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Full Clip: May's Hip-Hop Albums Reviewed by Gary Suarez
Gary Suarez , May 21st, 2015 11:58

Gary Suarez reviews all the hip-hop albums that are fit to hear and ponders a possible second act in the life of Snoop Dogg

The past six years of Snoop Dogg's output, especially 2009's Malice N Wonderland and 2011's The Doggumentary suggested an imminent decline, one that had been staved off earlier in his post-No Limit years thanks in no small part to some huge Neptunes productions. Subsequently, Snoop made some strange choices, including teaming with a then-rising Wiz Khalifa for a stoner comedy and changing his stage name to DJ Snoopadelic and, later, Snoop Lion. Apart from the unexpected 7 Days Of Funk collaboration with skilled retrogazer Dam-Funk, it seemed like Calvin Broadus was grasping at straws, desperately trying to extend his fourteenth minute of fame.

The release of Bush, however, provides an alternative theory worth consideration. After more than two decades in the rap game, Snoop was bound get bored. And, if we're being completely honest, we all began to get bored of him rapping as well. So while many have already expressed shock and displeasure with the acute lack of straightforward West Coast rhyming on this album's singles, it may be time to give that period of his career some closure. Clapton stopped making Cream-style hard rockers long ago, coming into his own with moving ballads and devotional blues explosions. Dylan's critically acclaimed late 1990s/2000s output came after taking creative risks that often missed as much as they hit. There's no reason why an artist of Snoop's calibre shouldn't be permitted to do the same.

Despite the wishes of retired backpackers and Golden Age fetishists, hip hop is a young man's game. As much as people claim to want Dr. Dre's Detox, if it ever emerges it will assuredly disappoint like Chinese Democracy did. What makes Bush Snoop's most enjoyable full-length since 2004's R&G (Rhythm & Gangsta): The Masterpiece is that he's finally reconciled G-Funk with P-Funk. One suspects 7 Days Of Funk opened his mind to the promise of being Bootsy instead of merely idolizing him.

With considerable boosts from Daft Punk, Nile Rodgers, and Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams' omnipresence in recent years came as close as any to achieving a proper disco funk revival. Though through extreme repetition it became one of pop's most pernicious earworms, 'Happy' presented a fresh model for future soul. A resurgent producer looking to explore his expanding range, Bush reunites him with Snoop at the best possible time in both of their careers. Tracks like 'So Many Pros' and the Charlie Wilson assisted 'Peaches N Cream' bring the Parliament funk sound roaring into the present, something Kendrick Lamar couldn't achieve even with George Clinton himself on deck.

We haven't heard Snoop this happy since 'Sexual Eruption,' that playful 2008 single which allowed him a chance to auto-croon to the smoothest electro funk. 'R U A Freak' sounds almost conventional compared to that early experiment, but at least here the vocals sound less obviously processed. 'This City' two-steps onto the dancefloor and never leaves. While Tyler The Creator bemoans his inability to get Stevie Wonder on Cherry Bomb, Snoop and Pharrell don't suffer from such woes ('California Roll'). Those still grousing over the dearth of rappity rap probably haven't heard 'I'm Ya Dogg,' during which he plays hooksmith to verses from both K-Dot and Rozay.

Nick Catchdubs - Smoke Machine

Lately it seems every rapper worth paying attention to is out looking for that EDM plug. So it amuses me that it took a Fool's Gold co-founder to bring New York spitters Heems and Troy Ave together across borough and perception divides. The punchline? Their 'Full House' scarcely resembles dance music. To be fair, Nick Catchdubs' sometimes cartoonish production style isn't for everyone. At times, his loony tunes almost seem like rap parodies ('D.T.B.', 'Hell Yeah'). Still, a genre that's grown as stubbornly serious as hip hop could benefit from some smiles. 'Wuts That' calls back to classic Ludacris, with vibrant Bronx rap crew B.I.C. bantering around bleating horns. Despite the constant pep, Catchdubs manages to keep things diverse enough and rarely lets any track drag. Chicago's own ShowYouSuck transcends the campy computer blips of 'Drop,' while MNDR divert things in a weirdly charming synthpop direction on closer 'Run'.

Knxwledge - Hud Dreems

Time and time again, the Bandcamp king has delivered some truly masterful productions. His sampling style is next level, mixing the familiar and unfamiliar in a manner so much more meaningful than mashups ever were. Still, it took so damn long for this proper debut on Stones Throw to drop that it's almost a non-event. Almost. Hud Dreems takes listeners on a complex ADHD-addled journey littered with abrupt yet pleasing transitions. Few tracks reach even the two minute mark, but the sequencing makes the delineation between songs a moot point. This is a patchwork quilt of sounds, one that makes the most sense when taking it for the sum of its parts. Trainspotting here proves more difficult than usual, possibly due to clearance concerns or perhaps simply doing a better job of making the source material his own. Either way, Knxwledge comes through with a modern day Donuts that demands repeated listening and dermal absorption.

Oddisee - The Good Fight

One of the inevitable side-effects of Kendrick's high-impact jazzercise will surely be increased attention towards new hip-hop sporting Ayers and Coltrane influence. Were he not in line to benefit from it, that butterfly effect almost seems unfair to this Maryland polymath, whose stellar discography integrated such smooth sounds long before it became popular. Chalk it up to happy coincidence that, in our current climate of universal jazz acceptance, Oddisee has released the best album of his career. But here his laidback and organic production style finds a match in thoughtful lyricism and a confident flow. Supremely chill, 'A List Of Withouts' and 'Meant It When I Said It' effortlessly outline a grind as hard as any found on your favorite coke rapper's mixtape. A signature element, the sounds of keys and organs feature strongly throughout. 'That's Love' uplifts and separates, while 'Counter-Clockwise' shimmers with xylophonic twinkles. Closer 'Worse Before Better' boom baps with the best of them.

Onra - Fundamentals

What's past is prologue, sure, but in our time of prequels and reboots it's also ripe for revision. Striving to update a beloved period in music, this Parisian producer appropriates '90s hip hop and R&B for his latest outing on the always appealing All City imprint. Though the vibe is pervasive and consistent, the extent to which he calls back to the 21st century's twilight decade varies from track to track. He apes DJ Premier's jagged phraseplay on 'Love Tip,' but actually digs up 'Do Or Die' for the bump n' grinder 'Over & Over.' Featuring a KC that is definitely not K-Ci, 'Like You Miss Me' reaches for Jodeci with decaying snares and filtered keys. Fundamentals is quite easy to like, but hard to genuinely love. After all, Onra did the retro thing so much better on 2012's Deep In The Night EP and best on 2008's two-tracker for All City's 7x7 series.

BONUS: One Hitters:

Jonwayne - Jonwayne Is Retired So strange that it took gimmicky pseudo-retirement - replete with Twitter account purge - to get the best yet from the L.A. MC/producer.

Frank Nitt - Frankie Rothstein A notable figure in both the Dillaverse and Madlib's medicine cabinet, the enduring Detroit spitter divides his latest solo outing between steady rhyming and much appreciated instrumentals.

Raekwon - Fly International Luxurious Art Certainly no Cuban Linx Pt. III, the Chef's overdue LP sounds almost as outdated as the reference in its title.

Yelawolf - Love Story Transforming into a wannabe Everlast turned this Alabama yammerer even more insufferable than before and, to borrow a popular Twitter meme, I think we all wish he'd Mackle less.

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