Head Above Water: A VinylTap Review

Head Above Water: A VinylTap Review

Introduction:

It’s been a long time since the name Avril Lavigne was said in the same sentence as new music. The last we heard from her was 2013, when rocking self-titled album was released and she finalized her very public divorce from Nickelback’s Chad Kroger. Since then, she’s gone to war with her own demons and with her own body, contracting Lyme disease. Now finally healthy and back to full strength, Avril Lavigne returns with a record that is sure to reflect her own life, while also having something subtextual to say about pop music today.

1. Head Above Water

The blend of pianos and vocals is gorgeous. It’s a really moving song to start the album with. The inclusion of guitars and strings makes the build to the chorus even more powerful. Lyrically, the song is simple in structure, but I really appreciate the imagery. I think the arrangement of instruments and vocals is the really shining part of the song. It’s a moving, powerful song that feels very real and it’s very different for what we’ve heard Avril Lavigne do in the past.

Rating: 8/10

Grade: A

2. Birdie

This song has a more alternative vibe to it with ringing organs and deep, echoing drums. Built on its pianos, this song comes across more as a traditional Avril Lavigne rock anthem and it kicks. She uses poignant imagery to show struggle. It’s an anthem with a heartbeat. While less rebellious and antagonistic than previous anthems, Lavigne stills show defiance in the face of what adversity she faces. It’s a new sound for Avril Lavigne, but I really dig it.

Rating: 8/10

Grade: A

3. I Fell In Love With The Devil

With a title like this, we knew we were in for an emotional song. I figured it would be more upbeat than the ballad we got. Utilizing the booming drums and moving strings, as well as layered vocals, Lavigne delivers another moving song. While the first was a plea for help and the second was a declaration of freedom, this one is a letter of forbidden love and a realization of a painful situation. It is also well-made and another solid entry to the album.

Rating: 8/10

Grade: A

4. Tell Me It’s Over

The second single off the album has a blues rock vibe with really funky guitars and horns. It’s a very different song than anything Lavigne has ever made and it feels really fresh. Another declaration of freedom or a questioning of status? The answer is the song works as both at times. Lyrically, the song is probably the most well-constructed of the album thus far. This song feels like a Sunday morning church ballad, but this isn’t subject matter you’d air in a church. The piece builds and grows with each refrain as she grows more and more independent from the mystery partner that’s playing with her emotions in the song. It’s a strong entry into the album.

Rating: 9/10

Grade: A

5. Dumb Blonde (feat. Nicki Minaj)

With a drumline and booming bass, this song sounds like a school fight song. Lyrically, this is classic Lavigne. It’s an anthem of self-confidence and identity. It’s infectious fun. The production is really solid, with biting guitars and a drum section that just kicks. This is the most fun song on the album so far and it is infectious. Nicki Minaj’s feature only solidifies the toughness of the song and she brings the exact right tone to this fight song. It’s an infectiously fun tune.

Rating: 9/10

Grade: A

6. It Was In Me

We slow things back down with another piano ballad, which we’ve had a few of this record. The strings and guitars help make this song feel grander and more moving. The lyricism feels genuine to her emotions and struggle and like a genuine realization song. It just feels a little much and I’d like to hear maybe a little more diversity in subject matter. Not to take anything away from this piece, which is a very moving and inspirational song about the epiphanies one has about themselves as they grow old. I really appreciate the sentiment and craft of the song. It brings tears to my eyes.

Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

7. Souvenir

I love the summer road trip vibe this song gives off. The guitars and drums are standout. The song feels bright with the memory of love and discovery of new love. It’s glowing with this fun, summer anthem radiance. The lyricism isn’t necessarily deep, but it crushes the purpose. It’s poppy and fun and the kind of anthem that the past few summers have been desperately missing.

Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

8. Crush

Going back to the swinging blues guitars and echoing snares, Lavigne has backed off the darker, more real songs about personal struggle and presented a lighter relief as alternative. This love song is really well produced, giving a black and white, Chicago vibe. Lyrically, Lavigne crushes. Pun fully intended. It’s a really sweet love song that I really dig.

Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

9. Goddess

The acoustic guitars that open up this track are beautiful. Avril Lavigne sings about being found and coming out the other side of tragedy and the new found love, both romantic and self, that she’s found. It’s a beautifully crafted song with a really sweet sentimentality. From the lovely lyrics to the enchanting production, this song steals my heart and reaches the top spot on my personal rankings.

Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

10. Bigger Wow

Going back to the summer love song vibe, this one takes a more straightforward approach to the anthem and crushes it again. The catchy, well-crafted lyrics are filled with poppy flare. It’s ultimately another sweet love song that is a breath of fresh air from the recent pop records. It’s stellar for all the same reasons as “Souvenir”.

Rating: 9/10

Grade: A=

11. Love Me Insane

Continuing the trend of poppy love songs, this one takes a slower, groovier approach. While it doesn’t land as strongly as the previous songs, it’s another solid entry. Well-produced and well-written. Its ultimately candy fluff, but delicious nonetheless.

Rating: 7/10

Grade: A-

12. Warrior

Capping off the record is one last piano ballad about overcoming adversity. Her vocal performance is strongest on this effort, as well as the songwriting. The strength of her lyricism is apparent on this final ballad. Well-produced and layered with strings, this caps off the album pretty strongly. It summarizes the album’s ultimate message well and is a good finale for the record.

Rating: 8/10

Grade: A

Conclusion:

I think the biggest issue with Lavigne’s record is track listing. It feels unbalanced, with the first half of the album being front-loaded with ballads of struggle and love lost, while the second half is filled with pop songs about new love. The tone of the album is a little mixed, but every song contains the theme of rebirth, exactly reflecting the difficulty that Lavigne faced these last six years. It’s genuinely the best pop record I’ve heard since 2014. There isn’t one bad song on this album and it’s ultimately not for the fans. This album is for her and I respect that immensely. It’s a poignant window into her life, while also being a true pop record and using a style of production that I haven’t heard since early 2010s. Rather than coming back and adopting the new music trends, she stays planted in the era she left and, thusly, reinvigorates an increasingly stale genre with new life; which is only fitting with her rebirth record.

Rating: 9/10

Grade: A

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Time Out for Sports V: Free Agent Frenzy

Time Out for Sports V: Free Agent Frenzy

There has been a ton of huge NFL moves that have been made recently so I’ve taken it upon myself to give my analysis and breakdown eight of the massive free agent swaps.

1. The Green Bay Packers Shuffle

The first Super Bowl winners have been shuffling their cards after being dealt a terrible hand last season, finishing without all-star QB Aaron Rodgers and a record of 7-9. The Packers made a surprising trade with the Cleveland Browns, swapping their cornerback Damarious Randall for Cleveland’s breakout QB DeShone Kizer. Kizer will present a more competent backup (and potential future franchise starter) to replace the ill-fated Brett Hundley, who started ten games last season. Additionally, the Packers announced today that star wide receiver Jordy Nelson had been cut from the team, before swiftly announcing the acquisition of Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham, which should give Rodgers a much needed, large target.

2. The Legion of Boom No More

The Seattle Seahawks have completely fallen apart. Star cornerback Richard Sherman signed with the regenerated San Francisco 49ers. Michael Bennett moved to Philadelphia to become an Eagle. And now, Jimmy Graham has made the transition to Green Bay. What’s next for the Seattle Seahawks now that the dream team has disbanded? Only time will tell, but things do not bode well for the former Super Bowl champions.

3. Remember the Titans

The Tennessee Titans stunned the world by not only clinching a wild card spot last season, but upset the favorited Kansas City Chiefs. While they could not overcome the dynasty Patriots in the divisional round, they did, however, steal one. New England ‘s Super Bowl savior cornerback Malcom Butler signed with the Tennessee Titans a deal worth $61 million. Will this bring Tennessee back to the Super Bowl? Probably not, but a playoff appearance could be on the cards for this team.

4. Jets Making a Comeback?

The New York Jets’ biggest move was signing Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson for $15 million, but they made two big moves at QB this offseason. While the fan backlash over signing Josh McCown is justified, it’s the other QB selection that intrigues me. While McCown may start, the Jets also signed Minnesota Vikings playmaker Teddy Bridgewater. The veteran QB suffered a sizable injury back in 2016 that removed him from the team’s immediate future. Now because of another major move I will talk about in a minute, Teddy is available to have a future again in this league and I think his best shot of that is in New York.

5. Cardinals’ New QB

Speaking of Vikings’ quarterbacks, Sam Bradford made the move to Arizona today, signing a deal worth $20 million. The Cardinals do need a QB and Sam is solid enough to fit the bill, despite him starting two games last season in Minnesota. However, veteran RB Adrian Peterson just left the team, so the Cardinals may not be in the best shape offensively.

6. Cleveland Browns: AFC Champions?

After going 0-16 last season, the Browns have been beefing up their squad so far this offseason. The aforementioned trade for Demarious Thomas and a three year deal with Bengals DE Chris Smith has given the team a much needed shot in the arm on defense. The team also signed Steelers OT Chris Hubbard to a five year, $37.5 million deal, which is an incredible move for a team many considered dead. Other notable acquisitions include Bills QB Tyrod Taylor and Dolphins WR Jarvis Landry, who are undeniably huge picks for an already impressive offense. With the top pick and a slew of solid choices, the Browns are in a good position to turn the ship around and make it to the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

7. Revenge of the Denver Broncos

After failing to find any valid follow-up to the Peyton Manning era Broncos, Denver has finally locked down breakout sensation Case Keenum to a $74 million deal. Case is largest profile QB to play for the Broncos since the short-lived Tim Tebow era. Can Case lead the Broncos back to the playoffs? Potentially, but, once again, only time will tell if Case was a one-seasons wonder or the real deal.

8. Minnesota Vikings: Super Bowl Champions?

The Minnesota Vikings were easily one of the strongest teams in the league last season, finishing 13-3 under the leadership of backup QB Case Keenum and pulled of a Minneapolis Miracle to get to NFC championship game, where the fell to the Philadelphia Eagles. Now with one of the top defenses in the league, spearheaded by a squad including Defensive End Everson Griffen, Linebacker Anthony Barr, Defensive End Brian Robison, Tackle Linval Joseph, and Cornerback Xavier Rhodes, as well as boasting an impressive offensive crew of Wide Receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Theilen, as well as Running Backs Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray, and all-star Tight End Kyle Rudolph. Now, the already impressive team have filled their only hole in signing Quarterback Kirk Cousins in a monumental deal worth $84 million. Do the Vikings have a shot at winning the Super Bowl? It appears so. It’s still very early in the year, but on paper, these trades seem to be massive ones to watch out for.

Shoot For Teams: Behind The Music

Shoot For Teams: Behind The Music

This article is co-authored by Carlos Williams, Mike Myslinski, and Steven Widman.

Introduction:

It started out as an idea. We had all known each other for a while. Carlos and I met back in 2012 when he did a show at The Rock. I met Myz when he asked Los and I to open for him at The Ember in 2013. I met Steven when we both found out we liked Andy Mineo in choir class and went to his St. Paul concert in 2016. After C-Los finished produced Steven’s mixtape in November, he had the idea of the four of us coming together to do a single (which would later become “Tuesday”) and that expanded into forming a group and making an album. After three months of recording, writing, mixing, and getting the project mastered and marketed, The Forks released our debut album Shoot For Teams on February 16, 2018. We’ve been blessed with this opportunity and we felt it would be a fun experience to write a commentary piece about the album. Without further ado, The Forks presents…

Shoot For Teams: Behind The Music

1. In The Presence (ft. MyzBeatz & C-Los)

This song was written to be hype for getting into God’s presence! Time with Him is essential and irreplaceable in the life of a follower. Living water will flow through us and effect others; we engage when we spend time with Him. We have Him leading from our quiet place together. That’s what this song is about! – M

This song evolved from an idea from another song. “Coram Deo” is the key phrase in this one. It simply means “to be in the presence of God.” Myz and I wanted to communicate the importance of being in God’s presence. For me, my decisions should flow from that place. Favorite Line: “You’ll never be in His presence if you just come for presents, but if came to feel his presence, you might get a present.” If you anticipate God’s presence and not just the benefits it brings, you get all those things. But we worship God, because He’s God. – C

2. The G.O.A.T. (Ft. SW & 2K)

I think this song was just for fun, just to get into the studio and show what God has given us and knowing that we do it all through him. Nothing that I have is from my own power or my own strength. – S

Steven and I each took a song to come with conceptually. Steven took the other song, and I came up with this one. From the moment we heard Los’s beat, I was hooked. It was big and bold and fast and I knew we needed to write material to match that. And then the idea came: if our God is for us, than who can stop us. We took that premise and built the concept of the God of All Time. Steven and I each wrote our verses and would meet once a week to touch base, and then break off and keep improving, which is resulted in an escalation of us wanting to bring our best and the best out of each other. I’m very honored by and proud of this song. – K

3. Let Me Go (ft. C-Los & MyzBeatz)

I’d just got back from Guam. I spent a few months out there for work, and I had a pretty nice vibe out there while I was making music. The song itself sounds like you’re on the beach or poolside hanging out! But truth be told, I had a moment where God just started speaking to me through the hook I wrote for the song. I think we all have a moment in life where you question God and whether or not he cares for me, because a lot of the things that were going on in the world around me, happening to people who looked like me. I’m also always thinking about making sure my family is being taken care of to the best of my abilities and how I can insure their future. God told me not to worry about it. So I’m trying to do that! – C

This track is about the battle of mind games and defeating doubt. Instead of letting the enemy defeat us in our mind, we need to remember the truth in Christ and His promises for us about who we are! It’s a real battle at times, but He never let’s us go. – M

4. Nomads (ft. SW, 2K & MyzBeatz)

Nomads was more of an encouragement song for our fellow brothers and sisters who are sharing the Gospel and sometimes may be unmotivated to do so, or sometimes have a hard time sharing. We’re just giving some encouragement for that. – S

Myz, Steven, and I were brainstorming over at Myz’s apartment and he had the idea of it sounding like being in a desert and the idea of wandering like the Israelites. We each came to that with a different perspective. I came with the viewpoint of modern day Christians feeling like they’re wandering and lost because of ridicule or discouragement that they might be feeling for their faith. My favorite part of this song is absolutely Myz’s vocals when he sings “This for the Nomads/Never going back.” – K

This song is about continuing to share Jesus even though it is difficult at times. We can feel like wanderers or drifters in our lives and feel like we are the only ones carrying out the faith! But Moses and other biblical characters were faithful. This track is built to encourage those to keep sharing their faith no matter how many rejections you’ve faced or how difficult it can be. – M

5. Stuck in a Trap (ft. SW & C-Los)

Stuck in a Trap was just a message that I wanted to share. I’ve had a few people in life that aren’t saved that have told me that they feel too tainted for God’s love and God’s grace, and it’s something that hurts to hear. But also, Jesus can give them the hope of what the Gospel actually says about this situation. With this song, even in the process, there was a time where I was going through a difficult time with my own walk and I listened to this song and it actually spoke to me in that time. I truly hope and pray this song changes somebody’s way of thinking. God will do the work. – S

I’m starting to like trap music. Not the lyrics that most rappers rap over it, but the style of hip-hop itself. I think SW and I did an exceptional job of making sure there was substance in our lyrics for this one. This may be the more important message I want people to hear from this album. Falling into temptation often seems like repeatedly falling into a trap. It’s a lot harder to see God in dark places, but He is in fact there and ready to pull you out of the trap you can’t seem to break free of. – C

6. Step Yo Game Up (ft. SW & 2K)

“Step Yo Game Up” was more of a competitive song as well as a message of what I’ve been seeing lately as far as people worshipping things that are worthless. But there’s definitely a competitive aspect that says “I have this God-given talent, and I have what it takes to be good at this.” I just need to prove it, and I do it through music. – S

Steven took point on this one. We approached it as a sort of sequel to his song “The Reason” from his Reminiscent mixtape. I always thought of it being like us saying “look what God has given us and what we can do through him”. It’s also us talking about the idea of false idols and that we need to step our game up in recognizing them and helping others find the truth. – K

7. Tuesday

When Los brought up the idea of doing a song with all four of us, I was excited. It was going to be a cypher of sorts, a way to get in and out fast and show off skills. So I approached the first verse of Tuesday as an opportunity to introduced myself and the group at the end of the album and I wrote just that, an introduction for the finale. – K

“Tuesday” was just a blessing to be a part of. It was originally C-Los and Myz’s song, but they allowed us to be on it. I just wanted to contribute the best I could! The message was just more of a “don’t sleep on ‘The Forks’ crew because we have God-given talent and we’re gonna use it for Him.” – S

This track is just fun and rapping for Jesus. Before SFT, Carlos and I did most of our studio time on Tuesday nights as we worked on music! This is a banner to come together as a group and competitively slay this beat with one another. – M

When we were recording Myz’s mixtape, Phenom4Eons, a lot of times, Tuesday was the only day of the week that he could come over to record. So when we did get together, we had to make the most of it, getting as many quality recordings for as many songs as we could. As believers, we are instructed to give our best at everything we do. For us and the process of creating music, that was a Tuesday. – C

 

Shoot For Teams is available on all digital stores and streamers or right here. You can also find The Forks on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @TheForksRap.

Time Out for Sports IV: Bring It Home

Time Out for Sports IV: Bring It Home

Let’s Just Relive This For A Moment

 

Okay now with that out of the way, it’s time to talk about the Championship round!

 

AFC Championship:

Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are the obvious choice here. They had a nice showing last week against the Titans. Now, here’s the kicker. The Jacksonville Jaguars are their opponents this week. The Jags are an unstoppable force of nature on defense, absolutely stunning the Steelers last week. It’s the Jags year to play in the Super Bowl and they’re gunning for Tom Brady. Brady is easy to fluster if you can stay in his face and that’s exactly what the Jags will do. I see Sacksonville bringing it and dethroning the reigning AFC champions. The Jags will win, 50-35.

NFC Championship:

The world is on the side of the Vikings now. Case Keenum and the Vikings pulled of a miracle last week (see above video). They are on a collision course with the Lombardi trophy and nothing is stopping them. The Philadelphia Eagles have a good defense, I just don’t think they will be able to shut down this incredible offense. The Vikings defense is also going to ruin Nick Foles and the offense’s day. It’s a Minnesota victory, 28-14.

My Super Bowl prediction remains in tact, so until next week, when we have the official Super Bowl LII lineup, this is Kaleb signing off.

Printable-NFL-Playoff-Bracket-2017-2018

Reminiscent: A Review

Reminiscent: A Review

Introduction

This week’s edition of #MusicMonday is the second of three articles in a mini-series focusing on individual members of Midwestern rap group The Forks. Previously, I covered MyzBeatz and his album Phenom4Eons. This week, I’m tackling the newly released, debut mixtape from SW: Reminiscent. SW is an East Grand Forks-based rapper. Born Steven Widman, SW grew in popularity following his performance of “Desperados” by Andy Mineo at Grand Cities Idol in April 2016. After, he set out for a career, releasing his singles Panda (Remix) and God & Society in May 2016, followed by Sit Back (ft. C-Lee) in June 2016 and 44 Bars (Remix) in August 2016. After this, he took a long hiatus, marking his change in producers and his part in the formation of The Forks. In August 2017, SW returned with his single The Memo, followed in October by Let the Beat Bounce (ft. 2K). Now comes his first mixtape ever, Reminiscent. You can download Reminiscent for free here.

1. The Reason (ft. C-Los)

Borrowing the beat of Trip Lee’s “Schweet”, SW uses the beat to introduce his album by exploring what the reasons for him rapping or being put where he are. He’s accompanied by C-Los, the producer of the record and solo rapper in his own right. C-Los flows well on the beat with SW. Their chemistry and lyricism is strong and makes for a solid debut. It sets the tone for what’s to come. The intensity of the song seemingly heralds an album similarly, however, the comedic elements from the two present an alternative opinion. It’s a good intro.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A

2. The Memo

The fourth single from the mixtape utilizes a beat by YouTube producer IVN. SW’s flow pattern is really impressive. The song is really impressive lyrically, dealing with the idea of identity. It’s a really fun jam. The intensity is there, suggesting it’s going to continue with that angle. It’s a great track that emulates the spirit of a song by Logic.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A

3. 44 Bars

Speaking of Logic, SW takes the Logic classic out for a spin. Opening up for a honest 44 bars of venting, this is a really personal song where he opens up about the responsibilities that come with it. The lyricism is solid and the emotion is something you don’t see very often in mainstream rap music. It’s a mesmerizing track that SW utilizes to establish a connection with the listener. It’s a honest song.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A-

4. Confidence

This track is intense in its production and SW flows pretty well a beat that is pretty mediocre and choppy at the outset. However, things switch and speed and sound more like a regular SW track. He rides it like a bike and fees comfortable. This track is actually genius in its construction. It’s a song that is about growing confidence in what he’s doing, which he decides to show in the beat and lyricism than just saying he’s become more confident. It’s a very inventive song as the listener starts out uncomfortable listening to the track and ends up with a sense of pride of what SW manages to accomplish.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A

5. Run It

Borrowing another beat from Logic, the pace picks up. The lyricism and production are absolutely knockout. He fits this beat like a glove. At five songs in, SW shows just how comfortable and at home he feels behind a mic. He loosens up and sheds the intensity factor to prove his sheer talent and skill, all while having tons of obvious fun. This is the best of the bunch so far.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

6. The Journey

Things get epic here in track six. We’re digging into the meat of SW’s album with this song about his life journey. He rides the beat well and the lyricism is really solid. It’s impossible to compare this to the song we just came off of, but The Journey is a really solid entry into the album.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A-

7. Calling Kaleb (Skit) [ft. C-Los & 2K]

This hilarious skit between songs helps establish the chemistry between the artists and signal a lighter tone for the next song. The skit sees SW and C-Los about to work on another song on the album and require the services of 2K to sing the hook, only to catch his voicemail. It’s a skit that fits right in and helps loosen the listener up after The Journey. The beat used to score the skit may or may not also be an Easter egg to a future project? Ultimately, it’s a just a funny insert for the album and it does more good than harm. It’s a funny piece for an album that’s about to take a fun turn.

Track Rating: 7/10

Grade: A-

8. Let the Beat Bounce (ft. 2K)

After introducing 2K on the track before with his voicemail, we get to hear what the pair can do together. The production on this one is fun and really solid. SW’s lyricism is super strong and fun. With the added cameos from producer C-Los, the final single for the album is a real jam. The final feature from 2K is a really fun addition, bring a sort of Marty from Social Club Misfits vibe to the song. His lyricism is actually pretty cool, despite being a little less advanced than SW. Overall, it’s a really fun track that is probably the biggest jam on the record.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

9. Wisdom

Borrowing J. Cole’s “Fire Squad” instrumental, SW delivers what might be his best song yet. As proven with previous tracks, SW is a great hook writer. He delivers a song that is really advanced in terms of what he does lyrically. Covering the subject of gaining knowledge and wisdom in life, it’s the first song to break the pattern of Reminiscent. Instead of focusing on the past and “reminiscing”, he takes what he’s learned and brings looking forward. The production is pretty straight forward and is really solid, but what shines here is the one-two punch of the excellent performance and the strong lyricism. It’s a really strong song.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

10. God & Society

Taking his first single, released over a full year in advance, and repurposing and re-recording it to fit his record. The song works extremely well, fitting right in with the narrative being created. Taking a look at the present and applying the wisdom he’s gained, SW calls out the issues of today’s society and what we need to solve it. His performance is stellar and the lyricism holds up strong. The production is really solid. This song is really uplifting despite the seemingly negative premise. It’s a perfect fit for the record and an excellent song.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

11. On The Grind (ft. 2K)

2K returns on the album to sing the hook for the epic penultimate song. Just from the strings on the outset, it’s an obviously intense finale. With C-Los making a cameo, the song actually brought a few tears to my eyes in the production. Everyone’s performances are spectacular. The lyricism from SW is very strong and the hook is excellent. The song focuses on what SW’s been doing, which is creating this album and seemingly more. It’s a really impressive song that perfectly fits into your workout playlist. It’s incredible.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

12. Day By Day

The finale of the album summarizes SW’s journey and his desire for the listener to take away. As we’ve reached the end, it feels like we’ve gone on the journey with SW. His lyricism is solid and he flows extremely well. The production is great. This song just perfectly ties up all the loose ends and everything thematically into an excellent package with a nice little bow. This song is solid and wraps up a really good album.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A+

Conclusion:

SW crafts a spectacular debut. Reminiscent from start to finish, crafts a story thematically and executes every aspect impressively. There’s nothing on this album that should be found as unimpressive. Nothing displayed here is average or mediocre. Everything packed into this album, from performances to lyricism to production, is done superbly. Wisdom, Confidence, Run It, & On The Grind are especially excellent, from their concept to their production, these songs and the album as a whole can be summed up in one word: impressive.

Album Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

You can download Reminiscent for free here.

Revival: A Review

Revival: A Review

Introduction:

Eminem is a rap legend. When asked to put four faces on the Mount Rushmore of rap music, Eminem is automatically on it. Marshall Mathers was born in 1972 and hails from Detroit, Michigan. He made his name in underground Detroit rap scene in the early to mid 90s, before gaining the attention of rap legend and producer Dr. Dre. He released his first album, The Slim Shady LP, in 1999, swiftly following it up with what is widely considered one of hip hop’s best albums: The Marshall Mathers LP, released in 2000. In 2002, The Eminem Show was released, marking yet another chart-topping success for Eminem. That same year, Eminem starred in a semi-autobiographical movie called 8 Mile, for which he won a Grammy and an Oscar for his song “Lose Yourself”. In 2004, Eminem released Encore, which signaled an apparent end to his career, solidified by the release of his greatest hits album, Curtain Call, was released in 2005. In 2007, he was hospitalized after a drug overdose, calling attention to his addiction that fueled “Slim Shady”. In 2009, after a five year hiatus to focus on his rehab and recovery, he returned with Relapse, followed subsequently by a deluxe edition called Relapse: Refill. In 2010, Eminem produced Recovery, finishing off the songs he wrote during his rehab period. After a three break, Eminem returned with the record breaking sequel to his 2000 album: The Marshall Mathers LP2 in 2013. During his next four year break, Eminem released two singles Guts Over Fear in 2014 and Campaign Speech in 2016. Now comes what many are predicting as his final album: Revival.

1. Walk on Water (ft. Beyoncé)

Beyoncé’s vocals are absolutely killer. The gospel style of the song is great. The choice to have Eminem brainstorming to try and write new stuff is great. This song is so meta and is incredible lyrically. It’s incredible. He talks about the return, but also the potential of him being done with this album. It’s a beautiful song that perfectly sums up and addresses what Eminem has been up to and the problems he’s faced.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A

2. Believe

Using a trap beat, Eminem is about merge the old school with the new style. And he fairs pretty well. While lyricism and performance is okay, the song fits the theme of the album. It’s mainly about Eminem getting confidence back after the vulnerability in the last song. It’s alright as a song, but I give it respect for fitting the theme.

Track Rating: 7/10

Grade: B+

3. Chloraseptic (ft. Phresher)

He uses another new type beat and brings in someone who lives in that world to help. They perform well together and the beat works very well for them. The song hits all the Eminem check marks. It’s not great, but it’s not terrible. The best part of the song is the hook by Phresher. It doesn’t really talk about anything. It’s just kind of Eminem trying to do shock rap, but it just comes across as lame for such a legend. I get he’s trying to mimic new rap, but it just doesn’t work.

Track Rating: 5/10

Grade: C-

4. Untouchable

The second single from the album is an interesting one. Taking a look at the political climate for the first time in Eminem’s album career, he examines black gang culture and the stigma that this white boy has never been in that world. He also covers white privilege and briefly examines the military. It’s a really cool song that feels like Eminem finally letting out his emotions on something he’s cared about for a long time. The hook and guitars are awesome. The production is really solid. This album is Eminem giving his opinions on everything he’s missed in the last four years since MMLP2.

Track Rating: 7/10

Grade: B

5. River (ft. Ed Sheeran)

Ed Sheeran’s vocals are stellar. Admittedly, I’m a huge Sheeran fan and Em fan so this song is already exciting for me. The beat we have is acoustic based and is absolutely strong. Eminem’s lyricism is strong. The song about dating, love, and relationship in the 21st century is a story and Eminem does storytelling best. This song is the best of the album so far, from the different production and the emotional performances from Ed and Em. These two are a perfect match. Overall, this song is incredible in every aspect.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

6. Remind Me (Intro)

The production is really cool. It’s a short song but it’s really cool.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A

7. Remind Me

The song which samples the guitars and hook from “I Love Rock and Roll” and it’s brilliant. Em kills this track. It’s an old school style Eminem song and it lives up to the name, reminding us of the old Em. It’s a fun song, despite there being a few cringe worthy moments.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A-

8. Revival (Interlude)

The beautiful piano and whistle combo make for a really pretty break after that aggressive song. The vocals are gorgeous and it’s

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

9. Like Home (ft. Alicia Keys)

Politics return, but in a hopeful ballad about rebuilding, while criticizing President Trump. The hook is really pretty with Alicia’s vocals. The hook almost doesn’t fit with the subject matter of Em’s verses, but it also fits like a glove. It’s a good song. It’s gorgeous vocally and impressive lyrically. Em’s performance is solid. I like it.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A

10. Bad Husband (ft. X Ambassadors)

Addressing domestic abuse in a song is a tricky, but important topic. X Ambassadors are a solid addition to the song. Eminem’s heartfelt apology is sweet. It’s a very real and personal song about Em’s life. It’s pretty good.

Track Rating: 7/10

Grade: B

11. Tragic Endings (ft. Skylar Grey)

The production on this one is awesome. Skylar’s vocals are great. The hook is great. Em’s performance is good again. We’re back into another relationship abuse song. It’s a good one though. It’s a solid emotional song. Skylar Grey’s vocals are the highlight of the track.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: B

12. Framed

The production and performance are extremely reminiscent of Slim Shady. That’s exactly what he’s going for. Eminem is showing his three different personalities in another storytelling song. Following our DID Eminem going on a killing spree, this a really fun story song that gives us Em & Slim together. This song is great. I think this song is supposed to show us that Em isn’t just one thing or one person, he’s multiple. He’s still Slim Shady and he’s Eminem.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

13. Nowhere Fast (ft. Kehlani)

Kehlani’s vocals beautiful. Using strings and keys to give a really fun, fast beat. Em rides the beat like it’s nothing. Dealing with the idea of his legacy again and what may happen in the future, Em murders this beat. It’s a really cool song with strong lyricism. The performance and vocals are really solid.

Track Rating. 8/10

Grade: A-

14. Heat

The guitars are really cool. Eminem is doing another sorta cringey and it’s really weird. The production and hook are great, but I’m not sure how I feel about the song itself. It’s rather uncomfortable to listen to.

Track Rating: 5/10

Grade: C-

15. Offended

The production is stellar again and Em rides it like a bike, making fun of people who get offended easily. The hook is good with solid vocals. I like this track for the unapologetic nature of the song.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A-

16. Need Me (ft. P!nk)

Pink’s vocals are pretty solid, but her vocals make up half of the song. Em doesn’t rap until almost halfway through the song. Overall, this song is just kinda unimpressive. There’s nothing defining about it.

Track Rating: 4/10

Grade: D+

17. In Your Head

Sampling the song of the same name, Em delivers a jam. It’s aggressive and emotional and completely Eminem. It’s his 44 Bars.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

18. Castle

The vocals are gorgeous and haunting. Em tells the story about his personal life prior to making it as Eminem and being a rapper and becoming a dad. It’s an great song. The ending with his pill overdose is sad.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

19. Arose

The immediate follow up is heartbreaking as Eminem is dying and thinking about his family. It’s tragic and heartbreaking. The vocals and performance are incredible and the lyricism is honest and the song overall is great.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

Conclusion:

Eminem delivers another mixed bag album. The legend has been gone for so long that it makes sense for him to release a long album, but several of these just don’t land. He has great songs in here like River and Arose, but he also has bad ones in here. He will always be a legend, but if this album is truly his last, this is a bit of a disappointment to go out on, as he spends much of his time calling out Trump or doing a standard Eminem thing. There is a great storyline or theme that could’ve been followed, but was pumped full of extra stuff that just didn’t need to be there. When he lands, he lands with the power that only Eminem could. But when he fails, it’s cringe-worthy. Eminem just delivered another middling album that isn’t bad, but isn’t amazing either.

Album Rating: 7/10

Grade: B-

Anomaly: A Review

Anomaly: A Review

Introduction

This album came out in 2014 and earned Lecrae many nominations, including three Grammys in the categories of “Best Gospel Song,” “Best CCM Performance,” and “Best Rap Performance”. He won two of three, losing Rap to Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright”. That doesn’t negate the brilliance of this rap album. As a performer, Lecrae ranks among the very best. His catalog is remarkable, including albums such as Rebel, Rehab, & Gravity and his Church Clothes mixtape trilogy. Anomaly proves to be a very different flavor for Lecrae and maybe his best album yet. The album features the least amount of other artists, resulting in a lot of time with Lecrae and his thoughts.

1. Outsiders

The opening track sets a style for the album’s production that sounds very sleek and professional. The song sets the tone in terms of subject matter and immediately tells listeners that Lecrae has somethings to say and he is unashamed of his thoughts. The song talks about how he never really fit in as a child and still doesn’t fit in to this day and that doesn’t bug him. As he says, Lecrae would rather be an outsider than sacrifice his integrity. The song gradually builds while maintaining an ominous tone, hyping listeners up for big things to come. It works extremely well as an intro song.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A-

2. Welcome to America

The song that many would assume to be a patriotic welcome song will pleasantly surprise. The song exposes stereotypes of America’s colored culture and pulls the layers back on the negative jobs and acts that inner citizens are forced to perform to survive. It tears down the fake portrait that we put up for ourselves and other nations. There is a verse as well that sheds a light on the mistreatment of veterans and soldiers of our nation as well. The final verse exposes the positive dreams of immigrants who want to live here and trying to pitch why they want to live there. Lecrae rides the beat well and the production is very solid.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

3. Say I Won’t (feat. Andy Mineo)

The third track is a change of tone from the previous two heavy songs and gives listeners something fun to jam to. Andy Mineo and Lecrae go crazy with fast verses and displays of lyricism common from Andy’s catalog. The beat is fun and these two play off each other with excellent chemistry. The song is an anthem for overcoming doubt and being proud of being different, piggybacking off of themes from “Outsiders”.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

4. Nuthin

Lecrae displays his talents as a hip-hop vocalist as well as a skilled rapper in this jam that is a must for any hype playlist. The song compares what Lecrae deems is important and what he talks about in contrast to the rest of the rap genre, which he claims don’t talk about anything of importance. The song has a fun beat and great vocals. This is a necessity for any DJ who thinks they make fire playlists.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

5. Fear

At this point, Lecrae slows things down a little bit to examine the virtue of bravery. He shines a light on his insecurity and private fears and he confesses his worries over the top of an impressive beat with another display of impressive vocals from Lecrae. This song is raw and real. He lyrically samples Psalm 21 for his intro and it works wonderfully. This song is brilliant and an under-appreciated gem in his catalog.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

6. Anomaly

This funky beat that takes cues from reggae and jazz creates a smooth and fun beat that is sure to make heads nod. Lecrae examines how “the system didn’t plan for this” and brings back his outcast theme that is prevalent throughout this album. The song is a wonderful song that really examines abnormality from the social norms.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A

7. Timepiece

This song switches the album pacing and slows thing down in a good way. This song has a catchy hook and amazing production. The lyricism in this one song alone demonstrates Lecrae’s uniqueness and importance to the rap industry. The song deals with the concept of time and how we don’t have much. Time is a commodity that we are running out of.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

8. Dirty Water

At this point, we make an aggressive change with a hard beat and hard lyrics that highlight social fakes and the need for social change and faith. The song is really fun tom listen to and has very good production.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

9. Wish

The song talks about wishing and regrets and how to deal with change and things we wish we could change. The song is pretty and the sentiment is really touching. We’ve all been where Lecrae is at this point on the album and it really hits home. The choppy production is a stylistic choice that pays off excellently. This song is a great one that briefly highlights the theme of fleeting time again.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A

10. Runners

This song is another fun jam, speeding things up again as Lecrae examines the theme of loyalty in relationships and how to avoid the temptation of lust and the struggles of cheating. The song wouldn’t nearly be as good without the comedically and realistic skits that start, bridge, and end the song. The bass-heavy production is some of the best of the album and backs Lecrae as he highlights his own temptations as he admits his faults and his own imperfections while advising from experience.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

11. All I Need Is You

The lead single from the album is the best from the project. The medium paced track features great vocals and solid lyricism from Lecrae. The song talks about how Lecrae’s relate ship with God is all he needs and lists all the things that he needs help with while comparing the relationship to being an anchor for his life. It’s an addictive song that really does affect the listener.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

12. Give In (feat. Crystal Nicole)

The production of this one is the best of the album. The song is based 99% off of acapella recordings done by Lecrae and Crystal. It sounds so good and the message of the track is really sweet. The song serves as a love song and lists all the ways he gives in to his love.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

13. Good, Bad, Ugly

The album slows down a bit here as things get real and personal again for Lecrae. The song detailing the story of how he was sexually abused when he was eight by his seventeen year old babysitter and a later story about how he and his girlfriend got an abortion and regretted it. The song also talks about how he found healing with the bad and ugly parts of his life and how people don’t always want to listen to or help with the ugly parts. He asks God to take his good, bad, and ugly parts. The song is really tragic and beautiful. It’s my personal favorite from the album.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

14. Broken (feat. Kari Jobe)

This song is also beautifully tragic and deals in similar themes on a bigger scale. Telling the story of how everyone is broken by sin and how we chase anything to feel better, when the answer is the grace and restoration we get when we accept Christ into our lives. The song features gorgeous vocals from Kari Jobe and wonderful metaphors backed by sleek production involving strings. He details his brokenness as including sexual abuse, fatherlessness, and insecurity. The song is a beautiful tribute to the hurting.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

15. Messengers (feat. for KING & COUNTRY)

The final song is a excellently produced call to action, encouraging Christians to spread the good news of The Bible and features the style of music and perfect vocals of for KING & COUNTRY. The wonderful arrangement of alternative and bolstering music just uplifts and inspires change in all areas of life. It’s an excellent closer to the best album of 2014 and Lecrae’s best work.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

Conclusion:

Lecrae is a prolific rapper and songwriter. The production of this album is some of the best work done by any artist in any genre. The album inspires, encourages, and entertains to levels that is not seen much in any genre. Lecrae carries the bulk of the album on his back, balancing the themes and tones brilliantly and shares the spotlight wonderfully with acts that compliment his style perfectly. The album is a masterpiece of music and creative expression if their ever was one. The project reaches out and offers help to the hurting, inspires change for the revolutionaries and leaders, and sympathizes with the broken, highlighting his own struggles and past. This album is a necessity of not just rap music, but music in general.

Album Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+