Tag Archives: rap

Kendrick Lamar – DAMN

26 May

At this point, it almost feels like a foregone conclusion that a new Kendrick album will be Album of the Year. The only real question is whether it is another classic. Personally, I don’t think DAMN is quite that strong. Kendrick Lamar has set an impossibly high bar for himself, and I think this is the album that finally fails to hurdle it. I’d be shocked if it there’s another album this year to touch it though.

There are so many strong parts to this album. I love the flow and the submerged beat of “FEEL.” “LOYALTY.” features an excellent Rihanna. The more rap that we get from her, the happier I will be. “FEAR.” is genuine in a way most confessionals aren’t. It’s eye-opening to hear Kendrick’s mother on the verse and to hear him speak about still being worried about money. His storytelling is still the best in the game. Also, these videos are the best of his career. TDE is doing really amazing work right now.

However, there are just more weak points to this album than to its predecessors. “YAH” is honestly weak, despite giving us the excellent nickname of Kung Fu Kenny and while the harmonizing of “LOVE” is interesting, it’s just not that good a song. Every Kendrick album has weak points, but this is the first one that seems to lack a purpose and so these faults feel exaggerrated. GKMC was his breakout and TPAB was breathlessly innovative but DAMN just doesn’t seem to have as strong a raison d’etre and so can’t help but feel a lesser album.

This is still a great album. This will almost certainly be Album of the Year. This is something you should listen to right now. Even if you’ve already had it on repeat all year, you should listen to it again. This is not quite a masterpiece, but is still close enough to deserve reverence. It’s a bold and innovating album that showcases a top-tier rapper at the top of his game. I highly recommend it.

@murthynikhil

Jidenna – The Chief

22 Mar

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Jidenna’s chief gimmick of dressing up makes it tempting to write him off as a one-hit wonder, but that would be unfair. He’s had at least two. Unfortunately, that’s not enough to carry a full album.

He gets points for variety, but not many for imagination. There are some interesting snippets, like learning that he refused Harvard, some decent stunting, and some clever lines, but nothing really compelling anywhere.

As a whole, The Chief is just not really worth a listen. I look forward to hearing Jidenna drop a verse on the occasional Kendrick or Janelle Monae track, but that is probably the most we should hope for from him.

@murthynikhil

Chance The Rapper – Coloring Book

10 Sep

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This is the album that moves Chance from outsider to establishment for me. He’s been doing well for himself, from opening Kanye’s The Life Of Pablo to being the centerpiece of 2015’s Surf and that’s great to see. His raps are so sincere and so joyful that he’s impossible to hate. He’s just a lot of fun to listen to.

Coloring Book takes all of him, adds a number of star collaborators and a ton of gospel and blends it together into an undeniably excellent album. He goes from running his verses with a laid-back Weezy verse over an upbeat vocal backing in “No Problem” to posturing with Thugger and Lil Yachty on “Mixtape” to heartfelt in the slower “Juke Jam” and highly personal tale of growing apart “Same Drugs.” Despite some more forgettable cuts to fill the album out, this is one of the best rap albums of the year and definitely worth a listen.

@murthynikhil

Drake – Views

2 Jul

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This album needed to be great. To Pimp A Butterfly is a landmark album and while The Life of Pablo is not Kanye’s best, it remains a very strong album. Things were looking good for Drake too, he comprehensively demolished Meek Mill in their beef and “Hotline Bling” was not only the best song, but also the best meme of the past year. Views however is the kind of album that collapses an empire.

The biggest issue is how repetitive it is. A cut like “9” could have survived on a different album, but here it just reinforces the faults of the album, namely that it is repetitive and just slightly boring. We’ve heard the petty Drake for far too long and by this point his mix of hurtful and hurting is no longer interesting. He raps “Why you gotta fight with me at Cheesecake/ You know I love to go there” in “Child’s Play”, but really who cares? This act has gotten tiring and his monotonous beats and flow in Views does not help. I can still listen to the incredibly petty “Marvins Room” indefinitely, but half of the music of this album is tedious from the first listen.

There are some strong pieces to this album though. “Too Good” with Rihanna is quite good and has enough self-awareness to become meaningful and “Hotline Bling” is still fantastic. I just cannot recommend that people track this album down however. Overall, it just lacks in ideas and in quality.

@murthynikhil

Kevin Gates – Islah

13 Mar

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Even in this current world of complete openness in rap, Kevin Gates’ Islah stands out as honest. This is still very gangsta rap and Kevin Gates has the credentials for it, but it’s also tender and human in the way 2Pac was. I can’t think of another rapper who would admit to giggling, but Kevin Gates throws it out there without the slightest trace of embarrassment. His voice and his music, however, keep the listener from ever doubting his toughness. His “I go to war behind you” line from “One Thing” is his album in a nutshell; loving and sincere, but in no way soft.

Musically, Kevin Gates does everything on this album and does it well. Most of the hooks and the verses are his, and those few that aren’t, like the hook in “Kno One”, are some of the weakest points of the album. There’s a little too much filler here for this album to be a classic, for instance “Jam” is just boring, but there’s enough high quality rap here to suffice all but the most demanding of listeners.

Humanity is an essential part of gangsta rap, but one that’s criminally underserved. Islah puts the complete Kevin Gates in the light and makes for fantastic rap in doing so.

@murthynikhil

Kanye West – The Life of Pablo

26 Feb

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That The Life of Pablo is a masterpiece is immediately evident. There’s none of the difficulty of To Pimp A Butterfly or the earlier Yeezus here. This is approachable from the beautiful, gospel-like opening of “Ultralight Beam” to the end. There’s an attention to detail in all of Kanye’s albums that leads to quality that you just cannot find elsewhere.

This album sprawls pretty far though. Musically, it jumps from point to point incessantly and like MBDTF before it, the album features a wide supporting cast. Those artists are at their best here though. The Weeknd’s piece on the brutally emotional “FML” is the best hook of his career, the clarity of his voice plays beautifully against the breathless nature of Kanye’s rap and the menacing, sparse beat. Similarly, Frank Ocean’s closing verse in “Wolves” was exactly what that song needed to cap it. Even Ty Dollar $ign on “Real Friends” is excellent. His collaborators seem to have subsumed themselves for their songs. Even people as individual as Rihanna or Young Thug just appear as a part of the music and not the whole package that they normally provide.

This is why for an album as rambling as this one, there is a surprising consistency. Where Yeezus or 808s and Heartbreak were about single emotions, this is about the full spread of Kanye, and so this album can be difficult if you’re not so into him. You have him referencing the Kanye Fresh meme and talking about the old Kanye to being impossible to relate to when he takes needless shots at Amber Rose or chants the word “couches”. Both To Pimp A Butterfly and Beyonce were similar in how they forced a (possibly alien) viewpoint on their listeners and so can cause discomfort, but Kendrick and Beyonce are much better people than Kanye and that makes them easier to listen to. Neither of them really care if you agree with them, but they use that callousness for social progress, Kanye just uses it to be Kanye. This is how he can go from “I didn’t mean to instigate” on the heartfelt “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” to the intentionally instigating Taylor Swift line of “Famous”, it’s just who he is.

He is also a musical genius though. The music is deep enough to always find something new and things work together in ways that I have never seen before. The Life of Pablo is a magnificent album and I highly recommend it.

@murthynikhil

Lupe Fiasco: Tetsuo And Youth

28 Nov

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Lupe Fiasco approaches hip-hop like no one else. His raps have a chain-mail sound to them, intricate and tightly linked and his subject matter is pleasantly unique. With Tetsuo and Youth we have one of his best albums, but it’s hard not to feel a little disappointed.

Lupe jumps right into the album with the “Mural”, a song dense with meaning and robust enough to last almost 9 minutes with no hook. His strengths are just undeniable, he has been an unapologetic auteur for his entire career and his devotion to the form is evident throughout. Songs like “Adoration of the Magi” and “They.Resurrect.Over.New” (featuring an excellent Ab-Soul verse) showcase his approach to lyricism. His words all slot into place perfectly, not only does every line work perfectly with the ones surrounding it but every sound plays with the ones next to it. His lyrics have always tended to the cryptic due to this, but the flow is incredible. Similarly, his viewpoint remains as fresh as ever. “Prisoner 1 & 2” goes through an entire prison, looking not only at the inmates but the guards as well and “Deliver” talks about a neighborhood that pizza men will not deliver to.

Yet, it’s hard not to feel sad that this album is not something more.”Tetsuo and Youth” just isn’t the masterpiece that Lupe has always had in him but never really been able to realize. There’s too much in there that just doesn’t do enough. The beats are mostly too generic to hold up the raps and the album doesn’t really have a stand-out track like Food and Liquor‘s “Kick, Push” or The Cool‘s “Superstar”.

This is still a good enough album to deserve a listen and I would be shocked if that does not lead to many more. After all, isn’t it a statement on the ability of the artist that I wish it was a little more?

@murthynikhil

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