Album review: Verbal - Visionair

Some would say Verbal branching out on his own to release a solo album is long overdue, whilst others would say it's a huge surprise. Verbal has always been the type of artist who seems to thrive on co-headlining songs with other artists. A large part of M-Flo's stasis was collaborations, something which then spearheaded into the Teriyaki boyz - yet again, another collaborative venture. Verbal's collaborative nature permeates much of his 'debut' album Visionair; featuring a slew of hot producers and 6 guest featuring artists from both sides of the Atlantic. Verbal's penchant for loving the cosiness of collaborations may prevent him from doing a solo album outright, but he continues to show that he has an incredible knack for drawing big names and not allowing himself to be confined by genres. A true visionary of the future of Japanese Hip-hop? He just may well be. But for all of his forward thinking and star attraction, does his debut album stand head and shoulders above his peers?

First major lead single and album opener "Black out" is a progressively forward rap song; mixing elements of jungle, drum 'n bass techno and dubstep. It fuses so much of old, present and new that it manages to just exist as this hot piece of music. The song is brilliant and acts as a nice start to the album because it's very much in line with what Verbal has done as part of M-Flo. I admire Verbal for being gracious in letting Namie and Lil' Wayne shine on the song, but they overshadow him completely. Lil' Wayne's verse renders Verbal's redundant (despite it being a year old recycled verse) and Namie brings that swag in a damn wheelbarrow. A shame, because Verbal rides the beat nicely. For those seeking something else a little M-Flo-ish from Verbal's solo effort can get comfy with "Fall out". Enjoy it untainted whilst you can. Because I'm sure it won't be long until Verbal and newcomer John Fontein's names are in Korean netizens mouths for plagiarism. Because there is a section in the song which sounds very, very similar to G-Dragon's "Heartbreaker". Which in turn sounded very, very similar to Flo'rida's "Right round". So go figure. I usually can't stand these types of songs, but I really do love how warm and fuzzy the chorus sounds, and how it makes me wanna just jump around like a lunatic.

Sampling is risky business and can kill a song in cold blood if it's not done properly. "Ball 'n bounce" is a 101 on how not to sample a song. "Ball 'n bounce" samples lines from Jay-Z's "Dirt off your shoulder" - which we all know is a great song. So great in fact, that it should never be sampled. So I have no idea what Swizz Beatz was thinking when he decided to go and sample the damn thing. The sample overpowers the song so much that all you hear is Jay-Z and nothing else. This is a prime example of how a Jay-Z song will not instantly make your song better, nor make it a hit. "Ball 'n bounce" is an over sampled mess.

M-Flo front-man Verbal does his best Kanye 808s & heartbreak impression for "I can't help myself" and "You are...". Minimal depressing sounding affairs, and auto-tuned crooning from the front man himself. Forgettable nonsense.

Verbal sets his sights worldwide clubs with "Dope boy fresh" and "Stomp dem roach". Both songs knock like Switch productions and are primed for clubs. The Shinichi Osawa produced "Dope boy fresh" goes the euro dance route with its common time stomps, horns and pitch wheeled basslines which range from thick 'n dirty to high frequenced 'n whiny. Major Dude helmed "Stomp dem roach" is much more dancehall oriented and grimey; with its tribal drums, hand claps, Luftwaffe sirens and chants; sounding very much like an M.I.A joint. Both songs are perfect Summer club anthems. Verbal and Avex would be wise to do something to get the tracks serviced to clubs and radio in the West, especially those across Europe.

"Change change" features pink haired ho of the moment Nicki Minaj. Although rather disappointingly, her contribution is a copy and pasted verse from a mixtape she dropped in 2007. Once again, Young money gets copy and pasted. It's a shame Verbal couldn't get Nicki do offer something new - considering she seems more than willing to whore out her Mattel manufactured vagina on everybody's songs. It is not a good look for Verbal that a 4 year old verse from Nicki outshines him though. Not a good look at all! "Change change" is an absolute monster of a song regardless because of the infectious hook and some killer production which features elements of drum 'n bass, electro, dancehall, reggaet├│n: all slotted in-between a very Timbland-esque style arrangement. Another worthy song of being serviced to the West, because clubs would be all over this. If rappers in the West know what time it is, then they'll get John Fontein on the blower to produce their shit. This dude has the potential to go places if this is the kind of swag he is on.

For those wanting Verbal in hood mode, you've got "Hey mister". Okay, so perhaps this song isn't completely greazed out, but it is a hood banger with all your cliche's thrown in to guarantee a two-step from the thugs 'n crippers and some grinding from the ladies. "I want it all" follows on from "Hey mister" but takes on a decidedly darker one with its haunting chorals on the hook and ominous gangsta whistle. The song is pretty crap if truth be told. It sounds like a really bad knock off of MIMS' "This is why I'm hot". And Verbal brings nothing to the table lyrically.

"Liar" goes all 60's rock / funk 'n Tarantino soundtrack our arses. This song is every bit what you'd expect from Verbal as he has touched on this sound before. But for all of the energy and shimmy worthiness of the music, Verbal brings absolutely NOTHING to the song vocally. His vocals are affected to the point where he sounds completely distant and detached from the song. A wasted shot at a great song, because the music rocks. The guitars come out again for the folk influenced "Nothing", as do the vocal tweakings. But Verbal's laid back style works a heck of a lot better here than it does on "Liar" due to the folky kickin'-back-in-my-hammock-doing-f**k-all vibe of the song. It would have been nice to have heard him without the vocoder though, as it pushes him into the back of the song instead of having him come center and forward.

I have to hand it to Verbal. I thought I knew what to expect from this release after following his music as one half of M-Flo for so many years, but he completely blind sighted me with this release. Visionair is as eclectic and off the wall as many of M-Flo's albums - casually swinging from one song style to the next. But the track to track aural shifting doesn't feel as cohesive here as it does on any of M-Flo's releases. It causes Visionair to sound un-focused. Resulting in a really messy sounding album.

As a whole Visionair just doesn't click. And despite this being Verbal's first solo release, he seems muted for much of it. Verbal stood at the forefront much more on M-Flo and Teriyaki boyz' releases. Namie, Lil' Wayne and Nicki Minaj all outshine him on their featured songs respectively. And when Verbal is going it alone on songs, the production is outshining him whilst he just verbally flounces and spits nonsense into the microphone. There is nothing on this album to make you take Verbal seriously because all he does for the most part is just banter over songs like a mixtape DJ. He has such a cool voice and a sick flow. It's just a downright shame he didn't utilize it to the best effect here.

Visionair has some good songs. And the songs which are good are brilliant. But as a whole the album just sucks. It's too messy and too fragmented a release to really get into. And the charm that made Verbal so appealing as a part of M-Flo just seems void here. What we have here is an album which acts as vehicle for the producers involved rather than Verbal himself. If this was Verbal's intention all along, then he succeeded greatly. But if he hoped to get his name in people's mouths and make a name for himself as a rapper / part-time auto tuned singer, then the lil' guy failed - because he doesn't make enough noise to be taken notice of.

Album highlights:
■ Black out
■ Dope boy fresh
■ Change change J's fave
■ Stomp dem roach

Related album reviews: M-Flo's Cosmicolor | Teryiaki boyz's Beef or chicken


  1. I kinda wish he had did a song with Crystal Kay for this album. She'd do great with what ever sound. I'd really like to hear her do another hip-hop/r&b song again.

    I'll take her over Namie any day.

  2. It's a shame, the album is really good however i'm rather indifferent about it now that the truth about the album came out in this review. All the recycled verses from earlier songs/mixtapes, it's disappointing.

  3. I couldn't make up my mind about the album, so I searched for reviews of it.
    This one showed up and basically explained the album for me. I couldn't decide whether I like it or not, oddly enough, but after reading this, it becomes clear why I'm so confused by it.

    Great review, totally spot on and I have to agree 100% with what you've said.

  4. Great review. I have to agree with you on this review. The album sounds REALLY messy and jumpy. It does not sound coherent at all. Perhaps Verbal was just experimenting with this album. Hopefully his second album will be better.

    Thanks for the review! I am definitely following :)


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