Loyle Carner – Not Waving, But Drowning

Not Waving, But Drowning Album Cover.

RATING: 8/10

Must Listens:

  • Ottolenghi (feat. Jordon Rakei)
  • Loose Ends (feat. Jorja Smith)
  • Still

One of UK’s finest Loyle Carner has returned with his second album, the beautifully vulnerable Not Waving, But Drowning. His debut album, Yesterday’s Gone, was a candid entrance exploring his upbringing in South London and introducing us to his youthful and melancholy bravado. However this time round, Not Waving, But Drowning portrays his not so straightforward growth into adulthood through a more optimistic and mature, laid-back jazz aesthetic.

The song’s opening track, Dear Jean, is an emotional letter to his mother as he moves out of home and moves in with his girlfriend. It establishes what the whole album is really about, him showing appreciation to the people closest to him – his mother, his girlfriend, his late father and his close friend and collaborator, Rebel Kleff. The album has a noticeably succinct sound compared to his previous work although this has its own pro’s and con’s. While it helped him create a more whole project, I found myself getting lost into the soulful chill vibe of the album but with Yesterday’s Gone, it had a more playful and somewhat triumphant feel to it. Although, we do see glimpses of this in tracks like Ice Water and You Don’t Know (feat. Kiko Bun & Rebel Kleff. The two singles, Ottolenghi (feat. Jordon Rakei) and Loose Ends (feat. Jorja Smith), remain my favourite from the album however Still and Krispy were also huge standouts.

Krispy is an open track about his relationship with Rebel Kleff from childhood friends to nothing more than business partners. This song gave some of the album’s most frank lyrics, such as “Give a f*ck about money or an e-track, I just want my G back”, and ended with a pensive flugelhorn solo, replacing the Rebel Kleff verse after he didn’t turn up to contribute to the recording. I would say the biggest disappointment from album is Desoleil (feat. Sampha) but only because I think they could create some truly incredible tracks together. I just felt that it was lacklustre and drearily dragged out for longer than it should’ve.

It’s hard to not talk about every track, as I found Caluccio and Angel (feat. Tom Misch) really enjoyable but in the hopes to keep this concise, there’s only one track I wish to discuss further. The closing poem by Loyle Carner’s mum Jean is titled Dear Ben and is a heartfelt response to the opening track. The captivating imagery is placed over the top of her late husband’s unreleased work – a theme that was present on Loyle Carner’s previous album too – and slowly closes the album with the end line “For I’ve gained a daughter, I’ve not lost a son.”

Truly another beautiful album from UK’s confessional Loyle Carner.

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Pivot Gang – You Can’t Sit With Us

You Can’t Sit With Us Album Cover.

RATING: 6/10

Must Listens:

Chicago based Pivot Gang have released their debut album, YOU CAN’T SIT WITH US. Pivot Gang consists of Saba, Joseph Chilliams, MFnMelo, Frsh Waters and the late dinnerwithjohn, with production work from daedaePIVOT and squeakPIVOT.

Saba was one of my favourite artists of last year after releasing his powerful sophomore album, CARE FOR ME. Unfortunately YOU CAN’T SIT WITH US doesn’t live up as a follow up project from Saba and fails to meet my expectations for collective projects. In 2019, I personally have huge expectations for collaborative projects with a Dreamville album and Beast Coast project set to be released later this year. The biggest differences between these two and Pivot Gang’s work is the variety of artists. I think the members of Pivot Gang lack their individual voice in each track, and though it works in songs like Studio Ground Rules with everyone bringing a smooth vibe that transitions between artists, it can hinder the hype of collaborative tracks.

The essential aspects of collaborative works is how sonically different artists can still demonstrate a strong chemistry. The best example I can think of would be Meechy Darko in Beast Coast. He has such a distinct voice and stands out on tracks like Coast/Clear but he still works well with his collaborators. I feel as though Pivot Gang’s strong chemistry creates some of the highlights of the album, it predominately doesn’t work in their favour and causes YOU CAN’T SIT WITH US to not bring the magic of collaborative works that I wanted. Besides that though, it’s a smooth project with clever lyricism and great production talent.

Catchy hooks are scattered throughout the album on songs like Hero and Bad Boys and each member do have their moments. A touching highlight came from the unexpected verse from the late dinnerwithjohn, Saba’s cousin who was murdered in early 2017. The must listen tracks that I listed all come from the first half of the album, as I felt the second half of the album really lacked. I scored all the songs after Bible with 6/10’s which unfortunately led to the overall score of the album. Perhaps I should give each member their own individual works a listen, like I have done obsessively with Saba, to come back and appreciate this group efforts but until then, I expect more from Pivot Gang.

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Aries – WELCOME HOME

WELCOME HOME Album Cover.

RATING: 8/10

Must Listens:

  • RACECAR
  • BAD NEWS
  • DEITY

Aries long awaited first album is finally here. The former producer YouTuber turned up and coming anti-pop star is one of my favourite young artists and I think 2019 will be a huge year for him. WELCOME HOME is 9 tracks, 5 of which we haven’t heard. While RACECAR and SAYONARA remain two of my favourite songs of his, CAROUSEL and SANTA MONICA are still such solid tracks. He released them months apart, letting each of them run their own course until they started to die down in attention. I really hope WELCOME HOME brings more attention back to these previous singles, because they deserve so much more support than what they already have.

Introducing something new, Aries gives us a more acoustic and stripped back feel on DEITY and AMY’S GRAVE. These songs (and the others we hadn’t heard before like PONY and HOME) really round the album off for me. The singles released began a theme of nostalgic love but listening to the album as a whole, he more obviously explores the nostalgic heart ache and teenage angst that overstays its welcome. Aries has such a huge talent for melodies, whether it’s the emotional chorus of HOME or a more climactic feel on CAROUSEL, he finds a perfect blend of pop and emo-rap. This talent provides some of the highlights of the album with lines like “I left all of my demons on read” on BAD NEWS. Check out his new music video he released for BAD NEWS.

Each song has its own pop appeal, especially the 4 songs that we had first heard, but this doesn’t mean they sound the same. While this was something I was worried Aries would unintentionally do, he thankfully has too much curiosity which allows him to continue to explore the lengths he can take his phenomenal production and genre-bending talent. While this genre-bending is great, I feel as though Aries drowns in his influences a little. Though this doesn’t seem to be a huge downer on the album, especially not on the overall artist as he has such a good understanding of his own aesthetic evident in his music and music videos. Sometimes I like the music even more after seeing the edits in his music videos, and the features from Cody Ko & Noel Miller.

But back to the album, it’s really met my high expectations. I can definitely see Aries becoming a huge figure in the emo-rap and alternative pop/rock scene. I’d keep a close ear to his Spotify and an even closer eye on his YouTube.

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Supa Bwe – Just Say Thank You

Just Say Thank You EP cover.

RATING: 6.5/10

Chicago native Supa Bwe has released the first of two EP’s that will serve as a prelude to his future album No Thanks. In an Instagram Q&A, he gave context to the theme of the seven track project, stating “the fact that I risk my life for the bag, but it goes unnoticed, unappreciated by the ones I risk it for. All it takes is a simple ‘thank you.”

I enjoyed the range of Supa Bwe’s talent that he demonstrates throughout. He shows a lot of versatility from the auto-tuned I Hate You to an aggressive PROBLEM / FUEL before ending on my favourite track of the EP, Entropy, a slower jam featuring Dounia (an artist I hadn’t heard of before but will definitely be checking out further). This EP, and Supa Bwe in general, is one of the main reasons why I think Chicago produces some of the best Hip-Hop music. You get artists like Chance The Rapper and Noname who incorporate more of a jazz tone into their work while also getting artists who take more inspiration from the gang violence and lifestyle like Chief Keef. Every now and then you get artists like Supa Bwe and Saba who are able to demonstrate a great balance of both these themes.

The Chance feature on the EP was quite disappointing for me. As a big Chance fan I expect him to show more skill lyrically and sonically, something that his recent singles have lacked too. The seven track EP runs for 20 minutes but feels incomplete to me. I felt like songs like Time For Me and PROBLEM / FUEL could’ve been worked on longer but that being said, this project was only meant to act as a prelude to his upcoming album. I think Supa Bwe felt a pressure to release his music and seems to now have begun a roll out of projects this year but at what cost? I wonder if potentially working on the songs longer and fleshing them out could’ve given him room to release two albums with a more complete feel.

Still, I am extremely excited to see what Supa Bwe has in stall for 2019, but I’m hoping to hear a more complete body of work in No Thanks.

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Anderson .Paak – Ventura

Ventura Album Cover.

RATING: 7.5/10

Must Listens:

Anderson .Paak’s fourth full-length studio release, Ventura, is a perfect show of artist evolution while reminding us why we love him. Though his previous album Oxnard was not received as well among fans, I personally really enjoyed it – a great blend of his talent in Hip-Hop/R&B, Soul and Funk. This time round, Anderson .Paak hones in on his soulfulness, giving us a funk-infused 11 track project. To me, the first song of an album has to be good for me to really engage with the rest of the album, and Come Home does exactly that with the help of one of the greats, Andre 3000.

Though I wasn’t a huge fan of Make It Better initially, it fit nicely within the album and upon first listen, already gives us something to sing along to. Which really describes the album as a whole, it’s a blend of familiarity as he takes us back to a more singing based project yet the production help of Dr. Dre gives us a feeling of freshness. Another aspect I really enjoyed was the run time. 11 tracks, falling short of just 40 minutes – it leaves us wanting more and forces us to rewind and take it all in again. The end track, What Can We Do? featuring Nate Dogg, plays a huge role in my feeling of this, being one of my favourite tracks on the project.

Though this is also where this album didn’t receive a higher mark for me. I really wanted to give it a 8 or even an 9 but it left me wanting more, and I’m happy to wait. Anderson .Paak is an artist that is most definitely here to stay and will continue to grow in his music and his popularity. Oxnard made a lot of people question .Paak’s direction as an artist and I feel like this is his response to that, showing that he can genre blend with ease. I’m expecting much bigger things from his next album, as I think it’ll be the perfect timing and he will have that experience under his belt of dealing with the criticism of Oxnard while keeping his confidence off the back of Ventura.

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Kevin Abstract – ARIZONA BABY

ARIZONA BABY album cover.

RATING: 7/10

Must Listens:

  • Peach
  • Georgia
  • Mississippi

Brockhampton’s lead man Kevin Abstract has released ARIZONA BABY, his first solo album since joining the rap group. The album features helping vocals from JOBA, Bearface and Dominic Fike; and instrumental help from Romil Hemnani

Big Wheels is a short one verse track that demonstrates the heavy influence of Andre 3000. The song features a hard hitting verse from Kevin before setting up the transition to the second track with guitar and a smooth use of sax. As the last note strings out, we get Joy Ride – a more upbeat track with beautiful backing vocals from JOBA. I really enjoyed the chorus to this track and initially I thought it was the catchiest of the EP. Then came the last track on the EP, that even still I can’t get the chorus out of my head. Georgia is a slower melodic tune, but the verses content delivers the honesty that we love from Kevin as he reminisces on his time in High School and Hollywood as a homosexual. 

Corpus Christi is one of the most powerful solo tracks I’ve heard from the Texan born artist. The whole project is really powerful, showcasing his raw ability to story tell about his growth from childhood to adulthood, small city to Hollywood. Corpus Christi is a brutally honest track, with references to the fall out with previous member Ameer Vann. The chorus isn’t as strong as the verses but Baby Boy fills in what Corpus Christi lacks.

Baby Boy features vocals from Ryan Beatty who gives a hopeful touch to the mood of the album. The end bridge is responsible for almost half the song but it’s a beautiful production that slowly mellows out into Mississippi. Mississippi is the one of the catchiest songs, but admittedly provides some of his weaker verses. The production on this one is really what was noticeably great to me, in fact the project as a whole has had some really commendable production. The aforementioned tracks were released in two seperate EP’s so upon my first listen, there was only 5 new tracks to hear. While Peach was a great surprise – with guest vocals from Dominic Fike, JOBA and Bearface – the rest of the songs did not live up to the rest of the album.

Not necessarily bad, but the ending of the album just seemed to slowly stumble past the finish line. Some of the themes throughout the album seem to be repeated a little too often in lines, giving an unwelcome sense of familiarity. The ending track Boyer came across like a friendly reminder of Brockhampton and their sound, indicating we should be hearing more of them in the near future. As a full project though, I think this could really rocket Kevin Abstract’s solo career as the honesty and relatable, raw emotion is something that has and will continue to resonate with fans. I would be interested to hear solo projects from the other members of America’s favourite boy band.

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Khalid – Free Spirit

Free Spirit Album Cover.

RATING: 6/10

Must Listens:

  • Don’t Pretend (feat. SAFE)
  • My Bad
  • Better

The 21 one year old El Paso native has released his sophomore 17 track album ‘Free Spirit’. I’ve been listening to Khalid since his only song was Location on Soundcloud, and I was rooting for him and his success after the release of ‘American Teen’ however I think its this success that has hindered his latest work. While none of the tracks are bad, but they just fit so perfectly as background music. I tried to listen to the album straight through about 4 times and every time I forgot I was even listening to it. The only time the music captivated me was from the numerous singles he had already released, which happen to be the best part of the album. Perhaps his dominance of the Pop and R&B charts have made his own sound feel all too familiar, he fails to consistently switch his sound up or build upon the sound he’s created.

Every song feels like its really just trying to fit into a Spotify playlist, which is definitely does but I expect a lot more from an artist like Khalid. He has a lot more to offer and I think he needs to focus on showing that, rather than continuing to produce radio friendly music because inherently that’s what his music is regardless. That being said, the two features from SAFE and John Mayer fit nicely into the mood of the album and every song is perfect to have on in background.

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NAV – Bad Habits

Bad Habits Album Cover.

RATING: 3/10

Must Listens:

  • Tap (feat. Meek Mill)
  • Tussin’ (feat. Young Thug)
  • Tension

After a week of controversy, Toronto rapper Nav drops The Weeknd-executive produced Bad Habits. The 16 track album features include Gunna, Young Thug and Meek Mill; and would’ve included Lil Uzi Vert if it wasn’t for his label heads. The instrumentals fail to give anything new to what we’ve heard before on previous works and the hi-hats are distractingly dominant in almost every song. Though the melodies are catchy, the songs as a whole are monotonous and boring – a style Nav feels way too comfortable in. To help this, the short duration of each track, a new habit of most rappers nowadays, was something I could appreciate. I really enjoyed Tap (feat. Meek Mill) and Tussin’ (feat. Young Thug), despite Thuggers’ strange outro but I couldn’t help but miss the Uzi feature throughout the album.

I can’t say I’d recommend Nav’s new album, but if you’re looking for some new Thugger and Meek Mill – Tap and Tussin’ are definitely strong tracks. 

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Rich The Kid – The World Is Yours 2

The World Is Yours 2 Album Cover.

RATING: 6.5/10.

Must Listens:

  • Woah (feat. Miguel & Ty Dolla $ign)
  • Like Mike (feat. Jay Critch & A Boogie Wit da Hoodie)
  • Ring Ring (feat. Vory)

Rich The Kid provides the sequel to The World Is Yours, with his latest 16-track sophomore album of the same name. Going into the album, I didn’t expect much from the New York rapper but with that mentality, I actually enjoyed most of the songs. The World Is Yours 2 features 14 other artists including rap feature essentials such as Offset, Ty Dolla $ign, Young Thug & Gunna; but also Big Sean, A Boogie & Miguel makes his first appearance in 2019. However, it’s these superstar features that carry this album as Rich The Kid fails to follow up his debut album of last year.

If you’re expecting something new from him, don’t. His flow tends to get less engaging as the album progresses and the features were really the only reason I can say I enjoyed this project. That being said, the curation of the album is done well, with the features flowing flawlessly together.

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