• Albums,  Reviews

    Eminem, ‘The Marshall Mathers LP2’

    Eminem - MMLP2

    Eminem should have picked a different title for The Marshall Mathers LP2. On its 2000 predecessor, he plumbed the ugly depths of the male ID with anguished ferocity, giving voice to blasphemous dreams of criminality and murder. He created a fictional character, “Stan,” that so vividly captured how we the audience – and hip-hop fans in particular – mistake complex rap lyrics for pure autobiography that it has become shorthand for a kind of perverse idolatry. Eminem tried to repeat that performance for many years afterward, or at least live up to it, by wearing us down with increasingly hammy shock tactics. It wasn’t until he repositioned himself as a man who employs self-help jargon to prove his decency in 2010’s Recovery that he found a credible follow-up.

  • Albums,  Reviews

    Drake, ‘Nothing Was the Same’

    Drake - Nothing Was the SameNothing Was the Same marks a tide-is-high moment for Aubrey Drake Graham. As he surveys the world from the vista of his achievements, he sums up what he once called “The Ride,” and what he calls on opener “Tuscan Leather” as “my mission to shift the culture.”

    But there are others nipping at his ability to define the contours of mainstream rap, chiefly Kendrick Lamar, and to a lesser extent Future, Macklemore and a few others. Perhaps it’s why Drake has no major guests on Nothing Was the Same, save for a growling Birdman adlib on “Language,” and a pair of imperious Jay-Z verses on “Pound Cake.” He wants vindication as a hip-hop god by his own merit.

  • Albums,  Reviews

    Run The Jewels, ‘Run The Jewels’

    Run the Jewels - Run the JewelsRun the Jewels may be the first time NYC rapper/producer El-P has abandoned his perfectionist’s streak for the exhilaration of immediate results. There are no weighty concepts about drone warfare and abusive relationships (as on last year’s long-gestating Cancer 4 Cure) here; just raw-dog raps and galactic funk alongside Atlanta big homie Killer Mike (from the El-produced R.A.P. Music.) This quick, free joint project is comparatively frizzy, and doesn’t leave a bruising stain of forced mind expansion, just a pleasant memory of good times had by reclaiming “jewels” from the corporate overlords of mainstream rap.

  • Albums,  Reviews

    Kid Cudi, ‘Indicud’

    IndicudWill Kid Cudi ever find true happiness? That dilemma lies at the crux of Indicud, an album that the mercurial rapper has claimed in interviews is more “positive” than his lonely stoner adventures of yore, but which simply trades inert depression for defiant, defensive “King Wizard” triumphalism. Its cover art displays a maelstrom of fire bracketed by an ornately designed frame, a synthesis of high-art aspirations and uncontrollable fury suitable for the Lord of the Sad and Lonely.

    But the real question here is whether you should care at all. It has been over four years since Cudi transfixed a mainstream audience with “Day ‘N Nite” and “Pursuit of Happiness,” the two droll, goofily trippy singles from his debut album, 2009’s Man on the Moon: The End of Day. The second installment in his ad-hoc Man on the Moon series, the following year’s The Legend of Mr. Rager, was actually much better than its predecessor, but it lacked those charming breakout hits. (Last year’s insufferably lugubrious WZRD project is best left unexplored here.) Kid Cudi may claim to love being a cult artist, but he knows that cult artists are in frequent peril of slipping into irrelevance. He aims to avoid that irrelevance by raging against it.

  • Albums,  Reviews

    Kanye West, ‘Yeezus’

    YeezusCould Kanye West ever make a bad album? It’s a question many will strain to answer as they’re confronted with the acid house shocks, drill rap stabs and Jamaican toaster rants of Yeezus. If 808s and Heartbreak, his prior art-for-art’s-sake experiment, turned the breakup-album cliché into an Auto-Tuned R&B warble; then here he nearly disengages with song structure altogether, haphazardly throwing out disconnected lyrics as he hurtles through self-orchestrated chaos and disorder. Coupled with a portentous God complex, this may be the pretentious excursion that listeners want to tune out.

    If anything, it should finally (hopefully?) disable the “instant rap classic” complex that haunts the genre. Classics are made through time and memories, not crowned through five-star-review groupthink and instant Twitter feedback. West’s maximalist approach to rap gleefully encourages our zeal to proclaim his genius from the moment he unveils his latest triumphs, and well before the listening tests are complete and his hypotheses can be proven or disproven. If Yeezus is to be saved – and there’s much on it to suggest that it will be — it will be through repeated spins, not the thunder-thumb indexes of a public salivating for his ascent and/or downfall.