Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Skillz 2017 Rap Up

Skillz is a national treasure.

2017 RAP UP

Saturday, December 30, 2017

THE TOP 10 HIP HOP ALBUMS OF 2017

2017 was another year of growth for hip hop music. Despite on-going concerns about the death of lyricism and traditional structures, I continue to believe that the new generation of artists has recently found its footing; and are now making some of the most exciting music we've heard in years. They're playing with the aesthetic, upending delivery styles and stretching the genre in ways we never thought possible. It was a difficult task, but below is a list of my favorite albums of the year.

Enjoy!

1. KENDRICK LAMAR - DAMN (April 14th)
There are few platitudes left that have not been said about Kendrick Lamar. At this point he’s MJ circa 1993, a virtuoso at the top of his game. All that’s left to do is to listen and enjoy greatness in its prime. His trio of consecutive studio albums, Good Kid, M.A.A. D. City, To Pimp A Butterfly and now Damn are on the short list of greatest hat tricks of all time. And to me Damn is his finest. It’s like Kendrick heard the doubters saying his albums were too challenging, too dense, too serious and said “oh really?” before going into the studio to craft Damn. He emerged with a taut collection of 13 tracks that were tighter, more accessible, more user-friendly and yet somehow, no less intricate.  Like with previous records, Damn reveals its genius only upon repeated listens; with each spin offering new elements to admire. Do your best to keep up with the rapid fire DNA, nod along to Loyalty or listen with baited breath for the plot twist on Duckworth, either way you'll be blown away. 

2. JAY-Z – 4:44 (June 30th)
How does a 47 year old rapper sound relevant in the age of Trap Music dominance? How does he respond to a very public dressing down by one of the most beloved feminine icons in the world? In Jay-Z's case, by killing off his past persona, resisting the temptation to rely on his trademark braggadocio, baring his soul and simply coming clean. On 4:44 Jay gives a master class on the subtle art of grown folks' hip hop. It’s laced with wisdom, perspective, and black joy, but also melancholy, regret and all manner of hard-won life lessons. The beautiful production work from No I.D. (the project’s unsung hero) with expertly curated samples and sumptuous instrumentation, bathes the entire album in a rich, soulful grace. In the now unmatched cannon of Jay-Z’s body of work, 4:44 may not be his best album, but it’s certainly his most essential.

3. RAPSODY – LAILA’S WISDOM (September 22nd)
Here’s one thing that should be clear by now...Rapsody’s got BARS. The 34 year old NC native runs circles around your average hard rock, whether true school wannabe or mumble rap motor mouth. Metaphors, punch lines, slick cultural references and a healthy dose of Black Girl Magic are all in abundance on Laila’s Wisdom, as evidenced by the soaring title track, a slow-building, soul-stirring tribute to her late grandmother. “I’m the better version of what you think and used to call talent / I’ve been banking, check my balance” she spits mid-way through and you can’t help but agree. But Laila’s Wisdom is not just about clever wordplay. With warm, earthy production (mostly from long-time collaborator 9th Wonder), the album comes off as a cohesive, uplifting package that owes as much to Lauryn Hill as it does to Black Thought (who show's up on Nobody for a scene-stealing cameo). It’s always great to see an underappreciated artist come into her own, and that’s just what we witness with Rapsody on Laila’s Wisdom.

4.  TYLER THE CREATOR – FLOWER BOY 
(July 21st)
Even when we think we are prepared for his curve balls, Tyler The Creator still has a knack for defying expectations. And Flower Boy may be his most brilliant fake out yet. Musically, it’s an eclectic platter of captivating arrangements, stacked with lush strings, inventive samples and swelling chords. But it’s Tyler’s lyrics – raw, vulnerable, revealing and less sarcastic than his acerbic previous efforts - that gives the album its surprising depth. At 26 years old, having spent some time in the spotlight and become one of the most respected voices of his generation, Tyler’s already starting to sound like an elder statesman. But rather than coming off as burdened by the weight of stardom, Tyler simply sounds more mature and confident. He's a man in full control of his art...and that's no joke.

5. LIL UZI VERT – LUV IS RAGE 2 (August 25th)
If you are a man of a certain age (like myself), the only way to appreciate Lil Uzi Vert is to shut off that part of your brain that clings to the formal definition of hip hop music. Once you do so, you’ll find there is a lot to appreciate about the genre-bending rock star and his unlikely rise to the top of the rap game. If you’re going to dive in, there’s no better place to start than with Luv Is Rage 2, a sprawling, auto-tuned, digital delight of an album. XO Tour Lif3 is the natural entry point, a street punk anthem with a sticky chorus that masks the song’s bleak outlook. From there, sample the irresistible Sauce It Up, the ex-girl lament The Way Life Goes or the trippy, Pharrell-assisted Neon Guts. By then you should be ready to take on some of the album’s less accessible tracks. Soon after you’ll find your self humming For Real and Feelings Mutual around town, much to the dismay of your out of touch Gen X counterparts.

6. DRAKE – MORE LIFE (March 18th)
Say what you want about Drake, but you can’t deny the simple fact that dude is the most reliable hit maker in hip hop music today. Try to resist the Travis Scott and Quavo collab Portland, the liquid smooth Passion Fruit, or the incandescent Fake Love all you want. But, as the saying goes, the neck don’t lie. A chameleon if I ever saw one, the 22 tracks on More Life run the gamut from classic R&B, to house music, to Caribbean, dancehall and straight-up battle rap. The funny thing is, I'm no longer surprised that he makes it all work for him. 

7. MIGOS – CULTURE (January 27th)
Culture is not much more than a flex album for Migos. A middle finger to their haters and a curtain call for their legions of fans. Already winning at life (and having way more fun than the rest of us), the Atlanta trio now serves as trap music’s reigning champs. The poster children for demise of lyricism and the leading source of inspiration for a generation of imitators. I’m not going to try to pretend that I can get into much of what these guys are rapping about (or even that I can tell them apart). But what Migos lack in nuance, variety and lyrical complexity, they more than make up for with unforgettable hooks, nimble phraseology and thundering bass lines. Bad and Boujee, (immortalized at the Golden Globe Awards by the great Donald Glover) is their obvious moonshot. But you should blast T-Shirt, Slippery or Get Right Witcha (very very loudly) in your car if you want to experience your very own “oh, I get it now” Migos moment.

8.  AMINE – GOOD FOR YOU (JULY 28TH)
I think it’s fair to say that Amine’s brightly lit debut album matches Chance The Rapper’s Coloring book stride for stride in bubbly cheerfulness. And last summer Good For You was just that, a welcome respite from 2017's relentlessly dreadful mood. Although like Chance, Amine also morphs seamlessly between rapping and singing, the comparisons end there. His lyrics are more straight-forward and his sound does not lean into gospel underpinnings. His tracks are bouncy and whip smart, with charming, playful rhymes built around relatable themes. As for idols, Amine’s got his sights set on a higher target (he’s referred to himself “Andre’s prodigy”). He’s got his work cut out for him if he want to rise to those heights, but with Good For You, he’s off to a great start.

9. FUTURE - HNDRXX (February 24th)
If awards were given for ubiquity, Future would be Man of the Year by a wide margin. Hndrxx, released just 2 weeks after his self-titled 5th studio album, arrived with high expectations after he promised it would be “something special”. While not consistent top to bottom (and containing nothing to match the world-beating Mask Off), there certainly was enough there to make sure he did not disappoint. Incredible is piece of pure pop gold. Coming Out Strong (ft. The Weekend) is as plush as you would expect and Looking Exotic showcases Future’s uncanny gift for melodic swagger. Moody, somber, and filled with all kinds of ex-girl trauma (Hi Ciara), Hndrxx did more than enough to satisfy fans, counterbalance his drug-rap street anthems and proudly represent Future’s crooning, lover man alter-ego.

10. CYHI THE PRYNCE – NO DOPE ON SUNDAYS (November 17th
Just when you thought that the ATL was forever lost to the trap scene, along comes Cyhi The Prynce, a superb storyteller and wordsmith with a raspy flow who sounds like a disciple of 90s era true school hip hop. No Dope On Sundays strikes a nice balance between radio-friendly heat (Get Yo Money), gully sh*t (Murda ft. Estelle), and conscious-rap throwbacks (Nu Africa). For all of you who think true lyricism is dead, give Cyhi a spin and I promise you’ll instantly feel better about the state of hip hop music.


HONORABLE MENTION
  • J.I.D. - The Never Story
  • Joey Bada$$ - All-Amerikkkan Badass
  • Meek Mill - Wins And Losses
  • Joyner Lucas - 508-507-2209
  • Freddie Gibbs - You Only Live Twice
  • Vince Staples - Big Fish Theory
  • Vic Mensa - The Autobiography
  • Smino - Blkswn
  • Oddisee - The Iceberg
  • Big K.R.I.T. - 4eva Is A Mighty Long Time

Friday, December 29, 2017

EVAN'S LIST: THE BEST HIP HOP ALBUMS OF 2017














1. Meek Mill - Wins & Losses
- Meek defines what it means to be resilient in this perfect blend of lyrics, bangers and pure heart. He pulls no punches on his more revealing tracks such as “Heavy Heart”, “1942 Flows” and “Price”. He delivers wise and uplifting messages to his main audience in “Young Black American” “Made It From Nothing” and “Never Lose”. All while still managing to provide his trademark heavy artillery bars over radio ready bangers along with star studded guest in tracks like “Ball Player”, “Glow Up” and “These Scars”. It is a perfect snapshot of Hip-Hop in 2017 and a brilliant come back for someone who’s career could have easily faded away after taking several L’s.

2. Kendrick - DAMN
- DAMN is an explosive conceptual fireball from beginning to end. Sonically it is his most daring and different album, straying far away from his typical artsy and jazzy sounds used in his recently albums. Instead he gives us many loud angry electronic sounds, dj drops and contemporary flows like a mixtape in the 90s, even a few rock ballads here and there following the rockstar trend in Hip-Hop. DAMN may also be his most simplistic album to date in the storytelling department. Good for the average or new listener who may have felt like TPAB went off the deep end and finds DAMN far more digestible. Bad for the hardcore listener and fan who loves going back for a second or third listen, to better piece the story together and find deeper meanings. 

3. Future - Future 
- This furious self-titled Ep perfectly embodies everything we’ve come to love about Future at this point in his career while also displaying his artistic growth. While not quite as angry as his infamous “Dirty Sprite 2” he still give us plenty of raw and rugged sounds to choose from. Fine tuning lyrics about designer clothing, outrageous spending, and rockstar lifestyle at a quality that is far above his mixtapes and copy cats biting his style. He relentlessly beats us over the head with hit after hit that sounds like it should be played at your local trap house party or being blasted out of sports car speakers. He takes a few melodic breaks in between to reflect on his past and warn his homies to stay out the streets.

4. Tyler The Creator - Flower Boy
- Tyler caught everyone’s attention in early 2011 due to his obnoxiously loud music & overly raunchy lyrics. Since then in incredibly ironic fashion he has quietly orchestrated some of Hip-hop's most soothing sounds to date. Flower Boy further pushes this narrative. Remove Tyler’s lyrics from this album and you may think you're at an art festival. However his lyrics are phenomenal and make this album great. Providing an in-depth look at a more mature Tyler’s insecurities and thoughts. He even tugs strings at possibly being gay (although he’s probably just trolling per usual). With the help of plenty of background vocals, frank ocean, and even a sneaky Lil Wayne verse which is always a pleasant surprise, this album provided some of the best vibes 2017 had to offer. 

5. Jay-Z - 4:44
- Hov's latest record probably skyrocketed to the top of everyone's rap list off the strength of his star alone. Take away his star power and what do you have? A darn good album still. Sonically it is a bit lack luster, especially coming from one of Hip-hop's greatest innovators who has given us some of the most polished and elegant sounding music ever. Nevertheless it’s gritty and organic sound will either be like breath of fresh air or bore you to death. Moving pass that, lyrically this thing delivers. To see a persona as big as Jay-Z bury his ego and share his most intimate thoughts on fatherhood, his marriage, and the black community does nothing but further cement his status as legend, as he humbly comes full circle and grows as a person. Minus the few bars where he sounds like the preachy old guy trying to coach everyone about their finances.

6. Rick Ross - Rather You Than Me 
-Prior to 2014 Rick Ross had given us nothing but contemporary classics. In 2014 and 2015 he dropped two albums back to back that were incredibly mediocre and forgettable. In 2017 he got back to business. Rozay dove back into his roots with the trap orchestra godfather sound that he helped create. Gliding from track to track with slick lyrics about gaining and maintaining the good life, being a OG in the game at this point, and being black in America. Arguably his best lyrical performance. (Ghost writer maybe 🤔). Regardless, Ricky still knows how to put a project together. He also gets a couple solid cameos from Nas, Meek Mill, Ty Dollar Sign, and more.

7. Playboi Carti - Playboy Carti
-Hailed by some as a “Mumble Rap Classic” Playboi Carti’s self-titled debut album took the world by storm in early 2017. It’s no secret Carti leaves much to be desired in the lyrical department. He makes up for it with the most infectiously catchy hooks and adlibs you may ever hear. With hits like “Magnolia” and “Woke Up Like This” that controlled the airways for months, it will be hard to not think of this Album when you think of 2017. 

8. Young Dolph - Bullet Proof 
-Any one of the 3 piping hot projects Dolph dropped in 2017 could have made this list. However this one is probably his most meaningful being as though he dropped it less than 10 days after being shot at 100 times! He effectively trolls his enemies in every bar, verse, punchline, and even the track list. All while producing solid high quality bangers and utilizing his infectious boss like mentality that makes him so popular. Bullet Proof is a southern masterpiece from beginning to end.

9. Culture - Migos
-This high octane instant classic dropped in January 2017 and pretty much set the pace for what was to come the rest of the year. The Migos were everywhere you looked, being featured in countless collabs between the 3 of them, joint albums and more. With juggernaut hits like “Bad and Boujee” “Slippery” and “T-shirt” and more, they made their reign look easy. Most importantly this album was a symbolic stepping stone from their status as mixtape superstars to world wide phenomenons. 

10. Future - HNDRXX 
- Somehow Future managed to drop two very relevant projects back to back, which just shows how dominant he is. The brilliance in HNDRXX is its polar oppositeness to his self-titled “Future”. Which just flexes his versatility. Where as Future is a raw and rough banger ready to be played at your local trap house, HNDRXX Is a much smoother and fine tuned sound where Future is much more emotional and open, ready to reflect on his new and past relationships and his lavish life.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

THE TOP 10 ALBUMS OF 2017 - GENERATION COMPARISON



It's always fun to compare my top 10 Lists to those of made by Reese and Evan. It gives me a sense for how wide the generation gap is and quite frankly, whether or not I am keeping up with the times. As the 3 lists side by side below demonstrate, the gap is not terribly wide.

THE TOP 10 HIP HOP ALBUMS OF 2017



LAMONT – GEN X
EVAN – GEN Y
REESE – GEN Z
1
Damn
Kendrick Lamar
Wins And Losses
Meek Mill
Luv Is Rage 2
Lil Uzi Vert
2
4:44
Jay-Z
Damn
Kendrick Lamar
Perfect Timing
Nav
3
Laila’s Wisdom Rapsody
Future
Future
Culture
Migos
4
Flower Boy
Tyler The Creator
Flower Boy
Tyler The Creator
Damn
Kendrick Lamar
5
Luv Is Rage 2
Lil Uzi Vert
4:44
Jay-Z
Future
Future
6
More Life
Drake
Rather You Than Me Rick Ross
A Love Letter To You Trippie Redd
7
Culture
Migos
Playboi Carti
Playboi Carti
Super Slimey
Future & Young Thug
8
Good For You
Amine
Bullet Proof
Young Dolph
Without Warning 
Offset & 21 Savage
9
Hndrxx
Future
Culture
Migos
The Bigger Artist
A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie
10
No Dope On Sundays Cyhi The Prynce
Hndrxx
Future
Issa Album
21 Savage

Just like last year. Evan and I continue to have somewhat similar tastes, especially when it comes to more traditional hip hop. Meanwhile, Reese who has no ties to the true school era, remains as an outlier. He only intersects with Evan and I when it comes new school albums that were popular enough to have reached multiple audiences (such as Culture, and Damn). As Evidence:
  • Only 2 albums (Damn and Culture) made all 3 lists (highlighted in yellow)
  • Evan and I had 5 overlapping albums, the two in yellow, plus 4:44, Flower Boy and Hndrxx (highlighted in blue)
  • Reese and I only had 3 in common, the two in yellow plus Luv Is Rage 2 (highlighted in green)
  • And finally, Evan and Reese also only had 3 in common, the two in yellow plus Future (highlighted in orange)