First Born & YamataForever – Mantra Goo EP [Review]

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“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” – Pablo Picasso

For some, art is a hobby. For others, it is a way of life. First Born embodies the essence of the latter. When he isn’t painting murals, creating album art, or having his artwork shown on the local news, he’s recording music and helping run the creative collective, CELESTIA, alongside Clayton County’s dark magician Yamata “Vince” Forever. Both have budding solo careers and together they form the experimental hip-hop duo “Brothers of the Kosmos.” Yamata creates a moody and ethereal palette with his production. First Born has refreshing social commentary about everyday life in Detroit, MI. From being a full-time artist, staying health conscious and alluding to future wealth, he shows all the signs of a bright kid stuck in a dark place.

FB’s journey begins with the easygoing Artlife. “Paintin’ in the day, recording at night / We really bout this art life.” He has a slow flow, but lyrically, he is full of vigor. His imagination is vivid. He doesn’t let the hardships of growing up hinder his creativity. Starin’ At My Fro is an introspective song about gentrification in Detroit. “These white folks starin’ at my fro / I don’t wanna go, they starin’ at my fro.” He even goes on about poor spending habits in his community. “Niggas got expensive jeans with no money in them, tryna have 5 bands in these 5 dollar denims.” His straightforwardness is refreshing.

 

 

The producer Yamata drops a verse on Sacred Sol Syndicate. His deep southern accent blends perfectly with the dusky soundscapes. He occasionally throws in Japanese lines so effortlessly, you’d think he was from Tokyo. On the production side, he has a great way of creating atmosphere in his music. It’s dreary, slow, heavy, yet easy to vibe to. Years Later has FB crooning about a girl over a breezy instrumental. It sounds like a late night acid trip. A deadly beat switch soon occurs and FB talks about his family tree being tainted.

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The story continues on Waitin’ At The Do, which reveals his lack of a father. He doesn’t get too personal about this topic but he does mention the long-term effects not having one could have. This includes lack of financial literacy, higher chance of going to prison, and solely relying on his mother. The album’s lead single, Kinky, is another trippy ride. Yamata laces it with unorthodox melodies and pumping percussion. FB drops playful lines like, “That paintbrush, yeah nigga, I stole it.” Sweet Potato Fries is a 6 minute track with an epic build up. Rhythmic hi-hats, swirling horns and ghastly pads open the door for another atmospheric ride. FB unexpectedly sings again over drowning, aquatic keys. Once he starts rapping, though, he enters overdrive, performing a highly enlightened verse. The pads start moving like fish in the water, then build up like a kid playing with a Jenga set. He questions his own mortality with, “Will I make it to 21? / Will I make it to 25? / Will I work a fucking 9 to 5?” First knows how potentially boring a normal life can be. He simply wants to live an honest, creatively-driven life. We get a more blissful vibe with Roaming Dwarfstars, the EP’s finale. FB’s performance is drowsy yet zen-like over muffled chords.

Mantra Goo is a refreshing audio experience. While First Born mentions his artistry and health a lot, it never sounds gimmicky. Even with lines like “You too grown for that damn cheek acne,” it always comes off as humorous and honest. Yamata’s chilly production set the perfect vibe, as well. The synergy these two have is natural. If you want something trippy, yet still accessible, Mantra Goo is worth a listen.

Jonathan Cloud – Eaten Alive EP [Review]

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“Walk down the path of life, don’t succumb to weakness…” – Andrei Ulmeyda

With an ever-evolving catalog of music, superhuman work ethic and a deep portfolio of producer credits, Jonathan Cloud hasn’t shown any signs of letting up, since starting out in 2009. When he isn’t behind the boards lacing Azizi Gibson, Chuuwee, Levi Watson, and others with his production, he’s flexing his underrated pen game. Eaten Alive is the latest self-produced solo effort by the eclectic Bostonian. With an I Am A Hero sampled album cover, I was expecting something horror-related, but instead, Cloud delivers an honest project that tackles life, death, and the hardships of being an artist.

The EP kicks off with Never Die. It’s soothing, ethereal and house-inspired, yet Cloud speaks with the conviction of a church preacher. It’s unorthodox, but it works.

On the 80’s sounding Knight he confirms his ever-changing, yet stylistically consistent approach with “I reinvent every time I load sessions / When it comes to samples, I make the best selection” before explaining why his music doesn’t sound trendy. “It’s hard to be a fan when there ain’t much impressive / So I’m making what I miss with a mix of expression.” Sampling in hip hop is best known for breathing new life into old music. Cloud aims to do this on Eaten Alive without getting too artsy with it. His sample flips are subtle yet effective, rarely destroying the original essence of the track. This reminds me of the spin he took on Babble’s Just Like You back in 2015.

The EP picks up on Life Is For Living. Cloud continues to speak on his career and the importance of showing genuine love. Like previously mentioned, he uses the sample to fit the context of the song. In this case, the vocal sample complements the hook.

His lyrical prowess doesn’t really show until Powerful Machines. Here, he’s more poetic, letting each bar build up like the EX Special from Street Fighter. He speaks on the vices of power while a guitar sample wails in the background.

 

 

The momentum continues to build with Improvement. The production has a Just Blaze feel to it. Stadium-level delayed vocal samples and deadly piano keys paint a grimy canvas for the abrasive rapper. On the real, Cloud’s delivery makes you stop and listen; He’s strikes more chords than a keyboard player. “You said you not hip hop, what you call it cousin? / I think you’re just a wack end of the section / Tryna separate, cuz you tryna hide the regression.”

Take You There is a song you would hear at a pool party in Compton. Even when making a song for the ladies, Cloud’s delivery cuts like a blade. It doesn’t last for long, though. The beat soon switches up and takes the form of an early 2000’s Jay-Z record, opening the door for some wavy slick talk.

The EP ends with the two-piece combo, Angels/Say I’m Wrong. These two tracks show a more revealing side of Jonathan Cloud. Angels starts with a sweeping piano piece before he bears his soul on the track. “Maybe I’ve been left jaded from years of it.” Cloud feels weathered after sacrificing so much for his career. There’s a moment where he touches on feeling boxed in for being a producer, one that an early Kanye would identify with. Overall, the song highlights the hardships of being an independent artist: Losing friends, missing out on life, and refusing to conform to mainstream standards. “It’s crazy how I’m still here. Fucked up but it’s crazy how I still care.”

A Killer 7 audio clip sets the scene for Cloud’s most unexpected performance yet. Say I’m Wrong is equally intense as it is transparent. He drops his usual bravado and nearly breaks down in the process. He speaks on feeling distant from the world while trying to give as much as he can through his art. This was a catharsis in audio form.

Most rappers rely on antics and materialism to get their voice heard. Jonathan Cloud wants to embrace his humanity and viability as an artist. And despite his abrasive and arrogant demeanor throughout most of the EP, he knows when to pull back and not go on full fledged power trips, showcasing this on the final tracks. Eaten Alive isn’t for everybody, though. While the music isn’t abstract or too experimental, it’s definitely not for the faint of heart.