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Full Clip: September’s Hip-Hop Albums Reviewed by Gary Suarez
Gary Suarez , September 9th, 2015 09:22

Gary Suarez considers Travi$ Scott's Rodeo and reviews the rest of this month's hip hop albums

Travi$ Scott may not have your respect, but at the moment he’s at least got your attention. Calling the Kanye West mentee a divisive figure in hip hop amounts to a mountainous understatement in our molehill times. To some he’s a shapeshifter and a thief, j'accuse-d of cravenly cobbling together a sham career out of purloined proprietary styles belonging to others in hip hop, be that Kid Cudi or Rae Sremmurd’s Swae Lee or whoever happens to be on point at a given moment. Despite Scott’s important contributions to Yeezus as a performer and producer, as well as his co-sign from T.I., his mixtapes and singles have garnered him a vocal community of detractors. With the release last Friday of his major label debut Rodeo, many of my fellow rap critics seem delighted to put their pitchforks and pens to use and finally, at long last, run this abominable Rap Frankenstein out of town.

The timing of Rodeo couldn’t be much worse. Questions about authenticity in rap have arisen more times this year than in recent memory, with charges levied at Action Bronson, Drake, and Post Malone, to name a few. Yet in addition to concerns about the provenance of his approach, Scott’s public persona and behaviour hasn’t helped much. Most recently, he spewed a few choice homophobic slurs at a Houston concert, subsequently apologizing in a clumsy all-caps fashion on Twitter. It’s just the latest of his bad decisions, another reflection of what some would call his poor character. That the incident occurred during his album’s release week does him no favours.

But Scott’s popularity, particularly with younger fans, comes in spite of all this, marking the latest fissure in the seismic changes going on in hip hop. Teeming with youthful indiscretion, his live shows often resemble metallic mosh pits more than the giddy choreography of your typical 21-and-up turn up function. Believe it or not, he’s connecting with a generational subset that took to Yeezus the way fans just five years older than them took to 808s And Heartbreak. And while the cognitive dissonance behind forgiving or excusing his apparent sins might frustrate many of his naysayers, Scott’s fans largely don’t seem to care how problematic their fave is.

Repeatedly calling Scott a ripoff artist hasn’t changed his listeners’ minds about him any more than years of calling J. Cole boring kept that guy down. Hip hop’s endurance and resistance to the stagnation that felled rock assures that sectarian quibbles, whether based on old ideas or progressive sociopolitics, won’t prevent its continued growth, even if it moves in directions some people don’t want to see it go. Earlier rap generations forgave or at least tolerated more odious sins than Scott’s, and even the recent reminders of Dr. Dre’s violent history of misogyny and assaults against women hasn’t hurt the sales of Compton nor the N.W.A. biopic that prompted it. Though so much so-called music journalism of the last few years has taken a moralising finger-wag stance whenever convenient or opportune, listeners in turn seem increasingly resistant to such dogmatic soapboxing.

So it must be so vexing for all these liberal rap scolds to see beloved names like Future, Quavo, and Young Thug in Rodeo’s tracklisting, or so many of its beats credited to their favorites. Sprawling lead single ‘3500’ features both Metro Boomin and Zaytoven on the beat, plus a Nayvadius hook and 2 Chainz verse to boot. On album highlight ‘Nightcrawler,’ Chief Keef and the aforementioned Swae Lee join forces with Scott to pop bottles on the zeitgeist. On ‘Wasted’, his distorted croon weaves around swirling synths, creeping rhythms, and the honeyed vulgarities of living legend Juicy J. Reuniting with Scott after Drake deep cut ‘Company’, OVO go-to Wondagurl delivers the tiptoeing yet turnt anthem ‘Antidote’, a sleeper hit this summer.

Contemporary to its core, Rodeo is in some key ways a successor to Yeezus, albeit not necessarily the straight up sequel that some people want. Omnipresent on that prior album, Mike Dean comes to Scott’s aid as an executive producer here. Though not to the same extreme extent as Yeezus, many of the tracks feature numerous production credits, with the tracks prone to turning in unexpected ways. With Mr. West joining Scott on the mic, ‘Piss On Your Grave’ reanimates the nightmarish tones and reverb barks of the arresting ‘I Am A God’. Scott’s own hedonistic nihilism mirrors that of 2013 Ye, whether he’s sniffing out drugs and cavorting with porn stars in the San Fernando Valley (‘90210') or goading Justin Bieber into indulging in some orgiastic situations together (‘Maria I’m Drunk’).

At times, Scott’s singing veers closer to 808s, as on the ambitious Cudi-esque opener ‘Pornography’. He’s apparently been harbouring some R&B tendencies, which are made evident on ‘Oh My Dis Side’ whose slick Allen Ritter X Frank Dukes beat recalls their prior work for Drake. With The Weeknd in tow, the Illangelo-produced‘ Pray 4 Love’ plays like a Beauty Behind The Madness b-side. Still, the overall vibe here stays sooty and viscous, well-suited for a disaffected audience seeking a suitable soundtrack. Being an urban chameleon might very well prove an asset to Scott, despite the albatross liability it poses critically. You don’t have to like him, and maybe you shouldn’t, but it really doesn’t matter. None of this matters.

B.o.B. - Psycadelik Thoughtz

The Weeknd's successful sports arena pop turn came after years of playing the approachable R&B villain to an increasingly curious audience. But it's never been clear who singing rapping songsmith B.o.B's core demographic ought to be, which makes his latest album an exercise in poptimist futility. Even taking into account his multiple past successes, he's inadvertently highlighting the difference between a music industry chameleon and a tree lizard with a wardrobe consultant. A non-threatening triple threat, he disrupts his oddly defensive hip hop stances with seizures of treacly folk pop ('Plain Jane'), schlock rock-balladry ('Violet Vibrato'), and a little 808s and heartbreak ('Joburg'). On the gleaming title track, he's nowhere near the credible trippy mane A$AP Rocky was on A.L.L.A., not even metaphorically. Guest singer Jon Bellion's Death Cab mimicry hardly elevates ‘Violence’ to the level that B.o.B. needs to replicate prior crossover hits like ‘Airplanes’ and ‘Nothin On You’.

Guilty Simpson - Detroit’s Son

Known best for his work with stellar producers like Apollo Brown, J Dilla, and Madlib, this rough, rugged and raw emcee always seems to come up on the wrong side of the ampersand. While the rock solid Detroit’s Son won’t dramatically change the public’s perception of him, let it serve as a robust reminder of precisely why so many beatmakers want to claim him. In this instance, Quakers co-founder Katalyst has the distinct pleasure of pairing up with Simpson for these seventeen tracks. From the simmering summertime soul of ‘Beautiful Death’ and the title track to the cosmic grooves of ‘Radiation Burn’, the project offers more heterogeneity than one might expect for single-producer outing. Even when Katalyst throws pulpy curveballs (‘Money’), Simpson’s sinewy flow brings all the cohesion this record needs. On the spare ‘Rhyme 101’, his deft streetwise emceeing puts him in the same class as Pusha T, albeit not the same income bracket. Respect is due on the 1st and you’re overdue, so pay the man.

K Camp - Only Way Is Up

From the minute he stepped onto the national stage, Kristopher Campbell’s pop rap ambitions have always been above-board. Since 2013, he’s scored some wins with the earlier singles ‘Cut Her Off’ and ‘Money Baby’, neither of which appear on this album. To his credit, he’s gotten to a good point in his career without relying heavily on co-signs and features, one of very few to do so in a sea of one-hitters and urban chameleons. But the arrival of Only Way Is Up still feels strangely premature. Pre-release single ‘Lil Bit’ retreaded instead of pressing forward, miring Campbell in the same indistinct radio limbo as the better equipped Kid Ink. Apart from the R&B brightness of ‘Comfortable’, Big Fruit’s generic production lumbers when his singing rapping companion can’t come through with a decent hook (‘Own Boss’, ‘Who Am I’). With a beat by Honorable C.N.O.T.E and a Snoop verse, ‘Gin And Juice’ interpolation ‘Rolling’ is an extraneous blemish on a butterface.

Verbal Kent - Anesthesia

One of the sharpest darts at Mello Music, this Chicago native has the sort of indie rap career that used to be the stuff of Okayplayer readers’ dreams. For more than decade, Verbal Kent’s lyrical hustle got him about as far as that sort of thing can nowadays. But it was his participation in the Ugly Heroes project that allowed him to level up. Luxe and lucid, Anesthesia builds off the strengths of 2014’s Khrysis-produced Sound Of The Weapon with the aid of a more diverse selection of beatmakers. One of a handful of cuts curated by Apollo Brown, the soul banger 'Suit Case Switch' finds a bloodyminded Kent reimagining the titular nemesis of Kill Bill as Cosby, with the untouchable Freddie Gibbs bringing up the rear. Gangrene’s own 'Oh No' drops the out-there boom bap of ‘Cyclops Muscle’ to accompany these free association looseleaf rhymes. Standout ‘Notes’ finds Kent deeply pondering his place in life, rap, and the world over a dope Varan beat.

BONUS: One Hitters:

Chinx - Welcome To JFK After consistently dropping some of the hardest NYC mixtapes for years, the departed Queens Coke Boy’s posthumous collection takes a softer, less gratifying, and eerily more somber approach.

Golden Rules - Golden Ticket A rare miss from the Lex Records camp, Eric Biddines and Paul White focus on forgettable head-down hip hop esoterica, failing to honor the label’s legendary team-up tradition.

Sean Price - Songs In The Key Of Price A too-short coda to cap a symphonic rap career, this mini-album makes painfully clear that the Brooklyn heavyweight Mic Tyson left us far too soon.

Chevy Woods - The 48 Hunnid Project The Taylor Gang loyalist seeks a single to capitalize on Wiz Khalifa’s 2015 surge, something he comes closest to accomplishing on the Dej Loaf collab ‘All Said And Done’.