Full Clip: August’s Hip Hop Albums Reviewed By Gary Suarez

All of this month's best hip hop albums reviewed? It ain't nuthin' but a Gary Suarez thang

Dr. Dre’s Detox was always better as a myth, replete with hushed knowing whispers of storied collaborations and always imminent release dates. In the nearly sixteen years since dropping his sextuple-platinum follow-up to his already triple-platinum The Chronic, the slightest wisp of news surrounding his third solo record would achieve amplification, and in the age of listicles its legend assured it even further mentions when there was nothing at all to report. Thus, the worst thing Dre could’ve done with that fantastical myth was to bring it to life. More often than not, artists who foolishly attempt to live up to the out of control expectations set by fans end up with a clunker Chinese Democracy instead of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II. (To that end, RZA probably ought to never release The Cure.)

Though his public explanation for officially killing the project seemed simultaneously cocky and self-effacing, Dre’s decision had more to do with his business acumen. Remember that this man has profited from bringing Eminem and 50 Cent to the masses, transformed a headphones gimmick into a multibillion dollar market leader, and turned the strategic purchase of a flailing streaming music subscription service called MOG into something far more lucrative. Dre is now reportedly worth $700,000,000 USD following the sale of Beats, the music and technology company he had 25% ownership in, to Apple. Given his continued connection to that corporation, releasing an album of potentially dated production and features would’ve been ridiculous, a rare stumble in a career studded with wise choices.

With Compton the bar is automatically lowered simply because it isn’t Detox. Ostensibly released as a tie-in to F. Gary Gray’s N.W.A. biopic, the record could easily have consisted of dusted off platters from the G-Funk Era and be chalked up to creative license. But George Clinton shouldn’t be banking on some royalty cheques this time. Instead, Dre’s assembled an intergenerational team full of upstarts and OGs for an album more modern than it has any right to be. He brings back Cold 187um and Xzibit on the banging ‘Loose Cannons’, and reminds us just how hard Snoop can go with the potent ‘One Shot One Kill.’ But he gives a lot more time on Compton to comparatively fresher faces like Anderson Paak of NxWorries and North Carolina rapper King Mez, both of whom deliver quality performances that should build excitement for their subsequent endeavours. It’s a move that worked well on 2001, one that allowed Dre to maintain credibility without overexerting himself.

Musically, Compton is what an Aftermath record ought to sound like in 2015, supporting the continuity of the label’s many threads with a credible new story. Trunk rattler ‘Satisfaction’ comes through with more bounce to the ounce, while Paak’s sullenly smooth delivery on ‘Animals’ benefits from Dre and scratch master DJ Premier’s momentous partnership on the beat. Co-produced with DJ Dahi, ‘Talk About It’ sounds like something fresh from the OVO SoundCloud page, especially during Justus’ sung hook. Kendrick Lamar’s trio of appearances draw parallels to his own To Pimp A Butterfly, and dramatic cuts like the ‘Deep Water’ reinforce that comparison. ‘For The Love Of Money’ builds an empire off a bare Bone Thugs reference, with Jill Scott and Jon Connor posted up at either side of a resplendent and ruthless Dre.

Lyrically, Dre’s as braggadocious as ever, and unlike most rappers he’s got the receipts to prove it. His voice has lost some of its resonant depth, and some might argue he’s not on the mic enough to call this a Dre album. But such criticism ignores his Phil Spector-esque omnipresence. G-Unit exile The Game gets his own song, ‘Just Another Day’, but you’d have to be naive not to notice Dre’s fingerprints all over the track. There’s been some alluding to this likely being Dre’s final album, and if Compton is the hill he wants to die on then now is the time for us to salute.

Gunplay – Living Legend

Maybach Music staved off its spiralling demise last month with Meek Mill’s chart-topping new album. Come to think of it, I was starting to miss that signature Rick Ross sound, notably absent from that record. Fortunately, we’ve been blessed with something even better: the long-awaited Gunplay album. At long last, the gratifying Living Legend takes us back to MMG’s roots, back to the seedy sordid Miami you won’t hear about in your guidebook. ‘Blood On The Dope’ stomps through the underworld, with assists from fellow Floridian PJK and Memphis’ Yo Gotti. Yes, Gunplay’s still addicted to coke rap, reveling in the double entendres of ‘White Bitch.’ And while ominous bellringers like ‘Tell Em’ and ‘Be Like Me’ will satisfy the faithful, he’s not content to simply meet expectations. ‘Chain Smokin’ borrows the breezy aesthetic of labelmate Stalley’s underrated Ohio, while the L.A. trunk funk of the DJ Mustard produced ‘Wuzhanindoe’ fits Gunplay’s shouty style like a leather glove.

Migos – Yung Rich Nation

Not long after bursting on the national scene in 2013, folks were quick to declare these Atlanta boys the Next Big Thing. Critics effusively praised their Y.R.N. tape, while other rappers desperately copped the Migos (read: Quavo) flow. But those who had reservations about the trio’s staying power have been vindicated by their plentiful yet lacklustre output these past two years, culminating in this unnecessary album. Part of Yung Rich Nation’s problem is revealed in its credits, which notably lacks anything from Stack Boy Twan, the producer behind their sole gold-selling single ‘Fight Night.’ Zaytoven, the man responsible for the ‘Versace’ beat, regrettably appears but twice here. Still, Migos avoid rehashing the reductive repetitive formula of those hits. Deko’s tracks, ‘One Time’ and the emotive ‘Recognition’, soundtrack both the hedonism and the heartache of trap. His ‘Gangsta Rap’ and Honorable C.N.O.T.E.’s ‘Highway 85’ channel throwback West Coast vibes, though less effectively than YG’s most recent single or Kendrick Lamar’s latest.

Joell Ortiz & !llmind – Human

Joe Budden’s larger-than-life personality on and off record sometimes means the rest of his Slaughterhouse cohorts might not get as much shine or, for that matter, shade. Human addresses this right out the gate on the titular intro, with Joell Ortiz framing the situation in as positive a light as possible. Still, if this project intends to tell the rapper’s story, his tale will sound fairly familiar to those who followed the last fifteen years in New York hip hop. Wealth, inner-city violence, and other familiar realness rap tropes fill these tracks, the verses delivered by a verbose wordsmith seasoned by the streets (‘New Era’). With recent credits for J. Cole and Drake, producer !llmind thankfully keeps the vibe from getting too crusty, providing Ortiz with subtly complex yet often understated music to spit over, from the funereal march of ‘I Just Might’ to mangled music box mangle of ‘Lil Piggies’. Over the radioactive squelch of ‘Six Fo’, the rapper shouts out his Shady/Aftermath pals, though none appear.

Trae Tha Truth – Tha Truth

This Houston rapper arrives three minutes late his years late new album. T.I.’s favorite comedian Lil Duval christens the ‘Intro,’ which is immediately followed by Future’s lean-gurgling hook for ‘Tricken Every Car I Get’. But once Trae finally gets on the mic, it’s a homecoming. His grandiose Grand Hustle bow plays out like a who’s-who of American rap music, housing trap stars like Boosie Badazz and Rich Homie Quan with radio killers like Dej Loaf and Ty Dolla $ign. He matches this national lineup of features with a continental sampler of producers from locales like Atlanta, Dallas and Los Angeles. Despite the prevalence of guest spitters throughout, Tha Truth belongs to the dude, his sonorous doomy boom assuring his presence is always felt. Hell, Rozay sounds shaky amid Trae’s threatening earthquake rumbles on ‘I Don’t Give A Fuck’. Standout ‘Children Of Men’ puts him over a swaying J. Cole beat, while Watson The Great gives him the Fulton County goods on ‘Criminals’.

BONUS: One Hitters:

The Alchemist – Retarded Alligator Beats A delightfully off-kilter effort from Prodigy’s favorite producer (excepting Havoc), the Gangrene man seems to be having more fun than usual on this mostly instrumental sample-splicing effort, with the sole guest verse coming from a criminally minded Action Bronson.

Dej Loaf – #AndSeeThatsTheThing Interrupting the interminable wait for her major label debut album, this stopgap features six exemplary tracks showcasing the immensely talented Detroit artist’s casual yet calculated flow.

Future – DS2 Leaning harder than Bill Withers, Nayvadius Wilburn follows his immensely popular trio of post-Honest tapes with this dazzlingly druggy and morally negligent album sequel to a mixtape most of his current fans likely never heard in the first place.

Lil Debbie – Homegrown The latest in her string of punchy short form EP releases, the Bay Area spitter blows smoke rings for her blunted base, looping in supporters like Wiz Khalifa and rising star Bricc Baby.

Omen – Elephant Eyes J. Cole’s one of the few major label rappers actually doing something with his vanity imprint, so it’s a shame he’s wasted some of its cachet with this Chicagoan’s decidedly average Dreamville debut.

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