Hip-Hop: Back From the Dead

It’s an exciting time to be enamored with music, especially hip-hop. The earl sweatshirtbest thing about being a music lover in 2015 (as opposed to being a fan back in the ’80’s) is that you have the ability to decide what you want to listen to now more than ever. The advertising departments of labels don’t play nearly as much of a role in terms of what we listen to as they used to. All it takes is someone relatively unknown writing about an album; people find it and do the advertising themselves without realizing it. We document every single thing that we do nowadays, including throwing a screenshot of the new favorite album on Twitter or Instagram. One Google search later the next person’s headphones are filled with your newest obsession, and thirty minutes later they are texting their like-minded friends about said artist.

travis scottThis push towards finding more obscure hip-hop artists has helped to catapult the amount of interesting rappers in the mainstream community. Rappers like Earl Sweatshirt, A$AP Rocky, and Travi$ Scott have been able to establish a very strong fanbase not in spite of, but because of their strangeness. Producers are given much more leeway to create what they want; no longer are beats created in a boom-bap fashion to appease listeners. Beat-makers like Erick Arc Elliot (Flatbush Zombies) and Blue Sky Black Death give tracks more atmosphere than they have ever had, which in turn makes the lyrical content less important. The art in hip-hop was always relative to the lyrical genius of artist, but now we have rappers with questionable rapping talent sitting at the top of the charts. It doesn’t necessarily point to a flaw in what we are enjoying as fans, though. The harsh truth is that there has always been some terrible artists sitting on top (remember Styles P? Ja Rule, anyone?), but now that the beats are more important in the construction of a track, it makes these rappers inherently more interesting.

This has in turn made hip-hop more interesting the past several years. We have watched the likes of Mac Miller teaming up with Rick Ross for a song without batting an eyelash. It has also allowed for hip-hop artists with something legitimate to say like Kendrick Lamar and Vince Staples to vince-staplesascend the ranks as well. A$AP Rocky’s At Long Last A$AP melds soul and rock samples in a smooth package that has been one of the highlights of this year, and Vince Staples’ double-disc release Summertime ’06 combines lurid storytelling with hypnotic beats. The glut of amazing albums this year proves that hip-hop is alive and well, or at the very least risen from the grave. The undead genre is lurching about and giving us the most creative listening this side of early Wu. I have included a list of songs from 2015 that you simply can’t miss this summer. Turn the bass up in your car and jam to these amazing tracks; thank me later.

1. Vince Staples – Senorita – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5OAYMMod9Wo

2. A$AP Rocky (featuring Bones) – “Canal St. – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kf_fcj–Zxw

3. Drake – “Energy” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J-AjsctjklI

4. Wale – “The Middle Finger” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86gxgtVWlAk

5. Meek Mill (featuring Drake) – “R.I.C.O.” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EgRrxFsX538

6. Kendrick Lamar – “The Blacker the Berry” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6AhXSoKa8xw

7. Lupe Fiasco – “Mural” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LwS6Qn7hCcA

8. Earl Sweatshirt – “Grief” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tZ5Mu2gs-M8

9. Joey Bada$$ – “Paper Trail$” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=stoLqWXsIOY

10. Flatbush ZOMBies – “Did U Ever Think?” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fIoMfcyYXJw

My Top Ten Releases of 2013

2013 was by no means a banner year for music, but there were some really strong albums to come out. I did my best to listen to as much as possible to extend my listening boundaries; I’ll be the first to admit that it is easy to sit in a few favorite genres and get comfortable. Extending out what I generally listen to was quite honestly the most refreshing thing that has happened to me musically in quite some time. Burial’s Rival Dealer pouring through my speakers late in 2013 was a therapeutic, affirming listen. The amount of plays that Pusha T’s My Name is My Name got in my car was obscene considering it was released in October, and I have never listened to a two song EP as much as Take Shelter ever. Essentially, stepping outside my comfort zone got me excited again for music in a way that I thought was lost. I haven’t really been able to put out a year-end list as extensive as this one before, but I was so moved by these albums that it was warranted to share these. I would love to keep up this music high I am on, so please help me keep it alive by sharing in the comments below what you think the top albums of 2013 were. 

Note: I didn’t accidentally forget Yeezus; that shit is wack.

10. Fearless Leader- Half Dead EP

Picture of Half Dead EP

Fearless Leader popped up in a “recommended” section that Facebook lovingly set up, and while I normally hate people (or sites) telling me what to listen to or what I will like, I was intrigued by their album art. What I was met with when I played their EP was a fun math rock-bedazzled four song journey. Noodling guitars and impassioned vocals have become a tired and cliched aspect of screamo-influenced bands, but there is more behind these four songs than initially meets the eye. As soon as “Hollows” begins, the listener is treated to beautiful, ethereal guitars and honest, gritty lyrics. The hair-raising delivery of the vocals point to a band that will create a genre-defying album in the future. As it stands, this was my surprise album of the year, and everyone should give this one a spin.

9. Earl Sweatshirt- Doris

Inconsistency seems to plague Odd Future more than I’d like to admit, as I am unabashedly supportive of their profane, off-kilter hip-hop. Earl Sweatshirt has always been the answer to their detractors, as he is unquestionably the best MC out of the collective. He doesn’t disappoint with Doris either, choosing intricate, grimy beats and talented features. Frank Ocean’s verse on “Sunday” lends to the singular sincerity of the track, while “Hive” bumps with the best of them and Vincent Staples’ verse absolutely destroys. The diversity on this album is the reason why it makes the list, as there is no posturing at all; Earl isn’t changing who he is to fit in with the rap mainstream, which makes it all the better.

8. Lavinia- Take Shelter

Post rock is becoming a competition to see who has the most creative band name, as it seems that the music itself is becoming banal and derivative. No new borders are being traversed sonically, which leaves less excitement when listening to this type of music. Enter Lavinia, a post rock band that takes that genre stereotype and obliterates it. The gentle waves of clean guitar tones build up to huge, chunky guitar riffs and the drums are unafraid to crash about, creating a hybrid of passionate introspection and outward aggression. The dark tone of the music is accentuated perfectly through Nate Shumaker’s depressive and unobtrusive vocals, and the reality of what is here is obvious; this is music that takes the listener on a journey. It is emotional without being too personal for every single listener that happens upon it. Don’t let the fact that there are only two tracks on this stop you from checking it out; there is more substance on these songs than you will find on many albums.

7. Obliteration- Black Death Horizon

Obliteration is just straight up death metal; let’s get that out of the way immediately. If you long for the glory days of ’90’s death metal, Black Death Horizon is for you. The production is nice and gritty, the despairing tone doesn’t let up, and it riffs for days. It isn’t groundbreaking by any means, but that is the beauty of this release; it was made for the death metal purists that swear that the genre is rotting in the grave. It is alive and well in Black Death Horizon; revel in all of its delicious death goodness.

6. KEN Mode-Entrench

KEN Mode have come out of left field with Entrench, as this is the perfect meld of noise rock and metalcore with post hardcore leanings. The stylistic influences are apparent but subtle, which works perfectly because it allows the band to create the songs that they want; no genre restrictions necessary. From the bass-heavy dirty sound of “No; I’m in Control” to the slow-burning exercise in patience that is “Romeo Must Never Know”, the band manages to make all of their whimsical influences sound more organic than most bands have the ability to do even when they are playing it safe. Embrace the calculated chaos and bask in some truly original heavy music that doesn’t need genre limitations to produce an electrifying album.

5. Burial- Rival Dealer

Album of the Week: Burial - ‘Rival Dealer’ EP

Burial is many things, enigmatic being the most prevalent. Admittedly, I certainly don’t know his extensive back catalog, but what I can tell you is that Rival Dealer is incredibly affecting. The emotion that is poured into this EP is nothing short of astounding, and the atmosphere transports the listener to another world. The glitchy electronics and vocal samples create a soundscape that allow for you to close your eyes and escape for just a little bit. Granted, this time around, Bevan is a little cheesier; but the sincerity shines through in the music. The acceptance and love that emanates from Rival Dealer is palpable, and is honestly made even more incredible because of the genre it sits in. Burial has created another world for us to live in for a short while, and we should be grateful that it is continuously evolving. All that means is that he is still letting us in through his music.

4. The Black Dahlia Murder- Everblack

The Black Dahlia Murder have been around the block a few times in the metal world; besides cultivating a pretty discernible sound that is unique to them, they have also not progressed too much over their six-album run. Besides the occasional member change, it’s safe to say that Trevor (vocals) will scream about graverobbing, raping and pillaging, and the godless land that we roam around in. The rest of the band will play their instruments at a blistering pace, and the listeners will have a rough time differentiating between the songs when all is said and done. Speaking from personal opinion, after what I considered to be their best album Nocturnalthey have released two albums that seemed middle of the road and uninspired. Everblack takes that predictable formula and turns it on its head. Okay, well not exactly, but TBDM have made some great strides on this album. The inclusion of atmosphere and breathable passages have allowed the heavy aspects of their music to sound sharper and more interesting. Vocally speaking, Trevor has varied the highs and lows akin to the Nocturnal days, the Evil Dead references don’t hurt the cause here either. The gang shouts in “Raped In Hatred by Vines of Thorn” caused me to do a strange double-take the first time that I heard them, and the midtempo pace in the beginning of “Map of Scars” are the minute differences that fans like me were wanting to see a long time ago. Everblack is a gleefully masochistic listen from start to end.

3. Deafheaven-Sunbather

Sunbather is an album that was pretty much critically acclaimed across the board. There weren’t too many detractors, and the beauty is that Deafheaven deserves all of the hyperbolic praise that they are receiving with this album. It almost immediately became the quintessential listen for those attempting to get into black metal; the beautifully textured atmosphere coupled with the insane shrieks of George Clarke are the perfect stepping stone into a genre that is honestly quite inaccessible. The sun-drenched (ironic, I know) guitars give the music an undeniably optimistic feel, which is perhaps why some purists were unhappy with the attention it received. Make no mistake, Deafheaven took their black metal roots and intertwined them with shoegaze to form something should be derivative but is wholly their own, and for that Deafheaven will be certain to secure a rabid fanbase. Who said that black metal couldn’t be beautiful anyway?

2. Counterparts- The Difference Between Hell and Home

The Difference Between Hell and Home was one that took a few listens to really sink in for me. I listened to it excitedly enough the first time through, but it seemed so monotonous and boring. I wasn’t really sure what I was expecting, exactly, but I gave it a few more listens to see if I was missing anything. The third time through, it hit me like a ton of bricks. It is sincere and passionate in a way that many bands like Counterparts just don’t have the capacity to be. They sacrifice heaviness when they have to, and sacrifice “that one cool riff” if it doesn’t fit organically into the song. Yes, this is a metalcore album, but it is also drawing from influences that allow their sound to be so much more dynamic and interesting. When I heard, “I watched the world give up on me!” the first time in my headphones, an honest-to-god chill ran down my spine. The slow and deliberate start to “Wither” is the perfect example to what these guys do so well to separate themselves from the proverbial pack; it is in the details that they have created a simultaneously joyous and depressing album. I’d explain that, but I’d rather let you listen to it and find out for yourselves.

1. Pusha T- My Name Is My Name

I’ll be honest; I happen to think that Pusha T is going to be listed as among the greats of hip-hop after he hangs up his proverbial hat. His venture into solo territory has been hit or miss before My Name Is My Name, but this release changes that drastically. With the exception of some horrible, and I mean horrible guest spots, Pusha is flawless on this album. There is not a weak verse to be found on MNIMN from King Push, and the best songs on here are actually the ones that he handles himself (“King Push”, “Numbers on the Boards”). Kanye’s influence is evident here, but in an exceedingly good way. This is the attention and help that Pusha needed to scrape his way to the top in the first place. To be certain, Hell Hath No Fury is no longer the pinnacle of his career, and his hunger for being at the top seems stronger than ever. With incredible beats and imaginative lyricism, this is easily the best rap album of the year, even with Big Sean, 2Chainz, and Kelly Rowland making appearances.