Album Review: Denzel Curry – TA13OO

by Dustin

taboo

9.25/10

He may not yet be a household name, but it is undeniable that Denzel Curry has been a leader of the new school for quite a while. Alongside the Raider Klan, he helped forge a new lane for rappers in Florida that had not existed previously. He shares many attributes with his contemporaries out of the state, but Denzel’s attention to detail in the art of song crafting had set him apart ever since his first mixtape dropped in 2011. His 2013 debut studio album, Nostalgic 64, proved he was a potential force to be reckoned with in hip-hop. Three years later those raw mic and penmanship skills were refined further on Imperial; however, despite carrying the poise of an artist several years older than he is, it felt as if Zel had more to give. Another gear he hadn’t quite discovered. One that would theoretically take his material from great to phenomenal. Lofty lingering expectations developed, and as soon as TA13OO was announced his fans began clamoring to see if he would rise to the occasion.

He did.

Denzel Curry has never been one to fail at being engaging behind the mic. He has brought a near uncontrollable energy to everything he’s touched throughout his remarkably consistent career. That remained unchanged on TA13OO, yet something felt distinctly different. Vulnerability. As the album progressed it became clear that Denzel had no intent in maintaining hip-hop’s hyper-masculine status quo of emotional detachment. Sensitive topics such as sexual assault, political unrest, jealousy, suicide, depression, and violent urges were all approached head on; moreover, with its creative three part structure — comprised of Light, Grey, and Dark sections — he was able to gradually ease the listener into accepting socially unaccepted subject matter. The album opened by presenting heavier content with a much lighter tone, almost as if he was hiding it behind false happiness. As the transition from the beginning into Grey and finally Dark happened, that facade was peeled away. It became increasingly honest, pained, open, and personal. Denzel executed this really well both in his writing and his delivery, making it extremely easy to feel the type of sentiments he was expressing at a personal level. Whether or not the situations he rapped about were relatable didn’t matter because it was all presented with such clear poignance. Denzel truly elevated himself, combining what made him stand out as special from the beginning with a newfound conceptual focus and further improved vocal versatility.

It felt as though he fully came into his own, which was mesmerizing as an already talented emcee.

Though Denzel was the star of the show, he carried an impressive supporting cast of very concise and purposeful production choices. J Gramm, FNZ, Mickey de Grand IV and a handful of others supplied a plethora of extremely bassy, unique sounding instrumentals. Despite the wide range in sounds, they all had just enough in common to complete TA13OO as a cohesive piece of work. Curry utilized this variability, arranging them in such a way to aid in the sonic development of the album. The lush and bouncy beginning faded to a cloudy melancholic middle, and eventually a hateful aggressive finish. While songs like “Black Balloons” and “Vengeance” could not be further removed from each other, carefully planned sequencing allowed for them to live on the same tracklist harmoniously. It mirrored his performance, boosting the listening experience to soaring heights.

The guest artists on this release did a splendid job of contributing to the overall themes and concept, while not having felt out of place in the slightest. JPEGMAFIA came through with an absolutely monstrous verse on “Vengeance,” and was perhaps the biggest standout feature. That’s not to diminish the contributions of Goldlink, JID, or ZillaKami though, as they each brought 100% effort and a needed splash of variety to their portions of the album. Nyyjerya and Billie Eilish were utilized well on a pair of hooks, and provided a bit of a break from Denzel’s aggression so the music had room to breathe. All in all, his highly selective deployment of other talents was nearly flawless, fleshing out TA13OO into a monster worthy of very few demerits.

There are times when it is obvious that an artist had a lot to say. It often results in extremely inspired music, with an immeasurable sense of belonging behind each songs existence. This album was a prime example of that sort of feeling. On a first listen certain tracks may have felt out of place with the ideas Denzel was trying to illustrate, only for them to reveal that they were exactly where they needed to be with subsequent plays. He assembled things in such a way that the presentation genuinely mattered just as much as the keynote talking points he chose to explore. He took the listener out of a place of projected stability and comfort into something more firmly grounded in real life. As many know, or will come to find out in the future, reality comes with many roadblocks that are difficult. Difficult to experience, difficult to process, and ultimately difficult to discuss without shame or embarrassment. Denzel Curry did put out a fantastic album with TA13OO, but more importantly he showed courage in the face of things that cause many to live in fear. He set an admirable example for a genre that has often struggled with remaining guarded. An example that is well worth lending an extremely attentive listen as a lesson in normalizing openness with hurt that is too frequently rendered as social taboo.

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Album Review: Daniel Son & Futurewave – Pressure Cooker

by Rajin

pressurecooker

9.25/10

As I’ve mentioned countless times, there has been a thrilling new wave of boom bap coming out of the underground recently, spearheaded by Long Island’s Roc Marciano and Buffalo’s Westside Gunn and Conway. Through this movement the spirit of New York hip hop in the ‘90s lives on with a modern twist. Furthermore, incredible new artists have been popping up from unexpected locales, such as Rochester, D.C., and Richmond; shockingly, one of the most impressive cities has been Toronto, Ontario. While the region is generally known more for pop-rap and R&B artists like Drake and The Weeknd, there have been several rising stars who have contributed greatly to the “new golden era,” so to speak. One of the most promising has been Daniel Son. Over the course of the last couple of years, he has caught ears with standout guest verses, and a pair of wonderful projects atop instrumentation provided by the UK based Giallo Point. This time around, Daniel Son has teamed up with producer and fellow Toronto habitant, Futurewave.

The result of this pairing was, in a word, superb.

Pressure Cooker captures the same atmosphere that you’d hear on an early-mid ‘90s Wu-Tang or Mobb Deep project. Everything from the hungry, vividly streetwise verses to the strikingly cold production gives off that aura. This may be par for the course in this scene, but it’s executed entirely different here. Generally, the producers utilize dusty soul samples to create minimalist instrumentals. Drums aren’t emphasized as much; if they are present at all, they tend to come from the source sample itself. This style allows for the emcee to take center stage while the production serves as more of a backdrop than a musical driver. For this project, however, Futurewave drew from cleaner and lusher samples. This results in production that has a huge range, much wider than I feel most listeners would be accustomed to from artists in this lane. True to his name, Futurewave flipped samples that were quite glitchy for several songs, such as “Def Leppard” and “Icy Palms.” This lent itself to a harsh, frostbitten sound that you truly wouldn’t be able to find elsewhere. While the samples were relatively clean-sounding, there was still plenty of grime to be found amongst the skull-crushing drums. They created a beautiful contrast in the production that subtly reminded me of an album such as Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… In addition, I absolutely love how they are clearly sourced from separate records. Oftentimes, there would be no surface noise in the samples until the drums hit, which just added to the edge that they offered the beats. The production on this project is spectacularly immersive; truthfully, it would come off almost overpowering, were it not for the emcee rapping over it.

Daniel Son cut through the production like it was nothing, and it was thrilling to behold. As a performer he has always had an aggressive delivery. He sounds like he’s hassling you relentlessly from across the street; imposing, intimidating, and impossible to ignore. Ordinarily, his ability to make an impression is effortless. His presence can overtake anyone else on a track handily with how laid-back yet emphatic he is. For this project, he had to push himself a bit further, as the production here is very dynamic – it builds on itself constantly. Impressively, yet unsurprisingly, his vocal energy matched the beats any time they would hit a crescendo; there were moments where he stretched his delivery to the point that was very nearly yelling. Daniel altered his flow a bit throughout the album too, leaving space in between his bars to let them breathe. This allowed for the impact of what he was saying to reverberate against the music, which only served to highlight the brutality of his lyrics and add to his already flamboyant style as an emcee. The guest appearances did a good job at offering a bit of a contrast to the flair Daniel brought. Rappers such as Saipher Soze and CRIMEAPPLE in particular came with verses that were more blunt and straightforward, simultaneously demonstrating a level of chemistry with him that make for some interesting collaborations that I would personally like to see more of in the future. However, I have to say that Daniel Son consistently outdid the competition here. While his star power has always been evident, he stepped his game up to a level that I didn’t see coming for at least another couple of projects.

“Talk is cheap, but people fade away for less
Life lessons you only learn in the face of death
You can bring ‘em to the edge, but will they take the step?
(Take a deep breath) And let the steel bat break his legs”
-Daniel Son, on “Def Leppard”

This album is arguably the best album to be released thus far from perhaps the strongest underground scene since the early 2000s. Anybody who considers themselves a fan of hip hop is doing themselves a massive disservice if they haven’t listened to it. Pressure Cooker is comprised of everything that made hip hop great in the past, while embracing an effort to move forward. Music aside, the most exciting thing about this project is that it doesn’t even seem like Daniel Son has peaked yet. With how seasoned he sounds, it’s hard to remember that he’s still so early into his career. This guy is a threat, and I can’t wait to see what he has in store for the future, because I absolutely love this project.

Album Review: Eminem – Kamikaze

by Dustin

kamikaze

8.25/10

Since his reemergence in hip-hop nine years ago, Eminem’s career arc has been rocky to say the least. Perhaps lost as an artist, he’s bounced between deliveries, subject matter, and producers while simultaneously finding very little to be a natural fit. His music during this period really struggled to discover its footing completely. Relapse was an interesting idea with smooth production, but faltered in its conceptual execution and consistency; Recovery was a matured and more cohesive effort hampered by a one dimensional sound; The Marshall Mathers LP 2 boasted unreal highs, but suffered as a full listen due to a few really poor artistic choices; and finally, Revival was a cumulative disaster of faults, mixed in with some of the worst studio technical work to appear on a mainstream album. His ability to write pure rap was still clearly alive, but whether or not he could assemble a solid full body of work became a massive question mark. With doubt swirling and the public eye shifting elsewhere, there was only one solution…

…drop a seethingly angry album out of nowhere. Kamikaze.

First and foremost, the production value was an extreme step-up from from the absolute audio hell brought on by Rick Rubin during the past handful of years. Eminem’s performance was no longer burdened by disgustingly muddy mixing, and it saw a return to layered vocals to properly compensate for his relatively weak voice. Thanks to these small studio tweaks, he sounded clear and powerful behind the mic for the first time in ages. The beat choices also felt a lot more decisive and modern; moreover, even though the production credits (which included the likes of Mike Will Made It and Illadaproducer) may throw people off, the overall vibe felt more like an Eminem album than anything from the last ten years. The dark, simplistic, off-kilter nature of the instrumentation allowed for his rapping stay at the forefront of each song, which was refreshing. He’s an artist who has always gotten lost easily in oversaturated production, and clearly this was taken into consideration when structuring this album. The cohesion was also impressively tight, particularly given the awful whiplashing between incompatible styles on last year’s Revival. The only brief changeup was going into the mid-2000s Shady Records sounding throwback on “Stepping Stones;” however, this was purposeful and much less jarring than the hard right turns into Rick Rubin’s 80s rock “samples” that had become commonplace lately.

Eminem as an emcee was supremely engaging on Kamikaze, and it was a shocking treat. For the past half decade he had been in this weird place where he was writing really well, but the substance usually felt forced or non-existent. In addition to that, his delivery had become incredibly wonky, gutless, and rather hard to enjoy. With that in mind, it became obvious straight from the first few tracks that the flows, while still occasionally weird, had been dialed back to being more traditionally on beat. The gutlessness was also solved with the aforementioned return to vocal layering, which really helped his delivery to have some genuine impact. This really allowed for his penmanship to shine though, which was in tip-top condition for the vast majority of the album. His multisyllable rhyme patterns returned to feeling more conversational and less hamfisted, while his wordplay took on much more subtlety. For instance, there was one moment on “Fall” where he lead into a punchline about “Forever” (the posse cut alongside Drake, Kanye West, and Lil Wayne) by borrowing his own flow from 9 years ago. It rolled out so smoothly that it would have been easy to miss until the second or third listen. That sort of rewind factor was fantastic, and made it impossible to not desire subsequent listens. As far as subject matter goes, Kamikaze was significantly more vapid and self-indulgent than either The Marshall Mathers LP 2 or Revival, which was oddly a positive. It seems that in spite of the perception that songs like “Stan” have built about Eminem’s songwriting being grandiose, he’s actually most comfortable in the snide and angry mindset that he captured here. While it was initially a bit of a shock to hear him rapping about hating critics, hating other rappers, knocking people out, guns, and calling Trick Trick, it truly felt like he had allowed his real personality to come out again. Removing the rose-coloured glasses, the vast majority of his best work has always been self-obsessed fury and vitriol. Kamikaze really was no different than a record like the original Marshall Mathers LP in that regard, and it was a fun listen because of it.

The aforementioned “Stepping Stone,” however, was the one track on this album with a much more emotional foundation. Though they’ve not released a studio album since 2004, it marked the official end of D12. “Stepping Stone” went heavily into detail about how Proof’s untimely death tore the collective apart and rendered them dysfunctional even through multiple attempts to recapture the feeling and make a comeback. It was handled incredibly tastefully with Eminem shouldering a lot of the blame, but also being blunt about needing everyone to move past the group so that they can all remain friends. The production, as mentioned, was a throwback to the sound of the label during D12’s hayday. It was a nice touch, and a fittingly melancholy end to a group limping out of years of turmoil.

The features on this album definitely seemed to catch a lot of attention on drop day, and fortunately they did not disappoint. Joyner Lucas, Royce da 5’9”, and Jessie Reyez each brought a unique flavor to their tracks. Joyner’s opening verse to “Lucky You,” a bit of a before and after story about fame, matched Eminem’s level of energy perfectly and accomplished exactly what the song needed it to do. On the sillier end of the spectrum, Royce brought much appreciated comic relief to the opening of “Not Alike,” which of course came immediately after the emotional strain of “Stepping Stone.” Jessie Reyez appeared on both of the combination tracks “Nice Guy” and “Good Guy,” where she promptly asserted herself as one of the most fitting singers to perform alongside Eminem. Her humor matched his perfectly, and the chemistry was simply delightful. Overall, the features felt like genuine collaborations rather than random names making a cameo. It was a nice change of pace, and nobody came across as redundant.

There was an additional unlisted feature by Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon on “Fall.” It sounded nice, but there isn’t really much else to be said aside from the fact that he was angry it stayed on the album.

Kamikaze was unapologetically midwest, and for that reason it will likely always be a polarizing album. The speed rap, trap influence, shock value, and hyper-lyrical writing style are all staples of the region currently, and it’s not going to be every listener’s cup of tea. That being said, Eminem did these things extremely well. From start to finish, nothing felt out of place. Even the weaker tracks such as “Normal” were amusing and played a role in making the overall listen more complete. He overcame many of the musical issues he’s been grappling lately, and it reflected itself in a solid project. It wasn’t perfect, but he’s never been the perfect artist. What it was, though, was Eminem’s most natural sounding release in over 15 years after a litany of awkward and confusing detours. Fortunately he seemingly found his way back on track, as Kamikaze was an excellent listening experience.

 

A History of Obie Trice

by Dustin

obie trice

There existed a point in time where Obie Trice was a highly anticipated figure in rap. The first solo act signed to Shady Records, his “real name, no gimmicks” tagline served as the perfect balance to the alias-focused early incarnations of Eminem and D12. Trading cartoonish violence and shock humor for street experience and cheeky dry wit, he felt familiar but different enough for fans to invest interest in the rising star. Perhaps it should be expected, but this partnership with Shady seems to be the single small snapshot of Obie’s career that lingers in hip-hop’s memory. Reality is, though, that the man has been involved in the scene for over two decades (and counting). A labour of love which would be launched while simultaneously trying to escape the grips of a drug-dealing lifestyle, Obie should be viewed as a true warrior of the craft rather than the poster child for the rise and fall nature of mainstream music; moreover, if one follows his life a little more closely, it becomes evident that he was an artist able to reach people regardless of what level of fame he was currently sustaining.

And like so many others, it all started during the greatest boom in the history of Detroit’s underground.

Though he would go on to state that he had only been taking rap seriously for about five years prior to his Shady Records deal, Obie Trice’s interest in being a rapper stemmed back to his childhood. Initially rapping on a karaoke machine during his early youth, he would eventually transition to making sporadic appearances at Detroit’s legendary Hip-Hop Shop as a teenager in the early 90s. As the rap scene in Michigan began to take off near the end of the millennium, so too would Obie’s involvement in the game. By 1999 he had started to make his first true push in the industry, releasing “The Well-Known Asshole/Gimme My Dat Back” as a vinyl single through No Airplay Entertainment. Riding a bit of buzz, thanks in part to local DJs buying into what the the young talent had to offer, he and No Airplay Entertainment struck gold again in 2001 with the release of “Mr. Trice/Respect.” Detroit had finally become properly conscious of Obie Trice; moreover, local radio stations were keeping these singles in regular rotation, helping him reach a far wider audience than before.

One notable member of Obie Trice’s ever-growing following was D12’s resident weirdo, Bizarre. In display of a shockingly well-groomed ear for potential, Bizarre was an early proponent of Obie’s music. Allegedly, Bizarre heard one of the rapper’s very first singles and absolutely lost his mind at the quality. He promptly had his management get him in contact with Obie Trice, and they became friends nearly instantly. Though it took quite a bit of time, Bizarre would eventually put Eminem and Paul Rosenberg onto “The Well Known Asshole.” They loved it, and eventually invited Obie to come and audition to the world’s largest emcee. He jumped at the opportunity but assumed little was likely to come of it as Eminem had seemed passive in the extremely casual meeting. He thanked Bizarre for having his back and headed home, prepared to maintain on the independent grind if needed.

A few weeks later, his manager gave him the shocking call that Shady Records was considering tendering him a record deal. After bonding with Eminem at a Kid Rock party (which he had been personally invited to by the Shady Records co-founder), he would be added to the label’s roster in 2001, barely two years after his debut vinyl singles.

Though they’ve become a bit of a joke for poor talent management in recent years, Obie Trice would be the benefactor of a flawless slow burn build to hype on the still young Shady Records. A wonderful debut freestyle skit on D12’s Devil’s Night album would be his only real output on the label during his first calendar year as a signee. A taste of what was to come, but little more than that. Throughout 2002, however, Eminem and company would begin a monstrous career push for the man with no gimmicks. Obie was all over everything the label was doing that year. He was promo’d at the beginning of Eminem’s first single from The Eminem Show – an album that also saw him featured on “Drips” – as well as given multiple spots on the original soundtrack for 8 Mile. By the time the summer of 2003 rolled around, fans’ patience would be rewarded. Obie’s debut-album cycle would be kicked off on August 12th, 2003, with the release of the comedic “Got Some Teeth.” Just over a month later, Cheers hit the shelves. The long awaited debut of Detroit’s hidden gem had finally arrived.

No expense was spared on Cheers, as the album was absolutely loaded to the brim with star power. Eminem alone contributed five vocal features and served as executive producer for the release; additionally, Dr. Dre, Nate Dogg, 50 Cent, Lloyd Banks, Timbaland, D12, and Busta Rhymes all made notable appearances. Unsurprisingly, the album performed very well commercially, landing itself in the five spot on the Billboard 200 and eventually being certified platinum by the RIAA a little later. It was well deserved too. Obie held his own, even when faced with performing alongside future legends of the industry. His style was loose and confident, a perfect reflection of the battle born Detroit hip-hop scene. It was also clear that he had seized the opportunity to learn from the experienced individuals around him, presenting his up-and-coming hunger with the finesse of a much more established hip-hop performer. The transition from independent hood artist to being an integral part of rap’s favourite powerhouse was nearly flawless.

Mainstream success is fleeting, however. A fact that Obie Trice would learn painfully in the coming years.

In the period post-Cheers, things started to unravel slightly at Shady Records. Eminem’s mounting drug dependency issues saw the emcee’s brainchild slowly lose its dominance over the rap industry. This was catalyzed in 2006 by the tragic and untimely murder of D12’s Proof. An associate and best friend to basically the entire label, his passing ushered in a terribly dark era for Shady 1.0. In spite of mourning this loss of kin and recovering from being shot in the head himself, Obie Trice did actually manage to put together a solid sophomore effort with Second Rounds on Me. The album was darker, grittier, and more violent than its predecessor, a clear reflection of his mindset at the time; however, it failed to achieve the same level of commercial success that Cheers had enjoyed three years prior. It debuted at eight on the Billboard 200, moving 74,000 units in the first week. Though rap album sales had taken a nosedive that year, the lack of performance was surprising. In the midst of this relative flop, Obie unfortunately also found himself firmly in the doghouse of Interscope head Jimmy Iovine. He would later admit some person fault for this falling out due to his attitude at the time, but not before it ultimately led to him parting ways with Interscope and Shady. Unable to reach a resolution with Iovine, Obie Trice walked away from his major record deal in 2008. He stayed on good terms with his mentor and label mates, but his time as a mainstream presence in rap had come to a relatively quick end.

To his credit, Obie never gave up on the rap game. Though he took a handful of years off, he would resurface in 2012 to relative underground success with his self-made Black Market Entertainment brand. He was no indie darling, but Bottoms Up sold over five thousand first week copies, charted on the Billboard 200, and was generally received quite positively by fans. His follow up, The Hangover, a few years later would be more polarizing, yet it still had a respectable first week sales of over four thousand. These numbers may have been small compared to his time on a major label, but for an entirely independent artist they were actually nothing to laugh at. Obie Trice’s post-Shady legacy is, however, most well defined by his actions outside of his own music. Starting in the early 2010s, he began meeting with the Detroit local government to discuss helping high-risk youth get invested into the arts. A commendable cause for a city in regular turmoil, to be certain.

Obie Trice never seemed destined to be the defining face of any record label, but it is a bit of a shame that he has become largely forgotten. He may have been behind Eminem, 50 Cent, and D12 when it came to general fan interest, but he gave the roster a sense of depth and legitimacy that it simply has not had since his departure. With Obie, Shady Records had four acts delivering genuinely enjoyable albums which were also major commercial successes. They were a force in hip-hop, and for a short period of time, they sat at the peak of the genre. He often gets miscast as nothing more than someone who sold due to affiliation with Eminem, which isn’t entirely the case. He undoubtedly benefited from his boss being the largest thing on the planet, but there was more to Obie Trice as a rapper than that. He was witty, charismatic, funny, and knew when to reel it back and be serious. He understood his strengths and weaknesses, and made up for his limitations by projecting his infectious personality unabashedly. It is a fact that his prominence has dried up and his musical output has declined, but Obie should be looked back on as a superb entertainer. His time in the sun was a brief, but very enjoyable, piece of hip-hop’s illustrious history.

PopCulturePirates Gives Raw Perspective on Music, “The Creative Scene,” and Growth as an Artist

by Dustin

pcp

It’s impossible to not feel excited when meeting an artist with a clear passion for music. No lust for popularity, just a burning desire to be the best they can be. PopCulturePirates is one of those people, and a candid human to speak with. Pulling no punches with his perspective, it was a thrill to be able to interview PCP.  We won’t hold you up on introductions, though, as this interview has been delayed enough as it is. Let’s jump straight to the meat.


EN: First and foremost, thank you for being a part of this! We have a bit of a tradition in interviews. We always start with asking the artist to write a little about themselves, because it’s always more genuine than anything I could ever write. So, if you don’t mind, that’s what I’m going to ask of you to kick things off.

PopCulturePirates: About myself? Hmm… I don’t tend to talk about myself often. Let’s see… I was born in South America. I currently reside in Dallas, Texas. I picked up guitar after graduating high school. I don’t really know what else to say without guided questions [laughs].

EN: [Laughs] We’ll just jump into it then! You mentioned to me prior to the interview that you are a part of a band as well, but what made you interested in starting the Pop Culture Pirates side project? Was it just a desire to explore different avenues?

PCP: Actually PopCulturePirates has always been my project since I began learning to write music. My band came together fairly recently, in relation to my solo project. If anything, you could probably get away with saying my other band is my side project (but not really). My writing started to be more directed towards what I would want to see live. Which is where the band came in. I wanted to be in a band all my life (even when I was still too lazy to even dedicate time to learning guitar). However, I started to learn to do everything on my own because when I actually wanted to join friends and other people’s bands, I would get rejected because of my lack of talent.

So, it was sort of a “I’ll show them, they’ll see. l can make music too.” Kind of thing. But the actual band, being part of a group of tight friends and playing music and hanging out afterwards, that was always sort of the dream. But with more people, more bodies and hearts, come more voices, more opinions, and more bullshit. So any writing that wasn’t generally accepted, or didn’t follow the band’s sound, I would keep in the backseat and develop those ideas whenever I had time.

EN: Do you feel that having the PopCulturePirates project in your back pocket from the very beginning helped your development a lot as an artist? Because it sounds like, since you were never forced to prematurely abandon an idea, that you were able to grow a lot more naturally and freely.

PCP: Even though PCP is my “solo” project, that really is just the identifying label I slap on anything I make that is somewhat guitar driven. So, to answer that question, yes, I think being Solo from the beginning allowed me to really explore anything I wanted and absorb everything I came in contact with, and make it my own instead of trying to mold it to fit any limiting “project” I could’ve been a part of.

EN: Right. So, instead of being like some side projects that have a clean cut distinct sound removed from the artists other works (like The ILYs are to Death Grips), PCP is more of a sonic scrapbook of ideas you didn’t want to throw away? I say side projects very loosely at this point, since you clarified earlier. I just can’t think of a better word.

PCP: I would flip the table and say PCP is my music and the band is my “group” project. But for the sake of not sounding pretentious, let’s just keep referring to PCP as my solo project. Also, I really enjoy Death Grips. There’s a couple bands that just ignite inspiration in me, and that’s one of them.

Anyway, I am constantly writing music, like all the time, not even joking. Some people might think I’m trying to sound like “oh look at me I got music coming out of my hands, and feet, and kisses” (Julian Casablancas reference, by the way) and some people might think, “that’s just sad, mediocre music is all this guy can do? Pathetic.” But whatever the people’s thoughts are, the fact it I am always constantly writing melodies and lyrics and stuff. I’ve got over 11GB of demos and snippets I’ve recorded and have backed up. So it’s not really like a scrapbook, it’s more like I’m sort of rationing out my creative output.

At one point the band was all that I was writing for, but the progress of four people learning songs and getting them tighter can only go so fast and agreeing on changes and ideas. I became frustrated (not in a bad way, i just felt like I had to keep going) so I went back to writing for myself (PCP).

Oh, man, it’s really not my intention to sound like a pretentious piece of shit. I want everyone that might read this to know what I aware of my creative capabilities, I know I’m not that good making music. Or, I don’t think I am, but I am constantly getting better and one day I will be great. And then maybe I will be a pretentious asshole, when I have the skills and discography to back it up [jokingly anxious laughter]!

EN: [Laughs] don’t sell yourself short either. On that note though, do you think the current DIY scene is the perfect sort of environment for an artist like yourself? There’s such a fascination with eclectic, homemade, music. And the stuff you release under the PCP banner definitely fits that. Whereas I think some time ago, it may have been harder to have that freedom.

PCP: I think for the laymen, or just casual listeners, it’s great. There’s so much variety, so much content, they’re happy to be thrown all this cool music. Today everybody is a musician and everybody is a producer. Like the lyrics on my single Everything Is Forever say: “…Everyone with a pen is a poet, and everyone with a canvas is an artist…” Anybody with a laptop can make a shitty recording and people go wild. I don’t know if I’m happy to fit in there, to be honest. If I could make way better sounding music I would. I would love to be writing for or working with huge bands like the 1975 (I’m not a big fan of them) or Arctic Monkeys, but instead I’m making weird Lofi diy indie pop goodness. But I’m hoping to get better. I do think my material gets more and more refined the more I do it. Maybe I’m just a slow learner.

But nonetheless, i am grateful and blessed to have received the attention I have. I am very thankful to people like you, taking the time to actually listen and recognize the work I put into what I do. And yes, now that that Lofi sound is what’s sort of “in” I am able to receive such positive response. In the past it would’ve probably been met with, “you sound like you just recorded through an 8-track, what are you doing with your life? Making the wrong choices obviously.” But I recognize I do have to thank the current DIY Lofi global phenomenon for even making it possible for me to reach as far as I have. I might not even be making music today if it wasn’t for it, i probably would’ve given up long, long, ago.

EN: I definitely understand what you mean, and unfortunately I think there is a crowd that uses that LoFi sound as a crutch. That being said, I think my interest in it is less as an aesthetic and more with the people in your sort of situation. Where it’s not LoFi for the sake of being LoFi, but it’s that way for the sake of actually being able to release music. I think there’s something beautifully genuine about that sort of never quit attitude. You know what I mean? Like, I would argue even acts like The Voidz carry that sort of spirit into more refined places. It’s not limited to LoFi.

PCP: I think Julian’s work has always carried that sort of grittiness, aside from his first solo and his Daft Punk collab. He has always tried to push that outlier music to the forefront. I guess Lofi can translate in many cases to rawness, which that in itself can translate to pure emotion through various states of sonic synthesis haha. I don’t know. I think you’re right. I think Lofi is a phase and it’s more important when it becomes forgotten and moved away from. It makes it so much more important. If you’re a lofi artist and all you do is lofi, i think that’s kind of dumb and takes away from it. Lofi is like the birth sound of one’s musicianship. It defines your beginnings, but if you’re doing Lofi because that’s what’s popular now, I feel it blurs the lines of what Lofi could mean in a musicians career.

I don’t know. I think I might be contradicting myself and talking out my butt. I think Lofi, like indie, shouldn’t be recognized as a genre.

EN: You think it’s more of a state of being? Like how you wouldn’t consider “clean studio recording,” a genre. It’s a trait of the music but not a genre.

PCP: That’s pretty much it. But I’m not mad about it, I just feel like that’s what it is to me. It’s all subjective I suppose.

EN: But, you would prefer if people took the nature of your sound as a reflection of where your career is and less as a reflection of what kind of music you’re trying to make. Would that be accurate? Say, in ten years. You’d rather look back on it like “these demos showed a lot of promise even though I didn’t have full studio access,” than “I used to be a lofi artist.”

PCP: Yes. But they would be demos really, they were final products that reflected my mental state, my physical skills, my financial level, etc. For everybody else it’s just a song but I guess for my it would be like “diary.” They would **not** be demos really. Like if you keep a diary, and you started when you were little and wrote on a crappy notebook; when you look back, it wouldn’t just be about what you wrote,It would also be the feel of that sheet of paper to the touch, the smell of it, the way it crumpled up, the teardrops, or blood stains, or food droplets, or anything and everything on it, it brings you back to that moment. You can “digitize” it and copy it into Microsoft word to save it forever and it would have the same legible content, but it loses the importance of what that original object was.

EN: I’m kind of understand more what you said earlier now. When you make LoFi a genre, it strips a bit of the intimacy the artist has with those older projects away. Right?

PCP: I think so, but pop culture takes anything it wants whenever it wants it. And this is not only evident with the topic we’re on but a lot of other things going on in the world that I’d rather not delve into.

EN: Is that sort of sentiment where the name PopCulturePirates came from?

PCP: Yeah, sort of. It’s like going against pop culture, being an outsider… Culture is so much bigger than just music and fashion. But that’s the theory, not the practice. I wish I would’ve been more strict with the ethos the moniker carries with it, but I ended up making music that could be considered “pop” right now anyway. Now I’m going against myself, and what my moniker stood for. I was younger and wanted to make something that would be huge, bigger than myself. Something that could mean something philosophically, politically, socially, that people could relate to. But it never got to that, I was never able to get to that point. I think I was simply limited by my most basic musician skills. And I just couldn’t create something that big. But I’m not mad nor disappointed, it’s just a little embarrassing admitting that, but beyond that, it’s whatever.

EN: I think the name is one of those things that’s vague enough to move past your original intentions though. Don’t you think there’s a lot of potential there for listeners to interpret it in various ways?

PCP: There is, but people don’t really pay any attention to the names. I feel even musicians at this point don’t even care about the names either. Porches? Bleachers? Quilt? Even Car Seat Headrest (I’ve read the reason behind the name, but still). Those are all stupid-ass names in my honest opinion, but I love all those bands. Except Bleachers… Bleachers is “meh” to me. But Porches is amazing. Car Seat’s song “Vincent” is my latest favorite song. Quilt blew my mind the first time I heard them. But people might think that of PCP too, it has 3 very “evoking” words. I’ve been trying to push my single to a few people, and some reactions to just the name have been “that name really turned me off, I almost didn’t listen to it because of the name.” At the same time some others say that it was a great name choice, as it makes you guess what direction it’s going to go, as opposed to naming the project something mundane like “Chair.” I have no fucking idea what that means, nothing comes to mind if someone would mention a band called “Chair,” you know? But with PCP I feel like those 3 words in different combinations call to mind very different things. I realize that the “pirates” could make people think of hard punk or gypsy folk. But nonetheless, I like the name, it meant something at one point, it’s catchy, and interesting. A bit original. At least I think so.

Though, now that I think about it. “Chair” would be a very interesting name. Poking fun at all the stupid names out there right now. Might make it an album name at some point.

EN: At the end of the day though, you want the music to speak for itself, yeah?

PCP: I’m sure everyone would agree to that, yes.

EN: We touched a bit on a few acts that inspired you, but who else did you listen to that really made you want to be involved in creating music? Inspirations, so to speak.

PCP: I hate to jump on the bandwagon, but The Strokes were the ones that made me go, “hmm… that’s cool. I wanna try doing that.” I hate admitting that because I feel they inspired pretty much everyone who listened to them, sort of what they say about The Velvet Underground. They might’ve not been as commercially successful, but every single person that heard them went home and started a band. They were very influential. That’s where the “dream” of starting a band came from, after watching their first tour documentary, “In Transit.” They looked like they really loved one another and they were brothers and best friends conquering the world together. That shit was beautiful to me. That’s what I wanted. But finding a band was very hard so I ended up just honing in on “solo” songwriting, because that’s all I could do and wanted to do, at that point.

Other than The Strokes, I would say John Mayer really got me into exploring more complex guitar playing and into a little bit of blues. Blues is cool and all, and I respect it for what it is, but you can play any combination of notes in a blues scale and it will sound good. That makes it too easy and dull to me. There’s many obvious musicians and bands that made a career out of the blues, but I feel like now it’s just a learning phase. “Okay I learned to play bars, chords, and all. Now I will learn the blues scale, and then proceed to jazz music theory, and so on.” You know what I mean? I feel like I totally deviated to talk shit about the blues, but no disrespect, blues is the foundation. I love it, but I want more.

Other than that… I had a big Dave Matthews Band phase. That would be all I would listen to for like 6 months straight. His guitar playing was pretty influential. I still warm up by playing the “Satellite” riff which really makes your fingers stretch. Another band that really influenced me was an Argentinian band called Soda Stereo. I grew up with their album playing in the background pretty much 24/7.

EN: We’ve had Julian Casablancas come up a few times now, and reflecting on what you said, I have even had people in other genres mention him to me before. Aside from the brotherhood element of watching The Strokes, do you think his magnetic artistry just pulls people into music? Like for myself, I always looked up to him as someone unrestrained. It was refreshing.

PCP: I really dislike talking about The Strokes because it’s so unoriginal to do so. It feels like everyone is just in on the Strokes band wagon. I know that’s not the case, they are in fact THAT influential. They all have that rock and roll swagger. And Albert Hammond Jr., his first two albums are amazing, he is a great songwriter. But I feel like he kind of fell off with his third releases up until this last one. His last album, Francis Trouble, it’s really, really, good. And I just saw him live about a month ago. I was blown away at his stage presence, the sound, and the songs. But I could talk about them for days, but I’d rather not. Citing them as inspiration is overdone and uninteresting in my opinion. I’d rather say something like… Grimes totally inspired me to be a little weirder with my music. I actually have had a crush on grimes for a bit. And now she’s dating Elon musk. That blows my mind. I can’t compete with that. That was the whole reason I really started doing music. So I would seem cool to her and we could hang out and stuff, y’know? Now I can’t do that. How do you top Elon musk? You don’t. You can’t.

EN: So, you’d totally support a Grimes song being the national anthem of the first Mars settlement, even if she doesn’t notice you and fall in love? [Laughs].

PCP: I’m 100% on board with that. But I’d rather, you know, be noticed? Maybe co-write the anthem? With Elon’s approval obviously, I wouldn’t do anyone dirty like that. ‘Specially my boy, Elon. By that point in history he might already have developed a personal travel size death ray and is willing to use it on anyone who opposes him or gives his girl the googly eyes (for example: me).

EN: Let’s talk about Everything is Forever for a minute, because to me that song feels like you really took a massive leap in all artistic facets. Like, don’t get me wrong, I adore Death, The Kid. There’s just something about Everything is Forever that feels so complete… How do you feel about that track? Do you think it marks a new step forward in your songwriting?

PCP: To be honest, “Death, The Kid.” Is a step down from “Kanye” because “Death” was just a collection of demos going as far back as 2010 that I uploaded because it hadn’t been a productive year for my music. I didn’t really have much to show, so I decided to just upload this collection of old tracks. Aside from the two new songs I wrote that year which were Bad Luck and Kirito’s Dream. You can probably see more of a relation between those two and Everything Is Forever.

But I do like Everything Is Forever very much. I don’t think it’s too much of a leap for my style. But I do love the clash I was able to manage between very refined, Hi-fi guitars and cymbals against the lo-fi kick, snare, and vocals. The repetitive ending I initially intended on extending it for over a minute longer to emphasize the “Forever.” As in to make people say “damn, this part lasts forever” and then recognize that and the relation to the title of the song and be like “oh shit! I get it!” But then I thought to myself, nobody would probably pay that much attention to it. So I kept it shorter, but still kind of long and repetitive. But I don’t think it’s necessarily a new step, I think if anything I might’ve kept the songwriting on a leash a bit. I’ve been slowly finding out that, as cliche as it sounds, less is more. But then I went in and threw shit on its head by keeping that out-of-left-field outro.
There’s a song on the album coming out called “Where Is The Destruction,” and another called “Medallion City,” I feel like both of those challenged my songwriting a little more than EIF, each in its own way. Though, Everything Is Forever is a very emotional song, nostalgic summer vibe, sad crushing lyrics, the energy gets carried through in a very flowing fashion with its arrangement. It’s interesting. I like it. I’m proud of it.

EN: Apart from the other couple of songs you mentioned, does your new album carry that nostalgic vibe throughout? Or is it more varied?

PCP: It definitely has more variation.

EN: Does your musical process change at all when you know that you’re working on songs intended to be released on an album? I ask because I tend to get mixed answers to this, and it’s interesting. Some seem to feel their process becomes more intensive, others say it doesn’t change at all.

PCP: Not really. Usually I just write and write songs, when I have about… I don’t know, 7-11 good songs (which are usually picked from maybe 20 or so) I then “package” them as an album. For this last album though, I was approached by Breakwood Records (sweethearts) and they heard Everything Is Forever and decided to help me put out the next album. We sort of agreed on an imaginary deadline for me to provide all the songs for the LP. I ended up writing about 6 of the songs from it in like three months maybe. I did think it was going to become more intensive as I had never had any sort of “pressure” to finish songs but all that changed was me making more time in my day to day life to write music. That was it really, other than that it was sort of the same.

EN: How do you feel about doing something with a label? That’s super cool. And also, I should say, congratulations! Even with the internet, getting noticed like that is no small feat.

PCP: They’re a small independent label from Canada that just began, they’re the coolest and sweetest. But to be honest the coolest thing about it is not really being able to say “oh look at me, I’m on a label,” but instead having people that really, really, listen to my material and are critical, and honest, and interested in my music. They believe in what I do, and that honestly is a beautiful feeling.

EN: I can understand that, that’s a great attitude to carry into it. Nobody will show you more support than an independent label that loves you, and I truly believe that. On a funnier note, I am also from Canada. How does it feel to have a strange destiny bond with the Canadian music scene? [Laughs].

PCP: Dudeeeee, to be honest it’s awesome. I’m starting to feel like Toronto is replacing New York as the music city to be in, in my mind. Plus, some of my favorite musicians are from there: Dirty Beaches, Crystal Castles, Broken Social scene, Metric, and so on. And of course, who can forget, Grimes.

EN: If you had the chance to form a band composed of any living musician, who would you have in there?

PCP: If I could I would clone myself and play in a band with 4 or 5 me’s. Because anybody I would pick is probably going to be way more skilled than me, to the point where I would be the weakest link. But with 5 me’s, we all would be on the same level of everything and on the same page, plus no egos because it’s really just me, you know?

EN: You’re smart. You’re really smart. You avoided Meg White-ing yourself entirely with one of the most unconventional answers I’ve ever received. Good man [laughs]. But actually, that’s got me thinking. You said earlier that you started by learning guitar, but what was the process like learning other instruments in order to complete full songs? It’s not easy to learn multiple instruments, never mind learning how to properly work them into a piece of music.

PCP: In high school everybody had to pick an instrument, I picked drums. The instructors said all the drummer spots were taken, so I chose saxophone, they said those were taken too so they put me with trumpet. I hated trumpet then. I appreciate it now. But I don’t play it anymore. Guitar… it’s a weird story. My mother was in a band and she always had a guitar in the house I would pick it up for 3 days every 3 months and decide I wanted to learn. I never did. I got instructors that I’d go to once and never again because they would send homework and I’d rather just play The Legend of Zelda. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school where I was like, “alright, let’s do this.”

On bass I get by with just what I know on guitar. And drums I learned because one of my roommates in the college dorms mentioned he used to play drums and had an electronic drum kit. I showed a song i had done and tried to convince him that we could totally start a band so that he would bring the kit to our dorm. He eventually did and that’s where I started learning how to drum. I would often skip classes if he had already left just so I could play. Since they were electronic drums nobody would complain. It was awesome. Drums are the funnest instrument but also the hardest to learn in my opinion. I have good timing but syncing your movements, that was tough. I learned by playing along to LCD Soundsystem songs. Because the drumming isn’t overly complicated but it goes, it goes, it goes, guillotineeeee [laughs]. The drummer on LCD just keeps the beat for all the 7 plus minute songs. I love LCD, man, one of. My favorites. James’ urban poetry destroys me emotionally.

EN: Are there any others you want to add to your arsenal in the future? Maybe throw a flute solo on a PCP track in the future? Or…like, bassoon?

PCP: I have a deep fascination for sampling and the way hip hop music is and has been constructed. I will incorporate that probably into my upcoming songwriting. So instead of learning an instrument, I would most likely sample it and make it weird. But if I definitely had to choose an instrument to learn. I’d probably say violin. That instrument is so beautiful and versatile.

EN: Have you ever watched some of the artists who do live sampling on stage with an MPC, or whatever? Some of those dudes turn that into an extremely delicate art. How’d you pick up an interest in the art of the sample?

PCP: I have another project where I make experimental “beats” that I lease to small rappers. A lot of my money for gear has come from that. My love for sampling came from having an obsession with New York producer, Blockhead. He is one of my all time favorite producers. Dan the Automator too.

Aarabmuzik is a freakin’ god using an MPC live. His finger drumming is almost mathematically quantized. He’s crazy.

EN: Is there anything you fear musically? For yourself, I mean. A direction or attitude that you hope you never start to take on.

PCP: I fear running out of ideas. Of good ideas. Sometimes when I don’t write music for a while, when I come back to it it’s as if I forgot how to write songs, so I go through a couple ideas which end up in the trash because they sound terrible and I get a little fearful thinking “maybe that’s it, maybe I’ll never write anything decent again, I’m all washed up.” It sounds dumb, but that’s something crosses my mind often.

EN: What sort of advice would you give to others who’ve felt that way? I know when I’m working on my music projects, it’s a regular fear of my own too. Hell, Rajin (my other writer) has watched me have near meltdowns thinking I’ve lost my touch. What do you do to move past that worry? Just keep grinding?

PCP: As cliche as it sounds, yeah. Just keep doing it until you either find your next good idea or until you truly can’t find anything else and give up. But the latter should be if you’ve been going at it for like a year maybe? And nothing comes out, then maybe then you’re all dried. Or maybe not. I don’t know [laughs].

EN: In all seriousness though, do you find breaks from writing music to be essential to the creative process?

PCP: I think sometimes you do need breaks physically, specially after hours and hours of writing, or mixing. Your ears get shot and you stop hearing things as they actually are. Your ears get tired. But maybe you do need to let that “creativity bank” refill every now and then. So I guess short answer: yes.

Also, if anybody has any other advice as to how to deal with the fear of drying up, hit me up. There should be a better way to deal with that which I haven’t yet learned.

EN: Is there anything that you have learned along the way that you wish you had known when you first started writing music?

PCP: The actual process of learning all I know, however long it took, that’s part of the whole artist thing. If I knew then what I knew now, the journey of becoming a musician would not be as exciting and accomplishing. I honestly hate referring to myself as a musician or an artist, I feel it is very pretentious. Not to give a smart ass answer, but truly looking back, I wouldn’t share any information with myself. I would watch myself go through all of it all over again. Over the same mistakes I went through and through the same victories I had.

Although maybe having the contact information of a few people earlier on would have helped [laughs].

EN: So you’d leave a little book of phone numbers and emails, but still let yourself experience those natural growing pains? [Laughs]. I don’t think that’s smartass at all. Every struggle, every misstep, everything makes you who you are as an artist now.

PCP: Yeah, I guess. Not to get philosophical or anything, but yeah, every pain you experience makes you who you are today. So every hassle and hurdle with respect to music would make you the music maker you are today.

EN: What should people expect from you as an artist in the future in terms of releases? I know you said you were working on an album to come out under the PCP handle. Any plans for a band album release sometime?

PCP: With the band we’re actually recording at the moment. When you asked me if there was anything I had learned that I wish I would’ve know. In the beginning, I was tracking vocals at that exact time. I remember pulling my phone out and seeing your question while singing. I don’t think people shouldn’t expect anything from me. But I hope to be able to just improve and put out better and better material.

EN: And is that how you would like people to think of you? An artist with humility, but also a burning desire to continue improving every day?

PCP: Not really. Maybe in the long run, after I die, it would be cool if I don’t get remembered as a piece of shit. I honestly think my humility can easily come off as pretentiousness, somehow. But, I would just like for people to really like what I do. That’s pretty much it. Hopefully someone can see beyond the surface of the music and really get the substance of whatever I’m trying to say in that specific piece. But, as long as people just like it, I guess I’m ok with that. But my main, main, goal would be to cause in someone what other great artists caused in me.

Collectors Corner: Madvillain – Madvillainy (2014 Cassette Reissue)

by Dustin

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Ever since we decided to revitalize the Collector’s Corner series of articles back in January, I’ve been racking my brain in an attempt to decide on the next album to showcase. I quite enjoy being able to talk about some of my favorite releases more casually and personally, as opposed to the formal nature of music reviews; however, physical media is not always the most interesting thing in the world. I adore my music collection, and have a bad tendency to put disposable income I don’t actually have into it. Regardless of this, many of the titles I own could be described in a paragraph or less. This simplicity is a wonderful thing, but at the same time it doesn’t make for the most catching of blog posts; however, Rajin recently published his own collectors corner, reminding me not to neglect this particular series. Being the stubborn person I am, I figured the best way to break the slump would be to write about one of the most simplistic releases I own. This may sound counterintuitive, but due to the album’s stature within hip-hop and grandiose sound I actually find the stark contrast quite interesting.

The album in question is Madvillainy, the collaborative effort between underground legends MF DOOM and Madlib under the name Madvillain. The particular version we will be looking at is the cassette re-release which came out under Stones Throw Records (STH2065) in 2014. This is the standard release, which has some minor changes from the Cassette Store Day release though they share the same catalogue number. The biggest variation is that the Cassette Store Day release has a shiny j-card rather than matte.

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Upon first look at this cassette it is evident that a few minor design changes were made to the original cover in order to have it look natural on a j-card. The text from the upper left corner has been removed entirely, and the orange square on the right has been trimmed into a much smaller strip. These alterations don’t take much away from the artwork, and in my opinion Stones Throw did an excellent job reformatting everything. One weird difference, however, is that the signature cover photo of DOOM appears to be slightly darker than on the original. This could just be an illusion due to the fact that his shoulders have been cut out, but it stood out as slightly odd to me. Ultimately it doesn’t really matter, as the album artwork is classic and looks just about as good here as it has anywhere else. I’ve seen cassette release adaptations go really poorly, and fortunately Madvillainy is not one of those cases.

The rest of the j-card is also quite minimalistic. Taking a look at the side spine you’ll find the album name and not much else. Around the back it simply says that group is called Madvillain, Madlib did the beats, DOOM did the emceeing, and Stones Throw released the record (in addition to the catalogue number). This serves as the credits portion of the release, weighing in at a whopping eight words. The interior of the j-card has a black and white photo of Madlib with his face partially obscured by a piece of production equipment. That is essentially all there is to see as far as the external packaging goes. It’s basic, but it looks great.

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The cassette itself seems barren (even under-designed) at first, but after taking a closer look at it I realized it is actually quite the unique piece. The tape is housed inside a colourless clear shell with black liners, which in itself does not sound like anything particularly out of the ordinary. If you take a closer look at the liner though, there is a triangular notch cut out of the top which is a shape that I have never personally seen on a cassette before. The black liner is also being used to provide a contrasting backdrop to the white text stamped on both sides of the outer shell, and makes the font pop excellently. It’s a very small design choice, but it adds a sense of flair that would not have otherwise been there. I personally adore it.

The sound quality is about as good as you’re going to get from a cassette, which still isn’t amazing, but it’s certainly passable. I noticed relatively little background hiss, which doesn’t seem to be a frequent issue on newer cassettes anyway. The quality control is appreciated nonetheless.

To summarize, the 2014 cassette reissue of Madvillainy is an exercise in minimalism done correctly. The aesthetic offers few clues as to how the album is going to sound, yet it also compliments the music very well. This particular album always seemed to suit the vinyl format the most, but I will say that I was pleasantly surprised with the cassette. If you’re interested in picking up one of the many reissues (as of right now Discogs lists 23 versions) of Madvillainy, I would most certainly say that you can’t go wrong with this tape.

Album Review: Kanye West – ye

by Dustin

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4/10

A lot of things can and have been said about Kanye West. Many a think piece had found itself picking apart the socially reprehensible drivel to fall out of his mouth after he took the media by storm this year in a whirlwind of foolishness. Though the social impact of his ignorance is certainly an interesting topic, it has seemingly worked its way into every single review on the planet. Clicking on any discussion about his recently released ye album, and one is likely to spend more time reading political views than anything related to the music. While Kanye certainly has made himself an impossible character to wish to support, ye is for all intents and purposes a major release from one of hip-hop’s most prominent figures. For that reason alone, the music deserves to be analyzed as actual music, and not the ramblings of everyone’s favorite pariah.

With that out of the way, let’s reflect on Mr. West’s eighth solo effort.

It’s not often that the production on an album dwarfs the presence of the emcee, but this was absolutely the case with ye. Luckily for himself, Kanye can lay claim to the instrumentation on this record as well. For years, Kanye West fans have been clamouring for the controversial figure to go back to his roots of chopping samples and banging out killer instrumentation. Not long prior to the release of ye, he offered up some promising (and genuinely very good) instrumentals on Pusha T’s DAYTONA. Moving onto this project, he surprisingly kept that momentum going. The beats were good. Nothing stood out in the same way that “Santeria” did on DAYTONA, but it was some of the best production work Kanye has rapped on since My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. There was a nice blend between his signature soulful sample style from back in the day, and his more modern wavy, synthetic, bass heavy sound. It was all quite pleasing to the ear, and set the album up for what should have been an easy home-run if he could keep up on the mic; however, that didn’t really happen.

In other words, ye was an album that would have been better served to be a beat tape. Kanye proved to be his own worst enemy, as his backdrop outshone the lackluster spotlight.

Being that he has never been the most talented writer in the world, Kanye has relied pretty heavily on his charisma and personality behind the mic. Even on his weaker projects he came across as an eccentric, and there was something infectious about it. His vocal performances on ye were odd, as they lacked any semblance of this spark. Yeezy seemed disinterested and it was difficult to engage the music when he carried himself as entirely uninvested. It should be mentioned that there clearly was an attempt on Kanye’s behalf to come across as a more introspective and thoughtful writer; however, this manifested itself in tracks such as “I Thought About Killing You” and “Wouldn’t Leave,” which were extremely groan inducing and difficult to sit through. In addition to that, the adventures into braggadocio did not carry any sort of weight, as his lack of charisma couldn’t lift the mediocre writing. Regardless of the topic, most songs on here felt like gutless and redundant rehashes of things that he’s already done a hundred times in the past.

Actually, imagine the rapping on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Now imagine that rapping with every last drop of energy sucked out of it, leaving only the bare bones of its design. That is essentially how Kanye came across on ye. Not horrendous, just unbearably dull.

Side note, the mixing was bad. Really bad. Mike Dean has been a bit of a disaster in the technical department for a long time, and ye is no exception. Everything was muddied out, resulting in the album sounding amateurish and unfinished. For a major release, the audio quality was downright shameful.

Acknowledging Kanye’s tumultuous negative media presence wasn’t really required to walk away from ye feeling entirely empty. Though many reviewers rating it poorly have chosen to focus mostly on his personal volatility, the album from a musical standpoint offered very little to be excited about. It was encouraging to hear him knocking out enjoyable instrumentals again, but at the same time his rapping showed little improvement from the nosedive it took on Yeezus five years ago. While one would have hoped that dialing back to a 20 minute run time could have helped Kanye release a more focused product, ye felt just as rushed as The Life of Pablo in most respects. Unfortunately, it was also a lot less interesting. The manic energy of his last two projects was not to be found; instead, the final product had little identity, and felt like nothing more than a placid celebration of boredom by an artist who left his prime long ago.