A Quarter in Review

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By Maceo Maddox

By taking a glance at the body of opinions concerning the rap music of 2015 thus far, one would think that this year is lining up to be a phenomenal one for the rap industry. Don’t worry, I agree. 2014 was disappointing on all fronts. Not much was released, especially on the commercial front, but at least there were a few worthwhile projects to consider (see my top 10 rap projects of 2014 here: https://eliteuga.com/2014/12/30/top-10-music-projects-of-2014/).

2013 was considered by many to be an amazing year for rap, but I always received the notion that that was due to the multitude of releases as opposed to the actual quality of the releases. For me, it was the year of the “aiiight” album, a pool of 7’s. Born Sinner was aiiight. Magna Carta Holy Grail was aiiight. Doris was aiiight. Because the Internet was aiiight. The Gifted was aiiight. Yeezus was… anyways, you get the point.

However, 2015 has given us a multitude of GOOD albums to listen to, and it’s been less than 4 months! Given this, I tried (and failed) to write a review for each release, so now I’ve decided to write a condensed review for each one released up to this point, in order of release. So, without further ado..

B4.Da.$$ – Joey Bada$$

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Fans of Joey Bada$$ and the PRO ERA regime know exactly what to expect from this debut effort: 90’s infused instrumentals with roughneck east coast lyricism. After emerging on the rap scene with an exquisite effort in 1999, the bar was already set extremely high for Joey and his crew.

B4.Da.$$ is almost without blemish. The first six tracks are sure to make you stand attentive and excited for the rest of the project. Joey’s lyricism is as good as ever, and on quite a few of these tracks (“Big Dusty,” “No. 99,” “Christ Conscious”) he comes with a tenacity that we’ve never felt before. His striking flow, mixed with his raspy vocals in the latter show another side of Joey’s rap persona that he’s only ever hinted at before.

This album features many cloudy, bass-heavy, well-crafted instrumentals that Joey attacks in various different manners. What’s more impressive on this album than 1999 is the array of flows. On most of the tracks here, he uses switches up flows without losing tenacity, which is a very respectable feat.

There’s only one true blemish on this project, and it comes in the form of two back-to-back tracks, “Escape 120” and “Black Beetles.” On these two tracks, Joey’s attempts at more melodic records aren’t bad in theory, but they play a part in interrupting the sound of the album, dampening the cohesiveness. But even with this trough in the track list, B4.Da.$$ is a successful first attempt at an LP.

B4.Da.$$ – 8.4/10

Tetsuo & Youth – Lupe Fiasco

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(full review here: https://eliteuga.com/2015/02/03/tetsuo-youth/)

If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late – Drake

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(full review here: https://eliteuga.com/2015/02/22/if-youre-reading-this-its-too-late/)

Dark Sky Paradise – Big Sean

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Big Sean has an interesting role in the rap game. When he arrived, he was that guy from Detroit who signed to GOOD Music early on, and he deserved that recognition at the time. The Finally Famous mixtapes were solid enough projects to warrant attention and excitement for his future projects. However, Finally Famous: The Album was awful.

After that critically-declaimed debacle, he seemed to ground himself on his next project, his magnum opus, the Detroit mixtape. On this project, he diversified his flows, had some nice features, and spit interesting, funny, and focused lyrics. I thought he was heading in the right direction until Hall of Fame dropped and I was proven wrong. Again.

Third time’s a charm, unless you’re Big Sean. On Dark Sky Paradise, which is 12 tracks long, you get 3, maybe 4 different flows. The issue with Big Sean is not that he can’t rap, because he can. His lyrics have no focus or any sort of direction at all. Just when you think he’s about to share an insightful thought or idea, he fools you by following up with some unrelated line about how his women are “breast-to-breast-to-breast” and have their “titties out like Siamese”. What does that even mean?

He only has one flow when he ups his tempo, and he repeats this so many times throughout the album that it just gets annoying. On the first three tracks consecutively, he raps the EXACT. SAME. WAY. And it’s not even his flow. Listen to his verse on “All Your Fault” and then listen to “Mandela” by Cyhi the Prynce on The Black Hystori Project and tell me what you think.

By now you can tell that I’m not too fond of this album, so I’ll stop defaming him and shine some light on the bright spots. “Blessings” and “Paradise” are overall pretty dope tracks; releasing these as singles was a good move. “Win Some, Lose Some” is one of the better tracks as well, although apparently no one has told Sean nor Jhene Aiko that their voices don’t go well together. Have you ever tried to whistle and hum at the same time? That’s what this duo sounds like. Lil Wayne’s verse in “Deep” is one of the better verses on this album. His “getting your point across crosses the line” line was smooth and thought-provoking.

All in all, this album is better than his last two, but that’s not saying much. The dark, moody instrumentals create a good atmosphere for his “Dark Sky Paradise,” but Sean ruins that with his erratic lyrics and unnecessary puns. I wonder if he knows that it’s possible to rap without using a perverted simile in every verse.

Dark Sky Paradise: 4.5/10

I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside – Earl Sweatshirt

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Earl has been considered one of, if not, the best lyricist in the underground rap scene for quite some time, and it’s a sentiment I agree with. And he does it with one word that you probably learned in high school: assonance. His lyricism is almost completely assonance-based, and he combines this with his dark instrumentals and brooding persona to paint the image of a delinquent. “Feeling like I’m stranded in a mob, scrambling for Xanax out the canister to pop.”

I Don’t Like Shit.. is entirely self-produced except for one track, and the instrumentals are quite impressive. The template for these beats can be described as simple, grimy, moody, and smooth. Of them, “Huey”, “Mantra”, “Grief”, “Off Top”, and “Inside” are the best, though unfortunately for us, that’s half of the track list. Earl went minimalistic on this album, but he sounds more comfortable with the music on this album than he did on Doris.

Earl is in his element on I Don’t Like Shit.. Lyrically, he delivers, as expected, although he’s not as aggressive with his flows as some may prefer. However, his lyrics are still cheerless and dreary. “Step into the shadows, we can talk addiction.” The quality of the songs doesn’t deviate much from song to song, though Grown Ups does fall a bit short of the rest of the tracks present here.

My biggest issue with I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside is its 10-track length. However, the quality of this project supersedes my right to complain.

I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside: 8.0/10
 

Mr. Wonderful – Action Bronson

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What does Action Bronson rap about? His life. Every rapper raps about that, but not the way Bronsolino does it. Since his acclaimed mixtape Blue Chips released in 2012, the Queens native has done absolutely nothing to switch his style of rapping, and for good reason: it WORKS. He’s one of the most consistent rappers in the game, as he raps similarly over different producers while sticking to his roots.

It’s difficult to describe how he raps because all he does is describe the interesting adventures of his life, but his flow is very adaptable to most sounds, which opens the avenue for him to collaborate with great producers such as Alchemist and Harry Fraud.

Instrumentally, Mr. Wonderful is magnificently bold. It’s not common to hear Action on high-energy tracks, so for him to take this road on his debut album is a (pleasant) surprise. The first five tracks on this album are all wonderful. Bronson uses these canvases well, to depict his life in a more humorous approach than he normally takes. The “Falconry” beat is particularly interesting, as it’s almost comical tune is oddly alleviating and carefree. “Baby Blue”, the lead single, features a very entertaining, hilarious, and petty verse from Chance the Rapper, chronicling post-breakup sentiments over a bouncy piano chord. “Easy Rider” makes for an excellent outro track; it gives the cruising-on-the-coast vibe with a bouncing bass line. “Ride the Harley into the sunset.”

This album isn’t full of positives, though. On “Only in America” Bronson drops some amusing and critical bars – “dawg, ya bitch look like Eddie Griffin” – but the instrumental and Bronson seem to move independently of each other at times, making the listen kind of odd. The piano riff near the end isn’t needed either. “THUG LOVE STORY 2017” doesn’t seem entirely necessary for this album, and neither does his live rendition of “The Passage.” These fillers don’t do much to hinder the album, though. It just sounds like extra.

Mr. Wonderful is fun, which separates it from the rest of Bronson’s work. The unmatched energy of the instrumentation mixed with the always-present character of Bronson really tie this album together well for a wild ride.

Mr. Wonderful: 8.2/10
The Album About Nothing – Wale

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Taking the title template from his two acclaimed mixtapes from half a decade ago was a bold, but necessary move for Wale. Much of his fanbase felt as if he hasn’t made a quality project since More About Nothing, and I’m inclined to believe them. Ever since being recruited by Maybach Music Group, the quality of his music has declined and settled there for a while.

The Album About Nothing seems more inspired than his previous two albums. Also, along with the title, Wale has taken the instrumental template from More About Nothing: vibrant and very obviously studio-enhanced, which ends up being both a positive and a negative on this album. Truthfully, I’m geared against studio-enhanced instrumentation, due to it sounding cheesy and empty, but it’s not a deal-breaker by any means.

Wale’s flow can get to be unorthodox at times, but it works in his favor most of the time. Like More About Nothing, he tackles a wide arrayof issues such as cop shootings, “stripper love”, upper-class druggie women, the struggles of success, etc.

This album reminds me of Cadillactica in the sense that it seems more geared towards melodies, bridges, and choruses in many instances. The choir on “The Intro About Nothing” and his harmonizing “The God Smile” are both solid tracks, and the best examples of this. Features on this album are few and far-between, giving Wale, most of the spotlight. However, on “The Need To Know” SZA appears for a beautifully-sung Musiq Soulchild interpolation, combined with Wale’s verses on keeping his relationship on a need-to-know basis. J. Cole appears on The Pessimist for essentially no reason, but I suppose Wale was trying to prevent another “Beautiful Bliss.”

“The White Shoes” is one of the better songs on this album, and it contains an endearing message that is best portrayed by the music video, which I highly recommend. The first half of this album is overall more interesting than the latter. “The One Time in Houston” sounds like something made after listening to Days Before Rodeo, but it’s surprisingly effective.

Wale doesn’t seem interested in “coming hard” with his lyrics on this project, and it shows since tracks like “The Bloom”, with more impressive choruses than verses, are present throughout. These melodic tracks are overall more impressive those which require bars from Wale.

The Album About Nothing isn’t a bad album; however, I can’t call it a good one either. It’s definitely nice to hear him get away from those MMG-manufactured beats and at least somewhat return to his former artistic self. We’ll see if Wale improves or declines with his next effort, but as of right now, I’ll say I’m content.

The Album About Nothing: 6.2/10
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