Tuesday, January 17, 2017

He Showed Us The Way

He showed us what grace under fire looks like.
He showed us what true love looks like.
He showed us that both swagger and humility could co-exist.
He showed us that you could be the leader of the free world AND have a wicked jumpshot.
He showed us how to look cool in a pair of shades, under the glare of white hot lights.
He moved us with his intellect. He dazzled us with his elegance.
He challenged us with his audacity. He inspired us with his optimism.
But most of all, he served. He represented. He got in the arena. And he fought.
Someday, I hope to tell stories to my grandchildren about this great man.
I hope they will marvel at my seemingly tall tales and find it remarkable that I got to see him in his prime.  As if I was alive when dinosaurs walked the earth.
Next to a framed poster of him beside Dr. King and Malcolm X, I’ll talk about the awesome speeches he gave. Like the way we reminisce about Jordan’s Flu Game and AI’s crossover.
Like that time at the DNC in ’04 when he said “in no other country on earth is my story even possible” and a nation started to believe.
Like that time in Philadelphia in ’08 where he gave a speech on race, saying “out of many, we are truly one” and a nation began to understand.
Or that time in 2015 at a Eulogy in South Carolina when he said “out of this unspeakable tragedy, God has visited Grace upon us. For he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind”. And then he sang “Amazing Grace” and an entire nation smiled through its tears.
He always said that he was an imperfect messenger. A flawed human who would do his best, but would occasionally make mistakes and sometimes let us down.
He warned us that the change we wanted to see in the world would have to come from us, not him.
As usual, he was right. And that is why his imperfections made him perfect.

In his farewell address, Barack Obama said “my fellow Americans, it has been the honor of my life to serve you”. Well I say, right back at you sir, it has been the honor of my life to call you my President.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Three Generations Of 2016 Top 10 Hip Hop Albums Lists


As an interesting exercise in looking at the year in music, I asked Evan and Reese to complete their 2016 top 10 Hip Hop Album's lists in order to compare them to mine. Evan (22) represents Gen Y and Reese (13) reps Gen Z. Below are their lists alongside mine, and some analysis on what I think this says about the state of contemporary hip hop and its future.

THE TOP 10 HIP HOP ALBUMS OF 2016


Lamont
Generation X
Evan
Generation Y
Reese
Generation Z
1
A Tribe Called Quest
We Got It From Here
Kanye West
The Life Of Pablo
Chance The Rapper
Coloring Book
2
Chance The Rapper
Coloring Book
Kendrick Lamar
untitled unmastered
Drake
Views
3
Kanye West
The Life Of Pablo
ScHoolboy Q
Blank Face LP
Future
Evol
4
ScHoolboy Q
Blank Face LP
Curren$y & Alchemist
The Carrollton Heist
Lil Yachty
Lil Boat
5
Drake
Views
Chance The Rapper
Coloring Book
Kanye West
The Life Of Pablo
6
Pusha T
Darkest Before Dawn
Isaiah Rashad
The Sun’s Tirade
21 Savage
Savage Mode
7
J Cole
4 Your Eyez Only
Travis Scott
Birds In The Trap
Travis Scott
Birds In The Trap
8
Travis Scott
Birds In The Trap
Drake
Views
Lil Uzi Vert
The Perfect Luv Tape
9
Curren$y & Alchemist
The Carrollton Heist
Pusha T
Darkest Before Dawn
Ralo
Diary Of The Streets
10
Royce 5’9”
Layers
Kodak Black
Lil B.I.G. Pac
J Cole
4 Your Eyez Only

What We Agree On:
Chance, Drake, Travis Scott and Kanye – Conventional wisdom says that our age gap, combined with the incredibly fractured digital music age we live in, would lead to very little overlap in our top 10 selections. But it turns out that's not the case at all. Sure, my #1 pick, A Tribe Called Quest's We Got It From Here.. didn't even crack Evan or Reese's top 10, but otherwise we found quite a bit to agree on. Aside from maybe Travis Scott, the 4 albums that made each of our Top 10s were all massive pop hits in 2016. They are all no-brainer records that showed up on pretty much everybody’s lists, proving there was something on each of those albums for all of us to love.


Additional Gen X And Gen Y Overlap:
Pusha T, Curren$y And ScHoolboy Q – Clearly Evan and I have similar tastes in music. With the addition of these 3 albums, we shared 7 of the same top 10 albums for the year. This either proves that the generation gap between X and Y is not as prevalent as one might think, or simply that our preferences tend to rub off on each other.

Additional Gen X And Gen Z Overlap:
J Cole - In addition to the Big 4, Reese and I agreed on J Cole. We're both long time fans, so this is not a surprise at all.

Additional Gen Y And Gen Z Overlap:
None - This is somewhat surprising, you would think that since Reese and Evan are closer in age, they would find more to agree on. Perhaps this is where fragmentation starts to come into play.

No Overlap: These are the albums that made only one of our lists, respectively:
  • Gen X (Lamont) A Tribe Called Quest and Royce Da 5'9" - Both of these albums are from rappers who are on the older side (either close to or over 40 years old)
  • Gen Y (Evan) Kendrick, Isaiah Rashad and Kodak Black - Kendrick and Isaiah both made 2016 albums that I liked a lot, but I couldn't get into 19 year old Kodak Black, who's southern slang seemed indistinguishable from every other dirty south tough guy.
  • Gen Z (Reese) Ralo, Lil Uzi Vert, 21 Savage, Lil Yachty and Future - Here is where the generation gap reared its ugly head. Compared to Evan and I, Reese has a much stronger preference for brooding, futuristic beats and youthful frontmen (with tons of swagger) who aggressively reject rap's conventional trappings. As a general rule, these guys place an emphasis on melody, phrasing and emoting over, you know, actual rapping. These albums were all massively popular among the Gen Z crowd, while most guys my age either never heard of them or failed to comprehend the appeal of this "mumble rap". The moral of the story: as fans (and artists) get younger, hip hop moves further away from it's traditional sound. 

Saturday, December 31, 2016

THE TOP 10 RAP ALBUMS OF 2016

2016 may have sucked in many ways, but it was an awesome year for rap music. There was so much good stuff out there it was hard to keep up - ranging from young upstarts who forced us to re-think the boundaries of what should even be considered hip hop, to elder statesmen who set out to prove they could still hang. Below (in reverse order) is my take on the top 10 rap albums of the year. Enjoy.


10. Royce 5’9” / Layers – Whenever I listen to Royce Da 5’9” I’m reminded of the same fact - this dude can rap his ass off! On Layers, Royce is given ample space to show off his verbal high jinx, which come off as clever, quick-witted and razor-sharp as always. “Dope” is a hilarious take on a hustler’s addiction to the drug game. “Startercoat", is a rapid-fire throw back to the days when Royce rocked the iconic jacket. And “Layers” is a tour de force where he raises his game to compete with Pusha T and Rick Ross who show up for cameos. But he does his best work when he goes beyond just battle rhymes, such as on “Tabernacle” where he tells a moving story about the most important night of his career. It rounds out this already excellent record with some much needed depth.

9. Curren$y & Alchemist / The Carrollton Heist – I’m not sure what went down at the actual Carrollton Heist, but I’m guessing whatever it was it took place after midnight. Indeed, this is late night music to get high to. Dusty, smoked out, laid-back and dope AF. The Alchemist loops jazzy funk over hazy low-end beats that beg for a bag of weed and some Hennessy, while Curren$y supplies his impeccable monotone flow. When things start to get a bit too sleepy, A-List guests emerge from the backroom with fresh energy to keep the party going. Those include Action Bronson, Styles P and a remarkably lucid Lil Wayne, who spits the hottest verse I’ve heard from him in years. “This for the smokers and the real ones” he raps on “Fat Albert” and I have to admit, truer words have never been spoken.

8. Travis Scott / Birds In The Trap Sing McNight – Moody, atmospheric soundscapes dominate hip hop these days and no one does it better than 24 year old Houston native, Travis Scott. Tracks like “goosebumps” (ft. Kendrick Lamar), “sweet sweet” and “through the late night” show off Scott’s impressive production talents - representing his best work to date. When future generations ask what contemporary hip hop sounded like circa 2016, historians will do well to point to Birds In The Trap with its lush keys, polished drums and digitized vocals. It’s a pleasing blend, even if it owes more to EDM and R&B than rap's true school roots.

7. J Cole / 4 Your Eyez Only – J Cole shook things up with his pre-release drop of “False Prophets”, a song where he expresses disappointment with some unnamed peers and former idols. But we find him in a much more introspective mood on 4 Your Eyez Only where “False Prophets” fails to make an appearance. At 31 years old and no longer giving a damn what his detractors think of him, Cole let’s loose with his most personal album thus far. He’s on some serious grown man sh*t here, contemplating life, love, fame, death and the joys of domestic bliss. The sound is soulful, mellow and deeply felt. He scores with “She’s Mine Pt. 1” and “She’s Mine Pt. 2”, beautiful ballads about his wife and newborn daughter, respectively. And “Foldin Clothes” works as an exuberant (if somewhat goofy) celebration of settling down with a good woman and enjoying the little things, thanks in part to an extraordinarily funky baseline. But the apex of the album is the title track, a wistful tribute to a friend (speaking from the grave to his daughter), that only reveals itself as such after repeated listens. This is J Cole at his most authentic, giving us the best that he has to offer.

6. Pusha T / King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude  - At nearly 40 years old, Pusha T might be the most skilled MC working today - a steely, dead-eyed wordsmith with no time for mumble-rap, melody or syrupy hooks. On King Push, he mostly stays in his lane with tracks that are sparse, sturdy and predictably bleak. The album crackles with intensity before reaching its peak on the final track, “Sunshine” (featuring Jill Scott), a surprisingly poignant protest song that feels right at home in the Black Lives Matter era.

5. Drake / Views – Drake offers nothing new on Views and that’s totally fine. It turns out dude is really, really good at what he does – making danceable hip pop that sounds perfectly of-the-moment. And indeed Views is loaded with an hours long road trip worth of hits ("Westin Road Flows", "Hype", "Feel No Ways", "One Dance", etc.). Despite many of us not wanting to admit it, Views shows that Drake is the total package - a clever rapper, capable singer and deceptively skilled songwriter – who’s able to toss off can’t-miss singles that manage to burrow their way into every crevice of pop culture without breaking a sweat. It’s so easy for him that it can all be a bit annoying really.

4. ScHoolboy Q / Blank Face LP – On Blank Face, TDE MC ScHoolboy Q lives up to his potential and then some, serving up a blistering platter of psychedelic G Funk that brings present day South Central, LA to life in vivid color. This is hard core gangsta rap for sure, except updated with an impressive array of musical influences and lyrical styles. Tracks like “Ride Out” and “Groovy Tony / Eddie Kane” bang with the fury while “Blank Face”, “Lord Have Mercy” and “By Any Means” summon that laid back Cali vibe with just the right amount of menace. Then there’s “JoHn Muir”, which captures the day-in-the-life of a true G aesthetic in the mode of Ice Cube’s “Steady Mobbin’”. It’s my favorite track on the album, which is saying a lot since I haven’t even mentioned the Kanye-assisted “THat Part” a melodic, slick-talking street anthem that might just be the song of the year.

3. Kanye West / The Life Of Pablo – After the Trump rant, I’m done with apologizing for Kanye. Still, that doesn’t take away from the fact that The Life of Pablo is a hell of an album. Say what you want about the man, but as an artist Kanye is a visionary who pushes the sound of popular music forward like no other artist of his generation. TLOP is an ambitious, sprawling masterwork that somehow hangs together over the course 65 minutes. It’s packed with diverse highlights, including "Ultralight Beam", "Fade", "Father Stretch My Hands", "Famous", and so on - that are at once challenging, impeccable and deeply satisfying.

2. Chance The Rapper / Coloring Book – In any other year (one not featuring a fantastic come back from A Tribe Called Quest) this would be the best hip hop record by a wide margin. On Coloring Book, Chance seamlessly embodies the best of all of all eras and sub-genres – effortlessly sliding in and out of slick bars, off-kilter flows and catchy, sing-songy hooks, all while sounding unabashedly earnest and optimistic. But it’s the album’s gospel underpinnings that make it truly special, infusing nearly all 16 tracks with a sense of spirituality that’s soulful, stirring and utterly irresistible.

1. A Tribe Called Quest / We Got It From Here…Thank You For Your Service – Eighteen years removed from what we thought was their last album and only 8 months after the death of Phife, we’d all have forgiven ATCQ if they had submitted an earnest, nostalgia-filled record that sounded melancholy and dated. Instead, the world’s most beloved rap group delivered the album of the year, just when we needed it most (3 days after the election of Donald Trump). We Got It From Here is a joyful, infectious jam session that improbably finds ATCQ still at the top of its game. Q-Tip reveals himself once again to be a maniacal genius, lacing track after track with complex, percolating instrumentation that updates the unmistakable ATCQ formula while never straying from its roots. Whether on the mic or behind the boards, The Abstract Poet proves he can still really bring it! Phife for his part, is as on-point as ever, kicking his signature punch lines with renewed vigor. And guest appearances from the likes of Busta Rhymes, Jack White, Andre 3000, and even Elton John all add to, rather than disrupt the groove. All in all, it’s a pretty spectacular piece of work, as worthy as anything in the Tribe catalog – and that’s saying a lot.

HONORABLE MENTIONS
11. Isaiah Rashad / The Sun’s Tirade
12. De La Soul / And The Anonymous Nobody
13. Vince Staples / Prima Donna
14. Kendrick Lamar / untitled unmastered
15. YG / Still Brazy
17. Common / Black America Again
18. Masta Ace / The Falling Season
16. Danny Brown / Atrocity Exhibition
19. Saba / Bucket List Project
20. Kevin Gates / Islah

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Show Me Whatcha Got

Remember when Janet Jackson took off her clothes to promote an upcoming record? That was May 1993 – 21 years ago – for the album janet., and she was as blazing hot as the album (and Rolling Stone) cover was controversial. But the difference between Janet and modern day starlet Nkcki Manaj is that Janet had the goods to back up the controversial cover.

The lead single that followed the photo was That’s The Way Love Goes – a sly, sultry little track with a devastating baseline that had even the hardest hard rocks rushing the dance floor trying to get their groove on. Oh, and the rest of the album? “Throb”, "You Want This", "If", "Again", "Any Time, Any Place" – hit after hit. 20 million copies sold, ranked in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as #86 on their Greatest Albums of All Time List. A collection of soulful pop magic that we may never hear the likes of again.

Yeah, Janet had the body of life and was not afraid to show it off. But she had undeniable talent as an artist and performer. Don't sleep, along with her long-time legendary collaborators, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, she not only wrote the lyrics but also produced every song on janet. No, Janet was no one trick pony, not taking off her clothes merely for attention, but to demonstrate the power of a woman taking control of her sexuality. Twenty years ago that was bold and daring – today that’s purely derivative.

So Nicki has the body – we all can see that. But does she have the body of work to back it up? That remains to be seen. Come on Nicki – Show me whatcha got.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Dave Chappelle Reminds Us Why We Missed Him


Dave Chappelle Buffed for his triumphant return to NYC
Caught Dave Chappelle twice during his 10 Gig run at Radio City. I agree with Esquire, dude was on his game. On night 2 Nas was fantastic as well (although I would have preferred to have heard the studio version of Illmatic, rather than the orchestra's interpretation  - a bit too artsy for my tastes). But while Nas/Dave together was special, I preferred the first night when Dave was by himself and was free to deliver a slow burn, 2 hour set without having to cut his material short to make way for another legend.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Extended Play: The 7 Hottest Songs In America's Top 7 Cities

An interesting bit of analysis on Hip Hop DX seeking to find out what is really "Hot" right now across various regions. Great application of statistical and anecdotal data to make the case. Of course, I'm terrified by just how few of these songs I have actually heard. And by how ridiculous the titles of some of the songs/artists sound.

Statistical Proof of what hip hop tracks are "Hot" right now.

Extended Play: The 7 Hottest Songs In America's Top 7 Cities

Thursday, December 19, 2013

2013: The Year of The Rap Nerd

Nice piece of analysis from Complex Mag.

The Year of The Rap Nerd | Complex