I don’t care what anyone says – the last month of 2016 belonged to Hip-Hop. In the 11 months prior, every other genre had seemingly said all they had to say, but a legion of brilliant MCs, beat makers, and (hopefully not too many) ghostwriters were just getting started.
I.E. The hare that was the rest of the music biz had all but settled in for 2017, and Hip-Hop was the ultimate tortoise. And for me, this is not even COUNTING the surprise Christmas Eve release of the highly anticipated Run The Jewels 3 album – I can wait ‘til the official date in January for that (I think).
And I’m glad that I didn’t have a crazy influx of new music to deal with, ‘cause I was so God damn busy with my year-end lists that it would’ve been too much to handle anyway. I needed to debate Frank Ocean vs. Beyonce for hours on end in peace.
Anyway, I’m beyond psyched to see what 2017 has in store for us (anticipated albums coming next!), and I’m gonna enjoy turning my eye toward the future once again, ‘cause List Season is all about the retrospective. But before I turn forward, here’s one more look back – eight albums that I was bumping in between year-end list work:
Passion, Pain, & Demon Slayin’ – Kid Cudi
Hands down the best Kid Cudi project since 2010’s Man on the Moon 2: The Legend of Mr. Rager. If you’re a longtime Cudi fan, I bet you’re LOVING this. Unfortunately, there are a couple things holding me back from an overall positive verdict. A) this thing is an incredibly bloated 86 minutes – Frustratingly, a lot of said 86 minutes consists of Cudi ruining otherwise great tracks by dragging them out for unnecessary lengths. B) it’s excessively mopey at times – and “mopey” as in minus the self-destructive charisma of the “moping” on his first two records. But FUCK ME if there isn’t a killer album in here somewhere! Getting some dope, vibed-out production from the likes of Dot da Genius, Plain Pat, and Pharrell definitely helped – I love the spacey beats on tracks like “ILLusions”,”Swim in the Light”, and the Travis Scott-assisted lead single “Baptized in Fire”. And “By Design” is one of the top 5 tracks of Cudi’s entire career. I swear, one of these days this guy’s gonna drop a FIRE project front to back. I can feel it. But not this one. NOT RECOMMENDED
4 Your Eyez Only – J. Cole
I fucking hate J. Cole’s fans. J. Cole’s fans ruined (the stuff I did like by) J. Cole for me. They tried to act like JUST because there was a loose concept to this album – Cole’s fourth – anybody who didn’t like it must feel that way ‘cause it’s “over their head” and they’re JUST NOT SMART ENOUGH. What a crock of shit. 4 Your Eyez Only does have a cool (easy to follow!) storyline, and it has a few phenomenal tracks like “Neighbors” and the tear-jerking title track, but it has a major momentum problem. Too much mopey crooning, too much underwhelming lyricism, and an abomination called “Foldin’ Clothes”. However, I did enjoy the strong cuts enough to grant it a 6/10. But no, dickriders, it’s not a “classic”. FOH with that. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED
Awaken, My Love! – Childish Gambino
Donald Glover is CRUSHING it right now. The other night, his critically acclaimed TV series Atlanta got hella more critically acclaimed when it took home a pair of Golden Globes; he’s playing Lando Calrissian in the upcoming Star Wars film; AND he dropped Awaken, My Love! – this total stylistic left turn of a record – out of nowhere. DAMN. If you haven’t heard the LP yet, Glover abandoned rapping altogether and hopped in a time machine back to the mid-70s for some George Clinton-inspired funk and soul jams. I’d be full of shit if I said I was well-versed in this genre of music, but I would not be full of shit if I said I enjoyed what I heard, and that I’m continually impressed with Glover’s versatility. RECOMMENDED
Not the Actual Events EP – Nine Inch Nails
With this quick little Christmastime EP, these Industrial Rock legends have finally crawled out of their three-year cave to (hopefully) give us a taste of what they have in store for us on their highly anticipated ninth full-length. In other words, they’re lubricating their audience (pause). A good chunk of what’s on here is classic Nine Inch Nails though. Exhibit A: the electronic grooves on highlight “Dear World” that are nearly danceable but still ominous and foreboding. I’m especially into the track “The Idea of You”, which has these off-kilter machine gun rhythms that are addicting as hell. Ultimately, it’s all just a teaser though, like the full theater trailer for a summer blockbuster. But this thing has me excited for a new Nine Inch Nails studio album (fingers crossed) this year. RECOMMENDED
White Friday (CM9) – Yo Gotti
While every other music nerd spent Christmas Eve freaking out about the Run the Jewels surprise release, I was bumping this mixtape, lured by the explosive single “Power of Money”. Gotti continues to impress me. He’s clearly a street rapper, but there’s a certain elegance to him – he spits with the self-assurance of an OG with nothing to prove, but with the hunger of an MC half his age. He also gets surprisingly sentimental on the closing track “What Happened”, which is dedicated to his friend and manager Mel Carter, who passed away a few weeks before this tape came out. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Don’t Smoke Rock – Smoke DZA & Pete Rock
Harlem MC Smoke DZA teamed up with one of the greatest Hip-Hop producers of all time for a beautifully old school Hip-Hop record, one rooted purely in the ‘90s. Don’t Smoke Rock was so up my alley, it almost feels like it was made specifically for me. I’m giving the top 3 features to Jadakiss, Royce da 5’9, and Big K.R.I.T – they all crushed it. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED
Darkness and Light – John Legend
So this is the first time I’ve given a full John Legend project a shot. Maybe this style of (mostly) lethargic R & B just isn’t my cup of tea, but these 45 minutes elicited more yawns than anything else. That’s not to say the LP is without its undeniable high points: the funky Chance the Rapper collaboration “Penthouse Floor” is awesome – Chance’s verse on that one, much like himself, is quirky, fun, and imaginative – but my personal favorite is the sensual “Temporarily Painless”. It’s one of my favorite songs right now. It’s SO.DAMN.SEXY, between its dreamy production and Legend’s airtight songwriting – I just can’t get enough. Overall, Darkness and Light is a decent listen for a rainy day, but I’ve found myself coming back to a few select tracks rather than the whole LP. NOT RECOMMENDED
Filthy America…It’s Beautiful – The Lox
No, this hugely anticipated comeback record did not meet my extremely overinflated expectations. The Lox’s 1998 debut Money, Power, & Respect was one of my Hip-Hop bibles growing up, and Jadakiss was always a favorite of mine. Unfortunately, the issue with Filthy America seems to be an identity crisis. This LP doesn’t know whether it wants to be traditionalist (the Premo-produced “Move Forward”) or fit in with the young’ns (the generic trap turn-up of “Secure the Bag”). So it winds up being a disjointed listen. Aside from one gem – the menacing Mobb Deep collab “Hard Life” – I think I’ll stick with Money, Power, & Respect. NOT RECOMMENDED