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

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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

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

Ghostpoet – Dark Days + Canapés

22 Apr

I love Ghostpoet and I love that he’s consistently been doing his own thing all the way back to Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam. His flavor of quiet, understated rap is unique to him. There is no other rapper quite so sincere and human, no one so willing to lower the stakes and create comfort and intimacy. I want what happened for grime to happen for him, I want him to take the next step like Stormzy and break out, but this is not going to be the album to do that.

It unfortunately just does not have a track as fascinating as his earlier “Meltdown” or “Cash And Carry Me Home.” “Freakshow” had the potential to be something, but needed a little bit more to really stand out. His music has a slight tendency to fall into repetition, which is essential to the experience, but would still benefit from a few more subthemes.

Nevertheless, Dark Days + Canapés is another solid entry in a deeply underserved genre. If you haven’t tried Ghostpoet yet, I would actually recommend Some Say I So I Say Light instead as a starting point, but if you have, I’m sure you’re listening to this already.

@murthynikhil

The Weeknd – My Dear Melancholy,

17 Apr

This EP is the only way I was ever going to learn that The Weeknd was dating Selena Gomez, let alone that they had broken up. I was quite surprised by that. I was much more surprised when it turned to be Abel who ended up, and I quote, “catching feelings.”

Unfortunately, the music doesn’t manage quite the same amount of surprise. My Dear Melancholy, returns to the sound he pioneered with his Trilogy, but lacks the raw strength of that work and naturally carries none of the same novelty five years after his debut. The Weeknd’s sound changed for the more commercial after the breakout success of “Love Me Harder” and it can’t fully shake that off in this return to his original sound. The sense of danger is, seemingly irrevocably, gone.

It is, nevertheless, a solid 20 minutes of music. Abel’s voice remains as haunting as ever and the production is both sunken and mildly threatening, but in a way that you can dance to. It’s not Trilogy though, although it’s the album that tries most to be since Kiss Land, and it’s still likely the closest you’re going to get this year.

@murthynikhil

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