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April 2021 Music Ratings

May 2, 2021

ALBUM OF THE MONTH

Conway the Machine – La Maquina


Rating Scale

10 – Masterpiece
9 – Amazing
8 – Great
7 – Highly Enjoyable
6 – Recommended/Good
5 – Decent/Cool
4 – Lackluster
3 – Bad
2 – Horrible
1 – Torture Material

Top 20 Albums in April (all ratings are out of 10)

Note: These albums are NOT ranked in order of preference; they are ranked in order of number of songs listened to (scrobbles) over the past month. Previous ranking in brackets. Year of release in parentheses if it’s not 2020 or 2021. I’ll include a rough rating for each album to make my feelings on each project clearer.  The more I’ve listened to an album, the more accurate my rating is. Any rating that has a + symbol means that I’ve found my floor, but I could rate it higher. I won’t leave a rating for anything I don’t have a good feel for yet.

*indicates April 2021 release

  1. *Conway the Machine – La Maquina – 7+
  2. DMX – It’s Dark and Hell is Hot (1998) – 8
  3. DMX – …And Then There Was X (1999) – 7
  4. 50 Cent – Get Rich or Die Tryin’ (2003) – 8+
  5. Snoop Doggy Dogg – Tha Doggfather (1996)
  6. DMX – The Great Depression (2001) – 4+
  7. Benny the Butcher – The Plugs I Met 2 [3] – 7+
  8. DMX – Flesh Of My Flesh, Blood Of My Blood (1998) – 6
  9. *Kenny Mason – Angelic Hoodrat
  10. Ghostface Killah – Supreme Clientele (2000)
  11. *Saigon – Pain, Peace & Prosperity
  12. Black Coffee – Subconsciously
  13. Ghostface Killah – Ironman (1996)
  14. *KOTA The Friend – To Kill A Sunrise [14] – 7+
  15. The Notorious B.I.G. – Life After Death (1997) [1] – 9+
  16. Big L – Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous (1995) – 7+
  17. Pink Sweat$ – Pink Planet [9]
  18. The Notorious B.I.G. – Ready To Die (1994) [4] – 9+
  19. Tyrone’s Jacket – Tyrone’s Jacket [18] – 8
  20. Lana Del Rey – Chemtrails Over the Country Club [6] – 7
  21. The Avalanches – We Will Always Love You [7]
  22. The Lox – Money, Power & Respect (1998)

Comments: This is the most I’ve distanced myself from new music since I started doing these monthly posts.  Obviously, I did a lot of reminiscing on DMX’s early discography as his life seemed to be in danger and then he ultimately passed away.  I gave DMX a pretty unfavorable write-up when I went through his whole recording career, but his peak was really strong and looking back at my ratings for his earliest albums, I think I was a bit unfair.  For all his flaws as a lyricist, he was a great songwriter and made very enjoyable music.

The 20 Artists I Listened To The Most In April

  1. DMX
  2. Conway the Machine
  3. Ghostface Killah
  4. Kendrick Lamar
  5. Snoop Dogg
  6. The Notorious B.I.G.
  7. Benny the Butcher
  8. 50 Cent
  9. Kenny Mason
  10. J. Cole
  11. Jay Rock
  12. Big L
  13. Kali Uchis
  14. Saigon
  15. Black Coffee
  16. Cordae
  17. Isaiah Rashad
  18. KOTA The Friend
  19. Pink Sweat$
  20. Ab-Soul

Comments: Snoop crept into my top 5 because I was re-listening to Tha Doggfather plus he dropped a new album last month (that didn’t crack my top 20 spins).  I also re-visited some early Ghostface Killah and 50 Cent while Biggie stayed in rotation from the past couple months.  It was recently announced that Top Dawg Entertainment will be breaking a very long dry spell by releasing new music on May 7th.  This is a label whose entire roster is basically years overdue for a new album.  I’m excited for all of them to drop, so I was listening to TDE releases heavy this past week and four of them ended up cracking my top 20 for the month, with Kendrick leading the way.  TDE season is upon us!   

Top 50 Artists All-Time (since August 2020)

Note: last all-time rank in parentheses

  1. Eminem (1)
  2. Benny the Butcher (2)
  3. MC Eiht (6)
  4. Conway the Machine (4)
  5. Lil Wayne (3)
  6. Che Noir (7)
  7. The Roots/Black Thought (5)
  8. Toby Ganger (16)
  9. Nas (10)
  10. Amine (9)
  11. Biggie (unranked)
  12. Sa-Roc (24)
  13. Spillage Village (8)
  14. MF DOOM (unranked)
  15. Recognize Ali/Dueling Experts (15)
  16. Dua Lipa (30)
  17. Jadakiss/The Lox (unranked)
  18. Ty Dolla $ign (12)
  19. Tyrone’s Jacket (44)
  20. Boldy James (29)
  21. Berner (11)
  22. Kid Cudi (46)
  23. Busta Rhymes (13)
  24. DMX (unranked)
  25. Flip Huston (19)
  26. The Weeknd (17)
  27. Lana Del Rey (unranked)
  28. R.A. the Rugged Man (18)
  29. 38 Spesh (14)
  30. Mac Miller (48)
  31. KOTA The Friend (unranked)
  32. Blu & Exile (22)
  33. Logic (21)
  34. Westside Gunn (26)
  35. Big Sean (20)
  36. 21 Savage & Metro Boomin (23)
  37. Jessie Ware (unranked)
  38. Scarface (unranked)
  39. Felt (25)
  40. Brother Ali (42)
  41. Pop Smoke (28)
  42. Freddie Gibbs (unranked)
  43. Nyck Caution (unranked)
  44. T.I. (27)
  45. Ransom (31)
  46. Reason (33)
  47. Kendrick Lamar (unranked)
  48. J. Cole (unranked)
  49. Phoebe Bridgers (32)
  50. Playboi Carti (unranked)

Bangerz Playlist Additions – Follow me on Apple Music @DarkKnight1717 to add my playlists
2020 Bangers Playlist
2021 Bangers Playlist

Ghetts (feat. Jaykae & Moonchild Sanelly), “Mozambique”
Pink Sweat$, “Not Alright”

Yep… I was sleeping on adding new bangers last month.





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2021 Oscar Predictions

April 24, 2021

I thought I was going to complete a bucket list project and watch every single film and short that was nominated for an Oscar this year. I basically went an entire year without being able to do my job, so it left me way more time to watch movies than I usually have. I kicked things into high gear starting in December and cranked out like 25-30 movies a month, but by the middle of April, I still had a handful of films I needed to watch and I wasn’t excited about any of them and poker and baseball started to dominate my time. On the eve of Oscar night, there are six films that were nominated that I haven’t seen. I did watch every international feature, documentary, and short though and that’s something I’ve definitely never done before. Below are my rankings and predictions for every category. I didn’t listen to any of the songs, so I left that category out and despite having a family member that works as an editor on big Hollywood movies Film Editing is the category I understand the least, so I left that off too. Enjoy!

Best Picture

  1. Promising Young Woman
  2. Minari
  3. Sound of Metal
  4. Nomadland
  5. The Father
  6. Judas and the Black Messiah
  7. The Trial of the Chicago 7
  8. Mank

Biggest Snub: Considering they can nominate as many as ten films for Best Pic, I think it’s crazy Soul didn’t a nomination. It was my third favorite movie of 2020 and such a feel good film, I can’t believe it’s not here. Also, I think it’s kind of strange that Thomas Vinterberg got a Best Director nomination but his Another Round didn’t get a Best Pic nom.

Prediction: I would be rather shocked if something other than Minari or Nomadland won. I think Nomadland is going to win, but Minari was a more enjoyable movie to me.

Best Actor

  1. Anthony Hopkins, The Father
  2. Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
  3. Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal
  4. Gary Oldman, Mank
  5. Steven Yeun, Minari

Biggest Snub: Delroy Lindo was so good in Da 5 Bloods that I thought he might have a decent chance at winning and he’s not even nominated. I’d rank him third on that list above.

Prediction: Chadwick Boseman has all the buzz and momentum, but Anthony Hopkins gave the performance of the year in The Father. While a posthumous Oscar would be really cool for Chadwick and his family — and he would be a deserving pick — I still think Sir Anthony gave a better performance.

Best Actress

  1. Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman
  2. Vanessa Kirby, Pieces of a Woman
  3. Frances McDormand, Nomadland
  4. Viola Davis, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Haven’t seen: Andra Day, The United States vs. Billie Holiday

Biggest Snub: There were a lot of really good performances from lead actresses last year, but I think the Academy mostly got it right. I thought Rosamund Pike absolutely made I Care A Lot and Zendaya really leveled up in Malcolm & Marie, but I’m not overly shocked neither of them are here.

Prediction: I believe Viola Davis is the favorite, but I think that’s ludicrous. Her screen time is rather limited and it’s not like she was Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs good. I’m rooting hard for Carey Mulligan here. She deserves it.

Best Director

  1. Chloe Zhao, Nomadland
  2. Lee Isaac Chung, Minari
  3. Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman
  4. David Fincher, Mank
  5. Thomas Vinterberg, Another Round

Biggest Snub: I’ll say Shaka King because his movie got a Best Pic nom while Thomas Vinterberg’s movie did not.

Prediction: It would be a massive upset if anyone other than Chloe Zhao won.

Best Supporting Actor

  1. Leslie Odom Jr., One Night in Miami…
  2. Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah
  3. Sacha Baron Cohen, The Trial of the Chicago 7
  4. Paul Raci, Sound of Metal
  5. Lakeith Stanfield, Judas and the Black Messiah

Biggest Snub: It’s probably unfair that Lakeith Stanfield is eligible for this category. He was a lead actor in that movie (and so was Kaluuya probably). So he’s stealing someone’s spot and I’d suggest that someone should be Frank Langella in The Trial of the Chicago 7. He had me laughing that whole damn movie.

Prediction: This category is loaded, but Daniel Kaluuya has been sweeping awards season. Lock it up.

Best Supporting Actress

  1. Yuh-Jung Youn, Minari
  2. Amanda Seyfried, Mank
  3. Maria Bakalova, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
  4. Olivia Colman, The Father

Haven’t seen: Glenn Close, Hillbilly Elegy

Biggest Snub: No one really stands out, but Dominque Fishback in Judas and the Black Messiah is probably the best performance that didn’t get nominated.

Prediction: This category is loaded too. I wouldn’t be mad if any of the top four won, but my favorite performance of the bunch was definitely Yuh-Jung Youn. Anyone that can make you laugh consistently while speaking a language you don’t understand is doing something special. I think she has stolen the momentum away from Seyfried, whom I used to think was a lock.

Best Original Screenplay

  1. Promising Young Woman
  2. Minari
  3. The Trial of the Chicago 7
  4. Judas and the Black Messiah
  5. Sound of Metal

Biggest Snub: Considering how wildly imaginative Soul was, it is crazy that it got snubbed.

Prediction: Sorkin is probably going to win for Chicago 7, but I think Emerald Fennell and Promising Young Woman are drawing live.

Best Adapted Screenplay

  1. The Father
  2. Nomadland
  3. One Night in Miami…
  4. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
  5. The White Tiger

Biggest Snub: Charlie Kaufman’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things was complete insanity. I’m not sure I liked the movie, but he unquestionably writes on a level that mere mortals are not capable of.

Prediction: Anthony Hopkins is legendary in The Father but Florian Zeller and Christopher Hampton gave him plenty to work with in a brilliant script. I don’t think the script is the best aspect of Nomadland but I actually think it might be the favorite in this category as well.

Best Animated Feature

  1. Soul
  2. Wolfwalkers
  3. Onward
  4. Over The Moon

Haven’t seen: A Shaun The Sheep Movie: Farmageddon

Biggest Snub: I’ve actually only seen the nominated films. I loved the first Croods movie so I’m a little surprised that its sequel got beat out by Over The Moon and Shaun The Sheep.

Prediction: Wolfwalkers was great, but Soul should have been a Best Pic nom and will win here easily.

Best Documentary Feature

  1. My Octopus Teacher
  2. Time
  3. Collective
  4. Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution
  5. The Mole Agent

Biggest Snubs: Dick Johnson is Dead and Boys State feel like massive snubs. They’d both crack my top 5 easily.

Prediction: My Octopus Teacher blew my mind because its subject is so amazing and I think it’s unbelievably cool that they were able to catch that relationship between man and sea creature on film but… Collective and Time are far more poignant — one of those two are almost certainly going to win and I’ll say Time takes home the Oscar.

Best International Feature

  1. Another Round
  2. Quo Vadis, Aida?
  3. Collective
  4. Better Days
  5. The Man Who Sold His Skin

Biggest Snub: There’s a Korean thriller I saw on Netflix named The Call. I loved it, but it has gotten basically zero attention anywhere that I’ve seen.

Prediction: Another Round feels like a lock, especially with that Best Director nomination, but Quo Vadis, Aida? was a great movie and should give the Danish submission a run for its money.

Best Cinematography

  1. Nomadland
  2. Mank
  3. Judas and the Black Messiah
  4. News of the World
  5. The Trial of the Chicago 7

Biggest Snub: I don’t think I really liked Tenet much, but it was cool to look at, that’s for sure. Same with I’m Thinking of Ending Things.

Prediction: Nomadland is a virtual lock.

Best Production Design

  1. Mank
  2. News of the World
  3. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
  4. Tenet
  5. The Father

Biggest Snub: First Cow probably deserved an Oscar nomination for something and it’s production design was definitely great.

Prediction: Mank feels pretty safe here.

Best Costume Design

  1. Emma
  2. Mank
  3. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
  4. Mulan

Haven’t seen: Pinocchio

Biggest Snub: Probably something I haven’t seen, but the guys in One Night in Miami… were looking pretty sharp.

Prediction: Wide open between the top 3, so I’ll go with my #1 in Emma.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

  1. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
  2. Emma.
  3. Mank

Haven’t Seen: Hillbilly Elegy, Pinocchio

Biggest Snub: I can’t say I was a fan of Birds of Prey, but this is something it definitely did well.

Prediction: Well, I didn’t watch 40% of the nominees, but Ma Rainey seems to be a big favoite here.

Best Visual Effects

  1. Tenet
  2. The Midnight Sky
  3. Love and Monsters
  4. Mulan

Haven’t seen: The One and Only Ivan

Prediction: I was pretty mixed on Tenet but the visual effects were A+. This should be an easy win.

Best Original Score

  1. Soul
  2. Mank
  3. Minari
  4. News of the World
  5. Da 5 Bloods

Biggest Snub: I liked the score for Nomadland enough to add the soundtrack to my library on Apple Music and use it for background noise while I meditate… so… I definitely thought it would crack Oscar’s top 5.

Prediction: Soul

Best Sound

  1. Sound of Metal
  2. Soul
  3. News of the World
  4. Mank

Haven’t seen: Greyhound

Biggest Snub: Definitely NOT Tenet.

Prediction: Sound of Metal not winning this category would be insanity.

Best Live Action Short

  1. The Present
  2. White Eye
  3. Feeling Through
  4. The Letter Room
  5. Two Distant Strangers

Biggest Snub: Only saw these five.

Prediction: Before watching these, I thought The Letter Room probably had the best chance simply because Oscar Isaac was the star and it had some buzz, but as you can see above, it was far from my favorite of the noms. I think they were all pretty good and as much as I’d like to see Joey Bada$$ be part of an Oscar win (for Two Distant Strangers), The Present and White Eye are a notch above the competition here.

Best Documentary Short

  1. A Love Song for Latasha
  2. A Concerto is a Conversation
  3. Colette
  4. Do Not Split
  5. Hunger Ward

Biggest Snub: I only saw one other documentary short and I’m fine with its lack of inclusion.

Prediction: This is the first time I’ve seen all five nominees in a shorts category and, honestly, I still have no clue. The only one of these I didn’t thoroughly enjoy was Hunger Ward (and it’s not like that didn’t cover heartbreaking ground). Prior to watching these, I was under the impression that A Concerto was the favorite, but I’ll be rooting for Latasha.

Best Animated Short

  1. If Anything Happens I Love You
  2. Opera
  3. Burrow
  4. Genius Loci
  5. Yes-People

Prediction: I didn’t even enjoy the bottom two on the list and Burrow is at least one full notch below the top two. The visual of Opera was absolutely epic, but If Anything Happens I Love You is the most touching of this lot by a wide margin, plus it’s animation and music are high quality as well. Probably an easy win.

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March 2021: Every Review I Wrote

April 4, 2021

Movies – I got back to “normal” life during the last week of March, re-activating my AMC A-list membership and returning to the movie theaters. I also got back to doing my day job: playing poker. I still watched an absurd amount of movies in March, but with getting back to the poker grind last week and doing all my fantasy baseball drafts (five of them!) the week before that, I didn’t review most of the movies I watched. I’m guess that’s how it will be going forward. I’ll probably still watch 2-4 movies a week, but I won’t have much time to write about them. If I wind up reviewing a movie that I haven’t yet, I’ll just post the link in next month’s post like this. I’ll say this much: Anthony Hopkins in The Father is my favorite performance of 2020.

Movies I watched, but didn’t review (ratings out of 10):

  • Nobody (2021) – 7/10
  • The White Tiger (Netflix, 2021) – Nominated for Best Original Screenplay – 7/10
  • What Would Sophia Loren Do? (Netflix, 2021) – On shortlist for Best Documentary Short Subject – 6/10
  • Better Days (2020) – Nominated for Best International Feature – 7/10
  • A Love Song for Latasha (Netflix, 2020) – Nominated for Best Documentary Short Subject – 6/10
  • If Anything Happens I Love You (Netflix, 2020) – Nominated for Best Animated Short – 8/10
  • News of the World (2020) – Nominated for 4 Oscars – 6/10
  • Quo Vadis, Aida? (2020) – Nominated for Best International Feature – 8/10
  • The Father (2020) – Nominated for 6 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay – 8/10
  • The Midnight Sky (Netflix, 2020) – Nominated for Best Visual Effects – 5/10
  • To: Gerard (Peacock, 2020) – On the shortlist for Best Animated Short – 6/10
  • Just Mercy (2019) – 8/10
  • Phantasm 2 (1988) – 6/10
  • Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984) – 6/10
  • Friday the 13th Part 3 (1982) – 5/10
  • Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981) – 6/10
  • Friday the 13th (1980) – 7/10

2021 Best Feature Films: My top 25 of 2021 through March
2020 Best Feature Films: My top 25 of 2020 through March
2020 Best Documentaries/Docu-Series: My top documentary style films of the year
2020/2021 Oscar Watch: My list of favorites for the major Oscar categories
Focused Watchlist: A list of 30 movies that are at the top of my watchlist with a breakdown of how I formulate my picks
April 2021 – New to Theaters and Streaming: Ranking new and old movies I want to see coming to streaming or theaters this month

I also went crazy and made a best films of the year list for every year from 2020 to 1982, the year I was born. I ranked 25 films for 2000 and later and 10 films for 1999 to 1982. I started fizzling out on my lists in the early 90s as I just haven’t seen most of the important films from those early years when I was a kid. I have all the lists on my blog here. Enjoy!

T.V. Shows (Ratings out of 5)

  • WandaVision – Season 1 (2021) – Disney+ – 2.5
  • Schitt’s Creek – Season 2 (2016) – Netflix – 4.5
  • Schitt’s Creek – Season 3 (2017) – Netflix – 4
  • Schitt’s Creek – Season 4 (2018) – Netflix – 4.5
  • Schitt’s Creek – Season 5 (2019) – Netflix – 4.5

Music

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March 2021 Music Ratings

April 1, 2021

ALBUM OF THE MONTH

Benny the Butcher & Harry Fraud – The Plugs I Met 2


Rating Scale

10 – Masterpiece
9 – Amazing
8 – Great
7 – Highly Enjoyable
6 – Recommended/Good
5 – Decent/Cool
4 – Lackluster
3 – Bad
2 – Horrible
1 – Torture Material

Top 20 Albums in March (all ratings are out of 10)

Note: These albums are NOT ranked in order of preference; they are ranked in order of number of songs listened to (scrobbles) over the past month. Previous ranking in brackets. Year of release in parentheses if it’s not 2020 or 2021. I’ll include a rough rating for each album to make my feelings on each project clearer.  The more I’ve listened to an album, the more accurate my rating is. Any rating that has a + symbol means that I’ve found my floor, but I could rate it higher. I won’t leave a rating for anything I don’t have a good feel for yet.

*indicates February 2021 release

  1. The Notorious B.I.G. – Life After Death (1997) – 9+ [unranked]
  2. Jadakiss – Kiss Tha Game Goodbye (2001) – 6+ [unranked]
  3. *Benny the Butcher – The Plugs I Met 2 – 7+
  4. The Notorious B.I.G. – Ready to Die (1994) – 9+ [unranked]
  5. *Ghetts – Conflict of Interest – 6+
  6. *Lana Del Rey – Chemtrails Over the Country Club – 6+
  7. The Avalanches – We Will Always Love You – 6+ [unranked]
  8. Mos Def – Black On Both Sides (1999) – 8+ [unranked]
  9. *Pink Sweat$ – Pink Planet – 6+
  10. Marlon Craft – How We Intended – 6+ [6]
  11. *Rod Wave – SoulFly
  12. Toby Ganger – Free Machine (Unreleased) – 8+ [20]
  13. JAY-Z – 4:44 (2017) – 8+ [unranked]
  14. *KOTA The Friend – To Kill A Sunrise
  15. Madison Beer – Life Support [11]
  16. *Robin Thicke – On Earth, and in Heaven
  17. Tash Sultana – Terra Firma – 7+ [1]
  18. Tyrone’s Jacket – Tyrone’s Jacket – 8+ [unranked]
  19. Courtney Bell – Poverty Stricken – 7+ [4]
  20. Sheek Louch – Beast Mode, Vol. 4 [unranked]
  21. *slowthai – TYRON

The 25 Artists I’ve Listened To The Most In 2021

Notes: Last month I listened to a ton of Biggie. I haven’t been posting many album reviews, but I got them coming for both of Biggie’s albums. I have also been a long time Jadakiss nonbeliever and I’ll probably be giving him some extra attention in the near future because I either wanna prove myself right or start loving someone I’ve never given enough credit to. I pretty much have his first album reviewed – I just need to post it. I started playing live poker again this past week and that is going to drastically increase the amount of time I spend listening to music. Yesterday I listened to Scarface my whole session and that was good enough to almost get him into my top 10 for the year.

  1. The Notorious B.I.G. [unranked]
  2. Eminem [2]
  3. MC Eiht [1]
  4. MF DOOM [3]
  5. Benny the Butcher [unranked]
  6. Kid Cudi [4]
  7. Courtney Bell [6]
  8. Tash Sultana [13]
  9. Boldy James [5]
  10. Nyck Caution [11]
  11. Scarface [unranked]
  12. Tyrone’s Jacket [17]
  13. Dua Lipa [7]
  14. Sa-Roc [16]
  15. KOTA The Friend [unranked]
  16. Jadakiss [unranked]
  17. Toby Ganger [unranked]
  18. Lana Del Rey [unranked]
  19. Pharoahe Monch [19]
  20. Chris Stapleton [unranked]
  21. Marlon Craft [unranked]
  22. SZA [9]
  23. Kali Uchis [unranked]
  24. Freddie Gibbs [unranked]
  25. Mac Miller [14]

Bangerz Playlist Additions – Follow me on Apple Music @DarkKnight1717 to add my playlists
2020 Bangers Playlist
2021 Bangers Playlist

38 Spesh (feat. Benny the Butcher), “Stash Box”
Benny the Butcher (feat. 2 Chainz), “Plug Talk”
Courtney Bell, “Celebrate”
Elcamino (feat. Benny the Butcher), “Immunity”
Gukie, “Make It a Double”
KOTA the Friend, “Wolves”
Lil Tjay & 6LACK, “Calling My Phone”
Lucky Daye (feat. Mahalia), “My Window”
Masego (feat. JID & Rapsody), “Somethin’ Ain’t Right”
Nyck Caution (feat. KOTA the Friend & Erick the Architect), “Product Of My Environment”
Nyck Caution (feat. Joey Bada$$), “How You Live It”



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The Dark Knight Returns: a 2021 Poker Blog!

March 31, 2021

My poker blog was kind of on its way out anyways, but the Covid pandemic officially killed it. I was still playing regularly during the first two weeks of March, but the day that the NBA decided to suspend their season indefinitely is the same day that I decided it was time for me to take this thing seriously as well. I quit my session early and I didn’t go back again until late August. I did make a two day trip to La Center in southern Washington in late January where I had a couple of dream sessions and booked a +$9k trip and that was pretty much the extent of my poker success in 2020. Even when I was back to playing in the fall, we were in a tent, I was wearing gloves 100% of the time, and it just never felt like I was really back. I couldn’t get into it. When Covid started spreading around the local casinos in late October, I decided that I wasn’t going to play again until I got vaccinated.

I have to say this whole thing could have been a lot worse for my poker career. Just because I can’t work anymore doesn’t mean that I don’t have to pay bills and when you can’t pad your bankroll, well, it can only disappear. I was probably two months into the pandemic before it dawned on me that I should look into filing for unemployment. As a professional poker player, it just didn’t occur to me that that could be a thing for me. On the other hand, I pay my taxes and these were unusual circumstances. I was surprised how easy it was for me to get paid after hearing so many horror stories of people having trouble and how impossible it was to talk to anybody about it. Within a week, they paid me, and not just for that week, but all the weeks dating back to the middle of March. I stopped filing when I started playing again, but after deciding it wasn’t worth the risk, I got a doctor’s note (because I’m a Type I Diabetic) and started collecting unemployment again. Needless to say, there’s no way I would have been able to continue playing for a living if I wasn’t able to file for unemployment so that was an extremely pleasant surprise. I’d like to say it wasn’t as good as playing would have been, but uh, not like I was really crushing in 2019 or last year when I did play.

There is a bright side to this whole thing for me. I got way better at studying poker. I started using solvers, looking at GTO charts, and going over hand histories with accomplished online players. It’s not like I could do much of anything else. Also, I’ve been so reluctant to make the transition from limit games to spread and no limit games, but almost all of my studying during the past year has been focused on no limit strategies so there’s no excuse for me to hold off on it any longer. I will be playing plenty of no limit cash going forward and my tournament schedules will include a lot more no limit Hold’em events. I’ve always felt like I’ve been able to mostly hold my own in NLHE, but I think I’ve leveled up big time and I’m excited to see what kind of results I can produce.

It’s good timing because since I’ve been away, Palace has started spreading no limit cash games. On any given day, there are probably two 1/3 NL games going and I’ve even seen 3/5 games going a few times on the weekend. This was not a thing a year ago and that only contributed to me not really feeling like I needed to focus on strengthening that muscle. I’m still not entirely sure that I can make a better hourly playing 1/3 than 8/16 limit, but I do know that my skill edge comes into play more and I can utilize exploits way more effectively. I won’t go as far as to say that limit Hold’em is Bingo, but you’re usually going to have to show down the best hand and my biggest edges in those games are patience and not tilting because I’ve lost a couple pots. If I can make ten big blinds per hour in 1/3 though, I should definitely be playing that over 8/16. I don’t know if that’s a reasonable win rate, but it seems like it could be doable.

I started my first day back in 4/8 limit and finished a small loser in about an hour before heading to a 1/3 game around 6 PM. I was pretty disappointed with the game when I sat down in it. Everyone was playing pretty tight and passive and the average pot was really small. I was definitely thinking I’d be better off in 8/16. But there was only one game and the list was super long and the floor didn’t seem keen on starting a second one. So I stuck it out.

In my first couple hour or so, I was startled by the passivity in my game. Here’s a list of things that shocked me:

-My first big pot I straddled the button with 73o, some players called and we saw a J43 flop. It checked to me and I decided to bet on the larger side and got one caller from middle position. The turn gave me two pair and he check-called another chunky bet. The river was a king and I was thinking I was going to put him all-in, but he donked into for about half his stack and I just didn’t see any value in raising so I called and he showed me… JJ? Imagine seeing a $6 button straddle, followed by both blinds calling, looking down at JJ and being like, “I guess I’ll just call.”

-A different player ended up showing AQo in a pot I straddled on the button with no other preflop raising.

-A different player open-limped the cutoff and called my button raise and ended up showing… QQ.

-The same player that had AQ earlier called my MP open to $10 with AQ again, despite only having $40 behind.

-A different player flatted my MP open of $10 with less than $100 and ended up showing AK.

All of those hands are insane to me. It reminds me of when I used to prop 3/6 games where no one raises anything preflop. It’s just weird. It can be really easy to value town yourself when people are playing huge hands so passively.

Fortunately the game got really good as the night progressed. By midnight I saw someone opening to $30 and probably not even looking at his hand. I saw that same player open huge and then call off a $200 shove with 43o.

Which brings me to an interesting hand. I already know this guy is a certifiable maniac. Not a maniac with any rhyme or reason, but a total punter. So he opens to $20 and it folds to me in the big blind and I defend with 66. The flop is T32 rainbow. I check to him and he bets $50 into $33. I actually hate all of my options. This is a dude that I am not entirely sure wouldn’t punt-shove it all in here with KJ and it’s not like I want to get $280 in on the flop, so raising seems extremely high variance. Calling seems like a good play, but I don’t expect this dude to slow down and I think he’s usually going to be triple barrel all-in on the river, so if I call flop, I think I have to know I’m calling down for stacks and I can’t imagine many runouts where I’d talk myself into a fold vs. this player. So fold now? Seems absurd, but I just think I can find a better spot to stack this guy. The only issue is that he might punt to someone else first. I decided to wait and find a better spot and, sure enough, he blasted off $500 to me over the next 30 minutes.

I had some good connections that probably never should have happened. The guy that had a set of jacks against my 73 earlier straddled to $9 on his button and I made it $32 from the big blind with my own pair of jacks. He was my only caller and we saw a J83 flop. I down bet $15 and he called. The turn paired the 8 and I down bet again to $30. I figured he might attack that sizing if he had a draw or air, but he wasn’t going to fold anything good and he was going to raise trips anyway. He did make it $90 and I just called. The river was a blank and I check-jammed on him and got called by 87o, a hand that should have clearly folded pre.

Later, there were a couple limpers and the cutoff made it $13 and I had KQo on the button. I’d 3-bet here a lot of the time, but I hadn’t seen this guy do much raising, so I just took a flop in position and four of us saw a JT3 flop. One of the blinds led out for $10, a limper called, and the PFR made it $30. I’m not going anywhere against this action so I call and so do the other two players. The turn is a blank and the PFR bets $60 when it checks to him. Another simple just call and one other calls. The river is an ace and the PFR bets almost half his stack. As soon as I start thinking, he tells me how much he has behind like he can’t wait to put the rest of it in. So I oblige him. The other player folds and he says, “aces are good, ” before calling and flipping over his set of jacks. KQ wasn’t even on his radar and when he saw it, he pretty much blew a gasket. “How could you call with that? I guess I should have just gone all-in preflop.” I confirmed I would have folded if he did that. His reaction to my hand is hilarious and makes me really excited to be playing no limit with the local player pool.

I started off my night kind of rough. I was $800 within the first couple hours, but by the end of the night I had $2000 in front of me and ended up booking a $1200 win on my first day back.

I’ve now played three 1/3 sessions at Palace (I played twice in the fall) and I’ve won over $1000 all three times. Obviously, that’s not a realistic expectation going forward, but it’s certainly a nice start in my transition to big bet games.

I haven’t really ironed out my poker goals for 2021, but my current schedule has me playing about 34 hours a week and I’ll probably be playing mostly 1/3 with some 8/16 and 20/40 sprinkled in.

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Che Noir – After 12 (2020)

March 17, 2021

Genre: Rap

Release Date: December 4th, 2020

Song Rating Scale

  1. Foxy’s Intro – N/A
  2. Cruise Control (feat. The Musalini) – 4
  3. Hunger Games (feat. Ransom & 38 Spesh) – 4.5
  4. Reasons (feat. Jynx) – 3.5
  5. Divine Knowledge – 3.75
  6. Moment in the Sun (feat. Rj Payne & Sa-Roc) – 4.5
  7. Grace (feat. Amber Simone) – 3.75

Spin Rate:
Average Song Rating: 4/5
3.5+ Percentage: 100%
Skip Factor: 0%
Bangers: 3

Thoughts: This was Che’s third extremely high quality project of 2020 and her album with Apollo Brown was a legit Album of the Year contender. I’d say all that makes her a legit candidate for hip-hop’s MVP award last year. As you can see above, this is a short project, but she still has multiple mega-bangers and gets one of the highest average song ratings of any project I’ve ever reviewed. Che has a knack for getting elite production and features (I love seeing her collab with Sa-Roc here), plus she has a tremendous amount of talent herself. I don’t mind someone releasing this much music if it’s this good. If you been sleeping on Che Noir, it’s well past time to wake up.

Verdict: 8/10 (Great)

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February 2021 Music Ratings

March 7, 2021

ALBUM OF THE MONTH

Tash Sultana – Terra Firma


Rating Scale

10 – Masterpiece
9 – Amazing
8 – Great
7 – Highly Enjoyable
6 – Recommended/Good
5 – Decent/Cool
4 – Lackluster
3 – Bad
2 – Horrible
1 – Torture Material

Top 20 Albums in February (all ratings are out of 10)

Note: These albums are NOT ranked in order of preference; they are ranked in order of number of songs listened to (scrobbles) over the past month. Previous ranking in brackets. Year of release in parentheses if it’s not 2020 or 2021. I’ll include a rough rating for each album to make my feelings on each project clearer.  The more I’ve listened to an album, the more accurate my rating is. Any rating that has a + symbol means that I’ve found my floor, but I could rate it higher. I won’t leave a rating for anything I don’t have a good feel for yet.

*indicates February 2021 release

  1. *Tash Sultana – Terra Firma – 7+
  2. Eminem – Music To Be Murdered By – Side B [15]
  3. SZA – Ctrl (2017) – 9
  4. Courtney Bell – Poverty Stricken – 7+
  5. MC Eiht – LESSONS [1]
  6. *Marlon Craft – How We Intended
  7. Pharoahe Monch & th1rt3en – A Magnificent Day For an Exorcism – 6+
  8. *Devin the Dude – Soulful Distance – 6+
  9. *Lucky Daye – Table For Two
  10. Sa-Roc – The Sharecropper’s Daughter – review coming soon
  11. *Madison Beer – Life Support
  12. Brother Ali – The Undisputed Truth (2007) – 9
  13. *Dorian Whyte – Truth Be Told
  14. Kid Cudi – Man on the Moon III: The Chosen [5] – 6
  15. Breeze Brewin – Hindsight
  16. Che Noir – After 12 – review coming soon
  17. Rapsody – Laila’s Wisdom (2017) – 8+
  18. Mac Ayres – Magic 8ball
  19. Nyck Caution – Anywhere But Here [14]
  20. Toby Ganger – Free Machine – 8+
  21. *VanJess – Homegrown
  22. Your Old Droog – It Wasn’t Even Close

The 20 Artists I’ve Listened To The Most In 2021

Notes: I spread my listening out a lot more this past month and spent very little time focusing on brand new releases since there were very few I was interested in. I created a playlist of artists and albums I feel I’ve overlooked and want to get more familiar with and listened to that. I was actually inspired to do this when I heard MF DOOM had passed away and realized how little of his catalog I had listened to. I also split time between my Brand New, All-Time Favorites, and Best of 2020 playlists.

  1. MC Eiht
  2. Eminem
  3. MF DOOM
  4. Kid Cudi
  5. Boldy James
  6. Courtney Bell
  7. Dua Lipa
  8. Chris Stapleton
  9. SZA
  10. Joji
  11. Nyck Caution
  12. Roc Marciano
  13. Tash Sultana
  14. Mac Miller
  15. Playboi Carti
  16. Sa-Roc
  17. Tyrone’s Jacket
  18. Jessie Ware
  19. Pharoahe Monch
  20. Rina Sawayama

Bangerz Playlist Additions – Follow me on Apple Music @DarkKnight1717 to add my playlists
2020 Bangers Playlist
2021 Bangers Playlist

Courtney Bell (feat. Dcmbr), “Hold You Down (Super Woman)”
Courtney Bell, “25 Hours”
Freddie Gibbs (feat. ScHoolboy Q), “Gang Signs”
Gukie, “Make It a Double”
Nipsey Hussle & JAY-Z, “What It Feels Like”
Tash Sultana, “Pretty Lady”
WESTSIDE BOOGIE & Joey Bada$$, “Outside”



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February 2021: Every Review I Wrote

March 1, 2021

Movies – I went crazy again in February and watched a movie almost every day. I will probably do something similar in March, but by the start of April, I will be fully vaxxed and cleared for takeoff (back to my day job of playing poker) and my days of watching 25 movies a month will be coming to an end. Still, I have the expectation that I can watch every feature film, documentary, and international film that gets an Oscar nomination before the Oscars air in late April and that’s something I’ve never done before.

Movies I watched, but didn’t review:

  • Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution (2020) – 7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)
  • Tinker Tailor Solider Spy (2011) – did not rate cause I had a hard time following it
  • In the Mood for Love (2000) – 8/10 (Great/Must See)
  • Re-Animator (1985) – 7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)

2020 Best Feature Films: My top 25 of 2020 through February
2020 Best Documentaries/Docu-Series: My top documentary style films of the year
2020/2021 Oscar Watch: My list of favorites for the major Oscar categories
Focused Watchlist: A list of 30 movies that are at the top of my watchlist with a breakdown of how I formulate my picks
March 2021 – New to Streaming Ranking of new and old movies I want to see coming to streaming this month

I also went crazy and made a best films of the year list for every year from 2020 to 1982, the year I was born. I ranked 25 films for 2000 and later and 10 films for 1999 to 1982. I started fizzling out on my lists in the early 90s as I just haven’t seen most of the important films from those early years when I was a kid. I have all the lists on my blog here. Enjoy!

T.V. Shows

  • Succession – Season 2 (2019) – HBO Max – 5/5
  • Succession – Season 1 (2018) – HBO Max – 5/5
  • Pen15 – Season 2 (2020) – Hulu – 3/5
  • Schitt’s Creek – Season 1 (2015) – Netflix – 4/5

Music

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Eminem – Music To Be Murdered By – Side B (2020)

February 19, 2021

Genre: Rap

Release Date: December 18th, 2020

Song Rating Scale

  1. Alfred (Intro) – N/A
  2. Black Magic (feat. Skylar Grey) – 3
  3. Alfred’s Theme – 3.75
  4. Tone Deaf – 3.5
  5. Book of Rhymes (feat. DJ Premier) – 3.25
  6. Favorite Bitch (feat. Ty Dolla $ign) – 3
  7. Guns Blazing (feat. Dr. Dre & Sly Pyper) – 3
  8. Gnat – 3.75
  9. Higher – 3.75
  10. These Demons (feat. MAJ) – 3.5
  11. Key (Skit) – N/A
  12. She Loves Me – 3.5
  13. Killer – 3.75
  14. Zeus (feat. White Gold) – 4
  15. Thus Far (Interlude) – N/A
  16. Discombobulated – 3.75

Spin Rate: 7+
Average Song Rating: 3.5/5
3.5+ Percentage: 69%
Skip Factor: 11.5%
Bangers: 1

Thoughts: Eminem has kind of become a master at making incomplete songs. At least for me. This album is a clinic in making music that is mostly pretty decent but almost every song has an aspect to it that I don’t like. In “Book of Rhymes” the beat is horrendous. How are you going to have a song that says it features DJ Premier and he’s not even producing it? I was really looking forward to this collaboration and it’s not even a thing. “Favorite Bitch” features Ty Dolla $ign, one of the top hook makers in the hip-hop world right now, and his hook is TERRIBLE. “Guns Blazing” has a Dr. Dre verse and a hook that I just can’t get into. Even the songs that I like a lot tend to feature a beat or flow switch that doesn’t really work for me. The rapping on this album is pretty good, but that’s not much of a surprise – Eminem can still rap his ass off. He can also drop some ultra corny bars, but I’d say that his cleverness and rhyming ability still far outweigh these eyeroll-inducing lines.

I like Side A substantially more than Side B, but if you look at both of my reviews you’ll notice Side B has a higher average song rating. That’s because the highs on Side A are much higher than they are here, but the lows are also much lower (it’s also because this is the first album I started using .25 and .75 when I can’t decide between two ratings). Side B doesn’t have any pure skips, but it also only has one true banger. “Zeus” is a really good song, but I think it’s the only track where Eminem really puts it all together on this album. I’ll take whatever I can get from Eminem (well, not Revival), but I also feel like he’s just going to keep stringing together technically proficient verses while not making all that great of music.

Verdict: 6/10 (Recommended)

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MC Eiht – Lessons (2020)

February 4, 2021

Genre: Rap

Release Date: September 18th, 2020

Song Rating Scale

  1. Get Money Man (feat. B-Real) – 3.5
  2. That’s Perfect (feat. Tha Chill) – 4
  3. Honcho (feat. Conway the Machine) – 4
  4. Bluue Wave – 3.5
  5. Can’t Nobody (feat. Kokane) – 4
  6. U Kno – 4
  7. Ambition – 3.5
  8. Lessons – 4.5
  9. U Not Me – 4
  10. That 83 (feat. That Chill & Diamond Rich) – 3.5
  11. Courted In (feat. Dave East & Tha Chill) – 3.5
  12. Things We Go Through (feat. Cherell Terri) – 4
  13. Past Mistakes (feat. Talib Kweli) – 4
  14. I Got U – 3.5
  15. Whut U Really On – 3.5
  16. On the Real Tho (feat. Yukmouth & Tha Chill) – 3.5
  17. Stand Up (feat. Mitchy Slick & Tha Chill) – 3.5
  18. Neighborhood Looks (feat. Havoc & Kurupt) – 4.5
  19. Magic (feat. Young Noble & Tha Chill) – 4.5
  20. We Got – 4

Spin Rate: 9
Average Song Rating: 3.85/5
3.5+ Percentage: 100%
Pure Skips: 0
Bangers: 11

Thoughts: No album in 2020 took me by surprise more than this gem from Compon’s MC Eiht. When I saw it in the new releases section the weekend it came out, I didn’t even give it a skim. I just don’t expect much from an old school gangsta rap artist in 2020 and it’s not like I’ve ever been much of a fan anyway. But then I saw a thread about it on a hip-hop message board I’ve been posting on since 1999 (LOL) and people I have similar taste as were saying it was nice.

Well, Lessons is insanely good. I actually had to re-think what a 3.5 and a 4 song is to me because so many tracks on this album blur the line between what I think is a good song and what I think is an absolute banger. MC Eiht isn’t an amazing rapper, lyrically or vocally, but the production and song-writing on Lessons are so good that the whole project is elevated to a pretty elite level. I enjoy the beat, hook, and vibe of every track on here. It’s not like MC Eiht is weak on the mic either. He has a very smooth delivery and while his lyrics and rhymes schemes are relatively simple, he is adept at painting a picture of the stories he is telling. It’s a pretty remarkable feat to put out an album with 20 songs and zero skips – and honestly, nothing is even close to a skip – plus I think over half the album is pure fire.

Lessons is one of two albums from 2020 (the other being Che Noir & Apollo Brown’s As God Intended) that feel like immediate hip-hop classics. This album is straight heat from top to bottom. An absolute must listen and one of the best rap albums from last year. Don’t sleep.

Verdict: 9/10 (Amazing)