Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Nothing Was the Same - Drake - ALBUM REVIEW

It's been about a week or so since Nothing Was the Same leaked which basically means the internet has blown up since. Drake seems to have taken the Hip-Hop genre by storm since 2009 by creating a lane that seems to be only occupied by him and no one else. He creates a fusion of Hip-Hop and R&B, choosing mellow beets, and both rapping and singing on his tracks. He isn't afraid of talking about his feelings or sharing his experiences with women. For those reasons I have always respected Drake. He has managed to create a huge fan base and even garner critical praise for his albums, taking the Grammy for Best Rap Album last year (although I felt The Roots or even Nas deserved that one, but you know how the Grammys are). With all that being said, with all the respect I have for Drake and all of the praise he receives from other people in the industry and general public, I will say that I personally can't stand his music. I find his flow very disjointed and his singing voice very annoying. He barely releases verses that overly impress me (only ones I can think of are Lord Knows or Underground Kings) and the way he approaches his subject matter bores me. I mean I think its fine to rap about the things he raps about, as I've praised Childish Gambino for doing so, but Drake's execution doesn't appeal to me. However, a lot of people have told me that his new effort Nothing Was the Same was a very interesting and impressive project, many friends even saying its his best effort since So Far Gone. After many people's recommendations, I decided to give it a chance and give it a listen. I didn't have high expectations but I wanted to get into this project with an open mind.

Nothing Was the Same to me is a very similar project to Take Care for me, which isn't really a good thing to me because I wasn't a huge fan of that album. They way it differs is that its not as consistent as Take Care, but it has less filler. (Take Care was 80 mins, that's too much Drake for me :P) Despite having a couple of highlights, Drake didn't step out of his boundaries to create something original or new, but merely stayed in his box and filled it more. He even creates songs that mimic derivative tracks that already exist on the radio. 

The album starts out with Tuscan Leather, a really nice track with very smooth and soulful production. The synths and the vocal distortions in the beginning really set the mood of the track and gave it a tender feel. The beat switches up a minute or so in but still sounds good. Drake's rapping was great and the  production carried it perfectly. He raps about this fame and how he's on the level of some of the greats (commercially), and can you really deny that? The guys is one of a few to still go platinum (even though album sales don't mean much to me). The album then rolls into Furthest Thing which is a mellow track reminiscent of Take Care, but it was a good track. Drake does the hook as well but what I liked about this track is the beat switch-up near the end and Drake raps great on it as well. Then the albums gets to Started From the Bottom and its all downhill from there...

I don't feel the need to bash Started From the Bottom to the ground (even though it should be) because it's been done ever since it was released in February by lots of people. This track is terrible, and this covers the beat, flow, lyrics and hook. The beat is very annoying to listen to and Drake's flow is absolutely horrible. With this track, its obvious Drake wanted to go for that radio sound that Lil Wayne has been so successful at. He wanted to dumb down his flow (which gets even worse than usual) and raps in the most disjointed way I've ever heard him rap. Its painful. And I'm not even gonna get into the lyrics or argue if he did start from the bottom or not because it doesn't really matter. If the track doesn't sound good, then its not worth dissecting.

After Started From the Bottom comes the track Wu-Tang Forever, a song that has nothing to do with the Wu-Tang Clan or their music (to a certain degree). It's basically a love song with a catchy smooth beat but lackluster verses about a love interest and how his fame has separated him from close friends. Own It was a very forgettable track with very elementary rhyme scheme that even for Drake sounds bad but the track right after was pretty memorable, sort of. Worst Behavior was a very aweful song to listen to, which features Drake yelling at certain points which is very annoying (I see the Yeezus wagon getting more popular unfortunately). He's basically rapping about how far he's advanced in the game and to be honest we have enough Drake songs like this already. From that point till the second last track, there was nothing that truly held my attention or impressed me in any way. Jhene Aiko had some nice vocals and you could tell Drake has been practicing with his singing voice on the track Hold On We're Going Home (not that it was a great song, but it wasn't that bad). I also felt Drake had good bars on From Time, but that's about it. Tracks like Connect and The Language seemed very uninspired. I was surprised to see many people liking The Language, but I guess it just didn't appeal to me. Drake kept the same flow throughout the album, which could be a good or a bad thing for certain people, but I just felt I needed more variety. The album doesn't catch my interest in an impressive way until the last track. 

On the last track titled Pound Cake/Paris Morton Music 2, my interest resurfaced with the album because it sounded like Drake was hungry on that track. I guess the obvious reason was because he had Jay Z on that track, a living Hip-Hop legend (whether you like his music or not, you can't disagree with that statement). The production was very atmospheric and the background vocals sounded very chilling, and the C.R.E.A.M. loop didn't bother me much. (Speaking of which, am I the only one that noticed a huge amount of Wu-Tang references? - Raekwon, Capadonna, Inspectah Deck references) Drake laid pretty impressive verses but surprisingly Jay Z stole the show with his verse, flowing very nicely which is something that seems very easy for Jay Z (maybe not recently but you can't deny his previous work). It was a solid end to the album, but not a lot of people seem to agree with me on that track, but whatever, opinions are opinions.

In conclusion, Drake's latest effort Nothing Was the Same was a very flat and sombre album to listen to. I wouldn't say that you should take my word for it completely as I'm not the biggest Drake fan, but I did give it a shot and gave Drake credit where credit is due on 3 of the 13 songs (not counting the bonus tracks). I guess Drake's music is something that won't appeal to me, but its totally cool if it does to you. I don't think I walked away from the album thinking it was terrible. I just didn't get much from it. For those reasons, I won't give a rating for this album as it isn't an accurate representation of how good it is, but I appreciate the effort, even though its clearly not meant for me. However, a Drake fan would absolutely love this, so don't let my opinion sway you, check it out for yourself and formulate your own opinion.

Favorite Track(s): Tuscan Leather - Furthest Thing - Pound Cake/Paris Morton Music 2 (Feat. Jay Z)

Least Favorite Track(s): Started From the Bottom - Worst Behavior - Connect - The Language - 305 to My City (Feat. Detail)

* For reviews of J. Cole's Born Sinner, Kanye West's Yeezus, and Jay Z's Magna Carta Holy Grail, click here *

Sunday, 15 September 2013

What Makes a Hip-Hop Album a Classic?

Over the past couple of years, we can all agree that Hip-Hop has clearly taken a very drastic turn with all of the impressive releases that came out, especially in 2011 and 2012. Rappers like Kendrick Lamar, Danny Brown, Killer Mike, Ab-Soul, Joey Bada$$, A$AP Rocky, Elzhi, Big K.R.I.T. and any others dropped albums that were so fantastic that they set new standards for modern Hip-Hop. Fans now-a-days are more critical to the music that comes out and are able to determine what Hip-Hop should sound like and what Hip-Hop should be promoted, which I feel is amazing. Rappers like Lil Wayne, French Montana, Big Sean and other lack luster commercial artists are no longer getting the love they used to receive and are suffering from this new wave of Hip-Hop. We are clearly in a new Golden Age of Hip-Hop, as many other people can agree and support that statement. However, something that I noticed is people throwing out the word "classic" at critically acclaimed albums without thinking twice about the labels they're throwing. People were calling albums such as Section.80, good kid m.A.A.d city, Elmatic, Black Up, 1999 and XXX classics upon release and even I will admit that I refer to these albums as classics sometimes, but I never really truly believe that they are and I don't think its a good idea to do so for the following reasons.  

Hip-Hop is a genre that has existed for about 40 years, so what made albums classics in the past isn't the same anymore. When Eric B. & Rakim dropped Paid in Full in 1987, that album set standards for East Coast Hip-Hop. Rakim revolutionized the way rapping was presented and delivered, and Eric B.'s sampling and production set the foundations for producers to come after him. At the same time, N.W.A.'s Straight Outta Compton was also revolutionary in the way it allowed rappers to present their perspective of real life situations at the time such as police brutality among African-Americans, racism and violence (Same with Public Enemy's A Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back). A few years later, albums such as Nas' Illamatic, Wu-Tang Clan's Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), Mobb Deep's The Infamous, Jay-Z's Reasonable Doubt, The Notorious B.I.G.'s Ready to Die among others solidified the quality of Hip-Hop as the crack epidemic occurred and created the mafioso subgenre of Hip-Hop while creating and presenting different flows, rap structure and production sound. However, albums like 2Pac's Me Against the World, A Trible Called Quest's The Low End Theory, Common's Resurrection, Mos Def's Black on Both Sides among others presented the conscious side of Hip-Hop and and delivered complex lyricism via metaphors and similes to world related matters to convey a positive message. All these albums are classics in their own way because they changed the rap game. They basically created the rules that other rappers must follow in order to create a rap album, or the blueprint that must be followed by rappers today. For this reason, we shouldn't be quick to call modern albums classics because they can never do what the previous albums did. While these old albums may seem dated, they still hold the power to move listeners today. Current albums take time to settle and show their effect. Elzhi's Elmatic is a perfect example because while it is a fantastic album and is able to hold its own next to Nas' Illmatic (imo), Elmatic will never do what Illmatic did which was change the game completely. Illmatic made rappers like Jay-Z switch up their styles to meet the same standard. Elmatic won't change anything, but its still a great album nevertheless. However, an album doesn't have to be very old like the ones I mentioned to be a classic for many reasons as well. 

For an album to be called a classic, it has to accomplish some kind of change in the game. It has to attract a lot of attention and gain respect because of the impact it has. For example, I personally consider Eminem's The Marshall Mathers LP a classic because it was very original and it made Hip-Hop more acceptable to mainstream listeners. It was one of the first raw Hip-Hop albums to be nominated for Album of the Year at the Grammys despite its content and abrasiveness. It had a cultural impact with the song Stan and influenced many rappers' style. It may seem biased to claim this album as a classic because it is my favorite album of all time, but I don't believe an album has to be good to be a classic. For example, I personally believe Lil Wayne's Tha Carter III is a classic. I will say that I am in no way a Lil Wayne fan, but I will admit that Tha Carter III is classic because it set a new standard for commercial Hip-Hop, whether you consider that a good or a bad thing. Many rappers (Such as Drake, Big Sean, Tyga and others) have followed the same formula Lil Wayne has created with Tha Carter III and have achieved success. For these reasons, I believe that it is a classic even though I don't really care for it. 

Another way an album can receive classic status is by pushing the genre to such a great extent that it creates a new subgenre. For example, when Company Flow dropped Funcrusher Plus, people were very negative towards it because they didn't believe it followed the Hip-Hop rules in the way the rapping and the production was presented. However, many people praised it because of the abstract lyricism and alternative futuristic production and received a great cult following after. El-P also dropped Fantastic Damage which went through the same reception as well as other albums under his acclaimed label Definitive Jux such as Cannibal Ox's The Cold Vein and Aesop Rock's Labor Days which similarly pushed the genre but created classics. They redefined the underground Hip-Hop landscape and increased the amount of creativity in the game. Rappers like MF DOOM, Slug, Brother Ali, Immortal Technique, Ill Bill and many others received acclaim for taking the Hip-Hop genre in their way and transforming it. For these reasons, albums like Shabazz Palaces' Black Up and Death Grips's Exmilitary and The Money Store aren't really classics, but have the potential of being classics in the future. 

So in conclusion, an album needs to sit longer with the Hip-Hop community to be called a classic. The albums released in the 80s and 90s  have been here for so long that they set the blueprint for Hip-Hop and are worthy of the classic title. But an album can also be a classic in the way it affects and changed the game, whether on a commercial or underground level. So albums like Black Up, good kid m.A.A.d city, XXX, R.A.P. Music and other albums aren't classics but have the potential to be classics. With the new Golden Age of Hip-Hop, it is great to see the genre reinvent itself and achieve success and I can definitely see certain artists produce potential classics in the future. 

Albums I Consider Classics:
- Paid in Full - Eric B. & Rakim
- He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper - DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince
- It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back - Public Enemy
- Straight Outta Compton - N.W.A.
- The Great Adventure of Slick Rick - Slick Rick
- The Chronic - Dr. Dre
- Amerikkka's Most Wanted - Ice Cube
- Illmatic - Nas
- The Low End Theory - A Tribe Called Quest
- The Infamous - Mobb Deep
- Me Against the World - 2Pac
- Ready to Die - The Notorious B.I.G.
- Resurrection - Common
- Black on Both Sides - Mos Def
- Reasonable Doubt - Jay-Z
- Enter the Wu-Tang (32 Chambers) - Wu-Tang Clan
- Illadelph Halflife - The Roots
- Aquemini - OutKast
- Funcrusher Plus - Company Flow
- The Cold Vein - Cannibal Ox & El-P
- Fantastic Damage - El-P
- Madvillainy - Madvillain
- The Marshall Mathers LP - Eminem
- The College Dropout - Kanye West
- Revolutionary Vol. 1 - Immortal Technique
- A Piece of Strange - CunninLynguists
- Donuts - J Dilla
- God Loves Ugly - Atmosphere
- Tha Carter III - Lil Wayne

Albums With Potential of Becoming Classics:

- Earl - Earl Sweatshirt
- XXX - Danny Brown
- good kid, m.A.A.d city - Kendrick Lamar
- No Kings - Doomtree
- Black Up - Shabazz Palaces
- The Money Store - Death Grips
- Bastard - Tyler, the Creator
- R.A.P. Music - Killer Mike & El-P
- Undun - The Roots
- Kismet - Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire
- My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy - Kanye West