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Westside Gunn – Pray for Paris ALBUM REVIEW

East Coast Hip-Hop/Hardcore Hip-Hop||Griselda Records

One of the more exciting artists coming out of the east coast rap scene, and 1/3rd of the coke-rap heavyweights Griselda. Westside Gunn has always intrigued me because of the unique energy he brings on every Griselda cut. It’s almost impossible to miss his expressive ad-libs on songs, and alongside the slow rise of Griselda to the top of the underground, I was excited to hear what he would deliver on Pray For Paris. Not to mention Griselda is coming off of a couple of solid projects, from Benny the Butcher’s The Plugs I Met to Griselda’s debut album WWCD

Unfortunately, despite presenting itself as a grandiose coke rap odyssey, the album seems to be more style than substance.

That being said, I really like the imagery that the album coveys throughout. Audio snippets like the 400 million intro and the Million Dollar Man outro at the end of Allah Sent Me gives this reader a taste of this unfathomably rich lifestyle that is consistent with most Griselda releases. Additionally, Pray for Paris has some of my favorite production across any Griselda project, with beats from Alchemist, DJ Premier, and even Tyler, the Creator on the song Party wit Pop Smoke. They go a long way towards establishing the lavish tone that Gunn is trying to convey on this album.

The album also starts off on a great note. After the 400 million intro we get a short verse and second-intro of sorts from Westside which leads into George Bondo, the first of two cuts featuring the rest of Griselda, and an easy highlight for the album with lyrics about weight, watches, and wealth. 

We also get a posse cut with Joey Bada$$ and Tyler, the Creator (who I wouldn’t have expected to have such a large role on this album) on 527, which goes over well as Bada$$ and Tyler both deliver verses that showcase their unique styles without the track sounding like a mess.

Unfortunately, the album begins its nosedive on French Toast, where Westside Gunn sings in his nasally, high-pitched voice throughout almost the entire track. There’s also a Wale feature, for some reason, that goes over as well as you would expect. The second Griselda cut Allah Sent Me isn’t much better and is a lot more forgettable than George Bondo.

The quality in the middle of the album doesn’t ever really recover, from the short and forgettable Euro Step and Versace, to the boring and underperformed Clairborne kick, where Gunn pitch-shits his vocals in a Tyleresque way, alongside an utterly unremarkable Boldy James verse. $500 Ounces offers the only redeeming moments with a great Alchemist beat and a good feature from the never-underwhelming Freddie Gibbs. Roc Marciano’s verse on this track doesn’t really do it for me, and I think it takes away from the song’s overall quality.

I do think the album does redeem itself on the tail end, as the last 3 tracks are all quite good. Shawn vs. Flair is probably the most playful song on the whole album, with more traditional 90s boom-bap production, and some of the albums more well-conceived verses. Party wit Pop Smoke is easily one of the better beats that Tyler, the Creator has ever put together, which accompanies possibly the two most cold-blooded verses on the album from Gunn and Keisha Plum. 

The closing track on the album ends the album on a fitting note, with one final verse about from Gunn along with something I’ve never seen before: a tap-dancing solo from Cartier Williams, which Gunn segues into quite cleverly through his verse. 

As a whole, I think despite this album’s inconsistency, at its best it delivers some of the most cold-blooded coke rap of 2020. Unfortunately, for every highlight on this album, there’s a corresponding low-light that weighs the album down, despite its great presentation and production throughout.

6 Bricks out of 10

The New Wave of Country

It is commonly believed that students today have two general types of music they listen to: all music genres, and all music genres except country. However, country music as of late has begun to branch out into new directions in large part to the success of Lil Nas X’s Old Town Road. As a result, country crossovers and influence has exploded.

This can be seen in the revitalization of old-school country, thanks in large part to artists like Orville Peck, Faye Webster, and the late David Berman of Purple Mountains. These artists take the emotional weight of old country music and frame with more modern themes and sounds to advance the genre forward.

Heath Hooper is a photographer and a large fan of country music, as well as the country aesthetic at large. I sat down with him recently to get his take on this growing country trend.

SLOcal Art: A Look at Jason Towne’s Glow Show at Art After Dark

While so far this blog has focused heavily on sports, I want to expand into talking about music and art culture moving forward, and there is no better way to start than by focusing on San Luis Obispo’s local scenes.

One of these artists is Jason Towne, who for the next two months is showcasing his Glow Show gallery at the 4 Cats Cafe. According to his website, Towne describes the art as “paintings on paper designed to be enjoyed with or without black lighting.”

The gallery bisects the cafe into two distinct experiences: the front which serves to display Towne’s original paintings, and the back which houses the Glow Show.

“As an experience, the Glow Show is mesmerizing,” said Cal Poly student Jackson Stanwick, who attended the event this past Friday. “They gave me a black-light flashlight and I got to shine it on all the paintings and such.”

Towne is also hosting art galleries through Nautical Bean Art Shows for the rest of March. Glow Show will be featured at the 4 Cats Cafe through the month of April.

Watching Baseball Die: What is Rob Manfred Doing?

With spring training bringing in baseball for the year, very few baseball fans are focused on the season ahead. Instead, most of the focus is shifted towards the 2017 season, and possibly the biggest baseball scandal since the Black Sox in 1919. 

During the offseason the Houston Astros, who won the World Series in 2017, were caught using technology to intercept the catcher’s pitch signals, allowing the batter to know the pitch that’s being thrown to him. 

Baseball fans wanted blood, a hard crackdown on the Astros and their players. Commissioner Rob Manfred didn’t get the memo, and it doesn’t bode well for his career.

Rumors of the Astros sign stealing have been swirling the MLB the past few years, but the rumors began to elevate in early-November when reports surfaced alleging them of banging a trashcan in the dugout for off-speed pitches in 2017. Popular fans like Jomboy were amongst the first to bring exposure to the scandal by searching Astros games for trash can bangs.

Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred and other MLB investigators stated they were conducting a “really really thorough investigation” into the scandal. “Any allegations that could affect the outcome of a game or games is the most serious matter,” Manfred elaborated.

Baseball is not a sport short of scandals. From the steroid use that plagued the sport in the 90s and early 00s, to the Pete Rose gambling incident and the Black Sox scandal, incidents like these have always been apart of baseball. Sign stealing had simply become the next chapter.

However, in order for the sport to move forward from these scandals the league had to crack down hard on its perpetrators…

especially when they exceed on the highest level, and win the World Series. Fans league-wide speculated player suspensions, bans from baseball, and possibly even having the World Series redacted.

Manfred did none of these things. Immediately after handing down the punishment, the league was in uproar over the lackluster consequences that the Astros faced. With accusations of other teams like the Red Sox and Yankees also being speculated as stealing signs using technology, many fans believed Manfred needed to set a precedent that this was not acceptable. Not a single player involved received a fine for their participation.

Astros batter Alex Bregman talking about taking place in the sign stealing scandal, answering every question asked with “the commissioner came out with a report, MLB did their report and the Astros did what they did.”

Unhappy with the commissioner’s findings, many fans from across the league continued looking into the sign stealing. Databases were built to analyze which Astros players were most and least responsible. Players most responsible included Alex Bregman, recently hired New York Mets manager Carlos Beltran, and World Series MVP George Springer.

However, what few considered as the scandal was unfolding was the impact it had on player’s careers league wide. In most major sports, players are united by their love for the game. By cheating, many Astros players betrayed their brothers, teammates, and friends. Mike Bolsinger launched a lawsuit suing the Astros for 31 million dollars, to be given to various LA charities.

Just a week after the commissioner report, Manfred also announced the possibility of a new playoff seeding, which would include bye weeks, four more teams, and a reality-TV style reveal where high seeded teams would pick their opponent. It was almost unanimously hated after being released, and further made baseball fans question Manfred’s role as commissioner.

As Spring Training has started to take shape, many players were given a chance to speak out on the sign stealing scandal and Rob Manfred.

Cody Bellinger, the reigning National League MVP, on the Astros responses to the sign stealing scandal.
Will Middlebrooks commenting on the MLB’s plea for players not to throw at the Astros.
Kris Bryant, former MVP and member of 2016 World Series-winning Chicago Cubs, being asked about the punishment the 2017 Astros players’ recieved.

And then Rob Manfred called the World Series championship a piece of metal.

This solidified Manfred’s disconnection from the sport in many players and fans eyes. For the commissioner to skimp out on punishment for the Astros whilst diminishing the value of the World Series championship, it made him seem unconcerned with the future of the sport. A sport that has suffered in recent years due to poor higher up decisions.

Justin Turner, a batter for the 2017 Dodgers who lost the World Series to the Astros, being asked about Manfred’s recent actions as commissioner.

While this story has been in development for a while, it seems to have no real end in sight. The lack of punishment and closure into whether the Astros continued cheating after 2017 has placed immense scrutiny on the MLB. Recently, there has been speculation into the Astros using buzzers this past postseason to relay signs instead of trash can bangs. The Astros have been greeted by press at every turn, which should continue well into the season if Manfred continues to withhold information.

Regarding the whole situation, Lebron James of all people summed it up fittingly.

How Nick Foles and the Eagles Are Making Everyone Try Trick Plays

On January 11, running back Derrick Henry threw a game-sealing touchdown from the wildcat formation to Corey Davis to help the Tennessee Titans upset the championship-favorite Baltimore Ravens. The next day, the Houston Texans tried to run a fake punt against the Kansas City Chiefs to keep them from gaining momentum in a 24-7 routing. They lost 31-51.

Each year, it feels like coaches are utilizing trick plays more and more to keep their offense fresh and unpredictable. Nowhere has it been more evident than in the playoffs this past year. This century trick plays have been quite commonplace throughout the regular season, but recently teams have seemingly been much more willing to open the bag of tricks against their opponents.

And you can thank Nick Foles for that. 

On February 4, 2018, the New England Patriots vs Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl (52), the Eagles executed one of the boldest trick plays ever. On a fourth down clinging to a 15-12 lead with 30 seconds left in the first half, the Eagles motion to call “Philly Philly”.

Quarterback Nick Foles pretends to audible, or change the play at the line of scrimmage, and walks away from the snap. Running Back Cory Clement takes the snap, and shovels the ball to Tight End Trey Burton, who throws the ball to Nick Foles for a touchdown.

Executing a trick play of such complexity is hard by itself, but in the largest game of the year, against Bill Belichick, one of the greatest coaches of all time, in a close game where passing on a field goal could swing the momentum of the game, it takes balls.

“Against an aggressive goalline defense, a play like that can be super effective” former high school Wide Receiver Chris Civilikas said about the Philly Special. “But what a lot of people forget is that the Patriots tried the same play like three minutes before.”

This is also true. With 12 minutes left in the first half the Patriots tried essentially the exact same play, only quarterback Tom Brady dropped the pass that Foles caught. The Eagles ultimately won the game 41-33, winning their first Super Bowl since 1960.

Going back to the Divisional Championship, both the Titans and the Texans head coaches stem from the Patriots and Bill Belichick’s coaching tree. Any given week, a team can be the Titans or the Texans, and it was the Patriots’ turn to be the Texans. That’s the magic of trick plays.