Favorite New Music: November

  1. Sho Baraka The Narrative

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Sho Baraka’s departure from Reach Records turned out to be a much needed source of inspiration. Baraka released the racially-themed Talented 10th, and was a little too adult for the Reach crew: a group whose mission statement was focused on creating youth group rap music. After 2012, however, other Reach artists began following Baraka’s lead, and Christian rap began getting political: Lecrae’s biggest album, Anomaly; Derek Minor’s Minorville, then Empire; and even Tedashii’s very personal eulogy album Below Paradise. None of these projects would have been green-lit without Baraka’s initial move.

This new album is 2 1/2 years in the making, and it is more emotionally varied than Talented 10th. The instrumentals are poppy, and some are jazzy thanks to James Portier’s involvement. Lots of symbol bell percussion hits and soul samples flood the body of the record. Thematically, this album focuses on the black experience in the United States, as well as Baraka’s personal faith system. It is much less religiously preachy than his early projects, and uses God as a personal confidant rather than the product of which Baraka is selling.

Standout Track: “Love, 1959

2. STRFKR Being No one, Going Nowhere

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This album makes me want to grow an ironic mustache, wear a dress shirt, go to a party, and politely bounce back and forth in the corner of the room.

Standout Track: “Tape Machine

3. Lambchop FLOTUS

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A vocoder album through-and-through, FLOTUS creates subtle and sometimes moving songs. Lots of the instrumentation is sparce and quiet, leaving room for the vocal performance to rise to the top. Lambchop creates an album that leans more toward Bon Iver’s self-titled album.

Standout Track: “JFK

4. Alicia Keys Here

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Alicia Keys’ newest album is an interesting counterpoint to Solange’s release A Seat at the Table: Both are politically charged thematically, and both from African-American pop singers, but the later is much more subdued than what is on Here. There are varying moods on this album, which makes for a more colorful experiences.

Standout Track: “The Gospel

5. E-40 The D Boy Diary: Book 2

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In a world where mumble rappers earn more money than most hard-working citizens, it’s nice to know, at least, there are working rappers out there who can spit circles around the young guns (some of whom appear here). Just one listen to songs like “Fired Up” or “Gangsta Song” remind listeners that rappers should be responsible for mastering their craft, and not simply tagging their name on a catchy beat. Never mind the ridiculous track list (44 songs!), the more the merrier for Mr. E-4o.

Standout Track: “On One

Other Solid Releases: DAWN Redemption ; SiMS More Than Ever

 

 

 

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New Music 2016: January

  1. Anderson.Paak Malibu

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The mind that was behind the scenes for Dr. Dre’s return-to-form release Compton has released his sophomore album titled Malibu. I didn’t give Compton much attention, but this album has been replayed more than any other album this month. Paak’s voice is so soulful and is paired with some beautiful piano progressions. The guest rappers are solid on each of their appearances (BJ the Chicago Kid stands above veteran rapper Talib Kweli and more celebrated rapper Schoolboy Q). The funky tunes are too fun to stop listening to and owe a lot to Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. I hope Anderson.Paak dips his hands into more projects in 2016.

Standout Track: “Come Down

2. David Bowie Blackstar

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David Bowie’s final album is a dark journey into the final stages of life: acceptance, regret, looming doom. Bowie’s voice sounds withered and soulful, but the standout for this record is the instrumental group backing up the legendary artist. It’s very jazzy with elements of hip-hop, industrial music, and the classic ballad. It is an impressive finally for Mr. Bowie: a farewell gift for fans.

Standout Track: “Sue (or in a season of crime)

3. Lecrae Church Clothes 3

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Lecrae’s Church Clothes mixtape series has been his “cross-over” projects where the Christian rapper invites secular artists into featuring verses as if to say “Hey, look, I appreciate worldy rappers, but, sadly, they’re still going to hell.” The third issue of this series, similar to the rapper’s last full-length album Anomaly, moves from religious issues to topics of racism, classism, and gang violence. The moody production is much more cohesive than the first two mixtapes, but there is no standout banger here.

Standout Track: “Gangland” feat. Propaganda

4. Panic! At The Disco Death of a Bachelor 

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The parallel journeys of Panic! and Fallout Boy have always been weirdly synchronized since both groups debuted their breakout albums in 2005. Death of a Bachelor is Panic’s version of Save Rock & Roll and American Beauty/American Psycho in that this album is a love letter to past musical movements. Brandon Urie swings from an impressive Frank Sinatra impression on “Death of a Bachelor” to a late 2000s dance pop song on “LA Devotee” to the sonic potpourri “Victorious” that feels too much like FOB’s “Uma Thurman.” The points where Panic! distance themselves from their musical counterparts are the more memorable moments of this record, and of their career.

Standout Track: “Death of a Bachelor

Other Releases Worth Mentioning: Daughter’s Not To Disappear; Savages’ Adore Life; St. Lucia’s Matter; MONEY’s Suicide Songs