Joey Bada$$- ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$

On We got it from here… Thank you 4 your Service, Q-tip raps, “Talk to Joey, Earl, Kendrick, and Cole/ The gatekeepers of flow”. The last three MC’s he mentions made sense to me: Kendrick being the greatest alive, Earl Sweatshirt is the best lyricist of the progressive movement in hip-hop (sorry Danny Brown and Vince Staples), and J. Cole went platinum without any features. Twice. I had listened to Joey Bada$$ a little bit before I’d heard that line and from what I’d seen, his name wasn’t worth mentioning in this list. At that point, A$AP Rocky had done a much better job of representing the beast coast and Brooklyn’s Own was only 21; I needed a larger sample size to put him on such a pedestal. On April 7th, I got what I asked for and then some.

ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ is the album Joey Bada$$ needed to launch himself into the rap stratosphere. He’s given himself an identity with this project and personally, I think he has surpassed J. Cole as the penultimate voice in conscious rap. But before I get into that argument, I’ll quickly talk about the beat selection, production, and features: All fantastic. There isn’t a a song on here that I would scrap and I think each track shows a different side of Joey thanks to Kirk Knight and Statik Selektah, among the other producers on this project. As for features, Chronixx and Meechy Darko were amazing. While I think everyone on the project did an awesome job, those two were the only artists on the same level as Joey. Now that’s not to say no one went above and beyond Mr. Bada$$ because there was one artist who absolutely destroyed his feature. Like threw it in a body bag and dumped it in the Hudson. Of course I’m talking about Schoolboy Q on ROCKABYE BABY because that was some vintage, Oxymoron-style Q. The quality of this project was an absolute 10 out of 10 for me but there is one area that I think could use a little work: The substance.

I believe that this album is Joey’s good kid, m.A.A.d city or Born Sinner. For Kendrick and Cole, respectively, these projects cemented these artists as top tier spitters. They were able to communicate their observations of the world in a commercially and artistically successful way that people could relate to. They were bringing up real issues and were story-telling but they weren’t problem solving. As young MC’s, they weren’t going deeper just yet, giving us a look into why they deserved to be voices of a generation. We waited for 2014 Forest Hills Drive/4 Your Eyez Only and To Pimp a Butterfly/Untitled Unmastered to see how the newest, most prominent voices in hip-hop wanted to use their recently acquired fame. I think Joey did a better job than Cole in this first phase of rap stardom. He is starting to see the world as a 22 year old but can he start to lead his fans to the promised land, to a better AMERIKKKA? I don’t know but I’m damn excited to find out.

Score: 9.1

Smino- blkswn

I wanted to give you guys a comparison of Smino Brown to someone else, just to give you a sense of the type of artist he is, but I can’t come up with anyone. There is no one in music right now or that I can think of in the past that has been making the type of music Smino is making. The closest group I could come up with is Outkast but to say that Smino is another Andre clone would be doing him a massive disservice. This rapper/singer out of St. Louis seems to be taking the best parts of rap from across the country and combining them. He flows like he’s from Brooklyn, brings the jazz and soul from the south with his voice, uses the grand production and showmanship that has been coming out of Chicago, and he’s been liberated by West Coast rap, talking about what he wants, when he wants, and how he wants. He’s so incredibly versatile on this tape but at the same time staying incredibly cohesive. For a debut album, blkswn is everything I could have wanted from Smino and then some.

That’s not to say that this album is perfect. I certainly have a few gripes here and there. The biggest issue for me right now is that there are a couple songs on blkswn that don’t have that same sort of easy-going way about them. The first one that stuck out to me was “Maraca”. He just doesn’t seem to settle into this track the way he does on the opener and even though there are other songs on the album where he flows a lot faster than on “Maraca”, something doesn’t seem quite right on this cut. I hear it a little bit on “Glass Flows” and “Edgar Allen Poe’d Up” where Smino seems like he’s either a little behind the beat or that he’s trying too hard. Those songs are all at the beginning of the album and as the track list plays, he seems to find his groove a little more, switching in and out of flows like it’s nothing. Personally, there are very few albums more than 15 songs long that I wouldn’t change at all. That seems to be my subjective threshold for LP length so this might just be me but I could do without two or three songs on this album.

With that criticism out of the way, I have to say that about 10 of the songs off this album have been on heavy rotation for me since the release. “Wild Irish Roses”, “Flea Flicka”, “Anita”, “blkswn”, “Long Run”, “Innamission”, “Ricky Millions”, and “Amphetamine” are all on my “favorite music right now” playlist. I also really like the song “B Role”, partly because it bangs and partly because it’s a risk for Smino. An artist as special as this guy could just run with his own sound but he is still trying to push boundaries and find new avenues to explore. I can’t help but respect that and I am excited to see where this rhyme smith will go in the future.

Migos- Culture

Right now, the Migos reminds me of last years Steph Curry. They can do no wrong. They’re just chucking up crazy bars and ridiculous ad-libs that are all swishing. There aren’t many times when an artist will rise to the top of a genre in a matter of months without any objections from their fellow musicians, but the Migos has done that and no one in hip-hop can deny it. And there’s a very distinct reason for that: They have blended new school mumble rap with southern trap-infused beats.

Unlike Lil Yachty and Lil Uzi Vert, the faces of the mumble rap movement and two artists that the Migos have worked with in the past, the Migos put an emphasis on their lyrics. They make sure you aren’t missing out on their punchlines and they take pride in their craft as writers. While, they don’t veer too far from the traditional rap topics of clothes, ice, drugs, money, and girls, their punchlines are classic and that brand of southern vernacular gives them so many options to say what they want to say: “Young n***a poppin’ with a pocket full of cottage/Woah kemosabe, chopper aimin’ at your noggin/Had to cop the Audi, then the top I had to chop it/N***as pocket watchin’, so I gotta keep the rocket” (Migos. “T-Shirt.” Culture. CD. Atlantic. 2017).

At the same time, their beat selection is immaculate and I think the word Culture takes on two different meanings for the Migos: First, I think it’s obvious that they are saying they are the center of the hip-hop world and we’ve been hearing since the early 2000’s that hip-hop is the new rock and roll. They are actively shaping the most popular genre in America right now and that’s incredibly impressive when you think about the other moguls in the game at the moment: Drake, Kanye, Kendrick, and Rihanna are all arguably at the top of their games. This point leads me into the second meaning that I see in this title: The artists that I mentioned earlier have very distinct styles but the Migos pull from some of the hottest hip-hop influences and execute better than the originals. I realized this on the last track of the album, “Out Yo Way”. The hook has those atmospheric synths underneath with a nonchalant, sing-song chorus that reminds me of Drake. The difference is, I didn’t have to hear them whining about some girl that I will never actually know about. The same can be said about a lot of songs on the back half of this album: “Kelly Price” has that signature Travis Scott production, “All Ass” sounds like a Rae Sremmurd song but I can understand the lyrics, and “Brown Paper Bag” could easily be a Future track. Then songs like “T-Shirt”, “Bad and Boujee”, and “Slippery” are obviously original and their most popular tracks so far. The Migos are flexing on rappers right now. They seem to have a complete hold on the game and I don’t think they’ll be going anywhere anytime soon.

Score: 7.7/10

Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love!

On Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 masterpiece, To Pimp A Butterfly, we heard him calling out to the world, “We want the funk.” It seems like Childish Gambino heard him and indulged his request because Awaken, My Love! is oozing with soul. Donald Glover unveiled this newest project at a three day album-listening event called Pharos in Joshua Tree National Park, CA. This was in September and many fans were prepared for the upcoming release then, only to be disappointed until December when we received another iconic album from a hip hop demigod.

Donald Glover picked up right where he left off on Because The Internet. Towards the end of his 2013 LP, Gambino focuses a little more on his singing and introduces some voice augmentation, which are staples of this new record. If you are a fan of Donald’s rapping, this new album might be a little disappointing for you.

I’ve been a sick boi (fan of Childish Gambino. Girls are called Gambino girls) ever since I heard “Crown on the Ground” in 2009. To give you an idea why, check out KaptainKristian’s video about why Donald Glover is the ultimate modern renaissance man (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OgQ3Hpj-CBU). One of the reasons I’m such a big fan of Donald Glover is that he never seems to shy away from who he is. He is impressively authentic and it’s what draws so many adoring fans to his shows. For much of his career as an entertainer, he has been an oddball: a token character trying to find his way in a world where not a lot of people look like him. It seems like this type of isolation plagued him as a child as well but his art has been a lovely side project in what I’m sure is a very confusing life. Donald Glover has been many things in front of his audiences: Goofy, mature, unfiltered, closed-off, the list could go on. But the one thing that Childish Gambino has always skirted around is his blackness. He has always poked fun at it in his raps and stand-up shows and he was never being disingenuous when he did acknowledge his skin color. He was simply being Donald. But it seems in this latest LP that he is ready to declare his ethnicity to the world. Instead of it being the reason why the kids at school made fun of him or why he is automatically given a pass to rap as an actor, it is the reason for his deep love of life and his fellow humans. He doesn’t even talk about him being black specifically on the album. He just is. And it’s beautiful.

If you like good, energy-filled, touch-your-soul type of music, this album is for you. My dad raised me on funk and soul music so I am definitely a little biased in my opinion of this record. It’s not perfect by any means but damn is it fun to listen to.

Score: 7.6