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Anthony Naples - Fog FM Music Album Reviews

Tough, upfront, and often bruisingly physical, Fog FM is the New York producer’s most substantial piece of work by a considerable margin.
American house and techno are in a remarkably good place right now. The underground is thriving, bolstered by a network of labels, club nights, warehouse parties, and off-the-beaten-path festivals, all with a staunchly independent spirit that’s a world away from the high-flying, big-ticket milieu of commercial dance music. It’s an especially welcome development given that house and techno’s well-defined parameters, combined with a retro-fetishizing reverence for the past, have sometimes left the music feeling cautious and conservative. But a new generation of artists is finding ways to tweak familiar templates, carving a zig-zag path between respect for their predecessors and a determination to do things their own way.

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03 Greedo - God Level Music Album Reviews

03 Greedo - God Level Music Album Reviews
The Los Angeles rapper’s final album before his 20-year sentence is anxious, forlorn, and self-assured—the violence simmers just below its cool and breezy surface.

As of this June, 03 Greedo is a ward of the Potter County Sheriff’s Department. The State of Texas expects that, for the next 20 years, one of Los Angeles’ most celebrated rappers will be a resident of a shared pod at a detention center in Amarillo. For the duration of Greedo’s stay, the lights will come on at 4:30 a.m. every morning, his small cache of personal items must fit in a rectangular plastic box, and, though he has a purple grape cluster tattooed beside his left eye, his outfit will be a particularly carceral tone of orange. In the eyes of the law, this is just punishment for possession of a controlled substance and unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon. In the estimation of anyone with a sense of proportionality, this is a miscarriage of justice. There are many 03 Greedo albums awaiting release, but God Level was his final testimony before a long sojourn.

In the days before his surrender, Greedo performed with a frantic regularity, proposed to his girlfriend on-stage (she said yes), dined at a Beverly Hills steakhouse with daughter Meilani, and released his latest tome, God Level. Like his other six albums—he’s very adamant that they’re not mixtapes—God Level is a snapshot of his life in a precise, fleeting moment. It’s him, reckoning with incarceration, desperately supping every last ounce of fame, fortune, and sex before the cup, once overflowing, is snatched away. It’s anxious, forlorn, self-assured, lustful, vulnerable and unrepentant.

Greedo’s honesty is revelatory and, in the sense that every rap fan has some yearning for lyrics to have real-life ballast, it’s exciting. But the seeming absence of fictive storytelling can shade his work with horrifying and saddening hues. When Greedo asks his wife if she’ll mail him photos while he’s imprisoned, that isn’t a hypothetical request—basic privations are his new reality (“Bacc to Jail”). He doesn’t sensationalize his adolescent practice of bringing guns and drugs to school—he doesn’t have to (“Street Life”). And, when on “Basehead” he claims, in his nasal, Miles Davis-overblowing-voice, that he bought his first gun from a basehead? Well, that’s probably true, too.

But verisimilitude is only part of what makes folks croon Greedo’s songs. They sing because when confronted by an artist with a touched-by-god intuition for catchy choruses and hooks, it’s hard to remain silent. And, on God Level, Greedo has some of his most polished pop moments to date. “Dibiase” has the languid sway of green-yellow palm fronds; “Conscience” is a filigree of soul-baring lyrics about his deceased best friend, Paul “Lil Money” Reed, backed by a golden instrumental; “100 100 100” is a spring shower of royal purple raindrops. But it’s the aspirational “Floating,” with its honking, mumbled chorus, that’s the climax of God Level. It epitomizes Greedo: unhurried and confident, with violence simmering just below its cool and breezy surface.

Like every Greedo album save the 13-song First Night Out, God Level suffers from mild bloat. With 27 songs clocking in at a generous hour and 40 minutes, the album is too long and, in parts, too unpolished to be fully immersive. While his prolificacy is impressive, in overstuffing his albums he occasionally draws some of the listener's’ attention away from the remarkable to the merely passable.

But of all the tragedies to befall Greedo—and of all the tragedies he may have caused—the possibility that he may never generate a singular, masterful project seems a minor concern. For the past two years, the precariousness of his life has determined the tenor of his career. His first effort as 03 Greedo, Purple Summer, was released less than a month after the Texas arrest which led to his recent incarceration, and subsequent albums were recorded while on the lam from bounty hunters (Purple Summer 03: Purple Hearted Soldier), after death of Lil Money (Money Changes Everything), and on his first night in Los Angeles after being caught by said bounty hunters (the aforementioned First Night Out). The clang of that arrest on a barren stretch of I-40 still resonates, and God Level is just one of its echoes. It isn’t 03 Greedo’s magnum opus. But until he’s free of the deprivations of an unconcerned carceral state, it’s close enough.

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