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 abillity 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
Song of The Year-Palmolive Featuring Pusha T and Killer Mike produced by Madlib by Freddie Gibbs
In 2014 when Madlib and Freddie Gibbs produced Pinata I thought the two were magnificently matched. A song like Deeper is just not possible without the mutilated soul Madlib feeds Freddie. For some rappers soul sample based beats (Madlib, 9th Wonder) push them into a gentler, reflective place. A chance to put the teeth away and show another side; for Gibbs it is very much not like that.
You can tell because on Palmolive, one of two epic posse cuts on the new Madlib x Gibbs album Bandana, Gibbs starts his verse with “Kane season/F_ing my pastor daughter in two Jesus pieces/Dropping this blow on the basement floor/My Yeezy’s squeaking” all while the bridge to the Sylvers song Cry Of A Dreamer gets the falsetto pulled out and stabbed then kicked behind Freddie to sound like the spooky painful cry that inspires his seething darkness. How bleak is Gibbs? Am I exaggerating? He doubles his own vocals so he can comment on what he is saying and the conversation he’s having with himself is brutal PTSD recollection. “Fernando said they used to move chickens in the Noriega days(Yeah)/ I disrespect his name and he signed my face with a razor blade (True story, N_).”
This song is the perfect meeting of seething darkness. Killer Mike’s chorus carries that bullish swagger, that evil sneer daring you to challenge or doubt the truth of this song. Pusha T doesn’t just understand what Palmolive wants to do, he helped build the model for it. He begins speaking so specifically that it is chilling and he does it all in code you might not understand if your not combing through. When he says “PTSD from what I weighed on the digital,” a casual fan could get lost. My favorite is “The love of your life rap n_ wear fake watches/ the serial number don’t match the gift boxes.” This dude is rapping about knock off watch serial numbers! Push doesn’t care who understands or don’t he needs to speak to his audience on this song. When Push asks the audience if they are Alpo or Mitch it’s a more important question than you might understand. Mitch is dead and Alpo is in witness protection. The question brings the darkness center stage. Are you a traitor? Will you be the end of me? Where in this world can I be safe, if not for the rest of my life for a little while to just get my head together?
The other collaboration is the second to last song called Education. It has Yasiin Bey and Black Thought throwing 100 mph while Freddie does the same but it’s not Palmolive. This one is for fans like me who have Raekwon lyrics tattooed on their soul. If I am ever listening to Palmolive and someone robs me I’ll shrug and think “makes sense.” It’s the most desperate jagged lyrical diamond of 2019 and that spares no one from the conversation. Give me Bandana and keep the rest.
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Tagged Bandana, best albums of 2019, Best Collaborations of 2019, Cry Of A Dreamer, Freddie Gibbs, hip hop reviews, Killer Mike, Palmolive, Pinata, Pusha T, song of the year, Sylvers
Song Review-Special by Gucci Mane featuring Anuel AA produced by Murda Beatz and Cubeatz
The reasons you should think of Gucci Mane as a genius lyricist are pretty straight forward: 1. Individuality-built his style on his own not a product of anyone or any other movement (in this way I think of him as the E-40 of Atlanta). 2. Bold experimentation-he’s always folding different talents into his universe and letting them inform it (Lil Uzi Vert, Rocko, Young Scooter, etc). 3-Depth-whether it is how he strings the rhyming together, the uniqueness of the words used or the observations… if you really listen Gucci is KILLING his bars.
Gucci Mane dropped a new album called Delusions of Grandeur which at 18 tracks long gives you all the different forms of Gucci on a polished ready-for-primetime level. Production wise he incorporates Kenny Beats, Tay Keith and J.White Did It into the fold with Southside, Zaytoven, and a bunch of recognizable names. Tay Keith did Sicko Mode, J. White Bodak Yellow, and Kenny Beats took Key! And Rico Nasty to the next level on separate projects. Gucci has always been an amazing talent scout and that continues here. Even Justin Bieber is perfectly placed singing the hook on Love Thru The Computer.
In regard to depth, a line on the song Special really blew my mind. He says “Like Cinderella they think I was born with chedda.” I flinched, and was struck by it…wait Cinderella was scrubbing the floor…we know that as the audience…what is he talking about it? As I thought about it the fog lifted. We know Cinderella’s story as the reader but picture the happily ever after of her life. Any person she meets post-“It’s your slipper!”is not going to know what we know. So she will smile keep her chin up, act stately, and live up to what they think she is. The truth is not even something she has the time to explain, nor does she have the faith they would understand. This mirrors his journey. When Delusions of Grandeur broke people were tweeting things like “GUCCI IS THE GOAT!!” “GUCCI NEVER MADE A BAD ALBUM!” I will tell you that when those mixtapes broke people were calling him disgraceful and dumb BEFORE he got an ice cream come tattooed on his face. I was dismissive of him partly because the wrong white hip hop fans wanted him for their new Flavor Flav. Serious people taught me to get serious about him but I was already suspicious based on killer guest features.
That’s what Delusions of Grandeur is about. Being the best at what you do, the last one standing from a generation with no one left that really remembers how hard it was to get there. No one to stop and say “How cool is it that in 2019 Gucci threw Anuel AA on this track to do a Spanish verse.” It’s a song about being special, not just how cool it is but how bizarre it feels.
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Tagged 1017 Brick Squad, Anuel AA, Atlanta hip hop, best albums of 2019, Cubeatz, Delusions of Grandeur, Gucci Mane, J.White Did It, Kenny Beats, Murda Beatz, song reviews, Southern Hip Hop, Tay Keith, Zaytoven
Best Albums of 2019 Spotlight: This Is How You Smile by Helado Negro
A man in a yellow shirt with a sloppy 70’s-bank-heist afro greeted us warmly, joking and then announcing he would play his new album from beginning to end. I remember feeling relieved. This Is How You Smile should be heard together. The drum machine that pulsed behind him was connected to a yellow light that blinked as the beat dropped. Other band members picked up violins for songs then put them down and picked up Saxophones. Different sounds floated in and out while this magnetic centerpiece held us all in the palm of his hand. This short Latino oddball named Helado Negro who doesn’t have the best (or worst) voice set the crowd off with every piece of banter. Every hook he sang he dug all the way into. His guitar work settling and relaxing but not boring.
It is hard to recommend the album to new ears knowing it doesn’t have a clear path to head nodding. It’s not like, “Once you get to track two you will be blown away! That thing is a hit! Car commercials here we come!” It’s a rolling musical experience with different genre elements. If I tell someone my favorite song is Fantasma Vaga and they ask what that means…I have no idea. Some of these songs are in Spanish (I listen to a lot of Salsa so this doesn’t bother me at all but some might not be able to connect). My corrected pitch: This is How You Smile loves you back when you don’t love yourself. When you are sad but not heartbroken or devastated just listless and paranoid…Helado Negro is the voice you need. On Imagining What To Do he implores us to go softly and slowly. That is the same song he says “Winter will be gone tomorrow, just lay inside your dream,” Followed by a soft “Hehe”.
What carried through to the live show from the album is the sincerity involved. He is a sensitive narrator and an intelligent one without any pretense or talking down to his audience. Forty seven seconds into Seen My Aura he announces he has no shoes on and is walking on sunburned pavement trying to look cool and the corner of his lip turns in a smirk. The smirk was always there, but I’m glad I got to see it.
I don’t know what you listen to music for. What you hope to get out of it. I think most people don’t even ask that question. My personal answer: I want to live with someone who is interesting for a while. Whether that is living with Wiz Khalifa in 2011 or Madonna in 1994 I just want to be around someone or some people who are interesting. New perspectives help me build my empathy muscles. A great album remains interesting through repeated listens because of the things you can find in it. The places it can take you even after you know where it goes. This Is How You Smile is built for years of that.
His bandcamp has three songs you can listen to
You can also bump This Is How You Smile on whatever streaming service you use.