Tyler, the Creator – Cherry Bomb

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Much like himself, Tyler the Creator’s fourth album Cherry Bomb is a complex being. At times, it is intricately layered with serene production and backing vocals. However, it can also be a distorted, messy affair that lacks structure, or the finesse that we have come to expect from him. He has never been one to make music for anyone but himself and this seems to be the main motivation behind Cherry Bomb, an album that he can listen to. The main problem is that while he is an incredibly gifted musician and producer, not everyone has the same ears as he does.

After a barrage of subpar, bass heavy tracks (‘Buffalo’,’ Pilot’), ‘Find Your Wings’ welcomes a different side of Tyler, one we have briefly glimpsed before but never properly met. The smooth jazz horns, piano and chord patterns fully represent him at his best in terms of production. Very few musicians have such an ability to induce euphoria, but it is a quality that he has down at a t (no pun intended). Even the choice of backing vocalists is exceptionally varied. The odd combination of Toro Y Moi and Charlie Wilson expand the sound of ‘Fucking Young/Perfect’ with beautiful delivery behind Tyler, as he voices his desires for a younger woman. Sure there is the odd jarring note and the subject matter is questionable, but it is a Tyler the Creator song after all.

The temporary lull in tempo and aggression that is ‘Find Your Wings’ is directly counteracted by the vicious title track. It is one of a few songs that are intentionally muffled or over distorted. He may be the type of artist to have a reason for everything but there are more than a few moments where you find yourself questioning the methods to his madness. Album closer ‘Okaga C.A’ builds itself on off key melodies and vocals and never feels like it fully realises any of its potential, which is somewhat scarce to begin with.

The most prominent guest spots come in the form of Kanye West and Lil Wayne on ‘Smuckers’. Tyler is perhaps the only person who could not only unite these two on one track, but to also get the best out of them while doing so. On paper, it could have been a mismatch, but he knows what he wants from featured artists. It is not additional attention or to beef up the track list or expectations and sales in the process. It is to further the song in the direction he feels it going. A quality that is all but lost in music these days.

It is hard to deny that Cherry Bomb as a whole is very scattered. He may wish to replicate the music that he listens to, but who says that NERD, Death Grips and Stevie Wonder make for a particularly good combination. Well Tyler, does and sometimes it makes for a completely immersive and captivating track. Other songs are forgettable due their chaotic harshness and bad mixing. Cherry Bomb will most certainly serve as a tool to keep people guessing as to what we will hear next from him, if nothing else.

3/5

-Ross Logan

Artist of the Month: Dah Jevu

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Dah Jevu are a relatively new act based in Dublin. The two emcees, Bobby Basil and Tafari Pesto provide an insight into the abstract and alternative side of Irish hip hop. They’re debut video, ‘Hawks of Nepthys’ has already racked up almost 15,000 views on YouTube. The intriguing, gritty video was edited and shot by Hugh Mulhern.

Having already supported Smoke DZA and Jay Electronica this year, along with their full live band, Dah Jevu have a busy few months ahead. I’ve seen them a handful of times now and it is an energetic and one of a kind set. Life Festival, Electric Picnic and BARE In The Woods festival are just a few of the places you’ll be able to catch them this summer and we highly recommend that you do. We briefly spoke to Bobby about their live show and what the future holds:

How did the live band come together?

“It was mostly people from my old school and others that we knew.”

Will they help with production in the future?

“At the moment it will be mostly for the live show, but there is a track coming out at the end of the summer with them on it.”

Which was a better performance for you, Jay Electronica or Smoke DZA?

“There was a lot more people at Jay Electronica because Whelan’s is a bigger venue. It felt like a tougher crowd which made us work harder. The sound is better in Whelan’s too so I’d probably say Jay Electronica.”

What is your favourite thing about performing?

“For me, the more people there the better. It’s like a form of stress release. I can be uptight before we go on but that goes when we start performing.”

Last time we talked you said you wouldn’t release a project until the right amount of hype is there. Do you think you are any closer to that now?

“No I don’t think we’re going to release an EP anytime soon. We do have two music videos coming soon though. I might go to London before we release an EP.”

What has been the defining moment for you so far?

“I’d have to say the Hawks of Nepthys video. It made a lot of people aware of who we are and got us where we are now.”

Dah Jevu Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Dahjevu?fref=ts

-Ross Logan

Action Bronson – Mr. Wonderful

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For a rapper from Queens, Action Bronson is an incredibly unique artist. His descriptive and wacky lyrics can often feature him doing gymnastics in and out of different vehicles or “getting topped off in the front row of the opera”. In a few short years he has made the transition from a chef to a world conquering rapper and all round character. On this album he verges on becoming comparable to Tenacious D in regards to hip hop. They may have primarily been a parody act but it is important to remember that they are also both great musicians and the same goes for Bronson. He may not be a parody act but that doesn’t stop him from injecting his own brand of humour throughout Mr. Wonderful also.

Some may argue that a Tenacious D comparison could be a step too far, but he does open Mr. Wonderful with his best Billy Joel rendition, “I got a brand new car, I got a jazz guitar”. He then proceeds to treat the listener to the playful wordplay that he admits himself can be over the top, “at the bar looking Swedish in a trench coat, stupid”. It is all very tongue in cheek and it’s what makes Bronson one of a kind. He has made quite a name for himself solely off his intriguingly bizarre raps and pure charisma. The latter of which translates perfectly to this album with each track providing a different look at his tastes and talents.

His production and sample choices are second to none, The Alchemist, Mark Ronson and Party Supplies to name just a few. Each beat is vastly different but that only allows Bronson to prove his versatility. He croons over Ronson’s ‘Baby Blue’ hook along with Chance the Rapper, on what is the most accessible track he’s released.  Any chances he takes with either singing or venturing into other genres (‘City Boy Blues’) all feel apt to the world he has created on the album. Easy Rider closes the album in stereotypical Bronson fashion. A psychedelic guitar riff along with sensory, braggadocios raps and a revving motorcycle all culminate to finalise things with his best track yet.

It is a very cohesive project despite the several producing contributors. Many tracks begin at the end of the previous one, also aiding in creating a full and consistent sound throughout the album. The title Mr Wonderful may have to be taken with a pinch of salt, like much of his aesthetic. However, he has truly earned himself this self appointed title with this release. The future looks a lot brighter for him after such a versatile debut showing.

4/5

-Ross Logan

Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly

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There are a large variety of themes and issues addressed on Kendrick Lamar’s third album, To Pimp A Butterfly. Anger , depression, & race to name a few. Each one is explored in detail, always drawing back to his own life for comparison and relatability. Almost every track runs well over four minutes, resulting in a massive & heavily conceptual album that feels incredibly complex & oppressed but uplifting. This is exactly what many have been clamouring for from him, an album that is original, experimental and timeless, but most importantly one that is 100% Kendrick.

The main theme is one of a caterpillar and a butterfly. He explains the former is the boy in him from Compton, who he was before fame, a brash self aware child with a growing conscience. He created the butterfly persona in order to be ‘pimped’ out to record labels and sell his personality to his masses, something that he is not happy with. He uses different pitches for his voice throughout the album perhaps to discern between the two sides of his character. The high pitched voice features on ‘Hood Politics’ as he explains just that from a younger, more naive point of view. than that on ‘Mortal Man’ features no pitch change and a more educated look on life, with the amalgamations of both the caterpillar and butterfly’s separate perspectives.

Depression is another theme that is explored in detail throughout the album. During ‘u’, he goes on a self deprecating rant that deals with feelings of guilt and self loathing that have come with fame. However for every dark cloud on the album there’s a silver lining. ‘I’ offers a different perspective from the same suicidal state of mind, but is instead a much needed message of hope from an otherwise visceral look at his life.

The production is an eclectic mix of many sounds, all of which fit into Kendrick’s overall vision of what he wanted from this album. It sounds like a lot more live instruments were used and less heavy bass & electronic elements than on what we have previously heard from him. That’s not to say those elements are not present but are used more so with minimal perfection.

There is a heavy jazz influence from the get go on Wesley’s Theory’ which features Flying Lotus, Thundercat & George Clinton. The jazz under tones are not just heard in the production though, but also in Kendrick’s abnormal delivery. ‘For Free (Interlude)’ almost has the same tone as scat singing, but with him rapping about what “keeps him obnoxious”. There are also traces of funk that take over the infectious ‘King Kunta’, just one of the tracks that deal directly with race.

This is a very angry album, but not a violent one. It offers some solutions and a brighter side, while never downplaying the rightful resentment and anger that his race have towards their own justice system. That raw emotion is best captured on the brutally honest ‘The Blacker the Berry’. It is also a record that takes chances, through both thought provoking lyrics about the state of society and genre bending music. Kendrick could have taken a more commercial route that may have sold more but he is not one to stand idly by and collect cheques. He wants to spread the knowledge he has acquired through struggle, but most importantly the idea of respect for each other, and that in itself is quite admirable. All that and I didn’t even mention his conversation with Tupac at the end. Yes, Tupac. Hear it to believe it.

4/5

-Ross Logan

Badbadnotgood & Ghostface Killah – Sour Soul

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It is amazing to see how far Badbadnotgood have come in just a few short years. Humbly beginning as a hip hop cover band with a jazz twist, their initial covers of and subsequent endorsements from Tyler, the Creator and MF DOOM brought them to the attention of the hip hop community. This collaborative record with Ghostface Killah assures us that their days of being a YouTube cover band are well and truly over, and that their sound has progressed into something truly to behold.

It surprised many when this album was announced, but Ghostface is known for being Wu Tang Clan’s hardest working member, so it is no surprise that he wants to experiment with his production. After all, this is his fourth release since A Better Tomorrow in November. He most certainly has no shortage of the gritty, sometimes emotional raps that we have grown accustomed to. ‘6 Degrees’ & ‘Tone’s Rap’ are as engaging as anything else we’ve heard from Ghost, as he captivates the listener with an exaggerated delivery on the latter. His descriptive rhymes meld with the cinematic production, creating tracks that have character and structure, two elements missing on some of his more forgettable albums.

Despite the Wu veteran at the helm and the various guests that pop up (Danny Brown, DOOM), it is Badbadnotgood that shine the most on Sour Soul. They prove they can make grimy hip hop loops that would make even RZA envious (‘Gunshowers’). However, they can also create a sound that is fuller than that of the production on the average hip hop album. The breakdown at the end of ‘Ray Gun’ magnifies their sound to grand proportions with striking brass, resulting in a brief glimpse of something that wouldn’t sound out of place of on a James Bond soundtrack.

As a whole Sour Soul is an anomaly. Both artists have somehow created a consistent and timeless hip hop/jazz album. Sure both genres have always had extremely close ties, but Badbadnotgood are on their way to becoming the pinnacle of the mixture of the two sounds. They will make themselves a commodity in hip hop if they can continue to provide such a unique sound for artists. Becoming rap’s most sought after band, after the Roots, shouldn’t be hard for them. I suppose someone has to fill the Tonight Show slot eventually.

4/5

-Ross Logan

Joey Bada$$ – B4.DA.$$

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Joey Bada$$ is one of the artists who has been at the forefront of a new wave of rappers influenced by the Golden Age of hip hop in the late 80s to mid-90s. Born in Brooklyn in 1995, he was immediately immersed into the culture through his parents who were both huge fans. It is no wonder that this album is a reflection of this era. However, his ear for good production and unique voice and flow allow him to maintain his own identity in a constantly moving and expanding genre.

While he may have only 2 mixtapes under his belt, B4.DA.$$ has set an incredibly high standard for the rest of Joey’s career. He showcases his talents not just as a rapper but as a vocalist and songwriter throughout. On ‘Hazeus View’ he gives his vocal chords a stretch and proves that insightful rhyming is not the only weapon he has in his arsenal. He knows how to write and deliver a captivating hook, without it feeling forced in for radio play. Even the most commercially accessible track, the Maverick Sabre-assisted ‘On & On’, does not question the authenticity of the hip hop on the album. It only adds to the large variety of sounds that are represented throughout, all under the Bada$$ banner.

Fans of his well-crafted wordplay need not to worry also. Each track makes a case for Joey being one of the best lyricists of our generation. His ability to switch up his flow line to line is second to none and is never more evident than on the DJ Premier-produced ‘Paper Trails’. He proves that he is wise beyond his years on the album’s highlight ‘Christ Conscious’ and explores his Jamaican roots on ‘Belly of the Beast’, with help from Chronixx.

Everything about B4.DA.$$ feels carefully thought out, from the skits, to the production to the track order. It is refreshing to see a new artist take details like this into consideration. It results in a project that is more whole and consistent than that of many of his peers. Featured artists are scarce, only highlighting his rightfully placed confidence in his work.

The truth is that this does not sound like a debut album at any point. It is a young MC, who sounds like a seasoned rap veteran, showing us exactly what he is capable of. While expectations were high, they have been massively exceeded. It is not just an introduction to Joey through masterfully crafted hip hop songs, it feels like the start of something that will only continue to get bigger and badder as the years go on.

5/5

 

-Ross Logan

High Elders – Forest Of Pencils

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High Elders are an experimental hip hop duo comprised of Gentle Jones, an underground emcee from Delaware USA, and Auxiliary Phoenix, a producer from Carlow, Ireland. Living on opposite sides of the world has clearly not hindered their ability to create a musical rapport. Both of their individual styles combine to create an interesting and unique sound that is also capable of being quite accessible at times.

Gentle Jones sounds like a cross between Aesop Rock and Primus frontman Les Claypool, with his cryptic, intelligent rhyming and zany voice. His alternative flow is a near perfect match for the intriguingly bizarre production, which draws influences from many different genres. The varied sound is still firmly rooted in hip hop, with masterful cuts and scratching throughout, most notably on ‘Top Cat’ & ‘Rappers Are Jerks’.

There are a few stages when the album can verge on mediocre (‘Mean World’, ‘Dreams with Mephistopheles’). However, it still remains unpredictable as the vocal delivery and beats are vastly different track to track. The low points on the album are overshadowed by the likes of the brilliantly chaotic ‘City vs. the Soil’ and the glitchy and haunting ‘Ethernet’. Each song only testifies to both artists’ flexibility and natural ability to craft a unique project.

Stream & download the album here: littlelrecords.bandcamp.com/album/forest-of-pencils

3/5

-Ross Logan

MuRli – Surface Tension EP

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MuRli is an African/Irish emcee, often associated with God Knows & MynameisjOhn, a Limerick based act whose excellent album Rusangano/Family resulted in a lot of exposure for the group and support slots for Run the Jewels, Snoop Dogg and others. MuRli’s latest seven track EP,  Surface Tension, allows the spotlight to shine on him and gives him the chance to showcase hid vivid storytelling, unique wordplay and a flow that can be incredibly varied at times. He has all the elements essential to being a true emcee and potential by the bucket load.

Opening track, ‘Both Sides’ sets the tone for the EP with bass-heavy and stomping production from MynameisjOhn. He is responsible for half of the beats on the project, the other half coming from Naive Ted. Both producers do a perfect job in encapsulating the many different sounds and influences of MuRli, while still maintaining the same tone throughout every track. ‘Champagne and Chinchillas’ particularly manages to portray the positive message of MuRli through the floating, smile-inducing production by Naive Ted.

What sets MuRli apart from many other emcees is his wealth of experience that he has to draw inspiration from when writing verses. It results in a more interesting listen than your average rap album. His overall attitude and positive outlook on life is admirable. He does not just tell us of the world’s problems, but offers solutions when doing so also. Surface Tension presents the listener with a refreshing take on hip hop that is near impossible to fault at times. Along with God Knows & MynameisjOhn, he can count himself as one of the few artists who is trying something new and succeeding in the process. The fact that they are Irish is just the icing on the cake.

4/5

Stream & download the EP here: https://t.co/I9WHRIcmAZ

-Ross Logan

Wu Tang Clan – A Better Tomorrow

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For such a notorious and legendary group, the Wu Tang Clan has been lacking consistency on their most recent releases. It is important to realise that many of these albums were mainly criticised for not having been a replication of their debut 36 Chambers, which is unfair, but it was also hard to deny that they had somewhat lost the magic they once had in 1993. However, artists grow and evolve. They may not be delivering the same message of chopping heads and protecting necks, but what they are preaching in 2014 is far more important and relevant. A Better Tomorrow carries the message that we should all be working towards what the title suggests. With constant protests in America and bubbling turmoil between the police and the public, this is the album that the world needs right now from the group, one that carries a message of not just peace, but hope also.

There may have been plenty of in group aggravation during the lead up to its release, but you would never guess it when listening, aside from RZA telling Raekwon “all those bad times is behind us” on opener Ruckus in B Minor. It is a much more united and positive project than what we are used to from the Wu. ‘40th Street Black/We Will Fight’ perhaps encapsulates this unity best with its chanting hook and each emcee delivering some of the best work on the record over the funky, stomping brass beat.

Each member of the group is present at some stage throughout the 15 tracks, even the late Ol Dirty Bastard pops up a couple times. The best verses come from GZA’s insightful bars, Method Man’s hoarse and bouncy flow and Inspectah Deck, who remains as under rated as ever. Even the incredibly ill fitting harmonies on ‘Miracle’ can’t overshadow Ghostface Killah’s raw emotion and that closes out the song.

The production is some of the best we’ve heard from RZA in a while. The gritty, sampled loops that fans had grown accustomed to have been replaced with more instruments, to create bigger and more slick sound than we have heard before. You are given more of an insight into the musician side of RZA, one that scored Kill Bill for Quentin Tarantino, and it allows for a consistently interesting and evolving sound throughout. However, he has not abandoned his original creation and often samples kung fu movies and older Wu tracks to bring it full circle.

After spending over $500,000 just to get everyone together to record the album, it is clear that RZA had a lot more riding on it than many of the other members. However, he has done a lot more than just create an authentic Wu album. He has managed to adapt the message and sound of a group who have been around for over 20 years, while of course keeping it “rough, rugged, real and raw”. This very well may be the last time we hear them record together so going out on a positively high note was perhaps the best exit route for the group.

4/5

-Ross Logan

Ez Craven – Class A Narcotics

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On Class A Narcotics, Ez Craven shows us that where you are from and what label you are signed to doesn’t affect your ability to write a captivating hip hop record. Instead of venturing down the E.P or mixtape route for what is his debut solo project, Ez provides the listener with a 17 track long consistent album, proving that he has rhymes and punch lines for days despite being relatively unknown. It has an overall serious, dark tone in terms of lyrical content and production that is only sometimes lightened by his humour and wit.

When he’s not showcasing his ability to paint gritty and dark images (Cut a Line, Ignorance), Ez offers an insightful look at the world and what makes it go around, “money makes the world go around, that’s funny cause you can’t go around this world without money”. Burn Up D’ Urbz takes a reggae inspired turn for what is the most accessible track on the album, that will please the more faint hearted listeners.

Lead single, Disgusting & Despicable, has the most infectious beat found on the album as Ez’s brother and producer Paulie PunchEz scratches an Onyx sample over the eerie, haunting production. The beats stay versatile and varied throughout, with each track having its own unique qualities while still fitting in with the record as a whole. Several tracks offer many pop culture references and samples such as Drug Addicts. It is clear that Paulie was as an important factor in this album’s creation as Ez. Even though it is technically a solo effort, there is clearly no separating the Brotherz Grimm.

Albums such as this raise the questions as to why this is labelled underground hip hop when it is more original and interesting than much of rap music that is storming the charts at the moment. It may be slightly too dark and twisted to be accepted by the masses but it should be at least on the radar of any hip hop fan, Irish or not.

Class A Narcotics is available to stream and free download here: http://brotherzgrimm.bandcamp.com/album/class-a-narcotics

3.5/5

-Ross Logan