The weeks keep rolling along but we’re back at it with some more music news to tell you fine folks about. We have Bliss N Eso, DJ Quik & Problem and Wale on the radar. The theme this time seems to be fun, as each artist gives his take and spin on the good times, though some do better (or worse) at it than the others.
At least there is one project of the week that deserves some considerable respect. The new and sixth LP by Sydney, Australian trio Bliss N Eso, entitled Off The Grid is a fine addition to the renowned crew’s expanding catalogue. A hip-hop band conscientious and observant of the true elements of the culture and music, Bliss N Eso (MC Bliss, MC Eso and DJ Izm) make a strong upright showing on Off The Grid, which is packed full of motivation, inspiration and friendly anthemic cuts for fans. Their tone at the top is to turn lemons into lemonade with hopes to raise the youth with “love, compassion and empathy.” They emit positive energy obviously but also firm strength, going off with clever interesting braggadocio in “Tear The Roof Off” and remembering to go off the clock from their jobs for some cool-out in the herbalised “Coolin’” and especially “Birds in the Sky.” Of particular note, the gang give an ode to turntablism, live producer accompaniment on stage, scratching and all that good stuff on “Whatever Happened to the DJ,” and in “Moments,” they honorably rap, “f*ck the money, cars and accessories ‘cause the only thing we take to our grave is our memories.” For sure a lively, peppy roundup of skilled men, Bliss N Eso may seem to some a little too sweet and happy with predominately PG-rated ballads of nice warm cozy notes, but you cannot knock their fine wordplay and lyricism and their concentrated focus on going on, living life, working hard and spreading goodness of word to the people. (3 out of 5 stars)
Rosecrans by DJ Quik & Problem (Diamond Lane Music Group/Blake Enterprises)
Legendary Compton musician/emcee DJ Quik (David Blake) has turned his 2016 joint EP Rosecrans (with rapper Problem, also from Compton) into a full length album. It certainly brings more to the table yet not in ways much different from the songs on the original extended play. Right off the bat, Quik’s artistic production-signatures (whiny funk, talk-boxing, nice keys) are heard and felt, and Problem is honestly dope and excitable with some solid wordplay and confidently delivered flows. The LP is thoroughly satisfying from a hip-hop music composition standpoint but less so in its topics and subject matter, which consist of typical rap chatter on the traditional street/hood essence – sexing with floozies, visiting the jeweler and the dealer, laying back and chillin’ and other similar preoccupations and pastimes. The boys are wild, profane and superficial unfortunately and while this is an independent release (off Diamond Lane Music Group and Blake Enterprises), it’s championed by the mainstream because of its formulaic, run of the mill attitudes and sensibilities. It’s sadly a real shame they are regressive, destructive and immature to boot. Quik and Problem’s homies, even two Quik’s reconciled with in the past (AMG and MC Eiht), make a full fledged showing but they are the stereotypical players of the game here. Expect little else from them. Chill out and relax with some fine music pieces in Rosecrans but do not put significant trust in the words laid upon said music pieces. (2 out of 5 stars)
Shine by Wale (Atlantic Records/Maybach Music Group)
The jig is up for Wale in his Atlantic/MMG-released fifth studio album Shine. The D.C. native may have star-studded guests like Lil Wayne, Major Lazer, G-Eazy, Travis Scott and Chris Brown on the week early arriving project but there are dangerous ulterior motives being played out behind the scenes and its superficiality is not an accident by its makers. The gang and Wale most notably are coarse, materialistic, misogynistic and hedonistic over trend-settling production from the hands of the typical lineup of beat-makers. Talk on bands, rims, cars and designer brands metastasizes Shine’s entirety, and Wale and company’s attitude toward women by carelessly dropping words “b*tch” and “h*e” like they’re nothing renders intended romance cuts like “My Love” and “Fine Girl” completely powerless and ineffective. The last joint “Smile” of course lightly discusses some politics by way of police on black violence but it is only here to fill a quota, to make us think Wale is some sort of conscious emcee. He really is not, never has been one. In fact when he insinuates in the song that Trump is a bigot/misogynist, it’s pure hypocrisy because he himself sounds like one in several other spots on the album. This is an Atlantic release and secondarily one by Wale, who has been molested by the former into degrading himself on record and to put his name across the cover like he is the only one responsible for its flagrant issues. (1 out of 5 stars)
This release date Friday is being celebrated most fervently for being the day that Compton’s company line-toeing Kendrick Lamar drops his fourth LP, but actually that’s the least noteworthy of all the week’s new albums. Check out some of the others that surpass the famed Damn in intricate artistry and valuable concepts and messages.
Seattle bred emcee of the night Sadistik returns with another semi-concept album of dark clever metaphors, powerful puns and just fine advanced wordplay of high quality in Altars, his fourth full-length overall. The theme of the LP seems to be examination and critique of religious idol-worship, followings and cult tendencies plus the pitfalls of societal subjugation and conformity of course, staples for Sadistik. Of his analogies are the “Roaches” and “Honeycomb” cuts comparing our existence to that of insects, the “Free Spirits” warning of the no-cost liquors and poisons dispensed to those off guard uninhibited soul-searchers, and tracks “Cotard’s Syndrome” and “Salem Witches” exposing the demons around us, specters like ghosts and surely witches not to mention those they wrongfully target, hence the name of the latter record. Humbly introduced in the second half come guests Kristoff Krane, P.O.S from Doomtree, Terra Lopez and Lige Newton. The straightforward, overcast drama of the production leaves a bit more to be desired on the beats, and Altars is just a little too gloomy, helpless and hopeless sounding in general but overall it’s another very substantial effort (especially on the vocal end) from Sadistik.
Emcee Smizzy from Sydney, Australia releases something of a serious-slash-fun mixed bag with his ten-track debut album, The Cover, and in that order in fact, serious then fun, political and then heartfelt. The first two tracks off the project, “We Swear” and “Lucky,” handle wisdom and consciousness toward a variety of topics in the first and next how grossly excessive wealth and unneeded material possessions won’t bring happiness in the second. Rappers usually confine songs like those to the end or next to the end, but since they are real draws naturally, Smizzy got it right and put them in the right place to begin with. Through it all we listen to a light twist on IDM music tailored for rap and other chill music vibes near the close in addition to some fine guests and friends of Smizzy from the land down under.
The songs steadily become more light onward, especially after Smizz refuses to argue with family and friends over meaningless trivialities in “Problems Aside” and also after he connects with fans in “You Don’t Understand.” In fact the middle section may not be the heaviest in material but it works as a good bridge to the finale. Smizzy puts out fun, multi-themed rhymes with Cooper and Di Apprentice in “Shark Party,” reviews love nuances in “On My Nerves,” and tells of a run-in he had with the cops in “Don’t You Blame Me.” The finale couldn’t be more appropriate. Smizzy pays homage to an emcee hero he had as a younger aspiring artist plus some of his other inspirations in hip-hop through “Who I Owe My Rhymes To,” a good dedication to the music in general. Aside from the beginning comments and their weighted messages, everything seems to fall in place quite perfectly for Smizz, perhaps a little too squeaky cleanly as a matter of fact but his game and craft as an emcee are a sound for sore ears. For a man from a country/continent that needs all the strong hip-hop representation it can get at this point, Smizzy does well as an Aussie and as an artist.
3 out of 5 stars
Damn by Kendrick Lamar (Interscope Records/Aftermath Ent/Top Dawg Ent)
Truthfully, Kendrick Lamar’s fourth studio album Damn confirms some of the most alarming suspicions that hip-hop’s most cautious fans had of it leading up to its drop. Now steeped in the quagmire of mainstream rap, Lamar was no doubt overwhelmed into conforming to the pop industry’s steadfast rules for the music, requirements that he’s fulfilled dutifully for his labels – Interscope, Aftermath and Top Dawg. To a production spread that takes avant-garde acid soul, jazz and trap on a slow trippy journey through heavily modified samples, sound clips and instruments, Kendrick Lamar is once again sufficiently lyrical but it is an afterthought if one focuses on the tone and example he sets with his words.
His undomesticated hood personality rules strongly to be frank. Talk on “money to get, b*tches to hit” (“Yah”) and “100k spread across the floor” (“Element”) and later remarks on wanting to be a gun man since a young man, “flexing, laughing to the bank” and paying people to have others killed (“God”) are simply littered all throughout the project. Still not convinced? Notice how “b*tch” so easily slips out of K Dot’s mouth in single “Humble” or how flagrantly he spews the following dangerous advocations in “Lust”: “go hit you a lick, go f*ck on a b*tch, don’t go to work today, cop you a fifth maybe some kicks.” Also, a number of listeners may be somewhat concerned by the subtle, perhaps subliminal insertion of Israel promotion in both “Yah” and “Fear.” Kendrick goofily and outrightly says, “I’m a Israelite” and then a preacher talks about a few of America’s minority groups as the “children of Israel” respectively in those song-sections.
The only words on the disc worth holding onto for any extended period of time can be found in the U2-assisted “XXX” in which Lamar states, “it’s murder on my street, your street, back streets, Wall Street, corporate offices [and] banks; employees and bosses [have] homicidal thoughts.” Still there are very few positive signs of hope, words of encouragement, pieces of advice, plans of action or remedies addressed by the media’s chosen one of hard, hardcore rap. Be very careful here, as Kendrick Lamar has let himself go slow, hazy, cold, bitter and openly aggressive in the problematic LP-entry.
Really, Pro Era de jure headman Joey Badass’s sophomore album, All-Amerikkkan Bada$$, is pretty good, quite solid, despite a few recurring flaws so not everything from the mainstream is wack after all. Coming two years after his B4.DA.$$ debut, A.A.B.A. finds Joey taking much more of a political stance now. American ways are the subjects for the most part and critical is very much the tone. Still Joey shows strength, wisdom and optimism to just about make up for what the project lacks or leaves out. If he and his crew point out the problems with the U.S. of A, it’s because they want a better one, not because they want to extinguish it.
Joey is the great motivator in tracks like “For My People,” singles “Land of the Free” and “Devastated,” and “Legendary” (feat. J. Cole) shining forth with raps on changing ourselves for the better, striving, overcoming a dangerous challenging environment and remaining positive. It’s only right to make that clear right off the bat. As far as his nation-protestations are concerned, Joey does some good but also some one-sided arguing. His best unveilings include such revelations as that penitentiary and record label owners are sort of like one and the same and that the media tell “lies” (take the latter with a small grain of salt). Jo’s wording could have been expanded and framed better in that last case but he’s largely right.
The biggest issue in his political schtick here though is the government bashing without mentioning those integral things known as corporations and capitalism. For Joey it’s like the ladder up stops at the corrupt government level. Actually, there is a level above it that is much wealthier working ferociously to control anything and everything below it. Five of the twelve tracks bring up something wrong with the government but almost none analyze the overarching capitalist economy.
Otherwise, only one or two less major points might be misconstrued. Joey goes after Obama (once) and Trump (twice), not surprising, and yes there is a purpose for gov heads but remember there is also a school of thought that thinks only the deficient need leaders (the answer is inside) and also, shouldn’t we spend more time upholding good instead of beating down the bad? Why give Obama, especially Trump more of a sense of importance by calling them out at all at this stage in the game? The other thing is Joey says “f--- white supremacy” in last cut “Amerikkkan Idol” when it should be: f--- any form or idea of one race supremacy completely, period.
The sincere, system-conscious Joey Badass has more or less succeeded overall though. He’s invited fine new guests for this round, including a few of his Pro Era boys, and he’s right at home over groovy soul and jazz, rock/pop and hard piano and drums at various turns in the production. Further growth as a rhyme lyricist/wordsmith could be desired of Joey (based off an infrequently-occurring, basic flow-pattern or two) but with this album the skilled one does satisfy expectations well. Compared to Bada$$ album one, AABA is a firm step forward and Joey does good by regularly hitting on meaningful subject matter.