Year In Review: "Ctrl" by @SZA

2017’s cup runneth over with good music, of all kinds.
From fun to enlightening. From singing to rapping. From our hometown to yours and everywhere in between, we are dedicating the month of December to reviewing and reflecting on the music that helped make this year so important.
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Solána, middle fingers up, speak your truth.
— Doves In The Wind

I've been looking for a reason to review SZA's Ctrl. Whenever the opportunity presents itself to discuss the summer released gem, I hop all over it simply because this album warranted many uncomfortable but necessary discussions. This was the first time in a long time that a body of work not only forced me to awkwardly stare at myself in the mirror, but it forced me to grow in the soil of my truth. One of the first of many affirmations received by this album was the power in patience. I have no problem admitting that I am not a day one SZA fan. I flew right over See.Sza.Run (2012) and S (2013) and joined the party right around the release of Z in 2014. If you're mad about it, stay mad. In my defense, I went back and got myself acquainted with all of the above mentioned. I was in the thick of my Top Dawg Entertainment adoration so in my eyes, anyone they were signing and endorsing, especially a quirky black queen that can make me sing and swoon, was deserving of my attention. The features and free projects did not suffice though.

After the release of Z, minus a few features here and there, Solána was laying low. The twenty something year old small town Jersey native is known for wearing her heart on her sleeve. So as fans, we witnessed the obstacles and struggles she faced on the journey to CTRL (See what I did there? Heh.) If you follow the gifted songstress on Twitter then you remember the night she almost threw it all away. Frustrated with the constant delays and push backs, my girl ( in my head of course) said "f*ck this, I'm out" and that was all she wrote...almost. I've always been told that right when people give up is usually around the time they were about to hit a breakthrough. I don't know who talked her off the ledge, or whether she had some sort of cosmic "come to Jesus" talk with herself but six months and five Grammy nods later, the power of patience prevails. I can only imagine the blood, sweat and tears some artists put into their first studio album. Its their baby. A declaration as to why out of all the talent this world has to offer, they were chosen. So expectations were high for the female representative of TDE. There was enough pressure coming from sharing a label with a powerhouse like Kendrick Lamar but the rest of TDE is no joke either. As a small but mighty label with quality and timeless projects on their resume, SZA was going to either have to come with it or ... actually there was no other option. She either came with it or didn't come at all and baby, Solána showed up. 

The first time I heard Ctrl, I cut it off. It initially felt whiny. Through surface level listening, I heard a beautiful woman begging for the attention and approval of a man who clearly didn't value her. I heard a woman bragging about being limited to only weekends with a taken man and quite frankly, I was good on hearing anymore. After all, I was just SO evolved from my past mistakes, misjudgments, and insecurities, that there was no way I could possibly relate, right? [ Insert eye roll] I couldn't stop listening though. Even if I had convinced myself that I couldn't relate, there was no denying the beauty in the production and compilation of this album. The easy, breezy beats complimented the summertime so well and if you know anything about Texas heat then you know it will bring the truth up out of you because it is entirely too damn hot to front. No matter how I felt about the subject matter, SZA's brash vulnerability was unspeakably refreshing. The first gut punch came in the opening track "Supermodel". SZA puts her cards on the table almost immediately as she tells about insecurities heightened by a past lover. She croons about the her consequences for unrequited love and establishes the impenitent tone of the album.

Why I can’t stay alone just by myself?
Wish I was comfortable just with myself
But I need you.
— Supermodel

"Supermodel" segue into the first single off the album Love Galore featuring Houston’s own Travis Scott. This track gave us the chant of the year. “Why you bothering me when you know you don’t want me?” SZA has always had a true gift with songwriting but I was impressed with her ability to not over complicate her message but still maintain its depth. While she is being as direct as she can, she still leaves so much room for discussion and interpretation. Her round the way persona makes her music relatable. Imagine someone taking notes at girls night and making it an album. 

When you think of a TDE artist, the idea that all the production would be that of heavy bass lines and gritty hip hop beats crosses your mind but their individuality shines through in each of their projects. CTRL features the airy R&B beats we have become accustomed to but also gives us the eclecticism that reflects so much of our generation. Gone are the days of pinning certain artists to certain sounds. On the track "Drew Barrymore", named after the 90’s icon, we get guitar riffs and rock undertones as well as the next track “Prom”. Not to be overlooked is SZA’s ever growing vocal abilities. As distinct as her sound is, you can’t help but to blink a little faster when she shows off her range. 

One of my favorite parts of this album are the endearing anecdotes and gems made by the matriarch of SZA’s family. Apart of our growth is admitting that sometimes (most of the time) our Mothers were right. We tend to forget they were once twenty somethings navigating their way through adulthood as well. So as we shed our teenage angst, we learn to find solace in their words. 

And Solana, if you don’t say something and speak up for yourself, they think you STUPID. Know what I’m saying?
— Love Galore

For the remainder of the album SZA continues to serve up painful introspection and hard truths about herself. She continues to air her own dirty laundry in the name of self reflection. On the ever so controversial track “The weekend”, she openly admits to being the other woman but presents it as a strength rather than a weakness. Remember when I said that this album provoked some uncomfortable discussion? After receiving backlash for the “home wrecking” lyrics, the song opens the floor to have an open chat about not only the different perspectives of the song but why women are somehow always to blame when a man makes the decision to step out in his relationship. The “you like 9-5, I’m the weekend” line struck a couple nerves but it did it’s job. It lit a fire and evoked emotion as music is meant too. When asked about her stance on the song and what she meant, Solana says that she made the song to exemplify how these men are for everybody. So, there’s that. 

SZA ends the album with a few more beautiful ballads that truly show her growth as a songwriter. She ends the album with an ode to the highs and lows of our 20’s with “Twenty somethings”. 

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As a woman who is unashamed to admit her own pitfalls in love, SZA truly challenges my self proclaimed inhibitions. What is control? What do you control? She takes ugly connotations takes her power back from them. This was for women who have allowed worldly standards to define them at some point. This was for those who have allowed lables to tell their story. It’s the same way Women have taken the word “Hoe” and shifted it’s weight. For so long this man made word stopped us dead in our tracks. It dictated how we walked, talked, dressed and even sat. CTRL expresses the importance of acknowledging where you have been so that you can properly navigate where you are going. This album was a declaration of power. There is so much power in erasing the idea of shame. As SZA so eloquently puts in “Pretty Little Birds

You are but a phoenix among feathers
You’re broken by the waves among the sea
They’ll let you die, they’ll let you wash away
But you swim as well as you fly.
— Pretty Little Birds

This was truly one of my personal favorites of 2017.

CTRL is apart of the soundtrack to my road to liberation at 27.

SZA kept the features light so that we could hear her clearly. As always, music is open to interpretation so others may not have had the same experience with this album that I did and that’s okay. We’re not meant to all have the same opinions, but my opinion stands. This was a beautifully crafted and solid body of work that meant the world to me for where I am in this life. I am beyond enthusiastic about watching SZA grow personally and professionally. This new wave of R&B is definitely not what we’re used too but it is new, exciting and promising and for that I’m thankful. Now, somebody let Solána know we still need the rest of “Wavy”; STAT.

Get SZA's Ctrl, here..

Stream below:

Come back tomorrow and every day in December for Year in Review!

Why @HipHopBookClub Is Important For Hip Hop

All it took to peak our interest was the name “Hip Hop Book Club”. We needed to have an installment of their ridiculously dope event, here. Like, right now. After a collaborative Houston edition of the one-of-a-kind book club had footing, choosing an album to center the event around was the toughest part.

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Then, bam. K.R.I.T. Wuz Here. It was such a perfect choice. 

In fact, our first Hip Hop Book Club was so perfect that one recap would not do it justice!

We wanted a way to show a bit more of what Hip Hop Book Club really is. Thanks to our Hustlegrade team and a few really dope K.R.I.T. fans who showed up to #HHBCHTX to discuss and revisit K.R.I.T. Wuz Here, we have an array of input regarding Hip Hop Book Club's stop in Houston!  

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Hip Hop Book Club’s co-founders are indeed pillars.
— Kelsey McDaniel

Kelsey McDaniel - Hustlegrade
K.R.I.T. Wuz Here
is the spark that lit my inspiration for seriously writing about music and is special to me in the most personal, life changing way imaginable. As December 9th got closer, my excitement was becoming a strange onset of nerves. After social media researching and asking friends, I still didn’t have a complete grasp on what Hip Hop Book Club was going to feel like. And this album? This one? I needed this to feel good. Every defining moment of my adult life has come since K.R.I.T. Wuz Here was released, it had become a sound track for my path to fulfillment. In my mind, I had studied for this event over the entire last seven years of living, with K.R.I.T. Wuz Here at my side. But my goodness when December 9th came, I was nowhere near ready to discuss the album with a room full of people. 
Alley Kat feels like home. My Hustlegrade team is family. HHBC co-founders  Attah Essien, Sobe Ibekwe, Kenny Reeves and Terrance Lee all have a genuine air in the way they carry themselves. From an empty front room bar to a tightly packed lecture ambiance, the book club's resident selector DJ iLL Tommie graced the speakers with every K.R.I.T. song needed to calm my nerves, even the more obscure joints. As the time came for discussion, my heart was racing again. Did anybody feel like I did about K.R.I.T. Wuz Here? Was I going to sound crazy? 
Then the guys began to breakdown the pillars of the book club. Influence, visuals, production, and lyrics. Followed by the rules of the book club; respect the house, respect the mic, respect the music. It was like I had finally shown up for class and all of my years spent studying hip hop and K.R.I.T. Wuz Here specifically, was finally useful in an educational setting. Listening to an album on repeat for weeks at at time had unexpectedly prepared me for something. Somebody tell my momma that we made it.
Hip Hop Book Club's co-founders are indeed pillars. They each spoke of their respective connections to an album that I hold in very high esteem, in such a personal way. As the floor opened up for discussion, the tone of introspection and comfort the front men set extended to anyone who touched the mic. Everyone who shared their thoughts did so candidly with an open heart and mind. Even in a room filled with those who clearly share a similar connection to K.R.I.T., I was nervous every time I spoke. The good kind of nervous that only comes from sharing absolute truths and crazy introspective portions of my experience with an album that molded me, in room full of people. 

Hip Hop Book Club finally came to Houston earlier this month and it did not disappoint.
— Gaylon Davenport

Gaylon Davenport - Hip Hop Book Club Attendee

Prior to the event, upon discovering that Big K.R.I.T.'s breakout project would be discussed, I immediately revisited K.R.I.T. Wuz Here and started to reminisce on the days when the album first came out. I really loved the Four Pillars (Influence, Production, Lyrics and Visuals) element of the book club and how they were discussed. 
It was great to hear how so many different people were able to connect to this album in a lot of ways that I did. I look forward to another Hip Hop Book Club because it offers a platform where music has the chance to do what it does best: bring all kinds of unique people with different perspectives together for enjoyment and reflection. 

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Hi. My name is Mer, and I’m a Big K.R.I.T ‘Stan’
— Merique King

Merique King - Hustlegrade
 
Hi. My name is Mer, and I’m a Big K.R.I.T 'Stan'
Now that that’s off my chest..  
I do my best to keep my biases in check but after spending a beautiful Saturday afternoon at one of your favorite establishments in Houston talking about one of your favorite albums from one your favorite rapper ever renews a kind of fandom reminiscent of pressing play for the first time.
That’s how I felt after the intimate, open discussion in a room full of K.R.I.T heads like myself during Hip Hop Book Club's visit to Houston to discuss K.R.I.T. Wuz Here. Considering his special connection to this city, the gentlemen of the Hip Hop Book Club made the right move when choosing K.R.I.T.'s groundbreaking album for their popular open forum/ kickback in the H. The December 9th event started off with an all Big K.R.I.T set from DJ ill Tommie. It’s no secret that it’s hard to come by a DJ throwing cuts from a Krizzle album into a party mix. One minute I’m cracking jokes with my girls and the next I’m rapping until I run out of breath.
The music turns down, the mics come up and we go around the room sharing personal experiences with the album that put this phenomenal artist on the map. For me it brought back memories of being brand new to Houston, falling deeply in love with a sound that I felt comfortable putting faith in. One of my favorite parts of the experience was getting a chance to re-visit K.R.I.T. Wuz Here. With the abundance of music constantly being put out it gets easy to shelf an album, even if you consider it a classic. Preparing for this event had me blasting “Just Touched Down” through the city like it was 2010 all over again. I listened with new ears and caught gems that 20 year old Mer either missed or just hadn’t been through enough to understand. 
HHBC’s front men facilitated perfectly, they kept the energy going and asked the burning questions that us K.R.I.T fans have been dying to answer. After the discussion, it was time for giveaways; two tickets to the upcoming K.R.I.T concertas well as a K.R.I.T. Wuz Here vinyl record that yours truly won! I told you I don’t play about Justin Scott. All in all it was an extremely unique and inviting event that I was honored to be apart of. 

The best part of being in the room was that it didn’t feel like I was surrounded by a bunch of strangers.
— Kelly Young

Kelly Young - Hip Hop Book Club Attendee
I was introduced to Hip Hop Book Club thanks to a GroupMe chat of music lovers. The founders of HHBC are active in the chat and began promoting their discussions of important hip-hop albums. I was so glad when they announced that they were finally bringing HHBC to Houston, and it was even better that the topic was K.R.I.T. Wuz Here because it’s a mixtape that makes me really proud to be from the south. The discussion was very well laid out and guided with four main themes: visuals, lyrics, production, and overall influence. However, naturally when casually discussing hip-hop, people will go on tangents or digress, and that was embraced by the discussion leaders.
The best part of being in the room was that it didn’t feel like I was surrounded by a bunch of strangers. We all came for the love of hip-hop and we treated each other like old friends. Everyone was incredibly respectful and encouraging, even when disagreeing, and there was no intimidation factor. Typically in hip-hop discussions, I find myself in a room full of men ignoring what I have to say, talking down to me, or assuming I don’t know the history. That day in the HHBC discussion there was a good balance of both men and women, and all were treated as equals. As we went around the room discussing the first time we were introduced to Big K.R.I.T.’s music, I felt the kind of sense of belonging that can only come from sharing a true passion with a group. That feeling can’t be manufactured, and Hip Hop Book Club expertly delivered that organic experience to Houston.

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Nothing compared to experiencing (Hip Hop Book Club).
— Justina Hay


Justina Hay - Hustlegrade
Hip Hop Book Club finally touched down in Houston December 9th. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping and KRIT was bangin' through the speakers down Travis. I’ve been following Hip Hop Book Club for some time now but even knowing a bit of what to expect was nothing compared to experiencing it. DJ ill Tommie kept the bangers coming, digging deep into K.R.I.T.'s discography from K.R.I.T. Wuz Here to his most recent release 4Eva Is a Mighty Long Time. People began to filter into Alley Kat a few at a time, first to arrive were friends and associates of HHBC or Hustlegrade, and day-one fans of Big K.R.I.T. As the room began to fill up, HHBC co-founds Kenny, T. Lee, Sobe and Attah, a collective of swagged out hip hop enthusiasts, introduced themselves and the four pillars of HHBC. It was truly fascinating to hear so many different perspectives on the project. During discussion on the production pillar I learned about some of the samples used for K.R.I.T. Wuz Here blues influenced tracks. We collectively praised Big K.R.I.T’s growth as an artist and spoke on how we became fans of his music during the influence pillar. At one point we even debated whether he was a better with a label backing him or as an independent artist. While most of the attendees shared, the few that were there to observe remained thoroughly engaged. Nobody was made to feel left out whether day ones fans, casual listener, speaker or listener. Overall the K.R.I.T. Wuz Here Hip Hop Book Club exceeded my expectations. It was a dope event coordinated flawlessly, and they left no topic uncovered.

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For true hip hop fans, the Hip Hop Book Club is an experience I would rank just as high as a concert experience.
— Reggie Davis

Reggie aka "MadBlkMan" - Hip Hop Book Club Attendee
From the moment I stepped into the Alley Kat and heard the DJ spinning nothing but Big K.R.I.T. records I knew it was going to be a good experience. It is not often that I find myself in a room with other passionate K.R.I.T. fans to talk authentically about the music of Justin Scott and why it is so pivotal to the hip hop culture. Even beyond just talking about the music, the opportunity to hear how K.R.I.T.'s music affected other fans gives me insight on how his music is being consumed and makes me hear his music with a new perspective.
For true hip hop fans, the Hip Hop Book Club is an experience I would rank just as high as a concert experience. The ability to breakdown the music and understand the why behind the what from a group of different people adds value to the music in ways many don't get the opportunity to appreciate.
Thank you Hip Hop book club and Hustlegrade for putting on a dope event for the city of Houston.

When Dallas brought their Hip Hop Book Club to Houston for the first time, it was an incredible meeting of rap fan minds
— Bradford Howard

Bradford Howard - Hip Hop Book Club Attendee
Usually when Houston and Dallas link up, it can be drama or even rivalry afoot. But when Dallas brought their Hip Hop Book Club to Houston for the first time, it was an incredible meeting of rap fan minds. Co-hosted by Houston creative collective Hustlegrade, Hip Hop Book Club HTX focused on Big KRIT's debut project, K.R.I.T. Wuz Here. For an hour and a half, attendees discussed the artist govern-mentally known as Justin Scott and the influences, experiences and motivations that went into K.R.I.T. Wuz Here.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about it, was seeing people from so many different areas, appreciate so many of the same things. It was not only a great collaboration, but an awesome tribute to the power of rap music being able to bring people together. It was the first - but definitely hopefully not the last - HHBCHTX.

Here is a cool article written by Marcus Gilmore and video by Curry Vision recapping #HHBCHTX via The Culture Supplier, as well. 

Endless amounts of gratitude couldn't convey how much we appreciate Gaylon, Kelly, Reggie and Bradford for joining us at #HHBCHTX and even more for contributing their time and input for this article. Also huge, huge thank you to Alley Kat and everyone who came out, shared their stories, met new friends and made it amazing experience all around.

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Most of all, I have endless praise for the guys who started and continue to grow the Hip Hop Book Club. The concept, the format and the execution of such a unique event is impressive to say the least. Oh and DJ iLL Tommie is clearly a K.R.I.T. connoisseur; from mixing samples found on K.R.I.T. Wuz Here to an overall immaculate combination of K.R.I.T. sets before, during and after, he set the atmosphere perfectly. 

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AJW Images

Hip Hop Book Club is important. Studying and dissecting great hip hop music is important. As hip hop grows more visible in a mainstream light every second, the depth and substance the genre provides too often gets left in the margins. While reaching out and even in writing this article, proof of HHBC's importance continued to shine. Being able to discuss an album like K.R.I.T. Wuz Here in the manner that such an event allowed for was an unforgettable experience that provided life changing insight.

Follow Hip Hop Book Club on Instagram to find an installment of the book club and go. By yourself or with a friend. Share your perspective and fellowship with like minded people. Others feel as passionately as you do about the hip hop albums you love. You won’t sound crazy. 

Year In Review: "blkswn" by @SminoBrown

2017’s cup runneth over with good music, of all kinds.
From fun to enlightening. From singing to rapping. From our hometown to yours and everywhere in between, we are dedicating the month of December to reviewing and reflecting on the music that helped make this year so important.
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My introduction to Smino's "blkswn" was actually a recommendation by none other than Kelsey Mc-Dammit Let Me Put You On Some New Music-Daniel, through a "hey go check this out" text with a link. I've never known Kels to steer me wrong musically so I immediately gave it a listen - by immediately I mean a few days later because I am a creature of habit and breaking in new music can sometimes be difficult unless it is worthwhile. I decided on one of my heavy traffic commute home trips to give "blkswn" a spin. 

"blkswn" starts off with a groovy track, Wild Irish Roses; the perfect introduction to an album that is endlessly-playable with a vibe befitting of rolling up a Backwood and riding out. It is evident that Smino carefully crafted his album by selecting 18 tracks that mesh so well, skipping a song is impossible. As you get further into "blkswn", Smino opts to go with more of a melodic rap on Maraca and Glass Flows, showcasing his vocal ability. And he does not miss a note! One of my favorite songs on the album Flea Flicka ft. Bari, a futuristic funk -filled track, allowed Smino to display his versatility as a rapper with a seemingly effortless display of some serious bars. 

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Smino transitions back to his melodic flow for the remainder of the album. As an avid lover of R&B I truly appreciate how musically adept he is; the ability to make harmonically rich music that still lights a fire under your ass, lyrically is one of Smino's stand out strengths. Anita is a slower track with an unforgettable chorus that I came to love after seeing him perform it live at his show here in Houston while the entire crowd accompanied him word for word. blkswn, another memorable track, has been forever engraved in my heart and is essential for any smooth groove playlist I create. Let’s acknowledge the fact that Smino makes bangin’ ass hooks, and blkswn is at the top of that list. Amphetamine seems to wrap up "blkswn" with a perfect ending to conclude a ride to the other side of town for Backwoods and Wild Irish Roses. Just as Amphetamine ends, there is a pleasant surprise; Krash Kourse. The hidden track is a dreamy composition with features from Jean Deaux and Bari as well as Noname who I was introduced to and now am a huge fan of thanks to Krash Kourse. 

Smino, an artist from St. Louis, considers himself an outcast. Personally, I consider him to be a musical genius that composed one of the best albums of 2017.  “blkswn” is something I never knew I was missing, yet somehow made me feel complete.

If you’re reading this and you haven’t heard the album do me a favor and go listen to that shit and thank me later.

Listen to "blkswn" on iTunes, Spotify or Tidal.

Stream below.

Come back tomorrow and every day in December for Year in Review!

Year In Review: "Flower Boy" by @tylerthecreator

2017’s cup runneth over with good music, of all kinds. From fun to enlightening. From singing to rapping.
From our hometown to yours and everywhere in between, we are dedicating the month of December to reviewing and reflecting on the music that helped make this year so important.
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I have never been a huge fan of Tyler The Creator. Of course I have heard the occasional song here and there, but for some reason I never paid much attention.

Now, thanks to “Flower Boy”, for the first time I have fallen in love with one of his albums.

Find some time.
Find some time.
To do something.
— -Boredom

Discovering “Flower Boy” was purely accidental, thanks to an episode of Insecure - one of my favorite shows. At one point Kelli (played by Natasha Rothwell) hilariously attempts to run a marathon when all the sudden in the background I hear “Find some time, find some time to do something.”

Instantly, it became my ear worm. That one line, that one melody. Playing over and over in my mind. I even sang it out loud a time or two, at one point I said "ok Joan, that’s enough" and took my top notch Shazam skills back to the episode in search of that ear worm.

That ear worm, the song that led me to Tyler The Creator, was Boredom featuring Rex Orange County and Corrine Bailey Rae.

From there I found the album," Flower Boy" or "Scum Fuck Flower Boy", if you’re a real fan. A real fan like me. I’m a real fan now.

There he was, Tyler the Creator. As soon as I made the connection and went back to the song a couple times I thought “ok, that was nice.” Honestly, I am such a fan of "Flower Boy". A fan of every part of it. I am a fan sonically, emotionally ...just period.

The album is melodic and even tranquil at times, something I never expected to hear from Tyler The Creator. I still haven’t taken "Flower Boy" out of my rotation. Everyday I listen. Backwards and forwards. And everyday it feels as if I am discovering it all over again. I like to think it’s a pretty cool story that one of my favorite shows lead me to one of my favorite albums of the year.

Listen to Flower Boy on iTunes, Spotify or Tidal.

Stream below. 

Come back tomorrow and every day in December for Year in Review!

Year In Review: "Robots" by @EarthGang

2017’s cup runneth over with good music, of all kinds.
From fun to enlightening. From singing to rapping.
From our hometown to yours and everywhere in between, we are dedicating the month of December to reviewing and reflecting on the music that helped make this year so important.
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After questioning the need to review an Earthgang project prior to their full length album, it has become important if not essential for their latest EP, “Robots” to be discussed. This focus on “Robots” should not to take anything away from their previous EP “Rags” which is absolutely dope. “Robots”, as a follow up to “Rags” represents something much bigger than I ever expected. Also take note that “Rags” and “Robots” are the first of three EPs, the third “Royalty” is forthcoming; but I will get more into that in a bit. 

With just 6 tracks, “Robots” is a display of lyricism, delivery and connection with listeners that should be wholly appreciated. Aside from their product just generally being top notch all around, Earthgang has an indescribable ability to make me laugh with their intros and interludes then turn around and make me question my current existence or get ready for war with their content. Their creative vision is also one of a kind. Everything about “Robots” is meaningful and appealing to listeners who may have missed out on it all had it not come from Earthgang. Listeners who need to hear it the most. 

Execution over explanation. 
— Artificial

Artificial takes pretty much everything that is important, particularly for an artist these days, and shows it to be nothing more than artificial ends. Ends as in money and much more importantly, ends as in where all those things lead to. While establishing the general idea that most of this shit isn’t real, Artificial makes it clear that actually living in a way that uplifts what they know to be real is far more important than explaining it to those who don’t care to listen, anyway. 

A comedic interlude takes a bit of the weight of Artificial off my mind before the title track lays it all and more back on me. “Maybe I’m just a machine, lately I just don’t feel anything.” Robots is a gut wrenching realization, for me personally, that there’s definitely something wrong with my tendency to numb myself and go through the motions of life instead of doing the work to understand it all. On a larger scale Artificial and Robots show Doc and Venus as artists who understand they’ve been misled, probably forever, and acknowledge it has conditioned many of us to walk through life robotically. During Robots, the repetition of “rain down on me”, paints a picture in my head of robots being rained on and short circuiting as only living, breathing humans with actual feelings are left. 

I ain’t trippin or hurtin, thanks to this vision and purpose.
— Robots

After Robots, the interlude doesn’t seem as comedic as it does disconnected. I have yet to discover Earthgang’s true purpose for the interludes but I am positive there is one, I am going to keep trying to figure it out.

Just as the duo finished singing “rain down on me” my favorite track on the EP, Underwater (featuring SiR), slows everything down. In stark contrast to Robots, Underwater provides a cathartic look at what happens when it rains, it floods. Now the mental image that ended Robots is a reality. Even the production resembles the sound of electronics malfunctioning. Underwater. Left alone with your conscience. “Forever misunderstood”. Facing death, trying to figure life out. Everything that happens when it rains. Underwater leaves me with an overwhelming thought that real feelings, vision and purpose are all that separate life from robots and keep us from drowning. 

She said ‘Where’s your empathy?’, I don’t know, guess they got the best of me.
— Robots

For the first time on the EP, when Underwater ends, there’s no interlude. So Many Feelings takes me from the unsure place Underwater created and dumps a laundry list of things in my lap that I not only relate to, I care about. Or I should care about. Everything from a familiar childhood aspect of caring to happenings in life today that I have dulled my feelings about. Like, damn, I actually care about everything! I feel everything! I’m not a robot! But look at reality, the people in charge don't care. Look how I am living, do I care? Maybe I created some paradox where I care but live a life that shows otherwise. It’s hard to decipher an onset of feelings after spending so much time disregarding them. And feelings don’t equate to knowledge, so where do we go from here? "I think I don't know shit sometimes.” 

So many losers with expert opinions.
— So Many Feelings

Another interlude. And it is still unclear what purpose these interludes serve. I really want to know though, if either Doc or Venus got a minute.

Flickted is one of those soul shaking, “oh wow this is too much for me to take in” tracks. With jazzy production and really raw, emotional singing, Flickted peaks my curiosity then hits me with a depiction of addiction that I wasn’t ready for, at all. Hey, what else are you supposed to do with all these feelings you’ve uncovered besides find an addiction to mask them? “This gon do it for me...take the edge off.” Possibly the heaviest way to end the EP is definitely the most appropriate. In the same couple minutes it is established that we are all addicted, it is established that those addictions are no long term solution; “two minutes, two hours, two millenniums later. The comedown was greater.” 

If you listen closely, “Robots” calls for an understanding and much deeper look into ourselves than most of us are prepared for. The fact that everything you’ve been told might just be Artificial is a tough pill to swallow. Once that is established, do we really want to discuss how all the artificial ends gave way to a population full of Robots? Either way, then it rains and suddenly everything is Underwater. Immediately after it rains, we are faced with So Many Feelings. Feelings that are hard to comprehend and even harder to deal with. Healing is hard and being Flickted humans, we are inclined to turn to our addictions, our afflictions, in a futile attempt to disregard our feelings. Which I am sure would just take us back down a path to artificial ends and robotic existence. Rinse, lather, repeat. 

All this medicated bliss, I’m barely healin’ myself.
— Flickted

“Robots” is an immaculate example of utilizing music to breakdown the search for understanding and share what was found along the way. Earthgang has an intentional plan for their art that is something to behold, even before I’ve seen it entirely executed. From “Rags” to “Robots” to their upcoming EP, “Royalty”, as I mentioned before, followed by their full length album, Earthgang has setup a series of stories that will be hailed as important for a very long time to come. I suggest you take a listen to "Rags" to gain some perspective and honestly enjoy both products, they are dope all around.

“Robots” is important for everyone to listen to, right now. It is a reflection of where we are at, currently; maybe it’s time for an introspective look at the possibility you’re a robot, too. 

Raise your hand if you addicted. Double shot or double tap it, what’s the difference?
— Flickted

Listen to "Robots" on iTunes, Spotify or Tidal.

Stream below.

Come back tomorrow and every day in December for Year in Review!

Year In Review: "Kiddo" by @Jessiereyez

2017’s cup runneth over with good music, of all kinds.
From fun to enlightening. From singing to rapping.
From our hometown to yours and everywhere in between, we are dedicating the month of December to reviewing and reflecting on the music that helped make this year so important.
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Writing about Jessie Reyez’s "Kiddo" is so difficult that I have been putting it off since April. After watching countless YouTube videos of Reyez and listening to every one of her songs, I have avoided talking about any of it. Occasionally on social media and here or there in a music mix were the only times I really acknowledged Jessie Reyez or “Kiddo”. Then someone asked me for a list of my top R&B albums of 2017, “Kiddo” was right there. No hesitation. Almost subconsciously, “Kiddo” had become a part of my life. Parts of the album make me turn it off, every time. But I always go back to listen again. Either immediately, later that week or months from then, I always go back for that feeling. For all of the feelings. “Kiddo” is so honest and relatable that it’s been impossible for me to avoid. Those same qualities put it in a place that made it uncomfortable to talk about. Jessie Reyez is a musician. A singer, a songwriter. Jessie Reyez is a woman. Jessie Reyez is a woman making music. She made “Kiddo”. “Kiddo” directly expresses the feelings we are so accustomed to experiencing, in a new light; then back doors to tear off the cover on the ones we are conditioned to completely disregard our entire lives.

“Kiddo” opens with Jessie Reyez giving a preface to what’s coming, speaking so slowly and softly about a car crash that it feels like she’s describing heaven. F**k It turns into the story of her crashing what is presumed to be an ex’s car, but, f**k it. “I should have rolled it.” Shutter Island alludes to a fictional island that houses a mental institution. In it Reyez describes begging someone for their love even after they’ve deceived her. She also depicts how a deceptive person projecting the idea of her being crazy made her a whole new level of crazy, ending it with “I guess you were right...” After getting comfortable with the depth and tone of Reyez’ voice over smooth, haunting sounds, Blue Ribbon shakes the table. Reyez is almost rapping. Her voice personifies a sound of exasperation. As she is singing, she’s singing in a completely opposite tone with a whole new cadence and delivery backed by techno production, nothing like the last two songs. But it works. Once you get into it and you hear what she’s saying, it feels right. “You could keep that shit the fuck over there, please.”

I’m tired of begging you to love me
— Jessie Reyez - Shutter Island

Following the beautiful chaos of Blue Ribbon is Figures and Gatekeepers. The two songs that founded my hesitation to discuss “Kiddo”. I heard these songs and I didn’t want to talk about them. I wanted to listen to them though. And I have been, for months. Listening to them, singing them, relating to them. But never discussing them. Using them to recognize and address things in myself that I didn’t completely understand. As different as Figures and Gatekeepers are, they unearthed the same level of emotion. Discussing the specifics of either song in depth is still not comfortable for me to but I will eventually get there and I absolutely suggest that everyone listen to them, at least once.

I’m nice if you don’t f**k around.
— Jessie Reyez - Blue Ribbon

Colombian King & Queen pay homage to Jessie Reyez’s Colombian roots, to her parents. Without assuming too much, “Kiddo” sounds like the product of someone who has been made familiar and knowledgeable about music from conception. Reyez knows the in and outs of music. This interlude feels comfortable. For 43 seconds the weight of the rest of the album is displaced. Colombian King & Queen makes me smile, and feel like Reyez comes from a place where music is a place she finds a home in. All the sudden an album that made me feel too uncomfortable to discuss felt like home and Great One left the porch light on for me. The unsure and uncomfortable feelings “Kiddo” brought out of me were turned into a feelings of purpose when I heard Great One. Great One ends “Kiddo” with a feeling of the need to manifest ever feeling she took me through from the first second of F**k It. Great Ones feels like desire and direction.

As I continue to revisit “Kiddo”, I want to discuss it more and more. What initially made me turn it off is what keeps me coming back to it, now. Jessie Reyez’s voice creates a sound that instantly invokes a feeling. A feeling that changes with each song on “Kiddo”. Her voice resonates from the inside and every word she sings or says is full of intention. Jessie Reyez’s songwriting takes me on a dive into the places of my mind that I know about but leave undiscovered. The style of production on “Kiddo” is intentional, it paints a landscape for Reyez’s voice and songwriting ability to be fully expressed. Combined, every aspect of “Kiddo” builds a place to go that understands and inspires me.

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On the cover of “Kiddo” there is a young girl, dressed in school uniform with a balloon covering her face. The balloon, to me, represents a hesitation to reveal myself to the world. A hesitation that makes me want to cover up my face with a balloon. As women, offering our feelings on a silver platter often ends up exhausting and fruitless. From the time we learn feeling we learn to avoid it, ignore it or box it up in a way that is presentable to others. “Kiddo”, on the other hand, is everything women were told wasn't safe. Or presentable. Or acceptable. And it is as truly amazing as it is liberating. “Kiddo” is a 20 minute long EP. An intimate offering of Jessie Reyez. And with her offering, I am able to acknowledge all those undiscovered, undisclosed places of myself and discover them, with a flashlight.

Listen to "Kiddo" on iTunes, Spotify or Tidal.

Stream below.

Come back tomorrow and every day in December for Year in Review!

Year In Review: "The Local Cafe" @EricBiddines

2017’s cup runneth over with good music, of all kinds.
From fun to enlightening. From singing to rapping.
From our hometown to yours and everywhere in between, we are dedicating the month of December to reviewing and reflecting on the music that helped make this year so important.
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One time a friend recommended a song to me. Actually, a friend played a song for me. As loud as possible. Then just sat back, smiled and nodded. The song was Railroads Down/Unfinished by Eric Biddines and Eric Biddines had a new fan. That was about four years ago. In January of this year Biddines released “The Local Cafe”, an album that is more impressive with every listen. An album that has quietly grown with me through every season. I often wondered why I quickly became such a big fan of Biddines’s music and how that fandom was able to multiply with every step of his career. Experiencing “The Local Cafe” made that wonder build and build until it hit me, it wasn’t a why or a how. Just a what. What continues to set Eric Biddines apart is a mastery of creation that facilitates a safe space for being yourself.

Great music is a force. Eric Biddines is an exceptional conduit of that force; “The Local Cafe”, a tremendous concentration of it. From beginning to end, “The Local Cafe” is an impeccably executed display of Biddines’ ingenuity and ability. Through narration of history, influence, first hand experience, imagination and forethought, Eric Biddines created a place that is both consistent and ever evolving; the local cafe.

Listen close with your ears, they’ll become your eyes.
— Eric Biddines - Praying Mantis

Sumn To Say and Towns First Storm open “The Local Cafe” with a stark look at the place Eric Biddines calls home. First through the voice of a news anchor “study shows more Florida children are living in poverty, and the problem is worse in Palm Beach County...”, a mother and a frustrated lifelong Florida resident followed by Biddines’ quick, abundant flow. A flow so deeply rooted in who he is that trying to describe it would be an injustice. Just when “The Local Cafe” set things up for a fast-paced, lyrical offering, Biddines begins to narrate in a slow, purposeful voice. Storytelling at its finest. It felt like watching a movie and reading a book at the same time, while somehow absorbing both. From really, really rapping his ass of to narrating and all of the sudden singing on Towns First Storm, “The Local Cafe” uses an array of dope elements to showcase Biddines’ extensive range, straight out of the gate.

I should mention that everyone listening would be best served by throwing any preconceived notion of “The Local Cafe” out the window. PeeuurrnnWhole Truck, Worried Bout, one of my favorites, and Classic Cars (featuring Kendra Williams) create a confident, fun, truly southern, truly Florida listening experience complete with heavy bass and Biddines’ distinct delivery. If they don’t make you bob your head, I can’t trust you. On the other hand Railroads Down 3, 20 Dollar Loan and Wrong Path (also featuring Williams) provide unadulterated insight into and evaluation of home, the ugly parts of home. Even then, Biddines is never far away with an offering of his calm narration and always forward looking attitude. Rushing Forever (another one of my favorites), Coffee Love, Fly Butter and Lavender Candles make up an array of unique perspective on romance and love, each different in their own way, all equally transparent and representative of Biddines' genuine personality. 

Blvd Pimpin and One Thing (featuring Blaine) are two of my absolute favorites; the transition from the first to the next is something to marvel at. Each features nearly contradictory content, I mention them together because of this. Blvd Pimpin is a smooth, funky trip alongside Biddines in a three piece suit. Gliding down the avenue. It stirs up everything there is to love and desire about the fulfillment that the feel good, opulent aspect of the south offers. Without delay I get to feeling myself, ready to go stunt on the boulevard when One Thing happens. Idled at a red light, approached by a homeless man asking for spare change, Biddines presents the realistic reciprocation of gliding down the boulevard. The reality of being broke, financially and spiritually. If you don’t wanna starve you gotta play your part. Biddines’ perfectly balanced combination of rapping and singing is complemented in fine fashion by Blaine’s multifaceted feature. (I am going to go check his music out, by the way because he killed that.) It’s hard to express how much I love One Thing. The raw emotion caught me off guard after experiencing Blvd Pimpin, a direct example of the equal and opposite force that fires my overwhelming appreciation of southern hiphop; specifically of Eric Biddines and “The Local Cafe”. Praying Mantis closes “The Local Cafe” with a forceful but uncomplicated classic hiphop sound; a sound that provides room for his strong, confident flow to become the main instrument. The final moments of “The Local Cafe” find Biddines singing acapella, stopping to assess his verse and finally deciding,“I’m not gonna use the last verse, scratch it”. Listen closely to the very end and you’ll hear him ask “you wasn’t recording was you?”. I am so glad he was recording.

What you can purchase don’t equate to making sense, ‘cause even pennies change pronouns.
— Eric Biddines - One Thing

Whether it is confidence or comfort, Eric Biddines is able to convey every reality of the human condition effortlessly. His presence and purpose throughout the album are always changing. “The Local Cafe” frames the idea that nothing in life is static. Everything consists of variables and we are always changing. Consistently evolving. Just like "The Local Cafe", just like Eric Biddines. Just like a local cafe. Always here. Always going to be here. With the best cup of coffee you ever had. But never the same as it was yesterday. Or even this morning. All the places that make you feel welcome and wanted no matter what kind of day you’re having, that’s your local cafe.

Best cup of coffee I ever had came from a local cafe, now that I think about it...
— Eric Biddines - Sumn To Say

Through his music Biddines’ proves that nowhere is too far to travel if you know where you come from. Our local cafes are a foundation. They are home base. They are the inspiration to go to other plants and tell them how dope your local cafe is. “The Local Cafe” quietly grew with me. Quietly because much like home or any familiar place, it’s presence is known without the need for reminder. A place to go for advice, to vent or nurse a hangover. It is all encompassing and accepting. "The Local Cafe" is a story. It is a place. It is a therapy session, a reminder of the past, inspiration for the future and reason to fall in love. Nothing is off limits or out of place. There is never reason to be anything but yourself, here. As comfortable as it is, “The Local Cafe” is also a reminder that a place this wonderful wasn't build and doesn’t exist on it’s own. These places we desire to be where we are accepted, loved and challenged to fulfill our purpose have to be appreciated, maintained and provided growth. For our local cafes to be present and helpful, we have to be present and helpful. Through his presence, constant support and representation Biddines' is what it looks like to help keep your local cafe in business.My most treasured part of “The Local Cafe” is that it’s real. It is real through the music Eric Biddines creates. It is real through the way I feel when I hear it and it is real through what you are reading.

Go spend some time with Eric Biddines and “The Local Cafe” at your own local cafe. Stay out of Starbucks, indulge yourself in the beauty and power of your community without the haze of the world. Your local cafe is representative of who you are, inspired by where you come from, focused on where you want to go and confident that you will get there. Consistent. And ever evolving.

Listen to "The Local Cafe" on iTunes, Spotify and Tidal.

Stream below. 

Come back tomorrow and every day in December for Year in Review!

Year In Review: "Memoirs of the Kitchen Staff" @Bigg_Fatts

2017’s cup runneth over with good music, of all kinds.
From fun to enlightening. From singing to rapping.
From our hometown to yours and everywhere in between, we are dedicating the month of December to reviewing and reflecting on the music that helped make this year so important.

If you can name five rappers better than Bigg Fatts, I will give you $100. Five is conservative. I have half a mind to end this album review here and post it with a mic drop gif but, "Memoirs of the Kitchen Staff" deserves the red carpet roll out version of an album review. 

Memoirs.
No better word exists for what Bigg Fatts created with his latest release.
A historical account in album form. All parts of the album from the title and artwork to every feature verse, every bit of production and every bar Fatts spits is intentional and necessary. Bigg Fatts’ natural rapping abilities are far from undiscovered; anyone who has heard him rap is well aware, but new heights have been achieved with "Memoirs...". Every bit of Fatt's talent is channeled into the creation of a cohesive, meticulous story. "Memoirs of the Kitchen Staff" is one of the best albums released in 2017. With less than two months to fully appreciate the album as a whole, I am comfortable saying that if you enjoy and respect real rappin ass music as much as I do, "Memoirs of the Kitchen Staff" is one of the best albums, ever. 

Much of the content Bigg Fatts effortlessly lays end to end on "Memoirs..." has been artificially generated, so successfully. On albums that aren’t as good. By artists who cannot rap as well as Fatts. *head explodes* So here is a novel idea, listen to Bigg Fatts instead. "Memoirs..." opens with a clip from Paid In Full and 40 Bars. Forty. Bars. Forty smooth ass bars that Southside all up and down an equally as smooth ass bass line. Forty bars that hold their own with any rap legend or favorite. Forty bars that establish one specific theme that holds true throughout the entirety of the album; self.

/self/ noun 1. a person's essential being that distinguishes them from others, especially considered as the object of introspection or reflexive action. Identity, character, personality. Soul. 

Self reliance, self awareness, self confidence, I could go on for days but to my point, "Memoirs..." is 42 minutes of Bigg Fatts expressing self. No time is wasted on discussing drama, other people's business or anything that is not completely centered around Fatts and what he considers important. Sometimes really talented yet underappreciated artists start rapping about how talented and underappreciated they are, not Fatts. You won’t find him complaining about just dues or working hard, instead you’ll find him ministering and celebrating the inspiration, accountability and honesty that all those things have contributed to his story. 

 
Who got time for hatin’? We really out here creatin’.
— Bigg Fatts - Power
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"Memoirs of the Kitchen Staff" is Bigg Fatts. As I went through trying to break the album down track by track, even with two paragraphs for each, it seemed to marginalize how calculated and well put together the album is. Press play and just let it go, you will not regret it. There is not one track that stands out, because all 11 tracks stand out. It must be mentioned that Show Louis’ features on the album are immaculate and provide a crucial element only he is capable of creating. OneHunnidt, Hot Peez, Rob Gullatte and DeLorean all bring their own unique style and perspective, all perfectly situated as essential pieces of the memoir. The Convo is something you need in your life on a daily basis, I can't think of a better back and forth rapping situation ever made, if you know one please send it my way. Thandi's powerful vocals lend yet another layer of depth on Power, one of the best displays of creative genius I have ever heard. All of the production on "Memoirs..."  is provided by Pug Tunes. Pug and Fatts have found a sonic and creative balance that is indescribable. A cornerstone of the album's greatness is how well the production showcases Fatts’ lyricism and message. Also, every time Fatts shouts Pug out with a different nickname, I chuckle a little, it is just another bit of insight into Fatts' personality and the way he carries himself. 

Labeling "Memoirs of the Kitchen Staff" anything other than perfection would be a disservice. It is not trap music, it is not battle rap, it is not anything that ever existed before it. Typically I go into great detail explaining my specific interpretations of an album but I truly believe anyone will be able to find whatever it is they are looking for in "Memoirs of the Kitchen Staff". Drug dealing, working 9-5, winning, losing, questioning religion (my goodness please go listen to Note 2 Self), asserting power, sharing knowledge. Whatever you have or are dealing with, this album is an assurance that you always have a chance to win, or at least come out on the other side if you don't win, today. At the same time, it is a call to action. By holding himself accountable rather than passing the buck, Fatts implores anyone listening to do the same. Because hell, even if you don't win tomorrow either, nobody is going to save you but you. In doing all this Fatts relays the fact that each and every one of us holds all of the power we keep looking for in other places. Self. Himself, yourself, ourselves. 

 
I just want y’all to believe in y’all selves man, like I believe in me.
— Bigg Fatts - Note 2 Self

You don't need to know Bigg Fatts or be from where he is from to relate to  "Memoirs of the Kitchen Staff", you just need to have lived. A memoir. Write out every word from the album and it would result in a book worthy of the New York Times best sellers list. Bigg Fatts has been rapping for awhile out here, been living and surviving out here as well; "Memoirs..." is a representation of all that. Isn’t this what everyone keeps asking for? Some real rap? Some high quality, well put together, well versed, completely authentic, make you want to stand on somebody’s couch, really dope rap music? Facts, emotions, lessons, questions, introspection, shit talking, superb production and superior rapping. That’s what "Memoirs..." is. Bigg Fatts above everything else, is genuine. If Bigg Fatts is not one of the best rappers you have ever heard and if this album is not 100% representative of who he is, I will quit writing, today. 

 
Fuck the shine, you grind with it or you grind without it.
— Bigg Fatts - The Convo
 

Listen to Memoirs of the Kitchen Staff on iTunes and Spotify

Stream below. 

Come back tomorrow and every day in December for Year in Review!

Year In Review: "Somewhere New" @IzzarThomas

2017’s cup runneth over with good music, of all kinds.
From fun to enlightening. From singing to rapping.
From our hometown to yours and everywhere in between, we are dedicating the month of December to reviewing and reflecting on the music that helped make this year so important.
 
 

While 2017 was an eventful year as a whole, it should be specifically mentioned that my city has shown an unmatched level of talent and vision; Izzar Thomas's "Somewhere New" is yet another shining example of such. Izzar himself is a shining example of such.  Remembering when I first met or heard Izzar Thomas escapes me at first, maybe because his energy can turn any stranger into a lifelong friend. Then it comes back to me, in May of 2015, Izzar's birthday to be exact, he afforded me the opportunity to cover the official premiere for his album "Distinct Vibe" via dayandadream.com. Since then, Izzar has only grown and evolved as an artist. Multiple stellar live performances and his standout album "Somewhere New" have established Izzar Thomas as an artist not only to take note of but to appreciate every chance you get. 

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One of the best albums of 2017 "Somewhere New" is exactly what the name implies. Even the production allows for a previously unknown musical experience thanks to Izzar himself and a host of ridiculously dope Houston talent including Treson Jamar, Tazer, NWM, Mccld and Nate Coop. Every sound, every note, every subject is new and will transport you to wherever you may be headed. Much like Izzar himself, "Somewhere New" speaks a bright future into existence. With one listen to the 15 tracks found on the project, anyone in ear shot will experience the always forward, always upward attitude that I have come to love, appreciate and respect about Izzar as an artist and peer. 

It is impossible not to instantly fall in love when the soft, comforting harmony of the title track builds up to Izzar singing. When I say singing, I mean sangin. Up until "Somewhere New" I heard Izzar sing on portions of songs, in background vocals, etc but as Somewhere New gains momentum, his singing voice lights up like a firework and provides a feeling of absolute comfort. Such a short opening track set the mood for the entire album and as a fan, gave me a bit more insight into Izzar’s vision as he moves forward in his career. Somewhere New. 

After almost 6 months of sitting with “Somewhere New” a few tracks continue to stand out, Blank Trip is one of those. Blank Trip has honestly become one of my favorite tracks of the year. Not only is it just a really fun, really jammin track, it has a distinct Houston feel to it and displays Izzar’s one-of-kind style at the same time. Another impressive quality is how Blank Trip appeals to the best parts of my ratchet side without being unnecessarily profane. It is one of many songs on the album that perfectly showcase the smooth flow I came to know Izzar for as well as the new found confidence he seems to have found in singing. Often when artists are responsible for multiple aspects of their albums one or all of those aspects falls short, this is definitely not the case during any point of “Somewhere New”. 

No Games is another standout; the funky, upbeat production (from Izzar and Treson Jamar) complements an almost cocky side of Izzar for a special kind of “look, I like you but quit playing” song. As hard as it is to choose, No Games is a top three pick from the album and I promise the more you listen, the more you’ll love it. Not to mention, it is immaculately placed between Blank Trip and Wav. Wav, also a standout, is one of the singles from “Somewhere New” and I can personally attest to how it can make any crowd come together and enjoy themselves, no matter when or where. The following three tracks are all standouts as well, yet another testament to the greatness of “Somewhere New”. Soon and Got It are guaranteed to take you to a new place in your life. An amazing place full of confidence. If you need affirmation that you’re headed in the right direction, Got It has quickly become something like an anthem for anybody who’s had the pleasure of hearing it. If you want to get to know Izzar this is the track you should listen to. Everything about his spirit comes through on Got It; he’s uplifting and appreciating his friends while making sure they understand they have a purpose to fulfill, just as he does. A specific line from Got It became a statement that I hold very close to me and make sure to repeat whenever possible: "shout out to the ones who always showing love. shout out to the ones who always showing up." Following Got It is Doubted, a track that slows things down a bit and does the most humble flexing I have ever witnessed. Izzar stakes his claim, asserts his belief in his talent and at the same time let’s everyone who doubted him know they can kiss his ass. Another side of Doubted is shown on the hook, a soft and ethereal display of want; want for love and support. 

 
Shout out to the ones who always showing love. Shout out to the ones who always showing up.
— Izzar Thomas - Got It
 

Closing the album is Somewhere New by Donte Newman which starts with a spoken word kick to the chest for damn near any and everyone. Whether the words he is speaking apply to you or not, they unearth some of the insecurities we all tend to come across. The idea that we may be holding ourselves back or not fulfilling our entire potential because of the status quo is brought front and center before Izzar blesses the track with his best rapping through the entire album. 

To start and end the album with title tracks that occupy opposite ends of the spectrum is nothing short of perfect. It says to me, wherever your somewhere new is, find it. Whatever it looks like and however you need to get there, do it. Plus it lends more hope to the world by asserting that you are always going somewhere new, you are always progressing and growing. "Somewhere New" is a beacon of light in what has been a crazy time for the world. Izzar Thomas utilizes every one of his talents - singing, rapping and producing - to share an idea that too often gets forgotten; you are capable. Period. There is no part of "Somewhere New" that gives country to negativity or hate. From the first second of track one to the final moment of the last, Izzar exudes confidence. Confidence in himself and his peers just the same. If you get a chance to catch Izzar in concert please do, his message is multiplied ten fold when he’s on stage ministering it to you himself. “Somewhere New” is one of my favorite and one of the best albums released in 2017. Not only is the product top notch, everything about it feels good. Personally, I listen to “Somewhere New” when life gets to an unsure place. When I start wondering about myself or my purpose Izzar Thomas talks me through it, providing perspective and a breath of fresh air in a world that gets hard to breathe in sometimes. 

Listen to "Somewhere New", below.

 

Come back tomorrow and every day in December for Year in Review!

 
 

Year In Review: "Sonder Son" @BrentFaiyaz

2017’s cup runneth over with good music, of all kinds.
From fun to enlightening. From singing to rapping.
From our hometown to yours and everywhere in between, we are dedicating the month of December to reviewing and reflecting on the music that helped make this year so important.
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Every day like clockwork at least one song from “Sonder Son” makes its way into my routine. Brent Faiyaz has a voice that immediately commands and proceeds to establish a stronghold on attention. The kind of attention that is not easily broken. Ironically, that voice doesn’t open the Sonder front man's debut, full length album. First a dog barks and a mother reacts to her son’s unacceptable grades. Then, that voice. One second I’m comfortable because I relate to his mother, as a mother whose son is always in something; the next, I am so uncomfortable, as a mother, that I want to turn the album off. Because hell, I really could hold my son more often. Faiyaz hits a combination of notes that could save the entire world from itself just before he says “there was a time where all I needed was a pencil just to keep the stresses of this cold world out my mental” and I am suddenly comfortable again. More comfortable than I’ve been in a while. Home.

One minute and 45 seconds into “Sonder Son”, I decided Brent Faiyaz was going to be one of my favorite R&B artists, ever. In that same time, I knew it was one of those albums I'd be telling my son he don’t know nothing about in 10, 15, 20 and 50 years.

To put my experience with “Sonder Son” in perspective, we haven’t made it to track two, yet.

“Sonder Son” came to me with perfect timing. A few albums released in 2017 seem to share that attribute and this particular one has established a place in my life as timeless. It is everything about every generation of R&B influence and none of it. Everything you’ve ever heard and nothing like anything in existence. Gang Over Luv paints a picture of who Brent is, who he was, where his priorities have been and the result of all those things. Faiyaz’s storytelling and delivery draw a Raphael Saadiq, “Instant Vintage” comparison then a school bell rings as Burn One begins and I am instantly transported back to when I first heard “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill”. It didn’t sound anything like either one of those albums. It didn’t feel like either one of them either but it made me feel the same way. Open. To whatever came next. And hanging on every word like it might just be the handle I need on life, to survive. To find fulfillment. Hell, to start the process of understanding fulfillment so maybe I can actually pursue that shit.

By the time First World Problemz was almost over, the thought to throw my headphones through a window tapped me on the shoulder. Why was this so damn good? How was I equally comfortable and uncomfortable? Why couldn't I turn it off? Then on the same track, Nobody Carez happened and, look. I got time today, and I have so many questions. For myself, for Faiyaz, for everyone.

Everybody want a motherf*cking Benz or Beamer. Designer sneakers. Ain’t no motherf*cking dreamers.
— Brent Faiyaz - Nobody Carez
Photo by Mark P. via brentfaiyaz.com

Photo by Mark P. via brentfaiyaz.com

Ain’t no dreamers.
People don’t give no fucks.
Do you give a fuck? Do you give a fuck about things that are worth giving a fuck about? The world gives less fucks and dreams less than ever, have we allowed ourselves to be a reflection of that? More specifically, how much has that careless, dreamless world molded how music is created and distributed? How much has it molded the way music is digested and appreciated? How can an art form founded in caring and dreaming function in a place that is intentionally void of both? Faiyaz says “maybe you just don’t know what to feel” immediately before asking “did you know that you were with the devil last night?” and I can’t help but perceive that as a direct reflection of how it must feel to exist in this world as an artist who dreams and gives a fuck.

“This world don’t love. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t hope it does...”

If you’re keeping count, by 12 minutes into “Sonder Son” I was ready to give Faiyaz every award and accolade that exists for making music. (Shoutout that Grammy nomination for Crew though.) 

Missin Out and Stay Down describe the pursuit, actualization and realization of love. The process of telling someone their life would be better with you in it, then being in their life, and feeling good about it “Got my heart jumpin like Jordans...” to seeking a sense of security, wanting to know they’ll stay down. Romantic love, career love, family love, friend love, “Sonder Son” conveys every aspect of love without ever fading into an obscure, cliché, overdone representation of it. LA demonstrates that as it back doors Missin Out and Stay Down with a shift in focus to the great and terrible realities Faiyaz has found while chasing dreams in LA: and being proud of it all because the alternative is "bored, broke and back at home." Talk 2 U should be a top 10 track played on every radio station in the world, if it’s not already. I should have researched that probably. Anyway, Talk 2 U is yet another example of how effortlessly Faiyaz is able to take musical influences, this time from late 90’s-2000’s R&B, and channel it into a completely unique, new sound.

Sonder Son Interlude instantly made me revisit Burn One because the most transparent, almost painfully introspective parts of the album come to a peak on both interludes. Faiyaz breaks down the entire spectrum of emotions in a minute and 40 seconds. Confidence, insecurity, love, fear and acceptance all manifest into a bold statement of principle. This is who I am, this is what I’m doing. “Don’t tell me enough is enough just ‘cause you ain’t the one...” I vividly remember being in the car with a friend en route to partake in hoodrat things with our other friends the first time I heard Sonder Son Interlude. We sat in awe and as drums quickly transitioned to the next track, Faiyaz began singing and we both made that stank face. Not just any stank face, THAT stank face. That stank face you can’t fake or prevent. That stank face reserved for the first time you hear a song that is so good, you’re basically disgusted. In the most amazing way.

You say you trust us but don’t pick the phone up. Act like we mean somethin to you...
— Brent Faiyaz - So Far Gone



That stank face was in reaction to hearing So Far Gone/Fast Life Bluez  which has been back and forth with one other as my favorite track on the album. “You say you trust us but don’t pick the phone up. Act like we mean somethin to you...” In my mind it was like Faiyaz was talking to one person as much as he was talking to everyone. Like he was talking to an entire genre or to someone he considers a friend. Like he was talking to his own mother or brother. How could anyone claim you’re important to them and leave you out here on your own? And how can you be so far removed from something you love so much? The second half of So Far Gone, Fast Life Bluez, churns the acknowledgment of being so far gone into a solid understanding that all of this is fleeting and vocalizes what it feels like to speed through life knowing there’s only one outcome.

As swiftly as Faiyaz addresses the facade of love and reality of death, Needed happens and he directly addresses those who see the light in you once it’s too late: especially once you’ve done great things for yourself, without them. It could be about an ex not appreciating you for what you are. It could be about friends. Family. Business partners. It could be about any of those people, about all of them. Whoever or whatever was unwilling to pour into you when you needed it the most while consistently returning to soak up your light. 

Everything about All I Want (my other back and forth favorite track) wrapped up “Sonder Son” immaculately. “I’ma be around cause I’m made for you, this ain’t just for show....” is one of those lines that put a feeling into words. One of those lines that moved me and gave me perspective on feelings I have been attempting to understand and convey for the longest time. After placing all of his emotions and doubt on a platter throughout the album, Brent Faiyaz ends it with an absolute declaration of desire and purpose, from an angle I have never heard before. Even as the final track plays and abruptly ends for the umpteenth time, I am unable to shake the idea of “Sonder Son” being Brent Faiyaz’s state of the union address, as an R&B singer. Maybe I assigned an underlying concept to the album that was never intended. Maybe I am the only one who feels that way. I am okay with that.

Sometimes I find myself on the fourth or fifth listen to “Sonder Son” in one sitting thinking, I have to know whoever is responsible for this, personally. How else would it so vividly reflect something in me? This is Brent Faiyaz’s story. This is who he is. “Sonder Son”. 

“Sonder Son”'s crowning achievement is how as a true, genuine R&B album, it does not live and die as a representation of romance or love. You don't need to be in love, or heartbroken, or trying to get the drawls to fully appreciate “Sonder Son”. It exists as a story that creates a space in which everyone can relate to it. Faiyaz's emotional transparency as it relates to literally everything elevates his raw talent to a level few R&B singers are ever able or willing to master. As honest, young and talented as Brent Faiyaz is, the industry would have seen fit to relocate him to a particular space in music and pay him pennies of what he is worth. And, no. Nah. 

Photo by Mark P. via brentfaiyaz.com

Photo by Mark P. via brentfaiyaz.com

“Sonder Son” is a refusal to comply when you don’t see fit. “Sonder Son” is self-realization. “Sonder Son” is an execution of both power and vulnerability, without compromise.

As a young, Black man in America putting every emotion, every bit of energy, every resource and every dollar into an art form brokered by people who confess their love for his art while downplaying his importance as an artist, Brent Faiyaz refused to waiver. “Sonder Son” could have been released through a major label. Instead, at 22 alongside his current manager, Faiyaz owns a self-funded business, Lost Kids, LLC, which provides Faiyaz and Sonder both the foundation for a completely self-sustaining career in music. Brent Faiyaz went into the creation of “Sonder Son” knowing what he wanted to create and that what he was creating was important, knowing people wanted to hear his music, knowing he had a fan base, knowing him and his team were fully capable of creating art that would feed them. By standing firm in his vision and his worth, Brent Faiyaz established his own freedom.

Brent Faiyaz and Sonder are in Houston February 13th and 14th and I cannot think of a better way to spend my 30th birthday and Valentine's Day, you care. 

Listen to Sonder Son on iTunes or Spotify.

Stream below. 

 
 

Come back tomorrow and every day in December for Year in Review!

Year In Review: "You Can't Make Me" @RIKKIBLU

2017’s cup runneth over with good music, of all kinds.
From fun to enlightening. From singing to rapping.
From our hometown to yours and everywhere in between, we are dedicating the month of December to reviewing and reflecting on the music that helped make this year so important.

A few weeks before Rikku Blu released his debut album “You Can’t Make Me” (YCMM), he was kind enough to send me an early preview of the album. While I could instantly tell the album was great, it seemed best to wait and fully appreciate the album upon its official release. It was tough because the album is so good but, it was worth it. During the days leading to the release, I made sure to listen to the tracks released via Rikki Blu’s soundcloud. As they digested then when YCMM dropped, Rikki Blu’s voice sounded more and more familiar to me. But everything about the album was so original, intentional and powerful, focusing on why he was familiar fell into insignificance. 

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Sitting with YCMM is necessary. Letting Dian’s Hymn, Go Awf and Life is Good serve their purpose, in order, prepares your mind to receive the array of truths Rikki Blu tears open as you move further into YCMM. Truths of being a Black man in America, truths of being an artist, truths of being a father. 

Every unique part of his lyrical style and element of his moving content shine through within the first three tracks. By the time Bruton Bazaar softly but surely sashayed into my headphones with Infntrydamier’s vocals offering a smooth sense of peace, I was somewhere between not knowing what was coming next and not caring. Not caring simply because all signs were pointing to YCMM taking control of my life for the next 30 minutes, no matter how I felt or what I expected. Plug, 50ft and Reign each focus on their own specific purpose and as each one comes and goes it is clear their purpose was achieved. Ironically, trying to assign the purpose that I received from these tracks (or honestly any of them) to what anyone else will receive would be amiss; you’ve got to experience it. By the time Reign ends, YCMM is halfway complete and one energy that continues to echo is one of unapologetic self awareness. 

Personally, Youth has been holding strong as my favorite from YCMM. There are more reasons than I could ever explain but the cadence and lyricism Rikki Blu exhibits are sure to resonate with anyone who loves good music, period. The deeper you get into YCMM, the more apparent it is that the person who created this knows exactly who he is. Whether a chuckle left in as an adlib or a series of unrelenting bars, Rikki Blu establishes himself as himself with exuding confidence. Confidence that is never demeaning, only inspiring. 

Rikki Wonder may be the single best representation of that confidence with Rikki Blu switching back and forth between rhyme schemes and cadences without missing a beat. Now YCMM is 10 tracks in and my head almost exploded trying to figure out how we got here so quickly and what was going to happen next. Molotov happened. Molotov is almost chaotic at every second. The beat, the rapping, there is so much going on and yet there is absolutely nothing messy about it. It is amazing. Both Molotov and the following track, Lvl.2, shake you to your soul no matter what part of hip hop appeals to you the most. They also set the stage for Wolfpack; a bass heavy banger that you need to run tell all your friends about. 

YCMM gets close to the end pretty quickly and I still couldn’t put my finger on why Rikki Blu sounded so familiar. But, Diabetes. One of the more mellow tracks on the album, Diabetes is a perfect transition from YCMM’s height of energy. YCMM’s last track is also the title track, YCMM begins with a haunting guitar and chant that bring in Rikki Blu for a final hurrah and I find myself on the final track on an album that has not once allowed space for broken attention. The stark finish that YCMM creates is something like a period on the end of a rock solid statement; “I’m only who I thought I’d be”. YCMM ends abruptly after pouring so much into anyone who’s listening and you kind of get that feeling of, is it really over?

As a lover of hiphop, YCMM is everything hiphop was ever intended to be. "You Can’t Make Me". It’s a statement, a truth, a realization and manifestation of power. In all of 37 minutes, Rikki Blu lays everything at your feet and insists that everyone understand, you can’t make me. Can’t make me do or say. Can’t make me compromise. Can’t make me into anything other than who I am. Anyone listening, in that same 37 minutes, can realize and manifest the same ideas and walk away with the mindset that nobody can make you. 

On listen two or three, trying to figure out who Rikki Blu reminded me of was the furthest thing from my mind, and that’s when it hit me. Years back I heard music he did with Chattanooga based artist Tut and The House. What escaped me for nearly two weeks was clear as day now and yet really didn’t matter. Not in a bad way, it didn’t matter because what Rikki Blu created with YCMM isn’t comparable to anything before it. I couldn’t help but be impressed by how an album with such manifold sound created a space for Rikki Blu to be singularly himself. One of the crowning achievements of YCMM aside from Rikki Blu’s uncanny ability to lyrically paint a visual is how well the album flows. Seamless transitions from track to track make it seem as if you are floating through the entire album and reach the end without ever realizing it. Now do what I know you want to do and listen to the entire thing all over again. 

Get "You Can't Make Me" on iTunes

Stream below. 

Come back tomorrow and every day in December for Year in Review!


Year In Review: "Still Waiting" @DarkskinDeVante

2017’s cup runneth over with good music, of all kinds.
From fun to enlightening. From singing to rapping.
From our hometown to yours and everywhere in between, we are dedicating the month of December to reviewing and reflecting on the music that helped make this year so important.

Devante (FKA Envy Hunter) is a great friend of mine. We are great friends because I heard his music one day then we talked about, now here we are.

First things first, you’d be hard pressed to find a pure spitter of higher quality than Devante, anywhere. And the progression his music has shown over the last few years is to be greatly appreciated. "Still Waiting" is a display of Devante’s transparent nature and raw lyrical ability; the production, supplied by Lix, is top notch and every second of the 10 track, 35 minute album is worth listening to. Really, really listening to. 

"Still Waiting" is one of those albums better appreciated in it's entirety from front to back, just as it is. At least the first time through. Skipping around could cause you to miss important parts of the story Devante is telling or under-appreciate the cohesive greatness of the album. There is a certain air of transparency through the entirety of "Still Waiting" that may make some uncomfortable. That is absolutely a part of what makes the album, and Devante as an artist, a strong force of every essential element of great hip hop. Hell, of great music period. 

There is no more appropriate way to begin an album like "Still Waiting" than a sample of Erykah Badu's Window Seat. Rightfully named Windows of My Soul, this intro finds Devante opening up his soul for anyone who is listening. His resonating voice and formidable words immediately command attention, not just ears. 

In case you pressed play on "Still Waiting" with any doubt to how talented Devante is, the moment he is done with Windows of My Soul, he starts spitting. Nah, let me say it again. He starts SPITTING. Without A Doubt, Night Show and Mindset are the definition of show and prove.  Mindset is a standout track that you may want to listen to a few times on repeat. As soon as you get to feeling comfortable, puffing your chest out, Devante's few moments of flex come to an end as quickly as they began with Savannah. Savannah comes in like a wrecking ball for your whole soul. After all those bars, an even more emotional aspect of Devante is opened up. What sounds and feels like a methodical shift in energy is yet another high point of "Still Waiting" and sets the stage for my personal favorite song on the album.

Jarele Taylor Photography

Jarele Taylor Photography

If you are just scrolling through this review....

DEVANTE - FEEDBACK FEATURING GEORGE YOUNG IS A TOP 5 TRACK OF 2017!


The combination of honesty and superb lyricism on Feedback still has me in awe when it comes on, which happens very frequently over here. Another moving aspect of "Still Waiting" is how natural it feels; Feedback is the perfect example of that. Devante spits an immaculate verse. Then the hook, then George Young spits an immaculate verse as well. Then the hook again. After that, the song fades out while I’m still wondering how I can live my life after this sort of emotional transparency has been laid on my ears. No part of "Still Waiting" feels forced; not one feature, not one beat, not one bar. As you move forward in the album that is even more apparent.

Still On It should be playing in all of your favorite clubs, honestly. It also marks the last feature on "Still Waiting" with show out performances by Mayalino and C-Striggs. The humble flexing done on Still On It creates a space for Devante to back door with even more fire. Friend Like Me and Look At What You Made Me Do are reminiscent of every artist you ever fell in love with, yet they hold their own and present a sound that is uniquely Devante. Both tracks make you take a step back and just, listen. Look At What You Made Me Do in particulate should be appreciated for the effortless way Devante gives us bar after bar packed with so many things we tend to disregard in everyday life. Not to mention the ode to HOV, it is flawless.

King is the first track I ever heard from "Still Waiting", sometime in early 2017, and from the intro to the first line, “ain’t that a b*tch how I been lacking inspiration lately?”, this song resonates to me stronger every time I hear it. Devante’s words on King surface a unique perspective on life and just, extisting that shouldn’t go unnoticed.

All in all, every part of "Still Waiting" is necessary. And dope. Listen to it in order, then go back and listen to whichever song caught your attention the most. Do this as many times as is necessary to process every part of it. Whether you are confident in where you are headed or weary from where you have been, Devante opens the floor for transparency and acceptance.  Devante’s "Still Waiting" is therapy and celebration, you shouldn’t finish 2017 without listening to it.

Stream below. 

Come back tomorrow and every day in December for Year in Review!