Before I get started, I want to make a few things perfectly clear.
- I consider Shells one of my best friends.
- I would never lie about my opinion of music, especially if it's a friend.
I say this so you all know what to expect of this and that perhaps my bias is too strong here, but not as you would expect. As someone who wrote music/lyrics for the better half of their life, I don't feel it is fair to ever tell an artist a lie about their art. If there is something I do not like about your music, I will say it, especially if you're a friend. I point out that Shells is one of my best friends because it's important to understand that if I am critical in this "review" that I am only being so because I know Shells expects his art to be from his soul. This also is not a forewarning, Shells, so breathe easy good brother. This may also be a long ass review, so...
TL;DR - The art is fucking amazing. Lyrics in the booklet is my shit. I'm in Scorcese's thank you's and that's dope. The music is fucking incredible from front to back!
I have listened to the album twice since it was handed to me on Thursday night. I am currently on a third listen and jotting my thoughts as I go. I wanted to be fair in my review, and I've often felt that the first listen to any song or album is always a unique experience for many reasons. Some of those reasons are that you can over- or under-state the "value" of the project to yourself. I did jot initial thoughts down that I will share, but the actual reviews of the songs/album will be from a few listens.
One of my first impressions from the physical CD copy of the album (go buy yours for the bonus tracks Company, Caesar, and Black Zombie), is the art. I was not at the listening party for the album, so I don't know exactly what Scorcese Shells x Alpha Davis were aiming for with the art, but what I envision from the front and back cover art is that the album isn't just a journey of the mind, but a journey of the consciousness inspired by cultures.
Then we get to my favorite part of the style of the album/case... the booklet. We don't typically buy physical copies of albums anymore in this world. Especially not CD's. And for a long time, CD's came with booklets that had credits, and maybe a few thank you's, and the personality and personable trait ended for anyone who wasn't mentioned inside. My favorite albums growing up would have lyrics (even if just snippets) or handwritten notes, or pictures from touring and recording in the studio.
Again, as someone who wrote music and lyrics for the better part of my life, I enjoy few things musically more than seeing an artist lay out their lyrics. It's one thing to see how a fan writes the lyrics down for websites, it's another thing entirely to see how the artist laid out every line. Shells brought that to the pages of the booklet for AWOGK, and it's something that instantly I connect with and become enamored with, because I can SEE how he expresses his art, rather than just hear it.
Lastly about the art/booklet... appreciate the shout, brother. I've been included in thank you's in album booklets before of people I actually wrote/rapped with, but to get a shout out from someone I haven't rapped or wrote with (yet) is a cool experience.
- HELLO WORLD - Right out of the gate I'm told from the title of the song and the vibe of the track that this is the opener and this album was put together with thought and a vision. Also, right away, Shells' flow is established with a mix of Philly Beans and an aggressive hint of Pimp C, but don't let influence confuse you with imitation.
- CIGARELLO MELODIES - From Hello to Grab Your Vice and enjoy your comfort. But don't get too comfortable. These are the tracks that hold an album together. This one reminds me of Cudi, where it just flows not as a rap song, but something melodic where you're reminded that music can capture every mood.
- DONALD TRUMP STATUS TOO - I'm familiar with Shells' work from before this album, so it fits right in. Especially the way he uses the audio of Trump. To point to the relevancy of Trump in a way we aren't accustomed to, again, playing against our comfort. But it's something the drive in all of us should be able to relate to, even if not on Donald Trump Status.
- 4 AM IN DALLAS - Shells has told me the story of this track in the car on the way to watch a wrestling show, so I'm familiar with the process on this one. This is Shells in HIS comfort zone, lyrically and lyrical content. The rhyme patterns in the first verse can draw you in so deep that you find yourself skipping back to listen over again.
- GALACTUS - Poetic Shells. One of the first times we chilled, Shells was spitting poetry, and that's something that resonates with me because when I used to write, one of my favorite things to do was incorporate a spoken word verse. But even just as the audience here, you have to appreciate the power of a calm tone, especially here where Shells is calling himself Galactus, the Eater of Worlds. There's also a fun breakdown at the end where Shells puts the focus on Alpha & treats it like a guitar solo.
- DUNCAN & GINOBLI - An old-school style drum beat where the basics are the focal point a-la the Duncan & Ginobli Spurs. And I can't stress enough, Shells' tone is so powerful because he's calm. The content says what it needs to say. VodKa jumps in with the same tone, the flow & beat hand-in-hand and there's a couple cool B.I.G.-style flow bars. Another one of those concrete tracks that holds the album together and transitions through the story in each phase.
- BIG - First verse belongs to BIGSPITGAME and the Philly Beans style flow is back here from the start. IDK if that's an intention of BIGSPITGAME but I hope he appreciates that it comes through with the hint. This track is BIG in more than just title. The flow. The beat. The tone. There's an aggression here that, again, transitions. I'm a huge comic book nerd... this track where it is in the album is Avengers in the MCU. Shells backed by the guitar is such a tough section in the song. Sandman comes in and the nods to B.I.G. are evident but Sandman's flow and vibe owns this verse.
- POETRY & GUNS - This is the sipping whiskey song. The "depressant". This one is meant to level you off from BIG. It fits so perfectly in the layout of the album. More poetry, which again, is a personal preference.
- A WORLD ONLY GODS KNOW - The title song. My favorite hook on the whole album. This flow is so similar to a lot of what I wrote myself, so I instantly connect with this track based on that. Shells telling you that you gotta be you no matter what. People are going to see you for you, flaws and all. If you can't relate to that, you don't have a heartbeat.
- DREAMERS THEME - Brian Ennals back again. There's a similarity in the sound to HELLO WORLD beyond just it being Shells & Ennals. It's the kind of subtle callback that you know was intentional, just a slight reminder that you're still in this universe. But the message is more important. You're only going to go as far as your drive will take you. It's a perfect followup to A WORLD ONLY GODS KNOW's message that you just have to be yourself and accept everything that comes with it because you can't hide you from anyone else or yourself in your pursuit of your dreams and success. Sir Michael Rocks joins in on this one and tells you clear as day "It's me how I am and if I rock with you, I rock with you."
- ANGELS - The wordplay here is everything. This track reminds me of Twista's Heartbeat/Adrenaline Rush, and not just because of the vocal effects. The dichotomy presented as a necessary blend, like yin and yang.
- UNTITLED (HELL ON EARTH) - Another flawless segue from track to track and message to message. Filthy Angels bringing Hell on Earth. One of my favorite beats on the whole album. Killer Mike & Pastor Troy both in their element on this one. This track is too tough.
- WHY I HATE MY MAMA - Shells mentioned this one to us on a ride out to Virginia, but I don't think I anticipated what actually went into this track just from hearing him talk about it. The depth to this track is not easy to state. Self-hate projected as hatred for his mom because she loved him no matter what he did and how unfair it is that someone can be such an unselfish being. Taking mom for granted, and all she does is love you. Shells, this one was AMAZING and the emotion here is too powerful.
- GOODBYE LIFE - From HELLO WORLD to GOODBYE LIFE. The credits to the film. The legacy is laid out all over the album and this one wraps it all up. As Big Rube said, "GOODBYE LIFE doesn't mean you saying goodbye to living, What it means is we can no longer accept simply existing." God complex. This whole album is about reaching beyond man-made limitations. Exist as a God where everything is infinite.
I won't harp on the bonus tracks. All I can tell you to do is follow the link above AND BUY the CD so you can listen to them!!!!!
Anyways, to wrap up this review, I more than enjoyed this album. I love it. From beginning to end. This isn't just an "album", it's a project going chapter to chapter. You gotta go through each track to truly appreciate them. And listen again, because Goodbye Life flows back into Hello World, because expansion into the infinite is proportionate.
I mentioned a few times how powerful the calm tone was. And that was something that I discussed with Shells before they released the album. He pointed out that he tried more aggressive tones and it was just overly aggressive and took away from the confidence and power of the whole song at times. And he also said he wanted to use that tone more for when it was necessary so it had a real impact. Safe to say he found the right balance on this one.
Reading back through my thoughts on each song, I feel like I didn't express enough how incredible Alpha Davis' production was on each individual track as well as putting the whole album together so it flows like a great book.
Also, Shells said "keep ya scrutiny"... no need, brother. None to be heard on this one. If I could respectfully offer a critique though, it would be that I know that there's more to you that could have fit seamlessly into this project. But as the saying goes: always leave 'em wanting more. Respect brother.