Best projects of April 2018

Maaan, the last full week of April proved to be one of the craziest weeks in recent memory.  We saw a Dream separate itself from a Nightmare, a Spaceship on a troubling descent, and the MCU's spin on the chorus of XO Tour Llif3. Amid all the madness, what shouldn't be forgotten is the number of quality music releases that came out this past month. The start of the 2nd Quarter of music has a high level of importance because of it unofficially sets the bar for the soundtrack of the Spring and Summer seasons.

Songs that are melodically dreary are quickly getting replaced by uptempo anthems for those wanting to live their best life on their worst behavior all Summer '18 (*raises hand*). Substance and lyrical depth are important, but so too are the cadences and flows on "beat-driven" tracks.

Respect the fact that some people aren't trying to hear an academic dissertation at a poolside party. On the flipside, some people aren't trying always trying to turn up and would like some introspective music for their downtime. Life's about duality. Better yet, like what Thanos said, "perfectly balanced...as all things should be." The music drops of April 2018 did just that.

Eyeless and Just JT of The Barber's Chair are here to give you their favorite projects of the month and some other notables that should be on your radar.

Flatbush ZOMBiES - Vacation in Hell

EYELESS: The trippy triumvirate "representin' BK to the fullest" has returned with their most complete project to-date, Vacation in Hell. Flatbush Zombies are comprised of 3 uniquely talented individuals: Meechy Darko, Zombie Juice, and Erick the Architect.  As explained by Erickin their GQ interview, "I feel like Vacation in Hell is about making the best out of a situation that may not be the best." A darker, less optimistic, but a no less true version of "when life gives you lemons."

During the hour+ journey through their warped sense of reality, each member brings their own bold efforts to the table on ViH. In addition to his role as the primary beat maker (self-produced all but2 tracks), Erick is a dual threat with the pen, both of which are clearly exhibited on the haunting track "Proxies." His approach to creating a boom-bap sound is meticulously imaginative and forward-thinking. Arc's production credits have helped shape the sound ofNew New York, aka Beast Coast.

Juice is a high-octane, colorfully eccentric, and flat-out hilarious artist that is far from a joke in the clownin' sense. The growth of Juice as not only a rapper and harmonizer is evident with every new drop from Flatbush ZOMBiES. Watching his progression from "Thug Waffle" to the dope and frenetically calm"Leather Symphony" (featuring a focused, yet unhinged ASAP Twelvy) has been a great thing to watch.

But wow, like LeBron James' performance down 3-1 in a series against the 73-win Golden State Warriors, Meechy Darko stepped up from an already ridiculously high level set from his past work. Being the purest MC in the group, and quite possibly New York at the moment, Meech undoubtedly puts any challengers on notice that he ain't here to play games with y'all in 2018. Clever metaphors, gravely voice with an equally gritty delivery, emphasis on being lyrical; just bars.

This has always been in his arsenal, but on Vacation in Hell, he turned the proverbial corner. A raw and confident energy surrounded his presence on "Facts," featuring Jadakiss "I'm a walkin', talkin' silhouette, the darkest rhymer //Since DMX dropped that album with blood all over his body". It'd be best to steer clear of him in battle unless you're fully prepared for the challenge.

Rapping about drugs at a high pace over bruising instrumentals isn't the only thing that appears on ViH, and that narrative is hardly the focus. This album has an interesting blend of different sounds, like "Crown" featuring an unlikely collab from the alternative rock group Portugal. the Man. The lead single "Headstone" sounds like typical New York sonics, but the lyrics are filled with odes to legendary rappers that paved the way for them.

Other tracks, such as "YouAreMySunshine" (No lie, I stopped getting high once we lost Yams // I was there the night he died, he was blue cold in my hands) or the track turning the mirror towards our country, "Best American," shows the range and honesty this group is capable of. The political state of this country, the untimely loss of loved ones (RIP to Juice's mother), falling in love, and the ills and horrors of being Black in America among other things are topics on Vacation in Hell. It's a soundtrack to and reminder to try and have some fun in the face of adversity.

J. Cole - KOD

JUST JT: Every time when J Cole wants to speak to the people, he makes sure that we stop and listen. He made it clear one day on Twitter when changing his Avi and announcing his album listening session for his 5th album KOD, which stems from 3 names; Kids on Drugs, King OverDose, or Kill Our Demons. During his live listening sessions he confirmed that this album was completed in two weeks. The overall theme behind the message of the album was overcoming the many different addictions of life, whether it’s using self medication as a means to cope, chasing and stacking money. social media obsession, etc. In the beginning of the intro, we hear the narrator say, “Life can bring much pain There are many ways to deal with this pain./ Choose wisely” which echoes throughout the album on numerous occasions to consciously  serve the listeners as a reminder in life. Coming off from his last album, 4 Your Eyez Only, I was happy to hear Cole becoming passionate again about rapping. He recalled in his interview with Vulture saying that he wasn’t in the proper headspace around the time that album needed more promotion when it came out. Although i'm a huge fan of his song Deja Vu, 4 Your Eyez Only really just came off for me as part 2 of 2014 Forest Hill Drive.

This time around on KOD with the message being preached on the album, he sounded rejuvenated and ready to rap about some real shit that needed to be said. What’s even better about this album is knowing that he’s already got another project coming soon called The Fall Out. Cole not only has been one of my favorite rappers since the 2010s time period but has also become a polarizing figure with all of the love & hate he gets from people. You just have to sit back and wonder how in the world is a little nigga that’s from Fayetteville, North Carolina making this much noise but doesn’t show nor act as if he’s famous. He does the total opposite. My favorite records off the song include Photograph, ATM, Brackets, Window’s Pain, & 1985 Outro. Brackets was truly amazing for me when he was rapping on his 2nd verse questioning the american tax system. And the curriculum be tricking them, them dollars I spend/ Got us/ learning about the heroes with the whitest of skin/ One thing about the men that's controlling the pen/ That write history, they always seem to white-out they sins. Only time will tell with what’s going to happen with The Fall Out but between that and Revenge of the Dreamers 3, Im looking forward to hearing more of Cole’s energetic raps among his Dreamville peers.

Kali Uchis - Isolation

EYELESS: For how strong it is as a whole, it feels like Isolation has been criminally under-discussed in on social media. With high-profile features such as the creative enigma Tyler, The Creator, and the legendary funk musician Bootsy Collins, one would think more buzz would surround her project, especially after it dropped. Doesn't matter. I firmly believe that the debut studio album from Kali Uchis will inevitably stand the test of time. Numbers aren't totally indicative of the quality of a project (quick aside: please cut that shit out of your music arguments on Twitter; nobody cares). If it's dope like Kali's style, it's dope and people will eventually hear it. Her voice matches her aesthetic: smokey, stunningly beautiful, with an unconventional flair. The strength of Isolation lies with the extensive production team that created a multi-faceted universe for the Colombian-American singer to get some deep feelings off her chest.

To name a few: Thundercat, Tame Impala's Kevin Parker, and hip-hop/jazz quartet BADBADNOTGOOD all had contributing roles in creating this genre-blending tape that does not like a forced soundclash. RnB, hip-hop, and soul are natural elements that mix well. But for a pop artist to include a heavy (yet authentic) Latin American influence with a sprinkle of reggaeton and bossa nova is refreshing to hear. Tracks like the dangerous sounding, slow yet beach friendly "Miami" featuring BIA and the untranslated "Nuestra Planeta" shows Kali's dedication to holding onto her native culture.

In short, the entire record is groovy as fuck. Prime example being "Just a Stranger," the Steve Lacy (and BROCKHAMPTON producer Romil) assisted, lighthearted track. She makes quick work of her 2 short verses by coolly rolling her sultry voice over the live instrumentation. Definitely some shit you'd hear at a roller rink on a Friday night...but not in a corny way. Having a team of talented writers and producers is only half of the equation. Showing up and executing what's been laid in front of you is the difficult part. Kali did not miss the mark.

With Isolation being her debut after several years in the industry, it'd be hard to imagine her not having a hands-on approach pre, during, and post-production. Even with the large crew of people in the album credits, her own musical influences can be heard loud and clear. And, the lyrics are as personal as it gets. On the Gorillaz produced "In My Dreams" - with Damon Albarn on additional vocals; let's just call it a Gorillaz feature - we hear the ideal utopia that she created in her head, cut with an undercurrent of pain (I'm never stressing my bills, nobody ever gets killed, it's the dream world...My mama's never on coke, this isn't my way to cope // Washing my mind out with soap). This, and the rest of the CD all ties into the theme of Isolation. It may seem poppy on the outside, but if you read between the lines, there's a person struggling alone with real problems. Kali Uchis put her heart on display with this excellent debut; she'll be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.

Cardi B - Invasion of Privacy

JT: America’s new favorite sweetheart Cardi B made her major label debut Invasion of Privacy on April 6th. With the way her life has been going, the debut album title is the best fit description towards Cardi’s life. Everywhere she goes, there’s always someone saying something that’s pertaining to her life, whether its about her past, her relationship with Offset, her pregnancy, etc. But even with all of the bullshit, she’s still pushes forward promoting her music and living her best life while making guest appearances on tours and shows like Saturday Night Live. First starting off back in 2017 with the smash single Bodak Yellow, Cardi began truly gaining traction from both the hip-hop audience and the mainstream world.

Outside of creating the ratchet anthems for the ladies to enjoy, she steps out of her comfort zone with different records such as Be Careful, I Like It, & Ring. Not to mention her album is only 13 tracks long which make it a perfect segway. I’m looking forward to hearing these records during the summer days. I can already hear Bickenhead, Drip, & She Bad being played all throughout Day Party Season this summer. The ladies are going to hold it down for Bartier Cardi while shes away getting ready for motherhood. When you look at Cardi’s trajectory from when she first started on Social media towards getting into Love & Hip-Hop New York and finally setting herself up with a music career, you can’t help but think about how great this current era is with building the proper fanbase.

Young Thug - Hear No Evil

JT: Jeffrey aka the artist formerly known as Young Thug voiced that initially he wasn’t going to release any music in 2018, which was then met with mixed reactions. Then one Thursday night in April, rumors started surfacing on Twitter speculating that Thugger was going to drop a surprise EP and low and behold, his 3 song EP Hear No Evil was released to the world. My favorite song from that EP was Up with Lil Uzi Vert. Overall, despite not really feeling attached to Anybody with Nicki Minaj for personal reasons, I still thoroughly enjoyed this EP from Thugger. With all of the talk with his music, he really should be way bigger than where he’s currently at but thats a different subject for a new day. In a perfect world for me, Thugger would drop maybe 2 or 3 more EPs later on in the year hinting us of a bigger project that is coming ahead. But for now we will sit back and wait to see what Thugger comes up with next. You never know what’s in stored with him and the music.

Saba - CARE FOR ME

EYELESS: No matter what new trend, steez, or wave that crashes into the shores of music, honest transparency delivered in through the conduit of storytelling will always be appreciated, especially narration that is at a high level. It's only April, but I'll be shocked if CARE FOR ME isn't mentioned amongst Album of the Year contenders come December. The self-released and extremely personal project from Saba is that damn good. The 23-year-old,SAVEMONEY-adjacent, Chicago native sounds incredibly mature for his young age. An "introspective journey haunted by trauma and deflated with social anxiety," that is somber to the point of numbness, yet engaging enough to keep your emotions stimulated.

Chances are, you've heard Saba's raps on 2 of Chance the Rapper's standout tracks from Acid Rap and Coloring Book, respectively. With all due respect to Chano, 2018 may be one of the last years that his name gets brought up in convos that begin with "have you heard of Saba?" CARE FOR ME has been getting so much attention in the world of music that he'll be a widely recognized name sooner rather than later. Like some of his Midwest collaborators such as Mick Jenkins, Noname, and Smino, there's an enthusiastic gusto in his flow. Just as rapidly as he can spit, he could easily "Pivot" on a dime to switch up his cadence to avoid any semblance of monotony.

On one of the standout tracks, "SMILE," Saba's melodic versatility is beautifully showcased here. He starts off with a smooth flow that resembles waves slowly hitting the beach during low-tide. "Smile, smile, smile, smile..." is chanted like a mantra for meditation, then BOOM. An unexpected bouncy flow where syllables are stretched then replaced in quick succession by the next line...for a period of 8 bars. Once that stanza is complete, he goes back to spazzing on the calm instrumental. Throughout this all, there is substance and depth behind these lyrics. Vivid imagery by Saba, as the rest of the album does so well to paint, puts the listener in the portrait created by his words. CARE FOR ME, a project dedicated to his late cousin Walter (referenced throughout but most prominently on "PROM / KING"), is a touching and heartfelt project full of raw emotion that's short on time but not short on fulfilling content.

Eyeless' Honorable Mentions:
Janelle Monae - Dirty Computer
J. Cole - KOD
Cardi B - Invasion of Privacy
Smoke DZA - Not For Sale
The Alchemist - Lunch Meat EP
Young Thug - Hear No Evil EP (Thugga, this was fire, but what is the plan?!?)
Robert Glasper Experiment x KAYTRANADA - The ArtScience Remixes

JT’s Honorable Mentions:
NBA Youngboy - Until Death Call My Name
Jacquees - This Time I’m Serious

Check out Eyeless and JT's best projects for January, February, and March 2018