ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): A$AP ROCKY – “TESTING” | 2018-06-10

Yeezy season is not only approaching, but is in full-floating production and execution mode at this very minute, with a one-two-three G.O.O.D. Music-projects released Friday after Friday across May and June, packaged and delivered to us all mere mortals in form of excellent 7-track albums by Pusha T (Daytona), Kanye West (ye), as well as the most recent Ye and Kid Cudi’s hip-hop duo Kids See Ghosts eponymous debut record. In parallel, a mildly progressively heating Southern European late Spring period brought yours truly to the mighty international (but actually very British) fashion show that is Barcelona’s Primavera Sound. Whilst live music was nonchalantly put to the side in favour of Instagram selfies and enhanced drug use, I did manage to find some of the hidden stages and check out astonishing and enthralling live performances by artists such as the garçon Tyler, The Creator, baroque rock and roll monsieurs Arctic Monkeys, mega cat Thundercat, dangerously honest hood minstrel Vince Staples, and Swiss black metal primordial chanters Zeal & Ardor. Most importantly though, and way more prominently tied to the present music review piece, I got to catch the closing headline bill set by New York rapper A$AP Rocky, which followed the release of the A$AP Mob member’s third studio album Testing mere days before on 25th May. These two events combined made for quite the relevant alignment between Lord Flacko’s artistic manifestation and myself, so much so that it officially triggered an ARM alert and so here we are taking a closer scrutiny of this star-studded and featured record.

Quite similarly to what the preconditions were going into ARM’s recent effort on J. Cole’s last LP KOD, there is a little PSA/full disclosure statement that needs to be outlined, so as to better contextualise the present review of Testing: I secretly never liked A$AP Rocky and everything he represented, and almost never listened to anything coming from him nor A$AP Mob to be completely honest. After all, I come from a completely different background involving primarily alternative rock, hardcore, and punk, so I guess this mustn’t come as an unbelievable surprise. With that being said, as trap and cloud rap started to steal rock’s scene, both at live gigs’ mosh pits and in the charts, I too inevitably got caught in the current mainstream hip-hop fever, up to a point where now some of my favourite artists are prima donna MCs. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s delve into Rocky’s new studio LP, released under RCA Records and composed of 15 tracks, for almost 55 minutes of running time made of freshly baked new material. For Testing, the Harlem rapper-producer lined up a wealth of collaborators and contributors, ranging from the aforementioned Kid Cudi to Frank Ocean, to Skepta and Snoop Dogg. But spoiler alert, no one truly ever managed to take the full spotlight away from Rocky on this one, as he finds himself venturing into vastly experimental fields of industrial-trap hip-hop, while at the same time distilling pure moments of superior melodic craft.

The otherworldly and subterranean bass frequencies accompanying savage and fiery opener “Distorted Records” are something very rarely heard on mainstream projects, yet A$AP Rocky manages to pull it off in a very slick and contextual manner, whereby the inherent nature of the cut couldn’t be better epitomised by the literal name of the song. Such an opening high-note is well maintained throughout track number two, the album’s lead single “A$AP Forever“, sampling Moby’s pop crown jewel “Porcelain” and pairing a tastily belligerent flow with aspirational and tongue-in-cheeky bars (“I put A$AP on my tat / I put New York on the map / I put the gang on the flames / They gon’ remember the name“). “Tony Tone” at number three is a definite grower that showcases one of Rocky’s standout solo performances on this project, firing an abrasive warped groove filled with hooky sections and leveraging repetitions to make its way into the listeners’ psyches. The 101 on contemporary mumble rap/trap that follows, “Fukk Sleep”, enlisting the help of an extinguished FKA twigs, fails to leave a proper permanent mark, both as a standalone cut and as when placed in context with the full album, ending up being a pretty forgettable track overall. Second single “Praise the Lord (Da Shine)” featuring British grime don Skepta closes the first third of Testing with what seems like a fairly safe choice, both collaboration-wise and with respect to greater melody and harmonic textures, wrapping up an album section that promised so much after its first two teasers but that actually faded a little bit in quality as the tracklist progressed.

Sadly, “CALLDROPS” at number six does nothing in the way of uplifting the downward momentum of the album at this point, boldly continuing a pretty irritating trend pertaining to mainstream hip-hop records consisting of randomly including (real or staged) phone voicemail messages and turning them into actual tracks through a dubious genius spark of inspiration, not even remotely tied to the growing instinct of strategically increasing the number of album tracks so as to leverage modern streaming payout rate counts by dominant services like Spotify and Apple Music. Fortunately, the excellently produced and experimental “Buck Shots” delivers one of the highest and most fortunate moments on the album, driven by addictive and fun lyrical motifs (“Homeboy you ain’t know (ends where they buck shot) / Had a bitch suckin’ on a lollipop at the bus stop / Green Glock, red Glock (buck shot) / They ain’t really ready for me when I— (buck shot) / They ain’t really ready for me when I— (buck shot)”) as well as fitting beat switches and in-composition transitions that make the song go by in two shakes. The following set of three tracks (“Guns N Butter”, “Brotha Man”, and “OG Beeper”) ascribe some confusion and surging anonymity to the record’s mid-section that not even some A-list credited and uncredited collabs (Juicy J, French Montana, Snoop Dogg) are able to salvage, only for said clumsiness to be overcome by another fantastic cut in the form of the beautifully harmonised and sung ballad  “Kids Turned Out Fine” (admittedly Rocky’s favourite song off Testing).

The latter record also doubles as introduction to the last third of the album, and boy oh boy, was this worth the wait as well as a couple bumpy and subpar listens on the way of getting here. Every single track wrapping up this project in its latter section is a spectacular, handsomely crafted trap gem in its own peculiar way: from the dreamy, cloudy, chorus-y, and gigantically bigger-than-life “Hun43rd” (where I’ll go as far to say it might be one of the best songs this rap genre has seen in recent memory), to the introspective and fully confessional sentimental opus “Changes” (look out for the staggering beat/mood switch at 2:55 on this one), passing through the social critique and cathartic, punching lyricism of “Black Tux, White Collar” (“I say motherfuck you ni**as for the hate that you investin’ (yeah) / Fuck police cause he probably wanna arrest me (check it out) / Fuck the prison system, this injustice was ingestive (slatt) / All black tuxes, get the white collars jealous like / All my role models either dead or in the pen’ / I had no choice to be the ni**a that I am / Stuck with bros, stuck the code (yeah) / ‘Cede emblem on the fender (yeah)“).

The Frank Ocean-featured “Purity” acts as emblematic curtains close to the 15-track Testing in form of a gently guitar-picking lick leading A$AP Rocky’s growling distorted vocals, before making way to some of the best rapping and flow Ocean has shown in a while, taking up much of the song’s compositional and delivery substance pushing Rocky (and rap goddess Lauryn Hill, who’s featured in multiple spots on this cut) to taking care of vocal harmonising in the background. To be fair, such laid-back, supporting role of Rocky is not representative of the best material found on this album, whereby overall, the sensation is rather that the tracks stuffed with notable third-party features overshadowing Lord Flacko end up leaving something to be wished for (see particularly “Fukk Sleep”, “Praise the Lord [Da Shine]”, and “Brotha Man”). Contrarily, this album leaves its strongest marks and is at its most convincing precisely in those moments and situations where the perception is that A$AP Rocky is fully and wholly himself, for good and bad, in all his flaws, excellences, and vulnerabilities (case in point, the visceral “Distorted Records”, or the gorgeous “Buck Shots”, or again the album’s best four minutes with “Hun43rd”). J. Cole has recently demonstrated how even huge mainstream rappers can put out a whole record without a single external collab – albeit with mixed success – and now that I’m thinking about it, by naming this album Testing Rocky perhaps wasn’t actually hinting at its sonic and thematic experimentation, but he rather wanted us listeners to test out his individual artistic craftsmanship finding its qualitative peak, at the same time creating a legitimate precedent for what could grow into an actual, truly solo LP as its next big follow-up.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

A$AP ROCKY

“TESTING”

2018, RCA Records

http://www.asapmob.com

asap-rocky-testing

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ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): PATRICK PAIGE II – “LETTERS OF IRRELEVANCE” | 2018-05-20

So the new Arctic Monkeys album, Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino, came out last week and I still think it’s pretty wack and extremely underwhelming, so I’m simply not going to give a review spin. Can’t be bothered. I’m willing to accept the idea that I’m somewhat “not getting it”, but man, how only God knows hard it is journeying through those eleven tracks every single time. I mean, at least half of those songs to me are so identity-less and undistinguishable that I’m still not able to tell which one is which without repetitively looking at their long titles, as they do nothing but converge into a wishy-washy space-rock reverberated slime that would’ve found a better home as Alex Turner’s The Last Shadow Puppets B-sides. Also, in other news, next week sees the release of the debut self-titled EP by Californian punk-hardcore outfit Pressure Cracks, for which my man Jason Aalon Butler doubles as screaming vocalist. Make damn sure to check out their mighty, tasty, and infuriated first cut “Be A Wolf“, streaming now on YouTube and YouTube alone (which I don’t think is the best idea and ROI-strategy for the group, as we all know Google pays out the lowest average playback rates of any streaming service… Guys, you should really at least hit Apple Music or at the very least Spotify with that shit).

All this to convey the message that, in the meantime and while waiting for Pressure Cracks’ debut release, it was on me to find a new project that would grab my attention, maintain it, and nurture it stupendously enough to have me draft an unpacking ARM piece to hit the ether airwaves, so as to feed upon the algorithmic logics of SEO and nowadays’ promotional marketing keeping this site afloat. Such an epiphany came to me whilst browsing through the meanderings of Twitter, as a while back I rested my active listening attention on Los Angeles jazz-rapper Patrick Paige II’s debut solo single “On My Mind/Charge It to the Game“, released back at the beginning of April as first promo cut for his full-length studio album Letters of Irrelevance, which instead came out just mere days ago on 18th May. Unfamiliar with the dude, a quick web research (and most publications’ headlines) revealed at the time how Patrick Paige II is none other than the bassist and in-house producer for the influential and critically-acclaimed R&B/funk-soul collective The Internet. My bad for not knowing that right away, but hey, we’re all fallible. While the latter band never really did anything for me – yes I did try purchasing and forcing myself to listen to their flamboyant Ego Death, but something about the mellow and continuously laid-back delivery of frontwoman Syd was always a little too off-putting for me – my curiosity was struck with this first single of Paige II. I didn’t love it right off the bat, in fact I thought it was kind of ok (even though the resemblance to anything Thundercat would put out is almost frightening, plus Syd sings the freaking chorus on this one…), but I glimpsed enough potential to keep an eye on the release of his full LP.

And thank the Lord I did, because in retrospect I wouldn’t have blamed myself too much for not having done so. That is, the 8th of May saw the advent of a second teaser single, called “Voodoo”, which I found to be quite weak and once again very reminiscent of the type of work Patrick Paige II would undertake as his main day job in The Internet, which here reads as ‘not a good thing’. The song is a slowed down, washed-out lounge-y neo-soul/R&B scarcely led by intermittent background vocals that ought to put a little toddler to sleep at night, given the right circumstances. So when the full project dropped a couple days ago, I was tremendously glad I barely held on to this and got repaid back with high interest rates and general gratification. Paradoxically, even now in the context of the full album, I find the two promotional singles to be among the weakest moments on the record – although the ‘second song in the song/outro/beat switch’ “Charge It to the Game”, kicking in at about 3:15 into the track, is actually pretty rad and enlists a superb refrain by Arkansian hip-hop artist Kari Faux – and I still can’t fathom who in their right own mind would select these two as teaser cuts when the tracklist elsewhere contains terrific gems such as “The Party Song (Do My Dance)” or “Ode to Inebriation“.

Speaking of which, the latter track brings to the attention the fact that Letters of Irrelevance is actually a project dealing with a number of extremely serious and relevant subject matters, ranging from loss and mourning (Patrick Paige II dedicates various moments on the album, case in point the intro number “Silent Night”, to his late mother), loneliness, mental health, addiction, and family. Overall, and I still stand by my now-publicly-available initial reaction, this is a very dark and thematically uncomfortable record that ought to be understood as a coming-of-age of sorts and therapeutic-cathartical process for the Los Angeles-native, who it turns out is incredibly good at pairing such heavy topics with tremendous and brilliantly fitting compositions as well as instrumentations. One of the best examples of this is track number two “The Best Policy”, which sees a dreamy and cloudy keys instrumental synched with prudent drumming, accompanying substantial bars delivered in a surprisingly talented fashion by the bassist-turned-MC (“Skeletons in my closet and it’s so many, doors is wide open / This is dope shit for the birds, I contemplated leaving Earth / The only reason I ain’t do it, I’d rather not go to hell and burn / Plus my moms would be upset and I’d rather not chance that“).

Letters of Irrelevance (a tribute to the ephemeral and timely phenomenon of overestimating problems of the now when looking back from a bigger picture in the future, in the words of the creator himself) gets absolutely excellent in its second half, after scattered sparks of self-indulgence (“Heart and Soul [Interlude]”), blandness (“Voodoo”), and uselessness (“Voicemail”) are left behind. Leading side B of the LP is the gorgeous and sensual soul number “Red Knife” (featuring superb singer Daisy), which is essentially the best example as to how to successfully re-interpet The Internet’s flair and style in a solo manner. What follows is an extremely hooky, catchy, and G-funky/gangsta pair of tracks at number eight and nine, embodied first by what should’ve been the lead trappy single for this project, “The Party Song (Do My Dance)” with an accomplished appearance of singer/songwriter/producer ForteBowie, and then the fantastic, gloomy, and atmospheric “Get It With My Ni**as”, featuring cameos by Sareal and G Perico. At number ten comes what is arguably the most important song on the record, the aforementioned tell-all and introspective opus alcohol addiction testimony “Ode to Inebriation” (“Never the less I confess, this shit never helps / Destroying myself, abusing the potion / Make the pain slow-motion, just bad as a cry for help / Man, I got it bad when a ni**a mad or a ni**a sad / I don’t need a glass, man fuck a flask / Drink it just what I bought it in just like my dad“). The track not only showcases Patrick Paige II’s talent as bold and daring songwriter and lyricists, but it’s also one of the best expressions of his immense gifted skills on electric bass.

“The Last Letter” is what follows and it wraps up the album altogether and, to be frank, pales a little bit in comparison to its predecessor on the tracklist, although being treated with great rhymes, verses, and intentions, not to mention one of the best beats on the whole record, glowing placid jazzy dynamics with thriving drums and splendid guitars. Yet, one of the best aspects about this project, is that portions of it – the second half – hit you straight from the first listen, but it also acts as absolute grower, revealing deeper cuts as well as bits and pieces of it throughout long-term listens. Moreover, its lyrical narrative is a whole other topic on its own, existing almost distinctively from the accompanying sound and unveiling stories of pain, longing, struggle, remorse, and self-therapy. Hat’s off to this young and talented songwriter/rapper/bassist/producer, who not only decided to put it all out there transparently for the world to tap in, but he also chose to do so on his debut solo album, further justifying the attempt by unwrapping spectacular instrumental motifs, beautiful melodic lines, and a general gist for essential, honest, real, and transmitting songwriting. Among other things, The Internet have a new album coming out later in July this year, the follow-up to their Grammy-nominated Ego Death, but I’m almost certain and willing to bet sums of money that in times of critical recaps at the end of 2018, it will be Patrick Paige II’s release that will have delved into more hearts.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

PATRICK PAIGE II

“LETTERS OF IRRELEVANCE”

2018, Patrick Paige 29 LLC/EMPIRE

https://soundcloud.com/patrick-paige

patrick-paige-II-letters-of-irrelevance

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): J. COLE – “KOD” | 2018-04-27

ARM is back as I sort of forced myself to switch gears from relentlessly sucking up all of Kanye’s new tweets and the constructively enlightened discourse his catalysing sparks of debate are generating every time he rapes that blue bird submit button. As you might have realised, the hip-hop editorial leitmotiv is back too, after having caught a little break (and a fever) more recently in favour of punk-rock execution. Whether I like it or not, mine and any above-average music fan’s exposure to the rapping game has in current times become as inevitable and ubiquitous as parsley for Italian cuisine, while the genre and its underlying culture went to be the dominant form of cultural expression in the mainstream. Digressing a little bit on a different artistic form tangent for a moment, yours truly can’t recommend enough HBO’s four-part TV documentary miniseries The Defiant Ones, revolving around the rise (and no fall) of Apple Music boss and industry influencer Jimmy Iovine as well as rapper, record producer and all-round don Dr. Dre. The documentary narrates their relationship through the decades as well as extremely insightful glimpses into how to create, run, and destroy successful music ventures in the modern age. It should be available on Netflix depending on where your praiseworthy soul is based, so go check it out if y’all trust your hostess with the mostest.

Now, this very ARM instalment is some sort of unchartered territory for me as three Michelin star-studded music critic, because for as terribly and unforgivably late to the party I might be, North Carolina-rapper J. Cole‘s newest album KOD is honestly his first one of I listened to, out of his now 5-unit strong discography. I’m not really sure why, but something about the woke and modern conscious rapper par excellence never really clicked with me, and out of the eternal epic rivalry between him and King Kendrick that both the trade press and different fanbases initiated years ago, I’ve actually always kinda been more of a K-Dot guy. However, this ephemeral platonic musical marriage between who writes this sentence right now like, for real, and J. Cole was probably bound to happen at some point, as only a few months ago I was to remain quite impressed and affected by a sung feature of his on the track “Zendaya” by Los Angeles-MC Cozz, off the latter’s debut release Effected, out in February earlier this year. Incidentally, Cozz’s album came out on Cole’s own Dreamville Records label, which goes to explain not only the artistic collaboration between the two but quite probably a timely heightened creative rollercoaster for Mr Cole himself.

So without any further ado, let’s delve into J. Cole’s latest (fifth) studio LP KOD, which as the Fayetteville-native explained himself, holds various different meanings and interpretations (Kids on Drugs, King Overdosed, Kill Our Demons), which I bluntly choose to convey at discretion of each listener’s preference. The project came out on Friday 20th April on Dreamville and runs over a thin-for-hip-hop 42 minutes, spanning 12 songs with no external feature whatsoever – except for his alter-ego alias moniker kiLL edward on a couple tracks. I thought this was a rather interesting and debatable choice, given his prominence of late shining on other people’s material. Anyway, the album was promoted by the bouncy and malicious “ATM“, accompanying a catchy hook with a fast-paced and muddled verse flow spitting reflective bars philosophising over the vices of money lust (“Proceed with caution / I heard if you chase it only results in / A hole in your heart / Fuck it, I take the whole cake and I won’t leave a portion / It’s only an organ”). Not much later as part of KOD’s release week, J. Cole unveiled another music video for song number seven on the tracklist, “Kevin’s Heart“, starring comedian and actor… Kevin Hart. In fact, very much on brand with its visual casting skills, the track turned out to be rather underwhelming, only partially made bearable by a pleasant intro motif/refrain sandwiching tedious and off-putting trap vibes stretching throughout the too long verses.

So much for a promotional campaign of KOD (to be fair, J. Cole himself only announced the arrival of the record mere days before the 20th April at scattered record listening parties thrown in the USA and UK), although luckily, this realisation doesn’t get in the way at all, as the best moments on this album are all to be found elsewhere. Beginning with the powerful, groovy, and elastic title track at number two (preceded by a slow, dusty, and soporific jazz-infused skippable intro tune), which has the NC-rapper put on his more braggadocious and haughty clothes, slugging and kicking the listener with ferocious lyrics very much in a tell-all mode, as well as one of the most fortunate and successful choruses on the whole record (“This is what you call a flip / Ten keys from a quarter brick / Bentley from his mama’s whip / K.O.D., he hard as shit”). Unfortunately, “KOD” is followed by the complete mess and swerve that is “Photograph”, which despite its laudable and illuminating message (put your phones down, kids), completely fails in both melodies and delivery/production.

But earlier we were trying to head somewhere nice, somewhere pleasant, and this can actually be achieved by going down the “Cut Off” road, a song immediately following the wasteland that “Photograph” provoked, and one of the longer cuts on the project just short of four minutes in length. Perhaps J. Cole’s “Yah”, the track features the MC as kiLL edward in form of a tuned down, low distorted preaching voice cradling a main harmonic melody wrapped by dangerous and introspective bars flowing at what I might dare to say could be J. Cole’s sweet spot in terms of vibe and aesthetic. Similarly, the bulk of lengthier cuts on KOD actually turned out to be the most enjoyable overall, offering convincing song dynamics, lyricism, and general artistry manifesting in various refreshing ways (once it’s through high-pitched intermezzos, another time spitting out jaw-dropping lines about family, friends, and the value of life). Tracks included in this latter elite inner circle are the monumental and instructive “BRACKETS”, the wonderful and painful “FRIENDS”, and the trap-done-right “Window Pain (Outro)” (albeit not actually the outro on the album).

Regrettably, this album does entail 12 records after all, and almost half of them aren’t actually able to leave a mark on me as listener and three Michelin star-studded music critic, even less so when taken into perspective with the more fortunate compositions on here discussed just above. In addition to the previously mentioned wretched pipsqueaks “Intro”, “Photograph”, and “Kevin’s Heart”, the tasteless and corny “Motiv8” as well as – brace yourself for… – the too minimal, too dry “1985 (Intro to ‘The Fall Off’)” go join this group of rejects, perhaps partly reminding myself why I never really vibed with Mr Cole in the first place. So all in all, it was nice to eventually meet you J. Cole, you are a talented and smart rapper sparking long-overdue and much-necessary conversations, but you should know that your final packaging often betrays your praiseworthy quality of intentions. “FRIENDS” and “Window Pain” are outstanding tracks and trust me when I tell you that I shall be spinning them for long. But man, four to five subpar songs out of a total of twelve is simply too many. See you perhaps in another five album’s time again?

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

J. COLE

“KOD”

2018, Dreamville Inc.

http://dreamville.com

180417-J-Cole-KOD-cover-800x800

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): THE FEVER 333 – “MADE AN AMERICA” | 2018-03-30

I caught the fever. The music industry caught the fever. The world caught the fever. Yes because, last Friday 23rd March, Los Angeles-based soul-punk-hip-hop trio The Fever 333 dropped its first official bundled musical effort out of thin air in form of a 7-track EP entitled Made An America. The highly-anticipated and extremely urgent project includes a number of scene-setting and flagship songs already previewed throughout the course of 2017, namely the violent and ambitious “We’re Coming In“, the incendiary and furious “Hunting Season“, and the anthemic and explosive “Walking In My Shoes“. While it was continuously hinted here and there across their social media footprint, Made An America also acts as compelling event marking their heavyweight mentoring from superstar producer and Goldfinger-frontman John ‘Feldy’ Feldmann and true gangsta don Travis Barker, as well as their official signing to Warner Music’s portfolio label Roadrunner Records in association with what presumably is their imprint moniker 333 Wreckords Crew.

Now, since I’ve already written at length (<– read this!) along these airwaves about the band, its inception, and the main underlying motifs behind their origination, and considering my long-standing adoration and alignment with post-hardcore/punk letlive., at this stage I’m only going to remind y’all esteemed readers that The Fever 333 is composed of singer/instigator Jason Butler, guitarist Stephen Harrison, and drummer/percussionist Aric Improta, alongside the obliging acknowledgement that the movement is about so much more than just music and entertainment. The prominent and unexpected EP, just about shy of 20 minutes in length, acts first and foremost as primary conduit for the movement’s broader objectives, encompassing elements of messaging protest and resistance, catalyzation of socio-economical change, and strong components of charity and philanthropy. More specifically, the numerical reference in the movement’s labelling (333) points to a poignant triad of meaning, as frontman Jason Butler himself explained in a recent interview:

“The thing we’re putting forward is the idea of the three “C’s” — community, charity and change. I think that kind of encapsulates the idea of giving a f**k about someone other than yourself, which I don’t think [Trump] has exhibited the ability to do, [he has] truly full-blown characteristics of a nihilist, an actual egomaniac, his frontal lobe is f**ked, he’s crazy. I think ultimately there is this large idea of putting in efforts and consideration beyond one’s own and that, to me, is, if you were to distill the message, it would be three “C’s” and those encapsulate the idea of thinking about what happens when you’re not on this earth anymore. What are you doing today to affect tomorrow, next week, next year, next decade, next millennia? There are other bands doing this and I want people to know that and we need them to speak up. We need them to feel like they are being supported and part of this. Not only are there other bands, there are other people, many people out there that feel voiceless, that feel like they don’t have a platform or anyone who has dedicated themselves creatively, politically as a representative. And that’s also what this band is trying to do, we’re trying to offer representation for people to feel like they have a catalyst for change. We, as individuals, are not the catalyst, but the message we carry with us is in fact that catalyst.”

That being said, for as necessary and praiseworthy the different manifestations of the ancillary and contingent dimensions to the movement are, Made An America is principally an artistic statement processed and delivered in form of sonic audio waves, and therefore it most certainly warrants a closer, more detailed look at how exactly it presents itself musically. As introduced above, the EP entails all previously previewed singles by The Fever 333, which appear to have remained virtually unchanged except for a couple production embellishments here and there as well as, most notably, an additional marching drum rolling climax coming in – pun intended… – at about 1:20 and some deep, distorted incomprehensible outro lyrics in “We’re Coming In”.

The latter composition, curiously placed as second on the tracklist,  is quite clearly the band’s prime introductory statement in the world’s ecosystem, funnelled by insurrectionist lyrics (“So let me tell you about / Where all my people from / We hear them sirens come and then the people run / So let me tell you about / Where all my people from / We’re living hand to mouth and dying by the gun“). To this day, and holding through in hindsight to the release of the whole EP too, the song represents the best welcoming résumé for anyone new to the project. But, while the Travis Barker-featured “Hunting Season” – although it seems like the blink-182 drum-god allegedly recorded all drum tracks on the record – channels a lot of “We’re Coming In”‘s abundant rage and angry societal liberation coefficient, it’s the grungy and catchy “Walking In My Shoes” as penultimate cut on the tracklist that candidates itself most prominently for the spot as most important and exemplary hymn for group, championed by a superbly soar and meaningful rapped verse and a waterfall-y explosion in a perfect in-your-face refrain.

Taking a step back all the way to the opening self-titled song, kicking off with a futuristic and bubbly synth motif only to be abruptly replaced by a raw drum and bass section, the track’s first lines – delivered through a successful and convincing rapping by Jason – enlist the project’s whole mission in a perfectly distilled fashion: “We are the melanin felons / We are the product of / Plunder and policy that you gotta love / Casinos, amigos on forty acres, uh / They built this shit on our backs / Made an America“. Expanding on the latter argument, popular and brilliant UGC-music lyrics and meaning site Genius provides a useful, and in my view correct, interpretation of the song’s overall message:

“‘Made An America’ is a pun on the nationalistic slogan ‘Made In America’. The phrase is often used in the context of bringing jobs back to America or rejecting foreign goods because they are inferior. Jason sings/raps about American history in which the modern nation of the USA was arguably built by the efforts of brown and black immigrants and slaves. It’s a passionate indictment of the way white America suppresses historical truths through a racially tinted lens.”

(The First Stone) Changes” at number three on the EP features Alabama-rapper and Travis Barker-frequent collaborator Yelawolf for what is in fact a pretty underwhelming moment on the project, only to be partially saved and restored by an incendiary chorus and what appears to be Jason’s attempt at a speedy and technical flow spitting a series of bars taking over from Yelawolf on the track’s second verse. Moving on, following the aforementioned “Hunting Season” at number four, is the abrasive and heavy “Soul’d Me Out”, personally the highest and finest moment on the whole EP, whereby one can’t say enough good things about this cut, from the outstanding and groovy drumming work, to the fast and violently distorted guitars, passing through arguably Jason’s best vocal performance in years and a counter-intuitive yet perfectly adhering plain-landing chorus exclaiming simple but upfront lyrics, via a vocal line no too dissimilar from a lullaby melody (“Sell me out down the shallow river / Could I hate you more? / Could I hate you more?“), just moments before collapsing and disappearing into a scratching scream chanting the song’s central topic, perfectly mocked and intertwined with the expansive meaning of its title: “Sold me out, sold me out / You sold me out to the highest bidder / Sold me out, sold me out / You sold me out to the highest bidder“.

The EP’s closing track “POV” indeed leaves the listener longing for so much more, as despite the energy and voltage levels are being kept extremely high throughout the whole running 20 minutes, the necessity and urgency that The Fever 333 are able to transmit with their work demand so much more, and are clearly to be seen only as an initial sparking moment of a much bigger narrative. The track’s introductory crunchy and jungly drums, overtaken for the most part by a minimal yet charismatic drum machine texture, take up the driving seat for a short and fulminating raging wrap up, adorned once again by Jason’s nervous and fat rapping highlighting the quintessential recapitulation of much of this initial body of work arising from the band’s movement: “Middle finger to the face, that’s our point of view“.

This standpoint is such a fiery and glorious closure to an incendiary landing onto the wider musical scene and the world of art-driven activism and protest, which without wanting to sound like a broken record, is best understood when placed as only the beginning of an incredible global community invested in socially-conscious, bottom-up societal change. This sentiment is further solidified by the realisation that the band appears to have so much more material up its sleeve ready to be offered to the wider public, as revealed through their increasing and amassing demonstrations (support slots for Nothing More, Eyes Set To Kill, and To Whom It May, as well as mighty The Used are in the books for this summer) in conjunction with a smart keyword YouTube search.

That is, apparently The Fever 333 have already written and played live several other songs like “Animal”, “Endgame”, “Southside of Inglewood”, and “One of Us”, in addition to the unbelievable performance on US national TV of “Burn It” on NBC’s Last Call with Carson Daly. It really does sound like amazing things are ahead for The Fever 333 – and in turn all of us recipients of the message and ascribing to the movement –, hence dreaming of another chunk of recorded material being dropped fairly soon doesn’t seem too forbidden at this point. Considering the scope and magnitude of the broader project, a new record would merely be another little brick in the giant wall for these gentlemen (in real life).

Stand up. Resist. B3 Fr33. Letting them know, there’s a fever coming…

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

THE FEVER 333

“MADE AN AMERICA”

2018, Roadrunner Records/333 Wreckords Crew

http://thefever333.com

TheFever333_MAA

 

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): AUGUST GREENE – “AUGUST GREENE” | 2018-03-11

So this whole ARM thing is clearly getting out of hand, but trust me it is by no means my intention to interrupt your regularly scheduled social media programming as often as it is happening lately. It’s just that there is so much stupendous music coming out recently that it’s hard to resist the temptation of populating the ether-waves with due-diligence artistic criticism whenever a release truly warrants it in my eyes. So let me just cut some of the fat here and get to the point as quickly as possible. I’ve been closely following a specific cluster of hip-hop/soul/jazz-prodigies for a while now, originally captivated by the significance and wholesome effect of the intertwined sonic highways found specifically in Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 socially-conscious rap opus To Pimp a Butterfly. One of the members of this specific watch-group of musical excellence is Texan jazz pianist Robert Glasper, so when I saw that he announced the formation of a new jazz-rap supergroup called August Greene earlier this January – joined by the conscious rapper par excellence Common as well as multi-talented, multi-instrumentalist, but mainly drummer and Kanye West muse Kariem Riggins – I just had to keep an eye on their debut release.

Said debut release came in form of a self-titled, self-published, and self-released 11-track and 50-minute project licensed exclusively to Amazon Music as part of their ‘Original’ content series. Now before going any further and risking to go over this point too quickly, I thought this album distribution deal was pretty interesting to say the least. And this is for two main reasons. The first one being that in the present quintessential prime age of listeners requesting access to versus ownership of music, restricting such an exquisitely appetising effort to only a handful proprietary digital national stores through windowing is pretty much the 101 on what not to do in 2018 if one hopes to stand out from all the noise and remain relevant to the millennial musical discovery radar. Secondly, I guess this move puts Amazon Music quite significantly in a position to advantageously compete not only with the hundreds of other DSPs (digital service providers, i.e. Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer etc…), but also and perhaps most importantly against record labels themselves, despite what Amazon’s Head of Music likes to say. At a certain point it doesn’t really matter how and who handles publishing and recording for a specific album, if Amazon Music is all people see advertised and plastered in association with the content, then I’d say a whole new layer of issuing reality is constructed in the eyes of the consumers and the industry at large. But I digress, back to this gorgeous list of tracks.

August Greene first manifested to the world on 18th January through the release of their first single “Optimistic” featuring R&B-singer/songwriter Brandy, issuing a proud and uplifting soul-infused musical statement borrowed as cover song from Sounds Of Blackness‘ 1991 original composition. A month later, the star-studded trio delivered a mighty 35-minute acoustic live session as part of NPR Music’s stunning Tiny Desk-series, making it one of the most glorious ones amidst female empowerment, free-flow freestyles, and preview cuts off their debut release. Experiencing the whole session ahead of the album drop did nothing but enhance the excitement for such a unique combination of sounds, moods, aesthetics, and lyrical advocacy all comprised in just over half an hour. Do yourself a favour and give it a watch/listen, it’s streamable for free (as opposed to dubious and obscure album deals struck with Amazon geo-fencing the fruition of  content…), and you’ll leave the session enlightened and sonically content. You’ll thank me later.

August Greene’s debut work officially came out on 9th March after having been previewed exclusively on the aforementioned NRP Music, and overall strikes the listener as an inspiring, intense, and groovy ride spearheaded by Common’s top-form rapping and outstanding lyricism, Riggins’ unique blend of hypnotic and distinguished percussion craftsmanship, as well as Glasper’s channeling and pervasive output on keys. A song like “Black Kennedy“, the August Greene’s second single and Tiny Desk performance’s opening track, best encapsulates all of the above winning compositional and performing elements wrapped in a contextual discourse of racial empowerment, black excellence, and overall defiance to obstructionism. Common’s lyrics on this one are flawless both in significance and delivery (“The streets where we from, beats heavy drums / Wish I could put Jordans on the feet of everyone / Black Kennedy, royalty with black identity / Leader of the freestyle, I go to penitentiaries“, or during the poignant pre-chorus: “If I was a Kennedy, I’d be a black Kennedy / Black car, black tux, this is black symmetry / Raised in the Chi though my family from Tennessee / I remember me, ‘Riem, Dilla, we was in the D“), and the little help August Greene receives form New York-based pianist and composer Samora Pinderhughes feels quite fitting and nicely sewed into the texture of the track’s overall aesthetic, although it might come across a little awkward at first.

Pinderhughes actually lends his vocal duties on a number of standout tracks on the album, including the soulful and smoothy “Let Go (Nirvana)” at number three on the tracklist, as well as its follow-up murky “Practice”, a song as gloomy and heavy as it transforms into a call for hope and inspiration by yet another striking and well-oiled flow by Common (“Mountains sing songs, kinds dream long / In a simple act is when a scene forms / I improve to improve and involve the ‘been throughs’ / The ‘near falls’, the ‘them fools’, the ‘brickwalls’ and venues”). Another aspect bringing qualitative critical mass to this supergroup project is something that has already been explored elsewhere alongside these frequencies, namely the early placement on the tracklist of the better, most complete, and most convincing cuts of an album. Proudly represented by the piercing, sharp, and anthemic opener “Meditation”, a flagship thematic track for August Greene which finds Glasper’s simple but penetrating synth variations accompanying Common’s best and most meaningful bars on the whole album (“They body snatchin’ black girls in DC Politics and propaganda on the TV / Distractions, distractin’ us from action / It’s time for some, time for some passion“), clawed by Riggins’ signature syncopated dreamy drumming (no he’s not off-beat, I get that impression too but it’s actually not, in case you’re wondering…).

It might now become clear that this August Greene’s self-titled debut is not only a fantastic, well-rounded musical statement by three world-class musicians at the top of their respective games that don’t shy away from successful experimentation and cross-pollinated genre contamination on a nice blend of songs (“Fly Away” and “No Apologies” are guilty as charged), but also a very much necessary hip-hop/jazz insurrectionist opera seeing multi-award-winning protagonists re-inventing themselves yet again by converting into messengers for the oppressed and forgotten ones, quick to indicate that the only fruitful way to fight the machinery’s negativism is by juxtaposing to it the exact opposite, namely flourishing optimism.

I guess my only concern with this project is that it’s almost too short, as I most certainly would’ve loved to hear more from this good-shaped August Greene, especially as far as further musical experimentation is concerned. Besides the over-the-top and rather forgettable jazz opus and self-indulgent 13-minutes long album closer “Swisha Suite”, I wouldn’t have minded more artistic freedom and exploration on tracks such as the dull and linear “Aya” or the recycled “The Time”, as well as a mightier track listing more in general. After all, since it didn’t take long for Common, Glasper, and Riggings to get in a studio together and come out with a splendidly solid collection of eleven tracks, hoping for something more from them fairly soon doesn’t seem too unreasonable. For one, this type of optimistic faithfulness is exactly what this album preaches us to express. Lesson learned, I guess.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

AUGUST GREENE

“AUGUST GREENE”

2018, August Greene LLC

https://www.facebook.com/pg/AugustGreeneband

August-Greene-Album-Cover-Full

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): TURNSTILE – “TIME & SPACE” | 2018-02-27

I was almost starting to get seriously afraid that I would never heal from my current and long-standing hip-hop appreciation addiction syndrome, contracted almost exactly a year ago and that kept me ruthlessly away from virtually anything that didn’t have something to do with the broader West Coast rap culture, this ranging from music to film and lifestyle. One might have noticed this by the pretty linear editorial trend that the latest ARM instalments (as well as other content on this page) took, kicking off almost exactly around the time of last year’s musical scrutiny of Vince Staples’ LP Big Fish Theory. I mean, even one of my favourite and most exciting non-hip-hop legacy projects coming out in the past year, The Fever 333, owes way more to the rap counterculture movement than I’d like to admit (considering that it directly stems from letlive., a quintessential soul-punk project with plenty of hardcore flair). Yet if you follow this site with some regularity, you’ll know that yours truly is a real punk rock OG minstrel at heart, reason why lately there has been the need for many reassurances and explanations to my closest homies, all aimed at justifying the sudden hip-hop extravaganza fever that recently got the best of me.

Luckily, words can now be accompanied by actions in that, finally again, a non-rap record caught enough of my attention to deserve a fully fleshed-out critically acclaimed artistic review within the ARM feature on this site. Now enter Baltimore, MD, hardcore-punk quintet Turnstile‘s freshly released sophomore full-length studio album Time & Space, released under Dutch-American major imprint Roadrunner Records on 23rd February. I’ve got to admit that the way I learned about this mixed-race punk outfit was (yet again) through one of my latest guilty pleasures on the Interweb, aka The Needle Drop, aka Anthony Fantano, aka The Melon, aka “The Internet’s busiest music NERD”. The funny this is though (and this also sort of acts as a plagiarism avoidance disclaimer), it wasn’t even through an actual music review that I started to embark onto the Turnstile discovery rabbit hole, but rather via his simple retweet of NPR’s announcement of the early exclusive album stream of Time & Space on their site. In fact, as of today, The Needle Drop still hasn’t dropped a review of the record, so it’s definitely a very good thing you’re first getting informed one here as I promise I’ll arm you esteemed reader with everything you need to gloriously banter about Turnstile’s latest effort in full class and style during your water cooler convos at work. Without further ado, now for the main bit.

So, pretty much in line with the average modus operandi of hardcore efforts, this album cuts at just about 26 minutes in length and lists 13 mighty tracks, with second single “Generator” being the longest one wrapping up at just 3:14. In other words, what for a noise/ambient metal group might simply be the prelude to an intro song in terms of track length, for this explosive and fiery punk opera it is its most diluted cut. Interesting though but I digress. While “Generator” might be the longest track on the album, it by far isn’t its biggest, crunchiest one, an award that has got to be mutually shared by Time & Space’s lead single/opener “Real Thing” – providing both hammering catchiness and an aggressive bass interlude encapsulated in a little over two minutes – as well as standout cut “I Don’t Wanna Be Blind“, slithering through a heavy bass intro flowing into a huge chorus (“KNOCKED OUT / WHEN YOU’RE AROUND“), wrapping one of frontman Brendan Yates’ best vocal performances on the whole project.

While it’s true that I had little to no preconceived expectations about either the album or Turnstile as a group before jumping into this listen, what surprised me the most going into repetitive spins of this record is the excellent harmonic work on vocals and more generally the overall quality of song compositions. That is, this band isn’t your typical underground hardcore mould of just unorthodox speedy/thrashy wall of sound with aggressive, abrasive, and incomprehensible lyrics in your face for as long as you can sustain it. Quite the opposite, on many occurrences throughout Time & Space, Turnstile proves that the youngsters can indeed write their own music and aren’t afraid to flirt with poppy and conventional compositional elements. Case in point, the impressive and gorgeous “Big Smile”, with an incredible melodic twist after the initial 30 seconds of pure intense hardcore delivery as well as wonderful outro harmonies wrapping up the track at a minute and a half. Or even “Right To Be”, perhaps the most ‘classic rock’ song structure on the whole record, ornamented with sporadic drops of synth sounds (alongside production credits for freaking Diplo, of all people?!), which wouldn’t be too out of place on a Foo Fighters record, for example. But take also the gloomy, spacey and fun “Moon“, where bassist Franz Lyons takes over vocal duties only to deliver some of the catchiest hooks on the whole album.

The impression is that a lot of these songs can’t possibly fit your typical hardcore punk leitmotiv for as much as you might try to think otherwise, and I feel this is what makes a record like Time & Space so great, where incendiary rage and fury can coexist with more accessible and beautiful soundscapes within frames of extremely well-written and more than decently executed songs. While it’s true that this LP has its fair amount of self-indulgence, see e.g. a couple pointless and avoidable fillers (“Bomb” and”Disco”), one last track fully deserving a special mention is the wonderful, wide, open, and water-y “Can’t Get Away”, showcasing pretty much all of the best skills Turnstile has to offer in their repertoire. This ranges from outstanding guitars to eclectic percussion delivery, to songwriting sophistication and punchy lyrics (“Running since the day I lost control / Never gonna’ find me anymore“). What is there not to love in a good old hardcore punk record with just the right amount of everything it needs to kick ass? So much for a temporary obsession with hip-hop. To be continued…

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

TURNSTILE

“TIME & SPACE”

2018, Roadrunner Records

http://www.turnstilehardcore.com

Turnstile_TimeSpace

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): VARIOUS ARTISTS – “BLACK PANTHER: THE ALBUM” | 2018-02-12

After a period of over a month in which new exciting music releases were almost nowhere to be seen, perhaps understandably since most people were still wrapping up 2017 and/or getting ready for 2018, Friday 9th February came and saved the day for all of us. On said date, a wealth of both long-awaited and rather surprising releases hit Spotify’s New Music Friday shelves, offering a rich and large banquet to choose from across a wide variety of genres and styles. After sleepless nights and a lot of switching gears, my own personal choice eventually made it to a narrower clustered selection of three potential full-length studio albums to be reviewed among the ARM column. I was caught in a triple limbo between New Jersey rockers The Gaslight Anthem’s Brian Fallon’s sophomore solo record Sleepwalkers, indie-pop-psychedelia prodigies MGMT’s highly anticipated first LP in five years, Little Dark Age, and obviously, mighty Marvel’s Black Panther’s curated soundtrack album, executed by his Majesty Kendrick Lamar as well as Top Dawg Entertainment founder Anthony Tiffith. It soon became clear to me that all the signals pointed at both the challenge and opportunity of putting under harsh scrutiny a compilation of songs from various artists about a movie I’ve yet to see, as it was a one of a kind chance that I might not have had again for a long time.

Black Panther: The Album accompanies the massive Marvel Comics feature film of the same name, and, as anticipated above, was primarily masterminded by the multi-award winning Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar (performing on nearly all songs), who hasn’t necessarily enjoyed a ton of free time from the spotlight and the mainstream since releasing his breakthrough hip-hop opera To Pimp A Butterfly in 2015. Needless to say, this writing only and exclusively pertains to the sonic artistic output of the Black Panther franchise, that is to say, there is zero reference to the content of the movie or the comic books, not least because I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t had a chance to come round to enjoy and consume and of them yet. Yet, at the same time, I thought I’d be interesting to review a soundtrack hit compilation album so strongly tied to a different artistic medium and see how this sort of premise might influence both the listening experience and the overall judgement of the record.

The 14-song album, featuring more than 20 performing artists, dropped – rather predictably – under Kendrick Lamar’s home record label TDE, and was previewed throughout the whole January/beginning of February by three big, star-studded singles. First it was the record’s crown jewel and very melodic “All the Stars” on 4th January, featuring the curator himself paired with gorgeous and impressive label-mate SZA, followed up shortly thereafter by “King’s Dead“, a 4-minutes stomping epic that saw the return on the scene of Black Hippy member Jay Rock alongside Lamar, again, Future, and James Blake. The third and (as of now) last track premiering the full LP, debuting exactly a week before the full work, was called “Pray for Me” and saw commander in chief K-Dot deliver one of his most well-rounded and convincing performances on the whole project, albeit kept pretty brief so as to allow R&B megastar The Weeknd channel his most direct and harmonic Michael Jackson influences. The latter track, perhaps tied to “All the Stars”, also seems the one to have been chosen as prime flagship anthem for the movie roll out, judging by the amount of placements in airplay and promotional clips.

The choice of funnelling most of the album’s condensed promotional image to these three songs appears to be justified in my opinion by their extremely hooky melodies and refrains, as well as the portfolio of heavyweights featured on each track. However, if one were to stop here and try to forecast the rest of the musical critical mass on the album along similar lines, they couldn’t be further from the truth. While this selection of singles, championed especially by “All the Stars” and “Pray for Me”, has pretty much all it takes, from production, delivery, and lyrics (“Tell me what you gon’ do to me / Confrontation ain’t nothin’ new to me / You can bring a bullet, bring a sword, bring a morgue / But you can’t bring the truth to me”), to overshadow and outshine the rest of the songs, the album’s best moments live and breathe elsewhere.

A perfect example of such an unsung hidden gem on this Black Panther: The Album is “Redemption”, where Los Angeles-based neo-soul rising star Zacari mashes up with South African/Zulu singer Babes Wodumo, assisted yet again by Kendrick for a funky, groovy, and multi-coloured afro-beat hymn, previewed by a fitting interlude setting the scene for this high moment on the record. I figure the song is a quintessential example of what the overall project is trying to convene on a conceptual level, i.e. a global contamination of black music influences with an army of songwriters on a quest for expressions of freedom and empowerment. In the eyes of this type of analysis, “Redemption” ticks all the boxes.

Competing with “Redemption” and “All the Stars” for best cut off of the album is another hard-hitting, stomping industrial tornado of sound aggression, encapsulated in the fifth song on the tracklist “Opps”. The record features straight-edge rap/hardcore favourite of yours truly Vince Staples, accompanied for the occasion by another South African rapper Yugen Blakrok and – surprise, surprise – Kung Fu Kenny, who this time takes up more room than usual for it being a track not spearheaded by him. The song has abundant amounts of rough, hypnotic beats, that for one of the only times on the whole album, fit extremely nicely all featured artists, and to an especially pleasant degree Vince Staples himself, for whom it surely didn’t take long to realize that the tune could’ve easily been gestated during the afro-futurism-tainted writing sessions for his last album, Big Fish Theory. Furthermore, to me the song emanates just the right amount of carelessness and aggression that I’m somewhat expecting to perceive during the wider cinematic experience (albeit yet to be seen), this way solidifying its legitimacy to be a key sonic moment of the record.

Pretty unexpectedly for me, this LP doesn’t get away with a number of fairly underwhelming choices and sub-par executions. Interestingly, these are mostly to be found in tracks that draw heavily on the current trap trend (see ScHoolboy Q, 2 Chainz & Saudi’s “X”, or Kendrick & Travis Scott’s “Big Shot”), with slow, at times mumbly, high pitched charleston sounds and auto-tuned vocals that, with all due respect, might have little to do with a longstanding discovery journey through legacy black music. This gets even more exacerbated when I get the impression that some of the easy and safe artistic pairing choices came more from a deliberate intention to ride the zeitgeist, rather than daring to risk a bit more to achieve a more experimental outcome instead. Undoubtedly, this goes to de-value a little bit Kendrick’s work as curator, who this time I’m not afraid to say is not without blame and can’t get away from it all without some criticism (besides pointlessly featuring on almost every single track on the album, often times bringing little to no added creative value to each song’s table). For instance, why not include more folks like the brilliant Babes Wodumo, Yugen Blakrok, upcoming rap collective SOB x RBE, or even Zacari himself, instead of reheated soups like ScHoolboy Q, Future, and Travis Scott? Definitely a missed opportunity here for Kendrick to offer a huge platform for rising black stars to resonate and amplify into the entertainment mainstream.

Now, there indeed are enough decent solid tracks to make up for the aforementioned flaws across just about 50 minutes of newly assembled material. Joining the squad of favourite cuts out of this Black Panther soundtrack album are the melancholic and gloomy “I Am”, performed by the impressive Jorja Smith and another example of where K-Dot’s laid back harmonising support work fits very nicely with the overall mood and aesthetic of the song; the hectic and hooky “Paramedic!” (by Zacari, Kendrick & promising Californian hip-hop group SOB x RBE); or even the slow and gorgeous “Seasons”, where Sjava’s Zulu chants are wonderfully wrapped by two of the most convincing bar sections on the whole project, spit out by Californian rapper Mozzy and fellow South African MC Reason. That being said, this collection of songs does leave the listener with a slight bad taste in their mouth, found lost in-between safe and sexy artist orchestration choices that address current hip-hop and R&B trends, and an overarching struggle to find a truly owned identity that sets it apart, perhaps trying too hard to be liked by the ruling voices, at the expense of versatility, experimentation, and freedom. If you think about it, nothing too dissimilar from some of the dynamics found in wider societal racial struggles against power and hegemony. But that’s a whole other discussion that involves an ocean of additional considerations and voices. So let the music speak for now.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

VARIOUS ARTISTS

“BLACK PANTHER: THE ALBUM”

2018, Top Dawg Ent./Aftermath/Interscope

http://smarturl.it/BlackPantherAlbum

Black Panther_The Album