Weekly Album Spotlights, Sep. 25

Published September 25, 2022

Weekly Album Spotlights, Sep. 25

This installment includes a guest write-up from friend and writer Evan B.

Write-up By Isiah C.

Karma – Pharoah Sanders

1969Spiritual Jazz37 min.

Karma is, at heart, a pulsing ball of energy. Everything about it finds its roots in spirituality, thought and existence. It intends to encourage reflection, immediately clear by its meditative cover.

The cause of this inclusion is unfortunately due to the passing of Pharoah Sanders this week. The legend enjoyed a long and successful life, and the intensity of Karma is even stronger with this news in mind.

The main piece, “The Creator Has a Master Plan“, is a thirty-two-minute long nebula of contrasting emotions. The forward-thinking hit begins with a grandiose atmosphere that immediately sends the listener into a state of contemplation and curiosity, eager to see what exotic sounds lie behind such an ambitiously-named song.

The progression of the track’s first half is subtle, smooth, and soulful. Much like the recordings of fellow African-American creators in these historic genres, Sanders’ content aimed to depict feelings of social strife and the means by which it can create a path of healing. His poetic, repetitive lyrics deliver a certain message:

“Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah, yeah yeah
Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah, yeah yeah
The creator has a working plan
Peace and happiness for every man
The creator has a working plan
Peace and happiness for every man”

Karma is unapologetically religious and wants to tie together the many factions of the world through a mutual connection to a higher power. Sanders’ belief is that tranquility can be achieved over time through the vision of his creator – as soon as these words resonate, it becomes clear that this experience will expand far beyond the boundaries of jazz, aiming to lift others to a higher plane of conscious thought.

The track eventually decompresses into a raw, experimental cacophony of aggressive saxophone techniques, yodeling, and sonic vigor. Sanders aims to showcase the intricacy of his abilities amidst the chaos, proving his worth as an instrumental creator while also delivering an ethereal lesson.

The brief, five-minute “Colors” feels like an afterthought after such a legendary and lengthy performance, but it may be the solution to truly understanding what Sanders intended to express. Vocalist and collaborator Leon Thomas – who was also heavily involved on the first track – uses the rainbow as a metaphor for the many facets of life one should appreciate. A reminder is issued that in nature, spirit, and faith, the key to happiness can be found.

Ending Karma on such an interpretive, free note after the intensity of “The Creator Has a Master Plan” is a genius approach. It’s emotional, warm and inspirational. The influence the record had on the development of jazz music subsequently becomes immediately apparent as it closes – managing to bring the realm of spiritual, avant-garde content to the mainstream was vital to development of funk, psychedelia, hip-hop, and more.

It’s an unbelievable body of work. Rest in peace, Pharoah Sanders.

Write-up By Isiah C.

Under Pressure – Logic

2014Boom Bap57 min.

One to multiple times a year – but most often when temperatures get low and school comes around – Under Pressure hits my rotation and holds its place.

Logic has been the topic of frequent critical controversy over the course of the past several years, but I’ve never been afraid to cite myself as a fan of some of his projects. His debut studio album in particular is one of the 2010’s best, encompassing all qualities a modern age hip-hop album should.

Its loose concept, themed around his means of relieving stress and managing worldly tension, is executed to a far better degree than often credited. He cites “Nikki” – which also happens to be a track – as his partner in crime and greatest relief. Seemingly a woman, it is eventually exposed as a metaphor for nicotine, adding another layer to the troubled upbringing detailed throughout the record.

Specific themes tackled include the process of rising to the top (“Soul Food“), gang culture’s effects on the youth (“Gang Related“), and the uncertainty associated with growing up in a negative environment (“Growing Pains III“). The album remains true to its inspired roots of boom bap through weaving these ideas into a cohesive effort, all the while maintaining a dusty, nearly nostalgic style of production.

The charm of Under Pressure is actually in its dedication to its influences, if anything. Logic’s plethora of mixtapes prior to 2014 were often directly taking after the pioneers of hip-hop – that did not hinder their quality, but it muddied the clarity of Logic’s character.

This album broke through that barrier, remaining dedicated to honoring the greats:

“Smoking blunts in Amsterdam
Oh my God, this is my jam
“May-December” by Mos Def
In my headphones, that’s the man”

…however, it never tried too hard to emulate somebody else. For that reason, the personal subject matter expressed throughout – especially on the title track – held a stronger impact on the listener that led to their prolonged interest.

Under Pressure falls under the category of lyrically-inclined albums from the modern era’s most exciting prospects, including good kid, m.A.A.d city and 2014 Forest Hills Drive. It isn’t as ambitious as the former, nor aiming for mainstream appeal like the latter. Instead, authenticity ran through its veins – Logic didn’t try to make his music deeper than it was, using honesty as a foundation.

It’s what established the east coast emcee as one of the decade’s most promising names, eventually sparking a commercially significant career. Everybody starts somewhere.

Write-up By Evan B.

May the Lord Watch – Little Brother

2019Conscious Hip-Hop37 min.

The history of the legendary underground rap duo (formerly trio) known as Little Brother has been full of obstacles – from creative differences with labels to departures, disbandment, and an eight-year hiatus. MCs Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh met while enrolled at North Carolina Central University in the late 90’s, with twenty-plus years separating the beginning of their friendship and the release of this album.

From 2001-10, the duo operated as partners in rhyme, with their breakup being announced after the release of their fourth album, Leftback. For the next five years following, Pooh & Tay were not on speaking terms at all. It wasn’t until the unfortunate passing of hip hop phenom Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest (a group with similar group conflict and eventual hiatus & reunion) that the two rappers decided to put their differences aside and rekindle the spark that made them underground heroes.

The album May the Lord Watch serves as a reunion for Phonte and Big Pooh, acknowledging that they have grown up plenty in their time away from the limelight, yet not by any means missing the chemistry characteristic of their music during the Okayplayer/backpack era. Previously titled Homecoming, this release invites longtime fans to return home to the charismatic reconciliation of Durham’s heaviest hitters.

In terms of lyrical prowess, this may just be these two at their technical peak. From speaking on how there’s always a way to improve in life on “Black Magic (Make It Better)” to the disconnection from the youthful life of the party they once loved on “Sittin Alone”, there is no absence of thematic value here.

Although the pair isn’t afraid to tap into more serious topics on this project, that doesn’t mean that the humor of their previous work is left out of the equation – quite the opposite, actually. Five different skits appear on the tracklist, working as a continuation of the material from 2005’s The Minstrel Show – featured references include Phonte’s swooning R&B alter ego Percy Miracles, as well as words from Peter Rosenberg, Joe Scudda, and Roy Lee, all of whom appeared on earlier Little Brother albums. Tay & Pooh’s cultural references and witty wordplay are also on point as usual throughout the project.

My personal favorite cut from May the Lord Watch would have to be “Goodmorning Sunshine,” which is effectively a love song with effortless back-and-forth flow and an extremely uplifting instrumental. Every track on the fifth studio album is filled with great conscious rhymes and stellar production – a mark of true consistency from these rap vets. While the presence of original member 9th Wonder is sadly missed from this project, the weight is carried by his fellow Soul Council producers Khrysis and Nottz, common LB collaborators such as Focus…, Zo!, and one of Detroit’s finest in Black Milk.

To me, May the Lord Watch is ‘grown man rap’ at its best. The NC-based lyricists highlight the ups and downs of embracing adulthood head on, all the while putting on an absolute clinic with their rapping – both entered a second, matured prime completely separate from their earlier days in the 2000’s. The group name Little Brother originally came from seeing themselves as the torch-carriers of the movement led by A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, and Public Enemy. Now, they have the ability to be the big brothers to the next generation of music, seeing how they have inspired modern-day leaders in rap such as Kendrick Lamar, Drake, and J. Cole. Phonte said it best in his 2019 interview with Vulture:

“I like to think of ourselves as giving young rappers a look around the corner… Hopefully we can give a blueprint to show that you can mature, you can grow older, and you can be true to yourself but not be crotchety. There’s a way you can settle into that moment and still be dope and be profitable and have things to say.”

Write-up By Isiah C.

I Am Not A Crip – HUES & Korban Baxter

2022Hardcore Hip-Hop18 min.

One resonating thought when listening to a number of recent releases is how they grew from the influences that shaped them. HUES & Korban Baxter’s I Am Not A Crip isn’t just your typical producer-rapper collaboration – it’s a revival of the moody, dungeon-like sounds of the golden age translated to the modern standard.

Before anything, let’s throw some love in Baxter’s direction. His commanding presence on the mic is reminiscent of an Earl Sweatshirt type – not particularly loud or energetic, but instead raw and descriptive. His words flow effortlessly into pools of poetry, forming verses that clearly highlight his everyday activities.

Not A Crip is akin to a storytelling experience, despite its short length. Immersive interludes carry on the energy, featured Baxter and a number of people in his life conversing over recognizable hip-hop songs. Before you have time to fully digest the content of the skits, you’re thrown into another hardcore cut – it’s a fantastic approach to pacing that makes the EP feel lengthier.

HUES deserves an abundance of credit for his leadership on this album’s sound as well. His hard-hitting drums and grim samples feel reminiscent of Diggin’ in the Crates, particularly Buckwild. If you claimed “Carroll Park” released in 1995, no eyebrows would be raised.

The ambience of these tracks is the key to Not a Crip’s identity, as Baxter’s verses float calmly over every backdrop. “Lost Values” is a specifically great example, featuring a downtempo soundscape from HUES that is tackled with a slowed, melodic approach to contrast with the high-energy tracks preceding it.

The genius of underground producers is highlighted even further by the lyricists they work in tandem with, and this is no exception. You may associate the streets of Detroit with soul – think J Dilla, Black Milk, and Apollo Brown – but when you fuse that with the ferocity of a Philadelphia emcee, you discover an exciting combination.

Weekly Album Spotlights, Sep. 10

Published September 10, 2022

Weekly Album Spotlights, Sep. 10

Doris – Earl Sweatshirt

2013Boom Bap44 min.

Sometimes the perception is that Doris‘ reputation has aged poorly, and that’s not fair. Earl Sweatshirt’s level of acclaim has skyrocketed so much that his older projects get lost in the mix – the reality is that his 2013 debut is on par with his recent efforts, and in my eyes still his best.

So much of Doris‘ charm comes from the era it was released in. During a time where a new generation of emcees had formed, Earl ensured his name wouldn’t get lost in the mix. That was a difficult conquest, as not only was he coming off of some time away in Samoa but also had to differentiate himself from the rest of his group, Odd Future. He exceeded in maintaining ties and representing them on the record, but wanted listeners to know this was about him.

In retrospect, the excessively gloomy sound of Doris is nothing special for Earl; nearly all of his albums have fallen under this darker atmosphere. If you were to tell a fan in 2013 that this would arguably be his “brightest”, though, they’d scoff in disbelief. But the dedication to west coast traits – including colorful synths and a handful of faster-paced cuts – secured the attention of previous Odd Future fans while establishing Earl’s own identity.

Consistency is the word of the day, and is by all means this album’s greatest characteristic. There isn’t quite any track that flat out ruins the flow or stands out too much – even experimental endeavors like the alter-ego-dominated “Guild” or expressive “Molasses” fit right in. This is something that put Earl ahead of the curve in comparison to his peers, who still had their fair share of questionable creations – most notably Tyler, the Creator, although Wolf from a few months prior was a sharp improvement.

The roster of feature artists is also an appreciated inclusion, as nearly every track has a personality off their guest appearances alone. “20 Wave Caps” feeds off of Domo’s infectious energy, and both Tyler collaborations are as Odd Future-faithful as it gets.

The first stretch of Doris possesses most of the fan favorite songs, especially the run of “Sunday“-“Hive“-“Chum“. However, I want to highlight the back end – this is chock-full of Earl’s finest work, most notably the three conclusive tracks. “Knight” in particular may be my favorite of all, finishing off one of 2013’s premier experiences with killer verses from both Domo and our host.

Take this as a reminder to revisit – I’m convinced this only gets better with age. The next step is getting affirmation from others on that belief.

Open – Blu

2009Instrumental Hip-Hop35 min.

This is just one of many Blu projects that will inevitably be covered on this blog. The difference is Open is pure instrumental goodness, and a lot of people don’t even know the west coast rapper worked behind the boards too.

Through a producer’s ear, beat tapes sound different. My perfectionism naturally predisposes me to being over-analytical, and I can reason with the idea that this is one of the best things in the sub-genre. Blu has directly cited his musical influences many times, many of which are producers – that shines through on here.

I also want to preface this with a heads-up that there are two versions of Open – the original instrumental one, and remix of sorts that features a handful of underground names throughout. Both are good listens, but this is primarily addressing the former.

If you put one of Blu’s beats side-by-side with his partner Exile, it would be somewhat difficult to tell the difference. This is because they come from the same era of soulful sentiment in boom bap, also exhibited by legends like 9th Wonder and Kanye West. These two unfortunately fall under the radar in comparison, and Blu even more so – keep in mind that this isn’t his only instrumental effort, as the critically acclaimed Her Favorite Colo(u)r was as well.

But what also must be acknowledged is that almost feels intentional. The entire soundscape of Open screams “low-key”, from the near-liminal album cover to shelled-in sample selection. Listeners were programmed to stay focused on the music at hand, devoid of distraction.

This is a quality in beat tapes that also reigns supreme through some other favorites of mine – refer to DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing….. or Madlib’s Beat Konducta series. For something to be so immersive that it can be attached to certain feelings or memories is a blessing, and this has certainly cemented its place through unbreachable favoritism and nostalgia.

As soon as the introductory “NoWorries” comes in, the mental preparation for a half hour of hip-hop bliss is immediately complete. Exceptional standouts like “Raw!“, “TheRunAwaySlaveSong“, and “TalkingToMyselfTooOften” only reaffirm my decision to support Blu’s love for sound design, because delivering bars and beats is a feat worth appreciating.

The Elephant Man’s Bones – Roc Marciano & The Alchemist

2022Abstract Hip-Hop38 min.

The coolest thing about The Elephant Man’s Bones? It still sounds like Roc Marciano produced it. The chemistry is that seamless.

For how long the two have been intertwined as underground pioneers, it’s surprising Marci and The Alchemist have yet to release a full-length collaboration prior to this. Producer-rapper works aren’t Roc’s bread and butter – at least when he’s on the mic. Before this, it was only KAOS with DJ Muggs that explored this.

It’s unsurprising that the Long Island phenom traverses this challenge with ease, though. In fact, his lyricism sounds sharper than it’s ever been, truly dedicated to his persona and packed with witty punchlines that selfishly hold the audience’s attention.

It’s hard to characterize Elephant Man. Perhaps some crossover between “elegant” and “eccentric” is the right approach, even though that seems inconceivable. That’s ultimately its hidden jewel, though; it sticks out like a sore thumb in both catalogues, yet features them in prime creation.

I also want to praise Alchemist’s willingness to get unconventional throughout. He’s no stranger to bizarre chops and free-form instrumentals, but it’s not often you hear him apply those skills for an entire project. The reality is that someone as experimental as Roc requires that dedication, and that was the key to their eventual synergy.

As for must-hears, there are gems scattered throughout. “Daddy Kane” has a bit of a vintage flair to it, also calling up Action Bronson to provide yet another set of memorable bars. The title track is as poised as the record gets, and the subsequent “Bubble Bath” maintains the polish under a rapid-fire drum pattern. The second half is all about Marciano honing in, compiling some even greater performances until everything is wrapped up.

The Elephant Man’s Bones is by no means your typical hip-hop encounter, but to people in need of something fresh – do give it a shot. It’s absolutely one of the top releases of the year.

Weekly Album Spotlights, Sep. 2

Published September 2, 2022

Weekly Album Spotlights, Sep. 2

With a new month comes new content, and this brand new Weekly Album Spotlights series aims to provide write-up about a handful of albums every week, sometimes with another contributor.

This week, writer Jack R. and I are touching upon four albums that we wanted to discuss and have you consider adding to your rotation.

To keep things familiar, these articles will follow the same format as the “Favorite Hip-Hop Albums” countdown – if you haven’t checked that out, check either of the “Posts” tabs!

Write-up By Isiah C.

The Never Story – JID

2017Southern Hip-Hop40 min.

Realistically speaking, this slot could’ve been for the newly released The Forever Story. It almost was, but maybe we can touch upon that another time – great album, by the way.

It’s interesting how hearing a new record can immediately motivate you to revisit an older one, but that was the story of my past week. The Never Story is a very nostalgic experience for me, being one of my late-2010s favorites.

The hunger throughout is the deal-breaker. When an emcee is truly ready to put in work, they let it show with ferocity right away. The near-titular “NEVER” tells this story is simple words:

“Most of the niggas I came up with haven’t came up
And doin’ the same stuff, but I haven’t came up, this really ain’t none”

Now that JID has made it known that rapping was not his dream profession, this lyric holds more weight. Not only does he unfortunately have to see his hood continue to struggle with finding prosperity, but he doesn’t hold his way out to highly either – it wasn’t his number one option.

Regardless of those darker undertones, The Never Story isn’t remotely close to a morose experience. JID truly represents his Atlantan hometown with a collection of hard-hitting bangers amongst moodier selections; for every “All Bad“, there’s an “EdEddnEddy“. This isn’t to say he doesn’t remain introspective – because he absolutely does – but this was a successful debut because it stayed true to showcasing his bars.

The outro “LAUDER” is often cited as the best example of this – with a vicious southern flow reminiscent of early Outkast albums, JID drops three excellent verses on the J. Cole produced outro. Take this excerpt, for instance:

“So part of the reason I be so hard on my people
We never had it easy, never had a pot to pee in
I be on my knees praying till my onomatopoeia’s packing a coliseum
Ain’t no parking, I gotta see J.I.D
Gotta be there for my family, I gotta, can’t try to be
I could be out of my mind, thinking logically
No apologies for speaking how I feel, I silently swore solemnly
That I would be the guy to make my black people proud of me”

This may be the moment in The Never Story where listeners realize that JID can get intensely lyrical, which was a huge boost to his hype at the time.

Personally, it’s hard for me to point out a song I don’t enjoy on this record. It packs every vibe possible into forty minutes, creating an infinite source of enjoyment that can always be appreciated on a revisit. It’s important I integrate The Forever Story into my rotation, but my favorite in the catalogue is right here.

Write-up By Isiah C.

Reflection of Self: The Head Trip – Stalley

2019Conscious Hip-Hop33 min.

Now on the less popular side of things, Reflection of Self: The Head Trip is my number one priority of recommendation on this post. I cannot stress enough how underrated Stalley is.

What’s so cool about The Head Trip is that it truly feels like a shift in style. As one of his first self-released projects, Stalley felt no need to cater to anybody or even draw new supporters in. This release was for him, and hardcore fans could give a toast to that.

The production, which is solely handled by west coast producer Jansport J, sounds exactly like where it came from. Stalley’s unapologetically midwest cadence fits the soulful nature of these instrumentals a tad bit too well, making listeners wonder why the two hadn’t done this sooner. Jansport J also did an excellent job keeping the beats stripped down and minimal, which provides a properly hollow soundscape that fits the album’s themes.

A free-flowing structure defines The Head Trip, jam-packed with instrumental interludes reminiscent of what Pete Rock did alongside C.L. Smooth so many years ago. Sporadic soundbites inspire a sense of adventure, establishing a comfortability with so many raw verses. In tandem with Stalley’s distinct delivery, often accompanied by his signature pitched vocals, a mildly psychedelic sound is born and embraced. It is a sharp turn from the hard-hitting cuts of his mid-2010’s efforts, but that is simply a result of five years of development.

As a big fan of the Ohio rapper, this resonates with me heavily. It’s always pleasant to see musicians be honest about their mental state, personal growth, and backstory without fabrication. The second verse of “All So New” is immediate proof:

“Sat desperate for days trying to fill a page
My thoughts locked in a cage I started building rage
Marijuana and sage at my personal rave
Holistic psychedelics brought a mental change
Clear as the water my thoughts became pure
Anxiety and stress I had to endure
Was barely outside I kept it indoors
My sanity I had to fend for”

Lines like these set the stage for a transition to pure art, which has been further reinforced with every release of his since.

A lot of longtime fans said this was “that classic Stalley talking”, and they didn’t lie.

Write-up By Jack R.

Sometimes I Might Be Introvert – Little Simz

2021Conscious Hip-Hop1 hour, 6 min.

In 2021, Little Simz released her fourth studio album, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert – what followed was a realization from the world that she has been one of the best rappers in the world for nearly a decade. Her sharp lyrical ability and outstanding delivery have allowed her to continuously craft some of the best works the 2010’s has to offer, yet S.I.M.B.I. is a completely different beast. Simz somehow managed to level up her songwriting ability, reflecting deeply on her femininity, familiar trauma and most of all, her introversion. What resulted is an album that would sit at the top of almost any artist’s discography.

The album opens with “Introvert,” and it immediately makes a statement before Simz even says a word. With that sort of title, it’s hard not to expect a lowkey beat to mirror the introversion. Yet, instead we are met with bombastic drums and horns, almost like a war cry then matched with her vocals, sounding as bold as ever.

It’s hard not to be in awe of the strength that radiates from a track that really showcases the impacts of her introversion, as she manages to also depict the comfort she’s found in it – and how she actually draws power from it. It’s rare to find an introduction better than this one, as few songs really seem to fully encapsulate the essence of an album like it does.

As S.I.M.B.I. carries on, it refuses to lose the momentum that began on “Introvert”. While the energy may not always be on that level, the songwriting refuses to fall below the impossibly high standard set. Tracks such as “I Love You, I Hate You” and “Little Q, Pt. 2” see Simz as introspective as ever as she looks inwards on her experiences growing up. However, the 10th track introduces us to the arguable apex of her career.

Listening to “I See You” reminds me of the greatest romantic poets to grace this Earth. However, the likes of Keats have you suspending your disbelief to capture the extraordinary emotions of love; Simz takes the polar opposite route. The song explores the mundane, realistic and day-to-day workings of true love, and portrays the way it works in the most honest way somebody can. She immediately asks the person to take her as she is and overlook all of her mistakes. She continues on with a flurry of gorgeous lines, asking her love to help her through her pain, to grow with her and to simply be with her.

In a passing line Simz raps:

“Know I like my time alone but still don’t wanna be lonely”

…and I can’t give her enough props for centering her introversion in the context of a relationship and how it can impact one in just a singular line. The entire song is a deep dive into love, yet the song never oversells it. “I See You” shows the struggles of a relationship and how everyone’s flaws can impact it; yet, it doesn’t hide from the fact that if two people can work through and accept the other’s imperfections, they will reap the benefits of beautiful companionship.

Just three tracks after “I See You”, we hear Simz really diving into the comfort she takes in isolation. Yet, instead of showing off the audacious energy of “Introvert”, she tries a vastly different sound. Inflo produces a beat that is an absolute blast. It’s funky and soothing, and she decides to bless the beat by testing out her singing voice. The variety of sounds on this record is a treat, and this song is the perfect example. Simz sounds heavenly, despite the darker topics she addresses on this track. She really delves into how she finds comfort in her loneliness and how she would rather be away from everyone. “Protect My Energy” seems generally renowned as an upbeat track, which is just to a testament the musical abilities of Inflo and Little Simz – they turned a near-depressing song into a bop.

The rest of the album maintains the mind-blowing quality that started from the very beginning. It’s absolutely brimming with originality, honesty and just pure talent. I don’t think I can ever oversell just how incredible of an album S.I.M.B.I. is. In an era where certain artists seem to lose their authenticity, Simz refuses to follow this trend.

Her music is a direct reflection of her reality, and very few people can make the reflection as beautiful and vivid as she can. If you have yet to hear this record, I can’t encourage you enough to sit down and listen to it front to back; it truly is brilliant.

Write-up By Isiah C.

Off the Strength – Cookin Soul & Lord Apex

2022Boom Bap29 min.

I can’t keep up with Cookin Soul anymore. Those guys right there are one of my favorite production minds out, but it feels like they have something new released every time I check their page – and I mean that in the best way possible.

It was inevitable that I caught up with their content from this year, and when Off the Strength was recommended to me, I knew I had to dive in.

U.K. rapper Lord Apex – who owns the mic on this record – is a special kind of emcee. He mixes the unorthodox nature of an MF DOOM or Quasimoto (the latter of which inspired his stage name) with the high-energy, hardcore style of his local origin. The result? A gritty yet left-field delivery that unsurprisingly melts into Cookin Soul’s colorful production with ease.

Lead single “The Bullshit” draws you in pretty immediately; it’s absolutely one of the best tracks all year. From the eerie hook to shadowy instrumental, you’d think it dropped on Halloween. Regardless of seasonal ties, though, this is the perfect soundtrack to any golden age hip-hop fan’s day.

It’s almost mesmerizing how smooth each track is, to the point where it took me a couple listens to pick out some differentiated favorites. But repetition can be your best friend in music, and it eventually occurred to me that not only are these all some of Cookin Soul’s best beats, but Apex failed to settle for a moment of dullness.

Whether it’s the hard-hitting “Wagwan Dog“, jazzy “Like You“, or trap-influenced “M.I.M.S.“, variation defines Off the Strength. This is a valuable asset for a short project, as it manages to avoid the lack of development or character that can naturally attach to that.

The U.K. hip-hop scene remains gravely underrated, and these sort of collaborations are the key to their expansion and appreciation from American audiences. Cookin Soul, despite their Spanish origin, have an enormous following in the U.S. – hopefully Lord Apex can slither his way into that territory too, because he has the enticement.