Category Archives: Music

Joe Budden Reintroduces Himself

When the name Joe Budden comes up in most hip hop conversations, the words “one-hit-wonder,” are usually associated with him.  If not for his 2003 hit record “Pump It Up” most wouldn’t know who Budden is.  Unless of course you know of him on VH1’s “Love and Hip Hop” and his very public relationships with Ester, Tahiry and Kaylin.  To the underground faithful – or just the Joe Budden fans – though, Budden is considered to be one of hip hop’s true great lyricists.  He has built a dedicated following without the use of mainstream radio due to his independent and mix=tape releases.  Budden’s style has been considered “emo” as he wears his emotions on his sleeve, goes in depth about the pitfalls of his life and does so with brilliant word-play.   With all that being said, Budden has been in the game for over a decade and doesn’t scratch the surface of what is considered to be a “rap superstar.”

Budden has maintained consistency in his product and a little more than a year ago, began his podcast “I’ll Name This Podcast Later.”  The podcast has proven to be successful and at times controversial.  He (along with his podcast partners Marissa Mendez and Rory) have been the subject of social media attacks from other artists such as Meek Mill but it doesn’t stop the show’s continued fan support.   Most recently, Budden was very hard on Drake, an artist who Budden has openly been a fan of on his podcast.  Budden was less-than-enthused with Drake’s last project “Views” and even went as far as saying: “I think that that kid on that album that I heard sounds real fucking uninspired.”  What this did was inspire a slight jab from Drake aimed at the direction of Budden in a snippet of a track released on social media where Drake  mutters the words “pump, pump, pump it up.”   Budden didn’t take this as a “diss” and publicly shrugged it off.  .  .

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Then Drake released “4 PM in Calabasas” and Joe Budden combed through the lyrics of this song like a detective thirsty for some evidence:  “All of a sudden I got people showing how much they truly resent me/They whole demeanor just spells envy/they tryna tempt me.”

Budden laid low for a little while and then released a six minute verbal assault on Drake disguised as a song called “Making a Murderer, Pt.1”

The track, produced by Araab Muzik, supplied hip hop with enough ammo to burn through the next couple of weeks, as Budden took slight jabs at Meek Mill and Jay-Z (very slight but if you look back there is actually history there as well) – but the focus is clearly on Drake : “I’m a wordsmith for reall, you thought Quentin was bad/You made me proud, lad, but it seems my child mad/ With all the clout that he grabbed, theres still doubts from his dad.”  Budden has acknowledged before that Drake was a fan of Budden’s and even has ran with some of Budden’s style in the past. . .

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Joe Budden truly peppered enough quote-a-bles on this track, I could’ve printed out all the lyrics to the song and the reader would have gotten the point, but these gems should suffice in getting the point across: ” You’re so indirect, shit wasn’t real clear/Either Jimmy actin’ or he really miss a wheelchair. . . .i figure he’s close to his death to know the reaper/in fitted sweats with old sneakers, the flow ether/gassed cause he KO’d Omeeka/no, Joe’s deeper. . .Your words ain’t sayin a thing/I kilogram without weighing a thing/ nigga you baitin’ a king.”  And for those that didn’t get that “kilogram” line – think about it – Kilogram / Kill-a-Graham / Drake’s real name is Aubrey Graham – the boy Budden got lyrics. . .

Now, should Drake respond?  For the sake of hip-hop, yes he should – but in truth, Drake’s best action – career-wise – is to ignore it.  On the grand scheme of things, Budden isn’t in the same stratosphere as Drake.  If Drake ignores “Making A Murderer, Pt. 1” it will be as if the track never existed.   Drake is that big of an artist.

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Drake’s fans have taken to social media and have attacked Budden for trying to re-ignite his career by dissing Drake.  There might be some truth to that, but in reality, Budden is a rapper.  This is what rappers do (or at least used to do.)  He isn’t hiding behind subliminal lines or staying off of social media – he never has.  This is what he is.  Other Drake fans have said that the diss-track is altogether weak – which is obviously a blinded opinion.

Budden has done what needed to be done.  Today’s rap artists seem to be too comfortable.  Jump-Off-Joey has just shook the foundation from the top of the totem-pole and people are getting nervous.  Drake has a lot to lose if he comes out flat with a rebuttal record or loses this battle with Budden altogether.  For Budden, he has nothing to lose.  He has already gained a bunch of new listeners though who have been shut-off from the music he’s created over the last few years.

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In hip hop, “the battle” is a good-thing.

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

“Thank You” Album Review

Meghan Trainor was a pleasant surprise in 2015.  Her debut album “Title” received an 8 out of 10 rating right here at GeeSteelio.Com  also (and probably more importantly. . .) she was the recipient of a Grammy award and two Billboard Awards.  “Title” had four top twenty singles including her smash hit “All About That Bass,” and she was popping up everywhere on television.    Trainor and her team have decided to strike while the iron is still hot and put together the “Thank You” project.

The appeal of “Title” was the fun tempo and production headed by Kevin Kadish who gave Trainor a modern day doo-wop feel that was successful and in my opinion – needed for today’s music industry.

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Trainor’s production was mostly handled by Ricky Reed, who has worked with pop stars such as Pitbull, Jason DeRulo and Robin Thicke.  Reed’s skill set varies from Kadish’s in that, it’s very bass-drum-minded and much more like today’s “general” pop sound.  This is evident on tracks like “Woman Up” which has a Beyonce kind of feel to it, except our girl M-Train is definitely no Beyonce.  She handles the track well though, sounding soulful over a funk guitar riff during the verses and handles the Caribbean-like-transition on the bridge.  It’s a catchy enough song and easy listen that can work if marketed correctly.

“Better” is a track that works with Trainor’s skill set as well.  Her pen went to work on this one: “Finally blew up in my face/Crash and burnt to pieces/You got what you want from me/I gave you what you needed/I was warned but fooled by charm/And you deserve to be alone.”  She flexes perfectly on that fine line of every breakup where you’re hurt but know you have to move on with your life.  Yo Gotti makes an appearance on this song, for some odd reason, and it was just awkward and didn’t work.  If not for Gotti, this is was another song that could’ve worked perfectly for Trainor.

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There are some points where Meghan Trainor’s quirkiness, which was a strong point in her campaign last year – kind of works against her and just comes off as corny.  On “Me Too” her flow sounds like a track Britney Spears put on the back burner years ago and aside from a cool dub-step like break before the second verse, this song comes off as “trying too hard” or just flat our annoying.  But nothing is more annoying than “NO”  which sounds like a cheap Destiny’s Child song.  Her verses aren’t terrible but the breaks and chorus are just unoriginal and lazy: “My name is NO, my sign is NO/my number is NO, you need to let it go, you need to let it go, Need to let it go/ Nah to the ah to the no, no, no.”

This album is more of a copy cat album than anything else – which is further proven by the Pharrell sounding “I Love Me.”   This is a song that probably would’ve worked if Pharrell himself was on it, but LunchMoney Lewis must’ve been all that the budget on this album could afford so it comes off like a total jack-move. . .

The last three tracks make the ending to the “Thank You” album one of the sappiest and cheesiest endings to an album you’ll ever hear.  “Mom,” “Friends” and “Thank You” are the epitome of song-writing 101 and we’ve come to expect more from Trainor (yes, already.)  “Mom” is heartfelt and you can feel the love for her mother but with lyrics like “You might have a mom, she might be the bomb/But ain’t nobody got a mom like mine/Her love’s ’til the end, she’s my best friend.”  Calm down there, M-Train. . . “Friends” is terrible as one would assume as she tells the listener that “No one is gonna love me like they do.”  

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When “Title” producer Kevin Kadish finally makes an appearance on the album it’s a luke-warm reception.  He definitely brings the production that was missed on the “Thank You” project and it is more likened to the sound that made Meghan famous on the “Title” album.  But with a title to a song like “Dance Like Yo Daddy” one isn’t going to expect (nor receive) Mozart. . .

“Kindly Calm Me Down” is the song that could potentially save this album’s campaign from being a complete disaster.  The echoing piano track accompanied later by the rolling drums and impressively aggressive snare work well with Trainor’s vulnerability: “When my heart’s not pure/Would you kill my disease?/And when there’s no cure
You are just what I need/When I lose my mind/Would you still remind me?/When I’m feeling lost/Would you come and find me?”   This is the best she has ever sounded vocally, and she really attacks the beat at the end with emotionally charged intent.

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All in all, this album should’ve never happened.  It seems like a rushed project, that there was no need for.  There are a lot of unoriginal sounds,melodies and ideas that just don’t flow together well for a complete sound on “Thank You.”  If the folks at Epic for some stupid reason DO NOT release “Kindly Calm Me Down” as a single – this album will be a huge disappointment for an artist that saw such a meteoric rise just a year ago.

I’m still in Meghan’s corner, but better decisions have to be made in her future regarding music.

Rating 4.5 out of 10

G.W. Gras

Twitter @GeeSteelio

 

“Views” Album Review

Drake is the king of the new school movement.  His style has spawned many “sound-a-likes” and “copy-cats.”  His recent “beef” with Meek Mill, established Drake as not only a song-writer but also as an MC who can “get up in someone” if he needs to.  Drake’s confidence is at an all time high and it should be.  Every song he releases on line is all the hip hop world buzzes about for weeks and any artist who can afford a feature spot by Drizzy, will see their numbers rise because of the “Drake Effect.”

“Views” which many of us were led to believe the title was actually going to be “Views From the 6” when released, finds Drake at amoment in his career that he can pretty much do no wrong.

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Drake continues to pay homage to his hometown Toronto on “9.”   Drake typically refers to Toronto as “the 6” but in this twist Drake explains: “Keeping people fed is my only piece of mind now/And i turned the six upside down, it’s a nine now.”   Drake’s attitude on “9” is very nonchalant, although he talks about being the one that people want to hate on all the while being the artist that has to continually to hold his city down and hold it up to the spot light.  Drake’s confidence has always been a strong point and even when folks try to bring him down, he loves to remind them that he’s in a position in life that they’d kill to be in.  He continues to reference his hometown on the track “Weston Road Flows.”  It’s here where Drake does his version of “going in” as he spits straight with no hook for nearly four minutes, and does it to his trademark OVO sound produced by 40.  Once again, Drake drops gems to remind his haters, that he is just who they want to be: “I’m looking at they first week numbers like ‘what are those?’/ I mean you boys not even coming close. . . you don’t be scoring perfect/you don’t be workin how we be workin/you platinum like wrappers on a Hershey’s boy that sh*t is worthless/you get the message over and over like it was urgent/and then act like you aint heard it when you see me in person.”

Drake goes his hardest on “Hype” where it seems he still is tossing jabs at Meek Mill: “last year i know you learned your lesson/I could GPS you if you need addressin’ /Boss up, I’m the bigger homie. . .”   Drake has mastered the obnoxious-on-top of the world persona and lyrically he can still lay gems in a verse, but his flows become repetitive.  On “Hype” he spits a bar rapidly, ending his tone on a higher pitch, takes a one second breath and goes right back to it.  This is one of Drake’s flows.  The other is when he basically sounds like he’s talking and is bored telling his own story.   He does this on the annoying “U With Me” in which he flips the old DMX hook on “How’s It Goin’ Down.”  His babbling is enough to make the listener lose interest quickly and his switch from rapping to singing is more awkward than it is clever.

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“Redemption” is a lack luster production effort by Noah “40” Shebib and Drake does nothing to lift the track or pump any life into it.   It’s five minutes of audio that is nothing short of dry and plain.  That “dry and plain” feeling continues (quite ironically) on the track titled “Fire and Desire,” which is Drake’s love ballad to some degree on “Views.”   The lyrics fall short on “Fire and Desire” as well: “You never believe me/Told you I got Zs for these other girls, sleepin on em/Girl I’m sleepy/ sometimes I’m so indecisive.”

“Grammys” teams Drake back up with Future  and it only further proves that the idea of these two working together is a lot better than the actual product they produce.  Future repeats the line “They gonna think I won a Grammy” somewhere in the field of thirteen hundred times, but that should come as no surprise.  That’s unfortunately part of Future’s whole. . . thing that he does. . .

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Another sound that Drake seems to have fallen in love with is the dance-hall feel.  He teams with Rihanna again on “Too Good” which is sure to become another hit.  Drake should really consider dropping the collaborations with Future and focus more on his chemistry with Ri-Ri.   “One Dance,” “Controlla” and “With You” all have the potential to become radio hits because of the club/ Caribbean feel to the tracks.   There is nothing special lyrically on these tracks and the breaks in the song are nothing drastic.   And therein lies the problem with “Views.”

Drake seems too comfortable musically.  Because his fans are dedicated and come in large numbers – he feels he can drop anything and it has the potential to become a hit.  When you’re an artist at the top of the game, you raise the bar for yourself and your peers – instead of sticking to his script, Drake needs to step outside of the box and deliver something different.  Is it fair to expect something like that from Drake – yes and no.  If you want to keep bragging about how you’re untouchable, prove it by further separating yourself from the crowd, instead of re-creating the same songs over and over again.

Let it be clear – the album is not bad.  It’s just what we expect from him and nothing more.  The lack-luster production and Drake’s sudden obsession with island sounds is the backbone of this OVO project.  This project might be his most streamed or valued in his discography because of the radio friendly tracks – but with Kendrick Lamar and J.Cole laying down projects that might be their best for some time, Drake had to do the same.

Drake has the ability to still throw in some clever lines as he did on “Child’s Play,”: “Why you gotta fight with me at Cheesecake/you know i love to go there/Say I’m actin’ lightskin, I can’t take you nowhere/This is a place for families that drive Camry’s and go to Disney.”   Still there are times when his lyrics are awkward and almost spoil a song, like he did on the album’s opener “Keep the Family Close,”:“Always saw you for what you could’ve been/Ever since you met me/Like when Chrysler made that one car that looked just like the Bentley.”   Eh.  The shame is, “Keep the Family Close” had the production and sound that this album should’ve been built around but alas it wasn’t.   “Keep the Family Close” opens up the album so well, that the album itself becomes a disappointment as you listen on because nothing else sounds like it.

Rating 6.5 out of 10

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

“Lemonade” Album Review

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

Is that the most cliche and generic quote one can start this article with?  Absolutely.  In the case of Beyonce’s  sixth album “Lemonade” there truly is no other statement that immediately comes to mind though. . .  The album’s title “Lemonade” was inspired by a speech made by her husband’s grandmother at a 90 year birthday celebration. . . the album itself finds it’s core inspired by apparent infidelity caused by her husband, Jay-Z.   Beyonce and Jay-Z have been hip-hop’s power couple since rumors of them started back in their “Bonnie and Clyde/Crazy In Love” days.  Now it seems their marriage has gone a bit sour and Beyonce is using her music as therapy.  She councils herself on this journey called “Lemonade” and holds nothing back.

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Keep in mind that these lyrics, for all that it’s worth, are directed at Jay-Z, which makes her tone just as important as her words.  And also, it’s just more entertaining to think that every song is her telling Mr. S-Dot Carter off.  On “Hold Up” (produced by Diplo), Beyonce serves her listener with a laid back island-pop feel.  The lyrics make it quite obvious who her muse is : “Lets imagine for a moment that you never made a name for yourself/Or mastered wealth, they had you labeled as a king/Never made it out the cage, still out there movin in them streets/never had the baddest woman in the game up in your sheets.”   She details in this song, how she must be crazy for still loving and not giving up on someone who is playing her out. . .

“Sorry” and “Don’t Hurt Yourself” find Beyonce less-hurt and more angry.  It’s the Beyonce that all women love, to be honest.  Her Sasha-Fierce-Like-Confidence on “Sorry” finds Beyonce being the ring-leader for girls out there who have been done wrong by a man.  She leads the charge with the bridge: “Middle fingers up, put them hands high/ Wave it in his face, tell him, boy bye/Tell him boy, bye-boy bye/ Middle fingers up, I ain’t thinking ’bout you.”  Beyonce even lays down a cryptic: “Let’s have a toast to the good life/Suicide before you see this tear fall down my eyes/Me and my baby, we gon’ be alright/We gon’ live a good life.”  Jack White is featured on, and helped to write “Don’t Hurt Yourself”  which is a rock inspired track  which is felt even more when Beyonce’s voice is slightly muffled in a true grunge-like filter.  On this track, Beyonce plays the role of the one who might be getting cheated on but holds all the cards.  Even lays down a threat to her husband that she’ll “bounce to the next dick.”   Her confidence is on full display when she ends the track with: “You know I give you life/ If you try this sh*t again, you gon’ lose your wife.”

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Beyonce ventures into the country music world with “Daddy Lessons.”  This is a great look into her relationship with her father and how it relates to her current marriage.  Beyonce’s father, Matthew Knowles, cheated in his marriage as well.  Knowing that and also knowing Matthew Knowles wasn’t too supportive of the union of Jay-Z and Beyonce, it’s no surprise that he would tell his daughter: “My daddy warned me about men like you/He said baby girl he’s playing you/ he’s playing you.”  The song itself is a smart move for Beyonce, because she has the chops to cross over into any genre of music and this should find her spins on stations across the U.S. that she never previously graced.

“Sandcastles” is the true ballad on the album.  The pain in her voice is evident.  There is nothing fake about Beyonce on this album – every lyric and emotion comes off as genuine (and if this is just a huge media ploy constructed by Bey and Jay – nah, lets not even think that!).  “Sandcastles” finds Beyonce alone with a piano bearing her pain and only asking in return from her lover an equated feeling of regret and pain. . .

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Beyonce takes a break from her lover’s angst anthems with the track “Freedom.”  Much like her previously released single “Formation” – which is featured at the end of the LP – she takes a social stand.   The message she brings to the African-American community is that although they are “free” they are still shackled by the racism in the world.  “Freedom” features Kendrick Lamar but also features production by Just Blaze, who hits this song with an aggressive drum sequence, supplied by organs and a choir backing the chorus. It’s a refreshing tangent for the album to go off on and it doesn’t hinder the overall flow at all.

The idea behind “6 Inch” is a bit weird as Beyonce uses the six-inch-heel as a symbol of a hard working woman.  It’s a more in-your-face-approach version of Ne-Yo’s “Miss Independent.”  The use of the Issac Hayes “Walk On By” sample and the addition of the Weeknd are enough for people to forget about the stretch of a concept drawn up here. . .

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Lately, many music lovers have been critical, at times even overly-critical of Beyonce.   She raised the bar for herself and hasn’t been able to attain that again, it would seem.  She has been trying new sounds and new ways to approach music while keeping her image fresh and it seems she hit her stride with “Lemonade.”  What also works in her favor, is that Beyonce is seen the  diva of all divas, a superstar – but her vulnerabilities and pain on this record are real and for the first time in a long time, she has become relatable with her fans.  The production is a win and Beyonce, plays the role of being “hurt” and “vengeful” very well throughout the album.  The only question now is:  “Will Jay-Z  come out with a diss record aimed at Beyonce?”  — Doubtful.  But that would be insane. . .

Rating 8.5 out of 10

G.W. Gras

Twitter @GeeSteelio

“The Life Of Pablo” Album Review

Kanye West is. . . well if you ask him: the greatest.  There is no denying Kanye West’s impact on pop culture as a whole and there is no denying his force in the music industry.  We all just wish he didn’t try to reinforce that into our brains every day of our lives.   He is what he is though. . . for whatever that’s worth.  To criticize his accomplishments because of his abrasive personality is tempting but it wouldn’t be fair.   This is Kanye’s first album since 2013 and it was supposed to be named “Swish” and then it was supposed to be named “Waves” and for some reason he decided to go with “The Life of Pablo.”

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Right off the bat, the good news about “The Life of Pablo” is that it didn’t include the two boring tracks with Paul McCartney and it also doesn’t include the lack-luster “All Day.”  Thank, God.   And that’s who Kanye seems to be thanking for the majority of the album, God.  Not Yeezus, but the actual God.  On “Ultralight Beam” which features The Dream, Kelly Price and Chance the Rapper, Kanye confesses his appreciation for the higher power and does so in his broken down singing, which could’ve honestly been assisted with some kind of vocal plug in during the recording session.  Chance the Rapper gives a good verse, almost blatantly stealing Kanye’s flow but it’s kind of out of place on this track.

Rihanna is featured on the hook for “Famous” and the track is everything you’d hope it would be.   Swizz Beatz plays the hype-man role to a Kanye who isn’t saying anything quotable per-say, but his energy is in a good place and even shows the pettiness we kind of love him for by taking an uncouth shot at Taylor Swift.  The song has a nice break with Sista Nancy and Swizz Beatz but it’s followed by the song’s outro  instead of going back to the hook which is where all the listener’s would beg for it to go back to.

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For fans of the “Yeezus” album (that’s like all ten of us), “Feedback” has that same raw and stripped feeling with Kanye finally getting back to his bragging ways: “I know I know, I shouldn’t even bother/With all these gossiping, no p*ssy getting bloggers/Fashion show in Gotham, I need another costume/PETA’s mad cause I made a jacket out of possum/Awesome, Steve Jobs mixed with Steve Austin/Rich slave in the fabric store picking cotton.” 

Kanye dusted off El Debarge and threw him on the hook for “Highlights” in which West throws more jabs at folks: “I bet me and Ray J would be friends/If we ain’t love the same b*tch/Yeah, he might have hit it first/Only problem is I’m rich.”    Explaining the reasoning for those lyrics to his wife at night must’ve been a fun conversation. . .

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“Real Friends” is an easy listen with Kanye (along with Ty Dolla $ign) explaining Ye’s relationships with friends and family in respect to his fortune and fame.  The back and forth between Kanye and Ty is an interesting look at an actual conversation between the two sides of the coin.  “Fade” is one of the better tracks on the album and it isn’t anything close to hip hop.  “Fade” is a break into smooth house music, and it’s definitely the type of song Kanye wants to see used in fashion shows, because that’s the other industry he’s tapped into.  The bass guitar and repetition works well with each other and it’s a song that one can easily see being remixed by house and techno DJ’s in the industry.

“No More Parties in LA” is a snoozer track which features Kendrick Lamar.  Both men are spitting aimlessly in their verses and Kanye at points doesn’t even try to stay on beat.  There are times on this album, like on “30 Hours” where the actual track sounds like a “practice track” where Kanye is just trying to catch a flow.  It’s an embarrassment to himself and a discredit to his fans.

If you noticed, there hasn’t been much spoken about production and that’s because that’s what’s most disappointing with the album.  We can at times forgive a lack-luster verse from Kanye or stomach his verbal “over-glorification” for the sake of great production – but he falls flat this time around.  As mentioned previously with “Famous” there are just points in the album when he has the listener all about the ride he’s taking you on and then decides to take a sudden left turn and drop you off in the wrong neighborhood.

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It says a lot when one of the best tracks is an acapella, forty-five second long interlude with Kanye just saying his name to rap every line. . . seriously, it’s clever but. . .

For an album that’s been nearly three years in the making and has brought itself the hype that comes with a Kanye West album, the final product seems incomplete.  It seems Kanye wants to flash his “genius” around, without understanding a simple rule to life and at times art: sometimes less, is more.

Rating: 5 out of 10

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

“ANTI” Album Review

Rihanna is the unofficial princess of Roc-Nation.  She has come a long way since being featured on the Memphis Bleek song “The One” back in 2005 and now for over a decade, Rihanna has been a fixture in pop music, pop culture and has even set herself apart from other fashion icons of the present day.  Over the last few years, she’s pushed the envelope in what should be accepted in today’s pop-music standards, whether she’s being sexually explicit or just exemplifying her “IDGAF” attitude in the public eye.  Being the workhorse she is, “ANTI” is album number eight for Ri-Ri and she is projected to kill it in the streaming and radio play numbers.

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Early rumors had people believing Kanye West was to be the producer of Rihanna’s next project, but maybe somewhere between working on his new album “Waves” and beefing with Wiz Khalifa and a few females on twitter, Yeezus may have his hands full at the moment. . .  Never-the-less,  the album was not short of any recognizable producers as everyone would like to have a piece of the pie if Rihanna is releasing new work.

Boi 1da produced the first single off of “Anti” entitled “Work.”  The song features Drake, but unfortunately it’s the singing Drake – you know the one where he sings like goat with his nose stuffed – yeah that Drake.   Needless to say he adds nothing to a record that comes off as a lazy, lackluster radio single that can hypnotize the already brainwashed fans of today’s popular music.  When a hook’s lyrics are “Work work work work work work / He see me do mi /dirt dirt dirt dirt dirt dirt/so me put in / work work work work work work,”  it’s enough to make you want to give up listening to music altogether. . .

At least DJ Mustard came into the frame on “Needed Me” and even tweaked his typical sound to give the song a slight dub-step feel to it.  Rihanna is on her “bad bitch” tip here, as she tells a former lover that she is unlike anything else he’ll ever get in life.  The song itself is only three minutes and twelve seconds long but for some reason needed ten writers. . .  The collective effort is a home run though as Ri-Ri completely defecates on the feelings of a man: “But baby, don’t get it twisted/you was just another n*gg@ on the hit list/Trying to fix your inner issues with a bad bitch/Didn’t they tell you I was a savage?” 

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Rihanna seemed to have a thing for shorter than usual  songs, maybe trying to target today’s music audience which is infamous for having short attention spans – as she only spends a little over two minutes on the tracks “Higher” (produced by NO I.D.) and “Yeah, I Said It” (produced by Timbaland).  While “Yeah, I Said It” is a snoozer – “Higher” shows a side of Rihanna which is very much as vulnerable as she’ll allow herself to be and musically taps into more of a classical sound.  The track is guided by a light piano and an array of strings.  The song bares Rihanna in a drunk state calling on an ex-boyfriend who she misses and is aware that she’s calling him in what is probably not her most flattering of moments: “I hope I ain’t calling you too late, too late/You light my fire//Let’s stay up late and smoke a J/I wanna go back to the old way.”

The “throwback” sounding Rihanna sound does not miss on “Anti” and she continues this on the tracks “Love On the Brain” and the album’s final song “Close To You.”  Producer Kuk Harrell’s name appears most in the production credits and he lends a hand on both tracks which captured a more stripped down Rihanna than we’re used to.  The sound to “Close To You” is  reminiscent to the production that was the backbone of Meghan Trainor’s breakthrough album “Title,” which was tailored with a “doo-wop” feel to it.  The strength of Rihanna’s commercial appeal will hopefully stream this kind of music into the mainstream. . .

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. . . That’s not to say she has strayed away from the commercial sound that has made her the hit maker she is.  She pleases her day-to-day fan base with “Desperado” and “Kiss It Better” – both which are sure to receive heavy spins on the radio.  “Desperado” displays her at her most comfortable on “Anti”: “Desperado, sitting in a an old Monte Carlo/We’ve both had our hearts broken/ take it easy. . ./I’m not trying to go against you. . .”   “Kiss It Better” is backed by a 1980’s synth sound and she rides the track as smooth as an Iroc-Z with the top down on a summer evening. . .

Rihanna’s efforts are never lack-luster and although at times she pushes the “bad bitch” routine a bit much on the album throwing in an “f-word” where it really isn’t necessary here and there – it’s not enough to detract from what she’s doing here.  She is continuously setting herself apart from the rest of the flock in mainstream music and the chances she took on this album were very strategic and for the most part, she nailed it.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

G.W. Gras

Twitter @GeeSteelio

“Darkest Before Dawn” Album Review

Officially titled “Darkest Before Dawn: The Preview” – this release is the set-up for the release of Pusha T’s third studio album due out later this year entitled “Darkness Before Dawn.”  Now at the age of 38, Pusha-T has found himself to be “re-discovered” in the hip hop community.  Without getting too much into Pusha-T’s history, let’s just say as a member of the two man group the Clipse, he’s been in the game since 1997.  After a long run of solo features and successful mixtapes – he released his first solo album “My Name is My Name,” in 2013.   After hearing “My Name is My Name” people wondered why it took so long for someone of such vast storytelling ability, lyricism and personality to come up in the game as a solo artist.  Maybe, Pusha himself needed to fine tune his style before flooding the street with his work.

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Pusha has established himself as one of the best to speak about the drug game.  His metaphors and word play dip in and out of his flow as effortless as George Jung went through customs.  On the intro of the album, he goes right into his comfort zone: “I speak to the trap lords/And n*gg@s with their hands in the white like blackboards/I done been black balled/ and never gave f*ck ’cause I’m Jack Frost, of sellin’ that blast off.”

Pusha-T is accompanied by producer extraordinaire Timbaland a few times on this album and on “Untouchable” we see, what would be in Timbaland’s world, a more stripped down version of his production.  The Notorious B.I.G sample, steers the track in a direction of defiance which is the key to Pusha-T’s character throughout his career.

Pusha-T’s lyrics and vocal tone are consistent throughout the album and so is his flow.  This would get tiring for most listeners but it seems Pusha (and/or his team) recognize this and have disguised his consistencies as an artist with insane production.  Some of these beats sound like the type most artist wouldn’t touch because they sound a little too weird, or awkward, but Pusha never loses command over these beats, like the one produced by Timbaland called “Retribution.”  Here Pusha is able to keep cadence with a skipping snare drum accompanied by a slight high hat.  It’s a credit to his talent as an artist to never lose himself on a track like this: “Monte Carlo nights,/let her throw the dice/play in paradise/all i know is white, get the powder gone/Bitces love to shop, levitate the mall/Mattress full of money, let it break the fall.”    

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“Got ‘Em Covered” is another Timbaland assisted track which sounds similar to Jay-Z’s “Squeeze First” and Pusha shows a short tribute to the rap god by delivering the line of “I keep cash, case Feds connect me/ Case kids kidnap me, kids can get back me.”  Pusha keeps the drug talk going like a pro but the feature of Ab-Liva does nothing to the track and makes the listener kind of wish there was more Pusha, or that the track ended after the second verse. . .

A feature that does not disappoint at all is that of one Beanie Sigel on “Keep Dealing.”  It was great to hear production by Nashiem Myrick who most remember from the glory days of Bad Boy Records, when they had the “Hitmen” production team.  Pusha does not slack at all when given the cold production behind him: “The Robb Report of the snort/ kings hold court/ lawyers get bought/ palms get greased when them cases get fought/ no felony, what the f*ck you tellin’ me/ reduced to simple assault, reduced to a simple hush hush. . .”   Not to be outshined, Beanie Sigel (sounding a little different now) handles the third verse with authority: “Reporting live from the project benches/ Hella ‘caine, dope in cellophane, dirty syringes/Heron zombies, street walking on three-week binges/Clientele look like the “Thriller” vid in 3D lenses.”    This track leaves the listener wanting more music by this duo, and even for Beans to come back on his own. . .

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Back to King Push though – he is in his element on “Crutches, Crosses,Caskets.”  He has a way of standing out in the rap community and on this track all he “sees is victims.”  He sees himself as a stand up dude, who can’t play games with the young rappers of today.  He’s all about the action and not the “flashy things.”

“M.P.A” is a weird track in the sense that when you read the track listing it reads produced by J.Cole and Kanye West; and featuring Kanye West, The Dream and A$AP Rocky — that will get any rap fan thinking to themselves “Oh sh*t, this is gonna be some fire,” but ultimately its just a regular rap song.  There is nothing special on production, The Dream offers vocal on the intro, while A$AP and Kanye only share there voices on the hook.  Once again – not a bad song – just disappointing, considering everything that’s behind it.

Pusha ends the album perfectly and on a conscious note with “Sunshine.”  Pusha steps out of his slick talk and speaks to the listener about issues currently in America.  He speaks of police abusing power and the struggle of getting one’s voice heard, when it seems nobody cares. “Sunday to Sunday, Pastor only want one day/Grandma praying someday/ But God can’t hear it over gun play/ Woo! still a target, but the badge is the new noose/ yeah we all see it, but cellphones ain’t enough proof/so we still lose.”

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The only problem Pusha-T presents with “Darkest Before Dawn” is that he has just lifted the expectations for “Darkness Before Dawn.”  Easily, one of the rap game’s premier talents of today, Pusha-T proves that being a late bloomer is better than never blooming at all.  Let’s embrace it while he’s obviously in a zone right now that very few will be able to match today.

Rating: 8 out of 10

G.W. Gras

Twitter @GeeSteelio

“Top Five Dead Or Alive” Album Review

Jadakiss has been calling himself “top five dead or alive” for some time now.  The funny thing about it is, nobody in hip hop has challenged him.  Nobody even questions it.  Fans and peers alike are all aware of the talent possessed by the Yonkers, New York representative.  He has mastered the “slick talk” as a rapper and his punchlines are among some of the most quotable in hip hop history.  Still. . . there has always been a question with Jada: “Why isn’t he bigger than he is?”  It’s a valid question and it’s usually answered with a shake of the head accompanied by a response like “He’s too hood.”  It might be a cop out answer, but there is some truth to it.  There is not a rapper from the old school or new school, who would (or should) test Jada on the mic.  This is why he has anointed himself as “Top Five D.O.A.”

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Jadakiss’ theme is simple: He’s better than you and he challenges your street cred to match his.  On “First 48” he sets the tone for what’s to come over a soulful sample laid out by Ty Fiffe: “Yea they love to hear the don speak/That’s because my dialog ain’t in arms reach/Nah, I ain’t with the coward ‘ish/First the skinny jeans, now they wearin’ blouses/ Don’t ever confuse wireless for powerless.”

Swizz Beatz reunites with his Ruff Ryders brethern on “You Don’t Eat” and “Jason.”  Both tracks give Jada’s raspy tone a nice back drop as Swizz has never lost touch with his street-production.  “You Don’t Eat” shows Jadakiss in his usual defiant nature, telling people how he is a legend in the game, and has been looked over for unknown reasons.   Jada has a way of sounding aggressive on tracks without having to get rowdy and still be able to throw in a slick bar here and there “I put an end to you I save all the small talk for the interludes.”  It’s  true mark of an O.G. – of the rap game and the street.   “Jason” has some layers and depth to it although the intro verse by Swizz is a bit out of place. . . Jadakiss touches on the violence in communities today, especially from police towards minorities (Kiss cleverly utters “I can’t breathe” over the hook of the song in ode to Eric Garner.)   The song isn’t a shot towards the police, it’s more a message to the listener as in – you have to protect yourself and better your pride because nothing is promised and there are people who are plotting on your demise.  Even if the path chosen is one that is frowned upon.

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On “Y.O.” you can picture Jadakiss on a corner talking to the younger cats on his block, schooling them on the harsh realities of what a life on the streets can lead to: “learned how to clap before he knew how to stack/ now he doing thirty something years in the max. . . Drop on the jux you can give him a quick call/But kicking it with him is like talking to a brick wall/Comes from a good fam so his books stay right/He only 23 he got a chance to see daylight.

Jada flexes hard on “You Can See” which features Future on the hook: “Top 5 DOA, niggas know he don’t play/I can sell a ki a day, guess it’s in my DNA/Comfortable with being at the top, that’s where he gon’ stay. .. I’m the general of the block, I’m a lead the way/Either way, call me Paul – as long as Peter pay.”  Jadakiss has an undeniable truth to his diction and one can easily tell by how easily the street metaphors and lingo flow out of him, that he’s a man who lives by what he says.

The album takes a few steps back with the boring “Man in the Mirror” and the disappointing appearances by LOX member Styles P on “Rain” and “Synergy.”  It might not even be the fault of Styles, the beat on “Rain” is nothing more than a loop with some nonsensical noise in the hook while the beat to “Synergy” is actually over powering.  It’s tough to make out what either rapper is saying as the highs in the beat are almost screeching, never making it an easy listen.  Lil Wayne appears on “Kill” but the song would’ve been better off as just a Jadakiss solo because the apparent decline of Weezy is evident. . .

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There are other collaborations on the album that actually don’t fall flat.  “So High” is Jada’s “weed song” on this album and who else to feature on that topic than Wiz Khalifa who fits on the track perfectly and actually balances out the song well with Jadakiss.   “Realest in the Game” features Sheek Louch and Young Buck and the only issue with the song is trying to figure out which of them bodied the track best.

Kiss has been pretty consistent in dropping albums, but he ends this one the best with “One More Mile to Go.”  Here Jada is telling listeners to simply never give up and fight off feelings of self-doubt.    He spits bars that anyone can relate to : “Ain’t scared to die, but you thinking ’bout a coffin/And quitting ain’t an option but you think about it often/Saying to yourself, how this ain’t fair/You got the strength but the energy, just ain’t there.” 

It’s fitting that Jadakiss ends this album talking about perseverance because that’s been a key component in his life and career.  Top five dead or alive is a high claim but one that hasn’t been argued – at least not to his face and Jadakiss gives people a lot of reasons to not argue it. . . or get in his face.

Rating 7.5

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

 

 

“Free TC” Album Review

Ty Dolla $ign is a unique talent.  One who can keep it street, artistic, commercial and honest – all at once.   He’s his own man, but in the same breath is this generations equivalent to what R.Kelly brought to the game years ago.  Ty’s singing style has likened him to be a “rapper” but he usually laughs off the claims and maintains that he is truly just a “singer.”

The album title “Free TC” is a direct tribute to his brother TC who is behind bars serving a life sentence for murder.  Ty Dolla $ign is adamant that his brother is indeed innocent and is fighting to bring his case back to trial.   The realness of their bond is solidified throughout the album as snippets of phone conversations between the two are sprinkled throughout the album.   On the track “Miracle” TC is actually featured on the song, singing through the phone line from prison.  The track has a church piano feel to it and is one of the more uplifting tracks on the album.

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“On Straight Up” Ty talks about falling for a woman who has a man who she couldn’t possibly be feeling more than him: “Your man, he a ball boy. . .Girl, why you still messin’ with ol’ boy?/he can’t get you what you want. . .”   Ty’s laid back, never sweating the situation too hard, type of character he presents comes off genuine on this track as well as the track “Horses In the Stable.”  On this track, he comically refers to the number of women in his life as a horses in a stable – and on this one, he definitely shows an “R.Kelly-type” of demeanor.  Ty’s pimp-hand is strong on this one: “I told give me something good I might come back/I snap my fingers they be on me just like that/They know the way that I’m living ain’t right/You just another girl and this is just another night.”
Wiz Khalifa joins Ty on “Sitting Pretty” to continue talking about the female gender.   The chimes and finger snaps come together nicely with what sounds like a heavy bass string. Wiz counteracts Ty’s laid back flow with a rapid attack over the beat as they both admire the “assets” of a woman they are checking out.

Another high point on the album is “Know Ya” which features Trey Songz.  Ty makes it sound somewhat “sweet” how he runs through girls so quick that he never gets to really know the girls he’s been with.  The harmony between the two vocalists sounds perfect as Ty handles most of the mids and lows while Trey handles the higher octaves.  The two even flip it at the end, when a girl is tripping out about her moving on from them and they both kind of look at each other like “I didn’t even get to know her. . .”

With all the R.Kelly comparisons laid down in this review it’s only right to mention the track which features the Pied Piper.  “Actress”  has the guys speaking in such high adoration about a female that she is a star in her own right.  There is probably no one else better at these “ridiculously plotted-pantie-dropping sex songs” than R.Kelly, and Ty proves he can go toe to toe in verbal extremes with the legend.

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A general disappointment on the album was “Guard Down” which is produced by Hit Boy and features Kanye West and Sean Combs.  It ‘s an awkward track that actually sounds like the type of beat someone would make when they first purchased their studio equipment.  And the “feature” by Sean “Puff Daddy (or is he still Diddy) Combs, is really just him speaking at the end of the song. . .

Even with that, there is not enough to deter the listener from an enjoyable listen.  The album opens with Ty paying homage to his home “L.A.” Ty spits the real on “LA” with:  “In the city of the gang bang/yeah we still dying over red and blue stripes/Chuck my set up and it feel good/Cause don’t nobody love you more than your neighborhood.”   The chorus is blessed with a nice harmony between Brandy and James Faunterloy and the song is also blessed with a Kendrick Lamar verse that is far from a throw-a-way : “Let me hit the pawn shop, momma said we need a loan/God, let me dedicate this to the 80% that ain’t never coming home/God, let me know you exist in a city where a hundred hollow tips get thrown.”

Ty Dolla $ign has orchestrated a very well put together first album.  The sounds and the soul he packages together, with a sense of self and a sense of humor (when needed) is a refreshing take when looking at today’s R&B scene.  With features from E-40, Rae Srummerd and Fetty Wap, there is no way he stays off the airwaves anytime soon, and it’s much deserved.He might be a little too raw for some, but that’s what makes it all come together – he doesn’t bend for anybody and makes the music that best represents himself.  Like an artist should.

Rating 8 out of 10

G.W. Gras

Twitter @GeeSteelio

“Storyteller” Album Review

It’s hard to believe but Carrie Underwood has only been around for ten years.  It was ten years ago that she won American Idol.  Ten years ago since she won the hearts of millions.  She’s been killing it for ten years.  “Storyteller” is Underwood’s fifth studio album and with it becomes the lofty expectation of being just as valuable to the discography as her previous four.

The beauty of every Carrie Underwood album is the emotional versatility she displays so effortlessly.  If it’s a story about love, pain, loss, revenge – it doesn’t matter – she puts in the same pure emotion into every word on every track.  This is why her music has so easily crossed over from country to mainstream – while still being true to her country roots.

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On “Church Bells” Carrie is able to revive the same kind of feeling she dished out on her 2012 single “Two Black Cadillacs,” and here she tells a story of a woman who is abused by her wealthy husband.  Carrie is able to pull off “murder” and make it sound cold and at the same time beautiful:  “Jenny slipped something in his Tennessee whiskey/No law man was ever gonna find/And how he died is still a mystery/But he hit a woman for the very last time.”

“Renegade Runaway” is the kind of song that can boost the confidence of the most timid girl you know.  The song depicts a girl, who is a heart-breaker and bad news all around – but it doesn’t stop her from being desired and chased wherever she goes.  The drums roll at a fierce pace during the chorus and Carrie matches it’s intensity with a little bit of a growl in her voice.

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Underwood plays the role of a girl in a relationship with someone who rather be with someone else in “Chaser.”  The bridge to the song is weak, but the chorus is strong enough that you’ll ignore those ten seconds so the song gets to it’s strong finish.  “Clock Don’t Stop” isn’t anything new musically or topically (a couple gets into an argument or something. . .) but the great thing about this song is something most people won’t recognize as pure vocal greatness.   In the first line of the chorus she says “The clock don’t sto – ah – ah, op ticking away,”  and it’s right there in the obvious stutter in the word “stop” where she effortlessly performs a pitch change that’s at a level of difficulty most singers could not handle.

“Choctaw County Affair” has a nice bass kick to it, but it’s a typical country stadium song that goes nowhere.  Another song that goes nowhere is “Heartbeat.”  It just isn’t interesting structurally and gets lost in itself.  Better production would’ve helped, because it is actually  beautifully written with lyrics like : “And tonight I wanna drive so far we’ll only find static on the radio/And we can’t see those city lights and I love the way you look in a firefly glow/Saying everything without making a sound, a cricket choir in the background, underneath a harvest moon/Standing on your shoes in my bare feet, dancing to the rhythm of your heartbeat.” 

It will be great to see if “Relapse” becomes released as a single because there is so much depth to this song.  From the back ground vocals, the drum rolls in the pre-chorus and the theatrical feel to Carrie’s voice makes this track one of the album’s stand outs.  Carrie compares an alcoholic’s issues with drinking to going back to a lover that is no good to her : “I don’t have to have you/I don’t need to need you/Just a high that I’m chasing/Don’t think I’m coming back/
It’s just a relapse.”

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Another track that stands out (easily) is the emotionally driven “The Girl You Think I Am.”  It’s a ballad focused on the father-daughter relationship.  This is perfect for weddings, when it’s time for the bride to dance with her father and everyone looks on holding their chest and holding back tears of joy.  It’s that real.  Carrie has a talent of holding notes for the perfect amount of time and has always worn her heart on her sleeve.  Her vulnerability sells her, just as much as her voice does: “You think I’m strong, you think I’m fearless/Even when I’m, I’m at my weakest/You always see the best in me when I can’t/I wanna be the girl you think I am.”

There is no doubt that Carrie Underwood’s voice is one of America’s greatest natural resources.  The songs that aren’t that exciting on this record would probably sound amazing for other artists, but Carrie’s bar is raised because of who she is.  Also, there is not one true power-ballad on “Storyteller” which is disappointing  and there are times when it seems as if she’s “holding back” when she can just let it rip.  Regardless, there is nothing she can’t sing and there isn’t an emotion she can’t make you feel. Consistency, has been her key for the last ten years.

Rating 7 out 10

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio