Front-Free Gets Lo With Camp Lo

I remember watching CMC (California Music Channel) back home in the Bay Area, CA and seeing the video for “Luchini (This Is It)” for the first time, sandwiched in between the local rap and run-of-the-mill mainstream videos being played at the time.  I stopped everything I was doing.  All I knew was I liked what I was hearing and that these dudes were bringing something completely unique to the table…and still doing just that in an industry climate where originality isn’t appearing to be highly lucrative or popular.  Big shoutout to Camp Lo for taking the time to sit down and speak with Front-Free briefly about their history in the business and the upcoming 80 Blocks From Tiffany’s project.

When Camp Lo hit the scene, it wasn’t like anything else out there at the time.  From the stream of consciousness flow you guys were kickin’ to the overall 70s theme used in the concept, clothing and lyrics, Camp Lo was just out there with it.  Was this a concept you guys created for hip-hop or was this something Geechie Suede and Sonny Cheeba just came into the game with already intact?

Geechie Suede: Yeah, we pretty much strategically approached it with a cinematic appeal. Twisting it in our own Bronx way to show our originality and ability to captivate a broad audience through doing something different.

Sonny Cheeba: …We went over how we was gonna bring somethin’ new to the people of hip-hop as far as style, delivery, slang, etc. but the slang is forever.

Who would you say were your musical influences, within hip-hop and outside of hip-hop?

Geechie Suede: Slick Rick, Big Daddy Kane, Native Tongues, Digable Planets…we always bumped Meth, Nas and B.I.G.!!!   So many more but as for outside of hip-hop, I gotta add Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Earth Wind and Fire.

“Luchini” was a huge hit.  How much pressure was there to come up with another “Luchini” and did you find yourselves wanting to stick to formula or stray completely away from that to give fans something different?

Geechie Suede: Well, we accept things for what they are and  just move how we feel most natural.  The formula is to just do what you love and we love an array of things, so the end result will always be unpredictable and timeless..

Sonny Cheeba: We do like to try new things with the music ’cause artists grow, but it’s like, at times you dont want your soul food tasting like Denny’s, so as artists we have to know that going in.

So you gave us the 80 Blocks From Tiffany’s joint (what’s the name about?).  Tell us about the upcoming project with Pete Rock.

Geechie Suede: Keeping it cinematic as we always will…. 80 Blocks from Tiffany’s is a [1979] documentary about BX gang life and  the struggle that was taking place around that time.  That would later become the very ingredients for the early stages of hip-hop’s emergence.  We chose this because its our honor and job here to tell the story of the Bronx..

Sonny Cheeba: 80 Blocks From Tiffany’s is a BX thang, but really anybody from where we from knows every day can’t be flashy cars and diamond rings.  There’s also the others side of that coin.  It may not shine the same, but it’s still just as bright.

What’s next for Camp Lo?

Geechie Suede: We have a few things in the making with some real nice surprises stirring but [80 Blocks From Tiffany’s]is definitely the focus right now..Then the flood begins.  Lo never ends.  We love to keep the shock value high for the people.

Camp Lo’s always been ill with the stream of consciousness flow and painting the hell out of a picture for the people, so the music makes its own case.  Get with it.  And of course we know what kind of damage the legendary Pete Rock can do, so if you haven’t already, download that 80 Blocks mixtape here as a appetizer before the official Camp Lo/Pete Rock joint drops in the near future.

Vintage: Coolie High x Camp Lo

New: Mic Check x Camp Lo

 

A Moment With Camp Lo from Michael Béon on Vimeo.

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Review: Gunz ‘n’ Butta by Cam’ron & Vado

If you’re looking for that Jansport rap, it ain’t here.  Take that shit up the block.  Pharoahe Monch just dropped an LP not too long ago and it’s dope, but this is just something else entirely.  If you’ve never stood on the couch in the club buggin’ out, you may not get into it.  If you’ve never thought about smashing off your probation officer to get out of a piss test, this may be just aiight to you.  And that’s fine.  Basically, Cam and Vado ain’t reaching or trying to impress people who aren’t already fans.  And that’s fine.  Trying to spread themselves too thin to too many potential listeners and in turn stepping on otherwise quality product is where a lot of rappers fail.  There isn’t really a whole lot here aside from blunts, birds, and bitches, but Cam and Vado still manage to find new ways to flip the same product. 

Cam is in his usual cadence as easily one of the funniest MCs out there (“You ain’t carryin’, holmes / I’ll have ’em carry you home / for bein’ juiced up, Marion Jones” on “Face-Off”), whether he intends to be or not.  Though reactions to Slime Flu were mixed, Vado seems to be back in the form we heard him in on earlier joints like “Ric Flair” and “Stop It 5”, the latter of which also appears on this album.  The nigga-please anthem “Stop It 5”, crew salute “We All Up In Here” and club banger “Speaking In Tungz” have been out for a long time, so their presence here reeks of filler, but they’re still relevant joints, so they don’t take away from the whole of the album.

A lot of the songs here tend to run together, so there’s no need to run through many specifics, though “Killa” and “American Greed” tend to stand out as slap-a-housing-cop music.  Listen to those two and you’ll be baggin’ up work in no time.  That’s how you spend a tax return.  Go follow Harper Hill on Twitter or something if you’re looking for introspection or to be uplifted.  This is just something to ride to and that’s OK.  People have to stop trying to decide what’s hip-hop and what isn’t or who should be more diverse in their subject matter.  There’s something out there for everybody.  Gunz N Butta is not classic LP material, but it’s definitely valid for the time being and bound to keep Cam & Vado buzzin’ as a duo.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bFKKHoNYcz8&feature=player_embedded

YO!  Today and tomorrow are the last days of this VIBE Ultimate Blogger contest I’m enrolled in.  I’m currently in 7th at press time, but all I need is to make 5th place by the end of tomorrow to become a finalist, at which point the judges will have to deliberate.  Help me.  Click the image below to vote for Front-Free and please use the “tweet” and Facebook share options to get the word out TODAY.  I appreciate all of you, new readers and old ones.  Peace.

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Enter Sandman: Exclusive Interview With Sandman

You probably best remember Philadelphia MC Sandman (aka Sandcannon) from his role as 1/4 of The Re-Up Gang, with The Clipse and Ab Liva (of Major Figgas).  After leaving the group in 2008 over artistic differences, Sandman has been on his solo grind, releasing street-oriented mixtapes Philadelphia Ego, Gianormous and Heart of the City. What may not be well-known is that Sandman had been doing his thing well before meeting Pusha and the Re-Up Gang, from running his own imprint, Cannons Inc. to a former deal with Interscope.

Front-Free: First, I wanna thank you for taking the time to sit down and rap with us for a hot minute, I know you’re hard at work promoting Cannons Inc. and upcoming projects.

Sandman: Oh, it’s not a problem, my nigga, this is actually my first exclusive interview since I got out of prison in January so I definitely wanted to take this opportunity to be heard out here.

FF: Word, thanks again and congrats on making it home.  OK, so let’s get into it.  I think many fans of The Re-Up Gang like myself who know how much you brought to the table understand your reasoning for leaving the group, but at the same time feel like there is no Re-Up without the gravity you added to their tracks.  Are you still on speaking terms with the rest of The Gang and do you foresee any possibility of working with them in the future?

Sandman: Niggas squandered a great opportunity…you know it, the world know it.  I hope they don’t think that the world don’t see that the shit got squandered.  As far as speaking terms, I haven’t spoken to Pusha or Malice since the split.  I’ve spoken to Ab Liva twice.  When the split happened, I didn’t know if niggas would see my reasoning, but at the time, it was more important to put myself in a better situation.  If you heard the Re-Up Gang album, it was titled “The Clipse Presents…”  NAH BITCH…Re-Up Gang presents the Re-Up Gang!!!  When it’s all said and done, I’m not a dick-eater, I’m not a follower, I’m a leader, so I had to go.  I thought the Re-Up Gang was gonna take me and Cannons Inc. to another level and when I saw it not going that direction, I had to go.  How did Re-Up Gang drop 3 classic mixtapes and not release one fuckin’ video?  But I got a joint on my upcoming mixtape called “Straight To It” that’s gonna get into that whole situation.

When Pusha met me, he had 5 of my CDs in his hand.  People may or may not know that [The Clipse’] first mixtape was actually my ninth.  So he knew how I got down off top and approached me with the Re-Up Gang idea, so I really don’t know of any Re-Up Gang without Sandman.  The shit was built around me.  In fact, I see my influence in Pusha T’s flow now.

FF: Word?

Sandman: Go back and listen to “Grindin'” and compare that flow to his flow now.  You’ll hear Sandman all in there, but I’m flattered.  You can print that.

FF: I’ve seen “Reunite The Re-Up Gang” on a couple of blogs out there.  Is that even a possibility at this point?

Sandman: I’ve noticed that and it’s like this…why do I only see those type of remarks on my joints?  You don’t see those comments on Pusha T joints or Ab Liva joints, but you see it on mine.

FF: A lot of groups we see in hip-hop present themselves as being closer than they really are, but when they split, we hear a different story.  Was the Re-Up Gang really close before the split?

Sandman: Oh yeah…me and Malice used to read the Bible together in the back of the tour bus.  He cried when my grandmother got cancer because of the pain he had experienced with the death of his own grandmother.  That’s how real it was.  But at the end of the day, the Re-Up Gang is something The Clipse used to get them back to the streets where they started at.

FF: Tell us about Cannons, Inc.  What do you have on the stove at present?

Sandman: I got my solo mixtape titled Mt Crushmore droppin’ soon.  That’s gonna be all instrumentals; everything from “Victory” by B.I.G. which I went crazy on to “Think About It” by Special Ed, which already dropped on the ‘net.  I did a joint to “Xplosive”and soon as I left the studio, I got the news that Nate Dogg had passed, which was crazy.

I’m currently shopping my album Grains Of Sand around…

FF: You looking to go through a major label?

Sandman: Nah, mainly just looking for distribution on a finished product.  I did the major label thing with Interscope before Steve Stoute got fired and had a verbal agreement with Diddy to sign to Bad Boy, but that was of course before he hit the club with Shyne, so you know…

FF: Understood, understood…so who else should we look out for from Cannons Inc.?  I know a lot of the guest appearances on your mixtapes have been fire, so give us the full roster.

Sandman: I got Housewife, my blood sister dropping her joint called I Am HDub, she dope as shit.  Other artists on Cannons Inc. are Cheech Myers, Spazz Cannon, Kawshen, Sock, Slash, Deuce Sceem, and Eddie Somerset.  I’m tellin’ you my roster’s about to run through the whole industry…easy.  Also, look out for that Cannons Inc. compilation The Unstoppable.  Check out the website for details.

*NEW This Week: Download Armed & Dangerous off the upcoming Mt. Crushmore*

FF: Listeners of your solo work can definitely tell you’re taking it back to the glory days of hip-hop, yet mixing more of a gangsta rap vibe in there.  Who are your biggest influences and who, if anybody, are you listening to currently?

Sandman: I’ma show my age with this one, but my biggest influences are LL Cool J, Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap, KRS-One, Schooly D and Cool C.  DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince’ “Girls Of The World Ain’t Nothin’ But Trouble” and LL’s “I Need Love” made me write about women.  Kool G Rap showed me the hustle shit because everything he rapped about I saw in my uncles.  Listening to KRS taught me how to tell a story.  Kane taught me how to be metaphorical in my rhymes, and Schoolly D?  Just live Philly shit.  I think you combine all these styles from back then and you get my style today.

As far as who I’m listening to today, not a whole lot of people.  I listen to Rick Ross, though…by the way, I tip my hat to Meek Mill for getting signed to Ross’ label and doing his thing.  Meek put in a lot of work up here on the Philly scene so I’m happy to see him come up.  Ace Hood joint “Hustle Hard” is dope and there’s a new video I just saw called “Yonkers” by a dude named Tyler the Creator where he eats a beetle (laughs).

FF: Is hip-hop dead to you and if so, what’s the remedy?

Sandman: Nah…hip-hop ain’t dead at all.  The versatility in hip-hop is dead.  The diversity in hip-hop is dead.  Hip-hop is like somebody pressed the repeat button a bunch of times.  Being yourself is dead, so hip-hop is stuck in a hall of mirrors where everything looks the same. If anything, tell your readers this: My man Sandman told me that when a nigga is on the mic, it’s one of two things: he’s either being the nigga he is or the nigga he wants to be.  It’s nothing else.  When I was recording a solo joint “Just A B-Boy” for The Re-Up, Pharrell actually pulled me out of the booth and told me “that love you have for hip-hop?  Don’t lose that”.  I haven’t.

VIDEO: “Anchor” by Sandman

DOWNLOAD SANDMAN aka SANDCANNON’s MIXTAPES:

Download Gianormous

Download #1 Suppliya

Download Heart Of The City

Download Philadelphia Ego

Mt. Crushmore Coming Soon!

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Kill Your Radio: Smoke DZA, Camp Lo & Nerd Ferguson

Ignore that picture (I just thought it was funny) and kill your goddamn radio.  That’s the new motto.  There’s too much good music to be had out here for grown-ass people to be turning on the radio or Pandora (if you haven’t gotten hip to Grooveshark, you’re losing…support this site as they’re in some legal issues right now) and expecting to hear quality.  You’re also losing if you haven’t voted for Front-Free in the Vibe Ultimate Blogger contest.  No personal information is required, just hit the link and click “Like Me” from your various computers and mobile devices.  And vote daily until April 16th.  I’m planning to make major moves with Front-Free this year and winning this or becoming a finalist would really give me the exposure I need.  Just click the link below to be directed to the site.  And THANK YOU.

Oh, so you were just gonna speed past the link and not vote?  Oh, okay, you know what?…

  • New This Week: THC (The Hustlers Catalog) x Smoke DZA – New sativa-laden material from Smoke DZA.  Somebody said Smoke resembles Lamont Sanford on the cover art shown below, but I’m chillin…I’m gonna just leave this right here, though…

Click the image below for track list and download…

  • 80 Blocks From Tiffany’s x Camp Lo & Pete Rock – Camp Lo?  Good money.  Pete Rock?  Good money.  Camp Lo and Pete Rock collaborating on one project?  Should be great money.  The 80 Blocks From Tiffany’s mixtape is the precursor to the actual project and features Camp Lo over classic Pete Rock production from the “T.R.O.Y.” era.  There’s also a couple of new cuts like “Mic Check” to hold us down ’til the final draft drops.  Click the image to download and enjoy.

  • Unhappy Hour x Nerd Ferguson – Last but not least, the homie Nerd Ferguson came through with the Unhappy Hour mixtape, which is in his own words “something to counter the typical flossin, hoes and swagger-rap goin’ on right now”.  It’s definitely off the beaten path of what’s out there presently so give it a listen and spread the word.  Click the image to download and enjoy.

 


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Fashion Friday: The Original David

From TheOriginalDavid.com:

the original david was conceived in the eighties. it’s the result of hip hop, the challenger, sesame street, reading rainbow, boom boxes, eight tracks in the garage, records in the house, weekly readers, national geographic, the tearing down of the berlin wall, british knights and triple fat goose, goonies, breakin, pepsi vs coke, mc tonight, where in the world is carmen sandiego, a tribe called quest, and new edition, and africa. david is the product of that environment, David represents that mix, the clash of culture, hip hop, creativity, and current events. we lived this. we’re 100% authentic and our clothes are not virtual. We design in 3-D for the restless and underwhelmed. David is the brand of a generation. in every language there’s a david.

The vision and grind behind The Original David is something that should be inspiring to upcoming artists and entrepreneurs alike, so Front-Free sat down with Rakiyt Zakari of The Original David to talk about the one-of-a-kind brand, from its inception to its future.

  • Where did the name “The Original David” come from?

I named the line The Original David because I wanted to use a name that everyone could identify with. Everybody knows someone named David and it’s a name found in different variations all over the world. Our tag line is, “in every language there’s a david”, meaning that in some sense we’re all Davids, regardless of race, religion, and background. David is also my son’s name…heir to the throne!

  • What are a few of the obstacles you faced in your journey and how did you overcome them?

Some obstacles I experienced were/are editing my creativity into a marketable product and communicating my perspective. Also, finding my voice in an industry, and genre (streetwear) that can be very nepotistic has been frustrating at times. I’ve learned that experience is the best remedy for these types of growing pains. I had to learn how to limit my time in the paint (r.i.p. Bob Ross). Limitless inspiration is a kryptonite to creative people; it’s alluring and distracting and can be hard to control, especially when you know the next steps are trying to figure out how to take an idea to market. I’m still struggling with that but I’m getting better and found one of THE BEST guides ever in this book ‘Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming the Obstacles Between Vision and Reality” by Scott Belsky. That book changed my life.

The fashion industry has a penchant for promoting from within. Proximity and diligence will get you far. As a single mom, and generally low-key personality, I don’t have the time nor bravado to push my product as much as I like. For instance, I’m the first woman to ever do an apparel collaboration with Jordan Brand, not many people know that. What’s special about The Original David is that the people who support the brand really fuel it’s reach. I think their endorsement, more than a big marketing push, gives David it’s authenticity. This is such a personal project and reveals a lot about the schizophrenia that characterizes my personality, I think the biggest obstacle was learning to be comfortable being me. Now I’m working on getting a publicist.

  • Music and specifically hip-hop seem to play a big part in inspiring your pieces.  What is currently in rotation on your iPod?

Yes music is a must. Hip hop is a running undercurrent of inspiration in a lot my designs. Right now I’m playing:
• “Cream Of The Planet” x Ski Beatz & Mos Def
• “Coming Down” & “Wicked Games” x The Weeknd
Return Of 4eva x Big KRIT
• A lot of classic Mobb Deep and Black Moon
StarWars‘ Darth Vader theme song
• “One Hand Push Up” x Rhymefest
• “Ultraviolent” x Theophilus London


In 10 years I see The Original David having an established relevance in pop culture. My goal is to open a flagship store, and be the main distribution point for the brand. I want to expand the product line up, to include more apparel, leather goods, and toys. I want to by then have developed a consistently strong look and perspective for The Original David in a way that opens the brand up to more collaborative projects . I’d love to work with companies like Polaroid, TDK performance, and Converse.

There you have it straight from the innovator’s mouth.  Be sure to check out www.TheOriginalDavid.com and check out the complete Original David offering.  Front-Free collaborated with Original David to drum up the following playlist for your listening pleasure, inspired both by the creator’s musical inspirations and my take on the Original David’s pieces from the outside looking in.

 

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So You Want To Be Courted…

Saving Heauxs: the Victorian Edition

Let’s just get this out of the way.  I’m going to throw out some generalizations.  I’m going to go ahead and assume that most women think or assume they’re “a good woman” and worthy of all the gold in the land.  Most women believe that their (ahem) “pocketbook” is made out of platinum.  Men know that this is not the case, and ironically, so do women.  I’ve seen women call women all kinds of tramps and harlots simply for cutting them off in traffic (but we do it and we’re objectifying…but I digress).  There’s always been negative connotations associated with the promiscuous woman, but if you went to college, you probably know one or two women who basically walked around campus with a scarlet letter on their shirt.  She’s probably now happily married to a guy who’s totally oblivious.  So, aside from the rare occasion, at the end of the day we can safely assume most women believe they are worthy of what they claim they are, which is to be courted for a relationship to some degree and for men to adhere to “chivalry”.  Do we even know what chivalry actually means, though, or in this modern day, what it means to be courted?

According to Barbara Tuchman’s list of the stages of courtly love, the act of courting requires a few steps most people wouldn’t even consider.  For example, after the initial attraction, the male must engage in “worship of the lady from afar” which is to be followed by “virtuous rejection by the lady”, after which the man must basically plea for her attention (“moans of approaching death from unsatisfied desire”) and “heroic deeds of valor”.  All of this is supposed to end in consummation of their “secret love”.  Basically, courtly love was a medieval European idea in which the guidelines were not only extremely specific, but practiced primarily by those of nobility, not every man and every woman or even between husband and wife.  The term “lady” is also used throughout the stages, since courtly love was defined back when “lady” didn’t simply describe anyone who happened to be born with a vagina.  It was an actual social class characterized not only by birthright, but by certain behaviors and requirements on her end as well.  In modern society, the idea of courting has evolved to include basic dating between anyone and is a less involved process, not to mention a sense of entitlement that comes from simply being born with female reproductive organs.

Prince Valiant putting his mack hand down. No, playing a harp for your lady was not the Medieval equivalent to burning her a copy of your mixtape.

One of the simplest issues in modern-day courting could be the unspoken policies about paying for a date.  While I’ve had many women respond to this issue saying they think it’s only right to pay for a date if you invite someone somewhere, the loophole there is that these are the same women who wouldn’t feel comfortable turning the tables and asking a man out.  Thus, the idea is that the man pays for the date and the woman sits there and enjoys the mint that came with the bill.  I’ve always advised men to take note of this reaction.  While I personally think a man should traditionally pay, I don’t think that it should be expected by the woman to the point of her not even acknowledging that the bill has come for a meal she sat there and ate and certainly not to the point of not even bringing any money.  I would highly respect a woman who made the gesture of offering to pay.  I say this having had female friends who, through multiple stories, let me know that many women would allow Sloth from The Goonies take them out to eat if it meant a free meal.  Even if, as a woman, you can’t see it from my perspective, at least understand that the “most women” we discussed earlier are looking at the wall when the check comes and the woman who offered to pay might stand out to a quality guy (read: a guy with options) where others won’t. Judging by women’s policies on the subject of paying for a date, there is much more concern for who goes for the wallet than how the date went up to that point and what you have learned about him and who he is as a person.

A lot of people still adhere to advice passed down to them from generations past about male and female roles in the dating game which seems ass-backwards to me.  Not that all wisdom gleaned from older folks is totally off-base in the modern world, but the game has changed significantly since even the ’80s.  Women have come too far in my opinion and worked too hard to gain respect in the workplace to adopt a demure, lady-in-waiting role after-hours.  It just doesn’t add up and sends mixed signals to men.  Sure, it may have seemed pleasant to be a woman in an era when chivalry was allegedly the norm, but keep in mind that this was also a time when, after the courting and wooing was over, you had to “shut your mouth, wench” when a man was talking…and maybe churn some butter or something.  Things have changed for a reason, so one can’t expect to do away with the bad and still keep all of the good intact.  If you’re an independent woman, I think your actions should speak to that.  Sure, some men will shy away from that, but those aren’t the ones you want anyway.  In America in 2011, a relationship should be a partnership.  It should no longer be acceptable for women to enter the dating world able-bodied and educated, yet looking for a man to be sole breadwinner and provider (though he should exhibit the potential to do so if needed).  Two people meeting for a date should be meeting as equals, unless you want to set a tone where one person is dominant from the gate, which does both of you a disservice.  Now if you’re talking about chivalry in terms of opening doors and what-not, that’s something that’s just implied in our society as basic manners along with “please” and “thank you” and has little to do with dating…it’s common courtesy.  No one’s assuming anything about your level of virtue simply by holding the door…they just don’t wanna look like an asshole.

Maybe women who are constantly lamenting the death of chivalry should spend more time considering why they themselves haven’t been the recipient of any recent acts of chivalry.  Are you yourself a lady and are the men you’re attracting worthy of knighthood?  Chances are, there’s improvement that could be happening on both sides, but what’s a relationship if not two people working together to improve one another over time?  Our society is spoiled off of instant gratification and it seems we expect the same thing out of relationships.  Women want to immediately be considered worthy of respect and acts of fealty before the man has a chance to get to know her while we as men don’t want to waste our time getting to know someone who may not be sexually compatible.  The solution?  Throw out all of that old BS and make your own rules based on your own rational judgment, which as an adult you should be able to trust.  If you can’t trust it, you’ve got some work to do before you sit down to a first date meal with anybody.

**************************************

Courtly love was a medieval European conception of nobly and chivalrously expressing love and admiration. Generally, courtly love was secret and between members of the nobility.  It was also generally not practiced between husband and wife.

Stages of courtly love

(Adapted from Barbara Tuchman)

  • Attraction to the lady, usually via eyes/glance
  • Worship of the lady from afar
  • Declaration of passionate devotion
  • Virtuous rejection by the lady
  • Renewed wooing with oaths of virtue and eternal fealty
  • Moans of approaching death from unsatisfied desire (and other physical manifestations of lovesickness)
  • Heroic deeds of valor which win the lady’s heart
  • Consummation of the secret love
  • Endless adventures and subterfuges avoiding detection

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A Slightly Imperfect Weeknd [Review]

I ended up downloading The Weeknd’s House of Balloons mixtape as a result of a very simple suggestion: “Man, just download it”.  I was asking one of my Twitter followers what it was supposed to be after reading a few cryptic tweets hyping the project.  I didn’t know what the genre was supposed to be, if The Weeknd represented a group or even if it was supposed to be spelled “The Weeknd” (which I learned yesterday is pronounced “the weakened”).  I just downloaded it, not knowing what to expect, which was probably for the best.  Upon giving it the first pass while transferring the songs from WinRAR to iTunes, I was impressed.  The production quality is top-notch and there’s a common theme amongst the songs, whether played in order or at random.  For the purpose of me enjoying the music, I had to just completely ignore the fact that The Weeknd is touted as a “protege” of none other than Audrey Aubrey “Drake” Graham.

So first I was like…

The Weeknd is sometimes referred to as a Toronto-based group (vocalist and two producers), but I have also seen it described as solely the vocalist, Abel Tesfaye, whose vocals take you back to 12-Play-era R. Kelly on certain tracks and notes.  The vocals coupled with the production, though very modern, reminds me of an R&B take on Phil Collins (which is a huge compliment, since I’m a fan of Phil Collins), infused with some electronic and alternative influences.  Standout tracks like “The Knowing” give listeners some of the vulnerability missing from a lot of today’s R&B, over a track reminiscent of the brooding, ethereal feel of much of Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreaks.  The title track is, for lack of better wording, a good-ass time, until I really tuned in on the rap at the end of the song.

After several listens, I began to pick up on some serious flaws.  I’m the kind of listener who needs 2-3 listens to truly evaluate a project.  The first listen is the “can i even tolerate this” evaluation, where I listen for production quality.  The second and third listens are dedicated to the song itself: whether or not I’m moved by the song and the quality of the songwriting specifically.  The latter is where The Weeknd falls short, unfortunately.  There are certain songs on House Of Balloons where, upon giving it a closer listen, a needle scratched the record in my mind.  “Did he just say something about Alize and breakfast cereal?”  Yes, he did.  “Did he just say ‘let me motherf*cking love you’?”  Yes, he did.  Over beautiful arrangements.  Damn shame.

 

...but then I was like...
…but then I was like…

Anybody who knows me knows I don’t shy away from the use of expletives, but only when they add to whatever I’m saying.  The song “Wicked Games” is a prime example of completely unnecessary use of expletives that actually take away from the song.  The first verse is littered with the pervasive use of “motherf*cking” in a way that makes it seem that the songwriter couldn’t think of anything else.  Otherwise, the song is awesome.  Modern R&B suffers from artists choosing to make their music immediately disposable by including name brands, modern slang, and expletives, as if they’re competing with rappers for the same subject matter.  Most of the time, this is done over an equally disposable track, but it almost makes me more mad that The Weeknd does the same at times over otherwise quality music.

Ask me if I stopped jammin’ though? Nope.

It seems like The Weeknd’s goal was to go completely in a new direction from most modern R&B with House of Balloons in terms of the sound, artwork, and choosing to allow the music to speak for itself by shrouding himself/themselves in mystery, but in doing that, neglected to put the same creativity and daring into actually writing the songs.  This doesn’t make House of Balloons a complete wash or anything that you shouldn’t download if you haven’t already, though.  This is dope music that’s leagues beyond what most R&B dudes are doing these days and it deserves some shine.  Hopefully, the Weeknd will push the envelope a little more in the right direction on his/their next project and focus on simply making classic music as opposed to trying to shock people with bad words and debauchery.  It’s shocking enough that The Weeknd had the balls to shirk the cookie-cutter expectations and create a sound that’s completely unique.  Now I’m just waiting for the writing to catch up to the production quality.

“The Knowing” x The Weeknd

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