CD Reviews

Habits & Contradictions, Live From the Kitchen and Conversational Lush


ScHoolboy Q Habits & Contradictions (Top Dawg Entertainment)

The Los Angeles collective of Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock, Ab Soul and ScHoolboy Q, better known as Black Hippy, is eerily reminiscent of a new-age N.W.A., with their unique combination of streets, poetry, conscious and ignorant rhymes. ScHoolboy Q represents the ignorant side, and his latest album, Habits & Contradictions, is what I’d like to call brilliant ignorance. ScHoolboy likes to get high, party and talk shit. That’s exactly what this album represents. The spacy bounce of “Sacriligious” could be the ghetto soundtrack to Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas, while “Grooveline Pt. 2” finds Q riding out in a cloud of weed smoke alongside Curren$y and Dom Kennedy. But it’s the collaboration with Harlemite A$AP Rocky on “Hands on the Wheel” that epitomizes the album’s direction as Rocky and Q toss a middle finger to the haters over the “Pursuit of Happiness” sample by Lizzie. No, it’s not going to save the world, but Habits & Contradictions will keep you entertained. ★★★★☆

Trap Rap

Yo Gotti Live From the Kitchen (RCA)

Yo Gotti has been on the cusp for many years. For one reason or another he hasn’t quite been able to breakthrough. Finally, after several independent albums, the Memphis MC tries to achieve critical and commercial acclaim with his debut studio album, Live From the Kitchen. Unfortunately, his efforts mirror far too much of what’s currently going on in the industry to stand out. Figuring out who Yo Gotti is has got to be the most difficult part. On “Testimony” you could close your eyes and easily picture Young Jeezy spitting those rhymes—complete with notable ad-libs. He gets out-Rick Rossed, by The Bawse himself on “Harder,” and he simply cannot put together a marriage of rhymes and production that he can call his own. Aside from the Big Sean-, Big K.R.I.T.-, Wale- and Wiz Khalifa-assisted “Go Girl,” Live From the Kitchen ends up being a swing and a miss from Yo Gotti.  ★☆☆☆☆

Soul Music

Elle Varner Conversational Lush (Self-Released)

Twenty-two-year-old Elle Varner has a beautiful voice, but great vocal chops alone aren’t what makes a female singing sensation. As she prepares her RCA debut, Perfectly Imperfect, the songbird releases Conversational Lush to give a sample of what’s in store. As an informal introduction, Conversational Lush showcases a ton of promise from Varner. What she certainly doesn’t lack is conceptual range and exceptional songwriting skills. The scatting production of “Ghosts” allows Varner’s soothing vocals to bound about as she professes how she accidentally fell in love. “So Fly” finds her telling women that there’s no need for surgical enhancements, just be happy with yourself. In a hilarious episode, she jovially croons about losing her man to another man on “WTF?” There’s no doubt that Varner has got what it takes to become that “next” artist to break through. It’s just a matter of RCA allowing her to be herself and not mimic another artist. ★★★☆☆

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Gender Pretender

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Gender Pretender

This lumbering saga about the pitfalls of a woman in 19th century Dublin posing as a man to hold down employment as a butler opened in December to qualify for Oscar nominations. Albert Nobbs is now expanding to commercial marquees for public scrutiny. Thanks to a quirky performance by Glenn Close featuring enough prosthetics, wrinkles, painfully binding corsets and pinched diction to generate critical acclaim and give Meryl Streep a run for her money, attention must be paid. But not too much.