Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Review of '4:44' by Jay-Z



Sensitive Jay-Z is better than Show-off Jay-Z.

The US rap icon has never been shy about his success. He’s spent the last thirteen albums bragging about how he’s made it. Whilst there’s no denying his accomplishments as a rapper and businessman, his more recent albums have started to feel like a broken record. Magna Carta Holy Grail was pretty much nothing but him harking on about the money and expensive paintings that he owns. We get it Jay-Z, you’re richer than us.

Expecting 4:44 to be more repetitive rodomontade, I was certainly shocked by what followed. Jay-Z has toned things down quite a notch. In fact, he’s done more than that – he’s torn the entire arrogant façade entirely away.

The opening track ‘Kill Jay Z’ is pretty much an unfiltered and savage diss track aimed at himself. Gone is the glitzy production, replaced by spliced soul sampling and a crappy microphone. It’s raw and intimate and self-deprecating - pretty much every adjective that I would have never associated with the rapper.

This song sets the tone for the born again humble Jay-Z that follows. If ‘Kill Jay Z’ wasn’t exposed enough, ‘4:44’ (the song everyone’s been talking about) serves as a complete outpouring of shame regarding his rumoured affair – not only does he admit to it but publicly apologise for it letting his flow disintegrate as the song turns into a deep confession. I didn’t think there was an honourable way to address infidelity, but Jay-Z has done it.

Not all of the album is utter self-loathing. In fact, he’s back to bragging about his fucking paintings on the ‘story of OJ’ – the only difference here is that he justifies his pride. The song delves into the fact that all African Americans descend from slaves, and therefore achieving what he has achieved is pretty damn great and worth bragging about. It’s more of a poignant statement on black success than his success alone.

Meanwhile, the likes of ‘Legacy’ explore fatherhood in a way that isn’t ordinarily cringeworthy on a hip hop record, instead exploring the idea of giving what his parents couldn’t give. ‘Family Feud’ and ‘Moonlight’ meanwhile explore generational differences as he looks upon the current rap game as an old hip hop head, laying the barbed bars we’ve always loved from the rapper: ‘please don’t talk about guns/ that you ain’t never gon’ use’.

Whilst the likes of Kanye have seemingly become more obscure and less relatable by pushing arrogance to comical extremes, Jay-Z has marched defiantly in the opposite direction, coming across more human than ever whilst still keeping glimmers of his old charm through wordplay and humour when appropriate (e.g. ‘I’m not black, I’m O.J… okay?’). It’s the best version of Hova we’ve heard in years.

TRACK TASTER:

Friday, 21 July 2017

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 21/07/2017: Lana Del Rey, Tyler the Creator, Low Chimes and more...



UPDATE: Both Tyler and Lana’s new albums are out now!

I’ve still got so many records queued up to get through. HELP

THE BEST:

‘Blood Orange’ – Low Chimes


This band’s press photos give off such a just-another-breezy-indie-band air that I almost didn’t bother listening to their material, but I’m glad I did. Folksy vocals float over glistening guitars and a rolling bass riff. It's uniquely hypnotic. Rock may be facing it’s retirement stage right now given recent stats (hip hop is now officially more popular than rock in the US), but I’m glad newcomers like this are proving that guitar music still has places to go.

‘Groupie Love’ – Lana Del Rey


These new 808 flavoured tracks that Lana’s been releasing as of late feel like some of her most upbeat music to date - relatively speaking of course. I mean, it’s still got that longing sighed-out borderline-suicidal mood about it, but the beats and A$AP Rocky’s presence make it feel more urban and energetic. It’s as if the femme fatale has moved onto wooing traplords now. And it hasn’t got Playboi Carter throwing auto-tuned yelps over it like previous single ‘Summer Bummer’.

 ‘Ain’t got time’ – Tyler, the Creator


Can we get over the fact that Tyler may or may not be gay and instead appreciate how fun this upcoming album is likely to be? His beats are only getting more wonderfully whimsical – in this case seemingly blending trap and tango – and the ‘I ain’t got tiiiiiime’ refrain is stupid but brilliant, as has always been the style of hip hop’s loopy class clown.  

‘What Is This’ – Machinedrum ft. Rosie Lowe


What is this? A certified banger m8!!! Dreamy vocals ride some sharp chord stabs accompanied by smatterings of hard percussion. It’s the producer’s usual snazzy work – ecstasy pills on a plate served under a cloche.  

THE WORST:

‘Big B’s’ – Chance the Rapper ft. Young Thug



Thugga is up to his usual sporadic spluttering and Chance sounds out of tune. You don’t need this in your life, trust me. 

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Review of 'Big Fish Theory' by Vince Staples




WARNING: These beats go hard. Proceed with caution.

My first exposure to Vince was his 2014 EP Hell Can Wait. To this day, my headphones still haven’t recovered from the seismic banger that was ‘Blue Suede’. In fact, I think that bass disrupted by gut movement so much that it gave me IBS.

Since then, the Long Beach rapper has continued to be active with new material - including notorious single ‘Norf Norf’- as well as making guest appearances on seemingly every album released in the last couple years. Now he’s back with a new album Big Fish Theory - and the beats make Hell Can Wait look tame.


When the bass drops on Big Fish Theory

Experimental meanderings into shuffling garage (‘Crabs in a Bucket’, ‘Love Can Be..’) and twinkling g-funk (‘745’) kick the album’s instrumental palette off to an exciting, if not slightly messy, start. By the time outlandish live recording ‘Ramona Park in Yankee Stadium’ comes along, you start to wonder what direction Vince is taking you in. But it seems he’s simply biding time for the gauntlet of bass-heavy bangers making up the backend. If the metallic clinking of ‘Yeah Right’ doesn’t shake you up (not to mention the surprise special guest towards the end), then ‘SAMO’ will certainly suck you into its depths, oozing ominously along like a river of toxic waste. 

Vince doesn’t try to match the stupendous energy of these beats, but doesn’t need to. His shtick is his nonchalant delivery as if recording each flow whilst reclining back on a hammock. When the outrageously loud beats roll in, it almost feels as if he’s imperturbably watching the world get destroyed with lyrics such as ‘death and destruction all I see’ coming out with an unnerving calmness over the psycho-trap backdrop of ‘Party People’.  

I almost wish Vince has embraced this mood fully, rather than letting his lyrics often trail off into template gangsta rap rambling. Of course, that doesn’t take away from the fact that these songs are still ridiculously fun. Staples knows the staple ingredients (hooray, puns) that give his music its unique thrills – laid-back flows over in-your-face beats – and he’s pushing that sound to new extremes. If he sticks to a theme, he could be formidable.

TRACK TASTER:

Monday, 17 July 2017

Jihadi rap and Nazi punk are for hypocrites


My morbid curiosity got the better of me. Deciding to embark on an adventure into the deepest and darkest corners of Youtube - a decision that has most likely put me on numerous government watchlists - I entered ‘Jihadi music’ into the search bar...

This is what came up. 


It turns out Jihadi music isn't that difficult to find. Over in IS-controlled territory it’s commonplace, and a lot of this music has made its way onto the web. Abu Yasser’s 'Salil Sawarim' remains Islamic State’s greatest hit to date and has been used in many propaganda videos. My Arabic isn’t very good, but the disconcerting sound of clinking swords is enough to suggest that this isn’t a song about peace and love.

So, Jihadi music exists. However, what about instances of Islamic extremist music in the Western world? Surely no Western government would allow such content to exist, right?

Well, wrong. Take Prophet Zebadiah Abu-Obadiah as an example.


As well as rapping, this South Thanet radical has previously run for MP, sporting policies as absurd as forcing all women to wear a hijab and making it compulsory for everyone over the age of 50 to be euthanized with a heroin overdose to control overpopulation. Reading all this, I assumed that he had to be a joke and that calling for the beheading of Tommy Robinson and Nigel Farage was simply tongue-in-cheek hyperbole. However, this Vice documentary has me doubting this...



Zebadiah is one of the more modern and notable examples, but is hardly a lone case. Jihadi rap has existed as early as 2004, with the likes of Aki Nawaz releasing the notorious ‘Dirty Kuffar’ and several albums since with lyrics comparing Bin Laden to Che Guevara.   


Aki Nawaz is pretty much the founder of Jihadi rap. Unperturbed by the negative attention, he has commented previously on the content of the genre's music: ‘I’ll take all the blame. If they’re going to lock anyone up, they’ll lock me up’.

Should we be scared that such extremist music is out there and allowed to exist. Is this an example of freedom of speech going too far? Personally, I’m of the belief that music should give everyone a voice - regardless of how extreme that voice is. Besides, why should we fear Jihadi rap when, by its very existence, the whole genre is counter-intuitive. You can’t use hip hop - a western medium - to attack western culture. It’s effectively using the very thing you’re against to make your argument.

Amusingly, this hypocrisy is also largely what stops white supremacist music from having any conviction behind it. From the opposite end of the spectrum, here’s a track I dug up called ‘White World’ by Russian rap-rock band Stolniygrad.


There's a lot of this music on the web - a worrying amount. And if you thought the lyrics were scary, you should read the comments underneath the video, which are crawling with backward full-on racist remarks.

I'll admit, the children's laughter that opens the track creeped me out (are they trying to make ethnic cleansing sound innocent?). However, once the shitty nu-metal vibes began and the dude started trying to drop bars, the song starts to reveal a hilarious contradiction. Here we have a band that want to eliminate all traces of the ‘black soot’ from Europe, and yet they’re using rap to deliver their message. By eliminating blackness, hip hop would have to go, destroying the very basis of their musical career.

Even Nazi punk in its purest form still isn’t free of this hypocrisy either. Skrewdriver are perhaps the most prominent white supremacist band to ever exist, penning songs such as ‘White Power’ (no hiding their agenda there) and promoting the ‘skinhead’ look amongst their fanbase. However, this very skinhead look, when traced back, was actually born out of black culture. Reggae and ska bands of the fifties first promoted the skinhead look complete with braces and workboots, which was adopted by white and black mods of the time. Basically, Skrewdriver’s skinhead look wouldn’t have existed if it weren’t for multiculturalism.     


Perhaps what this tells us is that Western music is too cosmopolitan to be used as a weapon against one race or culture. Unless Islamic extremists are sticking to purely Islam-based music, and white supremacists are sticking to classical and folk, the message will always be contradicted.

Sadly, it's likely fellow extremist converts are too dumb to see this hypocrisy, which is where the problem lies...

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Review of 'Teenage Emotions' by Lil Yachty



‘She blow that dick like a cello’.

I get it. Teenage Emotions is a middle finger against everything your average old skool head stands for. Technical flows are replaced with nursery rhyme deliveries, actual singing talent is replaced with shaky auto-tune and lyrical depth is completely sidestepped altogether. Even the title Teenage Emotions seems to exist purely to anger the tough-talking stoic traditionalists.   

But does that make Teenage Emotions a good album? Ignoring everything they stood for, did the Sex Pistols make good music? 

Ignorance can be bliss. But can we really let a line like ‘she blow that dick like a cello’ slide?  He’s publicly apologised for it not making an iota of sense – but by authenticating the fact that it’s utter nonsense, it just confirms that this album is unrevised throwaway garbage.

Much of the tracks feel like amateurish attempts to copy other artists of questionable talent in the rap game. The grating ‘Harley Harley Harley’ hook on ‘Harley’ may as well be a Fetty Wap song, whilst the likes of ‘DN freestyle’ feel like an attempt to copy the Migos. There’s no cohesive style bounding the 21 tracks together. Beats take on all kinds of flavours from 80s pop ballad to trap banger, whilst always taking on the blandest form of this genre possible. As for the Teenage Emotions title, only a handful of tracks such as ‘Lady in Yellow’ and ‘Forever Young’ stick to this emotional theme.

Cheery vibes may be the only consistent thing on this album. With the exception of ‘Peek A Boo’ and 'Dirty Mouth', there are no confrontational diss tracks, only happy trappy (crappy) rap tunes about getting laid and making it to the top. These cheery vibes may be the appeal to some. But for me it may as well be a smiley face grafittied onto the side of a skip.

TRACK TASTER:

Friday, 14 July 2017

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 14/07/2017: Tyler the Creator, Ariel Pink, Dizzee Rascal and more...



This week Coldplay are recycling song titles and Tyler the Creator is feeling lonely.

THE BEST:

‘Chinese Waiter’ – Shy Boyz



This Philly duo’s Bandcamp page is quite the spectacle. I almost got Stendhal syndrome just looking at that beautiful album cover. Straight off that LP, this new single is a groovy lo-fi tune about learning cultural appreciation through the medium of a Chinese waiter. It’s a bizarrely random thing to write a song about, and incredible for that reason alone. Can you name another song out there about Chinese waiters? No, you can’t. There you have it – these dudes are pioneers.

‘Boredom’ – Tyler, the Creator


Set to appear on the rapper’s upcoming record Scum Fuck Flower Boy (what a name for an album), this new soulful single sees the provocative rapper at his most mature yet. Like, there isn’t a single rape joke in sight. Backed by some signature jazzy chords and gospel vocal harmonies, it’s a personal exploration of loneliness that feels sincere whilst still keeping the rapper’s charm as a weirdo.

 ‘Time to live’ – Ariel Pink


Lo-fi-loving crackpot Ariel Pink will be following up his 2014 album Pom Pom soon with another serving of experimental tunes. ‘Time to Live’ turns out to be a catchy dose of Adam-Ant-esque new wave – once you get past the first three minutes of noisiness which seems to contain everything from wailing screams to fuzzy metal riffs.

‘Wot U Gonna Do?’ – Dizzee Rascal


Backed by some spooky synths and a blitzkrieg of bass, Dizzee delivers another speedy diss track in the same vein as his last single ‘Space’. Many are speculating that the rapper could be taking shots at fellow grime artist Wiley, but to be honest this track could be directed at any rapper. In fact, judging from the lyrics, it could even be an introspective diss aimed at himself! But maybe I’ve just been listening too much to that Ugly God track.

THE WORST:

‘It’s Everyday Bro’ – Jake Paul ft. Team 10


Move aside Kendrick Lamar. Jake Paul and his crew of fellow famous(?) Youtubers are here to steal the hip hop crown. My favourite line: ‘England is my city’.

‘Miracles (Someone Special)’ - Coldplay ft. Big Sean


I had to check, but yes, Coldplay already have a single named ‘Miracles’. Despite the unoriginal title however, this is probably one of their more original tracks musically in a while, sounding like a crossover between U2 and early Calvin Harris, and whilst I thought I liked it initially, I left it unable to remember a single lyric or hook – was there even a chorus? Also, Big Sean’s verse about struggling to fame feels so out of place and clichéd.  

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Review of 'Funk Wav Bounces Vol 1' by Calvin Harris



Calvin Harris delivers a feelgood funk album with a bizarre choice of vocal guests.

I was not the biggest fan of Motion. A summer anthem called ‘Summer’ and a bunch of sterile tunes with precisely timed drops convinced me that the EDM mogul was now getting robots to write his songs. A video of paint drying was all I could muster as a review.

Given that I’ve got a softspot for disco, Funk Wav Bounces Vol 1 seemed almost certain to be a superior album – and indeed it is. ‘Slide’ immediately brings its listeners to the poolside with its organic disco grooves and buttery singing courtesy of Frank Ocean. The only thing preventing me from pouring myself a pina colada and pulling out my sunlounger is the out of place presence of the Migos (we’ll come to that in a sec…).

As the tracks continue, a red carpet parade of A-list guests take to the mic. It’s enough to outdo even the recent Gorillaz album Humanz, which I described as a party round Jay Gatsby’s place. ‘Feels’ may be the greatest posse cut of the bunch featuring Pharrell Williams, Katy Perry and Big Sean all on one track. Here Calvin draws the best out of every guest, accompanied by a contagious Chic-esque bassline and bouncy reggae guitar strums.

Sadly Calvin’s casting decisions aren’t quite as astute for the remainder of the album. In fact, there are some tracks in which the guest choices are plain confusing. Rather than phoning up the likes of Justin Timberlake or The Weeknd to croon over these sunshiney melodies, he’s instead invited his traphouse contacts along. As a result, we get artists like Future and Lil Yachty - who should be riding rumbling 808 bass and skittering hi-hats – attempting to rap awkwardly over smooth disco instrumentals.

Some of the artists just about pull it off. Takeoff from Migos is able to match the old-skool g-funk tone of Snoop Dogg on ‘Holiday’, although his auto-tuned warbling on ‘Slide’ feels very out of place. Young Thug’s rapping on ‘Heatstroke’ meanwhile is some of his most controlled to date, even if his attempt to passionately sing ‘the love you got for mweee’ ends up like a bad Miss Piggy impression.

Others simply don’t try to match the mood including Nicki Minaj and Future, laying auto-tune-drenched warbling over the tropical instrumentation. They may as well be trampling over the palm trees and sunbeds in a monster truck whilst rolling coal.

Perhaps with less trap rappers and more soul singers, Funk Wav Bounces Vol.1 could have been able to rival Mark Ronson’s Uptown Special. It certainly feels fresher and cooler. However in the effort to be cool, Calvin may have gone a little too far with his choice of guests.

TRACK TASTER: