Album Review: Wiz Khalifa – “Taylor Allderdice”

“When you talk about longevity, you can’t base that on one year, or six months, or eight months, or anything like that… I was speaking to anybody who’s riding with me for the long run, and who’s looking for the next thing for me to do”.
Wiz Khalifa on his comments in “Strictly For My Taylors

A quick flashback to last year would be indicative of Wiz Khalifa’s meteoric rise to stardom. At this time in 2011, Wiz had just released his major label debut Rolling Papers to lackluster reviews after experiencing his first mainstream success behind the hit record “Black And Yellow”.
Fast forward and TGOD supporters around the world rejoice as the 24 year-old Pittsburgh native is back on the scene with his newest project Taylor Allderdice. Named after Wiz’s high school alma mater, the project shows a return to the form he had prior to his Atlantic Records venture. During that span, Wiz enlisted a shortlist of producers and engineers (Sledgren, Cardo, Big Jerm, Johnny Juliano, I.D. Labs) to create synth-heavy, bass-blaring, listener-engaging instrumentals which were crafted specifically to fit his signature deliveries and lyrical content, the latter of which is centered on his heavy usage of marijuana and his party lifestyle. Taylor Allderdice sees Wiz bringing back a sound which fans have come to expect from him, and that’s definitely not a bad thing.
The qualities and characteristics of Taylor Allderdice are largely comparable to some of Wiz’s more recent works. For instance, the more aggressive atmosphere which Wiz attempted to achieve with Cabin Fever has a presence on Taylor Allderdice. With songs like “Taylor Gang” and “Homicide” being huge fan favorites last year, it’s good to see Wiz incorporating this sound into this new project with records like “Guilty Conscience”, “T.A.P.”, and “The Code”. Simultaneously, fans of Kush & Orange Juice will appreciate the cohesive sound of Taylor Allderdice. Whether it’s the flow-heavy rapping and melodic choruses which spawn memorable records, or if it’s the familiar production styles and thematic interludes which provide a packaging for those records, Taylor Allderdice sees Wiz and the gang perfectly meshing these essential song qualities in order to craft a project which is wholly enjoyable and plays like a soundtrack fitting of a stoner lifestyle (no Mac and Devin).
Taylor Allderdice has several standout tracks for the listeners to enjoy. The inaugural record “Amber Ice” is likely to be the smoothest opening to any of Wiz’s projects to date, while “Mary 3x” is more than serviceable as the “weed song” this time around. The beauty of Taylor Allderdice is that the project gets better after it reaches its midpoint. “Rowland” (track 10) features fellow emcee Smoke DZA and captures a vibe which is faintly reminiscent of Wiz’s How Fly days with Curren$y. “My Favorite Song” sees the Academy Award-winning Taylor Gang member Juicy J make his first of three straight appearances on the project. The song is produced by Rob Halladay (of Yung Berg “Sexy Lady” fame) and is slightly infectious to say the least. Next up, the SpaceGhostPurrp-produced “T.A.P.” slows the pace and brings a more bass-heavy production for Wiz and Juicy J to takeoff to. Finally, a Lex Luger production finds its home on the project as “The Code” lets the Taylor Gang (Wiz, Chevy Woods, Juicy J, & Lola Monroe) engage in a new-school posse cut. While the momentum gained by these four records is somewhat lost after the project fails to go out with a bang, Wiz’s effort is still commendable.
In summary, Wiz Khalifa fans will appreciate and enjoy Taylor Allderdice for the foreseeable future and add it to their collection of Pittsburgh-penned marijuana music. Hopefully, this project is foreshadowing of good things to come for Wiz and the Gang.

Pros:
+Serves as a nice rebound from Rolling Papers
+Returns to the use of in-house producers/engineers, with efficient use of outside production
+Further demonstrates Wiz’s ability to craft cohesive projects
+ “Mary 3x”, “Rowland”, “T.A.P.”, “The Code”

Lows:
Closes out with lackluster, filler-quality songs
Shows a lack of growth in terms of subject matter; no expansion or evolution
“Brainstorm”, “Number 16”, “Blindfolds”

Listening Rating:
3.9/5, BA[S]ICs
STRONG

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Album Review: The Weeknd – “Echoes Of Silence”

Rhythm and blues sensation The Weeknd has done it again. For the third time in 2011, singer Abel Tesfaye has released a nine track album for free download on the internet. The newest of these albums, titled Echoes Of Silence, is the final installment of the Canadian artist’s “Balloon Trilogy” (Echoes Of Silence was preceded by the projects House Of Balloons and Thursday). The series has made Tesfaye one of the year’s most acclaimed newcomers, and Echoes will only serve to add to his massive buzz.
Echoes Of Silence is filled with content that fans of The Weeknd have grown to expect from him. Tales of drug use, alcohol abuse, sexual escapades, and relationships with women are a few of the themes which Tesfaye chooses to focus his songwriting prowess on. The writer shows that he has not lost a step after crafting two solid projects this year prior to this one. On his last project (Thursday), Tesfaye used his abilities to pen a strong storyline reminiscent of a concept album. The first album of the trilogy (House Of Balloons) showcased Tesfaye’s ability to write memorable, monumental music en route to crafting one of the year’s most impacting records. Echoes showcases the sweet spot which Tesfaye has found with his writing, as he is able to find a balance between the two ends of the spectrum. The writing which made the songs on Balloons so memorable was not up to par on Thursday. On the flipside, Thursday was able to convey a story arc in a better fashion than Balloons did. Tesfaye begins to put it all together on Echoes, creating a few loose story arcs while crafting monumental records that fans will remember.
These vividly detailed stories are told over the simultaneously lush and lo-fi backdrops provided by producers Doc McKinney and Illangelo. The cold keys, pounding 808s and kick drums, strong synths, and reverberations form a very atmospheric sound in which the listener can become engulfed. These productions are a part of a sound which has become extremely popular this year in R&B (largely due to the success and acclaim of House Of Balloons), and provide the perfect framing for the intricate images painted by Tesfaye’s high-pitched, sultry vocals. While Echoes sees the production team creating the atmospheric instrumentals they have become known for, there are some obvious additions to the instrumentation and influences in comparison to the first two projects. McKinney and Illangelo find a way to stretch their sound without compromising it, a tremendous feat in itself. For instance, the opener “D.D.” sees Michael Jackson’s “Dirty Diana” flipped as the production team covers the record while making it their own. Tracks like “Outside” and “Same Old Song” show influence from what seem to be oriental music genres, with the strong use of gongs and other traditionally Asian instruments. The album’s single “Initiation” is a testament to the engineering of the album, as Tesfaye’s altered vocals constantly fluctuate from high pitches to low ones creating a very interesting and distinct sound for the track. “Montreal” is reminiscent of the mellow production heard on a Sade album, while “The Fall” gives producer Clams Casino a chance to put his own twist onto The Weeknd’s sound. Echoes shows new found expansion and variety within the patented sound, which gives fans hope for more innovative work in the future.
Simply put, Echoes Of Silence exemplifies growth. Tesfaye’s writing is maturing and coming together quite nicely, as he is able to tell stories using monumental, memorable records. McKinney and Illangelo have expanded their patented sound, a feat which should not be overlooked. While Tesfaye is the main attraction, the production is just as important to the success of The Weeknd. Any properly executed innovation should be welcomed with open arms, as it increases the ability to keep the music fresh (nobody wants to hear redundant music). While the project doesn’t finish as strongly as it starts, the overall body of work is tremendous and none of these records are bad or skip worthy. Now that the trilogy is over, it will be interesting to see what the next move is for this talented team of people. Whatever that move is, the world is sure to be anticipating it. And rightfully so.

Pros: +Tesfaye’s songwriting skills are coming together nicely
+A new take on a similar sound
+Collaboration with outside entities (Clams Casino)
+Favorites: “D.D.”, “Outside”, “Initiation”, and “Same Old Song”

Lows: –Although none of the songs are bad, the project doesn’t finish as strong as it starts
Dislikes: N/A

Rating: 4.5/5

 

Album Review: Childish Gambino – “CAMP”

Donald Glover is a multitalented individual, to say the least. The 28 year old Stone Mountain native is widely known for playing the role of Troy Barnes on the acclaimed NBC sitcom Community. He is also an award-winning writer, writing for programs such as The Daily Show and sitcom 30 Rock. While Glover’s skill set is undoubtedly versatile, Childish Gambino is “just a rapper”, whose debut album CAMP has just been released to the public.

Camp is a tremendous studio album debut for the up-and-coming Gambino. Since the release of the acclaimed Childish Gambino EP, fans have been clamoring for more from the emcee who gave them songs like “Be Alone”, “Freaks and Geeks”, and “Not Going Back”. Those who enjoyed the EP should be excited to know that Gambino uses Camp to pick up where he left off with the release of his previous project.

Camp is a very personal and revealing project for Childish Gambino, which should not come as a surprise to his fans. The majority of his music is heavily introspective and thought provoking, and is focused around numerous themes including race, social classes and stigmata, family life, relationships, individuality, and perseverance. These topics are touched on from the outset of the album and remain present until the end of it. For instance, Camp begins with “Outside”, a track which sees Gambino revisiting his past in order to provide a back story of sorts for the listener. The song details stories of Gambino’s upbringing, touching on several of the aforementioned themes of the album in the process. With lines like “I just want[ed] to fit in, but nobody was helping me out/they’re talking ‘hood s–t and I ain’t know what that was about”, Gambino is able to express how he was a social pariah growing up. Similarly on “Hold You Down”, Gambino speaks on the exclusionary tactics of racism, as well as ostracism within his own race. Stating that “N—-s got me feeling I ain’t black enough to go to church/culture shock in barber shops because I ain’t ‘hood enough”, he shows that his outcast identity has followed him from childhood into his adult life and spreads further than he previously thought. Tracks like “All the Shine” see Gambino turning the lens on himself, offering pieces of self-criticism concerning his identity and authenticity in life and in music. These various storylines are woven together throughout the album and create content that listeners can identify with. The ability to craft relatable material for listeners is one of the strengths showcased on Camp, and will ultimately play a huge part in Gambino’s success as an artist.

Another one of Camp’s great feats is the cohesive sound of the album. While the instrumentation and subject matter varies from song to song, Gambino establishes an overall feel and makes the album more enjoyable as a whole. This is mainly due to the fact that the album was produced entirely by Gambino and . The duo’s sound is often compared to that of contemporary acts like Kanye West. While this is a reasonable conclusion, Camp’s compositions have other influences incorporated into those pre-existing sounds, which include indie rock (“Sunrise”), symphony orchestra (“All the Shine”), house (“Heartbeat”), and even gospel music (“Outside”). Also, Gambino’s rhyme patterns, levels of inflection, and styles of delivery are constantly changing, which increases the replay value of the album as a whole.

In summary, Camp is a great debut for Childish Gambino. While the album has its missteps, the highs do more than enough to balance out the lows. He is a strong lyricist who is able to incorporate witty wordplay into his storytelling, which is shown often throughout the album. Along with Göransson, he has established a distinct sound which is rich and enjoyable. The content of the album is relatable, introspective, heartfelt, and thought provoking, which should have a strong appeal to listeners. Childish Gambino is the definition of hip hop, choosing to find his own identity and express himself in his own manner. “What’s the point of rap if you can’t be yourself?”

Highs: “Outside”, “Bonfire”, “Backpackers”, “That Power”

Lows: “Heartbeat”, “L.E.S.”

Rating: 4.0/5