Vince Staples – “Big Fish Theory” review

Almost 10 months after the release of his Prima Donna EP, Cutthroat Boyz member & Odd Future affiliate Vince Staples is now finally delivering his sophomore full-length album. The album opens up with “Crabs in a Bucket”, where Vince is talking about how he hasn’t let go a lot of problems he’s had as well as comparing the black man to Jesus over a atmospheric & trippy instrumental. Especially with the vocal samples. The next track “Big Fish” sees Vince reflecting on how far he’s come in the rap game over a hyphy beat & the Juicy J hook is fitting as well. The “Alyssa Interlude” has a clip from an Amy Winehouse interview for the first half, but then we hear a verse with Vince reminiscing about a girl who’s most likely died & then it finishes with a perfect Temptations sample. The song “Love Can Be…” with Kilo Kish talks about how Kilo’s done with her ex along with the hoes that want a taste of Vince’s fame over an instrumental that’s PERFECT for the clubs. I also like Vince’s homage to both Alright & For Free? by Kendrick Lamar at the beginning & the end of the final verse respectively. The track “745” has some thunderous yet funky bass throughout & he’s talking about picking up his girl at 7:45 in his BMW 745 along with how love’s really hard for him because all the pretty women he’s gotten with his whole life have lied to him. Also, the Adam & Eve metaphor for all the snakes out there during the bridge hit me. After wondering if people in New York would even know if he existed if he were to be murdered today during the 1 minute “Ramona Park’s Yankee Stadium” interlude, we then get into the next song Yeah Right”. On this song, Vince is asking a bunch of questions & talking about what pretty woman want over a distorted yet abrasive instrumental & the guest verse from Kendrick Lamar doesn’t disappoint either. The track “Homage” talks about how no one can hold him back now that he’s a successful rapper over a high-tempo techno beat. The song “SAMO” talks about how nothing has changed & the production is very eerie. The track “Party People” asks how can Vince enjoy the party when all he see is death & destruction as well as him talking about needing good vibes over a beat that once again is perfect for the clubs. The penultimate track “BagBak” pretty much tells the phonies to back off of him because they don’t know him over a hard hitting hip house beat. The closer “Rain Come Down” talks about some gangsta shit was well as metaphorically comparing a stripper to Etta James over a gritty UK Garage-influenced beat. Even though this album is only 36 minutes long, this could very well be better than his debut Summertime ’06. His takes on love are just as nihilistic as he’s always been (especially with the line on “Yeah Right” about a pretty woman slitting her wrist) & the electronic dance music influenced production brings a fitting atmosphere to the lyrics. To anyone who still hates Vince or even refuses to give him a chance because he said the 90’s were overrated a few months after his debut album came out: I don’t think you can deny that this is his most experimental work yet

Score: 4.5/5

SZA – “CTRL” review

After a series of countless delays following the release of her fantastic Z EP back in 2014, Top Dawg Entertainment’s 1st lady SZA is finally releasing her full-length debut. The album kicks off with the track “Supermodel”, where basically SZA telling her ex that she cheated on him on Valentine’s Day to understandably get back at him for going out to Vegas that day & the instrumental has a wavy guitar along with some bass & some organic drums. The next song “Love Galore” with Travi$ Scott seems to follow that opening track up, as it talks about her ex wanting to get back with her when she doesn’t over some wailing synths. The track “Doves in the Wind” is a dedication to pussy with a spacey instrumental & the guest verse from Kendrick Lamar fits into the song perfectly. The song “Drew Barrymore” reflects on a low self-esteem version of SZA herself & not only does the instrumental on here enhance the emotion of the song, but it’s also infectiously catchy. Especially with the strings near the end of the track. The track “Prom” is pretty much SZA promising herself to get better as she gets older & the instrumental will make you wanna throw a party. The song “The Weekend” talks about being this guy’s side chick during the weekends (hence the title) & while I love the spacey synths at the beginning along with how the smooth keys throughout, the cliché snares just sound meh to me. The track “Go Gina” talks about this guy bringing her out of her character when he’s around her & the production from Frank Dukes primarily has these winking chimes & some drums throughout most of it, but the tension building strings during the last 20 seconds of it are beautiful. The song “Garden (Say It Like Dat)” is pretty much SZA telling this guy that she loves her & even though I appreciate, the trappy production on this track sounds so painfully generic. The track “Broken Clocks” talks about how SZA’s moved on from her ex for the better, despite him still talking about her & while I do enjoy the trophy vocal sample on here, the hi-hats are just average for me. The song “Anything” sees SZA asking her ex if he knows she’s alive & the instrumental on here has this fantastically galactic tone to it. The short but sweet “Wavy” sees SZA singing about how bad as Hell she is as well as looking for a way out over a dreamy instrumental & while James Fauntleroy’s voice does sound muffled during his hook, I still enjoyed it. The song “Normal Girl” is pretty self-explanatory, as it talks about wanting to live the life of a normal girl over a spacey instrumental. The penultimate track “Pretty Little Birds” with Isaiah Rashad is basically the 2 talking about wanting to be together for the rest of their lives & the instrumental is very smooth. Especially with the jazzy trumpets that pop in right before Zaywop’s verse. The album then closes out with the track “20 Something”, where SZA is passionately hoping that she doesn’t lose all of her friends & doesn’t die while she’s in her 20s over nothing but an acoustic guitar that enhances the beauty of this closer. When it seemed like TDE was never gonna release this album, it was well worth the 3 year wait. The production is luscious for the most part, it’s well-written & SZA’s vocals sound both very focused & passionate. If you enjoyed SZA’s early mixtapes & Z as much as I did, then I don’t see why you wouldn’t like this. She’s been one of my favorite R&B singers of this current generation & walking away from this seeing her improving herself just makes me really happy

Score: 4/5

Kool G Rap – “Return of the Don” review

With the 6 year anniversary of his last album Riches, Royalty, Respect passing by just a few days before it’s release, former Juice Crew member Kool G Rap is finally returning with his 5th full-length album & he has enlisted MoSS to produce it in it’s entirety. The album opens up with the title track, where G Rap reminds us why he’s one of the illest lyricists ever over a grimy ass beat. However, my only issue with this track is that it was way too short. The next track “Mack Lean” has a really smooth flute sample throughout & while I do love how G Rap flows over it, I think AG da Coroner’s verse compliments G Rap’s better than Fred the Godson’s did. Mainly because of how husky his voice is. The following song “Criminal Outfit” with N.O.R.E. sees the 2 talking about raising the slums up & throwing a chick named Sharon inside an Uber over a really cool piano sample but just like with the title track, I feel like the song is way too short. The song “Wise Guys” has a fantastic scratch hook from Statik Selektah along with a soul sample throughout & even though Freeway’s verse is nice, Lil’ Fame’s fits into the track a lot more perfectly. The track “Out for That Life” is a braggadocious song with some somberly tension building horns & it was only right for him to get a verse from Raekwon on here. The track “Time’s Up” has a nice organ sample & the rhyme schemes are just bananas from start to finish. Not just that, but it actually sounds finished in contrast to the title track. The song “Capitol Hill” with Cormega & Sheek Louch sees the 3 delivering vivid street bars & the beat on here sounds purely evil. The song “Running” with Saigon & Termanology talks about following protocol no matter how long they’ve been around & I love how uplifting the instrumental is. The song “World’s Mine” may have a decent hook, but G Rap’s verse in the middle of the song along with the guest verses from KXNG CROOKED & Willie the Kid at the beginning & the end respectively make up for it. Especially with how you can hear the passionate emotion in KXNG CROOKED’s voice throughout the duration of his verse. The penultimate track “Popped Off” with Ransom & the late Sean Price has some aggressive verses & the instrumental fits them like a glove, but’s really the verses from G Rap & Sean that make the track so hardcore. The album then closes out with the appropriately titled “Rest In Peace”, where Kool G Rap’s talking about feeling like the black Axl Rose & how the strong never fade over a bass guitar with a little bit of an electric guitar too. Also can’t forget that while Shady Records’ most recent signees Hall ‘N Nash are trading bars back & forth with each other during the last minute of the song, you can just tell that their verse together was heavily influenced by G Rap & I don’t mean that in a bad way at all. To me, the appropriately titled Return of the Don is a much needed & near perfect one. Yeah I wish that some of the songs could’ve been stretched out a little bit longer & there’s a lot of features too, but I believe most of the guest verses served their purpose. On top of that, Kool G Rap’s pen game is as strong as ever & MoSS’ production is WAY more rugged & hard hitting than the production on Riches, Royalty, Respect was. Despite the small flaws, I think this is a serious contender for Album of the Year

Score: 4.5/5

Cappadonna – “The Yin & The Yang” review

After starting off his solo career with the underrated The Pillage, Wu-Tang Clan member Cappadonna is finally delivering a sophomore effort. The album starts off with “The Grits”, which has some triumphant horns along with some aggressive verses from both Cappa & the song’s producer Agallah. The next song “Super Model” sees Cappa talking about groupies over some hard hitting boom bap drums & a guitar sample. The Ghostface Killah hook on here is just ok, though. The track “War Rats” has a confrontative vibe throughout, but the beat’s bland & the hook is just redundant. The song “Love’s the Message” with Raekwon is a nice club track & while the disco-influenced production on here was surprising, it fits with the vibe very well. While the song “We Know” has a decent beat from Jermaine Dupri, the rapidly delivered verse from Da Brat about halfway through the track makes up for it. To be completely honest, this was just ok. Cappa himself isn’t really the issue, but rather there’s a lot more features than there should’ve been & the production on most of these tracks were just weak

Score: 2.5/5

LINKIN PARK – “1 More Light” review

Given that LINKIN PARK’s last album The Hunting Party was a return to form for them, at first I was pretty excited going into their 7th full-length album over here. However with each & every single that was released for it, I started to worry about it. Despite this, I still gave it a shot with an open mind. The opening track “Nobody Can Save Me” sees Chester Bennington singing about fighting your inner demons, but the dubstep instrumental sounds absolutely God awful. The next track “Good Goodbye” is the only song on the entire album to feature a rap verse from Mike Shinoda & while his verse along with the guest verses from Pusha T & Stormzy about a failed relationship are just ok, the instrumental on here is pretty generic. The song “Talking to Myself” is told from the perspective of Chester’s wife Talinda, but the only good thing about the production is the guitars during the beginning & the hook. The song “Battle Symphony” talks about picking yourself up when you’re down, but it just comes off as really sappy. The song “Invisible” is the one of the only 2 songs on the entire album where Mike is on lead vocals & while he may be sending a heartfelt message to his children, the production just ruins it. The Chester/Kiiara duet “Heavy” addresses holding onto one’s sanity & the instrumental enhances it’s status as THE worst song on the album. Especially how it starts off with a quiet tone, but then we get a crescendo during the hook to make it sound dramatic. The song “Sorry for Now” sees Mike apologizing to his kids for being gone over a wavy instrumental, but I would much rather listen to “Where’d You Go?” from his Fort Minor side-project. The song “Halfway Right” talks about Chester’s drug addiction & the cliché snares throughout most of the track made me genuinely angry. The penultimate track is the title track, where Chester is singing about death over a settle instrumental that lacks any form of progression. Then we have the final song “Sharp Edges”, where Chester is reminiscing about his youth over an acoustic guitar & it’s actually ok. I can honestly say that this is EASILY the worst album that LINKIN PARK has ever done & it’s not simply because of the fact that they ditched their metal/rock sound to go pop on here: it’s because the production is sickeningly sweet & it makes almost every track sound corny. I have no problem with artists experimenting with sounds & the band did come through with a couple ok songs, but they just failed miserably at this outside of that. I’m sorry but as much as I really respect these guys, I don’t see myself coming back to this garbage ever again

Score: 0.5/5

Brother Ali – “All the Beauty in This Whole Life” review

When Brother Ali first told me back in November that his 6th full-length album was coming in 2017, I was pretty excited given that it would be his first album since Mourning in America & Dreaming in Color just 5 years ago. However when he later said it would be entirely produced by Ant of Atmosphere (who hasn’t produced an album for Ali since Us in 2009), I was even more excited. The album opens up with “Pen to Paper”, where Ali’s talking about going from started writing at 8 & meeting KRS-One at 13 to being profiled by the US government over some ambitious keys & horns. The next song “Own Light (What Hearts Are For)” is about using his heart for love & while the beat does start off kinda spacey, the electric guitar that starts to pop in after the first 20 seconds was a nice touch. The track “Special Effects” talks about Ali wanting to communicate without technology over a jazzy beat & the deM atlaS hook on here is just beautiful. The song “Can’t Take That Away” is a dedication to that special someone in Ali’s life & the beauty of it is enhanced by the harp & keys throughout. The next track “Dear Black Son” is basically Ali sending a message to his son Faheem about all the current racism in America today over a jazzy piano. The song “We Got This” with Sa-Roc talking positivity & the chemistry between the 2 MCs is actually greater than I actually though it would be. The song “Uncle Usi Taught Me” recalls performing “Uncle Sam Goddamn” in Iran over a funky beat & the way he describes it is so vivid & sincere. The track “Pray for Me” talks about his albinism over a piano as well as a pumping bassline. The song “It Ain’t Easy” talking his desire of real love over a churchy instrumental. The track “Never Learn” has some nice brass throughout & I also love the eerie background vocals behind the beat. Also, the hook is beautiful & his flow is so on point. The song “Tremble” talks about how he’s “a human, not a brand” over an electric guitar & he sounds so sincere about it too. The track “Before They Called You White” talks about the Europeans’ land being seized & I like how they incorporated the vocal sample at the end. The song “The Bitten Apple” talks about self-hate over a somber beat & the gloomy hook from Idris Phillips fits in perfectly with the whole tone. The penultimate track “Out of Here”, where Ali is talking about the suicide of both his dad & grandfather & the instrumental fits in like a glove. Especially with the piano during the first verse. The album then closes out with the title track, where Ali is talking about God over a relaxing beat. To me, this is a near perfect return for Brother Ali. The instrumentals are beautiful, the content is on point & the passion is clear as day
Score: 4.5/5

GZA – “Legend of the Liquid Sword” review

Just 3 years after his last album Beneath the Surface, Wu-Tang Clan member GZA is now delivering his 4th full-length album. The album opens up with the track “AutoBio”, where GZA is reminiscing about late 70’s Bronx block parties over some quiet piano keys as well as a loud orchestral string section. The track “Silent” with Ghostface Killah & Streetlife gets braggadocious about their stage performances as well as their talents & the instrumental from Bink! has an nice eerie soul sample throughout. The song “Stay in Line” is a message to wack rappers & the beat from Arabian Knight predominantly has this mellow guitar loop throughout but the war-inducing horns during Santigold’s hook are fantastic. While I can appreciate the song “Fam (Members Only)” with RZA & Masta Killa being about what the Clan strives for as well as the haunting production from Mathematics, the fact that it’s censored was really annoying. The title track talks about rappers who’re only in it for the paper & I love how Jaz-O incorporates the Quincy Jones sample into the beat. The song “Fame” cleverly name drops celebrities (similar to the tracks “Labels” & “Publicity” from his last 2 albums) over some keys as well as some boom bap drums. The song “Highway Robbery” is a tribute to the classic Big Daddy Kane track “Ain’t No Half-Steppin'” & I love how the beat turns a relaxing Michael Jackson sample into something grimy. The song “Luminal” is a vivid story about ruthless killer who brutalizes a peaceful town over an ominous beat from DJ Muggs. The track “Sparring Minds” with Inspectah Deck talk about how dangerous the Clan is over a guitar loop. The album then closes out with “Uncut Material”, where The Genius is giving the self explanatory & the instrumental he makes for this track has an orchestral feeling to it. To sum it all up: The lyricism is on point like always, but I feel like the production could’ve been much better

Score: 3.5/5