G-Notes “Bright Lights Magic City”
Reviewed By: Church Boy
Committee Rating: 4.11 (of 5)
Imagine, if you will, back to Bible times. Watch as a general for a powerful nation returns to his kingdom to report to the king on his mission’s conclusion. He is nervous because he must report that the mission was a complete failure when he was sent with an overwhelming militia of over 1000 soldiers armed with swords, spears and shields to capture one solitary man. To make matters worse the man was delivered to his militia unarmed and tied up yet somehow he managed to kill all 1000 of your men. The hardest part is that he has to reveal that the weapon used to slay his soldiers was a dead donkey’s jawbone this man picked up off the ground. As the Philistine general enters the king’s hall and he sees the king’s countenance filled with unbridled furry, do you imagine that general would wish that “All my wealth, all my treasure, all my women, positions, and lands I will give if I can but only trade places with that dead donkey?”
I told that story to merely show that God has a classic sense of humor and he is indeed the master of irony. Now a focus on irony relates to this album review, for Underground Blaze artist G-notes said that God led him to make an album detailing the dangers of the “Bright Lights” (Fame, Fortune, Women, Drugs, Cars, etc). This album is itself, then, a mammoth irony because this album will undoubtedly propel G-Notes into the fore-front of the genre, into the spotlight where he will be offered fame, fortune, women, drugs, cars, etc. – aka the Bright Lights.
There is no need for concern however, for we have an all seeing and all knowing God. If he gives us a mission he will never send us out ill equipped. Therefore God said, “Gino, when you finish this album and present it to the masses, remember to put your stunna shades on cause its bright outside.”
The album review will follow in three categories.
1. Synopsis – A quick review statement for those of you who get sleepy after reading 2 paragraphs.
2. General Review – The regular album review breakdown including discussions on Concept, Lyricism and Packaging.
3. Track by track analysis – For the mp3 single track shoppers out there.
G-notes embarked on a mission to create an album that would expose the dangers of this world’s hollow attractions while simultaneously ministering to his local city of Miami. The album succeeds astonishingly on many levels. The overall production is pristine with deep rich audio, prevailing album concepts, and superb CD packaging. G-Notes also lyrically delivers bringing a select group of friends along for the ride including: K-Nuff of Rhema Soul, Pettidee, Eddie Nigma, Ruslan of the Breax and his brother in ministry Joe Justiz. Most importantly Gino kept faithful to the mandate given to him by God to preach the gospel. He relates Christ through life experiences instead of quoting scripture or stating doctrine and that method is effectively executed. Bright Lights Magic City is an album full of High Energy Hits sure to please general audiences. The only individuals who might not appreciate this album are theology rap fans who prefer scripture references and doctrinal discussion as opposed to everyday life content. However, to those individuals I say, while this isn’t sermon music it is definitely church social music. So, still give it a listen and I promise it will be fun.
Bright Lights Magic City is G-Notes’ second album but his first national release, so there might be some of you who are unacquainted with this individual as I was prior to this review. Gino Vela was born in Peru but his childhood there was cut short when, after receiving death threats, his father transplanted the family to the United States, settling in the city of Miami at the age of five. The Vela family came to the land of promise chasing the illustrious American Dream. Gino soon discovered that it was all a dream and that reality in America is quite often a nightmare (Yup, laying it on thick). Continuing on with my melodrama, in 1988 Gino enrolled in two of the inner cities main extra-curricular activities, rapping and drug sales. He noticed that these elements surrounded his daily life, so he decided to function in this manner as well. At his naive age, he did not know that “wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.” Road marks along his journey, such as his best friend Deandre’s murder and his arrest and time served time for attempted murder, clued him to his journey’s final destination. It was in 1998 that Gino decided to get off the highway to destruction taking the exit ramp leading on to Life. It is interesting to note that the vessel, which served as the exit ramp pointing to salvation, was a Holy Hip-Hop Concert that featured the group 1Way, which includes DJ Morphiziz. Ever since he shifted directions towards The Lord, Gino (now G-Notes) and DJ Morphiziz (now DJ Morph) have been inseparable.
In 2005 Gino created the company Underground Blaze and released his debut album Life, Situations & Stories Volume 1. April 14, 2009 marks the release of Gino’s second LP Bright Lights Magic City.
In the summer of 2002 yours truly, Church Boy, moved to Downtown Miami to study Graphic Design at the International Fine Arts College. The college was small and classes were held in a number of disconnected buildings along Biscayne Blvd. Walking to the main building students would cut through an untended field to avoid the blistering heat along the main roads. Through this shortcut you’d observe homeless people sleeping or simply laying about under the many trees and used condoms and syringes became just another part of the path’s scenery. The college dorms were off of Biscayne and 23rd right by the bay. Heading towards Biscayne Blvd. you would pass small apartment complexes and simple one-story homes. Right on Biscayne was a Haitian art gallery, and the poor man’s landmark, Western Union, cause every poor person knows where the Western Unions are located. When it was time to eat I was within walking distance of KFC, Checkers, Burger King – and my two favorites – a Honduran Restaurant and IHOPS. When I went to the Honduran Restaurant I didn’t speak Spanish and they didn’t speak English so we used the universal language, pictures with numbers. I loved Miami in 2002. Time seemed to stand still and change seemed far away. The only apparent sign was the start of construction at the Miami Performing Arts Center.
However, when change does come it blindsides you and you’re left puzzled and at loss for words. Without warning one restaurant after another closed down. One house after another was sold and bulldozed. Before I knew it the majority of the neighborhood I lived in was sold and cleared away for Condo Construction. The “unkempt” field was now a full park with exercise tracks, swings, basketball courts, sandcastles and sea saws, landscaped with a manicured lawn and the standard Miami palm trees. My college was no longer IFAC but now the Art Institute: Miami International University of Art & Design. No longer did we have to walk from street to street for classes, we were now housed in the Old Omni Mall Building with classes on both floors. By 2006 the very skyline of Miami had been transformed. Where there once was sky there was now a new high rise. Miami was the new “It Town”. Everyone wanted to move down south, and celebrities were coming in droves. In one sense this was good. The city was vibrant and growing as a result of this rebirth. Rich money was coming in and the bums and prostitutes were run out. However, with the loss of all the small businesses and apartments students started asking each other where were the lower class people supposed to live and eat. All that remained were condos and five star restaurants. Miami had grown immensely but had forgotten about the everyday common people that made it such a unique and diverse city.
Now you’re possibly thinking, what is wrong with this guy? He just went off on a tangent talking about his personal life. This is a review! Is Holy Culture just letting anyone write reviews now? Well let me bring this story home. Miami’s progression from 2002 to 2006 is a representation of G-Notes’ artistic progression from his 2005 album Life, Situations & Stories to his 2009 album Bright Lights Magic City. Life, Situations and Stories (available at holyculturedownload.com, and I’m still waiting for that first check) was a nice warm album with a personal touch. G-Notes spoke to you the listener on a one to one level telling you the full tale of his youth without Christ and his coming to know Christ. His lyricism was on par, production was good. Some songs you really could relate to and grew to appreciate like Streets are Calling, Destiny, San Juan Night, Good Bye and my personal favorite Pain. While the album was good there were no taking the airwaves by force major hits to be found. In 2009’s Bright Lights Magic City, G-Notes’ creative process has taken a major overhaul and has been reconstructed from the ground up resulting in a mammoth production. Audio Construction Heavyweights such as K-Drama, G-Styles, Beat Mechanicz, Juice 20/20, Crazy Daisy Mastering and of course DJ Morph have crafted Sears Tower caliber tracks. In other words the sky is the limit.
This album is basically a listing of commercial radio friendly hits from the opening track Bright Lights, to the closing track, What’cha say about. Even on the grittier tracks such as American Dream, Miami State of Mind, Magic City, and Dying Star, the production is so polished and glistening that you still find yourself nodding and smiling to these dark tales. The epitome of this would be the track Eyes of a G. G-Notes opens “Raised an Immigrant straight from the gutter/ not an ounce of English, Deandre my brother/ taught me the life labeled me a goon/ so I sagged my pants, cause this is all I knew/ Product of the Hood, chico from Peru/ learned to get mustard just like a g should/ so I learned quickly the streets don’t love you man, I lost my best friend when the guns bang” Chorus “Look through my eye see what I see/ Take a look at life through the eyes of a G/ Look through my eye see what I see/ take a look at life through the eyes of a G like me.” With those same lines playing at a party a soul train line could easily pop off. Trust me, you can effortlessly go full Flash Dance or Thriller on the floor while the chorus is going “eyes of a G like me”.
Development has been a plus for Miami, and similarly development has been positive for G-Notes. However, deep down I wonder if there are negatives. I feel like the one-to-one connection with the artist has faded somewhat. I long for those slower tracks like Destiny and Pain where I can focus more on the emotion of a track. To be honest, however, Gino did not turn bourgeois on the listeners; there are heartfelt tracks on this album typified in the appropriately titled “Heartfelt Music,” where he speaks on lost loved ones. G-Notes is also still in storyteller mode on American Dream, Night Lights, and Dying Star. It is most probable that I am just nitpicking, but for some reason the veneer finish on the overall production makes Gino’s messages seem to be directed at a wider audience and not just you the individual listener. Some readers might not understand, but I’m sure others understand the desire of this mellow music audiophile for a track to sometimes take you out of the bustle of the Concert Arena and move you to the hammock under a shady tree as you just rock away to the music. Now some listeners might believe I’m saying that G-Notes is “selling out” to gain a more commercial sound, but they could not be further from the truth. I compare this transition as having that classmate who in the past was always making you laugh with his jokes, and now in the present he’s still cracking you up, but you’re listening to him through a television screen showing Pay Per View. He’s moved up and you’re happy for him but you still think fondly to those slower days.
While I spent most of the time so far on the audio production, G-Notes lyrics, as well as the albums concept and packaging, are all in top form. As a whole this album’s production has honestly moved up to the east side, past the deluxe apartment, up to the penthouse suite in the clouds with a great view looking down on the Jefferson’s worn out apartment.
Concept – Luke 4:5 says “Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. _6_And the devil said to Him, “All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. _7_Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours.” This authority, this glory is the “Bright Light” of which Gino refers to in his title. We as Christians today know what Jesus’ response was and we also know that he has given us the strength to respond in like manner. However, many people do not have the Word of God in their hearts and they therefore accept the tempter’s offer. For this reason G-Notes has dedicated the first half of his album to warning people about the dangers of the Bright Lights and what will happen if you accept the Devil’s offer. Not to stop there, God reminded Gino of when he himself was caught in the Bright Lights along with his city. Gino has been delivered but his city has not, clearly shown by its nickname, the Magic City. Therefore God has placed a yearning in Gino’s heart to preach the gospel to his city, beckoning them to come out from the Bright Lights. Hence the Second section the album has been aptly titled Magic City. (On a side note Orlando must be mad they didn’t take this nickname. They have the Orlando Magic, Disney World and Universal, how more magical can it get?)
Lyricism – Gino lyrically rhymes with the confidence of a veteran emcee. Those are the guys who when you feature them on a record can say whatever they want, however they want and fans will still appreciate their presence while your other featured artists are forcing themselves to write the bars that will one day be featured in the Source’s Best Rhymes of All Time editorial. On this album you won’t find yourself rewinding a track every few bars, but you will still love and appreciate the lyrics. On Miami State of Mind G-Notes says it best, “Been rhyming since 88/ got saved in 98/ that tells you just one thing, I hold my own weight” (P.S. That’s a lot).
The message of Christ is ever present throughout the album. While Gino does not directly always say “Jesus loves you,” it is still clear that his focus is on God when he speaks about the dangers of a life of crime, lust, or self-worship. Everyday life is the platform used to promote the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Word reaches the audience unmistakably.
Packaging – As far as packaging goes, let me say job well done to Ink Candy Design, Pho2Grafix Eye Studios, Jullia Arlelle, and DBHH Firm. The packaging is purely phenomenal. The cover photo captures the album title completely. You see a bright sheen of light on the side of G-Notes face resulting in him wearing the Stunna Shades to block the light. I can be looking in a bit further than intended by Gino but it can be said that the bright light looks like an artificial light, which is creating a blinding effect. At the top of the picture in the corner you can see the moon, which represents God’s real light, which is truly more welcoming and soothing to the eye. Continuing on, inside the lens of Gino’s stunna shades you see the Miami Skyline. This conveys the message that Gino’s attention is exclusively on his city. Conceptually this cover is well put together. The best part is that it’s a clean design outside of the scribbles added for effect. Too often artists allow their covers to overdose on Photoshop Effects making them looks like a Photoshop class project instead of a professional cover. Also, inside the booklet, more professionally taken photos are shown to single out the concepts of Bright Lights and Magic City.
It is inside the booklet that I have my one problem with the packaging, the fonts used. While I applaud them for obeying the design rule of not going overboard with too many styles of fonts that it confuses the readers’ eyes, the main font they used was clearly designed for use with titles and headlines not as body type. As a result I find myself focusing harder than necessary on his body copy. An important design rule is that easily reading the body text always takes preference over pretty body text. Body Copy should always be upper and lowercase to ensure proper reading.
I am most pleased to see that G-Notes included the album booklet in a digital form for those who bought the mp3 album. I truly applaud this because often I have felt as though I missed out on fully experiencing a project due to not receiving a download of the booklet which explains how the project was made. So kudos to Gino and please other artists follow suit.
1. Bright Light (Intro): K-Drama laced the opening track with a monster beat that fittingly set the pace for the album. Starting with a slowly strumming electric guitar, followed by organ keys, kicks and bass as the beat speeds up G-notes introduces the Bright Light Section and proceeds to Go Hard on the Track. He points that the world’s flashing lights of sex, drugs and alcohol but his eyes are focused on the Lord. The chorus points that this project has been given to God to direct. Certified Hit number 1.
2. Stunna Shades: G-Styles starts the track with a piano loop, backed by Sci-Fi sound effects amped up to the Hook where a beautiful choral effect is added with kicks. G-Notes speaks on…wait for it… blocking the bright lights with his stunna shades. You already figured that out?! You’re smart! I don’t feel that G-Notes lyrics really hit me that hard on this track but, nonetheless, I cannot deny this is a hit.
3. American Dream feat K-Nuff: The Beat Mechanicz bring a basic drum loop layered by another ambient choral sound effect and synthesization nicely rounding out the sound with techno beeps added for extra effect. In this, G-Notes’ first story telling track, he narrates the stories of three individuals in their pursuit of the almighty dollar.
4. Night Lights: The Beat Mechanics start this track off with straightforward techno beeps and simple bass but quickly overpower your senses by the hook. Gino tells his personal tale of being caught in the Bright Lights and how God delivered him from them. However, with Maria Z’s captivating performance on the hook you’ll have to force yourself to sit still long enough to really let the message sink in. Techno hip-hop Has itself a Holy Hit. Ladies will definitely like this one.
5. My Girl Ft Joe Justiz & Messianico: The Beat Mechanics do their thing on this track again. However I refuse to waste anymore time describing this track. Joe Justiz went way too mushy on his verse to the point where my manliness is still disturbed thinking about it. He said “My lady’s oh so amazing and she got me behaving/ (Strike one) She put’s God first and Mama she fly/ she’s sweeter than banana cream pie (Yes he said BANANA CREAM PIE, Strike Two) You should see her worship and she’s so spiritual/ even my mama likes her and that’s a miracle (Strike Three, He can stay and finish the verse, but I’m out) Mushy, snuggly brothers who are “in touch with their emotions” might like the track. Manly Men avoid this track, the mushiness will just get far worse.
6. Take a Picture: Juice 20/20 is now on my list of Guaranteed Hitmakers. This is definitely one of my favorite beats on the album. Synthesized keys followed by snares, horns and camera effects capture the listeners’ ears on the track. This is definitely the feel good party anthem of the album. This song is all about church folk having a good time and letting others know that we’re enjoying ourselves. G-Notes really got energized and threw some catchy lines on this one, “I’m here to make him known/ Enjoy your life ain’t alone/ Christ the great investment free checking savings and loans.” “Tomorrow’s not promised so I live my life today/ Died and resurrected Jesus the only way/ I portray my God’s image like an HD display/ I ain’t goin nowhere homie and yes I’m here to stay.” One listen and you will fall in love with this song.
7. Miami State of Mind: Juice 20/20 begins this track with synthesized loops followed by a chant of Magic City. This is followed by the addition of bass, a chopped up chant of “Miami State of Mind”, layered snares and piano keys. G-Notes lyrically takes you on a ride through Dade County as he expresses his desire to turn his city’s eyes towards the Father. You know it, another hit!
8. On me! Ft. Probly Palbo & Mike Hiciano: Juice 20/20 shows his diversity on the boards by now creating a captivating techno/rock fusion. G-Notes is a big guy, but he runs hard on this track saying that regardless of others God can send him to spread the gospel. An energetic hook further pulls in the listener and it seems to have pulled in Probly Pablo because halfway through his verse he starts singing, which kind of threw things off for me. Honestly people, we have to know our roles. If I forget the singing it’s a hit.
9. Magic City ft Pettidee: G-Styles takes the boards for this major league collaboration and lands a homerun with the beat. Horns, kicks, organ keys, and synthesization blend perfectly allowing G-Notes and Pettidee to easily flow over it preaching unity and togetherness. I’ve not purchased a Pettidee album before and I normally didn’t care for his bars when I heard them, but I must admit he was the right choice for this collaboration. It’s a hit!
10. Hey! Juice 20/20 Brings that Big party music once again on the anthem Hey! Not much has to be said about this track since it has been in rotation as a bonus track on DJ Morph’s International. The only addition to the production was a voice over chant in the hook. G-Notes really draws energy from Juice 20/20 and he delivers another standout performance. This track should be appreciated by the body
, especially for its high-spirited take on prayer and Christian accountability.
11. Heartfelt Music: G-Styles attempts to make Gino cry on at least one track and he might’ve succeeded if he didn’t make it possible for him to two step at the same time. Everyone knows you won’t cry when you two steppin. A looped chant matched by synthesized keys lead you into this emotional track. G-Notes exposes his heart on this track by talking about lost loves ones, divorce in the church and his personal experience with abortion; yet, at the same time showing his hope in God and his love for his son.
12. Eyes of a G Ft. Joe Justiz: G-Styles cranks out another captivating beat, but once again I cannot in good conscience spend too much time on this track. Gino does give a good message on the truth about the crime life. However, read this slowly… AUTO TUNE MUST DIE AND BE BURIED. Trust me if you wake up in the resurrection singing to auto tune, you woke up on the losing team. As you can see I despise auto tune, but if you still like it, you’ll say this was a hit. As for me, I scream “FOUL!!!”
13. Dying Star ft Eddie Nigma & Ruslan of the Breax: Teddy P drops one of the most laid backbeats to be found on this album. Piano loops, kicks and guitars provide the backdrop as these emcees share the solemn tale of a Holy Hip-Hop artist that crosses over to becoming a Secular Hip-Hop Artist.
14. What’cha say about: This track is not listed on the track credits. However this is one of the meanest tracks on the album so I hope both the digital and cd purchases get this track. It starts off with a hauntingly fast paced piano loop layered by a violin and then the bass comes in and – BAM! – you have a monster beat. The lyrics of the track start with an unidentified man talking about the previous Dying Star track. He then makes a call for the lost to repent and call Jesus into their lives. Gino follows by going all out as if this is his last chance to reach someone that’s caught in those bright lights. My only problem with this track is that they combined the talking and the rap together so every time I would want to listen to the song I will have to listen to the appeal first. Call me wrong but a way around that for the iPod listeners is to go in iTunes and right-click the track, choose get info, then on the options tab set the start time for the track to 0:51. Don’t be mad at me, it is what it is. They should’ve separated the appeal and the rap.
Now if you actually read all of this text I sincerely apologize, I am naturally long-winded. However I hope this info was beneficial to you. If it was or if it wasn’t let me know. If you’re fine with the review or want future ones short and to the point, let me know. After you listen to the album, let me know if I was on track, or off, with my analysis. This input will let me know how to write future reviews. That is, of course, only if this review wasn’t so abysmal that you’re about to create a forum requesting my reviewing credentials be taken away. If that’s the case then I only need say, I took your vital time and you’ll never get it back. MWA HA HA HA HA (That was my evil laugh).
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Review by: Church Boy
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