Here's what I streamed this week:
Lupe Fiasco - DROGAS Light
It'd be difficult to call Lupe underrated, despite his slow march out of the mainstream and into the hardcore hip-hop handbook. However you expected him to follow up his opus Tetsuo & Youth, a trap album with one eye open and one eye constantly winking probably wasn't on your radar. Lupe, Lil Wayne, and T.I. are the most diverse mainstream rappers on the planet, so it should be no surprise he delivers wisdom over beats designed to slap in car speaker systems. He may have done himself a disservice by not throwing caution to the wind and laying down the cash for Metro Boomin', Sonny Digital, Southside, Zaytoven, or Mike WiLL Made It, as the only real disappointment is the second-tier production. If you can make it past his slight elitism, there's gem's aplenty on DROGAS Light. It does away with the lyrical spiritual miracle individual rhymes of his last album and settles in to a more relaxed, accessible stance.
Jacquees & Dej Loaf - Fuck A Friend Zone
The world is desperate for Dej Loaf to fulfil her potential. Her last project, All Jokes Aside, was a mix of rapping and singing that didn't do her unique flow and sense of timing justice. Her canvas was too crowded, and she hasn't yet perfected the Nicki Minaj palate cleanser, like "Marilyn Monroe", that allows her listeners to reboot and gather their thoughts. Jacquees provides that blank canvas, a straight-laced R&B hearthrob, complete with rippling abdominal muscles, who can drag the listener back to equilibrium when Loaf gets too tricky. And tricky she gets, bending her instantly recognisable voice around pockets and holes in the beat, crooning and cursing, and lifting the veil of secrecy on tracks like "Deeper" and "Want Your Sex". While they both spurt platitudes at every opportunity, it's at least refreshing to hear pop-like lyrics in a on a free-reign project. Loaf remains the most interesting rapper/singer in the game, and this is just another step in her development.
Sinkane - Life & Livin' It
Coming critically acclaimed, and with enough genre's to stage his own Coachella festival, Sinkane's new record falls short of the waterline he's worked so hard to set. It's got all the polish of a Jamie Woon or The Weeknd album, with none of the lyrical nous or emotional upheaval. He needs to attend a day or two of the Twin Shadow School of Ego, and inject some venom into proceedings. Yes, this is a very professional sounding album, but how do you manage to combine 12 genre's and still sound slightly derivative? Each beach Sinkane parks his party boat at has footprints all over the sand already, which is fine, but it doesn't warrant too many repeat listens. There's not a lot of new material here.
Carsten Jost - Perishable Tactics
It takes exactly 6 minutes and 58 seconds for this record to hit its stride, and by the end of second track "Ambush" a wonderful, yet controlled, vista has opened up. An undercurrent of doom adds a tinge of danger to every song, no more disquieting than the dystopian night-out that is "Atlantis", a seemingly innocuous mental ride through the midnight hours on a sultry Saturday night. Everywhere you turn, things are slightly out of place, slightly off-beat, handled by an out of tune synthesizer and stretched bass that straddles over the Jazz standard and into full-blown Miles Davis-mode. This is the beauty of the record, a mastery of mood that never feels settled or complete, as if you're being watched as you listen to the album. Scary? Yeah, but heaps of fun too!
Jansport J - p h a r a o h
Dilla-type projects have sporadically touched the ears of the masses since Donuts in 2006. MF DOOM experienced a resurgent interest in his Special Herbs project in 2011. L'Orange has kept us laced with sample-based beat snippets, most notably in 2012 with The Mad Writer. And we'll always have Madlib. While each of these artists brings a unique vibe and method to this narrow genre, Jansport J is the only one to make it sound truly effortless. p h a r a o h sounds like a Just Blaze and 9th Wonder bounce session, or the opening scenes of Jay Z's Fade to Black when he's laid back in his chair listening to beat after beat.
Jansport J didn't just drop out of the sky. If the recent Pitchfork review of this record is the thus-far pinnacle of the producer's media coverage, the age old adage "it takes ten years to become an overnight success" might be applicable. Rewind 8 years to The 2AM Tape, a slightly less exuberant mix of slightly more dangerous samples (The Beatles? The Avalanches want to know how you snuck that through!). None of the subtlety or ear for what goes where that exists on p h a r a o h was present in 2009. Fast forward to "Peace Pipe (BDB)" from 2012, a descriptive title but a repetitive and joyless piece that feels shoe-horned into the project based on the relationship between title and sound.
p h a r o a h is Jansport J fully realised. The song titles are playful and basically spot on ("Soulful!", "Long Distance", "Crenshaw", "RIP Harambe"), and the drums!!! Kanye always said until Yeezus he never quite nailed his drums, but Jansport J knocks houses down with this slap. The vocal samples also give this a more "album" feel, rather than a throwaway beat tape for Prodigy to pick up and spit grime over. This is a record for the car stereo, or that expensive pair of headphones you bought for Christmas that feel like overkill when you're listening to anything but DS2.