McKinley Dixon
Beloved! Paradise! Jazz!?


4.5
superb

Review

by Mitch Worden EMERITUS
June 19th, 2023 | 39 replies


Release Date: 06/02/2023 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Bliss.

Stars soar and decline quickly nowadays. One hit can take to the skies; several attempts after can drown. A pause afterwards signals that the artist is, in the view of public consciousness, dead and buried. That’s life in the fast lane of streaming, decaying attention spans, an all-gas no-brakes market, modern life etc. here comes the inevitable heat death of the universe we’re doomed. There’s something for everyone at the big ol’ bar that is the music industry, a place where no cup runs empty and all are inebriated by The Next Best Thing until introduced to The Nextest Best Thing. Much like the frat crew at the end of the counter eight drinks in, nothing registers after a while beyond a dull sense that something’s being consumed. It’s early days, but McKinley Dixon might have that intangible it factor--an innate ability to break through that drunken stupor, transforming indistinguishable gray dives into venues full of life and brimming with excitement. He’s done it once already; For My Mama and Anyone Who Look Like Her snagged mainstream acclaim as it rose from the underground. Its successor, and the rapper’s fourth release in their still-young career, is poised to surpass that high watermark with another array of alluring jazz rap adventures.

As explosive as For My Mama could be, it at times felt like an exercise. It was a calculated, surgical endeavor that played out more like a pointillist painting, each dab deliberate and precise to create a grander whole. Beloved! Paradise! Jazz?! presents itself in broad, sweeping strokes, impressionist-esque in its lush arrangements that, in comparison, are gentler and looser, with plentiful soul influence and smooth jazz shining in the vibrant colors. String instruments confidently swing through, rising and falling through tunes as Dixon’s charismatic baritone voice rides their waves, all while vivacious brass contributions and a funky bass weave through the swells, setting a concise and consistent foundation that defines the record. At Dixon’s command, that bedrock can blossom into a crescendo of strings and soul vocals in “Sun I Rise,” segue into an alluring sax riff in “Live! from the Kitchen Table,” or descend into light drumming and a somber piano as in “Tyler, Forever.” This dynamic, ever-shifting approach still retains a graceful subtlety to it--something best captured by the comparatively straightforward single “Run, Run, Run,” which dances along a beat held down by a looping piano, chimes, and an addicting flute melody. It’s a big-band approach that McKinley expertly orchestrates, allowing various elements to cooperate harmoniously despite the amount of moving parts.

This backdrop serves Dixon’s stories well; they dress up a metro in beautiful hues, decorate the local bar into something a listener could vanish inside for a long evening, and morph mundane into magic. It compliments a writing style that frequently alludes to ascension, literary references--the title and intro of the album are all taken from Toni Morrison, whose influence is substantial on Dixon’s poetic delivery--and religious symbolism while facing an overarching restlessness. An embarrassment of riches follows, such as the tender verses of the gorgeous title track:

“Running up those stairs, tryna catch you right before you leavin'
I ain't make it, I guess it all gon' happen for a reason
As I stand up on the balcony and look to the ground
Money kept me moving but the heart wasn't found
When I was standing on the edge about to fall off that cliff
What kept me on was looking up and seeing my hand in your grip.”

Love! Paradise! Jazz!? grounds itself in narratives that, in one way or another, deal with relieving oneself of burdens while paying homage to roots, be it family, a role model, or the genre of jazz itself. The playful vibe of Dixon’s lively instrumentals accentuate the artist’s uplifting aim, although it can also act as a contrast, with “Run, Run, Run” being the primary example: a commentary on gun violence, staged against a foot-tapping beat that belies the understated drama of the lyrics.

“Nights on the car hood laid out crucified
Grew much more from the love that you provide
Standing on stage, hold back both teary eyes
Looking at my n***** like I'm glad all of you survived.”

No matter the content, Dixon’s presence proves malleable, morphing from the wizened storyteller to something more urgent whenever required. The album’s quick pace reflects this as it seamlessly glides from one tune to the next, rarely pausing for a breath between cuts. The only crack found in its shimmering armor is its length: a hair under half an hour, and feeling like less on a front-to-back voyage. It leads to some tracks--namely “Mezzanine Tippin’,” an abstract, abrasive number that clashes against every other motif present in the record’s mix--coming across as ideas with promise, yet ultimately not developed enough to deliver upon that promise. It’s enough to distract from Dixon’s grand, elegant jazz structures, but it’s not long before the audience is drawn back into the city, spellbound and ingesting the details as the layout opens in front of them. Somewhere in that complex, albeit delicate sprawl lies an elusive heart--whatever keeps one passionately moving forward, keeps one’s head up, and soaks darkness in a forgiving light. Dixon’s radiant songwriting paves the way, and his expressive style makes for an enchanting journey through blissful soundscapes.




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user ratings (94)
3.8
excellent


Comments:Add a Comment 
MarsKid
Emeritus
June 19th 2023


21035 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

This dude is on the fast-track to being one of the bigger stars of the underground. Lovely jazz framework that's often lumped in with Kendrick but that comparison is kinda lazy tbh, he's got more of a Lupe flair to me but with a much more active instrumental backing.



Anyways, blissful stuff. Listen on bandcamp: https://mckinleydixon.bandcamp.com/album/beloved-paradise-jazz-2



Also available on Spotify. I don't speak Apple.



Let me know what y'all think!

MTObsidian
June 19th 2023


212 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Spinning this right now, really love "Live! From The Kitchen Table" and all the wonderful saxophone parts. Great review as always.

MTObsidian
June 19th 2023


212 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Oh yeah, this fires on all cylinders for me. Really love the jazz blended in.

Sinternet
Contributing Reviewer
June 19th 2023


26621 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

banger review banger album

MarsKid
Emeritus
June 19th 2023


21035 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Thanks friends! This guy's music is so warm and fun, definitely an amazing artist and hopefully one that's about to get much more attention.

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
June 20th 2023


47738 Comments


was hoping to like this one more but only 28 minutes with two tracks being a reworked older song is a bummer. For My Mama is still leagues above tho Run Run Run is a tune. nice writeup

Manatea
Staff Reviewer
June 20th 2023


1958 Comments


This sounds like a jam! Will check friend

dedex
Staff Reviewer
June 20th 2023


12788 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

saw this one pop out and thought this would be right up Mars' alley. Will read and jam in due time!

MunsuLight
June 20th 2023


719 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This is certainly something I could see going up for me. Album was very good in the few first listens, but didnt have time to get more listen

dedex
Staff Reviewer
June 20th 2023


12788 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

banger of a review as usual Marsbro! liking this A LOT, currently rap AOTY for me

MarsKid
Emeritus
June 20th 2023


21035 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Underground rap has been killing it! Hope this album encourages people to do a bit more diving, especially if the big-name players haven't hit as hard for some.

Bilbodabag
June 20th 2023


166 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

This has some of the best hip-hop tracks I've heard in the past few years. Awesome stuff

MarsKid
Emeritus
June 20th 2023


21035 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Outside of "Mezzanine Tippin'," there's no weakness here.

Ecnalzen
June 21st 2023


12163 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I thought the album title was the review summary when I first clicked on this, ha



oo, checkin first track. methinks I likey. Will have to try the rest

MarsKid
Emeritus
June 21st 2023


21035 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Have definitely gotten addicted to this over the past week.

YoYoMancuso
Staff Reviewer
June 21st 2023


18958 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

yeah this is great

MarsKid
Emeritus
June 22nd 2023


21035 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Yes sir, it is smooth and jazz and good vibes

butt.
June 24th 2023


10986 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Saw this dude perform for a crowd of like 20 people in Kalamazoo, MI back in 2018. Knew for sure back then that he was crazy good and was going somewhere. Pretty surreal seeing fantano throw a 9/10 his way

MarsKid
Emeritus
June 24th 2023


21035 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Yeah his talent is pretty evident, and now others are starting to take notice. Love to see it!

HelloJoe
June 27th 2023


1097 Comments


Love this album.



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