Tuesdays With Hip Hop – Wtf is Tom Ford? That new Jay-Z

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So Jay-Z got a crew of all-stars including Timbaland, Rick Rubin, and Cookie Monster in the studio and tried to craft an timeless album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, that rolled out a week early to those with a certain Korean cell phone running Android. I have a brain-damaged iPhone 3G but the album leaked and found its way onto some Russian file-trading sites and into my Serato crates last Friday. Verdict?

Hova does not not disappoint on this, and lots of these songs will go off in the club, but he didn’t take any risks. I’m not a huge Jay-Z fan, though I listened to Hard Knock Vol 2. daily during 8th grade basketball practice. Money wudn’t a thang. I stopped caring around the time Big Pimpin came out but really dug Rock La Famila. Side note – whatever happened to Memphis Bleek???? Never got into The Blueprint(s), ignored the beef with Nas, but really liked The Black Album, especially “Lucifer.”

We’re in a totally different rap world than the one where Jay-Z came up in the late 90s. Back then mainstream rappers were about ballin, hustlin, pimpin, and being buisnessmen and killas. Slick, cold, ruthless are adjectives that come to mind. Now we have weirdos like Danny Brown and Chance The Rapper, everyone poppin molly, 2 Chainz on everything, and collaborations between rappers and electronic artists a la ASAP x Skrillex. Jay-Z does not really fit into the weirder side, see for example his interview with Nardwar, compared to Lil B’s or Waka Flocka. Jay-Z appears stiff and out of place, but he’s also a smart businessman and hired the right people to make this album relevant. I think Jay-Z sums up his place amongst current rappers with this line:

“I don’t pop Molly I rock Tom Ford.”

Jay-Z doesn’t have time to get thizzed out. He’s the rich uncle at this point, almost like Uncle Phil on Fresh Prince. He’s too busy making business deals to fuck around, and for this album he assembled some A-level producers and made an amalgamation of what’s cool right now, especially “trap” beats. But this is the Bavarian cream Maybach version; it’s almost surgically clean. Does that mean it’s an instant classic? Not necessarily but it’s strong.

Jay-Z – Tom Ford

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I can’t help but compare this to the Kanye album, as Jay-Z and The Roc birthed Yay’s stardom and these albums came out within weeks of eachother. Not to mention Rick Rubin had a big hand in producing both LPs. Well, Yeezus is certainly the more cutting-edge, next-level album. Without a doubt. Jay-Z isn’t doing anything new here per se, he’s just doing Jay-Z really well with excellent hip hop beats whereas Kanye came with some crazy New Slaves/Black Skinhead acid house industrial ish.

For the club? The Jay-Z album wins for sure. There’s not much on Yeezus that would work on the floor. It’s almost apocalyptic at points. There’s plenty of peak time fodder on Magna Carta, some warm up tracks warm up, even some R&B. It’s much more accessible.

For the future? Definitely Yeezus. See, Jay-Z didn’t really take any risks with this album, but it’s still good, and the best I’ve heard from Jay-Z since the Black Album. I give Magna Carta Holy Grail a solid 8 and Yeezus a 9.5. This is my favorite song from the album, and the bassline sounds so much like “Triumph” by Wu-Tang. Love the chorus, almost sounds like Donovan.

Jay-Z – Heaven

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Tuesdays With Hip Hop – Kanye West, “Yeezus” Reviewed

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Most hip hop albums, like dance music albums, are not proper albums like Ariel Pink’s “Before Today” or Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust.” Well, Kanye’s “Yeezus” feels pretty damn close to a proper album, and it’s unbelievably good. Outstanding production by an all-star team including Daft Punk, Hudson Mohawke, Rick Rubin, TNGHT, The RZA, and other A-level cats, above-average rhymes about real issues like race, religion, consumerism, and youth violence in Chicago, in-your-face-ness like old punk rock, and a general feeling of “I don’t give a fuck and this is the album I wanna make” make this the best rap album of 2013, better than any rap album from 2012, and really just a new direction for rap music.

I’m not a Kanye fan but concede that, like Diplo, he’s an important tastemaker with above-average and occasionally brilliant output. “Yeezus” falls into the “brilliant” category.  There are no radio singles in the ten tracks here. If these become radio singles, that’s because Kanye has once-again changed WHAT is popular.

Some will complain that this is weird and arduous. That’s true, but lots of art is difficult. Look at Duchamp and his toilet. Kayne starts this ten-track journey with no drums, just angry rhymes over abrasive synths that sound like a bad acid trip or some old industrial techno records – beat produced by Daft Punk. Pretty gully move for a mainstream rapper, as he shouts “how much do I not give a fuck? lemme show you right now ‘fore you give it up” then just drops an old soul sample in the middle of this electro sludge. Five seconds later the synths come back like nothing ever happened. Brilliant.

The next track, “Black Skinhead,” starts with a guitar sample that sounds like Black Sabbath then drums that recall “Rock and Roll Part 2” by Gary Glitter.  “I keep it 300 – like the Romans, 300 bitches, where the Trojans?” Samples get dropped in again, this time stoner metal guitar instead of acid. Kanye sounds like a wolf – “I’m aware I’m a wolf, soon as the moon hits.”

Love the dancehall samples on this album, especially on “I’m In It.” Almost reminds me of The Bug.

The production does outshine the lyrics. It’s weird hearing Kanye rap about girls over a sample from a song about lynching black people in the south (Nina Simone/Charlie Parker’s “Strange Fruit”). God damn I wonder how much that sample cost. But the beat makes up for it, and so do his lyrics on other songs like “New Slaves” where Yeezus addresses real issues like consumerism and being slaves to brands and conspicuous consumption. I’ve never been a fan of Kanye’s rapping so he exceeded my low expectations on this album.

Best track? The production on “Bound 2” is so unbelievably good. I’ve already listened to it at least 100 times.

Kanye West – Bound 2

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Standout Tracks: “I’m In It,” “Bound 2,” “New Slaves,” “On Sight,” Black Skinhead,” and “Blood On The Leaves,” “I Am A God.”

Misses: “Send It Up” and “Hold My Liquor,” both of which feature Chicago rappers, King L on the first and Chief Keef singing a bizarre chorus on the latter (I do enjoy the beat on “Hold My Liquor” though). Maybe it’s because I don’t understand what’s going on in Chi-raq with all the youth violence there, but these songs feel out of place.

Overall:

Production: 10/10
Rhymes: 7/10
Creativity: 9.5/10

This is a game-changing album. Get this now.