August Album Report Card

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Follow Me Home      B
Jay Rock:

From Watts, California, the land of gang bangers and drive bys, Jay Rock`s new album delivers nothing less then what you have come to expect from this historical hip hop region. Jay Rock`s debut album Follow Me Home has Watts written all over it.

With the allusion to bloods in the title, the opening track “Code Red” sets the stage for the rest of the album. This is a gangster rap album.
 
While the gangster narrative has been done to death in the hip hop game, Rock`s Follow Me Home, approaches the genre with a fresh, unique and definitive approach.

This is most evident on the album`s standout track, the Terrace Martin-produced “Just Like Me”, on which Jay Rock addresses the influence the fatherless home has had on a young man`s decision to hit the streets, and its subsequent effect on millions of young American men.
 

But the album is not entirely made up of sobering, serious songs, however, and this is exemplified by Follow Me Home’s Lil Wayne-featured single “All My Life” and the thug dancing anthem “Elbows”.

The celebratory horns and uplifting lyrics of “All My Life” make it undeniably the album’s most radio friendly track, and I expect we will hear it banging out of car speakers for the remainder of the summer.

It is this calculated balance between hood tales and upbeat summer anthems that separates this album from the rest, placing it in continual rotation among the summer’s standout albums.

The album’s biggest downfall, however, is its 18 track length. With this extensive listing, some of the tracks are definitely filler. A shorter album that eliminates the tracks that will never be listened to more then once would have helped the overall shape of the album and taken it from slightly above average to excellent.

Royce Da 5’9: Success is Certain      B+

Riding the momentum from the extreme success of his album release with Eminem earlier this summer, Hell: The Sequel, Royce Da 5’9 comes through again and shows why he is not only one of the most talented emcees in the game today, but also one of the hardest working.

His gift for lyricism is what stands out most about this album, and his rhymes have only gotten sharper and better constructed since Hell: The Sequel.
 
Royce’s wittiness shines over Travis Barker’s drums on the track “Legendary” when he rhymes, “As far as killing I’m forever willing and ready / I will make my children’s peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a machete / You marry the streets then we will kill at your wedding / Tell every guest at your reception they gon’ get more than just hit with confetti.”

The razor sharp rhymes can be found on almost every track on the album. But the strength of the album doesn’t lie entirely in its undeniably high level of lyricism, but also extends to the album’s tight sound production.
 
With offerings from the likes of Mr. Porter, Nottz, DJ Premier and Alchemist, it comes as no surprise that the beats are as equally impressive as its rhymes.

Success is Certain is not without its low points, however, and the out of place and awkward club joint, “My Own Planet”, finds itself taking away from the overall listening experience of this album.
 
That being said, with the exception of this track, the majority of the album is worth at least one re-listen or rewind. Fans of Royce Da 5’9 alike will enjoy the album thoroughly while new listeners will be impressed and entertained.

Gucci Mane and Wocka Flocka Flame: Ferrari Boyz      C+

According to NYC rapper Wacka Flocka, he and Gucci Mane completed this album in the unbelievably short period of less then two weeks. This lack of time spent on this collaborative effort shows and the album’s quality suffers drastically.

The album’s first two singles, “Ferrari Boyz” and “She Be Puttin On”, both pass by in a lackluster grouping of tracks which have a hard time separating themselves from each other.

You’d expect a lot more from an album that pairs up two of the most recognizable and cult followed rappers in the game today. Whether you hate them or love them, there is no denying the permeating property of these two fellow’s music, as it has been heard absolutely everywhere this summer. Despite its sub par quality, this is sure to be the case with Ferrari Boyz as well.

 
That said, if you approach listening to this release with the sole intention of having something to nod your head to, it will get the job done, but only barely.

“Too Loyal”, “Pacman”, “Feed Me” and “Suicide Homicide” are the album’s most listenable and enjoyable tracks, but they leave something to be desired, as their mediocrity is only slightly less then the rest of the album.

The lyrical subject matter doesn’t extend far beyond the ludicrous, excessive and indulgent lifestyles led by the two emcees. This album lets the listeners get into a life that would otherwise be unfathomable to them, and in doing so Ferrari Boyz perhaps accomplishes its goal. It serves as a window into a fantasy land that most of us will never have the opportunity to experience first hand.

But in addition to the monotonous nature of the album’s rhymes, the production is disappointing, with a sound best ingested at the club or through the open windows of a car. This is not an album to think about or even to put on with the expectation of hitting repeat at all. Still, at the most basic level it does what it set out to do. It provides listeners with head nodding beats and memorable one liners.

As long as they don’t go into the experience with higher expectations and know the nature of the beast, listeners should walk away relatively satisfied.

Kanye West/ Jay Z: Watch the Throne      A

Recording sessions for this highly anticipated album began in November 2010, and since that month, not a day has passed by without some growth in the expectation, hopes and rumours surrounding the collaborative effort of two of the game’s most influential and highly regarded artists, ever.
 
Originally slated to be only a 5 track EP, Watch the Throne has evolved into an album of proportions we have not seen in the hip hop industry for quite some time.

First working together for Jay Z’s 2001 release The Blueprint, which was both a commercial and a critical success, audiences had come to expect big things from the two emcees. Watch the Throne is the culmination of these expectations.

In an interview Jay-Z discussed his insistence on recording in person and attributed it to the delay in releasing the album, stating, “If we were gonna do it, we were gonna do it together. No mailing it in.”

This insistence on a personalized recording experience undoubtedly shines through on the album. The chemistry and camaraderie between the two emcees is unmistakable. Both bring to the table what they are best at and best known for and run with it, creating a symbiotic musical relationship with each carrying their weight.

The album’s’ production, a definite product of the mind of Kanye West, is incredible and there is not a single track on the album that can be considered fluff or filler. Following the lead of unrelenting creativity set by West’s earlier release this year’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Watch the Throne hits the listener with a barrage of beauty, decadence, opulence and audacity, with West’s attention to detail found in some form on every track.

It is this captivating nature of the beats on the album that draws the listener in, only to be sequestered by Jay’s lyrical timing and undeniable verbal prowess.

Although his rhymes fail to adhere to any sort of lyrical themes, they never fail to disappoint and it is through this lyricism that Jay Z has come to be the highly respected and sought after emcee that he is today.

That said, although his lyrics are seamlessly crafted, the subject matter is the biggest shortcoming of this album. Almost every track on the album is a verbal contest between Jay and Kanye to see who can praise themselves more, begging the audience to gaze in awe at the fortune of their lives.

With an outlet that Jay and Kanye knew would reach an enormous amount of people, you would have hoped they’d have taken the opportunity to address more relevant topics.

Instead, the album’s subject matter revolves around four main ideas, never extending itself much beyond these parameters. With the main thematic presence on the album being money, cars, clothes and girls, this can get a bit monotonous.

Having said that, the album still maintains a high level of listenability and I predict a very long shelf life. With the presence of above average tracks like “No Church in the Wild”, “Gotta Have It”, “That’s My Bitch”, “Murder to Excellence”, “Why I love you” and “Ham”, Watch the Throne takes itself far beyond the confines of simply another summer release and places itself firmly in the category of classic album.

Although it was only released on August 8th, I have a strong feeling we will be hearing these tracks in one form or another for a long time to come, and to be quite honest that is something I have no problem with.
 

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