If you missed any of the new reviews this past week including Migos' "Culture II" then do yourself a favor and check out this week's edition of the (W)rap Up!
Migos :: Culture II
Quality Control/Capitol Records
Author: Steve 'Flash' Juon
"It's hard to deny how influential Migos has become but you're certainly welcome to try. In an era where we are being told "music doesn't sell" and that "streaming is the future," we've seen "Culture" be certified platinum. That means over one million "units" have been sold, although to be fair the definition of a "unit" has become more mutable given it now includes digital spins. Even if you were to slice the pie in half, that's still an impressive number of hard copies -- even a third or a quarter of the pie would be. "Pie" is apt given there seems to be an insatiable appetite for the stylings of Quavo, Takeoff and Offset. Fans want to skip dinner and go right to dessert. Even as legal problems continue to chase the group, the #MigosNation chases right along with the law, putting them in high demand for every concert tour and music festival. If you can afford their price, book Migos for your show and watch those tickets GO. Not willing to slow down their momentum any time soon, Migos took a page from the playbook of other commercially successful rappers like E-40, Nelly, Nas and the late Tupac Shakur among others and made their follow-up "Culture II" a double album. That's only the beginning though. If you've seen Cardi B on the recent "Alexa Has a Cold" commercial from the big game and thought her voice sounded familiar, you either knew her hit single "Bartier Cardi" or her cameo on "MotorSport" side by side with the Nicki Minaj, sounding (and looking) like her protege as a pair of "bad b--tches" taking over rap. The music video has done what once would have been an astonishing 175 million views, but lately is becoming the norm for superstars like the Migos crew. "MotorSport" hails from disc two of the double album while the second single "Stir Fry" hails from the first disc. Even though the first one might be the bigger track due to the guest stars, I must admit my preference for the second based on an infectious Pharrell Williams beat which sounds like a cross between an 808 and a marching band. Like many of their songs it's a direct reference to being illegal entrepeneurs, "whipping up" something sold in small vials, but this song is definitely more about the sound than the lyrical content."
Z-Ro :: Codeine
One Deep Entertainment/Empire
Author: Matt Jost
"Z-Ro gives new meaning to the term 'socially conscious rap.' The rapper, who as a young artist came to the compelling conclusion (in song form) "I Found Me," proceeded to spend the rest of his career defining himself by his relationship with others, song after song, inadvertently proving the old saying right that no man is an island. If Z-Ro was on a mission to Mars, he'd still flip the bird at the rearview mirror while hollering a defiant "I don't need y'all anyway." Just to let you know. If that's not being conscious of your social environment, I don't know what is. The feelings he harbors are typically negative, to the effect that Z-Ro thinks he's better off alone. That lone wolf angle has introduced a kind of character into the rap cabinet that is not only unique in its remarkable consistency but also distinguishes itself from most other outsiders by being portrayed as a winner, not a loser. Rather than a victim of social exclusion, he's a maverick at his own will. In the context of rap, this concept is bound to foster a fanbase eventually, because it lends the prevalent idea of superiority a human touch, a complicated note, an air of Wolverine or Batman. This makes Z-Ro actually less detached from reality than many of his more successful peers when with artistic sincerity and steadfastness he speaks about things average people can relate to. Yet when listening to his music, his audience experiences such emotions exclusively through the medium Z-Ro, who's the pivotal point of the majority of his songs - and precisely not some Joe Shmoe. That's where Z-Ro's special brand of socially conscious rap risks becoming plain old ego trippin'. After twenty years Joseph McVey has rooted the Z-Ro character so deep in the trenches that the action is almost exclusively shot from the same angle. But perhaps it is exactly that familiarity with isolation and desolation that enables him to act as a shepherd to people in similar situations - and at times rise completely above, as he does on "You Ain't Gotta Worry," a particularly inspiring moment on his second 2017 full-length, "Codeine.""
Z-Ro :: No Love Boulevard :: One Deep Entertainment/Empire
as reviewed by Matt Jost
"Z-Ro is a folk hero who sings his own legend. Mainstream fame may have evaded him, but he's as dependable to his fans as they are to him. The first of two 2017 releases, "No Love Boulevard," successfully showcases some of the artist's enduring strengths and current qualities. Ditching the experimental impulses of the younger generation, he has the ol' reliables at his disposition - melodies, harmonies, range, rhythm, and he's frequently escorted by tracks that function the same way. From the start, "No Love Boulevard" banks on the artist's strong points. "Lost My Mind" discusses his typical concerns with a refreshed and sharpened vision, like the comeback kid who realizes his old virtues still take him far. Even though he likes to divide the world into good and bad, he has a grip on the complexity of emotions, which shouldn't be taken for granted for someone who's still essentially rooted in rap. A model of a Z-Ro song, "Lost My Mind" is up there with his best efforts. When searching for peace of mind, he sounds like he just about found it. "From the Other Side" shows why Z-Ro is southern royalty in a line with OutKast and UGK. Slowly developing the theme of paying attention to someone who may know better than yourself, he quite naturally brings the argument full circle, at the end urging himself to heed his own advice. Musically, Z-Ro has reached a point where he would be able to sneak into an established market, most likely something like urban adult contemporary. Vocally, he seldomly goes just through the motions anymore, he puts emotion into every line, elevating rap bars to genuine vocal parts. Trained by Tupac and Bone Thugs (and surely a lifelong consumption of R&B), he forges an emotional bond with the listener even when conveying feelings that are not typically recited in this manner like anger, menace, wit or despair. Granted, classic soul-stirring moments like the "I see the suffering in your eyes" part from "From the Other Side" are an exception. Instead Z-Ro is the rare artist who will put his heart and soul into lines like "Solid"'s "Takin' haters out like it's Monday morning and they are garbage / If I gotta come get ya I'ma just come get ya, won't be no warning." Occasionally he snuggles up even more closely to R&B just because he can. It's hard to imagine any professional giving "They Don't Understand" the thumbs down as far as the craft involved goes, that's how much Z-Ro and his crew master the finer points of the genre."
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