Song of The Year-Holy Key by DJ Khaled featuring Kendrick Lamar & Big Sean
A lot of people consider Khaled any number of things: hilarious, vicious self-promotor, someone who flips on his friends in favor of newer, hotter names. His new album Major Key is absolutely the hip hop light show it set out to be. As talented as he is as a DJ, producer and organizer of the music, I consider Khaled a big game hunter of sorts. He bought a house near Jay-z to get a verse (I Got The Keys) and then texted him in all caps that he wasn’t going anywhere. He leveraged his relationship with Future to get Bryson Tiller on Ima Be Alright.
On Holy Key you can absolutely hear Khaled through text and phone conversations revving these two artists up. Pumping them with the adrenal fluid of the imagined impact a game changing verse can have on their career; Letting them know that as respected as they are…we really don’t know what their capable of, none of us. Khaled always has the same pitch: dig deeper and show these MFers who you are.
It works because it’s kind of true. While Kendrick is known as intelligent with an unearthly flow, people are constantly forgetting 2 things: how weird he is and how mean he is. Big Sean brings the mean right out of him (see Control). For his part Big Sean is a masterful lyricist who has literally changed the way rappers rap (his biggest problem: worst mustache in the game). On Holy Key (classic Cool & Dre high octane Fast & Furious beat ) Sean is unbelievable, lacing his rhymes tight and furious but always keeping it Big Sean. You won’t find a more head knocking positive rap verse than his opener on Holy Key.
And yes, Kendrick destroys the song again. As focused as Sean sounds Kendrick sits him down with “I ain’t scared of losses no more, I see life in that. I don’t resonate with the concept of love and hate cause your perspective is less effective and rather fake.” He says “F_ mother earth” and he absolutely loves it. Some people don’t just embrace the villain, they have a sliver of them that really draws power from it. That Ty Cobb part of Kendrick is utterly shocking.
You can’t give enough credit to the legendary Betty Wright for this enormous hook. It’s the incredible Hulk of anthems because it’s not just big but lyrical. Hip hop thrives when the biggest names can open up and prove they deserve their spot; blackout on a track and reinforce their stamp.
Concluding thought: if anyone won Major Key it was Big Sean. Yes, he got bested by Kendrick again but that’s not exactly the worst thing that can happen. Being so close to Kendrick on Holy Key speaks incredibly well of him. His lilting sing song absolutely makes Work For It smooth. He puts a tempo in place that is pleasant and then drops BARS so that by the time 2 Chainz and Gucci Mane come in, the song is already a great situation.
I think there are maybe 7 or 8 people in rap who work as hard as Big Sean.
#BandcampGold-Blue Moon by Essence
I was so excited for my wife to see Essence perform. The show was set up so acts work on different stages and trade off in a round robin. Each performer had several sets. After the first Essence set my wife gave me the description of Maine’s most important rapper that I always carry with me. My wife has one of these best friends: marvelously sweet, smart and great. Much smarter than she knows, much more attractive than she knows but doubts herself and suffers from the anxiety in her head. She said when Essence performed it was like watching Brother Ali come out of that friend.
It’s still a great way to frame her new project Blue Moon. She is dynamic ,in delivery, with the spirit of a spoken word slam poet; every word takes its place as vital to the core of the whole. The first spoken bars on Blue Moon are “co-dependent on the figurative attachment, the one getting high on the balcony of the equator with feet…dangling off the timeline between you and me.” Her state of being as an artist presumes you know what all that means or have the willingness to unpack it patiently.
Blue Moon doesn’t have stock concept songs you’d expect to hear on a rap album (even a Maine rap album). Four of the seven songs are under three minutes but it’s still a dense listen. As a writer this was always a criticism I faced. People would read my stuff and furrow eyebrows while muttering…”it’s a little dense”. After a while I started taking it for the compliment it is. I give it to Blue Moon in the same way. Unseen is haunting, not just because of the ghost related chorus. In two minutes and seventeen seconds she covers loneliness, heartbreak and the dimensions you discover in people you get close to along with the difficulty in relating and comprehending what you’ve seen in them.
My favorite song is Resistance because, on the sly, Essence is fantastic at hooks (Blue Moon is kind of a great situation for Maine rap chorus’s. Not only is Essence great at hooks but she features Renee Coolbrith and Kristina Kentigian who are incredible singers, but never put out enough solo content. The combination of her talent and theirs in 7 songs means Blue Moon is always catchy enough to offset its depth.). Resistance merges the deep conversation about our generations approach to relationships with a chorus that sticks in my head. She’s no longer a poet or a rapper on Resistance she becomes a chant that lives in your experience. It’s the kind of song that makes you forget the process of listening to a song and think about your own life.
ChrisPaul did the production for all the songs other than Needs and the beats are dusty and minimal. Honestly, all the production in the Maine rap scene (for my ears) feels dusty, broken and post-Anticon underground. This is why the song Anniversary Essence did with big muscular production team OHX (collab with KGFREEZE) and Give (another KGFREEZE) push her in a totally different direction where she can showcase the sharpness of her sword with humor and wordplay. This isn’t a knock on Blue Moon, the paranoia you feel from ChrisPauls In And Out beat totally makes sense for the content being covered. If most Maine hip hop production is aggravatingly self-importantly underground with its tongue stuck out at likeable melodies… Blue Moon smartly uses that to match the warmth of remembering those you love and the utter chill of not having them with you anymore(she also goes out of state for beats a lot).
That night, at that show, I awkwardly introduced myself and told Essence that a year and a half from now she would be light-years from where she is now. If you listen to Blue Moon and compare it to her 2014 project The Root of It…I’m looking ok on that.
Check out Blue Moon yourself:
#SpotifyTidalAppleMusicgold-Songs.4.People.Who.Break.Promises by Niko Is
As dominant as the genre is, it suffers. Post- Kid Cudi it shifted from being a musical form crafted by hustlers and drug dealers to drug addicts going through the crash/rebirth cycle. It reignited things for a while(giving a different perspective) but these aren’t cocaine addicts shouting and twitching this is an era of depressants, codeine in your cup. The music is slow and sleepy and melodic; full of tearful confession thinly masked by anger. It gets old.
On the positive side that dominance is in no small part due to the embrace of weirdness. The thriving oddity of “internet rappers” with funny hair, tight pants and all sorts of nonsensical cadences. The previous generation was all straight faces and similar brags, a tightly wound culture ready to bust loose.
Niko Is comes armed against the former and abundantly engaged in the latter. He’s been weird since the beginning, certainly on drugs but more inclined towards mushrooms and hallucinations than the slow personal misery of purple (just my reading of the situation through lyrics, I do not know this dude).
On that journey from Brazil to Florida he also seems to have digested loads of Gangstarr, Das Efx, Redman, etc. Even as he dropped a surprise album that begs “You want weird, I’ll give you weird?!” he sets aside a lot of time to whip out his samurai sword flow and clear the area of all living things (example: The Land of Leche &Miel).
Songs.4.People.Who.Break.Promises seems on a mission to shatter the storyline of the typical rap song. My favorite song is Houdini where the chorus comes earlier than you think and bookends with Niko hitting the melody perfectly as it melts into a soul sample.
Niko has a perfect collaborator in Thanks Joey (Joey Creates) who shares a deep love for Brazilian Soul and soul in general while never ever sacrificing the fist-thumping BOOM that impressive basslines and drums give a hip hop song. Just listen to Mundo; where Niko name checks Jeet Kune Do, raps a bit in Spanish, and it really doesn’t matter if you are understanding everything. The bassline is amazing and Niko throws his voice everywhere, delivering every line like it is the all-important last one. It’s because of Joey that this music feels warm and tropical and as weird as Niko makes things it is always stabilized by the lush landscapes he stands in front of. You feel the sun on your face and can almost see the palm trees, all before you realize he just said “The Batman of rap, I need a four foot Asian to tap dance on my back, cause I’m stressed out(Morena).”
Niko has always had a wandering mind; surreal, humorous, sick, and violent. Lyrically I always thought of him as everything you think about… unedited. Niko Is leaning more towards personal and poignant this time around. Leave Another Day is a real front to back story infused with the frustrations of losing a romantic relationship. He laments them being good on paper but not in the present and it’s no joke. The song is actually pretty spooky.
Songs.4.People.Who.Broke.Promises is a marvelous showcase of the experimentation you can indulge in when you prize your fluidity. After all, this is a dude who shined bright right alongside Action Bronson before he was a cooking show star. Even though Niko & the gang stylistically aim to surprise you, they always manage to do it.
Tidal store link:
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Tagged 2016 albums, Apple, hip hop, Joey Creates, Niko Is, positives in rap, problems in rap, reviews, Songs.4.People.Who.Break.Promises, Spotify, Thanks Joey, Tidal
Song of The Year-Winner$ by Scotty ATL featuring Cyhi The Prince produced by Toomp
If someone asked me (no one ever asks me questions this specific) who the next hip hop mega-star from Atlanta will be I would answer Scotty ATL. I’m not saying he’s going to be a name; he’s already a name for people who love hip hop (hasn’t released a subpar project in YEARS). I think he’s heading for “my grandmother knows who he is” status. Winner$ is a great example of why he is that name for me. He just doesn’t ever waste an opportunity.
Here he gets a beat from the production architect of the trap sound (Toomp is so damn slept on) and a fire breathing game changer of a guest verse from the rap machine Cyhi The Prince (If you like what Kanye has been doing just grab as much Cyhi as you can get) and the two forge an incredible melody they never break out of with a hook so gorgeous you could just put the song on repeat.
This comes off of Scotty ATL’s mixtape EP Home Sick which is absolutely great. In five songs he shows that he can do the languid mumble hop that dominates the radio (Let’s Go Swim) give you classic trap(Plug on The Low featuring OJ Da Juiceman) and strip all that away to give you his heart in a show stopping way (My Mind Lately).
Winner$ is a great example of why Scotty wins. He always gets the very best out of his collaborators without giving the outward impression that he is trying to sink their battleship. He’s able to ramp up his sound while maintaining its earnestness. Home Sick is stadium rap but it’s still just Scotty with no pretentious genre-shifting airs or faux depression. I’d rather listen to Winner$ than Ultralight Beam but I like my sh_t mean any-damn-way.
Song of The Year-Super Crip by Snoop Dogg produced by Just Blaze
I’m not going to waste any time trying to convince you that Snoop Dogg’s new album Coolaid is remarkable and one of the best albums of 2016. If you’re reading this it’s likely that your image of Snoop is very close to Flavor Flav and just can’t be changed. I grew up under him. My Dad came in my room and warned me to never mention Snoop to my mother. She saw the news and he was the most dangerous rapper alive. Dangerous like the Stones had been for him. Snoop Dogg cds had been steamrolled and he was officially every parent’s nightmare. The warning was too late.
He taught me who Slick Rick was along with the dangers of violence. So his wacky BS goofy albums (looking at you Bush) actually make me angry while younger generations chuckle at silly ol’ Uncle Snoop. Who do you think wrote The Chronic?! That mind is still in there underneath that profitable persona. Coolaid is the return of that Snoop I love, the Top Dogg Snoop, the Blue Carpet Treatment Snoop where funny business is at a minimum.
On Super Crip he’s focused. Just Blaze served him the sharpest, cleanest, samurai sword of a West Coast banger and he reasserts himself “creepin’ through the fog and steppin’ through the smog” to do what Raekwon did with Cuban Linx 2; go out the way you came in; at your best.
The real exciting thing about this song is it upholds my hypothesis that Just Blaze is having the best 2016 of any producer. He’s not oversaturated by any means but he hasn’t been playing the background either. Freedom from Beyonce’s Lemonade (featuring Kendrick Lamar) is one of the years five most important beats (songs probably) and while Snoop’s Coolaid enlists a powerhouse cast of producers that includes Timbaland, Jazze Pha, Swizz Beatz, Daz Dillinger, J Dilla, Cardo, Notz no one gives Snoop a better beat. Super Crip is a gorgeous listen and much credit goes to Snoop for waking up from his giggly pimp cup stupor but it was probably the beat that woke him.
Mixtape Review-Summer on Sunset by Wale
The tastemakers (a relatively small group of middle aged white dudes) decided a long time ago to wash their hands of Wale. Post-backpacker he embraced more of the uncomfortable/odd/off-putting elements of himself. Going to Maybach Music allowed him to make weird (maybe weird isn’t strong enough) sex jokes and tie his brags into his artistic determination in a way that was more honest but uncomfortable for those who listened to his Mixtape About Nothing and wanted to freeze him in that space.
I only actually started liking Wale after MMG. He seemed to start owning himself in a more realistic way. It always appeared that Attention Deficit Wale wasn’t real but some leftover patched together Rawkus Records take on Gil-Scott Heron. His new mixtape Summer on Sunset showcases everything I love about the evolution of Wale. When a rapper makes a mixtape embracing the west coast sound it usually turns out pretty forgettable. You can sound very silly faking the funk on a faux-Mustard beat doing your version of a YG flow. It helps that this long mixtape has a narrative arc about him moving to LA that fits the sound. Wale manages a busload of different producers over seventeen tracks without selling himself short at all; add to that, the other busload of important guest rappers/singers and it’s a feat that Summer on Sunset doesn’t sound like a compilation. Lyrically the sharpest Wale will always be Ambition but flow and melody-wise it’s hard to expect more than he provides on Summer on Sunset. From the light finger snap cooing flow of Ms. Moon to (my favorite moment of the project) the triumphant sing along Its Too Late produced by Go Griz.
The easiest way to defend Wale as an artist is to say he’s more of an honest commodity than most. On the gorgeous G-funk smash Gangsta Boogie he brings Daz & Kurupt who just DOGG POUND the stuffing out of the song like they came from 1995. Amidst all this Wale keeps his head. He doesn’t make laughable threats, instead lacing a chorus where he admits he’s not gangster at all even rapping “not a gangsta really, never claimed it though, with all that money and fame why they so gangsta for?!” it’s an admission that all these super tough hardcore rappers you think are so authentic are filthy rich with accountants and personal assistants. They are powerful business people with gangster outfits on and you(the audience) can’t tell the difference. Wale incites anger because he’s dressed as he is, smug and successful, but that shouldn’t stop us from acknowledging his talent.
Even when Wale’s content isn’t deep or impressive he has such an impressive mastery over tone and flow that you can just enjoy Day By The Pool on the power of his delivery and the urgency of Squat AC Chann3l & Soufwest’s trampling beat. He’s gotten better at taking ownership over his hooks, and taking his singing seriously. As vapid as his content can seem, real emotion underpins a lot of these stories (see: Drunk & Conceited where he is bragging about dirty sex but so pathetic that he is kicked out by an Uber driver for being annoyingly hammered. It sounds like a brag until you realize it plays as real tragedy.) Summer on Sunset breezes by, full of easy listens bay area ratchet like Thought It featuring Joe Moses and Ty Dolla Sign over DJ Mustard; it is simply a super fun single. Publishing Checks is a darker turn into harder spitting which leaves you wondering if he could carry a full album of those kind of songs (I think he would do quite well). As not-givin-an-F as Publishing Checks is Paparazzi is a beautiful stroll where the melody carries but the lines stand out, real discussion on relationships and celebrity peek through. He even manages to match weird with Cam’ron, which is an impressive feat, by claiming on Bitches Like You to have “the lexicon of about eleven lucky leprechauns,” now try to forget that phrase.
With most mixtapes leading up to albums (working on an album called S.H.I.N.E.) we assume these are left overs. If Summer on Sunset is that album is going to be awesome! If they aren’t and he patched together seventeen songs on the side while working on his album…the result is quite impressive(and the album could be more so). Either way, I can’t tell you that Pitchfork will give him higher than a six on this next album BUT I’m anticipating something I will love.
Stream or download Summer on Sunset below:
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Tagged AC Chann3l, DJ Mustard, Dogg Pound, Go Griz, Joe Moses, Maybach Music, Mixtape About Nothing, mixtape review, MMG, Soufwest, Ty Dolla Sign, Wale