Monday, 16 February 2015

"B4.DA.$$" and "Tetsuo & Youth": A Great Start To A Promising Year in Hip-Hop

Before I start talking about these albums, I would like to mention a couple of changes that will be happening to this blog. First, I want to drop the "ALBUM REVIEW" tag from the articles about specific albums. I feel this needs to be done because I don't want to refer to myself as a music critic. Even though I never did, I don't want to convey that idea. Another thing I won't be doing any more is assigning a rating for each album. I don't think I need to do that any more simply because I don't feel comfortable assigning a grade on a piece of art, whether I enjoy it or not. Finally, I'm going to attempt to condense these articles as much as possible to get straight to the point in terms of what I like and don't like about each album. This way, I can give you my opinions more efficiently and it makes it faster for me to put out articles given my busy schedule. So without further adieu, I give you my opinions on the highly anticipated albums from Joey Bada$$ and Lupe Fiasco, B4.DA.$$ and Tetsuo & Youth.

     Joey Bada$$'s official debut album B4.DA.$$ has been a long-awaited album for me for a while. Joey has consistently impressed me with 1999, Summer Knights, and PEEP: The APROcalypse with his immaculate flow, clever wordplay, and that old-school throwback feel. However, I was always hoping he would eventually mature and start creating his own sound. Many people criticize him for having an old-school sound and completely dismiss him for that, which I don't particularly agree with, but I still wanted him to evolve. With B4.DA.$$, it seems like Joey has finally come around as a fully realized artist with the best debut album I've heard in a while.

     B4.DA.$$ features Joey Bada$$ rapping about some of the most mature topics he's every covered in his career. With Save the Children, Joey opens up the album talking about the over-looked violence that goes around between young Black Americans and the hook itself attempts to enlighten African American youths to become educators, republicans, and businessmen. It's a great start to a stellar album. Paper Trail$ is another highlight on the album, where Joey raps over an amazing beat provided by none other than the legendary DJ Premier. On this track, Joey raps about the contrast between his life before and after the money, explaining the benefits it may have, but the draw-backs it presents. I loved his spin on the classic Wu-Tang line when he says "Cash Ruins Everything Around Me". The album continues with very solid tracks like Big Dusty and Hazeus View and the next highlight for me was Like Me, which features vocals from BJ The Chicago Kid. The track begins as an innocent love song but eventually evolves into a critique of police brutality very creatively. It's tracks like this that show how creative of an MC Joey can be.

     No. 99 and Christ Conscious are a display of that classic Joey, where he is just going off over grimy production. Lines like "Cause I'm a microphone killa/especially when my head is going off that liquor/specially educated, heavily medicated/give me that beat and I'll put you next to Dilla!" were hard as hell. Following this slew of hard-hitting tracks, we get a bunch of very introspective tracks like On & On. On this track, Joey tells the listener how he wants everyone to see him when he passes away. It features a very beautiful beat with great synths and great vocals from Maverick Sabre. The album closes up with 2 of my favorite tracks on the album, O.C.B. and Curry Chicken, where he talks about how his fame has lead to him becoming distant from his family, but he still looks forward to coming back home for his mother's cooking. They are very sentimental tracks that hit a core with me.

     In terms of tracks I don't fully enjoy, I can only think of Escape 120. It's not a bad song, it has good verses from Joey and a speedy Andre 3000-ish flow from Raury, but the beat didn't do anything for me and the hook wasn't that great. I respect the fact that he tried to step out of his comfort zone for a little bit and do something different, but it didn't do anything for me. Aside from that, B4.DA.$$ features great production from the likes of Kirk Knight, Statik Selektah, Chuck Strangers, and even contributions of The Roots over the Dilla beat for Like Me. The production is very soulful, very consistent, and overall has a distinct sound from his previous projects. Joey comes with great bars, introspective song concepts, and managed to put together in my opinion his best project to date. This even tops 1999 for me. So be sure to check it out. I know this will be an album I will be remembering near the mid-year list and maybe even the year-end list. It's a great debut from a great lyricist. Be sure to buy it and support it. You won't be disappointed.

     I stated multiple times on this blog that Lupe Fiasco has always been one of my favorite rappers of all time, but lately he's been disappointing me. Ever since Lasers came out in 2010, Lupe has been releasing some lack-luster projects with weak production and an uninteresting rapper. With that being said, he still had tracks that showed that he still got it, like Around My Way and Double Burger With Cheese, but I wasn't expecting much from this album. I avoided all the singles and the drama behind this album so that I can approach it with an open mind when it gets released. But from first listen, I thought to myself: this must be one of the best comeback albums in Hip-Hop.

    The album opens up with Summer, a great instrumental piece and it blends seamlessly into the monstrous track Mural. I dare a rapper to make a song better than Mural this year. This track was almost 9 minutes of some of the most creative bars I've heard in a while. It's a very dense track that always leaves me speechless. I can go on for days de-cyphering the lyrics and talking about them, so I'll leave you with my favorite part of the song here:

"I prefer girls to reign all over the world
And not rain like, rain man or rain like rain dance
Or rain like a slight chance of rain when it's raining
Or rein like deer slaves to santa claus sleigh man
But reign like queens that reign over made man
And not queen like queen killer, rhapsody bohemian queen
But queen like white glove wave hand
And not wave hand like it's a heat wave
So you make a fan by waving your hand
I'm talking wave like you saying "hey"
Man, and not hay for horses and hoarse like you almost voiceless
You gotta treat your vocal chords like it's a fortress
And treat every single one of your words like reinforcements
And especially when you're recording
Cause that's the portion that's important"

     Blur My Hands follows, which was actually a song I wasn't looking forward to at all given Lupe's last collaboration with Guy Sebastian with Battle Scars, but it actually turned out pretty soulful and great. Guy proved me wrong by singing the hook very smoothly. Dots and Lines was great as well, with Lupe talking about his career, warning other rapper from signing deals with major labels, and it had a great hook. Although the placement of the banjo in the beginning and end didn't make sense, I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy it. With Fall, the album gets a little darker with Prisoner 1&2, which is one of the best conscious tracks I've heard in a while. He starts off talking about prisoners in general, police brutality, and the harsh conditions in prisons. The second part of this track takes the opposite approach, taking the perspective of the prison guards wanting the prisoners to get life sentences or the death penalty out of jealousy because they are also stuck there. After a collection of very solid tracks with beautiful contributions from Nikki Jean and a great sax solo from Terrace Martin on Body of Work, the album reaches Winter and it gets very dark and presents my favorite part of the entire album.

     The Winter section opens up with Chopper, a 9 minute posse cut featuring great grimy gangsta-rap verses from the likes of Trae The Truth, Trouble, and Glasses Malone. The beat is nuts, the hook is great, and even Lupe finishes the track off visciously. Deliver has Lupe rapping creatively about the the violence that goes on in Chicago, or other cities in general, saying that it is so violent that the pizza man can't deliver pizza to your neigborhood. I thought the second verse in particular was stellar, with Lupe describing the ghetto as a dead-end for Black youths and pointing fingers at the hypocritical white man for trafficking drugs and making it mainstream on television via shows like Breaking Bad. Madonna is a heartbreaking track that looks from the perspective of mothers who have to see their sons die from the violence in the ghetto. Adoration of the Magi is another great track with a great jazzy beat, and Lupe has very solid verses, especially that third verse. The album finishes off with They.Resurrect.Over New, which is a very creative track with great verses from Lupe, were he uses a fast paced flow that sounds incredible. The beat itself sounds awesome, it is very creative and futuristic, and it reminded me of the same feeling Big K.R.I.T.'s Cadillactica track gave me. Ab-Soul's verse is incredible as well and the vocals that finish the track off were great. Summer is a very nice finish to the album, which leaves a very optimistic outlook on the overall theme of youth, violence, and corruption the album presents.  

    Aside from the lyrics, another aspect of the album that impressed me was the production. For the first time since The Cool, Lupe is rapping over stellar beats that fit him. Even though I don't think this is Lupe returning to his original sound, I do believe this is Lupe evolving to a sound that actually works. Lupe finally sounds comfortable rapping over this type of production. So shout-out to DJ Dahi, S1, and all of the other producers who helped put this album together. The features overall were great, the album flowed very well, especially given the album is almost 80 minutes long! I thought the album was very artistic, it sounded great, Lupe seems reinvigorated, and I can finally say that Lupe Fiasco is finally back. So thank you Mr. Jaco for proving me wrong. I didn't think you could do it, but you impressed me for the first time in years. I'm looking forward to seeing what you will do in the future, especially now that you're off Atlantic Records. So overall, it's a great album! Be sure to check it out, buy it and support it! This is the album to beat this year!

So what did you think of B4.DA.$$ and Tetsuo & Youth? Were you impressed or disappointed? What were your favorite tracks? Let me know by dropping a comment.!

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