(This post originally appeared on Sabotage Times)
In the first of a new monthly series, here’s a roundup of the latest music from the world of hip-hop. Compliments to Raekwon the Chef…
Cam’ron & A-Trak – Dipshits
Killa Cam’s finally sharing street wisdom over Just Blaze production again, and for a few minutes everything feels right with the world. The whole gang’s back together as well – Juelz Santana’s on the hook, Jim Jones makes a cameo appearance, and the outro features Dame Dash reciting scriptures. That Federal Reserve EP can’t come soon enough. All hail A-Trak for making this happen.
T.I. – “About the Money” feat. Young Thug
I’ve been banging on about Young Thug in the Sabotage office for a while now. No one else seems convinced (yet), but his takeover is imminent and resistance is futile. Just know that. And yeah, I realise he’s got the most generic rap name imaginable, but that’s the irony – he’s the most distinctive, exciting voice in hip-hop right now. T.I. reportedly took some hits from Floyd Mayweather recently, because trying to fight an undefeated boxer is a terrible decision, but he may have one of his own with this.
Lil Wayne – “Believe Me” feat. Drake / “D’usse”
Lil Wayne really was the Best Rapper Alive from 2006-08, but he’s been a sad parody of himself for years. Until now, that is. Last year he promised to do better, and with Tha Carter V on the horizon, the beast is reawakening. He’s back to killing features (“Thug Cry”, the “My Ni**a” remix, “Loyal”, “Senile”), it sounds like he’s having fun with rap again, and these two new tracks feel like the old Wayne. I’m trying not to get carried away over here, but does any other album matter?
Drake does most of the heavy lifting on this one, and the beat change in the second half completely ruins the momentum, but Wayne starts breathing fire on that first verse and I just want it to go on for eternity.
This. Right. Here. He’s back. So thankful to be alive right now.
Nicki Minaj – “Pills & Potions”
Nicki’s been tearing apart every beat thrown her way for months now, but the first single from The Pink Print, is a return to the pop sound that’s made her a star. Everyone needs to eat and most of her best songs walk the pop/rap tightrope anyway (see: “Save Me” and “Freedom“), but there aren’t many better rappers around right now. Hopefully the album showcases that.
Drake – “0 – 100 / The Catch Up”
Imagine still not being a Drake fan. What a way to live. This new track starts with more of the (admittedly hilarious) tough talk he’s been spitting for a while, before it switches up and 40’s trademark depression filter kicks in, with the help of a James Blake sample. Drake’s always been more interesting when he’s brooding rather than ballin’, and that’s the case here.
Jurassic 5 – “The Way We Do It”
Produced by the late Heavy D, with a sample of The White Stripes’ “My Doorbell”, J5 are back with their first new song in eight years, and they haven’t missed a step in their time away.
Ab-Soul – “Stigmata” feat. Action Bronson & Asaad
Anyone else think the best part of Ab-Soul’s career to date is Danny Brown’s “Terrorist Threats” verse? He can clearly rhyme, but his music’s the kind of stuff that guy who smokes too much weed quotes on Twitter with a #deep hashtag. Saying that, a few more songs like this and I might have to reevaluate. ‘Might’.
Common – “Kingdom” feat. Vince Staples
Common’s always covered Serious Issues in his music, and this No ID-produced track sees him examining religion and the violence on Chicago’s streets, with an assist from Vince Staples. It’ll be seen on his next album, Nobody’s Smiling, which will be out later this year.
Vic Mensa – “Down On My Luck”
Add this to your summer playlist.
Goldlink – “Sober Thoughts”
This one, too.
A clip of Kanye talking about J Dilla emerged in the outtakes of the Stones Throw documentary, My Vinyl Weighs A Ton, last week. He said: “We gotta make music and we think, ‘If Dilla was alive, would he like this?’ I have to work on behalf of Dilla.” Not too sure if Dilla would have approved of the whole Taylor Swift thing, but you can appreciate the sentiment.
Despite his tragic death in 2006, his influence continues to live on. Here’s the latest release from The Diary, which will feature unheard Dilla tracks from the early 2000’s. It’s well worth watching those outtakes in full, as well.
Migos – “New Atlanta” feat. Young Thug, Rich Homie Quan & Jermaine Dupri
People will talk about the impact “Versace” had on summer 2013 for years to come, now Migos are back with a new track from the iTunes re-release of No Label 2 . You can actually make out most of what they’re saying now, Thugger’s obviously great, Rich Homie Quan is still going in, and Jermaine Dupri desperately clings on for relevancy (although this does sample the still incredible “Welcome to Atlanta“, to be fair). Advice on how to stop playing this would be welcome.
Shout out to Soundcloud for throwing this up the other day. I’d never heard of Pell before, but “Runaway” had me mesmerised for the whole journey home. When I got round to hearing the whole of Floating While Dreaming, it reminded me of Kid Cudi’s best work – introspective, melodic, and defiant. It’s the tales of a young dude trying to find his way in the world, and one of the best new releases I’ve heard for a while.
Standout tracks: “Runaway”, “Eleven:11”, “Gibberish”
More than 20 years after their debut album, The Roots are still so important. They’re the elder statesmen of rap, with no need to chase a radio hit. That freedom (as well their well-paid gig as Jimmy Fallon’s late night house band) allows them to make albums like this one: dense and thoughtful, focusing on characters that exist on society’s margins. It doesn’t have a track like “You Got Me”, or “The Seed 2.0” that instantly grabs you, but a there’s a new reward with each listen.
Standout tracks: “Never”, “The Dark (Trinity)”, “Tomorrow”
In 2011 Mac Miller became the first independent artist to top the US album charts since the ’90s, but he’s only recently started to gain credibility as a Serious Artist. When he says, “I did it all without a Drake feature,” on Faces’ “Here We Go”, it feels triumphant and pointed at the same time. It’s as if he’s asking us to look at what he’s done, to recognise his achievements, to validate him.
Last year’s Watching Movies With The Sound Off surprised a lot of people (including myself), and the hazy beats and sharp bars on offer here continue Mac’s reinvention. At almost 90 minutes and 24 tracks long, Faces can be an endurance test, but there’s enough here to suggest he’ll be around for a while.
Standout tracks: “Colours and Shapes”, “Funeral”, “Polo Jeans”
Blu’s phenomenal 2007 debut, Below the Heavens, should have been the start of a glorious career. His lyrics were poetic and perceptive, it featured Miguel and Aloe Blacc long before anyone knew who they were, and Exile’s warm provided a canvas for Blu to paint his pictures. Sadly, the releases that followed often sounded as if they’d been recorded through a cup and string. This new album could easily be trimmed in half without losing much, but really it’s just nice to hear brief glimpses of the artist he threatened to become back in 2007.
Standout tracks: “Rap Dope”, “The 50z”, “Summer Time”
Slaughterhouse – House Rules: Four good to very good rappers continue their noble quest to cure insomnia together with their latest mixtape.
Wiz Khalifa – 28 Grams: Better than his two major label albums, nowhere near Kush & OJ or Flight School. Probably worth the download if you’re a Wiz fan, give it a miss otherwise. “We Dem Boyz” (not on this mixtape) is undeniable though.