After a phenomenal 2017, Childish Gambino only seems to be turning it up another notch. Returning with the half tribal-folk half trap inspired “This Is America” Donald Glover continues to push the envelope, loose lyrics -and some startling similar Young Thug style adlibs (perhaps Thug lent some background vocals)- over a harsh bass heavy beat follow chants and a lighthearted guitar melody, switching so abruptly he warns the listener ‘don’t catch you slippin'”. A unique combination of his previous sonic endeavors on “Because The Internet” and the Grammy nominated “Awaken, My Love!”. Watch the just as startling visuals below.
Hip Hop heavy weight J. Cole returns with a surprise album, announced only days before it’s release the Roc Nation star details a serious analysis of addiction and society. “KOD” as Cole states stands for Kids On Drugs, King Overdosed, and Kill Our Demons, all topics covered in great detail on this latest LP. Avoiding condemnation of the younger generation Cole ops to analyze his own short comings and flaws as a way to compare to a generation heavily linked to addiction of physical substances. Infidelity, stardom, and money are Cole’s non-tangible substances all distracting us from the strongest drug of them all “Love” as the intro states. Cole’s stance on money is less indulgent and more introspective and philosophical the video for “ATM” is a satire on greed and “BRACKETS” is a detailed discovery of our unwanted, or unknown, participation in a corrupt system that is purposely stacked up against people who look like Cole, and ironically the more money our rare stars receive the more they pay back to this corrupt system by default.
“Kevin’s Heart” is a heartfelt confessional on infidelity, a staple in current music it seems following “Lemonade” and “4:44”, the more we have insight into star’s lives the more we are intrigued and unfortunately entertained when personal situations go off track. “Once An Addict” hosts a thought provoking intro “sometimes I think pain is just a lack of understanding, if we could only understand it all would we feel no pain? God must feel no pain. Only joy.. does this mean even our suffering pleases him?” an answer to the heavy philosophical life question to why God allows suffering. “Kids On Drugs” is much more than speaking on today’s Xanax addiction Cole detail’s his mothers addiction, his addiction, and more importantly the root causes of addiction as opposed to solely condemning actions.
Production on KOD is his most concise and solid to date, previously “4 Your Eyez Only” was on point but too somber for most fans. Lyrically Cole proves why he is this era’s Nas, flawlessly switching to modern flows but injecting content and punchlines in a style that regularly lacks what was once considered standard, no filler and no over-used or reused subject matter even as most fall under the same umbrella Cole attacks his concept from ever appropriate angle. “1985 intro to ‘The Fall Off'” concludes the project, somewhat of a diss track Cole gives advice to young artists that have no respect for history and shun the knowledge of the older acts in their genre. “KOD” is a clear example of an artist’s growth and how with each effort one can still mange to sharpen their craft.
In an increasingly rapid consumption time the release schedule and absorption of music and content seems to have constricted and yet conversely expanded. Once upon a time a follow up to a debut album would seem sudden if it appeared a full year later, now with the onslaught of content and media a sophomore release a little over a half a year later does not feel rushed. Whether a natural repercussion of this era or a desire to produce due to his looming court case polarizing rapper Xxxtentacion returns with another daring album “?”. Flexing his pop sensibilities and branching further from the alternative rock sound of his debut “17”, which was a sharp turn from his earlier screamo-un-mixed angst filled trap rap, X delivers a confusingly concise album.
An awkward introduction of him explaining the meaning, style, and purpose of the project strangely before the listener gets to even hear it kicks off the album, immediately after we have a barrage of emo tracks, emotion that is embedded in this generation but seemingly new to the genre. “SAD!” is a catchy tune and the lead single which has radio potential sonically but remains true to X’s characteristically self-reflective and introspective lyrics. “Floor 555” is a return to the lo-fi un-mixed screamo days, “Infinity (888)” featuring boom-bap Pro-Era heavy hitter Joey Badass is a pleasant surprise and has X flexing his traditional Hip-Hop chops on his second collaboration with Joey.
The second half of the album has X trying out more commercial sounds and even attempting to get some club bangers in his catalog. “going down!” & “i don’t even speak spanish lol” feat Rio Santana, Judah, and Carlos Andrez are new territory for X and both though tongue-in-cheek surprisingly come off well. “?” plays somewhat as X’s “Thriller” a blatant attempt at trying to make as many hits in as many different genres as possible in an effort to increase the potential of the commercial success of the project, a well played risk as “?” has reached the number 1 mark on the Billboard top 100 albums. In an era where “selling out” has diffused and the underground and mainstream’s dividing line has been blurred X pulls off a surprisingly unique album very obviously in-tune with the current zeitgeist, a testament to his self awareness and detailed observation of society and self.
“Depression and Obsession don’t mix” this statement plays as more than a lyric, XXXTentacion seems to embody this duality. While previous tracks lean toward ‘screamo Hip-Hop’ his debut album “17” plays as an Alternative Rock album with no resemblance to his breakout single ‘Look At Me’. As the 19 year old rapper states immediately at the beginning of the album that with this work you are “literally entering his mind” we must first look at the human, or perhaps conversely the music forces us to look at the human. Stereotyped as the ’emo kid’ of Hip-Hop, X ironically shatters the archetypal emo image. As Kurt Cobain, the iconic Grunge rocker of the 90s, embodied the teen angst and aggression of a generation of social outcasts of that day’s youth we saw Kurt as the loser, the nerd and the bullied kid. As the kid physically and emotionally tormented and withdrawn Cobain’s anger seemed obvious. X at both seems to be the bully and the bullied all at once, a quick YouTube search will reveal a kid who has been, before the fame, winning more fistfights on camera than any teenage ‘loser’ ever dreamed of. X’s only L on camera actually comes from a blindside sucker punch. How could a young kid making money on tour (prior to the success of ‘Look At Me’), knocking people out, getting girls, and having access to a level of ‘fame’ most withdrawn kids only wish for be emo? He defies his own identity, a product of the internet generation he, like many musical act’s musical tastes (with access to any genre and any time period), combines polarizing cultures and ideologies.
“Look At Me” is fueled with angst and violent hyperbole but don’t let that sonic sleight-of-hand distract you X’s depression stems from deep roots. The opening track on “17” “Jocelyn Flores” is dedicated to a girl in his life he was involved with who took her own life. Subject matter isn’t the only avenue in which X differentiates himself from his Hip-Hop peers, production on “17” doesn’t reach for the popular producers. There are no club bangers, no lit tracks, no Metro Booming beats, and the only feature is Ohio rapper Trippie Redd. X’s rebellious attitude fits right into his art, he seems to pay no mind to Industry standards. Guitar tracks, some completely acoustic, boom bap drums and dark piano chords are the only sounds the listener will get on this album, and it comes off as pure genius. No 808’s or Hi Hat 32nd note patterns, X keeps his art completely unique and true to self. With the vocals removed some tracks could easily be rider music or, ironically, a forced Drake love song filled with crooning or rehashed Pop rudiments and staples over top experimental production. ‘Everyone Dies In Their Nightmares’ is smooth, excluding the actual content which again is testimony to X’s internal dichotomy, he manages to implement a flow on top of this track that reminds the listener he is still a top tier Hip-Hop artist somewhere in his psyche.
‘Revenge’ plays as half back road blues and half slowed down demonic Pop-Punk. X, consciously or unconsciously, embraces the Punk Rock soundscape keeping “17”‘s entire running time at 22min, songs are rarely even 2 minutes and none ever touch the 3 minute mark. For the debut of such a troubled and controversial artist he manages to release a truly unique and artistic LP that will surprise many and also convert many listeners who were put off by the polarizing sound and delivery of tracks like “#ImSippingTeaInYoHood’. ’17’ shows tremendous maturity and growth and also a fearlessness to evolve without hesitation.
Hip-Hop is coming of age with every release, a genre rooted in youth culture ironically has it’s first iconic worldwide star in one of it’s elders. JAY Z who most fittingly grew up side by side with the genre, born just a few years before Kool Herc threw his first party, has become Hip-Hop’s Mick Jagger or Paul McCartney. A wide reaching figure that fans of other genres, whether fond of the culture or not, know by name simply off his fame. Even more ironic JAY Z has solidified his status in a culture based on counter-culture impulses and anti-establishment angst by paradoxically, and perfectly, playing the game of capitalism and simultaneously pandering to the pavement, concrete, and streets that are naturally the home of Hip-Hop’s true residents- the people. In this pseudo-politically correct climate most would jump at the chance to criticize such an artist, contradicting oneself is the one thing the masses can attack viciously with a clear conscience today. To the contrary JAY Z brilliantly unveils a unique perspective on a system that benefits tremendously on entire communities being ignorant to the rules of society. On ‘4:44’ JAY touches on capitalism, generational wealth, Hip-Hop culture’s generational civil war, legacy and most honestly his marital infidelities.
In a time where Snapchat, Instagram Live, and Periscope make celebrities personal lives more public than their public lives, cultural heavy weights like Kanye, JAY-Z, Beyonce and others scarcely use these apps. ‘4:44’, the title track, is a lift of the curtain, strategically piggy-backing off the ‘Lemonade’ narrative JAY bares it all in one of the most honest tracks of his career. Self-loathing, regret, and depression are not emotions we are used to affiliating with the gods of this genre, the revelation of JAY’s flaws make him, to most people’s disbelief, appear actually human. ‘Kill JAY Z’ continues this trend, JAY gives the listener a glimpse into the turmoil in his life, a genius’ mind sporadically dealing with his many multi-dimensional dilemmas. If his thoughts of ‘letting the baddest girl in the world get away’ aren’t weighing heavy enough on his mind then the apparent mutiny of his one time mentee, and present day musical icon, Kanye West add on to equate to a mesmerizing mental load. One of the underlying themes in their disagreement that may be effecting their relationship is Hov’s financial philosophy ‘what’s better than one billionaire? -Two. Specially when they’re the same hue as you’, Kanye stepping away from his Tidal deal may have cut deeper than the words he spoke while floating above fans several months prior.
‘The Story Of OJ’ finds JAY Z trying to lead his people out of the darkness, leaving a more thorough ‘blueprint’ than he ever has before. ‘Oh these people is gonna kill me! .. cause the more I reveal me the more they afraid of the real me.” The cost of truth is heavy and at the top of the game JAY no longer needs to equivocate, his view point is clear, so clear musical god Prince sat with him ‘eye to eye’ and they left in agreement. The track ‘Legacy’ plays as a farewell and doubles as the final bullet point on his financial philosophy not just his musical memory. JAY makes it clear that leaving behind wealth to his family and inevitably his people is the true mark of success.