At this point it's become pretty much the same picks every year...there's just so many great, prolific artists, and I don't have the time to dig up unknown gems like I used to. Was 2019 kinda an extension of 2018, or did I just like the next batch of work by the same artists? Or is that the same thing? IS TIME EVEN REAL, MAN?
billy woods :: Throne of Blood
You know woods is my favorite working rapper, in my all-time top 10--I been TELLING you since 2008. Of his six solos this decade PLUS five Armand Hammer joints--the dude put in serious fucking work, with really no drop in quality--I'd have to say Hiding Places is the capstone.
Hiding Places, thanks to Kenny Segal's production, is more cohesive--something like a modern blues album in feel, with lots of guitar squelch and deep-gut sound, and it pulls together as a novel, in a way some of the others have been short story collections. And woods is still that dude who packs in references to Things Fall Apart, Andy Capp, Sanford & Son, Wu-Tang, and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy all in the same damn song. Terror Management is icy and glittering where Hiding is dark and muddy; it's a victory lap around the decade, playing around with vibing Love Boat beats ("Western Education")--probably the only potential radio crossover single ever about Boko Haram; Magnificent Seven type beats ("Myth"); postpunk ("dead birds"); glitch-hop ("gas leak"); some kinda Hitchcock soundtrack type deal ("FNU LNU")...you get the idea.
My favorite thing this year was how many people were writing about woods so I can stop killing myself trying to explain to y'all. I don't really get the whole woods on a best-of list with Nick Cave and Lana Del Rey, that shit is mad weird, but OK cool. Now the man's made Time fucking Magazine's list though, I can probably retire.
DJ Muggs :: Soul Assassins Redux
DJ Muggs x Mach-Hommy :: Tuez-Les Tous & Kill Em All / DJ Muggs x Crimeapple :: Medallo / DJ Muggs x Meyhem Lauren :: Members Only / DJ Muggs x Tha God Fahim :: Dump Assassins
Carrying on from last year's KAOS and Dia Del Asesinato, the Muggsaissance continued with five EPs where, as always, Rap's Carl Carlson brought out the best shinings from this generation of army-jacket-wearing spitters. Talking longitude and latitude bitch. Those that know, know that 1997's Soul Assassins, Chapter 1 is one of the greatest compilations of all time, with Muggs at the height of his production and a grip of that era's greats bringing some real fire. Fact is, with this output and the different rappers jumping on and off each other's guest spots, this year's set is more like one long Soul Assassins, Vol. 3...or Soul Assassins: The Series. Muggs x Netflix. I'm up for another season, greenlight that shit.
Yikes The Zero :: An Echo Storm Howling
So this jumps off with ‘We, The Morlocks’…the Morlocks, in case you skipped 7th grade, were the underground mutant future people in The Time Machine, who only came out of the sewers to capture and eat the fey, um, pale-skinned Eloi. Because mankind had devolved into two separate, unequal races. Yeah, 1895 was on some shit. Is this a concept album? Not really. It’s an art. It has allusions, facets, considerations, intimations. It’s a whole mood, that’s for sure.
The production is just superb; there’s a lotta avant garde art rap I can’t fuck with because it’s too discordant. I guess you could say Yikes’ butter-mumble rap is like a depressed Homeboy Sandman, but it’s just a vocal resemblance. (You can’t also compare him to Earl since he’s been around longer.) And I mean ‘Broken Sun’ is more like an afrofuturist Tom Waits joint from a collapsed galaxy…and ‘Moonchild Exile’ comes off like crashed on the couch, Sudafed overdose coma with some disturbing stop-motion kids’ film on (like that one where Santa is a huge Russian who beats the fuck out of people). What I like about Yikes is how he changes it up from eerie pulsar drone to lysergic circus to the straight-up, rapping-their-entire-asses-off posse cut of ‘Razor Opera.’
The record pairs right up with 2017’s amazing Dr Molotov; this dude really has hit his lane. If that one was like Godspeed Whoops You! Dropped The Boston Philharmonic Down The Stairs In 4x Slow Motion, this one is like Shabazz Shitty Studio Rental, It Smells Like Weed In Here, Jesus Christ Open A Window. Maybe it's not like that. There's a Melle Mel x Moor Mother thing happening, there's a Doors thing going on, there's an afropunk anime thing going on, there's a broken fairy tale thing going on. Like I said, it's an art.
Roc Marciano :: Marcielago
Son. It's Roc Marci.
For me Marcberg is a stone-cold classic, and it set the stage for all East Coast rap this decade. I probably liked Volumes I-IX of the loosies and guest shots a bit more than most of the followup albums--when he hops on someone else's beat, he picks a great one--but also last year's KAOS with Muggs was a close third. Marcielago is a perfection, a distillation, of a decade's work. His production is tighter than ever, with Animoss and Alc also gifting two of their best. It's got his signature blend of smooth and ruthless, of threats and indulgence...it's got the funk and the thousand yard stare. It's got brunch and cars and what his bitch is like today. It's got Willie The Kid and Ka.
Griselda, Season Five
Griselda is a franchise, has been since 2015, and its members are not only highly conscious of that, it's part of their plan. I don't expect artistic expression or risks or variation, just good reliable gangsta shit on some Chris Paltrow and Snoop in the SUV regretting their violent life choices. I do prefer when they avoid the Mantovani, Starring Ava Gardner, warbly-ass syrup beats. So this season had some damn solid episodes, and Eminem didn't fuck up their Shady debut by forcing them into crap R&B crossover singles or bad Not Dre beats. He even settled for his terrible guest verse to basically be an aftercredit scene. He's aged terribly though, they shouldn't have put him on the cover.
Memento Mori aka Hologram Tupac Live In Las Vegas aka Digitally De-Aged DeNiro
The loss of Sean Price hit hard because he was such a vibrant, alive, loud-ass, larger-than-life dude. He hopped on so many tracks for verses it was like the dude who shows up to all the parties and snaps--and for a couple years after he passed, those (feat. Sean Price) joints just kept coming. Small Pro really did his thing on the boom, the bap, the Carhartt stitchery and the guest spots. It's a great P! record and a great towering monument to a beast of the microphone.
It took me a while to get through even one listen of the Gang Starr: trying not to hear where Guru was punched in and where the beat was just slightly off, and just the kinda creepy aspect of the whole procedure. But you know what, Premier is his brother, and he did it justice. We'll just pretend the J Cole track doesn't exist, and therefore we got one more solid Gang Starr album.
Usually posthumous records feel Frankensteined together, shameless, ghoulish and slick cash grabs. Both of these came correct, respectful--but also celebratory and banging rather than mournful and bathetic.
OK, I know Nas isn't dead...but the rapper he once was sure seems to be. The hype around Lost Tapes 2 spoiled within a day or two of its drop, fouled by its many shitty tracks. Also, just one more time: WHAT IN THE ACTUAL FUCK IS THE DEAL WITH THAT "WHAT IF NAS, BUT A WEREWOLF" SONG. But once you strip it down to its 5 good joints ('Vernon Family,' 'Highly Favored,' 'It Never Ends,' 'QueensBridge Politics,' and 'Beautiful Life') you get a tight EP of the old Nas.
Those are my tops, but how many is that? Because I'm not really saying all the Muggs totally hit or even that more than 33% of the Nas is all that. I don't know man. It doesn't have to be fucking math. You wanna impose round number structure on music? Sure, you do that, and I'll tell you what this algebraic equation tastes like. This was the year when the Top 50 List was scientifically demonstrated as being the most fucktarded, pointless and maddening exercise in music history.
Other Records I Liked In Alphabetical Order
Bloodmoney Perez :: About Fucking Time
Choosey & Exile :: Black Beans
dälek :: Respect To The Authors
Grift Company :: Too Many Secrets
Jel/Odd Nosdam :: GLASS CUTTERS
Jumbled :: August Heat
Massimo e Massimo :: s/t
MAUP9000 :: Smoke City III
Preservation :: SePtember 1200
Quelle Chris :: Guns
Roughneck Jihad & Solomon Strange :: The Adventures of Dr Voodun
Ruby Yacht :: 37 Gems
ShrapKnel :: Cobalt
Tenshun :: Cat Nap
W.A.S.T.E.L.A.N.D.S. :: BBQ & Chaos
Wiki :: OOFIE
Zilla Rocca :: 96 Mentality
Anyway, here's your annual report mix of the hottest joints:
SUPANOVA - Odd Nosdam / Speak Gently - billy woods (feat. Self Jupiter) / L.D.T. - Mestizo & Meaty Ogre (feat. Quangou) / ELO Style - Grift Company (feat ALASKA & iAlive) / Double DD's - Tree & Parallel Thought / Refrigerator P - Sean Price & Small Professor (feat. Rock & DJ Revolution) / Lights Out - Gang Starr (feat. M.O.P.) / Pistol Smoke - Ghostface Killah (feat. Solomon Childs) / Wavy - DJ Muggs x Meyhem Lauren / Titanium White - DJ Muggs x Mach-Hommy x The God Fahim / Bloodtype - DJ Muggs x CRIMEAPPLE / 900K - DJ Muggs x Mach-Hommy / FCK Boy! - Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire / Dominate - DJ Muggs x Eto / NYOPxTONY - Wiki / Devil Springs - Your Old Droog / Blizzard (Gusty Winds Graceful Mix) - Damu The Fudgemunk x Roc Marciano / Rain On Snow - DJ Shadow (feat. Inspectah Deck, Ghostface Killah & Raekwon) / Colony - Elucid / Cat Nap 1 - Tenshun / We, The Morlocks - Yikes the Zero / Broadway Joes - Westside Gunn / No Women No Kids - Conway / Shots Fired - Knowledge The Pirate (feat. Roc Marciano) / Highly Favored - Nas / Combat - Danny Brown