Kendrick Lamar – “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers” review

It’s really here: The 5th full-length album from Compton emcee, songwriter & actor Kendrick Lamar. Coming up in ‘04 off his debut mixtape Y.H.N.I.C. (Youngest Head N***a in Charge): Hub City Threat (Minor of the Year), he would go on to follow-up with 2 more tapes as well as an eponymous debut EP before breaking out in the fall of 2010 off his 4th mixtape O(verly) D(edicated) & then Section.80 that next summer. Then came him signing to Dr. Dre’s very own Interscope Records imprint Aftermath Entertainment, where Kendrick has made himself home since then. Especially given that good kid, m.A.A.d city & To Pimp a Butterfly have quickly become some of the most beloved hip hop albums ever made in their own rights for good reason whether it be gkmc coming off as a hood movie on wax or TPaB delivering relevant social commentary on top of jazzy, funky production. Kendrick’s last album DAMN. however was definitely his most commercial one yet & I don’t listen to it as much as his other work, but it’s still a great listen nonetheless with it’s phenomenal duality concept. But only 3 months after performing the Super Bowl halftime show, Kendrick has finally returned in the form of the double disc Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers to fulfill his Top Dawg Entertainment contract.

“United in Grief” opens up the album a piano & drum instrumental from oklama himself surprisingly alongside Sounwave amongst a few others talking about mourning differently whereas “N95” works in some synth-horns & hi-hats provided by Boi-1da & Baby Keem to declare that “You’re back outside, but they still lied”, obviously referring to the COVID-19 pandemic. I also loved when he says “You entertain the mediocre, need to stop it. You entertainin’ old friends when they toxic” during the outro. “Worldwide Steppers” takes a more tenser route with co-production from Tae Beast sampling “Breakthrough” by The Funkees talking about how “we’s them killers”, but then the DJ Dahi co-produced “Die Hard” shoots for a more catchier vibe down to the hook shared by both Blxst & especially Amanda Reifer flipping “Remember the Rain” by Kadjha Bonet encouraging listeners to not let your past keep me you from your best.

Meanwhile on “Father Time”, we have Kendrick over some solemn boom bap production sampling “You’re Not There” by Hoskins ‘Ncrowd detailing the relationship that he had with his pops with a killer hook from Sampha & the “Rich” interlude is basically Kodak Black detailing what he learned in the business over some bare pianos. “Rich Spirit” turns things into more spacious territory with some finger-snaps, snares & hi-hats talking about staying strong mentally, but then “We Cry Together” is pretty much Kendrick & Taylour Paige (should’ve been Rico Nasty but it is what it is) re-enacting a legitimate argument that K-Dot had with his fiancée Whitney Alford over an Uncle Al beat flipping “June” by Florence + the Machine. It’s tense, but feels reminiscent to “Kim” off of Eminem’s iconic 2000 masterpiece The Marshall Mathers LP.

Ghostface Killah & Summer Walker tag along for the smooth love ballad “Purple Hearts” to the complete the 1st disc even though I can’t stand the “yeah baby” at the end of the hook & the 1 line on Summer’s verse co-written by fellow Compton representative/Shady Records signee Westside Boogie about eating ass had me rollin’ while “Count Me Out” opens up the 2nd disc by mixing trap influences with some catchy vocal melodies taking aim at his detractors. “Crown” is a vulnerable piano ballad admitting that he can’t please everybody while “Silent Hill” easily has the worst hook on the album, although I appreciate Kendrick & Kodak riding a nocturnal trap beat talking about pushing snakes off them.

Following that, the “Savior” interlude is in the same vein as “Rich” from the string/piano instrumental to Baby Keem recalling some memories that he had growing up while the actual “Savior” song itself has an irresistibly catchy groove to the beat from Cardo asking if one is really happy for him as well as admitting that he started questioning Kyrie after catching the rona. “Auntie Diaries” starts off with a moodier aesthetic before getting triumphant at the end with Kung Fu Kenny discussing his uncle & one of his cousins being transgender while the song “Mr. Morale” opens up about the heavy shit that’s been on his mind as of late over a Pharrell instrumental with a peppy, futuristic tone to it. The penultimate track “Mother I Sober” is definitely the saddest on the album with it’s bare pianos along with former Portishead frontwoman Beth Gibbons on the hook & K-Dot reflecting on witnessing his mom being sexually assaulted when he was 5 years old as “Mirror” finishes the album by apologizing for choosing himself over anyone else over a colorful beat with an empowering hook.

5 long years later & Kendrick is parting TDE with what I consider to be hip hop’s best double album since Big K.R.I.T. dropped 4eva’s a Mighty Long Time only 6 months after DAMN. came out. Hell, I find Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers to be superior to it’s predecessor because I really admire that he decided to come back after all this time to reflect on his life past & present over production mixing together it’s more trappy, poppier cuts with the politically charged jazz rap from the greatest hip hop album of the 2010s even down to the latter’s experimental, neo-soul undertones.

Score: 4.5/5

Bas – “[BUMP] Pick Me Up” review

This is the 2nd EP from French emcee Bas. Breaking out onto the scene with his debut mixtape Quarter Water Raised Me a little over a decade ago, he eventually signed to J. Cole’s very own Interscope Records imprint Dreamville Records at the beginning of 2014 & his full-length debut Last Winter a couple months after. His sophomore effort Too High to Riot would go on to become one of the best albums that Dreamville has ever put out, but his last album Milky Way wound up being a bit of a mixed bag for me. That being said, I was very much looking forward to [BUMP] Pick Me Up given the singles he teased us with.

“[Eyes on You]” with Galimatias is a decently spacey R&B duet that kicks off the EP taking about being entranced by one another while the song “[Admire Her]” with Gunna of course goes into rubbery trap territory describing their admiration for bitches who be fully loaded & it’s slightly better than what we heard at the beginning. The penultimate track “[The Jackie]” with J. Cole & Lil Tjay finds the trio over a melodic yet bouncy instrumental from T-Minus telling motherfuckers to stop playing with them & “[The Others]” ends the EP with a peppy ballad encouraging listeners to be grateful for all they have.

Even though [BUMP] Pick Me Up happens to be significantly shorter than Milky Way, I happen to think it’s a tad bit more superior than Bas’ last album & certainly fits as a short batch of summertime jams. The production is a lot more fun & the performances from the features alongside Bas himself are a lot more catchier.

Score: 3.5/5

Dreamville Records – “D-Day” review

This is the 4th showcase compilation from Dreamville Records. Founded in 2007 by J. Cole & his manager Ibrahim Hamad, the label has proven itself to be a dominant force in the mainstream hip hop world for the past decade with the Revenge of the Dreamers trilogy even though the last installment was a bit of a disappointment. However after giving a 24 hour notice & with Dreamville Festival returning this weekend, the crew is having DJ Drama host D-Day.

“Stick” by J.I.D, J. Cole & Sheck Wes finds the trio over a triumphant araabMUZIK instrumental talking about being strapped whereas the “Ghetto Gods Freestyle” by the EARTHGANG & 2 Chainz goes into a more skeletal direction even though I do enjoy the battle bars. “Lifestyle” by Bas & A$AP Ferghas a lot more meat on the bone thanks to Cole behind the boards with both MCs talking about the lives they live currently leading into the jazzy “Starting 5” by Cozz, Lute & Omen talking about having shooters.

Meanwhile on “Coming Down”, we get a full blown Ari Lennox solo cut asking when her mans is coming over a sample of Mary J. Bilge’s rendition of ”I’m Goin’ Down” just before “Hair Salon” by Cozz, G Perico & Reason finds the trio over a psychedelic Chuck Inglish beat pondering why anyone would talk shit about them. “Freedom of Speech” by J. Cole goes into chipmunk soul territory with the help of Jake One talking about the energy switching whenever he pops up, but then “Blackberry Sap” is yet another Ari Lennox solo cut that I find to be inferior to “Coming Down”.

“Like Wine” by Lute comes through with a dusty boom bap banger full of braggadocio while “Jozi Flows” by Bas & the EARTHGANG works in a flute to talk about being misunderstood. “Barry from Simpson” by J.I.D & 2 Chainz mixes some horns with snares encouraging listeners to get shit done while “Everybody Ain’t Shit” by the EARTHGANG follows it up with a fun “fuck you” anthem.

The song “Ballin’ in Newport” by Omen over a piano instrumental from Ging & !llmind while the “Big Trouble” by Cozz comes through with an impressive freestyle accompanied by samples from Doug E. Fresh, David Porter & The Trammps. The whole thing ends with “Heaven’s EP”, where Cole freestyles over the “Pipe Down” instrumental & killed it harder than Drake did.

Even though I honestly didn’t know what to expect from this compilation, I actually happen to like it more than Revenge of the Dreamers III. The production’s much better, they relied less on features given how inconsistent they were almost 3 years back & the whole roster come through with improved performances too.

Score: 3.5/5

Shenseea – “Alpha” review

Shenseea is a 25 year singer, songwriter & DJ from Kingston, Jamaica who’s dropped a handful of singles since 2015 like the Vybz Kartel-assisted “Loodi” or “Run Run”. She then signed to Interscope Records prior to the pandemic, but got her biggest push yet after appearing on the “Ok Ok” remix off Kanye West’s final Def Jam album DONDA this past summer. So given that, it was only a matter of time until she’d strike while the iron’s hot & drop a full-length debut.

“Target” with Tyga starts off the album with a decent ballad accompanied by a blissful atmosphere talking about doing right by one another whereas “Can’t Anymore” is a much more peppier follow-up wanting to get nasty. “Deserve It” goes into a more dancehall direction fantasizing over the perfect guy leading into 21 Savage tagging along for “R U That?”, which is a fresh fusion of contemporary R&B & trap outlining what kind of relationships they want.

Meanwhile on “Lick”, we have Megan Thee Stallion coming into the picture for a more refined version of “W.A.P. (Wet Ass Pussy)” down to the Murda Beatz instrumental just before the Offset-assisted “Bouncy” reveals itself to be a playful ass-shaking anthem. “Henkel Glue” returns to dancehall turf as Shenseea goes back & forth with Bernie Man talking about how this isn’t any kind of regular love, but then “Lying If I Call It Love” is a reggae-tinged slow jam detailing not being in love with her partner (played by Sean Paul) even though the sex is great.

“Hangover” comes through with an airy trap ballad advising how much it’s gonna hurt when she breaks up with her man while “Body Count” spaciously advises her new lover not to worry about such. “Egocentric” melodically advises how much your ego can damage you while “Shen Ex Anthem” pretty much speaks for itself over a pillowy beat. The penultimate track “Sun Comes Up” reveals itself to be an empowering anthem about rising up & to end the album, Tyga returns for the endearing “Blessed” addressing their gratitude for where they are today.

For a commercial debut, I think Alpha further cements Shenseea as the most exciting new face in the dancehall scene. She still stays true to her roots, but I also think it’s fun the way she tries to incorporate elements of hip hop & pop into her music.

Score: 3.5/5

EARTHGANG – “Ghetto Gods” review

This is the 4th full-length album from Atlanta duo EARTHGANG. Consisting of Olu & WowGr8, the pair started out a little over a decade ago dropping 3 mixtapes along with 2 albums & an EP independently before J. Cole signed them to his Interscope Records imprint Dreamville Records in 2017. This resulted in a trilogy of EPs leading up to their major label debut Mirrorland, which revealed themselves to be one of the best artists that the label has to offer. They went on to give their Spillage Village collective some shine by dropping their 4th album Spilligion on Dreamville the next year but now, they’re back in effect with the long-awaited Ghetto Gods.

After the “GLOW” intro, the title track opens the album with the duo talking about how anyone who thinks they can fuck with them are crazy on top of a symphonic trap instrumental whereas the Future-assisted “BILLI” is pretty much their own “Life is Good” down to the way it’s structured except this is way more exciting. [J.I.D] & J. Cole tag along for the funky “WATERBOYZ” talking about getting this money & fucking the fame leading into the “HEY BOO” interlude.

Meanwhile on “AMEN”, we have EARTHGANG coming through with a decent R&B flavored slow jam just before “ALL EYES ON ME” takes a cloudier route with the help of JetsonMade talking about wanting their homies free. “LIE TO ME” follows it up with some intoxicating synth melodies asking to be true but then after the “JEANS” interlude, the duo bring Baby Tate into the picture for “BLACK PEARLS” trying to brag about their women getting new bodies & falling flat on their faces.

After the “NEEZY’S WALK” interlude, the lead single “American Horror Story” returns to funk turf expressing their desire to be free while “POWER” comes off as an passionate pro-black anthem. After the “ZAZA” skit, the song “SMOKE SUM” goes into boom bap territory to talk about blazing some trees while the penultimate track “STRONG FRIENDS” is a fiery ode to being mentally healthy. “RUN TOO” ends the album with a spacey banger talking about what a life it’s been for them.

It took them a little over 2 years to finally give Ghetto Gods to us & at the end of the day, I like it a little bit more than Mirrorland. Few songs I could’ve done without, but the whole concept of finding God in you is very well thought out & their production game is continuing to progressively improve.

Score: 4/5

Conway the Machine – “God Don’t Make Mistakes” review

This is the long-awaited Shady Records album from Buffalo emcee/entrepreneur Conway the Machine. Blowing up in late 2015 as part of the 3 OGs of Griselda Records alongside his brother Westside Gunn & their cousin Benny the Butcher, the trio have had hip hop lock by their constant work ethic balancing quality & quality as well as vividly detailing their lives in the streets on top of boom bap production kin to that of RZA & Havoc in their music. Con’s full-length debut From King to a God was my Album of the Year for 2020 & last year, we were treated to his 8th EP If It Bleeds It Can Be Killed produced entirely by Big Ghost Ltd. & his 11th mixtape La Maquina. But in light of Conway announcing earlier this week that he’ll be amicably departing Shady & Griselda to focus on his very own label Drumwork Music Group, what better way to fulfill his contracts than to drop God Don’t Make Mistakes?

“Lock Load” starts off the album with Beanie Sigel & Conway talking about always carrying a strap on them on top of a spooky Daringer instrumental whereas “Tear Gas” with Lil Wayne & Rick Ross works in a high-pitched vocal sample calling out those who weren’t there for them when they needed them most. “Piano Love” of course brings in a dreary piano instrumental from The Alchemist talking about being the richest in Buffalo, but then “Drumwork” is pretty much “Crack in the 90s” & “Sister Abigail” on steroids.

Meanwhile on “Wild Chapters”, we have T.I. joining Conway on top of a dispirited boom bap beat from Hit-Boy talking about the story of their lives just before the Bink!-produced “Guilty” goes into soulful turf encouraging to focus on his lyricism than his appearance. “John Woo Flick” follows it up with a disgusting Griselda posse cut in the same vein as “Spurs 3” leading into the spacious boom bap banger “Stressed” pondering if anyone cares about his mental well being.

“So Much More” encourages listeners not to “let ’em tell you 1 side of the story” on top of angelic vocal loop provided by the J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League while the Jill Scott-duet “Chanel Pearls” gets on some smooth Bonnie & Clyde shit. The penultimate song “Babas” incorporates some organs talking about going from king to a god (no pun intended) & the title track finishes the album off by airing out all these questions he has with The Alchemist providing a lush musical backdrop.

Conway’s been hyping this up for a good minute now & for it to be his final Griselda project as well as the only one on Shady, we got ourselves an early album of the year contender & some of the best work of his career. The production is superb, the features are all well picked out & it’s amazing how personal he’s getting on here. I wish him all the best on his own.

Score: 4.5/5

Dr. Dre – “The Contract” review

Dr. Dre is a 56 year old producer, rapper & entrepreneur from Compton, California who came up in the mid-80’s as part of the World Class Wreckin’ Cru octet. They would only put out 2 full-lengths before disbanding, but would go on to have a HUGE impact on the culture. Popularizing gangsta rap as part of N.W.A, getting everyone in the whole west coast to ride the g-funk bandwagon with his solo debut The Chronic, expanding that sound on 2001, the Beats headphones & who can forget introducing likes of Eminem or Kendrick Lamar to the world? His previous album Compton: A Soundtrack by Dr. Dre in the summer of 2015 was said to be his “grand finale” but ahead of his Super Bowl halftime performance next weekend, he’s dropping off 6 new songs attached to GTA V’s latest DLC.

“Falling Up” is an entrancing yet charismatic opener co-produced by Dem Jointz with Dre spitting some braggadocio whereas “Gospel” finds him rightfully calling his ex-wife a gold digger & I don’t mind the piano instrumental backing him pretty cool, but the Eminem verse at the back end of it will test your patience. Bink! weaves in a soul sample for “Black Privilege” to get in his grown man bag while the late Nipsey Hu$$le tags along for “Diamond Mind” to talk about how crazy their lives have been & those guitar licks that Alchemist uses throughout the beat just gives you nothing but summertime vibes.

The penultimate track “ETA” with has an insane sample of “You’re the One For Me” by The Edwards Generation starting off with Anderson .Paak & Dre going back & forth with one another leading into the playful Snoop Dogg hook as well as a monstrous Busta Rhymes verse to end it. “The Scenic Route” closes out the EP on a somewhat jazzier note with Dre going back & forth with none other than Rick Ross to talk about putting their families first in line.

A lot of music tie-ins with movies as well as TV shows & video games have become pretty boring in recent years. However, I knew for a fact that this wasn’t going to be the case with this & I stood corrected. The production & guests all come correct as always, but I should also note that The D.O.C. recently replied to a fan on Twitter saying that Dre’s starting to write his own verses now. If that’s indeed the case, then it’s definitely impressive.

Score: 3.5/5

Juice WRLD – “Fighting Demons” review

Juice WRLD was a 21 year old rapper from Chicago, Illinois who quickly becoming a prominent face in the emo rap trend in the spring of 2018 off the strength of his commercial debut Goodbye & Good Riddance. This was followed up the next year with the sophomore album Death Race for Love but unfortunately, Juice passed away later that same year from a drug overdose. Now even though I personally found both of those albums to be average at best before his untimely death, they eventually grew on me & the kid was undeniably talented. Case in point: “Lucid Dreams” & his astonishing 1-hour Tim Westwood freestyle. Legends Never Die from last summer was a cool little tribute to Juice also but with the 2 year anniversary of his death passing by earlier this week, his estate is dropping his 2nd posthumous album albeit 4th overall.

“Burn” is an bittersweet opener produced by Metro Boomin’ opening up about Juice’s drug addiction whereas “Already Dead” finds Nick Mira working in some pianos & the dude is essentially foreshadowing his own death through the lyrics. Gezin keeps the heat going with “You Don’t Understand” talking about never giving a fuck about anything, but then the Justin Bieber-duet “Wandered to LA” just seems like a forced attempt at a radio hit & that’s not Juice’s fault at all.

After the “Eminem Speaks” interlude, we have T-Minus taking the album in a more cavernous direction on “Rockstar in His Prime” with Juice rightfully comparing himself as such leading into Take a Daytrip sampling “High School” by iON LIL GUT for “Doom” which speaks on looking for self destruction. “Go Hard” has one of the weaker instrumentals on the album even though I like that Juice’s basically paying tribute to Ally Lotti & after the “Juice Speaks” interlude, “Not Enough” is a badass rap rock tune about failed relationships.

Polo G & Trippie Redd tag along for the “Feline” even though the mellow beat doesn’t really shit the combative lyricism while “Relocate” almost has a country trap vibe to it talking about his success. After the “Juice Speaks 2” interlude, “From My Window” continues to fuse guitars with snares talking about living like Rambo whereas “Until the Plug Comes Back Around” has a more trippier sound once more detailing drug addiction.

The song “Girl of My Dreams” with SUGA is a pretty awkward romance ballad while the penultimate track “Feel Alone” sees Danny Wolf bringing in some somber guitar chords with Juice talking about depression. And to finish off the album, “My Life in a Nutshell” goes into a more cloudier route noting the fact that people knew him for his music & not his struggles before he passed.

I was honestly a bit worried about how this album was gonna turn out, but I ended up enjoying it quite a bit & it’s definitely one of the better posthumous outings I’ve heard all year. Only a couple of the joints on here seem cobbled together, but the rest is just fully fleshed out AND they’re actually enjoyable for the most part.

Score: 3.5/5

Pi’erre Bourne – “Yo88!” review

Pi’erre Bourne is a 28 year old producer, rapper, songwriter & engineer from South Carolina who became one of the most in demand beatsmiths in hip hop today off Playboi Carti’s “Magnolia”. He’s also made a name for himself on the mic by dropping 5 mixtapes as well as 2 EPs & 2 full-lengths albums, with the latest being The Life of Pi’erre 5 over the summer finishing the series. But to move on from it, Pi’erre’s enlisting TM88 to fully produce his 6th mixtape.

“O.M.S. (On My Shit)” is a futuristic opener talking about being in his bag whereas “Pop Out” takes the cloudier route paying homage to his bitch. “Homecoming” has a more uptempo sound talking about the hood showing love whenever he comes back around which gets me in a good mood when it comes on, but then “Stunt 102” almost has that Whole Lotta Red sound to it flexing his lavish lifestyle.

Meanwhile on “Chit Chat”, we have Wiz Khalifa joining Pi’erre on top of an atmospheric instrumental calling out those who be running their mouths for those who love moshpit starters leading into the synth-laced “Block Boy” talking about carrying his block with him wherever he goes which is admirable. “Yo!gurt” is basically a BJ anthem going into a more ethereal direction just before Young Nudy tags along for the spacious “Richer Dreams” talking about their wealth.

The song “Love Scam” is essentially him saying there ain’t no price on his girl’s love at all over an intoxicating beat while the penultimate track “Cullinan” explains that he gets better with time & the guitar licks on here are just stellar. “Run It” then ends the tape with some suspenseful synth melodies that really draw you in celebrating his success.

The Life of Pi’erre 5 showed many improvements in Pi’erre, so I was absolutely excited going into this tape. Lo & behold: I like it just as much if not more than his last album. Dude’s getting progressively better as a performer & I think it really goes to show that people need to give TM88 his flowers for helping lay the groundwork for modern trap production.

Score: 4/5

Cozz – “Fortunate” review

Cozz is a 27 year old rapper from Los Angeles, California who caught the attention of J. Cole in 2013 with the single “Dreams” & eventually signed to the North Carolina veteran’s Interscope Records imprint Dreamville Records. His full-length debut Cozz & Effect would come out the next year, which was followed up with the debut mixtape Nothin’ Personal as well as the sophomore album Effected & the 2nd mixtape Aftermath of My Dreams. But after dropping a couple singles throughout these last couple months, Cozz is finishing off Dreamville’s year with his debut EP.

The title track is a cool guitar/trap ballad about being blessed that he’s still alive whereas the gospel vibes of “Higher Power” fits really well given the subject matter of belonging to God. “Juice Bars” has one of the weaker instrumentals on the EP trying to rip off D4L’s “Laffy Taffy” even though the boastful lyricism is ok, but then “So Am I” has a more nocturnal sound talking about he & his boys being witit.

I really dig the boom bap production on the song “Addicted” even though I don’t care for the thirsty lyricism while the penultimate track “Control Problems” with YG weaves in an uneventful trap beat despite the lyrics about letting God handling their issues. That being said: I think “Cry” is a powerful closer looking back on his parents domestically abusing each other & the cops coming to their house.

Now this is far from being one of the best EPs I’ve heard all year or anything like that, but a good majority of Fortunate is pretty solid. Cozz is really starting to elevate on the mic & the production game is starting to improve as well. Very curious to hear where he’ll go with his next album.

Score: 3.5/5