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.

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.

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.

Lizzo – Special : Review

Showing captivating progression throughout the years, Lizzo has come full force with a follow-up containing groovilicious vibes. The production is luscious and hypnotic; choruses are catchy, feeling like candy that you can’t stop indulging. Unfortunately, Lizzo makes the word bitch become more of a gimmick with a few tracks. It skews the monstrous bangers and eloquence which envelop them. Yet, Special has more beneath the surface, as Lizzo weaves these remarkable self-affirming jams that speak to the emotional core of any fan. Lizzo bridges lyrical depth with bright dance numbers, creating exceptional synergy between one’s reflection of the themes and the urge to get and groove; however, it stumbles on a few tracks, losing traction as it panders to her staple phrases.

Lizzo’s Special continues the current trend amongst pop artists–the disco(and post-disco), 90s dance/synth-pop nostalgia. It has gotten replicated, and it often teeters on the standard. They are effective, but it struggles to bring anything new into the realm of pop, and at times, it lacks nuance. It separates the Dua Lipas and Beyonces with the Zara Larssons and Ava Maxxs; Lizzo reflects the former; she incorporates various styles like R&B and Funk to expand beyond a drum machine and synthesizers. You hear this instantly with two dynamite hits in “The Spins” and “About Damn Times,” two funkadelic-disco hybrids that radiate infectious connectivity, making your body tingle, telling you to get and dance. But beneath these complexions are spews of confidence that sees Lizzo feeling like she’ll have a predominant place this summer–she reflects a status equivocal to blockbuster, and it doesn’t disappoint. 

The collection of producers on the album come in full force with sounds that slightly contrast but complement the progression for a crisper listening. It’s more so with “Grrrls” and “I Love You Bitch,” which aren’t as captivating that you’re thrown off by some of Lizzo’s decisions lyrically and vocally. They are empowering tracks that waste beautiful production from Omar Fendi, Blake Slatkin, Benny Blanco, ILYA, and Max Martin. They come together for an effective dance/rap-pop track that wastes a melodic interpolation of “Girls” by Beastie Boys (“Grrrls”) and a luminous Dance-R&B Ballad that leans toward the latter (“I Love You Bitch”). Fortunately, they are the shorter tracks on the album, never overextending their presence, especially with the beautiful “2 Be Loved (Am I Ready)” in between keeping you on your toes. It’s always refreshing to hear Lizzo find a way to incorporate emotional gravitas while incorporating tongue-in-cheek reflections about body positivity. When you hear Lizzo sing: 

“How am I supposed to lovе somebody else (Shee, shee, shee)

Whеn I don’t like myself? Like, ooh

Guess I better learn to like this, ooh (True)

It might take my whole life just to do (Damn, hey, hey)

He call me Melly (Ayy), he squeeze my belly (Yeah)

I’m too embarrassed (Ah) to say I like it

Girl, is this my boo? (Is this my boo?)

That’s why I’m askin’ you ’cause you know I’ve been through”

: you know she’s able to expand lyrically, considering how detail-focus hip-hop verses can be. It starts a contemporaneous influx of sounds–sans “I Love You Bitch”–that lift you on your feet and feel a connection between Lizzo’s words, the grooves, and your reflections. It’s honestly fantastic, as Lizzo lets the world in, giving us these sentiments about herself, like loneliness, and then exuberating spiritually vibrant vocals that simple-message-driven tracks contain the gravitas to reel you back. The vivacity that exhumes from the pores of tracks like “Special” and “Birthday Girl” gives you something to reflect on and groove without losing a sense of the message.

The jubilance within the second half of Special isn’t as hit or miss, with mainly hits–save for one track. With “Everybody’s Gay,” where Lizzo doesn’t play coy as she tries to drive home a sense of unity but gets easily forgotten when compared to other excellent tracks. Lizzo isn’t provocative nor compelling as a double entendre; it helps that the producers incorporate samples in ways, like “Doo Wop (That Thing)” on “Break Up Twice” or the harmonious interpolations of Rick James’ “Give It to Me” on the previously mentioned “Everybody’s Gay.” There is an eloquence to them, even though Lizzo doesn’t deliver with a perfect score card–i.e., “Grrrls.” But as it rounds out, Lizzo delivers another great album that’s lively, vibrant, and never plodding at a messaging level. 

Special is one of the better records released in 2022, but that bar isn’t high, and Lizzo will make sure to retain your attention all summer–even with the new Beyonce album roadblock. It left me wanting to repeat the sugary coated production with earwormy choruses, especially as I groove away, and it will do so for you, even if the layers aren’t always that complex. Just know Lizzo will continue to make splashes, and we should all be here for it.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers: Review

Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers. The title isn’t reading a mouthful, but the new album by Kendrick Lamar has created a conversation that makes you feel like you were reading one. It’s a complex text that wants you to decipher beyond the surface layer verbiage, and Kendrick doesn’t make it pleasant. It’s provocative, but that’s a given for him. With complex text, there is complex production, but here, he is building toward growth and showing us a reenergized side of him. However, it isn’t an immediate masterpiece or a straight one. It’s progressive but flawed. Kendrick brings many ideas to the fold based on experience where he flourishes in delivering his message; unfortunately, the second half (Mr. Morale) gets a little muted by certain decisions made. It left me hoping it had the same impact as the first (The Big Steppers), but he stumbles over some creative choices that don’t pan out. Though both offer a lot to digest as we let ourselves get consumed by the proverbial introspections from Kendrick.

Kendrick Lamar closes Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers with “Sorry I didn’t save the world again/I was too busy rebuilding mine my friend/I choose me, I’m sorry.” It’s a gut-wrenching punch that hits you in the brain as it establishes in your mind that the style and perspectives taken are the way they are. Kendrick is at an apex where some would think a drop from him would “save Hip-Hop.” But Kendrick is more than just hip-hop; he isn’t out here to sell you popular records, and he isn’t here to deliver a myriad of styles like on DAMN, but he is taking us through the looking glass. Kendrick takes a nosedive with such effectiveness that it breathes intrigue into understanding where he is getting at. This commonality gives it this vitriol that boasts the topics he speaks on, which offers a platitude of reflections that cloud him as he progresses through various aspects of his life, like fatherhood and grief. These notions align within the texts of “United In Grief” and “Father Time,” two of the best tracks on Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers

Unfortunately, some lose impact, like “Auntie Diaries” on Mr. Morale and “Rich Interlude” on The Big Steppers, because intention gets slightly derailed due to artistic decisions which drive immense discussion into his approach, but more so the former. “Aunties Diaries” sees Kendrick tackling the double standard with the usage of slurs in hip-hop, reminiscing on his adolescence where he admired his transgender familial members for their heart and hustle. He goes on to mention how it was one of them who showed him his first sheet of 16s, helping to ignite his early love of hip-hop. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stick, as Kendrick’s focus on obtuse song structures has him missing the point. He’s sticking to reality where he deadnames and misgenders his family when there were other avenues he could have taken without censoring himself. “Rich Interlude” loses semblance due to Kodak Black and his controversial history, where he doesn’t embody the wholesome image of success, which further and poorly encapsulates Kendrick’s “product of our environment” theology. Furthermore, it has me question whether Kodak’s inclusion was more musical kinship or a shot at musical redemption.

While Kendrick Lamar values the exploration of parallels through experience, there is further understanding of the dynamics that shape our socio-political discussions and progression toward true equality. However, what’s getting represented is Kendrick’s true nature. We may not acquiesce, but that’s because they evoke “I choose me, I’m sorry” subtly. He subverts our perception of him within these various themes to tremendous effect, despite the complexities of his music. We hear themes like his conflicted normality, his relation to hip-hop, trauma, etc. In “Savior,” he reminds us, “Like it when they pro-Black, but I’m more Kodak Black,” implying that despite the pro-black political bubble we’ve placed him in, his opinions on particular things aren’t far from artists/entertainers like Kodak and Kyrie Irving. It’s a sentiment we get from the lines “Niggas is tight-lipped, fuck who dare to be different/Seen a Christian say the vaccine mark of the beast/Then he caught COVID and prayed to Pfizer for relief/Then I caught COVID and started to question Kyrie,” where Kendrick’s mental lining isn’t far off, but willing to learn. 

Kodak Black’s presence stems from appearing on an interlude to backing vocals and a track that feels lost as it juxtaposes the lyrical content with the embodiments of the rest. “Silent Hill” is more radio-driven; the production is minimalist, weaving these intricate soulful harmonies and crazy percussion patterns, while the two rap about their status and money. Despite Kodak Black delivering a solid verse, it is the only instance where he doesn’t have you slightly groaning, unlike his brief appearance in “Worldwide Steppers.” It’s a unique contrast to The Big Steppers, which has “We Cry Together,” a solid track that speaks on Kendrick’s abusive and dysfunctional relationship with Hip-Hop. It’s heavier like the music on Mr. Morale, while “Silent Hill,” a fine song, doesn’t have any merit within the overall construct.

Surrounding the little that didn’t work is an abundance of mental exploration. Kendrick Lamar spreads lyrical vibrancy with emotional gravitas, so whether he is rapping about trauma with “Mr. Morale” and “Mother I Sober” or talking his shit like on “N95” and “Worldwide Steppers,” he is giving us these auspicious bars/ideas to break apart. On top of that, he is incorporating production that perfectly matches the levels of nuance he offers in his verses. We hear this flurry of big-scope, little-scope productions that fit the nature of the content without getting overdone or undercooked. It buoys many of the various artists Kendrick brings to help build his narratives.

Though pertinent with the Beth Gibbons feature on “Mother I Sober,” their innate-great consistency of them shows in The Big Steppers. From the luminously mystifying vocals of Sampha to Taylour Paige’s remarkable performance on “We Cry Together,” there is a cadence to them, specifically as they work their style over potential reference sheets. But there are some that miss, like Baby Keem on “Savior Interlude.” His verse lacks integrity in the art, and he continues to show how much of a proxy he is for Kendrick when they work together. Fortunately, Keem and Kodak are the only two featured blemishes on the album that weigh it down, and their appearances are brief.

“Die Hard” and “Purple Hearts” have these contrasting shimmers reflecting on the track’s components. Both have dual features, and both use them differently. On “Die Hard,” Kendrick Lamar brings Blxt and Amanda Reifer of Cover Drive to deliver a balanced remedy of soulful melodies in the chorus and post-chorus to complement Kendrick’s flow as he raps about his fears in opening up in a relationship. “Purple Hearts” sees Kendrick, along with Summer Walker and Ghostface Killah, delivering visceral verses relating to love in a relationship and the hardships which come from it. Summer Walker is a standout all-her-own, like Taylour Paige, both of whom encapsulate the last two tracks on Mr. Morale. In the previously mentioned “Mother I Sober,” Kendrick Lamar takes trauma head-on; he’s rapping about his past, reflecting the directions taken to escape memories, like in the second verse where he notes: “​​I remember lookin’ in the mirror knowin’ I was gifted/Only child, me for seven years, everything for Christmas/Family ties, they accused my cousin, “Did he touch you, Kendrick?”/Never lied, but no one believed me when I said “He didn’t,”/Frozen moments, still holdin’ on it, hard to trust myself/I started rhymin’, copin’ mechanisms to lift up myself.” There is a lot to digest and endure as he pours out his heart with more than internal conflictions.

But that is what Kendrick does, he tackles trauma and other themes head-on. More so in past albums, but he is keeping centered despite missing the mark a few times. Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers reestablishes Kendrick’s artistry at a cost, but he does so in his own right, even if we don’t see eye-to-eye with the way perpetuates these thoughts.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Pusha T – It’s Almost Dry: Review

We’re about four years removed from Ye’s infamous Wyoming series, which saw Pusha T deliver Daytona, his best work to date. It showed that we could have more with less, as it weaved a more concrete and tightly structured album–one with a definitive start-to-end without leaving much to ride the coattails of great production and rapping from Pusha. Being four years removed from his last joint, Pusha T is hungry–can you blame him? It’s a contingency for him to constantly deliver top-notch verses, but it doesn’t reflect the final creation. We’ve become accustomed to his coke raps, his intricate rhyme schemes, and (of course) his infectious, maniacal laugh. That stays constant on It’s Almost Dry, despite a heel turn after “Diet Coke,” where most tracks fail to hit the mark from external forces.

From the beginning, it starts coming at you, track by track, a plethora of energy jabbing you with these hard-hitting bars that make you want to rewind it back. Pusha T can deliver a plethora of coke and money raps, but he knows how to keep it consistently intriguing lyrically. He takes different avenues to re-enforce certain connotations of his status and wealth, using his dark drug-dealing past to relay levels on the don’t fuck with meter. It’s a cycle that has been formulaic while staying interesting. Pusha T’s control and command of his craft keep him driving with a mostly clean license, like someone with only a few parking infractions. Blemishes here and there, lyrically, but for the most part, it’s a driving constant that acquiesces with the bleak and murky production. However, Pusha takes a heel turn after “Diet Coke,” where most tracks awkwardly fade into obscurity.

Though playable, some of the tracks have individualized issues, some of which don’t come from Pusha T directly. From underwhelming features on “Rock N Roll” and “Scrape It Off” to the mundane delivery and production of “Open Air” and “Call My Bluff,” these issues create distractions, at times, making you wish he took more of a solo route. It doesn’t operate with the same consistency as the first six tracks, which come at you with Pusha exceeding past his peak. Two things are evident: the Kanye West features are underwhelming, and Pusha T shouldn’t have tried to push cross-appeal over his sonic style. Don Tolliver and Lil Uzi Vert add little to the track, except for basic melodies on the chorus from the former and a forgettably bland verse from the latter. They aren’t like Jay-Z on “Neck & Wrist,” which reminds us why they are in a tier all their own. They deliver verses that create goosebumps over eerie synth and high-pitched, slightly distorted percussion.

Production is key on It’s Almost Dry. It usually incorporates these varying subtexts in its stylistic approach, rounding out Push with an array of vinyl scratches, drum patterns, and dark synths. It keeps the bleak, grimy, and murky atmosphere while taking consistent, organic twists with their added building blocks. It’s a testament to the synergy between producers like Pharrell, Kanye West, BoogzDaBeast, and 88-Keys, to name a few. They keep us on a linear path without taking a sudden nosedive. “Rock N Roll,” for its faults, naturally emboldens a rock mentality over an electro-hop core that gets reinforced by Kid Cudi’s modulations. “Dreamin Of The Past” gives us a boom-bap core with nuances to soul music; “Let The Smokers Shine The Coupe” is a bombastic anthem that consistently plays with percussion. Sans “Call My Bluff,” each production, whether subtle or not, gives us something different than the past, adding to Pusha T’s limitless range. 

Pusha T’s first three singles built up hype; they have different production styles, and Pusha T never derails, constantly hitting from all avenues that they hit exponentially; these tracks: “Diet Coke,” “Neck & Wrist,” and “Hear Me Clearly.” Even though It’s Almost Dry isn’t twelve tracks of this quality, he makes sure to close the album on a high note. “I Pray For You” continues 2022’s return of Clipse in rare form as we hear Pusha T shifting toward a more spiritually driven production that isn’t experimental like his feature on Donda. The way an organ gets incorporated boosts the depth in No Malice and Pusha T’s verses. It’s a memorable high note that makes It’s Almost Dry an interesting run-through, especially as you go through it multiple times.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Denzel Curry – Melt My Eyez See Your Future: Review

Denzel Curry’s new album, Melt My Eyez See Your Future, is unlike previous work, with a deviation in tone and lyrical approach. It has more introspective raps than past work, which focused on balancing a sound engulfed with nuances of past Hip-Hop sounds from Florida/The South and lyrical grit as he delivers comparative flexes–think J. Cole when he flaunts his education. However, Denzel doesn’t need to flex his lyrical prowess, as he has been amassing respect as an emcee and artist. Albeit offering technical consistency, it bears shortcuts in its production. While Zuu brought elevated and monstrous production, Denzel Curry matches its energy–it creates a product that offers repeat value to his other projects. Unlike Zuu, Melt My Eyez See Your Future gets built upon minimally, and instead, the percussion starts to take command as he keeps his raps centered and introspective.

It’s been odd. Hip-Hop/Rap albums are usually structured to keep a balance and style opposite a standard construct, which is a strong opening and closing while dwindling in the middle. Unfortunately, that consistency isn’t here, as Melt My Eyez See Your Future starts to get lost–each decision after “Troubles” seems to churn my head or leave me in a haze of mundaneness. The album begins treading down a stream of consciousness that focuses on style over substance. It’s especially noticeable with “Zatoichi,” featuring a very forgettable Slowthai. His vocals on the chorus get drowned out by these grungy electronic overtones that I had to doubletake as I thought I missed Slowthai on the first go-around. It isn’t rare for a single to miss, but it didn’t have the gravitas of “Walkin,” which lets instrumental play without an over-emphasis on its complexities–further allowing Denzel Curry to explore lyrically. 

In past work, Denzel Curry’s talent for creating melodies is usually unfound as he has adapted it to boast his over-arching sound/style. Despite Denzel rapping more fluidly, he doesn’t stray too far from melody-driven tracks. “The Last” rides waves as he surfs through with hypnotic and authentic melodies that get buoyed by rich production. “X-Wing” parallels the greatness of “The Last,” with an emphasis on the trap sound with an uninteresting flow and tiring choral melodies. It’s a predominant issue with this second half, even with small moments like “Angelz” and “The Smell Of Death,” which feature production from Thundercat. Unfortunately, the funkadelic nuances and sick verse/delivery left me wanting more after finishing at 1:52. Though the way it connects with “Angelz” offers an uptick in an otherwise forgettable second half.

Through its faults, Melt My Eyez See Your Future has a powerful first half, starting with gut-punching drum beats and rustic jazz overtones on “Melt Session #1.” It embodies the atmosphere of the studio’s sound stage, which adds natural emphasis to his verse. Denzel Curry continues to stride with these remarkable verses that explore intricate themes, like life, religion, capitalism, and society, using his experience and emotional perspective to back it up. Though that doesn’t always equate to something great, there are still compounding factors that make his verses last or lost within the production, which is evident with the posse cut. However, this is Denzel’s album, and his work speaks higher on solo tracks like on “Worst Comes To Worse” and “Mental.” With “Mental,” you hear Denzel deviate in an open frame, walls get torn down, and he raps about his struggles with suicide. 

There is a consistent surge of quality bars in Denzel Curry’s verses that keep you entwined, even when he slightly deviates from the introspective raps, like on “John Wayne,” a flex rap. Using John Wayne as a reference point, Denzel raps about why he sees himself with the same gusto John Wayne embodies in westerns, especially with the gun-totting skills: “Walk around the hood like I’m John Wayne/Nine on my hip, I’ma let that bih bang.” The track’s polished and eccentric production by JPEGMAFIA rounds it out to near perfection. Overall, the production is consistent, even when it envelops him and his featured artists in a shroud of load percussion. It’s a lot to reflect on, but at the same time, I hear the lost potential as it doesn’t land as smoothly as past albums, like the phenomenal Zuu.

Melt My Eyez See Your Future continues to tell us Denzel Curry is here to stay, despite his eccentric style. We get a flurry of great production and solid verses, but they don’t always acquiesce with consistency. There is consistency in the first half, more so than the second, which ultimately left me feeling underwhelmed as I listened to it.

Rating: 7 out of 10.