Archive for the ‘Critical Situations’ Tag

4 Music Sleepers of 2010

I didn’t get to catalog my thoughts on much music in 2010. That’s no great loss to anyone else, since I think there are maybe two people counting relatives that care what I have to say about anything, let alone music. But I still like to immortalize my opinions via the internet so I can later look back and realize how absurd many of them were (Oh hey, you really liked Lupe Fiasco…a lot, didn’t you?).

So with that, here are four albums from 2010 that I would tag the “sleeper” label onto. Some things I want to note:

  • This list is predominantly rap because it’s admittedly what I mostly listen to. When I do listen to music from rock-type bands, it’s hilariously outdated (i.e. Have you guys heard of this band called The Smiths? I think they’re going places).
  • I don’t listen to every mainstream release, let alone all the obscure mixtapes that get pumped into the internet every day. This list is mostly stuff I clumsily came into via glorious file sharing. Rick Ross may have had a surprisingly acclaimed album, but I won’t know if it’s valid because I’m not listening to an entire Rick Ross album unless I’m properly compensated.
  • This list is in no particular order because I can’t commit to anything.
  • If you disagree or feel there are omissions, let me know. Maybe I overlooked something good you can put me on to. Unless it’s Rick Ross.

Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot, The Son of Chico Dusty: The often delayed solo joint from the unsung hero of OutKast showed up on shelves with little fanfare. It’s not surprising, since OutKast hasn’t really been relevant to most people since 2004 when they were still enjoying the success of their 2003 double-LP. This damn thing, originally slated for a 2007 release, got delayed so many times that even a lot of people who don’t consult Top 40 lists rap recommendations stopped caring about it.

But the wait was worth it. Even while sounding dated at times because of the three-year collaboration process, Sir Lucious still brings what we’ve come to love about Big Boi: A slippery lyrical delivery that wraps itself around funky beats.

Andre 3000 usually gets the nod as being the introspective part of OutKast, while Big Boi is usually seen as the guy talking about perms and funky roosters and all that stuff. But with a proper solo album to roam free on (I’m one of those who doesn’t consider Speakerboxxx a legit solo disc), Big Boi shows he can pack thoughtful lyrics within that fluid delivery:

My recitals are vital and maybe needed for survival
Like the Bible or any other good book that you read
Why are 75% of our youth readin’ magazines?
’cause they used to fantasy, and that’s what they do to dream
Call it fiction addiction ’cause the truth is a heavy thing!
‘member when the levee scream, made the folks evacua-ezz
Yeah, I’m still speakin’ about it ’cause New Orleans ain’t clean
When we shout Dirty South, I don’t think that is what we mean

There are rumblings of another OutKast album, but until then, Sir Lucious did a fine job of tiding us over, even if all of the tracks featuring Dre 3000 hit the cutting room floor.






Waka Flocka Flame – Flockaveli: Even unapologetic ignit rappers manage to squeeze their ham-fisted attempts at deep thought or slow jams into their mixtapes or albums. Twenty-four-year-old Waka Flocka Flame isn’t one of those rappers. Oh, he’s “ignit” all right. But there is barely anything resembling a hook on his 17-track debut album Flockaveli, let alone anything for the ladies or right side of the brain.

What is on the album is an hour of ribcage-shaking beats over which Waka delivers shallow lyrics such as, “Hope you got yo killers witchya, hope you got yo niggas witchya / Hope your goons ridin’ witchya, they gon fuckin’ miss you.”

I don’t usually tack much merit to this, but there’s a palpable authenticity to Flockaveli. Not in the sense that Waka is out in the streets murdering dudes for simply existing, but rather, under the lens that the LP is so unapologetically raw. “No Hands” is the only thing that could be mistaken for a radio single (and not coincidentally, is the only track from the album getting any airplay). The absence of the slow jam featuring Jamie Foxx or the “Damn, what’s this life really all about” type of song shows that Waka isn’t terribly concerned with chart status or being a Drake-like figure in hip-hop.






Ghostface KillahApollo Kids: Even though the release of Tony Starks’ ninth LP was like a national holiday for me, it wasn’t exactly burning up Twitter feeds or other modes of news dispersion. And leave it to Pretty Toney to wait until all of the Best of 2010 lists had already gone to print/publish to drop what was among the most succinct and listenable rap albums of the year.

Ghost’s non-existent relationship with mainstream radio and charts makes most of his albums sleepers. That felt like the case more so with this drop, since our last full-length Ghost session was way back in 2007 with Big Doe Rehab. Sorry, kiddos, I don’t really consider the R&B album Ghost dropped in 2009 as a proper Ghostface album, much as I dig the big man tapping into his more sensual side.

Apollo Kids isn’t really a concept album, but there’s still a constant acknowledgment of Ghost’s adoration of hip-hop. The production is the most cohesive since the Supreme Clientele era with a heavy reliance on soul samples and stripped down beats. The only thing that holds Apollo Kids back is the long list of guests. The exhaustive list, however, doesn’t include Ghostface LP regular Raekwon. All in, though, the efficient 40-minute album is both an ode to classic hip-hop and a present-day affirmation that Ghost can still go hard on the mic.






Janelle MonaeThe ArchAndroid: This feels a bit like cheating, since the eccentric Monae’s debut studio album became the an internet darling upon its spring release. But how many people saw it coming?

The high praise isn’t unwarranted, though. The album, heavily inspired by the silent film classic Metropolis, show Monae’s flexibility as a creative mind. The ArchAndroid pulls its musical inspirations from a range of sources. Anything from musical scores to glamrock is fair game for Monae, who at just 25 years old, seems wise beyond her years.

Perhaps most striking about the album is that it doesn’t leave the sour taste of pretentiousness in the listener’s most, despite its grandiose ambitions. In a profession prone to the eccentric for the sake of being eccentric, Monae’s left-of-center personality is more a reflection of her deep-rooted love of music and fantasy.


Audio Analysis: “Runaway” (Kanye West)

After falling off the grid following his outburst at the 2009 MTV Music Awards, Kanye West resurfaced this summer in a manner befitting of the outspoken musician: with gusto. Along with joining  Twitter (an entity seemingly created for a person like West), Kanye returned with an arsenal of new musical content. Rather than following the traditional mixtape release and letting the music get hyped, gobbled up, and relatively forgotten in a matter of weeks, West is following a more unorthodox approach of unleashing each track piecemeal.

But perhaps the most compelling piece of music we’ve gotten from Kanye since his return hasn’t come from his G.O.O.D. Friday releases. That honor goes to “Runaway,” a track Kanye debuted at this year’s MTV Music Awards. In contrast to his weekly Friday track releases, “Runaway” is a concise and poignant ditty that isn’t bogged down with a line of featured emcees.

Ye’s trio of verses on “Runaway” reads like a remorseful confession from someone who’s realized he’s been a bit too outspoken. Blunt honesty about character flaws isn’t uncharted territory for  braggadocio rapper. But in the context of his last studio proper effort (808’s and Heartbreak) and his altercation with Taylor Swift, it’s refreshing to hear some maturation on West’s behalf. Of course, with the hook (“Let’s have a toast for the douchebags”), West presents these moments of honesty with a “take me as I am” perspective.

Even with West’s admittance in romantic incompetence, the song’s most thought-provoking moments come with Pusha-T‘s contributions. The younger half of Virginia-based brother rappers Clipse, Pusha comes equipped with fodder for the gray matter about the female role in the luxurious lifestyle often glamorized in hip-hop:

I-I-I-I did it, all right, all right, I admit it
Now pick your best move, you could leave or live wit’ it
Ichabod Crane with that motherfucking top off
Split and go where? Back to wearin’ knockoffs, huh?
Knock it off, Neiman’s, shop it off
Let’s talk over Mai Tais, waitress, top it off
Hoes like vultures wanna fly in your Freddy loafers
You can’t blame ’em, they ain’t never seen Versace sofas
Every bag, every blouse, every bracelet
Comes with a price tag, baby, face it
You should leave if you can’t accept the basics

Pusha raises a polarizing question: Who’s really to blame for the objectification of women in hip-hop? The emcee conveying the experiences or the women who partake in the described lifestyle, often aware of the non-committal circumstances?

Rappers have historically taken the majority of the criticism for how women are perceived in large sectors of hip-hop. But it takes two to tango, as the cliche goes. Should the emcee take all the heat for his lyrics, or should these women hold some accountability for the unspoken exchange of the fruits of luxury for their company, sexually-based or otherwise?

It’s not so cut and dry and Pusha’s verse drives that home. In his own tactical way, he tells everyone, “This is how it is, now it’s up to you to stay or leave.” It’s blunt, if not a bit unfair (who doesn’t enjoy the perks of wealth from time to time?), but ultimately, there’s no transparency in his words or actions. It’s the woman’s choice if they “can’t accept the basics.”