Without any question, this Summer has been a far cry from the normalcy of frolic and freedom we’ve learned to love and sort of expect from this season.
Instead of being able to indulge in the freedom typically afforded by Summertime, we were admonished to stay inside on a daily basis, work from the parameters of our homes, refrain from spending time with family and friends, deprived of watching in-person award shows or going to concerts and forced to relinquish our plans of traveling to other countries. In other words, this season has been difficult to bear for most, if not, all of us. In spite of recent hardships, not everything has been watered down and sanitized to a lackluster level. Amid this season, myriad Hip-Hop and R&B artists have zeroed in and focused on remaining consistent and producing top-notch, quality bangers. Meg’ Thee Stallion and Cardi-B dropped an instant classic: WAP, which broke the record for the largest opening streaming week for a song in US history.
Drake teamed up with Chicago native Lil’ Durk to create Laugh Now, Cry Later, which adds to Mr. Graham’s already extensive list of Summer hits. Kehlani blessed us with her second studio album: It Was Good Until It Wasn’t, which featured a bevy of finely crafted, quintessentially R&B tracks that will stand the test of time. By virtue of a concise, yet a beyond-the-surface level examination of an assortment of tasteful, outstanding records to arise this season, it becomes evident that Hip-Hop and R&B music has set the tone for high spirits, good vibes amid national turmoil and ultimately, has functioned as the life jackets that have kept many fans afloat during these unsettling times in history. Without further introduction, let’s dive in!
King’s Disease – Nas (August 21st)
After releasing his 12th studio album NASIR two years ago (2018) under the executive production of Kanye West, which culminated in severely poor reviews and an unmemorable listening experience, to say the least, Hip-Hop legend Nas has been itching for the most opportune window to redeem himself. Under Kanye’s helm, it seems like he might have gotten caught up in the fire of Kanye’s legendary week to week production run (Ye’ spearheaded production for five albums that Summer: Pusha T’s DAYTONA, West’s Ye’, West and Kid Cudi’s KIDS SEE GHOSTS, Nas’ NASIR, Teyana Taylor’s K.T.S.E). While that was definitely an “L” for Hip-Hop’s God Son, it was patently a minor setback for a major comeback with this recent record. Instead of trying to be that old-school rapper that aims to adapt to today’s new-aged sphere of Hip-Hop, Nas stays true to what he does best: keepin’ it 100 and spittin’ knowledge undergirded by meaningful subject matter, which includes nostalgia from growing up in New York City, his desire to extol blackness, and his career-long interrogation of the true meaning of life. This record embodies his complete evolution, as his journey comes full circle from being an iconic Hip-Hop prodigy to one of Hip-Hop’s favorite OGs. Under the executive production of major producer Hit-Boy, responsible for timeless tracks like N***s in Paris (Jay-Z and Kanye West) and Backseat Freestyle (Kendrick Lamar), the instrumentals on this record are rich in texture, regal in scale, and compliment the iconic pocket of sound and signature lyricism Hip-Hop heads have come to know and love from the beloved rapper. Relative to NASIR, this project is more consistent, more thoroughly fleshed out and a bit more natural feeling. There are zero frills and very little fluff on this project. Just striking bars, moments of wholesome reminiscence, poignant knowledge droppin’, and prolific production. In what feels like the most unsettling year in recent times, Nas evokes much-needed respite and therapy for die-hard Hip-Hop purists. Considering that he hasn’t had this many features on a single record for quite some time, every feature feels on-par and organic. His feature list bridges the gap between old-school and new-school, creating a fusion between classic favorites (Charlie Wilson, Brucie B, AZ, and Foxy Brown) and rising superstars (Anderson. Paak, A$AP Ferg and Lil’ Durk). In a nutshell, Nas takes grasp of the vengeance he has sought since releasing his shortcoming record NASIR, thus inspiring the creation of his most formidable record in years.
Highlight: All Bad (Ft. Anderson. Paak)
Limbo – Aminé (August 7th)
In what feels like his most mature album to date, Portland native Aminé partakes in moments of deep self-reflection coupled with the lighthearted eccentricity that has made him a major “stand-out” among today’s sphere of unorthodox rappers. In contrast to the playfulness of his debut record and the trap-driven experimentation of his second project, this piece establishes Aminé as an authentic, professional rapper who can hang with the best of them. In the grand scheme of things, this project hints at a major transition for him. Considering its tracklist of 14 songs, Limbo is the type of record that can pretty much be played from beginning to end without interruption. While many of the tracks are loaded with personal introspect, he still brings some of his signature nonchalant attitude to the table. Also, he offers a complete platter replete of what he is known for: clever, witty, “what the hell did you just say” wordplay across this record. As far as production goes, there is some heavy on the bass tracks that are best suited for the turn-up (Woodlawn, Compensating (ft. Young Thug)) There are also some intimate, low-fi, soul-wrenching tracks that introduce us to another depth of his palette (Roots (Ft. Charlie Wilson and J.I.D.), Burden and Mama) Last but definitely not least, he reminds everyone that his ability to spit shouldn’t be questioned as he displays a raw exhibition of his humor-infused lyrical ability on some cuts (Shimmy, Pressure In My Palms and Fetus). All in all, Limbo is a complete, solid compilation of tracks that show Aminé’s range and illustrate his growth from being merely playful and amusing to becoming an original, budding force within the culture as a whole.
Leo Season – Jacob Lattimore (August 7th)
Just when it felt like the days of triple threat artists were fading away and not as popular or mainstream as they once were, Jacob Lattimore reminds us that this notion is false. At the age of 24, Lattimore has cemented himself as a multitalented class act who can, for the most part, do it all. He can sing. He can dance. He can act. From glancing on the surface, it seems like all his endeavors are prospering. For someone who started off their career as a child (9 years old), his longevity is exceptional. Albeit most may know him based on his role as “Emmett” from Showtime’s critically acclaimed drama series “The Chi,” Leo Season teems with “raw and extremely uncut” sexual energy from the up-and-coming renaissance man. It’s succinct, straight-to-the-point, and designed for the grown and sexy. Contrary to the extensive nature of his last project C3, which came out earlier this year, this release is short and sweet, absent of any gratuitous fluff. Just seven unambiguously sensual, pure R&B tracks. As far as his vocals and the tone of his songs go, they hail from the school of C. Breezy 101 but with his own flavorful twist to it. Overall, it’s a savory appetizer worthy of giving an earnest listen. It’ll be enticing to see how Lattimore evolves as his career continues to grow but what is certain for now is that he shows zero signs of stopping anytime soon.
Highlight: Sleep With Me (Ft. Jagged Edge)
Ungodly Hour – Chloe x Halle (June 12th)
Across the canon of R&B, there haven’t been many sister groups to thrive under the gaze of commercial success, let alone, accomplish it at such young ages (Chloe is 22 and Halle is 20). ATL natives Chloe x Halle have had an organic, and some would dare to say, seamless come-up. Initially, they started off on YouTube performing covers of prominent songs. After catching the attention of Beyoncé, she felt so moved by their talent that she decided to sign them to her record label: Parkwood Entertainment. Now, their vocal ability speaks for itself but once you throw a co-sign by Queen Bey in the mix, that propels the duo into another sphere within the galaxy of American music. As unassuming and innocent as they’ve presented themselves up until this point, Ungodly Hour denotes their official “coming-of-age.” If “popping your cherry” was an album, it would look like Ungodly Hour. Instead of verbalizing their growth into early adulthood, it is simply demonstrated on this record. The content matter of these tracks is more mature and suggestive than anything they’ve produced beforehand. Sonically, it is starkly eclectic yet cohesive. The vibe of this record is luxuriant, immersed in top-grade level production from an all-star line up of dynamic producers out today including Disclosure, Sounwave, Mike Will Made-It, and Boi-1da among others. Additionally, Chloe x Halle not only sings on their records but they both have writing credit on all of the 13 tracks on this record and Chloe has some production credit as well, flexing that they’re not one-dimensional but that they’re multifaceted and able to contribute above and beyond. As of now, Ungodly Hour is their magnum opus. It’ll be tough to top this record but given the fact that they’re so early in their careers and executively backed by Beyoncé, they’re destined for greatness.
Highlight: Baby Girl
“See You When I’m Famous” – KYLE (July 17th)
Based on a self prophecy he made in his yearbook towards the latter end of his time at Ventura High School during the mid-late 00s, KYLE commemorates his younger, 18-year-old self with the creation of this record. On this project, he reflects on how far he has come since his humble beginnings. Now that he has earned the “jetsetter” lifestyle that accompanies the status of being a successful rapper, KYLE is openly indulging in the fruits of his labor. Keeping up with the now popular trend of minimal tracklists, KYLE serves up a tight-knit helping of tracks that demonstrate his versatility. Known for being a playful rapper at heart, he advances himself to the level of a distinguished song composer. The instrumentation runs the spectrum as some of it goes from being loud and brash to being acoustic and mellow. There’s a track for every occasion here. On the record, KYLE enlists a sprawling array of artists: Rico Nasty, Tyga, Bryson Tiller, K Camp, Raphael Saadiq, Rich The Kid, Too Short, and more. Some of the more attention-grabbing songs on here include Money Now (Ft. Tyga and Johnny Yukon), GIRLS (Ft. Rico Nasty), YES! (Ft. Rich The Kid and K CAMP), and The Sun (Ft. Bryson Tiller and Raphael Saadiq). Despite being in the trenches of a pandemic, KYLE manages to deliver a feel-good record that reminds us of the importance of taking the time out to cherish your blessings.
Highlight: Money Now (Ft. Tyga and Johnny Yukon)
Detroit 2 – Big Sean (Sept 4th)
Despite just making the cut under the threshold of Summer, this record finalizes the season in a BIG way making a splash under the major drought of quality Hip-Hop lately. After being off the scene for quite some time with the release of his last full-length album I Decided coming out in 2017, which was three years ago, die-hard fans have been awaiting his return. Instead of giving us something hasty and rushed, Sean has taken time to marinate, meditate on the impact of each track and understand how they contribute to the record as a whole. Every facet of this record screams calculation and strategy. From the diverse, yet unexpected array of features to the classic volume of tracks to the socially apt verses to the thematic feel from beginning to end. If there were some standard criteria for what a complete Hip-Hop album looks like, this record would cross most, if not, all the boxes with flying colors. With 21 tracks on here, it feels like an entire experience to listen to similar to records from the back in the day, which is a sentiment that is seldom applicable for most contemporary Hip-Hop. For someone who has been tagged as being generic by rap critics for most of his career, he dismantles this notion by being unapologetically original on this record. The bars are on-point, self-assured, poignant, photo caption worthy, and more quick-witted than ever before. He is evidently focused and in-the-zone. On the production tip, all of the instrumentation feels polished and hard-hitting with every track having its own distinctive brand of sound. Sean doesn’t come to play as he enlists an entire camp of top-notch producers including Hit-Boy, Teddy Walton, Key Wane, Mike Will Made-It, Cool & Dre, No I.D., and Mustard. He wields his exorbitant pull and access with features from a sound line-up of artists: Nipsey Hussle, Ty Dolla $ign, Travis Scott, Jhené Aiko, Dwele, Anderson .Paak, Tee Grizzley, Eminem, and more. All in all, what’s most crucial about this record is that he reminds all the doubters and naysayers why he is a household force in the world of Hip-Hop today. Detroit 2 is a major W for Sean and the GOOD Music camp as a whole. This project was definitely worth the wait.
Highlight: Guard Your Heart (Ft. Anderson .Paak, Earlly Mac and Wale)