Drake – More Life: Album Review

Aubrey Drake Graham is one of the world’s most recognisable musical figures at the moment thanks to his consistent timings in terms of releases and remaining relevant to the mainstream community. His 2016 album ‘Views’ was his most eagerly anticipated project to date and managed to break 1 million sales in it’s first week of release, solidifying his place alongside the likes of Beyoncé and Justin Bieber as the biggest artist on the planet at the moment. ‘Views’ was ordinary, plain and uninventive, blending mind-numbing chart hits with half-hearted attempts at dancehall roots to create a crowd-pleasing album that will ranks, in my opinion at least, as his worst project to date. Despite this his flame will not burn out and the release of this ‘More Life’ project has been ferociously awaited, with the whole world tuning in to his OVO Sound Radio stream when he previewed it. The album has gone on to break Ed Sheeran’s streaming records and dominate the charts, but how good is it really? Has this “playlist” slumped to new lows after a shoddy job on ‘Views’ or will it be a return to form for Drizzy?

The production is magnificent, it is exactly what we could have wanted upon hearing the teaser tracks in the build up. His producer Noah “40” Shebib really strikes a tune with almost every single cut on here. Whether it be the slick dancehall vibes of ‘Get It Together’ and ‘Passionfruit’ (my personal favourite on the album), or the hard hitting grime and trap influences on ‘Free Smoke’ and ‘KMT’ (more on that track later), the playlist rarely hits a roadblock in terms of a sonic level of enjoyment from the instrumentals. The dancehall on this project sounds far more genuine and well-thought out than it did on ‘Views’, paying more homage to the homelands of it’s discovery and above all doing it justice on a grand scale. The best instrumental on the album is comfortably the one on the Travis Scott and Quavo featured ‘Portland‘, a song I was stupidly excited about when I saw the feature list and it did not disappoint. Much like Future on ‘Mask Off’ and D.R.A.M. on ‘Broccoli’ before him (did someone say culture vulture?), Drake implements the woodwind instrument into the beat with optimum efficiency and as a result the instrumental becomes infectious and toe-tapping in every sense of the term. It really does say a lot when I can’t pinpoint a flaw in the album in terms of production, huge props to 40 for that and it sets the album in such good stead.

Lyrically and vocally, Drake switches it up massively to what we usually hear from him. He dives in head first to new cultures and styles; from the gritty streets of North London to the sun, sea and sand of Jamaica, this is a journey we all take with this project simply from the use of Drake’s vocals. On ‘Blem‘ Drake deems it necessary to call someone a “wasteman” which is comedy in a way but also shows an embracing of UK culture in a simple form, something which I feel is an understated weapon in Drizzy’s arsenal. His mannerisms do have the potential and ability to be fairly frustrating to listen tom however, particularly on ‘Gyalchester‘ which is a stupid name for a track and has some infuriating tones on it, including the way he says “kicker”; the track itself is good though and the beat is hard. Singing Drake is a blissful experience on this playlist, especially on tracks like ‘Nothings Into Somethings’ and ‘Teenage Fever’ where he can serenade even the most heterosexual of men at times.

Drake seems adamant here that he is the best rapper on the planet, and he is also not prepared to let his ongoing beef with just about everyone in the rap industry die down. On ‘Gyalchester’ Drake tells us “I know I said top five, but I’m top two and I’m not two” suggesting that there is nobody around him that can do what he does, and that he is the true king of hip-hop. Whether or not you agree with it ( I personally don’t) you have to admit it’s a brilliant lyric and it’s a great showing of confidence, the side of Drake that hip-hop fans love. He also reignites his feud with Jay-Z on ‘Portland’ where he raps “fake fuck with me back then but it’s getting harder for you to fake it now.” He continues, “fuck being rich when I’m forty man, I’m tryna make it now” referring to the amount of time it took 47 year old Jay to become as rich as he is. Fuel to the fire.

I have to mention it. Drake’s reputation as a culture vulture has struck once again on this project, and it has never been more obvious this time round. On ‘KMT‘ with Giggs, our beloved Aubrey is clocked sporting a new style of flow and cadence as he compensates for how hard the beat is which is fair enough, I am all for changing your style. But this ‘change’ is shocking, he has literally copy and pasted the flow of Soundcloud rapper XXXTentacion on hit track ‘Look At Me!’ and made it his own. That isn’t on. That is the sort of action that makes me angry at Drake, because he is talented enough to do his own thing be him, because nobody can be Drake better than Drake. It is just something that had to be flagged up otherwise he will just continue to pull the wool over people’s eyes forever more.

The features are absolutely perfect on ‘More Life’. There’s not much more to it than that. Sampha steals the show on ‘4422‘ as he has done in the past on Drake’s 2013 hit ‘Too Much’ and Kanye West’s ‘Saint Pablo’, his haunting vocals encapsulate all the right emotions and make you disappear into the void of his song. Speaking of Kanye, he does a stellar job on one of the projects more unique cuts in ‘Glow‘ and I personally believe he outdoes Drake on this one as he sings and raps with passion and emotion, much like the Ye we know and love. Skepta is an absolute monster on ‘Skepta Interlude‘ and proves to us all that his ability and reputation has outgrown that of simply just UK Grime music, he is now a true phenomenon of the genre. Linking with UK Grime we also have Giggs do his thing on both ‘KMT‘ and ‘No Long Talk‘ where he bleeds his grime roots and introduces America to the UK rap culture with serious power. He sounds like a super-villain on his features as he shows his dark sides and goes as hard as is humanly possible on his verses, although keep an ear out for a certain line about Turkey, as well as one about Batman which I can’t decipher between trash, comedy gold or both. Quavo and Travis Scott are amazing on ‘Portland‘ too and it makes me so happy to see two of my favourites being given this kind of platform, the job they do on it is fantastic, particularly Quavo’s hook where he smashes the references, varying from WWE legend The Undertaker to NBA legend Michael Jordan. My love for Young Thug is also only amplified by his features on ‘Sacrifices’ and ‘Ice Melts’ where he shows us his normal and crazy sides in abundance.

Top 3 Tracks: Passionfruit, Portland, Skepta Interlude

Worst 3 Tracks: Since Way Back, Do Not Disturb, Can’t Have Everything

Overall: 9/10

This could well be a huge contender for the best project of the year, it is competing with Loyle Carner and Stormzy so far that is for sure. It was 100% worth the wait and is a million miles ahead of ‘Views’ in every possible way, from the cultural infliction to the features. I must admit that I am a bit gutted that ‘Sneakin’ with 21 Savage didn’t make it onto the track list but it is already plenty long enough. As far as I see it, this is right up there with Drake’s best work and it is, in theory, B-sides with some extra padding from ‘Views’, that in itself is bizarre given the quality of it all. 2016 was Drake’s year and barring disaster, he could be the king of 2017 too. There’s only one man who could make Drizzy’s wave crash and his name is Kendrick Lamar, unfortunately for Drake, it looks like K-Dot is on his way and is carrying weapons…

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Classic Album Review: The Streets – Original Pirate Material

The most brilliant genre-defining garage album turned 15 years old this weekend. On March 25th 2002, Mike Skinner’s ‘The Streets’ project brought us their debut album ‘Original Pirate Material’ and it is difficult to remember an album that captured the lifestyles and emotions of the working class community quite like this one did. NME ranked it as the 46th best album of all time in their 2003 list and it has taken time for people to truly appreciate it’s brilliance, initially only reaching #12 on the UK Album Charts upon release. So what makes this album so memorable and culturally important after all this time?

With influences coming from American hip-hop, namely the likes of Nas and Wu-Tang Clan, you could be mistaken for calling Mike Skinner unrealistic in his views for this album, but one thing he nailed down better than anyone has been able to since was his awe-inspiring and unmoving feel of home, the place he knows best. Bringing back sounds of 90s garage and turning it into a current and fresh sounding phenomenon was always going to be a challenge but it is something that he accomplished with magnificent technicalities and precision. From big singles such as “Has It Come To This?” and “Let’s Push Things Forward” we get a feel of what Mike Skinner saw as the new age of garage music, the resurrection of a once colossal genre which faded into irrelevancy thanks to the Britpop era and the revolution of indie bands around that time. Skinner does an absolutely remarkable job of giving you a local Feel on every track, making each cut sound like a freestyle on your local street corner, the reality is that in terms of ability it is a class above from simply spitting some bars, it is pushing the boundaries of lyrical genius, an urban poet if you will.

The production of the album is heavenly, bringing back nostalgic urges of the times which helped him write the songs, hitting the town and embracing the council estate atmosphere of his lifestyle. Songs like “It’s Too Late” give you a feel of 90s club vibes with an understated and stripped back sound, sticking simply to a soft drum and bass instrumental which instead makes your head bop rather than jumping up and down in a rave. “The Irony Of It All” has a great mix of advanced electro pedals and a simple piano tune but the thing that really sets songs like this one apart is the witty lyrical flow and cadence of Mike Skinner, whose delivery is as magnanimous as it is artistic.

If there is to be one thing you take away from an album like this one, it is that the genius doesn’t always lie within the concrete jungles of New York or the gang complexes of Compton, the genius can take many forms and often appears in the most unexpected of personalities. Mike Skinner is the perfect example of this analogy and this album is the UK equivalent of “Straight Outta Compton” or “Illmatic”, just not involving gangs and guns, instead talking about the night life of Reading and how the locals act after a few drinks. Without doubt one of the most stunning albums of the 21st century, and easily the prime example of lyrical masterminds also spawning from little old England.

Music 4 The Masses Quiz #2: Jack, Callum & Rob

This week’s quiz sees podcast regulars Callum. Jack and Rob go head to head in a battle of hip-hop wits to see who knows their Kendrick’s from their Cole’s. This one was fairly rushed unfortunately due to unforeseen circumstances but I think it still came out really well and will be just as enjoyable as the rest of the podcasts. If you enjoy these then be sure to let me know and if you think you can do better than those taking part then get in touch with me and we can put it to test.

 

My Favourite Prince songs

Prince’s music has finally been added to music streaming services and I for one am taking full advantage of the late icon’s discography being at my disposal. With a career that lasted over three decades, there certainly is a lot of greatness to be hear when clicking on Prince’s profile on Spotify or Apple Music, from the power and passion of the ‘Purple Rain’ album to the sexy charisma of ‘1999’. In this post I am going to give you some of my personal favourite songs from the legendary singer, spanning from the ludicrous to the heavenly. Be sure to tell me some of your favourites of his and if you enjoy this premise then let me know which other artists you’d like me to do this for.

D.M.S.R. – Released 1983

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As you can see from the single cover art, the initials of this track stand for ‘dance, music, sex, romance’, basically the four things Prince developed his mass reputation on. It’s a classic 80s putting your dancing shoes vibe and I guarantee some shapes are bust out all over the place when it gets played. A track which many consider to be on the level of the likes of ‘Kiss’ and ‘When Doves Cry’ without taking a step many plaudits and I’d be inclined to agree.

I Wanna Be Your Lover – Released 1979

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This was the first song I played after I heard the news of Prince’s death, it filled me with sorrow and regret that I had never got to witness the great man live, much like I felt about Michael Jackson when he passed away. This song just gives you feel good vibes from start to finish with it’s finger clicking instrumental and Prince’s quirky vocal delivery. The first track on his greatest hits album and the song I would probably say has the most relevance to my life of all his discography.

When Doves Cry – Released 1984

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His greatest song, in my most humble of opinions. A quite stunning use of instruments as well as Prince’s greatest instrument of all, his unique voice. This was his first ever American number one, topping the charts for five weeks and going on to be the biggest selling song of that year, as well as being the last single to go platinum before the requirements were lowered in 1989. That is quite the CV for a track and it really gives plenty of validity to it’s inclusion on this list. It was also ranked as the 52nd best song of all time by Rolling Stone and the 2nd best of the 80s behind Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “The Message. A quite stunning set of accolades for an equally stunning song.

 

Kiss – Released 1986

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One of the slickest guitar licks you will ever hear which soon becomes a bouncing 80s beat behind some staggering vocals. Prince’s range on this track is earth shattering and often leaves you questioning how he managed to record it like that; as it sounds like his voice box could explode at any point. It is Prince’s third number one track and it isn’t necessarily difficult to see why with the layering of the instrumental and the sexy attitude of Prince himself on the vocals. This song very nearly didn’t get released for numerous reasons, including a disagreement with his label and a frustrating time within the demo sessions but we should feel eternally grateful that it was eventually released.

Purple Rain – Released 1984

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I could hardly leave this off the list could I? Without doubt his most recognisable song and the title track of his career-defining 1984 album. Hard proof of his remarkable talents beyond simply songwriting, he also displayed an unbridled skill with his guitar playing on this song, creating one of the most iconic solos of all time at the end of this eight minute long epic of a track. After news of his tragic passing, this song soared the charts once again, topping the iTunes charts in both the UK and US, as well as reaching number 4 on Billboard’s Hot 100. The term ‘Purple Rain’ is one that is somewhat of a signature with Prince now and in his words, what it means is this: “Purple rain pertains to the end of the world and being with the one you love and letting your faith/god guide you through the purple rain.” Thanks to this song, Prince became the first person in history to top the film, album and singles charts simultaneously, what a feat that is.

 

Ed Sheeran – Divide: Album Review

Ed Sheeran is one of this country’s most popular and talented artists, demonstrating remarkable songwriting abilities in a fairly short career thus far which has seen nothing but heroic success for the ginger haired singer. After writing songs for Justin Bieber and One Direction as well as focusing on his own work, Ed took a hiatus last year where he shut off his social media accounts and has now returned with a fresh sound and a new lease on musical life. This whole album currently ranks from 1st to 16th on the Spotify singles charts and amassed over 50 million plays on it’s first day of release, breaking every streaming record imaginable. So is his third album ‘Divide’ worth all the hype it is being granted? Let’s find out.

Starting off with the opening track ‘Eraser’ was a solid choice from Ed as he shows his roots as well as what he is best at, balancing his quick flows with catchy chorus tones and a soothing guitar riff. I do think the track is very catchy and will get stuck in your head but I just think the guitar doesn’t really fit in with the heavy drums and Ed’s vocal pace in the verses. Although it is good placement as an opener with a catchy chorus, it doesn’t seem very cohesive. This is often the case I found with this album as there were plenty of great examples of the massive talents Ed possesses but there seems to be too much of an emphasis on a rejoicing instrumental, particularly in the drums and the electronic flavours thrown in there. I am not the biggest fan of ‘Castle on the Hill’ either which gives me a bit of a sour taste in my mouth given it comes second on the track listing.

Ed gives us something I never thought I’d see from him with lead single ‘Shape Of You’, a song I have been blasting ever since it was released, and that is slick attitude over a more electronic pop beat. It is a truly infectious track with serious bop potential to it and as far as I am concerned, that potential has been reached above and beyond. It is a cool sound that he has relative success with on this song but it does also show his great variation as an artist. ‘Galway Girl’ is another example of his experimental risks as he dips his toes into the world of Irish folk music, mainly with help from fiddle player Niamh Dunne who features on the track. I am not the biggest fan of this song in all honesty but it is easy to see why so many people are, it once again has a catchy chorus but the lyrics just seem a bit cliché and obvious.

With all of this being said, we still have the fantastic elements that Ed Sheeran is best known for, his remarkable ability as a songwriter. He has a beautiful presence on songs such as ‘Perfect’ and ‘Supermarket Flowers’, the latter of which is a heart-wrenching tear-jerker about the passing of his grandmother which occurred during the recording stages of this album. The track itself is all about the materialistic simplicities of life, putting the lifestyle of wealth to one side and remembering times of happiness with his family, through the likes of cards, teddy bears and, of course, supermarket flowers. These two songs are the stand-outs on the album in my opinion as they follow the roots of his previous work and bring us all to our knees as he blasts powerful ballads in our ears.

Lyrically, Ed really surprises me on this album, and not in a good way. He is painfully inconsistent on it, going from gorgeous choruses about a girl to tragic lyrics in the verses. A prime example of this is ‘New Man’ as Ed gives us a toe-tapping track in the chorus and bridge but the verses, particularly the first one, can only be described as laughable. He actually mentions this new man having his “arsehole bleached”, I almost collapsed laughing at this and it brought back awful memories of that Kanye West verse on 2016’s ‘Father Stretch My Hands Pt 1.’. What is the new musical craze with this as a lyric? Ed also has a track which is literally called ‘Bibia Be Ye Ye’. Really? I almost didn’t listen to it I was that bemused at the title.

Overall: 7/10

I am usually a huge Ed Sheeran fan but if I were to be entirely honest I don’t find this album quite as enjoyable as I did the previous two. But that doesn’t for one second mean I think this is a poor example, it just means that the quality of his other work has perhaps been his undoing this time around. I can see why this album is breaking records and giving millions around the world joy, because there are obvious indications of Ed’s talents and genius behind the tracks, I just find it a bit inconsistent and there are one too many forgettable songs for me. As a fan of his, I am fairly disappointed with this as a whole project, but it has given me plenty of new material to listen to and enjoy for many months to come. It is his worst album to date but it still has fantastic features to it and is one of the better big releases so far this year, that’s how good Ed Sheeran is. With that being said, I wouldn’t expect a high ranking for this album come the end of the year when it comes to compiling my list.

Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly: 2 years later

Has it really been two years already? 730 days since the most culturally important album of this generation was released and it was one which propelled Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar to levels that are beyond that of rap music, beyond the realm of Spotify streams and album sales. 2015’s ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ was a project that moved people and raised his profile and standing to Mandela level, this era’s Muhammad Ali, Michael Jackson or Maya Angelou of the black community, a true prophet of his times. But what made this album so unequivocally stunning? So groundbreaking and culture defying? Well there’s a million and one reasons for this album to be admired and this is my take on what I see from a near flawless body of work from hip-hop’s prodigal son.

Kendrick went fairly quiet after the success of his modern classic  album ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’ in October of 2012, he had said his piece on the rough streets of Compton, California and felt his voice had been heard adequately enough. With that being said, a shocking Grammy’s defeat to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis for ‘Rap Album of the Year’ proved that Kendrick had to go beyond regular greatness to prove himself to the higher powers. With GKMC being a more understated and personal album, it was obvious what was required from K-Dot for him to be a true legend of the game; he needed to produce an album of the highest order. Outlandish production, raw and memorable to the last detail. In a 2014 interview with Billboard, he seemed to be on his way:

 “Just putting the word ‘pimp’ next to ‘butterfly’… It’s a trip. That’s something that will be a phrase forever. It’ll be taught in college courses—I truly believe that.”

So we had a title. It was to be called ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’. But why? Well it was originally scheduled to be called ‘To Pimp A Caterpillar’ as it abbreviated to Tu-P-A-C, Kendrick’s idol and role model. But the Caterpillar became ‘Butterfly’ because, as Kendrick himself states in an MTV interview:

“Me changing it to Butterfly, I just really wanted to show the brightness of life and the word ‘pimp’ has so much aggression and that represents several things. For me, it represents using my celebrity for good. Another reason is, not being pimped by the industry through my celebrity.”

The album finally arrived at our doors on the 15th March 2015 and from the very first moment, we all knew we were in for something special. With elements varying from conscious rap to jazz to the avant-garde, it was evident to us all that the album was all we could have hoped for an much more. Politically charged, ambitious and unapologetic from the first track to the very last.

The album starts with “Wesley’s Theory” featuring George Clinton and it is the first of a bulk of appearances from masterful producers Flying Lotus and Thundercat. It begins with a brilliant piece of sampling in which we hear the words of Jamaican singer Boris Gardiner as he sings “every n***a is a star” before an explosive mix of Kendrick, Clinton and Thundercat creates a swaying finger snapper of a beat. Kendrick is electric on it and, as you will see later too, does a great job with the variety he can add to his voice and the characters this can create. Mentions of Uncle Sam show the underlying racism in America, with Sam himself being a man who condones outrageous spending of taxpayers’ money. The “I know your kind” line seems to be said from the perspective of Uncle Sam as he looks down on the African-American community, something Kendrick tries to fight here.

We then slide into “For Free? (Interlude)” which has a simply brilliant piece of production by Terrace Martin, as he gives us a taste of jazz and funk from the 70s in a modern hip-hop style. This song is quite simply genius once you dive into it. On the surface it seems like a satirical piece of rap music and a cheeky little interlude to set us up for the next track. In actual fact it is a deep and meaningful view on the way many people, particularly women, view black rappers. The intro part of the song is based on a girl telling Kendrick that he will never make it as big as he wants to in regards to being a successful black man, with the likes of Kobe Bryant being the benchmark in the eyes of this girl. She describes herself as a “good girl” when in actual fact she is just trying to twist words and make Kendrick give in to her manipulative ways. What she doesn’t realise is that Kendrick isn’t just a normal man, his response is simply golden as he tells her “this dick ain’t free”, referring to the previous track and telling us that he refuses to conform to middle America’s demands of the black community. His flow on this track makes it all the more special to as he seems like he will never stop with his reasoning to this girl as to why he is the king, it’s just majestic.

“King Kunta” was the album’s third single and was released just over a week after the album’s release and it is plain to see why this track had such a buzz around it. It was named as one of the best songs of the year by numerous publications, including the likes of Pitchfork and Rolling Stone. The track itself is based on the rebellious slave Kunta Kinte from Alex Haley’s novel “Roots: The Saga of an American Family” and the story Kendrick tells places Kunta Kinte as somewhat of a king to the black community given his empowering tale and his strong beliefs. It does also spin back to Kendrick’s own personal upbringing from the hood to the biggest name in hip-hop. The hook gives us one of the best oxymorons in the history of music in that Kendrick feels oppressed like a slave but dominant like a king in the sense that he is a black man in America who became successful. It is a wonderfully catchy track with a deep-lying tone of arrogance and frustration, the sampling of Ahmad’s “We want the funk” just makes this song even better too thanks to the groovy vibes it brings. This is also the first track on the album in which the infamous poem begins, simply stating: “I remember you was conflicted, misusing your influence” leaving us so intrigued as to what he might have up his sleeve.

“Institutionalized” calls upon the help of Bilal, Anna Wise and legendary California rapper Snoop Dogg, perhaps the most high profile feature on the whole album. In the track, Kendrick covers the topic of wealth and all the corruptive power it can bring, mainly focusing on the negative connotations of his new found fame. He ridicules the idea of modern society’s obsession with being rich, perhaps even implying that we as a society have been brainwashed by it. The term itself in which the song is named after creates a whole new wave of insinuation as we are then made to look at the idea of violence and race, as well as the possibility of insanity and obsession. Anna Wise and Bilal do a fantastic job on the interlude section of this track as they give us Kendrick’s perception of his current situation and what he would do if he were the US President. “Master, take the chains off me” is a line which has so many underlying meanings, from slavery to religion to political dictatorship, in this sense it would appear that Kendrick is looking to God for guidance and to help deliver him from the temptations of evil (more on that later). Up steps one of the greatest beat changes I have ever heard and we are then introduced to Kendrick who once more flows his way through the track impeccably before a damning verdict in the hook, courtesy of Bilal once again. Portrayed through the voice of Kendrick’s grandmother, the warning is placed upon Kendrick that nothing will ever change for the better unless he cleans up his act of street violence (GKMC days). Snoop pays great homage to California on this song with his bridge and gives a new flavour to this layered masterpiece.

“These Walls” was the fifth track on the album as well as the fifth single to be released from it. Thanks to the help once again of Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat this song becomes a smooth soulful jam forever more. The “walls” that Kendrick is talking about can be taken in the literal sense of perhaps a hotel wall and what can be heard while Kendrick is with a girl, or maybe seen as the walls of his conscience. This has purposely been left open for interpretation but the song mainly follows the route of Kendrick having sex with a girl who’s man is in jail for killing one of Kendrick’s friends, therefore gaining revenge for the murder. The walls of his mind come into play as he ponders the legitimacy and morals of using his fame to seduce a woman simply for the purpose of revenge. As a whole it would appear that the “walls” are in fact representative of life, you’ll never escape the walls of existence and freedom and there will always be something holding you back. The third verse directly addresses the man who murdered his friend, following on from the theme of his previous album “good kid, m.A.A.d. city’. The bitterness in Kendrick’s voice tells us all we need to know about how he truly feels about this man and how he has no remorse in his action or any shred of sympathy and sorrow for the man in question. The poem continues and is then starting to unravel and make more sense, becoming a key element in the album’s subject matter.

“u” is a complete and utter stark contrast to the album’s lead single “i” thanks to the desolate and slow production. This song shows Kendrick looking towards his negative thoughts that have tarnished his mind for years, attempting to challenge them and crush any possible doubt from his conscience. In the breakdown of the track he did with MTV, Kendrick stated that it was “one of the hardest songs I had to write. There’s some very dark moments in there.” He then went on to say that “anybody reading or listening who may be asking these questions of themselves, just remember from ‘u’, you will eventually reach ‘i'”. You can feel the true emotion that goes into this track, not least from the alcoholic character Kendrick creates in the second verse, seemingly hitting rock bottom and slurring his words to show his levels of intoxication. As opposed to what we usually see from Kendrick, it is a more sombre and depressing tone as he battles his sadness and guilt rather than the aggressive and powerful tones he would usually lean towards. The gulps and glass clinging brings you into his world and it is a world he has discussed before with hits such as “Swimming Pools (Drank)”where he opens up about the traumas of alcoholism. A stroke of absolute mastery here and it really is the touch of an artist.

“Alright” is the multi-Grammy winning single from this album which features legendary producer Pharrell Williams on the hook and beat. Following “u” with this gives you the idea of light at the end of the tunnel, hope when it never seemed possible. The track acknowledges just how difficult it will be to reach that high but it also tells the world that it is always a possibility. It is somewhat of an escape plan from his previous troubles as he maps out what he will do to be rid of his demons and prosper in his life the way he has always dreamed of doing. The track soon became an anthem of solidarity amongst the black community, with many ‘Black Lives Matter’ activists chanting the hook on their marches as they mourned the losses of lives through unjust police brutality. The acceptance of his troubles and the knowledge that not only things would get better, but also that things were meant to be and happened for a reason, is a major staple of this song as a whole and something Kendrick rides with at the end of the track. It isn’t difficult to see why there was so much buzz around this song and ultimately why it won Best Rap Song as well as Best Rap Performance at the Grammy Awards.

“For Sale? (Interlude)” is this album’s introduction to the character of ‘Lucy’ who is representing the devil, Lucifer. Initially, you can be fooled into believing that Lucy is in fact a girl that Kendrick is telling us about in a spiritual and anecdotal way, when in actual fact we recognise who Lucy actually is as the song progresses through it’s phases. With this as the second interlude and having it titled the way it is shows such a smart piece of wordplay and structure from Kendrick as both interludes relate to his demons and how he feels he is valued as an artist. This artist value soon develops into his value as simply a human being and whether or not he is doing what he feels is best for himself. In “For Free?” he laughs off and criticises the idea of rappers being flashy with money and the fact that it is almost a requirement of a modern day artist, whereas on this track he juxtaposes this idea and brags about his financial wealth, linking it to the money he has received from signing a record deal. Lucy is selling him all of these ideas and temptations much like the devil did with Jesus in the bible, but much like Christ, he is aware of the illegitimacy of Lucy and the lies the devil tells.

On the next track, “Momma”, producer Knxledge demonstrates an absolute masterclass in beat making as he gives Kendrick such a slick, funky jam to vibe with and flow over. The track itself is about his resistance to temptation in the previous track and the internal struggle that was given to him by ‘Lucy’. His constant theme of returning home can mean a number of things, including the literal sense of going back to Compton to see his “momma” and tell his story, or it could mean that he goes back to his motherland of Africa. Both are increasingly likely and it is fairly plausible that he means both as it has been documented that his 2014 journey to South Africa inspired much of this album, in verse 3 he mentions meeting a young boy who shared some of his features and “hand me down sneakers” so it could perhaps be the motherland journey he is on about here. This is definitely one of the smoothest and coolest tracks on the album and it is one I never fail to enjoy.

“Hood Politics” is the next in the series of the blissful Kendrick/Thundercat combination and this is one of the best of them all. Within the poem which has been ongoing we now reach the part where Kendrick was talking about “survivor’s guilt” and this is exactly what this song is about. A trip back to his days as a young teen/adolescent and the fact that he wasn’t as wise as he is now, and how he wishes he could have been as it would’ve kept him out of a lot of trouble. The vocal delivery on this song seems a bit more childish and higher pitched to perhaps flash back to his younger days and how they have shaped who he is. This song also has a tendency to be politically-fuelled, particularly in the second verse where he name drops Congress in the same breath as Compton, suggesting that they aren’t too dissimilar. I also adore the Killer Mike mention as he argues the case of hip-hop fans  and critics who claim to miss the older times of hip-hop when rappers were hardcore rap, before Kendrick shuts them down and reminds them that a certain Killer Mike exists and goes under every radar possible. Glorious.

“How Much A Dollar Cost” was the track which confirmed in my head the genius of this album and Kendrick Lamar. A quite jaw-dropping anecdote about a confrontation with a homeless man in South Africa who reminds him of his greed, the song challenges just about every initial perception you would have of a homeless man. The revelation of this homeless man actually being God and telling Kendrick that his greed will cost him a spot in heaven is reminiscent of the parable of “The Sheep and the Goat” from Matthew 25 of the Bible. James Fauntleroy’s hook is beautiful and comes from the perspective of God, as you can tell from the holy rise in the production as it comes about; he claims that water, sun, love and air is all you need for nourishment. Kendrick then goes on to accept his flaws and beg for forgiveness as you see a truly defining chapter in Kendrick’s life unravel right before your eyes. Barack Obama named this his favourite song of 2015 so if that isn’t reason for you to love it then I don’t know what is.

We are treated to more Thundercat greatness on the next track, titled “Complexion (A Zulu Love)” as his sexy attitude filled beat is met with soulful horns and the tapping toes of every single person listening to it. The song is fairly self-explanatory at surface level, as the hook would describe the song tells us that skin colour makes no difference to a human being and colorism shouldn’t be a thing. Kendrick has hailed this up mainly because the black community are those that suffer most from this form of prejudice and discrimination, mainly coming from the roots of slavery across the globe. It is a really feel-good track all about this feeling of one love for all, no matter how you look. The feature of female rapper Rapsody adds a brilliant dimension to the end of this track and it is so good that XXL named it as one of the 15 best rap verses of 2015.

“The Blacker The Berry” is one of the biggest statements possible for a black artist aiming to grab the attention of those ignoring the racism around them, it starts with a bang and only gets more violent the further it goes. The introduction monologue states that due to how middle America is, the black community aren’t allowed to stand for what they believe in, suggesting that they are instead having their decisions made for them. He acknowledges how people will feel about this song in the bridge by stating that “they may say I suffer from schizophrenia or somethin'” before telling us that he’s the “biggest hypocrite of 2015” in his verses. He uses a lot of stereotypes surrounding black people such as “my nose is round” or “eat watermelon, chicken and Kool-Aid on weekdays” and that brings you into his world in a certain way, as we start to see things from his perspective and truly understand how much these words can affect the black community. The hook is very clever indeed as he appears to show the backwards steps society has taken towards dealing with race and how other people act. He implies that even in this day and age the Afro-American community are being put down and treated as inferiors which is in itself an outdated belief. He could also be suggesting that no matter how hard he tries, no matter what society we live in, there will never be true equality across the globe, there will always be another way to discriminate upon others. The ending is poetic to the core and shows Kendrick’s true emotions to haters who make false claims about his belief system. Ending the song with the stand alone word of “hypocrite” is so powerful in it’s own right too. The type of song only a mastermind could conjure up.

“You Ain’t Gotta Lie (Momma Said)” is song 14 on the tracklist and is arguably one of the most important ones given what it follows. The direction Kendrick would go after a song like “The Blacker The Berry” was literally anyone’s guess, he had a serious task on his hands to make the album flow with relevant symmetry after that as well as keeping the quality levels consistently high. That is exactly what K-Dot did here. He sends us all a powerful message of purgatory with this track and warns us all that even if our heroes appear knowledgeable because of how often and how loud they speak, it never tends to be the case; often it is the one who doesn’t feel the need to tell the world that knows best, and this is something that Kendrick tries to push throughout this song. The general premise of the song is telling people that they don’t need to lie in order to gain respect, just being the best person you can be often goes further than over-compensating and trying to impress people. He of course has to battle his demons with tracks like this but that positive concept of the track comes from Kendrick’s rational thinking side, showing perhaps his true signs of wisdom after cleansing himself of certain demons, including the likes of ‘Lucy’.

“i” is the penultimate track on the album, and although the studio single version won two Grammy awards for it’s brilliance, Kendrick elected for a quite personal and special live performance of the track to feature on the album. Kendrick also described “i” as the best song he has ever written, mainly because of his surprise at being able to write a positive song given his tough Compton upbringing. This song seems to be somewhat of an anomaly from the rest of the album as it focuses on Kendrick’s happiness and confidence within himself and his own ability, the message is simple in it’s delivery; the world is scary and dark at times, but if you have love for yourself first and foremost, you can learn to love everything else around you. The album version then features a fight within the crowd and Kendrick stops the music to question the lack of unity amongst the black community at such an important time. It is a really powerful moment and I for one am happy that he involved it in the album.

“Mortal Man” is the final track on the album and one which stands out to many for so many reasons. Firstly, the song itself looks back at what he has said and the legacy he will be leaving behind if anything were to happen to him. As he said in his interview with Billboard, the song isn’t about Kendrick telling everyone that he is their hero and saviour, it is instead questioning: “Do you really believe in me to do this?” He relates himself to the likes of Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr and that in itself shows how aware Kendrick is of his influence and the greatness he is currently pioneering. Quite remarkably, the song isn’t remembered for the song itself, it is instead remembered for the interview with the late Tupac, Kendrick’s hero as they both discuss fame, image and black culture. The soundbites he uses show that Kendrick is aware that he has a limited time to say what he truly wants to say, and place himself on the level of those he namedropped in the song. We were also treated to the full poem which he tells before the Tupac segment, it wraps up brilliantly and gives us the emotional thoughts Kendrick dealt with when composing this album. It is a truly magical listen and above all it is awe-inspiring to hear Kendrick and Pac side by side in the only possible way today.

So that is “To Pimp A Butterfly”. It has a Platinum certification in America and won Kendrick FIVE Grammy Awards, including Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song. It got five star reviews across the board and is often described as one of, if not the best album of the 21st century. It is a true celebration of black excellence, a demonstration of a genius at work; and proof that greatness can arise from the most difficult of times. Kendrick Lamar is well and truly a bona fide superstar, a modern prophet and a wordsmith that we should feel eternally grateful for existing alongside. Happy birthday to the album, I have a feeling that this may have a few more years of relevancy yet…

The M4M Awards 2017: The Nominations

After watching the recent Grammy and BRIT Awards I have felt inspired and obliged to do my own set of musical awards based on the year of 2016, celebrating the best and worst music had to offer in those hectic 12 months. I have the list of nominees here on this post for you to see and the winners will be announced next week. Of course this is only a bit of fun and there aren’t actual awards to win but I just thought this would be a decent idea to get people involved and show you how I think 2016 unfolded. Be sure to let me know who you think deserved to be nominated and who your predictions are to win the big prizes.

Album Of The Year

  • Beyoncé – Lemonade
  • Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love!”
  • Frank Ocean – Blond
  • Kanye West – The Life Of Pablo
  • Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

 

Best Song

  • Childish Gambino – Redbone
  • David Bowie – Lazarus
  • Drake ft. Wizkid & Kyla – One Dance
  • Frank Ocean – Nights
  • Migos ft. Lil Uzi Vert – Bad & Boujee

 

Best Male Artist

  • Chance The Rapper
  • David Bowie
  • Drake
  • Frank Ocean
  • The Weeknd

 

Best Female Artist

  • Angel Olsen
  • Beyoncé
  • Lady Gaga
  • Sia
  • Zara Larsson

 

Best Group

  • A Tribe Called Quest
  • Radiohead
  • The Last Shadow Puppets
  • The 1975
  • Viola Beach

 

Best Rap Song

  • Danny Brown ft. Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul & Earl Sweatshirt – Really Doe
  • D.R.A.M. ft. Lil Yachty – Broccoli
  • Kanye West ft. Sampha – Saint Pablo
  • Migos ft. Lil Uzi Vert – Bad & Boujee
  • Travis Scott & Young Thug ft. Quavo – Pick Up The Phone

 

Best Pop Song

  • Calvin Harris ft. Rihanna – This Is What You Came For
  • Drake ft. Wizkid & Kyla – One Dance
  • Little Mix – Shout Out To My Ex
  • Sia ft. Sean Paul – Cheap Thrills
  • The 1975 – A Change Of Heart

 

Best R&B Song

  • Beyoncé – Formation
  • Childish Gambino – Redbone
  • Frank Ocean – Nights
  • Rihanna ft. Drake – Work
  • The Weeknd ft. Daft Punk – Starboy

 

Best Rap Album

  • Chance The Rapper – Coloring Book
  • Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition
  • Kanye West – The Life Of Pablo
  • Skepta – Konnichiwa
  • Travis Scott – Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight

 

Best Pop Album

  • Beyoncé – Lemonade
  • Bruno Mars – 24K Magic
  • Lady Gaga – Joanne
  • Little Mix – Glory Days
  • The 1975 – I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It

 

Best Alternative Album

  • Anderson .Paak – Malibu
  • Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love!”
  • David Bowie – Blackstar
  • Frank Ocean – Blond
  • Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

 

Best Dance/Electronic Album

  • Anohni – Hopelessness
  • Flume – Skin
  • Jack Garratt – Phase
  • KAYTRANADA – 99.9%
  • Kygo – Cloud Nine

 

Best Indie/Rock Album

  • Blossoms – Blossoms
  • DMA’s – Hills End
  • Jamie T – Trick
  • Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
  • The Last Shadow Puppets – Everything You’ve Come To Expect

 

Rapper Of The Year

  • Chance The Rapper
  • Danny Brown
  • Kanye West
  • Travis Scott
  • Young Thug

 

Best Rap Freshman

  • Denzel Curry
  • Desiigner
  • Lil Uzi Vert
  • Lil Yachty
  • 21 Savage

 

Best Newcomer

  • DMA’s
  • Flume
  • Noname
  • Post Malone
  • Rag’N’Bone Man

 

Hall Of Fame

  • Andre 3000
  • A Tribe Called Quest
  • David Bowie
  • George Michael
  • Prince

 

Worst Album

  • Blink-182 – California
  • Catfish & The Bottlemen – The Ride
  • Courteeners – Mapping The Rendezvous
  • Desiigner – New English
  • Rihanna – ANTI

 

Musical Villain

  • Catfish & The Bottlemen
  • Matty Healy
  • The Chainsmokers
  • TWENTY ONE PILOTS
  • 5 Seconds Of Summer

My Predictions for XXL’s 2017 Freshman List

Every year since 2007 (apart from 2008), hip-hop magazine XXL announce their ‘freshman’ list which consists of 10 up-and-coming rappers who are expected to be the future of the genre. Previous years has seen both colossal success stories, most notably the likes of Kendrick Lamar (2011) and J Cole (2010), and catastrophic failures including Iggy Azalea (2012) and Yelawolf (2011). There is a claim that this list is losing it’s value and that many rappers are actually turning it down because they are big enough without it, but my personal opinion is that it helps people discover new artists and it soars them to the limelight. 2016 gave us Lil Yachty, 21 Savage, Lil Uzi Vert and many more who have gone on to create huge hits so I think it still holds a fairly significant weight in the industry. Without further ado, here is who I think will make the cut for 2017.

NAV

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The Canadian rapper is signed to The Weeknd’s XO label and much like his mentor, has preferred to let his music do the talking in the early stages of his career. After an electric feature on Travis Scott’s ‘beibs in the trap’ banger, he has started 2017 with success by releasing a self-titled mixtape full of low-key trap anthems and a stellar hit with The Weeknd. He may well be one of my favourites of any of the artists on this list simply for his attitude on a track, as well as his smooth flow and bouncy production. Watch out for this guy.

Saba

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First recognised for his feature on Chance The Rapper’s hits ‘Everybody’s Something’ and ‘Angels’, Chicago born rapper Saba  has a brilliant ability to vary his style from hip-hop in the verses to smooth R&B in the hooks. Despite doing projects before this, it was the help of Chance which gave Saba a platform to gain his own fan base and with his latest mixtape ‘Bucket List Project’ which he released last October, he embraced the new found love with open arms and gave his best performances to date. His rise is only getting bigger as his latest track ‘Monday to Monday’, released in January of this year, is his biggest and most successful release to date in terms of streams.

XXXTENTACION

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The whole world is talking about this Florida born hip-hop artist, whether it be for his pure insanity on a track or his huge ‘Look At Me!’ track which many believe Drake used and stole the flow on for a song of his own. At just 19 years of age, he is combining numerous genres and demonstrating raw talent in such a short space of time, all of this while being behind bars for alleged robbery and assault with a deadly weapon. His raw and versatile style has caused serious waves in the underground area of the genre and you feel he is a dead cert for the Freshman list this year and could potentially be the cover star.

Lil Peep

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Lil Peep is one of the biggest Soundcloud artists around at this moment in time and he is reaping the rewards of this online platform. After dropping out of school in Long Island, Peep managed to release music based on personal experiences and feelings, such as suicidal tendencies and drug use as well as his past relationships. He has released plenty of mixtapes over the past 18 months and they have given us tracks such as “White Wine”, “Star Shopping” and “The Way I See Things” which have all gained over a million YouTube views each. His biggest appeal is his cross-genre talents as he names Gucci Mane, Crystal Castles and Panic! At The Disco as his biggest influences.

Playboi Carti

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There aren’t many on this list that could rival Playboi Carti for out and out bangers over such a short space of time, as well as his ability to call upon some of rap’s freshest and coolest names for collaborations. A brand new track with Lil Uzi Vert has been released as well as his feature the A$AP Mob’s huge hit ‘Telephone Calls’ with Tyler The Creator. Carti’s 2016 mixtape ‘In Abundance’ is a solid piece of work and has big hits on it in abundance, if you will. He appears to be another rapper to come off the streets of Atlanta and make it on the grand stage and he really does have all the credentials to succeed.

Famous Dex

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Unlike the norms of the new wave of rappers to come from Chicago, Famous Dex has a gritty attitude to his tracks as well as a hyped up atmosphere surrounding his persona, something he prides his music on. ‘Drip From My Walk’ is a hit that has made waves around the genre and has even managed to persuade Lil Yachty to remix it. Dex’s work rate is another thing that sets him apart from the rest, releasing an incredible six mixtapes last year, including ‘Dexter’s Laboratory’ and my personal favourite ‘Dexter The Robot’ which features some of his most well-known tracks. The most well-prepared for this list, you could argue.

Robb Banks

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Robb Banks has put in a lot of work in previous years to get to where he is now, releasing his debut mixtape way back in 2012 (‘Calendars’). He then followed that up with ‘Tha City’ a year later but it wasn’t until 2015 when his debut studio album ‘Year Of The Savage’ was released where he was being taken seriously. After being snubbed for the 2016 list, Banks has released a couple of singles in 2016 and proved his talents, surely this year is the year that the New Yorker can break the big time.

Ugly God

Image result for ugly god

With just one song on Spotify you may be wondering why I have featured this artist on the list. Well, that one song is ‘Water’, a track that has over 30 million streams on Spotify alone and he has more heat on Soundcloud for us to hear. He is quickly developing a reputation as everyone’s favourite loveable artist just for his goofy actions, such as his hilarious captions on his own Genius tracks, his love for Pokémon and that brilliant Luigi hat. He is incredibly talented and has a big future ahead I am sure of it, he reminds me of Yachty massively in that all it took was one hit for it all to take off.

Rich The Kid

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Probably the oldest member on this list at the ripe old age of 24, Rich The Kid hails from Queens in New York and has one of the biggest names on the list without a doubt. His mixtapes have many high-profile features, including Migos, Kodak Black and Ty Dolla $ign as well as showing off Rich’s brilliance when it comes to production. After growing tired off being just a producer for artists like Migos, Bobby Shmurda and Jaden Smith, he focused on some work of his own and showed off his bars better than anyone could’ve expected. The work he has put in over the past few years must surely warrant a place on this year’s Freshman list, he is exactly what they’re looking for.

Young M.A.

Image result for young ma

Potentially the only female to appear this year and her portfolio is hard to argue with. Most importantly of all, she has the biggest hit out of everyone in this list, with ‘OOOUUU’ hitting over 100 million streams and still rising. Her bars are cold and her flow is even colder as she sticks true to her Brooklyn roots and goes hard on every beat she is given. Having a single that charts on Billboard is nothing to scrunch your nose up at and Young M.A. has done exactly that, reaching number 19 with ‘OOOUUU’ and it was so popular even 50 Cent covered it. After being snubbed last year, surely it’s her time to shine?

Album Review: Stormzy – Gang Signs & Prayer

Stormzy is a rapper from Thornton Heath in London and his sudden rise to prominence has gained serious pace over the last two years. He came in third place in BBC Introducing’s top 5 for 2015 and followed that up with three big single releases in “Know Me From”, “Shut Up” and “WickedSkengMan 4”, all of which charted in the UK. He then became a viral sensation with “Shut Up” and eventually performed it for Anthony Joshua’s ring walk in his fight with Dillian Whyte in December 2015. It also cracked the top 20 in the Christmas charts after a petition tried getting it to number one. He then released a couple more songs in 2016 before going on an eight month hiatus, something he ended in February 2017 with an album announcement and a new single titled “Big For Your Boots”. The buzz around this album is hard to begrudge and he has just claimed the top spot in the album charts. With many calling it a masterpiece, will “Gang Signs & Prayer” be another example of the positive moves in the grime genre? Let’s find out.

First Things First – 9/10:

As an album opener, it’s as hard as it gets with cold bars and strong production. His arrogance and confidence on the track is brilliant to hear as he tells us all that now he’s back he’s here to prove that he is number one and on this evidence, it’s hard to argue with him. He mentions his depression here too as he gives us an insight into the hurdles he’s had to conquer to get to where he is and I have nothing but respect for that. Huge intro to the album and I can only hope it follows suit throughout.

Cold – 8.5/10:

This one has the beat of a classic grime anthem with those hi-hats and snares and it doesn’t fail to deliver with the bars either as Stormzy tells us about how suddenly he soared to fame and his journey from listening to Giggs to being bigger than him. Even if it is an appalling technical lyric, I can’t help but love it when he says “crikey, oh my god it’s big Mikey” just for the cheeky innocence of it while also managing to sound intimidating as a result. As the title suggests, this track is seriously cold I love it.

Bad Boys (feat. Ghetts and J Hus) – 10/10:

My favourite track on the album hands down. Absolute genius from all involved, right down to the minute details as well as the lyrics and rhythms used within the track. J Hus steals the show with his incredible hook which gets stuck in your head as soon as you’ve heard it. I also really like how Stormzy doesn’t try and flow really quickly and proves that rapping can also be brilliant without a rapid fire flow. Ghetts does a good job of keeping his ginormous teeth in his mouth for his verse and he gives us a real old-school feel with his feature. A classic anthem with memorable bars and a simple but wonderfully effective beat.

Blinded By Your Grace, Pt. 1 – 8/10:

The first evidence we have of a softer side to Stormzy, something which has mainly come about thanks to the love he has found for his girlfriend Maya Jama. He even gives singing a go on this track and although he isn’t technically perfect, not by any stretch of the imagination, he does put soul and passion into it and you can really hear that with the end result. A beautiful love ballad by Big Michael? What’s going on with grime at the moment? Whatever it is I’m all for it.

Big For Your Boots – 8/10:

His comeback single after eight months out, I was initially crazy about this song for the first feel listens but I then became unsure of it. Now that the album is out I’m back on it’s hype because within the album’s concept it fits absolutely perfectly. Following the previous song with this was a big call but I think it paid off because he showed both sides of his personality and character. I also vibe to the way he says “boots” it’s absolute gold.

Velvet / Jenny Francis (Interlude) – 8/10:

More evidence of Stormzy’s development as an artist here as he produces a slow jam with a soulful attitude to it straight after a hard hitter like ‘Big For Your Boots’. His bars on this track are fantastic and he does a top job changing his style up on the chorus as he whispers and murmurs his way through before powerful female vocal takes over. I bump this one a lot even if I’m not 100% sure why it has been called an interlude. A great rap track about love and emotion as he opens up to his listeners about the love he has for this girl.

Mr Skeng – 8.5/10:

Back to the grime we go for this boom blaster of a track with a hard beat. He seem to completely snap on this track as he’s curses on every other word and calls out just about everyone who has ever doubted him in the only way he knows how, telling them to “f*** off”. I really like the hook of this track as he sums up how he’s feeling and gives a generalisation of the type of people his doubters are. The rat-a-tat beat works well on this track and Stormzy makes it his own as he explodes onto the mic and spits anger. Great track.

Cigarettes & Cush (feat. Kehlani) – 9/10:

This is a big deal for Stormzy, being able to draw a big American artist like Kehlani onto his album is a sign of the major moves he is making in the grime scene. This is a fairly self-explanatory track, as the title suggests it’s mainly about cigarettes and weed, along with a smattering of emotion. Kehlani’s involvement is fantastic as she provides great vocals on the chorus and then brings a nicely executed verse too, using her typical attitude to throw some swagger on the track. The longest track on the album and there’s good reason for that it would seem with the high-profile feature and the chart sounds to it. I really like this track it’s definitely one of my favourites on the album.

21 Gun Salute (feat. Wretch 32) – 9/10:

A far slower ballad type of track than you would’ve expected when seeing the title and the feature of legendary grime artist Wretch 32. It is an absolutely remarkable prayer to God that will touch your soul and provide a soothing sound in your ears. The chorus is like nectar, it’s just so soft and graceful I really like everything about this song. It’s a perfect length and is straight to the point.

Blinded By Your Grace, Pt. 2 (feat. MNEK) – 9.5/10:

This is an absolute blessing of a track. The second instalment of Blinded By Your Grace and this time we are treated to a feature from soulful singer/songwriter MNEK and the work he does on this track is heavenly. Stormzy is so positive in this track and speaks so passionately about God as he shows pride in himself and his accomplishments. The instrumental is brilliantly crafted too, especially that guitar touch.

Return Of The Rucksack – 9/10:

Back to Stormzy’s killer instincts here as he raps harder than he ever has before. He sounds like he’s spitting pure envy over this beat and the results are absolutely phenomenal. You can’t help but sit up and recognise his greatness as a UK Rapper on tracks like this, as he goes on topics surrounding his life and his come-up. “Using my name for a dead bit of fame” is one of my favourite lines this year.

100 Bags – 8.5/10:

Emotional to the core as Stormzy crafts a gorgeous song as a tribute for his mum, celebrating her roots and what she did for Stormzy’s life. It is such an incredible thing to hear an artist showing this much love for a parent and he makes it a great track in the process. Good bars and flow, smooth beat and tear-jerking context. What more could you want?

Don’t Cry For Me (feat. Raleigh Ritchie) – 9/10:

Another up-and-comer in Raleigh Ritchie joins Stormzy on this track and his role on the chorus is absolutely stunning as he blows us away with catchy melodies and emotive language. As for Stormzy himself, he spits some of his best ever bars and changes up his flow and cadence better than he ever has. This track definitely has single potential and if it were to be released I reckon it would chart high.

Crazy Titch (Interlude) – 8/10:

Great phone call between Stormzy and Crazy Titch as Titch tells us all about how influential Stormzy is, claiming he’s taking the genre from “second rate” to “first rate”. It’s a smart interlude to back up all the hype surrounding him and to prove to us that Stormzy really is the future of the genre. Normally I don’t rate interludes but I felt as though this one was important.

Shut Up – 10/10:

Stormzy’s biggest track to date and it has to be said that it is somewhat of a surprise that it has made it onto the album given how long it has been out. Despite this it was a banger when it first came out, is still a banger now and will continue to be a banger for a long time to come. This track was the moment it all stepped up a gear for Stormzy and it’s inclusion on the album is welcomed. Anyone who tries telling you this song is anything other than fire, tell my man shut up.

Lay Me Bare – 10/10:

Wow. What an album closer. A battle of demons and competitors to get to where he is now and this song encapsulates that with blissful passion. He truly puts his life into this track and he is absolutely laying himself bare. Battling depression and his faith is at the forefront of this track and he speaks so elegantly about them all. I absolutely love this song and think it is the perfect finale to a masterful album.

Overall – 9.5/10:

My favourite album of the year so far, easily the best one too. To put this into perspective for you, I see this album as equally important to grime’s development as Skepta’s ‘Konnichiwa’ album was last year, it’s that good. If it had been released last year, I think GSAP would have been a top 10 album, maybe top 5 of the year. The moves he has made with this project are scary and I cant wait to see where he goes next on his journey. There’s not a weak track on this thing and it’s so important for not only the genre of grime, but the country as a whole. So Stormzy, thank you so much for the greatness.

 

LA Flame Keeps Burning: Why Travis Scott is Hip-Hop’s Most Creative Artist

Jacques Webster, or Travis Scott as he is known in the music industry, is a Houston born rapper, producer and trap extraordinaire with the ability to create banger after banger without even breaking sweat. It really hasn’t taken long for people to sit up and notice Travis’ ability and it has him on the path to greatness already, just four years after his breakout hit ‘Upper Echelon’ hit the charts and became somewhat of a meme for those horns. Since then he has brought us two mixtapes and two albums, as well as multi-platinum singles and a number one album in America. Let’s have a look at what has moulded LA Flame’s meteoric rise.

His stage name may surprise many people, but the Scott part of it comes from his hero Kid Cudi, who’s real name is Scott Mescudi and Travis decided to use it as his stage surname.  He gathered his trade from a young age when he left “the hood” where his grandma lived to eventually move to his parent’s house in the suburbs of Houston, Texas. Dropping out of the University of Texas at San Antonio, Travis moved to Washington to focus fully on his music production, not having an intention at this point to be an artist himself, simply a producer. Things weren’t quite clicking and so he moved to Los Angeles, California. Upon arriving, rapper T.I. subsequently listened to one of his tracks and put him on the map, it was said that his production was something that stood out as masterful.

So he had backing and now a platform to perform not only as a producer, but an artist too. Travis was ready to release his first body of work, a mixtape titled “Owl Pharaoh” which he scheduled to release in 2012. After delaying it’s release, he then re-created the project entirely with the help of Kanye West and it gave the whole thing a new dimension. To make up for the delayed release, Scott was releasing singles to add anticipation, including his remix of Pusha T’s hit “Blocka” which Travis himself provided production for. “Quintana” then took off afterwards and XXL approached Travis to be a 2013 freshman. He accepted the invitation and gave one of the best cypher performances in the history of XXL. That soared Travis to new levels and suddenly there was pressure on his “Owl Pharaoh” release to hit the heights people now knew he could reach.

 

“Owl Pharaoh” was released as a free online download on May 21st 2013 and it gained a lot of buzz, with XXL giving it four stars in their review. The review went on to say that “Perhaps Owl Pharaoh’s sole drawback is that it still doesn’t quite seem to answer the question ‘Who exactly is Travi$ Scott?’ Luckily for him, this incredibly cohesive debut is so mesmerizing that everyone should want to find out.” High praise indeed from a very well respected publication. I personally really enjoyed “Owl Pharaoh” thanks to it’s brilliance on the production side of things, helping craft bangers into a cohesive and well-run project. With that being said I was still aware that he had more to offer, particularly in the lyrical sense as he came up a bit short in that regard.

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His period of rest wasn’t about to start here, though, as work very quickly began on a follow-up project, and we were promised big things this time round. Travis confirmed on his Twitter account that his debut album would be called “Rodeo” but this wouldn’t be an album, instead it’d be a mixtape titled “Days Before Rodeo”. He released his lead single titled “Don’t Play” featuring Big Sean and British band The 1975 on May 5th 2014 and gave fans a taste of what was to come. It was a brilliant twist of technical production and strong bars, a real sign of progression from Houston’s rising starlet. “Days Before Rodeo” soon followed and came to us in August of the same year, boasting some of the hardest production around, not least on second single “Mamacita” featuring Rich Homie Quan and Young Thug, which is hands down one of the filthiest trap bangers I’ve heard in a long time. ‘Days Before’ was critically received on a very high level, with Jacob Roy from ‘Thefourohfive’ stating that “it wouldn’t be a stretch to say Travi$ Scott could be at the forefront for a new generation of hip-hop that have their eyes on the bigger picture.” The potential was starting to blossom and people were now seeing the vision that LA Flame had. As for what followed, nobody could have expected it.

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Two mixtapes under his belt, it was time for Travis Scott to venture into the world of album releases and with the support of record labels “Grand Hustle” and “Epic”, it was time for us to all join the “Rodeo”. It was a project that Travis had ready for a while, but he was desperate to perfect it and make sure the crucial touches were added in the right places. The result was nothing short of magical. A diverse and unique take on a modern day concept album, with trap bangers and emotional life anecdotes to suit. Singles “3500”, featuring Future and 2 Chainz, and “Antidote” charted well and are still burning up speakers to this day with their spaced-out production and hardcore beat drops. The way the album is put together makes it a modern classic already, ranking in my own top 10 albums of this decade so far, above the likes of “Blond” by Frank Ocean to name just one. The album becomes a tale of the highs and lows of life, the riches and the rags, but above all it is 14 songs of absolute dynamite, with every single track coming at the perfect time. This was the step, Travis was now a global star and would surely now rest on his laurels after the success.

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You thought wrong if you thought he was done there. After copping a top three album and mass critical acclaim, Travis announced at the beginning of 2016 that a new album was on the way and we were then given it that September, with the confusing title “Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight”. This album may not have been as culturally and emotionally connecting as “Rodeo”, but it sure had sellability and we saw that when he got his first ever number one album from it. Features such as Andre 3000 and Kid Cudi meant Travis was living a dream by collaborating with some of his musical influences, while other guest verses from Kendrick Lamar, Bryson Tiller and The Weeknd meant he was officially in the commercial limelight. He didn’t disappoint and gave us 14 more bangers, the highlights of which were “Pick Up The Phone” with Young Thug and Migos’ Quavo, which is now certified Platinum as a single, and “Beibs In The Trap” with NAV, a glazed trap song with out of this world vibes to it and psychedelic production. Complex ranked it as the 5th best album of 2016, while XXL rated it four stars again. I had it in 11th place in my albums of the year list, ranking only behind Kanye West, Chance The Rapper and Noname for the best hip-hop album.

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So there is his discography, if you still aren’t convinced then let me run through some of his stand-out strengths that make him, in my opinion one of the best rappers in the industry at the moment:

Hooks

Name an artist who has made as many catchy hooks as Travis Scott. Nobody? You would be correct to think that, because there is absolutely nobody who comes close to him. Whether it’s a guest hook or one of his own, Travis knows how to sell a track and make it memorable in the most important of areas, the chorus. Evidence of this would quite simply be his whole discography, go on his Spotify and listen for yourself. “Antidote”, “Goosebumps”, “Pick Up The Phone” and “Apple Pie” stand out for me as the best of his hooks.

Features

He may well be the best feature artist in hip-hop at the moment, he is that good at leaving a lasting impression on a track that isn’t his. All you need to do is take the example of G.O.O.D. Music’s “Champions” track, which has a handful of rappers on it but who stands out? Travis Scott, of course. His hooks play a major part of this success when featuring, but he can also do a great job when spitting bars in his verse. Prime evidence of his rap talents are on the Justin Bieber track “No Sense” where Travis demonstrates raw flow and cadence while also sticking to his typically cold character.

Variation

The best thing with Travis Scott when listening to his music is that you have a great balance between the club bangers and his ability to make dark and moody attitude music. Songs like “Pick Up The Phone” or “Antidote” will get a club moving that’s for sure but then tracks like “Mamacita” and “Piss On Your Grave” will create a dark atmosphere around anything you see and do. As well as that he can make songs like “90210” or “First Take” where he shows his emotional side with women and growing up. He has a brilliant talent in more than one field and that’s what sets him apart from the rest.

Style

You won’t see many more stylish people in the music industry than Travis Scott, both in a musical and fashion sense. He has collaborated with Alexander Wang, Supreme and Beats by Dre to create some of the slickest looks and make himself one of the hottest properties in the world. He is alongside the likes of Kanye West and A$AP Rocky as hip-hop’s fashion king now thanks to his pioneering looks and eccentric trends, as well as his well documented relationship with Supreme and Louis Vuitton.

Artistry

Many consider the use of autotune as a cop out, a crutch to help aid someone who can’t reach the notes they wish to due to their voices limitations. That opinion has now become about as outdated as the people who still believe in it thanks to the work of Kanye West in his “808s & Heartbreak” album. Ever since then, people have been trying with varied degrees of success to emulate that sound. Travis Scott has done more than emulate it, he has revolutionised it and as a result has added new levels of heroism to his music, from intoxicated hooks to elongated tones in his raps. If you don’t believe me that he is revolutionised the sound, then listen to “sdp Interlude” and then check back in with me, okay?

 

Basically, Travis is a culture changer, he makes the way you listen to music different to the norm. He has a personality on his songs, he has a message and a vision that he is pushing and first and foremost he is a bloody good artist. Without a doubt in my mind, he is the king of trap music and it won’t be long before he becomes the king of hip-hop in general. Watch this space and of course, let LA Flame burn on forever.