Collectors Corner: Sean Price, Raekwon, and Joey Bada$$.

by Rajin

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Not long ago, I was marveling at my hilariously shrimpy CD collection and decided to take it upon myself to revive this very dead section of the site. I’ve got a few items that I thought would be cool to share, both today and in the future. I figured this was also as good a way as any to give my thoughts on newer albums that I liked but didn’t review for one reason or another. Hopefully we can start this section back up with more regular drops, but without further ado, here are the items I felt like sharing.

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First up is the Gorilla Box Set, by the late, great Sean Price. After the unfortunate and untimely passing of Sean Price, Duck Down reissued all three of his studio albums (Monkey Barz, Jesus Price Supastar, and Mic Tyson), packaging them together to make this box set. It was released in for both CD and vinyl. As you can see, this is the CD version. It’s got a lenticular cover depicting what seems to be the scene immediately preceding the image you see on the Mic Tyson cover.

Artwork from each album is shown on each of the three side panels of the box, and the back cover shows an illustration of Sean sitting at a campfire. The CDs come in jewel cases, which is something I’m actually sort of relieved about, because from what I’ve seen before CD box sets often use cheap slimline digipacks/cardboard sleeves.

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Next up is the CD for Raekwon’s latest album, The Wild. Both Dustin and I were in agreement when we listened to this album on Spotify about how silly the album cover looked. It was like a less kickass rendition of the Mic Tyson cover. However, seeing it in the physical changes things entirely. The illustration seems far clearer and less cluttered in print than it is on a computer screen. Overall the packaging is kept simple. There isn’t even a booklet. It’s just a front flap that opens to the CD. That’s fine for me though, for the most part. I’m a sucker for digipak.

This is probably the best non-Cuban Linx album that Rae has released. Rae managed to create an album where he made boom bap sound radio-ready in the current state of hip hop, which is quite impressive. While most of the songs are nothing out of the ordinary for Raekwon at this point in his career, it’s a very enjoyable album that I think will serve as an easily accessible entry point for newer hip hop fans to use in order to get into his style and catalog.

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And lastly, we have the CD for Joey Bada$$’s new album, All-AmeriKKKan Bada$$. On his last album and mixtapes prior to that, Joey established himself as a new school artist who was making gritty boom bap music reminiscent of early Nas, Black Moon, and Smif-N-Wessun. Here, however, he steps out of his comfort zone, using production that is generally jazzier and lighter. He uses this album to express his confusion and, at times, anger, about having to grow up as a young black man in the current climate of America. He seems to come into his own on this album – it is his best release to date, to me.

The CD comes in a sleeve that depicts the American flag made of bandanas. This was the image that he had originally led people to believe was the cover art. It was a cute fakeout, I like the design so I wouldn’t have been mad if it happened. The actual cover is (to my knowledge) an impromptu pose that Joey made on the set of his “Devastated” video. It gives off a sense of carefree recklessness that I think actually betrays the most of the music on the album. I don’t think it fits the overall mood of the album, but the scenery of dirt roads in the middle of nowhere does a good job at portraying Joey as an outlaw, which I assume was the point.

Qualchan’s Mixtape: Songs for Turning Up

by Qualchan

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Dustin asked me to do a second installment, so here I am – songs for turning up. Don’t “at” me on some fuck-shit over one of these dudes being goofy, or your favorite rapper not being included. Do some drugs and get lost. I’ll keep this short and to the point. The Hemingway of trap.

For those who haven’t left, here’s the playlist. Strap in.

  1. Playboi Carti – Location: Playboi Carti has put out the best album of the year so far in my opinion. This beat from Harry Fraud goes the fuck in.
  2. Xxxtentacion – Let’s Pretend We’re Numb: What do I even say…I’ve been on this cat since summer of 2016. This is an older song of his. Enjoy.
  3. Ski Mask the Slump God – Planet Drool (feat. Xxxtentacion): I had Ski Mask in my last list as well. He and Xxxtentacion are set to take over the industry.
  4. Rico Recklezz – Famous: My man Rico Recklezz is a Chiraq savage who dropped the hardest beat of the year.
  5. Higher Brothers – YAHH! (feat. J. Mag): Higher Brother have put out two lit at fuck collabs recently, this and “Made in China.” They’re definitely an act to watch out for this year.
  6. Sumo – Regular (Remix): Sumo is good, but his style is kinda everywhere right now. Once he finds his own voice this guy will be unstoppable. Pay attention.
  7. Go Yayo – Knock Knock (feat. G$ Lil Ronnie): G$ Lil Ronnie has been around for a minute now and I had Go Yayo in my last playlist. Yhis is his year. Texas is on the come up as a region.
  8. Famous Dex – Shooters: I think at this point everyone has some kind of opinion on Famous Dex. The last few months have been rough for him, so let’s go back to the golden era of Dex. Back to summer of 2k15. “Shooters” brings the heat.
  9. Syringe – I Don’t Like You: Syringe is part of the new wave of mumble rap, where more emphasis is placed on turning up on a few Xanax than spitting bars. He may not have a lot to say, but that beat is hard.
  10. Kay P – Blood Flow Down My Wrist: Kay P is dope. “Blood Flow Down My Wrist” is the perfect jam for rolling around with the windows down.
  11. Blake – Flexin: This is an an older song from Blake, but this cat is slept on.
  12. Rarri – What Dey Seem: Rarri brings the fire for summer cookouts.
  13. Lucki – No Work: Finally, a short one from Lucki to close out the set. “No Work” is a great song for the comedown.

Happy listening.

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.

Think Piece: Logic’s “1-800-273-8255” is More Damaging Than Empowering

by Dustin

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I will be upfront and admit that I am not a Logic fan. I really couldn’t care less about most things that Logic releases. He doesn’t make a style of music I care for, but he’s got some talent and he’s usually harmless enough that he’s not worth bashing either; however, there’s something about one of his new songs that very genuinely seemed….worthy of discussion, to put it nicely. The song is “1-800-273-8255”. If the song title looks familiar to you at all, that’s because it’s the number of the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Unsurprisingly, that’s also where the song sits topically. Logic on this song made an effort as a celebrity figure to “reach out” to fans through his music, and encourage them to get help with their problems. Now, in theory, that would actually be quite an admirable thing to do. Suicide is a very serious issue, and many are afraid to reach out when they’re grappling with the desire to kill themselves. I was once one of these people, and I’ll be the first to admit that music was one of the key things that helped me pull myself out of the hole and get professional help. Hearing an artist be open about their mental issues on record can be an incredibly powerful experience, particularly if they’re one that you admire.

However, something is severely off with the execution of “1-800-273-8255”. Logic has all the desire in the world to help people on this song, but none of the understanding of what mental illness or suicide actually are. To start, the song is mostly centered around a half-assed concept about an individual calling the suicide prevention line. To be blunt, it horrendously twists the issue to be something smaller than it is. Logic’s analysis of feeling suicidal includes: general sadness, occasional loneliness, and wishing friends would text more often. Basically, “1-800-273-8255” flagrantly tip-toes around the idea of suicide as if Logic was afraid to actually talk about it….when it’s supposed to be a song about not being afraid to reach out for help. Right.

Because of this “1-800-273-8255” felt like an artist abusing the social issue of suicide, stripping it down to it’s simplest (and often flat out incorrect) components, and then casting a wide net so that as many people as possible could relate to it. This is unfortunate, as it presented the opportunity for a major artist to speak on something that close to ten million individuals in the United States alone are faced with on a daily basis. Instead, he spoke about things that seven and a half billion people can relate to, and stamped “suicide” on it as a topic in order to appear as if he cares.

In spite of this, you’d think Logic would have been able to redeem himself on the portions of the song encouraging people to fight through their problems…yet he managed to turn that into a total disaster as well. Telling people that they shouldn’t kill themselves because they might experience “the warm embrace of a lover’s chest” (not verbatim, but close enough) in the Alissa Cara segment of the song is an absolute joke. Logic, people who are in a critical enough mental state that they want to end their own lives do not give a single fuck about the fact that they might one day find someone to share life with. You could have taken a moment to congratulate them on making it this long while coping with intense internal conflict, you could have discussed there being no shame in admitting you need someone else’s help, but instead you chose to trivialize the issue again in a way that makes your single just that much cuter. Well done.

It gets worse.

In a moment of complete and total blissful ignorance Logic drops the lyric, “what’s the day without a little night?” Allow that to sink in for a moment, and then consider the fact that Logic is straight up telling people that if they didn’t experience urges to end their own lives, the good times wouldn’t be as enjoyable. Telling a suicidal individual that they wouldn’t enjoy other parts of life as much if they didn’t have to suffer through endless, suffocating thoughts of self-murder is not tasteful. It isn’t raising awareness either. It is attempting to turn a severe mental issue that takes over your entire being into a positive. You can’t do that. There is absolutely no positive attached to feeling suicidal. Suicidal urges aren’t cute, they’re not glamorous, and you’re not helping raise awareness to how crippling they can be by putting a positive spin on it. You could ignore the rest of the song entirely, but this one line of backhanded suicide ideation is enough to get a sense for how ignorantly grounded “1-800-273-8255” is throughout. And once again, the only really function it serves is a cute little quotable to aid the single factor.

The single factor of a song about suicide.

Suicide and mental illnesses are not the same as feeling lonely all the time. They’re not the same as feeling awkward and out of place. They’re not the same as feeling like nobody wants you. These can be smaller parts of the bigger picture, sure, but “1-800-273-8255” chooses to only focus on them. Logic, you’ve turned suicide prevention into an anthem of easily relatable trite that everyone (particularly teenagers) can relate with. You’ve successfully made a very serious, heart wrenching problem into something quickly digestible and consumable as a single on a major label. Congratulations, you’ve successfully exploited and marginalized suicide for a profit.

Ultimately, this song is a poster-child for one of the biggest issues with how we treat mental illness: lack of education. We do need to be open about these sorts of problems, but we need to approach them with a maturity that this single completely lacks. If you really want to make a difference, do some research. Understand the signs of someone who might be harming themselves, or might be planning to in the future. Be willing to listen when someone opens up to you, and don’t judge them if they opt to receive mental help. If this song did happen to help you, that’s great, but overall we need to approach these things more tactfully. We need to tackle them in a way that doesn’t make those affected by suicide and depression feel like their issues are simple to get through. While Logic doesn’t seem to lack compassion, he clearly lacks understanding, and that is just as damaging.


If you or anyone you know is dealing with depression, thoughts of suicide, or other mental illness, here are some resources that may be of use:

http://mindcheck.ca/

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

https://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms

http://healthymindscanada.ca/resources/

Exploring Other Genres: YAH! – Rock und Roll

by Dustin

YAH!

8/10

We have to kick off this review by wishing a happy three year anniversary to the record label FilthyBroke Recordings. Extraordinary Nobodies has had the pleasure of becoming fairly close with Michael and some of his friends over the last couple of months, and we’d like to congratulate them on reaching such a milestone. From trusting us with early press, to genuinely taking interest in the other material we’ve written about, our relationship with FilthyBroke has open up a ton of opportunities. For that reason, we would also like to extend our thanks and wish Michael many more years putting out great music.

Which takes us to the meat of the article… A discussion on the record being released to help celebrate the third year of FilthyBroke Recordings. We’ve had to put this in the Exploring Other Genres category, for it’s not hip-hop; this record truly cannot be shoehorned into any category (but we’ll be discussing that a little later). You may now be asking, what is this record? Who is this record by? Where can I listen to such a record? Will this record cure my irritable bowl syndrome? Probably.

But it’s time to stop asking questions and start receiving answers.

The record is Rock und Roll, a release by the one and only Dean Cavanagh under the name YAH! If the name Dean Cavanagh sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because he’s an amazingly talented and well traveled individual. From the electronic music outfit Glamorous Hooligan, to running the magazine Herb Garden, to being a critically acclaimed screenwriter, Dean has seemingly been everywhere and done everything. When a figured such as him comes out of the woodwork to drop an album, ears perk up. Even if the release doesn’t set the world on fire, it’s almost a certainty that it will be stuffed to the brim with creative and unconventional ideas.

Rock und Roll is no exception.

Much like Walter Gross’ Vestige from earlier this year, Rock und Roll is an album that is incredibly difficult to define using conventional genre outlines. Each individual song has so much going on instrumentally that it’s like being smacked with wave after wave of musical eras and influences. One minute Dean has you convinced that you’re about to bite into an electronic dance epic; two minutes later the rug has been pulled out from under your feat and you’re bobbing your head to retro surf rock. That’s not exaggerated either, throw on “Big Knee” and then wait a few tracks until you hit “Rumble in Berlin.” There’s even some distinctly punk-flavors to the album, such as the drum pattern on the otherwise synthetic “Dungeness Bank Holiday.”

In spite of all of this, Dean managed to structure the album in such a way that all the sounds fit together. Tracks felt as if they belonged, and served a purpose. With all the styles happening at once, this is really a commendable accomplishment. With Rock und Roll being only eight tracks long, there was a big risk of something feeling out of place. He avoided this entirely, leaving the end product to be a very satisfying listen; moreover, he kept the album consistently engaging even though there were no vocals. That can be a hard task for instrumental works, but not so for the YAH! mastermind.

If there’s one thing that can be said about this album, it’s that Dean Cavanagh is not afraid to “try trying” in any sense. Some of it kind of works better than others, but as a whole, the project is a blast to listen to. The fun thing about Rock und Roll is that it works marvelously both as an active listening record, and as a background soundtrack to whatever you’ve got going on currently. The playfulness the album exudes is also fitting as we move out of the dreary days of winter into the crisp warmth of early summer.

Rock und Roll feels like an album that ten different people could like ten different things about, so definitely consider giving it a look if you’re craving something a little different. A little change can be major musical palate cleanser, and this album is certainly a dose of different.

Rajin Rambles: I Am Not a Dusthead!

by Rajin

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I love Snoop Dogg’s new “Mount Kushmore” single (which features Redman, B-Real, and Method Man). The production is in a beautiful throwback G-funk style that is impossible to not bob your head to. Each emcee laces his verse with witty rhymes and a slick, grin-inducing vocal performance. It gives you essentially everything that you’d want out of a collaboration with these ’90’s legends.

Now as I was listening to the song earlier and thinking all of that, something occurred to me. I think I tend to give off a vibe where I’m exclusively about ’90’s hip hop/rappers who are currently in their mid-40s. I started to feel a lot like a stereotype – like a nostalgia-hunting “real” hip hop head. In the year and two months of my piss-poor pieces on this site, I don’t think I’ve ever really discussed younger rappers. I go back and notice that at most I’ve mentioned Kendrick Lamar a couple of times, and maybe Danny Brown a few times. Well, to be fair my first article is about Prof, who’s basically the soundtrack to the weekend of a guy in his mid-twenties running around getting drunk and fucking anything that moves. However, most of my pieces tend to talk about and gush over guys who tend to come be from the ’90’s era of hip hop (and primarily from the east coast, at that).

I want to make it abundantly clear right now, in case I haven’t done so yet: I’m not someone who acts as though this generation of rappers isn’t as good as rappers from the ‘90s. My tendency to generally talk about older hip hop artists rather than new ones stems from me listening to them longer and knowing them a lot more in-depth than newer rappers coming out. I also have a habit of being turned onto artists late; I’ve mentioned before how it happened with Run The Jewels.

After all of this, I started thinking about something that comes to mind all the time when thinking about the current state of rap music…although, thankfully it seems like less of an issue as time goes on, so this piece may be rendered pointless in a few years’ time. Regardless, I feel like this fetishization of the ’90’s is pretty counterproductive to the development of the genre. I’ve sort of discussed this in the past, but I want to get a little more specific with it for a moment. People tend to use the stereotypical modern styles of trap and mumble rap that get pushed by hip hop publications for easy clicks as a scapegoat for why they refuse to listen to anyone who came out past the early ’00’s. Not to take anything away from those styles of music, but there’s a whole lot more that my generation has to offer than just that. Demonizing those styles gives them overblown and unwarranted levels of hatred, and it neglects and dismisses the music that other young rappers come with, which is completely unfair.

Take Joey Bada$$ for example. He’s a couple of months younger than I am, only 22 years old. He’s probably somebody that most fans of old school hip hop would love to listen to, since he started his career making rugged boom bap music reminiscent of guys like Nas or Black Moon. Doing this awakened the nostalgia in people, and got people interested in what he had in store to “bring hip hop back” (I don’t know if anyone actually said that, I’m just assuming).

Now, I’ve actually seen criticisms, by fans, thrown at Joey’s new All-AmeriKKKan Bada$$ album because people are talking about how he’s going pop on it. The thing is, he’s not. He’s just setting the more hardcore boom bap style aside to grow into his own artist with the message he wants to spread. He’s maturing. He’s certainly not abandoning that style; he’s just putting a new style to the forefront, and toying with more modern styles at places. But when you mess with the nostalgia factor that attracted people to your music, you risk upsetting them.

You start off with boom-bap. Over time, that changes a bit, and people get upset. They cling onto what they are familiar with, and decry what starts coming out afterwards, as opposed to looking to see what will come next. This is what is happening to Joey Bada$$ (on a small scale, overall his album has been received pretty well. I certainly liked it), and it’s what has happened to hip hop as a whole.

Speaking of younger rappers who may incite some feelings of nostalgia, let’s talk about Oddisee. Oddisee is essentially the spiritual successor to groups such as A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul, with some Black Milk thrown in for good measure. He has clearly studied their styles and adapted them for his own, making music that is similarly jazzy and positive. However, he doesn’t make music that emulates the music that he grew up listening to, but rather, it sounds like the next logical step that those groups would/should take. His music is probably what those groups would sound like if they debuted in 2012. He’s innovating in that style, for better or worse. And that’s not to mention his actual emceeing ability, which is arguably at a higher level than anyone in Tribe or De La, due to the natural progression of hip hop pushing the requirements for being an exceptional emcee further (Important: Please note that I am not saying that he is more iconic or is a better act than Tribe or De La).

Another one who you could look at is Jonwayne, who brings to mind Biggie as far as his charisma and vocal delivery go (not to mention his physique). However, he’s got a totally different lyrical style and vibe, speaking on problems that many of us in our twenties can relate to, such as alcohol abuse when things feel like they’re going too fast and you’re falling into a pit (I can personally attest to that). He frames it in a way that no rapper that I’ve heard from the ’90’s has been able to, because that sort of vulnerability in hip hop didn’t fly in that time period.

And then there are guys who don’t necessarily bring to mind older acts. Flatbush Zombies are from the same area that Joey Bada$$ is from (surprisingly, Flatbush), yet they sound nothing like him. They have some NY flavor in their music, but they sprinkle in some trip hop and trap. They have taken influence from tried and true styles and mixed it with what is going on nowadays to create really unique music that could not have existed in the past, while remaining something that I think any old school hip hop fan who doesn’t write off modern music could enjoy. Or there’s Milo, who goes even more into an alternative and abstract direction, with distorted and synthesized keyboards and a laid back yet still slightly aggressive method of rapping.

This list, honestly, could keep going on, but I think I’ve made my point by now. There is a plethora of music still coming out these days by newer, young artists, who are either pushing forward with older styles and innovating in those lanes, or are trying completely new styles entirely. You just need to know where to look, and put in the work rather than dismiss hip hop today entirely. Thankfully I have Dustin, who does the work for me and forces artists onto me.

I don’t know. Maybe what I’m saying is really repetitive. Maybe I’m just a sensitive, triggered millennial snowflake. I certainly don’t want to sound preachy or anything. I just wanted to voice the opinion that this generation has rappers who are truly worth listening to, beyond the obvious picks such as Kendrick Lamar. Most people know this, but all too often I will go onto a webpage talking about an older rapper and will see a discouraging amount of people disparaging current-day hip hop. I don’t think it’s a healthy mindset.

While I’m not at all fan of Lil Yachty in even the slightest, I think he’s well within his rights to say some of the things he says when he gets criticized incessantly. It’s the same as when parents tell their kids “oh you kids have it so easy, in my day…” (I normally tune out after I hear the beginning of that sentence). It seems like people constantly need to be reminded that like all other generations of music of any style, this generation has a plenty for everyone. And like all other generations of music of any style, this generation has plenty of bad music as well. People just don’t like remember the bad music that was released in the past.

I primarily wanted to write this up really quickly today to assuage my fears of being someone who’s musically stuck in the past (that’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with that! Like what you like and don’t be ashamed about it – just don’t be close-minded), but the overarching message I guess I want to get across is that disregarding the new because you think you don’t like it without doing some digging makes no sense. It’s certainly not something that I would want to do, as it would work against me as a contributor to this site, and as a person. By nature I’m a very stubborn, stuck-in-my-ways person, but I try my hardest to be as open as I can be. I think if everyone who says hip hop died in the mid-‘00’s tried too, they could find some stuff that they really like.

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.