Evolve: A Review

Evolve: A Review

Introduction:

Imagine Dragons exploded on the scene with their masterpiece debut Night Visions in 2013, which earned them many nominations, including Record of the Year for “Radioactive”. Their 2015 return with Smoke + Mirrors went a little more under the radar than anticipated, but featured some gems. The Vegas-rock group returns now with their latest offering Evolve.

1. I Don’t Know Why

The synth pop sound evokes a response similar to 80s glam rock. Launching with a vocally incredible first song that has some very sleek production. The vocals and production are powerful, with some bold lyricism from the Vegas band. It’s a very strong start for an album that has a legacy to uphold for the rock band.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

2. Whatever It Takes

Speaking fast, they come back hip-hop infused song that is very melodic and continues the album’s pattern of slick production and strong vocals. The performance is incredible. Imagine Dragons delivers yet another wonderful record for the album.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

3. Believer

The most popular single from the album, “Beliver” is strong vocally and in production and performance. Lyrically, it’s the best of the record potentially; it’s an arena anthem that is the highlight of the album.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

4. Walking the Wire

The brighter pop sound to the song is really fitting after the intense performance of “Believer”. It’s relieving and gives a love song that has some wonderful guitar work and lyricism. The vocals are absolutely stellar. This might be my favorite song on the album. It’s an anthem that is unparalleled this year in the rock field.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

5. Rise Up

Coming out with horns and guitars, this one sounds like it was a song forgotten to be put on the Night Visions album. It’s incredible vocally and has some incredible production. This is another arena rocker that is sure to get audiences head-bobbing. It’s a colorful song that fits the colorful theme of the album.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

6. I’ll Make It Up To You

An album that’s been just incredible so far, this next record continues it by giving a softer, gentler song that doesn’t let up on the talent. It kind of similar production-wise to “Everything You Are” by Ed Sheeran and that’s a good thing. It’s another hit for a stellar album. It’s apology song that just succeeds on all cylinders.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

7. Yesterday

Taking cues from Gospel music, they deliver another bright and poppy hit that fits right in with this stellar project. This happy toast to the past and the future is masterfully produced and expertly performed. While this is the worst song of the album, that isn’t saying it’s bad; on an album of incredible records, this one earns its spot, it’s just not my favorite of the record purely for some decisions made in its arrangement.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A

8. Mouth of the River

Feeling rather tribal, this track is very deserving of its spot and absolutely fits in. The lyricism is brilliant on this track, with, once again, expert producing and masterful performance, it’s another gem on an album that’s guarenteed a Grammy nomination.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

9. Thunder

A pop studded track, it’s another wonderful single about making a comeback, directly or indirectly stating that they know Smoke + Mirrors wasn’t as good as Night Visions, but they’re making up for it with this record. And boy do they ever. The production is wonderful and the vocals fit great. It’s another great track.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

10. Start Over

Another bright, poppy masterwork, “Start Over” is the “It’s Time” of Evolve. It’s has some tropical dance infused into its production that works incredibly well. It’s another wonderful single. Serving as a great climax for the album, “Start Over” is the perfect song to send us to the end with.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

11. Dancing in the Dark

The finale of the album is a truly perfect fit that wraps up another fantastic album. With some wonderful dance infusion, the vocals are stylized very nicely to fit the production. Ending with a slower piece, it’s a nice, fitting end for what might just be the album of the year.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A

Conclusion:

Imagine Dragons have returned and they have created a true masterpiece album. It’s a perfect blending of genres from rock to pop to dance to gospel. It’s a neat perfect album. The production is all around very impressive and the vocal performances are breathtaking.

Album Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

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We Belong: A Review

We Belong: A Review

Introduction:

GAWVI was first introduced to me as the producer for many of the songs from Reach Records artists. When the label made the announcement that they were signing the producer as a dance artist, I was perplexed. His 2016 EPs Lost in Hue and Holding Hue didn’t impress me. Now comes his first feature album We Belong.

1. Rock N Roll (ft. ELHAE)

The critical look at Hollywood is actually really infectious with some really solid dance vocals. It has some paranoid illuminati themes in the song’s lyrics which make for an intense and interesting listen. Bringing on rapper ELHAE, the hip-hop infused dance groove is really solid. It took me by surprise and I’m intrigued to hear the rest of this project.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A

2. God Speed (ft. Andy Mineo and KB)

Featuring two of Reach’s top rappers, this electronic track infused with hip-hop flavors is an absolute banger. Andy and KB murder the track and absolutely jam out. You can hear the smiles on their face. It’s a catchy track that’s super fun and infectious.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

3. Like We Belong

This track had some real Zedd vibes. With colorful pop sounds, the EDM song features GAWVI’s vocals and he has a really good voice for dance music. It’s a catchy tune that feels every exotic. It has some Earth, Wind, and Fire vibes vocally; very similarly to “September” vocally.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A

4. Show Me

Utilizing Spanish guitars and brass instruments, this tune has an exotic style and soothing sensibility. The electro pop creates a really smooth and fun jam. GAWVI’s vocals are really stellar. The lyrics are solid too. GAWVI’s production is just incredible.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

5. Never Fails

Using horns and a funky bass line, this song distinguishes itself by infusing an 80s glam rock vibe into a summer pop song a la Drake or Jason Derulo. The horns and bass really elevate the song’s really funky style. It’s reminiscent of “Uptown Funk” and “Want To Want Me”.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

6. Giana

This gentler, sweeter song starts very synthy, ultilizing trap beats. The love song for his wife is where his vocals shine the best on this project. This is the best written song on the album. It’s a really pretty and sweet song that grooves.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

7. The Sickness (ft. Jordan Powers)

This poetic song about mental illness, depression, and human imperfection is a really pretty song that takes full advantage of it’s electro pop feel. The production is incredible and the vocals are stellar.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

8. Closer (ft. Robbie Lee and Julissa Leilani)

The vocals are great and the synth pop style that feels like a nice nostalgic throwback to 2012, this track sounds great. The truly jamming dance beat is infectious with wonderful vocals.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

9. Steady (ft. Zach Norman)

A slower song that’s heavily backed by synthetic piano, Zach Norman shines vocally on this track. With the exotic samples thrown in, GAWVI succeeds with another electro pop gem. Where lyrically it’s flat, GAWVI redeems the track with exuberant production.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A

10. En La Calle

Having previously dabbled in Latin Pop sounds in previous tracks of the album, GAWVI dives in fully. Infusing Latin Pop with reggae, the song features drops that remind me of the likes of Skrillex and Avicii. It’s a wonderful jam.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

11. Feel It (ft. Jocelyn Bowman)

This track is perfect for the club scene. It’s a perfect marriage of infectious beats and dance vocals that are unprecedented. This is a club song if I’ve ever heard one.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

12. Cumbia (ft. Wordsplayed)

Having already featuring one half of Magic & Bird with Andy Mineo, bringing in Wordsplayed makes sense. Bringing back the Latin Pop sound once again with the best use of it yet, it’s an infectious, rubbery Latin rap beat that is truly alive. Wordsplayed owns the track precision and a sense of fun that can be heared throughout the song. This is the best of the Latin Pop-style songs GAWVI has made.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

13. Something Bout U (ft. Ja-Wan)

Using his synth piano skills once again, GAWVI introduces snaps into the beat mix and works really well. With some really pretty dance vocals, the track is really gentle. Overall, this might be the weakest of the album, but that’s not an insult. This song is a perfect fit into the album.

Track Rating: 8/10

14. Hold On (ft. Sydney Wilson)

The finale of the album is one that is truly breathtaking. The vocals alone are the best of this album. The production is a slow build and truly, while not being the biggest flex of GAWVI’s album, but it serves its purpose well and the true meat of the song comes from the vocals.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

Conclusion:

Where the album lacks in songwriting quality, it makes up for in exquisite production. GAWVI has handcrafted a secret masterpiece of dance music. GAWVI is the CCM equivalent of Zedd, a master producer with some vocal talent and an incredible ear for selecting features. It’s a truly masterfully produced album that deserves a Grammy nomination for Best Dance Album at the very least.

Album Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

Perception: A Review

Perception: A Review

Introduction:

A rapper that many have started putting on the same level as Eminem, NF has been grinding and climbing the charts. His newest album hit #1 not just on the iTunes Rap Album Charts, but #1 on the iTunes Album Charts period. His level of acclaim from all audiences is something not often seen from Christian artists. NF started becoming a blip on the radar with his 2014 EP NF. It wasn’t until 2015 with his first feature album, Mansion, that he became a name in rap music. 2016’s Therapy Session elevated him up the charts and created a large fan-base for him. Satiating our appetites with his Warm Up single that same year, now he brings the main course with his third studio album: Perception.

1. Intro III

As with the last two albums, this one starts with another intro. The opening to this album is very theatrical and sounds like a conversation between himself and his head. It’s very intense and scary track that proves NF is the new Eminem. With call backs to Mansion and Therapy Session. The opening of this album takes the character of Fear from “Mansion” and brings him back to bury him. This song is an incredible performance from NF that sets the tone of Perception by wrapping up loose ends from the last albums. This is the darkest intro yet!

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

2. Outcast

With a theatrical opening that fits the theme, this  track works like Mansion and Therapy Session’s title tracks, setting the tone of the album. It’s a lyrical acrobatic song that works well. Talking about being the odd one out from the rest of the rappers, NF really establishes that he’s the best rapper of the decade. This is a more unhinged NF that makes for some very entertaining and real music. This track is a weak follow up to “Intro III,” but it makes sense why it’s placed second. It’s a serviceable song with expert lyricism and a good performance. The sounds of lock and keys open and close the film.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A

3. 10 Feet Down (ft. Ruelle)

This sounds more like the NF we know and he comes out hard. He slays the track 100%. It’s a great showcase of his lyrical and rapping prowess. The vocals from Ruelle are great too. The production is right in NF’s wheelhouse.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A

4. Green Lights

The second single off the record is a great exhibition of NF’s speed and lyrical agility. He absolutely destroys the track and it’s beautiful.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

5. Dreams

We switch up to a slower pace that’s really nice. His vocals are beautiful and the production is rich and toned; a wonderful song about his depression and a remorseful examination of his life.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

6. Let You Down

The pace picks up slightly from the last track in the third single from the album. It’s a beautiful song about letting down his parents and their opinions of him. The vocals are absolutely rich and his lyricism is tragically honest. It’s a wonderful song.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

7. Destiny

Starting a cappella with a rhythmic monologue from NF, he comes back with another insane performance that fits right into the theme of the album. Playing on the idea of destiny, NF talks about how he was destined for this. He truly differentiates himself from the rest of the rappers. While the previous albums drew comparisons to Eminem just for his lyricism, he embraces that fully in his performance, which evokes Slim Shady himself.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A

8. My Life

The production is really solid already. It’s a more laid back NF than the last track, but he stills rides the beat with great vocals. It’s a very honest look at his private life with his friends and telling his critics that he doesn’t live for them. His hook is also extremely catchy.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

9. You’re Special

Slowing things down again, we get a love song for a special girl like we did on Therapy Session. This one isn’t quite as great, in fact it’s a little flat. The sentiment is sweet, but, while his attempts are admirable, this one falls a bit flat and, like the last one, he’s not great at love songs.

Track Rating: 7/10

Grade: B+

10. If You Want Love

We get a display of NF’s vocals on a track that features electric guitars and drums to create a blues/alternative rock feel that is very beautiful. It’s a great track about giving love to everyone. He doesn’t really rap on this track, but it’s regardless a gorgeous song.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

11. Remember This

This track starts slow buts suddenly just the ground running. NF drops truth bombs everywhere and absolutely goes off. The hook features beautiful vocals and does a great job of addressing the idea of “you’ll understand when you’re older” and still not understanding when you’re old. This might be the best song on the album.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

12. Know

Taking ques from “I Just Wanna Know,” he comes back with a lyrical ferocity unparalleled by any rapper since Eminem himself. With wordplay that his only matched by his “Motivated” record form Mansion. The hook of this song exemplifies his intensity as well.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

13. Lie

Another emotional track, NF really goes in on a breakup song that is really different from everything else on the album and in rap music in general. His vocals are spot on perfect. It’s a more reserved take on a breakup.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

14. 3 A.M.

Opening again with vocals, NF hits us with another breakup song. It’s an angrier, less reserved take on the song we just heard. It’s still a retread nonetheless, so it loses a few points for that. It’s a good song, however.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A

15. One Hundred

This one is a slow build but NF gets pretty heated in this second to last track. He’s got some really good lyricism and puts out another nice performance. It’s the one flex song that he deserves and allows himself to have.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A

16. Outro

The first single from the record is how we cap off the record. He goes in with some seriously powerful speed and lyricism that is just breathtaking. It’s reminiscent of Eminem, who he happens to take shots at this go around. It’s the perfect closer to end the album with.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

Conclusion:

NF is a rapper that is unparalleled in this game. His lyricism and sheer skill is unstoppable and unmatched. This record is just the next step in his evolution. It’s a great record from start to finish and should most definitely get some Grammy nominations.

Album Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

Tell Me You Love Me: A Review

Tell Me You Love Me: A Review

Introduction

Demi Lovato is one of my favorite pop stars ever.  Starting out in the Disney bubble with Sonny With a Chance and Camp Rock, she released two teen pop albums while being a TV darling: 2008’s Don’t Forget (a solid debut) and Here We Go Again (a flat follow-up). Once she broke out on her own, she started producing some really strong efforts. 2011’s Unbroken is a strong album with some very strong singles. 2013’s Demi is an incredible powerhouse album is amazing songs. Her return with 2015’s Confident was underwhelming in comparison but still strong. She released her single Body Say in 2016, which signaled a new, more adult Demi. She followed that up with her 2017 single Sorry Not Sorry which appears on her sixth studio album.


1. Sorry Not Sorry

This is one of my favorite songs of the year. It’s a great revenge song with some excellent production and wonderful lyricism from Demi. Her vocal prowess is demonstrated so well. It’s a great song.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

2. Tell Me You Love Me

The title track of the album is very synthy with some 80s pop vibes. It’s got some Adele vibes to it. It’s a pretty love song that has nice 80s groove to it some Gospel influences. It’s very catchy and pretty. The production is very solid.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A

3. Sexy Dirty Love

The song opens with a boom bap feel. It had a great summer feel to it. Demi really proves she’s one of the top pop queens of all time. Her vocals are solid and the production is bombastic and fun. It’s a sleek song, production wise. Her vocals are great.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A

4. You Don’t Do It For Me Anymore

It has a very strings-heavy, R&B vibe with some gorgeous vocals and an Adele feel. It’s a really tragically harsh song, but it’s brutally honest and it knows it. Lyrically, it’s lacking a bit. Vocally it’s one of her strongest songs yet. The production is really solid.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A

5. Daddy Issues

Starting out with a synthetic woodwind section that’s really neat. The production is really good on this song. The lyrics are mediocre, but the vocals again are stellar. This is the weakest track on the album so far.

Track Rating: 7/10

Grade: B+

6. Ruin The Friendship

The beat is really solid. As stated previously, the production and vocals are great. The lyricism is good on this track though. The horns are smooth and a beautiful touch that creates a very rich sound. It’s has a real gentle vibe to it.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A

7. Only Forever

Distorted pianos open up this one. Enter the bass and the lyrics. Just from the opening tone, I get the sense that it’s a sad song. It’s a song about waiting that’s got some sweet production, but fails a bit in the lyrics department. Her vocals sound good. It’s alright, it’s not the worst Demi song, but it’s not the best.

Track Rating: 7/10

Grade: B

8. Lonely (ft. Lil Wayne)

Opening with gentle piano and smooth vocal riffs, this one sounds like it’s going to be a sad song. It’s already a hit in the lyricism department. Her vocals are gorgeous. The production is very solid on this one. It’s a bittersweet song with some incredible vocals. It becomes an angry song once we get to the chorus, but the song is still morose and sad. It’s a very emotionally layered song with complexities not often seen in pop songs. It’s a great song, until Lil Wayne shows up. He drags the song down with his auto tune dribble and mumble “rap” that is pointless and really terrible. Lil Wayne needs to retire, and should’ve left this song alone. It’s perfect without him.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A-

9. Cry Baby

The guitars ring in an ominous tone, which is quelled by an R&B song with Smokey vocals and production. I’m already hooked. Her vocals are incredible and the production is incredible. The lyricism is pretty solid with some good rhymes.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

10. Games

The production is incredible and launches with some really great vocals right out the gate. The lyricism is strong this round too. It’s a really annoyed and cautionary song that lands strongly. The vocals are really the highlight of the song.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

11. Concentrate

With some really rich guitars, Demi showcases her vocal talents again with this song. The production is good and the lyricism is very adult and compelling. It’s a very provocative song that has some 70s elements to it.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

12. Hitchhiker

The bass and guitars paint a country/folk inspired song that has some pretty vocals and feels very tonality similar to “Concentrate” but without the very intense lyricism. It’s a sweet and pretty song that is genuinely romantic.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A

13. Instruction (ft. Jax Jones and Stefflon Don)

The Latin Pop vibe is infectious. Demi’s vocals are amazing in the dance song that is 100% guaranteed to get you up and move. This is a wonderful party track.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

14. Sorry Not Sorry – Acoustic

The acoustic version just highlight Demi’s stellar vocals and serves a perfect reprise to bookend and her stellar album.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A

15. No Promises – Acoustic (ft. Cheat Codes)

The acoustic version of the hit dance song of the summer is a beautiful recording that highlights both Demi’s vocals and Cheat Codes’. It’s a beautiful finale to an incredible album.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

Conclusion

Demi is still my favorite of her albums, but this is a powerhouse of pop vocals and sleek production and lyricism. This a very new, adult Demi and she’s a killer. It’s a bold collection of very good pop songs with great production. She really is the modern Queen of Pop.

Album Rating: 8/10

Grade: A

All Things Work Together: A Review

All Things Work Together: A Review

Introduction

Lecrae is one of the most talented rappers in the industry. It makes sense why Atlantic Records wanted to sign him. Lecrae debuted his first mixtape Real Talk in 2006, prior to starting his label and releasing his first album After The Music Stops the same year. He returned in 2008 with Rebel, followed in 2010 by RehabRehab: The Overdose came in 2011, followed by Gravity in 2012, his Church Clothes mixtape in 2013, Church Clothes Vol. 2 in early 2014, Grammy-winning Anomaly in 2014, and Church Clothes 3 in 2016. His label features some of the most versatile talent in the game including Andy Mineo, KB, Trip Lee, Tedashii, GAWVI, and Aha Gazelle. After spending eleven years climbing the ranks and managing his own label, Reach Records, he finally hit the big time. Will his music continue to have the same impact and appeal that it did the past 11 years? His latest release, All Things Work Together, will tell.

1. Always Knew

The opener song features a more shiny sound, despite getting into grimy details. The first song features some auto tune on the hook, but that doesn’t hurt the song. It’s really a check up song that brings up to speed on his life and on topics that are important to him. It’s a solid track, but it seems a little empty compared to the tracks from Anomaly.

Track Rating: 7/10

Grade: A-

2. Facts

This second song hits very hard. This song launches very theatrically and ominous. It’s a great song that fires back at the people who criticized his more political tone on Church Clothes 3. This sounds more like classic Lecrae than his singles released to promote the album did. This song tackles some huge themes and topics and does a great job of leveling the playing field. The beat is straight forward until we hit the last fourth and then it changes and totally kills it. He dismisses every criticism or doubt that changing labels had changed him. While “Already Knew” was supposed to calm fears, it’s “Facts” that does the job.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

3. Broke

The last single released before the album was already great and sounded like classic Lecrae. The song talks about being rich in Christ rather than cash. It’s a very sleek song that totally kills it and works on multiple levels. His flow pattern is solid with a fire hook.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

4. Blessings (ft. Ty Dolla $ign)

I did not like this single when it was first released. I am not a Ty Dolla $ign fan. I still don’t like it. It’s too mainstream rap, complete with wail-rapping, mumble rapping and auto-tune drenched hooks. It’s such a sweet beat wasted on mediocre lyricism and substance.

Track Rating: 6/10

Grade: B

5. Whatchu Mean (ft. Aha Gazelle)

The only 116 member to appear on Lecrae’s newest album is their newest recruit and he’s got some talent. The track starts off with a swan lake tinkle feel, but they come in hard. This is the “Say I Won’t” of this album. The hook is fine, but the verse kind of a sping style. It’s very high energy, yet laid back. The vocals are fun. Aha is fine, but he has that wail-rap style. While he tones it down on this track, he’s solid anyway. Lecrae really brings it home with his final verse. It’s a solid jam.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A

6. Hammer Time (ft. 1K Phew)

The most mainstream song on the album is one that I detested upon hearing it originally. However, upon revisiting, it’s really fun with some fun hip hop vocals. It’s one that’s perfect for working out or just jamming. It’s a fast-paced solid jam, there’s not much substance, but it’s fun.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A-

7. Come and Get Me

Again starting mischievously ominous, it breaks down into a groove. It’s classic Lecrae from the outset. He comes out hard and absolutely crushes it. It has a vibe that’s reminiscent of Will Smith meets Hamilton. Featuring some of Lecrae’s best lyricism yet it’s easily the best song on the album.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

8. Lucked Up (ft. Nija)

This track picks up with some very nice vocals from Nija. From the outset, it feels like a mix of “All I Need is You” and “Good, Bad, Ugly” with some original elements that elevate the track. It’s a solid track that displays some of Lecrae’s top notch lyricism.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A-

9. Wish You the Best (ft. Verse Simmonds)

This track is funky jam about growing up and reconnecting with old friends and lost love. It’s Lecrae’s “Hear My Heart”. Verse’s vocals are a perfect fit for the track. It’s reminiscent of “Special” off of his Church Clothes mixtape. T

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A

10. Can’t Stop Me Now (Destination)

The first single was released over a year before this album released. I always liked this one. It’s very real and a great confessional about life on the road and religion vs politics. The vocals are very dreamy and features a great brass section. I enjoy this track a lot.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A

11. I’ll Find You (ft. Tori Kelly)

The first single for the album released this year features incredible vocals from the underrated Tori Kelly and some wonderful lyricism of Lecrae. The song is a beautiful song that deserves a Grammy.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

12. 8:28

This song has a Sunday morning feel to it. Featuring some great vocals and messages, this track is perfectly in Lecrae’s vain. The song is hopeful and inspirational and really harkens back to the classic Lecrae.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

13. Cry For You (ft. Taylor Hill)

This is a beautiful song featuring some of the best vocals on Lecrae song. This is a really honest song that truly brought tears. This song features the best lyricism of the album. It’s a beautiful song that addresses some real issues involving popularity, religion, piety, and suicidal thoughts and depression. It’s a wonderful and important song.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

14. Worth It (ft. Kierra Sheard and Jawan Harris)

This Gospel-inspired song is inspirational and comforting. The closer of the album inspires and provides hope for the listener as we depart for the album. It’s a great display of Lecrae’s powerhouse lyricism and songwriting. Our Southern Gospel artists own the vocals on this chorus and really calms the listener and creates a sense of hope and safety.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

Conclusion

The fears the fans had that Lecrae would change with the label were completely ungrounded. Of course, the style changes slightly moving from indie rap to mainstream rap, but the fact of the matter is that this is the Lecrae we all know and love. It’s the Lecrae from Anomaly and Gravity, from Rehab and After the Music Stops. Lecrae creates a powerhouse album that stirs the heart and stimulates the mind, while also southing the soul. The vocalists and features, for the most part, are incredibly chosen and work perfectly. Overall, this album is a display of his lyricism and sheer talent. This is one that will go down into the books as a high ranking album. In fact…

 

  1. Anomaly
  2. All Things Work Together
  3. Gravity
  4. Church Clothes 3
  5. Rehab
  6. Church Clothes Vol. 2
  7. Church Clothes
  8. Rebel
  9. After The Music Stops
  10. Real Talk
  11. Rehab: The Overdose

Album Rating: 9/10

Grade: A

 

Top 15 Broadway (and Off-Broadway) Musicals

Top 15 Broadway (and Off-Broadway) Musicals

Introduction:

Musical theatre is one of my favorite mediums of storytelling. I was introduced to it at a young age in elementary school and soon became obsessed with performing in, and later writing, musicals. While performing in smaller school musicals and originals around my town in middle school was fun, high school introduced me to a whole new world (pun intended) of musical theatre. Here are my fifteen favorite musicals from both Broadway and Off-Broadway of all time.

15. School of Rock (2015-)school-of-rock-broadway

Based on the cult classic film starring Jack Black, the musical adapted to the stage by Broadway legend Andrew Lloyd Webber (The Phantom of the Opera) is a fun, brilliant joyride with excellent music and a fantastic performance by Alex Brightman. The show might’ve won the Tony for Best Musical had it not been up against Hamilton.

14. Grease (1971-1980, 1993-1999)grease-musical-raleigh-febraury-2016

The musical that inspired the classic film, Jim Jacobs’ profane and aggressive treasure was based on his own high school experiences and were transformed into a musical that spoke to youthful audiences of the time. The music is iconic, so much so that after it’s 1980 closing, the musical was revived for a 90s run.

13. Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella (2013-2015)thumb_100_1920x0_0_0_auto

Originally written for television, Broadway legends Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II crafted a wonderful adaption of the French version of the classic story. The TV musical was adapted for Broadway in 2013 by Douglas Carter Beane, who translated it with poise and fantastical grace. The show is wonderful and near and dear to my heart, admittedly because I played the role of Jean-Michel in my junior year of high school.

12. The Addams Family (2010-2011)1476917706-5428757-the_addams_family_musical_tickets

The Broadway adaption of Charles Addams’ comic strip family came as a surprise to many. The show was adapted by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice and featured great music with a wonderful story. The show also had great performances by Kevin Chamberlain, Nathan Lane, Krysta Rodriguez, and Bebe Neuwirth.

11. 21 Chump Street (2014)14444585426_a76a70bb6f_b

Based on an episode of This American Life, the fifteen minute musical debuted as a radio drama before making an Off-Broadway debut. The musical was written by the genius Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also played the Narrator. The show featured a stellar premiere performance from Anthony Ramos, who would go on to star in Hamilton. The show is often overlooked, but features incredible music and a tragic tale.

10. In The Heights (2008-2011)alt_50684

Speaking of Lin-Manuel Miranda, the genius playwright made his debut with this show. A wonderful snapshot of the world of Washington Heights, Lin starred in the lead role and wrote the music. The show’s earliest draft was written by Miranda, but the show’s credited playwright is Quiara Alegría Hudes, who wrote the book. The show features rap, salsa, and tons of wonderful music. The show also introduced the Broadway world to not just Lin, but also the wonderful talents of Christopher Jackson, Mandy Gonzalez, and Javier Muñoz. The show also won the Tony for Best Musical.

9. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (2010-2011)

I’m a sucker for a historically based story, especially when it’s accurate. I’m also a sucker for rock musicals. Alex Timbers brilliantly combines the two into a wonderful show, with a fantastic performance from Benjamin Walker in the title role. The show was snubbed by The Book of Mormon, but this musical is still a fantastic satire with wonderful music.

8. Chicago (1975-1977, 1996-)event_image-135

The longest running musical in Broadway history, Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse’s prolific show is spectacle that is unlike anything else on Broadway. Despite receiving a short original run with mixed reviews, the show was revived to mass praise and acclaim in 1996 and is still running 21 years later. It’s a fantastic show with wonderful music. I played D.A. Harrsion when my school performed it my sophomore year. It’s a show unique in design and style.

7. Wicked (2003-)wicked-the-musical

One of the greatest musicals of the 21st century, the show, adapted by Winnie Holzman from the prolific book by Gregory Maguire, features great music and breakout performances from Broadway legends Idina Menzel and Kristen Chenowith. Telling the alternative take of the classic story, one of cinema and literature’s greatest villains becomes one of Broadway’s most tragic heroes. It’s a wonderful show that pushed the boundaries of what could be done from a technical standpoint in design for Broadway shows.

6. Little Shop of Horrors (1982-1987, 2003-2004)000188_hero

One of Off-Broadway’s biggest hits, the show is based on the 1960 film and the musical, in turn, inspired the 1986 remake. It made a brief revival on Broadway in 2003, but was panned by critics. The show features incredible music that is memorable and featured a great performance from Ellen Greene. I played the role of Bernstein in my freshman year production of the show, but lends to my bias, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s a wonderful show.

5. Heathers (2014)home-girls

The brief Off-Broadway run might seem like it was a failure, but Heathers (based on the 80s cult classic film) found a huge cult audience and won over many fans. With a book wonderfully adapted by Lawrence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy, the show features amazing music and breakout performances by Barrett Wilbert Weed, Jessica Keenan Wynn, and Ryan McCartan.

4. Jekyll & Hyde (1997-2001, 2013)000181_hero

This show is haunting, prolific, and an incredible thrill ride. Adapted from the literary classic by Leslie Bricusse, the show featured a breakout performance from Robert Cuccioli from its original cast, Coleen Sexton from the final cast, and an incredible  surprise turn from David Hasselhoff. The show ran for 5 years and received a DVD recording of Hasselfhoff’s final performance. The show made a very brief revival in 2013, but was not very memorable. It is a fantastic show with vocally challenging roles.

3. RENT (1996-2008, 2011-2012)rent

You thought I wasn’t going to include one of Broadway’s greatest shows? You’re crazy. Jonathan Larson is on the same level of genius as Lin-Manuel Miranda, but his time was tragically cut short. His crowning achievement is this wonderful rock show about living with AIDS, as well as living in New York. Broadway legends are born from this show, including Anthony Rapp, Adam Pascal, Jesse L. Martin, Idina Menzel, and Wilson Jermaine Heredia. With great music and a wonderful cast, this show goes down in history as one of the greats. Born in 1996 and running to an end in 2008, the show was revived Off-Broadway for a relatively brief run.

2. Dear Evan Hansen (2016-)90

Many will eye-roll because I included a very new musical, but this show truly deserves it. This show is a wonderful treasure, with incredible music and a touching story about suicide and loss. Ben Platt makes a huge star turn with his amazing performance. The show is written by Steven Levenson, with music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the duo behind the Oscar-winning masterpiece La La Land. It’s for sure one of my most favorite shows.

1. Hamilton (2015-)hamilton

Of course this my number one. Hamilton is the perfect show in my opinion. It blends everything I love into one massive show: American history, rap music, and great storytelling. Lin-Manuel Miranda is a certifiable genius, writing a masterpiece show. It also features incredible performances from Phillipa Soo, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Daveed Diggs, Christopher Jackson, Leslie Odom Jr, and Jonathan Groff, all of which are now certifiable Broadway royalty. It’s an incredible show, with music unparralled and performances unmatched in any musical, on or off Broadway, in the history of the craft.

 

Magic & Bird: A Review

Magic & Bird: A Review

Introduction

Since it was teased from the start of the year, Magic & Bird has been one of the most anticipated releases of the summer. This is the year that CHH returned, with artists such as Lecrae, Andy Mineo, and NF all dropping albums in later half of this year. But before Andy Mineo drops the long-awaited follow-up to 2015’s Uncomfortable, he announced a “fun summer mixtape” would be released with his friend and collaborator, Wordsplayed. Andy Mineo launched his career in 2011 with his mixtape Formerly Known and his debut album Heroes For Sale. He followed that up with his 2013 EP Never Land before dropping his 2015 sophomore album Uncomfortable and his 2016 single Candy Rain. Wordsplayed launched his career with his 2016 debut album Clowntown. Now, the two rappers have joined forces for Magic & Bird, an album named after the legendary NBA stars Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. This has been one of my most anticipated releases of the year and I cannot wait the listen and review this album.

1. HI-FIVE (LOADING)

This introduction track is a comedic, retro-styled track. The first half of this song is styled like a retro sports game centering around Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. The second half sees a coach giving a comedic attempt at a motivational speech warning kids about the “high-contact sport” that is life and warning against ending up as a greasy car salesman. It perfectly sets the tone for the album: fun and nonsensical joy.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A-

2. KIDZ

The first single from the mixtape was well-received and continues to shine on the album. Wordsplayed goes first, rapping about success on Spotify and his life. Andy goes second, rapping about love and individuality. The connective tissue that ties their verses together, “I’m in the pocket like Brady/Magic and Bird like the 80s”. As they claim in the hook, they do it for the kids, and this “kid” throughly enjoyed this track. It’s well-constructed with a great beat and expert vocalization. They control this track with master flow-patterns and timing.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

3. DUNK CONTEST (MAGIC BIRD)

The second single appears next. Once again, Wordsplayed starts, but it’s a back and forth between him and Andy. In comparison, the beat is more low-key than the last track, and the hook is more simple, but it works. It’s fun, with great lyricism from Andy and Wordsplayed. Their timing and chemistry is even stronger in this track and more precise. Andy has some outro commentary on Magic & Bird’s rivalry that seamlessly plays into the theme of the track. Overall, it’s a fun song, and solid display of lyricism from the two.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A

4. SAY LESS

As soon as I heard “GAWVI, get em,” I knew we were in for a fun time. GAWVI is the Reach Records producing genius and artist in his own right. Andy comes out with some mumbling rapping, which was different, but he picks up his steam as he goes on. This is the first time ever I can honestly say Wordsplayed was better than Andy Mineo on a track with the two. Wordsplayed’s verse was straight fire with great lyricism, while Andy’s was more subdued than normal. The beat was different, with Eastern vibes and 80s influence and it works. Overall, this track is strong, but stands as the weakest of the project so far. The hook is mediocre, as his the first verse. The track is well produced, but the lyricism comes back hard in the second verse. It’s a pretty decent song.

Track Rating: 7/10

Grade: B+

5. DISQUIS (Skit)

The skit is performed by Andy Mineo doing an accent and it’s hilarious. The skit sees an Olympic tryout telling kids in a comedic fashion to encourage kids to never give up, telling them of his attempt to throw a disquis and his training, resulting him being covered in sweat. It’s mildly funny. It’s not the funniest of the spoken material so far, but it’s a solid intermission.

Track Rating: 7/10

Grade: B+

6. R.U.T.S.

This beat already sounds intense in the beginning, but then Andy gets on and takes an even more intense command. The verse is very strong and Andy slays this track with expert lyricism and a superior flow pattern. He rides the beat flawlessly. The hook reveals what R.U.T.S. stands for: Run Up The Score. Wordsplayed jumps on and rides this beat just as perfectly. His flow pattern is strong and his lyricism, while not as incredible as Andy, is amazing in his own right. It’s a perfect workout or athletics song. It’s easily the best offering so far since KIDZ.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

7. JUDO (feat. Judo)

The third single released features the producer Judo. JUDO is a strong track. It has the sleakest production of the album so far. Andy gets on with great lyricism and rides the beat well. The vocals on this song are beautiful and fun to listen to. The hook is silly and fun and work perfectly with the song. Wordsplayed has fun on this song and rocks it. They both have killer one liners in their verse that absolutely slay it. It’s a great song that also works in hyping and in athletic situations.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

8. BREAK BREAD

The vocals are coated in some auto tune that adds to the track, which as good production. Andy comes in with some strong lyricism about being isolated in the industry by producers and merchandisers. This track has a great hook. Wordsplayed makes references to the Minnesota Vikings, which makes me rather bias, but he continues the same themes very well. It’s the most subdued track of the album, but it works very well.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A

9. METRO (Skit)

The second skit sees a lady lose her metro card and she talks Andy about it. It’s not as funny, but it really is about how this lady has faith in the Lord about being okay. It’s a solid intermission.

Track Rating: 7/10

Grade: B+

10. DANCE (You See It)

This track launches strong  with great production and Wordsplayed, who absolutely kills it in his first verse with strong lyricism. “I told I was kinda strange, and, yeah, I can’t debate it” is my favorite line. Andy jumps in with a good hook and then launches into his verse. He rides the beat well with great timing and masterful lyricism and amazing wordplay. It’s a solid jam with a great ending.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

11. TEAM (feat. BEAM)

The track starts with some vocals that sound Jamaican reggae and work very well on the track. The song sounds like it’s slower and is about teamwork and how you need a team to make it in life. Andy jumps in with some great lyricism and a strong verse featuring personal stories. Wordsplayed follows him with a strong verse with some personal stories as well. This song has the best hook out of all of the tracks on the album.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A

12. LEGEND

The track starts with the guy from DISQUIS and Wordsplayed yelling at the audience about needing to work until they sweat to get better. The track then launches into a what sounds like the perfect culmination of the album. Wordsplayed jumps in first and gives a strong verse with some solid wordplay. The hook is just some remixed phrases, but it works well. Andy jumps in with a very strong verse about how long he will last and his team, tying every theme together. His verse is incredible with amazing lyricism and some personal introspection. Andy jumps back into his second verse and makes some comments on Donald Trump and his ex-girlfriend (unrelated, but they’re both killer lines). Wordsplayed jumps into his second verse and talks about his situations. The most poignant line in song: “There ain’t no time to rest when you’re trying to be a legend”. This is a great song from both men, who are talented enough to do just that. The track then transitions into Wordsplayed and the guy from DISQUIS giving some comedic coaching to someone about wanting to smell..no, taste, the hardwork the audience has been putting in. It’s a comedic little thing to cap off the best song on the album.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

13. LAY UP (Bonus)

Originally released as a single by Andy Mineo in early 2015 and featuring Wordsplayed, this fun jam returns and fights a perfect fit as a bonus track on this mixtape. It’s an absolute jam with some great lyricism and wordplay from both Andy Mineo and Wordsplayed. It’s a fun way to cap off the album after the semi-serious note that LEGEND ended on.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

Conclusion

This album is a fun and very strong piece of music that is filled with an energy that comes from two best friends making music they’re passionate about together. They’re fantastic together and is a perfect project to remind us the fun that Andy can have before he comes back with his fourth album that is sure to hold nothing back. In the end, Magic & Bird is filled strong lyricism, solid production, and masterful flow patterns. In the end, the message of their album rings true and they kill it: There ain’t no time to rest when you’re trying to be a legend. The two of them are a perfect match. Overall, their album is very strong and I can’t wait to hear what’s next from the two.

Album Rating: 9/10

Grade: A