Pretty Girls Like Trap Music by 2 Chainz

Atlanta has been hugely responsible in influencing the sound of hip hop for decades; from the funky, rich bassline-driven smooth raps of OutKast, to the gritty, straight-talking trap of T.I. and Jeezy, to the mood- driven sing-rapping of Future and Young Thug, the city has kept evolving its sound, and consequentially, that of the genre.

2 Chainz, having blown up somewhere between the aggressiveness of trap and the melodies of ‘mumble rap,’ has had an unsteady career path from dropping the (unfortunate) Tity Boi moniker to the present day. With Pretty Girls Like Trap Music (PGLTM), however, 2 Chainz seems to have hit upon a winning formula – his trademark punchlines are intact and often strikingly clever, and so is the sneer from his trap origins, but it’s complemented by great, memorable harmonies in the production and vocals that clear some of the grit. The result is the best album of Tauheed Epps’ career, and possibly one of the best of the year.

From the introductory Saturday Night, the mood of the album is clear. A guitar riff that sounds straight from the days of glam rock drives the track from underneath trap 808s, and 2 Chainz sounds more purposeful than he’s ever been. He establishes the dichotomy which defines PGLTM, of the trap and the club, the danger of the streets and the wealth, from the get-go. And surprisingly for a 2 Chainz project, the LP remains impressively cohesive.

When Epps decides to really make a trap song, he sounds focused and more confident than in his past work. Unlike the many pauses that unfortunately stunted his past flows, he fills out every space of the song here, and with much more heft. It’s not filled with empty boasts and threats; they’re weighted with the words of a man with more than a few years in the game. Riverdale Rd. is imposing and detailed, Door Swangin is that rare good filler and the run from the classic Southern Rolls Royce Bitch to OG Kush Diet is trap like few mainstream rappers do nowadays, particularly for deep cuts in the age of singles. 2 Chainz tackles his trials and tribulations in the trap, as well his successes, and makes it clear that his concerns are personal, rapping “I’m no Black activist/
I’m a Black millionaire, give you my Black ass to kiss.” It might make for a contentious statement, but it’s an odd authenticity – 2 Chainz isn’t here to be Kendrick.

Where the LP truly stands out though, is in its crossover potential without compromising its street appeal. Good Drank has proved its worth as a single, with a hypnotic Mike Dean beat that the rappers on it turn into the smoothest banger – that Quavo hook is an absolute earworm. Following it up with 4 AM is a one-two punch, it’s sinister, with one of Travis Scott’s better hooks, and Epps bringing his best in the lyrics department. Realize is definitely not what you expect from a 2 Chainz song with a Nicki feature, but its psychedelic beat and stellar verses make it a contender for one of the best songs on the LP. The only misstep in Chainz’ hitmaking attempts is the Pharrell-assisted Bailian; the instrumental sounds out of place here and both P and 2 Chainz sound rather bored.

Pretty Girls Like Trap Music is an unexpected album – it’s 2 Chainz at his most confident, lyrical and focussed. And he’s grown up – he’s settling into the self-assured role of the middle-aged rapper with more grace than I’d expected. The Louis Farrakhan sample on Burglar Bars speaks of Tauheed Epps’ not merely as a rapper, but as a presence. With this album, 2 Chainz has laid his claim to those words ringing truer than ever before.

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Pretty Girls Like Trap Music by 2 Chainz

Boomiverse by Big Boi

When Big Boi gets on the mic, you know you’re going to get some of the best flows around, with lyrics that effortlessly switch between the playful and thoughtful, and punchlines galore. The Southern drawl is unmistakable, and so is the swag. Set aside him being half of OutKast – Big Boi aka Daddy Fat Sax aka The Son of Chico Dusty aka Antwan Andre Patton deserves every accolade that comes his way as a solo MC. With his debut arguably being a classic, and a solid follow-up, Boomiverse sees Big returning to his roots and proudly waving his flag. This is an album from a legendary MC his strengths that puts on display, and it’s almost good enough to forgive that atrocious album art – for like that cover, there are a few questionable choices Patton makes here that undermine the strength of the project as a whole.

The songs that work the best are where Big Boi taps into his years in the rap game to ooze swaggering confidence – In the South is a classic Atlanta banger, with a slow-burning, bass-rich beat that see Patton assert his status as a Southern icon, along with a hook by Pimp C, gone but never forgotten. Big Boi always brings out the best in Gucci Mane, and that shows here too. The sneering Made Man with Killer Mike and Kurupt, and Follow Deez with one of the best hooks on the album courtesy of Curren$y and another Mike similarly feature self-assured, braggadocios raps brimming with quotables. Kill Jill has a thumping, war-ready beat and some of the best rapping on the album – save for that terribly unnecessary Bill Cosby line (just, why, Antwan?). Get Wit It has a delicious funk to it, and Snoop Dogg rapping like he hasn’t in a long time.

Then there are the tracks where Big Boi takes on the role of rap’s elder statesman, such as on the decidedly pragmatic Order of Operations, where he traces his financial and business decisions throughout his career and offers up advice to the youngsters. Overthunk, one of the best tracks here, sees Big take stock of his environment and the lessons he’s learnt with an excellent Eric Bellinger hook and laid-back (if slightly weird) production. These songs are lent credence by Big Boi’s many years in the game, and might come off preachy in the words of several other MCs.

Unfortunately, besides the extremely catchy and hedonistic Freakonomics, there’s a lack of great ‘playa anthems’ here. All Night and Chocolate sound rather obnoxious in their production and hooks, which are the key components of these songs that are supposed to be fun; although the former fares a tad better. Mic Jack has a rather bland beat, and an atrocious hook – another song Adam Levine ruins.

There’s little quibbles too. Some of the sequencing is messy – Freakonomics is weirdly sandwiched between two bangers. Da Next Day is probably Big Boi’s weakest intro track, even with Big Rube’s deep, gravelly voice sounding as purposeful as ever.

Rap is not nearly the same genre as it was in the two-odd decades since Big Boi first started rhyming. But he has continued to stay relevant in the chaos of its changes, evident in the fact that new music always gets hip hop heads excited. Boomiverse may not be Daddy Fat Sax’s best work, but there is enough great hip hop here to remind us why there are some MCs that we would do well to always exalt in rap’s history books.

 

 

Boomiverse by Big Boi

Melodrama by Lorde

About the sixth time I listened to Melodrama from start to finish, I was walking along shaded roads, the sky settling into swirls of faded orange and yellow, set against a vastness on the cusp of turning from blue to black. As Green Light swells and bursts into life, its chorus rising and consuming the moment, it was all I could do to not burst into song and dance right there, a la Lorde herself in the song’s music video.

Seguing perfectly into Sober, the conflicting examination of a relationship under the club lights, the universality of the album hits. A 20 year old in a part of the world could relate to what a global pop superstar straddling two hemispheres was singing about, purely through the shared failings and tumbling forward of a frantic youth. Surrounded by alcohol and heartbreak, which 19 year old hasn’t indulged in their early parties feeling like they would be “blowing shit up with homemade dynamite”? But before you know it, you are hurled into the unfamiliar, yet tender and vulnerable time of first love, singing “I’m just the sucker who let you fill her mind” on The Louvre. One of the best songs on the album, the rich bassline and spacey production perfectly complements Lorde’s extolling of her partner, and that wonderful chorus that is so self-assured even through its use of onomateopia.

Therein is the beauty of Lorde’s music. She has grown through times and sorrows so intimately familiar to so many of us, but she refuses to turn cynic while growing up. She’s vulnerable in a way few musicians are, particularly in the mainstream arena of manufactured, marketable personas and brands. As she bares her soul on Liability, the painfully subtle piano nudges Ella’s voice into the foreground, as if she’s reluctant to still fully embrace putting her emotions on display.  When she lets the listener into this fractured part of her soul, it’s impossible for you to not dig up those pieces of yourself. Once you do that, there is no escaping the trance of the album, with all its kissing and killing and fucking melodrama.

The enchantment of Melodrama is in large part to the fact that there is very definite sound to it. The album replicates the mood of the drunk nights spent at parties, as well those spent crying alone in bedrooms, not only through Lorde’s own lyrics and vocals, but through the production. The maximalist, sometimes psychedelic electro-pop production is the perfect nocturnal soundtrack, lit up by strobe lights and disco balls. It shimmers, rather than floods. And when the album does shift into intimate piano ballads, it never feels jarring, but necessary for the powerful emotions to shine through.

It’s also evident that Ella’s synthesia played a huge role in the creation of this album – the silken, dark blues and blacks are prevalent, with flashes of fireworks. There’s also a visual element to the album – thanks to her vivid, poeti imagery, it often feels like you’re with Lorde, in her studio, on her nights out, in her bedroom, in her head. This vulnerability plays out like its own little movie along with the music.

There is a subtle, yet definitive shift in tone once the album reaches Sober II(Melodrama). Ella has reached the turning point in the period post the breakup – the pain is very much alive, burning, but she’s more certain in her strength to move forward. Another of my absolute favourites, Writer in the Dark, is incredible in its emotion, Lorde’s vocals finding a tone she’s never found before – a devastatingly raw tenor that drops all pretenses – it feels well and truly like a punch in the gut that leaves you reeling and lost for words. As she declares her undying love, one that’ she unflinchingly says will last even when he calls the cops on her, she also stumbles on the power to be without him – not his love, perhaps, but him. It’s nigh impossible here on forth to expect Lorde, let alone yourself, to recover, but she does. She turns pragmatist, unravelling the fantasies of her love, the Supercut, finally, firmly telling her ex-lover to “leave.” She’s a realist, not an optimist.

While this is clearly a breakup album, unlike so many other (inferior) albums, Lorde explores the other elements of her life that have intertwined with, and affected her personal relationships. She has the ability to explore her psyche in revelatory ways that unravel an array of sentiments, where her romantic relationship acts as the center of gravity.  On album closer Perfect Places, Lorde acknowledges the indulgent life she’s leading, the travails she’s aware this life has brought her, but questioning “what the fuck are perfect places anyway?” In the midst of all the chaos she finds herself in, she realizes this is her new normal – and she’s determined to make the most of it.

Melodrama is the unparalleled portrait of a young woman finding her way in a world that’s intensely unfamiliar to her, but one she stubbornly stumbles through. The gaffes of youthful naivete are there, but so is the maturity that comes with the failing of first love, when the illusions shatter. She’s no longer coyly sipping orange juice at the tennis court, but letting her wardrobe slip to the bedroom floor at the end of a night on the town. And she owns it all. And the beauty of this album isn’t that you need to live Lorde’s life to understand and relate to her; you just need to co-habit the same cracked parts of your heart that Ella does.

Melodrama by Lorde

Five Songs for the Weekend – VIII

A weekly series where we pick 5 songs that we think you’d like to listen to over the weekend

#1. Sober – Lorde

The theme of Melodrama is pretty clear now – post the fame of Pure Heroin, Lorde was thrust into a world she didn’t recognize, and it took a toll on her. Sober continues the brutally honest examinations of modern hedonism, the often-contradictory dichotomy of the party culture and alcohol binges, over a pulsating beat. It’s going to be intriguing to see how it all comes together on the album, which is just a week away.

#2. That Far – 6LACK

After blowing up off the back of some great singles, most notably, Problems, and an album, it seems like 6LACK doesn’t intend to take his foot off the accelerator. Keeping to his hazy production and vocals, 6LACK thematically focuses up. Looking firmly to the future while dismissing his distractions, he makes it known that his only purpose is success.

#3. Not Enough ft. THEY. – Lido

There aren’t enough upbeat tracks that are a fuck-you to an ex. Vibrant and fun, with lots of great little harmonies, Lido and THEY. come together for a song that will be a lot of fun to sing along to – possibly a little drunk.

#4. Rain Come Down – Vince Staples

Few rappers can do truly dark, gritty music like Vince Staples can. With a beat that’s haunting and menacing despite its bounce, Vince delivers his trademark descriptive bars, unflinchingly narrating the ruthlessness of the streets. Ty Dolla $ign delivers a great hook, his gravelly singing a perfect foil to Vince’s monotone. Big Fish is shaping up very well.

#5. Someone to You – BANNERS

A great pop-rock song is always welcome. With an absolute anthem of a hook and rousing production, BANNERS is clearly targetting the same audience as Imagine Dragons and Bastille, and doing a pretty good job of it. Watch out for them

Five Songs for the Weekend – VIII

RELAXER by alt-J

alt-J are a band of their time and place – they’ve got more than a bit of hipster aloofness, but their music sounds volatile enough to be earnest – their indie-gone-global catapult is reflected in their need to make music that is ‘true’ to themselves, yet appealing enough to their wide audience. With RELAXER, while they have created quite a bit of music that reflects that mosaic, along the way, they seem to have have lost the plot.

alt-J’s music has been characterized by harmony and subtlety, sharpened by rougher elements that lend form to the music, lest they wander into inoffensiveness. That balance is often disrupted on RELAXER – there are moments of sheer beauty, and moments of guttural, primal aggression, but not enough of the right blend of the two extremes. The singles remain some of the best tracks on the album. 3WW’s intro immediately intrigues, with subtle textures that nevertheless don’t recede into the background. The vocals are clean and appropriately moody. And then there are bursts of crackling synths that surface when the lyrics indicate a tonal shift. It’s impeccably produced, and a perfect introduction. The next track, and the second single, In Cold Blood, is a contrast; with its pointed soundscape, and lyrics that are rather incongruent, the track is a display of alt-J’s interpretability. But while both these tracks work great by themselves, their sequencing is questionable. The lack of cohesion in sound is repeated throughout the album due to its mere 8 tracks, as if a singular sound that the band wants to home in on has been deconstructed and its individual parts scattered across the length of the album.

Other tracks take alt-J’s notorious self-indulgence a little too far.  House… is melodically beautiful, where the strings create a stunning atmosphere as they pitch up and down with lyrical tone. But there are wordless sections that would benefit from an additional element, but are left hanging. Lyrically, while it’s an interesting take on an old folk song, the chorus is cloyingly ironic. Last Year is overlong and dull – it has probably the strongest narrative on the album, but the production is the boring side of simple, and there’s nothing memorable enough to keep the listener hooked. Adeline picks up and makes a pretty great track about halfway through, but the first half is simply too long. Hit Me Like That Snare, meanwhile, is downright terrible. alt-J simply isn’t a band that can create a great punk track; there is an outright lack of melody, Jon Newman’s nasally voice is at its most annoying, and the outro is baffling – it’s unclear whether this is the band’s attempt at being ironically self-aware, or an attempt to capture the bluntness of great punk, and it fails on being either. Which is a shame, because lyrically, this is the most intriguing track on the album (save the outro.)

The best tracks, then, are the ones where alt-J’s newer ideas are polished and come together perfectly. Deadcrush is dark and foreboding, the production combining a noticeable edge with impeccably earworm-worthy melodies – the hook succeeds with Newman’s nasal inflection what failed in Hit Me… Overall, the song is just fun – something that can’t be said for enough of the other tracks. Pleader is an ethereal, hymnal track that is an absolute joy to listen to despite its length, thanks to the many sections the track flows through effortlessly – it’s dynamic, but never jagged. And it’s the perfect closer to the album.

alt-J hasn’t really changed. Their esoterica is thankfully intact – who else would open their track with a lyric in binary?! There are musical choices that few other bands can pull off – the marching rhythm of the “ya, ya, ya” choral bridge in Adeline shouldn’t work. but it simply does. But the band is having something of a crisis of faith. They are unsure of their direction, and have faltered along the way. To their credit, they’ve definitely made some bold choices. Some of them don’t work, but when they do, the reward is immensely enjoyable. If they take their successes, and remold and improve them, alt-J’s next album will truly be a worthy payoff. Till then, RELAXER has enough great music to tide us over.

 

 

RELAXER by alt-J

FIVE SONGS FOR THE WEEKEND – VII

A weekly series where we pick 5 songs that we think you’d like to listen to over the weekend

#1. I Promise – Radiohead

Listening to an album for the first time and realizing it will end up being one of your favourites is an astonishingly wonderful feeling. That’s what I felt with OK Computer, and to relive that wave of emotions with I Promise, a track tellingly recorded between The Bends and OKC is something a fan usually only dreams of experiencing. With melancholy strummed guitars and marching percussion, Thom brings us back to the delicate and intimate promises of a relationship in danger of tearing apart. It’s an emotional, beautiful track. And it’s quintessentially Radiohead.

#2. Perfect Places – Lorde

Pounding kicks open the track, followed immediately by the existential lyric  “Every night I live and die;”  akin to Green Light, this is a complex song, juxtaposing a dance-y electronic instrumental with exploratory lyrics. Tackling the escapist party culture of alcohol and casual sex with a nuance that acknowledges both the desire for mindless euphoria, as well as the resultant ennui, Lorde once again captures the seemingly-contradictory dichotomy of our youth like few artists do.

#3. Run – Foo Fighters

Given how long the Foo Fighters have been around, there isn’t much in the way of surprises they can throw at you – but that doesn’t mean they can’t make some damn good music their own way. Run begins with Dave’s voice – melodic, yet tinged with a growl bubbling underneath – before launching into classic Foo; the aggressively infectious guitar riffs, driving drums and snarling vocals. It’s a mosh-pit worthy fireball of energy that belies the musicians’ age (which is also the theme of the music video). Thank the musical gods for it.

#4. Everything Now – Arcade Fire

The sunny,  melodic production – co-production credits go to Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter – and the indie everyman vocals of Win Butler on the title track of Arcade Fire’s upcoming album, Everything Now, offer an essentially personal narrative in the overwhelmingly populist reality of the world, where the human struggle is lost to consumerist, majoritarian agendas. It’s a bleak message, and more relevant than ever.

#5. 4 AM ft. Travis Scott – 2 Chainz

2 Chainz has come a long way – his flow’s gotten better, there’s some substance to it, and he sounds more reassured and confident in his rapping. With a smooth banger of a beat and a trademark Travis hook adding to the concoction, this has the potential to be a hit. Either way, it’s a legitimately great track.

 

FIVE SONGS FOR THE WEEKEND – VII

Five Songs for the Weekend – VI

A weekly series where we pick 5 songs that we think you’d like to listen to over the weekend

#1. Rollin ft. Future, Khalid by Calvin Harris

(full track on Spotify) 

Calvin Harris is on a roll (pardon the pun). With this track, he continues to bring together artists you might not have expected to hear together over warm, bouncy production that is a far cry from his past of big room EDM. Khalid reaffirms his place as a musician to keep an eye on, with an insanely catchy hook that’s a perfect fit for this beat, while Future brings his signature melodic flow and warbly vocals to keep the danceability quotient high. If you’d told me a couple of months back that I’d be heaping such high praise on a Calvin Harris song, I’d laugh; but here we are.

#2. Wildfire by blink-182

Ah, 90s bands that attempt a comeback. They’re always hit-or-miss, and for a while it seemed blink-182 would fall on the side of the misses, which might’ve been a little saddening (All the Small Things is still a great song). But Wildfire is a pretty great track – it’s got the relentless energy of classic blink, but with production and vocals that sound like a band realizing they grew up. Here’s to them finding their place in a new musical landscape.

#3. Shreddy Krueger by MANWOLVES

It’s rare to find a band that makes rap work with live instrumentation – but when it does work, it can make for pretty great music. MANWOLVES takes instrumentation you wouldn’t expect backing most rappers – trumpets and percussion that’s more snares than deep kicks or hi hats. The vocals aren’t the focus – this is truly a band. With that said, they sound at home with the production, and the hook makes for a good sing-along. They might not be the next Twenty One Pilots yet, but MANWOLVES are worth your time.

#4. Whatever It Takes by Imagine Dragons

It’s hard to call Imagine Dragons great – their hits are inconsistent, and not particularly outstanding musically. But every once in a while, they put out songs that are inescapable – epic tracks with anthemic hooks and rousing production. Whatever It Takes is such a record – Dan Reynolds is an accomplished vocalist who knows exactly what the song requires from him, and the electronic-tinged instrumental drives the powerful pre-chorus and chorus to soaring high. They may not make the most innovative music, but they definitely make some of the most memorable mainstream electro-rock.

#5. The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness by The National

It’s been a while since The National put out new music, and it seems like something’s changed in the intermediary years – The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness seems to leave behind the subdued, atmospheric sound of Trouble Will Find Me for a more aggressive, driven sound. Even Matt Berninger’s signature one-liners sound more purposeful – The National seem to have a more definite path ahead, as opposed to the melancholy abstractness of their previous work. I cannot explain it any other way.

 

 

 

Five Songs for the Weekend – VI