Song of The Year-Whipped Cream by Ari Lennox
I’m impressed with Dreamville. It’s a talented roster of artists from J.I.D. to Cozz to Bas and Ari Lennox but talent is all over the place. Talent doesn’t surprise me. Any rap label headed by an artist runs into the same problem: ‘you can be big but not bigger than me’. J. Cole struck gold with J.I.D. and struck harder with his next album(Dicaprio 2) giving him full spotlight. It takes a real emotionally intelligent person to understand those ‘Is J.I.D. Better than Cole?’ headlines are working In your favor. It is a deeply talented roster but more impressive than that, one where all the artists are growing in different directions together. Not many labels can lay claim to that space and growth at the same time.
The new Ari Lennox album Shea Butter Baby is a masterstroke. When I recommend it to people they snap their fingers and say ‘I heard of that…’ because the title track was on the Creed II soundtrack(I feel like it featured during the sensational sex scene. TESSA THOMPSON IS THE G.O.A.T). The album itself is brilliant because executive producer (producer or co-producer of 8 out of the 12 tracks) Elite figured out that this album shouldn’t sound hot, fresh and new. Ari Lennox needs to feel like someone you’ve spent your whole life listening to. The kind of soul that always lives in the grooves of your bones and just needs to be let out. By the third listen of the album I felt like it will be playing in the background at a BBQ for my birthday in ten years. That’s the kind of music this is, thick bass horns keyboards and lots of stage for our star to perform on.
Whipped Cream, specifically, is what resonates. Her hooks are always very specific and strange. To start the song with the hook and have the first lines be “I’ve been eatin’ whip cream, having vivid dreams of your face…” differentiates the Lennox experience while the music sounds like the definition of the genre. Shea Butter Baby is classic but it is very now. The short interludes at the end of songs speak about abusive relationships and perceptions of yourself through others eyes. She manages to be funny, sexual, and human at the same time. My favorite part of Whipped Cream is when she says, “Your deceivin’ receivin’ not givin’ head @$$.” She sings it too quickly to fully grasp then sings it again. You can hear the smirk as she mocks this ex but also the real hole that hasn’t refilled. Ari Lennox has songs about making love but none that are frivolous. Everything she sings is part of a three dimensional balance she seeks to achieve. Even as she sings about his inability to give oral pleasure she’s not venomous. She wishes she didn’t care but she does and it’s because that’s who she is. I love this song but if you listen and love it you need to do the whole album. You need to hear how happy she is to be naked and alone in her new apartment on New Apartment. You need to hear how Whipped Cream’s end feeds into the triumphant saxophone that begins Static.
Song of The Year-Westbrook by J.I.D. featuring A$AP FERG produced by Christo
It’s exciting when a new voice comes into full bloom for the public. In March of 2017 when J.I.D. put out his album The Never Story the underground publications sang about it and didn’t stop until the end of the year. It was that dope indy film that didn’t have the budget to be as deeply entrenched in the culture as it was. What I love most about J.I.D. is that he got that bubble up and decided his next project needed to ratchet up the effort/efficiency/entertainment value. He’s a clutch player. Dicaprio 2 is so good that at times it feels like being trapped. Despacito Too and Mounted Up have smash mouth minimal production feels so as to leave you face to face with the man mountain of syllables (feel free to spread this description of his ability). When he has help he’s superb. Whether it is Bj The Chicago Kid, 6lack or Method Man he finds enough space to sacrifice for his guest and they shine.
A single line from a single verse really messed me up. That is on my favorite song from Dicaprio 2, Westbrook. The beat chimes like Christmas then stomps your speakers as Ferg brings perfect sneering energy on the hook but at a little over halfway through the song J.I.D. says
Live life like a baby that was dead at birth
But came alive and f—ed the nurses
Throughout the verse he is chuckling to himself just plunging into the depths of his sick mind and dumping it out. I can’t lie I was very excited by how deeply inappropriate this is. This is a hip hop thing connected to the feeling NY had when Nas claimed he went to hell for snuffing Jesus. We weren’t excited to see smug old Jesus finally get his it was the discovery of a new voice, a new mind we can connect to who might be weirder than anyone we know. Similarly, no unringing this bell; this kid got Joey Bad@$$ and Meth together and wrecked it next to both of them. You can read other reviews to hear where he’s from what his social media footprint is like. I’m old and not going to waste space. I just want to pull up a chair and watch the young man spin this cadence till the whole world rings with it. Dicaprio 2 feels like being trapped in a place your body won’t let you leave.
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Tagged 6lack, A$AP Ferg, Atlanta hip hop, Bj The Chicago Kid, Christo, Dicaprio 2, Dreamville, J Cole, J.I.D., Method Man, Nas, song of the year, The Never Story
Nick Grant and The Hip Hop Cultural Divide
A lot of hip hop’s most important cultural “beefs” are forced onto it from the audience and not actually a problem the artists have. The west coast/east coast beef comes to mind as an example. What is happening right now is the great splitting of the world of hip hop into two schools: mumble & trap rap vs. emcees that stand by their lyricism. Back when I was young we would have seen a rapper like Schoolboy Q and a rapper like J. Cole as oppositional; one representing the grim and grit of street life and the other middle class suburbia now they are on the same side and on the other you get Fetty Wap, Lil Yachty and the like.
Fans of each feel insulted by the presence of the other. Media outlets are split in a very odd way. All kinds of people are referred to as “throwback” artists just because they are focusing on rapping and don’t have a strong southern accent. The problem with throwing all lyricists on one side is that Nick Grant bears no resemblance to Cole or Kendrick. He isn’t necessarily lacing you with save the world lyrics, his album Return of The Cool is just that. On the title track he says “Cool N_ I’m here to break the monotony,” which is a perfect summation. He’s great at rapping and picking beats, doesn’t do a lot of singing his own hooks or finger snap turn up. This isn’t to say he is your classic low energy lyricist. Just listen to Get Up featuring WatchTheDuck and enjoy the classic James Brown sample brought into new light and his energy matches it. It is a fun song and the album is my favorite of 2017.
He released some pretty great mixtapes. A Seat At The Table (+1) took four songs from Solange’s album and rendered them limb from limb. Over the gorgeous minimal landscapes he burst forth reminding me of Do or Die AZ. That project and his mixtape 88 were all about establishing the level at which he spits and getting us as an audience comfortable with that.
The mind numbing part of the Nick Grant experience for me is that I’m reading reviews that this type of lyricism is boring, that I should be listening to Migos instead. Leave it to hip hop to demand of me that I only listen to one kind of music all the time. Hearing someone with confidence in their delivery and great ear for beats never gets boring. Nick Grant is exciting, so are Migos. I will listen to both and don’t let yourself be steered one way or another. Take every artist as they come. We should be excited by the choices we have and not pit them against each other.
Here is your Nick Grant start up kit:
If you like what you hear there, seek out Return of The Cool (buy or stream)
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Tagged 88, A Seat At The Table (+1), AZ, J Col, J Cole, lyricism, Migos, mixtape review, Mumble rap, Nick Grant, Return of The Cool, Trap Rap
Mixtape Review-It’s Better This Way by Big K.R.I.T.
Would it be controversial if I said K.R.I.T. would already be a legend in his own time if he was white? Would it be outrageous for me to say that he would be standing next to Drake in sales if he was from New York? Would it strike you as strange to say he would be hotter than Future if he was from Atlanta? I hope not because I believe all of those statements to be true. His newest mixtape It’s Better This Way has more than enough evidence.
His southern accent is too southern for a lot of East Coast cats. His deeply soulful non-trap identity isn’t very Atlanta but the breadth of his abilities is staggering. As a producer he can create something bass driven but minimal, sparkling and striking like Party Tonight or flip a soul sample as adeptly as Kanye in his prime (see Piece On Chain). K.R.I.T. spent his last album Cadillactica rapping his brains out to convince people that his deep drawl didn’t prevent him from being a top MC (the public seems to like a little drawl but not a lot of drawl). While K.R.I.T. does make heartfelt music that at times can be cheesy, isn’t that the natural dark side of all heartfelt music? Hasn’t that been the same thing J. Cole has been wrestling with? The difference is K.R.I.T. has a better ear so his music, at its worst, is still totally bumpable.
It’s Better This Way has none of the Mt. Olympus mission statement of Cadillactica. It’s thick and soulful. Can’t Be Still carries that sad blues poignancy that travels back to Smokestack Lightning and how many 2015 rappers can you say that about? Not in a what-is-he-trying-for way but as a natural strength. The cool thing is this is only one of his strengths.
When K.R.I.T. wants to give you a banger he serves it up with intensity and vigor. During the course of listening to the song 86 you can’t help but move and he gives you the pace. He raps fast and shouts the chorus knowing exactly where he wants the speed to land. As big and booming as his grandest tracks are they still fit snugly into the Soulmaster mystique he’s earned over the course of a thousand dope mixtapes and a few really good albums (not to mention a collaboration with B.B. King!). Stylistically he connects the country rap tunes of UGK/8ball & MJG to Chess Records without appearing to work at it.
The parts of It’s Better This Way that really interest me are the off the beaten track songs that don’t fit into banger or soul jam categories. Vanilla Sky is just as captivatingly odd in content as construction. He talks about wanting to find the meaning of life in Africa and debating whether he should hire a driver when he buys his newest nice ride. The song has starved spaces in it pregnant with atmospheric content not usually present. In The Darkness is similarly odd, seeming like cloud rap but both of these songs are good. He’s adding new tricks while not throwing away the old ones which is the definition of progression. Even the strangest feature on the mixtape (Warren G on No Static) makes absolute sense once you hear the song. I always loved that Warren G didn’t put on airs or create a super-gangster persona and I think that actually hurt him in the era he existed in. America was addicted to super-gangsters at that time. Maybe the same is true of K.R.I.T. and that’s why No Static is the easiest, most listenable song on the mixtape. The collective confident ease of two artists who know how to make music fun just overwhelms you.
The title track puts to bed all the questions in my first paragraph. He states clearly “my takeover wasn’t overnight and to be honest it was a gift from god.” Maybe he does have the chips stacked against him but he’s celebrating the victories with a clearer head, knowing he earned them. Whether you like him or not he always has a plan and you can trust it to work out. It’s just better this way.
stream or download It’s Better This Way below:
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Tagged 2015 mixtapes, Ab-Soul, B.B. King, Big K.R.I.T., Cadillactica, It's Better This Way, J Cole, Mississippi, mixtape review, Southern Hip Hop, Warren G
Song of The Year-No Sleeep by Janet Jackson featuring J.Cole
At the height of her fame Janet was stuck smack in the middle between two of the most important female artists in history. Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey were in a high note arms race, holding the microphone and bending backward belting and holding, challenging the other to raise the stakes.
It makes sense that critics were not universally excited about Janet’s approach. No Sleeep is reminiscent of That’s The Way Love Goes in that it thrusts her into the spotlight while remaining hushed and casual. Her voice comes to us still in the frail whisper of a secret teenage phone conversation and that’s survived. The fullness and character in that harmonic murmur is the mother of so much of today’s R&B. The glass rattling diva era passed and Janet is still here.
This song isn’t just a great thing for Janet. J. Cole sounds focused and special. At his worst Cole sounds like a rapper you couldn’t pick out of a line up, picking sleepy beats and kicking pretty simple lifestyle analysis over them. He closes this song with all of his energy in it. This is post-Forest Hills Drive J.Cole and I hope he never looks back. “You bring cooked food, I bring desert” sticks in your mind because it’s a unique image and a realistic circumstance. The song flows into him so naturally that by its end you are ready to hit repeat and listen again. It’s a sneaky sleeper of a single that looms larger with every listen. I wonder how many of the toughest rappers in the game’s history have Janet in their car right now. How many of them grew up depending on her sincerity like I did? Like I still do.