Those familiar with Ab dash Soul may consider him the elusive and otherworldly member of TDE. Always donning sunglasses and frequently a fitted cap crown, Ad-Soul can fade into the background for those unfamiliar. His past projects have included themes uncommon in mainstream rap – outer space, conspiracies and the like. But with the spotlight on TDE (arguably because of Kendrick‘s stellar debut album and guest verses), everyone is paying attention to Ab-Soul like never before. ScHoolBoy Q released an amazing album in Oxymoron. The newest signees, SZA & Isiah Rashad both released impressive projects, See.SZA.Run & Cilvia Demo, respectively. After a little public angst over his project not being released (see: Twitter), Top Dawg of Top Dawg Entertainment pulled the trigger on the promotion for Ab-Soul‘s latest release. Check my review for These Days… below.
Before I talk my shit, let me start with being honest. I never really liked Ab-Soul‘s brand of hip-hop. Not that I thought he wasn’t a talented rapper, I just couldn’t totally get jiggy with his previous releases – Long Term Mentality, Control System. But, I have a new appreciation for him after listening to These Days…, perhaps even for the obvious reasons. I could relate to the material more. The production is more familiar to TDE and the left coast sound. Additionally, his content is more accessible. I was impressed by this album and I plan to revisit previous releases.
The album features a seemingly random menage of features: Rick Ross, Lupe Fiasco, Action Bronson, Danny Brown, Ravaughn, most of TDE, and more. J.Cole even makes an uncredited ad-lib appearance courtesy of a track he produced. But Herbert Stevens IV makes them all work. In an interview with Life+Times, Ab-Soul shares that he wanted this album to have something for everyone, and he achieves this perhaps getting slightly lost in the struggle to appeal to various listeners. The album opens with “Gods Reign” featuring the airy vocals of SZA, clearly the reference point for the album artwork and the stand-in for a title track for the album. Ab-Soul gives us a peek into where his head is at now after the death of a girlfriend and a binge of various drugs. However, it doesn’t sound tortured or particularly sad mentioned with enlightening baby mamas and booking tour dates. Check it below.
The first half of the album features production and content familiar to original Ab-Soul fans including “Dub Sac,” a soulful two-part track detailing personal drug use and the effects of the drug game on his family and upbringing. SZA makes an uncredited airy appearance that reminds me of a different time in west coast rap music. Lupe Fiasco and Rick Ross both make appearances in the first half of the album, with the latter’s appearance much more impressive. But then again, when is the last time Lupe Fiasco impressed anyone.
The weakness in the album comes with the odd inclusion of an alter-ego Jimmy (aka The White Ab-Soul) and the overused “Migos-flow.” Like, why? Right as you start to side-eye the project, Kendrick Lamar shows up for a jazzy mid-point interlude prime to make you salivate for Kendrick‘s sophomore album. “Sapiosexual” includes a credited SZA appearance but it seems juvenile and outdated. I was under the impression we were done with the fuck-your-mind analogies in the early 90s (see: dead prez “Mind Sex”). The second half of the album continues to be lyrical, yet slightly uninteresting until “Ride Slow” featuring the always entertaining Danny Brown. Definitely not a fan of Danny Brown, but I’m always intrigued by his inclusion on “traditional” rap beats. And then the album closes with Ab-Soul rapping acapella in a battle with another rapper (battle rapper, Daylyt) showcasing his play on words, overall lyrical dexterity, and what appears to be the camaraderie within TDE.
Perhaps Ab-Soul‘s album suffers from sequencing issues. The overall flow of the album is sporadic with the most interesting tracks occurring before the Kendrick interlude. Is this an instant classic? Nah. But it’s a decent rap album and I’m impressed by Ab-Soul‘s latest project. I expected accessible music, but I still prefer the cerebral mood of Control System. Ab-Soul‘s need to please so many different listeners has me wondering what type of artist he would be if he only made the music he wanted. There are lyrical gems reminding me that Ab-Soul is a lyricist first, but tracks like “Sapiosexual” and “Twact” leave me wondering what’s on the cutting room floor.
Standout Tracks: Gods Reign, Hunnid Stax, Nevermind
Skippable Tracks: Twact, Sapiosexual
Today, we celebrate Shawn Corey Carter’s 44th Birthday. Jay-Z has seen his reign in hip-hop go mostly unchallenged despite it being a young man’s sport. So in celebration, I decided to rank Jay-Z‘s 13 solo studio albums from worst to best. This won’t include any collaborative efforts (re: Best of Both Worlds 1 & 2, Watch The Throne). Check it out below and let me know what you think.
12. Kingdom Come
Oh, Shawn. You retired on the high note that was The Black Album and then you returned with… this. Is is that bad? Probably not. Is it a good Jay-Z album, definitely not. It doesn’t help that the singles he chose were some of the worst to play on the radio in 2006. “Show Me What You Got?” Really? I get that you’re a 30-something rapper, but I didn’t want to hear this. At all. Maybe I’ll love you if you stayed faded to black.
10. The Dynasty: Roc La Familia
Not quite a solo album, Jay-Z allowed his whole team some shine on his 5th solo album. Beanie Sigel shined more than anyone (read: Memphis Bleek is still one hit away) with standout contributions in “This Can’t Be Life,” “Streets Is Talking,” and “Dynasty.” R. Kelly made an appearance on the radio friendly “Guilty Until Proven Innocent.” The fate of this album was sealed once we all realized Dynasty would never be a real group. I mean, where is Amil? I dare you to listen to this album front to back and enjoy it, forreal.
9. Vol. 3… Life and Time of S. Carter
Outside of providing us the name of Jay’s brilliantly curated website Life+Times, this album really gave us nothing. I mean, yes there’s “Big Pimpin‘” and “Do It Again” but I challenge you to name another song. Even deep cut Jay-Z fans would rank this as one of his worst, track for track. Jay was still stepping into his lyrical dexterity with this album, but I found Vol. 2 much more interesting.
8. Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse
Who asked for this album, exactly? After dropping a certified classic, Jay-Z followed up with this hodgepodge of cutting room floor cuts. As with most albums, there were some standout tracks, but as a 25 track double disc, Jay could’ve purged about 2/3 of the tracks, named it “Diamonds is Forever” and kept it moving. Instead, we get odd tracks like “Nigga Please” & “Fuck All Nite” that were far from the proper follow up for The Blueprint.
7. In My Lifetime Vol 1.
Why is this album better than Vol. 3? Let’s think about where Jay was. This is post Reasonable Doubt – essentially battling the sophomore slump. More people pay attention to his first album now than they did when it dropped, Jay has said that before. In My Lifetime Vol. 1 found an introspective, yet motivated Jay-Z. And he was having fun. And no one can deny “Streets Is Watching” which led to a hood film of the same name.
7. Magna Carta, Holy Grail
When a rapper is well-traveled and influenced by a variety of sounds and experiences, you get an album like this one. Does it suck? Nah, not at all. Was it phoned in? Definitely. This album didn’t crack my top 5 for a lot of reasons. One of them being the hype surrounding the release and the subsequent disappointment. The real star of this album is easily the production. Kudos to all involved. But Jay’s lyrics have been far more interesting and complex. Extremely timely – not timeless, this album will sit comfortably in a conversation revolving around the year of twerking and North West. Beyond that, not quite. There is “Beach is Better” though…
6. American Gangster
This album stopped me in my tracks. When I first heard, it was I was confused. Is this a soundtrack to the movie of the same name or nah? Was this Jay going back to his dope boy roots or was he playing a character? With samples from the actual movie, I think a lot of people dismissed this album as a soundtrack. It’s so much more than that. And so underrated to me. The simplicity and crispness of “No Hook” can’t be lost. Treat this entire album like a nouveau version of “The 10 Crack Commandments.” From the hustling to the success to the end, the story of most American Gangsters.
5. Blueprint 3
I feel like an anomaly because of my love for this project. It felt worldly (like MCHG) yet fun (like Vol. 1). Jay was really flexing his wealth besides the usual Rolls Royce, Bentley, Gucci mentions. It’s a feel-good album you can play from beginning to end without skipping a track. I could definitely live happily never hearing “Empire State of Mind” again, but in the grand scheme of the album, it completely flows. This album caused you to react. How often does music do that? There was “D.O.A.” then “Run This Town” then “Empire State of Mind” and the infectious “On to the Next One.” It’s just a good fucking album.
4. Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life
Top 4 status? Yup! This album is so underrated. I can listen to this album top to bottom and enjoy the whole ride. With tracks like “Hard Knock Life” and “Nigga What, Nigga Who” and “Money, Cash, Hoes,” and “Can I Get A…” and “Paper Chase,” how can you not agree. It’s so late 90’s but still stands up against Jay’s entire catalogue. Listen to it today. Just choose the tracks I picked and play your best 5 tracks from any of his other albums and tell me I’m wrong. It’s not his most street-sounding album, but this is the beginning of radio-friendly Jay, but that street appeal was still there. Still hard for your favorite rapper to do.
3. Reasonable Doubt
Jay’s first album doesn’t deserve top 3 status just because it’s his first album. It deserves top 3 status because it was a good rap album. Think about what other artists released albums in 1996. 2Pac, Busta Rhymes, Outkast, The Fugees, and Redman to name a few. And this album was able to cut through the clutter and produce one of the greatest rap debut albums of all time… OF ALL TIME! Even still, it didn’t go platinum until 2002, after the release of The Blueprint. Late listeners were exposed to a younger and more street savvy Jay-Z, pre “I’m a business, man!” I always feel a little more hood when listening to this album – can I live?
2. Black Album
Shawn you tricky mu’fucka you! You had us all believing that after 7 solo rap albums, it was all over. My mother copped me the limited edition blacked out joint because I was legitimately sad that it was all over. My favorite rapper was fading to black and presented us with his magnum opus featuring the best producers of the early 20o0s. If you’ve ever seen Jay in concert, you know these tracks go harder (in a stadium full of people) than the rest of his discography. Go just to hear to “Interlude/PSA” and “What More Can I Say” and your life will be changed. This man makes interludes an entire moment in your life!
1. The Blueprint
Undisputed. Or at least I’d like to think so. Where were you when you first pressed play on The Blueprint? I was sitting on my twin-sized bed, legs crossed, leaning in to my Aiwa stereo trying to catch every lyrical dip and flip and smiling at the diss to Nas. I was never a Nas fan and to hear that my favorite rapper wasn’t a fan of his either? Pure bliss. This album went on to catapult Jay (and Kanye’s production) into the spotlight more than any other album his previously released. It’s probably one of the most quoted albums from Jay including the now infamous “We don’t believe you, you need more people!” Tell me you can’t listen to “Takeover” and smile a bit at the cleverness of his poetic disses to Prodigy and Nas, even now. The Blueprint is a certified classic and comfortably sits atop the lists of many a critic’s top rap albums of all time. It deserves the top ranking. This album finds Jay at his peak, perfectly marrying his streeet savvy and his pop chart dominance.
Whew! That was hard. I moved albums around as I was listening and writing and thinking. Do you agree? Do you disagree? Let me know!
*UPDATED* Jay-Z released his own ranking of his albums on his website. Check it below.
1. Reasonable Doubt (Classic)
2. The Blueprint (Classic)
3. The Black Album (Classic)
4. Vol. 2 (Classic)
5. American Gangster (4 1/2, cohesive)
6. Magna Carta (Fuckwit, Tom Ford, Oceans, Beach, On the Run, Grail)
7. Vol. 1 (Sunshine kills this album…fuck… Streets, Where I’m from, You Must Love Me…)
8. BP3 (Sorry critics, it’s good. Empire (Gave Frank a run for his money))
9. Dynasty (Intro alone…)
10. Vol. 3 (Pimp C verse alone… oh, So Ghetto)
11. BP2 (Too many songs. Fucking Guru and Hip Hop, ha)
12. Kingdom Come (First game back, don’t shoot me)
Back in 1995, a UK TV show titled “Passengers” decided to profile then up-and-coming rapper, Notorious B.I.G. Fresh after the release of his debut album, Biggie takes the interviewers around his hood with some cameos from Lil’ Kim, Faith Evans, and his mom. Check it below.
Faith Evans on camera smoking weed and holding Biggie‘s gun. Voletta Wallace discredits his “Christmas never missed us” line from “Juicy.” Just chock full o’ gems.
10 years ago, Jay-Z proclaimed that he was retiring from rap. He did so via his magnum opus The Black Album. Jay-Z ushered in an era of button ups and dismissed the era of tall tees and oversized throwbacks – pre “Suit & Tie.” This album contained excerpts from Shawn’s mom detailing his birth and upbringing, President Obama brushed dirt off his shoulders because of this album, and a well-received The Grey Album all came from this body of work.
My mother bought me the limited edition release of The Black Album. The entire case, CD (front and back), and packaging was blacked out. It was all black everything before Jay-Z proclaimed he “might wear black for a year straight.” My car got stolen (and returned) in college and so did that CD. I guess the thieves knew the value of that album, to me and to hip-hop. If you don’t own the documentary detailing what Jay-Z thought would be his final solo album and it’s subsequent concert dates, I feel bad for you son. Fade to Black is easily one of the best concert films I’ve ever seen and I still find myself watching it on a lazy Saturday. Catch one of my favorite clips featuring Kanye, below.
The Black Album was equally traditional and groundbreaking. It had pop singles that got radio spins [Change Clothes, 99 Problems] without sacrificing lyricism. Jay-Z has navigated that lane better than any other modern rap artist.After eight studio albums, the best rapper of the past decade told us all he was throwing in the towel. So we scooped up the album, went to see him on tour, and purchased the documentary. We all know now he would go on to release 5 more albums including a collaborative album with Kanye West. But it’s okay, because at that time, we all believed and wanted to believe that this was his final piece of work. I was left wondering how I would function when my favorite rapper “no longer exists.” This album was stadium music before rappers were making stadium music. So press play and fall in love again, or for the first time.
I’m still working on my review of Em‘s latest album. So to distract you from my tardiness, I’m giving you a treat. Everyone likes treats. Sampha (singer featured on Drake’s song “Too Much,” among others) has released an acoustic and Drake-less video of “Too Much.” Enjoy it below.
The earthiness of his vocals makes me feel like I’m drinking hot cocoa cuddled up with one of my boos waxing poetic about the affordable care act and pondering a gluten-free diet.
Another Music Monday playlist for your headphones. This week, I’ve decided to share my TDE playlist. TDE is =/= to Black Hippy. Black Hippy consists of Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, and Jay Rock. But TDE has recently expanded it’s roster signing rapper Isaiah Rashad and singer SZA – neither of which have a profile on Spotify. So this playlist will unfortunately include none of their music. But enjoy nonetheless. 9 hours of TDE, features and solo tracks, still sounds like a good Monday to me.
Also, as ScHoolboy Q preps for his third album Oxymoron, he’s released a visual to “Banger (MOSHPIT).” Still don’t know when the album is dropping, but he’s turned it in to the label. Check the video below.
Something strange happened this week. I became a subtle fan of Childish Gambino. But I reaallllllyyy wanted to hate him. Why? I’m not sure. Is it because his name is courtesy of Wu-Tang’s name generator? Is it because he’s was a writer for 30 Rock before he was a rapper? I’m not sure my apprehension. Maybe I question his authenticity. But with rappers proving you don’t have to be directly of the streets to represent hip-hop (Chance the Rapper, Macklemore, J. Cole), it’s time to broaden my horizons. So I present to you, my love story.
Childish Gambino (real name Donald Glover, no relationship to Danny Glover) has been on a mini promo tour stopping at The Breakfast Club & Sway in the Morning in addition to dropping two new songs this week. He has a strong indie fan base that ensure he sells out shows in NYC every time he graces a stage. He’s released a number of mixtapes and albums himself then he signed a label deal. But I still wanted to hate him. Childish Gambino is as much a comic as he is a rapper. Dave Chappelle once proclaimed that all rappers want to be comedians and all comedians want to be a rapper. And Danny Glover is both. So I still wanted to hate him. Chance the Rapper included him on one of my favorite tracks from Acid Rap, “Favorite Song.” Then Childish Gambino appeared on Jhene Aiko‘s single “Bed Peace.” I still wanted to hate him.
Outside of my slight obsession with Jhene, I wasn’t the biggest fan of his inclusion on this song. So I still wasn’t feeling him. Then this week happened. Childish Gambino dropped “3005” and I was intrigued. He stopped by The Breakfast Club and provided a view into his personality. I developed a slight cyber crush. Then he dropped another track, “Worldstar” and performed a REAL freestyle to “Pound Cake” on Sway in the Morning. Listen to each of these below and decide if you still hate him.
He’s introspective and clever. Funny, yet not a joke. He knows how to capture your interest, but it’s not a gimmick. And it helps his “Pound Cake” freestyle was one of the best ones I’ve heard. There’s something about this guy that makes me want to hear more. I’m definitely going back to listen to his previous work. And his second studio album, Because the Internet, drops December 10, 2013. Kudos to you Childish Gambino, I don’t hate you anymore.