Remington James – Prototype VII [Album]

By 44faced on Jan 23, 2019 in Music , Reviews - 0 Comments

Before he became known as one of the world’s best rappers, Kanye West was the renowned producer whose work mostly with Jay-Z propelled him to the top of the hip hop production food chain. Many today might have forgotten that it took Kanye many years of consistently releasing more and more of his rap music to eventually become respected for his rapping, and not just be “that great hip hop producer who also raps.”

This is the analogy that came to mind as I approached Remington James’ first hip hop album, Prototype VII, released this week on all major distribution outlets. As a successful YouTuber and with a fitness training career solidified, Remington James is stepping outside of his comfort zone to do something he loves and that he’s wanted to do for a long time: make hip hop music.

If you read the comments on his fitness YouTube channel, then you can clearly see that this is no gimmick that he’s punted to further build his current fitness business. Instead, in his video “It’s Time to Move On,” he even mentions that he’s going to separate his channels to give his fitness audience what they want: meal prep plans, fitness tips, etc. Whether he does that or not isn’t really an issue. What I find most inspiring about Remington James’ effort to enter the hip hop world after finding success in another world is the fact that you can extract the common denominator behind both worlds—the success mindset.

You can expect a whole bunch of predictable trolls commenting away that “Oh look (sigh), this fitness guy is trying to rap.” But that’s exactly what differentiates a negative critic with zero subscribers buried in comment sections and a consistent, disciplined and hardworking creator always at the top of the page. It’s worthwhile therefore thinking in a more constructive way: that since this guy succeeds to sustain a great athletic physique, which is no easy thing to do, and also succeeds to build and maintain a dedicated YouTube audience, also not so simple, then why wouldn’t he be able to succeed in hip hop as well? There’s no reason why, since that same success mindset that get a person to under 10% body fat with a lean muscular physique, and to relentlessly release a video a day for years, is what’s needed also to succeed in hip hop today.

That is why I love the story behind the launch of Remington James’ hip hop career with Prototype VII just as much as I love the album, because of the exertion and determination driving every single song, an undertone of a passion that is trying to communicate itself to the world. It’s also this passion that has urged Remington James to spend hours upon hours practicing how to record and mix his own music, outside everything he’s doing in his fitness career.

Musically, Prototype VII is a well-rounded album that encapsulates different emotions, moods and discernments, just like life itself. The musical direction becomes clear after listening to a few seconds of the opening track, “Villain”: that the beats play not a driving role, but an accompanying one, in paving a path for Remington James to articulate a flow of emotions on certain topics in his life. A leading characteristic of the vocal output is clarity of emotion, a direct communication of what’s in his heart through a stream-of-consciousness style of delivery. Whether a natural talent or an acquired skill, Remington James’ undeniably powerful quality is in his ability to communicate. For the best listening experience, one needs to get into a mode of listening to a man reflecting on his life over beats that serve primarily to set a certain emotional stage to help what’s behind the words to sink through.

Such an approach to vocal expression became very clear when I asked Remington who his main musical influences were, to which he replied with a definitive answer: Lil Wayne. Remington’s approach to going into the studio without any prepared lyrics, and letting out what’s on his mind and heart on a certain topic is the same approach Lil Wayne had from around the early-to-mid 2000s onward. It’s a way of entering into a running emotional stream, unfiltered by intellectual jargon. It also paves an interesting foundation for Remington’s future development: the more he works on developing the mind aspect of such a style (thinking up and combining more and more technical aspects like wordplay and compound syllabic rhythmic push-and-pull) together with the heart aspect, which comes across like second nature, the more we can expect Remington James to blossom into the renowned hip hop artist, who was once a fitness training YouTuber.

For instance, Prototype VII is not one for enthusiasts focusing their microscopes on rap’s technical aspects, nor is it one for the lean-slurring party bangers driven by chest-pounding 808s. This is one for the inspiration, motivation and emotion seekers, something that everybody needs a boost of at any time. Themes Remington James tackles include the way to success, reflections on his success, who he’s been out to make happy (where his mother gains a frequent mention), overcoming hardships and disbelievers through a life where he’s succeeded, and dealing with women, among others.

“Look at You” wins the album’s Catchiest Hook Award for its opening hook, the rhythm of which holds the vocals throughout the rest of the track. The track that touches an even more emotional chord than the rest of it lies humbly at its end, “Hero.” It’s a confession box outpouring where Remington James digs deep into what is behind his continuous motivation to push forward, and the more he comes closer to a truer point—a point that the constant noise of media chatter does everything to distract us from—the more his voice assumes a new, raspier quality unheard in the album’s other tracks. In his “It’s Time to Move On” video, he mentions how he even cried after he let out a line in “Hero” about doing what he did in life to make his mother proud.

I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to review Prototype VII. Just as Remington James primarily emphasizes the direct-from-heart-to-heart approach throughout, the only preparation one needs to let this album enter the heart is to put aside all the intellectual noise that blocks us from feeling the other person—the envious troll that wants to put him down for being that fitness guy who now wants to rap, and the rap orthopedic surgeon who focuses only on checking whether or not specific technical aspects are in place—and let our listening ear absorb the heart of Remington James.

Dre Steelo – Play to Win [EP – Review]

By 44faced on Jan 08, 2019 in Music , Reviews - 0 Comments

On Dre Steelo’s (@Dre_Steelo) third EP, the Michigan rapper personifies hunger for success and expresses it in 6 diverse tracks.

One of the greatest things about reviewing upcoming artists is that the yearning for the come-up is raw and more real than ever. In Dre Steelo’s case, his EP Play to Win positions him as a wolf eyeing its prey, ready to go in for the kill.

The 6 tracks of Dre Steelo’s Play to Win share pinpointed focus, clarity and directness. Even when using autotune, Dre Steelo never heads into the wavy, drugged up hip hop territory, but maintains his gravity around a vortex that’s ready to propel him to a whole other level.

In the first track, “Don’t Matter,” Dre Steelo sheds off his disbelievers and non-supporters. Dre introspectively verifies his reality to himself, that his success depends entirely on his determination to rise up the ladder, as well as making a statement to anyone listening that whether or not you’re with him, it doesn’t matter: it won’t shift Dre from working his way up. Moreover, he skillfully articulates the latter as the song heads into a catchy hook based around its title:

“You can think what you want
“But there’s one thing you should know
“It really don’t matter
“It really don’t matter, no…”

“Win,” the EP’s second track, re-tweaks Dre Steelo’s aspiration for success from another vantage point. As the beat cools off to more of a chill mode compared to “Don’t Matter,” Dre’s vocal entrance makes it clear that he’s no less fighting in this track than before.

“I didn’t come to play,
I just came to win.”

Definitive of the energy throughout the whole EP, Dre Steelo’s hunger to win is like a shot of pure motivation. His intention for success is well-targeted in his sights, and invites anyone to feed from that same energy.

The beat cruises out onto the highway on “A Lot On My Mind,” a steady-riding fast-paced drive that provides a basis for Dre Steelo to lay down his thoughts about making it on his own, money, pain, relationships and more of life’s ordeals.

Knowing what suits his energy in this record, Dre Steelo continues that driving-style beat with “100”: a steady-yet-progressive feel pounding through your chest down to your feet with Dre Steelo punching out each word with distinctive articulateness that cuts right through to that part inside each person that needs that fuel to go the extra mile to reach any kind of success.

Dre Steelo shows more variety of his approach when “I Know” hits. Taking a more reflective outlook on life, talking about what only he can know and others can’t know about over a boom-bap beat with a pounding, wavy 808 reminding you it’s the twenty-late-teens.

“Miracles” finishes off the EP in classic closing style. A vaster scope, a wider field of synths giving room for Dre Steelo to once again lay down his intent to reach the top by touching on the essence of what a miracle is:

“Miracles, miracles,
Making something out of nothing…”

Whether you need some extra fuel to start your day better aimed at your goals, or you need an extra boost to muscle in that last rep at the gym, Dre Steelo’s got exactly that pure energy to give you that extra thrust. I just hope that when he’s winning at the top, he won’t lose that same hunger he now has.

Pologang DB – Mama Left Me [Music Video – Review]

By 44faced on Dec 14, 2018 in Music , Reviews - 0 Comments

Pologang DB is a rising lyrical prodigy from the Midwest who paints a vivid picture of his motherless childhood in “Mama Left Me,” a relentless 3+ minute outpouring of no cliches or hooks, just straight, raw rap. Don’t expect any love or respect for DB’s mother: “Mama Left Me” is a sad story of how DB’s mother fell to drugs, neglected him and his family, and overdosed when DB was 14. DB talks about all the other players in his life throughout the period, his father, brother, uncle and sister, and how they tried to hold things together while his mother continued her dissolving life. Top-level music production by Ill Will and NebulaBeatz ring memories of the emotional kinds of beats with gospelesque backup female vocals on early 2pac records but with modernized sound and instrumentation. Also, top-level video production by Hogue Cinematics, cutting between shots of DB doing his lyrical storytelling, and shots with actors playing out different stages of DB’s childhood, the other players in his life, and ending with a chilling photo of DB and his mother—”chilling” because underlying the two looking happy together in the photo, through their smiles pierces the aftermath of a story that portrays the unfortunate downfall of this woman who failed to overcome her drug addiction and grow into her responsibility as a mother.

A defining characteristic of DB’s flow is clarity: he makes his storytelling straightforward and easily accessible to connect with him. Often, a music reviewer seeks a stand-out one-liner in the song to emphasize in the review, but in the case of “Mama Left Me,” DB’s lyrical content weaves as a tapestry that pieces together more and more pieces of a jigsaw puzzle for the listener: the more it unfolds, the more you see a full picture coming together, and can step back and see this real-life movie playing out between DB, his mother, and all the major influences in his childhood. You thus can’t pull out a single line without connecting it to the entire lyrical stream. The verbal and linguistic clarity, as well as the unfolding nature of the flow, are a 180-degree inversion from today’s urban musical atmosphere that hails drug-influenced slurring and distorted meanings. I suppose that after growing up with such a crushing example of drug addiction in his mother, DB sees no reason to glorify drugs. He instead seeks clarity and directness, and to communicate his messages that way to the world. If the urban music world shifts into its next phase of hangover, then DB’s music awaits with the clarity to give listeners their energy shots as they contemplate yesterday’s mistakes and start a new day.

About Pologang DB
Up-and-coming Toledo, Ohio hip hop artist Pologang DB is one rapper impossible to ignore. One-fifth of the acclaimed rap group ‘PoloGang’, the melodic and fierce, technical bars of DB’s sound are a breath of fresh air in a declining musical landscape of cliche’ hooks, mumble rap and autotune.

Follow Pologang DB on Twitter »

Three AM Fuxk – Clown [Album Review]

By 44faced on Sep 20, 2018 in Music , Reviews , Underground Rap - 0 Comments

Three AM Fuxk 2nd album release, Clown, is an underground Soundcloud hybrid rap-emo-metal gem. The self-produced album opens with dark banger “Okay Maybe | Overreacted,” which shifts from reverb-flooded monotonal low vocals to angst-filled shouts and a pumping 808 bass booming around the low-end.

The 2nd track continues as a genre leap, “Clown,” an emo-inspired opening, which alternates between the monotonal-and-shouting vocals that “Okay Maybe | Overreacted” introduced, as well as emo singing.

The sudden variations between driving beats, dark cathedral-reverb-like monotonal voice with no beat, and then shouts, and dying fades midway into the track satisfies any underground rap enthusiast. The brooding synths of “Someone Else” with featured artist Koitres, the thriller-style “Pu$$y” with featured artist Marco Tasane, the depressive piano of “Suicide Notes,” the still ambience of “Summer,” the dark bass-driven forest of “I’ll Be Fine,” the minor-chord progression-driven feel of “Sad” (with featured artist, deeprest), “Fuxk My Feelings,” “It Never Ends” and an unusual surprise final track, shifting between an epic symphonic string, almost New Age style opening, then quickly stabbing in with an epic emo-metal chorus to finish off the album with an unexpected glorious death.

Cloudy Retro – Eleven Thirteen Sixteen [Album Review]

By 44faced on Aug 29, 2018 in Music , Reviews - 0 Comments

While going through a year of blows with a rough kidnapping and a broken engagement, while making it through college, and for reasons only known to him, not being able to tell a word of this to anybody, Cloudy Retro dropped clues about his mental anguish in his raps and songwriting, and the album, Eleven Thirteen Sixteen is the result. A determined outpouring of cryptic lyricism flows relentlessly throughout the 16-track album, testifying to the fact that it’s not just an album for Cloudy Retro, but a means for maintaining focus among turbulent environmental circumstances.

Not your typical hip hop or rap album, in Cloudy Retro’s words, Eleven Thirteen Sixteen “draws influence from a variety of musical genres from several regions around the world, including Morocco, Japan, Chile and China.” The global eclecticism is evident from the very outset, as the opening track, “Babycakes,” leads with Hawaiian guitar playing alongside a high female voice in the background, followed by a boom-bap drum beat kicking in together with Cloudy Retro’s sixteenth-note rap-vocal delivery, a technique often used throughout the album. The confident rolling of the voice and drums abruptly takes a step back after a few bars as the first hint of something wrong happening peaks in, an intercom-like recording of a person becoming mentally disoriented during a pizza order: “Hi, I wanted to order a pizza please. Uh, damn. I don’t know. I can’t remember. Sorry.” The track ends prematurely at the one-minute mark.

Instrumentally, each track unfolds another part of the world, with the Spanish guitar guiding the second track, “Yeah Habeeb Tea,” the trap of “Rose Gold,” the acoustic rock guitar four-chord progression driven “Windy Love,” a pop Rhodes organ and piano driven beat with “Ramadan,” the free-flow guitar, subtle keys and percussion in “Sunscreen,” an electro-dance-with-a-twist in “Honestly,” a hypnotic sweeping synth and repetitive beat structure in “Adderall,” another acoustic guitar track with boom-bap drums, reminiscent somewhat of 2pac’s “My Block” but with a completely different vocal delivery in “Get Wasted,” a band-like setting with acoustic guitar, piano, keyboard, female backing vocals and drums for “Ten Years Speech,” delicate and sparse bell-like keyboards gradually developing into an ensemble of synth-strings, flute, electronic boom-bap drums and female backing vocals in “Embrace the Faker,” a xylophone with a deep synth and 808 strangely working harmoniously with the first entrance of RnB voice and Cloudy Retro’s signature contemplative rap in “Twelver.”

“Jeem Dream” can be considered the album’s title track, strutting in with invigorated vibe at track 13. Its repetitive grooves and lyrical structures make it the easiest to absorb, turning it into the album’s catchiest song. The hook—“27 letters in the alphabet, I said I wanted one. 27 letters in the alphabet, I said I want none”—carves its way inside your brain as Cloudy Retro repetitively forces it as a hook, and continues bouncing off it into the verses. Cloudy Retro once again drops clues as to what he’s going through in a cryptic code of alluring lyricism that has a quality of slipping through your fingers the more you think you’re grasping its meaning. Genius’ annotators would have a PhD dissertation on their hands with this release.

After “Jeem Dream,” “Pagan” on track 14 also makes a strong statement, being the first track where the female voice exits from the background, and forms the most powerful element in the hook. Four-to-the-floor piano stabs, back-and-forth kick-and-snare dialog, and Middle East-inspired strings set the foundation for Cloudy Retro’s verbal painting of a scenery and events that becomes all the more elusive the more its details become clearer.

Albeit a very personal release to Cloudy Retro, Eleven Thirteen Sixteen further delineates hip hop and rap in its heyday era of being able to take any kind of instrumental influence from around the world, add a beat and rap a message over it, and allow the artist to communicate his or her deepest feelings, questions, doubts, anxieties, pleasures and pains. Cloudy Retro makes the point with Eleven Thirteen Sixteen: first and foremost, the artist uses the medium to communicate these feelings and make sense of things to himself, and by delivering it to the cloud, he leaves his door slightly open, so anyone can come and start trying to decode the tapestry of states that Cloudy Retro went through during this stormy time in his life. In Cloudy Retro’s humble words: “Because I wasn’t able to speak about the kidnapping or the break-up with anyone until a year later, I wrote the entire album and hid subtle clues throughout its lyrics as a cry for help. This album is a lot more to me than just an album. It may not be perfect, but it’s mine, and I’d love to share it with everyone.”

Aaron D – Trap [EP]

By 44faced on Aug 18, 2018 in Music , Reviews - 0 Comments

Aaron D - Trap

Aaron D is a deeply intelligent MC whose appreciation of lyricism and conscious topics merge with a trap, slap-in-the-face aesthetic. Keeping his composure, calm, commentating on a wider perspective of the world, blending with personal stabs, but with an abstractedness that lets the listener fill in the gaps of what he’s meaning. The “Trap” EP is an entanglement of determined seriousness, abstract expansiveness and stream-of-consciousness thought experiments. His vocal lyricism tunnels into dense bass-filled beat forests and spreads tentacles into as far as the listener wishes to contemplate a string of phrases. “Trap” seemingly has all the elements of a modern underground rap classic, but if you try to decipher the inner goings-on of the lyrical tapestry, you’ll forage a labyrinth of possibilities and have a constant bass-driven hypnosis underlying your experience.

This Unsigned, Unknown and Unheard Rapper Is Working on Getting 1 View and 1 Like

By 44faced on Aug 11, 2018 in Music , Reviews - 0 Comments

Unsigned, unknown, unheard (at least for now) you’d walk past KF Greatness and fail to recognize under his humble external appearance the passion burning under the surface. But his mixtape France Nights boldly cuts straight through the fluorescent flamboyance of 2018 rap by relentlessly pumping an AR-15 heart through a 19-year-old throat that sounds like it’s been inhaling and exhaling smoke for 30 years in an underground car park—a sound other rappers and producers are fiddling with pedals and plugins to try reach. An outsider to the mumble and cursive styles of his Soundcloud peers, KF Greatness articulates lyrical clarity with a flow so natural it sounds like he was forming rhymes when everyone else was just starting to say “Mommy” and “Daddy.”

Throughout France Nights, KF Greatness seeks to brush away the layers of negativity, fabrications and falseness surrounding him, and express the inner voice that speaks his truth: self-reassurance, self-motivation, self-determination and hard work to remain adhered to his goals and work (“My Calling” and “Steady Grindin”), relationship problems (“My Trust In”), appreciation and blessings for his family (“Outta Here/Family”), finding strength to pursue his dreams despite ongoing criticism and negativity (“Doubted Me”), the little devil on KF Greatness’ left shoulder deploying a diss track against his unbelievers (“Alter Ego”), the inability for KF Greatness to be understood, where as much as he outputs, he can’t get all the experiences he’s had through to people (“Understand Me” and “Thru It All”).

In an era where the introverted lyricist come up is getting replaced by extravagant buzz-generating social media experts, the search to find and communicate realness, values and awareness of one’s movements in society remains to be the undying essence of hip hop that lives on through KF Greatness. No matter how many views, listens and likes accumulate, KF Greatness is focusing on just one view—his own—and being true to it.

CTB’s “On Me” Music Video Will Make Your Day So Much Better

By 44faced on Aug 11, 2018 in Music , Reviews - 0 Comments

Surrounded by luxurious California perfection—smooth low rider cruising in spacious, weed-enhanced Cali air, loose bills on the floor, wads of cash in hand, big bags of the good herb, and spicy video hoes—CTB (Calitreeboy) flaunts textbook West Coast status in his new single and music video, “On Me.”

Filmmaker Angelo Deprater‘s cinematography blends the sleekness of the Cali vibe together with subtle bouncing elements—the convertible’s green furry dice, sharp rhythmic video cuts, and even tree branches—visually mirroring producer Imakefirebeats’ drum and bass grooves. The video dances with the percussive hits and smacks, the 808’s leaps and slides, and the Chronic-era reminiscent low synth stabs.

CTB’s presence, both vocally and visually, takes center stage. Cellphone in hand, smiling at the good life, serious at the work ahead for the better life, he’s the hard work-focused entrepreneur that makes time for a good time, available to talk if money’s involved, and enjoying every moment of it. Musically, his melodically-enveloping vocal delivery rides the beat with confident and effortless calm.

Lyrically, “On Me” takes swings at the core of personal responsibility: that your life is what you make of it. An interweaving of creative wordplay, sometimes simple and to-the-point (“hit the club and my energy is felt, touch a bitch and her pussy starts to melt”), other times comedic (“hit my line all I understand is money, I’m mean to my bitch like Al Bundy”), but the essence of CTB’s message that penetrates the peaks and valleys of entrepreneurial emotion in the hook:

“Everything’s on me.”
“If I get to the top, it’s on me.”
“If I don’t do nothing… on me.”
“Man I’m buying out the bar, it’s on me.”

Starting with accepting full responsibility for one’s actions and success “Everything’s on me, if I get to the top it’s on me,” the hook dips into the opposite introspection that internally burns anyone wasting their time—”If I don’t do nothing… on me”—and from that wake-up call, immediately kicking into optimistic wordplay suggesting that CTB has the means to “buy out the bar,” that he’s doing well, sharing his success with his friends.

If CTB is aiming for the top, then he’s definitely gaining respect and fans on his way up from this single and music video. Such top-end, integrative production demands attention.

44faced Personal Note: As a reviewer, I listened to and watched the song and music video multiple times, and the more I did, the more I enjoyed it. The hook and the overall optimistic Cali vibe of the video all left a positive vibe in me that I took with me into my day following it.

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