Vince Staples – Ramona Park Broke My Heart: Review

The first sounds we hear are waves slowly crashing along the sands of Long Beach, California. We immediately fade into Vince Staples rapping as the faint sounds of the waves blend in the background, and we get reintroduced to inside his head. Ramona Park Broke My Heart is a shifting paradigm of lies and heartbreak, cornering any sense of hope to succeed. Vince Staples’ mind has hypotheticals, realizations, and growing pains that reflect how he views his career after many years under a label–sometimes, of his personality; other times, reflective of his career. But there is more to the project than the parallels in his potent lyricism, which is a constant on Ramona Park Broke My Heart. He is showing us behind the broken walls that surround him. Vince is giving us a lot to break down, from the emotionally-lyrical side and the production, which brings a continuation of greatness heard on his self-titled release last year.

Let’s hit play on “Papercuts”; Vince Staples raps about the importance money has on him as he pushes aside an element of internal happiness. Like Vince Staples, I’ve understood him to a degree; he feels slaved over in the industry, finding less care in creating at a certain speed because his craft takes time. He isn’t an everyday rapper willing to drop a few minutes to make a pop record–we have learned from J. Cole that he got told he needed a single to sell on his debut instead of keying in on a balance of authenticity with his style. Even with Vince’s most popular tracks, he kept it 100 to his style, which shows a parallel in his artistry, where he can elevate a pop song if asked to appear on one. He’s done it before with “&Burn” by Billie Eilish. Despite the directions he takes, it’s thematically and lyrically consistent because he is zeroing in on his heart, his home.

When rapping, Vince Staples has a tremendous effect on the album as he taps into a line where he can distinguish the love for Ramona Park and the music inspired by it. There are an array of emotions that push these songs into having definition within the confines of his arc. It all pans out as intended, except for “DJ Quik,” which left little impression on me, despite a great use of a “Dollaz + Sense” by Quik himself. The lyrics in the verses are on point, but his slightly basic and slightly dronish delivery on “DJ Quik” doesn’t make an impression, knowing “Magic” comes next. Though there isn’t a linear direction that Vince takes us through, it’s more like recollecting through pictures. It’s like he opened a picture book from his life in Ramona Park and compares and contrasts it with the present.

Thinking of it as such allows for contrasting flows between tracks to work, for the most part–née “DJ Quik” to “Magic.” These shifts can come out in a somber tone like on “East Point Prayer,” which adds gravity to its themes of gang violence and selling drugs; it’s the opposite with “When Sparks Fly,” where Vince personifies love through his flow. Unlike other tracks, these two have specific parallels that aren’t subtle. They carry more as the pivot point in the middle where the album begins to mold into a cohesive structure. Some parallels can come from the production side, like when it transitions from “DJ Quik” into “Magic” and “Rose Street” into “The Blues.” Or it can come from the lyrical side like “East Point Prayer” to “When Sparks Fly” or “Papercuts” to “Lemonade,” which shows two sides to his feelings behind making money.

However, for “East Point Prayer” and “When Sparks Fly,” the latter speaks about the love between a person and a personified gun, like how a gearhead names their car–it’s like a child. Another parallel comes with the content of “East Point Prayer,” which sees both rappers talk about their resilience in escaping a life set by the foundations around them. Lil Baby delivers an equally powerful verse that reflects the business side, showing that no matter the profession, you can grow and evolve from someone better than “a product of the environment,” as he raps. It’s all buoyed by its production.

The production contains a downbeat consistency with few overlays that make every track worth wild. Though, it’s hard to meet the production of tracks like “Lemonade,” “Magic,” and “Slide” has Vince Staples putting on his musical cap and trying to continue to reflect the eccentric flows and melodies of his first few albums. “Lemonade” and “Magic” are elevated higher by the featured artist, Ty Dolla Sign and DJ Mustard, respectively. The same goes for Lil Baby on “East Point Prayer.” The cloudy-synth base production drifts you into a terrain of open consciousness. There is a balance between the two, though it may not be for everyone, as Vince stays consistent with the introspective lyricism.

From the collection of producers, there is some equilibrium in bringing a sonic consistency that you can distinguish where you have to focus on his verse. Ramona Park Broke My Heart is a lot to unpack, and the experience is rewarding. We continue to get a different Vince Staples that isn’t bent on the avant-garde and instead keying in on his roots, specifically in its production. Personally, I felt immersed in Vince’s work as he took us down new avenues expanding sounds over the production’s base drum patterns.

Rating: 9 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.

Vince Staples – Vince Staples: Review

Vince Staples’ career has been filled with an avant-garde identity sonically, but with more cohesion and depth than pretentious artists from other mediums. As he grew into his own, his sound kept a tight leash on his west coast roots before exploring these visceral production styles on his major-label debut, Summertime ‘06, and progressing on subsequent releases, like the deep house, IDM, and electronic influences on Big Fish Theory. Both albums brought a plethora of producers to create these sounds that weren’t advantageous on a broader spectrum, but he excelled. He continues to do so on the self-titled Vince Staples, which keeps the motifs focused as he delivers an amalgamation of new perspectives about life; specifically what has changed in the purview from events in his life throughout the years.

Working with producers like the late SOPHIE, DJ Dahi, and GTA, which brought a variety of fluid EDM sounds to polish any underlying hip-hop undertones, Vince Staples has been able to find equilibrium in the sounds. It has continued with his last album, FM!, and the new Vince Staples, as EDM turned Hip-Hop producer Kenny Beats takes control. As evident with the rappers he has worked with prior, Kenny’s production style, which mixes conceptual sounds of a more realized and less poppy hip-hop tracks of yesterday and giving it a modern twist. It humbles Vince’s artistry, as he doesn’t try to implement too much sonic complexity, and takes it back to his Shyne Coldchain days, where the melodic-soul undertones create a new sense of depth. 

The self-titled album has us taking a trip with Vince Staples as he reminisces about home and his life growing up within a gang ecosystem and before music became the focal point. He takes us through loops, discussing ambitions and desires at the time and exploiting it as a way to intimidate the listener. But this comes across positively without glamourizing gang life. For Vince, it was more than just that; his anger ran through a stream of regrets and depression.

Vince carries a lot on his mind and he lets it out on a silver plate. A lot of deals with post-dated re-evaluations of his life; specifically his youth and adolescence during his time as a Crip affiliated gang member. On “Sundown Town,” Vince reminisces about his days as a Naughty Nasty Gangster Crips, describing how his world was like the realized style of storytelling where night becomes a complete 180 in the equation of normality. He progresses to expand on these ideologies, breaking conventions of the perpetuated feelings that come from fame and success. On the subsequent track, “The Shining,” he fights with his subconscious with some of these ideas of death and attraction, despite known hesitation of the truth. 

Vince Staples has a constant battle with dualities, whether he is fighting them or accepting them. At the mid-point, this duality is shown through two degrees of emotions from Vince. It’s through three tracks that fully define the heavier weight on his mind. In the track “Taking Trips,” Vince lambasts about life on the road, touring and meeting these groupie women, though his emotions come off a bit broken and distant, showing a sense of doubt before reassuring his confidence through lines about bringing packing heat and understanding own worth. But on “Take Me Home,” Vince gives us a look into his philanthropic output, which involves community reform and finding ways to make it easier to drown out the violence as drives around neighborhoods. These themes and topics make an impact on him due to his aforementioned past.

In between those tracks, Vince Staples incorporates an interlude that defines his being. It’s his mother describing lying on the stand to defend his father and In seeking out the person whom Vince’s father was convicted for attempting to murder. Being called “The Apple & The Tree,” it plays off the metaphor off the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, however, Vince Staples fell and landed straight down. Despite falling onto a path akin to his father, the commendable qualities about them shined more like their focus and degree of loyalty they have for a family in a generalized sense (i.e. other families like his gang mates).

Vince Staples continues the approach Vince has had with his music, as he tries to give more life and depth, lyrically, opposed to sonically. The 22-minute runtime is only a smokescreen for Vince, as it has been a crutch for him to fully envelope his sound with the right jabs at each angle so no page is left unturned. He feels and sounds fully realized on the album, even delivering unique moments where the flex track feels like a member of the arching concept on it. His flex comes across as more humbling. And as it seems, it is a new direction for Vince that carries over the strength of his vocal conduction that hasn’t been heard on a solo project since summertime ‘06.

Vince Staples gives us Vince delivering his most personal work to date in a melancholic and depth-filled album. For some, the album may deter you due to its length and others may be deterred due to the uncanniness of the sound. Though it isn’t uncanny as Vince has been everywhere and on different instrumentals, this subdued direction isn’t anything new. It is an album that is as fresh as they come, especially with the wrought trend going on in hip-hop today and I highly recommend you give it a listen and more than once.

Rating: 9.5 out of 10.

10 Years Later: Kendrick Lamar and The People of Section.80

Section.80’s is a complex album that rarely strays away from these dark and conscious themes. But it isn’t completely wound tightly, sometimes using a few different characters in his generation, taking influence from its effect on their adolescence. These characters have been silhouettes wandering through shadows since the peak of Reaganomics and influencing the broken youth. They contain negatives derived from social-political biases within structured systems, which have shifted the lives of people in poorer communities. At 10 years, Section.80 isn’t talked about as much as his subsequent work, and who knows why that is; however one thing is known, without the critical and audience success of it, maybe Kendrick wouldn’t be where he is now, but he made it as the bridge to give his story a deeper understanding on his follow-up album. 

Before the anticipated release of Section.80 in hip-hop circles, there was a belief this could make or break Kendrick Lamar’s career. We’ve known through his mixtapes that his technical skill was on point and his lyricism had enough equilibrium to keep his name high. What left that doubt was the lack of proof that Kendrick could conceivably create a proper song, or rather a variation that isn’t using rudimentary hip-hop instrumentals. He has never laid out a universally appealing track that can hit various ears and eyes swiftly, no matter the formatted radio. Despite a lack of radio presence he made waves with Section.80‘s only single “HiiiPoWer.”

“HiiiPoWer,” produced by J. Cole, brought the appeal fitting into a trend of the movement era in Hip-Hop, where you were either directing the generation to niche cultural dynamics, whether it was a form of dance or a performance empowering a group that believes in the truth. Though it stands for something more, Kendrick brings this sense of unison within the track, explaining how censorship and oppressive social views can impact aspects of the culture. He mentions how Lauryn Hill and Kurt Cobain were influenced by the industry and music’s overall part of defining aspects of capitalism. As well as breaching into conspiracy-laced thoughts regarding the deaths/murders of black leaders and more. It laid out an idea of where the direction of his album could be – in-depth social criticism.

Topics of social criticism from institutionalism, systematic racism, and more. Kendrick makes note of these structured and stereotypical systems that have been taking back a turn from what could have been progression in what is known today as Reaganomics. He starts this with three tracks that lay a paved path of visuals filled with stuff that has happened to him, based on bias or other means. “F*ck Your Ethnicity,” and “Hol’ Up,” are two of these tracks. The former is fueled with anger and the latter is satirically braggadocios taking jabs at himself through a tinted lens where he is only seen through the color of his skin.

“A.D.H.D.” is the last of these tracks, and the most notable one outside of his anthem “HiiiPoWer.” It could be the unique and slightly infectious chorus line where his pronunciations of words and soft-spoken harmonizations, which is the antithesis of what people thought he needed to do to breakthrough. It would become a silent precursor to the kind of approach his first pop single, “Swimming Pools (Drank) had, never deterring from authenticity. Section.80 was about the bigger picture. The way Reagan and (mostly) republicans attacked the drug trade, mental health, and trickle-down economics laid the way for harsher upbringings for many; specifically those least likely to afford the help. It led to people trickling down into their own vices and losing themselves because of the stresses around. It would be reflected in those times through various mediums.

Reaganomics and actions made by the Reagan administration, for the uninformed, allowed for a free activity market, which made way for a divide based on income imposed by a town or cities distribution of the budget spending. It also lowered taxes on high earners and caused the ripple effect we see today where we see some of the wealthiest people getting tax breaks and more for things meant for the less affluent. The drug trade was also a heavy pivot point as well, where minimalist and innocent possession could have led down an unruly path of mental anguish. It was worse with the way it grew within these impoverished communities and created a new stigma within the way they were policed and more. This is just putting it simply. However, when Kendrick Lamar makes note, on the track “A.D.H.D.” that this woman he is talking to him calls him a crack baby, it brings to light what she meant for people like them who were born in the 80s, which was when the peak of the crack epidemic began to unfurl.

He continues to criticize this on the track “Ronald Reagan Era,” which is a tale of a dystopian Compton, California overrun by gangs in the drug game, during the crack epidemic. But Kendrick weaves his raps/tracks as both a warning to the youth, using fictional characters as a cautionary tale, while also applying a lot to himself and how it reflected on various moments in his life. On other tracks, he uses characters as examples for these cautionary tales.

One of the characters, Keisha, is one of these aforementioned characters who receive a three-part narrative, describing the hardship and tribulations that come from prostituting and waning your confidence for bigger aspirations. His shifts in perspectives and tone, on these tracks, allow for his messages, within the themes, to land with impact. It’s from understanding and hearing the pain with the way their stories play out and the emotions they feel throughout. 

These people have been victims of biased governing and more. For example, in the news, we have heard and seen how poorly structured the education system can be based on demographics. One area could have consistently better establishments and workers in place to keep it functioning with preciseness and swiftness in higher-earning areas, opposed to others. Because of this, it becomes harder for some people to make it to graduation, and afterward, it could be seen, mentally, like it would be easier to push drugs or by other means, like prostitution (in Keisha’s case), or robbery, as opposed to working two to three jobs to make ends meet. Everyone has their path and sometimes they take risky and poor-choice ventures, but the world around them isn’t there to help. This is something Kendrick would later reflect upon himself, on “Poe Mans Dreams,” as he remembers his uncle’s trial and the implied notion that one seems to usually follow a similar path. 

This is taken into account with the lines:

“I used to want to see the penitentiary way after elementary

 Thought it was cool to look the judge in the face when he sentenced me

 Since my uncles was institutionalized

 My intuition had said I was suited for family ties”

– Poe Mans Dreams by Kendrick Lamar

These topics become a prominent part of social criticism from Kendrick Lamar, going as far as putting himself front and center as the personal example of how it can affect one’s psyche for the good or the bad. Some people see a way out, they fail and never have a plan B, but Kendrick has that hunger and he made it possible by standing out on others tracks that breathe confident arrogance, which, based upon what he hears, makes it sound authentic to what he preached and why he can come across like does. And it becomes apparent how long has come since Overly Dedicated with the constructs his songs. He boasts confidence, implying that he’s come to take the throne from the King of Hip-Hop on “Rigamortis.” It takes that arrogance, deriving from motivation, and expressing confidence to be something bigger than he is at that moment. The has the production of this track helps in showing his chameleon-like flows as he raps over a hard jazz orchestration that is not influenced by any hip-hop whatsoever.

This continuation of brilliance comes in other aspects, like the sequencing/transitioning of “Kush & Corinthians” to “Blow My High,” which beautifully contrast each other smoothly. The former focuses on distinguishing the split between morals and the way one easily succumbs to action at the behest of earthly vices. “Blow My High” takes a contrasting approach as Kendrick boasts about trying to live to the highest without anything ruining his flow. While “Kush & Corinthians” focuses on morals and religion, “Blow My High” negates these morals and eventually succumbs to his vices.

The array of lessons imparted through painted themes/stories on the tracks are topics that deserve a discussion. Many of these stories bridge the examples toward the tones and notions Kendrick takes on his subsequent album. It doesn’t matter how one feels about the quality of the song, like “No Make-Up,” whose themes I’ve mentioned loosely previously. We get a sense of who Kendrick Lamar is and what made him who he is, as he delivers an autobiographical tale about his life on Good kid, m.a.a.d. city. 

And at this point, revisiting Section.80 offered a lot more than it did the last time, which was five or so years ago. The music begins to encroach deeper areas, you get a sense of what is being said and how these problems have affected lesser social classes, and how Kendrick had to witness and bear a lot of mental pain trying to figure out his purpose; specifically in the kind of music he made. Before Section.80, Kendrick was just a rapper with crazy technical skills and to a lesser degree songwriting skills, but that grew and we witnessed an artist emerging into his own, July 2nd, 2011. So as you go back and listen to the album after rereading this, you will find a newfound appreciation for seeing him go through trials and tribulations as a songwriter and succeeding.

Tyler, the Creator – Call Me If You Get Lost: Review

Tyler, the Creator has always been fidgety as a producer, showing range in what he makes, despite maintaining detailed and stylistic consistencies. He was always making something different, constantly evolving as an artist and getting better as he shifts focus on what is incorporating, like soul and rock elements. So when the roll-out began for Tyler, the Creator’s new album, Call Me If You Get Lost, my mind got lost in the whimsy from the photo-ops, marketing, and the first single, “LUMBERJACK,” which delivered an example of what was to come upon the album’s release; Tyler recreating a style once forgotten in time, the Gangsta Grillz style. Tyler follows up his last album, Igor, with shades of the past, fully transfixed in a conceptual style made famous by DJ Drama, who elevates his music to new heights and delivers to us Tyler’s best album to date.

DJ Drama’s presence is dynamic throughout the album. His incorporation is to keep the momentum going with the sequences of tracks as a way to reflect hype behind music, sonically created by artists who go a DIY approach. The first half of the album is dominated by tracks that have Tyler, the Creator flexing his own successes and reinforcing that there is no doubt to it. 

With the initial release of “LUMBERJACK” making a statement about the direction Tyler, the Creator would take; it came to a surprise as it felt as a style that only seemed to match with Tyler’s energy. The content of his music and sonic styles he has steered towards prior was opposite to the complexions on this. But Tyler and DJ Drama co-create the atmosphere and refine the direct style Tyler is making, using his energetic charisma and bravado to shower over this album.

This is to no surprise, as Tyler, the Creator’s strength as a producer has shown continuous growth and has become as renowned as a classic Laurence Olivier play from the 50s. This expectancy gives fans a genuine surprise when they hear him create these lavish productions, always different and always new. He can shift from arrogant cues from the noise of the percussion and blaring horns to melodic piano and strings, both of which constantly bring backing power to the vocal harmonization on the more soulful moments, like the broken hearted track, “Sweet/I Thought You Wanted To Dance,” with Brent Faiyaz and Fana Hues; even though it has a slow pace, you never feel like a moment is fully wasted when it ends. 

He switches tempo and BPM in his production, creating these unique contrasts that has allowed him to show his range in sound and technical construction, like the way “RISE!” shifts from an elevated blues-soul chorus to these slightly intense braggadocio rap verses from Tyler; however with these shifts, it shows us a new peak for Tyler that has been culminating throughout the years. He humbles himself and brings an outside voice to add to the production; electronic producer and DJ, Jamie xx, comes to help on the track “RISE!” and with Tyler, incorporates a hollow acoustic ambiance in the percussion within the transitions of the track.

The strengths with Tyler, the Creator and collaborations have shown within the orchestration of the tracks to reflect minimal comfort for the artists he brings as features. He has been able to give a lot of new rappers a platform to shine. He smoothly incorporates them without making it seem glaringly there for sales. This time around he brings Detroit’s 42 Dugg and Louisiana’s YoungBoy NBA on subsequent tracks, “LEMONHEAD,” and “WUSYANAME,” respectively. These two artists bring an A game, compared to what I’ve heard in the past from them. This could be due to them working with someone as meticulous as Tyler, but even so, not every feature lands. “JUGGERNAUT,” featuring Pharell and Lil Uzi Vert, fails to hit the marker as Lil Uzi completely steers you off the beaten path, despite Pharell’s attempts to bring you back in line. It continues to show the off-brand awkwardness that sometimes arises from Lil Uzi Vert rapping a flex-centric verse. 

Other times we hear Tyler, the Creator lamenting on his past and his current stasis as he weighs many aspects of the world around him in contrast to his success. He focuses on topics like his struggles as an artist till the realization that he made it, freedom/travel, amongst others. These tracks start to transpire within the second half of the album, with tracks like “MASSA” and “WILSHIRE,” the former of which contrasts Tyler’s placement in the industry and his rise to prominence. The latter laments on conflicts within a platonic relationship with someone he had feelings for, but that person was seeing a close friend of his and he didn’t want to create a rift. The way Tyler executes these verses as stories let’s his technical ability as a rapper shine and reaffirm his stature amongst others.

Call Me If You Get Lost shows Tyler, the Creator consistent ascension toward greatness as he continues to surprise us with new sounds, album after album. After a slew of great releases that didn’t always come together tightly, Tyler finds an equilibrium that highlights his strengths as an artist in what could be deemed his best work of his career and creating a landmark within generalized nostalgia trends going about these days. 

Rating: 9 out of 10.

YG’s Opus – Still Brazy: 5 Years Later

For many, It’s hard to distinguish an artist’s opus when many one-up the previous work at times – see The Black Album by Jay-Z in comparison to The Blueprint. But at times you see greatness amongst those who keep it close to 100 on their roots, improving on the music you grew with and recorded prior to making it, and elevating to a new level. For west coast rapper YG, it was Still Brazy, which was released five years ago. Still Brazy oozes West Coast Gangster Rap and G-Funk directed within a niche demographic, but universal to the overall love within the hip-hop community. However a lot of his forays into pop and more rounded universal hip-hop sounds have been extremely hit or miss for YG, all the while growing on the charts. And though it hasn’t been the ten-year mark, at five years Still Brazy makes a case for being a bona fide classic.

YG has charted high a fair amount, especially on tracks that incorporate or feature A-list musicians like Drake, Big Sean, and Jeremih, but unless YG is headlining it doesn’t always come across as authentic. YG has made the radio-track his way with the Jeezy and Rich Homie Quan featured, “My N*gga,” and the monstrous “Big Bank,” with Big Sean, Lil Wayne, and Nicki Minaj. These are standouts due to YG orchestration, unlike “Ride Out” from the Fast and Furious series and “Gucci On My” orchestrated by Mike Will Made It and co-featuring Migos and 21 Savage. Ironically, the third single of My Krazy Life, “Who Do You Love?” featuring Drake, didn’t peak high, peaking at 54 on the Hot 100, opposed to “My N*gga” at 19. It shows that star power doesn’t always equate like you’d expect.

However, since the release of Still Brazy YG has been on a minimalist decline with these unique directions he has taken post this album, but he has never shown a decline in his technical and lyrical abilities. Sometimes it feels as if he is trying to commercialize himself to a level by trying to find ways to incorporate artists that don’t mesh with his style and incorporating himself on pop songs like “I Don’t” with Mariah Carey and tracks with G-Eazy and Macklemore. And If I’m being frank, he has shown a lot of misses on the tracks he is featured on, like his basic verse on “Slide,” with H.E.R. What separates this from Still Brazy is the authenticity behind creating music attune to the style reminiscent of a golden age in the 90s.

That is what makes Still Brazy a phenomenal album. It was like this once and a lifetime album where instead of trying to eclipse pop-chart numbers and more, he found a happy medium where he could keep the authentic g-funk sound as a resonating base and elevate his range more on some of his subsequent albums. However, Still Brazy’s inherent focus on the funkadelic and gritty extravagance has made it one of the more unique gangster rap albums of the 2010s. It isn’t completely confined by trying to overlay pop-like and universal glamorization and instead keep it nuanced to the culture of the west coast. And In simple terms, it stays niche to sounds that are isolated to the culture of that area, like Spice-1 from the bay and the Geto Boys chopped and screwed style from Texas. But it’s usually when an artist sticks to being authentic, without a worry of trying to break through the radio waves.

Eventually a single off Still Brazy went on to have a moment in the limelight, without really charting. This track is the politically charged “FDT,” which stands for Fuck Donald Trump. It didn’t commercialize well and went off being a stand alone hit/anthem for four years as the United States suffered through four years of slightly imbecilic command. The monstrous noise it made and the anthem that grew from it only went up as he delivered a remix with G-Eazy and Macklemore together at the initial height of their popularity. It never really steered people toward the album and it suffered in creating hype outside the huge hip-hop community. It stinks because it seems like the general public who knows the song, may only know the words opposed to the rappers who deliver them. Coincidentally it is a bona fide g-funk/political hip-hop anthem, and a good amount of the music is a derivative of g-funk and west coast hip-hop.

This isn’t the album’s only foray into politically and socially charged tracks with it closing strong with tracks “Police Get Away With Murder,” and “Blacks & Browns.” The latter features LA Hispanic rapper SadBoy Loko delivering verses detailing daily discrimination and other occurrences that happen to both the African-American and Hispanic community, going deep from the black on black violence, police bias, and more. It’s finely tuned g-funk production oozes within the crevices of the verses and boosts this track attention grabbing prominence – ten fold.

Outside these tracks mentioned prior, others relate to the life that comes from his gang affiliations and creating complex pictures of the social dynamic that is rooted within the social history of Los Angeles. This gang affiliation has led to things going awry at times, one time of which, he documents on “Who Shot Me?” This track details his thoughts and paranoia after he was shot on his way out of a session at the studio. It breaks down his psyche as he tries to ponder who and why, relating back to relationships with people. Still Brazy doesn’t glorify a lifestyle and instead makes statements by painting a picture, however he does glorify a culture within certain aspects of LA in some of the singles and others in the track list. 

Uniquely the commercialization of Still Brazy is niche and thus has never been able to see a wide range of appeal. As an east coast writer, a lot of the music on hip-hop stations range from the hot commodity in melodic-trap rap and rappers primarily on our side of the coast. When I went to Los Angeles, on their hip-hop stations, they played Kendrick Lamar, Nipsey Hussle, and Anderson. Paak a bit more frequently. So tracks like “Twist My Fingaz,” didn’t have that wide range, but it’s production and infectious agro-fun dance energy makes it sound naturalistic to that culture. 

Further down the line, YG brings a dominating force on both spectrums as a feature in Lil Wayne. And what makes this track interesting is that YG took the opposite approach to what you’d expect. The production and the content of the song – lyrically and tonally – don’t go down the rabbit hole of a banger and instead they deliver a smooth bounce-funk centric track. “Why You Always Hatin’” takes a similar approach, despite being more commercial. It features Drake and Californian rapper Kamaiyah on a track that boasts their prominence and successes, while calling out critics and people who disregard their style and want different and profound pieces of work. 

He redefines a lot of these notions on the standout non-single “Bool, Balm, & Bollective.” He comes across with a nonchalant and chill demeanor about his life and his progression forward as he shrugs off the bullet wounds. His fresh approach makes his internal feeling of too hard to kill more refined and unlike many flex raps we hear today. If only it closed the album it would have been a beautiful crescendo on repurposing a lot of what was expressed. But the cultural consistency of the tracks on Still Brazy elevate this to new levels of nuance that other rappers grasp and make their own, and not many have that sound YG delivers without skipping a beat in authenticity.