Albums leak every day, b.
With so much new music in our laps each week, we don't get to review every project, nor would you want to read reviews of every single project that we manage to get our hands on. Instead, this biweekly column is dedicated to rounding up a few select mixtapes and albums across all genres that might not otherwise warrant a full, essay-length review. Here we'll briefly review a few projects every other week, and we'll be covering major-label releases as well as new music from younger, independent artists.
We got you.
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Post Malone, 'Stoney'
Banger Alert: “No Option”
MVP of the Year: “Congratulations” f/ Quavo
Folk Success: “Feeling Whitney”
Post Malone’s debut album Stoney is a major accomplishment. Coming off the unexpected hit “White Iverson” in 2015, he could have easily become a caricature: a goofy white boy with cornrows and a grill bastardizing hip-hop for profit. Instead, he’s managed to find a remarkably unique comfort zone somewhere between hip-hop, folk, country, and R&B. One minute he’s delivering a hip-hop banger with “No Option,” the next he’s crooning his way through the folky “Feeling Whitney.” The changes feel remarkably logical, and the album flows smoothly from beginning to end.
Stoney is a bit overstuffed at 19 tracks, and even the various genres don’t deviate too far from the hazy feel that Post is known for. Still, it’s hard to say what I would want him to cut. Poppier moments like his Justin Bieber collaboration “Deja Vu” seem destined for radio success, while his forays into more acoustic music—“Leave” and “Yours Truly, Austin Post”—are among the album’s most enjoyable. There were plenty of reasons to be skeptical of Post Malone’s intentions in hip-hop, but Stoney proves he’s the real deal. Ignore this album at your own risk. —Chris Mench
YG, 'Red Friday'
Best DJ Mustard Reunion: “Get Out Yo Feelins’”
Best Song: “One Time Comin’”
Best Feature: 21 Savage on “I Be On”
It’s only been six months since YG dropped his certified heater, pardon me, bertified heater of an album, Still Brazy, but the Compton rapper is back at it again with another collection of G-funk inflected bangers. It couldn’t have arrived at a better time either. Coming hot on the heels of one of the most consequential elections in American history, it’s a small comfort to get something new from the man who loudly proclaimed “Fuck Donald Trump.”
At only seven tracks and 22-minutes long, Red Friday is nowhere near as expansive or detailed as Still Brazy, but what it lacks in scope, it more than makes up for in agility. YG sounds as nimble as he ever has, hopping in on songs that hardly touch the 3:30 mark, making his point, and hopping back out again. This mixtape doesn’t carry anything as overtly political as “FDT,” but his tale of getting pulled over by the LAPD, “One Time Comin’,” sounds as thrilling and high stakes as anything he’s ever committed to tape. The reunion with DJ Mustard on “Get Out Yo Feelins’” is also a very welcome development. Let’s hope it portends to more collaborations to come. —Corbin Reiff
Rapsody, 'Crown' EP
“Timmy Turner,” Reinterpreted as a Career Highlight Reel: “Tina Turner”
The Year of Anderson .Paak: “OooWee”
If you’re still sleeping on Rapsody, then you need to reevaluate your life. 9th Wonder’s protégé and newly minted signee to Roc Nation has consistently delivered exceptional hip-hop projects that are rooted in the genre’s core values—thought-out lyrics (none of that mumble rap), sample-driven production by the Jamla Squad (9th Wonder, Khrysis, and the criminally underrated Eric G), and a strong message that’s never afraid to go political. On her Crown EP, Rapsody is razor sharp as she cleverly flips familiar favorites of 2016 (D.R.A.M.’s “Wifi,” Solange’s “Mad,” Desiigner’s “Tiimmy Turner”) and addresses some of our collective anger after Donald Trump won the election. Above all else, Crown breaks Rapsody’s low-key year after being celebrated for her “Complexion (A Zulu Love)” contribution on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly (she also extends her hand for another TDE rapper, Ab-Soul, on DWTW’s “The Law”). It cements her place as an MC who pushes the realness without having to validate her skills. Can she have the crown yet? —Eric Diep
Ab-Soul, 'Do What Thou Wilt'
Best Have-Your-Hankies-Ready Moment: “Evil Genius”
Best Reason to Read Aleister Crowley: “The Law”
Best Use of “Mucinex” in a homophone: “INvocation”
Ab-Soul is back. No longer the “abstract asshole” or “black-lip bastard” of projects past, Soulo comes to Do What Thou Wilt bearing a new nickname to go with his long-running interest in esoterica and a newly-sharpened sense of puns and wordplay. This time, he’s “YMF”—that’s “Young Mind Fuck”—and the moniker fits.
Do What Thou Wilt is a lot of things. It’s a banging rap album, with great music (minus the one or two generic trap beats that seemingly every project must have these days). It’s a master class on rapper-ly things like wordplay, homophones, puns, and themes. It’s an album-length essay about Aleister Crowley. It’s a lecture on esoteric religions and philosophies (this part, at least, should not be a surprise if you’ve listened to any of Soul’s previous work). It’s a meditation on sexism—both society’s and, even more crucially, Soul’s own.
But most importantly, DWTW is the sound of Soul growing, reaching, and experimenting again. Many longtime fans were underwhelmed by his 2014 outing These Days..., whose good-but-not-innovative nature came on the heels of a number of albums and mixtapes that showed an artist with his obsessions firmly in place (Jimi Hendrix, ancient philosophies, conspiracy theories), but with an ability to continually channel them in new ways. With this album, Ab-Soul expands his palette. But he also finds, again, fascinating ways to make songs about his obsessions. He keeps the listener continually guessing, just as any young mind fuck should. —Shawn Setaro
The-Dream, 'Love You to Death' EP
Best Song: “Ferris Wheel”
Best Lyric: “Now B said the best revenge is your paper/Well I think your best revenge is my human nature” on “Lemon Lean”
Best Rihanna Pun: “Rih-Flex”
The-Dream spent the majority of 2016 contributing to some of the year’s biggest projects including The Life of Pablo, Anti, and A Seat at the Table. That’s why his latest Love You to Death EP feels like the first moment The-Dream has taken for himself since dropping his Genesis film at the beginning of January. The whole thing opens up with the response to Beyoncé’s Lemonade (which he also worked on) where he hopes to be everything his woman needs. There’s also “Rih-Flex,” an obvious tribute to his longtime friend and collaborator Rihanna that sways and grinds with an inky beat worthy of her name. The highlight is Dream’s admitted favorite track, “Ferris Wheel.” The song touches on the emotional ups and downs of love, bubbling with a soft-spoken sweetness as he grapples with the idea of what a relationship is supposed to be. It’s the kind of track you crave late night when you just need to lay back, close your eyes, suck on a cigarette, and let your mind wander. There’s nothing earth-shattering here, but Love You to Death is The-Dream’s short, sweet reminder that he’s still an artist too. —Jessie Morris
John Legend, 'Darkness and Light'
John’s New Mission Statement: “I Know Better”
The Heart of the Album: “Right By You (for Luna)”
A Reason to Put Your Phone Down: “Overload” f/ Miguel
It’s a new era for John Legend. With his latest album Darkness and Light, the award-winning crooner redefines his career with self-awareness and a desire to be heard for more than just his pipes. To be clear, his soothing vocals are still there (check the Brittany Howard-assisted title track for one of my favorite examples of this), but he’s also found his voice in other ways. “They say sing what you know, but I’ve sung what they want,” Legend confides on the album’s opening lines (“I Know Better”). “Some folks do what they’re told, but this time I won’t.”
Whether addressing humanity’s divisions (“Penthouse Floor” with Chance the Rapper) or technology’s adverse effects (“Overload” with Miguel), Legend lives up to this promise with the passion found on Wake Up! with The Roots or “Glory” with Common. Personal cuts like “Love Me Now” (for wife Chrissy Teigen) or “Right By You” (for their daughter Luna) are emotional highlights and album standouts. With a newfound perspective on his career and a more outspoken lyrical tone, Legend continues to shine as one of R&B’s greatest voices today. —Andres Tardio