H.E.R. - H.E.R. VOL. 2
by Alexa Byrd, ATL
Volume 2 is an ideal album for a young female that is or has been in a relationship. I found that the lyrics on each song were very relatable in one way or another. The album gave off lots of old R&B vibes. Whoever “H.E.R” is, she has a very nice voice, and she showcased her nice range in songs like “Every Kind of Way” and “Changes.” Most of the tracks were very relaxed and mild, but they each contained explicit lyrics. I find it interesting that she is hiding her identity given how much talent she has. In a way, it is nice to just listen to the music without having other factors in mind. Overall, Volume 2 was really good and I will definitely be going back and listening to volume 1. H.E.R. has a great sound, and I enjoyed listening to her vocals on each and every track.
russ - there's reallY a wolf
by Tim Perry, ATL
When I first undertook this task, I had no intention of writing a review that felt in anyway angry or one that lends itself to being persecutory, but after listening to this album my feelings on this have changed –so if the container in which you keep your opinions is fragile, this might be a good time to turn back.
Let me start by saying that I heard a few Russ songs here and there, never a full project, and didn’t think much of his music. He has a few catchy songs that have surfaced over this past year (all of which made the final cut on this album). I was aware that he was from Atlanta despite it not being apparent in his production style or flow, which is completely alright; I’m just relaying my observations.
The album is 20 records in length, and from what I comprehend, all of the production, writing, vocals, mixing, and mastering was handled by him. I know that sounds impressive on paper, but that has no practical application, it makes the album ashy as phuck. Every song is repetitive, meaningless banter aimed at nothing and nobody. How can every single one of the songs be about him patting himself on the back for the little bit of success he’s accumulated? That’s like if Eminem made an entire album about how he ironically like skittles more than M&M’s, not that he doesn’t like M&M’s, just not as much as skittles. Okay, it’s really not like that at all but I’m trying to make a point about how purposeless this album is. Every song has a reference to another song on the album, who does that?This album is annoying. Russ isn’t Atlanta; he isn’t hip hop.
I really wanted him to be good. I wanted him to be more than what he is, but he has demonstrated his maximum potential on this album.It sucks. I know. Maybe I’m wrong –but probably not.
SZA - CTRL
by Jarrett Lampley, LA
After a series of stories and situations regarding TDE songstress SZA’s freshman album and it’s seemingly eternal delay, we finally got our hands on Ctrl at the beginning of June; and in my opinion, it was completely worth the wait. I must say that I’ve been a huge fan of SZA since she came out with TDE and dropped her EP Z with some of my favorite songs such as “Ur” and one of my favorite slow bop-worthy tracks “Babylon” featuring her TDE counterpart Kendrick Lamar; and even had the chance to see her beyond dope performance when she was opening for Jhené Aiko back in 2013 which left me in shambles. I, much like many of her fans, slowly got more and more impatient as time went on and delays continued being announced as one would expect. The collaborations she did were cool, and the occasional Soundcloud drop was something; but I didn’t hear something that made me truly excited for Ctrl until “Drew Barrymore” was produced. I could feel the ways in which it reengaged the SZA that I was familiar with when Z dropped; and brought me back to the first time I saw her live. Followed with “Love Galore” featuring Travis Scott which I can confidently say is one of my top tracks of 2017, not only did I know that Ctrl was coming but also that it was going to snatch me hard; and it did. The emotion she poured into every single track on this album, combined with the incredible lyrical content, dope production and the artistic vision behind the album as a whole gave us an album that I simply love. One thing that immediately caught my attention was her interesting transitions between the content of the songs; in some, she sings from the perspective of a side chick while in others she takes on the position of a woman being cheated on. Listening to the album in full, a conversation plays out between the two personas that she takes on; and in whole gave me a contemporary “That Boy Is Mine.” Highlights of the album are definitely Love Galore, Go Gina and Doves In the Wind feat. Kendrick Lamar; with my top two tracks being the new side chick anthem “The Weekend” and the soulful closing ballad “Twenty Something.” In the most succinct words, this album was dope. I’m so excited to see how SZA brings these songs to life in live performances, for in my opinion it can do nothing but further the amazingness of this album.
Kendrick lamar - damn.
by Kyra Williams, NY
I don’t think I’ve ever felt more shook about an album in my life. First off, if that “BLOOD.” intro didn’t trip you up then nothing will. Matter of fact, add the second half of “DNA” to the list of the most trippy song elements ever. Kendrick’s ability to keep the anticipation between each track with the interludes full of ear tickling panning, delay, and layered voices is unmatched. Overall, I just wasn’t ready for the magic Kendrick unleashed on us. His woke lyricism coupled with the jazz influenced instrumentation, classic hip hop drum choices, vocal pitch shifting, reverses, and sampling is a musical combination only he can pull off. He reminds me of the late 80’s and 90’s era of hip-hop when there was nothing like anything that came before it. Today the industry can get caught up in following the success model of any sound, producer, or artist and forgetting that pushing the culture forward is important. It’s refreshing to see that Kendrick isn’t worried about industry politics and instead sonically and intellectually blows your mind all the time. The Public Enemy-esque “XXX.” track featuring U2 is a prime example of the beautiful unpredictability that is Kendrick Lamar; paying homage to hip hop history yet in a lane of his own, keeping you on your toes every second, every word, every layer to catch the entirety of his message. It’s a message so relatable, a message that we know as the story of the black American experience which he tells in a scattered but straight-forward manner. It’s all connected but so separate, just like we are as a country. DAMN. is an album you have to live with to fully understand and you’ll enjoy every moment of it because it’s a complex, timeless, cohesive, and balanced piece of art. And because it’s worth my time, I’m still trying to capture all of it’s essence listen after listen.
2 chainZ - pretty girls like trap music
by Kyra Williams, NY
A while back Minister Farrakhan mentioned talking to 2 Chainz about using his influence to positively affect the black community. This album is definitely his first step towards doing that through music. Pretty Girls Like Trap Music gives us more of a spiritual and motivational side to 2 Chainz that’s interweaved into a trap vibe. It feels as if he’s using the trap life as a foundation for something more despite the surface level album title. He’s providing a window into his life story, musically describing his upbringing, family, and the struggles he faced track by track. And while doing so, he includes aspects of hope, pride, resilience, and stability that portray where he is currently. Although he has songs like “Good Drank” on this project, “It’s a Vibe” more than a turn up album. It’s an album that shows that there’s more than the trap hustle, there’s more to any hood life as long as you “believe in yourself” as he sings in “Rolls Royce Bitch.” The way he portrays these messages isn’t overbearing at all and I commend him for that. I commend him for doing something different in his career content-wise. But I feel like he fell short with the uptempo records that we know he can bring to the table like “Birthday Song” that still goes hard since 5 years later. He gives us mid-tempo head nod bangers instead. Pretty Girls Like Trap Music might have been too much of a shift too soon for him, but it’s still a good album.
gorrilaz - humanz
by Mason Murphy, ATL
The last time we heard Gorillaz was about 7 years ago. 7 years of sonic evolution has occurred and they don't seem phased. Gorillaz make diverse features work in their favor almost every time on Humanz. They always seem to make something or have a product that translates well to people in both current times and future audiences regardless of age and gender, so I see a Grammy in its future. Humanz gets a 5 based on production of all varieties and beautifully placed and orchestrated features.
wale - shine
by Tim Perry, ATL
If you know hip-hop then you know that Wale is probably one of the most underappreciated artists to have ever play the game. There’s always a lot of ambiguity surrounding Wale and his legacy, by which I mean you’re either on one of two sides of the argument. Either you’re of the opinion that it was just bad luck that he came in the game at the same time as J Cole and Kendrick Lamar because he would inevitably be overshadowed, or you believe that had he not come in the game at the same time as Cole and Kendrick, he would have easily have been forgotten. Personally, I’m an advocate of the former.
He has the records to show it. Gifted was in the top 3 rap albums to have come out in 2013 even when he was competing with the likes of Kanye, Cole and Kendrick. That album is good. And if that weren’t enough he goes even higher on his Album About Nothing. The industry however has not been kind to Wale, and he hasn’t not been quiet about it either. I think J Cole best summed up the plight of Wale on his second verse of False Prophets. The toll it takes on the DMV rapper is apparent on his most recent installment, SHINE.
On this album, Wale claims to have turned a blind eye to the usual plight he often struggles with, but personally I’m not buying it. SHINE has some really good, not great, songs that force you to flirt with the possibility that Wale the rapper is gone forever. I think maybe the industry has molded him into the artist that they needed out of him which is a damn shame because he had the potential to make great strides and do great things. Having said all those sad things, SHINE is very happy. There’s nothing wrong with the album, but is seems like he’s aiming to be the same artist type as Drake. SHINE is like a watered-down version of Drake’s More Life –which is an exaggeration, but at the same time it isn’t. Look at the features and tell me he is still confident holding his own. I think the industry really broke him. That’s why it’s hard for me to appreciate this album; to me it sounds like he’s singing that same way a battered woman is frowning behind her smile. I know this is probably too heavy an analogy for an album review, but that should just illustrate how much I care about music and the artists that come attached to them.
To surmise, if you liked Wale before SHINE you might have mixed feelings about his latest studio release, however if you only listened to him casually, then this might be your favorite Wale project yet. You are either on one side of the argument.
logic - everybody
by Mason Murphy, ATL
T.I.T.S, his first sophomore project and concept album, was by far Logic’s best album to date, and it had an incredible concept to it. Going into 2016 and hearing that he was going to release another concept album wasn't the worst thing ever, but then we got the album and although it's not bad it's not good either. Who am I kidding? This album was a flop on Logic’s part. The album Everybody wasn't originally supposed to be about everybody. In fact, it was supposed to be a tale about being black and white, dawning the name Africaryan; however, the project name took heavy criticism from people and artist alike. It only made sense that the album received a name change and possible track changes as well as a result. I'm not saying that's the reason this album was bad, but it's a reason. Nothing is saving this project other than its beautiful and at times immaculate production (6ix is a beast on the boards). Logic was scatter-brained in his ideas going from talking about his past to talking about current issues to depression? He should have stuck to one idea and rapped about it, not talking or doing voice overs; Logic should have let Neil deGrasse Tyson, who was already on the album, do that. If I hear another rapper just talking over dope instrumentation, I'm gonna be pissed. I'm not saying there weren't good cuts on this album either, but the scatter-brained mood messes the albums flow all the way up. If I could rate this album separately from the production, I would, but as Ugly God says, "If I could I would, but I can't so I ain't.” This album gets a 3 simple because Josh made me round it from my original rating of 2 ½. SMH, nothing on the album could save it, even the secret bonus verse from J.Cole.
Second Quarter Picks
by Jarrett Lampley, LA