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Full Clip: August and September’s Hip Hop Reviewed by Tara Joshi
Tara Joshi , September 18th, 2017 07:34

Is the success of XXXtentacion in spite of troubling abuse allegations a damning insight into misogyny in music? Tara Joshi considers the 'norms' of a macho hip hop culture, plus reviews of the past two months of releases

Writing some kind of not-especially-hot-take on misogyny in hip hop seems a bit pointless – the music industry, we all know, isn’t a great place for women, and hip hop and rap in particular aren’t exactly female-friendly spaces. This isn’t news. For all it can be frustrating and tiresome to hear Lil Yachty talking about banging “sluts” (while simultaneously waxing lyrical on how wonderful his mother is), it’s never felt a really pressing thing to write about because, frankly, it’s the norm. Hip hop culture has always been hyper-macho, but it’s not as though there aren’t artists coming through who are subverting that: is it really my place to wonder whether Ludacris giving a girl their fix of ‘Vitamin D’ while describing her “thunder thighs” isn’t a bit gross when rappers like Princess Nokia are, through the same medium, taking ownership of the female body (“my little titties and my phat belly!”)?

But in light of the disturbing allegations about Florida rapper Jahseh Onfroy, aka XXXTentacion that have emerged while his debut album sits in the charts - allegations that, if anything, have seemed to raise his profile (yes, I realise the irony in my writing this and thus doing the same) - and while hip hop figures as influential as Kendrick continue to co-sign him, there are surely questions to be asked about holding artists to account, and whether we do need to talk about the culture’s treatment of women.

Onfroy’s response to the allegations came in the form of a series of Instagram stories that baulked at the testimony but also made threats: “Anybody that called me a domestic abuser, I’m finna domestically abuse ya’ll little sisters’ pussy from the back”. The outcome of the trial remains to be seen, but even if we put to one side accusations which include aggravated battery of a pregnant woman and domestic battery by strangulation, it feels telling of a very masculine culture that his response is to threaten people’s “sisters” - it plays on an idea of male ownership of women, and how females are only deemed worthy of respect or concern when they are mothers or sisters.

The disturbing manner in which the likes of R.Kelly and Chris Brown have been able to sustain their careers is telling, and that XXXTentacion’s album is riding high in the charts in spite of allegations that people have known about to some degree since the start of 2017 is unfortunately not a surprise. How we treat artists in the aftermath of abuse allegations is arguably symptomatic of a wider problem: a musical culture in which we have shrugged and allowed misogyny to become a norm. And until we start talking about these entrenched issues openly and holding these artists to account, abusers will, unfortunately, continue to walk free.

Princess Nokia - 1992 Deluxe (Rough Trade)

Since around 2014, Puerto-Rican New Yorker Princess Nokia - real name Destiny Frasqueri - has found herself surrounded by buzz, that seemed to rise sharply last year with the release of mixtape 1992. It found a nonchalant MC spitting over boisterous beats both old and new school – 1992 Deluxe, her debut album on Rough Trade, finds her revisiting those tracks with remastered versions, along with seven new songs. The producers aren’t especially well-known and there's maybe a handful of standout tracks (‘ABCs of New York’ and ‘Receipts’ included); it's her voice and bars that make Princess Nokia’s output such an impressive, thrilling listen. “I am the real deal,” she brags, with visceral but languid confidence, and it’s true: every line is delivered with searing conviction. She’s comfortable in her weirdness (referencing her love of goth cartoon Emily the Strange), at ease in her body, and at her best gloriously subverts every poppy expectation of female MCs.

BROCKHAMPTON - SATURATION II (QUESTION EVERYTHING, INC)

After sleeping on their debut, finally listening to “the first boy band of the internet” has been a glorious revelation. Kevin Abstract and his Texan cohorts make tunes that bang while subverting hip hop’s braggadocio norms: “Shouldn't you have a real big-ass ego? (no) / Shouldn't these girls be flockin' just like seagulls? (eh),” Matt Champion raps wryly over the mesmerising snakecharmer vibes of ‘SWEET’. SATURATION II is the middle part of what will be a trilogy of albums, and it’s a pretty logical continuation of June’s SATURATION: a refreshingly breezy, melodic take on hip hop-meets-R&B. It’s still early days, but tracks like ‘QUEER’ show their ability to twist expectations – rather than talking Abstract’s sexuality as they have in the past, the track plays on the word as a synonym for “weird”, pounding with Romil Hemnani’s unpredictable, cartoon-y production. Believe the hype, SATURATION II marks BROCKHAMPTON out as one of the genre’s most forward-thinking, exciting collectives.

Open Mike Eagle - Brick Body Kids Still Daydream (Mello Music Group)

The Robert Taylor Homes public housing project, on the southside of Chicago, was originally planned for 11,000 inhabitants – though at one time it was thought to actually house around 27,000 - 95% percent of whom were unemployed and 96% African-American. It was demolished with the false promise of replacement units, forcing families who had lived on the project for decades to disperse. It is this housing project that Self-professed “art rapper” Open Mike Eagle grew up in Chicago, and often visited his great aunt and cousins in Robert Taylor Homes; this album, his first as a solo artist since 2014, is inspired by their home. With rich melodic production from an array of producers (Exile and Kenny Segal among others), and dreamy lyrics imagining kids playing at fighting dragons while on the projects, it’s a beautifully realised concept album, putting a much-needed face on too-easily dehumanised concepts like “projects” and “ghettos”.

TOKiMONSTA - ‘NO WAY’ (ft Isaiah Rashad, Joey Purp & Ambré) (Young Art)

Ahead of LA producer TOKiMONSTA’s album Lune Rouge, this collaborative single with Top Dawg’s underrated star Isaiah Rashad, as well as Chicago rapper Joey Purp and New Orleans singer Ambré, is a smooth exploration of break-ups with flourishes of piano and brass. “I can’t be fucking you again, no way, no way,” is the refrain, but while there’s a wryness there’s a pervasive sadness to the track too: “I lie awake, it’s always you I think about, I am yours,” Purp says at one point. TOKiMONSTA’s biggest tracks are more upbeat, but this is a welcome insight into her ability to slow things down.

Leikeli47 - Wash & Set (Hardcover LLC)

The mask-wearing Brooklyn rapper/singer is back after a string of hot tapes and a Jay Z co-sign, but in reaching her debut album now, she’s aware that she’s made it: “My dreams give me wings, I reached the stars last night / My imagination is now real life, no more stressin’ just successin’,” she explains in nonchalant, collected flow on Wash & Set’s opening track ‘2nd fiddle’. This is not to say that the album finds her complacent: this is the work of someone truly excited to find themselves in this position. Her versatility as both a playful and potent performer stands out – across 14 tracks, there are no features. It’s largely high-energy and distinctly her, though there are occasional explorations of styles somewhat outside of her comfort zone: the dancehall-inflected ‘Bubblegum’ and the schmaltzy 00s strings of ‘Elian’s Revenge’ (both of which do pretty much work). Aplomb with attitude, confidence, and what seems to be anti-Nicki sentiment (“flick dumb bitches off your back like Remy”), Wash & Set is full of bangers to strut to.

Lil Uzi Vert - Luv Is Rage 2 (Atlantic)

Given his feature on ‘Bad and Boujee’ and his outstanding ‘XO Tour Llif3’ (voted Song of the Summer at the VMAs this year), Philadelphia rapper Lil Uzi Vert’s name had come so much into use in the rap world that it was easy to forget he hadn’t released a full-length yet. Luv Is Rage 2 doesn't quite live up to that dark and deft “song of the summer”, but it's an accomplished record. Some of the songs meander and never quite arrive (‘444+222’ is pretty forgettable), but his confident, unique overall sound across the album, with a whole host of producers (including current star players Metro Boomin’ and Pi’erre Bourne), is perhaps more important than the strength of individual tracks.

Villain Park - ‘We Out Here’ (Villain Park Company)

Formerly a group who released an EP back in 2015, Villain Park return as a duo - Bunge and Smoke. The LA rappers seem to be ignoring current trap and bubblegum sing-song trends in the scene, and ‘We Out Here’ finds them sounding closer to Mobb Deep and even early Outkast than to any of their peers. It’s a classic vibe that marks them out in 2017. They’re releasing their music independently for now but have already been co-signed by Earl Sweatshirt. ‘We Out Here’ is uplifting, laidback and engaging, following the somewhat more intense ‘Regretz’ from earlier this year.

Buddy - Magnolia EP

Compton artist Buddy - who was discovered as a high school student by Pharrell Williams, and whose last release was produced by Kaytranada - is back with an EP of hip hop-meets-R&B over glossy, careening production (courtesy of duo Mike & Keys, who’ve previously worked with acts as varied as Nipsey Hussle, Faith Evans and Snoop). Though there are features from Wiz Khalifa, Boogie, and Kent Jamz (the last is especially mesmerising), the standout is Buddy alone on ‘Who Shot 2 Tall’, which considers gang violence in harrowing terms (“how many n**s gonna die before the summer’s up?”). It’s a hazy, laid back listen with plenty of promise; it remains to be seen if he can hold our interest over a full-length.

Mina Rose - ‘Lemons and Limes’ (Neighbourhood)

A track that recalls the dubby clash of sounds that Ms Dynamite specialised in, there’s a dreamy, tripped-out feel to Londoner Mina Rose’s debut track. It grapples with racial persecution at the hands of the police (all while considering the life and message of British reggae legend Smiley Culture, who died during a police raid of his home in 2011). Moving between a slow, delicate sprechgesang rap and slow singing, it’s an engaging, cinematic first release.

Wiki - No Mountains In Manhattan (XL)

This has to be up there with one of the best hip hop albums of the year. Former Ratking man Wiki - real name Patrick Morales - has been a low-key contender for current king of New York for quite some time, and his gruff distinctive flow over all this varied, lush production (from himself as well as Earl Sweatshirt and Kaytranada) seems to confirm that status. He paints a striking picture of his city, telling stories of sunsets over the Hudson, embellished with soulful samples, while also allowing space for introspection: most poignant is his reflection on his past relationship with fellow New York-Puerto Rican Princess Nokia, with lyrics like “I was a mutt,didn’t know who I was / You made me feel I belong” over spacious, dissonant production. It’s a beautiful homage to the city, not only as a place, but as his place.

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