If you missed any of the new reviews this past week including Snoop Dogg's "Neva Left" then do yourself a favor and check out this week's edition of the (W)rap Up!
Snoop Dogg :: Neva Left
Author: Grant Jones
"Snoop may have never left, but his annual releases have become so underwhelming in recent years that if he did leave rap alone, we'd miss HIM more than his music. Snoop is an iconic figure even in 2017, despite much of his relevance coming through his social media presence. While Snoop's catalog is as large as the blunts he smokes, it's nowhere near as potent. Last year's "Kool Aid" was mostly trash, with the short compilation "Cuzznz" being little more than a collection of throwaway recordings alongside Dogg Pound colleague Daz Dillinger. This year's "Neva Left" is relatively hit and miss but does benefit from rewarding older listeners, particularly with the guest features. The album's title is clearly a statement to the hardcore who question Snoop's output, particularly the albums of the past 10 years. They've often come with an obvious single that sounds nothing like the rest of the record, and there's usually an awkward blend of west coast gangsta rap and lighter, more poppy productions. As an ardent fan of 2000's "Tha Last Meal" and the playfulness of the Kokane hooks and tongue-in-cheek pimp talk, I'm glad that there's more of this material here. This is an album catered to 30-somethings who remember the dominant years of Dre and Snoop, whether it was the early 1990s or the early 2000s. After an ill-judged, five-minute long intro that samples The Charmels' "As Long As I've Got You" (as made famous by Wu-Tang Clan's "C.R.E.A.M.") Ð Rick Rock comes through with another simple, effective number in "Moment I Feared". There are clear digs at artists like Lil Yachty (especially in the video) but it's all done in good taste. Snoop looks back on "Bacc In Da Dayz" but the hook isn't one of Snoop's best. "Promise Me This" is better but the album falls off a cliff over the next fifteen minutes. Sore thumb moment "Trash Bags", a hybrid of YG's modern West Coast sound and the trap sound that's all over the radio at the moment, feels cheap, as does "Go On". It sounds like an attempt to emulate Pharrell Williams but the tune sounds about ten years late."
AUXX :: 23/09 :: Fontana North/URBNET
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
""File under: electronic/hip-hop/grime." That's the first thing my eyes focus on when staring at the press release for AUXX's "23/09." The next thing I see is "Bath, UK" and that jogs my memory -- haven't we covered AUXX before? Oh yes. Patrick Taylor wrote about him in 2015. This raised my spirits a bit. I know that I have an album in front of me from an established representative of the UK hip-hop scene, and we've also had some editorial coverage of what exactly "Grime" is to go along with it. I felt this would be some hard-hitting, fun-loving, anti-traditionalist uptempo hip-hop with a nice cutting edge. It's fair to say "23/09" is in fact anti-traditionalist, but not in the way I'd come to expect from the UK's filthiest export. That's my own fault for not seeing Patrick described Auxx (pronounced AWKS) as filling "a nice space between being experimental and accessible." The experimental part was self-evident when my s/o walked in and said "What the hell are you listening to?" Coincidentally at the time I was listening to the title track of "23/09" featuring Jean Deaux (pronounced Zhean Doe). It's definitely "electronic" and occasionally "hip-hop" when Jean's bars are thrown on the beat, but I think calling it "grime" would be stretching it although it does pick up speed 75 seconds in for a brief spell. The best compliment I can offer this track (and I'm being dead up) is that it sounds like the soundtrack to a sci-fi anime set in the YEAR 2309. It's hard to evaluate an album like this within the established parameters of hip-hop OR grime, because to my ears it's not really either one. On the plus side even Yanks with their ears stuffed full of content should be able to understand Proton's "geez Louise" lyrics on tracks like "95 Degrees," although Auxx purposefully makes that harder in the second verse by cranking up the distortion level of the vocals. This gives Proton a mechanical quality that fits right in with the overall futuristic feel. Some of these songs offer no pretense of being hip-hop at all. "Underlying the Beautiful" isn't quite electronic and it isn't quite chiptune either. It falls into some interesting netherworld between the two where it seems like a robot and a satellite are trying to communicate with each through music but don't understand the basic language. One blips and beeps like a 1950's computer stereotype, the other pings it with sonar, and the two are set to a drum track which sounds like dice being dropped into a wooden tray and rattled around. "Experimental?" Hell yes."
Madchild :: The Darkest Hour :: Battle Axe Records
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
If you're a long time Madchild fan, whether of his solo work or his Swollen Member-ship, then you already know Shane Bunting is a 20+ year hip-hop star hailing from the province of British Columbia, Canada. You may also know that Madchild has had mad issues over the years. There's an entire chapter of his career from the 2000's that he lost to drug addiction, and for a while he couldn't even tour in the United States -- he was literally banned in the U.S.A.. All of that is in the past now but those trials and tribulations inform both his personality and flow. Even though he's rapping with A$ton Matthews and Fashawn on "Double Tap," it's bars like those above that make Madchild stand out from his contemporaries on he track. He has a bit of a chip on his shoulder, but his ego is kept in check by his humor and his self-deprecating lyrics. For his latest album "The Darkest Hour," Mad turned over the entirety of the production to fellow long time veteran Evidence, who also shares in common being known for both his solo work and his group membership. It's a good choice as the Californian meets the Canadian directly at the ascent of his darkness, partnering his grim nasally vocals with heavy hitting beats. "Broken Record" exemplifies this meeting of the minds. It's not a happy song but the dank tone fits Shane like a glove. "Broken Record" is a very honest look at being in recovery after years of drug abuse. Madchild has been part of some monster radio and club hits over the years -- Swollen Members "Breathe" featuring Nelly Furtado comes to mind -- but most of his solo music isn't meant for the club scene. That's not to say the beats don't bump on tracks like "Write It Down," but the slow paced drums match with an eerie piano backdrop and heavy thoughts. His words are meant for those who hate commercialized mainstream rap music. "
SZA :: Ctrl :: Top Dawg Entertainment
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor
"Twenty-one years ago, Janet Jackson released "Control." The album dealt with a failed marriage, Jackson separating herself from the business control of her father, and coming to her own as an artist and a woman. To Jackson, control meant getting what she wanted and calling the shots. Some of those themes are echoed in SZA's (New Jersey singer Solani Imani Rowe) album "Ctrl," although the twenty-teen version has abbreviated the word "control" and features an artist who is either shakier in her confidence or feels less of a need to force bravado, depending on how you read it. SZA first came to my attention with her excellent 2014 EP "Z." On that EP I felt like she was great when she was going in a trip-hop direction but struggled with the more conventional R&B songs. "Ctrl" goes much more in an R&B direction, and she absolutely nails it. The album opens with "Supermodel," a kiss-off to her ex-boyfriend, that contains the kind of complex, subtle genius that has made Frank Ocean a critical darling. The theme of not being pretty enough comes up on the excellent "Drew Barrymore." "I get so lonely I forget what I'm worth," SZA sings, and later in the song sings, "I'm sorry I'm not more attractive/I'm sorry I'm not more ladylike/I'm sorry I don't shave my legs at night." What SZA gets so right is the fact that often the facade of attitude is a shield that we put up to protect ourselves. Paradoxically, in admitting her weakness SZA makes herself (or at least the SZA in her songs) stronger. Anyone can pretend they are tough. It takes courage to admit that you are flawed."
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