Mac Miller – GO:OD AM

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This time two years ago Mac Miller was on top of the world. With a MTV reality TV show funding his music making addiction, among other ones, the future was bright and prosperous. Unsurprisingly, most fans were more interested in what turns he would take musically. The more commercial route was clearly laid out for him in the beginning but he cast that aside, as well as his TV show, in favour of producing quality music in the manner he chooses. With GO:OD AM he has released his best and certainly his most consistent work so far.

The lighter and more upbeat tone to the album suggests that Mac is in a happier place mentally and physically than he was two years ago. Good AM is a far cry from his last work, Watching Movies With The Sound Off, which featured a drug addled Mac exploring topics like humanity & mortality. As interesting and introspective as that record was, this one gives the impression that he is more comfortable in his own skin.

His issues with drugs are addressed directly on Perfect Circle/God Speed. It is a candid and brutally honest look at a once troubled artist, who thankfully has shaken this slump and come out better because of it. The whole album can be summed up with the theme of the song and that is redemption. Mac does his best to inspire the same vitality in the listener that he has recently discovered, a refreshing trait to see in someone with such wide reach and appeal.

GO:OD am is the sound of an artist who has evolved and grown. Whether it’s in terms of lyrics, delivery or general confidence, Mac has come a long way. He is a true hip hop artist, but with pop sensibilities that allow him to carry melodies and deliver better hooks than many of his tone deaf peers who use voice altering software like it’s going out of fashion. The consistency maintained over the course of 17 tracks makes this Mac’s most cohesive project yet. Maybe a clear and sober head might actually be good for songwriting, despite what history has showed us several times in the past.

4/5
-Ross Logan

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Oddisee, The Sugar Club

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It’s rare that you get two groups as hungry as Boss Level Series and This Side Up performing support sets at the one gig. B.L.S easily fill up the stage with their multiple man crew and unleash a ferocious barrage of tracks from the various artists on stage. They set a relentless pace for the next act, one that was easily matched by a two man crew from Sligo, This Side Up. Both acts showed two different sides of Irish hip hop, both as entertaining and skilfully executed as the other.

The energy exerted by the support acts is perhaps slightly deflated with Oddisee’s casual walk onto stage. It’s important to take his aesthetic into consideration though. He seems more obsessed with his craft rather than achieving some unobtainable level of fame. He has made a name for himself with deep and emotional lyrics and a fondness for low key live performances, as highlighted during his excellent NPR Tiny Desk Concert earlier this year.

The addition of his band, Good Company, is really what makes the show. Too often hip hop gigs are let down by a lack of a rapport between the band and the main act, but this was far from the case. Good Company elevate the show to new heights, ones that may be unachievable with the traditional rapper and DJ set up. ‘What’s Going On’ sounds as blissfully serene as always, with the light backing vocals add layers to Oddisee’s insightful verses.

The material from his latest release, the Good Fight, gets an extended run through. The obligatory singalong of ‘That’s Love’ proves to be the highlight of the evening, with the soulful ‘Contradiction’s Maze’ coming in close second. An encore featuring a little snippet of Simon Says by Pharaohe Monch is a sure fire way to end a somewhat laid back set with a massive bang. It’s also a great way to inject some more life into a truly personal and laid back performance.

Oddisee knows how to relate with fans through his music so it’s no wonder that he is such a master at doing so on stage also. He might not get the recognition he necessarily deserves at this point, but he leaves no doubt in the mind of the Sugar Club’s audience that he needs to be at least considered in your list of top 10 rappers. Whether you really agree with that statement or not, Oddisee will continue to honourably fight the Good Fight for true lyricism and real music anyway, and he must be commended for that.

Action Bronson, The Academy Dublin

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Action Bronson is a quite unlike any other rapper. After breaking his leg in a kitchen accident, he decided to leave the culinary world behind and put his rhyming skills to work just 5 years ago. It is fair to say he has come a long way in such a short space of time. Having released his major label debut, the eclectic ‘Mr. Wonderful’ in March and becoming a food critic in with his own show, ‘Fuck, That’s Delicious’ via Vice, it was no surprise to see the Academy sold out and full to the brim of eager fans looking to catch a glimpse of one of the most entertaining hip hop artists of the moment.

Opening sets from his fellow Queens native, Meyhem Lauren, and longtime producer and collaborator, the Alchemist suitably get the ball rolling and the crowd amply excited for what’s to come. As soon as Bronson strides on stage, it’s clear from the look on his face and the reception he gets from the crowd, that this was the role he was born to play. He is a showman, completely in his element with a command and presence that live up to the stature of his character.

It is during the tracks from his debut album that he seems most energised. Whether it’s the during rugged playfulness of ‘Falconry’, or the smoother singalong of ‘Baby Blue’ Action bellows out his ridiculous imagery by the bucketload. His voice is incomparable in terms of power and volume. He affirms the fact that voice altering and vocal backing tracks are not a necessity in a hip hop live show, despite what other artists might have you think.

The short running time of the set allows for more tracks but less interaction, which is surprising trait for someone who is known for being so charismatic. It would have been entertaining to hear him crack a few more jokes, but an extended run of Amadu Diablo into Give Me One Reason by Tracy Chapman makes up for the lack of laughs with simply great music. While it was never in doubt, Bronson makes a point to affirm his self appointed Mr Wonderful title with storming performances such as this one.

-Ross Logan

Public Enemy – Man Plans God Laughs

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Within the space of a week, both Dr. Dre and Public Enemy have released new studio albums. It’s hard not to take a step back to google something on your phone just to reassure yourself that it really is 2015 and not the early 90s. Dre’s album was primarily used as a tool to fuel the hype of the NWA film. However, P.E’s decision to make a comeback was fuelled by an unsettled political landscape in America, pretty much the same reason for their initial formation in the late 80s. Citing Kendrick Lamar and Run the Jewels as sources of inspiration, they hit the studio to create yet another record full of politically charged anthems and unique production.

To say the album is stereotypically P.E is an understatement, but that doesn’t mean we have heard it all before. They adapt a modern approach to the production, most notably on the exhilarating ‘Those Who Know Know Who’. It proves that you might not actually need multiple chaotic samples layered on top of each other to create a captivating Public Enemy album. Man Plans God Laughs doesn’t instantly demand attention like their classic releases, but 28 years into a career that’s a hard quality to maintain.

Many of the topics touched on lyrically are of vital importance. Chuck D has always had the ability to provide brash and honest views on what’s wrong with the world. On ‘Earthizen’ he gives an alphabetised rundown of some vital life advice and why you should not accept everything you are told as fact. This is why Public Enemy have always been and will continue to be an important act, not just in hip hop but in music. They mirror the social conscious of many minds around the world and use their platform to assure these people that they are not alone in their thinking.

Man Plans God Laughs will definitely not get the same amount publicity or achieve the same sales as Dr. Dre’s album did. If anything the surprise release from Dre may have slightly overshadowed the fact that the act who directly inspired NWA were also returning. However, this shouldn’t downplay the importance of this album,and of Public Enemy. They have returned, maybe not with as big of a bang as you might have hoped, but they’re here, they’re loud and they have a voice that needs to be heard.

3/5

-Ross Logan

Compton: A Soundtrack by Dr. Dre

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After 16 years since his last solo album and having released two singles in 2008 for an album that is now deemed to never see the light of day, Dr. Dre surprised the world by announcing ‘Compton’ with just a couple of weeks notice. Speculation spread like wildfire instantly. Who would be on it? What would it sound like? Will it even be good? Some doubted him and others defended him. Luckily for us, Dre is a perfectionist, and we were never going to get a subpar product. It should not come as too much of a surprise then that he has released an album with the potential to revolutionise and revive the West Coast hip hop scene, yet again.

The list of artists that feature on ‘Compton’ is dense. There’s plenty of new and relatively unknowns that appear frequently, (Anderson Paak and King Mez). Of course many of the most interesting moments are hearing Dre back in the studio with the likes of Snoop Dogg, Xzibit and Kendrick Lamar. All of the heavyweights deliver some of their best verses in years, perhaps realising that this may be how their career will be immortalised for this generation. The biggest star of the show is Kendrick. Many have been waiting to hear him over Dre’s production since he has emerged as the most interesting and prominent artist from the West Coast in years. It’s safe to say he makes the very most of the situation, appearing on He demands attention from the first word he vocalises on ‘Deep Water’, rapping with an unrivalled confidence and skill and the intention of gunning for his competitors throats.

That’s not to say there aren’t some mediocre tracks or verses either. Ice Cube’s verse is somewhat entertaining but the song suffers due to messy and repetitive production. Eminem also keeps up his streak of incredibly well written raps that sound impressive, but that lack any sign of emotion or message. What could have been one of the highlights of the album, hearing a reunion of the two recording partners and friends, falls into the now hefty category of forgettable Dr.Dre/Eminem collaborations.

Lyrically, Dre goes into detail on everything from the pressures of releasing an album (‘It’s All On Me’) to the treatment of people in Compton by police and the media (‘Animals’). The latter is one of the best tracks on the album. The insightful lyrics are soulfully delivered by Anderson Paak over the smooth beat that is as immersive as J Dilla at his best. DJ Premier even appears at the end to scratch some vocal samples. It is little elements like this that Dre added in that prove he really pulled out all the stops to make this album sound like a classic. Not only should ‘Compton’ stand the test of time, it will serve as a benchmark of influence for artists that will emerge in the next 10 years.

The real star of the album unsurprisingly is the production. He has created 16 tracks that sound brand new but still have hints of 90’s west coast nostalgia that many crave from him. The mixing is supremely handled as always. Each kick and snare sounds crisp and lands perfectly over the intricately layered beats. It’s refreshing to see Dre taking the music in a different direction than many would have expected. If you think about the leaps and bounds hip hop has taken in terms of what can be done with production in the past 15 years, it is no wonder that this record isn’t particularly similar to anything we’ve heard from him before. In the long interim since Chronic 2001, Kanye West’s entire career has happened, Jay Z has become a business mogul and plenty of fads have come and gone. If Dre had of released a carbon copy of his critically acclaimed previous work, he would be deemed irrelevant by today’s standards, no matter how good it would have sounded. What he has managed to do on ‘Compton’, is create a new sound for the West Coast, one that is desperately needed. This album will spawn many imitators as his others have before. This isn’t doubting the creativity of other artists, but you cannot deny the influence Dre has already had and now will continue to have because of this album. This may be our last appointment with the good Doctor but it is much like a prostate exam. Briefly uncomfortable in parts, but much needed and we’re all a lot better off because of it.

4/5

-Ross Logan

Jeru the Damaja, The Sugar Club Dublin

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Having released his debut, the Sun Rises in the East, in 1994 alongside DJ Premier, many would believe that Jeru the Damaja’s prime could be far behind him. However, undeniable charisma and talent thankfully prevent this from being the case. The show that he put on was as energetic, and more entertaining, than that of many artists who were born the same year his debut was released. Age may not be a factor but experience most certainly is. Performances such as this one prevent Jeru from fading into obscurity and cement his legacy as one of hip hop’s greatest performers.

Many artists can claim veteran status in rap music at this stage. Anyone who released an album in the 90s that resulted in some form of acclaim tends to do so. However, it is rare that this title is as applicable to anyone as Jeru the Damaja. He controls the crowd at the Sugar Club not just with ease, but with a high level of professionalism, one that is often missing on his peers’ behalf. He even stops an over enthusiastic fan from being kicked out, highlighting and enhancing the control he holds over the crowd and the entire venue.

Mixing an array of new material with classics and results in a ferocious set. When he’s not impressing with his flow and wordplay, he jokes with the crowd about racism vs prejudice, Irish stereotypes and eh.. his “large black shillelagh.” His good mood is absorbed by the spectators and is reciprocated tenfold. Competitors should notes on how to genuinely and consistently create laughter amongst an audience, something that is slowly becoming a lost art form in live music. The DJ duties, provided by ChoiceCuts own DJ Scope are more than suitably handled. Scope either knows Jeru’s set like the back of his hand, or is incredibly good at rolling with the many punches that the set delivers.

As soon as it’s over he’s straight to the smoking area to sell copies of his latest album. It only goes to prove that work ethic is essential to any hip hop artist, regardless of your stature. Some would view Ireland as yet another easy pay check for 60 minutes work, but Jeru at least gave the illusion that he had immersed himself in our culture to some degree. Whether he’s giving us his best effort at speaking Irish or talking about his ‘gaff’, it’s clear an effort was made on his behalf to try gather somewhat relatable material to entertain the crowd between tracks. Fair enough it can verge on patronising at some stages, but if you drop the patriotic facade, you begin to realise that he is genuinely funny regardless of who he is poking fun at. It is not a show that packs hit after hit into 60 minutes but the enthusiasm shown by the crowd and the act prove that that may not be as big a necessity as previously thought.

-Ross Logan

Kool Keith, The Sugar Club Dublin

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It is hard to know what to expect going into a Kool Keith show. The man of many names (Dr. Dooom, Black Elvis, Dr. Octagon to name a few) is one of hip hop's most enigmatic and eccentric characters. He combines strange and smooth quite like no other. The erotic visuals accompanying the set and even his choice of outfit only add to the bizarre, yet suave, mystique that surrounds Kool Keith. 

The initial melody of Ultramagnetic MC's tracks gets the ball rolling suitably. The lacklustre freestyle that follows is admirable for sheer length alone, but was by no means awe inspiring. It is the Dr. Octagon material that uplifts the show to new heights and Black Elvis keeps it there briefly. Full tracks are a rarity in the set. Towards the end he delivers hook after hook, highlighting the size of his back catalogue but never showcasing his talent for delivering perfectly off beat rhymes.

His hype man and DJ are really the glue holding the show together. Kutmasta Kurt's mixing and scratching is supreme and polishes the weaker segments of the set. The hype man proves he is a necessity by interacting with the crowd and raising energy levels. Kool Keith's demeanour isn't built for these duties and it's hard to imagine what the show being any way exciting without the hype man. 

After an exhilarating run through of 'Poppa Large' he gathers as many women on stage as possible and leads them to the VIP bar, for god knows what. The show was definitely highly entertaining, but has it's share of awkward moments. It satisfies the fans by giving a glimpse into the many different characters that Keith has brought to life over the course of his 31 year long career. It doesn't consistently deliver and that is what someone with countless amounts of studio albums should be able to guarantee for everyone.   -Ross Logan

Bizarre Ride 2 the Pharcyde, the Sugar Club Dublin

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The Pharcyde are a group whose aesthetic was tailored perfectly for hip hop’s Daisy Age. However, they were perhaps a bit late to fully capitalise on the market that was paved for them by the likes of A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul. They took on the task of flying the flag for the alternative side of L.A hip hop during Dr. Dre and Tupac’s heyday and it something they are still firmly willing to do today. Due to some legal issues with past members of the group who are still touring under the original name, the show was advertised as ‘Bizarre Ride 2 the Pharcyde’ to avoid confusion or lawsuits. These issues have not hindered, but most likely have inspired, their undeniable energy on stage as they proved during this smile-inducing gig at the Sugar Club.

There is no literal or figurative barrier between the act and the crowd. They happily pause to take photos or rap from the seating area with fans, always acknowledging and appreciating the love being shown for them. Selling copies of their most recent release doesn’t feel like a money grabbing tactic, but serves in highlighting the hard work and grinding that comes with being a hip hop artist, even when you’re considered as a ‘classic’ group. Others in their position would maybe feel above peddling hard copies but it is this dedication that has enabled them to still fill venues in 2015, even with a duplicate group touring the world at the same time.

Each member of the now 4 man group is a seasoned professional on the microphone. Breath control and projection are clearly second nature to each one of the emcees. Fair enough they have been performing a lot of this set for past 20 odd years, but there is no feeling that they are just going through the motions. K Natural may be able to mime Slimkid3’s crowd interaction word for word, probably having heard 100s of times by now, but if it isn’t broke why try fix it?

-Ross Logan

Interview with Mango

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How long have you been rapping?

“Just over ten years. I’ve been writing raps since I was about 14. But obviously, I was shite until I got to about 18, so thank God there was no Soundcloud back then. I started doing shows around 19 and then just got a job as a builder and fell out with it. Then I got into the Animators when I was about 20/21 and I’ve been doing it solid since then.”

What inspired you to want to be a rapper?

“I think it was my environment as a kid. Unlike most kids, my ma was hip to a lot of rap and she used to have tapes of De La Soul and Arrested Development in the jammer. She still has a burnt CD of 2pac songs she keeps in her car. Not just Dear Mama but like Troublesome 96 and all. So it was that, mixed with pirate radio and probably an interest in something that was different then my peers. Rap wasn’t as accepted as it is now for teenagers. Back then it was ‘wigger music’. I listened to albums religiously and when I heard Irish rap around the mid 00s I thought, Irish people can do this and ARE doing this and that I can do better than these lads are so I started then.”

Has there been one artist that you have constantly looked up to since you first starting writing?

“With me the influences change and whoever I get stuck on at a particular moment affects my writing. Mainstays would be Andre 3000, Busta Rhymes and Nas. But if it’s one person who really has influenced me musically and personally it would be Mike Skinner, from the OPM era.”

What led to break up of the Animators?

“I don’t really air out my dirty laundry in public and would never put anybody on blast, because even though there’s a serious divide and split between us, I still consider every one of the lads my brothers and I love them. It was more to do with the fact we were all grown men when we got into the group. I was the youngest at 20, so if we were all school mates or grew up on the same estate we might have had more of an organic relationship. We just were musically on the same wave for a few years. There was outside factors like people with kids or issues at home. Mix that with all of us having different ideas of how to continue musically, it stunted what should’ve been an easy progress. Also there was work ethic shit, where some people weren’t as into is as the others. But this all comes down to the first point of us being used to being solo artists with our own vision and styles for so long before coming together. We’d been through the mill with drama before and that turned a 9 man crew down to a 5 man crew at one point. Which was for the better as we got the people who really wanted to do something with the Animators together, but eventually the strain was too much.”

What is the most important thing you learned from your time in the group?

“There was a few things and I mentioned them on our track Me and My Crew. Things that have made me the calibre of MC I am now, I got all from the lads who, because they were older than me or had different styles, could teach me. RV taught me a lot about flow. Richie expanded my vocabulary and my thought process. Smokey made me put soul and heart into what I was writing. Of course my brother Fogo always got the best out of me and as a song writer and a producer, not just a beat maker. He would help me with structure and delivery and how to fully make a song. Out of the whole experience I would say it was how to work with a crew. Our live shows were unmatched and I don’t want to say that to be big headed but i see so many Irish hip hop acts go on and the crowd aren’t feeling it. And that took time. The most important thing at the end of it was to keep the attitude of a high standard. Not just good enough, or good enough for Irish rap. Great music, and something you can stand by forever. Set the bar mentality.”

What are you most proud of?

“The music. I still listen to Draw Together frequently, and not with rose tinted glasses. It’s an album I had an honour to be a part of. It’s exactly the rap album I want to listen to, so personally it embodies everything I wanted to do since I was 14. I have the album logo tatted on my chest. There was great nights like meeting my heroes like Big Daddy Kane Kane, the Pharcyde, Afrika bambaata,.. and becoming friends with Hypnotic Brass Ensemble. Playing sell out shows in the Village or the Academy. But it all boils down to the music. To me I have an album I love that I made. You can’t really buy that.”

What exactly happened at the Grandmaster Flash gig recently?

“To be honest it was an unlucky night. Apparently he only uses rane mixers, which of course the venue booked. When it arrived it was in bits ,with parts missing and he wouldn’t use it. Which I completely understand. I wouldn’t use a battered mic that no one could hear me through. Flash also won’t use decks the support act uses. So there was actually another set of turn tables right beside his ones which were perfectly fine, but it was a pioneer mixer so he wouldn’t use it. I don’t blame the venue or him. But I know that if I was there and a big crowd was screaming for me I probably would’ve just used the other decks. His manager had a row with the sound guy on stage and as far as I’m aware, he was playing a festival in the UK that day. He got a very late flight and arrived too late for it to be sorted all out, which meant everyone had to get refunds and he didn’t play. It’s a shame because I hope it doesn’t affect people putting on hip hop nights in Dublin which we really need and especially in great venues like Hangar, which I can’t say enough good things about.”
What festival are most excited to play or to have played this year?

“I’ve played two this year already which were great. Life festival was fucking freezing but I saw Nas so it was worth it. BARe festival, which I would encourage people to check out, was small and great crowd with BYOB and no hassle or a Garda in sight. But it has to Electric Picnic. The last two times I was there I kept seeing Irish rap acts there like Lethal Dialect and Hare Squead and said to myself I should be playing this. Unfortunately we were too late with material with the Animators in the year for bookers and then obviously the next year we had split. But I’ll be playing two shows down in trenchtown with The Dirty Dubsters crew which I MC with RV. I’m only bleedin buzzin for it! It’s the one festival I can count all the lads to come down to so they’ll get to see me onstage.”

Top 3 albums of all time?

“If you asked me this tomorrow it would be a completely different answer. It’s tough to nail down but seeing as we’re chatting about rap I’ll just give my rap albums:
Original Pirate Material – The Streets
Outkast – Aquemini
And I have to rep my city so probably Bitter Rocc – MMXIII”

If you could feature alongside any artist, dead or alive, who would it be? And who would produce the beat?

“Q-Tip or maybe Wiley. Beat
-wise, a lot of rappers would say Priemo or Kanye but honestly it has to be my bro Fogo AKA mathman. His versatility and quality Is unmatched and that’s as unbiased as I can be.”

Finish this sentence: ‘Irish hip hop needs…’

“To stop looking for a handout and a pat on the back. We need to be self dependent. Make our own scene like grime in the UK. It took them a long time, but staying true to your sound with belief does pay off. Hoping for a co-sign from some one who doesn’t care or have any impact on our scene is cool, but it won’t get you far. Less of a mentality of Irish hip hop, and just call it hip hop. It needs unity and less fragmentation. I was guilty of this in the past hating on other crews and whatever cause I was so focused on my own one, but all in all if your doing it and doing it right, I’ve nothing but respect and I’ll support. Most of us don’t even buy each other’s albums.

Also, keeping it boom bap and gully and New York ’95 style is all well and good but we also need more people expanding and growing creatively, and that’s not a shot at anyone. There’s people who do that really well here and have created their own lane. I come from an era where in rap the most important thing is being original not jacking someone else’s style just cause it’s popping at the minute. We need quality control. Stop posting bullshit demos on soundcloud and create something that is on par with the standard not just good enough for you cause your only rapping a bleeding week. We also need more songs for the radio or media exposure cause that’s how we made moves and got places. And of course less snakey shit, keep the gossip and the hating to aul ones putting out their line.”

Mango and Mathman are set to release their new album soon titled Casual Work. Keep an eye out for it!

Earl Sweatshirt – I Don’t Like Shit. I Don’t Go Outside.

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Earl Sweatshirt has progressed into a different artist than what was heard on his debut album ‘Doris’. The monotonous delivery that we were reluctantly becoming accustomed to has been cast aside in favour of a more passionate and natural style of performing. Many praised his premature level of skill that he introduced us to on his initial mixtape. Now it seems like all this discussed potential has finally been realised and Earl has now progressed into the mature, intelligent artist we have been waiting to meet.

The production was handled almost entirely by Earl, aside from ‘Off Top’, which was handled by his fellow Odd Future member Left Brain. It is an altogether dark, gritty and fuzzy sound that takes over the whole album. Echoing drums are often accompanied eerie synths and low bass lines, all of which aid in creating an air of perfected melancholy throughout. The only downfalls come in the form of a few ill fitting features. Vince Staples may introduce Wool with vicious intent, but Wiki soils AM/Radio with his weak appearance.

Earl’s recently acquired higher level of self awareness, both musically and personally, has allowed him to become more comfortable and confident in the studio. You can hear it in his voice that he is less doubtful of himself. He is far from the fidgety, withdrawn young man that we saw in the first interviews concerning his return from Samoa. It’s clear that the culmination of all his experiences has led to this album, one that many have been waiting to hear from him for quite some time.

It is not just his sound that has matured but the lyrical content and themes also. He focuses on relationships with his friends, mother, family and record label. It is can be brutally honest at times. He goes into detail on very personal matters on tracks like Grief and Faucet, resulting in two of the most personal tracks we may have heard from him yet. On DNA he states he’s “ here, there, up and down, low and peaking”, admitting that the new found confidence may not be fully instilled in the doubtful young artist.

Earl has stated that this is the first project he’s released that he can fully stand behind and it shows. The confidence in himself and his work, as well as the natural progression that comes with someone who started so young, was all he needed to finally justify all that hype and meet the expectations of those who have been waiting. While the album may only be 30 minutes long, there is enough buried content for an immediate second or third listen. The more you grasp, the more you want to listen again. It is an enthralling record from a rapper who is wise beyond his years. He should prove to be one of the best emcees of our time if this is the standard set for his future.

4/5

-Ross Logan