Throughout His New Album, Ferg Tries Shit Out; Some of If Sticks and Some of It Sucks

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A version of this review has been published by the blog Pretty Much Amazing, which you can read here.

Not all musical ambition is the same; it even comes in many shapes and sizes. It can be a different approach on your sophomore album or a complete makeover of your sound and image. In further opposition to the supposed sophomore album curse, Harlem’s A$AP Ferg looks to avoid disappointment with Always Strive and Prosper. For one, the shift in overall tone and sonic palette between Trap Lord, his debut album from over three years ago, and ASAP is immediately noticeable. Trap Lord kicked out the jams with “Let It Go,” setting up the debut as one of the year’s penultimate summer soundtracks; ASAP opening cut “Rebirth” smacks you with a notice of obvious change from Ferg as both a burgeoning artist and maturing individual. Music fans aren’t usually very accepting of an artist changing their sound or image, which Ferg is certainly aware of, but on this new album he essentially forces them to realize that a rapper can express different aspects of themselves at different moments.

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Deakin’s Sleep Cycle Oozes With a Transcendental Substance From Its Pores

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A version of this review has been published by the blog Pretty Much Amazing, which you can read here.

Over the course of ten studio albums and a slew of one-off releases, Animal Collective has gained a reputation for being a musical chameleon in the experimental music scene while also magically maintaining a spirit, some unspeakable trademark on their changing faces. Earlier this year, however, the group released Painting With, an album that scrupulously cut through their once creatively pulsating psychedelic brain like a dull colored scalpel. What existed earlier at the center of their best material was the melodic sugar-hiccuping vocals of Avey Tare and Panda Bear, frequently embarking on a voyage through buckets of reverb, and a forest of warm, comforting slabs of psychedelia; these were arrangements so gauzy they left a strikingly addictive residue. For Animal Collective to unwieldy remove these familiar sonic elements out of the blue was nothing short of a bold move but Painting With, in turn, felt like a largely incomplete stylistic puzzle.

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Denzel Curry Tunnels Under the Tripwire of Constructs and Conventions on New Album

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A version of this review has been published by the blog Pretty Much Amazing, which you can read here.

Three years ago, Denzel Curry was just your average 18-year-old American high school student with modest ambitions of turning a rap hobby into a full-fledged career when he released his debut album, Nostalgic 64. But as demonstrated by last year’s potently psychedelic sophomore follow-up, the aptly-titled 32 Zel / Plant Shrooms, his hunger for creating hip-hop based around both the intellect and the artifice had not yet been fully quelled. While contemporaries like A$AP Rocky had already locked themselves inside luxe studios, attempting to repackage psychotropics as fast fashion for a younger, impressionable generation, Curry seemed more interested in tunneling under the tripwire of constructs and conventions, and sought out mystical practices and otherworldly properties to tap into his brand of rap music. His latest album, Imperial, applies these findings not only in the form of strikingly prismatic and colorful sonic dimensions but in the lyrics as well, which explore a young artist attempting to make sense of sick society in the Information Age.

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Future’s Dirty Sprite Is Largely Flat and Flavorless on EVOL

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A version of this review has been published by the blog Pretty Much Amazing, which you can read here.

On the surface, it would appear that EVOL has all of the necessary ingredients for Future to cook up another compelling album. First there’s the cryptic title: it’s love spelled backwards, you have to pronounce it as you do the word evil, and it’s there to enhance the drama even before you hear any music. Then there’s its stark, monochromatic cover art—featuring a bed of roses covered in ash and embers—which is both moody and certainly complimentary to the album’s palatable sonics. But that’s about it, really, as EVOL’s aesthetic is so thinly-veiled it reveals itself to be just an exercise for the rapper, where apparently pregame stretching isn’t a requirement either. Where last year’s triptych of album-quality free mixtapes—Monster, Beast Mode, and 56 Nights—helped establish the rapper’s simple yet deftly told narrative, and DS2 being its proverbial exclamation mark, EVOL feels wholly out of place and vacuous by comparison. The album, in turn, isn’t exactly the same Super Future-ATLien-emotional-dirty-Sprite-superstar you’ve come to know and love but rather Future-lite, a shell of his former self, and with the cruise control left activated; resulting in a decelerating journey on the path of least resistance.

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Just Give Biebs a Chance

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A version of this review has been published by the blog Pretty Much Amazing, which you can read here.

By the time Justin Bieber’s “What Do You Mean?” and “Sorry” appeared back to back on the Billboard Hot 100, numbers two and three, respectively, the 21-year-old pop star already pulled more than his fair share of stunts. However, these weren’t premeditated antics revolving around the egging of a neighbor’s mansion. In fact, his latest romp even alienated a legion of preteen Beliebers. During a rainy outdoor set on Today, a noticeably uneasy Bieber questioned fans, asking them what “[does he] do this for,” just before cutting to a commercial break. It was a strange moment captured on live TV, a rare glimpse of Bieber breaking a fourth wall clearly existing between pop stars and fandom. And after fans eagerly tried grabbing his belongings in Norway, he consequently stormed off the stage—an incident tabloids had no problem dismissing as tantrums. Ostensibly fed up with his public image, here was an artist signaling their inevitable breaking point. In turn, the material on Purpose marks Bieber’s fateful step towards an independent personality—free of inhibitions, unconcerned with teeny-bopper conventions—and except for some middling moments, it’s mostly successful.

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Some Kind of Monster: Future’s Career-Reanimating Mixtape, One Year Later

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A lot can happen to a man in a single year, and Lord knows 365 days is awful plenty of time to sit and contemplate one’s navel. Following the release of Fun House in 1970, Iggy Pop—no record deal, conflicted bandmates, addicted to heroin—disbanded The Stooges a year later. Reeling from the death of a lover in 1963, Tennessee Williams plunged into a state of catatonic depression, and was ultimately unable to recoup his earlier success. Certainly a lot has happened to one Nayvadius DeMun Wilburn, aka Future, within the last twelve months. From securing his first No. 1 album in DS2, to uniting passionate fans with the #FutureHive—all while breaking the internet with What a Time to Be Alive—he’s finally reaping the benefits of the celebrity he thought he had with his last studio album, Honest, and all without compromising his true self. But Future has left red herrings along his arduous journey to the top, hinting at self-doubt and disgust for his public scrutiny—all while carefully illustrating the lack of sentimentality as well as brutality of the real world.

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The Game’s Chest-Beating Machismo Is Not Double Album Worthy

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A version of this review has been published by the blog Pretty Much Amazing, which you can read here.

Make no mistake, recording and releasing a double album is no ordinary task—it’s an ambitious undertaking. When done right, a double immerses the audience in new musical vistas, with the medium warranting seemingly unlimited space to facilitate unbridled creative ideas; ones that deserve to be heard and mulled over for years to come. However, when in the wrong hands, a double album could reek of pretension and egoism; overblown ideas du jour, far-reaching conceptual elements without resolve, and an outwardly bloated predisposition. And surely we’ve experienced a handful of double albums that make a strong case for the medium as a necessary exploration of artistic freedoms. Although you’d probably be hard-pressed to look, rap music has also brazenly taken on the challenge of the double album: The Notorious B.I.G. (Life After Death), OutKast (Speakerboxxx/The Love Below), and UGK (Underground Kingz), to name a few, have all tackled the format with equal success. Enter Compton rapper Game, who has apparently bit off more than he can chew with The Documentary 2, a whopping thirty-eight track double album spanning almost three hours worth of music, as he attempts to traverse the past and present of his native West Coast, traditionalist East Coast sensibilities, and the South’s enticing ingenuity in rap music all in one fell swoop.

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Slime Season Arrives in Waves of Delirious Colors and Textures

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There’s a scene in the N.W.A biopic Straight Outta Compton, where an apprehensive Eazy-E struggles to lay down a verse for what will inevitably materialize into their debut single, “Boyz-n-the-Hood”. “I’m not a rapper,” Eazy proudly tells the packed room, who’d probably agree had he not been the personification of the Compton streets they’re putting on wax. And eventually, with the guidance of a young Dr. Dre, he manages to stay on beat and capture the song’s intended message. Still, in spite of his continuous efforts to stay on beat and rhyme words, Eazy’s flow and delivery remained largely unbroken from those pivotal “Boyz-n-the-Hood” recording sessions in 1987 until his tragic death of AIDS in 1995. Musical limitations aside, Eazy helped shift hip hop’s focus from its ostensible dependence on radio play to creating art off the strength of street knowledge. Twenty years later, you’ve got street-centric rappers like Atlanta’s Young Thug completely bending all of the rules on what you can do to and with your voice to add fresh paint to an old car, and ultimately using the radio to work for him rather than with them. Things Eazy had trouble understanding; the latter costing him his reputation. And fortunately for Thug, he also doesn’t have a Dr. Dre stopping him any time he raps crazy shit like “I’m’a eat that booty just like groceries” in the booth either.

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What a Time to Be Alive, Indeed

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A version of this review has been published by the blog Pretty Much Amazing, which you can read here.

In case you missed it, here’s the news from this month: The immigration crisis in Europe intensifies, Donald Trump’s presidency bid included a misogynistic attack on Carly Fiorina, Pope Francis travels to the richest country in the world to debate issues of inequality and poverty, Rikers Island guards cover up assaults on inmates, multiple wildfires rage in California, frat bros charged with murder in a hazing death, and retired tennis player James Blake gets tackled by the NYPD while minding his business in Midtown. And through all of this madness, Drake and Future were still able to put on their superhero capes when they released their highly-anticipated collaborative project, What a Time to Be Alive after recording in Atlanta for just six days.

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Travi$ Scott’s Rodeo Isn’t Worth the Price of Admission

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A version of this review has been published by the blog Pretty Much Amazing, which you can read here.

Last summer, Travi$ Scott released Days Before Rodeo, a free mixtape that wouldn’t just serve as the unofficial countdown for his debut album, but give listeners a sense of what the rapper/producer is working with sonically. Pounding, acerbic drums, thick, hazy atmospheres, and a confrontational predisposition would establish Scott as a fearless rising star in rap music. And although the tape was a welcome shift from the amateurish shlock that plagued his debut tape Owl Pharaoh, it also did very little to invite the listener into Scott’s world. Even if Scott had trouble lining up his greatest attributes, his talent was certainly evident. His production choices, which have been carefully excavated from the post-808s & Heartbreak musical landscape and Atlanta’s grab-bag of innovations, can be intriguing, and his rebellious posturing certainly strikes a chord with an angsty personality type. Those rare moments where he finds the right balance—”Basement Freestyle” is perhaps the best example —can add up to something quite uncanny. With the clock no longer ticking, Scott returns with Rodeo, an album that looks to position the 23-year-old as a curator of supreme taste, as well as darken his already moody blues. At fourteen tracks, the album presents blockbuster names (Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, Justin Bieber, The Weeknd), noteworthy rap talent (Chief Keef, Future, Swae Lee, Quavo, Young Thug), and in-demand producers (Metro Boomin, Southside, TM88, Zaytoven, FKi, WondaGurl). And indie blog darling, Toro y Moi, too. But all of it adds up to is a show that isn’t worth the price of admission.

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