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Released just days before YG’s Still Brazy, Kodak Black’s Lil Big Pac manages to blend infectious pop and R&B-influenced hooks while rapping in a style and vernacular more closely related to artists like YG and Gucci Mane. Gucci even features in “Vibin in this Bih,” one of the more bouncy, energetic tracks on the record. What’s interesting, however, is Kodak Black’s content matter, because although the lyricism on “Big Bank” is pretty much what you’d expect to hear on a song called “Big Bank,” the way it’s delivered, as well as Kodak Black’s tone and cadence, make Lil Big Pac a refreshing project to listen to.
The hook on “Give It All I Got,” a song which would be considered a ballad if this was rock, is barely intelligible due to the specificity of the slang and regional tonal inflections employed by Black, but this specificity in itself is much more interesting than the more broadly general lyricism that’s been prevalent in hip-hop recently.
A lot of the credit for this record’s success goes to Kodak Black’s charisma, as opposed to any prowess in terms of writing. It’s that charisma, along with the production on the record, that make Lil Big Pac the success it is.
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Still Brazy sees YG refine the relentlessly West Coast brand of hip-hop that raised so many eyebrows when My Crazy Life came out in 2014. Generally speaking, the content on Still Brazy is a sleeker and more refined version of the same kind of nostalgic West Coast rap of its predecessor. If anything, my one complaint is that Still Brazy is overlong and repetitive in terms of the aesthetic it aims for.
Tracks like “Who Shot Me?” and “Twist My Fingaz” are funky and revolve around tight hooks while the verses overflow with YG’s bombastic cadence. At 15 songs and two skits, the record could have been cut down to a more concise project. “I Got A Question,” for example, achieves nothing other than being the track Lil Wayne is featured on. As such, most of Still Brazy delivers a more cohesive version of YG’s trademark narratives, but as a whole, the project gets muddled down in superfluity. That’s not to say it’s forgettable, “Why You Always Hatin?” is easily one of the most memorable tracks YG’s come out with in a while, and “Police Get Away With Murder” sees YG at the top of his lyrical game.
However, just as a superfluous novelist needs a discriminating editor, so does YG’s latest project.
Fear of Men
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Most pop narratives segment love into partners, eras. The current one is promising, or promise-breaking, or a past one was bliss compared to the present, or maybe a future one will be satisfying, and so on. On Fear of Men’s second album, there’s a limbo-like suspension to love, which shifts from moment to moment, never something as easy to read as a good or bad memory or ending.
It’d be wrong to say Fear of Men is doing something particularly unique, in writing or musicianship, here — Daniel Falvey’s guitar, filtered and droning, evokes the sound of shoegaze playing a room away, while Michael Miles’ drums, always in staccato bursts, sound ready to kick into a rendition of Portishead’s “Machine Gun” at any moment. But Fear of Men is a specific, rather than popular-aiming band on Fall Forever — while there was something distinct on their first full-length album, Loom, it was the simple dissonance of “dark truths” masked by cheery ballads and catchy rhymes. That mode is almost always successful, but successful in the sense it can be heard at 30 per cent volume in several coffee shops in a neighbourhood near you. The band, led by Jessica Weiss, cuts that away here: songs end the second they’ve reached a feeling, rather than the close of a verse-chorus structure, multi-song arcs draw out sexual tension with a grandeur and literary vocabulary that reaches toward the likes of Kate Bush (minus the florid orchestrations).
Of course, that means this is also an album that doesn’t really resolve, doesn’t take the statements it plays with anywhere new beyond the fact they are stated, hanging in the air, waiting to be released in a live setting. But that’s what makes it one that might stick in memory, an analytical emotion album not reducible to simply cynicism or optimism, freedom or imprisonment.
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It’s been a long time coming, but Wolf Parade, the indie rock band from Montreal (despite what Arcade Fire fans may think), have finally released new material. The four track EP, creatively titled EP4, is the most exciting 12 minutes I’ve ever experienced. The quartet don’t miss a beat and show no signs of the rust that might have been expected after a six-year hiatus.
Members Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner have spent those six years gaining recognition and acclaim elsewhere, but to me, their work as Wolf Parade remains the pinnacle of their careers.
Interestingly, EP4 takes after the duo’s solo work quite noticeably, with shimmering synths a key aspect on the four tracks — much like Boeckner’s work with Divine Fits. But it’s also very clearly more tightly handled and more condensed than the sprawling records Krug released with Swan Lake. Rather than six-minute proggy ramblings, EP4 is a more streamlined, sleeker take on Krug’s solo work.
This symbiosis is promising, and who knows? Perhaps it’s a sign that Wolf Parade may finally release something to eclipse their 2005 masterpiece, Apologies to the Queen Mary.