Boogie – Everything’s For Sale

Image result for everything's for saleWest coast rapper Boogie has been generating a lot of anticipation for his debut studio album since signing to Eminem’s Shady Records label – which is a pretty exclusive deal to get! Everything’s For Sale has arrived, and despite drawing some pretty obvious inspiration from his rap contemporaries on a few tracks, the project manages to put Boogie’s storytelling ability, which has the potential to be on par with some of the current greats, on full display. Boogie’s nasal, Chance The Rapper-esque delivery and his frequently underwhelming singing voice bring down the musicality of the project more often than not here, but it’s easy to see what Eminem saw in him – Boogie’s lyricism is vivid and compelling, and with a better team surrounding him as he grows, this project could mark the very beginnings of something exciting.

Opener “Tired/Reflections” is bookended by recordings of people criticizing Boogie’s “conscious” content, saying they’re tired of hearing it and want to escape into something more meaningless and fun. Boogie drops into a spoken word verse over an introspective guitar instrumental and some orchestral chords. He details his need to get the content that he does out, with some poignant observations on how his realistic descriptions of his own lived experience of racism and violence can just as easily be twisted and interpreted stereotypically. It’s the kind of track that quiets down the other aspects so you can really focus on what he has to say, and these are the ones that excel on this project.

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“Lolsmh” is another pretty original concept that Boogie takes a deep dive into and honestly reminds me of some Kendrick Lamarian storytelling techniques. Placing the omnipresence of social media, its effect on his own mental health and its propensity for others to leave their morals at the door in pursuit of fame under the spotlight, Boogie goes in for 4 minutes of straight verse with a dejected and confessional tone of voice and dropping lyrical gems and astute observations left and right. The theme continues on the track “Live 95”, as Boogie plays a character finding self-worth in what he obtains from his social media presence before dropping into a verse as himself searching for the same thing. Despite a recent influx of money, he still associates his worth with his poorer upbringings that constituted most of his life.

Quite a few of the more upbeat, more traditionally radio-oriented tracks on this project actually had the potential to be just as good as the more lyrical ones here if he had gotten someone else to sing the hooks – Boogie’s singing voice is seriously not good, and he uses it a lot. He tries to do these Weeknd-like quick trills on almost every track where he sings and the awkward breaks in his voice where he can’t complete them throw the rhythm off. A track like “Silent Ride” is structured to be the catchiest track here with a trap instrumental and some well-written internal rhymes in the hook, but I can’t get through that raspy, nasal delivery on the hook to fully enjoy it.

It only gets worse when he tries to apply it to more alt-R&B oriented tracks like “Skydive” and “Swap Meet”, where he dips in and out of an off-key falsetto and lacks the ability to keep a slower, completely sung track engaging. “Skydive” actually does have a pretty fantastic instrumental that sounds like it was influenced by Latin guitar patterns. It’s backed up by some rumbling bass ratcheting up the intensity, but Boogie sounds completely detached on the sung hook. It goes to show just how much he doesn’t fit with the style when the derivative 6lack outshines him at the end of “Skydive II”.

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In terms of Boogie’s less conscious tracks here, “Soho”, a collaboration with up-and-comer JID, is easily the best despite its shorter length. Featuring a quotable chorus and beat that combines some modern and old-school production styles, the two speed up their flow and dismiss fake friends.

Eminem himself appears on the track “Rainy Days”, Boogie’s voice at peak Chance the Rapper on a pretty catchy, soulful hook and spastic, paranoid verse before Eminem comes in with what might be one of his worst feature verses in a long time, and there’s been quite a few that haven’t been up to par recently. His speedy, robotic flow doesn’t match the slowly creeping beat at all and loses all semblance of musicality, not to mention that his dad-jokes and puns are as groan-eliciting as ever. At least now Boogie can say that he easily outrapped one of the greats on a track.

The final 4 tracks constitute Boogie addressing a couple more distinct topics over the course of some shorter song lengths, closing out the project on a high note as we’re reminded about his best asset. Trumpeter Christian Scott enhances Boogie’s stories surrounding relationship drama on “Whose Fault”, while “Self Destruction” is another standout as he interpolates Mac Miller on the hook and injects some energy back into his voice.

All in all, Everything’s For Sale can be a frustrating listen at times due to its inconsistency. There’s one aspect of his work that Boogie does exceptionally well, but everything else is lagging slightly behind average. There are a couple times where it does click together here, but I’ll be anticipating the improvement that I know he has the potential for in the future.

Favourite Tracks: Lolsmh, Tired/Reflections, Soho, Self Destruction, Live 95

Least Favourite Track: Swap Meet

Score: 6/10


Rapid Fire Reviews (6ix9ine, MGMT, Nipsey Hussle)

Bensbeat is back for the summer and I’ll be catching back up to the present with a lot of these quicker posts.

6ix9ine – Day69

Controversial Brooklyn rapper 6ix9ine delivers a debut project infused with the unique scream-rap energy he brought to the singles that made him famous, but it lacks the lyrical content and adaptability to back him up over the course of a full-length project, even one that stands at only 29 minutes. Despite this, his production from some pretty unknown names (save for rising star Pi’erre Bourne on hit single “Gummo”) is frequently top-notch, riding a surprisingly melodic wave and adapting to a style that is distinctly 6ix9ine’s. The sheer blunt force and energy of some of these songs is hard to deny, but more often than not, there just isn’t enough here.

The album opens strong with the quick intro “Billy”, which is one of the most intense and cinematic beats on the whole project. The trap hi-hats and orchestral, almost operatic instrumental is such an interesting sonic playground to drop the unstoppable force of 6ix9ine’s vocal cords into, and it’s over before it even began. For some reason here, it works – he’s established himself as a quick jolt of energy and you can’t expect him to give much more as he pours everything into his delivery. I always preferred single “Kooda” to “Gummo” – the latter is a preview of where the remainder of the album can fall flat. Pi’erre’s beat is chilling, yet perhaps a little too reserved for 6ix9ine’s yelps. The repetitive songwriting found here persists throughout the project, some tracks like “Chocolaté” content to repeat the same lines for most of the track, and not in a fun, “Gucci Gang” way. The subject material never deviates from threats to others, references to his weaponry, and the like. When he switches up his flow on that delightfully melodic beat on Kooda – “You can talk hot on the Internet, boy!” – even that is enough of a distinct artistic choice to push the track over the edge. The track is a pure adrenaline rush. “93”, as well, features a great grinding, industrial instrumental that pummels the senses.

The tracks with features, “Rondo” and “Keke”, each try to fit three quite distinct artists into songs that barely exceed two minutes and make such a unique presence in 6ix9ine feel incredibly out of place. There’s nobody else in the realm of old-school hardcore rap he is trying to revive and artists like Young Thug and A Boogie wit da Hoodie are gone before you were even able to appreciate that they were there. The largely unrelated track names don’t help much with identifying the differences between the tracks in the back half of the project either – most of it blends together, 6ix9ine’s voice abrasive and threatening over instrumentals that never quite accommodate it.

Day69 is certainly a breath of fresh air – if 6ix9ine can incorporate more tracks like more recent single “Gotti”, where he introduces a more melodic vocal delivery, he might have a shot at outlasting his peers.

Favourite Tracks: KOODA, BILLY, 93, DOOWEE

Least Favourite Track: MOOKY

Score: 5/10

Image result for little dark ageMGMT – Little Dark Age

The indie-pop duo returns with their fourth studio album, a pretty fun, occasionally humorous and surprisingly dark set of breezy, psychedelic synthpop tracks. The band offers some critiques of modern society disguised behind some maddeningly catchy pop hooks, pointing the finger not only at others but themselves as well. Working with Chairlift’s Patrick Wimberly, many of these tracks assert their slightly off-kilter position and somber lyrical content with the slightest uneasy twinges in the instrumental, revealing the lurking foreboding warnings underneath the shimmering pop veneer. Frontman Andrew VanWyngarden’s voice is as calm and soothing as ever.

We open with the hilarious “She Works Out Too Much”, which intersperses the happy yet disengaged voice of a workout tutorial instructor behind lyrics of a relationship not “working out”. The relationship in the song is described on the surface as legitimately failing because of the man’s disdain for exercise, but the catchy female voice delivering that hook contrasting with VanWyngarden’s existential crises in the verses reveals something else. “He didn’t work out” – his issues – “enough”. It’s a great build up to the chaotic conclusion, a frantic saxophone roaring in. These tracks are frequently driven by pulsating synth patterns, pushing themselves to the forefront ahead of the vocals. The title track delves into an area of synth-funk, snapping into a decisive minor chord at the end of the chorus as VanWyngarden delivers some confessional lyrics about depression.

I didn’t realize how dark the album really is until “When You Die”, which plays off this dichotomy perfectly. It’s genuinely shocking when you hear such a pleasant voice declare “Go f*ck yourself” in monotone, kickstarting a chorus where he contemplates suicide and happily declares “It’s permanently night” at the end. The track contains genuinely the most cheerful melody on the whole project. Later on, the band criticizes dedication to electronics and dives into political commentary with the beautiful closer “Hand It Over”, the closest thing we get to dreampop – “The joke’s worn thin, the king stepped in”, VanWyngarden sings, the track culminating in a gospel-tinged singalong repetition of the title. The band can still write a soaring chorus – a sparkly synth pad and backing vocals support the celebratory “Me and Michael”, changed from the original “my girl” for the sheer purpose of ambiguity.

The chillwave sound has died down a bit, and MGMT still proudly carries the torch. It’ll be tough to get any of these tracks out of your head. It’s a great return to form, coming closer to the joys of the late 2000s tracks that catapulted them into the mainstream.

Favourite Tracks: Hand It Over, She Works Out Too Much, Me and Michael, When You Die, Little Dark Age

Least Favourite Track: One Thing Left To Try

Score: 8/10

Image result for victory lap nipseyNipsey Hussle – Victory Lap

The veteran West Coast rapper finally drops his debut studio album, abandoning his dedication to numerous mixtapes. He continues his partial revival of the G-funk sound on this project, bridging the gap to the modern era with some more trap-oriented sounds. Spanning over an hour, Hussle clearly had a lot to say saved for a debut project of this magnitude, but not all of it connects. His delivery and lyricism are his strong suits much more than his flow, and quite a few of these tracks can slip into filler territory by extending themselves past their welcome without much of a catchy, driving rhythm to keep them going. Hussle brings out some impressive guests in fellow Californians YG and Kendrick Lamar, even getting an appearance from Sean Combs himself. It’s a lot of content, but not enough of it sticks.

Production is handled mostly by underground west coast duo Mike & Keys, who broke out with a hit in G-Eazy’s “Him & I” this year and do a great job of emulating the old-school West Coast style despite the temptation to give into trends of today. “Last Time That I Checc’d” makes up for Hussle’s disinterested delivery with a bouncy synth bass instrumental that sounds like it could be a classic E-40 track. The homage to the past continues on “Hussle & Motivate”, one of the album’s best tracks, in which Hussle settles into the flow nicely over a slowed down sample of Jay-Z’s classic “Hard Knock Life” instrumental. The ordering of the album can be confusing, most of the weaker tracks present at its beginning. The back half meets expectations pretty consistently, Hussle sounding more urgent – “Status Symbol 3” is carried by a great melodic hook from Compton rapper Buddy and a harder-than-usual beat pattern that Hussle adapts to with a faster flow. Many of these tracks take the form of a long, winding story, Hussle speaking about his tumultuous upbringing and rise to the top, hence the title “Victory Lap”, and these streams of consciousness can be quite compelling.

Hussle doesn’t develop nearly enough of a distinct personality despite the expansive runtime he had to do so. When guests appear, especially Kendrick Lamar on “Dedication”, Hussle clearly attempts to emulate their styles in order to make the track sound more cohesive, but I really wanted to hear more of his own artistry in a world quickly becoming inundated with rap as its top genre. It’s a perfectly solid project without much obviously wrong with it, there’s just not enough to make me pay attention.

Favourite Tracks: Hussle & Motivate, Status Symbol 3, Keyz 2 The City 2, Dedication

Least Favourite Track: Succa Proof

Score: 6/10


Sweetsexysavage.jpgOakland R&B upstart and former America’s Got Talent finalist Kehlani’s SWEETSEXYSAVAGE is technically her debut studio album, though her previous critically acclaimed mixtapes Cloud 19 and Grammy-nominated You Should Be Here are what put her in the spotlight. The album stands as a huge statement and assertion of self in the wake of last year’s heavily covered suicide attempt and hospitalization stemming from relationship drama between OVO artist PARTYNEXTDOOR and basketball star Kyrie Irving. The title being a direct reference to TLC’s classic album CRAZYSEXYCOOL, Kehlani effortlessly channels that era of music and delivers a 17-track album that never feels like it overstays its welcome. The album certainly checks off all the boxes it promises in its title, and continues to introduce the world to this confident rising star set to be a major force in the music industry. Still only 21, the spirit of Aaliyah is alive and well.

The sound of the album is a dedicated homage to 90s R&B, all with a Californian twist that features classic sounds like the vocoder at the end of “Keep On” and the jazzier feel of West Coast hip-hop style beats. The album samples New Edition and Aaliyah herself, and even brings more contemporary R&B into it with a great interpolation of Akon’s 2007 smash hit “Don’t Matter”. The three sides of the album are not explicitly marked but they certainly come across in the sound, which can tend to get a bit too similar as the album goes on but varies enough in tone to remain enjoyable throughout. Kehlani can be sweet, accompanied by breezy and tropical synths and pianos, sexy – with instrumentals sounding like R. Kelly at his prime, or savage – where the instrumental turns dark and trap-influenced for Kehlani to unleash a verbal assault on her detractors.

The majority of the production is done by Pop & Oak, who have been doing great work with up-and-coming R&B and hip-hop artists for a while now – recent credits including Alessia Cara’s Know-It-All and Elle Varner’s Perfectly Imperfect. Special shoutout goes to G.O.O.D. Music producer Charlie Heat, who brings the bouncy and melodic synth lines he showed off on Kanye’s “Facts” and D.R.A.M.’s “Cute” to standout track “Undercover”.

Single “Distraction” commands your attention from its opening few seconds, as a small bit of the chorus is amplified with reverb and additional harmonies before dropping into a bassline-driven traditional R&B beat. Kehlani’s voice is truly unique – somehow equal parts aggressive and vulnerable. She acts more like a rapper with accented delivery more often than showing off her singing abilities, but can easily surprise with some impressive runs and reaches into her upper range, such as on the outro of slower track “Hold Me By The Heart”. The project is frequently surprising in the musical technique that goes into it, you don’t typically hear a complex sharped harmony like on the chorus of “Piece of Mind” anymore.

She uses her R&B sensibilities to make certain songs extremely beautiful, which might not be expected on an album where she frequently proclaims how hood she is. Tracks like “Escape” and “Everything Is Yours” slow things down to allow Kehlani to put harmonies at the forefront, sounding like a one-woman TLC. Another strength running through the project is just how confident Kehlani comes off, which is a great look for her. Kehlani is going to get the man she wants becuase she loves who she is. The line from “CRZY”, “If I gotta be a b*tch, imma be a bad one” really sums up the entire project.

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The song structure tends to get a little strange at times. The individual fragments of the songs are always great, but the transitions are a little awkward and can leave listeners thinking something is going to happen after a perceived build-up. The choruses of tracks like “Undercover” (which recovers better than most) and “Not Used To It” end on a bit of an unresolved chord that makes us think a huge drop of some sort is coming that never does. Even a song like “Advice” features a chorus that decreases in energy from the verse. Standing at 17 tracks, some of the similar-sounding ones certainly could have been cut for a more compact and focused album, but Kehlani has a lot to say on every one of these tracks, and considering the events in her life, we should let her.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Kehlani catalogued the evolution of her albums: Cloud 19 proved “I can sing!”, You Should Be Here proved “I can write!” and SWEETSEXYSAVAGE proved “I can chill! And have fun!” which is a great place to see the singer. Closing track “Thank You” is a very emotional letter to the fans who supported her through the hard times, and with a product this fantastic immediately after, it is us who should be thanking her.

Favourite Tracks: Escape, Distraction, Get Like, Too Much, Undercover

Least Favourite Track: Not Used To It

Score: 9/10

YG – Red Friday

West Coast gangsta rap revivalist YG returns with a brief collection of songs which didn’t make the cut on Still Brazy, his acclaimed album from earlier this year. Although YG continues to bring the high-energy tracks we’ve come to expect from him, and reunites with some key collaborators, some of this material falls much shorter in the creativity department. At times, it is easy to see why some of these songs were left off the album — especially with the unique story attached to the project.

YG is only distributing a very limited number of physical copies of the EP, each costing $100. The project stands more as a novelty associated with the Black Friday craze than a legitimately assembled collection of songs, though there are still a few great tracks here. Though especially in the wake of creating a song that resonated with people as much as political protest song “FDT”, YG seems to be simply going the motions of what creates a standard West Coast banger here.

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The sound of the EP is still classic YG, offering melodic and bombastic West Coast beats while he continues to do what has made him famous overtop of them – the loud, in your face flow associated with old-school gangsta rap. The tone is very celebratory, fitting in with his more party-oriented tracks rather than the social commentary which has recently been getting more critical attention. Notable collaborator DJ Mustard, who was a major part of YG’s debut album My Krazy Life, is back here after differences kept the pair apart, and contributes some of the project’s best beats.

As a matter of fact, the instrumentals here are easily the best element of the project. YG brings back this West Coast retro sound very well, and in a world where many rappers are going as experimental as they possibly can, deviating from frameworks, not many people are left still doing what YG is doing at this caliber. While the features here vary in their success, rapidly rising star 21 Savage steals the entire project with his turn on “I Be On”, amplifying considerably what is an otherwise mediocre track and demonstrating why everyone wants him on their song right now. Despite the abundance of party tracks here, YG is still at his best when talking political – the only time he really brings up any of the issues he mentions on Still Brazy is on the best track here One Time Comin’. Over a monstrous beat resembling a police siren, he addresses the trepidation he feels around the police while still delivering a catchy hook.

When it comes down to it, however, this is still an album full of leftover tracks. Although many of these tracks do succeed in being hard-hitting enough to get one’s head nodding, the similarities of the tracks and inability to bring anything new out of the tried-and-true LA gangsta rap framework become overwhelming on even a project this brief. This does not measure up to the strength of his previous two albums at all, and for a project worth $100 should have been better.

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The main issue here stems from lazy songwriting, especially in the hook department. These songs were cut for a reason, and as featured artist Mitch, who may or may not be the guy who caught a body ’bout a week ago, imitates somewhat of a drunken Travis Scott on “I Know”, or YG delivers an uninspired and generic trap hook without any variation in his voice, the strength of the beat stops mattering. YG’s cadence can get grating at times – like fellow rapper Meek Mill, a lot of the energy of his tracks comes from his loud and unapologetic attack on the mic. It does involve a lot of yelling, and it works if it’s used in the right way, but a lot of the time it isn’t here. Delivering repetitive hooks at this same level of volume isn’t the most pleasant listening experience. To bring 21 Savage’s great verse back into the conversation, his more laid-back style fit the beat of “I Be On” much better.

YG has all but mastered his craft, and demonstrated it on his full-length studio albums. While Red Friday serves as somewhat of a blemish on his wildly successful work, its status as an EP and novelty release surrounding Black Friday allow it some breathing room. But unlike fellow Californian rapper Kendrick Lamar’s Untitled Unmastered, YG’s B-Sides pale significantly in comparison.

Favourite Tracks: One Time Comin’, I’m A Thug Pt. 2, I Be On

Least Favourite Track: I Know

Score: 5/10

ScHoolboy Q – Blank Face LP

blank facePerhaps I shouldn’t be reviewing this album, as the very first words uttered on ScHoolboy Q’s latest release Blank Face LP are “This that f— the blogs”. While I understand why you might feel this way, Mr. Q, please don’t hate me for constructive criticism. And fortunately, not a great deal is needed as the album is, at the very least, miles better than his previous attempt, 2014’s Oxymoron. ScHoolboy Q is a member of the label Top Dawg Entertainment, most famously housing Kendrick Lamar. Of the 5 rappers currently signed, I never regarded him on the same tier as the rest as he seemed to have a different approach to his music. Instead of being focused on lyricism and creativity like his labelmates, Q dropped track after track of straight and to the point, abundantly fun music about a singular topic – his life as a gangster on the West Coast.

While this is still the vast majority of the subject matter, ScHoolboy Q looks to join the rest of his TDE contemporaries by providing us with what he dubs a concept album, though I still have not been able to piece together the overarching message. In the wake of sprawling works like Kendrick’s To Pimp A Butterfly, Q’s creativity game has been clearly stepped up. He foregoes his usual recycled West Coast trap beats for more intricate and complex instrumentation, often featuring live instruments (who knew we would hear this much electric guitar on a rap album in 2016) and quite a bit of layering.

The project also boasts a plethora of diverse and interesting personnel. A wide array of producers are present, very few contributing to more than one song on the project. This makes for a good variety of sounds ranging across the album, but still remarkably sounds quite cohesive throughout, at least instrumentally. ScHoolboy Q has clearly locked down this brand of dark and grimy West Coast hip hop in the modern era. For 17 distinct producers to work on an album and have it still sound like a fully fleshed out unit speaks volumes on its creative direction. Frequent TDE producer Sounwave (various tracks), perennial rap hitmaker Metro Boomin (“Dope Dealer”) and perhaps most surprisingly, Tyler the Creator (“Big Body”) did an especially commendable job. The project contains many beat switches mid-song, all of which are pulled off quite seamlessly.

In addition to the production, nearly every featured artist on Blank Face turns in an impressive verse, especially the older rap legends Q tends to invite onto his albums – Tha Dogg Pound, E-40 and Jadakiss all drop a number of memorable lines. I even love Kanye West’s much maligned turn on “THat Part” – I’m sorry, he’s just such a goofball that how could you hate it? “Beggars can’t be choosers b—- this ain’t Chipotle!”

ScHoolboy Q and the rest of the Top Dawg Entertainment roster

The main problem with this project is that I feel like ScHoolboy Q has so many ideas for it – so many that the overarching theme of a concept album is difficult to understand – that he couldn’t possibly have been expected to execute them all well. Many tracks have a variety of interesting elements but end up falling flat for one reason or another. The beat of “Know Ya Wrong” switches from a pleasant piano melody to one of the worst musical stretches on the entire album. I can see exactly what Q was aiming for on “WHateva U Want”, as Candice Pillay’s creepy vocals playing the role of an overly attached lover snake around the track, but Q’s vocal performance and energy is far from being there. Concept albums shouldn’t have filler, and most of the back half is. Q himself even said he didn’t want “Overnight” on the album, and it was forced upon him by the label. His flow starts getting lazier and rhythm is sacrificed for saying West Coast buzzwords over a nice beat.

Q also shows that he has an ear for melody and harmonies on tracks like “JoHn Muir”, and it leaves me wishing we had heard it more here. He does take a lot of risks on the project, why not that one? It would be especially welcomed because the hooks are somewhat of a weak point. Finally, at 17 tracks Q’s voice gets a little grating (“Str8 Ballin”). He tends to yell a lot, some of that could be attributed to the style of attempting to sound hard I suppose but it becomes a tad obnoxious.

All things considered, the more whimsical and fun side of ScHoolboy Q’s work might still be his best. Tracks like “THat Part”, “Dope Dealer”, and “Big Body”. It’s why his previous hits “Collard Greens” and “Man of the Year” were so ubiquitous. When Q starts a simple and deceptively playful flow on the outro of “Dope Dealer”, punctuating each line with “Boom!”, he is audibly having fun. A combination of this aspect with his new penchant for increased complexity in his music would certainly contribute to success in the future.

Favourite Tracks: Groovy Tony/Eddie Kane, Dope Dealer, Big Body, THat Part

Least Favourite Track: Str8 Ballin’

Score: 6/10