Monthly Report: April 2017 Albums

1. Kendrick Lamar - DAMN.
To Pimp A Butterfly is still my favorite  Kendrick Lamar album, and the way the punchier and more concise DAMN. has spurred people to misremember TPAB as an impenetrable college history lecture over a free jazz odyssey irritates me to no end. Still, DAMN. was the slightly more crowd pleasing album Kendrick needed to make at this point in his career, and the revelation is that he's primed his audience for so many twists and turns in his verses and his production that he can get away with a pretty dense and intricate album being seen as immediate and accessible. Kendrick is a great rapper, but I think he's a bit more style over substance than people like to admit; if you scrutinize him for a second you hear word salad like "I can put a regime that forms a Loch Ness" or him pretentiously pronouncing the W in "sword." But if you look at him as the best case scenario of what a rapper like Canibus could've become and take it all with a grain of salt, he makes some awesome music, I like almost everything on here wholeheartedly except "Humble." I collect all the 2017 albums I listen to in this Spotify playlist.

2. Mary J. Blige - Strength Of A Woman
Mary J. Blige has spent her career making music that relentlessly documents her emotional ups and downs, which has led to the somewhat unseemly spectacle of people acting excited about how her recent divorce from Kendu Isaacs would influence her next album. But Mary's probably happy to play into this dynamic if it gets people to pay attention to her music, which has been a little underappreciated in recent years, and made a really searing, bold album that goes perfectly with that hilarious #DuDeadDay tweet that Mary sent and deleted a week before the release date. DJ Camper has been one of my favorite producers in R&B for the last few years and he just goes nuts on that opening trio that culminates in "Set Me Free." Every time you think the album is a little too dark and intense, the clouds part for an ecstatic track like "Find The Love" or "Glow Up." And the way the current single "U + Me" surprisingly unfolds into a suite with the next track "Indestructible" is really beautiful.

3. Arto Lindsay - Cuidado Madame
For the longest time I had only a passing knowledge of Arto Lindsay and DNA, and even now it's been hard to really explore his back catalog since there's just one compilation available on streaming services, so I really need to pick up some albums at some point. But Chad Clark has really been a vocal fan of Lindsay and covered "The Prize" on the great last Beauty Pill album, so I'd been taking an interest and listening to that compilation, and now Lindsay has a new album and is on tour with Beauty Pill (I'm really mad at myself for missing the D.C. show). And Cuidado Madame really feels like this intriguing look at the totally unique confluence of sounds and influences that Lindsay arrived at like it was the most natural thing in the world, these icy electronic textures and jagged post punk sounds rubbing up against his gently conversational voice and lovely tropicalia grooves, "Tangles" in particular is just gorgeous.

4. DJ Quik & Problem - Rosecrans
Last year's six song Rosecrans EP was really enjoyable, but I wasn't necessarily clamoring for more, and at first it seemed kind of pointless to me that they made six more songs and put them together with the EP tracks to make a full length album. But as soon as I put it on and heard new tracks like "European Vacation" and "Bad Azz" I was so glad they did, I love hearing Quik in a relaxed playful mood and this record just feels like such a fun jam session.

5. Future Islands - The Far Field
It's funny, when I interviewed Future Islands a few years ago during that crazy run they had with Singles, one of the things I was the most geeked to learn was that their new touring drummer was Mike Lowry, who I'd been worshiping as the drummer of Lake Trout and other Baltimore bands since the late '90s. So I'm happy to hear him on a Future Islands studio album, he's not playing as distinctively as he has in other bands and really just locks into Will Cashion's basslines, but he's great on "Day Glow Fire" in particular.

6. Rich Homie Quan - Back To The Basics
Rich Homie Quan has had a pretty impressive career up to this point, all of it on an independent label, but at every turn he seemed to get boxed in, whether as a one hit wonder or as a Future soundalike or as Young Thug's lesser sidekick, and would prove those criticisms wrong. But then he basically went silent for a year and let people underestimate him all over again, and returned, with very little advance publicity, with his first major label release. Back To The Basics is, true to its title, a short and straightforward record with little in the way of features or name producers, seems to be kind of an appetizer for a proper full scale Motown album, but "Heart Cold" and "Da Streetz" are great, I really feel like he's spilling a lot of emotions on these songs.

7. Wishing Rock - Keep It Wrong EP
I've been getting together regularly with guitarist Tim King for the last 2 or 3 years to play music, and we currently have a band called Woodfir, and I'm really a fan of him as a musician. So I was excited to hear this other project he'd been working on for a while with a few longtime friends called Wishing Rock that just put out a five song EP. It's produced by Doug Bartholomew, who also did the Woodfir EP, he really has a great sound, these are some catchy tunes.

8. Mack Wilds - AfterHours
Tristan Wilds was one of the standout teenage actors on the 4th season of "The Wire," and I feel like I've always been rooting for him over the past decade as his acting career has blossomed and he moved into music, and I even got to interview him last year when he landed his role on the backdoor pilot of "The Breaks." And he made the very interesting move to kind of merge his two careers together, dropping a surprise album while he has two series, "The Breaks" and "Shots Fired," on the air, which I thought was pretty shrewd. And the album is really strong, has a great moody downtempo vibe that feels a little more contemporary than the old school rap samples that dominated his first album (although my favorite track, "Crash," does have a Slick Rick sample).

9. Young Dolph - Bulletproof
2017 has been an eventful year for Young Dolph. In February, he released one of his most high profile mixtapes to date, Gelato. In March, he survived over 100 bullets being fired into his vehicle in Charlotte. And in April, he released the album Bulletproof, almost more like an act of defiance than a piece of music, and it feels focused and urgent in a way that a lot of his lackadaisical previous work never felt to me. Zaytoven really blessed him with some nice tracks on the second half of the record.

10. Talib Kweli & Styles P. - The Seven EP
When I heard that Talib Kweli and Styles P. made an EP together, I thought to myself, "who the hell is the audience for that?" And then, I realized that it's basically me: I've listened to over half a dozen solo projects by each of them, and have always regarded them as more consistent solo artists than their more lauded groupmates (Mos Def and Jadakiss, respectively). And Styles really has an underrated conscious side and says some pretty interesting things when you get him started on a serious topic, so this project really works out pretty well even though it might look odd on paper. I'm amused that Common is on the song "Teleprompters" ("teleprompters tellin' lies"), though, because I recently prompted an event Common hosted in D.C. and got along with him pretty well and talked about music a little.

Worst Album of the Month: Playboi Carti - Playboi Carti
Playboi Carti spends a lot of his debut mixtape talking about other rappers sounding like him, and while I haven't really followed his career closely enough to know if that's actually true, I have a hard time really distinguishing him from his contemporaries in any meaningful way. In a way it doesn't even matter who influences who, because it feels like no matter what, he's the Chingy to Lil Uzi Vert's Nelly. And there's just something really loathsomely half-assed about this project that he seemed to delay over and over for a year or two until he finally had enough buzz for a major label to back it. He didn't give it a title, the cover looks like crap, he didn't credit his producers, and the songs sound like the same anonymous shit a thousand other guys are doing on SoundCloud.
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