Smino: KLINK

Smino “Best Hair In The Game” “Too Grown To Teach You How To Ride” Smith (I didn’t make that last name up, where do you think Smino comes from) has dropped his new album NOIR. I’ve heard far too many people many people say it’s not as good as blk swn but that’s an unfair comparison. blk swn was and is a cover to cover masterpiece which introduced the world at-large to Smino’s avant-garde rap stylings, but NOIR is a deeper dive into the artist’s personality. Not to say it isn’t also a cover to cover masterpiece, but you definitely get to see more of who Smino is through these songs.

I know I’ve likened GoldLink to a saxophone before, but if GoldLink is a tenor sax, Smino raps like an alto sax with a split reed. A lesser artist would have this voice and be completely unbearable, but Smino manages to incorporate style and flavor into his sound (and great taste in samples and instrumentals, because his songs could easily be a cacophonous train wreck). His voice will hit your ear wrong, no matter how many times you listen to him, but that has to be by design, because once you’ve heard his music, you’ll want more.

Smino’s life and music are all about being as Black as possible, which is part of his appeal. That, is his ability to incorporate humor throughout the sexual overtones of his music, which keeps him from being like some other one-dimensional R&B singers that shall not be named. The album is sprinkled with a few features because he obviously can’t leave out his Zero Fatigue mates: Bari, Monte Booker (producer extraordinaire to have to deal with this out-of-pocket artists), Jay2, and Ravyn Lenae.

KLINK is the single single, and has to be my favorite song on the album. I don’t even know how to describe the instrumental; I’m not sure what instrument Monte has leading the beat, I just know it fits Smino’s voice perfectly, has bass in the right places, and falls out at just the right moments. Smino’s voice changes all over the place, but never sounds wrong. And if anything, Smino is a master when it comes to using epistrophe.

His music is perfet for pre-gaming, partying, or just playing in the car.Well, I can’t honestly say there are times when I would’nt listen to Smino.

In my experience, his song “Ciabatta” is maybe the closest to his regular rap/singing voice as we’re going to get.

Vince Staples: Tweakin’

Between his humor, iconic personality, and West Coast Crip stylings, it’s easy to forget that Vince Staples is a rapper, and a pretty good one at that. Well, on the first night of November, he released FM! his new album, paying homage to the culture of new music and a staple of L.A.’s radio world, Big Boy’s Neighborhood.

Now, I’ve never listened to Big Boy’s Neighborhood (where I’m from, when it’s six o’clock, it’s time for Greg Street to rock) but Big Boy has been the voice of the West Coast for decades, and is probably one of the most recognizable radio personalities in hip-hop. And like any good radio host, Vince Staples takes advantage of this album to preview some bits from other artists’ upcoming works. There’s snippets from Tyga and Earl Sweatshirt as interludes.

Vince also uses this album to speak on a lot of difference aspects of the Long Beach lifestyle, but with a lot of focus on violence and death. The lead single of the album, FUN (with a feature from E-40 so that’s a definite listen) goes, “we just wanna have fun, we don’t wanna f*** up nothing”. In an environment publicized for being a place where people lose their life easily, it’s important to remember that people still want to and try to have fun. Not everyone’s out for violence.

However, Tweakin’ shows the darker side of his city. Kehlani sings about losing friends over the weekend and how that can leave you messed up. Vince raps about people he’s lost, to death and prison, and how that affects him. He reminisces about growing up in church and going into music and fame, and how that didn’t really help him when his friends die. He can’t protect them, and their gone by the time he has the ends to take care of them. The song also features an intro and outro with Buddy, as well as a backsell from Big Boy’s Neighborhood.

It’s a sad song,but it plays well. “Death is common but not something to ever get used to,” is the very poignant message left by the song.

Metro Boomin: Up To Something

I’d like to think Not All Heroes Wear Capes is a comprehensive list of all the people Young Metro trusts. Unfortunately for some, it’s not a long list.

Metro Boomin has been retired since April. Why? I don’t know. I never really questioned it. Honestly, when I stopped hearing his production, I assumed he had quit while he was ahead and was riding the wave of his own popularity and not continuing to release music unless he could guarantee all his beats would be fire. I can respect that; why ruin your own reputation? 2017 rocketed him to nearly super-producer status (some would say he was actually a super-producer, but until you have the same level of longevity as Scott Storch, I’d hesitate to say that). Or maybe he stepped away from his MIDI to focus on school, which is also a respectable choice. But on November 2, Metro released Not All Heroes Wear Capes, his first studio album. Is he back for good? Who knows. Does this album have 21 Savage whispering like a Ying Yang Twin, as if we aren’t supposed to question that? Perhaps. Are we going to listen anyway? Of course.

As we know, Metro trusts Travis Scott and Young Thug (though 21 Savage, Swae Lee, Gucci Mane, Offset, Wizkid, Kodak Black, Gunna, and Drake all appear on the album). Unfortunately, this song is nothing like a track from Days Before Rodeo. That may be because the song is co-produced with Allen Ritter and Southside, rather than with Travis Scott, but it’s more likely the song isn’t as wavey as it could be because Travis Scott is more glorified background vocals than a legitimate feature. However, the production does have the ambient moaning vocals, and heavy, punctuating bass that signifies Metro Boomin and Travis Scott co-productions.

That’s not to say this is a bad song. It’s pretty great actually. Thugger was right; he is getting back to his old self on this song. Thugger got off some of his most enjoyable verses since before JEFFERY on this album. He’s almost Slime Season Thugger on this song, which is the Thug we need. But that sound is probably more due to this song having been cut sometime in 2014 or ’15, and not because Thugger is actually going back to his old self, which leaves a question: how many of these songs are new, and how many has Metro Boomin been sitting on and touching up here and there before thinking he might as well release.

I still wish Travis would have had even a 6-bar bit on the song;it could really pushed this song to the next level.

This is a song you have to play with the bass-boosted because it would be disrespectful otherwise.

Takeoff: Casper

Hol’ on, Takeoff.

I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: Takeoff is the best rapper out of the Migos. hands down. And he released his first solo album, The Last Rocket on November 2. Let’s respect this occasion.

For the sake of respecting Takeoff as an individual artist and the Migos as America’s Favorite Boyband, I’ll try not to compare this project to QUAVO HUNCHO or to Offset’s album when that drops.

The Last Rocket was definitely Takeoff’s opportunity to flex his rap muscles in a way that one verse on a collaborative song doesn’t quite allow. Solo albums are, of course, the individual’s chance to show off their personality and the aspects of their artistry particular to them. This is not to say the Migos don’t all take advantage of the same types of beats, or fall into the same style. They all have that triplicate form that I’m convinced is a Houston flow that they Nawf Atlanta-fied.

But Takeoff has a very singular persona and a distinct voice. Yes, it sounds like this man smoked blacks all throughout puberty, but in a good way. The way he raps is also amazingly laid-back. I wouldn’t describe him as lackadaisical, but the way he gets bars off is effortless.

While Last Memory is his lead single, Casper is a great example of his sound. The way he slides across the chorus is so mild, that he needs the grit natural to his voice to make things hit the way they need to. The one negative is, though you want to shoulder-bop to this song the whole way through, his voice is so monotone and the chorus is so long that the song feels repetitive, even when it’s not. Any more than three minutes and I would’ve gotten bored but any less and he wouldn’t have one enough to make the song good.

Cassius Jay and Nonstop da Hitman did their thing with this beat. Similarly to Takeoff himself, it sounds so simplistic when you aren’t listening closely, but the more you open up your ears, the more you hear. And it echoes throughout your body in a way that makes you feel so comfortable but want to get hype at the same time.

Kap G: A Day Without A Mexican

Kap G has a question for the guy in the Oval Office: what would it really be like without Mexicans? And considering the vast majority of production and culture created in this country by immigrants, it’s a fair question.

If you don’t know who Kap G is (though you should because Girlfriend was a 2016 banger), he’s a Mexican American rapper from College Park. Honestly, if you just go off of Girlfriend and the other tracks from El Southside you would think this is just another guy from the Southside of Atlanta, heavy on the adlibs and the repetition, with a heavy gutter slur to tie it all in, and who doesn’t care about much other than robbing you and taking your chick. And personal opinion, I wasn’t a fan of his hair in that video.

However, A Day Without a Mexican is a different kind of song. Though you can listen to it on repeat and enjoy it, it’s not banger-material. It’s definitely created to make a point. But rather than list off a bunch of accomplishments by Mexican Americans like we often do when we’re trying to prove the worth of our race to someone who doesn’t believe in it, he makes the song more personal. He speaks of his own experiences, and well as those of “regular Mexicans’. The point being that you don’t have to be rich or an all-star to prove that you have value as a human being or an inhabitant of this country. There’s no need to force a perception of excellence when existence is what matters.

And to be fair, it’s always lovely for an artist to connect with their culture and allow their listeners to be privy to that. From the instrumental to the infusion of Spanish in his lyric, Kap G doesn’t want us to forget who he is. He might make music with Thugger and Lucci, but as much as Atlanta is an influence on his style so is his heritage. I’m with that.

Play this whenever you want, really. Also play it to remind people that hip-hop and America, in general, would not be what it is without Latinxs.

Big Baby: Victoria Secret

Big Baby Scumbag, not to be confused with Big Baby Dram or “wah wah wah, b***h I’m Lil Baby”, has dropped a song with Father. Big Baby is part of the new wave of Florida rappers entering the hip-hop scene, but unlike his counterparts, he’s more of a person than a persona, which makes his music a lot more tolerable.

Calibaset produced this sound, which explains why it sounds like an uptempo, up-pitched mash up of a Famous Dex-type and Rich the Kid-type beat. That’s not saying you’d find this beat on Youtube with people rapping in the comments (though that’s not an insult), Calibaset does actually produce for Famous Dex. The best way for me to explain how this beat sounds, is to say it’s candy painted with a west Atlanta bassline, and a very recognizable organ chord. It’s a great beat to flex on, and since Big Baby and Father are talking about the Amazon beauties they have in their pocket, it works.

I won’t say this is a song for female empowerment; it’s definitely a “my chick badder than yours” song. It’s kind of funny though. Why does this man have a beeper in 2018? I mean, I know why, but . . . why? At least he knows the differences between a keeper and a deleter.

Father’s verse is super short on this song, which is fair, it’s not his song. It’s not his flex. But anyone who name drops Tracee Ellis Ross has my attention.

So, the song is a bop if you don’t pay too much attention to the lyrics. The beat goes. Play this in your car if you want to. Or just opt for Dale Earnhardt.

Tobi Lou: Orange

Tobi Lou, the one from Chicago with the afro puffs. Apparently he used to play baseball. Now he makes groovy tunes, and almost all his artwork is cartoon-style.

One thing to note about Tobi Lou’s music is that even when his topic isn’t necessarily happy, there’s still a feel-good element to the sound, which makes enjoyable. On this song especially, his voice is gentle, just like the synthesized piano he’s rapping over.

Orange is a reference to Channel Orange, and maybe also his favorite color, and maybe also his favorite cartoon channel (Nickelodeon immediately comes to mind but Tobi is also an Adventure Time fan, so who knows).

The song talks about his transition into a singer whose becoming famous, but not forgetting who he is or where he came from. He’s starting to become a fashionista, but there’s still a bit of sadness behind it all. “I wonder if society still thinks I’m a menace. Black and beautiful, hello world, I’m the business,” is a great way to sum up the song and give you a strong hint as to his persona.

There’s something so faint about this song, and about his artistry as a whole that makes his music seem so far away, regardless of how relatable it is. It’s simple and straightforward, but there are so many emotions layered into it. Don’t be deceived by how calm his voice is, there’s more to the music.

And honestly, check out his COLORS show.

Play this in your headphones. Hear every part of it.

Falcons & B. Lewis: Waterworld

Producers Falcons has done it again, and no, I don’t just mean collaborating with GoldLink. He’s embedded a rich, heavy texture into his ambient sound, to creating something that slurs and drops, just like the best parts of being drunk.

The voice of B. Lewis enters and blends into the song seamlessly, as if he were an organic instrument Falcons layered into the beat. There’s a gospel choir echo to his voice that just adds depth to his sound, even though there’s a slight fading whine to each of his lines. I don’t want to say it was perfect, but I could. By the time the drums come in, you’ve settled so comfortably into his voice, that the drums inject you with some adrenaline as the song seems to tempo up.

Jazz Cartier immediately enter and does his thing. His voice also fits perfectly onto the song, as he adds a tinge of vocalization to his rapping. He still comes with the bars, but the romance is just right. It makes you wqant to be the person hes rapping about.

GoldLink comes in like the sax we didn’t know we’d need on this song, subtly emphasizing the soft funk aspects of the song. Of course, GoldLink is comfortable rapping about the girl of his dreams, his ex, and however those women overlap. “I’m sure if she was a singer, she’d be singing about me” just stood out as a line to me. That’s real romance, to sing a song about the one who’s yours.

B.Lewis comes right back and ties this song up with a bow on top. Falcons is great on his own, but B. Lewis takes this sound to the next level. Their co-EP, DAYDRIFT, came out on the 26th, masterpiece all around.

This song is a groove and a vibe. Play it through your headphones to appreciate every sound. Play it in the car at night to experience the vibe.

MadeinTYO: Retro 88

So MadeinTYO finally dropped his debut album, Sincerely, Tokyo. I’m probably not alone in thinking this weirdly removed from the time period when MadeinTYO was popping. Uber Everywhere and Skateboard P were bops; that’s an indisputable fact. However, it’s even weirder that this is apparently his last album as well (allegedly, we’ll have to see).

Retro 88 is the second track on the album, but it’s the first track on the album that really sounds like the MadeinTYO we know and love. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate artists trying different things with their music, but it’s always good to have a signature sound your listeners can latch on to. The first song is very Quavo-esque, in the sense that he’s rapping as if he’s in detention, copying sentences. I know he likes The Simpsons but it doesn’t make for a great song (Ned Flanders is amazing, though).

The song is produced by K Swisha and knocks exactly in the right way. MadeinTyo is actually rapping, not to mention he’s brought back his notable ad-lib. If he doesn’t say skrt-skrt, is it really a MadeinTYO song? Also, he’s talking about how dope his outfit is and smoking backwoods, which says a lot about him.

The downside of the song is how short it is, but most of his songs (and those of artists with that same Gwinnett, North Atlanta sound) tend to have one verse for each person rapping, even if that means the song only has one verse. I suppose it’s an acknowledgement of how simplistic the sound is; if it’s repeated too much, it can be annoying. But at just the right length, it makes for a reliable formula.

Play this whole album in your car, loud. A party will appear, even if you weren’t headed towards one.

Powers Pleasant: Please Forgive

When I first saw that Powers Pleasant had dropped a new song with Denzel Curry, IDK, Zombie Juice, and Zillakami, I told myself not to listen to it. There’s no need for me to be getting yelled at in the middle of the night by Denzel Curry and Zombie Juice, regardless of how crazy the production would be on this song.

Well . . . I wasn’t wrong.

I’ll start by saying, yes, the beat goes off. Powers Pleasant did his thing. You can feel the bass in your spine and, while the instruments come in a bit asymmetrically, the rhythm is there. The song definitely has the weirdness that is expected from the mixture of Beast Coast backpack rap and a Floridian.

Denzel Curry comes in with the first verse and slams it. His tone is a bit more subdued than on some of his other bangers, but still has the same chaotic energy. Any man who calls himself the new Tapatio knows exactly what he’s doing.

IDK has the next verse and the hook. To be completely honest, I’ve never heard IDK rap before this moment. And though his voice comes in a bit lower than Curry, it blends into the beat perfectly. Look, I don’t want to say it’s seductive, but as soon as he says “I hit the Flea Flicker”, my initial reaction was “whose bedroom voice is this?!” He sat into the rhythm so well I almost felt myself sink in with him. The tenor of his voice turned what was just an in-your-face banger into something surround-sound. He should’ve kept that going a bit longer.

Zillakami came in screaming . . . I wasn’t really expecting much else. Zombie Juice surprisingly wasn’t yelling. I forgot this man actually has bars when he’s putting effort towards rapping and not towards . . . being the loudest one on the track.

This is definitely a track you can play in the car as your head to the function. I hope your system is bass-boosted.