Reviews

Reviews

ALBUM REVIEWS: XXXTENTACION “17”

“Depression and Obsession don’t mix” this statement plays as more than a lyric, XXXTentacion seems to embody this duality. While previous tracks lean toward ‘screamo Hip-Hop’ his debut album “17” plays as an Alternative Rock album with no resemblance to his breakout single ‘Look At Me’.  As the 19 year old rapper states immediately at the beginning of the album that with this work you are “literally entering his mind” we must first look at the human, or perhaps conversely the music forces us to look at the human. Stereotyped as the ’emo kid’ of Hip-Hop, X ironically shatters the archetypal emo image. As Kurt Cobain, the iconic Grunge rocker of the 90s, embodied the teen angst and aggression of a generation of social outcasts of that day’s youth we saw Kurt as the loser, the nerd and the bullied kid. As the kid physically and emotionally tormented and withdrawn Cobain’s anger seemed obvious. X at both seems to be the bully and the bullied all at once, a quick YouTube search will reveal a kid who has been, before the fame, winning more fistfights on camera than any teenage ‘loser’ ever dreamed of. X’s only L on camera actually comes from a blindside sucker punch. How could a young kid making money on tour (prior to the success of ‘Look At Me’), knocking people out, getting girls, and having access to a level of ‘fame’ most withdrawn kids only wish for be emo? He defies his own identity, a product of the internet generation he, like many musical act’s musical tastes (with access to any genre and any time period), combines polarizing cultures and ideologies.

“Look At Me” is fueled with angst and violent hyperbole but don’t let that sonic sleight-of-hand distract you X’s depression stems from deep roots. The opening track on “17” “Jocelyn Flores” is dedicated to a girl in his life he was involved with who took her own life. Subject matter isn’t the only avenue in which X differentiates himself from his Hip-Hop peers, production on “17” doesn’t reach for the popular producers. There are no club bangers, no lit tracks, no Metro Booming beats, and the only feature is Ohio rapper Trippie Redd. X’s rebellious attitude fits right into his art, he seems to pay no mind to Industry standards. Guitar tracks, some completely acoustic, boom bap drums and dark piano chords are the only sounds the listener will get on this album, and it comes off as pure genius. No 808’s or Hi Hat 32nd note patterns, X keeps his art completely unique and true to self. With the vocals removed some tracks could easily be rider music or, ironically, a forced Drake love song filled with crooning or rehashed Pop rudiments and staples over top experimental production. ‘Everyone Dies In Their Nightmares’ is smooth, excluding the actual content which again is testimony to X’s internal dichotomy, he manages to implement a flow on top of this track that reminds the listener he is still a top tier Hip-Hop artist somewhere in his psyche.

‘Revenge’ plays as half back road blues and half slowed down demonic Pop-Punk. X, consciously or unconsciously, embraces the Punk Rock soundscape keeping “17”‘s entire running time at 22min, songs are rarely even 2 minutes and none ever touch  the 3 minute mark. For the debut of such a troubled and controversial artist he manages to release a truly unique and artistic LP that will surprise many and also convert many listeners who were put off by the polarizing sound and delivery of  tracks like “#ImSippingTeaInYoHood’. ’17’ shows tremendous maturity and growth and also a fearlessness to evolve without hesitation.

Rating 8.9/10

JAY Z ‘4:44’ Album Review

Hip-Hop is coming of age with every release, a genre rooted in youth culture ironically has it’s first iconic worldwide star in one of it’s elders. JAY Z who most fittingly grew up side by side with the genre, born just a few years before Kool Herc threw his first party, has become Hip-Hop’s Mick Jagger or Paul McCartney. A wide reaching figure that fans of other genres, whether fond of the culture or not, know by name simply off his fame. Even more ironic JAY Z has solidified his status in a culture based on counter-culture impulses and anti-establishment angst by paradoxically, and perfectly, playing the game of capitalism and simultaneously pandering to the pavement, concrete, and streets that are naturally the home of Hip-Hop’s true residents- the people. In this pseudo-politically correct climate most would jump at the chance to criticize such an artist, contradicting oneself is the one thing the masses can attack viciously with a clear conscience today. To the contrary JAY Z brilliantly unveils a unique perspective on a system that benefits tremendously on entire communities being ignorant to the rules of society. On ‘4:44’ JAY touches on capitalism, generational wealth, Hip-Hop culture’s generational civil war, legacy and most honestly his marital infidelities.

In a time where Snapchat, Instagram Live, and Periscope make celebrities personal lives more public than their public lives, cultural heavy weights like Kanye, JAY-Z, Beyonce and others scarcely use these apps. ‘4:44’, the title track, is a lift of the curtain, strategically piggy-backing off the ‘Lemonade’ narrative JAY bares it all in one of the most honest tracks of his career. Self-loathing, regret, and depression are not emotions we are used to affiliating with the gods of this genre, the revelation of JAY’s flaws make him, to most people’s disbelief, appear actually human. ‘Kill JAY Z’ continues this trend, JAY gives the listener a glimpse into the turmoil in his life, a genius’ mind sporadically dealing with his many multi-dimensional dilemmas. If his thoughts of ‘letting the baddest girl in the world get away’ aren’t weighing heavy enough on his mind then the apparent mutiny of his one time mentee, and present day musical icon, Kanye West add on to equate to a mesmerizing mental load. One of the underlying themes in their disagreement that may be effecting their relationship is Hov’s financial philosophy ‘what’s better than one billionaire? -Two. Specially when they’re the same hue as you’, Kanye stepping away from his Tidal deal may have cut deeper than the words he spoke while floating above fans several months prior.

‘The Story Of OJ’ finds JAY Z trying to lead his people out of the darkness, leaving a more thorough ‘blueprint’ than he ever has before. ‘Oh these people is gonna kill me! .. cause the more I reveal me the more they afraid of the real me.” The cost of truth is heavy and at the top of the game JAY no longer needs to equivocate, his view point is clear, so clear musical god Prince sat with him ‘eye to eye’ and they left in agreement. The track ‘Legacy’ plays as a farewell and doubles as the final bullet point on his financial philosophy not just his musical memory. JAY makes it clear that leaving behind wealth to his family and inevitably his people is the true mark of success.

 

Rating: 9.0

Album Reviews: Kendrick Lamar’s ‘DAMN’

‘New Kung Fu Kenny!’ is more than just a reoccurring motif, Kendrick Lamar has returned and reinvented himself not only on this new LP but on almost every track on this LP. The DJ tag brings the raw feel of ‘DAMN’ closer to the mixtape vibe that is presented sonically. If ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ was Kendrick reaching for artistic and musical heights in attempt to solidify his status in music then ‘DAMN’ is his attempt to reverse this idea he has been reaching for for so long. On “FEEL” he admits he ‘feels like removing myself no feelings involved’ then in the chorus proceeds to lament that ‘ain’t nobody praying for me’.  Most superstars reach a zenith then immediately shun their new position, Prince’s ‘Around The World In A Day’ is a complete 180 from ‘Purple Rain’s success and this phenomenon is no different in Hip-Hop, The Beastie Boys’ ‘Paul’s Boutique’ is knee-jerk reaction to ‘Licensed To Ill’s nation-wide success. The ultimate irony, that leaves Kendrick honestly thinking ‘DAMN’ is that he has reached a pinnacle that he no longer, with all his creativity and planning, can change with effort, ‘DAMN’s stripped down, chaotic, confusing overbearing approach is immediately accepted by fans instantly upon release.

This allows for a sense of Humility, but ‘HUMBLE’ is another play in the paradoxical approach to this new position. Kendrick is greatly conflicted on almost every track on this album and the title and cover art, which ingeniously plays right into meme culture, showcases the melancholy state of mind Kendrick is in when weighing in on the heavy topics each track tackles. ‘DAMN’ finds Kendrick in his most depressed state on an LP fans have ever heard, it’s clear Kendricks savior complex sombers his mood when accessing the multitude of problems his community faces, while simultaneously still learning and exploring new concepts and theories on race and religion himself. “YAH” and “FEAR” are the most honest examples of this, Kendrick embraces a deeper dive into the holy scriptures of the Bible and theory that he is actually one of the lost children of Israel, a concept that subconsciously may be another attempt at ‘removing’ himself from the fame he ‘lusts’.

‘DNA’ also deals with Kendrick’s true bloodline and what attributes are innate to this and the duality of said attributes that do and don’t align with what he perceives as his higher purpose. A divine plan has always been something inherent in Kendrick’s narrative on his past albums but ‘DAMN’s finale track ‘DUCKWORTH’, Kendrick’s actual last name, is his clear interpretation of God’s divine plan in bringing about his life, all seamlessly spit over  several 9th Wonder laced beats. The production on ‘DAMN’ is far from mainstream, Kendrick’s fame allows him to take risks sonically and artistically that new artists cant afford. In it’s entirety ‘DAMN’ plays as Lamar’s most honest and open LP, the first cry for help from an artist who spent a majority of his career trying to uplift his people and culture and feels slighted in the turmoil that comes with carrying that cross and the responsibility, right or wrong, that comes with attaining celebrity and fame.

 

Rating: 9.1/10

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