Song of the year-In My Dreams by Kali Uchis produced by and featuring Damon Albarn
Kali Uchis had a fantastic 2017 popping up and doing great work in important places. On two of my top albums of the year she threw down (See You Again on Tyler, The Creator’s Flower Boy and Get You on Daniel Caesar’s Freudian). She just seemed to fit anywhere with a startlingly clean, crisp voice that drew my finger to the repeat button. The voice is an interesting additive but the not the primary element. Her debut album Isolation is a dizzying trip through diverse influences juggled nimbly with production ranging from Damon Albarn to Two Inch Punch, BadBadNotGood, Thundercat, and DJ Dahi.
In My Dreams sounds like NES video game intro music but the clarity in her voice and lyrical content express a glorious quirky innocence that lives in a lot of our hopes. The fact that she could call up Albarn and do a Gorillaz track without stretching then call up Bootsy Collins and say “Let’s do ANOTHER song together for my debut album” is pretty baller. Trust me I get that the young beautiful R & B singer is an industry and this is not entirely the delightful DIY come up of others but the more you find out about Kali Uchis the more you will be awed by her skill set. Trust me. You just have to go back to the mixtape she made with Garageband on her Macbook. I will get to that next week!
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Tagged Bootsy Collins, Damon Albarn, Daniel Caesar, Flower Boy, Freudian, Gorillaz, hip hop, In My Dreams, Isolation, Kali Uchis, R&B, Tyler The Creator
Operation Doom Discography/Song of The Year-Phantoms featuring Kendra Morris & Open Mike Eagle produced by 7L
I couldn’t have been luckier than to wrap up the Doom discography run with Czarface Meets Metal Face. The Czarface supergroup that started in 2013 was directly built upon the legacy of MF Doom. The skits the covers the framework was Doom and it united 7L, Esoteric & Inspectah Deck. Pulling Doom in isn’t as awkward as I worried it might be. I don’t expect the album to get a lot of critical love because it is dense and a first (even second listen) can leave you pretty bewildered. The production is also boom bap which most critics are sure is old school not an actual continuing genre within the greater hip hop sphere.
Czarface Meets Metal Face has some great Doom moments, the most Doom punchline in years is “Don’t deal with the Devil on a deep level/they see metal and sound off like a tea kettle” from Captain Crunch. Phantoms is hands down the best posse cut of 2018 thus far. It is a staggering display of lyricism by a room full of hall of famers. MF sets the table with a chilling story about the price you pay cheating and betraying the people who love you. The phantom in his case is the angel and devil on each shoulder pulling him in opposite directions. While most MC’s use their pen to valorize themselves Doom lays it down awkward ” Wife wonder how you diss fam and disgrace your children/Dudes is wired like that, it’s still an all-case buildin’ ” I didn’t fully fathom how impressive his verse is until I read it.
The brilliance of 7L is flipping the beat for every new verse which can certainly be seen as a nod to Gangstarr’s I’m The Man but it feels very practical in this case. Open Mike Eagle & Inspectah Deck need different sonic backgrounds (Deck gets the best beat). All verses are blinding on this one: Mike Eagle sounds like the voice of a generation funny witty and razor sharp. Deck is a monster with odd references that make you rewind (Haley Joel Osment) and Esoteric might have my favorite performance of the song with his alliterative F sound verse that never comes off as forced.
Reviewers are forced to create a narrative around albums. So Czarface Meets Metal Face can be called out as old school but Doom and Deck were putting out new music back when boom bap was king, would you prefer they grab Sonny Digital and adjust their flow to the high hat? Ew. It can be called a victory lap from a bunch of really important artists past their peak but…what is so wrong with that? Isn’t it kind of cool to hear a bunch of great successful rappers get together and push themselves for the love of the actual art on an album that wasn’t made for charting? When listening tune your ears to the right connotation.
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Tagged 7L, Boom Bap, Czarface, Esoteric, Inspectah Deck, MF Doom, old school hip hop, Open Mike Eagle, Operation Doom Discography, Operation Doomsday, song of the year
Song of The Year-I’ll Be Fine by Trae The Truth
More than any project before his new album Hometown Hero represents the uniqueness of Trae The Truth. His voice has always been raspy, stabbing, and relentless a fantastic guest feature flow to shake you from your comfort zone. Hometown Hero dresses itself to match. Thematically as honest as its narrator with features from people known for how real they keep it (TI, Boosie, Mozzy). Each song envelopes you in bass as he narrates harrowing stories that range from the stress of wearing awful clothes to the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. It is one of 2018’s best albums.
As great as the features are (particularly TI’s hook on Better Dayz) the song I’ll Be Fine is the absolute best. The hook stretches and relaxes as he explains the hurt and the strength/assurance he will use to move on. Trae wants to feel the pain of loss and not shut the emotions out but badly wants to control the pain. The verses carry that same conflict. He remembers the casket going into the ground in the first verse and wishes he could hug him one more time. As hard as Hometown Hero is it is still about caring deeply; for friends, family, about people who betray you, your own self-care, your city, state, world.
He swims along the deep bass and leaves any possibility of trunk rattling banger behind as he starts off with the verse, sung with both wistful distance and aged resilience. In Houston trunk rattling bass isn’t just for head banging anthems or turning up. Trae has always understood how valuable time is and he doesn’t waste verses. Hometown Hero is for us to understand that he has people he is talking to and if it seems too serious to you just listen to something else. When he shares stuff like “Time ain’t enough. Wish I could tell you how much it been rough. I had to face it. Everything through it was making me tough. My brother my friend everything bout me is still ABN loyal to death all till the day I’ma see you again.” It’s special because he has the fortitude to bleed in public emotionally without being at all manipulative. He’s not professionally sad instead he processes problems alongside blessings. Long live King Truth.
Operation Doom Discography-2006-2017: The Good, The Meh, and The Almost Classic
JJ Doom- I knew this album wasn’t for me early in the listening experience. The production style doesn’t fit. It is very post-Gorillaz (Damon Albarn guests along with Beth Gibbons from Portishead) in its cold robotic bass burbles. Jneiro Jarel is very good at his sound. You can play the wordless Viberian Sun pt. II and understand the value of talent on display. Doom more than matches it. The disjointed nature of the beats just puts him a little off. He knows the pocket of any soul sample better than he does this. All that being said he still rises to the occasion: he starts the last song (Wash Your Hands) with ” Ooh, she got a cool body, damn she got a cool body/What I’m a tell you what to do with your hands for?/Much less your dirty @$$ shoes on the dancefloor?” This is full on grouchy doom warning you about the dangers of drinking tap water and giving you odd takes on gender(“There they go feminizing men again/Then pretend they don’t know when we know it, xenoestrogen.” From GMO). If you enjoy Doom you should listen to it and you might like it more than I do if you are into a more slick alternative version of hip hop production.
NehruvianDoom-I was very excited to hear this collaboration. I am a fan of Nehru and would say he’s an underrated talent. Doom handles the production on all but one track so we are back in that soulful comfort zone. Bishop is a top notch rapper but his lack of theme gives the lyrics presented here a freestyle feel. To put it bluntly: he ain’t Doom. Any project that says DOOM and doesn’t feature enough verses from Doom isn’t great. This one isn’t great. The whole album is surprisingly sleepy and ultimately unimportant. While Jneiro Jarel has (what I would view as) talent oppositional to Doom’s Nehru and Doom make each other boring somehow.
The Almost Classic.
Every truly great rap artist with a reasonably sized career has an almost classic. Jay has Vol. 1, 2pac has his first album 2pacalypse Now, Pete Rock & CL Smooth have The Main Ingredient (the single best example of an almost classic). Definition: everything is right except something which is very wrong. You need to own Born Like This so you can hear J Dilla & Doom collaborate for two of the most gripping moments in the history of music. Gazzilliion Ear & Lightworks are deadly serious as the master mad scientists push one another: the beat twists and Doom adjusts. It’s not just Dilla, Absolutely is the crackling warm minimal vinyl Madlib groove at its finest. Jake One gives the biggest and best of his boom bap on the one minute and thirty second Ballskin where Doom burns the whole world down with his bars. The guests give the best of themselves and honestly I think Impress Stahhr Tha Femcee(Still Dope) outdoes Ghostface, Raekwon, Slug and anyone else not named DOOM.
The problem is the horribly wrong minded skit Batty Boyz which is unflinchingly homophobic and I just realized that I have a strange British version of the album which follows Batty Boyz with a doubling down on homophobia and transphobia. A song called Costume Foolery which is cut out of the US retail version but tucks in right behind Batty Boyz on my version. It really reaffirms that the skit wasn’t a fluke and Doom has problems with this subject, making a terrible gay voice and clowning man purses. I am of two minds on this: I don’t want to support anyone who makes it harder for oppressed communities or discriminates against any community but I also adore free speech. I don’t really believe in shutting down inappropriate conversation (I am not listening to Nazi rock bands do not take me to extremes). Doom starts the song CELLZ with a reading of Charles Bukowski’s Born Like This poem which gives this album it’s title. I think it is valuable to hear Bukowski read this in the context of Doom. The poem is about the mutating “sourful deadliness” that comes from a lack of good in the world or as Bukowski puts it an “unresponsive god.” The sharp edges of Doom stab us from that very place. Doom is not a villain for fun he is a response to deep scarring we should explore with him in all its ugliness. I’m sure he wouldn’t blame me for letting that ugliness dock points from the overall experience.
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Tagged Bishop Nehru, Born Like This, Damon Albarn, Ghostface Killah, Gorrillaz, Impress Stahhr Tha Femcee, J.J. Doom, Jneiro Jarel, M.F. Doom, MF Doom, NehruvianDoom, Operation Doom Discography, Raekwon, Slug
#Bandcampgold-Whatever It Takes by The James Hunter Six
Music criticism makes my skin crawl when it becomes too coy about areas of specialization. Example: when a soul album like Whatever It Takes by The James Hunter Six comes out the criticism given by experts is very watery and ephemeral “this is nostalgic stuff so its fine but who needs it?! Just listen to the original stuff it apes.” That view of this album is one from the ears of someone who doesn’t genuinely love soul music. We all want to act like renaissance listeners who know everything but it’s so rarely true. We specialize. This lead in is to make it clear this music is exactly my specialization and Whatever It Takes is a fabulous example of my counter point to the “who needs it?!” people.
A giant percentage of our music is nostalgic but we only register some of it with that tag(lots of sneaking going on). I hold that The James Hunter Six are part of an active genre not a throwback trend. They aren’t a Temptations cover band they make music within a genre that lived in 1962 and does now. I applaud James Hunter and Daptone Records co-founder (and producer) Bosco Mann for remaining laser focused when putting these ten songs together.
Daptone separates itself with genius composition. You can hear it in the found sound jack in the box tuning on the title track (along with fantastic drum and organ), the engaging instrumental track Blisters, the frantic movement of I Got Eyes, the astounding bass line of Show Her (my favorite song). James Hunter is locked in pocket like a great closer on the mound in baseball. He arcs up and down within reach of every note he needs. My favorite performance vocally is Mm-Hmm where he glides along the drums before gently eking out the chorus. He commands the song (in summation: 2 things that elevate a soul album 1. Composition 2. Commanding vocal performance)
Whatever It Takes is an album. You just put it on and let it go. If other people are with you who haven’t heard it they will ask you what year it was made when you tell them this year they will get surprised. It passes the one test for soul music. The test Sharon Jones made everyone so aware of: if this is to sound like it’s from a bygone era does it sound like a new artist in that era or does it specifically sound like ripping off an artist? Is this just someone doing Wilson Pickett or James Brown again? If it is original vocal performance and composition like The James Hunter Six have given us than just enjoy it and be thankful we have more of it to warm the day.
Stream or BUY(I did) below:
Operation Doom Discography 2000-2005
M.F. Doom was so active during this period of time I am going to have to separate this into stuff you need to hear and stuff you absolutely don’t.
King Geedorah-Take Me to Your Leader=Simply put one of the best produced independent albums ever. Doom is on the boards for every song producing, arranging, mixing and mastering and he is so utterly perfect that the skits will bring tears to your eyes. He drills down on sampling the Godzilla universe and finds soundscapes no one before or after could. The downside is Doom doesn’t rap on every song but he does rap on over half which is more than enough to carry it. Other voices put in admirable work (Hassan Chop on I Wonder and Mr. Fantastik on Anti-Matter). It is not nearly the cluttered hostile thesaurus fight of Monsta Island Czars.
MF Doom-Mm…Food=All but 3 tracks are produced by Doom. This was actually the first Doom album I heard and like all solo Doom ventures (I’ve encountered thus far) it surpasses its mission statement. This should be a fun exercise in food metaphors but he can’t himself One Beer is fire with lines like “Crooked eye mold nerd geek with a cold heart/probably still be speaking in rhymes as an old fart.” These songs are not jokes Deep Fried Frenz is a must hear peak into the diminishing relationships you experience on the way up. It is jam packed with quotable lines delivered with his trademark icey cool.
Viktor Vaughn-Vaudeville Villain & Venomous Villain=Upon first listen I really dug these albums. They took Operation Doomsday’s development of the villain character and pushed it meaner. Doom doesn’t produce any of the songs (the production style is less soulful and more jagged than other projects but that fits for the content) so he gets to let his pen fire. Venomous Villain has songs like Back End, Ode to Rage, and the startling story song Bloody Chain (where Poison Pen should have refused to rhyme after him). Vaudeville Villain has songs like The Drop (where he warns never trust no Kardashian back in 2003!), Raedawn, and G.M.C. All the songs listed are so unforgivingly lyrical so vividly actualized I couldn’t help but question if he was the utter evolution of Biggie able to threaten in ways that shake your bones switch up make you belly laugh with a silly reference, tell a crime story that pushes you to the edge of your seat and pulls you back by the end. These are not the known classics of Doom’s catalog but they are classics.
DANGERDOOM-The Mouse and The Mask=most reviews I saw for this framed it as a gag album. It comes out at the height of Adult Swim fanfare and is a perfect nerd fantasy. Danger Mouse is still in his daring try-anything-cool mind state and Doom still destroys all available space his voice fills. Too many funny crazy interesting lines to quote, and you get to hear Ghostface rhyme with Doom (I have a theory that Doom influence revived Ghostface and helped kick off his best period. Supreme Clientele drops a year after Operation Doomsday DANGERDOOM & Madvillain drop right around the Pretty Tony/Fishscale time period(Doom produced my favorite beat on Fishscale 9 Milli Bros).
Madvillain-Madvillainy=I expected the importance of this album but I was still awed by the structure of it. It reminds me of the debut album Pink Flag by the punk/art rock band Wire. All the songs are short and feed into one another. Neither Doom nor Madlib is even thinking about hooks. Lyrically I see Madvillainy as a cut off. He is now being reviewed by Spin and Rolling Stone so he backs away from the personal content of Operation Doomsday and stays in pocket just hammering away at the craft; dizzying verse after dizzying verse he is more a master of ceremony than ever but less the person we got to know. It’s not as bad a trade off as you would think (think Reasonable Doubt Jay v. Blueprint Jay).
MF EP(Doom and Grimm)=I really don’t have much affection for M.F. Grimm. The 2000 collaboration between the two is way too much Grimm who is a product of his time. In an interview he described the difference between the two of them very well. He said when they started rapping together Doom was on that conscious ish and he was rapping about breakin’ dudes legs. That is exactly the problem with Grimm. His ceiling as an MC is just over his hairline.
Monsta Island Czars-Escape From Monsta Island!=Easily my least favorite step on the journey. On The Mouse and The Mask Doom mocked his M.I.C. days calling them “Midgets Into Crunk” and they are that kind of joke. This album has 20 songs on it with just under an hour run time and no actual driving point. Only six tracks are produced by Doom including skits (under his moniker King Geedorah). My favorite of those beats is the rich and tense 1,2…1,2 but he doesn’t rap on it. This album did illuminate how special Doom is as an MC for me. One after another of this crew (King Caesar, Rodan, Gigan, Megalon, Kong, Spiega, it never ends) spat dour threatening verses with killer scrabble words dressed to impress and it was awful. On the one song he gets to himself Geedorah roars, muses, brags, is hilarious and distances himself from this mountain of average dudes he knows from around the way. This album illuminated the stark contrast between the average 90’s/early 00’s rapper and M.F. Doom.
On to the next phase!
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Tagged Danger Mouse, Dangerdoom, discography review, Doom, Doom Discography, Fishscale, Ghostface Killah, King Geedorah, M.F. Doom, M.F. Grimm, Madlib, Madvillain, Madvillainy, MF Doom, MF Grimm, Monsta Island Czars, NY Hip Hop, Pretty Tony, Supreme Clientele, The Mouse and The Mask, Viktor Vaughn
Mixtape Review-Spiritual Conversations by Mozzy
Mozzy is amazing and proof that we are living in amazing times. My favorite part of Black Panther is when we flash back to 1992 and pan slowly across the basketball court, his voice surfs over the beat and a smile wears my face. The moment blew my mind because Mozzy is of the tradition of E-40 & Too Short a California beat busting hardcore oddball who floods the market until you can’t get away. His music is everywhere. If you look up Mozzy’s discography in google you will be flooded with projects solo and collaborative. He works and spits his truth all over the place and that truth changes. He doesn’t just flood the market he sharpens his sword with each project. 2017’s 1 Up Top Ahk was easily a step up from the already awesome Mandatory Check. In the 90’s he would have just sharpened that sword off to the left while the main stage propped up slick pop rap. The TDE come up changes everything, Kendrick grew up on E-40 & Too Short so he loves Mozzy. He catches the wisdom in the verses while others hear Gangsta Rap for its own sake.
I deeply admire people who can do their best work right as the spotlight finds them for the first time. As the whole world hears Mozzy narrate Oakland in Black Panther he dropped a six song ep that is absolutely the best gateway drug to get into Mozzy.
You can hear the influence of Kendrick’s secret weapon Sounwave in the production style of Spiritual Conversations. The bay used to be all slapping speaker rattling anthems now a new lane is open with rich tones and warm piano textures to better articulate yourself over. Sorry Jaynari, Dave-O, Daniel Cruz, AK-47, Vontae Thomas and Terrace Martin(when you hear the horns on Interlude you’ll know its Terrace Martin) all contribute to a very unified sound.
I’m struck by how reflective and boldly insightful Spiritual Conversations is. Mozzy has always been both of those things but underneath thick armor. 1 Up Top Ahk was a teeth out conversation about violence. This project gives Mozzy wisdom the full floor. In the first verse of No Choice he says “When you told me you loved me, I ain’t believe it/But when you show me you love, you’ll receive it.” It’s a great example of his glaring emotional intelligence but not even the only one in the song (“Bruh told on blood ’cause he ain’t wanna do life/I send my condolences in a kite/You know them people gon hang him and that ain’t right/Stare at my daughters to see the light/Went and got him a M, I promise to see it twice.”
I love hearing Mozzy swap bruising verses with the criminally underrated Jay Rock but my favorite song is Who I Am. The crackly casual tone he delivers that chorus in and the insomnia flavored paranoia in bars like ” Bad karma got me lookin’ over both shoulders/Singin’ bout the shit I did, I pray he ain’t told on us.” SOB x RBE got the most burn from Black Panther soundtrack and they sound great. I’m happy they have the TDE machine behind them and sound energized but I know the most important name on that soundtrack… the one that shocked me and delivered and it’s Mozzy.
Stream or download Spiritual Conversations below:
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Tagged 1 Up Top Ahk, 1992, AK-47, bay area hip hop, Black Panther, Black Panther Soundtrack, California, Daniel Cruz, Mozzy, Sorry Jaynari, Spiritual Conversations, Terrace Martin, Vontae Thomas