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-The Space Program by A Tribe Called Quest
2016 is full of classic artists finding new footing: Common, Snoop Dogg, De La Soul, and now Tribe Called Quest. Each one of them when asked is clear that they are inspired by this new generation and wants back in the game. If you doubt this look at the long awaited Tribe album We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service. While it features names you recognize (Talib Kweli, Busta Rhymes, and Consequence) it features important contributions from new school warriors Anderson Paak and Kendrick Lamar.
If you doubted how durable the Tribe experience is this album will resolve that. The Space Program is a great example of the wicked precision in their craft. The samples hit in the perfect place and feed the vibe which births the verses. The Space Program isn’t a beat with rhymes it is conducted from the laughing sample doubled behind the start of Jarobi’s verse to the hand claps that jump behind Tip as he starts all the way to the Gene Wilder sample that closes it out. These guys operate on a level of intelligence and musical instinct that not only can I not fathom but it leaves my favorite rappers marveling. Lyrically they never get enough credit because the lyrics always fit so snugly into the music(Jarobi is a monster!) ; it always envelopes you as a general vibe.
Tribe didn’t have to do a reunion album where they made music to feed your nostalgia the same way they knew it wouldn’t make sense to jump into this new generation’s music and ape it. The reason for We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service is quite simple: Tribe never existed with the zeitgeist. They influenced it from outside(whenever they felt like it), ever since Q-Tip lost his wallet in El Segundo.
Song of The Year-Casket Pretty by Noname Gypsy
I am very worried we are going to end up on the wrong side of history.
At a party where the age average was two generations older and everyone was white; I started asking who they voted for in 1960. Kennedy? Nixon? Most of them said Nixon unapologetically. When I insinuated the negative historical consequences of Nixon’s success (in later elections) it faintly registered but none of them regretted it. Even knowing he would shame the nation; cost thousands of lives in Vietnam….you had to be there.
It was the heat of the moment as it unfolded that formed their opinion; a thousand minute details that history would let fall away in favor of more important considerations. I am very worried that the 2016 discussion around violence in the black community is going that way.
In a minute and fifty seconds Noname clears away all the hemming and hawing about the motivations of police or the difference between black on black crime and police initiated violence. The dead are dead and all the hopeless seconds we spend parsing sociological specifics and building excuses are simply a way to do nothing while minimizing guilt. I hope Noname’s voice echoes “too many babies in suits” behind all those all caps aimless arguments.
This song is about gun culture, senseless death and the fear of it. She executes the song in a sorrowful and thoughtful way that makes it one of the most powerful statements of the year. One that will stand the test of time after these ugly emotional memes fade away; the question is when the future comes will we have done anything about the systemic violence our society breeds? God, I hope so.
Song of The Year-Holy Key by DJ Khaled featuring Kendrick Lamar & Big Sean
A lot of people consider Khaled any number of things: hilarious, vicious self-promotor, someone who flips on his friends in favor of newer, hotter names. His new album Major Key is absolutely the hip hop light show it set out to be. As talented as he is as a DJ, producer and organizer of the music, I consider Khaled a big game hunter of sorts. He bought a house near Jay-z to get a verse (I Got The Keys) and then texted him in all caps that he wasn’t going anywhere. He leveraged his relationship with Future to get Bryson Tiller on Ima Be Alright.
On Holy Key you can absolutely hear Khaled through text and phone conversations revving these two artists up. Pumping them with the adrenal fluid of the imagined impact a game changing verse can have on their career; Letting them know that as respected as they are…we really don’t know what their capable of, none of us. Khaled always has the same pitch: dig deeper and show these MFers who you are.
It works because it’s kind of true. While Kendrick is known as intelligent with an unearthly flow, people are constantly forgetting 2 things: how weird he is and how mean he is. Big Sean brings the mean right out of him (see Control). For his part Big Sean is a masterful lyricist who has literally changed the way rappers rap (his biggest problem: worst mustache in the game). On Holy Key (classic Cool & Dre high octane Fast & Furious beat ) Sean is unbelievable, lacing his rhymes tight and furious but always keeping it Big Sean. You won’t find a more head knocking positive rap verse than his opener on Holy Key.
And yes, Kendrick destroys the song again. As focused as Sean sounds Kendrick sits him down with “I ain’t scared of losses no more, I see life in that. I don’t resonate with the concept of love and hate cause your perspective is less effective and rather fake.” He says “F_ mother earth” and he absolutely loves it. Some people don’t just embrace the villain, they have a sliver of them that really draws power from it. That Ty Cobb part of Kendrick is utterly shocking.
You can’t give enough credit to the legendary Betty Wright for this enormous hook. It’s the incredible Hulk of anthems because it’s not just big but lyrical. Hip hop thrives when the biggest names can open up and prove they deserve their spot; blackout on a track and reinforce their stamp.
Concluding thought: if anyone won Major Key it was Big Sean. Yes, he got bested by Kendrick again but that’s not exactly the worst thing that can happen. Being so close to Kendrick on Holy Key speaks incredibly well of him. His lilting sing song absolutely makes Work For It smooth. He puts a tempo in place that is pleasant and then drops BARS so that by the time 2 Chainz and Gucci Mane come in, the song is already a great situation.
I think there are maybe 7 or 8 people in rap who work as hard as Big Sean.
Song of The Year-Winner$ by Scotty ATL featuring Cyhi The Prince produced by Toomp
If someone asked me (no one ever asks me questions this specific) who the next hip hop mega-star from Atlanta will be I would answer Scotty ATL. I’m not saying he’s going to be a name; he’s already a name for people who love hip hop (hasn’t released a subpar project in YEARS). I think he’s heading for “my grandmother knows who he is” status. Winner$ is a great example of why he is that name for me. He just doesn’t ever waste an opportunity.
Here he gets a beat from the production architect of the trap sound (Toomp is so damn slept on) and a fire breathing game changer of a guest verse from the rap machine Cyhi The Prince (If you like what Kanye has been doing just grab as much Cyhi as you can get) and the two forge an incredible melody they never break out of with a hook so gorgeous you could just put the song on repeat.
This comes off of Scotty ATL’s mixtape EP Home Sick which is absolutely great. In five songs he shows that he can do the languid mumble hop that dominates the radio (Let’s Go Swim) give you classic trap(Plug on The Low featuring OJ Da Juiceman) and strip all that away to give you his heart in a show stopping way (My Mind Lately).
Winner$ is a great example of why Scotty wins. He always gets the very best out of his collaborators without giving the outward impression that he is trying to sink their battleship. He’s able to ramp up his sound while maintaining its earnestness. Home Sick is stadium rap but it’s still just Scotty with no pretentious genre-shifting airs or faux depression. I’d rather listen to Winner$ than Ultralight Beam but I like my sh_t mean any-damn-way.
Song of The Year-Super Crip by Snoop Dogg produced by Just Blaze
I’m not going to waste any time trying to convince you that Snoop Dogg’s new album Coolaid is remarkable and one of the best albums of 2016. If you’re reading this it’s likely that your image of Snoop is very close to Flavor Flav and just can’t be changed. I grew up under him. My Dad came in my room and warned me to never mention Snoop to my mother. She saw the news and he was the most dangerous rapper alive. Dangerous like the Stones had been for him. Snoop Dogg cds had been steamrolled and he was officially every parent’s nightmare. The warning was too late.
He taught me who Slick Rick was along with the dangers of violence. So his wacky BS goofy albums (looking at you Bush) actually make me angry while younger generations chuckle at silly ol’ Uncle Snoop. Who do you think wrote The Chronic?! That mind is still in there underneath that profitable persona. Coolaid is the return of that Snoop I love, the Top Dogg Snoop, the Blue Carpet Treatment Snoop where funny business is at a minimum.
On Super Crip he’s focused. Just Blaze served him the sharpest, cleanest, samurai sword of a West Coast banger and he reasserts himself “creepin’ through the fog and steppin’ through the smog” to do what Raekwon did with Cuban Linx 2; go out the way you came in; at your best.
The real exciting thing about this song is it upholds my hypothesis that Just Blaze is having the best 2016 of any producer. He’s not oversaturated by any means but he hasn’t been playing the background either. Freedom from Beyonce’s Lemonade (featuring Kendrick Lamar) is one of the years five most important beats (songs probably) and while Snoop’s Coolaid enlists a powerhouse cast of producers that includes Timbaland, Jazze Pha, Swizz Beatz, Daz Dillinger, J Dilla, Cardo, Notz no one gives Snoop a better beat. Super Crip is a gorgeous listen and much credit goes to Snoop for waking up from his giggly pimp cup stupor but it was probably the beat that woke him.