Sparky drops his latest album review for ‘Combine Culture’…
There was much apprehension before reviewing “A Long Red Hot Los Angeles Summer Night’ concept albums can be tricky. Sometimes the artist and or artists get too wrapped up in the story and the music can become bloated and unlistenable. The other end of the spectrum is that they create a story and world that feels lived in and that the album feels like a living breathing thing. Well with “A Long Red Hot Los Angeles Summer Night” it definitely feels vibrant and alive.
When listening to “A Long Red Hot Los Angeles Summer Night” the level of storytelling is front and center. Right from the start “The Lost Angels Anthem” drops you right into the setting and vividly describes the atmosphere without feeling hokey. The album then continues to build as you listen to Blu describe how he is getting ready to go out while his friends are all hyping each other up for the night’s festivities. Then later on in the album, things go from bad to worse as the story gets fleshed out. I won’t spoil the story even if it isn’t difficult to follow along. The nice thing is that even though “A Long Red Hot Los Angeles Summer Night” had quite a few features because there are multiple characters in the story, the album didn’t feel bogged down or choppy more like that it felt like actors in a drama. All of the lyrists on the album really give tons of effort and it shows as none of it felt tacked on or unnecessary. Overall the lyrics are phenomenal and makes the listener see and feel what the characters are going through.
Oh No produces every track on the album and the beats are stellar but also give the performers plenty of room to shine. Many tracks on “A Long Red Hot Los Angeles Summer Night’ have a subtle 70’s vibe with songs like “Make The Call” and “Fresh Out” with different horn loops that really bring out the mood to the track. While to change the feeling throughout the story the tempos change subtlely and the instrumentation changes from woodwinds to synth loops. The track “Pop Shots” even feels like a gangsta rap “West Side Story” and it feels energetic and not corny which is a skill all by itself. On top of all of that the song “Murder Case” evokes the legendary Snoop Dogg song “Murder Was The Case” without feeling like it was ripped off but instead paid homage to the classic song with a new but familiar quality. It is obvious when listening to”A Long Red Hot Los Angeles Summer Night” that enthusiasm and care were taken with the entire project and the listener is the benefactor.
Overall “A Long Red Hot Los Angeles Summer Night” isn’t a perfect album with some of the hooks feeling forced and some outros to songs feeling slightly too long but largely it’s fantastic. For the minor faults that the album does have, it is made up for with artistry and storytelling. This is one of those albums where you are not just happy to review it but you feel lucky to have heard it.
The Combine’s ‘Sparky’ comes away from “2009” feeling empty…
When listening to “2009” by Wiz Khalifa and Curren$y you by nature want to have a nostalgic trip back to the first time the two artists got together to make “How Fly” back in 2009. That or at least hear some good tracks that may sound decent but make you want to go back and listen to their older stuff because the new stuff is okay. Well, the problem with “2009” is that it almost makes you wonder what you liked about them in the first place.
Let’s start with the rhymes. For the most part, the lyrics are mostly forgettable. Both emcees have the right flow patterns and enthusiasm that is needed. Wiz Khalifa and Curren$y both show that they are capable of making decent tracks that fit the beats that they are rapping over. The real problem is that the lyrics are largely unmemorable. When lyrics are really bad or really good they make you feel something. When a rapper is at their best they either have tremendous lines that wow the listener with their wit and creativity. Or the other way an emcee can be successful is to make you feel what they are feeling or seeing and transport you to their space. In this way, “2009” fails spectacularly.
The production in many ways mimics the problems with lyrics. When listening to the instrumentals they are well made with slick production with additional loops woven throughout that are made properly but leave you wanting more. The producers do a very good job of creating beats that feel like the music from when Wiz Khalifa was growing up and Curren$y was just starting out but feel like a sad imitation and not a homage. The beats range from late 80’s early 90’s slow jams to late 90’s West Coast hip-hop. Many of the tracks like “10 Piece” and “First Or Last” feel like they came right out of an early “Bad Boy” album and at the end of the songs you are still surprised you didn’t hear a Puff Daddy feature. While for many that listen to “2009” this is great and nostalgic for anyone that grew in this era of music you feel that the beats are worn and tired.
Listening to “2009” will probably have you with a very empty feeling. Wiz Khalifa and Curren$y give a solid effort but it almost seems like both artists made “2009” not to scratch a creative itch or even wax nostalgically with an old friend but just to almost shut people up when they asked if they would make a follow-up to their successful project “How Fly”. Reviewing “2009” gave me a sense of nostalgia but in a much different way. I felt like I was eating a McRib it tasted okay but not awful and left me mildly disappointed that I was so excited for it in the first place.
Sparky dives into the latest Czarface outing for The Combine
When “Czarface Meets Ghostface” was announced at the end of 2018 many underground hip-hop fans were eagerly anticipating this album by the group Czarface. Czarface is the trio made up of emcees Inspectah Deck, Esoteric and producer 7L. With the project “Crazface Meets Ghostface” fans of the group Wu-Tang Clan fans get two members of Wu-Tang Clan on top of the fun references to comic books and other things that many would consider geeky in nature that Czarface normal does. Well “Czarface Meets Ghostface” doesn’t disappoint the fans.
The lyrics in “Czarface Meets Ghostface” give the fans what they want. The lyrics are jammed packed with pop culture references that range from deep comic book cuts all the way to news organizations and all points in between. Fans of intricate lyrics that love to pour over them to find hidden easter eggs should listen to “Czarface Meets Ghostface” with the genius.com page already up. When think you heard a crazy one-liner with a great allusion to an obscure pop culture reference only to realize you missed three others in the process. I was even pleasantly surprised that Ghostface Killah didn’t use any Iron-Man mentions as in previous works he has referred to himself as Tony Starks and Iron-Man on numerous occasions. This not just lets the hardcore listener know that everyone involved had taken great care into crafting the lyrics but that the artist didn’t want to use the easy low hanging fruit that was available to them.
The production of “Czarface Meets Ghostface” gives listeners to previous Czarface albums much of what they expected. The album starts off with a fake wrestling promo by a Macho Man impersonation to give listeners the feeling right off the bat that “Czarface Meets Ghostface” is definitely not your standard rap album but instead something that everyone making the album wanted to do. The rest of the album is filled with a blend of simplistic but hard pounding beats with instrumental loops that further enhance the Saturday morning superhero cartoon/ sci-fi elements. This not just give the listener a sense of where they are in the artists’ minds but gives the rappers plenty of room to spread their wingers without being drowned out by the musical accompaniment.
The record “Czarface Meets Ghostface” isn’t for everyone though. If you care more about trap beats that sound amazing as you cruise around or if you are looking for club bangers that will get the party bumping this album isn’t for you. If you are looking for a hip-hop album that has tremendous wordplay that constantly will keep you on your toes give this a listen. Younger fans, unfortunately, may not get as much as older fans of hip-hop will, as many of the references that are used have a 35 and older feel. Rap fans that are old enough to remember the 90’s east coast rap scene will be pouring over the lyrics with not just a fond smile but with a sense of wonder.
The album “Sincerely, The P” by People Under The Stairs does exactly what it intended and give themselves a proper send-off into retirement. The group announced before the release of the album that this will be their last and when you listen to “Sincerely, P” that feeling really resonates through the entire record. The group started in 1996 and they take the listener to on a trip down memory lane and gives the world a very fond and thankful farewell.
The two-man group People Under The Stairs consists of Thes One (Christopher Portugal) and Double K (Michael Turner) that MC and produce the entire album. The lyrics on the album let people in on where the group has been during their career but also lets the listener in on who they are as people. Tracks like “The Redeemer” and “Here, for a Good Time” among others give a feeling of nostalgia that gives the audience a sense of peace, knowing that the group is retiring and in a good place. Overall the lyrics are a wonderful balance of good-bye and braggadocios about how prolific People Under The Stairs think they are at the craft of making music. When realizing that the group grew up in the Los Angeles hip-hop scene in the early to mid-’90s where acts like The Pharcyde and Jurassic-5 came up the lyrical flow and subject matter make even more sense.
The production of the “Sincerely, P” evokes an even bigger sense of nostalgia when listening to it. People Under The Stairs embrace a backpack style production that thrives on loops and record scratching that is at the heart of early days of hip-hop. The track “Hard” feels like a homage to Eric B and Rakim and gives the audience sentimentality towards not just the art form but the artists’ own lives and careers. Even the loop samples have this pervasive feeling throughout the album as the songs like “Reach Out” samples Andre 3000’s vocal hook from “Ms. Jackson” to the theme from the show “Family Ties” on the song that shares its name. The only real problem with the production of the album, in general, is that too many songs end with extended instrumentals that go on too long. This isn’t to say that the musical production is bad quite the opposite but when in excess of ten minutes of the 56-minute album is instrumental fade out it does get tiresome.
Lovers of “old-school” hip-hop will thoroughly enjoy this record and should definitely give People Under The Stairs a deep dive since “Sincerely, The P” is a wonderful introduction to the group to people that never heard of the group. That is what makes the album kinda genius as long-time fans will feel the group’s good-bye and know that they are in a good place but new listeners get a snapshot of who they are and what they are about. The gift and the curse of being an underground group are that they never had anyone watch over them. People Under The Stairs convey the message of who they are brilliantly but they just need an editor.
Sparky dives into Future’s new album for The Combine
The new Future album “Future Hndrxx Presents: The WIZRD” or as I will shorten for the rest of the review “The Wizrd” is a very mixed bag. “The Wizrd” is also the twelfth album or mixtape that Future has put out since 2012 and that does include Future’s collaborative efforts. This record definitely has some highs and some lows but when an artist chooses to produce this much material in such a short span of time there will be some hits and misses.
The lyrics on “The Wizrd” are not the most interesting part of this album. For the most part, Future’s topics are wealth, material possessions, crime and having less than healthy relationships with female partners. That’s fine but with the album having twenty tracks and running at over an hour the record sometimes becomes taxing to listen to in its entirety. There is also some guest appearances on “The Wizrd” as well with Gunna & Young Thug on the track “Unicorn Purp”. Also, Travis Scott is featured on the track “First Off”. The features do very little to enhance the tracks that they are on as the artists feel uninspired. It feels more like they are there to just kinda help out a little similar to that friend that helps you move but only carries the light boxes.
The delivery of the lyrics on “The Wizrd” is better than it has been in the past for Future where he is more decipherable than normal but still mumbles more often than not. This creates a listening experience where instead of trying to discover interesting wordplay and expressive language you are reading lyrics just to make heads or tails of what is being said. That’s fine for some but personally, it leads to a less than enjoyable experience. Also on “The Wizrd” Future uses less autotune than normal but at times when it is used the effects that are added to the vocals make the lyrics even less intelligible.
The production on “The Wizrd” is the more interesting part. Most trap records have oversimplified beats that lack many nuances but here that isn’t the case. Many of the tracks layer the percussion to interesting places where the loops seem to cascade into one another and make the listening experience richer than standard trap music. Also, the tempos can sometimes change very abruptly during a song that not just flows with the lyrics but makes them feel more vibrant like in the track “F & N”. Besides the tempo changes, there are times on “The Wizrd” where the beat completely drops off and lets Future shine or adds spacey ambient parts to the beats as well to enhance songs which added a nice variety to the production as well.
For fans of Future or trap music, in general, “The Wizrd” isn’t a bad record and probably sounds great in a car as well. If you don’t enjoy “mumble rap” run from this record as the lyrical delivery will become extremely tiresome. I personally don’t have a strong feeling either way for this album but I could see myself if Future ever released just an instrumental version of this album adding some of the tracks to my writing playlist but that rarely happens for trap albums so I doubt I will voluntarily listen to any of the tracks off of “The Wizrd” ever again.
In the newest edition of Combine Culture, Sparky reviews “Malibu Ken” by Malibu Ken
Malibu Ken is a collaboration of rapper Aesop Rock and producer TOBACCO. Aesop Rock isn’t a name that many are familiar with. Aesop Rock is a hip-hop MC with incredible use of wordplay along with his tremendous vocabulary and figurative language in his verses has garnered him a very strong and faithful fanbase. TOBACCO is an electronic musician is mostly known from his work with the rock band Black Moth Super Rainbow. With this collaboration, both musicians perfectly blend their strengths to create a very unique listening experience.
When the album first starts you know that “Malibu Ken” is not your standard fare when it comes to hip-hop. From the first track “Corn Maze” TOBACCO’s use of layered analog synth beats with additional melody overcomes you then you are floored by waves of crazy lyricism. Aesop Rock just effortlessly flows over the beat and gives the listener so much to dissect that you want to listen with the lyrics to not just keep up but also unpack everything he says. In fact, every track is like that where you just feel like line after line not just flows to the next so easily but also packs so much into his rhymes them that you’re left wondering how he does it.
Besides the skill that Aesop Rock exudes on “Malibu Ken” it is also his soul as well with many of the tracks. On tracks like “Tuesday” he digs deep into his life and how disgusted he feels with himself and how the world perceives him. Other songs like “Dog Years” and “1+1=13” further divulge his mental state and how he grew up. But not every song on “Malibu Ken” is so deep and introspective with the song “Churro” having very funny and slightly tragic undertones that with a little digging may upset some but also displays a wonderful storytelling skill that is impressive to listen to.
The production on “Malibu Ken” is very unique. With more and more musicians using modern technology to make music, it is surprising to hear older instruments used in the making of hip-hop. TOBACCO uses analog synthesizers to creates layered dream-like beats in some tracks and very diminutive simple beats on other tracks. Both Aesop Rock and TOBACCO feel like they share a singular mind as the lyrics and instrumentals rarely compete with one another but instead just enhance each other to glorious effects. The only gripe I have with the music production is that it fades for too long at the end of some songs and it feels like the album as whole loses momentum at times.
To fully encapsulate “Malibu Ken” for potential listeners it is great to not just show the musical heights that hip-hop can achieve but also show the skill these musicians can possess. If you want just your standard rap album with the same subject matter as normal you will definitely want to avoid “Malibu Ken” as it stretches the normal boundaries of writing and musicianship in hip-hop. If you want to see what the art form of hip-hop can be by two artists that wanted to craft something that is truly special, please give this a listen.
In the newest edition of Combine Culture, Sparky reviews “Bawskee 2” by Comethazine
In case you the reader didn’t know not all trap music is the same and the album “Bawksee 2” by Comethazine proves that beyond a shadow of a doubt. Trap music can be one of the most energetic forms of rap and if done right can not only be awesome to listen to in your car but also really allow a lyricist to show off their skills due to less intricate production. This what brings me to “Bawksee 2” it isn’t just simple in production but also doesn’t seem very inspired.
On “Bawksee 2” Comethazine lyrical content is not very creative and many times feels lazy and tired. It is normal for many rappers to use crime, drugs, violence, and sex as regular topics of songs but usually, it is either to detail the situation that the artist comes from but then go further into their psyche and lets the audience know how it shaped them or how they are still being affected by these themes. Well, Comethazine just lets the listener know what atrocities he is doing without any further context. Many times during the album it seems both contrived and forced and most of the time. It is almost like Comethazine is trying to pander to the audience and not reach them. Throughout “Bawksee 2″ he just matters of factly tells you about the acts he is going to commit and doesn’t make you feel his story or struggle.
The production on Bawksee 2” is what it is. It is a trap album and while the production is very simple and it is mostly percussion loops that are enhanced by different instrument loops. If this is how we are grading the production of “Bawksee 2” it is passable as the production is clean throughout the entirety of the album and has the definite feel of a trap record. Songs feel foreboding and very grim but the beat still lets Comethazine have priority instead of the music. The problem with the instrumentals is that they aren’t progressing musically at all and it feels like it was made a decade ago.
When listening to “Bawksee 2” I was kept wanting more either musically or lyrically and never got it. Both instrumentals and lyrics seem like both the producers and Comethazine just got in and got out of the studio and weren’t motivated at all and just wanted to release an album to further the notoriety of Comethazine, since the album came out when not much else was released at this time. If you enjoy trap hip-hop I would either recommend going back to the classics or even some albums from just last year. If you are looking to get into this subgenre of hip-hop I wouldn’t start with “Bawksee 2” and if you enjoy trap I would just listen to the stuff you already have and avoid this record like the plague.