Quickie: A Couple Standouts from Jay-Z’s 4:44

So I haven’t felt like doing a review of a whole album but Jay-Z’s latest release, 4:44, would have been a great candidate. By the time I listened to it I had already taken in too much outside thoughts to get across an untainted opinion. In any case, I thoroughly enjoyed this album. The introspection and owning up to his past faults was incredibly mature and not something many rappers have the experience to write about. Jay-Z has a unique perspective on the industry. He’s pretty much conquered his genre, married one of the most beautiful women ever (don’t @ me) and is rich to a point that it should translate to wealth. Think of rappers you consider the best; how many of them are in the position Jay is in?

In any case, while 4:44 as a whole is excellent, some tracks have stood out to me and lodged themselves into my brain. First off, “Moonlight” is such a well made song. The instrumental isn’t hard hitting but makes me nod hard regardless. Add in different pitched “La La La” vocal samples and it’s definitely one of my favorite listens on the album. The song is influenced by the snafu at the Oscars last year but outside of that, Jay spends a great deal of time talking about new rappers and how dumb they are (in so many words). He’s from a different era and criticizes the current one from his POV. The random bass drum drop outs, Jay’s flow and the old head, “What are these youngins doing??” lyrics.  I love everything about this song.

Another is “Marcy Me” with it’s Motown-like drums, heavy reliance on pianos and once again the prevalence of vocal samples throughout the song. Jay-Z reflects on his time growing up in Brooklyn in the Marcy houses. The instrumental matches the mood of the lyrics as reflective and some clever wordplay really accomplish the goal that was set. “Think I just popped up in this bitch like a fetus? Nah Pregnant pause” Hahaha that’s awesome.

Obviously the title track is special. I looked up the sample for this song because I had assumed it was some black women in the 60s ripping it up. I was wrong, it’s Hannah Williams and it was released just last year. The original is amazing and has similar themes of infidelity which is why the sample that was chosen is so perfect (like no shit Justin). This album has no traditional bangers and I think that’s why I like it so much. That is not a crutch Jay could have leaned on. Gimme a beat that slaps and I care less about the message. To No I.D.’s credit though…the production is INCREDIBLE. This song is incredibly personal about Jay and Bey’s relationship and how he did her wrong. It’s great, just listen to it.

I’m not about to go through every song but I wanted to mention a couple other parts that I liked:

Giving out “Million dollars worth of advice for $9.99” is great on “The Story of OJ.” Jay-Z is letting his fans in on the secrets financial success which I think is hilarious.

“Family Feud” features a lot of Beyonce vocals in the background and Jay’s cockiness is back. They’ve built a crazy empire of a life and that could all crumble if they are at odds with each other. It’s dope. Amen.

“Adnis” is cool even though there isn’t much happening. The simpleness and subdued nature of the instrumental feels like at any time it could break into something much more grandiose. Jay’s voice has more dynamics than the beat but no by much. The subject matter is a bit dark but still a really good song.

Maaaaan, I really like 4:44…like the whole thing. Perspective and production are the things that really set this apart for me. Jay-Z is technically great from a rapping stand point and it seems he poured his soul out onto this album. Three songs have made it onto my playlist but I regularly listen to all of it straight through.

Welp. This wasn’t quick at all.

Quickie: Cool Company- Call You Back

This isn’t a good song but it’s also a great song


So I discovered this song during a Jimmy Fallon segment entitled “Do Not Play.”

Despite the show’s lame chopping up of the song, its funkiness caught my attention and I had to check it out.

Well it slaps.

Brooklyn-based hip-hop/R&B duo, Cool Company, created a fun, dancey song about a guy having a one night stand with a girl and then not calling her afterward. It’s hilarious and kinda messed up depending on how you feel about the one-night stand situation.

The track is led by the bass line, accompanied by staccato chords and simple drums. Random little percussion and sounds fill the track out. Instrumentally, it is not complex but very fun and fits the nonchalance of the singer’s attitude. Haley Dekle perfectly plays the part she was given as the overly attached girl. There is a short rap verse and then the pitch-shifted deep voice that is mocked in the Jimmy Fallon vid. I actually really like it. It breaks up the generally high-pitched vocals of the rest of the songs while kind of mirroring the beginning verse in rhythmically.

I can’t stop listening to this song. It’s just too catchy.

Watch the absurd video below:

Whitney Houston’s Star-Spangled Banner

I love this song. This is the best version. Happy July 4th.


Here’s a random factoid about Justin: I love the “Star Spangled Banner.” I don’t know, I just do. It is a beautiful song that has been performed millions of times, millions of different ways. The tune is so popular that when you get it wrong, people throw mad side-eye and you end up on the news. It’s about as American as you can get. I really don’t care how you feel about the state of the nation and it’s very real injustices on this particular day; I’m gonna talk about the best version of one of my favorite songs.

Whitney Houston is inarguably one of the greatest singers of all time, I will fight whoever says otherwise.

The year is 1991, (the year I was born and the year Dr. Seuss died-breaks even I think) the Buffalo Bills and the New York Giants are set to battle for glory in Super Bowl XXV. With all sporting events, things need to be kicked off (I’m so sorry) with the national anthem and apparently this one needed to be special (Persian Gulf War). So they kept it simple; have an orchestra play the tune and bring one of the greatest vocalist of all time to sing. Whitney decided what if I sang the song without too much sauce and just give the people these notes.

And she did.

Jesus Christ, help me today.

 

Here’s the video, so we can point out some special moments:

I’m not a singer, don’t judge me.

1:28-“What so proudly we hailed” The purity of “proudly” and the whatever you call that on “hailed” is beautiful.

2:06- The power behind “And the rockets’ red glare” to the softening at “Gave proof…” a couple seconds later. DYNAMICS BABY!

2:32-The simplicity and rhythm going into “O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave” ending with a FLAWLESS run on “wave” not detracting from the melody like many have done.

2:53-“Free” Here’s these effortless high notes.

3:00-“Brave” The decision making to just hold that note is so professional. Add the visual of arms spread wide on the first hit, right fist up on the second and then both up on the final hit with the band

G O O S E B U M P S 

It’s perfect. I don’t care AT. ALL. that it was pre-recorded. IT’S PERFECT. Whitney’s voice is absolutely incredible, sailing over the familiar tune. The band does their job, jets fly over and the crowd loses their minds.

I’m not crying.

 


Real quick, another one of my favorite anthems is when the Cleveland Cavaliers have the home crowd sing it:

Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory

This

Knocks


Well. This is my favorite album of 2017 so far. I haven’t been this happy about a project in a while. 23 year old, Long Beach rapper, Vince Staples has delivered something really unique and exciting to the world of hip-hop. People have been dick-riding Vince for quite some time now for non music reactions and hot takes but here I am…hoppin’ on. Vince is fucking cool. He has an honest, relaxed and confidently dry demeanor that seems super secure with his interesting views. Even if he didn’t make great music, he could be an entertainer just because of his personality and presence.

But let’s talk about the music. To me, his music sounds clean with stellar production that still lets Vince bar out. His cadence, voice, the tendency to hold out words while giving you relatable and hard-hitting lyrics is amazing. Listen to the older “Norf Norf” for a damn near perfect example of his style. Big Fish Theory is no different but still completely left field of what is mainstream hip hop right now. The production took crazy artistic risks bringing a more electronic style to the instrumentals. There is a lot of non-traditional drums and synths that would work on an experimental electronica album (WHICH I LOVE). The first track “Crabs In a Bucket” sets this tone immediately. Atmospheric, yet cutting synths, vocal samples and drums that come in and out. I love it. The single, “Big Fish,” feels more like a traditional Vince song. Seemingly simple instrumental with an unending flow during the verses; this may be the most “normal” of the entire track list. “Love Can Be…” is pretty much a glitch-hop/house track and doesn’t even have rapping in it until it is nearly half way over. It’s like Staples was a feature on his own song.

One of the many things I like about Vince is that he has great choruses. “Big Fish,” “Homage,” “Party People” and “Yeah Right” are noticeably great in this area. The latter track, “Yeah Right” is a standout. I’m at work so I had to listen to this song through headphones. That was disrespectful. Once I get home, I’m playing this on my good speakers because this absolutely bangs. It’ll rattle cheap cars in the streets. It’ll cause your neighbors to bang on your wall. It’ll register on the Richter scale. Add in one of the better Kung Fu Kenny features and ya know what, just fuck me up fam.

The production is so good that I felt myself caring less about what Staples was saying but more how he said things in relation to the beat. I did gather that he has lived a significantly different life than mine. Tracks are about the world around him, women and things that have happened to him. Nothing too groundbreaking but said in a really cool way by a really cool person.

This album is weird and definitely Vince took a risk but in the best way possible. I really really really like Big Fish Theory and it will fit nicely into my playlist(s). Vince’s flows are engaging in a cool rambling way. He raps nonstop and throws random rhythm changes that just feel so good. Like Danny Brown, Vince’s voice just sounds good over close to anyhing. I want to dance, fight and rave to this. He committed to the direction the album was gonna take and took it there.

ALSO THE RUNTIME IS ONLY 36 MINUTES. 

Get you some:

Katy Perry-Witness

This album can witness deez nuts


So I was supposed to write this last Friday, the day this came out but I got busy at work and the SZA review took longer than I thought. Also, my general opinion of the album was a lot more negative last week. I was scared that I would soften up with a fresh listen AND IT FREAKIN’ HAPPENED UGH.

In any case, guilty pleasure of mine Katy Perry released her fifth studio project Witness and apparently this was supposed to usher in her new era of “purposeful” or “woke” pop. Before the release, Katy dropped three singles which in my opinion were all very good. “Chained to the Rhythm” is a classic Katy song; high energy, prominent bass line, feature, and a decent little message. “Swish Swish” is good too with a hard synthy dance beat and absolutely dope Nicki Minaj feature. You know how I feel about “Bon Appétit”

Unfortunately, the rest of the album, save a few cuts, is generally disappointing. Not bad but disappointing. Katy was right, this is a departure for her but in atmosphere and sound palette; not so much in message. During my listens I was waiting for Witness to wake up and say something meaningful. This could have been me expecting something that wasn’t explicitly promised. A general theme was self-confidence, self-preservation and self-love runs through the album. Throw in a couple songs about love, a not so subtle metaphorical sex song and it’s not anything the artist hasn’t touched on before.

There are two big sins on Witness. The homogeneous production on a majority of the songs and then the writing. Concerning the production, the problem is not that it is all bad, it’s its sameness. Songs can sound similar (driving bass drums, synths, vocals) but I liked the ideas of some waaayy more than others. “Witness” and “Déjà Vu” are decent with the latter having really singable chorus and that dark electronic pop feel that characterizes the entire project. On the other hand “Hey Hey Hey” and “Roulette” give me no reason to care about them despite having a similar formula as the previously mentioned songs. The biggest problem is the writing. Holy moly it is bad. Like glaringly, distractingly bad. There are a ton of lazy, eye rolling similes and nothing that you have to think about or appreciate later. It is all surface level platitudes mixed with some truly awful lines.

“Your words are like Chinese water torture” Heavy Sigh

It’s not all bad though. Witness takes some influence from the 80s with its synth choices and random big drum fills (looking at you “Power”) but some of it totally works. “Power,” even with that dumb fill, is actually awesome. The fill is only out of place at the beginning but the stupid sax in the background more than makes up for it. The chorus is gaudy, loud and strong. The lead synth is crunchy and “electric as fuck” (her words…like they are in the song). “Mind Maze” is probably the weirdest song and despite the unnecessary auto-tuned lines, I like it a lot. The vocal melody is rhythmic and works well with the spacey, video game (not a bad thing) instrumental. The end of the verses tease the coming of a big chorus but nope not here. A ton of production went into this one and I really appreciate when experimentation pays off. “Tsunami” is slower and vaporwavy and right off the Drive soundtrack. I’m with it.

“Make me ripple till I’m wavy” lol

The best song on the entire album is “Pendulum” and it’s not even close. Let’s do it like this:

Energy: Check

Our much coveted Katy Perry bass lines: Check

Interesting melodic verses: Check

GREAT Chorus: CHECK

Wait, is that a choir I hear?? Mmmmmm yep! Check

Fitting Bridge: Check

Drums drop out for singing and clapping: Check

Hell yeah, this song is phenomenal. *Adds to playlist*

“IT ALL COMES BACK AROUND”

So yeah, this album is alright. I’m glad I gave it a break before coming back to it. My feelings didn’t change too much but I did warm up to it a smidgen. Between the known singles and just a few decent new songs, I found myself not caring about chunks of the album. I’m still not convinced the singles fit the tone of the entire thing but still they are good. I counted the songs I liked vs the ones I didn’t and it came out close to even but I felt disappointed overall. Unfortunately I am 100% sure the radio will drown me into submission until I am in love with a majority of Witness. 

Enjoy it here, bon appétit:

“IT’S A PENDULUM”

THIS SONG IS SOO GOOD              

 

SZA-Ctrl

Do I even want a woman like SZA? Yeah, most definitely…probably…I think


Alright, I have two reviews to do today so they both might be short but I wrote a lot of notes about this album so…we’ll see.

SZA (I think it’s pronounced sizza) is a 26 year old singer signed to TDE, the label that hold such well-known heavyweights as Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q and Isaiah Rashad. She’s released a few EPs but Ctrl is her first full length album. My introduction to her was  a couple years ago with the song “Babylon” ft Kendrick. It bangs. A hazy, airy instrumental with layered vocals and a sick rhythmic verse Kung Fu Kenny made me an instant fan. I don’t think the song would fit on SZA’s current project and if I took “Babylon” as an indicator of the future then I would have been wrong.

Ctrl is solid. SZA is a strong modern woman who knows exactly what she wants while at the same time aware of her insecurities and vulnerabilities. Her willingness to bluntly talk about sex is refreshing and sexy in its own right. The first several tracks are about a girl centered on her physical needs along with the power she knows she has.  This is most obvious on one of the project’s highlights, “Doves In the Wind.” Basically, pussy is the strongest thing in the world, we are powerless against it and do THE MOST trying to get it. “The Weekend” is fucked up haha. I like it but the situation is morally questionable. Basically, there’s this guy that she only gets to bang on the weekends because during the week, he’s with his other girl that she knows he has. That’s a life I’ve never experienced but props to that dude I guess.

The last half of the album is less sex-focused tracks but more focused on love from different angles. Exes, personal struggles and desires. On “Garden” she mentions how she’s sensitive about having no booty and hoping how she hopes her man stays despite this. She hopes she is a normal enough to meet her man’s parents on “Normal Girl.” Also the thoughts of still being in love with guys of the past and present run through multiple songs. IThey’re not ground breaking topics and that is totally fine. I do appreciate how there is NONE, ZERO, NO politics on Ctrl. Not everything that comes out in this modern era has to have a political or race-related issue. Tell me your story. Also, as a wide release debut it could have placed SZA in a box of expectations that could pigeonhole her. Gain new fans with your own music, then make a statement when your fan base is established.

Sonically, this album is very consistent. Everything is pretty much the same energy level but SZA’s attitude, lyrics and vocals keep things interesting. I would say it’s very wavy and vibey; you can sway to it. Some of it is trap influenced and electronic while other songs have live drums and other live instrumentation including the final track, “20 Something” with just guitar. My least favorite song is “Anything” due to it’s choppy programmed drum track, arpeggiated synths and the constant repetition of “Do Do”; it just seems a bit lazy and bare. I like how the production for “Normal Girl” fits the words. There is something wishful and slightly whimsical about the synths that just totally fit. All the features work especially Kendrick’s and despite some questionable shit (which at this point, we should just expect) from Travis Scott, both songs are really great.

SZA presented us with very good debut album. Good production and interesting lyrics should hopefully make some new fans especially young women. I can see loads of women in their 20’s crying, dancing or fucking to it which is probably the point.  Throughout the album you here what I assume is mom, talking about control and it really is the underlying theme of the project. SZA knows she can control men with her body but is also aware of the things she cannot. You can want a man to love you after he’s fucked your brains out but you can’t force that to happen. You can deny bums entrance into your Garden but you can’t stop the one you like from cheating on you.

Shout out to the 49 minute run time because even though it was fourteen songs, if it was any longer I could have seen myself losing interest. In the future, I think I would want more variety and experimentation so she doesn’t end up like Bryson Tiller.

This album makes me fearfully attracted to SZA which is good…I think.

Peep game:

 

 

Alt-J – RELAXER

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeehhhhhhhh


I feel like I’ve given English Indie Rock band, Alt-J, the fair one. Many of my friends are fans of them and hit me with the whole “You would love them!” thing. I’ve tried to like them and they have all the ingredients to be a band that I could rock with but there is just something missing. Their music doesn’t stick with me like Young The Giant’s or Hippo Campus’ or even Bon Iver’s does. In these instances where I’m barely a fan the foundation that I’m basing my judgement could be completely off base. In any case, they dropped RELAXER and ya know what, I’ll give them another chance.

*Sigh*

This was an odd listen for me. The front half of the album is comprised of mid tempo tracks while the back half is a lot more…relaxed (I’m so sorry, please forgive me). “In Cold Blood” and “Hit Me Like That Snare” are songs that I would more readily associate with the band’s sound. Multiple sections, the illusion of noise, that weird voice with harmonies and pretty interesting drum parts. They aiight.

I do want to talk about the mid album Jamie XX knock off “Deadcrush” for a sec because I really like it even if it sticks out like a sore thumb. The gritty, beat-driven track is juxtaposed with weird but fitting high pitched vocals. It’s the perfect length and probably my favorite songThe other favorite is the last song, “Pleader.” Alt-J orchestrated a very nice track with guitars, strings and woodwinds that at times feel hymnal (is that a word?). The chosen harmonies of the many layers of vocals add to that spiritual feel. Add in some cool drums and “Pleader” closes out the album quite nicely.  In form it is still very much an Alt-J song (See Above) but instead of quirky indie tropes it is lush and theatrical.

For the other half of the songs that I didn’t mention, go read a Bon Iver review but remove all the adoration and expectation; that’s what the rest of RELAXER provides. Aside from the aforementioned “Deadcrush” the rest of the songs are ambient and slowish, carried by vocals and ethereal instrumentals. I would assume the main voice is the lead vocals but I honestly don’t like his voice. Truthfully, a lot of the singing is layered and much more bearable but if it’s just him…I’d rather not. The woman’s voice who appears on a couple tracks is very nice which only makes my distaste for the other voice stronger. Other than that, there isn’t much interesting about these songs. You can be slow and soft but you better not be boring.

So wait, did I like half the album? Maybe. Unfortunately, I don’t see myself coming back to RELAXER let the songs grow on me. I could have missed the point; should I have taken the title of the album seriously? Maybe I just don’t get it? That’s too much thinking for something I only half enjoyed.  I think I have come to the conclusion that Alt-J might not be for me…and you know, that’s okay.

 

“Deadcrush” might end up on a playlist though.

 

Check it out and form your own opinion: