Talking About New-Age Hip-Hop with LaLion

Everyone has something to say about the ‘new’ wave of rappers, most of it being unfairly slated by old school hip-hop heads afraid to see the genre evolve or change. Rid yourself of this apprehension and you’re sure to find a bunch of extremely talented individuals (e.g Lou The Human) out there that have somehow flown under the mainstream radar, Seattle based rapper LaLion being just that. With his fast delivery, clever bars, and hard beats he’s slowly gaining the attention he deserves. With 2 albums already released, he’s targeting the big time.

The 21-year-old started rapping at the age of 11 and, much like the running theme of new age rappers, took inspiration from genres other than hip-hop. While he grew up listening to notable big shots like Biggie, 2Pac, and Kendrick, LaLion states “I spent most of my teen years playing in bands and practicing guitar. So, a lot of my inspiration comes from rock bands like Linkin Park, The Strokes, and Nirvana“.

A rock influence is nothing new for a lot of rappers nowadays but it has certainly helped the likes of LaLion to pave a new chapter for the genre they hold dear. Kurt Cobain went on to inspire a plethora of kids with guitars but he’s even gone as far to heavily influence hip hop long after his death, with his bleak and gloomy outlook becoming the foundations for others to build upon. Denzel Curry may just be the bluntest about this, naming a song ‘Clout Cobain’ which revolved around the consequences of fame while dealing with paranoia and suicidal thoughts. The late Lil Peep could have arguably been heralded as carrying the Nirvana’s star flame into the surge of SoundCloud rap.

LaLion has ensured that this gloomy aesthetic isn’t merely just that, his adamance about his music being more than just a look being truly palatable. “My music is made to cater to the person who is struggling through something in their life.  My music style reflects anger towards the modern normality’s that are causing kids to kill themselves. If we are talking stylistically my music is a mix between Bone-Thugs and Linkin Park.”

His childhood and surroundings have also played a part in his lyrical content too. “Seattle is a dark and depressing place. Growing up in the Seattle area has made an impact on my music.  We have grey clouds nine out of the twelve months and homeless people on every block.

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While he has his hopes set high, LaLion is a firm believer in staying humble and hopes to make that firm for any young rappers with lofty goals but don’t make time for their craft. “It is the most important thing you could do.  I see a lot of young artists with hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram, but they release one song every three months.  And that song ends up not sounding very good. But it depends on the type of artist you want to be. If you want to be the best, you need to work more than the rest.

The rapper also thinks it’s vital for youngsters to understand history of hip hop. “You need to understand who built the foundation for where you are standing”. With the conversation about culture vultures and appropriation in music still ongoing, it’s definitely a perspective worth bearing in mind.

Talking of the ‘new wave’, artists like Lil Pump, LiL Uzi Vert and Juice Wrld have faced criticism for their style of hip hop because of their so called ‘lazy lyrics’ and ‘auto-tuned effects’. However, there’s a place for every sound and most criticism these artists have faced can seem almost venomous. LaLion agrees and thinks there’s room for all types of hip hop. “The ‘new school’ rappers as you put, are club artists. So, if I’m in a club or a party, sure, put that shit on.” But he also believes it is extremely important to stay unique. “That’s probably why all these kids are getting face tattoos. They want to be impossible to copy with their image. Unfortunately, that doesn’t translate to the music and they end up sounding like the last guy.

But where does LaLion see himself in the coming years? His dream one day is to “Be the best in the game. Grammy’s. Most streamed. The best.” Just like his idol and favourite rapper of all time Eminem.

I wouldn’t say that I am recognised even now. But when I started this, yes.  I came into it with the thought I will be the best in the game without a doubt.  Confidence is key.” – Sanjeev Mann (@Ask_Sanjeevs)

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Ghostemane struggles to keep things lively on ‘N/O/I/S/E’

words fae liam toner (@tonerliam)

With songs like Mercury: Retrograde going viral, Ghostemane‘s spooky aesthetic and rapid-fire flow have made him an artist worth keeping tabs on.rating 5

Over the past few years, the Florida rapper has managed to gather a great deal of attention in the modern trap scene, in no small part due to his sound encompassing influences from industrial to hardcore, all the way to Memphis rap which was all wrapped up in a black metal aesthetic.

His aforementioned popular single came from his 2017 album Plagues and although the album would show a lot of potential for the young artist due to his uniquely dark style, Plagues would still leave much to be desired for. Coming into 2018 and with his newest album N / O / I / S / E,  there was a feeling of cautious optimism that all Ghostemane’s talents and unique qualities could come together and result in something truly great.

Unfortunately,  N / O / I / S / E falls flat throughout most of its runtime with there being one element that seems to be holding Ghostemane back, that being songwriting. His tenth release actually features great production, arguably some of his best, but the bare bones of each track aren’t as fully developed as it could be which is quite a shame.

Many of the tracks are short in length and don’t develop into much else after a couple of verses: the track Flesh starts with Ghostemane’s signature dark ambient styled atmospherics and into a hardcore breakdown section. This intro serves the track well, putting things into full swing, but after only about 30 seconds of the young star actually rapping, the track falls silent and then goes back to hardcore breakdown section before the track fizzles out at a measly 1:19. This track could stand out as one of his best if he took more time to flesh out the track (no pun intended) with another couple of verses or a vocal hook but the track finishes almost as soon as it starts and it comes across as such a missed opportunity.

A fundamental flaw with this record is that while Ghostemane’s blend of genres is very well done, it seems he is too stuck to the traditional hip-hop way of songwriting. A hip-hop track can be based around one sample for the whole track and still be amazing. However, with Ghostemane’s shorter song lengths and minimal rapping on each track, each song struggles to go anywhere properly exciting. This can be seen on the track The Singularity which sees Ghostemane dip his toes into a fully industrial/goth style song which bares obvious similarities to some Nine Inch Nails work. The song is based around a simple four on the floor kick drum beat which goes between Ghostemane’s singing and then the same beat but much more pummelling and distorted. The song is very interesting on first listen but ends in just over two minutes and no change is made in the basic melodic idea or the structure of the song. This again leaves the listener with a dissatisfied feeling and it’s this feeling that carries on throughout most of the album as almost all of the tracks suffer from these same flaws.

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This ultimately makes the album a bit of a slog due to these criticisms being apparent on nearly every song. The instrumental tracks Intro.Desolation, Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and My Heart of Glass all suffer as well, with the latter being based around a simple guitar riff that seems to build up tension in its repetition only for the tension to blend into more industrial noise which leaves the album on an anti-climactic end. However, this is quite a fitting end for an album that left this impression track after track.

Overall N / O / I / S / E proves to be a disappointing release that could have been so much more. This tends to be a common theme through most of Ghostemane’s work and it’s genuinely a bit sad because he really does have a unique and interesting sound going for him – sadly, he fails to deliver something truly special or consistent.

 

 

Aja is out to kill on new track ‘Finish Her’

words by michaela barton (@MichaelaBarton_)

Anyone who has watched All-Stars season 3 knows Aja is a force to be reckoned with and whether she’s dancing or rapping, she’ll floor you faster than her flying death drop. Her new track is a grime rap stuffed full of attitude and a wit sharp enough to cut her haters.

Finish Her is named and stylised after the Mortal Kombat games with the official video playing into this, the track incorporating soundbites from the visceral beat-em-up games. Though the track can be enjoyed alone, paired with the video it’s a treat. Aja seeps attitude in her delivery and is utterly enthralling, clearly demonstrating how she has leveled up her performance skills since her earlier debut on Season 9 of Drag Race. In the video, her looks from season 3 All Stars become characters and she gets played against herself, moving up in levels with each defeat. Sound familiar, Drag Race fans?

The backing track is a standard grime loop – the timings alternate to keep things interesting and there’s some nice synth work but in general, there’s nothing too adventurous or experimental on offer. However, that just gives the lyrics their time to shine. In true shady queen fashion, she’s ready to spill the tea (or, as demonstrated in her video, completely destroy the entire tea set).

Aja isn’t afraid to call out anyone and no one is safe on this track. Most people know Aja received plenty of hateful comments from “fans” of Drag Race, especially surrounding her feud with Valentina and this track acts as one giant clap back. There are a few sly lines about people believing a ‘wolf dressed up in glam’ which are likely directly about Valentina. The biggest lyrical fuck you in this track though is definitely reserved for her haters. She makes it clear she doesn’t care what people think: ‘I’m getting my laughs, I’m getting my tan, I’m living my life abroad with my man. What the fuck did you amount to? Commenting on who looks like who?

There are so many brilliant lines that demand the listener’s undivided attention. Aja’s music doesn’t come across like a drag queen using her status to try out a musical career. Aja has real musical talent and is a killer rapper, she could easily stand alone as a musical artist without her drag career.

The success of RuPaul’s Drag Race may be helping some drag careers attract more fans, but the double-edged sword is swung hard by online haters. So, for anyone who thinks their opinion of a drag queen is worth anything, Aja leaves you with this:

If any fucking bitch got some shit to say, say it to my motherfucking face or else it ain’t fucking shit … If it wasn’t for a contract half of y’all would’ve been slapped.’

ALBUM REVIEW: Brockhampton – Saturation

By Ryan Martin (@RyanMartin182)

Preceding last year’s All-American Trash mixtape, Brockhampton, the boy band from Texas, break down the door on the opener of their debut album, Saturation. Opening with one of the many unstoppable singles released before the album, Heat has elements reminiscent of the punk attitude Odd Future carried in their prime and the hardcore sound Rage Against the Machine had. While it’s clear Brockhampton have many influences (they have a track named 2Pac), they bring a fresh new energy to the table through their music and visuals.

Dancing between banging hip-hop tracks and turn of the millennium pop music, Saturation is all over the place and doesn’t settle on a specific sound. Going from the intensity of Heat to the laid-back braggadocio of Gold feels like an unnatural transition but still carries momentum. The backbone of Gold is the Pharrell-esque hook which is repeated throughout the track and flows like butter over the beat. Star follows and is one of the best tracks on the album. All three members of the collective murder their verses with name-drops and flow change ups. Kevin Abstract, the leader of Brockhampton, incorporates personal lyrics about his sexuality and love for pop-star Shawn Mendes, resulting in one of the most incredible verses on the whole project. Within the first 4 tracks of the album, it becomes apparent that while the project may be scattered in sound, the chemistry of the collective is undeniable and what makes the songs succeed in the way they do.

Abstract has stated on his Twitter that the project is about member Robert’s story, with the skits on the album and the intros to each video accompanying the album starring him. The skits usually follow the same formula as the intros to the videos and have Robert introduce himself and state a fact about himself or the situation he is currently in. The third skit captures more of what Robert’s story actually is, which is trying to find others that you connect with and finding a place where you feel you actually belong. Much of this can be directed back at the lyrics on the album in songs like Milk where Abstract croons over the hook:

 I gotta get better at being me (Being who I am) I gotta get better at everything (Being who I am) I just want a friend that I can hang out with (Being who I am) Someone I can sit around, lay on my couch with (Being who I am)

 Milk is an especially honest track for members featured Ameer Vann, Merlyn Wood and Abstract. The verses are direct and highlight past struggles and insecurities. The personal lyrics on Saturation is where the album connects where it doesn’t in sound. There are much more pop songs than there are songs like Heat and Star, The aggressive flow of both tracks can be found in spurts throughout the album, with not many other songs having a similar tone. Bump is a minor exception with an awkward hook by Abstract with hard hitting verses surrounding him. The hook takes away from the vibe of the track and is one of the most lackluster on the whole project.

Much like Abstract’s last release, his sophomore solo album, American Boyfriend: A Suburban Love Story, traces of indie rock can be found throughout the album in songs like Swim and the gentle closer, Waste. The incorporation of indie rock can be a hit or miss with Abstract. With both tracks mentioned, they add a level of depth while bringing a bright summer theme to the project.

Saturation is much more cohesive than last year’s All-American Trash and highlights the group’s chemistry more than ever. Where it falls flats is when tracks become cluttered with ideas with vocal distortions and clumsy additions that restrict members from shining on their own. Overall, Brockhampton’s debut is a solid offering that can attract new fans and bring excitement for what the group is going to do next, which is a sequel to Saturation, due out later this summer.

8/10


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Track Review: Die Antwoord – Love Drug

By Patrick Dalziel (@JoyDscvryPaddy)

This September there will be another Die Antwoord record, supposedly their final. Sadly this is an enticing prospect for all of the wrong reasons, especially if first single Love Drug is anything to go by. Whilst never exactly being noted for their subtlety, their first three albums were genuinely fun experiences. They had an energy, a sense of presence, that made them incredibly enjoyable to binge on. You could easily lose hours in the twisted exuberance of their Zef style as Yolandi Visser and Ninja created their vibrant, violent world around you.


The sad fact of the matter, however, is Love Drug sounds nothing like these early works in any way. This isn’t hating on a band trying something new, though, rather this is just the sad realisation that the duo may be past their best. The beat, produced by Die Antwoord in-house DJ “GOD“, just barely survives until the finish line, faltering in a manner that’s incredibly incoherent with his usual meticulously considered output. To put it in context of just how disappointing this is, the band just released an instrumental album based off his work and it is genuinely brilliant. The usual eccentric and darkly playful nature of his work shines on the early albums but is never even attempted here.

It feels like a song very haphazardly thrown together. Several elements fail to click together in any conceivable way, and the vocals can’t even save it, mainly because they’re some of the worst the South African rap duo have ever written. It’s adolescent to a fault and shows none of the self-awareness that’s usually present. By the end of the song, it honestly just dissolves into who can awkwardly cram more expletives into their lines which perhaps is the wrong thing to be criticising this particular band for (especially when songs such as Evil Boy exist) but even then, Evil Boy comes across as incredibly nuanced in comparison. The sense of rhythm throughout gives it a natural sense of progression, with each layer added breathing new life into the song which, again, is something which never happens in Love Drug.


Instead, we’re given a barely competent verse from Yolandi Visser, before being rushed through the forgettable chorus and ending with the song’s last insult. An unbelievable poor verse from the usually very competent Ninja. His usual visceral energy is nowhere to be found here, instead, he just sounds incredibly bored. There’s no flow to his lines whatsoever, and it frankly just sounds like he doesn’t want to be there at all.


Love Drug stands as the worst thing Die Antwoord have ever released. It’s a true shame, given the band’s usual extravagance and style but here, everything feels misjudged: the verses are weak, the chorus bland and the backing uncharacteristically poor. Do yourself a favour and listen to Donker Mag and Ten$ion for the DA experience, because this love drug is definitely just placebo.

2/10


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ALBUM REVIEW: ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ by JOEY BADA$$

By Ryan Martin (@RyanMartin182)

As a prime member of Beast Coast, Joey Bada$$ has an enormous following. His last project, B4.Da.$$ was a solid debut effort with beats reminiscent of 90’s boom-bap hip-hop and impressive lyricism. Following that up two years later, Bada$$ returns with ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$, his response to the current state of our society that is filled with hate, racism, and police brutality. The New York rapper and actor makes his statements extremely present as the majority of the album revolves around his personal opinions and statements. As a piece of art that represents our culture at this point in time, it’s important. As a musical project, it’s lackluster.

Bada$$ does an excellent job addressing his concerns, frustrations, and despair about the state of our nation. Throughout the record, he expresses his concerns about wanting to be a voice for his people or how there needs to be a bigger figure for his people that might not even be him. At times, it can feel like he does too much talking about how his people need a voice and not enough of why he is the right person to be the voice of those people. The album doesn’t do enough of his general opinions of how we can move forward from this state of disconnection and hate that our nation has fallen into.

The first half of the album has a summery vibe to it that’s reminiscent of his earlier work (1999). The beats were quite impressive, especially the beat for For My People and Good Morning Amerikkka with the latter embracing a gospel influence and Joey’s rapid fire lyrics: it’s a strong way to start off the album. For My People had some pretty underwhelming verses except for the last half of the second verse. In these two tracks, Joey is addressing some issues but he isn’t saying more than what has already been said. Land of The Free has a great beat with a cool Notorious B.I.G. sample behind it. His verses are strong, aggressive and powerful and there’s an unshakeable paranormal vibe seeping through along with the background vocals.

As controversial as it may seem, Devastated has no part in being on this record. If anything, it’s a way to create more sales in order to promote the album and get it heard by more people so that Joey’s voice and opinions get a stronger reaction from the public. Bada$$ obviously is very strong in his beliefs as he has created an entire album behind them. While it’s easy to agree with them, he should fuel the reaction of the public based on his opinions in the album rather than the sales of a pop-rap record about overcoming the struggles of pre-stardom.

Y U Don’t Love Me is a filler track all around. The concept of Bada$$ talking to America as if she were a girl that treats him poorly came off as a little tacky and while the beat is entertaining enough, the chorus was much too repetitive. Rockabye Baby is easily the most enjoyable track on the album with its strong rhythm and ScHoolboy Q doing a great job with his verse, the chemistry between both rappers seems strong. It sounds exactly like Bada$$ is at home on this track and reminds me of earlier career highlights like No.99.

For Beast Coast fans, they’ll eat up Ring The Alarm like it’s hotcakes, despite the beat being very underwhelming: an average beast coast beat with no flavor to it. Meechy Darko, one of the members of the Flatbush Zombies, also makes an appearance though his cameo seems to be a very unnecessary part to the song seeing as he has no verse and his bridges are honestly annoying. Thankfully, Bada$$ has one of the best lines on the whole project on this track, ‘Firstly, it’s the double entendre monster // Takin’ haunted constant trips through your conscious’. Nyck Caution and Kirk Knight’s chemistry is wildly impressive as well as they trade bars for an entire verse.

The album’s gripes don’t stop there though as both Super Predator and Legendary unfortunately come across as boring filler. The verses on Super Predator are actually quite impressive, save for Styles P’s verse, but sadly the chorus fails to make a mark. Bada$$ taps into his Jamaican roots to spit out a chorus full of all sorts of different types of ‘tings’. While it could have worked two years ago, Drake has already beaten ‘tings’ to death with both Views and More Life making the chorus sound stale. J. Cole’s verse is extremely underwhelming on Legendary and if it truly is the last verse he’ll give out then good riddance. Extremely underwhelming. If it wasn’t for his presence on the track, it would be the most unpopular track on the album in my opinion.

That’s not to imply that this record is a complete waste of time as Babylon and Amerikkkan Idol ended up being some surprise hits. While the chorus on Babylon sounds exactly like J. Cole, Bada$$ comes through with some of the most aggressive and hungry verses on this track. Need an example? ‘Fuck your breath, nigga, don’t even deserve air / Don’t even deserve shit, don’t even deserve nothin’ If black lives really mattered, you niggas would do something’. This is one of the only instances on the record where Joey has something really interesting and provoking to say rather than just pointing out what is wrong with our nation, something that has been done to death. It isn’t until Amerikkkan Idol that Joey says all he has to say about our country and more. This is the strongest track on the album, while Rockabye Baby would be the most enjoyable. Throughout Bada$$’s three long verses, he makes every possible point and opinion he had to say on the whole record present within the track’s six-minute span, a very strong way to finish off the album.

This album will not send you to sleep, neither will it change your opinion on anything, or change the way hip-hop is indulged or expressed. This is a very average politically charged rap record. There are no beats that are game-changing and there are no verses that are mind-blowing. Bada$$ made an average rap record that addressed everything he has to say in a positive manner, but nothing too dangerous (if you don’t count the Trump shout-outs that every other rapper has managed to do at this point). By last year’s election standpoint, every rapper was addressing Trump and the state of our nation: Run The Jewels, YG, Vic Mensa, Tribe Called Quest. So, my question is, in a world where everyone is talking about how bad our nation is and how we need to change, what makes Bada$$ stand out?

 

6.5/10


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Track Of The Week: HUMBLE by KENDRICK LAMAR

By Liam Menzies (@blinkclyro)

Comparing yourself to a religious symbol is usually bound to result in you becoming an infamous figure. If you need an example then just take a look at Kanye‘s Rolling Stone Cover where he not so subtly recreated the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Unsurprisingly this made Mr West public enemy number one in the eyes of many Christians, something which has continued when he repeatedly announces himself as a god.

So as Kendrick Lamar donned pope robes for the music video accompanying new single Humble, his second track in the space of a week following The Heart Part 4, you would have expected him to maybe take a second to reconsider his attire. Throughout this track, though, Kendrick isn’t concerned with the thoughts of others as we get an abundance of braggadocious bars that the Compton rapper hasn’t really channeled since his second studio album Good Kid, m.A.A.d city. 

However, this isn’t depicted solely by visuals: right off the bat, Kendrick takes on the role of a preacher as he proclaims “wicked or weakness, you gotta see this” over what can only be described as squeaky distorted guitars that get you riled up after mere seconds of hearing them. Consider this intro your only bit of breathing space though as Kendrick unapologetically reinforces himself as one of, if not the greatest rapper alive, not simply asking but demanding for everyone to keep their attention focussed on him.

Accompanied by the punchiest 808 bass line you’ll hear this year along with a catchy piano riff, this is the first witnessing of Kendrick‘s departure of the jazz-fuelled sound that can be found all over To Pimp A Butterfly and untitled.unmastered. Not only this but the lyrics seem to channel a lot more of the narrative that carried the aforementioned Good Kid, m.A.A.d city with Kendrick spouting lines about his youth surrounded by gang affiliations and cheap grub before he begins to brag about money and sex with one of the wittiest albeit cheesiest lines of the year so far (parmesan where my accountant lives). 

While it would be easy to call this off as a dumbed-down version of what he’s provided before, Kendrick seems to be well aware of the hypocrisy in what he’s saying: after all, we shouldn’t put past this intentional juxtaposition past him when he’s recreating The Last Supper while hitting out with “sit down, be humble“. Speaking of that hook, it’ll be impossible for you to get it out of your head and may very well be to 2017 what “pimp pimp, hooray” was to 2016.

Religious garments and firing shots (R.I.P Drake?) aside, if To Pimp A Butterfly‘s jazz and funk infused sound wasn’t your cup of tea then Humble is sure to have you falling back in love with Kendrick. Even if you’ve been a fan of his last two releases, this latest single will have you drooling at the mouth for what will drop next: remember, we’ve only got till April 7th to get our shit together.


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