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QUICKSPINS: Waxahatchee — Tigers Blood

Katie Crutchfield’s piercingly introspective album was released on March 22.

Hailing from Alabama, Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield takes her name from the sprawling creek that runs adjacent to her childhood home. Given this history, it’s hardly surprising that her latest project is staged against a backdrop of pastoral motifs, bolstered by intricate guitar licks and poignantly fraught lyrics. A homegrown twang snakes through Tigers Blood, reminiscent of her previous album, Saint Cloud, which sees Crutchfield at her most reflective.

The first four songs on Tigers Blood, with the exception of the final eponymous track, represent the album’s strongest stretch, beginning with “3 Sisters,” a mournful ballad written with the same devastating specificity as prime Taylor Swift: “You drive like you’re wanted in four states.” The track benefits from the expertise of Wisconsin producer Brad Cook, a frequent Indie collaborator who has previously worked with the likes of Bon Iver (that’s him, on piano and guitar, in 22, A Million) and Snail Mail. “If you’re not living, then you’re dying,” a lyric delivered on the back half of the track, seems to encompass the album’s central artistic and moral value proposition. 

“Evil Spawn” is a joyful exercise in self-flagellation, where deficiencies represent opportunities for play. You can hear Crutchfield’s grin as she playfully suggests, “There ain’t nothing to it babe, we can roll around in the disarray.” 

The album’s fourth track, “Right Back to It” engages in the same kind of blithesome world-building, and one only needs to watch the music video to experience the earthy grandeur of Crutchfield’s vision. MJ Lederman, who provides the tight guitar grooves and backup vocals, pilots a pontoon boat while Crutchfield sings; the facial expressions deployed as she delivers her lyrics are gorgeously defiant, suggesting a story more turbulent than the tranquil everglades-esq swampland which surrounds her might suggest. 

The album closes with “Tiger’s Blood,” whose title is an ode to the shaved ice flavour and its messy strawberry dribblings, a recurring motif that gestures towards a return to childlike innocence. It’s a track seeping with nostalgia, a powerful force which animates Crutchfield’s gentle croons: “We were young for so long, seersuckers of time.”  

There is nothing glossy or presumptuous about Waxahachie. Crutchfield’s charm lies in the ability to bring her listeners down to earth with her, and although you might emerge with dusty jeans and muddied fingernails, you’ll somehow be breathlessly happy about it. With Tigers Blood, one feels Crutchfield is content to sit on the sidelines and watch as other contemporary artists strive for relevance in a musical landscape characterized by the proliferation of robust metanarratives about culture. A breath of fresh air, Waxahatchee’s latest release is a triumph of self-recognition and frisky optimism. 

8.5/10

Trial track: Lone Star Lake

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QUICKSPINS: Beyoncé — COWBOY CARTER

Beyoncé’s triumphs on her eighth album, an all-encompassing ode to country and American music.

Beyoncé prefaced the release of her new album with a statement explaining that the album was born partly from the backlash she received from her appearance at the 2016 Country Music Awards: “I did not feel welcomed…and it was very clear that I wasn’t.” COWBOY CARTER, her eighth studio album, is all about Beyoncé staking her claim within the country music realm. The record is an exciting ride through classic American music styles, with researched production and homages to the great artists of the genre.

Although country music defined the lead singles of the album, COWBOY CARTER is rather an all-encompassing tribute to historically popular styles of American music. Beyoncé notably pays tribute to several iconic artists in American music history, primarily from the country genre she is borrowing from. Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Linda Martell all appear in spoken or sung bits that serve as skits between songs. “BLACKBIIRD” and “JOLENE” are covers of classic tracks by The Beatles and Dolly Parton, respectively.

The record has a predominantly country, singer-songwriter and acoustic direction that also dabbles in folk, rock, hip-hop and dance music. “AMERIICAN REQUIEM” has a gospel feel and traces of sitar, while “16 CARRIAGES” is filled with hits of rock guitars. “SPAGHETTI” is a hard-hitting hip-hop banger, as is “TYRANT.” Different types of acoustic and country styles are also explored: the album’s midsection consists of slower-paced, acoustic ballads that focus on emotion,introspection and highlighting the singing.

Beyoncé is vocally intact, delivering several stunning performances. She reaches beautiful highs on the introductory track and soars into Italian opera on the backend of “DAUGHTER,” delivering stunning results. She is joined by Miley Cyrus on “II MOST WANTED,” a duet where the voices are perfectly complementary as they harmonize over acoustic guitars. The intro track is one of many examples where Beyoncé utilizes her full vocal range, tapping into deeper vocals as well.

Beyoncé’s songwriting is one of the album’s strong suits. “16 CARRIAGES” is a story of sacrifice about Beyoncé following her family at a young age to embark upon a musical career. “PROTECTOR” is all about motherhood—providing for your children yet knowing they will be on their own one day. Her rendition of “JOLENE” even puts a fresh spin on the original, opting for a more assertive and defensive track—Jolene is warned to stay aback. 

Throughout the tracklist, there are all sorts of captivating lyrics about Beyoncé embracing Black culture, family, love, sexuality and overcoming adversity and infidelity (“JUST FOR FUN,” “DAUGHTER”).

“YA YA” is a standout, both vocally and instrumentally, combining uptempo guitar licks with horns, drums and roaring vocals. The track is grand and exciting and evokes Tina Turner. “BODYGUARD” is another key track, a laid-back, poppier cut backed by warm acoustic guitars and addictive “oohs.” 

The album’s final leg kicks into a series of dance cuts, calling back to Beyoncé’s previous album. “RIIVERDANCE” combines country instrumentation with a consistent kick bounce. It transitions directly into “II HANDS II HEAVEN,” a song that is equally pulsating but starry and mellow. “TYRANT” is an upbeat hip-hop banger backed by a killer violin melody, and “SWEET ★ HONEY ★ BUCKIIN’” is another bouncy bop reminiscent of RENAISSANCE track “THIQUE.”

There are several shorter interludes in between tracks that make for nice moments, though their brevity renders them less necessary. Contrarily, the “SMOKE HOUR” radio show-themed skits and vocal interludes add to the Western aesthetic of the album and aid its flow. 

All in all, COWBOY CARTER is Beyoncé’s latest passion project and a testament to the effort she puts into her work. From her performances to the production, the record speaks to her will to dive into a new style and research it down to every last detail.

8/10

Trial Track: YA YA

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QUICKSPINS: Justin Timberlake—Everything I Thought It Was

Justin Timberlake releases a new album for the first time since 2018.

Justin Timberlake is an American singer/songwriter who rose to fame in the 90s with pop hits. In his solo career, he has moved towards R&B. His newest album features collaborations with artists Fireboy DML, Tobe Nwigwe, and *NSYNC. With 18 songs, the album is about 1h20min long.

“Memphis” is the first song on the album. It is a moody, reflective piece in honour of his hometown. He discusses his ambivalent feelings towards fame. The looping, dreamy beat is abruptly followed by “F**kin’ Up The Disco,” a much more cheerful song. The album mostly contains these more upbeat numbers, as well as a few love ballads.

In recent years he has collaborated with his former bandmates of NSYNC on songs, including on his most recent album. Everything I Thought It Was explores Timberlake’s feelings about fame, from the past to the present. He calls back directly to his past in some songs, and more vaguely in others.

There is a religious theme in a few of the songs. “No Angels,” “Sanctified” featuring Tobe Nwigwe, and, arguably, “Paradise” featuring *NSYNC. This serves as an interesting connector throughout the album and also ties back to his past. His father was a church choir director, which has had a clear impact in his sound and the religious themes he chooses to explore. The religious throughline may also be a reference to his hometown once again, as Memphis is the home of a Baptist megachurch. 

In the song “Play,” he references his very early career, when he was on Star Search, singing: “I’ve been makin’ first impressions since I was barely eleven.” This ties into the larger theme of him looking at his past, and perhaps wishing to reinvent himself. From “Memphis,” we can see that he feels pressured in his current role. With new music, artists are constantly reinventing themselves. This album embraces that.

His distinctive use of harmonies is evident throughout the album. Timberlake mixes his unique voice and harmonies with R&B and pop beats. Each song fits within his pop persona whilst exploring very personal themes. 

Nowhere is this more evident than in his collaboration piece with *NSYNC. “Paradise” is the emotional core of this album. In this collaboration with his former bandmates, Timberlake reminisces about his past and about everything that brought him to this moment. It is a very sweet song about believing in yourself and appreciating your past. Even if he may want to reimagine himself, he is still grateful for his experiences.

This album is a fun listening experience. Even if you’re not familiar with Timberlake’s work, I think his approach to music brings out his unique talents and his understanding of what the public wants.

Each song is distinctive but cohesive. The album has a strong identity. Timberlake acknowledges who he used to be whilst continuing to build a new persona for himself. One that is, most likely, more true to who he is.

6/10

Trial Track: Sanctified featuring Tobe Nwigwe

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QUICKSPINS: Tierra Whack — WORLD WIDE WHACK

The American rapper and singer-songwriter released her second full-length music project on March 15, resuming her unique witty touch in the music industry.

Philly-based rapper and singer-songwriter Tierra Whack blessed us with a significant number of singles since 2019 but finally dropped her album WORLD WIDE WHACK on March 15. 

Whack’s previous full-length music release dates back to 2018 with a similar title called Whack World consisting of 15 songs, with each track being exactly one minute long, resulting in a witty and calculated 15-minute project. The artist’s initial breakthrough was through her 2017 track “MUMBO JUMBO,” which brought new occurrences to the term “mumble rap” and was Grammy-nominated for its music video. 

With a runtime of 37 minutes, Whack presents 15 new tracks to the public with a variety of lengths per song, as opposed to her debut project which was more calculated in that regard. At first listen, each song can stand on its own but the album maintains a cohesive blend track after track. The sequencing of the songs provides a smooth and seamless listening experience from slower more pensive tracks to more energetic sounds, which is exactly how the transition from the very first song “MOOD SWINGS” to “MS BEHAVE” plays out.  

One of the first facets of this new era of Whack that I discovered was the “CHANEL PIT” music video. Her sound can easily go from almost childish-sounding instruments and playful hi-hats to harsher more aggressive 808’s and kicks. “CHANEL PIT” perfectly embraces the contrast and sides of her production style while correspondingly emasculating all the directions this album’s production gravitates toward. Its music video is also pure Whack. We see her standing still while going through a car wash and being hit with red cleaning curtains that match her hair, delivering a striking and stimulating visual experience as usual. 

One thing I love about Tierra Whack’s style is the straightforward approach to conveying her lyrics. Sometimes, it seems like Whack is blatantly talking to you but always sustaining a certain harmony in her tone while doing so. In “IMAGINARY FRIENDS” for instance, the artist freely shares “my last best friend said he wished he didn’t know me” and expands on her situation more as if you’re her confident, all over a lush sound with a prominent dreamy guitar. 

I particularly appreciated the random piano chords and key endings at the end of “MOOVIES,” “DIFFICULT” and “INVITATION.” The piano doesn’t necessarily coincide with where the song seems to be heading but offers an odd yet interesting closing to the tracks. The bass in “SHOWER SONG” is also truly addictive and the definition of groovy, especially accompanied by the catchy chorus harmonies where she names popular female artists that she’s singing to in the shower. 

Whack also confirms to herself and everyone else that she is a perpetually changing artist and constantly formulating her craft, stating “Every song I drop, I change the sound” on “INVITATION.” 

WORLD WIDE WHACK is a reflection on how the artist feels at not only this stage of her career but also how she experiences her life as an artist and as a regular human citizen. On “SNAKE EYES,” Whack says that she “treat[s] the fans like homies” and “blood, tear, and sweat I work so hard” giving some insight into how she is navigating fame and her work ethic. 

Whack spilled some of her personal consciousness through lyrics like “the glass full, but I’m empty” and “when the world seems like it’s against you when your friends and family forget you.” Whack isn’t apprehensive in delivering her psyche in a diary style over an almost calming and dreamy beat on the closing track “27 CLUB,” referring to the cultural phenomenon of celebrities—mostly musicians—who die at the age of 27 after some intriguing tragic event. 

A hip-hop polymath, Whack’s refreshing and creative persona is still present, offering all listeners a memorable and playful tone, yet balancing it out with raw lyrics making WORLD WIDE WHACK an infectious project. Whether you’re into witty production and catchy melodies, or pondering some more with vulnerable storytelling, the passionate artist has something in store for you. 

Score: 7.5/10

Trial Track: “SHOWER SONG”

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QUICKSPINS: ScHoolboy Q—BLUE LIPS

The LA rapper’s latest album is versatile, vulnerable, and strikingly down-to-earth.

BLUE LIPS finds ScHoolboy Q in his most clear and focused state thus far in his career. It is the American rapper’s most personal record, and finds him exploring topics like past drug use, newfound sobriety, family life, fatherhood, and his mental well-being. He is perfectly self-aware of who he is and who he used to be: he truly comes across as down-to-earth through his songwriting. 

“Blueslides” is an especially vulnerable song where Q gets candid about his mental health. He sings, “But lately, I ain’t really been myself, ain’t strong as I seemed” and “I done made problems my problems, now I barely can breathe.” 

“Cooties” is another introspective highlight. In this song, Q shares his gratitude for his daughters and their stable, healthy life, while also expressing his worries about their safety. Lines like “Why God blessed me? I never deserved it,” are perfect examples of the poignant, personal lyricism on this record. 

“Germany 86” is an ode to his mother and formative years, a track in which he juxtaposes his present-day level-headedness with the everyday struggles and pain of his upbringing. The rapper celebrates the current version of himself throughout the album, but he is inherently tied to the man he once was.

Q approaches BLUE LIPS as charismatically as always. His delivery is filled with conviction and intonation, as he shouts his ad-libs and navigates through tracks with rapid, razor-sharp flows.

The production on the album is volatile and versatile, continuously cranking the dial between understated jazzy cuts, rattling brash tracks, and hybrids of both. Elegant jazz samples set the backdrop for tracks like “Blueslides” and “Lost Times.” 

Contrarily, “Pop” features rattling grunginess and rock guitars, sonic characteristics reminiscent of Q’s 2016 album Blank Face LP. Trap production takes center stage on several occasions to maintain the high energy: “Yeern 101” is an adrenaline-filled cut where Q relentlessly raps over heavy 808’s and a multitude of fast-paced claps and percussive sounds. 

There are all sorts of beat switches throughout the record, creating an exciting and unpredictable listening experience. The majority of tracks begin and end entirely differently, constantly keeping the listener on their toes. Some of the beats are more ambitious and experimental: “Foux” features percussions clattering in every direction; “Love Birds” and “Time killers” are based upon rhythmic, off-kilter grooves, yet Q finds his way over them perfectly with unique flows.

The featured artists are fitting additions to the album experience. Rapper and singer Rico Nasty perfectly matches ScHoolboy Q’s energy with her brash and brazen performance on “Pop,” aggressively screaming the track’s title. Producer and rapper Devin Malik’s double appearances are perfectly complementary to Q, given how similar his vocal delivery is. Rapper Ab-Soul’s appearance is another standout, thanks to his alarmed delivery which matches the eerie, hypnotic vocal sample looming beneath him.

Overall, BLUE LIPS is a culmination of the best traits of ScHoolboy Q’s music—it’san LP that is unpredictable and impressive all-around. Q is as expressive as ever and showcases a new level of humility and self-awareness. He truly comes across as grounded, which heightens the significance of the personal growth he conveys throughout the record.

Score: 8/10

Trial Track: Blueslides

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 QUICKSPINS: Plastic Eternity – Mudhoney

 One of Seattle’s greats proves they’ve still got it.

Mudhoney, one of Seattle’s last alternative strongholds from the late ’80s/’90s, just released a concept album entitled Plastic Eternity on what they most like to talk about in their album: issues like pollution and fascist ideologies, and the political commentary that comes with it.

Plastic Eternity marks their 15th studio LP, which is no mean feat, especially for bands from that era. Clearly, vocalist Mark Arm still has serious topics to tackle in their songs. He starts off the album by yelling “Everyone tells me it’s nice to have me back,” which is completely true for those who love the ’90s. 

Staying true to the name, the album starts off with “Souvenir of My Trip,” which sounds like quite the trip. If you got Curtis Mayfield bongo funk and Dry Cell nu metal together in a studio, that’s what the instrumental sounds like on the second track. Then add Mark Arm’s psychonaut, spacey vocals and you have “Almost Everything” it takes to make a psychedelic song that even Hunter S. Thompson would appreciate. In fact, I think he would play this entire album on repeat. 

The instrumental in “Cascades of Crap” puts you in the middle of a desert. A Mad Max-esque desert, to be precise. The lyrics, however, depict the social satire that Gen Z wants. They are their own political commentators in this concept album. 

One of my favorite songs from this album was “Plasticity.” I mainly enjoyed the intro with the vocoder, that was followed by guitars and synths galore. The whole song consists of the singer naming plastic objects, not unlike Kanye in “All of the Lights.” Another song that I appreciated a lot was “Flush the Fascists,” because it’s another song whose title and lyrics feed into the political commentary that Arm sets as a solid precedent. The song depicts the band’s desire to rid society of fascists, or rather “flush ‘em down.” This is very much solidified when Arm describes them as “teeth that are rotten to the core,” needing to be pulled out.   

The song “Severed Dreams in the Sleeper Cell,” especially the chorus, sounds like a satirical answer to Rage Against The Machine’s “Wake Up,” which was coincidently used in the movie “The Matrix.” Where Zack de la Rocha (RATM vocalist) belts “WAKE UP,” Arm sings “We don’t wanna wake up now,” attempting to convey the message that people don’t want to get out of their day-to-day rat race.

Also, move over Justin Timberlake, Mudhoney is here. Where “Cry Me a River” is a tale depicting Timberlake’s unsuccessful relationship with Britney Spears, the Mudhoney track “Cry Me An Atmospheric River” boasts a manic Arm taking the persona of the weather on Earth who cares not “what happens to humans.” 

While the album isn’t bad, I feel like there is a quantity-over-quality issue here. Songs like “Human Stock Capital” and “Tom Herman’s Hermits” could’ve been killed off the tracklist and put in a vault for B-side releases. 

The other songs, such as “Flush the Fascists” and “Move Under,” give a hint of what the band feels towards our society. Yes, it is true that you can’t go into too much detail when singing about a pressing topic. However, the runtime of Mudhoney’s songs on this record are shorter in comparison to other alternative bands, and even compared to their own older hits like “Touch Me I’m Sick” and “Suck You Dry.” Overall, listen to your discretion if you want to hear old ’90s Seattle drug-infested-port-city mavericks rage against our society.   

Trial Track: “Almost Everything”

Score: 6.5/10

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QUICKSPINS: Westside Gunn is a 10

 Is Hitler Wears Hermes a 10/10?

The Buffalo MC and Griselda record label founder dropped his 10th and final instalment of his Hitler Wears Hermes series on Oct. 28th. The 12-track mixtape concluded a decade-long legacy of HWH, which started in 2012. 

It’s very difficult for Westside Gunn to miss. Since first listening to Griselda’s perfectly eerie WWCD project in 2019, I was hooked. From then on, I’ve put every new album of his on repeat for at least a week. This one is no different. However, there are some elements from 10 that contribute to missing its spot on the shelf with his other stellar projects. 

The album felt rushed. Gunn’s last album, Peace “Fly” God, was released 5 months earlier, on July 8. There were many of the same features and similar beats, which may produce a déjàvu feeling for fans. The return of AA Rashid talking over the beat in “Intro” felt like a repeat of Peace “Fly” God, which I was listening to up until 10’s release.

This album felt less like a Westside Gunn album than it did a Stove God Cooks album. There are twelve tracks, eleven if you exclude “Intro,” which is more of a skit than a song. Stove God contributed significantly to six of the remaining songs. A featured artist should not be in half of an album’s tracks. No discredit to Stove God — he has immense talent in his verses, voice and hooks, and I couldn’t stop listening to his part on “BDP.”  

As a finale to such a grand series, I expected to hear a variety of other features on it, and found some happy surprises. This album felt more upbeat than other Gunn productions, with cheeky features from artists that we love. There were contributions from members of the Wu-Tang Clan, including RZA’s production of the Intro track, and the appearance of Raekwon and Ghostface Killah on Science Class (also featuring Busta Rhymes). It was produced by Swizz Beats of all people!

DJ Drama continues his trend of guesting on many recent albums such as Tyler the Creator’s Call Me If You Get Lost and Dreamville’s D-Day: A Gangsta Grillz Mixtape by making two appearances on Gunn’s album. The rap duo Black Star appears on “Peppas,” and A$AP Rocky makes an appearance on “Shootouts in Soho.” 

This album was very solid, and I’ll certainly listen to it on repeat. It’s superior to any other album released in the past months. I’m giving it a hard time simply because it’s not the standard I’d usually expect from Westside Gunn. It was heartwarming to hear elements of the many friends and affiliates of Griselda, and a decent conclusion to such a legendary series. It just felt rushed, and a shame that the artist had to cater to the decennial date.

Trial Track: “BDP” (feat. Rome Streetz & Stove God Cooks)

 7/10

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Deep-diving into An Evening With Silk Sonic

An Evening With Silk Sonic surpassed every expectation

Consisting of accomplished pop star and ten-time Grammy winner Bruno Mars and eccentric genre-bending talent and four-time Grammy winner Anderson .Paak, Silk Sonic shows two artists coming together to present their new collaboration to the world. The idea behind the duo came up during Mars’ 24K Magic tour back in 2017, in which .Paak was the opening act, and the name Silk Sonic came from none other than funk legend Bootsy Collins after hearing the album. They announced the group in February 2021 and released their first single “Leave The Door Open” in the beginning of March, which reached the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart.

Mars and .Paak evolved in different corners of the music industry, with the former being more in the pop field while the latter is merging elements of rap and neo-soul. They might be playing in two different ballparks, but when you look at both artists’ solo careers, you can easily notice that both of them draw a lot of inspiration from the ‘70s R&B/soul and funk scene. Albums such as 24K Magic by Mars or Ventura by .Paak are both great examples of these artists trying to adopt this sound and giving it their all to approach it in a modern fashion.

Silk Sonic also released two other singles prior to the album’s release, “Skate” and “Smokin Out The Window,” the former being released at the tail end of July and the latter having seen the light of day a week before the album’s release. Both singles received critical acclaim and “Smokin Out The Window” even cracked the top ten of the Billboard Hot 100 Chart, entering at No. 8.

An Evening With Silk Sonic is finally out and despite expectations being incredibly high, it did not disappoint at all. This record achieved everything it wanted to, which was to deliver a fun and modern take on ‘70s R&B/soul and funk music. The inclusion of Bootsy Collins as a “host” and narrator of the album helps solidify the foundations of the record. Whether he is introducing the band on “Silk Sonic Intro” or praising the sexual prowess of a girl on “After Last Night,” his multiple minor appearances on the album add so much to the overall experience.

An Evening With Silk Sonic is smooth, sexy, and exudes an astonishing amount of confidence. This record makes you wanna put on your nicest outfit and go walk in a crowded street, making finger guns and winking at everybody. It is also filled with nostalgia, whether through  the instrumentals, lyrics, or even vocal lines — making An Evening With Silk Sonic feel like it was recorded in another era.

Production wise, An Evening With Silk Sonic is amazing. Every sound is well thought out and makes sense. You can see that they paid attention to every little detail, giving this pristine and luxurious sound to the record. The fact that Anderson .Paak is drumming so precisely all throughout the entire thing adds so much to the organic aspect of the album. Whatever tune the duo hop on, whether it’s a funkier and more fast-paced track like “Fly As Me” or “777,” or a more R&B and soul cut where they sing their hearts out like on “Put On A Smile” or “Smokin Out The Window,” or even a hot and steamy love ballad like “Leave The Door Open” or “After Last Night,” every song is polished to near perfection.

Despite having two very distinct voices from one another, .Paak and Mars display an incredible amount of chemistry on the record. .Paak’s more raspy voice and his abilities as a rapper mixed with Mars’ angelic vocals capable of reaching extremely high notes mesh together unbelievably well. They often follow a formula on the record where .Paak will sing the verses and Mars will be in charge of the chorus, and it works like a charm. While .Paak is incredibly entertaining on the verses whether by rapping or by singing, it is Mars that undeniably steals the show on the chorus. The notes he is able to reach with his divine voice are mind-blowing. Tracks like “Put On A Smile” and “Smokin Out The Window” see the Hawaiian singer deliver some gut-wrenching performances that leave the listener breathless.

Overall, An Evening With Silk Sonic is a wonderful and well-executed attempt at the ‘70s R&B/soul and funk sound and it is truly a blast from the past. Everything these guys touch on this record turns into gold and this album can easily go toe-to-toe with some of the best work of the ‘70s in the genre, undoubtedly sounding like it came straight out of Motown Records.

 

Score: 9.5/10

Trial track : “Leave The Door Open”

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QUICKSPINS : Baby Keem – The Melodic Blue

Baby Keem is only getting started

Californian rapper Baby Keem is one of hip hop’s most prominent up and coming figures. After an XXL freshman appearance in 2020, he was poised to conquer the world in 2021. Keem has been under the spotlight over the past couple of weeks, releasing two singles with Travis Scott and Kendrick Lamar, the latter being Keem’s cousin. He also was a feature on the song “Praise God” on Kanye West’s Donda.

The Melodic Blue marks Keem’s first studio album, and showcases how talented and creative the 20-year-old is as a musician –– him being credited for 14 of the 16 tracks on this record. Throughout the album, Keem isn’t afraid of switching up a song’s mood completely by incorporating beat switches on multiple tracks. While this can be interesting and offers a new look on certain songs, it feels a little bit out of place at times, and in some cases is poorly executed. The opening track “trademark usa” suffers from that ambition following a questionable switch in the middle of the song, which cuts all momentum it had gained in the first part.

Keem’s greatest quality throughout the record is his versatility and willingness to experiment. He isn’t afraid to deviate from his usual full-of-energy baby voice with some more lowkey autotuned ballads like on the songs “scars” and “issues,” which makes for some of the most entertaining songs off the album. The track, “south africa,” has by far the most infectious chorus on the record, which is on par with the closing track, “16,” which sees Keem singing a catchy hook in beautiful fashion over an 80s-influenced drum loop.

The Melodic Blue might be a slight change of pace from his previous mixtapes when it comes to experimenting with new ideas, but it still has its fair share of abrasive bangers, like on the songs “family ties” and “range brothers,” both featuring legendary MC Kendrick Lamar.

Praise is due to Baby Keem for the fact that he is not afraid to experiment with all kinds of new sounds, but in some places it can be a detriment to this record. He is trying so much to be different from his peers, that sometimes some of his ideas fall short of being fully polished. The fact that this release is all over the place and that it could be more focused sadly drags the quality of the record down a little bit.

Overall, The Melodic Blue is ambitious for a debut album and it unquestionably proves that Baby Keem has all the potential in the world to drop a classic album someday.

 

Trial track: “family ties”

 

Score: 6/10

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QUICKSPINS: Certified Lover Boy – Drake

Certified Lover Boy might be Drake’s most unambitious release yet

There are only a few artists in this world that, whatever your age is, you know about them. Artists that with a single release, can command the attention of the public. Drake is one of them. Everytime he drops a project, it’s a cultural event. Everybody listens to the record and it always breaks records. No matter how good or bad the album is, everyone is talking about it.

Certified Lover Boy opens strong with “Champagne Poetry,” where a laid back and introspective Drake raps over a well integrated sample of “Michelle” by The Beatles. Following the opener, the album struggles to find a pulse with multiple unoriginal and uninspired songs in a row. The third track, “Girls Want Girls,” might be one of Drake’s worst songs to date. One of the worst bars of the track sees him, in poor choice, saying, “Say that you a lesbian, girl, me too,” over one of the most generic and lifeless instrumentals Drake could have ever chosen to rap on.

Another track that drags Certified Lover Boy down is “Way 2 Sexy.” The song, featuring Future and Young Thug, is a horrible rendition of Right Said Fred’s song, “I’m Too Sexy” (which is also not a great song). From this point on, the record doesn’t really try to redeem itself. It continues to be as boring and uneventful as the first few tracks.

Part of what disappoints in Certified Lover Boy is hearing Drake be consistently outshined by his features on songs like “In The Bible,” “Love All,” and “Fountains.” The most obvious example is “IMY2,” a track that sees Drake hosting Kid Cudi, and one that feels forced onto the tracklist considering the nonexistent chemistry between the two artists. All of these have the recurring theme of Drake underperforming while the featured artist tries to save the song but it’s too late.

There are a few highlights on this bloated tracklist. “Fair Trade,” which contains the most infectious chorus of the record, “Knife Talk,” “You Only Live Twice” and the aggressive “No Friends In The Industry” are all shining moments. They are gems in their own right as they redeem the album a bit, but by this point, the damage is done.

The biggest issue with Certified Lover Boy is that it completely lacks ambition. Many of the songs shouldn’t have made the final cut in the first place. Since Scorpion in 2018, Drake has not stepped out of his comfort zone. He has been delivering the same formula for more than three years now. You could take any song on Certified Lover Boy and put it on either Scorpion or Dark Lane Demo Tapes and the song wouldn’t feel out of place at all.

Certified Lover Boy’s 21 songs and an hour and a half run time is too much for it to be so poor in quality. If this is what new Drake looks like, then we have certainly witnessed the end of his prime. If he keeps dropping albums as mediocre as this one, we can’t expect to keep the rapper at the top of the game with countless other artists putting out quality projects.

Trial track: “You Only Live Twice”

4/10

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Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: YoungBoy Never Broke Again – Top

YoungBoy Never Broke Again’s latest album proves that his momentum has yet to reach its peak.

YoungBoy Never Broke Again continues his incredible streak with his newest album Top. The Youtube king stayed in his bag and did what he does best by staying true to the YoungBoy brand with his hard-hitting aggressive style, coupled with his melodic flow. The Baton Rouge-born rapper worked with his regular producers, including Hitman Audio and DrumDummie, delivering a sound that makes his music so addictive he’s the most listened-to Youtube artist in the world.

On Top, YoungBoy proves he can rap on one of the world’s hottest producers’ beats on the Wheezy collaboration “I’m Up” by owning the beat from start to finish.  As far as sequencing goes, the transition from “The Last Backyard…” to “Right Foot Creep” and then to “Dirty Stick” is vintage YoungBoy that delivers his well-known compelling sound made of his punchy flow and sticky hooks. These songs flow so well together that it’s not hard to figure out why YoungBoy’s Youtube numbers are second to none.

Lil Wayne finally gave YoungBoy a blessing in the form of a verse on “My Window,” where YoungBoy taps into his emotional side — reflecting on his past and subsequent growth, which is a common theme of the album. He also rapped on Mike Laury’s beat on “Off Season” after originally collaborating for their smash hit “Through The Storm” in 2018. This time, YoungBoy talks about his love life.

After getting emotional for a few songs in a row, he goes back to his gangster roots after all, with bangers like “Murder Business” and “Sticks with Me.”

If anyone still doesn’t understand the appeal of YoungBoy Never Broke Again, this album is a perfect introduction to the 20-year-old. He rides on every beat Hitman Audio throws his way and his flow is infectious, which is simply pleasant to hear over and over again.

Even The Shade Room, a widely popular gossip page on Instagram, has trouble keeping up with YoungBoy’s trials and tribulations of his love life and legal problems, but he really seems to be that dude living the life that most rappers simply rap about. He is doing so by documenting it in his music and that seems to be the key to his unstoppable momentum. Most importantly, his music on this album feels real.

If you compare him to other rappers of his age, YoungBoy is just head and shoulders above everyone else and looks to be embracing the role of the leading trailblazer of this generation.

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Music Quickspins

QUICKSPIN: Conway The Machine – From King to A GOD

The Buffalo MC comes through with his third release of the year, and his best solo work to date

Throughout the last few years, the Griselda crew have solidified themselves as one of hip hop’s most highly regarded acts. With multiple high-quality projects released every year and a consistent signature sound, the group has set a high standard for their releases. On his latest release, founding member Conway The Machine continues the tradition, with yet another gem being added to the crew’s catalogue.

On From King To A GOD, Conway’s mastery of his craft is apparent, and though he was already elite, he is in rare form on this LP. He spends the album’s runtime spitting verses like a seasoned veteran in the genre, even going bar-for-bar with legends like Method Man and Lloyd Banks. His unique drawl — the result of his Bell’s Palsy — paired with his fiery flow and distinct delivery make him completely captivating on every instrumental his voice touches.

Lyrically, the album contains a good balance of Griselda’s signature gritty street raps, and more intimate moments of introspection, grieving and reflection on society’s ills. On “Front Lines,” we see Conway delivering an extremely potent verse responding to the murder of George Floyd, over a grimy, sinister Beat Butcha instrumental that perfectly captures the horror, pain and aggression in Conway’s lyrics.

On the emotional, Erick Sermon-produced “Forever Droppin Tears,” Conway reminisces about close friends that he’s lost over the years, including Griselda producer DJ Shay, who passed away earlier this year. His reflections on losing some of those closest to him and the trauma attached to it are felt through the pain in his voice. It’s a touching moment on the album, and one of the most personal songs in Conway’s entire catalogue.

There are several soundbites peppered throughout the album of DJ Shay being interviewed regarding the Griselda crew, and Conway specifically. It’s clear that Shay had a deep admiration for Conway and his craft, and vice versa, and Conway misses him dearly. These interview clips serve as a fitting tribute for DJ Shay, while showcasing just how highly Conway’s peers think of his abilities.

With From King To A GOD, Conway reminds us how elite of a lyricist he is, while also showcasing sides of himself that fans may not be familiar with. Striking that balance between the street raps, and the new, more personal content, he shows growth while keeping the album’s sound familiar. This project is his most well-rounded work to date, and with it being billed as the prelude to his Shady Records debut, it looks like Conway is gearing up for something special.

 

8.5/10

Trial Track: Forever Dropping Tears

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