Album Review

[Review] Solange’s ‘A Seat at the Table’ dismantles the many myths that black women share

solange-a-seat-at-the-table

This is a guest post written by Ambrielle Moore

“If you don’t understand my record, then you don’t understand me. So this is not for you.”

It’s been a pivotal, powerful year for black women. This album follows Anti (Rihanna), Lemonade (Beyoncé), and Telefone (Noname). It follows Jesse Williams’ BET Awards shout out. It follows Diamond Reynolds. It follows Solange’s own essay, penned after an experience all too many black women recognized. Most of all, this work follows our country’s ever-intensifying social climate as more black people are killed by law enforcement, and an openly racist, misogynistic millionaire inches closer to the White House. As a black woman, the context of this release feels significant. We needed this album in 2016, a year where, as a collective, it’s become crucial to express (in as many ways as possible) a simple, freeing, unapologetic statement: “I love my blackness. And yours.”

This album–like other black works of art this year–issues a personal narrative that expands a greater story on blackness, bringing to light the depths of our pain and experience rarely seen in the mainstream. Art in 2016 has allowed black people (especially black women) to explore, dissect and express a quiet internal storm that’s been building for some time now. As a conceptual work, then, A Seat at the Table succeeds in depicting a once overlooked but increasingly relevant character: the black woman. It is a complete and detailed exploration of that story, and though I imagine it will be educational to many, it is also a love letter in our own language–it does not pander, nor does it spell out obvious and accepted truths. Solange says quite frankly that this is an album for us, by us (see tracks 12 and 13). There are blanks that as a black woman, you fill in easily. Listening to this album is being in conversation with the artist herself, lamenting a shared struggle. Listening to this work as a young black woman is to be seen.

Other songs on the album, though, are clear messages to non-blacks (from a female black perspective). “Don’t Touch My Hair” is the clearest example when she says, “They don’t understand what it means to be me,” and follows up by equating her hair to a “crown” or “pride,” taking back the dignity and humanity often lost in awkward social encounters with non-blacks who confuse black women with friendly poodles or public property. For the black woman, hair is political and consuming in many ways. It’s not accidental that the cover art for this is a headshot of the artist with hair undone, clips strewn in. It’s vulnerable and purposeful and honest.

Let’s talk about the damn interludes though–because they’re flawless. The excerpts of conversation flow and carry the listener through, bridging gaps between songs thoughtfully. Through these smooth speaking transitions, Solange clearly states that this is a complete aural essay. This album deserves a thorough listen, complete and uninterrupted. A Seat at the Table should come on vinyl or cassette or as one giant song–shuffling a work like this should be sacrilege. Unlike a recent album by another important black visionary, I have zero desire to skip through these excerpts, because they matter and, most of all, they’re just pleasant to the ears. You don’t have to overthink them as they’re curated and direct, feeling more like source material introducing or expanding the adjacent tracks. With these clips, Solange proves her attention to detail and her penchant for easy, organic storytelling.

The best part about A Seat at the Table, though, is Solange’s pervasive calm. As the tracks progress, what is, admittedly, her signature and evolving aesthetic starts to feel like a purposeful critique of the angry black woman stereotype. The Mad Black Woman archetype is enforced by memes and movies which make light of her. There exists a whole world of reasons black women have to be angry, as James Baldwin said, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” That goes double for black women. If Lemonade embraces the spirit of that anger and that life by reclaiming it–smashing car windows and getting in formation–then A Seat at the Table subverts it. “Mad,” which may be my favorite track, is the best example of this, where a grooving slow tempo carries Solange’s high angelic voice as it delivers truthful frustration. She repeats, “I got a lot to be mad about,” carefully and calmly stating a fact modern black women rarely allow themselves to admit in mixed company. In predominantly white spaces, where many of us function on a daily basis, black women feel a pressure to avoid being labeled an angry black woman, and thus overcompensate with saccharine obedience. If you’ve ever been the black girl in an office, or classroom, or concert, then you know exactly what she means when she finishes the track:

I ran into this girl, I said, “I’m tired of explaining.”
Man, this shit is draining
But I’m not really allowed to be mad.

This track applies to a feeling of “other” and a feeling of exclusion and a pressure to be the opposite of what people expect of you. She drops this truth bomb about the number one black girl frustration, but delivers it with this slow, beautiful cadence and a damn near chilling Weezy verse.

While “Mad” portrays the stifled anger of a black woman, “Cranes in the Sky” breaks down another archetype in the Strong Black Woman. It is a role we are expected to fill as well, an unfair responsibility to provide strength for others–black men, children, bosses and friends. Think of the black best friend in any TV show. Think of every black woman who has to speak about the death of her child or husband in another shooting. Think of the often portrayed black matriarch working as a maid or cook. Black women are expected to be strong in the face of their own struggles and everyone else’s too. Cranes in the Sky could be in response to any myriad of heartbreaks, a romantic loss, a general feeling of exclusion, another televised death. It exposes the vulnerable playbook of coping mechanisms that Solange employs in the face of her own everyday trials. Her strengths fail, and no matter the medium, her melancholy persists. If a Knowles can admit the cracks in her armor, perhaps other strong black women can find solace in a strength that wavers. Instead of being “a strong black woman that don’t need no man,” A Seat at the Table gives us permission to be human in the various ways that somehow seem to exist for everyone else.

I think that’s what this album does so well. Solange dismantles the many myths black women share by humanizing our struggle, celebrating our magic, and building up our beauty.

-Written by Ambrielle Moore

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[Album Review] Kwabs – Love + War

Kwabs Love War

Some artists are just meant to be stars and the British artist Kwabs is one of the best examples of this. There are many great singers out there, but the real test is combining powerful vocals with just as good music. Although Kwabs has released a few EPs and has even collaborated with everyone’s favorite electronic duo Disclosure, now is his time to shine. Kwabs’ debut album, Love + War, was the first big test and it’s one that won’t be forgotten. Kwabs has managed to fuse his soulful voice with a sound that will speak to new and old fans.

Love + War begins with some of the catchiest tracks you’ll hear this year. The opening/title track is a powerful, dance-worthy track that’ll get listeners moving. The rest of the album definitely does not fall short of upbeat tunes with other addictive tracks such as, “Fight For Love”, “My Own”, “Look Over Your Shoulder” and plenty of others. It also has the hit everyone has most likely heard by now, “Walk”, which never gets old. These easily listenable tunes show that Kwabs is much more than just a big voice, rather, he has the edginess to create songs that are unforgettable and actually fun to listen to.

The album may have a lot of big pop tracks, but there’s still some beautiful moments where good beats aren’t the big focus. Kwabs does has a soulful, gorgeous voice that should be recognized and this is beautifully shown in the calming track “Perfect Ruin”. This particular song is haunting, soothing, and displays pure emotion.”Forgiven” is another song on the album that is incredibly powerful and shows that side of Kwabs that is simply admirable. It’s filled with passion and flawless vocals, two elements music fans can always appreciate.

Overall, Love + War is a beautiful piece of work that music lovers should not sleep on. It’s filled with signature catchy pop tunes, but also has a taste of pure soul. It has a little bit for everyone and is an album that can be listened to all the way through, something that is sometimes hard to come by. At this rate, Kwabs is bound to explode and it’s very well-deserved after making an album this great.

Love + War is out now and one of the wonderful tracks “Layback” can be streamed below.


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[EP Stream and Review] Sol – Eyes Open

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I’ve had several times in my life when I’ve felt lost and looked for any reason to get away from the fast-paced world. One of these times came as I was starting college and realizing I was entering what was going to be the time of my life, but I didn’t want to lose sight of reality around the rest of the world. I wasn’t sure what kind of impact I could have, but I owed it to myself and to the world not to be ignorant. So I dedicated my college years to studying Human Rights and did my study abroad in Kenya. It was an experience that opened my eyes to bigger things in life than some of my other passions like technology and sports. I learned that when resources are scarce (which they always were, particularly in the rural areas I was living and studying in), the focus doesn’t need to be on what we don’t have, but making the most of what we do have. Things like human relationships, trust and care took on a whole new meaning for me. Today, six years later, I find myself working in technology sales, but I never lose sight of what I learned, and truth be told, I often find myself feeling lost and itching to get away again.

Seattle hip-hop artist Sol had a similar revelation a bit over a year ago when he put music on hold for a chance to travel around the world and learn more about himself and life. While it was likely upsetting to his fans to see him drop music like it was nothing, I got it. And though part of me wondered if he’d be able to pick up rapping again after seeing reality in countries like Ethiopia, Uganda, Haiti and India, I believed deep down that he would use the experience to tell a better story in his music. And that’s exactly what happened.

Sol didn’t always impress me with his storytelling skills in the past, but today’s release of Sol’s Open Eyes EP is a whole new story. Songs like “Old Him” are a genuine representation of what Sol learned and provide a refreshing perspective on the rest of the world, not just the extravagant one we tend to hear about through hip-hop today. Sol raps: “My belly’s empty, and not because it’s Ramadan/ I simply lost my appetite seeing children starve/ And that’s what’s really hard/ Not your silly bars/ Not your grill, not your cars, not the pills you pop.” Suddenly Sol has a story to tell that’s so real, and it may not quite resonate with everybody right off the bat, but to me it’s an opportunity for Sol to enlighten his listeners on bigger things in life. This EP is Sol’s first step, and he’s got an open lane ahead of him that not enough artists are riding in right now.

There are still songs on the EP like “Jump In,” which still show a bit of the old Sol; it’s poppy, it doesn’t carry too deep a message with it, but it’s still fun to listen to. It’s one of those tracks I turn on every time I want to bounce around a little, and frankly, I appreciate that Sol included a track like that (and bonus track “Dope”) on the collection, because it helps him appear more human than if had he only included serious tracks with preachy messages that might be distant for some of his fanbase or potential fans.

Altogether, I think Sol has taken a leap forward in his career. It goes to show that taking time off, slowing down, and getting one’s bearings doesn’t have to be seen as a pause or a step backward…if done well, it can be a huge step forward. It has helped me tremendously in life, and I think this EP is proof that it has absolutely helped Sol. It helped him craft a new sound, deliver a new message, and gain perspective on life. Sol describes it best in a letter that went out to his fans and promoters today. Hit the jump for the full EP stream and to read the letter from Sol.

Continue reading “[EP Stream and Review] Sol – Eyes Open” »

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[EP Stream and Review] Until The Ribbon Breaks – A Taste of Silver

a-taste-of-silver-until-the-ribbon-breaks

After hearing the single “Pressure,” I knew Until The Ribbon Breaks was onto something special. Until The Ribbon Breaks is the moniker for the UK-based R&B-meets-electronic singer and producer Pete Lawrie Winfield. It’s hard to find artists to compare him to, but if I was forced to, I would pick names like James Blake, Jamie Woon, or Fryars. While originally sucked in by the breathy, stark, often-layered vocals of Winfield, I’ve since fallen hard for the complete spectrum of Winfield’s talents, which includes a strong mastery of production.

Today marks the release of the debut EP for Winfield as Until The Ribbon Breaks; A Taste of Silver is a 5-track EP containing tracks called “2025,” “Perspective (ft. Homeboy Sandman),” “Romeo,” “Pressure,” and “Back To The Stars.” After a handful of full listens, ”Pressure” remains the highlight for me of the artist’s debut EP, but the compilation as a whole is breathtaking. Another standout track for me was third track “Romeo.” A quiet song that starts with some highly-produced clips of vocals and instrumentals and then funnels into Until The Ribbon Breaks’s whispery and dual-toned vocals, the song maintains an element of intrigue throughout. UTRB mastered the mysterious storytelling vibe and alluring vocal patterns in a way I hear few others doing today. Somehow if my mind wandered in an attempt to relate Winfield’s stories to my own world, the focal point remains Winfield’s music when he sings “You see I would have killed Romeo/ And saved Juliet/ But I don’t write stories/ That time wont forget/ So wont you pass me the kerosene/ Let’s burn to the ground/ You’ve been looking for meaning/ Did you like what you found?” I’m hooked on those words.

A major drawing point for me is that Until The Ribbon Breaks has a way of taking a song from one sound and turning it into something completely different unexpectedly. It’s a beautiful act that you can hear best in the first minute of “Pressure.” In the same song, UTRB takes a heavy bass and drum machine patterns to the track, and also slides into a sweet sound of semi-muted piano paired with his hushed vocals singing “maybe in another life/ maybe in another life/ if we get another life/ maybe in that life/ I could learn to love you.” The change-ups are both shocking and comforting, particularly when you come full circle to the softer sections.

Throughout this EP, Until The Ribbon Breaks manages to flex both his vocal and production muscles, but while I first paid most attention to the sexy vocals of Until The Ribbon Breaks until this point, it’s worth paying close attention to the genius behind Winfield’s music production. Listen closely on tracks like “Romeo” and “Pressure” — there is a stunning blend of electronic noises, raw drum builds, and simple piano melodies that marry the vocals perfectly. The one downfall for me, and where my attention wandered the most during my listens, was on the second track, “Perspective.” To me, this track didn’t fit in with the rest of the collection. I appreciated that Homeboy Sandman was featured on the track, particularly as it seems the two artists have strong opinions on the cultural state of the world and have expressed them through their music, but the sonic qualities of “Perspective” just didn’t fall in line with the beauty of the rest of the EP for me.

And what’s most, for me, is the path the short EP takes. It starts with “2025,” which is a dark track focusing on societal misfortunes, opening with the lyrics “I was born with my back to the stars,” but shedding light on human pretension, loneliness as the new normal, and even online dating. It winds through Winfield’s mind and stories, and ends with “Back To The Stars” which also starts with the lyrics “I was born with my back to the stars,” but this time around Winfield tells of another who has touched him so, by singing “and you, what have you done for me?/ you’ve opened up my eyes/ you’ve opened up my eyes.” Without knowing much of a backstory, it leads me to imagine that it’s an uplifting tale of a man at his lows who finds love in a dark place. In an age where it’s hard to listen to a compilation from front to back and feel any sort of completeness or satisfaction, Until The Ribbon Breaks has brought back a mysterious storytelling component to not just songwriting, but album-writing (or in this instance, EP-writing). Something tells me this is just the beginning of a long and healthy career for Winfield as Until The Ribbon Breaks. With an incredible release of A Taste of Silver and tour dates with rising star Lorde, the future is bright for this artist.

 


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Chance The Rapper – Acid Rap [IRL Review]

New IRL Review!

About a week ago Chance The Rapper released his much-anticipated sophomore mixtape Acid Rap. The album quickly became, perhaps, the one project the entire Internet seemed to agree on. Now, we have gathered (I imagine Lydia with a conch shell calling us to do these reviews) on Google Hangout to give our very #important input. Who do you agree with most? What did you think about Acid Rap?

Download Acid Rap

Related: Kid Cudi – Indicud [IRL* Review]

*IRL means “in real life”–if you didn’t know

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Javelin – Hi Beams [Album Review]

Javelin Hi Beams

Do you have those days where you need something to listen to, and you’re not feeling like going back to that same playlist you’ve been playing over and over again for the past couple weeks, heck maybe even months? You need something a little bit different, but not too radical. It’s happened to me before, many times. And the weird thing is, I’m always finding and consuming new music. But sometimes you just need something consistent and refreshing to listen to. Recently, I even pledged to listen to Skrillex for an extended period of time because I was so in need of something new. Well, Skrillex didn’t really do it for me with the exception of a handful of songs (go figure), but over the past couple of weeks, one song I kept revisiting, which I’ll admit has been on my playlist that I’m needing an escape from, is “Nnormal” by Javelin. There’s something about that part “sentences winking in the stars, how I wonder just what you are” that really intrigues me. Suddenly the background music drops out and the lyrics are the focal point. But also the dark intro that makes me feel like it might be a hip hop song I’m listening to, but eventually it’s that computerized blend of voices that’s all so familiar after watching Ryan Gosling’s Drive. Just like that, Javelin has slapped me in the face and sucked me into his crazy vortex of a world, sending me spinning around this imaginary notion of “nnormal” that’s almost normal, but just a little bit off.

Hit the jump to read the full review and listen to the full album.

Continue reading “Javelin – Hi Beams [Album Review]” »

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Foxygen – We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic [Album Review]

Foxygen - We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic

Foxygen is a Californian indie rock band that has stolen my heart and ears for the past two days straight. Their second album, We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, was just released yesterday, January 22nd, and it’s fantastic. They seem to be bringing back the allure of psychedelic music from the era of The Beatles, The Byrds, and Jefferson Airplane. It’s really a refreshing thing to hear after I’ve been clinging to hip-hop for days, but mostly because it’s not indie rock that I feel like I should like but really don’t find much interest in. Their sound is magnetic. Songs like “Shuggie,” the first single from the album, have hooks that might have been hidden in a record closet for the past five decades, begging to be let out and heard. It’s brilliantly beautiful.

The album’s shortcomings are few and far between. In giving every song a 1-5 star rating, the lowest I heard was a 3.5 in “Bowling Trophies.” And frankly, the only reason that song got a lower rating was because in the grand scheme of things, it seems to be more of an interlude than a song. But it stills pulls me in with its fuzzed out, distant, reverb-heavy sonic qualities. In all, the album is a complete piece of art that makes me feel a little left out of the party that was the Woodstock generation’s claim to fame. Now pardon me while I go eat some mushrooms and listen to Foxygen on repeat.

If you believe in yourself, you can free your soul.

I left my love in San Francisco.

Album Ranking: 8.9/10


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[Album Review] A$AP Rocky – Long.Live.A$AP

ASAP-rocky-long-live-asap

A$AP Rocky’s long waited debut has finally arrived. Long.Live.A$AP is here, and *SPOILER ALERT* it’s here to stay. Sunset writers got together again for another group review of one of the bigger releases to start off 2013. Peep it after the jump! Continue reading “[Album Review] A$AP Rocky – Long.Live.A$AP” »

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Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – The Heist [Album Review]

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis The Heist Album Artwork

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis just released The Heist yesterday, October 9th, and we’re here to leave our thoughts on it. Similar to our Frank Ocean Channel Orange review, the team of Sunset writers are all going to leave our thoughts on The Heist. If you need a bit of backup leading up to this release, check out a couple different previews:

Hit the jump to read all writers’ reviews, but before you get there…I’d highly recommend buying this album. Support the artists! (And I have to apologize for taking up so many words, but I couldn’t contain myself. Macklemore might be my favorite rapper of all time, so I really wanted to take the chance to say what I felt needed to be said. -Lydia)


The Heist - Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

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[Review] GOOD Music – Cruel Summer

kanye-cruel-summer

I think we can all agree on one thing: G.O.O.D Music is filled with major talent. With talent like KiD CuDi, Pusha T, Big Sean, and others, Kanye West has outdone himself with his label. And if you think for one second that YMCMB is better, go away.

Knowing beforehand that G.O.O.D Music is stacked with talent, and the fact that their head honcho is Kanye West (arguably the most innovative artist), you would think that Cruel Summer would be something out of this world.

You hoped for it, and I did too, but sadly, this is a passable album. It’s slightly better than your average, but nowhere near expectations. Then again, what did I expect? We all heard half the songs before the official release date anyways, so you could get a sense of the direction Cruel Summer was headed in.

This should be considered a mixtape because it’s bunch of tracks by different artists thrown together. No direction, as it’s like they sat in a room and picked their top 12 tracks out of 30 or some shit. Cruel Summer will not be getting my money as I find it to be a disappointment. We can’t always win with some of our favorite artists, right?

Wrong. I previously stated that this is a passable album, but it won’t be considered one. Why? Because it’s Kanye West. It’s G.O.O.D Music. The amount of star power on Cruel Summer will hide the pass-ability of the album to the public. That’s a win for most people, but you can’t fool me!

I’m not taking anything away from G.O.O.D Music and their successes, but the only thing good about Cruel Summer is when Kanye is the star of the show. Imagine the Miami Heat without LeBron. That’s just a decent team even though DWade and Chris Bosh remain. Now look at the tracks Kanye isn’t on in Cruel Summer. They are all songs that will get very old, very fast. He carries the squad, even with his newfound love for rapping about god, clothes, and money. He’s the one running shit in Cold, New God Flow, Clique, Mercy, and I Don’t Like Remix, thus making those my favorite cuts.

So again, slightly better than average. Don’t let this album review fool you, though. I’m one of the biggest G.O.O.D Music fans out there. I’ll just be making a playlist with my favorites, which is less than half the album.

I blame Kim Kardashian. Let’s get a solo album, Yeezy.

Let me know what you think in the comments.

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[Review] Frank Ocean – Channel Orange

2012-07-11-corange

Frank Ocean released Channel Orange this Tuesday. We’re here to leave our thoughts on it.

To give a bit of a back story, last August SITR writers got together and did a group review of one of the top albums of 2011, Watch The Throne. We chose to do a group review because what’s better than one writer’s opinion from your favorite blog? Multiple writers’ opinions from your favorite blog!

Your friendly neighborhood bloggers are back at it again. So this time, we’re tackling arguably one of the biggest and most-hyped releases of 2012 in Frank Ocean‘s Channel Orange.

Before you read our reviews, only if you have the attention span to do so, I want you to read this from our guy Confusion over at P&P.

**If you read the P&P article, continue to #1. If you didn’t read the P&P article, continue to #2.

  1. Thank you. Proceed to SITR’s reviews.
  2. You suck. Proceed to SITR’s reviews.
Hit the jump to see our writers reviews!
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King Mez – My Everlasting Zeal [Album Review]

King Mez My Everlasting Zeal

King Mez, of Raleigh, NC, has just released his debut studio album. He’s been releasing singles and mixtapes for years now, but with this release, he’s really making a name for himself as an elite rapper in today’s game. The album features fourteen tracks, each of which is a classic example of easy-listening hip-hop. There’s nothing too heavy, and there’s really nothing poppy. It’s hip-hop in its purest form today, and it’s a joy to listen to.

Right from the get-go (particularly in “Intro”), King Mez allows himself to potentially be mistaken for young phenomenon in the hip-hop game, Kendrick Lamar. He’s got the similar flow, connecting words so you don’t know where some end and others start, and it is fast. The beats on the entire album are graceful; there’s a large presence of piano playing in the beats, which are produced by J. Cole, Commissioner Gordon, Omen, 11 20, Soundtrakk, Prolyfic, Face of 2 to the 3, and King Mez himself.

The shortcomings are few and far between, but perhaps the most obvious one being that Mez doesn’t have much tonal variation throughout the album, which often causes his voice to sound secondary to the beautiful background music on the tracks. Take a song like “About Me,” which has jazzy and soulful piano playing on the base track, which makes Mez’s storyline hard to pick out.

That said, it’s not always the case. On “Timely Fashion,” Mez varies his vocal patterns and intonations enough to make himself and his writing stand out. When he packs syllables into certain segments, he likens himself to Atlanta rapper Andre 3000. In the same song, he’ll play around with his pitches and flow and start sounding like Michigan native Big Sean.

There are other sorts of varieties on the album, too. On “Highness,” King Mez invites Novakane onto the track and the result is a spoken-word vibe with orchestral singing in the backdrop. And in a track like “Queen,” it’s hard not to listen to the heartbreaking story that King Mez tells. Baby me and you can make it to the stars/ Long as you think you can make it with your scars/ And I know it gets hard/ Just make sure you remember who you are.

Overall, I’m incredibly impressed by My Everlasting Zeal. The combination of incredible beats, clever rhymes and stories embedded in verses makes for what could be one of the best full-album hip-hop releases in 2012. It’s a bold statement, but I’m confident, after hearing this album, that King Mez is making his way to the top of the underground (or independent) hip-hop game.

Favorite Tracks:

“Tonight” (ft. Drey Skonie) – King Mez

“Highness” (ft. Novakane) – King Mez

“Queen” – King Mez

 

Album Rating: 9/10

 

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