Archives for posts with tag: Jay-Z

Do you remember Valentine’s day as a kid in elementary school? I do. One thing that stands out in my mind is the rule that the teachers announced every year. Each year, a couple weeks before Valentine’s day, the teacher would stand in front of the class  and say,  “Just a reminder, if you’re going to give out Valentine’s cards, you have to give one to everyone.” This was, of course, to teach us the very accurate life lesson that everyone is equal and that everyone loves each other equally (*cough*). The result of this rule, it seemed, was that greeting card companies had a field day mass producing shitty, low quality, Valentine’s day cards for kids, with every possible, recognizable face on them. I remember receiving Valentine’s cards with Spiderman on them. These cards had stupid slogans on them like “My spidey sense is tingling…with love, Happy Valentine’s Day!” or literary genius like “I’ll catch you in my web…of friendship, Happy Valentine’s Day!” It didn’t seem to matter to these greeting card companies that Spiderman has nothing to do with valentine’s day; they were simply trying to find a kid-friendly face to put on these cards. Though I haven’t seen children’s Valentine’s day cards in a very long time (A fact I’m surprisingly okay with), I’d imagine today’s cards are similar, except with the faces of pop icons like Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift. With Hip Hop becoming increasingly affiliated with the mainstream, I began to wonder if, somewhere, there were Valentine’s day cards with rapper’s faces on them. After thinking about this for 3 seconds, I realized how stupid of a thought this was. Even if such cards existed, there’s no way they’d be allowed anywhere near a 3 km radius of a primary school. I took the liberty of making some examples. Oh, and I made one with Amy Winehouse for good measure. Just to prove that girls can be offensive too! Enjoy!

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In the interests of continuing the tradition I started last year, I’ve decided to do a write-up of my favourite albums of the year. 2011, in my opinion, was a great year for music. As a result of this, I found it really difficult to narrow the list down to 10 albums. This year I included 15 albums instead. It’s not a big deal. I’m sure you don’t care. As I mentioned last year, I think it is literally impossible to listen to all the music released in a given year. As such, I acknowledge fully that there’s probably a lot of stuff that I missed/forgot to include. If you can think of anything I didn’t include or if you disagree with any of my picks for some reason, feel free to let me know. Also, before I begin, I would like to stress that the rankings mean very little. Any person who can claim based on some sort of objective criteria that a folk rock album is “better” than a Hip-Hop one, must be some sort of God. For me, I find that it’s kind of similar to comparing apples and oranges (sorry for the incredibly cliché phrase, but its true.) So please keep this in mind as you read through the list.

15) Clams Casino – Instrumental Mixtape

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It seems like blasphemy on the internet these days to say that you’re not a fan of ASAP Rocky. In that case, bless me Based God for I have sinned. I don’t really see the dude’s appeal. I mean, I love the idea of walking around saying “I be that pretty motherfucker…” But other than that, it feels to me as if the guy lacks substance. One thing I did notice on ASAP’s mixtape LiveLoveA$AP, however, is that the production was amazing. This is what led me to Clams Casino’s Instrumental Mixtape. Clams Casino has produced for artists like Lil’ B and Soulja Boy but don’t hold this against him. When you listen to his beats without the “based” freestyles that happen over them, you realize that the dude is talented. His beats have this spacey, ethereal sound to them that create a landscape unlike any I’ve ever heard. He is the perfect craftsman for the smoked out feel that ASAP is going for. In the end, each beat comes together in a polished manner, something which I felt was lacking from AraabMuzik’s somewhat unfocused record “Electronic Dream.” The entire effort flows beautifully with every instrumental blending seamlessly into the next. If you’re the type of person who likes instrumental hip hop, definitely check this album out.

14) Jamie Woon – Mirrorwriting

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One of the trends that you will notice occurring on this list is that, this year, I was really into the rise of the Alt-R&B genre. If you’re a fan of this genre and you haven’t heard of Jamie Woon yet, you should definitely get into his music. His album “Mirrorwriting” was an enjoyable listen from front to end. In my opinion, the strongest attribute throughout the album is Jamie’s singing voice. Jamie is a great singer who has the ability to manipulate his voice in such a way that he manages to sound simultaneously mellow and powerful at the same time. On top of this, the work features stellar production from the critically acclaimed post-dubstep? (I don’t even know) producer Burial and great contributions from Royce Wood Jr. Together, the two of them create a great canvass for Jamie’s voice to shine over. The production straddles the thin line between being minimalistic and being boring very effectively, only very rarely falling off in one direction or another. It is definitely a project worth looking into.

13) Active Child – You Are All I See

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The coolest thing about Active Child is that he is primarily a harpist. The way he actively (Ha, see what I did there? Cause his name is ACTIVE child. HA) incorporates harp-oriented production into his brand of Indie-Pop, electronic, new-wave music is impressive. Whereas other artists whose approach is to incorporate one instrument heavily into a particular genre can seem gimmicky, (think Miri-Ben Ari playing the violin over hip hop songs) Active Child manages to avoid this trap through the use of multi layered instrumentation and a broader vision. To put it another way, it seems as if the harp fits into the music more than the music has to fit into the harp. “You Are All I See” is one of those records where a listener might be confused for the first little while. As the record progresses, however, it all seems to come together. Active Child has a great falsetto that shines throughout the album as well. Definitely worth checking out if you’re looking to hear something different.

12) The Black Keys – El Camino

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The Black Keys are the first of three artists on this list who make repeat appearances from last year. Last year, the world was widely exposed to The Black Keys when the song “Tighten Up” ended up in every commercial ever. Probably partly due to the success of that song, the band decided to go back into the studio with longtime producer DJ Danger Mouse. On this record, DJ Danger Mouse does for the Black Keys something he has been able to do for many of the artists he has worked with; he allows them to show growth. Though there is much of the same bluesy-soul tinged rock & roll music that longtime fans of the Black Keys love, there are also softer songs like “Little Black Submarines” which find the band toying with new sounds, often to a high degree of success. As with all Black Keys albums, “El Camino” is dripping with catchy melodies and great guitar solos. If you’re completely crazy and haven’t been able to get into the Black Keys before now, this album might be the one to do it for you.

11) James Blake – James Blake

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James Blake has had a hell of a year. At the beginning of the year, when I first brought up James Blake, a friend remarked to me that he preferred Roger Federer. This is, of course, a reference to the tennis player of the same name. I’m sure, by now, there is no longer any confusion between the two. These days, James Blake is releasing music videos featuring the actress from “The Town” and sitting in rooms with Kanye West, Mannie Fresh, John Legend, and Hit-Boy (this actually happened). James Blake is completely fathering his own style. James Blake’s minimalist, post-dubstep production is unlike any I’ve ever heard before. It’s almost completely impossible for me to describe unless you’ve heard it. As such, each song on his self titled album is an experience. What’s crazy is that James Blake also has an amazingly unique and surprisingly soulful singing voice. On almost any other album, James Blake’s voice would be the star, yet on this album the production takes front and center. As I said, you really have to hear the album to understand.

10) Common – The Dreamer, The Believer

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“The Dreamer, The Believer” finds Common hooking up once again with his longtime producer and friend No-ID. No-ID has gained recognition in recent years for producing songs like Death of Autotune for popular artists like Jay-Z. It is important to note, however, that No-ID is a legendary producer who has been around for a long time, banging out hits for Common way before he was in movies with Queen Latifah. Common has seen great chemistry since with producers like Kanye West and J. Dilla, but nothing has been able to match the cohesive nature of his albums with No-ID. Much historical precedence has shown that albums with a single producer at the helm are much better at maintaining a singular, polished theme than albums where each individual song is produced by a different person. “The Dreamer, The Believer” is no exception. The songs transition into each other in such a smooth way that the album may as well be one long continuous mp3 file. (Side note, if you liked this album, look up the Cocaine 80s EP produced by No-ID released earlier in the year.) Anyways, the album also sees a return to lyrical form for Common after a somewhat disappointing showing on his last album. On this album, Common goes back to doing what he does best. Common is one of the few people in hip hop who has the ability to rap consciously about a topic without coming across as too preachy. Given this, he uses the album to provide introspection about a wide variety of topics in a poetic manner. In addition to this, Common gets back to the gritty lyricism that made albums like Resurrection so dope. Many people forget that Common is responsible for one of the greatest diss songs of all time, with his Ice Cube crucifixion, “The Bitch in You.” On this album, Common flexes some of that battle rap type lyrical skill with lines like “Nah N*gga, I’m Chicago. So I cracked his head with a motherfucking bottle.” Plus, the album has a song with both Common and Nas on it! Literally a hip hop head’s wet dream. Overall, “The Dreamer, The Believer” is a great album that’s definitely worth a listen.

9) Kendrick Lamar – Section 80

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Plain and simple, Kendrick Lamar can rap his ass off. Between the lyrical content, the wordplay, and the flow, it seems like there’s no new rapper in the game coming close to Kendrick right now. Section 80 is a solid showing of all these lyrical talents. Perhaps somewhat counter intuitively, however, the entire album flowed together flawlessly. This is something many veteran rappers still struggle with on their albums. God knows Jadakiss STILL can’t put together a full album. If you’re a sceptic, listen to the song “Rigamortus.” The song sees Kendrick increasing his rapping speed gradually until his words are barely discernible. Definitely the best flow of any rap song to come out this year. To be honest, I don’t have much to say about this album. If you like rap music of any sort, you should listen to it. You will not be disappointed.

8) Frank Ocean – Nostalgia, Ultra

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Looking back on music in 2011, one of the things that will definitely be of note is the rise to prominence of Odd Future. It is heavily apparent that, in the long run, Odd Future probably won’t be sustainable as a group. Certain members like Tyler and Earl will have sustainable careers but many of the more obscure members will probably lose relevance and be forgotten. Appearing to be somewhat of an anomaly in the context of the group is alt R&B crooner Frank Ocean. On closer inspection, however, Frank Ocean fits right into the group with his fresh approach to the genre. As the story goes, Frank Ocean was signed to Def Jam as a song writer under the name Lonny Breaux. During this period, he penned songs for the likes of John Legend and Justin Bieber. The label soon became disillusioned with Ocean’s increasingly “creative” sounding music and kind of forgot about him. Frustrated with the label, Frank Ocean decided to release a collection of his songs online for free under the name “Nostalgia, Ultra.” This collection of music received massive critical and commercial acclaim, even spawning a surprise hit in the drugged out song “Novacane.” At this point, Def Jam began scrambling to sign this Frank Ocean dude, not realizing he was already signed to them under the name Lonny Breaux. Since then, Frank Ocean has written for Beyonce and been featured on songs with Jay-Z and Kanye West. Not bad, coming off a free release. People who have heard Frank Ocean’s newest work say it sounds even weirder than the older stuff.  The thing that allows him to fit right in with the OFWGKTA crew is his DIY attitude and his complete lack of concern for what others think. The dude makes music for himself and no one else. It’s easy to fall in love with the story, but I assure you the story is outshadowed by the music. Frank Ocean’s singing voice is one of the most controlled I’ve heard in a long time. That, in combination with the lyrical content and stellar production, makes for one of the most original releases of the year.

7) Bon Iver – Bon Iver, Bon Iver

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Contrary to what the Grammy’s think, Bon Iver is not a new artist by any means. Their 2011 album “Bon Iver, Bon Iver” is actually their second album after the amazing debut “For Emma, Forever Ago” was released in 2007. Many people wondered how Justin Vernon and co. would be able to follow up this debut, partly because the bar was raised so high. On this album, however, the band proved all the doubters wrong and released one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the year. I know I’ve used the word “cohesive” a lot in this write-up thus far, but there is no other word for how well this album comes together. Thematically, the album is unique because it has a clear rise, climax, and fall in a way that few albums do. Though I do miss the immediately catchy songs like “Skinny Love” from the first album, “Bon Iver, Bon Iver” differs because it is beautiful in its subtleties, chock full of hidden gems for listeners to discover on the 6th or 7th listen. Each listen through to the album will provide a new experience. Throw this album on while on a particularly scenic road trip, and it will provide the perfect theme music.

6) tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l

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For the remainder of this paragraph, I’m going to refer to tUnE-yArDs as “band-aid” because the primary musician Merrill Garbus made it a bitch to spell the name correctly. Thus, I’ve arbitrarily assigned the name band-aid. Band-Aid’s second effort “w h o k i l l” can only be described as experimental. Transcending the idea of genre altogether, the album incorporates elements from Funk, hip hop, R&B, indie rock, punk, and tons of other genres to create something completely quite unlike anything I’ve ever heard. Merrill Garbus’s somewhat avant-garde singing is also a nice change from the easily accessible melodies that I’m used to. After getting used to this, however, the album was an easy sell. Songs like the lead single Bizness, have instantly catchy production and others like the above song “Gangsta,” are so interesting that, although not immediately catchy, you’re intrigued enough that you can’t stop listening. The latter song deals with issues relating to Suburban angst, with Garbus screaming the lyrics “Anger in his heart but he’ll never be a gangster.” This is a sentiment I’m sure many people can relate to. If you’re looking for an album that will challenge your palette, check this one out.

5) Jay-Z & Kanye West – Watch The Throne

Sample Song (Though, I highly doubt it’s necessary):

 

What is there left for me to say about “Watch The Throne” that hasn’t already been said? Yes, I expected more from two artists of this calibre. Yes, the album’s subject matter concentrated a little too heavily on how rich both artists are. Yes, the song “Lift Off” was one of the biggest abortions released this side of anything 50 Cent has put out in the past 5 years. And yes, the two have taken to performing the hit single “N*ggas in Paris” eight or nine times each show throughout their concert tour. Despite all of this though, the album fucking jams!! Even though the album may have been a bit disappointing due to an extremely high bar raised by fans, the question remains; How bad could an album by Jay-Z and Kanye West really be? The answer to this question is simple, not very. The production, as with anything Kanye West touches, is amazing throughout. Also, the lyrical content, upon closer inspection, delves into issues much deeper than money and fame. Look no further than the song “New Day” posted above, where Kanye and The RZA take Nina Simone and run her voice through autotune for God’s sake! There was mixed opinions on this in the critical community, but I personally think that they executed the sample to perfection. Plus, what other producers would have the balls to do something like that? This is a common theme throughout the album; Kanye and Jay-Z doing things that no other rap artists would have the balls to do. The lyrical content of the song itself is beautifully sincere with both artists penning letters to their hypothetical unborn sons, giving them lessons to avoid the pitfalls that they, themselves, have experienced in life. Though, on the surface, the album may seem like a giant brag/comment about their level of success, a closer examination of certain songs shows that it is more so an existential crisis on record. More than a simple brag about success, the album raises questions about what to do when you have reached a certain level of success. Jay-Z and Kanye seem unsure of whether they’re supposed to use their success as a means to make social commentary, as they do on “Murder to Excellence” or if they’re allowed to have the same struggles and emotions as regular people, something Jay-Z explores heavily on the song “Welcome to the Jungle.”…As I said before, I can’t really say much about this album that hasn’t already been said. If you haven’t heard it already, chances are you live in a cave.

4) The Weeknd – House of Balloons

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During a year in music that was heavily dominated by the rise of Alt R&B, “House of Balloons” seems to reign king over all other similar releases. Somewhat extrapolating on sounds that Drake experimented with on So Far Gone and Thank Me Later, Toronto based artist The Weeknd, has been able to carve out a lane for himself that few are able to even approach. Doc McKinney and Illangelo’s hazy, smoked out, percussion heavy production provides the perfect backdrop for Abel Tesfaye’s beautiful, catchy melodies to float over. Guaranteed, it is impossible to listen to this entire mixtape without at least one song getting stuck in your head. Since the release of “House of Balloons”, Abel has put out two more mixtapes and worked extensively on Drake’s solid outing “Take Care”, proving that he is a force of consistency and that he is here to stay. In my opinion, however, it will be difficult for anything he does from now on to compete with the impact this mixtape had. This album is too good for me to describe in words. To understand what I’m talking about, you just have to listen to it.

3) Little Dragon – Ritual Union

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I’m not sure if this album is THIS good or if I’m just a sucker for lead singer Yukimi Nagano’s voice. Highly likely, it’s a bit of both. But seriously, I would marry this woman’s voice. The cool thing about any Little Dragon album is that you know you’re going to hear something completely original on each effort. The band is constantly evolving to the point where no one will ever be able to accuse them of stagnating artistically. On “Ritual Union” the band draws heavy influence from dubstep, something very apparent on songs like “Precious.” However, the band takes the same subtle, understated approach towards dubstep that they take towards all their music. The result is a much more pleasant listening experience than the majority of dubstep out there. I mean, saying the word “subtle” to Skrillex is probably similar to saying the word “subtle” to a native Indonesian; it will mean nothing to either of them. Other than that, the album is just more of the down-tempo, trip hop goodness we’ve come to expect from Little Dragon.  The album might be a grower, but give it a couple listens because I promise you, it will be worth it.

2) The Roots – Undun

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Forget that I’ve used the word “cohesive” at all during this article. Forget what the word cohesive even means. Now, listen to “Undun.” Done? (Ha, terrible pun). Okay, now you will understand what it means for an album to be cohesive. I can confidently say that this album is now my favourite concept album ever. “Undun” tells the story of fictional character Redford Stevens, a mid-level hustler living in urban poverty. It begins with his death and moves backwards detailing his life, delving into an exploration of the characters psychology and the thoughts and circumstances that motivate the choices he makes. By the end of the album, it is impossible not to empathize with the character because you know him so well. As cliché as it is to say this, this album is actually more like a movie. Black Thought and all of the featured rappers do an amazing job painting a picture for the listener while ?uestlove and the rest of the band provide a very cinematic score. Seriously, the production on this album is perfect, rising and falling with the hopes and despairs of the main character appropriately. Don’t let that fool you into thinking that the production simply serves as a companion piece. Quite the opposite in fact, each beat is filled with so many subtle intricacies that I would probably pay to purchase an instrumental version of the album as well. The entire thing culminates in the three instrumental movements at the end which bring an impressive sense of finality to an already amazing album. “Undun” has seen some criticism from reviewers who say that the story is one that is too familiar in Hip Hop. I could understand this criticism if they were reviewing a clichéd buddy cop movie, but they’re not. Though the theme of hustling and urban poverty has been explored many times in hip hop, it should never be allowed to become less important. The fact of the matter is that stories like this still exist in America. For their part, The Roots take a creative approach to telling this story. While other rappers may rap vaguely about someone being a product of their environment, The Roots take the approach of humanizing the character and forcing a listener to step in his shoes and experience his struggle. This allows the impact of the story to hit closer to home. If you haven’t heard this album, you should definitely check it out.

1) SBTRKT – SBTRKT

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This album gets the title of being number one on my list simply by virtue of the fact that it is probably the album I listened to the most. SBTRKT’s post-dubtep stylings on this album are extremely simple, yet sometimes it is this understated approach that makes for the greatest music. Each production choice that SBTRKT makes seems to be methodical, with every drum, every instrument, and every pad adding another layer to the great instrumentation. Singers Sampha and Jessie Ware shine throughout the album with their great voices taking center stage over the production, blending flawlessly, almost as if SBTRKT is using their voices as just another instrument to add to the overall effect. The album also features one of the best songs of the year, the jam “Wildfire” featuring Little Dragon. The song is so great that Drake took notice and decided to lay a verse over it, even performing the remix at SBTRKT’s show in Toronto. This is one of those albums that I have no words for. To understand why it’s so good, you simply have to listen to it.

Wow. That was long. Congratulations to anyone who stuck it out. Here’s hoping that 2012 will be equally as great of a year for music! Happy New Years everyone!

“It ain’t safe in the city, watch the throooooone.” Words cannot describe my excitement for this album. Just reading the previews from the listening session had me smiling like an infant. Jay-Z and Kanye West going back and forth over a soul sample like a 2011 Brooklyn’s Finest? Do I even need to say anymore? The song is incredibly dope and both Kanye and Jay-Z bodied it.

Download Link:

http://hulkshare.com/pqbjo2om1xue

Like I said, the coolest music comes out during times when I’m M.I.A on this blog. During my hiatus, I missed everything from the rise of the incredibly dope Alt-R&B genre (Frank Ocean, The Weeknd, Jamie Woon), to amazing music festivals (SXSW, Coachella), to revolutionary live-streamed music videos (Death Cab For Cutie – You Are A Tourist), to a collaboration between the Smooth Operator and Hov (The Moon And The Sky). This post will attempt to chronicle everything I’ve been listening to over the last couple of months. Be ready to see some new faces and some old favourites. Here we go:

Sade – The Moon and The Sky (Feat. Jay-Z) (Prod. by Noah “40” Shebib)

Beastie Boys – Make Some Noise

Frank Ocean – Novacane

The Weeknd – Wicked Games

Jamie Woon – Lady Luck

Death Cab For Cutie – You Are A Tourist

Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

Big K.R.I.T. – American Rapstar

Bibio – Anything New

MED – This Is Your Life (Feat. Blu) (Prod. Exile)

tUnE-yArDs – Bizness

Kendrick Lamar – HiiiPower (Prod. J. Cole)

Jill Scott – Just Before Dawn

Jhene Aiko – Stranger

Generationals – Ten Twenty Ten

Shad & Skratch Bastid – Give You All I Can

Whoa. It exists! It’s alive! Whatever you want to say. The first official leak off this project so far. Well, at least as far as I know. This is the first time where Dr. Dre announced that a song was coming out and it actually came out. A couple months late, mind you…but it’s out. And it’s cool. I mean, it’s not good enough to reflect 10 years of work on Detox, BUT it’s Dr. Dre and Jay-Z on the same track. Keep in mind, Jay-Z probably penned all of Dre’s verses. I’m sorry about the tags, but I didn’t want to wait until the CDQ to share this. Check it out:

http://usershare.net/bdsldwxng0o7

I’m on the fence about M.I.A. Some of her songs take the whole “lo-fi” sound to the extreme and completely cease to sound like music and then some of her songs are catchy and melodic. Some of her songs are intelligent and conscious and some are generic and pandering. I don’t know what to think. I know that I like this song though. It’s one of the catchier songs that I’ve heard from her in a while. The song also sounds tailor made for Jay-Z, who spits a dope verse on the track. Check the track out and download if you like:

http://usershare.net/xz2mur3kc88t

A project dropped a while back called “Jaydiohead.” You guessed it, a mash-up of Jay-Z songs over Radiohead tracks. I never really paid too much attention to it back then, but after watching this video, I might have to. The mash-ups sound clean and the visuals for the tracks are dope. Whoever directed this video should be somewhere directing videos for B.E.T. or something. It just goes to show how a music video can really enhance a song if it’s executed well.