itzme Review: Dave B – Punch Drunk

Former soundcloud crate-digging gem, Dave B, releases his first commercial project, Punch Drunk. It shows a progression all of the previously displayed strengths of Dave B’s music, but doesn’t improve much on the weaknesses. This makes a decent showing for new listeners, but familiar ears may be disappointed in the lack of growth. Punch Drunk (apart from its successors) holds its own, though.
The standout feature of the album is consistency of effective, memorable, and melodious choruses throughout it. Where the verses are generally a blended cluster of words in an interesting cadence, the hooks are quotable word-for-word in a singalong quality. The album opens with a very bright, cheery, and upbeat “Outside” (arguably the best track). It has a two-part hook starting out with a punchy chant “Sho’ nuff!”

 

then switching to singing and harmonizing that’s very hard not to recite. A good chunk of the hooks follow a similar format. The only hook (more of a bridge) that could be passed on is in “Navy” which has dull wordplay, and a flimsy metaphor.


In fact, most of the lyrics here are something to glaze over. While it manages to avoid cringeworthy material, “Punch Drunk” gives no real story or insight. It’s hard to take away much, if anything, from the lyrics. Like in “Cheap Sofa”, initially he seems to be talking about drug dealing, but when he reverts to talking about women, then bragging about his rapping it really just turns into word gumbo.

Fortunately, there’s a few interesting and funny moments with Dave’s carefree and lustful personality. A crazy example is in “Rain” where he says, “her intentions so precious, she be like, ‘You wan’ f**?’ I’m like ‘Eh, why you even bother asking? I’m with that!’” Or in Polaroid where he concisely (relative to the rest of the album) praises a woman’s beauty: “The best bread is ready, we netflixin’ heavy, the double D’s is right, that Ed, Edd, and Eddy.”
Sonically, Dave’s delivery, melodies, and rhythms mesh well with the instrumentals. The beats all set a mood and usually have some cute sample and simple drums. Not much else to admire besides that though.
Overall, Punch Drunk is for anyone who wants to sing along to some catchy, moody tracks without really thinking about what they’re listening to. Because Punch Drunk really doesn’t challenge the listener in that way unless he/she is looking for something they won’t find. Musically, it’s incredibly listenable, and Dave’s flow is undeniable.

It’s cool.

Favorites: “Outside” “Rain” “Polaroid”

Could be skipped for eternity, and I’d never look back or regret:  “Navy”

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itzme Review: Benjamin Starr – Free Lunch

In the wake of many racially charged occurrences in America, hip-hop (along with many other things) has been more vocal about overcoming racial barriers. The music has been used as a means to display pride and rich culture that’s impossible to hide. That being said, nothing is more topical than the album “Free Lunch”. Free Lunch expresses hunger, self-love, and a passion to fight injustice with the will of a warrior king. Benjamin Starr reveals his self, his passion, his mic skill, his pride, his culture, and his versatility in this project.
As indicated by the album, cover, Free Lunch is a montage of Afrocentrism. “Movies” is an elegantly-stated listing of people and incidents related to police brutality, civil rights, and black art. “Play me the truth, and let me groove with it”. Furthermore, Starr’s voice is just as potent and impacting as the activists that he borrows quotes from. He viciously rips oppressors with bars like “burn the confederate flags ‘til they feel me” and “I came explicitly to challenge history”. In the “Within, Him” spoken word interlude, his stanzas paint the picture of the history behind America’s brainwashed (or whitewashed) antiblackness; and mentions rich history and culture that instills pride in spite of that. Starr consistently and boldly delivers defiance towards prejudices and stereotypes throughout this album. This along with his everpresent reverence for his roots and culture gels the album together.
Free Lunch is as much about Starr himself as it is anything else, though. He expresses his faith on “Seventh” along with other songs throughout the album. In “Seventh” as well as “Tuxedos” he details his struggles to succeed and become greater. “Wonderful Love” is a celebration of a love through both hard and good times. Starr gives listeners himself going through many downs, but still withholds the personality of a man standing tall. Such gives him a charisma, and makes you feel close to him beyond being a “rap activist” in a manner of speaking.
Beyond being an activist and a person, Free Lunch shows Benjamin Starr to be an artist: a poet and technician, as well as one with a keen ear for instrumentals. In the aforementioned song, “Wonderful Love”, Starr’s bluntly stated chorus is “woman, you’re wonderful”. With the following sax notes jumping for joy, he plants the seed of profound admiration for this woman. “Grace” is reminiscent of a fashion of holy hip-hop tracks. The thumping bass, horns, and opera choir gives it the epic sound of going to war. That coupled with his aggressive delivery and cadence lights a fire in one’s soul. Of all the songs in the album, “Grace” displays his hunger the most (fitting, as the chorus uses eating a meal as a metaphor) his technical skills are off the charts in this joint (e.g. “Black angels in my chambers of commerce, concerts in my converse, rallying the converse(?), Yes God’s great…” Rapping in a 4-4, he spits two internals is the first quarter of a bar [angels, chambers], uses “commerce” as an end rhyme, then rhymes it twice more before the bar ends. Afterwards he continues the rhyme, and transitions mid-bar).
Starr’s lyrical prowess thrives in its variety as much as anything else. As stated before, he shows art in expression with his spoken word pieces, but he also displays a battle-rap reminiscent wit, impressive wordplay, and cinematic storytelling. The evidence is laid bare throughout the album, from the tales in “Mirrors” to the clothing-related wordplay in “Tuxedos”.
Starr’s quote on this album sums it up perfectly. It represents not only an evolved hip-hop artist, but an evolved black man. The versatility in sounds, subjects, and skill that this album shows along with the personality and passion make it a modern masterpiece. Free Lunch is an enjoyable and compelling album from front to back and it has a strong sense of purpose. Any fan of hip-hop should love this album.

Coldest Tracks: “Tuxedos”, “Grace”, “Seventh”, “Black Owned”, “Love, For You”

Eh Songs: “2 Faces”

Itzme Review: Common – Nobody’s Smiling

Nobody’s Smiling is Common’s comeback in an age where Chicago’s hip hop scene is incredibly active and furthermore has a negative image centered around violence. In this joint he grazes the topic of the suffering of Chicagoans due to crime, drugs, and violence. Such parts are the highlight of the album, in contrast to most of the rest of it.
“The Neighborhood”, “Kingdom”, “No Fear”, “Nobody’s Smiling” (the song), all embody the spirit of the album. They carry much of the weight of the album. These songs are stories or settings that give a vivid view of the street life in Chicago, and the real feelings of someone personally dealing with it. Lil Herb’s verse is the ideal representation. In the opening tracks he supercedes Common with so much heart, in a way that cannot be described. You’d have to hear his voice. Even beyond such delivery, lines like

I’ve been out there three days and I got shot at three times
Felt like every bullet hit me when they flew out each nine
I be happy when I wake up and I have a free mind

― “The Neighborhood” by Common

draw empathy from listeners.
The filler is hardly as impressive as a whole. There are decent moments, though, such as “Hustle Harder” which is the typical “yeah she’s the baddest chick” type of track. Common showcases a lot more flair and flow in that track than most of the rest of the album. The song as a whole (including Dreezy’s verse) has a sassy groove to it. The premise bears familiarity to fellow Chicagoan MC Tree’s song “Uh Million.” In the filler part of the album, Common also swings a decent braggadose with “Blak Majik” and “Speak My Piece”. The former features some aight melodic spitting from Jhene Aiko.
It only gets worse from there. The other unthemed moments are simply painful. “Diamonds” just seems to be put in to include a former labelmate. Sean’s chorus is light on the catchy, and heavy on the annoying with the wailing and cartoony yelps. The song as a whole just doesn’t earn its existence. Even Common’s bars come across as dull and uninspired, as forecasted by his opening line:

I wrote this on my born day, it was a warm day
― “Diamonds” by Common

They come across this way in a lot of parts throughout the album too, not just “Diamonds”. In “Rewind That” despite the emotional connection to the topic, he struggles with parts of his verses, sounding like an amateur.
A lot of the young rap features shined over the vet. As previously stated, Lil Herb did his thing with the delivery; Malik Yusef showed off killer wordplay with his spoken word; Vince Staples’ verse was rhythmically impressive. Non-coincidentally, these are among the best songs on the album and fit into the main idea behind Nobody’s Smiling. In interest of “quality control” one could say this album was better off as a 4-track EP that focused on the theme. The extra songs just weigh it down to mediocrity.
Nobody’s Smiling gives a slight breeze from its peak.
Favorites: “Kingdom” “The Neighborhood”
Terrible Songs: “Diamonds” “Diamonds” “Diamonds” and “Diamonds”

Itzme Review: Ab Soul – These Days…

Ab-Soul has his sophomore album release after two years. Many have come to love and enjoy Ab’s music by being introduced through the “Ab-Soul Outro” on Section.80, and his excellent last release Control System. Besides being associated with a popular group of emcees, he’s also known for his cleverness in his lyrics. Despite this, Ab-Soul has failed to deliver on his new album after proving himself so well. Let me take you to a land void of any profoundness, creativity, soul, and personality (and overpopulated with obscure Jesus comparisons); the place on the cover art.

I don't even think a roach can survive out there

Just look at it, there’s no support of life.

These Days is jam-packed with cliché and unoriginality. A prime example is the halfway point of the album, “TWACT”, where listeners are given a My Krazy Life reject song with a corny catchphrase that’s doomed to never catch on. On “World Runners” Ab-Soul shows you how well he can mimic a mainstream faux-inspirational rap song. Even with the song’s blurred message, he manages to come across extremely preachy. Soul even directly copies his groupmate Kendrick Lamar with the “Kendrick Lamar Interlude” the antithesis of the Ab-Soul outro.

The lack of creativity doesn’t just stop with the mimicry, but also in damn near every single chorus/bridge on the whole album. The majority of the hooks on the album consist of Ab-Soul repeating a very short phrase over and over and over and over again. And even on the ones with a little variation (emphasis on little), they fail to cross the line from annoying to catchy. Hooks are only one part of the song, but Ab made sure to put this in his verses as well. The automatic skip and epic streak-ender of the “Druggys with Hoes” series known as “Hunnid Stacks”, features two of the same verses by the same rapper–oh wait…

“Feelin’ Us” also repeats the cycle of painful repetition to the maximum with the quadruplets of “raise your hands, say Soulo hoe” and “now mama don’t cry no mo’” randomly slapped in the middle of his verses.

The part where this redundancy fails where most hip-pop tracks don’t fail as hard, is that the latter’s beats are usually more moving. A handful of beats on her are pretty good, but none exceed any expectations.

Ab-Soul struggles with structure in his latest release. Proof is the scatterbrained-ness of “Nevermind That” with BJ the Chicago Kid singing so sweetly at the most random times. “Nevermind That” just screams tourrettes, with its left-field breaks and tempo. There’s also the needlessly long beat ride-outs on “Ride Slow”. The biggest surprise of These Days is that almost all the songs are aimless and have no feeling. In the Black-lip Pastor’s previous works, he were a lot of self-expressive works: songs like “Book of Soul” and “Be A Man”. As mentioned in the intro, this album is void of that.

I don't even think a roach can survive out there

I don’t even think a roach can survive out there

Fortunately, the song “Closure” prevents the album from being completely soulless. It’s actually one of the few good songs on the project, which is ironic because it’s an all singing song on a rap album.

“Tree of Life” sounds like an adventurous soundtrack to Ab’s exploration of the multiple definitions of “tree”. “Stigmata” was a rather appropriate title single to the album, especially when it cut out the ending verses for the video, because it’s a pretty good beat and verse with an epic hook that goes against the grain of this album.

“Ride Slow” features the Hybrid picking up slack with a verse that takes you back the good times of 2012, when he wrecked every instrumental he spit on. And the album ends with a rap battle where clever bars are exchanged between Ab and Daylyt—something different. These moments are to few and far between to redeem all the faults of These Days, however.

One can really tell that an album is lacking when it’s more exciting to talk about why it was bad, than to talk about the actual album itself. There are plenty of theories,

absoultweet

but at the end of the day the album remains disappointing. It contains a few rare peeks of what Soul is actually capable of. Perhaps These Days is Ab-Soul’s discographical death so he can rise again.

Room temperature at best.

Favorite Songs: “Closure” “Tree of Life” “Stigmata” “Just Have Fun” Danny Brown’s verse in “Ride Slow”

Songs That Blew Me: Almost everything else

Stay Frosty.

Itzme Review: Alex Wiley – Village Party

“Bout to bring that turn up to your city.” Lyrics vividly describe the objective of Alex Wiley’s music. Wiley’s a Chicago rapsinger, using one of the standout styles of Chicago hip-hop music. People are getting hip to him gradually, and there are two sharply contrasting viewpoints on him: total adoration or disapproval, the latter being related to his word choice. That’s a concern for someone else though.

Village Party is a tracklist tailor-made for live performances. It’s filled with hype stadium-entrance type songs and catchy chants you can see a huge crowd of people singing along to. Therein lies the strength and the weakness to Village Party. It’s super-fun to listen, sing, dance, and rapsing along to. “See the Day” is going to get that body moving, “Ideas” is will get the crowd hopping and bopping, “Ova” will have somebody doing the cooking dance. It’s fun as hell, but one-dimensional.

Some of the tracks are a bit less hype and more ambient, but the general feeling is still the same. The subjects of the songs aren’t concise, and generally graze over the same few topics like unsupportive homies from around the way, him being a sick rapper (which isn’t untrue skillwise), and not digging labels much. As a result, listeners just hear a super rapping-singing machine and not much of the real Wiley and his personality.

To elaborate on the “super rapping-singing” part, Wiley is just a supreme vocalist. His flow is transcendent. His singing voice is pretty good, and is used effectively throughout this tape (and really any other song I’ve heard him on). He uses a sprechgesang technique reminiscent of other Chicago rappers, but does it in a way that really makes him stand out.

Personally, I’d like to see him use this talent to fill out his songs more. Village Party’s songs are ridiculously short, and even with that duration seem to have one really high and exciting part of the song. Then the rest of the formula is some catchy part and a chant or ad-libs to pad it out. For instance, “Ova” which is super catchy and has an impressive melody, barely hits a minute without an abundance of “aye”’s at the begging and end of the song.

Overall Village Party is a relatively good and fun album. It fits perfectly well as a playlist for his live performances. I can’t imagine anyone not having a good time at a Wiley show listening to these. However, it falls short on the versatility end and doesn’t show much depth.

Cool enough.

My Favorites: “Ova”, “#takeoff #takeoff”, “Vibration”

Yeeeaaaaaauh

Itzme Review: Big KRIT – #WeekofKRIT

After some slightly underwhelming efforts of the Mississippian emcee, Big KRIT smashes on the game with the Cadillactica prequel and hype-builder titled: #WeekofKRIT. This collection of 6 songs, plus a trailer and documentary (which we’re not talking about right now) is absolutely excellent. It easily raises the bar for anyone putting out some content in the near future. The beats are all just so awesome, and the songs are otherwise well-composed. Not all of them really talk about something, but they still maintain that impressive musical element.

The first of his onslaught of gems is the “New Agenda” joint with rap’s favorite [living] fatboy. Some groovy head-bobbing trunk blasting music that you’ll expect from Big KRIT with some jazzy flavor sprinkled in. Both KRIT and Rozay ride the beat in catchy fashion, particularly rhythmically on that drop in the verse. And you never get a Ross verse without a quick reference to some lemon pepper wings.

The transition on the last verse is just icing to the definition of KRIT’s producing genius.

Next up is the Conscious Effort freestyle. You can tell, the opening ish-talk was inspired by recent collaborator, Z-ro. But anyway, this song is on some slight stuff. Really simple, yet likeable, instrumental loop with a relatively clever freestyle layered over. You get aggressive boasts and a rare punchline from Big KRIT like:

“If I say I’m poppin’ fo’ sho’, you’ll probably think I’m fryin’ fish

…Maybe I was ***,

cuz dropping a boombox in your bathtub is the only way you could buzz more”

Awkwardly executed, but I dig it. Like I said, this song was just some slight stuff.

Laclaclaclaclac slammin’ doors and uh… This is the jam. Has that really old-school southern feel to it. This song feels like some old school UGK blended with some throwback Bone with that Ferg verse in it. Well… almost. The A$AP representer delivers a cold fast-paced flow, but then reminds you why you often don’t take him seriously with rudimental lines like, “I can see you haters from here, I can spot you out of my chair”

Still something you can ride slow to though.

Whoooo lawd, Wolf on Wallstreet has that sound that should earn it as many awards as the movie it shares name with. Bruh, this joint SLAPS. It’s gon have your grandmother doin triple backflips and whatnot. I don’t know how KRIT and Childish Major made this beat together, but boy did they kill it. First UOENO, and now this? If you don’t have an eye on Childish Major right now, you slippin.

Then step into the 3-man spitfest with frequent collaborators: Big Sant and Smoke DZA. The song is ridiculous honestly. Those drums are just so active on this joint, they chill for a few seconds then go ham. The dinging noise filled into those intervals almost too nicely. I literally cannot explain to you how bombastic this beat is. Then to match, you get three incredible verses as well. KRIT puts pressure on you fools with some aggressive delivery, and Big Sant continues the legacy with that same intensity added along with some lewd, but effective rhyme schemes. Then Rugby Thompson cruises in on the chill tip, and Mortal Kombat finishes it by going in on the drop. Mm mm mm.

Last, but not least, Egyptian Cotton. Actually, Egyptian Cotton is the most impressive song out of this collection. KRIT expresses the feeling of living with and without luxury. The song sounds like some fresh, sleek, satin-type stuff. I don’t know what Egyptian cotton feels like, but this song makes it sound like the materials for Heaven’s best tapestries. This is one of Big KRIT’s best songs.

-itzme