500 Word Review: Kendrick Lamar “DAMN.”

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“DAMN.” was not made for the layman. There aren’t as many straight jams compared to “good kid, m.A.A.d city,” and the tracks that do qualify as such aren’t as instantly memorable as “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” and its kind. However, this does not lessen the greatness of this album; it just takes time to appreciate. Unlike most popular music, this record focuses on its role as art first, and entertainment second. Unfortunately, its artistic themes take work to understand. Kendrick should not expect the average listener to do a close reading analysis of his lyrics to fully enjoy his music, but “DAMN.’s” popularity shows he can do just that.

Kendrick is still a superb lyricist unrivaled in skill, and so his album’s concepts are explored seamlessly. It discusses the apparent discrimination, or even damnation, towards Black Americans, and a list of emotions and their relationship to the traits of wickedness and weakness. He relates the symbolic curse towards African Americans to the biblical smiting of the Israelites for betraying God. The blindness of white people and the inability of blacks to return from wickedness to weakness are his proposed explanations of the continued plight of Black Americans’ treatment and prejudice by other Americans of different racial backgrounds. In “BLOOD.” he calls attention to the failure of whites to recognize the challenges African Americans face, sampling a shameful FOX news report, and symbolizes this ignorance with a blind woman in his narrative. “DNA.” illuminates the difficulty of abandoning wickedness by simply being being born black, born into what he describes as a “sinful culture”. The power of vicious cycles is further explored in “LUST.”. Specifically, Kendrick argues that people resent change and lust for routine. Even in the face of sudden external changes like the election of Trump, lives on an individual level hardly change, hence the tragedy of the African American struggle. Kendrick stays away from the high levels of braggadocio, common in rap, apart from its satirical use in songs like “HUMBLE.” He balances the volume of such songs depicting wickedness with an equal number dissecting his own weaknesses. The album closes out with “DUCKWORTH.”, which completely illuminates Kendrick’s brilliant ideas. His rapping skill is just as impressive as his detailed concepts. Simply put, he may be the best rapper alive and the album reflects that; there isn’t need to deliberate further.

“DAMN.” has a different style than Kendrick’s previous work. The production is simpler, cleaner, and easier to appreciate than the volume of activity in TPAB. There are trap and pop influences, like the beat in “DNA.”, and multiple featured singers, but they are in good taste. One of my few complaints about the album is regarding its sampling. All the samples are very cool, but are misused in a few places. In “DUCKWORTH.”, the first syllable of the word “darling” is sampled and loudly repeated on the upbeat, competing with Kendrick’s rapping. It is jarring and confusing as to why it was included. Apart from this flaw, and a couple of repetitive hooks like the one in “HUMBLE.”, this album is difficult to criticize. Overall it is an exceptional and original work of art with significant ideas.

 

Score: 8.5/10

 

Album Review by Zachary Norton, May 2017

Album Review: DANNY BROWN Atrocity Exhibition

danny-brown-atrocity-exhibition

Last last year accomplished hip-hop artist, Danny Brown, released his latest project, the full length record, “Atrocity Exhibition”.  After switching labels to Warp Records, there was speculation that Danny would yet again venture into a different sound and approach for this 2016 release.  However, no one, including myself, could’ve seen this drastic new change in sound and experimentation coming.

Personally, I discovered Danny’s material during the “Old” album cycle and instantly fell in love with the EDM based hip hop tracks.  Songs like “Side B (Dope Song)”, “Kush Coma”, “Dip”, and his collaboration with EDM artist, Rustie, with the song, “Attak” almost immediately became not only some of the greatest rap songs I had ever heard by the Detroit based artist, but some of the most stellar hip hop tracks I ever heard period.  It was clear that Danny’s distinct songwriting and sound was unparalleled to the rest of the noise in the genre, even after hearing only a fraction of his entire discography.

After listening to “Atrocity Exhibition”, my first reaction was complete shock at how Danny Brown was able to take 15 of the most odd, peculiar, and to put it simply, weirdest, beats I had ever heard and turn them into successfully written hip hop tracks.  Especially starting out with tracks off “Old” that follow a very simplistic, catchy, festival-oriented structure, it completely took me off guard to hear such experimentation from Danny on “Atrocity Exhibition”.  Tracks like “Downward Spiral”, “Get Hi”, and “Goldust” left me utterly dumbfounded at how Danny can take these bizarre instrumental tracks and record a vocal performance that not only rhythmically makes sense, but actually results in well-written songs that I actually enjoy.

Despite the odd approach to songwriting, every track seems to fit well in the track listing.  The songs themselves, beats, and song structure may vary greatly, especially when comparing songs like “Really Doe” and “Goldust”, however each track seems to fit perfectly into the overall composition of the album as a whole. On one hand, “Really Doe” features a very modern, almost radio friendly beat with features from Kendrick, Ab-Soul, and Earl Sweatshirt. On the other, “Goldust” features multiple, repetitive horn section parts accompanied by an overly distorted electric guitar strumming barely audible chords.  However, each track features the same avant-garde influences while also including impactful lyricism that is often filled with dark imagery and honest depictions of Danny’s thoughts, experiences, and environment around him, like what is heard on “Ain’t It Funny”, “Really Doe”, “Pneumonia”, “When It Rain”, “Tell Me What I Don’t Know”, and “Get Hi”, showing how each track does not seem out of place on “Atrocity Exhibition”, despite the fact that no two songs are fairly alike in sound or overall composition.  The spectrum of influences, sounds, song structure, differences in beats, and even vocal delivery is extremely broad in Atrocity Exhibition and trying to compare any two songs on the album, whether its “Ain’t It Funny” vs “Hell For It”, “Get Hi” vs “Pneumonia”, or “When It Rain” vs “Downward Spiral”, perfectly exemplifies the blatant diversity that is without a doubt the most memorable aspect throughout the latest Danny Brown project.

There really aren’t any significant complaints I have about this album in general.  The only songs I really don’t like on “Atrocity Exhibition” are the “Downward Spiral” and “Rolling Stone”.  “Downward Spiral’s” beat is so bizarre that it takes multiple listens to just get used to its odd sound.  Also, “Downward Spiral” is a fairly weak way to start out the album.  The lyricism represents what is to come in “Atrocity Exhibition”, however, the very laid back, lazy sounding beat should not be the first thing you hear on this latest Danny Brown project.  Honestly, if “Downward Spiral” and “Pneumonia” switched places in track order I think this album would sound even better when listening to it from start to finish.  I personally can’t imagine how powerful it would sound to have “Pneumonia” as the first track you hear off of “Atrocity Exhibition”.  The haunting, echoing bells heard in the hook that starts the song would instantly grab my attention and keep it unwavering, which is something that “Downward Spiral” simply cannot do.  Also, having “Downward Spiral” at the halfway point of the record would symbolize how the audience is about to dive further into Danny’s unique songwriting and dark lyricism before hearing tracks like “Today, “When It Rain”, and “Dance In The Water”. To me, “Rolling Stone’s” hook is both redundant and annoying and I personally believe it slightly holds the entire album back.  If it had a different hook it might be better overall, but regardless it is definitely one of the weakest songs on the project.

Despite these minor setbacks, there are numerous aspects that I personally thoroughly enjoyed on “Atrocity Exhibition”.  For starters, the sampling on “Lost” is sensational.  The repeated looping of the horn part, keyboard melody, and female vocal track provide a simple, repetitive beat that fits Danny’s vocal performance flawlessly (not to mention this song would fit in well with any of the old Tony Hawk video game soundtracks, as it features the same looping beats heard on hip hop tracks on these soundtracks).  Interestingly enough, “Tell Me What I Don’t Know” and “From the Ground” are songs that don’t feature vocals from Danny himself.  This is something he’s done before on previous releases, but it’s very interesting to hear a song he wrote that does not feature any vocal performance from the rapper personally.  In my opinion, I would love to see more prominent hip hop artists write songs that don’t feature their own vocals, as I think this is a really interesting concept that adds further diversity to projects, but I can see how this idea might cause some negative feedback from these artists respective fan bases.  I absolutely loved “Dance in the Water”, as the internationally influenced beats, backing vocals, and overall melody make it an extremely catchy song that I wouldn’t be surprised to hear on the next FIFA soundtrack.  Lastly, I personally think that “Ain’t It Funny”, which recently saw the release of a music video directed by actor Jonah Hill made for the track itself, despite the criticism the song got.  The beat on “Ain’t It Funny” is stupid catchy, and when mixed with the self-destructive, dark, and honest lyricism featured, “Ain’t It Funny” instantly becomes one of the most significant songs you will hear from Danny Brown on this 2016 project.  My favorite tracks off “Atrocity Exhibition” have to be “Ain’t It Funny”, “Really Doe”, “Pneumonia”, “When It Rain”, and “Dance in the Water”, and the more I listen to the record the closer I get to declaring “Atrocity Exhibition” as the greatest Danny Brown release in his discography.

“Atrocity Exhibition” was the greatest hip hop release of 2016, and was the 6th best album of 2016, only falling behind artists like Saor, Trophy Eyes, Fallujah, Real Friends, and Every Time I Die.  This project truly pushes the limits and creativeness of hip-hop and will hopefully pave the way for future projects at the same caliber of excellence as “Atrocity Exhibition”.  Personally, I still can’t get over my initial reaction of how shook I was after hearing “When It Rain” and waiting for the bass to drop, like in “Dip”, only to never hear the anticipated drop.  Even though I was initially disappointed to not hear more EDM inspired tracks from Danny Brown, I am ecstatic to instead receive one of the best projects ever released in hip hop’s modern history.  Danny Brown will be remembered as a trailblazer in hip hop and his projects will surely inspire countless other phenomenal artists and projects.  In summation, I give “Atrocity Exhibition” a 9.6/10, and I cannot stress enough how important it is to listen to and truly appreciate this album.  Danny Brown’s latest project is attached below.  Give it a listen and stay tuned for more reviews due out very soon!

 

“Atrocity Exhibition”:

500 Word Review: The Weeknd “Starboy”

starboy

Let’s get something out of the way: I hate The Weeknd. His whiney ass voice doesn’t work with his cool guy lyrics and it makes him sound like a twat. When I listen to his music I can’t help but imagine a 12-year-old prepubescent boy bragging about his vagina loosening abilities. His act isn’t very convincing whether it is genuine or not, and has reached a new level of annoying on “Starboy”. Fame has undoubtedly gotten to his head. The way he pronounces some words, and his offensive vibrato consistently distract from his music, but maybe it’s just because he’s Canadian. He isn’t all that original either. The Weeknd’s musical influences are easily apparent. A handful of his songs unapologetically resemble the style of his idol, Michael Jackson. Even his name is unoriginal. There was already another Canadian musical artist by the name of The Weekend in 1998. The Weeknd only adapted his stage name when copyright infringement became a worry. However, as much as I dislike this artist, it is difficult to deny that “Starboy” is a decent album.

“Starboy” doesn’t shine all the way through. There aren’t any truly bad songs, but it is certainly too long. The Weekend secured several big name features to keep things interesting, yet there are still plenty of dull moments on the album. The only feature that falls flat on its face is the one I had the highest expectations for, that of Kendrick Lamar in “Sidewalks”. His what should’ve been a solid verse is immediately derailed by the choppy line “Say, say, say” repeated five times. The end of the verse’s flow is thankfully unmolested. It looks like The Weeknd called in some favors for the production job too. “Starboy’s” production boasts a long list of contributors including Daft Punk, and it has a gorgeous crystalline sound to show for it. There are plenty of dank beats and contagious rhythms on “Starboy”. “Rockin’” pulses with energy and “A Lonely Night” has a dapper swing reminiscent of something you would find on a Michael Jackson album.

The Weeknd may admit to his affinity for the king of pop, but he has another strong likeness to a successful artist. “Six Feet Under”, “Party Monster”, and “Reminder” could be covers of Drake songs. Being compared to two influential artists would normally be a complement, but The Weeknd doesn’t seem to have a method of his own. While it leans heavily on the work of others, this album is not redundant. It does not hold up the expected clichés we have come to expect from pop music, and yes this is a pop album not R&B. Instead it breathes new and formidable life into a copy and paste genre. While he didn’t quite knock it out of the park, “Starboy” is a reminder that the Weeknd is a force in the pop genre and will be for a long time.

 

Score: 7.5/10

 

Album Review by Zachary Norton, March 2017

“Starboy’:

500 Word Review: Travis Scott “Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight”

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Earlier this year, innovative trap artist, Travis Scott, released his sophomore full length album, “Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight”.  Following his 2015 debut studio album, “Rodeo”, which is probably one of my favorite rap albums of all time and without a doubt a masterpiece, “Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight” faced both high anticipation and standards before its release a few months ago.  Personally, I found the release to be significantly different from “Rodeo”, but also very good in its own way.  There were only a few moments that I was not too fond of, but whenever I came across a brief section that was sub par, it was quickly followed by amazing sections that continue to solidify Travis Scott’s greatness.  Before hearing “Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight”, my favorite Travis Scott tracks were “Antidote” and “I Can Tell”, so going into the sophomore record I was hoping to hear tracks similar to the sound and song structure heard on these songs.

As I hoped, “Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight” featured a lot of tracks that sounded like “Antidote” and “I Can Tell”, and even at some points, sounded like “90210”.  The hazy, mesmerizing trap sound that Travis is known for, and the sound that is also heard on the “Rodeo” songs previously mentioned, are also heard on “Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight”, and in the process it helps create some phenomenal tracks.  The only problem is that every song features this sound and there is hardly any diversity in this aspect of this project.  Don’t get me wrong though, I really enjoyed “Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight”, and this specific style of Travis Scott’s songwriting, but it’s the only prominent aspect of Travis Scott’s unique song structure that is exemplified on this new album.  This is a little disappointing because the diversity of “Rodeo” made it the masterpiece that it is today.  “Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight” is still ridiculously impressive, but the lack of diversity makes it slightly worse than “Rodeo”.  However, the expansion of this hazy sound heard on “Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight” is still very interesting because its essentially Travis exploring and experimenting with this hazy, eerie, reverb and auto-tune filled sound that makes “Birds” one of the best trap releases you’ll ever hear!  In fact, “Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight” features my favorite song Travis has ever written.  “Coordinate”, the third track on the sophomore full length album, has easily become my favorite Travis Scott track, surpassing the stellar track, “Antidote”.  “Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight” is definitely not a bad album, and this further development of hazy and ominous trap music is something I have really enjoyed, but a little more diversity in sound could have made this project become yet another ground breaking album by Travis Scott.

It’s impossible to deny that Travis was able to have an extremely impressive list of artists record guest vocals for this project, Whether or not you like the differences between “Birds” and “Rodeo”.  Fantastic features from artists like Andre 3000, Kid Cudi, Kendrick Lamar, Bryson Tiller, Young Thug, and the Weeknd heard on “Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight” make songs like “The Ends”, “Through the Late Night”, and “Goosebumps” staples for Travis’s discography.  As if this list of genre leading artists wasn’t enough, “Birds” also features legendary producer Mike Dean, who helped record the record alongside Travis.  These notable features are great additions to Travis’s sound, and I hope that an immense amount of iconic features becomes a constant for all Travis Scott albums.

In conclusion, I give Travis Scott’s “Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight” an 8.5/10.  Every song may sound similar to one another, but this constant sound and style in songwriting is phenomenal.  Travis’s ability to take his signature sound heard on some of the most prominent tracks on “Rodeo” and fully experimented with it for “Birds” is something I found extremely interesting.  I highly encourage everyone to listen to this and if you have already gave the project a listen, I definitely suggest that you revisit it, especially since it took me a few listens to truly appreciate this latest project from Travis Scott.  Below I’ve attached the full stream of Travis’s latest album.  According to some of his recent tweets, his third album, “AstroWorld”, is still scheduled for a 2017 release date, and once more information is released about the upcoming record, we’ll be sure to let you know!  2016 was our first year in business and it was a very successful year for us at Erik’s Album Reviews!  Due to the hard work of our staff and the constant support from our readers, we were able to see widespread viewership in 39 countries over 6 different continents!  We are extremely thankful for this success and we can’t wait to see what 2017 has in store for us!  Be sure to check back in for more music reviews, content, and of course, our Albums of the Year list, which is due out very soon!

 

Breaking News: ScHoolboy Q Releases Music Video For Track “Dope Dealer”

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I can without a doubt say that this is probably my favorite rap music video released this year.  Danny Brown’s “Pneumonia” video was phenomenal, but this new video from ScHoolboy Q surpasses it easily as the best rap video I’ve seen all year.  In promotion of his 2016 release, “Blank Face LP”, ScHoolboy Q has released yet another music video, this time it’s for the track “Dope Dealer”, which features E-40.  The track is one of my favorites off “Blank Face LP”, so I was excited to say the least when ScHoolboy Q released the video late last week.

The video for the song features a near first person point of view that follows a marijuana plant as it is grown and distributed.  It also shows the events that occur from when the bud is first grown until it reaches ScHoolboy Q in his studio.  The video transitions between numerous violent and explicit scenes, and shots of ScHoolboy Q and E-40 rapping along to the track throughout the video.  Ultimately, this video is absolutely electric and keeps you glued to the screen throughout its near 4 minute playing time.  In my opinion, if Breaking Bad was a rap music video, this would be that music video.  This visual representation for “Dope Dealer” is cinematic, stellar, and looks like it could have easily been written and directed by Vince Gilligan himself.

“Blank Fact LP” is yet another album that will contend for a spot on the rap Albums and Mixtapes of the year.  If you have yet to check out this new record from ScHoolboy Q, I definitely suggest you start listening to it by watching the new music video for “Dope Dealer” below.  Be sure to check into the site as we get closer to releasing the rap Albums and Mixtapes of the year list!

Breaking News: Danny Brown Releases Lyric Video For Track “Really Doe”

danny-brown-atrocity-exhibition

In continued promotion of his latest project, “Atrocity Exhibition”, Danny Brown has released a lyric video for one of the initial singles, “Really Doe”, which features verses from Ab-Soul, Earl Sweatshirt, and also features both a verse and a chorus from Kendrick Lamar.  This track, which is one of my favorites off this experimental release, has quickly seen widespread, positive feedback from fans, so it is only fitting that one of the most successful songs would also get a lyric video.

The lyric video features a rough, altered mashup VHS quality videos of each rapper performing, crowd shots, and various street shots, often running simultaneously, with the lyrics scrolling up in red text.  The video is extremely dark, experimental, and visually odd in a compelling way, and completely embodies the theme and sound of “Atrocity Exhibition”.  Even though I still think the music video for “Pneumonia” is still the best visual project associated with Danny Brown’s fourth studio album, it is obvious that this lyric video is the best, or at least one of the best, video representations of the record.  The eeriness of this distorted video is directly related to the warped artwork for “Atrocity Exhibition”, and in my opinion, makes watching this lyric video essential in order to truly understand the underlying theme of dark and odd experimentation seen on this project.

I have gotten extremely behind on album reviews, but I promise the review for “Atrocity Exhibition” will be out soon!  I can almost guarantee that this will be the greatest rap album released this year and will definitely be in the top 10 for the Albums of the Year list.  I highly suggest anyone reading this to watch this unique lyric video and check out the rest of the latest Danny Brown record.  My previous review of the “Pneumonia” music video is also posted below and be sure to check out the album review of “Atrocity Exhibition”, which should be out next week!

“Pneumonia” Music Video Review:

https://eriksalbumreviews.wordpress.com/2016/10/18/breaking-news-danny-brown-releases-new-music-video-for-the-track-pneumonia/

“Really Doe” Lyric Video: