Dr. Dre’s Reemergence on Compton Is the Detox We Needed, Not Wanted

drecompton

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

Where to begin with Compton? How about, well, Compton. Despite its violent reputation, the City of Compton is actually one of the oldest cities in Los Angeles County and legend has it Griffith Dickenson Compton—the cities founder and namesake—stipulated that a portion of the city be zoned for agricultural use. For much of its history, the city was like any other place in Southern California: Relatively quiet, mostly white, family oriented, and suburban. A quick search yields results for residents, which includes everyone from actor Kevin Costner to the Bush family. Fast forward to August 1965, the summer of the infamous Watts riots, which despite being a few miles from Compton cemented the region’s demographics and harsh reputation for years to come. And with the rise of black street gangs like the Crips and the Bloods—coupled with the growing drug trade—the City of Compton would forever be synonymous with street violence and crime. Some twenty-three years later, a seemingly inconspicuous rap group with a brutal name (Niggaz Wit Attitudes) would put the city in the national consciousness once again, with the release of Straight Outta Compton, an album that chronicled street life and culture, and its many social injustices. And the region is once again in the national spotlight with the release of a biopic based on the group, and to coincide with it Dr. Dre—rapper, producer, entrepreneur, and founding member of N.W.A—is suddenly putting out his first album in sixteen years. And it’s not Detox.

Read More

With Little Help, Migos Do Some Heavy Lifting on Debut Album

migosyrn

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

It’s 2015, which means it’s been exactly ten years since 2005, which also means writers are currently flooding the internet with their long-winded retrospectives on anything and everything from a decade ago. It’s apt that we take this moment to reflect back on what rap was like in ’05—specifically rap below the Mason-Dixon line. For many young rap fans, it’s difficult to imagine what Southern hip hop looked and felt like a decade ago. Sure, some may recall hit songs like Dem Franchise Boyz’ “I Think They Like Me,” or recognize Mike Jones’ “Still Tippin'” whenever it’s ironically played at a party—but could they identify the squeaky synth leads on “Bottom of the Map,” or rap along to every line on “Air Forces”? With booming 808s and ticking hi-hats, the recent developments in music can be easily traced back to the South, and trap rap’s apotheosis is none other than Young Jeezy’s Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101. Working with only a handful of Shawty Redd beats and his naturally raspy voice, Atlanta native Young Jeezy would lay down the blueprint for an entire region of rappers—virtually knocking big players like Lil Jon out of commission. Jeezy, who has since dropped the Young from his moniker, recently celebrated Thug Motivation 101’s ten year anniversary with a hometown performance. Coincidentally, Migos, who have finally released their debut album Yung Rich Nation, and at one point seemed impervious to writing boring songs, are getting suspiciously close to Jeezy—who sadly hasn’t done much to tweak his formula since 2006’s The Inspiration.

Read More

Future’s DS2 Is the Exclamation Mark on a Booming Rap Career

futureds2

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

By and large, the story behind DS2, Future’s latest album, should be the unprecedented run he’s been on up until this point. Because let’s face it, it’s quite unheard of today for a bona fide street rapper like Future to do what he’s done in such little time. The (approximately) nine-plus months of dropping three quality mixtapes for download, generating grassroots hype via fervent fan support, nine-plus months of critical re-evaluation and further acclamation, major magazines putting the DS2 blip on their radars, nine-plus months of “Fuck Up Some Commas” climbing on the charts, nine-plus months of pan-flash rap acts finally being picked off one-by-one. Even with DS2 ostensibly completed and released to the public (with less than a week after it was first announced,) the insanity just continued: Future’s free record release show in Los Angeles was canceled after a crowd overwhelmed the Sunset Strip. Desperate and out of ideas, promoters relocated the show to a larger nearby venue. Then it was shutdown. For the second time.

Read More

Inner City Rage and Psychedelic Escapisms Permeate Denzel Curry’s World

32zel

Denzel Curry, the darkly intricate young Carol City, Florida rapper, indiscriminately splattered his home state with moody blues, harsh neon greens, and more than a fair share of overflowing buckets of bloody reds on his 2013 full-length debut Nostalgic 64. But on 32 Zel / Shrooms, the 20-year-old rapper’s sophomore album—ambitiously billed as a double EP—he takes his freakish Technicolor tales of urban blight and adds a vibrant and unique dash of mind manifesting delirium. It makes his second solo effort not only one of the standout rap projects of the year thus far, but one of the most striking hardcore rap albums in recent memory. Where A$AP Rocky recently half-assed the psychedelia on his sophomore album, At.Long.Last.A$AP, Curry’s new project wisely avoids those same pitfalls and ultimately makes for an engaging, compelling listen. For Rocky, A.L.L.A. was a clinical exercise in epic conceit under the guise of being a truly transcendent psychedelic rap album and was largely bookended by being a time-wasting bore, so thankfully 32 Zel / Shrooms keeps things sonically distinct. Curry often finds himself retreating into the calm of nebulous kush clouds of his latest project and puffs away before incessantly rapping his ass off. Lastly, amidst the real world chaos is the overlapping psychedelic motif, which ties this unusual concept album together into a loose escapist narrative.

Read More

At.Long.Last.A$AP Is a Self-Mythologizing Mess Disguised as a Psychedelic Experience

rocky

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

While playing professionally for the Pittsburgh Pirates, pitcher Dock Ellis claimed he was under the influence of LSD when he threw a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres on Friday June 12, 1970. Self-reportedly, Ellis said he used LSD “two or three times” while visiting a friend in Los Angeles. Things got a little weird; time became irrelevant (thinking it was Thursday Ellis took a hit of the drug on Friday at noon), vision was drastically impaired (Ellis threw the no-hitter despite being unable to feel the ball, see the batter or catcher clearly), Richard Nixon appeared as the home plate umpire, and even Jimi Hendrix made a cameo as an opposing batter violently swinging his guitar. As expected many were skeptical about Ellis’ LSD claim, including Pirates beat reporter Bill Christine, who said he didn’t notice anything unusual with Ellis’ behavior or even the game itself. Although Ellis’ cursory drug-induced no-hitter story probably didn’t actually happen—and sadly not in the same colorful way it was told—it doesn’t really matter; he didn’t need a no-hitter to be a cultural trailblazer. Dock Ellis didn’t end up changing the world or “the system”, but at least he was able to confidently give it the finger.

Read More

Spin Cycle: The Best and Worst Rap Mixtapes of May ’15

mixtapesmay

Welcome to the second official installment of the Spin Cycle, a new column where yours truly personally aims to immerse himself even further into the world LL Cool J once called incredible, because it’s “straight from the brother’s heart”. With the focus of this column being primarily rap mixtapes, all of the tapes featured on Spin Cycle were scrounged from digital emporiums DatPiff and LiveMixtapes, and free audio streaming sites like Audiomack, SoundCloud and Bandcamp. In addition, we are defining mixtapes here as a full length project that is either free, free-to-stream, or an exclusively digital release (see: Drake’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late or Young Thug’s Barter 6). The mixtapes featured monthly on Spin Cycle will also be organized below from worst to best of the month.

Read More

Spin Cycle: The Best and Worst Rap Mixtapes of April ’15

mixtapes

I have something I must admit: My relationship with rap mixtapes is mighty unhealthy. But it wasn’t always like this. There was a time where things were actually amicable. Whenever we were together, it was new, thrilling and I always looked forward to spending quality time with you. I felt like our time together was the ultimate quality time: cozy, fun, and a wonderful bonding experience. What the hell happened? Is the honeymoon phase officially over? Because now I can hardly stand you. You’re not the same anymore, you’re dismissive of my emotions and you’ve even cheated on me with retail. What have you become? I barely recognize you anymore. You regularly insist on flooding my inbox with generic, hastily thrown together mixtape–serving to merely boost your ego or generate last minute hype. These days, you spend most of your time too preoccupied with digital pushers like DatPiff and LiveMixtapes to care about us. But I still have hope for us, because beneath all of this ugliness exudes a similar warmth and spirit that I cannot ever forget. Besides, you still have a way of surprising me—if I dig deep enough I will surely find moments of beauty and clarity.

Read More

Young Thug Channels His Alien Brand of Sentimentality and Swagger on Barter 6

thug

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

Hip-hop, as you presumably already know, is like a vacuum. I mean that not in the metaphorical sense of the word but in the literal. You know: you’ll get sucked in and never to be seen or heard from again. Just like a vacuum. That’s it. One day you’re in and the next day, you’re out. You are the weakest link, goodbye. Auf Wiedersehen! And whatever other game show elimination catchphrase you can come up with off the rip. That’s precisely why diehard Young Thug fans recently took issue with burgeoning Houston rapper Travi$ Scott’s seemingly restless interest in the New Atlanta trap rap scene—particularly in the aforementioned Thug. Things quickly got out of hand following the scathing publication of a Deadspin article leveling steely accusations at Scott for being a “shameless biter”. Titled “Travis Scott Is Worse Than Iggy Azalea” (for obvious clickbait) writer Billy Haisey alleged that Scott offers little-to-no originality and instead opts to steal from the artists he’s worked alongside. In this case: Young Thug. Scott wasted no time in responding to Haisey’s allegations—candidly dropping plenty of F-bombs at the writer along the way. Despite the writer’s good intentions at penning the article, it came off as a blatant smear campaign and largely untrue given that less than a month after its publication Thug would accompany Travi$ Scott on a sold out nationwide tour—further exposing the rapper to new fans. Furthermore, Scott even recruited Thug for two standout tracks on his acclaimed Days Before Rodeo mixtape.

Read More

Fifty Shades of Kendrick’s Complexity; All Black

kendrick

c. 2003: By the time OutKast was hard at work—crafting what would inevitably be the apex of their collective creativity and last major record—André 3000 a.k.a. André Lauren Benjamin and Big Boi a.k.a. Antwan André Patton had just about run out of ways to express themselves via hip-hop. You see, a common misconception made while tracing OutKast’s garish decade plus long history and discography is that it was Stankonia, their landmark New Millennium album, that widened horizons and broke the duo into new creative territory. But upon brief reexamination, all Stankonia was a logical continuation of what OutKast had already established on their previous three records. However with Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, their eagerly awaited follow-up to Stankonia, André 3000 and Big Boi tapped into some pretty fertile soil. For starters, the duo, for the first time in their career as a group, had chosen to work separately, which would open the floodgates of endless possibilities and imagination. Where Big Boi’s contribution, Speakerboxxx, flirts with progressive, psychedelic funk music by way of Southern hip-hop (with an emphasis on retaining social awareness), André 3000’s acclaimed The Love Below is a different beast altogether as it blends pop, jazz and funk with live instruments, and singing instead of rapping. Despite the immediate bifurcation, the end result is a project sounding unsurprisingly unified because the two ultimately share the same freewheeling aesthetic.

Read More

On Carrie & Lowell, Sufjan Stevens Is Lifted and Transcended Into a Saintly Figure

reflektor

In 1950, amid a long term battle with depression and worldly disillusionment, Italian writer and poet Cesare Pavese committed suicide—at the age of forty-two—by an overdose of barbiturates. The circumstances of his suicide, which took place in a small hotel room in Turin, mimic the last scene of Among Women Only, his penultimate book. Shortly before his death, he methodically destroyed all his private papers, and leaving virtually nothing behind. His colleagues, shocked and bewildered, sought an explanation for his untimely passing. The truth was only revealed when Pavese’s personal diaries (spanning from the years 1935 to 1950) were brought to light some eleven years after his death. For the diaries, they revealed a tormented man struggling to achieve an elusive emotional maturity consistent with a poet’s sensibility. In addition, Cesare Pavese’s diaries disclosed the parallels between his works’ protagonists and personal mythology. The typical effort of a Pavese hero is clarity; the typical problem is that of severe lapse in communication. It all became abundantly clear that his literary work wasn’t simply his literary work; it was his life.

Read More