The Coldest Winter Ever by Ms Banks – Strength in Versatility

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Women in Hip-Hop has always been seen to be such a taboo topic and one has never really understood why, it’s not as if they don’t exist. Not only has rap been made to be a competitive sport but also a male sport. Within the UK sphere, the more successful female artists create songs that at most merely graze the ‘urban’ surface.

But now we’re experiencing a resurgence and one of the front runners leading the movement is none other than Ms Banks. From humble beginnings and near obscurity, Ms Banks has propelled herself into the Rap spotlight. Not keeping us waiting for too long, she finally releases a full length project to sink our teeth into The Coldest Winter Ever.

Taking the name from the famous 1999 novel by the American rapper and author Sister Souljah, both projects share similarities. Like the book, Banks’ latest release centres on the trials and tribulations of the female protagonist. A nuanced body of work, it’s a story of love, friendships, career highs and lows and ultimately making it on top.

So it all kicks off with the “Intro” which is more like a riveting monologue backed to the sounds of hushed lullaby pianos and orchestral violins. In true poetic fashion, she gives us a foretaste of what is to come.

Judging from the singles that came before it, The Coldest Winter Ever was always going to be about showing off her versatility. We start proceedings by having two of the finest 5691ab6db1fc657a3592dffee21a6c9fupcoming artists from South London join forces for a heater. Ms Banks enlists the help of Drill ‘Cool Kid’ Loski from the Harlem Spartans for “R.I.P“, stepping into his world as she embodies the drill sound. As Loski comes through, both artists lay down their bars as they address all of the talk from the haters. She definitely doesn’t disappoint on the Drill vibe, as she also goes straight dark hood mode with the slow creeper that is third track “Bangs”.

One of my standouts has to be “Over (Your Shit)” for the very fact that it’s a side of Ms Banks we’re generally less accustomed to. It’s a smooth R&B cut which sees her trade bars and flow for vocals and intonation and changes the vibe completely. Ms Banks evokes a softer side as she looks back over a past relationship and professes it all as a form of release to get over the heartbreak.

We know she can be tough and gritty, we see that she can be soft and vulnerable. But with the Toddla T-produced riddim “Chat 2 Mi Gyal”, Ms Banks gets the space to be incredibly playful and free with her bars, upon bars. Another one of my standouts, it has the bounce of dancehall but the freestyle nature of real Hip-Hop with such an infectious rhythm that you just can’t help but bounce with.

The mixtape doesn’t harbour many features, which gives a listening experience that is quintessentially Ms Banks. For the most part, the lack of features doesn’t fare a big issue as she provides enough style diversity to suffice. Besides Loski, there are some other notable mentions.

Mulla” is about ‘exactly what it says on the tin’ in layman’s terms and is a hustler’s anthem for all the go-getters listening. Somewhere between singing and rapping Ms Banks finds the pockets within the Trap-esque beat where she seamlessly rides and she is contrasted by the raw grit of UK’s under-the-radar rappers Dutch. Two different vibes but the context is still the same captured sweetly by the catchy chorus.

Made It” is another retrospective cut featuring singer Montana who plays a bit part role on the hook and it’s straight up alternative R&B. While she reflects on the anguish that a past relationship caused from feeling undervalued, she shares her story in poetic form not for you to show sympathy but empathy as she lets go and overcomes.

msbanksfeaturedThe mixtape wouldn’t be complete without two of her biggest singles to date. “Come Thru” is simply another banger that should be on your UK Rap list, male or female. It holds a hard Hip-Hop sound encapsulated by the heavy bassline as oozes Black Girl Magic in such a boastful way. Now if you compare that with the upbeat urban pop sounds of “Day Ones” where she dedicates the track to the ones who have been supporting her from early yet she still manages to keep her authentic street self; it just goes to show that Ms Banks has a lot in her repertoire.

Ms Banks signs out paying homage with “Pen Game 2”.  After the viral success of Margs’ #PenGameChallenge on Twitter, it only made sense to have him feature on the track. It’s bold, boastful from the pair as they freestyle over one of the most hype beats you’ll hear in a while. It’s a real South London to East London connection.

As stated much earlier, The Coldest Winter Ever is a clear demonstration of the scope of artist that Ms Banks. While there were no major pleasant surprises to shout about, she did what many know and expect from her, just better. Her mixtape summarises the period of life she is in now; A young woman who acknowledges and appreciates the lessons of her past but is over it all and is ready to take off career-wise. Her proven ability to make a plethora of radio-ready cuts is just the first step on the road to being considered one of the best that the UK has.

On The Come Up – SiR (aka inglewood SiR)

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Unfamiliar to some but rated by many, SiR is the perfect artist to add to the On The Come Up and it would be my pleasure to introduce you to him.

The west coast native, as the name suggests, has been making a quiet storm prior to and post signing to TDE and with collaborations with the likes of Little Simz, Big K.R.I.T. and Anderson. Paak, there is a certain level of credibility in his atmosphere. His brand of new school R&B comes matched with his sensual vocals, a whole lot of groove and sprinkles of Hip-Hop.

Sir Darryl Farris (that’s actually his real name) is an established Singer-songwriter. Before actually pursuing artistry, he was penning songs for the likes of Anita Baker, Ginuwine and Jill Scott.

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The son of a well seasoned backing vocalist, the nephew of Prince bassist Andrew Gouche and the brother of hit songwriters Daniel and Davion Farris. His childhood was a blur of church choir rehearsals and studio sessions. And that’s why he almost ended up not taking a hand to music at all. After a crazy ride in Hollywood, the prodigal son returned back.

Seeing the success of his brothers’ songwriting team, The WoodWorks, changed SiR’s perspective.

He landed a job engineering for Tyrese in 2012 while quietly developing his craft as a songwriter and putting out two mixtapes in the process; Wooden Voodoo and Long Live Dilla. But what caught everyone’s attention, including my own was his first full length album Seven Sundays.

Seven Sundays displays simple craftsmanship. What captivated me was in ways much similar to the likes of H.E.R., and the vast works of Musiq Soulchild, the artistry was at the centre. A unique contrast to the thuggish singing-trap rap hybrid that has engulfed a lot of contemporary R&B. It is one of the very few albums which I can sit and listen to it in its entirety . “In The Sky“, “Falling” “Jay Z” are some of the standouts.

It seems a rather timely affair that I write this with the release of his debut album a few short months ago under the TDE imprint November, which sadly did not come out in November. It plays to Farris’ strengths. It takes on his musical mainstays, a rich mix of Neo-Soul silkiness, Hip-Hop attitude and R&B songwriting, encapsulated in a thematic audible experience of dystopian space odyssey…about love. Something he, being married for years, would know quite a bit about.

As he longs for his mystery woman’s affections on “War”, dismisses her perceived clinginess on “Never Home” and wants her back on “Better”, SiR easily captures what it’s like being in an intense relationship. November sum up the emotional confusion that sometimes swallows up an intimate connection.

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Signing to one of the most well known rosters in music would, for some, be daunting. Kendrick Lamar, SZA, Ab-Soul, Schoolboy Q to name but a few. It’s a bit of a shame he wasn’t on the Black Panther soundtrack BUT that doesn’t rule out a collab with ‘Kung Fu Kenny’ or the likes sometime soon; especially knowing how excellent “Something Foreign” with Schoolboy Q was. Having cultivated his own fanbase prior, this is only the next step on the ladder for this super talented cat.

“I think the one thing that pushes me the hardest is that I know I have the opportunity to change lives…and really make a difference” – SiR.

Favourite Albums of 2017 part 2

I present to you Part 2 of my Favourite Albums of 2017 series.

Laila’s Wisdom – Rapsody

In the truest act of respect and dedication to her grandmother Laila, Rapsody gives us the most brilliantly underrated Hip-Hop album of the whole year. It’s the sort of album that transcends whatever entrenched gender biases that may still trouble the genre and puts her in the same category as the current greats. Not only is she your favourite female rapper, she’s one of your favourite rappers, period. It showcases Rapsody’s indisputable excellence as a lyricist. The opener and title track “Laila’s Wisdom” finds Rapsody regurgitating the guidance and wisdom passed on from her grandmother; self worth and empowerment – themes paired beautifully with Aretha Franklin’s “Young, Gifted And Black” as the sample.
61c8c7d4dd777c786a13e47c6a959fdd.1000x1000x1.jpgWith jazz and funk running through the core, Laila’s Wisdom, produced in large part by 9th Wonder, bares comparisons to To Pimp a Butterfly. The beats ALONE tell a story which you can easily get lost in. Kendrick just so happens to feature on this album too, on one of my standout tracks “Power” which explores exactly that. The power in the culture, the powers that be in society and power within themselves.
Ridin’” featuring GQ is also one of my standouts. The duality between loyalty and freedom is played out over a beat as smooth as butter. Such a joint you could play while you’re Ridin’ out too.
There are so many songs which I enjoyed listening to as a real Hip-Hop fan so it would be remiss of me to not include this. As a whole, it’s a smooth blend of self-assurance and vulnerability and has themes of quintessential Blackness as Rapsody makes Black womanhood sound untouchable one moment and  mortal the next.

 

4:44 – JAY-Z

“But i’m tryin’ to give you a million dollars worth of game for 9.99”

That line right there in my opinion perfectly summarises the essence of JAY-Z thirteenth studio album.
Not only is a ‘Blueprint’ (see what I did there) for business, but also relationships and life as a whole. In order to achieve this, 4:44 was tailored to be more personal than his previous efforts. which was to be expected from the infidelity scandal.
4-44_album_coverBut this is not necessarily a response to Lemonade but rather a statement of acknowledging where he is now and where he aims to be. By the end of the project, you feel what he has been aiming to do the entire album – leave his mark, his “Legacy” Acting as the concluding track, it also is one of my favourites. His poetic and reflective approach; if he was to pass away today, this could double up as a will and a eulogy. “Bam” with Damian Marley is also another favourite, not only for his flex of bravado but also because it’s a straight head banger.
Like for real. “Caught Their Eyes” is pretty dope too.
Almost all decisions made on this album were smart. 10 tracks on the standard edition make for a complete album with no ‘excess’ spilling out the sides. Minimal features allow for his messages to not be overshadowed. There is an excellent use of samples on every track which gives it an authentic JAY-Z feel. He and No I.D. have truly created something special here. Testament to this is its numerous Grammy nominations and No I.D. being nominated for Producer of the Year. Despite the whole Tidal/Sprint story, 4:44 is artistically sound. JAY-Z is Hip-Hop.

 

FR32 – Wretch 32

An album with minimal promotion, Wretch’s 2017 effort serves almost as a B Sides to his critically acclaimed album of the previous year, Growing Over Life. While the previous  was more solemn wholistically, this album acts as a celebration of his life – aptly named and released for his 32nd birthday. 12 songs, 44 minutes and full of Wretch’s lyrical genius.IMG_9743_0.jpg
He carries the same level of sincerity and honesty as last year… With Songs like “Time“, for example. An honest account. A full unleashing of culminated emotions and you feel every last one wrapped in his words. He vents on his shortcomings as a man and his desire for more time to accomplish the things most dear to him. Performed over simple but beautiful piano chords,  I herald this as the tear-jerker of the album.
But Wretch is in a better place, that’s for sure. He brings his soft side out for the lullaby-esque “Happy“, a song dedicated to love. If you’ve found something special, appreciate it and cherish it forever. J Warner features for your listening pleasure; his soft and dreamy vocals transport you into a place of bliss.
Don’t think he has completely gone soft on us though. He still gives us straight vibes on the leading single “Tell Me” with Jalani and Kojo Funds, a street symphony with a calypso twist and if you haven’t by now, I’m going to have to ask you to listen to “Gracious” one time and understand despite it being a straight banger that pounds through the speakers, the ‘come up’ and becoming a great is definitely not easy.  Wretch and Kojey Radical tag-team on “Colour Purple” which is a different take on pro-black sentiments, less assertive than last year but both artists deliver artistically articulated testimonies on being ‘blacker than black’.
For an album that doesn’t have as such an evident and overarching theme as others in 2017, there is a real emphasis on production; you can really appreciate the layers on certain songs. While possibly unintentional, both projects side by side are symbolic. Growing Over Life was Wretch detailing his pains and struggles. On FR32, he retrospectively looks back; he’s finally free and you the listener can be ‘free too’.

 

These albums were some of my personal favourites that I really enjoyed listening to over the past year. However, some albums which just missed out but should get a mention and should not be slept on include:

DAMN. – Kendrick Lamar (NARROWLY missed out on my comprehensive list, still an INCREDIBLE album)
CTRL – SZA (Also narrowly missed out on my  list)
Fin – Syd
and the Anonymous Nobody… – De La Soul
The Ascension LP – Brik.Liam
Freudian – Daniel Caesar
Kites – Anik Khan

That concludes 2017. Here’s to a more musically bliss year and more amazing work in 2018.

On The Come Up – Noname

Next up, we have Noname. Anyone who is familiar with that Alternative R&B/Hip-Hop realm might be familiar with the name Noname (brilliant pun, see what I did there?). As well as having features on a few songs with Chance The Rapper she’s befriended and worked with new school names like Mick Jenkins, Xavier Omar and Smino.

Here you have quirky, young black Chicago native doing what one would say is the equivalent to Slam Poetry…and it is dope! Excuse my colloquial English. While her artistry roots are found in poetry circles, Ms. Fatimah Warner has always had a love for music as wide reaching as it comes. She cites her inspirations being blues musicians Buddy Guy and Howlin’ Wolf from an early age as well as Tina Turner, Jay Electronica and Tony Morrison. Her love for music, passion for poetry and being around other Chicago creatives helped evolve a pursuit into rap.

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After the delays and a shift in musical  direction, she released her debut project ‘Telefone’ to become one of the most critcally acclaimed albums of 2016; one of the reasons being that it bent the rules of what we define as Hip-Hop. Sure you have gender benders all around but Noname is different and Telefone was a breath of fresh air. Centered around important telephone conversations that Noname has had over the years, Telefone speaks of black women’s strife and also highlights the struggles of growing up in her Chicago hometown with a unique blend of melodies, rap/poetry and out-of-the-box production. Definitely long awaited as well, three years in the making. But being able to endure life experiences and put it into your music makes for true art. For her , it was the introduction officially and finally to who Noname is as an artist.

Despite controversially not appearing on the XXL Freshmen Class of 2017,

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she still has managed to develop a name for herself and her mixtape featured on The Skinny’s ‘Top 50 Albums of 2016’ and Noisey’s ‘The 100 Best Albums of 2016’ as well as a coveted appearance on NPR Music’s notable ‘Tiny Desk Series’. Now fans in America and beyond sit and wait for her next project to drop ‘Room 25’. The hope is that she doesn’t delay for three years AGAIN but releases in timely fashion and carries on the momentum that she has. Will she remain an independent is not known but the path she treads is most definitely working for her.

 

“I don’t typically think about myself when I’m thinking about making music like [I’m a female rapper and this is my role in Hip-Hop], I’m more so just making art…”

Flower Boy by Tyler, The Creator – Open and honest

“This is the best album he’s ever produced!” I hear some say.

I’ll be honest and say I was a little sceptical about listening to this album. Tyler is not my go-to Hip-Hop artist but I can appreciate what he does for the culture. However, there was something with this album; the low key hype as well as the buzz Tyler is getting in general, I had to sit myself down and really listen to the album and decipher it for what it was.

There are different themes that run through the album, encompassed in this overarching nature/garden motif. As mature as the content is, we still exploring the breadth and tyler-the-creator-unreleased-track-00depth of Tyler’s mind. He presents his human condition to us in all its forms. Tyler is an eclectic soul which fits the narrative as well as the album title and artwork in itself.

One of my favourites “See You Again” is Tyler showing the emotional  side to him. An ode to a fantasy lover which only exists in his dreams and the emotional agony that such a longing is having on him. He really puts across his innermost thoughts, running alongside the daydream, orchestral chorus and the contrasting beat flip in the verses. It really brings his emotional turmoil to life. Combine “See You Again” with songs like “Garden Shed” and “Glitter” and you see a level of vulnerability now more than ever as he opens up, alluding to the possible idea of him being gay.

Both “Pothole” and “November” reminds us that Tyler is still human…
“Pothole” he speaks on him dealing with the fame, its after-effects and all the ups and downs that has come with it all in reference to the idea of driving. All these obstacles in 5_a4gw5u-1_yca13bhis life are the potholes which are in the way, stopping him from having an easy cruise. while the beat itself is nice and easy to cruise to.
“November” – filled with low-key anxiety. It’s as if he running through this thoughts so frantically and airing out his insecurities as he is longing for the better days; his “November”.

“911/Mr. Lonely” is like one of those classic singles from back in the day; Side A with the subtle old school hip-hop and R&B nuances while side B is new school Rap. The content has heart-rending undertones transcending both sides alluding to how his old issues of depression may actually not be ‘old’

The album presents deep issues but its not all doom and gloom. The closing track “Enjoy Right Now, Today”  tops off everything with a very positive and bright sound in a way showing all through the ups and downs, it’s important to be positive. If Tyler can do it, so can you.
The album title serves as a metaphor for Tyler himself. A ‘Flower Boy’, a guy who don’t fit the typical ideals of a manly-looking man. An internal struggle between soft romanticism and rugged aggression and depression laid out in fine musical form.

 

On The Come Up – Anik Khan

The start of a new segment. Highlighting the up and coming that are about to do major things in the industry. Keep your ear to the ground. These guys are bubbling up in a major way

Kicking things off, we got Anik Khan. A rapper and singer/ songwriter, he is the son of Bangladeshi migrants but was raised in the home of Music, New York. He takes inspiration from his Queens home town which he hails all the time. His main drive for music comes from his father, a poet and prolific speaker in his time but found himself hustling in New York as a cab driver upon moving to The States.

His culture was never lost on him –   coming home to an immigrant family made him real Anik Khan micappreciative of his Bengali side, but being on the block surrounded by the sounds of Jay Z, Eminem, Nas, and Biggie gave him almost a dual upbringing.

While I find Anik’s smooth, silky vocals go along way with his penchant for harmonies, what is more captivating is how he manages to blend his influences together; his New York, urban vibe and his Bengali folk heritage. His joint ‘Cleopatra’ for example. The Bengali folk vibe preludes to a hip-hop-like syth-bass and the same sort of fusion is present in the chorus. As opposite as such styles can be, they work.

One of my personal favourites has to be ‘Too Late Now‘. With almost 1 million streams on Spotify, it is probably one of his most famous and it is a incredible mix of jazz, dance/electronic vibes, vocals and rap finesse. Definitely a crowd pleaser. Word to Jarreau Vandal on the production.

 

His EP ‘I Don’t Know Yet’ is a journey both the listener and artist take as Anik paves his way to find himself and develop equilibrium in two worlds, to achieve harmony betweenAnik Khan Flag his American and Bengali personas. Anik speaks for those like him who left their homeland to grind for that ‘American Dream’.

While his EP is very lyrical and flow, his 2017 debut album ‘Kites’ takes a more vocal direction which came as a surprise for me. Not that it was a bad body of work but I hoped for a mix of styles to really show off the artist that he is; more commercial I would argue. The full extent of his talent and artistry is his USP and he should hold on to it.

“When you hear an Anik Khan song, there’s always gonna be some flavour. You’ll get the salt and pepper but there’s also Cumin and Turmeric in there…every time”

 

A night with Christon Gray and J Givens – Concert review

I had the pleasure of being in attendance and witnessing one of my favourite artists Christon Gray take to the London stage for the first time and, along with J Givens, he gave the audience at St Mary’s Church a night to remember. After seeing the flyer for this early in December, there was almost no way at all I was going to miss this. I took the trip down to West London, awaiting the legends that were. Now let me tell you all about it.

Jay Ess was first up, with a new and improved vibe, accompanied with his fresh choir.

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 JayEss and his band

He gave us some new material from his up-coming project and along with the major throwback ‘Intoxicated’, he reminded us why he was once considered one of UK Gospel’s golden boys. Kat Deal was up next. A relatively new face to the scene, known by very few. The crowd warmed to her with her Alternative Pop look and Jazz vocal stylings. Singing original songs and a soulful cover of Kirk Franklin’s “Smile”, she definitely made some new fans by the end of her set.

Now to the main event. J Givens took to the stage and the crowd flocked to the stage.

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J Givens in his element

If there is anything I have admired about him it is his lyricism, quick flow and to match that with his active performance style, it made for a feast for the senses. He engaged with the crowd while taking us on a journey through his album “Fly Exam”, the hype tracks and the mellow joints. The essence of Hip-Hop is alive and well. You felt a part of the family as he shared his testimony about his drug addiction and by the end, the crowd were shouting Hallelujah in agreement. For the die-hard fans reciting the bars alongside, he did not fail to deliver.

The man of the hour, Christon Gray came and fans flocked even more quicker than before. Gray started off his set with some of his older material. The whole crowd singing along to “The Last Time” set the tone for what was an amazing night. He is definitely a showman, displaying his full versatility as an artist flowing from R&B to Soul to Gospel to Rap. Contrasting moments of electricity with him rapping, bringing out J Givens to do “Stop Me Remix” leaving you unable to formulate words because you’re so excited THEN moments of hush and awe with his slow ballads accompanied with his keyboard; literally him playing the keys and singing “Black Male” you are literally without words. It felt as if I was going down memory lane as he performed songs from his whole catalogue. Trust me I was singing at the top of my lungs when I heard “Long Way Down” and “Isle of You”. Crowd engagement didn’t go amiss as he spontaneously put together an ‘airband’ to help him perform the funk groove that is “SuperDave”. Then he brings half the crowd on stage during ‘Open Door’ AND THEN jumps into the crowd. Totally unexpected.

The night was filled with love, laughs and pure vibes. Both Gray and Givens were both incredibly down to earth and both artists’ presence complimented the night perfectly. Shout out to Zion Promotions for bringing down one of the 4 artists I HAD to see before I died; and they were gracious enough to chat to the ‘FANmily’ afterwards. All I ask is for more dope shows like this in the future.

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