There’s too many albums released in a week, let alone half of a year, for just one man to review, but I’m always up for the challenge! Instead of continuing to talk about albums that came out in February during June, here’s a lightning quick take on some records I’ve been meaning to touch on:
Ab-Soul – D.W.T.W. (Do What Thou Wilt)
Ever since Ab-Soul declared that he was “more alive than a newborn unicorn in the sky” in the first minute of his debut record Longterm Mentality, he’s been one of the craziest rappers in the game (though Tech N9ne might have him beat when it comes to pure insanity). To say that Ab-Soul ever really makes sense would be a lie, but every now and then he has a shining moment, such as his feature on “Really Doe” by Danny Brown.
D.W.T.W. falls the deepest into the cracks of Ab-Soul’s psyche of any Ab-Soul record thus far, to the point where I’m not even sure if he knows what he’s saying anymore. I’m all for the “abstract music” argument, but with lines like “I’m hornier than the brass section of the band, you understand?” and blind conspiracy theories like “with all disrespect, I think the American flag was designed by fags,” I think it’s safe to say that no one really cares about the weakest member of TDE.
PnB Rock – G.T.T.M. (Goin Thru the Motions)
PnB Rock might be from Philadelphia, but he sounds like he’s from that same part of Philly as Lil Uzi Vert that just sounds like what’s been coming out of Atlanta. Even with features like Ty Dolla Sign, Wiz Khalifa, Quavo, and A Boogie wit da Hoodie, the 2017 XXL Freshman Class inductee does exactly what the record states: he’s just going through the motions. The video for the “breakout single” “Selfish” is just an ode to ass as unrefined as the idea behind Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda,” and seeing PnB Rock become anything other than the yearly forgotten XXL member would be very surprising.
Dirty Projectors – Dirty Projectors
The Dirty Projectors is essentially just David Longstreth plus whomever he has surrounded himself with over the past fifteen years and seven albums, but the one person that stuck around the longest was Amber Coffman, a guitarist/vocalist that has helped to define the Dirty Projectors’ female voice. Known for his inability to write melodies we’ve either heard before or ever even wanted to, Longstreth was continually reigned in by Coffman over the years, which was evident on their last record Swing Lo Magellan from 2012.
Five years later, he and Coffman, his longtime band-mate and girlfriend, have broken-up, with her moving to Brooklyn to pursue a solo career while he resides in Los Angeles, CA. The toll from such a split is evident right off the bat of the Projector’s (now just Longstreth) new self-titled record, with the intro track “Keep Your Name” beginning with the lines “I don’t know why you abandoned me/You were my soul and my partner/What we imagined and what we became/We’ll keep ’em separate and you keep your name.”
With other odd relationship ending moves such as sampling old tracks of when they were in love, or the release of Coffman’s empowering post-breakup single “All to Myself,” this Dirty Projectors record is just devastatingly hard to listen to, especially since Longstreth finds himself in his most over-indulgent musical mind as well. From naming the record Dirty Projectors as a potential bite to his status of being alone, to tracks named “Death Spiral,” this record is really rough, and a dark period that I hope Longstreth is able to pull away from.
Khalid – American Teen
When I got around to Khalid the first time, it was post-election and the idea of someone singing about how great it was to be living the American Dream as an American Teen just baffled me (especially since he’s not some white-guy in a “Make America Great Again” cap and his name is Khalid). I came back to the record just last week, especially since A&R has gone completely bonkers about this eighteen year-old singer from El Paso, Texas, and his single “Location” has remained on the charts.
Overall, I don’t really see the hype at all. Tracks like “Location” and “Coaster” are cute and all, but most of American Teen sounds like the minimal amount of effort needed to create a pop song. To me, it seems like he’s just a branding holy grail: someone that knows how to put together a successful album campaign who also makes music that screams “I love being young and dumb in this wild and free country” who isn’t white, blond and blue-eyed. Khalid might be proud to be an American, but it’s only been one-eighth of the way through Trump’s potential four years and such overtly crafted music as Khalid’s American Teen just refuses to resonate in my mind.
Raekwon – The Wild, Lupe Fiasco – Drogas: Light, and Big Boi – Boomiverse
Three undeniable legends of rap—three lackluster albums. There’s nothing really to talk about or discuss, as Raekwon, Lupe Fiasco, and most upsetting, Big Boi, perform adequately with little to no noteworthy lyrics, moments, or songs in general. Raekwon, like most of the Wu-Tang Clan, sounds unable to keep up, Lupe Fiasco sounds like he’s gunning for a radio spot he hasn’t owned since his least favorite record Lasers, and Big Boi sounds fantastic as always but ultimately has nothing to say, as each track on Boomiverse functions as a get together of who’s-who in Southern rap with not one cohesive element between them. It might be disappointing, but at the same time it’s not like they don’t each still have amazing records from back in the day, and there’s definitely no shortage of rap music just lying around. Speaking of…
Murs – Captain California
Murs might be one of the corniest rappers around, but the California-based/9th Wonder-affiliate might have just stepped up for his tenth release. A more-positive review among the lackluster entries here, while Murs might not be the most lyrical, he talks about issues on Captain California ranging from casual relationships to police brutality and even mental health. Sure, the name drop on the track “God Bless Kanye West” got him the headlines that I’m sure were marketed to appear, but the song dives into mental health and world pressures with an interesting take, especially for a topic that is slowly and finally weaving its way into rap music. Other tracks such as “Colossus” and “Lemon Juice” also have their moments among the quirks, but if you’re already a big Murs fan, then Captain California is just another highlight in the rapper’s career.
T-Pain & Lil Wayne – T-Wayne
Wow was this release disappointing. After teasing the collaborative project since 2009, T-Pain finally dropped the tracks which he said had been “just sitting on my hard drive,” only to sound like the old-guard’s drafts folder. Most of the lyrics here are not only incredibly unappealing but downright useless, as the project was clearly never meant to exist now, eight years later, but instead were supposed to be B-sides during what was the peak of their careers. I see now why it was never released. Thankfully, this material is from the past, and not what we would expect from a potential next T-Pain or Lil Wayne album, but a glimpse back into some of their worst material definitely doesn’t inspire a ton of hope.
Goldlink – At What Cost
Goldlink has quickly become one of Washington D.C.’s hottest rappers, right up there with Wale and Oddisee. On At What Cost, his official debut studio project, Goldlink releases a record to rival the debut of Wale’s Attention Deficit, but one that’s not enough to completely take over the D.C. scene. Though there seems to be some sort of story tying the record together, the narrative is way too loose. The conflicting nature of the West-Coast inspired artwork with the dance-rap production from Kaytranada and Matt Martians is also a key indicator that At What Cost is not as cohesive as a project as it could be.
Goldlink has the bars to be a good rapper, but his monotone could use some more excitement and inflection. For a rapper partnering with Kaytranada, there just isn’t enough feeling in his voice.Tracks such as “Meditation” and “The Parable of the Rich Man” have some amazing grooves, but Goldlink (and the odd interludes) seem to be the weakest part of what could have been a cool instrumental beat record, and you never want to be the weakest part of your own album.
Freddie Gibbs – You Only Live 2wice
Freddie Gibbs, the best/one and only rapper from Gary, Indiana, had the opposite problem as Goldlink only his newest record, You Only Live 2wice. Gibbs sounds amazing (he has one of the greatest voices in rap music today), but he’s often held back by his lyrical complexity. Not that his lyrics are complex in a verbose or deep sort of way, but that it’s hard to for him to just write a song that doesn’t sound like whatever he’s currently thinking about.
On his record before, Shadow of a Doubt, Freddie Gibbs not only crafted catchy and memorable melodies for his choruses, but he also talked about anxieties of raising his newborn daughter while dealing with his sinful past. On You Only Live 2wice however, Gibbs stretches back into his memories of his past to detail what could have gone wrong, but thankfully didn’t. It’s a christ-like/Tupac-like story of triumph over tragedy, and in my opinion, an awkward tangent. Freddie Gibbs might be one the best rappers in the game, but his songs are sadly not very memorable past “that guy’s got some talent.”
Logic – Everybody
Logic is also a very skilled rapper held back by lyrical complexity. On previous projects, he’s tried to form narratives around loaded stories with voice acted interludes, yet the songs themselves had little to do with the overarching plot. It’s exactly the same here on Everybody, as famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson narrates an adaptation of a short story about evolving to the next level of consciousness (much like Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey).
Everybody is also tripped up with conversations of how we’re all the same, regardless of race, which is discussed through the lens of his mixed heritage. This is where it gets really dicey, with Logic throwing out mixed messages and over-simplified versions of complex issues on race and the world around him. As Sheldon Pierce of Pitchfork put it, “it’s the #AllLivesMatter of rap albums.”