Rachel Views: Vince Staples ‘Big Fish Theory’

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Promoting his album, “Big Fish Theory,” which was released Friday, rapper Vince Staples appeared on “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” to discuss the project’s themes. When asked about the role of Afrofuturism in the album, Vince, in his typical deadpan manner, replies, “I like saying stuff about black people to white people.”

“So it doesn’t mean anything?” Trevor asks.

“Of course not,” Vince says, to raucous audience laughter. 

I had this interview in mind while listening to the Long Beach rapper’s second studio album. After all, he’s not the type of artist to embed hidden messages or intricate themes in his work. He might even side-eye me writing this review, as if to say,

Regardless, fam, I will be writing a long-ass review, because that’s what I do. And even if Vince doesn’t intend for the album to be Afrofuturistic or artsy-fartsy, I think it’s still conceptually interesting enough to examine. So read on for my full thoughts on “Big Fish Theory,” my favorite and least favorite tracks and my final rating. Thanks for reading, as always!


BIG TAKEAWAYS

1. Aquatic imagery

The big fish theory refers to the idea that a fish can only grow as big as the bowl it’s contained in. Likewise, people’s futures can be limited to what their environment allows. Throughout the album, there are songs that touch on various shades of this theory and this imagery; the first two tracks, “Crabs in a Bucket” and “Big Fish,” tackle “the black man” being brought down and “swimming upstream,” respectively. The album also ends with “BagBak,” which references the dangers of deep-sea exploration, and “Rain Come Down,” which sets up a comparison between rain and bullets. 

I find the exploration of water in hip-hop really interesting (Ugly God’s “Water” notwithstanding). Mick Jenkins literally dedicates two records delving into the theme, and his song “Drowning” discusses white people’s oppression of African Americans through slavery. On “Crabs in a Bucket,” Vince similarly raps, “Nails in the black man’s hands and feet/Put him on a cross so we put him on a chain.”

Although water might be associated with purity and hope (think The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” and Springsteen’s “The River”), for Vince, it also evokes danger and struggle. I like that Vince is challenging the traditional interpretations of water — H2O has had it good for too long; it’s about time someone took it down a peg, I say!

fukuwater.png

i made this on MS Paint, if u couldn’t tell

2. The intersection of love and violence

For the most part, Vince appears to reject romance and love on the album, by pairing lyrics about women with lines evoking violence and physical pain. On “Love Can Be …”, he says getting involved with women leads to “Alimony money for the nails and weave/Nail me to the cross like that boy JC.” Women may literally be the death of Vince, and Staple him to the cross.*

In the second verse of “745,” Vince is similarly unenthusiastic about love, saying, “I tread light each time we speak/Play too rough might break ya heart.” He’s depicting love as a fragile idea that can be lost at any moment, and in the final part of the verse, he takes the religious imagery up a notch, to state that love is holy, it’s “a God to me,” but it’s also “real hard for me.” He’s wondering, Is love attainable, or is it just this unreachable, idyllic concept for only God to know?

The future isn’t all bleak for Vince, though. There are hints of promise in the penultimate “BagBak,” which he opens with, “This is for my future baby mama/Hope your skin is black as midnight.” Maybe someday, when Vince finds the right person, his perception of love will be rosier. However, “Rain Come Down,” the album’s final song, is less clear. After each verse, which paints gritty images of “blood on the leaves” (S/O Kanye) and “[getting] JFK’d,” there’s the chorus of “When the sun goes down … Rain come down.” Whether the rain signifies bullets and brutality, or a cleansing of the bloodshed, is up in the air.  

STRENGTHS

1. Great production

With help from the likes of Zack Sekoff and Ray Brady, the album remains sonically cohesive and dark. There’s booming bass, drums and even some techno-reminiscent beats, throughout the project. The most exciting sound comes from Sekoff and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver fame on “Crabs in a Bucket,” where the two infuse the piece with vibes New Age-y enough to be fit for Bon Iver’s own experimental and electronic “22, A Million” album from last year. 

2. Sleek rhymes

Vince spits slick bar after slick bar on this record, and his verses feel effortless and smooth. Especially on “BagBak,” a slapper of a tune, his confidence carries the song through to its energetic end, as he raps, “Tell the president to suck a dick, because we on now.” Preach. 

WEAKNESSES

1. Uneven features

Kilo Kish is featured so much here it may as well be a collab album. I’m not complaining though — time and time again, Kilo and Vince have shown that they make a fantastic duo (e.g. “Loco” off last year’s “Prima Donna” EP), and here is no exception. Kendrick, as well, brings much-needed vigor to “Yeah Right,” although outshining Vince in the process.

At the same time, the album squanders features by a slew of artists; Kučka is a distraction on “Yeah Right,” Ray J barely appears on “Love Can Be …”, and A$AP Rocky gets lost in the mix in a group chorus on “SAMO.” Why get someone when you’re not going to give them a verse of their own? Don’t do Lord Flacko dirty like that.

Vince definitely hasn’t been shy about praising Ray J in the past

2. SAMO, SAMO

“Samo,” a.k.a “same old shit,” encapsulates one of my critiques of the album. There’s not enough versatility on the project, as every tune has the same dark and moody vibe that Vince has been constructing in past works. I’m not asking for a self-love anthem à la “i,” or a smiley jam like “Caroline,” but something tonally different would be nice. The experimental “Crabs in a Bucket” is the closest we get, and the rest, while good tracks on their own, don’t touch the bar of originality the first piece sets up. Further, on tracks like “745,” Vince’s effortless, smooth rhymes occasionally dip into lazy territory, and I wish he would switch up his flow or infuse more aggression into it. 

3. Thematically incomplete

The aquatic theme only appears in four songs, and the rest tangentially seem to fit within the world (or I guess fish tank) that Vince has built for the listener. But beyond that, there’s not sufficient connection between all the songs for any concept or theme to really land. 

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

SCALE: 1 (frozen) – 10 (boiling)

RATING: 7.5 (like Wise brand chips — they taste fine, but people aren’t reppin’ them over Lay’s, my guy)

“Big Fish Theory” will give existing fans what they already like about his music: moody bangers, confident delivery and entrancing production, albeit not adding too much new stuff to the mix, which isn’t the worst thing in the world. 

Thematically and comparatively, the album is neither profound enough nor more exceptional than Vince’s previous records: the bold “Prima Donna” EP and “Summertime 06,” which remains one of my favorite albums of 2015. In fact, his EP may remain Vince’s most ambitious and distinctive endeavor yet. So for now, I’m suggesting he keeps swimming to find his sonic Nemo. 

 

HOTTEST TRACKS

  1. “BagBak”
  2. “Yeah Right” ft. Kučka & Kendrick Lamar
  3. “Homage” ft. Kilo Kish

COLDEST TRACKS

  1. “Love Can Be …”ft. Ray J, Kilo Kish & Damon Albarn
  2. “745”
  3. “Party People”

* Too soon?

64 thoughts I had while listening to Kendrick Lamar’s ‘DAMN.’

damn cover


Boy, am I glad I decided to write down my first impressions of this album, because it was nothing like what I expected, based off what I heard from “To Pimp a Butterfly” and “untitled unmastered.” And I have a LOT of feelings about it.

I’ll have a full review out of “DAMN.” whenever I’m able to calm down from this first listen and can compose real, coherent sentences again. But rumor has it Kendrick will be releasing another album tomorrow (technically later today), so we’ll see if there’s even time to breathe before there’s something new to listen to again.

So here it is … 64 thoughts I had while listening to Kendrick’s “DAMN.”


“BLOOD.”

1. I’m so excited for the album but I still can’t get over the cover. It looks likes Kendrick just got off a 12-hour shift at Waffle House where he witnessed at least two people attempt to urinate on the floor (and one who successfully did).

2. Intro to “BLOOD.” is giving me “Bohemian Rhapsody” vibes.

3. The old woman replies, “You have lost something. You’ve lost your life.” Savage, lady. He was just tryna help you pick something from the street.

4. Also, I lost 3 years off my life hearing the white Fox News man say “fo sho.”

“DNA.”

5. Damn it’s 0 to 60 going from “BLOOD.” to “DNA.” This. Beat. Bangs.

6. “I got loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA” is a much cooler slogan than Northwestern’s “AND is in our DNA.” Goddamn overachievers.

7. Although every white girl will probably be changing her Insta bio to “royalty inside my DNA” soon. Don’t say I didn’t warn y’all.

8. I got heart palpitations from Kendrick’s second verse. God DAMN.

9. Literally had to pause before the next song because I’m still recuperating.

10. Alyssa is me right now. 

“YAH.”

11. Okay, I got some water in me. Ready for “YAH.”

12. Is Kendrick singing?? I’m into it.

13. I love that he’s dragging Fox News and Geraldo Rivera for three songs straight.

14. It’s in these moments where I wish I knew more about Christianity. References to things like “Deuteronomy” just go over my head.

15. Seriously, it was like 10th grade when I figured out that Jesus and God are kinda the same dude. Actually, are they?

“ELEMENT.”

16. LOL @ “Kung Fu Kenny.” I’m imagining a skinny white child trying to split a brick into two but breaking his hands in the process.

17. I can’t hear “element” without thinking of “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” I wonder what kind of bender Kendrick would be. Probably fire?

18. Thus far, the album sounds more commercial than TPAB, but not in a bad way. The beat on “ELEMENT.” for example, is more mainstream and catchy than his previous stuff.

avatar fire

just like when kendrick dropped this HOT album !!

“FEEL.”

19. Loving the production on “FEEL.” Moody but energetic at the same time.

“LOYALTY.”

20. Also can’t believe “LOYALTY.” is the first collaboration between Rihanna and Kendrick.

21. Maybe he waited until she wasn’t with Drake to do something?

22. Speaking of commercial hits, I’m thinking this and “HUMBLE.” will be the breakouts from the album.

23. His flow is effortless, and Riri’s verse fits well with his vibe.

24. So “geeked up” means getting high off meth, cocaine or ecstasy. Interesting. Although if I used it I doubt people would think I was referring to anything besides getting a new calculator :/

25. Don’t kill me for saying this, but I’m much more into this album’s production than TPAB’s (at least initially).

“PRIDE.”

26. The parts in “PRIDE.” where Kendrick’s voice is pitched up make me imagine him taking helium from a balloon, which might not be the intention.

27. Apparently Steve Lacy recorded this beat on an iPhone? And when he found out Kendrick included it on the album, he “screamed with joy.” That’s actually adorable.

28. I can barely take a non-blurry photo on the first try with my phone, and this dude is recording beats on it.

29. That probably says more about me than him though, huh?

30. Anna Wise is the best. Never let her go, Kendrick.

“HUMBLE.”

31. Speaking of Grey Poupon, Vox has an interesting video about why rappers have referenced this mustard SO much in the past.

32. Props to Kenny though, for not rhyming it with “coupon.”

33. I wonder if Instagram “comedians” are going to use “sit down, be humble” in their next 100 videos. And I wonder if it’ll be lowkey misogynistic (hint: probably).

“LUST.”

34. Here, they’re sampling a song by an artist named Rat Boy.

35. Just imagine: “Everyone, meet Batman’s new sidekick: ‘Rat Boy.’”

36. “Wake up in the mornin’/Thinkin’ ’bout money, kick your feet up/Watch you a comedy, take a shit” …

37. Wow Kendrick, how did you know my Saturday routine?

38. Was that TMI?

39. Whatever, girls poop. Grow up.  

“LOVE.”

40. Zacari’s voice is so smoooooth.

41. Tory Lanez is probably crying himself to sleep over not getting on this track.

42. Funny enough, Tory has a song called “LUV.”

43. This track is nothing like what I’ve heard from Kendrick before. It’s kinda awesome.

44. It’s a great blend of hip-hop and alternative R&B.

“XXX.”

45. There’s a U2 feature ????? Whaaaattttt.

46. Kendrick keepin us on our toes with these unexpected guests.

47. The flow switch, when it goes from “You know we all love him” to “Yesterday I got a call,” is insane. 

“FEAR.”

48. Whereas “XXX.” is overtly political, “FEAR.” is deeply personal.   

49. Here, he references the titles of some previous tracks on the album: “Fear of losin’ loyalty from pride,” “fear that my humbleness is gone,” etc.  

50. This song is almost 8 minutes longgggg. My attention span is half of that.

51. Am I the worst?

52. Thematically, the song is really interesting, but I probably won’t be listening to it on a regular basis (see: #51).

“GOD.”

53. “GOD.” also starts off totally unlike what I expected from Kendrick.

54. If you would’ve told me a year ago that this is what the new Kendrick album would sound like, I’d be 

shooketh

55. I’m shooketh at the moment, actually.

56. At first I thought “work it JT” was a reference to Justin Timberlake, but evidently it’s from the film “The Five Heartbeats.” #themoreyouknow

57. But I guessing “I’m sellin’ verses, Jay Z, watch me work it, JT” is actually referring to the former ramen-noodle-headed, NYSNC heartthrob? 

58. Yoooo some Genius commenter said this sounds like a Drake song. I kinda … agree? Is it intentional though? What if Kendrick is deliberately imitating Drake’s flow and his habit of calling himself “6 God” ? Hmmm …

“DUCKWORTH.”

59. The manipulation of Ted Taylor’s “Be Ever Wonderful” is amazing.

60. HA, apparently “DUCKWORTH.” tells the true story of how Top Dawg (founder of TDE, Kendrick’s label) almost killed Kendrick’s dad, Ducky, who worked at KFC.

61. And Top Dawg was nice to Ducky because Ducky would give him free chicken and biscuits when he went to KFC.

62. Now that’s what I call conflict prevention.  

63. The song (and thus album) ends with Kendrick’s first line from the first song, “BLOOD.”: “So, I was takin a walk the other day …”

64. I need to lie down.


 

Rachel Reviews: Drake ‘More Life’ Playlist

 

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I had a realization the other day, while I was looking over my “Views” review: Drake is the “Friends” of rappers. Aubrey does the same thing he always does on the album (i.e. complain about women not revolving their lives around him), yet I revisit “Views” constantly. Often, when I don’t know what I’m searching for, I go back to “Redemption,” “Faithful,” “Still Here,” not to mention that the hook from “One Dance” is permanently embedded in my brain.

Similarly, “More Life,” Drake’s new playlist which came out March 18, features 22 tracks where the Toronto rapper addresses the same things he always talks about: trust issues, how he’s killing it despite his haters and all the girls he’s thinking about but can’t establish relationships with. Again, nothing new, but despite all this, Drake shows with “More Life” that he can keep my attention once again with great production, catchy hooks and effortless flow from him and guest artists.

At the risk of sounding like a white millennial, my feelings about Drake mirror my relationship with the classic sitcom “Friends.” Although I don’t think the show is that funny, and episodes sometimes reek of the same White People Problems, I still rewatch it ALL the time. It’s the perfect show to have on the background while I’m doing dishes or cleaning my apartment. It’s entertaining enough to elicit a few chuckles, but not  so captivating that if I miss a moment I’ll regret it.

 

Image result for friends gif

Same, Chandler, same

 

Drake and “Friends” are both crowd-pleasing, digestible entities that aren’t always edgy or profound. They’re not breaking genres like FKA twigs or “Legion,” or moving audiences like Chance and “Transparent.” Like I said about Lil Yachty in a previous post, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but because “More Life” is lyrically and thematically more of the same from Drake, I can’t help but want …  more.


It’s a ~Playlist~, Not an Album

Apparently Drake is calling this project a playlist, rather than a traditional album. I guess that could be a smart move in terms of marketing; kids these days are all about curating and sharing Spotify playlists and whatnot. However, I can also see Drake making an incongruous album (it is 22 songs, after all) and trying to hide that by calling it a playlist. I can also see him congratulating his own originality by saying, “Damn, 6 God has done it again!! I’m a genius!”… or something along those lines.

Still, I can’t help but think this is a ploy akin to that pretentious Sven architecture firm on “How I Met Your Mother” and its “It’s not a company, it’s a collective” shtick. The worst thing is I can totally envision other artists jumping on this bandwagon and calling their future endeavors “playlists” or “aesthetic sessions” or whatever. Just release your album and go, Drake.

 

WHAT’S HOT

 

1. The Beat Goes In

The good news: Virtually every song on the project boasts stellar production, and I appreciate the range on it: The Nana Rogues produced “Passionfruit,” which features the bounciest beat since “Controlla,” captures a lighthearted island vibe, while another Nana track “Skepta Interlude” and “KMT,” produced by Ness (HBTL) and Cameron Pasquale, are both heavy hitters that would seem appropriate in a movie scene that introduces a villain with a scar across their face.

 

Image result for villain with scar

Imagine “The Lion King” but with a hip-hop score

 

I even like what’s happening on “Ice Melts,” which has a melody appropriate for “Little Einsteins” or something. Produced by S1 and Supah Mario (fitting name), it has the same lullaby/video game rap aesthetic that D.R.A.M. and Yachty are known for, so I’d like to think that this whole trend is taking off, because I’m all for it.

2. Good Features

Famed U.K. grime rapper Giggs has great verses on “No Long Talk” and “KMT,” infusing each line with his signature menace, while Skepta, another well-known British grime rapper, similarly brings the heat to “Skepta Interlude.”

British singer Sampha, known for appearing on the “Nothing Was the Same” track “Too Much,” delivers soulful and haunting vocals on the otherwise lacking “4422.” It’s a repetitive song, but Sampha makes it almost work.

I also dig the hell out of Young Thug on “Sacrifices,” which also features 2 Chainz, and I love Kanye’s soulfulness on “Glow,” and the Earth, Wind & Fire sample doesn’t hurt either.

Overall, the features elevate the playlist, and I like Drake’s inclusion of established stars such as Kanye and 2 Chainz, as well as artists unfamiliar to some American audiences like Giggs, Skepta and Jorja Smith (although he didn’t utilize her considerable talents to the fullest extent IMO).

 

COLD

 

1. Culture Vulture

Drake’s been called out in the past for his liberal use of Jamaican and Caribbean slang, and this happens again on “More Life.” Take the sixth track off the playlist, “Madiba Riddim,” as an example: the title itself references both the late Nelson Mandela’s nickname, “Madiba,” and the Jamaican Patois way of saying “rhythm.” The former confuses me —what is the connection between Mandela, who fought against racism and apartheid, and Drake’s tale of “Some girls turn they back/On they best friend from time”?

Drake’s patois usage extends to the title “Gyalchester,” as well as the reference to being “maddas” on “Blem,” and even his AMAs speech where he says “chune for your headtop” appears in a few songs.

Since I’m obviously not from the Caribbeans, I don’t have the final authority on this issue. It’s also possible I’m thinking too much about it, since I didn’t have a problem with all the patois Drake dropped on “Views.” But after doing research and reading perspectives from other writers, I have to at least question my previously casual attitude toward Drake’s propensity for borrowing from other cultures.

Sajae Elder, who is Jamaican and Trinidadian and who was born in Toronto, points out that Drake has a habit of hitting and quitting it — he hops onto a culture when it’s cool and then abandons it when it’s not. She also says just because Jamaican culture is very big in Toronto, it doesn’t justify Drake’s heavy manipulation of it. He regularly uses “ting,” “wasteman” and “yute,” despite not being Jamaican, Elder continues. Further, she finds his claim that “Hotline Bling” is a riddim of “Cha Cha” to be inadequate, as he’s not from the culture of competition between dancehall artists and he’s just trying to hide that he jacked D.R.A.M.’s beat. It’s worrisome that Drake takes so much from a culture that has been vilified in the past, especially given his shaky history of crediting other artists.

As Elder states, it may be time for “non-West Indian artists to engage the full scope of our complex cultures instead of just painting something red, gold, and green and calling it a day.”

Image result for drake hotline bling gif

 

2. Thematically and lyrically repetitive

Like I said, the playlist touches on the same subjects Drake has mulled over countless times in past work. Maybe I should give “More Life” a little slack, being that it’s a playlist and I shouldn’t expect it to be as thematically fresh as an album. But generally speaking, I can file most of his songs from the playlist into three categories:

  1. Braggadocious and confrontational: a.k.a. “I’m the shit, and you’re not”
    • Examples: “Free Smoke,” “No Long Talk,” “Gyalchester,” “Skepta Interlude,” “KMT,” “Can’t Have Everything,” “Glow”
  2. Lovelorn: “Why won’t this girl be with me in the way I want?”
    • “Passionfruit,” “Get It Together,” “Blem,” “Nothing’s Into Somethings,” “Teenage Fever,” “Since Way Back,” “Ice Melts”
  3. Trust issues (which is also a recurring theme in his lovelorn songs):
    • “Madiba Riddim,” “Portland,” “Fake Love”

Those are pretty much the same themes I’ve seen from his previous work, especially “Views.” Drake postured on “9,” “Hype” and “Still Here”; griped about old flames on “Feel No Ways,” “Redemption” and most famously “Hotline Bling”; then of course mentioned his world-renowned trust issues on “Keep the Family Close.” He even put out a song called “Trust Issues” back in 2011. At this point, when you Google that phrase, a picture of Drake will pop up as a result. Is there even a Drake without trust issues? It’s his bread and butter. But at the same time, it might show that a) he needs to reevaluate some of his priorities (maybe stop chasing after unavailable women??), or b) stretch his creativity and not rehash the same themes again and again.

 

3. Self-Contradictory

I find Drake to be utterly unconvincing when he says “I don’t care what society thinks” on “Lose You.” If that’s true Aubrey, why do you feel the need to mention your “Hermes link, ice-blue mink” and make seven tracks on this playlist that contradict that statement? And why would you bag on Meek for “ego strokin’” with his Rolexes on “Lose You” when you do the same thing, bragging about your “new Maybach” on “Gyalchester”? Come on, man.

 

Hottest Songs (in order of appearance, not by preference):

1. “Passionfruit”: Sure it sounds like a tune that YouTube beauty gurus will use as background music of a tutorial called “summer glow makeup,” but putting that aside, the beat is infectiously bright and I just KNOW I’ll spend the next month playing this on repeat.

2. “Can’t Have Everything”: I’m living for Drake’s flow and the killer beat, also the line “Come and get your mans” makes me laugh and think of this:

 

Image result for whose mans is this dog

 

3. “Glow”: Beautiful, beautiful song. Content-wise it’s basically “Started From the Bottom,” but Kanye’s vocals and the production make it seem heartfelt rather than pompous.

4. “Fake Love”: Released October last year, this track is one of the standouts from the playlist. The hook is insanely catchy and I was on board from the get-go.

 

Coldest songs:

  1. “Jorja Interlude”: It’s an interlude so I’ll ease off, but it was forgettable and didn’t do anything with Smith’s vocals.
  2. “Nothings Into Somethings”: This slow jam feels like it’s missing something, and other commenters have also said they thought PartyNextDoor or Bryson Tiller could’ve added much needed energy to it.
  3. “Since Way Back”: Speaking of Party, this track is no “Come and See Me.” It’s like “Come and See Me” if that song were five times more boring. Also, this track brings up some questions: Are they singing to different women? Or are they singing to the same girl?? If so, it might as well be called “More Than Words,” ammirite?

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

 

SCALE: 1 (frozen) – 10 (boiling)

RATING: 7.5  (Like a nice oatmeal)

 

Overall, I find myself wanting more from “More Life.” The outstanding production, rather than completely winning me over, further emphasizes Drake’s lack of lyrical creativity. He raps about wanting more success and personal fulfillment, and I hope he finds it, especially the latter. Maybe if he’s finally secure with himself, and not spending his time feuding with people, he can generate new fodder for the next album.

If it seems like I’m being too hard on Drake, it’s because I think he’s capable of delivering more (wow I sound like a mom here lol). I’m anticipating that his next [insert trendy name for album here] will bring something new.

 


 

What did y’all think of the playlist? Hot or cold? Let me know!

Rachel Reviews: Drake’s ‘VIEWS’

Drake-Views-Album-Cover

 

I know, it seems strange to review Drake’s “VIEWS” first, which came out after Beyoncé dropped “Lemonade,” but I was sent zip files of both albums by people (who shall remain unnamed) on the same day, and “VIEWS” just happened to load first. That’s pretty much the extent of my reasoning. I’ll try and put out a review for “Lemonade” (as if you haven’t heard enough about it yet) soon, but for now, read on to see what I think of Drake’s new album. Thanks for visiting!


 

There are 20 songs on “VIEWS,” so I won’t do what I did with Kendrick’s “untitled unmastered” and review each track individually — instead, I’ll mention a few overarching themes, as well as my picks for the best and worst songs from Drake’s fourth studio album.

 

MAIN TAKEAWAYS

 

1. “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and Drake — Drake took the one more traveled by”

I guess this is my pretentious way of saying that I think Drake is rehashing the same topics and personas he’s tackled before on his previous albums. There’s the paranoid, untrusting Drake from “Energy” that pops up again in “Keep the Family Close” and “U With Me?”. We also have the braggadocious, “I’m better than everyone,” 6-God figure we’ve heard in “Started from the Bottom,” and now hear in “Hype,” Grammys” and “Pop Style.” And of course, the unlucky-in-love and pining Drake reappears in “Redemption,” “Faithful,” “Too Good,” “Fire & Desire” and most famously, his 2015 hit “Hotline Bling.” There really aren’t any new topics he’s bringing up here, which is a little disappointing and which keeps “VIEWS” from reaching Classic Album status to me. But granted, some of these songs are catchy as hell, so I’ll let him slide a bit.

 

drakecrying

2. The production is on-point, almost too on-point …  

Longtime Drake collaborator and friend Noah “40” Shebib produced the majority of the album’s songs, so you know it’s going to be good. However, there were times when it felt like the production was so great it overshadowed what Drake was trying to get across. A prime example is on “9,” the second song on the album. It starts off cool and dream-trance-y, but Drake fails to say anything important or memorable for me, except convey a general sense of “I’m coming for you, bitch,” which isn’t anything fresh from him, although the phrase “turn the six upside down, it’s a nine now” makes me laugh.

“Feel No Ways,” the fourth track, has some really cool retro sounds going on, thanks to production by Jordan Ullman, one half of OVO-signed duo Majid Jordan. The group’s known for its smooth and ultra nostalgia beats (Frank Ocean reference, anyone?) so I totally dug the vibe, but again, I didn’t really care about Drake’s lyrics. He’s done at least five other songs (probably more) about how he can’t move on from a relationship, so what else is there to say?

Moreover, while the production of each song was generally solid, there were times when the sound felt discordant. I get it’s supposed to reflect the changes in Toronto’s seasons, but each season/section of the album didn’t really seem to connect to the other. It jumps from orchestral and big-band reminiscent on “Keep the Family Close,” to retro on “Feel No Ways,” classic R&B with “Weston Road Flows,” then dancehall and afrobeat on “One Dance.” They’re all cool sounds on their own, but together it feels a little messy.

3. What’s Hot

There are some great tracks on the album, the first being “Hype,” which as I mentioned, is standard Drake bragging (“They wan’ be on TV right next to me / You cannot be right here next to me”), but it’s seriously intense and probably one of the hardest-hitting songs on the entire album.

Next is “Redemption,” which is Drake crooning at its finest. I loved the lines “Aw, please give me time / Cause I’m searchin’ for these words to say to you,” which was accompanied with a kind of sincerity that makes me slightly less annoyed that he keeps doing these same kind of lovelorn songs.

Another of my favorites was “Faithful,” the ninth track on “VIEWS,” and dvsn’s verse completely stole the show for me. The album has contributions from the likes of Future and Rihanna, but without a doubt my favorite feature was from the lesser-known act dvsn (or is it Dvsn?), the other Canadian R&B group signed to OVO besides Majid Jordan.¹ It was actually breathtaking to hear Daniel Daley’s² lush vocals, accompanied by the chorus — and when he hits those high notes … 

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Sorry, I had to.

Other highlights include “One Dance” and the song everyone and their mother know, “Hotline Bling.” They were released before “VIEWS” came out, so I don’t have too much to add that hasn’t been said already. The latter is insanely catchy, but also condescending when you really examine the lyrics (why is Drake trying to stop this girl from being independent and having a good time??), so take it with a grain of salt.

4. What’s Cold

There wasn’t any song I hated on the album, but tracks like “Weston Road Flows” fell a little flat for me, especially with the way Mary J. Blige’s song, “Mary’s Joint” was used. Was it just me or did it sound like someone was playing that track twice at the same time? It just seemed messy and disjointed to me, although there were some great throwback references in the song, from TLC to T-Minus to Hpnotiq.

I also found both “Child’s Play” and “Pop Style” to be quite dumb, although the latter is slightly catchier. The former is pretty patronizing and basically says to the girl in question that if she doesn’t act the way Drake wants her, he’ll “give [her] back to the hood.” Also, lines like “she rode that dick like a soldier” won’t be putting him into the lyrical Hall of Fame any time soon.

Furthermore, while “Pop Style” is fun, I feel like the line, “Got so many chains they call me Chaining Tatum,” compels me to hate it on principle. I expect that from someone like 2 Chainz (it certainly would make more sense given his moniker), not Drake. That’s probably one of the dumbest things I’ve heard thus far in the year, and that’s taking into account the fact that I found out they’re making Angry Birds into a goddamn movie.

FINAL THOUGHTS

 

Like I said, “VIEWS” is far from a classic album, but it still has some really great tracks. There are slow jams for those inclined to sit and reflect while sullenly nursing a glass of red wine, but for people who want to get up and move, the album provides tracks for livelier scenarios as well.

Overall, I see “VIEWS” as more of a bridge to cross before getting to the really good stuff, and it makes me look forward to what Drake has to offer in the future. Apparently he’ll be coming out with more stuff in the summer, so stay tuned for that.


 

Scale: 1 (frozen) – 10 (boiling)

Rating: 8, or the attractiveness of white Chrises.

There are so many Chrises, I kind of forget who’s who. There’s Evans, Pine, Hemsworth, Pratt — the list goes on. They’re all attractive and probably really nice, but no Chris really sticks out to me since they all have that superhero-playing-suburban-dad-who-barbecues thing going on. Drake’s album is comparable: it’s catchy and agreeable, but not really that different from “Take Care” or “Nothing Was the Same.”

See you soon for Beyonce’s “Lemonade”!


Footnotes, because I’m fancy

1. What is it with Canada these days? They’re killing it on the R&B front: There’s The Weeknd, PARTYNEXTDOOR, Majid Jordan, Tory Lanez, dvsn, etc.
2. Disclaimer: I’m not 100 percent sure if it actually is Daniel Daley on the vocals. Besides producer Nineteen85, it’s still unclear who’s exactly in the group, although there are rumors Daley is also part of dvsn. So for now, I’m assuming it’s Daley singing in “Faithful,” otherwise my meme-ing doesn’t work at all here.

Rachel Reviews: Kendrick Lamars’ ‘untitled unmastered’

 

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When I heard, “What did the Asian say?,” I immediately looked up from the textbook I was “reading,” snapped my head up and wondered, “What did I have to say?”

This referral to outside wisdom is one way “untitled unmastered” differs from Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly,” and also one reason why I enjoyed this album. Since the tracks are those left over from TPAB recording sessions, they still explore many of the same themes — self-exploration, condemning the superficial, connecting to your roots — but the plea to other minority groups in “untitled 03 | 05.28.2013” and the minimal production were welcome differences from the last album. I liked the sparseness of “untitled 01 | 08.19.2014,” the joy of “untitled 06 | 06.30.2014” was a standout and the grooviness of “untitled 08 | 09.06.2014” was so infectious it got me to say words like “grooviness.”

“Untitled unmastered” may not be as cohesive as TPAB (for a reason), but its strength lies in its sparse production, which lets Kendrick’s masterful lyricism do the talking and reminds us that this is an artist at the top of his game, who’s still always striving to be better.


 

  1. untitled 01 | 08.19.2014

Although the first track off the album feels apocalyptic, it’s purely from the power and urgency conveyed through Kendrick’s voice, as the production is relatively minimal. His lyrics paint the unsettling picture of buildings plummeting and ground shaking, “swallowing young woman with a baby, daisies, and other flowers burning in destruction.” He has to answer to the big man upstairs: What has he done in the world to justify going to Heaven? Is “To Pimp a Butterfly” enough? Is anything he’s doing enough? Or is he just stuck, always “running in place trying to make it to church”?

  1. untitled 02 | 06.23.2014

Katt Williams has made a whole career from exploring the attitude and style of the “pimp,” but here Kendrick explores the illusions of “pimping and posing” and how the glamour and fame he’s come to know contrasts with the imagery of “pistol and poverty” from the place he comes from. If this lyrical tension isn’t enough for you to sift through, Kendrick’s flow transition in the second verse might do the trick. What a Slick Rick (I’m trying to make that expression a thing) move — effortless and cooool. After all, it’s Cornrow Kenny. How could he not be cool?

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  1. untitled 03 | 05.28.2013

Asians are wise, y’all. We’re tellin Kendrick to be peaceful, meditate and “think of your health.” You’re welcome. Many of his songs deal with looking within himself, but I enjoy that he’s turning to other people and other cultures for guidance. 

  1. untitled 04 | 08.14.2014

Remind me not to listen to this when I’m in bed. I don’t need Voldemort whispering at me while I’m trying to sleep, thank you very much. But apparently Kendrick’s whispering here is meant to represent the government, so the creepiness works. While the state is telling people that they’re to blame for their troubles (“talk about the charge you got…”), SZA’s beautiful, soulful singing represents the black community’s frustrations at being lied to and not knowing what to do. The mantra now is “head is the answer” — maybe the new “knowledge is power” — highlighting the importance of thinking for yourself. Or I might be overthinking it, and as one Rap Genius commenter eloquently pointed out, “he’s actually talking about getting dome.” Whatever works, man.

  1. untitled 05 | 09.21.2014

With lyrics like “drowned inside the lake outside away you flow,” I couldn’t help but think about Frank Ocean’s “Swim Good” and the lines: “I’m about to drive in the ocean, I’ma try to swim from somethin’ bigger than me.” Both songs explore the theme of escapism and our tendency to flee instead of dealing with our problems and the problems of society like “genocism and capitalism.” Is self-determination and control “a mirage or a facade”? Can we really control anything?

  1. untitled 06 | 06.30.2014

Not since “good kid, m.A.A.d. city” have I thought that a Kendrick album could be, to put it simply, a good time. Of course the album dealt with heavy stuff, but it was also just fun to listen to and something I could jam to in my car. And TPAB, although culturally and lyrically beautiful and important, was not always easy to listen to (as it should be), with the exception of a few songs like “i” and “King Kunta.” But after hearing the sixth song from this album, I feel like I can confidently say that “untitled unmastered” returns to the fine form of easy listening, without being as annoying as muzak. The production throughout is easy, breezy, beautiful, Covergirl. And this song, which expresses the importance of individuality over music that seems vaguely OutKast-like, is fun at its finest.

  1. untitled 07 | 2014-2016

To be honest I’d give this song 5/5 stars just for the line, “Santa’s reindeer better have some ass.” The imagery by itself is gold. But the rest of the track isn’t bad either, from the trap-sounding Part 1, all the way to the low-key third section where it’s just Kendrick and his team “jamming out” and brainstorming ideas for songs. We rarely get to see goofy, relaxed Kendrick, so it’s a nice thing to hear. Also, apparently Swizz Beatz’s son Egypt produced this song, so everyone else can officially stop sending out their resumes and accept that 5-year-olds will be taking over their jobs.

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  1. untitled 08 | 09.06.2014

I’m a little embarrassed that “This is groovy!” was the first thing that popped into my head when I heard the intro to this song, as I’m neither a character in “That 70’s Show” nor outrageously high (at this moment). But I couldn’t deny it: This song is bringing the funk. The music is bouncy and light and wouldn’t be out of place in a Yoplait commercial where there’s a bunch of white people in sweaters eating yogurt with the same enjoyment as if they were having sex. But I’d definitely prefer not to hear it in that context.


 

In keeping with the name of this blog, “The Hot Pot,” I thought I’d keep the whole temperature theme going. Gimmicky, yes, but refined has never been in my wheelhouse. Why not steer into the skid, huh?

Scale: 1 (frozen) – 10 (boiling)

Rating: 9: Satan’s butthole

I debated whether that’s actually colder than boiling, but anything involving the words “Satan’s butthole” is probably not an exact science.

All in all, the album is introspective and powerful, but Kendrick does all the talking and the production takes a back seat. That doesn’t stop it from being funky once in a while. He’s also exploring a few new territories while still tapping into the themes that we’re familiar with. I can’t wait for his next project!