Posts tagged ‘Kendrick Lamar’

January 4, 2013

2012 in Review: Jake’s Year of the Rapper aka Not your Grammys’ Rappers

I know that three days into 2013 is not really the time to be reminiscing on 2012, but it really can’t be helped.

Polling my friends and family regarding my musical tastes, the first word to come to their mind would be “screamo” as a generic label for any artist that has the slightest rasp in their vocals. My mother loves to pigeonhole my music as people vomiting.  But these descriptions hardly encompass the fullness of my music collection.

This past year in particular has departed from this stereotype as double bass pedals and chugging guitars have stepped aside for computerized beats and synthetic harmonies; torrents of lyrics delivered smoothly in lieu of coarser belched vocals.

While certainly not comprehensive of all the rap CDs which debuted last year, these were the albums that made notable impressions on me.

P.O.S – We Don’t Even Live Here/Never Better

My introduction to Minnesota native Pissed Off Stef (to use the most amicable of the pseudonyms) was the video for the lead single, “Fuck Your Stuff.” The anarchist anthem of one disenchanted with both political parties in the midst of election season excited me for the album release. As I waited, I delved into P.O.S’ older releases, in particular, Never Better, which only made me more excited for the new album. Never Better juxtaposes P.O.S’s machine gun delivery with beats deeply rooted in punk rock. I was particularly taken with the title track, as well as Graves and Terrorish. Days before the official release of We Don’t Even Live Here, the entire album was streamed. To my extreme disappointment, the new album’s dance heavy beats were a significant departure from Never Better. However well P.O.S pulled the dance hall style on the album, it wasn’t what I was hoping for. Disappointed, I gave it a second a listen. While the second single, Get Down, stood out with Fuck Your Stuff, I was dissuaded from purchasing the album. I do, however, need to thank this cd’s release for introducing me to Never Better.

Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music

Killer Mike’s Southern roots have afforded him collaboration opportunities across the industry, most notably with Outkast. But for this effort he turned outside of the Atlanta region to seek out New York’s underground producer Jaime Meline, aka, El-P. What could have been an uneven mixture of styles is seamless. Killer Mike and El-P locked in a studio doesn’t result in a back and forth struggle of two disparate artists attempting to dictate the style but instead yields a delectable whole comprised of El-P’s futuristic tonality arranged in traditional Killer Mike southern flow. The album starts strong with the lead single, Big Beast. While the rest of the album is solid, no track approaches the intensity of the opener.

Kendrick Lamar – Good Kid, m.A.A.d City

The youngest artist on this list, Kendrick Lamar is my age, and yet even outside of his artistic career, he has a lot more life experience than I do, if his autobiographical album is to be taken at its word. Good Kid, m.A.A.d City is the story of young Kendrick growing up in Compton, attempting to walk the line of the Good Kid throughout the troubled m.A.A.d City. Unlike the other albums on this list, GK, MC features a plethora of skits, giving extra texture to the narrative. Unlike R.A.P. Music, Kendrick doesn’t lead off with his strongest tracks, but instead distributes and builds the entire album. While his vocal tones can initially be disparaging, Kendrick is very adept at varying his delivery to match the atmosphere demanded by every beat. Lead single, Swimming Pools, is a perfect example, as Kendrick delivers three verses in three different voices as the song’s tones demand. Other album highlights include The Art of Peer Pressure, Money Trees, and m.A.A.d City. In a moment of narrative mastery, Kendrick builds the album until the mood is sufficient for the haunting twelve minute “ballad” Sing About Me/Dying of Thirst. While his vocal tones are a taste to be acquired, Kendrick’s use of polyphony is perfectly suited for the narrative he constructs. To say that it is excellent for its technical finesse would be to undersell what is truly an excellent album.

El-P – Cancer for Cure

I was quite unsure what to expect of this album. All my previous encounters with El-P were individual vicious diatribes. But every review I heard was that this was a signature album and contestant for album of the year – and it is, despite the ever present spleen of El-P. His superlative production is evident from the first with building intro of Request Denied. The futuristic sounds that El-P used to subvert the southern style on Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music have full reign. But this is also a rap album, not just a beats album and El-P delivers handily with plenty of vitriol. When he is able to control his vicious verbiage the album is strongest (Oh Hail No, True Story, and Stay Down); when he slows down his delivery and increases the acrid distrust and self-pity the album falters (The Jig is Up and Sign Here).

Aesop Rock – Skelethon

I could gush on this album all day. Not only is it my clear choice for Rap Album of the Year or straight up Album of the Year, it is in the running for my favorite album ever. Over the last six months it has taken only the occasional hiatus from my car’s CD player – only the guilt of ignoring other artists has driven me to play something else. This is Aesop Rock’s first entirely self-produced album and it is in turn his most consistent and coherent.  The most unique album in this list is the most likely to repel listeners with its unconventional beats closer to indie rock than Dr. Dre and a lyrical style closer to William Faulkner than Jay-Z. Skelethon, an attempt to clean the skeletons out of the closet, is a character study, from discontented teenagers, to donut entrepreneurs, to bikers, to elementary-aged Ace Rock, to his deceased friend Camu Tao. The stream of consciousness lyricism is dense and convoluted to many and an understandable complaint, but some find all the more pleasure in the complexity. The satisfaction of matching Aesop word for word, measure for measure, is all the greater considering the illogical word play. Despite dealing with some very dark material, Ace manages to bring balance with songs regarding eating your vegetables and getting haircuts. Highlights? The whole album. Most significant tracks? Zero Dark Thirty, Racing Stripes, and Tetra.

Finally, Gopher Guts closes the album with a humble confession of AR’s crumbling relationships. Contained within is one of the most haunting depictions of divorce I’ve ever heard: I go from moving in packs/to sharing food with a cat/to, “Ma, it’s me, I accidentally sawed a woman in half”.  The imagery with which Aesop Rock conveys his honesty is unmatched and his production skills mirror his lyricism to create the best new album of any genre I’ve heard in years.