Sunday, June 19, 2016

Kamaiyah - A Good Night In The Ghetto Review


A Good Night In The Ghetto is a big "fuck you" to the "sex sells" cliches of female rappers since Lil Kim, while at the same time, is an embracing of West Coast rap cliches since Tupac. Bay area up-and-comer Kamaiyah cares little for political posturing, and would much rather make her own versions of "Get Around" ("Niggas") and "Mo Money Mo Problems" than a "Blacker the Berry" or "A Bird in the Hand." Kamaiyah's subject matter is not broad reaching; she mostly enjoys rapping about getting fucked up, the come-up into riches, and playing "Toot It and Boot It" with men. Some would see this as a criticism, I see it as a welcome return to care-free 90s West Coast rap.

A Good Night In the Ghetto is a nostalgic album in its sound, as it relies heavily on old school West Coast production and 80s synth pop/funk instrumentals. In the music video to "Out the Bottle," Kamaiyah totes a late 80s mobster mobile phone, and on interludes throughout the album she speaks on the phone over a landline, not an iPhone. A subtle touch, but effective. But as an MC, Kamaiyah is concerned only with living life in the present. She raps about, "drinking it out the bottle," and getting "drunk as fuck," with no shame about it. The tracks in which she is at her most openly hedonistic, such as "Fuck It Up," are where she really shines. She's a female counterpart to YG; he features on this track, and she features on "Why You Always Hatin?" off Still Brazy.



On "One More Chance" off of Ready to Die, Biggie responds to a litany of voicemails left by hood rats he hit and quit. On "Niggas," Kamaiyah reverses this formula; she treats the men in her life as disposable. A nigga she's got, "gives me head 'til I'm red, then I ride him to sleep." Elsewhere on the album, she, "has a nigga goin' down like I paid him for it." The idea that Kamaiyah wants you to understand is that she's no different from the boys, both in life and especially in the rap game. As a rapper, Kamaiyah wants the same respect and popularity of West Coast rappers like YG and The Game, without having to pimp herself to the mainstream like a Nicki Minaj or an Iggy Azaelia.

Midway through this record, the sound takes a dramatic U-turn. She trades in West Coast g-funk for Southern-inspired basslines, and R&B/funk synths. In a couple tracks such as "Ain't Going Home Tonight" and "Swing My Way," she barely even raps; she sings in an oddly pleasing grainy voice that I can only describe as a combo of Lil Boosie and Remy Ma. The album smoothly transforms from a West Coast rap album into synth funk, without upsetting the flow and care-free feel of the free album.

Kamaiyah switches back and forth from West Coast party rap to smooth R&B, but the intended message and tone never changes. Kamaiyah has no time for sentimentality, conscious rap, or even telling tales about hard times in the ghetto. The title she chose is A Good Night In The Ghetto; the intended theme is optimism and having fun no matter the environment. The optimism matches Chance the Rapper on Coloring Book, but with less God and more summer anthems. A Good Night In The Ghetto was released in March of this year, but the free album is a great soundtrack to summer nights anywhere.

Download it

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Life of a Copycat

What makes a copycat in the world of music? In hip-hop, most of us think of a copycat as a swagger-jacker who steals another artist's style, changing little but the name they go by. The latest copycat in hip-hop we've seen is Desiigner, a new rapper from Brooklyn, New York.

Desiigner first made waves for his inclusion on the song “Pt. 2” on Kanye West's 2016 album, The Life of Pablo. It is still not definitively known if his part on the song was sampled or just re-recorded for the album, but that's another discussion for another blog post. Nevertheless, “Pt. 2” led to discovery by the masses of Desiigner's debut single, “Panda”, which was first released about two months prior to Kanye's album. The song got re-released, blew up as a result of being on Pablo, and the rest is history. The song went #1 for two weeks and is still in the top 5 as I write this. 


Desiigner’s similarities to Future, a rapper from Atlanta, Georgia, can't be denied. Even if you don't hear it in “Panda”, there's a pretty good chance you'll hear the similarities in “Pluto”, Desiigner's follow-up song. The main thing most people will notice is the cadence. Apparent in “Panda” as well as his other songs, it sounds like Desiigner’s from...Atlanta. Coincidence? Probably not.

This is honestly a difficult problem to address, as no-one seems able to stop copycat syndrome from occurring in hip-hop. It does say something interesting when the copycat does better than the original. Like a lot better. Now, Future does have a top 40 hit right now with the song “Low Life”; however, the cause for the song's success can mostly be attributed to the inclusion of The Weeknd and not the lead artist himself. All of that aside, Future still doesn't have a top 10 hit, and he's been popular in the mainstream since 2012. Desiigner got a #1 hit in just a few months.

Personally, I believe the copying is somewhat intentional. Rappers have their own influences just like artists in rock or pop. But copycats give a bad look to the game. The originals work hard to get to where they're at. When the copycat does better than the original, that’s when this becomes a real issue.


That's what makes this story a story in the first place. Desiigner is huge. He’s living the life most teenage rappers would only dream of. Got signed to one of the hottest rap labels (G.O.O.D. Music) out right now. Has a debut single go #1 (for two weeks), and it inches closer to platinum status with every passing week. Has that same single break streaming records left and right. All before he turns 20. The only problem is, he didn’t come up with that style on his own.

Authenticity and rap music is a difficult relationship. Did Jay-Z really sell drugs in '88? How can Rick Ross rap about slinging white when he was a correctional officer? Kanye West doesn't write all of his music and he should be slain for it, according to some fans and critics. If the music isn’t really yours, the rap community doesn’t accept it. At least that's how it works in the game.


And yes it’s true; this is a different issue entirely because Kanye, Ross, or Jay don't really try to sound like their counterparts. But the point still stands that the music has to be yours, and yours only. Your own ideas, your own creations, your own thoughts. While it may sometimes be justifiable, no-one wants a genre full of copycats or liars.

The next question is what should Desiigner do next? He's dangerously on the path toward becoming another one hit wonder. His other songs, “Pluto” and “Zombie Walk” are hardly known outside of people who frequent hip-hop blogs and forums. The best thing for him to do would be to release his album (currently titled, The Life of Desiigner), hope that it goes #1, and do a disappearing act from rap music. He can't stand on his own, and the Kanye cosign is honestly just pure luck. 


All of this comes from a guy who plays “Panda” regularly and actually enjoys what Desiigner is doing, even if it's not exactly morally acceptable by some people's standards. But a good song doesn't make intellectual theft justifiable; even I know that. I'm surprised there hasn’t been more of a response from Future about this situation in the past couple of months. But maybe he thinks the same way myself and the rest of us probably all do. Desiigner won't be around for long. Give him as little attention as possible, and let nature take its course. We'll be jamming out to something entirely different this time next year. I'm sure of it.

Desiigner - Panda

video

Future - F*ck Up Some Commas

video

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Magna Carta... Holy Grail Review


In the now infamous commercial during halftime of Game 5 of the NBA Finals, Shawn Carter proclaimed he was releasing an album in a couple weeks that would usher in an era of “#newrules”, in which album promotion would be no longer necessary, returning the focus of the music industry to the music. The album’s lack of promotion included no lead single and boasted hip-hop legend Rick Rubin’s sitting on a couch production, a highly original marketing campaign which hadn’t been used since Kanye West’s last outing. It doesn’t stop there though. For his game changing new album, rap/entertainment/clothing/business mogul Jay-Z formed a rap conglomerate with Samsung to give away his album for free to one million non-iPhone users, if there are that many. In addition, Jay-Z sent out a few tweets for the first time since ’88, and put on an art show.

Oh but wait, this album was supposed to focus on the music wasn’t it? Sorry, after all the non-promotion I must have forgotten. Anyway, just like half of the music world did, on the night that Magna Carta/Carter... Holy Grail became available to Samsung users (I heard that a lot of them had trouble downloading it anyway), I torrented the new Hov album excited to see what God, the Father (Yeezus being the son of course) was going to bless us with. It was pretty nice for the first 3 seconds of the album with that awesome sounding beat from the commercial, but shit goes downhill after that with one of the most grating singing performances I’ve heard in recent memory, especially from a singer in which I personally find talented. But as Magna Carta... Holy Grail is an album of “#newrules”, it only makes sense to have one of the most popular figures of the 21st century on the first track of your album. After the 20 minute long JT ballad, Hov comes in and get his Hov on, name dropping his daughter, (“Fuck that shit y’all talking about” – Blue Ivy Carter) MC Hammer, Mike Tyson, Michael Jackson, and this guy named “Augh” (sp?) about 300 times. I mean c’mon, at least explain who this “Augh” guy is if you’re gonna say his name after every line.
            
Okay, okay not EVERYTHING is laughable about this album. The following track, “Picasso Baby”, is probably my favorite lyrical performance from Hov on the album, and the beat is pretty great. Most of the production on Magna Carta is pretty great actually. After all, the man himself said, “Don’t be good, be great”. Unfortunately, Mr. Carter didn’t follow his own advice in regards to the rapping on this album. It’s a sad day when the worst part of a Jay-Z album is Jay-Z. While none of the rapping is downright awful, none of it is great either. Hov coasts along from track to track like he was on a cruise to Cuba with Beyonce. Speaking of Beyonce, the “cliché” love song she’s featured in is actually pretty good, as is the token Frank Ocean song (“I hope my black skin don’t dirt this white tuxedo”), though Jay-Z has practically nothing to do with the quality of either song.
            
While there are some passable songs on here with some reasonable depth to them (“Heaven”, “Nickels and Dimes”), none of them are enough to overshadow the trainwreck that is “BBC”. No, not a track about the stereotype of black men, although with the fake gaudiness of the beat and materialistic lyrics, it just might be. The track features a random mix of kicking and screaming from the likes of Swizz Beatz and Timbaland, and a Nas verse that comes and goes faster than Trinidad James’ career. The track is rather symptomatic of the album itself in its mesh of talented artists into a melting pot of mediocrity, missed opportunities, and failed expectations.

          
I could go on and on about the mediocrity of Jay-Z’s rhymes, or I could talk about Rick Ross’ attempt at spitting the worst verse of the year, but I won’t waste your time with all of that just like you shouldn’t waste your time with this album.

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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Miyuki ~ Kenjutsu / 剣術 EP


Miyuki, albeit being a little known artist from Russia; comes at the scene with a big presence with her newest ep 'Kenjutsu / 剣術'. Borrowing heavily from Japanese elements including traditional Japanese instruments, Buddhist mantras and every day talk/intercom speech. These components layered on top of her ambient/glitch/downtempo roots compliment each other exceedingly well, lending to what could be her greatest album to date. More so than her previous albums, this one is a fair bit more glitch/upbeat orientated. Less long, drawn out ambient sequences; replaced by the hums of old Buddhists and harder more pronounced drum lines, bell tolls, and sharp synths. It brings out what I would consider a very idyllic balance between progressive glitch and relaxing ambiance. 


Friday, July 5, 2013

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu ~ Nanda Collection



Sadly I am quite busy this week due to work and other miscellaneous things, and so this will not be a full reflection on this album; but merely a slight overview. 

 For those who are new to Kyary, if you have enjoyed groups like Perfume and Capsule (all produced by Nakata, that guy sure gets around) this will be a joyous occasion indeed. Her inane lyrics and ridiculous fashion sense lend to a light and cheerful mood that is powered by electronic production.

Kyary's new album "Nanda Collection" is not quite "new". Sure, it has been released fairly recently, but a majority of the tracks have been taken from her previous single; with only two new songs being put in. However, should you skip this album? If you enjoy J-Pop and Kyary, no, no you should not. It is a collection of her previous works, and includes what I would say are her best songs. This is the album to have if you do not posses any of her previous works (with exception to 'tsukematsukeru', seriously grab that one it is great).


Sunday, June 23, 2013

Kanye West ~ Yeezus



Oh boy. Where to start with this one... Even before Kanye's head was plastered on a building, scaring children, and sparking debates all over the internet, Yeezus was spurring gigantic controversy. If you are still one of the hopefuls expecting a pre-808s style album, you will be sorely disappointed. The Kanye West you once knew is long gone, he is no longer a rapper, and you should not expect that he is going to rap. He has been replaced by Kanye Kardashian, and it is up to you to decide whether this is a good or bad thing.

Right from the start of the album your ears will be engulfed by some of the strongest production that has ever been featured in a Kanye album. Invoking a powerful feeling, the album immerses listeners in superb sampling, progressions, and aggressive, dark inspirations from the Trap music scene. The last minute of ‘New Slaves’ is the pinnacle in this regard, showing how far Kanye has come as a producer. The whole album has been polished to a gleaming shine, with major standouts being ‘Black Skinheads’, ‘New Slaves’, and ‘Blood on the Leaves’.

However, Yeezus does come with a price. Most of it drawing from Kanye's bloated ego and tendencies to complain about things he has done to himself; like becoming famous and a hip hop icon. The lyrical content is not what you would call....well....good. The vast majority of the album is Kanye bitching about how tired he is of being famous, and how hard it is, how the fashion industry did not take him in with open arms, and how he never wanted all the pressure of being famous This is not an album to listen to if you are looking at it for the lyrical content, you will be greatly disappointed.

If you do not mind the direction Kanye has been taking for the past few years, this album may be what you need for a nice summer soundtrack. However, if you are still waiting for the Kanye of ‘College Dropout’ days to poke his head out of the crowd, pass this album up. He has been covered with a sheet, brutally beaten with a bat, and is posing as Jay-Zs new bean bag chair.



Side note: Stop tweeting "I'd rather be a dick than a swallower" please. That shit has been played out since Kanye wrote it down. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Jon Hopkins ~ Immunity

Well, here we are. After almost two years of inactivity I have decided that this blog needs a new injection of life. Most of the members have moved on by this point, or have not really cared from the start (guilty). But, with that said; I will do my part in trying to start the spark once more.


So, without further adieu.





I have no previous history with Jon Hopkins, but after being linked to this whole album one night I have been fully captivated. It draws you in with a blend of electronic glitch, sharp tones, and upbeat percussion that you cannot shy away from, slowly winding down into an ambiance to cushion your stay. What Jon Hopkins does so well is not from anything that I would say shakes the industry with fresh new ideas; but refines a genre so well that you cannot help but look at it in awe. Calling up cues from fellow artists like Nosaj Thing, Nathan Fake and Boards of Canada. Yet keeping it all his own with piano rolls, electronic stabs and powerful natural sounds. With all the landmark albums releasing early this year, this is not one you should toss to the side for later.

 You can listen to the full album here