Posted by , Feb 1, 2016 at 03:15pm
EDITOR RATING
82%
Golden: 4Broken: 0
Unanimous
AUDIENCE RATING
86%
209 votes
Editor reviews (tap to expand)
80%
Patrick Lyons
Brasi turn back into Kevin sometimes
On "Islah," Gates largely strays away from his Luca Brasi persona, focusing more on emotion and melody. It's not as eclectic and unpredictable as his tapes, but as a set of pop-minded confessionals, "Islah" really succeeds.
1512
77%
Rose Lilah
The same emotions, but less grit.
Kevin Gates explores new territory on "Islah"-- the subject matter isn't altogether new, but the soundscapes he puts them on are. I never thought I'd hear Gates on an acoustic guitar record, but hey. Most of his choices seem geared towards mainstream, poppier audiences, some working more effectively than others.
1233
86%
Angus Walker
Gates takes his artistry to new heights
Though it's not perfectly cohesive, "Islah" is an album about a cold-hearted killer learning to love. Following a similar progression, it also shows Gates opening up his artistry, and all the pain that comes with it, to a much larger audience than he usually targets. His songwriting, as well as his delivery, is sharper -- and more relatable -- here than ever before, especially when he's singing. There are more than a few near-perfect pop records on "Islah," which is remarkable considering the fringe persona whom fans know Gates to be. It feels as though Gates had to make most of these songs for his own sanity, but this time, he's written them as if he knew millions would be listening. Though it's not his goal to reach the mainstream, I'd say crafting such an accessible album (with no less emotion) is the most impressive achievement of Gates' musical career.
3810
84%
Trevor Smith
Big hooks, big feels
It seems pretty clear that Kevin Gates saved his biggest hooks yet for his major label debut. "Really Really" sounds like 100 Kevins singing in unison, and while many of the other songs are more delicate and R&B-influenced, they all land with the same melodic power. Even the songs that aren't clear-cut singles feel carefully written, making this Gates' most polished material yet, which doesn't mean he's skimped on his highly confessional verses. Some edges are softened, but its all in the service of making what could be Gates' most consistent front-to-back release yet.
387
User  Rating:
very hottttt
86% (209)
Rate it!
audience rating
165 VERY HOTTTTT
14 HOTTTTT
6 MEH
2 NOT FEELING IT
22 MAKE IT STOP
User Rating:
86% (209)
Kevin Gates turns inward, gets super melodic on "Islah."

In a sea of melodic Southern rappers defined by their contradictions, Kevin Gates easily stands out as the most extreme. Future makes us feel his pain as he's simultaneously talking about women as if they were a disposable resource; Rich Homie Quan's behind some of the best trap love songs of all time, but also the rapey-ist ones in recent memory; Young Thug packs more vivid imagery than a Cormac McCarthy novel into his lyrics, but seems aloof and curt in person. Gates is simply all over the place. He's emo, he's violent, he's depressed, he's in love, he's despicable, he's endearing. He'll drop a bar about watching Mary Poppins with his kids, then threaten to put yours in the oven if you try him. He'll do something unforgivable, like kicking a female fan during a performance, and then release a response in which he calls her a queen and apologizes to her and his children.

A few years ago, Gates devised a Slim Shady/Marshall Mathers-style split personality to explain his oft-conflicted psyche to listeners, putting his moral qualms, depression, and romantic side under the "Kevin Gates" umbrella, while adopting the title of "Godfather" enforcer Luca Brasi when it came time to set his more emotional attributies aside in order to survive. With the latter being the focus of two of his most successful mixtapes, his debut album focuses more on the former. Islah is best described by a line on that fan-kicking-incident response track, "The Truth": "Passionate, I can be extra sometimes, Brasi turn back into Kevin sometimes."

Gates titled his debut after his eldest daughter, whose Arabic name translates to "To inform, to improve, to make better," according to the Baton Rouge rapper. "I believe that's what my first daughter did to me," he continued, and that really seems to be where Islah's focus also lies. Anthems of loyalty, pleas for forgiveness, and pledges of devotion are this album's bread and butter, with Gates getting even more self-reflective than usual. As always though, mustering the honesty necessary to say these things inevitably dredges up grit and grime, and as someone who been in and around mud his entire life, Gates never shies away from getting his hands dirty. (Some of you jokers might read that as a metaphor for his penchant for assplay, which still pops up once or twice on Islah, but for the most part, the mess he makes is an emotional one).

What's interesting about the album, especially in the context of previous Gates releases, is how all of this troubled subject matter translates into a consistent set of melodic bangers. He's been perfectly capable when singing his hooks before, but nearly every Islah track sees him step up and deliver bonafide pop choruses-- shit that mainstream hitmakers would pay top dollar for. Early bangers "2 Phones" and "Really Really" feature the type of chorus that's so simple and repetitive it can't help but stick in your head-- which is really an accomplishment more than something to hate on-- but then he immediately gives us "Pride," a Nate Dogg-level masterclass in thug crooning. Then there's "Hard For," a guitar-led stomper that Gates could sell to Hozier if the singer had any interest in singing the line "You the only one that my dick could get hard for." Nobody would describe Gates as R&B or pop, but Islah shows that he's just as capable a singer and songwriter as most in those fields.

There are a few harder-edged exceptions-- the pulse-quickening slapper "Thought I Heard" has a hook that's more chanted than sung, "The Truth" is more in the vein of his chock-full-of-bars shit talkers-- but every other hook on here has definite sky-scraping abilities. In true Gates form, he never lets this distract from his bars and is still in formidable form, but if there's one thing his mixtape fans will accuse him of missing out on, it's diversity. Take a look at the first Luca Brasi Story tape (still my personal favorite Gates project). You've got the classic Cash Money bounce of the opening track, the loosely-organized chaos of "Flex," the muted, moody tones of "Arms Of A Stranger," the ton-of-bricks impact of "Narco Traficante," and of course the body percussion-accompanied story raps of "IHOP." Islah takes the "Paper Chasers" and "Neon Lights" approach (admittedly, a clearly fruitful formula) and runs with it for an hour, never really dipping in quality or catchiness, but lacking in diversity, which has historically been one of Gates' calling cards. As a full-length project, it's still among his best, but as a debut retail album, it would benefit from a better sampling of his talents.

Review: Kevin Gates' "Islah"

 
82%

Editor rating

Golden: 4 Broken: 0
Unanimous

Audience rating

209 votes
86 %

Editor Rating

80%
Patrick Lyons Brasi turn back into Kevin sometimes
On "Islah," Gates largely strays away from his Luca Brasi persona, focusing more on emotion and melody. It's not as eclectic and unpredictable as his tapes, but as a set of pop-minded confessionals, "Islah" really succeeds.
1512
77%
Rose Lilah The same emotions, but less grit.
Kevin Gates explores new territory on "Islah"-- the subject matter isn't altogether new, but the soundscapes he puts them on are. I never thought I'd hear Gates on an acoustic guitar record, but hey. Most of his choices seem geared towards mainstream, poppier audiences, some working more effectively than others.
1233
86%
Angus Walker Gates takes his artistry to new heights
Though it's not perfectly cohesive, "Islah" is an album about a cold-hearted killer learning to love. Following a similar progression, it also shows Gates opening up his artistry, and all the pain that comes with it, to a much larger audience than he usually targets. His songwriting, as well as his delivery, is sharper -- and more relatable -- here than ever before, especially when he's singing. There are more than a few near-perfect pop records on "Islah," which is remarkable considering the fringe persona whom fans know Gates to be. It feels as though Gates had to make most of these songs for his own sanity, but this time, he's written them as if he knew millions would be listening. Though it's not his goal to reach the mainstream, I'd say crafting such an accessible album (with no less emotion) is the most impressive achievement of Gates' musical career.
3810
84%
Trevor Smith Big hooks, big feels
It seems pretty clear that Kevin Gates saved his biggest hooks yet for his major label debut. "Really Really" sounds like 100 Kevins singing in unison, and while many of the other songs are more delicate and R&B-influenced, they all land with the same melodic power. Even the songs that aren't clear-cut singles feel carefully written, making this Gates' most polished material yet, which doesn't mean he's skimped on his highly confessional verses. Some edges are softened, but its all in the service of making what could be Gates' most consistent front-to-back release yet.
387

Audience Rating

How do you rate this album/mixtape?
User  Rating:
audience rating
165 VERY HOTTTTT
14 HOTTTTT
6 MEH
2 NOT FEELING IT
22 MAKE IT STOP
 

Kevin Gates turns inward, gets super melodic on "Islah."


In a sea of melodic Southern rappers defined by their contradictions, Kevin Gates easily stands out as the most extreme. Future makes us feel his pain as he's simultaneously talking about women as if they were a disposable resource; Rich Homie Quan's behind some of the best trap love songs of all time, but also the rapey-ist ones in recent memory; Young Thug packs more vivid imagery than a Cormac McCarthy novel into his lyrics, but seems aloof and curt in person. Gates is simply all over the place. He's emo, he's violent, he's depressed, he's in love, he's despicable, he's endearing. He'll drop a bar about watching Mary Poppins with his kids, then threaten to put yours in the oven if you try him. He'll do something unforgivable, like kicking a female fan during a performance, and then release a response in which he calls her a queen and apologizes to her and his children.

A few years ago, Gates devised a Slim Shady/Marshall Mathers-style split personality to explain his oft-conflicted psyche to listeners, putting his moral qualms, depression, and romantic side under the "Kevin Gates" umbrella, while adopting the title of "Godfather" enforcer Luca Brasi when it came time to set his more emotional attributies aside in order to survive. With the latter being the focus of two of his most successful mixtapes, his debut album focuses more on the former. Islah is best described by a line on that fan-kicking-incident response track, "The Truth": "Passionate, I can be extra sometimes, Brasi turn back into Kevin sometimes."

Gates titled his debut after his eldest daughter, whose Arabic name translates to "To inform, to improve, to make better," according to the Baton Rouge rapper. "I believe that's what my first daughter did to me," he continued, and that really seems to be where Islah's focus also lies. Anthems of loyalty, pleas for forgiveness, and pledges of devotion are this album's bread and butter, with Gates getting even more self-reflective than usual. As always though, mustering the honesty necessary to say these things inevitably dredges up grit and grime, and as someone who been in and around mud his entire life, Gates never shies away from getting his hands dirty. (Some of you jokers might read that as a metaphor for his penchant for assplay, which still pops up once or twice on Islah, but for the most part, the mess he makes is an emotional one).

What's interesting about the album, especially in the context of previous Gates releases, is how all of this troubled subject matter translates into a consistent set of melodic bangers. He's been perfectly capable when singing his hooks before, but nearly every Islah track sees him step up and deliver bonafide pop choruses-- shit that mainstream hitmakers would pay top dollar for. Early bangers "2 Phones" and "Really Really" feature the type of chorus that's so simple and repetitive it can't help but stick in your head-- which is really an accomplishment more than something to hate on-- but then he immediately gives us "Pride," a Nate Dogg-level masterclass in thug crooning. Then there's "Hard For," a guitar-led stomper that Gates could sell to Hozier if the singer had any interest in singing the line "You the only one that my dick could get hard for." Nobody would describe Gates as R&B or pop, but Islah shows that he's just as capable a singer and songwriter as most in those fields.

There are a few harder-edged exceptions-- the pulse-quickening slapper "Thought I Heard" has a hook that's more chanted than sung, "The Truth" is more in the vein of his chock-full-of-bars shit talkers-- but every other hook on here has definite sky-scraping abilities. In true Gates form, he never lets this distract from his bars and is still in formidable form, but if there's one thing his mixtape fans will accuse him of missing out on, it's diversity. Take a look at the first Luca Brasi Story tape (still my personal favorite Gates project). You've got the classic Cash Money bounce of the opening track, the loosely-organized chaos of "Flex," the muted, moody tones of "Arms Of A Stranger," the ton-of-bricks impact of "Narco Traficante," and of course the body percussion-accompanied story raps of "IHOP." Islah takes the "Paper Chasers" and "Neon Lights" approach (admittedly, a clearly fruitful formula) and runs with it for an hour, never really dipping in quality or catchiness, but lacking in diversity, which has historically been one of Gates' calling cards. As a full-length project, it's still among his best, but as a debut retail album, it would benefit from a better sampling of his talents.

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