Cheena Black Monrow – Black 2 The Future – Mixtape Review
I’m stoked to find out how this story of Cheena Black Monrow turned out; she teased us in 2015 with the Black 2 The Future Promo and I’ve been wondering what became of the full mixtape, and now here we are – Black 2 The Future is officially out there & available! I’ve always had a lot of respect for her style and more of Cheena Black Monrow’s music in our world is a good thing for all of us collectively.
The “(Intro) What About Me” is the perfect introduction to the beats & atmosphere CBM is all about, and with a crash, the new mixtape officially begins. There’s a great mix of old-school in the atmosphere with the crisp snare-snap and low-end groove; Cheena heads right into the spotlight like a confident, humble diva and starts the record with a sample-dose of the soul she can put into the microphone. “(Intro) What About Me” lets you right into Monrow’s mindset immediately – and I like that too; she quickly gets personal in this first cut and reflects on love & life as the beat continues to grind on in behind her. I dig this kind of opening though…kind of reminded me of listening to Esthero’s Wikked Lil Grrrls album for the first time and having that unique, bright and bombastic amount of color, imagination and life in the ideas, music and structure. Felt like Monrow makes the impact she deserves to right off the bat through “(Intro) What About Me” and gets everything moving in the right direction.
“Hip-Hop is art, now let me paint my picture” – that’s the first thing you’ll hear once “So Blue” starts up – and Cheena goes on to put a beautifully classy, soulful performance on Black 2 The Future’s second cut. I’ve never kept my love for this track a secret and I’m not about to start now, “So Blue” is a great song with a stunning performance from Cheena; it’s also a track from the Black 2 The Future Promo and one of the two tracks I was familiar with on this mixtape – you can read my full thoughts on “So Blue” right here in the 2015 review. Let it be said – she’s picked a great song to keep the energy and heart of this record in the center of the spotlight through the inspired performance she puts in, “So Blue” sounded great before, sounds great now & will likely sound great on my playlist for years to come – yours too. I was a bit tougher on the following track, “Playing Me” in the previous review of the album-promo…but I think there’s plenty of merit to this cut still and it’s a great inclusion on this record in terms of how it flows – you get your first introduction of CBM rapping on this third jam on the mixtape…it’s short, but a quick reminder of the fact she’s got skills in that department as well. Felt like in comparison from then to now, most of what I said before about “Playing Me” is still how I feel – especially about how the song is strongest towards its ending…but I admire the confidence in keeping it on the record and audibly defending the work through its inclusion on the full-length version of Black 2 The Future.
From here on, it’s all new to me. The mixtape continues with “Are You Willing?” and immediately, I snapped right back into that excitement of hearing something all-new. That’s a natural effect of releasing EPs and promos along the way…you get to include the songs you know are tried, tested & true – but for those that are following along with the music, the moment those new songs hit, they get the added benefit of being the ‘new ones’ in the entire batch and we snap right back to attention. Not that we tune out…it’s not like that…you drift into the comfort and familiarity of what you know when you hear something you recognize…and obviously when it’s all new to your ears, your mind notices just as much and you become reinvested in the entire experience. “Are You Willing?” would go on to be one of my favorites of the entire mixtape – I love the piano sample that’s being used in this song with the beat and the atmosphere, mood, tempo and pace of this track. The music is minimalist in style and highly effective – Cheena sounds more fragile in “Are You Willing?” through the verse and more confident while riffing outside of the lyrics in vocalizations and in the chorus as well – both modes you’ll find match the energy in the music and in the meanings behind the words insightfully well. I think she’s done a fantastic job on this cut and matching the whole mood of the music to the feeling you get from listening to the tough emotional content & personally revealing details that Cheena sings about. “Are You Willing?” hit the mark for vocals and music – definitely some of her most powerful hooks and most powerful words, wrapped up into a smooth sound as the album heads into more serious territory.
CBM keeps the middle of this record stocked full of reasons to listen. LordZero steps in to produce a wicked cut called “Reminisce” – a track that is beautifully assembled and arranged with strings & flute-like sounds fueling the melody alongside the beat. Cheena sings this track about heartbreak with a measurable amount of emotion that you can feel, while still creating an overall track that keeps the entertainment-factor on the surface. Essentially, you can dig as deep as you want to on this one – you can listen to “Reminisce” for its enticing beat, rhythm and groove, or you can experience it in a completely different way just by focusing in on the words of Black Monrow. Either way you examine it or listen to it, and certainly in combination together, it works – “Reminisce” is a single-worthy tune.
LISTEN to the music of “This Is Fate” though! And the way that Cheena takes the energy up on the mixtape at this point! This cut really respects the old-school, record-scratches and all – I loved the way the elements combine for a win in the music of “This Is Fate.” I’ll say this…I was probably a bigger fan of the verses than I was of the main hook at first…I say at first for a reason…it didn’t take long for this one to break me down. I was and remain a huge fan of early hip-hop and old-school R&B – “This Is Fate” really matches that vibe in the music and style of its sound…almost like an En Vogue track reborn. I think you get some of the best of Cheena’s vocals through the verses of this cut without question – she sounds strong and confident here, going for bold tones and soaring notes like it ain’t no thang at all.
All day my friend, all day…you got the skills and a track like “This Is Fate” really proves it.
She continues to make a strong impression with the dramatic delivery of the vocals on “Feel 4 You.” I felt a bit the same about this cut’s verse/chorus situation like I did with “This Is Fate” – but…I think that there might be a little bit more meat on the bone in this latter cut. “This Is Fate” has a more distinctly uplifting vibe to it, whereas “Feel 4 You” definitely has a more pensive movement in its pace & style, bringing the energy to a more chilled-out atmosphere in the music while the vocals rage with questioning emotions overtop. This track really makes for a captivating and hypnotic listening experience in the mid-section of the mixtape…I think you get some of the strongest emotions from CBM and the way she matches her performance to the feeling you get from the lyrics is really what gives the entire sound of this song its magic. You can hear the minimalist approach in the music once again…clearly she thrives in settings like these and even when delivering some of her most personal inner thoughts, she does it with real style, commitment and confidence.
“Feel 4 You” is a heavy song…and the result of taking it all in and absorbing it can really bring out the brightness in the following cut, “Cross My Mind” by sheer proxy alone. That being said…I think the sweetness in the sentiment of “Cross My Mind” counts for quite a bit of that brightness and appeal as well. It’s written kind of like…like a daydream’s worth of thoughts spilled immediately onto the page in effort to preserve the moment. For a moment, the heartbreak and questioning of love that you know from Black Monrow is entirely put away for a later time – right now she’s got the spirit! “Cross My Mind” has her putting the idea of love under a different light altogether, an optimistic one that certainly reveals no matter how rough things have been in her past, she hasn’t given up on life’s most ultimate gift. Great soulful performance on the mic, really strong ideas in the backup vocals emphasizing the lyrics and emotion of this tune…in terms of widespread appeal, “Cross My Mind” makes a comfortable case as Black 2 The Future’s most accessible track – I can’t imagine anyone out there turning this cut off. This is a turn-up moment for sure; Cheena sounds fantastic with the old-school beat & rubbery bass-lines, singing with grace and a stunning amount of style that sounds every bit as charming as it does empowered & inspired by newfound love.
What I was not expecting…was “In This World” – this was seriously above and beyond. On the one hand…I know it’s not a typical ‘hit’ – but I think this is the kind of cut strong enough to push past all that and really make an impact & connection with the people out there. This could very well be the strongest tune I’ve heard from Cheena Black Monrow to-date – every time “In This World” came around on the playlist, it was impossible to not pay, like, ALL of my attention to every second that rolled by. Not that I wasn’t before, but you get what I mean – this is the kind of transformation in sound that damn near stops all time around you…and you’re left stunned in the moment you’re locked in. “In This World” is as captivating as it gets – and equally as heartbreaking. I’ll say this…she’s got an absolutely amazing song on her hands with “In This World” – but the sincere way this one comes out points to the fact that songs that sound this real generally ARE based on real experiences. The amount of pain and depth of examination of the effects of love and its aftermath are absolutely INCREDIBLE. That’s right, ALL-CAPS INCREDIBLE. Cheena Black Monrow has transcended making mere music at this point on Black 2 The Future – what she’s done here is give a bold and powerful voice to emotions so many of us are afraid to speak aloud about. I think she’s a complete champion for writing and recording this song; it’s the exact kind of song that someone out there is going to hear right at the time they need it most…they’ll hear the devastating emotion in the words for sure…but most importantly, they’ll see that Cheena somehow soldiered on…that even the most painful heartbreak will eventually fade, proven by the fact that she’s still out there, doing her thing and turning personal tragedy into true art. I could honestly go on and on about “In This World” – she’s written an insightful and important song that will really speak to people, and she sings it 100% to perfection…so much so that it’s really tough to hear how real these words and emotion become over the length of the song. You’ve felt her words before…she pulls that connection off again harder than ever…these words hurt so much they’re still bleeding through your speakers and echoing in your mind long after the song is over. Songs like this are tough on a guy like me…I want to cheer for the high-level of execution on this idea…and cry an ocean’s worth of tears from the overwhelming emotion it contains. It’s misty in here…let me just leave it at that for now…
With a subtly walking-bass line in the background of the beat and gospel-esque approach to the background vocals of “Don’t Lead Me On” – Cheena regains her confidence and puts in another extraordinary highlight as Black 2 The Future begins to wind down. It might be the second-to-last cut, but Black Monrow continues to give you multiple reasons to listen; the jazzy approach to the sound of her vocals gives her another knockout performance that really connects with the mood & tone of the music. Lyrically, “Don’t Lead Me On” is a stern warning and plea all at the same time – listening to Cheena sing out ‘let me go’ in the middle of this tune is seriously effective and features some of her boldest tones of confidence pouring into the mic. Both the verse and chorus are seriously strong here; I dig the looseness of the verse and how it drifts from thought to thought as she examines her thoughts on what she’s feeling about this particular situation…and the chorus & surrounding moments in the song by comparison sound completely focused like she’s reached the exact conclusion of what those feelings amount to. Really dig this cut – “Don’t Lead Me On” deserves extra credit for coming out sounding so strong and well-executed, even after the brilliance of “In This World” ending only moments before. It should have been extremely tough for ANY song to standout in this particular spot on the record…yet somehow Cheena pulled that off and created another song completely worthy of your time.
But honestly – what hasn’t been worth your time on Black 2 The Future? As the “(Outro) Addicted 2 Your Love” started the final cut of the mixtape, I had to smile and admire the fact that Cheena’s taken her time to get this record out there…but the results of that patience & professionalism has really brought her to bring her best out. Love that jazzy and rhythmic approach she’s taken to songs like this one and on many of the songs along the way throughout the entire record. Of all the cuts, probably still “Playing Me” that I was most on the fence about – I still liked it; but as for the rest, we’re talking some real gold here in amongst some extraordinary & unforgettable moments in music that have Black Monrow poised to make her mark significantly in the scene. The entire attitude and spirit of the Black 2 The Future mixtape is realer than real – she should be seriously proud of how honest, raw and real her writing & sound truly is…and just how much this will connect with the people out there listening.
She’s already working hard on the next record…it’s called Street Blues…I don’t know if I could possibly be more stoked to hear it than I am right now after all I’ve heard from Cheena Black Monrow this time around! Find her music and subscribe to her official YouTube channel right here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC5kvroQs2wr_B0h1ilMirgg