Since deciding to move the release date of his album to June 18th, in direct competition with Kanye West’s ”Yeezus” project, many wondered if J.Cole could create an album as good as, or even better than, one of his idols. The St. John’s Alum, answers all these questions and more on his sophomore effort “Born Sinner.”
On his last album, Cole was just a young college educated man trying to find his way through life and place in the rap game. This time around, we hear a more mature J. Cole. One who is caught between trying to stay true to himself and becoming what he despises most. As he notes on the title track “Born Sinner,” —“Yeah, this music shit is a gift. But God help us make it cause this music business is a cliff.”
Lyrically, we don’t get the same witty wordplay he gave us on “Sideline Story,” but he still shows his unique ability to create vivid pictures with his words. He displays this particular talent greatly on the track “Trouble,” spitting, “Yeah, God flow, Paint a picture like a young Pablo, Picasso/Niggas say I live fast, die young, so I drive slow and pray I die old.”
Sonically, Cole shows his progress as an artist and a producer by finding the perfect connection between his lyrics and production— a balance he struggled to find on his last album. He makes a bold statement with “Born Sinner,” as he attempt to show rap’s elite that he belongs in their circle. But, instead of coming off conceited, he respectively praises his idols and lets his work speak for itself. He proclaims, “ Long live the idols, may they never be your rivals, Pac was like Jesus, Nas wrote the bible,” on the inspiring “Let Nas Down,” one of standout tracks of the 20-song project.
If other artists could learn to express their sins through music like Cole, then his vision of going to hell to resurrect Hip Hop may come to fruition. For what it’s worth, I hope Cole continues to sin musically and let us deeper into the psyche of one of the game’s most promising young artists. Maybe then fans will start to compare other artists to him instead of comparing him to his peers and predecessors.
Harlem-native $1 Bin’s is in a lane of his own. The DJ/producer teamed up with Wisconsin-based electronic based producer, Madden to create the “We Don’t Feel Like You Do” EP, consisting of three originals cuts and four remixed tracks.
With the vast array of sounds being used to create the EP’s calm yet hype vibe, it’s somewhat shocking that the duo was able to create a unified product out of their diverse range of sonic tools. Sampled vocals from Jay-Z and Fatman Scoop enhance the standout tracks “Beyond” and “Track Six,” balancing the songs with mainstream familiarity.
The project’s lone shortcoming is the fact that their production occasionally fails to meet the high expectations it builds throughout a song. Though “Ceremony” is a solid cut, it lags in the middle instead of peaking to that next level-sound that both artists seem just on the cusp of reaching.
This smooth collaborative EP is more of a chill workout tape than a club banger but wherever you decide to bump it, you’ll find it hard to turn off the futuristic sounds of two of the digital age’s most promising young talents.
Kanye’s former protégé, now three albums deep in his career, is back. Since the release of his 2010 solo effort, “Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager,” Cleveland MC Kid Cudi returns with the self-produced “Indicud.”
From the start, Cudi shows that despite being out of the spotlight his skills haven’t faded a bit. Songs like, “Just What I am,” “Red Eye,” and “Girls” show he is still able to create “G.O.O.D.” music even without Kanye’s team behind him. Cudi’s evolved flow and throwback melodies shine well when matched with his dark, moody, beats.
“Indicud” is a solid album, but Cudi struggles to achieve the same emotional depth of past projects. In his quest to grow musically, he’s taken a step back lyrically. Guest features from legends like Too $hort and RZA should have been shining moments but they were hard to enjoy with Cudi struggling to keep up with his elders-turned-peers bar for bar.
Cudi has never been the type of artist to change his artistic vision to fit today’s hip-hop norm, which is one of the reasons why his fan base has been so loyal. Selling 136,000 copies first week with no hit single or big promo is damn near impossible these days, but he did it. On the album, Cudi says he’s always told his friends that he has “powers.” “Indicud” proves that he is truly gifted but also suggests that he may be taking his creative powers for granted.
DMV doesn’t stand for Department of Motor Vehicles. Famous for its Go-Go sound, the area known as D.C., Maryland, Virginia recently saw an influx of residents changing their musical aspirations from Go-Go to rap. While DMV Hip Hop is yet to overtake Go-Go on local radio airwaves, residents have slowly been embracing artists from the area and nurturing a fast-growing movement of MCing around the capital city.
In 2012, DMV artists made big noise using talent and determination to bust some cracks into the tightly protected music industry. MMG rhymer Wale broke out commercially after years of grinding leading a handful new artists have followed in his footsteps, placing themselves in position to bust the local scene wide open in 2013.
Fat Trel quickly became the talk of the town in 2012 after releasing his well-rounded “Nightmare on Est.” mixtape. He expanded his fanbase nationally by headlining “The Smokers Club Tour” with Juicy J and Joey Bada$$. Soon after, Trel moved to California to begin working on his new mixtape “S.M.D.G.” While out west, Master P linked with Trel and Atlanta upstart Alley Boy to form the group “LouieVMobb,” whose recently released “New World Order” mixtape was one of the pleasant surprises of 2013 thus far.
Grammy-nominee Wale’s Board of Administration label, which features Black Cobain and newly signed Lightshow, is also beginning to flourish. Cobain spent much of last year promoting his “Cheers” mixtape and opening up for Wale and Meek Mill on their respective tours. Though Lightshow’s travel schedule was limited after being shot in 2012, he was still able to keep his name afloat by releasing viral videos on YouTube and showing out in the Adidas Hip Hop cipher. The future looks bright for both artists this year with new mixtapes from both in the works and Cobain being mentioned as a candidate for this year’s XXL magazine freshman class.
Teen sensation Shy Glizzy garnered a small buzz by dissing Fat Trel. But he’s proven to deserve some of the attention he’s gotten after releasing the street certified “Fxck Rap” mixtape last year. He’s since gotten co-signs from industry veterans and is expected by many to do even bigger things this year.
In 2012, RatheMC was in a car accident, which kept her inactive for six months. Once she was back on her feet she got a call to be on the popular TV show X Factor and went on to be a top 30 finalist. Now under new management, Ra plans on reintroducing herself in her new mixtape “Creative Control.”
With so many artists making progress in their careers, 2013 can only get more promising for DMV artists as they establish themselves and take their movement global.
Rap’s brand new guy, A$AP Rocky, garnered a lot of attention over the course of last year. Rocky experienced a lot of notoriety after signing his deal with RCA records back in 2011. Picking up from where he left off on his mixtape, “Live Love ASAP,” Rocky sticks to the same subjects on his debut. All of his lyrics entwine his high-end fashion swag and drug habit.
Throughout the album it’s hard to learn who Rocky is as a person or understand his song concepts. He hardly ever reveals any in-depth information about himself aside from his second verse on “Suddenly” where he talks about his struggling days as a youth. We never really get to know about Rakim Mayers, which creates one question besides knowing he’s from Harlem, loves fashion, and rolls with A$AP MOB — who is A$AP Rocky? Another issue he encounters is the tendency to switch topics in his lyrics, which makes it confusing at times to understand his song concepts.
The exuberant rapper finds his comfort zone on the T-Minus- helmed “PMW (All I really need),” and the Danger Mouse produced track “Phoenix.” On the posse cut, “1Train,” he delivers memorable lyrics that are good enough for him to survive, but not great enough to out shine his peers.
Like so many other new artist, Rocky struggles to find mainstream footing with radio-leaning songs. For his label to invest three million dollars in him, this album was made to attract all audiences, but instead it’s aimed more towards his core fan base. The exciting debut showcases an artist who’s not afraid to be different, and for that, A$AP will live on as long as he continues to evolve as an artist.