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.
This isn’t what we expected. Maybe if you attended Donald Glover’s PHAROS concert, or if you took him seriously when he said that this project would be completely different, you weren’t caught off guard. Though, for most of the casual listeners, the switch from hip-hop to soul/funk/R&B is an unprecedented move. Being that Paper Boi, a central character on Glover’s his hit television show, Atlanta, produced rap music, it seemed that Glover himself would continue on this path. Nevertheless, the decision to switch from his original genre didn’t result in a flop; rather, “Awaken, My Love!” is a masterful collection of Childish Gambino’s premier work.
Hamilton… a mere mention of its name opens a bevy of conversation. But really, what more can be said about ten-dollar founding father, that has not already been said? Lin Manuel-Miranda’s Broadway behemoth already has a Grammy Award-Winning soundtrack that reached #1 on the Rap Albums chart (apparently the first cast album to ever do so), and its shows have been consistently sold out, with some re-sale tickets going upwards of $2,000. Yet Miranda’s involvement with recent films like Star Wars The Force Awakens and Moana, seemed to signal his departure from the musical.
Rap’s John Grisham, El Presidenté, Blowbama — these are just a few of the titles that Virginia rapper Pusha T appoints to himself on his latest single, “H.G.T.V.” Those last two, in particular, feel like a coronation years in the making for the 39 year-old MC, who just last year became president of Kanye West’s label, G.O.O.D. Music. Braggadocio and cocaine puns have anchored Push’s brand of rags-to-riches lyricism since at least the early 2000s, when he first garnered widespread attention as one half of Clipse — the now defunct rap duo formed with his older brother. But unlike his contemporaries from that era, the rapper born Terrence Thornton has only gotten better with age, showing time and again his ability to work with this week’s in-demand producers while making music that is distinctly his own. “H.G.T.V.” continues that hot streak, condensing plenty of quotable Push-isms into a single verse over menacing, bass-heavy production. Last year’s Darkest Before Dawn featured some of the weirdest beats on a major label rap album in recent memory, with known quantities like Timbaland mining for left-field samples to operate in Push’s gleefully menacing orbit.
I have a lot of admiration for music as a way of sharing information and ideas. It has the power to bring people joy and excitement, to catalyze casual or critical thinking and to incite discussion and reflection on problems. Music also teaches in a way that’s memorable and comprehensible. It has incited social and political change time and time again, and has ingrained all sorts information into minds. Because of its capacity for influencing and teaching, musicians like Baba Brinkman have tried to capture its power for education. Baba Brinkman’s 18th educational hip-hop release, The Rap Guide to Climate Chaos, takes on climate change, spitting verses on everything from policy to ecology to religion.
Right off the bat, I want to let you know that I’m not going to review this new record, Atrocity Exhibition by the Detroit rapper Danny Brown, objectively. Danny Brown is my favorite rapper of all time, I’m disposed to review this record positively, and it’d be dishonest to pretend otherwise. I also want to let you know that even though Danny Brown is a great, great rapper, he’s also extremely transgressive and sometimes difficult to listen to; his music is so weird that it inspires obsessive love in some while alienating many more. Accordingly, Atrocity Exhibition is as uncompromising and bizarre as it is brilliant. Danny raps in a nasal, high-pitched squeal that mimics the effects of stimulant abuse, and his music is dissonant, arrhythmic and stressful.
This year has made it apparent that Mac Miller is trying to distance himself from Donald Trump in more ways than one. The combination of the chant he uses to get the crowd going when he performs —one of his old mainstays at concerts (“Fuck Donald Trump”) — and his new album’s tone — which is decidedly more Al Green than Beastie Boys — draws a line that he has been trying to mark out for years. Each of his albums has represented a drastic musical shift from those preceding it, and The Divine Feminine is no exception to that trend. The album opens with “Congratulations,” which features both Mac and Bilal singing. If you haven’t heard Mac sing before, you should.
Note: The reviewer arrived too late to see the opening act, What Nerve. The Chanticleer’s top floor is the perfect setting for shows that bridge the divide between performer and audience. The room has no stage and is too small for there to be much distance between the two, making it feel more like a space of shared experience than a performance with separate performers and viewers. Both Sammus and Show Me the Body made excellent use of the room’s potential; both, although in remarkably different ways, managed to make the audience feel like part of the act. Sammus, a rapper and Ithaca native who is also a graduate student at Cornell, is without a doubt one of the most exciting acts that can be seen in Ithaca.
Nostalgia — that seemingly endless pool of artistic inspiration — motivates at least half (by my less-than-scientific calculation) of this year’s major pop culture moments, from Netflix’s Stranger Things all the way to Frank Ocean’s Blond(e). As source material, it’s a tricky beast, at its best capable of drawing on shared memories to remind us what made something great in the first place. At its worst, though, nostalgia invites a kitschy reimagining of the past that too often morphs into revisionist history. Perhaps nowhere is this division more hotly debated than in the realm of hip-hop, a former subculture whose influence now runs far beyond its original parameters, sparking important questions as to how it should continue to evolve while remaining true to its roots. “No one alive can name me one rapper that was bigger than the Backstreet Boys, NSYNC or Spice Girls was in the 90s and mean it,” asserted rapper Vince Staples in a recent interview with Noisey.
Drake has become the kind of generational figure that comes along once or twice a decade in pop music. Part of why he’s pulled it off is because, like Johnny Cash or a young Jay-Z, he communicates exclusively in a relatable, easy-to-understand way. Given a few seconds of a Drake song, the listener can identify that it’s Drake, decide if they relate to what he’s saying and make up their mind about it. He has mastered personal musings that seem like grand statements, journal entries aimed at a crowd. He kicks off Views with another one of them: “All of my let’s-just-be-friends are friends I don’t have anymore,” on “Keep The Family Close.” If this sentiment seems familiar, it might be because you’ve heard versions of it all over his past few albums. Don’t expect much innovation on Views, since it sticks to the themes that Drake has turned into a cottage industry: failed relationships, wistful nostalgia and the occasional chest-thumping taunt.