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In review: A ‘Damn.’ good year of music

By Jaharri Brodnax and Ayden Marcano

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This school year has brought us a number of controversies and thrusted us into a time where we see a division amongst races, classes and religions. In these trying times it’s always important to unite and unify. This school year has also brought us some of the most innovative and interesting music to come out in a long time, from the dazzling and blissful vocal performances brought to us by Frank Ocean, to the infectious trap beats on the Migos album. Like the great Stevie Wonder once said, “Music is a world within itself, a language we all understand.” So in a language we can all understand, here are six of the best albums to come out this school year.

Frank Ocean – Blonde   ★★★★★

Following an almost four year long hiatus from music, there was a huge mystique and cult anticipation around Frank Ocean’s newest release, “Blonde.” His album has features from Beyonce on “Pink+White,” Andre 3000 on “Solo (reprise),” and additional writing credits throughout the album from rappers Kanye West and Tyler the Creator.

The instrumentals on this project take a very simplistic approach, leaving room for Ocean’s vocals to be the main focus. The minimalism on the instrumentals gives the album a very ethereal feel that complements Ocean’s vocals perfectly. Ocean is an incredible storyteller, as he has shown on past albums such as “Channel Orange,” and there’s no shortage of amazing storytelling on this album. This is intermittently broken up with brief interludes from Oceans’s mother and Andre 3000 speaking on being an individual in society and ghost writers, respectively. “Blonde” is a perfect return to the music scene for Ocean, a minimalist approach where Ocean is the main focus. – AM


Playboi Carti – Playboi Carti  ★★★★★

Playboi Carti is an up and coming rapper out of Atlanta. At the age of 20, Carti has amassed a cult-like following with an unorthodox approach to music, being that he releases as little music as possible. This self-titled project is the first official release for Carti after being around the music scene for two years, sparsely releasing singles of his own and doing features with the likes of Asap Rocky and Famous Dex. This release from Carti isn’t meant to be taken too seriously; however, it has a cultural impact that’s been bubbling for years now. A self-described “pop star,” Carti doesn’t make music that requires much thinking, often dealing with the stereotypical hip hop topics: money, women and drugs. On this project the instrumentals are very bright, much like you would expect from a “pop star,” but the drums and 808 bass lines are no different than anything you would hear from a Migos or Asap Rocky track.

The lead single from the album and future summer anthem “Magnolia” features one of the more mind numbing choruses, one that struggles to even piece together a full sentence. The album as a whole is embodied by the song “Wokeuplikethis*” featuring the enigma, Lil Uzi Vert. The song has a recognizable hip-hop drum pattern with a guitar as the lead to go along with rockstar paradigm we see in a lot of rap music nowadays. The chorus is a commentary on how Carti is shifting culture and he’s “waking up to n****s looking like him,” which should be expected when you’re at the forefront of a cultural movement. The music on this album is dangerously infectious, and guaranteed to induce good times, but the significance of this album comes more culturally than musically. -AM


Gorillaz – Humanz  ★★★★☆

For the last seven years, Gorillaz have been on less of a hiatus, and more of a Damon Albarn sulk session. Damon Albarn, the producer and primary vocalist for the digital band, took time away from Gorillaz to work more closely with his band Blur and release a solo project that was stripped down and grey. Having Albarn come back to the hip-hop infused, alternative and digitally animated band, we really didn’t know what to expect.

We’re immediately greeted with an upbeat anthem that dispels any concerns I had about this project coming into it, but raises a few questions that become more evident as the album goes on. The first song on the project, “Ascension,” features Vince Staples, a rapper out of Long Beach, California. Staples’ verse is one of the more politically charged verses on the album as he expresses his love for black women, brings up issues of policing and racial bias against black people, and brings up oppression with the line “they hated on us since the days of Moses.”

The main problem on this album, which ironically is this album’s strong point too, are the features. On “Andromeda,” featuring D.R.A.M, we hear one of the better instrumentals on the project and a beautiful, nostalgic vocal performance by “2D,” the group’s virtual lead singer. Unfortunately the D.R.A.M feature on this project is a footnote. On a song where you want more from the feature, you’re left with very little. On the other hand there’s a few times on the album where we’re met with brilliant features like on “Let Me Out” featuring Pusha T and Mavis Staples, or on “She’s On My Collar” featuring Kali Uchis. This is a 26 song project, with six interludes and an unnecessary intro track, so it’s unrealistic to expect every song to be perfect or every feature to be amazing — it’s just at times there was a lot left to be desired. -AM


Sampha – Process   ★★★☆☆

British musician Sampha had an initial claim to fame after featuring on one of Drake’s albums, “Nothing Was The Same,” awhile back. Some of his previous discography, like his EP “Dual” and a number of singles have given us some insight into what this UK prodigy is capable of. With star studded vocal performances over electronic infused R&B instrumentals, “Process” is an album that has the strength to stand out alone with its sounds.

Prior to the release of the album, his mother, Binty Sisay, had lost her long lasting battle with cancer. Much of this album is inspired by these real life events and how they took a toll on him and his family. His pain and pure emotion can be heard through the vocal deliveries. In songs like “Under,” and “Incomplete Kisses,” Sampha uses tempo and uplifting sounds in the imagery of a portal. Separate from the vocals, the actual instrumentals change in tempo, and there are even solos for the instruments that allow for the audience to appreciate the sounds.

However, songs like “Take Me Inside” detail the sad moments of Sampha’s loss of his mother, and have little to no instrumentation to show the emptiness of emotion. While his music is his purpose, he still misses the people and the woman who gave him his purpose and tries to explain his eternal love for her. Even though this album is only 10 tracks long, Sampha wastes no time with his musical approach, while not featuring any other musicians. The majority of the instrumentation on this project is orchestrated by himself, and the combination of his writing makes the music all more pure. -JB


Migos – Culture ★★★★★

Trap group Migos’ meteoric rise to fame was anything but unprecedented. Rolling out hit after hit, and feature after feature, Migos has one of the most successful musical catalogs out in the hip-hop industry today. With Gucci Mane’s release from prison, there has been a resurgence in the trap music scene coming out of Atlanta, and Migos were the main benefactors of this resurgence. Although the group has been on the surface for the last eight years, their outbreak took place in late 2016 after the release of their biggest track, “Bad and Boujee.”

The Migos, consisting of Quavo, Offset, and Takeoff, are all related. Their introduction to music entails a story of some of the roughest times of their lives and the drug-gang areas they were witnesses to. Songs like “T-Shirt,” “Brown Paper Bag,” and “Kelly Price,” gives description to the times in their lives where Migos sold drugs for a source of income. Although these songs speak on illegal activity, Migos’ ability to turn this lifestyle into art and productivity is a craft that shows independency and making your way out of all odds. Other songs like “Culture,” “Calling Cast,” and “What’s The Price” dive into the life after accumulating fame. The songs mention the luxuries that they are able to afford and how their legacy in the music industry is to forever be remembered. The culture of trap hip-hop has been and always will be their truth. The amount of attention it has achieved on a mainstream level will only increase. -JB


Kendrick Lamar – Damn.  ★★★★★

Kendrick Lamar is arguably the greatest rapper alive, and released his third LP album earlier this year titled, “DAMN.” Known to be an active voice for those in his African American community, and the rest of the world, Kendrick Lamar uses more of a trap sound to refresh his consciousness with a modern hip-hop sound. Trap, is a sound of loud, fast paced tempo music that consists of beats or sound effects that resemble the trap, as in trap house. This sound takes up a gangsta type of style, and Kendrick uses this to differentiate his artistry. Up to this album, Lamar had experimented with heavy funk and jazz productions, notably on his collaborations with Flying Lotus and saxophonist Thundercat. With “DAMN.,” Kendrick Lamar uses trap sound to approach the insecurities on perception of black people and black culture, by using it in one of its purest forms. Lamar also has various collaborations on this project. He features U2, Zacari, and Rihanna, each a different type of musician than the other.

On this album Lamar dives into a mentality of showing fight through pain, instead of just addressing conflict in life. He takes on this aggressive and commanding image, with his “Kung-Fu Kenny” reference to himself throughout the entire album. He has a new purpose, and more style. After only 3 LP studio albums, all we can say is, “DAMN.” -JB


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In review: A ‘Damn.’ good year of music