Category Archives: Featured

Review: Abra’s ‘Princess’

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It’s been a little over a year since Awful Record’s songstress Abra dropped off her impressive debut album Rose. Her first project back, the self-written and produced Princess, is six tracks long. Consisting of tinny, pop-synth vocals dripping in glam and a confidence that wasn’t as evident on past projects.

The tape begins with the short intro track “COME 4 ME,” which in the grand scheme of this project serves as nothing more than a vocal appetizer. Crooning about making money, spending it and making it all back. The production on the song is nice and simple, the bass moves along in unison with her delivery and fades into the next track, “VEGAS,” with ease.

“VEGAS” plays a lot like any number of songs off of Rose but is obviously more involved and technical than past releases. She taunts an unknown person who’s attempting to hit on her with lines like, “If you wanna roll the dice on me okay. If you think you can afford it, come play play.”

The following song, “CRYBABY,” finds Abra pleading with a lover who’s turned their back on her. It is obvious that she is hurting, lines like “You’re calling me a cry baby. But you’re making me cry.” and “Oh why are you so cold to me? Why you acting like we ain’t nothing?” Like a lot of her music, the repetitive, high pitched nature of the chorus and bridge of the song flirt with sounding overbearing. Her vocals are burdened by emotion while the beat is light and spacey, somehow creating harmonious dissonance. That borderline dissonance has become a staple of her music, and Awful Records as a whole.

Fellow Awful Records singer Tommy Genesis jumps on “BIG BOI,” the moderately lo-fi, female empowerment anthem. Abra and Genesis each drop a verse bashing the types of guys who constantly hit on them. Genesis ends her verse with “I could be a lot of things but I ain’t your girl,” while Abra talks about having “shooters in the cut” watching an oblivious guy who is buying her bottle after bottle trying to feel her up.

Things pick back up with “PULL UP,” a sparkly, upbeat song about the slippery slope that is love. Abra creates a catchy chorus that would sound perfectly natural coming straight out of your favorite rappers’ mouth.

Princess finds Abra all over the place emotionally. “CRY BABY” is a more submissive, emotional song while “BIG BOI” puts her in the drivers seat, full of confidence and aggression. The album comes to a close with her being pushed back into the depths of a relationship, giving herself up completely to someone else. “THINKING OF U” is her strongest vocal effort on the album. Her sultry delivery and the bouncy production create another conflicted mood that is easy to get lost in.

Abra continues to create a lane for herself in the world of pop music. Providing a winning combination of her dark, sensual aesthetic with high-BPM production. Only six tracks long, Princess is the perfect portrayal of who Abra is, all at once heartbroken, confident and hungry.

Written by Jesse Wiles

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Rap is the new rock and roll, get used to it

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Like it or not, rap is the new rock and roll and it continues to usurp aspects of the genre as it evolves. From tour merch to style to onstage antics, rock and hip hop have more similarities than is first apparent.

As Kanye West stated emphatically in his 2013 BBC Radio 1 interview, “rap is the new rock and roll, we the rock stars.” At the time that seemed like a lofty proclamation, as it is with most of Mr. West’s statements. However, as things have progressed West seems to have had the definitive word.

Rock, the culture of hip hop, and the roots of raps lie in the African American community. Rock and roll came about in the 1940s as a mixture of blues and jazz and other music. However, it was adopted commercially as an overwhelmingly white genre, thanks in part to the popularity of artists like Elvis. Hip hop and rap began in the Bronx a few decades later, adopted from Jamaican and Caribbean music styles as well as funk and jazz. Unlike rock, the genre’s roots and commercial success are wholly attributed to African Americans.

With similar roots comes a similar a draw to the genre. In the 1950s it was the rebellious, non-conformists who were attracted to rock and roll. Similarly, rap is enticing because of its lack of boundaries and its accessibility. Anyone can rhyme, and with a few catchy beats and a little swagger, become a rapper, just like the possibility of becoming a rock star if you played an instrument or sang.

A lot of the content in rap is very similar to that of rock and roll. Aside from attracting the rebellious, both genres are very centered around social justice, sex, drugs and love. Where rap tends to stray away from rock is how misogynistic and violent it is in comparison.

The other, more materialistic magnetism is that rappers are living a lavish lifestyle while doing and saying outlandish things. Anyone who is anti-establishment is immediately attracted to this. Fifties and sixties parents hated rock and roll just as parents hate rap today.

The grungy and rebellious leather and denim clad teens of the 1960s, 70s and 80s have been replaced with an equally rebellious group of teens donning Air Force 1s and jogger pants. Everything moves in circles and currently rap reigns.

Instead of electric and often times obscene performances from Jim Morrison you have Travi$ Scott hanging from ceiling rafters and inciting riots at Lollapalooza. Mega stars like Bruce Springsteen and the band, Queen, who sold out shows all across the world, have been replaced by the likes of Kanye West and Drake. The experimental, in both music and drugs, Jimi Hendrix who turned feedback and distortion into something beautiful has been replaced with the squawks and yelps of Young Thug and the codeine induced slur of Future. Hendrix played a large role in shaping the innovative style of Kid Cudi, who, in turn, has helped shape contemporary rap. The youthful, fashion-rule bending duo of Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi who make up the duo Rae Sremmurd have replaced KISS’s stage makeup and boisterous outfits with their loud patterns and ski goggles.

Sonically, rap is not too reminiscent of rock. However, rap style and tour merchandise have been greatly influenced by the fashion and commercialization of rock and roll. Kanye West’s ‘Yeezus’ tour merch used arguably the most recognizable font associated with a band. The official name, Pastor of Muppets, designed by Ray Larbie, is more commonly known as ‘Metallica font’ after the band used it for their album covers.

Tour shirts and vintage rock posters from bands like KISS, ACDC and Iron Maiden have also been emulated by the likes of Travi$ Scott on tour merch. The look has also become a popular trend donned by everyone from Big Sean to Lil Yachty. Aside from similar logos and fonts, rappers have recently been infatuated with denim and a grungy aesthetic, a staple for many rock stars.

Rappers truly are this generations rock stars. Rap is not for everyone, but neither was rock. Mr. West opens up his mouth a lot. He says a lot of things that are easy to shrug off. Sometimes it takes a few years for us to realize that he was right.

Written by Jesse Wiles

Review of Drake’s fourth studio album “Views”

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We’ve been waiting for this album since 2014. Almost immediately after releasing Nothing Was The Same in late 2013, Drake announced the title to his follow up Views From The 6 and that he was already in the process of working on it. In 2015 we got If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late and that did not disappoint at all. But even after that, everyone was still talking about Views and what it could possibly mean to the hip hop world. Arguably the biggest celebrity at the moment, Drake sets himself up for failure early on in the album by calling it a classic only 4 songs in.

Views is in no way a bad album. It’s just Drake being Drake, which we’ve gotten many times before. He plays it so safe it’s almost sad. Yes, the Toronto artist added some dancehall flare with songs like “One Dance,” “Too Good” & “Controlla.” But that just isn’t enough anymore. Every song sounds too much like past work, lyrically and stylistically. It is almost as though every song could have somehow found it’s way onto one of Drake’s past albums.

Drake’s right hand man Noah “40” Shebib does an amazing job with the majority of the production and mixing/mastering. Drake sings more than ever on the album and his performance is phenomenal. Songs like “Feel No Ways” & “With You” have Drake hitting notes that I’ve never heard him hit before. Drake’s growth has been something amazing to watch over the years and for him to be able to sing like the majority of pop stars today is pretty fascinated considering he made his name rapping with Lil’ Wayne.

In terms of bars, Drake really goes in on “Hype” & “Still Here.” No features just bar after bar after bar. Those two are by far my favorite on the album. “Grammys” featuring Future sounds like it was recorded during the What A Time To Be Alive sessions but it still was a pleasant surprise to hear future body another verse. Overall, I wish Drake would have rapped a bit more but we always have If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late to go back to.

After all said and done, Views is Drake’s safe album. It won’t be remembered like Take Care will be. Yes, it will be in rotation for quite sometime and it will obviously be talked about for months to come. But the real question is what is next for Drake. He can’t keep using the same formula in his music and that is apparent. No one will get bored listening to it but for music heads like myself I just want MORE. Hopefully we get that Drake/Kanye mixtape he hinted at during the Zane Lowe interview. Now that would be something.

What did you guys think? If you haven’t listened to the album yet, you can check it out on Apple Music here. Happy listening!

Written by Erik Lindberg

Smooth Waves: Best of April Playlist

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What a month it’s been. New music from all sorts of people, Mick Jenkins, Lil Yachty, Drake and Action Bronson to name a few. We also got a new album from ASAP Ferg and Drake’s Views From The 6 is coming out in the next 3 days. What a time to be alive. The playlist below has sounds from all the big names of the month and some new names that you might not know. Spanning from Appleby, the mysterious Chicago artist who has yet to show his face, and I’m willing to bet you haven’t heard before, to “All The Way Up” by Fat Joe (yeah that rapper from 2006). Give it a listen below, you won’t be disappointed.

Written by Jesse Wiles

Playlist by Asa Hatten and Jesse Wiles

Kanye West continuing to mix “The Life Of Pablo” is a significant step for all artists, producers and engineers

3056803-poster-p-1-the-life-of-the-life-of-pablo.jpgTired of hearing about Kanye? Well as a music producer myself, I’m not. Yes I’m a fan and yes I might be one of those kids who will sit there and try to defend Kanye to anyone who completely bashes him but so what? From a musical standpoint, what he is doing with his latest album The Life Of Pablo and “Wolves” especially, is amazing.

Yesterday, Kanye updated one of the most talked about songs, before it’s release, on Tidal. He changed quite a bit actually. The original “final mix” consisted of a song structure that went from; Kanye’s auto-tune intro/chorus,  first and only long verse, vocal interlude that slides into Frank Ocean’s outro. Ye dropped both Vic Mensa and Sia’s part from the live performances they did late last year. That is a significant amount of heard content that Kanye excluded.

Kanye West, Vic Mensa & Sia live performing “Wolves”

As an aspiring music producer and audio engineer, the fact that Kanye and only Kanye is in complete control of the final product that is being streamed on Tidal, is so amazing creatively but also a big deal for the music industry and other artists. Yes, Kanye works with a lot of people to put out this final project in the studio, but just the fact that he has the final say on how something sounds and how it is being broadcasted sonically is a huge step forward for any artist. This is something that music hubs like soundcloud and audiomack have been offering for year. But Kanye, a major label artist, is doing this through Tidal, one of three major market streaming services beside Apple Music and Spotify.

For “Wolves 2.0,” Ye adds some more drum layers, adds Vic Mensa and Sia’s part, changes a ton of vocal effects and adds some ad libs on his ending sequence. What else is crazy is that he pushed Frank Ocean’s little vocal ditty to it’s own song. This is so much music to re-engineer, mix, master, edit and manipulate three weeks after the official release.

What this means for artists, producers and engineers is this, why settle for something that you already released to the public if you still believe you could do better. A lot of people that I have worked in music with before have all expressed how musicianship is full of constant changes. Hell, this is half the reason I can’t hardly finish a song because I’m never satisfied with final mixes and song structures. I always want more and more change. If you ever have preformed live in any matter, you’ll know that no performance is the same. You are constantly adjusting almost every small detail in your sound. That is why they say music is a gift that keeps on giving.

By Kanye West continuing to change a major label release such as The Life Of Pablo, it is helping pushing the boundaries of contemporary artistry and musicianship and challenges the idea that the music that he is making is in his complete control and not in the hands of these major labels. Artists, producers and engineers keeping making music, keep updating it and never be satisfied. Because that next edit or change you want to make to a mix could be what ends up getting noticed. Who really knows?

“Wolves” is one hell of a song though no matter how many times Kanye changes it. I hope he continues to mix and changes his stuff. Who really knows what could come next??

Written by Erik Lindberg