John Keenan – Late Bloomer – Album Sampler/Singles Review
Just passed the five-year anniversary of the first time we listened to John Keenan’s music…way back in the day, back in ’13 through the album Imagination To The Nation, which we reviewed here at SBS. While it’s easy to point out that these milestones are obviously important to a growing site like ours to add to our street cred…I also like to point out the fact that it isn’t just the next time artists/bands end up dropping a new record that I’m listening. I mean, don’t get me wrong, ya still gotta have jams worth spinning or an album is gonna collect just as much dust on my shelf as any other dud out there – but if I’m on record supportin’ ya here in words – chances are, I’m still listening. In a lot of cases, I’m doing my best to help spread the word to others behind the scenes, or on the shows that we put out where I’m in front of the scenes bringing the music directly to ya. Case in-point, John Keenan’s music was featured on one of the more successful episodes we put out last year when we played his cut “A King Has No Friend” on the SBS Podcast in 2017…coincidence that more people turned out for that show than others? From time to time I can end up saying a few things that are worthwhile…so maybe it was me. Maybe. Maybe it was having music from John Keenan on that episode…we hadn’t done that up til then.
Bottom line is, rest assured, if I’m playing a cut nearly four years later, it’s because an artist/band made an impact. John Keenan fits into that category without a doubt; the relentlessly rhythmic flow of this emcee has a recognizable sound and his signature style of creating memorable hooks was a staple of the music we found all over the album we’d reviewed in the past. From what I’m hearing on this sample of his new record called Late Bloomer, out officially on October 12th, things haven’t changed in that regard.
He’s more dialed-in now perhaps, but let’s be clear – the man’s always had style & skill on display. You can tell his career’s been on the move since we last checked in…there are at least a couple records in between when we first latched onto Keenan’s music with Imagination To The Nation and the upcoming record Late Bloomer, making this new release his fourth official album. But for real – spend a minute or two checking out Keenan’s main website…have a gander at what it looks like when you’ve got everything just as tight online as you do with the music…dude is set up for success! Guy’s got merch, music, videos etc. – it’s all laid out like he means business, and when that’s the case, chances are, he’s doin’ some, feel me? There’s a genuine brand here visually and audibly…a young mogul truly at work.
Now…just so we’re on the same page, know that this record is still about a month away from its release – I just know what I know from what I can hear & see in front of me. The sample I’ve got here gives a glimpse of several points on the new album…I’ve got tracks listed up to number seventeen – so at the very least, I’d expect that the latest Keenan record has got a hefty-sized set-list for y’all to enjoy. With the widespread appeal that his music has always employed through this versatile artist’s ability to bring bars or sing hooks with resounding confidence in both arenas, he sounds like he’s making that magic happen on the mic once again with the songs on Late Bloomer. Reliable as ever whether rapping or singing – you can count on John Keenan to create songs that have massive doses of crossover potential.
As I checked out the fourth cut from his new record as the first experience, “Time Has Faded” revealed that the style we know & love is intact, but the production has noticeably improved. Don’t get me wrong, he was good way back when; he’s still on completely solid ground now with his own identifiable sound that if you’ve been a fan in the past, you’ll instantly latch onto. As for the rest of you out there that might be listening to Keenan for the first time, I’d say that “Time Has Faded” is actually quite a decent intro to what this dude is all about. Effortlessly combining his rhymes with singing & sharp hooks – again, the noticeable improvements in production are making these assets sound bigger & bolder – but credit where credit is due as well, the main man on the mic makes sure to keep the entertainment flowing. He’s roaming around looking for love on “Time Has Faded,” searching for the one & all that, while relating tales of past experiences that didn’t quite work out…themes many of you will relate to. Hooks-wise…they work. I think I’m more addicted to the way he expertly works the verses of this particular tune…but I still wouldn’t deny that each time you hear the main hooks & chorus of “Time Has Faded” that they up becoming more memorable & addictive quickly through repetition. I think for me personally, it was listening to Keenan flex that familiar style & skill throughout the flashy performance he puts into the verse of “Time Has Faded” – that’s where the magic really came through. Dude sounds inspired, the energy is fresh, the beat & music are seriously tight with its combination of killer low-end and bright melody overtop in the chorus, dropping it to the main beat to fuel the verse – the ingredients surrounding John are tight AF, but the star definitely remains the star here – John’s vocals have genuine mix of charisma & charm that’ll hit home with many people out there and undeniably steals the show.
I’m 99.9% sure that the spoken-word comedy you’ll find in the samples on the beginning & end of “Trust These Hoes” is from Bill Burr with just a slight modulation on the sound to make us wonder a bit if that’s who it is for sure…but I don’t think you can disguise the delivery & certain quirks in the way he speaks. And if you’re familiar with Burr’s comedy…you already know he’s one of the most polarizing comics working out there today…bloody hilarious in my own personal opinion. I don’t think he’s always 100% right in all the things he’s said…but pretty damn close…he’s brash & raw for sure – but he’s always got a point of view and he’d likely be the first person to tell ya that even he doesn’t agree with it all the time. Like the comedian, I’d say that John’s probably got a few things that work for & against him on this cut when it comes to how people are going to receive it – especially of course, considering we’re in the #metoo era. I’d probably go beyond that a little bit further and suggest the approach is just a bit dated more than it is potentially harmful. Here’s where you can hear the influence of the music that John’s grown up with as opposed to really using his own perspective to full-effect when it comes to the core concepts…and while it might have a narrower audience as a result, there’s still a large one out there. What’s going to get John around the main elephant in the room of the misogynistic perspective this particular track possesses, is the fact that his hooks remain really hard to resist. I listen to music of all kinds – this stuff rolls right off me and I don’t get offended by it…that being said, I have no doubt that some will…that’s the risk you take with the language used on this track, John already knows that. Do I think he’s got more to say than he is here? Sure. Whether you agree with the words or not, the flow is remarkably solid, has wicked personality, precision, and pace – beat’s minimalist & non-invasive, making it seriously easy to catch everything he’s saying…which for some, will be perfect…for others, tougher. Where I’d say the hardest part for myself as a listener when hearing John go into lyricism with more edge, is just that he naturally sounds like a really nice guy…there’s next to nothing he can do about that; the effect it has on harsher language like referring to ladies as hoes can often come out sounding more like a stylistic choice than a sincere one, know what I mean? So there’s a bit of a disconnect there…and it’s one that he can easily avoid…he’s choosing to take a risk on “Trust These Hoes”…time will tell if it pays off and whether or not it’s the right move. The man on the mic is still just as tight as ever, pivoting & shifting his words with serious skill…he’s dipping into controversial territory here with Burr as the shield on the frontlines to assist in pointing out the fact that he’s not the only one with his point of view.
I also think that, once you hear a track like “We’re Getting By” featuring Empress, that you want a whole lot more of THAT. Almost in complete contrast to “Trust These Hoes,” “We’re Getting By” ends up celebrating a seriously empowered sound, largely brought in by the bold sound of Empress’ voice – she’s amazing on this cut. REAL soul in her vocals – perfectly placed backing vocals adding emphasis to her lead melody as well…the hooks come out beautifully powerful on this collaborative tune. John is more than holding his own on this track too – he’s crushin’ bars here, relating much of his own thought-process and what drives him personally in the lyrics of this track. At just over 2:30 in length, this whole experience almost passes by too quickly…the beat’s killer, the pacing & structure of the way the music & lyrics interact is relentlessly enticing to listen to, and the transitions from John’s verses to the chorus hooks with Empress in the spotlight are as seamless and smooth as can possibly be done. While it might rip by time-wise…I’d still definitely recommend taking a long look at this cut as a potential single – I think everything’s going right here big-time for John. Not a single thing I’d change about this track…John’s got a killer flow rolling through “We’re Getting By” and Empress takes the chorus to the next-level this song deserved. Even that second verse from John sounds even better coming right after the Empress hooks – like he’s refreshed from the soulful energy she puts into her vocals throughout “We’re Getting By.” I love the elastic sound of the music on this cut…John really got to the heart of that with the way he chops up his flow and sets his words the metering & bars on this track…you can hear the extra bounce in his step and how he really feels the beat of this cut. And I swear, he’s nearly channeling a Snoop Dogg level of cool when it comes to the delivery on the second verse of “We’re Getting By” – I know I keep coming back to that point of this song, but you’ll hear why that is when you listen…it’s like each moment of this tune continually finds more inspiration from the part that occurred right before. As a result, “We’re Getting By” might be short, but it continually raises the stakes subtly along its length and becomes more magical, engaging, and all-out entertaining as it plays on.
A track like “All My Own” proves that you can be a jack of all-trades and master of ALL as well, if you set your mind to it. John crushes the performance of the final track of his new album; for anyone somehow still wondering whether or not he’s got bars – you’ll hear the skills roar to life on “All My Own” at high-speed while he puts on a clinic for what it sounds like when you combine rhythm, poetry, and melody as one. See what I’m saying? It’s like Hip-Hop-Plus…that’s what you get when you listen to John Keenan’s music, because he sings every bit as strong as he raps, making him a complete multi-threat on the mic. I think “We’re Getting By” does a great job of introducing another powerful voice to the record – but at the end of the day, much like the lyrics of this final tune “All My Own” will explain, John’s often the solo-voice and only person responsible for the success of the songs he creates, or his career for that matter. He knows that the majority of making it rests on his shoulders…and hearing him put everything he’s got into a song like “All My Own” is a complete confirmation that he has all the right skills & mindset required to make it happen. I think you get the absolute best from John on this final cut – this is a compelling mix of emotions and personal insight…it’s REAL…this is the man coming straight from the heart and explaining what it takes to be the artist he’s become. He explains that it ain’t always easy – but he also makes it entirely clear that there’s nothing that could stop him from reaching his goals. He thrills throughout the verse with a run through the verbal-Olympics, back-flipping syllables and rolling perfectly through the bars with passion & heart – and his vocals in the chorus deliver a highlight set of hooks that bring the emotion & sincerity straight to the surface. The closer he brings that light to the forefront and embraces the brighter aspects of his style/sound, the more successful the end results tend to be when it comes to John’s music…there’s a comforting wisdom on “All My Own” that points to an artist that’s going through another evolution, still with much more to say in the future to come. Love the vocal-samples he’s chosen on this last tune…in many ways, they speak just as loudly towards the ultimate messages John’s looking to communicate in his lyrics do – thematically, “All My Own” stays remarkably on-point in all-aspects and hits the mark for authenticity & sincerity right on target.
A solid sample set from Late Bloomer…John Keenan’s clearly still heatin’ it up as far as my ears can tell.
Find out more about John Keenan at the official websites below!
Hear additional cuts “Laying In A Cornfield,” and “Don’t Know Me Well” featuring Venessa Mendez and pre-order Late Bloomer at iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/album/id1431872499