Album Review: J. Cole – KOD

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Artist: J. Cole

Album: KOD

Genre: Hip Hop

Rating: 5/10

 Hip Hop is at a point now where the golden era of the 80’s and 90’s is often labeled “Dad Rap.” It’s been this way for awhile, but this recent crop of Trap rappers whom dominate the airwaves have made this even more apparent. The tattooed from head to toe rappers with colored dreads who put more emphasis on pounding bass and Trap high hats to make up for lack of technical skill have set the bar pretty low, but their success is at an all time high, but there are those rappers like Kendrick Lamar, Joey Bada$$, and Big K.R.I.T. who deliver thought provoking lyrical content all while pushing the genre forward by incorporating new and innovative elements, but there is a rapper who has all the qualities Hip Hop traditionalists love, but still manages to slip through the cracks when it comes to the “G.O.A.T.” talks, and that man is J. Cole. We’ve all heard the “platinum with no features,” “boring,” and “folding laundry” jokes, but all memes aside, the guy is a respectable MC. So what is it about his music that is so divisive? Well, everything he has released thus far has showcased his skills as an MC and a lyricist yes, but his songwriting abilities are very average, and his “old head” mentality is more of a curse than a gift. His decision to rap over dated “Boom Bap” production and his lack of interest in pushing the envelope deems much of his work inessential, and when you make Hip Hop in the 2010’s that’s indistinguishable from Hip Hop of the 90’s it raises the question “Why should we care about Cole?” His new album KOD suffers from the same issues, but the thing is, this album sounds like it was supposed to be his masterpiece. It feels as if Cole was shooting for a revolutionary album. This album is rich in thought provoking and quite intriguing subject matter, and it features recurring themes of mainstream Hip Hop’s glamorization of drugs and the influence it’s having on the youth, as well as humanity’s immersion in the evils of money, and the complex subject of love, which according to this album is “The strongest drug of them all.” Ugh, I don’t think I’ve eaten nachos as cheesy as that, and I don’t think that joke I just made is as cheesy as that line on the album. Anyway, yes these are topical and important subjects on paper, but the delivery is so lackluster that it unfortunately makes this album uninteresting, and I’m not talking about Cole’s rapping, I’m talking about how he focuses more on his flow and lyrical content and not enough on the production and anything else in the bigger picture that truly makes an album good. Yes lyrical content is a beautiful thing, and it is a very important part of music, but it’s not the only important element. If that were the case than books would be more popular than music. His lyrics and flow are not enough to save the album from the very plain and bland instrumentals, the generic “Trap” whether it’s done ironically or not, and the repetitive and uninspired hooks, and believe me, these hooks are terrible. Just listen to “The Cut Off” and you’ll know what I mean. Under the guise “kiLL edward,” Cole delivers a God awful annoying as Hell hook that anyone in their right mind would find grating, and unfortunately this uninteresting alter ego appears once again on the track “FRIENDS.” The tracks “ATM” and “KOD” are the strongest moments on the album, but they only sound a lot better than what they actually are because the rest of the album is so forgettable. Now I’m not trying to just rip this album to shreds. I actually have respect for J. Cole and I think he is a very talented MC, but he needs to realize that just because you talk about “real shit,” doesn’t mean you’re automatically going to be placed amongst the greats. It doesn’t automatically make an album good. If he’s too stubborn to realize that then he will most likely continue to release inessential and divisive music.

Written By: Steven Sandoval

Date: 04/23/18

Death Grips Unveil “Year of the Snitch” Album Cover

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Death Grips have unveiled the cover for their upcoming album Year of the Snitch, and in true Death Grips fashion it is uncomfortable, repulsive, and damn captivating. Year of the Snitch still has no release date, but the album is “Coming soon” according to the band.

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Written By: Steven Sandoval

Date: 04/06/18

Album Review: Black Panther: The Album

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Artist: Various Artists

Album: Black Panther Soundtrack

Genre: Hip Hop/R&B/Dancehall

Rating: 8/10

We’re all patiently waiting (Well not patiently but we’re waiting) for Black Panther to hit theaters this Friday. It has the potential to be a revolutionary film with it’s talented cast and relevant themes, but while we wait we can all enjoy the film’s soundtrack, and who better to curate the soundtrack than the G.O.A.T. Kendrick Lamar? Lamar was originally going to just write a few tracks for the soundtrack, but after seeing the film he was inspired to produce the whole thing along with Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith and a number of producers such as Sounwave, DJ Dahi, Mike Will Made It, BadBadNotGood, and many more. The soundtrack features a star-studded lineup with fellow labelmates SZA, ScHoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, and Jay Rock, as well as Vince Staples, 2 Chainz, Travis Scott, Khalid, James Blake, Anderson .Paak, Future, and The Weeknd. When the tracklist and features were revealed many of us had high hopes for this album, and somehow this album still exceeded our expectations. Not only is this a well produced well put together soundtrack to “Marvel’s” most highly anticipated film in years, but it is a holistic record that takes on a life of it’s own. Each track transitions seamlessly into the next while the continuous incorporation of tribal percussion and exotic instruments evoke the spirit of Wakanda. Even the harsher tracks like the film’s antagonist Erik Killmonger’s theme “King’s Dead” or the “EDM” heavy “Opps” never stray away from the central themes of the album and they paint a picture of what could be going on in the film, and that’s one of the many intriguing things about this soundtrack, and that’s how are these songs going to be worked into the film? Mind you this is still a “Marvel” film and the bulk of these tracks feature explicit content, but there’s no doubt in my mind that they will work perfectly within the context of the film. This album even features some bangers heavy with Trap production like “X” or “Big Shot.” “Paramedic!” brings that hard-hitting West Coast flavor, and the contrast between songs like these and a song like the gorgeous “All The Stars” or the “Dancehall” driven “Redemption” works perfectly. Even though the mood often shifts from one track to another the album stays cohesive, dispelling any preconceived notions that this album is just a collection of tracks. This soundtrack is a great reflection of a revolutionary film that will be a defining moment for African American culture.

Written By: Steven Sandoval

Date: 02/12/18

 

Album Review: MGMT – Little Dark Age

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Artist: MGMT

Album: Little Dark Age

Genre: Synth Pop/Psychedelic Pop

Rating: 8/10

Most people would kill to have a hit single. To have that instant success which leads to a luxurious lifestyle of wealth and fame. It’s what a lot of people fantasize about, but what happens when the hit singles you’re known for shadows over your aspiration to experiment and to innovate? That’s the part most people fail to consider. “Psychedelic Pop” duo “MGMT” right off the bat spawned the hit singles “Kids,” “Electric Feel,” and “Time To Pretend” when they released their debut album Oracular Spectacular back in 2007. This lead to immense success for the band, but this became more of a curse than a gift. The band were determined to shed that colorful “Indie Pop” image they didn’t want by following up that record with Acid soaked Psychedelia that drew a lot from 60’s “Psych-Rock” and bands such as “The Flaming Lips” or “Animal Collective,” but a lot of people weren’t on board with this progression. The more Experimental they got, the more they alienated themselves from fans and critics alike. It’s simply unfair. A lot of people failed to recognize how incredible the band’s second album Congratulations was, and when the band released their self-titled third album in 2013 they got even weirder making music that was unlistenable. Many began to question the future of the band, and then the band disappeared for five years. Now with a new sense of inspiration the band have returned with their fourth album Little Dark Age. “MGMT” have gone back to making Poppy music again with this album, but they do it without sacrificing their love for Psychedelia. These songs aren’t as lengthy or acid soaked as most of their post-Oracular Spectacular material, but where there’s a catchy tune there’s also moments filled with freak out synths, lush sound textures, and abstract lyricism. On this record “MGMT” embrace the fact that they are great at writing Pop tunes, but they do it in their own terms, and instead of giving in to modern Pop tropes, the band makes Pop music from another decade, and this decade that strongly makes it’s presence heard loud and proud is the 80’s. That’s right, this album sounds like the band went back in time to a place dominated with cheesy synths, big hair, and hot pink leg warmers, and speaking of leg warmers, the album’s opening track  “She Works Out Too Much” was made to sound like an 80’s work out video. It’s filled with double entendres with the voice of a female aerobics instructor played by Allene Norton of “Cellars.” The track is about a relationship that broke apart simply because the man in the relationship didn’t work out as much as the woman, and even though he tried, her obsession with looking good lead to her shallowness. This is a fun track filled with clever workout metaphors and it puts you right into an 80’s workout video. The following track, which is the album’s title track makes a drastic change in mood with it’s dark “Goth” flavor. Andrew VanWyngarden’s vocals are robotic, adding to the ominous nature of the track, and in true “MGMT” fashion the lyrics are abstract and quite cryptic, but one thing is clear, this is cynicism and pessimism at their finest. “Go fuck yourself. You heard me right. Don’t call me nice again” VanWyngarden sings on “When You Die,” and that dark humor is one of the many elements that make this album such a fun listen, even if the subject matter is grim for the most part. However this album isn’t without it’s flaws, the tracks “James” and “Days That Got Away” feel like filler tracks and are awkwardly placed on the album, giving the listener an unnecessary break from the action, but the album picks right back up with the surprisingly optimistic and 80’s soaked “One Thing Left To Try.” The following track “When You’re Small” is a melancholy ballad that musically pays homage to Congratulations era “MGMT,” and the album’s closing track “Hand It Over” is dreamy in tone, but the subject matter deals with the frightening result of this Trump era we’ve been forced to endure. This is a return to form for “MGMT.” It’s a reinvention. The band that refused to acknowledge their hits for years have now figured out a way to utilize their talent at creating catchy music without selling out, and if this is just the beginning then maybe, just maybe the ones still holding on to “Electric Feel” can finally open their eyes to see the genius of “MGMT” that has always been there.

Written By: Steven Sandoval

Date: 02/12/18

Kendrick Lamar and SZA Release New Music Video For “All The Stars”

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The highly anticipated new “Marvel” film Black Panther will hit theaters on February 16th, but the film’s star-studded soundtrack will drop this Friday. Kendrick Lamar curated the soundtrack, and so far we’ve been treated to a few incredible tracks from the soundtrack, one of them being Kendrick Lamar and SZA’s “All The Stars,” and now the two “Top Dawg Entertainment” labelmates have released a stunning new music video for the song. Check it out below: