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.
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!
Jay Z & Beyonce: Everything is Love
Released: June 16th
Label: Parkwood. Columbia. Roc Nation
A day after Jay Rock and Nas dropped projects, Jay-Z and Beyonce (dubbed on this project as The Carters) released a surprise album. Twitter went crazy and Jay-Z and Nas continue to be linked one way or another (Since the greatest Hip Hop battle in Hip Hop history, fans take any excuse to argue about the two. There was no exception with Everything is Love overshadowing Nasir the day after it dropped.) If we are being honest, everyone’s expectations for this collaboration project between the Carters were so low because all of their previous collaborations were so lukewarm; however, Everything is Love delivers. Beyonce gets in her rapper bag and raps on a lot of the music. Although it is going to be convinced to many of you by the Beyhive that Beyonce is now better than most rappers (lets slow down folks), Beyonce’s rapping is serviceable and her ability as a performer helps sharpen her delivery. Jay-Z does what he does and shines on a lot of his verses although some moments has his flow and cadence off (Summer is the best example of this). The best moments of the project however, is the ones we had the least expectations for and that is when the Carters bring you in behind the curtains of their lives and their relationship. It’s often vulnerable, contentious, genuine, and heartwarming. On Friends Jay-Z raps about the Carters inner circle and addresses none other than Kanye West himself regarding his disappointment with Jay skipping his wedding. (“I ain’t going to no one’s nothing, if me and my wife beefing. I don’t care if the house is on fire, Im dying nigga I ain’t leaving.) On LoveHappy it brings it all full circle and it is the audio representation of a couple coming back from the worst of times stronger than ever. It inspires hope and for that alone, Everything is Love is worth every dime of the price of admission.
Summer Anthem Watch: ApeShit
One phrase Review: Black Love for the Win!!
Freddie Gibbs: Freddie
Released: June 22nd
Label: ESGN. Empire
I had a feeling that Freddie Gibbs would be dropping new music soon, but when a short infomercial style video of Freddie Gibbs getting his throwback R&B on, my heart filled with joy. Not only because I knew Gibbs had a release on the way but because the skit was funny as hell! Don’t believe me, see for yourself.
Freddie was released later that night with a cover artwork paying homage to Teddy Pendergrass’ Teddie album. A technique that is hilariously similar to Wiz Khalifa’s homage to David Ruffin’s Gentlemen Ruffin on his landmark mixtape Kush and OJ. Freddie is referred as a mixtape and unlike most projects where the line between its designations is blurred, Freddie is a mixtape and is unrelenting. Freddie Gibbs doesn’t pretend like he didn’t have a singular motive of knocking your head off its shoulders with bangers. The songs are gritty, hard hitting, and relentless. There is no variety in content or concept, just Freddie Gibbs rapping tough on hard hitting drums. Freddie is meant for mobbing in your whip with the music on full blast. Its euphoric. 2 Legit beautifully samples My Life by Mary J Blidge and Diamonds 2 has melody throughout but with menacing drums and claps to remind you shit still aint sweet. That’s the most melodic the album gets. A welcome change of pace from the other music released and a reminder that Freddie Gibbs is a maven at this gangster rap shit.
Summer Anthem Watch: Death Row (feat. 03 Greedo), Triple Threat
One phrase Review: “Its Gangsta Gibbs Hoe!”
Westside Gunn: Supreme Blientele
Released: June 22nd
Label: Griselda Records, EMPIRE
The Griselda crew, which was founded by West Side Gunn and Conway and inked a deal with Shady Records in 2017, are Hip Hop relics. This is the highest compliment I can pay because they make music that is almost non-existent in Hip Hop and they do it extremely well. The latest offering, Supreme Blientele by West Side Gunn is further evidence that the gritty 90s east coast rap has reincarnated in this rap label. True to its name, Supre Blientele is an amazing homage to the classic Supreme Clientele (Ghostface Killa’s best album as far as I’m concerned). From West Side Gunn’s similar vocal tone to Ghostface Killah to the often unorthodox and sample heavy beats that the RZA perfected and helped define the Wu Tang Clan, this is east coast boom bap at the highest level. West Side Gunn imports the likes of Alchemist, Harry Fraud, and Pete Rock alongside their main producer Daringer to craft one of the most immaculately produced albums of the year. In addition, the rapping is merciless and gritty. West Side Gunn paints a dark picture throughout that is light on levity and hopefulness. (“I know niggas that got two bodies and still a teenager, I know fiends that want to lick the rest of the razor…..I know niggas that got 8 balls of pure yay, I know niggas that’ll rob your ass bare faced”). If you want that old thing back with a new twist, this is the perfect album for you.
Summer Anthem Watch: Brutus feat. Benny and Conway
One Phrase Review: Do the knowledge on Griselda god, word is bond!
Teyana Taylor: KTSE (Keep The Same Energy)
Released: June 23rd, 2018
Label: G.O.O.D. Def Jam
Teyana Taylor truly did not deserve to suffer from Kanye’s madness. The likely last release of the increasingly frustrating G.O.O.D. music June rollout, Teyana Taylor received the worst parts of the every single rollout that preceded her. We got the delay that of the actual music which was slated to be released on Friday June 22nd, but was over a day late presumably due to mixing. Apparently she woke up to find out the album was released along with the rest of us (LIKE WTF??). Then you have the fact that the album, by her own admission, was different then the version she remembered (Again WTF?). Clearly free thought is not letting the people who rely on you to lead know what is happening with their own projects. Sadly, with all of this white noise, you can forget that KTSE is actually a pretty good piece of work. Teyana unlike the artist that preceded her still has her whole career ahead of her and has milestones to obtain, so her approach to it displayed such focused. The writing did not feel forced and certain songs create incredible moments. When Kanye shows the same focus and attention to detail, gems like Rose in Harlem, Gonna Love Me, and Issues/Hold On come out of it. Teyana excels on those songs vocally and the production is top notch. Then you suddenly have these perplexing choices like 3 Way feat. Ty Dolla Sign and WTP. 3 Way is possibly the worst song about any type of love triangle, whether romantically and physically, I’ve heard in quite some time. It is creepily descriptive and has no sensuality at all. WTP just makes no sense in the structure of the 8 song project (apparently 7 songs is a prerequisite until it’s not). Teyana Taylor is set to re-release the project this Friday with more songs that were supposed to have been originally on the project, a clear indictment on everything Kanye West set out to do with these releases.
Summer Anthem Rose in Harlem
One Phrase Review: Smoothness for those summer beach days
Future Releases for the rest of the Summer
Label: Young Money, Cash Money, OVO. Republic
To be Released: June 29th
Is it possible for this to be the most important release of Drake’s career? After several subpar releases and the defeat he suffered at the hands of Pusha T, all ears will be on the Toronto superstar. Will Drake deliver the project we all know his talent mandates? Will he address Pusha T in a satisfactory manner? Will he ever pick up Adonis to spend a weekend with him? Find out next time, on Dragon Ball Z.
Jeremih and Ty Dolla Sign: Mih Ty
Label: Def Jam. Atlantic
To be Released: TBD
Jeremih and Ty Dolla Sign has been working for a while, as evidence by Hitmaker aka Young Berg teasing the project on several occasions via the Joe Budden podcast. Two artist who do not get nearly the credit they deserve should make for an interesting listen.
Iggy Azalea: Surviving the Summer
To be released: July 6th.
Waiiiiiit, you really thought we were anticipating Iggy Azalea’s album? *Laughs Hysterically*. No.
Rich Forever Music: Rich Forever 4
Label: Rich Forever
To be released: July 13th
Rich The Kid’s upstart label has continued to bang out compilation projects carving out a lane every time. I’m mainly here for Jay Critch and Rich the Kid to give us another one of these:
Wiz Khalifa: Rolling Papers 2
Label: Rostrum. Atlantic
To be released: July 13th
Let’s just hope we don’t get another Rolling Papers thats like the first one.
Travis Scott: Astroworld
Label: Grand Hustle. Epic
To be released: July 13th
Coming off the stellar Birds In the Trap Sing Mcknight, its interesting to see where Travis Scott goes from here. Maybe as a new father he will have some new content to dive into, however, finger crossed it stays Jenner/Kardashian clan free.
YG: Stay Dangerous
Label: 4 Hunnid Records. CTE World. Def Jam
To be released: August 3rd
Energetic yet fun gangster rap music is always hold a level of interest for me. YG has built a reputation for crafting good bodies of work, can he do it again?
Nicki Minaj: Queen
Label: Young Money, Cash Money, Republic
To be released: August 10th.
Similar to Drake, this is a crossroad moment for Nicki Minaj. She has pushed back this album twice while floating the C word around (Classic). This will be the album that defines her career for better or for worse.
Every Surprise Album that will drop.
Is there an over and under for Surprise albums for the rest of the summer? I’d like to get a bookie and place a bet in. Hoping7 to see who uses this tried and true method that Beyonce has perfected.
We will continue to update this as more music is released. Go enjoy your summer!