Best projects of February 2018
It was a slow start to the calendar year in regards to music releases. It's not to say we weren't blessed with several high-quality projects in January, but the drip of new drops was an incremental one. The floodgates opened up wide for the month of February leading to a frenzy of project releases and upcoming announcements. If the first two months were any indicators of the rest of the year, March and beyond are shaping up quite nicely.
Before we jump ahead to the rest of 2018, let's pump the breaks real quick to discuss the most recent month that has passed us. Eyeless and Just JT of The Barber's Chair are here to share their 3 favorite music projects from February, along with a couple honorable mentions that should also be on your radar.
Black Panther Soundtrack (Curated by Kendrick Lamar/Top Dawg Entertainment)
Eyeless: Living up to the hype in a modern world of hyperbolic expectations is a difficult task in this climate. Between the unrelenting attention drawn towards the blockbuster film and the vaunted persona of the popular music label, thousands, if not millions of eyes and ears were pointed towards the direction of this soundtrack. Boy, TDE did not miss with the creation and curation of the Black Panther OST. Director of the first major Marvel film year Ryan Coogler had entrusted the keys of the music vehicle to one of the most well known and successful hip-hop/RnB collectives in the game who did not fumble when given the opportunity. TDE's creative prowess was on full display throughout the entirety of the album, making lyrical and melodic ties to the actual movie without seeming too forced.
The obvious duality between the film's protagonist T'Challa and antagonist Erik Killmonger can be felt even if you haven't watched Black Panther yet (if you haven't seen it yet...the fuck are you waiting for?!?!?). But after watching the movie, the strong connection points can definitely be noticed about the split narratives for each character. The necessity of a seemingly out of place track like "Paramedic!" was extremely important in giving an authentic and representative sound for where the Bay Area native Killmonger was coming from. It's one thing to have a star-studded lineup of features like Black Hippy, SZA, The Weeknd, Travis Scott, and 2 Chainz for example. Features like that will only guarantee views. It's also a major responsibility to ensure the major talent that's acquired doesn't get squandered.
The in-house production crew at TDE made sure this did not happen. And as an added bonus, they gave preemptive shoutouts/looks to artists such as SOBxRBE, Mozzy, and Jorja Smith, not when they were at the peak of their ascension, but while they were in the stages of rising to stardom. By also incorporating African tribal sounds on tracks like "Redemption," TDE did a great job of mirroring the aesthetics of Black Panther, the film. This collaborative effort reminded us, not invented, what the standard of what a quality Original Soundtrack is supposed to sound like. Hopefully, Marvel/T.D.E./Ryan Coogler cemented a new trend of movie studios giving the reigns to a music label or collective to handle the duties of creating a whole soundtrack. The results of Black Panther the soundtrack and the movie should be proof enough that this is a successful and lucrative idea that should continue in the future.
Favorite tracks: Paramedic!, Seasons, I Am, King's Dead
JT: At this point, what else is there to say about this amazing cast of individuals formerly known as Top Dawg Entertainment? Everything they touch always turns into gold and with their contribution towards The Black Panther soundtrack, they continue down their path of making quality music that sets them apart from the competition. The soundtrack received just as much hype as the motion picture did. Director Ryan Coogler did a great job of lending his trust towards TDE to create a body of work that is a representation of the film. Once you see the movie (hopefully you’ve seen it already) , you’ll recognize so much more of the connections between each character throughout the soundtrack. You can also recognized which song play well into the scenes of the movie. I just wished the movie could have incorporated more of the soundtrack sounds into the movie. What would’ve made the first fight scene between T’Challa & Killmonger so much more epic is if they had played King’s Dead in the background. Just imagine hearing the 2nd half of King’s Dead with Kendrick verse in the background while Killmonger is telling the people of Wakanda,“Is this your King” right before he threw T’Challa over the cliff. TDE did a hell of a great job with the guest Artist plaeements, especially when it came to showcasing the newer acts such as Mozzy, SOBxRBE, Jorja Smith, & Khalid. Even though Kendrick was all over the album, he still played his part in the background while letting the artist get their shine on. Paramedic is my favorite cut off the soundtrack. The sound is representation of the Bay Area and it’s plays an authentic part to describe where Killmonger was from. That made me more interested in wanting to hear what other music that group has out. Also with Kendrick’s actual tracks, each one sounds different from the last. What makes it better is how the songs don’t even like sound like throwaways off of DAMN. I hope that with TDE curating The Black Panther soundtrack that it brings back a trend of more artist curating movie soundtracks.
Favorite Tracks: X, I Am, Paramedic, King’s Dead, Seasons, Big Shot
Nipsey Hussle - Victory Lap
Eyeless: For the amount of years that Nipsey Hussle has been in the rap game, it is and it isn't a shock for Victory Lap to be his first major record (via Atlantic) label release. It is a shock because of his prolific mixtape run and relevance for a decade plus. It is also not a shock because of how Nipsey carries himself. I watched the hour plus Rap Radar interview and could tell how much of a self-reliant, business savvy individual he was. Patience is key when it comes to developing something from the ground up and he made sure to adhere to this policy. "I'm a master to my faith, plus I'm the type of nigga to own the masters to my tape" was a sentiment that was echoed throughout Victory Lap, meaning that he didn't jump at any deal without doing a thorough vetting process of the contract. When a deal that was favorable to him on HIS TERMS became available, he took it.
The same careful and meticulous attention to detail was present when constructing Victory Lap, an album that'll surely make many Top 10 end-of-the-year lists and will be remembered well beyond 2018. Before we even get to the lyrical content, I gotta take a minute to appreciate the sonics of the album. Money Makin' Nip has an incredible ear for beats, a skill that should not be undervalued in the slightest. Paired with supernatural talents of MixedByAli, from the first track to the very last, Victory Lap just sounds crisp and refined. Listeners can tell how much time and dedication was put into creating the foundation of the album; nothing sounds cheap or rushed. A plate of freshly prepared filet mignon as opposed to a re-heated McDonald's burger.
I can't take credit for this analogy for the project but someone on Twitter said that Victory Lap sounds like a TED Talk over a Rick Ross beat selection, which is not meant to be slanderous towards anyone. What I took away from that statement was Nipsey was spittin' free game and dropping knowledge to all of the listeners. He's a street dude that imparts relatable wisdom to those within and outside the purview of the block. The weight of each bar had the impact of a seismic earthquake because of his lively delivery, controlled flow, and cadence which accentuates every point he is trying to make. This album fucking slaps. From the purest of hip-hop purists to grimiest of thugged out goons, there is something here to be appreciated by every hip-hop fan: passionate lyrics, ethical messages, motivational advice, impeccable production, and a cohesiveness as a whole project.
Favorite tracks: Rap Niggas, Young Niggas, Blue Laces 2, Hussle & Motivate
JT: It’s been a long time coming for Neighborhood Nip but after 5 years of patience and anticipation, he finally dropped his debut album Victory Lap and I couldn’t be more satisfied at how everything turned out. Everything about this body of work feels organic, focused, strategized, & straight to the point. From the singles releases of Rap Niggas, Last Time That I Checc’d, and Dedication, to the interviews conducted through Rap Radar, Hot 97, or The Breakfast Club, etc. I can say that Twitter was spot on with the analogy of Victory Lap sounding like TED Talk on Rick Ross beats. What I love the most about this album outside of the music slapping was the overall message Nipsey was pushing of starting from the bottom, building your way to the top, & becoming self-made. You can feel that aura all over the album everytime you press replay. When listening to records like Hussle and Motivate, Millions While You Young, Real Big, & Young Nigga, the sudden urge of getting up off your ass and making something of yourself consumes you. Next Thing you know, you out here feeling like you can take over the world just because Nip said so and showed that it was possible. Personally for me, I think the chorus of Dedication perfectly describes the tone of Victory Lap and what it stands for.
Dedication, hard work plus patience
The sum of all my sacrifice, I'm done waitin'
I'm done waitin', told you that I wasn't playin'
Now you hear what I been sayin'
Between that and Kendrick Lamar completely bodying the beat, Dedication is one of my go-to records to play in order to keep myself motivated as im clocking into my day job. My favorite part is when Kendrick raps, “I spent my whole life tryna make it, tryna chase it/ The cycle of a black man divided, tryna break it/ You take a loss? Shit, don't cry about it, just embrace it/ Minor setback for major comeback, that's my favorite.” I can feel and relate to those lines so much in life right now. Nipsey’s storytelling as just as impactful as his overall theme and message on the album. His 3rd verse on Blue Laces 2 gives you the chills as Nipsey broke down the story of helping his homeboy after he got shot. Another story that stands out was on Young Nigga when Nip mentioned his older brother burying a hundred thousand in their backyard for about a year and when he dug it out, the money was molded. He said him, his sister, and his mothers were sitting in their living blow drying the money. That picture in my head of that is mind blowing and I can only imagine what everybody was feeling in that room. MixedByAli did an incredible job of mixing Victory Lap making sure that the sound of the album was crisp and refined. Victory Lap has proven to me that patience truly is key when it comes to creating a solid body of work. This album already shows me that it’s going to stand the test of time. Those 5 years of waiting on Victory Lap were worth it.
Favorite Tracks: Dedication, Rap Niggas, Hussle & Motivate, Blue Laces 2, Keys to The City 2, Real Big, Right Hand 2 God
Skyzoo - In Celebration of Us
Eyeless: There's nothing wrong with enjoying and being accepting of the latest trends in hip-hop; diversity and growth are all very important. I enjoy (some) of the newer waves but at heart, I'm an East Coast, boom-bap, hip-hop traditionalist. If you need a break from the polarizing evolutions of this fine genre, look no further than Skyzoo's 7th studio album, In Celebration of Us.
For those unfamiliar, Skyzoo is an underground New York rap legend who first gained notable recognition with his collab project with 9th Wonder titled Cloud 9: The 3 Day High in 2006. Ever since then, Sky's pen game has remained one of the most consistent of recent memory. He is a slick spitter with an intelligent mind that does not waste a single line or verse, giving it 100% effort with every project. A rapper's rapper who is a traditionalist when putting an emphasis on lyrics, but is not musty in the slightest when it comes to being a "traditionalist." On In Celebration of Us, Sky goes through the record having a backdrop perspective of his life story. His prior studio releases were autobiographical to an extent, but this project feels even more personal. He gives us access into his life while he walks us through the journey of his childhood to the present, juxtaposing it with current societal issues like the civil rights of a young black male.
Broad day like jumping out in the way
When one is jumping up outta the front and finding it's aim,
Or, divying a bag with who you're beside every day
And splitting points like you dotted your name,
'cause know that all of these green lives that used to be here,
Matter like these black lives that these blue lives shoot outta fear
Vivid storytelling has always been a strength of Skyzoo's, who does not half-heartedly paint a picture of life through his eyes on In Celebration of Us. Even if you've never listened to a whole project of his, start here. He sounds as fresh and energized as he did with his official debut more than a decade ago.
Favorite tracks: Forever in a Day, Heirlooms & Accessories, Crown Holder
2 Chainz- The Play Don’t Care Who Makes It
JT: 2 Chainz has become everybody’s favorite go-to rapper in the present day. He’s came a real long way from back in the day when he was known as Tity Boi (I still call him that LOL) and was a member of Playa’s Circle and dropped their bill Lil Duffle Bag Boy with Lil Wayne. These days you can find Chainz killing it on features, mixtapes, Ep’s, etc. So it wasn’t a surprise when he decided to pick back up from where he left off in 2017 by dropping a surprise 4 track EP The Play Dont Care Who Makes It. The EP was short yet sweet and right to the point. Real talk I cannot wait until it’s summer time so I can ride through Downtown Atlanta with the windows down blasting Lamborghini Doors. Picture this: you riding down 85/75 South through downtown Atlanta on a beautiful Saturday afternoon with Lamborghini Doors blasting with the drop top and you just so happen to see the city skyline. That my friends is what God wanted y’all. Right after releasing of the EP, Chainz follows up with the announcement of his new album Rap or Go to the League. Even though I'm a huge fan of Chainz & am always in awe of his Mixtapes & EP’s, for some reasons his album don't entirely get the same response from me. Don’t get me wrong I LOVE it when Chainz is in album promo mode because the themes of his albums is always creative and the promo always keeps everybody anxious of what’s to come for the album release .
Favorite Tracks: Lamborghini Truck, Ok Bitch
Eyeless' Honorable Mentions:
SOBxRBE - GANGIN
Cozz - Effective
JT's Honorable Mentions:
SKYZOO- In Celebration of US
Moneybagg Yo - 2 Heartless
G Herbo- Humble Beast Deluxe Edition
Blac Youngsta- 2.23