Hip Hop, Jazz, Pop

Jonny Dee- “The Human Experience” Review

San Diego indelibly colours the music of Jonny Dee. His musical base, its remnants of Summer of Love transgression spill over into a crate-digging gusto in “The Human Experience”, whose title’s universalism is matched by its musical diversity. The album veers from retro synth-pop—“Ticketless Trip”—to breezy G-Funk—“Luna’s Lullaby”—and even elements of the languid, percussive spaciousness of trap in “Feedback”, all delivered with an off-handed insouciance.

Dee’s strengths, on this album at any rate, are solidly as an MC rather than a lyricist. His sing-song, lackadaisical flow at times echoes Slick Rick, but his delivery is also dexterous and fluid at faster tempos even if his enunciation, crucial for a rapper, is slightly patchy. However, he is also adept at constructing myriad musical landscapes; in a bold move that is perhaps indicative of his perception of himself as a fully-rounded artist rather than just an MC, he doesn’t appear vocally at all on final track “Cosmic Poem”, instead supplanting himself with Hendrix-esque flurries of guitar.

Nonetheless, for all its disparity “The Human Experience” is a surprisingly accessible project. “Summer’s Song” is easy to envision as the sort of thing blasted from car stereos of tipsy teens across the nation, weaving hazy, submerged vocal samples through flickering webs of hi-hats. However, the strongest prospective single here is “A Ways Away”, whose sugary chorus recalls the more radio-friendly moments of J. Cole. However, Dee is equally able to integrate the jazzy fluency of the verses into this poppier musical milieu, meshing together the different facets of his musical identity with ease.

The production of “The Human Experience” is admittedly dated at times, the pitched-up synth line and clipped, precise beats of “Live Thursday Night Groove” simply rehashing old G-Funk tropes rather than housing them in any new musical context. The manic “Rhythm of My Life” interpolates cheesy club classic “Rhythm of the Night”, but gets away with it by splicing its vocal hook into a dense musical landscape of breakneck tempos and glitching synths. Although his musical experimentation can be slipshod in execution, with the discordant electric guitar of “In The Sound” jarringly clashing against the track it finds itself in, Dee is largely successful in blending a variety of styles into a coherent whole. Although “The Human Experience” could never live up to the grandiosity of its title in terms of the diversity of its musical escapades, it certainly qualifies itself as the San Diego Experience. One to watch. CO

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Listen here: https://soundcloud.com/iamjonnydee/

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Hip Hop

Eminem- “Revival” Review

By the end of 2017, Eminem appeared increasingly adrift. Although popular, the success of 2013’s “The Marshall Mathers LP 2” was at least partially reliant on the nostalgic potency of its title, and was itself riddled with references to Eminem’s own declining influence. His slick, earnest pop-rap crossovers felt increasingly out of step with the resurgence of experimental, socially conscious hip-hop spearheaded by Kendrick Lamar, and the flippant, nihilistic silliness of mumble rap.

“Revival” eschews the boldness and probable divisiveness of a musical sea change in favour of a firm, perhaps fearful, reassertion of Eminem’s new house style. The album brims with pop star features, from Ed Sheeran to Beyoncé; despite, or perhaps because of this, much of “Revival” already feels dated, slotting more smoothly into the musical landscape of the 2000s or early 2010s than late 2017. “Castle” is a drab re-enactment of earlier hit “Mockingbird”, while the stock distorted guitars of “Remind Me” and “Heat” evoke 2013’s cheesy “Berzerk”, with the former’s lyrics ranging from simply lazy—“Girl, you’re smokin’ like Snoop Dogg”—to the horrendous—“Your booty is heavy duty like diarrhoea”.

Perhaps the single most cringe-worthy excursion is “Untouchable”, with Eminem veering between the perspectives of a racist cop jeering to “pull your pants up” and an impoverished black man. Although clearly well-intentioned, the ham-fisted simplicity of the lyrics tramples the nuances of racism into a straightforward binary where police brutality “makes black lives madder/At cops and cops madder/That’s why its at a stalemate”. “River” is strongly reminiscent of Eminem’s 2010 smash “Love the Way You Lie”, and while “Walk on Water” is a vulnerable exploration of the fear the rapper faces in living up to expectations when producing new music, ironically it simply sandwiches these thoughts between syrupy strings and a beige chorus, a musical backing that wholly fails to meet expectations. Tellingly, its conclusion once more leans on Eminem’s past: “Bitch, I wrote “Stan”!”.

The central problem with “Revival” is its complete conservatism, both musically and lyrically. Even as he bemoans the pressure to meet expectations placed on him, Eminem stubbornly refuses to take the risks necessary to meet these expectations. Although a more daring and experimental album would inevitably alienate some fans, “Revival” is the other side of the coin: a perfectly fine, glossy pop-rap album that will offend few, but will which most likely fail to avert the decline of Eminem’s cultural and social relevance. A hesitant and unimaginative release. CO

D

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Hip Hop, Jungle, R&B, rap, Reggae, Urban

Celebration of Life – Legends of UK Jungle, Drum & Bass and Dance come together on Charity Single

 

Celebration of Life, a collaboration between some of the UK’s premiere talents from the worlds of jungle, drum & bass, reggae and dance; including Demolition Man; Jr. Dangerous; Navigator; Tippa Irie; General Levy; Alaska MC and Cowboy Ranger, not to mention it being mixed by Liondub at his own New York studios.

The is in support of Demelza, a hospice which provides support and respite for the parents and families of terminally ill children with special needs. The project is inspired by a little boy called Jaden who is suffering with an incurable brain disease. Despite his prognosis, he celebrated his 11th birthday in August, against all his doctor’s expectations, which has further inspired the project to achieve even greater exposure for the cause.

Watch the documentary about the project Below:

https://youtu.be/fuXbDleb310

Catch the artists headlining Jungle Fever at Ministry of Sound in London on December 22nd, where they will also be performing a second track in support of the project, “Think Positive” (produced by FLeCK, and also featuring the talents of Sweetie Irie, Ragga Twins, Joseph Lalibela & Johnny Dolla)

 

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Hip Hop, Industrial

Kanye West- “Yeezus” Review

Now four years old, “Yeezus” remains a fascinatingly complex and problematic aberration, even in the career of relentless stylistic experimentation and contrarianism of one Kanye Omari West. A work of wild invention, brash vulnerability, slurred ugliness and almost farcical hubris, its antagonistic rawness was inevitably met with a bemused, polarised reaction.

Its true distinction, however, is that the furore over “Yeezus” never really abated, only escalating into West’s increasingly erratic behaviour and a slew of “I miss the old Kanye” memes. As much as the album is a superficially, perhaps deliberately repellent work in its harsh industrial babble and the obnoxiousness of West’s braggadocio, its divisiveness is inherently rooted in West himself, whose work and personality are virtually inseparable.

So, read as a character study, “Yeezus” makes for bleak listening. The album is cloaked in a fog of paranoia, misplaced grandiosity and perpetually impending doom, West’s reference on “Black Skinhead” to “Middle America packed in/Come to see me in my black skin” feeling more troublingly prophetic by the album’s end. However, the Kanye circus only perpetuates itself here. The celestial beauty of “Hold My Liquor” shrouds a stream-of-consciousness tirade, its acrid introspection folding into the sallow lechery of “I’m In It”—“You know I need that wet mouth/I know you need that reptile”: hedonism compacted into the nihilism that is its logical conclusion.

However, despite West’s boorish vulgarity, rampant egomania and almost defiant tastelessness, something about him remains inexorably, grudgingly likeable. His regular lapses into self-parody, however unintentional they may be, at least endear the listener to him in the complete sincerity with which he beatifies himself—his now-infamous barked order to “Hurry up with my damn croissants” on the pulsing “I Am A God” belies a total, enviable lack of self-awareness. This sparks the album’s captivating openness but also a handful of truly hideous lines, of which “I be speaking Swaghili” leaps out as notably grim.

The clouds briefly part for final track “Bound 2”, which serves as a nostalgic evocation of West’s earlier “Chipmunk Soul” era, complete with affable humour: “OK, I don’t remember where we first met/But hey, admitting is the first step”. However, it’s just a feint in an otherwise heaving, pneumatic, bitterly cynical album that, for better or worse, only deepened public perceptions of West as an unhinged megalomaniac. Perhaps its closest comparative, in its mix of brutish electronic squalls, uneasy confessionalism and scattered fragments of melodic beauty, is Nine Inch Nails’ “Pretty Hate Machine”. The thought that such a title could also aptly describe “Yeezus” is difficult to shake. CO

A

Listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q604eed4ad0

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Funk, Hip Hop, Jazz

Action Bronson- “Blue Chips 7000” Review

Kevin Bacon. Kevin Hart. Kevin Spacey.

These are just the celebrities named Kevin that Action Bronson name-checks in “Blue Chips 7000”, his latest mixtape and perhaps his most inseparable from the pop cultural zeitgeist. Formerly a respected New York chef who now peppers references to food into his songs, Bronson emerged as an independent rapper in the early 2010s. By this point Bronson is an entertaining inflation of his own personality, David Byrne in “Stop Making Sense” transposed onto character. His quirks have come to dominate his persona, right down to his “Ancient Aliens” viewing parties and Viceland show “Fuck, That’s Delicious”.

“Blue Chips 7000” is the third in Bronson’s “Blue Chips” mixtape series, and it effectively ossifies the style that emerged throughout these previous releases: bouncy, faintly cartoonish samples reminiscent of P-funk and hip-hop’s golden age topped by Bronson’s hoarse, raspy flow, which is vaguely reminiscent of MF Doom in voice if not lyrics. Despite liberally littering the mixtape with topical cultural references, its sound remains stolidly retro, which Bronson himself acknowledges with his “It’s 1986 again in Flushing, Queens” (a reference to his childhood home) on the languid “Chop Chop Chop”, or his “I was hatched in ‘83” on “Durag vs Headband”.

The mixtape’s supple, jazzy backdrops provide a fairly stock setting for Bronson’s raps about virtually anything that enters his head. He impatiently orders a car on “La Luna” and bellows “The full moon make me loco, like I sniffed a whole baseline of cocoa” on “The Choreographer”. While there is a likeable playfulness to his sloppy non-sequiturs, “Blue Chips 7000” sometimes buckles into tawdry laziness or generic braggadocio. The “I’m on a plane to Russia with a hard dick and a tank top from target, why this blunt taste like Starburst?” of “Tank” is a particular high/lowlight of the at-least-it-rhymes Bronson school of lyricism, but even that has an endearing ridiculousness.

It’s a pity Bronson sequesters himself in sophomoric frat-boy quips, because the quieter moments of “Blue Chips 7000” are surprisingly effective. “My Right Lung” is a gorgeous travail into rainswept jazziness that bears more than a passing resemblance to the Doors’ “Riders on the Storm”, and the unexpected reggae stylings of “Hot Pepper” are at least a change of pace. However, the mixtape remains exasperatingly unrealised and formless—closer “Durag vs Headband” is truncated into Bronson’s random exclamation that “I want to die by machine gun!” before “Blue Chips 7000” abruptly cuts off. It’s a muddled conclusion to what is ultimately a muddled mixtape. Bronson’s absurdist excess is ultimately his Achilles’ heel as well as his defining feature. CO

C+

Listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I77bqvCIQN8

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Hip Hop, Pop

DJ Khaled- “Grateful” Review

The prevalence of DJ Khaled in modern pop and hip-hop is perpetually puzzling. A man who doesn’t produce his own beats, and who is, to put it kindly, a limited MC and lyricist has nonetheless been heard bellowing his own name on radio hits for over a decade. By his own admission, Khaled is closer to an organiser and promoter of the music that is released in his name, generating a reputation through his bullish self-promotion and seemingly endless connections. A brief scroll through the track listing of “Grateful” will reveal endless famous names: Beyoncé, Jay Z, Rhianna, Drake, Justin Bieber and Nicki Minaj just to name a few.

Khaled’s status as a meme is also probably a contributing factor in his fame. His escapades, including famously getting lost on a jetski, leaking his own sex tape and live-streaming the birth of his son have all drawn bemused incredulity, as well as the easy dilution of his brand down to a handful of hollered phrases—“Another one”, “We The Best Music”, “Congratulations, you played yourself”. In this noisy and transient zeitgeist-defining, his actual music is often lost.

“Grateful” itself is primarily defined both consciously and unconsciously by excess. The record bloats horribly at 23 songs, loosely defined as a concept album about Khaled’s thankfulness for his “blessings”, namely his fame, his money and his son. An Apple interview before the album’s release provides a surprisingly insightful glimpse into his mentality in producing “Grateful”: “This is my 10th album so I’m going all out… there’s no album cuts on there, these are all anthem singles”. Indeed, tracks often seem to mirror recent rap hits: “Iced Out My Arms” bears a strong resemblance to Kendrick Lamar’s “DNA” and “Good Man” sounds a bit like Desiigner’s “Panda”.

Ironically, as the album wears on, the endless guest spots that were probably intended to obscure Khaled’s lack of talent become its greatest weakness. Songs like “Whatever” are ruined simply through overcrowding, various guests virtually shouting over one another to be heard, and this is mirrored in the glossy clutter of the production. This problem is compounded by Khaled’s desire to make the album into a non-stop hit-fest, meaning that there are no subtle, reserved moments on “Grateful” in which the listener can catch their breath. Despite being 23 tracks long, the record still feels strangely truncated and rushed.

In amongst the unfocused clutter and noise there are glimmers of potential. One of the best moments on “Grateful” is the relaxed, sunny and (at least comparatively) spacious “I’m the One”, which will probably become one of the biggest songs of the summer. “Wild Thoughts” is a dreamy Spanish guitar reverie with a passable Rhianna guest spot, and “I Love You So Much” is a catchy enough to survive the typical pointless overproduction, a sweet Jackson 5 pastiche glorifying Khaled’s son with likeably ridiculous Khaled hyperbole (“you’re a mogul, you’re an icon, you’re a legend”). However, most of the rest of the album is lost in a din of headache-inducing excess, soullessly clinical production and Future’s ridiculous comatose flow. CO

D+

Listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=weeI1G46q0o

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Alternative, Electronic, Hip Hop

Album of the week: ‘Rain’ by M3staken

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This week we’ve got something a little out there for you: If you like your hip-hop then it’s one for you, but if you like something that gives a challenging listen, then wrap your ears round this one too!

Hailing from South Carolina, young producer, M3staken (M3) creates a unique blend of hip-hop with jarring electronic beats, making for a complex, yet intriguing listening experience.

‘Rain’ is his latest, and arguably the best of his ‘trilogy’, which also began with ‘Apex’ and continued on with ‘Water Colors’.

There’s a real dark feel to M3’s work, but also a compositional quality that poses the question: are artist like M3 the Mozarts of the modern day? Of course, his music is a million miles away from Mozart’s, but he has been know to dabble with blending classical piano with his beats.

Listen to ‘Rain’ here on bandcamp:

https://m3ssi.bandcamp.com/releases

 

Check out more on M3staken here:

Links:

https://soundcloud.com/m3staken

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCeJtRw31YnOdiDgsNhyhKyQ

https://m3ssi.bandcamp.com/releases

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