December is a busy month (did you know?!), especially music wise. I'm still trying to listen to new albums and singles that are being released while also compiling my 50 favorite albums of the year, which means sifting through everything that I listened to over the course of 2016. Initially I intended to wait until December finished so I could include the month's releases, but eventually I decided that I don't want to put albums on the list when I've had less than a month to explore them.
Instead I've opted to do a short roundup of a few albums released this month, as well as a few newer listens that have been keeping me busy when I just need to throw something on. My top 50 will be ready in a few days! I promise! Until then...
Quick Take: Albums
RUN THE JEWELS - RTJ3
Honestly, is anything more divine then RTJ releasing their third LP on Christmas Day THREE WEEKS AHEAD OF SCHEDULE?!?! The answer is no. By now everyone should (and most likely does) know who these guys are. The duo, made up of producer extraordinaire/ rapper El-P and his partner in crime, force of nature Killer Mike, is the best new thing to come out of hip hop since they hit the scene back in 2013.
I listened to each of the first two records obsessively and after playing this one through a few times it couldn't be more clear that they've done it again. Seriously. It doesn't make sense how consistent these dudes are. El-P continues to improve on the production side and the two's chemistry with the mic is only getting better and better. They're the best duo in hip hop. Simple as that.
If you haven't seen them live you haven't lived. I wish I was joking. I've seen these guys six times and it gets better every show. Here's their tour schedule. Go to every show you can. I do. And my life is better for it.
You can expect a full review in the coming weeks but I'll give you a hint, the record is as gold as the fist and gun position on the album cover. RUN THE JEWELS IS BACK!
Childish Gambino - Awaken, My Love!
It almost feels pointless to even mention his first two albums because they're completely different from his latest effort, the soulful, funk-tastic Awaken, My Love! The record is the mother of all throwbacks for 2016 and even beyond that. Usually we get a modernized version of older styles, blending the old and the new, and if done right I usually feel like it's an improved approach; here you'd have to search hard for a glimpse of the 21st century ("California" probably being the only obvious one, but even that...) and I think that's what I love most. This is a genuine throwback, to the days of Sly & The Family Stone and the craziness of the Detroit in the early 70's when the sonic journey was equal parts chaos and fun.
This reminded me of the feeling I had listening to 2014's Black Messiah by D'angelo. It's magnificent, but it's definitely a specialty listen for me, the timing and mood have to be right for me to genuinely appreciate it. How about I stop talking so you can give it a listen? Sound good? Good.
For what it's worth this album would have been a definite in my top 20 (maybe even top 10) for 2016, had I decided to include December releases.
J. Cole - 4 Your Eyez Only
After his surprise drop of what is far and away his best album (and an even better live version of said album at the start of this 2016!!!) I was curious what his next step would be. Would he revert back to his Born Sinner days or continue his reflective and inspirational journey? While I enjoyed his early works, I'm happy to report it's the latter.
While I don't like it as much as 2014 Forest Hills Drive, 4 Your Eyez Only is another step forward for J. Cole, who further cements himself as one of the best MC's of his generation. I actually think the step back in scope was necessary, it's hard to follow up a massive hit with another, and often times artists get caught up in trying to go bigger only to end up losing themselves in it. By simplifying the process it actually feels like a perfect complement to 2014 Forest Hills Drive.
This album is good, and if you're a fan of J. Cole it's really good. Nice to have him back. Cuz Cole the God!
Ab-Soul - Do What Thou Wilt.
After the first few listens I texted my friend and said, "Ab-Soul's record is better than J. Cole's." My initial reaction was bold, because the album itself is bold. However my statement, that was presented as fact, has lost a bit of conviction. It now sits on par with J. Cole's album, though a comparison seems irrelevant as they're two very different records with two very different goals.
Ab-Soul possesses an intensity on Do What Thou Wilt., a rawness. Honesty in his lyrics has always been paramount, and his awareness of that makes him better, but here his production, courtesy of some industry studs, is better than ever. This is a good album. As it is with all of these albums, I need to spend a little more time with it, luckily for me that's exactly what I want to.
Music from TV & Film
Insecure: Music from the HBO Original Series
Insecure's music team is responsible for the best music supervision of the year. Although that statement should have an asterisk since it's exclusively for fans of the four albums I listed above, so my blanket declaration of "best" will no doubt be met with resistance.
Sporting some of my favorite 2016 breakouts (St. Beauty, 1500 or Nothin, KING) as well as new material from some preferred artists from years past (Moses Sumney, SBTRKT, GoldLink), the soundtrack is crafted in a way that complemented the show perfectly, but also works well as a playlist on its own.
Just an added thought, the show itself is good too, in case you were wondering. Were you? You were?? I helped?! Ur welcome.
Hidden Figures: The Album
Honestly this is getting placed here solely because Janelle Monae is involved with it. Though I will say, it's solid across the board due to the Benjamin Button style existence of Pharrell, who seems to continue to mature his sound while actively getting younger every minute every day. It doesn't make sense to me either, we just have to accept it.
Back to the soundtrack, my two favorite tracks feature Janelle, her solo effort "Isn't This the World", which has her style written all over it, is a retro lullaby-esque ballad that is both beautiful and timely. Her second track is Pharrell through and through and is an absolute blast. As long as you listen to those two tracks I'm happy, but you can listen to the rest too if you want...
Westworld: Season 1 (Music from the HBO Series)
Anyone who watched the show knows that music was an integral part to it's atmosphere. Personally I'd say it's the best original music I've ever heard for a television series, but even if you're not as enthralled as I am, you have to admit, it was pretty badass.
If you don't have time for the entire album, then at the very least listen to these two. "Dr. Ford" gave me visions of Thomas Newman's beautiful and sweeping Meet Joe Black score, while "Motion Picture Soundtrack," which was performed by the Vitamin String Quartet places you in an ethereal dream state that you never want to leave. Seriously. I just played that one track over and over and over again and never grew tired of it. Neither will you.
I hope all of you had a very Merry Christmas (and if you don't celebrate that then I hope you had a wonderful alternative). Even though it's been a rough year for just about everyone, music will always be there to lift us back up. That's not so bad, right?