Album Review – Invasion of Privacy

 

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Invasion of Privacy is the most appropriate name for Cardi B’s debut album. Raw, rough, sexual and brutally honest, the thirteen track project is an intimate view into Cardi’s personality and her explosive rise to fame, right down to her signature screeches and adlibs. As she spits on the sixth track, Best Life, this album is ‘some real-life fairytale Binderella shit’, a non-chronological rags to riches story which is entwined within her first full length project.

Where others in a similar position may seek to hide their less than glamorous pasts, Cardi embraces and celebrates her humble beginnings. On the opening track, Get Up 10,  she describes how she was financially and emotionally bankrupt, how she relied on stripping, and her previous drama with 212 rapper Azealia Banks in her thick new york accent. There’s no bombastic writing or thoughtful wordplay; everything is as straight forward and filterless as the rapper herself. It’s an approach that’s definitely a double edged sword, with the crass topics complimenting her authentic image that she’s curated and utilised to gain astronomic fame, however it’s doesn’t showcase any technical skill.

A lack of technical talent is a prevailing theme throughout the project. While Cardi does switch up her flow frequently, they all share a similar caedance and brazen nature with her debut flow on Bodak Yellow, and the elementary rhyming pattern seems to induce equally simplistic writing. Although the topics are genuine, the way they’re delivered is equally straightforward and peppered with overused metaphors and sexual cliches. Luckily, there’s frequent respite from Cardi’s flows in the form of features, which include her fellow Atlantic Records mate Kehlani, her fiance, future cousin and uncle in law, and chart toppers such as SZA, 21 Savage and Chance the Rapper. The Migos deliver one of their more underwhelming and predictable performances on Drip, with Offset managing to once again sneak in a mention about his watch brand of choice. Sonically, the track sounds suspiciously similar to another Migos track, Slippery, although it could just be their shared use of a very fluid sounding melody. On the other hand, SZA handles the chorus on ‘I Do’ spectacularly, with a sugary and melodic delivery that synergises with Cardi’s brash verses well.

For the most part most part, the beats are all very crisp and echoey, with an overwhelming trap flavour. The only track that deviates from this formula is ‘I Like It’, which sonically pays homage to Cardi B’s Hispanic background, over the top of a contemporary thumping bass. It’s regrettable that the production has been taken in a more apprehensive direction that contradicts Cardi B’s spectacularly gaudy personality, but this conservative approach is easier to market, especially on an artists debut album.

While she may have wanted a threesome with Chrissy Teigen and Rihanna, Cardi B has created a debut album that’s equal parts New York, Atlanta and Latino. Her technical skill and writing may be somewhat absent, and the production unremarkable, but the honest lyrics and her addictive personality will be sure to attract fans regardless. It seems Cardi B is here to stay for a while.

 

Track Review – Remember the Times

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Los Angeles has historically always been a hotbed for creative rappers. From super-groups like N.W.A and Odd Future, to strong solo artists such as Snoop Dogg and Childish Gambino, it has consistently spawned the hottest, game-changing music that has shaken up the industry. Money Posse Tyler is the latest act to emerge from the City of Angels, and his latest single ‘Remember the Times’ showcases his talent.
From a tone standpoint, the track is an amalgamation of angst driven Soundcloud rap and more sensual R&B, with moody production but a slower, more thoughtful flow. If you’re picturing the love child of the Weeknd and Lil Uzi Vert, you wouldn’t be far off in terms of the track’s sound. Tyler adopts his signature robotic vocal effect on the song, which is fast becoming a staple on his releases. There’s two things that separates this track from the wealth of young, sad-boy rappers that have surfaced in the last year. Firstly, Tyler’s flow avoids getting trapped within the constraints of triplets, instead taking a more traditional, R&B flavoured approach to his rap, delivered over Smokeasac’s concussive, synth heavy beat.
The second reason that Money Posse Tyler stands out from his peers, is well, his peers. Soundcloud giant ILOVEMAKONNEN lends the tracks some vocals, which gives it some variation, but more importantly his support. Having worked with industry legends such as Drake, Mikewillmadeit and Wiz Khalifa, MAKONNEN subsequently passes some of this credibility on to Tyler, which will massively increase his chances of success. The second set of guest vocals come from Teddy, which is perhaps the most powerful performance on the track, with his impressive use of vibrato throughout.
While Remember the Times may not reinvent the wheel, or take any significant creative risks, it’s well executed, catchy, and what people want to hear. Money Posse Tyler is one to keep an eye on in the future.

Album Review – Vacation in Hell

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In the two years since the release of 3001: A Laced Odyssey, Brooklyn rappers Flatbush Zombies have freed themselves from their cinematic constraints and continued to refine their own sound. Thematically, Vacation in hell is a blend of psychedelic hip-hop and aggressive horrorcore that’s remained, for the most part, unique to the group throughout all of their recent projects. As a project it’s sharp and fresh, while the production remains rich and nuanced.
Listeners are greeted with the appropriately named, Hell-O, with it’s bouncy synths that wouldn’t sound out of place on their previous full length release. It’s energetic and moody, with Meech exclaiming ‘fuck that..mumble rap’, which effectively sets the tone of the rest of the album; it doesn’t conform to the current popular sound, instead carving out it’s own sonic niche. M.Bison, named after the Street Fighter antagonist, is the closest track to a traditional trap song, but the shrill, varied production keep it original. On the other end of the spectrum is songs like Vacation, Ask Courtney, and Facts, which are brooding and syrupy, but never feel repetitive thanks to unexpected elements, such as drab harmonies, or a change of roles from one of the members. The geography of Vacation in Hell is lush and undulating, and remains one of the Zombie’s greatest strengths as a group.
Out of the nineteen songs on the tracklist, eight feature guest vocals, enough to add even more variety, but not too many that it feels like a crutch that the group lean on. Denzel Curry defies all expectations on the final track, The Glory, which is a smart twist, but fans will have to continue to wait to see the true energy of both artists collide on a future track. On Vacation, Joey Bada$$ effectively trades roles with Zombie Juice, and his flow and urgent delivery compliment the group well. Meech takes YouAreMySunshine solo, not just from features but from the rest of the Zombies as well. It’s surprising that A$AP Twelvyy doesn’t feature on this tribute to his group mate, who was his introduction to the rest of the mob, the late A$AP Yams, but the powerful message works better from being delivered by one voice.
Perhaps the weakest element of Vacation in Hell is the lyrics. All three members of the group have a habit of over-explaining their wordplay, instead of allowing the listener to connect the dots themselves. For example, on the first verse of Ask Courtney, Meech spits ‘Love hurts, ask Courtney, she killed Kurt’, which is a connection that didn’t really need explanation. It doesn’t detract much from the project, but still with noting.
Vacation in Hell is a masterpiece; It’s sonically diverse and listeners can feel the chemistry between the trio well. Despite it’s length, the project never feels stale or repetitive, and although some lyrics lack a little, it’s more than made up for in the other areas. Give this record a listen.

Album Review – Total Xanarchy

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Total Xanarchy sounds exactly like what critics of trap music think all trap music sounds like. It’s Lil Xan’s debut album, and is his first proper attempt at a full length project, and after stating that it’s ‘a very mature sound’ and where he ‘shines creatively’, fans may have had high hopes. They were wrong to. From start to finish, this project is underproduced, underwritten, and consistently let down by Lil Xan’s weak flow. With production being handled primarily by DJ Fu and Bobby Johnson, both who have significant experience in the genre, the beats somehow manage to be flat and lifeless, and lack any creativity. Even more disappointing is the Ronny J produced beat ‘Tick Tock’, which manages to distinguish itself as even worse than the rest of the project, as a result of it’s obnoxious hi-hats and droning bass that has been used to replace any resemblance of a melody.

Escape Room reviews typically attempt to highlight the strongest and weakest tracks from a project, however it’s impossible to distinguish any track for being good. Lyrically, almost every track is repetitive cliches, filled with insufferable references to his women, jewelry and drugs. While Xan’s ‘anti Xanax’ message is commendable, the sincerity of it is lost within the context of the song; not every song needs a strong message, but this project tries to have one, and fails spectacularly. Even if there was a powerful, nuanced message to this project, like Lil Xan claims there is, it would be locked away behind his indecipherable vocal performances. At times some material, such as Saved By the Bell sounds like it was performed either while intoxicated, or asleep, to such a degree it goes beyond a stylistic choice. Furthermore, there’s no variation to Xan’s flow on any track; so much for his self proclaimed creativity.

Under Columbia records, one would imagine that Lil Xan has access to a wealth of artists to choose from to feature. But perhaps as a result of his controversial statements surrounding the late 2pac (which we defended here), the project lacks any supporting vocals from his peers, and instead relies on 2 Chainz and Rae Sremmurd, and an unoriginal verse from Rich the Kid on a betrayed remix. As a result of either poor mixing or not being in his comfort zone, 2 Chainz’s verse on Tick Tock lacks energy and manages to sound as dull as Lil Xan. Moonlight, a somewhat interesting ballad, and one of the better tracks (but not by much) features sugary, glossy vocals from Charli XCX, however both her contribution and the acoustic guitar get swallowed by the clumsy 808s. In concept it could have worked, but it would have been better as a track led by Charli, and the feature of Lil Xan, so it could properly capture the delicate tone it was going for. Colorblind was one of the weaker tracks on California, an EP released by Diplo, yet manages to stand out as one of the best tracks on the project. Due to it being covered in the California Review, and being ripped from Diplo’s release without any form of remixing, this review won’t be considering it when talking about the project overall.

At the end of the day, the only surprise from Total Xanarchy is that it manages to disappoint, despite having zero expectations. It’s bland, repetitive and underproduced, and is arguably one of the worst releases of 2018 so far. Some of his previous singles like Betrayed are still fun, if not good, but are recycled on tracks like Who I am. Fans of Lil Xan’s previous work may still find it enjoyable, but the slow, sad-rap tone prevents any track being good for club bangers or guilty pleasures. If you’re blessed with hearing, stay far away from Lil Xan’s debut album, Total Xanarchy.

Album Review – Erase Me

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Since it’s conception in 1997, Christian metalcore band Underoath have been very good at being average. They may have missed out on the explosive success of their peers, such as Bring Me The Horizon or Beartooth, but they’ve been consistently supported by their monumental fanbase that has remained loyal even through the decline of the genre; no small part due to their Christian lyrics. With the release of Erase Me, their eighth studio album in a discography spanning multiple decades, fans may have predicted that Underoath would have stuck to their guns and continued to produce similar sounding music, with similar sounding lyrics and themes. They were wrong.

Instead of the typical blend of frenzied screaming and nasal singing, Underoath have made the decision to make a record that leans more towards hardcore rock. Don’t get it wrong, there is a little screaming on tracks like Bloodlust or On My Teeth, but it’s nonabrasive and lacks any punch, while the lead single Rapture was completely devoid of any vocal variation. Some readers are probably thinking by this point that it’s commendable for artists to take a new direction with their music, especially this late in a career; and it would be, if it wasn’t as equally predictable as their old music. There’s no overwhelming flaws or problems to Erase Me, the production is sharp, the performances from all members is consistent, and there isn’t any song that sticks out thematically. Equally, there’s nothing particularly compelling either, the breakdowns are formulaic and the melodies feel like recycled.

Perhaps the most notable change within Erase Me is the lyrical content. Aaron Gillespie adopts a meta, self evaluative look at his history in the band, his departure from christianity, and his drug problems. It’s an interesting topic, and makes perfect sense at this point in the bands history, but it’s let down by repetitive, mediocre writing, filled with overused metaphors about flames, sleep and breathing. Only a few tracks stand out positively, Wake Me and In Motion, mainly for their creative use of spectral, science fiction sounding sound effects, but not by much.

Despite changing their label, their genre, their lyrics and drummer, Underoath manage to sound as mundane as usual. Erase Me is a middle of the road, perfectly fine album, but there’s a wealth of other acts that do it better. The best way to explain the problems with Erase Me is that the largest reaction to it, positive or negative, has been from critics pointing out their profanity on a single track. Ouch.

Track review – Nice for What

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2018 is undoubtedly Drake’s year. Hot on the heels of his last number one hit God’s Plan, he’s released his next anthem, called Nice for What, a throwback to older projects like Thank Me Later. Produced by Murda Beatz, Drake raps over the sexy, smooth vocals of Lauryn Hill, explaining how he understands the hustle of women living in an age obsessed with technology. Ex-Factor is the perfect sample for cultivating that late 90’s R&B vibe that this song is based on, and will be an unexpected treat for Drake fans that have lost interest with the trap direction has music has moved towards in recent years. The numerous breakdowns and a relatable, feel good lyrical tone feels like the winning formula to a future club hit, and it pulls it off without coming off as calculated. Murda Beatz’ constant hi-hats and faint siren samples can feel a little irritating, but it’s a minor point that doesn’t particularly detract from the otherwise clean production.

At this point, it would be difficult for Drake not to release a single that doesn’t explode into the stratosphere of the Billboard charts. Nice for What is a feel good throwback that may not appeal to fans who were expecting a grimy trap banger, but it suggests that Drake’s upcoming album will have a little bit of everything for all of his fans.

Track Review – Campfire

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Since his time as an XXL Freshman last year, Amine has been relentless with his releases, the latest of which is the single Campfire. Featuring Injury Reserve production and a Ritchie with a T verse, Campfire makes for a pleasant break from the realm of mumble rap and triplets that we’ve become accustomed to recently. Although there hasn’t been any announcement of a longer project to follow this release, it could indicate that Amine is getting close to revealing his sophomore album.

The first thing that many listeners will notice is the late 2000’s, R&B beat that Amine and Ritchie with a T’s verses flows over. Reminiscent of DJ Mustard produced hits, or older projects from Snoop Dogg or Sage and the Gemini, it’s a nostalgic throwback to a different, but relatively recent era of hip-hop, as are some of the lyrics on Amine’s first  (and only)verse, such as ‘swinging like they did the Harlem Shake’. Themes of the past continue throughout as the west coast rapper references his past track ‘Red Mercedes’, and his origins from Portland. Ritchie with a T brings Injury Reserve’s usual self aware, tongue in cheek humour in his verse, referencing Now! Compilations and Kidz Bop. His witty lyricism synergises with Amine’s humour well, and it’s a feature that feels well at home.  

This track is one massive, playful throwback to mid 2000’s R&B and hip hop, and is packed with witty lyrics and playful digs at other rappers. If you enjoyed this style of music when it was in the mainstream, or are simply looking for a respite from modern trap, put this single on. It’s won’t be for everyone, but Amine’s creativity has always separated him from his peers, regardless of the success it has brought.

Album Review – Care for Me

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If you enjoyed Bucket List Project for the calmer, more peaceful songs, you’re going to love Care for Me. Trust me. It’s a project that is remains spacey and dreamy throughout, and for better or for worse, it’s extremely cohesive. The project opens with one of the more unique songs on the tracklist, BUSY/SIRENS, which demonstrates Saba’s talent with multiple flows. Contrasting the lethargic vocals of the second half of the track, Saba adopts a really hostile flow that bites and grips listeners on BUSY, and frets over how physical distance has led to him feeling alienated from his home, and his girl. Both sonically and lyrically it sets the tone for the album well, and Saba’s choice to put this very personal song at the start of the project is respectable.

BROKEN GIRLS is the second, and one of the weaker, tracks on Care for Me, mostly due to it’s repetitive chorus and forgettable, bland beat. CALLIGRAPHY suffers the same problem, although it’s more appealing with it’s layers of brass instruments. Saba also experiments with an autotune vocoder effect that feels out of place and grating. On the other end of the spectrum is SMILE and FIGHTER; the former for the talented singing throughout, and the later for how wonderfully Saba and KAINA managed to tell such a deeply nuanced story.

Chance The Rapper returns the favour for Saba featuring on his 2016 hit Angels, and steals the third verse on LOGOUT, an erratic, paranoid seventh track on Care For Me. While it’s a great demonstration of Saba’s versatility, Chance’s performance is lacking. It’s repetitive lyrically, and the themes are presented very overtly, with very little room for interpretation. Delivered in a very laid-back, almost spoken word fashion, it lacks energy and is dull.

As an album, Care for Me is tight and cohesive, firmly maintaining it’s established sound. Saba switches up his flow on almost every track, which provides most of the creativity on the album; sonically, the album plays it very safe, while working to its strengths. The tone is very similar to J Cole’s ‘4 Your Eyes Only’, and like that release, Saba’s second studio album is best listened to as an album, not in a playlist as singles.

Why I hate Hands on the Wheel by ScHoolboy Q

 

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To really understand the flaws that I perceive Hands On The Wheel to have, we have to examine what makes Pursuit of Happiness, the song it samples, so great. The original, which was created by Kid Cudi with the help of two electric rock duo’s, MGMT and Ratatat, is a lonely, self aware confession that describes the spiral of addiction, while disguised as a party anthem. With a traditional structure and a catchy chorus that invites listeners to sing a long, the song conceals lyrics that is effectively Kid Cudi monologuing his struggles with depression, and his failed attempts to self medicate. It’s a truly powerful song, especially within the context of Kid Cudi recognising his depression and admitting himself into rehab in late 2016, and if you haven’t listened to it, you should rectify that, immediately.  

Now, imagine this nuanced, profound song, but without the irony; that’s what Hands on the Wheel by ScHoolboy Q is. Remember when I said that the deep meaning of Pursuit of Happiness was hidden by it’s attractive, party anthem appearance? Hands on the Wheel is just a party anthem, and disregards all the message that the sample holds. Maybe it would be excusable as if it was a mere sample of Lissie’s cover of Pursuit of Happiness, but it takes it further than that, as it is closer to a reimagining of the song, including similar lyrics (even referencing the original) and maintaining the same electronic beat throughout. Cudi adopts a rebellious attitude in his first verse on the track, but contradicts it and explains how it’s an unsustainable way to live in the following verses and chorus. Hands on the Wheel lyrically adopts the same self oriented stance as the first verse of its predecessor, but has a total lack of self awareness, that’s frustrating to listen to.

A$AP Rocky has made an appearance on multiple Q tracks over the years, including Hands on the Wheel, and while technically his caedance and flow are impressive, his lyrics on his verse manage to be even more oblivious than Q’s. Effectively it’s a shopping list of drugs which is finished off with Rocky saying that it’s his own pursuit of happiness.

It’s not an awful song, and if I hadn’t heard of Pursuit of Happiness prior to listening to it I would probably really enjoy it. Don’t think that I’m against covers and reimagings of any song, no matter how challenging it may be. Lissie’s live version of Kid Cudi’s track is a great example of how an artist can successfully change genres and still respect the emotion and intent of the original. Even more than that, I’m also not opposed to songs that are pure party bangers; they absolutely have their place. My problem with Hands on the Wheel is it’s obnoxious lack of understanding of the original song’s purpose, to such a degree that it almost feels like Q and Rocky didn’t understand Pursuit of Happiness for more than what’s displayed at face value. Regardless, I’d love to know what you think on this admittedly outdated, controversial topic, and I appreciate you taking the time to read this article.

Track Review – Sumo

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What separates Denzel Curry from his peers is his constant innovation. Not innovating as in refining his the sound he’s created, but completely taking it back to basics and switching genres. In just three years he’s went from creating music that could be described as borderline RnB on 32 Zel, to the more aggressive trap infused Imperial in 2016, and now his sights have landed on a more industrial direction. His spat of singles and the EP 13 has demonstrated his capability for this trend, with brutal production comprised of blown out 808s and nasty rattling drums, and most importantly his relentless, breathless flow.

Sumo, the lead single of his upcoming release Taboo, is an unexpected continuation of this trend, considering that Denzel announced he was taking a hiatus for mental health reasons. Charlie Heat’s thumping production compliments Denzel’s flow, which while it isn’t particularly new, it’s still hard as ever. The beat does feel like it lacks the same ferocious aggression that Ronnie J infused into Imperial, which is a shame, but at most it’s a minor gripe and probably a creative choice. Lyrically, the track manages to be self-complementary yet is dripping in creative references, my favourite being ‘chopper eat a ***** like Chowder’, which is such a strange yet humorous reference. I feel like having a track at almost four minutes long in modern day rap is great, but the lack of the teased feature from Ski Mask The Slump God, or really any feature, does hurt the track through a lack of diversity. Not considerably, but a respite from Denzel’s vocal attack would have been interesting. Is the track perfect? Not quite, but it feels close to it and with a guest appearance this track could have been pushed to the next level. Regardless, Sumo has left me heavily anticipating Taboo, and if it’s the same blend of industrial rap and aggressive trap, I won’t be disappointed.