Review #6: ZD (Children Left Behind- “Today is Forever; Tomorrow Doesn’t Exist””

Part 1. An Introduction

Today Is Forever; Tomorrow Doesn't Exist cover art

By Mathieu N. Frasier

Today is Forever; Tomorrow Doesn’t Exist” is a mixtape made by Florida based Hip-Hop duo ZD, and is surprisingly not the name of a Terrence Malick movie. The duo consists of two twin brothers who haveno alias’, and was put together after their friend (the guy on the bonus track) suggested the three of them make a Rap group. Together, they put together an experimental mixtape which reduced their friend’s input to just one track for reasons I’m not quite sure of.

Today is Forever; Tomorrow Doesn’t Exist” also happens to be a concept mixtape primarily following the ways in which people fall victim to depression. The stories are told by one narrator in a first person view, (unless the track has guest appearances) and it’s both twins playing the same narrator. ZD, according to one of the members, have rapped much more aggressively in past projects, hence why the group name was altered to “Children Left Behind” for this mixtape.

And that’s pretty much all I have to say about them for the intro. For those who dare to look further, read beyond. For those who fear what lies ahead, turn back now and may you live your life in comfort and ignorance as opposed to knowledge and horror. (I’m tired.)

Part 2. The Review

This is another one of those mixtapes in which the beats were chosen from already established Rap artists and not produced by the emcees I’m reviewing, or their associates.  So, once again, I can’t really discuss the production on this mixtape. All I’ll say is that somebody did a great job choosing the beats they were going to use, as well as the order in which they’re placed, because the instrumentals really keep a consistent feel that stays true to their rapping style. It may not leave room for variety and the chance to flex their skills in multiple areas, but it certainly helps make the mixtape sound like a complete and mastered work as opposed to just a pile of songs.

The best way I can think of to describe our narrator, (or hosts, considering it’s two people playing the same narrator, who as far as I can tell acts as several different people. How does this concept work again?) is a hybrid of Jay Electronica and  Slug of Atmosphere, but unfortunately cornier than both of those guys. He’s got that Jay Electronica quality of sounding triumphant and desperate, but without the hunger or strive to prove himself, giving off the feel that the vocals are much more about self expression than it is about wanting to be considered the best. (This is shown in lyricism, but similarities are easier to see in their deliveries, both of which are cold and stiff. But unlike Jay Electronica, who really gives off a feel of standing strong despite having been withered down by the realities of life, ZD only sounds like they’re going for the same effect but can’t quite master it. It almost makes them sound like they lack emotion as opposed to sounding like they’re trying to hide it.) Technical skills, although present, almost seem to be included unintentionally, as opposed to blatantly or even subtly. For example take these lyrics from “Dreams Money Can’t Buy.”

My heart aches ’till my heart breaks
But I’m getting tired of being in the halls ways
Entered the kitchen, somebody turn the heat on
Because I’m going to infinity and beyond
Every journey begins with a first step
And every death begins with a first breath
What I say is farfetched
So if you’re standing there, you won’t fully understand it.

 It gives off the effect that our host is just using his skills unknowingly, and that its presence is only a consequence of his attempts at expressing himself. The sentences are crafted well enough and you can tell when listening to the mixtape that the words are coming out relatively how the author intended, but as opposed to complexity in simplicity, any notion that complexity was involved is thrown out the window.

With all that said, our narrator’s best song on the mixtape is probably the first, “War is Beautiful,” the one song where he actually does seem hungry and set to show off his skills, and also has nothing to do with the concept.

This ain’t that sing-song, tight jeans, white teens rhymes, these
Bars straight from the jaws of the streets
Emcees is deceased when we come to speak
Rhymes too real for wannabes to feel
It’s the catalyst with the flow that astonishes
Eating Whack rappers, digesting amateurs
‘Cause what y’all trying to do ain’t Hip-Hop
I make grown-ups think, y’all make kids bop

As for the Slug quality, the story telling, concepts, and imagery used by our hosts really reminds me of him, and considering this album mostly deals with ways in which people fall victim to depression, of course Slug, the proclaimed “emo” rapper, would come to mind. Looking at songs like “Devil in Desguise,” I can’t help but think of songs like “The Woman with the Tattooed Hands“, another song using the presence of a woman as a device for storytelling and thematic exploration of religion. (Although there’s a huge difference in the beginning of the songs, like how ZD doesn’t really feel like they have a concept set up in their beginning and sort of just seemed to have stumbled across one shortly after the emcee started writing, while Slug seems to have started his song with a concept in mind.)

I’ve given the opinion before that Slug is one of, if not, the most clever emcee when it comes to these sort of analogies, concepts and storytelling, and he’s clever in a hell of a lot of other ways too, so it’s no surprise that I’m going to say Slug has an advantage over ZD in this aspect. (Along with being more clever, he’s a better lyricist with a better delivery and flow, and, sadly, he’s far less pretentious.) But, as stated earlier, the members of ZD are certainly no slouches at storytelling or imagery or solid lyricism. (Although their concepts and analogies might need a bit of touching up.

Of course, this mixtape has it’s problem’s and the best way for an artist to master a chosen craft is to understand their faults and work on them, so let’s discuss those issues. The first one: Emotion. Our Narrator (our hosts) brings a lot of passion and emotion, which in some cases is fine, but either the lyrics bring too much emotion for the mixtape’s own good, (which, on an entertainment level as opposed to an artistic level, they do) or the delivery doesn’t bring enough of it. The lyrics tell of a person who is tortured by loneliness, artistic, ethical and philosophical struggle. He’s angry and he’s sad and he’s hungry and he’s tired. He wants it all, but he can’t get any of it. But from the delivery I would barely be able to tell, because our hosts show about as much humanity as a blank computer screen. Listening to their lyrics with their delivery is like having discussions with people through text message. There’s still humanity there and it shines through in the words or the ideas or the small rests in between sentences when the text your reading features a semi colon, but it’s a fraction of their humanity and it has very little in common with meeting someone in person. In a concept album where your main theme is exploring people’s depression, (which one of the members told me directly, so note that I’m not just assuming this) being able to capture that humanity and emotion is essential.

And I’d also like to point out that despite the narrator reminding me of a blank computer screen or a pitch white sheet of paper, it’s hard to have the same sort of imagination shaping the vocal tones or moods of our narrator as it would be reading words from a book, website or newspaper article. As a result, our narrator’s mechanical delivery seems less human than most (at least, that I can think of) pages of text. This is, by far, my biggest problem with this mixtape.

And finally, this wouldn’t be a very good concept album review if I didn’t discuss the concept, so let’s talk about that. First of all, the first song has very little to do with the concept, which is obviously a fault, even if it does still serve the purpose of a “disclaimer,” as one of the members of the group stated in an e-mail. I’m sure I’m not the only person under the firm belief that concept albums (or mixtapes) should follow the concept throughout the whole album, (or mixtape) so the fact that the very first song has nothing to do with it kind of irks me. It doesn’t add anything except a hyped-up opening, and a hyped-up opening probably could have still been done well while staying within the duo’s chosen theme. At any rate, the first song sounds fine and actually works as a good intro on terms of sound, but should have more to do with the rest of the product.

Throughout most of the mixtape, the concept is pulled off well, although there’s still a lot of room for improvement. The scenarios are surprisingly well established and performed to a degree that’s, at the very least, satisfactory, but more often than not you might find yourself wishing you were listening to artists who pull off the strengths of our protagonist more effectively, such as the two artists I’ve compared ZD to already. After all, if you could have Serloin steak for the same price, (free off the internet) why the hell would you settle for No Name brand? And maybe this is the literary snob being built up in me from my brief period in university, (God damn snooty English professors)  but I do feel like ZD tells a bit too much when they should be showing. When I think about albums like Amerikkka’s Most Wanted or The Marshall Mathers LP, the things that make me so attached aren’t the themes and emotions of the characters themselves, it’s how those themes or emotions are used and explored, like when Ice Cube tells an entire story about a robbery in the suburbs gone wrong before even hinting towards any cultural or societal double standard, and when that hint is thrown into the open it makes the whole story show depth on the character/host. (On a side note, this is also one of the reasons I think Amerikkka’s Most Wanted is vastly underrated, particularly in contrast to “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back“, which, although was innovative in the production department, never lyrically captured the story telling or anger or depth of Ice Cube‘s lyrics for his solo debut.)  In contrast, look at a song like “I Demand Respect“, which comes off less like a character or concept exploration and more like a sketch of what the narrator thinks he is without providing room for speculation into whether or not he really is this person.

Finally, I want to discuss the guests on the mixtape. Alyssa Marie seems like a good enough lyricist, keeping up with our narrator, and she explores her character’s perception about as well as our narrator does. I still find her kind of boring (although I’m not quite sure why) and her delivery comes off just a bit forced, but for the most part she did her job quite well.

The other two guest appearances don’t do as much for me. Let’s start with AKBAR, because why the hell not? First of all, he doesn’t really seem like he fits in with the rest of the mixtape on a conceptual level. Alyssa’s cameo made sense because she played a character who was directly related to the protagonist, and her perspectives and depression told us more about the psychology and personal issues of the character played by ZD. But AKBAR plays some random guy who has similar problems as the main character in only one song. Imagine you were watching a movie, and the protagonist is at a bar talking to the bartender about his crippling depression. A stranger passes by and hears the protagonist say one thing that relates to his own story, so the new guy decides to tell a tiny bit about his own depression in the same area. But then after, the new guy’s words are never acknowledged again, and the theme they were talking about is completely dismissed. That’s what AKBAR‘s cameo is like.

The last song is a bonus track, and off the top of my head, here is my criticism.

  • Soft delivery for a battle track
  • Forced rhyming
  • Sentences that are silly to incomprehendable in meaning (“Hope you ate your Wheaties because we’re harder than Tweetie, cutting rappers like Sweenie/ Sorry sweetie, can’t go to relationship meetings cause you’ve been exceeding the meaning of boyfriend and girlfriend/ please, and I’m eighteen not even season, don’t want to get married, very, very scarry I’d rather watch Harry Potter“)
  • Poor flow and awkward rests between bars.

Basically, everything I said in my last review could apply to this guy.

And I think we’re good.

Part 3. The Epilogue

Status: Recommended

In all honesty, I am in fucking shock that I liked this mixtape because when I saw the cover, and the name Today is Forever; Tomorrow Doesn’t Exist, my expectations were about as low as they could get. In fact, I got myself prompted up to review some painfully corny and over-the-top-passionate Rap music by downright mediocre emcees who’s main knowledge of Hip-Hop came from Rhymesayers records and a couple of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis concerts. But luckily our hosts are quite the talented and stylish emcees, providing an appropriate amount of technical lyricism and flow, and keeping with a unique and refined style that works quite well, despite the fact that making it a bit more unique and refined might not be a bad idea.

But unfortunately, despite my positive review over all, there are still faults I found with the mixtape, some of which I expected before hearing it and were only certified afterwards, and then others I didn’t consider until I heard it and realised they were a problem. Our hosts are still over-the-top-passionate and corny, although maybe not as much as I had initially expected, and they still have issues with their presence and delivery, particularly in contrast to their lyrics. My advice to the proclaimed “Children Left Behind” isn’t necessarily to tone down their passionate lyrics and feel, (although that might help them as well) but to use their delivery to accentuate their passion and convince us it’s really there, and to change their delivery to accentuate the colour in their voices and make them seem human. (Even if they’re not.) As mentioned earlier, ZD‘s delivery feels mechanical and somewhat stiff, and their voices almost sound too computerized, even if I don’t know how many–if any at all–vocal effects were actually used. ZD needs to overcome this and make us believe in their struggles, as well as their humanity. Among everything I’ve criticised, I think this is the main thing ZD should work on.

But overall this is a pretty good effort, even if it’s not a must listen for Hip-Hop fans.

today-is-forever-tomorrow-doesnt-exist

P.S. I don’t think I was in the best mood when I wrote the criticism for this review, and I was also trying to rush something out because I’m tired of being late all the time with this blog, so I’m sorry if the criticism seems too harsh. And anyone else’s opinions on the mixtape would be vastly appreciated, because I do think discussion on the works would help the artists.

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