Album Review: Daniel Son & Futurewave – Moonshine Mix 2

by Dustin

MSM2highlyrecommended

Since dropping Moonshine Mix with Crate Divizion a little over two years ago, a lot has happened in Daniel Son’s fast moving career. Having teamed up with the insane production talent Futurewave the pair went on an unbelievable run of three albums, putting rap on notice that the North was a force to be reckoned with. Each record pushed their own limits, budding a reputation as one of the most reliable and dynamic acts in the scene. Though Futurewave didn’t spearhead the instrumentation of the original, their fourth offering was set to be Moonshine Mix 2, a record that barely afforded fans enough time to digest Yenaldooshi from earlier this year before making itself hard to ignore. Few artists have the drive to complete four unforgettable albums in such a short span of time, but if anyone were to do it, it was going to be Daniel Son and Futurewave.

And of course, they did.

Daniel Son has pushed himself to new heights with every release, and Moonshine Mix 2 was no exception to that trend. As one should come to expect, his confidence and attitude behind the mic built up a massive presence leaving no second of any verse wasted. From a pure engagement standpoint, Daniel Son delivered one of the boldest emcee performances of the year with his blunt and assertive style laying down bar after bar of filthy — realistically morbid and cold — life observations. As if that wasn’t quite immense enough, the way he approached flows and rhyme patterns on Moonshine Mix 2 felt significantly more unpredictable than in the past; moreover, it was genuinely exciting to have that uncertainty and built up anticipation between tracks. It’s not like he changed his style fundamentally either, he’s simply refined what he does best to the point of it being jaw-dropping. For an underground hip-hop scene in Canada that has been shaky at times, an artist with the hunger and bite of Daniel Son has continued to be a huge refresher. While it’s been evident for a while that he had something special, this album could be seen as the moment that his track record as a rapper went from impressive to nearly untouchable.

Of course for every leap forward Daniel Son made on Moonshine Mix 2, Futurewave was right alongside with absolutely spectacular instrumentals. Among his peers, Futurewave is one of a small handful of producers that seem to be making an effort to do something inventive and involved with the art of sampling. The beats here felt inspired by the sound of the original Moonshine Mix tape, but they definitely had his signature offkilterness and punch. His sample selection was super varied, yet it flowed perfectly. For example the gritty and oddly disorienting “Pray 4 Me” led into the much more relaxing “Kip Raines,” and even though they couldn’t have been more different, their distinct Futurewave flair made them work together. He’s shown time and time again that he’s one of the best in the business at overseeing full album production, and Moonshine Mix 2 was reflective of that. It’s records like this that people learning to produce should take the time to study, because the way that Futurewave assembles instrumentals is so far beyond the average. He didn’t just take the easy route of basic loops. His production built and fell back in ways that complimented and emphasized everything Daniel Son brought to the table, but left him ample room to let his enormous personality breathe. It was all tied together in such a pleasing way, complete from front to back.

It’s not often that a sequel outdoes its predecessor, but it didn’t come as a surprise that this one did (and the first Moonshine Mix wasn’t a slouch in its own right). These two artists are constantly setting the bar for quality in the underground hip-hop scene. Whether it be Pressure Cooker, Physics of Filth (with the talented Asun Eastwood), Yenaldooshi, or Moonshine Mix 2, Daniel Son and Futurewave have been able to do no wrong. This was a great release, and what’s more encouraging is that they’ve shown no signs of taking the foot off the gas. Much like Roc Marciano, Ka, or the collective of Griselda, there are no direct comparables to what those around Brown Bag have been able to establish as their sound. Moonshine Mix 2, as with their previous releases, stood firm as something unique to itself and special. In the modern hip-hop environment of abundant rapidly available music, being able to stand out based on individuality and pure quality is rare. Not only did they manage to achieve that, but they made it look casual. For those who enjoy grimy, nasty and raw street rap, look no further: this album could very well end up being your project of the year, no doubt.

Album Review: ANKHLEJOHN x Big Ghost Ltd. – Van Ghost

by Rajin

van ghost

9/10

Since delivering his official debut album in 2017, ANKHLEJOHN has remained one of the most interesting emcees in the current underground scene. He has a tendency to switch things up for each project, an artistic choice that continues to keep him fresh and engaging. He has released countless EPs and mixtapes, each of which has its own identity that sets it firmly apart from the rest of his discography. In June 2018, he released what he touted as his second album, Van Ghost, with legendary blogger turned full-time producer Big Ghost Ltd. Ghost has worked with Ankh before, supplying him with the most dynamic, cinematic beat on the entirety of The Red Room (“Original Man,” a chilling song that features Hus Kingpin). From their very first time working together, it was clear that Ghost had a deep understanding of who ANKHLEJOHN is as an artist. The chemistry that these two obviously had gave way to further collaboration, eventually culminating in an incredible album, inspired by Vincent Van Gogh.

Big Ghost initially made a name for himself as a producer on 2015’s Griselda Ghost with Westside Gunn and Conway. He took a fresh approach to the sound that Daringer had crafted for Griselda and made it his own, resulting in one of my favorite projects to ever be released by the label. From there, he’s continued honing his skill and developing his own musical identity. His distinct drum patterns and ear for samples make his beats instantly identifiable. What sets him apart the most, however, is the way he adapts his production to fit the rapper with whom he is working like a glove. While his sampling techniques generally don’t vary, the sources from which he draws change depending on the style of the emcee he’s producing for. This practice creates an entirely different sound for each project while maintaining an unmistakable production signature. Through his subsequent work with Vic Spencer, Hus Kingpin, and CRIMEAPPLE, he proved himself to be one of the most reliable producers in the game.

With this in mind, to say he outdid himself on Van Ghost would be an understatement. The production on this record is without a doubt the most unique and awe-inspiring music Big Ghost has created thus far. It’s actually quite difficult to describe; while still very obviously boom bap, the aesthetic brings to mind the image of a chapel designed in the era of Baroque architecture. Tracks such as “The Church at Auvers,” “The Starry Night,” and “At Eternity’s Gate” feature elements including pianos, angelic vocals, and harps that sound nothing less than godly, for lack of a better term. The majority of the production work on this album ultimately leaves the listener astounded at how Ghost pulled off what he did. In a moment of sheer brilliance, he bridged the gap between past and present on “Almond Blossoms,” another track featuring Hus Kingpin. The production weaves between sections with harpsichords and sections with bassier, jazzier sounds that recall the luxurious vibe of Cocaine Beach. It’s incredibly seamless, and it is just one of many examples that demonstrates level of creative ingenuity displayed by Ghost throughout this album.

Truly, the only rapper who could have done this production justice is ANKHLEJOHN. Anybody who is familiar with him knows how dramatic his style as an emcee is. The dark, creepy ad-libs that he throws into the mix serve as a stark contrast to the heavenly sounds found among the instrumental backing, and his gruff voice offers an often frightening element to otherwise soothing music. He elevates the already cinematic instrumentation to an entirely new level; on just the first track, which opens with some very melancholy pianos, Ankh soulfully recounts a story of past trauma, before switching to a threatening growl as the beat takes a turn for the horrific. This is representative of his performance through the entire album; he brought the best out of every beat with how he adjusted his vocals to match and compliment the feel of the instrumentals. The production on this album seems to have inspired Ankh to show more variety in his delivery, and as a result, this is potentially his most vocally diverse project to this day. Lyrically, Ankh has always been fairly blunt, and he doesn’t deviate from that here. Some songs serve as violent displays of blunt lyricism while on others he instead opts to drop knowledge, displaying the dichotomy often found within his music. In general, his style felt looser on this project than others, which ultimately served to benefit the final product.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the features on this album as well. Ankh shares the mic on only two tracks, on the previously mentioned “Almond Blossoms” with Hus and the posse cut “At Eternity’s Gate,” and each time it worked wonderfully. The latter is by far the greatest posse cut I’ve heard in years; with a lineup of features that includes Eto, Fly Anakin, and CRIMEAPPLE, one would think the track could never live up to the potential those names alone set. I’m happy to report that it likely exceeds anything anyone could expect.

With Van Ghost, ANKHLEJOHN and Big Ghost crafted the most original rap album I had heard in a long time. The care that went into it is evident even from the surface; each track is named after a Van Gogh painting, and Big Ghost himself painted the artwork in a similar artistic style that Van Gogh painted in. I’m going to acknowledge the obvious: this review is many months late. This is because I honestly had a hard time describing this album in a way that would do it justice. Everything came together in such a unique way. There was no precedent set for it, so I didn’t know what to say about it. In many ways, this album is peerless. You’re unlikely to see another project offer what this one does, in the same fashion that it does. For that reason alone, it’s worth a listen. It is detailed and layered to the point that most people are going to walk away having picked up something that others haven’t. In that sense it hits its mark entirely, acting as an equivalent to a fine painting.

Album Review: Daniel Son x Asun Eastwood x Futurewave – Physics of Filth

by Dustin

pof

9.25/10

The current East coast boom bap revival has certainly been interesting to say the least. It’s seemed like a rap fan’s dream, yet has seemingly flown under the radar beyond Roc Marciano’s smooth pimp rebirth of New York. That’s not to say it hasn’t been fun to witness that sound sinking its hooks into the ears of listeners, because it definitely has been, but it’s lacked the snarl 90s dope boy emcees tended to carry. Roc and his offshoots have all leaned heavily into a buttery smooth coolness, and — by no fault of his own whatsoever — it has gotten slightly monotonous at times. The climate has been perfect for a mould breaker to come along and present something with vigor and attitude. Shockingly, three such men have arisen out of the frozen North and banded together to create something monumental. Physics of Filth, a project consisting of the ever powerful Daniel Son and Futurewave combo, while throwing in the king of raw potential in Asun Eastwood for good measure. Basically all the ingredients for an unforgettable feast, the likes of which the Canadian hip-hop scene has never seen.

Oh yes, the audience ate well.

As a pair, Daniel Son and Asun Eastwood are incredible to a degree beyond comprehension. While both are fantastic emcees solo, they elevate each other to new heights on the same track. They balance one another out, with Asun’s calm coolness providing the exact foil Daniel Son’s hyper aggressive bite called for; however, there also seemed to be the perfect amount of competitiveness between the two to create a spark. The clear desire to not be outdone was evident, and it became exciting to try and predict who would push themselves the furthest on any given song. Topically the album was as the name and cover implied, immensely grimy drug dealer rap. Certainly a topic that has seen its fair share of play in hip-hop, but rarely is it done to the level of Physics of Filth. Asun and Daniel are quite talented writers when it comes to cheeky lines and unique phrasing. With that amount of flair, they were more than able to keep the content fresh and engaging. Coupled with a delivery match made in heaven, they were able to put on a near flawless performance on this release.

There was also the Futurewave factor to consider. Recently it has felt as if there is genuine reason to consider Futurewave as one of the best active producers alive, and Physics of Filth did nothing but bolster his impressive portfolio. He’s seemingly mastered the art of percussion, as the beats on this album hit hard enough to make the forefathers of boom-bap scrunch their faces. The sample selection spanned a wide variety of genres and were brought together seamlessly to create this intensely gritty atmosphere; moreover, his work found a way to boost the already undeniable chemistry of Daniel Son and Asun Eastwood. Even more impressively, he did so without repeating the sound established alongside the aforementioned Daniel Son on Pressure Cooker earlier the same year. It was similar in the sense that it was also a treasure trove of modernized 90s hardcore hip-hop, yet also clearly its own very unique thing. Frankly, Futurewave’s production performance made it impossible to simply shrug him off as a faceless man behind the boards because he was an integral part of the record’s DNA.

Physics of Filth was for all intents and purposes the total package. Enjoyable collaborative albums are not an easy feat to pull off naturally, yet when the stars align they can be something truly special. That’s what happened here. It would have been easy for Futurewave’s production acumen to serve as a crutch, propping up otherwise mediocre verses. Asun Eastwood and Daniel Son are not just any old rappers however, and their desire to live up to the standard each instrumental set was spectacular. Physics of Filth listened like the product of three budding elite talents holding a genuine excitement to be working together, and the interpersonal respect was audible. While the aforementioned chemistry was certainly important, this release would not have been what it was without the enthusiasm it carried. It could have simply been a solid side project, and that would have still been wonderful. Instead, it ended up being perhaps one of the best group releases in the better part of a decade, and one that would be a shame for any hip-hop junkie to not at least try once.


.Final edit: Emily – Preliminary edit: Rajin – Additional direction: Isaac

 

 

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.

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.

 

Album Review: Kanye West – ye

by Dustin

kanye-west-ye-album-credits

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.