Tag Archives: best albums of 2019

Song of The Year-Palmolive Featuring Pusha T and Killer Mike produced by Madlib by Freddie Gibbs

Song of The Year-Palmolive Featuring Pusha T and Killer Mike produced by Madlib by Freddie Gibbs

by Dan-O

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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Song Review-Special by Gucci Mane featuring Anuel AA produced by Murda Beatz and Cubeatz

Song Review-Special by Gucci Mane featuring Anuel AA produced by  Murda Beatz and Cubeatz

By Dan-O

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.

 

Best Albums of 2019 Spotlight: This Is How You Smile by Helado Negro

Best Albums of 2019 Spotlight: This Is How You Smile by Helado Negro

by Dan-O

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

https://heladonegro.bandcamp.com/album/this-is-how-you-smile

You can also bump This Is How You Smile on whatever streaming service you use.

Song of The Year-Speedboat by Denzel Curry produced by Rugah Rahj

Song of The Year-Speedboat by Denzel Curry produced by Rugah Rahj

by Dan-O

Very few people do what Denzel Curry does. That is what struck me when I listened to his new album ZUU and heard him rapping with Rick Ross over a crunchy jagged industrial beat. If you are an old school hip hop head you should rep Curry. He can rap. On that Ross collab the Florida MC says “My pastor making dollars like he’s Eric Sermon,” which is a heady EPMD reference. He knows the culture, can rap with anyone, and what he gives is not just a finished product but one with dynamic individual characteristics.

Speedboat is the best. It is crazy fun to listen to and exhibits impressive melodic and lyrical work. The bridge that leads into the chorus is

Pre-Chorus]
Jesus, please deliver us from evil
Please pray over all my people
What you see in life’s illegal
I don’t wanna use my Desert Eagle

The pauses he makes between each word adds even more gravity to the paranoia and violence PTSD discussed. Now check out the 2pac-esque chorus to go with it.

[Chorus]
Big talk, speedboat (Speedboat)
Pray to God I don’t get repoed (Repoed)
Didn’t go to college for a free throw (Swish)
People gettin’ killed through the peephole (Blah)
Have your money up before you go to war (Hmm)
Put the mask on like a luchador (Hmm)
My dawg didn’t make it to 21, so I gotta make it past 24
Big talk, speedboat (Speedboat)
Pray to God I don’t get repoed (Repoed)
Didn’t go to college for a free throw (Swish)
People gettin’ killed through the peephole (Blah)
Have your money up before you go to war (Hmm)
Put the mask on like a luchador (Hmm)
My dawg didn’t make it to 21, so I gotta make it past 24

Think about how much is discussed in that chorus? We talk about college scholarships, robbery, mortality ages in bad neighborhoods. You can feel it all coming after you(hence the 2pac comp). ZUU belongs on the year end lists because Curry is Floridas shining hope for the future. Not that the state doesn’t have talent but Denzel Curry has star power. When he raps it is important every time. That is an important distinction.  Curry can shout, rap, or compose a hook with equal dexterity and he doesn’t owe anything to a co-sign. No movement has him hanging onto it. His work and his voice got him here.

Song of The Year-Cuz I Love You by Lizzo

Song of The Year- Cuz I Love You by Lizzo

By Dan-O

This is my favorite first song of the year (it’s from the self-titled album). Sure, Lizzo has a show stopping voice of the kind I would stab an alien for. That is not the most exciting thing about Lizzo. I can’t get enough of how totally reckless and bonkers she is. Her uncontrolled energy bursts in all directions on the title track produced by Ithaca NY rock band X Ambassadors.

I’m sure a lot of people are writing how great this album is from a body positivity standpoint; that it is great to have more vibrant black female voices. Problem with those takes is they come out of a jar ready to be spread out to fit anybody from Janelle Monae to Cardi B etc etc. Artists are specific not general so criticism should be specific.

While listening to the song you can find yourself asking questions: who would hit the high part of their register this much?! Who would open their album laughingly calling themselves a former ho?! When Pitchfork reviewed Cuz I Love You they pointed to ham fisted lines and awkward images as tough to swallow. Lizzo just doesn’t have the time or energy to go Fiona Apple with the lyrics. Her strength is that she doesn’t carry the fear a lot of us do. She’s not afraid to belt so hard she has to catch her breath, and let you hear, not afraid to say something we all know is corny like “I would do it for you all my friend, ready baby?! Will you be my man?” The desperation in the delivery and pulverizing honesty in the lyrics take center stage even as X Ambassadors fill the track with high energy pro-wrestling rock entrance music. Musically she’s so wild she’s free to be honest and in a world this deceptive and artificial it feels so good to hear.

 

Song of The Year-Threat 2 Society by 2 Chainz produced by 9th Wonder

Song of The Year-Threat 2 Society by 2 Chainz produced by 9th Wonder

by Dan-O

Shout out to 9th Wonder who knows the transcendent power of the right sample. Go ahead and find The Truthettes- So Good To Be Alive and bask in how pimpish that gospel song already is. Pumping it up, speeding it up and passing it to 2 Chainz was a brilliant idea.

R.I.P. to all the 2012 white people ironically bumping 2 Chainz on some Trinidad James ish. That is all dead. 2 Chainz has legitimately put his energy determination and creativity into carrying the torch Weezy lit. Pretty Girls Love Trap Music was one of my favorite projects and to follow it with an album as great as Rap or Go To The League is fantastic. You probably heard about this album because it is executive produced by Lebron James and it does talk basketball but that’s just the beginning. This is a very personal album where he talks dead friend’s tax rates dope boy past framed next to sunny futures.

As to-the-bones groovy as this beat is nothing beats the moment when 2 Chainz vengefully spits “I’m so famous can’t even COUGH in peace.” He pulls in lessons from his coaches on jump shots and so much more. With fatherly pride he muses on the possibilities of having another child. While discussing the fact that he doesn’t get the credit he deserves he is absolutely right. The weird thing, I think only three people do. The spotlight has a terrible attention span so if you’re not Drake Kendrick or Cardi you are probably under appreciated. It might take another five or ten years for people to really start thinking about the legacy 2 Chainz has left on the game.  Not just being different but being relentless. It’s that kind of willpower that pays dividends in the form of top notch music like Threat 2 Society.

So you don’t have to look it up here is The Truthettes

#Bandcampgold-Texas Piano Man by Robert Ellis

#Bandcampgold-Texas Piano Man by Robert Ellis

by Dan-O

Texas Piano Man is a country album in 2019. It wouldn’t be in 1973. If this album was released in 1973 it would be a part of that oddball singer-songwriter genre Randy Newman, Michael Franks, and Nilsson championed. Conceptually Ellis messes with the audience and knows he has to earn it by refining the process until what he has is something so beautiful you won’t realize he was flicking your nose in the first place.

The first song (Fucking Crazy) is a great example. My favorite college creative writing class had a teacher who was doing it wrong. He was teaching the utter basics and nothing more. I hated it so much that every time he gave an assignment premise I would bust the guts out of it. He hated reading swear words so I made a generational story about strangers on a plane that entirely oriented around the F word. I knew in order to pull off the deed the characters had to be gripping, the story had to be high level, to erase any gimmick stigma. Robert Ellis reminded me of this with Fucking Crazy. It is so beautiful and has so many F words running through it. Some people might think of the song as a tale of a relationship about to go off the rails….for me it’s just how love feels. Getting in deep with someone else you realize they are really off their nut and you always realize it too late. Your already head over heels for their adorable upside. When he croons (at two minutes and thirty one seconds) “I’ve lost touch with reality there’s nothing I can do.” I absolutely get it.

The piano compositions are so impressive; Lullaby is a great example. The chorus is creepy and he says stuff like “You held me like a sea shell in your hand.” Everything is rich lush and a little off a little odd and southern but not leaning into the commercial aspects of Country. In 2019, Country has a heavy drawl and a familiar production style. The only reason Texas Piano Man sits in the genre is because the oddball songwriter genre is bone dry. Robert Ellis is sharp, clear, and crisp but don’t get it mistaken he shares some of the same sensibilities as 2019 Country. Nobody Smokes Anymore throws a middle finger up at the stiffness of a modern age consumed with making the right decisions all the time. It has some extra cleverness to it, I love when he quietly says “I guess I’ll be the only one who looks good in pictures…”

Best thing is the last song is super weird. Topo Chico is a weird Jimmy Buffett curve ball. The vocals on the chorus are fabulous and the track seethes with screwball sounds behind the guitars gentle strum. Do not get it twisted and think since this is a hip hop site I just found this dude. This guy has been on my radar for years now getting better and better. Texas Piano Man is finally the album where he gave us both barrels. I hope he settles into this lane and builds on the laughter this album ends on. Make that the building blocks of his next five years.

Stream or download Texas Piano Man below:

https://robertellismusic.bandcamp.com/