Beats carry the Swizz project from start to finish

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If producer albums were rated on the production alone, Swizz Beatz’ Poison would get a 5 out of 5. The producer combination of himself, AraabMUZIK, Gian Bravo and Bink!, not to mention co-EP J. Cole, crafted a series of beats that play well off of each other to seemingly produce separate elements of one cohesive vibe. The playlist goes from one neck breaker to the next and while each song has its own sound and feel, the transitions feel right.

Unfortunately, more elements go into producing a great album than the actual production, and the lyrical highs of this project make the lows jump out like a red stain on a crisp white tee. On its own, “Come Again” with UK’s Giggs is a fine track, but following the fire, Lil Wayne-assisted single, “Pistol On My Side (P.O.M.S.),” Giggs’ limitations as a rapper are exposed. It’s much more enjoyable hearing Weezy repeat “pistol on my side, trigger finger on the job” than it is to hear Giggs say “man” every line.

The same juxtaposition is presented when Jim Jones’ “Preach” attempts to follow “Something Dirty/Pic Got Us” with Jadakiss, Styles P and Kendrick Lamar. Swizz pulls prime Capo out of Jimmy on an enjoyable track, but classic Kiss and Ghost back-and-forth bars are unparalleled. Young Thug has to try, and ultimately fails, to follow consecutive tracks by Nas and Pusha T with “25 Soldiers.” The lyrical shortcomings aren’t knocks against any of those artists, as the aforementioned are all tough acts to follow for even some of the greatest rappers. It is, however, a knock against an otherwise solid body of work composed by Swizz.

Overall, Poison is an enjoyable listen and the highs are good enough to carry listeners through the duration of a short 10-track, 33-minute whirlwind. You might be too busy trying to process something from a previous track to even notice the sub-par lyrics and lazy hooks on a few songs. If not, the beats are also a nice distraction to keep your head nodding. And ultimately, that’s what you listen to a Swizz Beatz project for.

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Love Me Now? sets Tory Lanez up for big 2019

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Tory Lanez, the singer-rapper whose real name (Daystar) is more of a stage name than his made-up stage name, dropped his third studio album on Oct. 26.

Love Me Now? is Lanez’s second album release of the year, serving as the turn-up to the wind-down of his March project Memories Don’t Die. His second studio effort drew criticisms of being unoriginal and attempting to imitate the styles of other popular acts, including his personal hometown rival Drake. It’s no surprise, then, that on the press run for Love Me Now?, Lanez explains he took a mixtape approach to this project, which is how he believes he produces his best music.

The differences between the two projects are stark in a way that the two sides of Drake’s Scorpion are different. The proximity of the releases, however, wouldn’t make it a surprise if Love Me Now? and Memories Don’t Die were also supposed to serve as a double-disc album. If that were the plan, the reason to evacuate it would obviously be to avoid further comparisons to the 6 god. The mistake was releasing Memories Don’t Die prior to Love Me Now?, which is a more enjoyable project and displays more of Lanez’s own original sound. Unfortunately, the prior project may have dimmed anticipation and subsequently the overall reach of the latter.

If LMN? was actually recorded as a separate album, it shows great growth within a short period of time and should serve as a springboard for Lanez to catapult himself back into the conversation of top hip-hop singer-song makers going into 2019. In order to do that, however, Lanez will need to dive deeper on future efforts. As far as content, LMN? doesn’t offer much for people who don’t plan to skip cuffing season and thot all winter. But if that’s your plan, relate away. As Tory said on “ThE RUn oFF,” “Baby Ima/smoke this marijuana/and do what I wanna … I be all up in the streets/doing my thing and fucking these freaks.”

The album’s lack of subject matter depth is saved by a star studded feature list, including Chris Brown, Trey Songz and 2 Chainz, and banging production. It’s far from a classic, but LMN? should keep Tory in rotation for a little while.

Who is Eminem in 2018?

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In December 2017, Eminem dropped his 9th studio album, “Revival” to a mostly negative reception. The constant debate around the quality of that project, where Em fits in today’s hip-hop landscape, and if he’s lost “it” is how Slim Shady brought in the new year.

Whether “Revival” was good or not, improperly promoted, or just ahead of its time is irrelevant today. People didn’t like it at the time of its release so it’ll go down as a failure, even if it ages OK. Eminem seemed to realize as much, immediately getting back in the booth to record “Kamikaze” which came out in August.

A complete 180-degree turn from the introspective and more vulnerable lyrics found on its predecessor, “Kamikaze” displayed a more competitive Eminem, albeit combative and defensive. That brought us back to the questions of the “Rap God” lyricist we started the year with. But the questions now are less about Eminem’s abilities, and more about what we expect of someone with his abilities – and track record. The only way to draw those expectations is to have a clear picture of who Eminem is in 2018.

Several tracks from “Kamikaze” find Eminem either mimicking the sound and flow of contemporary hip-hop, or completely conforming to it. Either way, he unsurprisingly executes the songs with superior lyricism to the artists creating the wave, even if he fails to capture the same “vibe” they seek; it’s doubtful Em was ever chasing that vibe. He approached this project with clear goals: to make-up for the miss that Revival was and prove he can still be a successful rapper, and to send warning shots to anyone whose publicly taken a swipe at him recently. Both goals were accomplished, but the latter may be what defines him in this era.

Of the rappers Eminem dissed, Machine Gun Kelly was the only to respond musically. MGK put out the song and accompanying video Rap Devil, which prompted the Killshot response from Eminem.

This back-and-forth is surprising yet predictable all at once. Surprising because Eminem is too big an artist to concern himself with someone like MGK, whose music likely wasn’t on the radar of 3/4 of Eminem’s fan base, maybe more. Jay-Z went through a similar phase just before this decade where rappers like Cam’ron and The Game constantly took shots at him, and while those were bigger names at the time than MGK is now, they weren’t close to the level of a Jay-Z. Thus, Hov never dedicated a full songs’ worth of energy to them and they never got a chance to knock him off his pedestal. Sure, there were people that wanted see Jay-Z engaged in all out warfare, but he opted against giving those rappers a larger platform.

Eminem’s lyrical engagement with MGK was predictable, however, because he’s a different kind of MC. Em has always been considered a confrontational battle-rapper, concerned with the art of rap more than any business matters or personal brand. Any bars directed at him, and especially his daughter Hailie, is an invitation for him to display his skills in the form of shots fired. But that can be detrimental for an artist as big as Eminem, who had nothing to gain in this particular battle. He’s expected to slaughter MGK, who conversely has everything to gain. When the all-out slaughtering doesn’t happen, the perception is that Em lost the battle – or at the very least, he didn’t win it.

Suddenly, we view Eminem through the prism of the old rapper whose skills may be diminishing a little, when actually he may be as lyrically sharp as ever. Some will look at him as the old rapper name dropping younger rappers to cling on to relevancy, in a similar vein as Kanye West making music with younger rappers. One thing clear from Eminem’s last two albums, and maybe further back, is that his musical content isn’t as appealing, even if he still had the lyrical delivery to enhance it. The backlash he received from Revival is the only thing that made Kamikaze interesting.

Eminem in 2018 is a legend losing a fight against a new era’s demand to conform. He’s being dragged into this new era of social media, click bait and sensationalism whether he likes it or not. The only two directions he can go in this era is over to the sandbox with the kids, or to the big table with the grownups. I expect Eminem to play with the kids for a little longer because it’s always been where he’s most comfortable. Eventually he’ll have to join the big boys in making GOOD grown-up music, however, because it’s what fans expect of a 45-year-old lyrical rapper.

My expectations for “Tha Carter V”

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Young Money may finally be putting the rollout for Lil Wayne’s “Tha Carter V” in motion.

The group’s official Twitter account tweeted a picture of what may be the album’s cover, and Hot 97 is reporting September 21 as the release date.

If the album does drop in 2018, as expected, it’ll come a little more than 7 years since “Tha Carter IV” was released – easily the longest time in between projects in the series. Weezy reached a settlement in court with Cash Money Records in June, allowing for this moment to come.

We haven’t been without music from Wayne since the last Carter album, however. He’s released about 10 projects in that time, providing his core fan base with plenty of music to whet their appetites, including the release of his most recent mixtapes, “Dedication 6” in December and “D6: Reloaded” in January.

What we haven’t really gotten from Wayne in that time is a deep dive into some of the personal drama he’s dealt with in the last seven years. He’s spit clever one-liners to at least address some of things that have happened to him, like the TMZ report of him being in critical condition in 2013, but he doesn’t dwell on those topics long. True to form, Wayne usually bounces back to a line about bitches, pussy, lean or any of the other vices we’ve heard him flip into an incredible quotable.

That’s the inspiration behind this post. It’d be foolish to doubt Lil Wayne’s ability to captivate a mass audience once again without ever really giving us a glimpse into his personal life, but here are a few things I expect Wayne to address to take the “Tha Carter V” to another level.

Circumstances that delayed the project

We know the overarching reason is because of bad business. Baby a.k.a. Birdman, head of Cash Money Records, has a reported track record of not paying artists what they’re due, but Lil Wayne was always thought to be family – not just an artist. There’s definitely more to the story we don’t know.

Maybe Wayne doesn’t want us to know everything, but are there any lessons from this experience he can share with younger artists? What’s his current relationship with Birdman, if any? What emotions did Wayne experience going through this entire ordeal?

Health status

Wayne acknowledged that he’s epileptic in 2013, explaining why he’s dealt with so may seizures. This was surprising news to all of his fans, considering we’ve been listening to his music since he was teenager and just finding out.

In no way is Weezy obligated to talk about something as personal in his music but if he has a positive message about the condition, that message coming from an icon like him could possibly serve as a coping mechanism for others who silently deal with the disorder. How is he managing and limiting his seizures? How has his overall health, including mental health, been lately? Is he still drinking too much lean?

Women

It may seem like all Wayne raps about is women, but it’s only ever about how much he loves ‘them’ and not a specific ‘her,’ or it’s about how they can physically pleasure him and how he can return the favor. I can’t think of a time Wayne has acknowledged feelings about a specific special lady, or addressed his feelings about marriage or settling down. I guess he’s indirectly let us know exactly how he feels, but it’d be nice to know how he arrived to that way of thinking.

New Rappers

A lot of rappers boast about the clones they birthed, but none may have ownership to that claim more than Wayne. He has absolutely inspired an entire generation of rappers, most openly admitting his influence. DJ Drama, not Wayne, was the one heavily emphasizing that point on the sixth installments of the Dedication mixtapes. Wayne has touched on it a little, but we don’t really have a clue as to his feelings about this new wave of rappers and if he’s satisfied with the direction he’s had a large hand in pushing the game to.

Social Issues

Wayne isn’t a stranger to speaking on social issues that directly impact him, such as the time he called out George W. Bush for the country’s lackadaisical response to Hurricane Katrina in his hometown of New Orleans. But the last time we heard Wayne dip his toe into those waters was when he said racism didn’t exist, and then followed that by dismissing the Black Lives Matter movement. His friend, T.I., called him out on the matter, and he eventually apologized.

After the public backlash he received, Wayne should’ve educated himself on these matters and developed a more formal opinion. It’d also be nice to hear how he feels about Donald Trump.

Maybe we shouldn’t expect the 35-year-old rapper to have his 4:44 moment 12 years younger than Jay-Z, but we can’t expect Wayne to enamor us simply with punchlines and charisma forever, can we? Can he?