Nightman Listens To – Lil Baby – My Turn (2020 Series)!

Greetings, Glancers! I now anticipate that my reviews of the best albums of 2020 will be complete around 2030, with me posting roughly two each year. I know I’m slow, it’s just that I like jumping from thing to thing. Which isn’t great for anyone who’s following or anticipating any particular series. Forgiveness, please.

But I have a new one for you today! Some chump who made the decision to call himself ‘Lil Baby’. I can’t fucking stand anyone who puts ‘Lil’ in their name. Who does that? And there’s so many of them. Don’t. Don’t do that. It’s not cute. It’s not clever. It’s not anything beyond a guarantee that I’ll never listen to anything you make and ridicule you without any evidence to support what I’m saying, and I won’t even care.

In spite of the above biased nonsense, I am here today to listen to Lil Baby’s My Turn. As he so shrewdly predicted back when he wrote this album, it is now his turn to be heard and reviewed by me. It goes without any glimmer of hyperbole to say that me posting about him is the single most significant moment of his life thus far, and that everything will be downhill. In many ways he is fortunate to have the opportunity of gaining my attention for the briefest of moments, to have his turn. After all, my time is limited and there’s only so much music I can listen to. He may even gain a new fan.

At the time of writing, I know nothing about him. He may not even be a ‘he’. But I’m assuming he is. And I’m assuming this will be some sort of hip hop album, not a genre I pretend to be educated in. Outside of Public Enemy and Eminem and a bunch of random singles from the last 40 years, I know next to nothing. Maybe he’ll convert me. Maybe I’ll end up making a Youtube React channel – Metal Fan Reacts To Hip Hop – the opposite of all of that junk that’s already out there. Or maybe it’ll be crap and I’ll hate it, which seems more likely. By the time we jump to the next paragraph, I’ll have listened to the album several times.

Lil Baby: My Turn Album Review | Pitchfork

Before we get into the meat of the album, such as it is, let’s talk about that album artwork. To its credit, it doesn’t exactly scream Hip Hop. It looks like a classic piece of art, a pastoral piece depicting goats (lambs?) frolicking on rocks beside the sea. Except some modern dude has been pasted into the middle of it. Something to do with the old clashing with the new? The streets meeting the country? Escapism? Peace? It’s eye-catching. Good cover. None of what it conveys comes across in the album.

Lyrically, it could be cynically argued that it’s a checklist of Rap cliches, with opener Get Ugly covering all the bases; coming from the hood, being poor, hustling, getting rich, material goods, gold diggers, haters, name-dropping, mocking others for having less, etc. It’s embarrassing when someone who knows as little about the genre as I do could have guessed that each and every one of these would come up – and little else. It’s hard to latch on to or appreciate any themes when it’s all the same shtick we’ve heard a billion times. It’s difficult to care about any of it when every other rapper has been telling the same stories since day 1. There’s nothing new and nothing unique about how it’s written or delivered.

As limited as the range of subject matter is, the delivery is done with pace and skill. The guy seems talented to someone like me with little experience of the genre. It’s unfortunate that the voice, when not buried under auto-tune, is either whining or mumbling. It’s a far cry from the clarity and depth of Chuck D, the satirical vitriol of Eminem, or even the crisp, unavoidable delivery of Ice T, Tupac, or Dre. But those guys are from another era. Maybe this just how we do now.

On the less cynical side, I’m at least aware that Rap lyrics have plenty of poetic techniques which don’t really appear in other genres. I couldn’t tell you what they’re called or how to differentiate from them because when someone tries to explain them to me I usually fade to grey and start thinking about boobs instead. But I know they exist. Trying to read the lyrics off the screen doesn’t work like it does in a rock or pop song. The syntax is all ‘wrong’. Lines rhyme unconventionally, there’s heavy use of slang, possibly personal usage of, abbreviations of, and changes to existing slang, and plenty of what (in my slang) we would call Shleggin. Bitch, I ain’t ’bout to ‘splain that. If that’s what you’re in to, if you enjoy staying in your lane and not being challenged, then this is a perfectly apt and uninspiring effort.

We’re just going to have to live with Auto Tune at this point. I don’t instantly hate it. It’s another way to express yourself. But how is it being used here? Why make the decision to use it? It doesn’t seem like a creative decision. It seems more like following a crowd. It seems like you’re afraid of your own voice, like you don’t believe in your own talent or that you’re admitting your voice is crap, so you need to wrap it in digitized shrouds. How would it sound without Autotune? Prove me wrong. Have the balls to show yourself. I guarantee peope will respect you more for it. Rapping, singing, performing is a talent. Not everyone can do it. It’s exposing. If you’re going to be a performer, then be honest, be real, don’t hide.

Beyond the autotune, the vocals are monotone. Regular glancers will know I thrive on emotion and melody in music. I can tolerate a monotone, emotionless approach to vocals if the surrounding music is powerful, or if the lyrics have something vital to say. The lyrics are the same old shite, so we can check that off the list. The music on the other hand, is good. There are a lot of positives in the musical approach and the production. On a personal level the beats are too prominent. I get that most hip-hop fans will be looking for that beat and rank it higher than I would. As prominent as the beats are, they’re repetitive, feel cheap, and are the weakest part of the overall production.

The underlying music deserves better. It creates a sense of threat and paranoia. That darker vibe created by the faux orchestra does set the album aside from most hip-hop efforts I have heard. The best moments of the album are when the music is allowed to breathe, free of cheap beats, free of mumbling vocals. The vocals and autotune brings things down – autotune has a childish tag attached to it like stink. You can’t maintain threat or quality when you’re being childish. Your attempts at being serious are dismissed.

The whole album is very consistent, in tone, in quality. This has a downside – it’s an hour long. 20 tracks. There’s no need for the album to be this long. There’s a much stronger 12 track album in year. What would you cut? The songs are so interchangeable that it really wouldn’t matter – you wouldn’t lose anything by cutting any songs, and you’d be left with a more manageable, restrained whole. It just keeps going, song by song with little variance outside of a couple of more chilled songs or those with an interesting intro, such as Emotionally Scarred or the backing piano in Sum 2 Prove.

A fairly sorry effort then. We’ve heard it all before, from more talented people, from one hit wonder chart hacks, from the early 80s all the way through to today. It’s a poor reflection of today’s music and audiences if this is ranked as one of the best albums of the year. It’s an album with no surprises, nothing to say, nothing to hear, and little to recommend it. There’s an interesting approach to the music, but it’s clawed back by a litany of cliches and crowd-following platitudes that anything positive is picked clean off the bones.


Sales: 4. There’s no escaping the success of the album, going 4 times platinum in the US. It was apparently ‘the most consumed album of 2020’ in the US too, whatever that means. Whether those sales last over time, we’ll see.

Chart: 4. It made to the top of the charts, twice, and stayed in the Top Ten for months. Around the world – less successful.

Critical: 4. Mostly positive, made many end of year lists, but plenty of vocal detractors too.

Originality: 2. I don’t think you can go higher than 3 here. Admittedly, I’m not an expert on the genre and maybe this did change the game. But rating it against other albums I have heard in the genre, it’s noticeably weaker on all accounts. I would give it a 1, but the music kicks it to a 2.

Influence: 2. No idea. I can’t imagine something so bland and unoriginal and similar to everything else would be very influential.

Musical Ability: 3. Sure.

Lyrics: 2. It’s the same crap we’ve heard in any chart friendly Hip Hop album ever.

Melody: 2. Vocally, it’s a 1. Musically, there are a few interesting moments and rhythms, but nothing you’re going to remember.

Emotion: 1. Any emotion is drowned out by the monotone and autotune approach.

Lastibility: 3. People who like this sort of thing will surely keep listening.

Vocals: 2. Not great. Objectively bad. Flow, is that what we call it? That’s fine, but outside of the rhythm of delivery, by any of the vocalists, it’s poor stuff.

Coherence: 3. The album holds together well. I could go 4 here, except there’s a minimum of five songs too many.

Mood: 2. A shorter album and a less monotone approach would have pushed this up. There’s the makings of a solid, ominous mood.

Production: 3. I would have gone 4 if not for the focus on and cheapness of the beats, and the repeated sticky keys noises.

Effort: 3. I’m sure everyone involved tried their lil hearts out.

Relationship: 1. How do I, as a white, 30 something male from Northern Ireland who grew up in a relatively affluent area of a literal warzone and ignored it all by listening to pop, rock, and metal music relate to this? Not at all.

Genre Relation: 4. For better or worse, it sounds like everything else.

Authenticity: 3. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. It all sounds wanky to me, but I’m sure he means it.

Personal: 1. One of the worst albums I’ve heard in my 2020 journey so far. Nothing here I’d choose to listen to again.

Miscellaneous: 2. It’s a nice piece of cover artwork.

Total: 51/100

Let us know in the comments what you think of My Turn!

Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP

*Originally written in 2004

Marshall Mathers.jpg

Progressing from Guns’N’Roses as `The World’s Most Dangerous Band’, Eminem burst into middle class homes across the world as `The World’s Most Dangerous Musician’. His first album was vulgar, crass, offensive, full of foul language and obscene lyrics, it covered taboo subjects, and was full of violent imagery involving fights, drugs, and guns. Naturally it sold millions and terrified parents and politicians everywhere. The critics failed to see the underlying reasons for the success; it was clever, full of energy and invention, and packed with great music. The Blond rapper from Detroit had a lot to live up to for his second album, not that he cared, and with The Marshall Mathers LP he created a monster, surpassing his first in every way- it is shocking in its violence, hilarious in its unashamed attack on celebrity, musically intense and original, and is easily one of the albums of the decade.

`PSA 2000′ opens the album in similar style to the Slim Shady LP. It sets the tone for the rest of the album with Eminem’s trademark humour and attitude coming through. For those who don’t know it is a spoken word announcement proclaiming how he doesn’t care if you hate his album

`Kill You’ has an ominous tone throughout with it’s dark, yet funky bass and screamed vocals. It covers a multitude of topics deriding those who criticize him, especially those who see him as a violent influence to their kids. Naturally he responds by saying he will kill them. Lyrically it is much angrier than anything in the first album- the dark side of fame has struck him and he raps about the hypocrisy of radio stations, TV shows etc whose ratings are bad so they invite him on expecting controversy. This is a strong first song which sets the darker tone of the album, with only subtle hints at humour 6 foot underneath.

`Stan’ needs no explaining as it was one of the biggest hits of the decade. On first listen it was a revelation- a brilliantly clever story, flawlessly written lyrics and music, it’s haunting chorus which blends seamlessly into each verse. The story of a disgruntled and psychotic fan going too far again shows the down side of fame, how becoming an idol brings shadowy responsibilities that you either don’t want or release you had until it was too late. Unfortunately as it became such a big hit thanks to certain big Radio stations with 1 in the title who played it roughly 48 times a day it lacks the impact it once had. Of course these radio stations played a severely censored version and on top of this Dido inexplicably became popular. Her song which was sampled in Stan is bland and poor when heard on its own, but as part of Stan it works effectively. Now that her song has been played to death it unfortunately gives a second knife in the back of Eminem’s epic.

`Paul’ is another funny spoken insert, featuring someone’s reaction to hearing the album. At only a few seconds long it is throwaway material but still great fun and the album doesn’t sound whole if who skip it.

`Who Knew’ is a more juvenile version of Kill You, mixing funny lyrics and ideas with satirical and harsh ones. Again he explains his hatred of the hypocrisy of American parents, media, and politicians who have blamed him for everything to murder, suicide, and the decline of the American youth. He explains his side in a clever way, replacing the elegance of rhetoric with his own unique blend of madness. Musically it is fairly simple, with a slight bass beat in the background and some synth style strings which are reminiscent of, ironically, Psycho.

`Steve Berman’ continues the spoken interludes and features a record company producer/suit who hates the album. As always it is done in a jaunty style with some funny background music as Eminem sets himself up as a `me against the world’ figure.

`The Way I Am’ is as close to soul baring and honesty as we get on the album, another angry attack on fame, those who hate him and those who love him a little too much. He spits out the words with venom and typically doesn’t hold back. Musically it is as melodic as he gets, with piano and bass mixing together and some church bells in the choruses which add a dark tint.

`The Real Slim Shady’ was the first big hit off the album, similar to what My Name Is in commercial sensibility and melodic and lyrical content. A circus like loop repeats throughout, the chorus is a huge sing along favourite, and the verses are a hilarious destruction of celebrity. He speaks obviously of the split personality which people see in him, and of the thousands of imitators who started to appear, and his anger over being mentioned by other vacuous types now because he’s famous.

`Remember Me’ features various guest rappers, mostly rapping about themselves and their own experiences. This is more typical rap than Eminem’s own work on the album, features great lyrics but fairly bland stoner noise. Eminem’s verse is the best of the lot and raises the song by virtue of his delivery. There is more name dropping, more screaming, and more goodness.

`I’m Back’ sounds quite commercial with its memorable lead line and catchy chorus. Again the target is fame and the hounds which follow whoever is the flavour of the month. Again he dismisses all the nonsense, and injects plenty of humour into the lyrics with various imaginings and one-liners.

`Marshall Mathers’ stands out with Kim and Stan as a classic- musically and lyrically it wreaks of brilliance and is swamped with emotion. The confessional lyrics speak of further pitfalls of success- how family members he never knew now come to see him. He covers, Axl Rose style, many objects of his rage from boy/girl groups, useless celebrities and whoever else stupidly falls under his radar. Of course it is all tongue in cheek, but you can taste the annoyance from his relationships with his mother and wife and accusations of selling out now that he is `a big star’.

`Ken Kaniff’ is the final spoken word piece, and the best/worst depending on which way your wind blows. It involves a sexual encounter between 2 characters which ends badly when one mentions Eminem. Juvenile and funny the first time, but not integral to the album.

`Drug Ballad’ has a funky bass line helped along by some female vocals throughout. Eminem speaks of his love of drugs and booze which has become an addiction. He speaks of various experiences as well as what will happen/is happening if he doesn’t stop. The chorus is as catchy as the singles on the album, the lyrics are clever although will be disagreeable to most.

`Amityville’ isn’t one of the best songs on the album. Lyrically it is tongue in cheek, but this time it sounds more like it is trying to offend just for the sake of it. Rather than targeting something genuine and slicing it apart, Bizarre and Eminem find everything taboo and recite like a love of exploitation. Musically it isn’t very memorable, although the ending has some nice additions.

`Bitch Please II’ gets back on the musical tracks with some nice background sounds and catchy melodies. The guests (Dre, Snoop) are more effective this time, the lyrics are more direct with each member adding their own flavour. Silly in parts covering the pride of gangsta stories but with all the humourous content you can’t possibly take the content seriously. As with the rest of the album though, the style and music must be seriously respected.

`Kim’ is the best track on the album, absolutely brutal in content and delivery, heavy metal in style in attitude, emotion, pain, and anger dropping from every word. Every word is shrieked in a demented way, shivers will fly up and down your spine, the chorus is catchy, the guitars and piano are haunting, and the words are utterly horrific. Basically he imagines taking his wife out of the city and murdering her after she cheated on him, the lyrics delivered with frightening authenticity. There is no humour in stark contrast to the rest of the album, it is basically 6 minutes of harrowing rage ending with the sounds of a body being dragged away. Within a few seconds you will forget that you are listening to a song; one of the best songs of the decade.

`Under The Influence’ features D12 rapping along to one of the most memorable melodies on the album, and an extremely infectious chorus. The lyrics are on the `lighter’ side, full of vulgarity and humour and as with the rest of the album pretty offensive if you don’t realize the tongue in cheek nature.

`Criminal’ is another song with South Park-esque humour (and references). Eminem raps about the criminal life that certain areas of society believes he is part of. Murder, bank robberies, kidnapping etc are all flown through with jolly glee, but the message is all about freedom of speech versus conservatism and red faced commentators who have never actually listened to the music.

Eminem’s second album was a huge chart success as well as being a critical favourite. On the flip side the inevitable controversy was huge with celebrities, parents, politicians, fellow rappers, women and gay rights’ groups all ganging together in disgust. There is plenty here to offend, but whether or not it should not be listened to is a futile question given that there is so much to enjoy. It is undoubtedly one of the most important and best albums of the decade bringing hard edged rap into the mainstream, giving a well deserved slap in the face to watered-down music of all genres, and a wake up call to all artists to raise their game or get left behind. Hypnotically weaving its way through the various part’s of Eminem’s psyche it is best to simply relax and enjoy. If you are easily offended you won’t listen and probably won’t be reading this; for those who are not will be treated to an album full of force and aggression, but with a lot of heart, humour, wit, and skill too.