Top 5 Mid-Year Hip-Hop Albums of 2017

Hip-Hop is in a weird place in 2017.

Remember that “new generation” of great MCs that’s been endlessly debated about – you know, all those people Kendrick named in his “Control” verse four years ago? Well, they’re not so new anymore. They’re nearly a decade into their careers now. Meanwhile, the genre’s “new faces” could not be a less cohesive bunch; people seem to like Lil’ Yachty ‘cause he’s weird, 21 Savage ‘cause he’s scary, and XXXTenacion ‘cause, well, he’s a SoundCloud rapper that dissed Drake.

What is the SOUND of Hip-Hop in 2017? I have no earthly idea how to answer that question. It’s everything and it’s nothing. “Mumble rap” may be a common contemporary term that’s thrown around, but there’s too much negative connotation associated with it for the style to have much longevity (see also: “ringtone rap”, circa 2007). And “Trap” may loosely describe the sonic backdrop of much of the genre’s mainstream output, but then how would we explain the popularity of industry darlings like Chance the Rapper, Danny Brown, and Joey Bada$$> Adding more confusion to the situation, we can’t forget that Hip-Hop’s elder statesmen – the Jay-Zs, the Eminems, and Nases of the world – are STILL relevant and still breaking the Internet with new music, much of which eschews the sounds of the young guns.

But Hip-Hop is also in a good place in 2017.

It continues to broaden and expand and reinvent itself and if you ask me, it’s as diverse as it has ever been in its near-forty year history. And in 2017 thus far, as it does every year, the genre has done what it does best; it’s offered us some jaw-dropping greatness, and it’s served up some real shit sandwiches (I’m looking at YOU, Machine Gun Kelly). But in this article, we’re gonna stay positive – we’re taking a look at five Hip-Hop albums from the first half of 2017 that I have loved the shit out of.

As always, keep in mind that all of my music commentary is based solely on personal taste; I’m not trying to tell you that these albums are better than other albums, I’m just trying to tell you that you’re stupid if you don’t like them. Just kidding.

It’s all just one dude listening to music and talking about why he likes it. Simple as that.

And with a list such as this one, also keep in mind that I’ve spent very different amounts of time with each of these albums – some of them I’ve lived with for months, and some of them are still relatively new to my life – so this list (and by proxy, the omissions from it) is subject to change as the year progresses. Hope you enjoy these picks and here’s to another five months of great Hip-Hop!

5. Pretty Girls Like Trap Music – 2 Chainz

I have never been a 2 Chainz fan. I have never even made it through an entire 2 Chainz project. His over-the-top, in-your-face braggadocio and all-too-familiar song topics have never appealed to me. But, holy shit. I took a chance with this LP, and “pleasantly surprised” is an understatement. This thing is phenomenal. It’s excessive in all the right places (e.g. the completely unnecessary bass boosts on “Riverdale Road”, which make my car feel like a 747), but manages to have a degree of subtlety as well. 2 Chainz is wildly creative with his flows throughout, and manages to make the tracks with the most predictable guest appearances into the album’s shining moments (the contemplative “Realize” with Nicki Minaj, the euphoric “Blue Cheese”, with the Migos). Not to mention, this album contains the most absurd, hilarious line of 2 Chainz’s career thus far; on “Sleep When U Die”, he spits the following gem: “I got a bank account, got anotha bank account, got anotha bank account.” ‘Nuff said.

4. Rather You Than Me – Rick Ross

Right up there with 2 Chainz in the “Jesus Christ, I never expected THIS!” department, Ricky Rozay came through with a surprisingly dope project this time around. Who would’ve thought that it’d be this motherfucker’s NINTH album that finally won me over? But on Rather You Than Me, Ross balances his usual bravado-filled tall tales with some genuine vulnerability and emotional depth. To be clear, this is far from 808s and Heartbreak, but when Ross – who, by the way, has quietly developed into an impressive MC over the years– dips into his psyche from time to time, it makes for a much more well-rounded listen. Plus, from a production standpoint, he assembles a murderer’s row of some of the best instrumentals 2017 has to offer; luxurious cuts like “Santorini Greece” and the jazzy “Game Ain’t Based on Sympathy” are sprinkled alongside traditional trap bangers like “Dead Presidents” and “Summer Seventeen”, as well as more minimalistic moments like the Nas-assisted “Powers That B”. It all makes for a fluid, easily enjoyable, and consistently engaging 62 minutes. Don’t worry, I’m as surprised as you are. Here is a full review.

3. Captain California – Murs

Every year, Tech N9ne’s powerhouse indie label Strange Music comes through with at least one absolute gem (and by the way, it’s never from Tech N9ne himself– the guy is superbly talented but his projects are bloated as fuck. But I digress.) Last year, it was Rittz’s third record Top of the Line, which placed high on my year end list and I couldn’t shut the fuck up about. This year, it’s veteran LA spitter Murs, whose sixth studio album Captain California delivers everything I look for in Hip-Hop on a silver platter. Aside from checking all the boxes from a technical rapping standpoint, what impresses me most about Murs is his range. This album will be downright goofy one minute – as with the laugh-out-loud opening cut “Lemon Juice”, a little ditty centered on Murs and his guest Curtiss King competing for one female’s attention – and it’ll be heartfelt the next, as with the aptly titled “God Bless Kanye West”, or the touching love song “1,000 Suns”. This LP is likely to end up in the “fuck all of you, this is so underrated!” column for me, so don’t be one of the idiots who sleeps on it!

2. DAMN. – Kendrick Lamar

 You can go here for some extended thoughts on this album, but I’ll sum it up this way: we are witnessing Hip-Hop history with this guy. How many Hip-Hop artists can you think of that came right out of the gate with FOUR EXCELLENT RECORDS?? Please, enlighten me. Outkast? Sure. DMX? Perhaps. Eric B. and Rakim? I guess, but it’s debatable. Point made: it’s a short fucking list. While DAMN. might not be as intricate or conceptual as Lamar’s universally-acclaimed previous LP, To Pimp a Butterfly, what I love about this one is how emotionally raw it is. This is as depressed, anxious, and conflicted as Kendrick has ever sounded, and that’s saying a lot since he’s never exactly branded himself as Mr. Happy-Go-Lucky. But this record is so raw and so real, and I relate to Kendrick on a more visceral level this time around. That, and he has continued to push himself as a wholistic MC, upping the ante with his flows, his versatile vocal inflections, and his increasingly complex rhyme structures.

  1. All the Beauty in This Whole Life – Brother Ali

 Aptly titled, this album makes me happy to be alive. Not that it’s a shining beacon of optimism or anything – these songs tackle suicide, pornography addiction, racial inequality, and some of Alis darkest personal struggles – but hearing this man put a Hip-Hop song together is truly remarkable. Brother Ali oozes passion, sincerity and raw emotion out of every last breath of these 61 minutes, and as a listener it’s contagious. You can’t help but be inspired by the uplifting single “Own Light (What Hearts Are For)”, or be moved to tears by the emotional weight of “Dear Black Son” or “Pray For Me”, or be challenged by food-for-thought tracks like “Before They Called you White”. Not to mention, Ant from Atmosphere provides a gorgeous sonic backdrop, and Ali, being simply one of the most gifted rhymers on the planet, knocks all fifteen tracks out of the park. If you haven’t yet, please get the hell off this blog and go listen to this album. Or watch my review. Thank you and have a nice day.

2017 Grammys Rundown: Who Won, Who Should’ve Won, and More Angry Thoughts

If you’re anything other than the most casual, Kool Aid-chugging Z100 listener, you’re probably aware that the Grammys suck massive amounts of dick a good amount of the time. I’m not going to get myself all worked up here with a Grammy Awards: Cluelessness and Disrespect 101 history lesson, but you get my point. (Side note: Sometimes I wonder if film buffs feel the same about the Oscars, but I’m as fair weather a moviegoer as they come, so if that’s the case, I’m part of the problem.)

Of course I love music too much to look away, and every year my morbid curiosity gets the best of me.Here’s a cathartic synopsis of some of my most primitive thoughts: the right decisions, the wrong decisions, and some additional commentary about the show itself. So I’ll begin with a dissection of the categories relevant to this blog, and end with a bunch of self-absorbed opinions. Enjoy!

Category: Album of the Year

Winner: 25 – Adele

Who Should’ve Won: Lemonade – Beyonce

Why: Ask Adele. She’ll tell you.

 

Category: Song of the Year

Winner: Hello – Adele

Who Should’ve Won: Hello – Adele

Why: Despite my personal distaste for it, “Hello” has been a ubiquitous radio monster for the last 18 months, and with its success we saw Adele reach an even higher echelon of stardom than on her tremendous 21 album cycle.

 

Category: Best New Artist

Winner: Chance The Rapper

Who Should’ve Won: Anderson .Paak

Why: Chance is not NEW you fucking idiots. Since Acid Rap dropped in 2013, he has been the de facto face of independent Hip-Hop and a massively influential force in the industry’s ever-evolving approach to music distribution. But hey, I guess when you’re half a decade behind, he IS new.

 

Category: Best Pop Duo/Group Performance

Winner: “Stressed Out” – Twenty One Pilots

Who Should’ve Won: “Stressed Out” – Twenty One Pilots

Why: So we could see one of the best acceptance speeches of all time.

 

Category: Best Pop Vocal Album

Winner: 25 – Adele

Who Should’ve Won: Dangerous Woman – Ariana Grande

Why: Beyonce may have had the artfulness and critically acclaim, but Ariana had the hits! Not just one or two, but a whole album full of them! Like it or not, Dangerous Woman is such a flawlessly executed Pop record that it’s still dominating airwaves EIGHT MONTHS after its release.

 

 Category: Best Pop Solo Performance

Winner: “Hello” – Adele

Who Should’ve Won: “Dangerous Woman” – Ariana Grande

Why: Far and away the better song! Plus, it was so cool to hear some bluesy guitars make it onto the charts.

 

 

Category: Best Rock Song

Winner: “Blackstar” – David Bowie

Who Should’ve Won: “Blackstar” – David Bowie

Why: Even though this is classic “better-late-than-never” posthumous appreciation from a clueless institution, “Blackstar” is an amazing song. Radiohead’s “Burn the Witch” gets a close second here.

 

 Category: Best Rock Performance

Winner: “Blackstar” – David Bowie

Who Should’ve Won: “Blackstar” – David Bowie

Why: What a joke that Bowie’s competition for best ROCK performance was a fucking Beyonce song and Disturbed’s Simon & Garfunkel cover. Fuck the Grammys.

 

 Category: Best Metal Performance

Winner: “Dystopia” – Megadeth

Who Should’ve Won: “Dystopia” – Megadeth

Why: Would’ve been happy with Megadeth, Baroness, or Gojira on this one. All three are favorites of mine! The Grammys are so historically clueless with Metal that you just hope the dice land in a reasonable place (i.e. NOT Motorhead winning for a Metallica cover, or Tenacious D beating out Slipknot, Mastodon, Motorhead, and Anthrax).

 

Category: Best Rock Album

Winner: Tell Me I’m Pretty – Cage the Elephant

Who Should’ve Won: Weezer – Weezer

Why: Weezer was a Top 5 Album for me last year. Cage…maybe in the top….300? Haha. Oh, and Gojira is not a “rock band” guys. The Grammys’ ignorance would almost be cute if it wasn’t so upsetting

 

Category: Best Urban Contemporary Album

Winner: Lemonade – Beyonce

Who Should’ve Won: Lemonade – Beyonce

Why:

 

Category: Best Rap Album

Winner: Coloring Book – Chance the Rapper

Who Should’ve Won: The Life of Pablo – Kanye West

Why: MASSIVE respect to Chance for his much deserved win! Couldn’t be happier for him. It’s a big moment in Grammys history since Coloring Book is a “free project” and all. I just preferred TLOP.

 

Category: Best Rap Performance

Winner: “No Problem” – Chance the Rapper

Who Should’ve Won: “No Problem” – Chance the Rapper

Why: One Summer ‘16’s most irresistible and inescapable bangers. Blows the other four nominees out of the water (let’s face it, the nominees themselves are the real issue a lot of the time).

 

Category: Best Rap song

Winner: “Hotline Bling” – Drake

Who Should’ve Won: “Famous” – Kanye West feat. Rihanna

Why: Drake did crush it with “Hotline Bling”. He really did. But it’s another in a long line of petty bitter ex-boyfriend-isms from Drizzy that glorify controlling, chauvinistic nonsense. So I guess I’ll go with the less concealed chauvinism on “Famous”.

 

Category: Best Rap/Sung Performance

Winner: “Hotline Bling” – Drake

Who Should’ve Won: “Hotline Bling” – Drake

Why: I HAVE to give him this. Much more appropriate in this category anyway ‘cause he’s barely even “rapping” on this track.

 

Some More Thoughts:

  • A Tribe Called Quest’s performance was one of the greatest moments in Grammy history. So powerful, so true to their legacy, and so NEEDED. Please watch it if you haven’t yet! They call Trump “President Agent Orange” on national television.
  • Say what you want about Adele beating out Beyonce, but to her credit, she did a HELLUVA better job being a white apologist than Macklemore did when he beat out Kendrick. I still cringe so hard when I think about that.
  • The Chainsmokers need to go away. I’m praying that they’re relevant by the 2018 show. Unfortunately I’m an Atheist, so Closer 3.0 and Closer 4.0 might be up for some awards next year (Closer 2.0 is “Paris”, in case you’re wondering).
  • Twenty One Pilots gave one of the most memorable, touching acceptance speeches I’ve ever seen. Though I’m beginning to grow out of their music, I’m so happy for those guys and all their much deserved success.
  •  Putting aside the two things that everybody was upset about – James Hetfield’s mic being turned off and the tranny forgetting to mention Metallica’s name when he/she introduced them – the Metallica/Lady GaGa collaboration was fucking wack. Having been not only a fan of GaGa, but aware of her unabashed Metal fandom for quite some, I had high hopes, but it was as awkward and forced as an Anakin/Padme love scene in Attack of the Clones. Bummed me the hell out.
  • Lastly, to all you Metalheads getting your studs and leather in a wad over this shit – the Grammys have NEVER showed one iota of respect towards the genre. This is not new. You can get as pissed as you want, but what you should really do is focus your attention on bigging up the true METAL awards shows hosted by REAL members of the faithful like Revolver and Metal Hammer. Let’s put our energy into making these awards shows a cornerstone of the genre! Forget the Grammys. In Metal, when you’re not invited to the party, you start your own.

 

 

 

Ten Albums I’m Anticipating in 2017

Annnd here we are! Another new year, another 365 days of people moping about how awful it is. To be fair, 2016 did give 2017 quite the head start in that category, but I always prefer to be optimistic. Being a whiney whore on social media is too easy. I like a challenge.

Musically, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a bit of a drop off in 2017, ‘cause, let’s face it, who DIDN’T come out with an awesome new album in the past two years?? 2015 and 2016 were overwhelming, in the best way imaginable.

But this damn industry always finds a way. And since New Year’s, I’ve been steadily adding to my 2017 release date calendar, salivating at the chance to review and talk about these mysterious LPs that, at the moment, are nothing but titles on a word doc.

So here are ten of those records, all of which are CONFIRMED to come out this year. Being speculative is a waste of time. Sure, Tool MIGHT drop an album before 2017 is over, but I’d rather focus my attention on the “sure things”. Like going to a bar and only talking to girls with tramp stamps.

And one more quick clarification: these albums aren’t necessarily “anticipated” ‘cause I think they’re gonna be good – some I’m just curious to hear! Big difference there!

Can hardly contain my excitement for this new Kreator LP Gods of Violence, which drops in a couple weeks (January 27th). This might be THE major Metal release of January for me. I haven’t kept up with every Kreator album (which they crank out like clockwork), but I’ve never been disappointed by what I’ve heard, so high hopes for this one!

The following week, Big Sean is dropping an album called I Decided. According to him, it’s his “most ambitious one yet” or some other PR nonsense. I always have a morbid curiosity with new Big Sean music, ‘cause there’s a small part of me that thinks the guy’s genuinely talented and wants to see him pull through with a dope project. But it never happens. We’ll have to see…

Hip-Hop’s most pretentious (alleged) Jew hater, Lupe Fiasco, will be dropping Drogas Light on February 10th, following up 2015’s excellent Tetsuo & Youth. Growing up, I worshipped this man. Nowadays, his bars make me feel like I’m being talked down to. But Tetsuo was undeniably great so I can’t wait to hear its successor.

After that T Swift covers album got him heaps more (deserved) recognition, I’m looking forward to what singer/songwriter Ryan Adams has in store for his new LP Prisoner. Check out Love is Hell if you haven’t yet. The guy is unreal.

Everyone has that criminally underrated band from their childhood that they’ll never stop yelling about. For me, that’s Darkest Hour, the unsung heroes of the New Wave of American Heavy Metal who quietly put out two classics (2003’s Undoing Ruin and 2005’s Deliver Us) while Trivium and Lamb of God hogged the spotlight. Though I did get a little vindication when “District Divided”, one of my favorite songs, got 30 seconds of screen time in The Big Short. But I digress

This upcoming record Godless Prophets and the Migrant Flora is the result of a crowd-funding campaign and after Sumerian Records ruined their last album, I’ve got my fingers crossed for a return to form. The title is certainly epic.

Since I’m a HUGE proponent of Metal and Hip-Hop intermingling (even at the cost of Limp Bizkit existing), Ice-T’s Metal band Body Count is always on my radar. Their sixth LP Bloodlust is on its way this St. Patty’s Day. Given that “Pop Bubble”, featuring Hatebreed frontman Jamey Jasta, was far and away the standout track on 2014’s Manslaughter, it’s gonna be Jasta Collab or Bust. Just kidding.

My tears still haven’t quite dried up from the break up of legendary Black Metal band Agalloch last year, but frontman John Haughm is back! His new band is called Pillorian and the record – out March 10th – is called Obsidian Arc. Let us pray to the Black Metal Gods for some continued quality from Mr. Haughm. I can only listen to The Mantle and Marrow of the Spirit so many hundreds of times.

Oh, and Mastodon have confirmed a seventh full-length for 2017! It doesn’t have a title yet, but as far as this obnoxious blogger goes, it sure as shit has an audience! I can’t fucking wait – 2014’s Once More ‘Round the Sun might’ve been my favorite of the band’s six records.

The ever-elusive Wintersun is – I kid you not – ACTUALLY dropping an album. The band’s third in a 13-year career….but, I swear it’s happening. Take a look hereThe Forest Seasons is a title that’s floating around out there, but who knows. Here’s what I DO know: this will be one of the most talked about Metal albums of 2017.

And, last but not least, John Mayer is returning to the limelight with The Search for Everything. And an interesting release strategy , I might add. A Mayer fanboy from early on in life, I’ll be there every step of the way.

Top 10 Hip-Hop Albums of 2016

Hey everyone, welcome to my Top 10 Hip-Hop albums of 2016, a.k.a. Shit-on-Panny-For-His-Terrible-Music-Taste Round One! This will be my only blog exclusive Year-End List! So be sure to catch the rest on my YouTube channel in the next couple weeks, including the one I already put out. A few clarifications before we get into this:

  • As always – and it’s kinda frustrating that I have to even say this – this list is 100 percent my personal taste! C’mon guys, none of this shit is ever “objective”, whatever the hell that means. These records are arranged solely based on how much I ENJOYED them. An album in the number three slot is not “better” than an album in the number seven slot – I just dug it more!
  • Kendrick Lamar’s untitled unmastered was not eligible, because it wasn’t an official full-length release.
  • Death Grips’ Bottomless wasn’t eligible either – I’d rather file that one under “experimental” music. Dug the hell out of it though!

With all that nonsense out of the way, let’s dive in!

10. THE DIVINE FEMININE – MAC MILLER

Likely to be my most controversial pick, Mac Miller’s fourth record (and best yet) is as fun, wide-eyed, blissful, and heartwarming as any music I heard all year. It’s this brazen celebration of love and sexuality that carves its own unique niche in Hip-Hop. Mac’s whole-hearted commitment to the LP’s concept, his (as usual) great beat selection, and his flawless balancing of his talented guests made this one the ultimate not-so-guilty pleasure.

Top 3 Tracks: “Cinderella”, “Dang!”, “Stay”

9. COLORING BOOK – CHANCE THE RAPPER 

Unfortunately, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Chance’s hugely hyped third project because, well, it was HUGELY HYPED. Overly so, to the point where I got so fucking sick of hearing about it. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t like it! Chance’s playful personality and seemingly unending charisma continue to set him apart. Not to mention, Coloring Book has more than enough bars, soul, and inventive genre fusions to go around.

Top 3 Tracks: “Angels”, “No Problem”, “Blessings”

8. 3001: A LACED ODYSSEY – FLATBUSH ZOMBIES

The debut full-length from these Brooklyn upstarts gives me high hopes for the future of the genre. Though its clearly rooted in ‘90s nostalgia, 3001 has one eye looking out the front windshield, embracing some trap-based production and molding it to fit the Zombies’ over-the-top O.D.B.-esque charisma. And there’s a sizable melodic undercurrent that makes it all feel like more than just a gritty, drug-addled cypher.

Top 3 Tracks: “R.I.P.C.D.”, “Bounce, “Good Grief”

7. LAYERS – ROYCE DA 5’9

Royce’s unbelievable rhyming skills are on display once again? Zero surprise there. Where the surprise did come: the Detroit OG did right by his phenomenal bars by surrounding them with legitimately great songs, something he and his Slaughterhouse counterparts have struggled with in the past few years. His beat selection is outstanding, with the swaggering production on tracks like “Wait” and “Layers” guiding him to the finish line like a spotter on a bench press. Other times, like on the opening track “Tabernacle” – the single best Hip-Hop song of 2016 – his lyrics and storytelling are so mindblowing that I could literally listen to him a cappella.

Top 3 tracks: “Tabernacle”, “Pray”, “Layers”

6. HANDSHAKES WITH SNAKES – APATHY

CT’s own Apathy came through with an album so directly up my alley, it’s like he made the damn thing with me in mind (I’ll take a second to pause while you wonder if I’m a paranoid schizophrenic). It’s got hard-hitting, sample-based boom bap production, it’s got intricate lyricism up the wazoo, and Ap’s constantly railing against the youngest generation of rappers and the autotune and “emo-rap” that’s becoming all the rage with the kids these days. Don’t sleep on this project!

Top 3 Tracks: “Pay Your Dues”, “Charlie Brown”, “Amon Raw”

5. FISHING BLUES – ATMOSPHERE

My initial review of the latest from these Minneapolis veterans was a bit more mixed, but this fucking record just grew on me and grew on me and grew on me. A lot of it has to do with Ant’s gorgeous production, as well as Slug’s endless likability on the mic. Even when he’s not expressing it in the most impressive or clever of ways, I vibe with everything Slug says here. And that’s how this LP snuck into my Top 5 – I had a profound emotional connection with it. At the end of the day, fuck the critic shit – that’s what music’s about.

Top 3 Tracks: “Fishing Blues”, “Everything”, “The Shit That We’ve Been Through”

4. WE GOT IT FROM HERE…THANK YOU 4 YOUR SERVICE – A TRIBE CALLED QUEST

 Tribe’s sixth LP and swansong is better than anyone could’ve hoped for. The fucking thing picks up RIGHT where classics like Midnight Marauders left off – it combines thoughtful, semi tongue-in-cheek rhymes with rich, instrument-driven production. The only difference, of course, is We Got It From Here feels incredibly TIMELY. In a year where American politics devolved into sickening chaos and everybody seems to hate each other for ten million different reasons, Tribe are exactly who we needed to hear from. Oh, and the features are out of this world. Are you gonna pass up an album that has Andre 3000, Kendrick Lamar, Elton John, Busta Rhymes, and Talib Kweli on it? Didn’t think so.

Top 3 Tracks: “We the People”, “Dis Generation”, “Kids”

3. TOP OF THE LINE – RITTZ

The third LP from this criminally underrated Strange Music Signee is a spectacular blend of head-splitting double-time flows, meticulously crafted multi-syllabic rhyme schemes, banging production, and infectious pop hooks to top it all off (the latter of which helps set him apart). But most importantly, Rittz has so much to say, touching on a myriad of interesting topics and not wasting a single bar. To give you an idea, here’s a brief list of things the Georgia MC discusses (and chronicles in detail, really) throughout these 21 tracks: his battle with substance abuse, the death of his dog (“Nostalgia” is the most touching moment on the album), race relations in America and how they relate to the white rapper, suicidal thoughts, spirituality, the decadent touring lifestyle, infidelity in relationships, his come up in Gwinnett County, Georgia, and loads more. And it’s all compelling, lyrically dazzling, and packaged into digestible, straightforward tunes.

Top 3 Tracks: “The Formula”, “Nostalgia”, “KISA”…then the other 18

2. ATROCITY EXHIBITION – DANNY BROWN

As an MC, Danny Brown is occupying a lane entirely his own. Though some may be turned off by his eccentric, almost cartoonish delivery, Atrocity Exhibition is undeniably one of the most unique, dark, zany, and wildly stimulating Hip-Hop records ever made. Brown’s tortured rhymes sit atop an A.D.D.-inducing array of beats that contains nods to Rock, Punk, a bit of R & B, and whatever the hell “Ain’t It Funny” is. The all-star posse cut “Really Doe” and the bare “Pneumonia” are two instances where Brown dials back the crazy and serves up some straightforward bangers, but most of the time his mind is off in cacophonous La La Land, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Top 3 Tracks: “Ain’t It Funny”, “Rolling Stone”, “Really Doe”

1. THE LIFE OF PABLO – KANYE WEST

Man, I really had to dig deep on this choice. Once I had my Top 3 narrowed down, I immediately started stressing, my mind racing through every possible negative reaction to my opinions – the worst thing to pay attention to as a music writer. But I planted my feet firmly, blocked out all the outside noise, blocked out all of my friends’ and peers’ opinions, and listened to my gut. What was the Hip-Hop album I got the most enjoyment out of in 2016? What album defined the year for me? What album had the most great songs, and the least not-so-great songs? The answer: The Life of Pablo. Sure, Atrocity Exhibition would’ve been the safe “critic-approved” choice, and Top of the Line is the ultimate underdog, but the dopamine receptors in my brain keep pointing toward the wacked-out, schizophrenic genius of Kanye’s seventh record. For me, this is his best since Graduation. It’s got everything – incredible features, suberb production, lyrics that are as thought-provoking as they are confrontational, incendiary, and outrageous…I know few agree, but this record is a classic. Thanks Kanye, I’ll forgive all your other dumb shit.

Top 3 Tracks: Jesus Christ….ummm…..”Famous”, “Waves”, “Real Friends”?

And here are five HONORABLE MENTIONS:

The Impossible Kid – Aesop Rock

The Art of Hustle – Yo Gotti

Don’t Smoke Rock – Smoke DZA & Pete Rock (full review here)

Black America Again – Common

Do What Thou Wilt. – Ab-Soul (it’s only been out a few days, but wanted to shout it out! It’s HARDD!)

 

The Spring 2016 Pregame Playlist

This past December, this blog received a generous helping of douche when I gave a candid account of the embarrassingly basic music I had been pregaming to during the Fall semester of my senior year of college. As much as I am loath to admit, those songs continue to soundtrack my increasingly frequent alcohol consumption as college comes to a close. Still, my pregame playlist this Spring semester has also welcomed several new faces, some just as corny and white girl-y, but that have become mainstays nonetheless.

Kidding aside, it is overwhelming to think that years from now, these songs will likely trigger some intense nostalgia for that time period “before life stepped on my dreams”. Anyway, if you’re an alcoholic millennial like me, here are a few pregame and party jams that may or may not already be in your life:

Lush Life – Zara Larsson

Maybe it was because it was Boston in January and Ms. Larsson repeatedly mentions Summer. Maybe it was even because I was crushing a bit at the time myself (#relatable). But somehow, this sickeningly sugary tune thrust itself into my life rather forcefully. And granted, it doesn’t sound as fresh as it did at the beginning of the semester. But it’s still there. And it’s still nearly as much of a familiar face in my weekends as Jack Daniels himself.

Perdoname – Deorro

In 2012, “Gangnam Style” proved beyond a shadow of doubt that fans of Pop music do not give a flying FUCK about lyrics. Evidently, if it bumps, it can be in another language for all we care (or even fucking notice). The irresistible synth line in this Latino-flavored banger is the kind that inspires the goofiest, silliest, and most carefree bodily reactions (read: humiliating dance moves) of any of these songs.

Big Catzz – Rustie

As I repeatedly emphasize, I do not – nor do I pretend to – know jack shit about EDM. From time to time, I simply hit up a reliable connoisseur friend of mine for some periodic education. And one Friday last month I was feeling particularly EDM-y (yep, I’m inventing new emotions by the minute) and requested that he drop some knowledge. The same dude that has fed me gems like Madeon’s Adventure and Porter Robinson’s Worlds recommended Rustie’s EVENIFUDONTBELIEVE album from last year. Its massive single “Big Catzz” quickly became a pregame staple for me. It’s a song that’s bursting with energy, but its melodic content is ultimately what drives it home.

Zoney – Wiz Khalifa

Released in February, Wiz’s Khalifa album wasn’t too exciting for me for the simple reason that his music is, to put it lightly, topically stagnant. But nevertheless, several songs on the LP offer little retrospective glimpses into his brilliant Kush & OJ era, “Zoney” being a prime example. It’s four hundred and twenty different types of chill, with a mesmerizing instrumental and some smooth, sentimental crooning from Wiz. And that appearance by his son at the end is fucking adorable.

1234 – Wallpaper

I finally got around to seeing the new Blue Mountain State movie the DAY BEFORE my Spring Break began (yeah, there’s definitely some subconscious forces at work there). So you can only imagine how I felt when I heard “1234” during the film’s absurd, drug-riddled party montage. Fused with some electronic flavors, the acoustic instrumentation is what allows this song to channel Radical Something’s “Santa Barbara” reasonably well.

Make Me Like You – Gwen Stefani

Ok there’s a HUGE asterisk on this one. When she put out this little ditty as single number two to her upcoming record This Is What the Truth Feels Like, I was smitten and even somewhat amped to hear the LP. Well, sometimes life leads you down unfortunate roads. Now that I have heard the album, I can’t even enjoy “Make Me Like You” anymore without Stefani’s cringeworthy Iggy Azalea-meets-Fergie attempt on “Red Flag” lurking in my mind’s darkest, most masochistic corners.

Famous – Kanye West

I made it about a month. I successfully ignored The Life of Pablo and its overwhelming hype until the end of March. And I’m proud of each and every one of those days. I suppose it was my twisted way of proving to myself that I have an ounce of self-restraint. But once it hit Apple Music, “Famous” floored me. Undoubtedly, this one will go down as one of Kanye’s shining moments as an artist. The provocative bars, the Swizz Beatz ad-libs, Rihanna’s chorus, and that tuneful, eargasmic breakdown do all the arguing for me.

Old Thing Back (Matoma Remix) – The Notorious B.I.G. feat. Ja Rule

I was unfathomably late to this irresistible rager, but I still have every right to enjoy it! Crazily enough, we’re at the point where this remix is technically one of Biggie’s top songs on Spotify. Babuh BAYBUH!

Pedal to the Metal – Wiz Khalifa

New tunes like the aforementioned “Zoney” had me revisiting Kush & OJ quite a bit – a mixtape that just floods me with nostalgia and immediately makes me feel like a 16-year-old kid with dreams, aspirations, and all those other things we had in high school. “Pedal to the Metal” is far away my favorite from the mixtape. I love the way the chorus is able to drum up an ever-so-slight sense of drama while maintaining an impossibly fly (can I say that if I’m white?) aesthetic.

Aurora – RL Grime

The most recent edition to my Ultimate Playlist of Douche, “Aurora” caught me completely flat-footed. For the most part I can’t stand trap (the EDM OR the Hip-Hop subgenre, mind you). The former has always felt lifeless to me, almost like Electronic’s off-kilter answer to Heavy Metal that’s less abrasive than Dubstep was. But on a whim, I took a peak at Apple Music’s Electronic A-List playlist and was blown away by “Aurora”. It’s fucking hypnotic. It has definitely sparked a bit of curiosity for me in the Melodic Trap department.

 

 

 

 

February 2016 Album Round Up!

We’re just over two months into 2016, and we’ve already – somewhat surprisingly – been blessed with a ton of exciting releases in the midst of typically low-key winter months. When this calendar year is in the books, will we be looking back at January and February as the peak of 2016? Pretty unlikely. But I still feel like I’ve had a fairly reliable, steady stream of high-profile albums to look forward to (some delivered, some did not). And yes, Kanye dropped. But I’m fucking determined to go as long as I possibly can without hearing it. Not for lack of interest either. Just ‘cause. Anyway, here’s a quick recap of nine albums NOT named The Life of Pablo that I spent some time with this past month. Looking forward to what March has in store!

Khalifa – Wiz Khalifa

In the first project of his I’ve enjoyed since 2011’s smash hit Rolling Papers, Wiz dropped some…well, smoking and drinking music. The production and hooks are significantly more effective – to my ears, at least – than O.N.I.F.C. and Blacc Hollywood (save those two albums’ singles). If you’re looking for great lyricism, steer clear, but I definitely found myself coming back to this record quite a bit for some day drinking and pregaming, especially two exceptional, Kush & OJ-style tracks, “Zoney” and “Elevated”. RECOMMENDED

For All Kings – Anthrax

Welcome back Anthrax! About ten listens in, I’ve evaluated For All Kings as “dangerously close” to the Thrash mastery of 2011’s Worship Music. The difference is really just a filler track or two. But the middle chunk of this record is some of the best Anthrax music I’ve ever laid ears on. Joey Belladonna gets the MVP. My full review is available here. YouTube review here. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Day One – From Ashes to New

This studio debut from Lancaster, PA outfit From Ashes to New made me want to vomit. They’re like an even more cheesed-up version of Twenty One Pilots meets Crown the Empire. I appreciate what they’re trying to do, but it just made me cringe. This guy Matt Brandyberry sounds like an even more melodramatic Mike Shinoda when he utters (well, raps) the words: “I lay awake and look at the ceiling and wonder why/I’m so afraid to face all these feelings and want to die”. And that dubstep-y breakdown? Fuck outta here wit dat. Not to mention the clean vocalist sounds fucking IDENTICAL to the guy on Escape the Fate’s self-titled album. I mean, is Day One heavy and appropriately angsty? Passionate even? Sure. And it’ll dominate with the Hot Topic crowd. But holy fuck is it not for me. NOT RECOMMENDED

Sittin’ Heavy – Monster Truck

Simply put, this band’s sophomore effort is the best fucking throwback hard rock record I’ve heard since perhaps Kyng’s Burn the Serum. It’s all there: it’s energetic, passionate, and wholeheartedly convincing. Fans of ‘70s and early ‘80s Rock should check it out immediately! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

This Unruly Mess I’ve Made – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

This one certainly hurt. Macklemore is someone I really root for, if not always for his talent but for his passion, honesty, humility, and sometimes ruthless self-awareness. The Language of My World is phenomenal, The Heist is a near-classic, but Mess, his second with Ryan Lewis, is a huge disappointment. Save a few shining moments (“Light Tunnels”, “Kevin”, and the must-listen “Need of Know”) this thing is all over the place in a BAD way this time. My full review is available here. NOT RECOMMENDED

I Like it When You Sleep – The 1975

Ok, LP number two for these guys, who seem utterly ubiquitous at the moment. I am absolutely in love with the tracks “This Must Be My Dream” and “Somebody Else”. On the latter, those snare drums with the 80s-style reverb are borderline euphoric. While we’re on the topic of the 80s, the standout “She’s American” could’ve squeezed right into an early Huey Lewis and the News disc. But we didn’t need 17 frickin’ songs here. “UGH!” kind of drags in the wake of hit single “Love Me”, and are BOTH “If I Believe You” and “Please Be Naked” necessary when the title track brings all the dynamics this album needs? Still, at a bare minimum this is a wonderful soundtrack to a night drive in the city. Though I tend to think it offers a whole lot more. And yes, I do think Matt Healy eerily resembles Patrick Stump at times. But we’ll agree to disagree. RECOMMENDED

Victorious – Wolfmother

Ugh. This record has one of the strangest dichotomies in any track listing I’ve ever encountered. The first 5 songs are excellent and on par with some of the best moments on Wolfmother’s debut, and the second 5 songs are pure throwaway filler garbage. “Uneven” is an understatement. My full review is available here. NOT RECOMMENDED

X (No Absolutes) – Prong

Album number 11 for Prong – but their 10th of original material – wastes no time with opener “Ultimate Authority”, some excellent Crossover Thrash which would be right at home on a classic like Cleansing (although I know mentioning that record is understandably played out). I love the dissonant yet super-catchy riff in “Without Words” (and, for that matter, “Soul Sickness”) X (No Absolutes) has an impeccable combination of melody and heaviness that all these scream/sing Metalcore bands can only dream about. It stays completely true to the Prong aesthetic, and it’s a set that is sure to devastate in the live environment. I have yet to catch these legends live, so I’m hoping to get the chance on the cycle for X. RECOMMENDED

Dead Dawn – Entombed A.D.

Dead Dawn (Deicide anybody?) is the second album from Entombed 2.0 since the legendary band’s legal battles and break up. One of Entombed’s distinct qualities is how much more groove-oriented they are than the majority of Death Metal, showcased in the title track, and they’re not afraid to get downright melodic, like in that song’s bridge, which sounds like something Arch Enemy would do.There’s nothing in these ten tracks that’ll blow your mind, but there’s some certainly some heavy-ass (surprisingly fun) metal! I’m especially a fan of “Down to Mars to Ride” and the dynamic “Hubris Fall” And it’s still really not THAT far off from Left Hand Path, so there’s that. RECOMMENDED

 

 

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – This Unruly Mess I’ve Made Review

The official edited version of this review is available here.

A Hip-Hop pariah if the industry has ever seen one, Macklemore has bore the brunt of relentless scrutiny, mockery, and derision following the meteoric success of he and Ryan Lewis’ collaborative debut LP The Heist, which began its takeover in the fourth quarter of 2012, culminating with a controversial sweep of the Rap categories at the 2014 Grammy’s.

While not even Macklemore himself thought it deserved Best Rap Album over Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d. city, The Heist was an excellent pop-rap album nonetheless, one that was miles ahead of similarly categorized releases that year from the likes of B.o.B., Machine Gun Kelly, Chiddy Bang, and Kid Ink. It showcased the Seattle emcee’s ability to put together conceptually focused rhymes about a wide variety of topics, all sitting over easily digestible and occasionally memorable production from Lewis. Even the noticeable moments of corniness, or worse, droning introspection, didn’t detract from its overall merit.

The duo’s follow-up, This Unruly Mess I’ve Made, will prove much more difficult to defend. In reality, criticisms regarding Macklemore’s authenticity or genuineness are misplaced– he has existed in the underground for over a decade, addressing similarly goofy and uncomfortable topics long before he became infamous for it, showcased most notably on his solo debut The Language of My World. But album number two for Macklemore and Ryan Lewis falls flat artistically, its sprawling diversity a diluent and a weakness this time rather than an asset.

In all fairness, cohesion is clearly not the aim here. Conceptually, it is nearly impossible to dream up anything more disparate than the self-aware confrontation of racial issues on “White Privilege II” and the “deez nuts” joke in “Brad Pitt’s Cousin”. If both offbeat humor and overwhelming sincerity are the two definitive sides of the Macklemore coin that is perfectly fine, and both personas have a few effective moments, but when this sharply juxtaposed, they generate a scattered inconsistency that’s ultimately distracting. Macklemore pushes the two approaches impossibly deep into their extremities, making for a frustrating listen.

Perhaps it comes down to the album’s sequencing. In “Kevin” and “St. Ides”, the listener is pelted with two consecutive intense tracks addressing substance abuse, and not long after, “Dance Off” and “Let’s Eat” occur back-to-back: two songs addressing, well, dancing and eating. The listening experience becomes akin to being smacked around in a confusing, never-ending pinball machine.

The crying shame of it all is that many of these tracks function well on their own. The Chance the Rapper-assisted “Need to Know” is the obvious standout, a little ditty about self-censorship in which Mack and the Chi-town youngster assure us that “the truth would be too much”. Macklemore’s guest outshines him with a verse that manages to slip in an off-the-wall reference to Kanye West’s “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” incident. The aforementioned “Kevin” is an impassioned, thought-provoking tirade against the pharmaceutical industry’s complicit role in substance abuse, save its overly melodramatic hook and some funky guitars in the production that sound misplaced amidst the weighty subject matter. The album is also bookended by the excellent “Light Tunnels” and “White Privilege II”, the former a vivid first-person narration of Macklemore’s Grammy night experience, the latter a bold examination of a white rapper’s role in the Black Lives Matter movement.

The misses occur more often on the silly songs, like the insufferable “Dance Off” and “Let’s Eat”, the latter featuring blatantly unfunny body image gags (“I want to be like Hugh Jackman/You know, Jacked, man”). The one instance where he does effectively sell playfulness is on lead single “Downtown”, in which Mack’s nimble delivery in the verses sits perfectly over Ryan Lewis’ quirky instrumentation.

But when the solemn moments come back around, Macklemore is especially tough on himself. Many of album’s serious cuts (“Light Tunnels”, “Need to Know”, “St. Ides”, “White Privilege II”) contain such an abundance of ruthless self-loathing that there ends up being very little in the way of entertainment. A majority of the time, it is utterly suffocating.

This Unruly Mess I’ve Made is a formidable challenge to the phrase “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. In the case of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ sophomore effort, its eclectic ingredients clash in truly exhausting fashion, rendering the LP’s overall message incomprehensible and convoluted.

Score: 2/5