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Album Review – ‘DAMN.’ by Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar’s new album DAMN. is exactly just that. This sociopolitical album expresses his feelings and vents his frustrations in a beautifully constructed manner. Born in Compton, California, his musical masterpiece encompasses the anger of the community but does so through a combination of raging rhythms and ungovernable desire which shows his ardent desire to change the system in which he feels so hard done by.

In many ways, DAMN. is a representation of Lamar’s dark and unsettled mind with each song showing a disparate side to his personality. This unique album is almost bipolar in nature as he asserts his greatness as a rap god whilst also mourning his death as a victim of police brutality. It’s this juxtaposition of emotion that leads DAMN. to be one of the most eccentric and special albums of our generation. The album has a central focus on what has shaped Lamar’s character and what he feels, embracing his humble beginnings but also showing how far he’s willing to go to achieve racial harmony.

‘BLOOD’ introduces us to the first of the artist’s feelings towards the society in which he lives. It has an eerie but patriotic atmosphere, almost questioning why the black race continues to put up with oppression from their white counterparts. The beat itself is slow and builds throughout, perhaps reflecting the building anger and frustration that he, like many others, feels towards their treatment in a supposedly liberal and free society. The almost robotic tone of Lamar’s voice stresses a craving for change. He questions the fairness of death with the lyrics “I was taking a walk the other day” suggesting that death and brutality is more inevitable due to his race, and thus this song can be seen as a protest towards the cheapness of life for many African Americans across the country.

In ‘ELEMENT’ he explores the struggles he and his family have endured and how it has shaped his path as a musical pioneer. The first words Kendrick preaches scream self-sacrifice – “I’m willin’ to die for this shit” alluding to him becoming a matyr for the race  -and this theme of self sacrifice is prevalent throughout. It undoubtedly proves him as  the most influential rapper in the game as he strives for sociopolitical change through the means of music.

‘DAMN’ is an album that will be remembered for years to come and is one that asserts his ability as one who’s able to inspire and ignite social change. He shows the rest of the world that the quest for civil rights and racial equality is far from finished thus further showing why this album, with it’s intense and fiery lyrics, will be instrumental in helping the plight for racial harmony.

This article was written by Alex Singhal 

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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

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. 

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 – ‘Mr. Wonderful’ by Action Bronson

Action Bronson’s demeanour and comedic yet intelligent lyrics have been propelling him to greater and greater heights since 2011, and the same values can be heard in his latest effort, Mr. Wonderful, the New York rapper’s major label debut with Atlantic Records and Vice Records. Solid to good mixtapes served in building his base, and a slew of singles from the album made this record one of the most anticipated of the genre this year.

“My mother said I better win or else she’ll fuck me up. Ma we did it, I love you, you lucky slut” (‘The Rising’)

That might have played a part in why it was so disappointing – it’s not even his fault most of time. The piano-based instrumentals that appear throughout the album are a good listen to begin with, especially in the first 10 or 15 minutes, but towards the end the value gets eroded, especially with ‘A Light in the Addict’ and its fairly long outro, which although is a smooth listen, gets repetitive. These Action Bronson-less moments are far too frequent, and it feels as if he doesn’t rap for half the album – ‘Thug Love Story 2017 A Musical (Interlude)’ is a prime example of when an artist tries to pad out an album with filler, just a pointless reference to his Blue Chips track ‘Thug Love Story 2012’. Although he succeeds in getting the city street atmosphere pretty realistic in this 2 minute interlude, the ‘song’ itself is pretty forgettable.

Bronson succeeds on 4 or 5 of the tracks – ‘Baby Blue’ begins with Bronson warbling away, one of only times it actually works, and spins his bullshit bravado verses with a side of emotion and love to perfection, just a simple piano loop to cover him. His likening of oral sex to “eating pudding”, the food references continuing likening sex with “a speciality with white snake and underwear sauce”. Unfortunately, this sentiment is overshadowed by a Chance the Rapper appearance, who achieves the same thing but in a slightly smarter and funnier manner.

‘Easy Rider’ is also a good listen, a move away from the Billy Joel vibe that is strewn across the rest of the album. Produced by recurring collaborator Party Supplies, the real standout here is the simple yet effective guitar solo, which is out of place when compared to the rest of the album, but is great nonetheless.

‘Brand New Car’ and ‘Easy Rider’ provide a great start and finish to Mr. Wonderful respectively, but in between them there’s not much else to rave about. Luckily for Mr. Bronson we’ll remember the highs from this record (à la “Terry”) and forget the lows (“City Boy Blues”), and so he won’t be out of the spotlight for too long after this.

This article was written by Mo Hafeez

Album Review – ‘Tetsuo & Youth’ by Lupe Fiasco

After a rollercoaster of success from the hailed Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor and the much less successful Lasers, Chicago based rapper Lupe Fiasco finally strikes the balance between the hip-hop of the early 21st Century that inspired him (with artists like Kanye West influencing him) and his own socially conscious, intelligent lyrics in his latest release Tetsuo & Youth.

After an instrumental featuring laughing children, splashes of water, and oriental style strings, the album opens with “Mural”, a 9-minute epic showcasing Fiasco’s lyrical talent – less explicitly politically charged than before, but still passionately aware, Fiasco covers a range of topics very subtly, from the media to fame and glory, whilst a very simple piano loop plays behind him, accentuated by occasional breaks with vocal charms.

After another instrumental, this time with the sounds of leaves being raked, children playing once again, and a much more jazz infused violin, “Prisoner 1 & 2” begins with the words of famed artist Fela Kuti – Fiasco speaks of America’s prison system, particularly the less than humane treatment of inmates, the corruption of staff, and the lack of a rehabilitation system. The first half of this almost 9-minute song is much stronger than the second, the latter seeming out of place with its slower lyrical output and it’s more electronic theme. It may have been better suited as two separate songs rather than a combined track, but it’s strong nonetheless.

The track “Chopper” also has an awkward fit. It’s another song above 9 minutes and it features a slate of underground rappers. It holds a much darker feel compared to the rest of the album, and even though the pulsating synth can  be heard throughout the rest of the album, it has a much different effect here. The words laid upon this music is much more harsh in nature, a commentary on social class, welfare, and inequality, the rappers speaking of their origins and the common pessimistic view of the hoods.

This does not take away from the album as a whole however, and Lupe Fiasco has created a convincing comeback album which retains a lot of his political, economic, and social convictions without bringing about the accusations that he was pandering for commercial success – another rise in the career of one of the most talented rappers on the scene that requires multiple listens to fully appreciate.

This article was written by Mo Hafeez