E.P. REVIEW: PUSH by Darrin Lee Jr.

Darrin Lee Jr. is an R&B singer/songwriter and also the founder and CEO of Carter’s Music Group. He grew up in Louisville, KY. He began singing at an early age, and was given a rich musical education by his grandmother who introduced him to legendary blues artists like Bobby Bland and B.B. King. As his musical palette expanded he got into 90’s R&B like Boyz II Men, Aaliyah and Brian McKnight. This provided the inspiration to try writing songs himself and this music is a big influence on his current material. By 16, he was using every penny he had to record his songs in a studio and everything has developed from there.

This debut EP, PUSH, consists of six tracks all in the R&B genre. The tracks blend contemporary R&B with the radio friendly production style of more modern artists like Usher and Chris Brown.

Please Don’t Go is an emotional plea to a lover set to a languid R&B groove, and features some stellar production which gives it a cutting edge, modern vibe perfect for radio. Darrin gives a passionate yet perfectly controlled vocal performance and the sparse but effective musical backing really allows his vocals to shine. The lyrics are brutally honest and pointed: “I know I ain’t perfect, ask yourself is it worth it?” before pleading with his lover to stay on the memorable chorus.

Change My Ways has a very cool, almost psychedelic intro consisting of backwards guitar before breaking into a funky R&B track driven by gorgeous, warm bass which works as the perfect contrast to Darrin’s versatile high end vocals. Lyrically, it’s an honest expression of turning a new leaf and raising your game, ditching bad habits and adopting personal responsibility: “No more late nights, no more crying about me….cos life is a lesson, you don’t pay attention then you’re gonna miss it, you better get off these streets and raise your family or you’re gonna regret it.”

Just Wanna Dance is a sultry and slinky track with smoky electric piano setting the vibe, before a crisp beat kicks in. Darrin’s nuanced vocals really stand out on this track, capturing the sensual mood of the song’s theme. It’s music for the bedroom or to set the tone for a romantic evening with a lover and the refrain “I just wanna dance” latches in the memory upon the first listen and acts as the track’s main hook. A definite contender as a single release.

About Us (ft. T-Real) has already been released as his debut single and it’s easy to see why. An upbeat R&B track with a hip swinging groove, it boasts a super catchy title hook and a seductive lead vocal from Darrin. His voice is complemented perfectly by featured guest, hip hop artist T-Real, who really helps give the track personality and flavour. It’s a song about ignoring what others think about you and focusing on love. Ideal for radio, this was an understandable choice for a debut release.

Broken Hearted has also been released as a single and shows the more vulnerable and sensitive side to Darrin’s songwriting. It finds him in a low place emotionally and his falsetto vocals are superb in the way they convey his feelings. Echo-drenched guitar creates a melancholy soundscape on the verse then a kick and finger click provides the rhythmic momentum on the fine chorus. Great track.

Tell Me How You Feel is more like a hip hop track, with confident yet laid back rapping on the verses which works well in contrast with the sing choruses. The languid beat and chorus refrain have a mesmeric effect and the production is once again first rate and highly innovative. This would make an excellent choice as a further single release from the EP as it sounds very much like a hit to these ears.

Overall, PUSH is a fantastic R&B/hip hop EP from a highly gifted singer and songwriter. Darrin Lee Jr. has spent years honing his craft and so has already fully matured and developed as an artist. The EP stands out for its consistent quality throughout and truly every track would stand up as a potential radio release. Darrin Lee Jr. could very well become the next Usher or Drake.

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

ALBUM REVIEW: The Incredible Sound Of Blue by Blue Soul Ten

Blue Soul Ten is the artistic moniker and musical brainchild of a musician, composer and producer who has been part of the music industry for 20 years. He started out as a radio DJ, as well as studying composition and production at the prestigious Berklee College of Music.

His music incorporates jazz, funk, soul, electronica, reggae and hip hop with his tracks often featuring guest artists. He’s released six albums previously, The Unspoken Warrior, The Fearless Warrior, The Beautiful Warrior, Blue Notes, Ten Percent and Songs About You (to which I gave stellar reviews, read here and here).

This album consists of ten tracks and, like its two predecessors, it is book-ended by two instrumentals (though the outro track is more of a spoken word instrumental) After the relatively chilled out vibes of the previous album, this album is more focused on hip hop, which has always been a strong influence on the Blue Soul Ten sound.

The smoky intro track sets the mood, a vibrant RnB instrumental with smooth-as honey, mellifluous James Jamerson-style bass over a crisp and punchy swung beat. The rich chordal voicing and jazzy progressions played on Rhodes electric piano show this highly musical side to the signature sound is still very prominent.

This is followed by Opportunity, a slick and super funky RnB/hip hop track featuring Surron the 7th, a collaborator who has featured on previous albums. The track switches between the languid but memorable title hook and the fluent rapping on the verses. The deep dub bass is contrasted perfectly high end Rhodes, taut guitar lines providing rhythmic momentum. It’s one of the most instant tracks on the album and would make a good single.

The slinky groove of Speakers comes next, featuring the smooth rhymes of IAMIV. With just a sparse but effective bass line and a simple but sensual beat as the main musical bedrock, the rapped verses are clever and cocky: “Cool as I wanna be, check the persona, fur coat in the summertime, word to your mama, she put it on layaway, got it back around the holiday, it’s not a mink coat but I wear it like it’s designer...”. The summery, laid back vibe and effortless class this track exudes marks it out as a potential late summer single release.

A.B.R. is the spiritually themed tracks on the album, this one featuring a guest performance from J Pad da Juggernaut. The acronym of the catchy title hook stands for Ask, Believe, Receive and the whole track is a testament to the importance of faith in God. Musically, it’s an uplifting RnB/hip hop fusion with another great bassline. Whereas many hip hop artists just rap over a beat and chosen samples, the classy, authentic music that backs these raps sets Blue Soul Ten in a class apart.

The mood flips once again with the hazy, female sung Can’t Stand The Rain, Kenilworth Katrina putting in both a fine lead vocal and rap performance. Whilst musically a contrast to the previous track, this song is also spiritual and soul searching, digging in deep lyrically; it’s about going through emotional struggles in general but in particular the struggles an artist goes through: “Lord, please bless my career, let it take off, hope you see I’m sincere...”. A great track.

11.30 is one of the album’s chosen singles and it’s easy to see why. It’s a dreamy RnB track featuring Surron The 7th and lush lead vocals from Syauqi Destanika. The yin and yang of the rapped verses and sung chorus brought to mind the chemistry between Jay Z and Beyoncé on tracks like Crazy In Love. The first verse is strongly romantic while verse two has some killer lines from Sarron The 7th: “We hustling backwards, influenced by the rappers who grew up watching actors, I’m feeling like they trapped us....”. A real album highlight.

Seventh track Hustle (the second track featuring IAMIV) keeps the bar set high, and reveals itself on repeated listens to be the album’s biggest grower. The main vocal hook, “Ain’t no hustle like the one I got...” is deceptively addictive and with its radio friendly sound, this seductive track could be a real contender as a potential second or third single release.

Sunshine sees the second appearance of Kenilworth Katrina, who here delivers the rapped verses with a male sung chorus hook. This is a nice twist on the usual set up and an effective contrast. Once again, the title hook is catchy as hell and the moody lead electric guitar works well, giving the track a late 80’s vibe.

Ninth track One Shot marks the third appearance on the album for Surron the 7th. The track grabs you by the throat from the outset with its hooky, sharp-toned bassline and insistent groove, creating an intense soundscape for Surron to traverse. The rhymes come thick and fast with a virtuoso display of linguistic dexterity and rhythmic flow, the result is another knockout.

The album closes with the aforementioned outro track, which is where Blue Soul Ten performs a powerful and moving spoken word monologue over a pulsating hip hop beat. He explains how the album is dedicated to his friend, Eric Houston, who has sadly passed on and he also refers to the more dominant hip hop influence on this particular album.

Overall, this is another very impressive album by Blue Soul Ten and signifies another step in the artistic and creative development of the project. Maintaining the high musical calibre and jazzy underpinnings of previous albums, The Incredible Sound Of Blue sees this combined with hip hop to a greater extent aided by some familiar collaborators and some new additions. There’s also an undercurrent of spirituality to several of the tracks which gives the music extra depth and the result is the most sophisticated hip hop and RnB being made right now.

VERDICT = 9.2 out of 10           

Alex Faulkner

ALBUM REVIEW: Songs About You by Blue Soul Ten

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Blue Soul Ten is the artistic moniker and musical brainchild of a musician, composer and producer who has been part of the music industry for 20 years. He started out as a radio DJ, as well as studying composition and production at the prestigious Berklee College of Music.

His music incorporates jazz, funk, soul, electronica, reggae and hip hop with his tracks often featuring guest artists. He’s released five albums previously, The Unspoken Warrior, The Fearless Warrior, The Beautiful Warrior, Blue Notes and Ten Percent (to which I gave a stellar review, read here).

This album, Songs About You, consists of ten tracks and continues the unique fusion of soul, RnB, jazz and hip hop as forged on Ten Percent and previous albums. As with its predecessor, the album starts with the title track, an instrumental.

The music immediately creates a soulful, smoky vibe with warm Rhodes and brooding bass set to a crisp and taut hip hop beat, the languid tempo setting the tone.

Kind of Blue-Esque trumpet then floats across the sonic stage with mellow descending lines before being contrasted by airy, mellifluous flute that brought to mind Right On from Marvin Gaye’s classic What’s Going On album. Succinct at two and a half minutes, it gets the album off to a fine start.

It leads into Everything, the first of several tracks to feature the vocals of Syauqi Destanika, whose earthy, sensual voice fits the Blue Soul Ten sound like a velvet glove. This is a track where he really shows his musical smarts, combining a simple beat with roaming, syncopated bass that crosses the barlines and acts as a counter melody to the main vocal.

This is augmented with subtle jazzy guitar, Bitches Brew-style keyboards and an array of cool sound effects. The title hook is effortlessly seductive and the result is a slinky, sexy song full of intricate detail.

Third track Dear You features another guest artist, the rapper Surron The Seventh, who also appeared on Ten Percent. Here, he delivers another strong performance over a slinky backing track based around a toe-tapping beat and another superb, highly melodic bass line.

It’s a surprisingly moving narrative about a relationship that ran deep but has now ended: “I’m staring at your old texts like we could have been something…I mean, we could have been special…I should never have let you go...”. A great track where the music mirrors the emotive vibe of the lyrics.

Fourth track This Moment is a funky RnB track, again featuring the vocal talents of Syauqi Destanika. With a swinging beat, Syauqi delivers a sultry performance expressing amorous desires in no uncertain terms. The layered harmonies work well with the interweaving Rhodes melodies and the harmonised trumpets towards the end are the icing on the cake, along with the piano vamps on the outro.

Cupid’s Bow is another track featuring Syauqi, and rather more romantic in mood. This one stands out for it’s subtly infectious chorus and the virtuoso, swooping basslines that brought to mind the great Motown legend James Jamerson (as far as I know, he is responsible for the majority of the musicianship). Both This Moment and Cupid’s Bow would make excellent singles, with a commercial radio friendly sound aligned with their musically sophisticated style.

Sixth track Healthy is a fusion of all his various styles at once, featuring Syauqi and another guest rapper, Rae Dot. Set to a chilled out groove, Syauqi lays down a languorous, seductive vocal before Rae spits some assured rhythms halfway through.

The contrast works like a dream, with a myriad of instrumental melodies underpinning it. Lyrically, it depicts a dysfunctional relationship on the rocks but with strong feelings still present: “Is this healthy to be in love with someone this way?

Another Day feels like a continuation of that theme, a dreamily slow RnB track with pulsing Rhodes put through a tremelo effect. The unusual vocal harmonies on the chorus give an exotic feel to the song, and the echo-drenched guitar lines add to the spacey ambience. An understated gem.

First One maintains the mellow mood and this one features the vocals of Tyla Rae. It’s perhaps the most mesmeric song on the album, deeply romantic in tone and based around the affecting refrain: “You were the first one to ever break my heart….”. The harmonies towards the end are spectacular

The following On Me introduces us to another vocalist, Dennis Lorenzo. It’s one of the most minimal, with succinct but effective infusions of bass and electric piano. Lorenzo has a smooth voice, and as the track builds he gets to express his considerable range. The music is cleverly arranged, rich organ and increasingly intricate percussion added to the mix, culminating in an intoxicating finale.

The album closes with the epic This Time and a return to the vocals of Syauqi Destanika. Starting out with a tight hi-hat groove, the music again gradually unfolds into an uplifting wall of sound featuring synth strings, gorgeous wailing sax and a superb, mode-based guitar solo that gives the album its suitably climactic moment. With its instantly memorable and anthemic chorus hook, it’s a blazing way to close things out.

Overall, this is an excellent follow up to 2019’s Ten Percent by a composer and multi-instrumentalist of the highest rank. His songs are brought to life by an array of talented guest vocalists and rappers which gives the music a freshness and natural variety. With such diverse genres integrated into a seamless whole and songs that run the gamut of human emotions, the album will appeal to a broad fanbase. It deserves to be widely heard and for Blue Soul Ten to be recognized as one of the finest acts currently around.

 

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10           

Alex Faulkner

 

Album released September 4th

Follow Blue Soul Ten on Facebook and Instagram

 

SINGLE REVIEW: Police Brutality by Darrell Kelley

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Darrell Kelley is a singer, songwriter and performer who was born in Boston, Massachusetts. He began his career as a gospel artist before eventually merging into the RnB/hip hop genres. In his music he has dealt with social issues close to his heart such as racial injustice.

His song Believe In Something (Kneel) addressed critics of Colin Kaepernick for his silent protests against systemic racism, which took place before NFA games. Another song Because Of You dealt with the epidemic of gun related crime taking place in the United States.

This track, Police Brutality, deals with the recent tragic death of George Floyd, a black man killed by the police in a heinous manner. Set to a slow, brooding RnB groove, the sadness and anger felt is conveyed through the introduction via the repeated refrain, “We want justice”, while Darrell delivers a spoken word dedication to George.

As the beat kicks in, Darrell delivers the verse with a powerful, passionate vocal performance that depicts Floyd’s saddening death at the hands of a corrupt cop. He is unflinching in his description of what happened and this gives the song a real emotional gravitas: “Another black man is dead because of police brutality…”.

The second verse emotively reflects the emotional impact the event has had on Darrell and the black community: “My heart breaks then tears run down my eyes and the only thing I can say is why this black man had to die….”. The song builds to a hugely affecting climax featuring the same refrain that started the track.

Overall, this is a hard hitting, highly emotional song about a tragedy of racial injustice that will resonate with many around the world, not just America. Darrell Kelley has used his considerable gifts as a singer and songwriter to express the heartache and anger that millions are feeling at this present moment. Hopefully, this song will reach them and provide catharsis and emotional healing.

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

Darrell Kelley · Police Brutality

ALBUM REVIEW: Hip Hop Til I Die by J-Carter

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J-Carter is a rapper and hip hop artist hailing from New Jersey. He was writing his own lyrics by thirteen and over the years became influenced by a multitude of hip hop artists. He’s forged his own stance and style, and notably doesn’t do drugs or swear on his records. Before this, he released three full length albums and his last album, Take Hip Hop Back, weighed in at a heavyweight 38 tracks.

This album clocks in at a fairly mighty twenty eight tracks. A Lyrical Addict gets the album off to a blistering start; a soul-inflected hip hop track that showcases J-Carter’s smooth, rapid fire delivery and lyrical eloquence. The rhymes come thick and fast over a relatively languid but catchy beat, the lyrics running the gamut from cheeky braggadocio to deep ruminations on mortality. A great opener.

Ain’t Going Nowhere makes ingenious use of a soul song sample set to a ripping hip hop beat, forming the musical bedrock for a masterclass in lyrical flow and a relentlessly on point delivery from J-Carter. Can’t Save Yr Soul is an unexpected twist, with a very fine female rapper taking centre stage for the first third of the track before J-Carter takes over.

It’s those kind of inventive ideas that permeate the album, so that the listener isn’t quite sure what’s coming next. This track has one of the catchiest and most profound hooks of the twenty eight here: “You can save your dough but you can’t save your soul….”

Coming In Second feels about three tracks in one, starting with sung vocal and banjo, before J-Carter enters with rhymes about being underappreciated in a relationship. Halfway through, it breaks into a four-to-the-floor EDM beat augmented by a bouncy bassline. Unexpected but refreshing.

Everything opens with smooth as honey female vocals before J-Carter lays down a breathless rap that contrasts perfectly with the silky vocal hook. Once again, there’s an EDM element, but this time the style is the mellow dancehall made popular by artists like Major Lazer.

Fire This Year is one of the album’s most instant and anthemic tracks. With its infectious hook and another great yin/yang contrast between J-Carter’s charismatic rapping and the expressive lead female vocals, this stood out to me as an obvious hit in waiting. Hopefully will be released as a single.

You Got Me Where U Want is another fine track, it’s relatively mellow musical backing making a suitable platform for more of J-Carter’s verbal gymnastics. This track captures him on top form and it’s actually another potential single with its addictive title hook.

High And Low is one of the album’s unexpected left turns and an interesting one. Built around a quirky, off kilter beat, the sparse backing allows the free flowing rapping to take centre stage and J-Carter gives a compelling virtuoso performance on the mic. The following High I Stay is more traditional hip-hop and it’s a mellow classic. Set to a languid beat augmented by pizzicato strings, it has the chilled out feel of De La Soul or Cypress Hill. A real album highlight.

This feel is retained in the super catchy Hip Hop Til I Die, an anthem for J-Carter’s devotion to his craft. The 70’s funky soul vibe to the backing works in perfect conjunction with the beat, a fine backdrop for more mellifluous verbal fireworks. Ill Verses No Curses is one of the album’s more low key moments in terms of instant impact but repeated listens make it increasingly addictive, with its deft contrasts between the simple title hook and the tongue-tripping verses.

It’s Hellivision is a brilliantly acerbic track about the perils of trash television (“it’s a prison for your mind”) which brought to mind the Public Enemy classic She Watch Channel Zero and is one of the most powerful lyrical messages on the album, as well as one of the most instantly memorable.

Keep Running is a salutary tale about living life too fast and avoiding responsibilities, with some pithy lines: “You keep running, guess you need the exercise….”. Leave Me Alone is at a similar tempo. It’s about a friendship turned sour, with some first class rhyming and rapping from J-Carter, who comes across as someone you would never want to betray!

Lost Ones is one of the lighter moments musically, a chilled out beat overlaid with beautiful plucked acoustic guitar and a sweet vocal melody. The following Modest Not Hottest is another radio friendly track with a slick sound, and its message is actually very refreshing. Whereas a lot of hip-hop involves portraying women as purely sex objects, here the emphasis is on having a good soul and personality rather than materialistic attributes.

Never Enough is another highlight, set to a slinky, swinging beat and a killer chorus hook that lodges in your memory on the first listen. Lyrically, it’s about having to deal with a partner whose expectations can’t be realised and who doesn’t appreciate him for the person he is. It’s the way J-Carter digs deeper emotionally and thematically that separates him from the pack, along with his obvious prolific rate.

His authentic honesty shines through in the melancholy and reflective No More Drinking, a title that speaks for itself. With visceral self awareness, he depicts his struggle with alcohol addiction and the result is a hard hitting track that he can be proud of. The summery party vibe of the following Not A Judge lightens the mood, a super catchy and highly entertaining track that features countless hooks and great use of call and response vocals. This would make a killer single.

At the risk of repeating myself, this also applies to Now You Want Me, a slickly performed RnB track with some superb male vocals. With its professional and commercial sound, memorable melody and flawless production, it sounds like a hit to me. Far more edgier is Still A Killa, a dark, intense and claustrophobic hip hop track propelled by overdriven organ. As hard as a punch to the gut, great track.

Stomp stands out for one of the most anthemic tracks, if a little repetitive, while Stand Up is another knockout blow with  restless, skittering hi hats, glorious backing strings and an abundance of vocal hooks. Yet another potential single.

Unborn Dead is undoubtedly the hardest hitting and possibly most controversial track on the album. Written from the perspective of a baby being aborted, it makes a thought provoking and compelling case for the moral dilemmas that abortion involves, perhaps the most contentious issue in modern society.

Watch What U Do is a slick piece of RnB infused hip-hop while What Happened To Music is a pointed critique of the poor standard of much modern music and one with which I heartily concur. World We Live In is one of the album’s most musically uplifting moments, driven along by a bouncy, toe-tapper of a beat and an infectious singalong chorus. The lyrics on the verses really keep it real, depicting a world full of difficult to solve problems and where survival is the best some can hope for.

This leads nicely to the life affirming positivity of the album’s final track, Yes Celebrate. It’s about appreciating the good things in your life and making the most of them. While J-Carter is not afraid to confront the darker sides of life, his overall message is very positive and this is a fine example. Counterpointed by soulful female lead vocals, J-Carter lays down the rhymes thick and fast, an incendiary performance and a fine way to finish.

Overall, this is an epic hip-hop album from a highly prolific rapper and artist. Featuring a plethora of potential singles J-Carter maintains a high quality throughout and, in an era where opportunists are making one minute tracks to go viral on TikTok, J-Carter’s decision to release such a big album is a brave and impressive artistic statement. His rapping style has been honed to perfection and he tackles the major issues of life head on, running the gamut of human emotions across the duration. Let’s hope true hip-hop fans will take the time to enjoy the many sonic jewels this twenty eight track album contains.

 

VERDICT = 9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

ALBUM REVIEW: 666 Way$$$ by Feed The Weird

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Feed The Weird are a hip hop duo who are strongly influenced by their interest in the strange and the occult. The duo, Yami Weird and HellAir, have been friends since middle school and have had a long held mutual love for hip hop and punk rock. Both grew apart after moving out of their shared neighborhood, until Yami reached out to Hell after publishing a rough version of his song 666 Ways back in 2018. After that they decided to form a group and publish their music independently, with hopes of escaping the boring life of Northeastern Tennessee. They release their material through Pump Fink Records.

This album, 666 Ways$$$, consists of 11 tracks and musically is a surprisingly unique hybrid of hip hop, trap and metal to create a fusion that brings to mind the industrial rock/metal of Nine Inch Nails, gothic aspects of Marilyn Manson and a myriad of distilled hip hop/rap influences. The album’s opening track, Pussycat Hotrod (produced by Discent), is one of the most sonically arresting and challenging,  not representative of the album as a whole.

Starting out with crunchy, raw low-end guitar chords, it breaks into a trap/hip hop groove overlaid with metal-style growled vocals. Mixed in are a plethora of vocal samples and swirling synths to create a sinister but scintillating soundscape that is unnerving but undeniably gripping. It’s also a style all of its own.

Next comes the title track (produced by Vaegud and sketchymyname) which is more accessible and essentially more traditional hip hop, but with a rock style lead vocal and edgy, explicit lyrics. This become a hallmark of their music across the duration of the album. It begins with a haunting acoustic figure and is set to a languid, simple but effective beat. The vocals are delivered in a very low register and have a strangely mesmeric quality, especially on the potent, hedonistic title hook: “Another touch is dangerous, I’ve got 666 ways to fuck.…”. It’s a clever subversion of Jay Z’s famous 99 Problems.

Bonnie Rotten is even more explicit and brings to mind the claustrophobic, darkly sexual vibe of NIN’s Closer album and Eminem at his edgiest. Produced by Skami, it marries a blistering dubstep/hip hop beat with ghostly echo-drenched glockenspiel, which gives it an almost sinister undertone. Once again, the simplest of hooks proves to be very effective (“She likes it rough….”) and despite its brief two minute duration it packs a considerable punch.

Fourth track Zombie, produced by Dannyebtracks, is a good showcase for the fine rapping skills of both members as well as an entertaining but macabre tale, the sort at which Eminem used to excel. Yami Weird and HellAir make for an effective duo, their styles complementing each other. The title hook quickly lodges in the memory and the lyrics are graphic but compelling throughout.

Snowing In Florida, produced by Hertha & Stork, is another blissed out trip hop track which celebrates the hedonistic side of life on its hypnotic hook: “I smoke dope, I do coke, I do anything I want….”. Opening with an eerie, haunting soundscape, the track balances sung vocal hooks with smoothly rapped verses to great effect. Although the music has a ‘wasted at 3am’ kind of vibe, there’s no hint of struggling with the dark side of drug use here: “Got some bad habits and I don’t wanna break them….”.

The slinky following track Red Eyes seems a continuation of the theme and vibe, seemingly about getting high and enjoy a nocturnal drive: “Red eyes at the red light…I ain’t stopping for the blue light….it’s a night ride….it’s a moonlight drive”. Like an artist like The Weeknd, Feed The Weird have a talent for bringing a sense of the poetic and romantic to their tales of excess.

Seventh track Nowhere Noir, produced by Cashmoney Ap & FORTY38 picks up the tempo a little with a beat of subtle intricacy and nuance, the backdrop for a rather troubled lyric about a femme fatale (“She’s the devil in the shape of a ghost….”). There’s an ominous vibe to the music that mirrors the words and imagery perfectly and there’s a powerful sense of turmoil in the repeated chorus hook: “Dug her nails in me….”.

By contrast, Got Me Thinkin’ is perhaps the most accessible track here, with an undeniable commercial appeal. Built around a simple but irresistible vocal hook, the production by ricci is first rate and this would make an obvious choice as a single.
G.A.T. begins with an immediately captivating synth melody, soon conjoined with an infectious rhythm. This lays down the bedrock for some super fluent rapping, reflecting on their youth as misfits and trying to find a sense of identity. It’s another excellent showcase for their considerable emcee skills, this one produced by SOLO, and one of the most instant tracks on the album.

Love Potion #69 is a return to the more X-rated style of the earlier tracks though whereas a lot of hip hop is about braggadocio, Feed The Weird come from a more troubled place, the final refrain running: “I’m wicked, I’m stricken, I am spellbound, I ain’t ever, ever coming down, I ain’t ever going up….I’m just a fuck up….”.  Produced by Sxpply, it’s another darkly powerful track.

The final track, Anarchy You Can Dance To, is the album’s most anthemic moment and could perhaps be described as their manifesto. Built on an insistent 2/4 beat and an array of futuristic synth sounds, the entire vocal melody is instantly memorable but particularly the singalong hook of “We want sex, sex, sex and violence….” which cleverly plays on the 666 motif that runs through the album. Produced by S4d TrVnk, it’s a brilliant to finish the album and a track I feel could open a lot of doors for them.

Overall, this is a consistently strong hip hop album with a distinctly original flavour. Feed The Weird are a duo unafraid of their dark side and it gives their music a decided edge. Incorporating influences from rock and metal, the combination of singing and rapping is deftly balanced throughout and delivered with charisma and conviction. With a style all of their own and several killer tracks, I expect Feed The Weird to make a strong impact on the hip hop scene with this album, and deservedly so.

 

 

VERDICT= 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

Listen here:

ALBUM REVIEW: The Blue Tape by Earl The Monarch

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Earl The Monarch is a hip hop artist who was born in Dallas, Texas but moved to Port Arthur at an early age. He began writing music while young, growing up listening to DMX, Jay Z, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. His experiences with depression as he got older were also a factor in his artistic development, and he cites music as the reason he got through it.

He released his first mixtape in 2012 under the moniker ‘O.E.’, Insomnia: The Life & Times. He released the sequel in 2013, Insomnia: Dreamin’ of Nightmares. This became a proper album release in 2015 and he switched his moniker from O.E. to Earl The Monarch, putting out his first album under this name in 2017, Pain On The Rocks. I gave a stellar review to his 2018 album This Will All Be A Memory, which you can read here.

This album, The Blue Tape, consists of fifteen tracks. Some of these are skits which bring an element of humour amongst the hard hitting tracks where Earl The Monarch deals with some serious issues. As with the album This Will All Be A Memory, Earl confronts the deepest and darkest themes of life without fear.

After a brief and amusing skit to start the album, Bet $5 goes straight to the deep end with Earl berating the fairweather friends who’ve betrayed him. He also lays down some hard earned street wisdom: “Some doors close in your face, it just wasn’t your time, just be prepared with your plans when it’s time for the grind….”.

On second track Redemption, Earl depicts how music has been a positive influence on turning his life around over a slinky beat and smoky Rhodes progression. The underlying inspirational message behind his music is captured in the lines, “Made them believe….redemption ain’t no disease…”.

Inhibitions starts out with a quote from the tragically killed rap legend Tupac Shakur, and what follows is Earl at his most lyrically eloquent and life affirming (“I was suicidal but I bounced back…”). Over a simple beat, Earl lays down some rapid fire rhymes full of rhythmic invention, displaying his emcee skills to the max.

This heavy vibe is nicely alleviated by The Bridge Skit, which satirises the “bling” gangster mentality, before leading into the superb Blue Cup. Starting with the instantly infectious chorus hook which featuries the vocals of Blake Brake, Earl raps smoothly over a funky hip hop beat and the rapped verse/sung chorus contrast is very effective. With its summery, radio friendly sound it would make an obvious choice as a single.

409party (90s) is another upbeat track, this one a bit of a good time party anthem, also featuring the rapping talents of two of Earl’s cohorts, Killa Trae & Al Bee. Their differing styles complement each other well and it’s another slam dunk.

HowYouFeel? is a return to the more troubled depictions of life as a black man and the problems the black community face. The dark, claustrophobic vibe created by the backing music adds to the intensity and if anyone dare question whether Earl The Monarch is ‘for real’, they should listen to this track.

TakeCare Interlude is a distinct change of pace, a laid back hip hop groove providing the bedrock for a chorus hook sung by Bianca B Lo. Her serene vocals create a nice yin/yang effect with Earl’s direct rapping style. Live Forever is a brutally honest track, ruminating on mortality and those who’ve lost their lives needlessly, ending with another quotation from Tupac Shakur that itself needs contemplation.

Tenth track Mandatory is about a different kind of trouble and pain, portraying a relationship that’s gone wrong. It features the vocals of Kim on the hook which emphasise that love should be unconditional, not “for the glory”. One of my favourites on the album, full of insight and great rapping from Earl.

Friends, featuring Solorook and Coco continues the theme of women troubles, though this one about being betrayed by a close female friend: “I loved you like a sister only you were even closer.…”. The theme of being let down by people he’s helped and supported is a melancholy thread running through the whole album.

Rather than play the victim card, Earl chooses the philosophical approach as well as a defiant stance, as set out on WatchMeSwang II featuring Stevie Lights. Over a jazzy guitar chord progression, Earl gives another masterclass in fluent rapping and lyrical dexterity.

$mokey Momma is one of the most different and distinctive tracks on the whole album, with a chorus of joint male and female vocals over a complex triplet hi hat rhythm. Texas Relays is a remarkable piece of hip hop, also featuring the skills of Manuel, Fammo and Deezy Da Duce. The backing track is an ever morphing melange of swirling synths and the result is highly entertaining.

The album closes with SeeYouTomorrow featuring Coco and makes for a suitably emotional finish, expressing grief for a friend who has died. The last minute is particularly moving, with the ghostly, almost celestial female vocals of Coco repeating the poignant refrain, “The hardest part is that I wish that I could talk to you….”.

Overall, this is another brutal and brilliant hip hop album from an eloquent, emotional artist who has mastered his craft. All the hard times and experiences he’s endured have been poured into the lyrics, delivered with complete conviction throughout. He surveys the tragedies that surround him and offers a message of hope and positivity for a better future, a message that many need to hear. Earl The Monarch deserves to be recognised as one of the best rappers of his generation and this album should win him a new legion of fans.

 

VERDICT: 9.1 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

 

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ALBUM REVIEW: Strange Dreams by Charles Robinson

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Charles Robinson is a recording artist, composer, pianist and alto saxophone player based in Texas. He was exposed to a wide array of musical styles and genres in his youth and this eclectic range of influences is reflected in his music. Just some of his artistic inspirations include John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, Prince, Chick Corea, Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix, amongst many others.

After attending Alcorn State University where he studied piano/saxophone and marched with the world renowned Sounds of Dynamite marching band, he went on to serve in the military as well as serve as musical director for several religious organizations. He released his debut album , The Golden Ratio, in 2018.

This album, Strange Dreams, consists of thirteen instrumental tracks. It starts out with the intense Bel, which is driven by a brooding, circular bassline that draws you in and underpins the whole track. The drums start out as very jazzy before breaking out into an insistent full beat, over which Charles runs riot with his virtuosic, smoky Rhodes playing. Aside from this is a subtle use of synths, which adds to the atmosphere and subtle mystical vibe. The style is certainly heavily jazz-influenced but Charles explores various kinds of jazz fusion across the course of the album, and this is a great opener.

The second track Supermoon is more traditionally jazz with another recurring bass figure, this one on double bass. The atmospheric synths linger in the background and  there are no drums, allowing Charles to weave an intoxicating spell with some superb piano playing that covers the length of the keyboard. His mellifluous flair is not to be underestimated, with not only his skill but the way he always structures his playing in a melodious fashion, never just virtuosity for its own sake.

The following In Your Face! is a return to the electric piano-led sound of the first track and again features a moody, repeating bass motif, though only in certain sections as it gets more expansive in others. The most surprising aspect of the track is the crisp, funky breakbeat that Charles might find hip hop artists want to sample. Aside from some more wonderful echo-drenched Rhodes, there are brief passages of flute (or at least a convincing flute-sounding synth!) which adds to the instrumental texture. One of the album highlights for me.

Soul Dance takes us somewhere else, this one built upon a bed of infectious, exotic world music percussion which cooks up a tasty groove, full of nuance and intricacies. Again, Charles mesmerizes you with some blissed out electric piano work. The surprises keep on coming with Elysian Fields, which is essentially a drum and bass track set at a rapid tempo. The busy drums and bass, along with pulsing EDM style synths, is contrasted with the mellow jazz piano playing and the dichotomy creates an effective tension. The bassline is particularly good on this one.

Turbulence is one the album’s epics at nearly six minutes long, this one based around a simple but effective beat and driven by low-end Stevie Wonder-style synth that is allowed time to grow and breathe, musically. Heaven’s Gate is even more laid back, built on a hypnotic, tranquil groove. As you can tell from the titles and alluded to earlier, there’s a strong mystical, spiritual vibe to his music which is something he shares with one of his musical heroes, John Coltrane. The music throughout has a transcendent quality that takes the listener to some far out places, and this aptly named track is no exception.

Soul Moon Trap is one of the album’s finest moments with a gorgeous piano melody that Herbie Hancock would have been proud of. A pulsing, ostinato bassline holds it together over a slinky bossa nova beat. Robinson’s piano playing here is exceptional. Mercury Retrograde stands out for its complex, angular electronic rhythm full of triplets and syncopations and some more fine piano work.

Parachute is wild, a frenetic rollercoaster ride of a track featuring a hugely infectious beat and bassline which provides the bedrock for some extraordinary piano and synth combinations. This is a remarkable fusion of jazz, soul and hip hop like nothing else you’ll have heard.

The Journey is one of the most unusual tracks and finds Robinson at his most mystical sounding. It’s one of the epics at a shade under six minutes and as the title suggests, takes the listener on an expansive sonic journey. Some sections sound relatively conventional but there’s some strikingly unexpected chord changes that make you feel you’re floating in the ether.

Next comes the title track and again the title is apposite. Robinson conjures up a mesmerising soundscape with a cavernous, powerful beat allied to a loping, understated bassline. A swirl of synths weave in and out, along with some more stellar passages on the piano.

The closing Morning Light (For Hendrix) is a lovely way to finish. As the title obviously suggests, it’s dedicated to the genius of Jimi Hendrix. Set to a lilting, low key groove Robinson takes a back seat and provides supporting Rhodes, allowing his guest guitarist to let rip with some versatile and inventive electric jazz guitar. Listen out for the passage where the guitar and bass play a complicated line in tandem, simply stunning musicianship and it ends things on a high note, literally.

Overall, this is a fascinating jazz fusion odyssey by a versatile, highly imaginative musician and composer. Taking jazz and fusing it successfully with soul, hip hop and rock is no mean feat and Charles Robinson performs this balancing act with some style. Completely at ease on his primary instruments, he also balances his considerable virtuosity with melodic craft so that it never descends into jazz noodling. There’s not a dud track on the whole album and Strange Dreams deserves to be recognised as jazz fusion of the highest quality.

 

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10           

Alex Faulkner

 

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ALBUM REVIEW: Ten Percent by Blue Soul Ten

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Blue Soul Ten is the artistic moniker and musical brainchild of musician, composer and producer Clay Greene. He’s been part of the music industry for 20 years, starting out as a radio DJ as well as studying composition and production at the prestigious Berklee College of Music. His music incorporates jazz, funk, soul, electronica, reggae and hip hop with his tracks often featuring guest artists. He’s released four albums previously, The Unspoken Warrior, The Fearless Warrior, The Beautiful Warrior and 2018’s Blue Notes.

This album, Ten Percent, consists of eleven tracks and starts out with the title track. It’s a jazz/soul instrumental that acts as a good introduction to the exquisitely performed and produced Blue Soul Ten signature sound. Opening with warm sax over subtle piano chords, an intricate percussive pattern breaks into a toe-tapping beat with a pulsing guitar lick driving the musical momentum forward. As it progresses with layers of synths and hints of female vocals, it sets the mellow yet sophisticated vibe for the whole album.

The second track Give In To Me flows seamlessly from the first. It’s a soul/RnB track with a slinky groove and some fine funk-style guitar work. The smooth male vocals fit the track perfectly, a succinct verse leading to an understated but subtly infectious chorus. The simple but effective bassline adds to the sensual vibe, along with the sax break towards the end. A good choice as a single release.

Make It Hot maintains a similar tempo but this one is a hip hop track featuring a performance from rap artist Surron The Seventh. Based around smoky Rhodes and a catchy vibraphone melody, Surron lays down his rhymes over a punchy hip hop beat. He has a natural flow on the mic with some great lines: “Listen, we learned the hard way…always running fast money like a Maserati car chase…”. This is interspersed by a female sung refrain which acts as the perfect contrast. Great track.

Life is another fine song, a laid back jazzy soul track with a summery vibe and featuring some exquisite vocal harmonies on the title hook. The guitar work once again is stellar and the catchiness of the chorus along with its radio friendly sound makes this another potential choice as a single.

Next up is my personal favourite on the album, the reggae/dancehall track Satisfied, featuring the vocals of Zahira. Set to a chugging reggae groove and syncopated, funky guitar Satisfied is a superbly crafted song building to an instantly memorable chorus. The vocal performance is first rate and the bursts of brass add to the colour before a searing electric guitar solo takes the music into the stratosphere. It’s a potent blend of genres fused seamlessly and sounds like one hell of a party.

Another fine instrumental, 10% Interlude, breaks things up nicely between the sung tracks and leads perfectly into Real Love which is based on a Police-style tight guitar lick. It features the same male vocalist as Give In To Me and it’s another sensuous song about the allure of a woman: “Every time you look at me, lost in the synergy…you are a firework in my headspace.” The hook works with the guitar line to great effect and it’s another track suited to radio. Listen out for the backwards wah-drenched guitar at the end.

Purpose (featuring IV) returns to the soulful hip hop sound with another strong rapping performance. The chord progression underneath shows the jazz influence with a meaty bassline going to melodic places you wouldn’t expect, but it works. There’s a more spiritual vibe to the rhymes than you find in most hip hop (“I don’t do this for the profit, I do this cos I’m God-sent…”) and the whole track has a deep message about finding your purpose in life.

These Words starts out like a soul/RnB ballad on the verse before developing into a fine EDM track with a swinging beat on the chorus. Again, it’s a fusion of styles that sounds completely natural and the lush female harmonies complete the sonic picture. Listen out for some unexpected chord changes on the middle eight that shows the jazz roots of the music. The memorable vocal hook makes it another apposite choice as a single.

The jazz influence comes to the fore on the slow-paced Grateful with some gorgeous arpeggio piano and Rhodes forming the bedrock for an intimate and sensual vocal performance that brought to mind Corinne Bailey Rae. Halfway through we hear some lovely Spanish-style classical acoustic guitar which adds to the sophisticated flavour and classy feel.

The album closes out with a final instrumental, Blue Theme V, starting with a didgeridoo (yes, you read that right!) then developing into the Blue Soul Ten signature sound once again, full of rich saxophone and super tight guitars. There’s a wealth of instrumental detail in the mix, from swirling synths to soaring strings and brief bursts of biting brass. It’s a nice way to come down from an album of consistent highs and wraps things up perfectly.

Overall, this fifth album from Blue Soul Ten is of the highest quality from start to finish. The standard of musicianship and composition is first rate and the way eclectic genres, from jazz to hip hop. are brought together is highly impressive. With a plethora of potential singles and stellar performances from featured artists, Ten Percent covers every base in terms of commercial appeal and artistic endeavour. Clay Greene has surely made his masterpiece.

 

 

VERDICT = 9.3 out of 10           

Alex Faulkner

For updates on the album’s release visit the Blue Soul Ten Instagram page HERE

 

 

 

 

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Summer In Jersey by Various NJ Artists

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Summer In Jersey is a compilation album consisting of artists based in the New Jersey region. It was curated by The Garden State Hip Hop Hour’s Richard Scott and consists of twenty three tracks. It features an array of NJ hip hop artists including exclusive tracks by Chad B, Trophy Hitta Sadge, Grooveboyput And Doms. It also includes a three part skit by The Infinite Nudist.

The compilation begins with the first part of this skit and sets the playful tone and upbeat vibe for the rest of the album. Chad B’s exclusive Valentino then gets the music rolling, a laid back hip hop/RnB track with a fine vocal from Chad. The following Bad Girls Only by Melo V is based around a descending synth riff and lyrically captures the hedonistic, sensual feel that much of the compilation has: “You gonna have fun tonight, you gonna get drunk tonight...”. A great track.

Another exclusive, No Way by Trophy Hitta Sadge is even more hedonistic in its content and a little X-rated in places. It’s a super catchy RnB track with a swinging rhythm and an infectious memorable chorus hook. The vocals are slick and smooth as honey on this one, and a radio friendly version would make a great single.

Invited by Bumppro is a little different, starting with a crisp 70’s style disco beat before breaking down to a pulsing four to the floor beat on the verses. The vocals are strong and distinctive, with a title hook that you soon find yourself humming. A fine pop/EDM track about gatecrashing a party with plenty of commercial potential.

Sixth track Act Up by Rich Smiles takes things back to a languid tempo, this one a chilled dancehall track about chasing after the ladies. The title hook is incredibly simple and effective with an addictive quality and you can imagine this going down a storm in the clubs.

This style continues with Intentions by Ganja Killz ft. Favo X Melo which features bilingual lyrics, alternating between Spanish and English which gives it an exotic, multinational vibe. The track is produced to perfection and epitomises the summery vibes of the whole compilation. Answer by Zara proceeds at a similar tempo and stands out for a superb lead vocal performance with a seductive melody that draws you back for repeated listens.

Mexsicko Bity by Killer Kherk Cobain is a distinct contrast with an upbeat calypso rhythm that is guaranteed to get people on the dance floor. The rapping is assured and entertaining with a gleefully hedonistic content to the lyrics. Things are broken up nicely by The Infinite Nudist’s second amusing skit.

Next comes Jersey Anthem, the second track by Grooveboyput with a coterie of guest artists coming to the party. It’s a potent piece of hip hop about New Jersey with the differing rapping styles giving the track a real vitality and variety. For The Low by Super Drugs ft. Threat Digga is harder hitting with an aggressive beat and delivered with great conviction. The title hook is immediately infectious and the ‘bad boy’ vibe to the lyrics gives the track a real edge.

All Summer by Dollar Sign Malc is more innocent fare, a chilled out RnB track with a lilting, toe-tapping beat and an understated but effective title hook: “We outside all summer, top down when we ride all summer, we getting fly all summer, the sun won’t  be the only thing that shines all summer…”.

Fourteenth track, Najir’s Can I Call You, is a masterclass in dexterous, super fluent rapping set to a gorgeous acoustic guitar motif that recurs through the track, providing a real highlight. There’s some more fine guitar work on Maria by Smooch, about a desirable Spanish girl. The classical style Spanish guitar gives this slinky track a decidedly exotic vibe.

This continues with Te Fallo, a track in partly in Spanish by Lilskrt4k ft. Chris Cruz. It’s another sensual and seductive reggae-tinged dancehall track that is currently all the rage. We Jus by Bulletproof Belv is another high quality RnB track with a dirty dub bassline that will sound great in the clubs. Again, it’s lyrically x-rated but that adds to the spice.

Sorry Not Sorry is the third exclusive track from Grooveboyput (ft. Smooth The Rapper) and it maintains the same high standard with an instantly memorable chorus that you soon find yourself humming along to. See This by Dom’s is one of the more understated tracks here with a laid back, almost drowsy feel and a deep dub bassline that grooves the whole thing along.

To The 6IX by A-Money$ features one of the best rapping performances on the compilation with some tongue tripping rhymes delivered with panache and style, the content typically about having a good time with various substances! Can’t Be by Honey is one of the only female sung tracks and it’s a good one; Honey has a fine Rihanna style voice, though the lyrics are rather more graphic than you’ll hear on the radio. Her distinctive and strong voice points to a future with big commercial potential.

Black Pool Party by Clicquot Geno is a super mellow hip hop track with some slick production effects including vocoder vocals and a smart filter sweep towards the end, depicting going underwater. An understated gem. The compilation finishes with the final skit by The Infinite Nudist, completing this highly entertaining compilation in the same lighthearted way it began.

Overall, this is a superb collection of hip hop and dancehall tracks curated by Richard Scott. Featuring several exclusive tracks and a slew of potential hits, this is the most summery and sexy album you’re likely to hear during this year. Highly recommended.

 

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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