Tag Archives: rap

Earl Sweatshirt – FEET OF CLAY

28 Nov

Earl Sweatshirt has built a solid pocket of rap for himself. He makes muddy, complex, punishing rap in a way that no one else even really attempts. FEET OF CLAY however may have taken it too far.

His muttered, submerged raps are as awe-inspiring as ever. He puts together sounds and words in a way that’s simultaneously muddy and evocative, like scrying in a swamp. It’s singular and cohesive and often somewhat punishing as a result. He has such complex bars with lyricism as unique as it is skilled.

The punishment was always sort of the point, but this is the one where it feels a little unjustified. The album is just too dense and lacks the reward of a “Chum” or a “Grief” to really pay off the effort. If you’re an Earl Sweatshirt fan, then you already know that you should give this album a couple of spins, but if not, this is not the place to jump in.

Kanye West – Jesus Is King

10 Nov

It’s a given now that a new Kanye album is going to be something of a production. Albums are promised and due dates come and go and you’re never sure what you will get until it comes. With Jesus Is King, what you get is a lot of truly excellent music and one of the more interesting albums that Kanye has ever made.

Coming in, I thought it would be a full gospel album. I expected “Ultralight Beam” extended into a complete album. Instead, although there is a very substantial gospel theme, the album as a whole is surprisingly diverse. There’s a heavy religious bent and the album is very cohesive, but my concerns about monotony proved entirely unfounded.

The album opens with a straight gospel track though, performed by the Sunday Service Choir that Kanye has toured with of late. It’s a good choir and a good way to open the album. It functions as a statement of purpose and a way for the listener to enter the mindset that the album asks for. It’s ablutionary.

It’s followed with “Selah,” which opens with Kanye rapping, but the centerpiece of the song is that same choir. Kanye has a couple of good lines (I like his biblical double-entendres), but the song is completely overpowered by the choir. It’s weapons-grade material to put into any song and it animates the song to such an extent that Kanye’s rapping after it feels completely subsumed by the echoes of that choral work. It makes for a powerful effect and one of the strongest songs of the album, but I feel that there’s space there for a better melding.

From there though, we go into “Follow God,” which really showcases Kanye’s ability as a rapper. In this and in “Hands On,” you can see technical rapping in a way that it feels that the earlier Kanye was just not capable of. He teases the chorus a couple of times in the middle of the song just to bull through it without taking a full breath and it’s dazzling. Even more interesting though is the center of the song, Kanye fighting with his father just to be told that it’s not Christ-like. The reality of spirituality is that it will be tested, and this struggle is one writ especially large with Kanye’s turn to God here. Kanye is famous for his emotionality, for his quickness to react, for his inability to think before he acts, and to see him address the struggle is valuable as it’s rare to see someone be honest and personal about how difficult it can be.

“Closed On Sunday” has a bit of the same. The Sabbath is a sacrifice as much as a respite and you can see the intent behind referencing Chick-fil-A’s decision to stay closed on Sunday out of respect for their faith. The production is sober and quiet and Kanye’s rapping is muted through most of it, which gives the music a heft that plays well with the theme and the wariness of the first verse, which then translates well into the second, often-shouted verse.

The Chick-fil-A association still leaves gristle in the teeth though. The company is far more famous for homophobia than for Sundays and to not only repeatedly reference them, but to end the song with a screamed invocation is overtly provocative. You have to expect that with Kanye, it is what he does, it gets the people going, but nevertheless I would have really liked it if he had backed it up a little. He explains “I Thought About Killing You” over the course of the song and that is why that piece is so strong, but here he simply provokes and runs, and it feels less than it should as a result.

The middle is a bit forgettable. It’s reminiscent of some of the more forgettable parts of TLoP to me, but I actually really like “God Is.” It’s just earnest and that’s nice to see. Earnestness is another of those things that’s critical to any understanding of religion, but it’s also one that people are often reluctant to center a song on just because of how uncomplicated it is. Uncomplicated is not the same as inferior though, and I like to see something straightforward every now and again.

For all of that though, “Hands On” calls out the Christians. It’s a necessary part of an album like this, it’s a good reminder that the struggle for spirituality is personal and not just subsuming yourself into a crowd. As above though, it’s also got strong rap from Kanye. His change of pace here is very clean. Again, it’s just nice to see how much Kanye has developed as a rapper. It was never his strongest suit, but his ability now unlocks a lot of musical space.

“Use This Gospel” helps close out the album well. Clipse are acceptable on it, but Kanye is great and bringing in Kenny G for a moment is very unexpected, but remarkably well done. It’s exactly the perfect sax interlude. The actual closer, “Jesus Is Lord” finishes right as it gets started, but that works well. It’s uplifting and beautiful and ends on exactly the right note.

Jesus Is King is not a masterpiece like MBDTF or Graduation and not as groundbreaking as 808s & Heartbreak or Yeezus, but this is possibly the most unique album that Kanye has ever made. I’ve never experienced anything that has quite the same thing to say about religion or Christianity. It’s sincere and honest in the way that only Kanye can be and the result is as personal as a fingerprint. It’s very good music and there’s plenty here to provoke thought, no matter what Kanye himself may have intended to say. It’s not without flaws, but it’s also just excellent music and it’s the album this year that I’m most glad to have heard.

YBN Cordae – The Lost Boy

19 Aug

It’s a good time to be a talented young man in rap and YBN Cordae is as talented (and as young) as they come. The Lost Boy is the natural next step for him and it’s a very promising debut. YBN Cordae is already one of the more skilled rappers making music and that skill is more than enough to carry the album.

However, if you take the skill away, it’s hard to really see the point of the album. You would expect to see a lot of filler in a debut of this style and while it’s true here, that’s not too major a complaint to lodge against it. My real issue is that I just don’t really know what YBN Cordae is.

His claim to be a mix of the old and new school doesn’t really come through in the album. “Have Mercy” might have something like a trap beat, but it hasn’t internalized trap and nothing else feels even close to a fusion.

This doesn’t keep the music from being good though. The man is very talented. “Broke As Fuck” borrows very heavily from “HUMBLE”, but does it well and we can always use more music mined from that vein. “Family Matters” goes old-school instead and reminds me of Blueprint-era Jay-Z and Cordae’s lines about his family hit hard.

Where the flaw is most evident though is in the Chance and Anderson .Paak features. Both are excellent songs, but the Chance song feels like a Chance song and the .Paak one feels like a .Paak one. Both of these artists are well established by now and that clear definition lets them completely overshadow the voice of the still hazy Cordae.

This is still a debut worth checking out though. YBN Cordae’s potential is already clear, but future considerations aside, there’s enough very good music here to warrant your attention now.

@murthynikhil

Tyler, The Creator – Igor

13 Jul

It was always clear that Tyler, the Creator was talented. Out of the old Odd Future gang, despite his sort-of leadership of the crew, it was others like Earl Sweatshirt and Syd tha Kid and of course, the incomparable Frank Ocean that seemed to be the people to listen to. His first albums had enough in them to make you take notice, but their unfocused nature held them back, despite that being such a strong part of Tyler’s charm. His following was devoted, but you had to not only have a tolerance, but a desire, for the random.

Maturity has changed him though. His music is now much more fully developed and honestly much more interesting. Both lyrically and in the musical themes, he’s taken the sparseness of the old OFWGKTA days, fleshed it out fully and pruned some of the weirder things and the result is much stronger for it.

He still goes hard with songs like the excellent “NEW MAGIC WAND” but he’s also able to put in the much softer, but still wonderful, “GONE GONE / THANK YOU.” He’s still Tyler through and through. “EARFQUAKE” is unquestionably his and shows you why people have always been excited about what he makes, but “A BOY IS A GUN?” is also singular and exciting, but wholly different and being able to take that level of versatility and yet make music of this sustained quality is a major achievement.

Tyler, the Creator is still a misfit. The final song here is the winsome “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?” It’s just that between this and Flower Boy, he’s developed it to the next stage. Now, he’s no longer the smart-but-weird kid at your school. He’s fully stepped into being the idiosyncratic genius instead.

Lil Skies – Shelby

20 Jun

I picked up this album off the strength of the single “i”. You can immediately see Lil Skies’ ear for sounds in it and he plays very cleverly around the foundation. I can never be quite sure when the shift will come and his stuttering keeps you off balance while staying on beat. He takes the same i and stutters and drags it in a way that stays unexpected. It’s very catchy and very sharp. 

The rest of the album is unfortunately fairly generic SoundCloud rap however. It ranges from fair to good, but feels purposeless. “When I’m Wasted” does nothing, “Bad Girls” does nothing despite a Gucci Mane feature, but it does at least have a good hook. Even the hook is bland on “Through The Motions” though. It just cannot live up to its promise. “Stop the Madness” is nothing new. You just need to have something more to say if you want to stand out from what is quite the packed crowd.

“Nowadays Pt. 2” is quite good though, if brought down a bit by the guest spot. The twin central phrases of “Blue Strips” are excellent, but the song could have used a few more ideas in it. “Flooded” is unreservedly very good though. The hook of “they say I got next / nigga, I got now” is very strong and the song mixes itself up constantly. It’s a catchy earworm of a song. 

It is true that there’s not enough here to really distinguish this album from the deluge of SoundCloud rap available now. As a whole, it is a little store-brand. However, between his clearly sharp ear for sounds and his now-proven ability to make top tier music, I’m sure that Lil Skies will put out something unmissable soon.

slowthai – Nothing Great About Britain

16 Jun

This is what I imagine it must have felt like when Never Mind The Bollocks… came out. Grime, that spectacularly and uniquely British style of rap, has had a couple of small coming out parties. Stormzy is picking up award after award and Big Shaq achieved ubiquity with “Man’s Not Hot”, but Nothing Great About Britain is the album that deserves to make the full breakthrough.

It’s also just the most punk album that I’ve heard in a long time. It’s aggressive and unapologetically in-your-face. It’s an intense album, both musically and lyrically. The heavy slice of life and the personal nature of the album all feed in to this redefined aesthetic. This is the natural evolution of punk for the late 2010s. This is the only thing that it could be.

It’s a lot more than three chords to make a band though. There is no shortage of technical skill here, either in the engaging flow or the compelling production and both of them change things up to a dizzying degree. Standout track “Northampton’s Child” showcases tremendous control as slowthai changes speeds, cadence and even speech patterns for emphasis and different impact. The key couplet of “You’re lucky I’m not as big as you/I would punch you till my hands turn blue.” hits like a sledgehammer. The autobiographical nature of the song and the thanking of his mother are sincere and real and raw and the sum of all of these parts is a completely unmissable track.

With his politics, with his soul and with his skill, slowthai has put together one of the most remarkable albums of the year and of the subgenre. Grime has arrived and it is Nothing Great About Britain that has opened the doors.

@murthynikhil

Monthly Playlist: May 2019

1 Jun

What a month May has been for great music. Stalwarts made a strong mark, with Vampire Weekend releasing a highly-lauded fourth studio album and Tyler the Creator releasing a fifth – and his best-rated – record. Newcomers, too, blew it out of the water: notably, British rapper slowthai and relative newbie Jamila Woods, who has put out one of the best albums of the year. With all this great music, we really had our work cut out this month picking five great songs to share: but here goes.

5. “We Belong Together” by Vampire Weekend feat. Danielle Haim

As longtime readers would know, anything with one of the Haim sisters is almost always alright in our books. “We Belong Together” – the second Danielle Haim collab from Vampire Weekend’s fifth album, Father of the Bride – is a great, old-school duet love song with a quintessentially-Ezra-Koenig melancholy twist. Black and white, day and night, left and right, bowls and plates – Koenig and Haim list off the timeless and kitschy ways pairs the two lovers belong together. But wait, what’s this? “Baby, there’s no use in being clever / Baby, it don’t mean we’ll stay together,” they say, on a sugary-light bop, following it up with a devastating “We go together like lions and lambs / Oh, we go together”. This is another irresistibly great song from what has been a solid album front to back. Look out for a full review of FOTB from us soon – until then, take a listen through this track (and the other we’ve covered in our playlists!).

4. “Doin’ Time” by Lana del Rey

Speaking of melancholy crooners, the absolute queen of mournful murmuring is back. Lana del Rey has announced a new album in 2019 (the brilliantly-named Norman Fucking Rockwell), and “Doin’ Time” gives us a good taste of the excellent things to come. A cover of the ska / punk band Sublime’s 1996 single – and itself sampling the jazz standard “Summertime” – “Doin’ Time” is a head-fake that starts off like a cheery hit and segues into an adult-contemporary drive through Lana’s, well, sublime vocals. The result, as you may expect from a story about feeling trapped by an unfaithful partner, is a mixture between fuzzy contemplation and spiky regret. More to come from Lana this year, and we couldn’t be more pumped.

3. “Record Collection” by Kaiser Chiefs

In another throwback to the mid-aughts, Kaiser Chiefs are back with “Record Collection”, a song that’s basically an updated version of every one of your favorite songs from your high school years (think Killers, Franz Ferdinand, Kaiser Chiefs themselves, and so on). According to lead singer Ricky Wilson, the band recorded their seventh studio album Duck, slated for July 26th (featuring this new track) after going back and reminiscing over their own first few records. You can hear it too: after a forgettable couple of records in the middle, Kaiser Chiefs finally sound rejuvenated. A thick bassline and poppy drums elevate Wilson’s vocoder-style vocals on “Record Collection”, and the song is peppered with the sort of supple hooks that made “Ruby” all the rage more than a decade ago. (Has it really been that long?!) With “Record Collection”, it looks like we have yet another great summer album to await – mark your calendars!

2. “Vacancy” by Havelock

With so many releases from well-known artists this month, it’s easy to miss tracks like “Vacancy”, the second track (ever) by English singer Havelock. But, wow, are we glad we didn’t miss it – and we are so happy to recommend it to our readers, too. “Vacancy” tells a tale well-known by young people around the world – hustling until you make it, with an end in mind but not in sight. Beyond his chill vocals and the warmth of the production, what Havelock really cracks is that clever yet effortless turn of phrase. In fact, there’s a line on here that we loved so much that we’ll transcribe it here in full: “’Cause you got a brand-new vacancy, and I want to join the agency; I hope that it can give me something that I could hold, somewhere that I could go, without working to the bone: can you give me that?,” he asks; achingly poetic in his naivety. “My snooze is on repeat / I know I’d better wake up or I’ll wake up in the streets” goes another splendid couplet. We haven’t been this excited for a new artist in a long time – and we hope you feel the same way, too. (If you liked this tune, you’ll love “Pig Latin”, his debut single.)

1. “Inglorious” by slowthai, feat. Skepta

From an arrangement standpoint, “Inglorious” has a very simple layout: a short intro, followed by a verse by slowthai and the hook, followed by another verse by Skepta and the hook. But what happens in those five parts may well have changed the topography of British rap. Of course, Skepta is already famous; his unapologetic display of British culture – in a genre dominated by American culture – has placed him on a 2017 list of the most influential people in the UK. On “Inglorious”, his talents and persona are put to the best possible collaborative use with newcomer – and inevitable star – slowthai. A dreamlike intro leads into one of the best beat drops we’ve heard all year, along with a volley of British-isms and descriptions of struggle (“Remember when they wouldn’t let me in / Now their wages just a day’s per diem”). “Inglorious” features on slowthai’s debut album, Nothing Great About Britain, which is honestly one of the best albums we’ve heard all year. Listen to “Inglorious” – if you like it, you’re in for a treat for the rest of the album.

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