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By The Numbers: Ageism In Hip-Hop Doesn't Exist

The argument that rappers must lose relevance after a certain age is as old as hip-hop itself, and artists like Rakim, 50 Cent, LL Cool J, M...

Daft Punk - Random Access Memories

8/10

In 2007, two friends and I embarked on a vigil. A three hour long journey that saw us brush constantly with authority, involved quite a lot of full frontal nudity, more cocaine than I'd ever seen in the flesh before (about one baggie, I was only 18, and i did not consume it!), cash, bad music, older women and a mysterious lead guitarist who managed to complete almost an entire song before realising his lead wasn't even plugged in (Cut Copy, but that's for another day). It ended with a mind expanding experience. The Daft Punk Pyramid. What followed was 90 minutes of the most intense dancing I'd ever partaken in, and that includes my 6 years of Tap and Jazz (I wasn't a popular child). Losing yourself in the music was an experience I'd never had the good fortune to participate in, despite witnessing it on multiple occasions. And even though it was pouring rain and I had 8 dissolvable stitches in my left knee from a work accident the previous day, I was on the freaking barrier for a Daft Punk show, and my mind was blown.

That's what Daft Punk became to so many people during the 90s, fans and artists alike. True revolutionaries, true creators, are so rare on the ground that each of them stands out vividly against whatever backdrop they're standing in front of. The hype and the press around Random Access Memories is a true testament to a group that, let's face it, hasn't set the world alight since 2001's Discovery. Human After All was the most ironic title ever placed on a record. Rather than sounding organic and relaxed it was a stiff, hard-edged electronic affair that offered little of the unbridled glee and sunshine of their previous two records. Tron: Legacy was an excellent soundtrack, but suffered from the confining nature of the medium. With little room to stretch their legs the duo resigned to short jabs of ideas that, if elaborated on could have flowered in to an epic, but were instead retained in a tight bubble.

Their true influence lies within their first two records and their world-beating live performances. The Daft Punk Pyramid is legendary, and it spawned the brilliant Alive in 2007, a concert recording from Paris that took listeners on a sonic mix up of their most famous material. Whilst claims were levelled at them about the nature of their 'performance', namely that they pressed play and bopped around for 90 minutes, the result is undeniable. Critical darlings, they were able to finally blast away any remaining apathy surrounding dance music and live performance. People just shut up and focused on having the time of their lives.

Random Access Memories suffers at the hands of the masses, yet ultimately thrives beyond them. Understanding an artists head-space going in to a project like this is a difficult task, especially when the artists present as two mushroom men who have descended from an unfathomable galaxy. Random Access Memories is not constructed in the manner in which we are now accustomed to digesting our dance music. Rather, it scouts around the musical decades, searching for forgotten sounds and dusty jazz dive bars to breath life in to. Give Life Back To Music is such a sharply focused title it took me fifteen listens to truly appreciate its gravity. This project is all about the music. There are a plethora of other factors desperately seeking the attention of our space-suited heroes, but their genius lies within their disguise. Impervious to white noise, inane chatter, they are free to create.

The opening track gives the most potent overview of RAM possible. A rising, overly epic introduction cascades away in to a lovely 70s funk groove, laced with their archetypal disco guitars and softly spoken vocoder elaborations. The groove sounds rescued, as if they've drawn it from the record player spinning Marvin Gaye in a 1975 Brooklyn apartment and sprinkled a restrained amount of trademark flair. It doesn't provide a focus or a clear path, which is its only criticism, one that's dynamically introduced with the second song, Game Of Love. A perplexing choice, yet a lovely song, this time sucking in the soul of the 90s 'come-down' ambient movement and spattering their funk guitars around the periphery to add movement. A song that maybe would've appeared more apt on Human After All, the vocoder is used expertly to draw each syllable out, contributing to the message of pain and even a tortured quality, 'When you decided to walk away / When I wanted you to stay'. Wonderful song, poorly placed.

The crux of the project was always going to be the hype. Less prolific artists who are identified as revolutionaries, Boards of Canada, Justin Timberlake, My Bloody Valentine, enjoy sustained periods of professional (note: professional) relaxation. This is then followed by such sharply focused, intense pressure whenever they embark on a new project. Whilst the suits may protect them somewhat, there is not a doubt that Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo were feeling the scrutiny. Human After All proved their resilience and commitment to their own artistic visions. Random Access Memories celebrates it. Take Within, the fourth track. Coming after the outstanding Giorgio By Moroder, the temptation must be to feed the beasts what they crave. Stratospheric, danceable guitars, EDM overload, something those dilated pupils can put to good use. Instead, we're blind-sided with a morose, down-tempo pleading, a man trapped behind confusion crying out for understanding and identity. Human after all..

Adding to that organic touch is the sheer weight of collaborators they've laced RAM with. Julian Casablancas, Pharrell, Paul Williams, Todd Edwards, Panda Bear, Nile Rodgers, the list is reminiscient of a DJ Khaled mixtape, it's jam packed with talent. Julian Casablancas is outstanding on Instant Crush, his soft falsetto melds perfectly with the smooth synth riff, and even begins double timing at one point, propelling the mood even further skyward. It is Touch, and Paul Williams however, that provides the hidden gem of the album. Greeted by foreboding industrial noise, his dolcid tones slide in effortlessly and relax like a shot of valium to the heart. Little prepares you, though, for the way he grabs this song like an intercept pass and drags the entire ensemble along behind him. His demands, 'I need something more' are bursting with aggression and defiance. What happens at 3:30 is outstanding. An image of one of our spacemen, sitting in a 1950s Western bashing away at a saloon piano with a 1930s Big Band behind him extolling the qualities of brass, which is then washed away in a 'spinning through space' moment as the vocoders answer Williams' earlier pleas, 'Hold on'. The whole thing then has a 'Day In The Life' breakdown moment before resting in to a heavenly synth arrangement, soothing the ears. Stunning track.

This diversity, this willingness to explore is also an exercise in restraint, willpower. If Daft Punk had created an album of One More Time's and Around The World's they'd be heralded as the greatest dance artists of the modern era. Touch is proof they are operating on a higher plane than that. Motherboard is the perfect example, an odd fluttery song mimmicking something like The Album Leaf or even Four Tet, at 3:10 it descends in to Autechre levels of weird, you're plunged in to this jungle beat that has you running for your life, diving under water to escape the industrial noise, before breaching to a beautiful deserted beach. Electrical dexterity I call it, and it is the centrepiece of a revolutionary dance act. To follow that, then, with Fragments of Time is again improvising gone right. Lounge music is spunked up by Todd Edwards and well placed slide guitars, lending a Southern American quality. In genus this is the most similar to the opening track, a sort of a summing up of what this record is about. The back end is a delightful, noisy romp that demands dancing, almost in defiance of the first half. Such an odd juxtaposition and yet the variety only enhances.

Then there is the lead single. Get Lucky, the song that took us all by complete surprise and by absolute gusto. A collaboration match made in heaven, a pop song that will undoubtedly grace the top ten lists of most critics at years end. It was a revelation when released, fans devoured it like Oprah at a buffet. My dad loves it. My mum loves it. My Grandma doesn't even mind it. It went Number 1 just about everywhere, and yet it is a song graced with simplicity and every hallmark of a Daft Punk album track. The disco guitar locus, the unobtrusive bassline that pulls like an ocean current, the uncomplicated percussion book-ending each punch of guitar noise. Pharrell doesn't even appear to exert any forced influence, his laid-back demeanour manages to exude personality. The vocoders don't even appear to serve any higher purpose, they just elaborate, consolidate on an already insanely catchy riff. Yet it took 18 months to craft this pop gem. The world of pop music is no longer inhabited solely by drunken, drugged out rock stars strumming 5 minute number 1's. This is intelligent dance music, executed expertly.

Doin' it Right, with Panda Bear. Oddly placed, again, because the tension present here is more suited to an earlier introduction. The vocoders mesh with the clicking to paint the picture of a strained, awkward situation. The best way to describe it is it feels like the start of a 21st birthday party, that first 45 minutes where people from vastly different social groups are thrown in to a room together, music playing, and expected to cast off inhibitions and interact. Daft Punk encourage it, and Panda Bear's Lennox delivers a jolted, stuttering performance that only enhances the awkward nature. The song doesn't have a definitive conclusion, rather it drifts in to nothingness and becomes Contact. Employing a Lemon Jelly tactic of mundane space transmissions laid over the top of a heavy synth riff, the song explodes, resembling Kavinsky's Nightcall, in to a permeable wall of electronic noise before going full EDM and FINALLY giving the molly generation their fix of wide eyed hysteria. You'll be throwing joints out of their sockets dancing to this, it's a true dance hero, something The Chemical Brothers would be envious of. A wonderful conclusion that reads like a statement: we're still the dance kings.

Earlier, I wrote about understanding the headspace of our two masked heroes. In the brilliant cover story by Pitchfork, they explained the true gravity of the project that became Random Access Memories, and revealed more than a little about their impression of their own legacy and obligations. Bangalter said “We like the idea of trying to be pioneers, but the problem with that is when you're too much ahead, the connection doesn't really happen at the time." They began work on this record in 2008. 5 years ago. Most artists release 2 or 3 records in that time, but if you have the patience and time to truly dissect the shockingly vast array of ideas and sounds that have been injected in to Random Access Memories you wonder how they did it so quickly. Whilst humility may be short on the ground in their case, it must be remembered that with confidence comes individual responsibility and pressure. It is entirely possible that there was no-one in this world placing Daft Punk under more pressure to create a masterpiece than themselves. It needed to be dynamically different from anything else out there. Rather than attempt a Justin Timberlake method, lazily pilfering sounds that were popular 35 years ago and passing them off as revolutionary and fresh, Daft Punk dug in to their memory box and extracted only what they needed, before splattering their own genius all over it. This was a meticulous job. Apparently they had orchestral arrangements for every single song on the record, the strings only appeared on four tracks.

8/10 Did their hard work pay off? Have they created a masterpiece? Yes and no. Viewed amongst its contemporaries, viewed from a singularly critical standpoint, and when dissected as I have done, this is a masterpiece. Autechre's Exai is the true benchmark in 2013 for sheer scope and number of new and exciting electronic ideas, but Random Access Memories incorporates that element and takes it further, crafting such a diverse range of sounds and influences in to a wonderfully listenable pop record. However, the complexity is rarely celebrated by the masses, and most will interact with this album on a more spontaneous level. That is why Twitter blew up with 'elevator music' tags. That's entirely understandable, and it must be remembered this is a pop record, and much scope must be invested in whether it succeeds as such. It does, but it is no pop masterpiece. For that reason, it recieves an 8/10, rather than anything higher. Diversity, whilst a strength to some, is a hinderance to others, and we must view the record within its environment.
Best Tracks: Get Lucky, Touch, Giorgio by Moroder, Contact, Instant Crush

LL Cool J - Authentic

6/10

Just as I sat down to write this review, something quite serendipitous occurred. I signed in to Spotify to discover that Snoop Dogg and Dr Dre's live performance at Coachella 2012 had been uploaded and was sitting there, all shiny and new, ready for me to stream. So I am. And it's good, it's brilliant, and it is relevant to this review.

Now why, LL, have you gone and called your record "Authentic"? There was a time in hip-hop when his name sparked fear in other rappers, when he was as vital to the scene as the Snoops and the Dre's, and yes even the holy grail of 2Pac and Biggie were not too far above his standing. "I Need Love" was released in 1987, and it was breath-taking. It was pioneering, as was much of his early work. "Mama Said Knock You Out" came out in 1990, one of the greatest hip hop records of all time, brushing other emcees aside and rocketing LL to the peak of the elite in the craft. I cannot overstate it enough, the man was an institution, there is no doubting that. So why, then, am I concerned with an album title that appears to echoe such bold statements?

Well older rappers have traditionally struggled to find relevance in contemporary landscapes. Dr. Dre contents himself behind the boards, delaying his comeback project so regularly it's not even rated a mention anymore. Public Enemy are releasing something new soon, or it already came out, I could google it but do you really care about a new PE record? What is Tone Loc doing now? Ice T is on Law and Order, and Run-DMC haven't released a record since 2001. There are of course exceptions to this rule. Jay-Z is arguably the most relevant rapper in the world (somehow, a superhuman feat). Nas released one of the top albums of the year in 2012. Snoop Dogg transformed himself to Snoop Lion and provided the shock of a decade, "Reincarnated" is utterly brilliant. But LL Cool J inhabits a separate path. Preferring to soften up as the years have progressed, his highlights have been beats laced by Timbaland and ready-made radio smashes which have propelled sales nicely, and may have contributed to a sense of delusion in relation to his current reputation.

LL now devotes much of his time to furthering his brand, through TV and film appearances and hosting duties via the Grammies. Rather than keeping his finger on the pulse of hip hop, his brand has strayed drastically from the true rapper/actor mould (think Ludacris for a success story, or Eminem), culminating in the excrutiatingly poor decision to release "Accidental Racist" with Brad Paisley (for the full horrific story go here: http://www.theboot.com/2013/04/14/accidental-racist-brad-paisley/).  As Authentic as a Joan Rivers skin graft, and, it pains me to say, about the same amount of teeth. It's a pity, because the record isn't offensively bad. It suffers from the cancer that is blandness, but it's almost as if it's in remission. The scars are there but there are more good days than bad. Opener "Bath Salt" explodes in to your ears via a brutal Trackmasters beat that throws back to their early 2000s heyday, and sees LL at his most breathless. It feels like a warm up, he's running suicides as he feels his way back in to the art form. Conflicting thoughts and ideas spill out, the first verse has him cocky and assured, 'Never go against me, you lack resources / What? I skywalk with the forces / Back in the 80's I was playin in Porsches', yet he weakens in the second, doubt seeps in, 'Honestly I was scared to come back'. It's a conundrum he tussles with more than once, as if his mind is doubtful yet everytime he looks out of the booth he sees another $500,000 car he owns and it strengthens his will and resolve.

Of course we don't REALLY pay LL to rap. Included in his admission charge is 90% entertainment, this is no Immortal Technique or stupidly skilled Slaughterhouse record. Big budgets create big fun, and, even after a split with Def Jam and a release by indie label 429 Records, the cheque written for this project had blank written in huge capitals all over it. Whilst Trackmasters are on hand to provide most of the production, the guest list is long and dizzying. Eddie Van Halen (twice), Charlie Wilson, Snoop Dogg, Melody Thornton, Earth, Wind & Fire, Boosty Collins, Travis Barker, Chuck D, Tom Morello and Brad Paisley to name a few. Admittedly, the variety is overwhelming at first, there's an almost complete lack of flow or rhythm. "Bath Salt" is followed by the stock standard ballad, "Not Leaving You Tonight", as LL fits snugly back in to his romancer role. Then the slightly annoying "New Love", which packs the delightful lines 'I need some of that, so fresh out the pack / I'll pop yo cherry like a bottle, take a swing at that'. Bear in mind he is 45 years old with 4 children and a loving wife, and it makes it all the more devilish. This morphs in to the opening line of we came to party, 'I just wanna make sweet love to you baby, I wanna touch you all over... Ah Please!' before Fatman Scoop serves up another sparkling lyrical display, 'we came to party' repeated with regularity. It's actually a wonderful change up, you're right hooked, you think you're listening to another 'I Need Love' before a stand up gangster party anthem drops. And this feels much more Authentic, Snoop drops by to lend some desperately needed cred.

There's no escaping LL's legitimacy when it comes to balladry, gallantry, and smooth love grooves. His guest on "Give Me Love", Seal, released "Kiss From a Rose", and yet James sounds silky smooth in comparison. He's the ultimate player on anthems such as this, his first 2 lines are "Honestly, I'm afraid to give love / Deep down I'm afraid to be judged". At 45, and with his physique, can you imagine how that would go down at his local speed dating venue, or PTA meeting? Single mum's would be cooing and queuing around the block! "Between The Sheets" delivers another highlight, so intense is his vocal performance you almost have to laugh at his earlier gangsterisms. James may dream of a Drake-like split personality when it comes to the ladies, but his true nature lies between the sheets, more late 90s R&B than say a Twin Shadow or a Miguel. I mean "Eye contact, kiss me, I kiss back / Right there, I miss that, I can't resist that", that'd make a smitten teenager blush with embarrassment, yet when LL exhales it's a sweet caress, a grown man with a deft touch and a clear link in to the female psyche. It's here that the record shines. Plenty of artists have built careers around the sensitive thug image, none have defined it with the pinpoint accuracy that James has achieved. Ladies really do love Cool James.

Why then, you may ask, are there collaborations with the likes of Tom Morello, Travis Barker and Eddie Van Halen littered all over "Authentic"? It's so difficult to explain and dissect the dynamic of such a release when the variety is so overwhelming. These tracks feel much more suited to something along the lines of "The DEFinition". On "We Came To Party" his first line sheds light on the problem, he explains he is the "oldest man in the club". This theme carries in to "Whaddup", a thumping raunch of a beat orchestrated by Travis Barker SMASHING skins and Tom Morello in the periphery shredding strings. LL is woefully out of time. As these two run rampant you feel like you're watching your overweight uncle chundering along behind them, huge sweat patches, blowing hard trying desperately to keep up. It's not the in control, smoothed out player image at all, it's the dead-beat divorced dad with a beer gut trying to relive his former glories. What compounds this problem? Listening to it on Spotify, I only realised after about 8 listens I had downloaded the clean edit.. Toothless.

6/10
It's like the daytime television he has come to embrace as part of his image and brand. Mildly entertaining when you've over-indulged the night before and are resigned to a day on the couch. Nothing too taxing to exacerbate your sad state, and something to put on one lazy Sunday when it's raining outside and you need a distraction for an hour before you start cooking dinner. Authentic? Well thank god the world still has Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg live at Coachella, because LL erased his right to that claim more than a decade ago. 
Best Tracks: Bath Salt, We Came To Party, Give Me Love

Little Boots - Nocturnes

 3/10

There exist two separate worlds in the genre of pop music. There are the Ke$ha's, Will.I.Am's, Justin Timberlakes, Justin Biebers. And emerging in to the limelight are acts like LMFAO and Skrillex. The so called 'bubblegum' pop that keeps dancefloors active and ecstasy on teenage shopping lists. Then there is something called indie pop, which is an all encompassing umbrella term that touches on everyone from Phoenix to Bon Iver. Indie pop is pop music. It is highly listenable, sometimes danceable, and for reasons mostly unknown, embraced and celebrated by even the most elitist of hipster clans.

There isn't a huge difference between these worlds, which is why I say reasons mostly unknown. An act like Grimes, for example, could quite comfortably be considered amongst the bubblegum world, and yet she evidently shows just enough restraint to sneak under that radar and land in the crosshairs of the Pitchfork generation. This is where Little Boots comes in. Her debut album, Hands, caused a minor splash on the Billboard charts, but was admired more amongst the indie fraternity. Artists like Florence Welch, Lily Allen and of course Lady GaGa were dominating the pop landscape at the time, all slightly quirky, all heading left of centre. Little Boots fit perfectly in to a comfortable niche. Unobtrusive, enjoyable music that could play in the background at sunday sessions without intruding, and then turned up to 11 when the clock ticked past 10pm and everyone was ready to kick it up a notch.

In 2013 a vastly different world greets Nocturnes. One Direction, Mumford & Sons, Rhianna, Calvin Harris, David Guetta.. It is no longer a time to be making middle of the road pop music. Global megastars with sounds as big as their reputations roamed the airwaves in 2012, and Little Boots must've surely been observing the trend. Which is why Nocturnes is such a perplexing release. 4 years between records is an age in pop music, and there is only one true way to pull it off. That is to grow, evolve. At the very least create something of equal quality to your previous project. This is certainly not the case. Whilst admittedly she is not the most gifted of lyricists, tracks like Remedy brought enough energy to disguise and even enhance her slightly weak pop cliches. The production was top class. On Nocturnes, the tired pop cliches remain but are now backed by equally tired production.

Motorway is the high point. A smouldering midnight anthem that sounds like something from Miike Snow, the major chords and the scattered synth 'pops' are busy and dramatic at the same time. Hesketh, not the most gifted of vocalists, matches her voice perfectly to the hazy yet urgent atmosphere. Cheese like 'Together we can make our great escape / Meet me on the motorway / Maybe we can find our perfect place' fits snugly as it did on Hands, it's comfortable subject matter and it's simplicity resonates with the help of the more dramatic production. However, things fall away from here.

Rather than building and expanding on the urgency of Motorway, Nocturnes falls happily in to that tempo and remains there. But whereas the opening track is quite complex and extremely well arranged, the rest of the record feels like a cheap knock-off of it. Broken Record is an infuriatingly ironic song, unless of course Hesketh intends to mimic the central figure that she is pining for by copying their 'voice like a broken record'. The consequence is a song that bounces around inside your head in a wholly unpleasant manner. Shake achieves a similar level of annoyance. A Fisher Paykel beat that never fully reaches climax bumps away as we're instructed by Hesketh to 'Shake, la la la la la la'. What passes for a chorus these days.. This technique of repeating lyrics and silly bridging words like la la unfortunately drops Hesketh's musical IQ about 15 points. On Beat Beat, a nicely retro toned 'beat', reminiscient of something Joe Goddard and Alexis Taylor might provide a remix album, is ruined with the repetition of 'beat beat beat of your heeeeeeeeaaart'. It's unfortunate, it could be one of the strongest tracks on the record.

Confusion puts forward the strongest case against this repetition of theme and lyric. 'Never lie to me again' is repeated over and over, as is 'I've been caught up in a lie', and 'confusion'.. If you were in any doubt as to what exactly is going through Hesketh's head this song will ensure you have absolutely no trouble remembering. Again the production falls flat, it just lacks an edge. It feels soft and rounded, too smooth. Every Night I Say A Prayer is a little more bullish, it is almost Eurythmics sounding (although Annie Lennox is incomparable), the addition of a tortured sounding piano to the chorus (similar to Motorway) provides that conflict, that urgency that compliments Hesketh's method. This is such a rare occurrence though. Strangers drifts in to such a dreamy dull lull that you almost miss the strongest lyrical work on the record. "We see ourselves like stars  / At once so close and yet so far  / Bodies so familiar  / We both would know them in the dark". It's actually a gripping and resonating description of a relationship that has drifted in to obscurity, and Hesketh yearns for the passion and fire of their first meeting again. It is the first time she actually sounds as though she's drawing on personal experience rather than observing events and stories from a distance.

Then we have the kicker. Crescendo may be the most innacurate title ever attached to a song. If there is one word that doesn't apply to Nocturnes it is Crescendo. It rolls along with all the attitude of a damp sock. Hesketh tries to inject something, and a meek attempt at replicating earlier chorus success with some piano chord bashing goes some way to appeasing. Essentially though this is as droopy as dehydrated corn stalk, and just as exciting.

We can expect a de-evolution of some degree, and even forgive it. No longer is Little Boots releasing music on a major label. Atlantic must have pushed her in to more mainstream channels on 2009's Hands, and surprisingly, as it isn't always the case, it made for a fuller more enjoyable record. Despite recruiting some star power for Nocturnes, notably James Ford from Simian Mobile Disco and Andy Butler from Hercules and Love Affair, the promise of a record that: 'celebrates 90s house, seventies disco and futuristic electronics' is largely unfulfilled. You could chastise her for not building on the success of Hands, not going down that mainstream path. Conversely, you can congratulate her on following her own artistic vision, which has led her to releasing a record on her own label, the kind of music she is comfortable and confident making. I'd be more inclined to congratulate her if I felt she had challenged herself to make a better record than Hands, the problem is I just don't think she has.

3/10. I really enjoyed Hands. I really liked Little Boots. I was excited when I saw this pop up on the wikipedia page for upcoming album releases. Weak production, repetitive lyrics, tired pop cliches and a general apathy plagues Nocturnes. It misses the dual boats of 5am come down record and 12am party starter. There is nothing much to grasp hold of in that middle ground.
Best Tracks: Motorway, Strangers



Snoop Lion - Reincarnated

 9/10

LL Cool J's latest album is called Authentic, and despite the suitability of Reincarnated, Snoop could quite comfortably have used Cool James' title without a hint of pretension. That is high praise indeed, especially for a 41 year old street rapper who's only outward connection to the Rastafari Movement before this project was a prodigious marijuana habit. I don't need to outline the skepticism that surrounded this release. If you haven't heard the record yet, or you'd followed the story of his 'transformation', you're well aware of what that feels like. What I can do is say that Reincarnated feels authentic. Snoop Lion is born, and it appears not to be a gimmick.

I'd advise you, however, to steer clear of the accompanying documentary of the same name. Snoop may very well be entirely sincere in his conversion, but the 98 minute weed-saturated exploration of Jamaica and the Rasta Movement can at times feel like an elaborate excuse to smoke. It does deal with the official aspects, and Bunny Wailer, a legend in the community, accepts Snoop in to the movement (although he has since sparked an outburst from Snoop by claiming certain contractual obligations weren't met, souring the experience somewhat). If you avoid this quagmire, sit back and enjoy the record for what it is, your experience will be more the richer, and I daresay you'll fall for the whole project as I have.

Reincarnated begins with Rebel Way, which in turn begins with a short monologue that sounds more selfish than anything else, as Snoop explains 'I wanna be loved while I'm here, and the only way to get love is to give love'. Right. Still, once the music slinks in and Snoop begins his journey, all traces of the sourness are replaced by a jovial, laid-back mood and a surprisingly focused Snoop. He's not going to win The Voice, but his gentle croon is perfect for these types of tracks. Quite expertly Rebel Way introduces us to 3 overriding experiences with this record. Firstly, the lyrics in isolation sound sugar sweet and artificially positive, lines like 'Love is the cure and courage is the weapon
You can use to overcome' even come across as insincere. But Lion's less than emotive voice manages to do wonders for them, his years of outstanding flow over all manner of beats serve him well as he compliments the production superbly. Secondly, Major Lazer and the rest of the production team have worked absolute wonders. Rather than dressing up Reggae in a modern outfit, they've dressed contemporary production techniques down, slowing the BPM and relying on bass heavy grooves with electric guitar flourishes and aggressive, expanded horns to enhance the experience. The result, especially on Rebel Way, is spectacular. Thirdly, it feels authentic.

The pleasing thing is that fans of old haven't been cast out in the cold. Here Comes The King is a slow grinding hip hop rhythm that builds in to an electronic haze at the back end. It allows Snoop to slip seamlessly between reggae crooner and hardened hip hop head, essentially touching two illustrious bases at once. A similar effect is achieved on the brilliant Remedy, featuring a stunning Busta Rhymes who channels his inner Beenie Man and Sean Paul to slip beautifully on to the beat and deliver a staggering dancehall rhythm over a distinctly more electronic sound. Snoop, as he often does, plays around in the background, pleading with his new spiritual path to 'Set me free' and remedy his past errors. No easy task if you're familiar with his back story. Still, Remedy provides a stark reminder of just how well Snoop has juggled his reincarnation and supplemented it with stars of merit within the Reggae and associated arena's. Drake, on No Guns Allowed, completely ruins his verse and trashes the best track on the record with a horrible attempt at a dancehall double time. Things could have been so much worse..

It is prudent to remember that Snoop grew up on G-Funk, a style not dissimilar to what he is trying to achieve here. Even in 2012, on a track with E-40 called 'What You Smokin' On', DJ Silk reproduced the trademark sound that fits him like a custom made Gucci glove. Those slow, expansive grooves that Dr. Dre, Cold187um and DJ Quick provided the young emcee to cut his teeth on may not have specific roots in Reggae, but they harnessed elements that originally formed the base of the Reggae sound. The difficulty lay within his ability to transition his voice to incorporate the sweetly sung, uplifting numbers that the project demanded. So Long, The Good Good, La La La and Tired Of Running all provide ample evidence that his transition was not a self-indulgent exercise. He holds his own opposite Akon, Angela Hunte, even the oddly matched Rita Ora.

Surrounding yourself with street cred is a tried and tested technique in the hip hop world, much less so in the Dancehall and Reggae platform. This is the shrewdness Snoop brings to the project. Enlisting Diplo to oversee the shape and sound is a master-stroke. The whole thing is crafted superbly and doesn't pigeon-hole itself in any way, which is exactly what we come to expect from him. Big anthemic choruses such as in Lighter's Up are propelled by huge, bombastic horns. Party jams like the heart starter Fruit Juice are dressed up in almost overpowering electronic noise that swells around behind a jovial and upbeat Snoop, allowing for a collective moment of uninhibited fun within the spiritual framework, 'She sip the beet juice, said really love the medicine / Drink it down slow feel it good vibe settling'. Torn Apart brings in John Hill, who is left to temper the more EDM focused sound with dancehall integrity. The obligatory acoustic guitar makes appearances too, Harder Times is the stereotypical 'keep your head up' moment and The Good Good feels like it was written by Jack Johnson on a beach in the Pacific somewhere.

Every side-track like this needs a hook though. I don't mean a chorus, although Snoop and co are adept at spinning those. All 5 of the singles are chartable tracks in their own right, Here Comes The King, Lighters Up, No Guns Allowed, La La La and Ashtrays and Heartbreaks. You can throw Fruit Juice in there as well as a possible hit. Put Miley Cyrus on a Reggae record? Her hook on Astrays and Heartbreaks may sound chintzy and about as authentic as an Indian running an Italian restaurant, but it works beautifully, her paranoid performance capturing the cycle of a dystopian drug-filled existence. No Guns Allowed would be the standout if not for Drake, and Smoke The Weed has such a strong hook and groove to it I can honestly see West Indian clubs playing it at midnight before the party kicks in to top gear.

Ultimately, you can surround yourself with as many geniuses as you want, but if you are the focal point of a project the final say in its success is on your head. Snoop Lion doesn't always steal the show, but he always enhances it, and his presence makes Reincarnated wonderfully enjoyable. From his heartfelt concern for future peace on Smoke The Weed, 'If you wanna see a strong tree grow / You gotta put them for the future' to his regrets around his contentious and much publicised past on Tired Of Running, 'Servin' fiends like these people ain't no enemy / I can't believe I'm out here killin my community' 'This gangster life ain't no longer in me', sincerity overcomes any shortfall in talent. Peace and Love, Reincarnated has it in spades. Authenticity? Surprisingly abundant.

9/10. It's a dead set 9 this and will feature in my top records of 2013. I can't stop spinning it. You can view it two ways. If you don't want to enjoy it, and prefer to believe in conspiracy theories and things like man never landing on the moon, you will doubtlessly see it as a cheap crossover attempt to re-vitalise an ageing and stagnant career, one that centres more around the pursuit of marijuana than true peace and enlightenment. Or, you can view the project for what it is, and immerse yourself in it. I think Snoop has done enough to reduce any skepticism about his motives and mindset to a small voice in the back of your head rather than a loud siren screeching everytime you listen to it.
Best Tracks: Fruit Juice, Smoke The Weed, Remedy

Tyler, The Creator - Wolf

 7/10

Tyler is an enigma, in a genre that has produced precious few during it's lifespan. Certainly within the mainstream realm of hip hop music there have only been a handful of artists provoking such a response as this man does. Of course, I have to include the obligatory comparison with Eminem, raps truest and greatest enigma, but the truth is these two are drastically similar. Both are undeniable geniuses, with class leading levels of raw talent and a unique work ethic. I say unique because when we think about hard workers in the industry, we think of the Lil Wayne's, 2 Chainz, Rick Ross, Lil B, artists who are constantly giving us product and material at a prolific rate. Tyler and Eminem aren't prolific outputters. They are very talented, but they also work extremely hard at their craft. Eminem is a devoted lyricist and now a studied producer. Tyler is a damn fine producer, mature and cutting edge as well as technically outstanding, and this only comes with hours, days, weeks and months of hard work.

It is lyrically, though, where these two match up best. Tylers first two albums, Bastard and Goblin, were jam pack chock full of fantastic quotables that left you breathless at times. Tron Cat, for example, was just ridiculous, in the vein of Under The Influence or As The World Turns for sheer quotable, rewinding goodness, 'Rape a pregnant bitch and tell my friends I had a threesome
You got a fucking death wish, I'm a genie it'll get done'. The sheer lunacy and technical ability was what struck me and put me on to Tyler in the first place. Assmilk, with Earl, was an abomination, Tyler's first bars are 'I'm not an asshole I just don't give a fuck a lot, the only time I do is when a bitch is screaming Tyler Stop'. But it was so silky, the production so simple and yet menacing, the wordplay so skillful it was irresistable, and so strikingly reminiscient of mainstream hip-hop's other aggressive young guy. There's even a 'Stan' moment on Wolf, Colossus providing an almost carbon copy of Eminem's description of extreme fan behaviour.

Wolf expands and enhances the enigma. It begins in vastly different fashion to his previous two releases. Those saw him waxing lyrical about deeply personal matters in the form of a client speaking to a therapist. This track is instead saved for the final piece, Lone. A short intro in which Wolf is introduced to a new client, Sam, serves to remind us Tyler is still angry, 'Stay the fuck out of our way and we'll stay the fuck out of yours, capiche?' Oh he is still angry..

Where Bastard was more of a free-form explosion of anger and rage, spattering away at anything in its path, Goblin introduced a more conceptual approach, and Wolf extends on this. In the first bars of Jamba we discover that Sam, Wolf, and Salem (the love interest) are at Camp Flog Gnaw, Golf Wang backwards.  As the record progresses, the story stutters and starts in fits and bursts. Earl dies, a deadly love triangle emerges, and Tyler deals with the death of his grandmother on the brilliant Lone. This story forms a sort of runny, warm glue. It provides a touch point and a grounding for the record but at no stage is it caged within a particular method or voice. Tyler has given himself free reign yet again to explore his own psyche, almost in a strain of conscious thought mould.

To say he has matured is a redundant statement. He has grown older, and thus has altered his perspectives based on new experiences. On Cowboy, a menacingly simplistic beat that exposes the sublety that exists within him, he raps 'Rest in peace, or lie in it, life ain't got no light in it', before saying 'Had a blast out Europe, had a Swedish bitch lickin toes', before flipping again with 'You think all this money will make a happy me? But I'm about as lonely as crackers that supermodels eat'.The confusion and push and pull exemplifies the true nature of his chosen narrative for this record. Tyler is Sam and Wolf, two halves of his personality, constantly warring each other. At times this makes for a somewhat sterilised listening experience. The shock tactics, centred around rape, homophobia and mutilation are replaced with sobering thoughts and mindsets that continue to reveal this inner turmoil within his psyche. On Answer, the easiest of drum loops accompanies such simplistic guitar plucking Lil Wayne would be jealous. But it houses a brutally honest track about Tylers thoughts towards his dad, and how his childhood has impacted upon his current lifestyle and choices, 'And, if I got stranded had to man up and hold my nuts / And hope that I could live off salt water and fucking coconuts'.

More than maturity it's sparked a diversion in method. The internal struggles were still blatant on Bastard and Goblin,  he started each record as if he were in therapy. On Wolf, they are subdued within this castrated mould that Tyler struggles to break out of, like a bout of depression that isn't to be shaken off. On those previous albums his jokes about suicide felt exactly like that, jokes. Now though, you feel compelled to take him a little more seriously. Especially on closer Lone, a devastating peek in to his tortured mind after the death of his Grandma Sadie, 'Mom calling and calling, I'm on my way to a show / I answer, she crying, saying Sadie is dying'. Sincerity and desperation.

Funnily enough, the songs that stand out on Wolf are those that mimmick his earlier insanity. Trashwang is a straight up mixtape thrash number that finally sees Tyler pop out of third gear and go for broke, along with his Wolf Gang associates. Street to the core, he is surprisingly outdone lyrically by most of his counterparts but his delivery is so raw, it's such a refreshment from the dank spaces he inhabited earlier in the record. Likewise on Rusty, Domo23 and Tamale. Domo23 actually provides one of the odd quotable moments, 'Now me and Justin smoke sherm and been talking ‘bout freeing perms / And purchasing weapons, naming them and aim ‘em in one direction'. Finally! It's also no coincidence that these high moments induce that shot of adrenalin that comes with say, a Waka Flocka track or something by Ace Hood. A whole album of this is boring, a few tracks spattered amongst a deep and reflective narrative is genius.

I can't end this review here, because Tyler is the puppet master of this entire project, as he has been for all of his releases. He is rapper, producer, arranger. Constructor. When he first came in to the game, he provided something brilliant and unique. There were plenty of mixtapes doing the rounds of rappers engaging in up tempo shock rap. There still are. But Tyler set himself apart by producing everything himself, and bringing a distinct level of sophistication to his craft. From Just Blaze to Timbaland to The Neptunes, he managed to blend everything that was good about mid 00s production and add an odd touch of class (and jazz). Did he pioneer the sound we currently hear from guys like Frank Ocean, Major Lazer, Clams Casino? I wouldn't wager an answer, however on Wolf he faced his toughest sonic task yet. To keep the record fresh, he needed to stay ahead of the curve, but could not lose his inherent style and flourishes. The result is a stunning package. Tracks like Slater, Treehome95, and 48 are so smooth they could be on Erykah Badu's next record. Then there are things like Tamale, some crazy Costa Rican sounding romp that Tyler uses brilliantly to match his flow to. If there was a signature beat, I think the suite PatyIsntOver/Campfire/Bimmer provides, 3 lo-fi grooves that utilise strings, pads, synths, keys, unhurried percussion, spaced electronics and a smattering of horns. Sonically? He's still the master.

7/10. It falls away on wordplay and lyrical content, especially when compared to previous releases. However, it is a matured and considered album that also utilises boat loads of raw emotion and provides the listener with as much depth as they could ever need. Spend your life analysing the concept and Tyler's tortured psyche if you must. The package he presents it in is beautiful and ornate, as a producer this man is one of the best in the game. A fractured release in all but wholly listenable.

Best Tracks: Bimmer, Trashwang, Domo23





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