Alexander James – Lucid Dreams/Bonus-Singles – EP Review
You’d think that I’d look at the six-songs from the Lucid Dreams EP and the surrounding ELEVEN bonus-singles released in complement to the recording and feel like the task of commenting on seventeen tracks would be nothing but an uphill battle…but if you don’t follow us day-to-day…let me just tell ya – you don’t know what I go through on the other side of the screen here. Seventeen tracks? And they sound THIS good? BRING IT – you know that I was listening to consecutive albums with between FIFTY and NINETY songs on them in yesterday’s review? Seventeen songs is going to feel like nearly a vacation after absorbing an entire website’s worth of music just twenty-four hours prior to this!
And again…especially if they’re all gonna roll-out this pimp-smooth – I got the feeling quickly that Alexander James doesn’t take a swing without fully-connecting on the other end. These beats are extremely tight…there’s a range of skill that represent the serious-side of Xan, but just as many bars that are dedicated to making you raise an eyebrow or two with genuine ‘did I just hear him say that?’ expressions glued to your face. Whether he’s using humor and making jokes throughout his lyrics – don’t take this guy lightly; the amount of skill he’s got would bury most emcees six-feet-under…and while he might start it all out with a smile & a grin…Alexander James also doesn’t sound like the kinda guy you’d wanna cross at any given point in time either. He can flip the switch and take his music right out of the punch-lines to a deadly-seriousness that would be much closer to a punch in yo’ face homie – believe that.
So…you’ll have to forgive me…I’m going off of Soundcloud here and we all know what the order on their pages ends up like…so…yeah…I think these are in order if I take the list backwards – let’s rewind this back to the front and start with “Fall Back” from the Lucid Dreams EP and we’ll tackle that set before jumping into the surrounding singles…
Chances are…nothing is going to stand out for you in “Fall Back” …
…wait a minute…I wrote that wrong…let me start that again…
Chances are…nothing is going to standout quicker to you than the insane amount of skills that Alexander James puts into his lyrics and performance. Yeah! That’s what I meant to say…sorry about any confusion! Now we can move on…
Musically, it’s a bright melody-line that starts out “Fall Back” – an electronically tweaked steel-drum sound holds the music up solidly as a smartly produced cut begins to break the ground of a new listening experience quickly. Alexander James steps immediately into the spotlight with a huge representation of genuine skills that leave little to no doubt about the quality of what we can expect to follow. His flow is absolutely wicked and his rhyming hits the metering perfectly. There are a few slight variations in the volumes between each set of vocals that make it a little uneven in the pursuit of trying to stay above the sparkling melody-line in the music…but nothing unforgivable whatsoever. Those are the tiny things that refine themselves over years and years and years of practice and time…and let’s not forget, “Fall Back” is as far back as the list goes…this is where it started – and “Fall Back” is a seriously tight start.
I can pretty much guarantee one thing for certain…and that’s that every one of these songs will literally have a line or two (or more, trust me!) that will make your jaw just drop to the fuckin’ floor in amazement. I have laughed out loud harder throughout this set of songs than I have in an any comedy or sketch to come out post-Chappelle-Show – all because that’s what Xan is aiming for and he hits the mark direct. Like…don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not laughing AT the guy, I’m 100% laughing WITH the dude – he’s got a seriously amazing ability to write lines that actually STUN your face and make you pause to really absorb what you just heard or even rewind it back to hear it all one more time. This in-your-face shock-value starts to come out quickly on this record…you’ll find that line I’m talking about in “Fall Back” now that I’ve mentioned it…it’s more subtle in that first cut whereas “Do Ya Thang” should have you rolling on the floor with laughter within 30 seconds with one of the most brilliant lines you’ll hear in rap this year. AND…as a bonus – if you end up on the floor and you got your subwoofer doin’ ITS thang…then “Do Ya Thang” and its menacing low-end bass should beat a massage any day of the week. Is it just me or does Alexander James remind you of Wiz Khalifa? Something about the tone in his voice and the repetition you’ll find in the hook of “Do Ya Thang” reminds me of WK, but that’s good company to be keeping as far as I’m concerned. After hearing the hooks and precision of Alexander James, I can’t imagine a lot of those fans of Wiz wouldn’t be screaming for more of what’s happening here on Lucid Dreams.
“Bubble Gum Rap II” pretty much sets the entire record straight…this song’s fucking brilliant. An extremely pointed rhyme with a massive idea executed perfectly – listen to him take it from the old-school to the new as he runs through the different styles of other emcees that only have ONE gear. In this song alone, Alexander James changes styles repeatedly with wild-results & incredible success – and completely demonstrates that the mainstream could pretty much become his bitch at any moment now… Lyrically…probably one of my favorites on the EP…”Bubble Gum Rap II” is as smart as it is smart-assed – I absolutely dig Alexander James’ sense of humor and the way he subtly and slyly keeps it under the surface. You’ll catch quite a bit on those first-times through each track, but repeated listens will keep you grinning for hours at the amount of wins on this guy’s Soundcloud page.
Taking his music to the serious-side for a moment, “Alive” is a powerful track with a golden-hook to the chorus and big beat that commands the attention. Lyrically, this sounds like all ‘real-talk’ right here…some of the most that you’ll hear of the real Alexander James right here on this cut; not that you don’t hear him for real on all these songs – nah, he’s the real-deal for sure…but this time it’s much more personal. Right up to and including a fantastic ending that includes a massive shout-out to two beautiful people responsible for keeping Xan from becoming wormfood and standing up tall today – there’s a very sincere artist on this track. “Alive” is a little purposely blown-out as far as the music goes…it’s a style-thing not a slip-up in the production…I get it…not sure if I always think it’s the best thing for the music, but I get it…
“By Myself” is another huge-highlight with more stunning lyrics that keep the grins coming strong. Taking it all on his shoulders…I didn’t actually realize we were listening to the guy that was ‘holding up the east all by his fucking self’ until I heard this track – now I know. After everything I’ve heard so far, the amount of dynamics in the music and versatility in the flows, beats and rhymes – I’m willing to believe it. I’d say, you know, like, maybe HELP the guy out a bit east-coast…but truthfully…I’m not so sure he needs the rest of you, he’s just fine on his own. Better than fine – “By Myself” is a HUGE cut that really puts it all on the line – Alexander James seriously declares a corner-spot on the music-scene right here and stakes his territory, ready to keep his trap full.
As far as I can tell…there’s actually a single that’s released in between “By Myself” and the final cut of the Lucid Dreams EP called “Shutdown,” which actually seems to have been produced significantly later than the rest of the songs…or at least it’s dated that way on the Soundcloud page. Obviously that isn’t anything more than an observation…but I think you can also slightly hear that distance from the rest of the EP by the time that “Shutdown” comes on. Not that it doesn’t still sound like Alexander James in full-control – it certainly does; it’s more like you can hear that gears, sounds, ideas and potentially style somewhat were already in-flux as this artist began to branch out further. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d be willing to bet the Lucid Dreams EP was sewn-up and declared finished the moment that “Shutdown” was done…but also to preserve the intergrity of that record, I think a solid decision was made to continue on with releasing the set of singles to follow until another cohesive reason to combine the cuts into a record comes along. “Shutdown” is a little more towards the Kanye-side of rap as far as the sound of the vocals & the ideas in the approach in the hook are concerned…otherwise, this massive-mother of a track is all Alexander James. Besides…it’s not like Yeezus declared ownership of the autotuner…and to further that point, you’ll notice Alexander James is using it to HIT the notes professionally with precision and isn’t wandering all over the map brutalizing your ears with brown-notes glitching in & out of the mix. That’s right Kanye…it CAN be done…you just have to want more for yourself bro!
I felt like I had almost caught up to James’ style, flow, ideas and concepts until he sunk my battleship at the beginning of “Ahead Of Time” and told me it was too late already. Not much else can be said…I’m obviously here just trying to catch a ride while Xan has clearly already been ridin.’ “Ahead Of Time” is near the perfection it seeks…there are a few moments, in particular right after the beat drops-out, where you won’t be able to hear James’ as well as you need to by comparison. That being said – when the beat DOES drop-out, those lines and the last one leading back into the beat are again, some of the best you’ll hear. The guy can write lyrics and make them spring to life better than most emcees you already love – I’m telling ya, if you like rap – you can’t go wrong with Alexander James.
Like take the hypnotic-flow and rhythm of “I See You” – that’s another new approach from this rapper and yet another one that works completely. James barely takes a breath throughout the entire verse and is flowing at his best to begin with, then you add in the smart production edits, effects and cuts and you’ve got yourself a serious winner on “I See You.” Captivating from the very moment it starts to the moment it ends – it never stops and it never disappoints. Listen to the single “Play It” featuring Stink Bomb if you want some further proof – same thing applies here, only this time in collaboration. Lyrically these two emcees stay hard and keep the tone within the atmosphere full of matching menace and aggression. It’s not just the writing, but the way it’s delivered that makes us believe in that connection to the words…and it doesn’t seem to matter which way you turn, it sounds convincing and full of confidence & conviction towards the lyrics. When you combine this track with “Wrath” which was released around the same time more or less…you can hear that Xan hit-up a fairly serious vibe for a stretch of songs here…a little more aggressive and angry – the way that he kills the end of “Wrath” by stepping it up to larger-than-life status on the mic is phenomenal. Loved it.
It’s impressive that track after track, this guy holds up and consistently delivers – I haven’t heard anything in his flow that I’d ever want to change. Cleverly working in a sample of…Ellie Goulding (I think?) on “Calling” – the amount of shifting gears through the lyrics, effects, music and flow are fuckin’ mind-blowing. Xan is so damn quick when he makes a serious run through lyrics on the mic…you get either the blazing-speed or the smooth-delivery each time he steps up, but always on-point and spit with real passion. You can hear the artist deep in the flow of his grind, determined to be the best – and that matters to me when I listen to an emcee; Alexander James teems with confidence and it sounds spectacular to listen to.
The samples in “Purpose” are absolutely some of the best he’s used. The narrative that follows all fits the theme, the beat is minimal but perfection and once again James remains the star. Handling it all from the beat to the verse and chorus-hook – this guy obviously never stops working and never stops hustling…and a ton of “Purpose” is actually about that. Another blueprint for what he’s all about – Alexander James nearly sounds like he’s right on the edge of keeping up to the tempo & speed of his flow on this one – but he gets there and sticks to the meter, still doesn’t let you down – this is as 100% as the rest have been. Incidentally though…probably my favorite of all the album-covers he’s created for his music…just sayin.’
Did I just hear that right? Alexander James’ is claiming to only be TWENTY-ONE in “Schemin’?” Seriously? I can’t see his birth certificate to verify that for a certainty…BUT…if that is indeed the case, this guy is gonna be a world-star in no time. At 21 years old – this is a ridiculously amazing start into the game of rap and a life as a musician/producer – I mean…shit…I didn’t exactly feel like I had wasted most of my life until right here at this very moment by comparison to this guy! “Schemin’” has a ton working for it…it’s some of the strongest music he’s rapped overtop of from the entire collection…a big, big song designed to make a huge impact from lyrics to performance to production.
Even tracks like “Cadillac” that I shouldn’t be as addicted to, I still am. I’ve never been a massive-fan of using the one-word rhyme-scheme…it’s really rare that you can rely on one word as the entire hook and come out winning, but honestly…I know I’ve said it already, but Alexander James can do no wrong. The production values on this song are SICK and really show the growth and refinement of Xan post-release of the Lucid Dreams EP. He’s getting bigger, badder, meaner, stronger, more confident…like he’s already said himself, he’s given us all a chance to catch up and we missed it. He has every right & reason to be as confident as he comes across from what I’m hearing – he’s put in the work and you can hear it.
If I had to choose the ‘least accessible’ track out of everything I’ve heard, it’s “Know My Options” without question – but it’s still something I’d want to hear myself. With guests Quise and Skinny P assisting Alexander James on the mic and K Swisha producing…this might be a case of too many cooks in the kitchen when it comes right down to it. Each defined part in “Know My Options” has its own redeeming qualities…but…it’s a little jagged when it comes to how they fit together piece after piece. Again…nothing I’d turn off…and I can hear that it’s certainly a unique track in the catalog of songs here…but overall most of my favorites have come from Xan direct, left to his own instincts and devices.
Kendall Jenner…if you’re out there…something tells me you might just want to turn this next one up…I’m not quite sure WHAT it is exactly…but something tells me this song might just be dedicated towards you somehow. Maybe it’s the title…LOL…”Kendall Jenner” is one hell of a hot track and it hits the intended mark. Not since Nick Cannon professing his lifelong pursuit of Mariah Carey years and years before he actually hit that has love been declared so profoundly.
Okay, okay…so…maybe he doesn’t exactly express himself like Romeo and Juliet did…but I’m positive she’d get the point were she to listen! You will too – and not only are the lyrics a complete story and riot to listen to, “Kendall Jenner” also highlights one of the most recent from Alexander James and shows the continual progression in his production. Telling ya…track after track, this guy continually finds ways to innovate and create rhymes that capture your attention.
Which brings us to the present…the like, seriously-present with “Long Way.” I have the feeling that if I didn’t get this review out today, another track could very well show up tomorrow, the day after that or the day after that…you get the idea. Clearly he’s pushing his music out there hard right now – and dammit, he should be. I’ve been impressed in one way or another with everything I’ve heard from this guy…and no one out there can afford to pay me to bullshit my words here at the homepage. You know that already. Believe me when I say that Alexander James has got a ton to offer the entire genre of rap; I’m not gonna lie and say that I’ve necessarily heard anything I felt like was completely ‘new’ in the sense that he’s maybe taking it to different places than rap has already been…BUT…there is absolutely something to be said for spitting out flawless rhyme after flawless rhyme and never losing your grip on our attention, which he does 100%. “Long Way” is another sharply produced cut that has James at his best…but let’s face it, he’s never given you less than his best on anything you’ll hear.
Absolutely an emcee with a huge future.
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