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Album Review – Beyoncé’s “Beyoncé”


Dreams and fantasies creep into the mind, often cloaked by the darkness of night and with little warning. Such is also true for Beyoncé’s fifth solo album, “Beyoncé,” which was secretly released through iTunes on a random Thursday night in December without any promotion.

While albums are typically released on Tuesdays and hyped-up for months beforehand, Mrs. Carter decided to forego industry standards and make her own rules. She wanted to be the one to deliver this 14-track, 17-video “visual album” directly to her fans, and that is exactly what she did.

It was a risky endeavor, but in a world where tweets and Instagram photos spread within seconds, Beyoncé’s risk reaped major rewards. The singer’s most erotic album to date now sits high on its throne as the fastest selling album ever on iTunes.

Collectively, “Beyoncé” is a brilliant portrayal of one woman’s flawed but honest journey into womanhood. What makes it brilliant is that as Beyoncé shares her most intimate thoughts, she speaks to and for so many others. Despite the fact that Beyoncé is worth an estimated $53 million, the album reveals that at 32 years of age she still struggles with very common emotional battles.

In line with Madonna’s 1992 album “Erotica” — also her fifth album which features alter-ego Mistress Dita —“Beyoncé” delivers a heavy dose of sexuality, so much so that Freud would seriously have a field day analyzing it. Not only do listeners get a boatload of not-so-subtle innuendos, but Beyoncé also ties childhood sound bytes into the story and introduces yet another alter-ego—smack-talking ferocious Yoncé—to her fans. It doesn’t get much more Freudian than that.

After watching the rise and fall of MTV, Beyoncé is doing her part to bring back the art of the music video. While the accompanying videos leave little to the imagination, they are playful, poignant and cinematic, all while providing a vivid vision to back the lyrics. Tracks like “Blow,” “Partition,” “Drunk in Love” and “Rocket” are matched with in-your-face images across the spectrum of attraction that breathe life and love into her closest relationship.

In particular, Beyoncé — along with Miguel and Justin Timberlake — find that sweet spot with “Rocket,” which is unmistakably the female version of D’Angelo’s “Untitled (How Does it Feel).” Thirteen years after D’Angelo’s iconic song hit the airwaves, “Rocket” explodes with Prince-esque boudoir beats and rich R&B runs. This type of between-the-sheets plea to husband Jay Z effectively permeates the album without making fans feel like uninvited peepers. Rather, Beyoncé’s transparency translates as a newly found freedom from expectations that have previously been placed upon her.

While the erotic nature of the album demands attention, there are other important themes that develop through the tracks. One of the most powerful tracks, “***Flawless,” features the powerful words of Nigerian poet Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and reminds women of all ages to fight for gender equality.

Another standout fan-favorite is “XO,” a call-and-response percussive carpe diem love jam that celebrates living every moment like it is the last. “Pretty Hurts” speaks to the pressures of sacrificing the soul for superficial beauty, while “Blue” celebrates the triumphs and joys of motherhood. Beyoncé also gives a glimpse into the ups and downs of marriage on tracks like “Jealous” and “Mine,” tapping into some of the not-so-sexy emotions that can threaten even one of the most influential couples in the music business.

Stylistically, Beyoncé experiments with a more electro-pop sound, often jagged and jolting in its delivery, similar to methods found on Frank Ocean’s “Chanel Orange.” It is no surprise that Ocean joins Beyoncé on “Superpower,” an apocalyptic anthem that could be construed as a call-to-arms to her fans, or perhaps just a love letter to Mr. Carter.

Interestingly, across the album’s tracks and videos there exists a drastic trade-off between the harder and softer sides of Beyoncé, along with a fierce loyalty to her family and hometown, Houston. As with almost everything she has ever created, there is an air of modern-day feminism and empowerment that prevails on this album.

However, this empowerment has never quite felt as authentic as it does on “Beyoncé,” because Beyoncé is finally showing the world that she is confident and comfortable being her true self. It is in her honesty that she is liberated as a woman, mother and wife, and this in turn spreads naturally to her listeners. While this girl-power quality may imply that “Beyoncé” is strictly for the female listeners, think again. With open minds, men can get a detailed glimpse into the female psyche after taking in this visual album, and if he were alive today, Freud would certainly agree.

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Album Review – Long.Live.A$AP by A$AP Rocky


In 1986, hip-hop legends Eric B & Rakim recorded their first track, and manifested into NYC’s most beloved DJ/MC duo overnight. Eric B supplied the beats, while Rakim displayed his metaphoric lyrical mastery with ease. Two years later, NYC welcomed a fresh set of lungs and wide eyes to its gritty streets — a baby boy aptly named after the city’s poetic genius himself, Rakim — destined to break free of the concrete jungle confines one day.

Rakim Mayers, aka A$AP Rocky, grew up wanting — dreaming — for more. As a teenager, he watched his drug-selling father get sent to jail, only to have his older brother murdered a year later. In 2007, he fell into a band of brothers known as the A$AP Mob, from which he was given his A$AP Rocky moniker. This crew became his support system — a rap project that allowed Rocky to perfect his craft with high hopes of returning hip-hop honors back to NYC.

aap-rocky-featuring-trey-songz-same-bh-0In 2011, Rocky quickly gained attention for his eclectic style — both in delivery and fashion. In the blink of an eye, he was signed to a multimillion-dollar deal and thrown into recording his debut album, “Long.Live.A$AP.” On this album, Rocky pulls inspiration from every corner of the hip-hop nation, and blends styles into a collection of tracks that places him above the competition.

Claps of thunder open the album and set the tone, as Rocky spits the perfect storm of lyrics drenched in sex, drugs and violence — made acceptable only by the promise of eternal life in the halls of hip-hop. This theme finds a home on most tracks, which are overloaded with imagery of a luxe life, with endless supplies of money, drugs and women. While Rocky’s spectrum of story seems limited, he raps effortlessly overtop a diverse stream of beats and samples laid by some of the industry’s best producers like Hit-Boy, Clams Casino, Drake and Dangermouse.

Rocky is at home on the microphone no matter the style, which lends to the album’s success. “Goldie,” “Pain” and “Wild for the Night,” pay tribute to pitch-down style of Houston’s late DJ Screw and Memphis natives Three 6 Mafia, leaving listeners feeling like they’ve been sippin’ on the sizzurp. “Hell” features M.I.A-esque vocals with new wave reggae undertones from Santigold, while “1 Train” is a freestyle throwback to days of Wu-Tang Clan, when rap crews reigned supreme. The continuum of sound is vast, but Rocky finds his sweet spot on each track.

On the platinum single, “F***kin’ Problems,” Rocky calls on Drake, 2 Chainz and Kendrick Lamar to up the ante over a tight drumASAProcky beat laced with bass drops. The ear-catching audio gains even more mass appeal with a sexed-up video reminiscent of Craig Mack’s “Flava in Ya Ear-Remix.”  Rocky ends the album with “Suddenly” — a slow-motion chronicle of everyday happenings on the block from childhood struggles to present-day fame. “Suddenly” rises to the top as the best track, because it highlights Rocky’s storytelling ability. Beneath explicit lyrics like “You my brother/You my kin/F**k the color of your skin” lies an important message — Rocky is making music to bring people together.

Overall, “Long.Live.A$AP” succeeds by introducing a new wrinkle in the current era of hip-hop — one that feeds off the strengths and intricacies of collaboration. The meat of the album is sandwiched between its two best tracks, where Rocky shines as a storyteller — much like his namesake. Whether he lives on in the hip-hop history books alongside his predecessor has yet to be determined.

To learn more about A$AP Rocky, visit his website.  “Long.Live.A$AP” is available in regular and deluxe versions on iTunes.

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