With a request, I decided to also do a throwback review from one of hip-hop's underground artists, August Alsina. With Downtown: Life Under The Gun EP which was also dedicated to his lost brother, August comes off the EP with a singular success that probably not most other underground rappers would achieve nor try to. What is it that you might ask? Well, it is a bit of a long shot but it seems August has not only put his pedal to the ground, but also maintained his solid approach to the music industry.
When you look at underground rappers, sometimes they either go disastrously bad with their first EP, or make a big hit (Imagine Dragons with their Continued Silence EP, though they had It's Time which was promoted alongside The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, so probably not the best comparison) that could turn them into potentially record-tasting signings. August is currently signed to the Def Jam Label where his camped up with some RnB singers and some questionable rappers (2 Chainz). Perhaps he's doing well at the moment? Either way, he had to impress with this EP and man, did he thrive well.
He didn't do bad, but for most underground artists, August certainly threw a competitive punch that felt more like a direct uppercut. The voice in August Alsina is probably the cream of the crop for the album, and is definitely the highlight. While not entirely the best, it is fluid and does warrant solid ground for him. The lyrics, sometimes flat and out of flak, didn't really feel all that 'put into effort', but rather just 'make do with it' sort of method. That doesn't necessarily make the EP bad, but it does show the audience that perhaps the lyricism wasn't well thought out or to focus more on vocals than what's taken at face value.
The only single, I Luv This Shit featuring Trinidad James, was decent. The lyrics could be better and while having no feature is better, Trinidad James did okay. It certainly was a similar case to all features on the album, with just baseless and un-unique flows that don't really build, add nor improve the song. At the same time, Kidd Kidd rapped with a distinct flow that reminded me of Motion Man in Linkin Park's Enth E End on Reanimation, but it didn't really capture any attention at all. Curren$y was probably the better out of the four. Rich Homie Quan was... sub-par. Not at all emotional, void of power and just doesn't fit in with the song in Ghetto. With that said, it so has to happen that August was a brighter star than his features and in the end, provided the main show and let the others become a distraction that really detoured from some of the songs.
Like I said previously, the lyrics on the EP is lacking in all directions. It probably has to do with some of the subject matter that it inherits from on the songs, such as Ghetto and Let Me Hit That. These songs show a very sensual tone rather than being serious (maybe it was balancing both in Ghetto). Still, the EP has also other tracks to make up for it, namely Hell On Earth, Nobody Knows and Survival Of The Fittest. These songs are more emotional, provide a unique baseline coupled with overly decent instrumentals, especially on Nobody Knows; the piano on the song is just crazily ferocious that really grasps you about and brings you toward the song even closer.
7.5/10: All in all, a decent EP, if not a good one, but definitely not great. There are some highlights on the EP and I can see August perhaps landing a mainstream hit in the future as he definitely has the potential to cause such a ruckus. Let's see what he's up to now, considering this EP is a strong one. He definitely also needs to work on his lyrics and subject matter to progress higher, considering the tracks are stuck in the middle and are disparate from the other tracks. Most underground artists don't even have such a strong start to their career.
OneRepublic's Native was probably one of my more anticipated albums of 2013 in it's first quarter, but I hadn't really got a chance to look into it after it skipped me over for pretty much the entire year (I did review If I Lose Myself). This time, I finally got my grips together and decided to do a throwback review for Native, an album that I got around to but still has hand-prints along my mind.
Let's be sure, OneRepublic sure hasn't been that consistent with albums, but their singles have been topping charts all over the years. Apologize, Good Life and Counting Stars all got their fair share of popularity and success, but the albums don't exactly feel the same way nor provide an impact ever since their debut album back in 2007, which I feel happens to be their best album to date. With that, I guess you sort of know where Native stands as a whole when you compare their three albums together. And I'm not saying that Waking Up nor Native can't stand on par, but let's do a quick roundup before we review Native.
Now let's be honest, I liked Waking Up, but you have to admit that some of the songs on the album don't fit retrospectively, nor on the album as a whole. That surprised me, considering the album itself took quite some time to fuel up attention before it really started to burn through walls in the form of Secrets and of course, Good Life. I've never had problems with the instrumentals nor the vocals because Ryan Tedder and the rest of the band delivers and fires on those listed cylinders. But most of the tracks, while impressive, feel all over the place. Everybody Loves Me is a great song, and carries the same vibe of Good Life, but that's also one of a consistent problem OneRepublic concurrently has in their albums. While I like similarities to their previous album, such as All This Time and Prodigal, it just feels as though a tingling vibe is missing. Apart from the singles, Waking Up is not really a commercial success. And I suppose if you just transitioned into the album after hearing Dreaming Out Loud, you will notice differences.
So am I to say that their sophomore album is largely influenced by Native? I wouldn't think so. On another level, I would say Native is more of an eclectic-fused experimental album, due to tracks such as Au Revoir, Can't Stop and Light It Up. These three tracks are more atmospheric-themed that doesn't match into OneRepublic's catalog, and feels like something out of Coldplay's book. Obviously, it's new steps for the band, but it was a really ambitious one considering most of the tracks are too simplistic too tag and don't really necessarily pick up the edge nor melody that really stands out from the others.
That's why some of my favourite tracks include Counting Stars, Something I Need, Feel Again, Burning Bridges and Preacher. When you compare these tracks to the above three, you will notice the drastic difference that these tracks have. Unlike the above, the songs offer a tone and uniqueness that oftentimes is able to latch on to you easily, rather than having to specifically emote ourselves onto the tracks. This makes Native a very topsy-turvy album that surprises at times, but feels like a letdown on the other.
While yes, the production did come in handy at times, but for others, it was Ryan himself with his organic vocals and distinct lyrics that really pulled ahead for the album for sure. Tracks like Don't Look Down, Counting Stars, Preacher and I Lived really showcased his diversity in songwriting, and took Native to it's next level. While I know that these tracks have a more toned meaning than the others, OneRepublic's experimentation took them back and forth, leaving them stranded and stray of a certain direction, rather than focused on an aim that really hampered their progression by quite a mile. It's still a great album, and does have fantastic singles (Feel Again and Counting Stars are catchy, meaningful and great), but at the same time flawed, lacking and too disparate from their counterparts that the album felt messy and all over the place.
7/10: All in all, Native gets a decent 7. I would rank it behind their debut studio album because I still felt Waking Up was a letdown in certain directions, while Native still has that OneRepublic sense to it and continues to thrive on it. You will certainly either love it or hate it, depending on how big a fan you are of alternative pop, but OneRepublic can still do better because this is not their best by a long shot. Either they stick to their game plan or try out something that works because hey, they have great singles so I guess that is still a good sign, even though it's the label that usually has the last word. I'd recommend Native, but it definitely isn't for everyone.
In my second throwback review, I'll be talking about P!nk's highly successful 2012 album - The Truth About Love. Now first things first, I'm not a big fan of P!nk, and for the record, did manage to hear some of P!nk's previous singles and was actually quite a fan of her previous studio album, Funhouse (I know, I know). With powerhouse singles in the form of Blow Me, Try and Just Give Me A Reason, (True Love did chart, but didn't do as significantly well as the other three), does the album itself overall shows power?
Now, we all know P!nk right? A decade in and the popstar has been almost 'been there, done that' with multiple accolades to her name already. Not to forget, her name has been an influence to artists and fans alike, from her early days of Missundaztood to I'm Not Dead, which I would consider the peak of her career, along with star-studded singles in the form of Get The Party Started, Who Knew and many others, which transitioned P!nk into a modern-aged popstar with relevance and a voice that pushed her beyond boundaries. On a whole scale, P!nk's career has been magnificently glamoured and so, since she's one of the most powerful voice of the 2000's.
When I look at P!nk's discography, I would say she's not made a single bad album yet (with exception of her debut studio album), P!nk's catalog is staggeringly amazing. From pop-punk maneuvers of Missundaztood to the certified platinum Try This, to one of my favourite P!nk albums to date, I'm Not Dead. The last album itself was an infusion of pop, rock, ballad and sincerity that felt powerful, unique and at time strong, with (as said), my all-time favourite song: Who Knew. It was probably the album that turned many heads around for P!nk and got the attention, even if she hadn't already.
With Funhouse, P!nk managed to take it slow while still having the clutch prowess of having great production, songwriting and excellent vocal power to aid it, however, the album itself was a letdown in my opinion, even though the album does have stellar tracks. At this point, while having last heard P!nk in the form of her greatest hits compilation album, nobody expected her to drop an album and she did, with the lead single Blow Me (One Last Kiss). To it's credit, The Truth About Love had fantastic singles to choose from, and the label did make do with the correct three, or four.
Blow Me, Try, Just Give Me A Reason are all great singles, coupled with True Love, which is a great song in it's own level. Despite this, I wished the some other songs were singles as well considering The Truth About Love as an album probably reignited P!nk again with commercially successful singles and topping charts everywhere. I'm beginning to think it's my favourite P!nk album too.
Back on track, the album itself does shore up the production, but doesn't overdo it to an extreme extent (though songs like How Come You're Not Here and Slut Like You do feel extremely loud). The album makes up for it with classic guitar solo tracks and piano chords with Beam Me Up, The Great Escape and of course, Try. The songwriting is also exceptional with great lyrics coming in from Just Give Me A Reason, Are We All We Are and Where Did the Beat Go?. All in all, P!nk's solo performance is just as good as anyone else, considering she is one of the best live performers around, this album is packed with signature sounds, unique emphasis on the lyrics and amazing melodies to surround it with.
The features on the other hand was a bit off the mark. Nate Ruess was fantastic while Lily Allen should've had more vocal time as she pretty much only did a short bridge and the chorus. Had she been more active on the song, I felt True Love would've been in the same band as the top-notch singles that were released. On the other hand, the only rapper featured on the album (Tinie Tempah apparently came on for The Truth About Love, but I haven't heard it yet since he wasn't on the song originally. Could be a remix) Eminem's verse on Here Comes The Weekend fell short. Sure P!nk was on Eminem's Won't Back Down for Recovery back in 2010, the delivery and flow was compromised considering the track was more ideally polished and made for pop listeners, rather than an authentic underground beat to match Eminem's lyrical attempts. That said, the song usually is just skipped, otherwise it is a fun track, though I wouldn't put emphasis on the word 'fun' that much.
All in all, The Truth About Love is a fantastic album from top to bottom, and from finish to end. With great songwriting, catchy hooks, simplified melodies, loud enthusiasm and superb vocals from P!nk herself. If you've heard all of the singles, go check this album out. You'll miss a lot from P!nk if you do skip this phenomenal album.
8.5/10: I give The Truth About Love an 8.5 because P!nk is just too damn good, and The Truth About Love isn't really explained though, otherwise it's a 10 (I'm kidding, obviously). I'd recommend it to everyone, but the lyrics do come under scrutiny for some songs. Otherwise, this album is definitely one of 2012's highlights for sure.
Name: Miley Ray Cyrus, a.k.a Miley Cyrus
Label: Hollywood, RCA
Short Biography: Born November 1992, Miley Ray Cyrus is an American actress and recording artist, but is more well-known in her works for Hannah Montana in 2006 on the Disney channel before releasing her debut album a year later with Hollywood Records, which would go on to sell over 4 million copies in the US and over 5 million worldwide. Soon, Cyrus then went on to release her next few albums before her breakthrough came in the form of a motion picture, in which The Climb soon established her fame.
Now there's a reason I've decided to talk about Miley Cyrus as a first artist, considering she stole 2013 herself by storm with her publicity stunts, which all were directly aimed at parachuting her fourth studio album, Bangerz, to the top of the charts (leading with almost 150,000 units sold during the first week and came in front of Panic! At The Disco's Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die at number 1). However, it seemed nobody really cared about what Miley's antics were, and whether or not if they were important to anybody else or her fans, which were particularly enraged with the distorted figure that happened when she transitioned from an innocent young Cyrus, to the one that came wrecking out of her closet a few months before.
Recent Release: Bangerz, full-length fourth studio album under Hollywood Records
To deny Miley spotlight seemed unfair, considering We Can't Stop and Wrecking Ball were both a commercial success while the album itself was a sluggish mess. Bangerz was one of the albums that was in-between and all over the place at the same time. With the talk and publicity, along with the collaborations on the record (plus We Can't Stop as a lead single), I had a mini-nightmare going into it with what happened at the VMAs with Robin Thicke and then being in the news ever since then. Now, I won't hold her credit as Bangerz does contain some decent tracks, but it's the negatives drawn from before that made us think of what the album was supposed to be. Songs like My Darlin', SMS and Love Money Party are just a mess. Wrecking Ball, FU and Maybe You're Right is probably what made me think that Miley still has potential. The album itself is not Grammy material (let's face it), and it probably never will be with some content that doesn't feel fresh nor exciting. The next single apparently is Get It Right (or stylized #GETITRIGHT), which I thought was probably a tier-quality higher in production than the other songs on Bangerz. I have a feeling it could creep up on the Hot 100's top ten, but since it's Miley Cyrus, anything can happen. Let's move on to another category that I would want to talk about.
The Prior Years:
It seems that people have forgotten Miley's potential in the vocal department, but songs like Ashtrays and Heartbreaks featured on Snoop Lion's album was amazing. Yes it may not feel as good, but it is almost 90%, if not 95% better than what the whole of Bangerz had to offer. It felt that she put in more effort than the rest, and the song itself was also in 2013, which leads me to wonder, is Miley Cyrus's ability beginning to wane? Of course The Climb, Party In The U.S.A and When I Look At You are considered highlights and the peak of Miley's career, it just feels that she's unable to produce such tracks anymore. While she deserves the right to transition herself into anything she wants, I suppose fans still want something that Miley is able to do and clearly is capable of doing, rather than a dismal attempt at emulating the past which has been a thing long gone.
The Long Road Ahead:
While it may seem foggy ahead, Miley's future doesn't seem to be much daunting anyway. With a large fan-base that is ever so supportive, I would feel that an album with a much better lead single than We Can't Stop is going to get me to think that Miley's talent is finally abused and strikes as the nail in the coffin for both haters and the discontented audience, because she is capable of more than what half of Bangerz's attempts no matter what. I'm hopeful, but this is going to take a while.
In my first throwback review of 2014, I take a close look at one of hip-hop's most digressed album of 2013: Yeezus by Kanye West. If you don't know, or have not yet known of this production heavy album by one of hip-hop's most finest lyricists, then you might've seen it on charts elsewhere, popping up in the top ten pretty much on every chart. But does the album, now that we've gotten such a long time to digest, really worth the hype and the attention? Furthermore, does it warrant the number one position from others greats such as Eminem or Jay-Z?
First of all, I was never a big Kanye fan nor a big fan of his music, so it's probably right that I steer clear off Kanye's previous works right? Well, unfortunately, I did get to listen to Watch The Throne (which is a stellar record), and alongside his partner-in-rhyme, Jay-Z did also drop his album (Magna Carter Holy Grail) and to such promotion, managed to debut at number one on the Billboard 200, but the album was not all that impressive as well. Surely Kanye West would raise eyebrows with his clever lyrics and dazzling and oftentimes 'off the handle' production and provide listeners and fans something new?
To be honest, I listened to the album off and on since it's release months ago, but haven't gotten my head round on to a decent rating because the record itself is very iffy to me. There were problems, yes, but most of these problems you could say have been plaguing Kanye since his release of My Dark Twisted Fantasy almost three years ago (which had universal acclaim, similar to Yeezus), but in truth it did fall short on some cylinders. However, it seemed as though Yeezus followed in the footsteps of the album and seemingly imploded itself by the third song through.
Yeezus had some problems like I said, and most of the problem lies in very clear, cut-throat deliveries that can be heard on every song. Firstly, the tracks are clunky, loud with 'straight at your face' production with epic beats, gigantic synthesizers and oftentimes lacking or lazy lyrics that feel dated and deprived. This happens on almost every song, with maybe exceptions on Black Skinhead and New Slaves because of maybe how I rate the song differently than the others on the album. The tracks, from the get-go with On Sight, is just awfully stretched and punches you in the face with the epic production that covers and came quite close to destroying the song for me. Though it's only 2 and a half minutes long, the track is overloaded with too much production that doesn't really inform, produce nor carries the impact it originally has. Thus, the song isn't the best opener for an album in my opinion.
You may feel the tradition being passed on with Black Skinhead, serving really no purpose. And this routine just clicks for Yeezus, with random, bloated and loud production that really corners and coats most of the song, pulling you out of the lyrical tone that Kanye is trying to express. And that comes to my second problem with Yeezus. The lyrics have become almost flat repetitive of just the last word rather than having the capability to try something new. I'm not saying that Kanye has become lazy, but the tracks do feel so, especially with such heavy production emphasis, Kanye doesn't really shine in the word department and just lets it fall flat rather than lead it behind. For example, in Black Skinhead, Kanye raps 'stop all that goon shit; early morning cartoon shit' and then going on in Bound 2 by rapping 'this is what we do; don't tell your mom shit'. If this doesn't feel recycled, then I don't know what is.
Lastly, the mighty problem might possibly lie in the way of which the song structures itself and how the subject matters all lie into place, such as I Am A God (which doesn't really translate to anything else if you're thinking what the song is trying to interpret from the title itself) and Guilt Trip, which all feels but a very mixed pot that resulted in decently average tracks that don't exactly pile up to Kanye's previous works. In fact, they pale in comparison so hard that it made them feel out of place as well.
All in all Yeezus accomplished little with so much. And for Kanye, that is really a big deal as a rapper producer who takes a hands-on approach and has an effort that feels laid back, weak and off his hinges.
5.5/10: Yeezus transpires to become something with it's big sound, but it really accomplished was record sales which diminished after the first week. It did show some egoism from Kanye, but the album itself is a total mess. Could I say My Dark Twisted Fantasy was a better album than Yeezus? The synopsis seems to be so.
Benny Ong: Just your regular guy who likes soccer more than most people, and also a little downtime is pretty nice.