My Favorite Album of 2019
How much do I love Jidenna? I’m not even worried about what drops in the rest of November and December. Bring Frank Ocean, Drake, bring a thousand Future features! None of it will replace the uniquely fly experience of listening to 85 To Africa. My excitement for his music might come from the fact that I never cared about Classic Man. I didn’t have him in my head as anything. First time I saw him work was when he torched his performance on Luke Cage. In 2017, he dropped The Chief and I think Pitchfork called him a “Versatile Dandy” which is the meanest compliment an English major is comfortable with.
The Chief is dope but it has a mix of songs. Some that are perfect 10’s (Trampoline, Bambi, Long Live The Chief) some that are darn good 7’s (Helicopters/Beware, The Let Out) while some are emphatically unimportant and you won’t ever come back to (last 2 songs). It got knocked for its unevenness but I always thought of it as the home run derby where the power hitter gets to flex. I was excited at what he was capable of doing.
85 To Africa doesn’t go from 10 to 7 to 4, every song is an 8.5 and you can let one song run into the next. Can’t go wrong with a triumphant intro featuring the words of the legendary Fela Kuti’s youngest son (Seun Kuti). Like a lot of the years best projects(Bandana, Kiwanuka,Anger Management, Retropolitan) this one is born from the synergistic relationship between producer and MC/singer. Nana Kwabena is listed as producer or co-producer on 10 of the 11 songs. He did 13 of 14 on The Chief. The flavor is even more consistent this time, dope artists growing together is fun. 85 To Africa decided to leave nothing extra. It is 41 minutes and out. Personality wise the album doesn’t care if you think the party is too loud. You might hear him talk about how he didn’t trust Morgan Freeman because of his earing (Babouche) or look at the cover or hear the powerfully catchy beats and think 1. This guy is trying too hard 2. These bars are too cute 3. He thinks he’s cool and I hate that.
I know he doesn’t care because the hottest Jidenna line of all time is “I don’t want my best dressed day in a casket.” He’s dedicated his time to feeling looking and living good in a way that makes him proud. On Tribe, he is espousing his crew but not in a waving guns at the other side sense. He’s flossing the culture, in the video he walks through rooms where games are played weights are lifted and he’s rapping about the varied “funky ways of dancing.” If the Cary Grant cool is too much then be gone and find someone less intimidating or more gritty to bump. Jidenna wants all the bright beautiful colors mixing because what is this all for if we aren’t appreciating the different shades? Not just skin or cultural background but of intellectual oddity, strength and essence. Strong shout out to DJ Burn One who also was involved in the utter head nod capacity of this beat. Five Points Music always.
The songs get prettier and prettier. Is it an escape, reading Rumi with a fly Sufi Woman? Comfortably falling asleep with her? Or heeding Jidenna’s voice as it echoes and the music stomps, shakes, and sweats on Pretty & Afraid. Thinking of it as an escape pre-supposes that the best music must suffer as the world does. It leaves suffering as the only part that’s real and paints all the smiling as a big cover up. Artificial light is bad for you but honest light replaces darkness with not just sight but clarity. If you make the suffering all that is real it is all you will have.
I hope I wasn’t the only one who sang loudly “Pop, I’m working all night JUST LIKE YOU!” as he walked us through his parents relationship (as well as his childhood) on Jungle Fever. I made fun of Pitchfork earlier but their review of this album ends with a begrudging acknowledgement that they are onto something. My 5th favorite album of this year is Burna Boy-African Giant which is monstrously catchy creative and fun Afropop in a similar sonic language. I know next to NOTHING about African music but I can see the shadow of a wave as it starts to break. Jidenna is calmly atop this one synthesizing the best parts of large sections of American and African music into something that is new and radio ready. Nana Kwabena and Jidenna have been looking for this balance since Classic Man and in 2019 they hit on its head. May their next move be their best move.
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Tagged 85 To Africa, African music, Afropop, best albums of 2019, Cary Grant, Classic Man, Dj Burn One, hip hop, Jidenna, Luke Cage, Nana Kwabena, reviews, Seun Kuti, The Chief
#BandcampGold-1990 by Amerigo Gazaway & Xiomara
I used to burn cd compilations of 90’s R & B. They were semi-notorious amongst my crew (Army stuff). I called the series “Booty Music” because the 90’s were the first decade where the music said what it meant. As richly political and social as 70’s R & B remains those guys could only say so much. Aside from Between The Sheets by The Isley’s the lens is big picture not hardcore sensual.
The new album 1990 nails what was so unique about that decade in the genre. The producer of all thirteen tracks is Amerigo Gazaway who is the master of mash-ups. If you know the careers of the artists he is mixing, he picks and matches up from deep within catalogs. This dude knows more about music than I ever will so it is a joy to learn from his new releases. I have never heard of West Coast singer Xiomara but she really hunkers down and provides beautiful delivery of very well written songs.
1990 does such a great job stretching out in all the trailblazing directions the decade explored. Some of the songs influences are quite clear. After the initial interlude we go right into a West Coast New Jack Swing tribute(Westside Swing). This is where I shout out Xiomara who shows herself to be surprisingly comfortable in different sonic environments. Her strong diction and clear vocal leadership hold everything together and keep this from being cheeky nostalgia. Bounce is a gorgeously blown kiss to the Timbaland/Missy/Ginuwine/Aaliyah explosion that tore music down and rebuilt it. SNL is still doing skits about the Pony beat. At the end it slows down into a DJ Screw pace and you realize again how damn good Gazaway is.
The best songs on the project aren’t as directly referential and are more powerful for it. That Old Alarm is one of the finest R & B songs in the genre this year. It knocks and is haunting at the same time building on weird strings and strong drums. Xiomara drifts overtop talking about getting a loved one out of her head, knowing that it will be hard but once it is done she will be able to move on “don’t come chasin’ after me/ ringing that old alarm.” Can’t Let Go is a groove that finds and holds you so tight that when the beat drops out Xiomara and friends giggle their way through a weed based parody of the chorus.
Both participants understand that 1990’s R & B was primal and personal at the same time. The beat found your guts and made YOUR BODY ALL OVER MY BODY make sense. Xiomara grounds the project with lyrics sung with ownership. It isn’t nostalgia in that pure sense, it is what Sharon Jones did for late 60’s Soul. These two breathe new life into the vessel containing what we loved to bring us closer to what it meant. Recommend this to ANYONE who ever loved this era in music. Somewhere Drake and 40 are BUMPING this.
Stream or download 1990 below:
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Tagged #BandcampGold, 1990, Aaliyah, Amerigo Gazaway, booty music, Ginuwine, Isley Brothers, Missy, reviews, Sharon Jones, Timbaland, Xiomara
Song Review-Bail Bond by Mozzy & Gunplay
The story of this partnership is an one for the history books. Gunplay is a top 5 all time rap crew guy. Fought all of G-unit by himself for the MMG team, went on the lamb came back dropped a great album. Truth is, he was never going to patiently wait for the rotation of major label push to go from Ross to Meek to Wale to him. So after an amicable exit (he still kills his guest spot on Port of Miami 2) he went West.
Mozzy works different. His beats are economically constructed West Coast slappers and he pumps out dope song after dope song. If your a fan you always have something new to chew on. Gunplay took to it like a man finally unleashed. The two have been pumping out GRIMY collaborative albums with lyrics so hardcore they can be stymieing. Bail Bond is the perfect table setter for 2019’s best GOON rap album (Chop Stixx & Banana Clips). When Gunplay said ” My dog gon’ tell you he done died three times/Over one bad bitch, a brick and three dimes.” I made a promise to myself if I ever meet Gunplay I have to ask him for that full story.
Both of these guys are old enough to know a hardcore life is hard to live. This isn’t a joyride through street cred. Both of them know prison like you don’t, know being hunted like you never will. Listening to them is not just great it is instructive. Mozzy can put you in the scene where they are yelling “free the team” while doing business with the enemies your locked up for riding on. The world leaves you cold and alone in lock up and even those who love you the most, move on. You lose something and I can never describe it because I haven’t lived it. Gunplay and Mozzy paint pictures so you can see the crook’s whole journey, not just the sentence.
Ranked Discography: Wale (album) edition
I saw Wale live in Boston in 2008 as the opener in a Rock The Bells concert that changed my wife’s relationship to hip hop forever. He did his song Nike Boots and explained the meaning of it before he performed it. The crowd was doing the festival opener thing, ‘It’s a long show and I don’t know this dude so I’m stocking up on drinks/food’. I was looking around as he performed saying “Why don’t they know how great this song is?!” Wale didn’t get sour or go half steam he was still great but that was the first time I thought…the crowd is taking him for granted. It’s become a recurring theme.
He dropped a new album on 10/11/2019 called Wow…That’s Crazy and it is EASILY the second best album he’s ever made. Doing a career breakdown of the DMV god is not easy since he is a pop rap heavyweight as well as a mixtape hall of famer. For now, I would like to give an updated ranking of his proper albums.
- Ambition (released 11/01/2011)-One of the five most authentically urgent hip hop albums I’ve heard in the last twenty years. By authentic it needs to be said that Wale is not a fake tough guy. Ambition is about focus, being locked in and refusing failure but he doesn’t pretend murder or drug deal in order to do it. As he says in Double M Genius “The remedy is get your hustle on.” Wow…That’s Crazy is about finding comfort within yourself and ,on the other end of that, joy. Ambition is gritted teeth and tense muscles bubbling over with the burning passion to be the literal best. Miami Nights is still a fun song about living luxurious and Lotus Flower Bomb is every inch the radio hit you remember but every other song flexes a relentless drive for achievement. My favorite lyrical achievement of his career is every word of the song Legendary. “It’s something to be great. It’s nothing to be famous.” “My only fear is mediocrity.” It is a song (and by extent an album) of flow pushed to the limit, bars that honestly admit he has growth to do and seeks nothing else but to do it. “This is anti-Mark McGwire: it takes patience for power.” It would take a lot for Wale to push beyond Ambition but the wildest thing about Wale is you can never find his ceiling, so it could happen.
- Wow…That’s Crazy(released 10/11/2019)-I love this album as much as I hate the title. It distills all of the important themes of Wale’s albums and presents them thoughtfully while having fun. On his first album he had songs like Shades about beautiful black women on Wow…That’s Crazy he makes BGM and turns his love into an anthem. He still says devastating things like “Showbusiness will never love you the way you love it (Sue Me).” Which point to the frustration we know he’s been through but he navigates the content with a confident looseness and dexterity. The features are bonkers from Bryson Tiller, Kelly Price, Ari Lennox, Boogie, Meek Mill, Jacquees, Megan Thee Stallion, 6lack, Jeremih. It is the greatest collection of R & B features on a 2019 rap album bar none. The album is about letting go of the anxiety related to perception of him. That balloon on the cover has crazy written on it and he’s watching float away. Not that he’s finally found a way to feel fulfilled as a fly, mentally ill, smacktalker but he’s closer than he’s ever been and his craft is on another level.
- The Album About Nothing(released 03/25/2015)-Wale is a brilliant dude. Like every one of those I’ve known his thoughts easily scatter. It’s no accident his top three albums all express a definite composed theme. They can be considered concept albums if you want. It’s a track for his train of thought to ride on that pulls together all the threads of what he wants to discuss and Seinfeld is a wonderful mechanism for that (Best SZA feature of her career on The Need To Know).
- The Gifted(released 06/25/2013)-Pitchfork gave this a 5.1, Spin a 6. We were all confused. We heard The Dap-Kings mentioned and thought live instrumentation would give birth to a catchy loving soul-rap album. If you let go of all that and listen on the albums own terms it’s very good. Wale smashes a top notch Just Blaze beat on 88. Drops a mean trap paced collab with Wiz and 2 Chainz (Rotation). As a Wale album it’s very well organized and hits that nice range from pop hits (Bad remix or regular with Rihanna or Tiara Thomas) to nasty rap club jam (Clappers with Nicki Minaj & Juicy J). We all thought he was going to do a John Legend with The Roots type thing but that wouldn’t have made any sense for his skill set.
- Shine(released 04/28/2017)-I was very down on Shine when it came out. Upon relisten…some good stuff on there. Scarface Rozay Gotti is hardcore headnod music, Mathematics is ill, Running Back with Wayne is fire. The problem: the music isn’t unified enough within structure that allows it to become a single story. Fashion Week and Fish N Grits just don’t belong on the same album together.
- Attention Deficit(released 11/07/2009)-This one holds a special place for some people and I want to respect that. This is not who Wale was meant to be. Attention Deficit is who the underground ,he had trafficked in to that point, wanted him to be. Too many jazzy boom bap beats that just aren’t enough. Wale was meant for pop rap chart stardom. The backpack sound of Mama Told Me or Contemplate is not what he isn’t his canvas. He stretched into trap, African musical influences, MMG luxury rap, R & B and it jarred the audience that loves this album. Every artists dream is to break through their high points so that their best work is their new work. Wale’s growth has come in Savage strides that are not always easy to keep up with (See The Gifted). If Attention Deficit is your favorite because of where you were in your life when you heard it- hold that and enjoy it. If we are being clinical- he outgrew this one.
My wife found out I had been living in Wale’s discography to research this piece and remarked “I didn’t know you liked Wale…like THAT.” Before he dropped Wow…That’s Crazy I may not have known how dedicated to his development I’ve been over the past eleven years. I really believe the longer his career goes the more history will vindicate him. He’s shown a clear desire to sharpen his skills through hard work and his skills are profound at this point.
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Tagged Ambition, Attention Deficit, best albums of 2019, DMV, Maybach Music, MMG, Ranked Discography, Shine, The Album About Nothing, The Gifted, Wale, Wow...That's Crazy
Song of The Year-Blue Trash by The Dead South
The Dead South are Canadian Bluegrass. If you’ve ever listened to Bluegrass you know that the instrumentation is at the core of its success. Everything grows out of the rhythm and dexterity the banjo and the bass establish. The Dead South add gloriously to that tradition. Erik Mehlsen is basically the Lebon James of Cello. The lyrics that Nate Hilts sings on their new album ,Sugar & Joy, are stranger than Richard Nixon’s ghost. The groups fourth project is named after a lyric from the song Fat Little Killer Boy about a cannibal kid baking people into cakes. The group has been around since 2012 crafting this sound and Sugar & Joy marks the transition where they went to Muscle Shoals and did whatever felt good. They took what was already weird and spackled it with more weird.
Blue Trash comfortably navigates three different paces. I used the song to explain musical tempo to my six year old son. You can’t miss it. Trust me, if you read this blog I know your playlist doesn’t have a lot of banjo in it but lucky for all of us a little goes a long way. Just listen to Blue Trash a few times and see if your not singing along and looking for more songs. Sometimes it takes seven years to find the quintessential album that nails a bands mission statement but Sugar & Joy does. Let this music drive you like it does them and we’ll all stay alive together for a short while.
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Tagged banjo, Blue Trash, Bluegrass, CANADA!, Canadian Bluegrass, child cannibals, Folk, song of the year, Sugar & Joy, Sugar and Joy, tempo, The Dead South
Track Breakdown: Time Machine Edition-A.D. 2000 by Erykah Badu
The public perception of Badu has always been that she is nuts. She dates important musicians and messes up their heads. I have to be honest…her discography is full of songs that make perfect sense to me. She’s weird but I’m weird and the public isn’t great at keeping a safe space for us. Her second album ,Mama’s Gun, was released November 21, 2000. It must have seemed like an especially odd album because that is the same month Creed was charting unironically. The music on the charts was easy to figure out: Aguilera fit a mold perfectly, Britney Spears and N’Sync were branded within an inch of their lives. An audience looking for simple icons must have thought Badu certifiable. Only one other album in 2000 can be considered a partner to Mama’s Gun and that’s D’Angelo’s Voodoo. Both albums use a genre usually considered comforting in order to throw complex conversations at the listener.
I was definitely 20 years old and in the United States Army. We spent a lot of time going places and hiding from work that didn’t need to be done. I remember being in the Mojave desert in August under a Hummer (for shade) listening to Voodoo and Mama’s Gun. While stationed at Fort Hood I got a crash course in the levels of Southern Hip Hop (before it took over the world). My best friend was from SouthEast Atlanta and preached Dungeon Family, Kilo Ali, and Badu.
The world was so different once I picked up the language. Erykah Badu has forever after been my Neo-Soul Fiona Apple. While most major artists are hungrily announcing or pursuing accomplishments A.D. 2000 questions the nature of success. Not every Badu song is fancy poetry. Orange Moon (as an example) is just a pretty song about love. She always worked with the best musicians, the guitar-work on A.D. 2000 is light and precious and forms a groove that doesn’t resemble the hi-hat driven sound of Bag Lady or the horns dancing on Booty. Every song adds the ingredients differently. The music has to sound free in order for Badu to actually love it.
A.D. 2000 is a chant. She is really good at chants. “No you won’t be naming no buildings after me…to go down dilapidated. No you won’t be naming no buildings after me. My name won’t be misstated.” She says it over and over with very good reason. We all should. Don’t ever ever be under the impression that having a building wear your name is a huge benefit to your name. Your name should be more important than any building. You should make it that way. Paint with all the colors because you don’t have lots of time and the world is changing. Don’t ever let your name be misstated misapplied or mishandled. Guard it like Badu or Tom Waits does.
Mama’s Gun is not known as her classic. If anything, people think of it as her almost classic. Baduizm (her debut album) is supposed to be THE ONE but it never hit me as hard. We used to put A.D. 2000 on and freestyle while her voice rang in the background and the stereo set to repeat. No matter where she fits in the history of the music she has been my umbrella when the world rains down. She knows what’s important and uses her fears to focus on those things.
I remain thankful to live the rest of my life within the lessons contained in this songs chorus.
Song Review-Same As by Marc E Bassy featuring Mozzy
Marc E Bassy cannot become a pop star with pop songs. I’ve heard every project he’s ever made including his new independent album PMD. When he makes pop songs they don’t have any character and feel like they could have been written or performed by any number of people. For PMD examples try Save Me or Drip. These songs aren’t bad unless you think he’s cheesy and that is a personal taste line hard to legislate. They’re just…a lot like everything else in the genre. The more specific Marc E Bassy gets, the more Californian he sounds, the more fascinating he is. On Same As he talks about 40 ounces and fist fighting at red lights, listening to Stevie Wonder and struggling with growth. His nostalgia is specific and ties into characteristics he hasn’t managed to improve upon. His voice is (and has always been) butter but here it feeds into Mozzy’s listless monotone like the two belong together.
The crazy thing: Mozzy is a perfect example of how not to struggle with content or stardom. Mozzy does Mozzy and his fans love it. He works quickly, efficiently, doesn’t doubt himself and always has something new out that knocks. This has sharpened his sword to the point where he sounds great on a love song like Same As where other hardcore rappers would fail. He outworks the majority.
This song carried me back to an all-timer called Back In The Day by Ahmad off The Wood Soundtrack. The imagery pulls me in and sends me off into my own history. Every time I wonder if following Marc E Bassy project-after-project has paid proper dividends he gives me a song like Same As and I am back in!
CATCH THIS THROWBACK!!!