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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

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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

kanye-west-ye-album-cover-1527857034-compressed

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

Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer

9 May

Dirty Computer is quite a shift to the left from an already innovative artist. It takes Janelle Monáe out of her comfort zone as the Archandroid Cindi Mayweather and back into her own skin. Electric Lady already set something of the direction of this album, but committing to it fully was a brave move for Janelle Monáe and one that has worked extremely well.

It’s a perennial shame that Janelle Monáe’s music doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. Her genre-bending sound is unquestionably unique, but despite “Yoga” briefly flirting with crossover appeal before Jidenna truly broke out for himself with “Classic Man” and a quick cameo on the summer hit “We Are Young” with fun. she has yet to find an audience of the size that her music deserves. Now however, after a successful sojourn in acting and possibly the friendliest of her albums, she seems poised to correct that circumstance.

This may be a little more approachable than her Cindi Mayweather trilogy, but the musical ability is still undeniable. Her range of talent is still shocking four albums into her career. The ability to switch from full-bodied pop to a light rap and back adds a delicious variety to the sound. Her switch over the bass is the best part of the already great “Crazy, Classic, Life.”

Additionally, she’s delved deeper into the funk of Prince, who sadly died while mentoring this exact album and the dirtiness and sexiness that results is absolutely excellent. “Make Me Feel” is exactly the kind of music that Prince would have made were he still alive and the up-beat pop of “Screwed” is much better for the funk running through it.

In fact, there is very little in the form of exceptions to the high standard of music here. The singles in particular are all fantastic. “Pynk” is very clever pop that takes the completely unexpected and makes it feel natural and similarly the sheer musical scope of “Django Jane” is impressive. I simply love the storytelling of “I Like That” and its beautiful chorus.

Her soft politics are a welcome addition to the album. The messages of inclusivity gain a lot of weight due to Janelle Monáe herself and the stakes she brings to the table. Lines like “I am not America’s nightmare, I am the American dream” are all the right kinds of assertive. While there is nothing particularly groundbreaking in what she has to say, given the rest of politics and music right now, I’m not going to complain.

The one complaint that I do have about this album though is just in the lack of an absolute stand-out song like “Many Moons” or “Dance or Die.” Her voice is a little more restrained than in her early albums and I also miss the big brass of before. However, were it not for the strength of her previous albums, this would be a deeply unfair criticism.

This is an excellent album and well worth your time. Seeing Janelle Monáe quite so confident is inspiring and I’m really excited to see what comes next in this new phase of her career.

@murthynikhil

J. Cole – KOD

24 Apr

Look, I just don’t get why J. Cole is as big as he is. I thought that both 2014 Forest Hills Drive and 4 Your Eyez Only were mediocre albums and I think the same of KOD.

There are a couple of good songs here. I actually like “KOD” iteslf and I like “ATM.” I find his philosophizing sophomoric though and I consider his rapping average. KOD is an okay album, but given the amount of amazing rap available now, I see no reason to spend much time on it.

@murthynikhil

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