If the title of Earl Sweatshirt’s new album sounds like the Los Angeles native is underselling his work, it’s because that’s exactly the case. He’s become one of the most lauded hip-hop artists of this decade but has the sort of personality of one who offers a gift unwrapped to a recipient who is expecting a grand gesture. As it turns out, Some Rap Songs is quite the present.

Thebe Kgositsile’s worst enemy seems—and has always seemed to be—collective expectations and the entitlement that comes with them. He’s always seemed to display an “Earl-versus-the-world” type of attitude, not in the sense that the world is or was rejecting him, but that he is rejecting the world. He earned a reasonable amount of fame when he was just 16 years old. He started as an internet sensation, became something of a meme, morphed into an enigma, then developed into an icon. It’s no secret that he’s an introverted young man that’s been reluctant to accept exposure and face potential invasions of privacy that come with being a bonafide pop culture star. Rather than bask in the attention that his music has earned him, he retreated from it, setting himself apart from contemporaries who maintain relevance through strategized ubiquity by way of numerous singles, tweets, features, and even appearances on lifestyle publication YouTube channels. As he shrank from the spotlight, his mystique grew—as did fans’ desire to hear him do what he does best.

Fans of artists like Earl Sweatshirt can often be divided into groups that listen to him because of his lyrical ability and others that use his mopiness as a sort of avatar for their own emotional pain. On Some Rap Songs, however, listeners are challenged to accept the whole package: a young poet-philosopher who happens to be the face of a growing sound and scene within the hip-hop landscape. In the past, Earl has sometimes been the reflection of artists and collaborators around him, but now, the 24-year-old has become an OG to a vanguard of young artists who are blurring the lines between avant-garde jazz and hip-hop.

This new sound is based on abstractions and focuses much more on mood than form. In Earl’s lyrics, the concept of Blackness is radical and soul-searching is channeled through a lo-fi sound awash with off-kilter loops, samples chopped into a state of unrecognition, and audio clips that feel both random and relevant. The single “Nowhere2go” is a perfect example of such, featuring a jittery beat full of stuttering loops, warped vocal samples, and sparse percussion. The result is a song that lands somewhere between jarring and soothing, the perfect backdrop for Earl’s deadpan revelations about himself: “I need a city to hold down (Hold down)/You n****s gave me a coast (Yeah)/You went and gave me a cape (Cape)/But that never gave me no hope (Hope, yeah, hope, hope).”

The album is distinctly rough around the edges. It reminds one of much of Madlib’s work of the early 2000s. Indeed, it’s hard to remember an album that sounded like this since the Madvillainy LP. The entirety sounds dusty and imperfect, which finds Earl and his cohorts tapping into the same sort of illegible, yet undeniable, feeling jazz musicians capture in slurred notes.

Earl also manages to tell an implicit story on Some Rap Songs that he didn’t tell on his previous projects—that he is a product of his parents. Though most of the album was composed before the death of his father (South African poet Keorapetse Kgositsile) in January of this year, his presence looms in a way it hasn’t on Earl’s past work. The resentment and laments of abandonment that pervaded IDLS,IDGO, Doris, and Earl are replaced with acceptance and embrace. “My momma used to say she see my father in me/I said I was not offended,” he raps on “Azucar.” He shows signs of reconciliation and acknowledgment here, thanking the women in his life and how they supported him during his times of tribulation. “My cushion was a bosom on bad days/It’s not a black woman I can’t thank.”

That sentiment is felt strongly on “Playing Possum,” where a mashed-up duet of his mother (Cheryl Harris) and father’s voices appears as she describes him as a “cultural worker” and he recites an excerpt of a poem called “Anguish Longer Than Sorrow.” The track is a love letter to his progenitors, a letter that his father, unfortunately, did not get to hear before his passing. Later, on “Peanuts,” raps slowly over an out-of-tune piano sample, at one point mentioning his uncle, the African jazz legend Hugh Masekela, who also passed away shortly after Earl’s father. The final track on the album contains a sample crafted from his uncle’s work, signifying a catharsis that has emerged from Sweatshirt’s mourning. Distorted samples of an unsteady guitar seem to glitch and wobble until they go silent. Earl’s father and uncle are gone, but he is still here, building on his family’s artistic legacy while cementing his own.


London singer/songwriter Nao recently released her second album Saturn. The album is based on Saturn’s return to the position of one’s natal Saturn. This takes about 29.5 years to occur, and for horoscope and astrology enthusiasts, the effects are felt beginning in one’s mid-twenties and last until the early thirties. Usually, these effects manifest themselves in the form of interpersonal transitions and even grief. Nao herself loosely fits into this age bracket and is a shrewd observer of the phenomenon on her sophomore effort.

Saturn drifts through a mindset in flux, largely focusing both on heartbreak and the sort of regenerative bliss that follows. Following her 2016 debut, For All We Know, Nao pulls from R&B, pop, and funk influences with noticeable self-affirmation and security. That assurance also reveals a growing meticulousness in her production, choice of collaborators, and intimacy in her lyrics. All of these work together to throw the album’s theme of personal growth and the motif of astrology into gorgeous clarity.

Nao’s voice, capable of switching from a husky lower register to a spacy, honey-smooth falsetto, remains the driving force in her music. In this case, she uses that voice to meditate on loss, love, and rebirth. The album’s thesis statement shows up on “Orbit,” a shapeshifting centerpiece that follows the unsteadiness following a breakup. The song takes its time moving from the broadly-described end of a relationship (“I lost you in dreams, now I’m falling”) to a pitch-shifted rap that describes the most minute details (“I don’t care about this dog and you know I can’t afford it”). It’s a pointedly balanced composition devoid of self-preservation that manages to nevertheless remain tender.

Saturn isn’t all wallowing and heartache, however. “If You Ever” and “Yellow of the Sun” are light, temperate odes to giddy romance, while “Gabriel” and the cold, reticent “Curiosity” explore a sultriness that was absent on her debut. Enlisting familiars like Mura Masa, LOXE, and GRADES for production, as well as background instrumentalists ranging from Daniel Caesar to the Chineke! Orchestra, Nao appoints musicians that help her adroitly shift between lean future-pop and minimal, floating R&B.

On a few occasions, Nao slows things down too much and churns out vague, clumsy turns-of-phrase. The title track, despite its name, adds little nuance to the themes of motif of the album, and the lyrics are listless in places: “Your constellation circulating me/Like a Capricorn, you’re hard to release.” A similar problem can be heard on “Drive and Disconnect,” where she vaguely suggests that she’s escaping from “too many crimes,” but doesn’t elaborate on any of them.

Yet even for its sometimes awkward lyrics, Saturn features enough dynamic songwriting that the lows feel less like failures and more like growing pains. Between Nao’s uncanny voice and the album’s glossy production, it’s easy to get lost here. Saturn is a worthy successor to For All We Know. The album expands on Nao’s unique sound, especially on the likes of “Make It Out Alive,” and it manages to hone in on a specific degree of self-love and honesty that, although sometimes bungling, manages to come off genuine and refreshing.


“This is the album I dreamed of making in high school,” said Anderson .Paak of his newest effort Oxnard, named after his hometown. Repping one’s hometown area has long been a hip-hop practice that especially characterizes .Paak’s music, whether that means naming his albums after nearby beaches, enlisting the mixing prowess Dr. Dre on two of them, or showing up extensively on other West Coast artists’ songs. Oxnard provides a wide-angle snapshot of Southern California itself, showing off all of the richness (and some of the hedonism) of the landscape.

“Everything we made for Malibu we made from the dirt. We had the bare minimum,” .Paak explained to Rolling Stone. “Now, it’s trying to keep that same mentality, but when you have everything. When you’ve been eating calamari and lobster, when you’ve been going to festivals and playing for 40,000 people. You finally have a tour bus. You have two kids now, and a wife to support. You’re trying to keep the same principles you had when you just had a couch.” Oxnard is often overtly lascivious, finding .Paak exalting fellatio (“Headlow”), recounting stories of sexual encounters with almost every kind stereotypical woman (“Sweet Chick”), and even musing about the idea of a bisexual, promiscuous Donald Trump lovechild (“6 Summers”). However, .Paak remains a practitioner of breezy, bright funk that’s warm as often as Southern California’s weather. Having thrown in even more A-list features (Dr. Dre, Q-Tip, Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dogg), Oxnard sounds like a party held in the Los Angeles hills for Hollywood elites.

When Anderson allows himself to be instinctive and loose, Oxnard manages to blend all of these characteristics with ease. Having brought The Free Nationals along for the ride that has become his career, .Paak remains focused on the funky guitar riffs, drum beats, and brass embellishments that have become his signature. On Malibu, that funk sounded like the result of crate-digging and thrift store shopping, whereas on Oxnard, he can pay for lengthened sessions and guest studio musicians. The stakes have been raised, blues notes and chord progressions have been thrown in (“Saviers Road”), and the fallout of fame has been highlighted. On the Q-Tip featured “Cheers,” a brassy ode to friends-now-gone (Mac Miller, Phife Dawg), lovers, and lifestyles of the past, .Paak wonders “Now, is this really what I wanted?/Is it really worth the pain?” Later Kamal raps, “Back in the day before you were a dog and you were just pup/Bangin’ beats and bringin’ b*****s back to the tour bus.” It’s a theme that appears on the opening verse of “Anywhere” by Snoop Dogg when he reminisces about “slang[in] hand to hand to a feind/Rappin’ on the side, trappin’ was priority/But every now and then I go scoop my little thing/Pull up in my emcee bangin’ New Jack Swing.” Elsewhere, Kendrick Lamar raps about wanting to be respected “from afar” and needing tinted windows to maintain privacy and “a peace of mind.”

As has become signature for an Anderson .Paak album, however, all of that sentiment has been laid over music that is anything but depressing. “Tints” is a carnival of funky bass lines, snappy snares, and lush background vocals. The seemingly overlooked “Brother’s Keeper” sounds like the background music of a commercial that features drone footage of the L.A. skyline and rows of palm trees, almost reminiscent of a modern Curtis Mayfield’s Pusherman, and has both artists defending and relishing their successes of the last few years. Some critics bemoan .Paak’s most juvenile moments, such as a skit that finds .Paak crashing a car while receiving a blow job but soliciting completion even after it occurs (“Headlow”). “Sweet Chick” will probably annoy the most politically correct of the media, especially when he describes his side pieces that include “a cheap broad/[that] Should be tippin’ but she’ll be puttin’ them dollar bills in her bra,” a “skater b***h/[that’s] a gamer” that he has to “take…to arcades and s**t” that “watch[es]’ Anime while [he’s] layin’ d**k,” and a “Xan hoe” that “be mumblin’, ain’t…hard to understand though” that leaves him for T.I. because she’s in love with Southern trap artists. It’s a characteristic of many hip-hop artists and songs that seems far less demeaning coming from .Paak, if only because the music is upbeat and the artist himself has no concerns about appearing hard, gangster, or even overtly braggadocious.

Creating a follow-up album to Malibu that was better than its predecessor would be a nearly impossible task. Oxnard doesn’t quite have the same charm or soul that Malibu does, but it’s a strong effort from a musical polymath that seems content to mess around and be capable at almost anything he wants to do. In sparse moments on Oxnard, Anderson .Paak experiments and performs in ways that only he can, but that sometimes he perhaps shouldn’t. Still, Oxnard ranks among the best hip-hop and popular music 2018 has had to offer.


It’s easy to like Action Bronson. His grassroots rise to fame was like the ascendance of a popular food truck or even the notoriety of Jay Fai’s restaurant in Bangkok. He’s funny and braggadocious with a non-sequitur game unrivaled by contemporary rappers. Throw in his shorts-in-all-seasons penchant and it’s no wonder that he’s earned himself spots on multiple television shows and even a role in an upcoming Scorcese film. His ninth and newest album White Bronco, however, lacks much of the depth and zest that gave rise to his fame and success.

The album opens with “Dr. Kimble,” a track that features a sleazy, guitar-wrestling beat from one of Bronson’s longtime collaborators, Harry Fraud. Bronson’s flow is silky and laid-back but contains little pizzazz. “I cop cars and crash ’em/Next day the same thing/Next day Beijing.” Sure Bronson is a world traveler at this point, but the details of his itinerary are less evocative than his daily shopping at neighborhood delis and dropping indigenous lines like, “Straight from Flushing/Where the birds are hanging dead in the window.”

Much of Bronson’s strongest work has come from pairing with one producer for the majority of an album. Tommy Mas worked extensively on Dr. Lecter, and Party Supplies cohorted on Blue ChipsWhite Bronco, as it turns out, has more of a potluck feel that leaves the entirety a little uneven. The Daringer-produced the slinky title track—which also features Bronson’s in-house band, the Special Victims Unit—jars against Samiyam’s psyche-rock on “Telemundo.” Knxwledge’s string-infused “Picasso’s Ear” seems like it should belong on an entirely different album than the synthy “Swerve on Em,” produced by Fraud (which includes a throwaway verse from A$AP Rocky). This hodgepodge does little to elicit instant-vintage Bronson rhymes. On “Telemundo,” for example, Bronson does just enough to tread water with lines like, “About to get this paper like Judge Judy/Told my baby, ‘Come do me’/All these drugs just run through me.” Many of the bars lack the humor and flair of a guy who once rapped “Twisted off the jenkem, watching ‘Iron Chef’/The secret ingredient was lion’s neck.”

White Bronco’s punchiest moment comes when Bronson is reunited with Party Supplies, a producer who has said that they have searched YouTube for phrases like “a 100-acre burgundy carpet” until they unearthed something quirky to turn into a sample. Party Supplies’ beats give listeners the feeling that he is enthralled by that feeling of discovery. Based around a spunky take on “Tramp,” the short “Irishman Freestyle” has Bronson rapping lines like, “Don’t drink gin and tonic/Only natural wine, to be honest.” A few lines later he is “butt naked with the Uzi on Broadway,” telling the oglers, “My haircut is like Dominican folk art.” Those lines are the absurd, laugh-out-loud stuff that take one back to the essence of Bronson. Unfortunately, they also serve as a reminder that such flavor is largely missing from the rest of White Bronco.



So, it turns out the Black Eyed Peas just released a hip-hop album.

It almost feels strange to say. The last time the group released what could unequivocally be considered a hip-hop album occurred in the year 2000 when they released Bridging the Gap (which has probably become an underrated piece of work). and the crew (sans Fergie) have made millions by making songs for NBA promo commercials and junior high school dances and pep rallies. On Masters of the Sun Vol. 1, the Los Angeles rap trio returns to their alternative hip-hop roots.

The opening track blatantly states as such. “BACK 2 HIPHOP” features an appearance from Nas and a quasi-sample from Soul II Soul’s classic “Back To Life.”’s opening lyrics are like a thesis for not only the track but the entire album:

Ring the alarm, get on the horn and inform
Everyone from Oregon to Melbourne
That the funk phenomenon has been reborn and transformed
You coulda sworn that you wasn’t warned ’cause we was
Trapped in the box that rap had spawned

The rest of the group’s lyrics do sound like they were plucked out of notebooks dating back to the turn of the current millennium, as do the boom bap drums and the samples of classic hip-hop songs that pervade the majority of the production. The anti-violence, pro-love sentiment that has always been a BEP trademark has gone nowhere. “BIG LOVE,” the album’s first single and music video, is a dramatic commentary on gun violence. “RING THE ALARM pt.1 pt.2 pt.3” addresses everything from a cure to AIDS to internet bullying to child education. Even Esthero returns for a cameo on the jazzy “4EVER,” a song quintessentially Bridging the Gap or Behind the Front. One of the album’s strongest moments comes in the form of a song called “ALL AROUND THE WORLD,” which features verses from Phife Dawg and Posdonus and vibes like an early 2000s funk-infused boat tune perfect for playing on a beach near the equator.

The most refreshing aspect of the album is that sounds like he is stretching himself again. It was often the case with the last few albums that the production was simple, glossy, and sounded like it required minimal effort to create and arrange. On Masters of the Sun Vol. 1, not only has the group tried to get more creative, but the beats and arrangements frequently change just as a vibe seems to settle in just a little too long from track to track (see “DOPENESS” or “RING THE ALARM pt.1 pt.2 pt.3”). That doesn’t always make up for moments when the lyrics seem slightly wrote or hackneyed (“You either fixin’ it or breakin’ it, takin’ it or makin’ it/You’re either to legit or you kinda fit, fakin’ it” or “I got em sweatin’ like a fat man/I’m all up in your head like a CAT scan”), but the music rarely lets up on the head-nodding sound.

This isn’t an album for the youth and it doesn’t follow current trends. Those that enjoyed BEP songs like “Get It Started” have probably grown out of their appreciation for them. In a popular music landscape that has turned rappers into pop and even rock stars, the Black Eyed Peas have gone back to the essence, seemingly catering to old fans that were around before the band had their first smash hit. For those fans, this album is a pleasant surprise, albeit an imperfect one.


Greta Van Fleet have made a name for themselves by sounding they lept fully-formed from the brain of a rock critic in the 1970s. Three brothers and a friend from a town near Saginaw, Michigan, they came bearing recycled Zeppelin-isms with a touch of Rush’s “2112″ from the frontman that everyone accused of being a Robert Plan wannabe. Generations of hair-metal bands, parody specialists like Spinal Tap, post-modernists like the White Stripes, and script-flippers like Dread Zeppelin are history to them. They were roughly kindergarten-aged when School Of Rock melted rock fans’ faces. They probably never wondered about any artists missing from Dewey Finn’s chalkboard diagram of Rock N’ Roll. They probably just thought the film was rad (which it was).

It’s easy to see why many classic rock fans have flocked to Great Van Fleet’s YouTube videos and live performances. Fans are probably counting, on one hand, the number of bands that sound anything close to the kind of hard rock they grew up listening to on radio stations that don’t tout classic rock mottos. The band’s critics, however, in much of the same way that Muse was viewed as a Radiohead plagiarist band, view Greta Van Fleet as a producer of cheaps thrills with little originality to offer.

On their official debut album Anthem of the Peaceful Army, some truth exists both of those sentiments. But there’s also a charm to their guileless, retro-fetishist conviction. While it’s true that the vocals sound like something we’ve heard before, to say that Josh Kiszka doesn’t have chops is also disingenuous, especially after listening to “Lover, Leaver (Taker, Believer)”. “The Cold Wind” and “When The Curtain Falls” flaunt the physical graffiti that earned them a global audience.

The biggest downside to the attempted reworking of rock blues comes in the writing. With a sound like they have, the band could use the lyrics to help push things past nostalgia, the way Amy Winehouse spun Motown, mascara, and beehives, but the writing often comes off as mish-mashed and clunky. “You’re The One,” a come-back-to-me plea to an “evil” girl, rhymes “young and pretty” with “ain’t that a pity.” “Brave New World” gets surprising mileage out of the words “acid rain,” but the drug references are dated. And while a certain British band might be these boys’ heroes, that band new when to separate their lyrics written to sweet ladies looking for action and their literary-fantasy prose (listen to “The Cold Wind,” where the selling of an ox is interrupted by a “Yankee peddler” and results in the subject of the song wearing a new dress. Um, what?).

Still, fans of the band will have some things to look forward to hearing, and all of the album’s track’s should play well at concerts. Time will tell if the band manages to distance themselves from dangly earrings, vinyl pants, and Hendrix-esque headbands. The song “Anthem,” asks, “Where is the music, tune to free the soul/A simple lyric to unite us all?” It’s an old motif, but Greta Van Fleet don’t answer the question. If they manage to use their influences as fuel and not as blueprints, they might someday.


Ella Mai first made a name for herself with the summer hit “Boo’d Up,” a song that few new artists could have sung with the same starry-eyed naiveté. Signed onto DJ Mustard’s 10 Summers label since 2016 and now receiving executive producing credits from the same, Ella Mai has released a likable 90’s commercial R&B homage replete with Mustard hip-pop signature sounds. The finger-snapping, perfectly fine debut contains plenty of Easter eggs for genre aficionados: a “no no no” reference here, a wink to “little secret” there, and a “writing’s on the wall” nod elsewhere.

Despite a few obvious references, Mai avoids pastiche, although a tightened tracklist would have provided focus to this over-long collection of 16 songs. The album’s bloating prevents her from ever leapfrogging the effectiveness of her singles like “Trip” or the aforementioned “Boo’d Up.” Ella Mai is a capable singer and even a fair songwriter. She has, on occasion, managed to write nuanced examinations of troubled relationships (“I hope the next girl you love ends up f***ing you over”) by juxtaposing glaring flaws in a partner with her own faults and weaknesses. At once point she criticizes a partner who is “chewing with [his] mouth wide open,” but the album closer “Naked,” is a challenge for her lover to accept her, “resting b**** face and all.” When she asks “Can you love me naked?,” she manages to distance nudity from the traditional context of R&B seduction and reframes it to align it more with body positivity and even mental health to a lesser degree.

Some threads, however, feel a little too dated. Like Janet Jackson’s Velvet Rope, the album contains riffs on each letter of her name (‘E’ is for “emotion,” ‘L’ is for “lust,” etc.) that feel tired and even Hallmark-esque. The ending of what is perhaps the album’s strongest song “Shot Clock” is something of a groan-inducing whimper: “Love…full of chuckles and cuddles and sometimes eye puddles…” That lyric sounds like it should be the inside of a box of chocolates held by a teddy bear.

Many young artists have been using retro, soulful sounds as a canvas for painting their own pictures. Ella Mai’s talent and likability showcased by her Instagram covers got her discovered by DJ Mustard, after all. On her debut, however, her abilities aren’t always accompanied by assured or clear direction. She told Forbes that she didn’t want to rush the production and release of an album in the wake of the somewhat unexpected success of “Boo’d Up,” but on certain tracks, the albums sounds like that is exactly what happened. Ella Mai will score her a few more hits (“Sauce” is undeniable and “Cheap Shot” almost sounds like it could be a b-side on Rihanna’s ANTI), but the debut doesn’t quite bring the best out of her.


For quite some time, T.I. has sounded like a copyright lawyer on social media and on his albums. He’s been arguing that he invented trap music, or at least that he brought it to the mainstream hip-hop scene. It’s easy to point to the title of his 2003 album as a piece of evidence for this claim. Artists like T.I., Gucci Mane, and others can, with reason, puff up their own chests with the importance that Trap has had not only on music but popular culture at large. Last month, however, T.I. started admitting that the genre was created collectively. “Trap music wouldn’t be s*** without ALL OF US,” he wrote on Instagram. That attitude embodies his newest album Dime Trap. T.I. seems far less concerned about ownership these days as he does participation and legacy.

The last few years have seen a very pop-friendly and even politically correct T.I. in the public eye. He received a Grammy nomination for “Blurred Lines,” he released his most pop record since Paper Trail when he dropped Paperwork, and he was Iggy Azalea’s defender and something of a mentor. He even showed up on a reality t.v. show centered on his family. It seems as though Dime Trap has arrived to re-balance his life and career. At one point, this album was going to simply be called Trap Music.

In many ways, Dime Trap is indeed, a return. T.I. raps less about his street legend and more about his legacy and the future. T.I. still loves to brag and floss, but he raps much more frequently about the consequences and the negative aspects of the trap than he has in recent memory. On the song “Seasons,” he quotes his marriage counselor that advises him to think about the pain his decisions have caused him and his family. “What Can I Say” comes off as something of a word of caution to someone trying to copy his rise to fame and moguldom. A successful hustle only begets more hustles, or in his words, his life has seen him “In the trap with a trap door.”

Reflection pops up often on this album. On “Laugh At Em,” T.I.’s past comes off as both an inspiration and a burden. “Swear to God I coulda been Freddie Gay/Or Mike Brown, gettin shot down/With a pistol on me and half a brick of yay.” Those few lines are more potent and meaningful than the entirety of his last album. He’s rediscovered a little bit of power and fluidity on this album that sounds refreshing in most instances.

That tendency, however, also leads to the albums weakest moments, when he gets too sentimental. “Pray For Me” features weepy and morose keys with lyrics to match, but it’s also monochromatic and comes off artificial. It almost sounds like T.I. and YFN Lucci are auditioning for a soap opera. That sentiment also sees him trying to prove naysayers wrong like he is still a new artist or like Trap is still a new kind of music. He says on “The Weekend” that trap isn’t one-dimensional, that this album is like a “TED Talk for hustlers.” Hasn’t his career and the career of numerous other artists made that clear by now?

The album is strengthened amidst all of this, in large part, by the production. New and veteran producers match his throwback breezy rapping with zesty beats. Bangladesh blends mariachi horns and marching-band percussion on “Jefe” into a catchy and energetic thumper. Shawty Redd and Pyro da God’s “Big Ol Drip” beat burns slowly with bold drops and bluesy, ragtime guitar riffs. Scott Storch’s scanty arrangement on “Wraith” steadily grows and shrinks, creating pockets of dead air that T.I. fills with strength and a huskiness that hasn’t been present in his past efforts.

In the end, then, it is the production that tells a more complete story of Trap than the lyrics. It isn’t always the case, but T.I.’s lyrics often limit Trap to its function or to its impact. It’s not that those things are argued, or even that they should be examined, but those things paint an incomplete picture. Trap has evolved because its progenitors keep trying to create the unpredictable (that, though, could be argued, but that is beside the point). Many of those artists argue that the genre’s soul exists in its elusiveness. It’s not that T.I. can’t match those sentiments. Indeed, he does just that on more than one instance here with the help of his friends. Any issues with Dime Trap are a result of T.I. not doing enough of it.


When two popular hip-hop artists release projects that are loosely part of a series, as it were, what does an internet critic do? If you write for Can I Kick It?, you go ahead and review both of them. After 7 years, Lil Wayne finally released Tha Carter V, and in the wake of the death of Mac Miller, the proclaimed inspiration for Logic’s Young Sinatra mixtape series, the latter decided to release the final chapter in the saga, YSIV.

Tha Carter V is most assuredly a different album than it would have been in 2014. We’ll never know how many Trinidad James verses got shelved, how many plays on words Weezy would have made on “Get Lucky,” or what he would have rhymed with ‘Bastille.’ That album might not have been very good, considering that That Carter IV incessantly trend-chased and Tha Carter V might have been much of the same. It’s fortunate then, that it has arrived after the four most trying years of Lil Wayne’s career because the time and struggle has caused him to be more revealing. After all this time, Lil Tunechi actually sounds like a human being.

It seems unnecessary to review the history that got Lil Wayne here. Suffice it to say, he is no longer the lunatic trailblazer rapping over everything from “Fireman” to something sung by Celine Dion. But more than any release since perhaps No CeilingsTha Carter V seems to capture the version of Lil Wayne that his fans most want to remember. Indeed, there is a little bit of every Wayne facet on the 23-tracklist. At times he’s open, word-drunk, and thrilled by the possibilities of his own voice and lyrics. He dials back his most obnoxious tics here too, like the overbearing Auto-Tune, the incessant dick jokes, and that hackneyed cackle that abraded exponentially with every crack. Even his lamer quips sometimes pay off unexpectedly. “Blunt big, big as Mama June off the diet plan/Smokin’ science lab/I should have a tattoo that say, ‘I’m not like my dad.’” And on “Mona Lisa,” he raps more ferociously than fans have seen in quite a while.

Tha Carter V seems to be the first time that Lil Wayne has allowed himself to fall behind the times, as it were, and it’s a refreshing, even if not the most rewarding Lil Wayne experience. The most electric moments of the album come when he engages in the lanes that he dominated in the past and foregoes venturing into territory he’ll never own. The most uncommon aspect of the album that turns out to be the most rewarding is the personal tone of the album. The final track, “Let It All Work Out,” shines new light on one of the most infamous  Lil Wayne stories: the self-inflicted gunshot wound he survived when he was 12, which he always maintained was an accident. Here, he reveals that it wasn’t. “Too much was on my conscience to be smart about it/Too torn apart about it, I aim where my heart was pounding,” he raps. It’s a reveal that wouldn’t have worked nearly as well on an album that found him stuck in a label beef or contract dispute. It closes the record on a breath-stopping note, but a different kind than fans used to love. The most surprising takeaway from Tha Carter V isn’t that Weezy can still make music like this, but that after so many verses, there’s still plenty we don’t know about him.

Logic, on the other hand, has never been one that’s shrouded his past in mystery or shied away from appearing vulnerable. Of course, the Young Sinatra mixtapes aren’t the most notable mixtapes that have showcased this, but there are still moments, such as on “YSIV,’ where he talks about the inspiration for the tapes, his relationship to Mac Miller, and what these tapes mean to him. That’s about as soft as the mixtape YSIV gets, however.

“The boom bap’s back harder than ever,” he raps on “Wu Tang Forever,” a track that features every living member of the legendary hip-hop group. For the entirety of the project, Logic goes old school, every beat seemingly pulled out of a time capsule buried in his backyard from the late 1990s/early 2000s. Indeed, the snares are never absent for long, piano samples show up often, and “100 Miles and Running” features a breakbeat in which golden age b-boys would revel and rhyme cadences from Logic and guest Wale that will have old-school hip-hop heads nodding their heads for more than 6 minutes.

It’s not just the style or even the production that seems throwback here. “Street Dreams II” and “The Adventures of Stoney Bob” are tracks that more fittingly belong in decades past, but work extremely well here (especially the latter). The entire record stays dynamic in this way, weaving between hyper rapping, storytelling, odes to marijuana, and personal tracks like “ICONIC” that flame his haters over dominant beats. Not everything works perfectly here, but considering the amount of work in which Logic has engaged this year alone, it’s quite an accomplishment. It’s the kind of record that reminds those that didn’t like “Everybody” why they started listening to him in the first place.


Soccer, football, the beautiful game – whatever you want to call it – yet again unites those with a passion towards the sport outside of the game itself. Creators of the Game is an ongoing mini-series presented by Red Bull that sees soccer bringing together five different artists, each with their own unique background and style. Featured in the above episode is LA-based artist Joshua Vides, top U.S. soccer freestyler Indi Cowie, Miami hip-hop artist Twelve’len, street photographer Jenny Abrams, and street artist ABSTRK, all of which share in-depth their own personal stories and experience surrounding the game. Hit play to watch the seven and a half minute-long video, then be sure to keep tabs on the channel for more episodes to come.