Guardian of the Rap is our new monthly rap column where our staff writer covers all the rap that’s fit to print. This month’s edition covers a whopping 10 releases, from what was maybe the most packed month in the history of rap.
After extensive deliberation between the present me and the 11th-grade me from Computer Graphics who felt misunderstood once the CuDi came on, I’ve reached this conclusion: KSG goes crazy. In the month I’ve had to digest it, I’ve fluctuated from being Too Old for the chaos to faze me, to Genuinely Intrigued by the replay value hidden beneath another shitty rollout with a bad tracklist. Somewhere between those two poles, my biggest reservation: Kanye’s verses, even the cornball ones, are overall harder than damn near anything he spit on ye. To that point, the overall corniness seeps through this album with just enough room to get away with itself; when Ye calls for us to quit our jobs on “Freeee,” I lost it! And when he cut his own verse off on “4th Dimension,” I just...
Then once I got over myself, I saw KSG for what it truly was: A wild overdue experiment that excels when you least expect it to. As a child of the new G.O.O.D. cycle, the production sounds far more compelling and, well, done than the ye before it. Watching the 808s energy rekindle itself almost a decade after proves what can happen when old collaborators match energies in a new context lightyears away. CuDi sounds the most rejuvenated he’s sounded in several albums, so my inner dweeb gets to feel at home in the humming. Flashes of The Old Kanye threatened to jump out for the culture, but I had to remember where I was. Yasiin Bey still comes through with the math and Ty Dolla $ign can’t seem to hold an L on the background vocals lately. Besides DAYTONA, it’s the illest drop in the five-week run because it had the audacity to be a victory when Ye and company desperately needed one.
I’ll keep this one brief: It’s one thing for an elder statesman in hip-hop to return to album form with the grace of someone who’s earned their keep and will fight for their right to stay. And if today’s landscape is any inclination, ageism may be aging out: Hov, Tribe before their retirement, Ka, Roc Marciano, DJ Quik, Missy Elliott, Black Thought, the Griselda Records crew, and on and on. NASIR is not of that piece: It’s proof that Kanye West can still push the boards forward — “Cops Shot the Kid” is electric — but not much else. The Queensbridge in Nas’ voice still cuts through, but the thematic choices make him sound more weathered than grizzled with next to no new ideas or insights for the taking. And to offer a couple bars about how bad his wives were, how can I not think of how he abused Kelis? I’m good on this one. Nas Album Mid.
I can’t stunt like it isn’t fan-fucking-tastic to hear Ms. Knowles-Carter finally get these flows off extensively. And if we talkin’ trilogies, the arc from LEMONADE to 4:44 to now is a flawless victory as far as power moves are concerned. Jay and Bey have long graduated into another echelon of rich nigga shit: now we talmbout braidin’ hair in front of the Mona Lisa, and the shit ain’t Photoshop. Now we talmbout sourcing a Migos reference and only keeping the adlibs; speaking of which, where’s Takeoff? The Carters link up for some exercises in glossy anthemic rap, stadium-ready like the tour they’re currently on. Together, the science proves too big to fail: Sometimes, it sounds like Jay’s stepping up to keep up with Bey when she picks the mic up. “NICE” sounds like the “Neon Guts” remix we never knew we needed, and “713” flips the old Dre adage into some luxurious rider shit. But beyond the Spotify jabs and the victory laps, I must pose the question not just of The Carters, but of the culture: How much longer can we stomach the excessiveness? Especially when there’s not much new about how it’s delivered to us?
Allow me to extend my deepest apologies for historically finding myself among the ilk of TDE stan that sleeps on Jay Rock’s solo shit. I know he was the first out the gate, I remember the Wayne feature, but I tweaked. Redemption ensures that I’ll no longer play the fool: This Jay Rock is almost unrecognizable, but his growth is goddamn great. The mainstream influences peek out slightly for someone so notoriously rugged, but Jay Rock finds his home in the poppier leanings by playing to the strengths of his vocal dexterity. When he’s best at home, records like “For What It’s Worth” and “Broke +-” give eerie backdrops to Rock at his most reflective and remorseful, seeking to forgive himself and win again. Sometimes the beats don’t always match up with where he’s going, a trope that’s haunted his albums, but the right amount of fine-tuning’s given Jay Rock space to exorcise his traumas and find himself anew in a game that cannot erase him.
The P.G. County in me JUMPED OUT with this one: Rico Nasty’s most fully formed body of work to date proves why she’s one of the most exciting voices out. I was late to her wave, but the Kenny Beats-produced one-two punch of “Trust Issues” and “Rage” had the undeniable precision and aggression that motivates one to moshpit out of any problem. Now, Nasty is the full package with everything we love about her forming a raspy, taunting haze around the funhouse Glitter Trap aesthetic she’s curated through her ascent. She’s daring and relatable, like the homegirl from around my way with the sunflower seeds and Rock Creek skipping class to hit every lunch. I mean, she can spaz out over an ice cream truck melody and has the dexterity to crossover into bigger pop-rap territory a la Lil Uzi. And when you piss her off, she goes on you like shit. I need her to win, y’all, deadass.
Black Thought and 9th Wonder is the OG pairing of backpacker dreams, and this five-song kit satisfies every requirement. Folks act like “lyrical rap” is an acquired taste in short supply; projects like this must continue surfacing to discontinue the notion that we can’t find this kinda quality anywhere! This is Thought at his most veteran flow, steamrolling through ideas and images without a hook or radio pivot in sight. He’s reflective, ruthless and still the prophet he’s been for two decades strong. 9th knows the precise coordinates to give Thought the right rhythms to rock relentlessly while commanding a persistent headnod for the listener. The Rapsody feature on “Dostoyevsky” is not to be missed, she dropped her own classic last year and the culture slept on that shit!
As a man thoroughly unfamiliar with Ms. Taylor’s work outside of the features I’ve heard her on — and “Google Me,” which was a decade ago — I came into K.T.S.E. with no expectations and left with a new set of summer bops for the boo I’ve yet to find and the threesomes I’m unlikely to have. Before you say I’m outta pocket, listen to them joints Kanye threw her: the polished beat-tape soul chops with that dingy quality, meshed with Taylor’s measured control and exuberant confidence that’ll talk that wild shit and sing to the skies for you? Young… this is Sunday Drive Music, Post-Clarification Talk Music, Roll Around In Each Other for Two Hours After We Wake Up Music. When Kanye strips everything bare and works tirelessly to make everything feel full, he gives Taylor the room to hold us all down for every sexy twist and triumphant turn. If this ain’t in your Top 3 of the G.O.O.D. rotation at minimum, you tweaked the fuck out. Now it’s up to them to ensure she’s not tucked away in the G.O.O.D. graveyard too damn long to miss the next moment she can create off this momentum.
If I could summarize this joint in a tweet, William Ketchum III’s lady beat me to it:
By my own admission, I expected more of the soulful blaxploitation Gangsta Gibbs when I saw him the suit. That ain’t this, this is… Strip Club Gangsta Gibbs. As if Kenny Beats couldn’t keep turnin’ shit up on everything he touches, he did half of the joints on here. The thing about Freddie Gibbs: He’s one of the most consistent MCs we have no matter what he touches, his signature grit lacing the beat at breakneck speeds. Hearing a mid Gibbs song is a matter of sonic preference more than anything, which is the dealbreaker on Freddie: Everything’s baseline good, but nothing’s breathtaking like his previous works. I’ll take a nigga this consistent over half these other muhfuggahs though… oh, and “Death Row” is unmissable. 03 Greedo and Gangsta Gibbs over the Eazy-E ode? You know what the heck transpiring, my guy!
First of all, I’m thankful the FLYGOD didn’t keep the original Chris Benoit moniker because I don’t know how the timeline woulda handled the discourse over a tribute album to a man who killed his whole family and himself. (Correction: I do, I just don’t wanna see that shit.) Either way it go, Supreme Blientele rises as one of Westside Gunn’s best solo offerings because he steps his bars up remarkably. As an MC whose delivery’s carried him through many a record, the lyrical progression found on here shows Gunn’s hunger for more, a desire to be more detailed about the luxuries he has and the horrors he’s seen. As most Griselda efforts, the production is A1 with smooth, looped minimalism dominating the ride. Benny the Butcher and Conway show up for multiple stellar appearances to anchor the record where Gunn lags, and the Busta Rhymes cocaine narrative on “Brossface Brippler” is otherworldly to keep it light.
I already stanned for her in our half-year Best Albums list, but allow me to elaborate outside the crit jargon for a moment: The Missy influence JUMPED OUT! And Ms. Tierra found a way to finagle the Big Data by flexin’ so much focus, so much versatility, so much sauce in 60-second doses while blessing us with the unparalleled visuals to match! She found her home in the emotional resonance, the animated foolishness, and the Philly-bred determination that renders her comfortable enough to take the occasional southern twang and flex her mumbling into a heater. If she expands this vision out into a cohesive full-length that channels the best of her talents, I don’t envision much competition from a vast majority of her contemporaries.
Michael Penn II (aka CRASHprez) is a rapper and a former VMP staff writer. He's known for his Twitter fingers.
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