Because the Internet – A Look At the Best Rap Album Nominations For The 65th Grammy Awards

When The Fresh Prince and DJ Jazzy Jeff won the first Best Rap Performance, they didn’t go because they knew ahead of time their win wouldn’t get televised. After another year, that award wouldn’t see the light of day for 22 years. However, there have been more puzzling choices in the category beyond the album award, like “Hotline Bling” winning Best Rap Song when it isn’t a rap song – I guess Drake in name alone is rap? Hey Drake, resubmit a country song as rap and see if they bite. Jokes aside, one might understand the shiftiness of presenting live; the Grammys don’t show every award because they award over 70+ categories yearly, but when it 86’d a genre – of course – there would be protests. We didn’t have Best Rap Album till’ 1996, with a few performance categories that would subsequently get replaced with Melodic Performance and Rap Song. And still, one thing many in the general audience harp at is the nominations.

Like with the most prestigious awards, we balk at the nominations for categories we hold close to heart. But for Hip-Hop, we’ve had lapses in sub-categories and the shifting choice of which award to present. I prefer Best Rap Album as it is the cream of the crop, but sometimes it’s Best Rap Song, Best Melodic Rap Performance, or Best Rap Performance. Though we aren’t the only ones subjected to it, it’s the lack of a presence in the universal Gen-Pop awards throughout the years. Over the past two decades, we’ve seen slow growth in finding general acceptance in those awards, especially with the more Alternative albums (2) – to standard hip-hop – winning the big one – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and SpeakerBoxxx/The Love Below. These days, a win is a win, but it hasn’t been honkey dory, especially for us nomination balkers who see worst mistakes than the year the Academy gave Paul Haggis’ film Crash, Best Picture. Unfortunately, they still make mistakes, and this post is about nomination mistakes, especially in 2015 and today.

One of the most egregiously what the hell moments for nominations was in 2015, Iggy Azalea’s boorish pop-rap effort on The New Classic and Wiz Khalifa’s poor attempt at creating Trap music, “We Dem Boyz” aside. If either went on to win, it would have been the weakest winner among the many, but they are safe choices. 2015 had the albums, My Name is My Name by Pusha T, Piñata by Freddie Gibbs, PTSD by Pharoahe Monch, My Krazy Life by YG, and more that could have snuck to replace them, but like the film academy, niche styles won’t see the proper praise. I say this considering how focused it is on the G-Funk/Gangsta Rap My Krazy Life by YG is or the gritty percussion and synths of Monch and Pusha T. They reflect the genre discussion in film. I’m talking about the more whimsical work from creators like Wes Anderson, who rarely get looked at due to his niche style until it becomes more generally appealing, like The Grand Budapest Hotel. Fortunately, the last few years saw some consistency of diversity, as we saw artists you wouldn’t think the academy would find appeal in, like Tyler, the Creator, who has won twice, along with honoring albums that were some of the best that weren’t pop-like.

Additionally, we’ve seen nominations for Laila’s Wisdom by Rapsody and Victory Lap by Nipsey Hustle, two albums by rappers whose commercial appeal never translated into the vast world of pop but got nominated in back-to-back years, respectively. Though oddly, Nipsey’s world did converge with that of the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend fandom; however, I digress. It’s been many familiar faces, aka rappers with the highest commercial appeal, some non-debatable, others more so until recently, like that triumphant moment for Nas, winning his first Grammy after 27 years in the game. It’s been part great since 2015, but with an influx in quality from the growing number of artists, debates will continue to spark about what did and didn’t deserve a nomination.

2015 wasn’t the first time I felt flustered by the array of nominations considering the vast plains of music to get discovered outside the R&B-like Pop Rap of the 2000s. But it’s the first I’ve sensed they didn’t hear everything that was out there except for what’s on the radio. Universal Mind Control by Common, a winter 2008 release, was nominated in 2010, the same year as the overly dull and sugary R.O.O.T.S. by Flo Rida over more deserving entries like the DJ Quik and Kurupt Collab Album Blaqkout or Ludacris’ Theater of the Mind. It happened and happens currently because the Academy has a wonky, designated calendar for eligibility. Usually, their calendar year is October to October, disregarding the November and December months like film companies when they were releasing more potential critical failures, like wear found footage horror films, in January and February in the 2010s. Not saying those releases never brought forth greatness, but with an influx of covers and best-of lists, reviews can get drowned beneath it.

Rare moments like 2015, where many nominations weren’t reflective of the best work that year, and another came this year, where we saw three of the nominations bring out questions from fans. We got Jack Harlow, DJ Khaled, and one of Future’s weakest albums in his discography. And this isn’t to discredit these artists, as they have delivered fantastic surfeit work, Jack Harlow, aside. Unfortunately, the love for pop we’ve seen with Eminem and Kanye winning multiple, further making past flawed nominations make sense, especially since the late 00s. The Iggy Azaleas and DJ Khaleds – Khaled, who continuously finds himself in Best Rap Album, despite mediocre releases over the past decade – and legacy nominations that don’t always get heard through a critical lens and are nominated for the name alone – see the “Hotline Bling” nomination for Best Rap Song. It doesn’t discredit the 90% + nominations that merit the nomination. This year just left me floored when there are better albums viable for the award, like The Forever Story by JID and Traumazine by Megan thee Stallion – this includes non-submitted work like Gods Don’t Make Mistake by Conway the Machine and Cheat Codes by Danger Mouse and Black Thought.

I can understand the Future and DJ Khaled nominations, but with Jack Harlow, it felt like 2015, where there was little merit within the album to even come up with an argument for its inclusion. It’s what you’d expect from some white rapper who wants to be Drake but without much swagger. It was an overall boring album riding the highs of a Drake feature and a dope Fergie sample. Similarly, God Did by DJ Khaled is riding the coattails of a few decent songs, this remarkable Jay-Z verse on the title track, and memes. Future; well, it’s sad this is his first Best Rap Album nomination, considering how many great projects he’s released over the past decade. I didn’t hate I Never Liked You, but it isn’t Dirty Sprite 2 or Evol. It just leaves me flustered that they made it look like such a give-me for either of the other nominees, which I wouldn’t be mad if either won – Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers and It’s Almost Dry

2022 will be like 2015 all over again, with fantastic performances and a ceremonious win, where the big shock would come if Future upset the two clear front runners. Though one could expect Kendrick Lamar to win, he did lose to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, so anything is on the table. Unfortunately, Best Rap Album isn’t always “locked,” and here you could see Jack Harlow sneaking his way in for a win. His tacky apropos style never left anything to the imagination, almost feeling standard in approach – I Never Liked You isn’t tacky but is tried and, sometimes, forgettable. I’m here thinking about past years while trying to come to grips with it. And DJ Khaled, mediocre as it is, is forgettable outside that Jay-Z verse, so it leaves me curious about how it got nominated. It doesn’t define Hip-Hop/Rap, and frankly, I tune more into the yearly BET cyphers at their Hip-Hop awards, which is a much better and understanding award show about the world of Hip-Hop. Hope Kendrick Lamar wins, and cheers to the nominees…well, most of them.

Here are some past wins and speeches I’ve loved:

The Music of 8 Mile: 20 Years Later

In the 2000s, it became a blend of the 80s and 90s–we got dance dramas and bleak and realized music dramas that contain violence and more realities of the streets, like pimping and drug slanging, amongst other life choices based on nature. From Honey and Step Up to ATL, Get Rich or Die Tryin’, and Hustle & Flow, we got some great films, some duds, and others that fell in the middle. It wasn’t like past films, which tried to show how others appropriate the culture, like with the drab Black and White by James Toback. Most of these dramas, which aren’t always great, understood how to frame and deliver upon the aesthetic and grounded understanding of their world, specifically in the dialogue. For example, Honey, directed by Hip-Hop/R&B music video director Billie Woodruff, felt homier, less cinematic, and framed simply, unlike Get Rich or Die Tryin’, which was the opposite as it felt more like something to appeal to a broader audience. Honey only had the general appeal of a young Jessica Alba, while the other notions felt more inclusive and empathetic to its community, like Stomp the Yard.

In 2002, 8 Mile, the semi-autobiographical drama starring Marshall “Eminem” Mathers, came and made an immediate impact from all angles. From the music to the performances and filmmaking, it felt like this unique moment in 2002 where something outside the norm could come and make gangbusters, considering its monstrous box office return. But 8 Mile was different; it had nuance, the cinematography was enthralling, and it rarely felt artificial. It follows a path where the surroundings and situations boast reasonings for the escalated drama. However, at the crux of the film and the reason for its lasting history is music. The soundtrack is grand, a memorable piece of art that you can have with you after seeing the film in 2002, and like the films of the 80s and 90s, it made sure it kept you centered on reality. It had retention beyond its alignment to the film, keeping a steady progression of tracks you’ll return to instantly, like “Rabbit Run.”

We return to 8 Mile because of its lead actor and presence in Hip-Hop culture, and proof music dramas of this ilk can be excellent and successful. It has the music and a script with linear direction, even if it doesn’t have the overall resounding depth beyond its central figure. None of this absolves 8 Mile for its problematic groundedness with its reflection of heavy homophobia and misogynism in Hip-Hop as leading us through this semi-autobiographical battle rap fairytale. One could excuse its representation of the era–mid-90s–its surface layer, never ushering a discussion with nuance, instead just there as we see Eminem’s character Jimmy “Rabbit” Smith Jr come from a choke job to beating the defending champ. 8 Mile isn’t some masterpiece of Hip-Hop cinema but left an impression that made it seem artists can gravitate toward their history and deliver a grounded performance in reality in a studio film. But when it’s something that has been with you since the beginning, you can’t help but express bias-tinted lenses for the enjoyment you get watching it repeatedly, primarily because the final payoff is phenomenal for the exhilarating, emotionally draining moments.

8 Mile had a soundtrack that fluidly incorporated the instrumental Hip-Hop influenced score from the movie impacting the beats, like that of “8 Mile Road” and “Rabbit Run.” The former has these eloquent, dark, slow percussion variations that we hear during Jimmy “Rabbit” Smith Jrs.’ trip to work on the bus, where he writes and contemplates the next step. Though that moment, it gets reworked and slowed down to fit the mood and aesthetic, while the album version gets slightly sped up. “Rabbit Run” is the most profound, like many tracks and verses in Eminem’s career (“Speedom 2.0” by Tech N9ne, for example). It sees Eminem delivering a thin veil of duality as we see Eminem mirroring aspects of his and Jimmy “Rabbit” Smith Jr.’s life for a straight 3 minutes, which at the time, to a young Kevin, was out of this world. Obviously, we’ve seen better since, like Wayne Brady’s constant murder of Sway’s Five Fingers of Death or Chiddy Bang’s record-breaking 24-hour freestyle, but “Rabbit Run” is explosive. It capitalizes on being the closer as its harsher, bleaker lyricism contrasts the hopeful nature of “Lose Yourself.”

But 8 Mile: Music from and Inspired by the Motion Picture came with this plethora of audacious, original rap tracks from various artists, which kept us enthralled. It had tracks from Jay-Z & Freeway, a coy introduction to Obie Trice, and a brand new 50 Cent single, hyping us for his eventual debut with Get Rich or Die Tryin’. We got new RAKIM, some Gangstarr, and Macy Gray, all fitting an aesthetic driven by the tones of the film. The production helps embolden these tones with the dark strings, piano keys, and gripping percussion. Orchestrated by Eminem, the themes and tales the artists deliver match the complexities of the film, even if it wasn’t the case with every track. Nas came with a diss track aimed at Jay-Z, who did the opposite and delivered some flare on a reflective song that boasts his change for the better. This distinctive inflection arrives fresh as a reflection point for the underlying beef in the film; it keeps that energy flowing like those final rap battles did for us at the end.

The two main outliers are “Lose Yourself” and “Wanksta.” One speaks for itself, and the other was one of 50 Cent’s earliest hits. I remember the music video vividly. I was with my cousin, who got the Get Rich or Die Tryin’ album, while I had a censored mixed CD. That CD came with the video, and we popped it in his PS2; it further cemented a love for hip-hop, but more so an interest in rap, as before, it was all Eminem for me. It wasn’t until later in 2003, on Christmas Eve, when I caught the first few minutes of 8 Mile before my family decided to drive home. And since then, I’ve had two rotating songs on many playlists in my formative years, “Wanksta” and “Lose Yourself,” the latter left a lasting impression through prestigious eyes that can steer discussions about its quality in pop culture discussions. “Wanksta” has a fun and lively demeanor where the swag oozes with each swaggering step as he continues the dissing–in this case, fake gangsters–like the rap battles of the film. It was bombastic, gritty, and beautifully orchestrated. There are its issues, including some modest production, comparatively to said producer’s other beats, and themes that meander due to past raps about them. On “Rap Game,” where D12 raps about the effects of the industry as artists who aren’t seen on the same, a topic we’ve heard before from varying artists; however, as great as their synergy is, the track isn’t as interesting, but it flows.

What can I say about “Lose Yourself” that hasn’t been said before? The piano-driven production boasts waves of anger, resilience, and success in harmonic bliss. The lyricism brings resounding depth, wordplay, and beautifully direct storytelling. Blend these two you get a fantastic song with emphatic replay value and memorable lyricism. It also won the Academy Award for Best Original Song, the first Hip-Hop track to do so. Eminem & Luis Resto & Jeff Bass were the winners, and their competition was Paul Simon and U2, two artists who, back then, were more revered and loved than Eminem. He was amidst social scrutiny for his language from a barrage of angry parents, considering his skin color allowed him to have a wider reach compared to the past. A few months prior, he released The Eminem Show, containing “White America,” a satirical dig at parents who lambast his music. However, there was a shift here, and though the wins and nominations stay stagnant, having more Hip-Hop songs make the Academy’s shortlists is a proper step in the right direction for their inclusivity. It’s especially gleeful when not long after the win for “Lose Yourself,” we got our following winners: Three Six Mafia for “It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp,” beating out Dolly Parton. I feel like many of us reacted the same, if not more enthusiasticallyally than Queen Latifah when she handed them that award.

As the years progressed, we’ve had plenty crack the shortlist or vie for a nomination, like Kendrick Lamar, Alicia Keyes, and Hans Zimmer, with “It’s On Again” from The Amazing Spiderman 2 and “100 Black Coffins” by Rick Ross from Django Unchained. I still find it a travesty that it wasn’t nominated, especially with the gravitas and potency of Ross coming off the fantastic B.M.F. album. It boasted by having the stylistic focus of Django Unchained in mind, but eventually, we’ll go back to that instead of playing it safe with “Glory” or “Stand Up For Something.” We’ve seen Hip-Hop artists get nominations for non-Hip-Hop tracks, like M.I.A. and Pharrell, for their work in Slumdog Millionaire and Despicable Me, respectively. It didn’t so much open the doors, and instead, it made history, along with Three Six Mafia, for winning in years where their style of music may not have been winners; Eminem has a controversial past, and Three Six Mafia…well, “they’re pouring me some pimping mang.It is part of its everlasting history and will stay so for years.

Like those who knew of its rerelease, I saw 8 Mile in theaters over the weekend; I felt possessed as I sat there mouthing every freestyle, every verse, and more, due to its personal history with me. But at that moment, punches from the music started hitting harder, and it made me remember the early years; I’d vigorously loop “Rabbit Run” to try and learn every word, even matching the flow, down to the minor breaths in between rhyme schemes. I was one with the music like numerous people have been with the film. We instantly return to the soundtrack, and the final rap battles, before thinking of rewatching the film in its entirety; however, no matter the decision, it’s an experience worth revisiting if not for the faint of curiosity but for the music and character details explored with Jimmy “Rabbit” Smith Jr.

Artist Profile – Telenova

Some of my favorite discoveries have been on a series from Australian DJ & Radio Host Triple J called, Like A Version. Within his show, the artist he interviews deliver two live performances, one original and one cover they want to do. And one artist that captivated me on both ends is Telenova, an Australian Electro-Pop/R&B band that offers intrigue to a world that can expand. I knew they could make something special from their performance of “Hung Up” by Madonna. I was on a cloud of whimsy as they delivered sonically while constantly expressing jubilance. From there, I started to dig further into their discography–two EPs and a few singles later, they have an identity built within their core, despite slightly shifting to standard sonic conventions we hear amongst their contemporaries. But that’s okay, as they follow a rhythmic pattern that makes our ears tingle with that pop-tinge from musical catchiness.

There’s “Bones,” this exuberant electro-pop groove that leans on the atmosphere, shifting between these whimsical strings and filtered synths. Contrasting that style is the percussion-driven “Haunted,” which recontextualizes atmospheric overtures as a subtle backing layer for the rhythmic and slight R&B-influenced vocals from lead singer Angeline Armstrong. There are various turns Telenova takes to make themselves stand out amongst the rest, and beyond the two tracks mentioned, they bring an excellent ear for certain instrumentations. We especially hear in the cadence brought out by the strings, whether from various guitars, mandolins, etc., weaving together the varying layers of synths and percussion into flirtations with pop. I’m an over-giddy fan who loves ambient/atmospheric electro-pop, specifically when it has an identity that separates them from contemporaries, like Chvrches. One of many indie bands I return to–I can’t wait  for the moment they release full length LP, but for now, check out their cover of “Hung Up” and EPs, and hopefully you’ll like them.

Check out their most recent EP, Stained Glass Love, here:

Hip-Hop 50, Vol. 1: A Triumphant Start To 50

Man. It felt like just yesterday; I heard my first Hip-Hop/Rap record, and it shifted my musical taste and eventual side wishes in high school, like becoming a rapper. It was an impression unlike no other, and it took me through crazy musical journeys in life. I’ve gone to underground shows, and I’ve gone to see festivals and personal headlining shows of those with top-tier talent from my generation–I’m talking the 2 Chainzs and Mac Millers, contrasting the Pells of the world. But as I reflect throughout the years, time passes, and come August 11th, 2023, the genre turns 50, which will offer many a chance to reflect on how the culture shifted the direction you took with music, whether choosing which rappers to see in concert or becoming an artist/journalist yourself. Leading to that 50 mark, Nas’ Brand/Label, Mass Appeal, will be releasing 10 EPs representative of Hip-Hop’s evolution, and I, for one, am excited for all 10 of them. 

These EPs will contain production from a sole producer–each producer has been a part of cultural shifts in growth and style. Swizz Beatz will cover modern east coast hip-hop(1999 – Present); Mustard will cover the west with his revitalization of past west coast funk flare, but Mass Appeal is looking at the bigger picture–they are bringing producers that are more than just a coast. Hit-Boy is working with straight lyricists, and Take a Daytrip is working with Alternative Hip-Hop. It won’t be a core history lesson as the latter probably won’t create alternative sounds that made artists like Deltron 3030 and Jurassic 5 unique, mainly due to the looseness of the term Alternative (I mean shit, A Tribe Called Quest are Alternative). However, what they bring will stay true to a concept DJ Premier masters on the first of these EPs.

For Hip-Hop 50, Vol. 1, DJ Premier takes the realms and rewinds time to the turn of the 90s. Hip-Hop had DJ Scratches to Jazz and Soul Influenced production, eventually shifting from playful percussion to gritty snares, drum machines, and piano keys–it paved the way for the mid-tempo Boom-Bap to transition into grittier street raps and break-beats. DJ Premier was at the front of it, producing the boom-bap-jazz hip-hop with Gang Starr and smoothly assimilating toward the bleaker side with production for Jeru The Damaja. Each era has its producer everyone wants to work with, and Premo was that guy for the 90s; he still is, holding his legacy strong. We get reminded of this throughout Hip-Hop 50, Vol. 1–with the classic, crisp Premo vinyl scratch and a range of productions that fit the mold of the sonic themes on the EP–some wonderful verses and contrasts between artists that boost its effectiveness. Honestly, I couldn’t put it down.

It begins with this portrait of 1990; abstract horns blare with harmonic vibrancy as the drums flow in a rhythmically parallel 1-2-3 punch, and the scratches begin as Joey BADA$$ starts to flex, continuing a solid streak of great verses in July. It continues to progress with an influx of confidence radiating through different perspectives. We get that shifty-grit of the late 90s with “Remy Rap,” where Remy Ma comes hard–her bars left me speechless; Rapsody contrasts that with the cadence in her boom-bap-influenced flow, leaving you the need to keep going and never stopping. It’s a 14-minute trek that offers a platter with old and new artists taking DJ Premier beats and bringing them to life to give us Hip-Hop bangers to blare over the stereo. I know I’ll be bumping all these tracks, specifically “The Root of All,” the Slick Rick track featuring Lil Wayne. And I hope you do as well, especially with more on the way.

We Vibin’ – Live DJ Sets To Listen, and View.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve heard and read conversations on house music and its re-emergence into the mainstream, highlighting Drake’s latest album and Beyoncé’s latest single as primary examples. And I get it, but house music is far from really breaking that mainstream barrier again like it did in the late 80s and early 90s. They are at a peak where they can make the sound trendy, and once it kicks, the singularity will continue since it’s hard to orchestrate a tangential mix like Dua Lipa’s Club Future Nostalgia. But Drake and Beyoncé are on a hierarchy, especially compared to artists who have made or featured over dynamic electronic and house productions. Drake made it work on his album, and Beyoncé delivered a powerhouse Dance-House hybrid that oozes 90s nostalgia, specifically in the percussion. And despite their status, I have doubts; doubts that it will push to exponential heights as its peak during the 80-90s transitional period. But I hope I’m wrong.

See, it’s a genre with uniquely fantastic quirks that artists of Drake’s caliber needed to bring out styles influenced by House–Jersey Club, Hip-House, and Techno–to sustain transitional fluidity within the pop-sphere and the groove. Most of the time, the tracks were fantastic that they showed Drake’s appreciation for the nuances of the genre. These hybrids or transitional sub-genres have allowed artists to create something unique and wonderful. They often get their biggest hits remixed, but this isn’t a genre that will find itself in the trenches of Hot 100 Radio, specifically with new hits monthly. It’s a tight-knit community that is more than just the production; it’s creating an atmosphere and mixing in real-time.

What’s different for Beyoncé is that she has shown that sense within her new single, “Break My Soul.” I’d love to get into the nitty-gritty, but it’s contextually deep. Albeit my doubts, maybe Beyoncé could, as we’ve seen her bridge genres prior. I just have to wait and see. Charlie Harding and Nate Sloan of Switched On Pop delivered an eloquent and thorough breakdown on their podcast, which you can listen to here: Beyoncé’s House. I’m in a different lane. I love the singularity it can take, but nothing hits like a clean mix. House isn’t singular either, as it has branched into varying subgenres and new stylistic directions, like Trance, Dubstep, Techno, and more. The unique talent of DJs is unbound, specifically due to the more real-time, time-sensitive focus to allow for smooth transitions and an ongoing vibe. Here are some of my favorite sets to check out.

The Weekly Coos: Top 15 Albums of The Year So Far

15. Wet Leg – Wet Leg

“Wet Leg captures you with melodic mysticism and lush instrumentations morphing beyond surface layer cohesion between drum patterns and electric guitar riffs, especially when the band steers toward pop-rock instead of post-punk overtures.”LINK TO REVIEW

14. 070 Shake – You Can’t Kill Me

“You Can’t Kill Me isn’t like 070 Shake’s previous album, specifically in the construct of the production. It isn’t devoid of complex layering with the sounds, but it doesn’t deter you by taking a distinct direction that never lands, though some tracks fly past the radar because of uninteresting production. There is a frequency to it, and 070 Shake comes at it with full force and develops a sense of emotional gravitas.”LINK TO REVIEW

13. Avril Lavigne – Love Sux

“…I haven’t always been absent from her music – some highlights here and there – and it’s a good thing I wasn’t as Avril Lavigne has come with her best work since 2005’s Under My Skin. Love Sux is a dynamic shift from blending nuances of the past with oblique pop. Love Sux knows what it is: lyrically poignant, blending commercialized lingo with riotous rock or rounded pop-punk ballads.”LINK TO REVIEW

12. Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers

“It’s a complex text that wants you to decipher beyond the surface layer verbiage, and Kendrick doesn’t make it pleasant. It’s provocative, but that’s a given for him. With complex text, there is complex production, but here, he is building toward growth and showing us a reenergized side of him.”LINK TO REVIEW

11. Conway the Machine – God Don’t Make Mistakes

“When attempting to bring bangers, he doesn’t stray far from his identity, lyricism; it continues to be a staple of his craft. There’s constant activity on God Don’t Make Mistakes, his major-label debut. There is crisp production from a range of producers, who provide tonal consistency, and there is Conway’s lyricism that never falters.”LINK TO REVIEW

10. Hurray for The Riff Raff – Life On Earth

“LIFE ON EARTH lands on impact with moments of catching wind as their sound evolves through each track. Alynda Segarra is trying new things, and as she weaves these complex layers in her writing, the production builds till we don’t have one flavor; we have many.”LINK TO REVIEW

08. Daddy Yankee – Legendaddy

09. Florence + the Machine – Dance Fever

“Daddy Yankee made reggaeton what it is today, allowing for a free flow of ingenuity to become universally accepted as new artists create their foundation. LEGENDADDY takes various eras of reggaeton and weaves them into a musically transcendent timeline of music history, with Daddy Yankee surprising us at almost every turn.” – LINK TO REVIEW

“From the more personal and soul-filled High as Hope to the radiant baroque-pop on Ceremonials, Florence & The Machine have delivered consistently remarkable work, especially with Florence Welch’s ability to meld within any style taken with immense bravado. It’s what has her shining through on their fifth album, Dance Fever.”LINK TO REVIEW

07. Black Country New Road – Ants Up There

“On Ants from Up There, the band isn’t as altruistic musically; they immerse themselves into balancing the external with the internal. Because of this, Ants from Up There shines, spotlighting itself as one of the best rock albums over the last few years.”LINK TO REVIEW

06. Kilo Kish – American Girl

“Building a foundation on Experimental and Alternative R&B/Hip-Hop, Kilo Kish branched out and used the basis of what works, adding elements that see her evoking elements of Pop; however, it can become forgettable, especially with her 2016 album, Reflections In Real Time. As a follow-up, America Gurl improves on some of the off-electronic overtones and transitions, with Kilo Kish growing more into who she is as an artist.”LINK TO REVIEW

05. The Weeknd – Dawn FM

“In a proposed trilogy, After Hours is now the appetizer, as we hear his progression in maturity – musically. However, The Weeknd gives us an afterthought – after the fun and thrills, what was it all for when you’re still left gutted with past regrets. He takes note of late-night radio and creates a similar atmosphere to parallel the sentiments of the average listener – it also maintains a proper balance of genre influence and his intricate ear for music with his producers.”LINK TO REVIEW

04. Rosalía – Motomami

“Motomami takes experimental directions, allowing Rosalía to explore beyond her comfort zone while retaining a sense of authenticity along the way. It breathes fresh air as she detaches from flamenco-pop past – there are minor blemishes, but it circulates into one cohesive romp that’s constantly catching you by surprise.”LINK TO REVIEW

03. Vince Staples – Ramona Park Broke My Heart

“The first sounds we hear are waves slowly crashing along the sands of Long Beach, California. We immediately fade into Vince Staples rapping as the faint sounds of the waves blend in the background, and we get reintroduced to inside his head. Ramona Park Broke My Heart is a shifting paradigm of lies and heartbreak, cornering any sense of hope to succeed. Vince Staples’ mind has hypotheticals, realizations, and growing pains that reflect how he views his career after many years under a label–sometimes, of his personality; other times, reflective of his career. But there is more to the project than the parallels in his potent lyricism, which is a constant on Ramona Park Broke My Heart. He is showing us behind the broken walls that surround him. Vince is giving us a lot to break down, from the emotionally-lyrical side and the production, which brings a continuation of greatness heard on his self-titled release last year.”LINK TO REVIEW

02. Bad Bunny – Un Verano Sin Tí

“Though I wasn’t the craziest on El Último Tour Del Mundo, what he did with a futuristic concept lyrically, was awe-inspiring, especially as he continued to grow artistically. Similarly, the album prior, Yo Hago Lo Que Me Da La Gana, did as the title suggested. Bad Bunny came at it with something new and different, blending various notes from diverse genres and showing us a free-spirited approach to the music. That continues on Un Verano Sin Tí. It’s an album resonant on the vibes, particularly in its construction, which plays in a nearly perfect crescendo from start to finish. He brings fresh features and unique directions we’ve heard a sampling of before; however, here it’s refined, coming at you with various sounds fit its beach/summery aesthetic, despite some lesser tracks, comparatively. It all culminates in excelling the idea Bad Bunny had when creating Un Verano Sin Tí.”LINK TO REVIEW

01. Angel Olsen – Big Time

“After reinventing herself with different aspects of pop–All Mirrors–and past stark and flaky atmospheres in folk and rock, Angel Olsen continues to shape her art, making music resonant with her identity on her new album, Big Time. In an interview with Pitchfork for the album, Angel Olsen said, “I have learned to let go of the labels and embrace what I’m feeling in the moment. And I ended up making a country record, or something like a country record.” Big Time is emotionally potent and sonically harmonious, bringing new dimensions to her artistry. It skews from modern country conventions, rooting itself in more traditional country, giving her vocal performance depth, reeling you with captivating emotional performances and a sense of whimsy.”LINK TO REVIEW

Gushing Over Norah Jones’ Debut Come Away With Me: 20 Years Later

If we look at the winners of the Grammy for Album of The Year throughout the past few years, there have been few outliers that pushed away from pop. However, before its dominance in the 2010s, the 00s had musically rich nominees and winners from different genres and sometimes a subversion of pop. Amongst these winners came Norah Jones and her remarkable debut, Come Away With Me

Come Away With Me has been part of my weekly rotation for the longest, as it embodies sentiments that become begotten when the sun shines, and some of your worries scurry into the shadows. But that isn’t necessarily the case with every song, as some bridge a line of twinkling hope – one of my all-time favorites, “Feelin’ the Same Way,” does so to balance the scale of pop bliss and intricate reflexive songwriting. Norah Jone’s debut brings these sonic elements from jazz, soul, traditional pop, and more to lay a foundation for a constant atmosphere while having the freedom to take on different pitches and styles. She has this ubiquitous laid-back demeanor that makes you feel heard and seen when you’re in the middle. The songwriting guides us through a watery path caused by the storms that flew over as the mind assimilates to a balanced level of serotonin. Norah Jones broadens her vocals by allowing the melodies to counteract the loverly instrumentation beats in the strings and percussion. 

Before escalating toward more pronounced Jazz and Traditional Pop ventures, the levels of emotional subtlety Norah Jones uses to guide Come Away With Me left an impression where the loop never ended. I remember it was a darker and rainy Sunday afternoon, and as I sat in the backseat, I almost forgot I had an iPod Classic. I’ve heard “Come Away With Me” and “Don’t Know Why,” but Norah started driving home what this journey would be with the subsequent tracks that succeeded the primary singles – which I just mentioned. What I got was a blend of original composition and covers of songs by Hank Williams, John D. Loudermilk, and Glen Miller.

Now, when I say that Norah Jones has been making more pronounced Jazz and Pop, it’s speaking toward the instrumental side. Come Away With Me has production balancing nuances of mostly deconstructed Acoustic/Traditional Pop, where the rhythm is pertinent with the vocalist instead of overly sizzled drumlines or multi-layered strings that weave a driven sense of acute obscurity. Come Away With Me has songs that are more than just highlighted acoustics and somber piano keys; it integrates subtleties from other percussions – with this, Norah Jones can align unique melodies against compromising cymbals and snares. It separates the creative popstars from the generic ones, though I’m saying this loosely. When the album adds some instrumental definition with bass and drum grooves, it doesn’t deter from the subtleties which align with most songs. It builds upon the core it has created, and it subverts focus from one of many guitar strings to percussion (bass grooves too). 

However, what is most pivotal is we hear each song’s identity, whether it comes from the production of “Lonestar” or the vocal complexions of “Nightingale.” Identity is pivotal in Come Away With Me, especially when incorporating its themes – longing, dreams, relationships – Norah writes various narratives that focus on specific aspects – loneliness in “Shoot the Moon” or unrequited love in “I’ve Got To See You Again.” In “Painter’s Song,” she sings about paving her path through paint metaphors. The production sets a sunnier tone with the piano and doubling down with beautiful accordion play in the second half. 

At this point, I assume you may be asking yourself, “where is he going here?” I just listed a deconstructed barrage of reasons, from the intricacies of her singing, the songwriting, and production, but I’m not critiquing. Most importantly, I kept gushing and spewing about these intricacies that it seems there is no coherent argument outside of getting you into listening to this album and marveling at what I was marveling at in the past and now. Come Away With Me has been with me for the longest those are just some of the reasons why. I play it when it rains; I play it at night when I want to drift into melancholia. I just want you to feel the same as you listen to Norah Jones’ phenomenal debut.

Top 20 Albums of 2021

Rating Updated: Went from 9/10 to 8.5/10.

Digital Meadow is unlike most debuts. Dora Jar comes full force, attacking every part of her senses and letting that inner mythical brain explore the depths of her songwriting. She shifts on a dime, taking intricate themes and playing with them like empowerment on “Wizard.” By creating this persona that flips the perspective of her shyness. Dora Jar is ready to take the next step, and I’m excited to see where she goes.

Full of life and reflection, Actual Life 2 (February 2 – October 15, 2021) is a genuine escape from reality as we sift through the diaries of an artist in tune with his craft.

“Actual Life 2 (February 2 – October 15, 2021) benefits from allowing songs to feel free and atmospheric and having them contain their own identity in the long run. And from it, he rises above his first album and delivers a tighter and more nuanced follow-up that improves on one aspect of Fred’s music without forgetting the key strengths of the first Actual Life and further implementing them cleanly. I wholeheartedly recommend it, especially if you’re an electronic fan.” – FROM REVIEW

8. Birdy – Young At Heart

Joy Crookes was another artist, who’s debut album left me in awe – she has these complex ideas and realizes them into these larger-than-life short films. She speaks on identity in various forms, which relate to the dual-layer she masks herself with as she dives into her past and delivers topics about locational growth and character growth. The production is ever-shifting and offers a plethora of fun and consistent frequency as it transitions from song to song. 

Tyler, the Creator made a Gangsta Grillz album, and it was glorious. What more can you ask for, especially when Tyler continues to show his skills as a producer – Furthermore, it reminds us about his rapping skills, which can sometimes steal the spotlight without causing friction.

After digging deep into her emotions during a tumultuous time, Japanese Breakfast comes with a new sense of life, musically. She covers expressive themes about finding joy post heartbreak and realizing life isn’t perfect, but she finds common ground by letting the ray of light shine. The production is full of jubilant strings and percussion as a means to balance the serotonin in the chemical compounds on Jubilee.

Vince Staples elevates his craft and platform by breaking down his barriers and delivering an intricate look at his life. He’s an artist who knows what he wants and the lengths needed to tell his story, and he delivers.

“The broken-down instrumentations add a lot to the projection of Silberman’s vocals, and the writing has a distinct cadence that you just get lost in the dream as flower petals sway softly in the wind over spring flowers. It stays on that flow as Green to Gold cycles back from the closer, “Equinox,” a lively and hopeful instrumental that shows us a light at the end of our tunnel.” – From Review.

“This continuation on both volumes of Un Canto Por Mexico has been nothing short of amazing. With Vol. 1 she delivers livelier-traditional performances, while Vol. 2 brings a slightly melancholic direction sonically, allowing for the guitars to play bare as Natalia and her musical guests flourish from start to finish.”  From Review.

Sometimes I Might Be Introvert subverts what we know about Little Simz as a rapper. She digs into her subconscious and elevates her being and artistry – there are moments she flexes her lyrical and technical skills while exploring themes like introversion and identity. She blends these ideas with the production as well. We see the influence of afrobeat and soul into her songs, especially using the former to create the dynamic “Point and Kill.” I heavily recommend it, no matter which genre you prefer.

The Weekly Coo’s – Top 15 Hip-Hop Albums of 2021

All reviews are linked to the album title.


Baby Keem came from under the shadows of his superstar cousin Kendrick Lamar to properly define himself after a few test tapes in swampy waters. Hip-Hop isn’t always the kindest, but the niches have allowed any artist to strive – to a certain point, sometimes – and Keem seemed to have something that may not have given him staying power. I’m talking about his vocal tendencies, melodies, and production. The Melodic Blue strives by subverting our thoughts and giving us a proper debut that rolls out monstrous hits, catchy hooks, and a multi-faceted Baby Keem.
Teetering between finding himself spiritually and finding himself musically, DMX’s career over the last decade has been forgettable, to say the least. Listening to Exodus, it was refreshing to hear DMX revert – sonically – to his roots. He whips up a whirlwind of songs that deliver nuances to the old while keeping itself modern – from a classic posse cut with The Lox, a classic triad with Jay-Z and Nas, a standout performance alongside Moneybagg Yo, who does the same, the path is limitless. Unfortunately, I thought so from looking at the tracklist. However, the few rough patches come with artists that tread into poppier sounds – his originality still holds it together tightly.
It’s hard to come up with the right words to describe Donda, and so I implore you to click the link above and read my review as it explains my true feelings.
Gotham took a chance with a sucker punch, and it lands firmly on your face. I can attribute that to Diamond D’s masterful production and rhyme skills alongside another NY veteran and master lyricist in Talib Kweli, which takes me back to that classic gritty boom-bap style of the past you sometimes want now and then.
LP! is raw. It is filled to the brim with interpersonal raps and linguistic gymnastics as JPEGMAFIA delivers how he feels like a creator. The visceral imagery on both sides of the coin continuously glows in front of the many aspects that make the music great, especially in Part II of “TIRED, NERVOUS & BROKE! (SICK, NERVOUS, AND BROKE!),” where JPEG and Kimbra create a melancholic unison. It may not be my favorite JPEG album so far, but it packs enough punch to be a solid follow-up to his last album, All My Heroes Are Cornballs.” From Review. 
One thing that I’ve always admired about Joell Ortiz is his hunger. Amongst prominent New York rappers, he has never stood out like his contemporaries – The Lox, Cam’ron, and Fabolous, to name a few. But that hunger gives us a potent personal reflection on his career and life in an excursion through great production and multi-faceted layers of character depth in his verses.
Nas improves his craft heavily on King’s Disease 2, from the lyrical depth to stylistic constructs. He still fails to find his footing when creating “hits,” though Nas isn’t the one who fails, his features sometimes don’t bring that same energy like A Boogie on the song “YKTV,” or they are underused like Blxst on “Brunch On Sundays.” But most of the album hits as Nas takes everything by the horns and delivers us some heavily introspective work that drops knowledge bombs like on “Death Row.” It’s an overall fantastic listen.
"I Died For This?! is far from your typical debut, similar to Kendrick Lamar’s GKMC; it is about telling his story and upbringing. The only difference is the universal appeal that comes from the music. Grip’s debut takes us through his upbringing and everyday situations burdening him and his community. Grip’s creativity sounded limited in the past, with simple bounce production weighing his style down from growing." From Review.

Grip’s raw energy and determination to prove his worth only embolden his strengths to mask some basic chorus deliveries – it’s sometimes common for new artists, especially for rappers privy to his style of lyricism. Unfortunately, a few tracks don’t stick the landing – it derives from Grip’s breather from different angles of his craft.
"Of the four projects Boldy James and The Alchemist have made together, Bo Jackson is the best. It never creates friction allowing everyone to breathe on the track in their distinctive ways." From Review.
It’s hard to come up with the right words to describe A Beautiful Revolution Pt. 2, and so I implore you to click the link above and read my review.
"Tempus exceeds beyond the parameters of the walls it imposes on itself for a marketable reach, but Issa Gold has never been one to glamorize success as his mental health still hits him in strife. These recurring themes have been a looming shadow on the rapper as he comes to grips with the way life changed. He may not have the appeal of New York rappers who encompass, the currently trendy, New York Drill sound and expand it to fit the unique niche of their verbal artistry." From Review.
4. Blu – The Color Blu(e)
"The Color Blu(e) isn’t as profound and tightly wound as Miles, but Blu doesn’t take shortcuts. He still comes at full force with diverse subjects and verses that are as memorable as the production. From the various samples, some of which are as luscious as “Mr. Blue Sky,” you’ll still find more pieces to dissect and enjoy. In terms of hip-hop, this is one of the best projects this year, and it earns one of my more earnest recommendations." From Review.
"Call Me If You Get Lost shows Tyler, the Creator consistent ascension toward greatness as he continues to surprise us with new sounds, album after album. After a slew of great releases that didn’t always come together tightly, Tyler finds an equilibrium that highlights his strengths as an artist in what could be deemed his best work of his career and creating a landmark within generalized nostalgia trends going about these days." From Review.
"Vince Staples gives us Vince delivering his most personal work to date in a melancholic and depth-filled album. For some, the album may deter you due to its length and others may be deterred due to the uncanniness of the sound. Though it isn’t uncanny as Vince has been everywhere and on different instrumentals, that this subdued direction isn’t anything new. It is an album that is as fresh as they come, especially with the wrought trend going on in hip-hop today and I highly recommend you give it a listen and more than once." From Review.
Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is Little Simz’s best work – it’s introspective, clear-headed musically, and offers a mix that gets us her lyrical best. The production never wanes into becoming a distraction, as it only amplifies her strengths. From incorporating sounds that bridge hip-hop and Afrobeat to luminous hip-hop with soul and electronic undertones, the music has a consistent path where the switches are fluid without hindrance. 

Check out the review by clicking the link above.

The Many FACES Of Mac Miller

When Faces came out in 2014, the ethereal levels Mac Miller imposes on himself has given the title a more direct meaning — opposed to forcing his hand with what works, though it’s been somewhat similar since Macadellic. Watching Movies saw Mac Miller juxtaposing his aspirations with themes that embrace the broken humanity inside, despite coming off brash a few times. Unlike Watching Movies, Mac incorporates lines from Bill Murray, Charles Bukowski, Hunter S. Thompson, and others as a means to personify his different faces. Unfortunately, these samples won’t see the light of day on the DSP releases since clearing them could get expensive in the long run. But as I’ve spent the last week and a half revisiting the project, a few things ran through my mind — most importantly, how Faces is in some ways a personification of the many facets of Mac Miller’s artistry.

Faces is unlike a lot of Mac Miller projects — it diverges from a tight focus to having loose cohesion with slightly varying production styles. On Faces, you hear Mac Miller, along with co-producers like Thundercat and randomblackdude (Earl Sweatshirt), delivering an array of dreamy, bombastic, jazzy, and psychedelic overtones. And from the percussion-heavy “Malibu” to the smooth cadence of “55,” an interlude orchestrated by Mac and Thundercat, the mixtape would, indirectly, foreshadow the different directions Mac took. “Insomniak” left an impression upon revisiting as it mirrors the flows and production of GO:OD AM, while songs like “Grand Finale” and “Colors and Shapes” feel more aligned with his last two albums.

Like the projects that follow, features and producers are an embodiment of the style Mac Miller approached. In GO:OD AM, Mac Miller delivers smooth, witty, and matured raps over percussion-heavy productions — sans the Lil B interlude. Faces gave fans feature artists feeling loose like most mixtapes and their raw aesthetics. GO:OD AM is tighter by having a cohesive direction in sound. From Frank Dukes to DJ Dahi, the producers have a keen sense of style for percussion — whether it is a solo production or work amongst a few, it takes you through the wringer as Mac Miller flexes. We’ve heard him in pieces, open up about his childhood and adolescence, sometimes bordering on drug abuse and mental health issues, like on “I Know Who I Am (Killin’ Time).” And it continued on Faces

Before the release of GO:OD AM, I was one of many that questioned a lot from listening to Faces. Most of which came from Mac Miller’s inherent drug use and the jaw-dropping moment in “Grand Finale,” where Mac mentions how his habits have worsened, that he’s surprised to be alive. In GO:OD AM, Mac Miller took a different sense of direction, focusing on his successes, family, and future as the music takes a closer look at the immediate world around him as he went from 0-100 real quick in notoriety. GO:OD AM focuses on Mac’s next move, predominately on his and his families well being — it becomes tongue-in-cheek with concepts and titles that speak more than words suggest. With songs like “Brand Name” and “100 Grand Kids,” Mac plays around with his future, knowing he has secured a promising start to the bag. “Insomniak” and “Diablo” mirror what would be the production of this follow-up the year after. “Diablo” has these dark piano keys that subtly control the perceived percussion levels as Mac smoothly raps over it — the production on “Weekend” delivers nuances to the piano keys on “Diablo.”

It would allow him to change face again as he’d release The Divine Feminine.

The Divine Feminine isn’t grounded in typical Mac Miller fashion, with the most non-esoteric song being “Dang!” It sees Mac Miller embracing a form of hip-hop that is hard to create — the concept album. The Divine Feminine embraces a different style where Mac breaks down his walls again, giving fans a conscious understanding of his idea of love as he battles the trials and tribulations of the past. Like GO:OD AM, it continues to show the many faces of Mac Miller — this time incorporating different producers, prevalent to weaving soul and jazz samples on productions to add an extra level of oomph to the music. You hear Mac playing around with these soundscapes on Faces, whether it’s from finding the right way to incorporate “55” and “Angel Dust” within the big picture.

I go more in-depth with The Divine Feminine in my retrospective review, which you can read here.

Swimming and Circles closes a sudden chapter in Mac Miller’s life. It’s a duality between an artist giving a-semi-last go at rap before swimming to a world/genre he once thought about pursuing — singer/songwriter, as he was a homegrown multi-instrumentalist. It wasn’t until The Divine Feminine that we heard Mac Miller singing and pouring his soul out, and it would continue on Swimming, where the melancholy shrouded any sense of realized light in his eye. Mac Miller takes the production and subverts expectations by delivering a blend of genuine hip-hop and other nuances, like the spacey-funk-inspired “Self Care” and the subtle flows of “Small Worlds.” And it comes full-circle on Circles, a sudden 180 from hip-hop as he sings and performs with sadness and despair. Circles saw Mac collaborating with multi-instrumentalist and film-scorer Jon Brion as he weaved together this masterful piece of music. The relative nuances in some of the songs of Faces mirror where we are with Circles — “Grand Finale” and “Good News” in particular, reflect how we feel as fans today, as it expresses two moods: denial and acceptance.

As we’ve turned the corner at another year without Mac Miller, the family and the world embrace the music, and each other, as we collectively remember the legacy he left. Faces make sure of that — especially Rick Ross on “Insomniak,” who lets Mac know about their kinship as artists. If you haven’t listened to Faces, I implore you to do so as it contains some of Mac’s best work as a rapper.