Kali Uchis’ Upbeat Debut
With her debut album “Isolation,” Kali Uchis places herself at the forefront of pop rhythm and blues. With a stunning voice and wide array of lyrical material, this new album is enjoyable and easy to listen to.
Uchis has been warming up for a while now, with an award-winning feature on Daniel Caesar’s recent single “Get You” and her hit “After the Storm,” featuring Tyler, the Creator.
“Isolation” is an album full of singable lyrics and expansive yet accessible production. It contains songs perfect for singalongs, like “Just a Stranger” and “Feel Like a Fool,” but is balanced by darker and more provocative tracks, like “Tomorrow” and “Coming Home.”
The third song on the album, “Just a Stranger,” features Steve Lacy, and production credits enlist Lacy and Brockhampton producer Romil Hemnani. The hook is earworming: “She wants my hundred dollar bills, she don’t want love, She wants my hundreds / Oh, she wants my hundreds.”
Another great singalong is “Your Teeth in My Neck.” The lyrics speak of her negative experience in the music industry: “Kill us all off, they’d take our worth they pay us dirt / Is it worth it? Is it worth it?” Still, the song is a fun one, masking her serious intentions.
The second-to-last track is “Feel Like a Fool.” Uchis perfectly matches the jazzy instrumental, singing about feeling like a fool in her relationships—how it’s no fun to realize “your baby don’t belong to you.” Although she doesn’t get into any complex feelings, it’s accessible.
This is one of the most impressive pop R&B crossover debuts in a long time. Her attention to detail with production is clear, and her songwriting ability and alluring voice are undeniable.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
J. Cole Improves, Still Lacking
With “KOD,” North Carolina rapper J. Cole pounced right back into the spotlight of rap—but he might not be long for it. “KOD” has several meanings: kids on drugs, king overdosed, and kill our demons. The most prominent seems to be kids on drugs, as the album follows the narrative of a person who has fallen to the allure of drugs.
The title track is second, and it’s a classic Cole banger. He flows over a booming trap beat, supported by a memorable hook: “This is what you call a flip / Ten keys from a quarter brick / Bentley from his mama’s whip/ KOD, he hard as sh**.” The verses are equally hard, and it’s a strong start to the album.
“Photograph” is next, a creepy ode to Instagram stalkers looking for long-term love. He raps about falling in love with a photograph without even knowing her name, but doesn’t tell his friends because he wants her all to himself. It doesn’t work over the haunting beat.
The last song, “1985,” is about the “mumble” rappers that have taken shots at J. Cole, especially Lil’ Pump. The song is about giving advice for these young men navigating the complicated world of hip-hop and the overall rap industry. Lil’ Pump responded on an Instagram story, making fun of the North Carolina rapper for “dissing a 17-year old.”
This is an improvement from the largely disappointing “4 Your Eyez Only,” but it’s not too much of a step up. Cole still prioritizes an album narrative over a legitimate sound, and it shows.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Flatbush Zombies Come With That Heat
With “Vacation in Hell,” Flatbush Zombies establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the rap industry. It’s longer than necessary, at 19 songs and 77 minutes, but once listeners trim the fat, it’s one of the best albums of the year, equally bangin’ and provoking.
Rappers Meechy Darko, Zombie Juice, and rapper/producer Eric the Arc Elliott fill the project with memorable bars on “HELL-O” and “Vacation,” and the trio takes on social issues on “Trapped,” and “Best American.”
“HELL-O” sets the tone. It’s an energetic track, as the Zombies trade verses bragging about their prowess and insanity: “Watch me turn the crowd into a Spartan scene / Mosh pit, then I’m Moses, part the sea.” If you’re not familiar with Flatbush, this is your introduction—more of this enthusiasm is coming.
“Vacation” is the trio’s attempt at a mainstream hit. Unfortunately, it’s just not their thing, as this track isn’t going to be getting radio plays due to the Zombies’ cultish attraction. It’s still a banger for those who enjoy it, as Eric kills this beat. The hook sung by Zombie Juice is melodic and catchy. Featured artist Joey Badass’ verse also isn’t bad, but he’s done better.
“YouAreMySunshine” is a sorrowful track, as Meechy details his feelings on fellow New York rapper A$AP Yams’ death. The beat is slow, with morose piano keys supporting a thunderstorm recording. Meechy speaks on how Yams influenced the Zombies: “Ain’t been the same since that day, god damn / You was a prophet, you was a king, you was a visionary.”
The album is effectively concluded by “The Glory,” taking an optimistic perspective on the group’s past struggles.
Flatbush Zombies proved their versatility on this album, as they seemed to take this project more seriously this time around.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Cardi B Attacks Haters With Vengeance
With her debut album “Invasion of Privacy,” Cardi B shows she’s more than a one-hit wonder with a few hot features. She isn’t tackling any huge social issues, but her Bronx attitude and Latina accent are in full effect on this album, letting the industry know Cardi B isn’t one to mess with. Highlights of the project are “Be Careful,” “Best Life,” and “I Like It.”
In the first track “Get Up 10,” Cardi B raps, “I’ll be down nine times, but I’ll get up 10.” Rappers have been defending themselves with cliches for decades, but Cardi B’s delivery makes the jargon carry more weight.
Other than pre-releases, “Be Careful” is the best song on the album. Against assumptions, this track isn’t a warning to her impregnator Offset, but a prior man. “Be careful with me / Yeah, it’s not a threat, it’s a warning.” It’s a simple beat with a focus on the lyrics, as she speaks on infidelity and its effects.
“Best Life,” featuring Chance the Rapper, speaks on Cardi B’s newfound fame. She brags about her wealth and rebuts her haters: “I can’t believe they wanna see me lose that bad/ They talkin’ junk and they stink, these hoes mad trash.” Chance’s verse is light and fun, as the Chicago rapper bounces through the track with his classic lively cheeriness.
Overall, this album is an important one—it shows that Cardi B is a little bit more than the one that made “Bodak Yellow.” Despite a few snoozers, she came through with punchy bars for almost an entire album, and Cardi B fans and pop music lovers alike will be looking forward to her next moves.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5