Review Hip-Hop can now be found at http://banjoreviewhiphop.blogspot.com/
I’ll be moving content over to the new location, as I get permission from the original authors to do so.
Review Hip-Hop can now be found at http://banjoreviewhiphop.blogspot.com/
I’ll be moving content over to the new location, as I get permission from the original authors to do so.
Starting off as a bedroom project, this New York duo has made quite an impression ever since being discovered on Bandcamp, spawning their hit “Go Outside“. Having released their self titled debut, it is very fair to say that Cults are capable of making more than just the one good song.
Singer Madeline Follin and guitarist Brian Oblivion, both originally from California, capture the fun and bright atmosphere in resemblance with surf pop, with the ripples of soaring, jangling melodies carried throughout the album. It is clear they have been influenced by the music of ‘60s girl groups like the Shangri-Las (easily spotted in “Bumper” ), as the warm and sweet melodies echo along with the unpolished production – which in this case, works effortlessly in making the album sound as dreamy as it does. At the same time, however alluring the music may be in all its smiling and doe-eyed impressions, there is something quite the opposite in what Follin sings as she captures the frustration of growing up and experiences with the opposite sex, sometimes displaying her angst with loud outbreaks of vocals: “Cause I can’t sleep alone at night/ yeah, you know what I mean”.
The first three tracks are probably the highlights of the album, breathing life into it from the very start. “Abducted” begins with the faded out strumming of guitar and Follin comparing the feeling of falling in love to that of being abducted. Although the whole album is more or less about her situations with boys – telling of how much she wants him, then telling him “fuck you” –it can’t be said that it is done in an obvious or off putting way. There is still an appeal to listeners who have no interest in the subject matter, with the singing done in a careless manner, as if Follin really doesn’t care if we’re listening to her words – we can just enjoy hearing the sound of her voice. A nice subtle addition to tracks like “Abducted” and “Bumper” is the male viewpoint, sung by Obvlivion. Despite the Follin’s slightly saddening lyrical content on other tracks, this lonely idea that we form of her is nicely contrasted against Oblivon’s own little inputs: “If she’s this crazy now/ There’s no telling what’s in store”, showing us a more amusing side.
One little personality trait of the album is the sampling of quotes from cult leaders. Jim Jones is heard at the start of “Go Outside”: “To me death is not a fearful thing; it’s living that’s treacherous”. Although the samples have been woven into the music without really affecting the quality of the songs, they don’t really do much for the album either. I can assume that they are supposed to add to the mystique and sinister feeling beneath the happy sounds, but most of the time it’s hard to hear them clearly, or to even significantly notice or care for them. There is little new about the album – everything has been created with borrowed elements from Indie pop and 60s girl groups, but there is indeed an overall freshness and air of nostalgia. However, it may seem like the high and sugary sound is too much in some places, which is true of “Walk At Night” and “Most Wanted“, and that is probably why the album is one that is cited as a good summer record – it only really has one type of mood. Even so, Cults should be credited for choosing not to exploit this for too long, with the album only lasting the bearable amount of time. The selected three minute tracks keep it short and easily listenable.
For an album that provides uplift, amusement and some form of sinister and sadness, Cults does pretty well to integrate them all into a small package. It isn’t likely that you’d tire of it quickly if you should happen to enjoy hearing its light and summery sound.
Since Reks returned to hip-hop after a long hiatus with the critically acclaimed Grey Hairs in 2008, he has proven to be one of the best and most productive rappers around. Rebelutionary marks his second release in just 3 months following his Statik Selektah collaboration Straight, No Chaser. With that album however, I thought he sounded rather uninspired, not really bringing anything new to the table lyrically and although I’m normally a fan of Statik’s production, it wasn’t his best effort either. Rebelutionary sees Reks team up with Florida producer Numonics to create a much more engaging listen that is arguably his most focused project to date.
As you’d expect with any album with a single producer, musically it is very cohesive. Numonics brings a soulful boom-bap sound that compliments Reks perfectly. He also avoids becoming monotonous which is a problem that can also arise with a single producer, showing his versatility to such an extent that I couldn’t really gather any “signature sound” to his production style asides from the ever-present punchy drums. Despite the quality of this backdrop, the main focus of Rebelutionary is definitely on the emcee.
One thing that has never been questioned is Reks’ ability as a rapper, and sure enough he delivers once again with his trademark aggressive flow and intelligent lyricism. As the title suggests, this is primarily a politically driven album. Reks is no stranger to political subject matter but this is his first time dedicating a full length LP to it. If you are someone who is getting tired of the abundance of rappers that tend to get a bit carried away with conspiracy theories or preachiness when approaching political themes, don’t turn away just yet. Reks’ approach is much more grounded than those, delivering his social commentaries on a wide range of issues such as social injustice, gun crime, police brutality and unemployment, as well as addressing current events such as the cases Trayvon Martin and Casey Anthony. In doing so he effectively paints a picture of how he sees American society without sacrificing any entertainment value to get his message across. There’s also a number of guest appearances from the likes of Jon Connor, Termanology, Knowledge Medina, J. NiCS, Krondon, Sene, Koncept and more. All of these features are used well but nobody ever comes close to outshining Reks.
The only thing lacking is a standout track as good as 25th Hour from R.E.K.S. or the title-track on Grey Hairs asides from perhaps, Gepeto (Reality Is…), thanks to the fantastic beat (which is almost identical to Next Time by Gang Starr). There is no doubt that Rebelutionary is a very well crafted album, with that said, it isn’t the type of album that will blow you away. The quality never really moves above “very good” to become truly great, which is why my rating isn’t higher despite not having any noticeable flaws. Overall though, Rebelutionary is one of the best releases so far in what has been a strong year for hip-hop and another step in the right direction for the rhythmatic eternal king supreme
It was a nice surprise when I recognized the instrumental of “Super Naturalness,” which was produced by 9th Wonder for a Jean Grae track. The sample of The Marvelettes’ Uptown resonates nicely with GHOST’s verses, who instantaneously gives off an eery similarity to Domo Genesis of Odd Future, at least in terms of his torpid tone, voice, and flow. This track is all about making his infatuation for making music as well as his affinity for pecuniary gain as clear as can be.
Owners of old records won’t be left scratching their heads at the start of “A Speech of 1000 Words.” I was never a huge fan of crackling, unless it’s used to stimulate an era or trigger nostalgia, as it is in this case. The theme, centered around staying true to himself while still blowing up, isn’t exactly one that is unheard of, but the occasional flurry of insightful lyricism more than makes up for it.
In an unusually pivotal transition from the last track, “50/Fifty” introduces itself as a braggadocio-esque, abrasive, and discordant track. Despite this, and it’s undeniable repetitiveness, it’s still pretty catchy and GHOST comes through with some hard-hitting bars.
“Spittin’ lyrical warfare, that’s why I’m in the booth with camo on.”
His far-from-desolate lyricism is put to work on “Ghost Ship,” as he reflects on dreaming without his eyes closed, among other topics. This extends into the next and final track, “SUNRISE.” The song comes in with a Cool Kids feel to it, and sticks with it. I can’t help but feel a little biased when I say it’s undoubtedly my favorite on the 5-track album.
For Super Natural Senses, in addition to bringing the technical aspects into account, I assessed this EP in accordance with the fact that GHOST is a relative neophyte to the game, and is consequently receptive of a number of contrasting styles, so inaccuracies are inevitable, but at the same time is presented with the pre-eminence that is time, for betterment. I have to say though, despite his sophomoric status, the guy does an admirable job of separating himself from the tasteless unoriginality that is becoming the norm for upcoming emcees, while still making music that has the potential to reach today’s casual music enthusiasts. Keep at it, and to those reading, keep an eye out for GHOST MC in the time to come.
It is true that some people don’t fare too well with the English accent, when it comes to rap – but even if you do, it’s not the accent that lets the album down. Vocally, Cynikal has a voice that although is recognisable, fails to be capturing or pleasant to listen to. It is also pretty safe to conclude that singing isn’t one of the rapper’s strongest points, as the nasally use of his voice can only be described as simply annoying. This isn’t helped much by the fact that the hooks don’t redeem the already tiresome lyrics – either being repetitive or weak. The album does feature other vocalists, but the only possible positivity this gives to the album is that the female vocals on “Won’t Let You Down” does sound a little bit like Rihanna (take that comment as you please). On the bright side, his flow does seem to come into place about halfway through the album, and there isn’t much disjointedness in his delivery.
The thing that made “Breakfast” vaguely enjoyable to listen to, was picking out the corny lines the rapper uses. It was a delight to hear “it’s a pain for me…and that shit ain’t funny”, and I’d also be lying if I said I didn’t laugh every time I heard “sorry I don’t do brunch, that don’t do much for me”. Quite frankly, some of them don’t even make sense ( “coming with the fists of a falcon”…..anyone? Falcons have fists now? Or is that meant to be a reference to something that most people don’t know about?). All in all, this has led me to conclude that Cynikal does resort to just rhyming things for the sake of rhyming. On the other hand, the lyrics could also be seen as a blessing in disguise, because at least they provided some form of enjoyable entertainment.
It is probably worth mentioning his use of British slang – which of course, is understandable, as he draws on the language and culture he knows – though, admittedly I did laugh…again. Not because the slang is funny, but because it seems hard to take this man seriously when he tells us he is “writin’ this with a flippin’ smile”. Most of the record is about how he has reached a new “state of mind” and how he “wants to be something”. Yes, it spells out all the clichés you can think of (the predictable phrase “Knowledge is power”, sampled on “Exhibit A” is only one of many examples. It’s fair to say that the original by Jay Electronica had a better use of samples) and it almost feels like he is trying to convince us that he is not looking for fame and” status”, that he is something fresh and new – it is quite ironic that he has actually just created an album that is an attempt at an already played out style. Just to complete our expectation from this album, “The Struggle” is a storytelling track about a teenage boy who had a bad childhood and leaves to make something of himself – naturally, none of us saw that coming.
The production itself is mainstream friendly, (it sounds like he strives to be like J.Cole, only further supported by his rework of “Losing My Balance”). Not bad, but at the same time, bland, with the exception of, “Travellin'”, which holds a nice enough drum beat and an enjoyable looping sample. Once again, there is a lack of anything outstanding with this element of this music as well. Perhaps the criticism about his predictable use of sample and beats wouldn’t be quite so severe, if there was something more believable or genuine in what Cynikal is saying. Unfortunately, the combination of the two failing factors makes it hard to be forgiving.
Overall, I can’t exactly call this groundbreaking, and I’m not likely to recommend it to anyone. In fact, it appears to be a showcase of how British hip-hop culture is still relatively backward, in comparison to its American counter part.
Best track: Travellin’
Download Breakfast for free here.
When we’re talking about hip hop, New Zealand isn’t always (well hardly ever) at the forefront of discussion. The fact of the matter is, try as they might, for a small and distant country surrounded by ocean, recognition is bound to come with some difficultly. But Auckland native David Dallas, recipient of the “Best Hip-Hop Album” award for his debut album Something Awesome, and deservedly so, is a promising, driving force in changing that for the better.
His second full-length, The Rose Tint, a release through Duck Down records, does a good job of showcasing just how he plans to do so. Raw, resolute, yet unruffled lyricism, comparable to that of Versis, accompanied by more radio-friendly instrumentals, predominately from Fire & Ice in this one, that provide aid in carrying the album to the broader audience that he much appreciates. In the guest verse department, we have the likes of Freddie Gibbs and Buckshot. Basically, this guy should be on your radar if he wasn’t already. Let’s have a walk-through anyway.
A soulful sample of The Ebonys’s “A Love of Your Own” kicks off the project. In “Start Looking Around,” Dallas states his distaste for some things, specifically a past relationship that held him down, but brings a self-assured, bold attitude.
“Now I’m up in my zone feeling like a motherfucking cyclone, I can do whatever I set my sights on”
“Take a Picture” is one of the more notable songs on the album, centered on his soon-to-come ascension into the spotlight. Freddie Gibbs puts forward a well-written verse in “Caught in a Daze” which to me is reminiscent of a laid-back Curren$y track (all of them.) Admirably, even in such a nonchalant track, Dallas seems to enjoy making use of his wit while crafting rhymes. “Nothing to Do” features Pieter T on the chorus, and revisits the desolate relationship that David had the unpleasant task of having to endure. “Til Tomorrow” is perhaps my favorite song on the album, for its catchy (some credit to Ratatat for that) and optimistically succinct nature. “Ain’t Perfect” continues the relative optimism, and leads on to “Sideline” with Che Fu. This one will be resonant among angst-filled teens, as it highlights the frustration Dallas had in adolescence with being in his prime, but too afraid to step out of his safety zone. “Postcard” is a dedication to his father. Dallas says he’ll make it big for him, the same dad who thought that hip hop was a temporary fad. Upon listening to “Make Up,” one thing I’d finally noticed is that Dallas’ verses are quite authentic and imperviously uninfluenced by some other well-known rapper, which many other up-and-coming emcees have an inclination to do lately. Following through with this, he finishes off with “Ain’t Coming Down” alongside Buckshot.
In conclusion, The Rose Tint consists of well-written verses, memorable choruses, and is gift-wrapped and readied by David Dallas’ unswerving flow. David possesses a certain steadfastness for his music, and this is audibly recognizable throughout the album. So, the question it ultimately all comes down to… Worth a spin? My answer would be yes.
No other band today other than Fun. fits the title as the modern-day Queen. Their quirky pop style of music is charming and infectious. Why it took so long for the media to recognize them is baffling. Fun. is indeed an enjoyable band. The catchiness of their music is irresistible, especially from their debut album Aim and Ignite.
The production, which can only be described as ‘bubbly’, is consistent throughout the course of the album. Nate Ruess’s clean, non-overbearing vocals blend perfectly with the music. The atmosphere is light and pleasing, which means that it’s ideal for both focused listening and background music without being distracting. The lyrics themselves are often adorable, but there are some select strange bits, such as “Light a roman candle with me/ Just a roman candle, you can wear your sandals/ And I’ll pour you just one cup of tea.” While there are a few other nonsensical lyrics such as this one, they hardly detract from the overall listening experience and it’s one of the band’s noticeable characteristics.
It is quite obvious that the band is largely influenced by Queen and other 60s bands such as the Beach Boys. The record opens with the standout track “Be Calm”, a song perfect as the introduction for the album. Skittish violins, flutes, and bells give way to triumphant brass and electric guitar, with Nate’s vocals going from soft and hurried to bold and inviting. The intention of the band is to have the listener be eager to hear more after the opening track, and this is just the case. “All the Pretty Girls” is a strings-laced, pop delight where Nate proclaims his troubles with a girl. Reggae-flecked “At Least I’m Not As Sad (As I Used to Be)” is optimistic to say the least, with a steady drumline and prominent, bright-sounding guitar. By far the catchiest track on the album is ‘Walking the Dog’, where its odd consistent clapping pattern is one of its most prominent characteristics of the song. There’s no doubt you’ll have the chorus stuck in your head for a while (“Na-na-nanana-na-na/I’ll never let you go-o!”).
Overall, this is what a great pop record should sound like. If your inner music snob turns its nose up at any mention of the word ‘pop’, don’t fret. There’s something for everyone in this album. The album maintains its bright style, but it experiments as well. Its clever use of orchestral instruments paired with modern-day ones add to the band’s appeal. It tends to stray away from the formulaic structure of most pop music and instead takes the listener on its own strange musical path. Sound fun? Indeed, it is.