Review: Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

Release Date: March 15, 2015
Rating: 90

Released a week earlier than planned, To Pimp a Butterfly is the third studio release by LA’s very own, Kendrick Lamar. The name “To Pimp a Butterfly” is a play on the famous required high school reading, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. For those that have never read it or don’t really remember the story, it’s more or less about racial injustice in the south preceding the civil rights movement. Trust me, when you listen to the album, the name works. As does the cover art. You draw your own conclusions on the meaning of it, but I think it’s pretty clear.
Since his emergence, Kendrick’s style has evolved from a West Coast, mainstream friendly sound, to one with a message not giving a fuck if it’s friendly to radio or the mainstream. There is a noticeable change in his sound over the three albums, but there has always been a consistent social message embedded therein. His albums, specifically this and his last album, tell a story usually broken up over each track on the album. In the case of to Pimp a Butterfly the story is told in the form of spoken word. Kendrick Lamar’s message is delivered directly and indirectly. Some things are laid out in front of you to see and hear, others aren’t – specifically with this album; you need to pay attention when giving this a go for the first time. Dr. Dre is the executive producer while Boi-1da, Pharrell, and Flying Lotus chipped in on production of individual tracks. George Clinton, Ronald Isley, Snoop Dogg, and Bilal supplemented vocals on a few tracks. No shortage of star power for sure. Even with that, there are no club bangers and there’s no summer anthem. This isn’t the album you blast with the cars window down. This is an album you listen to with yourself.
Personally, I loved the album beginning to end. Every track served its purpose as a chapter in the story. Even in the case of a couple tracks where the music didn’t sound right the lyrics and vocals carried the track. My favorites were King Kunta, Momma, and I. It’s damn near impossible to pick a quotable lyric from this album. I could copy and paste the lyrics to every song and set your web browser on fire. Legit, the whole thing pieces itself together, so there really isn’t a standalone bit that I could capture and be like, “here, this verse is the shit.” Fuck it, I’ll try… Here’s the end of the track I. It’s an acapella / spoken word verse:

I promised Dave I’d never use the phrase “fuck ni**a”
He said “think about what you saying: ‘Fuck ni**as'”
No better than Samuel on D’Jango
No better than a white man with slave boats
Sound like I needed some soul searching
My pops gave me some game in real person
Retrace my steps on what they never taught me
Did my homework fast before government caught me
So I’ma dedicate this one verse to Oprah
On how the infamous, sensitive N-word control us
So many artist gave her an explanation to hold us
Well this is my explanation straight from Ethiopia
N-E-G-U-S definition: royalty; King royalty – wait listen
N-E-G-U-S description: Black emperor, King, ruler, now let me finish
The history books overlooked the word and hide it
America tried to make it to a house divided
The homies don’t recognize we be using it wrong
So I’ma break it down and put my game in the song
N-E-G-U-S, say it with me
Or say no more. Black stars can come and get me
Take it from Oprah Winfrey; tell her she right on time
Kendrick Lamar, by far, realest Negus alive

I’m so conflicted. I probably changed this album rating like 20 times during the course of writing this review. Even while listening to it, I was thinking about how it would be interpreted by the general public. It was definitely one of, if not the hardest, to rate. It’s brilliant, it’s raw, it’s real, but it’s very different. The one thing that bugs more than anything is the message of the album is going to be lost on so many. I’m not going to get political because this isn’t really the right forum for it. Suffice it to say, the message in this album is unapologetic, relevant, and necessary. Don’t go into this album listening with just your ears, listen with your heart and mind. Be forewarned; don’t expect good kid mAAd city or Section.80. The sound of the album is a blend of spoken word, jazz, funk, and of course hip hop. The album does have a bit of a background story going on throughout. Kind of similar to the structure of the story in good kid mAAd city. Without giving too much info away… I’ll end it with this… Tupac is alive.

Review: Big Sean – Dark Sky Paradise

Big Sean Dark Sky Paradise

Release Date: Feb
Rating: 78*

Dark Sky Paradise. Yeah, pretty apt title considering the general sound of Big Sean’s 3rd studio release. More on that in a minute but first lets start with some background on the Detroit native. Big Sean, at least in my mind, solidified his presence in the hip hop mainstream in 2010 on the Bet Awards Cypher segment. Sharing the mic with Kanye, Common, Pusha T, and CyHi the Prince, Big Sean was arguably the best part of that track. (Unless you’re a Ye dickrider, then Big Sean was 2nd) Before that though, Sean made his presence known in mixtape circles hooking up with Mick Boogie on UNKNOWBIGSEAN. In 2011, the release of Finally Famous, featured some heavyweight talent on the production and vocal sides of the album. A tried and true method in the music business, it’s no question that having that kind of backing would lead to future success. His first two albums achieved top 3 spots on the Billboard 100 while Dark Sky Paradise debuted at 1. So far so good, the dudes definitely got a solid foundation to build a lasting career in the rap game.

As I mentioned in the opening, the sound of this album is definitely dark and serious. Not serious in some kind of political, enlightining, going to learn from this shit-type serious. But more mature. I wasn’t expecting it with the relase of “I Don’t Fuck With You” before the album. I actually went into it thinking that the album was going to be bubblegum and radio friendly. I was pleasantly surprised it wasn’t. The album opens up with Dark Sky, which thankfully wasn’t an intro of some irrelevant dialogue I could do without. This track was a nice solid opening and set the tone for the rest of album… dark, gritty, in your face. There’s also a lot of reflection in the album, reflecting on the fame, relationships, friendships, and the kind of clche shit you’d expect 3 albums in. Track production features the likes of Mike Will Made It, Boi-1da, and DJ Mustard. Additional firepower on the vocal side is brought to you by Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Drake, and John Legend. Again, with talent like that all over the album you’d have to try real hard to fuck up.

I had a hard time picking a track that, I would say, was the best on the album. Most of them were equally enjoyable to listen to. The only real exception would be “Play No Games” feat. Chris Brown and Ty Dolla Sign. I don’t know, I just wasn’t feelin it I guess. Otherwise, the whole album is solid, not 5 star, “holy shit this is unbeliveable ground breaking stuff,” but just consistintaly good throughout; musically and lyrically. Honestly, I prefer an album like that, in constrast to something that has three or four amazing songs punctuated with a bunch of b-side filler and interludes. For the sake of consistency and tradition… my favorite track was Dark Sky. The track did something you don’t see too often. It was really a nice intro-type track that clearly set the tone for the whole album. It served it’s purpose 100%. Coupled with the fact it had 2 nice extended verses done in Big Sean’s signature speed switching flow. For a the best verse though I’ve got to jump to a different track, “All Your Fault” feat. Kanye West. The third verse is a back and forth between Sean and Ye that flows nicely.

Big Sean (Kanye West)
Ho you gotta move quick
(World in my hands, I ain’t gotta loose grip
I don’t like loose pussy or loose lips)
And I done did the impossible a few times, Tom Cruise shit
Ho and I ain’t satisfied bein’ on that top 5 list
(I ain’t satisfied until I’m on that all-time list)
Til everything I spit is all timeless
(My girl on that all fine list)
My life a little luck, a lot of grind
Bitch no maybe ho I gotta make it
(Fuck your nomination, man fuck the world)
I’m repopulatin’, wrap my roley round my waist, yeah time’s a wastin’
(Ni**as want the comma comma combination)
Long as I’m around, it’s gon’ be dot dot dot a lot of waitin’
Got my pinky on her brain while I’m gettin’ brain plottin’ world domination
(People ask me how to make it)
I’m just like “man if you want the crown, bitch you gotta take it”
Straight up

I gotta say that in conclusion I would highly recommend this album. It’s consistant in quality start to finish. It’s a nice progression in the evolution of one of the best MCs out there. It’s packed with A-grade production and aritists. It’s not too deep, but not too simple and bland either. All in all it’s definitely a winner.

*Author’s note: In order to more acurately rate albums, I’m switching to a 100-point scale. I’d argue that it’s more clear and that there can be fractional differences in an albums quality. From production to lyrics, there’s a lot of things that could go right or wrong in 60 or so minutes.

Review: Drake – If Youre Reading This Its Too Late

Drake If you're reading this its too late album art
“Drake – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” 

Release Date: February 13th, 2015

Fire Factor:  fire-rating  fire-rating  fire-rating

Is it REALLY a mixtape? No. It’s a studio album billed as a mixtape. Why did Drake initially bill it as a mixtape? I don’t know for sure. There’s a lot of rumors out there about his desire to release it as mixtape but Cash Money Records wanted to generate some revenue of it. Regardless of the politics, his last few “official mixtapes” have definitely been on par with a studio album. This album (or mixtape) follows suit. Pretty good overall from start to finish. To be totally fair though, I’ve always been a fan of Drake’s hip hop style, just not so much the r&b stuff. The best part of this album is that it is a little more hip hop than the r&b stuff Drake usually splits his time with. What hurts the album though is Drake’s predictability though, more on that in just a sec…
The album opens up with Legend. Legend is another self-affirmation Drake track. Let’s face it, Drake does this shit all the time. Every single album has at least a couple of those tracks. I don’t have anything against it, it’s the backbone of a lot of hip hop. Drake also has a tendency to reminisce a lot. Again, that is evident in most of the tracks on the album, at least in a bar or two. Musically, his harmonization is still the same and redundant throughout the album. Nothing against that either, but dudes style is a little predictable at this point.

The second song on the album, Energy, is my favorite. I have no idea why the second song on every album I reviewed so far always seems to be the strongest… but yup, here too. Energy, beginning to end, is a banger. The beat is very nice and the lyrics, first to last, are great.

I got people talkin’ down, man, like I give a fuck
I bought this one a purse, I bought this one a truck
I bought this one a house, I bought this one a mall
I keep buyin’ shit just make sure you keep track of it all
I got bitches askin’ me about the code for the wifi
So they can talk about they timeline
And show me pictures of they friends
Just to tell me they ain’t really friends
Ex-girl she the female version of me
I got strippers in my life, but they virgins to me
I hear everybody talkin’ ’bout what they gonna be
I got high hopes for you ni**as, we gon’ see
I got money in the courts so all my niggas are free
‘Bout to call your ass a Uber, I got somewhere to be
I hear fairy tales ‘bout how they gon’ run up on me
Well, run up when you see me then and we gon’ see
Source: genius.com

The next track, 10 Bands, jumps in effortlessly. I love when producers do that; when the next song almost continues on the last. Boi-1da and the rest of the production team at OVO are in my opinion, equal in talent to the lyricists/artists. Energy, No Tellin, 6 God, and Used To are the best tracks on the album and in that order. I wouldn’t skip over any of those songs, but I would skip over just about everything else. The latter half of the album is just ok and honestly that’s probably why I didn’t hit the album with a 3.5 grade. I mean it closes out ok with 6pm in New York, with a pretty unique beat but between Used To and that song it’s choked full of mediocre r&b.

Is it a must cop? Maybe for the fan, not for the passive listener. There’s 4 or 5 songs that are, or will, be on heavy rotation on the radio in the next couple of weeks. Honestly, Nothing Was The Same, felt a little better put together. If you were on the fence with that maybe just give the album a preview with a few tracks and decide. If you’re a die hard fan then you’re going to cop it anyway, I’m sure. At the end of the day, it’s still a nice piece of work just not great.

Review: Lupe Fiasco – Tetsuo and Youth

Lupe Fiasco – Tetsuo and Youth

Lupe Fiasco – Tetsuo and Youth
Copyright Shady Records
Release Date: January 20, 2015

Fire Factor: fire-rating fire-rating fire-rating fire-rating fire-rating

Whoa. Just finished listening to this album beginning to end, again. My head hurts. It’s like drinking concentrated hip hop. Seriously, there should be prerequisites to listening to a Lupe album… like a master’s degree, 5 years on a street corner, and 3 full passports. Hyper-intelligent, concise, and masterful describe the lyrics alone. Musically, I’m glad Lupe took a step back from the weirdness he’s been on the last couple albums. Not to take anything away from them, they were good in their own right. This album just had a throwback Lupe flavor to it in regards to the sound. Maybe the experimentation phase is over and Lupe reverted back to what works? We’ll see what the future holds for Lupe Fiasco. As usual, the core of Lupe’s music is to deliver a positive, uplifting, message. This album doesn’t disappoint in that regard. His wordsmithing, while at times complex, is very clear, to the point and relatively easy to digest if you just listen. Yes, as I mentioned, it is intelligent, but never makes you feel stupid. It’s refreshing to hear, and in some respects, a little more mature than his previous albums. That is to be expected, right? When you have an artist that you’ve followed since the first album you kind of expect a degree of maturity with each album. Lupe was different. The first couple of albums seemed hip hop enough and almost predictable. Then he kind of broke off on a weird, experimental, tangent. Lyrically it felt mostly the same but the music had you kind of questioning where he was going, and not in a good way. At least with this album it felt like he wanted to go back to the sound his fans appreciate. Mural was a solid opening into welcoming those fans back…
Best track: Mural

The second track on the album, Mural, will break your rewind button. So will Prisoner 1 & 2, but Mural, was a welcoming back to his OG fans for sure. As a matter of fact, pretty much every track has that bar that makes you go, “what the fuck did I just hear?” I strongly advise using genius.com’s annotations to fully appreciate the album. Back to Mural though… 8 minutes, no hook. That should tell you enough right there. The intro to the song was a little long but as soon as Lupe started it was fantastic. Here’s a sample…

Uhhh! Ain’t nothin’ to it but to do it
Unless you Virgin Mary, nothin’ do it but the truest
Believe all that, unless you Jewish
Life is not a dictionary, it’s a thesaurus
And I feel like a missionary to a clitoris
The water bearer heir of traditions that I swear to never change
My chair position or conditions of my porridge
Submission for sedition against the religion of a chorus
Keep them golden weave thieves out the mothafuckin’ forest
As I perform a nerve storm
I prefer my pictures in word form
Bury the hatchet like how a bird born
As I paint cold pictures like Kool-Aid facing condensation
Having conversations with flavorful combinations
Slave to my concentration
So that’s OJ da Juiceman meets OJ with two hands
And two gloves, that’s too snug
To judge who was, who drew blood

I can’t find a bad track on the album. Mediocre…maybe Chopper. I say that only because it seems a tad out of place. Still though, that Dark Street track has a message. Besides, I can’t remember the last time I heard anyone from Psychodrama on album besides anything by Twista. At its worst (which might be the interludes), it’s still enjoyable to listen to. I mean really, I haven’t heard something so well put together since maybe Kendrick Lamar’s, ‘good kid, m.A.A.d. city.’ The musical selection compliments the lyrical wordplay across the board and at no point did this album disappoint. Seriously, I’m not a musical dickrider, but I can’t find any faults with this album. It was an absolute pleasure to listen to and is definitely a must-cop for anyone with any musical preference. It doesn’t have the sound of any other Lupe album to date. And, as good as it is, Food and Liquor is still the best album of his to date. Compared to the 2014 hip hop offerings we’ve had, Run the Jewels 2 is the only album I would say is on this level.

Freshemporium’s Hip Hop Top 10 of 2014

Rated on content, not sales

A few years ago I just about gave up on new hip-hop. Nas, Wu-Tang, Jay-Z, Outkast, Biggie, and Pac stayed in heavy rotation at home and the commute to work. I really thought hip hop for all intents and purposes was dead. New artists like: Kendrick Lamar, J Cole, and Schoolboy Q have breathed life into what I felt like was a genre in turmoil. The vast majority of the music being pushed out was senselessly edgy, predictable, and boring. This year the West Coast kind of outshined everyone else. That’s okay; it evens out the map and helps foster diversity in the sound of hip hop. Years past have seen the dominance of the south and New York sound, but finally there is something of a reemergence from the rest of the regional sounds.

This year wasn’t too different from years past, but finally, it feels like hip hop found its identity again. The music in its essence underwent something of an evolution to a more electric sound, thanks Yeezy. Lyrically songs have become somewhat smarter, less predictable, and all around more enjoyable in comparison to recent years. Below, are our picks for the best of 2014… some mainstream picks, some not so much. Most of these albums garnered some kind of press but some of these artists were new to me. Anyway, it has been good year, here’s the recap:

10. J-Cole – 2014 Forest Hills Drive

Initially, when I reviewed this album last week I had kind of mixed feelings. After keeping it in heavy rotation in my car I gotta say… It’s very nice. It took longer than most albums to grow on me. I still stand by my point that it was a weak follow up to one of the best hip hop albums in recent memory. However, I also stand by the fact that, even at his worst J-Cole is better than most.

9. Rick Ross – Mastermind

Comprehensive. Yeah, that’s a great word to describe this album. In my opinion, this is the best album from Ricky Rosay to date. Between the production and selection of beats, to the heavyweights on the album like Jay-Z and Kanye West, it carries its own. Speaking of the beats, there are redone versions of throwback classics like 93 til Infinity and You’re Nobody that are 100% on point. This album is easily one of those albums where you don’t have to skip over a track. Definitely hot shit!

8. YG – My Krazy Life

Simple, west-coast, Compton sound. Save for the few R&B tracks, and an appearance by Drake, My Krazy Life, harkens back to the early 90s sound that made the likes of Snoop Dogg famous. That back yard party life is prevalent throughout the album and although it lacks the maturity of some of the other emerging West Coast artists, it’s still one of the year’s best albums.

7. Common – Nobody’s Smiling

With production done by Chicago and hip-hop legend No I.D., this album is easily Common’s best since Be. In my opinion the best to come out of Chi City this year (you Chief Keef fuck boys can jump in the coldest part of Lake Michigan, that’s not hip hop). The sound of the album is a nice mix of old and new, combining some soulful, and some electronic beats. Common’s lyrical style remains as powerful, thought provoking and intelligent as it always has been.

6. Apathy – Connecticut Casual

Who raps about New England life better than Apathy? No one. This whole album was literally a journey into all things New England. From the Kennedy dynasty to lobster fishing this album made me want to book a weekend on “Maathas Vinyaad”. I seriously never knew lobster pots and pirates could be so gangster.

5. Big K.R.I.T. – Cadillactica

T.I. move the fuck over! There’s a new king of the south. For real, this album is what Outkast would sound like if they were still around. Cadillactica is packed with the o.g. sound that the south needs to stay relevant in between the coasts.

4. Ghostface Killah – 36 Seasons

Hip hop veteran Ghostface’s 11th studio album was so welcomed after that questionable output by Wu Tang’s A Better Tomorrow. AZ and Pharoahe Monch deliver some of the best guest appearances possible on an album and are integral to the story the album tells. The soulful sound of the album is damn near flawless. Finally, Ghosts lyrical capabilities round out this album to make it easily one of the year’s best.

3. Schoolboy Q – Oxymoron

For a first album to come out the way Oxymoron did is one hell of an achievement. Granted Schoolboy Q has been around for a few years this was one hell of a debut. A lot of comparisons can be made to Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, all of which are justified. It’s a hardcore, gritty, West Coast, storytelling album at its finest. No surprise, this isn’t TDE’s only appearance on this list, clearly there’s a label out there with a formula for success.

2. Ab-Soul – These Days

Lyrically, this could be the best album of the year. Every single song on this album is chocked full of smart word play. Again, TDE is emerging as a powerhouse label thanks to having artists like Ab-Soul on its roster. If Schoolboy is the muscle Ab-Soul is the brains on the labels 2014 efforts. The album is packed with star power thanks to appearances by Lupe Fiasco, Rick Ross, and J. Cole. Ab-Soul definitely has a bright future if he can keep this quality up.

1. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2

As close to flawless as you’re gonna get this year. It’s revolutionary in its sound and lyrical quality. Never did I get bored with the album or feel like I had to skip a track and maybe revisit it. From the first listen the album didn’t disappoint and I thoroughly enjoyed it beginning to end.

Honorable mentions: Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Piñata / Young Thug & Bloody Jay – Black Portland / A$AP Ferg – A$AP Forever / Future – Honest

Well, there it is, 2014 top ten, you think I missed any? Let us know in the comments below.

Santa Came Early, Did He Leave a Lump of (J)Cole?

J. Cole – 2014 Forest Hills Drive

Copyright Roc Nation, Columbia Records, 2014
Copyright Roc Nation, Columbia Records, 2014

Release Date: Dec. 9, 2014

Fire Factorfire-rating fire-rating fire-rating

I had high hopes for this album. J. Cole is definitely one of the best young MCs out there right now. His last album, Born Sinner, is in my opinion, an instant classic. I’m not saying this new album is absolute trash, but I will say I was let down. Maybe since it was less than a year since the release of the last album? Artists do that often I suppose, drop some heat followed up by something weak; great artists though…not so much. And, I really think J. Cole has the potential to be one of the greats. With that being said, I hold him to a higher standard.

There are some absolute gems on this album though. January 28th, A Tale of Two Cities, Fire Squad, and G.O.M.D all have the makings of at least club rotation if not some radio play. The beats across most of the album have that soulful quality I love. Also, the album as a whole is relatively topical and fresh. But what’s most prevalent about the whole album is that it feels like he played it safe and even somewhat cliché. I felt that there was little to no risk creatively. Going back to what I said earlier about J. Cole, I just hold the guy to a higher standard than this. What’s the point of doing average work when you’re capable of excellent work?

Best track: Fire Squad

This is one of those tracks where an MC comes out flexing. J. Cole flexed. He even took a shot at Macklemore, Eminem, and Iggy Azalea in the process. I’m not even going to get into my personal politics and where I stand on the “white privilege” problem in hip-hop music… but I will say this… Macklemore over Kendrick Lamar for the Grammy last year was one of the worst snubs in the history of that award. The verse in the song I’m talking about could be easily seen as an outright diss but J. Cole recently clarified his point on the Angie Martinez show,

“There’s a very select group of top notch people that I worship; Eminem was literally at the top ofthat list. My first song [sounds] like an Eminem bite. If you think I’m dissing Eminem, I know you just read the headline and you’re not listening to the song. That has nothing to do with dissing Eminem or dissing any of those people. That part of the verse is an observation, me making an observation ofculture right now, what’s happening.” Source – mtv.com

Back to the song though…It’s hard to pick the coldest verse, the whole song is packed with fire bars. The first time I listened to it, I probably repeated it 5 or 6 times. Funny thing about the beat… I’m not sure if the producer sampled a piece of Visionz by Wu Tang, but I kept waiting for Method Man to jump in with, “Apocalypse now, mind of matter, next batter be Tical…”

Worst track: ???

I can’t peg down one really shitty track. I tried to find one song horrible enough simply for this review, and couldn’t. I guess that’s a plus for the album. Then again, outside of the 3-4 really good songs the rest is just meh. Wet Dreamz and ’03 Adolescence really didn’t have a place on the album in my opinion. It just wasn’t hard knocking hip hop like the rest of the album. I guess I’d sum them up as some safe R&B tracks. The story telling skills of J. Cole are great and it saved those tracks from being an easy “skip over.” Again, J. Cole’s lyrical capabilities saved this album from being a waste of time.

Like most things, if you’re a fan of J. Cole’s music this is an easy pick-up. If you’re just a fan of hip-hop, it’s worth at least a few of the songs. I would say if an album, as a whole, has at least a few good to great songs it would be worth a cop. If you can’t be bothered, then a few of the songs I mentioned could be cherry-picked from Amazon or I-Tunes and it would be a worthwhile purchase. I can’t wait for the next album though. Next time around, I hope J. Cole takes his time and creates a more complete album. This felt a little rushed and like he tried to piggy back off the success of the last album. Even at his worst, he’s still better than most.

Review – Eminem – Shady XV

Image Source: eminemnews.net
Image Source: eminemnews.net

Fire Factorfire-rating fire-rating fire-rating fire-rating

Release Date: Nov. 24, 2014

For all intents and purposes, I’m not going to really review the second disc. They’re older tracks that most fans of Eminem and D12’s music have heard before. I will say this about the second disc, it stands the test of time, maybe it’s the selection of tracks chosen, or maybe the evolution of hip hop is miniscule. Eminem is a bit of a hip-hop enigma. On one hand, he lyrically reigns supreme in terms of how well he ties everything together, on the other, his style has neither progressed nor regressed. There is this expectation I have listening to his music and it’s a lyrical one. Eminem delivers the majority of the time with topical verbal attacks of whatever is trending at the moment, and he has a lyrical structure and flow that is both humorous and concise. This album delivered if I were to weigh it by that measure.

I’ll try not and get side tracked about the content of Em’s songs too much but there is something that needs to be said about his music as a whole. Eminem’s lyrics to the outside observer are and will probably always be heartless, cold, mean, vile, misogynistic, and even a little hateful. In my mind though, they’re just lyrics. He, like most other artists out there, doesn’t act on what he sings about, and in some respects that makes it ok. It’s just a form of artistic expression and nothing more.

Slaughterhouse, YelaWolf, and Bad meets Evil are the main artists featured on disc X (the first disc.) While disc V features all of the throwback Shady records artists like 50 cent, D12, and Obie Trice. Production across the album is brought to you Boi-1da, DJ Premier, Mr. Porter, AraabMuzik, Statik Selektah, Scott Storch, Apex, and of course Dr. Dre. On paper this should have the makings of something damn near flawless. In this case, like most things, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

There’s always a downside though. Going back to Eminem’s lyrics… Yes, he can spit a funny horror story over 16 bars. Yes, his lead ins to the next bar are damn near perfect. Yes, his choice of music and producers are consistent and very good. But in the end, it all sounds the so similar. There is a small element of evolution on the music side, but lyrically it’s hard to notice a dramatic change from the Slim Shady LP to now except now it seems a little more forced out. It’s not bad at all, but it does have this whiff of try-hard. I imagine it would be like driving your absolute favorite car every day. You don’t really get sick of it enough to hate it, but you kinda wish it was tweaked just enough to surprise you.

Best track: Psychopath Killer – Eminem, Royce da 5’9, YelaWolf (produced by Boi-1da, Just Blaze, and The Maven Boys)

Finished by some of the best producers in the game right now, Boi-1da and Just Blaze, this song is through and through the best on the album. The beat kills, the hook is solid, and the verses by Eminem, Royce, and Crooked I aka KNXK Crooked, are flawless. This song also has my favorite verse on the entire album, here’s a chunk of Em’s contribution to song:

I’m just the product of a hostile environment
But bein’ brought up so wrought up inspired
But I don’t know why, it’s still like I’m caught up inside a whirlpool
Not an appliance, but applyin’ this science, I psychotically rhyme
And it’s like stars have aligned all in alliance
Heart of a lion, balls of Goliath
Obscene talkin’, the twine like a beanstalk and the vine
But I keep walkin’ the line between the wrong and the right
But everything I write seems wrong and it’s like
I’m ecstatic at all the static that I can still cause
In the fabric of our modern society (source: genius.com)

Worst track: Guts Over Fear – Eminem (feat. Sia)

It’ll get its radio play. I just don’t like it. It’s lyrically sound and the beat is ok but I don’t know… I guess there is just so much better on the album, like every other track.

Noteworthy tracks: Literally everything else.

I swear I’m not being lazy. Every song on this album is very listenable for the Eminem/Slaughterhouse fan. There’s no need for a break in or “grow on me” period, it’s listenable and more importantly enjoyable. Each song is self-contained, so there is no need at all to listen to the album as a whole, beginning to end.

Review – Wu Tang Clan – A Better Tomorrow

My music reviews are going to cover most of the new hip-hop music that hits the marketplace. We will generally cover LPs on release week and the occasional mix tape that’s trending. It’s a given that everyone’s tastes are different and my opinions are just that, but I’ve listened to hip hop for the last 20 years… and it all started with a Wu album called 36 Chambers. It’s only fitting that their newest cut is my first review, but more on that in a few. Every critique will dig into both the lyrical and musical qualities of the album. Overall, the album will be rated on a scale of 1-5 with 1 the worst and 5 the best. 5 is a distinction I won’t dole out often, reserved for the most complete, well produced albums. Not trying to be a harsh critic or anything, but we gotta have standards, ya dig? Now on to the first album…

Wu Tang Clan – A Better Tomorrow

Wu-Tang-Clan-A-Better-Tomorrow-Cover-Art

Release Date: Dec. 2, 2014

Fire Factor:   

I was psyched when the intro to Ruckus in B Minor started up. ODB welcomed me to what I hoped would be a resurrection of the 36 Chambers era. To say I was let down was just a bit of an understatement. Overall, the album showed flashes of brilliance, but never recaptured the edginess of the album that sold me on hip hop. Who do I blame?  Rza.

The musical production side of the album is its weakest point. The hooks, the beats, and the lyrics just don’t gel. Some of these songs sound like Tarantino rejected them for the Kill Bill soundtrack.

Best track: Ruckus in B Minor

Arguably the best all-around track on the album, probably because it was co-produced by Rick Rubin. Without getting to side-tracked on Rick Rubin, the guy is probably the most the diverse and eclectic producer in the music business, so needless to say, dude has the golden touch. Lyrically, THE best verse on this track, and maybe the whole album goes to Inspectah Deck:

“I had to get the money, said it wasn’t a choice
Die Hard’s on the bars, Ladies lovin’ the voice
Morphine flow, numbing your joints
Bomb a n**** like he number 81 from Detroit
Zombie life, World War Z
Antidote to your virus, your highness, the world on me
Capital G, cool as the dude from Dos Equis
So deadly, I don’t make it rain, I snow heavy
Sick lane, Nic Cage how I ride with fire
Forever with bars, sort of like a lifer
With the Son of Anarchy, I be Breaking Bad
Walking Dead, day dreaming of making a band
Dancing With the Stars, Americans Idol me
The Mentalist with the Big Bang Theory”

Inspectah Deck drops heat like that on the regular, so that should come as no surprise to any Wu fan that I would give dude his props. The rest of the verses are supplied by U-God, Cappadonna, Method Man, Ghost, Gza, Raekwon, and Masta Killa and each have their traditional flows. It is the lone track on the album that harkens back to the OG days of the Wu. The fact that this is how they chose to open the able should come as no surprise. It’s by far and away the best song on the album.

Worst track: Felt

After such a beautiful opening with Ruckus in B Minor my ear drums were in some ways abused by this song. Save for a few other tracks, it was kinda a sign of things to come with the rest of the album. Rza, what the fuck man… this shit is so soft. Is it a sign of the times? Maturity? Trying too hard to sound current? It’s like the song wants to deliver some kind of message to me but I don’t give a fuck because the music behind these lyrics makes me want to put pencils in my ears. Lyrically, it was OK, but borderline subpar. I definitely expect more from these guys.

Noteworthy tracks: Hold the Heater, Keep Watch, Wu-Tang Reunion

Aside from Ruckus, these three joints are the only other redeeming tracks on the entire album. Hold the Heater is Wu properly adapted to 2014. Only downside is the 30 second or so electronic intro that almost made it an instant skip. [Side note: I, like I’m sure most of you, have this odd tendency to scan over chunks of the song when I first skim through an album. I’ll then go back and re-listen to the album in its entirety before I pass judgment.] Hold the heater is the only other song besides Ruckus and Keep Watch that I’ve added to my general playlist. Keep Watch is one of those feel good soulful tracks. What can I say, I’ve got a penchant for soulful beats. Mathematics flexed his producer muscle big time on the track, and to be honest, I wish I could have heard more of his work on the album. Wu-Tang Reunion isn’t really that great but it’s not bad either. It’s a well-structured and produced track that I think wanted to squash the press (infighting between RZA and Raekwon) that preceded the album release. The song samples a little bit of Family Reunion by the O’Jays, one of their greatest hits. All around, a decent track and compared to the rest of the album, one of the better ones… and that’s not saying much.

Overall, if you’re a die-hard Wu fan, this is a definite cop for the simple fact that this is only their 5th album as a group. Also, it’s another mark in the evolution of this legendary hip hop group. On the other side of that, if you’re a Wu fan you might be let down. For all you young bucks that don’t really fuck with Wu like that, the few tracks mentioned above might be worth the download. It seems to me that since Wu-Tang Forever, the best stuff these guys have dropped has been independent of each other. Between Rae, Ghost, and Meth, all of their own solo projects have been fire, start to finish. Even Rza, alone, is masterful as both an actor and producer. When you bring them all back together everything just seems so forced. Maybe there was some truth to all the commotion that came out, pre-album, after all.

-Abdul