[produced by: chief takinawa]
Florida producer and member of Slumpgang777, Chief Takinawa has released his instrumental EP, 'Petals & Nostalgia' as a celebration of nostalgia through the lens of Lo-fi music. This album is replete with plenty of auditory nods to the music of millennial-era anime and video games and plenty of direct samples as well, but in my eyes, the nostalgia concept doesn't seem to do a lot of leg-work for this album, conceptually speaking. While the references certainly get a point across, most of the time there fails to be an identifiable connection that the listener can identify between the reference and the music itself. I won't go so far as to say that there isn't a connection, but at least not one that's strong enough for the casual listener to pick up on unassisted. That said, this doesn't really affect my ability to enjoy this project so much as it just makes me curious about what the proof of concept is. I chose instead to not judge this project based upon the established concept in my viewing of this music, but instead for reviewing purposes, deriving my own inferences and taking the music at face value. Per usual, when reviewing an instrumental project, I have to preface by saying that any abstract allusions I make in reference to this music are just my own perceptions and could, very well, not be that deep.
Carried by upright bass, strolling low register keys and high-register accent notes, "Bodega" sees Takinawa lead with his rhythm section. This delicate, laid-back boom bap tune begins the journey of 'Petals & Nostalgia' in a way that feels inquisitive, yet purposeful. During the breakdown in the outro of this tune, we see the bass take front and center as it fades out and brings the listener out of the warm security that it's spent the last three minutes painting for us and out into the dark of night with the following track, "Astral Delusions". Conceptually, this joint is so brilliantly deliberate that I picked up on the nightlife vibe on this track before I even saw the title. Kicked in the ass by the spunky bass-line and groovy piano, this track sees the listener taking on the change in environment with grave and confidence as Takinawa switches up from dreamy lo-fi to a funk oriented, strut-worthy concept piece that sees 'Petals & Nostalgia' make the transition back into the vibe established in the first track with aid from the last forty-five seconds of looming synth that brings about a sense of eeriness that clouds over the following track, "BAEO". Jazzier than before, but keeping up with the more laid-back atmosphere, "BAEO" sees Takinawa lulls the listener back into a false sense of warmth that's overshadowed by a curious intensity demonstrated by the much more in-your-face accompaniment of horns and more abrasive percussion. This comes to fruition during the "LUNCXCH THYME" interlude as the familiarly cozy energy drops into a modal, uncomfortable minor key synth break. By the time we pick back up on "Jungle Boi", we're in different territory entirely with the moody counter-melody shepherding the listener along as you're left to drift through the uncertainty of emotion on display. I found the outro of this to be piece to be profoundly effective in lifting the listener out of this haze with its incorporation of nature sounds that truly feels like you're waking up from an anxiety-driven dream. We find ourselves standing over some underwater bass riffing and steady, looping synth that makes for the most minimalist production that we've yet seen on this project with "Saku MK II", but the vocal sample on this track is super unique and hard to pry out of your head once it's wormed its way in. The album ends with "Lunar Garden Symphony, a bombastic, looping, strings-heavy celebration that fades into complete nothingness before returning with an aggressive three-piece beat and ominous low-end synth.
The production on this project as a whole is really thoughtful and you can tell that a lot of attention was paid to making sure that all the levels were perfect which is dedication to the craft that I can truly appreciate. While I have issues with the proposed concept of this project and some of the gratuitous-feeling anime and video game samples, I definitely don't have issues with the music itself. This project could stand out as an enjoyable listen on its own, but I would love to see what Chief Takinawa could do with a vocalist to collaborate with on this style of music. That said, I can appreciate the producer making discernible efforts to make his work stand on its own two feet in a manner that is seemingly very rare in today's age of stardom for producers only in their relation to their collaborating vocalists. If you're looking for a dope album to study to, read to, or simply just to vibe with in general, look no further than Chief Takinawa's top-notch performance on 'Petals & Nostalgia'.
OVERALL RATING : 85%
You can stream 'Petals & Nostalgia' on Soundcloud starting March 25th
You can find Chief Takinawa's music on Soundcloud
Chief Takinawa's social media:
Note: this article was originally posted in September of 2017 and despite the death of XXXTentacion, I stand strong by my assessment of the situation and continue to endorse the philosophy described here when it comes to all abusers in entertainment.
During the month of October 2016, rapper XXXTENTACION was arrested for false imprisonment, aggravated battery, and witness intimidation of a pregnant woman and during his time locked up, rose to fame via his SoundCloud. Two days ago, the deposition from the victim, X's ex-girlfriend, was released and I'm sure I'm not alone in saying that the severity of X's crimes were so much more heinous and disgusting than I had previously imagined . X has been in legal trouble since well before he rose to the fame that he currently enjoys, but up until this point, little was known about the exact details that surrounded this case. After a fair degree of research several months ago, I found pictures of a woman's bruised and bloody face online with captions that suggested that this was the ex-girlfriend of X and that her physical state was a result of his physical abuse. While the rumor mill was abuzz about what exactly X did, when asked he would quickly deny any wrongdoing. That was until the deposition became public which was met with radio silence from the intensely controversial rapper. The details from the deposition would certainly corroborate these charges, but comparably disturbing, so would some of his music.
See, as anyone who's spent any time listening to X's music will tell you, he doesn't exactly shy away from being graphic with his depictions of sex and violence. And I'm aware that one cannot necessarily draw a direct correlation between an artist as a person and their lyrics, but given what we know about X's violent behavior/legal history, listening to the things he says in his music can really make a person's skin crawl. From violent sexual tendencies, to the implication of sexual assault, to murder, what once may have been seen as fiction or some form of twisted entertainment now seems not only plausibly non-fictional, but clearly indicative of the way X's mind functions in his everyday life. Anyone was capable of listening to his music and finding what he said disturbing, but why didn't his words combined with his allegations stop the hip hop community as a whole from rejecting him on the scale that we are currently in the process of doing? According to a representative from XXL, Famous Dex was excluded from the 2017 Freshmen Cover because of the video of him beating a woman, but for some reason X appears front and center. Why is that? Because there is no video of X being an abusive sociopath going viral so it's nice and conveniently easy to ignore or justify his supposed innocence. And don't misunderstand me, I'm just as guilty of this as anyone else. While I never publicly supported the guy, I often found myself not only listening to his music, but performing mental gymnastics to justify enjoying his music given the very serious and disturbing allegations that surround him. In retrospect, the level of cognitive dissonance I was operating on in regards to this subject was honestly astounding given how vocal I've been about my disdain for artists who are similarly guilty of violent crimes against women such as Kodak Black and Chris Brown. In my mind, there was always a line of separation that the aforementioned abusers were found guilty and/or had admitted their guilt while X's guilt was ambiguous enough that I could play devil's advocate and say that perhaps he was innocent and just one of the very few men who is falsely accused of such heinous acts.
And really, what difference did it make anyways? No such thing as ethical consumption under capitalism, right? But this can no longer be (and in reality, never should have been) the line that we take on the subject of abusers in the music industry. Perhaps in 2009 if you had purchased a Chris Brown CD and then heard about his physical assault on his now ex-girlfriend, Rihanna, you getting your money's worth out of your purchase wouldn't really affect anything; he's already gotten your money after all, what's playing the CD in your leisure time going to do? But the landscape has changed. In the modern era of music, every play on Spotify or Apple Music and every view on YouTube puts money in the artist's pocket while simultaneously sending a message to the record label that they can still turn a profit off of their artist despite the controversy that surrounds them. Is it fucked up that labels care more about money than about supporting and funding artists littered with a violent history? Absolutely, but given the frequency throughout the history of the music industry that this has happened, it should not be surprising in the slightest. We cannot depend on or expect the people who are running the show here to act with ethics in the forefront of their minds so the brunt of this responsibility has fallen upon the consumer.
But in the end, even though giving financial support to abusers is a huge problem, this isn't just about money; this is about who we allow to attain and maintain celebrity status. This is about society's (and that means you and I just like everyone else's) failure to stop shitty people from being famous because not to take a lap on this tired talking point, but y'all realize that there are (not were, are) still kids out there looking up to XXXTENTACION, right? If we allow such a person to maintain such a level in society whereas they may be idolized and admired, then we are condoning their action. If we allow such a person to be lauded and praised for their work, we are telling their legions of impressionable fans that they too can abuse, taking advantage of, and sexually assault people and that won't matter because they may still one day have a shot at fame. One might argue that point to say that X's fans look up to him as an artist, rapper, entertainer, or performer, and not as a human being. But we cannot ethically or responsibly maintain the distinction between X's (and others like him) life on and off the stage when he represents what he represents.
So I suppose that the question then becomes "so what the hell can we really do about this?". This is an entirely fair question because realistically, plenty of people were pissed off that John Lennon, James Brown, R Kelly, and Michael Jackson (and sadly, so many others) were abusers, but it sure didn't stop them from enjoying incredible success nor did it taint any of their legacies too severely. Hell, Chris Brown assaulted Rihanna less than a decade ago and while there's certainly a blemish that's been left on his legacy, he still enjoys a fair amount of success and acclaim. So we can be pissed off and gripe about this until we go blue in the face, but we have to take this a step further if we intend to see any results come about here. That means boycotting their music, boycotting live performances, and pressuring artists' management, distributors, venues, endorsements, collaborators, and record labels to drop them. We have to close every avenue for these artists to maintain success and make sure that nobody wants to touch them with a ten foot pole.
At this point, you may be saying "well that sounds awesome in theory, but it sounds implausible. What would artist accountability look like in real life?" Let's look at what feels like a world away in a very different scene. This year, the career of rising stars, queer-punk duo PWR BTTM, was effectively ended overnight when allegations came forward that singer/guitarist/drummer, Ben Hopkins, had repeatedly forced himself onto someone in their scene. The perpetrator in this scenario was not charged, arrested, tried, or convicted, but the fans took the allegations seriously and took it upon themselves to hold the artists accountable, pressure was put on the band's label, management, and distributors, and they were unceremoniously dropped from all three. What did this do? It took their music off of streaming sites, their records were not for sale anywhere, and the atmosphere that this created ruined any credibility that they had and so began an unofficial boycott of any sort of support for the band. In what seemed like an instant, the career of a band that seemed like they had nowhere to go but up was over. Now, I'm not so naïve to think that the circumstances surrounding PWR BTTM and XXXTENTACION aren't drastically different because the respective scenes that each artist inhabits couldn't be more different; honestly, the group of people who composed the punk scene that PWR BTTM inhabited and the group of people who would (justly) cut off all support of them in light of the accusations that they faced intersect to the point of complete unity. I'm of course generalizing a bit here, but while the modern punk scene (especially in queer circles) focuses on safe spaces, respecting the people around you, and a culture rooted in acceptance for everyone, the objectification and marginalization of women and non-men is so normalized in hip hop that the only reason why it's surprising that people are talking about is because that means we aren't ignoring it. Hip hop could operate in this sort of space as well and it will take a lot more than simply removing these abusers from our space, but it would be a damn good start.
I know that many will read these words and proceed no differently than they have up to this point in regards to how they handle the support of abusers in their respective music scenes. And this should surprise nobody because, at the end of the day, people are going to listen to the music they want to listen to; if they enjoy an abuser's music, then they will need no further justification to continue enjoying it. This is the reality, sad as it may be. But if you take anything away from this, remember that there are hundreds of thousands of artists in the world and only a small portion are abusers. Do you need to enable these people or can you listen to literally anyone else? The answer that I hope you arrive to should be fairly evident at this point in time. Do I think we can put a complete end to this problem by changing the way we approach abusers in the spotlight? Of course not, but I know we can do better than this.
Wave had stepped his game up and actually had put together an EP and seemed to actually be making some moves. I reviewed his 2017 EP, "Draco Musik" with criticisms for his choice of beats and sloppy/inconsistent production as well as a wrench of a feature from his Ku$hlord$ cohort, For Sweet Revenge. Now Tsunami Wave has released a melancholy three song EP, "F.E.E.L.I.N.G.S. ". While brief, this project definitely musters up the ability to leave an impression and display a side of Wave that we only saw a glimpse of on "Draco Musik". Additionally, massive improvements have been made on the front of his production and sonic consistency. I don't want to put Wave in a box, but it definitely sounds like he's found a sound that works for him. Although the brunt of my criticisms have been met, answered, and improved upon, I still have a few criticisms that have come to light as Tsunami Wave transitions into this new sound.This project opens up with "Stand In The Rain", a brooding trap banger produced by csxmo. The instrumentation on this one is super clean and the attention to detail is fantastic. The thing I love about Wave is that you can hear that he's having fun in his voice. This track is a great example of this as even though the subject matter is dark (bordering on suicidal), Wave doesn't skip a beat and is still going as hard as he would on any other track.
"Don't Look Back" (produced by SUDZY) opens with a well placed clean guitar arpeggio and classic, true-to-form, banging percussion paired with a subdued, low range melody sang by none other than Tsunami Wave himself. While he's ever so slightly out of pitch here, this doesn't sound forced or out of place. Lyrically, Wave continues to be sad without being edgy or overly-rudimentary like many "sad rappers". The surprising thing I find about this track is how it manages to be a banger while remaining so low-key.
This project ends too soon with the sidxkick produced track "Last Night". If this EP is a crescendo of depression, then this really feels like the peak. While the ear would be inclined to pick up on the light finger picking acoustic guitar as the center of the instrumentation on this track, I think the bass and subtle cello are the real stars of the production on this one and Wave does a killer job of meeting sidxkick in the middle here with a simple, yet eloquent melody detailing his regression into misery, solitude, and where it has brought him.
Clocking in at just under 11 minutes, Tsunami Wave managed to present a cohesive, well arranged project that stands on its own two feet far better than anything else he's released up to this point. I applaud Wave for being pickier with his production, achieving sonic consistensy, and doing it without his crew. In fact, my biggest criticism of this EP is just how short it is. I would like to see Tsunami Wave apply this focused consistency to a full length project. Despite my generally positive review of his previous project, I definitely had some reservations about Wave before but my concerns are long gone now. If Tsunami Wave is any sort of representation of what Austin, TX has to offer, then watch our city y'all because we're up next.
OVERALL RATING : 80%
I've previously reviewed Tsunami Wave of Austin, TX based rap collective, Kushlords which made me want to check out what the other members have been up to. Maybe it's because I'd more or less given up on decent hip hop coming from my hometown, but I've been behind as fuck on what these guys have been up to and I'm a little upset about it. Tsunami Wave put forth a mildly troubled, but otherwise solid EP in the form of "Draco Musik" and now fellow Kushlord, Max Wells, has released his EP, "Thinktoomuch" right under my nose and this effort is an impressive start.
Max Wells doesn't fuck around with his craft and that's evident right off the bat. The measure I hold trap up to is A) would the way the artist flows in relation to how the beat moves keep me bouncing if I saw them perform live? B) what's the production value like? and C) has the artist found a way to make this effort interesting or different than your run of the mill generic trap hits? To answer this criteria, I can barely sit still when I listen to this shit while sitting on my couch so I have to imagine a Max Wells performance can really move a god damn crowd. The production on this thing is rock solid and polished more than some trap artists who have already made a name for themselves. The only downside is that, "Thinktoomuch" doesn't do a whole lot in terms of standing out from your average trap hits aside from the standout quality in its execution. Often times, this uniqueness would come in the form of some badass lyrics, but there's nothing special here on that front either. However, as a fan of this genre of hip hop, I'm equipped with the understanding that when it comes to the modern exploration of trap music, lyrical substance is less important than how appealing a project is sonically and on that front, this project absolutely performs.
While this whole release is filled with hard hitting percussion, overwhelming bass, and cleverly constructed flow, my issue is that none of the instrumentation is very standout or distinguishable. So while this thing sounds clean as fuck, it's often difficult to make a hard distinction from track to track. I don't mean to suggest that all of it sounds the same, but it's all pretty par for the course for this genre. In this regard, I think Wells could take a page out of his fellow Kushlords' books by ensuring that more attention is paid to selecting instrumentation that's more unique. That being said, they could in turn take some notes from Wells about ensuring that the quality of said instrumentation is good enough for a major release.
Tracks like "Guidance" and "Be Mad" follow similar patterns in terms of Wells' very deliberate delivery alongside relentless trap beats, but there's a flip side to this that's shown in the track "Act Like" which just comes off as a partial effort that rides the wave of the precedent set by the first two tracks. There's some improvement upon this in the last track, "Gone", but in the end, it suffers from much of the same problems.
If it sounds like I'm conflicted about this project, it's because I am. On one hand, this shit bumps from start to finish and has production that would be impressive even for some bigger name artists, but on the other hand, the tracks blur into each other and the entire thing is hardly distinguishable from a $uicideboy$ project. I want to see more from Max Wells without compromising any of the things he really does right in this project. All in all, a solid effort that leaves me really in this guy's corner, rooting for him to hurdle the obstacles that keep this project from really being great.
If it seems like I spend a lot of time reviewing artists from the North East, it's because as far as hip hop goes, there's not a lot going on worth talking about in my city of Austin, TX. I've been to a handful of shows around here, but primarily from out of town artists and the local opening acts are rarely doing anything worth paying much attention to. But nonetheless, I find that the best way to find about rappers around here is in fact to keep an eye on the opening acts. Some time ago, this practice put me on to For Sweet Revenge who was opening for Father (at the time he was going by Dank $inatra) and Kushlords, the collective of ATX rappers that he's a part of consisting of him, Max Wells, and Tsunami Wave. FSR has been neither here nor there for me for the most part, but it seemed like he and Max Wells were the only ones doing much so I kind of forgot about Tsunami Wave until I saw in my feed that he was going to be opening for Blac Youngsta. This prompted me to do some further investigation and much to my surprise, it seems that Wave has stepped his game up and actually had put together an EP and seemed to actually be making some moves.
One thing that I'll say off the bat is that Wave's aesthetic and visuals are pretty dope which looks like a great step forward from the last I had heard from him. The promotional material for "Draco Musik" is no exception, but aesthetic isn't everything and it almost feels like more effort was put into the packaging than the music itself. Don't misunderstand me, the music is good, but it's pretty underwhelming. While each song on here can stand on two feet by itself, it sounds like Wave just kind of took five songs that had already recorded independently of each other and threw them together to push out a polished project. Not to mention that the production on these tracks is often times incomplete sounding and a little sloppy. While each one the beats on this effort slaps and is matched well by the vocals, there's just no cohesion from track to track.
All of that being said, Wave's secret weapon is himself. There's no denying that Tsunami Wave has the two things that every rapper needs: flow and energy. No matter what other issues may be prevalent in this project, Wave is always on point. I think the best example of this can be seen on the intro track, "Raven (Are You Sure)", where the instrumentation, a rudimentary beat and a repetitive cheap sounding synth loop, can't compete with Wave's aggression. This is less of a problem in the following track, "Angel of Death", as it seems this high energy, low fi track is almost supposed to be kind of punk rock and by definition, messy. I was a little worried when the track started off with an acoustic guitar riff; a technique I have yet to see executed well, but I was relieved to find the end to this segment met with screaming, mono guitar noise that really complimented the energy that Wave comes with.
While I feel as though it shouldn't be, my favorite track on this EP was "Murdah" as it was simply put, the most well constructed track on the project and catchy as hell (it's probably been stuck on my head for a few days at this point in time). I'll also compliment wave for his lyricism here which, for all his good qualities, most of the time is pretty average, but here, we hear some pretty smart lines about police brutality which I've noticed is a subject that a lot of rappers are passionate about, but are afraid to touch so early in their careers. This track really bumps too so hats off to seemingly the only producer on this EP that could really compliment the artist.
The track, "Rolling Stone, Pt. 2" was pretty forgettable to be completely honest. Wave does a decent job making the best use of this subpar instrumentation, but fellow Kushlords member, For Sweet Revenge (credited on this track by his former alias, Dank $inatra) kind of fucks any potential this track had when he comes in with the most disappointingly mediocre verse that sounded like it was recorded in a kitchen cabinet. I mean, when I say that FSR phoned this one in, I truly mean it which is honestly irritating to me because they live in the same city and have recorded together frequently so why not make the effort to make sure that your contribution to one of your collective member's first project is on par with the rest of the track? Not to mention that FSR has not once since my introduction to the artist released any solo material that was this poor in quality so maybe remember that you're just as local as your homie and show some respect to their artistry.
Past that, Tsunami Wave ends on a higher note with the track "Switch It Up" which sounds like an earnest attempt at a trap hit. The main line in this song "Why these n***** so villainous/walk around like they ain't feelin' us" is a super dope line as well so you'll catch some respect from me for that. At times, the production sounds a little shotty, but for the most part, this is a really solid attempt, if not too similar in sound to XXXtentacion's "Look at Me". Maryland rapper, Kamiyada finishes this track with a bang (and demonstrates that you can make your shit sound good even from across the country, but I'll get off that soapbox).
For its faults, I can't help but like this EP because Tsunami Wave did consistently do a really good job doing the one thing that at the end of the day is what keeps me listening to a rapper which is spitting some hot shit. I think this dude is on to something and it's dope for me on a personal level to see someone from my city on the come up. My only advice to Wave is to be pickier about your producers and don't let "putting your friends on" excuse lazy shit that makes your music suffer. That being said, this was a solid effort and a good start for this young artist's career.
I saw a video recently where hip hop producer, Sonny Digital, was saying that producers in the hip hop world, for their monumental contributions to the sound that artists craft (especially with a decreasing focus on the necessity of lyricism in hip hop), are under-credited and often do not receive the kind of representation they deserve. This is such an important issue for the entire culture and I have to say that Sonny Digital is only saying what should have been on the forefront of this subject for a long time. And sure we've seen an increase as of late in how we spotlight producers such as Drizzy making sure to always give his due diligence to his long time producer, Noah "40" Shebib or how you can hardly find a track on Soundcloud without seeing a producer credit in the title. These are steps in the right direction, but something we don't see enough is producers who say "fuck the norm, I'm putting out a project with my instrumentation and y'all can appreciate it for what it is". I think it would be dope if we saw more of this, but the reasoning why we do not is pretty clear; because when they do, people don't give it the attention that it deserves. Outside of electronic dance music/house music, instrumental music hasn't seen a lot of popularity since the decline of big band/jazz music as popular genres of music in the mid 20th century. We've seen more of it come to light in the progressive metal scene with bands like Polyphia and Chon, but hip hop instrumental music has been more or less a "by artists for artists" effort only since the inception of hip hop as we know it. So seeing a producer making a name for himself in this fashion is pretty ill and that's precisely what New Jersey producer, Donny Clips, is doing with his full length album, "The Current".
Before I dive in, I would like to provide something of a disclaimer that this is a primarily instrumental album and therefore a lot of my analysis of it is speculative, but given the nature of said analysis, I've treated this project as a concept album and have provided a walkthrough of the album as a whole as well as a track by track breakdown. So if you like doing lots of reading, you're in luck.
The album opens up with the track "Dreamland" which is a cacophony of sinister, grimy, low end synth complimented with a pulsating boom bap and some dainty overlaid arpeggio helping build this track into a violent storm that feels like a panic attack until the very end when the sun peeks through and returns to peace and serenity.
This ties over nicely into the following track, "This Life", which brings us to the innocence of nature with some major key vocoder, a laid back beat, some tasteful string orchestration, and some silky smooth open vowel choral vocals. If the intro track was the climax of a panic attack, this track feels like the tail-end with the realization that everything is going to be alright, but the potential to slip back into panic looming over. The controlled chaos provided midway with the piccolo and bass riffing takes us out of the comfort zone previously established without putting us in a place of discomfort in this track which I lean towards being one of my favorites on this effort.
The next track "Could Be (Yeah Yeah)" is the recovery. The accordion-like synth and distant, muffled vocals feel deleterious without taking away from the confident swagger that the hard hitting trap beat instills upon the listener which helps to carry one away from the stress of the first two tracks without completely removing you from it.
"Maddd" is a slow build of confidence with the first vocal feature on the album from Devilino that feels like an attempt at returning to comfort and familiarity of hip hop's lyrical clichés to hype up the proverbial protagonist in this concept from the bender of anxiety that we've experienced by proxy thus far, but with a level of reservation in tone that suggests that the confidence is a front for the storm of anxiety that has been cast aside temporarily yet remains a strong, foreboding presence. The instrumentation is meant to create the illusion of impudence with a reverb heavy, wailing keys riff over a bubbly synth and thematically appropriate popping trap beat. Towards the end of the track, we can start to see this front of confidence begins to fall apart at the seams as Clips starts to modify the instrumentation with some well placed accidentals and a persistent sitar overlay before fully devolving into a heart racing jungle beat.
The aptly named next track, "Heart Racing Interlude", sees the proverbial protagonist in the space before panic sets in asking "is this really happening? Am I overreacting? Will I be alright?" with a light echo of piano hitting crescendo and the heart beat of a kick drum carrying the listener out of this uncertain territory.
"Swavey Gravitation" sees the "narrator" transcend panic into anger. The huge sound of the spacey synth paired with the tonally augmented wave of harmony, the "in your face" intensity of gritty bass, and the choppy, frustrated lead that fades out as one's head spins out until the only logical solution is to sleep it off.
The track, "Solar Soldier", marks the finale of the what I would categorize as the first part of the album and the start of the the second which can be summarized as a chaotic progression of sleep that starts soothing but soon becomes plagued by night terrors. The dream-like harpsichord driven melody that forms the basis of this track is complimented by harmonies whirring, some pinched, screechy lead lines, and a boisterous, yet comforting slap of a beat. The soft "oohs" that carry over the top of this track help to wipe away the anxiety of the day and give us a fresh start.
My sole criticism of this album comes from the track "Wav Free" which is that featured rapper, Qb, doesn't match the tone set by the chaotic instrumentation whatsoever and instead sounds like he didn't really know what to do with this instrumental and just kind of threw something together. That being said, everything else about this track is on point. The anarchic instrumentation founded in a fast paced, harpsichord riffing perfectly juxtaposed to the bright harpsichord of the previous track feels like moving away from the serenity that provided a brief sensation of comfort into the realm of uncertainty once again.
The steel drums/horns sound out of place in "Wav Free", but if one stays on the journey that this album takes you on, then this oddity is contextualized as an interference into the night terror that becomes the foundation of the instrumentation in what I see as the most crucial track to piecing together the themes in this album, "Broken Arcade". This track is uncertainty incarnate. We start here with a repetitive accidental prone underbelly of a foundation that's carried melodically by the steel drums heard in the previous track. This track is noisy and helter-skelter without feeling dark or anxious. This one is learning to live inside your own head, aware of, but not plagued by the demons that wear down your mental fortitude; being surrounded by the chaos without being consumed by it. Even as the instrumentation becomes more frantic towards the end, the listener proceeds with a degree of firmness that hasn't been identified with up to this point in the LP.
The following track, "Carving the Mark" is the beginning of the third and final phase of this album, which is awakening anew; no longer plagued by anxiety and ambivalence. With huge, bright synth and a return to the similarly spirited arpeggios seen in "This Life", this track is moved along by a lively kick/snare beat peppered with vibrant hi hat work and pulsing bass that makes you want to get up and dance until the instrumentation simmers off into the distance.
The track, "Dark Matter", is the separation between the idealistic optimism that says I'm ready to take control of my life and the dark reality that no matter how much we grow and evolve, our demons will always be there, staring us in the face, ready to come back to take the reigns. The sound here is less musically focused and more ambient, meant more so to set a tone than to contribute to the musicality of this project.
The final track opens up with a lone voice: "feeling good, feeling great". Devilino comes in for a second round, but the confidence and swagger is no longer shaky nor a facade. This is a unique, but still very approachable, sinister trap track to display the confidence that has been gained by overcoming the demons. At the end, Donny Clips decides to go Kanye and drop some words on the track to celebrate the end of a journey in what feels like sun finally doing more than peeking through the clouds, instead, finally here to brighten the day. This track is a killer way to end this album because it proves that Clips isn't just someone who can make these complex soundscapes, but a producer who can hang with anyone who's out there making more conventional hip hop.
One thing that I really need to stress here is that despite the complex instrumentation, phenomenally consistent production, and the heavy thematic undertones present on this album, at no point is this music too heavy to pay less attention to and just vibe with. At any point in time, I could choose to stop hyper-analyzing this work and just bump it which is the mark of a great crafter of soundscapes. I'm honestly blown away not only by the impressive dictation and understanding that Donny Clips has of not only crafting mood through music, but being able to carry theme and consistency throughout an entire album with only minimal aid from vocals. I think that in hip hop, there's this implication that floats around stating that the producer's work, while valuable, cannot stand alone without the "star of the music" i.e. the singer/rapper, but Clips takes this assertion and slaps it out of our hands with a project that tells its own story. And sure, this project definitely blurs the lines of what one may consider hip hop production and ambient, soundscape craft, but I know for a fact that if Clips spent enough time finding the right rappers and singers to not only perform on these tracks, but to do so in a fashion that aligns with the prevalent themes that he's worked to establish, this would be one of the best conventional hip hop albums that we may never hear. This harrowing journey of an album was phenomenal to live through and I recommend it highly. I challenge anyone to listen to this project start to finish without feeling the rollercoaster of emotion that Donny Clips has crafted for us, but hey, maybe it's not that deep. I suppose that's for you to decide.
EDITOR'S NOTE: After I initially posted this review, I was contacted by an "anonymous fan" (definitely just the artist on my comment section, but I digress) insisting that Kay P is really a much deeper artist than this project represents, but that this LP was supposed to be satirical in representing that people would listen to anything if it had a dope beat. While I could believe that this may have been the intention, it doesn't somehow unfuck this project. If this is satire, isn't it supposed to be clever? Like honestly, it isn't satirical to write generic, shitty music; it's just lazy. If your idea is to make generic trap music to show how bad it can be...then congratulations, you did it. If anything, this information makes me view this project even less favorably because now, it not only fails in my eyes as trap music, but also as satire. So that being said, I will present the rest of my original review unchanged as I feel that Kay P never crosses the line in being tongue-in-cheek enough to actually qualify this music as satirical.
There's this running joke that anyone can make trap music and the internet is full of awful examples of people spitting some trash bars over a rudimentary trap beat. Everyone from vine washup/future frat house drink spiker/youtube sensation, Jake Paul to pornstar, Riley Reid has done their best to hop on the trap wave, but luckily the internet is pretty good about shutting this bullshit down, but every now and then, one slips through the cracks. No matter what you post on Soundcloud, someone will like it and someone will just comment "TRAAAAAAAAASH" and today, I'm sifting through the bad Soundcloud rappers and being the aforementioned commentator so that you don't have to.
Usually if I find something bad, I'll just review a single, but today I'm feeling like a real masochist and I found the elusive full length bad trap album on Soundcloud so the timing seems right. This one is "Momm" by Kay P aka Baby Shiva. See, this shit irritates me because it's like there's this notion that being weird and having a "wEiRD aęStHètïc" is sufficient to justify lazy songwriting and unremarkable music. While Baby Shiva has done well to select beats here that keep this project moving along without blending together, seen to it that the production is quality, and kept the energy alive consistently through this project, this is where my praise for this LP ends.
The subject matter present throughout this project is just trite and the production isn't lit enough to save this. I've written before about how writing the same tired shit over and over again sucks, but isn't a death sentence so long as you can be clever with it. Kay P does not do this. Nothing this guy says hasn't been said better a thousand times before. It truly sounds like this is just some guy who had never rapped before, decided to buy some beats, and write some shit about fucking women and getting money that rhymed. It may sound like I'm coming off a bit harshly, but given the description that I've provided above, does this sound like anything you're compelled to listen to at length? As tired and played out as this shit is, my biggest issue with this album is that the songwriting is just lazy. I find myself so disengaged with these tracks that every now and then, I realize that while listening to this project that I've just zoned out and have landed back on some line about someone sucking this dude's dick or him proclaiming to have hit a lick (this literally happened three or four times). This style of lazy, banal rap is best exemplified in the track "Superstar" which is the epitome of why fucking old heads hate us. I think I stroked out a couple times during this track as I heard Baby Shiva say "she a superstar/when she throw it back/I'mma throw a stack/throw a couple racks" which somehow is a line that homeboy deemed good enough to repeat like four fucking times on this track.
The instrumentation on these tracks is nothing special either; different, sure, but that's not synonymous with good. There are a few exceptions to this however. The track "Goofies" actually has a super dope piano based riff from producer, Flush, thats potential is entirely squandered when Baby Shiva somehow finds an opportunity to stop getting head for a moment to whip his cock out and piss all over this track. The track "Say Less" also has a similarly constructed soft piano melody foundation from producer, Yung Castor, that has all the potential in the world and is met with the consistent trend of Baby Shiva completely squandering said potential.
One track on this project that I do actually like is "Double Dash". I think I mostly like the whirring, spacey synth instrumentation (S/O K.Kun), but the lines that Kay P drops here actually are a minor improvement on what he does on the rest of this project. The Mario Kart analogy is clever and I tend to think that it was well chosen in terms of its pairing with the instrumentation which does have this sort of nostalgic, early 2000's Gamecube soundtrack kind of vibe which I fuck with pretty hard.
The entire time that I listened to "Momm", I was just waiting for Kay P to be less one-dimensional, but he doesn't even attempt to do so. If you took all of the lyrics to this project, printed them out, and just jumbled them together, I don't even think Baby Shiva could piece them together because somehow, this artist has managed to make a 13 track album with subject matter that could be condensed into a single track, which I think I may be at least a little bit impressed by if it wasn't so infuriating. I feel bad for the producers who's hard work suffers for being a part of this project. Honestly, the only reason that this project isn't getting a lower rating is because of the instrumentation which, while not always great, doesn't deserve two stars. Kay P has energy, decent flow, and at least a decent ear for production, I just hope that one day he learns to spice things up a bit and be more dynamic.
It seems like out of all of his cypher group in the 2016 XXL Freshmen list, Denzel Curry was not only the most talented rapper, but also the one the proceeded to recieve the least buzz afterwards. One could attribute this to many different factors, but for me, I think it's because Denzel Curry doesn't rely on a persona or gimmick to get by in the rap game and relies on the one thing he values most: bars. Curry has not been silent on how other rappers don't perform authentically, such as during an interview on Sway in the Morning when he called out rappers who perform live over their tracks instead of instrumentals (and fucking thank you that shit drives me crazy).
I was introduced to Curry by some friends after they saw him at a 2016 South by Southwest show in which two songs into the set, security shut down the show when everybody went crazy during a performance of "Ultimate" causing him to take the crowd to the streets where he performed acapaella. After hearing this, I knew this dude had to be on some dope shit and was blown away by his sophomore effort, "Imperial" and his standout performances in that year's XXL Freshman performances.
Since then, I've followed Curry pretty religiously and between his impeccable bars and raw talent, he has yet to release a project that wasn't impressive to me on all levels. The cool thing about Denzel Curry is that he's found a way to make accessible, hard hitting trap music that's smart both lyrically and in construction. His surprise EP, "13" has been no exception.
The opening track "Bloodshed" carries Curry's signature foreboding instrumentation and Curry doesn't waste any time dropping some fire bars on the track immediately. The vibe feels immediately different than "Imperial". While Curry wasn't fucking around on his previous effort, "13" feels more focused and more bloodthirsty. The instrumentation is almost industrial sounding and gritty as fuck which compliments Curry's pissed off, "cut your throat" flow. This shines through especially on tracks like "Hate Government" that holds some vibes that makes you want to throw a brick through a government building.
Additionally, it all just flows together very well as this sounds less like five songs and more like one. This isn't always a good thing, but Curry really makes it work. And nobody is safe from being sucked into the grime that Curry spills all over these tracks such as in "Equalizer" when featured singer, Ronny J, sounds like his verse could have fit pretty standardly into a PARTYNEXTDOOR song, but in the context of this project sounds malevolent and far too rough around the edges to fit into the standard OVO R&B sound.
I'm not the biggest fan of the song "Heartless". Although the instrumentation is on point with the bar set by the rest of the EP and Curry's lyrical prowess doesn't falter, I think that this beat slaps too hard to do the whining, back and forth melody that Curry does here instead of just spitting the bars we all know he can. However, I applaud him for taking risks.
That being said, the star of this EP immediately follows in the form of the final track on this project, "Zeltron 6 Billion". Curry chooses to trade some of the industrial moxie seen in the remainder of the EP for some down to earth funk. Denzel's bouncy, fearless flow here somehow makes me want to dance and punch a motherfucker in the throat at the same time. Lil Ugly Mane's verse here is on point in a way that many features in hip hop simply aren't as he blends well with the vibe in the track as well as standing strong next to Curry lyrically.
In the end, I just wish this project was longer which is the mark of a successful musical endeavor. Denzel Curry is a man that knows what he's doing and does so impeccably. Here's to anther successful Denzel Curry project and hoping that we get more sooner than later.
I received an email from HILVL CO. a while back to review the debut singles of their collective members, Don Haze and Ree Santana. Upon further investigation I realized that HILVL wasn't just a rap collective, but an apparel company as well which truthfully turned me off from them a bit as I'm not much of one to promote businesses. However, after listening to the music, it occurred to me that everything from the music, to the apparel, to the aesthetic all moved in unison and contributed to their artistry. Many artists make the mistake of starting off on unstable footing by not having a strong enough branding or consistent enough a vibe from the start. Though these guy are brand new artists (boasting only one single each), their collective vibe is cohesive and they operate like professionals in terms of outreach for their branding. If hip hop is about hustling, then these guys are setting a hell of an example on how to do it.
Since I can't really contextualize their sounds given that they each only have one song and considering the adhesion of their collective style, I'm going to do something different and review these songs together as a whole piece of work.
From the looping, fast paced hi hat/snare heavy beat to the flow, Ree Santana's debut single, "Link Up, Turn Up" sounds heavily influenced by Big Sean and Drake, but not in a way that feels like biting. From the start, Santana swaggers across the track uncompromisingly in what can only be described as a lighthearted, amusing trap record. Santana dances around this track like a radio veteran, but with the bright eyed fun of a newcomer. But for every instance in which Santana raps in the style of Big Sean or Drake, but with the upbeat cheeriness of Kyle, Don Haze is the yang to that yin.
Don Haze's song "Immortal Vibe" sounds much more sinister from the start, but not in a way that makes a clear line of demarcation on HILVL's sound, but rather just as the other side of the same coin. While both tunes are strident braggadocio, Haze does so in a more cut your throat kind of way. The heavy gritty bass and spectral, looming synth loop that the instrumental consists of compliments the very "fuck you" lyrical theme presented strongly in the central line of this track: "don't fuck with my bread or my vibe". Additionally the adlibs on the prechorus are unique and memorable so points for that. I'm not a huge fan of the Future thing he does at the end of this track with the autotune rambling which I think makes the track a bit repetitive, but that's really my only issue with this track.
I really fuck with the respective vibes that these artists bring forward which are not identical, but positively complimentary towards each other. I would really like to see some collab work between these guys if for no other reason than I'd like to put to the test my hypothesis that these two could really bounce off each other and develop some good flow.
Lyrically, I don't really think that either of these artists are doing anything terribly special or unique, but they both exhibit some fair potential in this field with some funny punchlines such as Santana's bar "One hand on her throat like a turtleneck/I like when she suck it slow that's turtle-neck" or Haze's "Questlove how I play with bands" (that last one is actually pretty dope, I won't front like it ain't). The subject matter is pretty par for the course as far as modern trap and it's executed well, but it's a little disappointing to see that these two creative minds didn't feel the need to branch out a bit lyrically.
Overall, solid tracks and a good foot forward for Don Haze, Ree Santana, and the HILVL collective. I would definitely recommend checking these tracks out (and their apparel line to be honest, I really wanna cop one of those dad hats). I'm highly anticipating more from these artists as they grow, develop, and release more material.
These bitches goin' crazy for the dolla bill/I guess it's cause she like the way I whip it
When I started this blog, my goal was to make connections with underground artists and provide artists who don't receive a lot of attention from music reviewers to receive some in depth critiques of their craft. Through doing this, I've discovered several really dope artists who I likely wouldn't have found otherwise. I'm super thankful for this opportunity and look forward to reviewing more yet to be discovered, but nonetheless talented young artists.
The flip side to this is that of you open up your DMs and email to artists who want exposure, well, they're not all going to be gold. Thus far, I've only reviewed projects that I've found and fucked with, but that trend can't continue forever. So when DC rapper, Odé tha Hustla hit ny DMs with his single "Mo Money", I knew what had to be done.
If I may be unfiltered and brutally honest for a moment, when I first listened to this track, I thought it was a joke and to this point in time, I truly still hope that it is. However, upon further investigation into Odé's social media, it has becoming glaringly apparent that this single is not in fact a joke, but an (you know what it is) ode to the strip club lifestyle that is made in one hundred percent earnest. Truly there are only two words that come to mind when I listen to this track and they're both five letter words that start with "tr". The first is "trite" and the second is "trash".
I mean come on y'all; how long are we going to keep doing this? This territory about making women dance for singles and having enough cash to do this on a regular basis is so well tread that they've had to close the road and start construction to fix it up. The issue of the objectification of women and calling them bitches is not new terrotory in hip hop (or many other types of music for that matter) whatsoever and this isn't something artists should rely on because frankly, it's weak songwriting and problematic as fuck (I could go on for hours about this, but that's for another time). So to put your best foot forward with a song that has a chorus that says "these bitches goin' crazy for the dolla bill/I guess it's cause she like the way I whip it" is fucking trite and tired. Not to mention that this line makes zero sense. These women don't give a fuck about "how you whip it", they just want the money you're throwing around so they can feed their god damn kids or something. If Odé goes out to get dinner at an Olive Garden, is the server providing him with prompt service and unlimited breadsticks because they love the way he whips it? No you fucking troglodyte, they're doing their god damn job so cut the self indulgent horseshit.
The chorus in this track drops into a low tone melody that is just amateur in construction and goes flat almost every time he hits the low note (which is clearly too low for his range). Even outside of the chorus, the lyrics in the verse are unbelievably bad such as this gold; "and if the pussy clean and it smell right/I might fuck you raw, have my baby" which is just... I don't have words. And for some reason, Odé determined that it would be a good idea to drop in the screechiest, most out of tune (like how?) autotune segment over this verse I've heard in my young life.
When Odé tells the ladies to "show their titties and their ass" I think I blacked out for a second and was transported to 2002 which has got to be the only era in which this sort of song would be A) acceptable and B) have a chance of helping his career (had his singing not been flat throughout 85% of this song). My biggest question is "how the fuck does this guy think that this was a good song to put forth as his lead single?" In what world does this song aid your rise to the top in the year 2017? Odé obviously is hyped up as fuck which is dope and I fuck with the energy, but if the life he describes himself as having lived in the bio of his website and in his song "Legacy" are true then he has to have some more interesting or compelling shit to rap about than this bullshit.
The only redeemable about this track is that the beat isn't the worst thing I've ever heard, but that isn't even close to enough to save this track from the terrible lyrics, lazy melodies, screeching autotune, and god awful songwriting. Let this serve as some advice to any up and coming artists who may be reading this: be original, write about something interesting, and for the love of all that is holy, if you're going to write about this same tired bullshit, at very least, execute it well.
Think I was too harsh? Decide for yourself. Here's Ode Tha Hustla's video for "Mo Money"