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Category Archives: music

ALBUM REVIEW: Ab-Soul “These Days…”

Those familiar with Ab dash Soul may consider him the elusive and otherworldly member of TDE. Always donning sunglasses and frequently a fitted cap crown, Ad-Soul can fade into the background for those unfamiliar. His past projects have included themes uncommon in mainstream rap – outer space, conspiracies and the like. But with the spotlight on TDE (arguably because of Kendrick‘s stellar debut album and guest verses), everyone is paying attention to Ab-Soul like never before. ScHoolBoy Q released an amazing album in Oxymoron. The newest signees, SZA & Isiah Rashad both released impressive projects, See.SZA.Run & Cilvia Demo, respectively. After a little public angst over his project not being released (see: Twitter), Top Dawg of Top Dawg Entertainment pulled the trigger on the promotion for Ab-Soul‘s latest release. Check my review for These Days… below.

Before I talk my shit, let me start with being honest. I never really liked Ab-Soul‘s brand of hip-hop. Not that I thought he wasn’t a talented rapper, I just couldn’t totally get jiggy with his previous releases – Long Term Mentality, Control System. But, I have a new appreciation for him after listening to These Days…, perhaps even for the obvious reasons. I could relate to the material more. The production is more familiar to TDE and the left coast sound. Additionally, his content is more accessible. I was impressed by this album and I plan to revisit previous releases.

The album features a seemingly random menage of features: Rick Ross, Lupe Fiasco, Action Bronson, Danny Brown, Ravaughn, most of TDE, and more. J.Cole even makes an uncredited ad-lib appearance courtesy of a track he produced. But Herbert Stevens IV makes them all work. In an interview with Life+Times, Ab-Soul shares that he wanted this album to have something for everyone, and he achieves this perhaps getting slightly lost in the struggle to appeal to various listeners. The album opens with “Gods Reign” featuring the airy vocals of SZA, clearly the reference point for the album artwork and the stand-in for a title track for the album. Ab-Soul gives us a peek into where his head is at now after the death of a girlfriend and a binge of various drugs. However, it doesn’t sound tortured or particularly sad mentioned with enlightening baby mamas and booking tour dates. Check it below.

The first half of the album features production and content familiar to original Ab-Soul fans including “Dub Sac,” a soulful two-part track detailing personal drug use and the effects of the drug game on his family and upbringing. SZA makes an uncredited airy appearance that reminds me of a different time in west coast rap music. Lupe Fiasco and Rick Ross both make appearances in the first half of the album, with the latter’s appearance much more impressive. But then again, when is the last time Lupe Fiasco impressed anyone.

The weakness in the album comes with the odd inclusion of an alter-ego Jimmy (aka The White Ab-Soul) and the overused “Migos-flow.” Like, why? Right as you start to side-eye the project, Kendrick Lamar shows up for a jazzy mid-point interlude prime to make you salivate for Kendrick‘s sophomore album. “Sapiosexual” includes a credited SZA appearance but it seems juvenile and outdated. I was under the impression we were done with the fuck-your-mind analogies in the early 90s (see: dead prez “Mind Sex”). The second half of the album continues to be lyrical, yet slightly uninteresting until “Ride Slow” featuring the always entertaining Danny Brown. Definitely not a fan of Danny Brown, but I’m always intrigued by his inclusion on “traditional” rap beats. And then the album closes with Ab-Soul rapping acapella in a battle with another rapper (battle rapper, Daylyt) showcasing his play on words, overall lyrical dexterity, and what appears to be the camaraderie within TDE.

Perhaps Ab-Soul‘s album suffers from sequencing issues. The overall flow of the album is sporadic with the most interesting tracks occurring before the Kendrick interlude. Is this an instant classic? Nah. But it’s a decent rap album and I’m impressed by Ab-Soul‘s latest project. I expected accessible music, but I still prefer the cerebral mood of Control System. Ab-Soul‘s need to please so many different listeners has me wondering what type of artist he would be if he only made the music he wanted. There are lyrical gems reminding me that Ab-Soul is a lyricist first, but tracks like “Sapiosexual” and “Twact” leave me wondering what’s on the cutting room floor.

Standout Tracks: Gods Reign, Hunnid Stax, Nevermind

Skippable Tracks: Twact, Sapiosexual

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MUSIC WORLD: Rare Biggie Interview

Back in 1995, a UK TV show titled “Passengers” decided to profile then up-and-coming rapper, Notorious B.I.G. Fresh after the release of his debut album, Biggie takes the interviewers around his hood with some cameos from Lil’ Kim, Faith Evans, and his mom. Check it below.

Faith Evans on camera smoking weed and holding Biggie‘s gun. Voletta Wallace discredits his “Christmas never missed us” line from “Juicy.” Just chock full o’ gems.

 

MUSIC WORLD: Celebrating “The Black Album” 10 Years Later

10 years ago, Jay-Z proclaimed that he was retiring from rap. He did so via his magnum opus The Black Album. Jay-Z ushered in an era of button ups and dismissed the era of tall tees and oversized throwbacks – pre “Suit & Tie.” This album contained excerpts from Shawn’s mom detailing his birth and upbringing, President Obama brushed dirt off his shoulders because of this album, and a well-received The Grey Album all came from this body of work.

My mother bought me the limited edition release of The Black Album. The entire case, CD (front and back), and packaging was blacked out. It was all black everything before Jay-Z proclaimed he “might wear black for a year straight.” My car got stolen (and returned) in  college and so did that CD. I guess the thieves knew the value of that album, to me and to hip-hop. If you don’t own the documentary detailing what Jay-Z thought would be his final solo album and it’s subsequent concert dates, I feel bad for you son. Fade to Black is easily one of the best concert films I’ve ever seen and I still find myself watching it on a lazy Saturday. Catch one of my favorite clips featuring Kanye, below.

The Black Album was equally traditional and groundbreaking. It had pop singles that got radio spins [Change Clothes, 99 Problems] without sacrificing lyricism. Jay-Z has navigated that lane better than any other modern rap artist.After eight studio albums, the best rapper of the past decade told us all he was throwing in the towel. So we scooped up the album, went to see him on tour, and purchased the documentary. We all know now he would go on to release 5 more albums including a collaborative album with Kanye West. But it’s okay, because at that time, we all believed and wanted to believe that this was his final piece of work. I was left wondering how I would function when my favorite rapper “no longer exists.” This album was stadium music before rappers were making stadium music. So press play and fall in love again, or for the first time.

MUSIC WORLD: Sampha’s “Too Much” Sans Drake

I’m still working on my review of Em‘s latest album. So to distract you from my tardiness, I’m giving you a treat. Everyone likes treats. Sampha (singer featured on Drake’s song “Too Much,” among others) has released an acoustic and Drake-less video of “Too Much.” Enjoy it below.

The earthiness of his vocals makes me feel like I’m drinking hot cocoa cuddled up with one of my boos waxing poetic about the affordable care act and pondering a gluten-free diet.

MUSIC WORLD: TDE Playlist + ScHoolboy Q Video

Another Music Monday playlist for your headphones. This week, I’ve decided to share my TDE playlist. TDE is =/= to Black Hippy. Black Hippy consists of Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, and Jay Rock. But TDE has recently expanded it’s roster signing rapper Isaiah Rashad and singer SZA – neither of which have a profile on Spotify. So this playlist will unfortunately include none of their music. But enjoy nonetheless. 9 hours of TDE, features and solo tracks, still sounds like a good Monday to me.

Also, as ScHoolboy Q preps for his third album Oxymoron, he’s released a visual to “Banger (MOSHPIT).” Still don’t know when the album is dropping, but he’s turned it in to the label. Check the video below.

MUSIC WORLD: I Don’t Hate Childish Gambino Anymore: A Love Story

Something strange happened this week. I became a subtle fan of Childish Gambino. But I reaallllllyyy wanted to hate him. Why? I’m not sure. Is it because his name is courtesy of Wu-Tang’s name generator? Is it because he’s was a writer for 30 Rock before he was a rapper? I’m not sure my apprehension. Maybe I question his authenticity. But with rappers proving you don’t have to be directly of the streets to represent hip-hop (Chance the Rapper, Macklemore,  J. Cole), it’s time to broaden my horizons. So I present to you, my love story.

Childish Gambino (real name Donald Glover, no relationship to Danny Glover) has been on a mini promo tour stopping at The Breakfast Club & Sway in the Morning in addition to dropping two new songs this week. He has a strong indie fan base that ensure he sells out shows in NYC every time he graces a stage. He’s released a number of mixtapes and albums himself then he signed a label deal. But I still wanted to hate him. Childish Gambino is as much a comic as he is a rapper. Dave Chappelle once proclaimed that all rappers want to be comedians and all comedians want to be a rapper. And Danny Glover is both. So I still wanted to hate him. Chance the Rapper included him on one of my favorite tracks from  Acid Rap, “Favorite Song.” Then Childish Gambino appeared on Jhene Aiko‘s single “Bed Peace.” I still wanted to hate him.

Outside of my slight obsession with Jhene, I wasn’t the biggest fan of his inclusion on this song. So I still wasn’t feeling him. Then this week happened. Childish Gambino dropped “3005” and I was intrigued. He stopped by The Breakfast Club and provided a view into his personality. I developed a slight cyber crush. Then he dropped another track, “Worldstar” and  performed a REAL freestyle to “Pound Cake” on Sway in the Morning. Listen to each of these below and decide if you still hate him.

He’s introspective and clever. Funny, yet not a joke. He knows how to capture your interest, but it’s not a gimmick. And it helps his “Pound Cake” freestyle was one of the best ones I’ve heard. There’s something about this guy that makes me want to hear more. I’m definitely going back to listen to his previous work. And his second studio album, Because the Internet, drops December 10, 2013.  Kudos to you Childish Gambino, I don’t hate you anymore.

MUSIC WORLD: *UPDATED* One Year Later… My Extended Review of Kendrick Lamar’s “good kid, m.A.A.d. city”

*One Year Later*

What a difference a year makes? With popular culture’s attention span being shorter than Kevin Hart, it’s amazing that this album still has legs. People are still listening, still talking about it, and still fawning over Kendrick – really now more than ever. Since this release, Kendrick Lamar has provided amazing guest verses (Fucking Problems, How Many Drinks Remix, 1 Train, etc.) and crowned himself the King of New York. A young nigga from the west coast decided he was King! How audacious of him.  In a year that saw albums from heavyweights like Nicki Minaj, Nas, Rick Ross, G.O.O.D. Music, T.I. & 2 Chainz, this is the album everyone is still talking about. Kendrick’s stardom has increased the chatter about his TDE labelmates set to make a splash in the next couple of quarters. What’s left to be seen is what a sophomore album from Kendrick sounds like. Following his Hip-Hop Awards cypher, I am extremely excited.  What do you think? Read my original review below.

I can’t even front. I’ve been thirsty for this album to drop since I was first introduced to Kendrick Lamar. Section.80 was everything. I tried not to get too hype for his debut album because I didn’t want to be disappointed if it didn’t live up to what I was expecting (cue: Cruel Summer). But guess what, it did.

My quick review: This is one of the best debut albums from ANY recent rap artist. Definitely in the running for instant classic status. Cop it. You won’t be disappointed.

Want more? Check my full, track-by-track, review below.

Kendrick has emerged as a premier storyteller for our generation. Borrowing from the likes of Slick Rick. Nas, and Notorious B.I.G., Kendrick uses his supreme lyricism to weave tales that feel as personal as if our best friend was recounting them to us. He led off the debut of this album with two “singles.” One served as a buzz-single, “The Recipe.” The other, “Swimming Pools (Drank)” was a cautionary tale of the pitfalls of alcoholism and peer pressure. Naturally it’s become a drinking anthem. Both sound better in the grand scheme of the album. I’m a big proponent of complete projects. By that I mean, I love when an artist takes the time to sequence tracks in a way that they tell a story. Mr. Lamar has presented good kid, m.A.A.D. city in this manner.

The album opens with the first mention of Sherane and the voices of a group of young men that sound straight from the set of “The Wood.” The storytelling kicks off immediately with Kendrick recounting his 17 year old self involving Nextels, his first sexual experience, and a hint of gang activity in Compton. Then his mother calls in a hilarious voicemail skit where his father chastises him about dominoes and his mother implores him to bring her car back. The personal notes in this track alone start the album off strong.

One of my favorite tracks of the album, so far, “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe” follows the opening track. This track fully displays the different flows that old fans are used to hearing from Kendrick. He weaves in and out of the beat, a perfect west coast circa 1995 beat with familiar modern drums and bounce. “Backseat Freestyle” is next. When this track hit the internet early last week, it was just okay. In the full scheme of the album though, it shines.

Another standout track for its content more than anything, “The Art of Peer Pressure” first details why Kendrick doesn’t partake in smoking weed now. Without completely ruining your listening experience, Kendrick picked up the wrong joint. It’s a great story that most of us can relate to involving mob mentality and peer pressure with the homies. Jay Rock serves as his first feature on the next track, “Money Trees.” Kendrick’s use of the word “bish” is hilarious and just as ridiculous and it sounds when us chicks use it trying to be more polite than using “bitch” towards each other. I love how the voicemails from his parents continue through the album making it a cohesive project.

Drake serves as the next feature for a 40-produced track with Janet Jackson‘s angelic voice in the background of “Poetic Justice.” Drake doesn’t disappoint and the song feels and sounds good. The album continues with “Good Kid” and “M.A.A.D city.” The latter features MC Eiht in the second half of the track with stories of the gang violence frequently associated with Compton.  It left me wondering where the hell he found MC Eiht, but it randomly works on this track.

His first official single “Swimming Pools (Drank)” also sounds more complete while sandwiched between album cuts. The album version has a little more pizzaz with some added bars. As the album begins to come to a close, Kendrick presents a 12-minute opus titled “Sing About Me, Dying of Thirst.” I love that he meshed these two tracks into one offering. They flow, share themes, and again display Kendrick‘s storytelling ability. And any song that references Menace II Society, well, has won in my book. I don’t know who Anna Wise of Sonnymoon is, but I love her voice on one of my favorite tracks, “Real.” It feels like Kendrick is talking about where fame has got him while he’s still trying to remain real to who he is and where he comes from.

If you have the regular release, the album ends with “Compton” featuring Dr. Dre. Buuut, no one cops the regular release anymore. So depending on which leak  where you copped the album from (iTunes, physical copy, Amazon), your bonus tracks vary. Each include “The Recipe,” “Black Boy Fly,” and “Now or Never” featuring Mary J. Blige.  Spotify also has a remix to “The Recipe” featuring the entire Black Hippy Collective. The iTunes version includes “Collect Calls.” Either way, more Kendrick is always welcome.

Whew! So with all that, my overall view of this album remains. This is a great album, easily shitting on so many debut albums from other freshman artists. I was super hype to hear the album and it lived up to and exceeded my expectations. Kendrick Lamar appeared to stay true to himself while still releasing a commercially appealing project. His voice, figuratively speaking, is still apparent.

My overall review: 4.5/5… damn near classic status

Standout Tracks: Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe,  The Art of Peer Pressure, Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst

Forgettable Tracks: None, really…

You can purchase the album on iTunes HERE and listen on Spotify HERE.