Murs – Have A Nice Life Review

Album Specs

Tracks/Length: 14 tracks, 47 minutes (+2 bonus tracks, “The Strangest” and “Fun-eral”)

Notable Guest Appearances: MDNR (“No More Control”), King Fantastic (“Two Step”), E-40 (“PTSD”), Slug of Atmosphere (“Fun-eral”)

Album Genre/Tone: Hip-Hop, serious topics and positive tones both approached with humor, great variety in instrumentals

Lead Single: “Okey Dog”

Purchase album at Strange Music.

 


Review Scale:

The mythical A+: Pretty much the best eargasm you’ve ever experienced. This is the album you will be listening to when you are sixty and your grandchildren will be judging you for.

A: All you need to appreciate this album is two ears connected to a heart. Whether it’s the deeper message, the prolific beats or memorable lyrics, everybody should be listening to this record.

B: If you like the genre, then you will love this album. You might keep it on repeat for a month, but it will eventually find itself in the bowels of your shuffle list. Hardcore fans of the artist will disagree with this rating, but it can be considered more niche than universally acceptable.

C: There are a solid tracks, but it’s really only worth a few rotations as a complete package. Those not into the genre probably shouldn’t even bother. It’s the musical equivalent of a sad handjob.

DThis album fails, in most aspects, to make a good or lasting impression. However, some out there might find joy in it, if even for only a few songs. 

F: The only thing this album is good for is to make your ears bleed. You should steal every copy of this album and throw them all into a fire for a sacrifice ceremony meant to disband the demons living in the CD. And I say steal because it is obviously not worth the money. Or it would make a great gift for your enemies.


 

History Behind the Album

Perhaps one of the most important things to realize about this album is that it is Murs’ first album under the Strange Music label. Murs’ journey with Strange Music began between 2006 and 2007 when Murs invited the Strange Music crew to perform with him at the “Paid Dues” festival. Little did he know, this event would create valuable partnerships for him. Tech N9ne and the rest of the crew recognized the respect Murs had for Strange Music and Hip-Hop – as well as his skill – and proceeded to fly him out to meet the whole Strange Music crew. Murs was later asked to join Tech on a major tour he was preparing to journey on as sign of mutual respect. Murs recognized the mutual appreciation and had never experienced a true partnership like this throughout his career. After breaking bread with the Strange Music family and turning down a separate, more visible tour, Murs’ journey down the strange road official began. Although Murs did not officially sign with Strange Music until February 2, 2014, the connection was always there.

murs better call saul

With this album in particular, it was vital for Murs to make it was self-reflective as possible. With the label approving Murs to have creative control with his album, the rest began to fall into place. The first step to achieving this goal was asking his old homie, “Jessie,” to produce his album and take the album’s sound as close to Murs’ roots as possible. Murs aimed to have this album speak to him personally. Throughout his career, he has had songs which highlight his personal sound; however, none like Have a Nice Life. Murs saw this album as a new start to his career, a new beginning, and a fresh chance to put himself in an album. During an interview with HotNewHipHop, Murs speaks upon his new album by stating, “Basically the duality of the term Have A Nice Life is, it could be a nice way of just wishing someone the best, or it could be a nice way of saying ‘Fuck outta my face’ without saying it. It’s something I’ve used with the police often, and people who fuck up my order at Chick Fil A.” He continued by explained “It’s just me, it’s who I am.” With little press showcasing Strange Music’s addition of Murs’, the album as a whole did not receiving major attention, only being announced just over a month before its release. Murs officially announced his new album on April 14, 2015, and proceeded to drop on May 19, 2015.


What You’re in For

While Murs has made a name for himself throughout the years, most of his career has been spent creating music with others. Whether it’s being part of a group of lyricists (Living Legends, 3 Melancholy Gypsies, The White Mandingos, ¡Mayday!), a single artist (Slug from Atmosphere, Fashawn, Terrace Martin) or his well-chronicled masterpieces with producer 9th Wonder, Murs has not had the opportunity to put out his own sound since his major label debut, MURS for President. Murs hasn’t really been censored or boxed in when it comes to what defines him, but Have A Nice Life is a byproduct of his twenty year career forged in struggle, love and heartbreak.

black lives matter

Most artists go for a specific theme or genre when it comes to a concept record, but this album has so much variety that you there is something for everybody on it. Instead of letting the songs define the type of music on the record, the man that Murs is defines the content of his songs. You can expect social and political commentary, but it’s not the familiar rage that has permeated its way onto most Hip-Hop tracks. The album’s leading single “Okey Dog” is a fresh take on a similar concept, giving kids a way to still show strength without succumbing to the pitfalls of gang violence. Murs comes across like your cool uncle who tries to school you on how to be a man as opposed to the angsty raptivist who wants to burn the world down.

okey dog

While heavy topics like gang violence and death are discussed (“I Miss Mikey,” “No More Control,” “Woke Up Dead”), the majority of the record is spent on talking about love (“Mi Corazon” is a bi-lingual masterpiece that takes listeners back to their first love) and just… growing old and happy (“Pussy & Pizza”). Some of the songs come across as flat and not very memorable, but it doesn’t derail the experience of the album. Each track can be enjoyed separately (thank you, mp3 players), as the album isn’t really a cohesive experience. It almost feels like 14 tracks that were released separately instead of being created with a singular entity in mind.

okey dog old man

One of my favorite aspects about Murs is that, like Slug of Atmosphere, everything he says is clear and concise, making it easier for listeners to connect to the music instead of spending time trying to figure out what he’s saying. The rhyme schemes are very straight-forward; there isn’t much figurative language to his lyrics, but his strength has always been powerful statements and poetic story-telling. However, with no track lasting over four minutes, it’s to be expected that most of the album’s moments would come from the musical arrangement of the album as opposed to complex concepts.


Songs On Repeat

“P.T.S.D.” featuring E-40


Candy Bars: “You really think you know how my people live?/You think you down because you know who Deebo is?/PTSD on my emo shit/Deep down in my heart, where the evil lives.”

During an interview, Murs speaks about his past, and growing up in a rough neighborhood stating how a majority of the time, he feared for his life. Murs mentions how Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is something not often spoken about in the black community, because traumatic events are both expected and frequent. Using his own experiences, Murs hopes to reach a wide base with his message.

“No More Control” featuring MNDR


Candy Bars: “If black lives matter, then black lives matter/And the color of the killer shouldn’t even be a factor.”

Murs created this song with the purpose to inspire people to seek change in the black community as well as within the Hip-Hop community. During a press release for the album, Murs states, “’No More Control’ is about not letting the media or powers that be control us or guide us into thinking that the problem is anything other than violence.”

“Black Girls Be Like”


Candy Bars: “Black girls gotta know their worth/And every black girl gotta know this verse.”

The subject matter and vibe of this song are completely not what I expected. Murs LOVES writing songs about girls, and unless they’re romantic, they aren’t usually endearing. However, this breakdancing-inspired sound is an ode to black women and is as empowering as it is dope. It’s genius, because instead of coming across as sappy, “Black Girls Be Like” is an instant B-Boy classic with an amazing message!

“I Miss Mikey”


Candy Bars: “Wanna escape the path that you’re on?/Erasing the pain by waving a wand/Some roll a J, some hit the bong/I let the beat play, then I make a song.”

The loss of Eyedea and Ability rapper Mike Larsen in 2010 hit the Hip-Hop world hard, especially those connected to the Rhymesayers family. Murs’ lament to Eyedea is a wonderfully honest complement to Atmosphere’s “Flicker” off the Southsiders record last year that broadens the sentiment to dealing with the regular loss of his friends.


The Quick and Dirty

Grade: B+

murs have a nice life 01

Have A Nice Life may not refine Hip-Hop, but it defines the man that Murs has become throughout the years. He’s never been about gang-banging, selling drugs or degrading women, but now his voices against them sound more like a sage’s wisdom than a big brother’s nagging. Murs’ debut with Strange Music is 100% Murs and that’s best for all of us.

Written by Sherif Elkhatib and Evan Lowe

Reptar – Lurid Glow Review

Album Specs

Tracks/Length: 10 tracks, 40:59

Album Genre/Tone: Nerdtastic-Indie-Electronic-Guitar-Space-Jungle-Pop

Lead Single: “Ice Black Sand”

Purchase on Joyful Noise Recordings website.

Review Scale:

The mythical A+: Pretty much the best eargasm you’ve ever experienced. This is the album you will be listening to when you are sixty and your grandchildren will be judging you for.

A: All you need to appreciate this album is two ears connected to a heart. Whether it’s the deeper message, the prolific beats or memorable lyrics, everybody should be listening to this record.

B: If you like the genre, then you will love this album. You might keep it on repeat for a month, but it will eventually find itself in the bowels of your shuffle list. Hardcore fans of the artist will disagree with this rating, but it can be considered more niche than universally acceptable.

C: There are a solid tracks, but it’s really only worth a few rotations as a complete package. Those not into the genre probably shouldn’t even bother. It’s the musical equivalent of a sad handjob.

DThis album fails, in most aspects, to make a good or lasting impression. However, some out there might find joy in it, if even for only a few songs. 

F: The only thing this album is good for is to make your ears bleed. You should steal every copy of this album and throw them all into a fire for a sacrifice ceremony meant to disband the demons living in the CD. And I say steal because it is obviously not worth the money. Or it would make a great gift for your enemies.

 

History Behind the Album

Reptar is back with a craAaAzy new album that’s sure to have everybody talking. Lurid Glow displays the bands’ evolution from their last album, Body Faucet. While Body Faucet was a pop-party masterpiece, the band reportedly had some difficulties finding ways to capture aspects of their live performances in the studio. On Lurid Glow, the band appears to have figured it all out. In an interview featuring the Reptar dudes adventuring through the streets of Tallahassee, Ryan, Reptar’s bassist, took a moment to discuss the band’s song writing process on the new album; “I think one thing we did really well on this album as opposed to the last one, we tried to focus more on like one particular cool thing, letting it have it’s moment instead of having a bunch of different things going on that are all really cool.”

Reptar has been teasing us for a little while now by releasing tracks from Lurid Glow such as “Ice Black Sand” and “Cable.” Lurid Glow will be the second full-length album released by the Athens, GA party brigade, Reptar and will be available March 31st.

 

What You’re in For

What to expect from Reptar??? Don’t EXPECT anything from Reptar. Instead, let Reptar surprise you as they always do.

As always, it’s difficult to describe Reptar’s unique sounds. They’ve been described as Afro-Pop and Nerd-rock, among numerous other attempts at classifying them into a specific genre. Why do we need to figure out what they should be defined as anyway? Once Lurid Glow begins bouncing through your eardrums, all of these confining descriptors go out the window anyway. What can be said definitively about Lurid Glow is that Reptar has managed to capture the essence of their famously intense live shows while developing their studio sound farther than their previous outings. The album may be a bit darker than their previous album, however that’s not saying much. They have always had a light bouncy feel and Lurid Glow continues this trend. In fact, you should probably not listen to the newest album in a place where it is socially unacceptable to shake your rump, tap your feet, and maybe even break into full on dance moves. As the band has said in previous interviews, “This album is way darker than the last one, but we still like to party!” Graham still sounds like a crazy alien. The bass lines still bring the funky-funk. The keys are still taking us on a wild space trip. The drums still attack your face in a way that hurts so good. Their sound may have matured a bit, but they are still the fun-loving party crew that make us want to bust a move while calling a friend just to tell them we love them.

I’m not sure if it’s just the 90s nostalgia, but much of the new album brings to mind a psychedelic version of Baltimora’s “Tarzan Boy.” What does that have to do with the 90’s, you ask? Well, I’ve always associated that song with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Turtles in Time, a favorite movie of mine as a child. Anyway, back to Lurid Glow. Reptar’s sophomore album is absolutely filled with bouncy punching horn parts, which have been incorporated into their live shows since the release of their previous album. In fact, the horns towards the beginning of the song “Particle Board” seem to summarize the entire album, pushing you forward and bringing you back. Lurid Glow, as a whole, seems to do just this, pushing you forward and focusing in on a catchy riff and then unexpectedly pulling you out into the astral soundscape that Reptar has painted so well throughout the album. It’s a beautiful album that keeps you guessing throughout, from Graham’s guttural growls featured in the song “Cable” to the backup vocals in “Daily Season” that can only be described as a space-monk chant. Lurid Glow is littered with sweeping glimmering guitars, foot-stomping drums, and abrupt song endings. As the song “Amanda” illustrates, “I can be lots of things in different kinds of world,” the diverse musical influences are sure to keep you on your feet and offers a little sumthin-sumthin for all fans of the band, old and new.

Lurid Glow is a wild ride. Unplug those headphones, roll down your car windows, and call some friends to dance with because this is an album that needs to be shared. Just as Graham exclaims, “I want to know what all the fuss is about,” others will surely want to know what that magical mystical sound is all about once you crack open Lurid Glow.

Songs On Repeat

“Cable”

Call me crazy but this song has an almost Huey Lewis and the News feel to it. As with many other tracks on the new album, there are catchy horn riffs adding a whole new dynamic to Reptar songs. The song seems to drive you forward, always keeping you guessing and intrigued. Although this song was released a while before the rest of the album, I find myself continuously coming back to it again and again. You can feel the passion that is evident in Graham’s voice through his guttural growls and primal screams.

“Easier to Die”
As is often the case with Reptar songs, it can be a more difficult task to make out the lyrics to portions of their songs. I’m excited to sit down and really analyze the lyrics to this one because it’s such a fun and bouncy song with so many ear catching elements to it, yet the whole chorus is “It’s easier to die than live.” What up with that?! It’s a good tune that I’ve found myself coming back to again and again on these bright sunshiny days we’ve been having in Denver lately.

The Quick and Dirty

Grade: A

Reptar has put together another fun album full of the same sounds and feels that many of us have fallen in love with in the past. Lurid Glow is sure to catch the fancy of all fans, old and new, and have everyone up on their feet dancing. Their sound has definitely matured, however those sweet little innocent party guys are still behind the wheel. It’s one of those albums where something new catches your ear during every listen making it an album that will be able to stand up for quite some time. Grab a copy of Lurid Glow on March 31st and brace yourself for a journey through the most recent funky tunes jam-packed with eclectic influences and that special something only Reptar can deliver to your ear holes.

Thought of and written by Jake Mulhern

 

Lupe Fiasco – Tetsuo and Youth Review

Lupe Fiasco – Tetsuo & Youth Review

Album Specs

Tracks/Length: 16 tracks, 78:27

Notable Guest Appearances: Nikki Jean (“Little Death,” “No Scratches,” and “Madonna”), Guy Sebastian (“Blur My Hands”), Ab-Soul (“T.R.O.N.”)

Album Genre/Tone: Conscious rap, heavy on instrumentals and complex lyrics

Lead Single: Numerous songs that never made the album. Surprise! However, “Old School Love” was probably the most recognizable.

Purchase on Amazon.

 

Review Scale:

The mythical A+: Pretty much the best eargasm you’ve ever experienced. This is the album you will be listening to when you are sixty and your grandchildren will be judging you for.

A: All you need to appreciate this album is two ears connected to a heart. Whether it’s the deeper message, the prolific beats or memorable lyrics, everybody should be listening to this record.

B: If you like the genre, then you will love this album. You might keep it on repeat for a month, but it will eventually find itself in the bowels of your shuffle list. Hardcore fans of the artist will disagree with this rating, but it can be considered more niche than universally acceptable.

C: There are a solid tracks, but it’s really only worth a few rotations as a complete package. Those not into the genre probably shouldn’t even bother. It’s the musical equivalent of a sad handjob.

DThis album fails, in most aspects, to make a good or lasting impression. However, some out there might find joy in it, if even for only a few songs. 

F: The only thing this album is good for is to make your ears bleed. You should steal every copy of this album and throw them all into a fire for a sacrifice ceremony meant to disband the demons living in the CD. And I say steal because it is obviously not worth the money. Or it would make a great gift for your enemies.

 

History Behind the Album

Lupe Fiasco is no stranger to controversy. Through the last few years, various Twitter beefs (whether they were actually full of animosity or not) and off-putting political comments have made Lupe somewhat of an outcast in the Hip Hop community. Even us here at Hush, who have been Friends of the People since “Touch the Sky” were beginning to waver in our support for the Chicago artist after the years of oddity. Hell, we even put our The Cool-themed group tattoo on hold. Lupe had become bigger than the words he spit, but rather he became the voice of the people. That’s a heavy burden for anybody in their late 20’s (he is now 32) to carry, especially when he was having to fight his own label, Atlantic Records, to put out the same music that got him that acclaim in the first place.

The relationship Lupe had with Atlantic was a doomed one from the start. Inked in 2005, Lupe signed at a time when the era of pushing an artist to create quality albums was coming to a close – just before the explosion of independent artists, viral video A&R and the comeback of one-hit wonders would become norm for the industry. What followed were outcries of apathy and angst surrounded the release of the albums that followed The Cool, openly accepted as modern day classics in the Hip-Hop community for anybody with two ears connected to a brain. Lasers and The Great American Rap Album had some solid tracks that are still on rotation, but you could almost feel the heart soul that was missing from the records; plus, the depression of being enslaved to his record label, Atlantic Records, had begun to affect his passion for making music. It was like they took away his voice – and just left his Instrumental.

Fast forward to Tetsuo & Youth, the highly anticipated, and LAST album on Lupe’s contract. While the album has been shrouded in mystery (and nearly a year of release delays), Lupe has released upwards of ten tracks in steady of the delays – most notably of which, “Old School Love,” was a radio-made hit with blooming sensation Ed Sheeran. Strangely enough, none of these tracks compiled in the past year and some change made the cut. None of the features (Rick Ross, Big K.R.I.T., Chris Brown) made the album, either. Was this Lupe just reverting further into his shell or was he just starting from scratch? Lupe might be bruised from all his attacks, but in order to shut critics up, he needs to do it with his music, not through Twitter. I’m betting One Ring to Rule Them All that Lupe can get back to his super-lyrical roots and unabashed social commentary that made him beloved on his first album, close the gates of Mordor and return to the Shire with Tetsuo & Youth.

 

What You’re in For

After four studio albums and witnessing the rise and fall of Lupe Fiasco, Tetsuo & Youth may be the the most appropriate way for Lupe to break free of Atlantic Records and show the world what is to come. With Tetsuo & Youth being his fifth studio album, it is quite possible that Hip-Hop is seeing Lupe for who he truly wants to be as an artist. With his first two albums, I believe we saw the Lupe who wanted to enter Hip-Hop strong and produced track off of the life he knew. Contrasting to his first two albums, the next two appeared to be a Lupe who lost passion due to contract restraints which in turn forced a misrepresentation of character.  However, this album shows Lupe’s balance. Be wary though, this album is not for individuals looking for street jamz, protest music, or simple lyrics. Tetsuo & Youth is pretty much an entire album of “Dumb it Down”-esque songs. If you don’t like to think when listening to music, then this is not for you; however, do not let that deter you from the quality it offers.

Above all, the word that would describe Lupe on this album is “comfortable.” There is no more need for him to be the young kid he was, or the outspoken conscious rapper he came to be. He has matured and I believe is finally allowing fans to view his “art.” Tetsuo & Youth offers a mixture of street and conscious tracks like, “They.Resurrect.Over.New (TRON)” which speaks upon substance abuse, and “Prisoner 1&2,” a track that outlines the similarities of prisoners and guards – how they are both trapped. The soulful “Little Death” featuring long-time collaborator Nikki Jean is another reason that this album excels at being Lupe, while still offering something new to long-time fans. The album is not without its missteps, though, as the lead single (of songs that actually made the album) “Deliver” takes a promising concept and makes it all too literal, which can be hard to take seriously. Also, the group track “Chopper” is nearly nine minutes of entirely forgettable and misplaced features with artists that do not deserve to share a track with Lupe; what happened to All-City Chess Club (Asher Roth, B.o.B, The Cool Kids, Blu, J. Cole and others)?

Overall, the theme of Tetsuo seasons plays very well into the flow of the album, with the songs getting progressively “darker,” before getting more and more hopeful towards the tail-end tracks. Tetsuoa & Youth is the most complex and complete records that I have heard in years, and the fact that there is a whole other (FREE!) mixtape full of other tracks that did not make the album make this a subtle win for fans everywhere. After announcing that “ATLANTIC RECORDS won’t release the album until they get a ‘pop’ single” on his Instagram, it’s clear here that Lupe Fiasco is getting the last laugh with the record label that has tried to stunt his growth for years as he releases an album with no discernible “pop song” to fulfill their quota. Maybe Atlantic is tired of the struggle, or perhaps Lupe has pulled the wool over Atlantic’s eyes and has not yet seen the fallout from his actions; either way, the risk was worth it.

Songs On Repeat

“Blur My Hands” featuring Guy Sebastian

Lyrics to Go: “Were you just being polite with your hands?/And it really means I’m number one, and you’re a fan/Well that’s cool, cause I think you’re number one too”

If you don’t analyze the lyrics in this track, there is a good chance the whole concept will go over your head. However, once you understand exactly what Lupe is saying, the creativity is pure genius. This could be the greatest anti-hater track since “Dirt Off Your Shoulders.” To put a positive spin on the negativity and ill-will Lupe Fiasco gets (and let’s be honest, he gets a LOT), Lu imagines that all those middle fingers sent his way are just a unique way of telling him that he is number one? All of the middle fingers Lupe received, both literal and metaphorical, this whole time were they really just another way of saying, “Hey Lupe, you are number one, man!”

 

“Dots and Lines”

Lyrics to Go: “And your reflection is your connection to more collections of more directions and paths/If your reflection is a mask, then you’re reflective of mass”

Did you think Lupe Fiasco’s dislike for Atlantic Records had piqued? You would be wrong. Although many of his tracks focus on Atlantic, “Dots & Lines” may be the most telling. This song is a warning to future artists looking to find a record deal. The track explains how Lupe wishes he wouldn’t have signed the contract which took away half the person he is, and how he is counting down the days until he once again becomes an independent artist. Witnessing Lupe lose some of his creative freedom throughout his career has hurt both himself and his fans. It’s hard to listen to his second studio album, The Cool, and then his third studio album, Lasers, and believe they came from the same mind. The technical rhyme scheme and intricacy wasn’t apparent anymore. Yet, this has all changed after hearing this album. In order to understand “Dots & Lines,” you have to have a basic knowledge of mathematics. That’s how you know you’re listening to a Lupe Fiasco song – when you have to explain his lyrics using trigonometry. It’s obvious Lupe Fiasco covets nothing more than to be free of his contract, and if he plans to continue to make songs like these, then I hope he never signs another contract again.

 

“They.Resurrect.Over.New” featuring Ab-Soul & Tori

Lyrics to Go: “Medusa in the go/’Fore Versace turned words in to turquoise/Medusa turned coke into stone/With a hand on her thigh, she looked me in the eye and said/Proceed to the next level”

Only Lupe can create an entire song about drug use and have you so confused you think the song is about video games. If Eminem is a Rap God, that would make Lupe Fiasco Galileo. Only Lupe will make you want to sit down and read his lyrics just to try to understand what is happening. In case you were wondering, that is exactly what happened with, “They.Resurrect.Over.New (T.R.O.N.).” This is perhaps the most beautiful way to see the combination of “street” Lupe, and “activist” Lupe.  This song shows you that gritty side of the streets through a poets tongue. “TRON”  is Lupe demonstrating the artist he truly is. I believe with songs such as theses, we are witnessing the artist Lupe wants to be. Whether you see this song being about substance abuse or gateway drugs or how to proceed to the next level in Tron, this song will blow (haaa… get it?) your mind.

 

The Quick and Dirty

Grade: B

Most Hip Hop artists get credit for making this rap thing look easier; well, Lupe Fiasco gets credit for making rapping look very, very difficult. The rhyme scheme Lupe uses is most like a lyrical jigsaw puzzle, one that takes hours of attention to even hint at seeing the bigger picture. Tetsuo & Youth is not just an intellectually superior album, but one that musically complements the analytical style of rhymes that can be a little hard to digest at times. The beauty of each track’s instrumentals, coupled with the overall uplifting tone of the album, gives off the impression that Wasalu Jaco is finally at a place where he wants to be. Regardless of his troubles on social media, he has at least found peace on the mic, and the result is gorgeous.

Written by Sherif Elkhatib and Evan Lowe

 

Welcome to Night Vale Presents “The Librarian” at Denver Paramount Theatre

Note: There are a few references made in this article and they are starred so as to not confuse you, dear listeners.*

Podcasts and Radio Dramas are, at least typically, an audio experience. Yes, there are pictures of the cast online and a few videos here and there of them speaking at panels, but for the most part, what you hear is what you get. Welcome to Night Vale, once again, breaks this mold. They are currently on their third tour, presenting their live show “The Librarian” to fans across Canada and the U.S. . I was one such lucky fan this weekend to see what I had only ever heard, come to life.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a “Respect My Craft” article on the company that puts on Welcome to Night Vale, Commonplace Books. If you have never heard of Welcome to Night Vale before, you read a detailed explanation of what exactly this bizarre show is all about there. I suggest you do, or the article that follows will make very little sense to you… It is likely this article will still make very little sense to you, but there is much in Night Vale that makes no sense anyway. That’s half the fun of it.

The night started off with hundreds of fans lined up outside the venue, many of which were cosplaying as their favorite characters, myself included. Meeting other “Night Vale Citizens” was half the fun of the night. Photos were taken, skits were acted out, and as a Glow Cloud cosplayer walked down the line, a large chanting of “ALL HAIL THE GLOW CLOUD”* broke out. Waiting in line wasn’t something of displeasure. Many fans had actually been looking forward to it because it gave them the opportunity to talk about the podcast with others who love it, something we don’t get to do very often. Welcome to Night Vale is very successful, but it still has somewhat of a cult following.

When allowed into the theatre, fan communication continued. All of us were giddy at the thought of seeing our idols and putting living, breathing faces to the voices we were so in awe of. Fans lingered in the lobby of the Paramount Theatre to chat and take photos before filing into the theatre and taking their assigned seats, many of us bouncing where we sat out of excitement.

The show began with Meg Bashwiner thanking us for coming and laying down a few ground rules for the performance. She did this with a great amount of wit and poise. Firstly, she invited us to take as many photos of the performance as we wished, but asked that we not record audio or video. She explained that the cast and crew wanted everyone on the tour to experience the show in the same way we would. Meg went on to say that the live show would be released later online for purchase, as the last live shows had been. Meg also asked us to silence our cellphones and to not take photos in a way that would hinder the performers as well as the audience. If any of us were to do this, the audience would “think unkind but not untrue thoughts about you,” Meg told us. That being said, she invited musical guest Eliza Rickman to the stage.

Welcome to Night Vale Presents “The Librarian” at Denver Paramount Theatre

Eliza walked out in a stunning, light pink dress and took a seat in front of her toy piano on which she began her set with “Devil’s Flesh and Bone.” There were a variety of instruments used during Eliza’s set such as a metronome, a miniature xylophone, an autoharp, and a wind up music player. Her sound is haunting and reminiscent of the Victorian Era as well as the modern Steampunk genre. Eliza was absolutely wonderful to watch and listen to. She was sweet, funny, and whimsical as she performed and talked to us. Eliza invited us to take video of her performance only, as she wanted more videos of her performing on the internet. Other songs played included previous weather song “Pretty Little Head”, “Start With Goodbye, End With Hello” and “Foot Soldiers” featuring Joseph Fink, Jeffrey Cranor, Meg Bashwiner, and Marisa Blankier on noisemakers. She later returned to the stage during The Weather and played “Fools Rush In.” I bought her album afterwards and have since been listening to it nonstop.

She also promoted her Kickstarter for her new double album release, which you can find and donate to here. If fully funded, she will be releasing not only her second album, but a much requested cover song album. As of July 22nd, she is 74% funded with $16,325 of her $22,000 goal. Her Kickstarter ends on July 30th and there are a lot of great perks to those who donate. I myself donated $20, which will get me access to a live streaming event, a digital download of both the second album and covers album, and exclusive backer tracks including the insanely popular B-side “Foot Soldiers”. Unfortunately, Eliza will only get money to make her album if she reaches her goal in time, so donate today! After Eliza’s set, Meg Bashwiner returned to the stage to introduce Cecil Baldwin. The screams that followed were deafening. For a brief moment, I could not tell whether I was at a theatrical performance or a rock concert. Cecil opened the show in the same way he does the podcast with a quirky statement followed by “Welcome to Night Vale,” at which point more screams filled the air. Welcome to Night Vale Presents “The Librarian” at Denver Paramount Theatre

 

Without spoiling too much, I can tell you that the live show took place before Episode 46 Parade Day and included Cecil Baldwin as Cecil Palmer, Meg Bashwiner as Deb and herself i.e. The Proverb Lady, Hal Lubin as Steve Carlsberg, Dylan Marron as Carlos, and Symphony Sanders as Tamika Flynn. While the performance included scripts, the actors were far from just standing there and reading. They seemed to be leap from the stage, larger somehow and thrilling to watch. More was revealed about the Night Vale library and it’s librarians which are vicious and not to be approached.* The show also had a great deal of audience participation such as screaming when directed and sharing eye contact for several uninterrupted seconds with those who did not accompany us. The writers definitely wrote this particular show with the fans in mind. Anyone who ships Cecilos (Cecil Palmer and Carlos) will be very happy with this performance.

Dylan Marron and Cecil Baldwin had great chemistry on stage together and made me laugh harder than I have in a long time. Hal Lubin was hysterical as Steve and played extremely well off of Cecil Palmer’s distaste for him. Symphony Sanders was inspiring as the avid-reader and revolutionary leading Tamika Flynn, who made the point that books are powerful and also heavy.* Each cast member brought their own key parts to the performance that had me completely transfixed. There was no set or even a backdrop, but watching them I was plopped right down in Night Vale, the radio station’s tower blinking on and off in the distance.

Listening to a typical Welcome to Night Vale episode is a very solitary activity. When I listen, I lay in bed and stare at the stationary WTNV poster on my wall. The only one laughing or trembling with fear, is myself. “The Librarian” was a very different experience. Sharing it with others made every reaction I had to the story that much bigger and I felt at home with my fellow “Night Vale Citizens.” I knew Cecil Baldwin was an amazing actor, but I was not fully prepared to see him play my favorite character in real life. He is extremely expressive while he performs. Where once there was just a voice, suddenly there were emphatic expressions and movements. The switch from stoic radio host, to giddy boyfriend, to terrified citizen is so much more drastic on stage than over my iPhone speakers, and it was pretty drastic to begin with. It was frankly bizarre (in the best possible, Night Valean way) that I knew the voice I was hearing so well but had never actually seen the actor behind it perform. It was like reuniting with an old friend who I’d never actually met.

Those who stuck around after the show had the opportunity to meet and take pictures with the cast and writers. Everyone was extremely courteous, talking with fans and staying until the last audience members left the venue. Being able to meet them was very special for me, personally. About a year ago, I nearly gave up on my writing. I was too afraid of failing to continue studying it. A friend of mine introduced me to “Welcome to Night Vale” and the weird, little desert town inspired me. Here were people who dealt with the terrifying on a day to day basis, yet they lived their lives as if these things were mundane. They pushed on. If Night Vale could face death and carnage as periodically as they did on the show, I could take on the frightening things in my own life. I told both writers Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor that if it weren’t for Welcome to Night Vale, I probably would have given into my fear and abandoned my writing; that Welcome to Night Vale inspired me to embrace what scares me. In response Joseph told me, “I had a lot of artists do that for me, so I’m glad we could do that for you.”

Welcome to Night Vale’s last stop on their tour is San Diego Comic Con July 24th-27th. For those of you who will be attending the convention, Joseph Fink, Jeffrey Cranor and Cecil Baldwin will be signing autographs Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 2:30pm to 5:30pm and Sunday from 1:30pm to 3:00 at autograph area booth 12.   On Thursday, July 24th at 12pm they will have a panel at The Geek and Sundry Lounge (located at Jolt’n Joes, 379 4th Avenue, Gaslamp District). This is a no badge required event so if you’re in the area that weekend, this is a panel you definitely want to check out. It will be moderated by Meg Bashwiner and will include Joseph Fink, Jeffrey Cranor, Cecil Baldwin, Dylan Marron, Jasika Nicole (Dana), and Hal Lubin. Welcome to Night Vale will also be performing a crossover show with The Thrilling Adventure Hour on Saturday, July 26th at 8pm at he Spreckels Theatre in San Diego. This also does not require a convention badge and promises to be an amazing performance. Tickets are on sale now.

Welcome to Night Vale also just announced that they will be going on a European Tour starting October 17th in Dublin and ending November 6th in Berlin. Tickets for those shows are on sale now.

*Today’s proverb: Ask not what your country can do for you, but where you will hide when your country eventually decides what it’s going to do to you.

Above: Fans chant as Kevin cosplayer tries to promote Strexcorp in the background.

Photos and videos courtesy of Charlotte Renken.

The Fault in Our Stars Soundtrack Review

Album Specs

Tracks/Length: 16 tracks, 61 minutes

Notable Guest Appearances: Birdy, Ed Sheeran

Album Genre/Tone: Soundtrack to the film. Think Summer love, loss, and freedom – with one Swedish rap song thrown in.

Lead Single:  “All of the Stars”by Ed Sheeran

 

Review Scale:

The mythical A+: Pretty much the best eargasm you’ve ever experienced. This is the album you will be listening to when you are sixty and your grandchildren will be judging you for.

A: All you need to appreciate this album is two ears connected to a heart. Whether it’s the deeper message, the prolific beats or memorable lyrics, everybody should be listening to this record.

B: If you like the genre, then you will love this album. You might keep it on repeat for a month, but it will eventually find itself in the bowels of your shuffle list. Hardcore fans of the artist will disagree with this rating, but it can be considered more niche than universally enjoyable.

C: There are a solid tracks, but it’s really only worth a few rotations as a complete package. Those not into the genre probably shouldn’t even bother. It’s the musical equivalent of a sad handjob.

DThis album fails, in most aspects, to make a good or lasting impression. However, some out there might find joy in it, if even for only a few songs. 

F: The only thing this album is good for is to make your ears bleed. You should steal every copy of this album and throw them all into a fire for a sacrifice ceremony meant to disband the demons living in the CD. And I say steal because it is obviously not worth the money. Or it would make a great gift for your enemies.

 

History Behind the Album

Based on the New York Times Best Selling novel, so far the film The Fault in Our Stars has gained wild success, earning $48,200,000 as of June 8th and $26.1 million opening day, beating out Tom Cruise’s Edge of Tomorrow ($10.7 million) and even fellow Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort’s Divergent ($22.8 million). Rolling Stone Magazine called it “a fresh, lively love story, brimming with humor and heartbreak”. The soundtrack to the film has had similar success. As of June 8th, it has the number one spot on iTunes with “Boom Clap” by Charli XCX landing at number seven on the Top Singles list.

If you’re interested in seeing the movie, check out my review here.

What You’re in For

Compiled mostly of singer-song writer and alternative pop tracks, this album sings Summer, a tone which is appropriate given the film’s June release date, and bounces back and forth between feel good and somber. The album contains fifteen tracks plus a bonus track by Birdy and Jaymes Young. Speaking of Birdy, she is all over this album with three songs “Tee Shirt,” “Not About Angels,” and “Best Shot.” She was also asked to perform for the film’s pre-debut showing “The Night Before Our Stars,” where she played “Not About Angels” solo on piano.

While I’ve been playing all of these songs on repeat since the album was released, my favorite has got to be “Bomfelleralla” by Afasi & Filthy. The Swedish odd one out of the album, it’s upbeat, take-on-the-world feel has gotten me out of many-a-funk. The song feels out of place until you see the film and realize it is played by the character Van Houten during a conversation with Hazel and Augustus.

One of the few critiques I have of the album is that a few songs were left out of it. One thing that is particularly surprising is that it doesn’t include the score of the film, which is sparse but just as good. OneRepublic’s “If That’s What You Wanted” can be heard in the trailer, but is nowhere on the album nor in the film. There is one song sung by Issac (or rather screamed by Issac) whilst in an emotional meltdown, “Rules” by Nat & Alex Wolff, that I also would have liked to see in the soundtrack; however, the song was not released until after the soundtrack dropped.

I also wish Hank Green, who is author John Green’s brother, had been somehow included on the album. Hank is a singer-songwriter who primarily write songs about Harry Potter and nerd culture. He is one half of the YouTube channel “The Vlogbrothers” whose fans have been a huge part of “The Fault in Our Stars” since the before its publication. Having Hank on this album might not have fit the tone quite as much, but seeing as he was so much a part of the culture that grew around the book, it seemed appropriate. You can check out Hank’s music here.

 

Songs On Repeat

“Long Way Down” by Tom Odell

Lyrics to Go: ” Walking on the rooftops/Talking of times/With our eyes a glowing/Like the city lights/She stands on the ledge/She says, ‘it looks so high

When it comes to the film, this song expresses not only the love story between Hazel and Augustus but also explains a lot of the other themes and relationships in the film. Cancer, love, pain, life; it’s a long, hard journey. You need the people you love and connect with most to get through it. The problem is Hazel and Augustus’time in this world is precarious. Losing either of them would make their loved ones feel like the world has dropped out from under them and they’d fall a long time before being able to get up again.

This can also be seen in the relationship between Hazel and her parents. At one point *SPOILER* Hazel’s mother painfully expresses that if her daughter were to die, she wouldn’t be a mother anymore and it is something that lays heavily on Hazel heart throughout the novel.

 

“Boom Clap” by Charli XCX

Lyrics to Go: ” You’re picture perfect blue/Sunbathing on the moon/Stars shining as your bones illuminate/First kiss just like a drug/Under your influence/ You take me over you’re the magic in my veins/ This must be love”    

This song is just genuinely good to jam to. I’ll admit to jumping around my bedroom dancing with this blaring in the background. It’s definitely the happiest track on the album and juxtaposes nicely against the singer-songwriter tunes. It celebrates the giddiness the comes with love and is paired well with a scene in which Hazel and Gus’s plane touches down in Amsterdam. They’re incredibly excited, hearts beating fast as the song suggests. Having this new place to explore and meet their idol in makes them feel alive; something they haven’t felt in a long time.

 

“Bomfalleralla” by Afasi & Filthy

Lyrics to Go:  (Translated from Swedish) “I expose my chest, must you have time to gore me/ So come on and fight back before you change your mind/ Chew through the aorta/ That transports oxygen for the whole worlds god damn reality TV”

As Van Houten points out during the film, not knowing Swedish shouldn’t keep you from enjoying this song. It’s got a great beat and while it sticks out from the rest of the songs on the album, it’s just as good. It’s the only rap song in the mix as well as the only song not in English. It can be loosely connected to Hazel’s feeling of being a grenade. One day she will die and it will be like a bomb exploded, making her feel like it’s her responsibility to minimize the casualties.

 

“Not About Angels” by Birdy

Lyrics to Go:  “We know full well there’s just time/So is it wrong to toss this line?/If your heart was full of love/Could you give it up?/’Cause what about, what about angels?/They will come, they will go, make us special”

 

To me, this is Hazel’s song. She refuses to romanticize her illness. She understands that she is dying and there is very little she can do about it. She is frustrated that this is the life she has to live, but she is very much a realist. The last line in this song, “It’s not about angels,”really sums up Hazel’s feelings and how people treat both her and her cancer. She’s tired of everyone trying to find a way around it and the only reason she even continues treatment is to make her parents happy. Her disease is not something to be fluffed up with prayers and false ideals of how long her life will be. It’s cancer. It hurts. She only has so much time left and she wishes people would accept that.

This song is hauntingly beautiful. It’s perfect for a rainy day and is able to make me both sad and certain. Birdy performed “Not About Angels”at “The Night Before Our Stars”the day before the film was released. Upon completion, Shailene Woodley (Hazel) could not answer questions for several minutes because she was so overcome with tears.

 

The Quick and Dirty

Grade: A

This album is definitely one you want in your music library this Summer whether or not you’ve seen the movie. It is full of songs either to soothe your broken heart or get you jamming on a bright Summer day. It costs $11.99 on iTunes and is available everywhere CD’s are sold. It should be noted that only several songs are not available on iTunes unless you buy the whole album, which is totally worth it.

 

Atmosphere – Southsiders Review

Untitled

Album Specs

Tracks/Length: 15 tracks, 59 minutes (iTunes Deluxe version is 20 tracks, 77 minutes. TOTALLY worth it)

Notable Guest Appearances: No guest spots. Just a rapper and a DJ, being awesome

Album Genre/Tone: Basement style flow (very comfortable and personal), Overall cynical tone

Lead Single: “Bitter”

 

Review Scale:

The mythical A+: Pretty much the best eargasm you’ve ever experienced. This is the album you will be listening to when you are sixty and your grandchildren will be judging you for.

A: All you need to appreciate this album is two ears connected to a heart. Whether it’s the deeper message, the prolific beats or memorable lyrics, everybody should be listening to this record.

B: If you like the genre, then you will love this album. You might keep it on repeat for a month, but it will eventually find itself in the bowels of your shuffle list. Hardcore fans of the artist will disagree with this rating, but it can be considered more niche than universally enjoyable.

C: There are a solid tracks, but it’s really only worth a few rotations as a complete package. Those not into the genre probably shouldn’t even bother. It’s the musical equivalent of a sad handjob.

DThis album fails, in most aspects, to make a good or lasting impression. However, some out there might find joy in it, if even for only a few songs. 

F: The only thing this album is good for is to make your ears bleed. You should steal every copy of this album and throw them all into a fire for a sacrifice ceremony meant to disband the demons living in the CD. And I say steal because it is obviously not worth the money. Or it would make a great gift for your enemies.

 

History Behind the Album

Through the years, Atmosphere has garnered quite the cult following. From what started as high school friends laying tracks together has ended up filling up amphitheaters across the country. Together, rapper Sean Daley AKA Slug and DJ Anthony Davis  (not the eyebrow guy) AKA Ant, along with a couple other friends, founded Rhymesayers, a independent record label focused on making good music. Since opening their doors in 1995, Rhymesayers has been home to Hip-Hop underground royalty like Brother Ali, Aesop Rock, Evidence and Eyedea & Abilities. Rhymesayers artists are heralded for the way they relate to the masses. Atmosphere notably does this by bringing our most common disgraces and embarrassments and celebrating them in a way that makes listeners feel like they are not alone in these dark feelings.

For almost two decades, Slug and Ant have released great music, improving technique with each release. I first got into Atmosphere with their 2008 release When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold. I bought it purely off of the name and nothing more; I can still remember picking up the Deluxe Edition, which came with a children’s story to summarize the tracks in the album. It was a true attestation to the hard work and detail that was put into each album. There were plenty of bars that made me laugh, ooh and ah, but they were portrayed in a way that never made you take for granted the fact that Slug was opening the door to the home of his scarred heart and letting you Rick James all over the couch with your shoes on; from alcoholism and drug abuse to relationships with women to just straight up having a shitty day, there’s an Atmosphere song for every mood.

Those close to Rhymesayers, or Hip-Hop news in general, can remember the tragic loss of fellow label-mate and Slugs close friend, Micheal Larsen (Eyedea), who passed away in 2010. The loss shook the whole Rhymesayers house, and has really changed the entire tone of Atmosphere’s music. The songs became tinged with cynicism, and an emphasis on the importance of family and where you come from. Even the album titles The Family Sign and Southsiders echo these tones. The “young and stupid” days of Atmosphere are over; there are no more waking up in “Glasshouses” or resentment towards LucySouthsiders is very much the product of the matured artists it comes from, and if you’ve been along for the ride so far, then this is just the next stop on the bus.

What You’re in For

Southsiders is the eighth studio release from Atmosphere; suffice to say, they’ve done this before. Ant brings back the beats and unique instrumentals, while Slug keeps the words flowing effortlessly over the beats. For the second record in a row, Atmosphere has recorded an album with live instrumentals, and it really pays off. I mean, Ant has always been a phenomenal producer, but using live instrumentals allows him to try out different beats that he has not before. With each track given such a unique flavor, there’s a wide range of sounds that come across on Southsiders, and not all of them will impress the same way with the same people.

While Ant’s production has always been the heart of Atmosphere, the real power of Southsiders is in the voice. The mellow bravado that Slug shows throughout the album is a testament to how comfortable he is while on the mic. Even the subject matter has been dialed up a notch, taking on subject matter from totalitarian fear-mongering on “The World Might Not Live Through Tonight” (“And put your hands up in the air like a drone/Now hold ’em over your head like your home got invaded by the FEDs”), social equality on “I Love You Like A Brother” (“Unless you slept a night in my nest/You shouldn’t waste your breath trying to criticize my mess”). Slug has become extremely comfortable letting fans into his life, and we’re all thankful for it.

Listening to Southsiders, it’s very apparent that they know this, too. In the words of Pharoahe Monch, Slug is a sadomasochist MC – he bites himself. There are about a dozen lines throughout the album that allude to an earlier piece of work from the duo (let us know how many you find!). It’s very rewarding to long-time fans to hear references to their earlier work. Slug’s strongest trait is that he can write songs like short stories. There is a clear point to every song; I never feel like Slug is rapping just to rap. It’s also worth noting that Slug enunciates everything he says, which is really helpful for fans who struggle keeping up with Hip-Hop’s fast-paced lyrics; word to Riley Freeman, maybe it’s because “white people say the whole word, like this.”

Slug’s mellow bravado could only be that of a veteran MC. He’s always been able to glide across Ant’s instrumentals, but he straight-up flies over the smooth sounds of Southsiders. This should be taken largely as a compliment to Slug’s intimacy with his fans, but pessimists can view it as a form of apathy. I see it as more of a reflection of the connection Atmosphere has built with their fans. Just because the fury that built “Bird Sings Why The Cage I Know” or the desperation that created “Pour Me Another” isn’t in the songs doesn’t mean that there isn’t just as much emotion in each bar on Southsiders. This album is a tribute to the house that love built, Southside Minneapolis and the Rhymesayers dynasty. It’s a legacy that Slug and Ant should be extremely proud of.

 

Songs On Repeat

**You can stream the entire album on Pandora. You lucky people, you.**

“Mrs. Interpret”

Lyrics to Go: “I could look you in the face for all time/And even if I fall blind I’ll still see you in my mind/You got the grace of a raven/It ain’t no misbehaving if I tell you that you’re the taste that I’m cravin’

This might seem like the obligatory love song at first, but “Mrs. Interpret” is a hilarious analogy to how dumb-struck men can get over a beautiful woman. Laced with the beautiful voice of a French girl on the hook, “Mrs. Interpret” eloquently explains how easy it is to get lost in the eyes of a loved one when they talk. The song is relatable and guaranteed to get yourself out of a fight with your significant other over whether or not you listen to them.  It has a playful ambiance, which is a welcome break from the darker tone of the rest of the album.

 

“Flicker”

Lyrics to Go: “Now I’m tryna write a song for a dead songwriter/That wrote they own songs about life and death/And every breath is full of self-awareness/Don’t ever be afraid to be embarrassed”

“Became,” the tale of how he lost a friend who became a “wolf” on The Family Sign, was thought to be an ode to late label-mate Micheal Larsen, AKA Eyedea. “Flicker” takes that concept even further, and doesn’t beat around the bush this time, and we get an uplifting anthem for the fallen MC, rivaling “Yesterday” in terms of earnestness. I can only hope that I get a eulogy of this magnitude. Although the concept is sorrowful, the light-hearted instrumentals of Ant and powerfully upbeat voice of Slug really gives Eyedea the celebrated exit he deserved. While “Became” was more for Sean, “Flicker” is for Micheal.

 

“My Lady Got Two Men”

Lyrics to Go: “My lady got two lovers/One for the funk and the other for the comfort/I’m trying to understand/But I gotta figure out which one I am”

Slug has a knack for telling 90% of a story, and then completing the art with the stroke of a pen at the end of the song. This song walks listeners through the battles of adult relationships – straddling the line between fun lover and man of the house. This is a phase that comes with growing up and, as their fan base grows older, so must their music mature. It’s also inspiring to see Slug’s personal development unfold; with no disrespect to Sean Daley, if he can go from “Trying to Find a Balance” to actually finding a balance, so can I.

 

The Quick and Dirty

Grade: B-

Slug and Ant are on their grown man shit on Southsiders. Atmosphere might not have the pep in their step that they used to, but that doesn’t mean that the message isn’t any less powerful. While Ant’s experimentation on the production side can be hit or miss with me, there are a few tracks that the beats alone warrant a spot in the all-time rotation. Fans of Atmosphere will recognize the beat and the movement, especially when Slug drops his own Easter Eggs over his own tracks, but there’s a distinct difference in the level of maturity that carries on through the album. It’s refreshing for a Hip-Hop album to show a mature stance on life, and Southsiders is an exemplification of where Atmosphere has taken their work, but I’m not sure it brings enough to the table for new fans to want to look back on the journey with us.

 

Pharoahe Monch – P.T.S.D. Review

Pharoahe Monch – P.T.S.D. (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) Review

Album Specs

Tracks/Length: 16 tracks, 47:35

Notable Guest Appearances: Talib Kweli (“D.R.E.A.M.S.”), Black Thought (“Rapid Eye Movement”), Mr. Porter (“Losing My Mind”)

Album Genre/Tone: Socio-political Hip-Hop with a dire and aggressive tone

Lead Single: “Damage”

 

Review Scale:

The mythical A+: Pretty much the best eargasm you’ve ever experienced. This is the album you will be listening to when you are sixty and your grandchildren will be judging you for.

A: All you need to appreciate this album is two ears connected to a heart. Whether it’s the deeper message, the prolific beats or memorable lyrics, everybody should be listening to this record.

B: If you like the genre, then you will love this album. You might keep it on repeat for a month, but it will eventually find itself in the bowels of your shuffle list. Hardcore fans of the artist will disagree with this rating, but it can be considered more niche than universally acceptable.

C: There are a solid tracks, but it’s really only worth a few rotations as a complete package. Those not into the genre probably shouldn’t even bother. It’s the musical equivalent of a sad handjob.

DThis album fails, in most aspects, to make a good or lasting impression. However, some out there might find joy in it, if even for only a few songs. 

F: The only thing this album is good for is to make your ears bleed. You should steal every copy of this album and throw them all into a fire for a sacrifice ceremony meant to disband the demons living in the CD. And I say steal because it is obviously not worth the money. Or it would make a great gift for your enemies.

 

History Behind the Album

Those of you don’t recognize Pharoahe Monch might identify him as the artist behind the Godzilla theme-sampled “Simon Says” (yes, the one that was in that Charlie’s Angels movie, as my lovely wife pointed out). He’s been in the game for over two decades, first as one-half of Organized Konfusion and then to release four solo projects (Internal AffairsDesireW.A.R. and P.T.S.D.). The selling point of Pharoahe is that he’s highly entertaining; he uses complex lines and popular references to cover deep topics with the guise of humor – “Lay in the cut like Neosporin.” Not to mention, he’s also a huge comic book nerd, as you can tell from our “Diggin’ Through the Crates” articles. His entertaining style is super-ceded only by his stark and provocative lyrics.

P.T.S.D. is another concept album from the master of ceremony, Pharoahe Monch. Released three years after his first concept album, W.A.R. (We Are Renegades), it seemed only naturally to follow an album about revolution and social dissection with one centered on the fallout of socio-political failure. Pharoahe has always been one to speak his mind – be it about gun control, drug abuse or mental health – giving no fucks to whom he pisses off so long as his voice is heard and his point is made. However, on a bonus track of his 2007 Desire album (one  of my favorite of all time) called “Book of Judges,” Pharoahe revealed a ferocity in his music that I hadn’t heard before. The track is laced with direct attacks on America and it’s institutions – “Piss on the Constitution, then burn the Magna Carta.”

W.A.R. and P.T.S.D. both channel that rage, turning it into a theme. While Desire was the more complete album, W.A.R. fit into a crevice of Hip-Hop that none of his other solo ventures could. We start out with Pharoahe at some clinic called Recollection, where the promise that traumatic memories can, in essence, be extracted from somebody’s brain, “restoring healthy life.” It’s an interesting concept, but you know that it’s doomed from the start. The transcripts are set one year after the dead drop from Idris Elba’s character in W.A.R., and the final skit on the album reveals that Pharoahe (who has been in Recollection for ten years now, on some crazy Dollhouse stuff) is now sentenced to life in prison for violating the World Free-Thinking Agreement. There’s got to be some crazy connection here we don’t know about – yet.

 

What You’re in For

At forty-one years old – and twenty plus years into his career – Pharoahe Monch has found his identity. For those unfamiliar with his music as of recent, he treads somewhere in the middle of a champion of the people (a la Mos Def) and enemy of the state (like Immortal Technique). He’s found his niche, and he’s found his flow, because he glides effortlessly through the record. None of his tracks feel rushed or superfluous and they all fit within the neat little package that is P.T.S.D. That being said, tackling the subject of PTSD is no light matter. When Pharoahe’s agent came to him with the idea of the theme, he was both elated and afraid. In an interview with Respect magazine, Pharoahe clarified, “Damn this shits not gonna be easy. This is a real fuckin’ thing. You’re not gonna be able to high school essay bullshit your way through this. You’re gonna have to dig a little bit.”

Drawing from his own personal bout with depression, P.T.S.D. is not as upbeat as Desire, nor as angry as W.A.R. There’s a lot of introspection found in this album, and it might be a mouthful for those just looking to enjoy a casual Hip-Hop album. But that’s not why you buy a Pharoahe Monch album, is it? Pharoahe’s albums are the kind you blast unabashedly with your windows down. I wouldn’t be so foolish as to call it formulaic, but there is something about P.T.S.D. that feels familiar to W.A.R. (guess that’s the thing about PTSD, huh?). A bulk of the album follows the theme, but there is also the standard badassery (“Damage” and “Bad M.F.” to W.A.R.‘s “W.A.R.”), the guest feature throw-down (“Rapid Eye Movement” to W.A.R.‘s “Assassins”) and the soothing theme song of inspiration (“D.R.E.A.M.” to W.A.R.‘s “Haile Selassie Karate” and “Black-Hand Side”). Oh, and the final track on P.T.S.D. is just a remixed version of a track on W.A.R. I feel this is great because it truly gives the impression that this is a continuation of the journey we went on in W.A.R. They are essentially two sides of the same coin, and it translates to a cohesive package.

 

Songs On Repeat

“Damage”

Lyrics to Go: “F*** a stray bullet, I take aim when the gun draws/For ever lasting fame I will maim those who change the gun laws”

The premise of the leading single for P.T.S.D. is that Pharoahe Monch is the bullet. It completes a trifecta of abrasive tracks written on gun control (“Stray Bullets” from Organized Konfusion’s The Extinction Agenda and “When the Gun Draws” from Pharoahe’s Desire are the other two tracks) that began twenty years ago. The song was written before the Aurora Theater Shooting, but eerily reflects The Dark Knight Rises theater incident. Lee Stone’s production is as angry as the words in the track are. The track is capped off with a chorus borrowed from Hip-Hop classic “Mama Said Knock You Out” by LL Cool J. It’s a great twist of words to translate verbal slaying into gun violence.

 

“Rapid Eye Movement” featuring Black Thought

Lyrics to Go: “Monch is medicinal man made medical marijuana/With a phase plasma rifle like I’m searchin’ for Sarah Conner”

Straight out of a Black Dynamite action-scene, “Rapid Eye Movement” brings two of the best MCs in the game together in their first collaboration since “Guerilla Monsoon Rap” in 2002 (Talib Kweli’s Quality). Spittin’ venom over a track that is so reminiscent of a James Bond flick that it’ll have you thirsting for a martini by the time it’s over. There is a theme in this song, going along the lines that rapid eye movement (or REM) is the deepest level of sleep where dreams – and nightmares – most often occur, but really, this is just two rappers wrecking a track on some old espionage shit.

 

“D.R.E.A.M.” featuring Talib Kweli

Lyrics to Go: “Can’t take what I visualize from it, you pull the wool over my eyes, I swallowed the red pill/Even if I was broke as fuck I would lend you my last so you could holla at me still”

P.T.S.D. isn’t all melancholy and anger. What I would consider the last track on the album is one of the most uplifting songs I’ve heard from Pharoahe since Desire‘s “Shine,” this Talib Kweli-assisted track is about staying true to yourself and trying to fulfill your dreams. The title is a tribute to Wu-Tang Clan’s “C.R.E.A.M.,” but instead of Cash Rules Everything Around Me, the motto is “Determination Runs Every Aspect Mentally.” It’s a great way to close out the album, and although it kind of clashed with the tone of the rest of the album, it may be signifying that Pharoahe has found peace.

 

The Quick and Dirty

Grade: A-

Y’all know the name! This is, unwaveringly, a Pharoahe Monch album. That means tons of hard-hitting lyrics with as many great metaphors as socio-political commentary. It also means that anybody offended by real talk will find themselves quite turned off by his brutal honesty. The beats are just as sharp as the lyrics, and the guest features from two of Hip-Hop’s most socially conscious rappers (Black Thought and Talib Kweli) result in two of the album’s best tracks. The only drawback is that it feels just too damn short. Minus interludes, P.T.S.D. is only eleven songs that clock just over forty minutes long (actually pretty close to the same for W.A.R.), I was left a little disappointed that it was over so soon. That’s not to say that it lacked substance, but fans have been waiting on this record for years. P.T.S.D. is for true fans of lyricism, it weighs heavy and impacts listeners like a good Hip-Hop album should. If I didn’t know any better, this just screams “trilogy” to me – one where we get to see the end of P.T.S.D.‘s events unload into the establishment on whatever album is next. World Free-Thinking Agreement, my ass.