Freddie Gibbs - You Only Live 2wice - Freddie Gibbs, the greatest musician to come out of Gary, Indiana without the last name Jackson, must not have been impressed when Kanye appeared on Rolling Stone's cover adorned with a crown of thorns. He had to go one step further and pose as Jesus on his own album cover. Shades of the pre-808's and Heartbreak Kanye that brought us songs such as "Jesus Walks" inflect You Only Live 2wice, both musically and lyrically, as Freddie raps about redemption, guilt, and second chances.
Freddie is, at his core, a rapper from the hood. When he tells you on "Alexys" that he did coke for the first time in 10th grade you know he doesn't want you to forget that. And while Freddie has always had a mathematically intense flow, instead of delivering the shallow celebrational gangsta rap that a less intelligent MC would record Freddie comes into this record sounding haunted. Rape allegations were filed against Freddie last year, and he's never sounded as vulnerable and self-aware as he does on this album.
His voice is supplemented by ethereal string- and choral-heavy beats reminiscent of early Kanye-produced tracks by rappers like Twista, The Game and Jay-Z. Freddie's always had an ear for interesting beats, as evidenced by his album-length collaboration with production auteur Madlib on 2014's Piñata, and this trend continues with a production list that features heavy hitters like Kaytranada, Speakerbomb, and BADBADNOTGOOD. The best tracks on this album hit a perfect balance between hardcore rap and more contemplative hip hop; the mediocre tracks here either focus too much on one side of the equation or don't even attempt to do the math.
This is a short listen, which is good because there are no guest verses and Freddie doesn't overstay his welcome. However, if you already know you're not a Freddie Gibbs fan this album probably won't change your mind. JACK
RIYL: Twista, Jay-Z, Nas and other 90's rap,
Recommended Tracks: 1, 2, 3, 5
GoldLink - At What Cost - While it could be considered something of a concept album, At What Cost, uses the boy-meets-girl narrative to tell a story about something much larger. Tracks like, “Survivor’s Guilt,” “Summatime,” and “Crew,” are reminiscent of Kendrick Lamar’s musings on “How Much a Dollar Cost,” as Goldlink questions his own rise to fame and how that’s changed his connection to DC and the community that raised him. Lines like, “Young man, you’re a goner, caught up in California. You’ve been lookin’ for gold, but there’s nothin’ to hold,” and “n****s got killed for the boy living dreams in the hills,” are heavy. What does it mean to rep your city as you’re becoming more and more removed from it? In an era where someone like Kanye can rap about commodity fetishism in low-income communities, and then immediately contradict that sentiment with his Yeezy line, it’s interesting to see rappers like Goldlink (& Kendrick, Chance, Vic, Q, etc.) grapple with their evolving role in dominant capitalist structures of oppression.
A juxtaposition between light and dark runs deep throughout the project. Whether he’s contrasting life and death, wealth and poverty, or connection and solitude, he reminds the listener that nothing is permanent, but that there’s meaning in the ephemerality. We see this on tracks like, “Meditation,” where he takes the listener from the electro-beat groove of the club, to the fighting and gunshots happening just on the other side of the wall.
Sonically, tracks like “Hands on Your Knees,” pull direct influence from DC’s “go-go” music, a regional sub-genre of funk originating in the late 70’s/early 80’s (think Chuck Berry, Salt’n’Pepa, etc.). I’m not sure what genre I’d put this project in, but Goldlink self-identifies it as “future bounce,” so we can go with that. The contrast between the album’s sound and lyrical content is an important note – while he does cover some heavy themes, this is first and foremost a dance album. With help from Steve Lacy, Matt Martians, Kaytranada, Wale, and Taz Arnold, you know it bumps. Play it loud. Meditation is the track. ZOE
*Oh also the art is so rad!!! Check Darius Moreno’s other work if you dig it
RIYL: Kaytranada, Smino, Kendrick
Recommended tracks: 5, 6, 7, 10, 14
Raekwon - The Wild - Wu-Tang heads always be debating amongst themselves. Who is your favorite member of Wu-tang? Most influential? Best lyricist? Overrated or underrated? I feel like Rae usually occupies that mid-tier zone. Less talked about, but deserves his credit. He didn’t pioneer the sound like RZA, didn’t have the energy of ODB, not as consistent as GFK or as charming as Mef. But he did create arguably the best Wu solo album in Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. In 2017, The Wild shows that homie’s still technically gifted and can still bring that ghetto mafioso energy raw and uncut, b. The Wild sees soulful samples over gritty (but maybe a bit dated) beats and showcases how ill of a lyricist the chef be. Dat flavor. Son, can I just take a moment to say how fucking insane “M&N” is? That is straight 2 and half minutes of alliteration, only rhyming words that start with M in the first half, and N in the second half. Just don’t see that kinda ish too often, namean? Other than that, features were pretty lackluster besides Lil Wayne. All in all, it’s pretty tight. JAISON
RIYL: Other Wu-Tang (Ghostface, GZA, etc.), 90s hip hop
Recommended Tracks: “Can’t You See”, “M&N”, “Crown of Thorns”, “Purple Brick Road”, and “You Hear Me”
Various Artists - mono no aware - Berlin-based label PAN releases mono no aware, a collection of ambient tracks from a great collection of artists (ADR, Bill Kouligas, Mya Gomez, SKY H1). Everything from stretched vocal solos to twinkly grime instrumental can be found within, and no track disappoints. Some are on the longer side, but it's forgivable. It's a nice change of pace, however, to see a standout ambient album in a genre that is so heavily centered around beats. If only for that reason above all others, I highly recommend the album.
The key takeaway: they function equally well as study tracks, ambient listening for fun, and in the mix. CAMERON
RIYL: late-ambient Brian Eno, late-ambient Moby, Erik Satie, “You are now listening to” from NTS, but tbh everybody likes ambient music.
Recommended Tracks: 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15, 16
Bob Reynolds - Guitar Band - So, Bob Reynolds is best known as saxophonist for John Mayer and Snarky Puppy. This album is from a live recording of a concert he played at the Blue Whale last year with guitarists Mark Lettieri (Snarky Puppy, The Funky Knuckles) and Nir Felder, bassist Kaveh Rastegar (Kneebody, Sia) and drummer Robert “Sput” Searight (Snarky Puppy, Kendrick). Despite having zero rehearsal time, the concert resulted in this recording as well as a series of videos shot by Alex Chaloff.
While Reynolds is the bandleader and composer, Nir Felder has most of my favorite moments from this record, with the remarkable thoughtfulness and care that he puts into his playing. And while the jazz police might ask “why the fuck don’t they let the bassist or drummer take a solo?” I think that Rastegar and Searight do a great job of shitting out a solid foundation of metaphysical grooves for the rest of the band to play over. However, as with most jazz albums, I feel like the weak point is the musicians’ insistence on improvising in Every. Single. Song.
Reid Anderson once claimed that, “Not everybody needs to express themselves.” What does Reynolds have to say that no one else can? What merits his voice standing out amongst all the “artists” of the world?
Billy Collins once scolded English teachers for asking their students “What is the poet trying to say?” If you want to know what Reynolds is trying to say, play one of his records. If you can’t hear it, you must not be listening.
Benjamin Aitoumeziane once theorized of “a music review that is actually a life review,” but in music reviews, as in music itself, as in life itself, any attempt at such parallelism fails to reach beyond the theoretical. And in my own writing, as I may never know what I’m trying to say, any need for such self-expression immediately collapses into the absence thereof. JATIN
RIYL: Chris Potter, Kneebody, Lettuce
Recc: 3, 4, 6
Spaceslug - Time Travel Dilemma - I’ve always said that with metal, great album art frequently leads to great music, and Time Travel Dilemma is no exception. What you see is what you hear! Expect to feel like a galactic voyaging space slug traveling through interstellar nebulae made of pot smoke towards a supermassive black hole. I’ve also learned through experience that Polish people make INSANELY good metal for some reason! The guitar tones coming out of Poland are literally not heard anywhere else; it’s the most adorable trend. Time Travel Dilemma specifically is an incredible record; it’s kind of like an amazing stoner metal band spent a day with Pink Floyd and then dropped this! This is generally at the top tier of quality for metal, for those with a focus on progressive instrumentals and heavy riffs. CHRISTIAN
RIYL: Elder, any good stoner metal
Recommended Tracks: Osiris (1), Living the Eternal Now (2)
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