Tag Archives: rap

Kendrick Lamar – Black Panther: The Album

16 Mar

Black Panther was both an excellent movie and a cultural milestone. The album doesn’t quite hold up to that standard on either axis or the standard that Kendrick has gotten us accustomed to, but there is still space below all those bars for it to be quite good.

First of all, the singles all do well. “All The Stars” is just a great Kendrick joint and SZA absolutely kills both the chorus and her own verse. The Weeknd is in his comfort zone with “Pray For Me” and while Kendrick’s verse doesn’t quite gel with the rest of the song, it’s still just very good. “King’s Dead” has a solid Jay Rock verse, some stellar work from Future and the memorable “Miss me with that bullshit” from Kendrick.

Additionally, a couple of the other songs punch well above their weight. SOB x RBE burn down their song and Yugen Blakrok simply overwhelms the rest of “Opps” until it there’s nothing else left. The rest of the album is unfortunately forgettable however. There are moments, but not enough to save it from a slight blandness. There are no actual misses here. There’s nothing so poor as to hurt. The album as a whole does feel a little deadened due to all the cotton wool packed in it though.

The entire album runs the afro-futurism of the movie quite well however. There are a lot of explicit call-outs to Wakanda, Killmonger and the Black Panther himself, but more importantly, the beats themselves strongly reinforce the theme. Hearing sounds like this from a confirmed A-lister like Kendrick in the context of an album of the magnitude of this one is both novel and important. Also, it’s just good music.

@murthynikhil

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Migos – Culture 2

1 Mar

Where their previous album was a statement of intent, Culture 2 is a victory lap. Trap is the biggest thing going around and Migos are bona-fide superstars as a result. Like an actual victory lap, this album is rather more relaxed than the run that it took to get here. There’s maybe a little too much playing to the crowd, a little too much space for friends to jump in and just a little too much self-indulgence. Still, a victory lap is not meant to break world records, it’s just a moment to celebrate with the winners and why would I begrudge them that?

Also, this album is of strikingly consistent quality despite the length. The singles definitely stand out with the Kanye-produced “BBO (Bad Bitches Only)” and Pharell-produced “Stir Fry” as particularly memorable. Similarly, the chant in “Auto Pilot” is insistent. However, the album as a whole is just good, muscular rap. A couple of songs are forgettable, and the guest spots mostly feel unrealized, but there’s not a single song in the album that breaks the flow and most of them will drag you deeper in.

It’s worth going over again just how good most of the music in this is. I just happen to have “Movin’ Too Fast” on and the drowned beat in it is just excellent. Offset flows so smoothly for the first half and is then broken cleanly by the gravel in Takeoff’s verse which goes back to Offset before Quavo’s yelps put an almost-jarringly new spin on the song.

It jumps quickly from radio-ready to experimental and back again. The result is definitely a little inchoate, but the quality is steady across both types. It’s a slightly messy album and the ideas come fast and hard, but I don’t want a Migos album built under a waterfall in the first place. While Culture 2 lacks the focus of their previous album, and with that some of the quality, it’s still a lot of fun to listen to, all 105 minutes of it.

@murthynikhil

Eminem – Revival

11 Jan

Like most people of my age, much of the first music that I really listened to was Eminem’s. Unlike much of the other stuff I heard, Em’s early stuff still holds up amazingly today. It is astounding how good he was at his peak. Revival however is unfortunately nowhere near that peak.

This album continues a now decades long trend of mediocre Eminem albums and two facts are to blame. The first is that Eminem seems to be the only true practitioner of stadium rap. Interpolating “I Love Rock n Roll” for “Remind Me” would be fun to chant in a full stadium, but doesn’t work when listening to it by yourself. Similarly, aren’t we all tired of the “Zombies” sample he uses in “In Your Head” by now?

This problem has roots deep in his history. He always liked stadium rock more than the average rapper and it used to work. The “Dream On” hook does so much for “Sing For The Moment”, but here the sound just feels banal. It makes sense given the circumstances. Eminem is one of the few rappers able to pack a stadium and his audience is probably a little less conversant with rap than that of, say, Kendrick Lamar. This music feels built for a specific circumstance. It’s just not very good anywhere else.

This is quite a shame given that Eminem is probably the greatest student of the game there ever was. There is some irony in how the success he built through his skill has now kept him from fully exercising that same skill. Even so, the skill does show. His ability to pick up other people’s flows here is impressive, even if the resulting song is mediocre and his ability to chop words into whatever he wants remains unparalleled. However, all of this technique just feels empty, which leads us to the second problem.

Em just really has nothing left to say. I had really hoped that his new political stance would result in some depth from him. After all, his early stuff was always ready to take shots at Bush. Yet in Revival, for all that I wish “Untouchable” was solid commentary, it is actually just unlistenable. He gets moments in “Bad Husband” as he mines his familiar emotional seams of fatherhood and his ex-wife and the more mature angle is a little fresh, but the old magic is gone and it’s probably time to accept that it’s not coming back. He’s just too successful.

Additionally, people are just harder to shock now than they were in his prime. Talking about throwing Ivanka Trump into the back of a trunk just doesn’t have the punch it would have had 20 years ago. The world has turned.

Eminem’s legacy will undoubtedly be that of one of the greatest rappers of all time and his success is commensurate. It’s becoming impossible though to deny that same success is going to keep him from ever adding anything new to his legacy. This album certainly isn’t worth remembering.

@murthynikhil

Ivan Ave – Helping Hands

3 Jan

Jazz rap, or even music close to it, is rare enough that any solid release is worth taking note of and Helping Hands is a reasonable addition to an under-served genre. The rap unfortunately lacks the punch to break through the jazzier beats in the way that something like Bop Alloy manages and so the album, while good, is rarely outstanding. It does make for a very relaxing sound however. The album comes together in a way that is almost ambient to the extent that the titular song lacks any rap at all, but doesn’t feel in the least out of place.

This is an album worth looking into for any fans of the sadly far too small subgenre and “Circles” is actually a standout track. It is honestly skippable for most music fans, but while the highs aren’t too high, the lows are never that low and it’s an album that I’m happy to have spent the time listening to.

@murthynikhil

Lil Uzi Vert – Luv Is Rage 2

4 Nov

First of all, “XO TOUR Llif3” is one of the greatest songs that I have ever heard. It is a revelation in every sense and a song what I don’t know when I will ever stop listening to. You should listen to it right now.

That song is the reason that I’m reviewing this album, but there is the remainder to cover as well. Unfortunately, nothing else here matches the brilliance of the single. The album as a whole has other interesting points, but also holds a fair number of misfires and is too indulgent of some uninteresting ideas. For instance, “UnFazed” is too repetitive to take advantage of all that it has. The Weeknd sounds great in it but needs more space than he’s given. It is still a highlight of the album, but does not fulfill the promise it first seemed to hold. Songs like “Malfunction” and “How To Talk” just don’t do anything and while “X” has some fun points, it’s just not that interesting.

“XO TOUR Llif3” however is brilliant and thus complicated to take apart. This is the song that proved mumble rap to me. The new Atlanta rap scene has had a lot of great music come from it, as anyone who reads this blog can see, but this song pushes it beyond merely being promising, good new music. This is the song that actually cashes the checks.

When I first saw mumble rap, it seemed to be punk rock all over again. In the same way that punk rebelled against the crushing formalism of stadium rock and their 20 minute guitar solos, mumble rap seemed the Dionysian answer to the Apollonian values of lyricism and flow. Again, just like punk rock, it’s not that mumble rap lacks the ability, some of Thugger’s lines still make me laugh and I can’t see a single rapper with a questionable flow, it’s that the medium shouldn’t be defined by that. It’s unsatisfying to define this movement with nothing more than abjuration. Punk rock was much, much more than simple chords. Other songs have proven that you can make great music with mumble rap, it took “XO TOUR Llif3” to show why you should try.

The greatest thing that this song does is a moment in the middle. The couplet “Push me to the edge/All my friends are dead” is the spine of the song. It’s a wonderfully succinct and condensed piece of songwriting that is repeated over and over again to add weight. The first verse ends with the anguished plea “Xanny, help the pain, yeah/Please, Xanny, make it go away” before dropping into the chorus and that repeated couplet again. This time however, instead of actually saying the words, Lil Uzi’s voice slurs it to incomprehensibility so as to give it even more space for emotion.

That was my moment of clarity. That is what this music can do. You cannot communicate that feeling with traditional rap. I’ve never heard that feeling pushed so clearly. Even now, after hundreds and hundreds of listens, that moment astounds me.

In all of my time listening to music, I’ve only had my eyes opened like that once before. Quite a few years ago, I was trying out jazz to see if I would like it and while the first things that I heard were all excellent, I didn’t really get what it was about. Naturally, I started with the most famous albums and so I ended up picking up Coltrane’s My Favorite Things quickly enough. The title track is still my favorite individual piece of music. The first minute hews fairly close to the Rodgers and Hammerstein original, but then Coltrane’s solo goes to a place that I had never heard before. What makes this special though is how that diversion is fully informed by the original. He takes the ideas of the musical version and pushes them somewhere entirely unexpected and that surprise is what defines the feeling of listening to the music. Then, just when you have a feel for where he now is, the song seamlessly returns to the original tune and so once again catches you off-balance. That moment changed how I listened to jazz and for that matter, music as a whole. That taught me to participate, to try to see where the song is going so that you can be surprised when the musicians do something clever and end up somewhere else instead. It’s the pleasure of seeing familiar ideas put together in a way that’s completely novel. It’s like the best puzzle games. It’s also something that I would never have understood had it not been for this ‘Trane song.

Formalism and jazz comparisons are well and good, but they are not what makes a song great. “XO TOUR Llif3” is just visceral to hear. I feel like I should be too old for this to hit me as hard as it does, but his honesty takes his story of heartbreak and depression beyond mere teen drama. Besides, when he hits the bridge of “She say: “You’re the worst, you’re the worst.”/I cannot die because this my universe”, that’s too close to home to deny. It’s not like I’m that mature either.

It’s also just a great song. I still haven’t figured all of its pieces. That little pause at the end of “Shoulda saw the way she looked me in my eyes/She said: Baby, I am not afraid to die.” tripped me up dozens of times and so punctuates the verse perfectly. The production is unceasingly clever and contrasts with Uzi’s flow to add layer upon layer of meaning.

This song is now a part of me. You should give it a try.

@murthynikhil

XXXTentaction – 17

21 Sep

That 17 is an exceptional and fascinating album is undeniable. This year feels like an unprecedented explosion for the more alternate strains of rap and XXXTentacion has build a name for himself on the edge of this movement.

You cannot talk about him without bringing up the testimony of his reported victim. This account is horrific. There’s nothing that can a person can do to make me ignore abuse of this sort and I don’t ask you to ignore it either.

17 though, is an excellent and groundbreaking album. This is probably the first rap album to take more from Nirvana and from Papa Roach than from Pac and Big. It barely spends any time in the traditional lines of rap as it freely strays into R&B and rock. The shifts in genre flow smoothly due to the consistency in tone throughout. The album never shifts from its dark and emotional lane.

It’s the album of a young man in its honesty. XXXTentacion is startlingly open in his accounts of his problems. The unfortunate side of this is how juvenile some of his sentiments appear. His manifesto smacks strongly of high school and his lyrics never really scintillate. Additionally, the rapping is fine, but tends to quickly fall into repetition as in “Everybody Dies In Their Nightmares.” However, his sincerity makes such criticisms feel beside the point. The three syllable statement of depression to open “Depression and Obsession” is beautiful and profound enough to carry the song on its own. Similarly, “Save Me” is captivating every single time.

This is an album that’s going to be very meaningful to a large number of people. You may not be that person right now and that’s okay. You may also feel that you cannot enjoy the work of a musician whose alleged domestic abuse is such an atrocity and that’s a reasonable position too. If it is an album that you can play however, it cannot help but be worth the listen.

@murthynikhil

Young Thug – Beautiful Thugger Girls

31 Jul

Inimitable, enigmatic and ever exciting, Thugger is the kind of rapper that you should be paying attention to. Beautiful Thugger Girls follows JEFFERY and Barter 6 in coherence and thus approachability. Great guest spots, including Future’s personal cuts in “Relationship”, Quavo in the excellent “You Said” and vintage Snoop bars in the appropriate “Get High” further the album’s broad appeal without compromising anything. Additionally, the album opener “Family Don’t Matter” leans far more on singing than normal for Young Thug, and thus softens the album as a whole. The majority though, is still Thugger yelping and squawking his way though songs as only he can, and the album closer “Take Care” does that as well as he ever has, as does “Tomorrow Til Infinity.”

It is however inescapable that Young Thug is not for everyone, and if you don’t like him, you won’t like this. Personally, I’m always interested when he puts out something new and Beautiful Thugger Girls does not disappoint. You should definitely try it out.

@murthynikhil

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