Going Insane is a new single from Memphis-based artist, Cris Cola. In this track, he reflects about his frustrations about the world around him, both on a personal as well as societal level. Despite what the title might suggest, it’s actually a very positive song about encouraging families and communities to put their best foot forward and come together to face the struggles of daily life.
Cris Cola’s delivery is charismatic while retaining its sentimental sincerity. The beat is tight, and the music, which features some powerful female backing vocals, is mesmerizingly melodic. It’s also worth noting that Cris doesn’t merely rap but also sings on this track, and does so rather well. Even the way he delivers rhymes has an R&B-like musical sensibility to it. His performance defies a lot of conventional hip hop stereotypes and caricatures as he displays a genuinely reflective attitude and does a great job of outlining life’s struggles in very real and human terms.
Cris Cola describes Going Insane as “good riding music,” in that it’s a good jam do listen to while driving around the city. While the subject matter is deep, the musical presentation is such that it makes for a relaxing, enjoyable listen and will help put your mind at ease about your troubles for a little while.
Tax Free is a new single from Portland-based hip hop artist, Tony Ro$e. An prominent figure in the Portland music scene for nearly two decades, Tony Ro$e has inspired countless young artists in the area. He has a lengthy musical resume, having released several mixtapes and appeared on songs with well-known artists like Mac Dre, Mista F.A.B. Mitchy Slick and many others.
In his latest single, Tax Free Tony demonstrates his veteran hip hop sensibilities and acquired skill set. His delivery style is relaxed but maintains consistent timing and maximum potency. Lyrically, he doesn’t pull any punches. He keeps it real and raw with a no-nonsense approach to pressing economic questions, while somehow managing to make things fun in the process.
The backing music is enjoyably exotic and has an Asian instrumental quality to it. It really gives the track some flavor and juxtaposes favorably with the robust beat. Basically, this is a solid hip hop jam that’s straightforward and has all the marks of a seasoned pro. There’s not a lot of flash or hype. Tax Free is an example of good, fundamental hip hop that finds just the right balance of performance, production and social commentary.
BEEP is a new single (and music video) from artist, BROCK. Basically it consists of high energy, cutting edge dance music. The sound is extremely polished, with state of the art production and a 21st century vibe. Musically, it’s a very sleek and glossy form of EDM. The video matches the beat intensity, with extremely attractive girls and some rather precarious activities involving heavily armed individuals and their exotic getaway car. It’s an impressive video, pretty much major label caliber, which indicates that this is an ambitious musical/visual project. The video is well shot, includes an engaging narrative and some fairly daring vehicular stunts. BEEP is a top of the line product. BROCK actually has several videos lined up to be released in succession. Keep your eyes peeled for BHEVY, DAHOE, and DAMARO which should all be worth checking out if they even close to the same level as this.
For Your Eyes Only is a new album from New York-based singer/songwriter, Nikia. This release contains some of the best contemporary R&B/pop songs I’ve heard in recent memory. Nikia is a phenomenal singer. There’s no autotune. No production tricks or abrasive processing on her vocals. The singing is just pure and pristine. Her vocal ability is so high caliber that she should be performing at Madison Square Garden.
The songs themselves are romantic, sincere and sentimental. The opening track Boomerang is meticulously well choreographed and incredibly catchy. It’s so polished and artfully magnificent, I could picture it being used in a title sequence to a James Bond film (which is an interesting coincidence given the title of this album). Boomerang is a perfect song. One of my other favorite tracks on here is I Don’t Care (Interlude), which is a brief, two-minute jam with a uniquely toned, minimalist guitar backing. Nikia’s layered conversational delivery gives the song a classic, almost innocent feel, stylishly reminiscent of artists like The Shangri-Las. However, the guitars have a rich and robustly futuristic sound. Running Out of Time is more of a synthpop dance track, with a colorful, ambient beat and energetic pace. The pacing of the song matches up well with the theme of a romantic couple whose relationship is “running out of time.” Nothing about the music feels rushed though. It’s thoroughly enjoyable, and the candy sweet backing beat induces a subtle euphoria.
One of Nikia’s best performances is saved for last, with Forever. Not only does she end things on a positive note lyrically (this song is more of a romantic celebration than a story about two lovers working through their relationship issues), but the music is upbeat and has a dazzling, jazzy vibe. It’s like an upscale lounge track. This entire album is satisfying on so many levels. It’s classy. It’s sincere. It’s performed to a very high standard, and the production quality is exquisite. There are probably several songs on here that are worthy of awards.
B & W is a new single from Boston-based pop/electro singer, songwriter and producer, Angelo David. His songs frequently aim to raise awareness to issues like social inclusion, mental health awareness, and individuality, which relate to his own experiences growing up. At 18 years old, Angelo David (who actually began writing songs at the age of 8) is something of a child musical prodigy. Listening to this recent track, it becomes immediately clear that he is a top-tier pop performer. The song itself blends elements of pop, electro and R&B, but it’s ultimately Angelo David’s vocals that really stand out. He’s a genuinely good singer, but just as importantly he sings expressively and with a distinctive style. The lyrics are delivered with a personal, emotive touch, with each word being accented with a little twist or hint of personality, as great pop artists are known to do.
The backing music is also more imaginative and dynamic than what we hear in most contemporary pop songs. Angelo keeps things interesting and engaging with strategic breaks and a slight unpredictability. Beginning with B & W, he is releasing a substantial collection of songs in 2020. Angelo David already has racked up quite a few impressive achievements, and he appears to be just getting started.
Cosmic Rings is a new single from power metal band, Kosmic Dragon. First of all, let’s just take a moment to appreciate the retro-futuristic late 1970s-style covert art, with its vintage Battlestar Galactica/Star Crash vibe. The guitars on this jam are powerful, correlating beautifully with the galactically ambitious lyrics.
The level of intensity combined with the surreal space opera/fantasy narrative channels the thematic spirit of classic Iron Maiden songs like Caught Somewhere In Time and Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. I actually love this kind of music, especially when it’s performed as well as it is here. This track has it all: time travel, imminent destruction of the galaxy, deep space cryonic temperatures, a hero’s journey, etc. The vocals are great, too. This is probably the hardest genre of metal to sing convincingly, and the vocalist pulls it off. Solid technical guitar work combines with grandiose theatrics and charismatic vocals, setting the stage for an epic boss battle for control of the universe. It doesn’t get much better than this.
Home Team is a new album from Atlanta-based hip hop artist, TazForte. Featuring high octane beats and a theatrical intensity, the backing music sets a high energy tone. TazForte’s delivery alternates between mellow and conversational to vigorously expressive. He has a distinctive vocal style, often manipulating his voice for effect and to serve as its own kind of instrument. The title track was a wise choice as Home Team is an instantly catchy song, that just entices you to wanna sing along right from the opening bell. What TazForte does effectively with most of the songs on this album is start them off low key and casual, until they have a moment where the beat just kicks in, and suddenly the jam is action packed. After a while, the listener begins to anticipate this, and it just adds to the excitement and suspense. The album has several solid songs on it, but main single Home Team is a potential hit. TazForte demonstrates some excellent songwriting and structuring ability on this release. He definitely has some skills and is a well rounded performer.
Fuel is a new album from Philadelphia-based indie hip hop duo, Rhino Fight. The backing music is ethereal, sometimes bordering on psychedelic and has a warm, analog quality. While the delivery is mellow and laid back, the lyrics are substantive, containing everything from casual reflections on daily life to more in depth philosophical insights. The seemingly light-hearted nature in the performances is balanced by the captivating cerebral music which envelops them. The artists rap about everyday struggles romance, humor, sensuality and a host of other random subjects. My favorite track on here is probably Down With the Thickness, which has an awesome intro that sounds like something you’d hear in a suspenseful moment of 1960′s Star Trek episode. All of the music on this album is phenomenal, and consists of an eerie blend of retro synths, unidentifiable samples and crisp beats. Fuel is an artistically authentic, experimental hip hop release with a teriffic ambiance.
Color Coated 2 is a new album from Detroit-based abstract artist, Lokye. Originally from NYC, Lokye (aka Brian H Newman) has been active in the Michigan art scene for over ten years and is the owner of Granny’s Chandelier, an art gallery in Hamtramck, MI. As we see with this latest album, the abstraction carries over into this artist’s musical endeavors as well. The sound blends elements of jazz, boom bap, avant garde hip hop and spoken word poetry. It reminds me a lot of underground 90s arthouse film soundtracks I remember when I was a teenager. The vibe is just very real and has an approachable, community oriented feel. Lokye’s delivery is powerful, which is remarkable given that he has a very mellow and sincere style, often coming across more like a stage poet performing in a theater troupe than a traditional rapper. He’s actually an impressive vocalist as well. While this is subtly apparent even on quasi-hip hop tracks like Neverland, on other songs like Kick Flip In Penthouse he goes into full-on lounge singer mode and does so beautifully.
Of course, while the musical backing is stylish and creates the perfect intimate, conversational atmosphere, the lyrics are rich with abstract, thought provoking commentary. According to Lokye, the album is about “living in abstraction” and seeking out understanding in the world. It chronicles the hardships people face as they build local communities with family and friends. One of the more straightforward hip hop jams is Small Business, which details the struggle of having opened an art gallery right before the pandemic hit. Ultimately though, the theme of this album relates to overcoming these kinds of obstacles on the path toward excellence. Color Coated 2 has 17 tracks, and the music is both enjoyable and inspiring.
Alfa Romeo 2 is a new album from hip hop artist Aztro. In case you were wondering, there was a previous album, Alfa Romeo, which this appears to be a sequel of. We’re going to focus on the most recent release, since it’s hot off the presses.
The first thing I noticed about Alfa Romeo 2 is that it features some the raddest beats I’ve ever heard on a hip hop album. The retro-futuristic backing music consists of dreamlike synths that are sonically satisfying on every level, setting the listener up for a smooth ride. Atmospheric and surreal, the music elevates the album both intellectually and in terms of the relaxed “mood” it facilitates. It’s worth noting that DJ Dizzy produced all the beats and is also a featured performer on several tracks. Other artists like Kapp Kush and Kbo UKrazy make appearances on the album as well. It’s fitting that a producer with a name like “Dizzy Mcfly” would be involved in this production, given the exotic sports car motifs and general Back to the Future ambiance instilled in the recordings.
For his part, Aztro’s delivery is consistent with the quality of the beats. His style is mellow and business-casual. He has a conversational manner of rapping, that flows very well and matches the tonality of the music. His voice is extremely pleasing to listen to, and he demonstrates his rap skills without ever coming off like he’s trying too hard or posturing aggressively. He allows his performance to speak for itself. Also, the vocals have great clarity, and he doesn’t ruin the sound by tinkering too much with unnecessary effects and production gimmickry. In fact, the entire mix is clean and completely free of the abrasive elements typically found in hip hop releases, such as excessive processing and irritating sound frequencies.
Alfa Romeo 2 is better than almost anything you’ll hear on contemporary hip hop radio. (Do people still even listen to the actual radio?) The album has pretty much everything going for it: excellent production, catchy lyrics, talented (and marketable) performers and even a coherent theme. Musically it’s a complete success. Hopefully, it will receive enough exposure to send Aztro and his associates through the hip hop stratosphere. We’ll be looking forward to number 3 in the trilogy.