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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Album Review- Wale- The Album About Nothing

So while I felt like last year was a terrible one for hip hop musically, 2015 has seemed to start strong and get better almost weekly in some respects and we are still anticipating releases from Meek Mill and Kanye West. This year the Best album categories at the award shows should be varied. With that said, here comes Wale with the long awaited "Album About Nothing". The long time Seinfeld aficianado comes with the titular comedian and uses clips from the classic show as this album progresses and hopefully gives fans the Wale they have been looking for.

The album intro starts with Wale kind of giving you a true overview of what the album is going to be and while he says fans don't care about albums, let's give them one about nothing, the truth couldn't be farther from that. This song has some mean live band sounds which he is known for with his DC and Go Go music background. it's a fulfilling and righteous sound that seems to be somewhat hopeful, if the lyrics are more grounded in reality. Speaking of his fans, Wale describes his relationship with them on "The Helium Balloon" and the Seinfeld portion where he describes kids and helium balloons is the way to just let you know what is up with this song straight away if you don't get the metaphor he places through lyrics.

"The Glass Egg" is similar in topic and uses the familiar refrain from 'Walk On By' as Wale raps about staying the same and not changing who he is even while the people around him are affected by his success and lifestyle. Wale does more of the pseudo singing he did on the last album on this one but it fits. "The One Time in Houston" is another joint I really like with a really slow beat Wale gets on his best 'Drake shit' talking about time spent in the strip club in H-town. "The White Shoes" is my take on Wale's strong statement song on the album where he raps about the consumerism, being fly, and kind of talks about the shoe game which he is known for. At the end he spins the positive message that we love the shoes so much at times we die or kill for them. Actually, I just simplified it, but Wale goes deeper into the judgement and the importance on being fly in the hood.

Politically he spits about racial relations and violence on" The Pessimist" which has a hook done by J. Cole. He like many of the new generation of artists adding some consciousness to their music speaks on our self inflicted violence and the reaction to it vs the noticeable police violence. "The Need To Know" featuring SZA flips the hook of the Musiq Soulchild song 'Just Friends' from another angle and the Seinfeld clips on this song are from the iconic episode where Jerry and Elaine attempt to become friends with benefits.

For Wale the 'singles' on the album come at the end with "The Bloom" another track dedicated to the ladies, and "The Body" the actual single which has been out for a while and features Jeremih. Usher also makes an appearance on "The Matrimony". The one song I wasn't feeling was "The Middle Finger".

For Wale, this album is another departure from his previous sound quite a bit and he carries the album by himself with no features from his MMG counterparts. It further pushes the idea that he is a loner and doesn't really fit anywhere. To me, he is like the new generations version of Common. He is supremely talented but there are people who don't like his flow, or song style, or production at times so he might not ever be truly appreciated as widely as he would like. This album though is overly dark and depressing in a way. It's a very emotional album but in a gloomy way and needed something to brighten it up and provide a bit of contrast at some point during the album. After multiple listens, that is definitely my take away, you have to provide some balance and I know artists are doing more personal projects these days but you have to give the listener some contrast.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Album Review - Ludacris- Ludaversal

Ludacris has had a huge career and while he can spit and everyone acknowledges this, he has been long slept on as an overall artist. After a nice long hiatus where he shot movies, worked with charities and otherwise just enjoyed the fruits of his previous labors, Luda is dropping an album ahead of what is sure to be one of the biggest movie releases of the year which he stars in. Pretty much life is good so why even drop an album? Luda actually takes a stab at answering that his his new album release, Ludaversal.

To start off Luda goes in on the album intro in a manner thats extra fresh if you haven't listened to the myriad of freestyles and EP/mixtape he put out leading up to the album. Luda does his normal rap thing over the perfect beat set up for him to go off on. Now the thing I don't care for is when Ludacris goes off on his pseudo 'I'm not a tough guy but I am' routine like on "Call Ya Bluff" even though his verses are fine. He still uses some slightly dated punchlines in referencing Antoine Dodson for instance but he is mostly solid.

"Beast Mode" is cool and the two main verses on "Come and See Me" with Big KRIT are solid as well but I dislike the refrain at the end of the short third verses and the "Viagra" skit and "Get Lit" are typical trite Luda songs that should be skipped. "Grass is Greener" is a simple concept about opposites but it works for what it is, something that isn't too difficult to wrap your head around.

At first I wasn't too fond of the more emotional parts of the album which kind of start with the Miguel assisted "Good Lovin" about lost love. His lyrics don't always translate in being able to make verses on songs like that more descriptive. "Not Long" with Usher is another good song but the emotional high on the record is "Ocean Skies" which features Monica and is about the death of Ludacris' father to alcoholism. Meanwhile he talks about the difficulties of stardom on "Charge it to the Game" and "Money" which also features Rick Ross and he discusses some his recent paternity woes.

While there aren't any must hear iconic songs overall Ludacris came back with another solid addition to his portfolia with this new album. He isn't known as the most emotional or political type of rapper and is seen as just a somewhat humorous guy but he did show a more serious side in a better manner than usual on this album as it is indeed an attempt to show his versatility and overall life. He can rap, but he is never going to be known as a lyricist because his wordplay is often to surface level without any extra levels to it and that knocks him down a notch. The album is a decent bit of entertainment and not everything has to be complicated to be good.

Rating: 3/5

Monday, March 23, 2015

Album Review- Kendrick Lamar- To Pimp a Butterfly

So Kendrick Lamar at the very least has the hype he earned based off of his last release and track record of bars and songs. It isn't without controversy from his recent interviews that discuss politics and the situation of the black man in America, to last year and his raps on various tracks. "To Pimp a Butterfly" is one of the most hotly anticipated releases of the past few years and few people outside of Kanye and Jay-z can garner this kind of interest for a project.

To put it plainly, if Good Kid MAAD City was somewhat experimental at times and pushed the envelope mildly, this new album from Kendrick goes farther to do the same thing. Song construction, style, and production are all more varied than before and make an emotional statement. "Wesley's Theory" which opens the album fetaures George Clinton and Thundercat, West Coast hip-hop staples as Kendrick brings in some of the funk early on that wasn't as prominent on his previous release. Just to further show how different he's going, the next track is an interlude where Kendrick speaks over a jazz riff like he is at an open mic for poetry with the pimp's mindset where it fits the title "For Free?".

Then take "u" which has an aggressive Kendrick to start the song before a changeup and then a more introspective, crying Kendrick raps and he is addressing his cohorts from the hood, where earlier he gets at the 'black' leadership. Point blank it's complicated. On "Momma" he has some good verses but I didn't like where he raps one of the verses he dropped on Sway in the morning where most of the bars begin with 'I know everything'. It was annoying and his rap style was all over the place. Also when the beat switches at the end to a more jazzy tune I wasn't feeling it.

"Hood Politics" is way back more conventional in a lot of ways but this seems to be more of what I was expecting at least and it is a necessary song amongst all of the more wildly different ways of expression that are used on the record. "How Much a Dollar Cost" with James Fauntleroy and Ron Isley continues the 'expected' introspection from Kendrick as he puts his spin on a tale told many different ways about the idea of giving. "Blacker the Berry" has been well discussed and I still like it. "You ain't gotta lie" is about those pretending to be hard for credibility and being followed by the self-love anthem "I" is a good statement, especially since it is a love recording in which Kendrick is interrupted by a skirmish in the audience.

"King Kunta" is alright, and "Institutionalized" features Bilal, Anna Wise, and Snoop. The album ends with "Mortal Man" which is a song and an 'interview' between Kendrick and Tupac, taken from excerpts of something Pac did years ago that Kendrick brings out to apply to life today even more.

Honestly, this isn't what you would consider "Easy Listening". There are complex themes and production methods that aren't going to go well with everyone. It is indeed polarizing and there are people who consider the album a classic already. I'm not one of them, I mean I like some of it and understand what he's doing but some of the sounds and production methods I am not fond of. I'm not into some of the jazz sounds that seem to clash against the rap style at times and I am a bit over this trend of split songs on tracks. That's just me and my personal preference. It's a good album, but it's also an art project and if you are not necessarily 'artistic' you might not enjoy it as much as some others. I can respect it, but I really like the last 5 or 6 songs while the first half of the album wouldn't be the stuff I choose to hear most of the time although I think that's what makes the album overall, the chances that are taken.

Rating: 3.5/5


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