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.
TOP 10 ALBUMS OF 2017
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.
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.
Read more The Breakdown, 4:44, by Jay-Z
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.
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.
Read more The Breakdown, Damn. by Kendrick Lamar
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.
Read more The Breakdown, All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ by Joey Bada$$
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.
Read more The Breakdown, Drunk by Thundercat
Micah’s Picks: 2016’s Top 10 Albums
It’s been a great year for music. Here’s my second annual roundup of my favorite releases of the year, now with a top fifty song list and a complete list of songs that made my rotation this year.
Exactly one year ago, we launched The What, reviving our Lewis & Clark College KLC Radio show, in website form. Our goal at the start was simply to create an outlet for us to write and for you to read about music, pop culture, art, and whatever else we happen find compelling. There are, of course, countless websites doing essentially the same thing, all of us filling up the digital ethers with opinions, commentaries and counter-commentaries, words upon words upon words.