Ariana Grande ended 2018 as the most relevant pop star and for good reason. Grande released her fifth studio album, thank u, next, just over five months after the well-received Sweetener. She experienced astounding commercial success, all while crafting her unique brand and reviving pop through heavy EDM, R&B and hip-hop influence.
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Tekashi 6ix9ine has built his brand on controversy – beef with other rappers, memes and occasionally music. Now, amidst a whirlwind combination of the first three, 6ix9ine has released his major label debut studio album DUMMY BOY as he sits in federal prison, facing racketeering and firearms charges. 6ix9ine clearly has ambitious goals in mind, with guests from Kanye West to Tay Keith, and those two only scratch the surface of the album’s crossover production and numerous big-name guests. His ambition, however, does anything but translate to his music: DUMMY BOY is an unoriginal and elementary exercise in modern hip-hop, showcasing just how amateur 6ix9ine really is when one looks past all of the hype.
There’s no doubt that 2018 was an uneasy yet exciting year for Kanye West fans. A lot went down, but let’s focus on an obvious high point: KIDS SEE GHOSTS. Kid Cudi and Kanye West have been a favorite duo for hip-hop-loving millennials, so expectations for this project were high. However, it’s hard to know what to expect with those two. KSG lived up to the iconic statuses of both Cudi and West while exploring new creative territories. Many artists in 2018 have been sticking to the short album trend, and at only 23 minutes long, KSG is no exception. Despite being comprised of only seven precise tracks, the album thematically spans years of volatile controversies and mental health challenges for both artists. The album is an awakening, a fresh start for Cudi and West. Artistically and emotionally in sync at this stage in their careers, the two try to heal their mental health and perhaps a once-fragmented friendship. On the standout track “Freeee,” West and Cudi yell with liberation: “I don’t feel pain anymore/ Guess what baby, I feel free.” The album has a lot of themes involving criticism and self-control, which is played-out through the album with music that feels chaotic at some points and incredibly meticulous at others. -Molly Carmichael
This Saturday, entrepreneur, actor, designer and musician Jaden Smith released his second studio album The Sunset Tapes: A Cool Tape Story. A year ago, Smith released SYRE, which was received fairly well and gave Jaden a spot among young-yet-established rappers like Tyler, The Creator and A$AP Rocky. Aside from these two albums, he was also featured on songs by artists such as Logic and Young Thug.
Against a cold and rainy fall, rapper Vince Staples came out of nowhere with another explosive and layered project, this time in the form of a 22-minute journey through Los Angeles radio titled FM!.
Christmas music is an exhaustingly crowded niche of popular music. Countless artists have attempted to have a place in the Christmas canon, yet it always feels like you hear the same 10 songs over and over for two months straight. With timeless holiday classics such as Elvis Presley, Bing Crosby and Mariah Carey, hearing that John Legend was releasing his own Christmas album made me worry — would he be able to hold a candle in the already-packed genre?
I will begin this review with a disclaimer: I’d never listened to Greta Van Fleet before I heard this album. I was going into it with an open mind — music-savvy friends had shown me snippets of singles the band had released over the past couple years, and I wasn’t interested in knowing them any better. I came upon Anthem of the Peaceful Army hoping to have my mind changed.
Twenty One Pilots have walked on a tightrope for many years: Their sound is distinct, with Tyler Joseph’s recognizable rap flow and singing voice fusing perfectly to Josh Dun’s kinetic percussion, yet they draw from so many influences that it is hard to peg them down to one genre.
Self-proclaimed boy band BROCKHAMPTON dropped their much-anticipated album iridescence this past Friday. Forming only three years ago, the group had already released four albums, including All-American Trash and the Saturation trilogy. With their constant influx of content, experimental sound and unique aesthetic, the group has been experiencing tremendous growth in popularity, from having a Viceland series to hanging out with iconic producers like Rick Rubin and Pharrell Williams.
Noname, real name Fatimah Warner, found a valuable niche in hip-hop as one of the coolest acts around with her quiet, yet potent 2016 mixtape Telefone and a number of features. Two years later, she has a plethora of musings after moving away from her native Chicago, grasping fame with a headlining tour and loving and losing in a relationship. Noname has not added to or detracted much from her very distinct sound, but her latest record Room 25 is chock full of beautiful instrumentals and smooth flows that breeze through 11 tracks across 35 minutes.
After a rough ending to 2017, Eminem’s latest move is to fight fire with fire. After the publically and critically panned release of Revival, Eminem is back with the no-holds-barred Kamikaze, released as a surprise at the end of August. Kamikaze simultaneously sees Em stripping down to his roots of aggressive angst but also updating some of his sounds and lyrics to the world around him. While Kamikaze finds Eminem rapping with much more conviction, his lyrics and flows are only marginally better than Revival — and the end product is mediocre.
Travis Scott, hip-hop’s most popular AutoTune crooner, returns with ASTROWORLD, and he’s locked and loaded with dark beats and bars. Scott has seen glimmers of genius spread throughout his two studio albums and wide catalogue of guest features on other artists’ work, but both Rodeo and Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight had forgettable low points that dragged their respective albums’ quality down. He hit a recent low this past December with Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho, a collaborative project with Migos’ Quavo, which felt like a creative dud after stretching his wings (literally) across his own albums and guest features.
Janelle Monae has always been on the fringe of breaking into the mainstream. She sang with the band Fun. on “We Are Young” — which topped the Billboard 100 for six weeks in 2012 — and she acted in not one, but two Best Picture nominees in 2016.
On the heels of countless outdoor concerts and festivals, summer is a great time for artists to release new music. While many artists may announce and release albums within a matter of days and other artists may tease new music without a certain release date for months, there are a number of albums we can expect before summer’s end.
Mere days after announcing its inception, J. Cole dropped the unexpected album, KOD (an initialism for Kids on Drugs, King Overdosed and Kill Our Demons). After his hotly anticipated — though largely disappointing — 4 Your Eyez Only record dropped last year, many have been critical of both the rapper’s fanbase and his legitimacy as “one of the greats.”
Rap trio Flatbush Zombies have been carving their way through the soundwaves with trippy personas and outgoing personalities since 2010. Thanks to a flurry of hard-hitting mixtapes that capitalized on the group’s acid-laced rhymes with ear-grabbing instrumentals, the trio added a breath of fresh air to the rap game.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s new record instrumentals encourage interaction, while lyrics inspire introspection
When Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s song “Ffunny Ffrends” mysteriously popped up on Bandcamp back in 2010, it was a random, ownerless track. It was lauded by critics for its mastery of lo-fi garage psychedelia. Eventually, “Ffunny Ffrends” was tacked on to the band’s debut, self-titled album, which fully encompassed the same sense of lo-fi psychedelia. Composed primarily of Ruban Nielsen on vocals and guitar with some help from other musicians, Unknown Mortal Orchestra has traditionally been a vehicle for stripped-back approaches to music — no bells and whistles, just exciting melodies and rhythms. Their early work set them apart as a band that was equal parts nostalgic for a bygone era and emblematic of a new era, fast approaching.
There are multiple stories running through one body, quickly responding to all feelings of anger, paranoia and vulnerability. Cardi B does not merely chase a quick appraisal with Invasion of Privacy, but rather reminds us that proving the doubt of success is hardest when in the spotlight.
Last year in February, Saba’s cousin and co-founder of the Pivot Gang rap crew, John Walt, was shot and murdered in Chicago. Saba searches for the cure to his emptiness from the loss of his cousin through the innovative piano backtracks and lyrical excellence that embody CARE FOR ME.
After weeks of dropping hints on Instagram, The Weeknd released My Dear Melancholy, a stirring collection of emotionally dark R&B to complement the latest winds of winter that blew through Madison. Just as the weather, The Weeknd has gone backward, but unlike the snow on the ground, The Weeknd’s trip back in time is a refreshing return to the past.