All posts by Evan Vogel

My name is Evan Vogel. I'm a 22 year old College student attending UW-Milwaukee. I am majoring in Journalism but my passion is Hip-Hop. I write my own songs and poems and just genuinely love the art form. Contact me on Facebook, Twitter or my blog if you want to get to know me or just want to find some new music! Peace and Love.

Album Review: Campaign | Ty Dolla $ign

ty-dolla-sign-campaign-680x680
BY EVAN VOGEL

Ty Dolla $ign is a mixed-bag of tricks. His previous projects and consistent pushes as a featured artist show his undeniable versatility. He can swing between genres and instruments with his voice and rhythm effortlessly. His credentials stretch far beyond that of an “R&B singer”; as he is a go-to artist for a grocery list of industry greats. Though throughout the years, it’s not hard to notice, while his appeal hasn’t deteriorated, it certainly hasn’t evolved much. The same holds true for much of his latest offering Campaign, which is a sort of commercial mixtape release.

So let us get into that.

I go into every Ty Dolla song telling myself I will know what to expect. And trust me, that’s not an inherently bad thing. You would in fact find my name on a list of his fans, if such a list were to exist. So for this album, I held that same mental standard going into it. That said, my mind was open. I imagined getting a project chock-full of modestly-poppy instrumentals with slightly politically-tipped verses. And to little surprise, that’s essentially what we are dealing with here.

The project opens with a voice that resembles something of a conspiracists propaganda video using our presidential candidates as a platform to discuss the current state of violence in our country, speaking through a poem. Honestly, from here, I was excited. It’s deep enough to elicit the feelings of anyone with the slightest care in the world for politics, a sense of togetherness or both. Unfortunately, this is where any sense of higher purpose, is traded for the usual suspects.

Sonically, the project is sound. The production is familiar enough thanks to the likes of Hit-boy, Zaytoven, DJ Mustard and company, that it becomes another stretch of pavement on the 2016 musical highway. The instrumentals are a collage of staple elements. High hats tap away, while electronic symphonies of sounds build up a majority of the energy you can expect from Ty. The song “$” immediately following the opening track, is a testament to this formula. A wavy synth is lifted by occasional background harmonizing vocals. The man in charge ends up using the moment to stand in front of a mirror and boost his confidence, continually singing “Dolla you know you the shit”. But, his ability to flow over the elements in the beat, make it one of the more enjoyable cuts on the tape.

Next stop, is title track “Campaign”. He uses the metaphor of doing numbers in the sense of album sales as compared to what are presumably the numbers in the polls. The production holds heavier trap elements and sees the assistance of Future, a proper suitor for the style. The album continues on the same pace while making a few slight turns along the way. One of those turns comes in the form of “3 Wayz” with Travis Scott. It honestly sounds like a lost track from Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight. The dreary, Halloween night-style instrumental is instantly recognized as having Scott’s hands all over it.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Ty Dolla $ign album without the hedonistic bedroom songs to which his voice is so perfectly fitted. Tracks like “Zaddy”,“Hello” and “R&B” effectively swing your thoughts from the party going on in the basement to a more intimate setting. The latter of the three is a meta-ode to the genre. Ty name-drops artists like the immortalized Ginuwine to more recent entries like The Weeknd as a part of his sex playlist.

But I think the most surprising and satisfying track on the rundown is the next one, “Stealing”. The acoustic underlay of a guitar sets the tone perfect. Ty croons to his momma, pleading for her not to judge his being a criminal. A criminal how you ask? For stealing all these women’s hearts. It works so damn well. Then the formulaic tendencies fall back in line for the remainder of the project and half-assed political rantings find themselves on the back-end of a few tracks along the way. Instead of sounding inspired they end-up severely jarring, like trying to talk to your girlfriend about plans for the night, but your friend keeps jumping in to ask you if you’re going to vote this year. Not to mention the song “No Justice” which is his best shot at taking a legitimate stand on an issue. Problem is, it is horribly wedged between two tracks about sex.

Ty does some things better than most, no doubt about it. When he’s in his pocket on this project, it’s exactly what you could expect from him. The tape is a victim of itself and its marketing. The very things he relies on and clearly has a firm grasp of, are exactly the things that hold this project back from being great. This project iterates the thing a plethora of artists are guilty of. It’s as though Ty figured out he’s good at hitting shots in the paint consistently… so he keeps his feet planted inside the metaphorical three-point line, all the time. It was marketed like a political-album and much like a political campaign, the expectations of change at the end, far exceed the reality of it all.

6.8

Throwback Thursday Review: CrazySexyCool | TLC

tlc
BY: EVAN VOGEL

I don’t really know if it’s possible to dislike certain groups. These are the groups that have set certain standards for what music sounds like or maybe simply created music that no one person can resist. Few songs have that effect the way putting “Waterfalls” on in a room full of people does. The drums and synthesized instruments sweep in, in full jazz mode and then are overtaking by some soothingly earnest R&B vocals. When the chorus hits, the trio takes all bets off the table and everyone joins in; it’s fantastic. Now, you know how people say it’s hard to shine on a team full of diamonds? Well, TLC came close to proving that theory right with their sophomore LP ‘CrazySexyCool’.

Just like their name symbolizes an acronym, covering each member of the trio, their album title covers the basis of what is going down on the project. The instrumentals stay precisely timed rhythms with the help of drums and electric pianos. The three members each adds their own vocal flavor to the batter. The real ability lies in how well they harmonize and play off their own strengths. From a more than capable rhyming potential and pitch perfect R&B that has never sounded more 90’s.

It’s important to note, the group was far from genre bending or breaking the rules of what had been set before them but, they did multiply expectation by three and combined skill sets that up until this point were mostly confined to features or collaborations. One of the project’s unique elements is its ability to reflect its title and the energy of its personalities so well. You hear “Creep” and realize that these women are not to be tested, then “Diggin’ On You” sets the light mood of taking in the beauty of a relationship. It’s made all the more interesting as it segways into the ode to backstabbers, “Case Of The Fake People”.

TLC made sure they were themselves. A lot like that group of girls we all knew in high school. Their personalities didn’t quite match but for some reason it worked so well that everyone took notice anytime they were around and together. Grounded yet occasionally funky, this project allows you to jam out to one of the best songs of the decade as soon as it imparts its little wisdoms about love and friendship on you. This album was the seductive stare into your eyes that everyone hopes to have from another person. The title of the LP signifies anything but boredom and therefore points in the direction of intrigue. There’s enough quality R&B material here from the trio that had every right to be the entire 1990’s population’s first crush(es).

8.4

Throwback Thursday Review: Country Grammar | Nelly

Country Grammar
BY EVAN VOGEL

After only recently realizing that ‘The Fix’ was made by Nelly and feeling personally weird about not knowing that after having heard the song multiple times, I felt I had to review some classic Nelly. So here I am, in front of my computer jamming out to Country Grammar. About five songs in and I forgot how great this album is, was and forever will be. Opening with a hilarious skit where Cedric The Entertainer asks Nelly to contact him via multiple pagers, what follows is equally as playful and unique while still being typical.

The second track ‘St. Louie’ is a bouncy tune filled with plucked bass strings and liquid flow from our rapper. He often adds some southern flavor on the ends of his words to synchronize with the twang of the guitar. He essentially describes the broad spectrum of people you would run into in Missouri at the turn of the century. It’s playful, it’s fun and it isn’t as corny as it should be. He really moves into his naturalistic lane on ‘Greed Hate Envy’. Filled with “wooos” and simplistic rhyme schemes that sound more layered than they are thanks to his buttery-smooth delivery. The pitch is noticeably higher and he sounds more involved — to his advantage. It is damn near impossible to rap-a-long to the chorus that couple almost flawlessly with the beat.

Then Nelly continues his string of bouncy instrumentals coupled with equally buoyant rhymes. The silky rhyme scheme on ‘Country Grammar’ is only overtaken by its elementary chorus that we’ve all repeated at least a dozen times. Everytime this song comes on, it’s a party. He relishes in the riches and stereotypes of having money and being a rapper, but it has rarely sounded this great. The instrumentals continue down their pop-rooted trail while Nelly consistently intrigues with his unique vocals and delivery. Even when he’s doing something as trivial as spelling out his city and states it manages to earn its place in the song.

I don’t know many artists better than Nelly boasting an appeal that pulls in listeners from all backgrounds and lifestyles and bring them to the dance-floor. It is completely evident on ‘Ride Wit Me’. This track stands on its own forever. As Nelly peruses riding down an interstate and enjoying nothing but your friends, the car and the pavement it takes you as a listener to a time with your friends living this song out on whatever scale (like without all the money). His appeal is his ability to make doing, really anything, sound fun. Now, given that endearment, it comes with also having upbeat, usually poppy instrumentals. This is where too much Nelly can start to be a bad thing. His flow is often restricted to the same style you heard one, two and three tracks before. Listening through his albums, songs start to meld together.

This isn’t a terrible curse in the way that some artists always sound the same, but rather he just stuck with something that worked for possibly too long of a time. Listening through each song, you’ll be bobbing your head and shouting along with choruses at obnoxious levels but when it’s all over you don’t particularly remember listening to the album. Instead, you remember what you were doing while listening to it. Nelly will always hold a special place in my heart, but I’ll go right ahead and say that he is best when enjoyed with friends.

8.6

Throwback Thursday Review: The Massacre | 50 Cent

50_Cent-The_Massacre-Frontal
BY: EVAN VOGEL

With 50 Cent having been in court lately after flaunting a seemingly endless flow of “fake” money on Instagram after filing for bankruptcy, I felt it was time to look back on a time when Mr. Curtis Jackson was in a better place. This place was occupied on his 2005 offering, The Massacre. To follow-up Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ must have weighed heavy even on a man as iron-plated as 50. The project is a combo platter of his gangster knowledge and lifestyle, sexual desires and his transition into stardom that implored him to reassure all of his critics that he is still the same man.

 

The song ‘Piggy Bank’ is a great example of 50 directly calling out his peers hoping they will have the, what he would consider tenacity, to fire back. A problem exists because 50 is taking shots at rappers like Jadakiss and Nas who are targets at the wrong shooting range. The artists he aims at are so far from his intended audience that they may have never heard of them. Nonetheless, he manages to engage listeners with his lack of a care in the world and his undeniable brovado.

The project truly excels where other projects put out by used-to-be or still-maybe gangsters don’t; it always sounds good and specifically to demographics that other artists have difficulty touching. Even though Dr. Dre only produced two tracks on the album himself, his energy spills notably onto the rest of the project. The instrumentals carry a ridiculous amount of energy and mix heavy bass hits with much lighter elements like pianos, chimes, strings and airy sample loops. The simplicity and fun undercut the raw grit. Instances where 50 sounds introspective and reflective come back to back with ‘A Baltimore Love Thing’ and ‘Ryder Music’. His ability to craft catchy choruses is still on display here but they are surrounded by some of 50’s more poetic moments.

Still, the most fun there is to be had on this project is comes in the form of songs that sounds best in three places. The club. The home. The whip. This album may not have the same hardcore gangster appeal this time around but that’s okay. I don’t think artists get into a craft to keep painting, singing or creating the same thing over and over again. This is 50 showing his ability slide onto radio waves just as easily as he could create one of the most censored albums at the time.

8.5

Throwback Thursday Review: Konvicted | Akon

Akon-Konvicted
BY: EVAN VOGEL

A perfect album to look back on now that songs charting in the Top 100 are actually starting to sound different than the last. The ridiculously radio friendly production make every year that passes help Akon’s older work sound that much better. I’m not sure that it’s the fact that he’s made music that could hold its own in today’s market, but rather, it is as if he created music that will simply always have its own Akon-related appeal. It’s typically club music; but lyrically it’s aimed at entertaining thugs and convicts, all the more making them dance to it and not have the slightest bit of regret while doing it.

Konvicted is Akon’s own stamp of approval on himself, realising much like Fetty Wap recently did; he’s got what the world wants to hear. Just like no one can assign a term to Fetty Wap’s intoxicating appeal in 2016, no one could do it to Akon in the 2000’s, but it was definitely there. It can be made no more apparent than on the club anthem tracks like ‘Smack That’ and ‘I Wanna Love You’. The formula is strong with Akon; a catchy hook attached on either side of a verse about some sort of struggle endured or a lady sought after.

There are instances of deep personal insight on ‘The Rain’ and ‘Once In A While’, where we hear more from Akon than we’ve come to expect. A better range of vocals and much more reflective lyrics from our once locked up singer. Pianos pull away from the more harsh percussive elements of the rest of the work and Akon lets us know that he’s a changed man and he looks at the world differently now. In the same way the album moves forward, Akon moves from chasing money and respect to chasing love, ending fittingly on undoubtedly the most important love song of 2006 (in my very biased opinion), ‘Don’t Matter’. Each song sounds pretty great in its own right, but cohesively, not as much. We have four fifths of the album discussing Akon’s love of being a gangster and how he misses much of it, then we have his near condemnation of that life and the pain it has caused. It can be a bit jarring when put side by side, but when peeled apart, no track is outright bad.

All the features come within the first four tracks which can make the remaining two thirds of the tracklist seem daunting. Here though, is where Akon expresses his worth in the R&B community showing that he is capable of moving his own album to within arm’s reach of the number one best selling project of the entire year. He carries a single concept further than most artists can carry a handful, thanks in full to his unique authentic African vocal flavor and some simple choruses. Sure, he may have followed a formulaic process but he managed to keep it all his own. I don’t see any other artists making any of these twelve productions sound better than what Akon did with them. Really, Konvicted is Akon using all of his strengths to damn near their limits. His analogous descriptions of survival in the streets laid over some of the most rhythmic and infectious productions of last decade.

7.9

Throwback Thursday Review: Pabst & Jazz | Asher Roth

Asher-Roth-Pabst-And-Jazz
BY EVAN VOGEL

You remember doing scavenger hunts as a kid? Everyone runs around with the same list of items that they have to find and and bring back quickest for the glory. I would never win that growing up. Instead, I would start on the same path as everyone else but while they were all on the quest for pinecones, earthworms or whatever other meaningless objects made their way onto the list, I would manage to find something not on the list. It was always something unique, like a stone cracked open revealing its crystal-like quartz on the inside. This is how I feel about being a fan of Asher Roth. He isn’t one in media headlines and he stays even further from people’s list of relevant artists. To me though, he is like that cracked rock that gets cooler the deeper you look.

 

To parallel, everyone has their ‘scavenger lists’ of great rappers, full of new music from the Kanyes, Drakes and Kendricks. Not often, if ever will you see Asher Roth’s name in a list alongside those artists. But modern music has removed the ability to recollect, rather, drowning us in a constant flow of new music and styles. But if we take that time now to look back on Mr. Roth’s musical career, we will likely notice his commercial peak as the artist who spit, ‘I Love College’. Immediately, there goes some major credibility in the eyes of hip-hop heads. Due to that aforementioned cyclical flow of new music and tossing out of the old, that song marked the first and only time many people heard Roth rap. Since we are taking the time to look back, now, I feel very bad for those people. Why? Because now Asher Roth has given us project like the Rawth and Rawther EPs and my personal favorite, Pabst & Jazz.

After his very mediocre 2009 album debut, Asleep In The Bread Isle, which was completely tailored to the mainstream appeal he had, Pabst & Jazz caught me completely off guard with its unorthodox approach to general sound and Roth’s witty lyricism. Starting there, Roth has perhaps some of the freshest delivery and lyrical acrobatics on display of any project in 2011. The title track, opens with a jazzy piano and boom bap mix that couples with Roth’s light yet concise delivery wonderfully. It sets a mellow pace for the start of the project that is interrupted no later than three seconds into the second track where Roth verifies, “This shit is jammin’ though”, and proceeds to have some verbal fun over extremely funky guitars and subterranean bass hits. He is accompanied by Action Bronson here who has a decent verse and is backed by about a dozen other artists throughout the project. The project is fun enough to warrant all the tag team partners Asher commissioned and it undeniably broadened his potential fan base; which was a fantastic tactic to employ on this unique work.

The production is typically suited to fit the descriptive title of the tape. Mixing funk and jazz overtones with some more experimental undertones. There is a little bit of something for everyone here. Roth is just as quick to play around with phonetics and vocabulary as he is to simplify the great tragedy of life that is the idea that we are all simply living to die. This tape’s complexities are found in his ability to sound so relaxed and put such verbal wizardry on display while fully explaining every level of his thoughts. From looking back on life and at the world as a whole, to taking in a beautiful day or a beautiful lady next to him it’s never hard to listen. That must be the best part of the project, the parallel between the title and the final product. It goes down as smooth as a Pabst in hand and your favorite Louis Armstrong record spinning next to your chair on the patio as you watch the sunset over the city; just take it in first, you can think about it later.

8.0

Throwback Thursday Review: Jay Z & Kanye West | Watch The Throne

Watch The Throne.jpg
BY EVAN VOGEL

Luxury Rap. This is what happens when two of pop-culture’s most identifiable and revered artists come together to make an EP that vibes so well it soon becomes a full length album debuting at hotels, museums and planetariums alike. Jay Z and Kanye West have long been in the public’s eye, whether for their music or more personal affairs. The success stands them on an elevated podium from which they are able to peer down and establish or destroy trends so the rest of us can go on living our lives thinking we are cool. Not a bad place to be. For us mortals, we remain grounded and are coerced by images of grandeur into doing the one thing they want us to, Watch The Throne.

This album is a success no matter how you look at it. Commercially, it has sold nearly two million copies and it contains enough of each artist’s handiwork to sonically ascertain their legacies. The production is where this project shines through most aptly. Each track is lush and expansive with an army of top producers attached to the credit list. This may very likely be the album with the most expensive and creatively used samples ever. From the entrancing Indiggo Twins sample on ‘Murder To Excellence’ to the ridiculously awesome and soulful chops of Otis Redding’s voice used on ‘Otis’, nothing is in its proper place, and thank the lord because it sounds fantastic.

The scope of the project is gigantic. Take the opening track for example, ‘No Church In The Wild’ verifies Jay and Kanye’s refusal to relinquish the control of their lives to any God. It’s harshly funky synths isolate their raps and twist Frank Ocean’s vocals into a dark chant. They take time to do a little of everything on this project. Reflecting on their rocket-like ascension to success on ‘Lift Off’ couple the undeniably fun braggadocio that Kanye and Jay make sound so good with a very catchy Beyonce hook. It starts with enough brass wind instruments to take you back to ‘Touch The Sky’ era Kanye.

Lyrically, the album and duo sounds best when they are boasting about their success or poking fun at white corporate America on ‘Gotta Have It’. They aren’t afraid to layer in some socially conscious talk about being a good father, the struggles of black women and women’s image in society in general. But right when you start thinking about how much fun ‘Otis’ and ‘Niggas In Paris’ were a few tracks ago, one of the album’s best instrumentals and some of the most memorable bars are dropped on ‘Who Gon Stop Me’. The synths sweep across the electronic/house backdrop and the verbal pacing is veteran if anything.

To put it simply, this album has everything that we have come to expect from these two master class musicians; expansive lyrical artillery, uncontainable energy, production that manages to root itself in history yet be ‘in the moment’ and forward thinking all at once. It gives us all this and so much more in the form of playful camaraderie between the two. While they have worked together countless time before this album was even a thought to them, something about the process they underwent while creating this project churned out very gratifying results. It is the Kanye and Jay Z album we all needed and definitely the one everyone deserved.

8.8

Throwback Thursday Review: Finding Forever | Common

Finding Forever
BY EVAN VOGEL

There’s no denying Common’s royalty status in hip-hop culture. His street mentality combined with his complex lyrical divulging has made him one of the most respected emcees of all time. The appeal is similar to that of fellow rapper, Nas. They bend stories of love, drugs and watching (or partaking in) gangbanging from street corner to street corner and they take ownership of their words, making their experiences visible to those of us who never lived that lifestyle. Common has always been a strong proponent of social justice and education, often using his albums as outlets to depict the hypocrisies and tragedies inherent in society. This is no exception to his seventh and first number one album, Finding Forever.

No doubt following in the footsteps of his previous album, Be, Common again partnered with Kanye West to try and take their success in stride and keep a solid equation unchanged. And, for the most part, they succeeded. The best thing about Be when it came out, was its fusion of Kanye’s lively, soulful and aggressively sampled beats and Common’s staple vocal presence and wit. Apart, it was no secret that Kanye was an incredible producer and Common was next to none when it came to rapping. The experimentation with that album came only at the cost of however much time they put into it. There was no misstep to be found, it was as though they had found and pulled out King Arthur’s sword together. So naturally, why wouldn’t they think they could do it again?

This time around, it was as though they made the same album in a much grittier part of Chicago, where soundboards were missing knobs and studio walls were covered in mattress foam for insulation. The album sounds great and is produced fantastically, but the beats are harsh and Common is much more aggressive here. As he classifies it on, ‘The Game’, this time, Common is rocking “the demeanor of the ghetto”. The sample game is still strong with Kanye here. On ‘Drivin’ Me Wild’ with Lily Allen, he features a sample of her own voice behind her beautifully elevated chorus and Common’s depictions of a woman obsessed with the gold digger lifestyle and a guy who had no idea where his life was headed. Right after we get a Will.I.Am produced track that samples a classic Bob James song on the smooth, ‘I Want You’. It is darkened by the eerie sense of longing provided by the echoing sample. Words like “linger” and “gone” are released by Common with regret.

The dark grittiness is in full effect when Kanye and Common spit about their hometown in full-defense mode as though their is an army standing at the gates trying to take it, over a distorted guitar riff and separated drum hits. This defense switches to Common stepping back and having more of a realist’s perspective on, ‘U, Black Maybe’. He understands the adversity the black community faces and the obstacle thrown at them in this city they feel tied to. The Stevie Wonder sample is fantastic by the way and Common’s monologue at the end is inspiring, no matter what color you bare. An homage to J Dilla on, ‘So Far To Go’ provides that bit of light this album hasn’t seen much and while it is a great song, it just doesn’t entirely fit well here. Then we get back to West’s productions on ‘Break My Heart’ and its light horns match with Common’s lightly comical words about the journey a relationship takes.

Then we are taken back to the dark, ‘Misunderstood’, city streets of Chicago and end on and incredibly soulful note, where Common again acknowledges the darkness in the world but settles contently on the fact that it will all be alright. This is the beauty behind a person like Common. Time and time again he has put out albums that tread over gang-torn concrete and crumbling communities but knows it’s our city and our world and we are the only one’s who can change it. Through love, awareness and education Common tells us stories that teach, uplift and sound fantastic (Thank you too Kanye).

8.6

Album Review: ANTI | Rihanna

Rihanna-album-cover
BY: EVAN VOGEL

In the last few years, musicians have gotten progressively more – – well, progressive. Artists that were pop-radio mainstays have started to stray from stringy, by-the-book singles in pursuit of their more Warhol-esque artistic endeavors. We had Beyonce’s, Beyonce project in 2013 which stopped the usual catering to radio standards and now we get ANTI, Rihanna’s attribution to this rapidly diversifying landscape we find ourself wandering in. When compared to her usual fare of songs, ANTI finds itself occupying an entirely different genre of sounds. Looking at its usual, hi-bar, electronic and techno elements on her last few projects that were practically commissioned to take the spot at the top of the charts, it is like day and night. Although, this does seem to make sense, as the more recent players to have emerged onto the radar are changing the sound of popularity.

Rather than similarity and relying on tired formulas, musicians are finally starting to rely on their own artistic interests, for better or for worse, when it comes to laboring over their craft. Here, I would have to say, for the most part, ANTI’s adventurous exploratory spirit pays off much more than it disappoints. Stylistically, the project ventures coast to coast and decade to decade posting sounds of past, present and future equally on display. Sounds are either stripped down or left far behind and tampered with only to resurface as distortions of their former selves. This is verified by the static-laden drums of album opener, ‘Consideration’. It is simplistic and is the perfect way to open the project, it is her inner-phoenix ejecting from the ashes the music industry has buried her in over the years. Her proclamation of doing things her own way and her fairytale references accompany this depiction of a new musical journey.

After the opening, Rihanna reminisces on past loves and her evident attraction to “bad boys”. On, ‘Kiss It Better’ she longs to rekindle a lost relationship over an Aerosmith-era guitar piece that drives its chorus into a lullaby. Then Boi-1da, ventures into more modern territory with an upbeat radio-friendly instrumental (possibly the only one on the project) that features Drake and Rihanna going back and forth about what I would assume is a fictional relationship and the struggles of opposition. This is followed by a much edgier, ‘Desperado’ that takes after more recent radio fare, think Halsey. It occupies the dark headspace of being truly alone and even worse, feeling alone even when someone is in your presence. Experimentation is most duely noted on Rihanna’s collaboration with one of the headmasters of experimental hip-hop today, Travis Scott. The deep lo-fi bass hits and screechy synths put somewhere we have never really heard Rihanna before.

You know your appeal is something else when you get a persona like DJ Mustard to produce his most interesting and complex production to date. The lofi bass of ‘Needed Me’ is intoxicating when combined with Rihanna remorselessly verifying, “Didn’t you know I was a savage?” It becomes apparent that sexuality is a vice that Rihanna clutches closely. She flips from reminiscing about her longing to pointing out that her men need her just as much and it sounds as certain as it should, given the rest of the album’s subject matter. She sounds reinvigorated with the sound of a little less self doubt. A bit of a falter shows itself by way of the nearly 7-minute ‘Same ‘Ol Mistakes’. Its distant vocals and reimagining of Tame Impala are drawn out past their intrigue and start to sound tired by the four minute mark.

The album comes back together in a more natural sense by the end. It starts to rely more on Rihanna’s voice which is better than ever. A more sombering piano graces Rihanna’s voice on ‘Close To You’, as though the song occupies a church during a morning mass. Her sexuality gives way to a much more neglected emotion, love. Her vocal flutters and tone fluctuations illuminate the mastery she has over her voice and it becomes the most heartfelt and honest song on the project. From distortion to clarity and everywhere else in the middle, Rihanna’s ambition has never been more noticeable. No longer standing in the crowd she stood near the front of for the last decade. Instead, she is playing with a stronger hand of cards and laying them down in a sequence that develops some solid insight to Rihanna the person rather than Rihanna the pop-star.

8.4

 

Throwback Thursday Review: Kush and OJ | Wiz Khalifa

Wiz_Khalifa_Kush_OJ-front-large
BY: EVAN VOGEL

Amidst being bashed by everyone on social media these last couple days…wait that was just Kanye, but I guess he pretty much constitutes everyone; Wiz Khalifa has achieved an incredible amount of stardom throughout his relatively short career thus far. No one can deny him any of that. He may be corny, he may have particularly limited and noticeably recurring subject matter throughout his releases, but as it turns out, relatability lies in the same hole that people try to bury him in. Back in 2010, Khalifa put out a project that showed just how much of a force he was in hip-hop. Kush and OJ, was the concrete laid down over the path he had left behind that many thought would fade into a vestige of what was. It became a symbol of his confidence and marketability.

Before people even had the time to listen through the entire tape, its title became the most searched thing on Google and the number one hashtag on Twitter. From coast to coast, everyone had adopted a new breakfast tracklist and it proved too easy to digest to resist. The instrumentals which are regularly backed by the spark of a lighter regress to a state of smokiness that hazes into Khalifa’s, “everything is better when you’re high” attitude. The sounds are compiled by stacking decades-aged light synth elements and muttering drums that seem to hit at the same rate at which Khalifa raps.

His style is a rendition of fellow stoner-rapper Curren$y in the sense that it never moves faster than one simplistic and completely grounded thought at a time while the artist spitting them stays elevated on an undetermined, yet large amount of that bud. Speaking of Curren$y, he and a few other guest artists like Big K.R.I.T. show up on this project and try their hand over Khalifa’s usual instrumental fare. The interesting part, Khalifa usually sound the best over the productions even though many would argue the other artists are much more skilled. Wiz has taken the stoner lifestyle and been acquitted of any accusations of repetition because, to put it very simply, no one makes a weed-song better. Every song has the easy listening quality of the one before and after it, making this project the perfect album to break up the over-produced or highly lyrical music that likely occupies the rest of your music library. Even at that, it still has its moments of good-life indulgence on ‘Pedal To The Medal’ with Johnny Juliano, which contains one of the catchiest choruses of that or any year due to its singer’s sheep-like vocal rumble.

It’s no wonder that Khalifa paid little worry to being at the top of the game when this project dropped. He knew he was on to something and he knew his music was getting passed around more than a joint at one of his shows. Looking back, it is almost funny to see how commercially accepted he is, or at least well-known now, compared to how dangerous for the radio he was back in 2010. Just like it’s hard to hate this project, it is similarly hard to push any hatred on the guy who created it and who seemingly always keeps to himself with a mind filled with next to no concerns, other than maybe where the weed is at. This project showed Khalifa’s ability to craft simple, simple verses that retained their impact through relatability and his potential to sing, smokey choruses that you can picture are accompanied by squinty eyes and a big goofy smile on his face.

8.0