Mac’s 2014 Mid-Year Review

Posted: July 9, 2014 in Blog, Dyscyplynary Action, Hip-Hop, Music, Music Review, Reviews
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

tde

It’s 2014 and half of the year is already in the rear-view where many people are stuck on moments in February with each of the top sports championship games ending in blowouts. Here I am catching up with much of the year in music, capped with great loosies and singles but not too many albums that I sunk my teeth into. Pertaining to the ever-growing genre of rap, much of my focus centered on one region within their resurgence: The West Coast led by the G-Funk synths and hand claps of DJ Mustard.  Atlanta continued to churn out hits and burgeoning young artists with club numbers and New York stretched to find ways to “bring NY Rap back” all the while ignoring the interesting music that is formulating in their inner-circle.

With the West Coast, they started out guns blazing the best way they could with the California representation of the Step Brothers, Evidence and Alchemist. Lord Steppington was an early runner to set the tone for what looks to be a dominant run for the state this year, with Alchemist continuing to be a monster on the boards and one of the best producers going today. Evidence is certainly overlooked as well (always) as a capable MC and their chemistry are among the best in rap today. Which is a great segue into rapper/producer chemistry in making the best rap album this year so far.

That album which I am talking about is YG’s debut Def Jam release, My Krazy Life. After years of the label not knowing with to do with him, YG made a conscious effort to help define the sound of the west today with the help of 2014’s wunderkind DJ Mustard. Releasing a slew of mixtapes including his excellent Just Re’d Up 2 last year and a powerful club number in “My Nigga”, Krazy Life finally saw the light of day. Upon listening to it, it gives vibes of another great party album from LA called Doggystyle: packed with humorous skits and personal street narratives over a bounce that evokes Dr. Dre at his most synthesizer obsessive time period. Of course, much of this could be attributed to Kendrick Lamar’s success with good kid, m.A.A.d. city for the Boyz n The Hood tales on wax coming back in full force.

Which reminds me, what happened with TDE’s position of power as the West flag bearers? Kendrick set the bar so high with good kid that the pressure to outshine weighs down on everyone else. Add to the notion that Schoolboy Q and Ab-Soul also had to follow up their respective breakout projects. I had high hopes for Oxymoron and to an extent These Days… and that was a big mistake on my part. Both albums were bodies of work full of good tracks, but lacked the cohesion and musical direction of their predecessors. In particular to the latter, Ab-Soul disappointed the most. These Days… was an album that would’ve been great if 1) Control System never happened and/or 2) Ab-Soul never did it.  Still, I will give TDE credit where credit is due with Isaiah Rashad having potential to be really good after Cilvia Demo (and where’s that Jay Rock full-length?).

Another good benefactor to the west’s resurgence is the growing success of the Bay Area’s HBK Gang. A part of me wishes My Krazy Life would have came out last year so Iamsu! could finally get his shine for putting so much work into making people notice the hyphy-sound again. Fortunately for Vine and YouTube, fellow HBK member Sage The Gemini broke through with “Red Nose”, building to the great double whammy of albums in Sage’s Remember Me and Iamsu!’s Sincerely Yours. HBK didn’t let up as they had Skipper and P-Lo release quality mixtapes throughout the year as well.

Buried deep back in the underground is almost a rebirth of sorts for one Johnson Barnes. An enigma on this side of MF DOOM, Blu was set to be the next big voice to come out of the West after his critically-acclaimed 2007 album with Exile, Below The Heavens. Since then, he’s experimented heavily with his vision and sound, creating brilliant production ideas (HerFavoriteColo(u)r), once-bizarre electronic journeys (NoYork!), and reuniting briefly to expand on said ideas (Flowers). He now seems mellowed out better than before and more focused with Good To Be Home. The album is a return to form to Blu, lyrically sharper and as dense since Below The Heavens over soulful, yet long-winded beats from Bombay. It was a great pairing for a great album, though clocking as a double album there could have been so much more to succeed if it was condensed.

The DJ Mustard-sound also trickled into the annuls of R&B, accompanying by the new go-to songwriter Ty Dolla $ign. From his scintillating singles “Paranoid” and “Or Nah” to penning what can be Chris Brown’s best song in years with “Loyal”, Ty$’s fingerprints are everywhere with the current sound of once cherished baby-making music. It even became a driving force for Trey Songz’ sixth studio album (which top the charts with 100K+ copies sold within the first week by the way), focusing on “we don’t love these hoes” savage philosophy. People are just going to get with the times and realize that Tyrone Griffin is here to stay.

I can also speak on the other R&B cats like August Alsina, but I haven’t given too much of his music a chance since I witnessed him crying over a BET Award. I will say that I fully endorse and enjoy much of Atlanta’s scene, in particular K Camp and Rome Fortune. Both Fortune’s Beautiful Pimp II and Drive, Thighs, & Lies have been on constant rotation along with Camp’s In Due Time EP. Another project that clearly under the radar by folks is Zuse’s Bullet mixtape, a Dancehall meets Trap orchestra that features one of my favorite tracks of last year and a plethora of great FKi production.  He’s expecting to drop another mixtape later this year so hopefully this time around, he won’t be ignored.

A bunch of other great projects came across my way that it can be easy to forget about them at this moment. Chicago’s Lil Herb and Lil Bibby are riding the waves of co-signs from Nicki Minaj, XXL, and Common, but their respective mixtapes Welcome To Fazoland and Free Crack are worthy mention of why they are getting recognized. Barely peaking at the age of 20, both men sound as if they lived an entire life entrenched in the city’s Drill sound as grizzled veterans. Vince Staples shares the same mentality from a Compton point of view, circling back to the west with Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2. As he fights through his growth in gang-life dealing without his father, Freddie Gibbs holds the middle ground between the two regions as Gangsta Rap’s head honco of today.

You would think a collaboration with Madlib would be a weird pairing and to some it was, but Pinata shows both men at their best and a match made in Heaven. I just find it interesting how two cities in Los Angeles and Chicago like to claim Gibbs as their own, despite him being from Indiana.

And of course, I wasn’t going to forget about good old New York. After the chaotic fiasco surrounding Troy Ave and the return of G-Unit, you would think that the phrase “bringing New York back” would rear its head too. Oh wait it did, but it didn’t stop the city for at least having interesting music at their disposal. For starters, the Harlem trio of Ratking are doing what I like to call evolving the region’s sound while maintaining much of its roots. So It Goes is as cold as Queensbridge bully stories and as bombastic as your last Dipset release. Even Dipset’s main general Cam’Ron has came back energized as ever releasing EPs that channel the spirit of the group’s heyday. Still, there hasn’t been much to bring much of my attention to the reason other than the greatest Vine ever and rise of Brooklyn’s GS9, Bobby Shmurda, and the Shmoney Dance.

All of this just happened within the first six months and there’s still a shit ton to go before the year wraps up. We still have two Wayne albums (I think), another Kanye album, Nicki Minaj continuing her repackaged run of greatness, and a bunch of proposed albums that may never see the light of day. Isn’t that exciting?

Well, I bid farewell, but here’s my tentative list of favorite albums and songs (non-rap included).

Albums:

  1. YGMy Krazy Life
  2. Damon AlbarnEveryday Robots
  3. How To Dress Well What Is This Heart?
  4. ChromeoWhite Women
  5. Iamsu!Sincerely Yours
  6. Low ProsEP1
  7. RatkingSo It Goes
  8. Rome FortuneBeautiful Pimp II
  9. K CampIn Due Time EP
  10. Open Mike EagleDark Comedy
  11. ZuseBullet
  12. St. VincentSt. Vincent
  13. Trey SongzTrigga
  14. Isaiah RashadCilvia Demo
  15. Vince StaplesShyne Coldchain Vol. 2

Songs:

  1. Chris Brown – “Loyal”
  2. YG – “Bicken Back Being Bool”
  3. Low Pros x Juvenille – “Muscle”
  4. Iamsu! – “Girls”
  5. Damon Albarn – “You & Me”
  6. Drake – “Days In The East”
  7. Chromeo x Solange – “Lost On The Way Home”
  8. Mila J x Ty$ – ”Smoke, Drink, Break-Up”
  9. Trey Songz x Juicy J – “Late Night”
  10. Future x Young Scooter – “Special”
  11. Ratking – “Snow Beach”
  12. Isaiah Rashad – “Heavenly Father”
  13. Bobby Shmurda – “Hot Nigga”
  14. Metro Thuggin’ – “The Blanguage”
  15. Robyn & Royksopp – “Monument”
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