Posts Tagged ‘album reviews’

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Flatbush Zombies – now, more than ever – EP (2020)

July 21, 2020

Flatbush Zombies – now, more than ever – EP (2020, Rap)

1. “herb” – 3.5
2. “iamlegend” – 3
3. “quicksand” – 3.5
4. “dirty elevator music” – 4
5. “blessings” – 3.5
6. “when i’m gone” ft. Sophie Faith – 4

Spin Rate: 8.5
Most Played Track: “herb” (10x)
Average Song Rating: 3.58/5
3.5+ Percentage: 83%
Cuts: 0
Bangers: 2

Thoughts: I haven’t heard much music from Flatbush Zombies that wasn’t dope. They consistently release solid projects and this EP fits the bill. All three emcees are capable, though I’ve always been partial to the gruff-sounding Meechy Darko, but after seeing someone negatively describing him as sounding like a B-Movie Monster, maybe he’s not for everyone. I love him though. These guys just make good music. “dirty elevator music” has an absolutely sick beat and I love how the “it’s like…” vocal sample is looped during the verses on “when i’m gone.” The track is plenty nice on its own merit, but that aspect really elevates it for me and it’s such a simple thing. now, more than ever is another extremely strong, but short project from a very talented and overlooked hip-hop group.

Verdict: 7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)

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Group Home – Livin’ Proof (1995)

July 11, 2020

Group Home – Livin’ Proof (1995, Rap)

Release Date: November 21st, 1995

Song Rating Scale

1. “Intro” – N/A (really nice melody though)
2. “Inna City Life” – 3.5
3. “Livin’ Proof” – 4
4. “Serious Rap S**t” ft. Guru & Big Shug – 3
5. “Suspended In Time” – 3.5
6. “Sacrifice” ft. Absaloot – 3
7. “Up Against the Wall (Low Budget Mix)” – 4
8. “4 Give My Sins” – 2.5
9. “Baby Pa” – 2
10. “2 Thousand” – 3
11. “Supa Star” – 3.5
12. “Up Against the Wall (Getaway Car Mix)” – 2.75
13. “Tha Realness” ft. Smiley the Ghetto Child & Jack the Ripper – 3.5

Spin Rate: 4.1
Most Played Track: “Sacrifice” (6x)
Average Song Rating: 3.19/5
3.5+ Percentage: 50%
Cuts: 3
Bangers: 2

Thoughts: I came across this album in a hip-hop group I’m in on Facebook and since plenty of commenters consider it a classic and DJ Premier was behind the boards for most of the production, I decided it would be the next old school project I examined. I’ve never heard any of this before – except maybe the “Livin’ Proof” instrumental – so this was all fresh to me.

Honestly, I was underwhelmed. Premier does his part, but he really carries this album on his back. The beats on “Livin’ Proof” and “Up Against the Wall (Low Budget Mix) are flames. The rappers in Group Home are Lil Dap and Melachi the Nutcracker. Lil Dap has a cool voice and nice delivery, but Melachi is NOT a good rapper. There are tracks where he is almost unlistenable. I gave the first “Up Against the Wall” banger status, but that’s because the beat is crazy and Lil Dap sounds great over it, but Melachi’s verses on it are straight up embarrassing. Listening to these guys rap, I can’t help but wonder if they freestyled this whole album. It really sounds like Premo just put a banger on and they record off the top of their head and kept the vocals when they didn’t make any mistakes. There is zero substance, complexity, or creativity to any of the lyricism on this album. If they wrote most of this stuff, they should be ashamed. If they freestyled all of it, it’s kind of impressive.

Premo did every beat on the album except “Serious Rap S**t” (Guru) and “4 Give My Sins” (Jaz-O) and, unsurprisingly, those are two of the weaker tracks on the album. I gave the second version of “Up Against the Wall” a 2.75 because while it’s not a bad song, the beat is substantially better on the first version, the vocals are all the same, and it just doesn’t need to be here. “Baby Pa” also probably unfairly brings the overall score down because it’s a 3+ minute track that has almost no rapping on it – a clear cut.

Overall, I’m impressed with Premier, but that’s to be expected. The rappers on this album are just too weak for it to be considered anything close to a classic album though. It’s no wonder they basically disappeared after this project. I say check it out for the beats and because there’s some good tracks on here, but this is far from an essential 90s album.

Verdict: 6/10 (Very Light Recommendation)

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Run the Jewels – RTJ4 (2020)

July 7, 2020

Run the Jewels – RTJ4 (2020, RAP)

1. “yankee and the brain (ep. 4)” – 3.5
2. “ooh la la” ft. Greg Nice & DJ Premier – 4
3. “out of sight” ft. 2 Chainz – 4
4. “holy calamafuck” – 3.5
5. “goonies vs E.T.” – 3.5
6. “walking in the snow” ft. Gangsta Boo – 3.5
7. “JU$T” ft. Pharrell Williams & Zack de la Rocha – 4
8. “never look back” – 3.5
9. “the ground below” – 3.5
10. “pulling the pin” ft. Joshua Homme & Mavis Staples – 3.5
11. “a few words for the firing squad (radiation)” – 4.5

Spin Rate: 7.64
Most Played Track: “yankee and the brain (ep. 4)” (10x)
Average Song Rating: 3.73/5
3.5+ Percentage: 100%
Cuts: 0
Bangers: 4

Thoughts: At this point, it’s fair to say Run the Jewels are on a legendary run. Killer Mike and El-P have now put together four high quality albums in row and continue to stay politically and socially conscious and timely. Their music is consistently good and relevant, yet somehow they seem wildly underrated, especially by the general audiences. The rapping and production are really good on pretty much every track and there isn’t a song on here that I’d leave off the album. “A few words for the firing squad” is my favorite song on the album with Killer Mike putting together this set of bars that just rings so true:

It’s crippling, make you wanna lean, on a cup of promethazine
but my queen say she need a king, not another junkie, flunkie rapper fiend
friends tell her, ‘he could be another Malcolm, he could be another Martin’
she told her partner, ‘I need a husband more than the world need another martyr.’

Goddamn. Those bars just go so hard and the way he raps it makes it even better. These guys stay extremely consistent and this is just another feather in the cap of a legacy that is starting to be worth mentioning among the all-time greats.

Verdict: 8/10 (Must Listen)

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J. Cole – Friday Night Lights (2010) – A Classic?

June 30, 2020

I’ve decided to scrap the idea of making a single post the review albums for an entire month. I finally finished my February reviews last week and I just sit on these things for too long. Going forward, I’m going to post one album review at a time. Each month, I’ll post a review for two older albums, representing two different time periods: modern and old school. I consider the old school time period to roughly stretch from the early 1980s to the mid 1990s. There is so much old school rap that I’m unfamiliar with that I really want to focus on listening to some of the more iconic albums and artists I have overlooked. Those are the projects I’ll be highlighting for the foreseeable future. So I’ll be going into those reviews with basically zero exposure to those albums. I consider the modern hip-hop period to stretch from the mid-1990s all the way up until now. I will mostly be highlighting albums that I really enjoyed during this time period and could post reviews from albums that dropped as recently as last year or as early as the late 90s. The rest of my reviews will be focused on 2020 albums, alternating between very recent drops and the ones I’m still trying to catch up on. I think my review system is locked in enough that I feel comfortable posting reviews after listening to an album 2-3 times.

MODERN ALBUM OF THE MONTH: J. COLE – FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS (2010, RAP)

1. “Friday Night Lights (Intro)” – N/A
2. “Too Deep For the Intro” – 3.5
3. “Before I’m Gone” – 4
4. “Back to the Topic (Freestyle)” – 3.5
5. “You Got It” ft. Wale – 3.5
6. “Villematic” – 4
7. “Enchanted” ft. Omen – 3.5
8. “Blow Up” – 4.5
9. “Higher” – 4
10. “In the Morning” ft. Drake – 4
11. “2Face” – 3.5
12. “The Autograph” – 4
13. “Best Friend” – 3
14. “Cost Me A Lot” – 3.5
15. “Premeditated Murder” – 4
16. “Home For the Holidays” – 3.5
17. “Love Me Not” – 3
18. “See World” – 4
19. “Farewell” – 4
20. “Looking For Trouble” ft. Kanye West, Big Sean, Pusha T, & CyHi the Prince – 3.5

Spin Rate: 4.89
Most Played Track: “Blow Up” (9x)
Average Song Rating: 3.89/5
3.5+ Percentage: 89.5%
Cuts: 0
Bangers: 9

Thoughts: This mixtape is largely considered a classic among modern hip-hop heads and I can’t really disagree. I thought almost every song on this album was good and it has the most bangers of any project I’ve reviewed so far. I believe this is Cole’s third mixtape and dropped before his debut major label album to hold the fans over. Mixtapes are hard to get your hands on, so good luck finding it somewhere other than YouTube. This is the only Cole tape I’ve listened to and I’m unfamiliar with his debut album, so I’m still trying to get up to speed on Cole’s earliest stuff as I assess his overall placement in the all-time lists. He’s certainly earned a spot in my top 5 rap artists of the past decade at this point and this tape only cements his legendary status among current hip-hop artists. Cole’s delivery sounds incredibly hungry and the production on this project is extremely strong. A massive win and an album that people still giddily mention today.

Verdict: 8/10 (Must Listen)

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February 2020 Album Reviews (Part One)

May 20, 2020

I’ve been sitting on this post for too long and want to get something new out, so I’m going to make my February reviews a two-parter. Hopefully I will have the second part done before the end of the month.

A good rule of thumb in order for me to rate an album is that I probably need to listen to it at least twice (hence no Pop Smoke listed below). Possibly the only exception to this rule is when I deem an album unlistenable and can barely (or can’t) even make it through the whole album the first time. Listening to and evaluating music is a pretty fluid process though, so all ratings are subject to change in the future as albums grow on me or I realize I initially overrated them. I’ve been sitting on most of these albums for about three months now, so I feel pretty good about these reviews. I will bold any song I added to my Bangers Playlist – usually at least a 4 on my rating scale.

5 – Perfection – Elite on every level. Pure bliss in musical form. Literally perfect.
4.5 – Amazing – Mostly elite, but not quite on that all-time level of the best songs ever created.
4 – Very Good – This is basically the cut off for my Bangers Playlists, which are essentially a list of my favorite songs of the year. I feel like you should never want to skip any song that’s this good. Any album that can average a 4 is probably amazing.
3.5 – Good – I feel like this is where you want to sit as an artist. Making good songs. Sometimes you will make really good songs and sometimes you will make some not so good songs. An artist that consistently reaches this level is by no means average though… they are nice.
3 – Cool – When people say something is “not bad,” that’s what this is. It’s not exactly good, but it’s not really a weak track either. When I give something a 3, I like it, but I’m a bit lukewarm on it, whereas I’m 100% on board with something I give a 3.5. You don’t want to sit here as an artist. The difference between an album that averages a 3.5 and one that averages a 3 is actually huge. A 3.5 is undeniably good while a 3 is much closer to mediocre.
2.5 – Filler – Any song I give a 2.5 to is something I’d cut from an album. It’s not good enough to be on there and megafans and completionists are the only people that ever needed to hear it. A 2.5 is the ceiling for weak songs though, so I guess I’d call them decent, but decent isn’t good enough to be album material. An album that averages a 2.5 rating is almost certainly trash.
2 – Bad – These are flat out bad tracks. There are songs I don’t really like but I’d call decent and then there are songs I don’t like that just plain suck. That’s what a 2 is.
1 – Trash – No need for a 1.5. A trash track is worse than a bad track. We are talking pure garbage here.

Spin Rate – This is an important feature because not only does it show how much listening love I gave an album, but it also reflects how reliable my opinion on it is. I’m going to trust someone that listened to something 5+ times through a hell of a lot more than someone that just gave an album one listen. It’s not perfect. I just add up the total number of listens for every song on the album and divide it by the number of actual songs on the album (intros, skits, outros are generally excluded). But if my spin rate is a 5, then you can assume I’ve listened to most of the album at least five times through.

Lana Del ReyNorman F*****g Rockwell! (August 2019, Pop/Rock)
1. “Norman fucking Rockwell” – 3.5
2. “Mariners Apartment Complex” – 3.5
3. “Venice Bitch” – 4
4. “Fuck it I love you” – 4
5. “Doin’ Time” – 3.5
6. “Love Song” – 3.5
7. “Cinnamon Girl” – 3.5
8. “How to disappear” – 3.5
9. “California” – 4
10. “The Next Best American Record” – 3.5
11. “The greatest” – 3.5
12. “Bartender” – 4
13. “Happiness is a butterfly” – 4
14. “hope is a danger thing for a woman like me to have – but i have it” – 4

Spin Rate: 9
Average Song Rating: 3.71/5
Save Percentage: 100% (14/14)
Bangers: 6

Thoughts: It’s pretty safe to say that I love Lana Del Rey’s style. Well, at least on this album. I can’t say I’m familiar with the rest of her discography. This album has a very mellow and somewhat melancholy vibe, but it’s full of substance and it’s such a love letter to the state of California while sounding nothing like the sunshine and warmth you associate with The Golden State. I love this album. I can put it on and listen to it all the way through without wanting to skip a single song. I can promise this though: if you listen to any song I bolded above and don’t like it, there’s no chance you will like this album.

Verdict: 8/10 (Must Listen)

D SmokeBlack Habits (February 2020, Rap)
1. “Morning Prayer” – N/A
2. “Bullies” – 3.5
3. “No Commas” – 3.5
4. “Gaspar Yanga” ft. Snoop Dogg – 3
5. “Top of the Morning” – 3
6. “Sunkissed Child” ft. Jill Scott & Iguocho – 3.5
7. “Black Habits I” ft. Jackie Gouche – 3.5
8. “Fly” ft. Davion Farris – 3.5
9. “Seasons Pass” – 3
10. “Fallin'” – 3
11. “Lights On” ft. SiR – 3.5
12. “Real Body” ft. Ari Lennox – 2.5
13. “Free” – 4
14. “Like My Daddy” – 4

15. “Closer to God” ft. SiR – 3.5
16. “Black Habits II” – 3.5

Spin Rate: 5.5
Average Song Rating: 3.36/5
Save Percentage: 93% (14/15)
Bangers: 2

Thoughts: So Cardi B created this show on Netflix called Rhythm + Flow, an American Idol-type show for wannabe hip-hop artists, and D Smoke was the winner of the first season. I was pretty shocked when he won because it seemed pretty obvious to me that Flawless Real Talk was the best contestant on the show… by a pretty sizable margin… but both Flawless and D Smoke have released projects since the show aired and it’s pretty clear that D Smoke is the better artist, by far. He released an EP late last year called Inglewood High that had a couple gems on it and follows it up here with this full length album that is also quite good. As you can see by my ratings above, I tend to think D Smoke makes pretty good, but not great music, but sitting in that 3.5 range is a fine place to be… he just doesn’t elevate to that special level too often. It seems like D Smoke is still trying to find his own style at this early point in his career because the Kendrick Lamar influence can be overwhelming at times. Also, it’s pretty wild that D Smoke is a sibling of SiR, Kendrick’s TDE labelmate. Smoke has a mellow vibe but he’s actually quite complex lyrically. He also raps in Spanish a lot, which can be cool, but he goes to that well more often than you’d expect. Black Habits is a solid debut studio LP from a promising hip-hop artist

Verdict: 7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)

Brent FaiyazF**k the World (February 2020, R&B/Soul)
1. “Skyline” – 3
2. “Clouded” – 3
3. “Been Away” – 4
4. “F**k the World (Summer in London)” – 3.5
5. “Let Me Know” – 3.5
6. “Soon Az I Get Home (Interlude)” – N/A
7. “Rehab (Winter in Paris)” – 4
8. “Bluffin” – 3.5
9. “Lost Kids Get Money” – 3.5
10. “Make It Out (Outro)” – N/A

Spin Rate: 10.25
Average Song Rating: 3.5/5
Save Percentage: 100% (8/8)
Bangers: 2

Thoughts: This is a nice, but short R&B project with a couple of standout tracks. A 3.5 average rating is really high though (Mac Miller’s album was the only January release I gave a higher average rating to) so basically every song on here is good. Brent Faiyaz can do a throwback 90s-sounding R&B song better than any modern crooner I can think of and “Been Away” is that track on this album. If you like this project, then check out his last album Sonder Son… it’s even better.

Verdict: 7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)

Denzel Curry & Kenny BeatsUNLOCKED (February 2020, Rap)
1. “Track 01” – N/A
2. “Take_it_Back_v2” – 3.5
3. “Lay_Up.m4a” – 3.5
4. “Pyro (leak 2019)” – 3.5
5. “DIET_” – 3.5
6. “So.Incredible.pkg” – 4
7. “Track07” – N/A
8. “‘Cosmic’ .m4a” – 4

Spin Rate: 4.67
Average Song Rating: 3.67/5
Save Percentage: 100% (6/6)
Bangers: 2

Thoughts: This is a really short, but solid project. Removing the intro and interlude type track, it’s only about 15 minutes long, but Denzel has a very commanding mic presence and Kenny Beats gives him some solid instrumentals to spit over. Denzel Curry is probably one of the more overlooked prominent rap artists releasing quality music over the last few years. Even I’m guilty of it. He’s lyrically nice and has a really good flow, plus enough off the dome talent that he allegedly freestyled the entirety of his last album. He’s someone you need to put on your radar if he’s not there already.

Verdict: 7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)

Boldy JamesThe Price of Tea in China (February 2020, Rap)
1. “Carruth” – 3.5
2. “Giant Slide” – 3.5
3. “Surf & Turf” ft. Vince Staples – 4
4. “Run-Ins” – 3
5. “Scrape the Bowl” ft. BENNY THE BUTCHER – 3.5
6. “Pinto” – 3
7. “Slow Roll” – 4
8. “S.N.O.R.T” ft. Freddie Gibbs – 3.5
9. “Grey October” ft. Evidence – 3.5
10. “Mustard” – 3
11. “Speed Demon Freestyle” – 2.5
12. “Phone Bill” – 3.5

Spin Rate: 4.75
Average Song Rating: 3.38/5
Save Percentage: 91.6% (11/12)
Bangers: 2

Thoughts: I’d never heard of Boldy before this album dropped, but when Alchemist is producing your whole album, that alone makes it worth checking out. Also, the features are like a who’s who of some of my favorite rappers from the last few years. I wouldn’t call the production on this album elite, but Alchemist really complements Boldy’s extremely laid back, almost monotone style. I typically don’t love this kind of vocal rapping style, but Boldy has BARS and his flow is pretty nice. It works for me, but it might not work for everyone.

Verdict: 6/10 (Recommended)

A Boogie wit da HoodieArtist 2.0 (February 2020, Rap/Trap)
1. “Thug Love” – 3.5
2. “Cinderella Story” – 3
3. “Me and My Guitar” – 3.5
4. “Might Not Give Up” ft. Young Thug – 4
5. “Numbers” ft. Roddy Richh, Gunna and London On Da Track – 3.5
6. “Stain” ft. DaBaby – 3.5
7. “Hit ‘Em Up” ft. Trap Manny – 3
8. “DTB 4 Life” – 3
9. “Calm Down (Bittersweet)” ft. Summer Walker – 4
10. “Another Day Gone” ft. Khalid – 3.5
11. “Good Girls Gone Bad” – 3
12. “Blood On My Denim” – 3
13. “R.O.D.” – 2.5
14. “Big S**T” – 2.5
15. “Right Back” – 3.5
16. “Luv Is Art” ft. Lil Uzi Vert – 3
17. “King of My City” – 3
18. “Mood Swings” – 3.5
19. “Reply” ft. Lil Uzi Vert – 3.5
20. “Streets Didn’t Love You” – 3

Spin Rate: 5.3
Average Song Rating: 3.25/5
Save Percentage: 90% (18/20)
Bangers: 2

Thoughts: I’m not mad about that score. A Boogie has a vibe that works for me and I tend to like most of his songs. It’s pretty shocking to me that he can release a 20 track album and I’d only trim off two songs. Everything else is reasonably good. A Boogie reminds me a bit of Roddy Richh (or maybe Roddy reminds me of him?), but Roddy seems to be a substantially better songwriter. I only added two songs from this album to my 2020 Bangers Playlist and they were actually pretty light additions. I think the Young Thug and Summer Walker features push those tracks over the edge though. This isn’t really an album I’d want to listen to all the way through, but I’d only skip two songs if they came up in a playlist shuffle, so I’d say A Boogie has a winner here.

Verdict: 6/10 (Recommended)

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January 2020 Album Reviews

April 23, 2020

First off, let me say… if nobody reads this, I’m going to be pissed. Yeah, this is a bit late. I’ve been working on this post for at least two months now. But I’ve been struggling with how I want to post my music opinions without feeling like I need to waste a ton of time thinking about what I want to write. I think I finally found a system that works for me. I’m going to rate every song on each album on what is essentially a 10-point scale and then I will average those ratings out to give an overall score. This isn’t necessarily my official rating for an album… but it’s a decent starting point. You will see some examples below where I think an album with a lower average rating is better than higher ones. Eminem’s album is the most obvious one. I gave seven of his songs a rating of 4 or higher – the most of any January 2020 release – but he also has, by far, the most songs I’d cut from an album, dragging his overall score down. So while his overall score is lower than some albums, I like it substantially more than, say, the Mick Jenkins project.

A good rule of thumb in order for me to rate an album is that I probably need to listen to it at least twice (hence no Pop Smoke listed below). Possibly the only exception to this rule is when I deem an album unlistenable and can barely (or can’t) even make it through the whole album the first time. Listening to and evaluating music is a pretty fluid process though, so all ratings are subject to change in the future as albums grow on me or I realize I initially overrated them. I’ve been sitting on most of these albums for about three months now, so I feel pretty good about these reviews. I will bold any song I added to my Bangers Playlist – usually at least a 4 on my rating scale.

5 – Perfection
4.5 – Great
4 – Very Good
3.5 – Good
3 – Cool
2.5 – Meh
2 – Bad
1 – Trash

BENNY THE BUTCHERThe Plugs I Met (June 2019, Rap)
1. (Intro) – N/A
2. “Crowns for Kings” ft. Black Thought – 5
3. “Sunday School” ft. 38 Spesh & Jadakiss – 4

4. “Dirty Harry” ft. Rj Payne & Conway the Machine – 3.5
5. “Took the Money to the Plug’s House” – 4
6. “18 Wheeler” ft. Pusha T – 4.5
7. “5 to 50” ft. India – 4

Average Song Rating: 4.17/5
Save Percentage: 100% (6/6)
Bangers: 5

Thoughts: A bonus addition to this month’s list because it’s just that good. This is a great example of less is more. Basically every song on here is really good. Black Thought and Benny absolutely murder the beat on “Crown for Kings” and I think that might be my favorite song of 2019. Benny is easily my favorite rapper that I wasn’t listening to a year ago. This is an elite project and one of the best albums of last year.

Verdict: 9/10 (Amazing)

Mick JenkinsThe Circus (January 2020, Rap)
1. “Same Ol” – 3
2. “Carefree” – 3
3. “The Light” ft. EARTHGANG – 4
4. “Flaunt” – 3
5. “The Fit” – 3.5
6. “I’m Convinced” – 3.5
7. “Different Scales” – 3.5

Average Rating: 3.36/5
Save Percentage: 100% (7/7)
Bangers: 1

Thoughts: A solid, but unspectacular little project that’s a bit more accessible than Mick’s past work which I have admittedly mostly overlooked. I do like every song on here though with “The Light” being my favorite by a large margin and that’s mostly because EARTHGANG just knows how to make great music.

Verdict: 6/10 (Recommended)

DreamvilleRevenge of the Dreamers 3 [Deluxe] (January 2020, Rap)
1. “Big Black Truck” ft. JID – 4
2. “Still Up” ft. EARTHGANG & REASON – 3.5
3. “Outta Pocket” ft. Bas, Cozz, and Girl Talk – 3
4. “Late Night” ft. Cozz, Omen, Buddy & Landstrip Chip – 3
5. “Spin Move” ft. Bas, Saba, Smino & The Hics – 3
6. “BUSSIT” ft. Ari Lennox – 3
7. “Passcode” ft. Ari Lennox, Buddy, Smino, Mez & Guapdad 4000 – 3
8. “Up Up Away” ft. JID, EARTHGANG & Vince Staples – 3.5
9. “No Chorus” ft. Bas, Dreezy, Buddy & Guapdad 4000 – 3
10. “Disgusted” ft. Cozz & Childish Major – 3
11. “Revenge” ft. Lute, Omen, Ari Lennox, EARTHGANG, Childish Major & REASON – 3
12. “Still Dreamin” ft. JID, Lute & 6LACK – 4

Average Rating: 3.25/5
Save Percentage: 100%
Bangers: 2

Thoughts: It’s important to understand what this is: a collection of songs that weren’t good enough to be on the official Revenge of the Dreamers III album. So these are all leftovers. Personally, I’d rather hear this stuff than not hear it, but when I listen to a project like this, I’m judging it on its own merit and not as a collective with the original release. It looks like every J.Cole feature made the official release because we don’t get any new Cole music here. Most of the songs on here are 3s, so while I like every track it’s a lot of stuff I’m pretty lukewarm about. I do think this Deluxe version is bookended by a couple of true bangers though.

Verdict: 6/10 (Recommended)

EminemMusic To Be Murdered By (January 2020, Rap)
1. “Premonition” – 4
2. “Unaccomodating” ft. Young MA – 3
3. “You Gon’ Learn” ft. Royce da 5’9″ & White Gold – 4.5
4. (Interlude) – N/A
5. “Those Kinda Nights” ft. Ed Sheeran – 1.5
6. “In Too Deep” – 2
7. “Godzilla” ft. Juice WRLD – 3.5
8. “Darkness” – 4
9. “Leaving Heaven” ft. Skylar Grey – 2.5
10. “Yah Yah” ft. Royce da 5’9″, Black Thought, Q-Tip & Denaun – 4
11. (Interlude) – N/A
12. “Stepdad” – 2.5
13. “Marsh” – 3
14. “Never Love Again” – 3.5
15. “Little Engine” – 2.5
16. “Lock It Up” ft. Anderson .Paak – 4
17. “Farewell” – 3
18. “No Regrets” ft. Don Toliver – 4
19. “I Will” ft. KXNG Crooked, Royce da 5’9″ & Joell Ortiz – 4

20. (Outro) – N/A

Average rating: 3.29/5
Save Percentage: 70.5% (12/17)
Bangers: 7

Thoughts: And here’s an example of more is less. Do I want to hear every song Eminem has ever recorded? Sure. But when you fill out an album’s tracklist with a bunch of weak songs, I’m going to hold those songs against the album as a whole. As you can see by my save percentage, I’d cut about 30% of this album. You take away those five songs and my average rating would jump up to a 3.7 out of 5 and I think that’s pretty close to elite status. His stuff with Ed Sheeran is embarrassing and I can’t stand Skylar Grey; she ruins what is an otherwise enjoyable song with an unbearable hook. I think the production on this album is actually pretty good and beat selection is usually a weakness on any Eminem album. Still, it could be better and you’d think this man would have access to the best producers on the planet. Alchemist was his touring DJ forever and they’ve made almost no actual music together. It’s a damn shame. Eminem is still elite when it comes to spitting and lyricism. Sure, he can spit some corny lines here and there, but he still astonishes me on a regular basis. I love every track Royce is on and it’s bad ass seeing them collab so much (Bad Meets Evil 2 anyone?). Seven bangers is a lot, so there’s plenty of gold on this album. This is probably Em’s best album since Recovery.

Verdict: 7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)

Mac MillerCircles (January 2020, Rap)
1. “Circles” – 4
2. “Complicated” – 4

3. “Blue World” – 3.5
4. “Good News” – 4.5
5. “I Can See” – 3.5
6. “Everybody” – 4
7. “Woods” – 4.5
8. “Hand Me Downs” – 5

9. “That’s On Me” – 3.5
10. “Hands” – 3
11. “Surf” – 3.5
12. “Once a Day” – 3.5

Average rating: 3.88/5
Save Percentage: 100% (12/12)
Bangers: 6

Thoughts: Mac Miller was really transcending as an artist. This is not a rappity rap album by any means… it’s just beautiful music… with some rapping. I like every song on this album and there are some real gems here. “Hand Me Downs” is just a perfect song. We lost one of the best hip-hop artists in the business when Mac died in 2018 and it’s kind of absurd that the average hip-hop consumer (that I know at least) doesn’t even listen to him. I’ve been thinking about doing a Top 25 Hip-Hop Artists Since 2015 blog post and in my preliminary rankings, I have Mac Miller ranked #6 on that list. That’s how highly I think of him. This posthumous release only strengthens his resume and Circles is an early Album of the Year contender.

Verdict: 8/10 (Must Listen)

Halsey – Manic (January 2020, Pop)
1. “Ashley” – 3.5
2. “Clementine” – 3
3. “Graveyard” – 4
4. “You should be sad” – 3.5
5. “Forever (is a long time)” – 2.5
6. “Dominic’s Interlude” ft. Dominic Fike – 3
7. “I HATE EVERYBODY” – 3
8. “3am” – 3.5
9. “Without Me” – 3.5
10. “Finally // beautiful stranger” – 3
11. “Alanis’ Interlude” ft. Alanis Morissette – 3.5
12. “killing boys” – 3
13. “SUGA’s Interlude” ft. SUGA & BTS – 3
14. “More” – 3.5
15. “Still Learning” – 3
16. “929” – 4

Average rating: 3.28/5
Save Percentage: 94% (15/16)
Bangers: 2

Thoughts: I really like Halsey’s voice, but I’m not much of a pop critic, so it’s not like I really know what I’m talking about here. I like almost every song on this album, but it doesn’t reach a lot of really high points. “Graveyard” and “929” are my only true standout songs, but I do think the multiple shots she takes at G-Eazy are pretty fun. I give this a recommendation but there are definitely better recent pop albums (Lana Del Rey, Dua Lipa).

Verdict: 6/10 (Recommended)

070 Shake – Modus Vivendi (January 2020, ??)
1. “Don’t Break The Silence” – 3
2. “Come Around” – 3
3. “Morrow” – 3.5
4. “The Pines” – 3.5
5. “Guilty Conscience” – 3.5
6. “Divorce” – 3
7. “It’s Forever” ft. The Ebonys – N/A
8. “Rocketship” – 3.5
9. “Microdosing” – 3
10. “Nice to Have” – 3.5
11. “Under the Moon” – 3.5
12. “Daydreamin” – 3
13. “Terminal B” – 3
14. “Flight319” – 3

Average rating: 3.23/5
Save Percentage: 100% (13/13)
Bangers: 0

Thoughts: I have no clue what kind of music this is. Apple has it listed as alternative and other places has it listed as hip-hop. It was released on Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music record label, so there’s that. Hip-Hop Twitter seems to like this album a lot, but honestly, I don’t really get it. There are definitely some good tracks on here, but I count zero true bangers, and at least half an album of lukewarm music.

Verdict: 5/10 (Decent)

Lil Wayne – Funeral (January 2020, Rap)
1. “Funeral” – 3.5
2. “Mahogany” – 4
3. “Mama Mia” – 4

4. “I Do It” ft. Big Sean & Lil Baby – 3.5
5. “Dreams” – 3.5
6. “Stop Playin With Me” 3
7. “Clap For Em” – 3.5
8. “Bing James” ft. Jay Rock – 3.5
9. “Not Me” – 3.5
10. “Trust Nobody” ft. Adam Levine – 3.5
11. “Know You Know” ft. 2 Chainz – 2.5
12. “Wild Dogs” – 3
13. “Harden” – 3.5
14. “I Don’t Sleep” ft. Takeoff – 3.5
15. “Sights and Silencers” ft. The Dream – 4
16. “Ball Hard” ft. Lil Twist – 4
17. “Bastard (Satan’s Kid)” – 4

18. “Get Outta My Head” ft. XXXTENTACION – 1.5
19. “Piano Trap” – 4
20. “Line Em Up” – 3.5
21. “Darkside” – 3
22. “Never Mind” – 3
23. “T.O.” ft. O.T. Genasis – 3
24. “Wayne’s World” – 2.5

Average rating: 3.35/5
Save Percentage: 87.55 (21/24)
Bangers: 6

Thoughts: Lil Wayne is an all-time great and, like it or not, one of the most influential rappers ever. Who do you think inspired all these mumble rappers? I don’t group Wayne in with this new generation though and when I think about my ten favorite hip-hop artists ever, I often think about Lil Wayne for that #10 spot. That’s not set in stone for me yet, but he’s in contention. So the man is a legend… and some 22 years after I first heard him rap he’s still making music I want to listen to. Considering there are 24 songs on Funeral and I would only cut 2 or 3 of them, this is a really solid release. I prefer shorter albums and I can imagine a much stronger showing if he cut about 6-7 songs from this. I don’t think Funeral is better than any album in Tha Carter series, so this is middle of his catalog stuff. Wayne is still an elite rapper though and anything he touches is something you should be checking out.

Verdict: 7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)

Note: Now that I have this dialed in, it shouldn’t take me three months to write about the February 2020 releases. Expect that before the middle of May. *fingers crossed*

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Album Reviews (December 2019)

January 5, 2020

A good rule of thumb in order for me to rate an album is that I probably need to listen to it at least twice. Possibly the only exception to this rule is when I deem an album unlistenable and can barely (or can’t) even make it through the whole album the first time. Listening to and evaluating music is a pretty fluid process though, so all ratings are subject to change in the future as albums grow on me or I realize I initially overrated them.

When I list the best tracks for each album, I will bold any song I added to my Bangers Playlist, meaning I think it’s one of the standout tracks of the entire year.

I only used this for the last couple of albums I rated, but here’s a scale I came up with for rating each song:
5 – All-Timer
4.5 – Super Banger
4 – Banger
3.5 – Keeper
3 – Cool
2.5 – Decent
2 – Weak
1 – Trash

Kanye WestJESUS IS KING (Gospel/Rap) – A full album devoted to Kanye’s… devotion to his faith? Ugh, no thanks. But we are talking about an all-time great musician here, so I’m obliged to listen and, well, it’s about as (un)enjoyable as I thought it would be. I think I’ve listened to it in entirety 4-5 times as I write this and most of it still doesn’t stick with me. This is the worst project Kanye has ever released. The direction of the album already turns me off, but I was hoping the music would still be good. I’m not a fan. I think I genuinely like two songs on this album.

Best Tracks: “On God” “Selah”

Verdict: No Thanks

Emotional OrangesThe Juice, Vol. II (R&B/Soul) – This is pure feel good music that you could have on in the background of a party and everyone would probably be content about it. The production on this album is pretty high quality and songs like “West Coast Love” and “Not Worth It” are pure fire. This a short little album that bumps the whole way through.

Best Tracks: “West Coast Love” “Not Worth It” “Don’t Be Lazy”

Verdict: Highly Enjoyable

03 Greedo & Kenny BeatsNetflix & Deal (Rap) – I was really impressed by this album. I think there’s maybe one song on here I didn’t really like. Greedo isn’t a super strong rapper, but he’s creative and clearly has a talent for crafting catchy and memorable songs. The production on here is also really well done and I’d be all over it if this duo put out another album together. I basically only listened to this album because of the strong list of guest features – Freddie Gibbs, Vince Staples, Maxo Kream, Buddy – but I’m glad I did. It was a very pleasant surprise. I currently don’t have any songs on my Best of 2019 playlist, but that’s certainly subject to change. I think there are plenty of standouts, but I’m still unsure if any of them are certifiably amazing. This is a strong album with very few weak spots.

Best Tracks: “Disco S**t” feat. Freddie Gibbs “Maria” “Blue People” feat. Vince Staples “Brad Pitt” “Soul Food” feat. Buddy

Verdict: Highly Enjoyable

Brother AliSecrets & Escapes (Rap) – Once upon a time, I thought Brother Ali was one of the best rappers in the game. His first few albums all are amazing. If you haven’t listened to Shadows on the Sun, the Champion EP, and The Undisputed Truth, put them on your to do list. That’s a rapper operating at the highest level. Since then, I’ve become progressively less excited about Ali and this latest project is one of his least memorable. Ali usually works with Ant (of Atmosphere) on the boards, but on this album I believe Evidence (of Dilated Peoples) does most of the production and it is an unfortunate departure. I really like Evidence as a rapper, but Ant is a way better producer – at least for Ali’s sound. Ali can still rap at an elite level though and that makes things at least somewhat enjoyable. Still, if I were to introduce someone to Ali’s music I wouldn’t even mention this album.

Best Tracks: “Father Figures” “Red” feat. Evidence

Verdict: Decent

Little BrotherMay the Lord Watch (Rap) – Little Brother is a hip-hop collective out of North Carolina that had a run of great albums throughout the 2000s before disbanding in 2010. Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh reunite here on their fifth studio album, but longtime producer 9th Wonder is completely absent from the project. Still, May the Lord Watch manages to sound very cohesive and feels like a proper sequel to Little Brother’s 2005 album The Minstrel Show. Phonte is on my all-time underrated list and he’s still rapping at a nearly elite level here, although I prefer his solo album No News is Good News from last year. There’s nothing flashy here; this is mature grown folk music. There are a lot of good tracks on this album – and no real weak songs – but nothing that really blew my mind either.

Best Tracks: “The Feel,” “Everything,” “Sittin Alone,” All in a Day”

Avg. rating: 3.3/5

Verdict: Recommended

SiRChasing Summer (R&B/Soul) – This was the first album that I gave a song-by-song rating for and it was a little disappointing to me. I had listened to this quite a bit already and thought it was pretty good, but there are really only a couple of standout tracks on this. The lead single “Hair Down” has the best hook and beat on the album plus Kendrick Lamar absolutely destroying his verse while completely switching up his flow at least five times while doing so. It also happens to be the first track. “John Redcorn” is the second song and also the second best song on the album. That means that the album peaks very early and never comes close to reaching the heights of the first two songs. I think the album is mostly good though with only a couple songs I thought were merely decent. Worth a listen for sure.

Best Tracks: “Hair Down” feat. Kendrick Lamar, “John Redcorn,” “Still Blue” feat. Jill Scott, “Mood”

Avg. rating: 3.14/5

Verdict: Recommended

KembaGilda (Rap) – This has to be one of the most overlooked albums of the year, as I have hardly seen anyone talk about it, yet I don’t think this has a single weak song on it, while almost half the songs are certified bangers. It’s a bit of a dark album, with Kemba lamenting, ‘I learned metaphors before I knew what’s a credit score/ I’m sure that’s a bar that’s never been said before/ mail at my door offered me a new credit card/ cause if you poor they’ll make sure you forever poor‘ on “Captain Planet” and it doesn’t get much more bleek than his hook on the somewhat disturbing but absolutely beautiful “Dysfunction”: ‘I’m nothing more than insignificant/ all my hopes and my dreams, all my goals, my achievements, were pure coincidence/ I am but a speck… of dust.‘ Yikes. It’s truly haunting, but I can’t stop listening to it. The album ends on a higher note, with both “Last Year Being Broke” and “Alive” showing signs of optimism. This is a true piece of art and more people should be listening to it.

Best Tracks: “Dysfunction,” “Nobody I Can Trust,” “Exhale” feat. Smino, “Alive” feat. Eric Bellinger

Avg. rating: 3.68/5

Verdict: Must Listen

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New Music Friday – 10/27/2017

October 31, 2017

New Playlist Additions

Snoop DoggMake America Crip Again (hip-hop/rap) – Snoop has released approximately three projects since Doggystyle that I’ve been a legitimate fan of. Needless to say, I don’t care about this, but I’ll let it spend a couple weeks in my most prominent playlist and see if anything catches my ear.

Big K.R.I.T.4eva Is a Mighty Long Time (hip-hop/rap) – There was a point in time when K.R.I.T. was unquestionably one of the best up-and-coming rappers. I admittedly haven’t listened to his last couple albums and that’s probably because they didn’t get overwhelmingly positive feedback –
but also because I was kind of in music hibernation. I will give this a dedicated listen at some point this week and I really have no idea what to expect.

YelawolfTrial By Fire (hip-hop/rap) – I wouldn’t say Yelawolf is exactly my cup of tea – his style definitely has a southern and country twang to it – but he’s plenty capable of making some good rap music. His last album Love Story had multiple songs that made my Best of 2016 playlist. Yelawolf has proven he’s worthy of checking out, so I will also give this album a dedicated listen this week.

Other Notable Releases

Yo GottiI Still Am (hip-hop/rap)

Ty Dolla $ignBeach House 3 (hip-hop/rap) – I maaaaaaay add this to my playlist, but I’m pretty sure this dude doesn’t grab me.

Kelly ClarksonMeaning of Life (pop)

WeezerPacific Daydream (alternative)

112Q Mike Slim Daron (r&b/soul) – I was just wondering the other day what happened to 112… I guess I could find out?

Previous October Albums

Brent FaiyazSonder Son (r&b/soul) – I’ve listened to this album about 3.5 times now and I’m loving it. There are multiple songs on here that sound like old classics and that I’ll eventually be adding to my Best of 2017 playlist. It’s early, but this could possibly be my favorite R&B release of the year.

H.E.R.H.E.R. (r&B/soul) – Can’t say much about this yet because I’ve only listened to two songs so far.

Hustle GangWe Want Smoke (hip-hop/rap) – Hustle Gang is a lot of T.I., some B.o.B. and a bunch of guys I’ve never really heard or care about. I’ve listened to one song so far and I doubt I’ll ever give this a full listen.

Wu-TangThe Saga Continues (hip-hop/rap) – I’ve listened to the first half of the album four times and the second half twice, so I’m still getting a feel for some of it. I know this much: Method Man absolutely destroys over multiple appearances. He not only sounds completely rejuvenated, but as good as he ever has – so many quotables from Meth: “Mayday! Mayday! But no charge, I’m nutty with the bars/ that’s a Payday, so bruh (sober), this ain’t even a bar, this is AA.” The production is also a massive highlight. I stopped giving albums numbered ratings, but I can say this much: this Wu-Tang album is inching up my Very Good category and getting consideration for Top Notch, which puts it in Albums of the Year territory.

dvsnMorning After (r&b/soul) – I learned something new this weekend: this dude’s name is pronounced as “division” – I’ve always sounded the letters out individually. Interesting. I gave this a full listen driving back to Washington from Reno and while I found it enjoyable enough, nothing really jumped out at me like “In + Out” or “With Me” did on last year’s SEPT. 5TH. I can’t imagine I will give this many more dedicated listens, but it will remain in my top Playlist for a while.

BeckTrue Colors (alternative) – My play count says I’ve listened to zero songs so far, but I know I’ve heard at least one. Either way, I clearly have no opinion yet. I’d really like to branch out of the hip-hop and R&B genres, but I rarely know what albums I should be listening to. Beck has been nominated for Album of the Year three times at the Grammy Awards, which seems pretty strong.

Dame D.O.L.L.A.CONFIRMED (hip-hop/rap) – NBA star Damian Lilliard is also an accomplished emcee that goes by the name Dame D.O.L.L.A.. CONFIRMED is his second major release, following last year’s The Letter O which sort of shocked me and I found to be very good. After a couple listens, I’m not liking this album as much. Compared to his first album, this one seems to be lacking in substance and I didn’t notice any actual growth from Dame vocally or in his songwriting. I don’t have a full grasp on the album yet, but I’m pretty confident there’s a handful of songs I never need to hear again.

New Best of 2017 Playlist Additions

“Found A Way” – Dave East, Paranoia: A True Story

“If Time Is Money (Fly Navigation)” – Wu-Tang, The Saga Continues (Method Man solo)

“Memories On 47th St.” – Vic Mensa, The Autobiography

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Francis and the Lights – Farewell, Starlite! (2016)

November 12, 2016

I was scrolling through Twitter one day when I saw Chance The Rapper mention that he couldn’t stop listening to the new Francis and the Lights album. Now, I’ve never heard of Francis and the Lights, but Chance has been one of my top 5 musicians over the past year, so obviously I trust his taste in music. He didn’t let me down.

Farewell, Starlite! is labeled on Apple Music as hip-hop/rap but that’s incredibly misleading. I had no idea what to expect, but it’s safe to say that I was NOT expecting an album with literally zero rapping on it. It’s honestly hard to categorize what Francis and the Lights is – and it’s kind of odd for me to pick this as my first Album of the Moment because I’ve never reviewed a non-hip-hop album. But the music is so good on this short 10 track album that it just has to be recognized. I guess I’d say it’s folky pop. Is that a thing? Easy Listening? I’m not sure.

The band consists of Francis Farewell Starlite (his legal name, but not his given name) and, as he says: “there are no members… it is me and whomever else is involved. Including you.” As far as I can tell, Francis is the only vocalist in the band – if there even is one – and while his lyrics aren’t mind-blowing by any means, he is clearly a master at crafting incredibly infectious songs. For instance, “Comeback” has no business being as enjoyable as it is. If you were to read this song about a friend that had to stay home while his buddies went to a fun party, on paper it would look pretty corny, but Francis’ vocals bring it to life in a way that just makes you want to smile.

While I find every song on Farewell, Starlite! enjoyable, my two favorite tracks are “My City’s Gone” and “It’s Alright To Cry.” The former features hip-hop superstar Kanye West, but his vocal contributions are limited to harmonizing the chorus. The forlorn story of a man whose hometown has become unrecognizable to him is worthy enough of my Best Of 2016 playlist. “It’s Alright To Cry” is as addictive as it gets. It’s impossible to listen to this song and not absently sing the hook for days to come.

It’s always nice when an artist that is totally unknown to you releases an album that is one of the year’s best. Farewell, Starlite! is the rare album where every song is good. While Francis and the Lights certainly is not hip-hop music, the singer’s style blends seamlessly with rap as his previous collaborations with Drake and Chance The Rapper have shown. He also features with Chance on a song on the upcoming The Hamilton Mixtape, which is to be released later this year. Farewell, Starlite! is solid from top to bottom and ranks as one of my favorite albums of 2016. Francis is a star in the making and this album is an absolute must listen.

Grade: 7.5/10 (Essential Listening/Excellent)