Hit-Boy – “Surf or Drown” review

Hit-Boy is a 35 year old producer, MC & singer/songwriter from Fontana, California who’s been at for 2 decades after Polow da Don took him under his wing by signing him to his Interscope Records imprint Zone 4 Records. His early production credits range from “Stronger” by Mary J. Blige to “Drop the World” by Lil Wayne & Eminem, but wasn’t until the winter following the last 2 jams where he would catch the attention of the Chicago jeen-yuhs himself Kanye West by producing his Christmas posse cut “Christmas in Harlem” & becoming an in-house producer for G.O.O.D. Music for 2 years approximately 5 months after that. It was there that he would cookup some notable bops such as “Niggas in Paris” by The Throne as well as “Cold” by Ye & even “Backseat Freestyle” off Kendrick Lamar’s sophomore album albeit major label debut good kid, m.A.A.d. City. He then launched his now defunct Interscope imprint HS87 Music as his tenure under Kanye’s wing was coming to a close, continuing to build a reputation for himself by working with the likes of Beyoncé or Drake & Travis Scott for the remainder of the decade. But it’s no secret that these past few years have easily been amongst Hit-Boy’s most prolific yet considering his recent work with Big Sean, Benny the Butcher & more specifically Nas. So considering that & recently founding his own EMPIRE Distribution imprint Surf Club Inc., it’s only right for him to follow-up his 6 solo mixtapes in the form of his very own full-length debut.

After the “Big Hit” intro, “The Tide” fittingly enough sets off the album with Nas & Hit-Boy over a soulful beat with a trap switch-up later on displaying their tight chemistry whereas “State Champ” by Half-a-Mil & Jay305 find the trio accompanied by a cloudy yet vibrant instrumental representing Cali to the fullest. Dom Kennedy sticks around for “Corsa” admitting their hearts are still cold on top of some hi-hats & an airy backdrop leading into Curren$y being subbed into the game on the chill trap banger “Tony Fontana III” talking about how this shit is a marathon but they ain’t running a track.

Spank Nitti James takes up a bulk of “Just Ask” his verse is just ok personally although I love the hypnotically crooning trap production & the themes of asking before assuming leading into “NU.WAV” follows it up with a moody trap ballad about the way he formulates until “Slipping into Darkness”starts off with The Alchemist spitting a verse over a sample-based boom bap beat until Hit-Boy calls out those who tried to deflect him over some jazzy piano chords Uncle Al chopped up.

The song “2 Certified” goes full-blown UK drill as Avelino sets it off by helping the man behind the boards boast about their respective legitimacies in the rap game while the penultimate track “M.T.R. (Make the Rules)” is a vibrant yet chiller cut about how he simply knows the rules as opposed to making them. The album ends with a sequel to “Composure” off King’s Disease II with an aquatic yet jazzy boom bap instrumental getting more vulnerable lyrically.

Much like how The College Dropout cemented Ye’s abilities as a performer & The Life of Pi’erre 4 with Pi’erre Bourne, I think anyone who’s been fucking with Hit-Boy as long as me could tell you that’s exactly what Surf or Drown does for him. You get a good look into who one of the most consistent producers in the game today really is on the mic as he enlists a mainly consistent guest list that helps him rip his own beats to shreds ranting from boom bap to trap & even UK drill.

Score: 4/5

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Kota the Friend – “To See a Sunset” review

This is the 9th full-length album from Brooklyn emcee Kota the Friend. Breaking out in 2016 off his debut EP Palm Tree Liquor, he would go on to follow it up with 2 more EPs before dropping his debut album FOTO in 2019. Kota has since dropped 7 more under his belt, with my favorite To Kill a Sunrise fully produced by Statik Selektah celebrating it’s 2 year anniversary just last weekend. So with that in mind, he & the established Boston producer are reuniting To See a Sunset.

“High Noon” is a warm, soulful boom bap opener to the album looking back on the people praying on his decimation & Kota’s current view being tropical whereas “Real Ones” works in some bluesy guitars, strings, kicks & snares talking about life being good. “Elevator” takes a jazzier approach as he makes it clear that he ain’t got time for no dumb motherfucker prior to “Go Brooklyn” is an atmospheric boom bap cut representing his hometown.

Moving on to “Maybe So”, we have Statik bringing back the jazz as Kota talks about staying ahead of things just before “1 Life” laces some pianos so he can encourage everyone to do it right with the short time we have here. “Valleys” has a more lavish approach telling listeners everything’s gonna be ok & you’re gonna make it leading into the wavy pop rap ballad “Eye See U” addressing fakes. The penultimate track “Free Not Woke” brings back the blues guitars as Kota speaks on doing as you please & “Thank You” is an appropriate victory lap from the peppy beat to the gracious lyrics.

Truthfully, the last 3 albums that Kota’s dropped since I’ve last covered his music were all average at best respectively & To See a Sunset reveals itself to be a more than worthy sequel to what I consider to be the crown jewel of his discography. Statik’s production is as rich as it was on the predecessor except it has a more jazzy boom bap flare to it as the theme turning your dream into a reality & being present with the realization that you’re living your best life is inspiring.

Score: 4.5/5

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Tha God Fahim – “Dump Gawd: Shot Clock King 4” review

This is the 41st EP from Atlanta emcee/producer Tha God Fahim. Coming up as an affiliate of Griselda Records alongside Mach-Hommy & Your Old Droog, he’s also built up an incredibly vast discography with a couple of standouts being Breaking Through tha Van Allen Belts & Dump Assassins. Now the last time I covered Fahim’s work was when he dropped his 19th full-length album 6 Ring Champ & the final installment of the Shot Clock King trilogy of EPs produced by Nicholas Craven shortly after last spring. But coming off of 3 EPs since 2023 started with Dark Shogunn Assassin & Iron Bull being my favorites so far, Fahim & Craven are back together for a 4th installment in the Shot Clock King saga.

Jay NiCE’s appearance on the opener “Area of Effect” is the only feature on the EP as he & Fahim jump on top of a soulful boom bap instrumental referring to themselves as heavy dumpers boasting how terrific they are prior to “Nice to Know” going into drumless turf as he puts up points as much as Carmelo Anthony does. The sample on “Damage Over Time” is fascinatingly delicate with Fahim going out for revenge while the song “Defense” has a bit of a psychedelic rock route talking about being unable to give or let up. The penultimate track “Mentally Prepared” has a catchy vocal loop touching on nonstop dominance & “Work Hard Play Hard” is a crooning boom bap closer paying tribute to those who came before him & continuing the glory.

I still enjoy Dark Shogunn Assassin & Iron Bull as much as I do when both of those EPs dropped not too long ago, but the Shot Clock King series is amongst Fahim’s strongest work & the latest installment here sure enough has quickly become my favorite project that he’s given us this year as of me reviewing this. Nicholas Craven’s production is more prominently drumless much like the first installment & the way the Dump Gawd lyrically continues to float on top of these bare sample flips is as fresh as always.

Score: 4.5/5

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Navy Blue – “Ways of Knowing” review

Navy Blue is a 26 year old skateboarder, MC, producer, songwriter, visual artist & model from Brooklyn, New York who came up in 2015 off his debut EP According to the Waterbearer. He has since continued to turn heads in the underground scene by dropping 9 more EPs & 6 full-lengths before signing to Def Jam Recordings about a month ago. With that in mind, it was only a matter of time until he dropped his 7th album albeit major label debut fully produced by Budgie.

“The Medium” is a drumless opener with some pianos & choir vocals as Navy admitting that learning patience has made sense for him as of late whereas “Chosen” has a more abstract, jazzy approach to it talking about being a prodigy. “The One” seeks eternal love with a silky yet sensual beat until “To Fall in Love” takes a more tropical route instrumentally talking about fucking up a real blessing like his significant other.

Zeroh comes into the picture on “Life’s Terms” to let it be known that all it takes for them just to be in love & that simply being the way it goes just before “Phases” dives into more soulful turf talking about being unable to stay the same with gratitude & living day to day. “Kill Switch” has a more dejecting sound to it as Navy acknowledges that he ain’t self righteous leading into the Kelly Moonstone-assisted “Window to the Soul” declaring themselves as ballroom stars returning to the boom bap.

“Freehold” opens up about despising his opponents & being unable to do this shit by his lonely on top of a slow yet syrupy beat while “Embers” with Liv.e delivers some jazzy piano chords as they talk about where they wanna be in life. The song “Pillars” is wavy ode to his family while the groovy penultimate track “Look in My Eyes” talks about seeing the pain he’s lived through. “Shadow’s Shield” however comes through with a drumless closer being unable to complain & thinking that everything will be straight in the end.

Between this & Maxo’s latest Def Jam debut Even God Has a Sense of Humor that just came out last month, it seems as if one of the most iconic labels in the history of our culture is continuing to help bring the underground to the mainstream by giving these artists the push they deserve. The lyrics are more personal which is great for those who’re new to him with the batch of instrumentals that Budgie whips up being amongst his strongest to date pulling from jazz rap, drumless & chipmunk soul.

Score: 4/5

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Artur – “T.H.O.T.H. (The Harmonizing of The Hemispheres)” review

Artur is a 42 year old Polish-American recording artist & sculptor based out of Atlanta, Georgia who started to write lyrics when he was 16 after being denied entry into a club because of his Polish passport. He wound also go on to found Living Angles & #UplineCreations after diving into sculptural art and into making frequency emitting permission-slips and art installations. But as a way of properly introducing himself in the music industry, Artur is presenting a brand new style of hip hop of his own that he refers to “ascension rap” on his full-length debut.

After the “Intergrate” intro, the first song “2023” sets off the album by opting in for an open contract over some bells & hi-hats whereas “Alien Abduction (Spiritual Induction)” works in some guitar licks talking about how some will view this as an omen & to follow the directions given. “Every Day” hooks up these synths with kicks & snares encouraging that each day in your life is a new beginning just before “Starseeds Activate” talks about the time being here & now accompanied by a glistening instrumental.

“We the Bring the Magic” has a more futuristic boom bap approach as The Swim’n Bird tags along to discuss that you are in fact the mystery, the bridge, the divinity & the magic that you seek in life leading into the title track attaches some more kicks & snares to an orchestral loop talking about healing the heart. “Architects of Consciousness” is a 2-minute atmospheric trap ballad building momentum of a potential that goes back all the way to the beginnings of Atlantis, but then “The Embodiment of 9” returns to the boom bap talking about the embodiment of the awakened human being.

Meanwhile on “Moving On Up (Level Up Now)”, we have Artur leveling up with a more cloudier instrumental backing him while “The Arcturian Gate” brings in the horns as he discusses the helping hand of Arcturus that is being stretched out towards mankind. Yung Kemmo coming into the picture for the rap rock inspired “Host of Rhythm” paying homage to the great spirit while “In the Flow” returns to trap territory to deliver an invocation of the spiritualization of Earth’s humanity.

The song “Know Thyself” brings back the rock vibes as he provides an anthem touching on being honest with yourself & self-investigation with Nathaniel Yost on the hook while the penultimate track “Perfect Resonance” dives back into the basement as far as sound goes talking about aligning oneself with the soul’s original blueprint. And to finish the album off, “Mahas Saham” addresses the one & infinite mind that’s immortal.

If anyone out there is looking for a product that represents the Golden Pages of Ascension in a playful & poetic manner, then T.H.O.T.H. (The Harmonizing of The Hemispheres) is definitely the album for you & it makes me excited to see him elevate his ascension rap style even further from hereon out. The teachings spread throughout it’s 50 minute course most certainly have the power to help one through the dimensional shift & the production fits the ascendant themes quite well.

Score: 3.5/5

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Estee Nack – “B.R.A.P. (Born Rewards & Penalties)” review

This is the 6th full-length album from Boston emcee Estee Nack. Coming up as a member of the Tragic Allies, he also branched out on his own my junior year of high school of his Purpose-produced solo debut 14 Forms: The Book of Estee Nack & has since built a lengthy yet impressive discography for himself. Other highlights include the Sadhugold-produced Surfinongold.wav alongside it’s sequel The Order of the Golden Fleece, the Giallo Point-produced Papitas, his collab efforts with al.divinowith the #MiniMansionDust series. But as Estee makes up for his Griselda Records debut Nacksaw Jim Duggan being delayed, he’s enlisting V Don to fully produce B.R.A.P. (Born Rewards & Penalties).

“Opening Statements” is a grand drumless opener with Estee talking about going from riding a train to a truck & those trying to reach for his charm whereas “Penny Pinchin’” goes right into sinister boom bap attacking the type of motherfucker to play games with you. “Paperchasing” takes a more soulful route with some bass guitar to go after the bread, but then The Hidden Character tags along for the rugged “Gatpackin’” talking about guns of course.

As for “Devils Can’t Fool God”, we have Mr. Rose over a bare string instrumental to address those who still be trying to get on his good side even after the fact that a bunch of weak shit about them was confirmed leading into Primo Profit tagging along for “The Uncanny” accompanied by a blaring yet raw ass beat advising to check your own posture. “Who to Trust” has a bluesy, drumless approach to it with the Nackman talking about being unsure as to who he can genuinely trust leading into “Sang Tsung” is a attaches these synthesizers to some more kicks & snares to talk about those who ain’t got cake to blow waiting ‘til you’re famous.

The song “Vivir triumfar y morir Pt. 2” comes through with a bare orchestral loop to deliver a sequel to a joint off Joan Manuel Serrap expand on the themes of living, succeeding & eventually death while the penultimate track “Rules & Regulations” has one of the stronger feature performances from Rigz from Da Cloth as they hop on a beat with a rich boom bap quality to it talking about how it be where they come from. The closer “Exodus” has another great guest verse from Eto this time with both them sending off the album with a hypnotically psychedelic instrumental addressing being from the streets & trying to make it with their feet pressed against the sand.

Although it’s certainly disappointing that Nacksaw Jim Duggan got pushed back, that’s just how it goes sometimes. As for the album before the album right here, it’s quickly becoming amongst my favorites in Estee’s discography & reassures me that his Griselda debut will be on par if not superior to what B.R.A.P. (Born Rewards & Penalties) brought to the table. He’s always been my favorite Tragic Allies member & I’m truthfully 50/50 on the 4 features, but V Don continues to further reveal himself as an in-demand producer in the underground with his production here being the most consistent we’ve heard the Nackman spit over in a while.

Score: 4.5/5

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Ty Farris – “Malice at the Palace” review

Ty Farris is a Detroit underground veteran who came up up under the name T-Flame & wound up being featuring on a lot of projects throughout the mid-2000’s until the very end of the decade. It was at that point where he started to put out solo stuff at a prolific rate by dropping 11 mixtapes, 8 full-length albums & 3 EPs. Standouts include the Room 39 duology & the No Cosign Just Cocaine series, the 5th & final installment of which finally arrived last month. But continuing to balance quality & quantity as always, Ty’s enlisting Danish producer Machacha behind the boards for his 9th album.

After the “Starting Lineup” intro, the first song “Dope Sales to Vinyl Deals” is a powerful opener to the album with T-Flame detailing how the long way that he came from whereas “Sign the Contract” has a more eerier route talking about a fine print on the street agreement. “Bleacher Report” has a spacey boom bap quality to it as the lyrics touch on trying to survive with suicidal thoughts with anonymous sources reporting live & direct leading into Dango Forlaine, Guilty Simpson & Marv Won all joining forces for “4 Point Play” as they really show y’all who the bad boys really are with a suspenseful beat backing them.

Moving on to “Coke in the Locker Room”, we have Ty on top of some more bluesy production with a clever reference to the sample whilst touching on poverty on the lyrical front just before “Flagrant Fouling” returns to the boom bap as he & Mickey Diamond comparing this rap shit to the layup line when it comes to bars. The song “Karma’s the Referee” returns to a bluesier vibe providing y’all the best of him while the penultimate track “Strong Arm Aggression” with Waterr goes into rap rock turf as their chemistry is as strong as it was on their collab EP Bulls vs. Pistons a few years ago. “Bloodstains on the Jersey” ends things with a groovy instrumental & Ty pointing out people wanting to see blood since the gladiator days.

I remember watching the Malice at the Palace live on TV with my dad & my older brother as an 8 year old kid with all of us being in amazed by what was unfolding in front of our very eyes & if you love basketball the way you love hip hop, then you’re gonna want to give this a listen. The themes of the sport are incredibly cohesive as the Detroit wordsmith rips it on top of what I consider to be amongst Machacha’s strongest batch of production to date. Looking forward to seeing him open up for Rome Streetz on the first night of the Kiss the Ring tour this upcoming Wednesday.

Score: 4.5/5

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Lil Keed – “Keed Talk to ‘Em 2” review

This is the 6th & final mixtape from late Atlanta rapper Lil Keed. Emerging in 2018 off his first 2 mixtapes Trapped in Cleveland & Slime Avenue, it was enough to catch the attention of local trap pioneer Young Thug & sign him to Thugger’s very own 300 Entertainment imprint YSL Records shortly after. Keed eventually made his YSL debut with his 3rd mixtape Trapped in Cleveland 2 & & eventually landing a spot on the label’s Slime Languagecompilation that summer. The follow-up Keed Talk to ‘Em on the other hand is undeniably his best tape & Long Live Mexico wound up being a decent full-length album albeit being his only one, but Trapped in Cleveland 3 & even 3.5 were mediocre to say the least. But as I like many others were hoping that he would bounce back last spring, Keed unfortunately passed away of eosinophilia at the age of 24.

“Go See” opens things up with a sample based-trap instrumental as Keed talks about those who thought he was a disgrace were amazed how far he came until his untimely passing whereas “Bags to the Sky” has a more tropical quality to the beat thanks to JetsonMade touching on going from Ralph Lauren to Gucci. NAV tags along for the hypnotic, Bollywood inspired “Muso Kuso” talking about the type of swag they got leading into Keed’s brother Lil Gotit joining him for “SRT” admitting that neither of them wanna fuck over some strings & hi-hats.

However, “Hottest” with Big Sean seems to be an attempt at a spiritual successor to “Hot” by Thug & Gunna down to the instrumental that falls flat on it’s face until the Offset-assisted “How Many” picks things back up with it’s orchestral beat & the lyrics pondering the amount of bitches they took. “Get Money” with Trippie Redd has some more rage vibes surprisingly as they touch on their respective hustles, but then “Think About It” comes through with a heartfelt trap ballad touching on the paranoia that he was feeling.

“Long Way to Go” is a pop rap jam that I think YSL made the right choice of making the lead single as Keed admits that he was feeling like he was closer than ever while “Can’t Fall Victim” comes through with an acoustic trap fusion touching on him feeling the symptoms of being rich. Big Slime dominates “All I Wanna Know” for a compelling ballad produced by London on da Track asking if anyone’s rocking with them as his fallen protege only pops up for the final verse while “Lost My Trust” with Cordae finds the 2 over some woodwinds & hi-hats calling out hoes for sleeping with their homies.

Moving onto “Hitman”, we get a trap beat with some heinous piano melodies & lyrics about how his assassin never takes days off while “Betty Boop” with Karlae comes through with a pop rap/trap crossover providing a strip club ballad for all the baddies out there. Lil Jairmy comes through with one of the weaker feature performances on “Off Land” despite the Einer Bankz instrumental & the themes of stepping on shit like soldiers prior to the Wheezy-laced “Big Bag” with Thugger & Dolly White picking it up with a harp/trap hybrid about wealth.

StickBaby’s verse on the bassy “Kick Back” is underwhelming although I love how the Render brothers were both thuggin’ à la the greatest Grand Theft Auto game of all-time San Andreaswhile the song “Self Employed” was my favorite single that was released leading up to the tape with a touching pop rap cut talking about the self paid life that he was living. The penultimate track “Love Me Again” reaches the climax of the tape on an emotional note showing off how young, fly & flashy he was with the gospel flavored closer “Thank You Lord” enhancing the bittersweetness up to 11.

Despite everything that’s been going on with YSL for the past 10 months, Keed Talk to ‘Em 2 is surprisingly the best thing to come from the label since then & a solid sendoff for Keed. The production’s better, the dosage of features are just right although there are only a couple of them who missed the landing & you get a good look as to where here was at in his life before God abruptly decided to call him home. If this is the last time we’ll get a project from him, then they did him right.

Score: 3.5/5

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Rigz – “Heal In” review

This is the 4th full-length album from Rochester emcee Rigz. Getting his start as a member of Da Cloth, he eventually broke out solo in 2017 off his debut EP Calculated & then the debut mixtape I Got Samples. This was followed up with a sequel tape & then his 2nd EP A Piece of the Action until his popularity began to grow in 2019 off his Chup-produced 3rd mixtape Roach Gutta Slums & then the Big Ghost Ltd. produced collab effort with fellow Cloth member Mooch called The Only Way Out. Then he brought in Futurewave to produce his full-length debut Substance Abuse & the DJ Muggs-produced Gold, but is now returning in the form of Heal In after laying low since.

After the “Full Plate” intro, the first song “Somewhere” kicks off the album with Rigz over a synth-laced instrumental from Chup talking about how he’d rather die than be stuck in projects trying to survive prior to Bishop the Great & Shonyea tagging along for the raw “Pick Ya Poizon” to let y’all know that there ain’t no avoiding them. “Nobody” has a more lavish approach courtesy of Vanderslice admitting the loneliness that he’s felt, but then Rob Gates comes into the picture for the tense “Instacart” to compare their staged blicks to the titular grocery delivery/pickup service.

M.A.V. joins Rigz over a more sample-based beat on “Guide Me” to get 1 thing straight & after the “Revolving Credit” skit, “It’s Fuck Me But Love You” with Asun Eastwood finds the pair over a chilling loop talking about how they fell into themselves as opposed to falling out with others. “Parrying” with Jai Black blends some pianos, kicks & snares so they can flare shit just before the drumless “Masterpiece” talks about the stains his jeans sustained in the midst of making a work of art.

Meanwhile on the Mooch-assisted “Fundamentals”, we have both Rochester lyricists accompanied by a string-tinged boom bap instrumental to get in their gangsta bag whereas “Henny Shards” brings back the keys talking about the broken glass that he’s ran over. The track “Brand Ya Pain” with M.A.V. has a more jazzier tone as they deliver that soul music while the penultimate song “Exhibit R” reminding us of his roots in the dope game before music. The title track however closes out the album with introspective look at the stresses he’s faced within the last year.

Gold was amongst my favorite albums of last year & if anyone has been wondering what Rigz has been up to since then, you’re gonna have to check out Heal In because it’s a great comeback. Couple lackluster feature performances here & there, but most of them manage to come correct as the subject matter is more personal than dude’s previous efforts & combining that with the signatory raw production we all came to know & love Da Cloth for remains in tact.

Score: 4/5

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Rich Amiri – “Evolution” review

Rich Amiri is an 18 year old recording artist from Boston, Massachusetts who’s been turning heads since the fall of 2021 off the strength of his debut EP Ethereal. He would go on to follow it up with 6 more EPs before signing to Internet Money Records not too long ago. So considering a new label deal, it’s only right for Amiri to shake things up harder than normal in the form of a 12-track/25 minute full-length debut.

“Mention” is a spacey trap opener produced by Taz Taylor, Nick Mira & Rio Leyva referring to himself as a top dog & telling this chick he genuinely loves her whereas “Don’t Feel Ya” works in some synths & hi-hats talking about drawing a million as well as being the one taking risks whippin’ bricks. “Best Friend” keeps things in atmospheric trap territory detailing a hoe trying hard to get close to him just before the wavy “Friend of Mine” talks about hitting the lottery.

Moving onto “Salty”, we have a bassy yet hazy banger showing off his sticks until Lil Tecca tags along for the vibrant pop rap cut “Poppin’” that eventually became the album’s 3rd single to talk about the famous lifestyle that both of them are living these days. “Ballin’” finds him telling his girl that he wants to have fun with her tonight on top of a minimal yet rubbery beat, but then “Don’t Exist” comes through with a vulnerable letter to his ex.

“Ace” blends some pianos & hi-hats to brush off any & all nonsense that people try to send his way while the song “Casket” is a catchier jam about living lavish & running up the bag. The penultimate track albeit “Dirty Money” opens up on the benefits of his newfound success over a pluggy instrumental & to round things out, “Can’t Die” finishes the album with him over a rage beat talking about cutting off old friends & copping new bands.

TyFontaine was my favorite Internet Money signee up until he left the label quite some time ago, but Amiri most certainly continues to fulfill that roll with Evolution here. The production is as strong as it was on For the Better last summer & dude really does display how much he’s grown within the last couple years with some of his catchiest songwriting yet.

Score: 3.5/5

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