Drake

Where in the world is Jai Paul?

With the long-anticipated release of a new Frank Ocean album finally coming to fruition, another equally elusive artist came to mind: Jai Paul.

Jai Paul is an artist who came into the scene having already formed a unique and personal sound, a sound that you can recognise as his own from hearing a few seconds of most of the songs he’s made. And trust, I’ve looked for similar styled artists, artists who try similar things in their experimental production, but it always feels as if they’re either not as good as Jai Paul or that they’re copying him rather blatantly.

 

Paul being elusive however is not to say he’s unknown – having only one demo underneath his belt, XL Recordings signed to him to a deal in 2010, releasing an edit of the track a year later in 2011. ‘BTSTU’ is a stunning track, especially considering it was Jai Paul’s first full-fledged effort. Juxtaposition is used to full effect, with half the track being led by a surprisingly powerful falsetto which is backed by a harmonic vocal melody, and the other introducing itself with wave after wave of distorted synth along with Paul’s regular singing voice. The whole track is chocked full of effects, and introduced us to one of Jai Paul’s personal favourites, the sidechain, providing moments of subdued almost-silence, a palpitation-like impact. Although the parts individually seem to be rather upbeat, ‘BTSTU’ at its heart is rather angry, the opening lines becoming comic once you understand what they actually are (something which can be quite difficult with Paul’s music):

“Don’t fuck with me, don’t fuck with me

Since you shipped my ass off to sea”

The demo provided Paul with a copious amount of media coverage, being played by DJs such as Zane Lowe and Annie Mac, as well as being sampled by heavyweights such as Drake  (‘Dreams Money Can Buy’) and Beyonce (‘The End of Time’).

A year later came his next track, ‘Jasmine’ which again received similar critical acclaim, once again being lauded by Lowe and Mac. Guitar features more prominently in the track, an electric guitar laying down the main chord progression whilst what seems to be a bass guitar with an auto-wah effect providing some funk-era vibes. ‘Jasmine’ also marks the formal appearance of Jai Paul’s brother, A.K. Paul, who is credited not only with bass design but also c0-writing props as well (A.K. Paul has since worked with artists such as Sam SmithEmeli Sande, and Miguel, but has also remained rather elusive). The tone of the song was less aggressive, more romanticised, presenting a desire for a something or a someone, rather than a push away from it.

 

Work with artists such as Big Boi on the track ‘Higher Res’ (upon which he left a definite mark) followed, until 2013, where an artist’s (especially an artist like Jai Paul) worst nightmare was realised – a Bandcamp album was released supposedly under the guise of it being Paul’s debut effort, with the internet being set ablaze before Paul himself said it was a leak. This didn’t stop the hype surrounding it though, Jai Paul being listed in various ‘Best Albums of the Year’ lists. In reality, it was obvious that the album was not ready to be released, the mixing on many of the tracks was extremely unbalanced (and not in an edgy, “ooh it’s Jai Paul so it’s fine” kind of way), and many of the recordings were almost too distorted. Perhaps most noticeably was the far inferior version of ‘Jasmine’ that featured on the album.

 

That being said, the leaked album is by far one of the most exciting and explosive listenings I’ve had the joy to experience. Explosive and far reaching synths, arcade-sounds, Harry Potter samples, Bollywood samples, extreme sidechaining, layered guitar, and more all combine to give an incredibly genre-bending and unique album. And yet despite this, we haven’t heard anything from Jai Paul since. No one knows if these tracks were the finished product, whether or not we should be listening to them, or whether or not Paul has simply thrown these tracks away (a testament to the skill and musicality of the artist). The last posts on Paul’s Twitter and Facebook have both been from 2013 stating that the album was indeed a leak – nothing else has appeared on either social media format:

Alas we have heard virtually nothing from Jai Paul since. This year he started The Paul Institute with his brother, though the only track that has surfaced from there has been A.K. Paul’s ‘Landcruisin”.

In the age of the internet where everything is at our fingerprints, Jai Paul has managed to stay out of the spotlight – do not think this is a show of disinterest, or a lack of desire to produce more music, rather it is a sign of perfectionism and knowledge of timing, that when he feels his music is ready to be revealed bare he will do so. And I, for one, will be eagerly awaiting the day.

This article was written by Mo Hafeez

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Album Review – ‘Views’ by Drake

Track Highlights and Track Lowlights (Mo Hafeez)

HIGHLIGHT: ‘U With Me?’ – the first track where Drake outshines the production, Kanye West and 40 take away from what easily could have been one of the best musical moments from Drake we would have heard – the third verse ends in a crescendo with a half-sing and a half-shout of the very quotable line “A lot of n-ggas try to cut the cheque so they can take this flow”. The first half of the song can seem a bit slow in comparison, but it’s a price I’d pay just for that 3rd verse. Drizzy shows he’s still down with the kids with mentions of DMs, LOL, grey chunks and three dots.

HIGHLIGHT: ‘Weston Road Flows’ – Drake finally dedicates more than 2 or 3 lines at a time to his childhood and growing up in Toronto, and he pulls it off really well. He talks about his friend Renny whilst growing up, the antics they got up to even when Renny’s elder brother told them not to follow his path. Very biographical, very personal. Nostalgic and smoky production with the Mary J. Blige sample adds to this, Drake dropping hooks altogether and opting for a constant stream form instead.

HIGHLIGHT: ‘Still Here’ – maybe the hardest beat on the album, the old Drake returns to devastating effect. That classic Drake flow is here as he raps about his accomplishments, the obstacles he’s hurdled by himself, whilst still giving shout outs to his closest friends and family in Toronto.

LOWLIGHT: ‘With You’ – I didn’t enjoy the PARTYNEXTDOOR features on If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late and I didn’t really enjoy him here either. Even though he comes centre-stage this time, it’s easily one of the more forgettable tracks on the album.

LOWLIGHT: ‘Grammys’ – Future returns with mediocre chemistry and one of the worst hooks on the album. It’s repetitive, not clever, and generally just doesn’t sound good. It was probably recorded at the same time as their collaborative album which itself was below parr for the duo. Drake is okay on the track and has interesting flow switches, but that hook man, that hook. If anything it tells you why Drake didn’t win a Grammy.

LOWLIGHT: ‘Summers Over Interlude’ – this a fucking long album yes, but this interlude is just so out of place that it makes little sense. Maybe he thought people would be tired of the similar sounding style and he switched it up big time? According to OVO Sound Radio the album was meant to be moulded around Toronto’s seasons, but if so this is really grasping at straws. Lupe did it better on Tetsuo & Youth.

Closing thoughts (Tobias Berchtold)

The hype and the build up around this Drake release made me expect something that would be a landmark album for him, something to solidify his position at the very peak of hip hop. Drake is in such a strong position right now to express himself and experiment with his style and do something new. That’s why I’m so surprised at how mediocre this album is.

The thing that bothers me most is that this album is just incredibly boring – there’s nothing new or interesting to get your head around at all. It’s the same old Drake sound, and while for some that’s ideal, for me it shows a lack of progress. Of the 20 songs on the album there are maybe a handful that I honestly enjoyed – ‘U With Me’, ‘Hype’, ‘Weston Road Flows’, and ‘Still Here’ in particular stand out. I think the common theme with these songs is that they all could have fit in easily on If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late – whereas the rest of the album feels more like they’re from Nothing Was The Same.

I wish more of the album was like ‘Weston Road Flows’, which is an incredibly biographical account of Drake’s time in Toronto before coming up in the rap game. With the original album title being Views from the 6 and the cover of Drake sitting on Toronto’s radio tower, this is what I was expecting this album to be. Alas.

But on a ridiculously long (20 song) album these moments are few and far between – so much so that when I got half way through I was actually dreading the fact that there was about 40 minutes of runtime left. There are easily six or seven songs that could be cut from this album and nothing much of substance would be lost in my eyes.

Drake is no stranger to slightly cringey lyrics but this record contains some of his worst offerings yet (see below). I found some of the song really painful to listen to because of the downright awful subject matter and lyrics. ‘Child’s Play’ is really the icing on the cake – the songs chronicles an argument Drake had with his girl at the Cheesecake Factory, which then leads to Drake hiding his car keys so she can’t go out to buy tampons. Come on man, really?


Bring back the ghostwriters

“Always saw you for what you could’ve been ever since you met me / Like when Chrysler made that one car that looked just like the Bentley.”

“And I turn the six upside down, it’s a nine now”

“You toying with it like Happy Meal”

“Your best day is my worst day, I get green like Earth Day”

“Why you gotta fight with me at Cheesecake? You know I love to go there”

“Got so many chains call me Chaining Tatum”

“I pull up in yachts so big that they try to hit me with boat fines”

“Tipping scales, bars heavy like triple XL”


The established Drake style obviously works for him – this album sold like crazy so he’s not going to change his approach any time soon, but personally I think Drake has the range and ability to step out of his comfort zone and make something more interesting. For me the scales have tipped on Drake – his emotionally open songs about relationships have broken the border into becoming incredibly annoying and whiny. Views feels like a massive step back from If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late which is easily my favourite project Drake has released – this latest feels more like a sequel to Nothing Was the Same, which I really did not enjoy at all.

5/10 – turn the five upside down, and unfortunately it’s still a five.

This article was written by Tobias Berchtold and Mo Hafeez

Album Review – ‘Mind of Mine’ by ZAYN

The first effort of Zayn Malik’s solo career I came across was a cover of Rae Sremmurd’s ‘No Type’, Mic Righteous providing the verses – what comes across is that he really does have vocal chops, but the R&B style of the hook didn’t quite suit him (you definitely couldn’t imagine One Direction hopping on it to give it a go), and you could tell he was trying to do too much with his voice, meaning some of the emotion he was trying to get across was lost. It was like he was lost being the sole focus of attention without the rest of the boys singing with him, and it didn’t really put me in a settled position when it came to thinking about what I should expect from his solo debut Mind of Mine.

 

Then ‘PILLOWTALK’ dropped in late January, one of two singles from the album – it genuinely shocked me how much I enjoyed the track, solid vocal melodies in the verses and its more mature content (though, generically so, the classic ‘I’m not a teenage boy-band member anymore, I’m a real man’ kind of vibe), and some very tight production with stuttering trap influenced 808s/909s laid beneath heavily modulated and distorted guitars. Comparisons with The Weeknd come to mind, not only sonically, but also lyrically in the combining of pleasure and pain of sex – he’s not quite got the same grasp as The Weeknd in delivering simple lines which still hit home though. The chorus is actually the weakest part of the song, a simple bemoaning of “it’s a paradise, it’s a warzone” making the dichotomy not quite as complicated as it should be. If you listen past his brazen happiness to be free from past-label requirements though, his voice definitely picks up the slack.

Similarities with other heavyweights of the genre spill-over into the next track ‘ITs YOU’, that sounds like it could have been taken straight off of Channel ORANGE (helped by the fact it’s produced by Ocean’s producer Malay), a low organ sitting below falsetto crooning delivered well, despite it being quite out of place straight after the club-friendly ‘PILLOWTALK’. It might be his best effort at putting out a slow jam, the distorted guitars returning to provide a neat and gentle crescendo.

‘BeFoUr’ channels Drake’s tried and tested ‘Hold On We’re Going Home’ formula, the drums sounding eerily a little too similar for comfort, and even the vocal melody sometimes sounding samey at points too. Once again Malik saves the track with his (obviously) superior singing as he recounts his experiences just prior to him leaving One Direction.

If you couldn’t tell by now there’s a theme developing – the album is definitely a new sound for Zayn Malik, who in our minds we still link to One Direction, but as for the genre in general there really isn’t much new about Mind of Mine. What’s more there isn’t really that much of a unified sound despite it sounding like a lot of thought has been put into how the album should sound.

 

‘INTERMISSION: FLoWer’ feels very out of place, a homage to his Pakistani heritage as he sings the song entirely in Urdu. And yet, by itself, it’s definitely not a bad track – pads quietly soar in the background as an acoustic guitar is fingerpicked, and the reverb on his vocals give quite an ethereal and spectral vibe to it, also helped by the fact that he barely enunciates his words when he sings (whether in English or in Urdu), which I initially found a tad annoying but grew to deal with.

“Until the flower of this love has blossomed,
this heart won’t be at peace,
give me your heart” (translated from Urdu)

Kehlani, the only feature on the album, shines on ‘WRoNg’, seemingly another Weeknd inspired track, with one of the stronger hooks on the album, though that isn’t really high praise as in general the earworm-level hooks that you would expect from The Weeknd are definitely not present here. ‘LIKE I WOULD’ fairs a bit better in that regard, the verses and bridge in the second single, much like the first, carrying strong melody – the chorus, whilst also strong, is a very blatant borrow (that’s putting it nicely) from ‘Can’t Feel My Face’.

 

Malik dips into a few other artists’ bags, moving towards a Michael Bublé/Mariah Carey style on ‘FOoL FOr YoU’, a classic piano-based chordal progression forming the basis of the ballad (and it must be said that his voice could be placed in the same calibre as those two artists), and then strangely dipping into reggae on ‘DO SOMETHING GOOD’, which works somewhat (though the attempt to modernise with a stuttering siren really didn’t work), but when I read the lyrics on paper (or rather, on screen) it really didn’t impress.

I think there was lot of pressure Malik for his debut solo effort, many people comparing his trajectory to that of Justin Timberlake  who burst into stardom after taking a break from NSYNC – just watching the music videos and his live performances, he seems kind of stiff, not ready to take the main stage and the world by storm. That being said, this is definitely not a flop of an album, and fans of Zayn prior to his split from One Direction will not be disappointed; he may even gain some new ones too. He just needs to take a much more relaxed approach with his next effort, and needs to search for his own sound. If he does so, it wouldn’t surprise me if he followed JT’s narrative of leaving his boyband in the dust.

This article was written by Mo Hafeez

What we’re listening to (#20): ‘If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late’ by Drake

I went back to listen to this album after I had a friendly debate with good friend of mine about two of hip hop’s modern day heavyweights: Kendrick Lamar and Drake.

I’m in the camp that absolutely adores Kendrick’s To Pimp a Butterfly, but my friend made some valid points about the anachronistic nature of his instrumentation when compared to many other artists around today, and how his delivery is seemingly too forced at times – he said that he was ‘too conscious’ at times, and at first I wrote this off as complete rubbish, but I began to think about it a bit more.

If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late and To Pimp a Butterfly are both albums that I can listen to the entirety of the way through, but they provide such different experiences – To Pimp a Butterfly is a more memorable experience, complex composition, social-lyrical wizardry, and interesting vocal inflections make sure of that, but Drake’s album is a fluid experience, one that I can lie on my bed and listen to, downtempo vibes throughout. Drake and Kendrick are two sides of the same game, both bringing forward different things.

This record releases Drake of his commercial restraints (well documented on the album); there aren’t too many club tunes on this one, you get stripped down and filtered production from his frequent collaborators Boi-1da and Noah 40 Shebib. The backbone will often be a simple piano or synth line, or a tender chord progression. Stuttering high-hats and some sub-bass round out the instrumentation, resulting in eerie, captivating, yet easy to listen to beats – ‘Star67’ and opener ‘Legend’ in particular take on this role. That’s not to say that you won’t be getting hyped at some points in the album, the still powerful ‘Know Yourself’ provides the best hook on the album and brings great energy, whilst the fast-paced synth of ‘6 God’ provides a much more menacing feel.

On some tracks Drake vents and rants, ‘Energy’ clear in this aspect as he goes in on those things which drain him, and ‘No Tellin”, where he talks of his record label issues, saying “Envelopes coming in the mail, let her open ‘em, hoping for a check again, ain’t no telling”. The highlight has to be on bonus track ‘6PM in New York’, where he comes out with a now infamous line against Tyga:

“It’s so childish calling my name on the world stage, you need to act your age and not your girl’s age”

Yes, the rough Drake is not convincing as the ‘Drake the type of n-gga who…’ Drake, and yes the first half of the album is in fact much better than the second, and yes the guest producers on the album really don’t do as good as a job as they should have, but we have to remember; this was just a stopgap, a mixtape, almost a track-dump. The fact that he felt confident to put such compelling songs on this album should make us all feel incredibly excited for Views From the 6.

This article was written by Mo Hafeez.