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.
Posted in Uncategorized
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 Review-Marksmen by Roc Marciano featuring Ka produced by Arch Druids
I don’t think any song on the new Joey Bada$$ album (All-Amerikkkan Bada$$) is as important as him going to Hot 97 and telling them NY radio hasn’t grown. He was correct but I would have changed the ageism laced in his argument. The problem is not that Funkmaster Flex is old it’s that his ear is old. Roc Marciano is only ten years younger than the 48 year old Flex and Ka is only four years younger but they are both a vital part of the character of NY hip hop rebuilding itself in 2017.
Roc Marciano’s album Rosebudd’s Revenge is bigger denser and more fun(as well as experimental) than any project he’s released before. He collaborates with Ka on Marksmen which is a cannon ball sailing at rappers doing throw away music. The interview sample at the beginning about getting better and better is more than a guiding principal it could be a commandment. In this song Roc Marci says “you hit the notes flat, my whistle blow and make the crystal crack” and Ka starts off the song with “To our production, much destruction for our appetite. With steel fist if meal missed wasn’t for lack of might.” Is anyone as careful with each word as these two? Every song they step on together is two artists of a like mind discovering a higher level.
Younger important NY hip hop artists like Your Old Droog and Westside Gunn are ten or fifteen years younger than Ka & Marciano but are painting with the same colors. Age isn’t the problem it is art. Ka and Marciano are artists who create pieces not hustlers making lifestyle music (no shots, I love fun ad-libs). It feels like NY radio (and the magazines) were so wrapped up in the pettiness loop that they forgot about the artistic standard the music is held to. They were calling somebodies flow trash or fire without looking at the song like you look at a completed painting or poem. Their context is trash. Each song these two make hangs in the gallery of their discography and should be reviewed that way. It’s not a movie, it’s a landscape you have to keep looking at to find all the detail in the background that indicates the skill involved, the patience, and the vision.
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged Art, Brownsville Ka, funkmaster flex, Joey Bada$$, Ka, Marksmen, NY Hip Hop, Roc Marciano, Rosebudd's Revenge, song reviews, Westside Gunn, Your Old Droog
ThrowbackThursday-Love In, Love Out by Cormega
For a while whenever someone was at my house and said they wanted to hear Nas, I would put on Cormega. This wasn’t a slight at Nasty Nas at all, in Maine Nas was known and quite respected but the depth and importance of the surrounding dudes was not. Not enough hip hop kids knew who AZ or Mega were (although in NY things were different I’m sure). Fifteen years ago Cormega put out The True Meaning and I absolutely blasted it. An independent album with production credits from Buckwild, Alchemist, Large Professor, & Hi-Tek it is clear that the industry always understood the skill level of Cormega.
If you know Cormega now you might have heard more recent albums like 2014’s Mega Philosophy or 2009’s Born and Raised which are grown man intelligent in a way that literally made Chuck D proud. The difference in 2002 Cormega is Love In, Love Out. Maybe five rappers in the history of the genre are as good at writing betrayal as Cormega. He wrote about going from loving shout out on One Love to left out of The Firm so much that he was able to mature into his understanding of the situation. While 2001’s The Realness was full of blistering accusations and gloriously well executed line crossing by The True Meaning Cormega was master of all three dimensions of his situation. In a disciplined thoughtful tone he says “I was never jealous of you, in fact I was proud of you. I smiled when I heard you on Live at The BBQ. I respect you as an artist though I’m no longer fond of you.” But the emotion is bubbling underneath. When he immediately follows “I gave you love from the heart unlike the people surrounding you.” That statement is knowingly loaded.
Love In, Love Out is bravely a showcase of real situations pulled through a composers mind and sharp tongue. When The True Meaning came out I played Verbal Graffiti over and over again for the absolute forest fire flow, he crackled and snarled as he opened “I’m like a panther in the dark silent when I strike the paper, like a dagger in your heart when I write I leave a mark.” It went along with the stories people told me about him in the military. I would talk Mega and someone would say “I saw him on the subway with two crackheads! One was beautiful but the other one…” his street credibility was mythical for those of us outside of New York.
Love In, Love Out represents the parts of Cormega’s legacy to rap I feel most rewarded by. The introspective person bound by his ethics, wounded by betrayal and brave enough to elaborate on all conditions of it; not just his hurt and being wronged but the respect he will always have for what the person was. The ethical man using all his strength to hold back the panther part of him that wants vengeance, at this point in listening that feels like The True Meaning.
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged #ThrowbackThursday, Alchemist, Born and Raised, Buckwild, Cormega, Hi-Tek, Large Professor, Mega Philosophy, Nas, song reviews, The True Meaning
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.
Song of The Year-Young Dumb & Broke by Khalid
I can’t tell you how creepy it is when old critics write about young artists. Read some old Mac Miller reviews from when he was sixteen and a goofball, the venom is crazy. Either these writers pursue younger artists non-stop to feel like they are staying young or take out their world weary perspective on them. I am grateful not to be one of those dudes, a writer yes, an artist but not a critic. I couldn’t care less about capturing the youth experience versus the older experience as long as it is vividly rendered.
That is why Khalid is getting so much attention. His new album American Teen builds a world so complete that you can test the boundaries and it stands. The pure poetry is there (see: Angels). His voice is more Justin Vernon than Marvin Gaye but the tempo shifts enough degrees per song to give you a new slice every track (with fifteen slices).
Young Dumb and Broke is a post-Frank Ocean anthem that harnesses all the energy of those negative arguments used against this generation and sends it back in some brilliantly articulate aikido move. How are you gonna hate this generation when your singing along to an anthem about it?
Do people even think about this stuff? How much better R & B is than it was ten or fifteen years ago? The fact that we have had so many important/influential achievement albums in the genre that the standard by which we judge it has moved up several notches. The music we shrug at could have run the table (nothing wrong with Monica, Ciara, & Donell Jones they saw us through some hard times) in 2006. The reason you find it so hard to know which new music to listen to is because the world is full of cold blooded assassins doing it themselves. New names we need to learn now or be called out by friends eventually. Press play on Young Dumb & Broke because Khalid is one of those names.
Contrasting The Unsatisfying with The Satisfying
From the first Kehlani song I heard I filed her into my head as an important person. She has world domination pipes and a real versatility to her. Her new album SweetSexySavage was built around her ability to dig into many moods and styles of R&B. She can give you a snarling stepping out of the ashes anthem in Crzy or get super radio friendly with a song like Advice. The savage end of the three part equation isn’t quite there but that’s fine. Even on a song like Do U Dirty where she is the cocksure mistress declaring intentions to do you dirty and that we should be worried….you won’t be. Kehlani doesn’t have the dangerous side someone like Rihanna has. If Rihanna said she was gonna do me dirty and that I should worry…I would be genuinely fearful of getting a lamp broken over my head or something.
Here is Kehlani Do U Dirty
If you get the deluxe edition of SweetSexySavage it is 18 songs where she is changing personas but keeping each song as big screen as it can be. Every song is a swing for the fences radio hit that nearly clears the ball park but falls in an outstretched glove. Kehlani is frantically getting dressed in different characters for the big dance, her debut album. By the time the limo gets here she is mismatched and trying too hard. It is not a bad album AT ALL. Lots of great stuff on it, but it is not satisfying.
Syd’s album Fin is another story. This is a side project from the lead singer of The Internet. They put out one of 2015’s best albums Ego Death. Fin doesn’t have nearly the stakes that Kehlani’s debut has or seek the pressure of radio domination. Fin is such a personable album with a beating heart right next to Aaliyah’s legacy. Know sounds like Aaliyah, like really does…which is something to say. So few things sound like Aaliyah. She is genuinely funny “If I go to hell hope all my B’s can visit (Nothin To Somethin’)” and impossibly personable cashing in on a mid-tempo groove with a mixture of gratitude for where she is, confidence as to what she can do, where she came from, and psychosis. She stews it so perfectly that while Kehlani forces her voice in every crevice of SweetSexySavage you can find yourself forgetting how special Syd is as a vocalist. She doesn’t go full Mariah but when she hits a beautiful moment it is striking (See: Smile More). The other times you are led by these incredible lines. My favorite song on Fin is All About Me which starts “I be more than a god in my dreams, it’s wishful thinking. I sleep more than I need to, I drink more on the weekend.” To sleep more than you need to so you can return to the dreamscape you rule which contrasts to what?! Well, I’m hooked.
Here is All About Me
Syd might be incredibly versatile as well but you get the idea that she doesn’t care whether it ends up that way. This is a side project that will be full of stuff SHE WANTS IN. “When I die my grave gon’ be my music, my soul is living through it.(All About Me)” and she says it just as casual as anything else. It’s why Fin feels so damn free.