Favourite Albums of 2017 part 2

I present to you Part 2 of my Favourite Albums of 2017 series.

Laila’s Wisdom – Rapsody

In the truest act of respect and dedication to her grandmother Laila, Rapsody gives us the most brilliantly underrated Hip-Hop album of the whole year. It’s the sort of album that transcends whatever entrenched gender biases that may still trouble the genre and puts her in the same category as the current greats. Not only is she your favourite female rapper, she’s one of your favourite rappers, period. It showcases Rapsody’s indisputable excellence as a lyricist. The opener and title track “Laila’s Wisdom” finds Rapsody regurgitating the guidance and wisdom passed on from her grandmother; self worth and empowerment – themes paired beautifully with Aretha Franklin’s “Young, Gifted And Black” as the sample.
61c8c7d4dd777c786a13e47c6a959fdd.1000x1000x1.jpgWith jazz and funk running through the core, Laila’s Wisdom, produced in large part by 9th Wonder, bares comparisons to To Pimp a Butterfly. The beats ALONE tell a story which you can easily get lost in. Kendrick just so happens to feature on this album too, on one of my standout tracks “Power” which explores exactly that. The power in the culture, the powers that be in society and power within themselves.
Ridin’” featuring GQ is also one of my standouts. The duality between loyalty and freedom is played out over a beat as smooth as butter. Such a joint you could play while you’re Ridin’ out too.
There are so many songs which I enjoyed listening to as a real Hip-Hop fan so it would be remiss of me to not include this. As a whole, it’s a smooth blend of self-assurance and vulnerability and has themes of quintessential Blackness as Rapsody makes Black womanhood sound untouchable one moment and  mortal the next.

 

4:44 – JAY-Z

“But i’m tryin’ to give you a million dollars worth of game for 9.99”

That line right there in my opinion perfectly summarises the essence of JAY-Z thirteenth studio album.
Not only is a ‘Blueprint’ (see what I did there) for business, but also relationships and life as a whole. In order to achieve this, 4:44 was tailored to be more personal than his previous efforts. which was to be expected from the infidelity scandal.
4-44_album_coverBut this is not necessarily a response to Lemonade but rather a statement of acknowledging where he is now and where he aims to be. By the end of the project, you feel what he has been aiming to do the entire album – leave his mark, his “Legacy” Acting as the concluding track, it also is one of my favourites. His poetic and reflective approach; if he was to pass away today, this could double up as a will and a eulogy. “Bam” with Damian Marley is also another favourite, not only for his flex of bravado but also because it’s a straight head banger.
Like for real. “Caught Their Eyes” is pretty dope too.
Almost all decisions made on this album were smart. 10 tracks on the standard edition make for a complete album with no ‘excess’ spilling out the sides. Minimal features allow for his messages to not be overshadowed. There is an excellent use of samples on every track which gives it an authentic JAY-Z feel. He and No I.D. have truly created something special here. Testament to this is its numerous Grammy nominations and No I.D. being nominated for Producer of the Year. Despite the whole Tidal/Sprint story, 4:44 is artistically sound. JAY-Z is Hip-Hop.

 

FR32 – Wretch 32

An album with minimal promotion, Wretch’s 2017 effort serves almost as a B Sides to his critically acclaimed album of the previous year, Growing Over Life. While the previous  was more solemn wholistically, this album acts as a celebration of his life – aptly named and released for his 32nd birthday. 12 songs, 44 minutes and full of Wretch’s lyrical genius.IMG_9743_0.jpg
He carries the same level of sincerity and honesty as last year… With Songs like “Time“, for example. An honest account. A full unleashing of culminated emotions and you feel every last one wrapped in his words. He vents on his shortcomings as a man and his desire for more time to accomplish the things most dear to him. Performed over simple but beautiful piano chords,  I herald this as the tear-jerker of the album.
But Wretch is in a better place, that’s for sure. He brings his soft side out for the lullaby-esque “Happy“, a song dedicated to love. If you’ve found something special, appreciate it and cherish it forever. J Warner features for your listening pleasure; his soft and dreamy vocals transport you into a place of bliss.
Don’t think he has completely gone soft on us though. He still gives us straight vibes on the leading single “Tell Me” with Jalani and Kojo Funds, a street symphony with a calypso twist and if you haven’t by now, I’m going to have to ask you to listen to “Gracious” one time and understand despite it being a straight banger that pounds through the speakers, the ‘come up’ and becoming a great is definitely not easy.  Wretch and Kojey Radical tag-team on “Colour Purple” which is a different take on pro-black sentiments, less assertive than last year but both artists deliver artistically articulated testimonies on being ‘blacker than black’.
For an album that doesn’t have as such an evident and overarching theme as others in 2017, there is a real emphasis on production; you can really appreciate the layers on certain songs. While possibly unintentional, both projects side by side are symbolic. Growing Over Life was Wretch detailing his pains and struggles. On FR32, he retrospectively looks back; he’s finally free and you the listener can be ‘free too’.

 

These albums were some of my personal favourites that I really enjoyed listening to over the past year. However, some albums which just missed out but should get a mention and should not be slept on include:

DAMN. – Kendrick Lamar (NARROWLY missed out on my comprehensive list, still an INCREDIBLE album)
CTRL – SZA (Also narrowly missed out on my  list)
Fin – Syd
and the Anonymous Nobody… – De La Soul
The Ascension LP – Brik.Liam
Freudian – Daniel Caesar
Kites – Anik Khan

That concludes 2017. Here’s to a more musically bliss year and more amazing work in 2018.

Growing Over Life by Wretch 32

It’s finally arrived. It has been 5 years in the making but Wretch 32’s latest solo offering, in the form of Growing Over Life is an album that artists and fans in the UK ‘urban’ scene alike have been heavily anticipating and doesn’t fail to deliver.

Sonically, it’s an album that differs from the current status quo. British culture is at the moment riding high to the popular sounds of Grime and Trap, while this album takes a more Rap/Hip-Hop route which makes it all the more relevant. Thanks primarily go to the production team of Mikey Muzik & Mokeyzz as well as others. However, there are R&B/Pop and Drum & Bass undertones with songs like the successful lead single ‘6 Words’ and ‘All a Dream’ with Knox Brown on guest vocals. Both are upbeat and matched with soft, slow, soulful tracks like ‘Open Conversation & Mark Duggan’ the album takes you on a real journey.

Content-wise, it’s what you should expect from Wretch. Well thought-out punchlines and notable flow. Not many do it better. Nevertheless, at the very core we have Wretch discussing the important issues. ‘Pressure’ is a narrative which talks about just that – the struggles of [his own] Urban upbringing; family, friends and responsibilities. ‘Liberation’ is a war cry fuelled by the racial & social injustice and police brutality that exists within the UK. ’Something’ is a modern-day street serenade and accompanied with pianos, violins & Laura Mvula’s vocals it pulls at the heartstrings just like any other great R&B ballad would. Above all, it is Wretch 32’s storytelling ability which allows you the listener to sympathise with the protagonist.

The featured guests really make this album an eclectic album. Dancehall star Kranium, MOBO award-winning Shakka and Brit Award winner Emeli Sandé as well as those mentioned already. Not seeing all his previous singles make the final track-listing was surprising and while some may not like or appreciate the contemporary style, this is definitely an all-to-important release. It differs to Avelino and his joint release of last year Young Fire, Old Flame but it will go down as a classic album certainly.