The Breakdown, 4:44, by Jay-Z

There’s a lot of weight behind Jay-Z’s name, to the point that it requires more explanation to leave him out of your top five emcees of all time list than to put him in. Both his body of work and his ability to remain relevant make Hov arguably the most influential rapper of all time. It’s been over twenty years since Reasonable Doubt, his classic debut album, was released, and nearly thirty since his first appearance on wax. Not everything he’s put out has been great (or even good) but if you stack all his hit records they outweigh just about anyone’s. If you ask me, the last great Jay-Z album came out in 2003 and each release since then has continued to get worse. I’m happy to say that with 4:44, that streak has ended.
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The Breakdown, Saturation by Brockhampton

Micah: What began as an online collective of like-minded musicians has turned into one of the most innovative and interesting rap groups in the game right now. Brockhampton was born on the Kanye West fansite KanyeToThe, and is fronted by rapper/singer/songwriter Kevin Abstract, who is joined by a hard-to-determine number of affiliates, including a host of vocalists, producers, designers, and managers.
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Thoughts, Bach Trios by Chris Thile, Edgar Meyer & Yo-Yo Ma

Watch: Bach Trio Sonata No. 6 in G Major, BWV 530: I. Vivace

I’ve been paying attention to a small group of musicians that are doing something that I haven’t heard anywhere else. They’re taking the virtuosity of classical music, mixing it with the fervor of bluegrass and humbling it with the rustic charm of folk music to create an incredible fusion that I just can’t get enough of. While the group changes slightly with each iteration, the group swirls around the center that is the lyrical bassist, Edgar Meyer.

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The Breakdown, Damn. by Kendrick Lamar

Micah: It’s been two years since To Pimp a Butterfly dropped and expectations couldn’t be higher for Kendrick Lamar. In the six years he’s been releasing albums, he’s vaulted himself into the highest echelons of the rap game, and has made a strong case for the title of greatest rapper ever. He says it himself: “I feel like debating on who the greatest can stop it / I am legend”. While it felt premature to make such claims with the last album, if Damn. stands the test of time in the same way that Section.80, good kid, m.A.A.d city, and TPAB have, I’m confident he’ll make his way into my personal all-time top five. With more great albums under his belt than The Notorious B.I.G. and a more consistent opening run of albums than Nas, Jay-Z or Kanye West, you have to at the very least put him in the conversation.
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Micah’s Picks, King Kendrick Vol. 2

After untitled, unmastered dropped, I put out a collection of my favorite tracks in Kendrick’s discography. Since then, I’ve continued to dig into his work. Now that we’ve had the opportunity to fully digest it’s time for the second volume of King Kendrick, showcasing music from all eras of Kendrick’s discography leading up to the new album.
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The Breakdown, All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ by Joey Bada$$

 

Joey Bada$$ has emerged as one of the the strongest voices in the current generation of hip hop. His seminal 1999 mixtape is a throwback to the golden-era of New York boom bap, channeled by the promising young rapper and his tight-knit Pro Era crew. While the other members showed some promise, after the death of Capital Steez it was clear that Joey would emerge as the most influential and successful out of the Pro Era camp.

His commercial debut, B4.DA.$$ capitalized on his hype and departed from his gritty throwback aesthetic, adopting elements of modern trap to create a new New York sound that hit just as hard as his early material while incorporating elements of southern rhythms and west coast production gloss. Joey’s flow and vocal performance also matured as he starting singing more and rapping more aggressively. It was proof that he is determined to create his own sound and not to drown in his influences. With this next album, I was curious to see if he would continue to carve out the lane he created for himself or to continue to mature and grow by developing new styles and approaches to his music.
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The Breakdown, Drunk by Thundercat

Micah: There is a Jazz/R&B renaissance happening on the West Coast and much of it is centered around Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder record label. Founded almost a decade ago, Brainfeeder has a lot of similarities to Peanut Butter Wolf’s legendary label, Stones Throw. They’re both independent and determined to push boundaries, taking chances on strange and experimental music that usually wouldn’t get backed. This approach has been incredibly fruitful for Brainfeeder. With a little help from his friends, including Thundercat, bandleader and saxophonist Kamasi Washington put out one of the best albums of 2015, and releases from other Brainfeeder signees The Gaslamp Killer, Jon Hopkins, Daedelus, and Lapalux have gotten a lot of attention.

Drunk is the latest album from Brainfeeder and it might be the best in Thundercat’s discography. Flying Lotus, who has played a huge part not only in putting Thundercat on, also has his hands in the creation of almost all of his music, shows up all over this new record. Whether he’s acting as an engineer, producer or mixer, the kinds of rhythms and changes found on Lotus’ You’re Dead have seeped into this album, and paired with Thundercat’s improved songwriting, singing, and one-of-a-kind basslines, making for a strange blend of heady and soulful.
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Beats from the Throne Age: A Conversation with Blacktop Megaphone

Andrew Saltzman isn’t slouching in his throne. In January, he released an instrumental album, Tape Lonely Boy, under his production alias, Blacktop Megaphone, and he hasn’t stopped there. February saw him spearheading a benefit project for Planned Parenthood–a series of singles put out by Throne Age, the label he co-founded with his brother (stage name: dug., who also released an instrumental tape in January). They aren’t slowing down, either. I caught up with Saltzman to talk tapes, beats, and the artist’s relationship with loneliness, and to get a taste of what Throne Age has in store for the rest of the year.

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