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

Track(s) of the Day Tuesday: KYLE iSpy (feat. Lil Yachty), LIL UZI VERT “XO TOUR Llif3”, and KHALID Location

Last week we were unable to add another installment to the Track of the Day Tuesday segment, so this week we have three songs that you need to check out!  Also, for the first time in months, a Track of the Day Tuesday post will feature exclusively hip hop artists, so this is an extremely significant week for the segment! Of course, all of the tracks mentioned will be attached below so don’t forget to give them a listen!

The first song you need to listen to today is Kyle’s “iSpy”, which is a collaboration between Kyle himself and Lil Yachty.  Kyle is a rapper who I’ve followed on and off for the last few years and it’s nice to finally see him receive mainstream attention.  With the single “iSpy” recently going Platinum (Music Canada) and being a top 5 selling track on US charts, it’s clear that Yachty and Kyle were meant to work together in a very similar way to how D.R.A.M. and Yachty were also destined to make a hit song together as well.  The track starts out with a feel good dialogue between Kyle and Lil Yachty, as the entire music video features the two rappers as cartoon characters moving through different scenarios on a fictitious beach.  It only takes a few seconds of Lil Yachty acting for any viewer to realize that the Atlanta based rapper needs to have his own cartoon show.  His dialogue, interaction with Kyle, and humorous and light hearted acting skills clearly shows that Lil Yachty has a natural talent as a cartoon voice actor, and I personally think a show about the rapper himself would be an instant classic (especially after seeing the great reaction Adult Swim’s “Mike Tyson Mysteries” has had since it’s launch).  The two rappers work together really well in this opening dialogue, as it becomes a perfect transition into Kyle’s first verse when the song opens.  Overall, this isn’t the most sophisticated or meaningful song you’ll ever hear, but it is without a doubt an extremely fun song to listen to regularly.  Yachty and Kyle’s ability to make a happy, fun song that is addictive to say the least clearly showcases what these two artists are best at.  In fact, the two of them did so well with “iSpy” that I’ve come to the conclusion that D.R.A.M, Lil Yachty, and Kyle all have to write an album together.  Not only were the three of them destined to work together, but a full length album, or even a mixtape, from these prominent artists could possibly result in one of the best hip hop albums of the year.  Needless to say, this collaboration absolutely needs to happen.

Next up is Lil Uzi Vert’s “XO TOUR Llif3”.  Lil Uzi Vert is an artist that, up until the release of this single, I had mixed opinions on.  Some of his tracks are very catchy and feature a solid song structure, but his recently released commercially successful mixtapes, like “The Perfect LUV Tape” and “Lil Uzi Vert Vs. The World”, are projects that I can only listen to for 15-20 min before I start to get annoyed with Lil Uzi Vert’s signature sound.  Not to mention that there are even some tracks that I find to be just terrible overall.  However, “XO TOUR Llif3” is nothing like anything we’ve heard from Lil Uzi Vert so far.  For starters, he’s abandoned overusing the word “Yeah”, which is a promising sign.  Also, the beat, produced by TM88, is actually one that is somber and breaks away from his traditional upbeat, EDM inspired beats.  Lastly, and what I think is the most significant aspect of this new release from Lil Uzi Vert, the lyricism heard is actually very deep, personal, and above all well written.  The song basically depicts a past relationship Lil Uzi Vert was in, how it ended poorly, and how his dependency on narcotics greatly affected his life at the time.  The lyricism is specific enough that the listener can understand what the song is generally about, yet it is still vague, allowing interpretation of the lyrics to change per person and also exemplifying Lil Uzi Vert’s progress as a lyricist himself.  His use of primarily sung vocals allows the listener to actually hear the pain in Lil Uzi Vert’s voice through verses and choruses as he discusses this troubling time in his life, which is something fans of Lil Uzi Vert haven’t heard until now.  Personally, I really enjoy how Lil Uzi Vert wrote the chorus to “XO TOUR Llif3”.  Keeping the lyricism and perspective very vague has caused different interpretations of the meaning of the chorus to surface and it has personally left me anxious to hear the true meaning to the lines heard in the track.  This is without a doubt Lil Uzi Vert’s greatest song he has ever released and I hope he has more tracks similar to “XO TOUR Llif3” coming out soon.

Lastly, I want to talk about another hip hop artist who I have found through Youtube.  Khalid is an El Paso based R&B/Hip Hop artist who recently made significant waves with his successful debut album “American Teen”.  The album is full of successful singles like “Saved” and “Coaster”, but the track you’ve probably heard by now is “Location”.  “Location” features a chill, full sounding beat that perfectly compliments Khalid’s phenomenal tone and singing.  I’m actually not too found of the lyricism heard on “Location”.  It’s not bad, but the verses could have definitely been rewritten to better explain the situation with the girl Khalid mentions throughout the song without being too straight forward.  However, this is definitely a minor suggestion as the lyrics are fine as the way they are now.  Khalid has a ton of potential and I would consider him and 6lack to be the future of modern R&B.  If you haven’t had a chance to listen to his tracks before, or if you’ve put off watching the “Location” music video after seeing it recommended on Youtube for awhile now, then you without a doubt need to give it a listen today.

Thanks again to everyone who has kept up to date with the Track of the Day Tuesday segment!  This segment is absolutely my favorite segment to write about for Erik’s Album Reviews and it’s great to see such a positive, continued response from viewers across the globe.  If you haven’t yet, check out some of our older Track of the Day Tuesday installments and let us know who you think should be featured on next week’s Track of the Day Tuesday post!

500 Word Review: The Weeknd “Starboy”

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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’:

Breaking News: Young Thug Releases 2 New Music Videos and Releases “JEFFERY” On Vinyl

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One of my favorite rappers, Young Thug, has made some headlines in his most recent releases.  The Atlanta based rapper has released 2 new music videos in 2017 and his latest commercial mixtape, “JEFFERY”, is finally on vinyl!  The two music videos for the tracks “Wyclef Jean” and his latest single “Safe” have both become extremely successful video representations of these great Young Thug tracks, but both have made headlines for completely different reasons.

Back in January, the release of the “Wyclef Jean” music video instantly became a trending topic.  The song itself is fantastic, and “JEFFERY” is without a doubt my favorite mixtape in Thug’s discography, but how the video was filmed and the story behind it made this music video release so significant.  Throughout the entire video, the director, or as he describes it “co-director”, Ryan Staake, includes notes about how the video was filmed.  Apparently Young Thug had a ton of abstract and odd ideas for the music video, and some of these ideas did make it into the music video, but the major problem of the short film was that Young Thug never appeared in the music video.  Despite stating that he wanted to be in multiple shots and co-direct the entire video with Ryan, he arrived to the shoot hours late, even though he had been contacted by the film staff and his label, and he never once got out of his car.  However, even though Thug was extremely hard to work with, and essentially completely omitted from his own music video, the shots Ryan did get and his editing and commentary are extremely entertaining.  In fact, I guarantee that even if the music video was filmed as originally planned, I would still enjoy this version more.  It’s unfortunate that Young Thug was disrespectful to the people working on his own music video, but the final product from this unexpected turn of events has become truly iconic.

Young Thug’s latest music video, “Safe”, was released last Thursday, and unfortunately, it does not include a crazy back story like the one for “Wyclef Jean”.  The shots throughout the film are very simple and aren’t really anything too memorable, but what is prominent is the song itself.  “Safe” has yet to be released on any platform besides this music video on Youtube and serves as the first release of new music from Young Thug in 2017.  The song itself has easily become my favorite track from Young Thug.  The more material Thug releases, the more he truly discovers what his sound is.  His voice and delivery in his tracks continues to keep getting better and extremely unique and distinct.  Also, the quality of his beats continues to progress in a positive way, with each new release surpassing the other in quality of vocal performance and instrumental composition.  “Safe” features more of a laid back, near ambient, electronic beat that perfectly fits Young Thug style.  The captivating beat intertwines with Thug’s personal lyricism and delivery in a phenomenal way that I hope is present in the rest of Young Thug’s releases this year.

Finally, the extremely successful commercial mixtape, “JEFFERY”, is now available on vinyl for this first time ever!  Before this release, only “Barter 6”, Thug’s 2015 mixtape, was the only release of his available on vinyl.  “JEFFERY” has been pressed on standard vinyl, which can be purchased below, and on a Blue/White Marbled variant that appears to be completely sold out at the moment.  If you collect vinyl as avidly as I do, “JEFFERY” is a record you absolutely have to pick up.  Being one of the best Rap releases of 2016, “JEFFERY” is a must have for any fan of modern trap music.  Copies are already selling fast so pick up a copy now!

http://www.urbanoutfitters.com/urban/catalog/productdetail.jsp?id=42090118&category=A-VINYL-ALL

When “Safe” is released on other platforms we’ll be sure to be the first ones to let you know!  Also, stay tuned for any other release Young Thug has in store for 2017.  We also have more reviews of recently released hip hop projects that are due out this week and next so don’t forget to check back in to see what albums and mixtapes we review next!

Classic Album Review: KANYE WEST My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

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It’s difficult to find an album with a bigger sound than Kanye West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”. Nevertheless, I find it disappointing that such grandiosity could only be achieved with a small army of producers and the sheer star power of other artists. For someone with such an egocentric persona, Kanye shares the spotlight generously with the likes of Jay-Z, Rick Ross, and Rihanna. This record is undeniably a great triumph in lyricism, rapping, and production.  It is a true model of success, but to say that such success belongs to Kanye alone would be untrue. This record would not have been an instant classic without the contributions of many others.

Kanye is undoubtedly a skilled producer and rapper. Had he kept the features on “MBDTF” to a minimum it would still have been a great success. Take “Yeezus” for example. A minimalist album with Kanye at center stage. “Yeezus” may be reactionary to the maximalist ideals of “MBDTF”, but I also like to consider it as what the previous release would have been without leaning on other talent. On the other hand, Kanye’s voice is not the most pleasant voice to listen to for an entire full length record. He does well to include so many features on “MBDTF”, giving us a break from the nasal oppression. He is to be thanked for keeping his singing at a minimum on this album, a lesson he no doubt learned after the volume of criticism of “808’s and Heartbreak”.

The featured artists do a great job of contributing to the album for the most part. Each Pusha T and Kid Cudi verse adds dynamic to the rap vocals, and the clean vocals are refreshing apart from Bon Iver. Although, Justin Vernon simply does not belong on this album.  He is out of place among other things, like Chris Rock’s skit in “Blame Game”, which is simply just boring and a waste of time. The sampling work, however, is brilliant. Kanye’s integration of progressive rock band, King Crimson, into “Power” was unexpected and seamless. The only homage the album could do without is the “Iron Man”-like progression in “Hell of a Life”.

“My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” is all about Kanye’s views of wealth, fame, and his façade. He handles the concepts well with smart, humorous, and accurate lyrics. The portrayal of his excessive persona is humbling and in good taste, but falls short of the impossible job of excusing his bravado. Relevant and interesting his philosophy may be, Kanye’s audacity inevitably ruins the possibility of anyone taking his ideas seriously. Rap may be accessible to a great many people, and it is easy to get behind “MBDTF’s” swaggering beats, but it is not the medium for deep thought. Kanye gave it his best to make this record about the consequences of fame and wealth, but he just comes across as another rapper flaunting his extravagant lifestyle. We get it Kanye, we know you have money, cars, women, and fame, are you running out of ideas?

 

Score: 8.9/10

 

Album Review by Zach Norton, January 2017

“My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”:

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!