Saturday, 14 March 2015

"The Ecology" and "Sour Soul": A Triumphant Return and a Stellar Collaboration

The Ecology - Fashawn:

     For those of you who don't know, Fashawn is a West-Coast rapper from Fresno, California. He gained a lot of attention for his 2009 release Boy Meets World, an excellently produced album filled with great lyricism and storytelling. I do have to say that I didn't listen to Boy Meets World and acknowledge it's awesomeness until I listened to The Ecology first, so I feel like I have a different perspective and reaction on this new album than most do. Many people have been anticipating this album for the past 6 years, but I'm still new on Fashawn so I didn't have a lot of expectations. All I knew was that he's a dope rapper from the few features I heard from him like on the last Step Brothers album. I was hoping to be impressed, especially since many people hold him at a high standard and that the legendary Nas co-signed him and signed him to his Mass Appeal label (which gave me RTJ2 last year). So I picked up this album, listened to what Fashawn had to offer, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.

     The album kicks off with Guess Who's Back, a song where Fashawn raps about his come-up, his grand return, rise to fame, and his devotion to Hip-Hop as an art-form. The song also has beautiful vocals and a great beat. Confess is one of my favourite tracks off the album, with a great beat that sounds very Middle-Eastern influenced, and Fashawn going off spitting dope braggadocios bars. Something to Believe In is probably the song that will get the most attention due to the Nas feature, and I have to say it did not disappoint. While Fashawn did hold his own, I still think Nas destroyed the track with a lengthy verse mentioning his status in the game and even throwing some political bars in there. 

     Higher and To Be Young follow and are by far my favourite tracks on the album. They both feature piano-based beats that have a very sentimental feel and an emotional vibe, which works with the content. On Higher, Fashawn talks about the high bar that he has to face because of the success and acclaim of Boy Meets World and how people's expectations are too high. He mentions their refusal of seeing him evolve as an artist and doing something different. It ends off with a very heartfelt sample of a phone call from his daughter. To Be Young is my absolute favourite track from the album, because the beat is absolutely hypnotic and dope. It features excellent vocal contributions from BJ the Chicago Kid, who kills the hook. Fashawn goes into storytelling mode, which I loved, talking about an instance in which he watched his friends commit a murder, his experiences with his mother's drug-dealing husband, and finally experiences with lust and women. 

      Golden State of Mind follows, and it is a great ode to the West-Coast. Letter F is another great track, filled with great bars and wordplay, backed by a great beat from the one and only Alchemist. After this track, the album levels off for me, on a good level though, and remains consistent.  Mother was one of the best songs from the latter half of the album, which features a beautiful tribute to Fashawn's mother. He mentions the experiences he had with her, watching her indulge in drugs, but still have that strong love for her. It hit home for me. The album finishes off nicely with F.T.W., which sounded like a triumphant end to a great album. 

    The production on this album was primarily handled by long-time collaborator Exile, who produced all of Boy Meets World and one of my favourite underground Hip-Hop albums, Blu's Below the Heavens. Other producers that contributed to this album include DJ Khalil, Beewirks, The Alchemist, Quince Tones, Jo Caleb, and ATG. Overall, I felt that the production was very solid, especially the tracks produced by Exile. The beats all sounded very layered, had great drums, soul-samples, and excellent rhythms. The features are all dope, with Nas and Dom Kennedy dropping excellent verses and all of the vocalists made excellent contributions. 

    The only negative I have for this album is that the first half slightly out-shadows the second half, but that doesn't take away anything from my enjoyment of the album. Overall, I think this is a great album and a very solid follow-up to Boy Meets World. I heard that many fans were disappointed because it did not live up to Boy Meets World, but like I said I heard The Ecology first, so I didn't have the high expectations that most fans did. I do see where they are coming from, as Boy Meets World is more consistent with the sound and lyricism, but The Ecology is still a great album and I highly recommend it!

Sour Soul - BADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah:

     This is an album I've been waiting for every since it was announced. I hope that I don't have to give a history lesson on who Ghostface Killah is, as I've mentioned him multiple times on this blog. I will say that he is easily my favourite Wu-Tang Clan member, and is also the most consistent. BADBADNOTGOOD (who I will be referring to as simple BBNG in this blog post from now on), is a great jazz trio from Montreal, Canada. I'm a huge jazz fan, and they absolutely blew me away with their stellar mixtapes BBNG and BBNG2 and then followed them up with a very solid debut album titled III. Their rendition of other popular tracks, original material, and improvisational tracks always impress me. So when I heard they were collaborating with Ghostface, a rapper that has been on a creative streak lately, I couldn't wait! So what's the result? One of the best albums of the year.

     The album starts with a great instrumental piece, and follows with the title track, which is a great track. Ghostface's lyrical content is traditional Ghostface, throwing a lot of tough hard bars with roaring energy and immaculate flow. On this track, Ghostface takes shots at the CIA, FBI, and other intelligence agencies, and also touches on the food industry and GMOs. Six Degrees follows and is a track that has been out for a while. It features a stellar verse from Danny Brown, and both rappers trad stories over a great spacious beat. Gunshowers is easily my favourite song and it has also been out for a while now. It features Elzhi with  my personal favourite feature on the album. It's a stellar verse with that signature Elzhi flow (I need an album from this dude ASAP!). Stark's Reality follows and is probably my favourite instrumental piece on the album, but Tone's Rap, the track it leads into, is probably my least favourite. Not saying the track is bad, it's just I wished for more energy from Ghostface, or a slightly smoother flow. 

     The album picks back up with more solid tracks, including the awesome Ray Gun with the mysterious and infamous MF DOOM (as DOOM). Both rappers spit dope cartoonish bars with comic book references. This track displays great chemistry between the two rappers and only makes me wish their collaborative album DOOMSTARKS would just come out already! The beat switch up on this song was amazing! It sounds like the theme song for a villain taken straight from a superhero movie, and I loved every minute of it. The album closes off strong with Nuggets of Wisdom, Food, and Experience, the latter being another great instrumental piece. Nuggets of Wisdom details Ghostface's conversion to Islam, and is done very beautifully with poetic verses laid over one of my favourite beats on the album. On Food, Ghostface compares food to other human characteristics and their influence on our thoughts and health, similar to what Big K.R.I.T. did on Soul Food, but done in a completely different and original way. 

     Now you guys know I'm not great at describing the specific technical aspects of the production, so all I can say is that the music behind the MC produced by BBNG is damn near flawless. The music from each song builds upon the next and is never redundant. Each song flows seamlessly into the other and the jazz influences that BBNG bring to the table are welcomed by me, being a huge jazz fan. So shoutout to BBNG for the stellar music. I have to show love for my fellow Canadian artists, and you guys knocked it out of the park! 

     As for negatives, I only have a slight issue with the track Tone's Rap as mentioned earlier, and another issue is that I wish the album was longer. The latter complaint isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact it's a good thing. What I'm saying is that the music is so great I wish I got more of it! All I got to say is that I hope this isn't the end of the collaborations between Ghostface Killah and BBNG. I would also like to see BBNG collaborate with other rappers for a full album like Elzhi, Earl Sweathshirt, Freddie Gibbs, or any rapper willing to take a chance and step outside their comfort zone, because it definitely worked with Ghostface. So in conclusion, I think the album is stellar and is definitely one of my favourites of the year so far. I picked up the CD, and apparently there are vinyl copies on gold out there, which I'll be looking out for. So pick it up! 

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