“Some Rap Songs” by Earl Sweatshirt
Earl Sweatshirt is rap’s prodigal son who has always had a very special way with words. After catapulting into fame at age 16 and the ensuing tumultuous familial strains that led to his exile to Samoa at a center for at-risk-youth, Sweatshirt returned much matured with a new eye for contemplation. The result has been beautifully artistic and impressively smart; with the release of 2013’s “Doris” and 2015’s “I Don’t Like S***, I Don’t Go Outside” and “Solace,” the Los Angeles rapper has shown an artistic evolution and way of expressing the mental fraying of adolescence like no other.
“Some Rap Songs” only furthers this narrative. We find Earl creeping farther away from the spotlight, opting for a disorienting, fuzzy, underground-loop-based style that’s even more averse to the mainstream than one could imagine for such a big-name artist. The result is a confoundingly personal journey through the psyche of a former child star who watched his father and a close friend (Mac Miller) pass away in the same year. In extremely abstract fashion void of traditional song structure or hooks, Earl twists and turns his way through thoughtful confessions in short songs (almost all of them two minutes or less) that bring out the best in his writing. Here are just a few of the deep ruminations littered across the album: “Say goodbye to my openness, total eclipse / Of my shine that I’ve grown to miss when holding s*** in / Open my lids, my eyes said my soul is amiss” from “Eclipse,” “I revisit the past / Port wine and pages of pass / Momma say don’t play with them scabs / It’s safe to say I see the reason I’m bleeding out” from “Ontheway!” and “My cushion was a bosom on bad days / There’s not a black woman I can’t thank” from “Azucar.”
“Some Rap Songs” sounds like a collection of bitingly personal poems scrawled on top of used napkins, stained with the blood necessary to draw each painful sentiment out. But this shouldn’t be taken as a slight; instead of being messily assembled or thrown together, “Some Rap Songs” sounds urgent and devastatingly honest in the face of grief, depression, substance abuse and existential dread. The result is a dizzying dissertation of gorgeous and worrisome reflection wrought from the wrung out soul of a man wise beyond his years. “Peace to every crease on your brain,” he says in “Veins.” Hopefully, Earl worked out some of those creases on “Some Rap Songs.”
“Streams of Thought, Vol. 2” by Black Thought and Salaam Remi
“I’m the pinnacle of language, yes, the Dalai Lama,” Black Thought says on “Long Liveth,” the seventh song off of his sophomore solo project “Streams of Thought, Vol. 2.” And he’s not lying. Black Thought, born Tariq Trotter, is the rightful owner to an illustrious music career as an integral part of the world-renowned hip-hop group The Roots, and some might say one of the best of all time. Since deciding to release solo material as of this year with his “Streams of Thought” series, Black Thought has only further shown off his ability to pen some of the most mind-ripping verses known to man.
Throughout listening to “Streams of Thought, Vol. 2,” all I can imagine is Black Thought sitting in a throne, stoic and unperturbed, smoking a cigar and sipping a rare scotch as he reads a book written in Swahili about the history and psychology of being black. Thought is probably the most scholarly individual rap has ever seen, regularly stringing together five and six syllable rhymes while referencing ancient documents and obscure texts. “Streams of Thought, Vol. 2” finds Thought displaying both this insane ability to interject wildly intellectual braggadocio (“Wonderin’ how I can evolve to prestigious and less vicious / A more visceral individual, best wishes / Just on principle, I been answerin’ death wishes / What the Lord giveth is a king, long liveth” from “Long Liveth”) and his aptitude for introspection and dissecting the human condition (“I wish the man in the moon had a manual / And gratitude for the wishes I granted you” from “Conception”).
At the end of the day, Black Thought is one of the most intelligent people ever to grasp a pen, and this album only further proves that. As he says on “Conception,” “I checked in as the monarch of melanin / The elephant, my body is a shell I’m in.” It truly seems as if on “Streams of Thought, Vol. 2,” his body is just a vessel, or a shell, to deliver thought-provoking knowledge to the masses.
“Noir” by Smino
Smino’s “Noir” is unique in every way possible; the 18-track midnight rainbow whittles away the complexities of its contemporaries and dips its toes into experimentation en route to one of the most smoothly-warm rhythm-and-blues albums of the year. Smino is a Swiss Army knife of sonic splendor as he utilizes his brightly colorful palette of a voice to bend words, sing melodies and articulate a thousand-color painting that’s as versatile as it is groovy. Smino’s “Noir” truly proves him to be a craftsmen of sound; whether rattling off exceedingly witty (and usually sexually charged) remarks, such as “She said you Rafiki (real freaky), you a lion (lying) Mufasa / Baby ain’t nothing ‘bout me PG, rated X for extraordinary” from “L.M.F.”, or creating a late-night funk so infectious it might as well turn off the lights and light the candles itself (see “MF Groove”), the St. Louis native continues his artistic evolution while carving out a musical niche all his own. If you need a silky, hypnotic listen for a late night, look no further than Smino’s “Noir.”
“Swimming” by Mac Miller
The last piece of music released before his death, “Swimming” is a beautiful eulogy to the beautiful life of Mac Miller. Rest easy, easy Mac with the cheesy raps.
“Kids See Ghost” by Kids See Ghost
Yes, Kanye has had a tough year. No, he’s not the same as he once was, and is probably a lot less sane. That being said, “Kids See Ghost” is an impressive album and is worth the listen, regardless of your opinion on the new Kanye.
“Daytona” by Pusha T
Slick drug talk from one of rap’s grizzled veterans, “Daytona” is Pusha T’s magnum opus. If the torching and public humiliation Pusha T gave Drake on “The Story of Adidon” is the snarling teeth of his artistic animal, then “Daytona” is its meat and bones.
“Care For Me” by Saba
An important meditation on grief, loneliness and rising like a phoenix from the ashes from one of hip-hop’s young rising stars. Saba makes his mark and furthers his artistic evolution as he sorts through the suppressing emotions of losing his cousin and close friend.
Any of three albums by Roc Marciano
Marciano is one of rap’s best wordsmiths and braggarts, and displays this plus a keen emotional dexterity on the triad of albums he released in 2018. I’ll scream “Thank God for Roc Marci / Y’all some carbon copies” to my grave.