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Jorge Velez - Roman Birds Music Album Reviews

Inspired by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, this five-track ambient wonder finds the New York producer letting pulses and motifs overlap until the tracks resemble the inside of a lava lamp.
Jorge Velez has long been prolific, but that’s been especially true in the past few years. Like many underground electronic musicians, the New York producer has taken advantage of the internet’s self-publishing opportunities—in particular, the direct-to-fans platform Bandcamp—to sidestep label gatekeepers, streaming services, and crowded retailers. (Velez’s Bandcamp page currently numbers 26 releases.) Velez first gained recognition a dozen years ago with blippy disco derivatives for labels like Italians Do It Better, but his output has gradually become more esoteric and inward-looking. He’s still capable of ebullient club tracks, as last year’s excellent Forza attests, but many of his long, undulating machine jams sound like late-night missives to himself.

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Tierra Whack - Whack World Music Album Reviews

Tierra Whack - Whack World Music Album Reviews
The surreal, audiovisual album from the Philadelphia artist is only 15 minutes long, but it is overflowing with hooks and a powerful sense of imagination.

Tierra Whack raps “best believe I’m gon’ sell if I just be myself” less than 30 seconds into her debut audiovisual album, Whack World. But it is nearly impossible to prepare for exactly what she looks and sounds like. Hers is a playful world of surreal scenes and mercurial soundscapes—slow jams while grooming a toy poodle, doo-wop while cleaning up a house party, trap music while lying in a bedazzled coffin. It’s Deep South country and cosmic raps, self-love and middle fingers to naysayers. And you have just 15 minutes to digest it all.

Reared in Philadelphia’s famed cypher tradition, the 22-year-old Whack built a reputation on quick-witted freestyles. She was once known as Dizzle Dizz and her lyrical proficiencies earned praise from Meek Mill and A$AP Rocky. But as she moved beyond straight-ahead rapping across the last few years, her music took on more experimental qualities, toying with various types of vocal processing and psychedelic melodies, to riveting effect. She revealed herself as one who doesn’t take herself too seriously, who warps the boundary between simply making art and letting yourself become it. Like OutKast, Missy Elliott, or Busta Rhymes before her, she forces us to reimagine our realities by plopping us into outré versions of theirs.

Whack World is a funhouse of minute-long vignettes, teetering between a fantastic dream and an unsettling nightmare. Lyrics share double meanings with the corresponding 15-minute visual Whack released alongside the album, which adds even more dimension and intrigue to the ambitious project; light and dark are forced to coexist. At one point, she snips the strings off of red helium balloons while singing in a comically excessive twang to a potential suitor: “You remind me of my deadbeat dad.” In another bubblegum-backdropped scene, she reveals a half-swollen face and declares: “Probably would’ve blew overnight if I was white.” She’s probably not wrong.

This isn’t Whack’s first foray into the absurd. Last year’s “MUMBO JUMBO” video found her in the midst of a horrifying dentist appointment that could double as a deleted scene from Get Out. On that song, she delivers novocaine-induced, mush-mouthed lyrics over a trap beat that forces you to question whether it even matters what she’s saying. Her point, in part, was that mumbling doesn’t always connote the absence of skill but, on the contrary, can be a valid mode of creative expression. It’s a shrewd suggestion and one that lands well, considering her own lyrical nimbleness, and the way she need not rely on it to make compelling music.

Little arguments and stories like this land all over Whack World. Despite the brevity of the songs (every single one is exactly a minute long), there are no half-baked ideas here; huge revelations are nestled in the frivolous. “4 Wings” masks the sting of death in a carryout order, while “Pet Cemetery” smudges the line between mourning your dog and mourning your dawg. “My dog had a name/Keepin’ his name alive,” she sings over a disarmingly jovial staccato piano, complete with barking puppies in the background and a video that’s just as literal. Elsewhere, on a lighter note, she encourages self-care—eating fruits and veggies, and drinking water—on “Fruit Salad,” while affirming that she cannot be defined nor denied.

Whack World puts forth a portrait of the good and the bad, the weird and the unremarkable, while plowing through insecurities. She uses vanity mirrors to magnify her features on a song titled “Pretty Ugly” and bursts out of a house several sizes too small on “Dr. Seuss,” as if to reflect that feeling of having outgrown your surroundings or other people’s expectations. With the walls closing in, she throws down a bit of wordplay in a helium-infused voice—“Look but don’t touch/I should just be celibate/You the type to sell out/Me? I’m trying to sell a bit”—before pitching into a warped slo-mo like she’s being smothered.

The triumph of Whack World feels that much more important given the music industry’s stubborn refusal to champion diverse portrayals of women in rap outside of hypersexualized stereotypes. There is freedom in the margins, and Whack has crafted a work that beautifully manifests her own vision on her own terms. The result is brilliant—from the length of the songs down to the exaggerated imagery. Though she springs from a rich stylistic lineage, her 60-second confections have few modern precedents. Short songs, while in vogue, serve a different purpose here: Where others stretch small ideas and repetition, thinning them out for easy absorption, Whack uses the time constraint to make her big ideas seem larger than the space they’re allotted. Like an evolution in real time, she gives just enough to complete the thought before she morphs and catapults you to the next one.

Whack World morphs into a clever exercise in economy and using only what you need. It’s a visual album prepackaged for optimum social media consumption; every tiny piece stands on its own without losing sight of the larger picture. At its core, though, Whack’s sense of humor—her captivating depiction of a black woman’s imagination—is an opportunity to celebrate an aspect of art that often goes uncelebrated, an opportunity for Whack to celebrate herself.

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