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ALBUM REVIEW: Ab-Soul “These Days…”

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

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MUSIC WORLD: TDE Playlist + ScHoolboy Q Video

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.

VIDEO WORLD: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis x ScHoolboy Q x Hollis “White Walls”

Don’t know what to make of Macklemore and his sidekick Ryan Lewis? Me either. People love them. Apparently including ScHoolboy Q as he’s featured on their new single “White Walls.” Check it below.

Big Boi, Trinidad James, Sir Mix-a-Lot, A$AP Rocky and more all make cameos. I thought I spotted Morgan Freeman. The song doesn’t suck. Neither does the video, though it’s weird. If you’re interested, listen to Macklemore’s album The Heist now.

 

 

VIDEO WORLD: ScHoolboy Q x Kendrick Lamar “Collard Greens”

It’s time to party. ScHoolboy Q decided to release a visual to his Kendrick Lamar assisted single “Collard Creens.” Hablas espanol? Check it below.

TDE sticks together. ScHoolboy Q‘s anticipated album, Oxymoron is coming soon… we think.

MUSIC WORLD: Top 10 Albums of 2012

Whew! This year has flown by. I feel like I was just counting down to 2012 and now we’re a couple days into 2013. To say last year has been amazing for music is an understatement. We were granted with debut albums from the much-hyped Frank Ocean, 2 Chainz, and Kendrick Lamar.. And that’s only about a third of the list. Not to mention we finally got Cruel Summer. Check where your favorite albums fall on this list. And no A$AP Rocky won’t count on this list since his album was technically leaked, not released this year.

So, without further ado, here are my Top 10 Albums of 2102!

10. Rick Ross: God Forgives, I Don’t

Rick Ross‘ album wasn’t better than his mixtape, “Rich Forever.” But, it was still good. It bred songs like, “3 Kings,”Hold Me Back” and “Diced Pinapples.” I can’t front, I didn’t like “Hold Me Back” until I saw the TDE video with Schoolboy Q and Kendrick Lamar clowning to the track. But it doesn’t negate how much this album solidified Rick Ross‘ standing in rap right now. He’s a force to be reckoned with as a rapper and CEO of Maybach Music Group. He’s building an all-star team while dropping radio-ready, heavy bassed singles. Let’s see what 2013 brings.

9. Brandy: Two Eleven

Brandy Norwood needed this. She started off this release with the infectious “Put it Down” featuring Chris Brown. The album boasted a familiar, yet fresh R&B sound that reminded old fans of her potential and helped her gain some new ones. Tracks like “So Sick” and “Scared of Beautiful” presented a mature Brandy appealing to old and new fans. Check my full review HERE.

8. Meek Mill: Dreams and Nightmares

Petty Cassidy beef aside, Meek Mill has had a good year. Honestly, his mixtape, “Dreamchasers 2,” could slide right into this slot too.  But Meek proved his worth with his debut album’s introduction alone. Let’s act like “Young and Gettin’ It” wasn’t a single or on the album. Tracks like “Tony Story Pt. 2” and “Traumatized” will have you reminiscing on the awesome rappers Philly produced in the 90s. Turn the decibels down a bit and Meek could have mass appeal.

7. Future: Pluto/Pluto 3D

Did you think he was going to be a one-hit-wonder? Yeah, me too. But with an album that includes tracks like “Magic,” “Same Damn Time,” Tony Montana,” “Turn on the Lights,” annnnnd “Neva End,” it was completely clear Future is staking his claim in hip-hop. “Itchin'” and “Loveeeee Song” don’t show up on the album or the re-release but it further solidifies his stake in music for 2012.

6. T.I.: Trouble Man: Heavy is the Head

Most of us counted T.I. out. He had become the modern-day Cliff Huxtable with his family’s reality tv show. But then he dropped his 8th studio album and it kinda shut us up. With features from some of rap’s hottest freshman (A$AP Rocky, Meek Mill), T.I. proved that he’s still got it. And that’s not even mentioning Andre 3000‘s standout verse in “Sorry.” Don’t believe me, check my review HERE.

5. Rihanna: Unapologetic

Rihanna has (not so) quietly released 7 studio albums. Yes, SEVEN! Unapologetic came at a time when the hype for Rihanna news was at a fever pitch. Were her and Chris Brown dating again? It looks like they are. Can she have another hit single and album? She has. Though I don’t think this is her best album, I’ll save that for Talk That Talk, this album was nonetheless highly anticipated and didn’t disappoint. The standout tracks include “Loveeeeeee Song” and “Pour It Up.”

4. Frank Ocean: Channel Orange

You mad he’s at number 4? You thought he’d be higher? Well let me rationalize my ranking. As great of an album Channel Orange was, it didn’t completely live up to the hype for me. And honestly, outside of “Super Rich Kids,” I haven’t really gone back to the album. The album was fresh and what we’ve come to expect from Frank Ocean. But it was depressing. And not like, depressing that then felt triumphant. I just feel like I’m too happy to revel in the darkness and rank this above 4. Standout tracks include “Super Rich Kids,” “Pyramids,” and “Bad Religion.” You can read my full review, HERE.

3. 2 Chainz: Based on a T.R.U. Story

Criticize all you want to, but 2012 was the year of 2 Chainz. After standout appearances on tracks like, “Mercy” and “Beez in the Trap,” people were anxious to see what kind of debut album 2 Chainz was going to offer up. And it was everything I wanted it to be. Great production, funny lyrics, and charismatic flow helped present a great debut album from rap’s favorite rebirth. Tracks like, “I’m Different” and “Extremely Blessed” were exactly what I wanted to hear from 2 Chainz. And “No Lie” still sounds great months after it’s release as a single. That’s winning.

2. Nas: Life is Good

Can I be honest? I’m not a Nas fan, by a longshot. He bores me, his production choices suck, and I feel like he’s stuck in 1999. But then there was Life is Good. Post-divorce and in the middle of raising a teenage daughter, Nas presented an album full of honesty and progression, even from a veteran MC. Life is Good didn’t exactly turn me into a fan, but it definitely made me pay attention. This album easily surpassed that of so many new artists. Standout tracks include “Daughters” and “Bye Baby.”

1. Kendrick Lamar: good kid, m.A.A.d. city

No surprises here. Kendrick‘s debut album has landed at the top of nearly every list recounting the top albums of 2012. This isn’t a bandwagon cosign. I applauded his album early and my review stands. As a concept album, Kendrick weaved tales of his childhood and teenage years in what felt like the soundtrack to a movie. Which is fitting considering the rumors swirling about possibly making a film of the album. After listening, you wonder where Sherane is now and if Kendrick ever took his mama her van back. The entire album is amazing, but the standout tracks are “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe” and “Money Trees.” You can read my full review HERE.

So in summation, 2012 was a great year for music. There were some other great albums and mixtapes released that deserve honorable mentions they are:

Big Sean, “Detroit” mixtape

Schoolboy Q, Habits and Contradictions

Usher, Looking 4 Myself

The first half of G.O.O.D. Music‘s Cruel Summer 

The Weeknd, Trilogy 

Any of your favorites that I didn’t mention? Do you feel like some are ranked to high?! Let me know!

MUSIC WORLD: The Black Hippy Movement… Kendrick Lamar x ScHoolBoy Q x Ab-Soul x Jay Rock

Who the fuck are The Black Hippies? I was asking that question, I swear, no less than 3 months ago. Now, their identities are known by most people that follow the new hip-hop scene. But in case you still aren’t sure. Check out a profile of the group and it’s members below. Get in tune!

Black Hippy

The supergroup consists of four rappers: Ab-Soul, Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar, and ScHoolboy Q. Each member hails from the west coast, specifically, California. As a collective and group, they are signed to Top Dawg Entertainment with Aftermath and Interscope acting as major label affiliations. They haven’t dropped an entire project together as they are opting to get the solo efforts underway first. They have collaborated on a number of tracks though, including the remix to Ab-Soul‘s “Black Lip Bastard.”

Ab-Soul

Herbert Stevens IV grew up in the suburbs of California with entrepreneurial parents. He was exposed to music at an early age because his parents owned a local record store. After releasing two mixtapes and his first independent album, Longterm Mentality, Ab-Soul released the straight-to-iTunes album Control System. From his current contributions, it’s clear that Ab-Soul isn’t longing for that radio play that his other cohorts may be seeking.  Ab-Soul suffers from Stevens-Johnson Syndrome which causes him to have sensitivity to light and is why you’ll frequently see him in sunglasses. Check his video for “Terrorist Threats” featuring Danny Brown‘s weird ass and the angelic Jhene Aiko.

Jay Rock

Jay Rock, born Johnny McKinzie, Jr. could be considered the rap vet out of the entire group. He’s already been signed and released an album before becoming affiliated with Top Dawg Entertainment. I’ve heard that he’s considered the most “classic” rapper of The Black Hippy collective. One of the more “street” members of the group, his upbringing in the projects and subsequent gang affiliation are common themes in his music. Listen to his first full length album, Follow Me Home, below.

ScHoolBoy Q

Before Quincy Hanely released the critically-acclaimed Habits & Contradictions, ScHoolBoy Q was a member of the Hoover Crips. He has cited Jay-Z as an influence on his rapping style and freequently collaborates with other member of the “new rap class” including Curren$y and A$AP Rocky. He has also received much praise for his lyrical ability and features. After catching a few video interviews with him, he seems like a pretty funny guy. Check out his “Back & Forth” with A$AP Rocky below.

Kendrick Lamar

What could be said about Kendrick that hasn’t been said already? Arguably, he is the most interesting of the clique. He received a cosign from Dr. Dre and is even reportedly working on the (mythical) Detox. After dropping Section.80 to much critical acclaim, Kendrick has seen his star rise far beyond his Compton roots. There are rumors of a joint album with J. Cole, his new album good kid. m A.A.D city is set to drop before the end of the year, and his single “Swimming Pools (Drank)” is becoming everyone’s favorite weekend anthem. The year of 2012 belongs to Kendrick Lamar. Check this video of Kendrick Lamar and ScHoolboy Q performing “H.O.C.” and discussing The Black Hippy Movement from 2011.

It will be interesting to see if the group lives up to the hype or if one star will overshadow the others. What do you think?