Full Clip: September’s Hip Hop Albums Reviewed by Gary Suarez
, September 27th, 2016 07:40
The end of summer foretells a cold winter ahead in the rap game. Best for you to bundle up with the latest albums and mixtapes
For a time in the early 2000s, Guillermo Scott Herren was one of the most interesting outsiders in hip hop. Released via Warp Records under the Prefuse 73 moniker, 2001’s Vocal Studies + Uprock Narratives jolted boom bap with glitchy, sampladelic juice, artificially extending the life of a style in its death throes. After pivoting as far rightward into rap as he was comfortable doing on 2005’s guest-heavy Surrounded By Silence, Herren curved his fanbase and his label with eclectic electronica releases like 2011’s divisive The Only She Chapters. Despite logging ten years with a label known for encouraging experimentation, he’d broken with hip hop dogma and became a victim of the genre’s harsh double standards.
That it took until now for Herren to properly return to the hip hop arena in full-length form is either a testament to his integrity or the product of good fortune. For the rugged yet wondrous Fudge, he teams up with Boston indie rapper Michael Christmas, an artist whose own quirks mesh well with the producer’s left-of-center lean. The fractured fairy tales of their full-length debut Lady Parts will assuredly satisfy both those old Prefuse 73 fans and newer listeners who enjoy a sensible amount of weirdness in their mixes.
As before, Herren makes his own rules about what qualifies as hip hop, applying the DSP magic to the clattering ‘Showstopper’ and virtually warping the virtual record for ‘Kids Kill.’ Airy and crackling like dub, the submersible ‘Nothing Good’ beat hits deep like sonar pulses while Christmas waxes poetic and deliberately referential with the wordplay.
Indeed, the vocal half of Fudge seems unphased by the producer’s momentary innovations and attention to detail. He free associates with aplomb on the eerie ‘Young Vet’ and gives D.R.A.M. plenty of room to croon on the video game goonery of ‘All Points South.’ By the time closer ‘I Got The Good’ ends in a digital puddle, it’s clear that Christmas has a bright future beyond this terrific collaboration.
Blac Youngsta - Fuck Everybody
While much of the attention in rap today focuses on Chicago and Atlanta, Memphis has been 2016’s sleeper city for high quality trap. In these last nine months, Young Dolph, Yo Gotti, and Blac Youngsta have respectively dropped some of the finest releases the subgenre has to offer. The latter of these may be the dark horse candidate this year needs. He scoffs at the soft safe squabbles of social media on 'Tissue', juxtaposing Instagram woes with street level concerns, a theme broadened effectively on the ominous 'Dodge.' Lighter moments like 'Cool Lil Thottie' and the earnestly romantic R&B throwback 'Supposed To Be' seek to balance out the trap dread and make Youngsta more broadly palatable. But it's really his ability to tap emotional depths and set a scene like on the reminiscent 'School' or 'On Me' that sets him apart from the shallow unimaginative competition. Conversely, a bored Young Thug tries out for cartoon voiceovers on 'Youngsta,' a surprisingly underwhelming collab.
Chinx - Legends Never Die
Even as the recent news of Max B’s potentially imminent release from prison fills the hopeful hearts of the Coke Boy faithful, many still continue to grieve for the crew’s brightest up-and-comer. While the Cocaine Riot mixtape series demonstrated Chinx’s snarling street smarts, the Queens rapper’s posthumous releases have managed to highlight his then-emerging aptitude for radio-ready hooks. Much like ‘On Your Body’ off last year’s Welcome To JFK, this album’s opening duo exemplify the kind of gratifying fare he’d only just begun to excel at (‘Like This,’ ‘Match That’). Unlike similar projects from other departed rappers over the years, Legends Never Die never feels like something cobbled together from studio sessions into a finished product without the artist's input. Carrying on in the vein of his breakthrough 'Feelings', tracks like 'Hold Up' and ‘Slide Up In Ya Bitch’ merge the hard with the smooth. A frequent presence, Meet Sims fills in more perceived gaps than necessary.
The Gaslamp Killer - Instrumentalepathy
Perpetuating his reputation as an adventurous spirit laughing in the face of genre, the beat scenester’s latest pools together jazz, psych, bass and more in a radically reconfigured manner. Some might use such descriptors to explain recent works from his Left Coast comrade Flying Lotus. Yet The Gaslamp Killer is now even less sonically indebted to the hip hop that nurtured them both. The epic grooves and choral coos of 'Radical Tingles' posit the score to some old secret agent B-movie before a howling wolf's interruption shifts the tone considerably to horror. The malfunctioning blues of 'Gammalaser Kill' or the desert jams of 'Haleva' recall the Mo Wax discography. Most of Instrumentalepathy features credited collaborators who help bring his mad psychotropic vision to life. An overdriven Gonjasufi warbles at the percussive behemoth on 'Good Morning'. It's less clear, though, what Shigeto contributes to 'Shred You To Bits' or what Mophono specifically does for 'The Butcher', which really is a credit to Gaslamp' ability to assemble a consistent record from its parts.
Kool Keith - Feature Magnetic
The former Ultramagnetic MC built a solo career out of absurdist world building narratives populated by over-the-top supervillains and off-the-wall bars. Guest appearances are limited on groundbreaking records like Sex Style and Black Elvis/Lost In Space, so the arrival of this feature-centric project marks a genuinely fresh risk for an artist who has already taken several. NYC rap old heads in particular will marvel at some of the assembled guests here, from Juice Crew vet Craig G to Beatnut member Psycho Les. He reunites the Cenobites on ‘Stratocaster’, bringing 93 back alongside Godfather Don. One of the few who can match Keith’s endearing weirdness, his KMD-era contemporary MF Doom comes through for the hi-hat hiss and analog burble of ‘Super Hero’. Though fixated largely on the Big Apple, he slips in some left coast car show funk with Mac Mall and links through the Northeast corridor with Bostonian Ed O.G. The misses are few, namely Necro’s outmoded grossout styles on ‘Girl Grab’.
M.I.A. - AIM
Despite, or perhaps because of, her uncompromising profile, Mathangi Arulpragasam remains one of the most underrated emcees in hip hop. Her fire verses on ubiquitous hit ‘Paper Planes’ and earlier jams like ‘10 Dollar’ have been overshadowed by her radical politics, occasional antics, and the relative weakness of later albums Maya and Matangi. One of the year's best rap albums, AIM puts M.I.A. back in control of her musical destiny by harnessing her strengths into popwise provocation. Her strongest singles in years, ‘Go Off’ goes hard with bhangra vibes and drone bomb allusions while 'Borders' taps into an EDM-lite sound buoyed by an infectious yet relatable refrain. A standout, ‘Freedun’ recruits boy band refugee Zayn Malik for a breezy hook to support her braggadocio. Her diverse skill set on the mic shines through, be that via the melodious double tracked harmony of 'Finally' or her deliberately monotone flow on long-awaited Diplo reunion 'Bird Song'.
Mac Miller - The Divine Feminine
On the off chance that you’ve never been skeeved out by Mac Miller, there are plenty of opportunities for icky shivers on his latest album. The simulated sex amid the jazzy bits at the end of 'Stay' sounds like cheap theatre, a sophomoric joke from an immature artist only playing at personal growth. It continues into sleaze sax and choppy breathing on 'Skin', another chance for the self-described pussy soldier to demonstrate self-amusement over his big boy knowledge of the clitoris. Even a trap lothario like Ty Dolla Sign can’t undo Miller’s damage on the centrepiece ‘Cinderella.’ In the wake of Chance’s Colouring Book, an album with such slick soul production by the likes of Dam-Funk and shouldn’t be this off-putting. It doesn’t help matters that CeeLo Green is involved, given his subsequently retracted public comments about rape and the surrounding now-dismissed criminal case. Nonetheless, there’s no doubt that Miller thinks he’s made something in the realm of the romantic.
Mndsgn - Body Wash
Following last year’s whimsically Fresh Prince themed Vivians side-project with rapper The Koreatown Oddity, the far-out beat scene producer Ringgo Ancheta returns to his best known moniker for a fresh set of tunes. From the synthesizer slide of ‘Cosmic Perspective’ to the three-part instrumental ‘Searchin’ suite, the album intersperses designated interludes and short cuts with comparatively longer jams and cohesive tracks. Leaning into an 80s R&B groove, vocal tracks like ‘Alluptoyou’ and ‘Transmissionnn’ venture deeper into boogie than the more hip hop mindful Yawn Zen from 2014. It’s all very nice, if one-note. Harmless and apolitical compared to the ideological militancy of Dam-Funk, Body Wash never manages to rise above its pleasantly sunsoaked psychedelic soul motif, partly the fault of Ancheta’s nondescript nonchalant vocal delivery. Apart from tempo, there’s not much substance to separate the musical massage of ‘Lather’ from the daft punk of slo-mo closer ‘Guess It’s All Over.’
Ty Dolla Sign - Campaign
These days, one man's mixtape is another man's album, and vice versa. No matter what Ty Dolla Sign wants us to call Campaign, it's his best commercial release yet, a seamless blend of poppy sing-rap and glossy trap. On cuts like 'Clean' and 'Zaddy', he returns to the salacious affairs and boudoir scenes of his Beach House and Airplane Mode tapes. The Zaytoven-produced 'R&B' does exactly what he says on the tin, while 'Pu$$y' gets simultaneously, if embarrassingly, possessive and proud. Travis Scott continues to irk his haters by simply existing, not to mention being prominently and prolongedly featured on the melodic jam '3 Wayz.' A titanic team-up with Future, the title track showcases the strengths of both trap lords, the blurring interplay of their voices bolstered by a tight D.R.U.G.S. beat. Apart from the Bieber-esque redundancies of 'Stealing' and the occasional truth-adjacent soapboxing, Campaign stays on brand and on message. Ominous or oblivious, the motorcade referencing cover art may give you pause.