Lupe Fiasco’s “DROGAS Light”: Four Singles Deep

As I mentioned in my last post, next month Alleged Jew-Hater-Turned-Rap-Retiree Lupe Fiasco will be dropping a follow-up to 2015’s highly acclaimed Tetsuo & Youth, rumors and click bait be damned. A fan of Lupe’s for almost a decade, I’m as excited as I am curious to check out and review the LP, titled DROGAS Light, out February 10th. And in the past couple weeks, Lupe has now unchained more than a quarter of the 14-song tracklist for our listening pleasure via Apple Music, Spotify, and YouTube.

I almost fucking missed it. I WOULD’VE fucking missed it, actually, if I hadn’t noticed “Jump” make an appearance on Apple Music’s “hot tracks” list. And so I immediately diverted my attention (from reviewing Sepultura’s Machine Messiah – coming this week on my YouTube channel) and JUMPED in, horrible pun intended.

Made in the USA (feat. Bianca Sings)

Production-wise the most “stereotypical mainstream Hip-Hop” of these tracks (possibly on purpose), “Made in the USA” might be the most energetic I’ve ever heard Lupe on a track. Lupe’s delivery is always sleek and graceful, even when the subject matter gets intense. But here, he’s fucking hype. It is tongue-and-check? Probably, because as long time fans will likely recognize, he spits these lyrics with a familiar politically-charged facetiousness – one can only assume he’s not actually that proud to be an American right now. Especially since him and Colonel Sanders aren’t on such good terms– he mentions that “KFC is trying to kill me”, and whenever a fast food chain is coming for your head, you’ve seen better days. Kidding aside, “Made in the USA” is a confusing listen in the way that a track like “Bitch Bad” is – it SOUNDS like a banger, but ‘cause Lupe clearly wants you to dig deeper, you practically feel guilty enjoying it at a surface level. And that’s why this is my least favorite of the four songs.

 Jump (feat. Gizzle)

“Jump” – which, given its lack of an impactful hook, is surprisingly the most popular of the bunch – is partially cut from the “A Milli” cloth: rapidly repeated vocal sample, booming bassline, and lots of space for stream-of-consciousness bars. But it’s actually a story track, and if you follow along, it gets pretty damn weird – the protagonist and his new female companion get abducted by aliens, and she (“she” meaning lesbian fem-C Gizzle, who has written for TONS of big name rappers) talks about sampling some…alien pussy. But it’s entertaining through and through, and I like it a lot. Is there some symbolism behind the female character in the story, or maybe the entire plot itself? I’m sure there is, but I’ll leave it to the more pretentious listeners to sort that out.

Pick up the Phone

Listening to this track, I can’t help but wonder if it would’ve boosted the success of Lupe’s heavily criticized third LP Lasers, his detour into Pop-Rap. In a way, this one’s got all the elements of a formulaic Pop chorus – acoustic guitars, simple radio-friendly chord progression, easily digestible vocal melody courtesy of Sebastian Lundberg, and some strings to add a tinge of drama. But the difference is it’s good. Really good, actually. By his standards, Lupe’s lyrics might be a tad disposable, but he flows in a way that’s friendly to Hip-Hop fans and mainstream listeners alike. We’ll see if this one can cross over. Also, the intro to the beat is reminiscent of “Superstar”, so it’s got that going for it.

Wild Child (feat. Jake Torrey)

Like “Pick Up the Phone”, “Wild Child” is another poppy affair, venturing even further in that direction. I’ll say this much: if the God damn radio doesn’t pick up on this song, I might hurt someone. Or have a stroke. Or hurt someone, then have a stroke. It’s so fucking catchy. “Wild Child” not only has a lot going for it musically – perky guitars, spunky bass lines, and a danceable, swinging groove in the chorus – it exudes a beautifully carefree vibe, and “carefree” is not a word you can use to describe ANY of Lupe’s music, really. Sure, the song’s Summer-y vibes might not fit the current mid-January climate, but who cares! I’m looking forward to having this as a sleeper song for pregames when girls are around.

June 2016 Album Round Up!

What a month June was. The back end of the month saw me frantically putting together my Mid-Year Album Lists (check my YouTube channel for the video versions or check back with this blog in the next few days), and the month of June itself spawned five releases that ended up beating out albums I’ve been living with for months! Garbage, Gojira, Nails, Apathy, and Be’Lakor all wound up on my Mid-Year lists! June couldn’t have ever topped May, but it was an excellent month for new music! Here are my thoughts on ten albums that dropped:

Seal the Deal & Let’s Boogie – Volbeat

Unfortunately, it is no easy feat to follow up a pair of excellent LPs (2010’s Beyond Hell/Above Heaven and 2013’s Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies) that blurred the lines between Rock and Metal and nudged both genres forward in the process. Alas, the Danes have returned from half a decade of triumphs with something less exciting and more repetitive. But Volbeat retracing their steps still entails a solid helping of fun, catchy, immediately satisfying Rock songs. I especially dug “The Bliss”, the title cut, and the closing duo of tracks, “You Will Know” and “The Loa’s Crossroad”. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Why Are You OK – Band of Horses

When I sit and consider some of my favorite Alternative music that has ever been made, Band of Horses’ third LP Infinite Arms almost always springs to mind. It’s just a special record for me. Thus it’s a high water mark I can forgive them for failing to reach again on album number five, which otherwise performs as advertised.As Band of Horses continue to execute on their winning formula, much of these tracks wash over you with waves of mellow, calmly reassuring musical passages that occasionally pick up their pace and crunchiness, but still retain that same good-natured vibe. Standouts include beautiful ballads like “Hag”, “Lying Under Oak”, and lead single “Whatever, Wherever”, as well as the bouncy boardwalk soundtrack “Solemn Oath”. Overall, Why Are You OK is not necessarily the type of music that invokes an impassioned response in either direction . It’s pleasant, it’s unassuming, and if it were playing in my childhood home, my mom would walk by and go, “oh, that’s a nice song”. You can flip that evaluation to mean something positive or something negative. I definitely choose positive. RECOMMENDED

The Human Condition – Jon Bellion

Jon Bellion’s debut LP has got to be one of the highest anticipated releases of the summer. His mixtape buzz has been years in the making, and he’s already built quite a loyal fanbase for himself through both his Visionary Music Group affiliation and his ties to several gargantuan hits like Zedd’s “Beautiful Now” and Eminem’s “The Monster” (he co-wrote the latter). The Human Condition, the end result of all this hype, is enjoyable and well-thought out, but pretty spotty. It’s tough for me to sit through sappy, well-worn Pop terrain like “Fashion” or the One Republic knock-off “Maybe IDK” in order to get to tracks I dig like the rap-heavy “New York Soul, Pt. ii”. Nevertheless, these 14 songs have more successes than failures – not to mention these lyrical themes are so millennial-centric – so it gets overall approval from me. RECOMMENDED

Magma – Gojira

With Magma, these French extreme metal masters made the mainstream-ish gateway album that they only hinted at on 2012’s L’Enfant Sauvage. And guess what?? They’re just as convincing playing concise and simple music as they are being epic and long-winded. In fact, borderline Hard Rock track “Stranded” is potentially my favorite! Magma might be slightly flawed and not completely live up to the masterful trio of LPs that came before it, but that’s like saying Megadeth’s awesome Countdown to Extinction doesn’t live up to Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying? or Rust in Peace. One of the best Metal albums of the year thus far. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Rude Awakening – Wiz Khalifa, Juicy J, & TM88

I should’ve learned from Collegrove (this past March’s collaborative mixtape between 2 Chainz and Lil’ Wayne). I suppose I didn’t. But at least Collegrove carried with it the possibility of hearing an occasional flash of brilliance from Wayne reminiscent of his mid-00s mixtape run. Rude Awakening, however, is a different story. I could almost feel the neural pathways in my brain writhing in agony as I got clobbered with one rudimentary turn-up rhyme after another. On the track “All Night”, Wiz Khalifa actually says “I got bars like a jail”, making other lines like “Don’t SnapChat me that pussy, I want it for real” sound like Langston Hughes. Avoid this thing at all costs. NOT RECOMMENDED

Strange Little Birds – Garbage

I got into these beloved ‘90s alt heroes (specifically their self-titled debut) JUST in time for Strange Little Birds, their sixth LP overall. Admittedly, I’m riding a bit of a “discovery high” so check back in with me in a few months, but Strange Little Birds is fucking awesome. It manages to fit in with its modern contemporaries and avoid sounding derivative, yet it successfully recalls greatness of two decades ago. “Blackout”, ripping lead single “Empty”, and “Teaching Little Fingers to Play” – the latter which gracefully addresses growing pains – are among my favorites, but all 11 tracks hit their mark. More thoughts in this video. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Handshakes with Snakes – Apathy

Words can’t express what this album means to an old-school Hip Hop head like myself. Handshakes with Snakes is Apathy’s 5th studio album, but the CT veteran’s copious releases are well into the double digits. What we get on this LP is knocking, boom-bap production and thoughtful, lyrically complex bars. A song like “Pay Your Dues”, with a sweet Phil Collins sample, finds Ap railing against entitled, unoriginal new rappers, telling them “you can’t win wars if you ain’t swung swords” and reaffirming his commitment to the craft: “what’s love? Studying Illmatic like the Bible.” “Rap Is Not Pop” is another killer cut, with the MC boldly claiming he’s “Too Kool G Rap for these new school cats.” I’d fucking agree. There’s even a reference to Big L’s “H-E-double hockey sticks line” on “Blow Ya Head Off”. You can’t miss if you’re a fan of gritty 90s Hip-Hop, and for me, this is a contender for indie Rap album of the year so far. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Unden!able – Hellyeah

This Metal supergroup began their career with three albums in a row full of cookie cutter, throwaway Groove Metal and lyrics that made Fred Durst and Five Finger Death Punch’s Ivan Moody seem tolerable. Occasionally a song would find its way onto my work out playlist, but I was not a fan. Their fourth LP, 2014’s Blood for Blood, was a noticeable uptick in production and songwriting, with a decent chunk of the corny cut out, but I still wasn’t convinced. Unden!able is an ever-so-slight improvement on Blood for Blood, weighed down by several cringeworthy moments but featuring Active Rock radio slam dunks “Human”, “Leap of Faith”, “X”, and the soaring ballad “Love Falls”, which are juuust enough to tip it over the edge for me. That being said, every now and then I give something the benefit of the doubt and regret it later, and it remains to be seen if Unden!able fits that narrative. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

You Will Never Be One of Us – Nails

 The third record from Nails is a fucking exhilarating listen. Before the sludgy eight-minute closer “They Come Crawling Back”, it’s 14 minutes of pummeling Powerviolence/Grindcore/Thrash Metal/Death Metal combos that leave the listener gasping for air. The guitar tone is absurdly heavy, yet the production doesn’t muddy up any riffs or grooves. If you like music that inspires you to grab the cutest baby and just start violently shaking it, this is for you. Personally, it made my Metal Mid-Year List. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Still Brazy – YG

I just don’t see it guys. The hype behind YG’s follow-up to his breakout My Krazy Life album isn’t warranted to me. It’s definitely an improvement on that LP, but it’s not the West Coast Hip-Hop landmark that people are making it out to be. Sure, there’s some menacing bravado on “Don’t Come to LA”, and “Gimmie Got Shot” is a satisfying conceptual listen about mooching, but there’s nothing spectacular. But a track like “Bool, Balm, and Bollective” has such an unimaginative hook, and “Why You Always Hatin’” finds YG getting bodied by a singin’ nigga (Drake shows up for a feature and up-stages him). The best thing about this record is the production – “I Got a Question”, for instance, has to be one of the more interesting combination of sounds I’ve heard this year. The 1500 or Nothin’ beat sounds like DJ Mustard meets “Nuthin’ but a G Thang” meets a laser gun from an arcade game. It’s definitely not a BAD album, but it’s pretty good at best, and to my ears, it’s fairly non-essential. NOT RECOMMENDED

February 2016 Album Round Up!

We’re just over two months into 2016, and we’ve already – somewhat surprisingly – been blessed with a ton of exciting releases in the midst of typically low-key winter months. When this calendar year is in the books, will we be looking back at January and February as the peak of 2016? Pretty unlikely. But I still feel like I’ve had a fairly reliable, steady stream of high-profile albums to look forward to (some delivered, some did not). And yes, Kanye dropped. But I’m fucking determined to go as long as I possibly can without hearing it. Not for lack of interest either. Just ‘cause. Anyway, here’s a quick recap of nine albums NOT named The Life of Pablo that I spent some time with this past month. Looking forward to what March has in store!

Khalifa – Wiz Khalifa

In the first project of his I’ve enjoyed since 2011’s smash hit Rolling Papers, Wiz dropped some…well, smoking and drinking music. The production and hooks are significantly more effective – to my ears, at least – than O.N.I.F.C. and Blacc Hollywood (save those two albums’ singles). If you’re looking for great lyricism, steer clear, but I definitely found myself coming back to this record quite a bit for some day drinking and pregaming, especially two exceptional, Kush & OJ-style tracks, “Zoney” and “Elevated”. RECOMMENDED

For All Kings – Anthrax

Welcome back Anthrax! About ten listens in, I’ve evaluated For All Kings as “dangerously close” to the Thrash mastery of 2011’s Worship Music. The difference is really just a filler track or two. But the middle chunk of this record is some of the best Anthrax music I’ve ever laid ears on. Joey Belladonna gets the MVP. My full review is available here. YouTube review here. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Day One – From Ashes to New

This studio debut from Lancaster, PA outfit From Ashes to New made me want to vomit. They’re like an even more cheesed-up version of Twenty One Pilots meets Crown the Empire. I appreciate what they’re trying to do, but it just made me cringe. This guy Matt Brandyberry sounds like an even more melodramatic Mike Shinoda when he utters (well, raps) the words: “I lay awake and look at the ceiling and wonder why/I’m so afraid to face all these feelings and want to die”. And that dubstep-y breakdown? Fuck outta here wit dat. Not to mention the clean vocalist sounds fucking IDENTICAL to the guy on Escape the Fate’s self-titled album. I mean, is Day One heavy and appropriately angsty? Passionate even? Sure. And it’ll dominate with the Hot Topic crowd. But holy fuck is it not for me. NOT RECOMMENDED

Sittin’ Heavy – Monster Truck

Simply put, this band’s sophomore effort is the best fucking throwback hard rock record I’ve heard since perhaps Kyng’s Burn the Serum. It’s all there: it’s energetic, passionate, and wholeheartedly convincing. Fans of ‘70s and early ‘80s Rock should check it out immediately! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

This Unruly Mess I’ve Made – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

This one certainly hurt. Macklemore is someone I really root for, if not always for his talent but for his passion, honesty, humility, and sometimes ruthless self-awareness. The Language of My World is phenomenal, The Heist is a near-classic, but Mess, his second with Ryan Lewis, is a huge disappointment. Save a few shining moments (“Light Tunnels”, “Kevin”, and the must-listen “Need of Know”) this thing is all over the place in a BAD way this time. My full review is available here. NOT RECOMMENDED

I Like it When You Sleep – The 1975

Ok, LP number two for these guys, who seem utterly ubiquitous at the moment. I am absolutely in love with the tracks “This Must Be My Dream” and “Somebody Else”. On the latter, those snare drums with the 80s-style reverb are borderline euphoric. While we’re on the topic of the 80s, the standout “She’s American” could’ve squeezed right into an early Huey Lewis and the News disc. But we didn’t need 17 frickin’ songs here. “UGH!” kind of drags in the wake of hit single “Love Me”, and are BOTH “If I Believe You” and “Please Be Naked” necessary when the title track brings all the dynamics this album needs? Still, at a bare minimum this is a wonderful soundtrack to a night drive in the city. Though I tend to think it offers a whole lot more. And yes, I do think Matt Healy eerily resembles Patrick Stump at times. But we’ll agree to disagree. RECOMMENDED

Victorious – Wolfmother

Ugh. This record has one of the strangest dichotomies in any track listing I’ve ever encountered. The first 5 songs are excellent and on par with some of the best moments on Wolfmother’s debut, and the second 5 songs are pure throwaway filler garbage. “Uneven” is an understatement. My full review is available here. NOT RECOMMENDED

X (No Absolutes) – Prong

Album number 11 for Prong – but their 10th of original material – wastes no time with opener “Ultimate Authority”, some excellent Crossover Thrash which would be right at home on a classic like Cleansing (although I know mentioning that record is understandably played out). I love the dissonant yet super-catchy riff in “Without Words” (and, for that matter, “Soul Sickness”) X (No Absolutes) has an impeccable combination of melody and heaviness that all these scream/sing Metalcore bands can only dream about. It stays completely true to the Prong aesthetic, and it’s a set that is sure to devastate in the live environment. I have yet to catch these legends live, so I’m hoping to get the chance on the cycle for X. RECOMMENDED

Dead Dawn – Entombed A.D.

Dead Dawn (Deicide anybody?) is the second album from Entombed 2.0 since the legendary band’s legal battles and break up. One of Entombed’s distinct qualities is how much more groove-oriented they are than the majority of Death Metal, showcased in the title track, and they’re not afraid to get downright melodic, like in that song’s bridge, which sounds like something Arch Enemy would do.There’s nothing in these ten tracks that’ll blow your mind, but there’s some certainly some heavy-ass (surprisingly fun) metal! I’m especially a fan of “Down to Mars to Ride” and the dynamic “Hubris Fall” And it’s still really not THAT far off from Left Hand Path, so there’s that. RECOMMENDED

 

 

B.o.B. – Psycadelik Thoughtz Review

As much as he is ignored in the post-Control “best of the new school” conversation (let the following bars from “Ready” explain: all I hear is that boy pop/all I hear is that boy not top five on any list), B.o.B. has crossed an increasingly rare threshold in the hip-hop industry – he is three major label releases in. I don’t think people quite grasp the consistent hit-making ability needed to remain on a major label as a hip-hop artist. The 26-year-old Atlanta MC has enjoyed a whopping fourteen Billboard Top 100 singles in just a five-year span. The indie D.I.Y. route has certainly become the preferred strategy for a majority of hip-hop, but B.o.B. has been one of the select few to work the major label situation to his advantage.

After a smash debut in 2010, he returned in 2012 with the eclectic Strange Clouds, which showcased – to my ears at least – a mastery of pop-rap and an impressive versatility, but alas, hip hop wasn’t impressed, and B.o.B. caved to her demands with 2013’s soulless, undercooked crowd-pleaser Underground Luxury, placing him in an interesting junction in his career. With an open invitation to the pop charts, B.o.B. could likely survive making Underground Luxury-type music for the foreseeable future, or he could return to the rock-influenced, pop-rap A.D.D. that has endeared him to so many.

Last November, he pleasantly surprised me with the more contemplative and confrontational New Black mixtape, a mature yet angst-y project in which he directly and unapologetically addresses cultural issues, reigniting my support and faith in him as an artist. Nine months later, he has Beyonce’d his fans with Psycadelik Thoughtz, an album out of nowhere to hold everybody over until his proper fourth studio album. The casual release of the project certainly gave me an expectation that it would showcase a more organic and less over-thought B.o.B., and I was right.

On Psycadelik Thoughtz, B.o.B. sounds completely uninhibited, unaware of label pressures or slags from purists. Guitars have the biggest presence they have had on a B.o.B. project to date. Clean electric chords fill out “Hourglass” nicely, an irresistible track that finds B.o.B. playfully mocking male pickup lines amidst otherwise standard chaveunist rhymes. Also notable is the indie-influenced “Violet Vibrato”, which is given a lead guitar sendoff reminiscent of 70’s rock.

B.o.B. has also never been afraid to sing, but he completely lets loose on these eleven tracks and has never sounded more convincing. “Plain Jane”, a track dealing with feminine body shaming, is given a serious boost by intricate vocal harmonies. Preceding track “Back and Forth”, meanwhile, is begging for radio play. The tune’s unapologetic funk bounce may generate yet another monster hit, though it is ultimately up to the masses. My only question – what the hell is the “electric slide”? Will some drunk girl be asking me to do the electric slide at my next sweaty basement party?

Bobby Ray also thankfully avoids hip hop’s worst cliché, the overused female vocalist, so when Sevyn Streeter finally appears on track ten, “Love Life”, it works. In the song’s last verse, he successfully employs the trademark Drake technique of alternating between singing and rapping mid-flow. On album closer “Have Nots”, he blends anthemic, Imagine Dragons-style stadium rock with a quick-paced flow that calls Big Boi to mind.

Psycadelik Thoughtz contains almost none of the dexterous lyricism B.o.B. occasionally displays (for evidence please see his guest spot on Tech N9ne’s “Am I a Psycho?”…you motherfuckers, I’m so sick of having to explain that B.o.B. can hold his own lyrically). But Psycadelik Thoughtz shows such a dedication to great songs that it doesn’t matter in this case. B.o.B. continues to reinvent himself, and these eleven tracks carve a surprisingly fresh space in the world of crossover urban music. It’s different, yet tuneful. It’s funky, yet soulful. I highly recommend Psycadelik Thoughtz to any pop or mainstream rap fan. B.o.B. has once again stepped out of his comfort zone and reminded listeners that he is a formidable, ambitious artist. I am anxiously awaiting album number four.