Album Review — Conway the Machine’s ‘From King To A GOD’

While it feels like most of hip hop is going pop, the Griselda group is perfectly content doing what they do best and that’s delivering some of the grimiest beats and hardest hitting bars in the game. While all three of Benny The Butcher, Westside Gunn and Conway the Machine all bring something great to the table, it feels like Conway in particular has had a rapidly rising 2020. All of his features have been standouts and he delivered a really solid project in LULU with The Alchemist (I haven’t even got a chance to listen to No One Mourns the Wicked yet). So now he’s released what he’s dubbing his debut album in From King to a GOD and it’s without a doubt a fantastic debut from an artist who is quickly establishing himself as one of the best lyricists in hip hop.

The voice of zen writer and speaker Alan Watts greets you on opener “From King,” which is definitely a nice surprise. Conway then does his thing and that’s drop hard hitting bars that set the tone for the album well. And the song ends with a sample of a Kevin Nash promo/Tony Schiavone commentary in WCW because it’s a Griselda album of course. It’s a great opener because I’ll remember it and it makes me want to hear more. Next is “Fear of God,” where Conway has a great, smooth flow and the DeJ Loaf feature fits the song’s attitude, capping off the song with a nice touch.

I really enjoy the griminess of “Lemon,” although the hook is a bit weak. But the bars hit hard, Conway’s delivery is emphatically great and Method Man absolutely kills his verse. His weathered, deep voice matches perfectly with the dark beats. Any other album and this should be easily the best feature, but this album is loaded with amazing guest features. “Dough & Damani” is produced by The Alchemist and of course it’s smooth as hell. Conway and The Alchemist have such great chemistry. Conway also features his more humorous side on this song, which is enjoyable. I particularly enjoy the short kit around two guys arguing over who gets to hold the gun.

“Juvenile Hell” is not only my favorite song on the album, but maybe my favorite song I’ve ever heard from Conway. First the beat on this is absolutely filthy and does 90s boom bap absolutely proud. Then you have the features from Flee Lord, Havoc and Lloyd Banks. Each one of them bring absolute fire, but Banks steals the show with his appearance. His flow over the beat is absolutely flawless and the wordplay is brilliant. The line I really enjoy is “I’m on my rivals, embarrass ‘em with my calm bravado/My alma mater of smackin’ a n**** horizontal.”

Next is the first “Words of Shay” interlude and it’s cool to hear these words from Conway’s close friend DJ Shay, who is unfortunately revealed to be dead later in the album on Conway’s tribute to him on “Forever Droppin Tears.” And I should point out that the title is not just an expression of Conway’s sadness over the passing of his friend, but also a reference to Shay talking about in the interludes how Conway cries when recording songs. So it doubles as Conway’s showing of passion. The song itself is an absolutely beautiful tribute with lots of heartfelt lyrics and great storytelling of the relationship between Shay and Conway. It’s all set over a bouncy and classy beat from Hit-Boy and El Camino adds a lot with his feature. But I will say I don’t think the third interlude was really necessary, as I think the tribute was good as is with just two interludes. Still it doesn’t take away much from one of the highlights of this album.

“Front Lines” is Conway’s take on the civil unrest and Black Lives Matter movement that took place this past summer and the systemic racism that has been taking place for years. Conway does a fantastic job laying out all the issues and once again his storytelling lyricism really shines, particularly when he’s describing how routine police stops quickly turn to violence for many black Americans. The song ends with a clip of a news report of when protesters broke into the Minnesota police precinct this past summer and this definitely fits the song, but I feel it goes a bit too long and smaller clip would have been more effective.

“Anza” is the weakest song of the album, as it’s pop-ish flavor is such a stark contrast to the rest of the record’s sound and sticks out like a sore thumb. It just doesn’t fit and while Armani Caesar is a great MC, her feature is a bit boring. All around this song just doesn’t work within this album. “Seen Everything But Jesus” gets back on the right track though and grows on me more and more with each listen. Conway is joined by Freddie Gibbs and as always Gibbs delivers. A nice surprise we get from Gibbs though is some singing in addition to his always hard-hitting bars. While he seemed to always be joking when doing this earlier in his career, his singing is actually pretty good and I wouldn’t mind hearing him take on some R&B songs. Even his more humorous singing moments are fun (see “FLFM” off Freddie).

“Spurs 3” is the traditional Griselda joint on all Griselda albums and like a Gibbs feature, you can always count on this to be great. The dark and eccentric beat is lively and engaging, with each of Conway, Westside Gunn and Benny The Butcher flowing well over it. Although I am a bit surprised that Benny is weakest sounding on this track, as usually he’s the best technical rapper of the trio (Gunn is more about flash and Conway is the sharp lyricist). Nonetheless it’s a solid track.

“Jesus Khrysis” has a spacey, throwback beat that draws on boom bap again, something this album really does a great job with and it’s one of my favorite beats of the album. What makes it even better is the lyricism is top notch, with Conway delivering excellent verses like “N***** try blockin’ my goals, I’ma make it Messi” and “That’s the zone I’m in, I write with a golden pen/But lately, I ain’t even been writin’, I just been goin’ in.” Not only is the later a great bar, but also a possible glimpse into Conway’s approach to writing because apparently him and Benny both go into the studio and record without any lyrics written down. They do it all from the top of their head, which if true, makes the songwriting even more impressive.

“Nothin’ Less” is another banger that closes the album out strong. It has a surprise feature from DJ Premier, who fits yet another amazing boom bap inspired song. And some people may find the reliance on boom bap influences on this album to be lazy, but I completely disagree when so much of hip hop nowadays is filled with generic, pop radio chasing beats and trying so hard to sound like a Drake song. So I find throwback beats like this be quite refreshing because it pays homage to the roots of the genre and the producers on this album also bring a modern flavor to it, avoiding sounding dated too. And of course it helps to have a great lyricist like Conway to rap over it, as a lot of rappers would get eaten up by the sound.

From King to a GOD is a fantastic proper debut album from Conway The Machine, as he brings his signature sound and high quality lyricism that longtime fans have come to appreciate him for while also bringing a level of accessibility in the music that will surely attract new fans too.

Grade: 9/10

Country Perspective’s Top Ten Albums Mid-Way Through 2020

2020 has been a tumultuous and crazy year around the world. But throughout all the madness of this year, I’ve found this year in albums to be pretty damn amazing in terms of quality. In fact it’s already surpassed the last couple of years and 2020 is easily on pace to be at the fantastic levels of 2014-2016, which saw some of my absolute favorite albums of the 2010s released. By year’s end some really good albums won’t even crack the top ten that would easily make it in average years. From your usual suspects and new contenders to surprise releases and comebacks, my best albums of 2020 list has a little bit of everything in terms of sound and artists. So without further ado, here are Country Perspective’s Top Ten Best Albums of 2020 so far (in no particular order)…

(Click on the titles to read the full review)

Dua Lipa — Future Nostalgia

Dua Lipa delivers an absolutely fantastic album in Future Nostalgia. It has the elements I want to hear in a pop album and it comes oh so close to be an album of the year contender. Despite one slip-up, this album delivers everything else perfectly. It encapsulates disco, electro pop and dance music with the kind of aplomb and grace I would expect out of Carly Rae Jepsen, while at the same time delivering incredibly infectious hooks and vocal performances that will stick with you long after listening. This is one of the best pop albums you’ll hear in 2020.

John Moreland — LP5

LP5 is another fantastic album from John Moreland. He’s always been a great songwriter since his first album, but it’s the recognition to grow and experiment with his sound starting with his last album that’s taken him to a whole new level in my mind. Too many singer-songwriter artists think they have to stick to a stripped-down, folk-y sound for their lyrics to be taken seriously. At the same time, drum machines are dismissed as “not real instruments” used by pop stars. Well with LP5, Moreland proves both these claims to be moot.

Khruangbin — Mordechai 

While I wouldn’t put it at the level of their great, southwestern-flavored 2018 album Con Todo El Mundo, this album is another pretty damn good record from the trio. This album centers mostly around a groovy, psychedelic funk sound with tinges of disco and jam pop mixed in at times. The band also surprises by mixing in some vocals on this record and they actually work pretty well. Most importantly they don’t detract from the hypnotic sounds of the band, which will always be the focus and strength of the group. If I had to pick my favorites they would be “Time (You and I)”, “Father Bird, Mother Bird” and album closer “Shida.” The latter is probably the top song for me, as the bass line is simply flawless. And if you’re looking for a relaxing album, you will be hard-pressed to find one more chill than this one in 2020.

Ashley McBryde — Never Will

Ashley McBryde delivers exactly what I had hoped for and then beyond with Never Will. She leans heavily into her natural heartland rock sound and combines it with traditional country to create an album I will remember for a long time. The songwriting is brilliant and varied, running the gauntlet of emotions and most importantly I think Ashley McBryde delivers a flawless presentation of flawed characters. They’re never framed as likable, but real and as they are, which can be hard to get behind as a listener. But just like Sturgill Simpson’s SOUND & FURY, it can be understandable to not want to listen to music about such real and flawed characters, songs where there are no heroes even. For me though this is the music that is truly intriguing and has a lasting impact.

Tennis — Swimmer

With Swimmer, Tennis delivers an excellent album about love. It’s quickly became one of my favorite love albums. And this isn’t rash hyperbole on my end. I’m being serious when I say that this album truly delivers a heartfelt, genuine and truly touching take on true love. Love albums and love song are an absolute dime-a-dozen. They’re churned out every day. Most only focus on the surface level of love and the flip-side with heartbreak. What they don’t ever seem to focus on are the little things, the nitty gritty of relationships that aren’t easy to convey in an informative and interesting way. But that takes brilliant songwriting with equally high-quality production that aids it. Tennis delivers this.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit — Reunions 

While I wouldn’t put this amongst the very best of Jason Isbell’s work, it’s yet another fantastic album from the singer-songwriter and his talented band. Reunions more than anything is a testament to Isbell’s relentless pursuit of his craft and how he constantly pushes himself to do better than he’s done before (which is quite difficult considering how high he sets the bar). Of course as always there are lots of sad songs too. But it’s hard to argue anyone writes sad songs better than Isbell. Every generation has their own Dylan and Lennon. I feel it’s safe to say Isbell is that level of songwriter for this generation.

Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats — UNLOCKED

The songs themselves don’t have any big messages and are essentially bangers that focus on delivering fun bars. So many hip-hop albums are like this today and many are largely forgotten because the delivery just flat-out sucks. But Curry brings so much aggressive passion and rawness in his voice, along with his choice of diction in his delivery makes what would be an average banger into something that’s truly memorable. And this big reason is why UNLOCKED is the first great hip-hop album I’ve heard in 2020. While it doesn’t quite reach the heights of ZUU (an album I’m ashamed I omitted from my best of 2019 list), this is yet another high-quality project from Denzel Curry (and another great one from Kenny Beats too).

Carly Rae Jepsen — Dedicated Side B

Dedicated Side B is yet another pop masterpiece from Carly Rae Jepsen. I can’t believe how she just continues to blow me away with fantastic project after fantastic project. Jepsen won Country Perspective’s 2019 Album of the Year with Dedicated and she’s putting herself in the unprecedented position to win it again in 2020 to make it back-to-back. It’s simply incredible. And oh yeah she still has another album on the way.

The Weeknd — After Hours

After Hours is a phenomenal achievement by The Weeknd. This album is a rich, cinematic experience of love, losing it, fighting to regain it and ultimately reaching the realistic conclusion of realizing that it’s lost. The production team absolutely nails every emotion on this album and takes the lyricism to a whole new level. The juxtaposition of the breezy, mixed cocktail of genres (R&B, pop, hip-hop, dream pop, 80s) feels perfect on this album of frenetic, dark emotions that permeate throughout it. This is without a doubt an album of the year contender.

Tame Impala — The Slow Rush

The Slow Rush is another great album from Tame Impala without a doubt. But it’s also hard not to see this album is a few missteps away from equaling the brilliance of Currents. It lacks focus in a few spots and there’s one song that just isn’t needed. But this is also a bit nitpicking admittedly. The production from Parker is once again deeply rich and textured, engulfing you with it’s fantastic details. And the songwriting mostly hits. So ultimately I can say this is one of the best albums you’ll hear in 2020.

Honorable Mentions (just missed the top ten)

The Endless Music Odyssey, Vol. 3 — Freddie Gibbs, Eric Church, Khruangbin & More!

Hey y’all! There are several albums I’ve been wanting to talk about since taking my break, so no fancy introduction is needed. Let’s talk about some albums….

Freddie Gibbs & The AlchemistAlfredo

Freddie Gibbs and The Alchemist both solidify themselves as two of the most consistent artists in hip-hop with Alfredo. Gibbs’ rapping and flow are flawless while The Alchemist’s beats are smooth and his sampling is completely on point throughout. Opener “1985” may be the best opening song to an album I’ve heard in 2020, as the blaring guitar and Gibbs’ relentless attack approach to the lyrics makes me want to hit play over and over again. The lyricism is what you come to expect from Gibbs, which is not a knock at all, as he raps about cocaine, the dark sides of the street and mixes in his trademark dark humor. He also has more social commentary, as on “Scottie Beam” he ominously raps his execution may be televised, highlighting the systemic racism in the country. All the features on this album fit well, especially Rick Ross and Benny The Butcher (I definitely want to hear Gibbs and Butcher together again). This is a pretty great project and for many artists this would be amongst their best, but Gibbs sets the bar pretty damn high with previous projects like Piñata and Bandana. So I guess you could call this 9/10 album slightly down for Gibbs as hilarious as this is to type. But seriously don’t sleep on this album, as it’s one of the best you’ll hear out of hip hop in 2020. Light 9/10

Run The JewelsRTJ4

Unfortunately this album just flat out bored me and I just lose more interest in it as I delve deeper into it. It certainly has nothing to do with the messages, as they’re timely, important and should be heard. But every other aspect of this project feels like I’ve heard it before from the duo and it was better. While I rated Run the Jewels 3 quite highly, admittedly it didn’t hold up as well as time has passed. I thought it was due to the runtime. But now after listening to RTJ4, the issue is clearer. The delivery, approach and style of the lyrics have simply waned for Killer Mike and El-P. On Run the Jewels 3 they covered over a lot of this because it wasn’t as prevalent like it is on this album and quite frankly the beats were much more interesting and varied on Run the Jewels 3 (there’s not a single beat on this album that comes as close to being as interesting or cool as “Panther Like a Panther”). 

Not to mention the idea well feels empty on this album. Nothing feels new, it all feels the same and maybe that’s the point on how injustice in this country never changes, which is the reoccurring message of this album. But I feel like this album is all about great messages and the songs themselves are an afterthought. As I’ve continually said, great messages won’t be heard if the songs themselves aren’t interesting or good. Run the Jewels 3 managed to deliver timely messages behind great music. And this album seems to forget the latter. That’s largely the conclusion I come away from with this album: the music just isn’t as interesting like the previous three records. Light 5/10

Diplo/Thomas WesleyChapter 1: Snake Oil

I’ve talked about before how electronic and country will eventually be fused together more and how it will become a more prevalent sub genre (for better or worse). So I was actually quite excited to hear that famous electronic producer Diplo would be trying his hand at a country album. The ultimate result? Very hit and miss for me. What works: “Heartless” with Morgan Wallen is surprisingly something I’ve come to enjoy. The delivery of Wallen gives the song an infectious urgency and the drum machines are actually utilized in a way that makes the song enjoyably catchy (so many from the pop genre completely bastardize drum machines and make them a torturous ear worm). The unlikely team up of Thomas Rhett and Young Thug on “Dance with Me” is fun, although I would have liked to have heard more from Young Thug. “On Me” may be my favorite though, as Noah Cyrus delivers a memorable vocal performance. “So Long” and “Heartbreak” are solid tracks too.

What doesn’t work: The Jonas Brothers are good pop artists but don’t belong anywhere near a country record and “Lonely” doesn’t feel country in the slightest. “Do Si Do” has a good idea on paper but it’s bone dry and boring. Julia Michaels continues to prove she’s one of the most boring artists in music today with her appearances (her voice is the music equivalent of paint drying). “Hometown” is your standard generic, mediocre pop country that I’m not shocked Zac Brown signed on to take part in (it would fit nicely on his garbage solo album). And the inclusion of Diplo’s remix of “Old Town Road” is well…Diplo says it best in his interview with Apple Music: “We just added this on because it was on Columbia.” Hey, at least he’s honest! And I appreciate that he admits this album is a bit incoherent (because it definitely is). So while this is by no means a great album, it shows flashes of potential and makes me want to hear what he has in store for the next album. Light 5/10

Gone WestCanyons

You know I had some hope for this group to be a fresh sound in the mainstream realm. Instead I’m not entirely convinced this isn’t Gloriana but they somehow added former pop star Colbie Cailat as the new front-woman. This is just dull, generic pop country album in a sea full of so many albums that already sound like this. Don’t bother with this/10

Jimmy BuffettLife On The Flip Side

Well I’m not sure what I expected listening to this. It’s a Jimmy Buffett album. If you want light beach music this is it. I imagine this is best enjoyed while drinking a few on the beach. It’s five o’clock somewhere/10

Gabby BarrettGoldmine

While lead single “I Hope” is an enjoyable revenge ballad in the same vein as Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats,” the rest of this album is unfortunately your average pop country mediocrity. Barrett really doesn’t establish a unique sound or identity with this album and instead teeters between bad Underwood impersonation and radio bait. Solid 3/10

Blackberry SmokeLive From Capricorn Sound Studios EP

As always an enjoyable listen from one of the best rock bands in music today. Although I will admit I hoped to enjoy this more. While I enjoy the guest vocals of Jimmy Hall, I would have liked to have heard more from Charlie Starr on lead vocals. But it’s a minor nitpick on an otherwise pretty good EP. Light 8/10

Hill CountrySelf-titled

I’ve seen a lot of buzz about this album and Luke Combs even gave this group a shoutout. So I had to check this out even though I found Zane Williams’ solo output to be hit and miss in the past. Ultimately this is a country album that does nothing spectacularly but it does nothing wrong either. It’s an enjoyable mixture of country, roots rock and bluegrass that has something for all types of country listeners. It’s breezy and accessible music that represents a solid start for this new group. 7/10

Khruangbin Mordechai

I find it difficult to get into instrumental music most of the time and even harder to review it. But Khruangbin is easily an exception to this rule. I had never heard of this group until their excellent collaborative Texas Sun EP with Leon Bridges earlier this year. I’m so glad I found them, as I’ve now listened to their entire catalog after hearing the EP. Even better that they’ve dropped even more music with new album Mordechai. While I wouldn’t put it at the level of their great, southwestern-flavored 2018 album Con Todo El Mundo, this album is another pretty damn good record from the trio. This album centers mostly around a groovy, psychedelic funk sound with tinges of disco and jam pop mixed in at times. The band also surprises by mixing in some vocals on this record and they actually work pretty well. Most importantly they don’t detract from the hypnotic sounds of the band, which will always be the focus and strength of the group. If I had to pick my favorites they would be “Time (You and I)”, “Father Bird, Mother Bird” and album closer “Shida.” The latter is probably the top song for me, as the bass line is simply flawless. And if you’re looking for a relaxing album, you will be hard-pressed to find one more chill than this one in 2020. Solid 9/10

Eric Church — “Stick That in Your Country Song”

Finally I have to of course comment on the lead single for Eric Church’s upcoming new album, “Stick That in Your Country Song.” Without a doubt Church has been one of the best artists in country music for the last several years, as both Mr. Misunderstood and Desperate Man were fantastic albums. So he easily has the clout and respect to drop a song that’s basically calling out lazy songwriting and pandering bullshit being released by all kinds of artists in the industry. Church has been a bit more understated and introspective on his last two albums, so he was due to bring back the fiery, passionate side. 

The results are pretty good, as Church brings an infectious energy in all aspects. The lyrics are as subtle as a hammer to the head and get the point across pretty well, while also bringing attention to what needs to be heard more in country songs. It’s interesting how Church did not have a hand in writing this song, as this is not only a rarity for him, but this song also fits him perfectly. While I’m not fond of country songs that focus on if something is country or not these days, this song is not really about being country, but rather demanding more from his fellow artists. And he’s absolutely right to call them out for this. Once again I’m excited for another Church album!

Spinning All The Records — April/May 2020

Hey all! So I wanted to give a quick update on the plans for the site moving forward and what’s been happening. First I wanted to address the abrupt stop in posts. The reason for this was due to a privacy issue that I would chalk more up to trolling than a legitimate concern. But at the time I wanted to be safe and closed the blog down temporarily. It’s now back of course, but I wanted to give you all an explanation, as I hated leaving you hanging without a reason. 

During this downtime I started to rethink of how I want to approach posting on the blog. And to be quite frank I was starting to fall into an old bad habit of mine of listening to post reviews, instead of listening and then posting a review when I’m ready. It’s so easy nowadays to fall into the trap of wanting to constantly keep up with every release and I find personally this ruins my own listening experience. So I realized I need to get away from my usual style and do something that fits me better. 

My first thought was a podcast and I even got to the point of test recording and a first episode written out. But unfortunately I’ve realized I simply just don’t have the proper amount of time to do one. As someone who has done a podcast before and felt I did it the right way, it takes A LOT of work and time to pull off, at least in the way I would want to do it. Just the recording and editing alone is arduous. So for now I’ve decided not to do a podcast. I’ve not ruled out doing one at another time, but for now it’s something that will be on the back burner. 

However, the tinkering with the podcast and the realization of the need to adapt my approach did lead me to an idea of how I want to approach writing moving forward. I look at the way reviews are approached nowadays, specifically by larger publications, and I see something that just isn’t natural in this constant rush to post reviews. Most people don’t listen to an album and form such an immediate judgement. And even after the initial judgement, that opinion can then shift even more with time. But reviews don’t reflect this; there’s a finiteness about them. You post the review, the grade and then the reviewer is put into a box of defending this take for…well forever it seems like. So I hope this new style and approach will be a better reflection of the way an average listener approaches music. Stay tuned!

For now I wanted to post all of the stuff I had written below for Spinning All The Records for April 2020. And thank you for reading!

Conway the Machine & The Alchemist – LULU

This is a really tight, short and cohesive album from start to finish. As always The Alchemist brings some really smooth beats, which fit the rapid fire delivery of Conway well. Not to mention the sampling used is great too, especially on “The Contract.” ScHoolboy Q delivers a solid feature on “Shoot Sideways,” but I especially enjoy Cormega’s feature on “They Got Sunny.” The veteran rapper spits absolute fire on his verses. If you enjoy coke bar rap and the work of the Griselda Records group (which I sang their praises of last year when I put Benny the Butcher on my album of the year list), you don’t want to miss this album. 8/10

Niall Horan – Heartbreak Weather

This is an enjoyable and solid album of soft rock meets pop love songs. Although I will say it’s not all straight-ahead love songs, as Horan weaves in themes throughout the album of insecurity, doubt and details of the hard road one can experience in finding love. The album has an overall sound of being bouncy, fun and upbeat, while Horan demonstrates himself to be a charismatic vocalist with range. And while there’s many fun moments like on “Everywhere,” there’s also some more serious and introspective moments that give this album a softness to balance it out (“Put a Little Love on Me” and “Still”). 7/10

Sam Hunt – SOUTHSIDE

I’m sure some of you wanted me to do a full review takedown of this album, but it’s just not worth it (and I don’t do rants anymore). The good of this album: opening track “2016” is by far the best song Hunt has ever done. It’s melodic, it has meaning and it has heart. While the Webb Pierce sample is just necessary, putting it aside, “Hard to Forget” is undeniably catchy. So is “Body Like a Backroad” (even though it feels completely shoehorned in the album). I still enjoy “Downtown’s Dead” as much as when I originally praised it on Fusion Country. And I appreciate the attempt at a bluegrass-influenced sound on “Let It Down.” I wish he would have explored this sound more.

Now to the bad and let’s just state the biggest issue. The ordering of the songs and overall theme of the story is a complete and disjointed mess. The overall flow of the album is like a zig zag, with no logical order whatsoever. “2016” should have been the closing song. “Kinfolks” is boring as hell and forgettable. “Young Once” is just absolutely stupid with it’s premise that dumb mistakes can be completely dismissed due to youth. “That Ain’t Beautiful” would be best described as having just a gross feel about it and features the worst side of Hunt and that is him wishing he was the Drake of country music.

“Breaking Up Was Easy in the 90s” has an annoying “I was born in le wrong generation” vibe. “Sinning With You” is the ultimate display of immaturity and also features nauseatingly cliche religious imagery that comes across so fake and insincere. “Drinkin’ Too Much” is best summed up as an abomination in every way, from his Drake impression to the lyrical content being disgusting and hypocritical. If Hunt ever indulged in his best tendencies, he could deliver a good album. But this is not it. 3/10

Western Centuries – Call the Captain

This band showed a lot of potential in their debut album. Their sophomore album was completely forgettable. And this album is very much along the same lines. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it, but it just doesn’t stand out in any way for me.

Jessi Alexander – Decatur County Red

I can essentially repeat the same for this album. That’s the double-edged sword of independent country, well at least from my perspective. On one hand, I’m much more inclined to listen to country music from the independent realm because I know how to find it. But that also means I listen to more of it and that kind of makes the bar higher too. It’s a brutally competitive space, so standing out is key. This is a decent album and Alexander has a nice voice, but after a few listens I just don’t feel like coming back to it.

Knxwledge – 1988

This is mostly an instrumental album, not surprising as Knxwledge is mostly known as a producer, most notably his collaboration with Anderson .Paak as NxWorries. So I only recommend this album if you’re a music nerd like me who can listen to a half-hour of random beats and sounds. And if you do listen you can get a great fill of pop, R&B, hip hop and even some gospel sounds. It’s quite a relaxing, chill listen I might add too. Knxwledge cements himself further as a standout producer on 1988. 8/10

Logan Ledger – Logan Ledger

All of this build up and an intriguing voice only for this to be another new act that leans hard on a nostalgic style and adds nothing fresh to it. So it just comes off as boring. I couldn’t even make it through one listen.

Maddie & Tae – The Way It Feels

I did not expect to be sticking this album here. But then again I didn’t expect this to be a giant disappointment and I didn’t feel like re-writing the Caitlyn Smith review. Just like Smith, Maddie & Tae throw away everything on this album that made their debut album great: warm melodies, sharp songwriting and harmonies that melt the ears. In their place is schlocky pop country, copy and paste songwriting, and little to no harmonies. I literally yawned several times going through this album because it’s so predictable in it’s approach. And there’s so many boring moments that the few standouts like “Die From A Broken Heart” just get lost in this mundane and drab collection of songs. It’s just another album in a sea of albums. What a damn shame for a promising duo. 5/10

Ruthie Collins – Cold Comfort

Honestly I just couldn’t engage with this album and I think a big reason why is the image and presentation is such a 180 from her “Ramblin’ Man” days that this just comes off as too calculated and insincere for me. Maybe I’ll be able to revisit this later, but for now this comes off as “dress up” to me.


Any other releases in late April and any in May will likely be covered in some way coming soon! But please feel free to engage in the comments and ask me as always about anything that isn’t covered or for further clarification on any comments I’ve made above! 

Album Review — Jay Electronica’s ‘A Written Testimony’

The long-awaited debut album of Jay Electronica finally arrived. Years of delays and mystery around one of rap’s most promising young artists at the end of the 2000s and early 2010s is over and now A Written Testimony is here. If you’re not familiar with Electronica, read this summary of the wild and unpredictable path of his life. Electronica signed to the legendary Jay-Z’s label Roc Nation nearly a decade ago. Now on his debut album Hov himself makes an appearance on nearly every single track. Imagine having one of the all-time bests in hip-hop as your side man on your debut album. That’s crazy! But it fits with Electronica.

The album opens with “The Overwhelming Effect,” which serves more as a vignette than song as it’s a monologue from Minister Louis Farrakhan set to a beautiful sounding instrumental. That’s one important thing to note up front with this album: for better and for worse, Electronica’s faith, The Nation of Islam, has a noticeable influence throughout. I don’t really want to give my opinion on the faith itself or any other religions for that matter, as I respect all people’s beliefs. So any commentary I have regarding the religious influences on this album are strictly from a musical standpoint (just like my criticisms of gospel music and Kanye’s latest album in the past on this blog). So as far as an opener, it’s fine and I guess gives a dramatic buildup. But I would always rather hear bars to open a rap album.

“Ghost of Soulja Slim” opens not with Electronica rapping, but Jay-Z. And I have to say Jay-Z sounds as hungry and fiery as ever on not just this song, but the whole album. His bars are catchy, have something to say and get right to the point. When Electronica makes his appearance about halfway through the song, he matches Jay-Z’s bars himself. But the song drags on too long with it’s instrumental at the end and the use of the clip of the kids cheering is really annoying. I feel like this song would have been better as the introduction track, as it doesn’t really have a point and has more of an introduction/demonstration feel to it.

“The Blinding” sees the Jays joined by Travis Scott. And it’s obviously a mainstream/streaming play with Scott’s inclusion. But it’s one of my favorites on the album, as Electronica opens up about the making of this album, the pressure of the buildup of the release and how he never wants to let his daughter down. Despite it’s shortness and Scott being kind of shoehorned in, the song does well at telling a great story and giving the listener an appropriate insight into rap’s biggest enigma. “The Neverending Story” has a fun and spacey sound that envelopes the listener from the beginning and I’m not surprised that it was The Alchemist behind this smooth beat. It’s perfect for Electronica to lay down some of his most clever wordplay on the album. I particularly enjoy these lines: “Spread love like Kermit the Frog that permeate the fog/I’m at war like the Dukes of Hazzard against the Bosses of the Hogs.”

Next is “Shiny Suit Theory,” a song that came out years earlier. I’m glad it’s included though because I love the bouncy horns and glimmering chimes that drive the beat of this song. Electronica himself produced this song and it sounds great. Once again this is a song that gives an insight into Electronica’s thinking and a conversation he had with P. Diddy before dropping his album. The bars from both him and Jay-Z are tight and don’t waste any time in getting to the points they’re making. I enjoy the dramatic production on “Universal Solider,” but the bars feel too same-y to me throughout and the over-reliance of religious references doesn’t work for me. And once again I think the song carries on a bit long like “Ghost of Soulja Slim.”

Jay-Z spits absolute fire over great production from Electronica on “Flux Capacitor.” He goes on the defensive over his deal with the NFL and again I love how in the latter half of his career he’s maybe dropping some of the best bars of his career. It’s unfortunate for Electronica though he’s getting out-rapped on his own song and album, but that’s what happens I guess when you have an icon as a sideman on your album. “Fruits of the Spirit” feels more like an interlude than song but it’s still one of my favorite moments on the album. The soulful production of No I.D., one of my favorite producers in hip-hop, and Electronica rapping his ass off (with a sweet Thanos reference to start the song) makes me wish this was a full-fledged song.

I enjoy the different, clinky sound of “Ezekiel’s Wheel” and the inclusion of The-Dream as a feature is a great choice on a chiller, smooth song like this one. The bars from the Jays aren’t bad for the most part either. It’s just too long at six and a half minutes. The bars that are bad though is where Electronica raps: “It could be in Lagos, or Seattle, or Chicag-y/Hotel lobby Grammy after-party, it’s whatev-y.” It’s cringe-y and dumb-y. I do not understand why he felt the need to just randomly add y’s to these words other than trying to make his bars flow together better. Despite this baffling choice, Electronica redeems himself in a big way on the closing song of the album, “A.P.I.D.T.A.” Over gorgeous production from Khruangbin (who you know I’ve absolutely praised), Electronica absolutely pours his heart out over heartfelt bars about the loss of his mother. It’s heartbreakingly touching and beautiful personal song from Electronica that shows why his debut album has been so hyped. It’s without doubt the best song of his career.

The long-awaited debut album of Jay Electronica does not live up to it’s lofty expectations and hype, but A Written Testimony is nevertheless a pretty good album. The production is definitely the strongest point of this album, as a cavalcade of all-star producers and Electronica himself create some exciting and interesting sounds throughout the whole album. The bars on this album are mostly good despite some bumps along the way and the overuse of religious imagery. More than anything I’m glad that Jay Electronica is finally releasing music and I think on his next album we’ll see something even better from him. But for now this is a solid debut.

Grade: 7/10