Shout It Out – Balkan Beat Box

I first discovered Balkan Beat Box while playing FIFA 17, and also while consistently losing to both my brother and the computer. I am hoping at some point to do a deep dive into the FIFA soundtracks, as they are always curating some amazing playlists that include artists from all over. Balkan Beat Box is one of those groups. I would love to say I can pinpoint the genre this Israeli-American group fits into but it is so hard. The number of sounds, instruments, and techniques these guys use is next level. Let’s take a look at there 2016 album Shout It Out.

The Vocals:

Before we can dive into the instrumentals, we have to focus on Tomer Yosef’s voice. Being the frontman for such a diverse group, I can only imagine it is tricky to find the right sound and vibe for that position, however, Yosef is the right person. It is not even a question. He adds this sort of flair and pizazz when hitting certain stokes. It’s not strained or emotional, it is sassy and punchy; proven most importantly on “I Trusted U,” the track off FIFA 17. His vocals just feel right. Thinking about other artists or styles of singing, nothing makes much sense and I keep circling back to the rough and natural sound of Yosef’s voice. Balkan Beat Box also utilizes background vocals on almost every track, a nice touch that harmonizes with the lead singer.

The Instrumentals:

Watching these guys perform live demonstrates that they bring a lot of people up on stage to get their distinct sound across. With saxophones, guitars and bass guitars, accordions, and percussion, you can imagine that is a lot. The main members, however, are Yosef alongside Ori Kaplan and Tamir Muskat. With a combination of live instrumentals, samples, and some crazy percussion at times, the music they are making is a combination of sounds from electronic, alternative, reggae, and Jewish and Middle Eastern folk. Just listen to “I’ll Watch Myself” and “Chin Chin” to truly hear the combinations of genres. At times, I almost get a feel similar to Moon Hooch, the jazz fusion trio out of Brooklyn. Plus the percussion on the whole project is great.

The Production:

Balkan Beat Box is providing a smorgasbord of sound on Shout It Out. Nothing is wrong with that at all, however, it can be difficult making an album as such flow together nicely. They seem to have this issue at times. Some transitions are smooth while others feel more abrupt. The flow just isn’t 100% there. Yet, they use “chasers” after the songs “Mad Dog” and “This Town” to almost soothe your ears it seems. The “chasers” add a new way of working outros on to a project that is unique and fitting to such a funky group.

The Essentials:

“Give It a Tone,” “I Trusted U,” “I’ll Watch Myself,” and “Mad Dog”

The Rating:

Trust me when I say, if you play FIFA, you will like these guys. They are a solid group who is throwing together some seriously crazy sounds. Just give it a try. I am feeling Shout It Out is a:

6.4

Once you have given Balkan Beat Box a try, start looking into pretty much any funk jazz band that includes saxophones. You won’t be disappointed.

-Heff

bbb

YSIV – Logic

I have had a weird relationship when listening to Logic. A lot of times I love his music and a lot of times I hate it. He can be extremely predictable in his lyrics and styles. However, this album feels different. Historically, we have seen rappers take on a secondary persona; Eminem had Slim Shady, Tupac had Mackaveli, Madlib had Quasimoto, and Mac Miller had Larry Fisherman. Logic pulls his alter ego from his main musical inspiration, the legendary Frank Sinatra. Logic seems to get away from his old school influenced trap albums, Bobby Tarantino and Bobby Tarantino II, as well as his more political projects, Everybody and Under Pressure, to go back to his mixtape roots. His Young Sinatra projects have demonstrated a lot of classic hip-hop influence as well as his vocal and lyrical talents. This project only builds off those old Datpiff mixtapes onto a bigger level.

The Vocals:

Logic opens the record with a conclusion of the skit that overlays his album The Incredible True Story. He then moves into the remaining six minutes of a “thank you” track focused towards his fans. The Maryland rapper claims he wouldn’t be anywhere without his dedicated fans, especially those who have been with him since he first started, therefore, its definitely not a bad move to start with this piece. As the album moves on, we start to see the resurrection of his alter ego, Young Sinatra, on the track “The Return.” From here, he continues with his style of modern “boom bap” flows with upbeat lyrics of perseverance and overcoming obstacles. Now sure, Logic gets a lot of heat for being corny on some verses, overly political or personal on others, however, it’s hard to deny that the man has talent and lyricism. He can spit and its often fast as hell. This is proven through his “syllability” on “100 Miles and Running” when he hits 11.7 syllables a second. That is damn fast. Logic also plays a lot with his hip-hop influences. On “Everybody Dies,” he does an interpolation of Kayne’s “Barry Bonds,” he jokes about J. Cole in the intro of “The Glorious Five,” and talks about how much influence the late Mac Miller provided him in making the Young Sinatra projects on “YSIV.” But obviously, the biggest collab on this album had to be with the entire Wu-Tang Clan (minus OBD of course…RIP). That track is special on so many levels, from the fact that Logic was able to work with them to the fact that it will introduce many of his listeners to one of hip-hop’s most influential groups of all time. And we can’t cover the vocal aspect of the project without highlighting Logic’s line about how many of us feel with the current trends in rap:

“Fuck a mumble let’s make America rap again”

The Beats:

Many of the beats throughout YSIV are created by one of Logic’s closest friends and head producer, 6ix. The guy was a neurology major at the University of Maryland before dropping out to pursue music with Logic if that says anything. Yet, once again, he proves his worth, demonstrating that there is a reason the rapper has kept him around. Throughout the album, we hear lots of different types of beats, from ones that have very old school vibes, to ones that have more of a stripped down modern take on boom bap beats. “Everybody Dies,” “Wu-Tang Forever,” and “Street Dreams II” are just a few that stand out in particular. However, my favorite beat on the record has to be “100 Miles and Running.” A combination of funky synths, a really clean drum kit, and Steve Wyreman slapping the bass throughout just makes you feel excited. Plus the horns coming in as Logic speeds up his flow towards the end of the track…oh man! You know I love brass in any instrumental or beat.

The Production:

Solid. Through and through. The transitions are smooth, everything sounds pleasing, no weird chords or poor vocal mixings, and every feature fits in perfectly. I know among Logic’s fans there was some confusion whether YSIV would be released as an album or a mixtape, given the history of the other Young Sinatra projects. However, this feels like a very meticulously well-produced album with its general flow. To be honest, my brother said it best talking about the flow of the project, describing it as “the kind of album you put on and beginning to end feels like one long jam.” He is not wrong. Everything flows together so nicely that you hit “Last Call” and still could keep on listening.

The Essentials:

“Everybody Dies,” “Wu-Tang Forever,” and “100 Miles and Running.” However, one of my top albums of all time is The College Dropout which includes one of my favorite Kanye songs, “Last Call.” Therefore, Logic’s rendition of the track is music to my ears.

The Rating:

You can be the biggest fan or most outspoken hater of Logic, but its hard to deny the man’s talent. He has solid verses, fantastic beats, and tight production. Some of his albums and projects haven’t always been my favorite, yes Everybody I’m looking at you, but this one is special. I can see myself putting this record on and just letting it spin for a while in the future. YSIV is a:

8.8

This album also made me go and listen to a bunch of the old Wu-Tang stuff. I highly recommend you do the same.

-Heff

logic.jpg

Tha Carter V – Lil Wayne

Friday was a historic day for the hip-hop industry. It had been seven years since Lil Wayne, a legend of the industry, dropped the fourth edition of his signature projects. In that time period, a lot has changed with hip-hop, but Wayne remains the same, keeping his gruff southern sound, quick flows, and crazy rhyming patterns. Tha Carter V brings me back, that is for sure.

Growing up in a household where rap was from the 80s and 90s, Lil Wayne was never on my radar until middle school. I recently found my first MP3 player from those years and realized one of my first introductions to rap was the clean version of “A Milli” off Tha Carter III. As you can imagine, this latest album really brings me back to 2011 when I was discovering “new” rap. With it being such an important record for hip-hop, I have decided to cover the whole album instead of cherry-picking certain tracks for this time around.

Wayne starts the project out with a message of love and support from his mother. Nothing overly edited or with even a beat in the back, just straight, raw, emotion-filled words from his mom about how much he has done for her and his family. He immediately follows it up with a very fitting track “Don’t Cry” with a feature from the late XXXTentacion. It’s a powerful entry into the project, with Wayne discussing some of his most difficult times for himself and his family. The beat is haunting and eery with this very abstract outro that leads into a funky, bass-lead beat on “Dedicate”. The third track itself doesn’t stand out too much minus the sample of a President Obama speech and the transition into possibly one of the most popular songs off Tha Carter V, “Uproar.”

Swizz Beatz constantly exceeds expectations when he makes a beat. This track is no exception. The beat is hard, the chorus is hard, and Wayne makes sure every rapper knows not to f@&k with him. Trust me, when that beat drops, you won’t be able to not sing this chorus.

“What the fuck though? Where the love go?
Five, four, three, two, I let one go”

Suddenly, after such a great, traditional Lil Wayne song, we are met with 808s, dark piano loops, and the autotuned voice of Travis Scott. Sven Thomas was the producer of “Let It Fly” and this track literally sounds like it was an unused beat from Astroworld. Luckily, Wayne cleans it up on “Can’t Be Broken” with some top-class rhyming patterns on his verses. With his quick and powerful verses that feel like a flurry of jabs in a ring while offering flows that differ in pitch and speed, the transition into “Dark Side of the Moon” is odd. Featuring Nicki Minaj, a long time friend and collaborator, they slow things way down talking about their love for their significant others.

Now one must recall that this record is an hour and a half long. That is a long time to keep a listener’s attention. In arguably the most powerful, energetic piece on the album, “Mona Lisa,” Wayne brings another the lyrical powerhouse Kendrick Lamar to lay out a story of deceptive women. Wayne opens his half of the five-minute track with a story of using a woman to set up for a robbery. Then, in a very abrupt transition, we hear a switch to Kendrick, who unravels his story of a suspect lover. Both have such fiery and poetic flows that vocals alone just pull you deeper and deeper in. Kendrick adds his vocal manipulation talents to the mix by creating different sounds and pitches to change his flow and rhyming schemes up, almost forming a “skit” of sorts within the story. The beat was produced by one of Wayne’s most trusted producers, Marco Rodriguez Diaz, which features tons of little intricate piano loops behind overlapping bass kicks.

Then after such a powerful track, the album slowly falls away from me. I start to lose interest and attention, causing me to lose focus. It has nothing to do with the quality or the sound. Following “Mona Lisa,” we still see quality beats and production, but as a listener, you have just listened to twenty-eight minutes of top-quality Weezy and that’s a lot to unpack. There are some good deep tracks in the back half, looking particularly at “Took His Time,” “Famous,” and “Open Safe.” Yet, there is a lot here that isn’t anything special. “What About Me” feels like a stripped down, poppy love ballad. Snoop Dawg just feels like a reach to be featured on “Dope N****z,” just coming in on the chorus with his signature sound which is so distinctly different than Wayne’s. If you make it to “Used 2,” its a high tempo beat with some very strong verses from Wayne, however, the high pitched piano instrumental just doesn’t feel like it fits.

The Essentials:

“Uproar,” “Mona Lisa,” “Can’t Be Broken,” “Don’t Cry,” and “Took His Time”

The Rating:

This album had a ton to go through. From the lyrics to the beats to the samples and features…there is a lot there. This review would be close to 2000 words if I tried to go through everything. Is this the best Tha Carter? Hell no. That is still reserved for the third edition in my opinion. However, this album still has some great tracks. With that said, Tha Carter V receives a:

Soft 7

It’s fun to hear Wayne back making music and proving why he is a legend. He is one of those rappers that will forever remind me of my introduction to modern rap music. Let’s just hope that if a sixth edition gets released at some point, it won’t take another seven years.

-Heff

 

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Something Special: Tha Carters…Ranked

Today, in recognition of what is undeniably a landmark event in the industry, we’ll be flashing back to 2004, 2005, 2008, and 2011. Last night at midnight, Lil Wayne, a titan of the hip-hop industry, dropped Tha Carter V, the fifth in his line of self-titled albums. In recognition of this event, I suggested to Commissioner Heff that I rank the previous four Carter albums for today’s Flashback Friday, before his impending review of the new one. It turns out, it’s not too easy to rank these albums. Tha Carter I, II, III, and IV have each been over an hour of music, each one reflecting Wayne’s ever-changing style that had allowed him to stay on top of the rap game for so long. Here’s my order, worst to last.

Tha Carter IV:

Image result for tha carter 4

It was hard to decide which one would take the last place, but at the end of the day, it had to be four. There are various examples in music of the sequel being better, but this is not one of them. I’m not saying it’s the Jaws 4 of the series, but it wasn’t a hip-hop masterpiece like its predecessors, just a very solid album. A handful of my favorite Weezy tracks are on this album, but I just don’t think it stacks up to the other 3.

The Essentials:

“6 Foot 7 Foot,” “Blunt Blowin,” “Up Up and Away,” and “It’s Good”

Tha Carter:

Image result for tha carter 1

The one that started it all, Tha Carter, shows Wayne at his hungriest. Before Cash Money Records sold over one billion units worldwide, they were Cash Money Millionaires, and Lil Wayne was their champion. At 22, Wayne captured the attention of the music industry with his gruff southern voice and unpredictable flow. This was his fourth studio album, but the first that began to reveal the trademark style that he developed throughout the 2000s.

The Essentials:

“Go DJ,” “I Miss My Dawgs,” “Cash Money Millionaires,” and “Bring it Back”

Tha Carter II:

Image result for tha carter 2

This album was a huge switch up in style from The Carter. Released just one year after, Tha Carter II takes on sounds of classic R&B throwbacks, some of the tracks not even resembling anything close to a traditional hip-hop structure. The production took a huge step up, and so did Wayne. His flow was more fluid, his hooks more clever, and the production behind him was simply better. This album shows Weezy really hitting his stride.

The Essentials:

“Lock and Load,” “Hustler Musik,” “Shooter,” and “Best Rapper Alive”

Tha Carter III:

Image result for tha carter 2

This was the easiest decision of the whole list. Released in 2008, this album has songs you could still throw on at a party to get the people going. Not to mention it’s commercial success, going platinum in the first week it was released. The tracks on this hour and a half monster explore classic rap styles, Jamaican style hip-hop beats, R&B, pop, and everything in between. Wayne stretches the rap medium to its limit in a way only he could.

The Essentials:

“3 Peat,” “Mr. Carter,” “A Milli,” “Mrs. Officer,” “Shoot Me Down,” “Got Money,” and “Lollipop”

Stay tuned for a review of the newest in Wayne’s line of self-titled masterpieces, hopefully, he’s back with another gem. Until next week, keep it classic.

-Drew

Image result for lil wayne

Free Lunch – Wale

Wale is an interesting case study in hip-hop. He never has had a project that has been a crazy huge success. His most popular feature was on “No Hands” with Waka Flocka but that is pretty much it. He consistently releases music that is good but never majorly popular and yet still remains relevant. This latest EP from the D.C. rapper is another example of this. Solid bars and beats but no song on here with that feeling that it will blow up. I am always surprised by the talent Wale brings to his albums and how late I always am to hear them. Luckily, I have pounced on Free Lunch for this week’s #NewMusicMonday (on a Tuesday night).

The Vocals:

Free Lunch has a lot of examples of Wale’s lyricism. He is solid in this aspect, pulling a lot of quick rhymes together with funky flows. At the end of “3 Days 3 Hours” he even mixes in a little spoken word.

“Sugar, we went from three days and three hours ’til we two days
and three hours to, “girl he think he Darius Lovehall, he walkin’
down the street writin’ poetry to make the between yo’ knees feel
like you need balance””

He uses this version of hip-hop flows called “go-go”, a style that originated out of Washington D.C. that offshoots from disco. It makes many of his verses feel almost raw and dependent around the percussion. It is most prominent on the track “My Boy (Freestyle),” which features J. Cole. It isn’t the first time the two have collaborated, the first being on Wale’s The Album About Nothing. He’s political, he is lyrical, he is punchy yet smooth…Wale is good. End of story.

The Beats:

This is another aspect of the EP that feels fantastic. He uses brass and hi-hats throughout and even a clave on “Right Here.” There isn’t a song on the project that doesn’t have a solid beat. The opening track features some seriously exciting brass instrumentals, the kind that just makes you nod your head and get excited for what Wale will be bringing to the table. While J. Cole brings the excitement and fire again on the production of “My Boy (Freestyle),” much of the rest of the album is at a more relaxed pace, with heavy percussion but smoother and more chilled-out instrumentals and samples.

The Production:

The EP is an EP. If you’ve been reading Colossus for a while, you know my opinion on EP’s…not a huge fan. The mixing is good and the transitions are good but since its so short, there isn’t a ton to really add here.

The Essentials:

Look, if you can’t find time to listen to five tracks, why are you even reading this. If I was to pick one song though, it would have to be either “My Boy (Freestyle)” or “Dummies.”

The Rating:

I like Wale. I really do. However, he is such an interesting member of the hip-hop community. He isn’t this crazy popular rapper or anything even though he has the talent to potentially be one. This EP isn’t likely to change that but I can’t ignore some fun tracks when I hear them. Free Lunch is a…

7.4

I am really curious to see what you think so give it a listen and roast my opinion in the comments.

-Heff

wale

 

Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… – Raekwon

This review is part of the Colossus Guest Time Series. Some weeks will have one, some will have two, others will have none. At Colossus we are committed to be for the people and by the people! If you are interested in writing a review of your favorite album, DM us on Twitter at @music_colossus!

Fifteen years before appearing on Kanye’s iconic My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Raekwon was a member of the biggest group in the game at the time, the Wu-Tang Clan, and in a collective of 9 MCs he was one of the top generals, holding down the top tier of the crew alongside Method Man, Ghostface Killah and GZA. The Wu debuted in 1993 and by the summer of ’95 we’d gotten solo albums from immediate superstar Method Man and the people’s champ Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Just around the corner was the lyrical masterpiece from the GZA whose alias was, appropriately, The Genius, but the summer belonged to Raekwon (with Ghostface in a supporting role, although arguably the MVP), as the Chef served up his debut album, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…

This album is not just a classic, it also helped elevate a style known as “mafioso rap” which included AZ, Kool G Rap (the originator of the style) as well as the debut of a young MC by the name of Jay-Z. Many rappers today owe their careers to this album including Pusha T who has acknowledged (both in interviews and on record) that this album influenced his recent DAYTONA project and, with the guidance and production of Wu founder RZA, this album is more than just music, its cinematic feel makes it play out like a movie as stars’ rhymes are so descriptive you can see the pictures they paint while RZA’s production is as dusty as the residue that fills the coke-fumed room.

The record opens with Rae and Ghost discussing the desire to leave the life of crime and their hope for a better future for themselves and their kids but then it quickly descends into the dark depths of their reality as the first song is a grim account of a day in the life of kingpins for whom coke and dollar bills are the means to fly riches. The next joint begins with a long sniff which then leads into Raekwon delivering slang wizardry on “Knowledge God”, showcasing why he’s considered the slickest of the Clan. What follows is the back and forth brilliance of “Criminology” as well as more verbal gymnastics on the street anthem “Incarcerated Scarfaces”. 

The highlight of the album (which says a lot considering many call this album flawless) is the trifecta of “Ice Water”, “Glaciers of Ice” and “Verbal Intercourse”. The first song is slow and haunting and it introduces us to the proverbial 6th man (really 10th man) of the crew, Cappadonna, who would go on to deliver one of the most iconic verses of all time on Ghostface’s solo album the following year but who delivers a fiery introduction here, while the second track is a frantic marathon with Rae, Ghost and fellow Wu-member Masta Killa flipping bars over the hype beat. The trilogy closes with the first non-Wu feature on a record and who better than for it to be than a lyrical assassin himself, Nas, who bodies the opening verse of “Verbal Intercourse” leaving Rae and Ghost to try their best to clean up the slaughter that the Nasty one left for them.

There are two posse cuts, “Wu-Gambinos” and “Guillotine [Swords]”, the former having more generals but the latter being the better track as everyone delivers razor-sharp verses over the simplistic yet fury filled RZA beat. Deck sets it off with his signature style of opening tracks with greatness while Ghost brings the energy up even more, allowing Raekwon to come in and drop multiple gems, then GZA closes it out with a short yet wisdom filled verse in his calm inviting tone.

There’s a reason this album is cited by rappers from every region, every style and every generation as it has had a profound impact on the game. While many say it birthed the coke rap genre, it’s also the reason why so many rappers drop Goodfellas and Godfather references in their songs as well as come up with multiple aliases for themselves. It also gave us the idea of the concept album as it was the first album that really told a story through the music, something that we still hear today through such artists as Kendrick Lamar on his brilliant Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City as well as Jay-Z’s American Gangster and Masta Ace’s highly underrated A Long Hot Summer. With the slickness of a mob boss draped in the grimy sounds of RZA’s rich yet raw production, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… is a cinematic masterpiece that allows its co-stars Raekwon and Ghostface Killah to shine brightly through the glistening white of a kilo of pure cocaine.

-Classic

raekwon-lead

Rubber Soul – The Beatles

It’s Friday, and you know what that means. We’re flashing back to 1965 to, for the first time in Colossus music history, take a look at a Beatles album. In December of 1965, The Beatles were coming off a very successful American tour, and that prolonged exposure to America’s Motown, Soul, and Folk music helped the band to create Rubber Soul. The name of the album plays off the term “Plastic Soul”, which had been used to describe soul music put out by white bands. Rubber Soul marked the beginning of a new era of music for The Beatles, and it went on to influence most of the popular music during its time. Let’s jump right in.

The Vocals:

The vocals on this and every other Beatle’s album are rock solid. The group was blessed to have three very talented vocalists, and on Rubber Soul the group drew inspiration from Motown and Soul music by incorporating seamless harmonies in many of the songs. John Lennon offers a steady baritone for Paul McCartney and George Harrison’s voices to layover, and that’s the winning formula for nearly every track on this album. Driving rock vocals on the opening track “Drive My Car,” swaying folk singing over “Norwegian Wood,” these guys do it all.

The Instrumentals:

Beautiful instrumentation. Everyone has (or should have) a favorite Beatle, and mine is George Harrison. The band’s sound just isn’t the same without his jangling guitar licks and innovative style, and he really puts that on display in this record. He also displays impressive skill in the sitar, playing lead on the song “Norwegian Wood.” His job is made easier by having Paul McCartney, a master on bass, keeping time and laying down some really grooving bass lines. Some of the lines he lays down on this record, while also nailing perfect vocals and harmonies, leads me to believe that Paul McCartney might have two brains. Rubber Soul is an album that you need to listen through at least four times so you can focus in on the contribution of each member, and you’ll get a different listen each time.

The X-Factor:

The X-Factor here has to be production. George Martin, often called the fifth Beatle, was a master of his time. Few bands during this time could capture the sound that The Beatles had, and that is very much thanks to George Martin. The band spent over 120 hours in the studio recording this album for a tight Christmas deadline, and Martin took all of this and spun it into Rubber Soul.

The Essentials:

“Norwegian Wood,” “Michelle,” “In My Life,” and “Nowhere Man”

The Rating:

This is one of the best albums by arguably the greatest rock band, and its influence on the genre is undeniable. After hours of meticulous calculation, this album gets a…

9.159

Write you next week.

-Drew

BEATLES - 1965

 

Don Season 2 – Don Q

This review is part of the Colossus Guest Time Series. Some weeks will have one, some will have two, others will have none. At Colossus we are committed to be for the people and by the people! If you are interested in writing a review of your favorite album, DM us on Twitter at @music_colossus!

Don Q, also known as Le’Quincy Anderson, is a hungry, up-and-coming rapper originally from the Bronx, NY.  You all may know one of Don Q’s closest friends, A Boogie wit da Hoodie, as they grew up together in the Highbridge section of the Bronx.  The two eventually created Highbridge The Label with their close friends, Quincy “QP” Acheampong, and Sambou “Bubba” Camara.  In their early rapping careers, A Boogie has gotten more attention from the public eye than his buddy Don Q. Ultimately, this forced Don Q to slowly step away from A Boogie so he can demonstrate his high-level, lyrical talents to the world on his latest project and sequel to his second mixtape – Don Season 2.

The Intro:

The first thing that I appreciated was the message that he uses to set the tone of his mixtape in his opening track “Intro.”  He realized, for the most part, his talent goes unappreciated and unrecognized outside of the greater area of New York. He solidifies his case with his stories of politics throughout his life.  Secondly, the Bronx rapper does a great job of rhyming and putting his foot down lyrically, over two distinct instrumentals in “Intervention,” a trap beat over a synth piano, and “Long Night” which features Lil’ Durk over a spooky trap instrumental.  Lastly, he nails “Yeah Yeah”, his first huge collaboration on the mixtape with long-time friend A Boogie, New York legend 50 Cent, and multi-platinum record producer Murda Beatz, who has worked a lot with Drake.

The Body:

Don Q transitions into the body of his mixtape with the song “Don Season Pt. 2,” where he again talks about how he knows his music is underappreciated mainly. He does not follow the current styles of rapping like many of the up-and-coming artists and calls it out with lines like

“Guess they think they’ll succeed if they try to run with the formula,
I seen the low rating they gave me…y’all look the story up.
You can’t judge my music, ‘cause to the streets you a foreigner,
I guess you can’t relate if you wasn’t in the lobby loitering.”

Don Q has taken offense to people who judge his lyrics that have no idea what his lifestyle or living situation was before he was popular. Yet again, you do not have to be a lobby loiterer to realize this man has top-tier lyrical talent in the way he delivers his messages.

The true core and personally my favorite part of the mixtape is in the lyricism, hunger, and fun that Don Q is portraying with the other artists. Songs like “Pull Up” featuring G Herbo and Dave East and “Roll My Weed” featuring Jay Critch of Brooklyn.  “Pull Up” was a reunion for Don Q, G Herbo, and Dave East, from the heavy bar and slickly-rhythmic unreleased song ironically named “No Hook,” that they put out in 2017.  G Herbo and Dave East’s deliveries were exquisite, displaying their hungers for success after surviving their tough beginnings with lines like, “I was in trenches believe me, but I was blessed and finessed so I make it look easy, nah but this sh*t wasn’t easy” (G Herbo) and “I’m in a good mood, I ain’t wanna be rude just look at these rappers, you wanna see food.  Listen, before the booth I was goin’ through it in the kitchen.  Tyson on the roof, I was lookin’ for a pigeon” (Dave East).

“Roll My Weed” is opened with the strong presences of trumpets that eventually blended in with a clever hi-hat beat.  In this song, Don Q and Jay Critch flaunt about their lifestyles with lines like, “Yo Don, there’s way too much cash in the room, call the Brinks truck and tell them to load it up” (Jay Critch).  They both have fun delivering their lyrics, especially Jay Critch with his usual hippy flow on his verses.

The Outro:

Don Q ends his mixtape with two laid back records over spooky instrumentals. “It’s a Good Day” features Young Scooter and “I Can’t Lie” features A Boogie wit da Hoodie. The first is a joint with funky rhythmic patterns from both artists, that allows listeners to envision a successful day as a drug dealer, once again a story from Don Q’s past lifestyle. This is a reason why he may be having trouble grasping much of the American hip-hop audience. The drug dealing era of rap music faded away years ago, with successful rappers of his style such as Jadakiss, 50 Cent, Fabolous, Styles P, Cassidy, Lloyd Banks, and Jay-Z.  “I Can’t Lie” sums up Don Q and A Boogie’s journey to where they are now with their successes and overcoming of obstacles, which sends a strong message of being unstoppable and “on fire,” as quoted in their song.

The Rating

In my opinion, this is Don Q’s best mixtape from top to bottom surpassing the old favorite, Corner Stories: Reloaded.  He disappointed his fans with his last mixtape Don Talk but definitely came back from that downfall with the strength of Don Season 2.  I missed the old Don Q that rapidly grew his recognition in New York, and he shied away from himself for a little while. However, I am elated that he has returned to being a gritty New York rapper with his punchlines and strong lyrical abilities.  For a hip-hop mixtape, I give Don Season 2 a:

Soft 8

I am proud of Don Q’s progress over his career and believe that he has the potential of becoming the Jadakiss of this era of hip-hop! He still has plenty of work to do, but if he keeps up with the dedication of his craft of strong lyrics and punchlines, he is on his way to becoming a New York legend!

-Hadj

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Room 25 – Noname

Fatima Nyeema Warner is not a rapper. She is a true poet who has taken the shape of a rapper. Plain and simple. Mainly going by her stage name, Noname, Warner has flows and rhymes that just catch your attention. Obviously, she is a solid hip-hop artist and a damn good one at that, but with her sophomore project, we are now seeing even more poetry. A product of Chance the Rapper’s Chicago movement, Noname has blossomed into more than a soulful sample with Room 25.

The Vocals:

She starts out the first track with possible one of the best ways possible to start an album.

“Maybe this the album you listen to in your car
When you driving home late at night
Really questioning every god, religion, Kayne, bitches”

The thing is…she is not wrong. This project is perfect for so many occasions: driving on a rainy day, cooking a big breakfast for a loved one on a Sunday morning, or just relaxing and trying to study for a big test. A huge part of the versatile sound is Noname’s vocal element. When she raps, it feels as if there is this warm embrace surrounding you with her sweet, almost innocent sounding voice. But what makes her particularly special is her flows. They are unique in the fact that they aren’t always standard rap but more similar to spoken word poetry. Very few rappers do this as it is not an easy form of spoken art to master. Yet, Noname does it so gracefully that at times, even when her flow sounds strange or choppy, it just feels…right. Noname also recognizes her vocal limitations. While she plays a little with the listener on “Don’t Forget About Me” by having a more singing style on the verse, she mainly leaves it up to her features on much of the album. Smino covers it for her on “Ace,” Ravyn Lenae comes in to sing the chorus of “Montego Bae,” and Phoelix adds his vocal talents on “Window” and “Part of Me.” This self-awareness aspect only seems to add to Noname’s vocal talent on the project as she never pushes the line and hurts the sound or flow of a track.

The Instrumentals:

If I was gauging this project solely of the band alone, it would be ten stars straight up. Luke Titus Sangerman is on the drums and on “Prayer Song,” I had to double check to make sure it wasn’t Questlove. He brings this style of drumming that has an almost rubato tempo at times while remaining in tune with the rest of the instruments. You never feel lost. Brian Sanborn adds to the instrumentals with his guitar and it fits perfectly with Noname’s voice. “Montego Bae” has this flirty sound coming from the guitar that works so perfectly with the island-sounding drums in the back. Matt Jones wraps up the trio of musicians on the instrumentals with his wondering compositions of string music. It truly helps bring the jazz and soul feel to the album.

The Production:

Noname’s first album Telefone had a lot of issues with audio quality and it seems like Room 25 has inherited quite a few of those issues. Nothing is terrible, just at times, the vocal audio seems oddly scratchy. Other than that, the mixing is beautifully done and the album just flows. I truly wish this album was three hours long due to its smoothness and relaxing vibe throughout.

The Essentials:

There isn’t a single song I would skip on this album. That is a fact. Every song you need to listen to at least once. You will probably have your favorites but mine are definitely “Self,” “Don’t Forget About Me,” “Ace,” and “Montego Bae.”

The Rating:

This album is something else. It has great raps and rhymes, beautiful accompaniment, and Noname who is a plus on her own. She brings life, happiness, and warmth on every track. In a month when you are listening to this record as you study for a midterm or are vibing out at work, just remember who put you on to Noname. It isn’t a perfect album however, Room 25 still gets a:

9.7

This is up there for my favorite album I have listened to this year. You can tell me I’m wrong all you want but you can’t deny Noname’s talent and her band’s skills.

-Heff

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Zoo – Russ

Russ is known to be one of those rappers that some people love and some people hate. I have been on the loving side for a while, however, his latest project demonstrates a lot of his flaws his haters often point out. Zoo is a collection of emotions from the young 25-year-old rapper-producer, and while much of the album feels like Russ is working out his issues through music, you can’t help but notice some of the stylistic intricacies that make his music stand out.

The Vocals:

The Atlanta-based artist doesn’t have a special sound to his voice; instead more of a stylistic way of rapping. Certain tracks, like “Keep It Pushin'” and “Missing You Crazy”, have this very poppy R&B style of rapping where it sounds light and airy combined with him singing on the choruses. Yet, other tracks are the complete opposite, with Russ bringing faster flows and an angrier tone, especially on “F**k That” and “Kill Them All”. The haters on social media often go after Russ’s competitive and narcissistic lyrics, however, if you dig into the lyrics, you start to notice much of the competitiveness is clearly related to his issues with the rap industry and his narcissism is more of a character. Sure, Russ talks a lotttttttttttt about himself but don’t we all do that in some way or another. Look, I get it if you don’t like a rapper talking about himself but when it comes down to it, at least he isn’t praising the drug game or talking about conquering women like objects. Is it the best topic? Eh no. Is he lyrically artistic in the way he does it? Yes.

The Beats:

Russ has been producing for a long time now. That’s where he originated and I often feel that his talent there shines through more on certain projects than his rapping. There’s Really a Wolf is a perfect example of the beats being top-notch, and while the rapping is strong, the beats are that album’s true strength. Just go back and listen to “What They Want” or “Pull The Trigger”. Zoo was different. The beats were decent at best. Not much stood out to me, which was disappointing, to say the least. Russ starts with “The Flute Song”, which has this very clean looping flute sample. The beat, produced by Avedon and Scott Storch, includes good hi-hats, solid bass drops, and a nice bass balance. However, after that nothing stands out other than “Parkstone Drive”, which Russ self-produced. I don’t know what it is with rappers recently but they love Sting, with this track being the third of the year to feature a sample of “Shape of My Heart” (the others rappers being Juice WRLD and Tory Lanez).

The Production:

This was a very standard album for Russ. It had all his signatures including the little wolf howl in the closing seconds of the record. It has emotion and storytelling like on “Parkstone Drive” and “Voicemail”. It also has his so-called “beef” with the industry throughout. The transitions are surprisingly fluid with is most likely due to Russ’s heavy hand in the overall production of the record. Most importantly, the flow feels very smooth and the order of the tracks feels right.

The Essentials:

“The Flute Song,” “Parkstone Drive,” and “From a Distance”

The Rating:

His vocals are solid, the production is smooth, and the beats…work. Even with that, this still is no There’s Really a Wolf. It’s good but it most likely will not be going platinum. Prove me wrong Russ but this album gets a:

6.4

This album has everything he needs to grow his following and don’t get me wrong, I’m still going to be keeping it in my rotation. However, Russ still has a way to go to reach the heights his last album got him.

-Heff

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