Archive | November, 2017

Top Five Rap Albums of 2017 That We Didn’t Want To Write A Full Review Of

28 Nov

There’s been a lot of music out this year and it’s easy for some albums to fall to wayside. Here, we’re going to go over five albums that didn’t lend themselves well to a full review, but that we still wanted to talk about.

FLACO – WKRFRMHME

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We didn’t get a chance to cover the previous FLACO album Gunsforgirls when it came out. This one is not quite as good as their debut, but it is still reasonable and has some clever lines. However, it doesn’t have anything strong enough to push you to seek it out. It’s far too self-indulgent and so is occasionally grating and occasionally repetitive. It’s mostly just solid rap though.

Amine – Good For You

“Spice Girl” is actually very good. It’s a very clever song with an imaginative and catchy hook and is from far enough left field to still make me smile. It’s one of my favorite songs of the year.

Stand-out single aside, “Slide” is reasonably fun, as is “STFU”. There are some other interesting things, like moments of “Heebiejeebies” scattered through the album. Unfortunately, the whole is mostly bland. The single is great though.

Chief Keef – Thot Breaker

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Thot Breaker is fun and listenable. It’s just not really interesting.

Big Boi – BOOMIVERSE

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It’s a shame to put someone with the history of Big Boi in a list like this, but that is where he is now. It’s been a while since OutKast defined Atlanta rap, even if this album would have you still believe that its still the late ‘90s. Big Boi is unabashedly retro here and some of his collaborators play along masterfully. Snoop is smooth as always and Killer Mike shows up well in “Made Man” and “Kill Jill”. This is the style of music that really lets both of them shine. Bringing in the more current Gucci Mane feels off however and the resulting song “In The South” is just irritating to hear.

Leaving aside a couple of misfires, this is actually a solid album. It never comes close to the highs of OutKast’s best, but is still a reasonable addition to the legacy of one of the most storied rappers ever.

KOOL A.D – Sky Ladder

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KOOL A.D. is dense and self-referential as always. He’s gotten a bit more experimental than in his Das Racist days. It works in places. “Lapsand Souchang” is quite strong and the jazzy beat works well there. “Glitch Hoperatical” is definitely interesting, but sometimes ends up being more noise than signal. “The Basement” makes a good point when it states that music criticism is a fictional occupation, but he lost all of his hipster credentials when he got the plural of haiku wrong, so I’m just going to ignore that. There’s some reasonable stuff here, but nothing stands out. Rap has grown more interesting, but it feels a little like Kool A.D. is standing still.

@murthynikhil

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Hurray For The Riff Raff – The Navigator

18 Nov

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The Navigator is a breathtakingly ambitious album. It draws from a dizzying number of influences, to produce a distinctly New York Puerto Rican rock album. This is lively and unexpected at every point and deftly weaves in a tremendous amount of emotion, especially in the slower steamroller of a song “Pa’lante.”

The music is deeply varied, to the point where even a single song cannot be pinned down to even a family of ideas. The crooning in “Finale” shifts to percussion in a way that should feel abrupt but somehow works flawlessly. “Rican Beach” somehow melds together what feels like fifteen different layers, all of which are interesting enough to carry it alone, into a single juggernaut of a song.

This is one of the most intriguing albums that I’ve heard this year simply due to how far out of left-field it is from. In addition, it’s just eminently listenable. I cannot imagine the person who would not benefit from trying it out.

@murthynikhil

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – The Kid

14 Nov

The Kid is an astonishing album across a whole slew of axes. The most striking thing about it is just how much of nature is present in an electronic synth album. At points, it evokes the stillness of a Walden-like lake and the movement of a brook. Mostly though, it evokes more active organisms. A point in “Who I Am and Why I Am Where I Am” brings a strong image of a jungle waking up to mind. Like the world it draws from, the result is an ever-fascinating panorama filled with things worth examining. You should try it out.

@murthynikhil

Lil Uzi Vert – Luv Is Rage 2

4 Nov

First of all, “XO TOUR Llif3” is one of the greatest songs that I have ever heard. It is a revelation in every sense and a song what I don’t know when I will ever stop listening to. You should listen to it right now.

That song is the reason that I’m reviewing this album, but there is the remainder to cover as well. Unfortunately, nothing else here matches the brilliance of the single. The album as a whole has other interesting points, but also holds a fair number of misfires and is too indulgent of some uninteresting ideas. For instance, “UnFazed” is too repetitive to take advantage of all that it has. The Weeknd sounds great in it but needs more space than he’s given. It is still a highlight of the album, but does not fulfill the promise it first seemed to hold. Songs like “Malfunction” and “How To Talk” just don’t do anything and while “X” has some fun points, it’s just not that interesting.

“XO TOUR Llif3” however is brilliant and thus complicated to take apart. This is the song that proved mumble rap to me. The new Atlanta rap scene has had a lot of great music come from it, as anyone who reads this blog can see, but this song pushes it beyond merely being promising, good new music. This is the song that actually cashes the checks.

When I first saw mumble rap, it seemed to be punk rock all over again. In the same way that punk rebelled against the crushing formalism of stadium rock and their 20 minute guitar solos, mumble rap seemed the Dionysian answer to the Apollonian values of lyricism and flow. Again, just like punk rock, it’s not that mumble rap lacks the ability, some of Thugger’s lines still make me laugh and I can’t see a single rapper with a questionable flow, it’s that the medium shouldn’t be defined by that. It’s unsatisfying to define this movement with nothing more than abjuration. Punk rock was much, much more than simple chords. Other songs have proven that you can make great music with mumble rap, it took “XO TOUR Llif3” to show why you should try.

The greatest thing that this song does is a moment in the middle. The couplet “Push me to the edge/All my friends are dead” is the spine of the song. It’s a wonderfully succinct and condensed piece of songwriting that is repeated over and over again to add weight. The first verse ends with the anguished plea “Xanny, help the pain, yeah/Please, Xanny, make it go away” before dropping into the chorus and that repeated couplet again. This time however, instead of actually saying the words, Lil Uzi’s voice slurs it to incomprehensibility so as to give it even more space for emotion.

That was my moment of clarity. That is what this music can do. You cannot communicate that feeling with traditional rap. I’ve never heard that feeling pushed so clearly. Even now, after hundreds and hundreds of listens, that moment astounds me.

In all of my time listening to music, I’ve only had my eyes opened like that once before. Quite a few years ago, I was trying out jazz to see if I would like it and while the first things that I heard were all excellent, I didn’t really get what it was about. Naturally, I started with the most famous albums and so I ended up picking up Coltrane’s My Favorite Things quickly enough. The title track is still my favorite individual piece of music. The first minute hews fairly close to the Rodgers and Hammerstein original, but then Coltrane’s solo goes to a place that I had never heard before. What makes this special though is how that diversion is fully informed by the original. He takes the ideas of the musical version and pushes them somewhere entirely unexpected and that surprise is what defines the feeling of listening to the music. Then, just when you have a feel for where he now is, the song seamlessly returns to the original tune and so once again catches you off-balance. That moment changed how I listened to jazz and for that matter, music as a whole. That taught me to participate, to try to see where the song is going so that you can be surprised when the musicians do something clever and end up somewhere else instead. It’s the pleasure of seeing familiar ideas put together in a way that’s completely novel. It’s like the best puzzle games. It’s also something that I would never have understood had it not been for this ‘Trane song.

Formalism and jazz comparisons are well and good, but they are not what makes a song great. “XO TOUR Llif3” is just visceral to hear. I feel like I should be too old for this to hit me as hard as it does, but his honesty takes his story of heartbreak and depression beyond mere teen drama. Besides, when he hits the bridge of “She say: “You’re the worst, you’re the worst.”/I cannot die because this my universe”, that’s too close to home to deny. It’s not like I’m that mature either.

It’s also just a great song. I still haven’t figured all of its pieces. That little pause at the end of “Shoulda saw the way she looked me in my eyes/She said: Baby, I am not afraid to die.” tripped me up dozens of times and so punctuates the verse perfectly. The production is unceasingly clever and contrasts with Uzi’s flow to add layer upon layer of meaning.

This song is now a part of me. You should give it a try.

@murthynikhil

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