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

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James Blake Drops Fascinating Fourth LP

Assume Form is a fantastic addition to both James Blake’s ever improving catalog and the dialogue of modern music as a whole.

James Blake is a singer/songwriter and producer from London. He found underground success with a series of EPs released in 2010 on R&S Records and turned the buzz into a silver certification for his debut, self-titled LP in 2011. He went on to drop Overgrown in 2013 and The Colour in Anything in 2016, both of which peaked in the 30’s on the US charts and topped the dance music charts. His biggest mainstream success came on a pair of features on the Black Panther soundtrack in 2017.

Despite the lack of a massive hit, Blake is a darling of the music critic world, and for good reason. He’s often hailed for his ability to blend a multitude of genres, which he does with ease and remarkable skill. His understanding of rap music is especially impressive as he seems to understand the genre better than many modern rappers, blending it perfectly with jazz, country, rock, and his folksy roots. Now four albums in, James Blake is crafting one of the most unique and intriguing catalogs in modern music, and that continues with Assume Form.

From the start, the album is very obviously headed in a unique, minimal direction. Tracks like the opener and title track or “Can’t Believe the Way We Flow,” utilize simplistic instrumentals, relying heavily on looping sound bites. They also play with timing and tempo in an interesting way that leaves a listener feeling a bit off balance. Luckily, though, our ears gravitate so quickly to Blake’s excellent vocals that he’s able to see us through some of the more experimental changes.

Aside from James’ talented performances, there’s also quite a features list here as well. Travis Scott sounds better than ever on “Mile High,” as does ROSALIA on “Barefoot in The Park.” In both instances, featuring artists get to take center stage for an extended period of time as apposed to a single, unrelated verse as is generally the case. The only feature with a criminally short grip on the spotlight gives perhaps the best performance of the list as Andre 3000 of Outkast drops a fantastically complex verse on “Where’s the Catch,” a track that actually feels a bit meandering aside from his appearance.

Additionally, producer Metro Boomin helps out on a couple tracks. The first of these is the aforementioned “Mile High,” which is relatively simple, but the second is “Tell Them,” which features one of the best beats I’ve heard in quite a while. From the excellent loop of Moses Sumney’s haunting voice to the soft, watery synths, the track is just beautifully crafted, and when the violins make an appearance in the final third, it serves as nothing more than a cherry on top.

The instrumental pallet is nothing to dismiss either, as tracks like “Into the Red,” and “Are You in Love,” use everything from violins to baroque pianos to woodwinds and synths that seem ripped directly from a 1980’s Nintendo game. Even more importantly, though, is the way these organic, folk-inspired instruments are given new life being weaved in and out of what is ostensibly trap production. The heavy bass and snapping hi-hats contrast perfectly against the physical instrumentation in an extremely rare way.

He also plays with a dreamier, more smooth style of production on tracks like “I’ll Come Too,” which seems built from the ground up on a very jazz-inspired foundation, and “Don’t Miss It,” which is driven by a fascinating speed effect on Blake’s lead vocal and decorated by an operatic backing voice that is simply chilling. While this isn’t a style he pursues all that often on the record, he never the less delivers quite impressively when it’s used.

All this is not to mention Blake’s impressive lyrical chops, his ability to write vocal melodies that are completely unpredictable, the fantastic pacing of the album, and the remarkably even balance he strikes between manic tempo and melodic changes and minimalistic grooves. However, there are a few blemishes.

Namely, near the end of the project, there are two weak entries. The first is “Power On,” which seemed packed full of interesting ideas, but instead meanders from section to section without bringing his ideas together cohesively. This is far superior, however, to the closer and worst track, “Lullaby For My Insomniac,” which just seems to lack completely in the creativity department, waisting somewhat interesting lyrics on a weak track that never quite finds it’s footing.

All told, Assume Form is fantastic! James Blake’s ability to meld genres, experiment with tempos and production, and break the mold of conventional song form all while remaining relatively accessible is simply astounding.

Assume Form is a fantastic addition to both James Blake’s ever improving catalog and the dialogue of modern music as a whole.

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