Tag Archives: rap

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.

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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.

Gunna – Drip or Drown 2

9 May

Drip or Drown 2 is, more than any other aquatic metaphor, distilled. It is muted and monotonic, taking the already focused subgenre of trap and focusing it even further. This is an album that’s specific in its intent and strong in its speech.

This focus gives it a relentless feel that fully enthralls. “Baby Birkin” takes the trap tic of repeating the end of the line and does it excellently. This may be a cliche in the form now, but it keeps the song from easy resolutions and so fascinates, albeit while being mentally exhausting. There are some very strong singles in here, with “Speed It Up” being similarly intriguing and “Who You Fooling” bringing in some astonishing Japanese strings. The production is consistently excellent and Gunna mixes up the singlemindedness of the beats cleverly with his raps.

This is a very linear album though, and that focus results in clarity at its best, but blandness at its worst. It’s at its best far, far more than at its worst though. This is an exceptional album. However, in it’s commitment to fully explore every idea it presents, it ends up slightly lacking in variety. However, this is a clever, accomplished album and a strong call to attention for a rapidly rising rapper. In his smelting of the genre, Gunna has forged something unique and you should definitely check it out.

Little Simz – GREY Area

17 Mar

There’s a pocket of quiet British rap that’s well worth paying attention to and Grey Area might be the best thing to come from it yet. Little Simz is a very talented rapper and she throws a varied assortment of ideas at you over the course of this album. The cartoon effects over the hard beat and strong rapping in “Offence” and the Eastern-tinged beat of “101FM” are particular standouts.

Unfortunately, I feel that this is not the album to really transcend the limitations of the subgenre. Like the contemporaneous Kate Tempest’s work, the album is very impressive to listen to in the moment but a little forgettable after. I feel it just lacks the few real moments of honesty and personal truth that would have drastically elevated it. It could even use some moments of cleverness. It’s just a little too freewheeling where it would have benefited from drilling down into a couple of points that it developed.

There’s a lot of strong music in the album though. The storytelling of “Sherbet Sunset” and the groove of “Selfish” and beat of “Pressure” are all excellent. Little Simz is already a brilliant rapper going from strength to strength and GREY Area is well worth your time.

Higher Brothers – Five Stars

11 Mar

It’s an exciting period for rap and Higher Brothers are one of the most exciting things in an exciting period. This Chinese rap group is talented and raw and innovative. Songs like “Flexing So Hard” and “Sunshine” have some of the most interesting flows that I’ve ever heard. The choppiness is novel and their free-switching between languages endlessly novel. These songs and “Gong Xi Fa Cai” are them at their best.

Unfortunately, the album as a whole is a little inconsistent. “Do It Like Me” and “No More” are not particularly good. The big name guests of ScHoolboy Q and Soulja Boy just don’t do that much. Q is forgettable and Soulja Boy is anaemic. However, “16 Hours” and “Open It Up” are bangers and “One Punch Man” is quite interesting. 

Whatever quibbles can be found with the album, this is simply the bleeding edge of rap and so music as a whole and if you’re at all interested in seeing where things are going then you should be listening to Higher Brothers. Also, they’re just a ton of fun to listen to.

@murthynikhil

J. Cole – Middle Child

20 Feb

This song is easily one of the best of the new year. First things first, it’s a good beat and a good flow. That opening feels like trumpets before a war and the song itself is a salvo.

What’s shocking though is the positivity. His lines on Drake giving him a watch as a gift are strong and rejecting manufactured beef are interesting in the genre famous for war being mutually beneficial. The game seems to be turning away from the aggression that once codified it and it’s a fascinating development to watch.

I also appreciate him talking about bringing your people up with you. I appreciate him sending love to the new rappers and sending love to the OGs. Generational strife almost always feels like both sides are out of touch. J. Cole stepping away from that, despite the many calling for him to kill trap or take the torch or whatever other narrative du jour is floating around, is heartening to see.

The contradictions here are interesting. He claims all love, but there are still shots at Kanye and Drake here. The lines are barely subliminals. This makes some sense as he criticizing actions like theirs, but this seems to be swallowing your beef and having it too. Also, look at the refrain “Niggas been countin’ me out / I’m countin’ my bullets, I’m loadin’ my clips / I’m writin’ down names, I’m makin’ a list / I’m checkin’ it twice and I’m gettin’ ’em hit.” It’s this aggression that makes the song though. This isn’t a call for ahimsa, it’s a militant call for love.

On that note, the hook is amazing. The drawn out “feel” with the sung notes is excellent. It lets him put a lot of emotion into very few words. That said, the words of the hook are extremely clever. I love the image from contrasting a pistol in the hand and money in the palm. Playing the drink in his hand giving him something to feel against his foot on their neck is similarly strong. Also, the hook just gives the song a swagger. It’s a boastful song for something meant to bring people together and that’s why I love it.

The corniness is a bit of a sour note though. His advice to the young rappers is painfully cliche when it comes to specifics. Also, is he really Jay-Z’s younger brother? It made sense when Kanye took that epithet in 2007, but J. Cole really feels like Jay’s grandson. He’s always made a habit of giving himself titles that I don’t feel he’s fully earned and it comes off as grasping.

This is the song that makes the case for him though. This is really strong rap and uniquely J. Cole’s. I hope we see a lot more like this from him soon.

@murthynikhil
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