Album Review: City Morgue – CITY MORGUE VOL 1: HELL OR HIGH WATER

by Dustin

citymorgue

7.5/10

Though time has seen the gradual erosion of definitive regional sounds within the landscape hip-hop, New York has always seemed to exist on the cutting edge. The state has produced some of the sharpest and most unique artists, each carrying the drive to lay claim to their slice of the east’s illustrious history. The results of this progressive spirit have been, at times, shockingly unpredictable. Case in point: City Morgue. Formed by ZillaKami and SosMula, the enigmatic duo wasted little time in working to establish themselves. Armed with the production talents of THRAXX, they began working on music a mere three days after SosMula’s release from prison. Ultimately City Morgue landed on a hyper-aggressive punk and metal inspired sound and dropped a couple of singles notable for their extremely explicit lyrics and controversial videos. This, along with ZillaKami’s impressive feature on Denzel Curry’s TA13OO album, garnered a good deal of attention for the group. A full-length project to capitalize seemed inevitable, and it came in the form of CITY MORGUE VOL. 1: HELL OR HIGH WATER on October 12th.

Absolute facemelter.

While it became apparent from the early stages of City Morgue that the bulk of both ZillaKami and SosMula’s appeal would be in their energy, they did make this project lyrically interesting. As expected, their writing throughout was graphic and often painted a picture of an extremely gruesome lifestyle. Whether it was drugs, murder, gunplay, or physical violence, there were no punches pulled; moreover, in spite of the fact that HELL OR HIGH WATER never went full blown horrorcore, it did blur the line between reality and fiction just enough to make it pleasantly uncomfortable. Both artists had such a degree of conviction behind their vocals that it made even the most outlandish lines seem believable. It truly felt like a rap snuff film at times. On top of that, they played off of each other’s styles incredibly well for such a young group. ZillaKami’s rock inspired semi-melodic scream rap was balanced out perfectly by SosMula’s much more traditional hip-hop grounding. At surface level, it would have been easy to declare Zilla the standout on most tracks due to his impressive hooks and loud delivery, but the release would not have worked nearly as well without his counterpart. Additionally, they created a dynamic in which both had ample opportunity to shine. Occasionally one member would contribute to a song in a much smaller role, such as providing a refrain, to allow the other a solo moment under the spotlight. Good chemistry is an important intangible for any group or collective, and City Morgue proved rather quickly that they have it. It elevated the entire listen, turning what could have been a bland assortment of bangers into a wildly fun slugfest of dissipated living.

The aforementioned THRAXX provided the bulk of HELL OR HIGH WATER’s production, with Ronny J tagging along for spot duty. The instrumentals could have easily been described using only the words loud and angry, sounding more like something out of Florida’s underground scene than New York. Featuring distorted guitars atop of heavily bassy trap, there was a certain industrial flavor to this album which fit the prevailing themes quite well. Matching ZillaKami and SosMula’s relentless rage fueled vigor was no issue; however, where the production did lack was in its range. There were definitely standout tracks instrumentally — “Gravehop187,” “So What,” and “SHINNERS13” in particular were monstrously hard hitting — but a lot of the deeper cuts sounded very similar despite being consistently solid. This didn’t hurt the listening experience per se, but some variation may have allowed for the more notably truculent songs to be more impactful. That being said, a debut project having had no blatantly bad beats was rather special in itself regardless of any nitpicking.

Laying the foundation for a new wave in a genre as fluid as hip-hop is never an easy task, but City Morgue did admirably with their freshman effort. Openly admitting in their “The Way Out” documentary with Mass Appeal that their sound is “a work in progress,” the potential for growth within the group was palpable. What was really astonishing though, was their ability to a bring an accessible familiarity while still being a breath of fresh air. For example, some of the SosMula focused moments on this album harkened back to early Three 6 Mafia, yet they were different enough that it felt entirely new. The lack of variety was noticeable and problematic to a degree, but it didn’t totally take away from what was accomplished here as far as instituting a groundwork. They’re self-aware artists, and it’s evident in the way they speak that they know this was the starting point and not the finish line. City Morgue’s genuine ambitious nature and confidence may just make them a force to be reckoned eventually. They may not be there quite yet, but HELL OR HIGH WATER was very much a best foot being put forward.

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Album Review: Denzel Curry – TA13OO

by Dustin

taboo

9.25/10

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

He did.

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

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

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

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

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

Album Review: Daniel Son & Futurewave – Pressure Cooker

by Rajin

pressurecooker

9.25/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

Album Review: 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.

Collectors Corner: UGK – Too Hard To Swallow (2017 Vinyl Reissue)

by Rajin

cctitle

Last year marked the 25th anniversary of UGK’s debut album Too Hard To Swallow. To celebrate, Get On Down Records released a special reissue for Record Store Day, limited to 1,000 copies. Previously only released on CD and cassette, this was the first time the seminal Dirty South album was pressed on vinyl (aside from a 1992 promotional only pressing which wasn’t for public sale).

This was one of the first records I bought after getting into vinyl at the top of this year. On my first trip to the record store I saw it while flipping through hip hop records, but for some reason I didn’t think to pick it up. No more than a few days later I was idly reflecting on that visit, and decided to look this album up on Discogs. Upon doing so, I read details about it that made me realize the mistake I had made in passing it up. About a week later I went back trusting that if it had stayed on the shelf for 8 months, it would still be there. Sure enough, it was, and I went home with what remains to be the coolest vinyl I own as of now.

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The first thing that you’ll notice about the record is the way the cover art has been altered. Pimp C, Bun B, and the lettering are all gold, and essentially everything else is dark blue. I’m not entirely sure why the cover has been altered the way it has, and I don’t really know how I feel about it. While I don’t remember if it was the only reason I didn’t pick it up at first, the changes were definitely part of why I was apprehensive. I imagine I thought I would find an earlier pressing with the original cover, only to find out that this is the first vinyl pressing. I will say, it gives the cover a sleeker look than the original. It looks more like an actual album cover, and less like a picture with word art on it; however, it does eliminate the charming simplicity and overall “Dirty South” vibe that the original album art had.

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The record sleeve is a little thinner than I personally prefer for a 2xLP. There are no inserts or anything to speak of; the credits are all listed on the back cover, which follows the same color scheme as the front cover. There really isn’t anything else to the packaging. The actual vinyl is where the release gets more impressive to me. It was pressed on clear vinyl, which makes it one of the more aesthetically pleasing records that I own. I really like how you have a view of the grooves that you don’t get on other colors. Not only does it look extremely cool, it makes it much easier to see whether the record is dirty or not. The colors used on the sleeve are also used on the vinyl labels, which actually serves as a gorgeous contrast to the clear vinyl.

The pressing itself is a pretty good one. I’m no audiophile, so perhaps others who have listened to it would dispute me on this, but I love how full the funky, syrupy bass on this record sounds. Tracks with slower and more detailed production like “Feel Like I’m The One Doing Dope” become infinitely more immersive than the digital version is. The vocals also sound great, and honestly better mixed than they were on the original release. Bun B’s booming voice in particular sounds great on this pressing.

Ultimately, the best thing about this is that a classic album has finally gotten the vinyl pressing it always deserved. Too Hard To Swallow was already an album that anyone who considers themselves a fan of hip hop should own, but this pressing is special. If anyone sees it hanging out at your record store, pick it up. Don’t even think about it.

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.