The Wait is Over, Carter V is Finally Here, and it’s Excellent

Lil Wayne is an undeniable legend of rap music, and Tha Carter V shows us all exactly why.

     Lil’ Wayne is, undeniably, a legend in the hip-hop world. He debuted in 1996 with a group called Hot Boys on their debut album Get It How U Live! At fifteen, Wayne was the youngest member of the group and went on to easily the most successful solo career out of the five members. He released his first solo project in 1999 with Tha Block is Hot, which went platinum.

   This album series, however, began with the first Carter album in 2004 and was last updated by 2011’s Tha Carter IV. Today, The Carter series is one of the most critically and commercially successful album series of all time and after a seven year break due to legal troubles, Wayne is ready to return to The Carter this time with the added challenge of making the record feel current and new after a long hiatus from a genre which evolves at a breakneck pace. Luckily for all of us, he does this well.

   The first and most obvious notable quality of Carter V is the runtime. Clocking in at just under 90 minutes, this record is able to explore every idea fully, and a few times to an exhaustive extent. This can, at first make the album feel a bit daunting, but it isn’t nearly as dense as length may suggest, and the bulk of of these tracks are hits rather than misses.

   Perhaps the most interesting piece of this album is the production which, though handled by several different producers, strikes a surprisingly similar tone throughout. Tracks like “Can’t Be Broken,” “Open Safe,” “Famous,” and “Took His Time,” benefit from instrumentals which are very dated in the best possible way. They’re very reminiscent of Wayne’s work in his prime, around the mid-2000’s, during the early years of trap music and this is the first time that this sound has been done well in many years.

   On other occasions, the album’s sound is very current. Tracks like “Demon,” and “Dope New Gospel,” sport a very interesting neo-soul vibe which is done very well with excellent vocal work from Nivea on the latter. Wayne’s classic sung/rap flow fits well on these tracks as he lyrically dances over these beats with a skill that only comes from experience.

   In addition to all this, the soundbites which Wayne and his team chose for this album are fantastic. From the message from Wayne’s mother on the “I Love You Dwayne,” intro to her subsequent appearances on “Used 2,” and “Let It All Work Out,” which close out the project, each of these clips are extremely moving and bring weight to the album’s subject matter. On top of these, Barrack Obama makes a hilarious appearance on “Dedicate,” and Katie Couric drops by on “Hittas,” to remind us all that “Lil’ Wayne answers to no-one.”

   The features list here sports a few surprising names and interesting omissions. Thankfully, Drake doesn’t make an appearance, save for one line. Nicki Minaj, however, does feature on the rather underwhelming “Dark Side of the Moon,” with her best verse in several years. Similarly, Travis Scott gives an uncharacteristically solid performance on “Let it Fly.” The late XXXTentacion’s hook on “Don’t Cry,” is eiry and Snoop Dogg gives a fun closing verse on “Dope N***az.”

   The best feature, however, and the best track on the album as a whole is Kendrick Lamar on “Mona Lisa,” which just may be one of the best rap tracks of the year. In it, Wayne and Kendrick tell a grimy story of set ups, robbery, and theft with fantastic flow and storytelling abilities that really draws the parallel between two artists who have long been at the top of their game.

   The most impressive and exciting aspect of all of this is, without a doubt, Wayne’s flow. Listen to tracks like “Uproar,” “Open Letter,” “Problems,” or the very close contender for the title of best track on the album, “Start This Shit Off Right,” for the most shining examples of this, but Wayne’s flow is excellent on nearly every song. He often hangs on to a single rhyme for long periods of time, dropping non-stop bars along the way without missing a beat. His lyricism has improved, and he rarely relies on punchlines as he once did, but his iconic, hard-hitting flow is here in spades.

   All of this being said, I do have a few complaints. The worst track on this album, by far, is “Mess,” though other songs like “What About Me,” and “Perfect Strangers,” suffer from a similar issue: boring R&B beats that severely limit Wayne’s flow and offer nothing of substance to make up for this. This is the album’s worst offense, though several of the outros are far too long and the entire runtime could benefit quite a bit from shaving off 20-30 unjustified minutes.

   All of this being said, Tha Carter V is nothing short of excellent. After the nearly five year wait, we finally have brand new tracks from Lil Wayne with a full budget and original beats and it is well worth the wait. Rap music is often measured in eras, and the Wheezy era ended a few years ago, but that doesn’t mean that the man can’t still release fantastic music.

   Lil Wayne is an undeniable legend of rap music, and Tha Carter V shows us all exactly why.

8/10

HEAR THA CARTER V: https://open.spotify.com/album/50yFYgKdwJANZ5O9MIbMkg

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IDLES Gives Incredible Performance in Nashville on First US Tour

Having experienced this show, I would now comfortably say that IDLES is the best band in rock music today.

     Jack White once said of rock stars, “they get the freedom to have the highest of each emotions.” On September 28th in Nashville, IDLES brought that description to life in a fascinating way.

   The openers, a post-punk outfit called Bambara, gave quite a performance to kick off the night. The group’s lead singer lurked to and fro across the front of the stage with an almost Morrison-esque energy as the lead guitarist brutally beat his instrument off of speakers, pillars, and the ground, creating very unique tones that fit shockingly well with the band’s atmosphere. The set ran about an hour long, and was consistently loud, driving, and exciting, which is all one can ask of an opener.

IMG_1383   After a quick turnover, IDLES took the stage, though most of them her already there helping their crew put finishing touches on their stage set. They chose “Colossus” as an opener, an excellent choice as the driving rhythm and low timbre made for an ominous start. I was standing in the front row of the nice, but rather cramped High Watt in Nashville, and it was during the explosive final seconds of this song that this fact became relevant as I was rocked and shoved all about by the fantastic crowd.

   The bulk of the set was taken from the their recent project, Joy as an Act of Resistance, my favorite album of 2018 so far, with a few notable exceptions. The first of these was “Mother,” which was brutal, loud, and singable all at once, as were later call backs to 2017’s Brutalism, “Heel/Heal,” “1049 Gotho,” and the best of all “Well Done,” which fell near the end. While Joy is certainly the better album and it’s topics are so prescient, there is something so quintessentially punk about those older tracks which makes them musts for any set the band plays.

   While most of the show was raucous and loud, the group did slow it down to some extent, especially with “Love Song,” which even elicited a few chuckles with it’s funnier lines while delivering its message of the dangers of masculinity in relationships quite well.

IMG_1379   Aside from song selection, there was much to be appreciated in the group’s performance, and particularly their disregard for traditional concert etiquette. This, of course, began with the decision help the crew with set up and start the show without an official walk out and ended with the lack of an encore, which was replaced with a long track in which the group pulled crowd members on stage and allowed them to play the instruments. In the following and final song, each band member walked off the stage one by one leaving a ringing distortion behind.

   Between these examples, lead guitarists Mark Bowen and Lee Kierman very nearly stole the show from their frontman as the former bounced across the stage mimicking Flamenco dances and kick lines throughout and the latter consistently climbed into the crowd and played much of the show from the center of the moshpit. Near the end of the show, both guitarists left the stage and stood on bars on either side of the venue, dancing and playing as the crowd’s attention was divided between them and the rest of the group on stage.

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   Above all, however, vocalist Joe Talbot’s work at the front of this group can only be described as powerful. His voice was gritty, her screams were brutal, and he moved explosively across the stage all night. He would often toss the microphone behind his back, tugging the XLR cable across his neck like a noose, followed by hugging his bandmates as they played, reaching into the rabid crowd, and even punching himself in the face during a few songs. His performance is evocative of a Johnny Rotten or Kurt Cobain and it served as the perfect centerpiece to a fantastic show.

  Joy as an Act of Resistance is easily one of the most important albums of the year, and I was very fortunate for the opportunity to see this band on this tour. Having experienced this show, I would now comfortably say that IDLES is the best band in rock music today.

BROCKHAMPTON Kicks Off 2018 Trilogy With Flawed but Passionate LP

There are a few weak links and a few underdeveloped elements, but the sheer scope combined with the energy and passion which radiates from every performance makes this album and this group one of the best in modern Hip-hop, bare none.

     BROCKHAMPTON is a rap/hip-hop group from San Marcos, Texas. They’ve called themselves “the best boyband since One Direction,” and their meteoric rise to superstardom is quite reminiscent of the career trajectories of groups like these. The group debuted last year with Saturation I, II, and III, each of which were met with widespread critical praise and love from young hip-hop fans everywhere.

   The large lineup of members, each of whom share vocal duties across the discography, gives the group a fantastically eclectic sound as well as a kind of irresistible, manic energy. Many tracks rest comfortably on the verge of chaos, both rhythmically and due to the constantly shifting flows. Borrowing from the growing movement of experimental and minimalistic hip-hop which is looming in the underground world, BROCKHAMPTON adapts a very unique and often complex style to make it more accessible to general listeners without losing it’s key qualities. Because of this, I was excited to hear Iridescence, which would be the fourth entry to the groups discography, and it certainly was not a let down.

   The most noticeable aspect of this project, upon first listen, is excellent production. Each instrument has a depth and weight to it in the mix and the stereo image is inventive and exciting. Furthermore, the vocal effects used on tracks like “DISTRICT,” add yet another layer to the already rich soundscape.

   This, in turn, means that the album is extremely well paced. Song length varies greatly, with one of my favorite tracks, “Loophole,” being less than a minute long excerpt from an interview, and “Thug Life,” makes the most of it’s two minute run time. Others, like the excellent opener, “New Orleans,” have runtimes which exceed four minutes, carrying all of it well.

   The aforementioned sonic diversity also means that Iridescence is packed to the brim with verses which highlight great flows from each member. Joba’s verse on “Tape,” for example is one of the best verses of the year and Matt Champion’s follow up is all but equal in quality. And, of course, Kevin Abstract’s work on “Weight,” is incredible, and adds to the tracks status as my favorite moment on the album. All this without mentioning the jarring and brutal style employed by Merlyn Wood on “Where the Cash At.”

   Beyond diversity in flow, the production on this album is completely unpredictable in terms of instrumentals. Tracks like “J’ourvert,” accomplish this by switching beats and styles constantly, while “Honey,” or “San Marcos,” constantly introduce new and unique instruments.

   This brings us to yet another interesting quality to Iridescence: it’s extremely broad instrumentation pallet. “Tonya’s” moving piano is surprising in the best way possible while the strange organ on the closer, “Fabric,” is quite intriguing even after it’s initial introduction because of it’s enigmatic tone.

   If there are a few week points, they come in the form of the groups simpler, more emotional tracks. While this works well on tracks like “Weight,” it can also fall flat, as it does on “Fabric,” often sabotaged by the strange flows and production which surround the lyricism, which is also not always perfect.

   Brockhampton is at their best, however, when the bass is heavy and the flows are brutal. “Brazil,” for example, is one of the most charismatic hip-hop tracks in recent memory, and “District,” seems only to improve with repeated visits. It’s here, with each element of the group operating at full speed and putting in maximum effort, that BROCKHAMPTON sounds genuinely special. Iridescence may not be for everyone, it certainly isn’t perfect, and it doesn’t quite have the listenability value of other BROCKHAMPTON projects, and yet there is something quite great about it.

   There are a few weak links and a few underdeveloped elements, but the sheer scope combined with the energy and passion which radiates from every performance makes this album and this group one of the best in modern hip-hop, bare none.

6/10

HEAR IRIDESCENCE: https://open.spotify.com/album/3Mj4A4nNJzIdxOyS4yzOhj

Noname Drops Incredible Jazz-Rap Project as Sophomore Release

Noname’s flow and lyricism land her in the top tier of modern rappers and when she’s given such impressive instrumentals, helmed masterfully by Chicago producer L10MIXEDIT, she shines brighter than almost any of her contemporaries.

     Noname is an American rapper and poet from Chicago, Illinois. She’s a darling of the indie hip-hop world, but she is perhaps best known to the general public for her work with fellow Chicago native, Chance the Rapper, featuring on both Acid Rap and Coloringbook as well as an appearance on the Merry Christmas Lil’ Mamma mixtape. She’s known for her flow which is fast and dense, yet quiet and understated. Her lyrics are thoughtful and poetic, focussing heavily on issues of race, gender, and love.

   Her own personal debut came in 2016 when she self released her own mixtape, Telefone. The project received universally positive reviews from critics and fans alike, landing on several end of the year lists and rocketing Noname into the national conversation as a key pillar of the new Chicago sound. With the release of her first true LP, Room 25, she is faced with the task of living up to expectations, while trying to top one of the best records of 2016. This is a task which she knocks out of the park.

   The album opens with a short, simplistic intro in “Self,” which sets a clear tone for the rest of the 35 minute runtime. In the track, she speaks to the purpose of this album, a few situations where she feels it may be appropriate, and spends the rest of the 90 second track touching on race, love, politics, religion, and gender, all in a couple verses. It’s an excellent intro, and it sets listeners into the mood right away.

   Easily the highlight of this album is Noname’s flow, which shines even more on this album than in past work. “Prayer Song,” and “Window,” run back to back, and show her abilities quite well. In them, she shows an interesting tendency to repeat a word at the end of a line to set her structure, and then packing her verses full of internal rhymes that play well off of the complex, jazz rhythms in the background. It’s a unique tendency that sets her apart from the growing wave of jazz-rap artists, especially coming from Chicago.

   Her lyricism, as well, is impressively fearless for such a young artist, especially dealing in interesting topics. “Blaxploitation,” for example, speaks on African American representation in media over the years and uses this as a prism to deal with gentrification and racism. “Regal,” on the other hand, focuses on the poisons of black and white, two-sided politics and its tendency to force adherents to defend beliefs which they don’t hold. Each track is a puzzle with multiple levels layered on top of one another.

   Instrumentally, most tracks are simplistic, but this shouldn’t be mistaken for unimpressive. The bass guitar work on “Don’t Forget About Me,” is excellent and melodic, the lead guitar on “With You,” is the best part of an already awesome track, and the drums throughout are complex and driving, accenting Noname’s vocals perfectly.

   The feature list isn’t quite star studded, but it manages, for the most part, to add something much needed. Raven Lynae’s vocals on “Montego Bay,” is one of the best parts of the song and the largest cast of voices on “Part of Me,” is much appreciated. If I had a complaint in this department, it would be Smino’s verses on “Ace,” which is the weakest track in the list and isn’t helped by his underwhelming performance.

   The best song, by far, on Room 25 is the closer, “no name.” This track is just beautiful. An excellent, extended intro that features a very listenable bass line, followed by Noname’s performance of one of the best verses on the album, and finished by a soulful outro from Yaw and Adam Ness. It’s one of the best rap songs of the year, and an example of what makes the jazz rap movement the most exciting in the genre.

   While I loved the experience, I certainly had a few complaints. The album lacks sonic diversity in many places, and as a result the pacing really suffers. A 35 minute runtime should feel like a breeze, but on Room 25, its a bit of a slog, if an enjoyable one. The feature list, while admirable, could certainly have been better. Noname has worked with the likes of Chance the Rapper, J. Cole, and Taylor Bennet, any of whom would’ve fit really well on this album and given a unique sound which may be missing from the finished product. Regardless, Room 25 is one of the best albums of the year as it’s predecessor was in 2016.

   Noname’s flow and lyricism land her in the top tier of modern rappers and when she’s given such impressive instrumentals, helmed masterfully by Chicago producer L10MIXEDIT, she shines brighter than almost any of her contemporaries.

8/10

HEAR ROOM 25: https://open.spotify.com/album/7oHM3Sj0l2nXAzGAxW0KOt

Danielle Bregoli of “Cash Me Outside” Fame Drops Debut LP Under Bhad Bhabie Moniker

Bhad Bhabie was sanitized, used to push records and provide a platform for other rappers to feature on, and was only let loose once to create one of the worst songs I’ve ever heard.

     Bhad Bhabie, AKA Danielle Bregoli is far better known as the star of the infamous “cash me outside” meme, which arose from her bizarre appearance on Dr. Phil. After short lived meme fame, however, she began to find success in the rap world, first as the center of a Kodak Black video before signing to Atlantic Records and releasing “Gucci Flip Flops,” the lead single from her debut record, which featured Lil Yachty.

   Her sound is almost exactly what one would expect form a fifteen year old girl obsessed with trap and mumble rap. Her flow is odd and somewhat unnatural, though it can also be fairly described as aggressive. Regardless, this album has a fascinating amount of money behind it, a reasonably star studded feature list, and an x-factor which comes from Bhad Bhabie’s internet fame, so let’s take a deeper look at 15.

   The first and most shocking realization that comes with this project is the competence with which it was executed. Tracks like “Geek’d” and “No More Love,” for example, sport beats which one could tentatively describe as slightly interesting. None of the beats are impressive, but more importantly, never once is this album so bad, from a technical standpoint, that it’s unlistenable. The performances, however, are more of a mixed bag.

   The features list on 15 is impressive for a debut project, but unfortunately, this doesn’t translate to a collection of solid verses. YG’s verse on “Juice,” is a good way to start the album, though he does outshine Bregoli quite noticeably. Ty Dolla $ign, as well, turns in a few respectable bars on “Trust Me,” again, outshining the track’s main artist. After this, however, the quality drops off steeply.

   Asian Doll’s work on “Affiliated,” is one of the most grating sounds I’ve ever heard, and aids this song in gaining recognition as a low point in the runtime, for which it faced stiff competition. City Girls’ work on “Yung and Bhad” is the most brutally flavorless section of the mercifully short song. The worst feature, however, not only lands on what I would tentatively call my favorite track, “Gucci Flip Flops,” but goes to a man who takes this title virtually every time he appears on a record, Lil Yachty. Incredibly, he’s the only person on this album who seems unable to outshine Bregoli, and instead sleep-talks his way through a short 8 bars with lyrics that range from wholly meaningless to just plain unrelated to the track in any way. We, of course, still have yet to discuss the vocals of Bhad Bhabie herself.

   It’s terrible. When she raps, like on “Count It,” or “Bout That,” she seems to be barely speaking English through the single least intimidating aggressive flow in hip-hop history. She also experiments with an auto crooning style of singing that seems to be influenced by the Illinois drill scene. When she does this on “No More Love,” for example, I somehow find myself wishing she’d just go back to rapping, as her singing voice is completely soulless and adds nothing to the track. Nearly every flow she uses can be very easily traced to the popular artist from whom she stole it, with The Migos’ triplet style being the most notable and prevalent.

   The lyrics are actually not horrible, though they were, as with the beats, surely handled by her label rather than Bregoli herself. The self titled intro or the lead single, “Hi Bich,” for example, are fairly well written, though any slightly interesting lyrics are lost in the weak delivery.

   The bulk of this album is inoffensive, somewhat competent, and overall, just average, bad trap music with a worse than usual lead artist. This all goes out the window, however, when it comes the worst song, not only on this album, but of this year, “Bhad Bhabie Story.” This song shouldn’t exist. This song can barely be called a song, and furthermore, I cannot fathom the existence of a person in the civilized world who could listen to “Bhad Bhabie Story,” and genuinely enjoy the experience. Over an abusive runtime of more than six minutes, Danielle Bregoli details the story of her rise from troubled tween to infamous meme to hip-hop superstardom. She does this through mostly spoken word, only rapping for the first minute or so, without breaking for a single chorus, hook, or any other form of respite from this onslaught of Bhabie’s faux-ghetto accent and brutally irritating storytelling. It’s an existentially horrific experience, and I don’t recommend it for the faint of heart.

   As a finished product, 15 is disappointingly predictable in every way. Very seldom is there an example so obvious of a large company, in this case Atlantic Records, attempting to capitalize on an aspect of youth culture which they don’t understand in the slightest. I would’ve actually enjoyed the record’s 40 or so minutes a bit more if Bregoli had been simply sent into a studio with full reign to create her own bizarre, meme-worthy, artistic vision. We could’ve got an album version of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room.

   Instead, Bhad Bhabie was sanitized, used to push records and provide a platform for other rappers to feature on, and was only let loose once to create one of the worst songs I’ve ever heard.

2/10