Gucci Mane – Evil Genius

Image result for gucci mane evil geniusAtlanta rapper Gucci Mane’s output since being relased from jail in 2016 has been so prolific that the timespan of just under a full year since his last project is an unusually long gap for him. It’s certainly given him some of his best sales in a while. He’s stated that he was trying to link up with the best personnel he could and make one of his “best projects ever”, but I’m not sure he accomplished that despite the time off. Evil Genius is one of the safest and by-the-numbers rap albums I’ve heard all year, Gucci toning down the more comical and cartoonish sides of his lyrics and delivery to fit into more of a generic trap mold. Across 17 tracks, it’s pretty difficult to tell most of them apart. One of the things that is most appealing to me about Gucci, especially on his features, is his effortless charisma and mic presence – most of that is lost here.

One of the reasons Gucci works so well as a feature is how different from most rappers his delivery actually is, adding to the variation in approaches on any given track – across this project, as usual he’s more laid back and yet possesses this kind of 21 Savage-esque coldness. One of my favourite Gucci tracks is actually his “Finesse The Plug Interlude”, where he delivers threats with a kind of cheerful shrug and high intonation. But carrying a full project by himself, his somewhat sleepy tone gets a little boring – especially when there’s no interesting instrumentals to keep him afloat.

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The two opening tracks “Off The Boat” and “By Myself” are pretty good examples of what’s wrong with this project – both of them have pretty every-day, bass-heavy and relatively empty trap instrumentals that you could hear anywhere else, and their lack of variation and relatively low energy make Gucci’s quieter flows blend in to the background and his sudden bursts of energy feel out of place. The latter ends with some comically over-enunciated words and a shouted playground chant of a flow over an incredibly minimal beat. My favourite track on here is actually “Father’s Day”, an interlude-length track with a spastic and upbeat instrumental from Metro Boomin where Gucci reaches his energetic peak on the chorus as he emphatically proclaims his status as the one who started a wave – just as I was getting into it on my first listen, it ended.

As expected, some of the features here add spice to what Gucci brings to the table and contribute to some of the better tracks. “BiPolar” is enlivened by some quicker hi-hats than usual from OG Parker, but especially Quavo’s melodic interjections on the chorus to enhance Gucci’s more static flow and keep the rhythm afloat. Kevin Gates’ in-your-face presence and quicker flow on the track “I’m Not Goin’” is a welcome addition, especially in comparison to Gucci’s awful singing voice on the chorus, and Youngboy NBA fulfills a similar role on the track “Cold Shoulder”, where Gucci actually gives a pretty great performance to match – the addition of a quick triplet at the end of a couple lines in the chorus is something that I could only expect from someone like him. This is one of the best beats on the project as well, some creeping low synth tones raising the stakes. Single “Wake Up In The Sky” with Bruno Mars and Kodak Black is Gucci’s peak aesthetic, and a fun enough track even if I wanted Mars to show off a little more. An effortlessly cool, laid-back track, all three artists dial their voice back to a too-cool-to-care, relaxed cadence and completely sell it.

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Most of these tracks feel like filler when they’re so short, Gucci rattling off one or two repetitive choruses with some low-effort verses in between before we immediately move on to another half-baked idea. The run from “On God” to “Lost Y’all Mind” gives me whiplash from how quickly these ideas are created and abandoned before anything is developed properly. Most of these tracks honestly aren’t too bad – “Lost Y’all Mind” might be my favourite track in the middle with that glitchy, melodic beat – but the fact that they sound so similar and end quickly like a couple focus groups went through a checklist and each presented their own version of a Gucci song makes me wish there was a little more variety and innovation across the board here. By the time we get to the end of the tracklisting I’m seriously tired of the excessive number of tracks with the same skillset being presented – tracks like “This the Night”, “Mad Russian”, and “Lord” are seriously uninspired and could easily have been cut.

There’s been a few average rap albums as the year comes to a close and it looks like there’s still going to be a few more – the genre’s seriously taken the year over, with high-profile releases coming almost every week. Evil Genius doesn’t do enough to make the personality of one of the most personality-driven rappers stand out from the rest, and it’s pretty disappointing as a result.

Favourite Tracks: Father’s Day, Lost Y’all Mind, Wake Up In The Sky

Least Favourite Track: By Myself

Score: 3/10

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Quavo – Quavo Huncho

QuavoHuncho.pngIronically named rap label Quality Control continues to drop overlong project after project, and Migos star Quavo’s debut kicks off what is apparently the first of 3 solo albums from the members of the group to be released in rapid succession. It’s been easy recently to get burnt out on the Migos sound and formula, and Quavo more or less adheres to it here. Surprisingly, there are still a couple fun moments to wring out of it here: Migos have developed into rap superstars for a reason, and it’s because they really know what they’re doing. If they hadn’t oversaturated the market, I might enjoy this project a lot more than I do. While many pegged Quavo as the breakout star from the group due to his more versatile, melodic flow, it’s become a lot clearer to me over the years that he’s easily the least talented of the group both rhythmically and lyrically. A solo project without the other two members to spice things up had me worried, and while most of this 19-track project is uninspired filler as expected, there are still a couple of enjoyable moments scattered here and there where Quavo holds his own more than you’d think.

The opening track “Biggest Alley Oop” might actually be the album’s best, built on an eerie, slightly distorted choral vocal sample of ‘la-la-la’s and some kind of woodwind instrument with an element of Middle Eastern flair – it’s definitely a sound we haven’t heard them use before, and producer 30 Roc takes a few opportunities to break up the straightforward trap rhythms as well with some well-placed moments where the music cuts out. Quavo’s flow over the track honestly sounds more like one of his fellow Migos here with some speedy triplets, and his off-the-wall ad-libs are always fun. From there, we kind of fall off a cliff until the album’s second half. Less than a minute into the next track “Pass Out”, Quavo has literally resorted to bars full of nothing but “skrt” and moaning “grandmaaaaa….” in his background Auto-Crooned vocals. The production is honestly still pretty great on the track and on most of them here, but Quavo sounds unenthused most of the time here, like he’s putting this out as a contractual obligation.

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Quavo’s flow has always been more sparse than his groupmates, and on the more empty instrumentals here there just isn’t enough to carry the track here without the other huge personalities to play off of – “Give It To Em” is a huge example of this, as Quavo leaves way too much empty space over a somber piano instrumental. Most of these tracks are a shorter track without a fully fleshed out concept, Quavo bringing the bare minimum to the table lyrically and doing the same flows we’ve heard elsewhere. Most of the project’s most enjoyable moments are provided by guests, but even some of these tracks feel kind of unfinished, like they put together a random Quavo verse and a leftover verse a featured artist sent over. Drake looked to continue his feature hot streak on “Flip The Switch”, but one of his lower-key deliveries is juxtaposed with one of the most crowded trap instrumentals here, and Quavo’s final verse brings the quality way down.

Tracks like “F**k 12”, “Keep That S**t” (despite how unintentionally hilarious his matter-of-fact delivery on the track is) and single “Workin Me” are painfully repetitive without enough of a new twist on the trap instrumental that we can sometimes expect from a Migos track to keep my interest. There are simply far too many tracks here that serve no distinctive purpose from each other – it’s hard to even pick out the worst ones, they’re just simply … there. “Swing” and “Big Bro” are two examples where trying to do something different didn’t really work, the former another tired dancehall cut that features ex-Fifth Harmony member Normani and Nigerian artist Davido that goes on for far too long and the latter a truly strange and contradictory track where Quavo tries to position himself as a knowledgeable J. Cole-esque figure that doles out advice on the irresponsible lifestyles he romanticizes on every other track on the album here.

Most of the appeal of Migos is these three enormous personalities playing off of each other, and some of that still manages to shine through here, especially when he’s helped out by some of the better moments from behind the boards here. Tay Keith provides a pretty fun beat on the track “Shine” as Quavo’s sung hook complements the shimmering synth chords well. Some of the weirder experiments here really pay off as well, like the track “Champagne Rosé” that legitimately features Madonna (and a disjointed, brief verse from Cardi B for some reason). The Queen of Pop’s vocals are high-pitched and heavily Auto-Tuned, and she sounds like some kind of robotic doll on the track – but the fact that something like this exists is so crazy that it actually works. Her hook is maddeningly catchy all the same. Pharrell and Migos have proved a great combination in the past, and they link up again. for the erratic party track “Go All The Way”, which sounds like some early 90s dance crew material with Quavo’s filtered, repeated “NO CAP” ad-lib and Pharrell’s video-game inspired bleeps and bloops – it’s a complete anomaly which stands out in the tracklisting.

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Some other highlights are Travis Scott’s melodic hook on the psychedelic track “Rerun”, which really elevates the whole song, and “Lamb Talk”, one of Quavo’s most hilariously over-the-top moments on here where he delivers some energized ad-libs on a track dedicated to his car.

Essentially, Quavo Huncho is exactly what you’d expect it to be. We still get moments where we’re reminded just why he was pegged to be the breakout star from the beginning, and an overwhelming amount of content that just isn’t as exciting as it used to be. I hope the more technical Takeoff and Offset can deliver some more interesting solo projects.

Favourite Tracks: Biggest Alley Oop, Rerun, Go All The Way, Champagne Rosé

Least Favourite Track: Give It To Em

Score: 5/10

Bebe Rexha – Expectations

Expectations-Bebe-Rexha.jpgPop singer Bebe Rexha, mostly known for her collaborations with others, finally releases her debut studio album riding off the success of surprise hit single “Meant to Be” with Florida Georgia Line. Despite the interesting vocal quirks that have so many calling on Rexha for choruses, the team behind her delivers one of the most derivative and bland pop albums I’ve heard in a long time. Checking off the boxes of the many pop trends that are thankfully dying a slow death, Rexha sings some darker lyrics that harken back to her pop-punk experiments with Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz over instrumentals that largely consist of minimal acoustic guitar. The tracks are mostly interchangeable, and it’s safe to say that Expectations didn’t meet mine.

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Opening track “Ferrari” is perhaps the greatest exhibition of the potential Rexha might have working with more consistent writers and producers. It’s easily the most memorable song here, Rexha displaying that surprising rock ‘n’ roll edge that sneaks into her vocal delivery at its most passionate, before a hi-hat roll drops the emotionally compelling pre-chorus back into a series of poppy whoa-ohs. Jason Evigan, whose latest hits are found on Maroon 5’s similarly uninspired Red Pill Blues, produces the track. Rexha honestly has some unique, defining aspects to her vocal delivery, but she’s stuck in the most cookie-cutter pop formula throughout this project. The next two tracks feature a chorus ripped from Meredith Brooks’ hit “Bitch” and a song which hands off half the mic time to Quavo, who just sounds so tired of being on everyone under the sun’s projects, the project eventually remembering to tack on the contractually obligated tropical house, Latin pop, triplet-flow trap and dancehall tracks as well.

The common thread uniting all of these tracks, mostly causing them to blend together, is the prominence of quiet acoustic guitar riffs, accentuated by the hip-hop percussion that dominates all genres at the moment, as if someone is trying to make us believe the “singer-songwriter” label that Wikipedia currently places beside Rexha’s name. Something like “Knees” opens beside the campfire with the telltale audible squeaks of the hands gliding along the strings, Rexha doing the bare minimum before the chorus is treated like the most casual EDM drop of all time, the percussion and swelling synths coming in to support the same acoustics. The minimalism of these tracks is presented as something much grander than it is, and this might work out fine if Rexha’s melodies were memorable, or at least catchy at all. Quite a few of these songs do sound like they could turn into SOMETHING with a bit more polish: “Sad” is one of the most energetic songs here, driven by an insistent synth-line built for the dancefloor, but the melody on top falls so flat and ends abruptly, Rexha drawing out a nasal “sahhd” and falling silent for the final bar.

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I do have to give a few tracks credit here for standing out from the monotony of the rest of the pack: “Self Control”, despite riding on the same dancehall beat that was present on every song on Drake’s More Life, sees Rexha use her vocals to their maximum theatrical potential – the delivery on that “one little kiss can turn into a thousand” pre-chorus is genuinely chilling, and the chorus is one of the most immediately sticky – the slow descent into it reminds me of what turned “Despacito” into such a phenomenon. “Don’t Get Any Closer”, as well, is a great contrast between the sweet, prettier side of her voice and the darker, aggressive capabilities hiding underneath revealed with a surprise minor twist in the song, I just wish there was a little more to it – the instrumentation simply gets steadily louder and the producers call it an effective build-up.

By the time you reach the end of the Expectations and the tonally jarring “Meant To Be” is tacked onto the end, you come to understand that this is a lot more of a commercial than a well-thought out artistic work. You can feel this at a distracting level throughout the whole project, and it distills the most interesting bits of Rexha’s artistry into the most easily consumable format possible.

Favourite Tracks: Self Control, Ferrari

Least Favourite Track: Mine

Score: 2/10

Migos – Culture II

Culture II.pngAtlanta rap trio Migos return with the sequel to the album that catapulted them to superstardom, which extends to a gargantuan hour and 45 minutes in length and recruits some high-profile guests as they flex their newfound muscles in the industry in the way only they can.

While the project is very excessive, not varying as much as it certainly should for such a long runtime, the album frequently surprises you by how much the Migos still have a firm grip on the sound that they helped popularize, their technical skill elevating them to another level amongst the scores of trap-rappers today and still finding ways to surprise the listener despite the oversaturation of the group and its individual members. Sure, the album is a chore to get through, but Culture II is full of sure-fire hit singles.

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Can we just talk about “Narcos” for a second? This might be my favourite song associated with the rap trio yet, displaying their ridiculous personalities and quotable lyrics (“Magnifico!”), technical skill and a more innovative beat than usual all in the same place. I’ll be surprised if this one doesn’t explode – it’s set over a great Latin-sounding guitar sample that actually originates from Haiti, Offset settling into that chorus perfectly while Quavo provides the melodic hook and Takeoff absolutely demolishes the final verse in a technical showcase. This is the interplay between the trio’s strengths working at its absolute finest.

Speaking of innovative instrumentals, Migos are at their best on this project when they deviate from their formula and still succeed at displaying their chokehold on the pulse of current hip-hop music. They recruit Pharrell on single “Stir Fry”, apparently a leftover beat from T.I. in his prime, and demonstrate their versatility on the more Neptunes-esque production, adapting their flows to more of a swung tempo for a rare moment of deviation from the norm. Also, none other than Kanye West appears on the 21 Savage-featuring “BBO”, which still has a trap beat provided by co-producers – but West’s flipped brass section sample is still refreshing for the group.

Although we’ve heard the least from Takeoff since the Migos takeover, he is the star of this project, often trusted with the final verse and displaying some serious technical skill. We’ve heard everything the other two can do at this point, and the increased role for Takeoff is still giving us some new surprises. There’s too much content on this album to fit into a short review, but some other highlights include Post Malone’s hook on “Notice Me”, and the great piano instrumental, actually produced by Quavo himself, on “Crown The Kings”.

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Major production contributor DJ Durel recently confirmed that Migos only spend 45 minutes at most on each song – and you can tell that they’re basically on autopilot here (They even have a song with that title on this project!). When you’ve defined an entire cultural movement, this isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world, but listening to 24 tracks straight is tiring, especially when you begin to recognize the same tricks they use on many tracks. The lyrical themes become increasingly thin and repeated, a chorus of repeated lines such as the disappointing Drake-featuring “Walk It Talk It” or a carbon copy of an earlier song like the “Deadz”-emulating “Open It Up” leaving me wondering why the album wasn’t cut down to the pristine effect of the trap masterpiece that was the original Culture.

There are far too many filler tracks on here to proclaim the successes of the project’s highest highs – I will never listen to this album in full again, simply picking out my favourite tracks and forgetting about the rest. Not that the album doesn’t go as hard as you’d expect it to at all times, but for so many tracks, when the beat or the hook is just a bit subpar in comparison to its counterparts, songs quickly become expendable.

Maybe it’s my fault for expecting something that even closely resembled an album after the nearly endless stream of Migos content we’ve received since “Bad and Boujee” hit #1, but in comparison to the original Culture this plays as more of a mixtape quality project. It’s not enjoyable as an album at all, but it’s still absolutely impossible to deny that Migos energy and the interplay between the members that sparked the whole resurgence of a genre. Culture II is just fun enough throughout.

Favourite Tracks: Narcos, Stir Fry, Notice Me, Crown The Kings

Least Favourite Track: Flooded

Score: 6/10

Travis Scott/Quavo – Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho

Image result for huncho jack jack hunchoIn yet another rap collab that dropped as 2017 came to a close, not to be upstaged by fellow Migos member Offset, Quavo recruits a kindred spirit in Travis Scott for a solid but unsurprising effort. The two stick to exactly what they know and exactly what they’ve been doing for the rest of the year, and since they are more similar in terms of artistry than many collaborative projects over the course of the year, it seems like the album doesn’t have much to offer that we haven’t already heard before.

While I personally wanted to hear more bars and less mumbled, autotuned crooning that the two have become known for, Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho shows two artists who are as understanding of their audience as they possibly could be, delivering a select few great moments in a sea of mediocrity.

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The project opens with its most immediately catchy song in “Modern Slavery”, which features a more energetic trap beat than most of the generic offerings on the rest of the project and features Quavo “shaking his demons off” and then “dipping his dreams in sauce”. The shorter length of the track, as well as the multiple delays on the project, makes me think that the logistics of the project did not come together as well as most, since this album basically exists solely due to internet hype on Twitter. I wish it had gone on for longer.

The only features on the project come from fellow Migos members Takeoff and Offset, and it really speaks volumes to how well Migos work as a trio, since the distinct voices they bring to their respective tracks really breaks up the monotony here. Scott and Quavo are almost indistinguishable here, not playing off of each other at all or complementing each others’ strengths because they essentially do very similar things on each track.

The tracks “Dubai Sh*t” and “Best Man” stand out as well, the former demonstrating the quotable, goofier side of their respective rap personas (if you can ignore the similarities to Drake’s More Life highlight “Gyalchester”) while the album closer “Best Man” offers something a little different from the trap sensibilities and rhythmic adherence to rather straightforward beats. The collaborators express their brotherhood and tell some stories of their early friendship over Young Thug producer Wheezy’s more spacey, ambient beat that accommodates their melodies better.

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Scott and Quavo’s more freeform, flowing style doesn’t contrast as well with more dynamic beats, since almost all of the energy of the track is lost when a beat calms down due to the rappers not explicitly sticking to a solid rhythmic pattern. While there is certainly appeal in the style, as evidenced by the two rappers’ enormous popularity, after a slew of collaborative projects that only served to amplify artistic aspects that weren’t as prominent on solo work, the safe approach to this project didn’t sit as well with me. Too much of the project sounds like an amalgamation of just about every track Travis and Quavo appeared on over the course of 2017, using the same flows, same beats, same adlibs and same lyrical content and even some of the same punchlines.

Quavo’s voice is the hip-hop universal solvent at this point, and Travis Scott at his most energetic can be truly invigorating, but it is clear that there wasn’t a high degree of effort put into this project, not wanting to delay its release to 2018. There are certainly moments to enjoy here – these two have exploded into the public eye recently as they continue to shape exactly what modern hip-hop sounds like, and this can be partially credited to the strength of their prolific collaborations – but usually, their presence is a welcome juxtaposition and different perspective to a track by someone with a completely different approach. These artists aren’t as one-dimensional as this project makes them seem.

Favourite Tracks: Modern Slavery, Moon Rock, Best Man

Least Favourite Track: How U Feel

Score: 4/10

DJ Khaled – Grateful

Grateful by DJ Khaled cover.jpgOnly 11 months removed from the release of his last album, Major Key, DJ Khaled is back with a new purpose. Clearly fully embracing his status as the biggest walking, talking meme alive, Khaled delivers a double album that takes everything about Major Key and makes it bigger, and oftentimes, a lot more ridiculous than it needs to be.

The album is 23 tracks and runs for approximately an hour and a half, as Khaled and many of his collaborators appear to phone it in and provide quite a few obvious filler tracks. Major Key saw Khaled taking full advantage of his new public profile and making a clearer, focused effort, but outside of a few appearances of Khaled’s uncanny ability to be perfectly tapped in to exactly what music purchasers didn’t know they needed, Grateful is a disorganized mixed bag.

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Khaled albums have always been all about the collaborators, and Grateful boasts what might be his most impressive list yet. Despite the bigger names, Khaled still struggles with using his collaborators in the most effective way, as they are unevenly distributed across tracks and many could benefit from more recognition of what is working and what is not over each instrumental. Many of music’s biggest stars appear in the album’s early goings, including Beyonce, Rihanna, Drake and Justin Bieber, while hot rappers of the moment such as Chance the Rapper, Travis Scott, and Future appear multiple times across the album’s many, many tracks.

One interesting development on the project is Khaled stepping up more than he ever has before as a producer – Many of his contributions are rather generic takes on the popular trap sound, but he shows that he actually has some musicality and delivers some great chords on tracks like “Billy Ocean” and “Unchanging Love” as well. Still, many of the album’s best tracks were the ones he wasn’t involved in.

I might have gotten a little too excited for this album based on the two excellent singles “Wild Thoughts” and “I’m The One”, and they still stand tall on this jumbled tracklist. A flip of Santana’s “Maria Maria” with a megastar like Rihanna is something that only the culturally tuned-in mind of Khaled could come up with, and the results could not be anything other than an undeniable hit. And where is the fun-loving spirit and personality infused into every aspect of “I’m the One” on the rest of the album?

While Khaled has clearly just attempted to capitalize on his meme potential hitting the ceiling with the birth of his son, it is easy to forget how much quality music he has actually provided us with over the years, and the album actually starts picking up that energy again at the tail end of the tracklisting of all places. The run from “Iced Out My Arms” to “Unchanging Love” are some of the most melodic, creative tracks here with strong performances from everyone. I have to give out a few feature shoutouts as well – Nicki Minaj continues her hot streak and knocks her “I Can’t Even Lie” verse out of the park, Alicia Keys sounds great as always and 21 Savage and Migos bring it to “Iced Out My Arms”.

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Where nearly every song on Major Key had a memorable hook, quotables for days and at least one guest making the absolute most of their appearance on the track, many of these tracks just feel like a bunch of compiled leftovers. Leftover beats, leftover verses and leftover ideas. Too often a track is built around a hook that sounds like it was improvised on the spot overtop of a trap beat that I’ve heard a hundred times before. Travi$ Scott is really not the hook man Khaled seems to think he is, and his ability to sound off-key while still using Auto-Tune ruins all 4 tracks he’s on.

Not only this, but the mixing and mastering of the album is pretty noticeably unfinished on quite a few occasions, most notably “It’s Secured” – the levels are completely unbalanced. This album was clearly rapidly thrown together without any regard for organization – I hate to think what didn’t make the cut, if anything.

There are so many unfinished and terrible ideas on this project that it’s hard to think of a few to list, but some of the most egregious things include “I Love You So Much”, a track seemingly for Khaled’s son and his son alone in which Chance the Rapper legitimately raps the alphabet amidst Khaled’s proclamations of his son’s “genius”, a track featuring Future and Yo Gotti barely paying attention to basic structures of rhythm that was so much of an afterthought they couldn’t give it a better title than “That Range Rover Came With Steps”, and the sheer idea of putting Kodak Black on anything and thinking it’ll make it better.

There really are some good or even great aspects of almost every track here, but the nature of Khaled albums, loaded with collaboration, leaves too much opportunity for some less focused part of a song to bring it way down. Grateful was “executive produced” by Khaled’s infant son, supposedly meaning that only the perceived positive reaction of Asahd allowed a track to be featured on the album. You can tell. Congratulations Khaled, you played yourself.

Favourite Tracks: Wild Thoughts, Billy Ocean, I’m The One, Unchanging Love

Least Favourite Track: That Range Rover Came With Steps

Score: 5/10

Migos – C U L T U R E

Image result for migos cultureSouthern rap trio Migos release their second full-length studio album, seizing the moment in a big way after the meteoric rise to popularity prompted by unorthodox #1 hit single “Bad and Boujee”. Donald Glover dubbed the track “the best song ever” at the Golden Globes, and the three men behind it “the Beatles of this generation”. While I wouldn’t go quite that far, the interplay between Quavo, Takeoff and Offset and their trademark style of triplet flows and call and response lyrics are certainly an extremely fun time to listen to.

The album never really differentiates in terms of sound and themes at all, but did you really expect it to after “Bad and Boujee”? Migos have a specific purpose in this world, and their formula is working better than anyone else in their genre right now. You’d think 13 songs of triplet flow and talk of racks, Uzis and lean would get old, but somehow, it doesn’t. CULTURE is an hour-long party from front to back. The trio recruit a team of some of the most prominent trap producers in the industry to provide their soundtrack, including Metro Boomin, Zaytoven, Cardo and Buddah Blessed, the rising producer behind 2 Chainz’ “Big Amount”. Zaytoven’s extravagent string arrangements work especially well here.

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The album also features a slew of expected features such as Gucci Mane, Travis Scott and Chainz himself, all of whom are welcome but none of which quite measure up to the delivery of any one Migo. Although when DJ Khaled shows up on the intro to deliver Khaledisms like “For all you f**kboys that ever doubted the Migos – you played yourself!”, it’s still hilarious – and accurate.

If you’ve been on the Internet recently, you’ve surely heard “Bad And Boujee” an ungodly amount of times, and I still want to talk about it. It’s truly a perfect trap song. Like many great trap songs, it’s hard to say what exactly makes it stand out from the pack of similar songs, but there’s a certain way the trademark Migos flow and the slightly creepy instrumental intersect to make you feel on top of the world. I even love the much-maligned Lil Uzi Vert verse – “Met her today / She talked to me like she knew me / Go to sleep in a Jacuzzi” is the most quotable set of lines in a long time.

Migos are really the only group who are able to use nothing but ad-libs as the opening line of a verse and still have it work. Their charisma and chemistry is insane and more than makes up for the formulaic lyrics – even the expectation of a delightfully nonsensical punchline comes across as a positive because of the confidence you know they’ll deliver it with. It’s incredible how catchy their unique style of delivery is, and even more incredibly that not many other people are emulating it. In the trap world, Migos are about as original as you can get despite the uniformity of the genre – their rapid-fire and sharply punctuated syllables represent the firing of the Uzis and Dracos that make their way into every song. Although, interestingly, the best verse on the project might be Takeoff on “Get Right Witcha”, perhaps the only moment when he breaks from the typical Migos flow for a minute.

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Despite Quavo’s slew of stellar feature verses, I think he is clearly weaker than his two counterparts on an album like this. Perhaps it’s simply because the trap beats they use here are some of the hardest they can find and Quavo’s more auto-tuned, melodic and slowed-down style works better on woozier songs like Travis Scott’s “Pick Up The Phone”, but compared to the all-out attack in terms of both technical skill and mic presence the other two unleash, it sounds like he cares less.

Many of these songs tend to go on for about a minute more than they should. Migos is great for a brief shot of energy but they don’t typically hold your attention past the 4-minute mark when the style of thr song doesn’t really switch up. The album is very repetitive in subject matter and sound but the album format is not really what songs like this are for. A single like “Bad And Boujee” would still dominate across all formats without one.

The album is titled C U L T U R E and it really is for the culture. Mainstream hip-hop is moving in a very exciting direction right now, with not only “Bad and Boujee” but Rae Sremmurd’s “Black Beatles” breaking into the public consciousness in a major way and hitting #1 on the Billboard charts. The culture is shifting. If you were expecting something profound from the Migos, you were searching in the wrong place. Enjoy the fun that comes from a masterfully crafted trap song while it’s in the spotlight.

Favourite Tracks: Bad And Boujee, Get Right Witcha, T-Shirt, Call Casting, Brown Paper Bag

Least Favourite Track: Kelly Price

Score: 8/10

Travis Scott – Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight

Image result for birds in the trap sing mcknight coverTravis Scott’s third project in three years comes 363 days after the release of his debut studio album Rodeo, and the time taken in between indicates that the vast majority of the tracks included on this album are little more than Rodeo B-Sides — in fact, “Wonderful”, a track released last December and marketed exactly in this way, inexplicably serves as the album’s closer. Many of the tracks here seem to come from the same musical state of mind, although with ideas and song structure that are even less developed than his previous project.

The album does boast an impressive guest list, but Scott’s inability to construct an engaging song in terms of structure holds them back. Even Kendrick Lamar, who possesses the ability to obliterate any artist whose music he is featured on at will, sounds like he doesn’t want to be there on “Goosebumps”. Scott and his collaborators turn the typical structure of a song upside down, and while this might work with a musician who had an ounce of their own artistry to pull this off with, Scott’s disinterested, autotuned warbling which fills these gaps does not do these songs any favours. Many of these songs lack a distinguishable hook, switching up the beat for annoying instrumental interludes or a meaningless brief shift in subject matter from Scott. This upsets the natural flow of the song.

Image result for travis scott

Scott also tends to let his collaborators open the track, and as many upstage him (despite weak offerings for their standards), Scott’s emergence in the latter half of the track usually bores the listener. In addition to Lamar, artists like Andre 3000 and The Weeknd are criminally misused here. Sometimes, a guest almost takes over the track with Scott serving as the worst hype man in the business. “First Take” is an absolute mess of a song, Bryson Tiller unnecessarily embellishing his notes and sounding out of sync with the beat at times while Scott adds strange colour notes and “it’s lit”s. You would think something would accidentally mesh together, but it doesn’t.

Surprisingly, for a brief period in the album’s middle section, positive things begin to take shape. While still nowhere close to being mindblowing, the back to back songs “Outside” and “Goosebumps” begin to resemble a normal song structure again. These are the only songs which could actually function for me as the energetic party songs I’m sure Scott intended this entire project to be. The beat on a track like “Outside” simply hits a bit harder for some reason, and the melodies on each track are more focused and original than others. The songs additionally focus on one topic for the entire duration, for the most part.

Image result for travis scott kanyeScott with fellow G.O.O.D. music artists

Single “Pick Up The Phone”, which has already been out for months, somehow still holds up as the project’s best song, though not because of Scott. The steel drum instrumental actually serves as a new sound for a hip-hop track, and Young Thug and Quavo’s guest verses are incredibly quotable and fun. This lends to the amazing replay value of the song which is not present anywhere else here. One wonders what might happen if Scott had anything close to the mic presence which allows Quavo to seamlessly turn “discriminize” into a word for the purposes of fitting his rhyme scheme.

The album also suffers from a lack of originality, as Scott blatantly acknowledges his influences and incorporates elements of other people’s work in his music, whether knowingly or not. Even the title of the record was changed last minute to a standout line from Quavo’s verse in “Pick Up The Phone”. Scott has done a number of interviews proclaiming his excitement for “idol” Kid Cudi to be on his album, and while he does appear on two tracks to provide his usual brand of incoherent yelps, moans and mumbles, Scott displays his admiration by spending a quarter of his verse singing Cudi’s breakout hit “Day N Nite” on “Through The Late Night”. “Sweet Sweet” contains the same catchy melody line that made “Hotline Bling” a massive hit, although delivered without an ounce of the same goofy charisma here. “Way Back” contains obnoxiously placed samples of Kanye’s “We in the hoooussee…!” from Jay-Z’s decade-old “Roc Boys (And The Winner Is)”. “Coordinate” is basically “Panda”. The list goes on and on and on.

Birds is a huge step down from Rodeo. Scott’s desire to release projects at this speed has pur a serious damper on the quality of his music in a world where Frank Ocean just took over 4 years to make his album as good as it possibly could be. An artist who is lazy enough to compile throwaways off his last album, creating some new songs in exactly the same vein to mix together, and call it a new project a year later does not deserve the high level of recognition Scott’s name currently brings. That doesn’t mean I won’t be playing “Pick Up The Phone” every time I need an energy boost, though.

Favourite Tracks: Pick Up The Phone, Outside, Goosebumps

Least Favourite Track: First Take

Score: 3/10