Tag Archives: rap

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.

Megan Thee Stallion – Good News

6 Dec

It’s pretty clear what you’re going to get with Megan Thee Stallion’s debut album. She wears who she is on her sleeve, and as you would expect, this album is good, raunchy fun. Her “Savage Remix” with Beyonce was one of the sounds of the year and deservedly so. “If you don’t jump to put jeans on, you don’t feel my pain.” is one of my favorite lines of the year. Megan Thee Stallion is much more than a one-hit wonder though. She delivers a lot of strong, surprisingly old-school, rap here. “Girls in the Hood” could have been a stand-out track in a classic Beastie Boys album and she puts so much swagger into “I’m a hot girl / I do hot shit.”

Her flow is impeccable throughout. “What’s New” and “Work That” are compulsive. “Sugar Baby” has so much energy and the standout “Invest in this pussy, boy, support Black business.” It’s “Outside” though that really lets her stretch herself. She has great flow there and it showcases her ability to switch up tempo. She’s astonishingly versatile. Popcaan comes in for a Caribbean slow jam sound that’s a nice left turn for the album and plays well against her rap. Lil Durk has similarly great chemistry with her, but brings in an impressive menace. Meanwhile “Don’t Rock Me To Sleep” is disco-infused pop that could easily have slid into the last Dua Lipa album.

It’s not surprising that Megan’s debut album is this strong. It was already clear that she has talent to spare, but with “Good News,” she has shown the ability to deliver an absolutely first-class album with it.

Ty Dolla $ign – Featuring Ty Dolla $ign

20 Nov

I absolutely love the concept behind this album. It’s anything but uncommon to see Ty featuring on someone else’s album. He’s a good person to fill a gap if needed and this can make it hard to take him seriously for who he is. Like 2 Chainz, it feels like he’s making a push for auteurship and I’m glad to see it.

The idea of taking a ton of features himself and not only owning his shapeshifting, but using it to make an album that is uniquely his excited me. I was hoping for something like LEGACY, LEGACY with space for the people mentioned to actually show up. Featuring Ty Dolla $ign falls somewhat short of that in a number of ways, but there’s still plenty in here.

He does well in the harder half of the album. “Expensive” with Nicki is a lot of fun. He has a great flow in “Real Life” and “Double R.” “Freak” uses Quavo very well. Cudi also shows up well in “Temptations.”

It’s in the slow tracks that Ty misses the mark. “Everywhere” is fine technically, but is forgettable and doesn’t fit in particularly well. “Your Turn” is honestly execrable and “Slow It Down” is a similar weak point. His crooning in “By Yourself” has moments though, but it doesn’t have the energy of the Afrobeats musicians in the same space and Jhene Aiko, while fine, is forgettable.

It all comes together in the closer “Ego Death” though. The Kanye / Skrillex beat is top-notch and not only is the rap excellent, but the shift in sound for FKA Twigs is exactly what I was hoping for throughout the album.

Featuring Ty Dolla $ign is not exactly what I was hoping for, but there’s a lot of solid music in here. It’s not a masterpiece, but it is a good time and a very clever path for Ty Dolla $ign to take.

21 Savage and Metro Boomin – SAVAGE MODE II

21 Oct

I watch the NBA a lot and there’s something that comes up every now and again. You’ll get a star player on the breakaway, an athletic player who you know can do something special, someone like LeBron James, and there’s no one between him and the basket. It’s the kind of moment that gets you on the edge of your seat. You see him go up, but instead of anything special, the ball just goes in the basket. No windmill, no arm cock, just two points. That feeling, the feeling of hoping for a highlight and getting a simple dunk instead, that’s the feeling of SAVAGE MODE II. There’s a sense of deflation, but two points are still two points.

21 Savage has already proven himself as a rapper. He’s already found success. And Metro Boomin is Metro Boomin. He’s an institution at this point. This is an album that was built for greatness. It’s a shame that it never does more than reasonable.

This is most evident with the recurring Morgan Freeman appearances. He’s meant to lend gravitas, to make the album cinematic, but instead he bores. His “Snitches & Rats (Interlude)” is uninspired and unintelligent and I can’t remember a single thing from his intro and outro.

The Drake feature is in the same vein of big rapper moves, but does a lot better than the Morgan Freeman parts. Drake feels a little by-the-numbers and 21 isn’t anything special here, but it’s still a fairly solid song. The Young Thug feature does better, but 21 doesn’t feel comfortable in it.

He hits his flow in a couple of places here though. “Glock In My Lap” is the cinematic sound that the rest of the album tries for and “Brand New Draco” is very competent. There’s no question about 21’s talent at this point. He just needs to learn how to relax again.

Aminé – Limbo

19 Sep

I don’t think it’s possible to overstate how likable Aminé can be and how much that adds to his music. I’m always happy to see what he’s up to. He’s not the only rapper to be this upbeat or this insouciant, but he’s easily the one that I like the most.

Sometimes, this is exactly right. He has a talent for catchiness and so songs like “Compensating” really take off. He has fun, his personality gets to shine and Thugger is a good complement for him. When he gets into his flow, like in “Woodlawn,” he’s a lot of fun. “Riri” is him in his comfort zone, but better than he’s ever been before. That hook in particular is a top-tier earworm.

There’s a fair bit of air in the album though, as is unfortunately common for Aminé. “Pressure In My Palms” tries his standard formula but isn’t catchy or interesting enough. It doesn’t show him off at all and sort of feels like a Vince Staples outtake. Similarly, “Roots” reminds me of Saba and Kendrick, but I’d rather listen to them than this.

“Mama” has him trying sincerity, but it’s not a strong move. He doesn’t have the toughness for the move to feel like a softening and he’s too ironic for a straight-edge song. “Fetus” is slow and thoughtful and quite well done. It’s not innovative, but it is good and the grapefruit line hits.

You have to take Aminé for who he is. This isn’t the kind of album that’s going to stick to you long after it’s done. Instead, it’s an effervescent album with fun lines and catchy hooks and one that you’ll feel good for having heard.

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