Alright. Before we head into this studio, I got to make sure you cool. Don’t come in here snapping pictures and don’t record a damn thing. We’ not even suppose to be in here. Kendrick Lamar is in a middle of a jam-session preparing for his second album, and said we can chill out and observe while they rehearse. Now, be quiet while we step in; it’s lookin’ like they about to perform. “Who doing the drums? Man put that n— on the drums man. Yup! All day, ‘Mortal Man’ and ‘Kunta.’” [beat drop].
That’s the feeling this “Pontif” had listening to Kendrick’s new surprise EP, untitled unmastered., which also gives fans a sort of behind-the-scenes look at how that baby To Pimp a Butterfly was created and conceived.
After a funny-ass intro where one sexual encounter comes off akin to “pushin’ back on daddy.. like a little lamb”, K-Dot goes straight in without warning. He mic-describes his version of the Rapture (from Bioshock, apparently), running to the nearest church to plead his case of salvation from damnation. The arrangement makes sense when you parallel the second coming of Christ to breakin’ down a little lamb, err, lady friend (yeah–it’s gonna be hard not to use that term from now on…).
The next joint — and all of these are untitled with random dates they were recorded, mind you — laced by Yung Exclusive and Cardo is a trippier, even more chill experience, with Kendrick using this time to “get God on the phone!” You may have actually heard the third joint and first single (produced by Da Internz), which was performed on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert alongside Thundercat, Bilal, Terrace Martin and singer Anna Wise. It’s about receiving life advice from different people of different cultural backgrounds.
Other untitled efforts include collabos with fellow TDE labelmates Jay Rock, Punch and SZA, with tracks ranging from trippy to wonderfully melodic. A mega-hype K-dot flows from braggin’ writes (“I got 100 on my dash/ I got 200 in my trunk”) to the hard knock life (“justice ain’t free/ so justice ain’t me”). Punch pushes your mind a little further with life philosophies, while the next funky track from “06.30.2014” sees the soulful voice of Cee-Lo Green serenading us with production from Ali Shaheed Muhammad (A Tribe Called Quest) and Adrian Younge (Black Dynamite soundtrack, 12 Ways to Die w/ Ghostface). Here, any questions about their mentality are answered.
Now, this wouldn’t be a Kendrick Lamar project without an extra long sesh near the end, and the seventh joint combines the production of Frank Dukes, Cardo, Yung Exclusive, Swizz Beatz and even Swizz’s son Egypt Dean. The cut expresses that no matter your vice — Love, Drugs, Fame, Chains, or Juice — nothing will get you as high as “the feels” off music. The joint also features a subliminal warning to Jay Electronica’s recently questionable comments about K-Dot — especially after witnessing Kendrick perform the “Blackest” performance ever on the Grammys: “Before you poke out your chest, loosen your bra/ Before you step out of line and dance with the star/ I can never end a career if it never start.” Finally, the funky, DJ Khalil-produced “09.06.2014” challenges folk to be patient and realize they blessings.
While not mastered, untitled unmastered. is still better music than most artists’ best — a perfect blend of blues, jazz, funk, neo soul, hip and trip-hop. Kendrick continues to create his own lane while others continue to clone and jump on whatever gimmick helps keep they name afloat. I’d also argue that Kendrick is the only mainstream artist that is a completely conscious but fun listen– a skill that most “conscious” rappers lack, since the message can often overwhelm the music. Not since Outkast’s Aquemini have I melted to that rare combo, while K-Dot’s technical Em’ flow meshes with a certain Andre 3000 conscious creativity just the same. Long live the King. “Pimp! Pimp! Hooray!”
OK Kanye, no need to complain because I happen to be sticking to your rule of white people not reviewing “black music,” because I’m here to talk about the new Samiyam record from Stones Throw, Animals Have Feelings. Oh–and just for the record, I wouldn’t care anyway, Yeezy. You have lost your damn mind.
Now, back to the matter at hand. It’s always interesting to listen to an artist that you have no prior familiarity with beyond hearing the name and thinking “hey, I should probably check that out.” Well, with Animals I have now been properly introduced to Samiyam and honestly, this fits right into my ever-growing collection of whiteboy beats. I am not referring to the color of the artist’s skin; more to my own helpless whiteboy sensibility, mind you.
To clear this up for those who may not know, Samiyam is a talented artist; but to call it hip-hop outright wouldn’t quite be fair. Animals is chiefy instrumental and has more in common with certain electronica and super underground hipster-hop than it does any sort of the traditional. In fact, this may be the best background album I’ve heard in a long time, having plenty in common with the Gorillaz in terms of the soundscape — even with a similar rotating cast of characters on the mic to go along with it (Action Bronson is this album’s Del the Funky Homosapien).
Hip-hop fans won’t be disappointed though, as the album does include a few more guest spots than just “Mr. Wonderful”, from Earl Sweatshirt on the single, “Dartgun”, to Jeremiah J and Oliver The 2nd on “Lord of the Rings”, which sounds like permanent #GeekSwag. Fans of ambient, hip-hop beats should definitely give this a try. Those who absolutely need an MC spittin’ hot fire to enjoy a track would be served well by at least picking up the few tracks that feature lyricists. Either way, it was very nice to meet you Samiyam. You’ve got a new fan. 3.75/5 Bibles.
On paper, Ritualize should be one of my favorite albums of the 2010s. In what should have been a genius stroke, Philly’s Lushlife teamed up with one if its electronic groups CSLSX to — I’m guessing — elevate music beyond its corporate-tainted roots. You know, the ones that have been torn apart by artificial genres manufactured by media elitists who have wanted to take away art from the people the moment they realized they could. But let me tell you how I really feel.
Ultimately Ritualize soars purely on good taste and smart references, but is stopped mid-flight due to a strong lack of cohesion. The album’s biggest anchor is Lushlife’s choice to be less dynamic than the superior music composition he’s rapping over. Choice is the key word here. It’s evident on tracks like “Body Double” and “Hong Kong” (feat. Ariel Pink) that Lush has more songwriting prowess and vocal dynamics than the typical, one note pseudo-aggressive “indie” flow that dominates every other track on the album would have you believe. CSLSX does a great job at channeling some very obvious influences, from dream pop and synthy post-shoegaze all the way to a blues-oriented, distilled version of Chemical Brothers-esque techno.
Yet, all the care that CSLSX took in composition and production is almost lost once Lushlife inserts himself into the song. Rather than adding narrative voice to the great dramatic tension of the music, Lush sticks out like a sore thumb. His flow isn’t even all that bad, and fits in a little bit more in songs like the title track; but, at best, it all adds up to sounding like a mixtape of a rapper with really good taste. It should be noted that the track “Toynbee Suite” (feat. RJD2, Nightlands & Yikes the Zero) is a surprisingly inspired standout and hints at an alternate universe where a little more craft was exercised on this album, making it as classic as Deltron 3030. 3/5 Synthesizers.
“Shallow on the surface, my sentiment’s deeper.” It’s uncanny how that one lyric seems to perfectly describe LMNO‘s Motherboard for me. On the surface, this album has a lot of elements that I’m generally not a fan of. It’s heavy on electronic beats; most tracks rigidly follow the traditional 2-3 verse and hook stricture, and his lyrics are heavy on metaphor but light on clever wordplay. On top of that, James Kelly’s (a.k.a. Leave My Name Out) voice remains monotonous through both verse and hook. As a part of legendary LA underground hip hop group The Visionaries, that monotonous style is a nice counterbalance to the other styles on display; but, dolo, it gives most of his tracks the feeling of slam poetry over electronica rather than hip-hop–while generally sounding homogenized.
What this album lacks in distinctive sound, however, it more than makes up for in heart. LMNO’s lyrics are very personal and introspective with a running theme of personal growth amidst confusion and uncertainty. That theme is front and center in my favorite track, “Glow,” but runs throughout the album. For that reason, Motherboard feels like an album you would have to be in a specific mood to listen to and really enjoy, but in those moments it would be a very rewarding experience. 3.25/5 Motherboards.