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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.



Nef the/Pharaoh03 Greedo - Porter 2 Grape EP Music Album Reviews

On the first record to appear since 03 Greedo’s incarceration, the L.A. rapper teams up with Vallejo’s Nef the Pharaoh on a breezy five-track EP that makes the most of their respective strengths.

Last month, 03 Greedo reported to a prison in Texas to serve a 20-year sentence on drug and weapons charges. The week he set foot in the facility, he dropped God Level, an anxious opus that mulls his pending incarceration and its impact on his rapidly ascending career as a rap star. The sentence will rip him away from his family and his fans, but it won’t mark a hard stop to his output: There are dozens of solo and collaborative albums sitting on hard drives, waiting to be parceled out over however long the authorities in Texas keep him caged. Porter 2 Grape is the first such record to surface; it pairs Greedo with Nef the Pharaoh, who distinguished himself in the last couple years as one of the Bay Area’s most exciting and charismatic rappers. Their mixtape together is warm and refreshingly slight. It also reveals that, while Nef’s rise has proven much slower and less stratospheric than Greedo’s, he still possesses the wit, versatility, and magnetism that might land him a larger, nationwide audience.

Both Nef and Greedo grew their followings from their hometowns outward, but their relationships with rap’s regionalist conventions are far different. Greedo, who bounced all over the country in his childhood before settling in Watts, is a synthesist, as fluent in popular modes from Atlanta and Baton Rouge as he is in those from L.A. By contrast, when Nef broke through, in 2015, he was rightly singled out as the heir to the Vallejo throne—he even signed with E-40. While Nef’s style is more straightforward, Greedo’s is more in tune with national pop trends on rap radio in most cities; Nef is from a lineage that, save for a few breakout stars, has been hermetically sealed in one location.

Nef, though, has absolutely no interest in sitting still. The EP is littered with little odes to traveling: On “Ball Out,” he’s appalled that some of his peers haven’t ridden double-decker buses in London; on “Blow-Up Bed,” he compares his tattoos to the stamps in his passport; he and Greedo brag about being in Paris, Miami, Memphis, everywhere. That jetsetting figures so centrally on Porter is a testament to how both rappers process abstract ideas like fame and success: They ground them in the material changes of their day-to-day lives. How else do you account for the record’s best and most deeply felt song being an upbeat cut about air mattresses?

While the rapid pace of Greedo’s writing and recording in the final months before his prison term could have been expected, what’s intriguing about Porter 2 Grape is how carefully his vocals have been attuned to Nef’s. Their harmonizing on the “Blow-Up Bed” hook crystallizes the EP’s promise: Greedo’s voice is stranger than Nef’s, but he comes in softer, more melodic, while Nef is allowed to take the more forceful lead. Throughout the tape, but especially on that song and “Choosy” (the latter also features ALLBLACK and Chris O’Bannon), the two rappers pull one another into breezy, comfortable pockets that not only allow their senses of humor to come through but also communicate appreciation for their incremental progress—and, by implication (and occasionally overtly), lament the ways their advances might be reversed in a matter of seconds.

The last song on Porter 2 Grape, “Feeling You,” flips the same Bobby Caldwell sample that 2Pac used for “Heaven Ain’t Hard 2 Find,” the closing number on All Eyez on Me. (There are few better arguments for the symbiosis between Bay rap and L.A. rap than the second disc of All Eyez.) The Pac song is nominally about sex, but there’s a break in the middle where he reveals the neuroses that plague nearly all of his work. Pac was a more linear writer than Greedo and a more self-mythologizing one than Nef. What Porter shares with the breezy back-end cuts on Pac’s masterpiece is the sense that it’s never all good or all bad; that blow-up mattresses can become luxury hotel beds and, occasionally, prison cots.

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