Is there room for Kanye and his ego on Astroworld’s latest ride?

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Although Texas rapper Travis Scott may have grown a reputation in recent times for his more mediocre features, Watch, the first single off his hotly anticipated release ‘Astroworld’, brings the same chilled vibe and monumental beat that put him on the map.

Serving as a fruity, colourful canvas for Kanye West, Lil Uzi Vert and Travis to project on, Pi’erre Bourne’s beat is a beautifully erratic cacophony that encapsulates the fairground imagery that Astroworld is based around; it’s busy and vibrant, and once paired with the opening sample, provides is thematically perfect. Lil Uzi Vert tackles the first verse, with his trademark melodic autotuned tinged vocals, and while lyrically he appears to take the title very literally, it’s enjoyable and energetic. Travis also has a powerful performance, benefiting significantly from having a gaudy beat that compliments his usual dry flow, and although it’s nothing we haven’t seen before, it’s compelling and done to a high quality.

Despite being the mastermind who introduced Travis to the world, Kanye’s verse feels amateurish and rushed, with references to his recent antics confirming that his addition can’t have been recorded more than a few weeks ago. His nasally flow and and awkward breaths fail to synergise at all with Uzi and Travis trading autotuned bars, and the flat delivery comes across as a weak grab at capitalising on the controversy he’s recently created.

Cactus Jack’s first single from Astroworld is incredibly promising, with a dense beat and above average delivery, even if Kanye’s contribution hinders more than it helps.

Album Review – Godfather II

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Is it really here? For real? Fans of the East London grime giant, Wiley, have been patiently waiting for the sequel to his 2017 studio album Godfather. And while his return last year may have been praised by some as the savior of grime, this new release, Godfather II, see’s Wiley taking a break to try and save pop instead?

Initially, the album’s main flaws are almost unnoticeable. Serving as an introduction to the project, Merkers is punchy and urgent, with Wiley’s crunchy vocals drip energy; it’s exactly the start the project needed. Continuing to channel that same moody London strength is a spew of singles, including I Call The Shots and the violin filled beat of Remember Me, which both manage to depict Wiley with a healthy balance of humility and ego. Switching between claiming the title of Godfather and lobbying fans to remember his legacy, the lyrics throughout the project adopt a sense of self awareness, perhaps as a result of his peer Stormzy’s recent releases that have found incredible success with a similar conscious tone. Fellow Boy Better Know member JME spits a witty, distinctly British verse, on I Call The Shots, even managing to reference Ofsted while outperforming Wiley’s mediocre lyricism.

Less aware listeners may feel betrayed by Spotify autoplay for playing Wiley’s pop hits from the noughties, before it hits them; these are tracks on Godfather II. For someone who claims that any grime number one hit is a pop track, sixth track, Certified, is a textbook stab at a summer hit, with a fruity, tropical beat and melodic vocals from Shakka. If it was released by an an artist who prefers to dominate the Billboard charts rather than the streets of London, it may be a decent summer single; but it’s not. Instead, it’s a sweaty, anxious flashback to a previous Wiley that created cold, soulless tunes like Heatwave and Wearing my Rolex. Proving it’s a standard, not an anomaly with tracks like Over It and Still Standing, the final two thirds of the album sags, significantly.

As a project, Godfather II creates more questions than it answers. If the first five tracks were an EP, or if it wasn’t named after such a legendary project, it may have been less egregious. But as it stands, Wiley’s twelfth studio album is a soulless cash grab that is peppered with a couple of hard singles, and is ultimately let down by an onslaught of sub-par pop tracks. The seventh track ‘Still Standing’ ponders “How am I still standing here?”, and spoiler alert; Godfather II won’t be the answer.

Album Review – K.O.D

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K.O.D is North Carolina rapper J.Cole’s latest attack on his personal demons, a crusade that was conceived during his 2016 project ‘4 Your Eyez Only’, in which he sets his sights on his largest obstacle; addiction. Dropped on 420, from start to finish the project is a scathing attack on the glorification of drug abuse in the hip hop community, and the culture that it has perpetuated.

An introduction to the album saunters into existence, comprising of a disembodied female voice warning of the dangers of being unable to cope with life’s challenges, and a Miles Davis esque saxophone melody. It sets the message of the album well; almost too well, to a degree where some listeners may find it obtuse due to the lack of subtlety. Cole’s title track also suffers the same problems, as it establishes the little vignettes of female vocals that will punctuate most of the album, although the aggressive delivery that drips attitude and defensiveness makes it at least very listenable. The lethargic trap drums that make an appearance on Photograph are another demonstration of the counterculture that Cole attempts to curate, yet with more subtlety, and remains relatable and modern.

Speculation about the unknown rapper kiLL edward’s features is resolved on The Cut Off and FRIENDS, turning out to be a pitched down version of Cole’s vocals, which provides the self confessed ‘platinum with no features’ rapper with the perfect voice to bounce of off; himself. Lyrically, it’s nuanced, with Cole using the voice of his alter ego to become self aware and acknowledge his weaknesses, his temptations and his failings, but it’s let down by the dreary production. Obviously aware to the unpalatable soundscape, Cole injects a little energy into the album with the ATM, a catchy song with delivery that swells and flows well, and is reminiscent of 2014 Forest Hills.

Perhaps the weakest element of K.O.D is the production. There’s two sides of the coin, and for every listener who enjoys the conceptual and minimalist approach, they’ll be another who’s deterred by it. Gone are the lush and fruity sounds of 2014, replaced by flatter sounding piano and somewhat apathetic jazz elements. More mature sounding? Maybe. Less likely to create a radio hit? Almost definitely.

And that’s where my problem with J.Cole’s fifth studio album lies. It suffers from the exact same sleepy cohesion that made 4 Your Eyez Only sound sonically like one single, drawn out song. While the message is commendable, how many less people will hear it because they’re put off by the unapproachable beats? J.Cole may be the champion of old heads who like to be nostalgic about how much better past rap was, but he’s managed to create forty two minutes of minimalist music that disregards all of the culture that rap has spawned, for better or for worse, depending on the listener. It’s unapologetic and stubborn, yet if Cole was able to wear his influences on his sleeve less, and compromise on a couple of features, K.O.D could have been a timeless classic. By no means is it a bad release, but it will continue to fail to convince past critics that J.Cole is creating anything that Kendrick Lamar hasn’t already done. Kid On Drugs is a powerful, sincere release that’s hindered by its uncapitalised potential; and I fear that’s what J.Cole wanted.    

Single Review – CLOSE

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Mississippi rap duo, Rae Sremmurd, who dominated the airwaves last year with their hit ‘Black Beatles’ are back with their latest single, CLOSE. Signed to Ear Drummers Records, the pair have access to the production talents of Mike Will Made It, which they’ve once again utilized here to create a moody, melodic trap beat.

Unfortunately, despite the experience of the group, their producer, and Travis Scott, who handles the opening verse on the track, it’s an underwhelming experience. Travis’s verse is dry and repetitive, and it’s a sleepy opener to a track that already has a lethargic beat. It’s disappointing considering his past performances, notably Trippie Redd’s ‘Dark Knight Dummo’, was was practically crackling with energy. Sonically, the beat is moody and clean, but lacks any intensity, which curates an atmosphere that’s hazy and murky.

Swae Lee’s verse is a little better, but the delicate delivery fails to rectify the underwhelming guest verse, and the incessant ‘C-L-O-S-E’, which punctuates almost every verse and chorus, becomes grating after very few listens. On the other hand, Slim Jxmmi’s verse is crisp and features lyrics, that while  very typical of the genre, are interesting, such as ‘I’ma stack up the cake like Obama told me’. Sadly, it’s lost within the mundanity of the track, with the last minute of an already short performance being filled with an awful bridge of ‘ So many, so many drugs/
You only get so many, so many drugs’ over, and over again, before the song closes with another bout of Swae Lee spelling close out.

As a single it’s underwhelming, and Travis Scott  desperately needs to rekindle the energy that we know he’s capable of to retain the hype for his upcoming album, Astroworld.

Single Review – Disappointing Diamonds are the Rarest of Them All

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There’s listening to Father John Misty’s love songs. And then there’s listening. Disappointing Diamonds Are The Rarest of Them All is the Rockville crooner’s latest single off of his upcoming album, which is set to release at the beginning of June, and is a brief showcase of his wit and talent.

Glitzy and glamorous production disguises the track’s obscene metaphors, that subverts listener’s expectations surrounding love songs, a formula Misty perfected on his 2015 release, ‘I Love You, Honeybear’. So severe and clever is the juxtaposition between similes such as ‘Like a carcass left out in the heat/This love is bursting out of me’ and the triumphant saxophone that dances throughout the short track, it will surely be missed during a cursory listen. It’s upbeat and insincere, with a chirpy, memorable piano driven melody that makes the track incredibly listenable.

Father John Misty has once again flexed his lyrical muscles to create an experience that is so deeply nuanced that it would be an injustice to casually listen to. If you were remotely a fan of I Love You, Honeybear, don’t miss God’s New Favorite Customer, dropping June 1st this year.

Single Review – Gotti

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Is it a coincidence that the release of Brooklyn rapper 6ix9ines latest track, GOTTI, has lined up with the emergence of the first rays of sun this year? Perhaps, but between the calmer, melodic vocals, the healthy dose of autotune and the fruity beat seems like a tactical decision by 6ix9ine’s management, who posted the track, to capitalize on the summer market with a more radio friendly song.

Gone are the obnoxious gun samples and aggressive vocals which characterized his debut album, Day69. In their place is a strange introduction of autotune assisted harmonies and spaced out synths, which is surprisingly an unwelcome change. While it may show 6ix9ine’s somewhat ability to switch up his style, it lacks his signature aggression that made his other tracks, such as GUMMO and BILLY listenable and somewhat catchy. The newfound clarity to 6ix9ine’s vocals is ultimately a waste of time, for he continues to say nothing that listeners haven’t heard before. Making sure to use every trap lyric stereotype possible, the track is packed wall to wall full of boasting, about success, riches, how he can take listener’s girlfriends, and a shopping list of his drug habits. With the inclusion of three references to Scum Gang and a couple of mentions shouting out his testicales to increase his internet fame, GOTTI’s lyrics are as formulaic and unoriginal as any other of 6ix9ine’s tracks, except they’re unfortunately easier to hear.  

Thematically, the beat, which is likely created by Flamm, fits the hazy, dream world aesthetic of the full length project. The sugary, glittery synths and piano chords combined with the xylophone pattern are fitting, although the obvious sample loop can be a tad jarring at times.

At this point, it would be a blessing if 6ix9ine is unable to record bland, boring tracks such as GOTTI for the next three years, especially when they lack any of the qualities that made their predecessors somewhat catchy. Yuck.

Album Review – Dex Meets Dexter

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For someone that’s managed to release seven mixtapes in three years, Famous Dex sure sounds lazy on his debut album ‘Dex Meets Dexter’. Released just a week after Rich the Kid’s debut album, who’s label Dex is now signed to, April seemed set to be dominated by mumble rap and trap beats. However, it’s now more apparent that the two projects couldn’t be more different, with Rich relying on high energy and lively ad-libs, whereas Dex’s debut feels lethargic and dull.

Dex’s flow isn’t inherently bad, but with the excessive autotune it sounds muddy and sluggish, which is especially noticeable on the tracks DMD and CELINE. The flow is competent enough to create some catchy snippets on some songs like the single, JAPAN, which is a metaphor for the album as a whole; while there’s some highlights, they’re mostly lost within the mundanity of the project. Fans may have been anticipating bouncy beats similar to the single PICK IT UP, and they’re somewhat rewarded on Dex Meets Dexter, where songs utilize flat steel drums and typical trap elements to create a few bangers, but like everything else, they’re few are far between and are surrounded by a sea of throwaway tracks. The Diplo produced track, CHAMPION, that closes the album is particularly good by Dex standards, but it’s a continuation of Diplo’s recent efforts to collaborate with the newest rappers, and within that context it joins Lil Xan’s ‘Colorblind’ as one of Diplo’s weakest tracks in recent times.

Equally as lazy is Dex’s lyrics, which can may be explained on the Ronny J produced track ‘HEIM’, where Dex spits ‘Huh, Perc 30 got me lazy’’ over, and over, and over again. Not unexpected but still disappointing. Perhaps the weakest track on the project is PROVE IT, with an insistent high hat that feels like it’s straight from a Lil Xan release, and mediocre singing.

If Dex Meets Dexter had been curated and cut down to half of its gigantic size, with a few more quality features to break up the beats, Dex’s decent flow and competent voice may have been utilised to create a decent debut album. As it stands, the album is only useful as a collection of reasonable singles, surrounded by an insufferable mess of throwaway beats.  

EP Review – Wraith

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Within the space of just seventeen short minutes, Chicago thrash metal band Wraith paint a relentless, brutal world, where there’s no rules and chaos reigns supreme. On their palette is shades of punk, thrash and rock and roll, from which the group of three apply to their debut self titled project in heavy strokes to create an an EP that ultimately feels like Toxic Holocaust on speed.

One of Wraith’s greatest strengths on their debut release is their ability to incorporate numerous elements of black metal into their work without diluting the energy and aggression of thrash. It’s an integral part of their sound, as listeners can see from the sample of Bruce Campbell’s 1992 film, Army of Darkness, but not once does the project feel slow or syrupy; there’s a fine balance that the band have struck. Sonically, Wraith as an EP feels very tight and clean, and while it may come across somewhat minimalist or clinical, it’s pulled off technically very well,  with Matt Sokol’s guitar complimenting the other instruments to provide the layers in sound to keep the songs fresh and interesting without an established atmosphere. This is perhaps most noticeable on the title track Kneel Before, where the subtle guitar riffs that are established around the one minute mark lend the track some additional complexity and diversity.

Moving down the tracklist, the second song on the EP, Hell, is two minutes of solid punchy sound, and although Sokol’s vocals can feel lost behind the other instruments, it’s a fun take on contemporary thrash metal. Between it and World War, the following track, there’s a lyrical theme established full of death, melting bone and survival in an apocalyptic wasteland; very typical themes for the genre. What lyrics there are tend to focus more on establishing the project’s tone than telling a story, which isn’t unusual or negative for the genre, however as previously mentioned sometimes they sound a little muddy, which could is a shame, as what we do hear on tracks like Follow the Reaper is sharp. One would imagine that it’s a teething issue for such a new band that will hopefully be resolved under the careful eye of Joel Grind, who is mixing and mastering Wraith’s second project. Finally, the EP concludes with a cover of the Motorhead track The Hammer, which is executed tastefully and was a thematically fitting choice for the project.

Wraith has created an EP that feels like an amalgamation of their contemporaries, with sounds of Venom and Midnight mixed with a dash of Black Sabbath, that’s been executed near flawlessly. Small criticisms hinder the project ever so slightly, such as the overpowered vocals and somewhat concentrated sound, but the band will inevitably grow and develop with time. Make sure you give this project a listen, and make sure you keep an eye out for Wraith’s impending success!

 

 

Listen to Wraith here: https://wraith219.bandcamp.com/releases

Single Review – Either Hated or Ignored

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Despite being released just a day ago, Either Hated or Ignored feels almost like a time capsule, a glimpse into the minds of $crim and Ruby before their project, $uicideboy$, exploded with popularity. Maybe that’s because it is, with the track allegedly being meant to release with their early 2016 release ‘Dark Side of the Clouds’; just three months early the $uicideboy$ had appeared on Adam Grandmaison podcast, explaining how at that point they were still working nine till five regular jobs.

Listeners can feel this more grounded nature in both the lyrics and the tone of the single, with $crim defensively celebrating the pair’s new found success in the first verse, and Ruby referencing the simplistic nature of their 2015 hit ‘Low Key’. Mixed in with these celebratory, self reflective elements is the typical references to misery, obscure drugs and motifs found in classic horror literature, such as vultures and addiction that we’ve came to expect. Production and beat creation is credited to Budd Dwyer, the name of the now deceased republican politician that $crim has been known to borrow as one of his many aliases. It’s woozy and the lighter sample drifts around the gravelly vocals and trap drums, and it’s very reminiscent of the tent scene soundtrack from M*A*S*H. Whether it’s a stylistic choice or simply poor mixing, the duos flows are almost overpowered by the beat, but it’s a small flaw that will largely be unnoticed by most listeners.

To very little surprise, Either Hated or Ignored is a very typical $uicideboy$ song, which is meant in the best way possible. It’s a niche sound that the duo have perfected, and this second single of 2018 is a demonstration of that talent. If you didn’t enjoy any other $uicideboy$ releases, this song will do nothing to change your mind, but it will be a guaranteed hit for fans of the pair and horrorcore genre alike.      

Mixtape Review – A Girl Who Cried Red

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From start to finish, A Girl Cried Red is decisively emo. Even the title is a slightly edited line from the post-hardcore band Dance Gavin Dance’s 2010 track ‘The Robot With Human Hair. It’s a definite move away from Princess Nokia’s debut mixtape ‘1992’, replacing the sonic variation with a solid, more traditional sound.

Listeners should know what to expect from the first track, Flowers and Rope, which is full of lyrics that wouldn’t sound out of place on an Evanescence song, such as ‘It won’t even hurt, I’m already dead (I’m already dead). These very obvious and pronounced themes continue, with Your Eyes are Bleeding detailing her depression and demons over a cloud trap beat that compliments the intimate topic, although the lack of any strong writing does start to become apparent. Following it is ‘For the Night’, which feels redundant as it’s placed so close to Your Eyes are Bleeding, which sounds incredibly similar in topic, flow and beat. There’s nothing inherently bad about it, but the songs jostle against each other, trying to get their chance to be remembered, and ultimately it ends up sounding like a six minute track rather than two separate three minute songs.

Geographically, the album beings to peak as listeners pace their way to the halfway mark, Look Up Kid. It’s an anxious, erratic homage to artists like Paramore, with chunky guitar riffs and delicately sung vocals that aren’t dissimilar to the younger sounding delivery that Nokia showcased on tracks like Kitana. There’s a careful blend of singing and rapping, just as there is on her prior projects, but the change in flows that Nokia is clearly capable of is absent. Where she previously juggled a deep, husky voice with a gossamery, girly sound on 1992, we’re left with a more cohesive, if bland, set of vocals on this project.

There’s a pause in the form of a guitar interlude before Morphine begins. If Taking Back Sunday and Lil Peep had created a song together, it would likely be Morphine, which has angsty themes of heartbreak and modern references to lean running throughout. Nokia’s strengths lie within her creativity, and Morphine doesn’t play to that well, and her melodic flow can feel a little lost behind the beat, making it one of the weaker tracks on the mixtape. At the Top feels identical in tone, and ends up sharing the same weaknesses as the track it follows. While listeners may appreciate the sorrowful sentiment behind the closing track, Little Angel, which is seemingly a tribute to a friend or sibling that has been lost, the lyrics lack nuance or any strong imagery, which is a theme that is unfortunately consistent throughout the mixtape.

A Girl Cried Red is disappointing. With no features, and some of Nokia’s most honest lyrics yet, there was serious potential for a release that would connect with listeners and fans on a more intimate level, yet the short project feels clinical and cold. The creativity and personality that we saw on tracks such as Tomboy and Dragons is missing, and while it’s an interesting delve into a different genre, 1992 was more daring, more original and more Princess Nokia. It’s a project that’s certainly listenable, if you have no expectations.