Injury Reserve – Injury Reserve

Written by Jarvis Regan.

Injury Reserve Album Cover.

RATING: 7.5/10

Must Listens:

  • Best Spot in the House
  • Jawbreaker (feat. Rico Nasty & Pro Teens)
  • Koruna & Lime

Phoenix trio Injury Reserve have spent six years dropping mixtapes and EP’s in the lead up to their self-titled debut album, but has the album proved to be the crescendo in their discography that they wished for?

Injury Reserve are comprised of producer Parker Corey and rappers Ritchie With a T and Stepa J. Groggs. An unusual trio with an even more unusual discography, Injury Reserve are aiming for a coveted and barely-attainable position within musical artistic qualification, the position where an artist or group can create experimental music with a pop appeal. So far over their existence, the group has proved they’ve got the versatility to achieve this status. Starting with the jazzy alt-rap that defined their breakout mixtape Live From The Dentist Office (2015), to  aggressive and defiant cuts like Oh Shit!!! and Girl With the Gold Wrist off Floss (2016) and finally to the emotionally charged Drive It Like It’s Stolen (2017) that features the heartbreaking North Pole, Injury Reserve have covered most bases in their pursuit of rap notoriety. The question is however, what does the album Injury Reserve do for both progressing the groups sound simultaneously into the experimental and pop fields?

Koruna & Lime opens the album with its infectious yet unpredictable beat that entices the listener to instantly broaden their expectations for the rest of the album. There are some heavy features on the album, with some placed right at the beginning. Rico Nasty absolutely cuts through the twinkling beat of Jawbreaker, whilst JPEGMAFIA’s dominating hook on GTFU makes the song as aggressive as the title suggests. Sadly these features appear to have been detrimental to Ritchie and Stepa’s status in the tracks as they are overshadowed by their contributing peers. It’s not just the JPEG and Rico features this applies to, with the two Injury Reserve boys struggling to compare to Aminé and Freddie Gibbs who appear later on the album.

However, it’s impossible to totally discredit Ritchie and Stepa as they really appear to come out of their shell and shine on some tracks. On What a Year It’s Been, Stepa offers an introspective and unique take on his own battle with depression and self-doubt. Then Ritchie brings one of the most moving verses on the album on Best Spot in the House, lamenting about the death of a friend and his own selfishness for rapping about the tragedy when he didn’t even attend the funeral: “How was I too cowardly to go to your f**king funeral? Yet somehow think rapping about your death was f**king suitable.”

Lyrical content aside, Parker’s production carries the conversation of progression within this album. Hailing from white suburbia, the first Hip-Hop album Parker listened through in full was Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. But Parker’s ingenuity and imagination shines through on this record. Obscure sampling, such as the beautiful Silver Mt. Zion sample on What a Year It’s Been and even tweaking Teriyaki Boyz’ infamous Tokyo Drift for Jailbreak the Tesla. This, merged with innovative drum beats and synths, creates a feeling of progression and something completely new to Hip-Hop. Parker even experiments with song structure in an unseen way, creating a step by step guide in Rap Song Tutorial that is actually surprisingly satisfying when watching the song build itself up from individual drum beats step by step. Nevertheless, the aforementioned feeling of progression carries the album in the absence of more traditional hooks and melodies.

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Tyler, The Creator – IGOR

IGOR Album Cover.

RATING: 7/10

Must Listens:


From being banned of entering the UK and Australia to writing the soundtrack for The Grinch, Tyler, The Creator has come a long way since founding Odd Future in 2007.

Returning after his traditional 2-year absence, Tyler continues to experiment his sound across 12 tracks on his sixth album, IGOR. The Californian includes features like Playboi Carti, Lil Uzi Vert, Kanye West, Pharrell Williams and Solange – just to name a few.

The album starts with the distorted and heavy vinyl crackling of IGOR’S THEME. The ominous opener features vocal support from Lil Uzi Vert and Solange and I could definitely see it being used for some sort of horror film. From the start, Tyler blends the sounds of Cherry Bomb and themes of Flower Boy; and continues to do so throughout the project. The album follows Tyler falling in love, starting and ending a relationship and attempting to remain friends.

EARFQUAKE is a clear example of Tyler falling in love, featuring backup vocals from Charlie Wilson and a short but sweet verse from Playboi Carti. The song encapsulates the exciting and anxious feelings of gaining emotions for someone however already hints to relationship problems. I THINK builds upon this feeling and hints to the effect his significant other has on his mental health. The track gives off a strong Kanye West vibe by interpolating Stronger. Like West, Tyler’s production is always something to be commended, matching the incredible work of Flower Boy while reintroducing sounds reminiscent of Cherry Bomb. However, each song as I went through it got more and more boring, becoming repetitive and not offering the excitement I hoped for.

The short spoken word EXACTLY WHAT YOU RUN FROM YOU END UP CHASING foreshadows the later emotions of the album and the toxicity that love can bring to you. RUNNING OUT OF TIME continues to play into the topic of running and alludes to the often inevitable and ominous ending of a relationship. Tyler’s use of back up vocals and amazing production work really gave me a sense of falling, whether into love or into peril. The project starts to become more clearly Tyler’s with songs like NEW MAGIC WAND, A BOY IS A GUN and PUPPET. This leads to a large issue throughout the album, that it doesn’t feel like his own. He doesn’t allow himself to shine as bright as I think he could but perhaps that could be the creative direction the artist is heading, focusing more of curating and production.

WHAT’S GOOD is one of the more aggressive cuts on the album and personally I really liked it. Split into two parts, with the later featuring UK’s slowthai, Tyler gives one of my favourite verses on the album with lines like “I ain’t have nobody to cheat on, I cheat death. New album, no repeat, I reset.” He then lightens it up with GONE, GONE / THANK YOU, following the multi-part structure that all of his tenth tracks have followed since Bastard. Coming to terms with falling out of love, the song features King Krule and Mild High Club. This is my favourite feature on the album, and one of my favourite cuts on the whole project. He ends the album with the anti-climatic ARE WE STILL FRIENDS? featuring Pharrell Williams that leaves us with the unanswered question “Are we still friends?”. Ending the same way it started, with us on the edge of our seats excited to hear more.

Tyler’s voice struggles to shine through past his production until the back half of the album, but even when it does, the themes explored seem repeated from Flower Boy. Nevertheless, Tyler has added another beautiful album to his discography that fits its narrative. I think people are harsh to quickly criticise IGOR in fear that it won’t live up to his previous work. While I do agree this isn’t his best, its an album with amazing curation and production work that hints to the continual growth of Tyler as an artist.

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Kota the Friend – FOTO

FOTO Album Cover.

RATING: 7.5/10

Must Listens:

  • Hollywood
  • Solar Return (feat. Saba)
  • Chicago Diner

After multiple singles and months of waiting, Brooklyn MC Kota the Friend has released his debut album, FOTO. The album is 19 tracks long with features from Saba, Lizzy Ashliegh, Hello Oshay, Isa Reyes and Richard Parker.

Kota’s music has always showcased a nostalgic blend of New York boom bap and Chicago styled type beats (the production work of Youtuber/Producer Origami no doubt contributed to this). FOTO is no different and is a smooth project with plenty of wordplay and an overarching message of conquering adversities to reach mental clarity.

Right away Kota sets up this journey with Richard Parker’s intro, hinting to the albums title saying “Make sure you taking some photos, man.” In his verse, he nicely introduces himself and sets up the neighbourhood that raised him and played an important role helping his garden reach Full Bloom. Church explores one of the key lyrical themes of Kota with many biblical references over a bass and hi-hat heavy track. One of the more energetic songs, it fits well overall but I wonder if it could’ve been more exciting with a bigger build up and better execution of the chorus.

Birdie is the first single we are reintroduced to but Kota added an extra layer of saxophone that definitely gives it a grander feel to this lazy love song perfect for a Sunday. Hollywood is another great song, probably my favourite on the album based on the beat alone. Not sure if its the same sample from the song Tribe by Bas featuring J. Cole, but either way I enjoy Hollywood in the same I loved Tribe. Then follows Alkaline, another highlight of the album, however its one of the first that reuses a lot of other song elements, and was the first hint of the albums repetition.

Sedona hints to this also, and presents one of my biggest fears going into the album. Kota has near mastered his style – the laid back sunny vibe is something he owns – but eventually it starts to seem recycled. Though its not necessarily anything bad, I still loved Sedona and Chicago Diner but for an album experience it personally hindered the journey. Same can be said about the four interludes that while they added to the storytelling aspect, I’m personally not a huge fan of skits in albums. However, in between an interlude sandwich, Kota welcomes one of Chicago’s best up and comers, Saba, to join him on Solar Return. Keeping Kota’s ability for catchy hooks, Saba’s feature maintains the albums themes but brings a much-needed refreshing voice.

KOALA has a harder hitting beat and a more Trap styled flow and reminds me that Kota is capable of versatility, something he should explore more to ensure his brand does not become stagnant. The album ends on a high note with For Coloured Boys, Good To Be Home and FOTO (feat. Hello Oshay), and really hones in on Kota’s journey to clarity. It’s on FOTO’s upbeat call and response chorus, that we realise how Kota’s music has helped us on our own journey. His music is warm, optimistic and essential for relaxing and taking time for yourself.

Kota The Friend hinted to my worries of repetition with the long track list and interludes, but in the end FOTO proves to be a fantastically smooth album for easy listening, showing us how Kota The Friend has overcome his adversity and inherently helped us do the same.

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Logic – Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind Album Cover.

RATING: 5.5/10

Must Listens:

Logic has been on a slow ascent for over a decade now, and after reaching mainstream popularity through his third studio album Everybody, I have felt his appeal to me quickly descend. Content wise, Logic has started off 2019 with a bang – releasing Supermarket (a soundtrack to his debut novel) and now, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.

Beginning the album with two of his singles, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Homicide (feat. Eminem), we already get a taste of the two sides of the same coin. A lot of Logic’s work in recent years has either featured a strong message of love and equality or his playful and impressive pace of word play. While Logic’s fast ability cannot go unmentioned I think its use on this album is underwhelming and in a way, cringe. I think a better example of Logic utilising this flow is on songs like Gang Related, but at least he shows his self awareness through the Chris D’Elia outro of Homicide.

The album largely tackles how Logic has dealt and is dealing with his fame. This theme is most present on Wannabe and clickbait, both catchy songs but are a little too painfully satirical for me. Mama / Show Love (feat. YBN Cordae) is one of the better tracks of the project, and is another example of how the fast rapping can work well. Logic is blessed with one of the most underrated producers in the game 6ix, who is one of the major reasons I come back to check out Logic’s new work. YBN Cordae is also a highlight, and one of the best features on the album. The other being Icy (feat. Gucci Mane) which is my favourite track on the album with a catchy chorus over a tip toeing beat and Gucci nicely compliments the songs bravado.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock (10220387d) Logic performs at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, in New Orleans 2019 Jazz and Heritage Festival – Weekend 1 – Day 3, New Orleans, USA – 27 Apr 2019

Coming back to satire of this album, COMMANDO (feat. G-Eazy) feels like a poor attempt for a strip club anthem with G-Eazy being the perfect candidate for a song like this. He also makes attempts for a trap banger through Still Ballin’ (feat. Wiz Khalifa), but falls short of anything noticeable. The rest is more or less forgettable (I don’t even want to acknowledge the Will Smith feature), but he ends the album on a high note with the smooth Lost in Translation.

All in all, Logic is lost in the caricature of himself by either being his preachy self or name dropping and delivering empty brags. The production work is great though and for big fans of Logic and his style, I think this provides some redeeming fan-service.

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PnB Rock – Trapstar Turnt Popstar

Trapstar Turnt Popstar Album Cover.

RATING: 7.5/10

Must Listens:

  • Swervin (feat. Diplo)
  • I Need More
  • My Ex

PnB Rock enlists some big features for his sophomore double disc album, Trapstar Turnt Popstar. PnB described the meaning behind the idea of a two-disc project saying, “The TrapStar side is just me telling you the stories, regular s**t: how I used to come up, and the hardships of me as a trap star. Now, I’m a pop star. That’s me having fun, traveling, moving around, living life, experiencing different s**t.” When I first heard about the concept of the album, I was worried the end-product would be in-cohesive and be better off as two seperate projects. But Trapstar Turnt Popstar is a succinct body of work that maintains its spacey Trap and R&B sound across both discs, taking on a range of themes from trap hardships to pop heartbreaks.

The first disc starts strong with Dreamin’, I Need More and Deez Streetz (feat. Lil Durk), all portraying his rise to fame and the connection he’s maintained with his trap lifestyle. I Need More’s chorus is a noticeable highlight on the first disc along with the storytelling on Nowadays and the XXXTENTACION feature on MIDDLE CHILD. MIDDLE CHILD is one of the only posthumous songs I’ve heard from X that feels genuine and doesn’t come across as a cash and clout chase. It really shows the artistic friendship between the two and that this track wasn’t one of X’s leftover verses but actually a product of their studio time together. PnB Rock’s songs with Tee Grizzley and Quavo respectively are two of the weaker joints on disc 1 but he manages to finish off strong with Now Or Never 2.0, a great reflective ender that clearly divides the two works.

Similar to disc 1, disc 2 starts off with a similar bang with Swervin’ (feat. Diplo), I Like Girls (feat. Lil Skies) and All These Bandz (feat.Tory Lanez). PnB nailed the popstar intro with production work from Diplo and continuing with an even brighter and more upbeat style. While I thought the popstar side of this album would be an excuse for endless bragging and over used lyrics of flexing, he explores a more lustful and troublesome side on tracks like My Ex and Put You On (feat. A Boogie Wit da Hoodie), which brings some questionable lines from the guest verse. Don’t get me wrong, the album is still littered with lyrics about designer clothes and fast cars on forgettable songs like Penny Proud and Stage Fright but PnB Rock has definitely showed a more creative side that I think really sits him a part from his contemporaries.

PnB Rock is an underrated artist who, in my opinion, will experience great career longevity if he continues with works like this.

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ScHoolboy Q – CrasH Talk

CrasH Talk Album Cover.

RATING: 6/10

Must Listens:

TDE veteran’s fifth studio album CrasH Talk, is a solid album to say the least, but does it live up to the wait? Honestly, I don’t think so. I feel as though Q has toned his sound down a bit in exchange for a dull combination of trap and pop. The first two tracks create my first problem with the album, the shortness of the tracks. While I think Gang Gang and Tales is a strong way to open the album, I think they were both cut way too short. I was left wanting more from almost every track, and not in a good way. It was either I wanted more content or I wanted the content to be better. The features of the album are unbelievably underwhelming, starting with Travis Scott’s feature on CHopstix. While I like Q’s verses, the song is so painfully boring and doesn’t seem to work with the chorus and if you’re going to get a Travis Scott feature, I’d expect him to say more than one word.

Other features include 6LACK, Lil Baby, Kid Cudi, 21 Savage, Ty Dolla $ign and YG. Either ScHoolboy tries to cater too much to the featured artists style with songs like Floating (feat. 21 Savage) or the features are just weak and left me expecting so much more like Drunk (feat. 6LACK). However, Dangerous (feat. Kid Cudi) is still one of my favourite tracks on the project. I think his more introspective songs like that and Black Folk are the highlights of the album and provide some seriously redeeming qualities. Aside from that, 5200 and Numb Numb Juice are also great examples of Q’s talent, showing that he can definitely do more on his own than with features. ScHoolboy Q’s verses throughout are really commendable and his emotions come through each track as he changes flow effortlessly throughout.

Waiting 3 years for CrasH Talk definitely left fans with high expectations coming off the back of the Blank Face LP. Unfortunately the wait was met with what feels like a forced commercial album with really only two songs that will be put in my weekly rotation. While I do commend Q for experimenting with his sound, I’m hoping the criticism he’s received on this album will help him bounce back with another project as strong as his previous ones. Fingers crossed it doesn’t take 3 years either but I do understand that with the passing of Mac Miller and Nipsey Hussle, he had to postpone his work to properly cope with the loss of two of his peers.

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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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RATING: 8/10

Must Listens:


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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