Tag Archives: review

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: 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

Throwback Thursday Review: Low | David Bowie

david-bowie-low
BY: EVAN VOGEL

Relentless experimentation and the subzero breath of spacious lyrics proved to be more than most people were ready for in the late 70’s. The late David Bowie is definitely one of music’s greatest evolutionists, having created over 26 albums worth of content during his time as a practicing musician. He was no stranger to experimentation and was the last person to be afraid of it or how its final yield would be received by mass audiences. His 1977 album Low is the perfect testament to this fact. It was created at a time in Bowie’s life where he was trying to kick his addictive habit of that powdery-white nose candy so prevalent at the time; cocaine. His movement from L.A. to Berlin was perhaps his biggest ally in accomplishing this feat.

The move triggered the dawn of a new creative process within Bowie, who was clearly battling a ton of emotional stressors. The result was a two-sided project that encompassed 11-tracks of music that would go on to change the process of musical production forever. The stark and distorted guitar on album opener, ‘Speed Of Life’ doesn’t even begin to prepare listeners for what is to come. The fantastic effect put on the drums throughout much of the album, noticed on ‘Breaking Glass’ has itself become a staple in modern popular music.

His approach to this album was to keep vocals brief and distant on most tracks, letting the sonics of the instruments have their room to stretch and be absorbed. What lyrics there are, create a sense of longing and forge a path for new discoveries to be made. Each sentence seems to be a fracture of a larger idea and therefore showcase Bowie’s new sense of intrigue and adventurousness. He seems to feel isolated within his newly sober self and is able to take in the little things in life with much more vigor on ‘Sound and Vision’.

“And I will sing, waiting for the gift of sound and vision,

Drifting into my solitude

Over my head.”

He ventures from funky croons on tracks like that to the interestingly soulful and catchy delivery of ‘Be My Wife’. Here his message is more organized and yet the piano and energetic guitar chords make his marital grab for another chance seem frantic and uncertain. Sounds continue to overlap and create entire shifts in mood throughout the album, especially noticeable in the second side of the project (tracks 8-11). Being that they are almost entirely void of lyrics, the instrumentals bear a ton of weight, and they manage to hold this weight with unwavering finesse. Even without words they speak to the listeners the same way a movie’s soundtrack can say more than the dialogue ever does.

It is experimentation at its most adventurous and refined. Low is the perfect example of a project that was released years before people could even begin to predict or understand the massive ripple effect it would have on forthcoming generations. I doubt even Bowie or Brian Eno, the producer behind the beautifully ambient soundscapes, had any idea the inspirational shift in music they would be causing years down the road. Simply put, the music on Low didn’t just break the ground, it shattered it into thousands of pieces that became the grains of sand nearly every subsequent musician has walked over.

9.8

Throwback Thursday Review: Just Tryin’ Ta Live | Devin The Dude

Devin The Dude
BY: EVAN VOGEL

Life to most of us isn’t this glamorous enigma that is glorified and talked about by a large portion of today’s mainstream rappers. Rather, most of us are just trying to live day by day and get through it with our head on our shoulders. It isn’t as easy as the ten-percenters make it look, nor is it as hard as the politicians would like you to believe. This middle ground is classified by a search for relaxation and a thirst for comfort that is quenched by the simple things in life. The Dirty South rap artists of the early 2000’s had this lifestyle locked down. More specifically, artists like Devin The Dude were “Feelin’ fine in my Lacville ‘79”, paying no mind to their outdated whip and rather revelling in the fact that its age was correlated to a lower percentage of car theft.

You could say that Devin The Dude was ‘Just Tryin Ta Live’ — he did. His 2002 album, further cements the MC’s relatability to average individual. His verses span from conversational narratives to smoked-out sing-a-longs. The vibe is constrained to only as far as the mind will let it go. This can’t be better explained than listening to the twangy southern guitars and keys of ‘Doubie Ashtray’ with your eyes closed. The first-world problem of having someone help themselves to your weed becomes an extravagant composition that draws out your inner laziness. Oh and he’s pretty damn funny too, ending the song with an exclamation after finding a different bag of weed he must have misplaced.

This lightheartedness is a constant and a gift for Devin. He tackles issues both big and small with an everready sense of comedy and wit. On, ‘Who’s That Man, Moma’ he steps into the audience’s perspective for a few verses about the image of himself he gives his fans and his power over youthful onlookers who want to be him. It’s equal parts touching and hard to take seriously with the incessant marijuana interjections. The instrumental in comprised of a lax bassy-guitar riffing behind separated snare hits. The beats never reach out of their element, which on the musical periodic table is smack-dab in the middle of laid back, down beat, slow tempoed rhythms. Your head can nod while your eyelids slouch, it easy-listening in every sense.

His voice is manipulated within a small range to sound like an airy, southern wordsmith similar to a young Andre 3000. His stories stress the difficulties living in beneath the stressors of money, drugs and women. Never taking this trio of problems too seriously though, he always seems to cover his situation in a haze of weed smoke and that is enough for him. His understanding of the repetitive lifestyles we lead open our eyes to “the grind”. Doing the same thing over and over isn’t leading to anywhere except tomorrow. Tomorrow is fine but to look any further, he closes the album with the idea that, ‘We have to change our ways’. Conscious all while being not. His lyrics travel from the mundane to the briefly intellectual while consistently showing the prowess behind those smoky emissions.

9.0

Throwback Thursday Review: Holiday 2015 Edition: Ceelo’s Magic Moment | Ceelo Green

Ceelo's Magic MomentOn Christmas or in the month preceding it, I never thought of Ceelo Green as a musical staple. I solely thought of him as the jazzy, soulful, freak that wore his personality proudly on his sleeve, and for that I respected him. He was never the type of musician I would listen to when I wanted to hear something mellow and definitely not the type of artists you would consider seasonal. That was until 2012. Somewhere, mixed in with all his sexual and dark exuberance is the capacity to make an incredibly cheerful, upbeat….Christmas album. Yes, a Christmas album people, and it is not the slightest bit bad.

The album consists of all of your parents’ favorite Christmas tunes but they are Ceelo-ified for a new era. For the most part, this project/experiment works wonderfully and if it were not for the sheer fact that it is, truly and simply Christmas music at its core, it would be one of the more memorable projects of the year. But it being one of the more memorable, full-length Christmas albums ever is good enough. He starts this musical sleigh-ride with a re-imagining of the Stevie Wonder classic, ‘What Christmas Means To Me’. Ceelo uses his big voice and technology to his advantage. Everything just sounds more like it sits on a much more grand of a scale.

Replacing Doris Day with Christina Aguilera and taking on the role of Dean Martin, Ceelo Green manages to spice up a classic that until hearing this, I had not thought I would ever question the original’s legitimacy. The range occupied by Aguilera and Green are on a whole different level. His renditions consistently hold this power, of forcing you to question your childhood and the holiday music you were subjected to as Ceelo sincerely and beautifully supplicates for you to, ‘Please Come Home For Christmas’. This is quickly followed up by the energetic clatter of drums and piano keys on ‘Run Rudolph Run’. Ceelo’s passionate voice runs over updated Christmas backdrops and it often sounds better than it should for songs that we have all heard more than the voice of our own mother come December 25th.

There isn’t much revolutionary happening here, as it shouldn’t be. It reaches only as far as it likely should and finds a comfortable place around the fireplace between classic and updated. It sounds good and will likely provide people who can’t stand Christmas music a little bit of solace around those who, “Need it damnit!” For the most part, this project evokes a smile and emits good vibes and what more could you want from a Christmas album? If anything, check it out and see if it doesn’t cause you pause when your family asks for Christmas music and passes you the aux this Christmas.

Merry Christmas Ceelo and Merry Christmas to all of you, from all of us here at The Early Registration!

6.7

Throwback Thursday Review: The Documentary | The Game

The Documentary
BY EVAN VOGEL

Whether you hate it or love it, The Game’s debut album, The Documentary in 2005 brought the grit and recognition back to West Coast gangster rap. Hip-hop’s landscape was already well under construction by the mid 2000’s. Artists with completely new and previously unheard sounds came into the fray. Perhaps concerned with hip-hop’s recent transgression into the mainstream lighthearted playfulness, The Game’s approach was more primitive and raw. His sound was undeniably aggressive and unapologetic, creating a new sound for the streets – or perhaps simply resurrecting pieces of an old one.

The streets lent themselves to all aspects of Game’s persona. From his voice, which could crack pavement to his lyrical hood life braggadocio, nothing sounds like a false front. The most intriguing of this album for me is the juxtaposition of Game’s gritty street life divulgences and the million dollar sound of the production. At the time, it seemed as though everyone was at Game’s side, made evident by the album’s final production credits. Seven productions from Compton godfather, Dr. Dre only to be accompanied by cuts from Kanye West, Timbaland, Just Blaze and Eminem helped to diversify our cohesive view of Compton through the eyes of one of its loneliest sons.

The music traversed a smorgasbord of traditional and more current hip-hop sounds. From the classic g-funk laden synths of “Higher” to the pulsing eclectic rhythm of Timbaland’s handiwork on “Put You On The Game”. Needless to say, there were lots of heads for The Game to impress. And impress he did. He didn’t use intricate lyrical or rhythmic patterns to dazzle, but instead let gangster vernacular fly off the hinges, forming a white-chalk outline of his uncertain path.

It’s lines like, “I find out who sprayed and I’m putting you under the pavement. No Buddhist, priest or Catholic path that can save ‘em.” That instill both the fear and fearlessness of the hood within you. It’s darkly beautiful music that more often than not, you’ll either be bobbing your head or jumping up and down on the rooftops to. The song construction is varied but works best when Game sticks to the verses and passes the authority of the choruses off to 50 Cent and Nate Dogg. I don’t know if it was the presence of all the greatness around him or simply a matter of respect but Game name drops people throughout this album like a person trying to fanboy his way to legend status. Shaq, Yao Ming, Dr. Dre, Eminem, Rakim, Lebron, Randy Moss, Biggie, no one is safe. The name drops don’t necessarily detract from the quality of the album due to their clever use as a timeline of how long Game has been rapping, but they do take up precious space that could have been used to tell more compelling stories.

In the end though, we get all that we came for and much, much more. That resurgence of gangster rap with all its incantations and street hardiness being present. Any skeptics of the West-coast’s relevance were quickly reassured of its liveliness thanks to this album, that sonically, is one of, if not the best sounding album since Dr. Dre’s, 2001 in ‘99.  Who would have thought that such a revitalizing project would come from a bunch of the art form’s biggest influences rallying around someone, who was discovered by Dr. Dre. and at the time was an unknown MC from Compton? Not I, but it most definitely did.  

8.6

Throwback Thursday Review: 268-192 | Lyfe

Lyfe-Jennings-268-192-cov
BY EVAN VOGEL

After getting released from a ten year prison sentence for arson, I can’t help but to find it ironic that Lyfe Jennings would go on to set something else on fire. The difference? This time, it was his debut album, Lyfe 268-192 that caught fire from intense amounts of soul and some of the most honestly devout storytelling of the last decade. To even call it an album I feel does this body of work a slight injustice. Lyfe crafted a conversation set to the tune of music.

He assumes the first-person role of character and narrator as he delves into his version of a hustler’s love, or rather lust-turned-love story, ‘Must Be Nice’. Lyfe dismantles the hustler’s lifestyle and reinforces the thought of finding true love the only way a thug can, from experience. This experience-based reflection is where Lyfe separates himself from most. Instead of succumbing to natural R&B tropes he takes the time to really evaluate life and create songs that resist the pull of the mainstream.

The instrumentation is very much from a bygone era of sound. Consisting largely of a combination of guitar and uniquely rhythmic drums. The feeling of realism in consistent in every aspect of the project. Each song ends with an intimate narration that sets the stage for the following song, something like a preface someone would commit to at an alcoholics anonymous meeting. Love is lost and found in any number of ways in Lyfe’s life. He poetically traverses an acoustic guitar and the echoes of soft finger snaps on ‘Hypothetically’, which imagines the ‘what-ifs’ that are present in every relationship. The stresses of the relationship had proved too much for our storyteller as he learns to appreciate life outside a relationship on the funky and upbeat, ‘Smile’.

The gravity of real life problems is discerned on the almost bluesy, ‘Greedy’ which has Lyfe baring his private life and hiding from cops for a reason entirely different than we are used to hearing in music, child support. It is a very one-sided look at a highly complex issue but Lyfe makes it hard to hate him for dodging his bills after he explains the story through his lense. This dynamic exposes some of Lyfe’s faults and only helps to humanize him even further. Of everything I have already mentioned that makes this music so appealing, nothing does more for this man than his voice. Why you ask? Simple, Lyfe’s voice is one of a kind. It’s paradoxical in the sense that it retains a weighty grittiness while consistently sounding smooth. It’s sandpaper lined in silk and rarely has struggle ever sounded so easy and oh so good.

8.9

Album Review: Cadillactica | Big K.R.I.T.

BY VIKASH DASS 

When it comes to traditional, organic Southern hip-hop, Big K.R.I.T. is definitely the best representative of that sound in this new, internet-generation of rappers. With his latest release, Cadillactica, K.R.I.T. literally creates a polished, wholesome world of his own where he flexes his experimental muscles as much as possible without stepping away from his hearty, Southern roots.

In 2012, K.R.I.T. found himself to be yet another victim of a fairly new dilemma plaguing artists that built a career on giving away free, album-quality music. As soon as these said artists sign a major deal and release a studio album, many factors including label pressure, lack of creative control, single-chasing, and ultimately exerting focus on mainstream appeal allow for a lacking, deteriorated, diluted product. K.R.I.T.’s debut, Live From the Underground, received notable amounts of critical acclaim, but seemed to suffer a similar fate. Although it was far from horrible as a standalone project, it seemed flat compared to K.R.I.T.’s near-perfect discography. Live found Big K.R.I.T. seemingly plucking the thematic highlights and messages of his mixtape and making it repetitive in an effort to be catchy, while beefing every track with scattered, radio-ready production that ended up not striking the hearts of his fans the same way his free projects did. K.R.I.T. himself expressed his own retrospective discontent with Live in regards to the lack of creative-control and production issues. Shoutout to sample clearances.

Continue reading Album Review: Cadillactica | Big K.R.I.T.

Album Review: Run the Jewels 2 | Run the Jewels

BY VIKASH DASS ★★★★★
BY VIKASH DASS 

The guys who were once the internet nerd’s preference to the Throne has now solidified themselves as one of the most important duo’s out today. With what sounds like their Tarantino-directed sequel to the first project, Run the Jewels 2 serves as a violent, abrasive, energetic record where both Killer Mike and El-P have found the balance between old-school influence and new-school relevance, while ultimately being one of the best rap projects 2014 has seen so far.

Continue reading Album Review: Run the Jewels 2 | Run the Jewels