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.

The 4 pillars of a great album

New music is literally being released every day. As you read this, someone somewhere is getting ready to premiere a body of work to the world for appreciation and scrutiny. And everyone’s taste is different. No matter how hard you try, you can never have the PERFECT album because as human nature dictates, people’s tastes vary. However, some of the best albums to touch this earth followed some of the same principles. I’ve taken the liberty to package it into a nice acronym for you guys for easier reading – PACT. As subjective as it can seem, I could have found some sort of answer.

Production
We are moved by the power of sounds. When you listen to a song, EP or album for the first time, your immediate reaction and your opinion on whether it deserves another play or a straight skip is determined on what it sounds like. The instrumental, percussion, the use of real instruments or synth-bass and 808’s; we enjoy being able to identify the elements and appreciate the hard work making a melody sound so nice.
An artist can’t afford to be lazy in this regard. While they may rely on a producer for that banging beat, they must also have a musical ear to decipher what works and what doesn’t. Many artists and producers have a sound that is synonymous with them. Quincy Jones is noted for having a beautiful relationship with Michael Jackson which birthed two of his greatest albums Off The Wall’ and Thriller’. I liken it to the relationship J Hus has with JAE5. JAE5 has helped make J Hus’ ‘UK-afro-bashment’ sound so unique and stood as executive producer in his critically acclaimed and Mercury Prize shortlisted Common Sense.
rick-ross-kanye-studioSome artists take to production themselves because, I mean, who knows your musical style, taste and preference better than yourself. The likes of Kanye West, Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Wonder have really shaped their respected genres by taking the music into their own hands.

 

Ability
We judge the greatness of an artist based primarily on their ability. For a rapper, it’s their abstract metaphors or double-time flow, rhyming style, storytelling prowess. For a singer, it’s their tone, their vocal control, riffs, runs & harmonies. We can sometimes be so swayed by a singer or rappers acrobatics on a song but it is that well executed dynamism that ultimately have people wanting to listen to the song or the album again and again. No better example than ‘Section.80’  by Kendrick Lamar and in particular “Rigamortis” . Take time to really listen to the song, you may be wowed by his effective use of double-time flow but what is more fascinating is his subtle and elaborate rhyming style. 15-phenomenal-female-british-soul-singers-u1
A sign of a great rap album is when you can listen to it much later and discover a new metaphor astonishingly like its the first time you heard the song. As crazy as that sounds, I still have that feeling when I listen to Wale’s Attention Deficit’ or Wretch 32’s Black and White’.
In like respect for a singer, it’s how your songs are vocally arranged, how you work through your range and no one did it better in prime like Sade. With songs like “Smooth Operator” and “Your Love is King”, her famous sultry vocals crowned her introductory album Diamond Life’ a top album of the 80’s era.

Content
After you first listen to an album and decide that you like it so you listen again, you’ll find yourself picking up on the messages of certain songs and the album as a whole. Whether the artist speaks on real-life experiences, a storyteller for others or speaking figuratively, listeners have an expectation for a quality written album (unless your songs lack proper lyrics, no shade).
lecrae-tickets_11-04-17_17_598899b350492Lecrae’s in-depth look into the African-American social-historical condition and being self reflective of his own personal journey while inspiring hope, faith and political change made ‘Church Clothes 3’ one of my favourite projects of 2016. Joey Bada$$ contribution to the message with ‘ALL AMERIKKKAN BADA$$’ was less historical, more passionate but powerful all the same. Especially the video for “Land of the Free“!
And while heartfelt messages arguably don’t achieve proper commercial success, her mature take on love and nostalgia fittingly made Adele’s ’25’ one of the best-selling albums of the 21st century.

Theme
Theme slightly differs to content for the reason that it can be executed in a number of different ways. It’s not strictly confined to what the artist speaks; it should realistically be always down to the artist to have the freedom to express and execute his creativity. GoldLink’s At What Cost’ was greatly inspired by his D.C. roots and that gave for an album that had a go-go, funky groove from top to bottom, with songs like “Summatime” “Hands on your Knees” and “Meditation” being prime examples.
Great albums have retrospective themes that can go beyond just the audible which the listener can follow and become immersed in. I took a real liking to Jon Bellion’s ‘The Human Condition’; what he presented was more than an album. He intertwines his own stories and relatable life experiences with a hint of imagination, and with the added artwork accompanying every song on the album, creates a visual-audible experience.

If I say anything else, let me say AGAIN this is not a comprehensive neither is it industry standard but my own personal opinion based on preference and listening experience but I feel like even you, the reader, after reading this may start to see these things yourself.

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.

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.