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What went down:
By Michael Lines 17/01/2017
2017 came to and end, curtains drawn. As the year wrapped up, the discussions of "who's album was the best this year," began. That can only mean heated debates, drink spilt in defiance; and friendships tested. 2017 brought refreshing sounds, homage to old-school funk, disco and R&B: from the likes of Calvin Harris' "Funk Wav Bounces Vol.1." Up-coming artists shone, like J.I.D. and an array of home grown talent including Nadia Rose and IAMDBB. We also saw muscles flexed, from the game's top dawgs, Kendrick Lamar, Jay z, Drake and Rick Ross; to name a few. As well as enough bangers, to fill our red cup; shout out to Future and Migos, for supplying the heat for the club. To decide on which albums made the cut, the whole artistic package was reviewed. The messages within, and how they speak on our current climate, skill and artistic approach and music videos.
Take a look below, to see who made the cut.
5. J Hus, "Common Sense"
Released: 12th May 2017
East London born, J Hus holds down the number 5 spot, with his debut album "Common Sense." After inking a deal with Epic Records, and continuing from the success of single "Friendly" and "Lean and Bop." At only 21, the Gambian certainly delivered a joint packed with colourful sounds and melodies, with JAE5 being one of the main producers on the album. The prominent sounds throughout, include AfroBeats, and that distinctive London sound, which can only be described as a mix of reggae, dancehall, garage, hip hop and grime. Kicking the album off with the title track, Hus delivers starting strong with a sense of grandeur from horns and piano. Not too dissimilar to the sound of Roc-A-Fella in the 2000's, anyone thinking of Roc Boys? He finesses his way through the song "Hopped out the Benz like it's common sense," he raps, expressing his new-found wealth, with confidence.
The London MC, introduces us to native slang with "monkey on my feet," Cockney rhyming slang for £500. The use of language personal Hus, a result of his environment, adds originality and depth to his lyrics. The MC also enjoys playing with Jamaican rhythms in "Goodies" as well as paying homage to Notorious B.I.G. with the line "Fuck goin' Heaven with the goody, goodies." An emotive line, reflecting his current lifestyle, and the thought of death.
Throughout the album, J Hus weaves in and out of expressing his new lifestyle of fame, entertaining women and adulthood. "Spirit" stands out amongst the others, and on a wider scale amongst the current grime scene. The track is a reflective piece, a much-needed narrative for a debut album, revisiting tough times, but maintaining a positive attitude in his true style. "All you hear is siren, and skeng fire, hold your head higher," he raps, reassuring that he wont let his environment determine his future, or his degree of success.
The album falls short, in terms of narrative for a debut, only scrapping at his inner thoughts and childhood stories. Hus, shows us why is he levels above many UK artists, reflecting his intelligence, creativity and ambition. An excellent debut album, to solidify his position in the game here in the UK, but also globally.
4. Action Bronson "Blue Chips 7000"
Released 25th August 2017
Queens native Action Bronson, releases his second studio album, and third instalment of the Blue Chips series, with "Blue Chips 7000." Coming back off a two-year drought, and two successful Viceland shows, Bronson returns with a colourful sample-laden project. With a strong production behind him, including Harry Fraud, Party supplies, and close friend The Alchemist: the album delivers an invitation to the eclectic sounds of guitar riffs, saxophones and 80s pop rock. The album delivers those infamous comedic lines and clever word play that is much loved, "I'm qualified to speak for my attorneys/ Address the jury in a Shaq jersey (black one),"he raps on "Hot Peppers."
His love for old music and quirky samples, is evident in "La Luna," Bronson takes the spotlight, rapping over a car company's caller music; but leaves us wanting a little more. The beat by The Alchemist, highlights a MC, who could be seen as past rapping, continuing out of pure enjoyment.
No album is complete without the addition of a music video or two. When done right, like Beyoncé's self titled album, a visual piece, which had a short film accompanying each song' it can allow us to see deeper into the artist's mind. The video for "Let me Breath," does just that, explaining his direction and thought process. When asked to describe the video, the Queen's rapper replies "I'm not good at these fucking types of descriptions/ it's just something you're gonna have to see for yourself." A perfect description for the album too, fun, effortless and uniquely Bronson.
The album does not fail to deliver colourful vivid lines such as "I might hang off the side of the mountain to trim a bonsai/ Perfect 10 on the swan dive," he raps on "The Choreographer." It is by no means an album of deep thought provoking stories and childhood memories, but it is his strongest work to date. If it ain't broke don't fix it, Bronson sticks to what he does so well in his latest work, Blue Chips 7000.
3. Logic, "Everybody"
Released: 5th May 2017
"Everybody," Logic's first album since 2015's "The Incredible True Story," explores the rapper's ethnicity, adversities, and similarities we share as humanity. Born Sir Robert Bryson Hall II, the Maryland native delves into his bi-racial identity, expressing his personal view on the world. The album is densely packed with conversation on race, politics, religion, spirituality and identity. A single review cannot credit, nor begin to appreciate fully, the excellence within the album. "Everybody" is an album to spark discussion, debate and a chance to ask questions. Logic begins by asking us "Open your mind." on the first track "Hallelujah." The whole track embodies the idea of openness, and to speak one's mind, not in hope of agreement, but rather people listen. This is the theme Logic wants to highlight, as the album is about his own personal thoughts, an album about everybody, with himself included.
The second track "Everybody" is packed with messages, but the lines "Body of a builder with the mind of a foetus/ Turn on the television and see the vision they feed us," stands out amongst the rest. Here Logic questions the role the government and media play, and how they influence racial division, and feed us fear. The line "In my blood is the slave and the master;" is a powerful and scary concept. This is hard to grasp for him, yet he is proud of both sides of his heritage.
Logic announces his position as the flag bearer, for those whose voices are not heard, and he does this throughout the song "Black Spiderman." He covers many characters, including single mothers, and the LGBT community; and how dissent can lead to substance abuse. He raps the lines "Momma don't love me/ Daddy don't love me/ Wonder why i drown in the bubbly." This is most refreshing to see, especially within Hip Hop; perhaps an album that will get it's deserved credit in the future.
Logic's place in the hip Hop community is awkward, reviews are often polar opposites; perhaps because of his complexion and positivity. Reviewed by many as the "All Lives Matter' of albums, the Hip Hop community must ask itself serious questions. Are calls for unity corny and heavy-handed, or does it depend on the ideal complexion of the voice? Everybody is a rule breaking album, a piece of work that certainly has gone against the norms in the Hip Hop community. Acceptance, diversity and positivity, speak to many in Logic's latest work; an album that will hopefully lead more artists to follow in his footsteps.
2. Kendrick Lamar, "DAMN"
Released: 14th April 2017
We were warned back in March of Kendrick Lamar's return; given only a few weeks to get our shit together. DAMN, introduces a reinvented character, that of pain, conflict and depression. The album is full of profound questions, that have been weighing on his mind. Kendrick begins, with the vivid image of a blind lady, who he seeks to help. He questions on the track "BLOOD" "Is it wickedness? Is it weakness? You decide, Are we gonna live or die?" The opening track beautifully shows the depth and talent of Kendrick Lamar's craft, through the layers of detail and complexity of this image. The blind lady and what she represents is open to interpretation, but the key theme is certainly betrayal.Whether she represents the police in America, and their betrayal to black Americans; or the betrayal of the media after his BET awards performance, the message is clear.
Kendrick shows us aggression, in tracks "HUMBLE" and "ELEMENT," a response perhaps to media, giving them the angry, violent rapper they desire. Through the rattling base on "HUMBLE" produced by Mike WiLL Made-It, and his delivery on lines such as "I'll take your fucking life for this shit," on "ELEMENT." Kendrick raps "Last LP I tried to lift black artists," reflecting on his attempt to extend a helping hand. However, there have been attempts to de-thrown kendrick from other prominent artists; perhaps the reason for this new-found aggression within DAMN.
Contrasting those previous emotions and themes are the songs "LOVE" and "LOYALTY," two songs with a more pop-based feel. The later a collaboration with Rihanna, a great song none the less, but perhaps more suited asa single, than within the narrative of the album.
The theme of faith and the burden this is bearing on Kendrick is central throughout. This portrays a more vulnerable and depressed character, not seen in his previous works. The battle between the "PRIDE" his environment has gifted him; and the desire to stay "HUMBLE" under the eyes of God, is another interesting image. Kendrick has stated in the past, that he does what is does as a service to God. DAMN questions this service feeling left behind to struggle and suffer. Much like the story of Job "Is it for the moment, and will he see me as Job?" Again, the theme of betrayal resurfaces. However, Kendrick finds some comfort in the track "DUCKWORTH," and the divine intervention that played out in the story of his father and TDE CEO Anthony "Top Dawg" Tiffith. His father was almost shot and killed by the label's owner. The Compton MC thanks God, and his power, for ultimately deciding his fate and success.
Kendrick's skill is not just that he can say why he's the best, but how this responsibility feels, and it is just that, that he shows in DAMN. Enriched with pride, emotion and fear, it is an excellent project, of shifting priorities, with many layers and details to be explored years to come.
1. Jay z, "4:44"
Released: 30th June 2017
Who would have expected the rumours to come to fruition, of a 13th studio album by Shawn Carter? As summer approached, studio snippets and interviews appeared, alongside impressive golden billboards, hinting of his return, all in true Jay z style. Rumours of his infidelity flooded 2016, and were revealed again in his wife's "Lemonade" album. However, "4:44" is not a response, or even a project to show us his side of the story. It is an album on his personal failings and legacy, his triumphs and mistakes; ultimately a raw, and very personal insight into the Brooklyn native. Produced entirely by No I.D., Jay creates the historical artefact he much wanted, within 10 tracks across 36 minutes. Beautiful samples lace the album. Many from very talented female artists including Nina Simone, Hannah Williams, Sister Nancy and Lauryn Hill; as well as those close to him like his mother Gloria Carter, and daughter Blue. Perhaps suggesting the role and importance women play in his life now.; reflecting a matured Jay, much different to his earlier works.
The title track, the first to be completed, is the core of the album, and a painful apology to his wife and children "Look, I apologise, often womanise/ Took me too long for this song, I don't deserve you," he raps. This is powerful and very significant, showing such vulnerability and hurt, from a character often viewed as immortal and ultimately cold. In a game where apologies of cheating are few and far between, this is both refreshing and much needed; highlighting Jay's exceptional ability and status as the greatest.
Weaved in and out of his apologies, are moments of greatness as he reflects on race and injustice in "Legacy" and more subtly in "Moonlight." But it is "The Story of O.J.," that is truly special. It is a story about success, and how to transform that into something different. He warns of the inevitability of losing money, and the downfall of separating from your culture, much like O.J. Simpson had done, "O.J. like, "I'm not black, I'm O.J." ...okay" he raps. Jay ultimately shows how no matter your status, you are still black, and that one cannot forget that. The song is also perhaps a reflection looking back at his life, and the adversity he overcome, but how close he was to failing. This is expressed much clearly in the song "Smile."
"Smile" captures more details of Hov's personal life, including his mother's, and a reflection on bad memories, Here the rapper discusses how his mother came out as a lesbian, after years of society shaming her, and his joy and appreciation for her. It can't be ignored that this is a song about another's sexuality, through the words of her son, for the public to discover. The song's message is clear, bad moments will happen, but it os how we use them to make us better, and to smile. The track beautifully promotes self-love, and happiness, with the spoken word segment at the end "But life is short and it's time to be free/ Love who you love, because life isn't guaranteed/ Smile."
The album's success, and ultimately, it's legacy, does not come from Jay z's skill, but the level of humanity and honesty he expresses across the 10 tracks. It is an album that lets the world see the personal events and thoughts of not the rapper, but of Shawn Carter. It shows development, and progression, of a character seemingly untouchable prior. A welcomed return, from a humbled Hov, rapper, father and husband.