Smino – “Luv 4 Rent” review

Smino is a 31 year old rapper, singer/songwriter & producer from St. Louis, Missouri who caught my attention in the spring of 2017 off his impressive full-length debut blkswn. This was followed up with his 2nd & 3rd mixtapes NØIR & She Already Decided, but is re-emerging in the form of his long-awaited sophomore album backed by Motown Records following his departure from Interscope Records & the formation of the supergroup Zoink Gang with Buddy as well as Guapdad 4000 & J.I.D in 2019.

After the “4rm da Source” intro, the first song “No L’s” is a smooth opener to the album with Smino confessing all this stuff on his mind prior to J. Cole tagging along for neo-soul/pop rap hybrid “90 Proof” talking about being a real one. Doechii comes into the picture for the groovy “Pro Freak” to describe their preferences in a partner, but then “Ole Ass Kendrick” has a more dementing trap vibe to it talking about who he was playing in his car as he & his girl got busy.

Moving on from there with “Louphoria”, we have Cruza joining Smino for an alternative R&B ballad about being obsessed with their partners to the point of being unable to get sleep just before “Blu Billy” has a bit of an abstract hip hop flare to it responding to those who say he doesn’t have the heat. “Matinee” makes a pretty accurate comparison to what the world really is over some pop rap/trap production with neo-soul undertones even though I personally found the “Broccoli Lesnar” bar to be cringe as fuck as a wrestling fan whereas “Modennaminute” with Lucky Daye & Phoelix returns with an alternative R&B/pop rap fusion talking about having one another on their minds.

“Defibrillator” has a more neo-soul/hip hop vibe to it confessing that he’ll be loved when no one’s around while “Garden Lady” embraces a groovier vibe talking about how shit’s wicked right now & a lot of it ain’t funny to him. “Settle Down” with Ravyn Lenae is an upbeat ode to still doing their best & being blessed while the Lil Uzi Vert-assisted “Pudgy” finds the 2 flirting wjth bitches accompanied by a jazzy trap sound. “Curtains” comes through with a 6 & a half minute futuristic trap banger talking about how he be speaking the truth with Lee & Love” being a soulful closer to the album expressing his desire to grow old with his soulmate.

“Plead the .45th” significantly increased my anticipation for this album considering how mid of a tape NØIR was 4 years back & I gotta say that’s even better than Few Good Things when Saba dropped it earlier this year. Smino continues to expand on his versatility by refining the sounds of that previous project & his songwriting gradually improving.

Score: 3.5/5

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Unc & Phew – “Only Built for Infinity Links” review

Unc & Phew are a trap duo from Atlanta, Georgia consisting of Quavo & Takeoff. Both of whom came up as 2/3 of the Migos with their cousin Offset & would see huge success during the early/mid 2010s, most notably when Y.R.N. (Young Rich N****s) & C U L T U R E both dropped. But as Offset prepares for a follow-up to the best Migos solo effort to date Father of 4 next month, the other 2 members have seen fit to form a duo of their own & put out a full-length debut.

“2 Infinity Links” opens up the album with a horn-laced trap beat from Buddah Bless describing the strongest links in the world bonded by blood whereas “Tony Starks” takes a more cavernous route thanks to Murda Beatz talking about putting holes in your chest kin to that of Iron Man. “Hotel Lobby” has a more twangier vibe to it dropping some braggadocio just before “Bars into Captions” samples “So Fresh, So Clean” by OutKast welcoming y’all to the ATL.

Meanwhile on “See ‘Bout It”, we have Unc & Phew bragging about stealing hoes over a hyphy instrumental from DJ Mustard leading into YoungBoy Never Broke Again tagging along for the slick “To the Bone” describing how bad their bitches are. “Not Out” shoots for a cloudier sound provided by DJ Durel talking about popping out, but then Gunna & Young Thug both come into the picture for the acoustic/trap-laced “Chocolate” getting in their hustler bags.

“2.30” has a wavier sound to it even though the Percocet-heavy lyricism just doesn’t do it for me personally while “Look @ This” fuses trap with orchestral talking about all the shit they got. “Mixy” with Summer Walker is a moody little trap/R&B fusion with the trio of course tackling the themes of love while “Messy” talks about the main reason why not to let a bitch in their crib over a glitchy trap beat with Quavo apparently airing out Offset for fucking his ex Saweetie.

Continuing from there, “Nothing Changed” was clearly made for Huncho Jack down to the psychedelic instrumental even though I don’t mind the subject matter addressing that ain’t shit change but the ice while the mellow “Integration” brags about having white everything. “Big Stunna” is a fun little boastful trap banger as Birdman comes through with a decent verse while the song “Us vs. Them” with Gucci Mane finds the trio aggressively talking about how it’s them against the world. The penultimate track “Hell Yeah” shoots got a more stripped back aesthetic as Unc & Phew chase a bag together with “Tools” though is a shimmering finisher encouraging you to spread the cash.

For as much shit that C U L T U R E III got last summer, I still think it was a more enjoyable listen than C U L T U R E II & that it would’ve been more well received if you got rid of 4-5 cuts. As for Only Built for Infinity Links, it’s a solid debut from Unc & Phew. Both Quavo & Takeoff manage to take it back to the basics are some more interesting ideas with the production this time around. Here’s to Blame It on Set next month!

Score: 3.5/5

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Vince Staples – “Ramona Park Broke My Heart” review

Vince Staples is a 28 year old rapper, singer/songwriter & actor from Compton, California who came as a close affiliate of the now defunct Odd Future collective. He would go on to release 4 mixtapes before signing a joint deal with Blacksmith Recordings & even No I.D.’s very own Def Jam Recordings imprint ARTium Recordings. My personal favorite of which being Stolen Youth, which was entirely produced by the late Mac Miller. His first major label outing Hell Can Wait was a dope little EP preluding the full-length debut Summertime ‘06, which became one of the best double disc albums of the previous decade. Vince later detailed the pitfalls that came with his success on the next EP Prima Donna, but the dude’s sophomore effort Big Fish Theory was unquestionably his most experimental work yet. But after linking up with Kenny Beats for his 3rd EP FM! & his eponymous 3rd album, Vince is looking to reach out to some outside producers for his 4th one.

“THE BEACH” kicks off the album with some organs talking about his G’s moving whereas “AYE! (FREE THE HOMIES)” follows it up with a guitar driven ballad dedicated to all his homies locked up. “DJ QUIK” takes a spacier route referencing my favorite diss track of all-time “Dollaz + Sense” in the hook just before the DJ Mustard-produced “MAGIC” works in some Bay Area influences talking about feeling like he’s floating.

After the “NAMELESS” interlude, we have Vince on top of a sample of “No Love” by Lyves for “WHEN SPARKS FLY” talking about them taking his girl away from him leading into Lil Baby tagging along for “EAST POINT PRAYER” to deliver some braggadocious trap. “SLIDE” goes into glossier territory talking about being shot at, but then “PAPERCUTS” returns to trap turf explaining that it’s all about the money.

“LEMONADE” is a cloudy declaration of life being bittersweet while “PLAYER WAYS” has a moodier tone talking about keeping it funky with the bitches. “MAMA’S BOY” compares his love for the game to the love he has for his own mother really well over a pillowy beat while “BANG THAT” returns with a gangbanger’s ode.

After the “SPIRIT OF MONSTER KODY” interlude, the penultimate track “ROSE STREET” mixes pop rap with trap to explain him putting his gang ties over hoes & “THE BLUES” closes out the album on a darker note encouraging the listeners to pray for him.

Every time Vince drops a project, I know I’m getting myself into some crazy concept & Ramona Park Broke My Heart lives up to if not surpasses the expectations set by self-titled this past summer. I love how he details his experiences of exploring the utility of home & how the overall sound of the album varies in comparison to his last couple efforts being heavy on Kenny Beats’ signature sound.

Score: 4/5

Vince Staples – Self-Titled review

This is eponymous 3rd full-length album from Compton rapper, singer, songwriter & actor Vince Staples. Coming up as a close affiliate of the now defunct Odd Future crew, he would go on to release 4 mixtapes before signing a joint deal with Blacksmith Records & even No I.D.’s very own Def Jam Recordings imprint ARTium Recordings. My personal favorite of which being Stolen Youth, which was entirely produced by the late Mac Miller. His first major label outing Hell Can Wait was a dope little EP preluding the full-length debut Summertime ‘06, which became one of the best double disc albums of the previous decade. Vince later detailed the pitfalls that came with his success on the next EP Prima Donna, but the dude’s last album Big Fish Theory was unquestionably his most experimental work yet. But ever since linking up with Kenny Beats at the tail-end of 2018 for the radio show-themed EP FM!, we’ve heard very little from Vince. So given the 3 year gap & him jumping ship from Def Jam to Motown Records, to say I was excited for him to finally make a comeback is an understatement.

“Are You With That?” kicks things off with a wonky trap instrumental from Kenny Beats (who produced the whole album start to finish) & Vince saying all he wanted was to be a thug growing up whereas “Laws of Averages” is much more slower in terms of production with lyrics about how “I don’t trust no bitch with my government”. Vince jumps on top of a slowed down sample on “Sundown Town” to talk about running wild before taking things into a murky trap direction for “The Shining”.

Meanwhile on “Taking Trips”, we go into more psychedelic territory for Vince to bug out over leading into an interlude entitled “The Apple & The Tree”. He later expresses homesickness with the R&B flavored “Take Me Home” while the penultimate song “Lil Fade” serves as a symphonic ode to all his homies in the pen. After the “Lakewood Mall” interlude, the closer “MHM” works in some synths & rubbery bass to spit that gangsta shit.

For the 3-year wait, I think this self-titled joint was well worth it. Wish it was longer than 22 minutes, but Vince takes through events in his life that he’s never put out there before & he sounds a lot better with Kenny Beats than he did on FM!. Looking forward to hear what route he takes for Ramona Park Broke My Heart.

Score: 4/5

Migos – “C U L T U R E III” review

The Migos are a trio from Atlanta, Georgia consisting of blood relatives Quavo, Offset & Takeoff. They’ve proved themselves as one of the biggest trap acts in recent memory ever since their 2013 smash hit “Versace” & this was exemplified with their 2017 sophomore album C U L T U R E, which is undoubtedly one of the best trap projects of the previous decade whether you like them or not. However, the sequel C U L T U R E II was a bloated rushjob & their solo debuts weren’t all that well received either other than Offset’s Father of 4. But after this 3 year gap, the Migos are reuniting to finish out the C U L T U R E trilogy.

“Avalanche” starts things out with DJ Durel & Quavo sampling “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” by The Temptations as the Migos look back on their early days but then there’s “Havin’ Our Way” with Drake, which has an symphonic instrumental from Kane Beatz as the quartet talk about getting theirs. The track “Straightenin’” has an eerie instrumental with the lyrics detailing how “you don’t get shit straight if you don’t straighten it” while the Murda Beatz-produced “Type Shit” with Cardi B is a vigorous anthem about how this song might make you feel.

Meanwhile on “Malibu”, we have Polo G accompanying the Migos on top of a synth-horn loop detailing their adventures in the titular California city & I almost wanna say that the beat OG Parker whips up for “Birthday” has a west coast trap feel to it, backing the trio calling out a bitch lying to them about it being her birthday. “Modern Day” is a mystical banger that tells listeners to put respect on the trio’s name whereas the victorious “Vaccine” details them making money during the pandemic.

Future tags along for the guitar-driven “Picasso” comparing themselves to the iconic painter of the same name leading up to them getting on some drug dealer shit for “Roadrunner”, in which the Zaytoven instrumental is tension-building as Hell. Following this, we have Danny Wolf taking the Migos into acoustic territory on the sensual “What You See”, but then “Jane” details the titular character working it for a Birkin bag with stellar Latin trap production from both Tay Keith & Carnage.

I thought the late Juice WRLD’s hook on the cavernous “Antisocial” is perfect given the lyrical concept of the track while “Why Not” finds the trio talking about getting money for fuck’s sake & the beat kinda has that cloud rap quality to it. The instrumental on “Mahomes” is incredibly dramatic as the Migos express their gratitude while OZ works in some synths & keys for them to “Handle My Business”.

The song “Time for Me” is an atmospheric cut about their bando days while the penultimate track “Light It Up” with the late Pop Smoke feels like a leftover from Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon given that it’s in Pop’s signature drill sound down to 808 Melo’s production. To finish it off, “Need It” with YoungBoy Never Broke Again touches down on self-defense & the way Buddah Bless absolutely killed it flipping “Get In My Car” by 50 Cent.

Although I had my doubts going into this album, I’ll argue that it’s what C U L T U R E II should’ve been because the Migos are back in full form on here. It’s only a half hour shorter than their last album was, you can tell the thing actually feels complete rather than spending 15 minutes to make each song & a good portion of them were fun to listen to.

Score: 3.5/5

Lil Baby & Lil Durk – “The Voice of the Heroes” review

This is a brand new collaborative effort between Atlanta superstar Lil Baby & Chicago rapper Lil Durk. The pair have come together on a handful of instances throughout the last few years whether it be “How I Know” off the latter’s 2016 mixtape Just Cause Y’all Waited or even a little over a month ago with “EVERY CHANCE I GET” on the latest DJ Khaled album Khaled Khaled but given their documented history with one another, they’ve decided to take it to the next level by declaring themselves as The Voice of the Heroes.

The title track is a cloudy kickstarter to the album & even though I appreciate the message “2040” being about balling forever, the instrumental is just middle of the road. Travis Scott tags along for the synth-heavy “Hats Off” as the trio shout out those who be keeping it real whereas the Wheezy-produced “Who I Want” brings in some rich piano melodies as they talk about running trains on bitches.

Meanwhile on “Still Hood”, we have Baby & Durk reminding listeners of where they came from backed by a mellow beat from London on da Track before incorporating strings on the loyalty themed “Man of My Word”. We have Nick Papz working in some flutes for the duo as they link up with Meek Mill for the braggaodious “Still Runnin’”, but then “Medical” is easily the saddest joint on the whole thing as they’re crying for help from drug addiction.

“How I Feel” doesn’t have much going on instrumentally despite the lyrics saying you’re not alone on feeling a certain way in certain situations while “Lying” angrily calls out wankstas on their bluff. The rapid keyboards on “Okay” are really cool as both parties talk about being stuck in their ways whereas the horn-inflicted “That’s Facts” finds them speaking their truths. The song “Please” is a more romantic cut down to the airy production from Turbo, but then Durk & Baby bring in Young Thug for the celebratory wealth anthem “Up the Side”.

They later acknowledge the fact that people look up to them on “If You Want To” & even though the guitars come in on occasion, they’re a really awesome touch. The song “Rich Off Pain” is a summery cut saying they became successful due to expressing their struggles while the penultimate track “Make It Out” expresses their desire to “rid this curse” over a dejected Murda Beatz instrumental. To round it out, “Bruised Up” is an emotional finisher pondering what they’d do if they got locked up.

A lot of mainstream collab albums this day in age tend to be hit or miss, but I think it’s safe to say The Voice of the Heroes is leagues better than Drip Harder was. Not just because the chemistry has improved, but the production choices are more refined too.

Score: 3.5/5

Lil Yachty – “Michigan Boy Boat” review

This is the 5th mixtape from Mableton rapper & songwriter Lil Yachty. Skyrocketing to fame in 2016 by bringing a unique sound & personality to the trap subgenre on his debut mixtape Lil Boat, his subsequent pretty much took a nosedive from there. Why? Because he made a song on that breakout tape about never switching up & that’s EXACTLY what he did. But to pay homage to this reviewer’s home state, Yachty has amassed together some of the hottest rappers Detroit has to offer currently for Michigan Boy Boat.

“Final Form” is a ruthless opener with a hyphy instrumental from Helluva, but then Tee Grizzley tags along for the airy “Dynamic Duo” to talk about how his chemistry with Yachty is unmatched. The harp on “Concrete Goonies” shortly after is pretty cool except the fact that it’s a tad bit offputting hearing him start it off by saying he wants to fuck Kali Uchis. Meanwhile, we have Veeze & Baby Smoove jumping on a piano instrumental to brush off those who wanna fight for a print on “Don’t Even Bother” whereas the song “G.I. Joe” with Louie Ray finds the 2 talking about being young cats who got it over a colorful beat from Buddah Bless.

“Never Did Coke” is one of my favorites on the project with it’s bongo & string-laced instrumental as well as Yachty’s chemistry with Swae Lee, but that same back-&-forth magic on the RMC Mike-featured “Ghetto Boy Shit” falls flat for me even though I like the grubby instrumental. Icewear Vezzo & Rio da Yung OG help him go into gangsta rap territory for “Plastic” while the track “Fight Night Round 3” with Babyface Ray & Veeze does it’s title justice by providing a lethal moshpit joint.

Sada Baby’s feature on the braggadocious “SB 2021” is cool, but his performances on the 30 Roc-produced “SB5” are much better if you ask me. Rio comes back into the fold for the glassily-produced “Stunt Double”, except his feature on here doesn’t stick the landing like it did on “Plastic”. The penultimate track “Hybrid” has these inauspicious keyboard melodies Yachty & Babytron both give flashy performances before bringing in some bells for the “This That One” cypher to finish things off.

Coming from someone who’s lived in The Mitten his entire life, I’m a bit torn coming away from this. Even though Yachty doesn’t do the modern Detroit style all that much justice, I still admire the fact he took some of the hottest rappers the city currently has to offer & brought them all together.

Score: 2.5/5

Lil Baby – “My Turn” review

Lil Baby is a rapper from Atlanta, Georgia that rose to stardom in 2018 with his debut album Harder Than Ever. This was followed up with a collab project with Gunna entitled Drip Harder & his 4th solo mixtape Street Gossip, both of which didn’t match the quality of Harder Than Ever in my opinion. But after spending the last year doing features, he’s back with his sophomore album.

The opener “Get Ugly” talks about how life can be rough over a trap beat with some synths while the next song “Heatin’ Up” seems like a boring Drip Harder leftover. The song “How” takes aim it people ridin’ his wave over a bassy Murda Beatz instrumental while the track “Grace” with 42 Dugg sees the 2 flexing over an ominous instrumental. The song “Woah” continues to show off over a dull instrumental while the track “Live Off My Closet” with Future sees the 2 talking about their fancy possessions over a beat with some haunting keyboards.

The song “Same Thing” describes a day in the life of Lil Baby over a Tay Keith beat with an awesome acoustic sample while the track “Emotionally Scarred” talks about an ex over a bland beat. The song “Commercial” with Lil Uzi Vert sees the 2 talking about not looking back over a skeletal beat while the track “Forever” finds Baby getting with Lil Wayne to remind their listeners to be themselves over a demented beat. The song “Can’t Explain” talks about acting the same despite his new lifestyle over a trap beat with a quiet piano lead while the track “No Sucker” with Moneybagg Yo is pretty much both of them bragging over an airy beat.

The song “Sum 2 Prove” lyrically needs no further explanation backed with some strings & hi-hats while the track “We Should” with Young Thug finds both of them boasting about going from broke to rich & I love the ghostly melody in the beat. The song “Catch the Sun” gets more personal over a [Hit-Boy] beat with a mellow guitar lead while the track “Consistent” talks about his grind over a woozy beat.

The song “Gang Signs” is essentially about reppin’ your set over a surprising yet vicious DJ Paul instrumental with a vintage Three 6 Mafia sample while the track “Hurtin’” vents about his pain over a spacious beat. The song “Forget That” with Rylo Rodriguez is them both of them trippin’ on wax over a somber beat & then the closer “Solid” continues to spit from the heart over an uneventful instrumental.

Wasn’t expecting a whole lot & walking away from it, I didn’t get much. There are a small handful of catchy bangers on here, but I find both the production & rapping to be subpar for a good portion cod it. Just another mediocre trap album.

Score: 2/5

Offset – “FATHER OF 4” review

7396316.jpegOffset is a 27 year old rapper who came up at the beginning of the decade as 1/3 of the Migos. He released a fantastic collab album with 21 Savage & Metro Boomin’ on Halloween 2017 called Without Warning but now just a few months after his cousins Quavo & Takeoff made their solo debuts with QUAVO HUNCHO & The Last Rocket respectively, Offset is the final Migo at bat.

The album kicks off with the title track, which is a heartwarming dedication to his children over a somber beat from Metro. The next track “How Did I Get Here?” with J. Cole sees the 2 talking about fame over an atmospheric beat while the song “Lick” talks about his rags to riches over a bland woodwind-infused beat with some rubbery bass. The track “Tats on My Face” gets boastful over a nocturnal trap beat from the So Icey Boyz while the song “Made Men” talks about how he’s just that over a grimy trap beat from Southside. The track “Wild Wild West” with Gunna gets back on the boastful tip over an eerie Metro beat while the song “North Star” talks about the stresses of fame over a beautifully stripped back beat.

The track “After Dark” is pays tribute to Paris Brown over a luscious trap beat while the song “Don’t Lose Me” addresses his split-up with Cardi B over a spacious beat. The track “Underrated” talks about how he feels just that over another nocturnal trap beat from the So Icey Boyz while the song “Legacy” with Travis Scott & 21 Savage talks about their success over a dreary beat. The track “Clout” with Cardi B attack people who‘ll do anything to be famous over a keyboard-inflicted trap beat while the song “On Fleek” with Quavo is a sex tune with an moody beat. The track “Quarter Milli” with Gucci Mane sees the 2 bragging about their wealth over a bass-heavy beat while the song “Red Room” talks about how crazy his life has been over a pretty trap beat. The album then finishes with “Came a Long Way”, where Offset pulls a pretty heart wrenching performance over a gloomy trap beat.

We all know the Migos’ material since C U L T U R E II has been very lackluster, but this is easily the best of the 3 solo debuts & it actually gives me hope for C U L T U R E III. The lyrics are a lot more personal surprisingly, it’s more well-produced & it seems like they actually focused more on quality over quantity.

Score: 3.5/5

Takeoff – “The Last Rocket” review

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Takeoff is a 24 year old rapper from Atlanta, Georgia who rose to prominence in 2013 as 1/3 of the Migos with his nephew quavo & his cousin Offset. The first of whom Quavo is arguably the most notable member & he actually happened to drop his solo debut QUAVO HUNCHO just 3 weeks prior. Now if that wasn’t enough for you, Takeoff here is now next at bat.

The album kicks off with “Martian”, where Takeoff talks about his success throughout the years over some prominent hi-hats from DJ Durel. The next track “She Gon’ Wink” with Quavo sees the 2 getting boastful over a spacey trap instrumental while the song “None to Me” introspectively talks about the famous life over a gloomy beat from 808 Mafia members DY, Gezin & TM88. The track “Vacation” pretty much speaks for itself over a trap beat from Murda Beatz & Cubeatz with some faint keyboards while the song “Last Memory” is a painfully bland braggadocious tune. The track “I Remember” vividly recalls drug dealing days over an eerie Murda Beatz instrumental while the song “Lead the Wave” talks about being a leader over a vibrant trap beat from DJ Durel.

The track “Casper” talks about him & his girl cruising down in a wraith over a somber Nonstop da Hitman instrumental while the song “Insomnia” is a boring freestyle over the beat from the latest Juicy J & Travis Scott song “Neighbor”. The track “Infatuation” is an awkwardly buttery love story while the song “Soul Plane” marks a returns to the braggadocious lyrics over a bass-heavy trap beat. The album then ends with “Bruce Wayne”, where Takeoff tells the audience to picture him rolling over an atmospheric beat from Cassius Jay & Wheezy.

This was better than I had anticipated, but it’s still decent. I can appreciate Takeoff for handling a good chunk of it on his own, but it really weighs it down because it tends to get monotonous after a while.

Score: 2.5/5