Full disclosure: Sacha Jenkins, the guitarist for the White Mandingos, is an F.O.C., in a couple of ways: he's a Friend of Complex, he's also a Father of Complex (he taught half of us how to do this, son, the other half got taught by the people he taught). Which explains why Tryna Kill Me is so low on this list: We'd rather undersell our pal's effort than be accused of cronyism (hey, we were taught well).
The White Mandingos (do not try to abbreviate that name by dropping the adjective) are the brainchild of Jenkins, Bad Brains bassist Daryl Jenifer, and West-coast hip-hop vet Murs. It's a rap-rock project, and, unlike 99% of the music in that genre, it doesn't suck uncontrollably. Sonically, this is accomplished primarily in two ways:
1. Murs is actually a rapper, not a punk rock/heavy metal lead singer reject looking to craft a career despite not possessing the Rob Halford range. His rhymes have a Def Jux-level complexity to them (as befitting an MC once signed to Def Jux), and—and this is an important lesson for would be rock rappers—he doesn't feel the need to yell over every track.
2. While the WM's punk rock bona fides are as solid as they come courtesy of Jenifer, it's not strictly a punk rock-rap record. The opening title track is far more "rap" than rock, with a light, dancehall inflected beat that only goes rawk on the hook and the outro. The beats get even more complex as the record goes on, from chiming U2 guitars on "Black-N-White" to the cinematic metal instrumental "My Weapon," to yes, traditional rap-rock sounding pop punk on "Warn a Brotha."
But the heart of the album is the neo-soul torch ballad "Black Girl Toof," a lament for an unavailable woman scarred by the previous men in her life. It's sad, and soulful, and completely different from what the rest of the album has led you to expect. It signals that the entire project is very serious, and something much more than a side hustle for three already accomplished artists. As the title would suggest, The Ghetto Is Tryna Kill Me isn't a happy record; it is a really, really good one. —Jack Erwin