New Album Review

Album Review: Niagara by redveil

If you listened to redveil’s intricate production and confident delivery you might not guess that he isn’t old enough to vote. As it turns out, the 16-year old rapper is already an industry vet who began releasing mixtapes at the age of 12. His latest release, Niagara, is a display of the talents he has already cultivated, as well as the potential he has as an artist at the beginning of his career.

The album opens with “Campbell”, a brief, two verse affair that showcases redveil’s ability to flow over a soulful sample loop. It serves as an appetizer for what’s to come on the rest of the project. It is followed by “Weight” which features a woozy vocal sample squashed underneath trap drums. Lines like “I remember when I was 11 and watching my blood on the TV get spilled out/Now I got a lil older, no love for the system and I’m reaching back for the grip now/And it’s really f— twelve I done grown in myself to the point I can see that they hate us” paint redveil as a jaded kid forced to grow up too quickly. Another highlight is “Fastlane” which finds veil reflecting on the trials and tribulations of his childhood over a jazzy piano loop.

Written, produced, and recorded (almost) exclusively by redveil in his bedroom, Niagara is a testament to the power of the DIY artist. It has established him as a budding artist who is wise beyond his years and has quite a lot to say. One thing is for sure: I’ll be listening.

Favorite tracks: Weight, 5500, Clench, Fastlane

– DJ Mango


Earl Sweatshirt Starter Pack

Earl Sweatshirt is one of the standout artists from the former Odd Future collective and one of my favorite rappers. Along with his peers Tyler, the Creator and Frank Ocean, Earl is an artist that I grew up with, who matured as I matured. His debut mixtape Earl was released in 2010 when he was 16 years old and characterized him as a crude teenager who, in spite of his often cringey subject matter, undoubtedly had tons of potential.

Like the rest of us, Earl has grown a lot in the last ten years. I have curated a playlist that displays his growth, starting from 2013’s Doris to 2018’s Some Rap Songs. One of the highlights is “Chum”, the lead single off of Doris and Earl’s most popular song. From his relationship with his estranged father to his stay in a Samoan boarding school for at-risk youth, this track dives into his headspace prior to the release of Doris. Another highlight from Doris is Hive featuring Vince Staples and Casey Veggies. Earl’s stone cold delivery, combined with a grimey bass line and a killer Vince Staples verse make it one of my favorite rap songs ever.

2015 saw Earl at perhaps his most reclusive with his album I Don’t Like S***, I Don’t Go Outside, an album rife with themes of anxiety and avoidance. The cloud rap-inspired single “Grief” exemplifies the paranoia he experienced during the recording of this album. The song “AM // Radio” featuring Wiki, with its laid back sample loop, takes a less abrasive approach to similar themes.

In 2018, Earl Sweatshirt released Some Rap Songs, which I consider to be his best work. It is the result of almost ten years of artistic growth, and when compared to his early work it really shows. Everything from his production sensibilities to lyrical content have gotten better with age.

One of my favorite things about Earl is his willingness to be honest with his fans. He explores corners of his psyche that can be downright painful to face, but does it all the same – all while sharing his findings with the world. 

 – DJ Mango

Music News and Interviews

DJ Mango’s Vinyl Collection

Hey everyone! Between quarantine keeping everyone at home and moving into a new apartment, I’ve quite a lot of time to arrange my personal space. With so many records gathering dust in the corner of my room, I figured I would put some of my favorites on display! 

Nonagon Infinity by King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

Touted as the world’s first “infinitely looping” album, Nonagon Infinity consists of 9 tracks that seamlessly transition into each other, with the last looping into the first. On top of that it’s a fantastic, proggy psych-rock album with a metal twist. Plus, it’s got a really neat green and black pressing!

Plastic Beach by Gorillaz

This project finds the fictional members of Gorillaz on a tiny island made of plastic, the furthest point from any other landmass in the world, where Murdoc produced the album. It also features some of their best hits like “Stylo”, “On Melancholy Hill” and “Some Kind of Nature”.

Reign in Blood by Slayer

Celebrated as one of the most influential thrash metal albums of all time, Slayer laid the groundwork for generations to come with Reign in Blood. The first Slayer song I ever heard was “Raining Blood” when I played Guitar Hero 3 when I was 12.

What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye

A true classic in every sense of the word. In some ways, I think the times we live in are similar to the times Marvin lived through, such as the Vietnam War and the Watts Riots of 1965. The message of universal love in the face of injustice is just as important today as it was in 1971, when this album was released.

In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel

After hearing this album for the first time, I was shocked to find it was released in 1998. To my ears, its sound is indicative of the 2000’s indie scene, only it came out the decade before. The album’s surreal lyrics and unique aesthetics lead to the immense cult following it now has.

Madvillainy by Madvillain

2004’s Madvillainy found emcee MF DOOM and producer Madlib at the height of their both creativity and evil powers. The result was one of the most unique and influential alternative hip-hop albums of all time.

Back to Black by Amy Winehouse

This album marked a tonal shift for Amy Winehouse: she traded the jazz/neo-soul sensibilities of 2003’s Frank for the doo-wop and classic soul found on Back to Black. It received praise for its dark portrayal of heartbreak and it is always in my rotation.

An Awesome Wave by Alt-J

Alt-J’s 2012 debut is an album that has defined my life since it was released. It’s a project that I find myself coming back to time and time again. Favorites include “Tessellate”, “Breezeblocks” and “Taro”.

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill by Lauryn Hill

This album is considered one of the greatest albums of all time by some, and for good reason. It effortlessly blends hip-hop, neo-soul, reggae, R&B, and soul while exploring themes of love, loss and faith. If you haven’t heard it yet (you’ve had 22 years to do so), please do yourself a favor and put it on. Fans of any genre can find something to love in this album.

That’s all! Do you collect vinyl? If so, what are some favorites from your collection?

– DJ Mango

Music News and Interviews

JPEGMAFIA, Abdu Ali and Gender Nonconformity in Hip-Hop

JPEGMAFIA on the cover of his 2019 release All My Heroes Are Cornballs
Abdu Ali on the cover of their album Fiyah!!!

It is no secret that hip-hop values masculinity. The most popular rappers – even those who are not men – display traditionally masculine traits such as self-reliance, power, and aggressiveness (note I am not saying these traits are necessarily masculine, however, in a historical sense they have been presented as such). However, where there is an established norm there will undoubtedly be resistance to that norm. In this post, I will be exploring two artists who challenge the established norms of gender within the hip-hop genre.

Since his rise to popularity after the release of Veteran in 2018, JPEGMAFIA has become a favorite for hip-hop bloggers (whom he has no shortage of choice words for). People like to praise his experimental production choices and confrontational lyrics, but I don’t see many talking about the defiance of gender norms within his music. Nowhere is this more apparent than his 2019 release All My Heroes Are Cornballs. Though he makes some of the most aggressive music I’ve ever heard, Peggy appears notably vulnerable on this album. From wearing flowy silk clothing on the album’s cover to adopting a feminine persona in songs like “Jesus Forgive Me, I Am A Thot” and “Thot Tactics”, JPEGMAFIA has shown he is unconcerned with traditional constructions of masculinity.

JPEGMAFIA collaborator Abdu Ali is similarly unconcerned with gender conventions. As an unapologetically black and queer artist, they embody the masculine and feminine in a way that is both captivating and memorable. I had the privilege of seeing them live when they opened for Peggy at his 2019 A Tribute to Buttermilk Jesus show in New York. Their stage presence was unmatched – at one point, I remember they entered the crowd and had us all sit down before screaming at the top of our lungs. It was a truly visceral experience.

There you have it. This was by no means an exhaustive list of artists defying gender norms in hip-hop, only a few that I find the most exciting. The fact that even mainstream artists – such as Tyler, the Creator, Young Thug, Princess Nokia, and Lil Uzi Vert – are exploring these themes seems indicative of a shift in the culture, and who knows? Maybe one day we will see the dismantling of gender norms in hip-hop once and for all.

– DJ Mango


Friday Favorites 8/28/20

Happy Friday Everyone! Here is a playlist of eight songs I’ve had in rotation recently:

  1. Freeze Tag (feat. Kamasi Washington & Phoelix) by Terrace Martin, Robert Glasper and 9th Wonder: this dream team of hip-hop and jazz heavyweights have come together to bring us Dinner Party, an album certain to appeal to fans of either genre. My favorite track is Freeze Tag, which makes light of the state of relations between citizens and police.

  2. Children of Production by Parliament: as one of the forerunners of funk music, George Clinton and his band land the groundwork for the classic P-Funk (or Parliament-Funkadelic) sound. This track features intricate horn arrangements woven between syncopated drums that will surely have your head bobbing.

  3. smut by Dua Saleh: as I said in my “Slept On” feature, Dua Saleh is pushing the boundary of what it means to be a hip-hop/R&B artist in the 21st century. I find their confident swagger on this track to be irresistible.

  4. Lockdown (feat. JID, Noname & Jay Rock) by Anderson .Paak: JID, Noname and Jay Rock team up remix a summer 2020 jam. On top of Anderson .Paak’s stellar verses, the three add their own insightful commentary on injustice in America.

  5. Abeja by Mndsgn and Sofie: this instrumental is as catchy as it is calming. The simple loop that plays for four minutes is perfect for studying.

  6. Warmth in the Coldest Acre by Photay: another instrumental, but this one has a much greater sense of progression than the last. Beginning with a quirky percussion loop, Photay slowly adds elements until the track builds into a wall of sound that is full of character.

  7. The Light by Joey Bada$$: The Badmon is back with his new EP The Light Pack, his first solo release in three years. He sounds as hungry as ever on this new track, and it has me excited for whatever he does next.

  8. Jekyll by Hiatus Kaiyote: one of my favorite tracks from the “wondercore” quartet from Australia. Like many of their songs, it features more than one section – the first part is stripped-back piano ballad, the second builds momentum with an afrobeat-inspired breakdown, and the final part is a neo-soul denouement. Be sure to check out my “Slept On” feature for this band!

– DJ Mango

Classic Album Review

Classic Review: Madvillainy

MF DOOM is a figure that takes many forms. Some of his known aliases include Metal Face, Viktor Vaughn, and Your Favorite Rapper’s Favorite Rapper. No matter the moniker, DOOM will rap about anything from his comically nefarious deeds (he is known to send imposters to his live performances) to what he ate for breakfast – all while wearing his signature Doctor Doom-inspired metal mask.

Like his partner in crime, Madlib is known under several titles such as Quasimoto and the Beat Konducta. As a self-described “DJ first, producer second, and MC last”, he has worked with industry giants like J Dilla, Freddie Gibbs, Kanye West and Erykah Badu, and is just as comfortable behind a drum set as he is an MPC. He is known for his distinctive production style that features samples of obscure records and boom-bap drums.

The two joined forces to create 2004’s Madvillainy, which is considered by many hip-hop heads to be essential to the hip-hop canon. A true watershed moment in the history of the genre, Madvillainy had a profound influence on the generation of artists that succeeded it: without it, we would have no Joey Bada$$, no Earl Sweatshirt, and no Tyler, the Creator.

After listening to the album, it is easy to see why it is so influential. Madlib’s dusty beats and DOOM’s stream-of-consciousness verses are indicative of the sound that is now commonplace in the alternative hip-hop subgenre. The album opens with “The Illest Villains”, an instrumental driven by vocal samples of various cartoons and movie trailers from the yesteryear. The balance of urgency and camp perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the project by characterizing our villains as a dastardly duo who, in spite of their unrivaled infamy, spend most of their time smoking weed (“America’s Most Blunted”) or trying to pick up women (“Operation Lifesaver aka Mint Test”).

I could write a dissertation on MF DOOM’s lyrical gymnastics and Madlib’s nuanced production choices on Madvillainy, but since the album was released 16 years ago, I’m sure it’s been done already. Instead, I’ll just say this: if you’re a hip-hop fan and you haven’t heard this album, what are you doing with your life? Even if you aren’t a fan of the genre, give Madvillainy a shot. It could change your mind.

Favorite tracks: Accordion, Raid, Figaro, All Caps, Rhinestone Cowboy

– DJ Mango

Band/Artist Profile

Slept On: Hiatus Kaiyote

Genre designations of Hiatus Kaiyote’s music such as “neo-soul”, “future soul” and “jazz funk” can be summed up in one self-described word: wondercore. To the Australian-based quartet, this term describes their sound better than any critic’s cut-and-dry characterization of their music ever could.

So, what does their music sound like? In one breath, their sound is steeped in the traditions of Erykah Badu and D’Angelo –  evidenced by the watery Rhodes pianos and laid back grooves present in many of their records (see “Fingerprints” and “Nakamarra”). In another breath – even in the same track, at times – their sound veers into uncharted territory, employing futuristic synths, jarring starts and stops and asymmetrical time signatures (see “Atari” and “By Fire”). Their music embodies both the familiar and the otherworldly – in a word, Hiatus Kaiyote’s sound is multidimensional.

After the release of their debut album, Tawk Tomahawk, Hiatus Kaiyote received endorsements from artists like Questlove and Prince, and the group began building an international following. They have since become a favorite for hip-hop producers, with their music sampled in tracks by Anderson .Paak, Kendrick Lamar,  Beyoncé and Jay-Z. My first exposure to their music was through Drake, whose track “Free Smoke” sampled the beautiful “Building a Ladder”.

Since the release of Choose Your Weapon in 2015, the group has been pretty quiet. With the band’s members focusing on side projects and solo material, not much is known about the status of their third studio album. Whether it is released tomorrow or five years from now, my ears are ready.

Favorite Tracks: Jekyll, Building a Ladder, Borderline with My Atoms

 – DJ Mango

Band/Artist Profile

Slept On: Dua Saleh

It is known that hegemonic narratives have a tendency to center themselves around white, cishet men. If things were different, perhaps Sister Rosetta Tharpe would be a household name. Often heralded as the “Godmother of Rock and Roll.” Tharpe combined spiritual themes of gospel music with unique rhythmic sensibilities, creating a sound that preceded rock and roll. In the early twentieth century, being a queer Black woman in the music industry was a rarity in and of itself. Still, she appealed to secular and religious audiences alike with her one-of-a-kind sound and influenced early rock stars like Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Elvis.

Such is the namesake of Dua Saleh’s 2020 EP, Rosetta. It is clear Tharpe had an impact on them as well. Like Tharpe, Dua must navigate the music industry as a queer Black person. Their music explores the conflict between their queerness and their strict Muslim upbringing: tracks like “smut” and “Sugar Mama” are confident displays of their sexuality, while “windhymn” grapples with sin and internalized phobias. Their sound is a mélange of hip-hop and R&B that finds them braggadociously rapping and wistfully singing in both English and Arabic, and their often abstract lyrics are reminiscent of their early work as a poet. Dua’s production choices – skeletal soundscapes with deep bass and eerie synths – reflect these themes.

2020’s release of Rosetta certainly has me excited for Dua Saleh’s debut album. Until that comes, I will be watching their music video on repeat.

Favorite tracks: smut, Warm Pants, Sugar Mama

– DJ Mango

Classic Album Review

Classic Review: Black Messiah by D’Angelo and the Vanguard

The music of singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and record producer D’angelo is like fine wine – it only gets better with time. With two Grammy wins and two classic albums – Brown Sugar and Voodoo – under his belt by the year 2001, he set the bar pretty high for himself. This, combined with the unease of his growing popularity as a sex symbol, led him to take an extended break from recording.

He would not return from this hiatus until 2014, this time backed by a dedicated band called the Vanguard. Black Messiah represents a slight departure from Brown Sugar and Voodoo’s R&B and Neo-soul sensibilities: while those elements are still present, D’angelo also incorporated elements of funk, rock, and psychedelia to create a genre-defying experience.

Black Messiah has the listener’s head bobbing from the start with “Ain’t That Easy”, one of my personal favorites. It builds a Questlove-inspired groove with slightly swung drums and a distorted guitar, leaving room for the transcendent harmonies that D’Angelo is so well known for. The chorus marks the entrance of another guitar track as well as a bass, and it is here that the song’s groove is fully realized.

I cannot talk about Black Messiah without praising “Really Love”, the track that won him a Grammy for Best R&B Song in 2016. It opens with a string section, slowly growing in volume and urgency, joined by a lone spanish guitar. The point at which the rest of the band comes in to create a laid-back, intimate groove is the point at which, as a listener, my soul leaves my body.

D’Angelo’s uncompromising approach to his craft resulted in a modern classic that is refreshingly unconcerned with the conventions of genre and style. It is both comfortably loose and surgically precise, playfully jovial and deadly serious, disarmingly intimate and profoundly universal. In short, Black Messiah is a masterpiece. I recommend this album to fans of Prince, Erykah Badu, and Lauryn Hill.

Favorite tracks: Ain’t That Easy, Sugah Daddy, Really Love, Till It’s Done (Tutu), Betray My Heart, The Door

– DJ Mango 

Music News and Interviews

Kanye West Alignment Chart

Are you a Kanye West fan that also likes Dungeons and Dragons? If so, welcome to the club – there’s several of us! Below is my take on 9 Kanye albums according to the DnD alignment system:

Jesus is King (Lawful Good)​: This album represents Kanye at his most (self) righteous. Every year marks the emergence of a new Kanye, and in 2019 he announced he was committed to rapping for God and God only. Perhaps it was an early onset of the manic episode fueling his 2020 presidential run, but I believe his intentions were pure on Jesus is King.

Graduation (Neutral Good)​: On this album, Kanye spends more time celebrating his achievements than criticizing the establishment. For this reason, Graduation is aligned with Good without any leanings towards law nor chaos.

ye (Chaotic Good)​: In my opinion, ye represents Kanye at his most vulnerable, and it is undoubtedly chaotic. This album ranges from the manic highs on “Ghost Town” to introspective lows on “I Thought About Killing You”. All of this paints a vivid picture of Kanye as a highly flawed superstar who, deep down, still has a lot of heart.

Kids See Ghosts (Lawful Neutral)​: With tracks like “Kids See Ghosts” and “Reborn”, KSG is one of Kanye’s most meditative projects, and balances the forces of good and evil.
808s & Heartbreak (True Neutral)​: By far Kanye’s most depressing work. There is no preoccupation with good nor evil, law nor chaos on 808s – just heartbreak.

The Life of Pablo (Chaotic Neutral)​: As the album that Kanye famously released multiple times, it’s easy to see that TLOP is chaotic. It also has a healthy balance of good (“Ultralight Beam”, “Real Friends”) and evil (“Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1”, “Freestyle 4”) that cancel out for a neutral alignment.

Watch the Throne (Lawful Evil)​: The power trip that gave us My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is still evident of 2011’s Watch the Throne with Jay-Z. This album is all about being at the top and staying there by any means necessary.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Neutral Evil)​: MBDTF oozes decadence and indulgence. If this album were a period in Roman History, it would be the late period. Songs like “Hell Of A Life” and “POWER” exemplify why this album aligns with Neutral Evil.

Yeezus (Chaotic Evil):​ Yeezus found Kanye at the height of his God complex – case in point: “I Am A God”. Furthermore, the jagged, industrial production throughout lends itself to the chaotic alignment.

That’s it! What do you think of my Kanye West alignment chart? What do you agree with? What would you change?

– DJ Mango