start to finish, despite being the weakest component.

An album that imbues some sense of celebration, FELIZ CUMPLEAÑOS FERXXO TE PIRATEAMOS EL ÁLBUM is an expression of Feid’s lows and momentous highs through a musical reflection that transcends past surface-level club bangers. It builds hype within the first few tracks, notably the first two, where spoken audio elevates the potency of its delivery, making us bow to the rhythm. It grows and grows, keeping your body in motion, but the engine starts to putter along a semi-rocky ride. But that ride comes with significantly dynamic highlights you can’t help but find consistent replayability, whether it comes from the hypnotic melodies or the crisp lyricism, as the beat is there to back up Feid. Like on the captivatingly fun “Feliz Cumpleaños Ferxxo” or the enigmatic “Si Te La Encuentras Por Ahí,” we’re getting swaggering harmonic and melodic earwormy hits, and they stockpile on top of each other, despite lesser beats comparatively.

The production isn’t the most compelling aspect of FCFTPEA; however, that isn’t to say there aren’t any spectacular moments. The consistency isn’t as forthcoming as on Inter Shibuya – La Mafia–we still get moments like “Nieve,” “XQ Te Pones Así,” and “Quemando Calorías” shift the paradigm of conventionalism concerning the core influence that the beat takes from and embodies. “Nieve” is this radiant House track that sees Feid flexing while subtly showing his heart on his sleeves as he recounts who he is to this significant other. “Quemando Calorías” brings kinetic drum beats and nuanced electronic tones that escape the trappings of simple reggaeton. It’s a consistently unique surprise to hear these sonic shifts that take us away from the predominantly familiar but effective reggaeton hits. It isn’t like “XQ Te Pones Así,” which incorporates nostalgic percussion patterns that elevate the strengths of Feid and Yandel’s vocals.

Unfortunately, the beats aren’t as consistent as they’ve been in the past, instead of leveraging the slightly experimental nature of the album. Feid expresses bravado with his songwriting prowess, allowing the production to coast fluidly, but sometimes you can’t overcome some of its simplicities. “Lady Mi Amor” is too plain and suffers from being less than interesting after teasing something mystifyingly electric. Similarly, “Aguante” gives us these harmonious pianos and synths to start–when the drop occurs, the synths never change, keeping a consistent rhythm–later becoming more cumbersome to the simple but effective reggaeton beat. There’s modest consistency in that regard; it further leaves it up to Feid to stitch it all together. He couldn’t do so with “Normal,” another track with a less–than impressive beat but enjoyably pertinent lyricism. It makes you reflect on past work, notably the imbalance between excellent and meh. There’s a continuous show of highlights that you almost forget the aforementioned nothing burgers. Instead, you could be indulging in the vibrant “Belixe,” an EDM/Reggaeton hybrid that hits the right notes of sunset dance vibes. I know I’ll be.

FELIZ CUMPLEAÑOS FERXXO TE PIRATEAMOS EL ÁLBUM is fun and whimsical, at times, transformative, but it isn’t the quality one would expect after his last album. But that isn’t to say it was a cluster of a mess. I found myself lost in the rhythm, letting it replay with ease, but as it rounds out, I would still rather revisit the colorful flurries we get on Inter Shibuya – La Mafia. It’s still a big recommendation from me if you’re eager to explore more of the Latin-Pop/Reggaeton world.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Jessie Reyez – Yessie: Review

Among Jessie Reyez’s best qualities–that have overwhelmingly attracted me to her music–are her melodies and songwriting, which focus on establishing and delivering powerfully driven stories through distinctly dark and soulful tracks. Her debut, Before Love Came To Kill Us, masterfully stamped this as a known, but the consistency gets placated by Jessie trying to bring too many sonic ideas into the fold. That’s the opposite on Yessie, a more refined, intimate album that doesn’t try to go in various directions, instead finding herself musically. Yessie has smoother transitions between the R&B notes and variations of pop, soul, and rock overlays, which get concocted with different genre-style undertones within the production–equipped with depth and poignant lyricism; its concrete consistency makes it one of the best albums of 2022.

Yessie shows Jessie Reyez delivering atmospheric complexions between reflective coldness, hypnotic confidence, and personal contemplations of the now, leaving her heart on the sleeves bare with powerful emotions. Unlike her debut, the transitions between themes are pure, never making you feel disjointed as you proceed chronologically; the same goes for the production. Having it work is pivotal since we hear Jessie transitioning between distinct styles without stumbling, either in-song or song-to-song, like the Hip-Hop centric intro “Mood.” We hear her transition from a more Hip-Hop flow to a soul chorus with a harmonious sample of “Los Caminos De La Vida” by Los Diablitos of Colombia, which one would think these clashing styles would sound jarring. Fortunately, the synergy between them allows your imagination to grasp anything given and vibe with it effervescently. 

Though transitional effectiveness between songs is pure–starting clean with varying ilks of R&B/Hip-Hop/Pop–later vigorously with more distinct and generative styles as it turns the bends with “Mutual Friends.” Like the songs that preceded it, Jessie’s coming at it with ferocity through more personable one-on-ones no matter the style, like with “Tito’s” or “Forever.” Its soulful confidence adds contrasting layers that mesh beautifully. Here, Jessie and featured artist 6lack sing to their significant other, who is making a mistake by leaving a situation that reflects opposites attract. “Forever” is a compelling contrast to the aforementioned “Mutual Friends,” which backs the sentiments of the impactful “Queen St. W,” which establishes Jessie’s coldness that further gets reflected during the bridge and chorus of “Mutual Friends.” “Yeah, our mutual friend/Asked me how I sleep with so much hate in my heart/I told them I sleep like a baby,” (Bridge), “But if you died tomorrow, I don’t think I’d cry/I gave you one too many nights” (Chorus). The production’s consistency in elevating the effectiveness of her melodies and lyrics is potent here, capitalizing on a uniquely triumphant piano ballad. “Mutual Friends” minimizes or relatively dilutes the drum beats, letting Jessie Reyez discharge intensely and leaving me speechless as it takes notes from Billie Eilish’s dark-pop style, except Jessie makes it her own. Each track is different, refreshing, and significantly impactful on both ends, whether she is coming cold, confident, or lamenting, yearning for more as the music hits on the senses it evokes.

It becomes a testament to Jessie Reyez’s will to express herself refreshingly through radiant production that doesn’t juke you around in the ups and downs, primarily because there aren’t any off kiltered moments. She isn’t trying to formulate too many ideas and forcing them to acquiesce chronologically. Though there is some fantastic work on Before Love Came To Kill Us, her debut, it isn’t more concrete like Yessie. Yessie is more of a translation of Jessie Reyez’s being through varying situations she found herself in personally and how they’ve morphed her into who she is. We hear that through various styles, which get incorporated into the sounds like the confidently nuanced and personably fun “Tito’s” or the emotionally potent and rock stylings of “Break Me Down.” Two contrasting sounds amongst each other and other tracks on the album bring monstrous energy that has them feeling in line with the contextual tones throughout, specifically the latter. “Break Me Down” has the style and vibe of a mid-00s emo rock track with great explorative depth that you’re staying along due to its consistency with the transitions, like when we go from the cold “Mutual Friends” to the confident and mesmerizing “Tito’s.”

“Tito’s” is a darker dance-pop groove that hits those dance censors, making you groove to the beat as Jessie Reyez exhumes immense confidence in her lyrics and melodies. Its summery post-disco influenced production by Calvin Harris and Maneesh, as Jessie reminds us of the depth of her talent by turning a potential rudimentary dance banger into something more complex. After getting heard on“Mood,” we hear Jessie singing in Spanish more frequently, which we’ve rarely heard her do in the past–neé a feature with Romeo Santos saw her performing predominantly in English to his Spanish. It’s an extension of the strengths of Reyez’s monstrous performances, adding value at the end with the primarily Spanish track, “Adio Amor.” It adds exponential value to Jessie’s artistic duality, which sees her transcend soundscapes and deliver pure authenticity. It’s what stayed flowing through my mind–how impactful and less derivative of itself it is, as we see these fruitful transitions that never have you second guessing.

The music of Yessie is swarthy, melancholy sounds, creating gripping relatability that takes different sonic outlooks that aren’t as predictable. From the bilingual electro-R&B “Adios Amor,” which continues to show Jessie Reyez’s coldness, to the similarly thematically driven rock-like “Break Me Down.” It’s a crisp progression of greatness as Jessie Reyez capitalizes on delivering a personification of herself with remarkable depth. It isn’t an album that exponentially breathes club, or dance bangers, instead letting it round out stylistically akin to the atmosphere/tones derived from the beginning, becoming more apparent or subtle as it goes along. It left me bewildered with excitement, as Jessie Reyez has been someone who’s shown to me that she can create something special, and she does so here. Go check out Yessie now!

Rating: 10 out of 10.

Starcrawler – She Said: Review

Starcrawler have a raucous appeal where they sing to varying topics in fascinating ways, like making a love-rock anthem about giving and getting head or sending a message to a patriarchy enforcing this dangly appeal without reinforcing your distinct personality. That track, “Toy Teenager,” criticizes the plastic [Mean Girls] society in High Schools, focusing on visual appearance instead of understanding how the real world works. Mostly lyrically profound, Starcrawler has been able to get past few rock conventions, continuing to deliver headbanging music that will have you lifted with that rebellious spirit. Though it’s no surprise seeing their growth from the hard rock-focused Starcrawler to their third album, She Said, an album that would also mesh in the 80s with pivoting, apparent genre influences in the productions like new wave and post-punk. It builds from the known, shifting between tempos and instrumental effects to establish an almost radiant listen that sometimes falters due to slight ineffective production and limited scope with its approach to its themes.

Opening with hard-hitting bravado, Arrow de Wilde, frontwoman of Starcrawler, starts with a destructive and empowering anthem about leaving your bum of significant other and mowing them over, leaving them, like the song’s title, roadkill–metaphorically. It sets the overall sonic theme creating unique contrasts with its central themes–a reflection on relationships with others and oneself, giving us darkness and hope–it starts shifting based on the quality of the production. Between steel pedals and guitarists, they elevate the less driven drums coasting in inoffensive rhythms. Yet, they kept it interesting by incorporating radical instrumental changes, whether as a closer or in song transitions that shift the apropos mundaneness of “Stranded” in contrast to the new wave-influenced “Broken Angels.” Despite both having great songwriting, the former falter because there isn’t anything interesting done in the production. 

It isn’t so often the genre influences shine through a few layers of sounds. At times, Starcrawler brings forth characteristics we’ve seen evolve through the years–closing on guitar-centric instrumental, no vocals, that plays with ferocious electricity, for one. Additionally, they levy their post-punk/hard rock aurora to set a foundation and grow–with their sardonic and saddening lyricism shedding various emotional perspectives–not all have that oomph to keep me interested. Arrow De Wilde is angry, longing, and contemplative about the effects of change. These emotions strengthen certain songs and downplay others like “Runaway.” 

Depending on its sonic tone, Arrow De Wilde flows with enough consistency that you’re headbanging along. It’s almost as if she didn’t need to take that extra step to stop it from diverting from being stylistically nuanced with 80s rock, even if the songs aren’t consistently hitting. We get Arrow performing fiercely or with broken barriers and softening near-ballad-esque melodies, and it works well. But there is something to them that keeps these ears enthralled, and that’s their synergy. It gets heard like the melodic coating of “Midnight” or the continued new wave stylings of “Jetblack.” It’s a remarkable contrast to the drab sounds of “Thursday.”

There are elements on She Said that work great, but it’s thematically mundane, leaning too much into motifs instead of exploring more like past albums. It’s more prevalent with tracks focusing on aspects of longing; the interest levels wane, like with “Thursday,” which doesn’t do much to extend beyond a standard rock instrumental. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stay as consistent as their last album, Devour You, which consistently transitions between topics. We aren’t getting a more jovial-like song like “I Love LA” or artful and kinetic like “Chicken Woman.” However, it’s fun to hear this unique direction, especially as they give us songs that work and keep us headbanging for a while longer.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Oliver Sim – Hideous Bastard: Review

It’s been five years since The xx dropped an album; however, that hasn’t stopped the flow of music from the respective members, whether it be singles or EPs, and so forth. Oliver Sim is next at-bat with his debut album, Hideous Bastard–it speaks volumes lyrically but is often faint as the production by Jamie xx doesn’t boast his Sim’s vocal abilities beyond a safe zone. It’s ominous and compelling, adding layers beneath slightly mundane synth patterns. Sim noted in an interview with Rolling Stone: “Two thirds in[to the process of creating Hideous Bastard], having a good idea of what the record was about, I realised I’d been circling around one of the things that has probably caused me the most fear and shame. My HIV status. I’ve been living with HIV since I was 17 and it’s played with how I’ve felt towards myself, and how I’ve assumed others have felt towards me, from that age and into my adult life.” The album is about growth through reflection and boasting Sim’s confidence to express himself fluidly without worrying about the stigmas that underline who he is and what he has–though, without consistent production, it begins to fluctuate in its effectiveness.

On the surface, Hideous Bastard is adjacent to the known–hauntingly delivered compositions that emotionally grip you through varying perspectives, instead of the love-centric work of The xx–but the production’s consistency isn’t the most gripping. Sitting down and indulging the album, the beats never lean toward the make-or-break factor, but it’s something that aligns with preference. It sonically shifts depending on the approach Oliver Sim has to the central theme, like on “Sensitive Child,” where he notes being called a sensitive child as a kid, which has its unique connotation today. With being called sensitive today, he reflects on how that term made him feel like he got hardly acknowledged. Today, getting called sensitive may lead to people tiptoeing more frequently on what gets said in your presence; the acknowledgment may sour depending on said group. However, he fights back that notion with his vocal melodies and the production, where he’s more outspoken, playing more passionately. And Sim continuously reminds us that his songwriting ability doesn’t skip a beat, specifically in tracks like “Romance With a Memory” and “Saccharine.”

Unfortunately, there are tracks like “Confident Man;” it displaces tone with drab-avant-garde-like electronic components over slightly distinct piano keys and other percussions. Connecting to the album’s central focus–blossoming from a hardened shell of fright–“Confident Man” sees Oliver Sim singing about performative masculinity, wherein one shifts their demeanors to deflect harmful stereotypes about the gay community. There is something emotionally compelling here, but it doesn’t have smooth transitions, particularly in the second half, taking you through slight detours from this haunting sonic presence and delivering an explosive but meandering closer. It’s supposed to reflect a release from these fears, these doubts, but it doesn’t come across naturally. Unlike “Confident Man,” the aforementioned tracks and “GMT” have smoother transitions between its minimalism and modestly flirtation synth notes. Though the production continues to trek through with slightly mundane consistency, it doesn’t hinder Sim’s delivery. 

Oliver Sim isn’t frenetic as he lets his vocals guide you through wavering narratives that are more like questions. “Unreliable Narrator” makes that known; his music speaks with lyrical bewilderment that floods through these questions with no answers. Like “Confident Man,” it poses the thought on why they have this facade, using personal experience to reflect his questioning. “Never Here” has him questioning his memory and how growth alongside technological advancement has shifted our perception of memory. “Can we trust ourselves to relay what we know since one couldn’t document the past as efficiently as it is now?” In the chorus, he sings: “Pictures fade, technology breaks/I know the moment don’t exist within its colour and shape/I take it in just to throw it away,” adding connotations to his sentiments. Sometimes subtle, sometimes more apparent like the ones mentioned and the intro, “Hideous,” with the subtlety heard on “GMT.” The song sees him questioning this yearning for home during an escape from seasonal depression (aka winter). He ponders this notion of missing home–as in the city he grew up in, London–which has imparted various lessons and memories, building this creative love that has bled onto his music. He has beautiful bursts of sunshine every day, but it doesn’t boast that creative juice as potently as being in London at this moment.

It’s a flurry of emotions that I wish had more impact, but as I heard Oliver Sim’s words, I couldn’t help but feel the production doesn’t do him justice. It’s focused on one sonic theme, that the few times it shifts like “Romance With A Memory,” which brings out more of a rock aesthetic. It comes with some zeal, but I felt more disappointed in the production of Jamie xx. It isn’t perfect, though I find myself more captivated by his writing and performing than the production. So, if you sit and pay attention to his words, they can become a pushing wind that you can bypass to indulge in some of the remarkable reflections Sim delivers throughout. 

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Sampa The Great – As Above, So Below: Review

Amongst friends, I’ve come to understand varying perspectives on Hip-Hop are ever-shifting based on the culture. Thus, the way I think Black Thought, Little Simz, or Rapsody are some of the hottest MCs, they’ll prefer to hype up the know–gritty Hip-Hop keen on bars, arrogance, moody drug rap, like Pusha T, Benny the Butcher, and A$AP Rocky. It’s perplexing as Hip-Hop’s growth has been more than just blending sonic influences from regional hip-hop in the US and UK. And it’s because of that growth we’ve been able to see artists embrace genres beyond the immediate know–like Jazz, soul, and R&B–these artists have been able to blend House and Hip-Hop, Regional African Music, past massive pop hits like Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy,” etc. Sampa the Great reflects this growth, offering a shift from past tracks, blending some minimalism with exuberant production. Sampa doesn’t mince words; she has these creative flows and unique rhythmic patterns that help push themes to the forefront. It’s as effervescent as ever on her follow-up to The Return, As Above, So Below.

As Above, So Below goes beyond to allow inflections of Sampa the Great’s verses to get heard. She’s always been one to express her Zambian heritage musically through features, production, and the incorporation of its languages to boast her identity as a rapper. Though we’ve gotten projects that demonstrated her masterful technical skills, it was only a matter of time: an expansion on the production’s use of African sounds to coat the core hip-hop percussion notes with the evolution of construction. Because of it, it’s focused on central thematic cores, allowing for simplistic themes about perseverance and individuality, like in “The Great Never Forget.” Featuring Zambian musicians Tio Nason, Chef 187, and Mwanje, they bring varying languages of the region, like Bantu and Bemba. It adds depth toward seeing Sampa’s vision, as her roots extend beyond the recent. Incorporating contemporary features boast Sampa’s talent, parallel to rappers like Denzel Curry, Joey Bada$$, and Kojey Radical. Woven in between tracks that hone in on her Zambian roots, which get reflected through language and sound, like the remarkable “Can I Live?” featuring Zambian Rock group Witch or Angélique Kidjo on the closing track.

Now, you might think: “It may be an extra step to translate,”, especially for some, but it’s worth that time as it opens the doors to Sampa’s world. Though we get varying sonic styles and features, Sampa’s Hip-Hop is at her core. She doesn’t forget that it’s a part of her, further shifting styles to embolden her MC-like skills. It’s a continuance of what we got loosely on The Return, seeing Sampa work with artists of varying regions, like South African rapper Ecca Vandal and South Sudanese-Australian Rapper Krown. We won’t hear a constant reverence toward non-sequitur Hip-Hop that matches the grooves and tones of an expected, instead reflecting the flows/rhythmic patterns of the performing artists like on “Lane” with Denzel Curry. Sampa has proven herself with past tracks like “Final Form” and “Freedom,” but when it comes to As Above, So Below, it tries to ground itself with a message before allowing herself to get lost in the metaphors and wordplay. Unfortunately, we hear her get lost delivering choruses and bridges, and at times, minimalist bars loosely, like the lines “Who took fabric, made that shit classic/That shit ain’t average/We did,” on “Never Forget,” or the weak refrain on “Bona.”

But I know Sampa the Great has bars equipped and ready, but what’s important to her is trying to convey a message that speaks identity more than reflecting on the stasis of her career and the future. Though we get some moments of that here, it reflects on her artistry instead of being about how her kind of style has made her successful enough where she exclusively flexes her riches. Her natural confidence only energizes the effectiveness of the themes getting relayed by both sides–blending different artists that shift our understanding of international artists. So when I searched the translation of Chef 187’s verse on “The Great Never Forget,” it dawned on me that understanding it in my native tongue isn’t like understanding how the inflections, flows, and phrasing from bar to bar for those who consume it regularly. It’s similarly the case with features that buoy over the strength of the production, like in the closing track “Let Me Be Great,” featuring Beninese Singer/Songwriter Angélique Kidjo. The feeling is musically joyous, specifically when looking at her clear direction and what she achieves. It’s an experience that elevates everything around it, from its colorful and expansive production to transitional consistency upping the volume of the performances.

As Above, So Below is a triumphant follow-up to The Return. It tells us who Sampa the Great is without taking away from what makes her a fantastic artist: her lyrical and technical skills, seemingly camouflaging within the beat and creating works of art that transcend past the core hip-hop-sphere. It left me hungry for more, despite a tightknit 40 minutes that feels hefty in its thematic depth. I’ll be returning to this frequently, and hopefully, what I heard gets captured similarly with you, the listener.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

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.