CHANCE the RAPPER / HOMEBOY SANDMAN / ODDISEE / KAYTRANADA [#GeekSwag Reviews]: Book of Steel.
All jokes aside, I’ve never heard an album like this. There are countless “debut” albums of indie artists or underground artists breaking into the major realm of fame. They’re not necessarily being signed to a major label, just reaching the 1st stage of major level fame. These albums are usually fueled by the joy of having more money and better opportunities. Most times that means finally being able to afford a ton of expensive cars and jewelry, get lots of women, leave the hood, or stay in the hood and move all your stuff into the strip club. Where Chance the Rapper differs with his third “Chance mixtape”, Coloring Book, is that the joy fueling this project is pure–well, realistically pure.
Of course, Chance wants a few things to celebrate the success…
However ultimately, he’s just happy as fuck to succeed and make progress doing what he loves with his friends, and being able to take care of his family. This album feels like your parents just said “you’re not grounded anymore” on the 1st day of summer, and all your friends are outside with pizza and money; then, your mom throws you a bag of super dank weed as you walk out. The production — chiefly provided in-house by The Social Experiment (Donnie Trumpet, Peter Cottontale, Greg Landfair Jr., Nate Fox, and Chance himself) — matches the neo-soul mood of each song perfectly and there’s an equal balance of expression, introspection, pride and humility.
The collaborations, even those with auto-tune trap-rappers, Young Thug and Future, all feel organic and move the story of the album along at a great speed. “No Problem” (featuring Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz) let’s you know Chance is no push-over, while “Blessings” displays Chance’s great respect for higher power and gratitude for his recent boomshot success. Another highlight, “Angels” (f. Saba), expresses the emcee’s respect for the friends and family that have been supporting him since day one of the journey. Overall Coloring Book is a great album with many great songs, several worthy of a lengthy repeat, as well as enjoyable from beginning to end more than twice. Congrats, Chance, your third mixtape is easily the feel good album of the year.
Upon first impression, it’s easy to see Kindness For Weakness as Queens emcee Homeboy Sandman’s most reflective album–an undertaking that showed itself here and there in his most recent engagements, White Sands (EP) and Hallways. I would also argue that these aforementioned albums, among others, lent themselves to his lyrical versatility more than the content. The good news, hip-hop geeks? His 6th album is a strong collective of sound beats (Jonwayne, Large Pro, Edan, etc.), content, lyrical power, and, quite frankly, a very nice arrangement to the tracks…
Some of the best songs on this record are “Eyes”, produced by Georgia Anne Muldrow; “Earth, Wind, Fire, Water,” featuring: yU of Diamond District, Tah Phrum Da Bush, and Toronto artist Shad; and the GHG favorite, of course, “God,” produced by a man who recently came off another outstanding record with Open Mike Eagle, Paul White. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also namedrop the album’s last banger, “Speak Truth”, featuring Homeboy’s current tourmate and 2015 Lice EP collaborator, Aesop Rock, Kurious (from MF Doom’s Monsta Island Czars), and Breeze Brewin’ (from the Juggaknots). As a whole, Kindness… is so well functioning, a listener won’t need to skip songs because they are altogether very good. Another great project from Stones Throw! 4/5 Bibles.
Following through on his big plans for 2016, DC-emcee/producer Oddisee drops his second release, the all instrumental Odd Tape. As an example of the next evolution of Oddisee as an artist, this is an excellent departure from form. This album, unlike many traditional instrumental albums from hip-hop producers, isn’t meant to be the beats for you and your friend’s freestyle sessions. No, this one is meant to sit back and chill to, be the soundtrack for work or just rolling through the everyday; it keeps the head nodding and holds your interest. With an organic jam session quality to it — and not the overly-complicated tracks of, say, El-P (not a criticism, of course) — The Odd Tape also avoids any of the over-simplistic repetition more suited for lyrics…
The drum programming/execution is on point on all the tracks, and Oddisee’s use of synths, piano’s, guitars and other sounds add to the chill vibe and atmosphere. This old school HH-head was definitely feeling the end of each track where Odd’ drops some good ole fashioned East Coast Boom Bap to segue to the next track, each combining classic soul influences with both his roots firmly planted as an Emcee and producer. The ratio’s just right.
As a stand-alone project, The Odd Tape has an exploratory vibe to it as well, and only one question remains for me: Is Oddisee the musician playing multiple instruments, composer, or beat conducta–or all at once? And it’s likely that very answer may be the determining factor in helping Oddisee elevate to the next level. Like Madlib, who experiments by applying hip-hop aesthetics and sensibilities to each project as interpreted through his many alter egos – is this a new direction for Oddisee, an exploration of his influences or, as other reviewers have noted, simply the soundtrack to his day? Similar question, same possible answers; it could be one or more or all of the above. 3.5/5 MPC 3000’s.
You would think that with the long, diverse history of music behind us that more contemporary artists would do what Kaytranada does in 99.9%. Instead of blending the surface aesthetics of what people associate with a given musical genre together, he gets to the root of what makes that music interesting and uses that to create something interesting and unique to Kaytranada without completely abandoning a modern day sound. Tracks like “Together” with AlunaGeorge and rapper Goldlink, “Drive Me Crazy” with Vic Mensa, or even “Glowed Up” with Anderson .Paak have the most obvious hip-hop and R&B influences, but still manage to break the form with the song structure.
There’s also a stretch of songs that are undeniably house; “Leave Me Alone” and “You’re The One” sit the most comfortably in the genre, while tracks like “Vivid Dreams” and “Bullets” would still kill at a house stage but still standout from convention. Then there’s a slew of tracks like “One Too Many”, “Weight Off”, and “Breakdance Lesson No. 1”, that hearken back to the early aughts electronica of Prefuse 73 and DJ Shadow that impressively recalls a very specific sound that somehow doesn’t feel dated at all. 99.9% isn’t a complete and direct sell to any super particular music listener – and does uncomfortably shift from sound to sound; but it should definitely not be ignored by anyone seeking a more organic, yet enjoyable, approach to musical evolution. 4/5 Bibles.
Over the past decade, underground hip-hop has become much more easily accessible, exposing many of us to more diverse styles and pulling the mainstream closer to the underground. All that made it interesting to listen to a new album by Freeway, an artist I was a big fan of in the early to mid 2000’s and more “mainstream” than the artists I typically listen to today. Strangely, in the decade since I last listened to any of his music, his style hasn’t really changed; just become more polished and that is fully evident in this album, Free Will. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, considering his fast and rhythmic flow is one I’ve always enjoyed. However, in a time when conscious and personal lyrics are much more common, many of his verses feel hollow. “Addiction” and “Legendary” deviate from that notion; but, in the whole, it feels like a chore listening to the whole album, as perhaps Free Will would’ve worked much better as a shorter length EP. If you’ve never listened to Freeway (then you probably never listened to older school Jay-Z, heh), or haven’t heard much music in this style, then this might still be worth a listen. 3/5 Bibles.
Despite the fact that he’s released three successful mixtapes in 2010, 2011 and 2012 followed by an official debut EP in 2013, I never heard of Hi-Rez before his McDonald’s video was shared on my Facebook timeline. Being that I built myself off of rapping about McDonald’s (I kid you not), it was easy to jump at the opportunity to review the amateur hip-hop enthusiast’s newest mixtape, Never Say Die. Half expecting a satirical album based on the “Like A Boss” video and the Goonies inspired mixtape cover, this “Pastor” was nearly shocked with what I heard. The Bronx born, Fort Lauderdale transplant brings it, and proves that his viral video was a mere example of his love for the art and not just a snap-shot of his persona.
Never Say Die opens up with “1990 Something”, a fun track that pays tribute to the 90’s with lyrics that play like a menu of pop references from that foregone decade and resembles the tone set by his viral video. However, it quickly becomes clear that there is another side to Hi-Rez. In “Jane”, he tells the heartbreaking story of a bad-girl-gone-good-gone-bad-again, while “Bed Of Lies” sees Hi-Rez’ regrets for past sins committed. But my favorite track, “I Know What It’s Like”, shows the rapper relating to the struggle so many people face trying to survive daily. And, in case you were wondering, rap legends Masta Ace and R.A. the Rugged Man surprise guest on the LP; while “Never Going Broke” sees H.R. “balling outta control” with Smoke DZA. With attention to serious topics to making heads bounce shoulders to the fun party side, Hi-Rez delivers one of the year’s most surprisingly strong releases. From rapping in his closet to now, it seems the sky is the limit for this up-and-coming talent. 3.75/5 Bibles.