Kanye West – Yeezus album review

Given his latest buzz-worthy antics, it was frightening to fathom the possibility that it could’ve proven insurmountable to divorce the Us Weekly Kanye from the multi-faceted artistic genius with the insatiable hunger of a starving artist. But the stunning thing about Kanye West is that he always pushes aesthetic boundaries, consistently outdoing himself and always finding the keyhole that unlocks a new level originality, art, and emotion.

The album title Yeezus is not just a play on the provocative, but rather, serves as a mockery of Kanye’s persona, as the album quite unexpectedly restricts the narrative of a self-absorbed egomaniacal rapper who consistently flirts with audacity, and instead paints the picture of a man basking in his social stature, but still hasn’t shaken the same debilitating, profound (and sometimes callow) insecurities. We’d known Kanye had more layers than an onion, but on this album he doesn’t peel back so many. Yeezus draws a concise 40-minute picture of who Kanye is—an insecure street philosopher, wannabe, and sex addict who just wants to shine—one who screams out his faults before you can even call his bluff. But don’t go expecting him to tell you something you didn’t already know. Because on Yeezus, it’s not that he has so much more to say, he just has a new way of saying it.

Yeezus is a new wave album and abandons the saturated bass and smooth sampling of Late Registration’s past. Kanye even pairs up with Daft Punk on four songs to create a sense of authenticity. On the album’s first track “On Sight” he barely achieves this, but what saves the song is its incongruence—a techno beat impetuously paired with a gospel chorus, which somehow creates the perfect marriage. It’s nothing if not creative, and it is an element Kanye brings to most of the album’s 10 tracks. The punk edge continues on “Black Skinhead,” but the focal point of this song is difficult to infer. In fact, much of the album’s lyrics aren’t the starkest, but the brilliance comes from the moodiness and accidental honesty the second half of Yeezus brings.

Many times Kanye comes across as trying to prove himself to himself more than to the actual listener. The irony of “I Am A God” comes with the simple notion that he tries to cheat the listener into believing he thinks that highly of himself as he hides behind bravado, hierarchy and conceit, though songs like “Guilt Trip” whisper otherwise. He sings, “The door locked by myself and I’m feelin’ it right now/cause it’s the time when my heart got shot down…if you love me so much the why’d you let me go?” as a muted trumpet resonates behind video game sounds and a cello cadence. His failure to fool the listener into accepting his fictitious sense of self-assuredness is what creates such veracity. Album highlight “Blood on the Leaves” is telling. It’s a murky tale of dejection and betrayal dichotomized by a haunting “Strange Fruit” sample. It’s an exemplification that what’s to be learned from Yeezus is that Yeezy isn’t actually invincible, but almost defenseless and emotionally naked in a word of excess, status and yearning, and that maybe underneath, if all that money still hasn’t bought him happiness it probably never will.

DJ Khaled – Kiss the Ring album review

While the cover of Kiss the Ring finds DJ Khaled doing his best Drake impression while wearing a comically oversized ring, don’t believe for a second that he has stepped away from his shtick. Khaled drops his yearly albums mostly to remind listeners of how ingrained he is in mainstream Hip-Hop. He’s not the type that could revolutionize the genre if he wanted to, but he is still surprisingly relevant in 2012.

From up-and-comers like 2 chainz and Meek Mill to big names like Kanye West, Nas, and Rick Ross, there really is an incredible roster on Kiss the Ring. With this ridiculous amount of talent, it’s not surprising that the album is full of songs that will be all over the radio in the very near future.

The absolutely vicious “Bitches & Bottles” seems like the obvious choice for the next single off of Kiss the Ring. Future sings a hook that is destined to be hide in the nooks and crannies of your brain and show up unexpectedly. As the beat builds, getting darker and darker, he howls out at the top of his lungs giving the chorus a life of its own. T.I. shows up in full Urban Legend mode for a verse that is an incredible reminder of his effortless confidence and talent when he’s on. Wayne’s verse isn’t as powerful in comparison, but having the instruments drop out for his first few bars makes it much more dynamic.

“Hip Hop” starts off with Khaled claiming that “This shit’s special!” which transitions into a verse that only the legendary Scarface could pen. While the sentiment would seem trite coming from a rapper without his credentials, Face beautifully describes the tumultuous ride that has been his career and how the rap game has left him with a bitter taste in his mouth. Anthropomorphizing his livelihood opens up a rawness in Scarface’s bars that does wonders for the track.

Kiss the Ring isn’t going to make any Top 10 lists as an album, but a few tracks will stick around long enough to justify a 2013 release for Khaled. That’s probably all he was aiming for anyway.

Kanye West – Way Too Cold video featuring DJ Khaled (Theraflu video)

Kanye West – Way Too Cold video featuring DJ Khaled (Theraflu video)

Unofficial video, featuring young Kanye West imitator

*Director: Ashley ‘@Ash_Innovator’ Smith
*Executive Producer: CiEsta!
*Cinematographer: Ashley ‘@Ash_Innovator’ Smith
*1st AC: Matt Manning
*2nd AC: Aimee Thomas
*Photographer/B-Roll: Genevievee Evans
*AD: U-U Lalibela
*Gaffer: Charles Baker
*Grip: Dave
*Grip: Genevievee Evans
*DIT: Aimee Thomas
*Editor: Matt Manning
*Makeup: MUA Cheri
*Hair: Rozalyn PauPaw
*Wardrobe: U-U
*Accessories: Tina Catherine Eyewear+Opticians
*Equipment: Alex Resnikoff
*Kanye: Caleb Harper
*Rock Star: Jasmin Marilena
*Ronald Regan: Matt DeCoster
*Laura Bush: Miatta Kemp
*George Bush: Dan Parilis
*Condoleezza Rice: Jennifer Scott
*Donald Trump: Andrew Hsu
*Sarah Palin: U-U Lalibela
*SPECIAL THANKS: Peter Darmi

Watch The Throne Tour – Kanye West & Jay-Z in Montreal

Yesterday, amidst a crowd of 15,000 fans, two of the biggest names in hip-hop took the stage for a two-hour and forty minute marathon of rhymes and beats. As Ye and Jay rose above the crowd on fourteen foot platform covered in LEDs, you could tell this show would be one for the ages. Spitting their verses on “H.A.M.” from their respective “thrones,” and moving right into “Who Gon Stop Me” without a pause. And then joining each other on one stage to belt out their lead single with pyrotechnics and lasers spazzing all over the Bell Centre: “Otis.”

Did I mention this was only the first ten minutes of the show?

The Throne worked through a large chunk of their new album, and then started taking turns on their solo tracks. Hova was right at it with “Where I’m From,” “Nigga What? Nigga Who?” and coming back later on for “Hard Knock Life” and “Izzo (H.O.V.A.).” It seemed to me like Jay wanted a lot of the stage time to be given to Kanye – who was sporting a skirt/kilt and leather leggings for the better half of the night. For every Jay-Z song, there were three Yeezy songs. While I don’t mind the imbalance, as I’m a bigger fan of Ye than Jay (crucify me now – you have my permission), it still seemed strange to me.

Regardless, Kanye was flawless when it came to renditions of “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” (that had a laser light show reminiscent of his Glow in the Dark tour) “Jesus Walks,” “Touch the Sky,” and “Good Life.” Heck, the songs I’ve listed are just the tip of the iceberg. The duo went through about forty tracks in total, and Kanye even got the chance to do his eight minute version of “Runaway,” as well as  a powerful sing-a-long to finish off “Heartless.” All while standing on a raised platform, of course… in a kilt.

They got through the majority of their new album. “New Day” was definitely a highlight, with the two rappers just sitting on the stage, spitting their rhymes about being fathers one day soon. And when it came time to finishing off the night, “Niggas in Paris'” Blades of Glory sample came through the speakers – the crowd went off! And when they were finished? Again. Went off for the encore. Came back on. Guess what? They played it again. And when it was done? Jay yelled, “AGAIN!” And finally… one more time. Unless my ability to count was lost, they played “Niggas in Paris” five times. And you know what? The majority of us didn’t mind one bit, dancing and bumping to it like it was the first time it had been played. Every. Single. Time. The Bell Centre hasn’t been so electrified by a hip-hop crowd in a while.

Egotistical much? Yeah, but a well-executed show no doubt. They gave the fans more than their money’s worth in lasers, lights and pyrotechnics. I have no idea if another tour like this will hit your town after this leg, especially with Jay’s baby on the way. If you can make it out to a show, despite the pricey tickets, it’ll be well worth your time. That shit cray.

Jay-Z and Kanye West – Watch the Throne review

Православни икониIn a collaboration that almost seems mythical, two of rap’s biggest moguls –and personalities– have come together to create a grandiose album that is, for better or worse, turning a lot of heads. Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch the Throne dropped on August 8th, and, much like the current political climate of the time, it seems the American mainstream public couldn’t be more divided about its response. When two of rap’s most controversial idols join forces, bringing their egos along, it’s safe to say that the product will be either loved or hated with no in-between. Somehow I sensed it would be this way for Watch the Throne, and now that I’ve heard the album, analyzed it, I know where I stand.

I want to start by saying that I’ve loyally been with Jay-Z and Kanye from both of their beginnings. In middle school, I came of age listening to Jay-Z’s “Coming of Age” off Reasonable Doubt, and Kanye’s “Slow Jamz” and “Get ‘Em High” off The College Dropout were my high school and college anthems, respectively. I’ll always carry the bond I was first making with rap because of Jay-Z and Kanye’s footprints on the industry.

In some ways, Watch the Throne represents the best of Jay and Kanye. The beats are catchy and varietal, like the rumbling, glitchy one on “Gotta Have It,” or the piano-influenced melody on “Primetime.” Lyrics-wise, I’ll be the first one to concede the metaphor and analogy power on this album. Both Jay-Z and Kanye’s ability to spit witty verses with ease has kept them at the forefront of an industry that thrives on one-upping the competitor. Watch the Throne isn’t lacking in this area.

But underneath the glossy beats that were likely made with some of the most expensive recording hardware money can buy, behind the slick witticisms, is there something more? Something that provokes us to examine an issue more closely, or that helps us to see one more clearly?

There isn’t. Watch the Throne is theatrical narcissism and flamboyant vanity wrapped in pretty packaging. Grand advertisements of wealth and power flourish on the record, as in the song “That’s My Bitch,” where Kanye declares, “I paid for them titties, get your own, It ain’t safe in the city, watch the throne.” Or like in “Murder to Excellence,” which is seemingly supposed to be a tribute to Danroy Henry — a Pace University wide receiver who was shot and killed by police — but instead boasts lines like, “Black excellence, opulence, decadence, tuxes next to the president, I’m present, I dress in Dries and other boutique stores in Paris.” I wonder if it makes any difference to the Henry family that Jay-Z associates with the President or that he wears high fashion. I doubt it.

Perhaps the most egregious offense on the record presents itself on the track “Otis.” The song pays tribute to the late Otis Redding, or the man better known as the King of Soul. It begins with a sample of Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness,” and then evolves into a rapid beat with Jay-Z rapping about popping bottles, supermodels, and his Rolexes. The video for “Otis” begins with a shot of a Maybach and continues with Jay and Kanye rapping in front of the American flag. How does any of this relate to Otis Redding? you ask. As far as I can see, it doesn’t. Aside from the stolen beat, “Otis” has nothing to do with Otis Redding. Otis Redding is merely the pawn in a track designed to sneakily capture a wider fan base. “Otis” couldn’t be less representative of the life or musical career of its namesake.

Over the years I’ve seen Jay-Z and Kanye rise up from humble beginnings to become the world’s most famous rappers. And in the process I’ve watched both artists buy into the glamour, glitz, and bawdiness that mainstream rap is today. I do realize I risk upsetting many by this honest account of Watch the Throne, but I can’t jump on the bandwagon. The album disappoints on so many levels. Watch the Throne is the direct antithesis of what rap was created for, what it originally grew out of. It’s a slap in the face to the progress that has been made in racial equality. And, most offensively, it’s a flagrant flaunting of wealth in the face people who don’t have it—many of whom ironically comprise a significant portion of Jay-Z and Kanye’s fan base.

If I had to pick one word to describe Watch the Throne, I’d choose irresponsible. It’s the perfect example of two otherwise talented artists who have let fame and power take over their music. It’s the result of two media moguls misusing their eminence and promoting dangerous ideas to society. What we’re left with is a record devoid of meaning, and one that, if not for the hype, would probably be soon forgotten.

Snoop Dogg – Doggumentary album review

“Doggumentary” is certainly an open portrayal of Snoop’s life, much like a documentary. However it seems more like a magnum opus incorporating all elements that he carries with him. From reggae and sing-jay elements with “Sumthin Like This Night” (Which features Gorillaz) to new wave synth music with “Boom” (which includes a T-pain feature that almost ruins the pristine sample from “Situation” by Yaz). Not to mention Snoop flexes his singing ability with Willy Nelson in their blues duet “Superman”. This album is chocked full of features by other amazing artists as well. From Bootsy Collins bringing back that real G-funk flavour, to E-40 and Young Jeezy completely going in on “My fucn house” and everyone in between including Kanye, Devin the Dude, Wiz Khalifa, John Legend and R. Kelly.

The production for “Doggumentary” is deep. Old school vibes that still seem relevant permeate every song. Excluding the obvious ventures in blues, reggae and new wave with certain songs, “Doggumentary” is the old Snoop [Doggy] Dogg style with a new take on G-funk.

Even the elements that are particularly new and fresh have a solid vibe of an old track. Perhaps that’s the specialty of Snoop having been doing his thing for so long. While he may dive into seemingly new genres the sound is distinctly Snoop and is always brought back to a familiar point.

Snoop’s last couple albums were less than stellar, which may dissuade some towards even listening to it. “Doggumentary” is clearly the result of learning from his mistakes. Snoop has overcome the learning curve of incorporating many different artists and styles with a vengeance. Simply put, “Doggumentary” is surprisingly great.