Dustin’s 2018 Most Recommended Album List

by Dustin

2018 album list

Being a fan of hip-hop in general, I find year end list season to be a particularly special level of hell. While most publications crank out relatively harmless and generic top tens with whatever charted best in the past twelve months, there’s always a few outlets that decide to get holier-than-thou about their opinions through numeric rankings. Case in point, my favorite aggressive group of travelling trend chasers, DJ Booth talking down to people for enjoying an Eminem album.

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Now, it obviously doesn’t matter if Kamikaze gets left off a top releases list, but it’s all in the presentation, right? If we’re going to play the taste-shaming game, I will take the opportunity to point out the fact that they’re up their own ass about a list that includes Drake’s Scorpion and Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy; however, just like them, that would be nothing more than dumping on others for enjoying things I don’t like. I suppose I just wanted to take a quick second to dig at DJ Booth for thinking their opinions hold any weight, when they’ve already proven to be more out of touch with rap than the artists they dub irrelevant. Maybe next year, you can put people onto some new things without desperately trying to stir up controversy-based discussion on Twitter. Given the level of quality control, I doubt it’ll happen, but I’m a dreamer.

At any rate I’m not going to rank my top albums this year, take this as more a list of recommendations that I see as an essential snapshot of hip-hop. Thirteen favorites which I feel strongly enough about to say, “you should give this a try.” No rankings, as I stand behind each and every one of these records as worth your time to a degree that I don’t need to quantify. 2018 was amazing, but this is my personal cream of the crop.

Blueprint – Two Headed Monster: I can never help but feel like Blueprint is one of the most chronically underrated artists in hip-hop. He’s been around forever, standing alongside artists in the Definitive Jux and Rhymesayers camps since their haydays. To make things better he seems to only improve with age, and is perhaps one of the most thoughtful craftsmen in the genre. Two Headed Monster carried the spirit of acts such as A Tribe Called Quest in the most respectful way I’ve ever heard. It clearly pulled from that era, but it was handled with such care that it ended up like a heartfelt tribute to rap music. Front to back nothing stands out or steals the spotlight, yet still it was impossible to walk away from without feeling insanely happy. An album for the head-at-heart that avoided being condescending.

LARS – Last American Rockstars: The first wish fulfillment I received this year was seeing The Davidians finally materialize. See, back in the mid-2000s King Gordy and Bizarre formed a group under that name. Being heavily into Detroit rap at the time and a big King Gordy fan, I spent forever waiting for a release. After a bit of time, I started to assume the project had met the same fate as Detox and Jon Connor’s Aftermath debut. I was however, wrong (which will become a bit of a trend on this list) and the pair’s LARS rebrand started work under Majik Ninja Entertainment. The album ended up being an absolute bombastic joy. I can only really summarize it as having been a rollercoaster of debauchery that I never wanted to get off. If you want to read a little more about it, I wrote a review of this one. It was certainly a unique beast.

Eminem – Kamikaze: I’m sure there is going to be a faction of readers who will absolutely loathe the fact that I have placed this album on my 2018 most-recommended list, and that’s okay. Fortunately for me, this is my list and not yours. To me, Kamikaze was the first Eminem album to feel like an actual Eminem album since Encore (which was pretty weak). He sounded larger than life, angry, and immature in the way that made his music so engaging over a decade ago. While I’ve seen it be panned for lacking “emotionally mature” content, I felt as though the route of violent braggadocio taken worked out for the best. If I’m being honest, Eminem’s dramatic gut spilling of personal issues had long been majorly played out for me. I was refreshed simply to hear him rapping with a big personality on top of enjoyable production. I found the critical reception of Kamikaze to be an unfortunate byproduct of the perception that Eminem is “lame” to praise or enjoy, at least in comparison to my experience. I had all but given up on him after the dumpster-fire that was Revival, but this was actually quite a pleasant effort.

Hermit & The Recluse – Orpheus vs. Sirens: Ka has been a favourite of mine since his 2013 release The Night’s Gambit. I was quickly tantalized by his scripturesque lyrical style, and how it was built upon with distinctive and often drumless production. When he unveiled “Hermit & The Recluse” as a project with producer Animoss, it seemed like a match made in heaven. If you’re familiar with Ka at all, Orpheus vs. Sirens really wasn’t far removed from what you would expect. It fell a little short of Honor Killed the Samurai (and perhaps even Days with Dr. Yen Lo) for me, but it was for all intents and purposes a splendid piece of art. I’m sure this sounds as if I’m dismissing it as “more of the same,” but when you have the track record of consistency Ka has, that’s far from a negative.

Royce da 5’9” – Book of Ryan: Rajin and I both avoided writing a review for Book of Ryan, even though we loved it; given the highly personal nature of the subject matter, it didn’t feel right to dissect. I stand by that decision. Book of Ryan was more of an audio confessional with Royce da 5’9” opening up about the darkest and most private aspects of life. I could see this being an album that not everybody will enjoy, as it lacked any sort of pace or energy. This wasn’t an issue for me though, and those who enjoy melancholic introspection will likely really vibe with the atmosphere and vulnerability.

Knowledge the Pirate – Flintlock: Knowledge the Pirate — a long standing associate of Roc Marciano — created what was probably the most old-school east coast flavoured rap record this year. Flintlock was no-frills, no excessive flair, and perhaps slightly one dimensional; however, none of this held it back from being downright fantastic. From front to back his debut release gripped the part of me that grew up on grimey 90s music. If that sentence could also describe your lineage in hip-hop fandom, you should definitely pick up this one up as soon as possible.

Roc Marciano – Behold a Dark Horse: Admittedly, I was not huge on Rosebudd’s Revenge 2: The Bitter Dose when it released. I felt it to be a little too minimalistic, and a sequel that didn’t live up to my enjoyment of the original (though Rajin disagrees with me entirely on that). With that in mind, I was genuinely a little conflicted when Roc Marciano announced Behold a Dark Horse as his second major drop set for 2018. I was, unsurprisingly, very incorrect in my hesitance once again. Behold a Dark Horse ended up a fantastic display of off-kilter bold production, and Roc Marci at his weirdest and most energetic. In the future, this album will likely remain near the top of his discography for me. It had every single trait that I felt the second Rosebudd’s Revenge lacked, and was ultimately and extremely satisfying listen.

Black Milk – FEVER: I view Black Milk as a gigantic talent, and one of a small handful of artists I am comfortable pre-ordering new music from. I had truly unfairly high expectations for the follow up to If There’s a Hell Below, yet somehow he surpassed my hopes. FEVER was a luscious and beautifully smooth progression of the jazzy sound Black Milk toyed with on the Nat Turner collaborative LP The Rebellion Sessions. I feel as if this album never really received the attention it should have, likely due to coming out at the very beginning of a well saturated calendar year. If you did happen to miss FEVER, give it a chance. I think it has the potential to appeal to a wide variety of fandoms, while being challenging enough to please even the snobbiest of alternative music nerds.

ANKHLEJOHN & Big Ghost Ltd. – Van Ghost: On the lead up to June 18th, Van Ghost was probably my most anticipated drop of 2018. Ankhlejohn was on a furious hot-streak of quality tapes, and Big Ghost was showing to be a rising star in the modern boom-bap circle. Having them come together felt no less than a recipe for success, and it was. The Van Gogh-inspired Van Ghost was dark and gnarly, but with a distinct undertone of delicacy. It was anghellic in ways, but not afraid to kick the listeners ass when confronted with unpleasant reality. I really cannot recommend this enough, nor can I properly word just how wild it was stylistically. I can, however, promise that Van Ghost will not let you down.

Denzel Curry – TA13OO: Denzel Curry is one of those rappers who’s seemed on the cusp of dropping a individual masterpiece since his career launched. 2016’s Imperial came close, but this was the year it fully came to fruition. TA13OO saw Denzel finally apply his wonderful toolkit and raw skill to a well thought out concept, and it was gorgeous. I might even go as far as saying that TA13OO will be looked back on as the definitive record of its scene. I did review it, but it’s an album that you need to hear for yourself to appreciate properly. Whether you’re a fan of the old-school or the new generation, it would be a disservice to your ears to not give it a fair shake. It was phenomenal.

Daniel Son x Asun Eastwood x Futurewave – Physics of Filth: A little earlier this year I discovered Asun Eastwood’s project Hollywood Briggs from 2017, and gave it a spin with Rajin. We were mutually impressed, to the point that I ended up ordering the CD version of the release; however, the tracks featuring Daniel Son really stood out. His presence pushed Asun to elevate himself to unbelievable heights, leading to spectacular toe-to-toe rapping. Immediately we began to talk about how hyped we would be for them to form a duo. As it turns out, we would get our wish and then some. The duo formed a trio with super-producer Futurewave (more on him in the next blurb), and released one of the nastiest barrages of hip-hop I’ve listened to recently. For anybody hungry for more grit in the modern rap scene, this album is for you.

Daniel Son & Futurewave – Pressure Cooker: The second consecutive entry on this list for both Daniel Son and Futurewave, and an absolute monster of a record. Rajin reviewed this one already, and he said a lot more than I’m going to be able to in this format so I recommend giving that a read. What I will say though is that Pressure Cooker is the result of an emcee firing at all cylinders alongside a highly skilled producer with a clear vision of soundscape. Much like the works of duos such as Eric B. and Rakim or earlier Atmosphere the chemistry on display was almost unfair, resulting in a nearly flawless end product. If you dig the Roc Marciano lane, but want something with more snarl, Pressure Cooker is likely the perfect choice. Don’t get it mistaken though, Daniel is far from being another Roc clone. He is a breed of his own, and Futurewave has the chops to match.

Shad – A Short Story About a War: The only way I know how to properly express my adoration of A Short Story About a War, is to say that attempting to review it in the light it deserves sent me into an awful writers block spiral for several weeks. I could not find the words to capture just how incredible it was, and felt as if anything I could write would still misrepresent it to the reader. This album is not only musically enjoyable, but the heavy themes and ideas it carried were presented with a perfect balance of delicate tact and reality grounding shock. Seriously, if you’re a music writer who maintains the opinion that hip-hop lacks “content” currently, get your head out of your backside and look a little harder. In my opinion, one of the best social-political rooted albums of all time dropped this year, and you have missed out by not doing your due diligence. It nearly killed this website by being too good, and that’s coming from an immensely stubborn human. I wish I was kidding.

To conclude my 2018 list of recommended hip-hop records, I’d like to thank a few people. First and foremost, thank you to Rajin and Emily for their contributions to Extraordinary Nobodies. We all had a rough stretch in terms of activity, but I am extremely proud of what we did accomplish. Additionally, I’d like to shout out my friend Isaac for regularly offering me feedback on articles. Thank you to Michael (of FilthyBroke Recordings), Ramon (also known as MCrv), and Ben for listening to me vent multiple times about difficulties balancing life and writing. To all the artists who we featured in some form or another, thank you for doing what you do and giving us a reason to write. Finally, a massive thank you to everyone who has supported Extraordinary Nobodies in 2018 and years prior. We’re an artists-first site, and knowing people appreciate that is beyond special. Let’s hope for another strong year of hip-hop in 2019. We can’t wait.

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Album Review: Eminem – Kamikaze

by Dustin

kamikaze

8.25/10

Since his reemergence in hip-hop nine years ago, Eminem’s career arc has been rocky to say the least. Perhaps lost as an artist, he’s bounced between deliveries, subject matter, and producers while simultaneously finding very little to be a natural fit. His music during this period really struggled to discover its footing completely. Relapse was an interesting idea with smooth production, but faltered in its conceptual execution and consistency; Recovery was a matured and more cohesive effort hampered by a one dimensional sound; The Marshall Mathers LP 2 boasted unreal highs, but suffered as a full listen due to a few really poor artistic choices; and finally, Revival was a cumulative disaster of faults, mixed in with some of the worst studio technical work to appear on a mainstream album. His ability to write pure rap was still clearly alive, but whether or not he could assemble a solid full body of work became a massive question mark. With doubt swirling and the public eye shifting elsewhere, there was only one solution…

…drop a seethingly angry album out of nowhere. Kamikaze.

First and foremost, the production value was an extreme step-up from from the absolute audio hell brought on by Rick Rubin during the past handful of years. Eminem’s performance was no longer burdened by disgustingly muddy mixing, and it saw a return to layered vocals to properly compensate for his relatively weak voice. Thanks to these small studio tweaks, he sounded clear and powerful behind the mic for the first time in ages. The beat choices also felt a lot more decisive and modern; moreover, even though the production credits (which included the likes of Mike Will Made It and Illadaproducer) may throw people off, the overall vibe felt more like an Eminem album than anything from the last ten years. The dark, simplistic, off-kilter nature of the instrumentation allowed for his rapping stay at the forefront of each song, which was refreshing. He’s an artist who has always gotten lost easily in oversaturated production, and clearly this was taken into consideration when structuring this album. The cohesion was also impressively tight, particularly given the awful whiplashing between incompatible styles on last year’s Revival. The only brief changeup was going into the mid-2000s Shady Records sounding throwback on “Stepping Stones;” however, this was purposeful and much less jarring than the hard right turns into Rick Rubin’s 80s rock “samples” that had become commonplace lately.

Eminem as an emcee was supremely engaging on Kamikaze, and it was a shocking treat. For the past half decade he had been in this weird place where he was writing really well, but the substance usually felt forced or non-existent. In addition to that, his delivery had become incredibly wonky, gutless, and rather hard to enjoy. With that in mind, it became obvious straight from the first few tracks that the flows, while still occasionally weird, had been dialed back to being more traditionally on beat. The gutlessness was also solved with the aforementioned return to vocal layering, which really helped his delivery to have some genuine impact. This really allowed for his penmanship to shine though, which was in tip-top condition for the vast majority of the album. His multisyllable rhyme patterns returned to feeling more conversational and less hamfisted, while his wordplay took on much more subtlety. For instance, there was one moment on “Fall” where he lead into a punchline about “Forever” (the posse cut alongside Drake, Kanye West, and Lil Wayne) by borrowing his own flow from 9 years ago. It rolled out so smoothly that it would have been easy to miss until the second or third listen. That sort of rewind factor was fantastic, and made it impossible to not desire subsequent listens. As far as subject matter goes, Kamikaze was significantly more vapid and self-indulgent than either The Marshall Mathers LP 2 or Revival, which was oddly a positive. It seems that in spite of the perception that songs like “Stan” have built about Eminem’s songwriting being grandiose, he’s actually most comfortable in the snide and angry mindset that he captured here. While it was initially a bit of a shock to hear him rapping about hating critics, hating other rappers, knocking people out, guns, and calling Trick Trick, it truly felt like he had allowed his real personality to come out again. Removing the rose-coloured glasses, the vast majority of his best work has always been self-obsessed fury and vitriol. Kamikaze really was no different than a record like the original Marshall Mathers LP in that regard, and it was a fun listen because of it.

The aforementioned “Stepping Stone,” however, was the one track on this album with a much more emotional foundation. Though they’ve not released a studio album since 2004, it marked the official end of D12. “Stepping Stone” went heavily into detail about how Proof’s untimely death tore the collective apart and rendered them dysfunctional even through multiple attempts to recapture the feeling and make a comeback. It was handled incredibly tastefully with Eminem shouldering a lot of the blame, but also being blunt about needing everyone to move past the group so that they can all remain friends. The production, as mentioned, was a throwback to the sound of the label during D12’s hayday. It was a nice touch, and a fittingly melancholy end to a group limping out of years of turmoil.

The features on this album definitely seemed to catch a lot of attention on drop day, and fortunately they did not disappoint. Joyner Lucas, Royce da 5’9”, and Jessie Reyez each brought a unique flavor to their tracks. Joyner’s opening verse to “Lucky You,” a bit of a before and after story about fame, matched Eminem’s level of energy perfectly and accomplished exactly what the song needed it to do. On the sillier end of the spectrum, Royce brought much appreciated comic relief to the opening of “Not Alike,” which of course came immediately after the emotional strain of “Stepping Stone.” Jessie Reyez appeared on both of the combination tracks “Nice Guy” and “Good Guy,” where she promptly asserted herself as one of the most fitting singers to perform alongside Eminem. Her humor matched his perfectly, and the chemistry was simply delightful. Overall, the features felt like genuine collaborations rather than random names making a cameo. It was a nice change of pace, and nobody came across as redundant.

There was an additional unlisted feature by Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon on “Fall.” It sounded nice, but there isn’t really much else to be said aside from the fact that he was angry it stayed on the album.

Kamikaze was unapologetically midwest, and for that reason it will likely always be a polarizing album. The speed rap, trap influence, shock value, and hyper-lyrical writing style are all staples of the region currently, and it’s not going to be every listener’s cup of tea. That being said, Eminem did these things extremely well. From start to finish, nothing felt out of place. Even the weaker tracks such as “Normal” were amusing and played a role in making the overall listen more complete. He overcame many of the musical issues he’s been grappling lately, and it reflected itself in a solid project. It wasn’t perfect, but he’s never been the perfect artist. What it was, though, was Eminem’s most natural sounding release in over 15 years after a litany of awkward and confusing detours. Fortunately he seemingly found his way back on track, as Kamikaze was an excellent listening experience.

 

Album Review: V8 – One Dog Night

by Dustin

odn

8/10

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to our very first review of 2017. This is actually a very special review for us, as it’s the very first piece of “early press” we’ve been able to contribute. When our friends at Filthy Broke Recordings agreed to send us a press kit, we were absolutely overjoyed. Though we didn’t get this out as early as we would have liked (stupid actual job causing mayhem), it has still been a pleasure.

Now, onto the review itself. You may be asking, “what album are they so hyped up about?” The answer is One Dog Night, by alternative rapper V8.

The first thing that stands out about One Dog Night is that V8’s vocal performances are really quite monstrous. You won’t find raps full of quotable punches and one-liners on One Dog Night, but it remains an unapologetically gripping listen. V8 has a charming gravel to his delivery on this album, coupled with a wonderful willingness to explore a range of vocal inflections. Whilst drawing you in with what he’s saying, V8 simultaneously begins to construct this dark-sounding environment vocally. The rasp and strain to his voice perfectly sets the atmosphere for what is a grungy album.

Buckle up, because the concept of musical atmosphere and environment are going to be overwhelmingly prevalent while discussing this album.

Backing up his vocals is an assortment of absolutely grimy production that feels nostalgic, yet fresh. One Dog Night’s instrumentation draws inspiration from a wide variety of sources, and it is ever changing throughout the duration of the tape. It’ll have you jamming to a powerful boom-bap beat, then immediately slap you over the head with something completely out of the box and experimental. To be frank, any attempt to verbally explain how diverse-yet-cohesive the production is on One Dog Night will not do it justice. That filthy grunge sound kicked into motion vocally was really well supplemented by the production on this album. A seamless marriage, if you will.

That filth (said affectionately) is further built upon by the usage of interview, news, and other samples between tracks. Though the frequency in which these appear is jarring at first, it quickly becomes a necessary part of One Dog Night.

One Dog Night is the kind of tape that taps into the essence of indie hip-hop that was established through the late nineties and early two-thousands. Those who grew up fascinated by the likes of Myka 9, Radioinactive, Busdriver, and any artist from the Project Blowed heyday will find a welcoming comfort in this album. It’s not the most accessible hip-hop release, but it’s not supposed to be. There are times where One Dog Night almost feels like too much at once; however, the energy and thought that is evident on this album rivals early indie-scene juggernauts, ultimately leading to an incredibly satisfying record. V8 goes against the grain, and his efforts serve as a reminder that abrasiveness can be done tastefully.

Those looking for something to throw on in the background will probably not enjoy this record, and it is beautiful in that way. One Dog Night forces you to pay attention with an in-your-face confidence that many would not be able to pull off.

The cassette release, coming via Filthy Broke, also looks quite intriguing. It is on top end of price point for a tape, but every order comes with a handmade leather case, so the dollar amount is definitely understandable. If you’re a cassette collector looking for something quite unusual, it might be worth having a look at. The cases are super unique, and it’s cool to witness an artist doing something out-of-the-box for a physical release. Really, it’s about as true to the indie mindset as you can get.

Though, they could be gone at this point as only a handful were created. So, you may just be shit out of luck. If that be the case, we sincerely apologize (just kidding, if you snooze you lose).

Album Review: Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 3

by Dustin

rtj3

9/10

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring… Aside from Killer Mike and El-P, who decided to surprise release Run the Jewels 3 as a Christmas present to their fans! For those unaware, Run the Jewels is the collaborative effort between Atlanta based emcee Killer Mike, and New York’s own producer-slash-alternative-rapper El-P. The duo worked together on Killer Mike’s 2012 solo album R.A.P. Music, before releasing the first Run the Jewels album in 2013. Run the Jewels 2 would come roughly a year later, and the jewel runners have been preoccupied selling out shows and touring the world ever since.

But after more than two years the third installment is finally here. The main question most will probably be asking is, “was this really worth the extended wait”? The answer is a simple and sweet “hell yes”.

The atmosphere on Run the Jewels 3 is truly terrifying. Mike and El take all the anger of the current social climate and twist them into songs that knock hard enough to give a listener whiplash. Though the album definitely has tongue-in-cheek moments, and hilarious one liners at times, the overlying tone is one of bottled rage being unleashed upon the world. Even the tracks that fall more in line with classic brag-rap have politically based lines tucked in ever so cleverly; moreover, none of the social commentary on Run the Jewels 3 seems forced. Killer Mike and El-P did an excellent job of making sure that lines actually fit where they’re placed, and don’t detract from the overall vibe of a song.

We return from the depths of the badland,
With a gun and a knife in our waistband,
Went to war with the Devil and Shaytan,
He wore a bad toupee and a spray tan.
(Killer Mike on Talk to Me)

Run the Jewels do show their emotional range at times too. For instance, the song “2100” delivered a beautifully sad-yet-uplifting anthem of solidarity for trying times. “Report to the Shareholders” and “Down” also take on a much more mellow sound, breaking up the waves of braggadocio and fury.

Features on this album are used relatively sparingly. For the most part, guest artists are limited to a hook or the odd short singing verse (mainly Tunde Adebimpe on “Thieves!”). Danny Brown provided an absolutely insane and hard hitting feature on “Hey Kids (Bumaye)”, as one would expect. There’s also a special unlisted guest feature who absolutely shredded their verse (but we won’t spoil the surprise, so you’ll just have to listen and find out). Overall, all the features were wonderful and added positively to the songs on which they appeared.

Good day from the house of the haunted,
Get a job, get a house, get a coffin,
Don’t stray from the path, remain where you at,
That maximizes our profit,
Is that blunt?,
Oh well, hell, so’s this boot,
We live to hear you say “please don’t shoot”.
(El-P on Don’t Get Captured)

El-P’s production on Run the Jewels 3 is a treat to the ear. Everything felt much more true to the style he’s developed over the years, in comparison to the stripped down instrumentals on the first two group albums. Some of the beats on this record feel absolutely enormous, and dense to the point that one can pick up a new sound upon every subsequent listen. Fans of El-P’s solo discography will notice that some instrumentals almost feel like throwbacks to his previous works; however, everything has progressed into a heavy, angry, bass intensive style that fits perfectly under he and Mike’s vocals.

It needs more time to digest, but Run the Jewels 3 may have the most enjoyable production of the three records. Given how acclaimed the instrumentals from the first two are, that is saying a lot.

There’s really not much else to say to sum up Run the Jewels 3. It’s a face-melter album that may just make you want to punch a hole in a wall. Killer Mike and El-P closed the year by surprise dropping one of the best albums in 2016. They also released it for completely free, so really there’s no excuse: check this out as soon as you can. Even if you’ve never been a Run the Jewels fan before, do it. Do it right now.