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TEST SPIN | Lecrae — All Things Work Together

Lecrae has always been an artist who does not like boxes, and those who attempt to categorize him into one would be hard-pressed to try. Bringing the gospel to hip-hop long before Chance came to the scene, Lecrae’s ability to maneuver between disparate, non-interacting circles served as both his greatest strength and weakness. Being a two-time Grammy Award winner and having performed on Jimmy Fallon and Sway in the Morning, he has achieved a level of success unseen by Christian artists. His diverse catalogue defies categorization and yet for all these pioneering advancements, it seemed that what he gained came at the cost of personal piety. Beginning in 2012 with Church Clothes, its subsequent sequels and his chart-topping 2014 LP Anomaly, he introduced listeners to a more socially-minded Lecrae; the bona-fide rapper was still spitting fierce rhymes, but in his razor-sharp criticism of social injustice he seemed to have lost the vibrancy and passion of articulating his faith, which was a staple of his earlier works.

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TEST SPIN | Macklemore — GEMINI

To be a Macklemore fan nowadays is to beget ruthless harassment. Ruthless, but honestly much deserved. With his gauche dad-like demeanor, often bluntly unaware lyrics and ostensibly supra-woke politics, Macklemore is undoubtedly the most uncool artist to have ever graced the Billboard Top 100. Maybe it’s because of my proclivity for irony turning into genuine interest, or maybe it’s because of Macklemore’s charming awkwardness, but I’ve stayed a fan since that fateful day that someone sent me the YouTube link to “Thrift Shop.”

Yeah, I said it. I like Macklemore.

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TEST SPIN | Daniel Caesar – Freudian

As I walked across the arts quad on a nippy Tuesday evening, I began to hear vibrations that resonated with the current zeitgeist of my soul. To love, to lose, to suffer, to love again. Toronto R&B singer Daniel Caesar’s debut studio album Freudian gives artistic form to that central pillar of being human. The album consists of 10 tracks, making it his first full length work. It was released on Aug.

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TEST SPIN: Logic — Everybody

Concept albums are often a substantial sacrifice to commercial success. If an artist’s impulse to explore a certain idea outweighs their desire to make simpler songs with less context, that are a better fit for their brand, the album may not grab the popularity that a less complex album could have. For some people, the idea and passion that ties a project together may be enough to excuse a lesser quality of music. For others, having an exceptional concept isn’t enough to uphold an otherwise lackluster album. Logic’s Everybody, his third studio album and his seventh musical project released in the past seven years, should be enough to satisfy, if not please, both sides.

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Gorillaz is Back and It Feels Good

Yesterday may have been cloudy, rainy, windy and overall depressing, but Gorillaz came through and released four new songs. I’ve been a fan of British virtual band Gorillaz since the early 2000s. I would jam to “Clint Eastwood” when I was in elementary school (I was the coolest, edgiest third-grader in my day), rapped along to “Feel Good Inc” and when every high school crush rejected me, “On Melancholy Hill” healed me. Creators Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett not only created the members 2D, Noodle, Murdoc and Russel, but they gave these characters a story and world of their own, which they have shared with us through music and animation. Since then, I have eagerly dropped whatever I was doing to listen to any new songs when they’re released.

Roastface Killah (right) and Chicki Minaj and Notorious P.I.G. (left)

Dos Amigos: Let’s Taco ’bout Expansion

If you were to ask the hungry customers who patiently wait in line by the truck, any one of them can testify that the amount of creativity that goes into the names of the food is equally met by the amount of care and flavor of the food itself. And while all the items on the Dos Amigos menu are spectacular, a bevy of new artists have risen to newfound stardom, and multiple albums have been released since 2015, when the truck first hit Ithaca’s roads and found its permanent resting place in front of Cascadilla. Let’s look at some of the potential new items that Dos Amigos could add to their already stellar menu, while continuing the hip-hop/rap theme:

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TEST SPIN: Big Sean — I Decided

Establishing an identity is one of the most vital parts of being a rapper. Unlike certain pop artists, who can attain fame simply by having a well-produced beat and catchy lyrics that they may not have written, rappers typically need to connect to their listeners through their personalities and the messages that they convey. This isn’t to say that pop music is an easier genre to succeed in, but rather that rap, stemming from its creation by oppressed people rebelling against systems of racism and poverty, has always emphasized the importance of the voice. Through absorbing a rapper’s words, the audience can start to piece together a preliminary mental image of who the artist is and subsequently relate their own experiences to this identity. Not all personas that rappers give off have to be real, and not all messages conveyed have to have moral substance in order for the commercial success to be gained.

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TEST SPIN: Reach — My Shoes

Growing up in Chicago, I often heard the phrase “Imma make a mixtape.” Inspired by rap titans such as Chance the Rapper and Kanye West, who were birthed from the same city streets I walked (or at least lived in somewhat close proximity to), students would often jokingly fantasize about creating their very own rap project that would propel them to stardom. In between passing periods and behind the watchful eyes of teachers, my friends and I would pen our own lyrics with the hopes that with the right producer and beats, we could make a best-selling record. Alas, while I still have a notebook chock-full of hot 16s, I was never able to quite get around to making an album. Though I remain a fan of hip-hop and rap, I thought that the world of music-creation and album-production was best left to the professionals. The best I can do is be an educated and informed critic and consumer.

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TEST SPIN: Chance The Rapper & Jeremih — Merry Christmas Lil’ Mama

A holiday wishlist in 2016 is a strange concept, and I’ve found mine filled mostly with things that I don’t want. In no particular order: I don’t want any more surprise election outcomes, I don’t want music and film icons to continue dying in such quick succession and I don’t want to walk into another store that’s playing Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime.” I should have known that what I really wanted — what we all wanted — was a Christmas mixtape from Chance The Rapper and Jeremih. The surprise project arrives as a much-needed dose of relief, in particular for those faithful to the Church of Kanye West left rudderless by their leader’s newfound bromance. Last holiday season, I wrote a column on the sacred tradition of Christmas-themed rap songs, a small but undeniable canon that originated with Run-DMC’s classic “Christmas in Hollis” (which, not coincidentally, Chance parodied on last week’s SNL). In one fell swoop, Chance and Jeremih have nearly doubled the size of that canon, contributing nine original songs in a project more cohesive than it has any right to be.

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TEST SPIN: J. Cole — 4 Your Eyez Only

In all honesty, I feel let down by Eyez. As a J Cole fan since 2009’s The Warm Up, I cannot say that Eyez stacks up to his previous efforts. Eyez has a lot going for it. The instrumentation is lush; from the strings to the trumpets one cannot fault the production quality. From the bold trap hit “Immortal” to the minimalist masterpiece on the title track to the gentle vocal-driven melodies seen on She Mine Pt.1 & 2, Eyez is both an instrumental and melodic success.