Category Archives: Albums

nostalgia, ULTRA. mixtape by Frank Ocean

In light of recent events surrounding hip-hop and R&B artist Frank Ocean, I was inspired to check out his 2011 mixtape, nostalgia, ULTRA.  A member of the alternative rap collective Odd Future, Frank Ocean possesses a nice voice that adds some tenderness and emotion to the otherwise hard, gritty stylings of Odd Future (this being said–I haven’t listened to much of their music).  Having heard Tyler the Creator and witnessing his music video for “Yonkers,” I decided I am hesitant (and terrified) to listen further.  Outside of Odd Future, Frank Ocean made a few appearances on Jay-Z and Kanye’s “Watch the Throne,” adding some great choral melodies on his tracks.  Ocean recently posted an open letter on Tumblr describing his first life-changing love, which happened to be with another man.  Many wonder how this will impact the climate of the often regarded homophobic nature of the hip-hop community.  In any case, Frank Ocean’s debut studio album was recently released early on iTunes and I wanted to get a gauge by which to compare his new material (some context outside of his recent “coming out.”)

Overall, I was very impressed with ‘nostalgia, ULTRA.’  The record feels like more than a mixtape, from the production value to the quality of the lyrics and melodies.  I think that Frank Ocean’s real strength lies in his storytelling ability.  I absolutely love his spin on ‘Strawberry Swing,’ primarily for the story and the message of the song.  Taking music from alternative music giants like Coldplay and MGMT shows his appreciation for and understanding of various genres.  For this reason I was reminded of Kid Cudi or B.o.B, paired with the delivery style of a more soulful Drake.

For the most part ‘nostalgia, ULTRA.’ is a cohesive, complete experience.  I feel that one or two of the tracks were noticeably less strong than the rest (i.e. ‘Songs For Women’).  Less strong, however, does not mean these songs aren’t worth listening to or filler for the album.  My biggest gripe with the mixtape are the brief intermission tracks named for various old-school video games.  They do not really add anything to the record, and I don’t really understand their significance.

When it comes down to it, this is a catchy and well-constructed mixtape that proves Frank Ocean is a talented artist.  I think that his coming out as a bisexual or homosexual man was a positive, brave move (especially in the world of hip-hop), and I think bringing this to the public’s attention will attract new fans and bring support to the release of ‘channel ORANGE.’  I am going to wrap up this post with the most meaningful track off his new album: ‘Bad Religion.’

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My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West

Let me start off by saying that I am not a fan of Kanye West as a person. Though I have never met him, he presents himself as an arrogant, selfish, egotistical jerk (insert additional profanities here: i.e. douche, jackass, etc.). It’s much the same with one of my all-time favorite artists, John Mayer. Is John Mayer an unbelievably gifted guitarist (perhaps the greatest of our generation) and singer? Definitely. Did he make a comment about his dick having racist tendencies (likening it to a KKK member)? Unfortunately, he did..

While it can be hard to separate the artist from the person, talent is talent. John Mayer is a guitar god and Kanye West is a hip-hop hero, and I consider them both geniuses in their respective genres. Kanye West is without exception my favorite rapper of the current day and age, and this is why:

  1. He is honest, intelligent, and a lyrical mastermind.
  2. He is a very talented producer, shown in the quality of his albums.
  3. He has played a huge role in redefining the hip-hop genre, as becomes clear after listening to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

I have loved each of Kanye’s hip-hop releases (808’s and Heartbreak, in my opinion, was more R&B or Pop). College Dropout was an honest, brilliant record. Late Registration and Graduation started exploring more refined production with the expanded influence of various genres (featured artists such as Adam Levine, Chris Martin, and John Mayer). My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is the culmination of Kanye West’s creative power.

The very first time I heard this record through, I was absolutely blown away. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is made up of huge beats, huge names, and huge quality. Tracks are beautifully composed, and a multitude of instruments add substance to some very memorable tracks. From the strings and horns in ‘All of the Lights’ to the piano in ‘Blame Game,’ Kanye shows an affinity for various genres of music. I absolutely love that Kanye brought in artists like Kid Cudi, John Legend, Rick Ross, Big Sean (slays on bonus track ‘See Me Now’–see below), and Bon Iver.

My only criticism: I can’t say this album features Kanye at his absolute best lyrically (don’t get me wrong, he is still really good). One thing is for sure… The product as a whole is remarkable!

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Gorilla Manor by Local Natives

“And the award for creepiest mustache in a band goes to… The lead singer of Local Natives!”

Okay, that was uncalled for… My apologies. The truth is, Taylor Rice and Local Natives are an unbelievably talented group of musicians that composed a stellar debut album in Gorilla Manor. The band itself has drawn a number of comparisons and when I listen I do hear many similarities to bands like Vampire Weekend and Band of Horses. But is this necessarily a bad thing? Not at all. I love these types of bands that have command of a unique sound in the world of indie music.

Gorilla Manor is strong from start to finish. The tracks have a great deal of depth, with strong, meaningful lyrics and really impressive instrumentation. The result is songs like ‘Wide Eyes,’ which has spiritual/religious undertones combined with a rhythmic percussive beat, beautiful harmonies, and magnificent instrumental solos.  ‘Airplanes’ is an emotionally driven tune focused on the loss of a loved one. Each and every track brings something special to the table, making for an enjoyable listening experience. Some of my favorites include the aforementioned tracks, ‘Shape Shifter,’ ‘Sun Hands,’ and ‘Who Knows Who Cares.’

The song from the video below is not from the album (it’s a Simon and Garfunkel cover), but it’s just so badass that I couldn’t resist sharing. I have NEVER seen anyone play the tree so vehemently!

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EPIC: Every Play Is Crucial by B.o.B

I didn’t realize how expansive the world of hip-hop was until I discovered DatPiff.com a few days ago. The sheer number of artists releasing free material to get exposure is huge, which opens up a world of possibilities for music lovers like myself. The first mixtape that caught my eye was the new B.o.B release, EPIC: Every Play Is Crucial.

I love B.o.B and consider his style a new breed of hip-hop. He’s a young, intelligent guy with an appreciation for many genres of music, and this shines through in his work. His albums and mixtapes are heavily influenced by the parallel worlds of rock, pop, alternative, R&B, and hip-hop. I like to think of B.o.B as a cross between Outkast, Kid Cudi, and Kanye West. He has the swagger of an Atlanta rapper, the open-mindedness of a Kid Cudi, and the clever and humorous lyricism of a Kanye. Regardless of his influences, B.o.B is a talented artist all his own.

I’ve probably listened through Every Play Is Crucial five times or so, and I really like what I hear. While a few of the tracks aren’t on par with most of the others (Welcome To The Jungle and Boom Bap featuring T.I. & Mos Def) in terms of beats, production, and sampling, this does not in any way impact the overall flow of the album. The quality of the tracks is really impressive. A majority of the songs feature a guest producer or artist, including Eminem, Ryan Tedder, Jim Jonsin, and Lil C. With all of these big names involved in the mix, the EPIC vibe of this tape is undeniable.

Fans of B.o.B and quality hip-hop should definitely check out this mixtape!

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Camp by Childish Gambino

Alright, so the verdict is in, and Childish Gambino is officially the shit! After listening through his first commercial release Camp (November 15) a few times, I’m absolutely hooked. His talent is undeniable. As a rapper, there are few out there that can compete with his brand of clever lyricism (in my opinion, Gambino is nearly at Kanye’s level). When a hip hop album can sustain my attention solely through the magic of its words, I consider that a special record. ‘Camp’ definitely does that for me. Several of the songs on this album are Glover sharing his experiences from childhood, and the honesty is refreshing. The content definitely reminds me of Kanye West’s early work (à la ‘College Dropout’ or ‘Late Registration’), before his ego exploded.

The composition of the music and beats is wonderful. Songs were produced by Glover himself and Ludwig Gorannson, a Swedish composer. Some of the songs stick to club beats, whereas others use a variety of instruments such as (but not limited to) guitar, violin, piano, and xylophone. Gambino’s voice as an R&B singer is impressive. The fact that he can carry the verses as a rapper and the choruses as a singer is proof of his versatility.

Donald Glover is a triple threat. He can act, do stand-up, and put together a very solid hip-hop album. Two of the songs from my previous post on Childish Gambino are also off of ‘Camp.’ Enjoy!

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Take This to Your Grave by Fall Out Boy

For a long time, music has played a huge role in my life. Not that I possess the knowledge or know-how to dive into the specifics or technical aspects of the songs that I hear. I do, however, feel that I have a pretty good ear and can readily identify music of value or substance. I can clearly recall the first time I heard ‘Chicago Is So Two Years Ago’ by Fall Out Boy. I was playing with some friends at a local tennis court when I started listening to one of their mp3 players. Everything about the song immediately hit me: the melody, the strong punk rock instrumentation, and the vivid lyrics. I went home, researched the band, and ended up finding an album that I still consider to be my favorite of all time.

Have I found more talented artists or better constructed albums since? Without a doubt, I have. Be that as it may, this does not seem to change the fact that Take This to Your Grave can still stir something within me that very few (if any) albums can. Perhaps it will forever be associated with nostalgic days of happiness, when I was able to enjoy life as a teenager with little responsibility and an unbound passion for discovering new musical artists. Whatever the reason, this album will always hold a special place in my heart.

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