Rochester native Queen LEFT hits two underrepresented demographics for hip-hop - feminine voices and parts of New York state not directly related to New York City. As such I was happy when Queen LEFT's "D8" landed in my inbox, because I felt it was an ideal opportunity to expand both my own horizons as a reviewer and the audience's as a listener. Her name, like her album's title and related artwork, are all references to chess. That only deepened my desire to delve into her music.
I'm far from an expert when it comes to pushing pieces around a board. A good computer program can whup my behind in a match. Despite that I have a natural respect as a self confessed "nerd" for the strategy of the game and the level of concentration it takes to be good. You can make moves at random and it might pay off, but at the highest levels you're anticipating how your opponent will respond not just to your move, but to your NEXT move, and so on. That's when it really gets interesting/good - when you play it out in your mind four or five turns deep trying to make a move your opponent won't be able to counter or block. It's for this very reason mixed martial arts is often called "the human game of chess" - the elite athletes are doing the same thing with their bodies that chess players do on a board.
I tell you all of this to let you know that Queen LEFT's "D8" wasn't quite the nerdy EP that I expected it to be. I'm not saying that's a good thing or a bad thing just yet in the review - I'm just telling you that it's not an album full of references to Bobby Fischer, Garry Kasparov and Deep Blue. It's also much shorter than any high level chess match, clocking in at just 17 minutes, when the initial size of the zip folder led me to believe it would be a full length LP. It turns out much of that space was taken up by a music video for "Never Die On My Knees," and since Queen LEFT is making that a focal point of the album I'm making it a point to share it with you here.
The song is well produced, the video is a black and white montage of overlaid footage with bursts of color punctuating the beats, and LEFT is certainly not hard on the eyes. That shouldn't matter at all but I'm honest enough to admit that it's always nice to see a pretty lady on the mic. After all hip-hop has more than enough scowling angry dudes to go around, so let's enjoy the breath of fresh air Queen LEFT provides. The song "Love 4 U" borrows from the Tyrone Davis track "In the Mood," which gives me a flashback all the way to MC Eiht's "All For the Money" from 1994 (geah), but it's also been sampled by everybody from Da Beatnuts to Redman.
Even though I've addressed the featured single and the flyest sample of the whole release, the standout song is honestly "I Need U." At this point in hip-hop history it's borderline cliche to do a song where the art and culture are personified as one individual who you love with all your heart, who you would live and die for, but since Common and The Roots already did it, why shouldn't Queen LEFT get her chance to do it too? I don't question her sincerity or commitment to her "man" in this song in any respect.
With all that said I've pretty much addressed the entirety of "D8" at this point. There's a spoken word poem at the end of the album that's pretty much a "take it or leave it" scenario - without any production to back it up it's simply a statement of her mental faculties as opposed to something you can sink your musical teeth into. If she were an orator on the level of Saul Williams with all of the years he's put into the spoken word craft, then we'd be talking, but she's too young in the game for that. That's not to say she's too young in AGE, because quite frankly I don't have a bio beyond her Bandcamp and there wasn't one in the aforementioned zip file. To me she sounds young-ish, filled with potential, but also in need of a producer who can steer her away from overly familiar samples and topics. Like a good game of chess you'd be making a mistake if you weren't anticipating Queen LEFT's next move -- I think she's got a lot more in store for us in the future.
Music Vibes: 6.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 6.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 6.5 of 10
Originally posted: June 13, 2017