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

Gary Suarez takes in the most notable of February's hip hop albums - from the five boroughs and beyond…

If you lived through the 90s, you’ve probably experienced the ecstatic thrill of the boom bap. Surely it touched you, made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, made you feel some type of way in the best way possible. One could pick from dozens of records in the milkcrate, but in this arrogant Queens-bred sonofabitch’s opinion, the one to beat remains Nas’ Illmatic. His unflinching streetwise lyricism rode hard over sample-laden instrumentals from the now legendary likes of Large Professor, DJ Premier, and Pete Rock.

With deep and profound respect for LP and Premo, the last of these producers may have made the most impact. For ‘The World Is Yours,’ Rock took Ahmad Jamal’s ’70s ivory tickle, scratched a little ’80s T La Rock over it, and let Nasir Jones flow. Though half of Illmatic received some level of single treatment, this cut has arguably served as the foundation of his creative legacy and, accordingly, Pete Rock’s.

Not all lost arts need to be rediscovered, but in our retro-gazing times they inevitable are. What happened to hip hop in 1994 (Ready To Die! Tical!) is what made 1994 such a great year. Now, the jazz & lyrical aesthetic that put Queensbridge on for a second time and gave rappers something new to vibe with seems to be experiencing a Saturn’s return. Two grand decades later, it’s become the choice of a certain millennial subset. Brooklynite Joey Bada$$ and his Pro Era crew gets much of the attention. A$AP Nast even got Method Man himself to feature on his ‘Trillmatic’ single. But this revival reaches far beyond the five boros.

On his Almighty LP, Tacoma, Washington’s ChillxWill spits that fluidity over throwback beats from Germans and Spaniards for an album released on a New Jersey-based indie. It’s another bullet point in the PowerPoint presentation on hip hop’s globalization, the sound of New York coming back first class into Newark on international flights. Trainspotters can have their fun playing beat detective, but to these ears a lot of all of this could have conceivably been culled from the Louie soundtrack. Entirely comfortable over what Mista Izm, Figub Brazlevic and M Padrum got through customs, Will reminisces over times before his time (‘1-800-Fuck-Outtahere,’ ‘Warning’). Devoted to the template, ‘Nickel Plated’ is ‘The World Is Yours’ with a lot more stamps in the passport. Unfortunately, Will seems to have gotten his ideas about women from the mid-90s too (‘Bitch’). It’s easy to slide into this like a warm bath, but there’s sliding and then there’s backsliding. Almighty is the latter.

BadBadNotGood And Ghostface Killah – Sour Soul

Tony Starks takes more risks than any of his generational peers, but that’s arguably because he’s been able to. Freed from the Def Jam system, he’s since made confident street bangers with Sheek on Wu Block and concocted Italo-horror tales on Twelve Reasons To Die. Fresh off December’s comparatively more conventional 36 Seasons, he teams with Canadian trio BadBadNotGood as his backing band for this ostensibly organic affair. Still, we’re so used to hearing Ghost over interesting jazz-tinged instrumentals that Sour Soul suits him, certainly more so than anything off the Wu’s A Better Tomorrow. The boys in the band give the man plenty of breathing room (‘Experience,’ ‘Stark’s Reality’), but when he’s on the mic he’s as dexterous as ever. ‘Tone’s Rap’ doles out the pimpological wisdom in crushed velvet, while the pensive ‘Food’ twists aphorisms and self-help tropes into viable life advice. Guests like Danny Brown and Tree add a little spice to the sauce, but it’s hardly necessary even given Ghost’s relatively low profile throughout. He’s here, then he’s gone, on to the next.

Future Brown – Future Brown

Their productions largely in line with the lush new school of grime, the ultramodern quartet apply that U.K. sensibility to the broader urban sonic context. Sopping up culture like a four-pack of sponges, Future Brown are world beaters with demonstrated tastes in dancehall, drill, reggaeton, and the coldest corners of clubby R&B. A rapper showcase masquerading as a producer showcase, their self-titled full-length debut attempts to bridge urban subgenres by smashing them together on an atomic level. At its most conventional you get gold like ‘MVP,’ where Harlemite Tim Vocals lays down a tough yet airy chorus in between rapidfire raps from NOLA heroine 3D Na’Tee. But with such unctuous textures and glacial beats, things take radical turns more often than not. The tropical vibes of ‘Big Homie’ are disrupted by chirping Chiraqi bop kings Sicko Mobb, while Jamaica throttles South London on the Timbalee-helmed ‘No Apology.’ Bookend tracks from Tink (‘Room 302,’ ‘Wanna Party’) raise the bar for everything that lies between. And I don’t know where they found Shawnna hiding after all these years, but it’s great to have her back (‘Talkin Bandz’).

Kid Ink – Full Speed

Opportunity done knocked again for hip hop’s most efficient opportunist. The shiftiest Animorph, Kid Ink surveys the landscape once again and seizes the damn day. Suave chauvinism (‘Hotel’), Yin Yang creeperism (‘Cool Back’) and solid production choices make Full Speed an eminently listenable album in spite of its protagonist’s complete lack of individuality. (The lean 40 minute running time certainly helps.) He’s got the best osmosis game in the business, tapping and sapping Chris Brown, Migos, Thugger, and Usher, among others. But slumping towards stardom is not a long-term business plan. Though it consists of the same squirmy genetic material, ‘Body Language’ lacks the serotonin yield of My Own Lane‘s 2014 radio killers ‘Show Me’ and ‘Main Chick’. On ‘Dolo,’ he even secures Breezy’s ‘Loyal’ co-producer Nic Nac for a similar albeit more subdued beat, but even tossing in R. Kelly himself doesn’t up the ante. When he’s entirely alone, he’s at his weakest (‘Faster’) and that should make him nervous. Still, credit is due to the Kid for getting Dej Loaf over a Mustard beat (‘Be Real’).

Lupe Fiasco – Tetsuo & Youth

Having veered so very far away from the earthbound vibrancy of 2006’s Food & Liquor, Wasalu Jaco remains obstinate in enlightenment. Originally due for release in some other form roughly a year ago, his latest album is hardly the return-to-form teased at in long-ago interviews. Sure, he’s deliberately dialed back the sociopolitical soapboxing of his 2012 LP, but Lupe’s penchant for grandiosity, excess, and esoterica remains. An often alien record replete with seasonal artisanal interludes, Tetsuo & Youth sounds like nothing that’s popping right now, so far astray from contemporary hip hop that he often sounds lost. ‘Little Death’ attempts something not quite essay, not quite poem – but all I hear is McMuffins and factory farms. He’s still a talented artist, but it’s the way he misuses his abilities that leads to disappointment (‘Blur My Hands,’ ‘Madonna’). Consider the nine hookless minutes of ‘Mural,’ which demonstrates that while Lupe’s certainly operating on another plane than everyone else, it’s difficult to tell if it’s a higher one. Still, he takes a few breaks from Mancala Hour to touch us lowly plebs sometimes, as on compelling single ‘Deliver’ or hardened posse cut ‘Chopper’.

BONUS: One Hitters:

Chimurenga Renaissance – Kudada Nekuva Munhu Mutema Shabazz’s Tendai Maraire reteams with Hussein Kolodji and adds two master mbira players for a short set of smooth Afrocentrism and scathing media criticism.

Johnny Faith – Sundial Though a touch too clean for the beat scene, this Melbourne-based artist’s luscious productions run east-to-west at a medium pace.

Mike G – Award Tour II With more depth and diversity than most lower tier Odd Futurians, the Los Angeleno already seems to be outgrowing the sophomoric set.

M.O.P. – Welcome To Brooklyn Though still more fears than tears, the Mash Out Posse play according to a far more conservative strategy than in their ‘Ante Up’ days.

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