Thursday, July 28, 2011

Leap Year - Hoodie Allen (Full Analysis)

Hoodie Allen is an up-and-coming MC from New York City with a taste for 90's beats, a chill flow, and a remarkable work ethic. He released the 11 track Pep Rally Mixtape just a mere 10 months ago and he is not done yet. On Tuesday, at 12:00pm EST, the new album Leap Year was released for free download on his personal website

As a long time fan of his music and a follower of his Twitter account, I was downloading at 12:00:01 pm. Now I have to be completely honest about my interest in Hoodie's music and progress as an artist. First off, he is an alumni of my new school, so that in itself merits some interest. But beyond that, this is a guy that studied business, not music, and had a post-college job at Google which he then left for a music career. That is pretty much item by item the way I want to proceed into a music career. Studying engineering is amazing and it is a great career to fall back on if the whole music thing doesn't work out, but seeing artists like Hoodie Allen make it big is both a) inspiring and b) motivating for folks like me who are just getting started. Alright, so enough about me and more about the album itself.

This album overall in a word - smooth. The songs are relaxed and meant to be appreciated for their lyrical depth. Though the superficial take of the album is Hoodie settling into his sound and an overall chill outlook on life, his lyrics reveal an artist aware of his surroundings. He is a man filled with hunger, hope, and a completely unapologetic take on his life and career. An image of a cobra seems suitable to use as juxtaposition - perfectly still, but poised to strike.

Many references to other artists came to mind as I listened to the 13 tracks featured on Leap Year. Among them included Lil' Wayne, Kayne West, Childish Gambino, B.O.B., and I felt even a hint of Biggie Smalls in the song lyrics and overall flow. Yet with all the comparisons I could possibly make to other major artists, there is one very important fact that must be stated - Hoodie Allen has his own distinct sound. For every artist this is the first, and often the hardest step, in their career. Too many times the careers and albums of various performers of the same genre mesh together and their individual output becomes indiscernible. With this album though, it is clear that HA has found his own niche in the hip-hop genre, one where he can be both recognized and ready to develop new styles to incorporate into his work. 

The best part of this album is the clear effort to make each song a complete musical package. From the instrumentals to the mixing, from the lyrics to the vocal harmonies, each song aims to not be fully understood on the first hearing. Rather, they are to be listened to again and again, and appreciated once you get a glimpse of all the things that each song brings to the table. It is a dangerous game, for many lack the patience to revisit a song that didn't floor them in the first five seconds. However, it did pay off with yours truly, who was determined to hear every little detail and analyze the crap out of every track. 

After several listening sessions and typing away on my Notes App on my phone (I guess my texting speed helps out with developing these music reviews), these are the tracks I found to both enjoyable and smack full of musical prowess: 
  • The Chase Is On
  • Push You Away
  • Stick and Stones
  • #WhiteGirlProblems
  • Dreams Up
  • Moon Bounce
The Chase is On is the musical expression of the moment when a person is feeling the perfect "buzzed" state. They wrap their arms around friends and pose to take the picture that will inevitably end up on Facebook, detailing the wild weekend adventures that were had. 

The track Push You Away  was both surprisingly dark and sounded like a sincere heartache in Hoodie's otherwise dominant character. I enjoy how HA is bringing out his vocals more and more. He can rap, but has a hidden ace up his sleeve with his light but raw sounding vocals. 

As the album went along I found myself thinking "yes, I know you can do chill and smooth. I have that before, but what something with attitude?". My wish was granted with both Sticks and Stones and #WhiteGirlProblems. My initial reaction was, don't laugh, "WORD". How else could I put it? Both of these songs were fun, refreshing, and with plenty of attitude that I immediately added both in my playlist labeled Driving Music

I had already reviewed Dreams Up before, which you can check out here, but just to reiterate - yes, this song is still well done with its hope-filled lyrics and catchy chorus. 

The final recommendation is Moon Bounce, and this track received the "Hardest Song of the Album" automatically after the first listen. And that would be hard from in definition #10, "really tight. cool and in style", from Urban Dictionary and not definition #1. I had high hopes for this song even before the release of the download. I had asked Hoodie about his upcoming album on Twitter and this is what I got:

That's right, Music Interviewer of 2011 right here
After the first 10 seconds I could see why. The jazzy sound worked well with the lyrics, but it was the different time signatures that must have taken a lot of work to figure out, record, and make the transitions smooth.

All in all, it was an enjoyable album and was on par with the Pep Rally Mixtape. I am still waiting for a song to beat out You Are Not A Robot as my favorite Hoodie Allen track in both strong beats and even killer lyrics. My main fear with HA's music is also my favorite part of his work - his unique sound. I admire how HA has honed his specific take of hip-hop music, but I hope he will incorporate other sounds and tackle the challenge of evolving his music. I do not want to hear a similar template for various songs, repeating what works until it is bland and depleted of its punch. That being said, I liked the tracks on this album that were more forceful and emotion-filled, like arrogance in You're Welcome, than I did the more relaxed songs such as Song for an Actress. Hopefully Hoodie will keep bringing the power to your earbuds in the future. Now, pop in your headphones and listen up to the sound of Hoodie Allen.

Leap Year by Hoodie Allen

Oh yeah, a quick note about the review. I made the effort to detail what I enjoyed from each song for the artist himself. You see, Hoodie tweeted me back when I announced that I finished taking notes on the album and would be working on this review. Take a look:

This means we practically hang out on the weekends...right?

Hopefully both you readers and Hoodie enjoyed it. Let me know what you think below in the comments.