Tag Archives: rap

Bad Bunny – Un Verano Sin Ti

1 Jul

Un Verano Sin Ti was the most puzzling release of the year thus far. Bad Bunny’s mix of Caribbean musics was completely unexpected and constantly surprising. It was also just too good to deny.

“Party” could be pretty standard reggaeton but Bad Bunny’s crooning elevates it well beyond the regular just for it to go straight back to the dancefloor with the chorus. Similarly, the first half of “El Apagon” is conversational and feels intimate, as though you’re talking to someone in a bar, just for the bar to turn into a dancefloor and a Puerto Rico-pride one at that. You can see the flags unfurling from the rafters. You can hear the entire building jumping up and down and you can see the solo voice take command over the whole thing.

There are two pillars that make this album special. The first is the depth and texture of the sound. “Moscow Mule” opens as though this is a producer’s album with an extended instrumental-only section and wildlife sounds and as the song progresses, this remains true. There are quiet drum beats, little vocal hiccups, quiet moments and tiny, little fascinating subbeats.

Secondly, Bad Bunny just brings a ton of emotion to every track. There’s a quaver in his voice in “Dos Mil 16” that immediately just takes the whole song over. On top of that, these tracks are just bangers. Listen to something like “La Corriente” and no matter what you feel of Latin club music, you can’t help but enjoy it, and that’s really this album in a nutshell.

Saba – Few Good Things

20 Feb

I certainly didn’t expect such a relaxed Saba on Few Good Things. I’m used to a rapper more caught up in the throes of emotion. Here, we see him stretch out a little. He broadens his musical range as a result. “If I Had A Dollar” has him channel Kendrick and “Soldier” brings in something of an Outkast feel. He does well enough with both of them and with the album as a whole. There’s nothing here with much heft, but also nothing here that misses the mark.

Where CARE FOR ME was passionate and heartfelt, Few Good Things is much more muted. Saba is talented enough to make solid music nonetheless, but the album still ends up unfocused and unmemorable.

Drake – Certified Lover Boy

18 Oct

With Certified Lover Boy, I feel like looking back a bit. Drake has always loved his nostalgia anyway. I remember with Take Care, there was a lot to get excited about. “Headlines” was the single and was necessary as that, but it’s not what I look back at. Even “HYFR’s” excited Weezy isn’t quite it. I don’t think anyone really expected how deep he would delve into the sounds of “Marvin’s Room” and “Take Care.” I don’t think we every really saw how normal they would sound.

The thing is that Drake is now a superstar. In fact, he’s now the superstar. His singing in his raps perfectly meets a world where pop has moved toward hip-hop. His corniness is now virality. Everyone’s a Toronto sadboy in this online world.

Also, there’s no one left on the throne. Kanye’s self-destruction is probably far from complete, but it has done its work. Taylor is off in the wilderness. I haven’t heard from Kendrick or Beyoncé in forever. The new kids are all still too new, too formless and too unaccomplished. Pop royalty is relentless and Drake’s the only person to have kept pace.

It’s very much in character that he does so with an album that’s almost unambiguous trash. When the most exciting thing in your album is a Kawhi cameo, there’s just not much that one can say. It’s just a lot of music that I’m happier not hearing and very little that I’m happy having heard. Something like “In The Bible” is irritating. There’s so much music here that’s just bad.

There’s stuff that could be decent if you squint. He’s got his sound down in “Girls Want Girls” even if the chorus is mind-numbingly stupid. “Fountains” is decent Afrobeats, if nothing special. You have to credit Drake with always keeping up with new trends in rap and he’s always passable at them, but they are never his highlights. He’s got solid beats in “7am On Bridle Path” and “The Remorse” but can’t put a good rap in front of either of them.

“7am On Bridle Path” is the album’s failures in a microcosm. He’s clearly the biggest person in music right now, but it’s such a poor look to stunt about it when he got it by default. It’s a diss track in a supremely uninteresting beef. This is the same guy who ended a feud by going on LeBron’s YouTube channel. There was once a time when he bodied Meek Mill but now he just can’t play it straight. Stick to the topic and go hard. Also, “wheel me to defeat like we rollerbladin'” is unacceptable. In a fair world, that would be sufficient for defeat in itself.

At least “7am On Bridle Path” has some decent music to make up for that though. The lyrical failures elsewhere don’t even have that going for them. “They’re doing something that’s not Pepsi” in “Papi’s Home”? The only thing they should be doing is writing Drake better lyrics because he needs all the help he can get. He gets off one solid line in the whole album with “Look, don’t invite me over if you throw another pity party” and the imitation line has a good sneer, but then he throws away all that goodwill and more by trying to rhyme “disability” with “this ability”. That’s just unacceptable.

It’s very often just impossible to understand. He opens a song with being jealous of a handbag. “You Only Live Twice” makes you regret living the once. I don’t know who told him and Future that “Way 2 Sexy” was a good idea but that person was wrong. Forget all of Drake’s tired Bernie Madoff comparisons, if that person was paid for that advice, that’s the greatest scam the music industry will ever see.

He finds himself on “F***ing Fans,” but that’s the kind of track that should be solid filler on a decent album, not one of the best tracks on the whole project. Certified Lover Boy is so bad that any moment of decent music is an oasis in the desert though. He preceded this album with “POPSTAR” and “Toosie Slide,” both of which were some of the best music that he’s ever made. He will follow this soon enough with more great singles, which has anyway always been his greatest strength, but for now, there is nothing in his past, present or future enough to make this album worth listening to.

Kanye West – Donda

27 Sep

There’s a lot that can be said about Kanye and his music and there’s a lot that has been said about both. Donda marks a new epithet though and one that seemed inconceivable before; unnecessary. This is just a fundamentally inessential album. For an artist who has long thrived in controversy and in polarization, it’s just jarring to have something that’s honestly uninteresting.

It’s especially strange as this was the situation was ripe for another career-defining album. The last time that Kanye really got away from himself, the result was MBDTF, possibly the greatest album of the millenium. Instead, we get possibly the strangest part of Donda, that it has nothing animating it.

There’s a voice interlude in “Donda” that features Kanye’s mother talking and it’s one of the strongest moments of the album. It’s a very rare bit of meaning in an album that sorely needs some. 808s had the heartbreak, MBDTF had the controversy, Yeezus had the industrial and even JiK had the gospel. Donda has no new ground to break and no larger meaning either.

Is it for his mother? For Kim? For his excess? For the controversy? Donda has space for all of them and addresses none of them.

When “Lord I Need You” plays, you feel like you’re in the middle of an album for Kim and it feels like that would be a great album, but it ultimately doesn’t work because the rest of the album does nothing to support the song. It’s just too incoherent. “Come To Life” continues the thought, but it’s impossible to keep a thread in this album.

Similarly, the story of Larry Hoover in “Jesus Lord” is a strong part of a strong song. There’s impact in hearing him call out the capitalist society. It also goes well with Jay Electon’s verse in the song, which works really well. It brings in the right religious tone and the right fearlessness in calling out DC and Downing Street. However, there’s just once again no support. This is not the conscious album it could have been.

For all of this though, he’s at least partially redeemed by the quality of music. There are missteps and there is bloat, most egregiously in the second cuts of some songs, but elsewhere too. It’s not a finished album. However, he can still make music. Donda is more willing to meld and play with his different styles than anything before. His later career seems to have him using other artists for more and more of his sound and he’s a master at putting people together, like in “Hurricane” and with Baby Keem in “Praise God.”

Even here though, he can’t help but let us down a bit. There’s no true single in this album and even one highlight would have made a tremendous difference. There’s not much that’s very weak, but I don’t think there’s a single song here that’s going to go into a Kanye rotation. “Blood on the Leaves” is what made Yeezus work and “Selah” and “Yikes” did so much for their albums and there’s nothing here quite on the level of even the latter two. “Junya” is a banger, but it’s doesn’t deliver much beyond that. There’s lots and lots of solid music here, but nothing that really goes beyond that.

That’s really all that can be said about the album. There’s lots of decent music. Kanye is still Kanye after all. It’s just that there’s nothing really interesting in the album and very little of substance and it’s time to start wondering if the same is true for the man.

Vince Staples – Vince Staples

9 Aug

Vince Staples has always felt like the most straightforward person in rap. No matter how honest someone may come across in a song, we only fool ourselves when we think we know the person behind the music. Nevertheless, it just feels like Vince Staples makes fewer concessions to marketing, to a persona than anyone else out there. It comes through in things like putting out a 22-minute album with no weak spots instead of the bloated albums built to top streaming charts that are now de rigeur. It comes through in how much this album just lets him rap.

The thing about letting Vince rap is that he is very good at just rapping. You can see it in “THE SHINING” or “SUNDOWN TOWN” or “TAKING TRIPS” and you can really see it in cuts like “MHM” and “LIL FADE.” His flow and his control are nothing short of superb and are enough to carry an album in themselves.

It’s true that Vince Staples maybe takes that a little too far. I would have liked some more variety or a couple of particularly inspired cuts. There’s nothing here that is less than excellent, but there is also nothing here that truly transcends.

Sometimes though, you can do without the egg in your beer. It’s just such a pleasure to hear Vince rap. Any album that gives you more of that is more than good enough.

Monthly Playlist: Jul. 2021

31 Jul

This month’s top five tracks are an eclectic mix of hip-hop, indie pop, punk and everything in between. Read on for our picks:

5. “Wasting Time” by Brian Faiyaz feat. Drake

What’s Drake doing on a feature with a relatively unknown artist like Brian Faiyaz? That’s what we thought going into this song, but just a few bars made us see why Drizzy chose him. “Wasting Time” is a supple, smooth R&B track by singer Brian Faiyaz (real name Christopher Wood), tapped by the magic wand that is the Neptunes’ production. Drake’s verse layers decently well on the mellow R&B, shaking up your ears at just the right time so that Faiyaz’s vocals sound even smoother afterward. Come for the Drake, stay for the Brian Faiyaz on this one.

4. “INDUSTRY BABY” by Lil Nas X feat. Jack Harlow

At this point, Lil Nas X is an one-man industry juggernaut. We’ve spoken in the past about his ability to harvest outrage from outrage-mongers for his own benefit and, ironically, embodying the supposed right-wing ethic of pulling himself up by the bootstraps – all from a song about horses on a road. “INDUSTRY BABY” is an unabashed self-crowning by one of the biggest hitmakers of our times, and the fanfare horns in the background do add a lot to the coronation vibe. “Get your soldiers, tell ’em I ain’t layin’ low / You was never really rootin’ for me anyway,” he says, ostensibly taking aim at the industry suits trying to knock this self-made artist off his flashy perch.

And yes, the video is risque. Would you expect anything else from Lil Nas?

3. “Blouse” by Clairo

Singer-songwriter Clairo (real name Claire Contrill) has been making gentle waves in the indie pop community since her sparse electro-pop single “Pretty Girl” way back in 2017. Since then, her sound has refined to more on the acoustic and folk edge of pop, and that’s the ethos that she’s brought to her second album Sling which was released earlier this month. “Blouse”, the lead single from Sling, is as pretty as it gets, with a subtle violin that evokes green Irish pastures – or something of the sort. This is a wonderful, calming song that was the perfect gateway for us into the rest of Clairo’s album, and we hope you feel the same.

2. “BDE” by Shygirl feat. slowthai

“BDE” stands for exactly what you think it stands for. The raunchy combination features British DJ Shygirl and ubiquitous British presence, the rapper slowthai. This track is a bop, with its bouncy, club-ready beat, and it turns up to 11 with slowthai’s trademark staccato verse. “BDE” needs to be playing in every club that’s open right now. Be the star of your house party and add this to your party playlist, stat.

By the way – July has been a great month for slowthai features in general. Don’t miss out on the old-school vibes on “SLUGGER” by American rappers Kevin Abstract and $NOT featuring slowthai, and also his presence on the excellent remake of “MODEL VILLAGE” by his good friends IDLES.

1. “Clash” by Dave feat. Stormzy

Honestly, just having Stormzy on a featuring spot is one of the best indicators of a great hip hop track from the UK. And when you have British hip hop darling Dave – recently off of winning Album of the Year for Psychodrama at the 2020 Brit Awards – on the same track as well? Killer. “Clash” loops on a hypnotic piano melody layered with deliberate beats, as Dave and Stormzy talk about their lives and riches. In Dave’s case, life has changed substantially since his rise to fame. In particular, he now lives in a much richer area – to which he alludes in a number of intriguing metaphors. “Freaks, I got more than one, fuck, daddy and daughter one / Tory puttin’ in labour, this that Jeremy Corbyn one,” goes the hook, instantly bringing to mind a posh Tory girl with daddy issues. Seen in that light, even the background piano seems like a subversion of the stereotypically status-symbol instrument into a grimy beat for this duo.

Tyler, The Creator – CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST

23 Jul

I don’t know if you follow the sport, but NBA season just finished. I follow the NBA fairly closely and one of the things that keeps coming up is the “if X would do Y” pattern. If Ben Simmons would shoot the three, he’d be unstoppable. If Joel Embiid could stay healthy, he’d dominate the league. For years, it was “if only Tyler would mature a little, he would make some of the best music out there.” This is Tyler’s third album in his more mature vein and all three have been excellent.

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME is strong music with the kind of freewheeling variety that you expect from anything out of Tyler’s mind. Songs like “CORSO” and “LUMBERJACK” just go hard. Pairing with DJ Drama works really well for Tyler. He brings a little extra fun, a little extra chaos and a little extra energy to the album. It’s not that Tyler is ever short of these, but having someone else to bounce off adds fizz. Similarly, bringing in Weezy for “HOT WIND BLOWS” makes for a standout track. Wayne just adds so much pace to the song.

He also does well for getting so personal in this album. Learning about his mother in “MASSA” is a strong moment and recontextualizing an old feud in “MANIFESTO” is a very interesting change in perspective. He doesn’t really have anything to say in his political jaunt in that song, but I appreciate the honesty he brings. The song has a sick beat too.

It’s in “WILSHIRE” though that he really has the scope to tell his story. A lot of what makes for Tyler’s best work is just letting him be himself. He’s very smart and very sensitive and when he’s just talking to you those come through. His story about his friend’s girlfriend is the strongest thing in this album. When he drops lines like “And they say, “Bros over hoes,” I’m like, “Mm, nah, hey/I would rather hold your hand than have a cool handshake,” it’s really hard not to agree.

This trilogy from Tyler has been brilliant throughout. He’s always had the talent, but now that he’s got the direction as well, he’s just making really good music. There really is nothing that this man cannot do.

Monthly Playlist: Jun. 2021

3 Jul

We are officially halfway through 2021 – somehow that feels too short yet not long enough. It’s been a rough year for some, a better year for others, but no matter where you are in life, these five tunes are sure to set your daily life on pause, even if for just a little bit.

5. “You Right” by Doja Cat feat. The Weeknd

Honestly, we are surprised that it took this long for Doja Cat and The Weeknd to collab. Both of these massively popular artists have a similar low-key, 80s-influenced vibe, and the confluence plays perfectly on this surprisingly poppy track from Doja’s new album Planet Her. Doja Cat carries the bulk of the first half of the track with her slightly raspy rapping style, and then The Weeknd steps in for his trademark wavering vocals. The entire track is a back-and-forth between two folks who are still in love (or at least lust), despite the fact that one of them is in a relationship. A tale as old as time, but not a bad version overall.

4. “LAW OF AVERAGES” by Vince Staples

Most people would have heard LA-based rapper Vince Staples from his star turn w hen a remixed version of his song “BagBak” soundtracked the landmark trailer for Black Panther. Since then, Vince has released his third studio album FM! in 2019, and is now set to release his next album – apparently self-titled Vince Staples – sometime in 2021. The first track from the new album is “LAW OF AVERAGES”, a meditative, slow-burn of a rap track that covers everything from bad friends to the heaviness of sudden wealth. You’re hooked from the first line: “Fuck a friend, I don’t want no friends with no open hands / Count my bands, all alone at home, don’t you call my phone / Everyone that I’ve ever known asked me for a loan.”

3. “Lost Cause” by Billie Eilish

The latest single from Billie’s upcoming sophomore album Happier Than Ever is very much on brand with the image that she’s beginning to cultivate. Earlier this year, Billie unveiled a newer, more adult, more body-confident version of herself, one that has outgrown the teenage angst and errors of her Apple TV documentary-era self. “Lost Cause” is a sneering goodbye to an ex that, in hindsight, was just not good enough for her. As always, props to Finneas’ fantastic, trip-hop production that amps up the cool detachment in her vocals.

2. “Venus Fly Trap” by MARINA

Welsh singer-songwriter MARINA (Marina Diamandis) has been leading up to her fifth album Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land for quite some time. Back in November 2020, we loved her track “Man’s World”, which was apparently the first single from this new album. Like most of Marina’s songs, “Venus Fly Trap” features her throaty vocals and a distinctive sense of outsider self-awareness that’s very unusual for a pop artist. “I never quite fit in to that Hollywood thing / I didn’t play that game for the money or the fame / I did it my way, baby / Nothing in this world could change me,” she boasts – although you could be forgiven for not paying much attention to the lyrics on this dance-pop track.

1. “Solar Power” by Lorde

Lorde is back! The young New Zealand singer first burst onto the scene with her debut album Pure Heroine, featuring the smash hit “Royals”. We quite liked her sophomore effort Melodrama as well, so we were excited to learn about her new track “Solar Power”, from the eponymous upcoming album. What we love about this track is the totally synchronous sunny vibe, from the title to the subject matter (“I hate the winter, can’t stand the cold… But when the heat comes, something takes a hold”) to Lorde’s bright yellow outfit on a sunny beach. This is a summer ditty about the simpler things in life, which hits particularly well after the bracing past year or two that most folks have had.

J. Cole – The Offseason

14 Jun

At some point, if you want to be a conscious rapper, you have to actually say something smart. With J. Cole, that moment has passed. It’s time to accept that he is never going to mean anything as a rapper. I don’t think that I’ve ever seen quite as shameful a waste of talent.

I’m going to start with the talent though. We all know about the triple double, no assists of 2014 Forest Hills Drive and while I wasn’t the biggest fan, there was at least promise in there and sometimes that promise is undeniable. I loved “MIDDLE CHILD” when it came out because it was great music and because I thought it signaled J. Cole figuring things out. When he can put things together, he makes absolutely top-tier music.

With “a m a r i”, he has something. The “made it out, gotta mean something” of the hook hits hard and he shows here why his flow is probably his best strength. He does need to give up on DSJ though. That man doesn’t even play for the Knicks anymore. It’s still clearly the highlight of the album though and a single well worth checking out.

It’s followed by “m y . l i f e” which is solid, but cannot help but be unfavorably compared to “a lot”, the earlier and excellent 21 Savage / J. Cole joint. “p r i d e . i s . t h e . d e v i l” also has moments. The hook is good and he flows into the rap well. It’s not smart, but it’s not dumb either. Choosing that song to stunt about wealth though is almost parody.

This is the issue with him. He keeps bucking for the absolute top tier of rappers and yet he’s just nowhere near as intelligent as Kendrick and, for all of Drake’s Drakeisms, at least Drake knows exactly who he is. J. Cole wants to be dumb and still be treated like he’s smart.

The fact is that there’s a ceiling you hit as a rapper if you have nothing to say. Someone like ScHoolboy Q is never going to be a rap superstar. J. Cole has too much ambition to relax into a role like that though, so he pretends. It’s just hard to take him seriously as a thinker when he doesn’t seem capable of thinking of anything other than himself.

It feels like he raps more about being rich than Drake and Drake wallows in his shallowness. At least “God’s Plan” showed Drake giving out money. J. Cole just keeps stunting instead. The worst part of it all is that he doesn’t even seem to enjoy being rich. It’s all material that’s not quite strong enough to make the jump from his diary to his album, but it’s all here anyway.

This just runs into the second issue though. He’s just not good enough to carry an album without a concept. Snoop Dogg could do it because he’s such a pleasure to listen to. Uzi can keep you engaged with just his flows. J. Cole is not either kind of guy.

The most compelling thing about his music to date is in his naked attempts to be part of rap’s pantheon. The clarity of his struggle to be an all-time rapper at least gave him a point of interest. It was often also the weakest part of his album. KOD attempting to show him as a deep thinker made for its worst parts and they dragged the whole album down. However, letting go even a little of the legacy for The Offseason just leaves the album empty. There’s really not much more to J. Cole than the ambition.

He claims verses that I will “forever playback” in “a p p l y i n g . p r e s s u r e”, but doesn’t actually drop any. There’s a lot of talking in the song that he never backs up and his clowning a millionaire line is just out of touch. The outro is just embarrassing. Some of the verses also just don’t work. That awkward twisting to fit in birthday is far too forced.

He wants to play at being a fighter in “l e t . g o . m y . h a n d” as well, but we all saw him get bodied by Noname and it wasn’t close. It was also just because he chose to be an idiot. No one asked him to make a fool of himself like that. I will say that this song has a great beat though and his talking about the beat was excellent pensive rap. That’s a vein that he really should explore more and so most likely will not.

This is not an album worth spending time on and it’s becoming clearer and clearer that the same is true for J. Cole himself. Maybe after The Offseason finishes, I’ll check him shooting hoops in Rwanda instead.

Kid Cudi – Man on the Moon III: The Chosen

18 Dec

Like with Lupe Fiasco before him, there’s always the worry with a Kid Cudi album that he’s found a new way to sabotage himself, or even just that he will reuse one of his old methods of sabotaging himself. Man on the Moon III doesn’t use any of his old tics of poor beats or weird idiosyncrasies. It’s Kid Cudi in the space where he’s at his best, and that should be a relief. It’s just a shame that it’s still so boring.

This is at its worst in the centerpiece of the album, “Elsie’s Baby Boy.” It’s built up, it’s got a story, it feels like it’s meant to be something and it does nothing. I’ve heard it many, many times and I still can’t tell you a single thing about it. It just doesn’t stick, and sadly too much of the album follows suit. There’s some forgettable trap and some forgettable rock-tinged rap and some other forgettable music and that’s most of the album.

It’s tempting to say that I’ve just outgrown Cudi and to internalize the problem, but that’s not the problem. The issue is that the songs just don’t resonate the way his best stuff did. He came in as an everyman in a time of rap excess, and now he doesn’t feel human at all. His old stuff can still hit hard. They were honest and that still shines through. MotM3 has none of that. Also, where’s the fun of taking something like “Poker Face” and making that into a beat?

There are moments here. I like the “get it, get it” in the middle of the solid “Sad People.” It’s mostly listenable, albeit uninspired. He’s definitely had worse albums than this, and during some of the low points, I would have killed to have even this. His single with Travis Scott had seemed to signal a shift for Cudi, it had seemed to be his breakout moment, but instead it looks like it was a lone bright spot and not a star taking shape.

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