[Music] The Life of Pablo – Kanye West [2016]

tlopAlbum: The Life of Pablo

Artist: Kanye West

Released: 14 February, 2016

Rating: 6.5/10

If music is truly a reflection of its maker’s mind, then perhaps it really shouldn’t come as such a surprise that Kanye West’s latest effort, The Life of Pablo, is more mess than masterpiece. In an era where excellence in the genre is found in thoughtful, intricately assembled albums (To Pimp A Butterfly) and in powerful, avant garde production (Dirty Sprite 2), Kanye West’s confusing attempt at creativity misses both marks. The Life of Pablo, in truly Kanye fashion, draws parallels between figures as bafflingly disparate as Pablo Picasso, Pablo Escobar and Kanye West. The train of thought is clear; Kanye wants to show the constant struggle between his material and spiritual sides; a fight between his body and soul. It’s an interesting idea and if executed properly could have given the world another glimpse into Kanye’s infamously troubled psyche. Tragically, all the album amounts to is lost potential and a garbled message. The album is more experimental than any of West’s previous efforts, with a variety of styles and sounds deployed – and as is the case with any experiment, the results aren’t always pleasant. The trouble is that the album’s nature and diversity, along with the confused ideas Kanye infuses into it, leaves the album feeling scrambled, patchy and forgettable. Yet, for all that there are still bright spots to be found in The Life of Pablo even if most of the album is destined to be endured instead of enjoyed.

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[Music] Summertime ’06 – Vince Staples

summertime 06Album: Summertime ’06

Artist: Vince Staples

Released: 30th June, 2015

Rating: 6.5/10

Gangsta rap has been around, in some form or another, for the better part of the last 30 years and while the specific musical trends of the various hip-hop eras have come and gone in the intervening years, thematically, not a whole lot has changed. The artists involved have consistently maintained a certain pride in the harsh violence of the environment that raised them while still acknowledging that same environment’s desperate hopelessness. In this regard, it can feel like everything that Vince Staples says on his 2015 debut studio album, Summertime ’06, has been said before and better. Yet, there is an underlying current of listless resignation passing through much of the album that sets it apart from the confident defiance of its more storied predecessors in the genre. This despondence is accompanied, very fittingly, by some of veteran producer No I.D’s most intriguing production work – a sullen, suppressed resentment runs through the album’s sound and ties the whole project together very convincingly. The final product is far from perfect but it is a worthy attempt nonetheless.

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[Music] Overgrown – James Blake (2013)


Artist: James Blake

Released: April 13th,  2013

Rating: 7.3/10

A crackling fire, hot chocolate and warm blankets on a cold day in the middle of winter – those the images that British electronic musician James Blake evokes in his sophomore album, Overgrown. Like its predecessor, Blake’s self-titled James Blake, Overgrown is introspective and creative but what the older siblings lacked in polish and overall cohesion, the younger sibling has in spades. In Overgrown, each track is like the centrepiece on a wedding table – carefully hand-sculpted in order to create precisely the kind of effect its multi-talented singer-songwriter creator had in mind. The result is an album that flows very naturally in a gentle stream of soulful melody, taking you on a journey through your own thoughts as Blake sings songs of loves lost. It is an album hauntingly beautiful in its melancholy, reminiscent at times of Radiohead in days long past; a yearning reminder that change comes for us all.

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[Music] Dopium – U-God (2009)

dopiumAlbum: Dopium

Artist: U-God

Released: June 23, 2009

Rating: 5.8/10

Good but just never good enough seems like the perfect way of describing U-God, his music and his career. Even when the legendary Wu-Tang Clan was at the height of its fame, U-God was never its most prominent member. In a collective filled with some of the most talented artists the genre had to offer, it seemed that he never had what it took to truly distinguish himself from his contemporaries. Unfortunately enough, he ended up just being known as that guy with the deep voice and his first solo album, Golden Arms Redemption, was lost in the torrent of Wu affiliated albums that saturated the hip-hop market in the late 90s. If you think that his 2009 release, Dopium, was created just to keep him even marginally relevant, you wouldn’t be entirely wrong but you would also be selling the album short. Dopium bears some of the hallmarks of the group’s early efforts but amazingly, none of the lethargic malaise that has tainted their more recent efforts. There are some solid bangers in this album and while U-God himself tends be stood up by his more talented guests, the album as a whole is altogether better than anyone would expect from a rapper long forgotten by the mainstream.

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[Music] Since I Left You – The Avalanches

SILUAlbum: Since I Left You

Artist: The Avalanches

Released: November 27, 2000

Rating: 8.6/10

The line between plagiarism and homage is an oddly blurred one in art. What constitutes theft and what inspiration? It is a distinction that The Avalanche debut and, to date, only album Since I Left You dismisses by taking the art of sampling to its logical extreme. Not a note in the album is ‘original’; borrowing from over 3500 other pieces, Since I Left You, depending on your point of view, is either an abomination, a series of cheap parlour tricks, or an honest, original work of art every bit as worthy as the pieces it is cobbled together from. These views are surprisingly not mutually exclusive – it is possible to think of the project as an unnatural musical bastard redeemed only by its aesthetic brilliance or to support the concept behind the album’s creation while not particularly appreciating the album’s musical qualities. Regardless of where you stand, the sheer creativity and resourcefulness the album showcases is indubitably impressive.

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[Music] Graduation – Kanye West (2007)

graduationAlbum: Graduation

Artist: Kanye West

Released: August 20, 2007

Rating: 7.7/10

“Stadium status”, Kanye declares on his third studio album, Graduation, and it’s hard to disagree. Influenced by his year touring with U2, Graduation is West’s attempt at creating an anthemic sound that he felt hip-hop lacked. He has arguably had mixed success in that regard, but musically, West once again produces a home run. Gone are the warm, homely soul samples from College Dropout and Late Registration; they have been wholly replaced by a much wider musical palette. Much of the range that the album offers comes from Kanye’s increased use of samples from the electronic, rock and house music genres. It’s all very new but at the same time, it’s arranged familiarly; it’s a little like walking into your home and seeing new furniture in the old arrangement. Lyrically, it feels like West has stepped back a little and simplified his style – it’s a shame since his delivery on Late Registration was dramatically better than on College Dropout and it would have been nice to see the trend continue. The new style fits the music better though, even if there moments in which it feels like the idea was better than the execution.

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[Music] Be – Common (2005)

22662_02_Com_BK.qxdAlbum: Be

Artist: Common

Released: May 25, 2005

Rating: 7.3/10

Common’s sixth studio album, Be, should serve as a reminder to hip-hop aficionados that the genre does not need to be dark or grimey in order to be insightful or inspiring. Working with his close friend and, at the time, rising superstar, Kanye West, Be is a return to much missed form for the seasoned Chicago rapper. Common sounds like he’s rediscovered the joy in his music and has shaken off the chains that seemed to hold him down on his rather disastrous previous project, Electric Circus. Even as he explores themes like poverty and overcoming adversity, the energy in his voice and the lyrical spring in his step belie Common’s love for his art. He is complemented by West in the prime of his soul-sampling phase – indeed this album sounds very much like a mid-point between the latter’s The College Dropout and Late Registration. For once though, West’s production doesn’t, and perhaps cannot, steal the album’s thunder. There is a fiery ambition in the Common we see on this album but tempered by wisdom and maturity; when he talks about overcoming adversity and fighting through the tough times, he sounds like the real deal, like a man with first-hand knowledge of what it is like to pull yourself out of a slump.

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