ASTROWORLD - Travis Scott
ASTROWORLD is the third solo commercial album release from hip-hop superstar Travis Scott. He found both commercial and artistic success with his debut Rodeo, but many fans despise the follow-up Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight, which focused more on a party-like sound rather than the dark and elegant tones of Rodeo. ASTROWORLD finds the happy medium between these two. It is rife with the psychedelic beats and emotional, slower songs that many diehard fans were hoping for, while still having beat drops and switches that represent the rollercoasters of the project. From the bouncy, rapid, double-beat-switching of “SICKO MODE” to the psychedelic, spacey “STARGAZING”, Travis finds himself at his best, with upbeat rapping over a meticulously crafted beat that he has no doubt edited. These are contrasted with tracks like “STOP TRYING TO BE GOD” and “COFFEE BEAN”, records which are the closest that Travis comes to something of a ballad. Features from the likes of Kid Cudi, Stevie Wonder, and James Blake may seem initially out of place on what is technically a “trap” album, but their combination of hums, harmonica, and serenades harmonize beautifully to create what feels like the equivalent of “Ultralight Beam” by Kanye West. However, tracks like “NC-17” and “WHO? WHAT!” feel forced and out of harmony with the rest of the album. Overall, ASTROWORLD has lived up to the massive hype that it has received, and it is a must-listen for any fan of trap.
Highlights: “STARGAZING”, “SICKO MODE”, “STOP TRYING TO BE GOD”, “NO BYSTANDERS”, “SKELETONS”, “ASTROTHUNDER”, “CAN’T SAY”, “HOUSTONFORNICATION”, “COFFEE BEAN”
Scorpion - Drake
Scorpion is perhaps the pinnacle of industrialized music. With a massive budget, expensive-sounding beats, and Spotify-wide paid promotion, Scorpion seemed too big to fail, but it came very close. The album is 25 tracks that total 90 minutes, but for the most part, feels like filler, which serves no purpose other than to inflate the album’s streaming numbers (which it succeeded in, as Scorpion broke a plethora of records). The music itself felt, for the most part, awkward, forced, and forgettable. Given his recent history with Pusha T, Drake’s attempts to sound “hard” and “untouchable” come across as fake and dubious. The album is split into two “sides”: a rap-focused side and an RnB-focused side. Drake’s ability to combine these two styles has been his appeal for nearly a decade now, so it’s a head-scratcher as to why he would choose to separate them like this. Drake has been accused of biting others’ sounds for about as long as he’s been around, but songs like “Mob Ties”, which sounds identical to a Young Thug track, take that to a new level. The album feels like it couldn't have been worse considering the amount of money poured into it, and though there are good songs, such as the feel-good, upbeat “Nice for What”, or the biting Tay Keith production in “Nonstop”, they feel out of place with the rest of the album, disrupting the album more than helping it. Not all the singles are good, though; “I’m Upset” is perhaps the worst Drake song ever, and its place as a single and music video is perhaps a good indicator of the boredom that the rest of the album can induce. Overall, the album is far too long for any artistic consideration, and the forced Spotify advertisement campaign adds to the over-industrial feel of the project as a whole.
Highlights: “Nonstop”, “Nice For What”, “Blue Tint”
Loose - Jack Harlow
Loose is the fourth project from up-and-coming Kentucky rapper Jack Harlow. The music video for his most popular song, “Dark Knight”, featuring Jack shimmying and dancing with his gang in an alley, and has racked up over 1.5 million views on youtube, and not much else. Jack seemed to be a “one-hit wonder”, so to speak. However, Loose is demonstrative of his versatility, as he switches from relentless bangers describing his adventures as a young adult to slower tracks giving a more rounded end to his seemingly tunnel-visioned lyrics. One thing is consistent: the sound doesn’t let up. For better or worse, the album has few intros, outros, or sonic lapses that allow the listener to relax and think over what has been said. Harlow’s lyrics, while delivered well and with direction, often repeat themselves as they focus on themes that have remained stagnant throughout his career, namely girls and inebriation. Although the majority of the tracks sound similar, some, such as the lead single “Sundown”, or the closing ballad “Too Much”, provides a more refreshing and replayable sound that sets Harlow apart from his contemporaries. Overall, the project solidifies Harlow as a good, but not a particularly exemplary artist.
Highlights: “Sundown”, “9th Grade”, “Vacate”, “Too Much”
TA13OO - Denzel Curry
TA13OO is the latest album from ex-RVIDXR KLVN member Denzel Curry. It is emotionally charged, elegant, and deeply thematic. The project is split into three parts, supposedly representing light, grey, and darkness, though the violence and aggressiveness of the light side should be an indicator of the veracity of the remaining two sides. The opening title track “TA13OO” details Curry’s relationship with a damaged partner, and how they find solace in each other's imperfections. It’s a somber and slow style that one would not expect from a “SoundCloud rapper”, and it sets the stage for the album perfectly. The last track of the light side, “SUMO” is conversely an embracement of the SoundCloud rap genre. With heavy bass, braggadocious lyrics, and an extremely aggressive style overall, it functions in contrast to the moodier tracks on the album and does so in a great way. The second part contains the beautiful “CLOUT COBAIN”, a track that again covers Denzel’s dark internal thoughts, particularly those of self-harm (hence the reference to legendary late musician Kurt Cobain in the title). It serves as a perfect transition into the darker parts of the album, and again proves Denzel’s versatility as an artist. The final, ‘dark’, the part contains the fewest innovative and fresh tracks, and “PERCS” is perhaps the best example of this. It’s yet another track in the ocean of criticism of drug-use that has become prominent in many new-wave raps (think Lil Pump), although coming from one of the founding fathers of this style does add at least some depth. The closing track of the album, “BLACK METAL TERRORIST” is a jazzy, psychedelic, short yet intense bit that wraps the album up perfectly. The J.I.D. and Jpegmafia features (Ski mask the Slump God was also set to make an appearance, but failed to get his verse submitted in time) feel like Curry selecting the up-and-coming rappers that he approves of in the SoundCloud genre, almost a passing of the torch. Overall, the album is the most ambitious and artistically-focused delivery from Denzel, ever, and it shows that he, too, is still young and full of internal conflict and dissonance.
Highlights: “TABOO”, “CASH MANIAC”, “SUMO”, “SWITCH IT UP”, “CLOUT COBAIN”, “BLACK METAL TERRORIST”
Goodbye & Good Riddance - Juice WRLD
Goodbye & Good Riddance is the commercial label debut from emo-rapper Juice WRLD, who has recently and rapidly risen to fame with hits like “All Girls Are The Same” (which is more reflective and self-criticising than the title may suggest) and “Lucid Dreams”, and his style is sonically and thematically very similar to the recently deceased Lil Peep. The album brings no surprises or anything different from the lead singles, and while the style of music can be fun for one song, trying to ingest an entire 44-minute album can be a laborious task. Similar to eating marshmallows, the first one or two songs are massive bursts of sugar, but trying to eat the whole bag will start to hurt your stomach, as you realize that there is very little substance behind the oversaturation of sweetness. The attempts to add features to make the project more “album-like”, like the cringy voicemail samples or the loosely followed story, mostly come across as forced and ineffective. However, Juice WRLD does seem to bring some genuine emotional value and appeal, and the hooks are, for the most part, catchy and fun. Overall, the album seems to be nothing more than a mitosis of his earlier songs, but this can be quite appealing in short doses.
Highlights: “All Girls Are The Same”, “Lucid Dreams”, “Lean Wit Me”, “Black and White”
Queen - Nicki Minaj
Queen is the fourth album from iconic hip-hop artist Nicki Minaj. The album feels like the middle ground of her previous work, with delivery on tracks like “LLC” rivalling that of her legendary “Monster” verse, but every track has the pop gloss to take songs to chart status in return for their depth and appeal. The album is a commercial release through-and-through, with no particular story running; at best there’s a weak theme of royalty. That’s not to say that some songs don’t stand out for quality and entertainment, such as the hilarious yet ruthless “Barbie Dreams”, or the lead single “Chun-Li”. Barring those few, though, the album lacks content and purpose, and artistically feels like Nicki’s raw talent is being moulded by the industry into little more than sex appeal and pop. Although Nick has generally had a fairly good relationship with her audience, her meltdown on Twitter saw what would’ve otherwise been a mediocre release turn into a PR nightmare, as she criticized Travis Scott’s use of promotional merchandise for his album, stating that she had the number one album in America, although the numbers revealed otherwise. This lack of self-awareness and overall insecurity takes away from the genuineness of the confidence put on display by the album. With the rise of Cardi B, an artist who had not been afraid to innovate and deliver fresh music, many are questioning who the new “queen of the rap game” will be, and this album, quite ironically, signifies Nicki’s loss of that position.
Highlights: “Barbie Dreams”, “LLC”, “Chun-Li”, “Coco Chanel”
Daytona - Pusha T
After a two year hiatus filled with quiet and mystery, the president of G.O.O.D music returns in a hard-hitting, precise manner. With seven tracks, all produced by longtime friend and self-proclaimed musical genius Kanye West, the production is prolific and matches the tone that Pusha T sets in his arrogant and boastful lines of rapping. Laced with some of the most clever lines of the year, the emcee forces listeners to grimace as Push delivers on meticulous hard-hitting beats of the songs such as “The Games We Play” and “Come Back Baby”. The sampling of productions might seem random at times, however, it is the beauty of the vocals that West layers that make you realize it’s silly to complain. While Pusha T keeps the subject matter of his lyrics consistent to his previous life on the streets, it is his flow and intricate wordplay that even after finishing the album, will make you just want to listen to it again. The 22-minute runtime leaves no room for filler as the tracks seemingly merge into each other to create a masterful project that should be a delight from any real fan of hip-hop.
HIGHLIGHTS: The Games We Play, Hard Piano, Come Back Baby, Santeria, Infrared
Ye - Kanye West
Ye is Kanye West at his most transparent and open state yet, something many didn’t think was possible. After playing the characters of Yeezus and Pablo, Kanye is back to being himself, just Ye. The album feels sporadic, something which fits with the announcement of Kanye’s diagnosis with bipolar disorder on the album’s cover. Songs like “I Thought About Killing You” and “Wouldn’t Leave” immediately stand out as Kanye is able to reveal himself in a raw manner that he had previously yet to explore. While Kanye is not his brightest lyrically, the colourful and interesting production, for the most part, makes up for it. The songs which are not the most emotionally deep, such as “Yikes” and “All Mine”, Kanye’s able to keep an entertaining vibe as some of the lines are so polarizing and extreme, that a comedic effect is felt. The magnum opus of the album is on the penultimate track, “Ghost Town”. Filled with the beautiful emotion-filled vocals of Kid Cudi and new G.O.O.D Music signee, 070 Shake, the track continuously builds up an amazing crescendo that transcends the realms of hip-hop and stands by itself as a great moment in music. While the short 7 track project does not present the grandeur of “My Dark Beautiful Twisted Fantasy” or the extreme experimental nature of “Yeezus”, Kanye is able to transform his sound into something where every Kanye fan will find something to their liking.
HIGHLIGHTS: “I Thought About Killing You”, “Wouldn’t Leave”, “Ghost Town”, “Violent Crimes”
Kids See Ghosts - Kids See Ghosts
When Kanye West in a series of sporadic tweets announced that he and contemporary artist Kid Cudi would form a group under the name ‘Kids See Ghosts’, and would release an album in the summer of 2018, the world of music was sceptical. When the day arrived, the two hip-hop recording musicians left their listeners shocked. The self-titled album seemed to be both artists reaching close to their artistic potential, creating an interesting and experimental element to the album which showcases both Cudi and West’s strengths. Starting off on the strong and crazy introduction “Feel the Love”, Kanye’s shouting of the drum patterns of the strong while at first seeming frightening, only seems to strengthen the track and beautifully juxtapose Cudi’s melody. Kanye’s rapping on “Kids See Ghosts” is some of the best since his famous masterpiece “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”, as songs like 4th Dimension, Reborn and Cudi Montage feature lyricism from Kanye that is surprisingly well written and interesting in subject-matter. Kid Cudi’s perform is just as strong, as his singing voice and humming seems on nearly every song of the album to make a return to the strength and beauty that lead to his rise to popularity with his “Man on the Moon” albums. The ending note of the album: “Cudi Montage” leaves listeners with a message of positivity and strength which ties well with the themes of the album, over a tasteful sample of Kurt Cobain. The collaboration album is everything fans could ask for between the two long-time friends, and a necessity to listen to for any real music enthusiast.
HIGHLIGHTS: “Feel the Love”, “4th Dimension”, “Reborn”, “Kids See Ghosts”, “Cudi Montage”
Slime Language - Young Thug
Young Thug has presented himself to be one of the most interesting new rappers of the new age of hip-hop, a feat that his silly generic rapper name doesn’t suggest. Unfortunately, on his latest release of Slime Language, Thug doesn’t seem to fully hit the mark. While the album starts off on a good note with “Tsunami” where the recording artist is able to use and vocalize his voice in a strained yet euphoric way. The faults of the album are, for the most part, not even connected to Thug, who does his usual satisfactory job. Features such as Karlae, Gunna and Tracy T do little to nothing to add to the track and often ruin the vibe that Young Thug sets out to create. The features are often just sound like worse clones of Young Thug. Furthermore, the production on the album feels stale. Songs like “Gain Clout” where Thug does not use melodic cadence feel boring to the listener as the beat does little to distract or draw attention from listeners. It is only on songs like “Oh Yeah” where Thug is able to redeem the production by creating catchy silly ear-worms that fans of Thug have come to expect, and by yelling “YEAH”. While Thug tries his best and continues to do interesting things with his voice that has yet to be explored in hip-hop, what people might have come to expect from Young Thug is not fully delivered on the album, making it feel lacklustre at best.
HIGHLIGHTS: “Tsunami”, “Oh Yeah”, and the weird sounds Young Thug makes on “Audemar”
Testing - A$AP Rocky
Being the first album that charismatic Harlem rapper, A$AP Rocky, has released after the death of his mentor, A$AP Yams, Testing is a change in direction. While structurally the narrative of the album is lacking, A$AP Rocky is still able to share his charisma endearing personality with listeners. As the title suggests, Testing fulfilled its implication to deliver new developmental sounds that are experimental in nature. While some songs are very different and become interesting after continued listens, like the intro song “Distorted Records”, often times the concept of the hip-hop artist ‘testing’ new sounds is not able to fully pan into reality. Songs like “Praise the Lord”, while being sonically one of the best tracks on the album, don’t really fit with the experimental and avant-garde aesthetic that Rocky tries to create. A$AP Rocky, while not being at his peak lyricism, is still able to provide good bars that allow listeners to understand the hype that Rocky has created since his rise from Harlem, New York. However, Rocky’s new album is riddled with inconsistencies that make it difficult to fully appreciate the project, though he does succeed in curating some original and outgoing sounds.
HIGHLIGHTS: “A$AP Forever”, “Praise The Lord”, “Purity”
KTSE - Teyana Taylor
KTSE, standing for “Keep that Same Energy”, while being G.O.O.D Music artist Teyana Taylor’s second full-length album, serves as the enigmatic female artist’s first real attention-receiving project. The announcement that Taylor would be joining the likes of Pusha T and Nas to receive an album solely produced by Kanye was received with surprise from the general music community. What Teyana and Kanye were able to create is a pleasant cumulation of sounds that while not serving as anything groundbreaking is a highly enjoyable listen, to say the least. Starting off with “No Manners”, the female artist is able to make a strong first impression with her remarkable voice. Due to the prompt break off, listeners are only left with wanting more. Teyana Taylor capitalizes on creating a relaxing atmosphere, as tracks like “Gonna Love Me” and “Issues/Hold On” showcase her soothing beautiful, acoustic and vocal sampling produced by none other than Mr. West. While the songs are able to always stay pleasant, tracks like “3way” and “Hurry” don’t stand out quite as much for the G.O.O.D Music signee as her voice merely blends with Kanye’s instrumentals. However, the album ends on a very strong note with both “A Rose in Harlem” and “Never Would Have Made it” being the two most emotionally powerful tracks of the album, that can’t help listeners sympathize with Teyana Taylor.