Courtesy of Noname

TEST SPIN | Noname – Room 25

Hailing from the same Chicago music scene as other prominent artists such as Chance the Rapper, Vic Mensa and Saba, Noname shines with an album that may be the best of all. Initially known for her verses on Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap and her own mixtape Telefone, which has gained a cult following, Room 25 shows Noname cementing her name among some of the best lyricists in rap music today. “Y’all really thought a bitch couldn’t rap, huh?” Noname spits on “Self,” the opening track for the album, before reminding us that she’s at the top of her game. Tracks like “Montego Bae” hammer this point home as she flows with a cadence that seems to duel the drum beat of her track. Even more unique than her flow throughout the album is her ability to craft narratives.

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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: 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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Spinning Singles: Chance the Rapper, Beach House

“Angels” — Chance the Rapper

Rappers are infamous for leaving home when they make it big: to live somewhere prettier, more glamorous and more insulated. Chance the Rapper does not seem tempted by that prospect; in fact, he is gleeful in his determination to stay home (in his local Chicago) and help his community. At the beginning of his new single “Angels,” he brags, “I got my city doing front-flips, when every father, mayor, rapper jump ship… Clean up the streets so my daughter can have somewhere to play.”

At a time when rap is dominated by different shades of negativity, from Drake’s depressed narcissism to Future’s void-staring nihilism, Chance is refreshingly positive. “Angels” is yet another Chance song that is joyful and optimistic without being sappy or corny, featuring some of Chance’s most exuberant rhyming since 2013’s Acid Rap supported by a slang-laden hook from fellow Chicagoan artist, Saba. “Angels” makes good use of Donnie Trumpet, the trumpet player in Chance’s touring band and collaborator, The Social Experiment.