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.

Advertisements

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.

Album Review: Jonwayne – Rap Album Two

by Dustin

rapalbumtwo

8.5/10

For a handful of years Jonwayne was an incredibly prolific underground artist. As an instrumental genius he dropped wave after wave of beat tapes, video-game inspired soundtracks, and rare odds-and-ends that fans happily ate up. Once moving into the rap scene, his series of Cassette mixtapes sparked interest among the alternative rap community; Jon’s rich voice and subdued delivery paired excellently with his Dilla-inspired production. Stonesthrow, his label at the time, seemed like the perfect home for his style. This culminated in his 2013 debut studio rap album, accurately named Rap Album One. Though it seemed as if Jon was still finding his voice on that record, the potential was evident and it was met with generally positive reviews. It seemed as though Jonwayne was destined for big things.

However, not all career paths can be so beautifully lineal. Jon’s mental health and lifestyle choices, namely those involving alcohol, quickly caught up to him. Things soured at Stonesthrow, leading to his departure. After battling through these issues and bringing a semblance of order back to his life, Jon would reintroduce himself to the music scene in 2015 with Jonwayne is Retired and Here You Go. A rap extended play, and a two part beat tape series respectively. After a little more waiting and teasing Rap Album Two found its way to eager ears on February 17th 2017.

As it turns out, the delay for Rap Album Two was well worth it. This record is easily Jon’s most personal work, and the lyrics offer a deep insight into his emotions, feelings, and the struggle of someone recovering from addiction. Though these are topics that have been explored extensively in various genres, Jonwayne makes it special by offering a sense of solidarity to those dealing with the same issues as himself; the most impressive part of this is that Jon manages to present what he went through without seeming as if he was purely seeking sympathy. The lyrics on Rap Album Two are bluntly honest, and he puts his own faults and shortcomings on full display.

The writing style on this album is also quite unique. There are times where Jon abandons conventional rap structures and is more in line with written and spoken poetry. The rhyme structures aren’t always laid out in a simple couplets patter, and his focus is very rarely on multi-syllable schemes. This can take a bit to get used to, but ultimately it’s a refreshing journey away from the expected.

And on the way I know I gave away some friends,
And every day I wish that we could speak again,
But every time I wanna make it right I freeze up,
and the visions of the shadows of my demons who went out of sight,
They went out of sight,
Until now.
(Out of Sight)

Unsurprisingly, the instrumentation on Rap Album Two is superb. Jonwayne established himself long ago as one of the many talented producers to build on the influence of Dilla. The thriving west coast beat scene offered the perfect incubation environment for his style, and it has blossomed on this album. Jon’s production has always had experimental elements mixed in with more classic hip-hop sounds, but he’s finally achieved a sense of balance between the two. The beats are rustic glory updated for modern times. They fit his spoken poetic rap style wonderfully,

And that’s the thing about Rap Album Two. None of the tracks on this album jump out as better than the rest of the group. They all pay together perfectly, and the album is best experienced as a long play. Every song has its place, and they transition very well.

I just cancelled my tour,
I just woke up in bed,
I had last nights dinner on the sheets,
I had a burning in my throat I couldn’t swallow,
I had shuffled to the mirror and saw death over my head,
If i was sleeping on my back I would’ve died,
Jameson in my blood,
Jameson in my eyes,
Jameson on my mind,
I know I need to stop,
But if I’m flying, it’s Jameson on the ride,
This how I’m making money but a cost to my life.
(Blue Green)

There are some moments on Rap Album Two that feel slightly out of place. “LIVE From The Fuck You” and “The Single” in particular are uncharacteristically humorous in the midst of an incredibly serious album. That being said, they do serve a bit of necessary comic relief to cut the tension. Aside from that, Rap Album Two is a juggernaut of cohesion. Jonwayne’s all encompassing creative control shines through on this album, and a meticulous attention to detail is evident. Though none of the songs really jump out on their own, Rap Album Two is a powerful complete listen. It’s the kind of album that seemingly needs to be listened to in its entirety; moreover, it’s also the perfect length for this sort of release at 44 minutes.

Rap Album Two feels like a modern album that captured some of the magic of rap’s golden era. The emotional connection Jonwayne is able to establish with the listener far outweighs any of his technical flaws on the mic. If you’ve been through any kind of struggle in your life, which most have, this album will offer some degree of solace. And it is an absolutely gorgeous listen, if not one that is a little challenging. Welcome back, Jon, and thank you for the album.

Album Review: V8 – One Dog Night

by Dustin

odn

8/10

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to our very first review of 2017. This is actually a very special review for us, as it’s the very first piece of “early press” we’ve been able to contribute. When our friends at Filthy Broke Recordings agreed to send us a press kit, we were absolutely overjoyed. Though we didn’t get this out as early as we would have liked (stupid actual job causing mayhem), it has still been a pleasure.

Now, onto the review itself. You may be asking, “what album are they so hyped up about?” The answer is One Dog Night, by alternative rapper V8.

The first thing that stands out about One Dog Night is that V8’s vocal performances are really quite monstrous. You won’t find raps full of quotable punches and one-liners on One Dog Night, but it remains an unapologetically gripping listen. V8 has a charming gravel to his delivery on this album, coupled with a wonderful willingness to explore a range of vocal inflections. Whilst drawing you in with what he’s saying, V8 simultaneously begins to construct this dark-sounding environment vocally. The rasp and strain to his voice perfectly sets the atmosphere for what is a grungy album.

Buckle up, because the concept of musical atmosphere and environment are going to be overwhelmingly prevalent while discussing this album.

Backing up his vocals is an assortment of absolutely grimy production that feels nostalgic, yet fresh. One Dog Night’s instrumentation draws inspiration from a wide variety of sources, and it is ever changing throughout the duration of the tape. It’ll have you jamming to a powerful boom-bap beat, then immediately slap you over the head with something completely out of the box and experimental. To be frank, any attempt to verbally explain how diverse-yet-cohesive the production is on One Dog Night will not do it justice. That filthy grunge sound kicked into motion vocally was really well supplemented by the production on this album. A seamless marriage, if you will.

That filth (said affectionately) is further built upon by the usage of interview, news, and other samples between tracks. Though the frequency in which these appear is jarring at first, it quickly becomes a necessary part of One Dog Night.

One Dog Night is the kind of tape that taps into the essence of indie hip-hop that was established through the late nineties and early two-thousands. Those who grew up fascinated by the likes of Myka 9, Radioinactive, Busdriver, and any artist from the Project Blowed heyday will find a welcoming comfort in this album. It’s not the most accessible hip-hop release, but it’s not supposed to be. There are times where One Dog Night almost feels like too much at once; however, the energy and thought that is evident on this album rivals early indie-scene juggernauts, ultimately leading to an incredibly satisfying record. V8 goes against the grain, and his efforts serve as a reminder that abrasiveness can be done tastefully.

Those looking for something to throw on in the background will probably not enjoy this record, and it is beautiful in that way. One Dog Night forces you to pay attention with an in-your-face confidence that many would not be able to pull off.

The cassette release, coming via Filthy Broke, also looks quite intriguing. It is on top end of price point for a tape, but every order comes with a handmade leather case, so the dollar amount is definitely understandable. If you’re a cassette collector looking for something quite unusual, it might be worth having a look at. The cases are super unique, and it’s cool to witness an artist doing something out-of-the-box for a physical release. Really, it’s about as true to the indie mindset as you can get.

Though, they could be gone at this point as only a handful were created. So, you may just be shit out of luck. If that be the case, we sincerely apologize (just kidding, if you snooze you lose).

Album Review: Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 3

by Dustin

rtj3

9/10

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring… Aside from Killer Mike and El-P, who decided to surprise release Run the Jewels 3 as a Christmas present to their fans! For those unaware, Run the Jewels is the collaborative effort between Atlanta based emcee Killer Mike, and New York’s own producer-slash-alternative-rapper El-P. The duo worked together on Killer Mike’s 2012 solo album R.A.P. Music, before releasing the first Run the Jewels album in 2013. Run the Jewels 2 would come roughly a year later, and the jewel runners have been preoccupied selling out shows and touring the world ever since.

But after more than two years the third installment is finally here. The main question most will probably be asking is, “was this really worth the extended wait”? The answer is a simple and sweet “hell yes”.

The atmosphere on Run the Jewels 3 is truly terrifying. Mike and El take all the anger of the current social climate and twist them into songs that knock hard enough to give a listener whiplash. Though the album definitely has tongue-in-cheek moments, and hilarious one liners at times, the overlying tone is one of bottled rage being unleashed upon the world. Even the tracks that fall more in line with classic brag-rap have politically based lines tucked in ever so cleverly; moreover, none of the social commentary on Run the Jewels 3 seems forced. Killer Mike and El-P did an excellent job of making sure that lines actually fit where they’re placed, and don’t detract from the overall vibe of a song.

We return from the depths of the badland,
With a gun and a knife in our waistband,
Went to war with the Devil and Shaytan,
He wore a bad toupee and a spray tan.
(Killer Mike on Talk to Me)

Run the Jewels do show their emotional range at times too. For instance, the song “2100” delivered a beautifully sad-yet-uplifting anthem of solidarity for trying times. “Report to the Shareholders” and “Down” also take on a much more mellow sound, breaking up the waves of braggadocio and fury.

Features on this album are used relatively sparingly. For the most part, guest artists are limited to a hook or the odd short singing verse (mainly Tunde Adebimpe on “Thieves!”). Danny Brown provided an absolutely insane and hard hitting feature on “Hey Kids (Bumaye)”, as one would expect. There’s also a special unlisted guest feature who absolutely shredded their verse (but we won’t spoil the surprise, so you’ll just have to listen and find out). Overall, all the features were wonderful and added positively to the songs on which they appeared.

Good day from the house of the haunted,
Get a job, get a house, get a coffin,
Don’t stray from the path, remain where you at,
That maximizes our profit,
Is that blunt?,
Oh well, hell, so’s this boot,
We live to hear you say “please don’t shoot”.
(El-P on Don’t Get Captured)

El-P’s production on Run the Jewels 3 is a treat to the ear. Everything felt much more true to the style he’s developed over the years, in comparison to the stripped down instrumentals on the first two group albums. Some of the beats on this record feel absolutely enormous, and dense to the point that one can pick up a new sound upon every subsequent listen. Fans of El-P’s solo discography will notice that some instrumentals almost feel like throwbacks to his previous works; however, everything has progressed into a heavy, angry, bass intensive style that fits perfectly under he and Mike’s vocals.

It needs more time to digest, but Run the Jewels 3 may have the most enjoyable production of the three records. Given how acclaimed the instrumentals from the first two are, that is saying a lot.

There’s really not much else to say to sum up Run the Jewels 3. It’s a face-melter album that may just make you want to punch a hole in a wall. Killer Mike and El-P closed the year by surprise dropping one of the best albums in 2016. They also released it for completely free, so really there’s no excuse: check this out as soon as you can. Even if you’ve never been a Run the Jewels fan before, do it. Do it right now.

Album Review: Fatt Father – Veteran’s Day

by Apu

ff

8/10

Last week was a weird goddamn week. Without going into politics too much because a lot of people seem to get more offended by other people’s political views than they do at an insult directed towards their family, a lot happened in a pretty short amount of time, most of which I don’t think a large portion of the population were actually seriously prepared for. Considering this, it should go without saying that getting some new music at the end of the week was a welcome respite from the Mr. Krabs meme of a week that the country had to deal with. I was personally most interested in A Tribe Called Quest’s new album, We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service and Fatt Father’s Veterans Day, which is the album I’m here to talk about.


Veteran’s Day is Fatt Father’s first solo release since 2012’s Fatherhood, a release where I felt like Fatts was starting to establish who he was as an artist. Veterans Day, released on the holiday it’s named after, only serves to further that feeling. Fatt Father came into his own on this release, displaying better than ever who he is as an emcee, as well as the person behind the mic.

The album’s production is handled entirely by D.R.U.G.S. Beats, who you may recognize as a producer on Dr. Dre’s last album, Compton (he produced the “Gone” half of “Darkside/Gone”). Being that he is technically a Dr. Dre-approved producer, this album’s beats are very well done throughout. A pretty big portion of the beats, including “Come On,” “Just Listen,” and “The Greatest” among others, cause involuntary head-nodding, and others like “Shabazz’s Gospel” and “Keep Ya Head Up” create a very tangible mood that draws you in even without having to hear Fatt’s verses. D.R.U.G.S. did a great job at capturing Fatt’s style; the production brings out the best of his distinctive, deep voice, and allows him to explore slightly different deliveries that he hasn’t used as often in the past. The end product is an underground street rap album with production that sounds more professional and sonically pleasing than I’ve found on most projects of its ilk.

Veteran’s Day opens up with a speech by someone who seems to be a war vet, detailing emotions that could be construed as something that’s almost like PTSD. That transitions to the first song, “Shabazz’s Gospel,” a song where Fatt Father, a bit like the vet from the intro, goes into detail about the traumas he faced in his past, from the separation of his parents to the deaths of his brother and his close friend Big Cobb. From there, Fatts goes into topics such as his childhood, love and women’s insecurities, police brutality, loss, and his life in current times.

Crack fiend, crack house, 8 ball, quarter ounce,
Death toll moving up, decent folk moving out,
Lost souls searching for boss roles to shoot it out,
Heart cold, traveling dark roads to move about,
Homicide, gather the yellow tape, spool it out,
Mama’s tears falling on cotton blends in huge amounts.
(Mama’s Words)

What I found to be the biggest strength on this project, as I alluded to earlier on, is Fatt Father’s delivery. He’s always had a voice that stood out; it’s deep and it cuts through a record in a very unique way. He sort of reminds me of a mix of Biggie and Scarface in some ways, the latter having a delivery that very much falls under the description I just gave. But on this album, Fatt Father started to adapt it a bit. He really let his emotion, whether positive or negative, bleed through his vocals on this album. It made the emotional songs hit harder, and the lighter songs like “K.A.M.M.H.” and “Come On” much more fun to listen to. It boils down to Fatt Father’s range as an artist expanding. He was always more willing to explore different topics and styles as a member of the Fat Killahz, but as a solo artist he always kept it gutter as shit. He does that on this album too, but he seems more flexible with what he’s willing to talk about and do.

Of course, as with any album, there’s music that are a little less content-heavy, and more for just vibing to. Some serve as great pump-up songs, such as “Just Listen,” “K.A.M.M.H.” with Ro Spit (this one’s my favorite song off the album), and “The Greatest” featuring killer verses from Fatt Father and Kuniva, and a fairly good verse from Royce da 5’9” that I felt fell a bit short of the energy that was coming from the rest of the track. Then there are songs like “Everybody” and “Never Die” featuring strong verses from Fat Killahz members Marv Won, Bang Belushi, and a too-over-the-top-for-me verse from King Gordy, both of which (besides Gordy’s verse) you can just chill to, listening to some nice verses and smooth beats that would sound awesome on a car stereo system. There is a nice display at diversity while keeping to a general sound on this album.

Overall, I’m very happy with Veteran’s Day. I love to see an artist who’s sort of an underdog the way Fatt Father is make an album that displays the sort of effort that a lot of so-called top artists don’t have in their music. Hearing a rapper older than most of the kids coming out make an album that displays hunger that they can’t muster up is just so satisfying to me, and reminds me that even though sometimes bullshit (from both the mainstream and underground) may get frustrating to always have to hear, good music will always be made because there will always be someone who cares. This album just solidifies why I place Fatt Father in my list of rappers who I take a personal responsibility for when it comes to spreading their music.

Album Review: Kuniva – A History of Violence Vol. 2

by Apu

hiv

8/10

Coming back from doing a tour with a couple of his group members and stealing the show more often than not on D-12’s Devil’s Night Mixtape, Kuniva has gone solo again with the follow up to his official debut, A History of Violence. Released about a year later than originally planned, this project was pushed back until 2016 because of his work with D-12.

Before I go any further, I advise all 3 of you who are reading this to check my recap of A History of Violence (Vol. 1). I promise I’m not saying this [entirely] as a plug for views!

The first thing that can be said about this album is that overall, it is much more powerful than its predecessor. It’s evident even from the release of the lead single, “Dear Uncle”, that Kuniva approached making this album from a totally different perspective. It’s more heartfelt, thoughtful, and passionate. There’s nothing here that has the sort of carefree, almost ignorant attitude of “Born This Way” or “Where I’m From.” The entirety of the album is more mature and artistic. The two years Kuniva spent working on this left him a more seasoned artist, let alone emcee.

With this project, Kuniva put a larger focus on songwriting, more so than just rapping and lyricism. In fact, the straight “lyrical miracle” lyrics are less prevalent on many of the songs; for the most part, he opted towards writing songs with a message and focused less heavily on the rhymes and wordplay. That is probably my biggest gripe (well, actually, my only grip) with the album…and even then, it’s not really that big of an issue, because it’s not like Kuniva dumbed anything down, and there were still several instances where he did come with the battle lyricism that he’s known for. He’s shown the caliber of his lyricism on each of his previous projects, and just shifted focus on this. There was less room for it. He had something that he wanted to make sure he got across this time, and didn’t risk sacrificing the message with unnecessarily complex rhymes or metaphors.

The hooks are noticeably stronger, more present, and in many cases more melodic than they were on Kuniva’s previous material, which is artistic growth that I’m personally very glad to see. A stronger hook is what separates a good rap from a good song. He also started playing with his flow a bit. He had shown flashes of implementing double time flows on D-12’s comeback song “Bane” but since then kept it a little simpler on the D12 mixtape. However, from the very first track on this project onwards, we get to hear him weave in and out of different pockets in a way that I honestly didn’t expect. His flow has become crisper, and he’s managed to make it sound as though it’s both more precise and more relaxed at the same time.

Kuniva also started using his delivery to add to the buildup of his verses to give a more dynamic feeling towards the songs. On many of the tracks, he would start adding more of an edge to his voice as the verses went on, which helps keep the listener not simply engaged, but nearly clinging onto the words he’s saying. The majority of this album consists of very personal music, detailing the difficulties he’s had in his life as vividly as the best of them. His delivery matched the pain that is written so well that you would think he was sitting in a psychiatrist’s room recounting it as opposed to just rapping pre-written lyrics into a mic. I firmly believe that Kuniva’s delivery is one of the most impactful out right now. At times on this project his delivery, paired with the intensity of the stories he told in his lyrics, could figuratively kick you in the stomach.

My son’s looking up to me more, watching my every move,
Trying to mimic his dad, I try not to show him my tool,
He’s asking questions now, fuck I’m supposed to do?,
Finally told him what happened to Bugz and Uncle Proof,
The pain of explaining the real, leave you with screws loose,
To be able to watch your homie murdered on Youtube.
(Mama I Tried)

That’s not to say that the entire album is full of heavy subject matter. Songs like “Ride Slow,” “All I Know,” and “Trouble On My Mind” serve as Kuniva’s way of giving the listener something easier to listen to. At the same time, they still manage to capture the [relatively] lighter side to Kuniva’s life, rather than being just filler tracks for people who don’t want to listen to such serious music. They detail Kuniva’s life on the block, largely leaving aside the topics of personal strife and police brutality. They definitely don’t feel out of place though; in fact, they make the album feel more fleshed out. Block Symfany and Mr. Porter do a great job at offering production that flows well from track to track, and making each song settle in well. Each of these tracks, incidentally, are the only tracks with guest rappers on them. I personally feel as though Kuniva’s verses on these tracks vastly overtake the guest verses, who were strong in their own right. I do want to say that I’m relieved that the chemistry between Denaun and Kuniva still exists, and I look forward to the Brigade project that they announced in the outro of “Trouble On My Mind.”

The final track, “End of the Beginning,” has a small interlude between verses where Kuniva mentions how he’s found that people don’t really know that he’s his own person outside of D-12, and that he needs to show people who he is by himself. The production (offered by Block Symfany and Mr. Porter) help separate him from the devious D12 sound overall, and allow him to develop his own persona through his soul-bearing delivery and lyrics, which have become possibly the most vivid and deep out of anyone in his group aside from the obvious member. If there was something he could have released that would show people what he has to offer, this is it. This is the project that he needed to get people to stop using their bias against his group as a reason not to take him seriously. He succeeded in creating a cohesive project that puts on full display who he is as an artist and emcee. It is not a perfect album, but he has cemented who he really is behind his group persona, and he can keep building from there, which is what the phrase “end of the beginning” seems to imply.

Too often, you’ll see somebody release a sequel to an album and have it be essentially the same thing. No advancement in sound, no change in content…nothing different is offered. It’s basically just an excuse for an artist to not evolve and come with the cop-out of “but…but yeah but this is just the next part, it doesn’t make sense to change anything!” This album is a sequel done right. Kuniva uses this album as an opportunity to expand on what he was talking about in Vol. 1. He carries more of a narrative throughout it, aided by the interludes. It’s almost like he had the first disc serve as the prelude to his life story, where he gave bits and pieces, and he decided to dig deeper on this. While the lyricism may not be as complex, as a full body of work Vol. 2 absolutely dwarfs Vol. 1, and stands by itself as a great project.