The Vulnerable Layer
A lot of old school hip hop heads do a fair (or unfair) amount of complaining about pink hair tight pants and tattoos. These new kids on drugs trap beats and repeating words over and over again…are a much smaller percentage of hip hop than you might think.
I noticed this last year. Youngboy Never Broke Again dropped an incredible project called A.I. Youngboy with all the bounce and flavor of a great New Orleans Hip Hop album and has been following it ever since with searingly personal content. The mixtape that followed was called Ain’t Too Long and wasn’t nearly as fun but instead presented a Boosie level of personal introspection and meditation on loss. He has continued that on his long and very good Until Death Call My Name. At the same time from the well watched streets of Chicago Lil Durk dropped Love Songs For The Streets and it wasn’t weird at all. Durk had begun the year before that drawing the camera lens closer and closer to his actual life friends and troubles, creating a relationship with his fans unlike any other young Chicago MC. That is really what stood out about this in 2017. These two are young! Durk is 25 Youngboy is 18 and they are opening up on tracks in ways we are not used to seeing from mainstream hardcore rap hungry young mixtape people.
This year has compounded the trend. Two very good albums that traffic in staggeringly personal content from rappers born in the mid to early 90’s have dropped. The most recent is from the production mind of The Internet, one of the best groups in hip hop. After the shockingly great 2017 Syd had I was prepared for how good Patrick Paige II Letters of Irrelevance could be or at least I thought I was. The more I relisten to it the more I shake my head at the intelligent design of it. The first song is called The Best Policy where Paige declares his problems with adulthood, his abiding desire to speak the unfettered truth and it sets the stage for what he is able to accomplish. The sonic landscapes shift with a sure hand and dazzling accuracy as we go from a perfect D’Angelo recreation (Voodoo) to a slapping great time with G Perico and Sareal (on Get It With My N’s). All the while if you listen he parses real truth of his topics. The end of the album makes it unignorably resonant. His Ode to Inebriation says “I don’t need a glass man F#$* a flask drink it in just what I bought it in just like my Dad” in a tone so heartfelt and angry that it is awkward and rewarding. You watch him deal with his demons and did I mention that the song after that (The Last Letter) is to his dead Mother?
Letters of Irrelevance just came out 05/18 it will no doubt grow on me over the months to follow. The project that has come into my top 5 albums of the year through the sheer force of its personality (released in April) is Saba-Care For Me. Saba deserves all the credit in the world for devastating lyrical work from tales of his uncle on Life to savvy intellectual critique of the music industry on Grey and possibly the best lyrical song of the year in track 9 Prom/King. In seven minutes and thirty one seconds he weaves an albums worth of content together and it’s not just pain. His pen paints friendship hormones nervousness unexpected calamity and everything in between. Its life in one song and while Prom/King stands out the other songs carry a similar weight. The other people on Care For Me that deserves a ton of credit are the musicians, great bass play, guitar work and subtle keyboard work that never overload the canvas allowing Saba to flourish and deliver on the promise of his last release Bucket List Project.
If someone tells you these new kids are trash ask them if they have heard Noname, Smino, Saba, Patrick Paige II, Isiah Rashad, Kamaiyah, and the list grows everyday. This is not a generation with a lack of artistic perspective or want to experiment it is an industry that gives you what they know how to make over and over for fear deviation will cost MONEY. So if you want depth pay for it. You’ll see more of it become visible and that necessary vulnerability will nourish your playlist.
Patrick Paige II-The Last Letter
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Tagged Aint Too Long, Care For Me, hip hop, Letters of Irrelevance, Lil Durk, Love Songs For The Streets, NBA Youngboy, next generation hip hop, Patrick Paige II, rap albums 2018, Saba, Syd, The Internet, Until Death Call My Name, young rappers, Youngboy Never Broke Again
#Bandcampgold-Veib by Shane Reis & God Damn Chan
From the stage Shane Reis has the authority of the most important guy in the properly humming kitchen of a restaurant. His music has always carried that ceaseless Joe Frazier energy: moving forward, finding optimal positioning, and getting off his best shots no matter what touches him or how hard. So the full length collaboration between Shane and God Damn Chan was destined to be interesting not just for the art but the force of will on display.
Chan has moved away from Maine (where Shane, the lobsters, and I reside) to L.A. but I still refer to him as the Swizz Beatz of Maine. He clicks together elements that fit, turns the volume as high as it can go (while remaining clean as a whistle) and when it’s done it’s done. Chan knows what he does and who he is. Both of these gentleman know exactly what they do well and manage to steaily put that in the foreground while they improve on the rest in the background experimenting and evolving, challenging what you came for by adding to it with showing any risk.
The bandcamp description says that while on tour they were soaking in Damn & 4:44 aiming for their own shot at cohesive timelessness. This is why Veib works on three different levels. If you just want to press play bump your head and not think go to track four (Tell Somebody!) and you’ll recognize the stinging gnarled Gangstarr boom bap and screwface headnod as Shane matter of factly beats the track like a speedbag. If you are invested in the journey and the mood the music conveys you are in for a treat. On JonSnow (IWantIt) an off kilter beat (that sounds like it has a harp sample) allows Shane to charm away in as refreshingly non-creepy a fashion as you can find in rap. He says “She’s a downer and an upper for real. I mean I’m in it if she lets me. She’s next level sexy.” Even amidst his most triumphantly authoritative declarations his sexy song has a clear “boy I hope she calls back!” excitement to it that is refreshingly human. He’s a hard nosed dude who has made the choice not to be a dick about it.
The third level of analysis on Veib is where I get in the weeds. My favorite thing about relistening to it is not how remarkably clean, cohesive, and different it sounds from any rap album in the state(or region). My favorite thing about relistening is catching the moments when Shane pretends to give his audience life lessons about maintaining your soul and who you are when in fact he is repeating this mantra to himself. I’m not talking about providing hot lines (if you want them you can have them see IKnowUKnow for “I never met a king, I never met a god but if I did it was living under the devil’s law.”) First mantra example is from TheVeibOfIt “Relax your mind and be who you want to be. Man, who cares what they think? If your you and that’s cool then that’s who they want to be…damn what a concept?” It’s framed as a volley sent at the countless who are losing themselves in fabricated expectations losing their own truth and by itself it could be seen that way. Add to it Witches Brew first verse “Try to keep up with the times but can’t find the time tho, too much social media $*&^ and I do it like you do but you don’t read to your kids ma dude.” Having kids is being terrified to disappoint them; it is learning how to catch as many balls as you can from mid air and only let the ones drop you can afford to. Keeping your artistic character together as you get bigger and bigger is similar, compromises must be made. If you worried I am stretching to make a point listen to We Don’t Care when he says “I’m not sold although they bought it, bought it doesn’t mean a lot. Earning often dreams a lie. And if the star players a bum, what kinda team they got? If you tell me you are then it probably means you’re not. Underdog forever, I pawed my way through steeper plots.” It is all right there, I will not lose even though everyone does. If you dig deep enough Veib isn’t chill at all. It’s the Friday rush during the holidays and the restaurant is earning like it never has before. We are the new kid doing the dishes and after peaking out at the jammed crowd and busy hosts/hostesses we turn to that dude who runs the kitchen who we count on to set the pace. We ask “What the hell are we going to do we aren’t staffed for THIS!”
He turns and says what Shane does on OrangeCrushGroove “Life’s a bitch but I’ve chose not to mistreat her.”
stream or download Veib below:
P.S. Track 11 Say Nothing has my favorite feature Kenya Hall who is an absolute treasure. Her album Learning For Miles v. 1 from 2010 is one of the must hear albums in the history of the Maine music scene. I could say more about her and the absolutely gripping ideas about racism Shane discusses on the song but I may have written too much already. Its great she is great. More Kenya Hall.
Mixtape Review-Doll Szn by Asian Doll
The intro track (Doll Szn Intro) on the mixtape Doll Szn does a spectacular job establishing who Asian Doll is for anyone coming late to the party. Immediately after you press play she vents and tears away the preconceptions you may bring to this music. She knows a large portion of sour folks are sucking their teeth muttering “She sounds like Nicki…” as if that is an adequate insult. In a minute and thirty five seconds she tears all of that away, distancing herself from the backstabbing rat race female MC’s are put on. Then it is time for the music.
Queen of Nightmares is a sparse piano beat she absolutely demolishes before and after the beat beefs up and the bassline tramples in. She goes in for two minutes straight before you realize this has no hook. She catches bodies like she’s been working out and gets a dudes beard off her dress. If you’ve never heard Asian Doll before and want to know if she can really spit, track 2 resolves that. When she uses her voice for singing it works out very well. Her chorus on Lose You is well done and never interferes with her bars.
I’ve listened to Doll Szn every day for a week and never got tired of it. The track sequencing is right on the money. After the sing-rap-single feeling Lose You, track 5 is Clout which could be a more rave friendly Three Six Mafia song. Doll has a modern flow that bounces melodically but she has gears and can move at different speeds. The harder the beat smashes the more electricity crackles out of her on every bar. Arm Froze is positively fantastic with a hook that sticks and a vocal performance in the verses that moves as effortlessly and impressively as the chorus.
My favorite single line in Doll Szn (and verse) is the very beginning of Miami as the Cash Money Mannie Fresh pacing of the beat pushes her she says “ever seen a real B*%^ that rub your nuts and hold a Mac clip?!” The mental image is one my brain had never conjured before and whenever that happens no matter the subject matter you have to give credit where credit is due. MC’s are not scientists they are entertainers so their goal is to remain important all the time. From the more radio friendly stuff like Lay Up to the very last song she is vitally important. That last song is called Savage Barbie and it is one of the very best of 2018. The beat radiates beneath her and she rides it with unruffled resolve. This is her sixth mixtape so you might be assuming she should have already marshalled her talents with this level of poise but that is not how it works. Ask Charles Hamilton. In a year of very unimpressive mixtapes Doll Szn stands out as a rock solid calling card from someone who just wants to work and get better so when she gets a chance for the whole world to look she’ll be a thousand percent ready.
Stream or download Doll Szn below:
Where did this Donald Glover come from?
After he hosted and musical guested on Saturday Night Live an enormous new audience checked into Childish Gambino for the first time unaware of the journey his music has gone on since 2008. Lots of people have heard the name Childish Gambino (aside from Glover and his acting career) and may associate it with music that sucks. “Is that the guy with all the references and the jokes and the self-pity?” Yes and no.
If you are one of the thirty seven million people that hit youtube and marveled at This Is America you may be wondering where this iteration of Childish Gambino came from. Having listened to Gambino since Culdesac I can answer.
In 2014 Gambino went about resolving his central problem: rapping v. singing. He had the technical ability to do well at both but the path to mixing the two wasn’t as clear as it was for Drake or others whose singing style synced up with their flow naturally. The idea was to give both talents an audition. Datpiff would get a mixtape of straight rap with the best beats (you can still find it on datpiff.com) & his follow up would be an R & B ep called Kauai. STN MTN is a fun mixtape with a lot of downloads/streams on datpiff but it ain’t Kauai.
The secret weapon for Glover has been Ludwig Goransson who has produced all of his work (alongside Glover). Their partnership has grown over the years (recently Ludwig did the Black Panther soundtrack) and Kauai was THE turning point.
The seven song ep did not light the charts on fire but confirmed that if Glover was to make music it needed to be grounded in something. He wasn’t going to be able to do what Future or Gucci Mane do and pump out the jams. All the songs on Kauai exist in a place and a moment that Glover uses as the setting. It’s specific to the Hawaiian environment. All throughout the drum sounds and synth have a uniquely tropical bend, and if you are wondering if I am projecting this onto the music just listen to the ocean break and the seagulls sing background on the Beach Picnic Version of V. 3005. In order to get himself in a place where he could create a radio friendly world beating song like Sober he has to have that setting and paint the foreground once it is there. Ludwig understood after Kauai that the setting was his work. That is why Awaken, My Love turned out so well and Camp is still not good.
Please listen to Kauai below:
The strange addendum to this is I’m not sure why after learning how different his creative process needed to be in order to succeed he decided he had to retire after this next album. He’s just cracked the code and now has the pull post-Atlanta post-SNL to do exactly whatever he wants. Why stop now?
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Tagged Awaken My Love, Black Panther, Camp, Childish Gambino, Donald Glover, Kauai, Ludwig Goransson, Saturday Night Live, singing v. rapping, STN MTN, This is America
Song Review-Mi Encanta by Husalah
I love the new Husalah album H the way I love watching Jason Statham carve through the world in Transporter 2. It is a lot of fun and more than a bit silly. He says bitch four or five times more than is logistically manageable (to say nothing of the long ethical debate) . He brags in ways that are so outlandish they are outstanding. Mi Encanta is the absolute height of giddy post-hyphy insanity. I wish I could find production credits the beat is amazing, the chorus is chanted very seriously in Spanish. The first verse is the stuff of legend. Husalah’s first spoken line after the chorus is “my life consists of getting kicks off, I get my kicks off soon as your wife sees me she tries to pull my dick off.” This leads into the line I ran around imitating for days after this album came out. He says “Husalah been out selling cocaine since I was a baby! Ask your bitch about me bitch I’m beautiful and gorgeous guns enormous.” The way in which he joyously extends out the words baby, gorgeous, and enormous just adds to the comical fantastitude of this cartoonishly unbelievable brag. The production is top notch Nuevo slap that kicks the energy up at all the right times and never falls below a Cadillac groove (the most Cadillac groove on H is Million Miles ). I could talk about how fun Husalah is for a long time but Mi Encanta is exactly what I needed in 2018. The charts are a post-apocalyptic landscape littered with sad junkie rap and overly righteous college kids talking down to their audience. Mi Encanta is bay area bounce with a Roger Corman movie attitude and an undeniable breath of fresh air.
Mixtape review-Drunken Babble by Kalie Uchis
It is possible I have fallen so hard for Kali Uchis music because of her diction. I think her diction is better than mine has ever been in the 3,849 years I’ve been on this planet (long story). In 2012 she released the mixtape collection Drunken Babble produced by her on a Macbook with the Garageband app. Her talents unravel well beyond her Jhene Aiko phone sex voice. She takes hip hop beats and makes them go at her pace (example: Chimichanga) or switches up and just spits bars (example: Mucho Gusto). The same voice who can stop the world with her pitch perfect slow soul vocals on songs like T.Y.W.I.G. & Table For Two has really sneaky strange things to say. On Mucho Gusto she says “my body’s polluted but it’s all I got” her first spoken words out of the chorus on You Just Wanna Stay is “I woke up feelin’ Kinda OCD/If you’re feelin’ touchy don’t get close to me.” Her perspective is old/new/cool/frantic and the styles she pursues make sense for that. She nails a reggae performance on Payday without affecting any cheap imitation of what we expect to hear. Kali knows to lead you through her music she has to find whatever she is doing within herself. So it works because it still sounds honest as much her as the jaunty low rider banger Sunset. Some of these songs are two minutes others are a full three each piece is a fragment sewn into the quilt another flavor from the mind of someone very rich in musical purpose with an instrument at hand (her voice) she has the utmost faith in. It will hold true against any musical backdrop so she might as well throw it as many places as it can go. I don’t need to wish her success, after listening to Drunken Babble I’m just excited to watch her success unfold.
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