January 2018 Album Round Up!

Happy Super Bowl Sunday everyone! One of my favorite days of the entire year…

Not because of the game itself, mind you – but because Football finally fucking ends.

I didn’t like the sport when I was eight years old and refusing to drink the peewee football Kool-Aid, and I like it even less now as a grown man who has literally lost touch with friends because I won’t play fantasy football. So once this game comes and goes, it’ll be nice to not have to hear about Tom Brady for the next six months. That being said, I AM looking forward to JT’s halftime performance!

In other news, I just hit 500 subscribers on my YouTube channel which I’m incredibly psyched about! If you’re one of those 500 people, thank you so much! It means the world to me to have your support. And wait ‘til you see what I have in store for the channel this year! I have never been more inspired or motivated.

Music-wise, I’d say 2018 is off to a pretty solid start. Hip-Hop seems to be lagging behind a bit (I’m looking at YOU, Migos), but we’ve still got 11 months for it to catch up. And I’m sure it will. Looking at my ever-expanding “2018 Album Releases” spreadsheet on my desktop, I see zero reason why this year can’t be something special.

Ok, rant over. Here’s everything I’ve been listening to since my New Year’s hangover finally subsided:

Camila – Camila Cabello

 Since she turned Fifth Harmony into Fourth Harmony in 2016 by exiting the group to pursue her solo career, Camila Cabello has been on a seemingly unstoppable trajectory to superstardom. And her chart-topping debut not only confirms her commercial might, but also hints at some genuine artistic potential. The acoustic-driven “Real Friends” is a thoughtful meditation on fame and the superficial relationships that spring from it. By contrast, “In the Dark” explores the dynamics of celebrity romance, and how public figures often struggle to open up in their private lives. Then there’s the rousing dancehall number “She Loves Control”, which brings with it a production assist from Skrillex. And of course, singles “Havana” and “Never Be the Same” are already bonafide hits, and my prediction is that at least two more smashes from this track list will followI was pleasantly surprised by this LP and was really glad I gave it a chance. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Catharsis – Machine Head

 Likely to be one of the most heavily debated Metal records of the entire year, Machine Head’s divisive ninth record is definitely messy. Listening to Catharsis, you’ll get a barrage of questionable lyrics, more than your fair share of guitar riffs that fall flat, and you’ll endure some head-scratching stylistic “adventures”. But Catharsis also reminded me of one of the most important principles I live by as a music fan: NEVER make a snap judgment on anything. ‘Cause once I lived with this album for a few days, I came to find that there was a lot to enjoy on it too, from the anthemic title track to the menacing “Heavy Lies the Crown” to the succinct but powerful “Kaleidoscope”. And I decided that – by a thin margin, mind you – the positives outweigh the negatives with this one. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Dark Horse – Devin Dawson

If I had to pick an album of the month, here it is. Country artist Devin Dawson’s debut release immediately impresses with in its delicate balance of Country and Pop on songs like “I Can’t Trust Myself” and the Hot 100 hit “All On Me”. But Dawson also works in rock music (“Prison”), heartland sounds (“Placebo”), and Alternative singer-songwriter-isms (“Symptoms”) into these twang-y arrangements. My favorite thing about the LP, however, is Dawson’s ability to put together super relatable concept-driven lyrics: see his unique break-up song angle on “Secondhand Hurt”, his colorful depiction of a bitter ex on “War Paint”, or the passionate– if socially apathetic – lover who narrates “I Don’t Care Who Sees”. Definitely an artist to watch! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Mania – Fall Out Boy

 Despite the rest of the world leading me to believe this would be the worst thing I would ever hear, Fall Out Boy’s polarizing seventh LP really isn’t that bad. Sure, the opening track and lead single “Young and Menace” is a dud – a clunky, ill-advised EDM attempt. And yes, “Sunshine Riptide” could’ve done without that forced collaboration with Nigerian Reggae artist Burna Boy. But amongst these underwhelming ditties are standouts like “Bishops Knife Trick”, the stadium-ready ballad that closes the album out, as well as the high-energy, ultra-quotable “Last of the Real Ones”, and even the Tropical House experiment that is “Hold Me Tight or Don’t”. So while I wouldn’t necessarily hold this album in high esteem, it’s not an absolute TRAGEDY either – it’s more or less just somewhere in the middle. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

Vale – Black Veil Brides

Almost eight years ago now, I checked out Black Veil Brides’ super-hyped debut album We Stitch These Wounds and quickly wrote it off as – at best – Bullet For My Valentine-lite. Then, the band got bigger and bigger and bigger. They notched three straight top ten albums, they were getting booked on major tours supporting the likes of Avenged Sevenfold, Motley Crue, and Slash, and they had apparently changed their sound into something a bit more “Rock-oriented”. So, with album number five here, I decided to give them a chance. And, I regret it. The lyrics – consisting of lines like “shout it from the tallest building”, the usage of the dreaded “fade away” cliche in a handful of songs, and worst of all, a steady stream of filler “woah oh’s” the other 20 percent of the time – are horribly corny. And the music? It’s nothing to write home about. The band oversaturate every song with Avenged Sevenfold-lite guitar harmonies, make every chorus excessively dramatic, and bring only one genuinely heavy riff on the whole LP (“My Vow”). Glad I satisfied my curiosity I suppose, but I’ll pass. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

Grimmest Hits – Black Label Society

Yikes. Maybe it’s me….it could very well be me. After all, a lot about my tastes has changed since the last record I dove into from the Zakk Wylde-fronted hard rockers (2010’s Order of the Black). But, man. I found Grimmest Hits to be excruciatingly boring. And ironically, doesn’t BLS have a song called “Bored to Tears” in their back catalogue? Well, they understand how I feel then. The recycled riffs don’t excite me, the vocals often sound uninspired (see verse one of “The Betrayal”), and the muddy mix doesn’t help matters either. Sounds like Zakk and the boys need to tweak their formula the next time around. Or maybe Zakk should just make Book of Shadows III instead. NOT RECOMMENDED

P2 – Dave East

With his acute sense of Golden Age lyricism, strong emphasis on narrative-focused rhymes, and gritty authenticity, Harlem MC Dave East has been one of the up-and-comers in Hip-Hop that I’ve most been rooting for these past couple years. Unfortunately, last year’s PARANOIA: A TRUE STORY project left me slightly disappointed with its lack of focus and a bit of filler. But the good news? P2 is East in tip-top form. Whether he’s paying homage to his inspirations on “What Made Me”, or holding his own in a toe-to-toe bar fest with Lloyd Banks on “Violent”, or telling blood-soaked hood tales in late-90s Nas fashion on “I Found Keisha”, the dude impresses me every step of the way. This is the first great Hip-Hop release I’ve heard in 2018 thus far. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

No Cross No Crown – Corrosion of Conformity

 Take notes, Black Label Society. This is some sludgy, southern-tinged Hard Rock that manages to be dirty, mean, and melodic all at the same time. Reunited with classic-era frontman Pepper Keenan, the band rip through groovy Sabbath-isms like “Luddite” and stomping rockers like “Forgive Me” with remarkable ease. And the moody title cut was also a highlight for me – it added a different flavor to this track list. While it may run a shade too long and not quite match up with early C.o.C. gems like 1994’s Deliverance, No Cross No Crown definitely does the trick. RECOMMENDED

A FEW MORE:

LIKE:

Avatar Country – Avatar

Infernal Overdrive – White Wizzard

Ephorize – CupcakKe

Collateral – Phillip Phillips

King Chop 2 – Young Chop

Life of a Dark Rose – Lil’ Skies

Common Ground – Above and Beyond

DON’T LIKE:

Wrong Creatures – Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

Sign of the Dragonhead – Leaves Eyes

Underworld – Tonight Alive

For My Fans – Fetty Wap

Defy – Of Mice & Men

Choosing Mental Illness as a Virtue – Philip H. Anselmo & the Illegals

Culture II – Migos

 

 

Top 10 Hip-Hop Albums of 2017

Happy holidays everyone!

Oh wait, we’re like a year into the whole “Donald Trump is president” thing. My bad.

In one of the most hilariously ridiculous speeches of his presidency thus far – bold statement, I know – Donald Trump made a promise that as a nation, we’re all gonna go back to saying “Merry Christmas” like we did before things got all politically correct. “Times have changed, but we’re changing them back,” he insisted. It reminded me of that infamous Jason Kidd speech where he said “we’re gonna turn this team around 360 degrees”.

Not surprisingly, Donald Trump talking all bigly about his yuuuuge plans for this great nation didn’t at all sway my December rhetoric. I did what I do every year – I wished an awkward mix of “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays”, depending on what kind of mood I was in, who was around, and how Christian-y the vibe was.

Joking aside, whatever Winter holiday you and your family celebrate – whether it’s Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or one of those Pagan things – I hope you find joy, laughter, relaxation, and, of course, good food in the company of your loved ones, and I hope you head into 2018 with the wide-eyed optimism of a six-year-old boy.

Anyway, for my first of FIVE 2017 year-end lists – you’re gonna head over to my YouTube channel to see the rest of them in the next week and a half – we’re gonna talk Hip-Hop. And boy is there a lot of ground to cover.

2017 was another banner year for Rap music, sure. Any monkey with a Twitter account and @ComplexMusic and @XXL in his feed could piece that one together. But even better, it was a year defined by the unexpected. Both positive AND negative, I may add. Here are some things that happened in Hip-Hop this year that I couldn’t have possibly foreseen:

  • The Migos made a Trap album that is literally listenable (and enjoyable) from beginning to end
  • Eminem dropped a turd that makes 2004’s Encore look like a masterpiece
  • CyHi the Prynce’s long-awaited debut somehow lived up to over seven years of album-less hype
  • Jay-Z snapped out of his whole “I only rap to sponsor my art collection” mindset and made his best music since 2003
  • EDM superstar Calvin Harris put Snoop Dogg, Travis Scott, Migos, ScHoolboy Q, Lil’ Yachty, Future, Big Sean, Nicki Minaj, and Frank Ocean on one project. And it worked.
  • Macklemore and a mumble rapper made a song together and it ended up being ten times worse than my limited imagination could’ve even conjured up

So as you can see, it’s been an exciting 12 months. And I’m glad to be done making this list, ‘cause I spent DAYS stressing out about it (especially those #5 – #7 slots!). I really hope my thoughts are informative or, at the very least, mildly entertaining. Honorable Mentions are at the bottom. See you all in 2018!

10. THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY – VIC MENSA

 On his debut album for Roc Nation, after a few years of increasing buzz and the immense pressure and anticipation that comes with being a Kanye West protégé, Vic Mensa leapfrogs over the already-lofty expectations set for him with, well, one of the best Hip-Hop albums of the entire year. The Autobiography proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Mensa’s got all of the makings of a bonafide Rap superstar. He can make rousing bangers with the best of them, as shown on the Kid-Cudi-meets- Travis-Scott party tune “Rollin’ Like a Stoner” as well as the Chief Keef-assisted hood anthem “Down for Some Ignorance”; he can tell stories (“Homewrecker”), he can be deeply introspective (“Wings”), and he can even make the ladies swoon when he steps out from under his self-loathing (“Gorgeous”).

Not to mention, the guy can collaborate too – the aforementioned tracks round up the likes of Chief Keef, Syd, Pharrell Williams, and even Rivers Cuomo from Weezer, making for a colorful but cohesive tracklist. Mensa’s one of the most promising young Hip-Hop artists in the game right now.

 Top 3 Tracks: “Homewrecker”, “Gorgeous”, “Wings”

9. PRETTY GIRLS LIKE TRAP MUSIC – 2 CHAINZ

 Perhaps the most unexpected entry on this list, 2 Chainz flushed over a decade of ratchet mediocrity down the toilet and knocked the clumsily-titled Pretty Girls Like Trap Music into the stratosphere. As a rapper, beat-picker, hook-crafter, and overall larger-than-life personality, 2 Chainz has never sounded sharper. While the over-the-top ridiculousness of his bars remains a key part of his charm – in particular, the line “I got a bank account, got anotha bank account, got anotha bank account” is my single favorite line of 2017 (which, by the way, given that the FDIC only insurances up to $250,000 per account, this is probably a financially savvy move on his part) – this time around, he has the endless flow and compelling rhymes to back it up.

And his ability to use the occasional guest to light a fire under his ass – Travis Scott Nicki Minaj, Swae Lee, Migos, and Drake all ANNIHILATE the tracks they show up on – helps propel Pretty Girls Like Trap Music into every worthwhile “Best Hip-Hop of 2017” conversation.

Top 3 Tracks: “Blue Cheese”, “Realize”, “Good Drank”

8. FLOWER BOY – TYLER, THE CREATOR

What beautiful irony that an artist like Tyler, The Creator – who rose to prominence by being infinitely rebellious and anti-everything – made his best material to date by softening his edges and buddying up with an industry juggernaut (Columbia Records) for its release.

Production-wise, Flower Boy is perhaps my favorite on this list, bringing together sounds that range from cinematic to insular to manic to just plain weird. Yet the true excellence of the LP lies in Tyler’s undeniable maturation.

By getting unapologetically sappy (“See You Again”), wistfully nostalgic (“November”) and heartbreakingly vulnerable (“911/Mr. Lonely”) alongside his usual aggression and quirks (“Who Dat Boy”, “I Ain’t Got Time!”), Tyler has successfully transitioned from odd-but-compelling enigma to fully formed, three-dimensional artist.

Top 3 Tracks: “November”, “911/Mr. Lonely”, “See You Again”

7. CAPTAIN CALIFORNIA – MURS

That my list will likely be the ONLY year-end Hip-Hop List to give Murs his due is nothing short of a tragedy. On his sixth LP and second for Tech N9ne’s Strange Music label, the California MC shows an elastic emotional range that is extremely hard to come by in Hip-Hop. On the opening track “Lemon Juice”, he and guest Curtiss King will have you cackling uncontrollably as they try to compete for a girl’s attention. Cuts like “God Bless Kanye West” and “G is for Gentrify” will have you mulling over today’s socioeconomic climate. On touching love songs like “1000 Suns” and “Another Round”, Murs will have you reflecting on your best romantic relationships or dreaming of ones like his. On “One Uh Those Days”, he’ll have you carefully following along with his detailed storytelling right up until the hilarious twist ending. It’s time people get their shit together and start paying attention to this talented motherfucker.

Top 3 Tracks: “Lemon Juice”, “1000 Suns”, “Colossus”

6. 4EVA IS A MIGHTY LONG TIME – BIG K.R.I.T.

 While it would’ve been virtually impossible to top 2014’s Cadillactica – an adventurous space-themed concept album that remains one of the finest moments of the genre this decade – Justin Scott continues to build his case as one of the great Southern rappers, filling the shoes of giants like UGK, Outkast and T.I. with ease. This sprawling double-album is split into a more bravado-driven “Big K.R.I.T. half” and a more introspective “Justin Scott half”, with both discs pulling their weight equally, from the most trunk-knocking moments (“ Subenstein”, “Big Bank”) to the most naked and confessional (“Price of Fame”, Mixed Messages”). As I continue to preach the gospel of Big K.R.I.T., I have yet another holy text to read from to convert people to the cause. And thanks to people like ANTHONY FANTANO, they really are doing so.

Top 3 Tracks: “Get Away”, “Mixed Messages”, “Miss Georgia Fornia”

5. NO DOPE ON SUNDAYS – CYHI THE PRYNCE

 I can’t think of a single Hip-Hop album that has been delayed as long as this one and actually LIVED UP to the impossible hype. But that’s exactly what Kanye’s finest protégé managed to do. Besides creating the most lyrically monstrous album on this whole list, on No Dope on Sundays Cyhi the Prynce still manages to stay focused on well-crafted songs, thought-provoking content, and carefully-placed features (in particular, Travis Scott, BJ the Chicago Kid, and ScHoolboy Q kill it here). And to top it all off, CyHi ties everything together with a powerful theme that contrasts spirituality and street life.

Plus, the amount of times I’ve used the expression “get your money and get out the game” in REAL LIFE since hearing this album….that alone earns it a spot in the Top five.

Top 3 Tracks: “I’m Fine”, “No Dope on Sundays”, “Movin’ Around”

4. LAST CALL – RITTZ

 On his final album for Strange Music, this double time-spittin’ white boy once again comes through with a body of work that feels like it’s been made specifically for me. Seriously, this motherfucker checks every box.

  • Emotionally, it covers the entire spectrum, from the tear-jerking “Fuck Cancer” to the ferocious “Into the Sky” (which, by the way, are back-to-back in the tracklist).
  • When appropriate, it’s as introspective as Hip-Hop can get, as showcased on the childhood woes of “Press Rewind” and the modern-day neuroses of “I’m Only Human”
  • From a technical rapping standpoint, Rittz once again has few equals – just check the standout single “Down for Mine” or the stirring opener “Middle of Nowhere” for proof
  • And yet again, Rittz’s ability to sing his own hooks makes him a complete, self-sufficient artist. No big features or name-dropping needed here; this one guy can keep you engaged for over an hour.

Top 3 Tracks: “Crash and Burn”, “Into the Sky”, Down for Mine”

3. DAMN. – KENDRICK LAMAR

 While 2015’s expansive, ambitious To Pimp a Butterfly endeared him to critics and solidified his place in Hip-Hop history, this time around it’s Kendrick Lamar’s fundamentals that make him stand out. At the end of the day, Kung Fu Kenny is just a dope fucking rapper. I never get tired of hearing him rap – his unending supply of creative flows, intricate rhyme structures, and nuanced perspectives ensure that Lamar can sound good on any beat.

But beyond Kendrick’s ability as an MC, my favorite thing about DAMN. is how emotionally raw it is. K-Dot’s music has always carried with it an underlying depression, anxiety and vicious inner conflict– which has been occasionally brought to the forefront on tracks like TPAB’s “u” – but DAMN. takes this to a whole new level. This is a 14-track therapy session, with intense feelings flying every which way like bullets during D-Day. And as a listener who prefers this type of psychological mayhem, I find it to be some of the most gripping work of Kendrick Lamar’s already-historic career.

Top 3 Tracks: “ELEMENT.”, “FEAR.”, “PRIDE.”

2. TRIAL BY FIRE – YELAWOLF

 Against all odds – and when I say ALL ODDS, I mean over seven years of artistic decline since his initial burst of hype and at least one race-related controversy – Rap’s most divisive white trash Hick-Hopper pulled through with, simply put, one of the most unique “Hip-Hop” records I’ve ever heard.

On Trial By Fire, the Alabama native weaves together various shades of Country, Folk, Rock, Blues – and yes, in the midst of all that, a guest appearance from Juicy motherfuckin’ J – into his well-studied rhyming abilities to make the kind of album that no one else could make. Sure, COUNTRY AND RAP MUSIC have had their history together (LINK), but not in a way that hasn’t compromised or caricaturized either side of the spectrum. That is, until exhilarating mish-mashes on this LP like “Punk”, which contains the aforementioned Juicy J feature.

Yelawolf also bares his soul on these 14 tracks, and has a novelists’ eye for storytelling (seriously, check the haunting “Sabrina” or the sentimentally autobiographical “Keeps Me Alive” for some hardcore evidence), bringing these Southern soundscapes to life with each and every verse. On “Ride or Die”, a heartfelt tribute to a day one friend, I can actually picture Yela sitting on a front porch somewhere in Alabama strumming his guitar and staring out into miles of farmland.

 And for me, there’s a personal angle to this as well. Trial by Fire represents the ultimate escapism. It’s an album that whisks me away from my Yuppie tri-state surroundings to long, winding dirt roads, musky dive bars with Harleys parked out front, and remote stretches of land with nothing but grass and the gentle breeze that nudges it from side to side. So I suppose my increasing infatuation with the rural South has fed my love of Trial by Fire. But still, whether you end up smitten like I am or deeply unimpressed, this is music you need to hear.

Top 3 Tracks: “Ride or Die”, “Punk”, “Son of a Gun”

 1. ALL THE BEAUTY IN THIS WHOLE LIFE – BROTHER ALI

As I gushed at the middle of the year, Brother Ali made the kind of special album that makes me happy to be alive. With top-notch production from Ant of Atmosphere ensuring that it’s sonically rapturous, Ali is free to tackle weighty subject matter; sensitive topics that he handles gracefully, I might add. Beauty covers everything from race (“Dear Black Son”, “Before They Called You White”) to pornography (“The Bitten Apple”) to suicide (“Out of Here”) to Ali’s own childhood struggles (“Pray For Me”) sending your emotions every which way in the process. When you combine Ali’s raw talent on the mic with food-for-thought content, gorgeous instrumentals, and hooks like the infectious single “Own Light”, it’s impossible to lose.

Top 3 Tracks: “Own Light (What Hearts Are For)”, “Out of Here”, “All the Beauty in This Whole Life”

Some Honorable Mentions:

Laila’s Wisdom – Rapsody

Big Fish Theory – Vince Staples

Culture – Migos

Radio Silence – Talib Kweli

All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ – Joey Bada$$

At What Cost – Goldlink

4:44 – Jay-Z

Brick Body Kids Still Daydream – Open Mike Eagle

Rather You Than Me – Rick Ross

November 2017 Album Round Up!

Greetings, fellow music fans of the (still “neutral” for now) Internet! Welcome to my second-to-last Album Round Up of 2017! As I type this, I’m already deep into the hours and hours of fierce internal debate that I pour into List…..ok, look. My first instinct was to write something about “List Season”, because naturally, I’ve been gleefully combing through 2017’s release calendar compiling those “best of” lists that consume all of my Decembers. But knowing myself as well as I do, I had this funny feeling that I had made some equally dumb comment about “List Season” at this time last year, and sure enough, I was right. And since I’m not a member of AC/DC, I don’t get some sort of pathological satisfaction out of constantly repeating myself. So maybe I just won’t acknowledge “List Season” this time around. Although….since I’ve now used the term “List Season” four times in this very paragraph, I guess I’m kinda committed.

In all seriousness, there’s a reason List Season is my favorite time of year. With the exception of my “Worst of” list, I literally have an excuse to just sit on my ass and listen to every single piece of auditory greatness that 2017 gave us for hours and hours on end! More over, I get to really dig into any records that got swept under the rug while I was busy drinking, procrastinating, or random bullshit like arguing with Geico about my premiums or shopping for a new massage chair.

As it turns out, November gave me a ton of material for this Round Up– at 23 albums, I think this might be the most different releases I’ve covered in one of these things – so I really hope you get something out of this! Even if there’s just ONE album that I turn you on to/steer you away from, then it’s all worth it to me.

Reputation – Taylor Swift

You know, I gave this a genuine chance. I was even willing to forego that gimmicky “leave it off streaming platforms for three weeks” marketing plan that Swift and the Suits dreamed up. But Reputation is a big step back from 2014’s Pop juggernaut 1989. Swift’s sixth album features ill-advised experiments with dance music (“I Did Something Bad”, “Look What You Made Me Do”), a really awkward Ed Sheeran collaboration (“End Game”), enough vocal manipulations to make T-Pain gawk, and cheaply invokes sexuality at nearly every turn (“…Ready for It?”, “Delicate”, “Dress”).   All that being said, Reputation has already passed 2 million sales worldwide and is currently occupying the top slot on the Billboard charts for the third week in a row, so as always, the joke’s on me. NOT RECOMMENDED

Radio Silence – Talib Kweli

 For his eighth solo release, the veteran Brooklyn MC and social activist – not to mention, one of Twitter’s most incessant self-righteousness finger-pointers – added another solid installment to his prolific catalogue. While a few late-album cuts like the title track and “Let It Roll” are underwhelming momentum-retardants, there are three songs in particular – “All of Us”, “She’s My Hero”, and “Chips” – that make everything worthwhile. “All of Us” is a soulful collaboration with singer Yummy Bingham that boasts I think, like, the SECOND Jay Electronica verse of all of 2017. “She’s My Hero” is a tear-jerking ode to abuse victim Bresha Meadows. And “Chips” is a rousing collab with none other than Waka Flocka Flame, who sets it on fire with one of the most surprisingly dope guest verses I’ve heard all year. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Ashes EP – Sinsaenum

 This Extreme Metal “supergroup” – featuring Joey Jordison of Slipknot, Frederic Leclercq from Dragonforce, Attila Csihar from Mayhem, and others – came roaring back on the heels of their 2016 debut Echoes of the Tortured with a five-track EP that impressively upped the ante . Whereas their debut was more of a vintage Death Metal record with elements of Black Metal theatrics sprinkled in, Ashes finds the best of Black Metal and Death Metal in a furious seesaw that keeps getting more and more exciting as the tracks unravel. In particular, the opening trio of “Ashes”, “Monarch of Death”, and “2099 (Heretics)” are all absolutely essential listens. While I’ve been rooting for this band since day one, they are now top priority for me when it comes to their next release. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

 Red Pill Blues – Maroon 5

For their third album as Adam Levine Plus Hip-Hop and Dance Beats, Maroon 5’s painful transition into by-the-numbers Z100 wallpaper fully crystallizes. Featuring production and songwriting contributions from every “hit-maker” imaginable – Diplo, Ben Billions, Charlie Puth, Teddy Geiger, Julia Michaels, Jason Evigan, etc. – Adam Levine and his buddies deliver a platter of instantly forgettable songs that are unlikely to have the same chart mojo that the pre-albums singles (“Don’t Wanna Know”, “Cold”, “What Lovers Do”) were able to maintain. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

Laugh Now, Fly Later – Wiz Khalifa

 Instead of just letting fans wait a little longer for his hugely anticipated Rolling Papers 2 album, the Khalifa Kush CEO succumbed to the pressure and decided to squeeze out this little turd for anybody still lurking at the bottom of the toilet bowl praying he’ll redeem the last six-and-half years of mediocrity. This 39-minute mixtape consists of about 19 minutes of ad-libs and 20 minutes of bars about smoking weed. Even if you blaze religiously, there’s still no way that sounds appealing. And aside from a couple of decent moments – the “Weed Farm” beat goes hard, and Casey Veggies steals the show on the opener “Royal Highness” – it isn’t. it’s torturously boring. But all of my vitriol, I’m still holding out hope for Rolling Papers 2. Until then, no more “hold-over” projects Wiz, please and thank you. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

Kids in Love – Kygo

For his second studio album and follow-up to last year’s overly commercial, monumentally disappointing Cloud Nine, the one-time prince of Tropical House doubles down and gives us 29 minutes of Kidz Bop EDM with the same quality and sophistication of The Chainsmokers. I find it strange that, seeing as Kygo has enjoyed international hits like “Firestone” and “Stole the Show”, he feels the need to make such desperate radio grabs. To be fair, he now has the Sony Music engine behind him, which may or may not have something to do with the bullshit on Kids in Love. Either way, this whole constant-vocals-with-one-small-drop format effectively qualifies this as Pop music – the fact that there’s a OneRepublic feature on a song titled after one of 2017’s biggest television phenomenons (“Stranger Things”) and a True-era Avicci knockoff (“Never Let You Go”) should say it all. Kygo doesn’t seem to have any interest in standing out in any way. He’s just falling in line. It’s a real shame to see it happen to yet another talented EDM artist. NOT RECOMMENDED

The Dusk in Us – Converge

In just a couple years, Converge will hit their thirtieth year as a band. That these New England Metalcore legends are still churning out material that sounds as fresh, fluid, and completely singular as The Dusk In Us is beyond my capacity of understanding. They always deliver. Every. Single. Time. The phenomenal “A Single Tear” single and music – released days before the album – was what initially stoked my excitement for this LP, but the chaotic riff fests that are “Under Duress” and “Broken by Light”, as well as the record’s more delicate moments like “Thousands of Miles Between Us” and the title, all further reinforce my belief that Converge are one of the preeminent Metal bands of the last two decades. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

 Red Before Black – Cannibal Corpse

Just when I think these Death Metal legends are finally running their formula dry, they deliver more genuinely satisfying assault and battery on Red Before Black, their fourteenth studio album in nearly thirty years as a band. While a track like “Destroyed Without a Trace” is so dime-a-dozen in CC’s catalogue – seriously, it could’ve been on Evisceration Plague, OR Torture, OR A Skeletal Domain OR, well you get the point – this LP does have a few subtle differences. For one, the Tech Metal element that has crept into recent Cannibal releases has been noticeably dialed back – tracks like “Firestorm Vengeance” and “Code of the Slashers” are basically Thrash tunes with Death Metal growls on top. Second….well there is no second. And that’s why this band’s status quo approach never excites me. There’s very little on Red Before Black that I can’t get from the last TWENTY YEARS of Corpsegrinder-era material (which, by the way, I enjoy the hell out of his performance here!). So look, if you’re into this shit, you know the deal. And if you’re not, either go listen to Kill or, like, go do anything else with your time. The same thing the fourteenth time over isn’t gonna sway you. RECOMMENDED

No Dope On Sundays – CyHi the Prynce

 Kanye’s most promising – and yet, perpetually shelved – protégé has been waiting in the wings since impressing Hip-Hop heads across the board with his guest spot on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. And as one of those people eagerly awaiting his turn in the limelight, I’ve been frustrated right alongside him. Seven years later, his debut album has finally seen the light of day, and I’m thrilled to say that it’s one of the few super-delayed Hip-Hop debuts that’s actually worth the wait. With an insightful running theme that contrasts spirituality with street activity, CyHi rips through track after track of eloquent lyricism, thoughtful song structure, and invigorating collaboration, which include the likes of Pusha T, ScHoolboy Q, 2 Chainz, Travis Scott and Mr. West himself. All in all, No Dope on Sundays is a strong candidate for my Top 10 Hip-Hop Albums of 2017, which will be posted on this blog in the coming weeks. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

 Post Self – Godflesh

 Despite having an overwhelming fondness for Godflesh’s game-changing industrial classics like Streetcleaner and Songs of Love and Hate, as well as an appreciation for the venerable comeback record that was 2014’s A World Lit Only By Fire, this new one is just too damn esoteric for me. I can’t get into it. For my taste, there’s too much emphasis on ambience and exhaustive repetition and not enough in the way of riffs, which Godflesh have always managed to weave into their sound, regardless of the experimental terrain it has traversed over the years. While the rhythms of tracks like “Parasite” may hit you like an 18-wheeler, there’s almost no semblance of “notes” or musicality, just raw rhythmic noise. And I’m sure, given Godflesh’s stature as the critical darlings of this corner of Metal, they’re being lauded for it by some bloggers. But if I’m being completely honest, Post Self was so over my head that I even scrapped my planned review of it. NOT RECOMMENDED

A FEW MORE:

LIKE:

The Thrill of It All – Sam Smith

BB – Mod Sun

I Am Legion – Witchery

Dark Flag – Phinehas

DON’T LIKE:

Psychosis – Cavalera Conspiracy

Reputation – Taylor Swift

No Shame – Hopsin

What If Nothing – Walk the Moon

Kaskade Christmas – Kaskade

Oblivion – T-Pain

SYRE – Jaden Smith

Stranger – Yung Lean

Friday On Elm Street – Fabolous & Jadakiss

 

Ludacris’ “Vices” Single

He may have been the shiznit back in Elementary School when the clean version of Word of Mouf was permanently nested in my Walkman, but Ludacris and I have not had a relationship for many years now. The last Ludacris album I enjoyed was in 2008. The last Ludacris movie I enjoyed – besides none of them – was in 2011 (he had a minor role in No Strings Attached, a movie I sort of half-liked, mostly because it centered on Natalie Portman having sex).

And wackest of all was his selfish, hypocritical reaction to the Paul Walker jokes that were made at the Roast of Justin Bieber, especially considering there were several jokes made about 9/11 which, unlike one person driving too fast one time, was a national tragedy in which we lost nearly 3,000 of our citizens in the worst domestic attack the nation has ever seen. So we can joke about that but not Paul Walker. Sure. But, I digress.

This doesn’t mean I don’t still give the guy a chance. Underrated not only for his lyricism but also his unparalleled ability to jump on a Pop song and actually ADD to it (see: “Glamorous”, “Yeah!”, “Baby”, etc.), I’m always rooting for Luda. I thought he KILLED his verse on Future’s “Same Damn Time” remix, which might’ve been over five years ago now, but that’s the best reference I’ve got at the moment.

I was as surprised as I was intrigued when, pretty much out of the blue, Luda dropped his new single “Vices” last Wednesday. Its title gave it the initial appearance of a party track. I had to see if Christopher Bridges has any more gas left in the tank.

Right off the bat, I wasn’t too impressed with Luda’s opening rhyme scheme – that whole “bottles/shots/models/thots” thing? Yeah, that didn’t do it for me. Nor did the rest of his bars, where he talks about “skanks” and “dank” and dressing in expensive clothes. Super exciting.

I still think he has one of the illest flows, though. Whenever I hear Ludacris spitting, it always sounds like he is in complete control of the beat, almost as if he’s hovering above it, pulling the strings and dictating its pace. At any moment he could let out a flurry of double time rhymes. On “Vices” his quick tongue is notably restrained, but an air of anticipation still lurks around the corner of every bar, as if the dude could go off at any time. Even with the vapid subject matter at hand here, Luda still out-raps a large majority of Hip-Hop’s current generation, by a pretty wide margin.

The instrumental here is a solid, appropriately minimalistic choice – a steady stream of hazy eighth notes from a synth sit atop a laid back drum groove, with only an extra six-note keyboard loop to signal the song’s chorus. Luda’s message here, ultimately, is that we all have our indulgences, and not only is it perfectly ok to partake in them if we so choose, but it’s nobody’s place to pass judgment. At the end of the song, he urges listeners to “worry ‘bout your own fuckin’ life” and “stay the fuck up outta mine”. And you know what? Since drinking, smoking weed, and fucking girls isn’t all that interesting (especially when you’re forty years old), I have no issue complying.

August 2017 Album Round Up!

Welcome to the Monthly Album Round Up: Back to School Special! (Unfortunately, as much as I regret to inform you, this one doesn’t come with a Tax Holiday!) If you’re a bright, diligent, hard-working young student (wow, listen to how full of shit I sound), I hope your new school year is off to a great start; if you’re a parent that’s finally gotten rid of your toddler/teenager/college-aged manchild, I hope your newfound freedom has been soothing and has lessened the chances that you’ll kill yourself in the near future.

One look at a release calendar like this one should tell you all you need to know – Fall Release Mania is right around the corner!

I couldn’t be more excited to for this onslaught of new music from all corners of the industry. As always, I’ll be reviewing at least one or two albums every week on my YouTube channel, so be sure to head over there and subscribe to stay up-to-date!

As for August 2017, several artists really came through in the clutch for me! Hip-Hop wise, I was constantly bumping A$AP Ferg’s new project. In the Pop world, I found myself unexpectedly digging the first post-Camila Cabello Fifth Harmony album. And Melodic Death Metal legends The Haunted gave us undoubtedly one of the Metal albums of the year with their ninth LP Strength in Numbers. So there was a lot to be stoked on this month, and I’d say we’ve got plenty of momentum as we drift away from Summer and into the clutches of Autumn.

Here’s to Fall 2017! Don’t let me down….that terrible Chainsmokers song compels you.

Rainbow – Kesha

Though it’s miles more sophisticated than the days when she was brushing her teeth with a bottle of Jack, Ke$ha’s (or, sorry, “Kesha’s”) highly acclaimed new record is still way overhyped. Her third overall and first since her widely publicized sexual assault case against her producer Dr. Luke, Rainbow is, by all accounts, an adventurous and deeply vulnerable album – it’s just inconsistent. While I really enjoy the spunky punk-infused “Let ‘Em Talk”, the brazen feminist anthem “Woman”, and the Country detour “Hunt You Down”, the rest of the LP is full of bland, by-the-numbers “I’ve been through soooo much” Pop songs (e.g. “Learn to Let Go”, “Finding You”, and the title track). And I’m already beyond sick of the Ryan Lewis-produced ballad “Praying”, which is getting some significant airtime and is setting itself up to be the next “Hello” (sorry Adele fans, hated that one too). So while Rainbow is without a doubt her best album yet, and I admire Ke$ha greatly for laying bare the very real heartbreak she’s experienced in the past few years, but I’m not as into the music as a majority of Pop fans seem to be. NOT RECOMMENDED

Paranoia: A True Story EP – Dave East

The debut Def Jam release from Harlem’s own Dave East – one of last year’s XXL Freshmen and a noted Nas protégé – is an abbreviated and uneven but overall satisfying EP to hold fans over until his proper debut full-length. Despite some underwhelming cuts like “Phone Jumpin’” and “My Dirty Little Secret” that lack in the hook department, East definitely impressed me on “The Hated”, which finds him flexing his storytelling prowess, “Perfect” in which he teams up with Chris Brown for a well-executed strip-club song, and “Maneuever”, which is brought to life by palpable chemistry with fellow NY rapper French Montana. While this wasn’t the knockout project I hoped for from Dave East, he has given me every reason to believe that he has one in him. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Strength in Numbers – The Haunted

 With their ninth record, The Haunted delivered modern Thrash Metal at a level that Metallica, Slayer, Overkill, Testament, Exodus, and Megadeth have ALL failed to reach this side of 2010. And while The Haunted will always be classified as a Melodic Death Metal band, this is a Thrash record. I don’t care what you think. It’s like listening to Testament’s The Gathering if Chuck Billy was even meaner and the riffs were twice as pummeling. And this album’s laser focus on great choruses may be its greatest asset– tracks like “Spark” and “Preachers of Death” hone in on gritty but memorable hooks in a way that The Haunted’s contemporaries simply do not. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Fifth Harmony – Fifth Harmony

This superstar girl group’s first album post-Camila Cabello is a surprisingly tight, well-rounded, sharply written, and charismatically performed ten tracks. In particular, the irresistible “Deliver” is one of my favorite songs of the summer. And ballads like the dancehall-influenced “Don’t Say You Love Me” and Shaggy-interpolating “Messy” provide a nice balance for party songs like “Sauced Up” and the smash single “Down”. While some of the lyrics may be as irritatingly unimaginative as expected, and a few moments fall flat (“Make You Mad”, “Angel”) this LP was a nice surprise for me. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Still Striving – A$AP Ferg

 Truth be told – I had precisely ZERO intentions of writing about this mixtape (or even listening to it more than once, for that matter). Ferg’s 2016 LP Always Strive and Prosper was one of the worst Hip-Hop releases I heard all year, and the last thing I wanted to do was waste more of my precious time on messy, store brand Trap/EDM mash-ups. But thank GOD I kept an open mind, ‘cause I could not have been more wrong this time around! Still Striving is a thrilling collection of slappers, whether it’s the Migos collab “Nasty (Who Dat)”, which begs to be cranked to 11, or perhaps the catchiest cut of the bunch, “Aww Yeah” with Lil’ Yachty. There’s also the spitterific “East Coast Remix”, with everyone from Busta Rhymes to Dave East to French Montana to frickin’ Snoop Dogg going at it in high-caliber fashion. Still Striving is the Hip-Hop release that I’ve been shamelessly plugging to everyone I know that’s remotely into the genre. Do NOT sleep on this! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Dead Cross – Dead Cross

Noisy, chaotic, and eccentric (I mean this is MIKE PATTON on vocals, after all!), this supergroup’s self-titled debut met all of my weirdness expectations and many of my musical ones too. Dead Cross is an eclectic mix of Hardcore Punk, a bit of Thrash Metal, some noisy, avant-garde Rock, and lord knows what else. One listen to a remarkably strange ball of energy like “Obedience School” will likely turn many listeners off, but close examination of an explosive cut like “Gag Reflex” is rewarded by some seriously awesome riffing from guitarist Mike Crain. Not to mention, “The Future Has Been Cancelled” takes home the gold in the Song Title Olympics. This record is a must-listen for Mike Patton fans, and a “you probably SHOULD listen” to any Hardcore or Thrash fanatics looking for a radical departure from their typical day-to-day mosh-fare. RECOMMENDED

Luv is Rage 2 – Lil’ Uzi Vert

Coming off his guest appearance on the Migos’ smash single “Bad and Boujee”, 2016 XXL Freshman Lil’ Uzi Vert’s buzz couldn’t be bigger right now. So it wasn’t a shock to see this – his debut studio album – hit number one on the Billboard charts. Production is handled by the likes of Pharrell, Metro Boomin, TM88, Don Cannon, Illmind, and more heavy hitters, so the beats are top shelf, to say the least. And while Uzi’s approach as an MC is clearly in line with the Hip-Hop zeitgeist, featuring heavily auto-tuned, sometimes half-sung bars in various trendy flows (hence, his popularity), he can’t hold me attention for this whole project. A song like “For Real” is as repetitive as it is vapid. But feel free to try out a couple fun tracks, like the turn-up cut “Sauce It Up”, or the Pharrell-assisted “Neon”. NOT RECOMMENDED

 Dear Desolation – Thy Art is Murder

So….I’m not typically a Deathcore fan. New releases from this corner of the Metal world consistently rank as the biggest time-wasters in my listening calendar, and that’s putting it nicely. All that being said, I’m so glad that I gave this album (and this band) a shot, because Dear Desolation is the exception to the rule. The first half of this LP in particular is full of pummeling, crisply produced Extreme Metal. The constant stream of breakdowns – which is something that usually bores me to tears with other albums in this style -are able to remain effective because band keeps the riffs exciting and the tempos dynamic throughout these 38 minutes. Thy Art is Murder certainly aren’t reinventing the wheel, but I commend them for making a listenable album within a (mostly) unlistenable style of music. RECOMMENDED

 

Painted Ruins – Grizzly Bear

For the most part a pretty chill, spaced-out, and zen eleven tracks, Grizzly Bear’s fifth LP was my ultimate soundtrack to quiet, contemplative Tuesday evenings on my porch this month (due to my work schedule, Tuesday night is my version of “Sunday night”, if that helps paint the picture). Though I’m not too knowledgeable about the band’s catalogue, I’ve enjoyed vibing out to relaxing songs like “Glass Hillside”, “Three Rings”, “Systole” (featuring incredibly dreamy vocal harmonies!), and “Neighbors” (which has a slight psychedelic touch). The band’s musical ability is evident in their thoughtful, occasionally unorthodox chord choices (there’s a conspicuous jazz influence embedded in many of these tracks), and I’m impressed to the point that I feel compelled to dig through their first four records and familiarize myself. ‘Cause next album cycle, I’ve gotta be ready! RECOMMENDED

A FEW MORE:

LIKE:

The Rise of Chaos – Accept

Science Fiction – Brand New

The Golden Age 2 – Dizzy Wright

Galaktikon II: Become the Storm – Brendon Small

Renaissance in Extremis – Akercocke

Villains – Queens of the Stone Age

DON’T LIKE:

Deadweight – Wage War

Hell Yeah – KMFDM

The Reign – Hinder

17 – XXXTENTACION

 

Top 5 Mid-Year Hip-Hop Albums of 2017

Hip-Hop is in a weird place in 2017.

Remember that “new generation” of great MCs that’s been endlessly debated about – you know, all those people Kendrick named in his “Control” verse four years ago? Well, they’re not so new anymore. They’re nearly a decade into their careers now. Meanwhile, the genre’s “new faces” could not be a less cohesive bunch; people seem to like Lil’ Yachty ‘cause he’s weird, 21 Savage ‘cause he’s scary, and XXXTenacion ‘cause, well, he’s a SoundCloud rapper that dissed Drake.

What is the SOUND of Hip-Hop in 2017? I have no earthly idea how to answer that question. It’s everything and it’s nothing. “Mumble rap” may be a common contemporary term that’s thrown around, but there’s too much negative connotation associated with it for the style to have much longevity (see also: “ringtone rap”, circa 2007). And “Trap” may loosely describe the sonic backdrop of much of the genre’s mainstream output, but then how would we explain the popularity of industry darlings like Chance the Rapper, Danny Brown, and Joey Bada$$> Adding more confusion to the situation, we can’t forget that Hip-Hop’s elder statesmen – the Jay-Zs, the Eminems, and Nases of the world – are STILL relevant and still breaking the Internet with new music, much of which eschews the sounds of the young guns.

But Hip-Hop is also in a good place in 2017.

It continues to broaden and expand and reinvent itself and if you ask me, it’s as diverse as it has ever been in its near-forty year history. And in 2017 thus far, as it does every year, the genre has done what it does best; it’s offered us some jaw-dropping greatness, and it’s served up some real shit sandwiches (I’m looking at YOU, Machine Gun Kelly). But in this article, we’re gonna stay positive – we’re taking a look at five Hip-Hop albums from the first half of 2017 that I have loved the shit out of.

As always, keep in mind that all of my music commentary is based solely on personal taste; I’m not trying to tell you that these albums are better than other albums, I’m just trying to tell you that you’re stupid if you don’t like them. Just kidding.

It’s all just one dude listening to music and talking about why he likes it. Simple as that.

And with a list such as this one, also keep in mind that I’ve spent very different amounts of time with each of these albums – some of them I’ve lived with for months, and some of them are still relatively new to my life – so this list (and by proxy, the omissions from it) is subject to change as the year progresses. Hope you enjoy these picks and here’s to another five months of great Hip-Hop!

5. Pretty Girls Like Trap Music – 2 Chainz

I have never been a 2 Chainz fan. I have never even made it through an entire 2 Chainz project. His over-the-top, in-your-face braggadocio and all-too-familiar song topics have never appealed to me. But, holy shit. I took a chance with this LP, and “pleasantly surprised” is an understatement. This thing is phenomenal. It’s excessive in all the right places (e.g. the completely unnecessary bass boosts on “Riverdale Road”, which make my car feel like a 747), but manages to have a degree of subtlety as well. 2 Chainz is wildly creative with his flows throughout, and manages to make the tracks with the most predictable guest appearances into the album’s shining moments (the contemplative “Realize” with Nicki Minaj, the euphoric “Blue Cheese”, with the Migos). Not to mention, this album contains the most absurd, hilarious line of 2 Chainz’s career thus far; on “Sleep When U Die”, he spits the following gem: “I got a bank account, got anotha bank account, got anotha bank account.” ‘Nuff said.

4. Rather You Than Me – Rick Ross

Right up there with 2 Chainz in the “Jesus Christ, I never expected THIS!” department, Ricky Rozay came through with a surprisingly dope project this time around. Who would’ve thought that it’d be this motherfucker’s NINTH album that finally won me over? But on Rather You Than Me, Ross balances his usual bravado-filled tall tales with some genuine vulnerability and emotional depth. To be clear, this is far from 808s and Heartbreak, but when Ross – who, by the way, has quietly developed into an impressive MC over the years– dips into his psyche from time to time, it makes for a much more well-rounded listen. Plus, from a production standpoint, he assembles a murderer’s row of some of the best instrumentals 2017 has to offer; luxurious cuts like “Santorini Greece” and the jazzy “Game Ain’t Based on Sympathy” are sprinkled alongside traditional trap bangers like “Dead Presidents” and “Summer Seventeen”, as well as more minimalistic moments like the Nas-assisted “Powers That B”. It all makes for a fluid, easily enjoyable, and consistently engaging 62 minutes. Don’t worry, I’m as surprised as you are. Here is a full review.

3. Captain California – Murs

Every year, Tech N9ne’s powerhouse indie label Strange Music comes through with at least one absolute gem (and by the way, it’s never from Tech N9ne himself– the guy is superbly talented but his projects are bloated as fuck. But I digress.) Last year, it was Rittz’s third record Top of the Line, which placed high on my year end list and I couldn’t shut the fuck up about. This year, it’s veteran LA spitter Murs, whose sixth studio album Captain California delivers everything I look for in Hip-Hop on a silver platter. Aside from checking all the boxes from a technical rapping standpoint, what impresses me most about Murs is his range. This album will be downright goofy one minute – as with the laugh-out-loud opening cut “Lemon Juice”, a little ditty centered on Murs and his guest Curtiss King competing for one female’s attention – and it’ll be heartfelt the next, as with the aptly titled “God Bless Kanye West”, or the touching love song “1,000 Suns”. This LP is likely to end up in the “fuck all of you, this is so underrated!” column for me, so don’t be one of the idiots who sleeps on it!

2. DAMN. – Kendrick Lamar

 You can go here for some extended thoughts on this album, but I’ll sum it up this way: we are witnessing Hip-Hop history with this guy. How many Hip-Hop artists can you think of that came right out of the gate with FOUR EXCELLENT RECORDS?? Please, enlighten me. Outkast? Sure. DMX? Perhaps. Eric B. and Rakim? I guess, but it’s debatable. Point made: it’s a short fucking list. While DAMN. might not be as intricate or conceptual as Lamar’s universally-acclaimed previous LP, To Pimp a Butterfly, what I love about this one is how emotionally raw it is. This is as depressed, anxious, and conflicted as Kendrick has ever sounded, and that’s saying a lot since he’s never exactly branded himself as Mr. Happy-Go-Lucky. But this record is so raw and so real, and I relate to Kendrick on a more visceral level this time around. That, and he has continued to push himself as a wholistic MC, upping the ante with his flows, his versatile vocal inflections, and his increasingly complex rhyme structures.

  1. All the Beauty in This Whole Life – Brother Ali

 Aptly titled, this album makes me happy to be alive. Not that it’s a shining beacon of optimism or anything – these songs tackle suicide, pornography addiction, racial inequality, and some of Alis darkest personal struggles – but hearing this man put a Hip-Hop song together is truly remarkable. Brother Ali oozes passion, sincerity and raw emotion out of every last breath of these 61 minutes, and as a listener it’s contagious. You can’t help but be inspired by the uplifting single “Own Light (What Hearts Are For)”, or be moved to tears by the emotional weight of “Dear Black Son” or “Pray For Me”, or be challenged by food-for-thought tracks like “Before They Called you White”. Not to mention, Ant from Atmosphere provides a gorgeous sonic backdrop, and Ali, being simply one of the most gifted rhymers on the planet, knocks all fifteen tracks out of the park. If you haven’t yet, please get the hell off this blog and go listen to this album. Or watch my review. Thank you and have a nice day.

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

 

 

April 2017 Album Round Up!

So, another month came and went. The first week of April (right around the time the Chainsmokers released once of the worst albums of the year) kicked off the month in exciting fashion for me – my band hit the studio with Joe Cocchi from Within the Ruins and cranked out a couple killer tunes that I can’t wait to unleash on the world. After that? Well, I worked 50-hour weeks, squeezed out some YouTube videos, and socialized approximately zero times. I’ve currently been sober for 31 days, which is the longest I’ve gone without booze since I first started drinking when I was 15. It’s not an AA type thing – lately I’ve just found myself growing out of that lifestyle.

I’d like to report that laying off the sauce has drastically improved my day-to-day existence and forever altered the course of my life, but I’m pretty sure it’s just made me marginally less cranky and a lot more boring. But I still by no means endorse drinking – after all, have you seen the absolute rape of a markup that bars get away with on Jack and Cokes and other well drinks? Sheesh. Save your money, kids.

There was also the Kendrick Lamar album, which, now that I think of it, formed the nucleus of April 2017 in many ways. My GOD are we witnessing history with that guy. He fucking delivered again.

Anyway, here are my monthly biased-as-all-hell musings on some new music. I gotta say, 2017’s got some serious momentum now –  I couldn’t be more excited heading into May’s stacked release schedule!

Memories…Do Not Open – The Chainsmokers

This is…just, lowest common denominator everything. Lyrically, it has the depth of a sixth grader’s diary – “opener “The One” is SERIOUSLY about not being able to go to a friend’s party, and “Bloodstream” begins with the declaration, “I’ve been drunk three times this week” (not to mention this gem on “Last Day Alive”: “the night is young and we are young”) – and musically, it has the depth of, well, a sixth grader’s diary. The beat to “Break Up Every Night” sounds like a commercial for a Chuck E Cheese, while the drop in “Wake Up Alone” is mind-bogglingly juvenile. In all honesty, I feel like the frat party music/EDM crossover is a wonderful niche (one The Chainsmokers have successfully exploited with songs like “Roses”) but this is, like, teeny bop shit! It’s horribly dumbed down even by Pop standards! NOT RECOMMENDED

All Amerikkkan Bada$$ – Joey Bada$$

While some people may point to the likes of Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole as “ old school Hip-Hop revivalists”, I couldn’t disagree more. When I think of that term in its purest sense, I think of Joey Bada$$ the Brooklyn MC who may have born in 1995, but spits like that’s the current calendar year. Given my affinity for ‘90s Hip-Hop, his debut B4.Da.$$ was one of my favorite Hip-Hop albums of 2015, and its follow-up is even better (and way hookier). Gritty standout “Rockabye Baby” is the epitome of the aforementioned revivalism; anybody from The Lox to Mobb Deep to Nas to Big Pun would sound great on that instrumental (ScHoolboy Q ultimately steals the show with its guest spot). The melodic, almost serene ”For My People”, meanwhile, might be my favorite Hip-Hop track of 2017 thus far. My only gripe with this album is that Joey tackles familiar race issues without having any sort of unique perspective – it’s all the same “cops are out to kill me”, “racism is bad” “government is evil” kind of shit. It’s important shit to talk about, but it needs a new spin. Other than that, the dude is proving to be the real deal. RECOMMENDED

The Search for Everything – John Mayer

After forays into Country and Folk music with his last two LPs, John Mayer’s glorious return to the Pop world is an enjoyable but somewhat fluffy affair. While I dug the hell out of the mushy, relatable romance of “Love on the Weekend”, the wonderful break-up fodder of tracks like “Never on the Day You Leave” and “Moving on and Getting Over”, as well as the crunchy rocker “Helpless”, there were also a few empty, excessively dumbed down cuts like “In the Blood” and “Changing” that made this album underwhelming for me. Knowing Mayer’s talent, I’d prefer to be challenged as a listener. But he still hits his mark more often than not. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

 DAMN. – Kendrick Lamar

If you want some extended thoughts on this album, it’s best to go here, but I gotta say this: we are witnessing Hip-Hop history here. What many other artist in the history of the genre has come right out of the gate with FOUR INCREDIBLE RECORDS?? Outkast? Maybe. Eric B. and Rakim? Perhaps. But it’s a fucking select few. So when this dropped, I just soaked up the moment. This guy will go down as one of the greats. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Season High – Little Dragon

This Swedish Electronic group’s 5th studio album was my first outing with them. And to be blunt, I didn’t care for the slow-moving, campy, anti-climatic music that I came across. Maybe I just lack the necessary nuance in my taste for dance music, but these songs didn’t have the rousing energy that I look for in the genre. It was more like a goofy video game soundtrack with grating vocals. NOT RECOMMENDED

The Assassination of Julius Caesar – Ulver

Listening back to their classic debut album Bergtatt, I can’t think of a Metal band that has undergone as dramatic a transformation as Ulver over the years. In 2017, over 23 years after that seminal Black Metal release, they’re not even classifiably “Metal” anymore. The Assassination of Julius Caesar dips its toes into dance, a bit of new wave, and a whole lot of moody, nocturnal soundscapes. The spacey, mesmerizing “Southern Gothic” is a favorite of mine, as is the opening track “Nemoralia”, with its smooth electro strut and gorgeous vocals from Kristoffer Rygg. Whatever the fuck the genre is, these guys continue to wow me. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

The Seven – Talib Kweli & Styles P

These two Hip-Hop veterans came together for seven fun yet thought-provoking tracks that delicately balance a carefree cypher spirit with uncompromising sociopolitical commentary, particularly as it retains to race issues. Here is a full review. You should watch it, given that Talib himself loved it. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Coming Home – Falling in Reverse

It makes me chuckle that I spent way more time unpacking this record than I thought I would. ‘Cause to be honest, I went into it with a sorta snobby, scornful dismissiveness, but when early cuts like “I Hate Everyone” and the title track were genuinely catchy, I was shocked. Was this album going to be the ultimate sleeper?? I started to get excited. The answer, though, was a resounding NO as I was introduced to songs like “Superhero” and “Hanging On”, and simultaneously realized that all of these childish lyrics were being sung by a 33-year-old man (in case you didn’t know, Falling in Reverse is fronted by ex-Escape the Fate frontman Ronnie Radke). Plus, I don’t see how the supposed “space theme” ties in except for a few corny Starset-lite studio effects. NOT RECOMMENDED

Madness – All That Remains

In what could be the final nail in the coffin for many of their older fans, All That Remains completed their descent into radio rock mediocrity with this LP. Featuring three of the sappiest, shittiest ballads I have ever heard (“If I’m Honest”, “Far From Home”, and “Back To You”) as well as neutered, passionless production from Howard Benson (who likewise ruined In Flames’ last record), Madness is everything fans have been afraid of as the band has teetered on the edge of Pop-Metal. Personally, since All That Remains has never been a “brutal” band anyway, I’d encourage them to keep going in this direction. If they just drop the ballads and write some better songs next time, maybe this could work out. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

 Makes Me Sick – New Found Glory

These pop-punk pioneers came roaring back with an album that reaffirms their position as one of the very best at the genre they helped usher in. These tunes are just brimming with sugar sweet hooks and carefree, spunky energy. Listening to the sheepish innocence on display during “Short and Sweet” – where frontman Jordan Pundik gushes to his crush, “I don’t deserve someone as beautiful as you” – these guys haven’t aged a bit. The youthful spirit of this record is not forced at all. Special shout out to standout cut “Sound of Two Voices”, which is like….I don’t even know….Tropical-Pop-Dance-Punk? I love it! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

A FEW MORE:

LIKE:

Back to the Basics – Rich Homie Quan

Lovely Little Lonely – The Maine

Long Live Nut – YFN Lucci

How Will You Know If You Never Try – COIN

Pure Comedy – Father John Misty

DON’T LIKE:

Extinction – Harlott

Humanz – Gorillaz

Youth – Tinie Tempah

Embodiment – Enterprise Earth

SHINE – Wale

St. Patty’s Day Track Round Up

So last Friday was St. Patty’s Day. For me, it was just another Friday – some new music came out, I listened to it, I went to work, I came home, neglected my social obligations, and listened to obscure Metal albums that nobody gives a fuck about. But for some other geniuses out there, local drinking establishments got a nice payday off their desperate need for an “excuse” or an “occasion” to be alcoholics. Look, if you want to get fucked up and escape from your miserable existence for a while, be my guest. But don’t pretend like this is a fucking legitimate holiday. Even if you’re Irish.

Ok, Part 1/1,000,000 of my St. Patty’s Day Rant over. Now, here are my thoughts on some of the biggest tracks released on the most pointless “holiday” of the year.

“At My Best (feat. Hailee Steinfeld)” – Machine Gun Kelly

I swear to God, if I had the cash I’d scramble together a team of the best, Jewiest lawyers I could find and sue Machine Gun Kelly for false advertising. Suffice to say, in this song MGK is not exactly “at his best”. What a fucking bore. Mind-numbingly basic rhyme schemes, dime-a-dozen pasted-in pop hook, hollow self-affirmations….when he delivers cringe-inducing lines like “life is about making mistakes/it’s also about trying to be great” or “this song is for anybody who feels like I did/never the cool kid”….it becomes clear that I would NOT want MGK as my motivational coach. “At My Best” is an incredibly poor excuse for an uplifting, “inspirational song”, something that in the beginning of his career felt genuine but now just feels calculated, robotic, and commodified. NOT RECOMMENDED

“Good Life” – G-Eazy & Kehlani

I gotta say, when placed alongside MGK’s latest lightweight dud, G-Eazy looks like fucking Big Pun here. Joking aside, there’s a bit of surgical rhyming going on here, especially in the second verse when Mr. Eazy sails smoothly through patterns “toast to success/broke and distressed/open my chest/hope for the best”. Even though I’ve always criticized this guy’s music for being bland, generic, and as non-essential as non-essential gets, you HAVE to give him one thing – he comes across incredibly likable. Laid back and easy going, but sincere and hardworking…I’ve never met the guy but this how his personality comes through in his bars. And on this particular track, the stadium-ready hook from Kehlani is totally passable and will probably make for one of the stronger tracks on the Fate of the Furious soundtrack. RECOMMENDED

“Feels Like Summer” – Weezer

Almost a year removed from their excellent return-to-form with the White Album last April, these veteran alt-Rockers are back! And, it’s disappointing. For me, what makes this track a let down is how the crunchy guitars have been replaced by lifeless pop production. It couldn’t get more summer-y than “(Girl We Got a) Good Thing” and “California Kids” anyway, but this track tries to manufacture its way into Warm California Weather Anthem. And it fails. NOT RECOMMENDED

“Battle Symphony” – Linkin Park

So this is single numero dos from Linkin Park’s forthcoming One More Light album. I’ve yet to listen to “Heavy” – all I know is that a lot of people fucking hated it. Well, maybe when I get around to “Heavy” I’ll be the ol’ devil’s advocate, but I’m definitely on the hate bandwagon with “Battle Symphony”. I was shocked when the opening of this track kicked in and there were all these cheesy synths – the song felt like a nightmarish fusion of Imagine Dragons and The Chainsmokers. I suppose the chorus is kind of catchy, but aside from those six notes (Bat-tle Sym-pho-nee-eee), the song is so forgettable. NOT RECOMMENDED

“My Corner (feat. Lil’ Wayne)” – Raekwon

Based on this, I’ll definitely be checking out Raekwon’s new LP The Wild. In the first verse, the Wu-Tang OG makes it perfectly clear that he still murks 80 percent of the new crop of younger MCs. His raspy bars still carry that same weight that they did in the mid-90s, even if the music itself is less vital (Lil Wayne’s appearance is fairly standard, as is the production, which sounds like something Wayne, Rick Ross, Meek Mill, or any G-Unit affiliate would jump on.) Hopefully The Wild will give old school heads something to use those Fire Emojis on, ‘cause I know Drake’s new project sure isn’t! RECOMMENDED

“On the Come Up (feat. Big Sean)” – Mike Will Made-It

Nah. I don’t think Big Sean’s overly hyped-up yelling marries all that well with the operatic vocal sample in the beat. I just always find it funny how Sean delivers his lyrics with this brash, dramatic emphasis as if he’s dropping one mindblowing bar after another. The way his voice inflects on this track, you’d think he’s dropping the verse of the century. But his rhymes are actually REALLY average. I enjoyed some of what he had to say on I Decided, but this one is not doing it for me. NOT RECOMMENDED

“Animal” – Trey Songz

Despite these atrocious lyrics being a laundry list of every corny sexual innuendo on the face of the planet – Trey compares his penis to an anaconda, then a banana, then a boomerang, and then compares the vagina in question to forbidden fruit, a monkey, and SURPRISE, a pussycat – those chromatic guitar chords in the pre-chorus are so fucking sexy. They make everything else tolerable. The raunchy club beat that surrounds them is also hard-hitting and effective. I have to give it to Trey Songz here; depending on America’s tolerance for this kind of filthy sexual content in Pop music (I mean, Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” did squeak through), this could be a hit. RECOMMENDED

 

 

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.