Alright, I'm all for innovation in the music industry and women as the source of that innovation, but there is something about Beyoncé's impromptu new album/"visual experience" that doesn't make me feel quite right. There is something undeniably conceited and unnecessarily grandiose about the entire spectacle. Released on iTunes without warning (fuck Spotify, this is a classy affair), the reviews for Beyoncé's album have been unanimously positive. Let me emphasize that the acclaim is not unjust, it is a unique concept in the current musical climate, and one that B is fine admitting she grafted from Michael Jackson's "Thriller." Still from "Pretty Hurts"

"Pretty Hurts" is essentially TLC's "Unpretty" reimagined. Opening with a beauty pageant announcer asking, "What is your aspiration in life?" Beyoncé responds, "My aspiration is to be happy." It's probable that she has achieved that goal, which is why it seems appropriate that she would single out the beauty and fashion world as a source of pain and irritation being that there's nothing else for her to complain about. For her to lament about how it doesn't matter what's in your head doesn't seem to ring true, especially when envisioning a smash cut to all the glossy magazine covers she's graced. She is, in fact, a go-to source for women to compare and feel bad about themselves.

Still from "Ghost"

"Haunted" is, vocally, a departure from the tone Beyoncé usually takes, and, for the most part shows how her problems are increasingly unrelatable to "the common man" as she sings about her issues with record labels and how normal people have to "work 9 to 5 just to stay alive." There's no real message behind the song, save for "soul not for sale/probably won't make no money off this/oh well." Okay B, I'm sure Columbia Records would take this giant risk releasing an album that you haven't even promoted if they didn't expect you to make money from it.

Still from "Haunted"

"Drunk in Love" is an extremely uncomfortable song about how Jay-Z and Beyoncé have great sex and crave each other to the point of cannibalism. Jay-Z's rap sounds like it may have been put together in five minutes and includes complaints about how he ruined his Warhol while boning in the foyer. It is in no way a fitting homage to "Crazy in Love."

Looking Rihanna-esque in the video for "Drunk in Love" (plus, Rihanna has a song called "Drunk on Love")

"Blow" (sorry Ke$ha, you no longer have the monopoly on the song title) is a funk-laden track with whispery-sounding vocals that dichotomously negate Beyoncé's occasional sense of female empowerment with lyrics like, "Ima let you be the boss of me." Echoing the vibe of Thriller, the song was produced by Pharrell Williams and Timbaland, thus, it makes sense that this would be chosen as one of the lead singles in promotion of the album.

70s aesthetics dominate the video for "Blow"

"No Angel" is perhaps the most annoying song on the album, with quintessential Beyoncé moaning as she says salacious things against a subtly aggressive beat and utters pandering sentences like, "Baby, whatever you want." Following is "Partition," a standout track with echoes of I Am... Sasha Fierce-era Beyoncé. It is one of the few songs that exudes any true confidence from the woman who once sang an anthem called "Independent Woman."

Still from "Angel"

"Jealous" presents another issue with coming across as genuine. Knowing Beyoncé's blissful state of marriage, a song centered around being a jilted lover is almost as incongruous as Ke$ha singing about matrimony. Absurd lyrics such as "I cooked this meal for you naked/So where the hell you at?" and "I look damn good/I ain't lost it" also serve to make matters worse.

Still from "Partition"

"Rocket" is another Timbaland-produced track with a soulful tinge. It continues the mixed message style that has pervaded much of B's later career as she vacillates between being an unstoppable tour de force and a needy, sexed up doll--the latter of which is proved by the sentiment, "Let me sit this ass on you/Show you how I feel."

Still from "Jealousy"

Drake breaks up the Beyoncé-centricness on "Mine." Initially, "Mine" is a slow, laidback track that allows Beyoncé to showcase her vocal talent with ease. Drake picks up the beat with the distinct chant, "This is a song for the good girl." As one of the longest songs on the album, it is in keeping with Beyoncé's intent behind the record, which is to force people to take the time to appreciate the music (though it will inevitably be edited in length when it makes it to the radio).

Still from "Rocket"

"XO" is a mid-tempo song that continues the stint of goodness present on "Mine." The lyrical content is forgettable, but B's voice and the accompanying music are not. Something of a thematic sequel to "Pretty Hurts," "Flawless" is by far the most different of all the offerings on Beyoncé. With an overlaying reading from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie stating, "Because I'm a female, I'm expected to aspire to marriage. Why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and not males?", Beyoncé revisits the feminist side of her personality. Asserting her dominance, she shouts, "Don't think I'm just his little wife/Bow down bitches."

Still from "Mine"

Frank Ocean's appearance on "Superpower" comes across as a way to balance out the fact that he also appeared on Jay-Z's last album. It's largely unenjoyable in spite of his rich vocals. Furthering the cheese factor of "Superpower" is "Heaven."The ballad iterates the sentiment "Heaven couldn't wait for you" I'm guessing it's about a dead person? The concluding track, "Blue," featuring, um, Blue Ivy is a love song to one of the most famous celebrity children ever born. And yeah, that's all you can really say about it.

Still from "Flawless"

More than anything, it's the simultaneous release of an accompanying video for every song that is notable about Beyoncé. Is this a life-changing album? No. That's why I'm suspect of all the fanfare surrounding itWhat's the harm in acknowledging that this is a work that exhibits a schizophrenic message about womanhood and content that solidifies a paucity of real problems in the singer's life.


Devonté Hynes, best known as Blood Orange, has released a sophomore album that manages to usurp the goodness of his debut, Coastal Grooves. With Cupid Deluxe, Hynes' takes cues from his mainstream producing credits for musicians like Florence Welch, The Chemical Brothers, Sky Ferreira and Solange Knowles. As a result, his tortured, beautiful soul can be heard on every inch of the vinyl (if vinyl was still a modern metaphor). Album cover for Cupid Deluxe

The first single, "Chamakay," initiates the album with a sultry, melancholic aura, with sensual vocals that lead into the taunting "You're Not Good Enough," which at times sounds like Daft Punk's "Get Lucky." He defensively asserts, "I never was in love/You were never good enough" in the manner of a lover protecting himself from being wounded. "Uncle Ace" bears a similar beat to "You're Not Good Enough" at first, with a rhythmically funk-like background and dark, brooding vocals. Written about the primary port in the storm for homeless LGBT youth in New York, the ACE, Blood Orange shows, once again, his empathy for the transgender community. In fact, Hynes has often cited Octavia St. Laurent, who gained fame in 1990's Paris Is Burning, as an inspiring muse. With an occasional saxophone peppered in, you're liable to not want "Uncle Ace" to end by the time you get far enough into it. "No Right Thing," the fourth track, is yet another soulful, sweltering sort of song that features a little bit of producing help from rapper Clams Casino.

Seen too much.

"It Is What It Is" (boldly spelled correctly, unlike M.I.A.'s "It Iz What It Iz") possesses the fanciful vibe of an island retreat. The musical motif of the song mirrors some of The Knife's earlier (better) work. Following is "Chosen," which opens with angelic whimsy and then leads into an undeniable 80s beat that will fortify your will to live. It is a song that somehow seems like a subtle homage to all the struggling, cast out LGBT youth of New York (where Hynes resides) and London (where Hynes originally hails from). It would've fit in quite nicely on the Christmas episode of My So-Called Life where Rickie finds himself homeless and rejected by his family.

Single cover for "Chamakay"

"Clipped On" is a track that puts the greatest emphasis on Hynes' voice as he sings, "All I do is think about you baby." The song is also notable for how hip hop-oriented it is, with vocal contributions from MC Despot. The hip hop sound remains faintly on the at first pained, "Alway Let U Down," an offering that affirms the universal fear so many people in a relationship have, which is, "I can only disappoint you 'cause I always let you down." The track then segues into an upbeat, hopeful air.


Winding down the album is "On the Line" (also the title of an oft forgotten Lance Bass movie, making Blood Orange stand out even more for his obscure references to gay culture--even when they're unintentional). The urgency and sincerity of Hynes' voice is evident in lyrics like, "Tell me if we're on the line/Tell me if you're in my life, don't go." The second to last track, "High Street" (because it wouldn't be a Blood Orange album without some sort of nod to London), is the closest we'll ever know of a truly impeccable Prince emulator. Amid Blood Orange's lush vocals, rapper Skepta tells the tale of existing on a council estate--the New York equivalent of a project.

The scenic vibe of Cupid Deluxe

"Time Will Tell," an appropriate name for a concluding track, has the musical aura of Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror" and has the ability to soothe and ease away agony, stress and other unwanted sources of anxiety. Once again repeating the mantra, "It is what it is," this is they type of song you need to listen to when you're riding on the overpacked boxcar provided for you daily by the MTA.

Navigate the cold, unforgiving streets of New York with Cupid Deluxe playing on your headphones.

Although Blood Orange has many other personas, including Test Icicles and Lightspeed Champion, he has never been more at home in his own skin than in the incarnation presented on Cupid Deluxe.

It’s been a long time coming, but Matangi is finally here—and yes, it was worth the wait. After being pushed back by M.I.A.’s label, Interscope (which, for some reason, had no problem releasing ARTPOP), so many times, it seems almost a miracle to be able to listen to this fifteen-track gem. Matangi album cover

Menacing, yet spiritual sounding “Karmageddon”  is the perfect introduction M.I.A.’s to long-awaited Matangi. Much like  “The Message” on M/\Y/\, “Karmageddon” is something of a thesis sentence for the entire album as M.I.A. warns, “My words are my armor and you’re bout to meet your karma.” The second track, “MATANGI,” is a screeching anthem calling to countries as far-reaching as Malawi. At times reminiscent of the beat to “Boyz,” M.I.A. shows her penchant for the visceral and fast-paced. As the song comes to a close, the bhangra-like background hypnotizes and enraptures. This segues into the equally surreal “Only 1 U.” Expressing a much sweeter sentiment than the previous track, M.I.A. gives us a mathematical breakdown about how

“There’s trillions of cash/And there’s billions of us/And there’s millions of things that can happen with this stuff/And there’s thousands that will crash/And there’s hundreds that will smash/There’s only one you and I’ma drink to that.”

The inherent message of the song, of course, is that “Making money is fun, but your life is one of a kind.” A.k.a. fucking cherish it.

Killin' it.

“Warriors” is the closest M.I.A. will get to sounding like Die Antwoord. Opening with a tranquil “Ommmm,” you’re initially led to believe you’re about to listen to a peaceful little ditty, but this transitions instantaneously to M.I.A.’s usual tribal rhythm. And just when you get used to one style on this track, it will blind-side you with another one. The following, “Come Walk With Me,” starts out sounding like perhaps the cheesiest song M.I.A. has ever allowed herself to release (think Live Aid). But then, once again, the rap/hip hop/pop star takes you by storm with a frenetic, uptempo beat. M.I.A. sheds the brief bathetic image to say, “It’s cool/It takes two/So I’m gonna still fuck with you.” She then engages in her favorite pastime—self-reference—as she asserts, “M.I.A. comin’ back with power power.”

“atTENTion" continues the frenzied vibe with a caterwauling M.I.A. as she occasionally sings. Her typical, yet nonetheless charming haughtiness is apparent as she cautions, "Don’t try to copy this, cause I pay tent.” The subsequent “Exodus” is, it would seem, M.I.A.’s offering to the stoner set (which makes sense, considering the Weeknd is also featured on the track). Laidback and, at times, epic, M.I.A. questions, “Baby you can have it all/Tell me what for…Whatchu want it all for?” Things pick up with the song that originally signaled the advent of Matangi, “Bad Girls.” The rousing equivalent to M.I.A.’s other signature hit, “Paper Planes,” “Bad Girls” has possibly usurped the former as M.I.A’s most iconic song.

“Boom Skit,” the most playful and irreverent track on the album thus far finds M.I.A. poking fun at America (naturally) with lyrics like “Looking for your Instagram, looking for a pentagram, all I can say is poor people should be on Ghettogram.” “Boom Skit” transitions nicely to “Double Bubble Trouble”—easily one of the best/most danceable tracks on Matangi, and is likenable to a Bob Marley/Skrillex mash-up.”Y.A.L.A.”, M.I.A’s answer to Y.O.L.O., plays like a whirling dervish of beats and emotions (it’s indubitably what the Tasmanian devil listens to while traipsing around). Yet again, M.I.A. challenges us with a probing question: “If we only live once, why we keep doin’ the same shit?” “Bring the Noize,” one of the few other songs M.I.A. fans heard before Matangi’s release, most closely mirrors “Born Free” off M/\Y/\.

“Lights” (not to be confused with the Ellie Goulding song) is the type of offering that might have been played during the Jonestown Massacre—it has that kind of a creepy vibe. But still, M.I.A. manages to make it work with a rare glimpse into what her “sweet” voice sounds like. “Know It Ain’t Right” has tinges of an underground hip hop song with its booming bass and high as a kite-esque vocal pace. M.I.A. also continues with her exploration of moral implications as she states, “We know it ain’t right, but we do it anyway.” The closer for the album, cheekily titled “Sexodus,” finds M.I..A. pairing up with The Weeknd again—even though it’s essentially just “Exodus” tacked at the end. This one minor flaw aside, it’s quite reassuring to have a rabble-rouser like M.I.A. back on the scene to stir things up. It was going to be an awfully dull winter without her. Now let’s just hope she finds a different label to release her next record.



AuthorSmoking Barrel

Ciara seems to have been one of those female artists who has wavered in and out of the spotlight (à la Mya) since her 2004 debut, Goodies. Subsequent albums, Ciara: The Revolution, Fantasy Ride and Basic Instinct seemed to lack the ability to capture the same magic as Goodies, in spite of notable commercial performances. It wasn't until asking Jive to drop her from their label in the wake of artistic differences/discrepant views on the promotion of her album that Ciara could finally start over again and reinvent herself. Perhaps that's why simply calling her fifth album Ciara is a succinct and pertinent decision. Cover for Ciara's self-titled album.

"I'm Out" sets the tone for the empowered, take control attitude that dominates the album. Telling the story of a woman who has just come out of a breakup and is finally ready to find the love and affection she deserves, the track makes a great choice for Ciara's second single from the album. Appropriately, the second song on the album is entitled "Sophomore." Gritty and gutteral, there is something about "Sophomore" that is very similar to the vibe of a Rihanna track--think "Birthday Cake" meets "Cockiness (I Love It)." The first single from Ciara, "Body Party," takes the pace down a notch with slow, sultry vocals that sample from INOJ's "I Want to Be Your Lady Baby." The R&B flavor continues with "Keep On Lookin'". Another patent assertion of her independence, Ciara sings, "I would tell you haters to fuck off, but I'm still a lady." Yet another possible record label-related kiss off, Ciara taunts, "Boy what I got, baby you can't have."


"Read My Lips" has plenty of radio-friendly potential with its Fergie-esque backbeat (it sounds a little like 2006's "Clumsy"). The simple, fun-loving lyrics reflect a carefree summer feel as Ciara sings, "Read my lips, read my lips/Baby get up all in this." Yet again drawing Rihanna comparisons, the next track on the album finds Ciara collaborating with Future (who worked with Rihanna on Unapologetic to make "Loveeeee Song"). In Ciara's defense, however, this track has far more clout than "Loveeeee Song"--and is much less annoying to listen to. Slow tempoed and laidback, this is one of the most relaxing songs on the album apart from "Body Party."

"Body Party" promo

Visceral and early 90s Janet Jackson-esque, "Super Turnt Up" combines all the best elements of a slow and fast track. Produced with Cameron, "Super Turnt Up" showcases the artistic harmony between the two. And although the majority of the songs on Ciara are produced by the chanteuse herself, this particular offering reveals Ciara's seasoned dexterity when it comes to producing a flawless backbeat. "DUI" follows with an eerie, sinister opening that transitions into a sensual, almost 70s porno background. After all, it wouldn't be a Ciara album without a bit of hypercharged sexuality. Singing, "I might have to pull over/I bet the law would arrest me if they knew what I was thinkin'.../So put them handcuffs on me, keep talkin' to me dirty," Ciara shows us that her Petey Pablo influence is never too far behind.

One woman army.

The second Nicki Minaj collaboration on the album, "Livin' It Up," is, of course, another upbeat, frenetic track featuring affirmations like, "Don't know when my next meal's comin'/All I know is I've been runnin'" and "A girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do/Makin' up her own rules." In this respect, there definitely has to be some sort of City High homage hidden within these lyrics. Nicki Minaj joins in with her usual brand of distinction, screaming, "See, I'm a monster/No, I'm not a Loch Ness." While the track is memorable, it doesn't quite grab you as much as "I'm Out." The final song on Ciara, "Overdose," keeps the party sentiment going with its ultra infectious musical background and frothy lyrics. As far as love/drug analogies are concerned, Ciara doesn't really have any new insight to offer, save for "I took your love/Think I took too much/I took it all, but it's not enough/Somebody call the doctor." But paired with the music, you can forgive the somewhat trite vocals and close your eyes long enough to pretend you're in Europe.

In fact, Ciara has transcended to a far more Eurodance level on this album--while still somehow managing to maintain her hip hop and R&B roots. Ciara signals a new chapter in Ciara's career (as well as in her musical growth), hopefully one that isn't likely to end any time soon.

There has been no end to the speculation about the direction Jay-Z's career would take once he announced his initial retirement after releasing The Black Album. Obviously, Jigga Man has trouble staying away. Although he fully eased his way back into the hip hop world by releasing a joint album, Watch the Throne, with Kanye West, it always seemed inevitable that Jay would return to the scene in a more complete, grandiose way--and what better name to exhibit said grandiosity than Magna Carta... Holy Grail? Magna Carta... Holy Grail album cover

Opening with the surefire one-two punch of a Justin Timberlake collaboration, "Holy Grail" is a soulful track that showcases Timberlake's abilities a bit more than Jay-Z's. A large portion of the song, in fact, relies on Timberlake's vocals--with Jay-Z not appearing until over a minute in. The melancholic chorus, "I just can't crack your code/One day you're screamin' you love me so/The next day you're so cold," is also left to Timberlake's able vocal stylings. While "Holy Grail" is a great start to the album, it shows something of a lethargy on Jay-Z's part. The next track, "Picasso Baby," melds elements of rock with funk in terms of backbeat, with Jay-Z rapping in a somewhat abrasive tone as he expresses desires like, "I want a wife to fuck me like a prostitute." So let's hope Beyonce is delivering on that. At about three minutes in, the song shifts into an entirely different direction, vaguely mirroring the sound of "99 Problems."

In his element.

Following is "Tom Ford," another Timbaland-produced track with a beat that reveals Tim's continued gift for creating addictive beats. However, Jay-Z once again displays a certain laziness when it comes to his raps--not to mention an unpleasantly annoying intonation throughout the entire song. "Fuckwithmeyouknowigotit" presents the second vocal collaboration on the album, this time with Rick Ross. Jay follows the same formula he does on "Holy Grail" by letting Rick Ross take the reins for most of the track. Next up is "Oceans," in which Jay-Z wastes no time in offering another powerful musical alliance with Frank Ocean (so now you know why the song is named as such). "Oceans" also starts out with Frank Ocean's voice instead of Jay's. The unmistakable richness of Ocean's voice fills the entire room with so much goodness, that you're almost kind of disappointed when Jay-Z joins in. Fortunately, this song shows Magna Carta... Holy Grail on an upswing.

"F.U.T.W." finds Jay-Z making Cassius Clay comparisons and continuing to talk about being from the projects. This attempt at evincing street cred seems to be immediately negated by the allusion, "I just wanna feel like Brody in Homeland." And, speaking of Homeland, "Somewhereinamerica" is the subsequent song, with something of a The Great Gatsby Soundtrack tinged flavor. You might call it the sequel to "100$ Bill." The visceral, ethereal sound of the following song, "Crown," provides one of the most standout moments on the album. Lyrics like "Fear is your only god," serve to accent the often spiritual motif of the record (Yeezus parallels aside).

"Fear is your only god."

The "spiritual motif" continues with "Heaven," wherein Jay-Z addresses accusations of being in the illuminati, among other things. Sampling lyrics from the R.E.M. classic "Losing My Religion," Jay-Z's knack for mash-ups and musical recycling is effortlessly flaunted. "Versus" picks up the pace of the album with a more light-hearted beat. Its distinctiveness from the other tracks on Magna Carta... Holy Grail may have something to do with being produced by Swizz Beats, but before you can think about it too much, the track segues into "Part II (On the Run)" featuring Beyonce. "Crazy in Love" it is not, but it does offer an interesting take on the concept of romance as Beyonce croons, "Who wants that perfect love story anyway?/Cliche, cliche, cliche." Yet again, Jay-Z seems perfectly content to let someone else take the spotlight throughout most of the duration.

Another musical collaboration between the couple appears on Magna Carta... Holy Grail

"Beach is Better" takes the tongue in cheekness to a new level with regard to Jay-Z's personal life as he raps, "For as long as you took [to get ready], you better look like Halle Berry...or Beyonce." It is also somewhat indicative of his age as he uses irrelevant terms not used since the late 90s/early 00s--like "celly," reiterating the white sounding phrase, "Rapping is a young man's game." Another more fast-paced offering, "BBC," is one of the most out of place songs on Magna Carta... Holy Grail--in a good way--especially when Jay-Z screams, "Britney bitch." Next is "Jay Z Blue," which opens with an extract from Mommie Dearest in which Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford laments, "I work and I work until I'm half dead and then I hear people say, 'She's getting old.'" So, clearly, Jay-Z is well aware that his age might be having an effect on his current musical style. But then, it's also more of a creepy tribute to Blue Ivy. Among some of the most incongruous lyrics--and there are many--is "Baby need Pampers, Daddy needs at least three weeks in the Hamptons."


"La Familia" doesn't exactly redeem the awkwardness of "Jay Z Blue," in spite of it obvious The Godfather references. There's just something about listening to Jay talk about being a family man that feels weird and uncomfortable--and is also likely to happen to Kanye West on his next album, though possibly with stronger hints at dysfunction. "Nickels and Dimes" concludes Magna Carta... Holy Grail on a somewhat better note than the two songs that preceded it, but I'm not sure if that's really saying much. Generally speaking, what both Jay-Z and Beyonce have demonstrated is that success and having a baby may not have been entirely conducive to their creativity or relatability.


It’s hard to believe that Kanye West’s debut, College Dropout, came out nine years ago—not only in terms of how much he’s evolved, but also in terms of how much his ego has flourished. With Yeezus, that fortified ego doesn’t quite seem to be warranted. Although it’s a solid addition to West’s body of work, there is something inauthentic about his transition to the more electronic, dubstep side of the music realm. Though West’s talents have always integrated well with other genres, this is the type of album that might be better off as instrumental. West reveals more of a god complex than a Messiah complex on Yeezus

Opening with the electro-tinged “On Sight,” produced by Daft Punk, West establishes an immediate alteration in his musical style. The harmonious collaboration between Daft Punk and West was evident on his sampling of “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”—“On Sight” is a continuation of their seamless symbiosis. The subsequent track, “Black Skinhead,” is a throwback to the West of College Dropout and Late Registration days. The Lupe Fiasco (who helped produce this track) influence is apparent as well, with a sound that vaguely mirrors a Depeche Mode song (namely “Personal Jesus”). More egocentric lyrics abound as West screams, “I’m aware I’m a king/Back out the tomb, bitch!” It’s one of those points on the album where you wish you could remind West that he’s just a man from Chicago. Even Purple Rain-era Prince was never this vainglorious.

Album cover for Yeezus

Perhaps the most likely thesis statement of the album “I Am A God” (featuring, ahem, God) begins with an abrasive, erratic beat to set the tone for this anthem of megalomania. The assertions and demands of the song don’t quite come off as West insists, “I am a God, hurry up with my damn massage…/Hurry up with my damn croissants.” Overall, the absurd nature of the song makes it about as easy to take seriously as Keeping Up With the Kardashians.

Single cover for "New Slaves"

Continuing with an electronic motif, “New Slaves” possesses a sinister air that makes it one of the most memorable songs on Yeezus. The daring, shock-inducing lyrics recall some of West’s more emboldened offerings on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Watch the Throne, including, “You see there’s leaders and there’s followers/But I’d rather be a dick than a swallower.” “Hold My Liquor” is one of the few tracks on Yeezus that focuses more on West’s vocals rather than the accompanying beat. With a surreal, occasionally harsh aural background, the song mirrors the irritation and confusion of waking up with a hangover. Admitting, “I can’t handle no liquor/But these bitches can’t handle me,” West appears to be at his most melancholic on this song.

As part of promotion for the album, West projected his image over the Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn

“I’m In It” starts out with a salacious series of moans as West utters a variety of sexual musings like “You know I need that wet mouth/Put my fist in her like a civil rights sign.” Thus, it takes no time to discern that what West is in is, well, a vag. Other lyrics like,“Your titties, let them out/Free at last/Thank God almighty, free at last” are just as difficult to take seriously—not to mention probably have Martin Luther King blushing with shame from beyond the grave.

More less than demure promotion

With its immediate biblical reference, “Blood on the Leaves” borrows from Nina Simone’s “Strange Fruit.” Blending simultaneous gruffness and gentleness, this song exhibits the same Gemini qualities as West himself—that is to say, auditory duality. The following song, “Guilt Trip” features a desolate tone and is largely forgettable, standing apart solely because of how inconsistent it is with the rest of Yeezus. Featuring vocals from Beenie Man, “Send It Up” actually sounds a lot like the music of Zebra Katz with its ominous and menacing undertones. Yet another track produced by Daft Punk, “Send It Up” is one of the best moments on Yeezus.

Messianic imitations continued

“Bound 2” serves as an homage to a 60s Motown vibe—a genre that West pairs well with. The sweet sounding chorus, “I know you’re tired of loving with nobody to love” contrasts sharply with West’s declared desire, “I wanna fuck you hard in the sink.” But somehow, this contrast is what makes “Bound 2” the most favored song of the album.

Alternate album artwork

With the annoyance of West’s self-obsession aside, there are undoubtedly moments of greatness on Yeezus. It’s just that said greatness might be better suited to someone with more humble propensities.




With its obvious homage to the 1987 Public Enemy track "Bring the Noise," the first "official" single ("Bad Girls" was taken from her 2010 Vicki Leekx mix tape) off M.I.A.'s fourth studio album, Matangi, is in keeping with the controversial rapper's musical style. Produced by Switch--who has worked with M.I.A. on her past three albums--the vivacious beat proves a worthy contender for anthem of the summer. Frenetic and visceral, as most M.I.A. songs are, "Bring the Noize" is yet another tantalizing preview of things to come on Matangi. Single cover for "Bring the Noize"

Chanting "Bring the noise when we run upon them," it is immediately evident that M.I.A. still hasn't lost her political flair. In keeping with the lively tone of "Bad Girls," "Bring the Noize" showcases M.I.A. at her strongest--with rap skills that have been even more finely tuned since the polarizing /\/\ /\ Y /\ (Maya). As of yet, Matangi still has no release date--purportedly due to stylistic differences with her record label, Interscope. But if we ever are finally allowed to listen to the rest of it, the album is likely to be among her best work.

Listen to the track below.


AuthorSmoking Barrel

Hip hop/pop hybrid Nicki Minaj's much awaited sophomore album, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, may have many moments of musical glory, but the songs in between are likely to leave you feeling like you've just glimpsed into Judy Garland's mind after a handful of Seconal. Minaj's prestige and elevation to fame after the ascendancy of the first Pink Friday may have gone to her head just a bit. Otherwise, I doubt the majority of Roman Reloaded would be characterized by shrieks and unintelligible yelling. But then, I suppose only Roman can be blamed for that.

With "Roman Holiday," an opener that will make you feel like you're in a demented version of the Audrey Hepburn movie of the same name, Minaj reprises her role as Roman's mother, Martha Zolanski, urging, "Take your medication Roman, take a short vacation Roman. You'll be okay." The most horrifying clincher is when Minaj digresses into a sinister version of "Come All Ye Faithful." Then there is, hands down, the worst track on the album, "Come On A Cone," in which Minaj tells us all about a "dick in your face."

Thankfully, the third song, "I Am Your Leader" featuring Cam'ron and Rick Ross, begins to steer the album in a more bearable direction. It may actually be Cam'ron's best musical effort since "Hey Ma." As Minaj chants, "I am your leader," you quickly start to believe it's true. She then forces you to realize, "I'm a brand bitch, I'm a brand." At least she owns up to that fact. "Beez in the Trap" featuring 2 Chainz follows, faintly smacking of Fergie as Minaj raps, "Bitches say shit and they ain't say nothin," which sounds an awful lot like, "Fergalicious definition: make them boys go loco."

"HOV Lane" opens with a futuristic beat and segues into one of Minaj as Roman's more harder-edged raps as she asserts, "I'm in my own lane, you ain't in my categor. You like a RAV-4, I'm like the Inventador" (yes, that's a car name she made up). The other noticeable track with "hit appeal" is the title track featuring Lil' Wayne, "Roman Reloaded." With an aggravated backbeat and an addictive chorus ("Bang, my shit bang, it bang bang"), this is the most ear-catching song next to "Stupid Hoe." Minaj even references her controversial Grammy performance, questioning,  "Is it me or did I put these rap bitches on the map again?/You mad 'cause I'm at the Grammys with the Vatican."

Another remarkable collaboration comes in the form of "Champion" featuring Nas, Drake (no stranger to the Minaj fold), and Young Jeezy. The emphasis of the track is contingent upon the contention: "Came back to Queens to head up a new state." As someone who proudly recognizes where she is from (Jamaica! Queens, that is), Minaj also comprehends her responsibility to make it a better place now that she has the means and resources to do so ("This is for the hood, this is for the kids"). Chris Brown makes a cameo on the subsequent upbeat anthem, "Right By My Side." Ironically, Minaj delivers her most Rihanna-like tone as she sings, "I'm pourin' my heart out."

"Sex in the Lounge" featuring (yet again) Lil' Wayne and Bobby V. is perhaps an homage to Minaj's occasional boyfriend/promotional guru, Safaree "SB" Samuels, considering her observation,  "He addicted to hustle, I'm addicted to fame." The Billboard chart-topping song, "Starships," in which Minaj will vocally resemble Katy Perry as much as she ever will, is another album highlight, if not slightly on the superficial side. "Pound the Alarm," one of the rare instances where Minaj sings unaccompanied, is another feel-good track in the vein of "Starships." Once again, Minaj affirms her superiority over other females in her genre: "What I gotta do to show these girls that I own them?/Some call me Nicki, some call me Roman."

In a nod to Devo, "Whip It" bolsters the dance rhythm of  Roman Reloaded, evocative of a party that might take place in Ibiza or India as Minaj shouts, "Hey stranger over there, I really like the way you whip it" (insert whip-cracking sound effect here). "Automatic" mimics the inflection of Rihanna's "We Found Love," continuing to propel the more buoyant side of Roman. "Beautiful Sinner" (coincidentally a similar title to Madonna's "Beautiful Killer" from the recently released MDNA, on which Minaj collaborates with M.I.A. for "Give Me All Your Luvin'") is Minaj's love letter to Trinidad, allowing her to tout, "South Africa is where I am from/Get me my banjo, get me my drum" and "Trinidad, Trinidad/My island."

Yet another connection to her fraternization with Madonna as a dancing Marilyn Monroe in the video for "Give Me All Your Luvin'" is the track named for said blonde bombshell. In it, Minaj laments, "Sometimes I feel like Marilyn Monroe: I'm insecure, I make mistakes." As the pace of the album continues to slow down, "Young Forever" (in keeping with the Marilyn Monroe theme) signals the third act, so to speak, of Roman Reloaded. Singing some of her more maudlin lyrics, Minaj croons, "Frozen in time, always be mine/Baby boy, you'll be young forever."

The somewhat obviously titled "Fire Burns" bolsters the vulnerable side of Minaj, allowing her to vent about love lost as she bemoans, "This is a sickening joke that you play with my emotions." "Gun Shot" featuring Beenie Man is the perfect transition from "Fire Burns," with its moderate rhythm and the smooth vocals of Beenie Man to complement Minaj's narrative. "Stupid Hoe" changes up the stride of the slow jam trilogy with the infectious accusation, "You a stupid hoe."

Those with the bonus track edition of Roman Reloaded are also subject to the David Guetta/Nicki Minaj dance-suffused partnership, "Turn Me On," the ultra-80s sounding "Va Va Voom," the equal part rap, equal part pop "Masquerade," and a twenty-one minute interview entitled "Press Conference" with Minaj's main squeezes Charlemagne and Safaree "SB" Samuels. When asked about if she feels she gets enough love from New York, she vehemently denies being appreciated in spite of how hard she worked to rise to her current stature. She even recalls, "I was sellin' my fuckin' mix tape outta my muthafuckin' BMW on Jamaica fuckin' Avenue." Enough said.

Maybe it has to do with being from Barbados or using Madonna as a source of inspiration, but Rihanna is definitely a pop star who falls into the category of "can't stop, won't stop." On the heels of her previous two albums, Rated R (2009) and Loud (2010), Rihanna has just released the dance-tinged Talk That Talk. Already, the album has spawned a number one, "We Found Love" featuring Calvin Harris, and, based on the other songs on the siren's sixth LP, this is only the beginning of her record-breaking success.

Produced largely by Dr. Luke and StarGate, much of Talk That Talk is suffused with the raw sexual energy that Rihanna has become known for. Songs like "Cockiness (Love It)" showcase the artist's lack of inhibitions with lyrics like, "Suck my cockiness, lick my puh-suasion/Eat my words, and then swallow your pride down, down." The lasciviousness continues on "Birthday Cake" as she croons, "Come and put your name on it/It's not even my birthday, but you wanna lick my icing off/I know you want it in the worst way." So yeah, Rihanna's pretty comfortable with innuendos.

But that doesn't mean the Barbadian sex goddess isn't fond of singing about a holding hands type of love. Tracks like "You Da One," "Where Have You Been," "We All Want Love," and "Farewell" are all a bit less sexually explicit, focusing on either the euphoria of finding love or the sadness of losing it.

Another highlight on Talk That Talk is the song of the same name featuring Jay-Z. Although they're never going to recapture the perfection of "Umbrella" together, it still works as a great track to bump in your car or on the dance floor. As far as Behind the Hype is concerned, this album is among her best, proving that quality is actually possible with quantity. Because no one in the music industry has been this prolific since Missy Elliott (where is that ho anyway?).

From the strong jaw of the bay area, San Jose rapper Roch is out of the gate this year with LP, Lightweight Bi-Polar Mania.

Right away I find appreciation to the use of live instruments that feature prominently on the emotionally charged album. With a poet’s pen, Roch’s hip hop/soul elements mix well with live sounds and old school sampling.

The 4th track, Hard Times, reminded me of something E-40 would come up with. With lyrics about the everyday man’s hustle, the heavy kick coupled with the various bells and wind instruments makes it an easy song to groove to.

Track 5 is No More Starz, and begins with a grainy filtered guitar and piano. The lyrics kick in sorrow, and soon the drums jump in to create a groovy, yet beautiful little tune about wishing on those vanishing stars. I thought the echoing chorus mixed with the wild turntables made this one of the better songs on the record.

My favorite track was Dracula’s Widow. The 7th track, it keeps a pretty low bpm, and has one of my favorite keyboard sections this year. The track is the most impressive song on the album instrumentally, and I feel like Roch felt the same, keeping the lyrics very simple, repeating a handful of lines through the song. Complete with a sick drummer, conga riff, a tight western guitar solo, and old school strings in the background, this impressed me the most.

If Roch keeps improving on his current form, I think he will join the ranks of groups like the Cunninglynguists, known for their different approach to rap.

Check out his Facebook for more information, and bear witness!

Until next time my friends,


CategoriesHip Hop

Just when you thought Kanye West and Jay-Z couldn't get any better musically, they decided to release Watch the Throne, an entire album of their collaborative efforts together. It was obvious even before that, as individual acts they are the only source for meaningful mainstream hip hop, but when they combine their styles, the result is even more incredible.

Opening with the visceral "No Church in the Wild," the tone of the album is set as being extremely political and often lyrically provocative. Of course, what would anything Jay-Z related be without contributing vocals from Beyoncé, which appear on "Lift Off"? The first few songs on Watch the Throne, in fact, are much more dominant on Jay-Z's part, with Kanye's voice demure (relatively speaking) on tracks like "Ni*%as in Paris" and "Gotta Have It" (though the beat on "Gotta Have It" is distinctly Kanye).

Kanye's standard form of unrelenting honesty is especially heightened on "New Day" when he talks about how he is going to raise his future son, affirming--with his typical brand of tongue in cheek--"I mean I might even make him be Republican so everybody know he love white people." The track following "New Day," "That's My Bitch," is arguably the best on the album. Jay-Z's voice is once again prominent as he comments on the prevalence of white women as the norm for what men are supposed to consider beautiful:

"I mean Marilyn Monroe she's quite nice, but why all the pretty icons always all white?"

"Murder to Excellence" is another standout track for its lyrics. Opening with a chilling high-pitched vocal harmonization, the song drives home the overall message of "Black excellence, truly yours." "Made in America" is perhaps the most disappointing offering on Watch the Throne, both in terms of music and lyrics, smattering together the names of historical black figures with the repetition of "Sweet baby Jesus."

As the album winds down, the sound shifts slightly to a more rock-tinged beat, as on "Why I Love You" and "Illest Motherfucker Alive," reverting back to its original modulations on "H*a*m." Jay-Z still manages to take all of the good lyrics, including "I played chicken with a Mack truck" and the usual referral to his Bed-Stuy days with "See the shit I saw growing up."

What Watch the Throne will leave you feeling is the desire for Jay-Z and Kanye West to always collaborate. I get the sense that this is just a glimmer of the musical magic they are capable of making together. Until then, look out for The Throne Tour in the fall.


AuthorSmoking Barrel
CategoriesHip Hop
3 CommentsPost a comment