Migos - Culture II:
For many of you, this was the big moment of January that y’all were waiting for. Culture II dropped late Thrusday/early Friday and personally, I’m SUPER underwhelmed. To be clear, it’s not like I dislike this album at all, there are definitely some pleasant beats and signature ad-libs, but Migos played it extremely safe. After Quavo and Travis Scott dropped the collaborative project, Huncho Jack Jack Huncho, a very smooth warmup mix-tape before the chaos of 2018 ensued, I was expecting some fuego-bangers from Migos and they for sure did not deliver the heat. For an album so damn long, 1 hour and 45 minutes to be exact, there sure is a lot of boring garbage.
All trash talk aside, there are some tunes that I highly recommend everyone to peep. For starters, I’m a big big fan of the Gucci Mane feature on “CC”, an Atlanta classic produced by Quavo and DJ Durel. The previously released single “Stir Fry” is another slam dunk track that has Pharrell’s grubby little hands all over it, adding both bounce and sauce to the album. Last but not least, I’ll be probably be blasting “BBO (Bad Bitches Only)” for a solid few weeks before I get bored of that track as well.
I am a fan of the simple cherry red cover art, with Quavo, Offset, and Takeoff front and center adorned with elaborate pieces and birds soaring above their heads. I’ll I can say is take a listen and judge this sequel for yourselves but please don’t pay for it! NATASHA
RIYL: 21 Savage, Gucci Mane
Recommended Tracks: 4,5,8,9,21
SiR - November:
The Top Dawg Entertainment camp has had one hell of a year and is already embarking on a 2018 takeover. Following multi-platinum records courtesy of Kendrick and SZA, label mate and crooner SiR comes to the table with his latest release (and first TDE release of the year), November.
November is an impressive, cohesive body of work that delightfully errs on the side of soul. Growing up in the church and writing songs for the likes of Stevie Wonder, Jill Scott, Anita Baker, Robert Glasper and Tyrese, this easily makes sense. The album is an interstellar trip and acknowledges technological advancements like AI (the album contains dialogue with an AI female named "K"). In all honesty, the purpose of K is unclear - however, if you are willing to dig deep and come up with some theoretical concept please @ me. As for the sound: drum samples? Phat. Bass? Grooving. Swagger? Undeniable. Put it this way: most people have to do their vocal runs to prove they can sing or have some amount of talent. His vocals, simple as they are, are ENOUGH to know that this album is bumpin’
The album is a bit lazy. Casual, if you will. While it has upbeat moments, for the most part, each track is easy. It drifts from traditional trap elements listeners might be familiar with. SiR's R&B reminds me of a Miguel or Daniel Caesar: poignant lyrics, matched with neo-soul influences and instrumentation. This is not a CRTL or massively produced, top 40, auto-tuned, compilation record. SiR stays in his own lane and that, to me, is his biggest strength. His sound was familiar, but the record still stood out as unique - not in an overwhelming way, but for the first record of 2018, this was a pleasant introduction.
I look forward to seeing SiR's progression as a new face in R&B. November proves that quality is not compromised at this label and I am hopeful for the music we'll be hearing from TDE come this quarter. LANI
RIYL: Isaiah Rashad, Anderson .Pakk, HER
Recommended Tracks: 2, 3, 4, 8
FCC: 3, 6, 7
The Bad Plus - Never Stop II:
So The Bad Plus released their first album in 2001, and over the past 16 years have become one of the most prolific bands of all time. Aside from the way the group has revolutionized the piano-bass-drums trio, the way they have re-introduced the band concept to the jazz world, their collaborations with local and international legends including Wendy Lewis, Joshua Redman, and Bill Frisell, and the influence they have had on other artists, the band has released 13 studio albums and played 100+ plus shows each year of their existence. In the jazz world, the Modern Jazz Quartet is perhaps the only group that can compare as far as maintaining the same lineup, and the same quality output for such a long time. So it came as a shock to me and many other fans when the band announced last spring that pianist Ethan Iverson would be leaving the group at the end of 2017, to be replaced by Orrin Evans. While Evans is undoubtedly a legend in his own right, the fiery blend of modern classical, modern jazz, avant-garde, and prog/punk that only Iverson could produce would be sorely missed.
I’m always curious how artists age, particularly artists who are as controversial as The Bad Plus were. In the early 2000’s the jazz community was sharply divided over the group: a bunch young, irreverent, white Minnesotans, who drew as much from Husker Du and Nirvana as they did from Ornette Coleman and Charles Mingus. In the time since, the community has become far more accepting of the group’s music, and the band has aged as well: rather than shredding the jazz traditions of the past, The Bad Plus has become an integral part of the jazz tradition.
And all of that is what makes this new album so amazing to me. Following in the footsteps of 2010’s Never Stop, Never Stop II is made up completely of original music, and it’s some of the band’s most mature music to date. The Bad Plus knows they’re no longer the irreverent young outsiders any more. They no longer have to be in your face about their sound, they can just play their music, and let it stand on its own. While this album is more mellow and stately than some fans might expect, it is also one of their most ethereal and just downright beautiful. Rather than trying to fill Iverson’s shoes or “pay homage to the past,” Evans plays his own style, and it fits naturally into the band’s sound in a new and interesting way. Of their entire discography, Never Stop II would have to be in my top three Bad Plus albums.
Above all, as a longtime fan of The Bad Plus and its members, it’s honestly quite refreshing to watch them age gracefully. Long live The Bad Plus. JATIN
RIYL: The Bad Plus
Recommended Tracks: 5, 7, 10
Toto Bona Lukua - Bondeko:
Imagine my delight when I received an album for download in my email, amongst the ever growing “UNREAD EMAIL” counter. This counter that threatens my peace of mind, and earns me the scorn of my better-organized peers was transcended by an album that cleared the horizons of mind, allowing me to understand my concern for that petty neglect on its own narrow terms, and breathe easy.
I can’t claim to have known Tota Bona Lokua before their latest album Bondeko arrived at my inbox. I think this is forgivable – the last time the “Afro-French” trio (as the Guardian describes) released album was eponymously in 2004. The band name is an amalgamation of the three musician’s names.
The very first track “Ma Mama” is a smooth and surprising track with enchanting vocals whistling, and harmonies that make the heart flutter while the body remains reposed. Subtle rhythms sneak into your ears as the vocals entrance you. “Love Train” (Track #5) similarly builds guitar, tight, unobtrusive percussion to accent harmony and captivate the listener.
These are café, acoustic sounds that melt into the background quite easily. I was lucky enough to take the train over the weekend, and this album sound-tracked the setting sun as I traveled through Los Angeles and Ventura counties to reach home. It is matched only in its gentleness, by its sweetness. I hope you enjoy it. AUSTIN
RIYL: George Mukabi, Oumou Sangaré, Amara Toure
Recommended Tracks: 1, 5, 8