Micah’s Picks: Best of 2019

TOP 10 ALBUMS

01. Tyler, The Creator – Igor
Tyler’s music keeps getting better and better. He is more focused than ever, while taking creative risks that I don’t think anyone else could pull off. The production in Igor is patient that it takes its time to find musical high points and doesn’t try to repeat them too often. This carefully calculated and rewarding musical backdrop allows Tyler’s vocal delivery to sound amateurish, but not half-baked or out of place. Tyler sings on Igor more than he has on any of his previous projects, and while he does not have a powerful or always on pitch voice, he finds pockets and melodies that are unmistakably him. I have no idea what Tyler will do next, and I couldn’t be more excited.

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02. Anderson .Paak – Ventura
Oxnard/Ventura was originally supposed to be a single album, but I’m thrilled that Anderson .Paak and Dr. Dre took the time to separate those sessions into two bodies of work. Ventura is the smooth soul album I’ve been waiting for since I heard songs like “Heart Don’t Stand a Chance” off his album Malibu. This album is fantastic from front to back.

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03. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Bandana
Madlib took a lot of risks production-wise on the highly anticipated sophomore album from the MadGibbs duo, finding an airier and more futuristic sound that propels Gibbs into deeper pockets as he spits some of his most personal bars to date.

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04. Bon Iver – i,i
This album is a more straightforward effort from Justin Vernon than his previous album, 22 A Million, and while the highs aren’t quite as high, the album makes up for it with consistency. The songs here are powerful in their composition and performance, and I think too many critics overlooked this as one of the best albums of this year.

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05. Danny Brown – uknowhatimsayin¿

It took awhile for this album to click for me, but this much more laid back Danny Brown is a really nice change of pace from the comically zany and high-pitched vocal delivery that he’s known for. Executive produced by Q-Tip, this is probably the longest it’s taken me to “get” a Danny project, but it might be the most re-listenable.

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06. Whitney – Forever Turned Around
Part of the reason I’m including this in the top 10 is because I totally missed Whitney’s debut album is 2016 and while this album isn’t quite as good, it is still a great listen from front to back that becomes more cozy and familiar with each listen. My favorite Rock album of the year.

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07. James Blake – Assume Form
The mysterious James Blake returned in 2019 to put out his first album in three years and he hasn’t missed a step in his creative growth. Embracing more hard hitting elements of Hip Hop and R&B, this album does a good job of grabbing the listener’s attention and keeping it with thoughtful lyricism and enthralling vocal performance all framed by the immaculate production that his audience has come to expect.

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08. Maxo Kream – Brandon Banks
The flow, the production, the incredible storytelling and lyricism; this album has everything I could have asked for from a rising star in the Hip Hop landscape. Every song is trunk-knocking and I cannot believe how effortless Maxo sounds over the kind of production that would outshine other emcees. Songs like “Meet Again” and “Change” let you know that Maxo’s songwriting will keep him in the game for a long time.

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09. DaBaby – Kirk
Kirk is a really really fun listen. The songs are direct, the flow is impeccable and the lyrics are more personal that I was expecting from the new “hot thing” in 2019. DaBaby makes the most of the 35-minute run-time, making songs that are anthemic, introspective, and most importantly, give your speakers a work out.

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10. Maggie Rogers – Heard It In a Past Life
This is my guilty pleasure album for 2019 and it would have ranked higher if I hadn’t already been listening to its best songs for years already. It makes sense that it takes time for an artist to finish their first project, but after listening to “Alaska” and “Dog Years” for two to three years already, there wasn’t enough new material for this album to be ranked higher.

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TOP 10 SONGS

01. Tierra Whack – Only Child
You must be the only child because you’re so stingy / I just wanna go buck wild when you don’t defend me”

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02. Lil Nas X – Old Town Road (Remix) (featuring Billy Ray Cyrus)
Cheated on my baby / You can go and ask her

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03. Maxo Kream – Drizzy Draco
Boss persona, that’s my feng shui, I got Badu just like Andre / Send my Crips to do a blitz, I get you killed for less than three stacks”

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04. Anderson .Paak – Make it Better (featuring Smokey Robinson)
It’s easier to walk away / Than to look for what would make you stay

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05. Frank Ocean – In My Room
I’m not fake patient, I don’t fake sick / That kind of coffin don’t need lean / Rest in peace

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06. Bon Iver – Faith
Am I dependent in what I’m defending? / And do we get to know what faith provides?

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07. Sturgill Simpson – Mercury in Retrograde
But as soon as I chopped it all off / It just grew back thick and brown / I keep tugging on the thread / Hoping it all might come unraveled

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08. Tyler, The Creator – Are We Sill Friends?
Are we still friends? Can we be friends?

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09. Pusha T – Coming Home (featuring Lauryn Hill)
You see they gave us crack, but started wagin’ a war / All these lies they steady tellin’ me / Before Obama, we had Eric B.

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10. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib –  Practice
When I was going through problems at home, I should have prayed more / Dear Lord, but I didn’t / So I’m tangled in this position

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2 Chainz – Threat 2 Society
2 Chainz – Statute of Limitations
Anderson .Paak – Come Home (featuring Andre 3000)
Anderson .Paak – Make It Better (featuring Smokey Robinson)
Anderson .Paak – Reachin’ 2 Much (featuring Lalah Hathaway)
Anderson .Paak – Winners Circle
Anderson .Paak – Yada Yada
Anderson .Paak – King James
Anderson .Paak –  Chosen One (featuring Sonyae Elise)
Anderson .Paak – Jet Black (featuring Brandy)
Anderson .Paak – Twilight
Anderson .Paak – What Can We Do (featuring Nate Dogg)
Andrew Bird – Cracking Codes
Ari Lennox – Chicago Boy
Ari Lennox – Broke (featuring J.I.D.)
Ariana Grande – Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored
Beast Coast – Left Hand
Benny The Butcher – Crowns for Kings (featuring Black Thought)
Benny The Butcher – 18 Wheeler (featuring Pusha T)
Big K.R.I.T – K.R.I.T. HERE
Billie Eilish – Bad Guy
Billie Eilish – All the Good Girls Go To Hell
Billie Eilish – My Strange Addiction
Billie Eilish – Bury a Friend
BJ The Chicago Kid – Feel the Vibe (featuring Anderson .Paak)
BJ The Chicago Kid – Worryin’ Bout Me (featuring Offset)
BJ The Chicago Kid – Reach (featuring Afrojack)
Blu & Oh No – The Robbery (featuring Montage One & Tristate)
Blu & Oh No – Facing Time
Bon Iver – We
Bon Iver – Holyfields,
Bon Iver – Hey, Ma
Bon Iver – U (Man Like)
Bon Iver – Faith
Bon Iver – Marion
Bon Iver – Salem
Bon Iver – RABi
Brockhampton – No Halo
Brockhampton – Sugar
Brockhampton – Ginger
Carly Rae Jepsen – Now That I Found You
Chance the Rapper – All Day Long (featuring John Legend)
Chance the Rapper – Do You Remember (featuring Benjamin Gibbard & Bon Iver)
Chance the Rapper – Eternal (featuring Smino)
Chance the Rapper – Get A Bag (featuring CalBoy)
Clairo – Closer To You
Clairo – North
DaBaby – Intro
DaBaby – Off the Rip
DaBaby – Bop
DaBaby – Gospel (featuring Chance the Rapper, Gucci Mane & YK Osiris)
Danny Brown – Change Up
Danny Brown – Dirty Laundry
Danny Brown – Best Life
Danny Brown – uknowhatimsayin¿ (featuring Obongjayar)
Danny Brown – Combat
Dj Khaled – Just Us (featuring SZA)
Dj Khaled – Higher (featuring Nipsey Hussle & John Legend)
Dominic Fike – Phone Numbers
Dominic Fike – Rollerblades
Drake – Money In The Grave (featuring Rick Ross)
Dreamville – Down Bad
Dreamville – Ladies, Ladies, Ladies
Dreamville – 1993
Dreamville – Rembrandt…Run It Back
Dreamville – Sunset
Earl Sweatshirt – Farms (featuring Stoney Willis)
Earl Sweatshirt – El Toro Combo Meal (featuring Mavi)
Flying Lotus – More (featuring Anderson .Paak)
Flying Lotus – Remind U
Flying Lotus – Say Something
Flying Lotus – The Climb (featuring Thundercat)
Flying Lotus – Pygmy
Francis And The Lights – Take Me to the Light (featuring Bon Iver & Kanye West)
Frank Ocean – Cayendo (Sango Remix)
Frank Ocean – DHL
Frank Ocean – In My Room
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Crime Pays
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Palmolive (featuring Pusha T & Killer Mike)
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Fake Names
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Flat Tummy Tea
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Situations
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Giannis (featuring Anderson .Paak)
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Practice
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Cataracts
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Education (featuring Yasiin Bey & Black Though)
Free Nationals – Apartment (featuring Benny Sings)
Free Nationals – Time (featuring Mac Miller & Kali Uchis)
Gang Starr – Family And Loyalty (ft. J. Cole)
Gang Starr – Bless The Mic
Gillian Welch & David Rawlings – When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings
Injury Reserve – Three Man Weave
James Blake – Can’t Believe The Way We Flow
James Blake – Where’s The Catch (featuring Andre 3000)
James Blake – I’ll Come Too
James Blake – Power On
James Blake – Don’t Miss It
JPEGMAFIA – Jesus Forgive Me, I Am A Thot
Kaytranada – 10% (featuring Kali Uchis)
Kevin Abstract – Big Wheels
Kevin Abstract – Georgia
Kevin Abstract – Peach (featuring Bearface, Dominic Fike & Joba)
Lana Del Rey – Mariners Apartment Complex
Lil Nas X – Old Town Road (Remix) (featuring Billy Ray Cyrus)
Lil Nas X – Old Town Road
Lil Tecca – Ransom
Little Brother – Everything
Little Brother – Sittin Alone
Lizzo – Juice
Maggie Rogers – Overnight
Maggie Rogers – The Knife
Maggie Rogers – Retrograde
Maggie Rogers – Burning
Maggie Rogers – Back In My Body
Maxo Kream – Meet Again
Maxo Kream – Change
Maxo Kream – 8 Figures
Maxo Kream – Drizzy Draco
Noname – Song 31 (featuring Phoelix)
Prins Thomas – Feel the Love
Pusha T – Coming Home (featuring Lauryn Hill)
Rapsody – Cleo
Rapsody – Ibtihaj (featuring D’Angelo & GZA)
Rapsody – Hatshepsut (featuring Queen Latifah)
Robert Glasper – Treal (featuring Yasin Bey)
Schoolboy Q – Numb Numb Juice
Schoolboy Q – 5200
Sturgill Simpson – Remember To Breathe
Sturgill Simpson – Make Art Not Friends
Sturgill Simpson – All Said And Done
Sturgill Simpson – Mercury In Retrograde
Sturgil Simpson – The Dead Don’t Die
Tame Impala – It Might Be Time
Tierra Whack – Gloria
Tierra Whack – Only Child
Tierra Whack – Wasteland
Toro Y Moi – Fading
Travis Scott – Highest in the Room
Tyler, the Creator – Earfquake (featuring Playboi Carti, Devonte Hynes & Charlie Wilson)
Tyler, the Creator – Running Out Of Time
Tyler, the Creator – A Boy Is A Gun
Tyler, the Creator – What’s Good (featuring Slowthai)
Tyler, the Creator – Gone, Gone / Thank You (featuring Mild High Club & King Krule)
Tyler, the Creator – I Don’t Love You Anymore
Tyler, the Creator – Are We Still Friends?
Vampire Weekend – Unbearably White
Vegyn – Debold
Whitney – Giving Up
Whitney – Used To Be Lonely
Whitney – Before I Know It
Whitney – Song For Ty
Whitney – Valleys (My Love)
Whitney – My Life Alone
Whitney – Forever Turned Around
Willie Nelson – Come on Time
Willie Nelson – My Favorite Picture of You
YBN Cordae – Have Mercy
YBN Cordae – Bad Idea (featuring Chance the Rapper)
YBN Cordae – RNP (featuring Anderson .Paak)
Young Thug – What’s the Move (featuring Lil Uzi Vert)
Young Thug – The London (featuring J. Cole & Travis Scott)
Your Old Droog – Gyros
Your Old Droog – RST (featuring DOOM & Mach Hommy)
Your Old Droog – Bubble Hill
Your Old Droog – Babushka
Your Old Droog – My Plane
Your Old Droog – Train Love
Zack Fox & Kenny Beats – Jesus Is the One (I Got Depression)

Micah’s Picks: Best of 2018

TOP 10 ALBUMS

      

01. Earl Sweatshit – Some Rap Songs

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After a three year hiatus, Earl finally released a new album and it isn’t anything like his previous work. Fifteen songs clocking in at just over 24 minutes total, Some Rap Songs, is a soup of fragmented samples, instrumentation, and thoughts. Earl’s production style has lost all of it’s amateurish qualities and has settled into a murky, cloudy, carefully constructed collage that allows him to weave his stream-of-conscious style into a cohesive whole, with emotionally potent lines emerging from the haze. While it might be Earl’s most difficult project to get into, it’s also his most rewarding.

Read more Micah’s Picks: Best of 2018

The Breakdown, Oxnard by Anderson .Paak

It isn’t often that Dr. Dre handpicks an artist to mentor, coach, and mold into his next superstar. After NWA, he did it with Snoop Dogg, Warren G and Nate Dogg; then Eminem and 50 Cent. The format seems to be that when he finds his new generation of talent, he releases a solo album with the help of those artists and then supports them as they build their own discography. When Dr. Dre put out Compton three years ago and Anderson .Paak was the most featured artist on it, a lot of people took note. We sure did. .Paak’s next album Malibu was the first project we reviewed on The What and we’ve kept a close eye on him ever since.

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Thoughts: August Greene by August Greene

August Greene is a supergroup worth getting excited about. On the marquee is the veteran rapper-songwriter Common, Jazz/Hip-Hop crossover pianist Robert Glasper, and longtime Common and J-Dilla collaborator, drummer Karriem Riggins. There are far too few groups like this in Hip Hop and seeing seasoned artists create something a new one is very encouraging as the genre ages and finds its footing as an established part of American culture.

Although this group is new, the frontmen have worked together in several combinations in the past, most recently on Common’s last album Black America Again, where Riggins took the reins as the primary producer, with some of Glasper’s touches sprinkled throughout. While that project was distinctly Hip-Hop, August Greene situates itself in the ethereal world where Hip-Hop, Jazz and R&B meet. Where the edges are a little softer and the the musicians occupy the spotlight as much as than the emcee, making the production layered, lively and engaging.

Karriem Riggins and Robert Glasper, the architects of the album’s music, do a good job of keeping things from becoming monotonous. There is a flow from “Meditation” to the callback to its lyrics on “Piano Interlude” with the tempo and energy changing from track to track inbetween and throughout. Some songs are driven by the lyrics and performance of Common and the featured singers, while others have extended instrumental sections where the musicians can shine. It is easy for supergroups to try to fit in too much on each track, but this project shows the discipline of Riggings and Glasper to know when to add and when to take away.

Equally important as the musicianship are the messages of empowerment, positivity, and unity that add weight to an album with an already commanding presence. The ideals that the album celebrates are met with a realism, encouraging self reflection when battling personal imperfections and urging the listener to have the faith and optimism that with practice, they can experience growth within themselves and their communities.

That message is most potent on the song “Optimistic”, which is a cover of a song released in 1991 by the gospel group Sounds of Blackness. The original version used a looped breakbeat as the backbone of the track, where this new version features rich keys and fluid drumming and a feature performance from Brandy that blows me away. The sequencing of this song followed by the closing musical odyssey “Swisha Suite” (best song title of 2018) shows that this supergroup really knows how to end an album and leave a lasting impression.

Unfortunately, there is one thing this about this album that keeps most of it out of rotation for me. I cannot stand the contributions made by Samora Pinderhughes, who ends up singing the majority of the hooks with a vocal tone and delivery style that sounds more like a demo take or a half-hearted amateur appearance than the commanding and catchy element that this album needs from him. Surrounded by masters of their craft, Pinderhughes just sounds out of his league. When everything else is done right on this album, I cannot understand why his takes made the final cut when the quality control everywhere else is so consistent. Granted, I do like what he brings to the table on “Fly Away”, where his layered harmonies add an interesting texture to the song, but when his singing is exposed and unaccompanied it just feels thin and underdeveloped.

This album is so close to being an album of the year contender and the changes that could be made seems so obvious. If you watch the groups’ NPR Tiny Desk performance, they enhance their performance by foregrounding women, building each song around a feature performance from female singers and rappers. It’s a shame that they didn’t do the same on the album. I can only imagine how incredible this project could have been with a few more songs at the same caliber as “Optimistic” and fewer lackluster hooks.


Micah Roehlkepartain

Bad at Growing Up: The Saturation Effect


When thinking about trilogies of music released in under a year’s time, I’m fondly reminded of the months I spent listening to The Weeknd in 2010, or Young Thug in 2015. That Abel played up his mystery by secreting out of Youtube’s ether and withholding a face for the drug-addled lothario until releasing his trilogy entire bolstered the listener’s excitement that they were truly discovering something new. The mythic aspect of Young Thug’s Slime Season mixtapes did much the same: recording hundreds of songs in a matter of weeks in some deluge of inspiration which were then doled out over a more human timescale of months. Thug seemed surprised to discover that artists needed more than a few minutes to record a song; true, we only need that many to listen, a few more to digest. The Weeknd created a mood and a spectre; Thug seems reliably bent on reinvention album to album. Both have gone on to great fame, arguably thanks to their ambition and staying in the listener’s ear for most of a calendar year.

Read more Bad at Growing Up: The Saturation Effect

La Playita

Remember the time it snowed moths

on New Year’s? That sweltering December

 

melting into January, a hush of wings

as they settled, cocooning the church,

 

drifting over the flagstones like dry leaves,

little things borne on a scrap of breeze.

 

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Flying After Lotus

You don’t take acid. You run into your friends smoking in the little fence area outside the Roseland and one of them offers you some, but then it turns out your other friend ate it all. That’s probably for the best. You’re flying across the country on the red eye right after the show to spend Thanksgiving with your family. Somebody on the street walks by smoking a joint and the guy working the door starts shouting at all the cigarette smokers to “put it out!” so you all put your hands up and head inside. There are boxes of 3D glasses stacked by the guy taking tickets by the stairs, and he’s handing a pair to everybody who goes up.

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