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EP Review: Diplo – “California”

Admittedly, I’m not much of an EDM guy. Although I can certainly appreciate a dancehall banger in a social environment,…

Admittedly, I’m not much of an EDM guy. Although I can certainly appreciate a dancehall banger in a social environment, and although I can certainly respect the craft, it is not a genre of music I typically consult in my free time. However, when I saw the artists featured on California, I started spinning it immediately.

The seventh extended play in the discography of L.A. (via Philly) DJ and producer Diplo, California is a six-track, nineteen-minute project full of super sticky hooks, moving vocal performances, and, of course, killer production. Despite its brevity, the EP covers a lot of thematic ground: ambition, depression, triumph, and reflection. Now, don’t get me wrong – this project is not overflowing with crazy deep bars or anything. Lil Xan is, after all, Lil Xan. That being said, there is more substance and sentiment to this tracklist than the features may indicate. Let’s get into it.

On “Worry No More,” featuring Lil Yachty and Santigold, Diplo brings a sunny bop of an instrumental anchored by a driving drum beat and bright keys. Believe it or not, as he dreams of a life without anxieties, Lil Boat comes through on the hook with a refined and technically competent singing performance. Elsewhere, Santigold’s high-pitched vocals bring a healthy dose of melodic rap to the track.

 
With a skeletal, atmospheric instrumental of subtle keys and a slapped drum beat, “Suicidal” brings a markedly darker tone to the project. Although the lyrics are somewhat vague, the sound of Desiigner’s auto-tuned vocals is undeniably somber. It feels as if Desiigner has been out of the spotlight for a decade, and it is gratifying to hear him return in such unexpected fashion.

Included on a weekend playlist, I compiled last month, “Look Back” is a dramatic ballad of personal triumph. The immense range of the vocal performance is all the more impressive when one realizes that DRAM is doing it all by himself. Instrumentally, the dense layers of keys, drums, guitars, and strings are gorgeous.

 
Trippie Redd does not miss, man. Whether you enjoy his music or not, you have to admit that the dude is consistent. On “Wish,” the Canton, OH, rapper and singer showcases his softer side over a poppy instrumental that is more soft rock than anything else. As always, he delivers an emotionally stirring performance with a tone of experience that far exceeds his young age.

Lil Xan, Lil Xan, Lil Xan. Honestly, I am not sure what to think of this guy. Like most hip-hop fans, I was not thrilled to hear him join his SoundCloud contemporaries on the unwarranted Tupac hate bandwagon. (Boring music? On what planet?) Regarding Xan’s talents, I have not heard enough to make a sound judgment, and I will give his debut project a spin when it drops next month. In the meantime, I dig “Color Blind” quite a bit. As opposed to the previous two tracks, Diplo outshines his vocal guest here; although I enjoy Xan’s contribution to the track, the production is the clear highlight. I love the breathy, melodic synth passages that bring some vibrancy to the track in between Xan’s characteristically sleepy vocals.

California was a good move for Diplo. There is a ton of crossover appeal here. Although I suppose this project will disappoint hardcore EDM fans, it caught my attention and held it. The hip-hop fans will come for the features. The pop fans will come for the hooks. And the Diplo fans, if nothing else, will come for the “Get it Right” remix (GoldLink drops a good verse, too). As the weather turns warmer, California should age well throughout 2018.

I am an economics student at The University of Massachusetts Amherst. Beyond my studies, I work as a DJ at the university radio station: 91.1 FM WMUA Amherst. Back in July, a good friend of mine launched a political debate website called The Dialectic, where I currently work as a staff writer and the Editor-In-Chief. I love all genres of music - everything from hip-hop to post-rock to hardcore punk. Aspiring writer. Avid reader. Coffee addict.
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#IndieSpotlight: MusicbyKO “Life In Element” Is The Soundtrack For Pre-Fall Blues

A new LP floated across my desk by an Oakland, California, singer/rapper named MusicbyKO. A warm blend of jazzy 90s…

A new LP floated across my desk by an Oakland, California, singer/rapper named MusicbyKO. A warm blend of jazzy 90s Hip Hop and a cadence reminiscent of acts like Isaiah Rashad. Having shared stages with names like J.I.D. and Earthgang, he appears focused and composed — as evidenced by Life In Element, his new LP.


 
With a very consistent sound, KO slowly unravels a series of tracks that let you into his world just enough — without blatant TMI, or inducing a “yeah right” effect. What listeners get are the tales of a low-level drug dealer (this is both referenced and downplayed at different points), who is taking a chance on a dream, as he slowly but surely uncovers that everything the glimmers isn’t gold, and just because someone calls you brother, it doesn’t mean they have your back — or at the very least even your best interests at heart.

It’s an almost paranoid sense that snakes are roaming the grass that is revisited numerous times throughout the project, like on the song “La La Land,” “Empathy,” and “Let Me Talk With Ya/While I’m Here,” where he notes “I Know niggas right now that want to see me fall.”

He also paints a picture of himself as someone who overextends himself — such as on “Too Much Falls Short,” where he preaches that failing to leave your comfort zone is a fail before even leaving the running block.

That’s just the first few layers of this project; touching on socio-economic issues facing the black community nationwide, and even relationships (see the super dope “Spirit Rise”), he creates a lot of depth. Though the vibe is consistent — almost bordering on redundant — it manages to remain engaging. Also, that instrumental on “A Devil’s Advocate Corner” is a bucket of flame emojis doused in gasoline.

 
Like a bride on her wedding day, Life In Element is something old and something new; all that Hip Hop is dead shit goes out teh window when you hear younger cats with cohesive projects like this. With enough amazing quotables to create a success Instagram daily quote account (“I couldn’t heal in eth place I got sicker”) and an admirable ear for production, MusicbyKO NEEDS to be on your radar. It’s just good for the soul.

Early.

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Video Spotlight: Mean Joe Scheme & Optiks

In this video spotlight, Joe and Optiks discuss the new project, the state of east coast hip-hop, and what to expect from BEAMS. Be sure to check out both singles below, and follow @meanjoescheme and @thisisoptiks on your socials.

NYC artists Mean Joe Scheme and Optiks are putting the finishing touches on BEAMS, their new collaborative project. If “Cannonball” and “Hands Down” are any indication, we’re in for a viscous slice of hybrid hip-hop- a fusion of beats, rhymes, and anxious 2018 energy.

In this video spotlight, Joe and Optiks discuss the new project, the state of east coast hip-hop, and what to expect from BEAMS. Be sure to check out both singles below, and follow @meanjoescheme and @thisisoptiks on your socials.

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Eminem: Kamikaze- A Relapse of Epic Proportion

Poor Eminem. He’s damned if he do and damned if he don’t. His last album, 2017’s pop-heavy Revival, flopped by…

Poor Eminem. He’s damned if he do and damned if he don’t. His last album, 2017’s pop-heavy Revival, flopped by way of social media yet wasn’t a total disaster. It moved units and afforded him headlining spots on the summer festival circuit- but it didn’t give the fans what they needed. Or did it?

This conundrum surrounds Eminem’s career. When he’s on there’s only a handful of rappers alive who can compete with his pen and his fury. But when he bogs down projects with introspection- giving us a break from his hyper-aggro screaming at the mic- it feels like we’ve been cheated. Stans can’t deal with the sappy pop-crossovers, and today’s charts simply do not have space for good old-fashioned rap acrobatics. So what’s an aging top-five-dead-or-alive rapper to do?

Marshall Mathers unleashed Kamikaze as his response to the Twitter army (and critics) who condemned him- an unexpected and venomous (although carefully measured) surprise album packed with more syllables than a semester’s worth of English-as-a-second language classes. As we all secretly hoped for, rappers ain’t safe from Em’s verbal barrage of double and triple time bars on Kamikaze, and if you have time to unpack these 13 tracks you’ll find some genuine heat.

Unfortunately, if you really unpack these ferocious bars you’ll find a grumpy old man rapping for the simple sake of reminding us how technically skilled he truly is. The problem is we’ve known that for ages. Reverting back to early 2000’s Eminem complete with the use of “faggot”- his favorite homophobic slur on the otherwise bulletproof “Fall”- does little to contribute to his relevance in 2018.

There are a few maniac standouts on Kamikaze, songs that young rappers should study for the intricate art of word play and cadence (check “The Ringer”, and “Not Alike” featuring Royce Da 5’9). Yet, those lessons are harder to learn when it’s impossible for the listener to catch their breath. For most of the record, Em is in such rapid-fire mode that you absolutely have to run back verses and entire songs to truly digest his messages. Rap nerds and old heads will revel in the task, but is that what the game needs these days? I’d argue no

Kamikaze is a rare full-on barrage of supernatural MC’ing; but it comes and goes without much meaning when the target becomes Machine Gun Kelly-who tweeted about Eminem’s attractive daughter back in 2012. Is there really a hip-hop fan alive willing to side with MGK on this one? And if you’re looking for the most lukewarm, mediocre diss track (possibly ever recorded) check out MGK’s response, “Rap Devil”, a headscratcher that splits its time attempting to discredit Em while simultaneously praising his longevity and abilities. You either want the smoke or you don’t? Like it or not, the whole thing feels like a charade.

Eminem has always carried a chip on his shoulder. When the critics go low, he goes lower. While Kamikaze is far from a low point in what will be viewed someday as a catalog of studio hits and misses, it’s far from the return to form that it was intended to be. He might not be afraid to take a stand, but it’s become tiring trying to figure out exactly who Eminem is standing against.

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#IndieSpotlight: Noah Wright Is Back With His Latest Visual “Cameras”

Noah Wright is on a run with his latest visual, “Cameras,” and we’re here for it!

27-year-old American Cedar Rapids MC Noah Wright is back with another super dope video treatment. First popping onto our radar back in March with his short film “Valley of the Sun” — and with his super dope LP Love, Noah. From opening for Rakim, Rick Ross, Futuristic and working with Young Money’s very own Cory Gunz, he’s definitely on a run, and we’re here for it.

Relevant: Check out our March 2018 Noah Wright feature

His latest video for his sure-shot single “Cameras” is next level creative. It begins with a plot reminiscent of the iconic episode of Fresh Prince of Bel Air when Will and Buddy were trying to be in the BBD video being shot while Phil and Viv were away. In this video, the cleaner keeps trying to be in the shot, interrupting the shoot to the point that Noah storms off. That’s the opening skit, though. As the actual video kicks off, we’re introduced to gorgeous models, a luxury car, and that same interrupting cleaner is playing out a virtual reality plotline that eventually intertwines with his performance shots.

It’s the type of creativity we’ve come to expect from Noah who’s been dropping some fire lately. The short and sweet “El Chapo,” which he dropped back in June, and the intensely powerful visual for “No Room” have been building his profile — his quality is next level.

Check out “Cameras” above, and be sure to follow Noah via Twitter.

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