Reviews

Migos “Culture 2” Review

While the project is catchy at points, it inevitably feels rushed, and caves under its own weight.

There is no denying that Migos are one of the most influential rap groups of the past decade. Rolling Stone recently praised them as “the most influential group – in any genre – of the past few years,” and they have been called the next Beatles by scores of fans. In an interview with Montreality, Quavo called Culture II, the trio’s latest effort that dropped this past Friday, “a masterpiece,” saying “Hip-Hop has changed in a big way. We changed it.” Confidence aside, you can’t help but feel the supergroup has been trying to capitalize on their stardom a little too quickly.

Culture II comes just a year after its platinum, Grammy-nominated predecessor, which is a fast turn around for any record let alone a record with such clout surrounding it. The album’s first single, “MotorSport,” was released on October 27, with Offset proposing to Cardi B mere hours after its release during a show at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. The group then continued to fan the flames on their fluctuating beef with rapper Joe Budden not to mention Takeoff’s homophobic lyric on YFN Lucci’s song “Boss Life,” which has fans, and artists like Halsey, beginning to distance themselves from the group.  Amidst all this drama, Quavo and Travis Scott then dropped their highly-anticipated joint album Huncho and Jack out of thin air, an effort which HYPEBEAST called “monotonous.”

Unfortunately, the same critique can be made regarding Culture II.The 24-song LP does little to push the culture forward as they claimed it would. “She just bought a new ass, but got the same boobs,” Quavo mutters on “Walk It, Talk It” the Drake collaboration that’s a laid-back doppelgänger to “Look At My Dab.” “Open It Up” is a mere photocopy of Culture’s “Deadz,” and the Post Malone assisted “Notice Me” will confuse fans when the now-engaged Offset says “I clear my mind and I had a vision, and then I arrive with twenty-five bitches.” Migos’ recycled lyricism loses pieces of its authenticity on Culture II and will frustrate fans hoping to see the group explore new territories, and discuss new topics.

If you power through the marathon of an album, you’ll discover a few gems demonstrating the group’s tight-knit braggadocio. “Emoji A Chain,” and “Crown The King,” while each a minute too long, are both catchy, engaging tracks that sees the trio in their element, trading off verses and ad-libs as naturally as breathing. “Made Men” reminds fans of the clever lyrical prowess the group can muster when they rely on more than just their natural talent: “How did you come in the game? I came with the gang, of course, we get ya fired to flames, turn you to s’mores.” But then again, any metaphor seems better than “If you’ n**** want beef, treat it like Angus.”

 

The Migos want you to know they’re here to stay, and this massive work, while suffering spouts of mediocrity, will still hold them in the highest ranks of contemporary Hip-Hop culture. “They beg and plead for the culture,” Quavo sings on Culture II’s opener, which is true. Yet, he says it so often in the four-minute track that you can’t help but feel he’s slightly overcompensating. The promotion for this album was a whirlwind amidst the drama and attention that has surrounded the group in the last year, and those of us following it seem consumed with questions:

Are Cardi B and Offset actually getting married?

Have they been unfaithful to each other?

Is Takeoff homophobic?

Will this beef with Joe Budden ever be resolved?

Those hoping for answers will find none on Culture II, a missed opportunity for a trio that seems overly eager to embrace the attention that surrounds them. While the project is catchy at points, it inevitably feels rushed, and caves under its own weight.

Even still, brief glimmers of artistry do appear. “Stir Fry,” the funky Neptunes-styled track demonstrates the trio’s ability to transcend melodic trap when the circumstances are just right, and “Gang Gang” surprises listeners with its melancholy, offering the closest the group has come to personal introspection. “Would you love me if I ran away?” Takeoff sings, “I know you probably think I’m insane.” The moment is fleeting but briefly suggests the Migos understand the influence and responsibility that come with being icons. Even so, it’s clear the group sets the bar themselves, and that even if we want them to change, it will always be on their terms.

Reviews, unsigned hype

A.Levy’s “Reparations” Is A Well-Curated Winner

A. Levy is a New Orleans artist who I’m kicking myself for just now getting up on; his latest LP…

A. Levy is a New Orleans artist who I’m kicking myself for just now getting up on; his latest LP Reparations is at once assertive, heavy, accessible, and just dripping with flame emoji juice. The 12-song effort — which dropped back in February — is unique in that it’s sound isn’t indicative of his region, nor does it ride any specific waves currently hitting the rocks of the game. It doesn’t even really subscribe to any old school or boom bap vibe. 

Off the top, his wordplay is crazy. When researching him, I uncovered a collabo with Skyzoo, which is the way to my heart [pause], so the top to bottom listen was immensely satisfying. There are more than a few highlights; let’s start with the drum-less tracks that allow his vision to sparkle. The super-lyrical “Emancipation” with its soulful 2-minute chorus-less vibe and the ode to fatherhood “Black Boy,” which, as a fellow father, I felt.

STREAM THE ALBUM HERE.

“Fuck Rap” was my fave joint; his ode to Hip Hop, which really illustrates his where he came up — “we really debated who was better, Turk or Lil Wayne” — and also uncovered a disappointing story from early in his career when No Limit Records artist Fiend gave him a wrong number after meeting at an event. It also seems to uncover that rap was never his first love with bars like “fuck rap, I wanted to be in the NFL,” and “fuck rap, I wanted to be Claude Monet. I guess the calling was too strong.

He also spends a considerable amount of the project speaking on racial issues — and identities — from different angles. Examples are “Django,” the title-track, and the “If I Was White,” which rhetorical ponders what he would do if he were Caucasian; there are some funny moments, like poking fun at the potential inferior basketball skills, while also showing more thought provoking commentary like not having to worry about police at night, or even have to acknowledge the hardships of African American.

Overall, the LP is well produced, curated, and balanced. If you’re up on A. Levy already, you’ll love it. If not, you’re welcome.

Early.

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“Ye” Fails To Reintroduce Mr. West

At times, Kanye West’s polarizing media posturing is his strongest attribute. We can’t wait for the next idiotic gem to…

At times, Kanye West’s polarizing media posturing is his strongest attribute. We can’t wait for the next idiotic gem to rattle between his ears and tumble from his lips. That noise is great content; filling blog pages and gossip sites, sparking debate across social media and music platforms. But after a casual listen to Ye, his newest disaster, does his brand of pigeonholed creativity matter anymore?

This perpetual media circus is where Kanye operates best. He’s a freewheeling spirit; a madman at the boards, a producer with infinite vision and a MC with a caustic tongue. He’s a master at manipulating a turn of phrase while simultaneously dumping the world upside down-remember when he flippantly suggested that slavery was a choice? This sort of buffoonery is exactly what West has spoon-fed the public for the past few years; and still the world anticipates his every chess move with a panicked FOMO that only Kanye can induce.

West has mastered the art of celebrity, where nothing is sacred or left to our imagination. He lays low only long enough to manifest his next move. The past few months have been no exception. He’s been holed up in Wyoming and Utah crafting a series of projects aimed for release this month. Among them is a collaborative record with Kid Cudi, Ye,  Pusha-T’s Daytona, and an as-yet-untitled record from Nas. Kanye is apparently producing seven songs for each project, digging for samples through some 2,000 vinyl records he purchased and shipped out west.

This most recent version of Kanye is the one we cannot stop talking about. These days we’re constantly confronted by Kanye the enigma- the uncanny fool who can’t dislodge his foot from his mouth- until he releases new music. His art has a timely way of silencing the shit talking; of zeroing the critics back to his inevitable genius — which brings us up to speed in 2018.

Kanye’s production on Daytona will be ranked as some of the year’s best. On the flip side, his newest offering — the slim and trim Ye — is an unbalanced and easily forgotten mess. At a running time of twenty-three minutes it’s chaotic and disconnected, attempting to borrow the best working bits of The Life Of Pablo and Yeezus while ignoring any of the soulful introspection and self-depreciation that made us fall in love with the Old Kanye ages ago.

Take the album opener, “I Thought About Killing You”, for exactly what it is and you won’t be let down. West, the egomaniac, nervously vents about his punishing mental illness and nagging insecurities while never allowing the listener a second to process or feel what he’s living through. The song serves as a false entrance to a world that’s as contrived as the album cover, and hardly as deep as the internet will lead you to believe. Is Kanye really the poster boy that mental health is looking for? He certainly wants you to believe so.

For the album’s actual release, West invited hundreds of “influencers” to Wyoming for a listening party- the industry’s equivalent to a real time gallery walk. Kanye took his show on the road, and in the meantime alienated himself further from the culture he’s spent years crafting and molding into something people once truly believed in. Rather than hitting any impactfulmark by relocating his camp to The Equality State, he created an even larger gap between us and them.

Ye can’t help but put a serious divide between Kanye and his fans. There are moments that work, like the beautifully crafted “Ghost Town”, featuring a rejuvenated Kid Cudi and an incredible hook courtesy of 070 Shake (a star in the making), and the bouncy and biting “All Mine”, which contains plenty of chuckle-worthy bars like “I love your titties because they prove I can focus on two things at once”. But those moments of silly bliss are buried beneath cringe-induced, head scratching blunders which normally aren’t the defining moments of any Yeezy album.

By the time you get to the albums final three minutes, where Kanye recognizes his role as a father to little girls on “Violent Crimes”, you desperately want to believe in Ye, but the damage is done. Kanye West doesn’t want to get out of his own way, andhe might be too far gone trying to create, recreate, and monetize his Calabasas world to make something we can honestly believe in as common folks in 2018.

Kanye’s fall from grace is a marvel; complete with a public breakdown in 2016, a few hobo-chic fashion interludes, and a baffling reemergence into our consciousness with a pledging of love for Donald Trump. It’s without a doubt one of the strangest stories in all of popular culture. The problem is, Ye fails to captivate us as a re-introduction to Kanye West and this new chapter in his saga. It’s lackluster at best, which is a bar that’s far too low for one of hip-hop’s true trend setters.

Ye comes and goes without a single memorable moment. It’s all smoke and mirrors. Instead of debating the quality of the final product like we have so many times with Kanye releases in the past, we’re left with a mediocre soundtrack and the hollow images of famous people in Wyoming dancing around a bonfire.

 

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Rapper Kiro Gives Listeners A Vicarious Walk Through His Madness

The LP is a mix of therapeutic release and harsh lessons.

Two things have consistently proven themselves correct. One, life sometimes takes unexpected twists and turns—and things don’t always go as expected. Two, addiction has no bias and no mercy. LA-based Kiro has learned both of these truths first hand. 

“I attended college with hopes of one day becoming a criminal defense lawyer but dropped out three years in due to opiate addiction,” he tells AAHH. After getting clean, he moved to LA to pursue music but unfortunately relapsed, resulting in him becoming homeless.

His LP, Bobblehead, is a reflection of the messy, frantic reality of living on the streets and the consequences of choices (“Prices”), unhealthy relationships that enable addiction (”Blues”), and overcoming with conviction—and a love of Hip Hop.

The album itself is at points sonically spastic—over-the-top echoes, harshly mixed vocals—yet, finds it’s footing, in the way that skit-heavy early work by Madlib finds a way to sew it all together. The Biggie sample used as the chorus on “Blues,” or the jazzy bop of “Who?,” even the spacey, almost a Neptunes-esque sound of “Survival Tactics” help to balance out some of the looser/freestyled material.

Some of the freestyle, train of thought bars, paired with some of the project’s engineering choices—intentional or not—could be a bit of a turn off for some listeners more drawn to today’s wave of hip-pop artists, and less so with head scratching classics by the likes of Kool Keith (often meant for a niche audience). Still the heart and soul of the project shines through as the LP presses forward through what could be possibly the cinematic soundtrack to a gritty indie film circa mid-90s.

“[I] put together with the hopes that I can help somebody else avoid mistakes I made,” he says. One listen to “Survival Tactics” is enough to not only reaffirm his authenticity but sway younger listeners from choices that may ultimately lead them to have actually to use the almost biblical amount out street smarts he’s given us.

It’s not for everyone, but the vision and experience are satisfying after a top to bottom spin.

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Reviews, unsigned hype

Jahan Nostra’s “ESP” Project Is A Dope Ride

Had a new LP float across my desk this week, ESP by Jahan Nostra — an emcee mounded by Stamford,…

Had a new LP float across my desk this week, ESP by Jahan Nostra — an emcee mounded by Stamford, Connecticut and Mount Vernon, New York. Now, the project isn’t new per say, as it initially dropped in 2016, and was remastered late last year. Regardless, I made it my movement music for a week.

Here’s the breakdown.

Sonically, it’s difficult to put my finger on. The beats don’t quite hit the mark of what’s going on in-game today, not even quite from a backpacking 90s perspective. So it has this kind of literal timeless feeling to it. From the jazzy big-city New York vibe of “Welcome Home,” he sets a great vibe. It’s fully consistent, but it’s not a bad thing. He does maintain a keep it moving, maintain, and make it to the top theme for the first half of the LP songs like “Embrace The Rain.”

The features on the LP are quite impressive. Philly mainstay Tone Trump hops on the super atmospheric “Whole Life,” and Brooklyn legends Smif N Wessun hop on the album highlight “No Stress.” The Rey Vega featured “One of Them Days” is way too understated, though. It’s probably one of my fave songs on the project, basically following him as he hits up ATL.

The second half of the LP has a few gems; “El Chapo” with Ceschi, “Time” featuring Kyro & Wednesday Atoms, and “Bricks and Sponsorship” all give more insight into Jahan as a street guy—without being at all explicit. The latter record, explores the cause and effect of street-life, with a running commentary on the prison system in the US.

At 16-songs in length, there is a lot to love. He’s a project boy who puts a lot into this music shit; everything about him suggests quality—right down to the photography. He has an excellent package. Looking forward to new material.

Early. 

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