Category Archives: Year in Review

2017 IN REVIEW

It’s that time again for my review of the last year in hip-hop. Below are some of my favorite highlights of 2017. Check the following Playlists, Albums, Music Videos, Cyphers, and Rap Battles for my personal run-down of the year.


The Latest Playlist: 2017

*Track listing at bottom of post


Notable Albums of 2017

Choosing albums to highlight this year was difficult, and I want to at least mention some of the projects that for whatever reason I had a difficult time deciding not to critique: Open Mike Eagle – Brick Body Kids Still Daydream, Kendrick Lamar – DAMN, Rapsody – Laila’s Wisdom, Marlon Craft – The Tunnel’s End, Billy Woods – Known Unknowns, and Kota the Friend – Paloma Beach. In the end, I decided to bring attention to the following 2017 projects:

BROCKHAMPTON – SATURATION I, II, & III

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The most wonderful surprise of 2017 was the trilogy of albums released by self-proclaimed Internet boy band, BROCKHAMPTON: SATURATION I, II, & III. My initial intention was to comment on just one of the three albums, but it would have been irresponsible not to address the entire trilogy as a whole, as well as the group’s overall significance in 2017. Formed by Kevin Abstract in an online Kanye West fan forum, the group consists of about a dozen members, each with a unique style, blending together in an incredibly impressive and complex dynamic. With a collective 48 tracks (only 8 of which are skits), and accompanied by about 20 music videos, this trilogy is and has everything, leaving little to be desired.

Forming a description of this music is anything but simple, as there are completely different styles from track to track, and even from section to section within each track. Some parts are difficult to digest; others contain a beautiful harmonizing of melodies, while others tiptoe into more classical rap and lyricism, and at times display styles that resemble poetry and spoken word. SATURATION pulls from a wide variety of genres and uses a plethora of sounds culminating in a project that is uniquely refreshing and absolutely genuine. The overall energy is invigorating and exiting in a way that is reminiscent of early Odd Future, but far more sophisticated.

In general, the content covers everything relevant to 2017 without beating the listener over the head with anything in particular. The message oscillates between introspective, contemplative, and outwardly conscious to a far less enlightened self-indulgence, which is clearly self-aware, dabbling in a comedic irony. The more time you spend with this music, the more there is to unpack and appreciate.

Milo – Who Told You To Think??!!?!?!?!

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2017 brought yet another magical release from the rap poet alchemist/sorcerer: Milo. With the opening track titled “Poet” and closing track titled “Rapper”, Who Told You To Think??!!?!?!?! Actively addresses the natural crossover of poetry and rap, particularly in Milo’s own music, which has become commonly referred to as the Open Mike Eagle coined genre of “Art Rap”.

The instrumentals on this project are mostly mesmerizingly mellow (mmm…), leaving room for Milo’s message, which is, as usual, contemplative and inquisitive on many levels. Deeply saturated with abstract metaphor and philosophical references, as in all of Milo’s music, momentary distraction is unforgiving to the listener, and understanding his messages require undivided attention.

Much of this project seems to be a path of self-discovery through music as well as observation of others, and finding his place relative to those observations. He frequently employs blatant critique of stereotypical rap clichés and shortsighted arrogance, though his disses would clearly be lost upon the targets of his criticism. Well aware of his intellectual prowess, particularly in the field of hip-hop, intelligence and vocabulary become his bragging points: “The point is my vocabulary pays my rent”.

Though I wouldn’t consider this Milo’s best project to date, it is undoubtedly successful, solidifying his place as one of my favorite artists.

lojii & Swarvy – Due Rent

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Any classic head can appreciate “Due Rent”, the latest double “disc” album from lojii & Swarvy. Lojii tackles the age-old hip-hop theme of hustling for cash, striving to overcome struggle, and then rapping about it. With a low-energy Godfather/Mafioso type East Coast flow, lojii casually floats over a bed of dark lo-fi instrumentals that clearly display Swarvy’s ability to orchestrate sample mastery.

Accurately self described as “rap vintage”, each track is only about 2 minutes and is essentially a different take on the same point: lojii going about his day to day trying to find a way to pay rent and make it to the next day, with of course, a bit of classic hip-hop braggadocio peppered in. Overall the album is cohesively satisfying, with a seemingly low budget production and message, lojii & Swarvy show that they can make dope hip-hop with any budget, reminiscent of an earlier time in underground hip-hop production.


Notable Music Videos of 2017

Open Mike Eagle feat. Sammus – Hymnal

Open Mike Eagle – Happy Wasteland Day

Jay-Z – The Story of O.J.

Brother Ali – Never Learn

BROCKHAMPTON – GOLD

BROCKHAMPTON – SWAMP


Notable Cyphers of 2017

Method Man & Black Thought on Sway in the Morning

Harry Mack Freestyles in Venice


Notable Rap Battles of 2017

Bigg K vs Pass (KOTD)

Dizaster vs Oxxxymiron (KOTD)

Oops vs Xcel (KOTD)


The Latest Playlist 2017:

Brother Ali – Never Learn

lojii & Swarvy – Northern Organix

Marlon Craft – The One (Intro) / TTE 1

Milo – Sorcerer

Danny Watts – Things We Have To Do

Devin the Dude – Can I

Open Mike Eagle Feat. Sammus – Hymnal

Little Simz – Backseat

J.I.D. – General

Billy Woods – Snake Oil

BROCKHAMPTON – TOKYO

Araabmuzik feat. Illmind – Selda

Anti-Lilly & Phoniks feat. Mariel – Sunshine

Cyhi The Prynce – God Bless Your Heart

Kendrick Lamar – FEEL

Loyle Carner – Ain’t Nothing Changed

Cunninlynguists – Mr. Morganfield & Ms. Waters (A-Side)

Sampa The Great – Protect Your Queen

Homeboy Sandman – Bless Up

The Doppelgangaz feat. Tnava– Roll Flee

Kota the Friend – Lawn Chair

Joey Bada$$ feat. Styles P – SUPER PREDATOR

Smino – Spitshine

Blu & Exile – Party of Two

Quelle Chris feat. I, Ced & Mndsgn – Popeye

The Underachievers – Cobra Clutch

Statik Selektah feat. Run The Jewels – Put Jewels On It

Stik Figa feat. Apollo Brown – Holding Back Tears

Armand Hammer – Stole

G Perico – All Blue


Have a great 2018!

2016 IN REVIEW

I didn’t post anything in 2016 but there was plenty to post about. Below are some of my favorite highlights of 2016. Check the following Playlists, Albums, Music Videos, and Rap Battles for my personal run-down of the year.


The Latest Playlist: 2016

*Track listing at bottom of post


Notable Albums of 2016

First I should mention that there were many important albums worthy of writing about that came out last year, including respectable projects from Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, J Cole, Danny Brown, Aesop Rock, Atmosphere, Kool Keith, De La Soul and Common just to name a few. Despite the plethora of albums to review, I felt compelled to write about two in particular.

KA – Honor Killed the Samurai

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Honor Killed the Samurai is a concept album that has a strong cinematic quality and captivating story. The tensely ominous instrumentals set the scene for Ka’s character; a wise and experienced criminal who has done everything necessary (often regrettably) to survive his dangerous environment. The “Samurai” is referenced both thematically in the instrumentals and with direct samples of old Samurai movies.

Ka does not proclaim himself a Samurai or even reference it in his lyrics. Instead he tells detailed stories of having a difficult upbringing and committing “grimy street crimes”. While shooting people and selling drugs are not new topics in hip hop, Ka addresses them with a heavy heart, minimizing the glorification and highlighting the guilt and repercussions. Ka’s character is more of an elder Mafioso who is contrasted stylistically with the concept and sound of Samurai.  Through expert-level multisyllabic flow structure, Ka tells vivid tales of his difficult past, warning those faced with the challenges he once was.

So I stood on mine, during the hoodest time 

Was a nightmare, felt like life here was as good as dying

We was born in the thorns, few arose

Once a town’s noose, now in soundproofs pursuing golds

Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 3

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After Run The Jewels & Run The Jewels 2, the expectations for Run The Jewels 3 were raised to unreachable heights, but nonetheless Killer Mike & EL-P delivered. Scheduled for January 2017, they blessed us all with an early release in December, making RTJ3 my favorite and debatably the best hip-hop album of 2016.

First of all, the production on this album (like its’ predecessors) is incredible. The RTJ sound is uniquely discernable from anything else in existence, and EL-P’s signature apocalyptic production has nearly reached it’s final form. Every beat is deeply layered with industrial, hazardous, and robotic rhythms, turntable scratching, voice samples, intricate drums, and a variety of carefully placed sound effects & synths.

Much of the lyrical content on RTJ3 is the same off the wall, do whatever the fuck we want style seen in RTJ2. In addition, this project covers a wide variety of content from track to track, at the forefront of which are politics and current events. Many of the braggadocios lines on this project serve dually as classic hip-hop boasting and a reflection of the arrogant bully-type attitudes seen in many political leaders. A prime example of this is in the DJ Shadow music video that RTJ featured on for the track “Nobody Speak” which was released in August. When Run The Jewels 3 came out a lot of the lyrics made me think of this video (see below).

Personally I believe this duo is the best thing happening in hop-hop right now. They sound and feel not only current and relevant, but also necessary. The energy on this album is through the roof, and I believe it reflects the sentiment of a culture that is up in arms over the political climate, searching for an outlet just shy of rioting.


Notable Music Videos of 2016

DJ Shadow feat. Run The Jewels – Nobody Speak

Kemba – The New Black Theory

KOOL KEITH feat. MF DOOM – Super Hero


Notable Rap Battles of 2016

Danny Myers vs B Dot (LABG)

Iron Solomon vs Dizaster (KOTD)


The Latest Playlist 2016:

Kemba – The New Black Theory

Open Mike Eagle & Paul White – Smiling (Quirky Race Doc)

KA – Just

Homeboy Sandman – Eyes

Blu & Union Analogtronics – Sunny

Run The Jewels feat. BOOTS – 2100

Mickey Factz & Nottz – 414 Words

Mick Jenkins – Fall Through

Elzhi – Cloud

Danny Brown feat. Petite Noir – Rolling Stone


Have a great 2017!

2015 in Review

It’s been a minute since my last post but today is a big one. Below are some of my favorite highlights of 2015. Check the following Playlists, Albums, Music Videos, Cyphers and Rap Battles for my personal run-down of the year.


The Latest Playlist: 2015

*Track listing at bottom of post


Notable Albums of 2015

Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

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Without question, the most important album of 2015 is To Pimp a Butterfly. It is as timely and uncompromisingly relevant as it is uniquely produced. The instrumentals are a well-choreographed mix of Funk, Jazz and R & B melodies that mimic and support the energy of a passionately expressive Kendrick Lamar.

As Kendrick navigates through emotional highs, lows, and moments of clarity, he gives listeners a poetically journalistic perspective of his experience being black in America. He continuously expresses his frustration throughout the album, often referencing slavery, politics, and police brutality. A few of the tracks veer off course and a few stand out as optimistic perspectives on his more painful songs, but his performance is exemplary and he didn’t hold back a thing in terms of his message. There are endless pages that could be and have been written breaking down To Pimp A Butterfly as a significant piece of art reflecting race in America.

BADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah – Sour Soul

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Now that I touched on the most praised album of the year, I want to focus on what I believe is the most slept-on album of 2015. Wu- Tang veteran Ghostface Killah teamed up with the Toronto-based music group BADBADNOTGOOD in February to create Sour Soul, which has become my personal favorite album of the year (or at least the one I listen to the most). Ghostface’s lyrical content on this project is far from enlightening as he confidently boasts of sex, money, and power while threatening violence and domination, but the outcome is highly entertaining nonetheless.

What makes this project such a great success is it’s cinematic quality. BADBADNOTGOOD uses jazz to create instrumentals that feel like movie scores in beat format. Much of the album is strictly instrumental, and Ghostface’s appearances are well placed. He uses this platform to act out his character as a gun-slinging mobster in full rapper machismo and he fits the part perfectly. The instrumental interludes seem like time passing between verses, which become like different movie scenes with each appearance made by Ghostface’s character. I recommend listening to this album from front to back. Over, and over, and over.

Henry Canyons – Canyonland  /  Milo – So the Flies Don’t Come

Two other notable albums that I would place in my top 5 for the year are Milo’s “So the Flies don’t come” and Henry Canyons “Canyonland”. I touched on these albums earlier this year and you can find those posts here:

https://themicisthemessage.com/2015/08/05/project-profile-canyonland/

https://themicisthemessage.com/2015/10/09/project-profile-so-the-flies-dont-come/

Earl Sweatshirt – I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside: An Album by Earl Sweatshirt

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One more album I wanted to draw attention to for 2015 is an instant introverts classic. I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside: An Album by Earl Sweatshirt. To be honest I’ve never been a big Odd Future fan with the exception of a few tracks and one member. Earl Sweatshirt caught my ear with the track “EARL” back in 2010 (at which point he was 16). It was gritty, offensive, and reckless in typical Odd Future fashion, but Earl’s flow and wordplay was so uniquely dope that it didn’t matter. Now in 2015 Earl shows listeners a more mature and genuine picture of his life and struggles.

The entire project has a kind of mopey depressing energy supporting the album concept, and the beats are pretty minimal. The title of the album says it all. Earl proceeds to elaborate on why he doesn’t like people: men, women, rappers, industry executives, promoters, friends, enemies…the list goes on. Earl is at the top of his game in terms of flow and wordplay complexity and provides an impressively compelling case for why he doesn’t like people. It is exciting to hear Earl Sweatshirt’s music develop over the years as he is beginning to express more genuinely than his younger self.


Notable Videos of 2015

Below are some Music Videos, Rap Battles, and a Cyphers that were  notable highlights for 2015:

Music Videos

Action Bronson – Actin’ Crazy

Open Mike Eagle – Celebrity Reduction Prayer

Rap Battles

Iron Solomon vs Daylyt

Dumbfounded vs Conceited

Cyphers

Illmaculate on Team Backpack

Locksmith on Shade45


The Latest Playlist: 2015

Kendrick Lamar – King Kunta
Henry Canyons feat. Zoe Rose – Music Man
Joey Bada$$ – Christ Conscious
Murs – Skatin Through the City
Tre Capital feat. Hudson East – Bear the Burden
Mick Jenkins – Alchemy
Earl Sweatshirt – Grief
BADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah feat. Elzhi – Gunshowers
A-Wax – Tried As an Adult
Open Mike Eagle – Dark Comedy Late Show
Lupe Fiasco feat. Crystal Torres – Adoration of the Magi
Apollo Brown feat. Your Old Droog – Not That Guy
L’Orange & Jeremiah Jae – Underworld
Milo – An Encyclopedia

And that is my wrap-up of 2015. Happy New Year.