Welp, no one asked for it, but we’ve got ourselves a new semi-regular feature. Featuring yours truly, talkin’ about hip-hop, from the bops to the flops. Meanwhile, groovy guests will stop by to talk about some CLASSIC hip-hop albums. It’s gonna be a good time, I swear. So drop that zero and get with the hero.
Hip-Hop Bops ALBUMS of the YEAR
2017 wasn’t the greatest year for hip-hop in recent memory. Could be just me, but I wasn’t over-the-moon for as many albums or mixtapes as I was in 2016. Still, we live in an age where even in an off-year, there was enough good shit for a lifetime of hip-hop boppin’.
My favorites of 2017 are below, broken into arbitrary categories. (And stay tuned for our resident crustacean’s take on the Clipse classic Hell Hath No Fury.)
WEST COAST, BEST COAST
G Perico – All Blue
It was another year of excellent and underrated West Coast releases continuing to carry that G-funk torch. But amongst all those groovy synths, G Perico stands out with his unstoppable swagger and vivid storytelling. A lot of these stories are typical tales of the street, though Perico offers fuck-it-all resilience with lines like: “Imma take all my problems and put ’em in a blunt / Roll that shit tight and light that bitch up.” We hear ya, Mr. Perico.
BEST RETURN to FORM
Big K.R.I.T. – 4Eva Is A Mighty Long Time
I’ll admit, I was dreading the idea of a Big K.R.I.T. double album in 2017. The Mississippi rapper had been spinning his wheels for years and seemed destined for a decline into irrelevancy. But K.R.I.T. came through, sounded reinvigorated as he doubles down on the booming Southern rap production and the infectious drawl that made him so captivating on K.R.I.T. Wuz Here and Live From The Underground.
K.R.I.T. loads the first disc with big sounds and shamelessly catchy party rap, but the production never spirals out of control — the banger “Big Bank (feat. T.I.)” and sexy “1999 (feat. Lloyd)” are types of tracks that are always winners in K.R.I.T.’s hands. Disc two is more subdued, dabbling in styles where K.R.I.T. has sounded drab in recent years, but he seems fresh and inspired again. “Keep The Devil Off” is soaked in the influence of fiery Southern gospel, “Miss Georgia Fornia” sounds like a long lost Outkast gem, and “Bury Me In Gold” is a gut-wrenching climax that’s one of his finest productions in years.
BEST ALBUMS FROM ACROSS THE POND (apologies for the U.S.-centrism)
Wiley – Godfather; Krept & Konan – 7 Days; J HUS – Common Sense
I thought this was the year grime would finally bust loose in the United States, and … it kind of has. But it took a certain novelty hit, and I doubt it’s going to leave the typical American hip-hop fan thirsty for grime. Which is too bad, because the grime scene is on fire right now.
Wiley is a grime legend who doesn’t have one dud in his prolific discography, and Godfather continues his roll with an album of no-nonsense bangers. His flow remains infectious as ever, while tracks like “Joe Bloggs” fuse the grime sound with some trap influence and “U Were Always, Pt. 2” is genuinely sweet, with production reminiscent of Good Kid m.A.A.d. City‘s lighter moments.
Krept & Konan offer a compelling take on U.S. trap music, employing more freewheeling flows over trap-flavored — sorry, “flavoured” — on 7 Days (companion release 7 Nights is a little softer and more romantic — worth a listen but not as compelling). Meanwhile, J Hus had a massive year, and deservedly so. Common Sense is a sensational debut that dabbles in a lot of styles but is especially informed by contemporary Nigerian afrobeat. The single “Did You See” was a massive hit everywhere but the United States.
BEST UNEXPECTEDLY BRILLIANT ALBUM
Tyler, The Creator – Scum Fuck Flower Boy
The “Tyler-comes-out” narrative dominated the buzz around Flower Boy‘s release, which obscured what an exceptional musical achievement this album is, especially following up the garbage dump that was Cherry Bomb. He clearly looked to his friend and contemporary Frank Ocean for inspiration; Frank’s influence is clear standouts like “Garden Shed,” a breezy track cloaked in raw sadness. The more aggressive side of Tyler shows itself on “Who Dat Boy,” but the jittery production and Tyler’s triplet flows make this his best single since “Yonkers” (it helps that the chorus is also absurdly catchy). Though a few of the tracks are a little underdeveloped, Tyler shows that his more mature and introspective side is actually his most compelling side. Hopefully this Tyler hangs around for a while.
BEST R&B ALBUM
SZA – Ctrl
Despite the results of my recent Twitter poll, Ctrl is the best album Top Dawg released this year. While I am infatuated by SZA’s syrupy, sensual vocal delivery, Ctrl is also a masterclass in production. There’s the perfectly awkward, melancholy guitar strumming on “Supermodel” and “20 Something”; the layers of vocal takes that let SZA’s voice soar on “Drew Barrymore” and “Prom”; and the skeletal crispness (those finger snaps, man) of “The Weekend” that makes the track sexy as fuck. I guess it would be a more sensual affair if SZA didn’t tap into feelings of inadequacy and loneliness, but Ctrl is far better for it.
ALBUM of the YEAR
Migos – Culture
Migos are The Beatles of hip-hop in the 2010s — a group of vibrant personalities making groundbreaking-yet-accessible music that both captures and controls the zeitgeist of the modern hip-hop landscape. They’ve made the triplet flow ubiquitous, they’ve been a rapid-fire meme generator, and of course, they have world-conquering hits. They’d be just fine without ever releasing a classic album — and yet Culture is a fucking juggernaut. It’s a tidy 13 tracks that sounds like a greatest hits collection.
But will Cardi B be the Yoko of Migos? Will they ever get a call from Ed Sullivan? And will Quavo’s quest for solo success threaten to derail the bonds between the Migos boys? Come back in 2018.
THE CLASSIC CORNER: Lobster Man reflects on Clipse’s Hell Hath No Fury
You know what I like more than bars? Charisma. The kind of charisma that extends itself to a bottomless well of style to draw from. I don’t think I’m alone with this preference either. There’s a reason why Migos and Cardi B are pulling Herculean streaming numbers while guys like Lil Dicky are mostly just YouTube comment section favorites. Sure, Mr. Dicky can probably rap circles around the entire Migos crew, but he won’t look cool doing it. Making, ya know, good music also helps. Migos come from the lineage of Southern rap that placed vibes and persona over quick rhymes. Well, that’s actually not fair because Southern rap has pretty much always been that way. From crunk to the far more conscious Dungeon Family, Southerners have always injected a high premium of flash and style into hip hop. In the late autumn of 2006, the Virginia Beach brothers Terrance “Pusha T” and Gene “No Malice” Thornton were able to cement themselves into that pantheon of cool.
The duo coupled Southern charm with state of the art production for their sophomore effort and crowning achievement, Hell Hath No Fury. The album was released in 2006, but came about over several years of recording. The brothers almost immediately found themselves in music industry purgatory after the release of their 2002 debut Lord Willin’. During Lord Willin’, Clipse were signed to Arista Records. When Clipse began work on Hell Hath No Fury in 2003, Arista dissolved them and a handful of other artists into Jive Records. Unfortunately, Jive didn’t exactly… er… uh… jive with Clipse. The duo’s new home was far more interested in its pop oriented acts.
There’s no shortage of accessibility on Hell Hath No Fury, but it’s easy to see why Jive didn’t know what the hell to do with it. Southern rap and, to a certain extent, mainstream rap, found itself at the peak of the crunk era in 2004. Loud, dumb, beat you over the head club music was in vogue. On paper, Clipse should’ve fit in. The songs on Hell Hath No Fury, for the most part, are all accessible bangers built around coke game braggadocio that’ll easily get the trunk rattling. But, in practice, it’s far subtler. Pusha T and No Malice trade calm and collected bars over flavorful future funk provided by The Neptunes, the production duo comprised of Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo.
It’s impossible to talk about Clipse without talking about The Neptunes. The collaboration between the two groups began in 1996 when Pharrell pulled strings to get the rappers signed by Elektra. The Neptunes would handle the production on Clipse’s shelved Elektra debut Exclusive Audio Footage. After the disappointing deal with Elektra, Pharrell managed to get the brothers signed to Arista through his Star Trek imprint. The working relationship continued with The Neptunes handling the production on Lord Willin’ and gifting us with the world conquering single “Grindin’”. The power of “Grindin’” can’t be overstated. The track is so goddamn good, Pharrell found it necessary to begin the song by telling you just how good it is. And has anyone in rap ever sounded as cool as Pusha T repeating “I’m yo pushaaaa”? It really should’ve been obvious that Pusha would be the brother to go off and have a fruitful rap career. Speaking of which, where’s King Push, Pusha?
Overall, Hell Hath No Fury exceeds Lord Willin’, but it doesn’t quite reach the high of “Grindin’”. The closest Clipse came to replicating that watermark was the album’s lead single “Mr. Me Too”. On “Mr. Me Too” Clipse take on and brush aside the fakers and biters with little more than eye roll over the top of some serious Neptunes bounce. The following single, “Wamp Wamp (What It Do)”, continued the groups’ adventurous streak with Caribbean inspired production a decade and change before Drake anointed himself King of the Dancehall. The bulk of Hell Hath No Fury could theoretically be described as “feel-good” music. Not necessarily in the sense that Carol King is feel-good music, mind you. Hell Hath No Fury is cruising music. It’s music you put on at a mid summer barbecue. But, that doesn’t mean it’s one dimensional. Alongside sunny “it’s all good” bars and production, the brother’s managed to squeeze in the harsh realities of Virginia poverty.
“Hello New World” serves as the classic rap archetype about being in awe of sudden hip hop success. Pusha brags about “sippin’ on a fifty foot yacht” only after recounting a dangerous youth spent bagging coke. On the hook, No Malice sing-songs “I can’t wait for the next n****/ from my hood to say/ Lookout world, I’m on my way”. It feels hopeful until Pusha responds with a shoutout to his “A-alikes” who are still on the corner ducking the DEA. Clipse established success, but that doesn’t mean everyone from Virginia Beach will find themselves so lucky. That kind of darkness can also be found on “Chinese New Year” where the duo relate the constant white noise of violent gunshots to the frequency of celebratory fireworks.
Hell Hath No Fury lives in the nexus where cool-headed lifestyle rhymes meet sharp observational realness. Oddly enough, Clipse themselves can serve as a concise allegory for their own music. In 2010, the brothers disbanded and went their separate ways. 2011 saw the release of No Malice’s autobiography Wretched, Pitiful, Poor, Naked & Blind, in which he discussed his fear of contracting AIDS as well as his conversion to Christianity. No Malice released his own solo album in 2013 and occasionally appears on tracks from Christian rappers like Lacrae. After Clipse, Pusha T was scooped up as a Kanye West affiliate and is currently the president of West’s G.O.O.D. Music. In his rap career, Push still treads the ground Clipse paved with no shortage of coke game mythology. Out of the two, it’s Pusha that shows the most promise for a Clipse surpassing masterpiece. Personally, I don’t think that’s going to happen. What made Clipse so special was that brotherly chemistry and push and pull. Pusha still sounds great, but there may be something missing in his solo career. Unfortunately, the brothers are probably never going to get back together. They both just live wildly different lives at this point. Still, the thought of some kind of Clipse epilogue should serve as a great bit of hip-hop fan fiction.