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The Sideline Observer

Sports and Culture Commentary

Freddie Gibbs & Madlib, The Black Keys, Denzel Curry Release Singles

Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Bandana

The title track of the long-awaited Bandana from Freddie Gibbs and Madlib is finally here, as Freddie finally treats fans to the personal meaning of his bandana. And it’s dark as hell.

The track drudges along with an ominous, foreboding beat – an atmosphere Gibbs doubles with gritty, clenched-teeth bars. Hovering organs and a hollow atmosphere have shades of Metro Boomin’s old-school horror-movie sound palate. It’s a track full of mature anger, a fully-developed sense that Gibbs is going to hunt anyone down that crosses him or his bandana. It’s a track for getting yourself into the zone.

The track features entrancing, ear-candy stereo effects, with the instrumental wavering between ad-libs and Madlib-produced tricks and treats flashing from right to left. Listening through over-ear headphones massively improves the experience. “Bandana” shines as a testament to the things only a highly-skilled and experienced producer such as Madlib can bring to a track.

The cover art adds to Freddie and Madlib’s serious nature. It’s very no-nonsense, which goes nicely with the matter-of-fact, no-frills delivery of Gibbs. There aren’t any bright colors of stacks of cash, just the more basic information of the title and who worked on it. The song speaks for itself.

We don’t know exactly when Gibbs and Madlib are planning on dropping their nuclear-bomb of an album, but all we can do is prepare. It’s time for hip-hop heads to get their doomsday prepper on and hide away, because when this joint drops, you’re going to need to be ready to listen.

Charlie Heat & Denzel Curry – Aloha

At this point in Denzel’s career, “Aloha” is probably one of the most average songs the Florida rapper could’ve released. And that’s not a bad thing. It’s just that Zel has pushed the boundaries so hard in his blend of rap, trap, and metal that this kind of song really doesn’t catch my ear anymore.

This track is an introduction to some that hasn’t discovered Denzel’s other work, in that it’s not an impressive track by his standards, but it still could catch ears that haven’t heard “SUMO,” yet. “Aloha,” is about the exact common denominator, so let’s just hope this is a teaser of more creative work from these two artists.

Curry’s flow is as energetic and dynamic as ever, but there’s almost nothing behind it to grab onto. The substance of the track comes down to its aggressive, banging beat and Curry and Heat’s commanding, shouted-through-a-megaphone verses. Past its surface-level merits, the track dissolves into a loose collection of filler bars, flexes, and mini-concepts.

The lines “People talking shit / manure, –nure” and “I’m like an envelope / proceed to lick” come within five seconds of each other, a wince-worthy one-two punch of low-effort corny bars. They’d be rough coming from any rapper, but they fall well under the bar Curry has set in his previous work, particularly with the execution and precision of last year’s TA13OO.

“Aloha” is such generic, production-heavy, straight-down-the-middle trap music that there’s ultimately nothing distinct or consequential here. It could just as easily be any other trap song on the radio. Maybe “Aloha” is what you need for background playlist/shuffle music if that style is your thing anyway, but this track’s genre-camouflaged nature is more repetitive than reiterative.

YBN Cordae – Have Mercy

With his second single of 2019, YBN Cordae dropped “Have Mercy,” a track that might give YBN Cordae fans pause. While the song has its redeeming qualities, including a passively enjoyable beat and a selection of interesting bars, it does little to build on the punishing lyrics and flexible delivery Cordae has established through other great tracks.

The beat reiterates the monumental influence of “Mask Off,” which had its iconic flute sample borrowed with less effect in Kodak’s “Tunnel Vision,” Drake’s “Portland,” 21 Savage’s “X,” and too many more. The beat for “Have Mercy” is late to board the gravy train, and doesn’t add enough to the now-tired trend for it to feel like anything more than hollow reference.

It’s skeletal and minimalist, but the individual components don’t effectively rise to the occasion and fill the space the way Metro Boomin orchestrated that legendary banger. The result is a somewhat circular, straightforward beat. It’s by no means terrible, but the atmosphere shrinks rather than expands with consecutive listens.

While his bars are clever at points, Cordae’s flows do little to ease the tension. Lines like “Suite presidential, that’s inauguration / ‘Cause we cookin’ crack like Ronald Reagan” grab the ear but fail to follow through on the incisive, gymnastic promises they make about the rest of the song. Not to mention the chorus, which does little to tie together the track’s lyrical themes. “Have Mercy” features flashes of the better, well-rounded song it could have been, but spends more time jumping between cobbled-together punchlines and throwaway rhymes.

Cordae has displayed an ability to generate thoughtful, communicative bars, wit influence from OG artists like Talib Kweli. This skill combined with a hedonism to make SoundCloud proud has rendered him a promising young voice on the scene. Despite this, his content of late has failed to rise to the occasion. His last single, “Locationships,” was a song about having girls in different cities, and… not much else. “Have Mercy” makes steps in the right direction with more nuanced, thought-out lyricism, but still falls under the bar Cordae has set for himself.

Tierra Whack – Gloria

Tierra Whack is heating up. It’s three straight weeks of new releases for one of the most poppin’ rappers in the game. Although “Gloria” doesn’t buildon the two previous releases, it continues Tierra’s narrative as a technically talented and clever artist.

“Gloria” doesn’t strike the listener in a memorable way due to the phoned-in quality of her mumbled chorus, but Tierra’s verses are enough to inject the song with some energy. As is normal, Whack’s verses slide effortlessly through the by-the-numbers trap beat. A chirping flute section doesn’t add much. (Is it “Mask Off” season forever?)

In question are the song title and cover art – maybe Gloria alludes to the hippopotamus from Madagascar, thereby alluding to “Hungry Hippo,” one of the more popular songs from “Whack World,” the album that garnered her fame in 2018. The cover art is a close-up of a bright green sponge. Any clues as to the sponge’s relevancy to the content or role in its reception are a total mystery. Maybe there’s some grand “sponge” metaphor that’s shooting over my head, but sponges don’t tend to carry loads of connotation or imagery. It seems to be… just a sponge.

The recent slew of singles would suggest that more content is on the way, but her unconventional release structure makes it hard to predict what’s next. While “Gloria,” is an enjoyable track, it has no conclusive themes and doesn’t bring anything fresh to her work. Maybe this is the third in a series of a ten-week release schedule, or it could combine with the other song titles, “Only Child” and “Clones” to create some long sentence that explains greater narratives between the singles. All we can do is guess, but it’s an exciting time to be a fan of Tierra Whack. One thing’s for sure: something more has to be on the way.

The Black Keys – Lo/Hi

It’s been five years, but The Black Keys are back. On Friday, the modern rock stars released their newest single “Lo/Hi” unannounced. Thankfully, the duo haven’t missed a beat as this song is an absolute jam that fits comfortably into the rest of their lauded discography.

The track opens with a heavy bassline reminiscent of “Fever” dueling with their trademark bluesy guitar riffs. The combination works as the song quickly picks up steam, becoming groovier by the second. The chorus has an interesting addition of a gospel choir singing backup to lead singer Dan Auerbach’s familiar voice.

It adds an element of soul to the piece that gives the song a nice ring. Lyrically, it’s nothing too special, but is certainly catchy. Auerbach repeats the words, you guessed it, low and high throughout the song, and while this kind of lyricism isn’t what we’re looking for from the Black Keys, it’s what to expect from a March Madness theme song.. Accompanying gospel, shrieking guitar, and drummer Patrick Carney’s solid beat make it a fun romp.

“Lo/Hi” is in line stylistically with their hits like “Gold On The Ceiling” and “Lonely Boy.” That’s good for the Black Keys and music fans as they seem to be returning to the limelight together in a big way. “Lo/Hi” apparently will be the new song of March Madness this year, so get ready to hear it everytime CBS cuts to commercial. This summer they’ll be headlining the 50th anniversary of Woodstock with the likes of Jay-Z, Chance, and The Killers. Hopefully all this buzz means more new music from one of the staples of modern rock.

-The Sideline Sounds Staff

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