Last summer, some artists brought the heat, while others needed to go back to the kitchen and add some more sauce. Check out this review of 13 projects that caught my eye.
Set to: Discover.
Before I started this review, I wanted to get into the right head space, so I let Spotify take me on a journey. Speaking of musical discoveries, I thank the lord that I finally fell into the hype of Megan Thee Stallion because I have not regretted it yet.
During the summer, her mixtape helped me cope with my “Hot Girl Summer” feeling more like Hot Mess Summer, as my friend put it. I was out of school with no job and no idea how I would pay back these daunting loans, so I used music to help me deal with the love child of colonialism and classism. Here’s how Summer 2019’s music catalogue measured up for me.
Indie and Emerging Artists*
Artists who are emerging into their celebrity or who prefer to do without it
7. The Lost Boy x YBN Cordae
YBN Cordae is up next. Let me preface this by saying that. Although his album did not move me like other albums this summer, it was still a solid project (else I would not even take the time to review it). While I heard Cordae’s concept – the lost boy finding his way in the industry – I would have liked to see him expound upon this idea even more.
However, I do not doubt that he will have that growth. I remember when I heard his response to J. Cole’s 1985 track and I thought to myself, “He has bars.” Then, a few months later, he performed with H.E.R. at the BET Awards and he became an XXL freshman. So, like I said, YBN Cordae is up next, and I foresee his future projects highlighting his strengths – storytelling and social consciousness.
6. Shea Butter Baby x Ari Lennox
I like Ari Lennox, and I see her potential. Looking at her career trajectory from PHO to Shea Butter Baby, she is beginning to break out of her shell as an artist. To me, Shea Butter Baby is Ari’s coming of age story. She’s been under the radar, but now it’s time for her to fully blossom.
In the BMO video, we finally see her establishing herself as a traditional R&B artist - with a nasty track recorded in high quality - and I am all the way here for it. The only place where Shea Butter Baby fell short for me was the longevity of her tracks. Although I really liked them when I first heard them, they didn’t all have that long lasting impact. But maybe they didn’t need to.
5. Eve x Rapsody
In true Hip Hop fashion, Rapsody took her time between Laila’s Wisdom and Eve, and you could hear the progression that happened in that between time. Immediately when I began listening, it struck me that her songs sounded a lot better, and she was using more exciting beats. Eve succeeded in bringing Rapsody’s concept to life, but there were some areas of improvement.
I was excited about the song “Aaliyah” at first because I liked the beat and Rapsody delivered with her lyrics, but then I found out that the background voice I heard was Sabrina Claudio, who was called out for being a racist troll. Rapsody’s decision to work with a recovering racist is going to be a no from me. Apart from that, I enjoyed Eve.
4. Mirrorland x EARTHGANG
Mirrorland was a journey into a fun house, which makes sense because that’s what EARTHGANG was doing on this album: having fun. Coming off the hype of Revenge of the Dreamers 3, I think that the timing is impeccable. I was already excited to hear more from Johnny Venus after “Sacrifices,” so when I heard those vocals re-emerge on tracks like “Top Down,” “Stuck,” and “Wings,” I was intrigued.
I just did not like Kehlani’s feature. For the past year, I have noticed that more and more singers are trying rapping, and I think it could be a good thing. However, Kehalni’s verse on “Trippin” always feels out of place. This past week, as I’ve adopted a 5 song rotation for Mirrorland, I constantly find myself skipping past “Trippin” when her verse comes on. Notwithstanding that, I have a very limited critique of Mirrorland. I mostly enjoyed the album.
3. The Jungle Is the Only Way Out x Mereba
I am excited to see more from Spillage Village, an artist group featuring 6lack, Mereba, EARTHGANG, J.I.D, Hollywood JB and JordxnBryant. Without realizing, I have become fans of 4/6 of the group, Mereba being one of the latest. Thanks to Spotify discovery, I found her song “Stay Tru,” but I thought nothing of it at first. I just really liked the song.
Then, she made a guest appearance on Revenge of the Dreamers 3, and I started wondering where I knew her name from. Also, following my excitement for ROTD3, I started aggressively tracking social media posts from Dreamville artists, and I saw J.I.D. shout her out on his Instagram (see below).
Knowing I had this review coming up, I gave Mereba's album a listen, and I was made a fan of yet another Spillage Village artist. What solidified my fandom was the fact that she effortlessly talked about self preservation using what felt to me like a Black Old Western theme.
The second track, “Kinfolk,” reminded me the most of a Black Old Western film, and it happens to be my favroite because it has the Yee Haw vibes that many Southern Black artists capitalizaing on right now (see: Lil Nas X and Meg Thee Stallion). I also liked Mereba's interlude “Dodging the Devil” because it had something that other R&B voiceovers have been missing: substance.
When Ella Mai and Ari Lennox tried the voiceover trick, it just didn't work for me. To crosspolinate auditory mediums - music and poetry/spoken word - artists should treat them like seasoning. This means that they use them sparingly and appropriately. Another good example of crosspolinating music with a poetry track was H.E.R.'s "Lord is Coming" poem/song on I Used To Know H.E.R. (Part 2). Like Mereba's, it worked because it felt intentional and not just something to fill the time.
Overall, The Jungle Is the Only Way Out felt like an ode to falling in love with yourself, and that is why I will be playing it throughout the Fall as well.
Best Song: Kinfolk
Should’ve stayed in the studio: Heatwave ft. 6lack
2. K.R.I.T. Iz Here x Big Krit
Really, K.R.I.T. Iz Here is Krit's reminder as a rap veteran that you can be in control of your own narrative. It also shows Krit reflecting on the people he does this rap thing for – his family. In other songs on the album, he digs into his kinfolk and his roots.
K.R.I.T. Iz Here offers a resolution for the contention some African Americans feel with not feeling "African" or "American." To remedy these doubts, we can recognize the roots we have in America. On “Life in the sun” and “M.I.S.S.I.S.S.I.P.P.I,” which could have worked as a suite, Krit reckons with both his “Africanness” and “Americanness.” To me, K.R.I.T. Iz Here shows a delicate balance between social consciousness and real life.
1. legacy!legacy! x Jamila Woods
LEGACY! LEGACY! felt like a walk through history, but it wasn’t a negative one, which I liked. Far too often, our recollections of history revolve around pain, so Jamila Woods’ album was refreshing, to say the least. To say the most, I like how Woods’ concept came to life and that her songs can live outside of that concept as well.
During a tour stop in Chicago, she told concertgoers that her song “OCTAVIA” is about one of her students who had feelings of inadequecy. However, the song’s message of empowerment can resonate with any Black child who has felt dumb because that’s what the system told them. The reason why this album was it for me and got me through the summer was because it took nuggets of history and gave them a contemporary twist.
Artists (and labels) with immediate name recognition
6. No. 6 Collaborations Project x Ed Sheeran
I used to rock with the folksy/Rock Ed Sheeran, even when my friend called him a Raggedy Ann Doll; even when my family asked (begged) me not to play his music in the car. I rocked with him because liked I his sound, and no amount of disrespect would change that. Now, he’s doing more Hip Hop-influenced music, and I’m not really feeling it.
In July, Sheeran released his No. 6 Collaborations project. When I listened to it, I wondered why he felt the need to announce that it was a collaborations project; that was obvious when we started hearing him work with artists he’s never worked with before. This was the first time his project felt like pandering. Then, we get to “South of the Border,” the second song on the album. On this track, Sheeran welcomed features from recovering racist Camilla Cabello and socially Black Cardi B so they could help him participate in his cultural fantasies. This was only the second track, and I was already ready to turn it off.
Alas, I suffered through it for the sake of writing this review. However, if you asked me to name more than two songs on the album off the top of my head, my response would be “Sorry to this man.”
5. The Big Day x Chance the Rapper
It was hard to decide what was more underwhelming: Ed Sheeran’s pandering or Chance the Rapper’s constant reminder that he does, in fact, love his wife. Bennett’s Big Day was disappointing for me as a longtime fan of his music, but I will give him credit for having a solid promotion with the pop-up store. However, the quality of Bennett’s promotion did not match the quality of his album.
I feel like there were a few things production wise that held him back. For one, we did not need 22 songs if they were going to be unsequenced. I understand that this was an album, which traditionally has more songs than a mixtape, but too many of the songs on Big Day sounded like throwaways. I found that strange. This was his debut album, and he was giving us space fillers.
One track that especially made me cringe was “Handsome,” Bennett’s song with Megan Thee Stallion. While a Meg feature is always nice, their sounds felt mismatched. Unlike Revenge of the Dreamers 3, where disparate sounds were made to sound cohesive, Bennett slacked in this area. In other words, the idea of the album was sound, but Bennett just did not deliver. So, once again, it’s a no from me.
4. Cuz I Love You x Lizzo
On first listen, I thought Cuz I Love You was going to be a classic album. In retrospect, it is not quite there yet. Although this album conveyed Lizzo’s relentless journey toward self-love, some of the songs felt forgettable. Then, the Gucci Mane feature felt awkward.
I later realized this feature was her hint that she wants to experiment with Hip Hop, but she has always given me R&B vibes. So, it was a little different to hear her pair up with a rapper. Nonetheless, this is not a diss.
I like Lizzo just as much as the next person, and I liked the album. I just didn’t love it. It didn’t render me as a classic album but rather an album from an artist finding her sound, or sounds. I am interested to see Lizzo's artist pivot as she adjusts to her newfound fame.
3. Revenge of the Dreamers 3 x Dreamville
Not to be totally cliché or anything, but this was the moment we’ve all been waiting for. When J. Cole said “Dreamville, give us a year, we’ll be on every show,” on “GOMD,” I imagine this is what he meant. Dreamville’s big idea of mixing artists who’d never collaborated before came together a lot smoother than Sheeran’s Black Pander Party™ on No. 6 Collaborations Project. Since Sheeran is a pop artist and Dreamville is more Hip Hop/R&B, I will limit the comparisons. I just think that is important to note that a big experimental project can work, if the proper amount of care is put into it.
From the concept to the production, there was a lot to love about Revenge of the Dreamers 3. In “Wells Fargo,” arguably one of the best songs on the album, we hear a plethora of voices coming together to make a cohesive sound, and I think that was one of the strongest reasons why I ranked it where I did.
Additionally, Dreamville's artist rollout out was timed well. With Ari Lennox's release just before ROTD3 and EARTHGANG immediately after, the label was able to capitalize on those album releases. Considering this attention to detailed, it could be argued that last summer was a Dreamville summer.
However, the album fell short on sociocultural impact, which is how I broke the tie with the next two projects. Hip Hop, to me, is two parts music and one-part social awareness, which is why I made that a tiebreaking factor.
I loved the album, but I didn’t love hearing Ari Lennox just twice, although she’s a more senior Dreamville artist than J.I.D., whose voice was heard throughout. Lennox's almost invisibility was coupled with the fact that features with women were few and far between. So, while Revenge of the Dreamers 3 is a classic Hip Hop album for the quality of production, it is also classic to Hip Hop because it continues the pattern of marginalizing women.
2. The Lion King: The Gift x Beyoncé
I couldn’t even type Beyoncé’s name into Microsoft Word without spellcheck offering to put accent on the last E. That should tell you something about Beyoncé’s cultural impact. When I decided to throw her album in this mix, I knew it was coming in at number one or two because of the adventure this album took you on.
I appreciate that unlike other soundtracks for cinema, it didn’t *sound* like a movie soundtrack. That is, the songs on the album could live beyond the context of the movie. This album was a celebration of Blackness through the lens of the Black diaspora. Initially, this was tied with Revenge of the Dreamers 3.
Then, I thought about the sociocultural impact of the album itself: a Black woman from Houston, Texas produced an Afro Beats album for one of Disney’s most famous movies. Taking that into consideration, I bumped the album up. Beyoncé used this album to address colorism, celebrate the diaspora, and put artists on while reminding us that she’s top 2 and not number 2.
1. Fever x Megan Thee Stallion
If you have access to any type of smart device or social media, I am sure the phrase “Hot Girl Summer” was a defining part of your summer. Wherever I went, a Hottie was surely playing one of the tracks from Fever.
My personal favorite, and probably everyone’s, was “Cash S**t,” Meg Thee Stallion’s song with DaBaby. The appeal of this song is the chemistry between Meg and DaBaby. Their seamless comraderies makes you feel like they could be friends creating bops together.
Conversely, on Big Day, Meg's feature felt weak to me. While listening, it did not feel believable that Churchgoing Chance™ is ready to drive thee boat. It is more plausible that resident Hottie Megan Thee Stallion would be sailing seas with DaBaby, since his firecracker rap persona matches hers.
Really, a collab between them just made sense; their cadence, confidence and candor as artists is captivating (I should get an award for that alliteration). For these reasons, I put the mixtape at number 1. Throughout it, you caught a Fever that made you want to drive thee boat, get over your ex, drink henny out the bottle, or do whatever it took to have a certified Hot Gir/Guy Summer.
Truly, we heard it all last Summer, but these lists are not meant to be exhaustive. If you think I missed something or want me to review something for the Fall Music Review *SPOILER ALERT*, let me know below. ~ ℝ
To evaluate these projects, I considered three factors: sequencing, production, and longevity (measured by the % of songs that I have added to Apple Music). To find the ratings, I scored the projects in each category and ranked from highest to lowest. For any ties, I considered the additional factors of promotions, reception, and sociocultural impact. To ensure equitable evaluations, I separated artists with lower visibility from artists with higher visibility.
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