During this massive isolation sentence that tests our minds and wills our economy has been temporarily gutted. Comic book stores are closing, bars with great ambiance are screwed, and artists can’t tour. The release of a full project is supposed to lead neatly into a tour(the primary method of pay since streaming pennies aren’t paying mortgages). Most musicians aren’t dropping the album they worked the hardest on at a time they can’t follow it with a tour, so they are holding back. At the same time, we are a captive listening audience hungering for new stuff to listen to. What this has created are sampler releases to prime our listening appetites for the bigger release later (Drake just did this with Dark Lane Demo Tapes). The projects below really stuck out to me as more than worthy of your time.
Smino-She Already Decided
Smino is confusing. He knows it. In that blissful post-Blkswn period I called him The Walking Hook. Every time he started speaking It sounded like the chorus but also slick and smart like his cohorts Saba and Noname. His follow up album Noir exposed a penchant for oddly constructed sex imagery. The project didn’t feel as personally grounded as Blkswn. She Already Decided is sixteen songs of the man stretching out and doing whatever he wants without any expectations (It’s a mixtape available for free on Smitransfer.com). It starts with him singing about smoking weed over the Isley Brothers. At the end of it he rambles “it’s all about getting’ these ideas out.” Sometimes that’s exactly what an artist like Smino should do. Rap over Three 6 Mafia Chickenhead for a minute and thirty four seconds. Flip the bird at everyone who tells you to sing more rap less or rap less sing more and flex all your muscles. Hearing him on the Klink remix with T-Pain clarified that I had put him in the wrong category before. He’s not meant to backpack for truth all the time, he’s silly…not as silly as T-Pain but comparable. When you hear the explanation that the title of the project is not about any particular woman but “mother night deciding” you know this is something he smoked to and if you do that you should to. In the process I hope he found his next direction.
Niko Is-Good Air
Even the best producer and artist collaborations eventually hit the problem of keeping-it-fresh head on. Once you get in a groove you can find yourself four or five albums deep, realizing how similar they all are. This problem is as certain as Death, Taxes, and my ugly feet but the pairing of Niko Is and Thanks Joey haven’t even encountered it yet. They’ve been working together for years and years (I first heard them together on the fantastic 2012 project Chill Cosby). They are still bouncing off the walls finding new directions. As much as I loved the song Cocoa on the spacious 2018 experience Uniko the Afrobeat version here pushes the energy into an entirely new direction (and adds twenty seconds or so). The recurring character of Insta girl, addressed in robot voice throughout, is a good-natured way for our author making fun of how hopelessly self-involved and seeking affirmation the world is. It’s hard to pick a favorite song from this collection because Niko remains the Hunter Thompson of this rap shit: aggressively thoughtful, random and absurdly skilled. Ms. Understood is a really suave “What’s up for tonight?” song. Don Juan could get a crowd at any sports arena hype enough to have security sweating. It’s meant to be played live as he sprays the crowd with champagne. Uncle Charles is a freestyle mastermind ripping and flowing, plucking just the right Bone Thugs line to tie it all together. If I was pressed for the height of Good Air it is the song Allah That. Since Niko can do anything Joey throws everything at him, this beat shifts and manifests new levels phasing into different instrumentation settling for Narcy as he delivers a screwface best verse but right as he finishes the orchestration swells again and the partnership breeds both the vibe and the bars together with no separation. Just like they have been doing for almost a decade but totally different, utterly unpredictable. You can feel the sun shining on this music.
Kali Uchis-To Feel Alive
Not just an incredible raw talent in terms of vocal performance but a natural conceptualizer. Kali Uchis makes vastly different kinds of songs that never stray from her voice and persona. To Feel Alive is a four song check in with those of us that loved her last album, Isolation, so hard. Honey Baby (Spoiled!) floats hypnotically and then the bass drops half way through. At two minutes and four seconds this is not the final version and I need to hear that. Angel is a great vibe track where she stays breathy and full of the desire she’s articulating. Kali is not one of those pleasant sex stars who blandly pumps out the songs you expect. On I want war (BUT I NEED PEACE) we get some of the bite on her verses that makes her so unique over a propulsive beat she drives with ease. This song starts:
“Time too precious and my patience thin
My mind and my soul is the weapon
And every failure was a lesson
It’s time to stop blocking these blessings”
On the title track she says “I love the smell of you burning your last bridge with me.” I can’t wait for more Kali Uchis. Her themes and song types are as varied as her production. It’s why so early in her career she can boast collaborations with Tyler The Creator and Bootsy Collins.