Usually when the one and only Kanye West puts out an album, other artists change around their release schedule to avoid conflicts, especially after 50 Cent claiming he would retire if Graduation outsold Curtis (it did, and 50 backed out). But this isn’t six years ago anymore- gone are the huge singles like “Stronger” and “Good Life,” replaced by a completely different marketing approach: none at all. No album cover, no singles, no radio play, only a few building projections and an SNL performance to hype up the new Kanye album. For reasons unknown, many other rappers decided to release huge projects on the same day, and while first-week sales will tell us who was most successful, ultimately it’s the fans that win because we get more hip-hop music than we know what to do with on the same day.
Kanye West – Yeezus
People love to hate Kanye West. He interrupts teen stars on stage at the Grammy’s, was responsible for “the low point” in President Bush’s term, and is just an all-around egotistical asshole. I beg you to put all these reservations aside before listening to the album, and judging by the lack of press/interviews, I’d say this is how Kanye West wants you to listen to it as well. There’s Daft Punk production, there’s primal screaming, there’s undeniably catchy one-liners, but under all of that is a true, honest album. Like 808’s and Heartbreak, there’s stress and despair covering the album, and this is a better insight into the mind of Mr. West unlike any interview he could ever do. I could talk for pages about this album, but it really requires a full-listen to for you to truly understand it- this is an incredibly tight (only ten tracks) and cohesive album that demands repeat listens.
Required listening: “Blood On The Leaves,” “I’m In It,” “I Am a God”
J. Cole – Born Sinner
I will start with this: I didn’t like J. Cole‘s first album at all. While there were a few highlights (“Nobody’s Perfect”), the album as a whole was a boring, monotonous release that was difficult to get through; a far cry from his previous mixtapes. But Cole knew this, and understood that being Jay-Z‘s protege wasn’t enough, he had something to prove to the world. He started this with an excellent EP series and two installments of Truly Yours, songs that were left off his upcoming album that showed his fans the Cole they fell in love with on The Come Up and Friday Night Lights is still here. I kept thinking of his last line of “Return of Simba” when listening to his sophomore album: “Cole under pressure, what’s that make? Diamonds.” There was lots of pressure for Cole to maintain his relevancy before fading into obscurity under the revival of hip-hop we are currently in, and he wastes no time proving that this is the best release he’s put out to date. Album opener “Villuminati” comes out with guns blazing, featuring Biggie samples, Hov references, and some of the best bars he’s ever spit. There’s guest features all over the album (Kendrick, Miguel, TLC), but J. Cole is the only one who raps on the album and I think he was smart in doing that. This album is strictly J. Cole, and it’s the album he wanted to make when not under the scrutiny of a debut release of a major record label.
Required listening: “Villuminati,” “She Knows,” “Forbidden Fruit”
Mac Miller – Watching Movies With the Sound Off
I’m not sure what happened to Mac Miller between his debut mixtape, K.I.D.S. and 2013, but somewhere through medicore mixtapes and a sub-par debut album, the 21 year-old white rapper from Pittsburgh found his calling. Not only have his raps improved considerably since the high-schooler rapping about his Nikes, but he has learned how to produce amazing tracks and should be talked about alongside Clams Casino and Ryan Hemsworth in terms of cloud-rap production. He released an instrumental mixtape under the moniker Larry Fisherman, and further established his presence with production on the excellent Odd Future track “Mellowhigh,” but now we get to see him rap over some of his own beats, and the result is excellent. If you’re looking for features, then this is the album to pick up today because it boasts production from Flying Lotus, Clams Casino, and Pharrell, with guest verses coming from Ab-Soul, Tyler, the Creator, and (!!) even the elusive Jay Electronica. I had no expectations for this album when I first listened to it, and it absolutely impressed the hell out of me, so even if you hate everything about the frat-rap scene, I recommend giving this a listen because it’s unlike anything in Mac Miller’s discography.
Statik Selektah – Extended Play
The Brooklyn producer known as Statik Selektah also dropped his most recent compilation album today, and the tracklist boasts bigger and more relevant names than we have seen on some of his previous releases. Joey Bada$$, Bun B, Raekwon, Black Thought (of the Roots), and many, many more lend their verses to the amazing production from Statik Selektah, and there are very few tracks that I find myself skipping over when listening to the album. Overall, it’s an amazing collaboration album that puts people together than I never even dreamed possible (Styles P, Bun B, and Hit-Boy on the same track!) and his recognizably unique production holds the album together as a hole.
Required listening: “Birds Eye View,” “Make Believe,” “Funeral Season”
Deniro Farrar – The Patriarch II
While the sequel to last year’s excellent “The Patriarch” will undoubtedly be buried on the major releases today, the rising North Carolina rapper known as Deniro Farrar has put out a new tape that improves on the original. He sucks you in with the crisp, precise production from people like Ryan Hemsworth and David Heartbreak, and keeps you staying for more with his intriguing lyrical flow and unique, dark voice. This is the perfect album to chill-out and smoke a blunt to, pretty much being the antithesis of Kanye’s in-your-face, aggresive new album. Deniro has put the album up on his BandCamp for only $1, make sure to buy it here if you’re a fan.
Required listening: “Separate,” “The Calling,” “Free Tune”