Album Review: Kendrick Lamar Reclaims Rap’s Throne with DAMN.

image

Unless you’ve been living under a rock since 2010, you may have a decent idea of who Kendrick Lamar is. Since his official label debut good kid, m.A.A.d city, Lamar has earned himself worldwide appeal as both a popular and conscious rapper. Now, two years since his genre-shattering To Pimp A Butterfly, Lamar has returned to the spotlight with DAMN., a record dense with personal reflection and exemplary production that once again establishes him as one of the all-time greats.

“So I was taking a walk the other day…” Kendrick starts DAMN. off with a short narrative in which he describes his own death. It seems that the remainder of the album revolves around Lamar contemplating his own life, considering if his life would have been worthy of living had he actually died. The album even reverses on “DUCKWORTH.”, the final track, and returns to where DAMN. started off. The song titles cut no corners; each previews the song’s subject matter. “HUMBLE.”, for example, delicately balances on Lamar’s own bravado and the constant reminder to “sit down” and “be humble.” Other tracks cut deeper. “FEAR.” outlines Lamar’s fears, including death’s unpredictability and of losing the fame and wealth he’s earned. The mood throughout the album sways between vulnerable and confident; it’s a blend of what made both To Pimp A Butterfly and good kid, m.A.A.d city unique. Despite relying on similar tones, Lamar delves into new topics and makes DAMN. feel just as unique as his previous two works.

Unlike To Pimp A Butterfly, DAMN. features a departure from jazz rap, rather fusing pop, electronic, alternative, and trap music into a refreshing sound that caters to Lamar’s versatility. The production credits are indicative of such; to name a few, James Blake, 9th Wonder, James Blake, Steve Lacy, and BADBADNOTGOOD all lend their production talents on DAMN. Each song is an otherworldly experience on its own, yet listened to side by side reveal the narrative of Lamar’s latest work. “XXX.” features perhaps the wildest beat switch (one of many) on the album, exploding from a dark, bass-driven beat into a flurry of sirens. Other highlights include “LUST.”, a song empowered by a delayed entry of the drums, and “PRIDE.”, whose guitar chords slow the pace to a melodic crawl.

To Pimp A Butterfly took some time to grow on me when I first heard it. I was initially disappointed because I was hoping to hear more tracks reminiscent of good kid, m.A.A.d city, but instead what I got was vastly opposite. Once I had come around to it, however, I learned that artists aren’t supposed to rely on formulaic music to become successful. Real artists grow and change; they learn and evolve to create new, exceptional music that keeps them one step ahead of the competition. Lamar’s competition, Drake, has fallen victim to this and chosen to stick to what works rather than take risks and mature as an artist. Lamar, on the other hand, continues to grow and surprise his fans, with each new album being more unprecedented than the last. DAMN. is a shining example of such. An album inspired by Lamar’s own life and attitude, it stands alone as a masterpiece and singular experience. Lamar continues to solidify his placement upon the Mount Rushmore of rap, and he will most certainly surprise us all with whatever he has planned next. Listen to DAMN. here.

Archie O’Dell

Check out more music and news from Rainy Dawg Radio @ RainyDawg.org!

Best Releases of the Week

This past Friday saw a hefty number of releases. Rather than attempt to write five or six album reviews this week and promptly self-combust, here are some mini-reviews of my favorite releases from last week.

Stormzy, Gang Signs and Prayer

image

I came late to the grime scene, but so far it has been merely decent. For those who don’t know, grime is a combination of electronic and hip-hop characterized by hard-hitting English MCs. Skepta’s Konnichiwa was the first full-length grime album I listened, leaving me slightly disappointed but curious about the genre. Stormzy’s new album, Gang Signs and Prayer, has proved that grime is a legitimate genre in the music industry and that it should not be meddled with. Stormzy delivers ruthless lyrics over raw, machine-like instrumentals, never wasting a breath. This album, unlike other grime projects, carefully balances the line dividing typical aggressive grime tracks and soft, stripped-back vocal tracks. Stormzy lends his singing voice on multiple tracks and impresses. Overall, a strong debut for Stormzy that puts an unconventional yet refreshing twist on traditional grime. Listen to Gang Signs and Prayer here.

Steve Lacy, Steve Lacy’s Demo

image

Two and a half months into 2017 and The Internet has already become very busy. They kicked off a tour last week and have already released three solo projects this year. Steve Lacy is the latest of the band to drop a project, following Syd and Matt Martians. Recorded entirely on his iPhone, Steve Lacy’s Demo sits at six tracks long (or short), and Lacy clarified on Twitter that the project is neither an EP or album, but a song series. Nonetheless, it’s lackadaisical style and lo-fi vibes provide a relaxing listen. Lacy’s guitar leads most of the songs, usually settling for a pairing with the drums or bass and not much else. The lack of variety seems daunting at first, but Lacy makes due with the tools at hand. Steve Lacy’s Demo is a short, sweet intro to The Internet’s youngest member, highlighted by his melodic vocals and lo-fi atmosphere. Listen to Steve Lacy’s Demo here.

Oddisee, The Iceberg

image

Oddisee continues to strengten his discography with his latest release, The Iceberg. His eleventh studio album tackles poverty, racism, and more ethical issues. He spits lyrics with sincerity and depth, quite possibly taking multiple listens to decipher. The instrumentals include bright horn sections; each song sounds like a crisp live rendition. The climax of the album occurs on “Like Really”, a low-key banger where Oddisee addresses everyday problems minorities face. The Iceberg proves to be another strong release in Oddisee’s ever-expanding discography. Listen to The Iceberg here.

Thundercat, Drunk

image

Thundercat finally returns with what will most likely be an album of the year contender, Drunk. At 23 tracks long (only 53 minutes total), Thundercat croons about losing friends, anime, masturbating, cats, and everything in between. He takes what made Apocalypse great (increased use of singing) and what made The Golden Age of Apocalypse great (bass solos and instrumentation) and combines them on Drunk, effectively creating an explosion of clever production and sweet, delicious vocals. Most tracks, unfortunately, are short, but each is still strong enough to stand up on its own. There are a lot of features, too, each which contribute to the song exactly as expected (even Wiz Khalifa, which isn’t really a good thing). Thundercat’s eccentric, unique style plays to his favor again on Drunk, coming through with the best release of the year thus far. Listen to Drunk here.   

Archie O’Dell                  

Check out more music and news from Rainy Dawg Radio @ RainyDawg.org!

Album Review: Syd Impresses As A Solo Act on Fin

image

Only a week after her bandmate Matt Martians dropped his solo debut The Drum Chord Theory, Syd has come forth with her own solo debut, Fin. The former Odd Future member has been all over some of last year’s biggest releases, featuring on Common’s Black America Again, Kaytranada’s 99.9%, and Little Simz’s Stillness in Wonderland. The time has come for her to release new music of her own, and needless to say it was worth the wait. Fin is a smooth, sensual ride that may not take many risks, but lives up to the hype of what listeners have come to expect from Syd.

The album takes off with what might be one of the best tracks, “Shake Em Off”. Syd addresses feeling frustrated and doubted by her haters, choosing to shake them off rather than give into the criticism. Syd rides over bubbly production accompanied by hard hitting percussion. The standout factor, however, is her voice. Syd consistently sounds angelic over the course of the 12-track album, utilizing falsetto tones and slightly lower vocals to showcase her incredible range. Her ability to carry a song on her own is apparent, yet some tracks include background vocals, like “Insecurities”. On these tracks, Syd remains the primary voice, and the background vocals only tend to come in for the chorus. They weren’t necessary for any song, but the addition adds a certain lushness to them that is more than welcome.

The album’s tone is surprisingly sexy. Multiple songs detail Syd romanticizing about women (“Drown In It”, “Body”, “Know”) or describing a trip to the strip club (“Dollar Bills”). Other songs go in opposite directions, favoring heavy beats as the driving force (“All About Me”, “No Complaints”, “Got Her Own”). This album, like Matt Martian’s, lacks a concept; some songs share themes but none of them can be connected as a whole. None of the songs take many risks sonically either; most can be traced back to other artists and a few could be mistaken for b-sides from The Internet. Syd’s otherworldly vocals make every song feel refreshing and new, despite her borrowing elements from present day hip-hop and her band.

Fin is a prime example of why more artists in group acts should be pursuing solo careers. While she does not try to convey a complex message or theme, Syd creates a collection of songs that are just flat out fun. One can’t help but sway to every song. Her melodic voice lifts each track to another level of sensuality and bliss, leaving the listener foaming at the mouth for more. Syd did herself and her fans a favor by leaving Fin nearly empty of features (Steve Lacy on “Dollar Bills” and 6LACK on “Over”). It’s time for Syd to be in the spotlight, as she has proved on this album. Listen to Fin here and catch Syd opening for her band, The Internet, on March 17 at The Neptune.

-Archie O’Dell

Check out more music and news from Rainy Dawg Radio @ RainyDawg.org!

Album Review: Matt Martians’ The Drum Chord Theory

image

The Internet blew me away with Ego Death in 2015. The album was cohesive, masterfully produced, and showcased the talents of each individual in the group. Now, two years later, the members of The Internet have decided to take a break from their group act and pursue their solo careers. The first of The Internet to release a solo project is Matt Martians, the group’s keyboardist. His first solo album, The Drum Chord Theory, can easily be traced back to the sound of his collective, but he also manages to venture into areas unknown and take the listener on a psychedelic-albeit scattershot-journey.

One of the most striking characteristics of the album is its dependency on the drums. Despite Martians experience with the piano, the drums play a larger role in driving each song forward and maintaining the melody (if the album title wasn’t already a giveaway). That’s not to say that Martians doesn’t utilize his piano skills or experiment with other instruments. The instrumentals on the album take a hefty amount of risks, most of which pay off. A majority of the time they take precedence over Martians’ singing, playing long before and after Martians sings. One song in particular, “Where Are Your Friends?” sounds like it was intentionally recorded in a factory, with the instrumental miming the sounds of hammers and whistles. The sound of that would normally be annoying, but Martians uses the sounds to add a playful mood to the song. Others don’t pay off as well, like on “Alotta Women/Useless”, where the piano chords overwhelm the other instruments and Martians’ repetitive lyrics wear themselves out.

This brings me to one of the significant issues with The Drum Chord Theory. Martians depends too much on the instrumentation to create a quality song. Each unique instrumental is paired with lyrics that are too sparse or shallow to derive any meaning from. Take the song “Found Me Some Acid Tonight”; Martians repeats “I found me some acid tonight/And we gon’ trip to the other side” before the song abruptly cuts off. This is not the only instance where Martians is caught repeating himself, and it continually dulls down the album to the point of boredom.

Martians also lacks a concept to attach to his album. He mostly croons about love and his search for the perfect companion, but never really connects these songs together to create an overarching theme. Concept albums aren’t a mandatory staple of the music industry, but it helps to have an idea that the artist can work around and build off of for an album. J. Cole comes to mind when thinking about this, as he did a fairly nice job with a concept on his latest album 4 Your Eyez Only, choosing to base the album off of his friend’s death.

Despite the issues with The Drum Chord Theory, Martians has released a solid album. Numerous songs include inventive beat changes that force the listener to stay on their toes. The groovy bass and guitar lines sound reminiscent of Thundercat and Tame Impala. Martians’ features absolutely crush their appearances (Steve Lacy and Tyler, the Creator produce; Syd, Steve Lacy, and Kari Faux feature). The lyrics, however, are nothing to ride home about and hang on the verge of redundancy. The absence of a concept also makes the album impossible to comprehend as one single work. The Drum Chord Theory doesn’t break the stratosphere, but it’s not supposed to. This album has proved Martians’ potential, and that we should be prepared for what he has to come. Listen to The Drum Chord Theory here and catch The Internet at The Neptune on March 17.

Archie O’Dell

Check out more music and news from Rainy Dawg Radio @ RainyDawg.org!