words / ADRIAN YONG
The end of February, leading into March has been a stellar time for music releases. Here’s a few albums and singles that personally stood out and I recommend you all check out. Sidenote, rest in peace Chuck Berry, you are and always will be a legend of modern music. Anyway, here’s the list.
American Teen – Khalid
Released March 3rd
My biggest regret of this past month (aside not studying enough for my midterms) would be not listening to this album when everyone told me to listen to this album. Hailing from El Paso, Texas, Khalid is coming in hot with his debut album, American Teen. The lead single, “Location” was released almost a year ago. Lyrically, Khalid brings us his personal take, much like the title, on what it means to be a young teenager up in America. This is all driven forward by his beautiful singing voice and groovy, yet smooth production.
Khalid truly captures this mixture of youthful energy while still capturing the moodiness that comes with growing up. The song “Young Dumb & Broke” speaks for itself in the title. “Saved” is all about how difficult it is to hold onto that relationship when life happens, in this case, the event of Khalid moving from El Paso to New York. These relatable lyrics combined with sheer vocal talent on American Teen put Khalid on my radar. I’m very much looking forward to his next project.
Favorite Songs: Location, 8TEEN, Winter, Therapy, Keep Me, Angels
Drunk – Thundercat
Released February 24th
Listening to Thundercat makes me want to rub lotion all over my body so my skin stays healthy. Listening to Thundercat makes me want to cook a full course meal for my neighbour where the only ingredients are radishes and fried chicken. Listening to Thundercat makes me want to binge watch the 1980’s classic cartoon Transformers while eating nothing but canned tuna. Listening to Thundercat makes me want to play basketball, except there’s two balls, and they’re both on fire. Listening to Thundercat makes me want to train a rabbit to drive in Nascar and win. Listening to Thundercat makes me want to wear a full set of goalie gear to class. Listening to Thundercat makes me want to get up and dance.
Drunk, the third studio album, by bassist/singer/songwriter Thundercat, is a funky ride down the electric highway that’ll keep you movin and groovin. With this album came two singles, “Show You the Way” and “Friend Zone”. They perfectly demonstrate the strengths of this album, groovy bass, hilarious lyrics, and great features. The former features legends Michael McDonald & Kenny Loggins. The album as a whole holds some strong features in Kendrick Lamar, Wiz Khalifa, and Pharrell, as well as additional production credits from Flying Lotus. Drunk is a great mix of funk, jazz fusion, and hip hop, truly showcasing Thundercat’s range and talents.
Favorite Songs: Jethro, Them Changes, Show You The Way, Friend Zone, Drunk
Steve Lacy’s Demo – Steve Lacy
Released February 24th
February 24th was a great day for new releases. We had the last drop of the DTS, Thundercat’s album, the debut demo tape from Grammy nominated young guitarist, Steve Lacy, and grime giant Stormzy’s debut album (more on that later). For now, let’s focus on the very talented Steve Lacy. Sitting at a young 18 years of age, Steve Lacy is better known for his guitar work and production for the Odd Future affiliate The Internet. With The Internet, he produced some of my personal favorite songs off their latest studio album Ego Death. Oh, he was also 16 at the time of Ego Death. You’d think it ends there, but to top it off, this album was produced on a phone. That’s right, no excuses, everyone’s got a phone, go out and be like Steve Lacy.
Coming in at 6 songs, Steve Lacy’s Demo is exactly as described, a simple demo tape, showcasing what Lacy is capable of. In essence, Lacy’s sound is the perfect mix of funky guitar riffs, groovy bass, and packing drums. Top it all off with Lacy’s smooth vocals, Steve Lacy’s Demo really shows that there’s no slowing down for this young artist. It also manages to show off his diversity, from the slower, bass driven “Thangs” to the percussive “Haterlovin”. Ending tape is my personal favorite, and also what could be considered the single of the demo, is Some. With an infectious bassline, it’s the perfect example to show when someone’s asking what Steve Lacy is all about. I’ll have this tape on repeat while I patiently wait for The Internet’s next album.
Favorite Songs: It’s a six song demo, just listen to the whole thing (but if you only have time for one, listen to Some)
Stormzy – Gang Signs &Prayer
Released March 24th
To round off the list of March 24th releases is English Grime/Hip-hop artists taking world by storm (pun completely intended), Stormzy, with his debut studio album Gang Signs & Prayer. For the unaware, Stormzy can simply be explained through his music video for his song “Know Me From,” (Fun facts about this video: 1. That is his mom. 2. The budget for this video was about the price of a medium pizza).
With that being said, it’s amazing to see an artist who came from shooting videos around his block to debuting number 1 on the UK Charts.
As reflected in the name of the album, Gang Signs & Prayer has the perfect mix of his grime roots with just the right amount of gospel influence. “Cold” is your textbook grime track, grungy production that sounds like it was made in a garage mixed with the high BPM and flow that keeps up with it. In comparison “Blinded by Your Grace,” parts one and two show off Stormzy’s lesser known vocal chops with gospel sound. Part two even brings in a full choir to back him up. There’s a hint of R&B on the track “Cigarettes & Cush” which features the very talented Khelani. If Stormzy’s debut album reaching number one means anything, I hope it means a complete, global, grime takeover in our future.
Favorite Songs: Cold, Bad Boys (feat. Ghetts and J Hus), Big for Your Boots, Cigarettes & Cush (feat. Khelani), 100 Bags, Shut Up
Smino – blkswn
Released March 14th
St Louis is known for a multitude of things: it has this really big arch, the food from there is amazing, they have a pretty good baseball team, and without St Louis, we would have never gotten this legendary track.
Fortunately (or unfortunately to some), we’re out of the early 2000s, where pants were baggy and tips were frosted, and now in the year 2017. This is also the year that St Louis born rapper Smino, after 3 EPs, released his debut studio album, blkswn.
I first heard of Smino through his feature on last year’s breakout mixtape, Telefone by Noname (which I highly recommend you give a listen). He’s featured on the closing track “Shadow Man”. The moment I heard his verse, I fell in love with his flow and voice. blkswn delivers even more of what I heard from his short verse on Telefone, the perfect blend between singing and rapping. Smino’s flow is quick and melodic, stringing together words rhymes at the perfect pitch. This perfectly demonstrated on the third track, “Glass Flows” which features Chicago singer Rayn Lenae and her beautiful, airy voice. blkswn also perfectly demonstrates how diverse of a producer Monte Booker is, as he produced a majority of the album. From the upbeat, almost video game sounding “Spitshine” to the syncopated “Anita”. To end it all off, Smino features the talents of Noname on the last track “Amphetamine” much like how she featured him. The beat even sounds like something that would appear on a Noname track. For a debut album, I’m incredibly impressed by blkswn. From the features, to the production, and flow, blkswn is the perfect way for Smino to become one step closer to being a household name.
Favorite Songs: Wild Irish Roses, Glass Flows, Spitshine, Anita, blkswn, Innamission
Rex Orange County – RAINBOW
Released March 21st
Okay let’s get this off the table right away, RAINBOW is only 3 tracks long, so some might not consider quite an album/EP/demo. But those people aren’t the ones writing this article. Rex Orange County, who’s been backed by Tyler the Creator, has one of the most misleading names. He is not from Orange County, but rather the land of crumpets, tea, and overcast skies, aka London, UK. Rex is an incredibly talented multi-instrumentalist, mostly known for his guitar, keys, and drums, but most notably, his sugar-soaked voice. He previously released an EP, bcos u will never b free back in 2015. RAINBOW delivers more of of that great sunny guitar sound to go with the upbeat drums and horns.
Like I mentioned earlier, RAINBOW is composed of three songs, “SUNFLOWER”, “BEST FRIEND” and “UNO”. “SUNFLOWER” captures Rex’s talents with a strong, catchy vocal melody, harmonizing guitar rifts, and the horns, especially the horns. The trumpets add that little extra bit of bounce to the song, painting the perfect summer day. “BEST FRIEND” continues this trend, throwing in a little bit of flute in there, adding that little extra sunshine and happiness. Finally, to round things off, “UNO” keeps up the trend, with bouncy horns and some strings and chimes to drive the song forwards. I’m telling you know, listen to Rex when he says “You’re going to want to be my best friend.” Rex Orange County is going to be huge, and considering his talent pool at this stage, I look very forward to his future projects.
Favorite Songs: It’s three songs, come on now
Chanel – Frank Ocean
Released March 10th
For those who read my lengthy review of Blonde in the Top Albums of 2016 article, you probably already know I’m a big fan of Frank Ocean. On February 24th, Frank surprised the world with his own Apple Music radio show, “Blonded Radio”. At the end of his March 10th show, Ocean’s newest single, “Chanel,” played. “Chanel” continues to build on the sound established by Ocean on Blonde, filled with metaphors, and beautiful harmonies. Like most of Ocean’s music, his singing voice steals the show. That doesn’t mean the production is half baked by any means. The use of piano sets the somber mood, while the drums still drive it forwards. With this release, Frank Ocean is making sure we all know he’s still around. I’m going to make sure I’m tuning into Blonded Radio every time it’s live, hoping for the next “Chanel”.
Green Light – Lorde
Released March 3rd
Liability – Lorde
Released March 9th
Lorde has emerged from her silence by releasing two singles (a double?), “Green Light” and “Liability” from her upcoming album Melodrama. Now I will admit, I don’t follow Lorde too closely, but I’ve been told many times that Lorde’s ex boyfriend and I are the same people from alternate dimensions, so of course I had to give these a listen. I’m usually a melody first, lyrics second type of guy, but the lyrics and overall message of “Green Light” really stood out to me, especially in how they compare to the sound. The chorus is incredibly upbeat and infectious, and you can already picture people dancing along with it in the club. But when you compare this sound to the subject matter of the song, heartbreak, it creates a tonal contrast that shows there’s more to Lorde than just another pop star.
On the other hand, “Liability” is more cohesive with the lyrical subject matter and the sound. It’s a piano-driven ballad that creates a feeling of intimacy between the listener and Lorde. You can picture yourself at your local bar, just unwinding for the night and watching the local talent perform at the open mic. It’s very minimal and bare bones, only having a piano accompanying her voice, yet still powerful. Lorde’s album Melodrama is releasing later 2017.
Pleasure – Feist
Released March 17th
Singer/guitarist of Canadian indie rock group Broken Social Scene, Leslie Feist, more known by her stage name, Feist, returns from silence with the single “Pleasure” off of her forthcoming album of the same name. In “Pleasure,” Feist gives us more of what we love from her: beautiful harmonies, powerful, almost grungy guitar, and minimal yet perfectly complementary instrumentals. Top it all off with Feist’s soft voice, “Pleasure” is the perfect preview for what’s to come from her next project. Listen to the song “Pleasure” now, and the album Pleasure on April 28th, 2017.
1 Night – Mura Masa ft Charli XCX
Released March 17th
British DJ/Producer/Songwriter Alex Crossan, better known by his stage name Mura Masa, has teamed up with pop sensation Charli XCX with the release of the single “1 Night” (not to be confused with a certain boat’s song). Mura Masa has a very unique style that is almost instantly recognizable by his use of exotic instruments in trap/hip hop/dance style beats. “1 Night” is no exception this. The song starts off with the sounds of a vibraphone, followed by a sprinkle of harp. By the time the chorus comes in, you get a taste of the steel drums Mura Masa is known for. Charli XCX’s voice is the icing on the cake of this song. Catchy and infectious, Mura Masa continues to deliver quality and unique tracks that instantly get you grooving.
Ascension ft Vince Staples
Saturn Barz ft Popcaan
Andromeda ft D.R.A.M
We Got The Power ft Jenny Beth
Released March 23rd
It’s almost midnight, deadlines are approaching. By the time you’re reading this, the newest of the DTS has already dropped. Between the time of writing, and time of release, everyone’s favorite digital band, Gorillaz, announced their forthcoming, Humanz. They also decided to release, not one, two, three, but four songs off to get us hyped, and boy, I am hyped. If you didn’t anything about Gorillaz, all you would need to do to understand this hype is look at the features, Vince Staples, D.R.A.M, Pusha T, Danny Brown, De La Soul, Kali Uchis, the list goes on. Not only did they drop 4 songs, they dropped 4 videos to go along with these tracks and they released them in 360 video for all you cool people out there who have VR headsets.
I would right a proper review on these four tracks, but honestly, I’m too hyped to say nothing but good things about them. It’s taking a lot of willpower to not type this entire paragraph in all caps. What I will tell you though is that Gorillaz returning is a very good thing, and the features they’re bringing to this album is also a very good thing. I am very very very very very excited for this album, and cannot wait to celebrate finishing exams by listening to it front to back.
The Heart Part 4 – Kendrick Lamar
Released March 23rd
On Wednesday, March 22nd, rapper Kendrick Lamar decided to tease the world with a (now deleted) vague post on his instagram. It was a black background, and on it was “IV,” or for those who don’t know, the roman numerals for the number 4. Internet communities started to freak out, trying to put together the pieces. What did this mean? Was it another small release like untitled unmastered? Or was it a larger, more complete project like To Pimp a Butterfly? Unfortunately it was neither of those (for now), but rather, Mr Lamar decided to release a single the moment I closed my laptop, ready to go to sleep after telling Keegan I was finished with this issue’s music reviews. So, to avoid the slew of comments asking “WHY DIDN’T YOU TALK ABOUT THE NEW KENDRICK SONG OMG” (and before you ask, More Life was cool, I liked it more than Views, Skepta and Sampha can have my nonexistent girlfriend), I got up and gave it a listen at 12:23 AM.
As expected from Kendrick, “The Heart Part 4” is filled with fast rhymes, political undertones, and social commentaries. There’s a not so subtle jab at Trump, talk about Lee Baca, a former sheriff under trial for prisoner abuse, particularly abuse of black inmates, and how the world is becoming more and more chaotic. The Lee Baca line can also be heard as Ibaka, which to some (aka me when I first heard it) could be understood as a reference to the Toronto Raptor’s player Serge Ibaka who’s been suspended for getting in a fight with Robin Lopez of the Chicago Bulls. This fight happened 2 days before this song’s released, and assuming this was intentional, goes to show Kendrick’s work ethic and writing ability. There’s another basketball reference right after, talking about Oklahoma City Thunder’s player Russell Westbrook, which inclines me to believe it was completely intended (shoutout to KD for leaving OKC, doing so unleashed Beastbrook). I could write a whole paper on this song’s lyrics alone.
Whether this is a preview track from his next album, or a standalone single completely unrelated to it, “The Heart Part 4” brings us more of Kendrick’s perspective in this crazy world. Kendrick gives a voice that’ll be heard for black people who see the same view (Disclaimer, I am not black but a visible minority). Whatever he’s got up his sleeve for his next album, it’s going to be heavy, it’s going to be loud, and it’s going to empower.