Music Listened to During the Month of May

Chance the Rapper — 10 Day (hip-hop) (2011) 7 In anticipation of Chance’s big May release, I went and explored his back catalog. While it’s clear he was just starting to discover himself as an artist, the foundation of his music — his radiant, infectious optimism and giddiness — is still at the center of this tape.

Jay Z — The Black Album (hip-hop) (2002) 7 While this record was falsely advertised as Hov’s final release, it still serves as a staple in time where he decidedly concluded his career and provided closure to his reign as the best rapper alive. He did go out in style; the record features soulful, snappy vintage Kanye production throughout and includes some of Jay’s most iconic songs, including Encore and Dirt Off Your Shoulder.

Aesop Rock — The Impossible Kid (hip-hop) (2016) 7+This was my introduction to the underground rap legend Aesop Rock, and I was pretty blown away by his abstract lyricism, unique voice and rhythm, and especially his vocabulary. It’s without a doubt in my mind the most impressive I’ve heard from a rapper. However, I do believe it can be to his detriment at times. Sometimes he relies on astonishingly complex rhetoric and heady metaphors to a point that they unfortunately end up cloaking the songs in ambiguity. Many of these songs are puzzles that I would imagine even those at Rap Genius are having trouble deciphering. Nonetheless, he’s also an above-average producer, drawing from a grittiness reminiscent of El-P, who he actually worked with in the early 90’s while they were both coming up.

James Blake — The Colour in Anything (songwriter) (2016) 8- James Blake is the king of melancholy. This album just sounds like wallowing inside your room alone on a rainy afternoon after a rough breakup. And while that simile may make the project sound dull and uninspired, it almost never is. James Blake is extremely innovative as a producer. There’s something unique to each track on the album, whether it’s sampling a guitar chord from 50 Cent’s “21 Questions”, performing multiple vocal melodies with varying filters on each of them simultaneously, or just having an abstract structure, he makes songs feel like raindrops unpredictably cascading down a car window, morphing into different shapes and sizes through its descent.

Anohni — HOPELESSNESS (electronic) (2016) 8- Where this album thrives is the grandiose production by Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never. Always vibrant, dramatic, and large in scale, it frequently is juxtaposed by the ominous and — well, hopeless — lyrics, all of which carry a strong political tone. Anohni’s voice does have a lot of character and carries emotions very effectively, but to me the vocals are still second-fiddle to the production. Lopatin’s abstract, glitchy, synth-heavy style finds a certain accessibility by working with Hudson Mohawke, and it does a lot of justice to the record. Some of the ironic lyricism goes over great as well: referring to the government as a “daddy” that makes us feel safe, listing the atrocious repercussions of global warming followed by a chorus assuring “it’s only four degrees”, and even asking to be drone bombed. While the dark, subtweet-y lyrics do cast a large shadow on our world’s future, the beautiful production provides reassurance that there still lies hope.

Skepta — Konnichiwa (hip-hop) (2016) 6- British hip-hop’s pioneer has found some success across the Atlantic over here. It mirrors U.S. hip-hop’s gritty “stick it to the man” attitude heavily throughout the project.

Chance the Rapper — Coloring Book (hip-hop) (2016) 8+Chance the Rapper found the perfect vessel for him to inject his positive, infectious sound into on Coloring Book: Faith. Faith in God, faith in artistry prevailing over compensation, and faith that life amidst the tragedy is indeed good. The result is a beautiful, uplifting record that transcends boundaries frequently casted by religion, instead building a bridge right over it to unite all people in a celebration of optimism necessary in a time so bleak. While sonically it may underwhelm and be unpolished at times (like the poorly mixed cluster of sound on the chorus of the intro), Chance still absolutely kills it on his third tape.

Post Malone — August 26th (R&B) (2016) 6+Posty’s first full-length project has a handful of songs that hit on all cylinders and formulate a decent crooning song, but sometimes it just doesn’t come together well. His greatest asset is still his fantastic feel for vocal melodies; he finds the pockets in woozy trap production better than anyone else doing it. Unfortunately, the lyrics embedded in the melodies are almost always generic and uninteresting. He is a capable singer, and his familiarity and appreciation of genres foreign to hip-hop (specifically country on the song Hollywood Dreams) lends itself to some music with a lot of potential if he is to go that direction on his forthcoming commercial debut.

Lil Yachty — Lil Boat (hip-hop) (2016) 5- I have an extreme love-hate relationship with Lil Yachty and his breakthrough project. Musically, it’s pretty much horrendous. But I still kinda like it. The production is so light and innocent — as is Yachty throughout — that it’s kinda cute, in all honesty. It’s definitely unique, and while it’s far from perfect, you need to appreciate anyone who tries to do something new, especially since the endless void of trap-influenced Young Thug and Future ripoffs are suffocating the hip-hop scene nowadays.

The Internet — Ego Death (R&B) (2015) 7- This album showcases The Internet’s very smooth and interesting R&B sound. Syd the Kid, the lead vocalist, also proves to be one with great potential, as her singing often showers the emotion right on top of the percussion-heavy but still etherial production. There’s also a handful of excellent features, including Vic Mensa and Tyler, the Creator.

Jonwayne — Rap Album One (hip-hop) (2013) 6+Nothing’s more refreshing than an artist who can make a beat, rap over it well, and drive the track home with quality lyricism. Jonwayne nails that sacred trifecta, but his Rap Album One lacked a cohesion it desperately needed for it to attain its potential. His beats are also pretty hit-or-miss.

Travis Scott — Days Before Rodeo (hip-hop) (2014) 6+Rodeo was one of the most well produced hip-hop albums of the decade, so I found it imperative to listen to some earlier work by Travis Scott. Unfortunately, the production just wasn’t as interesting or layered as I would come to expect. While there still are some interesting elements to it (like a feature from the vocalist from the band 1975 followed by a harpsichord-led instrumental), Travis was still clearly in the process of polishing his sound.

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