Czarface Joins Forces with Fellow Legend for a Fun LP

While Czarface Meets Ghostface may not be hold the attention of a casual listener, it’s an absolute can’t miss for fans of classic, East Coast hip-hop.

Czarface is the an underground hip-hop super group made up of producer 7L, rapper Esoteric, and legendary Wu-Tang MC, Inspectah Deck.  They debuted in 2013 with a self-titled record followed by Every Hero Needs a Villain two years later, both on Brick Records. They signed to Silver Age Records in time for their 2016 effort, A Fistful of Peril and dropped First Weapon Drawn the very next year. Over these four records, the trio had crafted an entire mythology for the Czarface character who is heavily inspired by the lore of 1990’s comic books. In 2018, they paired with legendary MC, MF Doom. The match seemed to be maid in heaven as much of Doom’s discography is similarly comic book inspired. The album, Czarface Meets Metal Face was one of the best rap albums of last year. Now they’re back with another genre legend.

Wu-Tang alum, Ghostface Killah needs very little introduction to any fan of hip-hop. He debuted in with 1993’s triple platinum Enter the Wu-Tang which was followed in ’97 with the quadruple platinum, Wu-Tang Forever. Both of these are virtually scripture for fans of East Coast hip-hop, but Ghostface also has 13 solo LP’s to his name, including his platinum debut, Ironman. Few MC’s in rap history can rival the man’s pedigree, though two who can find themselves on this album with him.

This comes as no surprise, but each artist more than pulls their weight on this project. Ghostface Killah strikes first with an incredible verse on “Face Off,” where he is certainly the best part of the track. He also goes out with a bang on his last cut, “Mongolian Beef.” His flow is, of course, similar to his fellow MC’s, but he differentiates himself with complex, multi-syllabic rhyme schemes and an aggressive delivery.

Inspectah Deck, on the other hand, has a more braggadocios style that really shines threw in the latter half of the record. On tracks like “Listen to the Color,” or the hilariously titled closer, “(Post Credit Scene),” Deck’s performances are dripping in attitude and make a nice counterpart to Ghostface’s more aggressive vocals. His flow is simpler but his lyricism is often the most impressive on a given track.

Surprisingly, however, it’s neither of the Wu-Tang alums who come off looking the best on Czarface Meets Ghostface. That title goes to Esoteric. Across the record, he more than holds his own among fellow legends and on tracks like “Iron Claw,” or “Powers and Stuff,” he outshines them quite a bit. His flow is complex, his delivery is excellent, and lyrically, he lives a ton of unique references as bread crumbs for repeated listeners.

When it comes to instrumentals, unfortunately, we have a somewhat mixed bag. There are moments of brilliance from 7L without a doubt. The “Macho Man” Randy Savage soundbite in the opener, “Back at Ringside,” is excellent and using what sounds like Donkey Kong 64 theme as the driving melody on “Morning Ritual,” may be one of my favorite details ever in a track. In fact, on a cut like “The King Heard Voices,” the beat as a whole is one of the best in recent memory.

However, most of the record is a bit lacking in interesting ideas. Songs like “Czarrcade ’87,” and “Masked Superstars,” are noticeably repetitive, but there’s a bad tendency on the whole album to gather just a few interesting samples that sound good on first listen but very poorly cover for the lack of depth or layers on these instrumentals. Most of the tracks come off as just similar drum beats on loop.

On the whole, this album is a treat. Three all time great MC’s find themselves working together and, somehow, none of them have lost their edge. While many of the instrumentals find themselves lacking, they’re good enough and certainly aren’t the focus. Instead, the lyricism and mythology is on full display and we’re left with an enjoyable collection of hip-hop tracks.

While Czarface Meets Ghostface may not be hold the attention of a casual listener, it’s an absolute can’t miss for fans of classic, East Coast hip-hop.

6/10

AMAZON LINK: https://amzn.to/2U65p9t

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Lucky Daye Serves Up Bombastic, Funk Inspired EP

With a strong cocktail of Motown, funk, R&B, and more, Lucky Daye has crafted another dynamic project and focuses all ears on his upcoming LP.

Lucky Daye is a singer, songwriter, and rapper from New Orleans, Louisiana. He signed to RCA and Keep Cool late last year and released his debut EP, I, which was fairly well received.  It was heavily R&B centered while pulling in elements of funk and Motown to make for a dynamic and enjoyable listen. He’s announced a full LP for sometime in 2019, but he strikes again in February with yet another exciting EP, fittingly entitled II.

The project opens with “Karma,” which features the strongest funk influences thus far in his career. The lyrics are fun, the slap bass is nasty in the best way, and the kick drum is absolutely thunderous. The vocal melodies on the verse are addicting and the spoken section at the end is hilarious. The overall track is a perfect opener that leaves a listener anxious to hear the rest.

“Paint It,” follows and keeps every bit of the momentum rolling. The balanced, harmonized vocals are an excellent touch, not to mention the infectious and exciting performance from the lead vocalist. The drums and synth lines feel ripped directly from an 80’s synth-pop hit, and the spacier bridge is a nice change of pace. The closing rap has an excellent flow and though the lyrics are somewhat comedic, they fit the song very well.

The third cut, “Real Games,” is the best cut on the album. The heavily effected guitar lead sets a danceable grove over relatively simple drums. The more psychedelic choruses provide a dynamic change up and the bombastic horns bring the powerful Motown influence screaming to the forefront. The strong vocals and songwriting continue here, but they’re made even better by the explosive instrumentation and unpredictable changes including the excellent, slower final verse.

“Misunderstood,” closes the record and is, unfortunately, the weakest of the bunch. The drums are at their best here and the piano and lo-fi production is a nice choice. However, much of the funk and Motown influences are pulled back in favor of what is, essentially, an R&B track with a few jazz elements. It’s by no means a weak track, but it kills the momentum for a thoughtful piece that never reaches it’s goals lyrically, and so feels like a bit of a mood killer.

Overall, II is an extremely exciting EP from a very young new artist. He has a versatile sound and a bold aesthetic vision.

With a strong cocktail of Motown, funk, R&B, and more, Lucky Daye has crafted another dynamic project and focuses all ears on his upcoming LP.

G Herbo Stumbles on Third Studio Album

While Still Swervin’ features more than its fair share of strong moments, it’s G Herbo’s weakest effort to date and the first to sound like he just didn’t try.

G Herbo is a rapper and producer from Chicago, Illinois. He debuted in 2014 with the Welcome to Fazoland and Pistol P Project mixtapes. He quickly became a key part of the later years of the Chicago drill movement, long after the successes of genre staples like Chief Keef and Lil Durk. Nevertheless, he found substantial success and eventually found his way onto charts and released his first LP, Humble Beast in 2017. Shortly after, he signed with 808 Mafia and released his sophomore record, Swervo, which received mild acclaim from critics, including this website.

His success hinges on a few things but none more than his flow. His style is hard-hitting and violent, perfectly in line with the sound that put drill rap on the map. He also writes with quite a bit of raw passion, refusing to turn away from the harsh realities of life in downtown Chicago. His rough voice plays well against the classically hectic instrumentals of trap music and makes for a tight package that is extremely enjoyable for fans of his style of music. He doesn’t aim to reinvent the wheel, but he does what he does very well. He aims to continue that style with Still Swervin’ which is his most mixed effort to date.

Much of what we’ve come to appreciate from Herbo is here on the record. His flow is hard hitting on tracks like the opener, “Sacrifice,” and “Do Yo Sh!t.” Several tracks, including these two, have no chorus or hook and instead consist of one long verse from Herbo that feels almost like a freestyle. While the flows can often feel repetitive, they hit hard enough to keep a listener entertained.

His lyrics are fairly impressive on more than a few occasions as well. Tracks like “Yerk 30,” and “Wilt Chamberlin” are some of the best on the project because of Herbo’s braggadocios lyricism and creative imagery. He’s at his best when he’s writing about his money and street cred, though his rare attempt at telling a more vulnerable story on the closer, “Hood Cycle,” feels surprisingly genuine.

The few features that do appear on the record run the gamut from the fantastic work of Pretty Savage on the album’s best track, “Bug,” and the very funny “Shakey Skit,” to the sleepy performances from Gunna on “Trained to Kill,” or Juice WRLD on “Never Scared,” both of which suck the life out of otherwise enjoyable tracks. Aside from Pretty Savage, however, none of the features feel necessary or even helpful, especially since Herbo has such a dynamic voice as he shows on tracks like “Ok.”

This is still more than I can say for the production, however. Nearly every instrumental on the album is either boring or unlistenable. The manic energy of old school drill rap is gone in favor of nothing beats like “Up It,” and “Visionary.” Virtually the entire album is drenched in uninventive trap cymbals and the occasional accent which is generally abrasively mixed and completely out of place.

The worst quality of the record, however, and one that plagues the entirety of the nearly 50 minute runtime, is G Herbo’s inability to stay on beat. It’s especially bad in the first half, with tracks like “Scratchy & Itchy,” and “Bought a Tool,” sounding as if the vocals were recorded totally separately and just layered over the existing beat. Not to be outdone, however, the latter half contains “Boww,” which is easily one of the worst rap songs I’ve heard in many years and the worst on the album by a mile.

The album is an odd outing for Herbo and disappointing to say the least. With a solid debut and an even better sophomore effort under his belt, this record would’ve been the perfect opportunity for his sound to pierce the mainstream bubble. Unfortunately, even its best moments are pulled down by structural problems like weak instrumentals and off-beat rapping that are so severe that the LP never does quite find its footing.

While Still Swervin’ features more than its fair share of strong moments, it’s G Herbo’s weakest effort to date and the first to sound like he just didn’t try.

3/10

Boogie Drops Strong Major Label Debut

Everythings For Sale is a very strong debut from an exciting young artist.

Boogie is a rapper and vocalist from Compton, California. He made a name for himself in the underground world with his debut mixtape, The Thirst 48 in 2014, before breaking through a year later with his follow up, The Reach. He was immediately notable for his ability to bring his own real life experiences to his lyrics in a visceral way in addition to his unique, gospel inspired beats. He signed to Eminem’s Shady Records label in time to release The Thirst 48 Pt. II as a continuation to his debut mixtape.

After signing he received a strong push from the label, including a ton of features with artists like Denzel Curry, Royce Da 5’9, and a strong cypher at 2017’s BET Awards. When his major label debut, Everythings For Sale was announced, anticipation was high as Boogie’s unique sound was expected to benefit quite a bit from the full funding treatment. Despite the odd decision to release such an anticipated project in January, this record certainly didn’t disappoint.

The full studio treatment comes through immediately in the form of excellent beats and a wide instrumental pallet. From the bombastic horn section on “Who’s Fault,” to the reedy woodwinds on “Silent Ride,” listener’s never quite know what to expect on a track and it works extremely well. Not to mention the live drum kit on tracks like the “lolsmh,” interlude that benefits from sharp rimshots and explosive cymbals.

The features list also shows signs of the new studio, though the performances are a bit of a mixed bag. They range from JID’s fantastic verse on “Soho,” and Eminem’s technically impressive pass on “Rainy Days,” to 6lack’s formulaic and boring work on “Skydive II,” which all but ruins what could’ve been the best track on the record.

As for Boogie himself, he’s fantastic. Lyrically, he deals in topics like mortality and death before switching effortlessly to a track like “Self Destruction,” that focuses on drinking and partying and then coming right back to a track about his divorce. He’s incredibly heartfelt and visual, particularly on the more nocturnal tracks like “No Warning.”

The most noticeable and strongest aspect of the record is Boogie’s flow. From the opener, “Tired/Reflection” where his tight scheme plays well off of the jazz instrumental, to the closer, “Time,” where he’s far more relaxed but no less emotional, his rapping is simply captivating. In fact, it’s the tracks that lack a rap verse where the record does fall short.

The influence of artists like Chance the Rapper is worn quite boldly on his sleeve, and it works on a track like “Live 95,” where the old school, R&B vibe lends itself to Boogie’s strong ear for melody. Unfortunately, his singing is hardly capable of carrying a full track. This becomes painfully obvious when one hears a song like “Swap Meet,” or “Skydive.” Here, the lack of a strong verse makes the tracks feel somewhat aimless, and by the time they end, they feel like nothing more than unimportant interludes.

Luckily, this is rarely the case as the majority of the album is excellent. Everythings For Sale simply doesn’t feel like a debut LP as Boogie’s meaningful lyricism and wide array of flows makes him a strong front man for such a well made record. Boogie is one of few young and exciting acts on Shady Records and with this being his first LP on the label, he’s showing quite a bit of promise. One can only hope that the label will give him ample opportunity to succeed and that he keep up the strong performances on future releases.

  Everythings For Sale is a very strong debut from an exciting young artist.

6/10

Future’s Newest Album is a Slog With Little Reward

Future’s clear desire to grow artistically has bottomed out in trap music’s lack of depth and his own lack of ingenuity to leave us an album of nothing but style over substance.

Future is an Atlanta based rapper/producer. He was extremely influential in the commercial success of trap music, with his 2012 debut Pluto and 2014’s Honest going gold, establishing Future as a top player in the rap world. This was confirmed in 2015 with his solo LP DS2 going double platinum while What a Time to Be Alive, his collaboration with Drake, went platinum as well. Since 2015, he’s released three more records, each of which reached number one and sold over a million copies.

Future’s sound is extremely controversial as he is often credited as a precursor to mumble rap. His heavy use of autotune, bass-centric beats, and constant use of triplet based flows are all imitated so often in the modern rap scene that his influence simply can’t be ignored. That being said, he’s also criticized quite often for meaningless lyrics, repetitive tracks, and an inability to evolve with the genre. On recent releases, Future has adopted the nickname of “Hndrxx,” a moniker which seems to be aimed at rebranding toward a more artistic vision. Unfortunately, those releases also showed very little growth from the sound he came up on. Now, early in 2019, Future treats us to an hour long seventh LP entitled WIZRD.

In the interest of fairness, let’s start with the good, scarce as it may be. The production, which I will complain about later, was at least quite smooth and competent with a few shining moments. “Promise U That,” features an interesting chorus of voices which, in stereo, surround the listener for a nice effect. And tracks like “Servin Killa Kam,” and “First Off,” use glossy, bass-heavy beats that fit the tone of the record well. Tracks like “Call the Coroner,” and “F&N,” also feature fun intros and transitions.

Additionally, the lack of a true chorus on tracks like the opener, “Never Stop,” make Future’s admittedly repetitive flow sound quite a bit more intense. Unfortunately, we’re now left to turn to the issues on this album and they are plentiful.

First and foremost, Future is one of the least dynamic rappers in the game today. Whether the track is intense and upbeat like “Jumpin’ on a Jet,” and “Goin Dummi,” or more melodic like “Ain’t Comin Back,” and “Crushed Up,” his flow is virtually identical, despite the fact that it somehow doesn’t work with either sound. The abusive use of autotune gives his voice a tinny quality that makes his weak flows even more unbearable and leaves me wondering how he ever reached this level of popularity.

Lyrically, the record is about as uninteresting as one would expect. While tracks like “Rocket Ship,” and “Temptation,” are packed to the brim with noticeably cringe-worthy lines, it’s tracks like “Stick to the Models” and “Face Shot,” that are perhaps more frustrating as not a single word is memorable or interesting. Everything is just thrown away and could’ve been written in five minutes.

Above all this, though, the album has a single fatal flaw which simply can’t be overlooked. Namely, every single beat sounds identical to the one before and after it. Tracks like “Overdose,” “Krazy but True,” and the closer, “Tricks on Me,” feel like nothing more than wallpaper because there isn’t a single moment where a track sounds unique or interesting. It’s so repetitive that the rather weak breakdown on “Baptiize,” feels like a much needed release. Even the features on “Unicorn Purp,” are buried under the lack of variety, which is made worse by the push given to the bass and snares so that any changes that are made feel slight and unimportant.

In the end, WIZRD will likely find major success, as have Future’s earlier endeavors, but it seems to be yet another indicting piece of evidence that trap music has passed its prime.

Future’s clear desire to grow artistically has bottomed out in trap music’s lack of depth and his own lack of ingenuity to leave us an album of nothing but style over substance.

2/10

HEAR WIZRD: https://open.spotify.com/album/3LpIwZdzFwc10psLingT8x

XXXTENTACION Realizes Much of His Potential on Posthumous Release

In the end, SKINS is an interesting album, at times unique and well performed, at times formulaic and boring. It is, however, X’s best project yet and one can only wish we’d had more time to see what an interesting artist he could’ve become.

     XXXTENTACION needs very little introduction. He rose to some prominence as a particularly successful star of fight videos from a Florida based account but reached a massive audience with the release of of his debut single “Look At Me!” Ever the controversial figure, X nevertheless became a staple of the growing Florida rap scene, which was especially brutal subset of Soundcloud rap. After a few singles and EP’s, he released his first studio album, 17 which is often credited with starting the recent trend of albums lasting less than half an hour. His follow up, ?, was slightly longer and released with Capitol records, peaking at number one on the billboard charts. Both albums went platinum. Unfortunately, X was shot and killed in June while in Florida.

   While his previous work was nothing if not intriguing, I generally found in lacking in key areas. The heavy metal and grunge influences where glaring, and even materialized in a few heavier cuts, some of the best in his discography. In many ways, he brought experimental techniques like lo-fi production, guitar based instrumentals, and screaming, distorted vocals to the mainstream and to a youth which had never listened to artists like Death Grips, who use these elements far more effectively. With Skins, his first posthumous release, I was unsure what to expect and if I should even review the record. After listening, though, I found a mixed bag full of interesting ideas that are well worth discussing.

   The album opens with an introduction that, while a bit corny, is far more interesting than the intro on a project like 17. There’s a tinge of tongue in the cheek here, which alleviates some of the cringing that followed X’s other intros.

   After the intro, we get a few tracks back to back that are some of the best in Tentacion’s entire catalog. “Guardian Angel,” maybe my favorite track, features a twisted sample of his earlier hit, “Jocelyn Flores,” under a hard hitting verse with an excellent flow. “Train Food,” follows, telling the story of a fictional narrator’s encounter with the personification of death, an eerie topic for obvious reasons. The final monologue from the perspective of a man tied to a train track is powerful and heartfelt with a flow that radiates with influences from artists like Eminem.

   After such a great start, though, we fall back into X’s most annoying tendency, making thoughtless vibe tracks with little input aside from singing an ignorable hook. This is especially true for “woah,” which honestly sounds like a beat waiting to be rapped over. This track would’ve been far better served as an instrumental on someone else’s album, crediting X as a feature. “BAD!” Is also guilty of this, though there are some lyrics, vapid and meaningless as they may be.

   After this slump, we get another high. “STARING AT THE SKY,” though a bit overly dramatic, taps into its emo-rock inspiration in an interesting way. The explosive and distorted chorus is a nice moment, bringing his earliest work full circle and realizing its goal. The same is true for “One Minute,” which features enough of a Kanye West influence that X is more of a feature, but an excellent feature at that. Both of these tracks stand as accomplishments, the first times that he has been able to adequately accomplish his goals of incorporating metal and hard rock in a genuine and interesting way.

   The “Difference” interlude is essentially a demo that was never able to be fully realized, though it holds quite a bit of promise. Unfortunately, it’s followed by “I don’t let go,” another vibe-heavy track with minimal and ultimately meaningless rapping, this time mixed very poorly and nearly inaudible. The closer, “what are you so afraid of,” is certainly listenable, featuring a heartfelt vocal over a sweetly played guitar. It’s not my favorite sound for X, but it’s done quite a bit better than others like it.

   In the end, SKINS is an interesting album, at times unique and well performed, at times formulaic and boring. It is, however, X’s best project yet and one can only wish we’d had more time to see what an interesting artist he could’ve become.

5/10

HEAR SKINS:      https://open.spotify.com/album/1qsQOC4Jn0fnaUZLAbs4dz

Earl Sweatshirt Drops Unique and Enjoyable 3rd Album

Some Rap Songs will likely be adored by true fans, but may not connect with the uninitiated.

     Earl Sweatshirt is a rapper and producer from Los Angeles, California. He’s best known as a member of the rap super group, Odd Future along with Tyler the Creator and Frank Ocean among others. While his fellow OF members have reached much success in recent years and stepped out from the shadow of the group, Sweatshirt has struck up more of an underground path to fame. After a few self-released mixtapes, he made his major label debut on Columbia in 2013 with Doris. The album was mildly successful, in fact more so than it’s 2015 follow up, I Don’t Like Sh*t, I Don’t Go Outside. The latter, however, became a massive cult hit, slowly building a small but dedicated fan base.

   His flow is heavily inspired by his Odd Future counterparts, particularly Tyler the Creator, who’s early work is remarkably similar to that of Sweatshirt. The fanbase, though, was far more drawn to his lyricism, which is quite impressive. He writes with brutal cynicism and focusses heavily on dark topics. His storytelling is excellent and, especially on his second record, he has an excellent ability to paint a picture. After seeing the strange cover and title for Strange Rap Songs, I knew I was in for a unique experience, and Earl didn’t disappoint.

   The first thing you’ll notice about this record is extremely short runtimes and long tracklist. The longest and perhaps best tracks the album are the opener, “Shattered Dreams,” and “The Mint,” each clocking in under three minutes. These actually feel like complete ideas, though they’re essentially just long verses, as Earl lets the beats shine a bit longer and the latter features a fantastic soundbite. The rest of the album is somewhat woven together.

   Because of the quick changes, we’re given one fantastic beat after another. The closer, “Riot!” is completely instrumental and utilizes a catchy, well played horn passage near the end while tracks like “The Bends,” and “Veins,” are built around well cut vocal samples which are used to set tone as well as rhythm. Earl shows versatility around every turn as the music simply refuses to sit still for more than a moment.

   His flow is also quite listenable. “December 24,” and “Cold Summers,” feature the kind of classic, Earl Sweatshirt flow we know and love, as do “Red Water,” and “Onmyway!” Here, he’s unrelenting and with the slight tinge of violence and intensity. On the other hand, tracks like “Nowhere2go,” and “Eclipse,” display a sleeper, more laid back form of the same sound.

   Overall, the record shows a reckless disregard for tradition. “Loosie,” and “Azucar,” find Earl barely clinging to the beat of minimalistic instrumentation with a bizarre transition between the two. Furthermore, several tracks mix the beats louder than Earl’s vocals and his vocal constantly fades between vocal effects.

   Not every risk pays off though. “Playing Possum,” is the only moment on this very short project which I would truly call boring as it is devoid of rapping and instead built around selections from speeches by two women over a relatively weak beat. “Peanut,” seems to never quite find its rhythmic footing, and though I have respect for the experimental nature, it ultimately misses wide of the mark.

   In total, Some Rap Songs is a unique listening experience which really must be taken in in one sitting to be appreciated. When Earl stays in his wheelhouse he is quite effective, but the branching out yields a bit of a mixed bag of results.

   Some Rap Songs will likely be adored by true fans, but offers little for the uninitiated. 

5/10

HEAR SOME RAP SONGShttps://open.spotify.com/album/66at85wgO2pu5CccvqUF6i