Top 10 Mid-Year Hip-Hop Albums of 2018

Whether you’re white, black, brown, yellow, orange (we’ve gotta include that now in the Trump era), gay, straight, bisexual, male, female, shemale, pre-op, post-op, mid-op, or any of the other 70 genders, there’s one certainty of life that none of us will escape:

Disappointment.

And like anyone else with hopes and dreams, I’ve spent a good chunk of my life disappointed. I’ve been disappointed by myself, disappointed by my friends, disappointed by my family, disappointed by my co-workers, and, of course, disappointed by musicians.

And that “musicians” part? Well, rappers have taken care of most of that so far this year.

There was Migos’ underwhelming Culture II, J. Cole’s lifeless and excessively insular KOD, there was a double Drake LP that tortured listeners by offering a promise of “Drake when he raps good” in the first 15 percent of its 90-minute runtime but quickly settled back into mediocrity, and then, perhaps most heartbreaking, there was the directionless Nas album, in which one of the greatest MCs in the history of the genre got outshined by a few Kanye beats.

But by NO MEANS is that to say I’m feeling uninspired by the genre. 2018 has also given us tons of exciting Hip-Hop to feast our ears on. Much of it made this list, while some of it– A$AP Rocky, Smoke DZA, Kids See Ghost, etc. – barely missed a spot but certainly made its presence felt.

And while this year’s XXL freshman cover made me feel incredibly old and out of touch, I’m psyched to see Hip-Hop continue to inject fresh blood and build on itself stylistically. Only a true cynic would disagree with me when I say that some of the best Rap music of all time has yet to be made.

In that same spirit, here are 10 of my favorite Hip-Hop releases of 2018 thus far! All of these artists made substantial contributions to this evolving art form that we love so much, and I want to thank them for bringing so much happiness to me and other Hip-Hop heads alike in the past few months. Keep in mind, the release date cut-off for this list is the end of June, so anything that dropped in July is not eligible. And without further ado:

10. Dave East – P2

 One of several potential heirs to the NY Hip-Hop throne, Dave East makes a strong case for himself with P2, his most satisfying project yet. It only takes one listen to tracks like “Talk to Big”, “Corey”, and “I Found Keisha” to see that he’s elevated his storytelling game, and his beat selection – in particular, jazz-tinged cuts like “What Made Me” and “Powder” – continues to paint a picture of an MC obsessed with the genre’s Golden Age, and intent on reviving it in his own distinct way

9. Flatbush Zombies – Vacation in Hell

 Let’s face it, a sophomore slump was never really in the cards for one of the East Coast’s most exciting Hip-Hop groups.

On album number two, Meechy Darko, Zombie Juice, and Erick Arc Elliot continue to make hard-hitting, colorful, old-school inflected Hip-Hop that provides the kind of listening experience that can only come from a rap GROUP. There’s a reason that listening to N.W.A. and Wu Tang is such a radically different experience from, say, Nas or Biggie.

Of particular note is the clever “Headstone”, in which the three MCs weave together the titles of numerous Hip-Hop classics into their bars. And features from the likes of Denzel Curry, Joey Bada$$, Bun B, and yes, Portugal. The Man (on the surprisingly melodic “Crown”) aren’t wasted either.

Oh, and I didn’t even notice the titties on the album cover until, like, WEEKS after I heard it. So I can’t like it just ‘cause of that.

 8. Phryme – Phryme 2

 On “Made Man”, Royce da 5’9 spits, “I show up, kill it, then disappear like Andre Benjamin”. But the guy has done anything but disappear. In fact, he’s already pumped out out multiple projects before the halfway point of 2018 (SPOILER ALERT: that other one may or may not get discussed in a bit).

On Pryhme 2, there won’t be much for listeners looking to get to know Royce the PERSON, but they sure as hell get to know Royce the MC, as he churns out by the hundreds the type of bars that would make 90 percent of rappers give up the moment they heard them.

And DJ Premier (with sampling help from AntMan Wonder) is the perfect backbone, and the loops on cuts like “Respect My Gun” and “Flirt” add a slight dose of musicality to Mr. 5’9’s unshakeable confidence on the mic.

7. Post Malone – Beerbongs & Bentleys

 Six months ago, if I had to name the artists least likely to appear on this list, Post Malone’s name would’ve been brought up in the first five seconds.

It’s not that I don’t like Post – I definitely heard potential on several mopey yet tuneful moments on 2016’s Stoney – it’s just that I never expected him to be able to manifest his Sad White Boy-isms into an album full of earworms like Beerbongs & Bentleys. Yet, I found the choruses to songs like “Rich and Sad”, “Better Now”, “Spoil My Night”, “Same Bitches” and “Candy Paint” to be among the catchiest of the year. The guy really has learned to construct a hook.

He still needs to stay far away from the acoustic guitar though. Please see this LP’s lone lowlight, “Stay”, for evidence.

 6. Cupcakke – Ephorize

A tour de force of witty sex-positive feminism, Cupcakke spends Ephorize comparing her genitals to the following: a Dorito, the statue of liberty, a goose, a garage, and… well, the penises in her life don’t fair much better.

While it’s mostly the lewd, graphic, in-your-face sex anthems like “Duck Duck Goose” and “Post Pic” that initially grabbed me and cracked me the fuck up, Cupcakke also shows that there’s much more depth to her on introspective moments like “Self Interview”. Ephorize proves that this foul-mouthed fem-C is here to stay, and given enough time, might even surpass her more traditional, by-the-book contemporaries.

5. Jay Rock – Redemption

 After three years and a near-fatal motorcycle accident, Top Dawg Entertainment O.G. Jay Rock came back with the simple but satisfying Redemption – an album that makes no attempt at being anything other than a collection of great songs.

You see, people have come to expect such artistic depth from the TDE camp that they’ve forgotten the value of a concise batch of unrelated thoughts. Many of the reasons people are hating on Redemption are the same reasons I love it – it’s refreshingly straightforward. I can just soak in highlights like the title cut, with its reflections on mortality, “Wow Freestyle”, with its Eastern-tinged production and Kendrick Lamar assist, “The Bloodiest” with its Fuck You energy, and “OSOM” with a J. Cole feature that’s better than anything Cole did on KOD. And you don’t always need some interwoven narrative or concept to make it all worthwhile.

To be fair, Redemption is a project that feels so current and so “of its time” sonically, that it remains to be seen how it’s going to age. But right now, it’s been a soundtrack to my life this summer. Jay Rock’s brand of Gangsta Rap is one that’ll never truly go out of style.

4. Kanye West – Ye

 As I explained in this video, I resisted and resisted and resisted including this album on my mid-year lists. It’s basically 20 minutes of emotional chaos, and depending on what you’ve read about Yeezus, it’s the worst critical reception a Kanye album has ever gotten. The Guardian called it “the worst record in Kanye’s previously unimpeachable catalogue.”

But then I quickly realized that this was ALL I listened to for the month of June. And for good reason. Ye is the most vulnerable Kanye has been since the landmark auto-tuned crooning of 2008’s 808s and Heartbreak. He bares his soul on this LP, and since he’s such an unstable, restless personality, that means that he gives the listener more emotionally-charged content in 20 minutes than most artists can provide in an hour. There’s the dark and twisted opener “I Thought About Killing You”, we get a more hype/agro Kanye on “Yikes”, we get tear-inducing paternal sentiments on the closer “Violent Crimes”…this album gives you so much in such a short time span.

Not to mention the more practical appeal of a short project like Ye in a world of increasingly short attention spans – I’ve ended up returning to it more often because I know it’s only 20 minutes and I’m gonna walk away full satiated.

3. The Carters (Jay-Z & Beyonce) – Everything Is Love

 When music’s biggest power couple dropped this record out of nowhere a day after my birthday, I was expecting to hate it. What are the hell are these two gonna rap about, how successful they are and how much they wanna fuck each other?

Well, not entirely. I’ve talked about the whole “Adult Contemporary Hip-Hop” trend – how older MCs like Jay, Nas, and Eminem are beginning to rap about more mature, adult-like topics like family, fatherhood, and a need to distance themselves from their younger selves. Well, Everything is Love takes that concept a step further. By rapping as husband and wife about their marriage, their children, their business dealings, their elder statesmanship of the music industry and more, Jay and B have opened up a whole new world of content.

It’s real inspiring to hear such a unique album come from two industry vets like The Carters. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a Hip-Hop song like “LoveHappy”, where the two discuss their relationship and Beyonce concludes that “we’re flawed but still perfect for each other”. And to hear them flexing side-by-side on bangers like “Apeshit” and “713” (the latter of which interlopes Dr. Dre’s “Still D.R.E., which Jay ghostwrote) is something to behold.

In a way, this is one of the realest Hip-Hop album’s ever written. It’s not about two stars making a collaborative album for the sake of exponential hype – i.e. Drake and Future, – it’s about a husband and wife using music as an outlet to work through their marriage.

2. Pusha T – Daytona

 C’mon, this is the easiest pick to explain. If you don’t understand why Daytona made it here, you’re probably not a Hip-Hop fan, in which case I apologize for wasting your time with the previous hundreds and hundreds of words.

The first release of Kanye’s “Wyoming Sessions” was also quite possibly the best received – I mean, after all, who could argue with a short and sweet seven tracks that found Pusha and Kanye in top form as a rapper/producer combo?

Daytona reminded me of the way Hip-Hop records USED to be made. Seriously, think about Eric B. & Rakim’s Paid in Full – excluding instrumentals, it’s effectively seven songs, one producer, and one rapper. And it’s one of greatest rap albums ever. Daytona brings that same sort of energy. Plus, Pusha’s ensuing beef with Drake only poured fuel on an already scorching fire.

1. Royce da 5’9 – Book of Ryan

 Two years ago, I praised Royce da 5’9’s Layers for its intimate storytelling and how much it revealed about Ryan Daniel Montgomery the person.

If only I knew that Layers was just the tip of the fucking iceberg. Holy shit.

While it manages to dish out obligatory bar fests like the Eminem collaboration “Caterpillar”, and the fiery posse cut “Summer On Lock”, Book of Ryan at times feels like a full-blown concept album about Royce’s life, with a particular focus on his childhood. On the stunning “Power”, for instance, Royce paints a picture of the broken home he grew up in with a novelist’s eye for detail. And tracks like “Cocaine” and “Boblo Boat” give further insight into the experiences that shaped him, good and bad.

Royce even uses the skits to his advantage – a rare feat for a Hip-Hop album – with “Who Are You” and “Protecting Ryan” providing further windows into the stories being told across the album.

It’s amazing that over 20 years into his career, Royce is still scaling towards his artistic peak, making noticeable strides with every release. And judging by the music on Book of Ryan, it doesn’t seem like he’s got much longer to climb.

February 2018 Album Round Up!

Wow, this month marks two years straight of Album Round Ups on this blog! Twenty four consecutive months of verbal diarrhea for the WordPress Porta Potty. What a milestone. Here is the very first one I ever did. It was totally on a whim at the time.

These Round Ups, as tedious as they can be to put together (hence my predictable procrastination every month), do help discipline me to keep up with the never-ending onslaught of new music that must intimidate even the most prolific blogger. This little ritual guarantees that I listen to about twenty albums a month, which affords me a wonderful array of choices come List Time and also plenty to write about on the RYANPANNYMUSIC EMAIL LIST (Sign up for that shit here! Do it!!)

February may have been a slightly quieter month on the music front, but your favorite narcissist still found plenty to rave/complain about. Below you’ll find all kinds of shit to either dive into or stay away from. Please don’t conflate the two.

Oh, and good luck with your March Madness brackets!

 Effected – Cozz

While the sophomore effort from this J. Cole protégé might have all the fundamentals in place – understated but effective beat selection, carefully crafted rhymes, and standout features from the likes of Curren$y, Kendrick Lamar, and Cole himself – Cozz has a certain dime-a-dozen genericism that I can’t shake. There have to be THOUSANDS of up-and-coming MCs that could make this exact record. Cozz is clearly a well-read student of the Hip-Hop game, but he’s yet to find that X factor that separates him. To be fair, the guy is only 24 years old, so he’s got plenty of time to develop his own identity. ‘Til then, I’ll bump this LP’s highlights (the money-over-bitches anthem “My Love”, the bitter ballad “Bout It”, and the grimy title cut) and wait and see if he delivers next time. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

Man Of the Woods – Justin Timberlake

Much like Timberlake’s Halftime performance at the Super Bowl, his fourth solo album isn’t nearly as bad as everyone is saying – it’s just MEH. The LP is not without its moments – the Chris Stapleton collaboration “Say Something” is proving itself as a crossover success, and a great deep cut like “Higher Higher” serves as a reminder of how talented Timberlake is as a vocalist. Unfortunately, these high points are simply too far and in between. Listen to how a bland track like “Flannel” drags on. Or the campy lead single “Filthy”, which is Justin’s cheap attempt at a sex anthem with FutureSex/LoveSounds collaborators Timbaland and Danja. NOT RECOMMENDED.

Little Dark Age – MGMT

 Let’s get this out of the way: this album’s title track is one of the best songs of 2018. Those irresistible synths have kept me coming back on a near daily basis since its relesae. And I’m pleased to say that the band’s fourth record offers more than just a great title track. I thoroughly enjoy the morbidity of “When You Die”, as well as the dreamy “Tslamp”, the unapologetic synth-pop of “One Thing Left to Try”, and “Days That Got Away”, the LP’s lone instrumental. While I find myself cherry picking favorite tracks rather than enjoying it in fluid listens, I wouldn’t be surprised if Little Dark Age pops up on some mid-year album lists. RECOMMENDED

 How To Solve Our Human Problems, pt 3 EP – Belle & Sebastian

I am thoroughly embarrassed to admit that How To Solve Our Human Problems, Pt. 3 is my first experience with Indie-Poppers Belle and Sebastian (over 20 years into their career, may I add). I am astonished at what I’ve been missing. This five-track affair offers healthy doses of sugar-sweet melodies, from the folky “There Is an Everlasting Song” to the estrangement anthem “Too Many Tears”. And to top it all off, the band weave together male and female vocals like Fleetwood Mac in their prime. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Black Panther: The Album – Various Artists

This fucking movie did $786.3 million in its first week. And I’m one of the five people who refused to see it. Superhero movies just aren’t my thing, and I wasn’t gonna force it. But I AM glad I gave this soundtrack a listen. This diverse tracklist brings together bangers like the Mike Will Made-It-produced “King’s Dead” with more daring musical adventures like the weird Techno-Rap of “Opps” and the African-themed “Seasons”. Far from a cohesive listen, fans are likely to cherry pick their favorite moments, but Kendrick Lamar clearly got the right people involved for this high-profile affair. RECOMMENDED

Victory Lap – Nipsey Hussle

 Can you believe that Nipsey Hussle has been in the rap game for over THIRTEEN YEARS and is just finally putting out his debut album? I respect this dude’s work ethic– he’s built quite the buzz over the last decade with a remarkably consistent mixtape run, and if anyone deserves the big commercial full-length treatment, it’s Nipsey. Unfortunately, this LA spitter’s mixtape grind doesn’t completely translate in an album context While the G-Funk-flavored banger “Rap N****s” is one of my favorite Hip-Hop tracks of the year so far, and production-wise the chipmunk soul and juicy basslines behind “Blue Laces 2” are exemplary, there are also several lackluster lyrical moments, like the YG collab “Last Time that I Checc’d” (which was especially heartbreaking given my anticipation of it), as well as “Status Symbol” and “Succa Proof”, both of which are straight filler. But this record’s pure West Coast heart and Nipsey’s endless self-assurance make Victory Lap worth your while overall. RECOMMENDED.

Here Come the Runts – AWOLNATION

Thank you AWOLNATION for keeping Rock music interesting. It’s not gonna progress forward with corny, dreary-eyed “Radio Rock” acts like Three Days Grace continuing to sell out concerts, so it looks like the world of Alternative has to shoulder some of the burden. And Here Come the Runts does its part, albeit with mixed results (see the cringeworthy lyrical tirades of “Cannonball”). But I have to single out “Jealous Buffoon” as the single catchiest song of 2018 so far. Holy shit. Give it a listen! And the sweet Folk-Rock ditty “Handyman” is well worth your time too! RECOMMENDED

Future – Don Diablo

While I’ve enjoyed some of Diablo’s music in the past, this new record is absolute garbage. This thing is chalk full of super lightweight, cookie cutter Pop EDM. The “drops” in songs like “Put It On For Me” sound like this guy is shooting to be Justin Bieber’s backing track on the next endlessly irritating Top 40 hit. I wish he would at least roll back the vocal features a bit, ‘cause there are a bunch of instrumental sections on tracks like “Satellites” and “Reflections” that catch my attention, but sadly, they’re short lived and far and few in between. NOT RECOMMENDED

A FEW MORE:

LIKE:

Thunderbolt – Saxon

Cura – Keys N Krates

Crooked Shadows – Dashboard Confessional

The Play Don’t Care Who Makes It EP – 2 Chainz

Ultraviolet – 3LAU

Mark of the Necrogram – Necrophobic

 

DON’T LIKE:

Fake Friends – LAXX

Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life – The Wombats

Pop Evil – Pop Evil

Kyoto – Tyga

If There Is Light, It Will Find You – Senses Fail

December 2017 Album Round Up!

Happy New Year everyone! It’s 2018 and here I am a week and a half into the new year playing catch-up on everything that should’ve been finished before…well, whenever it was I blacked out on the night of the 31st.

The problem is, I was too busy pouring my heart and soul into year-end lists like this one and this one and this one, obsessing over every little detail and second-guessing every single candidate for hours and hours on end, to keep both eyes on the release calendar all December. So I definitely missed a few albums. But I do feel like I managed to hear all the important ones. For instance, it was absolutely CRUCIAL that I set aside enough time for both Eminem AND the Star Wars franchise to disappoint me on the same day (which happened to be my half-birthday, no less). Boy, that was fun.

But whether you’re a reader, a viewer, or just a serial angry commenter, thank you so much for your support in 2017! It means the world to me. I felt like the quality of my content grew exponentially this past year, and my goal for 2018 is to kick this shit up about ten notches! Which, that’ll mostly happen on my YouTube channel, so if you haven’t already, please subscribe and tune in every week!

But as long as I love to write, this blog lives on. And what the fuck is this blog without my monthly keyboard diarrhea about “disappointing new album” this and “corny overused descriptive adjective” that? Exactly. That’s what I thought.

So without further ado, the last Monthly Round Up of 2017!

Revival – Eminem

Annnnnnnd, after over a decade of remarkably inconsistent output, see-sawing constantly between unbearable nadirs and soaring highs, the day has finally arrived. The undeniable WORST release of Eminem’s legendary career. On the 44-year-old rapper’s eighth LP, everything falls apart. The production – whether it’s Rick Rubin’s appallingly lazy sampling of “I Love Rock ‘N Roll” on the song “Remind Me”, or it’s the syrupy Ed Sheeran collab “River” with its hideous Rock-ish bridge – shits the bed. And Eminem’s bars? They kind of shit the bed too, especially when he’s making horrible “shit” puns (“shit on my last chick/she has what my ex lacks”). On Revival, Eminem has so little sense about how to make his virtuosic rhymes sound musical. He’s like a malfunctioning “bar machine” that randomly generates intricate syllable combinations while ignoring the fact that there’s supposed to be “songs” going on here. Quite unfortunate to see one of my heroes take such a late-career nosedive. NOT RECOMMENDED

Kingdoms Disdained – Morbid Angel

 With the bar set impossibly low by the disastrous Industrial attempts on 2011’s Illud Divinum Insanus, these legendary Death Metallers could’ve put out pretty much anything and their fans would’ve gobbled it up, because hey, “at least it’s not that other one”. Enter Kingdoms Disdained, a suffocating, impenetrable, aggressively mediocre pummelfest that was welcomed with rave reviews. Well, from everyone expect me anyway. Even though I dug a couple tracks here and there, I found this LP to be swamped with filler and ultimately brought down by its completely one-dimensional brutality. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

Pop 2 – Charli XCX

After my surprising love affair with her Number 1 Angel mixtape back in March, I was hoping for this feisty Brit to bring a second jolt of to the predictable Pop world before the year was up. But unfortunately, while Charli’s slightly brash approach to Pop music is still undeniably cutting edge, the punches didn’t land this time around for me. Whether it’s the flat hook on “Unlock It”, the mind-numbingly repetitive “I Got It”, or the underwhelming electro-tinged snoozefest that is the opener “Backseat” (yes, even with my girl Carly Rae on it!), I just couldn’t vibe with this project. Though I do enjoy the (cleverly titled) closing track “Track 10” and the EDM flair with which it crescendos toward the end, I’m gonna have to go against the overwhelmingly positive grain here and declare this one a no-go. Sawwy. NOT RECOMMENDED

From a Room: Volume 2 – Chris Stapleton

 In terms of raw singing talent, Chris Stapleton is, without any debate, one of the best in the Country business. But on From a Room: Volume 2 – Stapleton’s second release of 2017 – what makes him stand out even more is his range. From the folk-y minimalism of “Drunkard’s Prayer” to the loud Country Rock of “Hard Livin’” to the soulful balladry of “Nobody’s Lonely Tonight”, the man’s versatility makes this 32-minute record feel like 10 minutes that’s over all too soon (cue the easy jokes about my sex life). In a year where I put a ton of effort into acquiring a taste for Country music of all kinds, Chris Stapleton made the kind of songs that required no effort at all. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

 Pressure – Jeezy

 If you had told me in 2006 that 12 years later, (then “Young”) Jeezy would still be relevant, I would’ve laughed in your face. But here we are, and though Jeezy hasn’t been terribly concerned with evolving his sound, he’s still pumping out the kind of bangers that make me wish I gave this thing a proper review. Exhibit A: the triumphant, bravado-laced “Spyder”, with D. Rich’s hard-hitting production giving the LP an immediate lift. And later on, of course, “American Dream” is a huge moment, given that it finds Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole joining forces on the same beat (Cole in particular kills it), adding even more intrigue to that rumored collaborative project between the two of them. Oh, and there’s also “In a Major Way” where guest Payroll Giovanni is an absolute monster. Sure, Pressure is far from perfect – you’ve got the generic “Floor Seats”, you’ve got straight unjustifiable duds like “This Is It”, and you’ve got bars like “two bitches, double date/diamonds floatin’, levitate” dragging the record down- but Jeezy continues to remind us why we still care about him after a decade and a half.

Virtual Self EP – Virtual Self

As I gushed on this very blog a few months back, our first taste of Porter Robinson’s Virtual Self side project (why he feels compelled to trade in his own MONEY-PRINTING household name for a generic pseudonym here, I have no idea) was nothing short of rapturous. The song in question, “Eon Break”, had everything; it had drops like fireworks, it had these rapturous major key synth melodies vaulting it into the stratosphere…not to mention its explosive climax at the end, featuring frenetic drum programming that felt like a distant cousin of Metal music. Well, I am happy to report that Porter’s debut EP as Virtual Self lives up to the hype generated by its first single. There’s the futuristic Trance adventures of “Ghost Voices”, there’s the twitching glitches of the most unique track on here, “a.i.ngel (Become God)”, and there’s perhaps my personal favorite, the so-sugary-and-blissful-it’s-almost-too-much-but-it’s-actually-beautiful “Key”, the latter of which most adheres to the “Eon Break” blueprint. All reasons to go check this EP out immediately. C’mon, it’s 20 minutes! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

War & Leisure – Miguel

Another capital W for one of the de facto leaders of the R & B genre. While Miguel’s fourth album War & Leisure might’ve reeled me in with the Travis Scott-assisted lead single “Sky Walker” – I wrote about that HERE – it quickly proved to me that it had a lot more to offer. The blissful, tropical-tinged “Pineapple Skies”, the entrancing “Banana Clip”, the jazzy J. Cole collab “Come Through and Chill”…Miguel did it again. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

In Becoming a Ghost – The Faceless

 Kudos to The Faceless for continuing to push the boundaries of what Technical Death Metal can be. After half a decade, they’ve come roaring back with a fourth LP that manages to be their most dynamic yet. I’m still hesitant to call it their “best” – that honor remains with 2008’s genre-defining Planetary Duality – but masterful Metal compositions like the delightfully dissonant “Digging the Grave”, or “Cup of Mephistopheles” with its snake-like riffing, or the head-spinning closer “The Terminal Breath” certainly qualify In Becoming a Ghost as a must-listen. And I should mention it’s all brought together by Ken Bergeron’s raspy vocal performance – he is far and away the best frontman that this band has ever had. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

A FEW MORE:

LIKE:

Dedication – Chief Keef

Material Control – Glassjaw

Reflective Pt. 2 EP – Bassnectar

Songs of Experience – U2

Say Less – Roy Woods

DON’T LIKE:

Asking Alexandria – Asking Alexandria

The New Reality – Operation: Mindcrime

Double or Nothing – Big Sean & Metro Boomin’

Wednesday – Chris Webby

 

Top 10 Hip-Hop Albums of 2017

Happy holidays everyone!

Oh wait, we’re like a year into the whole “Donald Trump is president” thing. My bad.

In one of the most hilariously ridiculous speeches of his presidency thus far – bold statement, I know – Donald Trump made a promise that as a nation, we’re all gonna go back to saying “Merry Christmas” like we did before things got all politically correct. “Times have changed, but we’re changing them back,” he insisted. It reminded me of that infamous Jason Kidd speech where he said “we’re gonna turn this team around 360 degrees”.

Not surprisingly, Donald Trump talking all bigly about his yuuuuge plans for this great nation didn’t at all sway my December rhetoric. I did what I do every year – I wished an awkward mix of “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays”, depending on what kind of mood I was in, who was around, and how Christian-y the vibe was.

Joking aside, whatever Winter holiday you and your family celebrate – whether it’s Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or one of those Pagan things – I hope you find joy, laughter, relaxation, and, of course, good food in the company of your loved ones, and I hope you head into 2018 with the wide-eyed optimism of a six-year-old boy.

Anyway, for my first of FIVE 2017 year-end lists – you’re gonna head over to my YouTube channel to see the rest of them in the next week and a half – we’re gonna talk Hip-Hop. And boy is there a lot of ground to cover.

2017 was another banner year for Rap music, sure. Any monkey with a Twitter account and @ComplexMusic and @XXL in his feed could piece that one together. But even better, it was a year defined by the unexpected. Both positive AND negative, I may add. Here are some things that happened in Hip-Hop this year that I couldn’t have possibly foreseen:

  • The Migos made a Trap album that is literally listenable (and enjoyable) from beginning to end
  • Eminem dropped a turd that makes 2004’s Encore look like a masterpiece
  • CyHi the Prynce’s long-awaited debut somehow lived up to over seven years of album-less hype
  • Jay-Z snapped out of his whole “I only rap to sponsor my art collection” mindset and made his best music since 2003
  • EDM superstar Calvin Harris put Snoop Dogg, Travis Scott, Migos, ScHoolboy Q, Lil’ Yachty, Future, Big Sean, Nicki Minaj, and Frank Ocean on one project. And it worked.
  • Macklemore and a mumble rapper made a song together and it ended up being ten times worse than my limited imagination could’ve even conjured up

So as you can see, it’s been an exciting 12 months. And I’m glad to be done making this list, ‘cause I spent DAYS stressing out about it (especially those #5 – #7 slots!). I really hope my thoughts are informative or, at the very least, mildly entertaining. Honorable Mentions are at the bottom. See you all in 2018!

10. THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY – VIC MENSA

 On his debut album for Roc Nation, after a few years of increasing buzz and the immense pressure and anticipation that comes with being a Kanye West protégé, Vic Mensa leapfrogs over the already-lofty expectations set for him with, well, one of the best Hip-Hop albums of the entire year. The Autobiography proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Mensa’s got all of the makings of a bonafide Rap superstar. He can make rousing bangers with the best of them, as shown on the Kid-Cudi-meets- Travis-Scott party tune “Rollin’ Like a Stoner” as well as the Chief Keef-assisted hood anthem “Down for Some Ignorance”; he can tell stories (“Homewrecker”), he can be deeply introspective (“Wings”), and he can even make the ladies swoon when he steps out from under his self-loathing (“Gorgeous”).

Not to mention, the guy can collaborate too – the aforementioned tracks round up the likes of Chief Keef, Syd, Pharrell Williams, and even Rivers Cuomo from Weezer, making for a colorful but cohesive tracklist. Mensa’s one of the most promising young Hip-Hop artists in the game right now.

 Top 3 Tracks: “Homewrecker”, “Gorgeous”, “Wings”

9. PRETTY GIRLS LIKE TRAP MUSIC – 2 CHAINZ

 Perhaps the most unexpected entry on this list, 2 Chainz flushed over a decade of ratchet mediocrity down the toilet and knocked the clumsily-titled Pretty Girls Like Trap Music into the stratosphere. As a rapper, beat-picker, hook-crafter, and overall larger-than-life personality, 2 Chainz has never sounded sharper. While the over-the-top ridiculousness of his bars remains a key part of his charm – in particular, the line “I got a bank account, got anotha bank account, got anotha bank account” is my single favorite line of 2017 (which, by the way, given that the FDIC only insurances up to $250,000 per account, this is probably a financially savvy move on his part) – this time around, he has the endless flow and compelling rhymes to back it up.

And his ability to use the occasional guest to light a fire under his ass – Travis Scott Nicki Minaj, Swae Lee, Migos, and Drake all ANNIHILATE the tracks they show up on – helps propel Pretty Girls Like Trap Music into every worthwhile “Best Hip-Hop of 2017” conversation.

Top 3 Tracks: “Blue Cheese”, “Realize”, “Good Drank”

8. FLOWER BOY – TYLER, THE CREATOR

What beautiful irony that an artist like Tyler, The Creator – who rose to prominence by being infinitely rebellious and anti-everything – made his best material to date by softening his edges and buddying up with an industry juggernaut (Columbia Records) for its release.

Production-wise, Flower Boy is perhaps my favorite on this list, bringing together sounds that range from cinematic to insular to manic to just plain weird. Yet the true excellence of the LP lies in Tyler’s undeniable maturation.

By getting unapologetically sappy (“See You Again”), wistfully nostalgic (“November”) and heartbreakingly vulnerable (“911/Mr. Lonely”) alongside his usual aggression and quirks (“Who Dat Boy”, “I Ain’t Got Time!”), Tyler has successfully transitioned from odd-but-compelling enigma to fully formed, three-dimensional artist.

Top 3 Tracks: “November”, “911/Mr. Lonely”, “See You Again”

7. CAPTAIN CALIFORNIA – MURS

That my list will likely be the ONLY year-end Hip-Hop List to give Murs his due is nothing short of a tragedy. On his sixth LP and second for Tech N9ne’s Strange Music label, the California MC shows an elastic emotional range that is extremely hard to come by in Hip-Hop. On the opening track “Lemon Juice”, he and guest Curtiss King will have you cackling uncontrollably as they try to compete for a girl’s attention. Cuts like “God Bless Kanye West” and “G is for Gentrify” will have you mulling over today’s socioeconomic climate. On touching love songs like “1000 Suns” and “Another Round”, Murs will have you reflecting on your best romantic relationships or dreaming of ones like his. On “One Uh Those Days”, he’ll have you carefully following along with his detailed storytelling right up until the hilarious twist ending. It’s time people get their shit together and start paying attention to this talented motherfucker.

Top 3 Tracks: “Lemon Juice”, “1000 Suns”, “Colossus”

6. 4EVA IS A MIGHTY LONG TIME – BIG K.R.I.T.

 While it would’ve been virtually impossible to top 2014’s Cadillactica – an adventurous space-themed concept album that remains one of the finest moments of the genre this decade – Justin Scott continues to build his case as one of the great Southern rappers, filling the shoes of giants like UGK, Outkast and T.I. with ease. This sprawling double-album is split into a more bravado-driven “Big K.R.I.T. half” and a more introspective “Justin Scott half”, with both discs pulling their weight equally, from the most trunk-knocking moments (“ Subenstein”, “Big Bank”) to the most naked and confessional (“Price of Fame”, Mixed Messages”). As I continue to preach the gospel of Big K.R.I.T., I have yet another holy text to read from to convert people to the cause. And thanks to people like ANTHONY FANTANO, they really are doing so.

Top 3 Tracks: “Get Away”, “Mixed Messages”, “Miss Georgia Fornia”

5. NO DOPE ON SUNDAYS – CYHI THE PRYNCE

 I can’t think of a single Hip-Hop album that has been delayed as long as this one and actually LIVED UP to the impossible hype. But that’s exactly what Kanye’s finest protégé managed to do. Besides creating the most lyrically monstrous album on this whole list, on No Dope on Sundays Cyhi the Prynce still manages to stay focused on well-crafted songs, thought-provoking content, and carefully-placed features (in particular, Travis Scott, BJ the Chicago Kid, and ScHoolboy Q kill it here). And to top it all off, CyHi ties everything together with a powerful theme that contrasts spirituality and street life.

Plus, the amount of times I’ve used the expression “get your money and get out the game” in REAL LIFE since hearing this album….that alone earns it a spot in the Top five.

Top 3 Tracks: “I’m Fine”, “No Dope on Sundays”, “Movin’ Around”

4. LAST CALL – RITTZ

 On his final album for Strange Music, this double time-spittin’ white boy once again comes through with a body of work that feels like it’s been made specifically for me. Seriously, this motherfucker checks every box.

  • Emotionally, it covers the entire spectrum, from the tear-jerking “Fuck Cancer” to the ferocious “Into the Sky” (which, by the way, are back-to-back in the tracklist).
  • When appropriate, it’s as introspective as Hip-Hop can get, as showcased on the childhood woes of “Press Rewind” and the modern-day neuroses of “I’m Only Human”
  • From a technical rapping standpoint, Rittz once again has few equals – just check the standout single “Down for Mine” or the stirring opener “Middle of Nowhere” for proof
  • And yet again, Rittz’s ability to sing his own hooks makes him a complete, self-sufficient artist. No big features or name-dropping needed here; this one guy can keep you engaged for over an hour.

Top 3 Tracks: “Crash and Burn”, “Into the Sky”, Down for Mine”

3. DAMN. – KENDRICK LAMAR

 While 2015’s expansive, ambitious To Pimp a Butterfly endeared him to critics and solidified his place in Hip-Hop history, this time around it’s Kendrick Lamar’s fundamentals that make him stand out. At the end of the day, Kung Fu Kenny is just a dope fucking rapper. I never get tired of hearing him rap – his unending supply of creative flows, intricate rhyme structures, and nuanced perspectives ensure that Lamar can sound good on any beat.

But beyond Kendrick’s ability as an MC, my favorite thing about DAMN. is how emotionally raw it is. K-Dot’s music has always carried with it an underlying depression, anxiety and vicious inner conflict– which has been occasionally brought to the forefront on tracks like TPAB’s “u” – but DAMN. takes this to a whole new level. This is a 14-track therapy session, with intense feelings flying every which way like bullets during D-Day. And as a listener who prefers this type of psychological mayhem, I find it to be some of the most gripping work of Kendrick Lamar’s already-historic career.

Top 3 Tracks: “ELEMENT.”, “FEAR.”, “PRIDE.”

2. TRIAL BY FIRE – YELAWOLF

 Against all odds – and when I say ALL ODDS, I mean over seven years of artistic decline since his initial burst of hype and at least one race-related controversy – Rap’s most divisive white trash Hick-Hopper pulled through with, simply put, one of the most unique “Hip-Hop” records I’ve ever heard.

On Trial By Fire, the Alabama native weaves together various shades of Country, Folk, Rock, Blues – and yes, in the midst of all that, a guest appearance from Juicy motherfuckin’ J – into his well-studied rhyming abilities to make the kind of album that no one else could make. Sure, COUNTRY AND RAP MUSIC have had their history together (LINK), but not in a way that hasn’t compromised or caricaturized either side of the spectrum. That is, until exhilarating mish-mashes on this LP like “Punk”, which contains the aforementioned Juicy J feature.

Yelawolf also bares his soul on these 14 tracks, and has a novelists’ eye for storytelling (seriously, check the haunting “Sabrina” or the sentimentally autobiographical “Keeps Me Alive” for some hardcore evidence), bringing these Southern soundscapes to life with each and every verse. On “Ride or Die”, a heartfelt tribute to a day one friend, I can actually picture Yela sitting on a front porch somewhere in Alabama strumming his guitar and staring out into miles of farmland.

 And for me, there’s a personal angle to this as well. Trial by Fire represents the ultimate escapism. It’s an album that whisks me away from my Yuppie tri-state surroundings to long, winding dirt roads, musky dive bars with Harleys parked out front, and remote stretches of land with nothing but grass and the gentle breeze that nudges it from side to side. So I suppose my increasing infatuation with the rural South has fed my love of Trial by Fire. But still, whether you end up smitten like I am or deeply unimpressed, this is music you need to hear.

Top 3 Tracks: “Ride or Die”, “Punk”, “Son of a Gun”

 1. ALL THE BEAUTY IN THIS WHOLE LIFE – BROTHER ALI

As I gushed at the middle of the year, Brother Ali made the kind of special album that makes me happy to be alive. With top-notch production from Ant of Atmosphere ensuring that it’s sonically rapturous, Ali is free to tackle weighty subject matter; sensitive topics that he handles gracefully, I might add. Beauty covers everything from race (“Dear Black Son”, “Before They Called You White”) to pornography (“The Bitten Apple”) to suicide (“Out of Here”) to Ali’s own childhood struggles (“Pray For Me”) sending your emotions every which way in the process. When you combine Ali’s raw talent on the mic with food-for-thought content, gorgeous instrumentals, and hooks like the infectious single “Own Light”, it’s impossible to lose.

Top 3 Tracks: “Own Light (What Hearts Are For)”, “Out of Here”, “All the Beauty in This Whole Life”

Some Honorable Mentions:

Laila’s Wisdom – Rapsody

Big Fish Theory – Vince Staples

Culture – Migos

Radio Silence – Talib Kweli

All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ – Joey Bada$$

At What Cost – Goldlink

4:44 – Jay-Z

Brick Body Kids Still Daydream – Open Mike Eagle

Rather You Than Me – Rick Ross

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.

April 2017 Album Round Up!

So, another month came and went. The first week of April (right around the time the Chainsmokers released once of the worst albums of the year) kicked off the month in exciting fashion for me – my band hit the studio with Joe Cocchi from Within the Ruins and cranked out a couple killer tunes that I can’t wait to unleash on the world. After that? Well, I worked 50-hour weeks, squeezed out some YouTube videos, and socialized approximately zero times. I’ve currently been sober for 31 days, which is the longest I’ve gone without booze since I first started drinking when I was 15. It’s not an AA type thing – lately I’ve just found myself growing out of that lifestyle.

I’d like to report that laying off the sauce has drastically improved my day-to-day existence and forever altered the course of my life, but I’m pretty sure it’s just made me marginally less cranky and a lot more boring. But I still by no means endorse drinking – after all, have you seen the absolute rape of a markup that bars get away with on Jack and Cokes and other well drinks? Sheesh. Save your money, kids.

There was also the Kendrick Lamar album, which, now that I think of it, formed the nucleus of April 2017 in many ways. My GOD are we witnessing history with that guy. He fucking delivered again.

Anyway, here are my monthly biased-as-all-hell musings on some new music. I gotta say, 2017’s got some serious momentum now –  I couldn’t be more excited heading into May’s stacked release schedule!

Memories…Do Not Open – The Chainsmokers

This is…just, lowest common denominator everything. Lyrically, it has the depth of a sixth grader’s diary – “opener “The One” is SERIOUSLY about not being able to go to a friend’s party, and “Bloodstream” begins with the declaration, “I’ve been drunk three times this week” (not to mention this gem on “Last Day Alive”: “the night is young and we are young”) – and musically, it has the depth of, well, a sixth grader’s diary. The beat to “Break Up Every Night” sounds like a commercial for a Chuck E Cheese, while the drop in “Wake Up Alone” is mind-bogglingly juvenile. In all honesty, I feel like the frat party music/EDM crossover is a wonderful niche (one The Chainsmokers have successfully exploited with songs like “Roses”) but this is, like, teeny bop shit! It’s horribly dumbed down even by Pop standards! NOT RECOMMENDED

All Amerikkkan Bada$$ – Joey Bada$$

While some people may point to the likes of Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole as “ old school Hip-Hop revivalists”, I couldn’t disagree more. When I think of that term in its purest sense, I think of Joey Bada$$ the Brooklyn MC who may have born in 1995, but spits like that’s the current calendar year. Given my affinity for ‘90s Hip-Hop, his debut B4.Da.$$ was one of my favorite Hip-Hop albums of 2015, and its follow-up is even better (and way hookier). Gritty standout “Rockabye Baby” is the epitome of the aforementioned revivalism; anybody from The Lox to Mobb Deep to Nas to Big Pun would sound great on that instrumental (ScHoolboy Q ultimately steals the show with its guest spot). The melodic, almost serene ”For My People”, meanwhile, might be my favorite Hip-Hop track of 2017 thus far. My only gripe with this album is that Joey tackles familiar race issues without having any sort of unique perspective – it’s all the same “cops are out to kill me”, “racism is bad” “government is evil” kind of shit. It’s important shit to talk about, but it needs a new spin. Other than that, the dude is proving to be the real deal. RECOMMENDED

The Search for Everything – John Mayer

After forays into Country and Folk music with his last two LPs, John Mayer’s glorious return to the Pop world is an enjoyable but somewhat fluffy affair. While I dug the hell out of the mushy, relatable romance of “Love on the Weekend”, the wonderful break-up fodder of tracks like “Never on the Day You Leave” and “Moving on and Getting Over”, as well as the crunchy rocker “Helpless”, there were also a few empty, excessively dumbed down cuts like “In the Blood” and “Changing” that made this album underwhelming for me. Knowing Mayer’s talent, I’d prefer to be challenged as a listener. But he still hits his mark more often than not. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

 DAMN. – Kendrick Lamar

If you want some extended thoughts on this album, it’s best to go here, but I gotta say this: we are witnessing Hip-Hop history here. What many other artist in the history of the genre has come right out of the gate with FOUR INCREDIBLE RECORDS?? Outkast? Maybe. Eric B. and Rakim? Perhaps. But it’s a fucking select few. So when this dropped, I just soaked up the moment. This guy will go down as one of the greats. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Season High – Little Dragon

This Swedish Electronic group’s 5th studio album was my first outing with them. And to be blunt, I didn’t care for the slow-moving, campy, anti-climatic music that I came across. Maybe I just lack the necessary nuance in my taste for dance music, but these songs didn’t have the rousing energy that I look for in the genre. It was more like a goofy video game soundtrack with grating vocals. NOT RECOMMENDED

The Assassination of Julius Caesar – Ulver

Listening back to their classic debut album Bergtatt, I can’t think of a Metal band that has undergone as dramatic a transformation as Ulver over the years. In 2017, over 23 years after that seminal Black Metal release, they’re not even classifiably “Metal” anymore. The Assassination of Julius Caesar dips its toes into dance, a bit of new wave, and a whole lot of moody, nocturnal soundscapes. The spacey, mesmerizing “Southern Gothic” is a favorite of mine, as is the opening track “Nemoralia”, with its smooth electro strut and gorgeous vocals from Kristoffer Rygg. Whatever the fuck the genre is, these guys continue to wow me. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

The Seven – Talib Kweli & Styles P

These two Hip-Hop veterans came together for seven fun yet thought-provoking tracks that delicately balance a carefree cypher spirit with uncompromising sociopolitical commentary, particularly as it retains to race issues. Here is a full review. You should watch it, given that Talib himself loved it. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Coming Home – Falling in Reverse

It makes me chuckle that I spent way more time unpacking this record than I thought I would. ‘Cause to be honest, I went into it with a sorta snobby, scornful dismissiveness, but when early cuts like “I Hate Everyone” and the title track were genuinely catchy, I was shocked. Was this album going to be the ultimate sleeper?? I started to get excited. The answer, though, was a resounding NO as I was introduced to songs like “Superhero” and “Hanging On”, and simultaneously realized that all of these childish lyrics were being sung by a 33-year-old man (in case you didn’t know, Falling in Reverse is fronted by ex-Escape the Fate frontman Ronnie Radke). Plus, I don’t see how the supposed “space theme” ties in except for a few corny Starset-lite studio effects. NOT RECOMMENDED

Madness – All That Remains

In what could be the final nail in the coffin for many of their older fans, All That Remains completed their descent into radio rock mediocrity with this LP. Featuring three of the sappiest, shittiest ballads I have ever heard (“If I’m Honest”, “Far From Home”, and “Back To You”) as well as neutered, passionless production from Howard Benson (who likewise ruined In Flames’ last record), Madness is everything fans have been afraid of as the band has teetered on the edge of Pop-Metal. Personally, since All That Remains has never been a “brutal” band anyway, I’d encourage them to keep going in this direction. If they just drop the ballads and write some better songs next time, maybe this could work out. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

 Makes Me Sick – New Found Glory

These pop-punk pioneers came roaring back with an album that reaffirms their position as one of the very best at the genre they helped usher in. These tunes are just brimming with sugar sweet hooks and carefree, spunky energy. Listening to the sheepish innocence on display during “Short and Sweet” – where frontman Jordan Pundik gushes to his crush, “I don’t deserve someone as beautiful as you” – these guys haven’t aged a bit. The youthful spirit of this record is not forced at all. Special shout out to standout cut “Sound of Two Voices”, which is like….I don’t even know….Tropical-Pop-Dance-Punk? I love it! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

A FEW MORE:

LIKE:

Back to the Basics – Rich Homie Quan

Lovely Little Lonely – The Maine

Long Live Nut – YFN Lucci

How Will You Know If You Never Try – COIN

Pure Comedy – Father John Misty

DON’T LIKE:

Extinction – Harlott

Humanz – Gorillaz

Youth – Tinie Tempah

Embodiment – Enterprise Earth

SHINE – Wale

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.

 

 

 

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

The Top 40 Albums of 2015

While they are certainly a headache to some people, I fucking love doing these year end lists. Perhaps because each year this is my one piece of writing that guarantees unadulterated positivity. No complaints. No bashing. No suicide jokes. Just celebration, plain and simple. And with 2015, our ears have yet another astronomically pleasurable year to celebrate. I worked harder on this list than I have on any of my assignments in sixteen plus years of academia, with countless hours of listening and painful deliberation poured in. If you are reading this, no it’s not too late (see what I did there Drake?) to discover any gems that you might have missed the boat on!

 

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YouTube Top 15 Part 1

YouTube Top 15 Part 2

YouTube Top 15 Part 3

*Denotes a Top 15 album

Mr. Wonderful – Action Bronson: On his major label debut, Action Bronson came through with loads of personality, charisma, and a good sense of humor over some refreshingly original production. Chance the Rapper definitely makes a case for verse of the year with his hilarious guest bars on “Baby Blue”.

At.Long.Last.A$AP – A$AP Rocky: Its spacey “cloud rap” vibes make it enticing, and Rocky’s undeniable lyrical skill keeps it compelling

Inanimate Objects – Atlas Genius: One of the best of 2015 in the Indie Pop/Indie Electronica category.

Long Live – Atreyu: After a five-year hiatus, this comeback release combines the best of all eras of the band, resulting in their best album since The Curse. Here is a full review.

Psycadelik Thoughtz – B.o.B: After the double flusher that was 2013’s Underground Luxury, this under-the-radar project from B.o.B. thrives in its minimal-fucks-given experimentation, particularly in the Pop-Rap realm.

*Abysmal – The Black Dahlia Murder: Their albums all blend together a little for me so it’d be too rash for me to call this the best Black Dahlia Murder album to date, but my God if this isn’t one of the best Death Metal albums of the last few years.

*Venom – Bullet for My Valentine: A near-flawless return to classic Bullet! I was flabbergasted at how much I enjoyed this album. Here is a full review.

*That’s the Spirit – Bring Me the Horizon: A hater from day one, I am profoundly disturbed by my love of this album. Whether or not integrity is at the heart of this band’s radical stylistic transition remains to be seen, but it’s difficult not to be drawn to the raw emotion that radiates from each song.

*Emotion – Carly Rae Jepsen: Not only the Pop album of the year, but perhaps of the last few years. 80’s Pop hasn’t been this well represented on a major commercial release in some time.

*The Anthropocene Extinction – Cattle Decapitation: The finest piece of Extreme Metal released this year. Travis Ryan continues to saunter ahead of the pack vocally.

I Worship Chaos – Children of Bodom: I continue to insist that they have yet to make a bad album regardless, but I Worship Chaos, the band’s ninth, certainly sits in the upper half of Children of Bodom’s discography.

New Bermuda – Deafheaven: Achieving innovation at any level in Metal in 2015 is a challenge, yet Deafheaven manage to be completely singular with New Bermuda, their third album.

*Surf – Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment: “Fun” is the only adequate way to describe Surf. The numerous cameos, the warm horn sounds, and Chance the Rapper’s one-of-a-kind bars (on nine tracks) don’t hurt either.

Compton – Dr. Dre: Like the two Dr. Dre albums that have preceded it, a murderer’s row of all-star posse cuts and pristine production. Especially stoked to see the underrated Jon Connor get some shine on here.

If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late – Drake: Though his crooning has served him well on projects past, less wuss and more aggression were a great fit for Drake on this surprise mixtape.

I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside – Earl Sweatshirt: Earl squeezes a remarkable amount of cynical insights into 30 minutes on his second full-length.

In Times – Enslaved: They continue to prove themselves masters of Extreme Metal.

*Mr. Misunderstood – Eric Church: This surprise LP from Country Rock’s finest is, at its core, exceptionally moving. Here is a full review.

Sol Invictus – Faith No More: Who the fuck thought that a) we would ever see this, and b) it would be so damn good!

 *Meliora – Ghost: An average first album, a sophomore slump, and an outstanding third album; what a fascinating trajectory. Ghost really came into their own on all fronts with Meliora. “Cirice” in particular is a must-listen. Psyched to see it get a Grammy nod.

The Book of Souls – Iron Maiden: Just mind blowing that one of Metal’s elder statesmen are still churning out material on par with their classic stuff. Competes for best album of 21st century Maiden

90059 – Jay Rock: Jay Rock meets impossibly high expectations on 90059 by sticking to his strengths and keeping the project at a slim but forceful 11 songs.

B4.DA.$$ – Joey Bada$$: Newly 20 years old upon this debut release, I expect we’re gonna see a lot more of Joey in the coming years. His talent and his throwback lyrical style will always have a welcome place in Hip-Hop.

*To Pimp a Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar: Undisputed Album of the Year. No praises to sing here that haven’t already been sung.

 My Garden – Kat Dahlia: My future wife. Though the singles are still this album’s strongest material, each track moves you in a unique way.

 *VII: Sturm Und Drang – Lamb of God: Randy’s jail stint and manslaughter case resulted in the most lyrically focused and ferocious Lamb of God record I have ever heard.

 Tetsuo and Youth – Lupe Fiasco: Though I have stood by Lupe through each project, I can’t argue with people who call Tetsuo and Youth “light years ahead of all post-2007 Lupe”.

 GO:OD AM – Mac Miller: The first Mac Miller project worthy of the tag “essential Hip Hop listening”. He dropped the hyper-lyrical psychedelic persona and focused solely on good songs. Here is a full review.

 *Adventure – Madeon: Without a doubt THE party album of 2015. I’m not a connoisseur by any stretch of the word, but I have never been as enthralled with an EDM album as I am with Adventure.

The Pale Emperor – Marilyn Manson: I’m a huge Manson fan, so to see him hit an artistic peak like this late into his career is thrilling. Perfect blend of Industrial, Grunge, and a dose of Metal.

Metal Allegiance – Metal Allegiance: What really should’ve been called “Metal All-Stars” comes through as a pure celebration of anything and everything METAL.

 *Pagans in Vegas – Metric: This band continues to be my favorite in the Alternative Pop world. Three gems in a row now – they can’t be stopped!

Drones – Muse: In the band’s best since Black Holes and Revelations, they succeed immensely at a straight-ahead rock record, thanks in part to production from the legendary Mutt Lange.

*Ire – Parkway Drive: The stylistic risks taken by these Aussies on their fifth album paid off tremendously. This is the type of album Melodic Metalcore needed in 2015.

The Ride Magestic – Soilwork: (Biggie voice) *Here’s another one. And a, and a, and another one*

*Hand.Cannot.Erase – Steven Wilson: Prog master Steven Wilson makes albums so dense that conceptually, they take years to fully grasp. What is relatively easy to grasp, however, is the musical brilliance displayed throughout. Guthrie Govan’s guitar playing is a particular highlight on what certainly veers into “masterpiece” territory.

Currents – Tame Impala: I just finally heard this for the first time this month, so there will be no elaboration on this one. But my God is Kevin Parker a freakish talent.

Cauterize – Tremonti: Mark Tremonti’s solo band – in addition to Alter Bridge – is making some of the only Hard Rock that is musically interesting. “Providence” and “Flying Monkeys” stand toe-to-toe with Alter Bridge’s best material. Here is a full review.

Silence in the Snow – Trivium: I love when bands take risks. Silence in the Snow was a fucking risk and a half. While there are occasional misses, its aesthetic prevails. Not to mention, Matt Heafy turns in his best vocal performance to date.

*Blurryface – Twenty One Pilots: Alternative Rap? Alternative Rock? Pop? Electro-Pop? This fucking thing completely defies categorization, and that’s what makes it an utter joy to listen to from beginning to end. That and some of the best melodies that 2015 had to offer.

Hot Streak – The Winery Dogs: The Winery Dogs are perhaps – ironically – the most musically talented group in the Rock world aside from Dream Theater. Richie Kotzen’s songwriting and soloing make me want to just fucking quit.

 

Mac Miller – GO:OD AM Review

Quick context: the following review was written for a publication that required a 600-700 word count range. The edited version can be read here

“Ain’t saying that I’m sober, I’m just in a better place”, croons Mac Miller over the Tyler the Creator-produced intro to his new album GO:OD AM. The Pittsburgh native’s third full-length LP follows a ten million dollar deal with Warner Bros. Records, a very public battle with substances, and a tireless creative process that resulted in Miller making over nine albums of material before arriving at his third album. No longer an independent artist, his drug use under control, and now approaching his mid-twenties, the word “reinvention” isn’t too farfetched in the Mac Miller conversation.

Perhaps most significantly, in 2015 Miller finds himself free of the “frat-rap” tag that once tortured him early in his career, framing him as a contemporary of the likes of Asher Roth, Sammy Adams, and Chris Webby, rather than the ten other emcees that Kendrick Lamar named in addition to Mac in his scathing 2013 verse on Big Sean’s “Control”. In the four years since Blue Slide Park, his critically-lampooned yet wildly successful debut album, the rapper who was once “Easy Mac with the cheesy raps” – as spit by battle rap extraordinaire Loaded Lux on Miller’s last album – has seemingly been on a never-ending campaign to shake his stigma and prove his worth to hip hop, with three projects that increasingly emphasized lyrical dexterity and artistic ambition, gaining more positive responses every step of the way. With GO:OD AM, Miller finally appears positioned for the true takeover that he has often alluded to.

GO:OD AM finds Mac Miller at his most confident and unapologetic, an aesthetic often absent from his previous work despite his undeniable talent. Lyrically, he continues to be wildly creative, dropping wordplay like “what’s a God without a little OD? /Just a G” on first single and album standout “100 Grandkids”. This time around, though, he raps like he has less to prove. On Miller’s last album Watching Movies with the Sound Off, his bars exuded an almost manic obsession with proving his technical ability, whereas on GO:OD AM he just appears to be having fun, though dense lyrical content certainly takes center stage at many points, such as in the first verse of album closer “The Festival”.

Longtime Mac Miller collaborators ID Labs handle the bulk of the production on GO:OD AM, alongside heavyweights like Flying Lotus, Sounwave, and even Sha Money XL on the first half of “100 Grandkids”. Sonically, the album maintains cohesion despite its diversity, from the trap-influenced, 808-ridden “When In Rome” to the piano and saxophone that close out “Brand Name”.

Though he has always had a flirtatious relationship with melody, Mac Miller’s most noticeable growth on GO:OD AM manifests itself in the songs’ melodic content. On tracks like “Break the Law” and the Miguel-assisted “Weekend” – not to mention the tender career highlight “ROS” – he effortlessly injects small doses of melody into what is still an undeniable hip-hop album. Brilliant future single “Jump”, which reunites Miller with “Donald Trump” hit-maker Sap, contains a hugely effective call-and-response section in the pre-chorus, a back-and-forth between swaggering bars and their melodic counterparts.

GO:OD AM does get occasionally bogged down by an oversaturation of misogyny and sexual innuendos. At times, allusions to sexual exploits become a crutch for Miller, in which he seemingly cannot finish a verse without wordplay about prostitutes, tongues, and vaginas – punchlines that fluctuate between entertaining and distracting. It is especially frustrating considering one the album’s shining moments: the aforementioned “ROS”, a touching, lovesick song that finds Miller as thoughtful and vulnerable as he has ever sounded on record. The introspective “God Speed” is another instance in which the rapper thrives in the absence of goofiness and braggadocio.

Likability has never been an issue for Mac Miller. In fact, it’s been his musical anchor at times, especially while weathering the “frat-rap” storm. On GO:OD AM, Miller loses none of the charisma or likability of his previous work, yet gains an abundance of vision and focus. Considering his second album, Watching Movies with The Sound Off, and last year’s Faces mixtape, GO:OD AM is by no means Mac Miller’s first great project. It is, however, his first work worthy of the tag “essential hip hop listening”.