Review: Joey Bada$$ – All-Amerikkkan Bada$$

All-Amerikkkan Bada$$, the latest project from New York rapper Joey Bada$$, is a densely-packed cautionary tale. Though Joey has always been wise beyond his years (see his excellent mixtape 1999), All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ reinforces this fact over again. Though conscious, political rap has existed for decades, and this project doesn’t do much to shift the subgenre in any new directions, it accomplishes what it’s shooting for. It is a rock solid record.

The production on All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ veers away from the sample-based, smooth and chill beats that highlighted his earlier work into the cleaner, more layered and modern type sound. There are essentially two sides to this record; the poppier, cleaner side, and the dirtier, angry side. The first half, including the big single “DEVASTATED” and the poignant, yet infectious track “TEMPTATION” doesn’t hook quite as hard as the later half of the record, but it works incredibly well as a complimentary lead-up.

The anger hinted at by the album’s title is channeled heavily in the second half, beginning with the loud and grim banger “ROCKABYE BABY” featuring Schoolboy Q, and continues unabated for several songs. “Ring the Alarm” is a ridiculously dense and tight banger, while “SUPER PREDATOR” is a visceral shot at political elitism.

Joey’s lyricism on this record, which is consistent throughout and touches on everything from evil politicians, the black experience, and current events culminates in the final track “AMERIKKKAN IDOL” which channels the late, great Capital Steez in its straight-forward, hard-hitting lyrics. The album concludes with a warning: “Amerikkka is force-feeding you lies down your throats with a silver spoon/ And eventually, we’ll all be doomed, real, real real, soon.” Unless we get our shit together, the outlook doesn’t look good, and Joey makes that very clear.

While All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ may not take very many risks stylistically, in the grand scheme of modern hip hop, Joey has never sounded better in his raps. The record is impressively solid and densely packed from beginning to end, and absolutely deserves your attention.

Five Essential Underground Hip Hop Albums

The realm of underground hip hop is expansive and huge, and there are many talented artists worth listening to. However, if you’re a big music fanatic, these are the five you absolutely cannot go without listening to.

Madvillain – Madvillainy (2004)

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This is the big one. The collab between legendary producer Madlib and the masked mc MF DOOM, remains unmatched in both its sound and style. From the iconic “All Caps” to the goofier “Curls,” the album’s quoatability and influence remains felt to this day.

Dr. Octagon – Dr. Octagonecologyst

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Kool Keith, also known by the alter-ego Dr. Octagon is a fascinating character. His lyrics are usually a comglomeration of words rather than a narrative, but that is what makes him and this album one of the most unique out there.

Company Flow – Funcrusher Plus (1997)

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Rapper/producer El-P may be widely known for being one half of the rap duo Run the Jewels nowadays, but back in the ’90s his rap group Company Flow alongside Bigg Jus and Mr. Len pushed the boundaries. El-P’s production then and to this day, is light-years ahead of its time.

Aesop Rock – Labor Days

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There are no rappers out there that match the sheer wordplay of Aesop Rock. Apart from being a darkly produced wonder, Aesop dense and varied wordplay simply cannot be matched. His latest album “The Iimpossible Kid” released last year, and proves that he 100% still has it.

J Dilla – Donuts

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J Dilla was one of the most creative producers of all time, and “Donuts” is his masterpiece. Made mainly on his deathbed while dying from a rare, terminal disease at a tragically young age, “Donuts” is full of heart and soul, and embodies the highest potential of instrumental hip hop.

Throwback Review: The Microphones – The Glow Pt. 2

With the release of Phil Elvrum’s new Mount Eerie project A Crow Looked at Me officially releasing this week, I’m taking a look back at one of the projects of his original band, The Microphones. Released back in 2001, The Glow Pt. 2 is regarded as one of the best indie albums of the 2000s and one of the most beloved of its kind. To this day, the record’s brand of lo-fi noise folk remains both cutting and gorgeous.

The Glow Pt. 2 is a dense album, and is a piece of work that will disorient and potentially off-put casual listeners. Elvrum’s lyrics are often cryptic and forlorn, hidden amidst a sea of fuzz and noisy guitar. But these areas are where the album shines. Beauty through the grimness. The opener “I Want Wind to Blow” evokes the ethereal essence of the cascades on a dark and cloudy evening. The music is delicately composed. While lo-fi may seem easy or ugly to some, the way The Glow Pt. transitions between moods, emotions, and sounds, is nothing short of brilliant. In the realm of indie folk, you’re hard-pressed to find a more delicate, unique, somber and lovely album.

Three Essential Ambient Albums

Ambient as a musical genre is difficult to classify and delve into, and even more difficult to critique. What is not difficult, however, is deriving enjoyment out of it. Ambient, in all its avant-garde, and ethereal glory, can bring one to a state of relaxation or intense discomfort, depending on what exactly you’re listening to. The genre is stacked with records in this day and age, and it can be a little difficult hopping in, but if you’re interested, here are the three records you should check out first.

Brian Eno – Ambient 1: Music for Airports

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British musician (and genius) Brian Eno is attributed with coining the genre “ambient” as we know it today. After a series of art rock albums throughout the ’70s, Eno composed Ambient 1: Music for Airports in 1978, kicking off a series of ambient records that are still legendary to this day. It was difficult having to choose from just one of them (Apollo should be one you check out as well), but, as this one was first, I think it deserves recognition. The piano and vocalization mixes on this record are stunning, and I think would make a good starting point for anyone wanting to try ambient. There are tons more from Eno as well, the most recent being Reflection released this January.

William Basinski – The Disintegration Loops

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This is where things get a little strange (that didn’t take long, did it?) William Basinski is probably the second most prolific ambient composer behind Eno, and The Disintegration Loops is his defining work, though he has more famous ones (92982 is worth a listen as well). A set of four records made from deteriorated music from old magnetic tapes, The disintegration Loops also include sounds recorded from Basinski’s rooftop the day of 9/11. Stills from that recording are featured on the covers. The story and creation behind this project simply isn’t matched. It’s a haunting work.

Boards of Canada – Music Has the Right to Children

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Released in 1998, the debut record from Scottish duo Boards of Canada was light-years ahead of its time. It’s not exclusively ambient, music of this album can be considered electronic dance, but upbeat it is not. Music Has the Right to Children is a deeply unsettling and atmospheric experience even to this day, let alone 20 years ago. If you’d rather be unnerved than soothed, and want to experience what set the course for experimental music in the upcoming century, this is a must-listen.

Ranking The Discography: Radiohead

Radiohead are one of the most essential bands of the last 25 years. They have steered the alternative rock genre to what it is today, and popularized experimental music in the mainstream. Here are their nine studio albums ranked from worst to best.

9. Pablo Honey (1993)

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Apart from the international hit “Creep,” with is a largely forgettable debut. It’s a good sign of things to come, but the band was still developing in terms of their sound and songwriting here.

Essential Tracks: “Creep”

8. The King of Limbs (2011)

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Their shortest album is also their thinnest in terms of depth. It’s not a bad album per say, but after a four year gap between albums, people expected more. The lack of fulfillment their is still felt on this record.

Essential Tracks: “Lotus Flower,” “Codex”

7. Amnesiac (2001)

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Amnesiac is far and away the band’s least accessible albums. Made up mostly of leftover cuts from Kid A, the album is very strange, and often impenetrable But it’s a rewarding listen when given a real chance.

Essential Tracks: “Pyramid Song,” “Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors,” “Knives Out”

6. Hail to the Thief (2003)

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After the avant garde approach of Kid A, and Amnesiac, Radiohead reigned themselves in a little bit, and tried a bit of electronic-infused rock rather than the other way around. The result is an immensely enjoyable, thematically heavy album.

Essential Tracks: “2 + 2 = 5,” “Sit Down, Stand Up,”There, There”

5. A Moon Shaped Pool (2016)

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Radiohead’s latest record is also their most piercing. With the incorporation of orchestral elements this time around, the record explores themes of loss, abandonment, and love. Singer Thom Yorke’s partner of over two decades, Rachel Owen, passed away late last year, and the pain is definitely felt of this understated, but beautiful album.

Essential Tracks: “Burn the Witch,” “Daydreaming,” “True Love Waits”

4. In Rainbows (2007)

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This is where things get tricky. When a band has released several essentially perfect albums, how do you go about finding which are better than others? Very carefully. In Rainbows was a pay-what-you-want release, which shook the music industry. It doesn’t do a whole lot new or different, but it makes up for a lack of innovation by being outright gorgeous. The album drips with feeling and is an essential component of Radiohead’s discography.

Essential Tracks: “15 Step,” “Nude,” “Weird Fishes/ Arpeggi,” “Videotape”

3. Kid A (2000)

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This is the record that had everyone scratching their heads. It was a huge departure from the band’s rock roots, into an avant garde, electronic soundscape. Vocal effects abound, much of the lyrics are nonsense, used for their sonic value rather than their actual meaning, and the instrumentation is often eerily distorted. Alternative music was never the same.

Essential Tracks: “Everything in its Right Place,” “The National Anthem,” “How to Disappear Completely,” “Idioteque”

2. The Bends (1995)

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The Bends is Brit Rocks shining moment. The band’s second album perfectly expanded upon the band’s debut into something that was notably bigger than itself. The Bends is deeply layered, both in its sound and themes, abrasive, lovely, gloomy, ethereal, and iconic.

Essential Tracks: “High and Dry,” “Fake Plastic Trees,” “(Nice Dream),” “Just”

1. OK Computer (1997)

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Albums don’t get much better than this. OK Computer took a sharp turn away from the pop rock sound that was popular and essentially set the stage for the next generation of alternative. Each facet is expertly crafted, and perfectly indicative of the angst and dejected attitudes that defined the turn of the century. It’s an undoubtedly iconic piece of work that solidifies Radiohead’s place as one of the most important groups of recent times.

Essential Tracks: “Paranoid Android,” “Let Down,” “Karma Police,” “No Surprises”

Top 5 Albums of the 2010s So Far

5. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2

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Run the Jewels, the rap duo made between Killer Mike and El-P, has proven to be one of the best projects in rap in recent memory. The two have impeccable chemistry, and El-P’s production has never sounded better. Out of the three they’ve released so far, RTJ2 is the most accomplished.

4. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

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The Harvard pretty boys have come a long way since their first record in 2008. Their latest (though they intend to release a new one this year) is nuanced, mature indie. A poignant sound counts what is probably the best indie pop record of the last ten years.

3. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange

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Who would have thought that a member of Odd Future would be capable of high art. Frank Ocean’s “Channel Orange” is high brow pop of the best kind; poignant, catchy, and full of depth.

2. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

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Not many people thought Kendrick could top his 2012 masterpiece “Good Kid M.A.A.D City” (which would probably also be on this list if I expanded) but then “To Pimp a Butterfly” came along. The fusion of jazz, funk, and hip hop, coupled with painfully relevant social commentary make TPAB one of the most important records of recent years.

1. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

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The maximalism and commentary on fame that Kanye brought to the table in 2010 was something the world had never seen and has yet to see repeated. This is rap of the highest caliber.

The Case for Eurodance

The 90s were a strange time. A huge number of trends and scenes opened up, in music, fashion, film, etc, and almost none of them have aged well. Perhaps the most bizarre, or most maligned of these trends was Eurodance, a wave of music that sprang up in countries like Germany and Italy in the late 80s and became a cultural phenomenon by the mid 90s. Has it aged well? Not at all. Was the music particularly revolutionary? Not really. Is it absurdly endearing? You bet.

Take Eiffel 65’s 1999 classic “Blue (Da Ba Dee).” Check out the atrocity of a music video here. Since its inital release, the song has maintained steady popularity, parodied relentlessly, and often included in films.

Another classic hit is Scatman John’s 1995 track “Scatman (ski-ba-bop-ba-dop-bop).” Who can resist a lovable old man babling nonsense over a super catchy synth beat?

Are either of these songs any good? Not really. They’re catchy sure, but lyrics are virtually nonexistent, and a a majority of this genre is just a cacophany of synth and drum beats.

So what makes eurodance so endearingly popular? Easy. Nostalgia. The sound of eurodance encapsulates the 90s. The musical arrangements, the dated clothes, the awful cgi. All of these provide a glimps into a time long gone. I’m not going to pretend eurodance is Mozart or anything but i’ll at least have a bit of it on rotation just for kicks.