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Music Reviews

Nas: Stillmatic Music Review

Nas was once labeled a prodigy, but soon afterwards his quality went down and we have yet to see the caliber of sound that he once produced on the classic CD of “Illmatic”. Since then, his CDs have drastically degraded in substance.

Having said the necessary, let’s get down to business on his latest CD “Stillmatic”. The very name of the CD echoes his original “Illmatic”, but even the artwork screams that there have been some changes at Ill Will Records, Nas’ very own record label. A short list of guests include recently released AZ and beautiful songstress Amerie.

The intro, aptly titled “Stillmatic” is one of the better openers that have been out in a while. Provides a very smooth yet energetic beat which poetically flows with Nas’ voice and gives off a great vibe. Track 2 “Ether” moves a little less poetic, instead giving you the compulsion to bob your head. God’s Son (Nas) decided to dedicate an entire track to dissing Jay-z, his multi-platinum selling New York rival, and effectively terrorizes Jayhova. A pretty brilliant track.

“Got Ur Self a…” is another worthwhile track that mixes an up-tempo beat, full of cymbals, piano rifts and guitar plucks, with a lyrical Nas kicking knowledge about his street skills. While this is an overdone topic, he does it in great style. Speaking of abused rap material, next up is “Smokin”. The Queensbridge native decides to flow about subjects ranging from his origins, blazing blunts, street war and thug friendship, but it is way too difficult to not like this track when it has such a nice beat and verbal disposition.

Track 5, titled “You’re Da Man” has a polished instrumental with a nice vinyl sound to it. Truly a nice piece of work here, plenty of subtleties between the beat and Nas’ remarkable use of metaphors and a very catchy hook. Followed up by “Rewind” brings an old school feel in a revised and updated way while Nas tells a story about a day in his life. A decent track, hardly noteworthy or inspiring unlike the ridiculously tight, soon to be legend “One Mic”. This track is perfect in every way, Nas did the production on this track which says a lot about his production skills. The lyrics emit a sense of reality and call to action. This track is simply incredible and will be the measuring stick of every other deep soul searching type of rap joint from here on out.

“2nd Childhood” like most of the other tracks gives a thick bass line, very nice & relaxed feel. A creative reflection on his neighborhood where he speaks on people from around his way and never growing up. “Destroy & Rebuild” is yet another track to attack and correct anyone out of line from Nas’ blueprint of how it should be. Although it is not quite clearly expressed.

Arguably the best track outside of “One Mic” is next when Nas teams up with AZ on “The Flyest”. AZ brings fire with his verse and outshines Nas’ 2nd verse, but the real treat is in the 3rd verse where Nas & AZ trade lines throughout the verse, outstanding. Not to forget the chorus, a very determined R’n’B hook fits the song to a “T”. This an amazing song that is a must-hear.

“Rule” features the other guest star Amerie who samples Tears for Fears’ “Everybody wants to rule the world”. Nas addresses the state of the world as he sees it, naturally he focuses on all the negative aspects while attacking the President and Colin Powell. A decent track, very similar feel to other tracks, but this time easily forgettable. While focusing on everything wrong in the world Nas opens the next track telling us “whatever you feel is rightfully yours, go out and take it even if that means blood and death.” Despite his inability to stay on track with his own views, “My Country” sits perfectly into “Stillmatic” schematics beatwise and lyrically, another quality addition.

Ending the official track list is “What Goes Around”. There is a lot of poison in this song, at least according Nasir, where views are expressed in a fashion that echoes “Rule”, different beat and different words. “Every Ghetto” is listed as a bonus track, and thankfully it was added. As the name would indicate, this track is strictly street-level, the laid back rhythmic percussion overlapped by some nice lighter piano-like sounds create a great ending to a near perfect CD.

The inevitable conclusion here is that Nas has finally redeemed himself from his latest misfires such as “Nastradamus”, this CD is quality on nearly every level. Production is outstandingly perfect, Nas brings the fire lyrically never wasting a single line and this is a must have in the CD collection. The only flaw is an overall lack of creative content, which is a minor flaw but effects the replay value of certain songs, while other songs such as “One Mic”, “Ether”, “Smokin”, and “The Flyest”, to name a few, will have you consistently making sure there is a backup copy just in case you lose the original. Nas deserves his 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Track Listing:
01 Stillmatic (The Intro)
02 Ether
03 Got Ur Self A…
04 Smokin
05 You’re Da Man
06 Rewind
07 One Mic
08 2nd Childhood
09 Destroy & Rebuild
10 The Flyest (feat. AZ)
11 Rule (feat. Amerie)
12 My Country
13 What Goes Around
Bonus Track: Every Ghetto

4.5 out of 5

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Music Reviews

Heather Headley: This is Who I am Review

I first heard of Heather Headley from a website (which one I can no longer recall) in which it was stating that she was the next big thing and had won a bunch of online awards. I took a quick listen and didn’t feel like paying attention and quickly forgot her. Well, I probably shouldn’t have done that, she’s deserving of whatever awards she received. Not only has she received net awards, but she was honored with a Tony (by no means a small accomplishment) for her role as Nala in Disney’s Broadway show “Lion King”. Originally from Trinidad, Heather came to America when she was 15 in a move to Fort Wayne, Indiana, she is much more accustomed to live performances than a recording studio but as you will soon see, it came out quite nicely.

“this is who i am.” opens with “He Is”, a very bluesy soul-filled rendition of Ms. Headley’s love of another, most would assume she is speaking of a man, but deeper inspection should reveal she is possibly speaking about God. A pretty amazing song with great insight and high love. “Nature Of A Man” is a pretty simple song in concept and musically is not complex either, yet it’s simply pleasing since it involves a beautiful voice.

“Fallin’ For You” was co-wrote by Heather, and is a very uptempo song with a Pop appeal starring a small reggae rap from Chukki Starr, no, I don’t know who he is either but that doesn’t stop his part from giving the song a fresh breath. The next song received pretty good rotation on BET’s “Midnight Love” and was actually the reason I picked up the CD in the first place, the song I’m speaking of is “I Wish I Wasn’t”. It’s a very slow and gradual song of a heart-worn love attempting to let go of a hard relationship. A pretty brilliant song executed to perfection, the chorus andverses go hand in hand with great transitions and a great bridge to bring it all together, she demonstrates some vocal dexterity that few mainstream Pop princesses possess.

Going back to a bluesy feel she comes with “Fulltime”, which speaks love is a fulltime job and not to be taken lightly. Once again Heather Headley inspires us with a voice of gold bearing fruit with a heavy Toni Braxton-ish tone yet able to flex in another dimension when she takes it up in pitch without losing an ounce of quality. Next is “Like Ya Use To”, a funky uptempo beat heavy laden with percussion and harmonica. A fun beat and a chantable chorus make a good overall addition to the track listing. “Always Been Your Girl” slows the tempo back down with a piano laced true R&B tune. A very beautiful heartbroke song, depth is not an issue here and is heightened with a guitar solo to take you into her world which crumbles and hits you.

“Sunday” is also co-written by our star performer, another uptempo track about easing her mind for a day and get away from the stresses of a relationhip strained by another woman’s intervention. “Four Words From A Heartbreak” slows it up a tad and the title gives a semi-obvious description about the topic. A comforting track and easy to connect with (even for a guy), the overall quality of this song is reminescent of Mariah’s earlier days, an enviable position to be in. A deep message centered track is “Sista Girl”, one of the best messages in an R&B song that I can recall. A funky kind of melody backing the vocals draws you in easily enough to hear what she’s talking about, another decent addition.

“Why Should I Cry” starts slow and still but picks up when the chorus hits, an organ ushers in a love essence soon backed up by bass and finger snaps in the usual kick/snare combination. Another simple and understandable song and easy enough to get into, pleasing to the ear. “If It Wasn’t For Your Love” is a deep moving song orchestrated with strings and a beautiful piano rift, a very gospel-like attitude. Not much of a chorus except for what the title states at the end of each verse, a gorgeous track not lacking depth or complexity, and it does so without ever touching the percussion set. Excellent.

As much as I have enjoyed the album, there’s a problem. The problem is not in her voice by any means, the problem is not lyrically in any conceivable way, the issue is not in her delivery which is superb to say the least, the instrumentation isn’t the problem, since it does exactly what it intends. The problem isn’t the track listing or order. So what is the problem? It’s the intangible. As in, the CD as a whole doesn’t possess it. There are some amazing stand out songs such as “I Wish I Wasn’t” and “If It Wasn’t For Your Love”, and there’s not a single bad song on here. The songs are all good, but for the most part, just good. Not something you’ll be thinking about for ages to come, save any relatable material you connect with (accomplished easily enough). She has that next level “Whitney” ability (not “potential”, we’re talkin’ ability), but it needs to be unleashed through songs that are able to let it come through in a way that will stain your mind with two simple words: Heather Headley. 3.5 stars out of 5.

Track Listing:
01. He Is
02. Nature Of A Man
03. Fallin’ For You
04. I Wish I Wasn’t
05. Fulltime
06. Like Ya Use To
07. Always Been Your Girl
08. Sunday
09. Four Words From A Heartbreak
10. Sista Girl
11. Why Should I Cry
12. If It Wasn’t For Your Love

3.5 out of 5

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Music Reviews

Scarface: The Fix Music Review

Emerging from the hood of Houston, Texas, Scarface has seen and lived what he raps about. Scarface, born Brad Jordan, came out of the notorious rap group Geto Boyz who bred hits like “My Mind Playing Tricks On Me”, or maybe you remember the infamous album directly from Scarface, “The Diary”. Face has always kept his street credibility, kept his business wits when signing deals for Def Jam as the president of Def Jam South. Now Brad is picking the mic back up with a brand new record to drop with “The Fix”.

It’s clearly evident that Scarface hasn’t lost his touch to not only hear great hip hop, but to produce it as it is evident on “Safe”, hot jazzy rhythm with a nice thick undertone which blends perfectly with Face’s bass booming voice. Scarface drops some street knowledge here “watch your so-called homeboys, keep to yourself / stay away from niggas gettin caught that get out of jail”, never lacking on his wisdom, he keeps it street. It doesn’t stop there, “In Cold Blood” continues the vibe of Face’s hard-knock lyrics and flavor, you get the feeling that Face never left the game with his love for hustle wordplay.

Jay-z and Beanie Sigel come aboard on “Guess Who’s Back”, Jay starts off kind of slow but kicks in during the last few lines, the production is handled by R.O.C.’s own Kanye West which is evident on the beat, Beanie come out pretty nice and overall the song comes together very smoothly from the intro to the end. “On My Block” brings that reminiscent vibe with a heavy piano sample from Donny Hathaway, and lyrics talking about the home of our host, “that’s me dog, on my block / I ain’t have to play the big shot / niggas knew back when I was stealin beer from Shamrock / and my nickname was creepy / and if blackdude could see me/ he’d be trippin, and I bet he’d still try to tease me”.

“Keep Me Down” lays it down keeping with expectations, you can feel that southern love seep through the rhythm, and Face kicks some more of that street science keeping it laced with fire. Songstress Kelly Price steps to the plate next on “What Can I Do” and immediately I’m already in love with the song, Kelly ushers in the intro until the beat fully drops as Scarface drops some heartfelt flow expected of a street legend. We see the other side of Face’s hardness, the chorus is powerfully yet gently supplied by Kelly Price while verses are escorted smoothly and thoughtfully by Face. Face produces his own track next on “In Between Us” which features Nas who blows out the introductory verse with perfection. Face comes real as always saying “I’ma tell a [fella] like this / you’re only good as what you come up against”, Tanya Herron provides the well-written chorus.

Bad Boy’s Faith Evans comes out to display her abilities on “Someday”, a spiritual song which Face spends talking to God and partly talking to his audience. An amazing song which earned Face a hip hop quotable in The Source’s October 2002 issue, Scarface shows some Christian knowledge yet denies its power through the rest of his music content. Face next addresses sellouts in his song titled, well, “Sellout”. He probably gives the best advice in the first verse, “it’s been a long time comin, now I’m back at it / flippin the script from ballin back to gangsta rap classics / you know that [stuff] that hit the hood and upset it / if real niggas respect it the squares gon’ rep it”.

Scarface comes back to his Christianity (among other topics) again in “Heaven”, also bringing back Kelly Price for some easy going vocals. Slow and melodic beat turns out decently. “I Ain’t The One” brings in WC who you may remember from the old Westside Connection group with Mack 10 and Ice Cube, this is a pretty hot track from the standpoint of production, feel and general flow of the song. “Fixed” reuses the introductory beat, and it’s still tight.

Scarface definitely did a favor to the rap world by dropping this CD, and to say that it will go down as a classic is easily said and will be easily done. It’s not hard to see why Face will always get respect, he never strays from his roots and he always keeps it real. The man brought the goods with seamless production and hood science, executive produced by himself he keeps the focus gully and never loses site of that. Some argue that he’s a legend, and reasonably so. 5 out of 5 stars.

Track Listing:
01. Fix
02. Safe
03. In Cold Blood
04. Guess Who’s Back – Jay-Z
05. On My Block
06. Keep Me Down
07. What Can I Do? – Kelly Price
08. In Between Us – Nas
09. Someday – Faith Evans
10. Sellout
11. Heaven – Kelly Price
12. I Ain’t the One
13. Fixed

5 out of 5

Categories
Music Reviews

Tupac: Better Dayz Review

The only rival that Tupac has in the lineup of greatness is Biggie, that conversation alone has tended to spark heated debates. Pac’s death elevated his name in the street hall of fame and thus he became “immortal” (alongside The Notorious B.I.G. of course). Pac was busy enough while he was alive that he has released more material posthumously than when he was breathing, and showing no signs of slowing down with releases slated for next year. In the most recent release “Better Dayz”, Executive Produced by CEO of Tha Row Records, Suge Knight, and Tupac’s own mother Afeni Shakur, we have another double disc on our hands which will reveal whether Pac could handle the problem of mass amounts of music and sustaining quality.

Our double disc adventure opens with an intro of a news journalist reporting live at sunset boulevard for the release of this very CD, and questions where all the material is coming from, basically echoing what we are all wondering. The intro rolls right into “Still Ballin”, a bangin beat which is easily identified as West Coast, a guest appearance by Trick Daddy as he delivers the 2nd verse surprisingly unnoticed.

“when We Ride on our Enemies” delivers a very noteworthy Tupac track, and as the title would indicate, it’s about everyone Pac considered against him, attacking many of the same individuals as on Makaveli. The chorus is mostly instrumental with Pac chanting the title but it comes extremely strong despite its simplicity. Jazze Pha produces and stars in “Changed Man”, along with T.I. & Johnta’ Austin, great feel and flow fits right at home in this track where Pac talks about being different yet the same since he’s come out the street. “F*** Em All” & “Never B Peace” both flow nicely, while the latter (mixed by Nitty) cameos the Outlawz at their best.

On “Mama’s Just A Little Girl” the mood is incredibly set by a spanish guitar assisted by the usual laid back snare, kick and bassline, a very smooth and gentle reflective track assisted by Kimmy Hill that tells the story of a young lady left alone since her parents are killed, she gets pregnant and watches her child (Tupac) suffer the same fate. “Late Night” is produced by DJ Quik who also features on the track, along with The OUTLAWZ, makes a nice appearance on this laid back west coast joint.

Disc One ends on “Thugz Mansion”, guaranteed to make you question the sanity of our executive producers during the opening seconds, until the acoustic guitar instrumental sets in and the beat majestically flows with Tupac’s verses, Nas makes a grand appearance and rips a heartfelt verse not to be forgotten anytime soon. This is a must-listen for everyone, Pac drops some open-hearted flow, “I cry at times, I once contemplated suicide / and would’ve tried / but when I held that nine / all I could see was my mama’s eyes”, remaining all the time relatable, “not knowin it’s hard to carry on when noone loves you / picture me inside the misery of poverty / no man alive has ever witnessed struggles I’ve survived”. The chorus settles perfectly, sung by J. Phoenix, helping you envision a heavenly resting place away from struggles, strife and worry.

Disc Two opens where the first disc left off, with “My Block (remix)” which still aims for our central ventricle, effectively touching down with a combination of Tupac’s famed reality lyrics, but adding a chorus sung by kids singing “Living life is but a dream / hard times is all we’ve seen”, a beautiful chorus and beat to match. Following is the familiar radio version of “Thugz Mansion” which brings such a brand new feel from the acoustic version, it’s amazing how huge a difference the music/beat plays in a song. The chorus is also switched up by Anthony Hamilton to spell out a more ghetto persona for the same song (minus Nas and J. Phoenix”), another future classic track chalked up.

Tyrese makes an appearance on “Never Call U B**** Again” singing a beautiful hook. Pac relates a story of him and his girl, the good times and bad while apologizing for the things he says and the way he acts. “Better Dayz” brings another laid back west coast bump talking about looking ahead for a hope of better days yet to come, a simple hook but backed up by Mr. Biggs creates an extremely effective track. Jazze Pha produces another track on “U Can Call” and sets a great chorus and laces another hot song. “Military Minds” suffers from poor production, the vocals are mixed too low to fully appreciate, and the chorus struggles also. “Fame” throws a catchy hook from the get-go, and Pac brings another fire laced verse, accompanied by Kadafi, Kastro, Napoleon, and Young Noble from the Outlawz, they each hold their own in memorable spit.

In “Fair Xchange remix” & “There U Go” Pac spits about females, the former including Mya singing the chorus, a forgettable track, while the latter will deserve a few spins now and again due to its relaxed easy feel. “This Life I Lead” has Tupac spitting “I want money in large amounts / my garage full of cars that bounce” which is basically par for the course once you calculate in his flame bringing down his enemies, Pac himself leads the chorus which undoubtedly leaves yet another track that sparks flame to add to this fireball.

Most artists struggle with putting out a strong double disc (Jay-z anyone?), and in fact it would be easy to assume that anyone who made ridiculous amount of tracks would suffer a great deal from lack of quality. Yet stunningly, even after several released discs, that is still not the case with Pac’s “Better Dayz”. From time to time a track will be forgettable “Military Minds” comes to…mind), but the rest fit perfectly into one of the top releases Pac has had competing even with his Makaveli release and “Me Against the World”. Shakur was not renowned for his ability to put complex word couplets together, it’s his remarkable skill of using a pen and one of a kind voice to relate woes (“Thugz Mansion”), street and cultural views (“They Don’t Give A F*** About Us”), and God (“Who Do U Believe In”) to anyone who has a set of ears and a heart. An amazing collection of material remixed for our enjoyment, a must have for any avid Pac fan, and even the ones who only want the Prime-choice of Tupac. An outstanding 4 out of 5 stars.

TRACK LISTING:

DISC ONE
1. INTRO
2. STILL BALLIN
3. WHEN WE RIDE ON OUR ENEMIES
4. CHANGED MAN
5. F*** EM ALL
6. NEVER B PEACE
7. MAMA’S JUST A LITTLE GIRL
8. STREET FAME
9. WHATCHA GONNA DO
10. FAIR XCHANGE
11. LATE NIGHT
12. GHETTO STAR
13. THUGZ MANSION – NAS ACOUSTIC

DISC TWO
1. MY BLOCK REMIX
2. THUZ MANSION
3. NEVER CALL U B**** AGAIN
4. BETTER DAYZ
5. U CAN CALL
6. MILITARY MINDS
7. FAME
8. FAIR XCHANGE REMIX
9. CATCHIN FEELINS
10. THERE U GO
11. THIS LIFE I LEAD
12. WHO DO U BELIEVE IN
13. THEY DON’T GIVE A F*** ABOUT US

4 out of 5

Categories
Music Reviews

Verbs: Unlocked Review

Verbs (previously Knowdaverbs) has undergone some changes. Previously rocking dreads, and a longer name he has definitely switched up a few things, but more on that later. Verbs originally got his break by hopping on a track with label-mates Grits, and soon after was scooped up by Gotee Records. He now resides in Tennessee and has released two previous albums (“DaSyllabus” and “Action Figure”), and each time growing artistically and setting mile markers for his career. Will he keep it up on this third release “Unlocked”?

“Live To The Music” opens up on a very hot beat reminiscent of something the Neptunes might be capable of creating, upbeat and futuristic with a middle-eastern appeal. He has definitely exchanged his choppier lyrical rap for a smoother flowing style, the style is a nice switch, but it appears to come at the cost of his wittier flow we previously enjoyed. The hook comes across forced and unimaginative as a more generic party chorus.

“She’s Ms. Sin” brings the chorus out first, and it’s very nicely led by Out of Eden (also on Gotee). The rhythm is lacking but is made up for in content of the song overall. The message is pretty simple and is about being smarter about the decisions we make to step into sin by its allure. Lyrically, mid-tempo flow is not overly creative but does bring a mild poetic taste, but the hook is music to your ears.

“Trippin'” comes a little closer to something bumpable and has a very bouncy beat to allow a little dancing and head-bobbing. The hook rolls very nicely and almost demands you learn it so that you can chant along with Verbs and GUEST, whom, while valiantly attempting to grab the mic with authority ultimately does not accomplish anything noteworthy. However, Verbs does a great job on his verse style-wise, lyrically and delivering something to make you go “hmmmmm”, such as “fatherless dealin with rage, they fight to escape the shame / finger pointing at knife’s to blame and the bitterness begins to flame / not seeing beyond the hood, life is automatically lacking / demons of death on desolate blocks, and they feigning for destiny jackings”.

“Love Triangle” slows the tempo up a tad bit with a smooth guitar (spanish guitar perhaps?) and heavy kick drum giving the meditative aura. The hook is provided by GUEST2 and is about average in the presentation and wording. Verbs manages a great vocal inflection coupled with provocative lyrics sparking deeper thought through poetic verses.

“Pre-Paid” has a very contrived chorus, Grits co-stars on the first two verses in this uptempo party jam. The first verse is cannon fodder but is made up for in verse two by his gritty partner. Verbs hops on the third verse mildly overall but drops a nice line in “the game of life will handle you in a manly way / leave you actin Immature like you’re B2K”. “What You Rock Now” bangs out the chanty chorus first, all eyes are on Verbs this time, the beat fades gently to the background to bring sole focus on our hero who spews the chorus “What you rock now, and how you rock now, echoes in eternity / if it’s not you who then? / and if it’s not now then when, does the greatness begin?…” and in a verse spits “now some hate this / he stamps a name on the faceless / and planted his genetic code, its DNA laced with greatness / feeling like a winner from a sweep stakes / as we sweep breaks just to give the listener a sweet taste”. A very destiny-by-God oriented song brings home relevance to those who are quick to listen, not a flashy beat or super hot chorus, but lyrically capable of deep thought and nice wordplay.

“Feelin’ The Interlude” captures Verbs stepping outside of his normal rapping voice and he switches to a reggae rap-sing style, and it does not sound bad at all, although it may come a little awkward at first but it does work nicely to be quite honest. This will be a nice song to get the crowd dancing, albeit for only two minutes since it is a rather short song. “My Neighborhood” finds a rather laid back tone with a nice jazzy vocal sample to make your ears attentive. Lyrics are the core focus, but instead of the wordplay you’ll find yourself intently hearing stories of young people coming out of bad situations to rise above the trials. Brilliant stories (which I would assume are true) coupled with a solid beat and great hook a la Grits.

“Run With It” is a very electronic vibe, with a grinding bass line and plenty of electric hits. Verbally, Verbs comes with 3 sets of 16 bars properly connecting each word with plenty of skill. The chorus is blah, it’s there but won’t be in your mind once you turn the station making this a good track to pad the record but nothing to be remembered past the first play. “Can You Hear Me?” is another padding for the album, the first two verse are provided by GUEST and GUEST respectively, and both go by unnoticed and the saving grace is a few lines by Verbs in the third, “trained for the combat, built rock diesel / injected with a power that can quicken dead people / some stay sleep, but that’s not us / we’re infamous and popular in the populous”. The hook leaves a lot to be desired and the beat is nothing to gain attention.

“The Before and After” is all about 9/11, the day before and the day after. A reflective rhythm geared to spawn thoughts invoked from the verses and chorus. A challenging song with words like “Many got no sleep last night was restless / some tossed and turned inside their minds with questions / like, “where was God when terror struck our town?” / He’s out where you left him before the buildings came down”. “Triumphant Outro” lets you know up front that the chorus is weak, Verbs kicks in with a voice that sounds like it’s coming over an old radio. The music is not too shabby and comes across rather militant, but the track is ultimately just filler.

Overall, the album has set some landmarks for Verbs (again, formerly Knowdaverbs) in that his production is much more consistent than previously and his style has once again evolved as every emcee should. Lyrically, he has not progressed, not an altogether bad thing since he has never been a poor lyricist however at certain times in the CD his lyrics do regress to favor the style which compliments the music side rather than the mental portion. It would seem to the observer that there was concern over reaching new audiences while maintaining the past fans, and while he will undoubtedly gain the attention of the upcoming generation and grasp his vision of reaching the youth there may be a trade-in of unsatisfied Verbs fans. What should you expect when you listen to this CD? Some nifty beats throughout, good hooks popping up here and there and definitely some nice rapping styles accompanied by fantastic messages for encouraging everyone to make good decisions with their life and destiny. I gladly give 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Track Listing:
1. Live To The Music
2. She’s Ms. Sin
3. Trippin’
4. Love Triangle
5. Pre-Paid
6. What You Rock Now
7. Feelin’ The Interlude
8. My Neighborhood
9. Run With It
10. Can You Hear Me?
11. The Before and After
12. Triumphant Outro

3.5 out of 5

Categories
Music Reviews

Vivian Green: A Love Story Review

Vivian Green: a love story album coverDropping her CD “A Love Story” on October 29, 2002, Vivian Green is sure to make some serious waves with her debut album. Although this is her first disc she’s dropped, she has been writing songs for years, which she credits her mother for showing her at such an early age by teaching her everything through song, she notes in the liner notes: “Mommy: U taught me my name, address, & all 66 books of the bible with songs. U introduced me 2 music through your beautiful voice and songwriting ability”, it certainly makes sense when contemplating her amazing ability to write.

We are thrown right into the mist of Vivian’s world with “Wishful Thinking” in which she poetically expresses her seemingly tangible ideas of what she would have in her ideal world. “24 Hour Blue (just one of those days)” is also relatable in which she depicts the random day that we all wish would just hurry up and end. Miss Green displays some vocal dexterity in opportune time, never forcing the issue she uses her time wisely and eloquently.
With each new track I can’t help but wonder if she will be able to make me like the next track, yet it is unquestionably accomplished as each number on the track listing grows. “Superwoman” describes the impossibilities of fitting into the role of the perfect person when dealing with such hard expectations in a relationship. “What is Love” roles into the situation where she deals with falling in love with someone that isn’t popularly thought of by her friends. Another beautifully laced track that flows smoothly past your emotional boundaries. Vivian next delicately expresses her appreciation of the very means in which she is communicating her message, which is “Music”. Brilliant production is clearly evident as the verses flow from soulfully smoothly graceful to the chorus’ upbeat joyous feel.

“Emotional Rollercoaster” and “Final Hour” are more passionate deliveries of soul that allows us to ride this rollercoaster with Miss Green, must-hear songs. “No Sittin’ By The Phone” brings a flavorful jazz sound that will soothe your ears with the lax piano and muted trumpet. “Affected” and “Fanatic” are contrasting songs in which the former shows that she’s not affected by her ex-man’s mojo, while in the latter she expresses her heart felt addiction to a man. Both songs are notably written and performed.

Doomed to repeat myself, the final tracks are also exquisitely sung. With every song being primarily written by Vivian Green herself (a very commendable deed in today’s music business indeed), she delivers a very commanding performance worthy of all compliments coming her way. This is an awesome soul packed album and is not only worthy of the purchase, but it would be doing yourself an injustice to not do so. I cannot bear to give this anything less than 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Track Listing:
1. Wishful Thinking
2. 24 Hour Blue (just one of those days)
3. Superwoman
4. What is Love
5. Music
6. Emotional Rollercoaster
7. Final Hour
8. No Sittin’ By The Phone
9. Affected
10. Fanatic
11. Ain’t Nothing But Love
12. Be Good To You
13. Complete
14. Keep On Going

4.5 out of 5

Categories
Music Reviews

Jay-z: The Black Album Review

The Black Album

It’s no mystery to anyone who has at least one ear that this is Jay-z’s last album. He has spoken of it for a few years and has made statements that this will be the first time in his career that he puts pen to pad instead of using his amazing gift of memory to write his rhymes. From picking producers and tracks to throw down on, to the release dates shifting to and fro, this record has had more expectations than Super Bowl commercials, so let’s see if the proclaimed god-emcee blesses the mic in his supposed final LP.

The intro slowly fades in and there’s an awful lot of electronic noises goin on, almost video game-ish, but nothing horrifying or even bad, just very different. Then someone speaks about things coming to an end, and the legacy of a fallen tree in Brooklyn, it’s very metaphoric. “December 4th” uses Jay-z’s mother as the hook, she speaks about S-dot’s childhood, and recalls his birth which is December 4th. The beat is a very triumphant soul 70’s type of beat, the first flo on the album: “they say they never really miss you til you’re dead or you gone / so on that note I’m leaving after this song”. The song is mostly about his childhood and how he came to be who he is, from his pops leaving him to how he got into selling drugs and even a little about getting into the rap game, a very respectable track.

“What More Can I Say” starts off with an audio clip from “Gladiator” where Russell Crowe shouts “Are you not entertained??!!” then throws his sword into the crowd, nice touch. Mostly braggadocious, “And I don’t wear jerseys, I’m 30 plus / give me a crisp pair of jeans nigga, button-ups”. The music is definitely banging on a hype note, hits, kicks and cymbals keep the beat hopping throughout, the hook is a hot soulful vocal provided by Hum V who I haven’t previously heard.

Possibly my favorite song on the album is “Encore”, Kanye West provides the music and (as always) he’s absolutely brilliant. Jay provides his own chorus with a little accompaniment singer. A very soft song with a lot of depth, Hova spits: “And I need you to remember one thing, I came, I saw, I conquered / from record sales, to sold out concerts”. “Change Clothes” is all over the video rotation (I’ve been tuning off the radio until Lil Jon resides back to his hole), and it’s definitely catchy with a bit of flow to tie it together.

“Dirt Off Your Shoulder” is a street favorite at the moment, produced by Timbaland it’s an electric song but the beat isn’t all that strong, it’s typical Timbo mojo. The flow is pretty serious though: “Came from the bottom with bottom, to the top of the pops / nigga, London, Japan and I’m straight off the block / like a running back, get it man, I’m straight off the block / I could run it back nigga cuz I’m straight with the Roc”. Jigga even provides the chorus, a nice song overall worth riding to on those sunny days with the windows rolled.

Cedric the Entertainer has a guest spot on “Threat” (produced by up and comer 9th Wonder) as a guy talking hard and crazy, it’s great. The beat is pretty serious creating a dark mood to take up beef and Hova is packing heat aimed at seemingly nobody in particular (but he does mention Bill O’Reilly), he spits pretty dangerous: “Like Castor Oil, I’ll Castor Troy you / change your face or the bullets change all that for you / ya’ll niggas is targets, ya’ll garages for bullets, please don’t make me park it in your upper level / valet a couple strays from the .38 special / nigga, God bless you”, and ends with “I’m especially Joe Pesci wit it friend / I’ll kill you, commit suicide then kill you again”.

One of the weaker beats comes on “Moment of Clarity” produced by Eminem (which you’ll probably realize as soon as the beat kicks up), heavily laden with strings and a slow bassline. However, it does effectively give backup to Jay-z as he raps about different thoughts and struggles he has, such as: “If skills sold, truth be told, I’d probably be / lyrically Talib Kweli / truthfully I wanna rhyme like Common Sense / (but I did 5 mill) / I ain’t been rhymin like Common since”. He’s sickly with the flo, the chorus is on point and he’s talking about something that anyone without a trust fund can relate to on some level.

“If you havin girl problems I feel bad for you son / I got 99 problems but a [girl] ain’t one” is how “99 Problems” starts off. Rick Rubin brings back the big beat here along with some heavy metal guitars, and it amazingly works, and did I hear a cowbell in there?? Wow. Once again, Jigga hits the bullseye with the lyrics, the second verse has an exchange where Jay-z is pulled over by a cop: “(cop)son do you know why I’m stoppin you fo? / (Jay) Cuz I’m young and I’m black and my hat’s real low / do I look like a mindreader sir? I don’t know / Am I under arrest sir or should I guess some mo? / (cop) well you was doin 55 in a 54 / license and registration and step outta the car / you carryin a weapon on you? I know a lot of you are”. Instant classic.

“Public Service Announcement (Interlude)” Jay raps 2 verses between two public speakers giving short speeches, and he still can’t seem to let up, he’s bringing fire thoroughly. “Justify My Thug” was supposed to have Madonna on there sampling her old song “Justify My Love”, but some scheduling difficulties kept her from making the guest appearance so Jigga grabbed someone else for the hook. For the first time since track 3 Jay-z isn’t on the chorus, but he is still breathing lyrical love: “Mr. President there’s drugs in our residence / tell me what you want me to do, come break bread with us / Mr. Governor, I swear there’s a coverup / every other corner there’s a liquor store, the f*** is up?”. Well, if he’s looking for suggestions, then he could stop bragging on slanging coke maybe? Hmmmm.

Kanye returns to produce “Lucifer”, (he still has the touch) and the beat is sick with it, there’s a sample of someone saying “Lucifer, son of the morning, I’m gonna chase you out of here”. Jay gets a little emotional and recalls his friend Bobalob’s death: “I got dreams of holdin a nine milla to Bob’s killa / askin him why as my eyes fill up / these days I can’t wake up with a dry pilla / gone, but not forgotten homes I still feel ya / so curse the day that birthed the bastard / who caused your church mass / reverse the crash / reverse the blast / then reverse the car / reverse the day, and there you are / Bobalob”, and then it cuts off beautifully as it cuts to the next song.

The Neptunes show back up on “Allure”, a real soft beat brought to life by piano, strings and someone humming faintly in the back, sounds like it could’ve been on “Reasonable Doubt”. Hovito chants his own chorus: “I solemnly swear to change my approach / stop shavin coke / stay away from hoes / put down the toast cuz I be doin the most / (oh no) / but everytime I felt that was that / it called me right back / it called me right back / man it called me right back”. I appreciate this song, it’s not all that complicated yet it’s a very mature song, very Sinatra.

He wraps up his career with (ironically) “My 1st Song”, and here he brings out the blues and absolutely kills it with a switch up in his style and timing. The song intro has Biggie Smalls talking about how to stay hungry and stay fresh in the studio, that’s when Jay drops some hotness, he goes out on this note: “This is my second major breakup / my first was with a pager / with a hoopty, a cookpot and the game / this one’s with the stew, with the stage with the fortune / (maybe not the fortune) but certainly the fame”, the song fades out as Jigga gives a ton of shout-outs and reminesces a bit.

This would be a very difficult record to deny its props on, he thoroughly kills it on every single track, between the beats, the hooks, the interludes and even the little knick-knacks he throws in such as “Gladiator” bytes and Cedric the Entertainer, I simply can’t criticize this album. Don’t get me wrong, my critical mind wants to find something wrong, but I just cannot find any major flaws. On my first listen I thought that the album was kind of weak, then I peeped it again, and began to see the light, by the fourth time I began to see the brilliance, I’ve listened to it around 14 times now and I’m still finding some crazy flo I didn’t notice before. The CD is definitely one of his more mature works (if not the pinnacle), he creatively brought innovation and kept it on a higher plane than his typical work, he even does nine out of the twelve hooks himself where most people are only interested in using the overused R&B singer. Nothing short of amazing.

Now the last thing I wanted to address is his retirement. What do I mean by that? He isn’t really retiring in my opinion. I’m sure he’ll step away for a while, maybe 2 or 3 years, but I have zero doubt that he’ll be back just like Scarface did, just like Jordan, whom he always compares himself to, and he even brings it up in “Encore”: “as fate would have it / Jay’s status appears to be at an all time high / perfect time to say good-bye / when I come back like Jordan wearin the 4-5 / it ain’t to play games with you”. I’m sure he’ll be busy managing BeyoncĂȘ’s career and everything, and making guest appearances and hitting up the mixtape circuit, but in a few years he’ll miss the stage and create a huge comeback, mark my words, it ain’t over for Hova. 5 Planets.

The Black Album Track Listing:

1. Interlude
2. December 4th
3. What More Can I Say
4. Encore
5. Change Clothes
6. Dirt Off Your Shoulder
7. Threat
8. Moment of Clarity
9. 99 Problems
10. Interlude
11. Justify My Thug
12. Lucifer
13. Allure
14. My 1st Song

5 out of 5