June 30, 2019

Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Bandana Review

Bandana, the second record of a planned trilogy by hip-hop duo MadGibbs, Freddie Gibbs and Madlib bring the heat just as expected. Not only does Bandana build upon their first album, 2014’s Piñata (my review of which can be read here), but it also delivers an impeccable flow by Freddie with m.ind a.ltering d.emented l.essons i.n b.eats to match. 

There isn’t need for much discourse when discussing the best hip-hop producers alive today. Madlib’s soul-soaked music sparks Bandana just like it did with Piñata and most other albums he’s involved in. It is known that Madlib has a Midas touch with mixing old-time music with new sounds, and the first takeaway as this album begins is Madlib’s appreciation of vintage sound. He is, after all, a loop digger who often finds gold to infuse his beats. The soul that permeates, as a result, makes Freddie Gibbs stand out amongst other rappers releasing albums today. Another more apparent feature of Bandana is the album’s lack of features when compared to Piñata’s stacked guest list. This, however, works to Freddie’s advantage, as he has a lot more time to shine on this record, and he still gets some guests on here that are noteworthy and exciting, such as Anderson .Pak, Killer Mike, Yasiin Bey (also known as Mos Def), and Black Thought (of The Roots).

Bandana starts with a brief intro track, a skit featuring a thick-accented man of possibly Asain descent speaking in support of Freddie and with a vulgar dialect that comes across comically. His vocal quips are in and out in a couple of other parts of the album, as well as Freddie’s own candid comments captured in the booth after several of his songs, which give a feeling of intimacy and amusement between tracks. The first official track, Freestyle S**t, shows just why Freddie Gibbs is perfectly suited for Madlib’s beats. Just like MF DOOM on their classic collaborative album, Madvillainy, Freddie knows how to treat Madlib’s varied and alternative beats, as he proves that his verses and wordplay can flow or speed up depending on his choice of delivery. His versatility can be heard on every track, but this freestyle track is just a great opener of an album destined for greatness. Half Manne Half Cocaine is an example of a song that is in actuality two songs put together. This can be found on several tracks including Fake Names and Flat Tummy Tea as well since Madlib always seems to be able to pack his producer albums with awe-inspiring music. Freddie always shows that he can keep up with the different styles produced by Madlib so that it always appears seamless in these tracks, and Half Manne Half Cocaine is an awesome example of this, as it starts off with a pretty modern-day trap beat for Freddie to rap on, but suddenly takes a left turn into screwball land with a beat most rappers would fall flat on, but nevertheless Freddie’s up to the challenge of a weird beat to show he’s got it under control. 

As the album approaches it’s first single, Crime Pays, listeners are treated to the first of many soulful jams, which are an absolute delight to hear, and Freddie elevates them with his storytelling and wordplay. Other tracks that are pumped full of soul include Palmolive, Cataracts, and Practice. Tracks that feature more hardcore modern beats include Flat Tummy Tea, Situations, and Giannis, which features Anderson .Pak. On both of these types of beats, Freddie is ready. Fake Names features a vivid piece of story as Freddie recounts those who have passed away that have haunted him, rapping, "shit's so real, gotta use fake names, every time I sleep, dead faces, they occupy my brain," and later, "you was like a brother to me, no other to me, swear I would trade my life for yours, I knew you was fucking with me," missing a dear friend of his. It's times like these in tracks when it feels like Freddie is exorcising his demons. Education, which features Yasiin Bey and Black Thought, is perfectly fitting for two socially conscious rappers, and the three combine forces to drop bombs of truth in a highly educational track. Black Thought raps, "If you're figurin' this man's maniacal, you're right, bar codes on the wristband, it's not an oversight, they intentionally expand, probably to extradite, if you wanna play blind, just look straight into the light, the puppeteers playin' you for spite, and worldwide, what we're payin' is the price, and that's life, an education." Soul Right is a powerful and humbling final song on the album. “I can’t hold no grudges, my hands too busy catching blessings,” Freddie raps with victory and dignity. “And I’ve been struggling my whole life,” he repeats as the track fades to a close. It’s a powerful notion to end on while leveling with his listeners and it comes off inspiring and encouraging to see his struggles turn into this beautiful work he and Madlib released this year.

The album artwork features Quasimoto, Madlib’s cartoon swine which he invented in the early 2000s, riding a zebra, a representation of Freddie, as they both look down on Los Angeles as it burns. Other Easter eggs include Quasimoto’s pink car from his debut album cover crashed on the hillside, with Freddie’s broken piñata strewn across the ground nearby. It is a cool combination of the two artists, and seeing this artwork ahead of release had me really excited if Lord Quas was going to get a guest feature on one of the tracks. Sadly, this was not the case, as Quas is nowhere to be heard on the album. Still, the album is full of plenty of nuggets of gold in productions and Freddie verses to please and astound any fans of either of these two dudes.

Bandana is a worthy follow-up to Piñata, and a more Freddie focused record for the better. Although Piñata's strengths include it's multiple guest features, Freddie Gibbs's talents are in the forefront on this release, and with excellent addictive beats by a legend of a hip-hop producer, Freddie Gibbs and Madlib's dream-team cooks up another modern hip-hop classic. Given their two huge successes, it stacks the pressure on their final collaborative album in the trilogy, Montana, but until that album drops, fans and listeners have two brilliant hip-hop works to bide the time.

Bandana - 9/10

Recommended Tracks: Crime Pays, Situations, Cataracts

June 27, 2019

Thom Yorke - ANIMA Review

For an artist as inventive and mysterious as the lead singer and frontman of Radiohead, Thom Yorke has made a name for himself as a compelling creative force by carving out a diverse portfolio of a solo career, which has become a solid separation from the alternative rock group that made him world-renowned. His debut solo release, The Eraser in 2006, proved to the community of Radiohead fans that his work was intriguing and beautiful enough to stand on its own, and his following release, 2014’s Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes proved more of the same as an elegant, but mellow sophomore effort. Not only was Thom interested in his solo work, but he ended up forming his own side act out of his lineup who toured in support of The Eraser, which took the name after his track in that album, Atoms For Peace. They released their own album, AMOK, a year prior to Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes. Last year, Thom Yorke surprised his fans yet again with his first stab at film composing, with the horror remake Suspiria’s original score (my review of which you can read here), following in the footsteps of his bandmate Johnny Greenwood’s multiple film score outings, and reaffirming to the musical community that Radiohead’s music, as well as the work of the singular bandmates, is essentially designed and paired astonishingly well to visual storytelling. Now, just a half a year since his film score debut, Thom drops another sonic work of brilliance in the form of his third solo album, ANIMA. Besides being an extremely busy creative force, releasing albums on his own, with Radiohead, and his first film score, ANIMA shows listeners that Thom is far from slowing down. On the contrary, his musical journey only seems to expand even more with age, and this latest work of the imagination and dreams displays his masterful musical experimentation with grace and fluidity. 

In putting this together this record, Thom experienced a sense of writers' block, which, given his output within the past year, can be hard to fathom. His recent comeuppance only indicates a burst of creativity, but knowing the general themes of Thom’s music, whether it’s anxieties about the world or feeling like an alien amongst other humans, he effectively channeled that energy into what listeners have before them today. ANIMA is a reference to the work of psychotherapist Carl Jung, who describes the term as being the part of the human mind that dives inward to the subconscious. Thom’s fascination with dreams also relates to this as ANIMA was supported with a viral marketing campaign which consisted of posters advertising a made-up organization called Anima Technologies, a company who claimed to retrieve forgotten dreams with a dream camera. The telephone number provided, when dialed, played a prerecorded message stating that the company’s operation had ceased and that the government had seized its assets. The themes of anxieties, dreams, and dystopia, as a result, play a big role in Thom’s third solo effort.  

The composition and recording process of ANIMA’s varied electronic tracks were born out of live sessions, and close collaboration with longtime Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, who has played a crucial role in Radiohead’s sound since nearly the beginning of their formation. Thom would send Nigel a mass of recorded material, and he would then cut and edit bits and samples out of the long-winded recordings. The resulting sounds would then be turned back over to Thom who then used them to create ANIMA’s songs and vocal arrangements. The frenetic live nature of these compositions can be heard most on tracks like Twist, which uses Thom’s delayed vocal murmurs as a rhythmic element, Not The News which builds layers of synthesized loops and melodies, and Impossible Knots, a track with live drums taking the place of the electronic drum kits used in most of the album. Thom even references dancing feet in Not The News, as well as “breaking out the turntables” in I Am A Very Rude Person, as Thom has hung up his guitar to perform a live DJ set in rare circumstances. Because of the hooks in his repeated vocal effects, melodic synth loops, and overall trancelike nature of each of his songs, it is quite possible that Thom Yorke made an album that’s as close to his version of an electronic dance record.

The album opens with Traffic, a highly atmospheric dance number, which starts with Thom's casual vocal "yeah." His opener is spacious and the electronic drum kit resonates with a vivid spacey synth bass. It's the first sign that this album is going to be lively and unlike his previous solo offerings. Some of the synth swells and the catchy bass loop can catch some fans off-guard since this is the most energetic thing he's done since Identikit off of Radiohead's A Moon Shaped Pool. As Thom has dealt with his anxiety, it seems that he's turned that anxious energy into a catchy danceable opening tune, and it ends with an unmistakable EDM synth sequence. Last I Heard (...He Was Circling The Drain) opens with a symphonic melody that sustains throughout the track, which contains tonal echoes of last year’s Suspiria. Thom sings about cities as if they’re living organisms, repeating that they will eat you alive. “It only takes a minute, and it takes, and it takes,” he moans as the incessant scratching builds in the beat and drives up the energy in a very haunting way. It is symphonic and aurally nerve-racking, making it the most Eraser-like track of the album.

Twist starts off with Thom's repeating of the word of the track, which stutters and creates the basis of the song's beat. He uses a distort-effected sample of a group of children’s cheering, something recognizable that they used in their opening track 15 Step, from their 2007 masterpiece, In Rainbows. Essentially 2 parts, Twist changes form halfway through and plays its electronic drums alongside sustaining piano chords. The previous chaos descends in favor of a grand orchestra of swells and synths, much akin to Radiohead's grand aesthetic that they apply in various songs of theirs. Dawn Chorus, likely a contender for one of the album's issued singles, minimizes the noise and puts the spotlight on Thom and his electric piano. It's slow and moody and can hit the heartstrings if you lower your guard. It crescendos into a beautiful choir that accompanies him on his bittersweet sonic journey.

I Am A Very Rude Person fades in as Dawn Chorus outros, with a scraping, sound byte beat. Thom's vocals are cool, calm, and collected here, and they are again showing Thom's perfect diverse arrangements and deliveries up until this point in the album. Not The News is a heady space jam that eventually spreads to the whole body when Thom sings. When it comes to how the songs are put together, Not The News especially has a very full and satisfying sound to it. The space is filled with enough sounds and emptiness in between that raises the production value tenfold over the production style of his previous album. This track runs directly into The Axe, a buzzing builder of a track, as Yorke brings the mood back down akin to the tone of Last I Heard. This is another anxiety-ridden track, as Thom sings, "Goddamn machinery, why don't you speak to me? One day I am gonna take an axe to it." and later asking "I thought we had a deal?" It's Thom's distrust and lack of faith in technology that comes to a head in The Axe. His thoughts of where technology is taking the world and what might eventually contribute to our dystopia are also the thoughts of leaders and citizens across the world.

Impossible Knots, complete with Radiohead drummer Philip Selway’s “sped up” drums, sounds like something that came out of the band’s studio sessions for The King of Limbs thanks to its fast live percussion. Thom's falsetto croons in this one will satisfy any Yorke solo naysayer, and it shows that he doesn't have to be completely electronic as a solo artist. Runaway caps off a highly energizing and groundbreaking album beautifully, as echoing guitar notes fade in, which seem to signal an eastern and world music influence as its hazy, meditative atmosphere swells. Before long the trancelike beat kicks in, with an alien-like voice repeating “this is when you know, who your real friends are.” It is a haunting message wrapped in an otherworldly infectious beat.

As a complete work, ANIMA is a symphonic, electronic, dance, trance album by Thom Yorke, and while I expected the first two descriptors, it is a welcome surprise and a breath of fresh air to get the last two features as well, especially after the experimental, but slow-burning Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, and last years brooding, orchestrated piano symphony, Suspiria. This addition to his ever-expanding catalog solidifies Thom as one of the treasured creative geniuses of our time, and it’s a wonder that a man who made commercial fame with a track titled Creep in the early 90s is still to this day even more relevant than he’s ever been!

This album even has a companion short film of the same name, directed by filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson (of Johnny Greenwood collaborations such as There Will Be Blood and Phantom Thread) debuting on Netflix on this same release date! The ambition involved in a musician using film as a storytelling vehicle should make ANIMA all more special to fans of music and film alike. Radiohead and Thom Yorke’s music for decades has always seemed to belong in films, and they have the track record to prove it. This album will go down as another pin of successful musical invention, and as one of the reasons Thom Yorke isn’t going away anytime soon; if he ever does, it’ll be because he is in full control and decides to stop making music entirely.

ANIMA - 9.5/10

Recommended Tracks: Traffic, Not The News, Impossible Knots

June 23, 2019

DJ Dark Flow's Masterpiece Crate #1: Nirvana - Nevermind

September 24, 1991

Starting off this 49-album series is the worldwide commercial breakthrough of an entire genre and the monolithic rise of a band destined for tragedy. Another band I have been exposed to later in life followed a similar trajectory with their frontman just over 20 years prior, and that was The Doors, a band which had a frontman full of mystery, intrigue, and demons, who ultimately succumbed to a death that was equally as suspicious as our latter subject's demise, but this group was before my time, and so I digress.

Everyone growing up knows the instantly recognizable cover. The 4-month-old baby suspended in a pool of water swimming towards the dollar bill on a fish hook takes on a meaning of its own and reflects lead singer Kurt Cobain's attitude of capitalism and commercialism. His angst and outlook on life could also be attributed to the band's hometown of Aberdeen, Washington, a state that is known for it's overcast and rainy weather, and given the physiological reaction to lack of sunshine, there is something to be said for the origins of grunge itself, which emerged predominantly from the Pacific Northwest region.

Nirvana's response to 1980s new wave, hair metal, and pop was an aggressive and abrasive mixture of distorted, drop-D guitars, booming drums, crashing cymbals, and Kurt's relentless screaming vocals. Their rebellion against mainstream music of the decade led to an almost metal-like album titled Bleach in 1989. Producing a couple of tame singles, such as About A Girl and Love Buzz, their debut album gained them moderate notoriety in their area, and they regularly toured to support it. Cobain's songwriting skills were on display in their simple, but powerful execution and their presentation showed promise for future releases. After a lineup change that dropped their former drummer Chad Channing and recruited a young Dave Grohl, Nirvana were ready to change the world and music forever.

Released at the end of 1991, Nevermind ushered in an era of 90s alternative rock and grunge music and defined a generation of young adults who felt apathy and disillusionment with American mainstream culture. It marked the beginning of a shift in the perception of youth, who mostly felt ignored and underrepresented in a music industry which previously was mostly dominated by the baby boomer generation. Overnight, Nirvana's tonal shift towards a more "poppy" grunge rock sound became a worldwide sensation, and suddenly overwhelmed Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, and Dave Grohl with superstardom and pressure to tour across the globe. The Beatles-like hysteria, thanks to Cobain's sense of humor, was later mirrored in their music video for In Bloom, their final single from the album released just over a year later. The actual explanation as to why Nevermind was propelled in this way while other iconic grunge acts, by comparison, trailed far behind may be hard to determine. It could be simply attributed to the group putting just the right amount of pop, punk, rock, and angst in an album that was the released at just the right time. While Pearl Jam's classic album Ten was released only a month prior, its stadium rock formula was already familiar to mainstream audiences thanks to acts like U2 and other arena rock bands. Nevermind, on the other hand, was the forgotten voice of a generation and it took the world by storm.

The album kicks off with a series of the group's best-known songs and opens the album up in a beautiful way. The trio, Smells Like Teen Spirit, In Bloom, and Come As You Are, all boil down the deep emotions Kurt and the band were feeling, the pain of feeling misunderstood and left behind in this world, all while mainstream audiences just want to be entertained without hearing the true meaning of their lyrics. This can be found in their now best-known song, the rock anthem Smells Like Teen Spirit. Kurt sings, "With the lights out, it's less dangerous, here we are now, entertain us, I feel stupid and contagious, here we are now, entertain us," commenting on the mindless consumerism in the music industry. In Bloom follows a similar trajectory in their chorus: "He is the one, who likes all our pretty songs, and he likes to sing along, and he likes to shoot his gun, but he don't know what it means, don't know what it means, and I say yeah," as Kurt's tired attempts to get fans to understand his deep-running emotions, he feels like giving up already and saying "oh well, whatever, nevermind." Come As You Are is the first soft opening track of the album and a look into tumultuous relationships, as Kurt sings "Come as you are, as you were, as I want you to be, as a friend, as a friend, as a known enemy," and later in the chorus trying to sound assuring as the sound builds in intensity, "And I swear that I don't have a gun," a mantra that repeats throughout the chorus and back half of the song. It's a chilling dichotomy of a passionate relationship that has disintegrated into a volatile and possibly violent state. What set Nirvana apart from most other music was Cobain's ability to put these deep-rooted confessions on tape, which were dressed in a catchy yet rebellious grunge rock flair. The only other artist that was putting their emotions on the line like this at the time was probably Nine Inch Nails with Trent Reznor's debut album Pretty Hate Machine, but his follow-up album will be covered in a later article.

The following tracks start the cyclical nature of the album, trading off between fast-thrashing punk rock and melancholic hard rocking tunes. Breed fits more of the former as it covers the reckless nature of starting a family and breeding with a partner. "I don't mean to stare, we don't have to breed, we could plant a house, we could build a tree, I don't even care, we could have all three, she said." Lithium is a rare uplifting track in the album, which illustrates Cobain's bipolar state of mind. His previous entries in the album all have had a heaviness in subject matter and those emotions almost feel disregarded in this single of theirs, the title of which is known to treat manic-depressive disorder. The armor Cobain puts on as he sings, "I like it, I'm not gonna crack, I miss you, I'm not gonna crack, I love you, I'm not gonna crack, I killed you, I'm not gonna crack," upon further inspection is actually unnerving and alarming, but its tone is set apart from the rest of Nevermind and there is a happiness, even if temporary, in dismissing the crushing loneliness and pain Kurt feels in the land of the living. Polly is a fascinating choice for a quiet, acoustic follow-up to Lithium, and it envisions a kidnapper/prisoner relationship that was directly inspired by a publicized abduction Kurt had learned about in Tacoma, Washington in 1987. The abductor had snatched a girl leaving a rock concert one night, and subsequently hung her upside down in his mobile home and raped and tortured her with a blowtorch. Kurt decided to take some creative liberties with the story and include a part where the kidnapper is tricked into thinking that his prisoner is enjoying it, and their lowered guard helped them escape. In reality, the prisoner in this story was able to escape by jumping out of their truck at a gas station and attracting the attention of nearby people. Kurt's decision to make his lyrics in the first person perspective of the captor was his way of commenting on the vile nature of humanity and how men can and have treated women.

Territorial Pissings, like Breed, picks up the intensity as Grohl, Novoselic, and Cobain smash their instruments together. Kurt sings, "Never met a wise man, if so it's a woman," again relaying his thoughts on gender politics. "Gotta find a way, to find a way, when I'm there, gotta find a way, a better way, I had better wait." Kurt knows that there's a better way for the world to be, but understands that it's not going to change for the better anytime soon. Drain You, a love song of sorts, is full of medical references, and opens with two babies meeting each other for the first time, possibly on neighboring hospital beds. The fact that these characters are babies is most likely a reference to Kurt's thoughts on innocence and finding love at a young age. It goes down as Kurt's second favorite song, losing only to Smells Like Teen Spirit. Lounge Act is the next logical progression of losing the one you love to another. Kurt's words show that he is trying to shield himself from the hurt, but that he will ultimately "go out of [his] way, to prove [he] still, smells her on you."

The final trio of tracks all leave different parting thoughts for fans and listeners, as Stay Away is the resulting revulsion Kurt feels towards people who are followers and sheep of mainstream cultural trends. His original title of the record was going to be Sheep anyway, and with that in mind, the themes and messages of the group's music therein become all more obvious; it was probably a smarter decision to retitle it Nevermind. On A Plain, a personal favorite, is the final high point of an album full of distaste and rebellion against human nature. "One more special, message to go, and then I'm done, and I can go home, love myself, better than you, I know it's wrong, so what should I do, I'm on a plain, I can't complain." Kurt's bouts of self-love and self-serving behavior places him in a field of euphoria, but it isn't enough before he drops back into his final manic episode of darkness and self-loathing on Something In The Way. Inspiring chills in all listeners is this final, haunting ultimatum that Kurt leaves with us. This track pulls at the heartstrings of those who have felt this low, and it is the slowest song on the album. Kurt's dealings with rejection and feeling discarded from society is also a meditation on the paralyzing effects of depression. He uses the analogy of living homeless underneath a bridge. Having no friends or anyone left to rely on, it is the song that listeners who feel the same way cannot get out of their heads, and it possibly makes this final song the most affecting of the entire album.

The legacy of Nevermind is still felt to this day. Over the decades, waves of youth who feel misrepresented adorn the Nirvana memorabilia and merchandise as a badge of honor, possibly relating to the words of Kurt Cobain more than most other musicians. His tragic ending, whether self-inflicted or otherwise, is a warning of caution to those who suffer the same feelings of hopelessness growing up. It is important to talk about these dark thoughts that we have, but sometimes it just feels better, safer even, to relate to the words and the music. This album was a deeply emotional journey for myself, as I felt similar while feeling the adversity and bullying while growing up. It will remain a favorite album of mine forever, and it thus concludes the first article of my masterpiece crate series. Stay tuned for my examination on the Alice In Chains classic album, Dirt, and until that time, listen to music and connect with one another.

Recommended Tracks: In Bloom, Come As You Are, On A Plain

June 15, 2019

Retrospective Review: Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Piñata

In order to prepare for their hotly anticipated sophomore album Bandana by hip-hop duo, Freddie Gibbs and Madlib, I wanted to take a step back and look at their first collaborative record together, Piñata, released half a decade ago. Piñata came at a time I never knew I needed. Madlib was an inspiration for me for many years, having followed his multiple alter egos Quasimoto, Yesterday's New Quintet, The Beat Konducta, and The Loop Digga. His albums opened my mind to the world of hip-hop with the masterpiece alt-hip-hop album, Madvillainy, which was a team-up of Madlib's beats and MF DOOM's narrative rap flow, as well as The Unseen, the debut Quasimoto release that blew my mind up with his stream-of-consciousness, jazz-infused, hazy raps, all wrapped in a sleazy, cartoon swine. Naturally, I was curious in this newly announced collaborative effort.

Piñata opens with Supplier, a bouncy African drum beat, along with narration by a man describing the motivation and drive to get a dollar, no matter the cost. It sets the scene for the main themes of the album: drug-fueled violence in black communities, thugging, and rising to the top in the fight for survival. It's raw and unapologetic and it paints a picture with 90's hip-hop style, and gangster film strings such as those in Deeper, and Shitsville. Bomb featuring Raekwon is a special track which harkens back to the days of the rise of the Wu-Tang Clan, and it's another example of an album which has its fingers on the pulse of classic hip-hop while still making a current modern-day classic.

Plenty of songs make their mark with addictive samples and beats, and Freddie Gibbs elevates the magic that Madlib lays on tape with a talented flow and storytelling prowess. Examples of this phenomenal pairing can be found on nearly every track of Piñata, but some highlights of their teamwork include songs like Thuggin', which plays in the vein of Freddie's day in the life, Real, an offensive and aggressive diss track, and the unbelievably laid-back Robes featuring Domo Genesis and Earl Sweatshirt. This is just a small selection though, and omitting any tracks does them a great injustice because they all have to be heard to be believed. Broken, Knicks, Shame, and the title track, Piñata all are huge heavy hitters and nostalgic personal favorites as well.

Ultimately, there are few words that can describe the brilliant elements that makeup Freddie Gibbs and Madlib's first collaborative album. Piñata is the essence of classic hip-hop, where it's hardcore, laid-back, vulnerable, and real all at different critical points of the listening experience. I'd highly recommend this album to anyone who is a fan of either artist in order to prepare for what fire is to be released in their follow-up collaboration, Bandana, later this month.

Piñata - 9/10

Recommended Tracks: Thuggin', Shame, Piñata

June 13, 2019

Nox - The Formula EP Review

Long Island emcee Nox released his fine-tuned and diverse debut EP, The Formula late last year, getting his pure styled productions and raps in before the year’s end. Much like the hit AMC program Breaking Bad, The Formula is a recipe of music that's been cooked with enough ideas and winning ingredients to create a euphoric chemical bliss for fans of conscious and creative hip-hop.

The Formula opens with Nox’s title track and lead single. A famous memorable line from none other than Breaking Bad’s leading man, Walter White, whose transformation into the embodiment of death and subsequent fall from grace chills audiences to this day; Heisnberg introduces listeners and fans to the school of hard Nox. His following verses do not disappoint either, as his wicked flow and wordplay signify him as a rapper who’s not to be played with. The opening beat’s melodic synths echo and the snares trill as Nox declares, “I'm the danger, I'm the one who knocks, watch the heads roll from the chopping block. I'm the devil that your god forgot, and in place of a name you can call me Nox."

This title is a cool and effortless opening vibe, and if that's not enough to hook your brain, Icarus steps in with a funky and sexy beat, complete with a broken vocal sample that pulls your head into a nodding motion. Nox then descends on the music from up above and sounding confident and comfortable in this world of hip-hop he's conjured up. The Formula's pure form and showcase of multiple styles can be heard on the following track, yet another runaway hit, Survival of The Fittest, which Nox uses to get scientific and harder than before. "Who is this, who spreads like a sickness, so ill, your best pills can't fix this, got no immunity, you can't resist this," Nox drops truths as he claims that this world "is survival of the fittest." This one's probably the best example of Nox's influences, as hints of alternative hip-hop artist Aesop Rock can be heard in the details.

The latter half of the EP features another storytelling beat that Nox lures listeners into, with Baring it All, a picture of a woman making a living doing what she has to. The hypnotizing beat plays alongside the subject of Nox's track. It's a welcome left turn into hip-hop slow-jam territory, giving The Weeknd vibes with its alluring atmosphere. Afterward, Dionysis flows into the mix nearly undetected, until Nox invites listeners into his chill zone with a funky bassline, shots, hits, and whatever you need to unwind. Nox gets real with listeners with what he does to enjoy himself to get turned up. "So we retreat to the secret beach, I need the feeling of the sand beneath my feet, plus a place I can pee in peace, please believe me, I need some sweet relief, from shots, or a couple of hits, whatever it takes, to give you a fix!" There is humor and truth in the mix, which makes Dionysis a cool and even funny party song.

The final track, Always Be With You, is opened up with Jon Jeremy's verse as he puts up the scenario of Nox passing on beyond this world. It also features Chelsea Takami and Allone, in this cool hip-hop piano ballad. Nox makes his last words worth hearing, "a little surprise, I had them mix the food with yours truly, and even threw me in the booze, you consumed me, so I'm staying within you, Nox is never gone, I'll always be with you!" A tongue-in-cheek, but nevertheless great ending to an EP that demands repeated plays. The Formula is a solid work of hip-hop that does not disappoint. In each and every track, Long Island emcee Nox shows the world what he's made of as he goes through different styles and themes in his music. With The Formula, he proves he's got versatility and flow that can make him right for any mood or style, and frankly, it makes it all that much more exciting for what he decides to do next.

The Formula - 8.5/10

Recommended Tracks: The Formula, Survival of The Fittest, Always Be With You

June 5, 2019

Claud5 - Claudscape Review

Only a couple months after releasing his debut concept album, Dogs Carry Knives, Claud5 is back again with a tropicana, hip-hop, and nujabes-infused summer album, Claudscape! Not to put his debut, atmospheric, electronic debut in the rearview mirror, but in a way, to show another side to his persona, Claudscape is best enjoyed while kicked back on a warm, summer day, with a drink in hand, and it's an exciting genesis for an artist who clearly has been saving his songs in the bank and allowing them to grow in quantity and quality.

Claudscape opens with a touching tribute to a hip-hop producer who met an untimely fate in 2010 at the young age of 36, Nujabes, with his tribute song, Rip Nujabes. It gives listeners and previous fans of Nujabes a hint at exactly what this album is about. Nujabes had a knack for creating beautiful hip-hop tracks with many forward-thinking artists, which tended to blend with jazz and deal with matters of the heart, something hardcore hip-hop can lack, and which could be the reason some people can be turned off by the genre altogether. Nujabes showed the world that hip-hop can be beautiful too, and for anyone who doesn't know of this man, I highly recommend a playthrough of a couple of his albums to understand his impact. Claud5, like Nujabes, serves up tasteful and playful hip-hop concoctions that tell a story.

His second and fourth tracks, Frutti Di Mare, and Cafune, show off crisp, tropicana, hip-hop vibes, while others, such as Ocracoke Island (Mist), Mindset, and Lalala spin with a dark and mysterious, yet exhilarating flow that demands repeated plays. Hostage places listeners in the middle of a cocktail lounge of a sexy spy film, while Berkshire takes it back a few hundred years, with the classical piano sample that, when blended with hip-hop drums, feels beautiful and modern at the same time. Whether you are in the mood to chill or groove, Claudscape seems to have it all, and cover a variety of moods as it plays through its 17 colorful compositions.

As the temperature gets warmer this season, there always seems to be a musical feeling that pairs with the weather. The change in weather is also just as quick as the mood of Claudscape when it moves from song to song. Claud5 tells me that there's one more big release this year, a 5 track EP in June, so stay tuned for more Claud5, and until then enjoy his now two (!) full length-albums, Dogs Carry Knives, and Claudscape!

Claudscape - 8/10

Recommended Tracks: Ocracoke Island (Mist), Mindset, Berkshire