IMG_7620 copy

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.

4youreyezonlycover_large

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.

awaken_my_love

TEST SPIN: Childish Gambino — Awaken, My Love!

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.

pusha-t-hgtv-1476307101-640x640

Spinning Singles: Pusha T, “H.G.T.V.”

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.