April 25

KOD won’t change your opinion on J Cole, but it is the album that will define him

If we’re honest, J. Cole has been a mixed bag for me.

When he’s on his high points, he’s incredible, but his low points are cringe-worthy. The same artist that can deliver powerful tracks like Be Free and False Prophets (his mixtapes are still unbelievable) is the same guy who made goofy downright stupid tracks like Folding Clothes and Wet Dreams (Workout too ugh). Ever since his verse on Jay-Z’s A Star is Born track, the world has been enamored with Jermaine Cole. However, his body of work regarding LPs has brought a divisive response. One side will consider him one of the best in this current generation the other side find him as a lifeless act in the rap scene that has received undeserved praise.  This disconnect has caused a massive question to many regarding Cole’s place in the best current act of rappers. A question Cole himself has no say because he refused to want to be placed in such superlatives. (Seriously Cole the person is way more fascinating than the Cole the rapper). Thus, bringing us to his new album KOD. After middling critical and fan reception 4 Your Eyez Only (I hated this album), this was the album a lot of skeptics (myself included) were waiting to hear to see if he would be able to bounce.  KOD in short for three phrases (Kids on drugs, king overdosed, and kill our demons) was released on 4/20 (great marketing tactic) covers the topic of addiction and what seems to cover the issue what plagues the new crop of artists and kids today (social media, drugs, and influence).

This is not the 1st time Cole has brought up addiction in his music. 2011’s song Breakdown, Cole details the addiction his Mother had to overcome and the absence of his father, but in a spiteful deposition, he attacks society and the dominant influence it had around that time as well as the culture that promotes drug use today like it is a way of living. 4 Your Eyez Only he tackled drugs in the eyes of his Childhood friend who was a drug dealer. He was murdered, and Cole tells the stories to the daughter he left behind. Where attack this issue in more seemingly direct response to the climate then, he takes a very satirical approach to the topic on this album before closing in on the problems similar to the way he did Breakdown. Based on the 1st 4-5 songs on the album everyone, will be able to gather some thought on this album. Each song Cole uses flow and cadence out of his norm and sound eerily similar to the new and popular wave of ‘Mumble” Rappers. Even the beats resemble their beat selection as well. The self-titled KOD plays into such a persona as brags about his skills as a dealer critiques the criticism surrounding him and bring up his introduction into the world of drugs. Photograph cover the impact/addiction social media have towards social interaction amongst the world.  The most radio-friendly on the album ATM discusses the more dilemma of chasing money and fame and the consequences of seeking such.

This 1st of half of this album covers the narrative in his eyes. I’m personally not sure he’s playing the kid in this current and hence why the songs sound as they do, but I found them brilliant in concept but lacking elsewhere. The track The Cut Off is one of the most cringe-worthy tracks on the album. Granted the message is strong regarding eliminating folks in his life due to his lack of trust and felt he was taken advantage of; with his alter ego (I’ll get to that later) telling him to deal with such problems based on the issues presented as Cole whole premise is against drugs. It’s a great idea, but man this song sounded horrible. The middle of this album from Motiv8 to Brackets (The first verse that is) is absolutely skippable.  I will say the second verse in Brackets is one of the best set of lyrics he has ever written and it is worth listening to the track just for that verse alone.

The album picks up at Once an Addict Interlude, a song discussing his mother’s addictions again this time discussing her mom’s drinking problems after her an affair by his step-father which led to a child being birthed. Cole brought up his time in College and believed he escaped her problems, but she eventually calls him at 1 am drunk, and he realized he wished he intervened in her problems more than run away. This was Cole’s most personal track and what I wanted the album to explore further in. More than often rappers bring up problems without specifying about their reason for being so against other than common knowledge. Once an Addict provided the layers most of this album lacked, and I hate the fact I have to treat this as an interlude.  Friends felt like a step backward based on how incredible Once an Addict was. Kill Edward returns but not as annoying as the previous track and the song just lacked for me. Now the two songs which are the best two on the album came at the end of the record with Window Pain (horrible title for a track) and 1985.

Window Pain provides an excellent story begins with a girl seeing her cousin get shot, and Cole begins to reflect on the all the actions and problems he presented in the 1st half of the album. Cole attempts to bring home a very up and down beginning and a middle that is mediocre. 1985 which led to rumors of a second album coming. Was initially seen as a diss to mumble rappers, but funny enough this wasn’t a critique more Cole is advising this new crop of Rappers to stop caving into these influences as well as take control of their lives before they are on Love & Hip-Hop in 5 years.

Coming someone who is diagnosed with depression, I can appreciate the effort here, but the results came off mixed. Cole needs features badly. I believe some of these songs would be better if he had someone who can you know sing do the hooks. Kill Edward was very corny I understand it is Cole’s opposition in his head (hi, I go through this every day), but it didn’t work for me. Cole brings about a very polarizing group of hip-hop fans, one side loves him to death, and on the other hand is bored to death by him. Both sides bring up valid points as disconnect on Cole’s placement in this current landscape of Hip-hop still grows massive. The problem with Cole will be replay value when it comes to an album. Will I return to this album two, three months from now? Probably not and that’s the problem with Cole. The lyrics and concept are excellent, but Cole’s way of creating songs have severely lacked for so long, and some of these songs would be better if he had help. You can make songs that ‘Bangers’ and have important messages in them Kendrick has proved this constantly. This album is a MASSIVE upgrade over 4 Your Eyez Only. But the album is mixed for me. His best songs are incredible, but the rest is inconsistent. I don’t like reviewing things after one watch or listen because overreactions are bound to happen which is why I wait after the 1st few days to talk about it.  If I honestly have to give this a score out of 5, it would be a very strong 3. This album was his most easy to listen to the album, and I would argue his best album to date. The issue here is some of the songs have no replay value outside of his core fan base that will treat this as gospel. Cole usually places in the top 3 in this current landscape. Drake’s popularity/impact is off the charts, and Kendrick’s critical acclaim and awards got him in the all-time arguments now, Cole is here which isn’t a bad thing, in fact, it’s needed for this generation. This album made me interested in what is next for him, and that’s good in my book.

 

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February 28

Black Panther | A Celebration of (Black) Excellence

You want to talk about a grand slam. This felt like the grand slam in the bottom of the 9th inning 2 outs and down by three.  This won the game and created a legacy of its own. Funny thing is, this film has been in the theaters for a matter of days and we are seeing numbers we would see a Star Wars film appear for a movie about an African King. Fucking Incredible.  I honestly have no clue where to start talking about this film.  Marvel films have been a juggernaut for a decade now delivering on films of different heroes and comic arcs. For me, Captain America Winter Solider was the greatest Marvel film to date. Cap 2 was able to blend the genre of a generic Comic Book film to a political thriller. The film even took risk and it payed off big time, delivering Marvel’s best film and one of the greatest comic book films ever. Since then, Marvel has been a mix bag for me.  Examining their current phase, Phase 3 has been ok for me.  From films that are good but not great (Spiderman-Homecoming, Doctor Strange), that are good but flawed (Civil War, Thor 3) to great in theory but meh in execution (Guardians of the Galaxy 2). Phase 3 has not impressed until Black Panther arrived. Black Panther actually move past Winter Solider for me in terms of best Marvel films, that is how great this film is. Seeing it in theaters four times (going on five now) is something I rarely do for any film.  There is nothing wrong with this film from the incredible cast and crew behind it, the soundtrack, and score were phenomenal and the topics this film covered made me forget this was a Disney film. Ryan Coogler delivered big time with this film.

Black Panther follows the events of Civil War where Prince T’Challa comes following the death of his father/king T’Chaka to anointed King of the fictional nation in Africa, Wakanda.  T’Challa prepares to take handle a burden of responsibilities and have a major dilemma that will alter the fate of Wakanda for the near future.  Right off the bat, I have to talk about the cast in this film. Chadwick Boseman was perfect for T’Challa/Black Panther. T’Challa has always been a hard character to write in comics because he is virtually perfect. Boseman channels the king well as a man who wants to honor tradition and as someone who distraught by the consequences from the actions of his father and past kings/queens of Wakanda. T’Chaka told T’Challa have a great supporting casts behind him and man did he.  Angela Basset plays the Queen Ramonda the mother of T’Challa and his sister Shruri (played incredibly well by Letitia Wright). Basset does great as she usually do but it is her daughter Shruri is the member of the Royal family that is the scene-stealer here. Shruri is incredible in the film she brings the comedy (which is not overbearing) and the brains of the film. She is going to be a massive inspiration to kids abroad. At the age of 16, Shruri brings Tony Stark to shame in terms of innovative and downright brilliance. The women in this film in general dominate. Lupita Nyong’o plays Nakia (who actually becomes a villain in the comics) as the (sort of?) love interests but with a twists. She is the one turning T’Challa down in the film and brining question to the tradition of Wakanda.  Instead of being damsel in distress, she is the one saving folks from harm and taking charge when needed (TAKE NOTES ON HOW TO WRITE WOMEN IN MOVIES).  Speaking of taking charge, I left her for last because she deserves all the praise here. Danai Gurira good God she was amazing here.  Gurira plays Okoye, leader of the Dora Milaje (an all-female special force unit whose task is protecting their king) and almost every scene she is in she owns it. Danai must have saw Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman said thank you and went to work here.  Okoye was a blast to watch in this film she was fearless, noble, and knew when to talk.  Her dynamic with Nakia in the film plays a major role in this film as well as the overall tone of the film.  The women in this film deserve all the praise coming their way they brought it big time.

As for the villain in this film, FINALLY Marvel got it right and man did they get it right (this honestly deserve a deeper analysis than what I am about to do and will probably write it eventually). Michael B Jordan’s Erick Killmonger (In this film his last name is Stevens) is one of the best villains I have seen in a long time. This is not due to the underperforming villains of recent years either. He is has a reason to be the way he is, each line he drops could be a quotable for a social media post or t-shirt idea.  He symbolizes anger but in a place that has yet to be resolved in films period and the fact Disney let Coogler go there…..Bravo.  Killmonger is a product of his past but it is not crutch to him at all in fact the accomplishments he have under his name is damning and most will look past this but it needs to be brought up his past was more than what transpired in one scene it is his whole backstory that is fascinating. Killmonger is breath of fresh air for villains. There are so many arguments he makes are hard to refute, even T’Challa himself have a hard time disagreeing with him. He makes T’Challa challenge tradition and himself on what it will take for Wakanda to grow and evolve.  His stance on colorism is one of the most heart endearing aspect of the film. Each scene with him, you want to learn more about him, but you can see his side of the coin.  Great Villains always make the heroes they face better and in this film, T’Challa grows to become a better king, but it also bring up a real life issue to be addressed in a manner we have yet seen.  Again Bravo Marvel!

This film is a damn masterpiece the fact my only issue with this film was the fact I wished this film was 15 minutes longer for selfish reasons. Coogler and his crew knocked this film out of the park.  Ruth Carter costume designs are some of the best costumes created in a film. Hell, I want to buy some of T’Challa’s gear if it was possible. Wakanda is beautiful and thank god it tears away from the Africa is a “shithole” (this is still a cringe worthy quote by the President 45) Continent. Despite Wakanda being fictional, it does display a world where anyone would love to visit. To the members of the VFX team for brining Wakanda to life, I salute you.  Thank you for brining color to Marvel; seriously, the color scale in Marvel films can be a little dull in some films.  Ludwig Göransson composed the score for this film and what an incredible this was. Ludwig actually traveled to Senegal to and used their local musicians to record the soundtrack.  My favorite composed movie soundtrack since Man of Steel.  Even Kendrick Lamar had a Superfly moment and curated a movie soundtrack for this film as well. Both delivered great soundtrack that are worth listening to right now.  Which lead us back to Ryan Coogler, who is now 3 for 3 for great films. Coogler proved he belongs in discussion for great young directors. The fact he is only 31 is incredible and I am 100% interested in his next project.  Coogler brought energy to this film and gave this film a message that was refreshing for a Marvel. Marvel allow Coogler to make this film a FUBU (for us, by us) film, they let him create a message that Black people will relate to alongside its hero.

The issues in these films is that the ideologies of both the hero and the villain tends to lean one side over the other. However, this film made the line blurred. Killmonger and T’Challa battle of the minds using their fists is not anything new but they reason of these minds facing off has never been this fascinating.  Killmonger being somewhat of revolutionary ready to take what was stolen from us compared to T’Challa whose lifelong obligation is to the people of Wakanda and establishing the order there.  The way this conflict ends is one of the more beautiful, tear jerking moments in the films.

I must admit I cried at the ending more than once.  Reading about Black Panther around the age of 13, I never thought this day would come. I remember the failed Wesley Snipes attempt at bringing the character to life only for filmmakers to sway the material a different way and I mean DIFFERENT. The ending of this film bring us back to full circle of the film and present the world a new hero to inspire to be. Finally, I have to witness one of Marvel’s most underappreciated characters in mainstream media to make a debut worth applauding. This is not just another Marvel movie; this was an event unlike anything before. This was a celebration of blackness and a celebration of Comic book cinema.  Where the previous films I reviewed laid the groundwork (good or bad) for a film like Black Panther to grow.  The box office has responded to this film in a way no one imagined as it is on pace become a Billion dollar film which along with the records it has already broke will be a feat unheard of a decade ago.

I have no idea what this will means for the film industry, no one knows what will happen really. Hollywood can look at this as a blimp on the radar and there will be another #oscarsowhite moment or even worse, a Gods of Egypt catastrophe.  This film could finally open the eyes of Hollywood and show them that diversity in films is huge and people will respond to films that care about the culture it attempting to represent.  Mad Max Fury Road and Wonder Woman’s success led to a rise in female led action films to varying results (wished it did the same for female directors leading them). Where Black Panther success will lie is the future it help molds. (Please everyone go see Wrinkle in Time and support Ava for the same reason as Black Panther).  Black Panther may or may not be the reason of change, but this film provided a historic moment that no one thought would happen. This a celebration for us to remember and rejoice in the moment.  A love letter to comic book fan and a reason to feel kids of color to be proud of representation done right.

Marvel, Black Panther, Kilmonger, Wakanda forever,Marvel, Black Panther, Kilmonger, Wakanda forever,Marvel, Black Panther, Kilmonger, Wakanda forever,Marvel, Black Panther, Kilmonger, Wakanda forever

 

Bow to the King and WAKANDA FORVER.

 

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February 26

Hancock | A tale of 2 films

I really do not know what to make of this film. One minute I think the film is fine, then I see the glaring issues right behind it.  The beginning of this film worked really well, but then we got to the twist and that god-awful third act, I think this will be another film. There is so much that film to fail to offer from what was initially going well.  Will Smith plays John Hancock an alcoholic superhero (A parody of Superman if we are being honest here) who does not have memories of who he is and is frustrated of the world he lives in.  He screws up a lot often causing more damage than saving people (Something Zach Snyder failed to learn in Man of Steel). Hancock initially saves a PR consultant by the name of Ray Embrey played by Jason Bateman; which led to Embrey wanting to rehabilitate Hancock’s image as a Superhero. Seems like an easy plot with a story that can develop two characters in the process. Hancock learning and understanding humanity and Embrey discovers his blind optimism can create a change once he learns how to understand how life works. I personally love Bateman’s character in this film. I think he does a great job as the ignorant youthfully optimistic Embrey and takes that character to a familiar yet interesting route. Smith’s Hancock is great too in fact; I was shocked watching this at first, he stayed away from the charismatic person he has always been in films. He did have the occasional fun spots like never call Hancock an asshole, NEVER.  That remained a constant trend for Smith until the 2016 film Focus (I still like that movie, fight me).

 

However, the film takes an immediate turn once we get to see Charlize Theron’s character, Mary realize secrets of her own. I will not spoil her character arch but yeah it was umm interesting.  Mary is Ray’s wife and she knows quite a few things about Hancock. What made the twist and eventually change in narrative fail overall is how bad the execution was. Theron and Smith’s dynamic was not as fun, which is sad, considering how great both of them are at their craft. Theron is an incredible actress but she felt misplaced here.  The change in plot did her no favors and the same can be said for Bateman who took a backseat to Theron and Smith awkward on screen encounters. The villain was forgettable as well. Writing this review, I literally forgot about the villain in this film and I am writing a few hours after watching the film.

 

The third act of this film has to be one of the worst I have seen in a comic book film so far (The worst still goes to this god-awful which also stars Will Smith). The plot completely changes again and this time it completely killed the film for me. What started as a comedy/parody on superhero films made a dramatic turn that was so unnecessary it ultimately killed any joy I had in the film itself.  There was a good film here, an honest yet simple critique of Hero’s and the ones who admire them but we lose that film half way through for something unnecessary. What made the first act great was the dynamic between Smith and Bateman, but as soon as they moved away from one another the film suffered.  Charlize Theron deserved better and eventually do in a much better film.  Hancock is a film that split itself into two films one was worth seeing where the story would lead to, the other was worth not seeing at all.

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