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

On the off-chance you can pry yourself away from Beyonce’s lemon-scented bounty, check out these reviews of the latest rap records coming out of America

Possibly the most eclectic major label rap album since Speakerboxx/The Love Below, A$AP Ferg’s sophomore full-length makes his 2013 affair Trap Lord seem downright conservative by comparison. The animated A$AP mobster’s production preferences have long been unconventional, but with the grandiose and grandstanding Always Strive And Prosper he’s clearly letting his freak flag fly.

With tracks tacked on to one another in schizophrenic fashion, the closest this album even comes to a ‘Shabba’ sequel is ‘Swipe Life’, a grimy celebration of debit card luxury living with an unexpectedly nasty Rick Ross verse. Despite some truly bizarre beats rubbing up against trap staples and more conventional older forms, Ferg hasn’t done any of this to build walls between himself and his audience. Rather, he’s putting himself out here for us in the hopes that we might better understand him both as a man and a hip hop aficionado.

A spurting prideful ode to his block, ‘Hungry Ham’ sees the Harlemite gesticulating towards his origins over a Skrillex circus. A series of lucid moments follow in ‘Psycho’ and ‘Let It Bang,’ telling tales of family drama and suppressed trauma. ‘Meet My Crazy Uncle’ gives the titular person some time on the mic, while ‘Beautiful People’ comingles the legendary Chuck D with Ferg’s own mother. Suffering from his success, ‘Let You Go’ addresses one of rap’s biggest paradoxes head on, revealing Ferg as thoughtful and selfish and flawed.

Thanks to the divine intervention of Future Hendrix, ‘New Level’ became the record’s de facto hit, but the entire album is far too illicit and demanding for the singles charts. A C+C Music Factory turned roadside carny funhouse, the euphoric hip house groove of ‘Strive’ requires meeting him and his illustrious guest Missy Elliot halfway. Even when he brings in ice cold radio killer Chris Brown, it’s still somehow too loud, the drums temperamental and tempestuous, the vibe too different (‘I Love You’).

Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid

El-P’s market-cornering second act in Run The Jewels hasn’t left much oxygen in the room for others of his ilk. Conceptually, accepting another backpack rapper pushing 40 just seems a bit hard to stomach right now. One of our wordiest wordsmiths, Aesop Rock once ran with that Def Jux wolfpack, but years later still hasn’t found his way out of that den of niche. He commands modest respect from those in the know, the sort of modicum of decency afforded to a worthy vet. Still, The Impossible Kid could have been recorded a decade ago and none would be the wiser. His mind a weathered thesaurus, Rock spews synonyms upon synonyms over MPC ditties like ‘Dorks’ and ‘Shrunk’. Yes, he’s really rather good at what he does, but it’s been done before and done better to boot – by him, mind you. Nobody expects him to break character, go against brand, or transform into a falsified Fetty Wap, but his comfortably conservative approach to creation effectively mires this work (‘Tuff’).

Dälek – Asphalt For Eden

Whatever Faustian bargain needed to take place in order for the great Dälek to return, it couldn’t have happened at a better time, what with an ascendant Donald Trump bellowing his way towards the Oval Office. Regrettably, neither Oktopus nor Still participate in this latest incarnation. Yet the group’s trademark suffocating atmospheres persist, as though willed or compelled into existence by the will of the titular MC, who still breathes in smog and exhales lyrical sulfur. Nearly every moment on Asphalt For Eden weighs heavily on the chest and threatens to collapse the cavity. ‘Critical’ and ‘Guaranteed Struggle’ engulf the ears with relentless drones, well-placed scratches, and that still-vicious voice. Nonetheless, those unfamiliar with Dälek’s prior records for Mike Patton’s Ipecac imprint may view this record as anachronistic, a grim relic reminding of a long ago crashed wave. Open minds hopefully can embrace the beauty inherent in the shoegaze adjacent ‘Masked Laughter’ or the sheer outrage unspooling all over the politically-charged ‘Control’.

Dej Loaf – All Jokes Aside

With two RIAA-certified gold records already under her belt, Dej Loaf continues her progression towards a commercial full-length with this eagerly anticipated mixtape stopgap. Showcasing multiple facets of her artistic dexterity, All Jokes Aside brings the gang back together and then some. The Michigan producer behind her initial breakthrough, DDS returns with three beats including the introspectively spare ‘Who Am I’ and the funereal ‘Bitch Please’. Following the success of ‘Back Up’, iRocksays comes through again with the shimmering provocation ‘Die 4’. Apart from a surprise appearance by No Limit soldier Silkk the Shocker on the snappy ‘Bout That’, the microphone belongs to Dej and she wields it as though it were weaponised. With destructive depth, she raps concentric circles around the claustrophobic competition on ‘Chase Mine’ only to grind them into proverbial dust on the Sonny Digital cut ‘I’m Gon Win’. Even if ‘Make Money’ doesn’t prove Dej’s next smash, it’s one of her best yet and a standout on an altogether superb tape.

Elzhi – Lead Poison

Whether your tastes favor Big Sean over Guilty Simpson or vice versa, the abundance of exceptional rap music coming out of Detroit right now from Dilla-connected veterans and fresh faced new jacks alike is undeniable. As should be expected, the latest from this Slum Village alumnus comes correct. A creative storyteller, Elzhi expounds on teenage urban tragedy on the arresting ‘Two 16s’ and partakes in some vampiric fiction on ‘She Sucks’. Demonstrably capable of multiple flows, he projects double-time wisdom through the ambient twilight of ‘The Healing Process’ and suitably slows his roll for an elusive love on ‘Misright’. From the woozy shuffle of Soledad Brother’s ‘Hello’ beat to Oh No’s bombastic bop on ‘Friendzone’, Lead Poison’s diverse yet impressive cohesive production does very good things for Elzhi’s tight versatile rhyming. Best known for his work with Blu, Bombay handles several of the tracks, including herbal throwback ‘Weedipedia’ and the closing vinyl warper ‘Keep Dreaming’.

Hoodrich Pablo Juan – Designer Drugz 2

Even as certain exceptional artists are actively if subtly evolving and subverting the sounds and themes of trap music to suit their needs, to many people there’s still value in simply doing well within the form’s existing confines. So what if Hoodrich Pablo Juan doesn’t bring anything all that new to the table? Eighteen indistinguishable tracks long, his latest tape stays comfortably in the familiar blurred lines between drug dealer and drug user, plug finesser and lean sipper, all over predictably bassbin rattling beats by the likes of Brodinski, Danny Wolf, and Metro Boomin, among others. He’s a menace in the streets on ‘Fish In The Coupe’ and a pro in the kitchen on ‘Switching My Wrist’. There’s plenty more highly marketable narcotic nihilism to be found on ‘Percocet’ and memes galore on ‘First I Trap Then I Dab’. Destined for the whip, ‘Man With Da Plan’ swirls counterclockwise with splashes of wordplay. Designer Drugz 2 gives exactly what is asked of it – and then literally nothing more.

Kamaiyah – A Good Night In The Ghetto

From Too Short and Hieroglyphics onward, the Oakland rap tradition deserves far more respect and attention from those outside its borders than it will likely ever receive. In the meantime, it’s heartening that a talent like Kamaiyah can still come from the perpetually underrated locale. With an array of 90s-gazing jams like ‘Break You Down,’ ‘Mo Money Mo Problems’ and the rightfully embittered ‘Come Back’, the millennial rapper/singer rides her 808s hard with a confident ease. A baneful banger of a track, ‘How Does It Feel’ takes the post-aspirational come-up trope and reinvigorates it. Like Mr. Shaw before her, Kamaiyah has her fair share of freaky tales to tell (‘Swing My Way’, ‘Freaky Freaks’). Yet she still can keep it real as on closer ‘For My Dawg’ and, with YG in tow, she bridges multiple California generations on ‘Fuck It Up’. Those longing for a taste of the old infused with that new-new need to dive straight into A Good Night In The Ghetto post haste.

Oddisee – The Odd Tape

The warm reception for last year’s The Good Fight found this Brooklyn-based artist finally and justifiably receiving some wider recognition. So those who’ve only recently arrived to Oddisee’s party likely don’t know about his string of instrumental releases, such as 2011’s mesmeric pastoral Rock Creek Park. Further out in the cosmos than the average beat tape while still more grounded than Flying Lotus’ space jazz epics, Oddisee’s latest project boldly goes where Roy Ayers and Pharoah Sanders have gone before (‘The Breakthrough’, ‘Right Side Of The Bed’). But in these hip times when pretending to care about jazz is the wave, the 70s nods on The Odd Tape never once feel opportunistic or otherwise disingenuous. Oddisee hasn’t gone full Brainfeeder though, balancing his flair for fusion with bucolic boom bap like ‘Silver Lining’ and total curveballs like ‘Long Way Home’. The soulful surge that comes a minute or so into the glorious album highlight ‘Brea’ might very well be one of the year’s greatest moments in recorded music.

Skizzy Mars – Alone Together

Blame G-Eazy for his role as the slick harbinger and Chief Marketing Officer of shiny sanitized hip hop for a generation of young suburbanites. There’s no name yet for the execrable pop-rap subset in which he operates, but if there was then Skizzy Mars would assuredly be one of the vapid sound’s thought leaders. His dreadful Alone Together soundtracks a Radio Disney graduation party, stockpiling imaginary hit singles stuffed full of of factory fluff atop one another (‘Comb’, ‘Girl On A Train’). His lyrics a SEO-friendly grab bag, Skizzy raps of “smashing hoes” like someone who’s never so much as kissed a girl on ‘What It Look Like’. Barely old enough to legally drink, he fumbles like a moody tween at a kegger through ‘Alcoholics’. Reaching for the recent past in the hopes of lighting up some pubescent synapses, he taps former child pop star JoJo for the lumpen ‘Recognize’. Hilariously referencing Morrissey while just reeking of Bieber, ‘I’m Ready’ is undercooked.

Young Roddy – Good Sense 3

Someone recently asked me, "How good is Young Roddy gonna have to get before people care?" Continuing his long run of sun-soaked stoner soul, Good Sense 3 might hold the answer, albeit one that none of the New Orleans rapper’s fans may want to hear. Sonically indebted to the respective heydays of both Cash Money and Philadelphia International, Roddy’s consistency and uniqueness might prove his folly (‘Sun Don’t Shine’). Even as booming numbers like ‘Chopping Game’ and ‘Get Paid’ seem capable of capturing hearts and minds from the jump, his indie niche isn’t connected enough to any of the current waves. He raps credibly about hustling, but he’s not considered trap enough to be trap, perhaps a cloudy byproduct of his Jet Life affiliation. Even with his pitchy nasal delivery and weed bonafides, the boom bap beats on ‘Fortune’ and ‘Tale Of 3Kings’ align Roddy closer with Mobb Deep or Beanie Sigel than today’s popular vocal acrobats Young Thug and Lil Yachty. It appears he’s consigned to that Benihana’s life.

BONUS: One Hitters:

Samiyam – Animals Have Feelings A testament to his dopeness, the FlyLo-affiliated beat scenester returns with another trippy, plunderphonic set peppered by fresh features from lyrical elites like Earl Sweatshirt and Jeremiah Jae.

TWENTY88 – s/t Despite the intimate promises of the album’s artwork and the proven chart power of its stars, a glaring lack of chemistry between the typically affable punchline rapper and this efficient R&B automaton relegates this often downright dull project to the hip hop dustbin.

Verbal Kent & !llmind – Weight Of Your World Both parties come evenly matched to this gratis affair, with the rugged Midwestern lyricist flowing like freshly poured tar-and-gravel over the Brooklyn-based producer’s altogether unpretentious beats.

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