Album Review: Uncommon Nasa – Written at Night

by Dustin

2017-10-10

8/10

To fans of the now disbanded Definitive Jux, the name Uncommon Nasa probably isn’t terribly unfamiliar. As an engineer he had his hands in the release of some of the labels most notably early works. For those unfamiliar, however, he’s also an extremely talented producer and emcee. Staying true to his roots as a musician, Nasa is a bit of a throwback to listen to. His music embodies the sound of New York’s underground scene, and his many releases show a true dedication to his own craftsmanship; however, this most recent project is a little bit different. Written at Night panned back from Nasa as a focal point and took a highly collaborative approach with other artists.

Though unconventional, this approached payed off in spades when digesting the final product.

The theme of Written at Night was relatively loose. Instead of chaining artists to specific topics, the album acted more like a diary of late night thoughts; moreover, there was “lightning in a bottle” feel to this sort of approach which was really quite interesting. The guest appearances often felt rough around the edges, as if the artists caught a wave of creativity in the dead of night and rolled with whatever came out of their pen. This is far from a negative however, and it was a massive part of Written at Night’s charm. It also made the album unpredictable. Even when approaching features with quite distinctive styles such as Open Mike Eagle and Quelle Chris, there was no real way to figure out what sort of direction they were going to take on their respective songs. This unpredictability added a nice sense of required engagement, as if turning ears away from the album for even a moment could result in missing something important.

Uncommon Nasa himself appeared on every song, but his presence was not overly pronounced. This was by design, as (like mentioned earlier) Written at Night was intended to be a collaborative release. Respectably, he kept true to this idea and didn’t force himself into the spotlight on any of the tracks save for the few solo portions at the very beginning. When Nasa did step up to the mic though, he was quite solid. His throwback New York style and enthusiasm toward hip-hop as an artform were evident. His style felt nostalgic, a throwback to the New York underground during the turn of the millennium. Being that this style doesn’t have much presence in rap currently, it was refreshing to hear on Written at Night. He may have a sound that isn’t for everybody, but there was certainly no denying the passion and thought that went into his contributions.

Nasa did, however, make himself very present on the production end of things. Handling every single instrumental on the release. He did a great job given the amount of vocal talent he was producing for. The beats were gritty, and satisfying to listen to; moreover, they were open ended enough to accommodate every artist in a comfortable way. His production wasn’t overly flashy, but it had a character and consistency which kept it engaging throughout the entirety of Written at Night.

Another interesting aspect about this album is that it seemed to gradually get more “out there” as it progressed. While a lot of albums tend to build to a climax, it was certainly a nice touch to have an album centered around late night thoughts and creativity progress in a way similar to the human mental state during the late hours of the evening. This did give the record a bit of a slow burning quality, but also a very satisfying and pleasurable complete listen; moreover, one should expect to enjoy this album more in its entirety, rather than individual songs. It was crafted in a way that lends itself perfectly to a long-form listening session.

At the end of the day, Written at Night was a compilation of likeminded artists coming together to create whatever they felt like creating. It is difficult to fairly score an album with such an open ended concept and variety of voices; however, Written at Night was undeniably solid. Nasa did an excellent job of piecing everything into properly cohesive listen. If you’re a fan of any of the artists on this release there’s probably something for you here. Incidentally, it’s also a good record to pick up if you’re looking for some new artists to dive into. Definitely a highly recommended listen.

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Album Review: Open Mike Eagle – Brick Body Kids Still Daydream

by Dustin

2017-09-18

9/10

There’s not much that hasn’t been said about Mello Music Group mainstay artist Open Mike Eagle. He’s rap’s every-man, and an artist who isn’t afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve. Since his studio album debut Unapologetic Art Rap at the beginning of the decade Mike has brought his unique take on hip-hop to new levels seemingly every year. His second full length on Mello Music Group, Hella Personal Film Festival, saw Mike take massive strides as an artist and was a wonderful release. A year and a half later he’s back with a brand new collection of works, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream. And, well…it’s really good. Like, really good.

With that in mind, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream is a bit of a different listening experience than one would come to expect from an Open Mike Eagle album. Gone are lines obscured by absurdist humor and hyper-exaggerated storytelling, replaced by emotionally hard-hitting honesty. It can be perhaps a little jarring, yet this sudden shift adds to the urgency of what’s being said on the album. On full listen, it feels if all twelve songs have at least one line designed to hit you in the stomach; however, his depictions of the American projects and ghettos managed to be honest without relying on shock-bait and emphasis on negativity. Mike made a point of showing the listener that through the institutionalized racism, a lot of amazing people and happy memories are made in these situations. That even though America needs to improve its treatment of marginalized individuals severely, those who grew up in the projects shouldn’t be written off as hopeless.

His personal connection to the projects and focus on the emotional aspect of the experience made Brick Body Kids Still Daydream a beautiful yet challenging listen. As it should be.

Mike also added another dimension to his vocal performances on this album. There were still plenty of moments with his familiar sing-rap soft spoken delivery; however, the energy he brought to some of the songs on Brick Body Kids Still Daydream is unmatched by his back catalogue. He sounded more inspired, focused, and confident than perhaps he has in his entire career, and it was a lovely surprise. The only song that really stood out as not exceptional was “Wedding Ghosts”, but even that sounded good and had its place within the tracklisting.

No services underground,
No sound, when I’m calling home,
City broken my brothers down,
Now I’m standing here all alone,
Sun weathered my monochrome,
My hollow bones, David Bowie told me I’m not alone,
I’m overgrown, but these model homes,
Still here if it’s hot or cold,
Still here if my body move,
Still standing on Cottage Grove.
(Brick Body Complex)

Open Mike Eagle has always had a very keen ear for production, and this release is no exception. Though it’s a bit of a sonic departure from the zaniness of Paul White’s instrumentation on Hella Personal Film Festival, the depressive tone to most of Brick Body Kids Still Daydream is exceptionally well done. The beats all fit together quite nicely as well, which is slightly surprising given the variety of influences on the album. From experimental to 8-Bit, the production team Mike rounded up for this album blended a plethora of styles into hip-hop seamlessly. Brick Body Kids Still Daydream sounds incredibly fresh without trying too hard to be different. It feels natural, and it suits Open Mike Eagle’s style exceptionally.

22 grandkids, one apartment,
Turn the stove on cause we done with darkness,
Social workers don’t want sons with fathers,
When they visit, people bite they tongue the hardest.
(Beezeway Ritual)

As an additional note, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream wasn’t very feature heavy which was nice. That being said, Sammus and Has-Lo brought excellent verses to their respective songs and deserve praise for fitting into the album perfectly.

Brick Body Kids Still Daydream may be the definitive Open Mike Eagle record. It’s somber, quirky, thoughtful, and an excellent showcase of his various styles. It’s undoubtedly too early to say anything for sure, but Mike’s ability to continually push himself forward with each new release is admirable to say the least. Whether or not you grew up in the projects, don’t be afraid to pick up this album and give it a listen or two. Relatability will vary with the listener, but the heart that went into the songs is undeniable and an excellent entry point into Open Mike Eagle’s impressive catalogue of work; moreover, this is easily one of the most unique and enjoyable albums to be released in 2017.

Album Review: Apollo Brown & Planet Asia – Anchovies

by Rajin

anchovies

7.5/10

I think the biggest mistake I made last year was sleeping on The Easy Truth, by Apollo Brown and Skyzoo. That album ended up being one of my favorites of 2016. Seeing a couple of months ago that Apollo Brown was teaming up with another rapper, this time being Planet Asia of Cali Agents, for an album called Anchovies (released through Mello Music Group) I made sure not to repeat that mistake.

Apollo Brown has been one of my favorites for a while. He is one of the most reliably dope producers I can think of; while generally not the most unique beatsmith in his technique, style and range, the end product is guaranteed to be soulful and immersive. His beats tell stories, even without vocals. Usually when a rapper and producer make a collaboration album, it tends to sound like the rapper’s vision with that sole producer supplying beats. Yet, the exact opposite is generally true with Apollo Brown. It’s clear that these albums are his show, and on each, he gets the rapper to come with his A-game. Planet Asia, on the other hand, is someone who I am new to. In order to get familiar before listening to this album, I listened to his other MMG release: a collaboration with producer Gensu Dean called Abrasions (which, for a quick one-line review, was quite a solid album with some filler). Based off that album, he seemed to be a talented and straightforward emcee – no frills. Just hardcore hip hop, pulled off effectively. Perfect for what Apollo was going for on this.

Speaking of which, the musical style on this album is very different from what I think most would imagine at first glance when seeing the names Apollo Brown and Planet Asia together. I think the expected product would be something along the lines of Dice Game or Trophies. They must have been aware of this going in, and decided to go for the unexpected. Rather than his typical hard-hitting drums and cinematic soul loops that would theoretically sound great behind Asia’s booming voice, Apollo Brown’s production on this is very stripped down. The drums are intentionally less prominent in the mixes, with snares often completely absent, and dirty, dusty pianos generally taking the forefront on the production side of this. It was a bit of a risk that very much paid off.

Apollo Brown and Planet Asia said that Anchovies would be an acquired taste, and to a certain extent they are right. The album sounds like it belongs to a branch of hip hop occupied by artists like Roc Marciano and Ka. However, I feel as though Anchovies is far more accessible than an album such as Honor Killed The Samurai or even Rosebudd’s Revenge. Where emcees like that are lyrically more esoteric as far as their vocabulary and references, Planet Asia’s lyricism is rooted in more colloquial language, with more of an emphasis placed on witty bars rather than abstract stories and wordplay. In addition, he raps with a more standard delivery and rhythmic flow while Ka and Marci are typically more hushed and sound almost like spoken word. Anchovies draws a great deal from the style that they use, but remains grounded in more traditional hip hop – it ends up sounding like a less cloudy and hazy version of what Conway might do. In having this sort of style, the album ends up being what I consider to be a great place to start for listeners who are trying to dip their toes into that particular facet of hip hop.

“Dirty” is an adjective that was used in a lot of the promo for Anchovies, and it really is probably the most apt description there is. The album sounds like the soundtrack to slouching against a wall smoking a cigarette in an empty alleyway behind a bar at 2 A.M. Asia’s voice and his generally somber delivery gives a feeling of cynical (and at times, emotional) reflection. This album arguably sounds like a spiritual successor to Dice Game (which, incidentally, Planet Asia was featured on)…it’s almost like this highlights what it’s like after the game when everyone’s dispersed and you’re left by yourself. It’s fitting, then, that Guilty Simpson shows up on “Nine Steamin,’” a song that is kind of reminiscent to that album.

Some songs, such as “The Aura,” “Duffles,” and “Deep in the Casket” have a bit of a jazzy, noir film kind of vibe to them, where you could imagine them behind black and white scenery. The majority of the album, however, is a little more soulful and reflective. Songs like “Speak Volumes,” “Diamonds,” and “Tiger Bone” sound sort of like what RZA would have made during the Wu-Tang Forever era with the soul samples, but far more minimal. The minimalism on this album is definitely its defining trait, and it’s pulled off wonderfully. Apollo did a great job at making sure that no matter how bare-bones the music was, it still felt full and warm to listen to.

If there is one thing that I can say I am disappointed by, it is the fact that after you get acclimated to the style of music being made here, the songs become a little predictable. If you, like me, listened to each of the singles before the album dropped, then there are likely few surprises offered to you. Apollo Brown keeps it consistent with his production, and Planet Asia does what he does lyrically and vocally. That’s not to say that it gets repetitive or the music is nonessential, and there are a few tracks that do break that mold and add a bit of depth, namely “Pain,” “Get Back,” and “You Love Me”. It’s just that the listener can pretty accurately guess what will happen on each track once they’ve heard a few. The two of them have enough talent, though, that while the predictability may hold Anchovies back as a whole from reaching its full potential, the quality of the actual music present is not diminished by any means.

On Apollo Brown’s albums, I often find more enjoyment in the beats than the raps. His production is captivating almost 100% of the time, making it’s easy for a rapper to just become a voice that compliments it well but ultimately gets tuned out. Even if the production is great, if there are emcees involved, I personally can’t call an album better than just “pretty good” if they don’t grab my interest. Sure, you can be a good rapper, but if you just serve to fill in the blanks on an impressive beat tape you’re not offering enough for the listener, or at least one like myself. With that being said, Planet Asia is not one of those emcees. He’s got witty lyrics, a distinctive delivery, and most importantly, a commanding presence and charisma. If anything, this album might be the first time I felt that it wasn’t overwhelmingly directed by Apollo. Asia felt like he had much more of a leading role, as opposed to the supporting role that the emcees generally take. Perhaps it was due in part to how minimal the beats were, but Asia’s vocal presence and clever lyricism made his mark on the album in ways that a lot of emcees don’t get to over Apollo Brown’s production.

Overall, I found Anchovies to be a great album. It is definitely one of the best efforts that I’ve personally heard this year. I appreciate and very much enjoy the sound that these guys decided to try out. Despite my criticism of the music getting predictable in the context of the album, there is no filler at all. This is an album you can’t resist but listen to the full way through. It sounded natural, and not pretentious and over-ambitious, which would have been easy given the style. My favorite tracks are probably “Diamonds,” “Dalai Lama Slang,” “Pain,” and “Get Back”. Obviously I will have to sit with it for a little longer, but as it stands right now, this is one of my favorite Apollo Brown albums; I’m not deep enough into Planet Asia’s catalog to speak on it from his side, but I’m certainly going to remedy that. I recommend this album to anyone who likes hip hop in any capacity, because it may offer a glimpse into a style that not as many people are exposed to, while not being a challenging listen.

Album Review: milo – who told you to think​?​?​!​!​?​!​?​!​?​!

by Dustin

whotoldyoutothink

9/10

At times it feels as if no independent hip-hop artist’s stock has risen as much in the past three years as milo. A protege of sorts to Busdriver and Open Mike Eagle, milo’s rise in the alternative scene was met with some speed-bumps; however, after the collapse of Hellfyre Club, he’s seemingly risen from the ashes as one of the best young emcees in rap, period. With the release of 2015’s so the flies don’t come, milo showed that he had the ability to truly reach his potential as an artist. Following this, he would slip into the shadows to work on his next project, while also sharing a couple of short releases under his highly experimental Scallops Hotel alter-ego. Two years later milo has reemerged with his latest piece of work, who told you to think​?​?​!​!​?​!​?​!​?​!.

who told you to think​?​?​!​!​?​!​?​!​?​! is an album with a sound entirely unique to itself. While it does clearly keep one foot in the roops of hip-hop and rap, there’s also a very clear effort on milo’s end to be his own artist. There’s an impishly playful (and sometimes coy) nature to the way milo rattles off bar after bar; moreover, it’s the type of album where the humor and poignancy is not made overwhelmingly apparent. This sort of subtlety makes who told you to think​?​?​!​!​?​!​?​!​?​! an incredibly addictive listen. milo kept his writing as sharp as ever though, bringing a unique wit and thoughtfulness to each song. Each verse listens as if milo is beside the listener spilling everything he feels. Happiness, sadness, love, you name it.

If there’s a weak point to note on this album it’s milo’s hooks (or lack thereof), but honestly this seems like an aesthetic choice and didn’t really detract from the listening experience at all. Just don’t be surprised if a hook is a single phrased repeated for a break in the song. Fortunately it works well with his style, and his selection of live vocal effects keep things interesting.

Perhaps one of the main reasons who told you to think​?​?​!​!​?​!​?​!​?​! is so enchanting is that it’s as complex of a listen as one wants it to be. The evolution of milo’s style has taken him to a place where his music is lyrically challenging, yet soothing and easy to consume. Compared to some of milo’s earlier works, who taught you to think is easy to vibe out to if the listener doesn’t feel like focusing too heavily on the content; however, there’s more than enough going on to feed the lyric obsessed on many subsequent listens. These seem like contradictory statements, but milo did an excellent job of balancing these aspects.

The features on who told you to think​?​?​!​!​?​!​?​!​?​! were a lovely assortment of frequent milo collaborators. Of note are Busdriver, Elucid, and Deathbomb Arc associated Signor Benedick the Moor. Though Busdriver stole the show as far as feature go with his hyperactive energy, everyone brought their best. There’s not much else that can be said, aside from the fact that the features really added a great extra dimensions to the songs on which they appeared.

The production is absolutely fantastic. Handled by a variety of different producers easily recognizable by fans of milo and his close peers (such as DJ Nobody and Kenny Segal), who told you to think​?​?​!​!​?​!​?​!​?​! is a close knit collection of Los Angeles beat-scene inspired glory. The blending of jazz and soulful easy listening samples boast an impressive soundtrack behind milo’s vocals. There’s also a wonderful usage of negative space on this record instrumentally. Nothing is overwhelmingly busy or dense, but at the same time it manages to be strong enough that it could stand on its own. This album hits that rare equilibrium of the artist and the production complementing and elevating each other, rather than one stealing the show all on their own.

Regardless of if you are a fan of milo currently, who told you to think​?​?​!​!​?​!​?​!​?​! is an album worth investing some time into. He’s an excellent young artist armed with one of the most unique sounds in hip-hop currently. Between this and so the flies don’t come, it is quickly becoming apparently that he’s come into his own and realized the potential that many fans saw in his earlier releases during the Hellfyre era. If you really like the release, be sure to support the artist. milo is independent in every sense of the word, and every cent counts.

Put your money on the green horse for rap.

Album Review: Nocando – Severed

by Dustin

Severed

3.5/10

Those who have followed Los Angeles’ amazing alternative hip-hop scene will recognize the name of Hellfyre Club. Through the early 2010s, Hellfyre Club was an independent powerhouse that played home to a mass of independent mainstays. Busdriver, Open Mike Eagle, milo, VerBS and Anderson .Paak are just a few of the names to have been associated with the label’s roster alongside rapper and founder, Nocando; however, things started to go awry for the label in 2014. Dozens of fans didn’t physical copies of releases ordered through Hellfyre’s Bandcamp and took to review boards to voice their concerns. Additionally, tensions between milo and Nocando allegedly began to boil over when the label failed to compensate the young artist for his album A Toothpaste Suburb. This lead to the departure of most of the outfit’s main acts, such as Open Mike Eagle, Busdriver, and milo himself. The trio would release a free “farewell” EP, The Catcher of the Fade, with a handful of ex-Hellfyre Club musicians (with no involvement from Nocando) before moving onto greener pastures to continue crafting their art.

While the majority of the former members never spoke out against Hellfyre Club personally, there was a clear distancing from Nocando and the label. Busdriver once mentioned over Twitter that the vision of the label had died and that it was time to move on. The label sat in static, halted to indefinite hiatus after the release of Nocando’s 2014 album Jimmy the Burnout. Like most things however, Hellfyre Club was not allowed to stay as a memory. In early May of 2017 the label would see its first release in over three years with the very quiet release of The Life I Live EP by Cadalack Ron.

Flash forward less than a month, and Nocando has decided to release his first album in three years, Severed, under the Hellfyre Club moniker as well.

As an emcee, Nocando really doesn’t offer up a lot of versatility or creativity behind the mic. He’s pretty decent at what he does – which is a very punchy, sometimes crude, and simplistic throwback approach to rap – but seems to confine himself to his comfort zone. This really does not change on Severed either. Nocando does what he’s always done, and after a while the verses begin to feel like a bit of a homogeneous blob. He’s got an incredibly grating, gruff delivery on this release that feels incredibly out of place on some of the production. It’s as if Nocando is angry for the entire duration of the album, even when the overall tone of a song is nowhere near that emotion. He attempted to make up for a lack of personality by sounding aggressive, and to be honest itt did not work at all.

To make matters worse, nearly every feature outshone Nocando on this record and most of them weren’t even that interesting. Slug dropped a really nice verse on the song “Useless” (which also had one of the best instrumentals on Severed), which is well worth hearing. Aside from that though, no one really stood out. They just happened to be better than a very underwhelming lead emcee.

On a more positive note, the album art is really cool. But also, Severed feels much more focused than Nocando’s previous work. For example, Jimmy the Burnout felt like an incredibly scattered release. It listened more like a up-and-coming rapper’s debut mixtape than a studio album by a veteran underground emcee. Severed on the other hand, while boring at times, is quite cohesive. There seems to be an attempt at establishing an overarching sound for the album, which is something Nocando has struggled with in the past. It was a a bit of a surprise, but most certainly a pleasant one.

Unfortunately this has more to do with the production than his rapping. The instrumentals on Severed are actually pretty cool for the fast majority of the album. There’s a lot of trap flavor to the production, and tracks such as “Villain” certainly have a unique sound. What really is a bother however, is the absolutely dreadful mixing on this tape. The vocal volumes are all over the place from track to track. For example, “Useless” is significantly louder than its follow up song “Villain”. Add in frequently cracking “s” sounds and instrumentals that are way too quiet, and you’ve got a release with technical issues so severe that it detracts from the listening experience. Not good. The departure from Daddy Kev as an engineer was a very poor decision.

Overall this is a pretty weak release that ultimately feels unnecessary. Outside of the context of his once amazing underground collective, Nocando is just another rapper. He’s at his best when surrounded by talent with more charisma than himself, such as his group work with Busdriver as Flash Bang Grenada. On his own, he lacks the ability to create a great album. This was much of the issue with Severed. It was just so overwhelmingly generic and poorly handled. It’s a shame too, because there did genuinely seem to be some good ideas behind the album, Nocando just dropped the ball when it came to executing them in a way that makes for an enjoyable listen. He’s failed to address his shortcomings as a rapper, and they’ve only began to compound and worsen.

It’s hard to see the appeal in Severed unless you’re a big Nocando fan or desperately clinging onto the nostalgia of Hellfyre Club. A label that should’ve been allowed to rest permanently after the mistreatment of fans and artists around the time of its initial demise.

Album Review: Walter Gross – Super Basic

by Dustin

superbasic

8/10

Ah, Walter Gross. One of the most creative noise-based musicians alive. A little early this year we took a look at his Black Box Tapes release, Vestige. An album which was, and still is, one of the best releases to date in 2017. Moving with the swiftness of a sparrow Walter Gross has already ventured into another release, Super Basic. This release isn’t a really a follow up to Vestige, instead it is a collection of material recorded between 2015 and 2017 (according to his BandCamp page) being released completely DIY both digitally and on cassette. These sorts of beat-tape releases can be slightly unpredictable; however, when they’re from an artist known for experimenting with sound they’re usually worth checking out. They’re unrestrained and free from the need to fit an overarching sound, and usually loaded with interesting tidbits and lost cuts.

Walter Gross is exactly that type of artist, and Super Basic is a very interesting tape.

Super Basic feels like a cutting room floor of ideas, experiments, and loose ends that make up Walter’s progression as a musician. The songs have this loose quality to them that definitely feels like an assortment of not entirely fleshed out thoughts. The track names lend to this rough cut experience, with titles such as “Party Loop”, “Cut I”, and “Cut II” feeling as unpolished as the songs themselves; the ruggedness of Super Basic is not a negative quality by any means however. It leads to somewhat of a scattered experience, but it makes it feel as if the listener is being granted insight into the method behind the madness of Walter Gross.

Even the packaging of the cassette release is a little rough around the edges (in the best way possible). There’s some previews up on BandCamp of the physical release, and it really adds an element to the aesthetic. The digital art (as seen above) is similarly simplistic yet beautiful. The way he’s crafted all elements of this album by hand is admirable, to say the very least.

As far as the music goes, there are some genuinely beautiful moments on Super Basic. The vocal melody on “Cookie” for example is absolutely gorgeous and has this delicious contrast with the noisy, glitchy, sauntering drum line. “Hierophant I” is another stunning piece on this album. It has this crunchy distorted wall of noise at the forefront of the song, with a very subtle meditative nearly-angelic sound slipping through the cracks (and eventually closing out the track). That’s not to say that the rest of the tape isn’t also very cool – which it is – but hearing these moments of blissful relaxation hidden in the noise is breathtaking. It provides a wonderful balance, and gives weight to the most abrasive moments on Super Basic.

There’s also a really nice amount of variation on this beat tape. There are looping moments that drone on, hellishly insane noise tracks, and even some bits that feel hip-hop influenced. It gives one a sample of the range Walter Gross is capable of playing with.

Super Basic may not quite be the powerhouse album that Vestige is, but it’s really not intended to be. Walter’s assortment of sounds on this project are the ultimate fanfare. Even though Super Basic shows off his varying styles, it most likely would not be the best jumping off point for a new listener. That being said, as an established fan this tape is a seductive sampler platter featuring everything lovable about his music. Super Basic totally encapsulates the do-it-yourself and gritty nature of Walter Gross. Perhaps it’s even safe to say that this is him in his rawest form; dirtied up, a little bit chaotic, but an absolute blast to sit through.

Album Review: Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.

by Dustin

damn

4/10

There are two things hip-hop fans get excited for every couple of years: a Kendrick Lamar release, and the Anthony Fantano review of the aforementioned Kendrick Lamar release. Two years after the release of his masterpiece record To Pimp a Butterfly, K. Dot has returned to the forefront of rap with his new album DAMN. This was an exciting release first and foremost because Kendrick has been on one hell of a hot streak since he smashed through with Good Kid, Maad City. Two amazing albums and an amazing collection of rough tracks launched him into mega-stardom. Who could blame fans for getting their hopes up? With such an amazing track record, you’d be safe to assume that Kendrick was going to drop another album of gold, right?

Wrong. This is not a good album. DAMN. is actually painfully underwhelming, and this is for a variety of reasons.

Let’s start by talking about the rapper himself. Unlike on his last two albums, Kendrick Lamar sounds scarily disinterested throughout the majority of DAMN. Though it is conceivable that his delivery choices were used to emphasize the overall tone of defeat and depression, they just came across as uninspired. His usual plethora of voices, inflections, and flows was replaced instead with a muddy, slow, and monotone delivery most of the time. His writing isn’t terrible throughout (although he did struggle to piece together a consistent concept even slightly), but it’s hard to even care about what’s being said, because it’s being delivered in such an uninteresting way.

Even worse is Kendrick’s singing throughout DAMN. For whatever reason, he decided that he wanted to sing a whole bunch on this album. Now, he doesn’t have the worst singing voice in the world, but it gets grating really fast. The song “LOVE.” is especially guilty of this, and probably one of the worst songs to be released by a major hip-hop artist in the last five years.

Perhaps the most jarring change on DAMN. compared to Kendrick’s previous work though is the defeatist mentality. The overarching idea that his struggles as a human are due him straying from God’s message – though left fairly ambiguous throughout the record – can be tiring. The moodiness is far removed from the hood documentary narrative on Good Kid, Maad City and pride inspiring social awareness on To Pimp a Butterfly. It feels like an album attributing every injustice against minority groups as an act of God, to serve as punishment for these groups losing their godly roots. This is particularly clear in the multiple references to Book of Deuteronomy. It feels incredibly out of character to hear this sort of broken, defeated, mindset on DAMN.; though it may have been able to work as a concept if executed better, this record is far too scattered for it to have any sort of poignancy.

Plus it honestly seems damaging to blame these issues on a higher power. It takes away the importance of fighting the societal issues which allow these injustices to happen. Kendrick, who has presented himself as a very socially aware human to this point, should know better than this. Why push an album working directly against the causes you’ve backed? It doesn’t make sense.

The production on DAMN., to put it lightly, is absolutely terrible. There are maybe three beats throughout its run-time that don’t feel like stale rehashes of gutless trap bangers and RnB backtracks. It’s really evident when you start to compare this album to his last two full-length releases. It feels as though Kendrick has stepped down two or three tiers of beat selection, and it is really quite disappointing. Sure, “DNA.” is a monstrous track and 9th Wonder’s contribution to “DUCKWORTH.” is gorgeous, but two instrumentals couldn’t salvage the whole record. Honestly, with better attention paid to instrumental selection DAMN. could have been a significantly better album. It’s easier to look past conceptual and vocal flaws when the rest of the album sounds nice. DAMN. does not sound nice. Not even slightly.

He even managed to pick a boring Alchemist beat. When you’re using Alchemist as a producer, picking a bad beat should be a difficult thing to do; however, in this particular instance he picked a seven minute instrumental with the same short sample playing repeatedly. It would have sounded great on a shorter song, but it was used on a marathon. After the second minute it loses all appeal instantaneously.

In spite of these issues, DAMN. is a record with a few bright spots. The song “DNA.” shines the hardest with its infectious energy and absurdly smooth Kendrick flows. It definitely seemed to be the initial standout. “DUCKWORTH.” is also a very solid track with an interesting (albeit odd) story and one of the few nice instrumentals.

Unfortunately, like most iconic musicians, this album’s critical reception will be highly inflated by Kendrick’s hype-beast status. Reviews dropping near minutes after its release were trigger-happy to drop another perfect score. Reading fan discussion proves quickly that this is a highly polarizing package of music. Honestly, listen to the record and form your own thoughts and opinions on it. You’d probably be better off picking up the new Oddisee or Quelle Chris, but DAMN. is definitely one of those albums that you’ll need to experience for yourself to see where you stand.

We can all agree that the album art is horrible though. Every single human on earth can agree with that.