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Concert Reviews Music

Lil Tecca shines at MTELUS

The New York rapper thrilled his Montreal audience, with help from SoFaygo and Tana.

New York rapper Lil Tecca made his return to Montreal on Feb. 27 as part of his HVN on Earth tour. The show marks his first in Montreal in two years and fourth in Quebec overall, following a tour stop in Montreal, and performances at Metro Metro and Festival d’été de Québec in 2022. 

His latest concert brought along Cactus Jack Records signee SoFaygo, as well as Tana, Tecca’s protégé who also accompanied him throughout 2022. Chow Lee, the remaining opener, was unable to perform due to issues at the Canadian border.

At only 17 years old, Tana entertains fans with his high energy. His synth-driven “rage music” brand of hip-hop is already embedded with adrenaline, and his performances are equally thrilling. The young rapper brought variances in energy, crooning melodically and chanting along to the ad-libs in his songs aggressively. He was constantly running and jumping across the stage, keeping the crowd engaged throughout his set. The audience resonated heavily with his biggest tracks, most notably his rattling breakout hit “Antisocial.” Tana’s set impressed and was a perfect tone-setter for the remainder of the show. 

SoFaygo followed suit with a similar musical style to Tana—distorted bass, stuttery hi-hats, spacey synth sounds—checking all the boxes of hip-hop’s rage subgenre. His set kept the crowd active, although not much was different from the one before his. His biggest hits did provoke a strong response from the audience: SoFaygo’s performance of “Hell Yeah” saw him at his most animated, and the crowd belted out every word to his breakout hit “Knock Knock,” which went viral on TikTok in 2021 (and was produced by Tecca).

Three hours had passed since the opening of the doors, yet the anticipation was at its peak. Cheers rang out from the very moment the “We Love You Tecca” sound bite was played, and he popped out moments later to his track “Yves.” The volume was louder during Tecca’s set, yet he sounded crystal clear. His vocal delivery was melodic and perfectly audible, with him sounding more animated than on record. 

The majority of his performance was done without a backing track (only the beat), making his vocal performance skills even more commendable. His set kicked off with the introductory six-track run on his latest album TEC, which brought the crowd to a peak with his latest smash hit “500lbs.” 

Tecca’s fans have a dedicated relationship with the artist, which was exemplified by the deep cuts he played. Fans were equally invested and excited to hear fan favourite tracks from albums like We Love You Tecca 2. Despite only being around for half a decade, the MC has classics within his fanbase thanks to his first mixtape. “Love Me,” “Did It Again,” and “Ransom” were met with bar-for-bar chants from the crowd and vibrant mosh pits. 

Tecca’s team showcased a great “fans-first” approach throughout the evening. Tana and their tour manager both took appropriate stops to ensure the crowd was being hydrated, and Tecca’s label A&R and camera crew were seen outside the venue interacting with fans and filming interviews before the show.

For any Tecca fan, a live show of his is definitely worth catching.

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Concert Reviews Music

Montreal rappers bring on the “Beats & Bars”

Mike Shabb, Jo Dolo, CHUNG, Jo Compadre and Mr. Severe showcased the city’s broad range of hip-hop sounds, styles, and talent at Ausgang Plaza.

The Astred collective is home to some of Montreal’s best up-and-coming artists. It notably includes Jo Dolo and Mr. Severe who both performed at the city’s Metro Metro Festival earlier this year. On Oct. 7, they hosted a live show at Ausgang Plaza in Montreal’s Rosemont neighbourhood for a crowd of around 150 people. They were joined by Jo Compadre, CHUNG and Mike Shabb.

Mr. Severe kicked off the show, proving his talent as an MC. His backing track proved unnecessary as he ripped through all his verses with a bold, captivating delivery. He did not miss a single beat and his fierce vocal presence persisted through all sorts of production, from vintage 50 Cent-style cuts to trap beats.

Jo Compadre joined Mr. Severe for their collaboration “Nothing Lasts Forever” before taking the stage on his own. He performed songs like “For The Cause” and “Palo Santo” with a strong and well-articulated voice, despite sometimes ad-libbing along to parts of verses rather than rapping them. His performance showcased an impressive, rapid and focused flow that he tackled with a brazen demeanour.

CHUNG’s stage presence was stellar. Her delivery was simultaneously slick and sexy, yet cutthroat and poignant. It is perfectly complemented by her beat selection, composed of smooth soul samples. Most of her setlist was taken from her recent mixtape Chung Shui II with Cotola. The grooves on “Everyone” and “You Know I Gotta” rung out irresistibly through the speakers. “The Drum Sound” paid homage to her Jamaican heritage with its reggae beat and her use of patois on the track. “Sweet Dreams” contrasted as an ominous, hard-hitting boom-bap cut. 

Jo Dolo brought a change of pace and a burst of energy by starting off with French-language drill music. His tone was remarkably cold, which allowed him to equally shine over slow-paced, gritty boom-bap production. Dolo successfully drew energy from the crowd, regardless of musical style. Fans in the crowd bounced their hands as he spits introspective rhymes and jumped around, energetically swinging his dreads.

Mike Shabb closed out the show with a showcase of his sonic versatility throughout the years. He performed his melodic rap hit “SPORTS!” (2019) before launching into material from his recent collaborative EP Shadow Moses with Montreal producer Nicholas Craven. Craven joined him onstage for a triumphant and proud display of the fruits of their creative alliance. He also premiered two new songs: the grim “Hurry Up,” produced by Belgian rapper JeanJass, and the lighthearted, jazzy “Hey Young World, Pt. 3.” He also paid tribute to fallen friend and frequent collaborator Jeune Loup, performing his viral tracks “Sensuelle” and “Back sur le BS”: two of the biggest rap tracks to ever come out of Quebec.

All in all, the event was a success, bringing together a handful of local MCs equipped with a variety of impressive flows, sounds, and styles.

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Concert Reviews Music

Lil Yachty Takes Montreal on the Field Trip Tour

The Georgia rapper blends psychedelic rock with rap in an electrifying fashion on his first tour to stop in Montreal.

On Sept. 27, Lil Yachty brought his Field Trip Tour to Montreal. Nearly 2,000 fans gathered at MTELUS to witness the artist’s musical creativity, as well as his ability to send people into a mosh pit-filled frenzy through a series of consecutive hits.

The show was preceded by two opening acts: the first was the Concrete Family, composed of artists signed to Yachty’s Concrete Boyz label. Camo31, KarrahBooo, DC2Trill, and Draft Day each delivered personality-filled performances, complementing each other’s energy and introducing each other to maintain the hype they established. Nick Hakim, an alternative artist who helped produce on Yachty’s most recent record Let’s Start Here followed up, although his style translated less with the hip-hop-oriented audience.

The show was opened and closed by music from Yachty’s latest album, a psychedelic rock effort. Yachty appeared onstage when his song “drive ME crazy!,” was being played by his live band composed of vocalists, a bassist, and a guitarist. The track’s irresistible groove and catchy chorus were harmonized by lights of all colours and hypnotic background visuals, all of which enhanced the album’s psychedelic sound in a live setting. 

Yachty’s vocal performances impressed as he belted out the hooks to songs like “the ride-” and “sAy sOMETHINg.” The latter received a stripped-down rendition that highlighted the singer’s bright and bubbly vocals on the track—vocal qualities that call back to his breakout 2016 mixtape Lil Boat.

After a brief interlude by the band, Yachty headed into a medley of his rap material, kicking off with recent hits “SOLO STEPPIN CRETE BOY,” and “Slide.” He cycled through one banger after another, keeping the crowd invigorated as they moshed and jumped around. He also ran through collaborations with various rappers such as Future and Playboi Carti. 

Before playing “Yacht Club,” a song featuring Juice WRLD, Yachty gathered the crowd for a moment of silence to pay tribute to the Chicago rapper who passed away in 2019. Yachty then revisited some of his earliest viral guest features on KYLE’s “iSpy” and DRAM’s “Broccoli,” as well as his recent viral solo tracks “Poland” and “Strike (Holster).”. The crowd was notably pushier and harder to navigate through during the rap section, with mosh pits opening at every turn.

The show’s final leg made room for psychedelic rock once again. Lil Yachty’s stage presence during his psych-rock bits was notable, with him bobbing around and rocking out energetically to the instrumentals. The bright lights and visuals returned along with the live instrumentation, which continued to elevate the tracks on Let’s Start Here. 

The album’s intro “the BLACK seminole.” made for an impeccable closer. With its succession of groovy guitars, an electric guitar solo, and a hard-hitting drum breakdown complete with a solo by Yachty’s guest vocalist, the song played out as a magnificent send-off.

It perfectly demonstrated the unique and powerful artistic evolution that Yachty was able to execute not only with this last album, but also with this tour. It was an audiovisual experience filled with live instruments, quality vocal performances, and eye-catching visuals—with a handful of rap bangers to complete the recipe.

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Interview Music

Into the Mind of Bane

Concordia student Justin Tatone talks about his new album “BANE & BLESSING”.

On Sept. 29, Justin Tatone finally released his latest album BANE & BLESSING, a collaborative effort with his friend and frequent collaborator, rapper Benedict Tan. Released after a three-year wait, the project is an ambitious opus that fuses rage-rap with a myriad of other musical genres and styles.

Tatone credits American rapper Playboi Carti’s second album, Whole Lotta Red, as the primary influence for BANE & BLESSING. It paved the way for the rage-rap wave which was popularized by artists like Yeat and Trippie Redd in 2021. The genre’s characteristic sawtooth synths, 8-bit melodies, and heavy bass are all prominent on Tatone’s new album and originally constituted the entire soundtrack. 

BANE does not juxtapose rage rap with other styles and seamlessly fuses them together, resulting in unique, electrified versions of these subgenres. The foundation of Tatone’s creative collective Xion in 2022 granted him new collaborators and ideas that would break the project’s one-dimensionality, venturing into sounds like grunge and synth-wave on “BANE’S THEME,” and dance-pop on “BLEACH ON ME.” “I needed things like that [other styles] to offset the agedness of those harsh rage tones,” Tatone explained. 

Tatone fully embraces the album’s low-budget production and DIY approach, with most of the record having been recorded in his bedroom. He notably boasts on “BREAK THE FABRIC OF TIME” that he is out-rapping his competition, despite using BandLab (a free music production app for mobile devices). “When you’re stripped back in terms of budget and materials you have to wear that on your sleeve,” he said. 

The artist invokes XXXTENTACION and Ski Mask the Slump God as examples of this mentality, given their inclusion of heavy distortion and room tone into their music. Tatone also praises the Baltimore-based rapper JPEGMAFIA, whose overblown mixing helped Tatone embrace the imperfections of his own.

BANE & BLESSING is a persona piece where Tatone and Tan portray two titular characters. “Bane is vain, indulgent in the iconography and gluttony of hip-hop. Blessing is woke and open-minded, he is the voice of reason,” Tatone explained. His character represents the current, bravado-heavy side of hip-hop, whereas Tan embodies the genre’s woke, conscious side. 

Tatone’s lyricism is also filled with ridiculous one-liners like “You’re Boots, I’m Dora” (“MASK ON!”) and “Facebook moms love me like I’m Candy Crush” (“FANS / NEVER GOING BACK”), which fulfill his attempt at taking himself less seriously. “People are going to criticize you anyway, so might as well make it a fun time,” he said. These lyrics are guaranteed laughs from the audience but also help him loosen up. This idea relates to the masks in the album’s artwork, a motif that has been used to promote BANE & BLESSING since early 2022. “It helps to have a mask: I can pick at myself and make silly comments but still feel confident.”

Jaden Warren, a design student at Concordia, served as the creative director for the album, directing the art and designing a colour palette. The final album cover is AI-generated by Tatone and received praise from Warren as it lived up to his envisioned aesthetic. The rapper sees the AI cover as an extension of the album’s technological nature. “Bane only exists in the digital realm,” he claimed. Tatone sees no issue with artistic integrity as he believes he successfully divorced himself from his work on this album, allowing himself to embrace AI as an artistic medium. 

Tatone cites collaboration as key to both his and the album’s artistic evolutions: “As a creative person, you can get stuck in a silo of thinking and have tunnel vision because you’re in love with your work.” The album notably contains guest features from Xion member E.Sko, punk-rapper KPTN, and rage-rap artist KeBenjii, all of whom hail from Montreal. A guest feature from Atlanta-based rapper Zoot was also secured through a mutual friend.

Overall, BANE & BLESSING is a highly ambitious and creative experiment that pushes the raging sound to new extremes while bringing different artists, ideas, and creative approaches into the mix. “It’s heavily derivative but an original interpolation of the culture. That’s what I’m most proud of,” Tatone concluded.

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Music

Cadence Weapon is here

Toronto-based rapper Cadence Weapon sheds light on his experience as a Canadian rapper and discusses current events and the pandemic’s impact on his music.

Nominated once previously for his self-titled album in 2018, Roland Pemberton was yet again nominated for the Polaris Music Prize Album of the Year for his recently released album Parallel World. The “propulsive energy to the majority of the lyrics of this album does come from the urgency of the subject matter, but also the urgency in which [he] created them.”

The Polaris Music Prize is an annual award exclusive to Canadian artists who produce groundbreaking and impactful LPs.

Pemberton feels like he is “just a Canadian guy”, originally hailing from Edmonton, is now based in Toronto where he writes most of his music. He also lived in Montreal for a six-year period, which is where he wrote the Hope in Dirt City LP and his entire self-titled album, which features songs like “Soju” and “Five Roses,” a reference to Farine Five Roses in the Ville-Marie borough.

Like every artist on the planet, Cadence Weapon was affected by the pandemic by having to work remotely to collaborate with artists on his latest album Parallel World. Regardless, Pemberton remarked enjoying working with artists remotely through multiple forms of communication, and it helped him attribute the theme of the album to our relationship with the internet. The artists featured on this LP are based all over the world, from London, England (Manga Saint Hilare), the United States (Fat Tony), and even Montreal (Backxwash).

He recently performed twice at The Garrison in Toronto, opened by artist Myst Milano, and has recently embarked on a tour across the United States alongside Fat Tony.” The two of them have collaborated before on two songs; “Poet Laureate” in 2018 and “WATER” in 2021.

Cadence Weapon has a discography span of 23 releases, 5 of which are full-length albums (LPs) with an average run-time of 40 minutes. To date, he has a Polaris nomination in 2018 and a Polaris Award for this year.

The Concordian spoke to Pemberton about his recent release, the music-making process, and what his ambitions are. This interview was done just hours before Cadence Weapon won the Polaris Award.

 

TC: What does “Cadence Weapon” mean? Does it play a role in the songs you write?

RP: When I first came up with that, it was something of a mantra. “My cadence is my weapon, my cadence is my weapon,” and it just kind of stuck. It’s really a way of describing my music, my music being a weapon of change.

TC: Using this mantra of your music being a weapon for change, I’ve seen that, especially in your latest album, you’ve tackled a lot of issues concerning racial divide and systemic racism. How did that songwriting process start?

RP: Well, I wrote this entire album throughout the pandemic, and during the early months of it, I was really inspired by the protests of George Floyd. Seeing people organizing and becoming active and engaged against systemic racism and institutional racism that I’ve always noticed and my family would discuss it and suddenly it’s just on every TV screen in the world and people are noticing all the stuff that is pervasive in our society for so long, so that was a big inspiration for me to really go deeper in this album.

TC: How did you feel when you witnessed these topics shown on TV?

RP: For me, I felt really emboldened to discuss these things more openly, doing a lot of research in the form of reading books and getting deeper into these subjects because I think I’ve always touched on said topics in subtle ways but I felt like the moment that we were in culturally, it really called for me to speak truth to power, and to go all-in when it comes to the racism that I see not just in America but here in Canada as well.

TC: What style is your forte?

RP: When it comes to writing songs, particularly this album, I’ll get fragments of lyrics and snippets of flows and write them down into my notes app. Usually, I’ll listen to a beat over and over and then eventually the ideas and flow start coming out to me and then fill in the blanks. Particularly for the song “Africville’s Revenge” on Parallel World, I wrote that song during a run. I got into jogging over the pandemic, so I would run and then throughout the session I’d stop and write down ideas so I wouldn’t forget. A lot of the propulsive energy to the majority of the lyrics of this album does come from the urgency of the subject matter, but also the urgency in which I created them.

TC: How did you fit in and use pop culture references in your albums, notably in “Ghost” and in “Soju”?  

RP: Particularly on “Ghost,” it’s not just the fact that I’m making references, it’s the meaning behind them. There’s a reason why I’m fitting them in there and there’s a reason for example why I bring up Fred Hampton on a song like that, “the ghost of my ancestors.”

TC: Which LP for you was the most fun in terms of features? 

RP: Definitely Parallel Worlds. It’s kind of strange because it was all done remotely, but I definitely felt the energy from every collaborator, whether it was having phone calls, texting, or Zoom. It felt very futuristic and in line with the subject matter of the album, which is our relationship with the internet.

TC: How do you prepare for shows?

RP: I’ll usually rehearse a song for a little bit, but I’ll call myself an athlete that doesn’t train enough. I definitely need to practice more often!

TC: Myst Milano is opening for you, have you linked with them before for shows?

RP: Through North by Northeast, I got them to play a show that I was curating, this is our first time performing together. Shoutout to Myst Milano.! They are actually raised in Edmonton, so we have that connection, and I really like all the new music opportunities from them.

TC: You’re a Toronto-based rapper, so what’s your tie to Montreal and why was it important enough for you to mention Montreal many a time in your songs? Over the weekend I listened to a song of yours called “Five Roses” (a reference to Farine), hence why I asked.

RP: I have a bit of familiarity with Montreal because I lived there for 6 years, from 2009 to 2015. When I was working on my 2018 album I was mostly in Montreal, Hope In Dirt City  [released May 2012] I also wrote when I was in the city. I feel like I’m just a Canadian guy, I’ve been across the country so much and thus have a sense of familiarity with audiences all over.

TC: You remixed songs from Lady Sovereign, Common, and Ghostface Killah. Which was your favourite experience?

RP: Oh well for me by far was the Lady Sovereign, I mean those other two were just bootlegs that I just made on my computer, but the Lady Sovereign one was actually the official remix that was commissioned by Island Records and it was also the first official remix that I did back in 2005. It was the first rap money I ever got. It was before I even had a record deal. I remember that I bought a pair of Nudie Jeans and a Bearbrick Doll and all kinds of early 2000s trinkets!

TC: What’s next for you?

RP: Thursday, I’m going to Denver to start a U.S. tour that’s going for the next month, touring across the states with Fat Tony, another rapper, and I have a book coming out called Bedroom Rapper. I wrote the book and it’s in the final stages right now but it’ll be coming out in May.

 

Photograph by Colin Medley

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Music Quickspins

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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Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Kanye West – Donda

Donda is finally here.

After over a year of delays, teasing and announcements, Kanye West’s tenth studio album has been released at last. Donda, named after West’s late mother, was originally slated for a July 2020 release, but turned into frequent delays that saw it pushed further and further with no official tracks ever coming out. This led to a series of listening parties hosted by West throughout the summer, leading fans and listeners into what has been one of, if not the most anticipated album of the year.

Donda marks West’s first album since 2019’s JESUS IS KING, and continues to create sounds that bring together genres like gospel, rap, and ambient. However, the album falls short on listeners with its overbearing length. Coming in at a whopping 108 minutes of playtime, Donda is a difficult listen for one sitting, and is now the longest project in West’s discography.

Thematically, Donda is not much different from the artist’s last two bodies of work, ye and JESUS IS KING. West’s raps focus on his Christian faith and his family with the help of choirs, synths, and organs, leaving this album almost as a continuation of these older projects. Tracks like “Come to Life” and “Pure Souls” could just have easily come from JESUS IS KING.

Like any Kanye West album, Donda is ripe with features from a plethora of artists such as The Weeknd, Playboi Carti and Travis Scott, just to name a few. Throughout the 27-track project there are a great deal of highlights surrounded by moments that are questionable. While some features are incredibly compatible with their beats such as Jay-Z on “Jail,” there are also features whose verses simply lack a connection with the track, like the late Pop Smoke’s verse on “Tell The Vision.”

There are a great deal of homages to Donda West, such as West rapping “And if I talk to Christ, can I bring my mother back to life?” It’s moments like these that offer a glimpse into the love that West has for his mother and touch back to the idea of a tribute album. On the other hand there are insipid verses such as Baby Keem’s on “Praise God,” that seem to be nothing more than random words over a beat. While the diverse range of collaborators can draw in listeners of other fanbases, some end up souring the notion that this album is supposed to honour someone’s life.

Powerful tracks like “Hurricane” or the beautiful “Jesus Lord” are moments where this album excels, but they get lost in a sea of too many tracks on one record. As a result of this long and seemingly unending listen, Donda sounds like the work of a perfectionist who didn’t know where to stop — which is a shame for the casual listener that will not listen to almost 30 tracks straight.

At its core, Donda would have made for an incredible 12 to 15 track project if fewer songs made the final cut. With the amount of talent poured into the writing and production credits there is something to be said about West’s perfectionism, but at the same time the album is too long for its own good. As a work with multiple tracks that serve as multi-minute interludes and songs that have part ones and two, this album feels like it has too much going on to be a cohesive body of work.

Trial track: Come to Life

7/10

 

Graphic by James Fay

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Music

Barely Legal is piecing it all together

The eight-man, Florida-based collective is ready to explode

Hip hop collective Barely Legal sound like they’re performing fresh off a sugar high. Coming out of the Florida music scene strongly, the eight-member collective from Tampa Bay is here to focus on themselves individually — and as a group.

Four of them make the music and the rest are the digital media team and the manager; all of them living together and progressing on a journey towards success. The four musicians are rappers Chowder Band$, JØ, Kid Dre and singer Miguel Morales. The collective are fresh off their first mixtape, Barely Legal Tapes, Vol. 1, which was released in late January.

Barely Legal may be new, but its four artists all have individual singles and solo projects under their belts from before their collaboration. They came together as Barely Legal in the summer of 2019, but only released their first single in November of 2020, with the track “Money Where Your Mouth Is,” showcasing Kid Dre and Miguel Morales, who teamed up to deliver a sweet and catchy tune with a lot of flavour.

The collective received a lot of praise, with some fans even comparing them with groups such as BROCKHAMPTON, and the notorious rap label Dreamville. Though their high number of members are reminiscent of BROCKHAMPTON, they don’t see themselves as a product of that group’s music.

“We don’t really get a lot of influence from them because we know that the sound we have is different than everyone else’s, so we don’t really like to put ourselves in the same box that they are in, but I can see how a lot of people would think that they crawled so we could run,” said Kid Dre.

Although it is their main focus at this time, Barely Legal is not a rap group – it’s a collective — and all members are also focused on their individual projects, said Kid Dre.

On Barely Legal Tapes, Vol. 1, Barely Legal exemplifies its members’ abilities by playing with a lot of different sounds and by hopping on different instrumentals, which allows them to show both their smooth and aggressive sides. The four artists work hand in hand to deliver the mixtape’s 18 tracks.

The boys mostly rap on the record while trying to touch every sound possible. They succeed in doing it by hopping on hype songs like “Gawd Dammit Amerikkka” and “Fuck,” and on classic boom bap beats like on “Creep” and “Saturday Morning Cartoons,” or even on chill laid back songs like “Choices” and “Decisions.”

Having a gifted singer like Miguel in the collective adds another dimension to their tracks. From beautifully sung hooks ranging from a variety of genres, like the songs “Too Fast,” where Miguel sings parts in Spanish, to songs like “Take It Slow,” which is a smooth dancehall track.

“I think the creative process behind the album was trying to get a large body of work that could highlight each artist’s individual skill and try to mix them together to make a masterpiece,” said Kid Dre.

The four artists in Barely Legal can hold their own individually, but their talent comes to fruition when they combine forces on songs. They feed off of each other’s energy, motivating themselves to give it their all.

“There are times I came in the studio completely angry and sad, times where I didn’t even wanna be there, but I see Miguel in his zone and it puts me in my zone. There is always someone to pick up where you slack even though there is no slacking allowed,” said JØ.

The third track of the project, “Sugar Rush,” started to catch fire, with a TikTok video promoting the song surging past 100,000 likes, and with 128,000 listens on Spotify. The song is a high energy banger featuring Kid Dre and Chowder Band$, that sees both of them go completely ballistic.

Despite having a small initial buzz surrounding their name with “Sugar Rush,” in their heads, they aren’t remotely close to where they see themselves in the future.

“We want to make music to inspire the youth and to go to work, quit their jobs and start grinding,” said Kid Dre.

In a closing thought, JØ pondered the group’s future: “We are working on a lot and we are not gonna stop working on it, and once we finish what we are working on, we are gonna go from there, and start working on a lot more.”

 

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Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Pooh Shiesty – Shiesty Season

Pooh Shiesty’s debut album packs a consistent punch but lacks a star-making track

Pooh Shiesty has a lot to live up to. The Memphis-bred artist’s debut, Shiesty Season, under trap legend Gucci Mane’s label 1017 and shows he’s ready to trade bars with some of the genre’s most reliable veterans.

From the beginning, Shiesty is firing on all cylinders. The explosive “Shiesty Season Intro” is the table-setter for the healthy 17 total tracks on the album. It’s punchy and without a hook, leaving Shiesty to showcase his rapping ability all in under two minutes. While not always rapping on the beat, the 21-year-old’s ability to tell his stories and scoff at death threats (“Tryna pay to get me killed, why you won’t come do it? (Come do) / Get sent out, watch how I send you back to ’em shows he can’t be fazed”).

Shiesty Season’s impalpable energy makes its 50-minute run time that much more palatable, but some tracks towards the middle of the album tend to bleed onto each other. “Choppa Way” and “Gone MIA” aren’t unlistenable, but they don’t necessarily scream out “essential tracks” on the project.

The collaborations are what make Shiesty Season as engaging as it is. “Big 13 Gang” featuring Choppa Wop and Lil Hank is an ardent semi-posse cut that sees all three rappers going back and forth backed by a simple instrumental whose purpose is to focus their commanding voices.

21 Savage, Gucci Mane, and Lil Durk are the biggest names on Shiesty Season and on each track, Pooh Shiesty proves he’s more than just a major-label signee with buying power. On “Box of Churches,” the Memphis artist raps over a flute-led beat about his success and gives out his own advice to those who might heed it. Yet, he never feels overpowered by his guests.

Shiesty Season lacks a winning track that can win over a crowd of people and the extended runtime does overstay its welcome, but Pooh Shiesty has a winning formula. His ability to craft consistent, albeit unspectacular bangers will continue to flesh out as he drops more under Gucci Mane’s 1017 label. After all, he does have one of the best trap hitmakers of all time to help him out. Pooh Shiesty will be alright.

 

Rating: 7/10

Trial Track: Box of Churches (feat. 21 Savage)

 

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QUICKSPIN: Megan Thee Stallion – Good News

Megan Thee Stallion continues to show that she’s a great rapper even if that means she hasn’t made a great album just yet.

From the first few seconds of “Shots Fired,” the very first track of Megan Thee Stallion’s Good News, it became abundantly clear that the Texas-born rapper isn’t taking kindly to being disrespected anymore. A few months ago, Megan was at the center of a massive controversy when she claimed that Torey Lanez shot her in the foot. Lanez then responded by saying she lied and he didn’t shoot her which led to her being constantly scrutinized on social media. The now-ridiculed Toronto rapper then took it upon himself to release a whole album dedicated to slandering Megan. So what did she do? She retaliated with one of this year’s most searing songs.

Megan’s rapping on the aforementioned track is cutthroat, vicious, and very much angry. And why shouldn’t she be? Since her breakout mixtape Fever, she’s proved over and over again that her rapping skills are among the best in the industry right now. Though she channels this energy through much of her debut album, at times she seems to be a better rapper than album artist. 

Good News is made up of hits, for better or for worse. On “Body,” Megan crafts an annoyingly catchy hook built for the TikTok machine. It’s simple and couples with a dance move sure to ruin people’s knees, but the repetitive “Body-ody-ody-ody” will only be attractive for so long before it becomes the world’s most overplayed song. Still, even with these issues, Megan’s verses are as sharp as they’ve been.

The 25-year old rapper shines brightest when she avoids attempting to make pop-music and when she doubles down on her hypersexual aggressive flows like on “Do It On The Tip” with City Girls. The track is expectedly raunchy but packs a fiery punch as the southern rappers all fit together as perfectly as one could imagine.

“Circles” features a beautiful sample of “Holding You Down (Goin’ in Circles)” from Jazmine Sullivan and sees Megan rapping some of her best verses on the album. It also features a better hook, something Megan struggles with.

Megan’s collaboration with SZA on the exquisite “Freaky Girls” is the apex of the album. SZA’s rare appearance is a sight to behold and she sings the best hook on the album with a fervour that only makes me want to hear her new project that much more.

For as much as Megan does right on this album, Good News is burdened with a few lazy attempts at making pop tracks that simply don’t work that well. “Don’t Rock Me To Sleep” is a boring autotuned affair that adds nothing to the Megan Thee Stallion story. It’s a retread on her sexual lyrics masked by a glittery pop instrumental. “Intercourse” sees Megan collaborating with Popcaan on what sounds like a leftover track from Drake’s Views sessions. Popcaan’s vocals are decent and fit the theme of hypersexuality, but Megan’s crossover into dancehall is unnatural.

The album effectively ends with “Outside” (the three tracks following it are previously-released singles that one could call bonus tracks) which is akin to Drake’s reflective outros on each of his projects. It’s reflective and insanely confident which only points to a brighter future for Megan. If she can start cutting the fat on her albums and removing her attempts at going pop, then perhaps she has a classic album in her.

Until then, we’ll have to deal with yet another good Megan Thee Stallion project with only a few blemishes. She continues to prove that she’s a great rapper who’s just shy of achieving greatness as an artist.

 

Rating 7.5/10

Trial Track: “Shots Fired”

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QUICKSPINS: Benny the Butcher – Burden of Proof

The Buffalo-bred MC teams up with super producer Hit-Boy for his biggest album to date.

Griselda Records has been having a banner year. With several projects from both Westside Gunn and Conway the Machine being released, as well as debuts from new signees Boldy James and Armani Caesar, the Buffalo-based label has been on an extremely hot streak. With his latest solo effort, Benny the Butcher is looking to continue that streak.

This project serves as both a celebration of Benny’s newfound success and a reflection on the struggles that he endured getting to where he’s at now. His raps show an understanding that his present status and wealth wouldn’t exist if not for the troubled waters he swam through in his past. The perils and pressures of drug dealing helped get him to where he is, and he hasn’t let his luxurious new lifestyle cause him to forget that.

Still, Benny’s change in lifestyle is apparent through the sonic shift of the instrumentals in comparison to his past work, his lyrical content, and the star-studded guest list that this album boasts. Throughout its tracklist, we see appearances from Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, Big Sean and Freddie Gibbs, among others, all of which are a perfect fit for their respective tracks and deliver fantastic verses.

This was a pretty risky move, as the Griselda crew has historically kept things mostly in-house and have built a fanbase on their dark, throwback sound. Going with more commercial artists and lavish production could’ve been a huge detriment, but they pay off in a major way, thanks to Benny himself.

Benny is at the height of his powers throughout this LP, delivering sharp bars, cautionary tales and words of wisdom from a man who’s seen it all. He never feels the need to water down his lyrics or change how he raps, he just makes his style fit every track from the project’s bombastic intro to its impeccable closer, “Legend.”

This is an album that is rife with highs. From the Freddie Gibbs-assisted “One Way Flight” to the soulful and reflective “Thank God I Made It,” none of the songs stick out as bad. The only real negative here is the skits, and while they are absolutely horrible, they still don’t take much away from the quality of the music. This is an extremely solid outing from front to back and cements Benny as a force in the modern hip hop landscape, and he has a discography to back that status.

Throughout his catalogue, Benny has routinely started verses by delivering his now-famous ad lib, “The Butcher’s coming.” While those same words are the first uttered on Burden of Proof, it’s clear by the outro that things have changed – the Butcher isn’t coming, he’s here.

Rating: 8.5/10

Trial Track: One Way Flight (feat. Freddie Gibbs)

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QUICKSPINS: REASON – New Beginnings

If New Beginnings is like a long car ride at night, then REASON is the driver pouring his heart out while going 100 km/h on the highway

There are certain albums meant for a specific time of day. REASON’s debut album New Beginnings sounds like the beginning of an overnight drive with a friend you know, but not too well. In this hypothetical, you’re not particularly close with this person, but as the night progresses they open up to you. They trust you.

If the first track “Something More” is the first song you play in this fake car ride scenario, it’s akin to the parked-car conversation that literally every car owner knows too well. It’s almost like a church confession. It’s heavy, but it brings you closer to REASON right away. He doesn’t shy from his truths and this honesty is present all across the 14-track project.

REASON has no interest in sulking across the entirety of New Beginnings though. “Stories I Forgot” is a car-rattling banger that sees REASON trying to manipulate his voice not unlike Young Thug to create a distinct chorus, something he doesn’t try more of after. The results are muddy, but it shows the Carson-born rapper is trying to make this car ride bump after pouring out his guts on the previous track.

The album, while still very much a broody affair, maintains its high energy for the majority of its runtime. With only two features across the first seven songs, REASON has a lot to prove to keep listeners on-board, for better or for worse. “Show Stop,” backed with Kendrick Lamar ad-libs and a bouncy instrumental, is a fairly standard showcase. “Favorite Ni**a” is on the aggressive side but REASON’s raps aren’t as engaging as the instrumental.

After “Fall” and an embarrassing bar about Mac Miller, REASON seems to find his stride. With a myriad of features, he seems to be more comfortable sharing the stage than owning it by himself.

“Slow Down” is a syrupy reflective track that emphasizes on taking things in slowly instead of rushing to reach your goals. Though derivative in the message, REASON’s casual cadence and the song’s jazzy beat are worth the four minutes of reflection he offers.

The raw car ride that is New Beginnings closes with an incredible run between “SAUCE” and closing track “Windows Cry.” If the first nine tracks of the album are similar to a high-speed romp down an empty highway, then the final act is the return home, gas almost empty.

REASON’s debut album is masterfully sequenced and an insightful look into the rapper’s fears, goals, and ambitions. He doesn’t always rap as well as he could, but the pure genuineness of his raps show that he’s raw talent ready to develop. Here’s hoping his label Top Dawg Entertainment doesn’t squander his talent.

Rating: 8/10

Trial Track: SAUCE

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