Favourite Albums of 2017 part 1

This is nothing new here, and an evolution rather of something I did previously. This year, I’ve just been immersing myself in what I feel is quality music. Rather that just writing a review on every single project, why not see the year off in style and do a top album compilation. Divided into two parts, this is my “Favourite Albums of 2017”. Enjoy.

At What Cost – GoldLink

The DC rapper’s stock has been rising since he dropped The God Complex in 2014. A Complex feature, Rick Rubin collabs and a spot on the XXL Freshman Class in 2015 later and he finally dropped his debut album since his RCA record deal.
At What Cost is a salute to GoldLink’s hometown, the birthplace of go-go music, Washington D.C. There are groovy go-go feels running through majority of the tracks and generally in the theme of the album from the skits to the artwork which are married 1200x630bbwith his ‘future bounce’ vibe (Hip-Hop/House). He further salutes with having prominent D.C. legends Mýa and Wale as guest features. Couple trap-like songs towards the end of the album as granted with the times do make the album fizzle out so track listing could be better but it doesn’t take away majorly from the strength of this album. “Meditation” with Jazmine Sullivan has its groovy baseline and party-like beat and synths; “Roll Call”  with Mya is disco sweetly mixed with base guitars and violins. Definitely my favourite songs on the album along with “Summatime” with Wale. Seeing him perform live last month definitely brought the album to life and reaffirmed what I believed all along, he is undoubtedly a showman. “Crew” almost serves as the patriarch of the album. It has performed very well chart-wise and garnered GoldLink his first Grammy nomination so I wish him good luck on that front. If you need funk and groove in your life, I present to you the album to do that.

 

ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ – Joey Bada$$

Joey Bada$$ is another guy on the come-up. A young man who is navigating the Hip-Hop journey in some style. He has grafted considerably to the place that he stands at now and all his experiences have birthed an album that far exceeded my expectations. Suggestive from the name, an overt reference to Ice Cube’s first solo album AmeriKKKa’s Most Alll Amerikkkan Badass.pngWanted, his latest project ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ is a very politically fuelled body of work, addressing issues like social mobility, racial tensions and the whole political sphere in general through Joey’s storytelling rhymes. It is an album that encapsulates the ideas and feelings of being a young black man in America and I feel like he captured that especially sublimely with the visuals for “TEMPTATION” and “LAND OF THE FREE” Sonically, it leans towards Hip-Hop in a classic sort of way; “RING THE ALARM has a sort of dark feel to it, with raw, gritty rap style synonymous with the likes of Wu-Tang Clan or Ruff Ryders. He also does so on my favourite of the album “LEGENDARY” featuring Rap phenom J. Cole. The re-work of Andile Yenana’s “Thembisa (The People)” had me from the drop. Shout out the GOAT Statik Selektah. Not only does Joey tell his narrative but also the narrative of others and that’s why the album is so powerful. There is a clear vision and message being sent here. An expert job in bringing a new lease of life into ‘Conscious Rap’.

 

Everybody – Logic

Who knew an album so simply titled could be so complex. On one front, a lot of it did come across as apologetic. He’s ‘sad and sorry’ to ‘be white’ and is resentful of his MIXED heritage, especially when taking into consideration the current state of racial politics in America.  One may feel like he over-compensates with his approach to Black empowerment at times even though his intentions are pure with it.1a2c364a06d2844fd9e294ee0ea798ff.1000x1000x1
But in spite of all that, it a nod to the Human Condition, which runs parallel with the most intimate parts of his biography. It is an album of consciousness and edification.  There are some real gems on this album like the beautifully orchestrated, Grammy nominated “1-800-273-8255” featuring Alessia Cara and Khalid which touches on the sensitive matter of suicide, “Killing Spree” featuring Ansel Elgort which touches on the negative aspects of social media & new age technology, and the soul-uplifting & quirky “Black SpiderMan” with Damian Lemar Hudson which is a celebration of diversity and acceptance. The skits/storyline running through the album weaves in with the overarching theme and all ties together by the end of the final track; reminding the listeners to live, love and enjoy, because no matter who you are – everybody is born equal – eloquently put across by the incomparable Neil Degrasse Tyson and symbolised once again by the title to the album, Everybody.

 

Common Sense – J Hus

J Hus Is The Sound Of Diaspora’s Boomerang.

His debut serves as a unique coming-of-age story, one that should resonate with young people domestically and beyond. The nuances in this project, whether small or large, play key parts. The title track “Common Sense” doubles as the intro track. The way the song fades in like a crescendo is such a brilliant way to start the album. The live J_HUS_COMMON_SENSE_HUE_1_1__ja9y9i.pnginstrumentation also adds to making this a powerful into – The Compozers are to thank for that. The drums, the keys, the bass, the keytar, the trumpet… with every instrument you can feel the passion oozing through.
He pays his homage in this album as he blends the different sounds of his vibrant London hometown and upbringing – UK Rap, Afro-Bashment, Garage etc. There may not be skits or a inherent and obvious storyline running through the album but the theme of the project is still obvious to me. J Hus is back and this is his ego-filled statement of intent to let you know and feel that he is THE MAN. Lyrics matched with bold production; understand his level of bravado. The elastic bounce of “Bouff Daddy”, the grime menacing “Clartin” or maybe you’d prefer the reflective yet unmatched party vibe “Spirit“.
Take your pick, J Hus makes GOOD music. With him and his trusted producer and brother JAE5, there is a bond that is deeper than rap. The understanding they have is real and has cultivated one of the best urban offerings of the year. It’s not by chance. If a Mercury Prize nomination doesn’t turn your head and make you pay attention then I honestly don’t know what will.

 

The Other Side – The Walls Group

I am a stickler for good singing (which you’d be surprised doesn’t exist too much these days and The Walls Group truly personify that to the nth degree.
The greatest thing take away from the Gospel quartet’s junior album is that it is mature yet youthful. While that seems to be a juxtaposition, the essence is that this latest project is a much more mature take from their 2014 effort Fast Forward where they were younger, less experimental and took heed more to the wisdom and musical direction of mentor Kirk Franklin yet still has their signature ‘Walls Sauce‘. They have come a long way since then and the album is a now reflection of who they are as artists and as lovers of music.The-Walls-Group-The-Other-Side-album-cover_sized-1024x1024
What I love about this album is that it has genuinely has something for everyone. It navigates through classic and modern without it feeling like a ‘mash up’. It goes from Country, Pop Rock to Contemporary Worship and others but as varied as it is, they make it work. My favourites are the New Jack Swing anthem “Don’t Cha Know” and R&B/Rap vibe “Mercy” which I had on repeat for the longest time. Plus their upbeat leading single “My Life” has been a staple in my Gym Playlist and carries the age old message that people seem to forget – just let me be me, let me be great. Thanks be primarily to Eric Dawkins and Warryn Campbell who were key to the project. It is a tight body of work that allows the group to fully flex their God given vocal talent while be unique, faith-filled and expressive.

 

Part 2 to follow….

Flower Boy by Tyler, The Creator – Open and honest

“This is the best album he’s ever produced!” I hear some say.

I’ll be honest and say I was a little sceptical about listening to this album. Tyler is not my go-to Hip-Hop artist but I can appreciate what he does for the culture. However, there was something with this album; the low key hype as well as the buzz Tyler is getting in general, I had to sit myself down and really listen to the album and decipher it for what it was.

There are different themes that run through the album, encompassed in this overarching nature/garden motif. As mature as the content is, we still exploring the breadth and tyler-the-creator-unreleased-track-00depth of Tyler’s mind. He presents his human condition to us in all its forms. Tyler is an eclectic soul which fits the narrative as well as the album title and artwork in itself.

One of my favourites “See You Again” is Tyler showing the emotional  side to him. An ode to a fantasy lover which only exists in his dreams and the emotional agony that such a longing is having on him. He really puts across his innermost thoughts, running alongside the daydream, orchestral chorus and the contrasting beat flip in the verses. It really brings his emotional turmoil to life. Combine “See You Again” with songs like “Garden Shed” and “Glitter” and you see a level of vulnerability now more than ever as he opens up, alluding to the possible idea of him being gay.

Both “Pothole” and “November” reminds us that Tyler is still human…
“Pothole” he speaks on him dealing with the fame, its after-effects and all the ups and downs that has come with it all in reference to the idea of driving. All these obstacles in 5_a4gw5u-1_yca13bhis life are the potholes which are in the way, stopping him from having an easy cruise. while the beat itself is nice and easy to cruise to.
“November” – filled with low-key anxiety. It’s as if he running through this thoughts so frantically and airing out his insecurities as he is longing for the better days; his “November”.

“911/Mr. Lonely” is like one of those classic singles from back in the day; Side A with the subtle old school hip-hop and R&B nuances while side B is new school Rap. The content has heart-rending undertones transcending both sides alluding to how his old issues of depression may actually not be ‘old’

The album presents deep issues but its not all doom and gloom. The closing track “Enjoy Right Now, Today”  tops off everything with a very positive and bright sound in a way showing all through the ups and downs, it’s important to be positive. If Tyler can do it, so can you.
The album title serves as a metaphor for Tyler himself. A ‘Flower Boy’, a guy who don’t fit the typical ideals of a manly-looking man. An internal struggle between soft romanticism and rugged aggression and depression laid out in fine musical form.

 

On The Come Up – Anik Khan

The start of a new segment. Highlighting the up and coming that are about to do major things in the industry. Keep your ear to the ground. These guys are bubbling up in a major way

Kicking things off, we got Anik Khan. A rapper and singer/ songwriter, he is the son of Bangladeshi migrants but was raised in the home of Music, New York. He takes inspiration from his Queens home town which he hails all the time. His main drive for music comes from his father, a poet and prolific speaker in his time but found himself hustling in New York as a cab driver upon moving to The States.

His culture was never lost on him –   coming home to an immigrant family made him real Anik Khan micappreciative of his Bengali side, but being on the block surrounded by the sounds of Jay Z, Eminem, Nas, and Biggie gave him almost a dual upbringing.

While I find Anik’s smooth, silky vocals go along way with his penchant for harmonies, what is more captivating is how he manages to blend his influences together; his New York, urban vibe and his Bengali folk heritage. His joint ‘Cleopatra’ for example. The Bengali folk vibe preludes to a hip-hop-like syth-bass and the same sort of fusion is present in the chorus. As opposite as such styles can be, they work.

One of my personal favourites has to be ‘Too Late Now‘. With almost 1 million streams on Spotify, it is probably one of his most famous and it is a incredible mix of jazz, dance/electronic vibes, vocals and rap finesse. Definitely a crowd pleaser. Word to Jarreau Vandal on the production.

 

His EP ‘I Don’t Know Yet’ is a journey both the listener and artist take as Anik paves his way to find himself and develop equilibrium in two worlds, to achieve harmony betweenAnik Khan Flag his American and Bengali personas. Anik speaks for those like him who left their homeland to grind for that ‘American Dream’.

While his EP is very lyrical and flow, his 2017 debut album ‘Kites’ takes a more vocal direction which came as a surprise for me. Not that it was a bad body of work but I hoped for a mix of styles to really show off the artist that he is; more commercial I would argue. The full extent of his talent and artistry is his USP and he should hold on to it.

“When you hear an Anik Khan song, there’s always gonna be some flavour. You’ll get the salt and pepper but there’s also Cumin and Turmeric in there…every time”

 

Gang Signs & Prayers by Stormzy – Impressions, Thoughts, Appreciation

It is an album that had an incredible amount of hype well before the idea of the album was probably even conceptualised. From when ‘Know Me From’ dropped, it was only a matter of time. What is purely evident is the love that has been shown to Stormzy from then till now, industry and fans alike. His debut album, Gang Signs & Prayers is finally here.

If there’s anything I appreciate it is that it doesn’t have a ‘filler’ type of feel, even though it has a few interludes, each song is deserving. c5xhreiw8aqnuttI am definitely a fan of ‘Big for Your Boots’ which I’d recommend for anyone’s gym playlist. ‘Velvet’ is ultra-smooth and
reminds me of that 2000’s British R&B vibes. There’s just something about ‘Cigarettes and Cush’, combining the smooth piano and sax sounds, Lily Allen and Kehlani’s amazing vocals and heartfelt content that makes it a soulful ‘love ballad’ on the album. ‘Blinded By Your Grace pt.2’ is the definition of uplifting and inspirational. The choir and guitar shredding is pure euphoria. His faith in God comes through emphatically. Can’t hate it.

It is an album that low-key pays its homage. Anyone who is clued up enough to catch the “Where’s Carlos” reference on ‘Bad Boys’ and know the origin, kudos to you. The Crazy Titch interlude. Salutes to the legendary “Lady of Soul”, Ms. Jenny Francis. Having Wretch 32 himself on an interlude is paying homage to one of the greatest from this scene.

In a sense, it is a very British album. It doesn’t try to be what it isn’t sonically. You can tell it is not a Grime album by definition but definitely a Grime influenced album, from the use of instruments & fast tempo on certain tracks as well as the use of ‘samples’. The roster of English talent, the likes of Ghetts, MNEK, J Hus, Nao and Raleigh Ritchie is beautiful to see.

What this album has is clear themes that run throughout its entirety. Gang Signs & Prayers is an exploration… a presentation of his urban upbringing and the rugged exterior that it has produced (‘Return of the Rucksack’, ‘Mr Skeng’ etc.) and at the same time delving in-depth into his vulnerability and his inner most thoughts and emotions (‘Lay Me Bare’, ‘100 Bags’ etc.). It is a metaphor for the life he has lived.c5wkyukwyaagihs

I feel the album has GREATLY lived up to its expectations. It’s not an album on lyrical wizardry; that’s evidently not his style. Nonetheless his storytelling ability is definitive enough for listeners to hear and feel the emotion he lays in every song, whether it be pain, rage, pleasure, love or gratitude. A balance of the brash and the pensive.  Not eloquence but rather potency with his vocals and flow and beautiful sonics. This may possibly go down as a classic.
24th of February was officially National Stormzy Day and I definitely know why.