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

Saba – Bucket List

The growth of Chicago’s hip hop scene just won’t stop. It’s bigger now than it’s ever been thanks to an influx of incredibly talented, thoughtful, and cool artists. The latest Chicago rapper to make his voice heard this year is Saba, the 22 year-old face of the Pivot Gang. His new album Bucket List came out on October 27th and it’s good. Really good.

Saba started playing piano at 7 and started messing around with production software at 12. He graduated high school at 16 with a 3.9 and followed in his father’s footsteps as a musician (wikipedia.com). Luckily for him, he was able to ride the Acid Rap wave into relevance and through his relationships with other Chicago rappers (Chance, Noname, and Mick Jenkins, to name a few) he’s been able to break into the game with some really quality music. This latest tape is just another example of the authenticity that is so crucial to Saba’s, and Chicago’s, new sound. He’s real, he’s transparent, he’s positive. His message is beautiful and his lyricism only accentuates his points. His word play is impeccable and he switches up his flows effortlessly. I seriously can’t say enough about this guys ability to spit. He’s beginning to establish himself as a premier wordsmith in the industry and he has the opportunity to craft such astounding rhymes because of the subject matter he is taking on.

A theme of this new wave of Chicago rappers is to take on topics that haven’t been talked about much in hip hop over the last decade. Saba doesn’t drink or smoke, he’s never been a big partier, and he’s been able to stay out of gang violence for most of his life. Those are some of the big ideas that have been promoted in rap since the Lil Wayne era so Saba had to take inspiration from some different perspectives. Fame, family, Chicago, and the potential of our generation take the driver’s seat in Bucket List and Saba’s genuine optimism shines through these dialogues he opens up. It’s truly inspirational and what really draws me to Saba and his music.

I knew I would connect with this tape from the very first song. “In Loving Memory” sounds like a Social Experiment song and Saba wastes no time getting into his incredible rhymes. I could hear pieces of Chance, Noname, and Childish Gambino influences on this track and he sets the tone early with a dense verse and a really smooth singing performance. He finishes the track by giving us his bucket list which consists of “One, I wanna have a meal from in and out, coz I live nowhere near one. Two, I wanna go one on one against D. Rose. And three, I wanna *bleep* [sic] Kylie Jenner…” (genius.com). He’s funny, he’s enthusiastic, and he has a great new LP out. Saba most definitely has room to grow as an artist and a producer and this project has him moving in the right direction.

Score: 8.0