I’m in a hip-hop type of mood right now, so hip-hop goes up first. Plenty more of these will be up in the coming days.
Eminem- Recovery (2.5/4)
Eminem’s second album in as many years is just about the exact opposite of Relapse, the hardcore concept album that alienated a large portion of his established fan base. Recovery is essentially pop rap, full of catchy hooks, straightforward lyrics, and a few well known guests. While the songs are consistently catchy, far too many are skippable diversions at best. The subject matter is more personal, often more literal, but Em’s apologies and promises for the future get repetitive. On top of that, the pop star guests are outdone by the ones that aren’t given a “featuring” credit. Liz Rodrigues supplies the chorus for “25 to Life” and “Almost Famous,” and it’s a shame that Liz or a singer of her talent couldn’t have replaced Pink or Rihanna on their featured tracks. However, with all it’s problems and inconsistencies Recovery’s saving grace is Eminem’s genuine honestly. There is passion in his voice, and you know that he means what he says. This is the type of undeniable passion that is missing from mainstream rap today, and it gives Recovery a necessary human element. For every ten minutes of boring filler, there is a song like “Space Bound” or “Love the Way You Lie” that reminds the listener of the power in Marshall Mathers’ voice and lyrics. If Eminem can channel that passion into a more consistent album, then he might be able to truly get out of the “comeback” phase.
The Roots- How I Got Over (3.5/4)
Emcees often write about the golden age of hip-hop, reminiscing of the days before the art of rhyming became commercialized. Many greats have taken us back to the time and place of hip-hop’s finest hour, but few have managed to return us to the state of mind one feels when they first fall in love with the genre. The latest album from The Roots achieves the latter. How I Got Over is a true breath of a fresh air, not just in terms of lyrics and beats, but in terms of the passion and love for hip-hop that bleeds from its core. This is a hip-hop album through and through, and it’s something any fan of the genre, young or old, can fall in love with.
Atmosphere- To All My Friends, Blood Makes the Blade Holy: The Atmosphere EP's (3.5/4)
While technically billed as a “double EP",” To All My Friends… is as long as a full length album, and it’s one of the best hip-hop releases of 2010. Much like other Atmosphere EP’s, the songs are more single based and generally more upbeat. There is no concept tying the tracks together, and as such it feels like listening to an extended Sad Clown EP. Fortunately, that’s a good thing. Slug and Ant have done some of their best work outside of Atmosphere’s major releases, and it’s great to hear the more fun and playful side of Atmosphere side for longer than four or five songs at a time. Also true to from are Slug’s outstanding lyrics. He keeps it simple on To All My Friends…, but every word is necessary and used with meaning. “The Best Day” is an example of this, as well as the highlight of the 12 tracks, as it’s hard not to relate to Slug’s storytelling. Sometimes a simple song reminding you that everyone goes through their own shit is just what you need to get through the day.
Drake- Thank Me Later (1/4)
Now I’ve heard it all. I’ve listened to thousands of rap albums since falling in love with hip-hop, but I can say with absolute certainly that I’ve never heard a professional emcee have this much trouble staying on beat. Rhythm is an essential part of rap, and Drake doesn’t have it. Drake’s problems with flow are similar to an amateur just learning to rap. It’s ridiculous that a major recording artist would have trouble staying on beat and actually rhyming. However, this is just one of the many problems with Thank Me Later. The beats are generic mainstream garbage, the singing is handled entirely with repetitive auto-tune, and Drake tries far too hard to sound like a conscious lyricist. He says simple things in complex ways, and his metaphors are often laughable. Please, don’t buy into the hype. Maybe Drake deserves some credit for avoiding the sexist clichés and offensive subject matter popular in mainstream rap these days, but I refuse to believe that hip-hop is in such an awful state that simply not rapping about cars and hoes is enough to justify legitimate praise. There are plenty of underground emcees (and a few mainstream ones for that matter) who avoid those clichés, all of which are better than Drake.
Kid Cudi- Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager (2/4)
It’s interesting that Cage is featured on Kid Cudi’s sophomore album, as Cage’s Depart from Me is exactly what The Legend of Mr. Rager reminds me of. Much like last year’s Cage album, this is slow melancholic hip-hop/indie rock hybrid from an artist learning to create music without drugs. Cudi is clearly a creative artist, and there are as many interesting ideas here as on the first Man on the Moon, an album ripe without potential and largely devoid of execution. However, Cudi still isn’t a good rapper or a good singer, and his talent limits what he can do with his creativity. Cage’s aforementioned Depart from Me executed similar ideas in a much more effective way, in part because Cage is a strong enough emcee to pull of different types of rap. Cudi isn’t. Man on the Moon II makes for a frustrating listen because of this. There are plenty of talented emcees who don’t have the creative mind of Kid Cudi, but without flow, coherent lyrics, or a singing voice that doesn’t rely on studio effects, his ideas fall flat.