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ItsYaBoiH2, Pair-a-lesions

21 Apr, 2016 Alice Neiley


To be honest, ever since Eminem released his first album, I’ve been suspect of contemporary indie rap. He’s clearly a born lyricist when he deepens the subject matter (i.e. “Lose Yourself”), but the nails-in-a-sink-disposal nature of his voice pushed me away with both hands immediately, not to mention his often unoriginal flood of instrumentation. That being said, I’ve steered clear of the genre all together for some years now, but thank goodness I took another listen. ItsYaBoiH2’s most recent album, Pair-a lesions, invited me in, and I continue to be thrilled about it. Though H2’s vocals smack of Eminem, he has a milder timbre, and the album as a whole feels like a sophisticated, home-boy block party: the guys spit playful rhymes but also throw down about the seriousness of growing up, identity, and the other big issues one only discusses with the closest of friends. In short, it’s an album of intimacy and skill, a saving grace to the genre.

The first sense of ‘invitation’ comes from the “Intro” track, which runs only about 30 seconds and consists mostly of what sounds like dudes talking on the street, or in the schoolyard. Much like the tail end of some of Lauryn Hill’s tracks on Miseducation, this conversational tactic draws a listener in, helps them kick back on a stoop and just eavesdrop. However, right off the bat, one can detect some sharpness in the voices, giving us another clue about what we can expect from the rest of the album – conversational with an edge.

The next two tracks maintain the mostly positive vibe, accumulating slightly rougher moments along the way. “Preachin,” shifts the album into a more musical realm. It offers a melodic, catchy chorus–very hummable/singable–and the rhyming is fantastic, employing an impressive usage of the poetic techniques of slant rhyme, all the lyrics are thoroughly pleasing: ‘destination/decimated,’ ‘my range is outrageous.’ “Feelin’ Like a New Fight” slides us back to the messy, conversational nature of “Intro,” though I think the messiness is intentional—creating the feeling of ‘talent from the neighborhood,’ of moving up in the world. The brilliant Nina Simone “Feelin’ Good’ sample incorporated throughout, and the vocal ‘oooos’ that arrive toward the middle, pull the tune together like a zipper–a perfect balance of shooting the shit and well thought out musical structure.

“My Basement” takes the album down a notch energetically and emotionally, deepening a sentimental, melodic guitar line with dark, eerie samples of Led Zepplin. “Fall At Your Feet” is also very effective in shifting the mood of the album, this time from sadness to sadness tinged with aggression. The hook is catchy and unfortunately also little pedestrian; however, I’m tempted to believe that’s also intentional, to showcase the fabulously Bare-Naked-Ladies-esque, sputtering word rhythms. ItsYaBoiH2 also, again, includes a vocal sample here, all of which seem to act as glue for every individual track on which they appear, as well as the album as a whole.

The thread of street conversation reappears in “New In Town,” which leads perfectly into the sweet, chillin’ vibe of “Do Without (Again)”, as if the conversation stopped just to hang out, relax, and listen to some good, R&B jazzy rap spinning, and of course, vocals. The vocals take over ten-fold in “Easy,” seemingly with the same vocal sample as some of the earlier tracks, or at least one that’s very similar, making the vocals an even more unifying aspect of the album.

“Resettin,” aptly resets the mood once again, delving deeper into longing and darkness. Vocals continue to be the river that connects this tune to the others, but this time, it’s a John Mayer sample, heightening the heartache, rather than the usual soulful, female vocal which heightens the badass.

The title track “Pair-a-lesions” continues the melancholy feeling, but less effectively, and the lyrics feel a little redundant right after “Resettin,” which explores similar themes. However, the last track, “Lay it on the Line,” is by far my favorite, and seems to draw all the best aspects from all the tracks before it—vocals, samples, sparkling uniqueness of instrumentation—it’s the blast off toward which the entire album has been heating up.

With his solid, thematic lines of heartbreak, anger, and hope, his inviting conversational loops, and his unbeatable lyrical skills, ItsYaBoiH2 has clearly nailed this album. The only low points seem to be due to slight lapses in direction/focus, which might have something to do with the toggle between sources of production, but who can say? For the most part, Pair-a-lesions is a gift, a lifeguard, and some serious bling for the contemporary indie rap genre, and all I can say is: it’s about time someone laced up some real MC shoes around here.

ItsYaBoiH2, Pair-a-lesions is available on iTunes.

Reviewed by Alice Neiley
Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Ben Durkin, David T. Rolleston, Mike Saunders, Guido: The Gunpowder Plot

18 Jan, 2016 Alice Neiley

guidoEvery good musical needs a good story. It also needs good music. As theater goers, we can only hope the music and plot measure up to each other, enhance each other, make sparks.

When I first heard “Overture” from Guido: The Gunpowder Plot, I knew I was in for the whole package. Overtures are designed to encapsulate the highest points of drama in the story, which often oppose each other (joy and tragedy in one tune), and the music of overtures, of course, is meant to reflect these plot movements.

Between the ominous flute, echoes of xylophone, low strings, and sudden brass at the beginning of “Overture,” we immediately feel the ominous situation, and as the instruments layer, and the trumpet solo ensues, we clearly understand its importance to the plot. As “Overture” continues, the tune becomes joyful and catchy, the instrumentals thicken (guitar, drums), and the mood is suddenly celebratory. Then just as quickly, with subtle flicks of melodic notation and featured solos, shifts into what sounds like a preparation for battle (drums, guitar), falling in love (trumpets, strings) then the battle itself (trumpets, strings, drums, guitar, then, full circle back to ominous (flute returns ten-fold). Even before reading the synopsis of Durkin’s concept, I knew the plot would be very Shakespeare-esque.

After listening to the album all the way through, I noticed plot significance of three instrumental choices: trumpet, electric guitar, piano, and flute. Trumpet signifies bravery, action; electric guitar and string section chords signify powerful emotions, piano signifies sorrow, and flute signifies an ominous future and/or a regretful past. In fact, the overlapping influence of these instruments is what ties the entire album together musically, especially as the shifts seem to match perfectly with Rolleston’s lyrical choices. Given the many characters and how essential their interwoven lives are to the story, the fact that the music and lyrics mirror each other is very important; they enhance each other and emphasize the most important plot points, helping us to not get confused.

Also, like any good musical, Durkin and Saunders create musically energetic highs, lows, and middle ground, depending on what’s happening in the larger story, and in characters’ relationships with each other.

“In Our Hands,” “What’s the Meaning of This?” “The Oath,” “The Path to Perdition,” “In Our Hands: Reprise,” “Vindicta,” and “The Final Battle,” all appear at extremely action-based, highly emotional moments like fighting for freedom, for love, for honor, and as mentioned above, all contain prominent electric guitar and trumpet, and often the vocals consist of powerful duets as well. Lyrics, the important subjects are evident even in the titles, also directly state the powerful feelings of the music, for example: ‘Come with me folks/stand with me/destroy the king and make Catholics free…’ (“In Our Hands”), ‘Who will absolve us/from the mortal sins we may commit?/stay true to the oath/let faith protect us on our quest’ (“The Oath”), and ‘In a war with faith/I had a reason/I raise my sword for Spain…Vengeance be mine’ (“Vindicta”).

The lows, on the other hand, establish essential moments that lead up to these giant expressions of passion and power. “The Prophesy,” “Ordsall Cave,” “The Vision,” and “Lord of the Brave,” lyrically and musically portray prophesies and eerie premonitions, all of which house conflicts about the afterlife, sin, heaven, and hell, and which actions correspond with which fate. The tempos of these tunes are much slower, and also are riddled with flute, strings, and minor key melodies with odd, unresolved chords—not quite sad, but tortured. Mystery and fear abound. Of course, the vocals in these songs amplify that tone to an astounding extent—very powerful, right on pitch, and often gritty with feeling, these vocalists have burned their characters’ intent into their vocal chords, their breath, their bones.

Of course, the middle ground is the most interesting aspect, in my opinion. While the highs and lows express clear cause and effect of plot, outlining the most obvious conflicts, the musical middle ground is the subtext: the romance, the deaths of family members, the friendships. Interestingly, many of these tunes are female vocal solos, occasionally male solos, but very rarely duets, at least not duets with very noticeable or escalating harmonies. “As the Knight Falls,” “A Faith of My Own,” “The Jailer’s Daughter,” and “Reflections,” all of which push at the seams with gorgeous piano melodies, strings, acoustic guitar, and the occasional flute moment, are the most obvious tunes in the ‘middle ground’ category, but only two of which appear in the first half of the musical. The second half of Guido: The Gunpowder Plot, emphasizes relationships, sorrow, and regret in a way that overpowers every other aspect of the story line, as if, just before the final battle, all the characters fully realize what’s at stake. This is by far my favorite part of the album, because as the emotions rise, along with lyrics and music, the final battle becomes even more important, making the ending, whatever it may be, inevitably powerful.

What’s most interesting about the second half of the album, especially the last handful of tracks, is that the flutes take precedence again, and the musical ‘lows,’  ‘middle grounds,’ and ‘highs’ overlap and circle around each other within many tunes—“Reflections” and “A Faith of My Own: Reprise” being the most obvious examples.

These internal shifts further mark the deepening emotional landscape of the story, bringing the main plot of Guido full circle, but like the very best musicals (Into the Woods, Showboat, etc.), also show the toughest choices, the changes those choices create within each character, giving the audience that chest-burst-open feeling that everyone on stage and every note played possesses a truly human soul. Musically, lyrically, and story wise, Guido: The Gunpowder Plot leaves us with the sensation that everything in its world will keep changing and growing long after the curtain drops—circles within circles within circles that go on forever, just as they should, in theater and life.

Reviewed by Alice Neiley
Rating: 5 stars out of 5

DJ $crilla, #ALLin

08 Apr, 2015 Alice Neiley

image1In case anyone has been wondering, Vincent Price performs the deep voiced monologue in Michael Jackson’s legendary “Thriller” tune. Vincent Price also died in 1993. This is all relevant because his ghostly glory seems to have returned on “Top of the World,” the first track of DJ $crilla’s newest album #ALLin, but in a clamor of celebration, rather than doom.

“Top of the World” turns out to be a perfect initiation into $crilla’s mixed genre palace of energy on much more than just the ‘thriller’ level, though.  The track moves quickly from the Price-esque monologue to an instrumental explosion.  A cacophony of percussion and electric guitars drives the experience forward with impressive weight on the gas pedal, as $crilla’s impressive rhymes and melodic choruses tumble over the top. Rap with a heavy metal backdrop. With this immediate blend of musical timbres, $crilla lets us as listeners know that we’re in for a bit of a stylistic roller coaster.

The second track not only delivers on the roller-coaster feel, but also proves that $crilla controls the switches.  He knows where he’s taking us, and from here on in, each song escalates and dips within itself, mirroring the album as a whole.  “Nvrdne” begins with striking, relentless piano chords and interspersed feedback effects. Electric guitar and drums don’t enter until a few minutes after a few waves of fantastic rapping, drawing more emphasis to the wordplay and therefore continuing the theme of energy and determination. The lyrics ‘I’m in a dark place/where the heart hates/and heart aches from heart breaks/gotta keep that hard face/cause when that heart race/gotta gather my focus,’ are backed up solely with piano and stray moments of percussion, but right after the electric guitar chimes in and gathers intensity, $crilla’s words also enter a more intense realm: ‘…in your mind I’m confined to these rhymes but that’s what y’all say/I’m more than a rapper/I’m an adapter.’

“Comin’ Back,” “Enough is Enough,” and “In My Zone” happen to be my favorite tracks on the album, but they also show $crilla’s musical versatility more than any other tracks. This has partially to do with the guest vocal artists on each track—Lauren Lanzaretta, Nicole Gose, and Lenny Harold—who add a considerable amount of melodic hook to each song.  However, it’s not just that $crilla uses powerful soloists, it’s how he uses them.  For example, Nicole Gose and Lenny Harold appear in later tracks as well—“Freedom” and “#ALLin”—but those tunes don’t exhibit nearly the level of soulful cohesiveness as the other guested tracks I mentioned above.

While all very unique in their own ways (lyrics, tempo etc.) “Comin’ Back,” “Enough is Enough,” and “In My Zone,” have the common thread of not fully transitioning into heavy-metal instrumentation land. $crilla lets each of the guest artists have their chance in the limelight, and in fact allows that limelight to be the brightest, most seductive light of each of these songs. The electric guitar and percussion, rather than taking over the musical trajectory, simply provides contrast, a way to reveal the vocal melodies and sprinting rap riffs, not overpower them.

“Till I See You Again” brings back the forceful wall of electric instruments and drums, zipping us as listeners toward the height of the roller coaster again. But not right away.  “Till I See You Again” is actually the best example of how a single track mirrors the whole rollercoaster experience. The beginning of this song, for example, is my favorite beginning of any song on the album—low on the rollercoaster ride—a drum roll, repetitive keyboard riff, and Louis Harris’ fantastic saxophone solo. This instrumental combination appears as the verse backdrop as well, creating a perfect platform for lyrics: ‘first glance/didn’t know her/no chance/didn’t show her/cause her face just said leave me the f*** alone/now I’m stuck at home/thinkin’ like what is wrong/cause there’s hundreds of channels and nothin’s on…/lemme catch my breath/if I’m ever gonna do it then I know I gotta catch you next/you so cool you so fresh…” Against the subtle instrumentation, $crilla’s rapping flows so naturally from his mouth that I feel like I’m standing under a perfect waterfall. Then…up we go. The chorus enters with a descending chromatic scale on the electric guitar, then blasts along with gospel vocals (which I LOVE), and a powerful vocal solo by Freedom.

“P.O.T.C.” keeps us at the epitomy of energy and thrill—not surprising as we find out quickly in the lyrics that P.O.T.C stands for ‘party of the century.’ And “3 Sides,” though it starts with synthesized orchestral sounds, ‘Vincent Price’s’ voice comes back—‘the memories we share will last a lifetime…because in this life/there are 3 sides to every story/your side/their side/and the truth.” This introduction is followed by a somewhat story about a man suspecting his girl of cheating, complete with melodic female vocals in the chorus and waves of angry electronic guitar—essentially still holding us as listeners at the height of emotion.

The last track, “#ALLin,” as I mentioned before, is, as a whole, less musically unique than I’d like it to be for the title track of an album. It eventually falls into that overpowering electric guitar which by this point feels like a bit of a dramatic crutch. Nevertheless, “#ALLin” stands out in its own way. Beginning with a beautiful violin solo by Nathan McLean and Paul Cecchetti’s haunting work on the piano, $crilla once again allows the words, the story, to float to the surface: ‘it’s like depression was real man/do you know what that’s like?/in the middle of the night lying silent/do you know about that fight?/do you know about that plight?/do you know if that’s right?’ I also love, love, love the vocal melody in the chorus of this track, and its lyrics, which seem to encapsulate the theme of determination that appears at every level of this album’s wild ride—‘it’s been a hard road/oh/tryin’ to keep my head above water/yeah/there’ve been some tests and trials/but it’s only made me want to work harder/yeah/’cause I’m all in.’

Not despite the wild ride, but precisely because of it, #ALLin proves, without a doubt, that DJ $crilla is a triple threat. He can construct an album with a solid emotional arc, within each song, even, and the artists with whom he chose to collaborate, and how he incorporated them, is nearly flawless. He’s a poet. A singer. A word weaver. A talent. Let me just say, when it comes to the evolution of DJ $crilla; I’m all in, too.


Reviewed by Alice Neiley
Rating 5 stars out of 5.



J Shaw, Elevators or Escalators

02 Apr, 2015 Alice Neiley

jshawIf asked to identify the best rap lyricist, I usually won’t commit to just one. I’ll say things like “well, it depends on your taste,” or, “are we talking old school or contemporary?” or, “are we talking dance floor rap or socially conscious rap?” Really, these responses are to avoid having an argument, winning the argument, and watch the other person slink away, embarrassed—our relationship tilted toward awkwardness forever. Because my answer is, and has always been, Tupac. Which, of course, is the right answer. While Rakim, Eric B., and Common are also extremely talented, they don’t really come close to the millions of things Tupac does on a wordsmith level, at least not consistently through one album. Then, J Shaw’s Elevators or Escalators arrived in my inbox.

My review of his album was originally supposed to be released on a much earlier date, but I read in Shaw’s bio that he places special importance on lyricism, so I paid extra attention. Needless to say, I was entranced, and wanted to make absolutely sure I was hearing the words correctly before I dug into an assumed level of talent. As it turns out, I heard right. No assumption necessary. Elevators or Escalators is poetry. And sensuality. And social consciousness. Not to mention a really tasty slice of rhythm—clean instrumentals, solid beats.

The album braids together threads of individual and societal difficulties, as well as larger concepts of love and non-violence. Overall, Shaw’s passion comes through with vengeance.

It’s said that even sold his house to pursue his musical dreams, a drive and ambitiousness that is clearly represented by the first track on his album, “J’s at the Door.” The background is thick with synthesized organs, not unlike most of the heavy rap music circulating the airwaves these days—Jay Z, Lil’ Wayne, etc., which immediately attacks the ears with Shaw’s unavoidable energy. The well rhymed lyrics enhance both the individual and universal idea of going after what you want, what you deserve; going after your dreams: ‘what you got/you know I need/…he ain’t trippin/he steady pitchin.’

The second track, “Nothin’ New,” illustrates where Shaw comes from, both societally and within the rap genre. With this track, Shaw weaves his societal consciousness thread further into the album’s construction. The chorus of ‘been there done that/this ain’t nothin’ new/but everything I do/brand new’ repeats throughout the entire track as a kind of background to the verses, all of which contain references to contemporary rap and its stale lyrical content: ‘still sellin’ weed/…boy they call it Molly now…/same shit different song/…your whole style needs a recall.’
Track 3, “Mrs. Know it All,” is one of my personal favorites on the album, as it moves from a consciousness of the world through genre to a consciousness of the world through depicting specific scenes. The track tells a story about a ‘gold digger’ woman who has, according to Shaw anyway, dangerously mixed up priorities: ‘Fast life/she love it/…life of the party/resuscitate/clear.’ Later in the track, the lyrics nudge men who fall in with women like this to take caution—referencing Kanye West’s “Gold Digger—” that she could trick them into believing the children she has belong to him, sucking even more money out of his pockets: ‘thousand dollar purse with them food stamps in it.”
“Hater” and “Good Fellas” are two other favorites of mine, both of which seems very radio friendly in terms of rhythmic catchiness and innovative rhymes and meaningful lyrics.  With lines like ‘First things first there’s only one me/…put your legs in your own pants/be your own man/…what’s meant for me is meant for me you understand…/took the stairs instead of elevators/instigators promise makers back stabbin’ hand shakers sayonara see ya latah,’ Shaw slowly blends the societal commentary back in with the personal. In “Good Fellas” the thread of personal issues and the affects of career acceleration comes back strong, with less meditation on larger issues: “Livin’ like a good fella/champagne wishes caviar dreams/pinch myself twice find out it’s not a dream/no I never had nothin’/had to go grab somethin.’ Well. Let me just say ’I’m too busy chasin’ this paper’ to waste any more time without these songs on my hip- hop playlist.
“Ok Alright” feels a little pedestrian to me—less original in both text and musicality, and not enough hook to make up for that. But the following tracks, “She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not,” “Vegas,” and “Wilson” are fantastic. They all actually begins with the same line as “Ok Alright,” a line (and a repetition) that I love: ‘Why you talkin’ to me while I got my headphones on?’  Musically, “She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not” begins with a melodic piano intro, a bit of a sentimental, Tupac “Changes” moment, before it slides back into mostly synthesized percussion, melody an afterthought to rhyme, beat, and a more personal story line:  ‘And you got a new nigga/By the name of Que/Now you and him is through/And you saying that I miss you/Well I guess he must’ve failed/In operation of replacing me/Cause you miss my penetration/Pedal to the metal baby drove me crazy/Picking rose petals thinking bout you lately/She loves me/She loves me not.’

After the hint of insecurity in that track, the burst of both musical and lyrical confidence, which comes next in “Vegas”, feels even more powerful and sensual.  The synth dances in a playful background behind lines like ‘Bet you never met a nigga like this/Bet you-bet you never met a nigga like this…/Elevators Escalators Either way it’s goin down/ …You saying that I’m greedy/I just got the right ingredients.’

“Wilson,” a play on words and concepts from the movie “Castaway” is extremely clever lyric wise.  Musically, it’s not especially innovative, but in this case, the words do make up for any shortcomings. I love it. Every reference to the movie is pleasing, especially the way Shaw twists them into a song about letting go, into something sexy and relaxed, like a margarita on a hot day, rather than a shipwreck.

Track 13, “No Days Off,” presents the usual fabulous lyricism with ‘While the whole world/Rock a bye baby/I’m on the grind daily/Gotta feed my babies,’ but also some unexpected rhythms and musical choices. Most notably in terms of this song’s originality are the syncopation on the hook ‘no day no day no days off,’ and the moment when all the instruments cut out completely.

Shaw collaborates with Khujo Goodie of Goodie Mob for the last track on the album, “Another Day, Another Dollar,” and it’s definitely another track that helps to enhance the perfect weave of conceptual threads on Elevators or Escalators. In fact, without this track, the flawlessness of the album’s construction might have only hit me half has hard. “Another Day, Another Dollar” is fast paced, with a more complex set of instrumental backgrounds and an unusual call and response effect between two sets of equally weighted vocals. And of course, who can overlook the words? He spins ‘em good: ‘What you wanna be when you grow up/Alive Alive A-Alive/Got them shackles off my feet/Now I own whips and chains/Get money shawty/Do tha damn thang/Uh huh yeah/Another day another dollar/Another day another dollar.”  As one can hear and see in the above lines, Shaw, never decreasing the sense of drive or ambition, uses the collaborative last track to once again tie all the conceptual threads back together—the personal struggle, social consciousness, and the sweet heat of touch.

So, my whole Tupac thing. Well, I still stand by it, but now maybe when someone asks and I say that I won’t pick just one, I’ll mean it for different reasons. Lyricism is important, particularly in rap music, and Elevators or Escalators most certainly doesn’t fall into the category of ‘nothin’ new.’ It’s new all right, which, in the case of rap music, means old, but innovative. Traditional, but exciting. Shaw, with his poetic talent, cultural and personal awareness, and of course, skill with woven compilation and controlled repetition, is certainly on his way to being one of those old/new greats, if his isn’t already.

Reviewed by Alice Neiley
Rating: 5 stars out of 5.


Ryan Carter, Welcome to Planet Earth 2: Supreme (Machines) and Devolved (Monsters)

19 Feb, 2015 Alice Neiley



Let’s face it.  Rap music isn’t necessarily the genre one would expect to reflect the tragic Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, but Ryan Carter is known for surprises.  He pushes the limits of contemporary rap both forward in time (innovation), and backward in time (political-cultural-2pac-rap).  Ever since bursting onto the music scene in 2007 with his debut project, Saturday Night Superhero, Detroit native and hip-hop artist, Ryan Carter, has been steadily pushing against the boundaries of rap music. His album Welcome to Planet Earth: Grand (Schemes) and Bad (Dreams), released not long after the shooting, is followed this year by the release of Welcome to Planet Earth 2: Supreme (Machines) and Devolved (Monsters), which also deals conceptually with the often jarring truth of the world in which we live, and cease to live.

The album opens with “Intro,” which layers a plethora of news clips, interviews, and gunshots portraying the sharp and broken psychological state of society, and of perhaps Carter himself as he continues fixating on the darkness in our midst. The album then immediately slides into more traditional hip-hop—steady percussion beats and rhymes–but the lyrics referencing botox and stalking celebrities definitely catch the intellectual and political corner of the mind.  In addition, the background loop of rhythmic, gruff moaning provides an undercurrent of dissatisfaction and even a little danger.

“Borrowed Time,” “Retarded,” and “Crappy” are significantly more upbeat, both lyrically and musically.  “Borrowed Time” works with a catchy looped melody executed by the accordion, enhanced by smooth vocal beats, and the lyrics allow Carter’s highly developed sense humor to rise to the surface: ‘First and last song that will feature an accordion…’ “Retarded,” while lyrically a bit more serious at times—drug money, pregnancy—it still throws humor around—‘one night with me and she’ll wanna get divorced.’  The mesmerizing string loop makes it impossible to even think about switching the track, while at the same time the same gruff, moaning sound effect enters now and then, hinting that something more thought provoking will be on the scene again soon.

But not too soon.  “Crappy,” is, in my opinion, hilarious. Sampling and warping the music of Pharrell Williams’ hit “Happy,” Carter changes the lyrics: ‘Beat me down my songs are too good/Crappy/Clap along if you feel my songs are killing you/Clap along if you wanna jump right through the roof.’  However, though I could be reading too much into it, I think the inclusion of “Crappy” on the album has an edgier underbelly than is immediately apparent. “Crappy” is placed between a semi-serious track and a much more dark humor/intense track, which definitely helps, in the sense of the album as a whole, to lace the funny spoof tune with a few sharp teeth.

The dark humor/intense tune, of course, is “Don’t Try to Do This.” Opening with screeching electric guitar and dubbed over yelling and screaming (as if at a protest rally or fight), the ninth track on Welcome to Planet Earth 2 is absolutely perfect anger music, complete with break downs of politics, misunderstood intentions, breaking away, and confrontation.

By this time in the album, we as listeners understand Carter to be a very talented lyricist who creates a meaningful experience in every tune, even when, and maybe especially when he samples the music from popular songs, allowing him to attack pop culture from both humorous and serious angles, both literal and figurative.

This balance is displayed very well in the side-by-side tracks “Burgers and Fries” and “Fox Mulder.”  “Burgers and Fries” musically samples large chunks of Justin Timberlake’s hit ‘Suit and Tie,’ and while it doesn’t overtly make fun of anything specific in the way our society functions, it does change the lyrics to express love for burgers and fries, and simply through that action, belittles not only the music of Timberlake’s hit, but the themes as well.  “Fox Mulder,” on the other hand, works with a more literal cultural commentary—‘I’m Disney’s Enchanted/wish granted/boobs implanted.’ The music starts to branch out into the innovative here—switching from common hip-hop loops to jazz standard samples and back again.

Along the same innovative vain, “Got a Hold On Me” might be the most interesting tune on the album, simply by nature of its contrast to the others, especially musically.  A light, strumming guitar and rock-like snare drum comprise most of the background at first, layered with soft melodic vocals and easy, relatable lyrics—‘I got this problem/I can’t get enough of you.’ Then, BOOM. Carter whips out his humor again, but this time musically, by challenging every fiber in our ear drums, changing beauty and simple unrequited love into a violence—just like that—complete with overlapping walls of electric guitar sound and Eminem-like vocal assaults.

The other most notable track, at least for me, is “Friday Night,” which, amidst all the humor, interesting compositions, and political statements, seems incredibly lighthearted musically, even as it continues to push the boundaries word by word (jail time, tying up Miley Cyrus in the back of a car, etc…). Frankly, I love this track for its instrumentation—a throwback to early Deejay spinning and mixing, heavily rooted in grooving, charming piano chords, perfect percussion beats, and clear, rhyming vocals.

Welcome to Planet Earth 2: Supreme (Machines) and Devolved (Monsters) proves Ryan Carter to be both a hip hop musician, steeped in tradition and somewhat of an activist with the desire for the world to change. This album expands on the first of its kind very nicely, while also making a trail of its own, ever building on Carter’s name breaths of excitement, opening doors, humor, and surprise.

Reviewer: Alice Neiley
Rating: 4 stars out of 5