P110 – ‘P110 the Album’ (Review)

j7PJEomR
OZ Records (2017)

After racking up over 100,000,000 views on their broadcasting channel, it was only right that P110 released an album to showcase their limitless pool of talent. Featuring a select bunch of MCs from all over the map, ‘P110 the Album’ demonstrates that a mixture of gritty and soulful soundscapes serves as the perfect platform to reconcile the various dialects, accents and flows that the UK scene has to offer.

Consisting of eight tracks, eight MCs (plus some accent vocals from Shadow) and a run-time that falls just short of half an hour, each member works overtime to make sure their personal stamp is left on the tape. The initial sequence – as you can imagine – is a declaration of biblical proportions. Jaykae, undoubtedly Birmingham’s most passionate MC, spits tenaciously amidst eerie choral lines and soft bongos, flipping the script on one of P110’s more popular digital features: ‘Hood’s hottest I’m the hottest in my hood / You best believe because I’m not misunderstood / You’re not a shotter not a thug’.

The following two tracks continue in a similar vein. Fredo, who dropped a monstrous trap hit in the form of ‘They Ain’t 100’ last year, delivers another gem for the DJs to shell down functions with. ‘Nothings New’, with its schizophrenic, arpeggiated synths and thundering bass, finds Fredo firing off more effortless bravado, ensuring each bar’s final syllable comes slapping down on the kick drum for added drama. Back in Brum, however, Tempa whips up some 140bpm sorcery for ‘Who Said’. Clanging cymbals, plucked strings and distorted bass generate an unparalleled urgency for his relentless vocal assault: ‘Went to the bar with ya ting / Says she wanna hold six shots like I carry the beatah / One of Birmingham’s ‘ardest spitters and I don’t need to do no feachahhh’.

Staying on the topic of Brum, Stardom puts in a solid performance on ‘Lizzy’. However, his efforts are slightly marred by the mix: Stardom’s vocal is a little too low and constantly jostles for space with the 808. As a result, attempting to dissect his lyrics amongst the raucous instrumentation becomes a pretty strenuous task. That being said, he’s clearly got bars.

Moving forward, however, Nottingham’s Splinta sands off the edges with his beautifully soulful cut ‘Getting Mine’. Featuring a gorgeous sample of Submotion Orchestra’s ‘All Yours’ (also flipped by Bryson Tiller), Splinta uses this poignant ambience as a vehicle to exhibit some of the darker elements of his psyche: ‘I’ve been stressed / I’ve been depressed and I’ve been broken / I ain’t lyin’/ Fallin’ down but I keep gettin’ back up and I keep on tryin’. Similarly, Ard Adz blesses us with ‘Thinking’ – a pensive, acoustic guitar-driven track that offers a refreshing counterpoint to some of the tape’s darker cuts.

The best two tracks on this thing, however, have to go to Aystar and Mist (it’s worth noting that Shadow on the Beat gets behind the boards for both of these). Hailing from Liverpool, Aystar’s throaty, warbly flow glides effortlessly over Shadow’s plucks and snares; never has such a softly spoken Scouser sounded so menacing! He can be funny too, though: ‘Pull up at the drive-thru at Maccies casually’. Mist, on the other hand, has his bouncy Brum-hop on lock, and doesn’t disappoint with ‘These Days’. Shadow dials in a bendy bassline which is juxtaposed perfectly with some pitched-up, hypnotic vocal yaps – and all Mist has to do is go in: ‘These days man are broke out there rude boy no salary (ahh) / Niggas can’t fuck with my squad nah nah can’t fuck with my faculty (nah nah nah nah) / Cah man a ride out real late rude boy boom bang cause casualties’.

What is it about Mist’s delivery that’s so mesmerising? Is it hearing a Birmingham MC spit with the articulacy that you’d expect from Skepta? Is it how comfortable he sounds behind the mic? Or perhaps it’s the catchy phrases he uses to pad out his cadences? It’s probably all of the above, however, one thing is for sure: Mist and Shadow on the beat are a match made in sonic heaven.

Rick Ross – ‘Rather You Than Me’ (Review)

rick-ross-rather-you-than-me
Maybach / Epic (2017)

Many fans (especially the youngsters) are quick to count Mr Rozay out – especially now he’s sitting on the wrong side of forty. However, anyone that’s been keeping tabs will know that his last LP, ‘Black Market’, is arguably one of the most polished projects in his canon, so, you know, he’s still got it. ‘Rather You Than Me’, on the other hand, while not hitting the peaks of releases like ‘Teflon Don’ and ‘Rich Forever’, establishes the MMG boss as a decadent host – a host that can invite important figures from up and down the hip-hop timeline to a seat at his table.

I think it’s funny when fans scald Ross for invariably rapping about luxury – you know, islands they’ll never go to, cars they’ll never drive and clothes they’ll never wear; sure, it’s annoying when some rappers do it. But when Rozay gets it right – you can see the white sand, smell the leather on the inside of his new S Class and feel the new bed linen with the mad thread-count that he meticulously notifies you of to pad out his cadences. In other words, you don’t get mad when Ricky does it because the nature and specificity of his bars allow you to experience it vicariously.

Full review here!

Future – ‘HNDRXX’ (Review)

future-hndrxx-front
Epic (2017)

I don’t want to seem like a yes-man, but Future’s not putting a foot wrong; ‘HNDRXX’ is gorgeous, a hallucinatory pop/trap/R&B whirlwind that balances pleasure and pain – even innocence and arrogance like they’re the same damn thing. Well, innocence might be a little too strong (we’re talking about a guy who kicked off his last project with, ‘Your baby mama fuck me better when the rent’s due’). Nevertheless, this thing dazzles. ‘HNDRXX’ trades in the unadulterated, head-bopping grit of ‘FUTURE’ for falsetto-led victory laps, decadent anecdotes and heartfelt confessions – bathing them in the melodic warmth of R&B instrumentation from a variety of eras.

I shouldn’t really have to fill you in on Future’s last album, I mean, it dropped last week for fuck sake. Anyway, it turned out to be the best version of what, I imagine, we all expected: a Super Future trapathon. Everything about it was relentless, and I suppose, in some ways, conclusive. He could have left it there. Alas, that’s really not his style; a follow-up was announced. Despite the fact that ‘FUTURE’ managed to colour inside the lines of his well-recognised formula and still keep things interesting, a further seventeen tracks of pure bass and bravado may have triggered some thumb-twiddling. So, a change of pace was pretty essential.

Full review here!

Future – ‘FUTURE’ (Review)

future-future-album-cover-art
A1 / Freebandz / Epic (2017)

People seem to be arguing a lot about Future’s hot streak: when did it start, when did it end, or even when – if ever – will it end? Well, it’s safe to say that it started late in 2014 with ‘Monster’. After a messy split with Ciara, Future decided to become a caricature of his new public persona, creating a project typified by three things: desperation, punishing low-end and crushed auto-tune.

The upshot: some of the most emotionally compelling hip-hop in a while – somehow managing to convey despair at 95 bpm. Following this came a slew of albums and mixtapes, namely: ‘56 Nights’, ‘Beast Mode’, ‘DS2’, ‘Purple Reign’, ‘What a Time to Be Alive’ (with Drake) and ‘EVOL’, all of which stuck to that same aesthetic more or less – and all of which were homeruns in their own right. With his latest album, then, the streak’s still intact; ‘FUTURE’ doesn’t reinvent the wheel, however, it’s an excellent demonstration that the Atlantan has his particular brand of punch-drunk trap down to a fine art.

Full review here!

 

 

Tinashe – Nightride (Review)

tinashe-nightride-mixtape
RCA (2016)

‘Nightride’, then, her second full-length LP, finds Tinashe amalgamating elements from both of her previous projects, yet framing them in a manner that is altogether darker: Mustard’s summery synths are traded in for Metro Boomin and Boi-1da’s menacing instrumentation, while the dream/reality dichotomy manifests as a form of harrowing escapism. The consequence of Tinashe’s change in direction and artistic development is extremely impressive: ‘Nightride’ is tightly focused, poignant, deliciously dark and oddly insightful – one of R&B’s rarest currencies.

Read the full review on Nation Of Billions here.

Collard – Clean Break (Review)

collard
Self-released (2016)

Josh Collard: A former member and co-founder of the London-based art collective Last Night In Paris who, this September, decided it was time to showcase his talent individually; he dropped his debut EP. He’s been around for a minute now, though. Spitting standout verses on LNIP posse cuts like “Own Me,” Collard has already demonstrated his skill and versatility, constantly finessing his unique formula of scorching sixteens and heavenly hooks. With the arrival of this EP, however, it seems as though Collard has truly found his lane: Zach Nahome’s razor-sharp, psychedelic soundscapes provide the perfect backdrop for Collard’s smouldering vocals, generating a sparkling sequence of tracks.

So, we begin with “Walls Of Jericho.” Nahome initiates the track with some silky keys, closely followed by some pitched-up vocal moans, a production trend we’ve come to associate with the LNIP clan. It is clear why: The pitched-up vocals are juxtaposed perfectly with Collard’s low, raspy flow, creating a two-pronged vocal attack from the top and bottom end. Collard directs his bars at a particular female, spitting with an air of nonchalance as he describes a relationship fraught with frustration and lust. At the root of this frustration seems to be the disparity between their two lifestyles: “Way too different / The boy live different” he raps, seemingly unperturbed by the irreconcilability of their ways. As the drums drop out, however, we hear something perhaps contrary to this. As the hook begins, Collard’s voice soars to the rafters and utters, “I pray my walls don’t fall down on me.” Perhaps the “walls” he’s referring to here, are the cold barbs he throws at his girl, keeping her at a distance to avoid catching feelings. The stark contrast between the hook and the verses are compelling, not only sonically, but also in terms of content: There is an internal struggle between R&B artist and hip-hop artist; a struggle between one who fucks for love, and one who loves to fuck, shall we say.

Collard’s soothing vocals and Nahome’s gorgeous guitar bring the track to a close, and seamlessly kick-start the next: “Arrival.” However, the tempo of this one is much different. Our ears are immediately swamped in slow, drugged-out riffs and pitch-bent bass, indicating that Collard’s been sipping on something. This thought is further solidified when he starts rhyming, his voice sluggish and heavily pitched-down. “I’m not the one that you should be with / I’m a nigger that you cheat with” he growls, continuing his verses in a similar vein to the first track. This time, however, we have learnt not to trust Collard’s cold exterior so easily. His brash, intoxicated utterances, then, are perhaps an indication of the toll this relationship has taken on him emotionally.

As Collard’s drunken monologue draws to a close, soft howls begin to soar over the top leaving just enough room for Nahome’s psychedelic riffs to ring out through the trundling soundscape. These elements begin to warp and eventually come to a halt, signalling the start of the third song and, in my opinion, the most seminal: “Burning Truth.” Here, the EP begins to move in a different direction. Perhaps Collard’s liquored-up lashings on the previous track sparked a more serious row, as his sincerity is palpable. Poignant, muffled piano sets the tone for the track, closely followed by Collard as he immediately opens up: “Never compromise your virtues / Girl I swear they don’t deserve you,” he croons. As the intro unfurls, Collard’s elegant hook is complimented by more stunning riffs from Nahome, further demonstrating the duo’s undeniable chemistry. When punchier drums arrive, so do Collard’s husky bars. This time, however, there is an urgency to them that was missing before; his voice quivers as he efforts to rhyme his way back into his girl’s life. As the verse reaches its climax, Nahome’s anthemic, rock-infused production goes up another level, his guitar doing all the talking: low, driving chords interspersed with screaming melodic flecks burst through the track, generating an atmosphere fit for Glastonbury. Collard seizes this opportunity, delivering the hook and various adlib-like cries with gusto until the instrumentation provided by Nahome begins to fade.

Finally, we reach the project’s conclusion. Despite his best efforts, it seems as though Collard’s passionate ode on the previous track didn’t resonate; “Departure” begins on a rather sombre note. Nahome dials in another riff that John Frusciante would be proud of, while Collard’s piercing voice cut through the upper register once more, exhibiting the EP’s subtle transition from hip-hop to post-rock. “You fell in love with me for fun” he cries, venting his sorrows over the hypnotic melody. As the track continues, more flutters from Nahome’s guitar come through to compliment the initial riff, while the pain in Collard’s haunting vocal lines steadily intensifies. The rapper that we heard on “Walls Of Jericho” seems so far removed from the singer that we hear now; yet, maybe this is what we should expect: hip-hop’s archetypal attitude towards women perhaps doesn’t provide a wide enough platform for Collard’s true feelings to manifest. That is, if a hip-hop artist really wants to explore the emotional implications of a break-up, they must look beyond hip-hop.

Anyway, as the track winds down, we hear a muffled announcement from an airport departure lounge before the track fades out. It is evident, then, that “Departure” has a dual meaning. On the one hand, it represents the lovers’ emotional departure from each other. On the other, it represents Collard’s jet-setting lifestyle, and particularly, the failure of this lifestyle to properly integrate with his girl’s – a theme present throughout the EP. Another key motif, however, and a further reason for the lovers’ emotional departure, is the dichotomy between rapper and singer: Collard paints a vivid picture of his internal struggle, using his impressive vocal range to create contrasting emotional mouth-pieces and communicate his story with a striking degree of clarity.

So, in conclusion, Collard and Nahome cover a lot of ground for a four-track EP, embracing various genres and exploring themes which your average hip-hop artist may fear to tread. The consequence of this: a sonically beautiful and extremely self-aware project. If this doesn’t make a splash by the end of 2016, expect great things from these two next year.

Mac Miller – The Divine Feminine (Review)

mac-miller-the-divine-feminine
Warner Bros. (2016)

Mac Miller has come an awful long way since his frat-rap days, with his album concepts and lyrical content becoming more complex with each release. With Watching Movies and GO:OD AM, Mac experimented with new sounds, dabbled behind the boards and explored areas of his spaced-out psyche that perhaps many would fear to tread. His latest release, however, The Divine Feminine, brings with it a new context: Mac is, for the first time in a long time, sober; there is little to no mention of drugs on this project. Moreover, he is in love: although his relationship with Ariana Grande may have only burgeoned as the album’s production drew to a close, its profound effect on the project as a whole is clear. The upshot of these things: The Divine Feminine is concise, candid and arguably Mac’s best project thus far.

Wait – I know what you’re thinking: Mac Miller stumbles around on egg shells, loosely attempting, but ultimately failing, to define feminism for an hour. However, I don’t think this is the case at all: The Divine Feminine sounds more like a buoyant, playful ode to how the fairer sex can enrich our lives. The role of the mother, friend, sister and – perhaps most importantly – lover, all manifest themselves sonically on these ten tracks, as Mac gleefully guides us around his jaunty new world. However, this album isn’t merely about love, but rather it demonstrates how love can liberate us. Namely: how love can liberate us from our inhibitions; how love can liberate us from the shackles of addiction; and how love can liberate us sexually.

A particular problem I’d like to highlight with this project from the outset, however, is that Mac errs too often on the side of carnality rather than simply romance. In fact, he often seems to get the two confused: “I open up your legs headin’ straight for your heart,” he raps on “Skin.” That being said, this confusion could well be a deliberate theme. On the album opener, “Congratulations,” we hear Mac rambling, “love, love, love” over a wistful piano riff, interspersed occasionally with pitched-down outbursts of “sex.” We have a clear demonstration, here, that Mac can’t ruminate on the concept of love without his mind immediately wandering back to sex. However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; perhaps Mac is tapping into something important. I mean, if we strip away all of a particular male’s ill-informed attempts to define their love for a woman, what do we have left? Probably just a hard-on. Love supervenes on the bio-chemical, see?

Anyway, flippancy aside, whatever it is that Mac’s hooked on, it’s certainly charging his creative freedom: we find him singing more than we do rapping! Although you wouldn’t describe his voice as angelic, I think Mac’s idiosyncratic crooning, much like Eminem’s on “Hailie’s Song,” is a lovely exhibition of a young man who is finally happy – all thanks to love. Take the Ty Dolla $ign assisted “Cinderella,” for example. DJ Dahi’s eerie yet compelling soundscape sets the perfect tone, as Mac sings, “I’ve got angels / no more Satan’s.” I just can’t help but feel happy for the guy. Even Dolla $ign’s sweet – but still quite lecherous – vocals add a little something to the track. That being said, the best demonstration of Mac’s unbridled happiness surely has to be the gooey “My Favourite Part,” with Ariana Grande. Listening to Mac clumsily trade melodies with his new beau is just, well, lovely; like a dork who got the cheerleader, Mac just can’t contain his joy.

Who do Frank Dukes, DJ Dahi and Vinylz all have in common? Drake, of course. So, who would be better for Mac to tap when making a lovey-dovey album? Probably no-one. Frank Dukes, in particular, does a stellar job: his warm, plush pads; soft, scattered drums; and neo-soul inspired instrumentation provide the perfect platform for Mac’s gushing on tracks like “Stay.” Similarly, Dukes’ sun-burnt guitars on the CeeLo Green assisted “We” mimic perfectly the atmosphere of CeeLo’s collaboration with Outkast, “Liberation,” generating one of the best tracks on the album. In fact, the production team do so well in curating the album’s sonic template – fusing the sounds of funk, neo-soul and jazz-rap, yet still managing to integrate some of the more contemporary drums and synths – that it often outshines the vocals provided by Mac himself.

That being said, I don’t think Mac really cares. In a recent interview with Vogue, Mac asserts that he knows he “won’t ever sound like Al Green;” however, as I have said, Mac’s new-found penchant for singing is about something more than that: Namely – being happy. Joining Mac on his emotional journey from the drug-fuelled trough that was Watching Movies, all the way to the euphoric peaks of this project, is touching – not merely as a fan – but as a human being. The fact that he is singing despite not being very melodic, then, is the ultimate expression of this transformation, and certainly makes the album all the more poignant.

This poignancy reaches a beautiful climax during the last track. Mac and Kendrick’s psychedelic love ballad, “God Is Fair, Sexy Nasty,” is the perfect conclusion; the pair both make their voices heard without unnecessary jostling for attention. As the smouldering guitar and piano riffs subside along with K-Dot’s soaring hook, however, we hear a brand-new voice: Mac’s Grandmother. Nanny, as she is referred to in the credits, proceeds gingerly to inform the listeners of her very own love story, detailing how she met her husband and their subsequent adventures together. This is a very personal touch by Mac, revealing a family story that he himself has “cried listening to,” and serves as another excellent demonstration of his transformation. Mac’s album is not filled with shock imagery or wayward attempts to appear “cool” anymore (i.e., not like Watching Movies). Instead, he has revealed scattered fragments of a vulnerable desire to love and be loved throughout his new project, whilst exuding a profound positivity that is frankly impossible not to like.