After finding it to be a bit of a struggle to find anything to write about in the last post, I was the recipient of a minor deluge of interesting new music. For this post, I review the new Chance the Rapper album, as well as new music from Nigeria’s Burna Boy, a mixtape from Blood Orange, and a pair of albums from a couple of British artists who have collaborated with each other, Ash Walker and Laville.
The inspiration for this post’s title comes from one of the hit singles from the 1979 album from Sister Sledge We Are Family… I lifted a portion of the song’s chorus, which I’ve been feeling in my soul… wish I could quit my job and get lost in the music, while getting paid for doing so… here’s the video of the sisters performing the song… they were purdy, too… allofem’… probably still are… Joni Sledge is no longer with us, having succumbed to cancer a few years ago… R.I.P….
THE HEARD (Reviews)
Chance the Rapper
The Big Day
I really, really, REALLY wanted to gush all over this album – after all, the 26 year old Chicago native born Chancelor Bennett is, for me, a hometown hero of sorts… he’s a community activist and his philanthropic efforts are well-known, and he’s been a commercial pitchman for various products. He is also a GRAMMY Award-winning rapper for his Coloring Book project, an album no-one bought (a bone of contention of mine… not against him, of course, but against an industry where physical units no longer matter- he won based on streaming). Hence, despite the fact that he has released three projects to date, this is his official “debut” album, one that you can actually own for posterity, to pass on to your kids.
Now… don’t let my opening statement convince you that I didn’t like this album… I do… I just don’t love it. This project should’ve been credited to Chance & Friends, as he has a guest list as long as the album’s tracklist… a guest list like a wedding guest list before you trim it down. And the guest list is across a wide spectrum of artists, from John Legend on the opening track “All Day Long” to Death Cab for Cutie on the following track “Do You Remember“. He even dug up 70’s Pop humorist Randy Newman! On the plus side, he changes up the styles from track to track… but… it can be a detraction to some due to a perceived lack of flow… personally, I can get with the variety. He’s got a cut for the steppers with “Eternal” (probably my favorite track), a House track (“Ballin Flossin“) featuring Shawn Mendes, and an Electro track (“Found a Good One (Single No More)“) that features SWV and someone called Pretty Vee. Other standouts for me include “Big Fish“, a collabo with Gucci Mane, and “Let’s Go On the Run” featuring Knox Fortune; of the few tracks without any guests, I liked “We Go High“, and “Sun Go Down“.
I think one of the reasons this album has gotten a somewhat polarizing reaction is that its’ theme is his wedding, which he should celebrate. The listener gets an audiobook of the events leading to the big day, the big day itself, and commentary on how you, too, can get to where he is now, a husband or wife. For some (especially single folks), it might be a little too much ‘in your face’… like “I get it, you’re married now and you love your wife and she loves you… now let’s talk about something else.” Some have said his flow is wack on this album, and some have even said it’s corny and elementary, like Chance is gonna turn into Ice Cube and make movies like “Are We There Yet?”, or start writing children’s books or something. I don’t particularly have an issue here, either, except for his occasional deadpan delivery on some tracks. Lastly, some people see he’s doing big things, and are just haters. I watched a review of the album on YouTube from a guy who just happens to be a rapper, and who recently released his own independent Hip hop album; while he was slammin’ Chance, he was promoting his own project, as the better of the two products. I checked his album out, and… No!… not better.
The young man is riding a wave, the likes of which all of us wish we could ride… a recent father, new husband, good music career, doing TV commercials, and as a philanthropist, doing critical work in a community that desperately needs someone to show they care about them…. let him have his moment! Is this his best album? No. Is it the worst thing you’ve heard? Nah there’s much worse out there now. Allow him to celebrate his blessings, and I’m betting the next album will be fiyah… Here is the audio for “Eternal“…
This is the third full length album from London-based DJ/producer, musician and now bandleader; his first two albums, 2015’s Augmented 7th, and 2016’s Echo Chamber, were critically acclaimed underground releases.
Walker’s sound can be best described as an atmospheric, dubby Soul/Jazz- as evidenced from the title of the last album, he loves to use elements found in Dub Reggae, particularly the echo and reverb aspects. The results are almost otherworldly at times, and always intoxicating; it recalls the jazzy side of Trip hop. Along for the ride is British singer Laville, whose debut album came out the same day as this one (see separate review); he features on the two singles, “Under the Sun” and “Finishing Touch“, as well as three other tracks. Even he is EQ’d low in the overall sound, and he employs his lower registers more, coming off like a trippy Will Downing. Throughout, Walker employs the fat basslines, especially on tracks like “Come With Us“, which features the brass stylings of Yazz Ahmed, and the appropriately titled “Fat King Smoke“.
For me, this is one of the best albums I’ve heard all year; I can’t stop listening to it. Look for it to grace the upper rungs of my “Best of 2019” list… here is the video for “Finishing Touch“…
As I often do these days, I wander around Spotify checking out new stuff, and I was researching the new Brand New Heavies album (which should drop September 6th), and I just happened by the page for Acid Jazz records. This label pretty much ruled most of the early 90’s for me, and I really thought the label was, for the most part, defunct; much to my pleasant surprise, not only are they alive and well (they’ve even resurrected the career of one time Impressions lead singer and 70’s soul balladeer Leroy Hutson), but they’ve released the debut album from North London native Laville. It was also through this discovery that I ran across Ash Walker, with whom he frequently collaborates. He is the first male artist to release an album on Acid Jazz since Jason Kay (aka Jamiroquai).
I haven’t discovered too much about him biographically, but what I do know is that he’s a promising young artist in the art of old school Soul. He’s been mentioned in the same breath as some Soul legends; what I hear is a combination of elements of Will Downing, Donny Hathaway, and Aloe Blacc- not a bad combination at all. The Gospel-influenced single “Easy” echoes Hathaway, while “Thirty One” gives off a funky Will Downing kind of vibe, one that also harkens back to the sound of the label in its’ heyday. The new single “This City” gives off a mid-70’s Disco vibe, while “The Answer” is a smoldering piece of sexy Soul, and is a standout track; for good measure, he can also tackle the classics, as he also throws in a cover of Bobby Caldwell’s “What You Won’t Do for Love“, which he covers in standard fashion.
This is an auspicious debut, one that makes Laville someone to watch out for; hopefully, he doesn’t change or stray from these musical roots – he’s got something good brewing… Here’s the video for “Thirty One“…
Fresh off of winning a BET Award for Top International Act, one of Nigeria’s top music artists, 28 year old Damini Ogulu aka Burna Boy has released his fourth album, and the first one poised to break him into the American market.
Now, anyone who comes from Nigeria will, at one point in time, face the inevitable comparison to Fela Kuti. Musically, Burna Boy is a kind of hybrid of Jamaican dancehall, Afrobeat, and American Hip-hop, and lyrically, he does dabble in social issues, but he is an everyman who also dabbles in the usual core subjects: sex, love, partying, etc.; Fela he ain’t. If there is one good thing to say about his style, is at least he sounds like he comes from Nigeria; when I listened to Mr. Eazi’s album a while back, it sounded like any other Hip-hop artist, and there wasn’t much of a hint of Africa in it. I’ve read other reviews of this album, and they were surprisingly very favorable, but while I hear some good things, much of it is samey sounding, and his vocals are rather dull to me. The single “Anybody” is rather representative of most of the album; he invites other artists from around the musical spectrum, from fellow Nigerian Zlatan (“Killin Them“), to British singer Jorja Smith (“Gum Body“), Future and his potty mouth show up for “Show & Tell“, and Damien Marley & Angelique Kidjo partner with him on “Different“, which is one of the tracks that stood out for me. Among the others were “Dangote“, named after the Nigerian billionaire, “Destiny“, a song of perseverance, and “Another Story“, which begins with a spoken word lesson on the history of Nigeria and its’ colonial past- this was the most interesting thing on the album to me.
Overall, I think there was too much of African Giant to digest here; there are 19 tracks in all, and some of them could’ve been left off the album – actually, they should’ve considered doing a shorter version, and the ubiquitous “Deluxe” edition for those who can’t get enough of him. A shorter version would’ve made more of an impact for me; but after a while, I just lost interest. It’s not bad, but the title is overly ambitious… Here is the video for “Anybody“…
The latest project from Devonte Hynes is actually an addendum to last year’s fine Negro Swan album, one that, if you missed it, explored the subject of life in a black and/or queer world. The material here is basically compiled into a “mixtape” format… still not sure what constitutes a mixtape these days- it used to be a cassette of the hottest dance tunes sequed together – but now… this is a compilation of other material produced during the sessions for the last album, pieced together like a scrapbook into its’ own project.
Hynes takes this style of musical scrapbooking seriously, so you have to be prepared for very abrupt changes in direction from song to song, or even within a song. The 14 tracks in this collection fly by in a mere 32 minutes – only two surpass the three minute mark (one of those by a mere 2 seconds), and it can be frustrating to get into a groove, only for it to suddenly stop and go into something else (see Solange’s latest album). Case in point is the opening track “I Wanna C U“, a nice piece of 70’s styled soft Rock – cuts a nice, mellow groove, only to suddenly stop at just 75 seconds in. The second half of the mixtape offers the majority of the longer tracks (between two and three minutes in length), and is more satisfying – “Tuesday Feeling (Choose to Stay)” and the longest track in the collection “Take It Back” are two of the better selections. Chaz Bundick aka Toro y Moi features on “Dark & Handsome” – he is part of a large cast of contributors for such a short project; others include Tinashe, Kelsey Lu, Justin Skye, and Memphis rappers Project Pat and Gangsta Boo.
This project takes you on an emotional journey, as do all of Hynes’ projects; his voice can be fragile or soothing, whisper soft or wailing. Overall, it’s OK once you get used to its’ flow- you can’t really take it on a track by track basis, but kinda as a whole, hence the ‘mixtape’ designation, I guess … Here is the video for “Benzo“…