Surf Review

Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment’s Surf is the quintessential summer album- a feel good romp through island vibes spearheaded by frontman Chance the Rapper.

Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment is a band highlighted by Chance on vocals as well as Donnie Trumpet. Unfairly thought of by many as mostly a Chance the Rapper side project, Trumpet does his far share of contribution despite his lead singer drawing most of the attention. His use of the well, trumpet, is something that seems to compliment Chance’s high-energy style of vocalization better than any other sound. Surf is at its best when both of these artists play off each other’s strengths, creating great harmony in the process.

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The album is split into two kinds of tracks- those that Chance the Rapper appear on and those in which Donnie Trumpet takes center stage, usually being jazz instrumentals.

The most memorable moments of the LP are by far the ones that feature heavy emphasis on Chance. His trademark infectious energy is put on full display here, making tracks not only superb-sounding but fun to listen to as well. These’s just a great aura of positivity surrounding most of these songs and you’ll want to throw wild rooftop parties just to hear them in the setting they seemed to be made for. A lot of that feeling is due to the high level of emotion Chance uses at every corner. Anytime he’s given the chance (no pun intended) to have his voice heard, he uses that time to form a strangely strong connection with the listener, selling himself as an artist who has a genuine want to create meaningful music. Highlights of these Chance-centric songs include “Slip Slide”, “Wanna Be Cool”, and “Familiar”. The subject matter on each is also ripe with cheeriness, with a central focus on various forms of social acceptance. These tracks and others include heavy use of guest rappers, but they’re all welcomed additions and pick up on the light tones of the album. Artists like Big Sean, Busta Rhymes, and KYLE seem to truly be having a great time while recording their verses, further pushing the listener to buy into the good vibes.

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To counter the insane amount of excitement most of the “Chance tracks” bring, Donnie Trumpet’s solo-focused songs take a step back and provide a moment of calming relaxation. But while Trumpet is a technically good player, the melodies his trumpet shoot out aren’t captivating enough to warrant a second listen. After a few of these songs its obvious as to why Chance gets most of the credit in the group, but Donnie still provides a sonically great backdrop for every song.

Surf manages to entertain in almost every area you’d want an album to and has a distinct charm to it you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. But while some tracks shine, others falter a bit in comparison. Nonetheless, the songs that shine do so in an incredibly bright manner, raising the LP to a highly memorable state in the process. It’s meant to be played on beaches, vacations and parties so do yourself a favor this summer and give it a few spins.

 8/10

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At. Long. Last. A$ap. Review

After a two-year break that seems like a decade ago, A$ap Rocky returns with his sophomore project At. Long. Last. A$ap.– a record that sounds great sonically, but suffers lyrically.

Starting out with the good, At. Long. Last. A$ap is a diverse collection of songs that shows Rocky’s versatility. The chopped and screwed, slowed sound that the rapper become famous for is here, and Rocky is definitely most at home on them. The production across the board is top notch, and even the more traditional trap-style tracks sound fresh. My favorite of these has to be “Electric Body” featuring Schoolboy Q. While the verses are about what you’d expect and don’t offer much, they do their job. The chorus, however, is fantastically catchy. It alludes heavily to 90’s house party music and hits such as Bell Biv Devoe’s classic “Poison”. The Kanye West-produced track “Jukebox Joints” also stands out for it’s soul-sampling, but suffers from an extremely phoned in verse form Ye. While the beats shine, Rocky himself doesn’t exactly deliver. His flows are on point, but he constantly shifts from uninspired laziness to focused aggression. This inconsistency is highlighted via his bravado that, while valuable in short doses, oversaturates his delivery. Just when you think he’s about to kill his next verse, he throws you for a loop and makes you wonder why the few exceptional verses can’t be more reoccurring.

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Rocky’s signature cockiness that once made him stand out from the crowd now seems played out. When his career was first getting off the ground, the confidence and charisma he displayed was welcomed, especially coming from a New York-based rapper. Most of this was the result of rap fans just wanting more representation from NY- a town that was once the mecca for hip hop royalty. New Yorkers were ready to anoint a fresh new face to pit against the likes of LA’s Kendrick Lamar and North Carolina’s J. Cole. While Rocky never really delivered on that hope, he at least did a good enough job at carrying New York swagger. On his newest record, though, this charm is rarely seen; instead replaced with boring and meaningless brags about traveling to France or designer clothes. It’s understood that Rocky has always been associated with the finer fashionable things in life, but the consistently flat subject matter on this LP makes him even more unrelatable. There are only so many times you can rely on pure swag to sell records, and the lack of innovation really hurts his music. This guy is supposed to be one of NY’s best? These verses are what the greatest streets in the world have produced? This type of view is one of the reasons New York rap hasn’t been taken very seriously in recent years by hip-hop heads, and when you go from Nas and Jay Z to French Montana you begin to agree with them.

To be clear, this is a not a huge shot at Rocky, but New York rap in general. Its mostly dead state is the reason why these criticisms come about. Music fans are just so hungry for the next great NY rapper, they hold each attempt to a higher standard. I’m one of those people, but if I lowed my expectations for this latest project and not seen Rocky’s potential;, I would have thought its a pretty good follow up to Long. Live. A$ap. It’s got bangers, it features several great flows by Rocky, a couple notable features, and shows off some pretty exceptional beats that he isn’t particularly known for. But alas the depth just isn’t there. Especially considering the projects his peers have put out since his debut. Making the switch from To Pimp a Butterfly to this newest record, for example, reveals just how far behind it sounds. People want realness and emotion mixed in with their ignorant-type singles, and unfortunately A$ap only offers the latter.

6/10

To Pimp a Butterfly Review

Since Kendrick Lamar’s Compton-based come-up, he’s been seen as one of hip-hop’s brightest young MC’s- mixing a street smart grit with a level of self awareness and introspective lyricism. With his latest release, To Pimp a Butterfly, he’s secured his spot in the history books with an album that pushes the limits of the genre.

The record tells the tale of a now-successful Kendrick following the struggle he faced in his last album good kid m.A.A.d city. This older more experienced artist is dealing with his fame, struggling with his roots as a kid from the streets, and feeling the pressure that comes with being such a recognizable figure. Despite his success, he feels detached from his roots and seeks a balance of acceptance when it comes to his life. Even though the focus of this project is arguably less street-oriented, the sound is much rawer than its predecessor. This is due to the fantastic production that makes each track come alive. Lamar opted to rely heavily on live instruments this time around, giving the album an authentic jazzy tone that holds throughout. It’s tight, precise, and just self-aware enough that it can get away with using funk-like grooves while dealing with social issues. The sound feels like no other hip-hop record of recent memory and hopefully will spark a new trend within the genre. One of the highlights of this freshly funky sound is definitely the radio-friendly King Kunta, as Lamar looks to quiet the critics and reestablish his rap dominance.

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The before-mentioned production is the perfect outlet to show off the heavy portions of the album- most notably those dealing with depression, regret, and racial issues. Kendrick uses it as a stepping-stone to show an angsty, depressed side. One that is so unflattering, almost all rappers steer clear of anything close to it. Despite this, Lamar pulls it off and just adds to the realness of the record. This is a man that’s frustrated with both himself and his people and wants you to know it. One of the best examples of this comes in the track u– as Lamar screeches his way through his displeasures about himself and the route society is seemingly headed.

But perhaps the real genius of this record is the presentation. The album is a concept from start to finish: showing a clear beginning to Kendrick’s thoughtful madness as well as a gripping ending. One aspect of this storyline involves Kendrick, who is now a superstar, traveling to his hometown of Compton and performing his radio hit i. However, the crowd starts booing the young MC and forces him to stop and talk to them from his heart. This was an outstanding way to look at radio singles and the often insincere, corporate-influenced ways they are created. When i first came out, I was weary of it and thought Kendrick was heading in the wrong poppy direction. But it turns out this was intentional and all I had to do was wait a few months to see Kendrick’s genius vision take form in the context of the album. The album climaxes on possibly the dopest ending of any rap album- an interview between Kendrick and Tupac fuckin’ Shakur. Turns out every track was actually a poem Kendrick was explaining to Tupac about his struggles, wondering if the deceased rapper can relate and offer guidance. But just when Shakur is about to give his final take on the matter he disappears, letting Kendrick come up with the solution himself. I’ve never come across such a thought provoking ending to an album and it gave me chills thinking of the time and effort it must have took to fit that conceptual message into such a brilliant musical piece. Instant classic.

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9/10

What For? Review

Toro y Moi’s What For? attempts to fuse chillwave with psychedelic rock but misses the mark, often feeling like a Coachella-inspired parody in the process. Toro y Moi is best known for his relaxing sound mixed with indie production, but on this latest record the rock influences are clearly visible. The precise guitars and drums on most tracks are accompanied with a funk-infused sound- like a mixture of a garage and jazz band. However while the production is the best thing about this album, it feels so constrained, almost as if Toro was keeping tabs on how “chill” his music needed to be. I was waiting for that triumphant moment when the chains would be lifted off the instrumentals but that never happened. Instead, I was treated to more of his docile and unassertive vocal stylings.

To say Toro y Moi’s singing on most of the tracks kills their potential is an understatement. Take “Lilly” for instance which starts out with a funky 70’s style beat, but once Toro starts his singing it becomes a watered-down track not even the cast of That ‘70’s Show would vibe to. Even when the singing makes sense in the context of a song, the instrumental is usually so much more notable that it completely outshines him. This overpowering of the vocals is something that could sound favorably immersive if done right, but unfortunately that isn’t the case here. If you’re looking for something to put on while doing homework give it a spin but if not then pass.

Rating: 4/10

Dark Sky Paradise Review

Throughout Big Sean’s music career, he’s never been looked at in the same light as his contemporaries like Drake or Kendrick Lamar. Instead, the Detroit product has found himself in the “middle-tier” group of rappers who’ve attainted commercial success, but haven’t hit a cord critically. In his latest effort Dark Sky Paradise, Sean sets out to prove he belongs with the best but ultimately falls short yet again.

Let’s get this out of the way first: the production on Dark Sky Paradise is the best part of the LP. Kanye West executed-produced this latest offering and it shows. His, as well as others like DJ Mustard and Key Wayne’s touch on these tracks make them what they are- carrying Big Sean along with them. The name of the game here is upbeat bangers, with a hard-hitting yet club friendly vibe that is meant to be felt throughout. Standouts include the primarily West-produced “All Your Fault” which he also features on.

This brings up the next point: the features on this album outshine Sean almost every time they appear. E-40, Lil Wayne, and the before-mentioned West all overshadow Sean, who tries his best to draw attention towards himself. But while Sean’s flow is superb and one of the best in the rap game, his lyrics leave much to be desired. There just isn’t much substance in what he’s saying, making the album feel like a compilation of singles rather than a cohesive listening experience.

Rating 6/10

Why You May Need to Switch to Tidal and What it Means for the Music Indus

Jay-Z’s newly acquired (for a cool $56 million) music streaming service Tidal is beginning to gain steam- with a worldwide launch expected today. But what does it mean for the future of the music industry?

Tidal is offering consumers a better sound experience when listening to music. This “high fidelity” sound is supposedly a much better experience quality-wise then its direct competition Spotify. But the major drawback for most is the price. With better sound comes a lighter wallet- $20 a month to be exact. That’s a huge increase when compared to Spotify’s $10 a month ($5 for students).  While there is a $10 option that emulates Spotify to a tee, it seem pointless to switch. Not to mention the added data usage that “hi-fi” sound will eat up.

So assuming you don’t really care for sound difference and are happy with Spotify, why bother considering a switch? The artists that could be available.

Jay-Z is just as good as a business man as he is a rapper (“I’m not business man I’m a business, man”) and he knows people may be reluctant to migrate. That’s why he’s assembled a star-studded array of artists to support the service including Beyonce, Kanye West, Nicki Minaj Jack White, Daft Punk and Madonna. You may be asking yourself what the big deal is, since those artists are already available on Spotify. The answer is you’re correct- for now.

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Artists are currently upset over their pay when it comes to Spotify. They feel like they aren’t getting their fair share. Artists like Taylor Swift have long been against the service, even going as far as to take her entire catalog off of it. And that is exactly what many artists may do. If huge artists become exclusively available on Tidal, people may be more persuaded into making the switch. They may even go so far as to release new albums that can only be streamed on the service, which could be a major draw for fans of these artists.

Hov might be making these moves quickly, since Apple have reportedly been developing their own streaming service for years. Apple is widely regarded as the leader for music distribution (iTunes) and when their service drops, people will certainly take notice.

As of right now I think the better sound price-point is a bit ridiculous, and I’ve been a satisfied Spotify Premium costumer for a few years. Spotify made all my music readily available for a very reasonable price. But of course I knew it was too good to be true and wouldn’t last forever. Now I’m not too familiar with the contract situations of these artists regarding their record labels, but it seems like the power is in the artists’ hands at the moment. Whether this theory becomes a reality remains to be seen (since the service is just in its infancy) but if it does happen, the music industry will be forced to adjust.

All Day Review

Yeezy Season has officially arrived, with Kanye West dropping “All Day” (featuring Paul McCartney, Allan Kingdom, Theophilus London)- the latest single from his upcoming album So Help Me God. “All Day” is dramatically different from his previous two singles (“Only One” and “FourFive Seconds”) and my God does it go hard.

Ever since he performed the song at the Brit Awards last week, the hype for this track has been felt throughout the Internet. West somehow finds a way to defy expectations, bringing just as much energy and passion to the studio version as the live one.

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“All Day” has West going back to his rapping roots- as he effortlessly flows over an unconventional beat that mixes traditional rap with UK’s grime scene and classic rock. It’s a strange mixture on paper but works well, especially when considering that the guitar riff which is featured throughout is the most piercingly beautiful use of a guitar the radio has seen for a long time. That specific riff was highlighted in an even better light when it was discovered that Paul McCartney actually created that melody decades ago. It was a Beatles throwaway, making this the first hip hop song to officially feature a sample from the legendary band. Check out the original tune here:

Using that melody, West recruited Allan Kingston and Theophilus London to add haunting, Reggae-esque vocals. Their performances are short but sweet, and actually sound like samples on their own. West could have easily sampled these parts but his decision to have the two young talents record their own stylings adds to the authenticity of the single. This move shows Kanye’s embrace of the UK grime scene and just underground hip hop in general. These two up-and-comers aren’t particularly well known but soon will be after this track. West seems to understand the modern Soundcloud/Tumblr generation and his appeal in the Internet age won’t be going away anytime soon.

The single sounds brash, yet genuine. In your face, yet reserved. The multiple dimensions and transitions that are featured within the approximate 5-minute run time are both impressive and fresh. Anyone that listened to West’s last album Yeezus will instantly find the tone recognizable. Yet, there is a certain pop element/hip hop edge that was missing from that album which “All Day” nails. The Yeezus comparisons come to an all-time high as the track’s outro features McCartney singing through various distortions over a cluster of high energized electronic sound.

“All Day” marks West’s triumphant return to rap, innovating the whole game at the same time. This will surely be an instant hit and will be added to the list of classic Kanye singles. Plus he managed to get a former Beatle on a hip hop track, how sick is that?

Rating: 9/10