Reviews

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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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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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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Cole Delivers On Record-Breaking KOD

The real is back, the Ville is back. Legendary North Carolina rapper J. Cole burst back onto the scene last…

The real is back, the Ville is back. Legendary North Carolina rapper J. Cole burst back onto the scene last week after a relatively quiet year, releasing his 4th full-length studio LP titled KOD. After an action packed three days, which included two international pop-up shows and a series of exciting tweets, the album was finally released on all major streaming platforms on Friday, April 20th (international stoner day, hint hint). Buckle up, my friends, because there’s a lot to unpack here.

The three alternate album titles, Kids on Drugs, King Overdosed, and Kill Our Demons, along with the artwork – which features children snorting cocaine, sipping lean, and smoking weed – pointed to the album being a critique of todays youth drug culture. While addiction and substance abuse are major themes of the album, KOD lacks specific direction and is not solely based on these issues. The project is more so general social commentary, with Cole flittering back and forth between a litany of deep and timely topics. The combination of the cover artwork, the 4/20 release-date, and title themes are misleading. There’s far too much going on in KOD for a concrete storyline to come to light.

While online theories are entertaining and partially correct, they still don’t account for the many conflicting portions of the album. Take kiLL edward, for example, who is listed as the album’s lone feature but is actually Cole’s drug abusing alter-ego (when edward speaks, it’s a heavily filtered version of Cole’s voice). It would be all well and good if, as theorized online, edward is the evil king of the rap game attempting to lure Cole to the dark side and join the youth in their reckless and hedonistic behavior. Throughout the album, Cole fights off edward with all of his might and eventually kills him (so they say online). But edward only has a minimal presence on the album; he’s only featured on two songs. The entertaining back and forth that could have been never comes to fruition and ultimately, the theme falls short of its full potential.

 
To complicate matters further, it’s nearly impossible to tell when Cole is speaking from his own perspective or that of someone else. Take the track “KOD,” for example, which, flow-wise and production-wise, is a slapper. Cole starts the track with lyrics that are undoubtedly from his own perspective, as he’s known for going platinum twice before without any features: “How much you worth? How big is your home? How come you won’t get a few features? I think you should? How ’bout I don’t?” Later on the track, however, Cole, who doesn’t even smoke weed, brags about sipping lean: “Yeah, at this shit daily, sipped so much Actavis I convinced Actavis that they should pay me.” Is this kiLL edward speaking? Is this Cole speaking from the perspective of another rapper? It’s impossible to tell. All of this is rapped in Cole’s normal voice, implying that it’s not coming from kiLL edward’s perspective.

Only a few bars later, Cole spits a line that is again inarguably personal: “Platinum disc and I own masters, bitch, pay me.” If Cole wanted to make a themed album, he should have either rapped any lyrics that didn’t apply to himself using edward’s distorted voice, or, he could have simply listed edward as a feature on any track that contains lines from Cole’s alter-ego perspective and let the fans decipher which lines apply to whom. Cole reached in his attempt to make a themed album and convoluted an otherwise great body of work. Based on the twelve tracks that make up this project, he should have given the album a more general title and a piece of artwork.

Album theme aside, KOD is a moving and highly educational body of work. To piggyback off of Charlemagne Tha God’s joke, The ROC should be changed to the T.E.D. because the amount of knowledge Jay-Z and Cole consistently give to the people is astounding. On the closer, “1985,” Cole responds to criticism he’s received from Lil Pump with some informatory, simultaneously scorching, bars:

One day, them kids that’s listening gon’ grow up
And get too old for that shit that made you blow up/Now your show’s lookin’ light cause they don’t show up/Which unfortunately means the money slow up/Now you scramblin’ and hopin’ to get hot again/But you forgot you only popped ’cause you was ridin’ trends/Now you old news and you goin’ through regrets/‘Cause you never bought that house, but you got a Benz.

Like “1985,” the album is full of must-listens. On the “Once an Addict” interlude, Cole describes the anguish and guilt he felt as a teen watching his mother struggle with substance abuse. On “The Cut Off,” he explores toxic, one-way relationships that he’s been forced to end. On “Friends,” he pleads with other companions of his struggling with addiction, promising that there are healthier ways to overcome systematic-oppression-induced anxiety and depression. The stories and messages on KOD are far more important than its production, which is percussion heavy and melodically muted – this is in stark contrast to some of Cole’s older, glossier, sample-laden projects such as The Warm Up and Friday Night Lights.

 
Cole did what he does best on KOD, summing up complex and poignant topics with conciseness and clarity. While some argue that his work is overly simplistic, it’s important to keep in mind when listening to a Cole album that it’s just that, an album, and not a graduate school thesis. To convey his thoughts in such an articulate manner over just 42 minutes, as he does on KOD, highlights his underrated talent as a wordsmith. More importantly, Cole again achieved his primary goal: to educate, inspire, and lead as many people as possible through his selfless works of art. It’s officially a Cole spring, and the official closing track title, “1985 (Intro to The Fall Off”),” hints that it may indeed be a Cole summer too.

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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,...

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