The 40 Best Rap Albums Of 2017

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Streaming changed things. 2017 was the year that rap once again reaffirmed its stranglehold on the collective imagination of America’s youth. Like the moment when Billboard first started using Soundscan and inadvertently proved the massive popularity of N.W.A, the streaming services of the world showed just how powerful this music remains. Rap dominated streaming charts. More »

Music Review: Starlito – Hot Chicken

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Starlito

Hot Chicken

[Grind Hard; 2017]

Rating: 3.5/5

Nashville is booming, I hear. Not that Starlito’s going anywhere — as far as I’m concerned, he’s achieved a statuesque permanence in the city’s landscape. The Mid-South is the last bastion of truly regional rap superstardom; perhaps its native sons feel the need to leave their mark upon the city, or perhaps the city leaves it mark upon them. As much as we pay lip service to rap’s supposed post-regionalism, there remain formidable, if archaic, barriers to nationwide stardom (how New York rap radio managed to outlive New York rap, I’ll never know).

There’s a lot of talk about gentrification on Hot Chicken, most directly in what could be the album’s mantra: “They’re trying to gentrify rap.” It’s true. The grand intersection of rap and pop has made a conversational awareness of the former something of a necessity, which is a great victory for critics and a great loss for artists. Those who achieve both critical and commercial success rarely find the former first; just as a deplorable chef might claim to have elevated, say, hot chicken, there’s a dangerous tendency to raise up rap specifically in the face of its perceived objectionability, projecting upon it a proprietary blend of 11 herbs and repentance narratives by which the visiting listener might render its themes acceptable. Consider Future, from whom we now wish to hear only a single type of song; consider XXXtentacion, who has proven so irredeemable by critical facelift that his enormous success is scarcely reported upon.

It’s not that Starlito’s music lacks compelling facets; rather, they are rarely so black-and-white as to make for convenient summarization. Starlito’s stories are truths inconvenient for the nouveau Nashville resident, but they’re never anchored exclusively in glamorization or poverty fetishism, the narrative binary of which today’s rap public favors the extremes. With regards to the latter especially, “the struggle” carries a certain cachet when centered in Compton or, once upon a time, Brooklyn that simply doesn’t carry over to Nashville. Why is it that only the largest cities may contain multitudes? Here, too, I suspect that the mythical Nashville of the Grand Ole Opry (the Detroit of vacant blocks, the Minneapolis of sub-zero temperatures) proves an easier compartmentalization than the mixed bag of reality.

That’s a tragic oversight. Good and bad, Nashville extends far beyond the world of that memorably poor episode of Master of None, a truth that Starlito seems intent on proving. The album’s plentiful features draw almost exclusively from the city, short on recognizable names but not on talent. The effect is reminiscent of Freddie Gibbs’s ESGN, easily the biggest platform ever given to Gary, Indiana’s rap underground. More than a favor, the choice gives Hot Chicken a sense of regional identity even stronger than its title; one might forget that Tennessee’s rap tradition is as strong as any state’s until the album’s procession of unmistakable accents begins, courtesy of guests with names to match (SixStreet Lil Mac, most notably; Starlito himself was once All $tar Cashville Prince). The Nashville sound is a potent blend of all that the South’s got to say, at times suggesting styles on loan from Houston, Louisiana, or South Florida without ever transgressing into imitation. One of the album’s highlights, “Draw Down,” is perhaps the highest-fidelity Memphis shake junt soundtrack ever recorded.

It’s difficult to describe Hot Chicken’s appeal without invoking “realness,” the genre’s most tired trope. Starlito’s realism operates wholly outside of the bounds of gritty dramatization. It’s an account that needs no embellishment, because it has no ambitions to an outside audience. Starlito might be the most talented rapper to become self-actualized before international fame; his work is much more about faithful representation than aspiration. If you’re reading this review, your listenership is likely a tertiary concern at best for Starlito — that’s a ringing endorsement, not a condemnation. Since a stint with Cash Money a decade ago, he’s operated entirely outside of the realm of pandering and marketability, a choice that lends credence to his claims of forgoing fame so long as he can get love from his city. Don’t let that stop you from listening, but don’t think that the music’s made for you, either.

Column: Favorite Rap Mixtapes of June 2017

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With a daunting cascade of releases spewing from the likes of DatPiff, LiveMixtapes, Bandcamp, and SoundCloud, it can be difficult to keep up with the overbearing yet increasingly vital mixtape game. In this column, we aim to immerse ourselves in this hyper-prolific world and share our favorite releases each month. The focus will primarily be on rap mixtapes — loosely defined here as free (or sometimes free-to-stream) digital releases — but we’ll keep things loose enough to branch out if/when we feel it necessary. (Check out last month’s installment here.)


T.E.C. & Maine Musik – Spider Nation

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At some point during my third listen to Spider Nation, I realized that two rappers featured on it had since died. BTY YoungN and Zoe Realla are just two of too many killed this year in Baton Rouge, a troubled city for which a burgeoning rap scene has become a source of national attention. Along with the city’s fastest-rising star YoungBoy Never Broke Again (age 17), T.E.C. & Maine Musik (both 23) have made the most of the spotlight, collecting millions of views across their catalog of music videos (Baton Rouge’s primary method of music distribution). To ignore their music is to bury your head in the sand; while unkind to the gun-shy, Spider Nation is a direct transmission of an experience into which millions are born.


Adamn Killa – I Am Adamn

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Adamn Killa is the type of rapper who does one thing, and will do it proudly ‘til death — the ineffable aura encircling his flow lilts in how it refuses to make a case for its drooping metrics: yawning hooks trail off and form concentric rings around a self-image of solitude as Adamn constantly repeats his own name (“Please don’t ask me who I am, it’s on my face” he warbles on “Too Late”) and pens dirge after ballad about how bad his haters smell. I Am Adamn is the rising Chicagoan’s first proper album, bringing a hi-fidelity touch to the sparkling, gauzy production lane that 2016’s slept-on Back 2 Ballin tape codified. Adamn is nothing new for the eponymous rapper, but it is the best document thus far of what he does: immaculately mastered beats from Ryan Hemsworth, Shlohmo, UV Boi, and Dolan Beats form a silky continuum for Adamn’s cobwebby shittalking meditations to spread out, comfortably anesthetized in their sleepy half-articulation.


5G – LOR5TH

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Falling timbrally between OPN’s Replica and Tommy Wright III’s cassette discography, LOR5TH is a hypnagogic patchwork of trashed samples, off-kilter rhythms, and spoken-word chants that feel so aggressive they’re dreamy. Think of Deafheaven’s approach to blast-beats and tremelo-picked riffage ― the black-metal outfit’s arrangements are densely packed enough to fold in on themselves, creating blank space. Or perhaps they just melt in one’s mind like candy and good barbecue do on the tongue. However the San Fransico quartet manipulate their musical state of matter, Philly’s 5G and his all-star line up of beatmakers are equally capable of doing just that ― creating a liquid stream of harsh vibes that collect in the brain like warm pool water trapped in one’s inner ear. LOR5TH’s two Spaceghostpurrp-produced cuts are its best offerings, each adding grisly meat to 5G’s calculated, skeletal delivery.


Mozzy & Gunplay – Dreadlocks & Headshots

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The first time many of us saw Gunplay he was in Columbia, on the set of a Rick Ross video shoot, extolling the purity of the country’s cocaine and sniffing it on camera. But what if that purportedly candid WorldStar video was itself a staged video shoot, the Medellin cityscape actually the wall of a Hollywood sound stage? Gunplay’s brand is that of the wild card, the dreadlocked, tattooed man on coke with the machine gun. This being established, Gunplay could’ve rested on his WorldStar laurels… but then he would’ve been Stitches. Instead, he outshined the Boss every chance he got and built a rep as one of the most consistent mixtape pumpers of his time. That is, until it all stopped, leaving a vacuum where the rapper’s left nostril once resided. What happened? Who’s Mozzy? Whatever. Entertainment is spectacle, but if Gunplay was a mere provocateur, he wouldn’t have been missed. He was. Here’s hoping he’s back for good.


Chief Keef – Thot Breaker

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I don’t know what surprised me more while listening to Thot Breaker — that Chief Keef is still producing his own tracks, or that they all sound amazing. In terms of his entire musical craft, Keith Cozart has entered a new era, swapping the Chief Sosa mask with that of Chief Turbo. Every song is the kind of distracted love song he’s so good at making, blending what sound like true expressions of his emotions with crass and imaginative storytelling. “She told me that she loved me /And then I closed the curtains,” sings Turbo on “Couple of Coats,” practicing the latter and sort of expressing whatever of a romantic ethos he, one of rap’s ultimate cynics, has. The all auto-tuned delivery sounds somewhere between that of Almighty So, a kind of critical touchstone, and the in-your-face vocal style of more recent mixtapes. Turbo’s grown-up beats, though, are the main attraction. “Drank Head” reminds me of listening to Kingdom circa “Bank Head” (no pun consciously intended). If you “thought that you had Turbo in your palm,” like he speculates on “Alone (Intro),” he has 12 more tracks on deck to show you how wrong you were.


Slim Jesus – The Most Hated

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He that hideth hatred with lying lips, and he that uttereth a slander, is a fool (Proverbs 10:18).

Slim Jesus is a celestial entity that feeds off the hatred of others and is willing to intercede in the physical world in order to sow his feast of discontent. The Ohioan emcee’s controversial single-cum-video “Drill Time” wormed its way into meme status in the summer of 2015, largely thanks to the dubious authenticity of its white, pubescent mastermind, and partly on the strength of its deliciously sinister production and eyebrow-raising use of simile. It was the sort of track that one could take great pleasure in despising ― obnoxious enough to grab your initial attention, but catchy and stupidly clever enough to keep you bobbing your head, eventually joining in Jesus’ sneering, deliberate flow as he threatens to “take you out like a fucking date,” or catch you at the “wrong place at the wrong time.” To bump “Drill Time” is to ride the fence between pleasure and pain, toying with the idea of jumping toward either side. Nobody is more acutely aware of the unifying-yet-polarizing effect of Slim Jesus’ music than Slim himself ― his first-ever mixtape, The Most Hated, released nearly two years after the dust of “Drill Time” settled, is dedicated to those that have rebuked him in the past. The tape’s unlikely to garner any new detractors (or even do 5-digit numbers on Spotify), but I find it doubtful that doing so was in Slim Jesus’ plan. It’s instead the harvest of a patient farmer, gorging on his bumper crop of animosity.


Hus Kingpin & Big Ghost Ltd. – Cocaine Beach

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This shit splendid god namsayin?! Hus Kingpin got more jewels than Rabbi Yehodavich and the Hasidim boyz namsayin?! Just crazy, stupendous, ultra-violet, super-shine glow packs for the babies and all that. Toys, toolies, and King Tut hats out the archives, ya dig? Archaeology-type hieroglyph linguistics for you to see something, say something with your third eye and all that, love. But back up off me before you get touched, alright lord? Nah you good there, hibernate on it. Plus, Big Ghost jet-skiing on the wave-o like Spring Break forever kid. No splash neither, you feel me sunspot? Like the god incorporated his self in the tidal structure, Yao Ming? Noam Chomsky?


Starlito – Attention Tithes & Taxes 2: Gentrifried

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I’d almost forgotten that mixtapes used to feature other peoples’ beats. Then again, it’s easy enough to believe that Starlito is in short supply. He’s one of the hardest-working rappers in the business — this marks his fourth mixtape of 2017, yet is a mere aperitif for a proper album, Hot Chicken, coming next week. Nashville incarnate, Starlito has ruled his town for over a decade, enjoying a sort of localized dominance seemingly unique to southern rappers. Since a stint on the path to stardom in the mid-2000’s, Starlito has matured right along with his music, a sort of constant against which the rest of the rap game’s ebbs and flows may be measured. Lito has an excess of thoughts that need sharing, and he takes the opportunity to go on the record about topics that might not make the album, including his spat with Post Malone and the incarceration of his longtime collaborator Kevin Gates.

Six Albums That Prove Underground Rap Is In A Great Place Right Now

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This is a complete bullshit occurs-to-you-in-the-shower thought, but bear with me here: Trap music is our disco. It’s our late-’10s equivalent of what was happening in the late ’70s. Think about it: Trap is an absolutely dominant commercial force. It’s built around a very specific aesthetic blueprint, right down to its drum pattern, with skittering … More »

Six Albums That Prove Underground Rap Is In A Great Place Right Now

This post was originally published on this site

This is a complete bullshit occurs-to-you-in-the-shower thought, but bear with me here: Trap music is our disco. It’s our late-’10s equivalent of what was happening in the late ’70s. Think about it: Trap is an absolutely dominant commercial force. It’s built around a very specific aesthetic blueprint, right down to its drum pattern, with skittering … More »

Meek Mill Is A Rapper, Not A Cautionary Tale

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PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 08:  Artist Meek Mill performs at the First Niagara Pavilion on August 8, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)A year and a half ago, Meek Mill was the most vital and most commercially relevant unreformed street-rapper left working. Where the entire commercial rap world had drifted toward airy sonics and lyrical sensitivity, Meek stayed fearsome. Alone in rap’s A-list, he rapped like he had words and ideas that he could not contain, like … More »