Album Review — Kanye West’s ‘Jesus Is King’

What can I say about Kanye West that you haven’t heard from somebody else already? There isn’t, so let’s just cut to the chase: his newest album Jesus Is King. With this new album Kanye goes gospel and has said that he’s done with secular music and he’s not swearing in it either (there is zero cussing in this album). Yeah I’m sure this will stick, just like when he dropped Yhandi like he said he would last year. Nevertheless, let’s roll with it. Jesus Is King opens with “Every Hour,” which prominently features the Sunday Service Choir. It’s a passionate and uplifting performance from the group and while as a standalone song it doesn’t really work, it does work great as an album opener. So Kanye does establish the right mood for a gospel album.

“Selah” is Kanye’s fiery proclamation of being a born-again Christian and him giving himself over to Christ. And this is great for Kanye. But as for the song: it feels like it never really leaves first gear. It has an epic opening with the pounding drums and the Sunday Service Choir singing “hallelujah” in the background. It truly makes the song feel like something big. But nothing big ever really comes. The bars range from decent to mediocre and puzzling (I have no clue what he means when he raps “Everybody wanted Yhandi/Then Jesus Christ did the laundry”). It’s basically a half-finished song, which is a common theme on this album.

This continues on “Follow God.” I love the sampling of “Can You Lose By Following God” by Whole Truth, continuing Kanye’s excellent knack at picking samples. The beat is catchy, as well as Kanye’s flow. But the lyrics go nowhere, as it’s just Kanye rapping about talking with his dad and then really nothing after it. “Closed on Sunday” may be Kanye’s most cringe-inducing track of all-time, as the writing reaches an all-time low for him: “You my Chick-Fil-A/You’re my number one with the lemonade.” This is Luke Bryan-level rapping bad. Not to mention the production is weak and too minimalist. And why is he weirdly shouting out Chick-Fil-A at the end? Any other restaurant and I would say Kanye was being paid to say it, but I don’t think Chick-Fil-A needs any advertising to convince people to eat there. It’s delicious and it sells itself!

“On God” is another short song, but this one actually feels finished. But the lyrics are so contradicting. On one hand, West is rapping about being so thankful for God and then on the other he reiterates being the best artist of all-time, complains about how much he pays in taxes and then tries to justify why he charges so much money for his merchandise (for $150 you too can have a Kanye/Jesus sweater!). In the words of his dad on “Follow God,” that ain’t Christ-like. Hence why so many people like myself are 100% skeptical of the “new Kanye.” Thankfully it finally gets better on “Everything He Needs.” Ty Dolla $ign is smooth as silk on the hook, as he usually is on features. The harmonies of West, Ty and Ant Clemons sound great and give the song an appropriate uplifting feel to a song about being thankful for everything you have. It’s a solid and complete track, which is an accomplishment on this album.

Clemons has another great feature on “Water,” as he sounds better over West’s production than West himself. The same can be said of the choir. But West’s bars are lazy and short and he doesn’t even feel necessary on the song. So you’re left with a good hook, production and an unbaked overall concept. Again. “God Is” is one of the best songs on the album and shows Kanye at his best. It’s a genuinely inspiring gospel song where Kanye brings a lot of passion with his vocals. If he could have brought this level of energy and focus over the entire album, it would have been excellent just like this song. And it once again is a great sampling choice, this time “God Is” by James Cleveland and the Southern California Community Choir.

“Hands On” is a rambling and quite frankly boring song where Kanye has the most basic and monotone flow. And the song goes on and on with Kanye rapping about being judged by Christians and asking for prayers. I’m not really sure Kanye was going with this song, but with what have it goes nowhere. It’s beating a dead horse, but this is what happens when you rush projects.

“Use This Gospel” is another big highlight on the album and that’s a big thanks to the excellent features. First is the reunion of Clipse, as both Pusha T and his brother No Malice kill their verses. It’s great to hear this duo together on a song again, especially No Malice, who left behind music to become a preacher and is the perfect feature for the album. Then Kenny G of all people comes at the end of the song and blows you away with a satisfyingly smooth saxophone solo. Again, when Kanye is focused it’s incredible how he can bring together several different elements and make them sound amazing.

Of course the album doesn’t end on this great note, but instead a mediocre interlude (calling it a song feels insulting) in “Jesus is Lord.” It’s completely pointless, but if you’ve listened to multiple Kanye projects and the rest of this album, you’re not surprised.

Kanye West’s Jesus Is King shows glimpses of being a great album. But ultimately Kanye didn’t spend enough time and focus on it to bring it together. So you’re left with several unfinished songs, ideas and largely great production that is wasted. There are enough good to great songs and moments on the album that make it worth checking out. But there’s also plenty of down moments that balances this album to overall being just bland and okay.

Grade: 5/10

Album Review — Freddie Gibbs & Madlib’s ‘Bandana’

The last time Freddie Gibbs and Madlib teamed up for an album, they delivered a stone-cold classic in Piñata. So expectations were sky high for Bandana and while it’s not quite as great as Piñata, it comes pretty damn close. From front to back this album is full of bangers, bars and beats that constantly leave you coming back for more.

Opening tracks “Obrigado” and “Freestyle Shit” establish the humor and grittiness that you’re accustomed to hearing in a Gibbs album. “Half Manne Half Cocaine” is a bit of a departure from the usual for Gibbs and Madlib with its heavily trap influenced sound, but you wouldn’t know it with Gibbs’ flawless flow over the beat.

“Crime Pays” is more in line from what you expect from the duo and it’s definitely one of the standouts on the album. Everything about this track is smooth and it’s one of many moments on the album that shows how Gibbs just continues to improve both his technical rapping skills and his bars. “Massage Seats” is a fun banger that features some of my favorite bars (“Golden State, the roster, my garage deep” and “Big baller, father, you my son like Lonzo”).

When looking at the track list, “Palmolive” immediately stands out with its A-list features of Pusha T and Killer Mike. And it goes just as hard you expect with these three on a song, with a perfectly nasty sound. But I would be remiss if I didn’t say there are two disappointments with this song: Freddie’s unfortunate anti-vax bar and Killer Mike not getting a verse. Pusha T however absolutely destroys his verse and it continues a year in which he’s delivered some of the best features in hip hop. I also love the stand-up interlude at the end, as it’s classic Gibbs humor.

“Fake Names” goes into the dark and gritty details of Gibbs’ experience of dealing cocaine and the relationships and the greed of the parties involved. While it’s most definitely a banger, Gibbs also does an excellent job displaying his storytelling chops with all of the intricacies the songs covers. It’s Gibbs at this best at what he raps about best. “Flat Tummy Tea” is another fun song and it sounds so much better within the album compared to when it was first released as a standalone single.

“Situations” is my favorite of the album and it’s because of the smooth, yet frenetic delivery from Gibbs and the grimy production from Madlib. Everything just goes together so well on this track and you just get slapped in the face with bars (my favorite being “Motherfuck Jeff Sessions, I’m sellin’ dope with a weapon”). Gibbs comes through with another great interlude on this song too, this time the funny and insightful cussing pastor.

“Giannis” sees Gibbs dropping great bars about everything, from watching Dora the Explorer with his daughter and then getting right back to making dope to calling out rappers getting screwed on 360 deals. Anderson .Paak comes through with a really nice feature and fits over the production well with his delivery. “Practice” is one of the most introspective songs Gibbs has ever done, as it examines how he treats his loved ones and having to change his ways for them. It’s really nice to see and further proof to those who unfairly dismiss him as just a coke bar rapper.

“Cataracts” is an awesome banger and another standout on the album. “I’m chillin’ in my old school, Chevy thang, Cadillac/Smokin’ on that good, good/Good for my cataracts” is one of the best bars on the album, with its catchy wordplay and flawless delivery from Gibbs. “Gat Damn” is one of the more overlooked tracks, but it’s grown on me with more listens and I’m enjoying it more. I think a lot of people will overlook that the song revolves around Gibbs reflecting on his time in jail for being falsely accused of rape and gets more introspective than you realize. It’s also a different flow from a lot of the album and showcases yet another side of Gibbs’ abilities.

“Education” is a song I feel I can’t really do justice because it not only covers so many important topics, but the amount of amazing lyricism from Yasiin Bey, Black Thought and Gibbs is something you just have to hear for yourself. To me this is the type of song you play for people who thumb their nose down on hip hop and say hip hop artists can’t pen serious lyrics like other genres.

The album’s closing song “Soul Right” is Gibbs reflecting on his lifestyle and his choices, and while he realizes he’s made mistakes, he still hopes for forgiveness from God and to get his soul right with him. The dichotomy of the immorality of his actions and the justification of them in the name of injustice and making ends meet is explored throughout the album and so it’s perfect that it ends with him striving for an inner peace after years of grinding to where he’s at now.

Once again Freddie Gibbs and Madlib deliver big, as Bandana is probably not only the best album you’ll hear in hip hop this year, but one of the best albums you’ll hear out of all genres.

Grade: 10/10

Album Review – Run The Jewels’ ‘Run the Jewels 3’

run-the-jewels-3

Run The Jewels is hands down one of the best acts in hip hop music today. I remember coming across the duo pretty much by accident as I saw everyone talking about them and specifically their new album at the time Run the Jewels 2. From the very first listen of that album I was completely hooked to them. Of course I then went back to their first album and loved it too. You won’t find a much better duo in music than Killer Mike and El-P. These two are just a perfect fit for each other’s styles. Both just absolutely attack the music and bring 110% intensity to each second of the song. Not to mention their incorporation of metal, rock and other genres’ influences into their sound really makes them appealing to all music fans. As for the themes they tackle, nothing is off-limits. They can make you laugh (El-P in particular always drops some funny lines), but also offer thoughtful critical commentary that will inspire you to think deeper like on “Early” on RTJ 2. So after the masterpiece that was Run the Jewels 2, I was eager to hear how they would follow it up with Run the Jewels 3. And once again one of the best in hip hop deliver big.

One of the things you notice right away from the opening song “Down” is Run the Jewels 3 has a distinctive sci-fi, futuristic-like influence throughout it. This is combined with the duo’s usually heavy bass anchored sound. That rapid delivery that made me instantly love this duo is really exemplified on “Talk to Me.” The lyrics come at you like a firing machine gun and the deep bass line really gives the song punch. The album’s third single “Legend Has It” really shows off Run The Jewels’ swagger in both their delivery and lyrics. “Call Ticketron” features a really catchy synthetic beat that won’t be leaving you for a while after you hear it. Another excellent artist and rapper in Danny Brown joins RTJ on “Hey Kids (Bumaye)” and instantly became one of my favorites on the album. The contrast in Browns’ unique delivery and the duo’s heavier delivery play off each other well and I definitely wouldn’t complain about these three doing more songs together. The best moment on the album is when Killer Mike and El-P once again tackle police violence and society’s reactions to them with aplomb and intelligence on “Don’t Get Captured” and “Thieves (Screamed the Ghost).” Specifically on the latter the duo imagines all of the victims of police and system brutality rising from the dead and calling out the injustice committed against them. It’s the injustices of this system that not only cause needless deaths they explain, but riots and protests too.

A dystopian, chaotic future is imagined on “2100,” as Run The Jewels warns us that if the hate in the world continues we’ll all pay the ultimate price and that we need to come together to find peace. Run The Jewels drop one of their best beats I’ve ever heard from them on “Panther Like a Panther.” Electric bongo drums are the main instrumentation giving the song an eerily slick sound. One thing that needs pointed out is this album has some noticeable jazz influences in places, most notably on “Thursday in the Danger Room” where jazz musician Kamasi Washington plays saxophone. This song is about the duo both reflecting on deaths of close friends and not being able to ever really accept it, never letting their memory go. Killer Mike and El-P disappoint their mothers with their life choices on “Oh Mama.” The horn line really gives the song great energy. It should also be noted El-P hilariously blurts out, “Notice me, senpai!” The album really closes out with a bang in “A Report to the Shareholders/Kill Your Masters.” The duo takes aim once again at the evils of society, specifically the masters in part two of the song who ruin the lives of everyday people. A special guest also shows up by the end to take the song to an even higher level, but I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t heard it yet.

Run The Jewels delivers to the masses another fantastic record in Run the Jewels 3. I wouldn’t quite put it on the same exact level as Run the Jewels 2, as that album is a future classic in my mind and will be hard to top. But man do they come damn close in equaling it here. I’ll admit I wasn’t completely sold on the whole sci-fi sound at first, but after a couple more listens it really sank in. The production is near flawless and compliments the lyrics perfectly. As always Killer Mike and El-P drop awesome bars that will be sticking with me for a while. It’s really early, but I doubt there will be many hip hop records coming close to equalling or topping Run the Jewels 3 in 2017.

Grade: 9/10

 

Recommend? – Absolutely Yes!

Album Highlights: Thieves! (Screamed the Ghost) [feat. Tunde Adebimpe], Hey Kids (Bumaye) [feat. Danny Brown], A Report to the Shareholders/Kill Your Masters, Panther Like A Panther (Miracle Mix) [feat. Trina], Talk To Me, Legend Has It, 2100 (feat. BOOTS), Thursday in the Danger Room (feat. Kamasi Washington)

Bad Songs: None

Wallpaper: None


As they’ve done with all of their albums, you can download Run The Jewels 3 for free at their official site by clicking here.