Calvin Harris – Funk Wav Bounces Vol.1: Album review

Calvin Harris a superstar DJ hailing from Dumfries in Scotland but he’s moved on from that small town lifestyle and is now living it up in sunny Los Angeles. The atmosphere he creates in this new album here is exactly that, LA funk tracks and summer anthems. His adamance to move on from the ever popular EDM sound is admirable and you get the sense he is now doing exactly what he wants to do. With that being said, does this star studded album with an embarrassment of riches in the feature department live up to the hype and will it be the soundtrack of your summer? Let’s find out with this review of ‘Funk Wav Bounces Vol.1’.

The production is magnificent on this thing, every single track has glitz and glamour but also carries a chilled out vibe to it which can allow it to be played in family BBQs as well as banging club nights. Right from the off Calvin treats us to toe tappers and invention with the lead single ‘Slide’ in which the glory of the best is met with a stunning performance from this generation’s mastermind Frank Ocean. The standout beats on this project definitely come from the staggers and pulsators in his synthesisers, particularly on ‘Rollin’ and ‘Prayers Up’ and it is something I really hope Calvin continues to do in his future projects.

The features are colossal, with most of the biggest names in hip-hop jumping onto this album. 95% of the performances on here are thoroughly enjoyable too, whether it be the most unexpected surprises from the likes of Young Thug and Future, who shouldn’t fit the kind of instrumentals they’re put on, or the slick styles of Pharell Williams and Khalid who do themselves tremendous justice on their given beats. The star of the album has to be a toss-up between ScHoolboy Q and Travis Scott though, on their respective tracks ‘Cash Out’ and ‘Prayers Up’ as they set fire to some incredible instrumentals and give everyone summer anthems to enjoy. It’s not all perfect, however, as the verses from Lil Yachty and Nicki Minaj are somewhat underwhelming given the buzz around them as artists. I’ll forgive them both because of how great that Snoop Dogg song was, though.

Overall: 8.5/10
Best three songs: Cash Out, Slide, Prayers Up
Worst three songs: Skrt On Me, Faking It, Hard To Love

This album is pure enjoyment from start to finish, creating exactly what the title suggests, funky anthems for us all to indulge into and vibe out to all summer long. Thank you so much Calvin for moving away from this brainless EDM sound and being daring enough to go down your own avenue, creating music that you want to make rather than what the label wants you to make. Calvin Harris has to be the number one DJ on the planet now after this, sorry Khaled it’s just facts bro.

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Harry Styles – Harry Styles: Album Review

Harry Styles began his music career as one of the five members of British pop group One Direction, a group that were without question one of the most popular acts of our generation. Massive hits such as ‘What Makes You Beautiful’ and ‘Best Song Ever’ made 1D global phenomenons until they announced their extended hiatus in January 2016, allowing for the members to try their hand as solo artists. Zayn Malik had relative success, Niall, Liam and Louis are starting their projects off; but the level of intrigue and excitement around borderline frontman of the group Harry Styles. His album is now out and here is my review of the self titled LP.

The first thought I had before approaching this album was that the direction he chose to go in was essential. Even if it wasn’t the best album of last year, Zayn Malik went down his own avenue of music and created a sound he’s always wanted to make. Harry has done exactly this here but instead of the R&B moody vibes of Zayn, he has elected for a stripped back acoustic sound alongside some classic ‘dad rock’ riffs. The tracks ‘Carolina’ and ‘Only Angel’ are some of my favourites on the album despite being accused of sounding like something you’d hear on a classic rock compilation. The reason I like these so much is the energy Harry brings to the track, with screams and shouts of passion demonstrating his rock star attitude.

The singles were also very good songs that grew on me massively. Upon my first listen of ‘Sign Of The Times’ I was frustrated by it, as Harry sounded like he was out of his depth, trying to dabble in something that he wasn’t capable of. The more I’ve listened to it, however, I’ve come to terms with what it actually is; plus it sounds far better surrounded by the album’s concept. The same sort of thing applied with ‘Sweet Creature’. Despite it’s simplistic acoustic sound, there’s an atmosphere of true emotion and heart which I thoroughly enjoy and have loved more and more with each listen.

I’m not crazy about the whole album, however. I just knew I wouldn’t like ‘Kiwi’ from the second I saw the title, it sounds pretentious and an attempt to be too conceptually creative, ‘Ever Since New York’ is somewhat underwhelming too. There are times that I feel a bit led astray by this album too as he switches the styles of tracks a bit too frequently for my liking and there are moments it was a tad rough around the edges. With that being said, there’s far more good than there is bad on here.

Best Three Songs: Carolina, Only Angel, Sweet Creature
Worst Three Songs: Kiwi, From The Dining Table, Ever Since New York
Overall: 7/10

I am pleasantly surprised by this album. Harry has done exactly what he needed to do and by doing so increased his already likeable persona and figure in today’s culture. His musical influences have been demonstrated very efficiently throughout the project and these songs give us a personal insight into Harry’s thoughts and emotions. As a debut project this is very mature and a good start to what I am predicting to be a long and prosperous career for the 21st century heartthrob. With that being said it’s not perfect and there are still issues that need to be addressed before he reaches his full potential, but the groundwork is there and he has plenty of time on his side.

Gorillaz – Humanz: Album Review

Gorillaz are a virtual project band put together by Blur frontman Damon Albarn and artist/cartoonist Jamie Hewlett. They have been one of the most intriguing and perceptively challenging groups of the 21st century as the virtual aspect of the band is displayed in the form of fictional characters who introduce us to their alternative world through the use of music and art. This latest release is the fifth album of their discography spread over a 16 year period, with 2005’s ‘Demon Days’ being their most successful project to date, boasting memorable hits such as ‘Feel Good Inc.’ and ‘DARE’. Can they emulate that success with this comeback album? Let’s find out.

The variety of genres in their collaborations is something which Gorillaz pride themselves on and this album is no different. About 75% of the features on this album do fantastic jobs and provide a really nice twist to the track they are on. My favourite features are, for the most part, the rappers on here, with Danny Brown (‘Submission’), Vince Staples (‘Ascension’) and Pusha T (‘Let Me Out’) being the highlights of the project without a doubt. Danny’s psychotic sound works in perfect harmony with the Gorillaz attitude and that makes the song a personal highlight for me. It’s not all smiles in terms of features, though, despite Jehnny Beth of Savages smashing it, the Blur/Oasis duo of Damon Albarn and Noel Gallagher proved a tad disappointing on ‘We Got The Power’ and De La Soul were far from dazzling on ‘Momentz’. I’m also a bit gutted that we didn’t hear more from D.R.A.M. on ‘Andromeda’ but what he does is still very pleasing.

Contextually the album is subterranean and magnificent, as is always the case with a Gorillaz project. The singles unexpectedly became integral pieces of the album’s context, particularly the Vince Staples featured ‘Ascension’ which is faded into play beautifully by the introduction track. The interludes have their place and help the album become a flowing listen despite the colossal feature list.

The album’s production is nothing short of stunning, I truly believe you’ll struggle to hear a collection of beats and instrumentals that are better than the ones on ‘Humanz’ all year. I always knew Damon Albarn was a genius on multiple fronts and this just confirms it. Far away from the cockney cheek of Blur as we now have a triumphant vibe of electronics and synthesisers, it’s almost completely foreign to what you’d hear on a Blur album. ‘Hallelujah Money’ has some magnificent production to go alongside Benjamin Clementine’s ghoulish vocals. The production and style twinned with the features means that this album acts as somewhat of a gateway to neutral listeners, who have now been introduced to artists they didn’t even know existed before they were on a Gorillaz album.

Overall: 8/10
Best 3 songs: Submission, Ascension, Strobelite
Worst 3 songs: We Got The Power, Saturn Barz, Momentz

This is all I wanted from a Gorillaz project and more, I was treated with Damon Albarn’s sensational production, perhaps some of the best he’s ever crafted. We also had some absolutely brilliant features and a wide array of talent and genres throughout the album, helping with the concept and the wackiness of the group. If I had one fault with the album it would be that we just don’t get quite enough of that iconic ‘2-D’ aka Damon Albarn voice through the album, we were only given it in stages. With all things considered, however, it was a worthy sacrifice for the quality of featured artists we were given. I rank this alongside their debut and ‘Plastic Beach’ but it just doesn’t rub shoulders with ‘Demon Days’ which remains a classic of this century.

Playboi Carti – Self-titled Mixtape Review

Playboi Carti is a new age rapper hailing from Atlanta, Georgia; adding to the huge movement currently occurring in Atlanta through the likes of Migos, Lil Yachty and 21 Savage. Much like Andre 3000 and Gucci Mane before him, Carti has built up an impressive fanbase through a specific style of hip-hop which makes them so recognisable. Playboi Carti has made a name for himself collaborating with the A$AP Mob and Lil Uzi Vert recently and it’s now time for him to venture into his own world of mainstream rap with this, his self-titled debut mixtape.

One thing that stands out for me with this mixtape is the atmospheric production chosen for the project. There are plenty of heavy synthesisers and slick snares for fans of turn up hip-hop to enjoy. The project’s opening track, and my personal favourite, ‘Location’ has stunning production which has a space aged feel to it, a theme which is often utilised with solid effect. Thanks to this particular theme we get a nice flow to the project and each track follows one another nicely. The production and beat making is without doubt my highlight of the mixtape as a whole.

Lyrically it’s safe to say you’re not going to find anything culturally important or socially mind-blowing, just a lot of bragging about his lavish lifestyle. Whether it’s girls or chains on the agenda, Carti has a way with words that won’t end up in novels, but instead be chanted by an adoring crowd and I have nothing but respect for that, he is doing his own thing. Not everyone has to be J Cole levels of conscious. One criticism I have of him is that one of his lyrics suggests that other rappers are imitating his style, the irony of that is that he sounds almost identical to Lil Uzi Vert. As well as this I worry that his ability to vary from track to track is highly limited as a few of the songs sound basically identical, from ‘Other Shit’ to ‘Yah Mean’.

The features do their thing. A$AP Rocky is red Hot on ‘New Choppa’ and certifies to us all that he is one of the game’s most talented artists. As for Lil Uzi Vert, we all know what to expect from hip-hop’s self-proclaimed rockstar nowadays; especially after his Bad & Boujee verse. On both ‘wokeuplikethis*’ and ‘Lookin’, the latter of which is an undeniable banger, Uzi provides the hype and keeps things boiling over as he does every time he’s on a trap hit like this one. Compared to the features it is plain to me at least that Cash Carti isn’t on their level in terms of rapping, but his artistry is the reason he can attract names of their stature on his work.

Overall: 7/10
Best 3 songs: ‘Location’, ‘Magnolia’ & ‘Lookin’
Worst 3 songs: ‘Other Shit’, ‘Yah Mean’ & ‘Kelly K’
All in all this is a very solid opening project from Atlanta’s latest product, as Carti demonstrates a wide array of artistry and modernised hip-hop. I would definitely recommend this mixtape to anyone looking for new artists from the new wave of rappers. My main criticism of him, however is the lack of originality he shows vocally, as he sounds a hell of a lot like Lil Uzi Vert and a handful of other artists, not to mention the fact that he is lyrically simple. In fairness though, for what he is and what he intends to create, he smashes it with this project and I’m highly excited to see what direction he goes in next. Shout out to his producer who worked wonders throughout.

Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.: Album Review

DISCLAIMER: This review may contain content that Kendrick Lamar fanboys could find offensive and distressing, aka actual criticism of his work. If you are expecting a 10/10 just because it’s Kendrick, then you’ve come to the wrong place I’m afraid.

Kendrick Lamar needs no introduction at this point. He is a 29 year old Compton rapper that has become the most culturally important artist of our generation; yes you read that right, not just the most important rapper, but artist too. His last two albums have defined an era in hip-hop music, particularly his last album, 2015’s ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ which was the most Grammy nominated project since Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ album. Two back-to-back timeless classics later and he’s back to bless us once again. ‘The Heart Part IV’ shocked us, ‘HUMBLE.’ prepared us, and now it’s time for the album. This is a review of Kendrick Lamar’s new album ‘DAMN.’.

One thing I look for in a Kendrick Lamar project is a concept, an idea that can be taken and ran with. ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’ gave us the tale of a kid growing up in Compton around the wild world of gang violence and drugs; while ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ gave us a cultural phenomenon aimed at tackling racial oppression and discrimination. So obviously I was hoping for something similarly groundbreaking here, if anything I was expectant of it now due to what he has shown us before.

We do get a tale, the story of Kendrick’s death, comparable to that of a modern day hood Jesus, with the very first song showing him get shot by a blind woman. Other than that? We have to go to the last song (‘DUCKWORTH.’) to get any kind of masterful anecdote about Kendrick himself and that in fairness is fantastic. It tells the story of Kendrick’s father ‘Ducky’ and Top Dawg Entertainment (Kendrick’s record label) founder Anthony Tiffith meeting each other and nearly becoming involved in a gun fight, years before Tiffith even met Kendrick let alone signed him to the label. It’s a brilliant eye-opener of a tale and it keeps you fully involved all the way through. My concern is that the project as a whole just didn’t seem to follow any sort of narrative outside of those two songs, the opener and closer. ‘LOVE.’ and ‘LUST.’ were next to each other in the track listing but it’s a bit of a reach to say that they coincide together because apart from Kendrick saying “love or lust” at the start of one of the tracks, he doesn’t pay it any attention.

We’ve also been spun a tale by Kendrick stans that if you flip the album round and listen to it in reverse order, starting with ‘DUCKWORTH.’ and ending with ‘BLOOD.’ you get a different story? How can that be the case when there’s barely a story being told when it’s played the right way round?

The featured artists on both the vocal and production side of things do fantastic jobs in contributing to the album as a whole. Rihanna is back to her brilliant best on ‘LOYALTY.’ and she completely outdoes Kendrick on it who sounds a bit lethargic and lazy over an otherwise great beat. On ‘XXX.’ which is hands down the best song on the album, legendary Irish rock band U2 offer a very different flavour at the end of a boom blast hip-hop track and give a soothing instrumental for Kendrick to close the track with. Mike WiLL Made-It saves this album at times, his beat making on ‘XXX.’, ‘HUMBLE.’ and ‘DNA.’ is nothing short of majestic, they are some of the hardest instrumentals you’ll hear in a long long time I promise you. We are also blessed by BADBADNOTGOOD on ‘LUST.’ which has a smooth snap and snare to it as well as a deeply rooted jazz vibe beneath the hip-hop wobbles. We also discovered that Kendrick fancies himself as somewhat of a Ratboy admirer, using his vocals as a sample on the same track, easily the most surprising of all samples or features on this thing.

One of Kendrick’s greatest quality is not his strong relationships and connections with some of hip-hop’s best producers and beat-makers, it is instead his use of the most effective instrument of all, his vocal chords. This album is the blueprint of Kendrick’s vocal variety, demonstrating every possible side to his personality using simply the power of his voice. It can either work impeccably, like it does on ‘XXX.’ with his dreary but encapsulating tones, or it can fall flat on its face like it does on ‘YAH.’ where he sounds miserable and just plain boring. While we are on the topic of different voices, on ‘GOD.’ Kendrick opts for a style which I would describe as familiar, probably because it sounds like a Drake B-side. After all this talk from Kendrick about people stealing each other’s styles and a desire to be unique, he sure as hell isn’t showing any authenticity with this song because it sounds fresh out of the Aubrey Graham playbook.

This has been a fairly critical review so let me tell you the parts I actually like about it, which is a lot trust me. Kendrick finds a great balance between the arrogance of his celebrity lifestyle and his usual stance as a modern day prophet, putting Donald Trump and FOX News on blast on regular occasions throughout the project. The best example of this is ‘DNA.’ which is an absolute peach of a track and one which I’m sure will dominate my playlists for months to follow for the incredible energy K-Dot shows as well as that nasty beat switch up which is accompanied by some damning samples of FOX News broadcasts criticising Kendrick’s position as a musical activist. Kendrick’s bars on every single track are up to scratch but that’s never in doubt when somebody as talented as Kendrick gets behind the mic. Lyrically it is just about flawless in my opinion, there’s even time for some comedic lines such as the hook in ‘ELEMENT.’ which states Kendrick making slapping someone look sexy. After that line I am fully expecting Kung-Fu Kenny to go super sayan on the person he intends to slap.

I really enjoy the fact that Kendrick has taken more of an approach to make different styles of choruses and hooks on this album, sometimes even opting to sing in the hooks and show his diversity. ‘ELEMENT.’ could be my favourite of his hooks on this album but the softer tones of ‘LOVE.’ are also very enjoyable, particularly with the vocal assistance of Zacari. It, to me at least, shows a return to the days of GKMC where he produced so many incredible hooks that have stuck with us for years. With that being said, for every ‘LOVE.’ hook we have a ‘YAH.’ hook which is dull and painstaking. His different vocal performances and stretching of his chords are showing to me at least that he could perhaps be a modern day Prince, as he continues to use his voice as a weapon and an instrument rather than relying on other influence.

Overall: 8/10
Best 3 songs: DNA., XXX., DUCKWORTH.
Worst 3 songs: YAH., FEAR., GOD.
So yes, Kendrick Lamar is human, he can release a project that isn’t a 10/10 instant classic, shocking right? It took me 10 listens of the album to fully get a feel of the project as a whole and I can now safely say it is my least favourite of his albums. How good must Kendrick be if this of all albums is his worst? Because this thing is far from shoddy, if anything it’s absolutely brilliant; it’s just not quite ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ and it’s not quite ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’, that’s all there is to it. Yes there are some of his hardest ever songs on here, but there’s too much filler for my liking, it’s the first Kendrick project where I’d say I’d skip more than one song in the tracklist. With that being said, it’s still great and leaves me with this conclusion.

Has the album harmed Kendrick’s credentials as an all time great? Absolutely not. Has the album slowed his momentum as he soars to the top? No way. Is it a step down from his previous work? In my opinion, yes it is.

Joey Bada$$ – ALL AMERIKKKAN BADA$$: Album Review

Joey Bada$$ is a New York rapper who’s conscious lyrics and ice cold flow has seen critics compare him to NY greats such as Nas and Raekwon, high praise indeed for a man who is just 22 years old. His breakout mixtape ‘1999’ was released in 2013 and received rave reviews thanks to Joey’s icy style and the awareness he showed lyrically. His debut studio album ‘B4.DA.$$’ shared these qualities and more as he truly announced himself as a top draw MC. Luckily for him, Kendrick decided to delay his release for a week so Friday 7th April was all about Joey Bada$$ and his second album ‘ALL AMERIKKKAN BADA$$’; lets see if Joey can continue his rise to the top with this one.

Something that strikes me immediately with this new Joey project is his incredible ability to balance important topics and catchy songs. The prime example is one of the singles ‘LAND OF THE FREE’ and ‘FOR MY PEOPLE’, both of which are direct addresses at the issues lying in American culture at the moment, from black oppression to Donald Trump’s presidency; but they also have incredibly catchy hooks and smooth beats behind them. Creating this balance means you can listen to each and every song innocently and positively while also acknowledging the importance of his words. This is a rare skill that Joey possesses and is something he utilises magnificently. Lead single ‘DEVASTATED’ gave us a mainstream commercial flavour to Joey’s new sound and it still sounds great to this day, although I was quite surprised to see it feature on the album, pleasantly of course.

Joey’s features are borderline perfect too, calling upon two of hip-hop’s biggest names in J Cole and ScHoolboy Q on ‘LEGENDARY’ and ‘ROCKABYE BABY’ respectively and both suit the featured artists down to the ground. That boom blast grit on ‘ROCKABYE BABY’ compared to the slick soul and attitude on ‘LEGENDARY’ is evidence to us all that Joey Bada$$ has the variety to venture into all avenues of hip-hop, from the most aggressive beats to stripped back passion, only a select few can do both successfully and Joey really is one of them. Chronixx is very good on ‘BABYLON’ too amongst others who do themselves immense justice on this album, including Styles P and Nyck Caution.

I’d like to take a moment to talk about the album’s finale, ‘AMERIKKKAN IDOL’. Upon first listen I knew it would be great, but it wasn’t until I sat and absorbed the lyrics that I truly acknowledged how special a song it is. The whole album does a great job of flagging up major social issues in America but this takes it to a new level, the beat switch up mid-way through tells us all that Joey isn’t playing around and he’s here to “be the voice” as he puts it; and that’s exactly what he is on this track. The hook is hugely important as he talks about “dead presidents” but it’s the verse where he discusses police brutality which is truly special. Anything I say wouldn’t do it enough justice so please just listen to it, it’s better than ‘Mortal Man’ I promise you.

Overall: 9.5/10
Best 3 songs: TEMPTATION, ROCKABYE BABY, AMERIKKKAN IDOL
Worst 3 songs: Y U DON’T LOVE ME? (MISS AMERIKKKA), RING THE ALARM, GOOD MORNING AMERIKKKA
To be Frank and honest with you, this album is absolutely sensational from start to finish. He shows wisdom that is way beyond his 22 short years on this earth and gives us all a culturally vital album which looks racism, political corruption and oppression square in the face and challenges them to the core. Joey is as lyrically mature as he is animalistic in his flow and cadence, which has the perfect variation between savage and subtle. I honestly didn’t think he could top his last project but how wrong could I possibly be, he’s not only stepped up from that, he may well have just soared to the heights of the very best in the game. This right here is Joey’s version of To Pimp A Butterfly, it could be the beginning of a monumental career for another of New York’s finest.

The Chainsmokers – Memories… Do Not Open: Album Review

The Chainsmokers are an American EDM outfit who first broke out in 2014 with viral hit ‘#SELFIE’ which truly displayed their comedic ability to make music. I then realised when they came back in 2016 with number one hits ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ and ‘Closer’ that this wasn’t a joke, they actually thought they were good and original at what they did. I never thought I’d see the day where I find myself doing this but here we go, this is my review of The Chainsmokers’ album ‘Memories… Do Not Open’. Lord give me strength.

The term “brainless EDM” is something I’ve found myself fairly accustomed to using when describing the current state of modern chart music, mainly thanks to this plague upon our industry and their insistence to throw in unimaginative, mind-numbing and down right pathetic mum drops in every single track they do. The single ‘Paris’ is a glorious example of their incompetence as we hear a cringeworthy beat and an insufferable beat drop which would do well to fit at your auntie’s 50th birthday bash at the town hall.

The most laughable part of this album is their attempts at being edgy and moody by throwing in random expletives to try and come across as these emotionally charged people who are relatable and just so cool when in actual fact they would fit better in the front row of a 10am lecture at 9:30, just to make sure they don’t miss any important information. The first three songs contain explicit language which confuses me because the only people who would lower themselves to possibly enjoy this trashy music is dense radio listeners? So why would they limit their chances at people listening to them just to try and look like the coolest cats in town.

I thought collaborating with Halsey was the lowest of the low for these boys, but then they outdid themselves and got the plain pasta of the music world in Coldplay to do a track with them (‘Something Just Like This’). Now don’t get me wrong, Coldplay’s first few albums are absolutely fantastic but in the last decade they’ve faded into this awful position where they are desperate to stay in the spotlight so will veer towards trending topics and genres. The Chainsmokers too are trying to gain relevancy and alter their genre unsuccessfully so the two just combine beautifully to create one of the most painstaking songs you’ll hear all year. Speaking of features, Jhene Aiko shows off her solid vocal range in her feature on ‘Wake Up Alone’ but isn’t helped by the instrumental which is, unsurprisingly, uneventful and trashy.

Overall: 1/10
The whole album just sounds like a garage band project gone horribly wrong. It stinks of a rushed bodge job that they’ve tried to justify by throwing a few EDM drops in the choruses. Hands down the worst album I’ve heard all year and it’ll take something quite remarkably pathetic to top this. Please guys, either show some imagination and heart or get out of the music industry, its acts like yourselves that are killing this platform for so many people and the sooner garbage groups like you are eradicated, the better.

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…

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.

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.