May 2017 Album Round Up!

Just like that, Summer’s upon us again! Pretty crazy to think that exactly a year ago today, I was writing about Drake and DJ Khaled’s new single “For Free”. Feels like a fucking decade ago.

If I recall, “For Free” ended up being one of summer sixteen’s core club bangers, as I totally WENT OUT ON A LIMB to predict. What a courageous music writer I am.

And a year later here I am, still pumping out these monthly round ups for an audience that’s expanding at a not-so-exponential rate. But the rapid growth that IS surprising me is how much I love doing this. It’s amazing to me that I can spend so much time working on something that generates zero income and have more and more fun doing it as the months go by. I guess that’s why they call it a passion. And I guess that’s why my parents always told me to “get a real job”.

May was an interesting month. It was really light on the Metal, and a good chunk of this year’s worst music (see below) was released as well. But as always, I found a lot to latch onto, and I hope you’ll enjoy some of these albums as much as I did!

Ether – B.o.B.

Still standing by his early work, I’m always hoping that our favorite Pop-Rap Flat-Earther is going to deliver something great. He’s certainly got it in him, as showcased once again on standouts from this album like the drugged-out banger “Xantastic” or the politically-charged “Peace Piece”, the former a collaboration with Young Thug, and the latter with Big K.R.I.T. (did I mention B.o.B. was versatile as hell?). Unfortunately though, Ether falls apart in the second half with a series of bland tracks that range from half-assed club attempts (“4 Lit”, “Tweakin’”) to excessive melodrama (“Big Kids”). Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

After Laughter – Paramore

Wow! These rockers – led by the feisty Hayley Willliams – have given me, without a doubt, the most pleasant surprise of 2017! On After Laughter, the band completely abandon their Pop-Punk/Pop-Rock fusion for a throwback to ‘80s pop. Like, seriously, the beginning of “Rose-Colored Boy” sounds straight out of Beverly Hills Cop or something. The beautiful twist, though, is how the super pessimistic lyrics sit in stark contrast with these peppy instrumentals. There is so much pain and suffering behind this album…that’s what makes it so compelling. I love the message of a song like “Idle Worship”, where Hayley Williams shies away from being put up on a pedestal just because she’s a famous musician. And the stripped-down ballad “26”? That shit makes me cry. If there’s ONE ALBUM you check out from this month, it should be this one! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

All the Beauty in This Whole Life – Brother Ali

This legendary indie rapper returned from five years of radio silence with what is easily one of the best Hip-Hop albums of the entire year. I can’t remember the last time a rapper made me feel such strong emotions. Lead single “Own Light (What Hearts Are For)” is the ultimate uplifting anthem, while autobiographical cuts like “Pray for Me” and “Out of Here” – the former dealing with Ali’s social struggles as a child born with albinism, the latter with the suicides of his father and grandfather – are heartbreaking. Meanwhile, racially-charged moments like “Dear Black Son” and “Before They Called You White” really make you think. He does it all while still delivering intricate rhymes, and doing so over a set of wonderful instrumentals courtesy of Ant from Atmosphere. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Tremendum – Hate

Despite being dogged by comparisons to their Polish counterparts Behemoth for their entire career, this Blackened Death Metal outfit has always walked a delicate line between the two genres that make up their sound. That is, until they decided to throw us for a loop with THIS ALBUM and go completely Black Metal! I’m not sure what was more of a surprise to me…that they made this ballsy shift in their sound this late into their career, or that it went over so well! I love Hate as a (mostly) Black Metal band. There’s still the Death Metal production, there’s still the blast beats that have their origins in Florida instead of Norway or Scandinavia, but the music is a lot more atmospheric and a lot less riff-driven. Tunes like “Sea of Rubble” really have that Bathory MARCH to them! Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Everybody – Logic

Despite being a fan of this Maryland rapper’s debut album Under Pressure, I will continue to point out how overrated he is. Even though I love his positive energy, his zeal for the genre, and his dedication to his craft, people big him up WAY too much. When you listen closely, his rhymes are pretty basic – he just speeds them up to make them sound complex. The opening scheme of this album is religion/prison/cracker/blacker. I don’t know why people think this guy is so good. Not to mention, his flows are borrowed from all his contemporaries. And this LP specifically is by far Logic’s worst. It’s incredibly corny. Just listen to those ad-libs on the anti-suicide song “1-800-273-8255” (“WHO CAN RELATE?? WOO!”), or the hook on the title track. Which, let’s be clear, the title track is not about being “inclusive” as much as it’s just Logic whining about being biracial. Oh, and Logic can’t sing either. He shouldn’t do that. I like a lot of 6ix’s beats on here though! NOT RECOMMENDED

 Bloom – Machine Gun Kelly

This is the worst piece of shit I have heard all year. “Heard” as in taken semi-seriously – I’m sure there are worse albums out there that I wouldn’t ever bother with. Here were my thoughts on the singles….and it got even worse from there. Listening to this white-washed Pop-Rap garbage is something I will regret until my dying day. I couldn’t even muster up the energy to give it a full review on YouTube. I just wanted it out of my life. I guess I’ll leave you with one somewhat constructive criticism: if there’s one hole that REALLY sinks this ship, it’s MGK’s unnecessary forays into singing on tracks like “Go For Broke”, “At My Best”, “Let You Go”, and the horrific country attempt “Rehab”. NOT RECOMMENDED

Poison the Parish – Seether

Believe it or not, this album actually has some pretty cool moments! The mopey Butt Rock thing doesn’t always sit well with me – the beginning of “Against the Wall”, for example makes me cringe…”I WAS BOOORNNN TO FLLLYYY AWAYYY” – but I think Seether nails down their demographic exceptionally well on here. Tracks like “Betray and Degrade” and “Saviours” have a razor sharp hooks, and are great for a semi-mindless listen while you’re driving. Even though I’m not a “fan” per se, having seen this band and gone through their discography, I’d like to say this is a crowning achievement for them. So maybe give it a listen out of curiosity! RECOMMENDED

 From a Room: Volume 1 – Chris Stapleton

In addition to the new offering from the Zac Brown Band, this was another Country album that I dug this month! This is Stapleton’s follow-up to his hugely acclaimed 2015 solo debut Traveller, and I’ve found his music really easy to get into as, well, not exactly a Country aficionado. Highlights include the bluesy “Them Stems”, the outlaw-tinged “Up to No Good Livin’” (LOVE the slide guitar in that one!), and the spare, intimate ballad “Either Way”. RECOMMENDED

One More Light – Linkin Park

God help us. I tried to be open-minded, I swear. Since I’m not a Linkin Park fan at ALL anymore – even their old stuff hasn’t aged well for me – I actually found it quite easy to go into this Pop crossover attempt with an open mind. But as I explain here (to the tune of over 600 views right now, which is a lot for me!), I found most of this material to be incredibly lightweight, surface level, and trend-hopping all over the place. LP took an L with this one. NOT RECOMMENDED

In a World of Fear – Scale the Summit

One of the most popular instrumental Prog Metal acts on the planet, Scale the Summit have continued to flourish since I saw them open up for Between the Buried and Me back in 2010. I’m so pleasantly surprised that things are working out for them, ‘cause I really wasn’t sure if there was a viable market for what they do. But guitar geeks are a passionate bunch, and they’ll likely eat this album up with all of its stop-start, odd-time rhythms, and impossibly intricate interplay. Unfortunately though, I’m not the right audience for it. A song like “Astral Kids”, despite having so much inventive, virtuosic guitar playing, just sounds like a Berklee School of Music jam room to me. Which isn’t inherently a bad thing! It’s just not what I personally gravitate towards (even as a guitar nerd myself). I still need “hooks” of some kind – and Scale the Summit DID have hooks on early favorites like “The Great Plains” – but there’s just not enough memorable parts on this album to keep me coming back to it for more than the “wow, they can play their asses off!” factor. NOT RECOMMENDED

The World Ablaze – God Dethroned

In a month where Metal felt as scarce as STD-free pussy in a whorehouse, these Dutch veterans delivered a solid slab of no-frills Extreme Metal. This records boasts some pretty memorable riffs (exhibit A: the demonic intro to Thrash/Death Metal hybrid “Annihilation Crusade”), it doesn’t try to be too fancy or experimental, and best of all, its production retains a slightly raw but powerful sound. Modern Death Metal has gotten so fucking pristine and robotic sounding that it drives me nuts , so it was refreshing to hear an LP that was still beautifully mixed but had a little humanness, a little UMPH behind it. RECOMMENDED

T-Wayne – T-Pain & Lil’ Wayne

When T-Pain tweeted – completely out of the blue – that he was releasing a bunch of shelved T-Pain/Lil’ Wayne collabos from 2009, the Internet rightfully lost their shit. “These are lost gems from when the two of them were in their prime!” we all said to ourselves. And whether these eight songs would’ve been ill in 2009, we’ll never know, but in 2017, I’m not into it at all. The first unpleasant surprise is that T-Pain raps a bunch on here – his flow on the Willy Wonka-sampling “Listen to Me” is clunky as hell. The second unpleasant surprise is that the wackest bar of Lil’ Wayne’s career was actually recorded in 2009, during his supposed prime. Who knew? But the line “She was like Damn Damn Damn ‘cause I hit her with the wham wham wham” is certainly something special. NOT RECOMMENDED

A FEW MORE:

LIKE:

You’re Welcome – Wavves

Neva Left – Snoop Dogg

This Old Dog – Mac DeMarco

Welcome Home – Zac Brown Band

DON’T LIKE:

Crooked Teeth – Papa Roach

Louder Harder Faster – Warrant

Revelation – Oceano

 

 

Thoughts On Meek Mill vs. Drake

You don’t shit where you eat.

On April 30th of last year, in a tweet that has since been retweeted 29,789 times and favorited 27,229 times, feminine hip hop mastermind Drizzy Drake made the following known regarding his well-respected but less-successful peer Meek Mill: “Dreams and Nightmares Intro really one of the best rap moments of our generation”.

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Over a year later, here we are in 2015, our attention span even shorter and planet Earth a few degrees warmer. After lending a hand to one of Meek Mill’s first smashes, “Amen”, in 2012, as well as numerous public praises of the rapper since, Drake drops another set of guest bars on “R.I.C.O.”, a standout track on Meek’s star-studded sophomore album, Dreams Worth More Than Money.

First, let’s get one thing straight. Drake’s feature on “R.I.C.O.” is a favor. Plain and simple. One of the most prominent entertainers worldwide, Drake’s guest appearance does nothing to boost his profile, and he very likely makes exponentially more money on ONE SHOW than he made on a feature for Meek Mill.

But alas, another career has been ruined by yet another mouth that refused to stay shut on social media. Salty that Drake hadn’t tweeted out his album, Meek Mill accused Drake of using a ghostwriter on “R.I.C.O.”, prompting Drake to release two diss tracks in response: “Charged Up”, and the knockout “Back to Back”. And yeah, Meek may or may not have responded later with his own track. But I prefer to end the narrative there.

The ethics of ghostwriting in hip-hop are another discussion entirely. But here are my 2 cents on the beef:

The blueprint (pun intended) for hip-hop beef is, and will always be, Jay-Z vs. Nas. Though it did escalate into a bit of street talk, the two legendary emcees kept it one hundred percent hip-hop, blessing fans with two of the best diss tracks ever recorded in “Takeover” and “Ether” (honorable mentions to “Supa Ugly” and “Last Real N*gga Alive” too). Regardless of whom you deem the victor, Jay-Z and Nas both brought BARS. For Meek Mill, it’s been clearly established that it was stupid of him to come at Drake. But if he was going to fully commit to this obvious publicity stunt, AT LEAST do it on wax. Jesus fucking Christ. If you’re an MC questioning another MC’s lyricism, fucking do it to him lyrically in however many bars you need to get your point across. Don’t call him out by writing 140 characters on the same website that Anthony Weiner was using to send pictures of his nutsack.

Quite possibly the most pathetic aspect of this whole thing is that it is allegedly over Drake not tweeting out Meek’s album. Here you are, an authentic street rapper squaring off against an artist who is relentlessly mocked for being feminine and sensitive (“Drake’s the type…” ring a bell?), and by some miraculous shift in the universe, you come off as the bigger bitch. I think Drake said it best himself in “Back to Back”: “you getting bodied by a singing n*gga”.

But more regarding the Jay-Z vs. Nas comparison. After Drake premiered the lukewarm “Charged Up” last Saturday, Meek had an ENORMOUS opening. “Charged Up” was more of a light jab. It immediately brought Jay-Z’s “Takeover” to mind, which while vicious, was more of a taunt, prompting Nas to up the ante with “Ether”, some of the most scathing bars ever laid down. Jay stood in the ring holding the belt, and Nas ran in and started throwing punches. But with last Wednesday’s superb, career-defining follow-up diss “Back to Back”, Drake had now managed to release his “Takeover” AND his “Ether”, to continue the comparison. We won’t even mention Meek’s “response”, because I already have a vicious hangover and don’t need any added depression.

The fallout from last week is perhaps the most intriguing part of the narrative. Since the battle came to its unanimous conclusion, I have attempted to listen to Meek Mill (Dreamchasers 2, one of my all-time favorite mixtapes, to be specific), and it is a completely different experience now. It is more difficult to take him serious. The same bars now sound weaker, the same hooks now sound cheesier, and as my mind begins to wander, the internal volume of “Back to Back” begins to eclipse Meek’s voice altogether.

On the other hand, aside from some of Take Care, I have been an extremely vocal Drake hater since Wayne first signed him. While acknowledging his talent, I’ve poured just as much energy into hating on him as I have into praising Kendrick Lamar. Yet after “Back to Back”, here I am re-downloading So Far Gone, and giving it the second chance I never thought I would.

Let this be a lesson, Before all you hyper-sensitive MCs think about going all middle school on us, take a good hard look at Jay-Z and Nas. If you’re not willing to contribute to the culture and make a “Takeover” or an “Ether”, stay the fuck out of the ring.