Hello, I’m MusiCommentator, and summer is starting to come to a close. Well, at least for me it is. I have school starting back up in the middle of August, and I have a vacation coming up soon, so I’m going to have to go back to my original blogging schedule soon, but I’ll make a post on that later. For now, let’s get in our last bit of summer fun with 88rising’s new album.
88rising is an American mass media company that specifically focuses on Asian-American hip-hop/R&B. Their biggest monetary outlet is their record label, where big names like Rich Brian and Joji are currently signed. Other artists on the label are Higher Brothers, Keith Ape, AUGUST 08, and NIKI. The label has been picking up steam over the past couple of years with the popularity of some of their headlining artists, and it’s all coming to a head with this collaborative project “Head In The Clouds”.
I am actually a huge fan of 88rising! I started listening to Joji when he came out with his hit single “Will He”. I explored more of his discography, then looked deeper into the other artists on the label. I found myself becoming a strong fan of Rich Brian and AUGUST 08, and the more I look into the artists, the more I find myself liking them. Needless to say, I was hyped when I heard this project was being released, so now I am here reviewing it. Let’s get into this!
#1: La Cienega (with Joji & NIKI)
Featuring two of the label’s best singers, the album opens on a weak note. The vocals are done superbly by Joji and NIKI–I was actually surprised at how good Joji was–but the lyrics are not that cohesive. The verse’s lyrics are kind of gloomy, with NIKI describing the scene of an afterparty and Joji reminiscing on lost love, but the chorus feels more lyrically lighthearted, leaving an awkward contrast between the verses and chorus. Sonically, too, it sounds pretty weak, so while it could have been a lot worse, this wasn’t the best opener.
#2: Red Rubies (with Rich Brian, Yung Bans, Higher Brothers, Yung Pinch, & Don Krez)
Going into the second track, this large cast of performers gives us a song that ends up boiling down to a basic trap banger. It’s not really bad, but the lyrics could have definitely been tweaked. I wasn’t expecting much from Yung Bans or Yung Pinch, but I was a little disappointed by Rich Brian and MaSiWei of Higher Brothers. Rich Brian didn’t even try to rhyme in his first four bars, and MaSiWei’s lyrics and flows are pretty lacking compared to what I have heard him do before. Don Krez, fortunately, has a nice bridge right after Brian’s verse, and he sounds really good on it. I would not call this a complete throwaway, and I like it more than “La Cienega”, but it’s not a track I’ll be going back to often.
#3: Swimming Pools (with Higher Brothers & 03 Greedo)
“Swimming Pools” is another trap banger, but I like it a lot more than “Red Rubies”. First of all, the techno synths in the beat are awesome. Not only do they sound cool, but the note pattern it has makes the track sound unique. Mix that with the 808s and drums and you have an awesome beat. MaSiWei and DZ’s chemistry is undeniable in their chorus and verse, as they nail the back-and-forth flow they do. I’m not as big of a fan of Melo and Psy P’s verse, for I’m not a big fan of their voices, but they kill their flow nonetheless. 03 Greedo was a welcome addition for the third verse, with his voice fitting in perfectly with the beat. This is definitely a track I’m returning to.
#4: Peach Jam (with Joji & BlocBoy JB)
Acting as the first summer jam on the album, I was originally not a fan of the song, but I’ve come to like it a ton. Joji experiments with his voice on this, which I didn’t like at first. However, I love his contributions to the track now, as it’s hard to experiment with your voice like that. BlocBoy JB also does a great job. I talked about him in my 2018 XXL Freshman Class RANKED post, and if you listen to his music, he’s really not one to change up much, but he tries some new flows and topics on this song. While his singing voice is not very pleasing, I praise him for sticking with the song’s topic for his whole verse and now going off on a tangent like he could have, so this track is a keeper for me.
#5: Midsummer Madness (with Joji, Rich Brian, Higher Brothers, & AUGUST 08)
The first single and most popular track off the album, this is one of the best summer jams of the year. Each artist takes on the common summer jam topic of talking about a summer fling that will probably be regretted in the future, and each artist is amazing at their part. Joji’s infectious chorus is performed phenomenally, as he hits every note in his upper register, and the verses from the rest of the artists are awesome, too, as each artist has a different style, giving the song a nice sense of variety. There is just no way to not like this track.
#6: Plans (with NIKI & Vory)
Continuing the string of summer bops, NIKI and Vory make a track about loving one another (presumably) and not wanting to be separated from each other. NIKI has so much charisma in her voice that it’s hard not to like her, and the two fit well together on the track. The fun beat fits well with the subject matter, and much like “Midsummer Madness”, the chorus is hard to get out of your head.
#7: History (with Rich Brian)
Being one of the few songs on here with only one artist on the track, Rich Brian uses this song to talk about an old love that won’t be put back together. With his flow and beats, the track sounds like a leftover from his album earlier this year “Amen”, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. There are some decent lines, like “Eye for an eye makes the whole world go blind”, but I don’t feel as strongly for this song as I do some of the others. Still good, though.
#8: Lover Boy 88 (with Phum Viphurit & Higher Brothers)
This song is a remix of Phum Viphurit’s “Lover Boy”. It’s the first time I have heard of him, so when I heard his voice, I was astounded. He almost sounds like Frank Sinatra. He is absolutely one of the best singers featured on this album, hands down. MaSiWei and DZ also do a great job with their verses, providing some heartfelt lyrics through the translations. DZ shows his singing chops, as well, and all these elements make for a perfect song (besides for that intro. That intro is annoying).
#9: Poolside Manor (with AUGUST 08 & NIKI)
At this point in the album, this song comes off as the most sensual one, talking about romantic *ahem* at a “poolside manor”. NIKI and AUGUST 08’s vocals are actually layered on top of each other on this one, so each one is singing the entire song with the other. This is a tactic you don’t hear used too often on radio, so I have to give them some style points. There are also some great lyrics, with the third verse being my favorite. I mean, how could you not like the lyric “Hump day feels like the weekend”? It’s great!
#10: Beam (with Rich Brian & Playboi Carti)
88rising gives us a break from the summer jams to give us another trap banger, and I have to say, I don’t really like this track. The production is fine, as I’m a fan of pretty much anything Southside produces, but the performances from Rich Brian and Playboi Carti are serviceable at best. Playboi Carti’s voice on here is absolutely terrible, and his voice doesn’t do much to help his case. Rich Brian kind of phones it in, too, with his only good line being “That b*tch flat, B.O.B.”. I’m probably not going to be listening to this track that much anymore after this.
#11: Let It Go (with Higher Brothers & BlocBoy JB)
This is easily the best track to dance to on this album. The clanging drums and bass will undeniably make you want to move. I was surprised by BlocBoy JB on this one, as he does even better than he did on “Peach Jam”. His voice works really well on this beat, and he’s usually not one to try figurative language, but he has some similes/metaphors that actually work (“I be pumpin’ gas like Texaco”, “Headshot a n*gga just to see his thoughts”, “You know I’m gettin’ green I’m a Celtics fan”, etc). Higher Brothers match his level of energy throughout the track, too. Melo is the only one whose contributions I don’t like, but this song is golden nonetheless.
#12: Disrespectin (with Rich Brian, Higher Brothers, & AUGUST 08)
88rising comes through with another trap banger, and this is arguably one of the best trap tracks on the album. The beat is incredible, the bass matching perfectly with the spattering drums. AUGUST 08 kills his chorus, with the synthesized “woo’s” in the background being a nice touch. Rich Brian comes with one of the best flows I’ve heard him spit. It’s surely his best flow on the album. MaSiWei and DZ do another great back-and-forth flow again, and this is probably the only song on here where I am not annoyed by Melo’s voice. Everyone on here just did such a great job that I have to love this track.
#13: Warpaint (with NIKI)
Being the second track with just one artist on here, NIKI talks about how she is sad she doesn’t have a lover in the verses, but provides a powerful chorus that boldly states she doesn’t need to be with someone to be happy. As I said, the chorus is very powerful and can be motivational if you look at it in the right way. NIKI’s vocals match the power of the beat, being quiet and loud when she needs to be. I fell in love with this track the first time I heard it, and I still love it now.
#14: I Want In (AUGUST 08 & NIKI)
This is the second duet from AUGUST 08 and NIKI on this track, and the two use this time to talk about a love built on uncertainty, but they want to be a part of it. The production is similar to “Poolside Manor”, but it’s peppier. The vocal performances are good, too, but I probably like “Poolside Manor” better. Maybe it’s because it came first on the track list, but this song just doesn’t impact me as much as that one did. I can still say, though, that I like this one a lot.
#15: Japan 88 (with Famous Dex, Keith Ape, & Verbal)
Another remix of a popular song, 88rising decides to remix Famous Dex’s hit “Japan”. I’m not a fan of the original, but I will say that the chorus is catchy. That’s been around for a while, though; it’s the verses that are new. Verbal is really good on this track, with his flow staying consistently smooth throughout it. Compared to him, Keith Ape was a bit underwhelming, as his flow and lyrics are worse than Verbal’s. I kind of feel bad for Keith because I feel like he can do more, but this is the only song he is featured in on this album, so I won’t be able to see if he can be better right now.
#16: Nothing Wrong (with Higher Brothers, HARIKARI, & Goldlink)
Coming to the end of the album, Higher Brothers give an enthusiastic performance over an electro beat produced by HARIKARI. Their verses are mainly in Chinese, but they all flow well and sound pretty good on this track. Even Melo and Psy P sound nice. Goldlink’s voice fits in well with Higher Brothers, but much like “History”, this is a song that I like, but don’t feel too strongly about like some of the others.
#17: Head In The Clouds (with Joji)
Acting as the last track, the title track, and the third track with only one performer, Joji ends this album on a softer note. The lyrics paint a darker picture than other songs on this album, but with the darker times the world finds itself in, it fits perfectly with 2018’s summer. The song is about getting lost from the darkness, and that’s a perfect portrayal of what a summer jam should be. Joji’s vocal performance is amazing as usual, and the guitars and synths on the chorus really bring it all together. All in all, this was a perfect way to end this album.
Not every amazing album has to be telling some kind of deep message. 88rising’s “Head In The Clouds” was not trying to be anything more than it was: a fun album filled with trap bangers and summer bops. There are so many great things about this album. All of the 88rising artists really stepped up their game for this album. Joji, NIKI, and AUGUST 08 experimented with different vocal stylings and production to classify themselves as diverse artists. I wasn’t a big fan of Higher Brothers’s previous EP “Journey To The West”, but their wider range of flows and language on this project makes me want to listen to more of them. Rich Brian is one of the only 88rising artists on here who really didn’t step up their game, per se, but he was pretty much consistently good throughout the project, so I can’t complain. The production was awesome, the artists were awesome, and the grand majority of the songs on here are ones I will return to in the future. What more can I say? This is a phenomenal album.
If I had to pick a best track, it’d be “Midsummer Madness”. It’s the one I’m most familiar with right now since it was the first single, so my favorite track on here might change, but I can really jam to this track. My least favorite track is “Beam”. It is one of the couple tracks I don’t like on here. Even with decent production, Playboi Carti’s contributions are unfavorable, and Rich Brian felt like he didn’t try on his verse.
Overall, I’d give this album a 9 out 10. Do yo agree?
Thank you for reading my “Head In The Clouds” review. If you liked this review, make sure to follow my website, Twitter, and Instagram, like this post, and be sure to check in to read my future reviews. Also, if you have a song or album you would like to see reviewed, tell me in the comments. Until then, keep listening to good music! I know I will.