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.

Hip-Hop Power Rankings (March/April)

This brand new series of mine will help decipher who is the true commercial king of hip-hop at the time. Is it Drake? Is it Kendrick? Could Future sneak his way in? Who is the new kid destined to become the top dog? All these questions will be answered every other month by this top 10, which will take into consideration chart positions, commercial value and current relevancy as we find out who is the rapper on everyone’s lips at this moment in time? So without further ado, here is the March/April edition of the Hip-Hop Power Rankings.

10. Rick Ross
With his highly anticipated ninth studio album ‘Rather You Than Me’ being released on St. Patrick’s Day this year, Rozay has continued his legacy as a pop rap icon, going 15 years strong as a truly relevant artist. His longevity is unrivalled in this list and the commercial success he has enjoyed from his latest album has been right up there with his biggest to date. Lead single ‘Trap Trap Trap’ with Young Thug and Wale is a chart smash hit while ‘I Think She Like Me’ with Ty Dolla $ign is a slick hip-hop vibe track. The album debuted at number three on the Billboard 200 which suggests that Rick Ross is far from a finished entity and he still has plenty left in the tank yet.

9. Lil Yachty
He’s announced his debut album, ‘Teenage Emotions’ and is releasing it on the 26th May. The cover prompted excitement and joy across the internet as it embraced all walks of life, from homosexuality to mental health sufferers. Lil Boat also released two singles alongside this announcement, the most successful of this being ‘Peek A Boo’ featuring Migos, a song which has charted well in America upon its release. Yachty could well leap above a couple of these names if his album is a success; if it is a failure, we could see the beginning of the demise for Yachty as a limelight artist. Only time will tell.

8. Joey Bada$$
He may well have released album of the year so far in ‘ALL AMERIKKKAN BADA$$’ but that wasn’t enough for him to dominate the charts quite like other artists higher in this list have. Nonetheless, Joey has seen a big push into the commercial limelight as a result of his album, with singles ‘DEVASTATED’, ‘LAND OF THE FREE’ & ‘ROCKABYE BABY’ have gained millions of plays over the last month and created a new radio-friendly sound for the New York Rapper. Despite this, don’t expect a rapper like Joey to feature regularly here, as he has his Lane of conscious rap which will bring its own fans.

7. Young Thug
Perhaps a harsh placement for Thugger seeing as he had two highly regarded features on Drake’s ‘More Life’ project, as well as a standout involvement on Rick Ross’ lead single ‘Trap Trap Trap’; but you just feel as though Young Thug will be soaring up this list for the next couple of months. The reason for this is the announcement and buzz around his “singing album” titled ‘Easy Breezy Beautiful Thugger Girls’ which has, according to Jeffery himself, been executive produced by Drake.

6. Lil Uzi Vert
Uzi’s remarkable claim that he was the equivalent of a hip-hop rockstar doesn’t seem too far-fetched given his persona and recent successes. Just when you thought he couldn’t top hits such as ‘Money Longer’ and ‘You Was Right’ he goes and brings us ‘XO TOUR Llif3’, a song which was influenced by going on tour with The Weeknd, pretty self explanatory really. It was and still is a top 10 hit in America, gaining tens of millions of streams every week. As well as this he’s recently hit 100 million Spotify streams on a few of his songs and has joined the upper bracket of rappers, easily becoming the king of new wave rap.

5. Travis Scott
As I predicted in my feature post a couple of months ago, LA Flame will not burn out and it’s still shining strong. Travis Scott gained a number one song and album recently with his 2016 release ‘Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight’ and corresponding single ‘Goosebumps’. He’s also witnessed his Young Thug collaboration ‘Pick Up The Phone’ go platinum and his colossal hit ‘Antidote’ go triple platinum in the last couple of months. His features have set alight too as he comes to life on Drake’s hit ‘Portland’ and SZA’s recent banger ‘Love Galore’. It’s been a huge couple of months for Travis and with two projects coming this year, don’t be surprised to see him rub shoulders with the elite in the forthcoming lists.

4. Migos
Is there any stopping these Atlanta trap lords? It started with ‘Bad & Boujee’, then came the album ‘Culture’ which was a phenomenon boasting hits such as ‘Get Right Witcha’ and ‘T Shirt’; and now they have collaboration hits all across the board. Their involvement on Calvin Harris’ smash hit ‘Slide’ is fantastic, they steal the show on Lil Yachty’s ‘Peek A Boo’ and they offer something different on Katy Perry’s ‘Bon Appetit’. Away from the group, Quavo has also seen success by providing a great verse on DJ Khaled’s sure to be summer smash ‘I’m The One’ and he has a collab project on the way with Travis Scott. Anyone who claimed the hype would fade is being forced to eat their words.

3. Future
The only artist in chart history to be number one on the album charts in consecutive weeks with different albums. That is a quote stunning accomplishment and it moved Future from mumble rap pioneer to mainstream god. His monumental hit ‘Mask Off’ went platinum in record time for Future as well as topping the Billboard charts, its plain to see why this Rapper is now amongst the top of the game right now. It seems as though every couple of months Future drops a banger or two that soars up the charts so he will be a regular on this hot list.

2. Drake
He broke Ed Sheeran’s streaming records and still isn’t number one on this list. ‘More Life’ shook the earth when it was released and it completely dominated the charts, with ‘Passionfruit’ becoming one of the anthems of the summer already and remaining in the top 5 for the duration of its release. His ‘Boy Meets World’ tour has been gaining rave reviews as Drake performed to millions of people over its course, solidifying his spot as one of the biggest mainstream artists on earth at the present moment. His influence upon other artists and giving them the coverage they deserve has seen Drake gain more plaudits, particularly his work with Young Thug and UK Artists such as Skepta and Giggs. Chart dominance, huge influence and a name recognised universally, so how the hell isn’t he 1st? Well there’s still one man we are yet to talk about..

1. Kendrick Lamar
Remember those streaming records that Drake broke? Kendrick went on to break those with ‘DAMN.’ and as a result reclaimed his throne at the top of the rap game. ‘DAMN.’ now has the highest first week sales figures of any album this year and also has three top 10 singles already in ‘LOYALTY.’, ‘DNA.’ & ‘HUMBLE.’, the latter of which went to number one. He’s proved that he can not only be a role model and somewhat of a prophet with his words like he did with ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ but also has the ability to conquer the popular market by making chart bangers and slick hooks. If that wasn’t enough for him to be number one, the icing on the cake was his headline sets at Coachella this year, both of which were mind blowing in terms of the numbers he drew in to watch as well as his quality within the performance. Kung-Fu Kenny has also promised his fans plenty of feature verses on fellow artists’ projects this year, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he stayed at the top for quite some time this year.

Top 10 Radiohead songs

Radiohead’s biggest trait and strength within their discography is their ability to write both popular anthems and conceptual masterpieces, no matter what the album and no matter what the time period. 1995’s release ‘The Bends’ boasts the most Radiohead singles and some of their biggest songs but they also have the thought-provoking dystopia of ‘Kid A’ and ‘OK Computer’ so to narrow it down to 10 songs is somewhat of a possibility. Nevertheless it boils down to personal preference so here are my 10 favourite Radiohead songs.

10: Pyramid Song – from Amnesiac

With inspiration as wide as ancient Egyptian Underworld art and elements of cyclical time discussed by Stephen Hawking, ‘Pyramid Song’ is the lead single from the band’s fifth studio album ‘Amnesiac’. Containing a string section which was formed by Johnny Greenwood, the song balances between simplicity and complexity with seamless continuity. Ranking it above the likes of ‘Karma Police’ and ’15 Step’ proves its genius and the influence it had on Radiohead’s career.

9: House Of Cards – from In Rainbows

The stand out track from the unusually colourful technological project ‘In Rainbows’, released in 2007, ‘House Of Cards’ portrays a blissful insight into the positive side of Thom Yorke’s Lifestyle, going in detail about his relationships both emotionally and physically. It truly has a solid, good vibe to it which can be admired and enjoyed for years to come. Plus, if it’s the stand out of an album as powerful and important as ‘In Rainbows’ then it’s pretty special. The song was Grammy Nominated for Best Rock Song and received a whole host of plaudits, rightfully so.

8: Street Spirit (Fade Out) – from The Bends

The final song of 1995’s ‘The Bends’ album, the best way to describe ‘Street Spirit (Fade Out)’ would be a tragedy tale which is similar to a dark tunnel with no sign of light at the end. The guitar chords at the start of the song really set the tone for this as it brings a mellow, moody atmosphere to proceedings and provide the perfect backdrop for Thom Yorke’s chilling vocal display, easily one of the best of his career. It was inspired musically by R.E.M. and the result was magnificent, something which has progressed beyond that of Michael Stipe and co. in the opinion of most.

7: Burn The Witch – from A Moon Shaped Pool

The history of this track, although it was only released last year, goes quite a while back. The titular phrase appeared in the album artwork for ‘Hail to the Theif’ and has featured in tracklist drafts for previous albums, despite never appearing on any of them. Finally, this song made it to our ears as the lead single and opening track to last years ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ and perhaps one of their strongest introductions to any album in their discography, and one of the many reasons why this record is one of their best. The electronic drum patterns featured on this one are very understated- making way for the percussive stringed instruments which do a sensational job of slowly building tension, making for a tune with a driving, ominous force.

6: No Surprises – from OK Computer

Amidst the electronic, dystopian highrises that characterised the landscapes of the 1997 classic ‘OK Computer’, we were taken by a left hook when we reached the tenth track on the album; ‘No Surprises’ is a depressingly somber, yet profoundly beautiful lullaby. It’s gentle instrumentation complements Yorke’s lyrics, depicting the narrator’s yearning for a life rid of fear and sadness, or perhaps an end to life completely. Another aspect of this song that makes it so memorable is the music video- something so simple as Thom Yorke singing the lyrics from a karaoke screen as he is slowly submerged in water has proved to be one of the most iconic visuals in 90’s music.

5: High And Dry – from The Bends

An interview with Thom Yorke in 2007 revealed that, after writing it, he wasn’t a fan of this song at all- stating that he was pressured into featuring it on their sophomore effort ‘The Bends’. Of course, this didn’t cloud my judgement whatsoever when it came to including this song in this list. From Yorke’s signature falsetto on display in the chorus, to Greenwood’s gorgeous, melodic guitar solo, there’s enough evidence here to say that, whilst Radiohead will go on to be remembered for their forays into the experimental side of rock music, ‘High and Dry’ proves that they could also write a Britpop tune as good as- possibly even better than- their contemporaries.

4: Subterranean Homesick Alien – from OK Computer

Thom Yorke is far from your typical man and this song from the 1997 masterpiece ‘OK Computer’ is a prime example of this. He has often referred to the idea of extra-terrestrial life and this song is somewhat of a homage to that and his experiences surrounding it. There is one particular experience that Yorke encountered which is believed to have inspired the song where he hit a pheasant on a country road, stepped out the car and thought he was being abducted. Sonically it has a space age emotion and passion to match the song’s concept and these thoughts and feelings manifest themselves into a perfectly-rounded song full of grace and quirkiness.

3: 2+2=5 – from Hail To The Thief

What did I say about album openers earlier? Well, this is the one. Radiohead are seasoned experts in the art of the crescendo, and no other track demonstrates this quite like the introduction to ‘Hail to the Theif’. The menacing chord progression that opens up this song foreshadow the chaos which shortly ensues. Just before the 2 minute mark, the air of unease explodes, as York’s eerie croons become manic yelps, and the instrumentation transpires into a cacophonous climax. Quality.

2: Paranoid Android – from OK Computer

As was the case with ‘Kid A’ on the ranking Albums post, the fact that ‘Paranoid Android’ hasn’t topped the lot is somewhat of a remarkable feat given its genius. It is without doubt one of the best songs of the 90s and perhaps even of all time with it’s haunting progression and sumptuous guitar riffs. The effect and wobble that Johnny Greenwood puts on his guitar for the deranged solos is nothing short of exemplary and is now a common technique of his as he continues to move into a field of his own sonically. Thom Yorke is devilish and sadistic vocally as his words cut straight through you and make you think.

1: Idioteque – from Kid A

With the turn of the century, after the resounding success of ‘OK Computer’, Radiohead chose to pursue a new avenue sonically, obsessing over electronic instruments and moving away from their roots in rock music with their 2000 release ‘Kid A’. ‘Idioteque’ is the greatest example of this, and how successful this move was pulled off. The production is ice cold, as Yorke’s haunting vocals run rife through this track, voicing fears of global warming and a nuclear holocaust, two themes that are even more relevant to society now than they were 17 years ago. ‘Idioteque’ marks a turning point in Radiohead’s trajectory as a band; this idea of reinvention would be something the band would press on with years after the release of ‘Kid A’- even to this day. It helped them form a blueprint of evolution, devoiding their work of any kind of expiration date, and ensured that their gifts to the world would always be timeless.

Ranking Radiohead’s Albums: Worst To Best

Radiohead are now widely acknowledged as having one of the greatest discographies in music history, varying from the brilliant to the outright bizarre. Their fearless approach towards the element of concept albums helped create a sound that is very difficult to rival, and even harder to rank. With 9 albums now under their belt, it’s time for me to rank their projects, from the worst to the very best, even if worst may be somewhat of a disservice of a word to use when discussing a Radiohead project. So what’ll come out on top? Let’s find out.

9: The King Of Limbs – Released 2011

This is the only Radiohead project I can safely say didn’t work. It was an experimental gamble that fell flat on its face as the band attempted to merge their dark and moody atmosphere with an electronic vibe. Needless to say the experiment was unsuccessful and as a result we were given ‘The King Of Limbs’ unfortunately. With this being their 8th album and it failing to hit expectations and normal standards as drastically as it did, people were questioning Radiohead’s future in the industry and their ability to create another great project. Even then we were given a couple of stand out tracks, with ‘Morning Mr Magpie’ providing a slick sound to an otherwise disappointing album.

8: Amnesiac – Released 2001

You can’t help but feel the ‘Kid A’ follow up came a bit too soon after such a masterpiece as the 2000 release was. Trying to replicate and carry on momentum from an album like that just 12 months after was an incredibly bold move by Radiohead and although it didn’t reach the standard of ‘Kid A’, there was plenty of reason to enjoy ‘Amnesiac’. It’d be harsh to criticise this album by comparing it to it’s predecessor because ‘Kid A’ was so groundbreaking, so we shall instead just call it another good Radiohead project, full of progression and attitude with plenty to shout home about. ‘Pyramid Song’ is stunning and hasn’t aged a day while ‘Life In A Glasshouse’ is an epic finale.

7: Pablo Honey – Released 1993

Ah yes, the Radiohead debut album, the project which spawned the now infamous track ‘Creep’, a song which has basically become a meme amongst Radiohead fans for it’s soaring popularity. As much as people will hate to admit it, ‘Creep’ is more than likely one of the best tracks on ‘Pablo Honey’ due to its energy and aggression in the chorus, as well as the catchy lyrical use. ‘Anyone Can Play Guitar’ and ‘Ripcord’ also treat us to some of Johnny Greenwood’s many talents on lead guitar while giving a good grunge style sound, bringing a UK style to a Pearl Jam/Nirvana dominated industry. It was the platform for greater things and looking back you feel that the band knew it would be that all along.

6: Hail To The Thief – Released 2003

This album begins majestically with one of Radiohead’s greatest triumphs in the haunting aggression ballad ‘2+2=5’ which is as grand as it is understated. ‘Sail To The Moon’ and ‘I Will’ are soft ballads of glory and although the album as a whole has a great sound to it, you get the impression that it is always chasing the quality shown in that album opener. It is a step up from ‘Amnesiac’ without a doubt but you can’t help but feel they used a lot of their talents on ‘Kid A’ and set themselves an almost immovable bar by creating such a diverse and phenomenal project.

5: In Rainbows – Released 2007

A truly great album which shot Radiohead back to the top of the dynamic music world. The production is absolutely staggering at times, particularly on the album’s stand out tracks ’15 Step’ and ‘House Of Cards’; with the former sounding, instrumentally at least, unlike anything we had ever heard from Radiohead before. It truly was the flagship of a new era for the band and it kept them up to date with modern trends while also proving their credentials as the kings of the 21st century bands. Vocally Thom Yorke sounded fresh and eager while the rest of the band pitched in with quirky yet abrasive electro-rock music, it became a staple of the new age Radiohead sound and I for one loved it.

4: A Moon Shaped Pool – Released 2016

One of 2016’s best and creative releases and one which saw a fantastic return to form for Radiohead, ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ was their best release since 2000’s inventive masterpiece ‘Kid A’. Lead single ‘Burn The Witch’ demonstrates a progressive tale of horror and raw emotion while ‘True Love Waits’ unveils a tragedy of heartache on the romantic side of frontman Thom Yorke. In my review of this album I described it as “more than just music” as it gave you a sense of longing and an experience you really felt divulged inside, listening to this album in full gives you the true experience.

3: The Bends – Released 1995

Radiohead’s Pop Album, if such a thing ever existed, was given to us as a follow up to debut ‘Pablo Honey’ in 1995; and it provided some of Radiohead’s finest moments and the sounds we now know them for so famously. Acoustic sounds came from singles ‘High And Dry’ and ‘Fake Plastic Trees’, both of which are absolutely gorgeous moments of fragility and passion from the band. As well as this they have a song like ‘Just’ on there which is far more radio friendly than most other songs on here as well as boasting a stunning guitar riff from Johnny Greenwood. Diehard Radiohead fans will tell you this album isn’t as good as something like ‘Hail To The Thief’ simply because of how many singles spawned from this, but that doesn’t shy away from the sheer quality on display from start to finish on ‘The Bends’.

2: Kid A – Released 2000

The experimental genius, the artist’s stroke, the sculptor’s masterpiece. Radiohead went into musical folklore with ‘Kid A’ and it’s not just because it came directly after ‘OK Computer’, it was the offspring of Thom Yorke’s drastic change in emotion as he suffered a near collapse of his mental health after ‘OK Computer’ was released. Hardly any advertisement or promotion, no singles released, one of the first albums to be encouraged through the Internet; yet it still went platinum in the first week and was a Grammy winner for Best Alternative Album. ‘Idioteque’ is an absolute triumph, truly one of the 21st century’s greatest songs bar none. The fact it would come 2nd on any list is mind-blowing, but that’s just how good Radiohead are, almost any other band in music history and this would soar to the top. ‘Kid A’ is an album we should cherish, an album you should tell your grandkids about, it’s the album which transferred us all and prepared us for the modern age of online transformation and psychotic synthesisers.

1: OK Computer – Released 1997

Quite simply a masterpiece from start to finish. Radiohead’s third studio album ‘OK Computer’ hit the shelves in 1997, the very year I was born onto this earth, and this album has aged a hell of a lot better than I have. When it first came out it was critically acclaimed, but as time went on it gained more and more praise and it has eventually become universally acknowledged as not only Radiohead’s best project, but also one of the greatest albums to ever exist. Whether it’s the sorrow and devastation Yorke’s vocals encapsulate on ‘No Surprises’ and ‘The Tourist’ or the progressive genius wrapped inside ‘Paranoid Android’ and ‘Subterranean Homesick Alien’, Radiohead hit every nail on every head on ‘OK Computer’ to create a 10/10 work of art.

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.

Kendrick Lamar just dropped DAMN. But is there another album coming on Sunday?

The wait is over, we have a new project from Compton’s own Kendrick Lamar, the self-proclaimed greatest rapper alive and it’s hard to begrudge him that title looking at his track record. The buzz has been palpable and the amount of hype ‘Kung-Fu Kenny’ has been getting on social media upon this release is nothing short of monumental. I’ll have a review of the album soon but not yet for a couple of reasons. First of all, it will take plenty of listens to this for me to truly grasp how I feel about it, but mainly because a rumour has been doing the miles across the internet, a rumour which suggests ‘DAMN.’ might not be the only Kendrick project we are given this weekend.

There is plenty of reason to get behind these follow-up album rumours, mainly because it just makes so much sense and it is a typical Kendrick action to wow us and go that extra mile to achieve greatness. Let me give you somebody context, Kendrick dropped this album on Good Friday, the day Jesus Christ was hung on the cross to die; a running theme in ‘DAMN.’ is Kendrick’s death, particularly in the first track. Three days later on Easter Sunday, Jesus resurrected from the dead, will Kendrick do the same and release an album implying such? This is backed up by iTunes initially showing the release date of ‘DAMN.’ as Easter Sunday before changing to Good Friday. If you thought that was crazy, there’s more.

SounwaveTDE, a member of Kendrick Lamar’s Top Dawg Entertainment label, last night tweeted “But what if I told you… that’s not the official version..” followed by a picture of Morpheus by The Matrix. Weird right? Just wait. In the reflection of Morpheus’ glasses you see a pill in each hand, one blue and one red.

Kendrick last night also changed his Spotify layout to him stood in front of a blue bricked wall. Must just be a coincidence surely? Wrong. On Kendrick’s comeback song ‘The Heart Part IV, he says “dropped one classic came right back, another classic right back, my next album the whole industry on the ice pack, with TOC.” ‘DAMN.’ could well be the classic he is talking about here and he’s planning to return with another one.

So what does “TOC” mean? Well many believe it to mean ‘the other colour’ which relates back to the red and blue pills. The first song on the album is ‘BLOOD.’ which has obvious red connotations, so when do we get ‘the other colour’ I wonder?

The album cover layout is interesting too, the M on the title ‘DAMN.’ is conveniently over the top of Kendrick’s head, appearing to create makeshift devil horns on his head. What is even more remarkable about this is that the rumours are pointing towards this new album being called ‘NATION.’ with the O being like a Halo placed over his head, certifying his biblical standing in society.

Whatever happens, we have been given a need Kendrick album so in usual circumstances that would leave us more than satisfied, but this isn’t any mere mortal we are talking about here, and if anyone could play the role of Jesus in today’s music industry, you’d probably say Kendrick fits the bill better than anyone.

 

XXXTENTACION: Hip-Hop’s newest Supervillain?

Over the years the hip-hop genre has seen it’s fair share of so-called ‘villains of the game’ who are set to change music as we know it in the most controversial possible way. Previously we had the likes Eminem and Tyler, The Creator testing the limits of political correctness with their lyrics and their approach, but now we have a new loveable rogue to look out for. Jahseh Dwayne Onfroy is better known by the stage name ‘XXXTENTACION’, which translates to ‘Unknown Temptation’, and the movements he has made in the hip-hop genre in just a small amount of time is nothing short of astronomical for someone his age. At just 19 years old, he has become one of the most popular SoundCloud artists around and even has a single which placed in the Billboard Hot 100 chart. What is even more shocking about these facts? All of this was done while being in prison, no possibility of advertisement available to him. A remarkable feat really when you think about it, and it only points to the direction he will be going in the near future.

XXXTENTACION (We will now just refer to him as ‘X’) has three projects prepared for this year, all in order to keep his hype justified and relevant and to see how far his current stream of popularity can take him. His debut studio album ‘Bad Vibes Forever’ is on it’s way to us soon and he is also working on mixtapes titled ‘I Need Jesus’ and ‘Revenge’ along with the ‘Members Only, Vol. 3’ mixtape with regular collaborator Ski Mask the Slump God. Why should we be excited for these I hear you say? Well, when asked to talk about some of his biggest musical inspirations, his answer was far from expected; stating that he listened to music as varied as the hip-hop roots of Young Money (Drake, Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne) to rock and metal vibes coming from the likes of Papa Roach, genuinely. He has also claimed that he would love to collaborate with The Fray in the future, yes that is the band that did ‘How To Save A Life’ by the way. A truly intriguing figure who’s musical influences and inspirations are as varied as you’ll ever hear.

He has only just been released from prison after a collection of offences toppled over him, including assault with a deadly weapon and robbery. When awaiting bail, X was then arrested on further allegations of witness tampering and aggravated battery of a pregnant woman, accusations that he strongly rejects and claims are false. His die-hard fan base have ceased to let that tamper their views on X as an artist and in fact look at it as his avenue to emotion in music. This is where the idea of him being a super-villain comes into play. In a recent interview X was quoted to say that he wants the world to hate him as it only fuels his ambition to succeed. So far so good as he is now a red-hot favourite to be the poster boy of XXL’s 2017 Freshman List alongside some huge names of the past 12 months, including Playboi Carti, Ugly God and NAV.

So what do you think? With 100s of millions of plays to his name on Soundcloud and a new wave of adoring fans thanks to his cross-genre talent, can XXXTENTACION become a superstar in the hip-hop genre or will his image come back to haunt him in the long run? Either way, his beef with Drake and the promise of more disses on the way the future is tantalising on X’s quest to the top of the music industry.

Soundcloud link: https://soundcloud.com/jahseh-onfroy