Drake x 21 Savage – Her Loss: Review

Her Loss, the pseudo-collaboration album between Drake and 21 Savage, had the makings of being something grand; unfortunately, that isn’t the case–for the most part. After teasing us with “Jimmy Cooks,” a play on Drake’s character on Degrassi: The Next Generation, they further bolster their connectivity after the earlier collab “Knife Talk.” They double down on the bars, attempting to go beyond the corniness of Jimmy Brooks raps in the show, and Aubrey “Drake” Graham’s own casualness of it in his verses, to keep you engaged.  Though some of Drake’s corniness seeps into 21 Savage, causing us to hear weak bars like this double entendre: “I don’t show ID at clubs, ’cause they know that I’m 21.” Though the corniness is slightly more scarce and lyrical than musically like Certified Lover Boy, it isn’t as cringe unless you’re overly critical of Drake’s weak ineptitude of dissing people who won’t respond. Jokes aside, it retreads familiar waters structurally, making it less enjoyable, but there are enough tracks that make a splash.

Her Loss goes on a tear with the first few tracks, making the subsequent rollercoaster of great and mediocrity in the second shine more glaringly. It isn’t trying to be thematically rich or profound with their rhetoric, as Drake and 21 Savage retread content, making them as intriguing based on the quality of their storytelling or flows/wordplay. From “Rich Flex” through “Hours In Silence,” the consistency is heard with beats and hooks that teeter on the line between expectancy and interesting but hit smoothly in comparison to “Circo Loco” and “Pussy & Millions,” the latter of which contains an insipid verse from Travis Scott. “Circo Loco” continues to show Drake tapping into his inner Game (Rapper), just not that nuanced, as his disses come off as childish and in poor taste while having an albatross of a sample usage, with the melodic interpolation of “One More Time” by Daft Punk. On it, Drake “subliminally” disses Megan Thee Stallion and her situation, flipping the script of his “casual” misogyny, which is tired and something that hasn’t evolved beyond surface-level cruelty.

Drake is obviously talking his shit, which is in line with the focus of Her Loss–i.e. savagery. He disses Ice Spice, NYC’s current trending rapper, and implies different motives for the Ye reconciliation, disregarding the past, which one wouldn’t blame him considering Ye’s damaging anti-semitic rhetoric. However, he takes shots at random people just because, almost feeling pointless when he disses Alexis Kerry Ohanian, Serena Williams’ husband, and co-founder/executive chairman of Reddit.com. Other times his bars feel on brand, despite being effective. It’s janky in approach and delivery, becoming forgettable like some of the weak on-brand misogyny, like the line “I blow a half a million on you hoes, I’m a feminist.” It isn’t nuanced and is too surface-layer to create anything less than a forgettable surprise shock.

Drake is trying to match the viciousness of 21 Savage. But he isn’t consistently concentrated compared to the the verses club bangers “On BS” and “Spin Bout U.” The first half may be grand, but it isn’t enough to counteract the inconsistencies in the second. There are hooks that aren’t captivating, and a few standard hip-hop/trap beats relying on the quality of their flow delivery. Ultimately, it tries to balance the savagery with the not-so-esoteric club tracks, and it predominantly works, like the solo tracks. “3 AM on Glenwood” is 21 Savage’s only solo; it sees him getting introspective over this luscious, melancholic (comparatively), Hip-Hop/Trap beat. The two composites doesn’t acquiesce smoothly, feeling like it could have benefited from a different flow, but the raw depth 21 Savage brings in his verse boasts the quality. It’s a constant from 21–the rare corniness aside, he shines brighter than Drake, further making the ratio between the two on solo tracks a disappointment as half of Drake’s solo tracks is forgettable.

“I Guess It’s F**k Me” and “Jumbotron Shit Poppin” don’t have captivating flows, and Drake isn’t doing anything interesting with content in his verses. The former reminds me of those gray Drake love songs; however, it is bloated with drab bars, some of which don’t have the same value as ad-libs and their everlasting strength. For Drake, it’s whatever comes similar to “And the six upside down, it’s a nine/You already know the vibe.” “Jumbotron Shit Poppin” starts with promise, specifically with how it uniquely incorporates the backing vocals into the beat like an instrument; it swiftly becomes a rudimentary trap track without much going for it. Unlike them, “BackOutsideBoyz” and “Middle of the Ocean” are more refreshing, the latter due to Drake’s slick one-liners and crisp wordplay; the former is jovial, bringing forth that Lil Yatchy-Trap influence (which Yatchy co-produced). These tracks are detours from the bigger picture, and that is: how consistent can they keep it from start to finish? It’s pretty consistent, but it isn’t always in quality, where sometimes it could be just the verses like in “Rich Flex.”

There is no denying Drake and 21 Savage’s obscure synergy, specifically through their vocal levels/tones. Though 21 Savage can bring sonic energy with his production choices, his audio levels don’t always match Drake’s visceral energy. But they are on a steady wavelength that sees them beautifully bouncing off each other and expressing camaraderie. They have something going on here, but they can’t deliver with consistency, making me feel like it could have gotten trimmed around the edges for something more compact than this poorly-paced collection of tracks. It rounds out to something that works for them, but you can sense they could have come harder and wiser in their approach.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.

Lil Baby – It’s Only Me: Review

Pacing is key, particularly prevalent in Hip-Hop, where we’ve had years of monstrous albums that encompasses a feature-length film runtime. Despite the consistency in drops from it, the pacing isn’t always an issue, becoming more of an afterthought when the project is excellent. The number of tracks can become a catalyst based on its construction; other times, it could be because they carry redundancies. That’s the case with Lil Baby’s new album It’s Only Me, a 23-track 66-minute behemoth that feels bloated and repetitive. It doesn’t lack cohesiveness, but his selection of beats and a slight deficiency in variety make it an uneven product that could have benefited from more post-work and trimming. It doesn’t discredit the quality of work Lil Baby brings to the forefront from a technical lens; his flows and lyrics are on point, making up for a few retreads with potency. Unfortunately, it’s a slog from beginning to end, feeling meritless as it comes to a close since quality tracks get spread too thinly throughout; it’s another bloated, ticky-tacky Hip-Hop album that never ends, despite some keen reflections and features. 

Reflecting the nature of the album cover, It’s Only Me is a reflection of growth through the years of Lil Baby. He’s exploring varying themes relating to extravagance, love, personal growth, and more. After a while, it becomes redundant as Lil Baby forgets to add substance to the sandwich, and these tracks that cover similar ground further bloat the final product, leaving that 66-minute runtime feels too long. There isn’t a moment one will doubt that he won’t deliver the goods on the surface level–great metaphors and slick wordplay; however, it doesn’t usually translate to something of merit. “California Breeze” sees Lil Baby reflecting on his extravagant lifestyle, loyalty, and past relationships; over this downbeat trap beat, it offers little as it seems to be a lack of care for having it all relate. It’s done better and more vigorously on “Pop Out,” which plays with the beat, invoking a switch that then sees featured artist Nardo Wick deliver the sauce. 

It’s a barrage of different perspectives that correlate loosely with each other. Variations of that luxurious, braggadocio purview continue with “Stop Playin’,” which is another extension of while “Danger,” “In A Minute,” and “Top Priority” find varying angles to deliver the same bars about his luxurious life, without as much substance. It doesn’t need as much depth since these raps tend to be reflexive of technical skills instead of songwriting/story-telling skills; however, when you’re over-sizzle, it’s displacing the solid ones. It can best be described as this uneven roller coaster that was too promising on paper but got the wrong builders to accomplish the feat. Even though they aren’t complete linear reflections, it goads the pacing, creating costly spacing between the fantastic and mediocre tracks.

These reflections become less reliant on substance and more on tonal delivery as they usually equate to the underlying tenacity to be a hard-hitter. We hear Lil Baby rap similar anecdotes through different inflections, like back-to-back tracks “Forever” and “Not Finished.” The former is a humbling reflection of love that Lil Baby expresses tenderly, which is a 180 from the latter, which sees Lil Baby disregarding the love aspect of his relationships and vigorously trending toward that freaky-deeky and lavish lifestyle. “Not Finished” sees Lil Baby getting extra dirty and arrogant, adding nothing to the table. It encompasses this innate bravado that casts a shield upon himself, finding little in his braggadocio bars. “Forever” is more grounded and realized; we hear Lil Baby exploring the dimensions of his relationship, the toxicity between him and his lover, and so forth. There is no shade for the former, but it isn’t delivered effectively. 

What surrounds these middling issues are tracks that stand on their own, but the spacing is scarce. “Real Spill,” “No Fly Zone,” and “Cost to be Alive” are a few that push past the standard drum patterns spread through It’s Only Me. They see Lil Baby digging into his emotional bag and reflecting on his past, humbling himself while proclaiming dominance through success. He brings character, giving us something to look at and contemplate alongside him, specifically through these raw, encapsulating bars. It’s different from “Danger” or “Top Priority,” yet better; however, it doesn’t discredit “Danger” or “Top Priority” since they bring home that kind of bravado you’d want from Lil Baby at his peak. But as much as one can pick apart and say you can construct a more fluid album, it still wouldn’t have more than a personal benefit since the listen-through is a slog. In between, it’s retreading mediocrity that leaves you feeling empty with its experience.

In between, It’s Only Me has retreading mediocrity that leaves you feeling empty with its experience. It’s as if Lil Baby decided to flood us with stacking ideas that never go far, and you’re left sifting through 23 tracks to see which worked for you and which didn’t. For me, most didn’t, but it wouldn’t be right if I couldn’t say there were some recommendable tracks like “Cost to be Alive.” It leaves you sullen until you realize 2022 has many other noteworthy releases to look forward to. And till then, frisk through the ones of note that were genuinely great to see how it fares with you.

Rating: 5 out of 10.

Cochise – The Inspection: Review

Hyperactive and jubilant, Florida rapper Cochise can deliver encapsulating performances filled with bravado and slight corniness, especially over trancey hip-hop productions that expand his space. As evident from his album, Benbow Crescent, Cochise has shown us the influence of the enigmatic and erratically vibrant flows from artists like Playboi Carti; the only difference between the two is that Cochise focuses on spacey, more culturally pertinent styles. He’s crossed genre borders, bringing sonic influence from sounds he’s grown with, which isn’t as new or nuanced in hip-hop. However, It’s still vibrant as he creates some great bangers, displaying that despite not having the strongest bars in hip-hop, he’s still capable of making consistently fantastic work. It continues to be evident with his follow-up, The Inspection. It has solid production emulating from its array of percussion styles, and Cochise brings the energy emulating into a fun listen, albeit the drawbacks.

Benbow Crescent opened the floodgates. We begin to hear some dancehall-reggae percussion patterns, allowing Cochise to hone in on his ability to switch up flows. It laid the groundwork for what to expect through his vocal and lyrical side of the music. He glides through productions with ease, making way for one of the strengths of this style and allowing the energy to consume you profusely. It’s a style that isn’t for everyone; it’s constructed through the lens of a songwriter instead of an emcee. And that’s okay, as the emcee style can be equally derivative, but there is something to Cochise’s high-pitch stop-n-go that gives it a different palette. It’s especially the case on his new album, The Inspection, overlaying some introspection and flexes as Cochise raps over some crisp pianos and shifting drum patterns. 

Playboi Carti gives us headbanging, mosh-inducing chaos that has us, as some would say, die-lit. Cochise is luminously captivating, using the high pitch to counteract the nihilism of his peers, like Carti and Trippie Redd. In some ways, it’s a parallel to the cloud-melancholic-centric subgenre of hip-hop but within the realm of trap music. The only difference is that Cochise isn’t coming across burned out or stoned. Instead, he brings the energy and flows through beats that dance with unique sequences. Throughout The Inspection, Cochise continues to surround himself with varying production styles created by himself, 808iden, Harold Harper, Nonbruh, Paradyse, and Ransom (Producer), to name a few. It offers enough to have a consistent flow, but lyrically, Cochise can get stunted; some verses bleed too closely to the sounds, and what’s left are his enigmatic choruses and quirky anime references.

“I’m no longer trying to be an artist; I’m trying to be a trumpet on the beat and solo for two minutes. We’re reaching a whole different frequency with the music and production. It isn’t just about lyrics. It’s about the cadence of the sound. It’s about how your voice alternates. It’s about how the beat is dancing up and down.” 

– Cochise

Taking into account that quote, it’s evident in the subtle fun had in the song’s creation. From the pertinent flows in tracks like “Hunt” feat. Chief Keef and “Don’t Run,” which contains bleaker production contrasting the emotional cadence of the strings and jubilant flow on “Finally.” They acquiesce within the big picture–i.e. front-to-back listens. Cochise’s flows make it feel a part of the production, rounding out how he wants us to vibe with music. There are certified bangers like “Megaman,” “Halo,” and “Do It Again,” which illuminates his tenacity to shift from these more crisp headbangers to more introspectively driven “Finally.” There is a lot to take from them, specifically the grooves created. However, he isn’t at his peak. Having your voice get too entwined with the production makes way for some tracks to become forgettable. “Nice” feat. Yung Nudy and “Jet Flex” don’t offer enough to entice return, as they emulate these weak conventions in trap music and become feeble versions of tracks made better by artists like Future and Lil Yachty.

Cochise understands the most important thing about hip-hop as a genre, identity. There are a lot of great qualities in his craft. He shifts the parameters of what one is to expect from this style, specifically when comparing and contrasting with his contemporaries. He gives this style some light while maintaining composure and exploring techniques akin to others, like “Hunt” with Chief Keef, a certified banger. The Inspection carries some repeatability, even if it isn’t all there. There are high hopes for Cochise as he continues his journey, especially as he is now apart of XXL Magazine’s Freshman Class of 2022.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

The Inspection – Out June 24th, 2022 via Columbia Records.

Future – I Never Liked You: Review

Recently, GQ dropped a profile on Future where they declared him the best rapper alive. Though the writer may have his merits, he clearly doesn’t understand or listen to hip-hop as a whole, which may have swayed the title. It isn’t to discredit Future, as he is amongst the best to ever do it; however, his lyrical and technical prowess is only as strong as the construct backing it. We’ve heard him at peak greatness with his first three albums, subsequent mixtapes, and dwindle with his last few Hip-Hop albums. It continues to be the case with his new album, I Never Liked You. There are excellent tracks, but it flops as it juggles weak features, boring content, and poor contrasts of similar styles.

Future begins I Never Liked You strong, but it becomes a misconception of how the rest of the plays out. It’s inconsistent; Future is tapping into boastful and sensitive emotions, trying to display range, but sometimes it left me yawning. It’s what separates the appeal between tracks that go hard like “I’m Dat N****” and “Love You Better.” While the former expresses that keen flex-Future, the latter tries and fails to capture the nuances of Future’s R&B moment with HNDRXX. But there are like-minded tracks that flow better within the R&B-sphere, like “Voodoo” with Kodak Black. Though Future is primarily rapping, he brings melodic flows matching the potency of the moody-piano-driven production. Kodak and Kaash Paige add remarkable harmonies to the fold in the chorus and bridge, respectively. It all intertwines into one a great heart-break banger.

Unfortunately, Kodak Black is one of three features that land and the one that doesn’t fit the mold of the album since Future’s choruses barely reach that level of singing at its core. Most of the features fall flat, which includes Drake’s first verse, who comes dialing it in with little emotion or ingenuity. It turns “Wait For U” from a heartfelt dance track to a write-off that should have been left on the cutting room floor, like the previously mentioned track “Love You Better.” But we get a handful of Future’s boastful–rightfully so–which has a soft layer of nuance as he comes with a perfected craft and a consistent delivery that gets lost through levels of inconsistencies like the oblique verses from Gunna and Young Thug on “For A Nut.” Future is composed, instead of Young Thug who raps “I just put some diamonds in her butt (Butt)/And I seen it shinin’ when she nut (Nut).” 

Kanye West’s appearance on “Keep It Burnin” is delivered with arrogance excellently; he contrasts Future’s eloquent confidence and modesty, further creating this bombastic banger that stands as one of the best tracks. It’s there with “I’m On One,” which is the second track with Drake. Like Lil Yatchy, hearing Drake on trap beats is fun, ear-popping with his braggadocio persona coming across naturally with hard-hitting bars. His verse is snarky and smooth with dominant lines like: “I don’t know why the fuck niggas tryna test me, what/I’m just all about my goals like Ovechkin, what.” Contextually and musically, it offers a great contrast in style between features, as they elevate each track with Future. Though it doesn’t say much since I Never Liked You boasts a handful of quality tracks, and they are undermined by the bad, which are poor features and boring content. 

Adjacently the content of some tracks doesn’t have enough creativity and feels half-baked, like “Massaging Me” and “Chickens.” Or they carry some redundancies like on “The Way Things Going;” it creates these oblique moments that take you away from the good on a first listen, that it could’ve used some trimming on the fat to have a more concise album, where the extra tracks are weighted properly. Though it’s more stagnant in appearance, it keeps I Never Liked You from being more than just an okay album with enough in the tank to replay. Besides Future, a lot of it is due to the consistent production from some usuals, like ATL Jacob, Wheezy, and Southside. The percussion stays on a path of vibrant consistency, giving you something fresh and new as it’s incorporated within these distinguishing overlays, like the energetic, hard-hitting “I’m Dat N****.”

There is enough to marvel and enough to throw in the trash bin, which has been the case with Future. It’s hard to mask the weak within explosive rhymes, but maybe that’s what he meant by the track “Mask Off.” I kid; this album by Future doesn’t incur the thought, as it carries the external potency expected of a Future album, without much of the gravitas.

Rating: 6 out of 10.

Baby Keem – The Melodic Blue: Review

Many know Baby Keem for his rapping, and I was not one of them; I’ve known Baby Keem as a producer as he has produced the better songs on Redemption and Crash Talk by Jay Rock and Schoolboy Q, respectively. So when I first heard some of his raps, the intrigue was there. Baby Keem has this unique ferocity that gives him the liberty to deliver different rhythmic patterns within the common traits of his flows. The Melodic Blue brings that ferocious energy; fortunately, it doesn’t get muddled when his strengths are on display in the introspective and flex raps.

Keem doesn’t mince words on the lyrical side and production side. It parallels the duality of “Trademark USA,” which is split in two as Keem perpetuates two sides of him. His actions are uttering the verses, and the production embodies the words — it is a constant throughout, especially with the way he delivers his flows. From this opening and on, Baby Keem and his co-producers keep a consistent cadence to the sound. It fluctuates between nuanced trap and percussion-heavy west-coast hip-hop, the latter of which has been prominent with the more authentic west coast style. 

Despite having co-producers, Keem touches almost every production to make sure we hear his vision — considering Keem is using well-known hip-hop producers like Frank Dukes, 30 Roc, DJ Dahi, and Cardo, to name a few. Their talent brings easier transitions, especially the many times it shifts from trap to melancholic hip-hop — the latter contributes to the songs with more lyrical substance. From an array of styles, it isn’t rare for Keem to hit in his trap-centric songs, like on “Durag Activity,” which sees him and Travis Scott bring out this cultural energy that I have little relevance in — seeing how some people act with them on, it seems like a boost for their confidence. That isn’t to surprise as I’ve seen them on people post haircuts, similarly to the feeling when Travis outshines Keem. 

Baby Keem gets outshined on almost every song that has a featured artist. However, when Kendrick Lamar is the featured artist, don’t expect Keem to have the better verse, despite bringing his A-Game. “Range Brothers” and “Family Ties” continue to deliver the world’s exploration into Kendrick Lamar’s vocal meme game within his verse — “Range Brothers” sees Keem and Kendrick trading bars over a bombastic trap-esque production. It ends with unique adlibs from Kendrick, which becomes an addition to the meme book Kendrick-Lamar-isms — most recently on tik-tok. 

“Range Brothers” is another song of action, as Keem viscerally raps about his successes and disproving people who believed Kendrick ghostwrote for him. But on the song, Kendrick and Keem reaffirm that this is the authentic him and not another carbon copy.

There are few moments where Baby Keem doesn’t translate his strengths on the final product, and it delivers some songs that made me feel like the tank was left almost half-full. It’s a detriment to the few songs that don’t have that oomph, like “Booman,” a typical boring self-flex rap. Like “gorgeous,” it isn’t profound, and it becomes an afterthought. We hear Keem delivering a better song, with similar qualities in “16.” Like “16,” Baby Keem is at his strongest when he gets personal and introspective. “Issues,” “Scars,” and “South Africa” embolden his bravado as we hear Keem digging deep into the crevices of his subconscious.

“Issues” and “Scars” contain more intricate production, calming down the percussion and elevating the surrounding sounds to embody a different atmosphere. Baby Keem does similarly with “South Africa,” but that song focuses on his cultural roots instead of an introspective take on his life. “Issues” speaks on his mother and growing up without her due to her issues with drug abuse. Though subtle, Keem lets down his walls as he laments a life missed with her, and the chorus has you feeling for Keem. On “Scars,” Keem recounts when loved ones left him, which led him to question his religion since God made choices that left him with scars. The way he reflects the trauma in the song is beautifully tragic. Keem’s songwriting is at its best here, as opposed to the “radio” trap songs.

Baby Keem’s strength as a songwriter seems to shift from song to song, as the style controls his delivery. On “Pink Panties” and “Cocoa,” Keem raps over vibrant trap production; unfortunately, they become easily forgettable with immature choruses and raps that lack natural substance. In “Cocoa,” the chorus speaks on Keem trying to faun over a female whose clout is self-made, and due to it reflects her nature in life. As a prominent rapper who can afford to eat at Nobu, Keem notes that he isn’t this type of person in his verse, in a delivery that sounds tonally different from the rest of it. Despite feeling indifferent about the chorus, the song is this unique allegory toward self-worth after the money. Don Tolliver turns on the snooze button, as his verse poorly mirrors the intent of Keem’s verse and reflects the latent chorus.

As a rapper, I came with minimal expectations toward the quality of music we’d receive from Baby Keem’s debut. I wasn’t privy to his mixtapes, and some of his raps have kept my interest from start to finish, but he didn’t have that wow factor like his production subtly showed. The Melodic Blue makes any qualms a figment of the past, as he proves he has the potential to be bigger than what he is now. The Melodic Blue is more than his various rhythmic palettes; it’s a statement that Baby Keem, despite the name, is ready to place his stamp on the world. \

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.