Song of The Year-Amen by Bobby Feeno
I always liked Arian Foster. Even though athletes rapping doesn’t always work out well I was pretty sure Flamingo and Koval (his debut album) would. Yes he did pick a Nintendo 64 lead character name (not for real but it does sound like it) to rap under but we’ve all heard worse. What I like about the album is how it cruises between designated hip hop subgenres. The production is soulful, lush, and instrumental the lyrics are intelligent but this isn’t conscious rap or the opposite of it.
Bobby Feeno didn’t put out the album of the year or set out to. He introduced himself and in the process of doing so took steps other mc’s would never take. Amen is the most unshakeable takeaway from Flamingo and Koval (named after the intersection 2pac was shot). The audio clip that begins it is impossible to shake from your mind (see: “…your thoughts ain’t my thoughts!!”) and his flow is so cool, casual and subtle in sarcasm that when Billboard asked him if he was trolling religion with this song he had to push back. Amen isn’t trolling but a nuanced clowning. The tone of his voice is like mine when my friend wears a really ugly shirt, I’m going give guff but I’m going to take my time with it… have some real fun. The lyrics are about as pointed as they can be especially as the song rolls on and over the church-like organ he says “all you gotta do is believe him, I know you can’t hear or see him but it’s just more pleasing when you got that faith. Hook line & sink brother drop that bait, heaven is high for you hop that gate and science is lying to you it’s not that great. So I asked the preacher why these kids are starving in our land and the preacher said it’s something we ain’t meant to understand.” He has the nerve to follow that last word with a chuckle so slight that it makes Amen bitterly cutting. That is right before a sarcastic and amen that sounds like a sigh.
The song is so vitally disrespectful it comes from the very core of what hip hop achieves at its most powerful. Arian Foster is in his 30’s like I am so he understands the genre in similar ways. That it is very fun to put on some Playboy Carti but the stuff that forms us tends to have real things to say and a real spirit behind it. So while you may hear Flamingo and Koval as an ex-football player trying his J.Cole on, I hear a cool guy with a frenzied mind trying to map out all the angles 2pac explored or would have if he had the additional time. Tell a friend about Bobby Feeno and then start listening to Foster’s fantastic podcast.
Operation Doom Discography/Song of The Year-Phantoms featuring Kendra Morris & Open Mike Eagle produced by 7L
I couldn’t have been luckier than to wrap up the Doom discography run with Czarface Meets Metal Face. The Czarface supergroup that started in 2013 was directly built upon the legacy of MF Doom. The skits the covers the framework was Doom and it united 7L, Esoteric & Inspectah Deck. Pulling Doom in isn’t as awkward as I worried it might be. I don’t expect the album to get a lot of critical love because it is dense and a first (even second listen) can leave you pretty bewildered. The production is also boom bap which most critics are sure is old school not an actual continuing genre within the greater hip hop sphere.
Czarface Meets Metal Face has some great Doom moments, the most Doom punchline in years is “Don’t deal with the Devil on a deep level/they see metal and sound off like a tea kettle” from Captain Crunch. Phantoms is hands down the best posse cut of 2018 thus far. It is a staggering display of lyricism by a room full of hall of famers. MF sets the table with a chilling story about the price you pay cheating and betraying the people who love you. The phantom in his case is the angel and devil on each shoulder pulling him in opposite directions. While most MC’s use their pen to valorize themselves Doom lays it down awkward ” Wife wonder how you diss fam and disgrace your children/Dudes is wired like that, it’s still an all-case buildin’ ” I didn’t fully fathom how impressive his verse is until I read it.
The brilliance of 7L is flipping the beat for every new verse which can certainly be seen as a nod to Gangstarr’s I’m The Man but it feels very practical in this case. Open Mike Eagle & Inspectah Deck need different sonic backgrounds (Deck gets the best beat). All verses are blinding on this one: Mike Eagle sounds like the voice of a generation funny witty and razor sharp. Deck is a monster with odd references that make you rewind (Haley Joel Osment) and Esoteric might have my favorite performance of the song with his alliterative F sound verse that never comes off as forced.
Reviewers are forced to create a narrative around albums. So Czarface Meets Metal Face can be called out as old school but Doom and Deck were putting out new music back when boom bap was king, would you prefer they grab Sonny Digital and adjust their flow to the high hat? Ew. It can be called a victory lap from a bunch of really important artists past their peak but…what is so wrong with that? Isn’t it kind of cool to hear a bunch of great successful rappers get together and push themselves for the love of the actual art on an album that wasn’t made for charting? When listening tune your ears to the right connotation.
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Tagged 7L, Boom Bap, Czarface, Esoteric, Inspectah Deck, MF Doom, old school hip hop, Open Mike Eagle, Operation Doom Discography, Operation Doomsday, song of the year
Song of The Year-Keep The Devil Off by Big K.R.I.T. produced by Big K.R.I.T.
Wherever I have worked, anything I have achieved has been on the strength of who I am to the people around me…not management. I’ve never been able to convince anyone in power that I fit but the co-workers, customers, those I really touch hold me up on the strength of what I can do. This could be one of the reasons I’ve been so deeply invested in Big K.R.I.T. since I heard K.R.I.T. Wuz Here in 2010. He’s the people’s champ. When his first official album (Live From The Underground) came out he had a song featuring B.B. King with a video directed by Spike Lee and STILL couldn’t get mentioned in the company of his peers (some of whom he outpaced). In 2013 when A$AP Rocky put KRIT on 1 Train with Yelawolf, Danny Brown, Action Bronson, Joey Bad@$$, and Kendrick KRIT beat everyone off the track. No surprise to me, but the internet chattered briefly and then ignored it. KRIT didn’t fit their narrative and still doesn’t.
His new double album 4 Eva is A Mighty Long Time is deep at over eighty four minutes of music and thick with trunk rattling propulsive production(a lot of it handled by KRIT) but it’s also a lot of verse to take in. It isn’t conscious rap (he loves to floss and take down his opposition loves proper UGK s— talk) but it isn’t high end Ross-like luxury rap(Ross doesn’t even make that anymore) . If you like Southern rap b/c of the bouncy Migos chorus and strip club friendly content this doesn’t perfectly fit.
It is a double album that anticipates you will understand once you have taken the journey from Big K.R.I.T. to Bury Me In Gold and those of us who know do very much understand. For us 4 Eva is A Mighty Long Time is one of the year’s best albums and now that he’s independent he doesn’t have to explain himself to people who don’t get it. He can just breathe fire from his heart. That is what makes Keep The Devil Off so unmatched. This week I set it as my morning alarm and popped out of the sheets when he shouted “LORD be my witness!!” If you don’t care about how heartfelt his discussions of police brutality, infidelity, & black identity are, if you just want to jam…I have a song that will sell you.
Song of The Year-Lil Thing by Knox Fortune
Debut albums are so much more complete than they used to be. The death of the music industry happened first with the death of developing talent. At this point signee’s must have already established their sound. So it is no shock when you listen to the debut album Paradise by Knox Fortune it sounds like an artist who has been defined in the public eye for years . It is ok to recognize the name from Chance The Rapper’s All Night off of last years Coloring Book album. The energy, angelic singing, and clattering weirdness are very much a part of the DNA in Paradise.
This is mood music to the fullest, put it on and have a cook out. Lil Thing burbles and crackles while Knox sounds pristine in a genderless way when he goes effortlessly into the high register. You can listen to Lil Thing over and over and over without ever tiring of it but lest you think that all of Knox Fortune is tossed off brilliant summer vibe music listen to the positively New Wave I Don’t Wanna Talk About It. This is a voice with real vision and as weird as it all is it is a thing to respect. My wife hates “smooth R&B” and I asked if she hated this, she paused for a solid twenty seconds trying to figure out what this is. In the end she gave the most confused no I’d heard her give in a while. Is it indie? Is it hip hop? Is it R &B? Welcome to this era of modern music where every artist is making their own smoothie of influences into their own flavor. Lil Thing tastes magnificent.
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Tagged All Night, Chance the Rapper, Coloring Book, death of the music industry, debut album, hip hop, Indie, Knox Fortune, Lil Thing, Paradise, R&B, song of the year, Song Review
Song of The Year-College Girls by P-Lo featuring Skizzy Mars
People who love fun hip pop music were a little let down by Lil Yachty’s debut album Teenage Emotions which turned out to be oppressively long and confusingly muddled with several elements that don’t serve Yachty well. If you are looking for the album to fill what Yachty was supposed to achieve P-Lo has done it with his new album More Than Anything.
It’s not fair to compare Yachty to P-Lo because the latter is a veteran who has worked closely with IAMSU for years and helped build the ratchet sound. P-Lo produces his own music as well as handing out bangers to other people. He knows exactly what works about his sound and builds on it without straying from it.
College Girls is the best example of P-Lo cracking the code on an earwig hit. The autotune isn’t overwhelming; the content is playfully sexual but not insulting. The baseline is amazing. Neither Yachty nor P-Lo are the world’s best MC but both have the ability to give the listener what they want, I vote for More Than Anything not just because it is six songs shorter but it is a tight shot group of the fun P-Lo knows I want to have. All the guests are in the right places. He’s been around too long to worry about proving anything. For P-Lo every song needs to win and as a listener I appreciate that.
Song of The Year-Survivor by Mary J Blige
Mary will always have a special place in my heart. When I was away from home for the first time (out of country) in the Army she had one of the three albums I needed in order to survive (D’Angelo-Voodoo, 2pac-Makaveli, Mary-My Life). That was back in 1999-2002 and in 2017 Mary J Blige has one of the best albums this year. Coming out of a bad relationship that left a lot of emotional scars she fully explores them on Strength of A Woman.
The two names that strengthen the project on the production end are DJ Camper and Brandon “B.A.M.” Hodge. Camper gives the thick, knocking, clean backdrop for the greatest Kanye West collaboration in years (his best verse in a long time) Love Yourself. He also orchestrates the lush piano sound behind her blisteringly confessional Set Me Free. While Camper is credited with 5 of the 14 tracks B.A.M matches him (if you count co-credits). B.A.M. maintains the almost Maybach Music level clean luxury sounds but really kicks up the bass to a satisfying level.
Mary’s songwriting is fearless. Several times you hear things that shock you but her voice keeps you on track. It is kind of amazing how good her voice is at this point in her career. Survivor is the best. On it she occupies this strange space of diva crafting an anthem and humble, grounded artist who feels like a member of your family. As glorious as the song sounds she still can’t take any of the credit and gives it all to God. I can’t tell you why listening to this song for the second time made me tear up. I certainly haven’t survived anything interesting. I would guess that just hearing her strength and knowing it was the same determination from Not Gon’ Cry and I’m Goin’ Down, that unchanged intensity and will to pick things up and move on was just too perfect for me. I think we need to start talking about Mary like we do Jay and stop letting her doubt how important she’s been to all of us.
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Tagged B.A.M., best albums of 2017, Brandon Hodge, DJ Camper, kanye west, Mary J Blige, My Life, song of the year, song reviews, Strength of A Woman, Survivor
Song of The Year-Ispy by Kyle featuring Lil Yachty
Rap should have more genre’s within it, some record stores still dump it in R & B. At this point it is crazy to compare J.I.D- The Never Story or Raekwon –The Wild with Kyle, Yachty, or D.R.A.M. In September of 2013 I wrote up a review for Kyle’s song Fruit Snacks & Cups of Patron which became a big earwig for me (snuck its way in damn near every playlist). My review comments on the divide between radio rap and the denser stuff ” The lyricism barely exists here like animals in the desert, surviving without much sustenance. I don’t really mind, I’ll get my lyricism elsewhere. ” This is how you should look at it. Don’t feel guilty that Kyle and Yachty are experts in making songs that dig into you and never leave. Ispy is a damn good time.
The shocking part of Ispy for me is a line early in the song from Kyle. Out of nowhere Kyle says “That’s a real hot album homie, I wonder who wrote it? Oh shit.” Obviously a down the middle shot at Drake on the biggest hit of Kyle’s career. It is a great example of how flat the rap world is now. Drop this song back in the 90’s and switch Drakes diss for an LL Cool J diss, Cool James would use his industry connections to DESTROY both careers and shut down the wave (he did this with Canibus). He could do that because the music industry really had people pulling the strings and if you had experience you could make someone’s situation untenable.
As of now this song is a smash with a great chorus and it pops up on the right blogs, the right playlists so it can’t be stopped. Your favorite rapper breaks things the same way Kyle does, every single is a penny in the wishing well and you just wait to get what you asked for. The guys on top can’t really do much to control what is said about them, the pressure they can bring to bear is minimal even to someone several tiers down. Did Yachty know about this shot when he first got his spot on the track? Doesn’t matter, as long as he keeps supplying fun music you and your dog will bob its head to, he wins.
I’m glad cause sometimes I just want to relax.