2023 is finally here, and with it, one hopes for a platoon of exceptional new projects from artists we love and debuts, leading to fresh discoveries. However, since Beyonce released her self-titled album, we’ve been getting many more unique rollouts, far from the apropos single, single, eventual album model. Often, we don’t get announcements till closer to; other times, they just drop surprisingly with a little word in edge-wise. It makes it harder for one to properly talk about what we can anticipate without sometimes looking like Charlie – from It’s Always Sunny – in that meme where he has his hands over a board that’s connecting dots to a mystery. I won’t be him today; instead, I’ll be talking five albums with surefire, or set releases in stone, that I’m anticipating for this year.
Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd – Lana Del Rey
While many loved the lavish, overly produced tempo of Norman F**king Rockwell, it didn’t feel as refined, unlike Lana Del Rey’s subsequent album, Chemtrails Over The Country Club, which bolstered her vocals exponentially. It hit me instantly on the standout “White Dress,” which continued throughout this album, and the subsequent Blue Bannisters, which continued to let Lana expand her horizons with more minimalist, but decadent production. The first single off the new album, Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd – the self-titled track – opens the floodgates toward this more melancholic and operatic divide. Her vocals have distinct textures within similar stylistic sounds within chamber-pop-like production. It feels reminiscent of the work done early in her career, along with what Lana Del Rey has been brewing since Chemtrails. I’m excited to see what this new album takes us, especially with Del Rey’s unique and petty promotion with the billboard in her Ex’s residential area.
Don’t Be Dumb – ASAP Rocky
When news came out about A$AP Rocky’s upcoming release, pre-name change – from All Smiles to Don’t Be Dumb – my eyes and ears stayed glued to anything relating to the album, especially when we heard Rocky is working with Morrissey. The idea of two arrogant, egotistical, no-filter artists coming together to expand on their musical strengths just sounds like something to behold. Granted, it won’t automatically equate to greatness, but with the music Rocky released over the past couple of months, I was intrigued. We got two singles that maneuver his direct nihilism in flow and lyricism, feeling reminiscent of early 2010s ASAP Rocky – playing less with melodies and more with multi-layers songwriting. It keeps my eyes and ears perked for any news, especially with the hype Rocky has been bringing in performances and more; it’s now only a wait-and-see as fans indulge in his latest two singles and feel the vibe Rocky is most likely aiming for with Don’t Be Dumb.
Cracker Island —Gorillaz
Dropping single after single appears like the new approach for Gorillaz as of the release of their last album, bewildering us with unique tunes and delivering a tracklist with standout features; unfortunately, the wait can be ever-long. Unlike Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez, Cracker Island shifts the clock back a bit, looking to release and find equilibrium between its use of features, and retaining a sense of individualized identity on their solo tracks. Here, we see both, but the solo tracks get rounded out by unique features; Gorillaz have shown us how fluidly they can make these combos work, like when they did a song with Elton John and 6lack. Cracker Island gives us a few to hold over, like the funkadelic “Cracker Island,” which incorporates luscious bass grooves and vocals from Thundercat, who adds a decadent, and softened layer that oozes in a soulful undercurrent that keeps Damon Alburn’s melodies vibrant.
Gorillaz’s feature-laced albums are a few in between, but when Gorillaz come with an album that isn’t all Damon Alburn for 50%+ of the album, they have excelled in creating something more artistically profound. We heard it on the fantastic Humanz and Plastic Beach, and hopefully, glimpsing a crisp equilibrium in the tracklist of Cracker Island, along with the singles I’ve heard, leaves me with some impression that it will be a hit like 3/5 of their albums between 2010 and 2020.
Utopia– Travis Scott
Utopia has been in discussions for months, and years, seemingly leaving us bewildered by when and what. Travis Scott has released singles like the darkly atmospheric trap track “Highest in the Room,” co-opting collaborations with his label Jack Boys, and settling the fires of the Astroworld tragedy. Being in the public eye can skew decisions made, and it isn’t surprising that his name doesn’t have the lightest presence, further pushing Utopia’s release until 2023. Though, to be honest, it could be a product of Scott’s ever-growing teasing and constant business ventures, from working varying avenues of the music industry to fashion and fatherhood, one could find reasons for the delay. However, the promotion leading to has been nothing short of excellent before the Astroworld tragedy; plus, a week-long residency in Vegas this past September and some Billboards certainly helped too. I’m curious to see how different Travis Scott comes, specifically to see if he slightly reinvents himself sonically to reflect the constant musical growth he’s gone through.
This Is Why –Paramore
After a five-year hiatus from making music as a collective, Paramore left 2022 with the news of a new album after the remarkably vibrant synth-pop/dance-punk laced After Laughter (2017). It was a continuation of the aesthetic have them hitting a momentous stride, as you see their musical growth and assimilation with these new influences driving their decisions. When they started releasing singles for the upcoming album, it felt like a slight change of pace from the angsty emo/pop-punk sound of their first three albums. Paramore’s new album, This Is Why, seems to see another shift, or so I assume, with a more expansive influence getting brought to these songs, like the Math-Rock “The News” to the Funk and Dance-Punk latent “This Is Why.” It’s safe to assume we’ll see another shift in sound, which bolsters the band’s chemistry as they mesh new and past sounds from the past two albums that are nothing short of grand. It may be less than a month away, but I’m all souped up to listen ASAP!
Star line Gallery – Chance the Rapper
Chance The Rapper hasn’t necessarily been dormant since the criticism and fizzling out of his popularity since The Big Day (2019); the corniness and sometimes overly loose flows and features didn’t offer much of a platform to balance on. Come 2022, we saw a significant year for the Chicago rapper, dropping four singles that have shown us he has chosen to focus and whip up some of that pre-Coloring Book era where the lyricism matched the potency of the production. At first, Chance kept us focused with his intricate lyricism, but he brought me back with “Wraith,” significantly more on “Yah Know.” The bombastic Afro-Beat influence within “Yah Know” takes the listener to exponential lengths as the beat comes rich with a crisp Hip-Hop base, then escalates it with these rich drumlines and boisterous horn section. It’s an experience that feels like it’s yearning for a stage presence, where the sounds can get amplified and further entice the dance nerves in your body to force some jubilant movement.
“The Highs & Lows” and “Wraith” were two of the other four songs dropped by Chance the Rapper in 2022, but I bring these two up because Chance brings this unique cadence in his flows, seemingly guiding the music emotionally as he did with Coloring Book. There are deep seeded conversations within these songs; we hear Chance having with himself and the listener as he balances his faith and stability through life that we’ve seen tackle since the constant clowning post-The Big Day. “Wraith” had us listening to Chance focus on literal and metaphorical layering between bars to distinguish who he is in this world without feeling overly preachy. Similarly, with “The Highs & Lows,” we hear Chance challenging himself to bring captivating flows and lyricism to match the potency of featured artist Joey Bada$$. It leaves a door open full of intrigue as one awaits, like myself, for an album that explores new foundations and sees Chance shifting gears from neutral to Drive 3, or third gear.
It’s past that time of year when publications feel like December is a month filled with nothingness, and end-of-year lists appear like Christmas ornaments at your local store in August. But sometimes gems appear, and they round out what made 2022 a powerful and wonderful year for music. Here’s my list for 2022, filled with varying genres defining the trajectory of universal love and acceptance beyond the surface-layer pop that dominates Hot 100 radio.
30. Love Sux – Avril Lavigne
“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
29. Cheat Codes – Black Thought & Danger Mouse
“Black Thought morphs imagery fluidly, barely seeming to skip a beat like he’s some rap prodigy, but that’s been evident since trading bars with Dice Raw in the 90s. Cheat Codes takes us back 20-30 years when sampling was a check-mark component of Hip-Hop/R&B, though Thought and Danger Mouse craft it with nuance.” Link To Review
28. Home, Before and After – Regina Spektor
“Home, before and after, has conciseness to its sound and style, where it makes you feel like it’s getting played during a session of merriment in the creative process. It reminded me of Fiona Apple’s last album, Fetch the Bolt Cutters, at times, where the vibrancy came from the naturalistic instrumentation–sans synths–that keeps it centered on its sound. It drives home the potent quality of the new Spektor album, even if it doesn’t tread new territory often.” Link To Review
27. Saturno – Rauw Alejandro
“Saturno, by all accounts, aims to deliver futuristic overtures and undertones, whether through the production or from the vocals, to take us to the stratosphere of his mind, where we see how he musically thinks. It excels at that and some; it’s an album where the essence of reggaeton isn’t lost, but the electronic avenues he takes are astronomical, no pun intended. Sometimes you’re getting hints of dancehall, sometimes Miami Bass or EDM, but the overall vibe leaves you in a trance where you aren’t noticing your body grooving. Though I can’t speak to how you motion per tempo, the transitions between tracks are smooth – save for the interludes/skit. But the lavish futurism expressed through the eyes of a reggaeton artist getting past conceptual pop norms and taking his music to new heights. ” Link to Review
26. Unwanted – Pale Waves
“The realized consistency in Unwanted is as potent as ever, keeping you enshrined in this confined temple of relativity where Heather Baron-Gracie’s captivating melodies and the band’s overall riotous instrument playing keep you glued as it comes from multiple angles. It’s immediate with “Lies” and its tremendous drop, creating an identity toward the emotive tenacity these tracks will deliver. There is angst, and their fiery limits aren’t confined, giving Baron-Gracie the range to evoke emotions fluidly.” Link to Review
25. De Toda Las Flores – Natalia LaFourcade
“De Toda Las Flores continues demonstrating value by incorporating luscious sonic influences and seemingly expressing that fun with this variety of jazz, pop, salsa, and more. Co-produced by Adán Jodorowsky, son of famed filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky, Lafourcade visually catapults us back toward the emotional fortitude of life, giving us an eloquent musical breakdown that consistently keeps us engaged, even during the weaker moments. Whether brass or subtle, the music carries gravitas by capitalizing on Lafourcade’s strengths lyrically and vocally, despite some of its minimalist instrumentations never feeling realized.” Link to Review
24. Herbert – Ab-Soul
“Mentally exhausting but exuberantly rewarding, Ab-Soul’s new album Herbert takes us through hurdles as Soul reflects on life and emotional imbalances that have placed him into a zone where the focus was his mental health. 2014’s Stigmata felt like a linear direction of drug-infused beats built with the complexities of perfectly quaffed glass, and Do What Thou Wilt felt more of the same, just lesser in sonic appeal and construction. But that isn’t the case with Herbert, an album that feels more like the dark undercurrents beneath the percussion getting refined and letting it control are more linear approach instead of flip-flopping between the overly experimental and the “Ab-Soul,Asshole” that we’ve listened to since Longterm Mentality.” Link to Review
23. The Family – Brockhampton
“The Family is a rich text that keeps most of Kevin Abstract’s words short and sweet but with resounding depth that you get incentivized with great music that you’d want to replay and understand further. It’s through Kevin Abstract’s flows, lyricism, and the production by bandmember bearface and producers boylife and Nick Velez, offering sounds that invoke memories atmospherically.” Link to Review
22. LEGENDADDY – Daddy Yankee
“Being his first album in a decade, we’ve seen reggaeton’s growth from nuanced ballads to pop-bangers which bridge samples of sonic influence. It’s all relative to your cultural roots and the music that inspired you from youth. 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
21. As Above, So Below – Sampa The Great
“As Above, So Below goes beyond to allow inflections of Sampa the Great’s verses to get heard. She’s always been one to express her Zambian heritage musically through features, production, and the incorporation of its languages to boast her identity as a rapper. Though we’ve gotten projects that demonstrated her masterful technical skills, it was only a matter of time: an expansion on the production’s use of African sounds to coat the core hip-hop percussion notes with the evolution of construction. Because of it, it’s focused on central thematic cores, allowing for simplistic themes about perseverance and individuality, like in “Never Forget.”” Link to Review
20. God Don’t Make Mistakes – Conway the Machine
“God Don’t Make Mistakes is like a sucker punch that stops you in your tracks and forces you to sit and listen to Conway the Machine’s verses. More of an introspective composition, we see Conway attacking layers of his person, from confidence to early self-doubt and success…God Don’t Make Mistakes comes with surprises. We continue to hear Conway the Machine go toe-to-toe with rap’s heavyweights; we hear him adapting his technical and writing skills to the content he wants to reflect on the album. What Conway expresses is his true self, reaffirming the notion of God accepting the flawed like those deemed “clean.” The constant motion of the album allows it to have a steady run despite its minor issues.” Link to Review
19. Life On Earth – Hurray For the Riff Raff
“It doesn’t sound as profound on paper, but the depths that Alynda Segarra takes her songwriting and melodies with the band’s instrument playing, offer a whirlwind experience that will have you enjoying the overtures and subtleties that align within her work; it continues to be the case on their newest album, LIFE ON EARTH. The album is rich and earthy, fueled by some naturalistic punk coating that emboldens Segarra’s emotions.” – Link To Review
18. Denim & Diamonds – Nikki Lane
“Denim & Diamonds is an amalgamation of Nikki Lane’s musical personality. She gives us temperate Americana and Blues/Roots music that reflects her more personal (diamond) side; the denim is that rough-trade, pick-up-your-bootstraps Country, finding the perfect synergy, despite the ups and downs. Sometimes she finds ways to blend the two into a beautiful blend that tames the senses, especially as you get the chance to feel and hear remarkable storytelling through different contextual moods.” Link to Review
17. Blue Rev – Alvvays
“Written by Molly Rankin and Alec O’Hanley, what gets brought to the table are an array of unique stories with colorful depictions that mold their emotional deliveries into something grander than expected. Many are visually engaging, taking you through these dailies that offer layered duality to themes getting approached. “Tile By Tile” sees Rankin doing busy-body work, letting her mind wander to the time she dropped the L (love) word on a ride with someone with who she feels this affection, but it’s nonreciprocal. It leaves her feeling like she left a good thing slip and seeing her anxiety shift with specific actions, like when she sings, “Am I still giving off the wrong impression?/I shouldn’t have ever dialed you up,” in the outro.” Link to Review
16. Ants From Up There – Black Country New Road
“Unlike their debut, Ants from Up There brings bright spots for the darkness. They take out the vitamins and make sure they don’t burn the concoction, delivering a fine fixture of delicious musical plates for indulging. I’ll tell you; it may have left me slightly over-bloated without regret. There are varying elements of different genres not heard in their debut, and mastering new territory to excel, like with Isaac Wood’s vocals, it grasps your ears with a chamber-pop-echo reinforcing the melodic bind between the vocal layers and production.” Link to Review
15. Muna – Muna
“Muna offers compelling consistency, and more so on their latest, self-titled release, MUNA, where the vibes are immaculate. There isn’t a moment you won’t find yourself in a mood to groove as the sounds shift in unique directions that it’s sometimes hard to keep up. But within the 11-track album, some tracks have replay value akin to “Silk Chiffon,” while others remind us of how their sonic complexities as artists elevate the sound, whether full-on or subtle. It may not be perfect, but MUNA has a lot to love and enjoy, and I hope you do.” Link to Review
14. The Forever Story – JID
“The Forever Story is a triumph for JID, weaving together his strengths and compacting them cleanly in his own transformative journey. We get a balance between production styles, allowing them to connect through distinct transitions. It left me zoning, retaining it on repeat, and feeling the immersive nature of his music. And with features that boast the messaging of their respective tracks and equally great production, JID continues to add credence to his momentous strength as a lyricist/MC.” Link To Review
13. Dance Fever – Florence & The Machine
“Dance Fever is full of musical ideas that build upon each other and take different directions; however, what’s different is how it’s pieced together into an album that takes chances and elevates itself by playing with some progressive soundscapes. Within these soundscapes, Florence Welch continues to weave–with co-writers and producers Jack Antanoff, Dave Bayley, Thomas Hull, Thomas Bartlett, and Robert Ackroyd–these personal conflicts that befallen her with complex production that never create an illusion of grandeur, further grounding the music with effervescent connectivity.” Link To Review
12. Dawn FM – The Weeknd
“We’ve heard The Weeknd flow in both directions – melancholic or heightened pop – and there is less of the latter. However, It’s something which this isn’t devoid of, evident with “Take My Breath,” produced by Max Martin and Oscar Holter. At first, you get a whiff of the upbeat 80s electronic and new wave dance styles – from the riffs to the synths, I was left in awe by the complexities within the production. It’s bombastic and fluid, encapsulating that visceral “Star Boy” energy while embodying different themes.” Link To Review
11. Motomami – Rosalia
“Motomami never shies to explore, taking extra steps to inject rhythmic bliss. There are tender moments where the production strips down from an elevated pop track like “Saoko” or “Bizochito.” These moments deliver emotionally rich performances, particularly with uniquely titled tracks like “Hentai.” However, it doesn’t matter the direction; Rosalía finds a way to make each track have its own identity, and like many, we are just reeling in the greatness of Motomami. One minute you’re vibing with “Diablo” or “La Combi Versace,” the next you’re taken on a trip through powerfully moving ballads, like “Delirio De Grandeza” or “G3 N15.”” Link To Review
TOP 10 OF 2022
10. Ramona Park Broke My Heart – Vince Staples
“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
9. SOS – SZA
“Subtleness may be what SOS lacks, but it isn’t driving the strengths, meaning it doesn’t break the album. SZA keeps her sleeves bare with emotion as she laments and vents about her world, which correlates with sheer relevancy, giving SOS a grander platform for musical resonance. From the beginning, you are not getting hints; you get directness without a curtain failsafe to shield her when she makes a listener uncomfortable if that. After the title track, we get a stream of consciousness that envelops us through these auspicious, musically metaphorical dualities that boast her person in reflection with the lyrics she delivers.” Link To Review
8. Renaissance – Beyonce
“Taking on the current nostalgic disco trend, Beyoncé evolves past certain standard genre constraints today and takes new approaches, like shifting the dynamics between eras of evolution–Disco–House–Dance. With streaming, Renaissance contains subtle crossfades, which deliver a more cohesive mix without the DJ. Using this direction, Beyoncé develops her craft to fit the mold of what she’s giving, and specifically, with the help of her producers, Renaissance is a powerhouse.” Link To Review
7. No Thank You – Little Simz
“The explorative sounds of SIMBI are this extravagant continuation of genre-bending, this time boasting Hip-Hop undertones with Afro-Beat and Soul. The music of No Thank You gets toned to ease the blend of unique overtones with minimalistic percussion. We hear more Gospel and Soul, and Simz allows herself to focus on being instead of being pressured by multi-layered beats. No Thank You is laying a foundation that sees Simz confronting her truth – her feelings without boundaries, and keeping it 100 at the cost of lyricism.” Link To Review
6. American Gurl – Kilo Kish
“American Gurl is vibrant, switching styles and trying different ways to incorporate overarching themes that personify Kilo Kish’s life since her debut album in 2016. It’s a loose concept wherein she focuses on themes beyond what affects her on a personal level, as she creates parallels to her perspective on the “American Girl,” using themes like consumerism and personal freedom. She can give it to us with vibrant production and more dour-electronic synchronization between vocals and production, as it creates intricate transitions. We hear it through similar themes or ideas reflected in the songwriting or the production style. It’s a significant strength that shrouds over consistent details that already make her a great talent. Significantly, the stronghold of these songs is Kilo Kish’s intricate and hypnotic melodies, acting like the glue holding many of the tracks together.” Link To Review
5. Un Verano Sin Ti – Bad Bunny
“In an interview with The New York Times, Bad Bunny noted that the Un Verano Sin Tí is “a record to play in the summer, on the beach, as a playlist,” so it’s not something you can just play while sitting down and indulging. I’m not saying you can, but like many reggaeton albums, the impact’s embedded in the rhythm and how your hips vibe to the beat. He knows how to create these larger-than-life moods/vibes, and he has a constant synergy with his featured artists. We get to hear Bad Bunny with some great pop and reggaeton artists, like Chencho Corleone, Tony Dize, Bomba Estereo, and The Marías, and they don’t disappoint. It’s a monstrous smash that starts at the top of Track 1, “Moscow Mule.”” Link To Review
4. Cool It Down – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
“Like opening a box of fragrant pastries fresh out of the oven, the synths come at you with a direct punch of zeal that your ears and mind won’t forget, especially as you come to a close on a beautiful soliloquy that represents growth. “Mars,” like “Spitting Off The Edge of The World” and “Wolf,” are predominant moments that raise intrigue levels through a delicate layering of guitar, effect pedals, and varying synthesizers, which become central sonic themes as the tracks they finish and deliver have innate consistency. It makes the minor stumbles seen more like distant memories.” Link To Review
3. King’s Disease III – Nas & Hit-Boy
“King’s Disease III sees Nas continuing to extend his prime, delivering heater after heater without the support of features and amounting to one of his most immaculate albums since 2012’s Life is Good. Hit-Boy produces sounds that flip between modern, large-scale Hip-Hop beats and ones that bring nuance to the influential elements of 90s Boom-Bap/Jazz Rap, amongst others. It all acquiesces into one strong gavel to the table as Nas makes an everlasting statement about his lasting legacy that will only grow more, especially with the consistency of the King’s Disease trilogy, where Nas assimilates and demolish Hip-Hop sub-genres momentously.” Link To Review
2. Yessie – Jessie Reyez
“The music of Yessie is swarthy, melancholy sounds, creating gripping relatability that takes different sonic outlooks that aren’t as predictable. From the bilingual electro-R&B “Adios Amor,” which continues to show Jessie Reyez’s coldness, to the similarly thematically driven rock-like “Break Me Down.” It’s a crisp progression of greatness as Jessie Reyez capitalizes on delivering a personification of herself with remarkable depth. It isn’t an album that exponentially breathes club, or dance bangers, instead letting it round out stylistically akin to the atmosphere/tones derived from the beginning, becoming more apparent or subtle as it goes along. It left me bewildered with excitement, as Jessie Reyez has been someone who’s shown to me that she can create something special, and she does so here.” Link To Review
1. Big Time – Angel Olsen
“Big Time is a powerful emotional experience. Since the last time Angel Olsen spoke to us, she has gone through personal change–from coming out to the loss of her mother–Olsen brings a heavy platter of thoughts that expands on her story. In doing so, Olsen subdues the glitz of overly produced country music, opting for an extraordinary approach that elevates the emotional gravitas. It grips you from the first song, “All The Good Times;” the drums reel you in with melancholic bravado from Olsen, producing a feel for the direction of Big Time. The album is reminiscent of a traditional style from the 50s/60s/70s era, taking unique paths to actualize them to life. The creativity within the construction of the songs brings elements that enforce its stagey presence. The engineering is crisp, creating a foundation in a smooth crescendo where each section becomes audibly potent in creation, from the brass and horn sections to the percussion and strings.” Link To Review
“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
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
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.
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 fora 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.
"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.
With the release of Woodstock ‘99: Peace, Love, and Rage, I thought I’d interest you in some music documentaries and concert films to watch over the weekend when Billie Eilish isn’t dominating your stereo.
This list contains some of my favorite music documentaries available to stream or rent.
*The Art of Organized Noize was a Netflix documentary, but now it is harder to find as it is not on the streaming service.
*Kanopy is a streaming service accessible to college students.
Rent: Amazon/Apple TV
Asif Kapadia’s journey into the life of Amy Winehouse can be both beautiful and tragic, as we delivered an array of performances and moments that defined her. Some fans know her discography since the beginning, while others are particular to Back to Black. We can’t blame them since Back to Black contained notable production from Salaam Remi and went on to win Grammys. She followed that up with an emotionally poignant duet with Tony Bennett. Kapadia takes a tender approach to the material to let the viewer catch a glimpse into the kind of damage paparazzi and tabloid culture created in the 2000s.
A Band Called Death
Rent: Amazon / Apple TV
The documentary, A Band Called Death, is about three African American brothers/friends who started a punk rock band at the height of its popularity. It’s a delicate view of brotherhood and music at a time where punk rock became a part of the 70s counterculture. The 70s had a cultural divide, musically, as there were two genres building prominence at the time. I guess what I’m trying to say is that Death was unconventional at the time, and they became an icon in their own right. It’s a definite must-see if you are a fan of punk.
Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart
Growing up with Disco music, the Bee Gees were a big part of my dance party rotation when I was eight years old. Thank you, adult contemporary radio on Sunday nights. This documentary is everything I needed as a fan. In the 60s, they were a jangle-pop/pop-rock band that tried to mirror the success of artists before them. They succeed, swiftly dissipate and continue through the strength of their brotherhood. As the saying goes, “no bond is closer than family,” this film is a reminder that behind the genius and transcendent artists are three brothers who would go the distance for each other, as well as the younger brother Robin Gibbs.
1970 gave us two remarkable music documentaries: Woodstock and Gimme Shelter. The former is self-explanatory and an experience all its own, running at 215 minutes, while the latter is a portal into a world where a festival can go awry. What starts as a documentary about The Rolling Stones’ American Tour eventually turns into a jaw-dropping moment between concertgoers and security at the Altamont Speedway in San Francisco. As is “tradition” with most concerts, there is that one asshole who tries to bumrush the stage to get close to the band.
The security for the concert were members of the Hells Angels armed with cue sticks. You are given breathtaking performances from The Rolling Stones throughout the tour. It opens with the infectious hard rock song “Jumpin Jack Flash,” which becomes a precursor to the craziness shown later in the film. I won’t say anymore since this is a great experience, delivering enough to satisfy the itch of a documentary and concert film.
Montage of Heck
There has been criticism thrown at Montage of Heck by friends and family alike, but that criticism shouldn’t deter you from checking this film out. It uses rotoscope animation, which can disorient a few due to the shaky motion, as a way to describe his words, particularly in his youth and Nirvana’s early days. It balances acts between the humanistic songwriter/creator within and the tragic downward spiral that led us to the day of his suicide in 1994. I honestly don’t want to continue speaking on this film as it is an experience I feel you should experience, whether you are a fan of the band or not.
Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer
In a geopolitical climate where certain countries’ rules on censorship hit the extreme is why we receive expressive and vibrant works of art. In Russia, Pussy Riot is one of those “defectors” who break away from Russia’s tyrannical view on criticism and create dialogue. As informative as the book Words Will Break Cement is on the group, the film gives you a proper visual of the kind of protest they delivered with their radical and grunge-like punk rock. We see them perform at various locations in protest until the arrests come in. It speaks on subjects like music, politics, and the liberties art gives the creator.
Stop Making Sense
Streaming: Amazon Prime
Do you know who the Talking Heads are? If your answer is no or maybe, then David Byrne will remind you as we fade into a performance of “Psycho Killer.” Stop Making Sense takes you through various twists and set-pieces, transfixing you into the whimsical world of David Byrne. There isn’t much to say, except that it has a stunning set design and a coordinated setlist that you aren’t finding yourself looking at your watch.
Studio 54 was a club that became a hot ticket overnight. This overnight sensation culminated as Disco dominated the pop charts. We are delivered a collection of restored photography and film of the nightclub. We see the people lining up getting riled at the selective process to get in and the celebrities that indulged themselves at the extravagant club. It’s a document on a small period where life seemed loose, easy, and vibrant with the music and nightlife that dominated the NYC club scene. It isn’t perfect, but it offers enough to leave you researching the venue and the stories.
The Art of Organized Noize
This recommendation is for hip-hop fans and curious cats alike. Hip-Hop shifting styles change based on the culture that surrounds them. As this was a predominant factor in distinguishing where an artist is from – pre-Wikipedia and Twitter – there weren’t many to make it big as consistently as the other locations. The few who made a splash early one carried with them one constant, the producers. Organized Noize has produced for southern rappers from Goodie Mob to Outkast, as well they have dabbled outside of their realm with the smash song by TLC, “Waterfalls.”
In this documentary, they take you on a journey through their creative process and style in their basement studio known as The Dungeon. You may recognize some of the members through their artistry outside of production, like Sleepy Brown, who performed alongside Big Boi at the Superbowl. It isn’t for everyone, as the film dives into the cultural differences that made them unique. However, It’s a film to seek out if you are a big hip-hop fan.
In theory, as we hit the final day in June it is technically the midway point of a standard calendar year. The Grammys have a weird Calendar, where it starts and ends in October and usually it tends to be that we stick close to The Academy’s rule in order to keep some lineage. That is why you may see late December releases barely make many publications lists. Below I present the ten best albums of 2021 so far. Each album cover is hyperlinked for you, if you’d like to be directed to the full review of the album and read further thoughts on them, and beneath them is a video toward my favorite track.
10.Nurture – Porter Robinson
09.OK Human – Weezer
08.For the first time – Black Country, New Road
07.Digital Meadow – Dora Jar
06.We Are – Jon Batiste
05.Jubilee – Japanese Breakfast
04.Young Heart – Birdy
At times it feels like somewhere along the line of a young artist’s transitional growth, they sometimes find themselves referring to the past as they hone their craft. This part of their development seems to happen as they channel all their emotions that stems from the roots of heartbreak, in their eyes. And when they refer to an influence, it is usually always in some way or another – Joni Mitchell’s Blue. Her album was unlike any at the time, and usually many who cover a song don’t always land on both feet. However those who choose to let the writing and performance influence how they write and construct excel in delivering some of their best work, shedding light into a direction that fits them more naturally. Famously, Taylor Swift’s Red was one and this year’s Young Heart by Birdy is another, delivering a delightful surprise after a lackluster release back in 2016.
It’s clear what Birdy was trying to grasp and hone as she constructed the lyrics, themes, and linear guitar notes as she let the barriers breakdown from her mundane baroque-pop album Beautiful Lives. Past these broken barriers, Birdy offers a look into the artist we haven’t seen before. And the themes on Young Heart are relayed with beautifully painted scenes Birdy sings with bravado.
This album continues to show that complete shift as the production detracts from lavished and complex layers to a broken down direction; specifically in the way they coordinate the instruments. Birdy’s shift in producers helped with this transition as they were able to create magic out of both parties’ strengths. There is so much to highlight that demonstrates what I said, so hopefully the song below grows on you enough to seek this album out.
Birdy’s shift in producers helped with this transition as they were able to create magic out of both parties’ strengths. She brings in Ian Fitchuk, known famously for producing Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour. But there is too much to highlight that break down, so I hope the song below grows, and it encourages you enough to seek out the whole project and see an artist really grow into their own.
03.Call Me If You Get Lost – Tyler The Creator
02.Green to Gold – The Antlers
01.Un Canto por México, Vol. II – Natalia LaFourcade
Posse Cuts have been a cornerstone in hip-hop as a way to build up and deliver these mini events that last forever. They are usually compiled of four or more rappers delivering verses as a cohesive squadron over these gritty instrumentals, influenced in style by the nature around them like the south’s heavy bass. But because of the rose-tinted glasses, a very few of these posse cuts aren’t as great as we like to remember. I’ve always been an avid fan of the posse cut because of the visceral imagery and technical structure that comes from the themes they evoke, with an onslaught of topical takes, like the recent remix of “Fight the Power” that was released in 2019. In many of the posse cut there are themes that extend beyond the simple flex, like Jay-Z’s “Reservoir Dogs,” and creates a statement about the socio-political climate or to give the culture more diverse representation.
With the release of new albums from a master of the posse cut, DJ Khaled, and new supergroup Mt. Westmore (Ice Cube, Too Short, Snoop Dogg, & E-40) on April 30th, I have compiled a random collection of 15 Great Posse Cuts of the last 30 years.
MARS (DREAM TEAM) – CORMEGA FT. AZ, REDMAN, & STYLE P
Cormega has been an unsung hero of the 2000s for New York hip-hop, as he has dwelled within the second tier of artists delivering consistent quality and gaining a reputation amongst many hip-hop artists; some are heavy weights and others are not, but what this is track is, is another reaffirmation that these artists together are a dream team. And having any of them perform is like a shift in direction toward mars. With the production evoking an essence of golden age 90s hip-hop with soul boom-bap style, brings out their visceral imagery with their flows and lyrics.
IT G MA (REMIX) – Keith Ape Ft. Waka Flocka Flame, Dumbfoundead, Father, & ASAP FERG
This unconventional trip of a track boosts the testosterone to the nines as the music’s bass and synths bellow through your eardrums. “It G Ma,” captures the essence of the original by building up the quintessential flex from Keith Ape and the featured artist. Each individual artist brings provocatively unique flair to the track that dilutes and warps the mind to an unworldly sonic plain.
LATINO PT. 2 – Joell Ortiz Ft. Emilio Rojas, Chris Rivers, & Bodega Bamz
“Latino Pt. 2” features a new generation of Latino rappers, including Big Pun’s son Chris Rivers. Over a samba-salsa-like hip-hop production, the artists reflect on what it means to be Latino in this world. From the social manipulation and fiscal struggles, they demonstrate a consistent anger to fight the perceived Latino/Hispanics stereotypes. As they start the comparison to their life and the world around them (impoverished neighborhoods), they lay out all the grievances with dynamic flows and rhythmic deliveries.
EASTERN CONFERENCE ALL STARS – SKYZOO FT. BENNY THE BUTCHER, WESTSIDE GUNN, CONWAY THE MACHINE, & eLZhi
Pete Rock produces a nuanced piano-centric track that flourishes with the underground flair of Skyzoo and the featured artists. They bring forth lyricism focusing on building up their stature and talent by weaving together the many metaphors with the rhyme schemes. Though the title may come off as too subjective, depending on how you perceive the “members,” on the popular status, but within the hip-hop community they are in the upper echelon.
FANTASTIC FOUR PT. 2 – DJ CLUE FT. THE LOX, CAM’RON, NATURE, & FABOLOUS
You can’t walk through the tri-state metro area without knowing the powerhouse in-studio DJs for the Hip-Hop radio stations, and the secondary – wider ranged channel – Power 105 has the answer to match wits with Hot97. DJ Clue is one of those DJs and his prominence in the area is bigger than his albums, which delivered a range of phenomenal bangers. One of them, “Fantastic Four Pt. 2,” brings out the best of New York Hip-Hop and DJs, with Clue immaculate production and hype-man adlibs makes it a quintessential part of the culture in the 90s/00s. It features two members of The Lox (Sheek Louch & Styles P), Nature, Cam’ron, and an up-and-coming Fabolous giving us unique flexes all exhuming the attitude brought about from “So Fresh, So Clean,” by Outkast.
BLACKOUT – DMX FT. THE LOX & JAY-Z
The 90s in New York was a beast we have yet to experience again, but within the culture many artists rose to prominence with these dark and aggressive overtones that have us hearing a stance on their artistry. “Blackout” brings out that energy and more as The Lox, DMX, and Jay-Z comes full force with that demeanor and more on this symphonic and gritty percussion and strings.
1 TRAIN – ASAP ROCKY, JOEY BADASS, KENDRICK LAMAR, YELAWOLF, DANNY BROWN, ACTION BRONSON, & BIG K.R.I.T.
It was one of the most anticipated tracks on ASAP Rocky’s debut, Long.Live.ASAP. And this illustrious posse cut, that compiled some of the best up-and-coming rappers through the United States, delivered on the hype from the paper. The production evokes sounds of the ominous New York streets, using ghostly strings and snares to give their verses an oomph, as they deliver a fragrance filled to the nines with confidence and contrasting emotions carrying over from the past and present, most of which are incurred from doubt. This posse cut could also be known as leaders of the new school, when they were new in the early 2010s.
PINATA – FREDDIE GIBBS, G-WIZ, DOMO GENESIS, MEECHY DARKO, CASEY VEGGIES, SULAIMAN & MAC MILLER
Piñata is a prototypical posse cut with themes pertaining to flexing as hard as you can; even though other tracks have different concepts, the notion of bringing your all isn’t gone. Madlib’s production has this ominous – atmospheric string overlay on the track to bring out each rapper’s unique flow. Freddie Gibbs gathers a great collection of artists for this, with highlights from everyone and especially Mac Miller whose flow is as uncanny as we’ve heard from at the point. His goofy-straight demeanor takes a backseat for this drug infused verse where he matches wits with the rest of the rappers, as he was the weakest lyricist of the lot. But everyone delivers with finesse and the track opens doors for some to discover many great rappers on both coasts, the west coast and east.
DUSTED N’ DISGUSTED – E-40 FT. SPICE-1, MAC MALL, & 2PAC
E-40, his Bay Area brethren, and 2Pac come forth to deliver this unique track that oozes Bay Area G-Funk. Though not much different from more prominent artists in the area, the bubbly funk textures makes E-40, and Spice 1’s speak-rapping as uniquely profound as Rex Harrison’s perpetually eloquent speak-singing. 2Pac’s verse transitions smoothly with the G-Funk flair on the percussion and everyone’s verse oozing perfectly balanced and infectious rhythmic structures.
NOTORIOUS THUGS – THE NOTORIOUS B.I.G. FT. BONE THUGS N HARMONY
The story behind the conception of the song always intrigues me a little more than the song itself. However, after watching the recent documentary on Netflix, I’ve been more intrigued about that demo where he rapped over “Toto” by Africa. But I digress. “Notorious Thugs,” came about from BIG’s awe and fascination with the speed and rhythm of featured artist Bone Thugs N Harmony, amongst others. And his attempt to match wits with them left them in initial distraught at the studio, specifically Bizzy Bone who opens his verse by referencing what he was doing as he was trying to rewrite the verse. BIG has been a part of many posse cuts, like the infamous “Flava In Your Ear,” and “All About The Benjamins,” but this lead effort trumps those in production and delivery.
Eminem is not one to mince words with a posse on his tracks, and most times his posse cuts have hit the fan with a bunch shit. But there are the very rare ones that have Eminem bringing a solid squad on a track that has nothing to do with any meandering subtexts, like relationships. But Eminem has always shown tenacity for greatness when he isn’t curating. Though, a part of me believes that he didn’t fully curate it, “Bitch Please 2,” does what others don’t demonstrate – togetherness. The three rappers show that they have his back, by spitting verbiage that indicates one shouldn’t fuck with them.
POPPIN TAGS – JAY-Z FT. BIG BOI, TWISTA, & KILLER MIKE
What makes this pop out over some of the other Jay-Z lead posse cuts?
The production has a smooth blend of jazz flute, speedy hi-hats, and spaced snares that beautifully boasts each rappers’ respective flows. It is a solid representation on how to make a proper money-centric braggadocio hip-hop; from the way each rapper delivers their lines to the cadence in their verses, it makes it a whirly-fun experience to listen to.
JOHN BLAZE – FAT JOE FT. NAS, BIG PUN, JADAKISS, RAEKWON
“John Blaze” is the essence of 90s New York when it comes to posse cuts. Using unique production styles equivalent to the sonic percussion reminiscent of the DJ scratches from summer block parties and distorted-stagnant horns bring it to life, as Fat Joe and featured rappers flex their hustle to the nines, with masterful flows and lyricism.
SWAGGA LIKE US – T.I. & JAY-Z FT. KANYE WEST & LIL WAYNE
Nothing has matched the swagoo of these four rappers giving us a perplexing idea of what swag is and exponentially raising the bar, like Kanye raps “swag on 100, 1000, trillion.” It could be why I haven’t mastered dances like the dougie or cat daddy, and I constantly live in anguish about how much cooler I’d be if I did, but I digress. The production high octane is boosted by the audaciously vibrant sample from MIA’s “Paper Plane.” And this track has an extra padded boost from the live performance they did at the Grammys. Unfortunately that video is hard to find.
NOT TONIGHT (LADIES NIGHT REMIX) – LIL KIM FT. MISSY ELLIOT, DA BRAT, LEFT EYE, & ANGIE MARTINEZ
There aren’t many times a posse cut is dominated by a plethora of female rappers, but when you come across one there is rarely a disappointment to be had. “Not Tonight (Ladies Night Remix)” takes it up a notch by giving fuck-boys the finger and flexing their collective empowerment over a male dominated genre. Everyone delivers at top notch levels. It’s also one of the few appearances of New York radio legend and Radio Hall of Famer, Angie Martinez on a power-track that went further than her albums, in terms of popularity. So if you were ever curious, but not as ambitious this is the go to for a verse from Angie Martinez.
“Not Tonight (Ladies Night Remix)” is one of the more successful – single posse cuts, hitting number 6 in the Hot 100 Charts, and the lush and accessible production helped. It takes cues from that New York – boom bap percussion, with an overlay of a smooth soul-like chorus and space-laser sounding electronic sounds as the icing on the cake.
Throughout Taylor Swift’s career she has had a wide range of duets with different artists she either associated with at the time or with an artist she is a huge fan of, like Bon Iver and The Nationals. She has had her fair share of flops in quality with the way these tracks turn out, but the vocals – for the most part – don’t falter in mediocrity; however the synchronization of the vocals are another story. This rankings looks at both overall construct of the vocals as they harmonize with each other and how complementary they are to the production.
13.Me! – Taylor Swift & Brendon Urie
This is an interesting duet, partially because it is one of those rare “bad” songs from Taylor Swift, and mostly because the vocal pitches don’t complement or contrast each other well. It’s one of the more poppy/lively productions, despite wrought, that Taylor has sung over, “Shake It Off” notwithstanding (because it just so damn great). Some of the production notes, like the overindulgent piano and synths, leave much to interpretation and questioning as Brendon Urie and Taylor lack vocal chemistry. Though it has lively production, it doesn’t have that same oomph and stylistic authenticity of “Shake It Off.” Though Taylor does her best, vocally, Urie is still as self reliant on putting the octane on the high pitch, more adjunct to his recent radio hit – at the time – “High Hopes,” and together it is way too meh.
12. Evermore – Taylor Swift & Bon Iver
Amongst the songs on Evermore, unfortunately, the title track doesn’t evoke the same oomph that the album had through its many intricate moments. It is unlike their previous duet, “Exile,” which used the strengths of both artists with slight nuance. “Evermore” is boring, for lack of a better term. Bon Iver’s vocals feel like they weren’t much there to grasp from emotionally, leading to moments you just don’t to latch onto.
The piano keys and guitar riffs of “Evermore” don’t have that same haunting atmosphere and it relies on falling into something more similar to standard folk/indie rock, as the broken down instrumental tries hard not to play third fiddle. The harmonization continues to show a trend of it working with fluidity, but that isn’t enough to save the track from the many problems it carries, specifically in the longish runtime.
11. Safe & Sound – Taylor Swift & The Civil Wars
This is another, modest, track coming from Taylor Swift that she curated for The Hunger Games film. It is broken down with a simple string melody and ghostly harmonization from each member of the Civil Wars, individually, on each verse. These harmonizations is the highlight of the track. It’s hard to dislike the nuanced arrangement, but it does teeter around a slow pacing that doesn’t feel fully invested in, particularly in how it is mixed. You’re just there waiting for any type of shift in momentum, but nothing ever comes out of it.
10.Everything Has Changed – Taylor Swift & Ed Sheeran
“Everything Has Changed” is honestly just fine. There isn’t much to it that makes me think that it is anymore than what you hear on a surface level, especially considering Ed Sheeran doesn’t sound fully “there” on it.. It may be one of the overall “good” (not great) tracks off Red, but when you compare it to the other duet on the album it falls beyond sub-par overall execution in both production and vocal melodies. It’s, in a way, a very typical-kind of duet most people could mirror, considering the basic piano keys.
9. I Don’t Wanna Live Forever – Taylor Swift & Zane
What starts as a middling and slow composition, grows into an elegant orchestration of vocal deliveries. They overshadow the very typical somber percussion that takes mood-influence from the film, Fifty Shades Darker, for which it was made for. Zayn and Taylor complement each other surprisingly well, considering the contrasting – base – range that both vocal pitches encompass. Unfortunately the track really only has gravitas when the production transitions between the first chorus and Taylor Swift’s solo vocals as the shifty percussion adds more color to an otherwise simple gothic-pop atmosphere.
8. Coney Island – Taylor Swift & The National
This song has definitely grown on me after some time, mostly because of the way Matt Berninger’s voice contrasts Taylor Swift’s over a beautiful string and piano arrangement. At the time it felt like a very yawn inducing track that fit the mold of Evermore, sonically. Though the production, at times, leads in some slight bland directions, the vocals from both artists boost the complexion on the track about separation. It is the best duet off Evermore, but that isn’t hard to accomplish when the title track featuring Bon Iver loses touch on the elements that made “Exile” so great.
7. You All Over Me – Taylor Swift & Maren Morris
Though some may think there is some recency bias, it should be known by now that most of the duets Taylor Swift has made don’t always have the greatest sequences in the production transitions. The way Taylor and Maren Morris blend their vocals together is reminiscent of the harmonizations that Nathan Chapman would implement to Taylor’s voice amplification and depth. Morris does that for Taylor this time around, while incorporating her own complementary twang – accents in her singing.
Aaron Dressner of The National finds a beautiful way to meet two similar sounds, folk and country, halfway. The country/folk blend in guitar strings and percussion embolden the overall atmosphere more attune to the kind of ballad-like constructs that made Fearless such a momentous debut for Taylor Swift.
6. Lover (Remix) – Taylor Swift & Shawn Mendes
Unlike the unconventionality of Taylor Swift and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver’s vocal synchronization, Taylor and Shawn Mendes have a unique happy medium with the way they harmonize. However, as a song, there are many parts where it goes from being on a high to going down low in execution, like the moments where Shawn free forms – non verbal melodies – which comes off a bit extra. It is a beautifully designed duet that works more than it doesn’t, and particularly because Shawn Mendes complements Taylor Swift, vocally. On the bright side, the production maintains it’s elegant, melancholic guitar and piano-centric combo flowing with ease, but regular version of “Lover” is slightly better.
5. Half Of My Heart – John Mayer & Taylor Swift
The vibrant harmonizations match the simpleness of the melodic/melancholic acoustics, backing the neatly designed pop-rock track from John Mayer. “Half Of My Heart” is a solidly constructed song, from the luscious twang in Taylor’s voice to the verdant foundation of the pop overtones Mayer creates with his producers. “Half Of My Heart” delivers with finely tuned mixing, allowing both vocalists to bring their own bravado in their performances.
4. Breathe – Taylor Swift & Colbie Cailat
This beautiful guitar ballad brings the best of both worlds, as Colbie brings soft and elegant harmonizations to Taylor Swift’s melodies, specifically in the way she elongates the word for emphasis. Colbie Caillat has a voice from the heavens and her quaint summer innocence in her voice adds much to the pop-shy Taylor, who seems to take a lot of notes of the way Colbie creates her melodies, resonate of her work like “Bubbly,” and “Realize.” “Breathe” is part of the small collective of songs that transgress against the underlying quandary we had at the time; is she pop or is she country? This song, instrumentally bridges a gap more parallel to that of folk-pop with the somber guitar strings that conduct the tempo and rhythm of the rest of the production.
3. Two Is Better Than One – Boys Like Girls & Taylor Swift
This beautiful and timely piece of music-pop culture history, where the paradigm shift of emo-rock and pop-punk became more infused with pop rock, that the songwriting didn’t help imply context. It was also one of the few times we saw two genres of the opposite spectrum link and create a song together. This song or ballad is full of vocal decadence with the way they paint the emotional cues, specifically in the chorus. Before this, from Fearless, Taylor balanced pop sonic subtexts in some songs, like “You Belong With Me,” but this is her real first foray into pop without ever feeling derivative of underlying, wrought, emo/punk sub-texts.
2. Exile – Taylor Swift & Bon Iver
The atmospheric nature that loomed over Taylor Swift’s sonic shift on Folklore brought about one of the greatest songs of 2020. And unlike the duet Taylor made with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver on the title track of Evermore, the song “Exile,” from Folklore, is a breath of fresh air. It brings varying degrees of lush and haunting-gospel like sonic execution in the production and vocal textures “Exile” works by incorporating all the aspects that usually embolden their vocal textures; specifically Justin Vernon, whose melodic baritone pitch orchestral amplification contrasts Taylor’s honeyed vocals. The focused piano keys adds atmospheric overtones, which allows the reverb to develop the haunting mood of a track more aligned with themes of separation, like Taylor slowly did from the country roots of Nashville and transitioned into pop. The added depth, vocally and thematically, brings this track forth with enough momentum it will leave you shivering.
1. The Last Time – Taylor Swift & Gary Lightbody
Simply put, “The Last Time” is emotionally draining. Though that doesn’t come as a surprise, considering Taylor Swift created this with Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody and legendary rock producer Jacknife Lee. In a way, this acts as a precursor to some of the stylistic/sonic overtures of Folklore, specifically in the notes/sonic-influence she takes from the bands she happens to be huge on, aka folk-alternative rock. “The Last Time,” however, takes all these sonic undertones to bridge together the power ballad about a relationship cycle. The moody electric guitar riffs, builds the momentum of the story, while the piano invigorates the atmospheric surface.
Gary Lightbody’s baritone, like Justin Vernon’s, is a beautiful complement to Taylor’s middling soprano range. This allows for Taylor to find her own comfortability parallel to her partner’s delivery and together they created one of the best songs in Taylor’s whole discography.
Not even Gaefflestein can make this album enjoyable. It’s a real snooze fest from front to back. Upon its release I remember a very lukewarm reaction to the EP, but that was just giving him the benefit of the doubt. This new revisit, however, showed missteps along the way to deliver something that was once his strongest construct in his music.
The Gaefflestein instrumentals elevate the two songs with them, but nothing can really save the barely drawn out and yawn inducing My Dear Melancholy.
7. Kiss Land
There is a lot that can be said about Kiss Land. After three critically acclaimed mixtapes and a hype unseen from a Canadian artist since Drake in 2008 (Sorry Carly Rae Jepsen). His attempted insertion in the major pop stratosphere was lackluster to say the least. It plays it safe by sticking to his dark mood – synth wave R&B style, but without the depth seen on his previous projects. It always feels like he is treading too many familiar waters instead exploring these luscious sounds more.
It is perplexing how on the surface it met the criteria of what was to be expected from The Weeknd, and especially on his major label debut. With a bigger budget there would be an expected elevation in production, but even with the long runtimes and moody stories that are enveloped in the instrumental didn’t match the quality of his three earlier mixtapes.
There are a number of solid standouts like “The Town,” and “Wanderlust,” which has the most polished and unique instrumental of the bunch. “Wanderlust,” in particular lets the 80s style guitar strings create the overall feel for the synth-pop track. It’s the small nuances like these in the Kiss Land that make if a good debut.
Thursday is the “weakest” of the trilogy of mixtapes that make up The Weeknd’s first compilation album. It takes too much focus on redundant slow melodies interluding these more bombastic songs that standout (by early Weeknd standards).
Thursday’s highlights include “The Zone” featuring Drake and “Lonely Star.”
“The Zone,” has one of the more colorful instrumentals on the tape and buoyed gravitas where it doesn’t sink you too deep, but allows the immediate enjoyment from the subtle strings underneath powerful drum patterns.
Like most of Thursday, the instrumentations steal the show, which in turn allows the Weekend to play around more the music. It is the most ambitious tape of the initial three, specifically with the consistent styles brought by the drum patterns like on “The Birds Pt. 1,” and “Pt. 2.”
The variations include dream-pop like sequences like on “Lonely Star,” to the downtempo dubstep use in tracks like “Life of the Party,” and the title track. And to that effect it makes great use of what they work with, but at times feels like there is more that is missing. It could have just been expectations at the time
5. After Hours
Though one of the biggest albums of 2020, After Hours carried was a sense an essence more attune to the term overrated. However, It doesn’t apply for the second half of After Hours, which finally makes solid use of the new-wave sounds of the 80s. He brought it to the forefront (for the certain niche population of him) with modern takes on instrumental patterns from the era and opening new doors.
The first half slows the tempo of the music by delivering some elegant soft and slow moments, but the overall progression becomes slightly forgettable. It could mostly be that The Weeknd has not predominately hit with his slower-tempo’d pop tracks in recent memory. But it isn’t devoid of great moments/songs like the moody and instrumentally simple “Scared to Live,” which shows The Weeknd’s vocal talent in ballad form. There are a lot of moments where The Weeknd disregards the typical sensitivities based around cold emptiness and channels more longing and heartbreak.
But if we are being honest, After Hours really benefits from having illustrious instrumentations from the producers, and especially legend Max Martin. His bass, drum, keys and guitar work, along with programming gives After Hours it’s own stage to shine in those moments, specifically on “Blinding Lights,” which is a real masterwork.
The prototypical new-wave pop track that exhilarates the drum and synths patterns by focusing it on a 171 BPM speed, which was very common for most drum beats of the 80s. You can hear that kind of consistency in the hits of many bands of the time, like Duran Duran and Joe Jackson.
Starboy was a real turning point in The Weeknd’s long and effervescent career. After ending a triumphant run in the R&B/Pop – stratosphere with Beauty Behind the Madness, his new direction incorporated more new-wave and synth new-wave elements into his music.
Like the recently released After Hours, the new-wave influence The Weeknd brings is a call back to 80s Pop music that once lost footing with more artists steering into an electric-centric direction. But artists like The Weeknd, and others, infuse the unique qualities of 80s music into the instrumentation and modernizes. “I Feel It Coming,” is a strong component of that by bringing smooth disco textures and new-wave synthesizers into the echo chamber and mixing together a lush instrumentation from The Weeknd and his core, plus Daft Punk.
Other highlights of 80s synth new-wave include “Party Monster,” and “Secrets.” The latter of which is this remarkable cut produced by Doc McKinney, The Weeknd himself, and Cirkut (producer of Dark Horse and Roar by Katy Perry) that feels like a remnant of the 80s brought into the light by the virtuoso of the people involved.
However, there are slight shift into the electronic side of the new-wave genre/sound gave The Weeknd many instances to switch his deliveries from certain conventions, like on “False Alarm.” The track opens to The Weeknd breaking down his verses with a hyper stylized melody and the chorus line shifts into a fire alarm going off, but its instead of the blaring noise it’s The Weeknd yelling the title. The smooth transition in the instrumental from the verses to the chorus lines are like a stellar bomb of lights playing the music in your head visually.
Starboy does extend long at 70 minutes, but most of the time the pace is in constant motion and the way you breeze through the tracklist isn’t an afterthought. The underlying currents of the instrumentation reels you with hypnotic consistency.
3. Beauty Behind the Madness
Contrary to the predominant style/approach on Kiss Land, The Weeknd shifts from the blues to the rhythm. The dimensions brought about by The Weeknd’s bombastic overtures that he creates with his producers.
Full of sultry and sex-fueled anthems you wonder how “Can’t Feel My Face,” got a nomination for a Kids Choice Award. Did kids love cocaine in 2016? If only there was an answer. But in all seriousness, like the follow up to this, Starboy, it comes at you full force with great track after great track. There is the luscious and melodic “Often” that takes parallel look on fame and the tinted glasses based on it, and the moody despair of the story evoked in “The Hills.”
The production had definitely tightened in the transition from Kiss Land to this. It could be that with more producers and instrumentalist there was sheer focus on the alignment of the music to The Weeknd’s vocal BPM delivery brings a lot to the forefront. “Can’t Feel My Face” does so by adding the disco speed to the funk centric track.
Though not every track comes off 100% perfect, the amount of what could otherwise be considered skippable songs keeps you head over heels with hypnotic instrumentals and stellar melodies that keep your ears racing for more. It makes you overlook some of the rough patches along the way.
2. House of Balloons
House of Balloons is The Weeknd’s debut mixtape that defined the low-profile hype. It embodies the necessity to show patience, as the detailed instrumentals and moody – morning after despair and regrets paint pictures of a night that leaves the mind weak, amongst other themes.
It does so by commanding moods and sequencing the instrumentations to lay out the cohesiveness from both producer and artist. There are flashes where The Weeknd’s vocals don’t correspond to certain niches of R&B, but what positively deters it from them are it’s unconventional choices instrumentally.
The sound is not as compartmentalized as other standards within the realm he was trying to break into is. There is more groove and emotional weight blended in two. House of Balloons, however, steers more into the blues aspect of the genre and uses alternative sounds to create a zoned in/spacey atmosphere. It’s what separates it from the other artists making music in the genre at the time, since it was heavily pop focused to create superstars. Its neck and neck with Echoes of Silence as one his best works to date.
1. Echoes of Silence
Echoes of Silence is not completely devoid of the typical lyrical content of a Weeknd project, but instead of expressing cold emptiness he is coming from a place of pure heartbreak and despair. It uses the dark-embroidered overtures to deliver with cadence. “XO/The Host,” and “Montreal,” builds upon this brooding mood created by his take on “Dirty Diana” by Michael Jackson.
Echoes of Silence gets the best components of House of Balloons and Thursday and builds upon them further. “Same Old Song,” is an embodiment of it, with croonish despair in his voice as he tries to flex his success it doesn’t match emotions held of his lost love. He plays it off like it is the same old song, but those emotions are deep rooted. He slowly builds his confidence back up to see the future, and Juicy J reaffirms that at the end with the hype man cameo. It is a great representation of the mixtape and The Weeknd as artist.