#Bandcampgold-Kiwanuka by Michael Kiwanuka produced by Danger Mouse
An albums first song needs to put you squarely in their world, so the rest of the songs can expand it. Think about how important it is to start Eric B & Rakim’s Paid In Full with I Ain’t No Joke. My go-to favorite first song-off-an-album this year was Cuz I Love You by Lizzo. It really sets the table for the boisterous heartfelt ride your about to go on. You Ain’t The Problem might actually have it beat. You Ain’t The Problem starts with the tambalas, drums certainly but not the kind you may have been expecting. You hear a crowd a woman laughing and the music really kicks in. We don’t actually hear Michael Kiwanuka until one minute twenty two seconds into the song. When the voice comes he is singing in sharp bursts to meet the pace of the music. When he says “Don’t hesitate, time heals the pain, you ain’t the problem…” it’s as soulful as the songs he is known for but this time it’s groovy fuzzed out and moving. Kiwanuka builds on the advancements made by Danger Mouse and Michael Kiwanuka on 2016’s collaboration Love & Hate. The sonic background is dense, as an example, Rolling moves as fast as the first song; thick with handclaps tamborine bass and guitar. You have to think of Michael Kiwanuka as both the author and the instrument. Danger Mouse’s job is to challenge the instrument.
What makes it one of the best albums of the year is that somehow it’s complications manage to feel simple. A lot of post-Ocean R & B is daring to be daring. You can feel new sounds and ideas being hurled into songs where they normally wouldn’t be and it doesn’t always work. As a singer, Michael Kiwanuka has a voice that is clean and clear. His songwriting matches. His songs sound essential rather than attempted. Famous producer, super nerd, and great twitter follow Young Guru once spoke of him as the new Bill Withers and I think that really is his best comparison. He makes everything clear.
If your Danger Mouse and you have access to that unique an artist…why not brew these songs as advanced as you can…as thickly orchestral as they allow? The voice will always be there to keep the listener on track. That being said, when things slow down its really beautiful. Piano Joint (This Kind Of Love) is an amazing heartbreak song that benefits from its intro.
I’m not giving Danger Mouse credit for Kiwanuka (the album or the dude) I loved Home Again when it dropped in 2012. I’m giving him credit for shifting him from automatic to stick shift and putting them both in charge of the different gears.
Kiwanuka is the best pure R&B/Soul album this year. The crescendos of instruments mixing with background singers that give way to the single brooding voice of our narrator on Living In Denial take their place in the history of music. At fifty one minutes and thirteen seconds with fourteen tracks, the average length of song is about a minute and a half longer than your supposed to provide in 2019. Kiwanuka is not consciously bucking conventions; Hero is certainly a radio friendly song and You Ain’t A Problem as well as Rolling are danceable. The great albums set their own tone and make you adjust. Whether it fits in the musical landscape or not. The day it came out a friend of mine texted me saying simply “This Kiwanuka is special.” I can’t find a better way to sum it up.
Stream or purchase below:
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 hip hop, reviews, Dj Burn One, Jidenna, The Chief, best albums of 2019, 85 To Africa, Seun Kuti, Cary Grant, Afropop, African music, Nana Kwabena, Classic Man, Luke Cage
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-Shake It by Charli XCX featuring Big Freedia, Cupcakke, Brooke Candy and Pabllo Vittar
Without question XCX is my favorite pop entity. She is as dedicated to what was considered tawdry or profane as she is dance pop. As a creator she greatly enjoys lulling you into a trance and breaking that trance whether through jarring feature, insane production, or weird hook.
Her talent is the kind that can recognize other talent and enhance it. She gave hits to Iggy Azalea, Camila Cabello, Selina Gomez and more. Her pen is restless. On top of albums she pumps out loosies that bang as hard as any lead single (See: After The Afterparty featuring Lil Yachty). No one at her level of exposure could put Freedia and Cupcakke on a track comfortably with no fear of getting owned. Big Freedia makes huge N.O. Bounce music, Cupcakke is a scientific genius of sex lyrics who is only not featured by more rappers because of straight up fear.
This song starts with jarring sounds: water swishing, reverb, heavy breathing before the finger snaps give the beat permission to drop. Charli’s heavy breathing then becomes a melody as it slips into the roar of Big Freedia. This might be a strange song for you to listen to if your not familiar with these artists. You may not be used to beats switching every few seconds, dropping out coming back in, voices sneaking up on you and whispering rap verses. At some point it sounds like a pot is being hit with something in the background. The first few listens you’re just going to be stuck in the world of this odd thing. What will endure most from Charli XCX’s new album Charli is her musical IQ and the pure effort she put into the vocals on this album. Her voice has never been better executed better than it is on this album. You can feel the focus and its contagious.
Three Big Winners from Rapsody’s Eve album
Albums-With an aggregate score on Metacritic of 91 out of a 100 Rapsody’s new album Eve is not consummable in pop music chunks. While it is sixty two minutes and fifty seven seconds long It is so heavily thematic that every song acts as a vital puzzle piece in the totality of Black feminine dimension. This is more literal than hyperbole; most of the songs are named after an important black woman who made an important contribution to the world (Iman, Afeni, Serena, Whoopi, Oprah, etc).
Rapsody is my favorite female rapper in the world right now because of how elusive she is. She sneaks lines through like on the lead single Ibtihaj where she talks about how long women have led the way in hip hop. She says “Women been leading the way, since Roxanne Shante/And the Unit had Flava and Jay had Marcy neighbors that waved.” If you catch it, it is odd to think about Jay at one time having neighbors in Marcy who waved and how long ago that was. It’s a sneaky thoughtful personal image of a figure who seems so enormous now. For her pen to put the camera there is a real strong choice.
As the album’s star she never yells at people or engages theatrics. While this costs her a larger stage it creates real weight around bars that might not be considered that big a deal from someone else. On Whoopi when she sternly states “I ain’t feeling you like I ain’t feeling new Kanye,” you couldn’t help but think that might actually hurt Kanye’s feelings. She didn’t stutter or equivocate. Nothing she says is to be dismissed and critics know it. After years of putting out strong verses and solid music, fans know it as well. I watched a documentary following Rapsody. She is a nice lady in a hooded sweatshirt and if you ever need to ask what weapon she will use to defend herself against this dangerously half dead music industry…the album is the answer. It tells her story in full.
Eric G & 9th Wonder-12 out of 16 songs on Eve are produced by one of these two. 9th Wonder gets the full victory lap treatment because he has been pushing Rapsody with all the strength of his reputation for years and years. Now talking heads (like me) are running around touting Eve when they were dismissing her back in 2014.
I am very happy for Eric G to get a little of this shine. He is one of those kept label producers who remain the backbone of a unit (Elite is this for J.Cole and the Dreamville people). Rapsody sounds amazing over soul samples and smacking drums but Eric G finds a way to push the tempo. He sprinkles a little Roger Troutman into the song Aaliyah. Serena actually uses a Luther Campbell sample to set a fast tempo that pulls some of my favorite words from our narrator. He gives her soul but imbues it with strength and confidence. Rapsody has grown alongside 9th Wonder and Eric G. Eve is their moment alongside her.
Guests-Have you seen who is on this album? The lead single has GZA and D’Angelo on it. Gza does not contribute verses all over the place. He absolutely brings it like he’s happy to and he is not the only one. Nottz T’s up the perfect piano with chunky bass for Queen Latifah to flex over. J. Cole doesn’t just rap well dude gets deep into himself. His verse starts with “Born into pain” as the first three spoken words. This verse is given with deep respect to a piece of music he knows to be important. Iman captures a lot of talent in one place with JID continuing to build his guest verse portfolio , this time matching his speedbag flow with sincerity, Sir sounds buttery on the hook.
This is not a full review of Eve. If I did one of those it would be 1,500 words. I’d do 400 words just talking about how important to music Oprah is in that it brings the two best female rappers in the world together (Leikeli47 and Rapsody) over a beat (thank you Eric G!) that captures the best of both styles. It bounces with drums 47 can be proud of while giving Rapsody the sonic space to stretch out.
If this isn’t a review let it be a toast.
Glasses up for this thick novel of a thing.
May it never leave us.
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Tagged 9th Wonder, best albums of 2019, D'Angelo, Dreamville, Eric G, Eve, GZA, J Cole, JID, Leikeli47, Nottz, Queen Latifah, Rapsody
#Bandcampgold-Best U.K. Albums of 2019
As Americans we too often turn a blind eye to other countries contributions to artistic forms we start. This is odd because the world often welcomes our contributions(Kurasawa turned Westerns into Samurai movies and we turned that into Star Wars). U.K. rap has gone through its own growth and development. In 2019, the two albums I love the most from that scene have found ways to be unique in a rich world of unique interesting albums.
Nothing Great About Britain by slowthai
Do not look to me for interesting biographical information about slowthai. I found this album on a “best albums so far” list probably on DJBooth.net. The calling card here is every song crackles with energy. This dude is 24 years old with the forward motion and excitement he should have to charge from track to track. His accent is significant and it takes adjusting to but I’ve always felt that no matter where the music comes from I abide by dope hip hop. I will figure it out. This dude knows how to lace a hook that is simple and effective (see Doorman) and his flow is loud fearless and assured.
If you are listening to the deluxe edition Kwes Darko produced (or co-produced) 11 of the 17 songs and helps set the stage with off kilter burbling mid tempo production (see Dead Leaves). Darko flips a sample over piano and car rattling bass in my FAVORITE beat of the tape, Gorgeous. He keeps these beats running in 7 different directions at all times which matches up nicely to our scatterbrained unstoppable force of a narrator.
Check out the two minute sixteen second song Crack, slowthai executes the hook brilliantly and fills the song with call outs of his own behavior most rappers would shy away from. Nothing Great About Britain is a debut so he hasn’t been steered into any lanes yet. You can feel the specificity in his perspective pairing with the ease of his skill and joyful thump of the sonic universe. Don’t worry what number this is on the best of the year list. Numbers don’t matter here: slowthai is here and fun to listen to. I can throw on Nothing Great About Britain and destroy the days work from my cubicle. It’s only the beginning for our relationship through the headphones.
Stream or buy Nothing Great About Britain below:
Psychodrama by (Santan) Dave
Dave really might be a generational talent to recon with. Psychodrama is one of the best put together debut albums I have heard in years. The lyrical content is searing in laser- like focus and accuracy. On the albums last song Drama this is how he starts the first verse “I don’t know where to start. I just done my first Psychodrama and I hope the world hears my craft. I’m excited man, I pray you get to hear my craft. From my childhood my mother didn’t hear me laugh. I’m presenting you the future I don’t fear my past. I ain’t got a tattoo anywhere near my arms but best believe on my sleeve is where I wear my heart.” He also says “Thank god for the pain because it made me this.”
Dave has natural ability he can weave melody in and carry a tune like on the song Voices. He can bring in another big talent and create a song that reflects both artists like on Location (featuring Burna Boy). Importantly, this dude is a writer. If you listen to track nine (Lesley) it is eleven minutes of fantastic storytelling that will leave you stuck in that world. My favorite song is Screwface Capital it has a haunting sample and some piano keys so Dave just goes off. One of those songs every MC needs where he pushes his chest out and roars his whole life from poverty to the prison system to sex to work ethic. While rap is full of songs about affirming Black heritage the song Black digs three levels deeper than even the best of them (example: “Black is people naming your countries on what they trade most: Coast of Ivory, Gold Coast…”). It is exciting to find someone with this much to say on this many subjects while exercising this much versatility but more importantly… this dude has a plan. He’s excited for us to get his FIRST Psychodrama. Great writers love to plan and develop and I can only imagine what this dude has for us in the future.
Stream or buy Psychodrama below:
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Tagged #BandcampGold, best albums of 2019, British Rap, Burna Boy, Dave, Kwes Darko, Nothing Great About Britain, Psychodrama, Santan Dave, slowthai, U.K. Rap
Song review-Nipsey by Trae The Truth
I do not feel well. Generally, I am not a neurotic person. My mind is something I manage assertively but the beat on Trae The Truth’s song Nipsey sounds like the buzzing in my head ever since Nip passed. The light piano is the ever-present weeping of those of us that followed Hussle through his mixtape maturation. Everyone is shouting out Nipsey nowadays, at varying levels of stylishly being-in-the-know and authentically dealing. Figures that it would be Trae The Truth that broke me in half and brought me to tears on it.
It figures because this is the guy who punched Mike Jones and evolved into the man who organized the Relief Gang to save people during Hurricane Harvey. This is the kid of dude who only features with people that are known as legit people. You won’t see Trae featuring on a song with some purple haired episcopal white rapper named Ballbag. When the scariest voice in rap says “Damn, I never picture you leavin’ can’t stop the grievin'” it breaks me to pieces because it is perfectly the dark cloud over my head. Beyond prayer hand emoji’s whipped out for any loss of life… Nipsey was supposed to be old and wise and helping his whole coast!
This song is from Trae’s new album Exhale and the project is superb, maybe a little better than his awesome album last year, Hometown Hero. This isn’t the best song, to be honest, Even Tho Its Hard is entrancingly melodic heartfelt and tough. Trae is Scarfaces legacy pulled through Drakes melodic additions to the format. It is all very serious but it sounds beautiful.
I think that is why I trust him to break me in half and put me together every time I hear his dedication to his friend. The same way the kids at Woodbridge Forest Middle School were so relieved to jump into his truck and bail to safety during the hurricane. I rely on Trae (in a much more low stakes way!) to help me with grief in a way that keeps my head up with eyes on Hussle’s legacy and achievements. No guns, no needless tough talk.
Is it weird for me to get so emotional over someone I never met? Trae will understand. Trae and I share a belief that you must live with pain to see the other side of it and the songs we listen to, the people in our lives, the days that go right, are all pieces of the correct medicine. The “foundation of integrity” Nipsey speaks on in the ending audio clip is perfect for Exhale. A whole album where Trae flexes by doing what rappers can’t do anymore; step outside their brand. You see, Trae isn’t a brand. He’s a place. He’s Houston.
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Tagged best albums of 2019, Exhale, greiving, Hometown Hero, Houston, Hurricane Harvey, Nipsey, Nipsey Hussle, song reviews, Southern Rap, Trae Tha Truth, Trae The Truth