Frank Ocean fans rejoice, another new song by the ever-mysterious mastermind is coming, this time featuring Tyler, the Creator and Jay-Z. Played in the trailer for the third part of his ongoing Beats 1 show blonded RADIO, Frank is apparently premiering the song on the radio show. Catch the show streaming here and a link to the snippet-featuring trailer here.
It’s very hard to open up a discussion on this album without mentioning politics. No one wants to hear that word anymore, and honestly this album isn’t even a totally political record. But it’s still there, and the effect of what’s happened in the world’s political landscape over the past year has undeniably changed what this record is. Run the Jewels have always been loud, brash, and hilarious. But this time they have something to poke with their stick, and by doing so continue their hot streak of killer rap albums and work as the best duo in hip-hop.
Yeah, they did it again. Run the Jewels saw two collaborators experiment with the idea of a hip-hop duo on a mixtape after two impressive solo efforts together. Run the Jewels 2 saw two best friends throw away the industry garbage and just mesh, making the album equivalent of an action movie complete with foreign sports cars and 10 explosions a frame. So after a feat like that, what could Run the Jewels 3 hold? Well, it’s a little bit like a sequel. But this time things are dialed down a couple notches. There are no explosions, the bright mid-day sunshine is replaced with a constant dreary rain, and our protagonists are not trying to catch a villain but rather put a halt to the events the villain put in motion. If RTJ2 was Starsky & Hutch, RTJ3 is Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
Basically, we have Killer Mike and El-P going a little slower than the past two projects were. And although they still manage to capture the same enthusiasm and grit, they do start to fall by the wayside a little bit. There aren’t bad songs, really there are none on here, but they definitely pale in comparison to the others and it’s easy to drift off and let it fall in the background. “Thieves! (Screamed the Ghost)” is a wonderful comment on the state of America’s race relations, especially Mike’s verse on CNN and the media, but it’s too low impact to really get in your face and stir you up like an RTJ track of this quality should. “2100” was a touching empowerment anthem to everyone feeling downtrodden and defeated, unfortunately it felt like it was trying a little too hard and ended up feeling like it’s sole purpose was to tug at your heartstrings. However, the lowkey nature does work to their advantage on one of the best songs the duo has ever written, “Thursday in the Danger Room” with Kamasi Washington. The emotion and pain touched upon especially by El-P is complemented perfectly by the lowkey beat.
Besides that, it’s RTJ as usual on these tracks and even better sometimes. Brushing aside the minor gripes of toning things down, we finally got to see El-P return to some classic Sci-Fi sounds that bring back feelings going all the way back to Fantastic Damage. It’s such a well refined mix blending the updated RTJ beats and old school El-P that it’s like a throwback and a trendsetter all in one. “Call Ticketron” is the best example where the two muse about selling out Madison Square Garden over old automated ticket dispenser samples and what sounds like the whir of a floating car.
Aside from the political musings and dystopian beats, it’s important not to forget what the majority of this album is: two guys having way too much fun rapping about whatever they want to. From El-P’s “unicorn horn” line to Killer Mike and “sama lama doo ma lama”, this thing is packed with over-the-top, hilarious, and cleverly braggadocios lines you’d come to expect from the two. You can imagine a smoked out room where they’re on take 7 of one line because they keep making each other laugh too hard to finish the verse. These aren’t two rappers that think they’re prophets and have something life changing and earth shattering to say. They’re two rappers who think they’re rappers and have some smartass lines about some things we’re all talking about.
El said it best on “Stay Gold” with “Me and Mike, we just think alike and can’t stop high-fiving”. It’s what this album boils down, two guys that just mesh well together. Sometimes they talk about sad topics, like 2100 or Thursday in the Danger Room. But most of the time it’s like “Legend Has It”, “Talk to Me”, “Panther Like A Panther”, or nearly every other track here; a couple guys cracking jokes and taking shots at the people they don’t like. They don’t have to prove anything here, they did that on RTJ2. This was a victory lap to celebrate what they do best in the face of some potentially tough times. A day or two after El-P had already tweeted out that this wasn’t some trilogy project and that the 4th album would absolutely be coming at some point. For now, we got a phenomenal project from a group that never disappoints. High five again boys, you earned this one.
“I talk real good cause I’m smart at stuff/We a good crew to fuck with, better to love.” That really sums it up, doesn’t it? At this point, you listen to Run the Jewels because you know there’s as much intelligent commentary to find as there is ridiculous one-liners to take with a grain of salt. Killer Mike details his war with “a bad toupee and a spray tan” while just a few bars later El-P asks “You think baby Jesus killed Hitler just so I’d whisper?” Against another nerdy banger of a beat, it’s what you know Mike and El are going to bring to the table, but for some reason it connects in such a fresh way this time around.
At this point in the election year unless you’re Ken Bone, you know who you are or are not voting for. At this point, you’re probably ready for the vote to happen and let come what may. But in a year of such turmoil, a duo long obsessed with government conspiracies and a world where Blade Runner is no longer a movie are now the first people you actually want to hear from. Whether these guys are your comic relief for the bitter irony you see everyday or the map for navigating this endlessly painful election cycle of pandering and shallow reasoning, Run the Jewels are as sharp and necessary to hear from as ever.
The two who just can’t seem to be stopped, Run the Jewels return with the first single off their new record Run the Jewels 3. Expect some mean words, a meaner beat, and hopefully the meanest record in their catalog to drop sometime this year.
Eminem returns with an absurd freestyle clocking in at nearly 8 minutes titled Campaign Speech. The song features references to presidential candidates, terrorists, and shooting victims, alike in between rapid fire bars and wordy punchlines. Hopping on Sway in the Morning earlier today, Eminem also announced he is currently working on a new album.
Making music is a lot like taking a history class. To know what to do next, you have to go back and see what worked before. Finding inspiration in your favorite works is how its worked since the beginning. Artists look back in time to take everything from subtle cues on direction to complete theft of a sound. So if studying your elders is the class; the mumble rappers are asleep in the back row, the Weeknd is getting straight A’s and still worrying about failing, and Danny Brown has a 35 page thesis paper on New York City from the late 70s to the mid 80s.
We knew Danny has an eclectic taste in music, just check his Spotify playlist or his top 25 albums of all time. So when he said he took inspiration from artists like Joy Division, Talking Heads, and System of a Down, it wasn’t a surprise. This isn’t the first time anyone has taken inspiration from these genres or these artists in particular. But when most people say they’re taking inspiration from a genre they don’t make music in, they mean that they they’re using the sound as a template to make experimental and eccentric sounds catchy. The music doesn’t sound like the artist, it’s more from a songwriting perspective how they want to make their next set of tracks.
The difference with Danny is that he did decide to use the sound and then he had the sounds made into rap beats and ripped damn near every single track. Some people have called this the best Post-Punk album of the year, and it’s hard to argue with that considering that this is as much an album rooted in rock music as it is rap, electronic, and experimental music in general. He himself called it “prog hop” which really characterizes that this album does not sit in a current genre. He fused two sounds that have not been fully put together before and made a new genre. If you didn’t believe he was serious about going down as one of the most influential rappers of all time, you almost have no choice now.
Besides changing the sound of his music, he’s also changed the direction he’s been taking on his past two albums. The vinyl-friendly Side A/Side B formula is completely gone. There is no clear distinction on where the serious songs end and the bangers begin. His calmer delivery has also nearly disappeared and his wild voice has only gotten more raw and pained. This is one, clear, straight shot listen of Danny at his worst presented as his best.
But that’s not to say Danny has changed completely. While the bangers have gotten darker, they still exist and hit harder than ever. “Pneumonia” is a paper stacking anthem complete with Schoolboy Q adlibs, horror-movie haunting cymbals and beating drums warped to gunshots leading into the chorus. “Dance in the Water” feeds African tribal music through a burnt out 8 track as Danny reflects on the dangers of a drugged out lifestyle. “When it Rains” is a freakish piece of techno and “Ain’t it Funny” is like Bad Brains crashing through a jazz ensemble while Danny flows over a horn section way smoother than anyone ever should of. These tracks aren’t going to have people begging Danny to get to Tomorrowland or soundtrack your local frat party, but they still could turn up parties more than any new wave, art rock or post–punk tracks have ever dared to. The classic, ridiculous Danny lines are not lost either, such as on “Lost” where you can hear him name drop both Stanley Kubrick and Asa Akira. And while absent more than ever, “From the Ground” is a reminder of how well Danny’s quiet side carries the classic message of self reflection in rap. Today showcases Danny throwing a new spin on his flow bouncing between Lupe Fiasco and Andre 3000.
While he might be playing with his favorite artist’s music he was too scared too before, Danny never forgets that his love of rap that got him here in the first place. With the help of indie come-ups like Paul White, who crafted a whopping 10 of the 15 tracks here, and seasoned veterans like Alchemist and Black Milk, Danny finally makes his claim as an artist. He’s not coming for “the throne” or trying to have “that song” that keeps him in your memory as a relic from the time period. This is an album from a musician at an artistic peak. It’s the rare kind of material the potential to be looked back at 40 years from now as a focal point of “classic” music. Whether or not that’s the case only time will tell, but what can be told immediately is that Danny has never sounded more confident that he’ll go down as a legend. His albums always end as cliffhangers spiraling out of control where our main character gives it all and still wonders if it was enough to earn the respect he deserves. Atrocity Exhibition may not be him finding peace with his life, but it is him walking away with the solace that he put it all out there for a reason.
As of right now, Anderson .Paak is in close contention with Radiohead for having album of the year. Ever since hearing .Paak a couple of years ago on a very fun Watsky record, it’s been easy to be a fan and casually enjoy some of his work with the Hellfyre Club and Dr. Dre’s “Compton” last year. But it was time for him to step into his own and just be good without having another more popular name attached to him, something that finally happened with “Malibu“. Since then this has been his breakout year appearing on and in everything from the XXL Freshman 2016 list to a beautiful choral appearance on Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book. In the wake of Frank Ocean’s former absence, it’s refreshing to find someone else with a distinct R&B/Hip-Hop/Pop flavor that can touch someone else’s song and turn it to gold. This is exactly what .Paak manages to do (again) on Mac Miller’s new single Dang!
Dang! is quite a turn from the Mac’s trippy projects from over the past few years. On GO:OD A.M. last year, Mac stopped running from his frat-kid-lets-have-fun rap of old and stopped trying so hard to be the weird kid who does a ton of drugs and thinks he has some revolutionary philosophical ideas. There was no reason why he couldn’t be a little out there and have some fun which brought a new found confidence to his recordings, even if it was a little clumsy.
That spirit hasn’t left or even changed at all on this track, just plugged into a new sound. Mac’s flow is still a little rough but generally sounding good, on a new sound he wants to play with, and he’s still having a ton of fun. Anderson .Paak really steals the show here, mostly because the track sounds like a leftover cut from Malibu. But it’s not to the song’s detriment, as it sounds like at one point it could’ve been a demo .Paak never finished, the duo definitely extended this to a nice and heavy hitting song. The idea basically revolves around a back and forth relationship you’re kind of tired of and fairly confident you want to stay grounded. So the production is on point, .Paak’s singing is great, and Mac holds his own fairly well front and center in the spotlight. His flow does get a little cartoony which takes away from the sensuality of the song and his lyrics can get a little eye-rolling absurd at some points, but he matches it at others with different pitches in his rapping and some breathy singing that go over fantastic. It’ll be interesting to see if Mac decides that this is the sound he wants to play with over the course of the entire album and to see if he can make it as interesting as something like Malibu did. His next effort is The Divine Feminine, coming about a year after his last effort on September 16th and is confirmed to feature appearances from CeeLo Green, Kendrick Lamar, as well as this cut with Anderson .Paak.
Final Thoughts: A very good single from Mac. Now that he has the confidence to be fun and weird, it would be exciting to see him clean up his goofy side a little more and play to his strengths to finally make some tunes that’ll stay impressive in the years to come.
They say when you’re expecting something to happen, it’s not as good as it would be when you’re surprised. And it’s usually true, like when the jump scare in the movie is coming or you know the punch line to the joke before it’s finished. It’s why people usually get so upset when artists retread the same waters they explored on earlier project, because if you heard it before and you knew it was coming, how could it strike the same feelings and emotions it struck the first time? Well apparently Danny Brown knows how to, because he came back with another chaotic club banger that feels just as unsettling as “25 Bucks“ was the first time.
Stylistically, this is nothing new for Danny. The beat is steeped in as much Hudson Mohawke noisy grime as it is RZA street grit. And his flow is as wacked out as it ever was, matching the eccentricity of the beat note for note. Lyrically, he’s also doing what he would normally do talking about life on the streets and the effects of violence and poverty on his life and the community. What’s interesting is the direction Danny decided to take with the whole song. By now you might think this sounds like a cut from the party songs of Old, and it would fit there very well. But there’s always been a separation of his crazy flow that goes with his party lyrics and banger beats and his more subtle flow that goes with his visceral lyrics and dark beats. But he threw that all out the window and instead made a dark beat that you also want to dance too, as well using his normal drugged out flow with crushing lyrics that go right into a party hook just so there’s no room for you to guess that those verses slipped in there by accident. It’s the first time he’s taken all his styles and mashed them together so clearly and it goes off without a hitch. It’s all very reminiscent of Joy Division, music that’s as hard to forget how sad the song really is as it is easy to picture yourself at a club with a drink and a couple dumb moves you picked up over the last hour.
Against this is the video, which you really should watch to get the full experience. This isn’t a lazy background visual a few people threw together on a tour pit stop. It really adds to how unsettling the song and where Danny is coming from really is. The whole video is played as if it were a broken VHS tape. Tons of glitch art filters and Detroit dance moves that you probably haven’t seen since the last time you watched a VHS tape. It takes you back to where he wants you to go like good music should, but when you get there you realize you don’t want to be there. That’s the next step, what a good artist does because only Danny can take you where Danny has been. Only he can create so many unique styles for himself and mash them together in a way that seems so careless but also so meticulously crafted to sound great. With the announcement of this video, he also announced his signing to Warp Records where he said he’s “looking forward to breaking some rules together”. Danny knew exactly what rules he wanted to break to keep a hot streak of great tunes up. He even broke the one that everyone knew he would: drop a song that we knew exactly how it would sound and exactly how good it would be, but make it just as impressive as if you never heard the sound
in the first place.
Artist: Aesop Rock
Title: The Impossible Kid
Label: Rhymesayers Entertainment
Talking Aesop Rock albums is something of an anomaly. With a seasoned fan, it’s incredibly easy because for 20 years now Aes has taken this thing that he’s mastered and chopped it up in a completely unique way. And he does it again here, so if you are a fan of his music then you probably got what you need from this review. Yeah, he does it again, in fact he does it better than normal, go take a listen because it’s probably going to be right up your alley.
But to a casual listener or someone whose never listened to Aes before, it’s difficult to explain this “thing” he does so well. Because like talking about his work, he himself is a bit of an outsider which is a topic he comes to embrace, which is something you might expect on an album called The Impossible Kid. What an Aesop Rock album can be boiled down to is a concept backed with some off brand production told through the eyes of one of rap’s most sociable introverts. So you will not find the next hot dance song or thumping party banger on this album. There is no paint to go hard in, there is no base being served, and there are certainly no pandas. There are however songs about his latest visit at the shrink, an awkward trip to the local Baskin Robbins and his pet cat Kirby.
If there are bangers on here, they’re made for the after party of a college spelling bee. A data-scientist crunched the numbers for 85 rapper’s first 35,000 words used (somewhere between the first 3-5 album’s worth of material) to find how many unique words each rapper used. By this study, Aesop ranked number 1 with over 6,400 unique words and blows the likes of Wu-Tang and even Shakespeare out of the water. Now whether you agree with how the study was conducted or not or if you really think Aesop had more lyrical talent than Shakespeare is beside the point. The point is, Aesop Rock projects have all had very dense and sometimes cryptic lyrics which has remained a popular selling point for many fans and they do not disappoint on this project.
The general theme of the project is a look into Aesop’s current life and his expansive vocabulary details it in a very engaging way. It simultaneously works as a story book from someone who has an outsider’s look on life and a series of relatable events for an outsider. So while a song about his cat and trip to the ice cream shoppe might seem pointless and ignorable, it all works into the bigger story. Take the song “Kirby” for example, where you get a song about owning a cat and all the smile inducing quirks that come with pet ownership. But the end of the song is what takes this from a quirky cat song to an important story moment, with the lyrics “15 years taking prescriptions/Now a shrink like, ‘Ionno, maybe get a kitten'”.
So now we can take a look at the song “Shrunk”, where he visits his shrink’s office and argues about how his intricate language can sometimes make it frustrating and his shrink’s part as well as the general difficulties he struggles with in his life. The songs play off each other, where his shrink suggests a fix to his problems through pet ownership and it seems to do the trick, at least partly. Then you have to ask what his problems are where you can take the picture even bigger and say it’s loneliness after his best friend and fellow rapper Camu Tao died. Death is a common theme Aesop pines over a lot on this album, but you can find most predominantly in the song Water Tower and specific references to Tao in the song “TUFF” with lyrics like “Roll out/Ghost of Camu on the pegs”. It’s times on the album like this that make it so engaging where Aes lays out this trail of crumbs that connect to make a bigger story on where he’s at in his life or just little individual topics that the average person can relate to.
If you’re the type of person that looks to get into an album through the sound, there’s no lack of interesting sounds on this album either. The sound of this album is easily his most accessible since his 2001 classic Labor Days. The production can best be described as a cross between The Rising Tied/Meteora Mike Shinoda and Fantastic Damage El-P meets a Jak and Daxter or Kingdom Hearts soundtrack. It’s like the soundscape to a rainy night in your favorite Cyberpunk movie that is complete unique to Aesop. The production is littered with equal parts noisy, futuristic synths and classic late 90s/early 00s record scratches. It’s all the more impressive that Aesop produced every single beat on this project. Some people have been pretty obsessed with Aesop being over the Cyberpunk beats tinged with a folk sound made by Blockhead that Aesop has notoriously been over in the past, but it’s not only admirable but impressive that he undertook the entire production as well as writing of the album and it came out so well. While Aes has never been known as a producer, it might be just be something to look out for in the future.
Aesop Rock is not just an anomaly, but a paradox. 20 years or so in the game and he has managed to make the exact same thing in a completely different way every single time he makes an album. It’s a rare site to see something that sounds so formulaic be so unique, creative, and interesting every time. The Impossible Kid proves that it’s at the point where you know exactly what you’re going to get from the next album he puts out, but you couldn’t be any more excited to hear what he puts out next.
You’re the most popular rapper in your country at the moment. The problem is that you live in England and you’re making Grime, the notable little brother of American hip-hop which makes it very hard to make a mark in the prominent hip-hop market. The good news is you’ve been cosigned by Drake, in fact he just signed to your label. Better yet you’ve been cosigned by Kanye, and you and 40 friends mobbed out at his show complete with flamethrowers and an awkward Taylor Swift dance. So people are listening, what are you going to do on your new single from your forthcoming album? You’re going to snap on it of course, and that it is exactly how Skepta’s past few months have played out, including his new single “Man”.
Skepta wastes no time getting down to brass tacks on this track. He’s not trying to do anything but deliver some bars with a distinctly English flair here and that’s all he has to do. This is pure, raw Grime that comes complete with a cold, throaty flow reminiscent of Boy In Da Corner Dizzee Rascal and a Hip-Hop-meets-House beat supposedly backed with a Queens of the Stone Age sample. It’s tracks like this that really make you wonder why UK hip-hop is mostly ignored because stylistically it’s not much different than what anyone else has been doing in American hip-hop. He talks down on posers that want a picture with him just for a couple Instagram likes and kills each bar he drops. But it’s so refreshing compared to your average swag rapper you’ve come to expect. The emphasis on the English accent and the electronic House marks on the beat make it so distinct. Skepta makes it loud and clear he’s here to be one of your new favorite rappers, but he’s bringing the rest of the UK with him and you’re just going to have to deal with it.