Drake – Scorpion

17 Jul

The thing about Drake is that he is extremely talented. There are a lot of critiques that people make of him in terms of style, substance and originality and they are largely justified, but he is extremely talented. So even when you get something with as little motivation as Scorpion, there’s still enough there to make it worth listening to.

The singles were all quite strong and things like “Mob Ties” and “Finesse” are earworms, and far from the only ones. Given the length of this album though, it would be a travesty if there were not. Nothing is outright terrible, but there some amount of what feels like filler, like “Sandra’s Rose”. Additionally, the album as a whole just feels a little samey. It just lacks fire and it lacks imagination.

I think that this is exacerbated by the idea of splitting it into a rap half and an R&B half instead of the normal merger that he built his career on. The rest of cliches are all still here though, the beats and the complaints are the same as they always were. It’s a pity that of all of his hallmarks, he chose to lose the most interesting of the lot.

This lack of change feels much worse due to the circumstances around the album. You would expect a son to make some kind of a change to Drake, but the child gets barely a mention throughout the album. The shocking entry of that child into public consciousness is even less addressed. Pusha-T dropped him in the hardest diss tracks in recent history and Drake’s failure to use his album to respond cements that feud as a crushing defeat for him.

Despite all of this though, the album is of a remarkably consistent quality. Drake rose to the top due to his immense talent and it looks like despite all of the failings of Scorpion, he will remain there. This is an album deserving of a few listens and is still one of the music events of the year. It’s just also a little unnecessary.

@murthynikhil

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The Carters – EVERYTHING IS LOVE

2 Jul

For an album like this, the music is always going to be overshadowed by the event and the story behind it. There’s a lot going for the music though. Beyoncé indulging in triplet raps is worth the price of admission alone and Jay manages to sustain this second wind of his career. This really comes together in things like the fantastic “APESHIT”. It’s a high energy song with a stunning video and Migos ad-libbing beautifully in the background.

While that song is the clear standout, but there’s quite a lot of solid work besides it. “NICE”, for instance, also sees Beyoncé with some interesting bars. She’s spent a lot of time in this area before and after they finish mining their relationship, I hope Beyoncé takes an album to give her rapping the space it deserves.

Jay-Z does some work of his own, if seemingly the smaller share. The strong “713” is all him and is all about her. His verses on “FRIENDS” make the song, but Beyonce’s singing is excellent here and her bout of vocalization is extremely good. This interplay is reversed a little on “BOSS”, which is completely run by her singing but Jay still gets an interesting verse in there with an intriguingly skewed flow.

It’s an unquestionably solid album and it’s good to see the Carters both acknowledge their flaws and their recent history as well as stunt all over everyone. An album like this was guaranteed to be a hit no matter what, it’s good to see it back that up with something of the excellence you would expect.

@murthynikhil

Teyana Taylor – K.T.S.E.

24 Jun

It’s unfortunate, but Yeezy season was due for a full-on bust and this is it. I had hopes from this given Teyana’s talent and the criminal degree to which she is underutilized, but it was not to be. This is just poorly executed on every axis. There is no reason to waste your time with this.

@murthynikhil

Nas – NASIR

22 Jun

I still remember the first time that I heard The Illmatic. That album opened my eyes to what rap could be. I had never heard anything like it. It’s rightly hailed as one of the greatest rap albums of all time to the extent that I feel that it often overshadows the rest of his work, which is a shame as he has a lot of excellent music. Unfortunately, this album doesn’t add much to that oeuvre.

Nas honestly just feels bored here. He can’t summon the kinetic energy that imbued his earlier songs. He just doesn’t have the flow of his youth and lacks the skill and swagger that made his best work so great. Something like “Bonjour” just feels pointless. Kanye’s production tends to be impressive here, but doesn’t always connect with Nas. Historically, Nas does well when afforded more space than these beats allow.

However, the beat for “Cops Shot The Kid” is insanely good and the Richard Pryor introduction sets the song strongly. Ye has some solid lines here, but his rapping is weak enough to slightly harm the song and Nas’ actual bars are delivered adequately but feel forgettable. “Not For Radio” on the other hand has Nas deliver some excellent lines and he does so with aggression, but he undercuts them with some absolute head-scratchers. Still, “You’re lucky God made us compassionate” is powerful and “I think they scared of us” makes a hell of a chorus.

The centerpiece of the album, “everything” gives Nas some more space to work though and he uses it well. It feels like classic Nas when he starts his storytelling and while he can’t sustain it over the full seven minutes of the song, it still makes for one of the strongest pieces here. Additionally, Kanye’s chorus is amazing and tempers the rap well with its emotion. Similarly, the beat and chorus of “Adam and Eve” matches Nas well and it’s one of the few moments where he feels like he could recapture something of his best work. It’s solid, but Nas at his peak was a whole different animal.

This isn’t standout work for either of the people involved. It has moments though and is worth at least a quick listen.

@murthynikhil

KIDS SEE GHOSTS – KIDS SEE GHOSTS

15 Jun

Yeezy season continues and Kids See Ghosts is easily the strongest release of a strong set. At the same 7 songs and 20 minutes as the other two, it doesn’t quite have the tightness of Daytona or provoke quite as much thought as ye, but neither of them have quite the brilliance of Kids See Ghosts.

Kid Cudi is one of those rappers whose influence is undeniable, but whose albums are always something of a crapshoot. His Man On The Moon days were excellent, his other stuff often less so. Still, he built a niche for himself and newer hit rappers like XXXTentacion and Young Thug definitely draw from his style of rock-flavored rap. Kids See Ghosts sees Cudi more than turn away the challenge though.

The two of them complement each other well with “Cudi Montage” amusingly being one of the best showcases of this team-up. It uses a posthumous Nirvana guitar riff as the base of an exceptional beat. Cudi’s voice matches it perfectly to open it and then he transitions beautifully into a fantastic chorus thrumming with Cudi’s deep hum. Kanye then gets his turn with a punchy verse on the cycle of gun violence and then the album goes on an extended return to the chorus to end the album.

Great though the end of the album is, let’s take a step back to the beginning. There’s a strong undercurrent of soul in this album that hits you right from the opening song “Feel The Love.” A song with a name like that was always going to have heart, but that reverberating chorus is transporting and then cutting it with Kanye’s vocalizing is a sledgehammer blow before hitting the break. It’s a powerful song.

The real highlights come a little later in the album though. “4th Dimension” is classic Kanye. The distortion of the Louis Prima song “What Will Santa Say” to make a beat is brilliant. The rapping sets a healthy pace though. First, Kanye gets off a couple of clever lines and then Cudi just runs with it. His “Kids See Ghosts off the ropes, Ric Flair on your bitch” sticks with you.

It’s “Reborn” though that’s my pick of the album. Cudi’s hook is mass-media gospel in a way that should have televangelists foaming. It holds both the tiredness it needs and the forward movement that lifts the listener as much as the song. It’s deep and resonant and captures a moment and a feeling better than most songs and most artists are capable of and does this while just being fantastic music.

There’s not a weak song in this set. “Freeee (Ghost Town Pt. 2)” is muscular and rips you along with it. It keeps a plethora of really interesting shifts swimming down below an ascension of a chorus. “Kids See Ghosts” is pulsating and infectious and “Fire” thumps along to an anthem built on Cudi’s humming.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen Kanye and Kid Cudi team up and an album like this definitely justifies the wait. Not only do their strengths play strongly off each other, but they each seem to have obviated the other’s weaknesses. This is excellent and unique rap and it’s clearly the album to beat for 2018.

@murthynikhil

Kanye West – Ye

8 Jun

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This album had a lot of potential. Some of Kanye’s best work has come from his worst times. Sadly, Ye doesn’t have the bravery of 808s or the genius of MBDTF. It is, unquestionably, the worst of Kanye’s albums. It’s still quite good though.

First of all, “Yikes” is an excellent song. The beat is out of this world. The Kanye of this album and of TLoP shifts amorphously through the styles of his past. That industrial sound that punctuates lines in “All Mine” is Yeezus at its best.

The opening song “I Thought About Killing You” feels novel however. The premise is strong and blurs artist and art in a way that Kanye is uniquely able to do. Similarly, the couplet he starts singing with “I called up my loved ones, I called up my cousins/I called up the Muslims, said I’m ’bout to go dumb” sticks in my mind. It’s dumb as all get-out, but calls back to “Clique” and is surprisingly aware of the results of his actions.

“Wouldn’t Leave” does some work in the same vein. Ye talking about the effects of his actions on his family makes for very personal and unexpected music. Viewing his statement on slavery through this lens was novel.

It’s unfortunate then how ill-informed that view on slavery is. “Wouldn’t Leave” does nothing to defend the view, and that’s really what we should expect from Kanye. He’s not well-informed. He doesn’t understand a lot of things. He’s very selfish. Expecting stuff from him other than genius in music is unfair to who he is.

His views in “Violent Crimes” are particularly regressive. Viewing other people as people shouldn’t require that you have a daughter. And yet, this is good soulful Kanye music. It even has a couple of moments of insight. For all of its very obvious flaws, it’s still just a good song.

Similarly, the baldness of the lyrics of “Ghost Town” could have been banal had it not been for the quality of the song. The music elevates a series of not particularly deep thoughts. Also, Kid Cudi shows up well with his atonal chorus. It both brings up memories of 808s and bodes well for Kids See Ghosts.

The second installment of this Yeezy season isn’t quite up to the standard of quality set by Daytona, but it is definitely the more interesting album. It’s not quite as good as Kanye’s best, but I’m sure that with time I’ll return to it as much as any of his other albums.

@murthynikhil

Pusha T – DAYTONA

3 Jun

If this is how Yeezy season opens, it’s clear that we’re in for something special. This album goes hard from the start. “If You Know You Know” and “The Games We Play” are straight bangers and then “Hard Piano” does as promised and features a great Rick Ross to boot. There’s just a lot of small things here that catch me every time.

The production here is stellar. It may be time to finally crown Kanye as the greatest hip-hop producer of all time. These beats are all excellent and thought-provoking. Their grooves are deep and easy to fall into and always seconds away from a sharp left turn. The case for Kanye was already strong, but this may be the album that pushes it past debate.

Pusha’s rap isn’t quite up to the same standard, but it certainly gets the job done. He gets off a couple of really solid lines in “If You Know You Know” (A rapper turned trapper can’t morph into us / But a trapper turned rapper can morph into Puff) and “What Would Meek Do?” (Angel on my shoulder, “What should we do?” (we do) / Devil on the other, “What would Meek do?”) but he’s never quite up to the standard of his more famous contemporaries. Push has been around for a long time and deserves respect for his body of work, but it’s not just bad luck that kept him from the top tier.

In particular, “Come Back Baby” is just a weak cut and “Infrared” takes shots but not particularly potent ones. In a 20 minute album, a couple of mediocre songs can’t help but to stick out.

These minor points aside though, this is an excellent album. Push really is an O.G. and teaming up with Ye has resulted in some of his best work. Once you’ve finished this though, you should check out his beef with Drake for the real rap.

@murthynikhil

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