Coloring Book: AOTY

The reason I chose Coloring Book a while back is because this album defined 2016 for me. I graduated college in May, started a new career, most of my best friends moved away. Life was changing. Coloring Book came out at the right time for me because I was looking for something to latch on to. Chance’s lyrical prowess was fresh. Something that Kanye once offered, but has since lost. Chance offered an opportunity for me to rediscover my faith after 4 long years of questioning the meaning of it.

Coloring Book was the Album of the Year for me in 2016. And I thank him for that.

Stay Woke

This review is long past due, but here she goes.

The newest album from Childish Gambino is a risky, blast to the past, fun album. Donald Glover takes a step in a completely different direction from any of his previous, releasing a funky, groove-tastic project. I didn’t know that I wanted a Childish Gambino funk album until I heard Awaken, My Love! I will be the first to admit this album isn’t perfect (lookin’ at you “California”…), but there are some absolute bangers on here that deserve recognition.

“Me and Your Mama” and “Redbone” are the crown jewels of this album, with Gambino at his rawest and most powerful. I love the feeling he puts into these songs and Falsetto singing on “Redbone” is next level.

“Zombies” is also a good song, if you are looking for highlights.

“California” is a shit show. Not even worth listening too.

Rating: 7.5/10

Favorite Song: Redbone

Favorite Lyric: “Stay woke.”

Otis: More than just Maybach Music

I apologize for my tardiness with this review, but here goes.

Otis Redding is someone I am familiar with, but on a very shallow level. Everyone knows “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”, through years of radio play on Oldies music stations. Kanye West and Jay-Z paid tribute to Otis Redding in their 2011 hit “Otis”, featuring samples from the song “Try a Little Tenderness”.

When this song came out, I gave Otis Redding a try and listened to this album and thought it was good, left it at that, and moved on.

But going back several years later and trying to get my untrained ears to dissect this album has been fun. Every time I attempt one of these album reviews, I find myself trying to approach it from an objective point of view, but honestly, that’s just not me. Music to me falls somewhere between a disaster and a banger, between terrible and a complete jam, or even in the realm of bad or a wailer. I am not an objective critic and I think I should stop trying to be one.

As discussed previously on other blogs, the title track is the best. I feel that there is not much more I can add. Song is legendary.

With that out of the way, Dock of the Bay is a banging, slapping, pocket a.f. work of art. Otis has so much power and soul in his voice, giving us the chance to feel the emotion he is conveying in his songs. “I’m Coming Home” is a fantastic example of this. Otis has been left by his woman, leaving him a “lonely little boy, nowhere to go”. Otis is pleading to his woman, wanting to come back to her, with the chorus a powerful cry to get his woman back, to return home. The raw emotion in this song makes it one of my favorites.

Then there is a song like “Don’t Mess with Cupid”. Otis has been scorned by a woman, her throwing his love away like it was a piece of trash. This song starts with a guitar lick that is very similar to “Party in the USA” by Miley Cyrus. I love the instrumentals behind Otis on this song, with the banging on the cymbal and the horns fitting the cutting edge of Otis’ voice perfectly. I think this song is an absolute jam, and wish it was sampled more in modern music.

The final song that stuck out to me was “Tramp”. The female voice on this song is Carla Thomas and she is a perfect 10/10 on this song. When she says “You know what Otis… you’re country…”, I can literally feel the sass and hate this woman has for this man. Otis is trying to prove his love and monetary worth to this woman, but all she still thinks he is a tramp. And she says it in such a way that I actually believe it. This is my favorite song from this album because it seems the realest. 10/10.

Overall, I enjoyed coming back to this album and thought it was a nice choice by Connor. It is cool how we are venturing out of the Hip Hop genre we typically live in and are venturing into newer (older) territory. This album is an album of love, losing it, hating it, accepting it, craving it. This album fits the general mood of life, and was a thoroughly enjoyable listen!

Rating: 8/10

Favorite Song: Tramp

Favorite Lyric: “You know what Otis… you’re country…straight from the Georgia woods…” – “Tramp”

Top 10 Favorite Songs from 2016!

I was so excited to write this blog that I started on it as soon as I got home from work. I was trying to brainstorm and remember my favorite jams from this 2016 year, which is harder than I thought it would be. We’ve had some great albums this year, including Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book, Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo, Beyonce’s Lemonade, etc. I found this list to be a good way for me to reflect on why I love each one of these songs, whether it be the beats, lyrics, or just the fun the song brings. These are not the “best” songs of the year, but they have definitely been some of my favorites. I also tried to stick to one song per album, in order to give a little diversity to this list.

Feel free to disagree with me! This is music, the most subjective art there is. Everyone gets an opinion.

One last thing, as you read this, you may be thinking: Where’s Views? Why didn’t he include any Drake?

Because Fuck Drake.
Views sucked. Call me when Take Care gets re-released.

Enjoy!

10. That’s What I Like – Bruno Mars – 24K Magic

Date: November 18, 2016

Since this song was released with the 24K Magic album, it has been vibing with me on all the fun levels. This is a catchy song, with a fat beat behind it, as Austin would call a “slapper”. I love the sexually-charged lyrics Bruno is laying down and the mix between funk & pop this song has. Bruno has that silky smooth voice, and trust me, it’s what I like.

Favorite Lyric: “I’ll rent a beach house in Miami, Wake up with no jammies.”

9. Caroline – Aminé single

Date: March 9, 2016

I loved this song from the first listen. It’s funky and original, with Aminé dropping Gambino-esque references and flow switches that keep the listener on their toes. This is the first single from this Portland rapper and if it is any sign of the future, we are all in for a real treat. I love dual threat rappers, those that can spit bars and sing, something we see less and less of these days. Aminé doesn’t have the strongest voice, but it works perfectly in this song. All in all, this track is dope.

Favorite Lyric: “If ya want safe-sex, baby use the knee pads, Freaky with the sticky icky, Baby give me kitty kitty.”

8. Whisky to Wine – Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood – Gunslinger

Date: September 8, 2016

The first time I heard this song, I was listening to Garth perform at the Ryman Auditorium and he was doing a bit about the greatest duets in country music history. After singing some old classics, he brought out his wife, Trisha Yearwood, and they cut loose on this song from his new album. Loving classic Garth, I was unsure of what to think of the new stuff, but this song blew me away. So simple and delicate, yet powerful and moving. The chorus is the powerhouse of this song, with Garth and Trisha meshing as perfectly as chips n’ queso. Garth proved he still had it and Trisha proved she never lost it, making this song one of the easiest choices to make the top 10.

Favorite Lyric: “Whiskey to wine, It’s just not the same high, I miss the fire, The burning desire.”

7. Solo – Frank Ocean – Blonde

Date: August 20, 2016

I may get some flack for this, but I did not like Blonde that much. I felt it was too boring and for how long we waited for some new Ocean, I guess I expected more. Except for “Solo”. This track feels like Channel Orange Frank Ocean, with the same emotion and pure vocals that I came to love on his previous work. This song stood out, for me, among all the other songs on this album and it clearly deserved a spot on my list.

Favorite Lyric: “It’s hell on Earth and the city’s on fire, Inhale, inhale there’s heaven, There’s a bull and a matador dueling in the sky, Inhale, in hell there’s heaven.”

6. Redbone – Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love!

Date: November 17, 2016

Gambino’s departure from corny rap into funk may have disappointed some fans, but I welcome it. I love the cleverness of Gambino’s raps and how he seems to not give a fuck about what people think. I loved the adventurous nature of Awaken, My Love! and look to see how far he will go on his next album. I was instantly drawn to “Redbone”, what I consider the mantel piece of this album, due to its filthy base line and chilling vocals. Childish creeps up into that head voice and spits some raw, emotional lines that keep me coming back for more. I may have only been listening to this track for a few weeks, but it is already one of my favorite songs, not just in 2016 either. Stay woke!

Favorite Lyric: “But stay woke, Niggas creepin’, They gon’ find you, Gon’ catch you sleepin’ (Oooh).”

5. Good as Hell – Lizzo –  Coconut Oil

Date: May 11, 2016

The former GRRRL PRTY standout drops her follow up EP to her fantastic album,  Big Grrrl Small World, with “Good as Hell” being the lead single. This song has everything I have come to appreciate about Lizzo: Sass, Soul, & Realness. Lizzo never fails to keep her feet firmly planted on the ground, allowing her music to connect with people like me. I appreciate an artist who can keep it real (RIP Kanye). While she sounds like she could use a few more GRRRL’s behind her, Lizzo still brings the fire with this one.

Favorite Lyric: “Come now, come dry your eyes, You know you a star, you can touch the sky, I know that it’s hard but you have to try, If you need advice, let me simplify.”

4. Ultralight Beam (feat. Chance the Rapper, Kelly Price, & Kirk Franklin) – Kanye West – The Life of Pablo

Date: February 14, 2016

Kanye has had an interesting year, even for him. I was one of the fortunate ones who saw him before he cancelled the remainder of his Saint Pablo tour, and boy was it worth every penny. The Life of Pablo may not be Kanye’s greatest work, but it still was one of the best albums of the year. It had everything: gospel vibes, Chance, bleached assholes, controversy, etc. And “Ultralight Beam” was the crowning jewel of this album. “Real Friends” was probably a better song, but Ultralight Beam found a way to connect with people on a level that is lacking in hip-hop, spiritually. Kelly Price slays with the vocals, and Chance proved he was ready for the national spotlight with the best verse on the whole album. Kanye stepped aside, showed some humility, and gave the “chance” to the future of hip-hop. And it worked out better than we could have ever imagined.
The message is clear.
We on an Ultralight Beam. This IS a God dream.

Favorite Lyric: “I made Sunday Candy, I’m never going to hell, I met Kanye West, I’m never going to fail.”

3. Work (feat. Drake) – Rihanna – ANTI

Date: January 27, 2016

“Work” is not a groundbreaking song. It is not deep. It is not powerful. But what it is is pure fun. Not every song needs to be a game changer. Not every song needs to rival Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright”. I love this song because it is so simple and catchy. Though being ridiculously overplayed, I have never felt like I could be sick of this song. Even Drake is good on this song; it’s probably the only good thing he’s done since Take Care. Every year I hope to find a song like this; one that is just fun and catchy. This year was Work. Work. Work. Work. Work. Work.

Favorite Lyric: “Work, work, work, work, work, work.”

2. Friends (feat. Bon Iver and Kanye West) – Francis and the Lights – Farewell, Starlite!

Date: July 17, 2016

I happened to stumble across this song on Pitchfork the day it came out and thought I would give it a listen because Kanye was in it. My initial impressions were that this song seemed eerily familiar and that I really liked it. Turns out Chance sampled this song for his “Summer Friends” track on Coloring Book. I delved more and more into the catalog of Francis and the Lights and found myself loving the style of music he was making. I have never been huge on electronic music, but his music really vibed well with me and the Farewell, Starlite! album has become one of my 2016 favorites. But it all started with this song. Bon Iver shreds, as always, and the combination of Francis Starlite and Justin Vernon makes for a killer pair, something I hope to see again in the future.

Favorite Lyric: “There’s a station playin’ rock and roll, So stay tuned in mi amor, Stay tuned in.”

1. No Problem (feat. Lil Wayne & 2 Chainz) – Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book

Date: May 13, 2016

This is my pick for album of the year, hands down. I went from being lukewarm on Chance after Acid Rap to a total Chance the Rapper stan. I had the great pleasure of seeing him at Magnificent Coloring Day with Jason, and the show was pure magic. If I was to do an unstructured list of songs that were my favorites in 2016, including ones from the same album, Coloring Book would have six of the top ten (Tracks 1, 2, 5, 6, 8, 12 on the album if you are curious). This mixtape connected with me on a level very few pieces of music ever have before. Spiritually, I feel enlightened by the words Chance lays down, finding some inner peace in how much faith plays a roll in his music (“with the faith of a pumpkin seed-sized mustard seed”). I can look at this track list and point out my favorite parts on every song. Chance makes this album so much fun, and I have fun every time I make my way through it.
I am not saying this should be everyone’s favorite album or everyone will even like it. But this album means a lot to me and I felt like sharing that.

So why “No Problem”? Honestly, the video was dope. #FreeWeezy. And it is the most fun song on the album. And “Angels” was released in 2015.

Favorite Lyric: “And if that label try to stop me, There gon’ be some crazy Weezy fans waitin’ in the lobby, Mula, baby.”

 

Thank you for checking out my Top 10 Favorite Songs of 2016! Feel free to comment with any thoughts you have!

 

Prefab Sprout: Good Album, B.A.A.D. Band Name

I want to preface this review with my extreme dislike of the band name Prefab Sprout. This band is doing itself no favors with their name and I believe it hurts their appeal, at least at first. When Austin came at us with Steve McQueen, I thought he was choosing some weird-ass indie album that he wrote a review on for MPR a few years ago. I respect the musical tastes of Mr. Gerth, but we do not always enjoy the same genres of music. The name Prefab Sprout reminds me of some angsty teens sitting in their parents’ basement, watching TV and brainstorming band names, the thick fog of marijuana smoke in the air. A mildly suggestive Green Giant commercial came on, and boom, Prefab Sprout was born (This is probably a stretch).

Long story short: The name sucks.

When it was announced, I groaned, wondering what Austin was getting us into.

But oh was I wrong.

This album is right up my alley in terms of musical styling, genre, decade, etc.
My father has always told me I was born in the wrong generation; that I had an “old soul”, built for life in the 80’s and prior. I have always been a fan of the synthetic pop and classic rock of the 70’s and 80’s, something this album taps into quite well. Phil Collins, Steve Winwood, and Paul Simon are among my favorites from this era, and Prefab Sprout has a very comparable sound.

I have listened to Steve McQueen close to 10 times this week and each time I find something new I enjoy about the album. My first listen instantly drew me to the first track, “Faron Young”. The reference to a country singer I recognized and the idea of being consistently disappointed by things in life vibed well. I also loved the picking of the guitar in the lyrics
“You offer infrared instead of sun, You offer bubble gum…”. This is a total “old school” country lick, most likely in reference to Faron Young. After the first track, I just kind of didn’t get why the rest of the songs didn’t sound like the first and was pretty disappointed.

My next couple times through the album were progressively more enjoyable as I went. I found myself enjoying the melancholy and overarching minor-vibe of the album. The tales of love and the sadness that comes with it really struck deep. I have only ever had one girlfriend in my life, but we have all had those crushes that slipped away or the women that just didn’t work out. “Bonny” portrays this super well and is easily one of my favorite tracks on the album. The sweet guitar lead in followed by some of the rawest vocals on the album by Paddy McAloon make this a wonderful track.

The $$$$ song on this album is definitely “When Love Breaks Down“. This song is the one that puts people in the seats, soaks the panties, and pays the bills. It starts off with a synthy piano riff that slowly brings us into the soft vocals. When the chorus hits, Paddy lets it loose, bringing us in emotionally to the words he sings.

“When love breaks down
The things you do
To stop the truth from hurting you
When love breaks down
The lies we tell
They only serve to fool ourselves
When love breaks down”

I can hear the pain in his voice, the feeling of love breaking down, and the lengths we go to “fool ourselves”. While not my favorite song on the album, this is most likely the best track on it.

The rest of Steve McQueen has some solid tracks as well, “Moving the River” and “Horsin’ Around” come to mind, but I enjoy the first half of this album much more. Cohesively, the album flows well all the way through, but if we go on a track by track basis, my favorite tracks are all in the beginning.

So wrapping up, Steve McQueen was a really great introduction to Prefab Sprout and the whole “sophisti-pop” genre. The band reminds me of a pre-1980’s English Hall & Oates with its soft rock/synthy elements and thought-provoking lyricism. I would recommend this to anybody who can get past the stupidity of this band’s name and is looking for some sad, retrospective love songs in the vein of the 80’s. This album offers sun, instead of infrared. Take that as you will.

Rating: 8/10

Favorite Song: “Faron Young”

Favorite Lyric: “All my silence and my strained respect, Missed chances and the same regrets, Kiss the thief and you save the rest, All my insights from retrospect” – “Bonny”

Reagan, Relevance, and Good Rap

I am trying to think of a way to sum up the most prominent feelings I have on Illmatic. The subject matter of the album take us inside the life of growing up in New York City in the early 90’s, something I never have or never will experience. So as a preface, personal relatability to this album is fairly low.

In a time where Reagan’s anti-black, pro-incarceration policies still ran rampant, Nas enlightens us with tales of dealing with discriminatory cops, his streets filled with crack, murderous cops, and troubled youth. “N.Y. State of Mind” tells of kids with guns, crack addicts, and how nothing is like New York city. “Life’s a Bitch” offers a theme that still resonates with today’s rappers: get paid while your here cause who knows long that’ll be. “Represent” is a trans-generational anthem documenting police brutality and standing up for one’s hood.

Growing up in one of the whitest suburbs in Minnesota, I cannot relate to the situation Nas grew up in. But there are similarities between his experiences then and the world we live in now. Police brutality against African Americans is still a large problem in this country. One could even argue we have taken a step backwards in recent years. The crack epidemic (Thanks Reagan…) is comparable to the heroine epidemic we are dealing with now. Nas’ Illmatic and its themes and lyrics are still relevant 22 years later, and continue to have a lasting impact on the hip hop community.

Every track has a memorable beat and good producing, culminating in a well-polished album. Lyrically, Nas has rhymes that this generation can compare to Kendrick Lamar, but their flow is very different. Nas’ flow is not flashy in the slightest, but is perfectly timed to mesh with the beat behind him.

Overall, I enjoyed this album. It gets a little tiring near the end, leaving listeners clamoring for something closer to the first 5 tracks. It has those classic 90’s beats that everyone enjoys. The lyrics are potent and raw, finding relevance even today. I would recommend this album to anyone looking for a good album with historical significance that has held up over time.

 

Rating: 7.5/10

Favorite Song: “Life’s a Bitch”

Favorite Lyric: “I woke up early on my born day; I’m 20, it’s a blessing, The essence of adolescence leaves my body, now I’m fresh” – “Life’s a Bitch”