Monthly Report: June 2013 Albums

1. Kanye West - Yeezus
Obviously, I already unloaded a lot of thoughts about this album in my City Paper review, but I should point out that I found it funny how often what I wrote was referred to as a 'negative review.' Sure, I spilled a lot of ink on the issues I have with the lyrics, but in general I like the lean, aggressive sound of the album so much that it's pretty much my favorite Kanye record since Graduation, possibly even Late Registration. Granted, I've really hated some of the records since then, but still, there's some exciting shit on here. It drags in the middle, a little, but the last 2 tracks are my favorite and "On Sight" is pretty cool too. This is the rare album that is sonically exciting enough that I actually want to hear a lot of remixes -- for the faster model, I recommend Matic808's Baltimore club version, and for the slower model, I recommend DJ Dew's chopped & screwed version.

2. Kelly Rowland - Talk A Good Game
After "Motivation" was so good but Here I Am was disappointingly mediocre, I was cautiously optimistic because of how much Kelly Ro has been killing shit this year ("Neva End," "Without Me," "Nuclear," the singles off this album), and it really did turn out great, her best album yet. She's got such a warm, lovely voice, it's nice to hear her not get in the way of it for once. Lot of really lush, varied production that uses her voice well, not too many missteps at all until the "tell Obama 'bout the street life" song towards the end torpedoes the album's batting average. "Dirty Laundry" works fine in the context of the album but I don't really like it as a single, The-Dream stays biting R. Kelly with that "A Woman's Threat" knockoff track. Oh, btw, all these albums that are on Spotify, I put into one big 2013 albums playlist.

3. Prodigy & The Alchemist - Albert Einstein
I'm a huge fan of the Prodigy/Alchemist combination, "Keep It Thoro" and the whole Return of the Mac album are classics to me, so this is just dope -- truthfully Alc has been a better producer than Hav for a long time, so I wouldn't even expect a Mobb Deep reunion to be as good as this. Obviously P isn't at his peak and Alchemist can turn out this dark, blunted breaks in his sleep, but the vibe on this record is unique enough that it doesn't feel like a retread, and everything has strong hooks and holds together as songs, not just aesthetic exercises. Shame about the Action Bronson verse, though, don't know what's up with that since Prodigy knows the real Ghostface.

4. Brian Ennals - Candy Cigarettes
Ennals is a local dude I interviewed last year when he released the first single for this album, so it's good to finally have it out. I won't say too much since I wrote a review that hasn't run yet, though, but it's dope.

5. Rickie Jacobs - Beautiful America EP
Here's another guy I've interviewed who's from Baltimore, who's been having a good year, starting to really raise his profile, kinda proud of him. He puts out a lot of music, and in fact had a whole full-length mixtape only 3-4 months ago that really just kinda annoyed me, did not think it was his best work. Beautiful America is way better, good focused 7-song project, even has a beat from a kinda big name producer, Cardiak (Meek Mill, T.I., etc.). He still talks too much fame/career bullshit but otherwise the content is pretty thoughtful.

6. J. Cole - Born Sinner
I've tended in the past to give J. Cole probably more credit than he deserves -- 2 years ago I made the assertion that Cole World was a better album than Watch The Throne, but I wasn't gonna take that side this time when he was in an actual direct competition with the dude he bit damn near his whole life from. This album is an impressive step forward in some ways, but it's also even more embarrassingly fannish, full of samples of/from '90s classics like Ready To Die, Midnight Marauders and Aquemini that make him seem like an unimaginative stan with a basic-ass record collection. The tough talk and sex talk trying to shake his nice guy image is just kinda pathetic, too.

7. The Lonely Island - The Wack Album
There's a lot of tracks on the first two Lonely Island  albums that I can still play and laugh my ass at on the regular, and I'm sure that'll be the case with this one in a couple of years, but it definitely feels like there's some inevitable diminishing returns with what they do, where at some point they've got so many tracks with fairly similar premises and interchangeable 'surprising' structures. Right now I'm just enjoying "Hugs" and "Spring Break Anthem" and all that, though.

8. DJ Mustard - Ketchup
I think DJ Mustard is kind of obnoxious in how successfully he's been able to market himself -- his sound really isn't that distinct from a lot of post-hyphy west coast producers who were on the last few E-40 albums, but he's pretending that "ratchet" is a genre that he invented, and has Timbaland on the intro to this tape calling out other west coast producers for doing "Mustard-type beats." It's just some bullshit. That said, I love this whole trend of southern rappers on his beats, "I'm Different" and "R.I.P." are the shit, and this tape has a whole bunch of songs that have the potential to jump off like that.

9. Migos - Y.R.N. (Young Rich Niggas)
This is the new 'next big thing' in Southern rap that is becoming super divisive for no real reason, other than that lots of people are really invested in both sides of a completely outdated and pointless culture war over the supposed direction of hip-hop. I think it's OK, not really any better than, say, Travis Porter, but these guys definitely have a distinctive sound, I just get tired of the relentless triplet flows. The songs stick in my head by sheer force of repetition, but they don't really stick to my ribs, it's some real zero calorie 'fun' rap.

10. Young Dro - Day Two
It's been 7 years since Young Dro's only major label album, the great Best Thang Smokin', and in that time he's lead this kind of listless existence of unrealized potential, dropping mixtapes every year and occasionally bubbling with a song or collaboration here or there, but never getting remotely close to dropping another album or having a hit like "Shoulder Lean" (I've heard some murmurings that he's got a drug problem holding him back, but if that's the case he's still been remarkable productive all things considered). But Day Two has quickly emerged as his biggest project in a long time -- 'gold' on DatPiff, which none of his other mixtapes the last few years reached, and the lamentable single "FDB" is actually charting on Billboard. I don't know what this all means, since the tape is perfectly good, but not any leap in quality from the stuff that proceeded it. A lot of rappers seem to just drift around the Southern mixtape circuit for years after their first mainstream hit, and then suddenly start bubbling on a national level again. With Gucci Mane and Gunplay it was accompanied by a creative breakthrough, but with 2 Chainz or Yo Gotti or, more recently, Rocko, it seems a little more arbitrary. There are some fun songs on this, though, I like the "Um Kay" one where he's all Bill Lumbergh, and the one called "Kilt" that actually has a sample of bagpipes.

Worst album of the month: Jimmy Eat World - Damage
I don't know why I even listened to this, I love Bleed American but literally nothing they've done before or since does anything for me, never has.
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