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”

Advertisements

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”

Analysis | Soule – Dark Memories

“Dark Memories” by Soule is one example of an excellent hip-hop song that embodies a mood, tells a story, has clever and/or deep lines, and flows smoothly with back-to-back transitions. On top of that, it’s produced by the amazing Suede Moccasins who hooks it up once again. It possesses many of the things I love about hip-hop music, and one of the few songs I got excited about last year.

“Pray your clock shows hands in just one direction, cuz it’s hard for you to follow”

This bar directly references back to the hook where the character in the story (addressed in second person) has a lost concept of time, immortally unchanged like a ghost.

What’s also interesting about this bar is that it transitions perfectly into the verse in multiple ways.

It brings to attention the stagnant and lost mindset that the character has, which is the setting for this verse in the song. The actual mind of the character is drawn out like a tangible place. A place that is very rejecting, and deleterious of past memories. A very blank, lonely, and mundane state of mind that prefers being void from human interaction. This is described in the next line (among others):

“That’s what it’s like being a NEET,

then you get all neat”

A NEET(Not in Education, Employment, or Training) being a layabout who stays at home and doesn’t do much of anything, and rhyming with the homophone “neat” showing that they live unfulfilled and must occupy with idle cleaning. This also begins a very aggressive rhyme pattern:

“cleaning the house, the defeat,

makes you plow.

Don’t have the passion right now to”

The contrast of this bar from the non-rhyming of opening bar breaks listeners into the second verse and sets the pace for it. This bar is so aggressive for several reasons. First, that the rhyme scheme and cadence are very intricate, following an AA-BA-B-B pattern where house is used as an internal rhyme that is later pushed out as an end rhyme which sets the simpler pattern for the rest of the verse after a transition using another faster paced rhyme:

“talk with you, walk with you”

That point brings me to this: the sudden aggressiveness is the frustration of the narrator of dealing with this character. The first two lines are a very vague and somewhat glazed-over description that the narrator uses to describe the character’s mindset, but when digging deeper it becomes a source of frustration. Then the simplifying of the cadence/rhyme scheme is the calming down and acceptance of this setting. “Don’t have the passion right now” is a verbal sigh of exasperation and ceasing to struggle to hold onto the relationship. “talk with you, walk with you, do the same things like Geminis, how the stars move” is a very repetitive (yet not redundant) overstatement used as a device to show how close knit this relationship was. They talked together, they walked together, they were like twins. They revolved in the same pattern like the stars seem to do in the night sky.

Cleverly, this ties into an onslaught of astrology themed metaphors and references:

“I was a Leo in the sky, now I’m sagging like a Sag

reminiscing real hard on the year we have shared

that goes out to every astrological being that is there”

Pretty apparent, but this is saying this took a bit out pep out the speaker’s step. The wording, repetition and delivery makes the feeling come out of the words. “Leo in the sky” gives the image of a proud king of the jungle standing high over creation with utmost pride; whereas “sagging like a Sag” defines a lowly, rock-kicking persona (even further defined by the pet name for Sagittarius, which pronounces the ‘g’ differently). And “shared” was also spoken in a lower somber tone. yadayada

“you caught the arrow that cupid was trying to aim at your head

not your heart, that’s why you think too much instead.

‘Stead of staying in touch, you try to grow apart”

Adding to the setting of the character’s mindset, the speaker uses cupid’s aim as a metaphor for their approach to the situation. Their approach is loveless and riddled in overthink, making staying in touch needlessly difficult and frustrating.

“What does that say about us?

For real, you keep that state of mind I can’t trust

instead of making memories, you want memorials

everything I paved, you want to bury those”

That says the character wants nothing to do with this situation. As stated before, this person is “rejecting and deleterious”. The expression is that there is no good to be had from this situation, they are denying any chance of a positive relationship or hindsight. “Memories” could be a good remembrance of the experience, but instead the person desires “memorials”, as in dead. Buried. Everything built in the relationship, buried. This mindset drenched in overthink that destroys any “light” or positivity is like a betrayal to the speaker. Considering that once they were peas-in-the-pod or “like Geminis”, the fact that things are the polar opposite just makes the person impossible to trust (considering the diction “can’t”).

I feel like these lines are the key relation of the song to the title.

Be on the lookout for Soule’s Connection project.

Itzme Review: Diabolic – Fightin’ Words

Diabolic delivers what’s expected of his name. He’s a very aggressive and visceral emcee with a mass amount of shock value in his rhymes. Fighting Words is injected with harsh sarcasm and verbal assaults that add definition to his personality. On the other hand he contrasts with self-revealing subjects and conscious concepts. This duality along with his rhyming skills makes him a well-balanced emcee with an album reflecting that, but not in a way that’s particularly fresh or untreaded before.
The flow used is the primary example. Diabolical is able to put together strings of sick multisyllabic rhyme with just one specific immovable rhyme pattern of “AAAAAAA”. However, this style is delivered in a way that’s reminiscent of the Fighting Words feature artists, RA the Rugged Man; and known to be used by Hopsin. Ironically, he mentions in “Bad Dream” he mentions that a label panel says he reminds them of Eminem who is undeniably a pivotal influence to Hopsin’s music. Fighting Words makes it evident that that Diabolic represents the high shock value section of rap.

Swinging a rappers severed head by his spinal cord
― “Diabolical Sound” by Diabolic

What’s entirely unlike the aforementioned two is Diabolic’s heavy and tough bravado. He possesses ruggedness so extreme that when matched up with similar concrete-skinned MCs in “Game Time”, it turns into an extravagant back and forth elbowing for the top spot. “My supporters would slap the shit out Little Wayne fans” It’s like he is the very manifestation of hard itself with the ability to leak that attribute into listeners just by listening. Punch you out your socks like…

At the same time, such a quote represents his oft-used rhetoric of the “real hip-hop heads” who spam “F Lil Wayne” on every underground track posted on YouTube.

0PCP

Bolic unfortunately seems very comfortable with this clustered and overpopulated identity.
On a lighter note, Diabolic has a very powerful and passionate voice for morality. Throughout the album he mentions how much of a proud father he is and expresses the massive discontent he has with anyone coming in between that. He devotes whole tracks to those who suffer with “Feel Ya Pain” and “Victim’s Story”. In “A.M.E.R.I.C.A. (The Truth Part 3)” he says one of the most profound quotes I’ve ever heard on a track,

Teach your kids to think critically instead of memorise
― “A.M.E.R.I.C.A. (Truth Part 3)” by Diabolic

This part of Diabolic’s album is like the musical offspring of legends like Immortal Technique and Ice Cube.
Overall, in evaluation of the Fightin’ Words album, one’s favor feels that tug of war. On one side Diabolic is easily defined as a status quo member of that rugged underground shock-value spitter. On the opposing side, here’s a rapper with very expressed passions in his lyrics and a moderately impressive ability to just rhyme.
Pretty cold album here.
Favorites: “Game Time” “Here We Go”

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