#10: 12 Reasons to Die – Ghostface Killah & Adrian Younge
Ghostface Killah has always been known for the overlap between the bizarreness of his rhymes and the bizarreness of his delivery. On 12 Reasons to Die, this bizarreness turns occult, transforming Ghostface‘s tales of street violence, valor and vengeance into tales from the crypt. Backed (or lead?) by Adrian Younge‘s aggressively analog instrumentation, this intensification of Ghostface becomes truly horrifying. With experience as a producer for movie scores and soundtracks, Younge brings an attention to detail that is acutely attuned to the visual. Each sound corresponds with Ghostface‘s imagery so intensely that the story is audiovisual at every turn. This intensity is even more impressive when you consider the simplicity of the story’s plot: Ghostface gets betrayed by a woman (insert sigh here) and comes back to haunt the people who murdered him. By the time you realize that that alone is the plot, you’ve already been hooked. Only talented musicians can get away that.
#9: Nothing Was the Same – Drake
Once “Started From the Bottom” impacted the e-streets at the top of the year, it was clear that Drake was ready to put the game back in a chokehold all over again. On Nothing Was the Same, Drizzy forgoes much of the R&B influences that overwhelmed Take Care and instead opts for a more straightforward, lyrical approach. Songs like “Tuscan Leather,” “Worst Behavior” and “The Language” find him venting in mixtape fashion, while “Too Much” and “From Time” ensure that he will never fully resign from his crooning style. The album spawned several creative and memorable videos, with one forever changing the way we all walk down the CVS aisle. All this, complemented with endless Facebook status quotables and a platinum plaque to boot, makes good on his promise to deliver a meaner Junior. Now how about that Senior?
#8. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels (Killer Mike & El-P)
Run the Jewels is an event, a near-death encounter with two emcees who are out for blood by the gallon. With limited features and all-original production, Run the Jewels returns you to the day when rap was a bloodsport fought between emcees themselves or emcees and the world. Yet despite that metaphor, Run the Jewels is actually a subtly tender affair. Using themselves as exemplars, Killer Mike and El-P insist that artists can gain respect without compromise. Even when they deviate from their usual range of topics, they are wholly themselves and absolutely creative, like Mike‘s verse on “No Come Down.” Above all though, Run the Jewels is a true collaboration. More than just an extended studio session or a few emails that can be marketed as “collaboration,” the album features two artists truly acknowledging each other’s strengths and attempting to combine those strengths into something formidable. Run the Jewels is what happens when artists team up to destroy rather than “to build.” The latter is all about using pre-existing platforms for mutual elevation, (i.e. a business deal). The former is about dissolving those platforms and configuring them in a new and interesting way. Respect is so due. Read our full review here.
#7: Wolf – Tyler, the Creator
Ever since Tyler climbed in the noose, kicked over the stool and plunged into stardom, it’s been questioned whether or not Odd Future and, particularly, its ADD-riddled leader, would be able to remain fresh after the shock value died down. Whereas many felt the sonically and topically ugly Goblin proved suspicions of Tyler’s short-lived trajectory to be right, Wolf–an album that ironically finds Tyler even more childhood-focused than before–challenges this point. Here we have Tyler adding degrees of maturity, namely in the wrenching sincerity of his voice on “Answer” and the choice to close the album with the swirling, grief-ridden despondence of “Lone.” Tyler even manages to talk about an issue outside of himself on “48.” Don’t be mistaken, though–this isn’t the album where Tyler grows up. Instead, this is where he perfects the art of realizing the naïve ramblings of an emo kid’s diary as glitchy, fuzzy, violent and gorgeous hip-hop. Wolf, and Tyler as a whole, reach so many kids because this is the cathartic music they wish they could make, about the demons they wish they could expel.
#6: Blue Chips 2 – Action Bronson & Party Supplies
“Blue Chips 2, bitch!! Aaoooo!!” As Bronson yells this battle cry amid the goofy, festive horn breakdown of “Pepe Lopez,” it’s not hard to imagine him dancing in a circle’s center, infinitely more nimble and rhythmic than gravity should allow, lighting a blunt while confetti and breasts fly through the air. In short, Blue Chips 2 is the best party of the year. It’s certainly the one with the biggest and best laughs–“She took a bump and started dancing like Elaine Bennis” and “Greek men jump of the back of the boat for dinner / barehanded snatch up an octopus, I’m a winner” come to mind. More than that, though, it’s full of moments that you just have to be there to understand and enjoy. Try explaining to someone how you heard this breathless lug of an MC do an effortless backstroke through six treacherous–and for what it’s worth, inspired and absurd–’80s beats, all on one joint. And how could you ever communicate the degrees of success reached by “It’s Me,” which is essentially Bronsoliño dumping his unwieldy flows about shit, drugs, and whores all over the instrumental for “Under The Sea.” The true engine of this tape is the gusto with which Bronson tackles and somehow pulls off these absurd moments. He is a human party, and, pun aside, Party Supplies brings all the right light to display this big ball of attitude. Take those leather pants off and get the hell inside, there’s veal on the counter and coke shits in the toilet–tonight’s going to be awesome.
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