Category Archives: music

PCP: Dethklok

Monotony Monday #10 – Most Metal

Dethklok: Timeless

The short of it: Parody that outdoes its source material is rare. Not only does Dethklok successfully mock the quirks and ridiculousness of metal, it outdoes most metal bands in terms of talent and performance. 

The pilot episode of Metalocalypse portrays Dethklok as the world’s most popular band, with legions of fans willing to die to hear the band play.

Three albums (more or less) later, it’s actually understandable why their animated fans would go to the brütal slaughterhouse that is a Dethklok show.

The band is effectively just Brendon Smalls playing with himself. And the result is some of the funniest jokes about the genre delivered through genuinely great metal.

Pretty much every track manages to both kick ass and bring a grin to your face. You’ve got songs like “Dethharmonic,” with these gorgeous, orchestral strings backing this shuddering riff and it’s just beautiful.

And the song is just about not wanting to pay taxes. It’s funny on the surface level, but, like all of Dethklok’s music, makes this grander point about how dumb most metal lyrics are. Even though Small’s got wonderfully clear vocals, other metal bands’ muddled screeches and snarls disguise the utter inanity of most lyrics. And Dethklok is both pointing that out and saying that it’s actually fine– the pretentiousness and elitism that riddle the metal community are as silly as the eighteenth reference to Satan in a three minute song. If it sounds good, it’s good. If it sounds metal, it’s metal.

Dethklok, as a band, is impressive. Dethklok, as a comedic avenue, is impressive. Dethklok as a single man’s project is indescribable.

Well, maybe not.

It actually just takes three words.

Metal. As. Fuck.

PCP: Raleigh Ritchie

Monotony Monday #7 – Music n’ Missandei

Raleigh Ritchie: A Raleigh to Really Rally Behind

The short of it: With a charming mix of melancholy and joy, Raleigh Ritchie’s music is almost always an airy delight. It’s downtrodden indie pop that plays with the genre as well as Jacob Anderson plays the Unsullied leader. 

Roughly four years ago, I downloaded a “Best of June 2013” tape from Sunset in the Rearview. It came with a bit of a melancholy tune by Raleigh Ritchie, who I assumed was just another British sadboi musician that’d never get the acclaim he deserved.

Three years after that, I was screaming at my TV, begging for my favorite secondary Game of Thrones character, Grey Worm, to escape his near-deadly encounter with the Golden Harpies. As soon as he emerged in the third season, I knew he was going to be on my “Please Don’t Die” list.

Lo and behold, it turns out Jacob Anderson is just brilliant as pretty much everything he does.

With the pseudonym of Raleigh Ritchie, Anderson creates ballads of hopeful heartbreak. His music is painfully honest. He gently sings of his sad dreams and struggles, his fantasies and nightmares, everything from his luckiest stumble to his worst mistakes.

It’s absolutely delightful hearing him bounce over the noisy sounds of tracks like “Cowards” before powering over the simplistic piano tune of “Stronger Than Ever,” (my personal favorite).  Everything’s brilliantly and uniquely produced, but they’re all outshone by Anderson’s crooning and lyricism.

I’m more than familiar with the sad said of indie pop and the evolutionary successor to emo, where every girl is a beautiful devil and every fault is your own. But Anderson uses these incredibly human and tender stories of how scared he is of, well, the scariest non-scary parts of living. Growing old, changing, losing the ones you love, he manages to encapsulate them all in songs that never hit preachy or whiny. His versatility with handling the most common of fears is as stunning as the visuals in his videos.

Everything just fits so well in his music. His consistency and experimentation should clash, but they’ve yet to do so. His versatility keeps him afloat, even in the face of the most challenging music possible: Dan Harmon’s freestyling.

Man this dude’s great.

PCP: Night Lovell

Monotony Monday #5 – Meek Musical Musing

Night Lovell: Good Night and Good Luck

The short of it: Top-notch production and a consistently good flow makes Night Lovell more than his genre. 

On RL Grime’s 2015 Halloween mix, there was this one track that always blew me away. I figured Grime had done something to it, only to find out that no, Night Lovell is just that dope.

Lovell’s subgenre is hard to pin down–it’s easy to distinguish it from other artists by ear, but analysis is a little tougher. A YouTube commenter referred to it as shadow rap, I thought of it as spooky trap (cleverer name pending), but in reality, it’s closer to a more refined cloud rap.

Spooky trap takes the vocal samples and ambient production of cloud rap and combines them with a concentrated flow and darker tone. It seems to often have some form of layering on the vocals, deepening them, but not to the degree of anything Houstonian.

It’d be a lie to say the style doesn’t borrow- artists like Lovell reveal the legacy of Lil B and, by extension, Clams Casino. Lovell’s work is a reflection of other new artists from both the mainstream, like Travis Scott, and more Internet-popular artists like Jazz Cartier. The Lovell/Cartier connection is interesting- there’s multiple occasions where their production could be switched without any noticeable different. However, whereas Cartier leans more into the rap-pop sphere, Lovell’s influences are harder to specify- the closest being horror core. Lovell’s occasional usage of vividly violent image (“pool of blood”) reflects this, but, when mixed with his overt emotional honesty, create something far outside those bounds.

He features the Canadian-Carribean patois, and, much like Drake’s attempts on Views, ends up a bit short of a credible impersonation. Fortunately Lovell goes for the humor rather than the homage, elevating it above Drake’s efforts. This is where any comparison between the two ends.

Night Lovell manages to isolate himself as a unique talent in this era overflowing with soundcloud success.

Top Two Tuesday: QuESt and Boogie

Top Two Tuesday is a weekly effort to recognize two artists who deserve more attention, respect, and praise in the music world. This week is a mix of two almost similar artists that I discovered almost five years apart. They’re also almost described as another artist, although that’d almost ruin any true description of them. Almost.

The best part is both of them are currently working on their respective albums– something I’m more excited about than my own future.


High Voices, Higher Intellects

QuESt

A squandered opportunist who hasn’t squandered a single beat. 

Image via @YesIAmQuESt

I was introduced to QuESt back in my backpacker days with “Gambler” off of his first project, Fear Not Failure. I promptly forgot about him.

That was a mistake.

I recently rediscovered him with his latest project, Searching Sylvan. I let one song come up on shuffle and left it. Then I listened to the entire tape in its entirety. The production was wonderfully melodic and well done, especially for an underground rapper. QuESt has this unbelievable power to spit over any beat– his voice is strange and high-pitched, but he uses it to keep pace with the production to tell stories and recite poems. He does have his certain style that he seems comfortable with– what can loosely be called Americanized grime. His production has heavy inspiration from both dubstep and DnB; the impressive thing is that he never fights it. He works with shuddering synths and deep bass so well you’d think it’s in his blood. QuESt is the hungriest rapper I’ve ever heard.

Sylvan is a loose narrative of a period of his life in his town of Miami and the struggles he faced as a person, a musician, a son, a friend, and a citizen. He plows through quick tempos to shout his frustrations as a “struggle rapper” in the aptly titled “Struggle Rapper,” then turns around and bounces through disappointments in “Erase Me.” The interludes and skits, including one from Tupac, are both personal and relatable– QuESt manages to give the listener a view of Miami from his perspective without dominating the narrative.

This is where the terrible comparison starts.

Searching Sylvan is like a more human good kid, MAAD city. Where Kendrick discusses the city of Compton and the struggle of everyone there, QuESt goes deeper into his emotions and personal reflections and painful struggles of a man trying to find his dream. Don’t get me wrong, gkMC is still my favorite album of all time– but there’s something staggering in Sylvan. 

Listen to:

1. Struggle Rapper

2. Erase Me

3. Automatic

4. The Memories

Download:

1. Searching Sylvan

2. Fear Not Failure


Boogie

A man whose thirst for success is matched only by his criticism of thirsty-ness. 

Photo by Jack Wagner for LA Weekly.

Boogie punched his way into my ears with Oh My (produced by Jahlil Beats, who has made some of my absolute favorite Kevin Gates beats). For someone who is just barely breached the scene, Boogie is terrifyingly polished. He’s mastered his flow and style almost immediately. His content is far from your expected, “I’m going to come up and be the best, I’ll call out these other rappers!” Instead, he has a way of reflecting and critiquing the life around him. His raps aren’t intimate as much as they are friendly– he talks like a friend on the corner, looking at life and his city and calling out what troubles him with a certain degree of quiet wisdom.

Thirst 48, arguably my favorite title of anything from the past few years, has this beautiful, consistent tone that Boogie takes full advantage of. The skits and interludes, including one from Tupac, are brief and offer a little bit of insight into what Boogie sees. He never changes from this personable, laid-back mood, even if he’s going off over brass or atmospheric echoes. His songs invoke vivid images of LA streets in the summer.

This is where the terrible comparison starts.

Boogie is like an LA Chance the Rapper (odd, seeing how he’s older than Chance). He’s confident on sing-song melodies and he’s just as confident on bangers (re: Oh My). He’s not afraid to change his flow or break it entirely. Now my only concern is that Boogie sticks to killer raps and doesn’t lose himself to sing-song nonsense.

Just kidding, there isn’t a chance he’ll go in any direction but up.

Listen to:

1. Oh My

2. Bitter Raps

3. Save Me

4. Let Me Rap

Download:

1. Thirst 48

Top Two Tuesday: Kevin Gates and Future

Top Two Tuesday is a weekly effort to recognize two artists who deserve more attention, respect, and praise in the music world. Who better to start with than my two favorite artists, including the one who reassured each of us that, You Deserve It?


The Melodic Marauders

Kevin Gates

Louisiana rapper and honest-to-a-fault talent.

Image via kevingat.es.

Gates is a master. He’s my favorite rapper– not just from Louisiana or the south, I mean ever. He’s a weirdo, his PR is less than great, and he’s done some pretty bad things. But he’s so much more than that. His music is painfully honest from the get go; there’s no need to hide in introspective songs to reveal his feelings. Every song is pure like that (using pure in a very strict sense, dude’s into some freaky stuff). The point is, I’ve never gotten a deceptive vibe or even a hint of falsity from his music. There is no behind-the-curtain Kevin. He exists wholly in his melodies and verses, be they from his 2007 mixtape Pick of Da Litter (one of my favorite mixtape titles, up there with Boogie’s Thirst 48 and Big Bear’s Doin’ Thangs) or his most recent release, Luca Brasi 2.

His music is powerful at points and silly at others. He has a song about Twilight and a song about attempted murders. Both of them are fantastic. His hooks are usually flawless and his beat selection nearly always compliments both his sing-songy styles and his hardest verses.

I don’t call him my favorite rapper lightly. There aren’t many rappers that have their best songs in both their first release and their latest.

Listen to:

  1. I Don’t Get Tired (#IDGT) ft. August Alsina
  2. Satellites
  3. Angels
  4. Wylin

Download:

  1. Stranger Than Fiction 
  2. The Luca Brasi Story
  3. By Any Means
  4. Luca Brasi 2

Future

The sing-songy future of hip-hop.

Future honestly doesn’t need any more recognition– he’s a monster. Those two serve as more than just a lame hyperlink joke; as a musician, Future has evolved brilliantly. He got his initial recognition with the high-pitched, crooning hits from his debut album Pluto and the follow-up, Honest. I never took him seriously when he first blew up (I was still in my terrible backpacker days), only occasionally guiltily indulging in hits like the aforementioned “You Deserve It” and “Turn on the Lights.” Long after I had put down the backpack and the pretentiousness stuffed in it, someone linked me to “Throw Away” off of Monster. I downloaded the mixtape immediately and, after a few listens, knew it was my number one project of 2014. He’s embraced the killer croons/hooks of his older stuff while exploring a darker vibe and production. His honesty and melodies, much like Kevin Gates, are unbelievable. It’s rare for me to revisit someone’s work after burning myself out on it– I can’t seem to do that with Future. He’s locked himself in with some of the best producers in the game, and he knows it. His recent stream of projects are individually fantastic; as a series, with little time between them, they are seemingly unmatched. Even though I just got finished listening to his most recent project, I’m already tapping my foot for his upcoming tape with Mike Will Made It. His stream of quality work and consistency mean he’s going to be an industry leader for a long, long time. And I could not be more excited.

Listen to:

1. Codeine Crazy

2. After That ft. Lil Wayne

3. March Madness

4. Just Like Bruddas

Download:

1. Monster

2. 56 Nights 

3. Beast Mode 

Top Fives are for chumps

These are my top four records of 2014 since fives are for chumps. I’ve included what I think are the best tracks on each release, as well as what makes these records so special to me beyond the fact that they’re great music.

4. Life After Deathrow – Boosie Badazz

Best of: “The Fall”

This album means: Home.

I’m not going to lie, I was excited when Boosie finally got out of prison. He’s a legend in Louisiana, and, like Kevin Gates, a symbol of my home. His string of features were mostly garbage though and it felt like he had faded away. Once this tape came out though, it blew away all those disappointments and gave light to a Boosie with better beat selection and some killer lyricism (“‘We got you on six bodies and two attempts’ / I said, ‘Sir, you’re lying cause I don’t do attempts'” on the damn INTRO). Although the middle of the tape suffers a bit from the 2002-era Boosie sound, it ends strong with emotion-packed “O Lord.” He gets “Louisiana’s Tupac” for a reason– Boosie’s better than ever.

3. My Krazy Life – YG 

Best of: “I Just Wanna Party (ft. Schoolboy Q and Jay Rock)”

This album means: Finding happiness in my musical progression.

With skits that come off as a clips from a gangster’s life in the style of The Slim Shady LP and good kid, MAAD city, this album was another surprise for me. I transitioned pretty quickly from underground backpack nonsense to mainstream rap. MKL is just another sign of that– I enjoy this album way more than any pretentious mess from some kid in Maine. My favorite album of all time is arguably GKMC and MKL gives you the exact other side of the issues in Compton. That’s such a dynamic shift to me– the seemingly shallow antagonists that haunt Kendrick are the ones that won’t stop popping back up in my playlists. The production is killer and YG creates a few near-perfect tracks. The only reason it goes behind #2 is my lack of familiarity with most of the tracks and the album’s lack of diversity. Its high points are higher than most of #2’s, so it still deserves a lot of respect.

2. Oxymoron – Schoolboy Q

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Best of: “Prescription/Oxymoron”

This album means: Driving in the snow.

This was the fourth album I bought in Columbia (after Born Sinner, Trap Lord, and My Name is My Name). I have vivid memories of driving back from Best Buy listening to this album and clearing snow off my car while hearing “Gangsta” and “What They Want.” There are some moments on here that really haunt me– 2 Chainz’ verse on “What They Want,” Q’s young daughter popping up every so often in the midst of songs about selling drugs and murders, the flawless production on “Prescription/Oxymoron.” Although the bonus tracks can really drag this album down, its base edition is a well-done rollercoaster of messages and moods. Every song, from the celebratory “Collard Greens” to the aggressive “The Purge,” feels purely Q. If this was a competition between the deluxe editions, My Krazy Life would probably edge ahead of Oxymoron; with base editions, however, Q just barely ends up ahead of YG. His persona, his life are so evident in these tracks, it’s hard to speak ill of this unbelievably authentic record. It gives me the same kind of memories that obviously motivate Q to write his songs, things you don’t forget and shape you into your final product.

1. Monster – Future

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Best of: “Codeine Crazy”

The album means: Everything I’ve felt this year.

It’s hard to argue against the fact that my biggest complaint is that a single skit kind of bugs me. A few years ago, I would have written off Future as some “autotune garbage, not real rap!” and called it a day. Instead, some random kid on /r/hiphopheads links a single song off of Monster (“Throw Away” which fights with “Codeine Crazy” as my favorite off the tape) and I had to download it. Come 2015, it’s the only thing I still keep on repeat. Maybe it’s because it’s so recent compared to other releases like Oxymoron. But I mean, I have a slight issue with the hook on “2Pac” and “Abu’s Booming” irks me, but that’s it. Monster exceeded my expectations for a simple tape and beat out my feelings for any studio release this year (including Honest). Monster means more to me than a mixtape; it means emotional turmoil, anger, sadness, talking nonsense with friends, loneliness, happiness, partying and sitting alone in the dark. Future’s clarity and honesty allow his music to really hit home. It means so much more to me than any other tape this year. It’s a comforting step in my journey with hip-hop. I can’t even see the stairs behind me anymore. Just another couple of flights of some good music. Monster just happens to be the last one of the year.

Honorable Mentions and Accolades

2014 had a lot of killer singles– hell, a lot of albums and tapes almost made it on my top four by sheer strength of their singles (cough cough, Mastermind). But these aren’t just albums with good singles; these are albums I didn’t spend enough time with or just didn’t sit right with me despite knowing I should.

Album I Should Appreciate More

Pinata – Freddie Gibbs & Madlib

Madlib’s work is constantly referred to as “dusty” and “brilliant” and other terms that people who think vinyl makes sense use. Gibbs is impeccable, and songs like “Thuggin'” and “Deeper” are A+. But most of the album just faded past me, I felt too slow to appreciate it.

Nicest Surprise

Neon Icon – Riff Raff

I absolutely love “Time.” I genuinely do. “Kokayne,” on the other side of the energy spectrum, is like liquid cocaine in your veins. “How To Be The Man,” “Tip Toe Wing in My Jawwwdinz” are fun as hell. “Jody 3 Moons” is probably my favorite skit. All in all, a pleasant surprise from Jody.

Best Traditionally Southern Album

Cadallactica – Big KRIT

It’s a problem when a single made to hype up the album is better than most of the tracks on the actual album. “Mt. Olympus” was a-damn-mazing and arguably overshadows even the title track off this album. That being said, KRIT undeniably holds the title of New King of the South.

Best Shower Album

2014 Forest Hills Drive – J. Cole

I really liked listening to this in the shower. Don’t ask me why. Cole can speak the common man’s truth and this has held my attention a lot longer/better than Born Sinner. Biggest problem is the le wrong generation speak Cole occasionally gets in to, but this is still crazy good.

Initial Thoughts: Free Crack 2

Yesterday, Chicago rapper Lil Bibby released his sophomore effort Free Crack 2, a follow-up to his 2013 mixtape Free Crack. 

Free Crack 2’s cover is a little less subtle than Bibby’s first tape.

I sat down and started to listen to it about an hour ago and finished it a few minutes ago. I’ve been looking forward to this release since listening to Free Crack, a mixtape that I’m still listening to months later. The release of “We Are Strong,” a song that features my favorite artist Kevin Gates, only exacerbated the hype.

Before delving into the tracks themselves, I’ll go ahead and address the skits and non-musical bits. “Birdman Intro” is a solid, boisterous beginning to the tape, with “O Fortuna” behind the speech. The rest of the skits do their job of building up the atmosphere and reminding the listener of the environment of Chicago gang life. I loved “Cam Skit” off of Free Crack, and “I Love To Hustle” fulfills that role in Free Crack 2. In particular, hearing:

Yeah you know a n**** got dough
A n**** could leave the league
But if I leave, the fans still gon love me man?

I Love To Hustle (prod. by Mitch)

The skit isn’t original, originally coming from the movie Paid in Full. Most of the skits do the same thing, but none with the effect of “I Love To Hustle.” The theme of struggling with the pain and difficulty that come with success, both on and off the streets, are never too far from Bibby’s works.

Via Twitter; https://twitter.com/LilBibby_/status/432704926657937408/photo/1
Lil Bibby with his nephew.

The songs themselves can, at times, pull away from the message of the skits. (I’ll return to do a full track by track commentary at some point in the future).

For a sophomore effort, the tape is excellent. As a follow-up to Free Crack (a project that landed Bibby a spot on this year’s XXL Freshmen List, which is a basic who’s who of upcoming rappers), the project doesn’t quite live up to admittedly high hype.

Bibby’s battle between the hardships of his old life and the pains of success bring out the best of him. The darkness of Chicago’s streets are a much more interesting  tale the cost of wrist decoration. That’s not to say that those songs aren’t good or boring, but they certainly don’t separate him as a note-worthy up-and-comer. He does manage to make some stick-out, true gangster rap tracks. Much like Free Crack, a few tracks separate themselves as above the rest.

“Game Over,” which features fellow Chicago rapper Lil Herb, has the two trading quick, brief verses over horns and shuddering bass to create a cohesive, threatening track.

“Dead Or In Prison” uses a haunting glockenspiel melody matched up with Bibby’s frustration and anger to prove the rapper’s status as more than just another Chiraq rapper.

“We Are Strong” probably comes out as my favorite track on the tape. It features Baton Rouge rapper Kevin Gates (my personal favorite rapper) over a sample of Pat Benatar’s “Love is a Battlefield.”

Kevin Gates and Lil Bibby, both 2014 XXL Freshmen, collaborated on “We Are Strong.”

The two deliver fantastic verses, with Gates acting as an older brother of sorts for the younger Bibby.

The other track that initially stands out is “What You Live For.” Bibby expresses the difficulties of his life on the streets, from worrying about undercover cops to listening to his grandmother concerns about his life. His second verse offers up my favorite lines that can be used to sum up Bibby’s attitude and his music– behind the wealth and ego, rap and drugs truly aren’t for status. They’re just a means to supporting their families in a world devoid of possibilities, education, or aid. Bibby’s success will always come ahead of himself; my only hope is that his sacrifices don’t take him away from the scene and deliver him into a position where he can safely support his family while creating some powerful music.

N****s taking risks for the money, doing years for it
Gotta feed them kids boy
Grinding so hard, I don’t do it for myself
Long as the fam straight, who gives a f*** about my health?
Look, weighing up them grams, that’s how I learned mathematics

What You Live For (prod. by Kane)

 


EDIT 1

I’m a complete sucker for melodic or unusual samples. “Tomorrow” is absolutely delightful– Annie’s singing mixed with Bibby comparing finding out his favorite rappers are just faking their street life to a kid finding out Santa isn’t real. The fact that you hear Annie’s optimism about tomorrow being better get interrupted by the sounds of a drive-by is technically fantastic producing– but on a deeper level, it’s absolutely heartwrenching. It gives me the vision of a camera focused on the bleeding body of the drive-by victim, slowly panning up as Annie hits the climactic finish of the song. It’s chilling.