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@Xtradope’s Best Albums of the Year List: #1 James Blake- Overgrown

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#1 James Blake- Overgrown

Released: April 5th

By: Dequan Huggins

     With the world falling in love with electronic and dance music, UK singer/producer James Blake aimed to separate himself from other artist by infusing the worlds of soul and electronica. The heavenly combination on his second studio album Overgrown was the perfect balance of the two worlds, even winning him the Mercury Prize for Best album from the United Kingdom. Blake’s creative genius through production, song writing, and voice control created the most entertaining and interesting album of the year.

Through his trademark production style, Blake has always been amazing at crafting his emotional instrumentals. At the production helm of every song except the experimental music legend Brian Eno produced “Digital Lion”, Blake finds ways to mix warm synths with razor sharp drums giving the instrumental life.  One of the most impressive components on Overgrown would be the variety of beats. From the hip-hop inspired “Life Round Here” to the simple piano ballad of “DLM” James covers all styles completing the spectrum. Blake has perfected the art of an asymmetrical song. His production styles may be balanced but the UK Producer has always preferred his song structure to be slightly off-centered making it unique and original. The textures of the production fluctuate from ambient beginnings to a surprising climax towards the end of the song making the project more of an event than an album.

Shying away from television and interviews, Blake is a man of few words in media and in song. Blake has never felt the need to oversaturate his songs with words when he can get straight to the point with a few phrases and through his production. His unorthodox writing style has even influenced artists like Drake with popular tracks like “Worst Behavior” which practices repetition similar to a Blake record. Simple lyrics like “And we lay nocturnal/ speculating what we feel” are repeated throughout “I Am Sold.” Through pitch shifts and panning from left to right the lyrics architect rhythm within itself adding layers to Blake’s production. Attempting to show his range as a writer and a vocalist Blake delivers his best performance ever with his lead single “Retrograde.” One of his only complete lyric songs where he taps into his upper registry during the climax of the record creating best vocal performance of 2013.

2013 saw so many great albums but Overgrown stood out amongst them all with its originality. James Blake may not have saw the success that others have seen this year in terms of sales, but the respect and influence was evident even becoming Kanye West’s favorite artist this year. Overgrown landed James Blake a Grammy nomination for best new artist that is well deserved and can only mean bigger and better things for the beloved UK artist.

Favorite Songs: Retrograde, Our Love Comes Back, Life Round Here

Weakest Song: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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Music Uncategorized Xtradope

@Xtradope’s Best Albums of the Year List: #2 Drake Nothing Was the Same

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#2 Drake- Nothing Was the Same

Released: September 24th

By: Dequan Huggins

     Every young man awaits the day when he is able to showcase to his peers that he has become the man that he has set out be; however, not too many men have had the opportunity to show their growth to the public like Canadian rap star Drake.  Nothing Was the Same, the third album from the Young Money/Octobers Very Own rapper, is the tale of a boy from Toronto who has surpassed his expectations of how he could contribute to the rap game.  With his previous effort Take Care, Drake is in a position where he is finally starting to accept who he is for what he is, a rapper/singer who is able to draw from moments in his life displaying his emotions for the world to relate and/or criticize.  NWTS is also maturation and realization that Drake is a vessel for the younger generation desperately reaching for a grasp on their feelings.

The aggressiveness is noticeable from the intro with the six minutes long “Tuscan Leather”; which flips the famous Whitney Houston ballad “I Have Nothing” in three different ways leaving listeners entertained from beginning to end. “Just give it time, we’ll see who’s still around a decade from now”, Drake boasts realizing that he’s the apex rapper of the universally accepted “new legends.” While Drake has always been confident in his rapping abilities, the effort on NWTS is more potent and believable than that of his previous work and even that off his Hip-Hop peers.

By the album being titled Nothing Was the Same, Drake discovers new ways to blur the lines of what the world has come to love him for, rapping and singing. On NWTS Drake does so unapologetically, finding the right songs to incorporate melodies garnished with abrasive rhymes. On “Wu Tang Forever” the rap superstar pays homage to the legendary Staten Island crew sampling the classic track “Its Yourz.” Drake takes an interesting approach to the song, which can be about a woman, or can be interpreted as him stating the rap game is in fact “his” and ultimately delivers one of Drakes best hooks in his short but impactful career. As you become mesmerized by the melody, you suddenly realize that Drake has penned together a serious verse that touches on being fortunate enough to not come from a rough environment; while still having hood associates making him aware of both ends of the poverty spectrum.

Attempting to separate himself from other new generation artist, “Worst Behavior” is the OVO rapper, well; on his worst behavior throwing his success within the rap world in the face on his competition and critics. Also showcasing his competitive side, Drake subliminally takes shots at the ever so popular Compton champion Kendrick Lamar on the track “The Language.” Rehashing the infectious “Versace” flow, Drake jokingly takes stabs at Kendrick’s recently found success with the lyrics “Fuck any nigga that’s talkin’ that shit just to get a reaction, Fuck going platinum, I looked at my wrist and it’s already platinum.” Continuing to fire shots, Drake squeals the “Paris Morton Music” series, toying with the idea of him being far superior than his competitors “Like I should fall in line, like I should alert niggas When I’m ‘bout to drop something crazy and not say I’m the greatest Of my generation.”

Unfairly known for being overly emotional, Drake delivers two of his more personal records on NWTS, “From Time” and “Too Much.” While both the former and latter tracks touch on relationships with women, Drake attempts to talk about issues with his family whether its his fathers emotional disconnection due to alcohol, or his mother and uncle making excuses for staying in the house not pursuing any of their dreams they once possessed. Drake’s story is unique due to his fame; however, the records still find a way to be extremely empathetic resonating with those who’ve been through family or relationship issues. What makes Drake so interesting when telling these tales is the fact that he is able to captivate the listener with imagery (“Shit got me feeling pinned down, pick the pen up or put the pen down, writing to you from a distance like a pen pal, but we’ve been down’”), without drenching a song in sorrow like some of his contemporaries.

Nothing Was the Same ultimately is Drake’s best body of work showing the evolution from a boy (The Boy) to man who is trotting on his victory lap with no signs of slowing down. The Toronto superstar continues to find a way to tell empathetic stories to kids who’re ultimately facing the same situations within their lives (love, family, success). Urban music has changed and Drake is at the forefront redefining what we know as “real” in Hip-Hop. Connecting with a younger generation who is on the upswing of their careers, Drake is able to blend the right amount of confidence and self-reflection to stand triumphant in the rap game for the remainder of the year, undoubtedly leaving nothing the same as it was.

Favorite Songs: Worst Behavior, Wu-Tang Forever, Connect

Weakest Song: Own It

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Music Uncategorized Xtradope

@Xtradope’s Best Albums of the Year List: #3 Arcade Fire- Reflektor

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#3 Arcade Fire- Reflektor

Released: October 28th

By: Dequan Huggins

     Fresh off their Album of the Year Grammy in 2011 Arcade Fire returned to the Indie Rock scene more inspired to create than ever. The 6-piece band including husband and wife vocalists Win Butler and Régine Chassagne traveled to Haiti and Jamaica discovering a new appreciation for the countries festive music. Hoping to incorporate the inspiration in the music, Arcade Fire began recording their fourth studio album Reflektor.

Legendary indie rock star James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem came on board for Reflektor. His expertise would be needed with the electronic island vibe that the band was experimenting with. “Here Comes the Night Time”, a song about missionaries in Haiti that want to help teach about Jesus but are afraid of the Haitian people at night time, is the best example of a record with Caribbean influence. The combination of James Murphy and Arcade Fire meshes very well together. “Porno” could easily be placed on any of LCD Soundsystem’s albums paying homage to their legendary electronic sound. Abandoning their traditional soft alternative rock sound for bongos, steel drums, and electronic instruments, Arcade Fire connects on their attempt to incorporate the influences into Reflektor.

Creatively Arcade Fire is light years above other indie rock bands when it comes to concepts. Constantly taking on social issues and giving a voice to the mute, Arcade Fire writes a beautiful song about a homosexual child who begs their father not to turn his back on him/her the way that rest of the world has already did on “We Exist.” Win Butler uses poetic lyrics like “Daddy it’s true/ I’m different from you/ But tell me why they treat me like this?” to describe the pain of being discriminated for being different like the rest of the world. The social awareness of Arcade Fire continues with the album titled track “Reflektor.” Technology gives us the impression that we are connecting with people each other all over the world but all it does is make us lonely. Staring at the computer screen is the same a staring at a mirror.

Reflektor the perfect combination of melody and social awareness that all rock bands should strive for. Continuing to set the standard for indie rockers Arcade Fire only continues to get better with every release more imaginative and groundbreaking than the previous.

Favorite Songs: Joan of Arc, Here Comes the Night Time, Normal Person

Weakest Song: Here Comes the Night Time II

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Music Uncategorized Xtradope

@Xtradope’s Best Albums of the Year List: #4 Childish Gambino- Because the Internet

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#4 Childish Gambino- Because the Internet

Released: December 6th

By: Dequan Huggins

     In 2013 no artist had a better album rollout than rapper/ producer/comedian/ writer/ blah blah blah.. Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino. Accompanying his second studio album, Because the Internet, Gambino wrote an interactive screenplay that follows a disturbed and doubtful young man that is loosely based on his life. There was an abundance of rappers spent time trying to convince the world what they were doing was “Art” this year, but none did a better job than Gambino fusing the worlds of music, film, and writing.

BTI is the best conceptual album of the year. Childish Gambino trolled the world into believing that he became some depressed and self-loathing kid when really he’s been acting out his character in the album the whole year. From wearing the same clothes all year to him being in love with soul singer Jhene Aiko it was all an act. Gambino’s Character, named The Boy, rides an emotional rollercoaster throughout the album. His plight is detailed through the song structure, as the beginning of the album is very upbeat and energetic. “Worldstar” is one of the better concept records on BTI detailing what its like to watch or be on the popular viral video website (“Yeah, mothafucka, take your phone out/ To record this, ain’t nobody can ignore this /I’m more or less, a moral-less individual making movies with criminals, tryin’ to get them residuals”).  The album then transitions into records that deal with disturbia and death leading to the demise of The Boy. “No Exit” is a conflicted conversation The Boy has with himself while staring at spider on the wall. Voices shift from speaker to speaker hoping to make the listener feel what it would be like to be this troubled young man.

If there was an award for most improved rapper of 2013 it would have to be given to Childish Gambino. Vilified as just a punch line rapper, the 30-year became more confident as a rapper, developing flows that made him more entertaining than on his previous work. Gambino figured out a way to give his fans the same witty banter they’ve grown to love from him without some of the corniness that existed on his last album Camp. Okay sure, the “Girl why is you lying, girl why you Mufasa” line is a little corny, but its fun to recite and people get excited over it which is ultimately the job of an emcee.

What makes the idea of BTI work is how complimentary the production is. Gambino made tremendous strides in his production skills from adding beautiful guitar solos on “The Worst Guys” to the EDM influence on “Earth: the oldest computer.” The instrumentals are emotionally layered that help the listener connect the dots of his story. “Urn” is full on Frank Ocean-esque R&B instrumental that evokes sadness as Gambino sings about the passing of his father.

BTI is as confident and daring body of work this year from a rap artist. Every facet of the rapper Childish Gambino has improved. This isn’t the first time someone has made a concept album but this may be the most devoted that an artist has been to his/her concept while not losing a beat musically.

Favorite Songs: No Exit, Worldstar, The Worst Guys

Weakest Song: Crawl

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Music Uncategorized Xtradope

@Xtradope’s Best Albums of the Year List: #5 Kanye West- Yeezus

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#5 Kanye West- Yeezus

Released: June 18th

By: Dequan Huggins

     Controversy! Controversy! Controversy! No other artist caused it this year more than Chicago hip-hop legend Kanye West. After a lack luster performance on his record label compilation Cruel Summer, Kanye looked to shake the world up again with his latest project entitled Yeezus. Struggling to get a fair chance in the fashion world, Kanye took his frustrations out musically making an album that’s as aggressive and confrontational as the emcee has ever made.

Always looking to challenge the conventional ways of urban culture, Yeezus doesn’t receive the same polished production or song structure that your typical Kanye West album would provide. Soul is replaced with new wave electronica, and with the help of electronic music legends, Daft Punk, Kanye makes his most adventurous and futuristic produced album to date. From the distortion of “On Sight” that channels frustration to the beautiful emotive string section of “Guilt Trip” Yeezus forces you to feel something. A loud scream in the middle of a track to help to create the visual of how frustrated Kanye is? Sure, why not? The Chicagoain abandons your typical 16 bar raps opting for longer verses  and complimentary flows to help get points across making the most detailed and non-traditional structured album of the year.

Traditional hip-hop purists, who put entirely too much stock into lyricism, have criticized Kanye for seeming to abandon his attention to lyrics. The metaphors are removed but Kanye uses a new vehicle to arrive at the point, a vehicle that takes him there directly. Instead of finding a way to cleverly disguise his understanding of racist behavior in the corporate world he gets straight to the point on “New Slaves” with “You see it’s broke nigga racism that’s that “Don’t touch anything in the store”/And its rich nigga racism that’s that “Come in, please buy more.” Emotion is the most important aspect of a rap song and Kanye has not lost sight of that.

Kanye is one the most influential artist of any genre of music. That’s what it makes it so great that he would take so many risks on this album. Yeezus challenges you and makes you feel uncomfortable at times but its all to help continue the culture. On surface a song like “I Am a God” seems like another “look at me” moment from this pompous asshole, and it may be. With a song titled that reeks of blasphemy some fans have criticized Ye for even trying to make a song with such a bold claim. However! Kanye is a spiritual man and is completely aware of the verse Psalms 82:6 that states, “I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.” Continuing his album of gumption, Kanye with “Blood on the Leaves.” Flipping a very sensitive Billie Holiday/Nina Simone song about the hanging of slaves. Although Kanye’s version of the song deals with past relationships he is able to draw parallels about the demise of their relationship.

Being inspired by visionaries like Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, and Ralph Lauren Kanye has to understand that not everyone will see your vision at inception. Time will only tell if the risk of Yeezus will pay off for Kanye. Sometimes art that is bold and daring can rub people the wrong way and West seems to be okay with that. Yeezus in no means a perfect album but it may very well be the idea that will spark the creation of something perfect.

Favorite Songs: New Slaves, Black Skinhead, I Am a God

Weakest Song: Bound 2 (Come on guys that song has no place on this album)