Kanye West

Album Review – ‘Coloring Book’ by Chance The Rapper

Why is the mastering so spotty on a fair amount of the songs, especially at the start ?

Why was ‘Grown Ass Kid’ not on the mixtape?

Why are there so many poor features?

Why is there so much gospel and so little rapping that caught my ears?

Why is Chance’s singing not on point?

Why did he release this mixtape behind an Apple-backed paywall?

These questions and more make me think that Coloring Book is not the album of the year, nor is it the hip-hop album of the year – I tried to give it some more time like I did with Views, which eventually did grow on me (‘U With Me?’, ‘Feel No Ways’, ‘Still There’ – very solid), but alas I haven’t bought a ticket for the hype train. If anything, this release has made me appreciate Acid Rap to a much greater extent. After ‘Ultralight Beam’ from The Life of Pablo, everyone was going crazy; most people agreed that it was one of, if not the, best verse on the album, and it got everyone excited for Chance’s next effort.

 

Let’s talk about the mix. The album starts off with ‘All We Got’, and if you love Kanye so much so that you’ll drown out the entire song leaving only slightly tolerable auto-tuned singing from the man himself, it doesn’t really set a good first impression. Chance sounds really good when he gets going in his first verse, and the flow is definitely reminiscent of his flow on ‘ULB’, but then Kanye comes in for the hook and the choir and trumpets are completely blocked from the mix; Chance returns afterwards and sounds quieter as a result. Similar things occur on the following track, with 2 Chainz appearing to be much louder than both Lil Wayne and Chance. Chance clashes with Francis & The Lights on ‘Summer Friends’ and the right-panned cellos towards the end sound a bit odd (granted that latter point is me being picky), the noise-based crescendo on ‘Blessings’ is interesting but is not quite pulled off, Chance’s verses change in volume on ‘All Night’, his hook on ‘Smoke Break’ is drowned out by the instrumental, and the list goes on and on. Of course these are only some of the tracks, and other tracks like ‘How Great’ and ‘Angels’ are mixed perfectly well, but it doesn’t make up for it. The fact that this is a mixtape is not an excuse.

How about the features? I’ve already talked about Kanye’s contribution, but that wasn’t the only questionable addition to the album, of which there are many (perhaps too many?). ‘Mixtape’, featuring verses from Young Thug and Lil Yachty, instrumentally sounds like it belongs on a Thugger mixtape, and sees Chance try and emulate the trap-style flow that the other two bring. Stylistically I understand the features, all three of them being rappers who have utilised the mixtape to great effect, but it doesn’t fit with the rest of mixtape at all, especially since it follows ‘Same Drugs’ (a song which has no listed features), a touching ballad using drug usage as metaphor explaining his fading relationship with a girl, whilst also displaying Chance’s singing chops which appear patchy in tracks like ‘Blessings’ and ‘All Night’. Justin Beiber felt like a shameless commercial throw-in, bringing a nice voice, sure, but it feeling like an antithesis to Chance’s ethos. Again, there are strong features on here as well however – Saba provides a fantastic chorus on ‘Angels’ whilst being backed by steel pans (truly a summer banger which I will be rinsing), and Future provides a nice contrast to Chance’s style on ‘Smoke Break’. Perhaps best of all is Jay Electronica, starting his verse with the Lion King references, paired with interesting flow which picks up pace towards the end definitely makes ‘How Great’ a highlight on the album.

I haven’t touched too much on the positives of this album, as there are plenty of reviews out there which have raved about them, and yes there are a fair few good moments on the record. ‘Same Drugs’ is an extra shot of emotional Chance after ‘Blessings’ as mentioned above, as well as the steel pans on ‘Angels’ which I’ve also already mentioned, paired with some cracking lines from Chance as well like “This what it sounds like when God splits an atom with me” (and his flow brings undeniable energy and comedy to boot). ‘My cousin Nicole‘s chants of “How great is God” is a really uplifting intro on the track, keeping things fresh enough to stop their part from getting stale, and the hook on ‘No Problem’ is very catchy indeed.

 

Those tracks will definitely stay in my listening rotation for sure, but I still can’t help but say I am slightly disappointed with this album. It’s not the hip-hop album of the year, and it probably won’t go down as a classic either. Yes, it’s nice to hear from Chano after such a long time, and perhaps I’m too slow to keep up with his stylistic changes, but this was an underwhelming experience to say the least. I still remember my first listen, sat in the lounge of my university accommodation with my good friend Rob, just pointing out so much that was below par with the mixtape. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad album – its far from it in fact – but it’s not a great album in my eyes. Maybe the bar was set too high with Acid Rap? Who knows.

This article was written by Mo Hafeez

 

Album Review: ‘The Colour in Anything’ by James Blake

James Blake has a signature sound, a style that means when you hear the first 10 seconds of most of his tracks you’ll instantly be able to recognise it as him. True, he is not alone in the field of minimalist electronic R&B and pop, though other artists/groups like the xx and Mount Kimbie are always chasing, both vocally and via production also.

Although the deep and aching piano chords, finely used autotune, saw and pulse-based synths, and idiosyncratic percussion remain, it does feel just a bit different from past releases – it’s still minimalist, but his voice is higher in the mix, and it really makes a difference in filling out the tracks just that bit more.

It could be the increased collaboration you hear on the album too – Blake in the past has been very limited on this front, but here Rick Rubin co-produces on various tracks, Bon Iver returns on ‘I Need a Forest Fire’, and Frank Ocean chips in for some writing credits too. Kanye West was reportedly providing a verse on the track ‘Timeless’, but the verse didn’t materialise and the atmosphere of the album changed (trust me, Kanye would be really out of place on this record). Add in his input on Beyoncé’s Lemonade, and The Colour in Anything really does represent a shift for the London artist.

The album’s a hefty 17 tracks, and it does take a bit out of you after every listen – it’s much longer than his previous efforts. The transitions are smooth enough though, and there are more than enough new sounds introduced do keep it fresh. Classic James Blake themes are on the album, from missed love, self-doubt, grapples with loneliness and so on – the opening lines to the album are “I can’t believe this, you don’t wanna see me”, as reserved piano chords are played beneath, and Blake recounts miscommunications and love lost. If I’m completely honest, it’s very whiney, and the lyrical content is not consistent across the whole album, but the falsetto-laden singing imbues an extra layer of emotion that allows Blake to get away with it.

The vocal humming melodies return to full effect on the following track, ‘Love Me in Whatever Way’, casting minds back to Blake’s classic song ‘Retrograde’ from previous album Overgrown. Noise slowly fills the sonic landscape as reverb is gradually added to Blake’s voice, and the synth filter is slowly peeled away to provide an enormous crescendo of lament. It definitely helps that it’s lyrically stronger than the opener:

“Giving up is hard to do”

Other lyrical highlights include the solemn request on ‘Waves Know Shores’, “I suggest you love like love’s no loss”, and the imagery provided on single ‘Modern Soul’, “So I swim to you while I’m sleeping// through sage green rivers of England”. The intense sound that opens the track and triggers later on throughout still intrigues me; I have no idea what it is, but it’s a great pairing with the sweeping dives of synths. Although it’s obviously about relationship struggles, the refrain that appears in the middle of the track suggest some kind of unrest and unhappiness with the touring life, with the musical life wrenching him away from friends and family – he sighs “Because of a few songs” over and over before he recounts a split from a partner.

The title track sees Blake get rid of synths and experimental percussion, opting for his voice and the keys to carry the listener through the three-and-a-half minute ballad. The eclectic run up to it may have listeners even somewhat bored as they listen to, the double-tracking in the chorus the only pick-up. Such a thing is very purposeful however, giving space for Blake set up an emotional sucker punch of a track whilst showing off his piano chops. Again, it casts your mind back to another track, Blake’s phenomenal cover of Joni Mitchell’s ‘A Case of You’.

Even though it’s a much fuller album than past efforts, it’s still modest – on the closing track Blake opts to get rid of all instruments, and delivers a palate-cleansing acapella, displaying dexterity with the vocoder. Everything and everyone seems to have left him, but he holds some optimism. He closes “Music can’t be everything”, an oddly strange sentiment considering Blake’s past soundscape exploration, but oddly beautiful at the same time. Ghostly and emotional as always, Blake continues to deliver.

This article was written by Mo Hafeez.

Track Review – ‘Real Friends/No More Parties in LA (Snippet)’ by Kanye West

By Tobias Berchtold

 

It looks like Kanye’s G.O.O.D. Fridays are back, just like on MBDTF where he released a song every Friday up until the eventual release of the album. On this track we see a Kanye that we haven’t really seen for the past few years, and it sounds like a bit of a throwback to Late Registration. In the previous few years Kanye’s releases have become more and more centred around the almost God-like ‘Yeezy’ persona he has built for himself, however on this song he seems more vulnerable and introspective than he’s been in a long time, with the lyrics dealing more with his own problems than those of his detractors.

He deals with the fact that his fame and stature has turned him into a bad friend, and a bad family member. He talks about forgetting how old his relative’s kids are and ponders whether he’s capable of being a true friend to anyone because he’s so busy working in the music business. He flips this idea too and talks about family who only talk to him when they need something, and most alarmingly tells of a cousin who extorted $250,000 out of him after stealing his laptop. But unlike previously, Kanye doesn’t seem all that angry in their direction but seems more annoyed at himself when he says “I guess I got what I deserved.” I like this side of Kanye a lot more than the one that he showed on YEEZUS, and I’m excited for the album’s release if it’s more like this.

“Real friends
I guess I get what I deserve, don’t I
Word on the streets is they ain’t heard from him
I guess I get what I deserve, don’t I
Talked down on my name, throwed dirt on him”

On the back end of the track there is a section of No More Parties in LA (rumoured to be next week’s release). This little snippet got me incredibly excited, as soon as the beat kicked in it had Madlib’s fingerprints all over it. And when Kendrick kicks in to exchange bars with Kanye? OH LAWDY.

Album Review – ‘Cherry Bomb’ by Tyler, the Creator

Tyler, the Creator has the uncanny ability to produce music that is both alluring and repulsive at the same time – previous releases have been polarising to say the least, and Cherry Bomb is no different. It wasn’t expected, and it can be hard to follow at times, with no specific theme yelling out, musically or lyrically, unlike Tyler’s angst you feel throughout Goblin and Wolf, critical self-examination present on every track.

At one point you’ll be listening to Death Grips inspired experimental noise hip-hop, like on ‘Pilot. The issue some people might have with it likely stems from the fact that it’s so unexpected; the first song to get the heavy distortion treatment, it’s paired with a futuristic-vibe, synths strewn all over the track – preceded by the boom-bap bass heavy track ‘Buffalo’, it’s not too out of the blue. ‘Cherry Bomb’, on the other hand, is much more aggressive; the ‘drop’ (if you can call it that) honestly scared the shit out of me, Tyler yelling Yeezus-like “I am a God” statements in order to be heard above the noise. His roars barely noticeable, it’s clear he’s pushing his production and the instrumental to the forefront, and he succeeds on that front.

You were warned about the distortion – don’t blame me

At another point, in fact straight before the title track, you’ll be listening to ‘Find Your Wings’, a lounge music inspired piece that’s so relaxing you’d think you were listening to another album. Gentle synths slide over vibraphone/xylophone-esque trills, and Kali Uchis’ voice works extremely well on the track, having an almost angelic quality. The production you hear on this track actually display Tyler’s love of Pharrell Williams/N.E.R.D well too, jazz chords thrown in to add to the smooth listen. The ‘Find Your Wings’ motif is present throughout the album if you listen carefully enough.

“Richer than white people with black kids, scarier than black people with ideas” (West on ‘Smuckers’)

Cherry Bomb also has some fantastic features from Kanye West and Lil Wayne on the track ‘Smuckers’ – the pair honestly sound at their best on the track, Kanye’s flow reminiscent of his earlier days, with some fantastic bars to boot; Tyler bookends the song impressively also, fitting in with the big shots with ease, working well with the synth-sax instrumental. Schoolboy Q’s guest verse works perfectly on “The Brown Stains of Darkeese Latifah Part 6–12”, picking up where Tyler leaves off, aggressive and punchy in the last two verses. The drum track is comes in perfectly, and it might be the most ‘moshable’ song on the album, which some fans may be disappointed with. A lot of the questions that surround this album are to do with mixing; sometimes the vocals will be virtually inaudible, and it’ll sound like some songs have been recorded on an 8-track in someone’s garage – that being said, it’s undeniable that this is the album that Tyler wanted to create. It shows development in many ways over previous efforts, especially production-wise (perhaps one of the best decisions was the brevity of this record – it’s much shorter than what we’re used to from him). I’m hesitant to say Tyler’s becoming more mature, and every now and then he’ll throw in a “faggot” to catch you off-guard (like at the end of ‘Smuckers’), and even though ‘Fucking Young’ has a surprisingly moral idea behind it, it’s a funny concept nonetheless.

“Fuck your loud pack, and fuck your Snapchat” (Tyler on ‘Smuckers’)

If you are going to give this album a chance, you’re going to have to listen to it more than once. This article was written by Mo Hafeez.

Album Review – ‘Yeezus’ by Kanye West

This album is a major left turn for Kanye.

Previous albums dripped with infectious soul-based hooks and samples, but Yeezus is much darker; instead taking its cues from the industrial rock of artists such as Nine Inch Nails. Kanye is better for this change in direction – although undoubtedly it’s a less commercial sound, the tone is more serious, and one that reflects his increasingly tortured psyche which proclaims ‘I Am A God’ but laments the doors that are closed to him in ‘Black Skinhead’. ‘Black Skinhead’ is the strongest song on the album, burning with a ferocious energy both musically and lyrically, a vicious attack on conservative reactions to him and a pledge to keep on pushing boundaries; all backed by a rampaging glam-rock drum beat and high-pitched vocal samples.

Most of the album maintains the darkness and lyrical power, making this a uniformly strong work which defies all expectations. ‘Blood on the Leaves’ is the one song on the album to match ‘Black Skinhead’, criticising the selfishness of abortion whilst also regretting the life of excess that he’s been enjoying. It is this dichotomy of what he can enjoy, and what makes him feel guilty – what he can access and what he cannot – that fuels the creative energy of this album. ‘Blood on The Leaves’ unsettles the listener because it shows how far we have come since the morality of “the pastor”, bound to unearthly samples of Nina Simone’s cover of ‘Strange Fruit’.

All of this makes the album’s last track and second single, ‘Bound 2’, all the more interesting. Theoretically a love song, it effectively melds unnerving beauty and love with graphic and disturbing lyrical imagery, all over a musical base that is reminiscent more of his earlier soul-based songs than his current style. In a sense, ‘Bound 2’ is a farewell and a tribute to his old style of songs and his old style of living, revelling in his newfound love – bearing this in mind, it is perhaps strangely fitting that the sample of the line “Uh-huh, honey” comes from a song by country artist Brenda Lee called ‘Sweet Nothin’s’, reflecting Kanye’s troubled romanticism.

“Bound 2” and “Black Skinhead” were the album’s two singles, and the album expands on the main themes of these two excellent tracks – Kanye’s newfound love, but also his increasingly tortured anger at what he can enjoy, and what he cannot.

In becoming increasingly introspective and changing soul for industrial rock, Kanye West has created a powerful, visceral and even sometimes beautiful album – an artistic triumph.

This article was written by Richard Birch.