23 April, 2013@10:24 am
It’s no coincidence that Major Lazer’s Free The Universe and Snoop
Dogg’s Lion’s Major Lazer produced reggae record, Reincarnated, are being released within a week of one another. At the helm of both of these projects is Diplo, the forward thinking, genre-defying producer who moonlights as one of the country’s top paid DJ’s, while making strange combinations like Afrojack, Chris Brown, and Busta Rhymes work (“Look At Me Now”). So naturally, with Diplo magically making square pegs fit into round holes, there’s obviously hopes that audiences will intersect, much like the sound of a Major Lazer show.
But as a whole, Free The Universe and Reincarnated couldn’t be more different from one another. Sure, both are rooted in reggae, but each select different sub-genres for their core sound. Major Lazer’s album is a non-stop, fun party record, while Snoop’s is better for a night home on the couch, with a remote and a box of big blunts.
Many parts of Free The Universe have already gained anthemic status (despite 2011′s “Original Don” being curiously missing), such as the dubstep powered, Johnny Osbourne freaking “Jah No Partial” (w/ Flux Pavilion), the moombah-bomb “Watch Out For This (Bumaye)” (w/ Busy Signal, The Flexican, FS Green), or the already classic “Get Free” (w/ Amber of Dirty Projectors). Free The Universe successfully builds on top of this blueprint, with raucous party starters like “Jet Blue Jet” (feat. Leftside, GTA, Razz, & Biggy) or “Wind Up”, which finds Elephant Man and Opal naturally settling into the more electronically driven Major Lazer sound. Things are balanced out with more laid back selections like the catchy “Jessica” (feat. Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend) or “Keep Cool” w/ Shaggy and Winter Gordon.
The only track that doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the record is Wyclef’s “Reach For The Stars”, sounding much more like something on one of Jean’s lesser popular albums, than that of the genre-bending Major Lazer sound. Other than that, the album plays solidly throughout, almost like a electronic / dancehall tinged equivalent of a Gorillaz LP, with multiple surprises about. It’s almost best to listen to this album without looking at the tracklist first, and let those guest appearances bring a smile to your face when they happen. (Cue: “Bubble Butt”).
While this album is proof that Diplo is a producer with a finely tuned ear, with the ability to bring the best out in his collaborators, things don’t fare quite as well on Snoop’s Reincarnated. The prospect of Snoop making a full album about weed is not that far of a stretch, but going full on Rastafarian might be a tougher bud for some to smoke. Naturally, these two records’ close release window has Free The Universe setting the stage for Reincarnated, but the Major Lazer LP steals the show like an overzealous opening DJ. The other way to look at it though, is that if Free The Universe is the party, Reincarnated is the after-party.
As stated at the beginning of this album, Snoop’s motivation for his transformation…er, reincarnation… into Snoop Lion is to move beyond the negativity and violence and to… promote world peace? Take it how you will, but Snoop’s turned over a new leaf since “Murder Was The Case”, as songs like “Lighters Up” and “No Guns Allowed” call for a cease fire, in the wake of endless gang violence, whether here, or off in some far away land. These tracks take a mellower pace than the dancehall bangers found on Free The Universe, yet this lack of variety seems to make everything run together. “Here Comes The King” and “So Long” seem like honest efforts at making some peace loving reggae music, but the end result seems like it will be met with a collective “ho-hum” from his usual audience.
There are a few tracks that do disrupt the album’s monotony with varying results. “Fruit Juice” is by far the album’s most original track; a dancehall duet with Mr. Vegas, as the two profess their love for “Sweet sap, knees berry, cantaloupe, soup sop /Pineapple, mango [their] taste buds tangle”. On the flipside of that coin, the EDM-infused “Get Away”, doesn’t fare as well, and can be added to a stack of similar songs that today’s rappers will look back on one day and ask “What we’re we thinking?” Finally, the closing crossover cut, “Ashtrays & Heartbreaks” (feat. Miley Cyrus) isn’t as bad as it sounds on paper (and has nothing to do with her father’s “Akey Breaky Heart”), and shows potential for Miley’s own reincarnation, however you might feel about it.
The release of Free The Universe and Reincarnated back-to-back was a smart marketing move, and will undoubtedly inspire fans to check for both releases, despite how wildly different they might be. Major Lazer’s entry will easily find it’s way onto many year-end lists, yet Snoop’s Vice produced Reincarnated documentary may prove far more compelling than the album itself.
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