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Full Clip: April's Hip Hop Albums Reviewed By Gary Suarez
Gary Suarez , April 22nd, 2015 08:26

Gary Suarez is living life like volcano, reviewing albums by Bodega Bamz, Kendrick Lamar, Action Bronson and more

Bryan Williams is a businessman, and like any good businessman he knows how important it is to adapt. If his Cash Money Records had stuck with the No Limit-esque design aesthetic of the late 1990s or retained Mannie Fresh as in-house producer, it'd have all been over by now. Savvy signings like Drake and Nicki Minaj has made the YMCMB music empire one of the most important entities of the 2010s. Forbes even ranked him (a distant) fourth in a list last May of the wealthiest people in hip hop.

But, as we all know, Birdman's far more embattled these days than he is celebrated. Once the favored son, Lil Wayne has turned into the executive's most vocal opponent, having only recently backed down from a multi-million dollar lawsuit over monies owed for, among other things, the endlessly delayed The Carter 5. Rumors continue to swirl that Drake may be looking for an exit of his own as well, especially in light of some rather thinly veiled shots on the not-mixtape If You're Reading This, It's Too Late.

Unless he personally owes you money, however, it really doesn't matter if Birdman is a badguy in this rap game because hip hop fans straight-up celebrate villainy on a daily basis. For all his sins, be they real or imagined, his track record proves that he's one of the best talent scouts there is. And while Mr. Williams only gets partial credit for Young Thug because (A) Gucci Mane got to him quicker, and (B) his debut not-mixtape Barter 6 comes courtesy of Lyon Cohen's 300 Entertainment, credit is nonetheless due. Birdman's vocal appearance on the gut-punching opener 'Constantly Hating' serves as an acknowledgement of his role in Thugger's dynamic come-up as well as a broad warning against those warring against him at the moment.

From the moment it was announced, Barter 6 positioned Young Thug squarely in the middle of all this YMCMB beef. Weezy's apparent, and ultimately successful, blocking of this album's original cheeky name - Carter 6, natch - is especially audacious for a guy who named his own 2002 album 500 Degreez, a mere four years after labelmate Juvenile's own 400 Degreez. (The move is especially ironic given that Wayne's hollering about the same sort of financial discrepancies Juve was doing more than a decade ago.) Though a small victory for the aging Wayne, Thugger came out on top with his response, delivered succinctly and ultramodernly via Instagram.

Young Thug has some battles of his own to fight as well, mostly around perceptions. Though 1017 Thug more or less introduced him to the rap blogosphere of influence, Guwop's OCD prolificity led to several lesser releases, including two numbered sequels to his critically adored tape and the carelessly monster mashed Young Thugga Mane La Flare. With verses purportedly recorded more recently than those other tracks, loosies like 'Danny Glover' and 'Stoner' were submitted as evidence of his potential. Rich Gang's 'Lifestyle' upped the ante further, as did the project's mixtape highlight 'Givenchy.' In a rather telling bait-and-switch, either he or the number crunching trendsetters at 300 Entertainment pulled a fast one by more or less retroactively calling Barter 6 a mixtape instead of an album, a cute distinction in a time when the boundaries between the two formats are so porous.

So we're supposed to believe that this isn't Full Strength Thugger, and to be honest, that seems about right. There's no single here on par with 'Stoner,' and a couple of the tracks have been floating around lately, namely 'Halftime' and the understated 'Check.' Furthermore, none of the features qualify as A-list apart from, I guess, a verse from Iggy Azalea benefactor T.I. ('Can't Tell,' which also features Boosie Badazz). Also curiously absent: Rich Gang compadre Rich Homie Quan. Certainly no failure, Barter 6 improves markedly on his exceedingly flawed 1017 output, at least production-wise. London On Da Track handles multiple tracks, including 'With That' and quiet trap storm 'Numbers,' while Wheezy The 5th effectively covers the rest.

Action Bronson - Mr. Wonderful

Countless rap albums have attempted to be the musical counterpart to Abel Ferrara's cult film King Of New York, but this might mark among the first to aim instead for Harlem Nights. A largely organic outing in seemingly deliberate contrast with today's digital production norms, Mr. Wonderful is a wholly unconventional urban record from the perspective of one of hip hop's most unusual figures. Despite years of lazy Ghostface Killah comparisons by critics, these twelve tracks are far more ambitious and bizarre than anything the Wu master has done - which is saying a hell of a lot. An emcee known for his outer boro verbosity, Action Bronson frequently shies away from spitting here, as on 'The Passage' or the unexpected juke joint jamming of 'City Boy Blues.' On 'A Light In The Addict' and 'Only In America,' his prior collaborators Party Supplies bring him down to the piano bar for some wild times. Of course, Bronsolino gets plenty of dank n' sticky verses in ('Actin Crazy,' 'Brand New Car'), but it's clear now that rap alone can't contain him.

Bodega Bamz - Sidewalk Exec

If some future hip hop historian fancies him/herself an A$AP scholar, awareness of this album will be among the needed bonafides. From as far back as the Mob's Lord$ Never Worry tape, the Spanish Harlemite has been an integral part of New York's hip hop community. While its sole A$AP guest appearance comes posthumously via the gone-too-soon Yams on 'I'm Ready', Bamz' long-awaited album also pairs him with another local crew of import: the Flatbush Zombies. 'Bring Em Out' creeps and crawls as that trio's songs often do, but it's V-Don who's responsible for the production here, bringing a consistently ominous and even solemn vibe across these dozen tracks. With beats as evocative as these ('Invoice'), Bamz draws inspiration and delivers high quality throughout. A proud and talented lyricist in a time where lyrics seem to matter less and less, he's operating in that sweet spot between rappity rap stunters and easygoing spitters. He's got heart and a soul, a drug dealer with a conscience ('Cocaine Dreaming') and a classic streetwise storyteller ('Raw Deal').

DP Beats - Almighty DP

Unless you're a die-hard Glo Gang devotee (read: stan) on Instagram, this stealth Chief Keef album masquerading as a producer showcase probably hasn't come up on your rap radar. Yet following both Sorry 4 The Weight and the inflated Kanye hype of Nobody, the lowkey release of DP Beats' album seems worth shouting about. If it did nothing else but serve as a reprieve from young Cozart's own wonky self-productions, Almighty DP would have my attention. On the current Chiraq-to-Cali spectrum, this skilled beatmaker leans more towards the midwestern chill, except of course when he doesn't. In the former category, 'On The Corner' intimidates with Saw-styled strings, while 'Know She Does' slows down EDM synth leads to a perilous pace. With Keef operating at maximum repetitive hookiness, highlight 'Wet' brightens much like recent Sicko Mobb cuts, perky and trappy at the same damn time. But DP Beats does more than tinker in the same home studio sandbox as his peers, something demonstrated best on the piano-led 'Tec.'

Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp A Butterfly

Sure, that “Control" verse was a righteous bit of KRS-One braggadocio, but too often K-Dot's potential has been outpaced by other people's perceptions. It's as if we see greatness in Kendrick but lack the patience to let him actualize it. Praise for good kid, m.A.A.d city, an often maddening pastiche of disruption with choice moments of lucid luminescence, ranged between hyperbole and hypoglycemia. The hip hop savior narrative has no doubt coerced him into this outsized gambit of artistry and message politics. Hologram stunt casting on 'Mortal Man' notwithstanding, the record owes more to Guru than Pac. Gang Starr's emcee took rap's jazz romance to another level with Jazzmatazz while Robert Glasper - who appears in a trio with Thundercat and Kamasi Washington throughout Kendrick's Dark Night of the Soul Patch - continued on with Black Radio. But listening to this stunning wacked-out hip hop opus there's no question that the TDE star is the rightful heir to this legacy (though less so vis-a-vis funk). While there's tons to unpack here, but with tracks as solid as 'How Much A Dollar Cost' and 'Momma' it's worth the dedicated study.

L'Orange & Jeremiah Jae - The Night Took Us In Like Family

Though it gets props for being a steadily active hip-hop indie label, Mello Music Group has at least as many misses in its recent discography as it does hits. One minute Rapper Big Pooh shuffles stiffly through a staid set; the next minute Open Mike Eagle comes through with out-there Adult Swim PTSD-core. More of a draw, the duopoly of producer L'Orange with Brainfeeder/Warp dude Jeremiah Jae makes big promises it kinda keeps. Given the latter's dazzling avant outings like the crucial caustic hop of Raw Money Raps, this good-not-great record exudes a one-off non-canonical vibe. For his slightly left of center beats, L'Orange takes samples extracted from the departed world of mobsters and molls, small time crooks and big time scores, jailbirds and prison breakers. Jae is comfortable - almost complacent - riffing and spitting his way through the tracks, dropping on-the-nose Al Capone references ('Kind Of Like Life') mixed with street metaphors. Henchmen Gift Of Gab and Homeboy Sandman guest on their respective cuts, but it's still not enough to pull off this caper without a hitch.

BONUS: One Hitters:

Clear Soul Forces - Fab Five What these and other such '90s retro-fetishists seem to have overlooked is that their boom bap heroes knew how to distinguish themselves rather than blend in, with one another as well as the competition.

theMFK (Marcy Mane) - Gucci Lion Betraying the lush forestry theme of its cover, this Goth Money Records release is as cold as anything from Yung Scandinavia.

Prefuse 73 - Forsyth Gardens An amorphous return for Scott Herren's best-known project, this jubilant teaser EP bandies about fractious beats atop melodious yet fragile surfaces.

Earl Sweatshirt - I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside Now more of a grump than a downer, the Odd Future standout trumps his major label debut with these ten short and breathtaking tracks of newfound rage.

Wale - The Album About Nothing Capitalizing on the millennial Seinfeld fad far too late, MMG's second-most prolific member outwears his welcome, though not so much that anyone will bother to ask him to leave.