#BandcampGold-Stuck by Nickelus F
On the first real song(Sleazie Wonder) of his new album STUCK, Nickelus F says “Shoulda got a mixtape award but peace to Justo.” He’s absolutely right. In 2013 he released one of my favorite mixtapes of all time (Vices). I listened to it constantly and scoured the internet looking for who produced it, no way this dude with twisted up tissues jammed in his nose created these beats! I’ve never lost the name Nickelus F since the day I realized Vices was him head to toe.
When STUCK came out I had that Nickelus F back. The texture of the music is mid-tempo with gorgeous samples twisted and planted in perfect spots. The songs ring of the nihilism Weeknd traffics with the controlled additive bounce of peak Paul Wall. I told people in my office his story, starting with the old days blowing Drake off tracks and just grinding, being that guy who cares as much about the melody as he does the lyrical content.
Yea Aight is probably the most succinct proof of my previous statement. The hook is gorgeous over piano keys and savagely rolling bass, stitched in samples, and this dude does not have anything my mom would consider a great voice. Nickelus F sounds like a lifetime cigarette smoker with the worst nasal congestion you can imagine. He has the kind of voice I wouldn’t want for speaking let alone singing but he is a solid gold genius who can throw it all over the field of play. On That’s Fact he sticks the landing on every short choppy line of trap cadence only to switch up and stretch out on the next track (On Our Own).
STUCK has definite high points. The second half is amazing. The people in my office who I forced into listening to it came out genuinely surprised and enriched. Hands is one of the very best songs released in 2018 by anyone. The perfect mix of a warped soul sample an ill chorus and bars that mean business by a guy who owned the mic at 106 & Park for 7 weeks(Freestyle Friday hall of fame). Horace Hardbody The Statue is inarguably the best lyrical performance. This dude said “Cigarettes burn and tap ashes like congas.” All this being said STUCK isn’t a performative soap opera narrative or politically uplifting or autobiographical balling. It doesn’t have take over the world singles. It is about the light continual malaise of living in this world. On Horace Hardbody he says “If you’re like me likely you don’t sleep.” STUCK is an oddball’s celebration of the chaos left where peace could have been. It is the single best second listen in 2018 hip hop for me because everything I missed the first time was there and richly defined.
I love that he does all this himself. I love that he has been lacing verses about subtle misery without shaving off the hard edges WAY before anyone else and is now better at it than ninety percent of the game (If you think I’m nuts listen to The Darkie). I want everyone who loves Drake to know STUCK and know that below the top tier of blockbuster pop rap is the real interesting stuff; a whole world of people taking chances without anyone to stop them or force them into bad guest features or big name producers. People who have so much nasal blockage we should probably set up a way to donate so we can help…but are absolute wizards in every regard of music and they don’t toil in obscurity. Not for me. To me they are giants. To me Nickelus F in 2018(like he was in 2013) is a giant.
Stream or BUY STUCK below:
Top 5 Takeaways from 2 Future Albums in 2 Weeks
Future just released back to back #1 albums (Future and HNDRXX). I wanted to provide five things to think about as you digest this mass of content. Are these in order of importance?
Don’t be a nerd. No one cares.
- Who is Dre Moon?
Dre Moon is 3 for 3 on HNDRXX (Solo, Incredible, and Hallucinating) with some of my absolute favorite songs. I clicked on his Wikipedia page and it says he wrote Drunk In Love and produced a bunch of beloved Drake songs (off Nothing Was The Same). He also produced I Be U, I’ll Be Yours, and Side Effects off Future’s Honest album(which I think is underrated). I am very glad Future has a relationship with Dre Moon and apparently more people should. He provides a rich sound, a large musical world that never seems crowded.
2. Nothing Future Does is haphazard
Future puts out a lot of music. Even Young Thug told him he should slow down. At times, Future has released bad albums and tastemakers have pronounced his run over only to be embarrassed by the success that followed. Future is like Gucci Mane in that he will release a ton of content and 70% of it is great but that thirty percent is still a lot of bad music and in this fickle age it always seems like he is close to falling off.
3.You can be like Future but you cannot be Future
Future just released 34 songs in two weeks and both albums went number one. Be careful about going big picture and turning to your friends with a simple “this is how things are now,” explanation. This is not how things are for Kendrick or Wale etc etc. Future works better loose and in a zone. If you think it’s easy and your just going to autotune your voice and shout “Content! Content! Content!” you won’t be Future. Desiigner is promising but he is not Future. Future is not mumble rap. Future is really vividly articulating his emotional state of mind like a blockbuster movie. On HNDRXX especially you can hear every word he says.
4. Previously Future’s beef with Ciara has been ugly but now that ugly is terrifying
The Future mixtape Project E.T. made me unhappy. As good as anything on there was that Juice song Future did about killing Ciara was no Bueno. This isn’t a double racial standard. I didn’t like it when Marshall Mathers did the killing my ex songs. HNDRXX takes the anguish Future feels about the relationship and takes it to new emotional heights. Testify never comes right out and declares her as subject matter but it’s mad creepy. As he sings “Anything we go through is a test of times. Can you be the one who loves me all the time?” my hairs stood up on end and then the song ends with him hauntingly repeating “confess your love for me…testify” as his voice fades out. The scariest Ciara moment is CLEARLY My Collection. A superbly disturbing analysis of the mind state a man has after a broken relationship. If you’re looking for TMI moments they are plentiful from crooning “this codeine ain’t got nothin’ to do with my little child!” “She told me she was an angel, she F*&#ed two rappers and three sangers.” The hook is paralyzingly gross without any swearing “…even if I hit you once you part of my collection.” The diseased mind that holds these women in some sort of mental art museum is something Future consciously wanted to observe. It’s clear that part of this is in him and part of this is an artist analyzing the emotions that could happen if he doesn’t let go. The complexity of his anger is so marvelously rendered you can’t be mad. It’s terrifying but the beautiful kind.
5. Future is bigger than trap
Think of it the same way we do Mike Will Made It. When Trap was at its white hottest he was lacing Gucci Mane and giving the genre definition (Metro Boomin certainly took the baton and ran) and now you see his production credits in The Grammys Song of The Year category because he produced Beyoncé’s biggest hit off her new album Lemonade. Future still makes rough and tumble Trap, just listen to Scrape or Draco on the self-titled album, but he smashes pop songs as well. Selfish is the duet with Rihanna which comes to mind first but Incredible is a friendly radio hit. Aside from pop songs HNDRXX has one song with vocals from Mayer Hawthorne and production by Jake One (Lookin’ Exotic). Anyone predict that collaboration? He works with DJ Mustard and Detail for that finger snapping ratchet movement and he knocks it all out of the park. This is what Mike Will taught us about the process. Just because Future started in Trap and elevated it, doesn’t mean that is his limitation. He’s incredibly durable and bubbling over creatively.
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Tagged Atlanta hip hop, best albums of 2017, Ciara, Codeine, Detail, DJ Mustard, Drake, Dre Moon, Freeband Gang, future, Future album, Gucci Mane, HNDRXX, Lemonade, mike will made it, Rihanna, Trap
FME 2016 MVP HONORABLE MENTION-YG
We used to crown “mixtape MVP” but the distinction between mixtape and album is unimportant at this point. Everyone has streaming services and no one pays per album, it is a heartless profit starved reality but it is our reality.
YG was almost my pick for 2016 MVP because he distinguished himself as an artist from everyone else on the planet this year and he did it with his music, his words, and his beliefs. In 2014 when YG released My Krazy Life to an avalanche of critical praise a lot of that went to DJ Mustard.
Mustard was having a huge year and he had hits but it was being presented as if he was the white hot sun of the ratchet movement…which is ridiculous. YG’s follow up album to My Krazy Life called Still Brazy is so important. It features two songs produced by P-Lo of the HBK Gang (IAMSU’s crew) and they were doing the exact same sound at the same time Mustard was. Rick Rock, Droop-E, League of Starz and anyone connected to E-40 predates them. People following the West knew this. Mustard was a part of it but not an originator and not the best at it. People reading the headlines and not the articles thought Mustard owned the West and was propping up YG.
YG charged into 2016 throwing B’s at the listener and smashing each song with his impactful delivery. Terrace Martin brought the burbling West Coast thump and the Roger Troutman talk box to Twist My Fingaz, Swish used all his colors to render the deepest most beautiful landscapes behind Still Brazy’s best tracks (Gimmie Got Shot, Don’t Come to LA, Who Shot Me, FDT). The guests are impressive from Lil Wayne and Drake to Kamaiyah, Slim 400 & Sad Boy. YG became a central part of this year’s narrative by releasing the smash mouth election anthem FDT (featuring Nipsey Hussle) and in a real way he had all the West Coast artists shouting “F_ Donald Trump!” Many were making references to Trump as not a reputable character (see Smoke Dza-Don’t Pass The Blunt to Trump) but YG is way more straightforward than your “lyrical” rappers and way more lyrical than your fun “party” rappers.
Before the end of the year he dropped an eight song project called Red Friday. It featured fun anthems full of braggadocio like I’m A Thug but also serious venting on police brutality (One Time Comin’). When I heard him on Left, Right in 2014 I thought to myself “this is a real move the crowd rapper” someone with a voice and tempo that needs all your attention. Still Brazy and Red Friday add more to our shared definition of YG. On songs where he feels personally affronted by someone it is shocking and powerful because he has deep wells of anger that are fascinating. The songs that are about his beliefs resonate because he can’t help but make his views of right vs. wrong vigorously present. His gang lyrics aren’t sensationalist but grounded, straightforward and powerful. Everything he speaks is vivid. He doesn’t approach these songs like Ali did Frazier, more like how Tyson approached Spinks.
He was one of the first names I thought of because he destroyed the box he was put in and that is what everyone is trying to do. It is not what he did wrong that cost him the award it is the unthinkable performance of the winner.
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Tagged DJ Mustard, Drake, Droop-E, E-40, FME MVP 2016, Honorable Mention, Kamaiyah, League of Starz, My Krazy Life, Nipsey Hussle, P-Lo, Ratchet, Red Friday, Rick Rock, Sad Boy, Slim 400, Still Brazy, Swish, Terrace Martin, YG
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
Song of The Year-Other Guys by ILoveMakonnen
I’m probably addicted to ILoveMakonnen but I’m not alone. His new mixtape Drink More Water 5 starts with a freestyle under the same name that is a train wreck. It’s more clear than ever from his new output that Makonnen is that weird character in the fighting game that no one wants to play as (because he’s hard to figure out) or go against (cause his unorthodox style is hard to beat). If you try and fit him into the typical structure of a rap song he won’t. The 10 tracks after that first one never come back to it; they represent his herky jerky, croaking heartfelt mumble. The beat on Other Guys rides a steady drum wave while jangling like janitor keys are in the background.
Try getting this out of your head. The satisfied mmm’s, the high note attempts, the creepy “I’m not a stalker” stalker bits like how she’s changed her name trying to get away. The internet says he produced this and you can feel how much he loves this kind of oddness but it’s not even close to the limits of what he can do. He sounds great alongside Migos and Rich The Kid on the Whip It remix. He can do triumphant drug talk or heartbreak it’s all available to him.
I’m glad he’s aligned with OVO because I’m sure 40 and Drake can’t wait to flush out all the directions ILoveMakonnen is capable of going. Songs like this are a complete pallet cleanser for the unconvincing posturing bad rappers do. Other Guys is raw and a step off of sane and purposely so. Those two (40 and Drake) are too smart to ask the golden goose to go silver.
stream or download Drink More Water 5 below:
Song of The Year-Jungle by Drake produced by 40
Right as the anniversary of So Far Gone approached Drake was planning a mixtape that went retail and I was writing about how So Far Gone changed masculinity in hip hop. I wish I could tell you I planned it this way. Who knew when Drake dropped If You’re Reading This Its Too Late that it would be as transformative as it is; not nearly as clingy or insincere as he’s been in the past. It actually has the feeling of a dangerous industry entity on the attack.
I recently went back and watched an MTV special on the making of Drake’s first album called Better Than Good Enough where long time producer Noah “40” Shebib explains that Drake is dangerous because you can’t tell him no. 40 looks right into the lens and says “because between him and me we can give you a mastered copy of what he wants to do.” Think about that? If the label says no, he says yes…goes and makes it and maybe he leaks it? Maybe he leaks a song that hits so hard the label has to release it his way. In a lot of ways 40 is Drake’s secret weapon.
While the new project is dense and emotionally layered to the point of filling, it’s Jungle I can’t get away from. I’m addicted to it and impressed by the delicacy of Drake’s singing and the absence of cringe inducing imagery (#ridingequestrian). The light cooing tip toes out of the speakers on crashing waves of bass. Does it sound like 90’s R&B or does it sound like what we remember 90’s R&B having sounded like? It sounds like the spirit of 90’s sexually charged R&B but more advanced. This is the OVO sound and while everyone was busy saying Drake is no Jay-z or Tupac they were missing what was right in front of them. Isn’t Drake’s ceiling this generations Sade? No, he needs his emotions center stage. Isn’t Drake’s ceiling this generations Janet Jackson?! Linking his sexuality to his bravado and an emotional tapestry we can’t look away from; all the while staying strangely unexplainably relatable to his audience. Dudes talk about how ladies love Drake but we will hit a point where dudes freely admit they love him just as much.
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Tagged 90's R&B, Drake, drake mixtape review, If Your Reading This, Its Too Late, Janet Jackson, Jungle, Noah 40 Shebib, OVO, sade, So Far Gone, song of the year, YMCMB
Mixtape retrospective: looking back on Drake’s So Far Gone
So Far Gone is like a mixtape rubik’s cube. I keep picking it up and listening and getting confused; how do people like this? It seems needy and emotional but not thoughtful. Drake was constantly referencing women but not with any distinct intelligent things to say about them. The fact of the matter is that if you look back on it So Far Gone changed the rap universe. If your listening for the ramifications turn on the radio.
Even when Kanye was backpacking he was talking about political and social issues. He got a lot of credit for changing masculinity but it all boiled down to having the stones to wear a pink polo shirt…which seems like a small accomplishment (Cam’ron nods). So Far Gone really does change things. It’s not a break up album full of anguish like 808s& Heartbreak; the level of barren emotion you can hear on the Trey Songz assisted Successful is Drakes resting place. Goofball fun Kraftwerk-sounding tracks like Lets Call It Off with Peter Bjorn & John are natural and not stretch tracks, where a tough guy rapper does a goofy song to have a single (Eminem nods). How many rappers were jumping all over Lykke Li’s Little Bit for a singing duet? Listen to the beginning of Say Whats Real “Why do I feel so alone? Like everybody passing through the studio is in character as if he acting out a movie role.” It’s not just about him feeling lonely it’s about the hollowness of male bravado in hip hop circles. The never smile attitude that leaves a world without smiles.
He jumped on Ignant Shit with Lil Wayne and flossed (although he still says the phrase eager beavers which is not very flossy) then shared the Teddy Pendergrass-esque sex breakdown song A Night Off with Lloyd. R&B dudes used to play at rapping but rap fans didn’t really care/acknowledge it. Drake was comfortable in both spheres with a real knowledge of rap that extended to Houston hip hop and Little Brother underground. Balancing both is something that really hadn’t been successfully pulled off before (Domino nods).
Best I Ever Had changed the industry. The notion of a hip hop song not even really solely about love, like the old LL Cool J stuff, but a song about a woman being the best sexual partner you’ve ever had. A lot of credit goes to Noah “40” Shebib who put the bass knock in that song that makes it undeniable. This is a hip hop song. Whether you believe Drakes sincerity regarding women or don’t try and find a Dr. Dre song that’s complimentary of female sexual partners. It just wasn’t done, women were reduced not pedestaled. After Drake became Drizzy the male MC had more he could do. If he mixed feelings or relationships into his songs he would get thoughtful points but still having the gun talk (absent from a lot of Drake stuff) the fans would still consider him hard. Before that if you made a sensitive song everyone assumed you were riding the Common lane and were playing community leader. If you listen to what a lot of us consider the high point of rap (90’s) it’s an emotional wasteland. What’s the most emotionally charged Das Efx Song? Black Moon? I love all that stuff but we have to respect that So Far Gone broke things wide open. Is Houstatlantavegas a faux pimpish sleezeball anthem soaked to the skin with the kind of R&B you used to make fun of? Yes. It’s also really really good; Drake can sing and construct a hook and what he’s doing is unlike your favorite or least favorite rappers. You can always say this dude sounds like Drake but I’ve never said “Drake is just ___” cause who would that other name even be? Not Kanye, he’s more Phonte from Little Brother and he’s darn sure not Phonte. He’s still very vein and self-centered; lots of braggadocio but never ever convincingly hazardous.
Maybe the thing I love most is how stupid he is sometimes. On So Far Gone, his first major major mixtape he has a song with Bun B & Lil Wayne called Uptown on his time to shine he says the corniest line “sipping Pink Floyd, puffing Wayne Brady. Damn…Whose Line is It Anyway?” Really? A Wayne Brady, Whose Line name-check on your big southern style collabo jam? Yup. That’s some Drake ish. This is the only platinum artist who raps about muffins.
Stream or download So Far Gone below:
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Tagged 808s & Heartbreak, Black Moon, Bun-B, Das Efx, Drake, Drizzy, kanye west, Lil Wayne, Little Brother, Masculinity in hip hop, mixtape retrospective, Noah 40 Shebib, Phonte, So Far Gone