The Ultimate Question (N.E.R.D., No_One Ever Really Dies review)

I love it when music gets you questioning the core of things.

If an album can instantaneously shift my thoughts elsewhere, I know that it is moving, effective, and worth my attention. But yet, when it comes from a source that isn’t expected.



N.E.R.D. – No_One Ever Really Dies

released December 15, 2017
******** 8/10

Pharell Williams, Chad Hugo, and Shae Haley are lifelong friends and the members of the rock. funk and hip hop group N.E.R.D.. They formed back in 1999 as a side project for Williams and Hugo’s production team, The Neptunes; which had been producing songs for several artists throughout the late nineties and early 2000s, including another childhood friend, Timbaland. Their first album In Search Of… debuted at number 61 on the Billboard 200 in 2002, and sold 600K copies in the US, giving it gold status by the RIAA.

The second single, Rock Star, was what first drew my attention to the group.

Since that time N.E.R.D. have released four more studio albums with No_One Ever Really Dies showing up after a seven year absence from the public eye. Pharrell is probably the best known of the three members, having created two solo albums of his own (remember that single Happy that was part of the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack?), and also branching out into various media including film and clothing retail.

2017 will likely be remembered as the year of minority rights, especially as it relates to the first year of President Trump in the minds of American musicians. There were some great albums out there that reflected this from LCD Soundsystem, Sampha, Tyler, the Creator, Jay Z, Vince Staples, Common (technically over a year ago BUT STILL RELEVANT), and not surprisingly, Kendrick Lamar.

So why does this album work? Well believe it or not, conscious hip hop seems to be here to stay and N.E.R.D. were already diverse enough to take on the mantle without it hurting their street cred. Whereas someone like Eminem did make similar tone choices and even collaborated with similar artists on his own responsive album Revival, but his album just doesn’t stand up. And yea, Eminem was arguably the King of Hip Hop between 1995 and 2005, be he hasn’t really evolved in a constructive way in the past ten years, and the fact that he was a big deal with a distinct sound may be what hurt him this year.

I realize I’m almost four hundred words into this post and I still haven’t spoken about the songs on it. But the reason why I haven’t decided to focus on the songs themselves is because N.E.R.D. has always been a backburner to the genius of The Neptunes. All of their ideas and talent and creativity channelled into other artists, and the energy we got on In Search Of… and other albums was realistically a rougher and more exploratory sampling of what Williams and co. had left in their tanks at the end of a long journey. But that’s a good thing here.

It seems like no one really knows what to do about all of the problems going on in the world and America is so desperate to address all of it’s problems that music activism is in demand right now. N.E.R.D. have taken all of that energy and channeled it into a mix of feelings yet again. And that’s why this album is so appropriate for it’s time. We need rock, funk, R&B, soul, disco, pop, and hip hop all to work together for once, because if we don’t try to get along it’s only going to get worse out there.

Now is it innovative? No, because the musical themes are all ones that N.E.R.D. have been exploring for a decade, which is why it doesn’t get an A+. But improvement is still improvement folks.


Pros: Lemon and Don’t Don’t Do it are just amazing to listen to. Courtesy of Rihanna’s jaw-dropping rap and Kendrick Lamar’s choice verses, respectively. But the nervous energy and urgency of the whole record are cathartic to listen to, knowing that N.E.R.D. like to force weird shapes like prog-rock and soul together.

Cons: Some of these artist collaborations are a little too serious for the sweet mixture of silly and subversive that N.E.R.D. are tapping into. Ahem, Future.

Runtime: 51 minutes

Points of Interest: Don’t Don’t Do It!” features K. Dot and Frank Ocean, and is inspired by the police shooting death of North Carolina’s Keith Lamont Scott. Ed Sheeran features on the reggae closer Lifting You.

What I find most interesting about this album is that the quality of the music has greatly improved over the span of five studio length records. And whether the woke tone of this music sits well with you or not, N.E.R.D. have managed a way to weave it all together and get you questioning whether they are serious about the subject matter or simply exploiting it to move us forward another decade ahead of schedule, as per usual.

theories Summarized

Optimism is important in this day and age. Should you buy this album. Yes, I think you should. And my theory is that it was designed to elevate your mood, but also get you thinking about the reality of these atrocities we are all witness to on a daily basis. It’s almost impossible to have a full understanding of every angle, but N.E.R.D. have managed once again to provide us with yet another perspective on police brutality, transgender issues, black and minority rights, and the harshness of anti-immigration without ham-fisting everything. It’s a theory I’ll happily pack into explosive force of love.


Am I The Only One Around Here Who Gives A Shit About The Rules? (Anger Management)

Almost two years ago, I wrote a post entitled The Secret Genius (Attitude is Everything).

It was a Wisdom Wednesday topic I wanted to broach about the importance of both vision AND application in becoming the “you” that you want to be in life. And yes, factors of genetics, ambition, effort, personality and environment are all to be considered when you decide to change your attitude and become the master of your destiny.

Without regurgitating the entire article, I’ll simply state that genius can be cultivated, and geniuses cultivate their curiosity by learning new things, visiting unfamiliar territory, and asking a lot of questions. Or to put it in Dean Keith Simonton’s words – geniuses tend to be open to experience, introverted, hostile, driven and ambitious. Also, geniuses can find patterns where others won’t (Erika Andersen on Malcolm Cowley).

It’s a compelling argument, and something about taking ownership of your life and putting together the pieces, is very appealing to me on a personal level. But there is some required reading in-between the lines too here. In order to be a successful “genius” a positive attitude is essential in relation to your personal motivation and when communicating your ideas. But what I didn’t discuss in that article I wrote two years ago, is that controlling your emotions is just as important of a component when you finally decide to commit to the house rules.

Don’t Look Back In Anger

It can be difficult to admit when you are lacking in a quality. I myself struggle with my emotions, daily. I’m not an emotive person by nature, but I am an emotional person. I feel things deeply and though I operate from a place of analysis, knowledge, and conceptualization, my second-most dominant motivator in life is meaning, significance and compassion.

What this has meant for me is that as I grew into adulthood, I learned to communicate through the lens of my own experience, but often accomplished it by either denying my feelings or holding them at arms length.

In reality I still had the emotions, and when they did surface, they would often come out as anger. I cannot begin to describe all of the reasons why I believe anger is the emotion I gravitate towards in expressing myself, but even more frustrating is the impact it can have on my loved ones. While I may not truly feel angry at the time I am addressing my emotions, it doesn’t mean those people don’t feel the heat from my internal process, and more often then not, those feelings come from a place of victimization.

As I wrestle with my feelings, I go through the entire emotional gamut, often landing at a place of compassion and understanding. But the emotional violence that I and my audience endure is difficult to wrestle with.

Last night Mysticque and I had a good long chat about the way I process new information, my emotional reactions, and how it effects her, and I came to the realization (with her help), that I do this so often, that I am not even aware of it’s impact on my life – I want to be clear that I while I start off this way, it never finishes with the same feelings, because I do process the feelings.

However, I have decided to make a conscious effort to become better in touch with my emotions and express them in a more balanced and moderate manner.

Which is why I am going to take responsibility for my anger going forward.

Anger Is As Anger Does

In a world where anger is often seen as a negative characteristic, it can be difficult to see it for what it is – potential unfulfilled.

We can channel anger into productivity, and we can use it as a source of personal power. But that means recognizing you have anger, and that you are not a master of it. Yet.

If you move through your feelings, you can prevent emotional toxic buildup, but anger needs an output to be constructive, just like any other dangerous tool. Proceed with caution! Exercise, meditation, creative writing, art making, and even driving can become major contributors to releasing anger; because they give the anger purpose and focus it.

Additionally, your mental head space needs to be receptive to change. If you can identify the source of the anger and why you were triggered, you can begin to separate yourself from your emotions and choose when to engage them. By looking at your past history with key events, people, and topics, as an outsider looking in (by literally viewing it as a story) you can learn how to let go and focus on the present.

And one other thought – it is completely up to you to make this change. No one can do it for you, because this is a paradigm shift. Yes, YOU can learn to access and express your anger in a healthy way. Yes, YOU can choose to see that anger doesn’t have to be a destructive force, but a warning signal that something is wrong when you feel it, and also a tool for appropriate self-defence when expressed.

theories Summarized

I still have a long way to go in my mastery over anger. But even the smallest act of saying out loud to someone I trust that this is a challenge in my life, means that I can move forward and look at the situation differently. Anger is a tool to be used in both recognition and implementation, just like any other dangerous object.

A theory to consider, at the very least.


Pretty To Look At, But No One Is Manning The Chair (Kingsman: The Golden Circle review)

What do you do with a drunken sailor? What do you do with a drunken sailor? What do you do with a drunken sailor, early on the morning?

You kick him to the curb and tell him to sober up. Geez. It’s not that difficult people.


Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

Cast: Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Taron Egerton, Mark Strong, Halle Berry, Elton John, Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, Pedro Pascal
Director: Matthew Vaughn
released on blu-ray December 12, 2017
***** 4/10

IMDB: 7.0
Rotten Tomatoes: 51%, Audience Score 68%
The Guardian: */*****

Matthew Allard de Vere Drummond, better known as Matthew Vaughn, is an English director, writer and producer. He is best known for directing Layer Cake, Stardust, Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class, Kingsman: The Secret Service and most recently, Kingsman: The Golden Circle. A pretty good track record if I do say so myself. Given that I own all of those movies, almost all of them are well rated, and I also like most of them. Unfortunately, The Golden Circle is the odd man out in this case – ironic, given the reason that the first Kingsman movie did so well.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

A year has passed since Eggsy Unwin (Taron Egerton) and the secret organisation Kingsman saved the world from Richmond Valentine’s neurological wave broadcast. He has since taken his late mentor Harry Hart’s (Colin Firth) title of Galahad and lives with Crown Princess Tilde (Hanna Alstrom) of Sweden. On his way home from the tailor shop, he is ambushed by Charlie Hesketh (Edward Holcroft), a former Kingsman trainee who lost his arm and vocal cords during the Valentine incident. Eggsy evades Charlie with his henchmen in a car chase across London, but Charlie’s severed cybernetic arm hacks into the Kingsman servers through the car’s computer system. While Eggsy is away in Sweden, a volley of missiles destroy the Kingsman headquarters and wipe out all of the agents in Britain, including Eggsy’s best friend Roxy. Brandon, a non-Kingsman friend of Eggsy’s, is also killed in the attack.

Being the only surviving agents, Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong) follow the Doomsday protocol, which leads them to Statesman, a secret American organisation posing as a Bourbon whiskey distillery in Kentucky. There, they discover that Harry survived Valentine’s gunshot a year earlier, but is suffering from amnesia. Eggsy and Merlin are briefed by Statesman head Champagne (Jeff Bridges) about a secret terrorist organisation called The Golden Circle. They begin their mission by following Charlie’s ex-girlfriend Clara Von Gluckfberg (Poppy Delevingne). When Statesman agent Tequila (Channing Tatum) develops a blue rash, he is replaced by agent Whiskey (Pedro Pascal) as Eggsy’s partner. Eggsy manages to plant a tracking device on Clara during an encounter, but his revelation of the mission to Princess Tilde strains their relationship. After several failed attempts to cure Harry’s amnesia, Eggsy triggers Harry’s memories by threatening to shoot a Cairn Terrier that resembles Harry’s late dog.

Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), head of the world’s largest drug cartel, broadcasts a message telling the world about a toxin she laced within every recreational drug available, which causes users to develop blue rashes before progressing through mania, paralysis, and ultimately, death. She also demonstrates the antidote on a captive Elton John and offers it to the world if the President of the United States ends his country’s War on drugs and offers her organisation immunity. The President decides to have every affected user quarantined, including his Chief of Staff, Fox, with the intention of letting them all die and therefore ending Poppy’s career. Eggsy, Harry, and Whiskey head to the antidote factory in Italy after intercepting a phone call to Charlie by Clara. Eggsy manages to steal an antidote sample, but it is broken by Whiskey during an ambush by The Golden Circle’s henchmen. During the gunfight, Harry shoots Whiskey in the head, as he suspects that Whiskey is playing both sides, but Eggsy saves him with the same alpha-gel that Statesman had used to save Harry. Princess Tilde calls Eggsy in a state of mania, revealing that she has been affected by the blue rash. Eggsy, Harry, and Merlin discover the location of Poppy’s hideout, “Poppy Land”, in Cambodia and fly there to steal the remote control which deploys the antidote drones.

Upon their arrival at Poppy Land, Eggsy steps on a land mine, but is saved by Merlin, who sacrifices himself while taking the lair’s guards with him. Eggsy and Harry storm through the lair and Eggsy kills Charlie while Harry destroys Poppy’s robotic attack dogs with the help of Elton. They secure the briefcase with the access code to the drones and inject Poppy with a more potent dose of her toxin. She gives them the password before succumbing to an overdose. Before they can activate the drones they are stopped by Whiskey, who, having previously lost his pregnant wife to a crossfire from two methamphetamine users, is revealed to be working alone to ensure that all drug users are eliminated. Eggsy and Harry battle and brutally kill Whiskey in a fight. They release the antidote drones, saving millions of lives around the world.

In the aftermath, Chief of Staff Fox has the President impeached for conspiring to commit genocide on the drug victims. Champ announces that Statesman has acquired a distillery in Scotland to help rebuild Kingsman. To avoid the confusion of two Kingsman agents using the codename “Galahad”, Champagne offers either Eggsy or Harry the agent title of Whiskey, but they decline. Instead, Statesman tech support agent Ginger Ale (Halle Berry) steps in to take the role. Eggsy marries Princess Tilde, and Tequila moves to London to work for Kingsman.

There is a lot going on in this movie, and that is not necessarily a good thing. The plot remained unfocused throughout much of the journey, and given that it clocks in at just over two and half hours, it makes it difficult to even sit through. Some critics are saying that the movie is more conservative others are saying its more bombastic, and both are correct. The movie takes more of the ridiculousness of the first film and amps it up immeasurably, but at the same time, all of the interest in dissecting the spy genre, challenging why we like these movies in the first place, and reinvigorating our interest in the broad strokes… none of that is present.

I’m tired of watching movies that pretend to be a new take on an old formula, and then refuse to deliver the goods. Just because you use a sexual encounter in a weird context (in this context a spy needs to seduce a henchman’s girlfriend to find the henchman. Because obviously the tracker only works if it’s attached to the mucus membrane, and so into the vagina it goes. And to top it off Egerton then argues with his Swedish princess girlfriend for five minutes before he can proceed.

It’s not edgy, it’s not funny, and quite frankly it’s offensive to anyone who cares about monogamous relationships and/or gender equality.

Pros: It’s entertaining to watch this star-studded cast use CGI to beat each other up. Colin Firth, Pedro Pascal, and Mark Strong do a lot to to bolster the audience and engage with the story, heck even though most of the other performances are phoned in, you can tell everyone had fun interacting with each other and pretending to be spies.

Cons: On top of all of the incredible misogyny, that Vaughn claims is a subversion of James Bond cliches, Taron Egerton cannot act to save his life. And unfortunately for us, he is the main protagonist of this film. What makes it worse is that it’s a long film, which takes less chances, and lampoons almost everything to ill effect.

Runtime: 2 hours 21 minutes

Points of Interest: This is the first sequel that Matthew Vaughn has directed. Julianne Moore, Halle Berry, Jeff Bridges, Colin Firth, and Elton John are all Oscar award winners. The movie originally had a runtime of 3 hours and 40 minutes, and it was suggested to split the movie into two parts, which didn’t happen. But there is a third Kingsman movie planned, with a Statesman movie spin-off in talks.

I think one of the biggest challenges of this movie that I haven’t addressed yet is the size of it’s ensemble. The first film had a fairly tight group of actors all working together to ground the story, despite the surrealistic nature of its tale. The Golden Circle is so encumbered by cameos, code names, and robotic canines, that it loses so much of it’s charm. It chokes on it’s own chutzpah.

But enough with the C word alliteration.

theories Summarized

The big question I still have is, is this movie worth watching? I would argue that for many people, it’s a great pop corn flick with lots of CGI and silliness. But if you expect more from your cinema, ie stories with a good plot, thought provoking themes, and interesting characters, then you can probably leave Kingsman: The Golden Circle on the shelf to age a few more years, theory or no.

That said, I can absolutely, and with 100% confidence recommend you check out Get Out. This early 2017 horror from first-time director Jordan Peele is everything that Kingsman: The Golden Circle is not, and then some. Please please watch this movie, it deserves awards!

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Off To The Slaughterhouse (Chase Rice, Lambs & Lions review)

I’ve been humbled once again. I bought a record on a whim, made some initial judgments based on the cover art and what I heard as I listened for the first time to a lean thirty seven minutes of modern country music, except that’s not what this is, at all.

It’s an escape plan marked all over with pencil and featuring focal points that are highlighted atop the map with black felt tip circles.

But is it a success?



Chase Rice – Lambs & Lions

released November 17, 2017
****** 6/10

Chase Rice is an American singer-songwriter that got his start in country music, and benefited heavily from the party anthems that have permeated this decade. Do you remember Florida Georgia Line’s song Cruise? Rice co-wrote it. Ever listen to the hit album, Ignite The Night? Rice is the artist behind the party anthems about drinking, pickup trucks, and young women. Ever watch Survivor? Rice was the runner-up on the Nicaragua season.

He is something of a relic at this time in music – Ironic, given that we have three more years before the twenties start up. Bro-country is finally on it’s way out, and artists like Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean and Jake Owen have already felt the pressure of a dismissive public.

This is part of the reason why Rice decided to break from Columbia records and sign with Broken Bow Records for his fourth album, Lambs & Lions. The other reason being, that wanted to make a more emotionally honest and truly authentic record, when authenticity in country music should have meant sticking to the well-worn tracks established.

Lions kicks off the album, and Rice establishes early on that this is his break from his past, it has the same energy as his previous albums, but the tone is shifting towards rock, metal, power pop, and even some R&B. It’s especially evident that this album is stripped of a lot of the production that his previous music had when Unforgettable, Eyes On You, and Saved Me show up.

Three Chords & The Truth is the first single on the record, and trending on the music charts right now, but despite this popularity, it really is an interesting song with some subtle nods to the genre of country music, and funnily enough, while on a soul search, he has managed to connected with many other people looking for answers in country music too.

In the end, this is a collection of songs about someone who is letting go of an identity that they wore for a long time, self-imposed or no, and what shows up underneath is pretty interesting. It’s not my favourite record of the year by any means, but the hope it delivers is more important in some ways.

Pros: You can see throughout Lambs & Lions that Rice is putting more of himself into his music, and a personal favourite of mine is Amen, which is an ode to his father, revealing a lot of Rice’s personal code.

Cons: I wish that there was even more exploration on this album. It still feels a little bit safe reliant on what preceded. It might have been difficult for Chase Rice to break completely from his bro-country roots, but including Jack Daniel’s Showed Up is so unnecessary.

Runtime: 37 minutes

Points of Interest: The album debuted at No. 42 on the Billboard 200, and No. 6 on the Top Country Albums. Rice has said that the album is heavily influenced by rock artist Douglas Docker.

Changing your identity is a challenge, even moreso when there is a perception of you attached to it. Chase Rice has made some excellent strides into a new and exciting direction, with music that features more of his own ideas and less concern with sounding a specific way. And I like it.

theories Summarized

I’m not sure that you absolutely have to pick this up. But if you like your country music with a little rock n’ roll, you are sick of bro-country or you simply like to see progression in your artists, give this album a listen, you might just be inspired to show your fleece, while bearing your teeth. That’s my theory anyway.


Film Franchises Are Great, But Can We Please Stop The Fanboy Fights? (Cross Talk Ep. 29)

I just came back from a fantastic date at the theatre – Star Wars Episode VIII was on the menu today; it was an early Christmas gift from my fiancee. Sweet deal right?

As you may know by now, I love movies, and this was an ideal way for Mysticque and I to spend some time together, with one of my favourite activities, and then bask in some post-film analysis. She SO gets me on a personal level, and I’m super excited to share this passion with her and our family, especially as Miguel grows up, and as we add onto our little tribe – family time is important to me.

This is why of the many reasons why The Fast and the Furious franchise stands out in my mind as an excellent piece of film, worthy of your attention, admiration, and love. But this is not a post or a video about that love, rather it’s a plea to the general populous. Please stop hating on other peoples spirit movies.

Chris channels Star Trek and Friday The 13th on a regular basis, Mike loves him some John Wick (more than anyone I’ve ever met), and I can’t help but carry the torch for Star Wars, Marvel, and my BFF – The Fast and the Furious franchise. Chris also wanted to let me know that he loves Star Wars, much to the chagrin of Fanboys out there – contrarian to what pop culture and water cooler etiquette teaches us.

But didn’t Yoda teach us why fear is such a bad thing already? We fear what we don’t understand, but if we could have a little empathy for The Hunger Games, Fifty Shades of Grey and Harry Potter, maybe we’d all be a little bit more settled… Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. Yeah I have Star Wars on the brain, and no, I’m not going to spoil The Last Jedi for you. We should have all learned that lesson from episode 28 of Cross Talk.

Franchise wars are a very real thing, but that doesn’t mean we can’t hold hands and try to love one another better. This episode of Cross Talk is a thorough discussion on the matter and all three of us gents have some excellent points to make on the topic.

And yeah… I totally flubbed on the title shown in the video, but I’ll correct it soon. I promise – I’m not at my house this evening, where all of the files are stored on my computer. Please just enjoy that small error, knowing I’m human too, and consider that I was so excited to get this video out to you, that I decided to bite the bullet and edit as soon as possible.

With all of that shared… tell us what your opinions are on the ongoing challenges of film franchise wars! We love comments. And shares! And subscribers! No more theories for today friends, but come back y’all and we’ll give you something in the way of an album review tomorrow.