Another act who decided to announce a comeback, with the announcement of The 20/20 Experience album, due for release at an unnamed point this year.
Hooking up with his frequent collaborator (well, back in 2006 anyway) Timbaland, it’s a reunion of sorts that promises much, but ultimately fails to deliver. The track opens almost bizarrely, wrongly combining a dark, creepy fairground-esque production with JT’s pop rap-style hook, before launching into something much more likeable, that being a jazzy production comprised of horns, chunky percussion and inclusions of several softer elements from key hits to light electronic effects. There’s definitely something likeable about the production here, with an uptempo feel that almost evokes images of a lively Vegas night, whilst JT’s vocals are in good form and infect that beat with even more positivity. However, the structure of the song seems very loose at best, and the track’s movement back down to the slow beat for Jay’s verse kills its momentum, whilst his verse itself drags a little. Cut off the start and the section shortly before, after and including Jay’s verse and it’s good, but as it stands it’s not going to see much time from me.
Please forgive the stop-start nature of our post frequency this week. We’ve got some rather large plans in the offing, but I’ve found the time to let you know that this song is terrible.
He’s been delaying Stadium for what seems like forever, and whilst it’s hardly an album I spend every waking hour concerned about, it’s surely a bit of an annoyance for those who do actually like the music he puts out. Purported lead single after lead single find their way to us, and this is the latest in that string, and the weakest by far. Unlike a few of the other leaks, this is just wafer thin in almost every area: the lyricism is lazy, the vocals are more Autotuned than usual and still monotonous, foregoing that classic soaring delivery he’s best at, and the production doesn’t seem to bother making any distinction between the hook and verse, with one blending into the other.
It feels rushed and badly thought-out, and that’s not a criticism aimed at its mainstream targeting; in fact, I’d be surprised if even chart fans bothered with this. Back to the drawing board for Akon, and look out for yet another lead single in about 6 months.
The introduction to this very talented upcomer came just over a month ago, and now comes the follow up release to solidify that ‘one to watch’ status.
It’s a bright, uptempo pop track that’s definitely as good as anything from that genre in recent months. The production is perfect for a mainstream breakout, combining a midtempo percussion with soft yet urgent key hits and anchoring itself around the synth-heavy hook. The vocal performance is as good as the aforementioned introductory release, with Mikael allowed to show off his range from the gentler work in the verses to the superbly-executed high notes on the hook. The best comparison I can make is somewhere between an early Bruno Mars and Lloyd, and this is a chart-friendly track that should have some appeal to the purists too.
With 5 Grammy nominations, Miguel looks to be getting the acclaim he was always capable of earning, and he’s put out two older unreleased tracks this week to keep fans satisfied.
Bawdy didn’t really have much of note to enjoy, and truthfully this one isn’t a mindblower either. However, younger pop fans and heads who like a bit of old school R&B might enjoy this one significantly more than I did, as it’s clean cut music with a shiny, ready-for-everyone veneer.
Soft percussion, gentle keys and light synths combine for an easygoing backdrop, with Miguel delivering spades of emotion with his textbook pop/pop-R&B performance, pulling his usually clever lyricism down a little to a more mainstream-friendly level, and keeping his vocals packed with a positive edge that gives this a squeaky-clean feel. It’s a far cry from his more edgy recent material, but a bit of variety never hurt anyone and this sort of music will only serve to widen his appeal.
One of my favourite mainstream songs in recent times gets taken on by Eve, who continues her recent freestyle series with a set of bars over the Rihanna single.
Not quite as memorable as her work on Quiet Storma short while back, but again it’s just nice having Eve back around hip-hop and her verse is still worth a go. Unlike many who throw out remixes, she sticks with the general theme of the track well enough, and drops off a verse that’s easy enough to make this a viable remix in mainstream circles. Shame we didn’t get more than one verse, but this recent spurt of releases hopefully means some longer original material is on the way.
A very interesting collaboration for a number of reasons. Angel Haze is definitely one of the brighter newcomers on the hip-hop scene, and given her relatively new status, this is a fantastic opportunity to showcase her abilities to a more mainstream audience. She’s known for her more lyrically detailed style, and hence her adjustment to rapping and singing in a manner that has a wider appeal is a great sign of her flexibility.
Given Rudimental’s usual intense, somewhat glitchy electro approach, this is surprisingly serene, with soft percussion layered with tethered synth pulses to give the track enough liveliness without overwhelming it in energy. As an entirety, it’s far closer to chillout electro than anything you’d expect to hear on the dancefloor. Angel’s flows in the verses are excellent, moving with the production work skilfully, and this is a good all-round effort that demonstrates the versatility of both acts.
Surprisingly, I quite like the original version of this, and it’s certainly one of her better singles in recent times. Add Kanye to the mix and this looks to be hanging around my playlists for a little while longer.
Unlike most guest features, Kanye doesn’t just lazily lay down a couple of bars and walk away, but actually hangs around with a fairly lengthy verse that runs for the entire first third of the song. It’s good to have a more meaty remix in that sense, and he adds a good amount to the track with his frustrated delivery that packs in plenty of bragger raps, along with a couple of nice intensity switch-ups in line with the production. And, he references Tay Zonday, which is just lovely.
Born in Sweden, Sebastian Mikael moved to Los Angeles in 2008 to attend the Musicians Institute, before continuing his studies at Berklee School of Music. He was signed to Slip-N-Slide Records and in late 2011 released his first mixtape, J’Adore, to rave reviews. His “Beautiful Life” video caught the ear of Sylvia Rhone, who partnered with Slip-N-Slide to sign him to Vested in Culture, her new label with Epic Records.
A nice slice of acoustic work to start the weekend. There’s a ton of potential in this upcoming singer, and this first exposure for many of us will probably not be the last. This performance of Speechless is packed with emotion and delivered with plenty of skill, as Mikael demonstrates a command over melody and atmosphere that belies his relatively new status, via the diversity of vocal deliveries, the soft supporting guitar work and the sheer presence of his voice makes that empty room seem considerably fuller. Many do acoustic performances well, but most do so by opting for a sombre, more moody vibe. Sebastian’s positivity radiates throughout this one, and it’s an infectious feeling that’s surely going to gain him plenty of fans over the coming months.
The features on this tell you absolutely everything you need to know about this track. Luda’s struggling for sales in a difficult environment nowadays, and given that he’s not likely to lyrically compete with the likes of Kendrick Lamar, he’s gone the other way with a watered-down pop track.
It’s tough to criticise him as he’s rarely put out overtly mainstream-focused music, instead hovering the grey area that precedes that style, and now he’s looking to swell his bank account by making the full jump. The production is a predictable Guetta number, a pop track with lashings of heavy synths, whilst the Usher hook ensures the teenage girls take notice and have something to sing into their hairbrushes. I will literally never play this track again as I have no interest in it, but it’ll be a huge hit for sure.
Let’s be clear right from the off: I don’t particularly like this song. I always have time and respect for Alicia’s talent, but this sounds like Bruno Mars got an extra shot of oestrogen in his coffee, and though the video has some nice touches, particularly the colourful contrasts throughout and some good outfitting, it generally remains as unmemorable as the audio.
With that said, the sole reason for posting this is to highlight the transformation Alicia’s undergone in her absence. Her last album, The Element of Freedom, had plenty of pop influence but tempered it with the doses of atmosphere and surliness that give her work an addictive uniqueness, whereas this effort scraps those infusions to rely almost solely on the pop elements. The result is a much more positive and upbeat Alicia Keys, no doubt driven by her now-settled personal life with Swizz and their child, and when you lay out the roadmap of her career (go back and listen to/watch Fallin’ and Girlfriend) it’s a natural and likeable transformation. Even if it means the music is less entertaining.
A little mainstream goodness for the R&B heads, and it’s one with good quality songwriting from Ne-Yo that’s pretty easy to appreciate.
Celebrating his lady of choice, he’s not shy with lauding her various accomplishments and plus points, even offering ‘a toast to the ladies with class‘. A refreshing slice of originality on the mainstream scene, and whilst songs with such lyricism can sometimes come off a bit preachy, he delivers it well enough here to keep it engaging, helped greatly by a lively and upbeat production that comes to life in the hook. Wiz’s contribution doesn’t exactly make or break the track, and is instead just the expected tacked-on rap verse for those extra few fans, but overall it’s a solid pop jam that’ll be a radio favourite. R.E.D. Album drops on 6th November.
One of the first releases we got from the then-upcoming Thursday, and now it’s the first visual we get in anticipation of his upcoming Trilogy album, set to contain all three of his mixtapes remastered for a 13th November delivery. It’s hard to believe this is only his second video, though many ignore The Knowing due to its conceptual style.
Taking inspiration from The xx’s Islands, there’s a groundhog day-style repetition created by the camera, slowly zooming outwards before resetting. Unlike that video however, there are some changes between transitions that are much more pronounced, as The Weeknd is given his first chance to personalise and fully visualise his music by having the clip centred around his performance of it. In keeping with his branding as a whole (The Knowing video aside), it’s very minimalist and is probably what he needs to have that ‘D’Angelo breakout moment’-no frills, just focus on the music and the man making it. The monochrome filter helps achieve that by removing colour distraction, whilst small touches such as blurring the female’s hands as they wrap around him, changing her hand positions and her ultimate removal all add up to a clip that keeps you looking out for those deft changes. Leftfield observation for the day: as The Weeknd’s face becomes blurred at the end, he ends up looking a little like Death with a dark cloak and light face. Adds a potentially interesting twist to the lyrics if that was intentional.
It’s interesting how so many of us (note, I said ‘us’) turned on this guy quite quickly. Prior to his album being released, some of the demos and rough tracks of his that leaked into various R&B Fridays episodes were real fan favourites, and undoubtedly showcased a very talented guy. However, it seems the closer we got to that album, the more those fans turned away and despite his style still being fairly crossover, the general reasoning is that he got ‘too pop’.
I don’t think this will do much to change that view. Whilst the verses are busy, upbeat and filled with lively instrumentation, some of the lyrical work is really lacking in comparison to his earlier work, particularly in the hook which is quite clearly targeted at teenage girls singing into their hairbrushes. It’s difficult to ever question his vocals as those slight imperfections are what adds character and emotion to his work, but truthfully that’s the only source of those two things: this just feels repetitive and easy for a man of his talents, and hence very hollow. No doubt that this will be an enormous hit, but for the fans who were hoping he’d return to old form, I’d give it a miss.
It’s almost frightening how far his stock has plummeted in recent years. Between 2006 and 2009, himself and Akon were essentially untouchable as far as popular hooks and singles went, going so far as saying between them they wanted their names on every single in the charts.
Now? Pain’s reduced to releasing tapes with very minimal buzz attached, thanks to both the passing of the Autotune phase he pioneered, and his decision to rap more frequently. The last I heard, Stoic was meant to be his next album but here we are recieving the entire 22 tracks for free, and in truth I hope there’s some quality on here as there’s always a time and place for a little mainstream R&B. Can he recover his golden touch? Grab the tape below for the answer.
Cris Cab has announced he will be releasing his debut EP, RISE, on October 9th. Cris has given his fans a glimpse into the project with Paradise (On Earth), the second offering from RISE, produced by Malay (Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange).
I’ve caught a few of Cris’ tracks in recent months, and it’s about time he got his due shine here. There’s a hybrid style to his music, blending together R&B and pop with a slight reggae twist, and the output is one that’s usually quite enjoyable. This is a good example, with a production that packs enough punch in the percussion to remain suitably engaging without undermining the more laidback elements of the rest of the production, which themselves add a calming atmosphere to the track. Cris’ vocals progress well throughout the song, stepping up for the hook without going overboard, and this is a solid all-rounder that many R&B heads will enjoy.
Two of the more unique and upcoming talents in the music game hook up for a remix to Yuna’s lead single from her self-titled album. I’ve waxed lyrical about both Yuna and the aforementioned album at length previously, and hence I’ll spare you me doing that again. This is however a nice reminder and refresh of a relaxing yet perky track, arguably one of the more ‘upbeat’ efforts from the album, with the short Theophilus verse adding a contrast to Yuna’s soft vocals. Not a great deal else to be said on this one, as otherwise it’s identical to the previously-reviewed original, but if you’re unfamiliar with Yuna this is an excellent starting point.
Brand new material from her upcoming The Haunted Man album, and this is one I fully expect the mainstream heads to appreciate.
The track opens with a meandering melody and drifty vocals, creating an almost dream-like atmosphere that makes this instantly engaging, before Natasha ramps up the vocals to drive the track into something with much more emotion and gravitas. Whilst I’ve not been as on-the-ball with her material as I should be, the duality of the vocal performance here is amongst the best I’ve heard from her in terms of skill and versatility, and there’s no doubt it makes this a track that’s easy to appreciate. The unerring consistency of the atmosphere created by the production also warrants much praise, as despite being rather different between the hook and verses, the vibe that results remains equally ethereal throughout, matching the subtlety of the vocals on the verses and the grandeur of them on the hook.
A great slice of alternative pop, and you can grab this one for free on Amazon (believe it or not).
Daley’s been missing from the soul scene since his excellent Those Who Wait mixtape over a year ago, but returns with a huge feature here for his latest single that’ll probably find a home on his debut LP.
Big fan of the old school sample used here (Blue Boy’s Remember Me, for those who care), and its retro nature combines well with an upbeat, often funky production for a lively number that’s quite the departure from his regular slowed down, soulful style.
What’s really commendable about the audio is Jessie’s selflessness, as Daley is extremely prominent throughout, with Jessie providing backup where needed. The moments where she steps in certainly add a layer of variety to the track, and whilst merely having her name attached should help this track to reach new audiences, the quality of the music certainly holds its own. Breakout single? For sure.
It’s been a long time since we had a new project from Colin, and whilst he’s released small bits of material over the last couple of years, it’s great to have him back dropping off something full-length.
Arguably, he didn’t quite capitalise on his huge buzz back in 2009-10, but that doesn’t seem to have hindered his reputation within the industry; features on this include RZA, Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, Pusha T, Cassie and more. His relative inactivity has seemingly led to his sound being a little less unique, given the slew of eclectic artists who’ve broken out in recent years, but a quick listen to this tape shows that few have the same level of command over all of the genres he tries to cover. A man who has a great talent for melodies, here’s to hoping this tape revives his career, and that there’s more to come. Download and/or stream below.
Colin Munroe-Unsung Hero (click here to stream)
Huge co-sign for Rocky, as Rihanna nabs him for the official remix to what I assume is to be her next single from her latest album.
It’s clear why Rocky’s picked for this one, with the slowed down production being a great fit for his slurry style and allowing enough room for his confidence to pierce through and dominate the verse. As ever, it’s no lyrical masterpiece from him, but is full of the easygoing style that continues to endear him to mainstream audiences. It’s a very hip-hop inspired production from beatsmith Bangladesh, utilising his repetitive vocal sample style throughout the track (probably because he literally cannot make any other type of beat), which also forces Rihanna to adopt a rap-esque approach for her verse.
Can’t say I care a great deal for it overall though, as the production becomes annoying very quickly, and there’s little else going on of note. Nonetheless, this will have its fans and it’s a great shine for Rocky.
There’s Something about chance meetings that makes me feel like I’m on the right path. Once of such chance meetings was bumping into Frankie Z at the filming of The Next on the CW Network! I had known about Frankie for quite a while since we both worked with the same music video director (Eif Rivera) but getting a chance to finally chat with him, share a few laughs and work on a project together was really something special! Make sure you check the both of us out on CW representing the best of the best in New York City! – Baiyu
Although a little short for my liking, here’s a nice little cover of Bieber’s latest hit. With a powerful voice like this, I’m sure we’ll be hearing more of Baiyu in the future. You can download this track for free below.
Lupe’s Food & Liquor 2: The Great American Rap Album pt. 1 is edging ever closer, meaning we’re treated to track number four and video number three from the project.
Whilst this is undoubtedly more mainstream friendly than previous releases from the album, that’s not strictly a bad thing here as Lupe’s lyricism is still very much on point, and it’s merely supplemented by a powerful, rousing hook from Australian singer Guy Sebastian. Of course, the combination of a pop-centric production and a singalong hook will turn off many, but for me it’s a welcome break from the wave of lyricism that seems to be the foundation of the upcoming album, and unlike Lasers it’s mainstream-targeted work that’s actually executed well.
The video is a pretty simple one, allowing Guy to get some valuable camera time, whilst going for a very human-oriented theme via various close-ups of everyday people, with some holding up ‘labels’: admittedly, the labelling visual is a little corny and overdone, but it doesn’t particularly detract from the audio. I don’t see this on iTunes GB yet, but it’s up over on the US version here.
A spectacular cover from Hawaiian duo ALT/AIR, and one that will endear them to pretty much anyone who likes the original version on Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange.
The track opens minimally, supporting the delicate vocals with little more than clicks and an atmospheric yet light synth, and it’s a great start to establish the vocal and production talents of the duo. What follows is an explosion of sound, with a screaming electro-infused melody, taking centre stage alongside strong percussion work and several additional elements for a richly-layered and intense blast of sound. From there it’s all alternations with the stripped-back styling of the opening, swapping enough times to end with a real bang and keep the song firmly engrained on your mind. An excellent example of dynamic beatmaking and endearing vocals, and a nice complement to the outstanding original. Stream below, or download here.
Straight up the only reason why I’m interested in this track is because Childish Gambino features, a rapper who has had a supreme 2012. This collaboration has come a bit out of the blue and is set to be the second single from Leona’s Glassheart album.
A bizarre collaboration that doesn’t disappoint, Leona delivers some passionate notes (a song co-written by the excellent Emeli Sandé) with Gambino assisting with a closing (short) introspective verse. If you’re a fan of either artist you’ll love this; it’ll certainly be sitting in my rotation for a while. Only a stream below for now, but you can buy the single on October 7th on iTunes.
I’m a few weeks late on this video dropping, but given that I’ve barely posted at all in the last four months I’m sure you’ll forgive me.
One thing I enjoy doing when making a trip to the other side of the Atlantic is listening to what’s playing on their radio stations, and this is a track that was under heavy rotation. After several listens and wondering who this mystery R&B singer was, I was shocked to be informed that it was in fact a Justin Bieber song! We don’t often post his stuff on this site, but if Big Sean can lend him some credibility and deliver a solid verse, then I can give him a chance too.
As for this song, it really does remind me of Justin Timberlake, in the same way he revamped his image after dropping My Love all those years ago, Bieber appears to be doing the exact same here (more of this please!). I dare you to listen to this song and not enjoy it, dare you.
Just under two weeks away from her debut album’s release, and one of the fastest-rising singers in recent years drops off a pretty strong cover of Frank Ocean’s excellent Swim Good.
Where Frank Ocean’s emotional shifts in the track are relatively subtle, Rita uses the opportunity to flex her vocal capabilities and add a little more passion and power into the delivery. Undoubtedly, many will prefer the style of the original but this clearly has its merits, and at worst works as a good example of Rita’s capabilities.
It’s difficult not to like Ora. Whilst she’s morphing into mainstream darling, there’s no denying she’s got great talent and it makes for a welcome change up against many of her popular peers.
Special thank you to all of the fans for submitting over 1200 photos to this lyric video project. ‘Anything Could Happen’ is the debut single from Ellie’s forthcoming album ‘Halcyon’ out on 8th October.
Not for everyone of course, but even I found myself enjoying certain parts of her debut album back in 2010, and hence felt it worth giving this single a listen. Sadly, it’s not quite up to par for me, lacking any real urgency and instead feeling like it trudges along for the verses before delivering an underwhelming hook. With that said, the production has some high points, particularly towards the last 90 seconds of the track, a section in which Ellie also shows off a slightly edgier, less polished vocal style that suits her quite well. There are definite signs of quality in here, but as a whole it just doesn’t quite capture the imagination as you’d expect it to.
COMING HOME is an emotional journey of loss and searching. The lyrical themes are backed by an intricate array of guitar arpeggios, driving bass, chiming melodies and Diamond Cut’s signature synth and production work.
Swimming around the swamp that is my inbox are Visitor, hailing from these very shores, and combining electronic, alternative and pop together for an incredibly-refined sound that’s both familiar and unique. That blend is represented in the production, with bright, in-your-face synths, driving percussion and a smattering of other elements in the mix, resulting in a positive, extremely mainstream-friendly beat that’ll set them in good stead. The rousing vocals capitalise on that upbeat nature, yet the lyrics are of ‘loss and searching’ as described above, making for a mix that incites a reaction in the listener (energy and happiness) somewhat opposed to that lyrical message. A decent listen that could really break out into the mainstream consciousness, and our younger audience should really enjoy this.
Not hugely (remotely) familiar with the original, but as a big fan of Mike G’s raps and The Internet’s general existence, there’s plenty of attraction to the track, and it actually stands up fairly well.
The video is trippy, deliberately rough looking and mostly random-everything you’d expect from an Odd Future involvement. There’s little more to say besides it’s hypnotising and works strangely well with the audio. It’s completely bizarre and yet I just can’t stop watching it.
Matt Martians (who I’m assuming helmed most of the production work as part of The Internet) does a great job with the beat, keeping it funky and bouncy throughout but throwing in those spacey, atmospheric, Jet Age of Tomorrow-esque synths where he can, making for a good overall beat that’s prevented from becoming annoying by simply being quite short. The highlight for me is undoubtedly Mike G’s verse, with his relaxed yet ever-slick flow being a great contrast to the psychedelic production, whilst his lyricism works within the confines of the track well without stunting his naturally clever style. The YouTube description suggests this is out on 19th August, so keep an eye out for it to hit iTunes then.