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Lil Wayne – I Am Not a Human Being II

Human Being II falls well short of the “work of art” yardstick that Dark Twisted Fantasy set

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If you don’t dig his beats, you have to appreciate his flow, if his flow isn’t flow enough for you, you have to admire the wordplay, if “Two bitches at the same time, synchronized swimmers / Got the girl twisted ’cause she open when you twist her” doesn’t sit well in the temporals, then you’re shit out of luck. There’s enough pseudo-intellectual pontificators out there who never even smelt Queensbridge (or Hollygrove, for that matter), whose flow is smooth enough for you to chuck into your iPod and wedge between How I Got Over and Let’s Get Free.

This is a Weezy record.

He’s given up the “greatest rapper in the world” schtick to target that laser-beam chutzpah the he always made look so organic onto something every other rapper today is apparently a prodigious talent at. Weezy has never been one for lyrics, which is dandy because rhymes have always been where he excels. And excel he does as you’ll see.

His obsession with sagas and sequels prove less a desire for ongoing narrative and more a preoccupation with archiving and mythologizing. Just what it is he wants to chronicle is still hazy. The man’s interests jump around like a story told by a coke head. But it’s the lane-switch from balls-deep in the grime to a desire to play on the same monkey bars as the rest of the Top40 herd (something Weezy’s discovery Nicki Minaj has managed seamlessly, yet effortfully) that reveal an anima that personifies hip hop today.

So if I Am Not a Human Being was the first book in this particular saga in that weighty tome that is the Book of Weezy, and he’s excused himself fully for Rebirth, what can one glean from II like so many Kafka office writings?

The album opens with Weez’ sparking up. No one in the studio had the good humour to use a bonafide field recording so this is probably take four or five of Wayne flicking a lighter and inhale-exhaling into a Neumann U87. And even though the spark and the subsequent reverb-heavy piano opening gives the listener the impression that they’re about to be regaled, this is just about the dope lines, “I’m in the crib butt naked, bitch / She said my dick could be the next black President”.

The most salient thing about I Am Not a Human Being II is the sheer focus. It’s never been a virtue of any MC, particularly Weezy, but any hip hop album worth a listen past the singles has always been a work of profound focus and discipline. Even the Silence of the Lambs-esque cover suggests contrivance, in a way that is both good and reassuring. The beats and hooks are as far away from ringtone territory as you’d like them to be and he’s one of a handful of rappers you can still see writing words down on paper and not his iPhone.

2 Chainz collab. “Days and Days” quantifies just how much Weezy has left in him and the well is deep. “Money ain’t shit, bitches ain’t neither / You know I’m on that grass, don’t cut on the sprinklers / Pussy on my mind, on my breath and on my fingers”, and while he never seems to self-edit stringently enough to get rid of ham-fisted lines like “I go tape worm in that hoe / Let my snake squirm in that hoe”, they’re concessions for one-two combos like “All my niggas gangstas, all my bitches freaks / I tickle her pussy, got that pussy tickle pink”.

One tweeter asked, pertinently, “how did Soulja Boy end up on the new lil wayne album? Lol.” It’s not an unfair question, one Weezy could probably recall, but are you really so surprised? He’s chill. What’s more interesting though is that appearing on a Weezy joint doesn’t lend Soulja (or is it Boy? Tell ‘em, maybe?) any kind of credibility and it’s difficult to tell if that’s because of Weezy’s merits or Soulja Boy’s cemented position as Soulja Boy.

Human Being II falls well short of the “work of art” yardstick that Dark Twisted Fantasy set for all other main-name-in-the-games to measure themselves against (and for the punk kids like OFWGKTA to rebel against) but at least he’s trying. If you add it all up, this album is no worse than Tha Carter IV. The eery Gunwalk is analogous to She Will and mercifully bereft of the pop sentimentality of the latter. He’ll never be willing to be seen as vulnerable like Ye’ or Drake, as the almost-ballad “Back To You” proves, but that figures. After all, he’s not a human being. He’s trying to remain a vital rapper though, and that’s enough for now.

That said, he still hasn’t gotten around to learning how to play that guitar. 

(Young Money / Cash Money / Republic Records)

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Good Riddance – Thoughts and Prayers

The fire still burns brightly for Good Riddance

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It would seem that the current US administration has proven to be fertile fields for political punks. If there is a positive to have come out of the past few years, it is in the form of angry punk rock records. The aptly titled Thoughts and Prayers, the new record by Good Riddance, could very well be the best of them. For many like myself, Good Riddance was the gateway to a world of punk rock socio-political commentary; wrapped in aggressive, melodic hardcore that opened your mind as much as it punched a hole in the wall. 1996’s A Comprehensive Guide to Moderne Rebellion and the really terrific 1998 record Ballads from the Revolution, were eye-opening propositions for a wide-eyed kid. Good Riddance resonated because their songs were hard-hitting commentary that sounded like broken-hearted punk rock songs. They sang intelligently about inequality, human despair, and the sometimes broken system in which we live in. And when their broken-hearted punk rock songs weren’t about society and politics, they were broken-hearted punk rock songs about broken hearts (don’t think there have been love songs as good in the genre as “Jeannie” and “Not With Him”).

Four years since their comeback record, Peace In Our Time, we get the much more furious Thoughts and Prayers. 12 songs of trademark breakneck melodic hardcore that talks about the divisive current political climate without going as far as saying things like “Trump sucks”. But that’s never been the Good Riddance way. Vocalist and chief lyricist Russ Rankin has always found a way to express his anger and disappointment with poise and intelligence- sounding more like a well-read poet than a man yelling on a street corner.

In the track “Don’t Have Time”, he sings about the futility of repeating history to trumpet nationalism; “And those same old fears arise / With eyes too drawn to counteract / The ghost in you comes rushing back / Too caustic to subside / Just what have we done? / We killed a mother’s only son / Just to remain at number one“. And lyrically, much of takes a similar route of well-written stanzas that question a lot of what is going on in the world at the present time. Songs like the opening “Edmund Pettus Bridge” (let’s hope everyone knows the significance of this landmark), replete with Michael Douglas Wall Street sound byte, sings of social inequality but does it with a trace of hope. While songs like “The Great Divide” are an example of melodic hardcore’s finest moments; unrelenting sonic pummeling that is as melodic as it is potent. “Wish You Well” takes cues from Good Riddance’s “softer” tones of catchy choruses and mid-tempo verses; akin to the track “Saccharine” (from 2003’s Bound by Ties of Blood and Affection). Perhaps the best thing about the 12 songs here is that they are all very succinct, potent, with rarely a moment of filler. The album is consistently good, and while it rarely deviates from the Good Riddance sound, it never lacks in the fire and fury we’ve come to expect.

The album itself SOUNDS fantastic, credit again to Bill Stevenson and Jason Livermore at The Blasting Room for their production. The guitars rip at the right levels while the percussion work hits just right. The mixing levels are as close to perfect as you can get without any one element dominating over another- a constant the band have found since 1999’s Operation Phoenix (no surprise, the first of their albums to have been produced at the Blasting Room).

The appeal of Good Riddance has always been two-fold. Firstly, their music has shown steadfast quality, and the albums have found longevity due to the way Rankin and company write their songs. With lyrics referring to and talking about a multitude of humanist issues without having to directly reference them, they remain political, timely, writing music as urgent as it was through the 90s as it is today. That may be a sad indictment of society itself, but it doesn’t take away from their effectiveness and influence. Rankin himself has said that their music may not have changed the world per se, they continue to open eyes and minds. This writer can attest to the latter- and the importance of that can’t be underlined enough. Their early discography spoke to my generation about life, self, and the interconnected reality of the world we live- no matter how hard to try not to believe it. Thoughts and Prayers is a furious, timely, and potent slab of hard-hitting melodic hardcore and shows that the fire clearly still burns as passionately for Good Riddance as it did all those years ago. And perhaps it’ll be what A Comprehensive Guide to Moderne Rebellion and Ballads From the Revolution was to me for a whole new generation.

(Fat Wreck Chords)

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Hatriot – From Days Unto Darkness

From Days Unto Darkness is a relentless pummeling of thrash metal’s best qualities

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When it comes to Bay Area thrash metal, there are two bands that sit atop the mountain forever entwined to its history; Metallica and Exodus. Both bands linked together by Kirk Hammett, both bands crucial to the Bay Area’s most destructive form of music. Exodus may not have their name in lights as Metallica does, but Exodus’ influence cannot be mistaken- and many point to them as being the one true progenitor of Bay Area thrash. Hatriot, a band that was started by Exodus vocalist Steve Souza in 2011, are a real chip off the ol’ block. Surprisingly, it isn’t just musically that Hatriot follows suit from Exodus, its a family thing too. While Steve Souza left Hatriot in 2015, his sons Nick and Cody continue on percussions and guitars with the latter taking on vocal duties once the older Souza returned to Exodus.

Hatriot does more than just follow on the Exodus path; they’ve loudly carved their own slice of the thrash pie. Led by Kosta Varvatakis shredding guitar work and Cody Souza’s blistering (sometimes ominous) vocal work, Hatriot may have found their Fabulous Disaster, ironically, also three albums in.

From Days Unto Darkness is a relentless pummeling of thrash metal’s best qualities; machine gun percussion work (I’m a sucker for some great double bass drums), shredding guitars, soaring solos, and vocals that does the growling well, and the screaming even better. Tracks like “Organic Remains” and the blistering “Carnival of Execution” showcase the band’s ability to craft songs that are equal parts urgency and solid musicianship. Thematically, From Days Unto Darkness covers the usual thrash metal spread; the end times, death, destruction, and humanity’s failing graces- all done with equal breakneck, ear piercing destruction sonically. “World, Flesh & Devil” is perhaps the album’s best outing- a raging beast of a song, that if carnage could be written in music form, this is it incarnate. At 4:26, it is one of the shorter tracks of the release, but much of the album features in at the 6-7 minute mark- a trademark of thrash metal’s desire to not only showcase talent but to do it over extended periods.

What the album lacks perhaps is that one magnum opus of a track. Sure, it’s not easy for any band to write “Master of Puppets”, but From Days Unto Darkness rarely takes a breather. It’s mostly positive, but while Master had at times, slow interludes to let you catch your breath, Hatriot takes absolutely no prisoners- staying true to their thrash metal heritage. If you’re not quite up for it, this album will hammer you into a stupor.

The halcyon days of Bay Area thrash metal may be long resigned to nostalgic documentaries, but Hatriot are not interested in just being a throwback to their roots. From Days Unto Darkness is not for the weak and if this is the sign that thrash metal is alive and kicking, then the future and present are in damn good hands.

(Massacre Records)

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