Common - Black America Again: Props to Zoe for gimme this to review. In light of how hectic/scary/stressful this week has been so far, Black America Again is getting my ass through it. Shit is some healing music.
As you can guess, Black America Again is normally politically-charged Common’s most poignant, lucid statement yet. It's one long speech lamenting the as-present-as-ever plight of current Black America. It's a call to action and a reminder of what’s out there: oppression and pain, yet hope too. While Common has stated that the album is a teaching moment for those who are in the dark about what Black America looks like, its hard for me to review how well this message is executed, 'cause I feel like shit's not made for me. There are many moments where I feel like I’m missing half of the album because I’m not black. And I’m cool with that.
But speaking on the music, it gooooes. Common stays being the Morgan Freeman of rap. I can’t think of a more soothing voice that still manages to go off. I’d be down to listen to him rap narration over a nature documentary or some shit. Homie is able to consistently weave vivid imagery into his rhymes:
Here we go, here, here we go again
Trayvon'll never get to be an older man
Black children, they childhood stole from them
Robbed of our names and our language, stole again
The production on this album is tight, staying true to that Soulquarian sound (Speaking of which, with a more modern flare. Shouts out to Karriem Riggins (who’s worked for Ye, Dilla, The Roots, Badu, Madlib, etc.) and Robert Glasper, both prolific jazz musicians. “Pyramids” samples ODB, making it immediately my favorite.
Last thing - I feel like in today’s hip-hop landscape, I’m hearing a lot of fools shitting on what could be considered “conscious rap” or “backpack rap”. This album would probably be considered both. While I fuck with all types of rap and am by no means a “real hip-hop guy” — I wanted to remind everyone that hip-hop’s always been more than “bangers.” Fuck any punk-ass mark that likes to turn up to rap but dismisses its roots — the oppressed. JAISON
RIYL: The Roots, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, D'Angelo
Recommended Tracks: 1, 4, 5, 7, 8, 14, 15
Yussef Kamaal - Black Focus: So, Yussef Kamaal is a British duo made up of drummer Yussef Dayes and keyboardist Kamaal Williams (better known for his productions under the alias Henry Wu). I became hip to their sound through the groups incredible performances for Boiler Room and Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide Awards.
It isn’t often that a group comes along with such an original and distinctive sound, and it's even more rare to find one with as much diversity and depth as this album shows. I dare anyone to find an album that contains the spiritual elements of harmony and texture, the truculent levels of groove, and the incredibly soft touch that Yussef Kamaal accesses on tracks such as “Strings of Light,” “Yo Chavez,” and “WingTai Drums,” just to name a few. Not to mention “Lowrider,” one of the best songs I’ve heard all year.
In the liner notes for Black Focus, the group talks about how they were attempting to “frame jazz inside the bass-saturated, pirate radio broadcasts of London,” much in the same way that artists such as Robert Glasper and Kamasi Washington have been attempting to combine jazz with the American hip-hop tradition. I think that Yussef Kamaal really does succeed in melding the groove-based hypnotic feel a lot of UK-inspired electronic music, with the fluid, collaborative, improvisation-based world of jazz in a way that seems entirely natural. In its essence, jazz has always been about expressing oneself in the most natural way, which will obviously be related the music that the creator has experienced in the past. To the extent to which that natural expression is achieved, I would have to say that Black Focus is my favorite jazz album of the year thus far. JATIN
RIYL: Herbie Hancock
Recommended Tracks: 2, 3, 4, 7, 9, 10
Korn - Serenity of Suffering: When I was a young boy, there lived a child a year or two older across the street, whose family was from Belgium. I distinctly remember what he looked like - he wore black nail paint, extremely baggy cargo pants with chains and spikes hanging from them, and his dark hair never failed to look greasy. But the thing I will remember most about Peter - for that was his name - was the tattered black Korn shirt that he wore absolutely everywhere. Peter sort of bullied me, including stealing my stuff from my garage, so I was understandably biased against Korn for a long time. But the guys in Korn, including “Munky,” “Head,” and “Fieldy” have been keeping nu metal semi-relevant for, if you can believe this, 23 years now! Their latest record, Serenity of Suffering, sounds pretty reliably like Korn if you know their sound. If you don’t know their sound, Korn’s whole shtick is making melody out of dissonance and weird harmony. You can expect to hear strange, dark verses with high energy choruses. Jonathan Davis’ vocals are gritty and slimy at the same time. Also, he has to be one of the very few contemporary artists to incorporate scat into his music! For an example of this, listen to “Rotting in Vain.” CHRISTIAN
RIYL: Slipknot, Deftones, Limp Bizkit
Recommended Tracks: 2, 5, 11
BROOKZILL! - Throwback to the Future: Throwback to the Future lies in the crossroad of Brazilian samba music and New York style hip hop. The lyrical flow of the rappers is matched with the exploratory and adventurous feel of the Tropicalia funk instrumentation. The whole record grooves and moves very organically and gets the body moving without fail. The rap itself is at times a bit lyrically lacking, feeling more like something you can listen to but can't necessarily quote. "Raise the Flag," for example, doesn't necessarily break new ground in experimental lyricism even though its macabre production could have made an incredibly interesting song had it been handled by different rappers. Overall, the strengths to the album lie in its strong Brazilian influence by artists like Gorila Urbano, Prince Paul, and Digable Planets' Ladybug Mecca, who all come together to form a very retrospective and old-school feeling record that gives an earnest look back into a forgotten style. RAMIRO
RIYL: Pharcyde, Caetano Veloso
Recommended Tracks: 3,5,7
Top Tracks of the Week:
Leonard Cohen - Suzanne: Rest in Peace Leonard.
Run the Jewels - 2100 feat. Boots: RTJ coming with an electronically apocalyptic track in response to the weeks events, dedicated to "everyone who is hurting"
Jensen McRae - Supermoon: Current USC student Jensen McRae produces an introspective and mature track worth giving a listen
Big Sean - Bounce Back: Reflective and dark, keep an eye out for his upcoming album.
Metallica - Atlas Rise: Although the video seems like just some dads hanging out at guitar center the track itself rocks as hard as anything they've put out so far, and that's pretty fucking hard.
Kevin Abstract - Miserable America: An interesting mix of emotions on display in this pop-y and funky track in anticipation of his release later this month