Full Clip: November’s Hip Hop Albums Reviewed by Gary Suarez
, November 28th, 2016 12:49
Whether you rep the old school, the new school, or were homeschooled, our resident rap columnist comes through with the latest straight outta America.
Most folks didn’t expect another album from A Tribe Called Quest, and with good reason. Even with their 21st century reunion spurts, it seemed altogether unlikely that the seminal hip-hop troupe would dare return to the studio like that. Declared their final album in 1998, The Love Movement wasn’t as regarded as some of Tribe’s earlier works, and surely not everyone in the group were on the same page anymore. Q-Tip in particular dealt with a litany of label issues as a soloist, as evidenced by the nine year chasm between Amplified and The Renaissance. Phife Dog’s tragic passing back in March seemed to officially close the door on the band for good.
But Tribe had kept their new recordings under the proverbial radar, a secret only shared with the world a few short months ago. The resulting tongue twister We Got It from Here... Thank You 4 Your Service not only includes contributions from the three surviving members - including some rare on-record raps from Jarobi White - but from the departed Phife himself. And while some of the album was recorded after his death, the cohesiveness of the record prevents his considerable contributions from ever feeling tacked on.
Dropping in the dark days immediately following Donald Trump’s apparent and appalling presidential win, it certainly couldn’t have come at a more necessary time. On ‘We The People' Q-Tip takes the climate of xenophobia and hateful othering head on. A natural fit, Kendrick Lamar arrives for the torch passing ceremony ‘Conrad Tokyo' but finds himself unexpectedly upstaged by Phife prophetically addressing the media-complicit normalization that led to the unsettling Trump victory that few saw coming.
The beauty of Tribe albums comes from the sheer jumble of voices, and while this one is no exception, the expanded universe present on this reunion makes it all the more special. Q-Tip toasts Phife in the afterlife on the gripping ‘Black Spasmodic' while veritable free-for-all ‘Dis Generation’ shows love to the new breed of socially thoughtful rappers. For ‘The Killing Season' Kanye and Kweli share air with Consequence and White. Elsewhere, under the influence of Elton John, Phife and honorary member Busta Rhymes trade patois bars for ‘Solid Wall Of Sound.’ Further contributions from the broad likes of Andre 3000, Syd Tha Kid, and Jack White range from overtly competitive wordplay to soothing subtlety.
Belly - Inzombia
Co-credited on some of The Weeknd's best material, Ahmad Balshe shares his pal's drug-addled depressive jags and romantic dysfunctions. As fundamentally performative as Patrick Bateman cosplay, the approach is a tightrope act that, as recent singles like 'Starboy' indicate, lacks credible sustainability. Inzombia's polished production barely masks its mostly unremarkable songwriting, a growing concern that Belly may not be as ready for prime time as hoped. Still settling into his augmented singing voice on cuts like 'Can't Feel A Thing' and 'Die Alone' he provides limp hooks uncharacteristic of his resume. On 'Consuela' Belly clumsily stumbles through Latina stereotypes alongside Cokeboy Zack and Young Thug like freshmen failing a Spanish test. Lyrically, Jadakiss mops the floor with him on 'Trap Phone' a track that would've turned anthemic in, say, French Montana's hands. Murder Inc. alum Ashanti seems underutilized on the above average 'Seven Day Love.'
Common - Black America Again
As one of the few rappers of his generation still signed to the majors, Common comes to his latest album emboldened. The sort of modern gospel joint that The Life Of Pablo purported to be, Black America Again mixes political militancy with spiritual expediency, a formula extremely well-served by shrewd production choices ('Little Chicago Boy' 'Joy & Peace'). Helmed by Karriem Riggins and Robert Glasper, the album returns the Chicago native to the soul-jazzy rap of Electric Circus, albeit rawer and redder this time around. For 'Home' he bristles at the tyranny of sales expectations and pontificates on higher callings, while on 'Pyramids' he performs lyrical acrobatics around bows to both Tribe and ODB. With the righteous assistance of Stevie Wonder, the title track devastates as it dominates, its bars scorching America on so many levels that it demands not only repeat listens but holistic assessment. Even when the beat softens, as on 'The Day Women Took Over' or R&B jam 'Love Star' he barely tempers his rhetoric.
Fetty Wap - Zoovier
Coming off the wild ride of 2015, this year might’ve seemed comparatively mellow for the pop-rap hitmaker, what with only two hit singles on the Billboard charts instead of six. Rest assured that Fetty hasn’t slowed down in the studio, as this fresh mixtape makes so abundantly clear. There’s a certain boppy swagger inherent in much of his music, a through line that thankfully continues here with danceable cuts like ‘Hate You’ and ‘My Wrist.’ He’s still a loverman supreme, credibly crooning over ‘Shorty’ and slick closer ‘Late Night Jawn.’ Monty makes a half dozen credited appearances here, for better or worse. To his credit, he doesn’t drag tracks like ‘Instant Friends’ down quite as badly as he did ‘679.’ Superior guests 21 Savage and a hoarse Bricc Baby bring out a darker, more violent side of Fetty’s aesthetic on the ominous ‘King Zoo’ and ‘Strapped Up Shorty' respectively.
Hodgy - Fireplace: TheNotTheOtherSide
The Odd Future conversation, or whatever remains of it, stays fixated on Earl, Frank, and Tyler. Despite his roles in MellowHigh and MellowHype, Hodgy’s name rarely comes up, as least not often enough for one of the most prolific artists to come from the millennial rap crew. That has to do at least partly with his inability to differentiate himself the way others like Vince Staples or The Internet’s Syd tha Kyd did. Holding Hodgy to those lofty standards overlooks the reliable straightforwardness of his skills, which are very much on display for his first proper solo full-length. He’s a rather good rapper, but pragmatism rarely garners ink in the hip-hop press. His serviceable verses on ‘Kundalini’ and ‘Laguna’ prove him highly competent on the mic, if not particularly quotable. Busta Rhymes and Lil Wayne make guest appearances, though neither provide elevation for their junior spitter. Overall a diverting outing, Fireplace just won’t get Hodgy to that next level.
Moneybagg Yo & Yo Gotti - 2 Federal
The strength of CMG in 2016 extended beyond Yo Gotti’s solid, narrative-driven The Art Of Hustle, thanks to two impressive Blac Youngsta tapes. The Memphis rapper stays local with his imprint’s latest artist Moneybagg Yo, who apparently earned $200,000 in cash upon signing. 2 Federal pairs them up properly for an hour’s worth of music in the vein of Gotti’s own celebrated tapes of pure cocaine culture (‘Afta While' ‘Mitch’). Their shared hometown comes with both pride and peril, the latter evoked best on the lamentful ‘Da City.’ Outside the trap house, ‘Doin 2 Much’ and ‘Lil Baby’ navigate their woman woes. Moneybagg reprises his Federal Reloaded standout ‘No Dealings’ and reteams with its producer Tay Keith for the drill-esque ‘Gang Gang.’ Elsewhere, ‘Olympics’ resembles ‘Down In The DM” far too much for either rapper’s own good.
Odd Nosdam - Off Tapes (1998 - 1999)
This archive dive turned beat tape finds the California-based producer going back to the days before cLOUDDEAD’s eponymous debut. Over the course of two dozen clips, loops, and drafts, Off Tapes serves to scratch the lingering eczema itch of old L.A. Mush aficionados as well as satisfy the city’s contemporary scenesters looking for another leftfield fix. Essentially a sequel to 2007’s Clouddead Beats: Collaged at Mom's, this collection of unreleased late ‘90s material reveals a nascent Odd Nosdam sporting Boards Of Canada aspirations as well as a knack for mutated riffage, the latter a virtual predecessor to Madlib's profound and progressive Rock Konducta series (‘Big Jim Melvin' 'Rollin Hard’). 'Curtis Loop OG' doles out a compressed head nod crush, while the hazy hop of 'David Boyie' and 'Perty Dirt' operates on a more ethereal plane. Though slight in spots, namely beatless segues like 'Stock Drone' most of the tracks run much too quickly for that to even matter.
Peewee Longway - Longway Sinatra
Following the lead of Atlanta's breakout success stories 21 Savage and Future, Longway goes the co-billed producer showcase route for his latest tape. While Cassius Jay makes room for collaborations with the likeminded Zaytoven, he deserves credit for demonstrating an array of styles that fall within the trap rubric. Hard hitting cuts like 'Bankroll' and 'God Damn' rub elbows in VIP with poppier cousins including 'Run It Up.' None of this would be quite so effectively executed if not for rapper Longway, arguably the most consistent of Gucci Mane's many mentees. He channels that classic 1017 energy on 'Order Up' and album highlight 'Egg Beater.' Knowledgeable of his style's deep roots, he liberally cribs from 'Mr. Ice Cream Man' on the No Limit tribute on the referential 'Master Peewee' while passing the mic to living legend E-40 on 'Back To Cali. With Offset from Migos in tow, 'On The Gram' overreaches ever so slightly.
Termanology - More Politics
As lyrical miracles go, this New England native backs up the blunderbuss and bluster with solid Kweli-level ideological sentiments, making him one of the truly underrated rappers of his generation. Frontloaded with name brand beats by the likes of Just Blaze and Q-Tip, Termanology's latest album touches on a range of topics, including the scourge of racially-biased policing and the joys of fatherhood. 'I Dream B.I.G.' teams Term with most of The LOX over a Buckwild boom bap beat, while 'Where's The Love' reminds how crucial Hi-Tek makes street soul sound. Executive producer Statik Selektah dominates the back half of More Politics, bringing the curatorial approach of his own showcase compilations to guest heavy cuts 'Bar Show' and 'The Curve.' During the rare moments when Term truly has the floor to himself, he reinforces his fundamental independence and strength as a soloist. ('Just Politics' The Last Time').