Album Review: Denzel Curry – TA13OO

by Dustin

taboo

9.25/10

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

He did.

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

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

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

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

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

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Album Review: Daniel Son & Futurewave – Pressure Cooker

by Rajin

pressurecooker

9.25/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

A History of Obie Trice

by Dustin

obie trice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Album Review: Prof – Pookie Baby

by Dustin

pookiebaby

3.75/10

A few years ago, Rhymesayers associated themselves with an artist well outside of their usual dynamic. As an addition to their roster he stuck out like a sore thumb, yet his chaotic energy charmed the fanbase quickly. This artist was Prof. The other side of the coin to Rhymesayers Entertainment’s introspective conscious rap signature. He came in boasting an arrogantly brazen offering of hyperactive shenanigans within his music. He was a debauchery driven scumbag but possessed a degree of self-awareness that broke through on moments of emotional reflection. His label debut, Liability, came in 2015 and offered an excellent helping of his range. It was a mess, but so genuinely fun that it was impossible not to love. It felt like a jumping off point into something bigger for Prof. He took time away from the studio to tour but recently returned with his new album. Pookie Baby, the record which would push the sound and success of Liability forward and prove that Prof was a true powerhouse on the label.

Except, it didn’t happen that way. Not even close.

Pookie Baby missed the mark in most ways, but the biggest element of failure was Prof’s writing. His wild, party addict, white boy shtick, which normally seems natural, came across as eye-rollingly forced. The lyrics began to be more of a nuisance than a pleasure to sit through by the thirtieth time he reminded anyone listening of how often he has sex. It was funny at first, particularly on “Send Nudes,” but at a point, Prof started to sound like a meme of himself. A broken record with no range. It was hard to listen without feeling like he had phoned the writing portion for the vast majority of the release. The wit and tongue in cheek braggadocio of past releases were hard to see. Instead, there was an appeal to the lowest common denominator with empty, repetitive lyrics. It was a letdown. Prof is capable of a lot more than he showed on Pookie Baby, but the steps backwards were too blatant to be pushed aside. Given the length of time between Liability and now, it’s reasonable to say that more could have been expected.

There’s also the aspect of vocal delivery. Prof has never been a technically talented singer, but in small doses, his voice can be a lot of fun and add a unique flair of versatility that many lack. Small doses being the key. In the case of Pookie Baby, though, the singing was far too frequent and hit a point of being completely abrasive. One or two songs featuring his trademark warbling would have been welcomed with open arms; however, when it feels like half the album is an artist overusing an already spotty singing voice to avoid having to write lyrics with more depth, there is a problem. Pookie Baby had this problem. When he opted to rap, Prof’s delivery did compensate for some of the weaker writing to a degree. It still wasn’t his best work by any means, but it was passable enough for songs like “Time Bomb” and “Action” to sound genuinely engaging. Sadly, these moments were very much the minority. Prof misused his vocal tools to the point that it hurt the record severely. It’s a shame because there were a few glimpses of that bombastic skill on the album. He just decided, for whatever reason, to put a minuscule amount of it on display.

In addition to Prof delivering vocals well below his capabilities on Pookie Baby, he received little help from the instrumentals. It was more cohesive than Liability musically but lacked the eclectic charm and character of that album’s production. It felt like a binary. Either he was rapping on top of a bouncy, upbeat trap flavored beat, or he was crooning on top of something more wavy and slow. While none of the instrumentals were inherently bad, they were generic and grew dull quickly. Prof normally has enough energy to carry weaker beats, but his complacency on Pookie Baby enabled them to stand out as mediocre. Tracks were screaming for more intricacy to help carry his performance, and it just was not there. It was another unfortunate reflection of the regression Prof displayed as an artist. His production choices were that of an individual who misunderstood his strengths and appeal, resulting in a bitterly inferior product from top to bottom.

In spite of Pookie Baby’s quality issues, it doesn’t seem fair to count Prof out entirely. As much as this was a rather significant misstep, it wasn’t bad due to deteriorated ability. It felt more like he was lost musically, and leaned heavily on his crutches to be able to flesh out an album. This has happened to many an artist over the years, and a future return to form is more than possible. Regardless this is a review, and the reality is that Pookie Baby offered little of value or interest. A couple of songs were quite amusing and might be worth spinning again, but the overall product was underwhelming at best. It just didn’t click. He’s worth keeping an eye on going forward as there’s plenty of untapped potential, but this is a project better to be left forgotten.

Album Review: Black Milk – FEVER

by Dustin

FEVER

9/10

Detroit. One of the meccas of hip-hop. For years the city has churned out phenomenal talent like flowers growing through the cracks of the extremely rough social climate. Since the turn of the millennium, Black Milk has been honing himself as one of Motor City’s finest artists. Working with prominent local names such as Slum Village, Danny Brown, Guilty Simpson, and Royce da 5’9”, he became known as a production wizard before moving into solo rap releases in 2005. His career has been one marked by superhuman craftsmanship, particularly following the release of Tronic in 2008. Black Milk has been an artist to never settle, striving to push his style to new places with each new drop. Just shy of four years since his last rap release, Black Milk stepped out of the shadows with a new offering of tracks; one that may only have been his most bold step forward in the name of musical progression.

FEVER was a sonic departure for Black Milk, at least regarding his rap releases. While it moved away from the alternative street-hop sound, he had crafted on No Poison No Paradise, and If There’s a Hell Below, it built upon the distinctive flavor of the Nat Turner collaborative effort, The Rebellion Sessions. This will likely be a sticking point for some, and admittedly it did make for a confusing initial listen; however, once that shock wore off, the album felt incredibly well put together. It doesn’t take a hip-hop aficionado to recognize that Black Milk has been a production powerhouse for many years, but he still managed to find a point of ascension for FEVER. The instrumentals on this album were fantastic. Through the process of chopping tracks recorded by his actual band, Black Milk gave the beats a sense dynamic liveliness that would otherwise be difficult to accomplish using samples. It created an intimate environment, much like watching a jazz-rap show at a small venue. Additionally, he didn’t entirely abandon the classic boom-bap undertones that have become a signature of the Michigan region. The record maintained a needed sense of familiarity. There was a wonderful balance between genres that often gets lost on artists when they move into new territory. While the jazz and funk elements were certainly prominent, FEVER remained hip-hop at its core.

The production oddities didn’t end there, however, as the vocals on this release were handled uniquely. Black Milk felt to be a little further back in the mix, doing away with the stark contrast between emcee and instrumental. This had some interesting consequences. First and foremost, it gave the album a flawless aspect of cohesion. The way Black Milk allowed himself to be enveloped in the beat made it sound as if he was more at home than ever before. There were no moments that felt as if the beat selection was questionable, a true hat tip toward the attention to finer detail. Secondly, it created an environment in which it became possible to end up fully lost in a track as the listener. There was an ethereal beauty to each song, with the individual pieces joining forces to create a rich final sound. While this may have made it hard to firmly hang onto Black Milk’s lyrics at first, with subsequent listens it became a true marvel to appreciate.

Making it all the more worth taking time was the fact that Black Milk’s performance as an emcee remained solid as ever. There’s something to be said about knowing when to keep it simple, and he has proven time and time again to be a master of that art. While admittedly more ambitious on FEVER than some of his past work, Black Milk’s flows never attempt to overwhelm. They were tight and complementary to the chilled out production. At the lyrical level, he opted to focus on his strengths: observant bars and social storytelling. Verses were packed to the brim with quick poignancy, and tracks such as “Foe Friend” highlighted his ability to craft interesting stories out of the day-to-day. What FEVER lacked in bombastic vocals was made up for in spades with unmatched consistency. There isn’t much else that can be said. Black Milk was simply extremely sharp for the entire duration of the project, and that’s an underrated quality for an album to possess.

Unfortunately, FEVER was the sort of album that will evade a good handful of listeners. It felt distinctly removed from the path Black Milk was on, and if fans don’t approach it with an open mind, it likely won’t land with them as well as it could. This is “unfortunate” because beyond that surprise it was truly a pleasure to experience. Spinning it with expectations checked at the door made it evident that this is a special record. A potential candidate for album of the year, assembled by one of hip-hop’s most artistically attentive minds. Black Milk once again found a way to push the envelope, a remarkable feat for an individual with an already fantastic track record of releases. Bravo.

Celebrating the Growing Importance of Physical Media

by Dustin

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To be completely honest, the title to this article might sound odd to most. How can physical media possibly be more important than ever when digital has steamrolled the industry? At the surface level, it is dead. Retailers are pulling the last of the CDs off the shelves, marking the end of a decades-long music media evolutionary process. Yet, many have never spent more money on CDs, vinyl, and cassettes than they do now. I am extremely bad. If I don’t budget a monthly allowance to be spent on music I suddenly find myself in a position where groceries are particularly troublesome. Financial tomfoolery aside, I’ve come to realize that moving back toward physical releases has changed my relationship with music entirely. With today being Record Store Day my friends and I wanted to take a minute to share our passion for this fading corner of the music scene, and hopefully shed some light on why we consider physical releases more important now than they have ever been.

“In a world where streaming makes music easier to consume than ever, it seems as though its value is continuously decreasing. For a long time now, I’ve been confronted with the question “why buy a song when I can download it for free?” However, with the increasing prevalence of streaming, which poses as a way to “support” artists in a cheap (potentially free) way, the statement seems to just be given more validation. I’ve always felt that streaming is dissatisfying in many ways; there’s no connection between fan and artist. Physical albums allow that connection to exist. You have something tangible to hold, you have to store and maintain them, you get to surround yourself with what you love. They allow the music to keep its value in a market where it’s more dispensable than ever.”
@RajinBuu

“Buying records means reading liner notes. It means learning about the friends and family involved with the project and glimpsing into their world. It also meant (like in the case of Outkast) learning just exactly what they were saying in the days before OHHLA or Genius.”
@deaconlf

“As both an artist and a music lover I appreciate something tangible and it warmed my heart as an artist to know that so many fans wanted to buy a physical copy of our debut project, my mom bought one my dad bought one it was something that they can look at and say “wow my kid did this” and fans can look at and say “yeah I can touch this, I can hold on to it, I can frame it” it’s like a time capsule from a forgotten period where projects stayed in your rotation for longer than a week and reviews weren’t done instantly but it’s an incredible thing to be apart of, physical music goes right along with t shirts and posters as genuine mercy.”
@MTFRyourmom of @_Nobodies

“Physical releases, no matter the format, are more important than ever now. Much of our lives exist between ones and zeros, so holding and hearing and smelling something like a record can really fill the binary void… Establish a sense of connection beyond the internet. As soon as the needle hits the groove something real happens and it is fucking beautiful. It’s almost primal at this point. I think this is true with vinyl, cassettes and CDs. All formats provide a tangible experience that sounds better than streaming, hope people stop arguing about ‘superior’ formats and just focus on making something beautiful and real. Physical releases are awesome”
@FilthyBrokeRex

For myself it’s much of the same. I crave the connection to art that only physical media can provide. From the beauty of large format cover art to the excitement of finding carefully placed easter eggs inside the album booklet, there is a tactile appeal to the senses that cannot be found anywhere else. For me, it transforms listening to an album from a simple act of consumption to an event that feels special and unique every single time. The thrill of entering a record store or thrift shop and crate digging can only be surmounted by the childlike wonder I feel when my hands finally reach something that I want. My music collection at any given moment is a treasure trove of memories, personal discovery, and adventure. It’s something I curated for myself and nobody else; a scrapbook of self-assuredness that carries all my convictions in taste. I wouldn’t trade that feeling for the world.

There’s also the element of showing that you care. The artists I love create music that becomes an integral part of who I am, and as such I want to support them in any way that I can. Attending concerts isn’t realistic all the time, but buying something that I can hold, show people, and proudly display is always an option. Digital media feels so incredibly disposable, and to me that undermines the effort and dedication these individuals pour into creating something for us to enjoy. Sure, I can acknowledge that 25 or 30 dollars for a vinyl record sounds expensive; however, when you start to consider the entire process behind the album’s existence, it really isn’t that much money. Support keeps people creating. At the end of the day, I’m more than willing to shell out extra if it helps my favorite musicians are able to stick around a little longer. Fraction of a penny streams don’t pay the bills for anybody who isn’t already a star, and that fact alone would be enough for me to proclaim physical media’s importance in the modern climate.

If you still carry any doubts, please take the time to visit a record store today (or at any point in the near future). If you’ve never been fortunate enough to take the time, it is a vastly different experience than endlessly perusing music on Spotify or Google Play. It’s a world that not enough people take advantage of these days, yet there’s a reason it pulls so many of us in. We could sit here for days and try to explain, but really you won’t get it until you try for yourself. Who knows, you could just end up catching the same bug that bit the rest of us from the very moment we purchased our first albums. Apologize to your wallet on my behalf, and have fun!

Happy Record Store Day.