Album Review: Kanye West

The Life of Pablo – Kanye West (GOOD Music, Def Jam, Roc-A-Fella)

In conjunction with the album going platinum, I’ve decided to finally post my The Life of Pablo review.

The first thing to address about this typically atypical Kanye West album is the actual roll-out of it. Kanye made it very clear on Twitter in a very stream-of-consciousness-like fashion that this album would not be a CD and was only ever going to be on TIDAL and would never be on Apple Music. A few weeks later, it was available to stream on Apple Music.

Initially known as So Help Me God, SWISH and Waves, before becoming The Life of Pablo, an entire media circus was in action before West had even shared the first hint of what the album would sound like.

In typical Kanye fashion, he made brash statements about not only Taylor Swift, Mark Zuckerberg and the paparazzi but also came to the defence of alleged-date rapist Bill Cosby.

All of this seemed like a distraction from the multiple delays that this album had. However, when the wife of West, Kim Kardashian announced that the GOOD Friday series would be returning, things began to look up. Kanye had previously done a popular free music giveaway leading up to the 2010 release of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by the same name. The following month saw the release of Real Friends with Ty Dolla $ign, No More Parties in LA with Kendrick Lamar and 30 Hours.

The album was first played at Madison Square Garden following his Yeezy Season extravaganza, however the final (first official) release would come around a week later. At MSG Kanye West, an AUX cord, hundreds of models and a packed crowd made for an unreal experience.

When the album finally came out, the internet went into meltdown. TIDAL was, for a brief period, the number one app in the world and Kanye trended on Twitter for days.

So there it is, the rundown of the off-the-wall approach Kanye West used to market and release his long-awaited seventh solo album.

The actual music is equally off-the-wall. Bouncing around from gospel to trap vibes, Kanye creates an eccentric sight into his ever-evolving vision.

The album opens with Kanye on hook duty for Ultralight Beam, a striking track about his faith in God featuring his newest prodigy and fellow Chicagoan, Chance the Rapper, who delivers an incendiary verse addressing the fact he has gone from being a massive childhood Kanye fan to featuring on his song. He also makes several biblical references displaying his impressive metaphorical ability and word play – “I laugh in my head / ‘cause I bet that my ex looking back like a pillar of salt”. This song is, indeed, a god dream.

The gospel sound carries on into the next track, Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1 until a tremendous Metro Boomin-assisted beat change sees the song take a trap approach with filthy lyrics to match. The infamous “bleached asshole” line takes you out of the moment for a second but – that single lyric apart – Kanye created a melodic yet captivating song that flows perfectly into the next track.

Pt. 2, which interpolates the viral hit by GOOD Music artist Desiigner, Panda, is a touching and somewhat sullen ode to his father.

Next in the tracklist is perhaps the most talked-about song Kanye has released in recent memory, Famous. Ignoring the obnoxious ad-libs from Swizz Beats, this track is a shameless and unforgiving lyrical demonstration from Mr. West in which he claims that Taylor Swift owes him sex. Why? He “made that bitch famous”. He continues to flex, this time about his cars and money. Joined by both Rihanna and a remastered sample of Nina Simone, the Illinois MC makes a statement which, while not exactly surprising at this point, still has an element of a shock factor which few artists match Kanye West in terms of.

Feedback, the fifth song on TLOP, has an abstract, Yeezus-on-coke inclination to it. Yeezy comes out swinging, telling everyone to stop sleeping on him and embrace the movement. This song is a real highlight of this album and does everything it needs to do. West’s rambling flow compliments the beat perfectly and suggests despite the disjointedness of Kanye’s life, music and online presence, he is very much a man who knows what he’s doing.

The album then takes a different turn with the atmospheric interlude Low Lights. The female speaker gives a prayer-like testimony, thanking God for everything in her life. It is implied that the interlude communicates how Kanye feels about his life.

Young Thug is a key part of the next track, Highlights. His fleeting yet loopy style of creating melodies transcends the trap sound which he is often categorised under. If Thug’s screeching laid the foundations for the track, Kanye built a mansion on them with his auto-tuned. stentorious verses on this track. Here, he leaves Taylor Swift alone for a moment and rips into Ray J. The singer, who was famously with Kanye’s wife before their relationship, is shot at from all angles as Kanye claims they’d be friends if Ray J didn’t love his wife. He parts with a final blow, saying the only difference between them is that West is rich. West goes on to stunt about his twenty-one Grammy Awards, comparing his family to that of Michael Jackson’s. Kanye really hits his searing stride on this track when he describes himself as a “walking, living, breathing god”, a self-comparison West has never been scared to make throughout his career.

The album goes from this gloriously self-assured declaration of greatness to a disorientating interlude called Freestyle 4 which is simultaneously captivating and upsetting. He raps from the boozy perspective of an intoxicated guy whose going wild at formal events, presumably a reflection of his real life. He describes the sensation of the false reality his drug abuse has created and the never-ending spiral of losing control he is experiencing. Desiigner is recruited again on the outro of this track, West making a real showcase of his then-recently-signed artist.

Another high point of TLOP is Real Friends, featuring Los Angeles’ Ty Dolla $ign. It’s a callback to Kanye’s previously prevalent introspective side as he struggles to balance relationships with friends and family. He describes feeling conflicted about how to handle ‘friends’ who try to use Kanye’s status for their own gain. Ty’s lyrics are from the perspective of aforementioned fake friends.

As the album progresses, the sound continues to transform. Shades of West’s former self show through on No More Parties in LA, the first ever collaboration between him and fascinating Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar. Kanye goes back to chopping up the soul for the instrumental on this track and raps in a way that takes the listener back to the mid-2000’s and the Kanye of old. This version of himself, which he references on the tongue-in-cheek interlude I Love Kanye, is supressed no longer and he raps in such an utterly skilled way that he actually betters the verse of Lamar, widely-regarded to be the best active rapper in the world.

West calls on Ty Dolla $ign again as TLOP begins to wind down with Fade. A club style instrumental built from four samples: Fingers Inc.’s “Mystery of Love,” Hardrive’s “Deep Inside,” Barbara Tucker’s “I Get Lifted” and “(I Know) I’m Losing You.” The culmination of these samples is a cry-out from Kanye to a lover who is becoming distant. He says he can feel their love fading away. West brings himself down to human level for this track and also the final, bonus cut.

Saint Pablo is another self-evaluative track where Kanye West addresses several of the recent scandals and controversies surrounding his name. The deepest issues that were concerning him at the time he was releasing TLOP are all touched on. Most significantly, he discusses his personal debt and how he needs to learn to say no sometimes, as at the rate he’s going he is going to “die broke.” He also addresses recent media allegations that suggest that he is mentally unwell, calling himself “this generation’s closest thing to Einstein” and reminding people not to “worry about me, I’m fine.” This song, complimented with a silk-spun outro from the Drake-collaborator and London singer Sampha, brings this auditory journey to a gratifying ending, tying a bow on the gift that is The Life of Pablo.

As a huge fan of Kanye West’s previous work, I awaited this album with bated breath. When it finally arrived, I was not disappointed. It is the launch pad from which the careers of the likes of Chance the Rapper and Desiigner can become superstars and all the while it remains true to the unorthodox slant that Kanye has maintained since The College Dropout all the way back in 2004. While it is not West’s greatest album, it holds up well against six other solo albums, all of which hold a special place in my heart.  A thoroughly interesting and abstract take on modern hip-hop, Mr. West shows he’s still got it against all the odds.

 

#BBAR

 

Twitter – @boombapacidrap

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Mixtape Review: Chance the Rapper

Coloring Book – Chance the Rapper (Independent) – May 2016

Chance took a major ‘chance’ here. His first solo effort since 2013’s classic mixtape Acid Rap (and one of my personal favourite projects of all time), Coloring Book is unlike anything that has ever been done in mainstream hip-hop. Proudly hailing from Chicago, the young MC shines a light on the rarely-seen positive side of the Windy City, while also wearing his faith in God on his sleeve for all to see.

The triumphant opening track, “All We Got” which features one of Chano’s idols in Kanye West manages to top their last collaboration on “Ultralight Beam” on The Life of Pablo. Religion is a key theme throughout this song and Chance’s lyrics, along with the choir and Kanye’s vocals on the hook give this song a very church-like feel right from the off.

The album then transitions into the glorious “No Problem”, where Chance proves himself to be music’s most successful free agent, flexing about how great it is to be independent. He calls on the Collegrove duo, Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz to help him out which is apt considering they have both had issues with labels in the past. Another of Chance’s idols, Lil Wayne delivers a buoyant line about freeing “Tha Carter”, which suggests he is fighting to give us his long-awaited twelfth studio album as soon as possible. The song’s hook, “You don’t want no problem with me”, is a threat to record executives who have actively attempted to hold Chance the Rapper’s movement down. His attitude, however, is defiant. He won’t be stopped.

Other superstar guest spots are given to the elusive Jay Electronica, who pops up on “How Great” with a characteristically brilliant verse, T-Pain, who does a sublime job of complimenting Chance’s bubbly singing voice on “Finish Line / Drown” alongside the iconic Kirk Franklin, Noname and Eryn Allen Kane and Justin Bieber who does lends a glowing chorus to the Chicagoan anthem “Juke Jam”.

As well as these big names, Chance allows several newer names to join the party like D.R.A.M., who gets a solo track with “D.R.A.M. Sings Special”, Lil Yachty, who is fresh off of a great mixtape of his own in Lil Boat and doesn’t disappoint on “Mixtape” featuring the always-polarising Young Thug who also delivers the goods.

“Blessings” was premiered on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, where it was announced as Coloring Book’s third single. Here, he vows to keep preaching until he “fades away” and touches on how the birth of his daughter monumentally changed his life. He delivers a brilliant series of lines on this song:  “Jesus’ black life ain’t matter, I know I talked to his daddy/Said you the man of the house now, look out for your family/He has ordered my steps, gave me a sword with a crest/And gave Donnie a trumpet in case I get shortness of breath,” which are a tribute to the religious leitmotif on Coloring Book, suggesting that perhaps God sent him this message directly.

Chance takes a slightly different direction with “All Night”, which is a more commercial sounding song, however infectious without getting annoying (I can assure you this, I must have heard it hundreds of times now). The Knox Fortune-produced joint is lively, vivacious and has that endearing hook that will be stuck in your head forever.

Returning from a quick “Smoke Break” with Future, Chance begins to shut up shop on “Finish Line / Drown”. In the first half, he admits to a past addiction to Xanax and pushing his body to its limit. The second portion, however is an intensely spiritual contribution featuring female rapper Noname and gospel artist Kirk Franklin. Noname delivers a theistic spoken-word verse before Franklin tops it off with a prayer-like donation to the Book. The tape closes out with “Blessings (Reprise)” which brings everything full circle neatly with a Chance-led choir of Ty Dolla $ign, BJ the Chicago Kid, Anderson .Paak, Raury and Nico. Each of their unique voices blend together to create a gospel/hip-hop fusion that is undeniably striking.

Chance the Rapper seriously comes into his own on this mixtape. Songs like “Same Drugs”, “All We Got” and “No Problem” mean if Chance was to retire tomorrow, he would have a discography worthy of a rap icon. Artists like Kanye West and DMX may have laid the foundations for the introduction of religion into traditional hip-hop but no-one has ever done something so spiritual on such a high profile project. The ‘chance’ that I mentioned Chance took at the start of the review is that he put it all on the line despite the possibility that the worship would alienate fans looking for gangster talk and turn-up records. The chance paid off and Chance effortlessly floats from song to song, keeping the religion discrete enough so as not to put off the casual listener.

At the end of the day, Coloring Book is probably one of, if not the best project of the year. It loses none of its inventiveness and imagination after countless listens and goes against the grain in a satisfying way, all while whetting the appetites of Chance’s original fans.

 

#BBAR

Listen to the mixtape on all streaming platforms now!

Follow me on Twitter @boombapacidrap

Follow Chance on Twitter @chancetherapper

EP Review: ANTHEMIC

I’m Not Dead Yet – ANTHEMIC (independent, Wasted Youth) – April 2016 

 This review is not like anything I’ve done on Boom Bap and Acid Rap before. I’m Not Dead Yet was released for free late last week independently by Chicago-land singer, songwriter, rapper and producer ANTHEMIC under his collective Wasted Youth. An EP with six tracks, the young musician manages to deliver something totally different with each song, in the way you might expect an A-Lister like Drake or Pharrell Williams to do. Obviously, this is stylistically and sonically different, however the influence is apparent.

The introduction is a serene, relaxed piano track which, while it didn’t particularly need to be there, it set the scene well and was a taster of the beautiful instrumentation to come.

I Can’t Fucking Dance is the first full-length track and to be honest, it’s outstanding. It features the talents of Laron Flowers and Eddie Ishaya, fellow Wasted Youth members who both contribute tremendous verses. I feel like if this song was just a minute shorter, it would definitely have single potential, however it does drag on quite a bit after doing what it needs to do. Despite its length (5:09), nothing can be taken away from the floaty, polished beat. The accompanying music video to this song is equally brilliant and I suggest that it should definitely be checked out. ANTHEMIC definitely has a Childish Gambino-esque nature about him on this track and this would have been even more conspicuous had his vocals been a bit more prominent over the instrumental.

The third song this EP has to offer is named Glass and like I Can’t Fucking Dance, it is blessed with production from the very talented Kenny Bureaux. The drums on the track are close to immaculate. This song, again, is very long, however this is surely excusable due to the overall shortness of the project. Towards the end of the song the beat breaks, which leads to nothing and feels a little pointless and almost kills a bit of the momentum on this song where ANTHEMIC probably sings and raps at the highest quality on the whole EP. That slightly deflating moment doesn’t last long though.

A nice, brief interlude called Here We Go Again helps I’m Not Dead Yet pick back up where it left off for the second half. The self-produced joint is reminiscent of ‘Till I Collapse by Eminem’s intro to begin with and transitions effortlessly to sound like the 808s and Heartbreaks pianos by Kanye West.

That piano transitions again into Anyway which is a cool continuation. One thing this EP does well above anything else is the usually impeccable choice of instrumentation as this song closes with some sulky guitars that sum up the mood of this song deftly. One minor gripe, however, is that the horns on this song seem very distorted which may have been intentional but in my opinion, they should have matched the smoothness of the rest of the song. I wouldn’t say this is my least favourite song on the EP but it is probably my sixth favourite just because I think the lyrics occasionally come across a bit sloppy. Despite that, it does not take away from the vocal performance on display as ANTHEMIC is undeniably very good at singing, bringing a Frank Ocean-style skill set to the table. The last minute or so sounds a lot like many of the instrumentals on Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy which displays ANTHEMIC’s versatility brilliantly.
The closing track is very fun. Point of Views is used by ANTHEMIC to be amusingly self-evaluative through some of his best bars on the project. There’s a brief moment where he stretches his voice in Lil Wayne fashion which actually made me laugh out loud, definitely something I want to hear more of from him. It’s a short song but in a good way and definitely does exactly what it needs to do.

I’m Not Dead Yet is a project that I seriously, seriously recommend to anyone who has an interest in any of the artists I have mentioned in this review. ANTHEMIC is a musician with a very bright future ahead of him. I’m so excited to see where he goes from here.

#BBAR #WastedYouth

Listen to the EP on Soundcloud for free now!

Follow me on Twitter @boombapacidrap

Follow ANTHEMIC on Twitter @GodAryanBarrett

A Year To Remember’s Greatest Albums: Ty Dolla $ign

Free TC – Ty Dolla $ign (Taylor Gang, Pu$haz Ink, Atlantic) – November 2015

 

What is most amazing to me about this album is that Ty Dolla $ign has developed that Nate Dogg knack of sounding vocally incredible while never giving the impression he is trying too hard. This album names 24 different acts as features and never feels like it isn’t Ty’s album, which is perfectly captured on the first track “LA, basically an exclamatory show of pride for Ty’s hometown of Los Angeles, which features Kendrick Lamar, Brandy and James Fauntleroy. While Kendrick delivers a verse in which he pays tribute to the LA Lakers and 2Pac, both synonymous with West Coast life, Brandy’s bit-part shows she still has it 24 years after her solo debut and Cocaine 80s’ Grammy-winning singer James Fauntleroy does what you’d expect him to.

One of my biggest gripes with so many albums of this kind is that, too often, the singles on it feel separate from the movement of the album, however Free TC manages to blend the tracks together to create a sonically-pleasing album through Ty’s unassumingly great voice and the production from some of the game’s best such as Hit-Boy, DJ Mustard and Metro Boomin among others.

Another highlight of the album is the collaboration with Babyface called “Solid” which, to me, is undoubtedly one of the year’s best songs. In order to demonstrate how impressive it is for Ty to have Babyface on his album, you have to go through his eleven Grammy award winning career and look at the fact he has written for and worked with people like Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Beyoncé, the aforementioned Brandy and even Lil Wayne. The guitar-driven track is, in theory, pretty simple: wherever Ty Dolla $ign goes, women follow in their masses and he wants for very little, be it money, real friends or weed as he already has an abundance of said things. The actual song is infectiously catchy and since I heard it first, it has barely left my head.

The album grows naturally and feels very unforced. Ty and his team do a fantastic job of integrating A-List artists like Kanye West, R. Kelly and his label mate Wiz Khalifa without placing them on a pedestal and keeping Ty feeling like the main attraction the entire way through.

The hip-hop community looks forward to seeing if Ty Dolla $ign can keep his meteoric rise going. With a great feature on Kanye West’s “Real Friends” from The Life Of Pablo and two new songs out today, he is taking the right steps towards stardom.

A Year to Remember’s Greatest Albums: Pusha T

Darkness Before Dawn: The Prelude – Pusha T (GOOD Music, Def Jam) – December 2015

Intended to serve as a prelude for the GOOD Music president’s third studio album, Darkness Before Dawn has set the bar excitingly high for the long-awaited King Push, due in spring of this year. For a start, the first single released in anticipation of the album, Untouchable heavily samples The Notorious B.I.G.’s iconic guest verse on Pudgee’s 1995 Think Big. In this verse, Biggie claims to be lyrically “untouchable, uncrushable”, which is clearly a recurring theme for Pusha on this project where he is consistently in a very self-appreciative mood.

The Metro Boomin-produced intro to the album sets the signature shady tone which Pusha T has utilised all through his solo career. Happily, this is followed up on in the majority of the next nine tracks.

One of my favourite tracks on the album is Crutches, Crosses, Caskets. A few curious lines (“Old n****s slapping young n****s, ha imagine that, where you from n****?”) on this song allude to the alleged Drake and Diddy altercation at a nightclub in December 2014. This is made more intriguing by the fact Diddy has production credit on this song. Pusha has cited this song as his favourite on the project, understandably.

Despite other masterful performances, the standout track must be M.P.A., an acronym for Money, Pussy, Alcohol, featuring his frequent collaborator and GOOD Music associate – check out New God Flow, Mercy, Runaway and So Appalled – Kanye West, A$AP Rocky and The-Dream. Sounding reminiscent of Blame Game by Kanye from his critically acclaimed (and one of my personal favourite) album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, M.P.A. has a star-filled feel about it that makes you sit up and take notice. And in the current era, a lot of hip-hop, although being good, doesn’t do this.

The Virginia-born and raised coke merchant continues to flow slickly over luxury beats crafted by top-tier producers such as Timbaland, Boi-1da, J Cole and Q-Tip. This album has a grandeur about it, polished to the point of excellence.

Pusha has a rare gift of being able to elaborate his grim images to the point where you finish listening to one of his projects and feel like a character from The Wire. The dictionary definition of ‘prelude’ is an event serving as an introduction to something more important. If that can’t sell Pusha T’s next album to you, nothing will.

#BBAR

2015: A Year to Remember

As I have been absent for over a week, I’ve decided this would be a good time to announce a new series of articles.

2015 was a fantastic year for hip-hop as a whole. We saw the emergence of Bryson Tiller and Goldlink. Future had his best year to date, as did Drake. We witnessed the seismic return of Dr. Dre with Compton. And Kendrick Lamar went from urban prodigy to the undisputed voice of the streets.

With so much exceptional music being released over the course of the year, it wouldn’t be right not to review any of it. For that reason, starting tonight, I hope to post at least one review per week for a good while.

Any criticisms, suggestions or requests can be submitted via Twitter @boombapacidrap. Any interaction is greatly appreciated.

#BBAR

A quick update

As I am currently pretty busy with school stuff and work among other things, I have had limited time to work on articles and stuff for BBAR. I have half-finished some interesting stuff and posts will be regular very soon, however for the time being, you’ll have to bear with me.

In the meantime, for some slightly less informative and easier-going BBAR, follow me on Twitter. I’m using the handle @boombapacidrap and will be able to update that a bit more regularly.

Feel free to get in touch with me via Twitter and the comments on this page to put me onto artists, forward ideas or to share any thoughts about everything hip-hop.

How Hip-Hop Changed My Life: An Introduction

An Introduction to BBAR

 

After much deliberation, I have started a blog for a number of reasons, although mainly to relieve my Twitter followers from my constant outpour of nonsense and to put it into a more orderly form. I hope to update as regularly as possible, however with exams rapidly approaching, you may have to bear with me at times.

Basically, as soon as I heard hip-hop music, I fell in love with the upbeat feeling and the bright, in-your-face, cocky characters. Now, as I approach 18 years of age this year, I find myself getting hooked all over again with the braggadocios attitudes, unique culture and the lyricism in its rawest form. And for this reason, I feel a burning desire to publish my opinions and views so as to possibly inform, entertain and, almost definitely, let out some of my inner rap-nerd.

The first actual hip-hop album I owned was The Black Album by Jay-Z on CD. While I didn’t understand a lot of Jay’s metaphors or wordplay, something about his brash delivery connected with me. Upon hundreds of re-listens, it continues to be an album that shaped how I view music. For example, any hip-hop single that is hot at any given time, to me, is subconsciously compared to “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” or “99 Problems”, both perfect examples of producing a sound that not only captures the ‘pop’ audience’s ear but also manages to keep Jay-Z and hip-hop’s core fans satisfied.

From there I got to the murder-infused, dark bars of 50 Cent, to 2Pac who played a huge part in making it okay for a gangster to talk about his feelings and social issues, to the soul-sampling and self-evaluative Kanye West, to the paradoxical Brooklyn drawl of the Notorious B.I.G., all the way to the marijuana-loving thug that is Snoop Dogg. I was fascinated with all of these extremes and everything in between.

Fast forward to today and I feel, if possible, even more passionate about the art form that is rap. At this point in time, early February 2016, the hip-hop community is waiting with bated breath for Kanye West’s long-awaited follow up to his controversial 2013 album Yeezus, for Drake’s frantically anticipated Views from the 6 and for everything else that the world’s most multi-faceted and conflicting genre has to offer.

I, Peter Tomlinson, creator of Boom Bap and Acid Rap will keep you covered as far as possible.