Been doing a lot of running around the past several days, mainly seeing family and friends before I'm shipped away from home to begin the whole college thing again for a second year. I'm feeling mighty apprehensive about leaving New York, perhaps even more than I was last year. Not even so much for missing my friends and all of the amazing free events I've attended, but because you lose so much personal freedom once you're back at school, back in a routine, at least as far as time management goes. And I know time for music listening (outside of my radio show, which will be available for podcast in the near future!), is going to be the first casualty. This month off I've been able to go out and still find time to sit down and listen to 3 records in a day, but once shit starts up, I'll probably be lucky getting through 3 records in 2 weeks. So, I'll take some of the brief spare time I have remaining to briefly reflect on a few I've listened to that I thought was really good. This is an incomplete list, as I'll leave off most classic material (eg. 36 Chambers) and generally focus on things that I feel should've gotten more attention.
Invincible - Shapeshifters: I don't really have much to say that hasn't been covered in this fantastic review. The only thing really preventing me from declaring this the album of the year right now is its at-times relatively lackluster production (no beats here are outright bad), but everything else about it is remarkable. It's certainly the best thing out of Detroit that I've heard this year (and yes, I've listened to The Preface). Labeling Invincible a great lyricist is an understatement; in addition to dropping tongue twisting rhymes every other bar, she weaves a consistent and complex narrative of oppression as it manifests itself worldwide, from Ann Arbor to Detroit to Palestine, and makes a convincing case as to how music really is a "Sledgehammer" that can incite real grass-roots change. She even created a docu-music-video to "Locusts," having residents of her community in Detroit supplement the music by discussing how gentrification has affected them personally. I'm really disappointed that a record of such a high calibre has been so overlooked by the hip-hop media (AND blogosphere).
Nas - Untitled/Nigger: It's become fashionable for people to say The Nigger Tape is somehow vastly superior to Untitled, but I call bullshit on that. Granted, the beats knocked a little more, but aside from the stellar tracks "Esco Let's Go" and "Ghetto Remix" (which obviously couldn't have made the final cut), I don't think there's anything that I miss not having on the official record. And come on, you can make your own damn custom mix if you'd really like to. I still largely stand by my review, and believe that a lot of people failed to judge Nas' lyrics from a proper context. Nas is not trying to offer any concrete idea of what "success" for black America is/and should be, and he almost always DIRECTLY relates celebration of money to his life in Queensbridge, showing that the former is a product of the latter. When he talks about personal growth and having a broader worldview, he isn't being inconsistent, but is telling us that he's grown out of this mindset. Something else that's frustrated me with how this LP has been received is how Nas largely doesn't get credit for his still incredible rhyming talents. Often when this point is made, someone will retort "Well of course, it's Nas," as if that makes his achievement non-noteworthy. I'm not going to attempt to defend the production, though, as I've come to realize that enjoyment of beats is 99% a subjective thing.
Talking Heads - Remain in Light: I know I said I'd avoid obvious classics, but I'll briefly mention this because it is probably the favorite discovery I've made this summer. Few things in this world excite me as much as counterpoint and polyrhythms, and to find an album chock full of songs with MULTIPLE polyrythmic, funky grooves directly inspired by Afrobeat is almost too much to ask for. Also, where the fuck is my beautiful wife?
CYNE - Pretty Dark Things: So my original prediction was slightly off; I haven't seen ANY publication review this album, despite it definitely being one of the stronger LPs of the year. My enthusiasm for the production may have waned a little, and I would probably choose two different tracks to link to if I could do the review over, but I still stand by my basic point that album's content is more interesting than what you find your run-of-the-mill undie release (although not startling to those who read or think), and while not as thematically complex is in some ways far more accessible than Shapeshifters and other politically-oriented rap I've recently listened to.
Scientifik - Criminal: If it weren't for Dan Love's beat deconstruction of "Downlo Ho" and Max's review, I would've never heard of this great hidden gem of an album. Scientifik is a great rapper and kicks some great rhymes about how steals shit from dope dealers and disapproves of shady women, and practically every beat is perfect. The production almost always consists of hard, complex drum breaks (of the likes you don't hear these days) underneath subdued, jazzy bass and horn samples, giving the music a very consistent gloomy, wintry, yet melodic feel - essentially gritty boom-bap at its finest. Also, I nominate "As Long As You Know" as the most overlooked RZA cut in hip-hop history, as Scientifik and Edo G. just rip the track to shreds between the two of them. Sadly, Scientifik died about a year after the album was released. R.I.P.
Can't quite continue now, but I'll hopefully have time to finish this up within the next few days.