A Tale of Two Double Albums: Migos Does Wrong what Big K.R.I.T did Right

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Migos were everywhere in 2017 – the slew of dizzyingly successful singles off Culture, the album itself, and the innumerable guest features and collab albums ensured the trio were never out of sight (and earshot). The three Migos were music, a cultural moment in themselves.

In the midst of the Atlantans’ reign, a fellow Southern MC quietly dropped one of the best albums of the year – a double album, no less. Big KRIT (née Justin Scott) had been staying lowkey for too long, but when he resurfaced with 4Eva is a Mighty Long Time, it was evident that the wait was worth it.

Each of the two sides on 4eva… serves a definite purpose. The Big KRIT side showing off his lyrical acrobatics over deep-fried trunk-rattling production. The songs here are tight and incisive, delivering braggadocio and barbs with a technical finesse that shows off KRIT’s hunger for greatness.  The Justin Scott side is where the MC gets personal. The beats are more soulful and expansive, which allows Scott to ruminate over his struggles and insecurities and quietly celebrate his personal joys.

The entirety of 4eva… runs to 18 tracks, and nearly an hour and a half. Even the greatest of artists can – and have – put out lackluster albums when they try to indulge their maximal tendencies (looking at you, Lulu). Fortunately, KRIT doesn’t fall into this trap, instead revitalizing himself and delivering a body of music that does not stutter, or stumble over itself. There are few indulgences, keeping the sonics stylistically diverse and the songs themselves lean. KRIT has also inculcated a great ear for melody, which he uses to great effect in his singing as well as in the arrangements on the longer tracks. Round this off with a carefully curated set of guests, many of them frequent collaborators with whom he works exceptionally well, and you have an album that rarely – if ever – overstays its welcome.

Big KRIT poured his heart and soul into 4eva is a Mighty Long Time, understanding his strengths and weaknesses exceptionally well, and it shows. Despite its length, the LP doesn’t feel like it goes on – forgive the pun – for a mighty long time.

While KRIT was shining in his lane, Migos were working on the follow-up to their acclaimed album. Clearly intending to ride the wave of their previous success for some more time, Culture II arrived almost exactly a year on from its predecessor.

Or perhaps more accurately, it landed with an awkward thump.

As a whole, I don’t dislike this album. I loved multiple tracks and liked a few others.  There are several moments of Migos at their most Migos, and there are a few interesting sonic moments, specifically in the production. The singles are some of the best songs on the album. But at a whopping 24 songs long, Culture II overestimates the patience of well, everyone who’s listening to a Migos album. And that proves this LP’s downfall.

Migos have never been compelling lyricists – their appeal comes as vocalists, with unique flows, buckets of charisma and catchy choruses and vocal intonations. Stretching these talents across far more tracks than they need to diminish them significantly. It doesn’t help that the MCs themselves sound a little disinterested in experimenting, or even amplifying their strengths. In fact, in Quavo’s case in particular, his weaknesses as a lyricist are amplified as he struggles to keep coming up with interesting punchlines about wealth and sex. The Autotune-drenched vocals simply aren’t enough. Only Offset manages to hold his own on a significant part of the album.

It comes down to a significant, singular difference in how Migos and KRIT approach their respective albums – how much the MCs have to say. Having not put out a new album in a long time, KRIT had a number of themes to speak on, and a lot to prove. That translated into each song, each verse, each hook having its definite place. There was enough variety for the size of the album to not feel excessive, and being a gifted MC, KRIT ensured that we were listening intently to his every word. But given the deluge of music Migos have been associated with over the past year, Culture II is overkill. In a bid to keep their names in the industry’s conversations, they’ve put out too many songs that recycle their (already generic) tropes in decreasingly clever ways, accentuated by their limited technical skills. The result is an album that says a lot without actually saying much of note. The singles will keep the Migos brand afloat, but at what cost? Twitter is flooded with self-attested fans trashing the album. “The whole album sounds like one long song” is the most common refrain.

It’s unfortunate, really, that the Migos have been so blinded by their fame that they got complacent, to the point of repetitiveness. Because the first Culture made it evident that they could be wildly creative and entertaining. Their revival after the middling post-Versace run is further proof that they know what they’re doing, and can do it right if they want to. It’s a hope, too. Maybe they’ll put out an album that cements their legacy the way 4eva is a Mighty Long Time did for Big KRIT sometime in the next few years.

One can only hope it won’t be another gargantuan double album.

 

 

 

 

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A Tale of Two Double Albums: Migos Does Wrong what Big K.R.I.T did Right

An Outsider’s Ode to Hip Hop – Part 2

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Part 1 is here

Nas is indisputably one of the greatest MCs to ever grace the mic, as hip hop as rappers go. From what is widely considered one of, if not the best rap album ever, the gritty, streetwise Illmatic, up to the grown-man, nuanced, elegant hip hop on Life is Good, his discography is a play-by-play of the evolution of the genre through the eyes of one of its finest.

When he declared, then, that his beloved form of expression was “dead” halfway through his career on Hip Hop is Dead, then, the outburst of conversation was understandable. Fast forward 10 years, and Nas declares himself a proper fan of Future, the divisive rapper scores of hip hop heads declared as antithetical to “real hip hop.” He’d go on to explain his history with the genre on the watershed DJ Khaled track, Hip Hop with Scarface.

Continue reading “An Outsider’s Ode to Hip Hop – Part 2”

An Outsider’s Ode to Hip Hop – Part 2

An Outsider’s Ode to Hip Hop – Part 1

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Kendrick Lamar’s 2012 masterpiece good kid, m.A,A.d city was, by any measure, one of the best albums to come out in years. Kendrick is one of the finest MCs to ever grace the mic, and he’s aided by production that complements his lyrical detailing stunningly well. It’s a supremely engaging work of music. But most importantly, it’s a meticulously told tale of Compton, California. It’s a lens into the life of a community and a people away from mainstream discourse, where the primary voices are those of the talents that emerge from within the community.

It seems that GKMC provided an image that most in the USA were themselves under-educated on. To a middle class high-schooler from India, then, it was a fascinating, complex, almost frighteningly voyeuristic insight into a life thousands of kilometers away from me.  But somehow, the music spoke to me. It intrigued me. It made me want to delve into the intricacies of the lives of the people – such as Kendrick – who lived these lives every day. It goaded me into educating myself on issues of race, class, crime and culture that have always been a source of keen interest for me. The album, to me, wasn’t just music. It was a focal point in understanding a culture to which I was an outsider. And that, has been a compelling reason why I’m drawn to hip-hop, and why it’s been so important to me.

Continue reading “An Outsider’s Ode to Hip Hop – Part 1”

An Outsider’s Ode to Hip Hop – Part 1

Kesha Lets all her Colours Fly on ‘Rainbow’

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You really want to root for Kesha.

That’s not a sentence you might’ve commonly heard in 2010-2012, when the princess of party dance pop ruled the charts. With tracks like Tik Tok, Take it Off and Die Young, Kesha was the guilty pleasure many of us who were coming of musical age back then would indulge in.

Then just as suddenly as she burst onto the scene, she disappeared. You could be forgiven for not really noticing – pop stars tend to come and go. But when she did resurface, it was not in a way most would’ve expected.

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Kesha Lets all her Colours Fly on ‘Rainbow’

Goodbye, Chester Bennington

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Listening to Breaking the Habit for the first time as an 11-year old is one of my most vivid, and important musical memories. Playing through earphones I’d borrowed from my dad, off a cheap MP3 player, Chester Bennington’s impassioned voice stunned me. The raw emotion, sung with his melodic clarity, shattered every notion I’d had till then of what music could be.  I was still young, and couldn’t wholly grasp the power Chester’s words held. But something changed in me – with his soaring voice, he cracked the shell holding in amorphous emotions. What poured forth came to define me, and the music I came to invest in.

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Goodbye, Chester Bennington

4:44 by Jay-Z

The hyphen in Jay-Z’s name might be back, but 4:44 isn’t really Jay-Z. For possibly the first time in his career, it’s an album by Shawn Carter, the multimillionaire businessman, the African-American man, the family man. In shedding the larger-than-life image of the rapper in the very first track, aptly titled Kill Jay-Z, he owns up to his past failings and in a lyric unprecedented for a rapper of his mythology, implores himself to be emotionally vulnerable (“Cry Jay Z, we know the pain is real/ But you can’t heal what you never reveal”).

Throughout the album, this sense of being brutally honest reveals a side of the man, the myth, the legend that few would expect the notoriously insular Hov to see, 13 albums into his epic career. On Smile, he acknowledges his mother’s homosexuality in a disarmingly sensitive moment – he doesn’t linger on it, simply expressing his support and admiration. Coming from a notoriously homophobic genre, it’s a powerful statement by one of the most influential voices in the community. On the title track, and the crux of the album, it’s clear that Shawn’s marriage with Beyoncé, his infidelity and his relationship with his children weigh heavily on his mind. He’s realized that his rap superstar lifestyle and image is untenable if it adversely affects his personal life.

The parallel track on 4:44 to Jay-Z’s maturing as an individual is his commitment to being rap’s elder statesman. Far more than on his last album, the frustratingly myopic Magna Carta Holy Grail, he confidently delivers sermons on his rags-to-riches story, wealth accumulation and distribution, and generational wealth in the context of being a Black man in America. Jay’s brags aren’t merely exhibitionist – they are repackaged as lessons to financial success, and rewards to be reaped. The Story of O.J. is a treatise on Black capitalism, delivered succinctly in a manner only Jay can (“I’m tryin’ to give you a million dollars worth of game for $9.99”). Family Feud and Legacy reiterate the need for uniting under the umbrella of Black excellence, and pushing the people forward on their own terms. Even as an outsider to the culture, it’s inspirational in its aim of inclusiveness and hardened determination.

With everything that’s going on in 4:44, it could’ve easily been a rather boring, draggy album. But it seems being Shawn Carter has broken the rapper’s chains (shit, the wordplay’s rubbing off). Jay weaves vivid tales with storytelling ability we haven’t heard since American Gangster using some of his best flows – the kind that gave him his legendary status – over painstakingly tailored production, all of which comes courtesy of No I.D. Clearly, Jay has been incredibly invested in this project, explicitly picking out and building songs around specific samples he grew up with. Jay’s brevity is well-documented, but applying it to such personal stories ensures we’re hooked on every word, and they hit with their full weight. When he turns up the aggression, like on Bam and Marcy Me, it’s with the cool head of a man who knows his power, and his confidence is evident in the many instantly-quotable one-liners he drops (“Before we had A&R’s, we had AR’s too”), his pop culture references on point (“Put that drum in your ear, don’t get Srem’d/I’ll Bobby Shmurda anybody you heard of”).

4:44 is the 13th studio album of a rapper with nothing left to prove – so he proves himself as a musician/businessman, a successful Black man with a complicated personal life. He sounds rejuvenated both as Jay – Z and Shawn Carter, and hence delivers one of the finest albums of his career. It’s an impeccably crafted, lucid elegy that will go down as proof a 47-year old rapper doesn’t need to rely on his stereotypical image to make waves in the culture.

4:44 by Jay-Z

Quick Thoughts – Imagine Dragons, Calvin Harris and Young Thug

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#1. Evolve by Imagine Dragons

 

 

 

Imagine Dragons are at the forefront of the wave of pop/electronic rock bands that can make some great anthems and fill up concerts with their sing-alongs, but cannot for the life of them, put together a great album. Every track on the mercifully short Evolve is driven by stadium-sized drums and vocals, and poppy synths that are earworms at best, and ear-gratingly bad at worst.

Dan Reynolds is a talented vocalist, and puts up an earnest performance throughout. He can lift songs to incredibly satisfying highs when done right, such as on the epic Believer, Whatever it Takes, (where Dan employs a hip-hop cadence on the verses) and Rise Up. Whether these songs are good is debatable, but they accomplish what they set out to do – fill your headphones with an overwhelming passion, that stirs something in you, like it or not.

Continue reading “Quick Thoughts – Imagine Dragons, Calvin Harris and Young Thug”

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