Like Kanye West Himself, TLOP is a Scatterbrained Mess

Few artists can get away with the off-mic behavior Kanye West exudes. In the past, his arrogant, self-absorbed, out-of-touch view of reality was easy to put up with simply because the music that came out of him was good enough to drown it out. Modern classics such as My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy made the idea that Kanye really is just a mad genius.

The Life of Pablo embodies the mess of a human Kanye comes off as—but this time, it’s not a beautiful mess. Like its promotion, TLOP is a reflection of the mess of a mind that Kanye shows off on his Twitter account. TLOP feels unfinished, which makes sense given the amount of name changes and tracklist adjustments that were shared with the public.

Kanye may “feel like Pablo,” but TLOP is no Picasso.

On Jumpman-ripoff “Facts,” Kanye comes off like a child who didn’t get a toy in his Happy Meal on “Facts” as he rants about his shallow beef with Nike. He ruins a beautiful Metro Boomin’ beat on “Father Stretch My Hands pt. 1” with tasteless lyrics of bleached bottoms, as if his self-anointed “genius” would make them palatable in any way.

The replay value of “30 Hours” is ruined by an indulgent, pointless monologue small talk and phone calls. You even get a exclusive peek into Kanye’s voicemail on “Silver Surfer Intermission,” where Max B puts to rest any rumors of beef between him and Kanye over the “Waves” title, for the six of you who were ever interested.

If that wasn’t enough, Kanye will repeat his own name ad nausea on the aptly named “I Love Kanye” interlude.

TLOP is not void of quality—there are a handful of gems that remind us that Kanye is still a legendary musician for a reason. The gospel-inspired “Ultralight Beam” is original, beautiful, and well executed and features a tremendous verse from Chance the Rapper. “Famous” is a well-constructed banger. Kanye proves he can still rap with the best of them next to Kendrick Lamar on “No More Parties in LA,” and shows off his sentimental and introspective sides on “FML” and “Real Friends.”

These instances of great music are just that—instances in an album that literally gained too much fat overnight.

Kanye is married to one of the most powerful women in entertainment, a father of two, trying to launch a line of clothes for those unplugged from the Matrix, while putting together an album that can compete with his earlier classics—no wonder he’s distracted. TLOP reeks of unfocused energy.

Ultimately, the lack of depth throughout most of these tracks gives TLOP the worst odds to stand up to father time among any of West’s albums. TLOP is less of a window into Kanye’s life and more like a commercial for what Kanye thinks of himself. Kanye is so worried about painting himself as a modern Picasso that he forgets that he has to make consistently timeless music in order to warrant such a comparison between artists.

There is nothing wrong with making music about a narcissistic, self-absorbed musician, so long as the music depicts this character in an interesting and compelling way. Unfortunately, TLOP assumes the listener will sympathize and relate to Kanye because, well, he’s Kanye.

Some of the best aspects of Pablo came from featured artists and producers. Kanye deserves credit for bringing out the best of Chance the Rapper, Chris Brown, Metro Boomin, Rhianna, Kelly Price, and even Young Thug. However, that also means that Kanye himself was the weak link on his own album. With so many outsiders outshining Kanye himself, TLOP feels more like a social experiment-style album that was thrown together in a couple weeks than a thought-out, full length LP.

College Dropout has had a lasting impact on sample usage in mainstream rap. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy will be remembered for delving into religion, race, politics, and idealism like never before in hip hop. Even the polarizing Yeezus was brash and cohesive enough in style to cause a stir. What will The Life of Pablo be remembered for years down the line other than a few well-flipped samples, a gospel song and a few features?

With another album apparently coming out as soon as this summer, Kanye isn’t showing any signs of tapping the breaks to do a proper roll out. Here’s to hoping Yeezus has something special in his back pocket that will have more lasting power than The Life of Pablo. 

Love ‘Em or Hate ‘Em, Travi$ Scott and the New School are Here to Stay

“Leaders of the new school—they ain’t want us in but they had to.”

It can be difficult to pick apart Travi$ Scott’s lyrics in the cloud of bass and autotune on his debut album, Rodeo, but those opening bars on Ok, Alright ring loud and clear. The new school of hip hop has dug its roots, and there is nothing you can do to stop it.

Scott may be a protoge of Kanye West, but with Rodeo, he crafted the record his mentor tried to make in 2013 with Yeezus. Sophisticated ignorance behind an a southern, airy vibe that aligns with Scott’s Houston roots, Rodeo represents everything the new school of hip hop is all about.

More than ever, artists are putting emphasis on crafting catchy melodies and hooks than constructing layers and layers of bars. Creative wordplay is not as effective as a quotable line that goes viral, even if it is about intercourse and luxury beachwear. Prior to Rodeo’s release, Young Thug and Future were already blazing the trail for the new school in 2015. Traditionalists cringe at their work, while younger, more open-minded ears grew accepting of the autotune-drenched sound that was catching on.

Traditional “lyricists” can still thrive, but the lane for airy southern beats and melodies behind loose, drug-induced rap performances has never been wider. Hip hop is taking a page from the explosion of EDM music, both sonically and philosophically.

The sound of Scott, Young Thug and Future is, in a way, a revolution against the traditions of hip hop. So what if what they make isn’t lyrically brilliant? So what if their beats are repetitive and doused in electronic waves? If the people like it, they like it—does anything else really matter?

These artists are crafting their own lane in hip hop by challenging the boundaries that have been set. Instead of staying away from a taboo device such as autotune, they won’t record a song without it. Rather than slaving away with careful wordplay and punch lines, why not just call for more bottles—over, and over, and over again….

Rodeo is loud, obnoxious, ignorant—and at the same time, beautiful. Between the well-placed guitar riffs on “90210”, the perfectly tuned bass throughout the album, or even Justin Beiber’s subtle-but-sweet placement on “Maria, I’m Drunk,” the music itself is of quality—even if the bars themselves don’t match up with the aged hip hop standards.

Many of the tracks run too long for traditional tastes but are actually just falling in line with the new age of unstructured expression. “Ok Alright” runs nearly seven minutes, with nearly half of it consisting of Travis moaning “Alright” in front of a luscious, wavy beat for half the track. On the surface, this seems like a waste of airtime—but the rolling electronic waves and soothing snare have a calming effect no boom-bap beat would be able to replicate.

Time will be the true test for this new generation’s sound. Anyone can make a few club hits that stick around in a DJ’s rotation for a few months, but the music that makes an impact on the history of a genre will separate the trends from the true shifts in culture. Time will tell which category Rodeo will fall into, but this sound and form of expression could push hip hop into a new era.

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Why A$AP Rocky’s Next Album Is Primed To Be A Classic

UPROXX

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Upon the release of At.Long.Last.A$AP, A$AP Rocky has still not made a career-defining classic… but he’s knocking on the door.

A.L.L.A is a nod to A$AP’s original form; after bringing in Drake and Skrillex for his debut album, Long.Live.A$AP, Rocky has gone back to the hazy, atmospheric roots that separated him from the overdone sound of other boom-bap New York rappers on his Live.Love.A$AP mixtape.

Like his previous projects, A$AP teams with producer Clams Casino for the bulk of the new album’s production, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t take risks throughout the project. From the dead-air pause in “Max B” to the beat switch in “Everyday,” Rocky never sits too far back in his comfort zone, even when he’s inhabiting the ambient soundscapes that caught our attention in the first place. The album is laced with unpredictability; any aspect of a song is prone to change at any moment.

Still, what makes…

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Why To Pimp a Butterfly is So Good

None of us will be perfect. No matter how much we work toward perfection, we will never achieve it. Whether you’re a lawyer, a gangster, white, black, purple or blue, its impossible. We will always be flawed humans, which begs the question: Why bother?

In To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick asks: “Because why not?”

We can spend a lifetime doing incredible things and barely move the needle of humanity progress. Even Kendrick Lamar, one of the most influential artists of his time, isn’t going to stop any wars or pass any bills with some beats and rhymes. But he, like any great musician, can save a kid’s self-destructive perspective on life. He can help someone get through a tough time. He can make someone’s commute shorter or give an outlet from a broken home.

In the grand scheme of things, its a ton of work for essentially no reward. But its worth trying, dammit.

“But iono, I’m not Mortal Man. Maybe I’m just another ni**a.”

Kendrick says, at the essential conclusion one of the best albums of the decade. Well over an hour of beats and rhymes that question our everything from his decision to skype his dying friend to Killer Mike’s underrated popularity, all he has to say for himself is “I’m just some guy.”

What makes Lamar different, however, is how conscious he is of his creative beast—his butterfly. As he beautifully summarizes to Tupac:

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The butterfly is caterpillar are separated in how they respond to Lucy (Lucifer). The bulk of TPAB, starting with Wesley’s Theory (referring to Snipes, who succumbed to Lucy), depicts Kendrick’s personal battle with Lucy.

This album, also laced with incredible bars and doused in daring, 70-funk production that would scare most any other artist away, attacks themes and topics from a perspective never really taken from an artist of this prominence—which, to me, makes it one of the best pieces of music made in our generation.

Where is Alf? ¯¯\_(ツ)_/¯

My contract with Bleacher Report will end at the end of this month, as it has every year since in 2011. This time, however, it will not be renewed. I don’t have much of an explanation for you other than B/R is going in another direction with their NFL coverage, which is completely in their right to do.

I would be lying if I said I was totally cool with this, but by the same token, its somewhat of a relief. Since I graduated college and entered the shitty adult world (sorry youngins, enjoy it while it lasts), keeping up the dream of writing about sports for a living, while, you know, making an actual living took a lot of sacrifice. I worked a job where I commuted about 4 hours a day, worked 9 (nights), wrote for 3 or 4 (or more), did some bullshit workout to not get fat and filled in the space with sleep. My days began to build around how I was going to balance getting my writing done that day without falling asleep mid-paragraph.

I developed a bad relationship with a game I used to love. Football got me through some tough times as a youngin. It was becoming a burden through no one’s fault but my own.

I thought I was losing my fanhood because I was becoming more analytical, but it wasn’t just the Jets I didn’t care about. NFL Sundays were becoming a chore, and not because I had to write—just watching the games became work.

It hit me that my relationship with football was changing when I was watching/blogging Jets/Ravens with my brother in 2013. Ed Reed (of course) watched a ball sail over his head to further embarrass the Jets; all I was worried about was the time of the touchdown so I could update it on my blog, completely emotionless as to what had happened.

“You just really don’t give a shit anymore, do you?” My brother asked.

He was right. A younger version of me would have his head buried in a pillow (just as a younger version of Reed would have never let such a thing happen, but that’s another topic).

I was compensated fairly for the work I did put in, but money was just a byproduct of why I put myself through this season after season. I definitely gave a shit—about the product I was putting out every day. Every article with my name on it was my best possible work. I just didn’t give a shit about what makes the NFL so fun.

For most people, football is an escape. For me, it was just a second job—which is the last thing I wanted it to be. I wanted to do something I loved so I would never have to work, not work so much I never got to do anything I loved. Taking out a tough day at work by going into detail about how terrible Stephen Hills’ releases are off the line of scrimmage is not an ideal stress reliever.

So, that’s why I have been keeping away from twitter, taking a step back to re-evaluate what I really want out of this. I’m not sure what the future holds for my writing career, but I do know I still want to write – its a form of communication where, I, a stutterer, am on an equal playing field as everyone else. I have to write.

Eventually I will likely pursue other writing opportunities and return to heat up the TLs with #takes on the reg, but I will probably take the next few weeks to step away from the game. If you’ve followed/read/RTd/favorited/sent me hate mail/made fun of my Revis #lust, thank you – you guys helped keep me going more than you think. I’m truly grateful for the opportunity B/R gave me as a nearly-broke college kid and to have kept me around for as long as they have.

To the next chapter.

Alf