Favourite Albums of 2018, #5 to #1

Note: Not recommending individual songs here – every song on these albums is worth your time

#5. 7, Beach House

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There are few bands capable of making music as richly textured as Beach House. With 7, they craft a work of dark brilliance, with their signature swirling guitars, densely textured vocals and haunting atmospherics. There’s a bite to their sound that defies the melancholy of past work, surging forward. Beach House have always made memorable, lush music – and this record suffuses it with a shade of inky black that shines.

#4. DiCaprio 2, J.I.D

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J.I.D is an MC in the truest sense. His lithe, sharp delivery, strong mic presence and descriptive – if not picturesque – lyrics. The comparisons to Kendrick are inevitable – his wordplay and punchlines are stellar, but they’re second to his powerful recollections of his past, laden with violence and survival, and thoughtful examinations of his present. J.I.D said his intent with DiCaprio 2 was to make a movie, something cinematic – it’s evident that he succeeds several times over.

#3. Swimming, Mac Miller

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What can you say about this album now, when its wounded but hopeful heart is the last remnant of Mac’s legacy? It’s still difficult to talk about this album without remembering that this was Mac at his most mature, taking his pain in his stride while acknowledging it all the same. Swimming is the closest that he came to dispelling his demons before they took him – and that note of optimism is the most important one he could’ve left us with.

#2. Sweet Decay, Ciaran Lavery

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Ciaran Lavery is hurting – and he isn’t afraid to wear his bleeding heart on his sleeve. The songs on Sweet Decay drip with memory and sorrow, the heft of these motions made stronger by the impassioned grit in his voice. Every emotion is felt, not just sung. Be it the difficulty of distance or the nakedness that accompanies love, Ciaran captures it all with heartfelt words. This is a record that will resonate and ripple through many parts of one’s life, and reveal shades of it that you didn’t even know existed.

#1. Kids See Ghosts, Kids See Ghosts

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If the beauty in struggle was to be encapsulated in an album, Kids See Ghosts is what it would sound like. Recalling the tumult of their lives, Kanye and Cudi could’ve easily given in to their blackest tendencies – but they choose to see the rainbow-tinted light. Tackling their failings, their successes, their struggles with mental health and everything in between over a short-as-can-be runtime, brevity is the name of the game. This masterpiece of sound, with psychedelic, trap, rock and soul influences in underpinned by a love for the music that they create, and use to express themselves. Kids See Ghosts achieves a level of cohesion that can only be engineered by Kanye, and then colours it with the expansive palette of Cudi. Their vocals, their lyrics, and most of all, the production is impeccable – and through the ego of knowing what they’ve accomplished, Ye and Cudi hand us their hard-won beacon, and tell us, go. Be reborn. What a canvas to draw resurrection on.

 

 

 

 

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Favourite Albums of 2018, #5 to #1

Favourite Albums of 2018: #25 to #21

#25. Redemption, Jay Rock

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From the most battle-hardened rapper from TDE, this triumphant record is a refined collection of songs that display Jay Rock’s storytelling and imagery-laden lyricism, with better production and more focus than he’s had on previous albums. If you were looking for hardcore West Coast hip-hop, there were few albums in 2018 that could sate your palette better than Redemption.

Listen to: The Bloodiest, OSOM ft. J. Cole

#24. ye, Kanye West

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2018 has been the hardest year to be a Kanye fan thus far – a lot of his words remain indefensible. But through the chaos, his music retains a strange clarity. There is the occasional trademark Ye smirk aimed at the reactions to his antics, but this is an unflinchingly inward-looking album, at times more biting than some of his better efforts. It’s clear that the point Kanye makes throughout the (extremely short) runtime of ye is that this is a platform to declutter, to work through his mental health issues, however messily. It’s not the perfect way, or even advisable – but it is very much Kanye, for better or worse.

Listen to: I Thought About Killing You, Ghost Town

#23. TA13OO, Denzel Curry

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Denzel Curry is one of the most technically skilled rappers around right now, but on TA13OO he uses his gift on the mic to create a well-crafted conceptual album with darkness as the leitmotif. Its three acts tackle the corrupting effects of his environments, fame and betrayal over atmospheric production that accentuate Denzel’s acrobatic flow. At a time where hip-hop is grappling with its less-glamorous side in complicated ways, this album stands as an uncompromising, incisive effort that proves you can tackle heavy themes with deft technicality. Looking at you, Eminem.

Listen to: Cash Maniac ft. Nyyerja, Clout Cobain

#22. i am > i was, 21 Savage

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This was a surprise. I wasn’t checking for 21 Savage, but he really caught my ear with his impeccable verses on Metro Boomin’s album (10 Freaky Girls is straight fire) and Pay You Back off Meek Mill’s album. When i am > i was dropped, the buzz around it convinced me to check it out – and what I heard was one of the best-constructed rap albums in 2018, with 21 oozing charisma on some of the tightest production of the year. Delivering a more mature, technically evolved persona, 21 deftly sketches the darkness and extravagance with a menacing mic presence. He sounds like he’s got a gun to your back, whispering threats in your ear one moment, and wilding out on stage the next. The title of this album is truly befitting 21 Savage’s journey – and an exciting sign of what’s to come.

Listen to: out for the night, letter 2 my momma

#21. East Atlanta Love Letter, 6lack

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6lack could’ve satisfied himself with being one of the many vying for The Weeknd’s alt-R&B throne, but East Atlanta Love Letter cements his place as a standout artist in his own right. Blending hip hop and trap sensibilities with velveteen vocals (and just a hint of gruff), 6lack creates a moody record that, while contemplating standard R&B tropes of love and lust, is extremely memorable, full of earworms. It’s also consistent, with great sequencing and a sleek run, all together making for a 6lack record that’s truly his.

Listen to: Pretty Little Fears ft. J. Cole, Nonchalant

Favourite Albums of 2018: #25 to #21

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

The Grammys & the Plague of Inoffensiveness

Art is inherently political. Now, of all times, the very existence of music that goes against the grain, or is created by communities that continue to be suppressed, is a truly political statement. However, the distribution of music as such is structured like a business – and like most businesses – it attempts to play things safe so as to retain large sections of its consumer base.

The Grammys are one such institution whose facade is of the promotion of the arts, but whose racial bias shows its true colours, of which there is only one – white. This discriminatory tint to the most prestigious awards show in the Western music industry is a little more complex than pointed racism.

Continue reading “The Grammys & the Plague of Inoffensiveness”

The Grammys & the Plague of Inoffensiveness

The 59th Annual GRAMMYs – A Rundown of the Nominees

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The GRAMMYs, till date, remains one of the biggest musical events of the year (even though it has its fair share of detractors) making it a good time to take stock of the biggest artists and music of the past year. With that in mind, we’re doing a quick rundown of the major nominees and their chances to take home that golden gramophone.

Continue reading “The 59th Annual GRAMMYs – A Rundown of the Nominees”

The 59th Annual GRAMMYs – A Rundown of the Nominees

Favourite Albums of 2016 – #10 to #6

#10. When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired by Mothers

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Rare is the album that leaves you slack-jawed, stunned from the very first beginning, the music possessing the sort of beauty that entrances you like a pristine pool of water. Each auditory component plays impeccably, the plucked strings of the guitar singing its own melancholy song, the violin stirring parts of your being you never knew music could, the restrained percussion uplifting the other parts of the music, but never overwhelming it. And then there’s lead vocalist Kristine Leschper’s hauntingly ethereal singing, each note striking you with incredible clarity, her earnest pleas and ruminations ringing true in every syllable.  Each song is a long, slow trek through the depths of emotion, with each section occupying its own niche, interplaying, but never overruling each other. When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired is a debut unlike any other in recent times. It’s confident in its musicality, gorgeous in its instrumentation, and yet vulnerable in its humanity. This is more than an album; it’s a testament to the sheer might of beautifully constructed music.

Listen to: Too Small for Eyes, Nesting Behaviour 

#9. Black America Again by Common

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Common has been at the forefront of ‘conscious’ hip-hop for a long time now – from the classic that was Resurrection, Com has tackled issues relevant to the struggles of the common man, with razor-sharp lyrical analyses of race, money, faith and love. Black America Again, then, is a culmination of Common’s position as an activist Black rapper in the sociopolitical climate of present-day America. Over the years, he’s also matured as a rapper, bringing more nuance to his lyrics, as well as at crafting a focused album – this shows most prominently on this album. Each track is an incisive examination of a facet of race and humanity with the wisdom of a rap elder, while existing within the larger context of the album. There is a warmth to Com’s observations, reassuring his people of their power, and driving them to fight the forces trying to keep them down. The production reflects this sagacity – it’s contemporary and confident, while reminding the listener of their roots. This is a celebration of Black America in a musical era that is countering the miasma of the world around them, delivered by one of the most compelling voices in hip-hop.

Listen to: Home, The Day Women Took Over

#8. The Life of Pablo by Kanye West

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The Life of Pablo is the rawest manifestation of Kanye’s abstraction. It is his worst, and his best, grating each other and swirling in terrible splendour in turns. This projects cements the man’s status as the most fascinating musician alive; the opposite of manufactured marketing, and an almost solitary spark of exciting conversation in music. It brings together every such part of Kanye, and presents it to the listener with no pretense. Ye is music’s foremost purveyor of disarming honesty. He openly shares his failings, his boasts an enforced foil to his grapplings with the self.

The soundscape on TLOP is the beauty in the insanity here; it brims with the diversity and magnificence Kanye perfected on MBDTF. In its intricacies, TLOP balances aggression with harmony; tempers stadium sounds with gorgeous melodies. Much like the man himself, the music is restless and dynamic, pausing only to reveal the scale of Ye’s vision in a few stunning minutes. As a wholem The Life of Pablo is unadulterated auditory insanity. It’s Kanye off his Lexapro, yet still somehow in control. This might not be his ‘best’ album, but it’s just as crucial to his mythology as his other work.

Listen to: Ultralight Beam, Real Friends

#7. You Want it Darker by Leonard Cohen

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It’s impossible to place You Want it Darker outside the context of the legend’s death; the half-smiling acceptance of his mortality is evident throughout the album, a fact that he’s acknowledged and accepted as being true of his songwriting. He has no qualms deconstructing man’s end, tinged with his wry wit, yet it is not without sadness. His voice is reflective of this mood – his full timbre deadpanning his thoughts, introspective lyricism grappling with universal questions of life, love and death. The somber production – dramatic organs and keys, menacing strings, haunting orchestral voices and subdued percussion –  rests in the background, setting the atmosphere appropriately dark.

As a whole, You Want it Darker is an ode to the crescendo of an incredible man’s life; it’s impeccably crafted, but his time in this world weighs heavily on its heart. It’s a gospel-like final presentation of a man who’s spent his life grappling with the questions contained within, with answers that serve as a bittersweet Hallelujah to the great equalizer. And we are all better for the poetry he’s give us.

Listen to: You Want It Darker, If I Didn’t Have Your Love 

 #6. Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper

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In a rather dark year, some records sought to act as a source of thoughtful joy, a defiant proclamation of optimism – Coloring Book was, perhaps, the brightest of such lights. Chance is at a peak, both in his personal and professional life. He’s become a family man with the birth of his daughter, is a critically lauded musician with a dedicated, involved fanbase, and he’s derived clear contentment from his faith. And that theme of spirituality, buoyed by humane joys, forms the heart and soul of this album. This is quite possibly the most gospel album a hip-hop artist – including Kanye – has ever made. Besides the explicit references to God and the divine, there is a reaffirmation of themes beyond the typical materialism of rap; family, friendship, and the power of music itself. Chance’s malleable vocals are often jubilant, and hopeful even when nostalgic. The production – mostly courtesy of The Social Experiment –  is chock-full of live instrumentation and choir vocals, uplifting and stirring. In drawing from his inspiring happiness, Chano has passed on that optimism to his listeners, in music that impresses on you the divinity in humanity. And in a year such as this one, that felt incredibly important.

Listen to: All We Got, Angels

Favourite Albums of 2016 – #10 to #6