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A-F-R-O & Marco Polo – A-F-R-O Polo (Album Review)

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A-F-R-O & Marco Polo – A-F-R-O Polo (Album Review)

The world of Hip Hop is in a constant state of flux and there is little doubt that it is one genre of music that is constantly evolving, building upon itself, as up and coming artist push beyond the status quo. 

A-F-R-O is one such revolutionary artist, having paired with fellow Hip Hop producer, Marko Polo for this debut release A-F-R-O Polo. If you’ve ever enjoyed Hip Hop/Rap music, you’re going to love this release. 

I do however wish to advise that the Explicit tag is here for a reason, especially when it comes to the song Sunshine And Flowers. For those of you that would prefer a ‘clean’ edition of the album, there, unfortunately, isn’t one available. However, and in a stroke of genius, there’s an Instrumentals album that gets you 95% of the way there without the editing blips or spaces that generally ruin the songs. When my kids are around, I can listen to the Instrumentals release and thoroughly enjoy and then when listening privately, I can appreciate the lyrical component even though I generally don’t look for literal lyrical interpretation, instead preferring to consider vocals to be akin to another instrument.  

It is important to note that while I have referenced the Instrumentals release, if you’re interested in picking up A-F-R-O Polo physically, the Instrumentals release is digital only, being available on iTunes and Apple Music

While available on both Vinyl and CD, it is a little disappointing that the vinyl cover art is different from the cat-head cover of the CD/Digital releases. It’s a shame as it would have looked incredible on the larger canvas and I can only hope that one day a future pressing of the vinyl release will be done with the core album cover.

Some of you may be wondering if A-F-R-O Polo can really be classed as an album, rather than an EP. Well, it is right on the edge with a runtime of 25 minutes, but it does have eight tracks so I consider it to be an album. To be completely honest, I love shorter albums. Long gone are the double albums from the 90s; thank god! Seriously, how many were truly great? 

From a sonic perspective, A-F-R-O Polo is magnificent with a soundstage that grows as you increase the volume and doesn’t distort. The separation between elements is also superb and the complete opposite to the disposable pop music in the modern era where there is little to no separation and depth in the soundstage, instead aiming for a wall of sound. A-F-R-O Polo is incredibly dynamic and while I love the music, I’d listen to this album just merely for the mix which I consider is beyond reproach on all but one song. 

Long Time Coming (feat. Shylow) is brilliant! What an incredible opening for a Hip Hop/Rap album. The lyrical delivery shoots fast and hard, while simultaneously ensuring the sampling and mix is the definition of pure perfection. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I can’t stop moving to this song. I love it!

Nightmare On Fro Street flows on beautifully and while rhythmically different, doesn’t sound out-of-place with the overall musical style of A-F-R-O Polo. I would, however, and this is a very personal perspective, prefer a more rhythmic approach to the vocal delivery as the spoken word, while a trademark of this style of music, feels a little too separated from the sampling and overall musical mix. That said, I’m sure there are many of you who would love it and consider it to be perfect. I certainly don’t dislike it, I’d just like a slightly different vocal presentation. 

Swarm (feat. Pharoahe Monch) has a great beat and overall rhythm. Sometimes that is all you need! 

Sunshine And Flowers is one of the best songs on the album, if not the best. That rhythm, beat, and lyrical delivery is off-the-charts good; a perfect mix! Yes, the lyrics are controversial and will absolutely offend some people but, while I can’t confirm this, I don’t believe the lyrics are meant to be taken seriously. Sunshine And Flowers very much reminds me of the exaggerated style of the comedic glam metal band, Steel Panther. Nevertheless, if the lyrics bother you, remember there is always the Instrumentals edition to enjoy.  

Fro Armstrong continues perfectly from Sunshine And Flowers and has some great sampling and an incredible mix. A great tune!

Use These Blues (feat. Eamon) slows things down a little but is utterly brilliant. Although, is it just me or has the faux record surface noise been overdone at this stage? Either way, it’s a beautiful song with a soundstage that is full but not compressed thereby allowing every element the space it needs to breathe. 

Lair Of The Black Worm is in similar styling to Nightmare On Fro Street, but I find the vocal presentation on Lair Of The Black Worm is much better suited and positioned to the overall musicality. It may not be the strongest song on this release, but I thoroughly enjoy it when listening to the album.

Joe Jackson has a perfect mid-tempo rhythm that will hypnotise you and Joe Jackson is one song that I wish would never end for I’d love the musicality to be repeated indefinitely. What I find is when I decide not to listen to the album again, that Joe Jackson continues on as a welcome earworm that thereby encourages me to return to A-F-R-O Polo and listen once again to what can only be considered a brilliant addition to my continuously growing library of Hip Hop/Rap music. 

Overall, A-F-R-O Polo was one of the greatest Hip Hop/Rap releases of 2016, and in recent history is only bested by Kanye West’s incredible ye. Yes, it is that good, and I can’t wait for more new albums to emerge. 

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A$AP Ferg – Always Strive And Prosper (Album Review)

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A$AP Ferg – Always Strive And Prosper (Album Review)

Knowing next to nothing about A$AP Ferg, and the A$AP Mob in general, one must immediately wonder how I could even attempt to review Always Strive And Prosper. Well, I don’t believe knowledge of an artist is essential to expressing one’s opinion of the music on an album. In fact, here at Subjective Sounds, music is considered an experience that should be viewed separately to the personal life and influences of artists. Yes, knowledge of the artist can add a level of depth to the review and bring deeper meaning to the songs, but music is subjective and as such should be interpreted and given meaning to by the music lover. Subsequently, not knowing allows me to take a fresh perspective of the musical style A$AP Ferg presents on Always Strive And Prosper.

Always Strive And Prosper is A$AP Ferg’s second solo release and is recorded, mixed, and mastered beautifully. The Apple Music (Mastered for iTunes) release is spot on with an immersive soundstage and perfect separation between all musical elements. While I’m a proponent of explicit language in music, ensuring artistic freedom is maintained, if you’re listening on Apple Music there’s no clean version available. However, if you wish to enjoy Always Strive And Prosper sans the explicit language, you can purchase the clean edition on iTunes

If you’re interested in owning your music physically, Always Strive And Prosper is available on Vinyl and CD and that cover art would look magnificent on the larger vinyl canvas, reminding me of some of Seal’s albums such as Seal (II), 7, and Standards. While I have yet to come across the album while crate digging, I’ve checked out the limited edition vinyl photographs on Discogs and the vinyl release is lust-worthy for those who are both interested in the music and collecting pieces of physical art. While I thoroughly enjoy Always Strive And Prosper, I’m not sure it qualifies for adding to my physical collection. That isn’t to say that it isn’t fundamentally a great album, but that I have limited funds and have acknowledged a very long time ago that it is utterly impossible to collect the thousands of albums that interest me. It is the bane of the modern streaming era as I’ve never had this much access to music within my life. Seriously, if I look back at my music tastes in the 90s, they were diverse but severely limited. Streaming music is most certainly a blessing and a curse. Nevertheless, let’s take a look at the songs that make up Always Strive And Prosper and as we dive deeper into the album I may break down and declare that I need to add it to my physical collection. Even if I don’t, this is one excellent album that will appeal to fans of Hip Hop; a musical genre that I find myself gravitating towards more and more these days.

Rebirth has a great rhythm but I feel it was an interesting choice as the opening song for the album as it’s a little disjointed, in a good way, but if one was simply listening to albums and came across this first song, I’m not sure they’d continue listening to the entire album unless they were a fan. I suggest this because that was my first thought when I listened to Rebirth. Thankfully, I always listen to the first few tracks before passing on an album and the second track, Hungry Ham (feat. Skrillex & Crystal Caines), was the song that was utterly compelling and made me sit up and listen. Hungry Ham is brilliant and the Skrillex influences with Crystal Caines on vocals is the perfect combination for a really solid song with an epic ending. I love it! 

Strive (feat. Missy Elliott) will get your body moving from the very first note. A bloody good song and Missy Elliott’s involvement truly makes the song memorable. Strive is absolutely one of the best songs on the album.  

Meet My Crazy Uncle (Skit) is kinda cool and merges well from Strive as if the song were paused on the car stereo. It similarly merges well into Psycho and can be seen as an introduction to Psycho rather than an unconnected element. Psycho, as a song on its own, is rhythmically perfect and the musicality is off-the-charts. The mix of all elements and inclusion of the saxophone and background vocals is simply amazing and captivates the mind and the body. It reminds me of The Root’s ...And Then Shoot Your Cousin. Perhaps the only negative element of Psycho is the seamless transition to Let It Bang (feat. ScHoolboy Q). Let It Bang isn’t a bad song, but different enough that the mind needs a moment to adjust. Subsequently, by the time Let It Bang ends, my mind has finally adjusted to the shift. However, if I listen to the song on its own, it’s superb. 

The music video is also utterly brilliant, just check it out. 

New Level (feat. Future) has some killer sampling. I love it! A great song and while I would have selected other songs to have been the leading single for Always Strive And Prosper, I can completely understand why this song was chosen. 

The music video (Clean | Explicit) is an excellent accompanying visual element that will appeal to fans and if you enjoy watching music videos, as a way to appreciate music, you can’t go wrong here as it takes the song to a new level of appreciation. 

Yummy Gang (feat. A$AP Mob & Tatiana Paulino) is the first B-side. It isn’t fundamentally bad, it just isn’t anything to write home about. 

Swipe Life (feat. Rick Ross) is a solid tune, but I feel that it never really reaches its pinnacle as I feel there is more to this song that could have been explored. 

Uzi Gang (feat. Lil Uzi Vert & Marty Baller) is rather complex and it takes a few listens to really connect with Uzi Gang as the varied tempos confuse the mind initially until you choose a rhythm to attach to. Truth be told, even when you do find the beat, it is very difficult to maintain a connection with Uzi Gang and while it has fantastic moments, it’s lacking in other areas that make it difficult to thoroughly enjoy. It’s essentially a song to listen to in the background while undertaking other tasks you may be performing throughout the day.

Beautiful People (feat. Chuck D & Mama Ferg) is a beautiful song; pun intended! Turn the volume up and enjoy. Perhaps the only negative aspect is that I feel the backing musical element is a little quiet in the mix when compared to the vocal. A couple of decibel increase to that element would have been perfect. 

Damn Not Again (Skit) is great and flows perfectly into the utterly compelling and brilliant Let You Go. I’m going to call it, Let You Go is the best song on Always Strive And Prosper.

World Is Mine (feat. Big Sean) is a solid tune, but the whiny vocal delivery gets tiring, fast! 

The music video (Clean | Explicit) is a rather lacklustre and unless you listen to music, with the music video playing the background, you’re unlikely to watch it more than a single time. 

Phone Call With Breezy (Skit) simply exists but I don’t feel it adds anything of value to the listener but it does flow nicely into I Love You (feat. Chris Brown & Ty Dolla $ign). I Love You is a song that I just don’t connect with. The overuse of auto-tune is, unfortunately, distracting in this song, despite being perfectly suited to other songs on the album. Subsequently, with a remix and a dial-back on auto-tune, I may end up appreciating it. 

Grandma (Skit) flows really well into Grandma; a truly great song! 

Back Hurt (feat. Migos) is a great song to conclude the album with and encourages me to listen to Always Strive And Prosper again as well as stay in A$AP Ferg’s growing catalogue. 

The music video (Clean | Explicit) is solid and a value-added proposition for fans interested in A$AP Ferg’s visual elements, although I would have liked to see a more evolved story arc, especially considering there was a focus, at the beginning and end of the music video, on an old-time film projector.  

Overall, Always Strive And Prosper is a thoroughly enjoyable Hip Hop album that grows on you the more you listen to it. A$AP Ferg has his own unique style that works extremely well and while skits are nothing new, I find that I’m torn with regards to their inclusion. They are merged well with the musicality, and flow well in their track positions, but I also feel they can be distractive as you get into a rhythm, only to be taken out of the musical flow with a skit. Subsequently, Always Strive And Prosper, in places, sounds a little disjointed as if the album tracking was compiled without significant thought. I may, of course, be wrong with that assumption, but given the propensity to focus on songs in the modern era, one can understand why some albums sound a little unfocused. Regardless, Always Strive And Prosper is a compelling modern Hip Hop album that will most certainly be staying within my digital music collection and may, if the price is right, make it to my physical music collection. 

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