Rajin Rambles: 2017 in Review, and Beyond

by Rajin

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Fortunately, we’ve somehow managed to reach the end of 2017. Unfortunately, this means that I’m once again taking it upon myself to do what I hate to see from other people, and give my unsolicited opinion about the rap music that has come out over the course of the past 12 months.

Overall I thought this year offered a great deal of good music. As expected, Redman and Ghostface Killah did not release their oft-delayed sequel albums that I have been looking forward to for the last 2 or 3 years (there’s always next year!). Some disappointing albums were released; Shabazz Palaces released two of the most tragically underwhelming albums this year, Eminem released a seriously flawed and scatterbrained effort made even more unfortunate because it had many of his best songs in a decade and a half, and the Wu-Tang Clan compilation was full of verses completely phoned in by everyone not named Method Man or Redman. However, there were at least 25-30 projects that I enjoyed. That is far more than what I can say about last year; when reflecting on 2016 about a year ago, I struggled to think of even 10 or 15 albums.

While I loved much of what came out this year, I do feel as though there were not as many that blew me away the way Run The Jewels 3, Atrocity Exhibition, or Honor Killed The Samurai did. Brick Body Kids Still Daydream might be the only one that did that for me, but again, there were a lot of great projects released.

Hip hop, to me, seems like it’s kind of in a state of limbo at the moment, and it’s sorting itself out a bit. It doesn’t seem like the genre really knows where it wants to go. Overall, the year felt a bit directionless, just kind of dragging its feet with a lot of the trends that have been present for the last few years. It feels like people are done with them and yet are also afraid to deviate from them as well. I can’t say I’m very thrilled about the whole Soundcloud rap thing – most of these kids sound to me like they’re really half-assing this cloudy trap vibe while glamorizing mental illness. It’s not a good look.

I’m really over the idea of trap-style drums being thrown into every other beat you hear these days. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy trap music. However, I’m not a fan of what’s been going on with it for a while now. Honestly, most of what is considered trap music really doesn’t seem like it should be considered trap music in the first place. Trap music has gone from actually detailing everyday life in the trap, to basically just rapping over cloudy, moody beats with fast hi-hats behind them. I feel like it’s lost its edge, and it’s becoming very safe and sanitary.

What’s going on with trap actually reminds me of what happened to New York hip hop in the late 90s. Back when Bad Boy and Ruff Ryders gained prominence, most of the grit, dust, and ultimate spirit of the music was lost, as keyboard producers came in with overly clean synths and snares that overtook sampling. Anything that resembled the sound of east coast hip hop before this transition ended up getting relegated to the underground, and it stopped being representative of the New York sound, until now where most people wouldn’t think New York even has a discernible sound at all. Like anything, as the trap sound and style got cleaner, it started losing most of what made it so alluring in the first place. For a long time it’s become progressively more and more watered down, and I feel like this year everything has just been a haze.

Odd as it may sound, 2 Chainz is quite possibly the first rapper to release an album that felt like a proper trap album in years. Pretty Girls Like Trap Music wasn’t an album I was overly fond of, but the entire atmosphere and structure of it felt reminiscent to an early T.I. album. He experimented with the current sounds that rule trap music (and, well, hip hop and even pop as a whole) but actually performed on it in a way that stayed true to the subgenre. Aside from it having a couple of songs I did enjoy, I feel like I’ve got to respect it for that reason.

I hope that hip hop moves on from the current incarnation of trap soon. I spoke earlier this year about how hip hop is in a good place, but I think I need to rephrase. It is in a good place solely because it has proven time and time again that it is not a fad, and because experimentation has crept into it more than it has since the 80s when it first really exploded. However, as far as the prevailing trends go, I think they were necessary but the representative sound needs to move on to something else. Hip hop will lose steam quickly if the majority of what is being consumed continues to devolve. Or maybe the sound will deviate from its southern influence and something else will take its place, like with what happened to New York. All I know is that I’m really kind of tired of it. There’s only so much syrupy music you can hear before you start to feel sick.

Now with all this in mind, I would be remiss if I failed to mention that I do think there’s a growing trend in underground east coast hip hop that I’m really excited about. It seems like this new chamber rap style has been really catching on, especially this year. This style is almost like a progression of the style that we saw with the first wave of the Wu-Tang Clan, where there was a lot of soulful and orchestral samples used in production as well as very descriptive, layered, and colorful lyrics. There are several rappers and producers who deserve credit for pushing the style further, but I think the first person who crafted music in this style that really made people take notice (and please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong) was none other than Roc Marciano.

In 2010, Roc Marciano released his solo debut album Marcberg. On that album, Marci painted laid vividly detailed verses delivered with a quiet and subdued yet overtly arrogant slow flow over a very soulful, stripped down backdrop. It was a style that was unlike anything that was coming out at the time; it was luxurious yet dusty, innovative yet familiar. It was very minimal, with drums oftentimes playing a less prominent role in the production. Two years later, he would refine the style he used on this album and put out what is possibly the most important underground New York rap album of the decade thus far: Reloaded.

Reloaded is the album that has given chamber rap its foothold in the genre. Since the release of that album, you can see underground rappers begin to draw influence from what Marci was doing on that album and push it forward. Around this time, The Alchemist began working with Marci, and from there you can notice a change in his production style, evident on his beats on Sean Price’s Mic Tyson or the Albert Einstein album he did with Prodigy. He started making beats that were more minimal compared to what he was doing beforehand, almost like he was adapting what he did early in his career for Mobb Deep and stripped the style down further.

The music that has been coming out of the Griselda camp since around 2014, when Daringer came into the fold, has also followed a similar tone. Daringer is another producer who creates very minimal beats, oftentimes not adding any drums to the samples and just working with what is there already. Westside Gunn and Conway are some of the more notable rappers who have pushed this style forward, as well. While Roc Marciano innovated it, there weren’t very many rappers toying with it until Westside Gunn’s mixtapes started to drop. It appears to me that the recent explosion of this subgenre really started after Flygod came out.

Since then, in 2016 and especially 2017, there has been music, primarily out of the east coast, that perpetuates this style, aside from Roc Marciano and Griselda. Hus Kingpin, being from Hempstead, Long Island like Roc Marciano, released Cocaine Beach with Big Ghost this year that was essentially a sunny take on Marci’s very cold, wintry tone. Meyhem Lauren and DJ Muggs released Gems From The Equinox, which sounded almost like it bridged the gap between vintage Wu-Tang and the current chamber rap style. VDon and Willie the Kid released a pair of excellent chamber rap EPs this year, both of which offered the subgenre the most innovation on the production side of things that it’s seen since Daringer first molded the Griselda sound. These are all artists who are taking the luxurious vibe of mafiaso rap from the early-to-mid ‘90s, and finally spawning something bigger and worthy, as opposed to the watering down of the style that Bad Boy among others ended up being responsible for.

We also can’t forget Ka. I didn’t include him alongside the rest of these guys because while they all have more of a Raekwon vibe, Ka is more like GZA. He has very stripped back production as well, however, he kind of sounds like he developed his style in a way that is very compatible with Roc Marciano, but definitely separate from it at the same time.

At the end of the day, no matter what, there’s gonna be great music everywhere no matter what the scene looks like from the outside looking in. My sentiments from last year, about wanting a more industrial influenced sound to become the representative sound of hip hop, still apply because I still feel like it could pose as a sensible point to go from where we are now. I get the sense that there will be a fairly dry period in mainstream hip hop in the next few years before the genre is replaced with another genre as the most popular genre before a new fire is lit under it. Or not. I’m not exactly good at predicting anything. Regardless, I am really excited to see how chamber rap continues to grow, and there’s plenty that I’m looking forward to in the year to come.

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Extraordinary Nobodies Top 15 Releases of 2017

by Dustin

2017-09-18

Well, it’s that time of year again. The end. You know what that means? Lots and lots of tip lists. Being that we’re a blog, we like to get in on the fun and do a top list every year too. More specifically, I like to do a top list. Rajin isn’t allowed, I make him post his on Twitter. Anyway, this list is not exclusive to hip-hop (even though that’s where most of our writing tends to lie), because there’s just too much good music coming out every year for that to be fair.

It’s also in descending order, so you’re going to have to scroll all the way to the bottom to find my favorite album of the year (or just look at the article photo, it might give you a clue). Thank you all so much for your support again this year! See you in 2018.


15. Godspeed You Black Emperor – Luciferian Towers
While Luciferian Towers may not be Godspeed’s best work, it’s absolutely still a powerhouse in it’s genre. The Canadian post-rock and drone group assembled an album that sounds hellishly disorienting throughout its entirety. Certainly a recommended listen, especially for those who dig the outfit’s previous releases. Of note was the very obvious jazz influence throughout the release. Favourite Track: “Anthem for No State.”

14. Willie the Kid & Vdon – Deutsche Marks
Taking influence from individuals like Roc Marciano, Willie the Kid and producer Vdon put together an excellent chamber rap EP. With ultra-luxurious lyrics, decadent vocals, and heavily revered sample driven production, Deutsche Marks was colder than a Michigan winter. Favourite Track: “Black Sinatra.”

13. Veiny Hands – Veiny Hands
Veiny Hands self-titled EP proved to be truly punk to the core, while also not being afraid to have fun with music. The vocals, instrumentation, and mixing felt to be deliciously throwback to early years of punk rock. It may not have been the most complex release of the year, but it would be difficult to find many others more genuine. It was a true spark plug album, and serves as an AED for the dying spirit on dreary days. There isn’t much else that can be said, really. Favourite Track: “Dirty Sheets.”

12. Roc Marciano – Rosebudd’s Revenge
Roc Marciano is the godfather of the aforementioned new wave of chamber rap, and Rosebudd’s Revenge demonstrated further why he’s had such a huge impact on the underground hip-hop scene. On this record Roc Marci flawlessly made an over the top criminal lifestyle sound as lavish and regal as running a fortune 500 company. The frigid and distinctly New York production provided the perfect ambient backdrop to his stories of debauchery and dealing. Favourite Track: “Marksmen (feat. Ka).”

11. Moor Hound – Green
Indie-folk singer/songwriter Moor Hound dropped Green near the start of 2017 and it held strong throughout to remain one of the best projects released. A warm, intimate, and emotional example of just how human the folk genre can be. It truly felt like a one on one session with Moor Hound – exactly as it should be – and could provide comfort even through the hardest of losses. He delivered an invitation to drop personal walls, by putting his own baggage on display for everyone to commiserate with. Favourite Track: “See You Around.”

10. Uncommon Nasa – Written at Night
Conceptually, Written at Night may have been the most interesting album to come out this past year. Focused on the thoughts and artistic outpouring experienced in the dead of night, this release was a collaborative effort between Nasa and his contemporaries. Perhaps its most interesting quality is the fact that the songs became more wild the later into “the night” the track list progressed. Great concept, great execution, and to top it all off the album sounded extremely New York. A recommended listen, especially for the fan of Def Jux early sounds. Favourite Track: “Written at Night (feat. Billy Woods & Quelle Chris).”

9. Billy Woods – Known Unkowns
Another album that appeals to the tastes of the Definitive Jux fans, Known Unknowns was about as east coast as it gets. When a rap veteran like Billy Woods teams up with a legendary underground producer like Blockhead (y’know, that guy who helped make Aesop Rock what he is today), there are going to be high expectations. This release met every single on, and then some. Woods’ delivery and writing style may take a bit to get used to for some, but it’s worth the effort. Trust. Favourite Track: “Bush League.”

8. Oddisee – The Iceberg
The latest installment in Oddisee’s discography packed no surprises, yet still ended up being one of the most formidable hip-hop releases this year. Chicken soup for the soul of individuals that grew up on acts like A Tribe Called Quest, The Iceberg was an attention grabbing album. Oddisee never strays that far from his comfort zone, but he put a lot of flair into his unique combination of technical prowess and socially charged lyricism. Any lack of variation in Oddisee’s sound was made up for in spades by his sheer talent. An excellent hip-hop record to the core. Favourite Track: “You Grew Up.”

7. Jonwayne – Rap Album Two
Rap Album Two saw Jonwayne take the listener to his most vulnerable places. Over whimsical melancholic throwback production he would spill his guts time after time, leaving nothing on the table. It was an emotionally challenging listening, but one well worth trying; moreover, this was a huge leap in quality from the rough around the edges Rap Album One. It was a treat to witness Jon seizing the potential he had displayed in flashes up to this point. Favourite Track: “Out of Sight.”

6. Quelle Chris – Being You is Great, I Wish I Could Be You More Often
Perhaps the closest to being a true one of a kind oddity on this list, Being You Is Great, I Wish I Could Be You More Often was one of the strangest releases in 2017. An enigmatic carnival of personality, invited the listener on an acid trip through his entire being. Off-kilter vocals tip-toed their way around astonishingly creative production to create a beautifully confusing record; more importantly however, it may be the first release of Quelle’s that felt entirely true to his enormous personality. Which, in all honesty, only served to make this album more incredible. Favourite Track: “Fascinating Grass (feat. Big Tone, Roc Marciano, and 87).”

5. Walter Gross – Vestige
While Walter Gross’ name may not ring familiar in the memory banks of the majority, he’s been a staple in the do-it-yourself music community for years and has a massive release history to sift through. Yet, through all these releases, Vestige is the grandest. Existing as a disgustingly tantalizing hybrid between hip-hop, post-punk, and noise, this album was a three headed monster hungry for listener’s eardrums. Favourite Track: “Good Morning.”

4. Algiers – The Underside of Power
The Underside of Power was damn near an indescribable listening experience, yet at the same time it was obnoxiously good. Though it took elements from gospel, hip-hop, industrial, and post-punk it truly was its own thing, and is impossible to peg into a genre. Here’s some things you should know though: the vocals are powerful, the instrumentation is powerful, and the songwriting is powerful. Seeing a trend? Kudos to Algiers. Favourite Track: “Walk Like a Panther.”

3. Milo – who told you to think??!!?!?!?!
While 2015’s so the flies don’t come established milo as an artist with the ability to be great, who told you to think??!!?!?!?! elevated him to being one of the most powerful young forces in the hip-hop realm. With verbose lyrics, dreamy beats, interesting flows, and oodles of emotional awareness, this album had just about everything one could want from a milo release; however, it’s all been elevated beyond anything he had release prior. In fact, some aspects of this album bolstered some folks claims that milo may be the MF DOOM of this generation. Favourite Track: “sorcerer.”

2. IDLES – Brutalism
Somewhere between old-school punk and modern post-punk, IDLES’ debut album Brutalism was born. Joe Talbot proved to be an excellent channel of anger and societal disgust, throwing hard hitting lyrics around like steel chair shots to the head. The absurdity of topics covered was often hammered home by repeating lyrics with various vocal inflections, and it worked splendidly. The instrumentation on Brutalism swung between hyperactive blind rage and anxious droning, bringing some interesting spins on conventional punk rock ideas. The record was relentless and offered listeners zero time to breathe. Suffocating had never been such a pleasure. Favourite track: “Mother.”

1. Open Mike Eagle – Brick Body Kids Still Daydream
The definitive album of 2017. Brick Body Kids Still Daydream was the perfect blend of frustrated, confused, cheeky, confident, and poignant. Open Mike Eagle created a masterpiece of solidarity for individuals tied to project homes; moreover, his attempts to inspire pride in poorer upbringings were heartwarmingly genuine. Bolstered with quick witted social analysis and wondrous production, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream was the well deserved album of the year in 2017. Favourite Track: “Brick Body Complex.”