Contrasting The Unsatisfying with The Satisfying
From the first Kehlani song I heard I filed her into my head as an important person. She has world domination pipes and a real versatility to her. Her new album SweetSexySavage was built around her ability to dig into many moods and styles of R&B. She can give you a snarling stepping out of the ashes anthem in Crzy or get super radio friendly with a song like Advice. The savage end of the three part equation isn’t quite there but that’s fine. Even on a song like Do U Dirty where she is the cocksure mistress declaring intentions to do you dirty and that we should be worried….you won’t be. Kehlani doesn’t have the dangerous side someone like Rihanna has. If Rihanna said she was gonna do me dirty and that I should worry…I would be genuinely fearful of getting a lamp broken over my head or something.
Here is Kehlani Do U Dirty
If you get the deluxe edition of SweetSexySavage it is 18 songs where she is changing personas but keeping each song as big screen as it can be. Every song is a swing for the fences radio hit that nearly clears the ball park but falls in an outstretched glove. Kehlani is frantically getting dressed in different characters for the big dance, her debut album. By the time the limo gets here she is mismatched and trying too hard. It is not a bad album AT ALL. Lots of great stuff on it, but it is not satisfying.
Syd’s album Fin is another story. This is a side project from the lead singer of The Internet. They put out one of 2015’s best albums Ego Death. Fin doesn’t have nearly the stakes that Kehlani’s debut has or seek the pressure of radio domination. Fin is such a personable album with a beating heart right next to Aaliyah’s legacy. Know sounds like Aaliyah, like really does…which is something to say. So few things sound like Aaliyah. She is genuinely funny “If I go to hell hope all my B’s can visit (Nothin To Somethin’)” and impossibly personable cashing in on a mid-tempo groove with a mixture of gratitude for where she is, confidence as to what she can do, where she came from, and psychosis. She stews it so perfectly that while Kehlani forces her voice in every crevice of SweetSexySavage you can find yourself forgetting how special Syd is as a vocalist. She doesn’t go full Mariah but when she hits a beautiful moment it is striking (See: Smile More). The other times you are led by these incredible lines. My favorite song on Fin is All About Me which starts “I be more than a god in my dreams, it’s wishful thinking. I sleep more than I need to, I drink more on the weekend.” To sleep more than you need to so you can return to the dreamscape you rule which contrasts to what?! Well, I’m hooked.
Here is All About Me
Syd might be incredibly versatile as well but you get the idea that she doesn’t care whether it ends up that way. This is a side project that will be full of stuff SHE WANTS IN. “When I die my grave gon’ be my music, my soul is living through it.(All About Me)” and she says it just as casual as anything else. It’s why Fin feels so damn free.
Song of The Year-Ain’t It Funny by Danny Brown produced by Paul White
Atrocity Exhibition is a special album. I accidentally loaded it in my mp3 player twice and I have not corrected that. Whenever I listen I never skip songs. I listen to every one twice & it hasn’t been a problem. As well respected as it is critically it has the feeling of one of those albums that will appreciate over time to the point that it becomes historically significant. This era is known for drug addled depression but very few are contrasting that content with such exciting music. Very few rappers cut to the very heart of the subject the way Danny Brown does.
Ain’t It Funny is a perfect example; full of super frightening drug talk like “Nosebleed on red carpets but it just blend in, snapping pictures feeling my chest being sunk in, live a fast life seen many die slow. Unhappy when they left, so I try to seize the moment.” Danny Brown doesn’t offer a resolution merely the celebration of what little time he has. This album is a celebration of entropy produced by Paul White who did ten of the fifteen songs overall. White (A British producer who has worked w/ Open Mike Eagle, Charlie XCX and more) throws strange sounds in the mix (Is that a tuba?) and pushes the tempo. The weirder and more jagged the sounds the more comfortable our narrator becomes. As memorable as the posse track with Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, and Earl Sweatshirt (Really Doe) is I can’t get enough of all the short stabbing solo songs. Dance In The Water, Lost, Goldust and Ain’t It Funny (best of them all) none of these songs make it to the three minute mark. In fact, only Really Doe has the conventional feel of a rap song; with guests and a typical five minute length.
Atrocity Exhibition & Ain’t It Funny ,in particular, don’t feel like the start of a new era but the very best of this one. An album Kid Cudi must be playing on repeat.
Song Of The Year-Unconditional Love by Esperanza Spalding
Of all the potential large scale album productions we’ve seen from huge names across many genres only two 2016 albums resonate with me this year. Flatbush Zombies released the brilliant 3001: A Laced Odyssey with brazen insane verses, lots of interesting subject matter, and groundbreaking intelligent production. The other album I can’t get away from is Emily’s D+Evolution. I always thought of Esperanza Spalding as one of the clever types trying to take jazz and make it soul so she could be a real center-stage star(great bass player). Like everyone else I have more thoughts than knowledge to support them so she sunk my preconceptions on her new album.
The common ground between 3001 and Emily’s D+Evolution is both albums did what they wanted to do without feeling at all crowd-sourced or put together in the spirit of a bitching marketing campaign. Elevate or Operate is an insane song where she turns carnival music into brain warping melody and engaging lyricism. Her voice proudly carries Joni Mitchell in it, triggering that feeling of hearing how utterly different Joni was from anyone else.
Emily’s D+Evolution is still boldly jazz fusion but soul as well, folk in its determination and pop in the best sense of it. When it came out Prince hadn’t died yet but it made me think of him in its expanse of what it achieves and the confidence it maintains all the way through. It provides the best platform for her staggering talent. She could have made an album of cool dope funk tunes like Funk The Fear but Unconditional Love has that stop-what-your-doing vocal permanence to it. Just a simple lush loving song that lifts you whenever you hear it and Spalding could have cranked out a project of this kind of song; I would have supported that. Instead, she moved on to the next one and made it however she wanted and did it so well that she forced me to walk behind her on the journey. That’s always my best case scenario. I don’t want to make taste for anyone I just want ride with a confident driver.
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Tagged 2016 albums, 3001: A Laced Odyssey, album of the year, Emily's D+Evolution, Esperanza Spalding, Flatbush Zombies, jazz, jazz fusion, song of the year, Song Review, Soul
Song of The Year-The Season/Carry Me by Anderson Paak
When Drake first exploded onto the scene some interesting comparisons were made between him and Lebron James. The same way purist’s frothed venom as Lebron chomped on his fingernails on the sidelines; Drake felt like the cloying hip hop version. So much talent but in complete refusal to use it the way we all agreed you were supposed to use it.
In this way, Kendrick Lamar is very much the Steph Curry of modern hip hop. He’s created a quick passing well-oiled machine of deadly three point shooting in Golden State. TDE has put the accent on a real depth of verse, not in some sort of scientific way(a la GZA researching a verse for three weeks), but a real message. Not simply sharp imagery for its own sake or discordant thoughts and ideas dropped to fill the time, but concepts that unfold through authorship. That lane has been extraordinarily fruitful for a lot of artists who were already moving in that direction and now have ears checking for them. Ears taught by Kendrick and the gang.
Anderson Paak has been making very unique music for a while. Dr. Dre showcased him on the Compton album and now he has followed by signing to Dre and putting out Malibu. The Season/Carry Me is a strong bridge between rap and soul, not to mention a perfect example of what Paak can bring to the table. It snaps and snarls with sharp attitude and power, sonically and lyrically, “Ain’t sh#t changed but the bank statements, spent the summer in the rave with the beach babies, threw your jeweler in the buggy with the top down up PCH.” A strong sense of 2016 braggadocio shifts into a warm piano where he turns the steering wheel into mournful, reflective soul. The Kendrick effect allows for the content to cover so much more ground and expect the audience to keep the pace. Death, addiction, and fear all swim throughout the song (and album) in a subtle mix with the determination and prodigious abilities of Paak. The words are all important and challenging but the soul keeps you warm and taken care of.
Malibu is not laborious for the listener. It still goes down smooth as he transitions from first love to dead parent, this is how life is. We suffer, we win, we lose and not on some mastered train of thought. Instead, we navigate the great body of water that is everything. Holding up the heft of intellectual content and sharp confessional imagery is always the relief and beauty of soul done perfectly right. This is as much Frankie Beverly and Harold Melvin’s album as it is Kendrick’s. Everyone involved in producing the album was smart enough to know that the audience shouldn’t have to figure this out to enjoy it. This is why it’s my favorite album of the year; its dope no matter how much attention you pay it.
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Tagged album of the year, Anderson.Paak, Compton, Dr. Dre, Drake, Frankie Beverly, Kendrick Lamar, Lebron James, Malibu, Maze, Song Review, Soul, Steph Curry
EP Review-Coming Home To Texas by Leon Bridges and Mick
The most exciting thing about the Mick Boogie Leon Bridges Texas remake of Bridges album Come Home (now Coming Home To Texas) is that it proves how wonderfully durable this set of songs are. Bridges is wearing the revivalist tag and I’m not sure whether this project was his strike against that notion or hip hop’s.
Mick does an excellent job of lacing classic Texas hip hop beats behind Bridges, behind being a key descriptor. You always hear the clean crisp delivery of every word Leon says, you just also get a knocking beat and some guest verses behind it. Boy, are these guest verses interesting! Chi Duly produces the first two tracks, the album title track and the Bun-B assisted Better Man. Bun kicks off Better Man as the first voice with a blackout verse. I’m not sure if Mick found it in some unreleased gem bin or got a new verse. Either way Bun always makes it clear that he is more of a genius than you can understand. Chi Duly nails the thickness of each beat and these new versions don’t seem to impede on the original versions at all. They are welcome alternate versions.
The other important guest verse is Slim Thug on a bass blown Hasan Insane version of Brown Skin Girl. It’s got the perfect super slow slither that Thugga loves to move at. Slim Thug’s verse aligns with the theme of brown skinned girls so it seems new and when you think about all these talented producers(Donnie Houston, TedyP, Jett I. Masstyr, Chris Rockaway, Chi Duly, and Hasan Insane) and rappers(Slim Thug, Bun B) coming together to remake someone else’s album that project has to carry some weight.
Come Home won’t win anyone’s album of the year. That title is more political than most places will admit: one part music, one part drama, one part “what is everyone else saying is great?” Hip hop came together with Bridges because while the critical arm of the industry supports hip hop and R&B they have never supported Soul. You don’t read loving anniversary posts for The Stylistics debut album or The Chi-Lites albums from worst to best. Almost every important rapper and producer you can think of listens to that stuff CONSTANTLY. When Come Home came out a lot of hip hop heads breathed a sigh of relief….ahhhh here is an album I’ll be able to listen to for years and years. Coming Home to Texas and the last song (River) especially will link Soul and the hip hop you love in a way you may not realize was there.
Stream or download Coming Home To Texas below:
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Tagged 2015 albums, 2015 mixtapes, album of the year, Bun-B, Come Home, Coming Home To Texas, DJ Booth, Leon Bridges, Mick, Mick Boogie, Slim Thug, Texas hip hop
SOTY-Peace Akhi by KA (AOTY The Night’s Gambit)
The reason I loved KA’s 2012 lp Grief Pedigree is that he sounded like a war worn weary ex-criminal grandfather blazing street tale after street tale through visceral poetic imagery. If Grief Pedigree is the work of a retired street soldier, The Night’s Gambit is the work of a dark genius.
KA has produced all three of his albums and tweaked his sound each time, getting more adventurous with better vocal sample lead in’s. The bell tolling beat here is super sinister and He uses the metaphor of street life as a chess game not as a forced brag but to build intensity.
The real draw here for any hip hop fan is the lyrics and you have to listen for all the gems, here’s some examples from Peace Akhi: “This corners a stage with rage I go perform”, “my heart is never the question, I write hard phonetic aggression” “My art is parked in the medicine section,” “The mic and I are like staff and shepard.”
This song is so effectively spooky that I was genuinely creeped out on the first listen then I realized how rare that is when listening to rap. The Night’s Gambit doesn’t have a useless second on it and If you lament the name brand bag namecheck culture, the skinny jeans and Big Sean flow…this could be your solution. Don’t say that KA is a throwback, if anything, say he’s a top 5 lyricist and a self made artist.