Scorching Summer: Your Guide to One of the Best Summers in Hip Hop

In 2018, music is about narrative as much as it is about the music itself. Every project passes the social media litmus test. So called influencers rate it, build the narrative, and the music either fights against or gets carried by said narrative until the heat dies down. Full bodies of work are given a week for digestion, if they are lucky. The average attention span for fans last until the next anticipated project comes out and we are on to a new narrative. So far this summer, a flood of impactful music has been released. With those releases, narratives were being built by some that this is the greatest Hip Hop Summer ever or maybe in quite some time. While I agree with the latter, I would hope that everyone who uttered the former gets hosed down to counteract the heat exhaustion that would make them utter that blasphemy. 1988 saw Eric B & Rakim, EPMD, Public Enemy, and Big Daddy Kane release landmark albums in the same summer. 1996 had Jay Z’s, Nas, Do or Die, De La Soul, UGK, and A Tribe Called Quest release career defining or career elevating Lps. In short, this is not close to being the most prolific summer. This summer should however be acknowledged for its strong start and plenty of anticipated projects still on its way. Here’s a guide to what to look for in the albums that has been released and the ones set to arrive.

Pusha T: Daytona

Released: May 25th,

Label: G.O.O.D. Music. Def Jam

The first up to bat is possibly the strongest up to bat. Pusha T did not release Daytona in the summer time per say but be damn if I don’t include it in this list. The reverberations are still being felt. Let’s put Pusha T’s dismantling of Drake aside, this man is having one of his best years period. The first to show what the 7 song template that Kanye West insisted on could sound like, Pusha T knocked it out of the park. The album is focused, littered with drug references coming from the perspective from the other side. Daytona is American Gangster without Frank Lucas doing any hard time, or Tony Montana making it out of that mansion. It’s splendid. Kanye West delivers one of the best production performances in a long time. Every beat is gritty and non-compromising. 21 minutes of unorthodox beat switches and sample laced, gritty goodness. God bless the trap.

Summer Anthem Watch: If You Know You Know

One Phrase Review: ”Yuchk”

Kanye West: Ye

Released: June 1st

Label: G.O.O.D. Music. Def Jam

Admittedly, I took a stance that I wouldn’t be listening to any album where Kanye is one of the primary performers, therefore, I did not spin this Ye album. You can read about why I made my decision below:

It’s a personal decision that you can make on your own but it would be negligent to not mention this album amongst the zeitgeist. Ye has come out to mixed reviews. Some have praised Kanye’s ability to be as personal and as revealing as he has ever been while others view the album as clumsily thrown together and lacking any creative leaps. Kim Kardashian posting on twitter that Kanye took a picture for the album cover on his way to the listening party did not help fight that sentiment. If you can overlook the circus, it is worth checking out; for better or worse, this is one of the most influential artist of our time.

Summer Anthem Watch: Ghost Town

One Phrase Review: The MAGA Classic??

Black Thought: Stream of Thought Vol 1

Released: June 1st

Label: Human Re Sources

Your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper released his first solo project on the hush but the real ones knew what it was. Black Thought’s Stream of Thought Vol 1 was a veteran continuing to show and tell. It must be exhausting being this good at putting words together, or maybe even boring. Either way, Stream of Thought is a 5 song EP filled with bar work, dense wordplay, and pertinent content. 9th Wonder produced the entire project and Rapsody and Styles P contribute stellar verses. There should be no confusion though, this is Black Thought’s classroom, sit down and take some notes.

Summer Anthem Watch (family BBQ edition): Thank You

One Phrase Review: Bring a thesaurus and a dictionary, because bars are going to fly.

Kanye West and Kid Cudi: Kids See Ghost

Released: June 8th

Label: G.O.O.D. Music. Def Jam

The same rules applied for Kids See Ghost as it did for Ye. Kanye West was a main performer therefore I made a personal decision to skip. Poor Kid Cudi who had to be mired in Kanye West’ shenanigans while helping him create what many called a more focused, purposeful project than Ye. There is a lot that can be gained here. With Kanye and Cudi’s undeniable chemistry and creativity, you can find some enjoyment and some value with this project.

Summer Anthem Watch: N/A

One Phrase Review: Free Kid Cudi!!!!

Future Presents: The Superfly Soundtrack

Released: June 8th

Label: CTMG. Epic. Freebandz

Dr. X is responsible for one of the greatest, really bad but good hood movies ever in Belly. This year he decided his hands at a remake of the Blaxploitation classic Superfly from the 70s. The original movie’s soundtrack was done by Curtis Mayfield, which is one of greatest piece of music ever. So it was natural when Dr. X needed someone to do the soundtrack for the remake, he selected Future? Yes, Future tried his hands at the soundtrack and put together what feels like a run of the mill Future mixtape. Most of the songs are performed by him and the issue here is we barely get an interested version of Future. That can be underwhelming (See EVOL). With that being said, the project has great moments. Sleepy Brown opens the soundtrack with “If You Want It” feat Scar, a blissful callback to the 70s jam filled R&B of Superfly’s predecessor. Miguel shines on R.A.N. and Khalid and H.E.R. perform a lovely duet on This Way. As for Future, he is at his best on “Stains” which is the smooth inconsequential fun version of him we enjoy. In addition, a week from its original release, Future released an extended version of the soundtrack which had much more variety of artist to drown out his monotony and it’s a welcome addition.

Summer Anthem Watch: Stains. If You Want It.

One Phrase Review: Future on a Lean free diet.

Jorja Smith: Lost and Found

Released: June 8th

Label: Famm Limited.

Some of us that were completely new to Jorja Smith were highly anticipating this project and waiting to hear what the 21 year old had to offer. We saw the immense potential, the incredible voice and wondered if she can live up to the hype. Lost & Found gets us closer to answering that question and it’s a positive first step. Although Jorja’s voice is fully developed and matured, her content is not all the way there yet. The writing on Lost and Found suggest an artist still trying to find her style and at moments comes across a bit juvenile; then again, she is only 21. There are some moments however, we get a fully fleshed, fully thought out experience. (On Your Own, The One, and Wandering Romance) A strong start to a blossoming career.

Summer Anthem Watch: Wandering Romance

One Phrase Review: Summer love or summer heartbreak, choose wisely

Jay Rock: Redemption

Released: June 15th, 2018

Label: Top Dawg. Interscope

Damn it feels good to see the underdog win, and boy did Jay Rock win with this album. In the midst of so many releases within the same week, Redemption stands out as one of the strongest releases of the month, dare I say possibly of the year. There is barely a hint of a wasted song, or even a wasted verse. Redemption explores themes of struggle, fleeting success, and second chances. He covers his near fatal motorcycle accident (Redemption), his major label struggles early in his career (OSOM), and how he fits with TDE, the best ran team in Hip Hop music (Broke +-). Another sure sign of this albums victories, are the features. J. Cole continued his tear of incredible guest verses on OSOM, lamenting about paranoia and drug addiction, Kendrick Lamar and Jay Rock play off each other perfectly on Wow Freestyle, and SZA brings the sultry vocals to Redemption. Jay Rock took full advantage of the moment and I hope that the recognition he deserves follows. WIN, WIN, WIN, WIN!

Summer Anthem Watch: WIN. Wow Freestyle

One Phrase Review: Jay Rock a.k.a. East Side Johnny is the rap game’s Rocky Balboa.

Nas: Nasir

Released: June 15th

Label: Mass Appeal. Def Jam

Truth be told, when I spoke on narrative at the top of this post, Nasir by Nas came to mind. You see, Nasir is one of those projects that the narrative coming in was not in Nas’ favor. There is the heightened anticipation of one of the greatest to ever touch the mic not having released a project in 6 years! There was those horrifying allegations brought on by Kelis, accusing Nas of mental and physical abuse which he never responded to (no response came on the album). Those allegations forced every die hard fan to ask themselves some tough questions (including myself). There was the attachment to Kanye West who is producing the album in its entirety and whose MAGA nonsense made him radioactive to most. There was the disaster of the live stream of his listening party in Queensbridge being cut off and the album’s release being delayed the next day most likely due to last minute mixing and mastering taking place. Still, This is Nas we are speaking about, someone who was meant to rap. You see, Nasir in a vacuum is a good album. It has signature Nas moments, like he and Kanye West trading verses about police brutality on “Cop Shot The Kid” which samples Slick Rick’s Children Story (Nas loves these throwback samples). There is also the back to basics gritty “White Label”, Adam and Eve, and the immaculate “Bonjour” that finds Nas rapping about his successes and the lavish lifestyle he worked hard to obtain. The lows however are really low. Kanye West and The Dream spending a majority of “Everything” singing a cringe worthy duet followed by Nas sluggishly rapping over the slow beat. His lifeless verses on “Not for Radio” also leaves a lot to be desired. It reminds you that a legend like himself, should not be tagging his projects to someone offering a vision rather than helping his own come to fruition. Nasir felt restricted by the 7 song gimmick and there are directions that the project takes that obviously come from Kanye West with no concern on how it would suit Nas’ music. Nasir was a good project but good is relative and it certainly did not make up for a 6 year wait.

Summer Anthem Watch: Bonjour. Adam and Eve

One Phrase Review: Nas, throw on the army jacket on and never go to Wyoming again!