Album Review: Joyce Wrice-Overgrown

The R&B singer delivers her brand of throwback vibes on her debut album

Joyce Wrice has been bubbling for some time on the underground R&B scene. The LA-based singer/songwriter broke out in 2016 with her EP Stay Around and continued with collaborations with artists such as Westside Gunn of Griselda, The Free Nationals, and Crush. Under the partnership with R&B producer and frequent Ty Dolla $ign collaborator  D’Mile, Wrice takes listeners onto a time capsule back to the heyday of 1990s hip hop soul with Overgrown.
From the jump, it’s apparent that this project takes various cues from musical elements of R&B albums of that era. The most striking takeaway of this album’s sound is the lush but gritty instrumentation across all tracks. Funky guitar licks, boom-bap drums, string melodies and winding chord progressions permeate tracks such as Chandler, Losing, and Addicted. The self-titled track is a piano laden ballad that shares similar themes of self-love and strength with Mary J. Blige’s material, particularly My Life. The collaboration with fellow half-Japanese R&B singer UMI, a remix to That’s On You, carries a bluesy feel and is noteworthy for having a crossover appeal with Japanese lyrics. So So Sick is perhaps the biggest musical tribute to 90s R&B, with a subtle sample of Jon B’s 1997 hit They Don’t Know.

Another element Overgrown borrows from 1990s R&B albums is the balance of soulfulness and hip hop swagger through its collaborations and structure. On One with Freddie Gibbs carries the spirit of singer-rapper collabs such as Anything by SWV and Wu Tang Clan and Can’t You See by Total and the Notorious BIG. Westside Gunn’s Interlude, featuring the eponymous rapper, is humorously vulgar and reminiscent of rap interludes and intros on R&B albums by the likes of Phife Dawg and Busta Rhymes. Falling In Love, with fellow D’Mile collaborator Lucky Daye, hearkens back to collabs between singers like Slow Jam by Usher and Monica, and Final Warning by Ginuwine and Aaliyah. The album’s mix of uptempos and slow jams are tied together cohesively by interludes in the same way Faith Evans and Blackstreet used them on their albums.

Overall, Overgrown is a strong debut album for Joyce Wrice with its rich melodic textures compared to a majority of modern R&B albums with heavy hip hop influence. If this project is a sign of Wrice’s future as an artist, is it clear that she’ll be a breath of fresh air for R&B.

Score: 9.5/10

Written by Kristian Gonzales

Album Review: Duke Deuce- Duke Nukem

The Memphis rapper delivers some fight club energy with this project.

Duke Deuce has been one of the frontrunners of Memphis’s emerging rap scene along with other artists like Blocboy JB and Young Dolph. As heard through songs like Crunk Ain’t Dead Remix and Crunk Ain’t Dead MOB, Deuce aims to evoke the rowdy vibe of 90s and 2000s Southern rap greats like Three 6 Mafia. Duke Nukem is no exception with Deuce delivering bangers on top of bangers that makes you want to throw someone through a wall.

The opening track Intro: Coming Out Hard is a strong reminder of Duke’s Memphis roots, with the title and funky sound reminiscent of the duo 8Ball & MJG and their 1992 album Comin’ Out Hard. Soldiers Steppin is arguably the album’s biggest highlight with its echoing drums and military-esque call and response rapping. Fell Up In The Club with A$AP Ferg continues the homage to Memphis with a sample of Paper Chaser by EP & Dow Jones. Gangsta Party brings energy into trap’s oversaturated trend of minimalistic piano-laden beats with a feature by Offset and Deuce’s almost sing-song delivery. Back 2 Back brings a vicious vibe with an icy beat and an even more aggressive presence by Deuce. One of the biggest strengths of the album is Duke’s presence as a rapper. Overall, the lyrics on this project are your typical gun-toting, sexual bravado, and gangbanging fare, but he elevates it through his energized delivery and ad-libs.

If there’s any weaknesses to this album, it’s simply because Duke doesn’t seek to provide anything groundbreaking to hip hop. However, this doesn’t necessarily indicate an overall weakness in his artistry. Army and Outro:Go 2 Hell are Duke’s foray into harmonized raps, but feels like tedious and odd fits compared to the album’s headbanging atmosphere. The simplistic  hook on Toot Toot with Young Dolph drags the song down despite some solid verses. Kirk with Mulatto is a solid track, but could feel repetitive with its piano-heavy production if compared with Gangsta Party.

Overall, Duke Nukem is an enjoyable project that serves a healthy heap of hardcore club bangers. If you need any music to rage out to, then this album is made for you.

Score: 7.5/10

Written by Kristian Gonzales

Picture Source: Medium

Artists’ Blueprint: Tyler The Creator

The rapper/songwriter/producer and creative force isn’t the first in hip hop to expand creative boundaries for the genre.

Tyler the Creator has been one of hip hop’s defining acts this past decade, from his angsty and controversial work during his time with the collective Odd Future like Yonkers and Tamale, to a shift for a more introspective and soulful sound with See You Again and Earfquake. With his evolution as an artist, Tyler expanded his brand with ventures such as the annual Camp Flog Gnaw Festival in Los Angeles, his GOLF brand of streetwear along with a flagship store, and shows such as the sketch comedy Loiter Squad and the animated series The Jellies for Adult Swim. Despite his reputation as one of the most ambitious creative minds in the rap game, it is worth mentioning artists similar to Tyler and also cited as his inspirations.

Pharrell Williams

The songwriter/producer/singer/rapper is usually credited as Tyler’s biggest creative influence. Tyler has publicly expressed his love for Pharrell’s work, especially seen in his Facebook post commemorating the 10th anniversary of the producer’s debut album In My Mind. In this post, he praises Pharrell’s attributes such as his penchant for jazz and r&b chords and basslines influenced by the likes of Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder and his love for previously uncommon subject matter such as high end fashion brands (like Hermes) and skateboarding. This interview with Mass Appeal is another example of The Neptunes’ stylistic influence on Tyler as he talks further about these topics. Tyler’s gone on to collaborate with Pharrell on songs like IFHY and tracks such as Rose Tinted Cheeks are compared to Pharrell’s sound of outer space electronic funk.

Kanye West

Like Pharrell, Kanye is another creative influence on Tyler as a multi-talented artist in hip hop and budding entrepreneur. In an interview with Zane Lowe for Apple Music, Tyler mentioned his love for West’s 2018 album Ye, praising the project for its honesty in subject matter, along with crediting him in a list of artists who practice complex techniques and sounds in music like chord progressions and live instrumentation. In other interviews and public appearances, Tyler has talked about their common interests, including art, Kanye’s ability to look normal in various colors for his Yeezy fashion line as an inspiration for Tyler’s GOLF brand, and his defiance of black male stereotypes. The two artists have collaborated on songs like Smuckers off Tyler’s 2015 album Cherry Bomb and Puppet off his 2019 album Igor.

Various Neo-Soul/R&B Artists

Strictly on the musical sphere of influence, Tyler has repeatedly gushed about his love for r&b music and its sub genre neo-soul, which blends live instrumentation with hip hop influence. In the same interview with Zane Lowe, he discusses topics like Janet Jackson’s collaborations with producer duo Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, the multi-layered and melodic song structures of Erykah Badu and D’Angelo and the euphoric feelings he got as a fan of artists like Brandy. In another interview with Funkmaster Flex of Hot 97, he credited other childhood influences such as Faith Evans, Mary J Blige, and Zhane. He gave a special shout out to Zhane’s producer Kay Gee for his blend of rough hip hop beats with pretty melodies as the basis for his own style. In an interview with comedian Jerrod Carmichael, Tyler referenced artists such as Tony Toni Tone and Stevie Wonder, especially the latter with his vocal melodies and chords. In his work, Tyler has sampled acts like the Gap Band for songs such as  911/Mr Lonely along with a feature by Badu on his 2013 track Treehome95.

The musical and stylistic footprints of these artists are still evident through Tyler and he carries their torch as a representative for hip hop’s future evolution into newer sonic boundaries and self expression, possibly inspiring a wave of newer artists as his idols did.

Written by: Kristian Gonzales

Feature Image: Fader

Album Review: Ty Dolla $ign- Featuring Ty Dolla $ign

The rapper/singer/producer flexes his diversity with his adept skills at collaborations with artists across multiple genres.

The first thing you might not think about when Ty Dolla $ign’s name pops up is versatility. You may recall his club-ready bangers such as Paranoid and Or Nah and his raunchy mack-esque persona, along with his status as one of the leading figures of the West Coast hip hop and R&B renaissance of the 2010s with peers like Kendrick Lamar and longtime collaborator YG. However, few may know capabilities as a musician among his peers. As the son of a session musician for acts like Rick James and the funk band Lakeside, Ty is noted for his role in helping develop DJ Mustard’s sound as a producer and his own status as the head of his production collective D.R.U.G.S. alongside notable producers such as Mustard and DJ Dahi (best known for Worst Behavior & Money Trees). He’s even gone as far as to spend over $60,000 on string arrangements for the production on his debut album Free TC. His latest album Featuring Ty Dolla $ign captures his varied sensibilities by merging layered vocal harmonies and lush instrumentation with thumping rhythms for the radio into an enjoyable listen.

The album is chock full of songs fitting Ty’s signature West Coast “ratchet R&B” sound that is meant to blow the speakers out at any function. Frequent collaborator DJ Mustard lands two major bangers with By Yourself, a 1990s R&B-sampling duet with Jhene Aiko preaching female empowerment, and Real Life, a collab with fellow LA rapper Roddy Ricch that’s an anthem on the grind from life in the ghetto to fame and success. Spicy with Post Malone finds the pair trading bouncy sing-song melodies as a spiritual sequel to their 2018 hit Psycho and Expensive with Nicki Minaj serves as a strip club friendly successor to last year’s hit Hot Girl Summer with Megan Thee Stallion. Freak with Quavo and Lift Me Up with Future and Young Thug continues Ty’s series of Atlanta-influenced collabs with trap artists including 2015’s Blase with Rae Sremmurd and 2014’s Dead Presidents with Rich Homie Quan. Dolla $ign even provides a self-produced smoother take on DJ Mustard’s modern LA lowrider bounce with the mid tempo track Nothing Like Your Exes.

Alongside Ty’s brand of trunk-rattling hip hop/r&b fusion are highlights that ties the highly commercialized project together with a more experimental and organic flair in the spirit of his musical roots. Temptations with Kid Cudi blends his typical sound with the wobbly dubstep-influenced basslines of the track’s co-producer Skrillex, while Track 6 with Kanye West, Anderson Paak, and Thundercat mixes trap with rock and the latter two artists’ psychedelic neo-soul sound, complete with live drums and bass guitar. Tyrone 2021with Big Sean showcases an homage to 1990s hip hop soul with banging drums as Ty both samples and responds to Erykah Badu’s deadbeat-chastising 1997 song Tyrone. The interludes featuring artists like Serpentwithfeet, Burna Boy, and Young Thug (Dr Sebi) establish a cinematic feel between songs with almost spiritual vocal melodies and guitar-laden textures. For any fans of traditional R&B, Everywhere, Slow It Down, and Your Turn (featuring Musiq Soulchild, Tish Hyman & 6lack) won’t disappoint, with the former two as raunchy bedroom slow jams reminiscent of 1990s acts like Jodeci and the latter as a heartfelt and bittersweet ballad on the evolving nature of romantic relationships. The closer Ego Death with Kanye West, alternative R&B singer FKA Twigs and Skrillex ends the album in high energy simultaneously with radio appeal and an eclectic house beat with plenty of sample flips and Twigs’ robotic vocals.

With an all-star cast of guest appearances and an ever shifting blend of uptempo dance tracks, hard-hitting hip hop bangers, and more melodic and slower R&B ballads, Featuring Ty Dolla $ign is a solid representation of Ty’s value as an addition to an infectious hit song regardless of genre.

Score: 8.5/10

Photo source: Pitchfork

Written By: Kristian Gonzales