I said in my last piece that I no longer want to write reviews, but I do still want to speak on some albums that came out in November 2019, a month I felt was fairly stacked. So instead, I wrote relatively quick recaps of them and stuffed everything together. No quantifying grades or ratings – just scattered thoughts with a varying amount of relevance to the project at hand.
Daniel Son & Futurewave – Moonshine Mix 2 [Brown Bag Money]
Moonshine Mix 2 is the second record that Daniel Son & Futurewave have dropped this year, coming after this summer’s Yenaldooshi. Yenaldooshi was a bit different from what you’d expect from these guys, though it was still another strong addition to an essentially flawless run of collaborative albums. It had eerier production and excessively aggressive vocals, even compared to Daniel’s already confrontational delivery. With that said, Moonshine Mix 2 sees Daniel Son & Futurewave going straight back to basics.
The first tape was produced by Crate Divizion’s Vic Grimes and Phyba Optikz, both of whom are vastly different from Futurewave stylistically. I wasn’t sure what his approach would be, but I was sure he’d deliver (spoiler alert: he did). To me, it sounds like he went for samples that were reminiscent of the original but flipped them in his own way to make them feel like beats you might hear on his previous albums with Daniel Son. It was a really clever way to find a middle ground between staying faithful to the first tape while also giving us trademark Futurewave.
I really don’t know what to say about Daniel Son that we haven’t said a thousand times before. There’s a reason why he’s one of our favorite rappers out right now. On most of this album he supplies us with more of what put him there for us. However, at some points, Daniel plays with his flow in really interesting ways that I don’t think I’ve heard him try before. On “Don’t Spill” he hits us with a double time flow out of nowhere, and on “It’s Facts” he kind of reminds me of Benny on “5 to 50”. Not only does it sound great, I appreciate hearing him take risks like this in an era where people find their comfort zones and bury their feet there.
Just like in 2018, Daniel Son & Futurewave gave us an album that sits far above most of the competition. These guys are on a hot streak that I honestly don’t see ending anytime soon.
Gang Starr – One Of The Best Yet [Gang Starr Enterprises]
I don’t like posthumous music. More often than not, it comes off as a cash-grab by a label or affiliate rather than an attempt at paying tribute to a fallen artist. I can honestly count the number of tasteful posthumous albums that I’ve heard on one hand. Fortunately, this is one of them.
To be fair, this isn’t entirely posthumous. Half of the group is still here, which is directly the reason why it sounds so good. It’s easy to tell that Premier put everything he had into this album. It felt like his number one priority was creating something that Guru would approve of. You can feel the love and sorrow that Premo experienced while making this album just wash over you through the production. The sage burning rituals, keeping Guru’s ashes in the studio with him, putting Guru’s son on an interlude…it all comes through in the music to make for a very touching listening experience. Guru sounds so alive on these songs – it almost makes you forget that he’s no longer here.
I give Premo endless respect for the way he handled this album. He made it feel like Guru was genuinely right there with him. I don’t think I can give any higher praise than that when it comes to a posthumous release.
Griselda – WWCD [Griselda Records/Shady Records/Interscope Records]
This was my most anticipated album for fourth quarter 2019. I’ll admit I’ve been nervous – I didn’t want to see these guys fumble this deal. A lot of things could have gone wrong.
Fortunately, they ended up giving me EXACTLY what I’ve wanted for the last two and a half years. More, even. WWCD gave me the feeling I had when I heard FLYGOD and Reject 2 for the first time, shortly after they signed to Shady. It was that same sense of mystique and excitement about something special hitting hip hop in the face. There’s no bells or whistles on this record – and that’s the beauty of it. It was signature GxFR grimey and spooky boom bap through and through. Setting aside the quality of the music, the fact that they managed to release an album with this sound, subject matter, and even artwork through a major label with NO concessions is historic.
Daringer’s production, which is what the GxFR sound has been built on from the beginning, is usually fairly simple and almost entirely loop-driven. That isn’t always great if the loop gets grating or monotonous, which is a problem I’ve had with his production on occasion. For that reason, bringing Beat Butcha on board was honestly the best thing they could have done. To my understanding, he supplied Daringer with music to loop, which meant they could be more precise with how the beats sounded while also avoiding sample clearance issues. The results were beautiful; this had some of the best beats I’ve ever heard on a Griselda Records release.
Benny and Conway are two of the best rappers alive today. Indisputably. So of course, the rapping was excellent throughout this album. I have never once heard Benny come with a verse anything short of great, and that doesn’t change here. Conway, on the other hand, releases mixtape after mixtape, all seemingly recorded over the span of a day or two. As a result, at times he can sound complacent to me. Mind you, a complacent Conway will still tear you to shreds on a track. It looks to me like dropping an official album through a major label woke him up though, because this is potentially the best I’ve personally ever heard him. Also, I really wasn’t expecting to hear Westside Gunn rap the way he did here. To me, he’s always been more style over skill – which isn’t a bad thing at all. He really showed out here, though. His flows were tight and he sounded more dialed in than I’m used to, and I loved it.
I have no hesitation in putting this up there as one of my absolute favorite Griselda Records AND Shady Records releases. It might look like I’m overselling it, but honestly, I don’t give a fuck. This was more than worth the wait and I’m still excited about it.
Westside Gunn – Hitler Wears Hermes VII [Griselda Records]
As is tradition, Westside Gunn released a new installment to his Hitler Wears Hermes mixtape series around Halloween. This is his second solo release of 2019, coming only a few months after FLYGOD Is An Awesome GOD. Even though this is a mixtape, it’s more developed than FIAAG, which felt like it was somewhere between an album and an EP.
Usually, the Hitler Wears Hermes tapes are Gunn’s grimiest and filthiest projects, but this tape went for a smoother, jazzier, more soulful sound. He sounds more at home on these beats than did through most of his last album, which went in a weirder and artsier direction. It seems like this mixtape was more about creating a vibe rather than hard-hitting standout tracks. Half of the songs play like interludes; they’re a minute and some change in length and are mainly driven by the instrumentals, a few repeated lines, and Gunn’s signature ad-libs. That’s not to say there aren’t a fair amount of more developed tracks here, but outside of just a handful, that’s mainly relegated to the tracks with features on them. With that in mind, what this tape has going for it is that the vibe created is really enjoyable to listen to. Hitler Wears Hermes is easily one of the better mixtape series of recent years, and this only works to strengthen that position.
Yelawolf – Ghetto Cowboy [Slumerican Records]
This record is Yelawolf’s first independent offering, coming less than a year after fulfilling his contract with Shady/Interscope. Apparently he had this album ready for a while, but he decided to instead give Shady an album similar to what got him signed. He re-worked his final major label release into the impressive Trunk Muzik 3 – a tasteful choice in my opinion.
Trunk Muzik 3 came off like a momentary artistic deviation for the sake of sentiment, but Ghetto Cowboy seems more like the logical next step after 2017’s Trial By Fire. This is both a progression from and improvement upon that sound. At times I’ve felt like Yela’s country rap stuff can lean a little too hard into the country side of things, but this album feels incredibly hip hop for how much country/folk influence it has. It’s mainly thanks to the production; while the instruments used sound like what you would hear in country-oriented music, the arrangement and drum patterns make it feel more hip hop than a lot of his other genre-bending work (which can feel more like someone rapping over a country music backing). The end result is a really interesting wild-west outlaw rap album. Ghetto Cowboy isn’t necessarily Yelawolf’s best record (I think Love Story holds that title, despite what I’ve said), but it’s easily his best attempt at blending genres to date.
That about wraps this up…Or it did, originally. Bonus round!
Roc Marciano – Marcielago [Marci Enterprises]
Yeah, this came out at the top of December. Fuck it.
At this point in Roc Marciano’s career, he has every reason in the world to get complacent. Rather than coast on his legacy, though, he seems like he’s hungry to remind everybody who the mastermind is behind essentially the entire style that underground east coast hip hop artists have been running with for the last few years.
There are a few staples of a Roc Marci album that you’re gonna find here. Pimp talk? Minimalistic production? Slick, laid back delivery? All present. And that’s about all that’s familiar. It feels like Marci is taking elements of his established formula and applying them to sounds he hasn’t played with before. The production on this album is actually portrayed well by the cover art. It sounds like the backing to a crime drama: chaotic and violent at times, luxurious and indulgent at others. He’s always been a cinematic artist, but rather than his typical approach of soundtracking the biopic of a street legend, he took a turn in the “Miami Vice” direction. Granted, he experimented on RR2 and Behold A Dark Horse too. That said, it feels like with each passing album it’s gotten easier for him to broaden his horizons. I can’t say whether this one is better than BADH, my favorite Marci project from last year, just yet. It definitely sounds like he’s more comfortable experimenting than ever, though.
These days, I have a hard time describing Marci’s music because of where he’s been taking it. His primary focus isn’t really on the cold, unflinching soul sample-driven boom bap that he came into prominence with anymore…and I think that’s great. He’s proving that he’s not only talented and influential, but a once-in-a-lifetime hip hop artist. People are still imitating the style he popularized years ago, and less effectively at that. Meanwhile, he’s off finding ways to innovate even further. Roc Marciano is one of the greatest of all time.
I know I didn’t cover every release last month. Some didn’t move me to speak on them (which doesn’t necessarily mean I think they’re bad), and I haven’t listened to others yet. These just happened to inspire me to write, and I wanted to extend a bit of love towards them. I’m looking to do this semi-regularly, so I’ll try to be back with another one of these in a month or two.