Although the critically-acclaimed, Nostalgia, Ultra was never released commercially, Francis Ocean made up for it with his major label debut, channel ORANGE. Embodied by a wide variety of music genres including neo-soul (“Sweet Life”), a touch of pop (“Lost”) and a splash of electro-funk (“Monks”), Mr. Ocean pulls off a fully realized work of art. Sorry Bridget Kelly, but the Grammy-nominated “Thinking Bout You” was meant to be recorded by the author. And we couldn’t imagine anyone but Andre 3000 to lend his services to the sultry “Pink Matter.” Still it’s the heart-wrenching “Bad Religion” and the potent “Pyramids” (9:53 minutes and all!) that really kept us fiending for more. Deeper than sexuality, channel ORANGE is captivating and it is never too late to tune in.
Following the success of his Cruel Summer hits (“Mercy”, “Clique”) as well as Meek Mill’s “Burn”, Big Sean cordially invited fans to his hometown with his fourth mixtape, Detroit. The Motor City’s new shining star travels down the road to stardom on the opener “Higher” and depicts his lavish lifestyle over the soulful sounds of Barry White on “How I Feel”. Right on! Sean Don keeps the celebratory tracks intact (“Experimental”, “FFOE”, “Woke Up”) while stacking more than enough bread with French Montana on “Mula”. Things aren’t all boastful though as Big displays his vulnerability and lyrical growth alongside fellow rhyme slingers like Royce Da 5’9″ and Kendrick Lamar (“100″) and J.Cole (“24 Karats Of Gold”). Cohesive and conceptual with skits from Common, Young Jeezy, and Snoop Lion, Detroit feels like a Def Jam album. Take your time with Hall Of Fame cause this collection was heaven sent. Oh God!
Since The Weeknd stepped on the scene in 2011, he’s delivered three critically-acclaimed digital pieces. On his major label debut, Trilogy, he reintroduces himself to the masses by re-releasing them all together commercially and adding three new tracks to close out each chapter. Abel pre-games his nightly affairs on Houses of Balloons before diving into the piano-driven first offering “Twenty Eight”. As Thursday arrives, the love tale continues (“The Birds Part 1 & Part 2″) before he finally professes his heart on the standout, “Valerie”. Echoes Of Silence hits the speakers to close things out. From the impressive ”Dirty Diana” cover on the opener “D.D.” to the deceitful “Till Dawn (Here Comes The Sun)”, Weeknd holds your attention for the emotional two and a half hour ride. And you can’t argue with the results. Since its release in November, Trilogy has already struck gold. Guess the best things in life really do come in threes.
Meek Mill continued his quest for more on the second installment of his Dreamchasers mixtape series. He kickstarts the project with The Fugees remake “Ready Or Not”. Then he reflects on his troubled past (“Use To Be”) before turning his fantasies into reality (“Big Dreams”). Even if the District Attorney didn’t approve of “The Ride”, his testimony was sincere. Production was clutch thanks to Jahlil Beats (“Flexing”), Cardiak (“Lean Wit It”) and The Beat Bully (“Intro”). Guests came in bundles (“Face Down”, “Racked Up Shawty”, and “House Party (Remix0″), but it was noteworthy collabos with Big Sean (“Burn”), Drake (“Amen”), and Kendrick (“A1 Everything”) that galvanized the anticipation of his official debut, Dreams & Nightmares. Helluva step up.
Ne-Yo’s isn’t satisfied with the state of R&B. He said so himself. But instead of being bitter, he took himself to task and released last year’s delight, R.E.D. Honesty is the best policy. And Ne-Yo shows his vulnerability with “Cracks in Mr. Perfect” before segueing into the baby maker “Lazy Love”. Compatibility seems to be a reoccurring theme throughout R.E.D. He seeks for his better half on (“Be The One”, “Miss Right”) and with Wiz Khalifa as a wingman, he finds his perfect match on “Don’t Make Em Like You”. But things aren’t always peachy and “Carry On (Her Letter To Him)” makes breaking up hard to do. Hate to say it, but if it takes bad R&B to inspire Ne-Yo, he should see RED more often.
Number four should’ve been number one to me. In case there was any doubt, BFK solidifies Freddie Gibbs place as one of the game’s coldest spitters. From the opening bell, he commands our attention with a multi-layered flow (“BFK”). Throughout the tape, Gibbs uses his voice to his advantage. He manipulates his baritone on ”Money, Clothes, Hoes” and gets back to business on cuts like ”Hard” and “Kush Cloud”. He understands melody (“Stay Down”) and the importance of sharing the spotlight alongside a respected artist like Z-Ro (“Boxframe Cadillac (’83)”). On the production front, Statik Selektah supplies Gibbs with the soundbed for “Krazy”. The track is Gibbs at his best with machine gun funk and mind numbing wordplay. As long as the Baby Face Killa’s on the prowl, competition ain’t safe.
Brandy’s sitting on top of the world again. On her sixth album Two Eleven, Ray J’s older sis seeks and finds love in all the right places. She turns surreal moments into “Wildest Dreams” and emits Graduate-eseque cool on “Slower”. After nearly 20 years in the game, Brandy’s pipes show no signs of patina. Her power ballads are strong (“No Such Thing as Too Late”) while capturing just the right amount of emotion (“Do You Know What You Have?” ). She even gave something radio could enjoy (Chris Brown-featured “Put It Down”) without sacrificing integrity. Two Eleven gets two thumbs up.
When it comes free music on the Internet, Wiz Khalifa sure knows how to package it. Dubbed after his place of higher learning, Cameron turned his tenth mixtape, Taylor Allderdice in and walked away with an A+. In signature fashion, Wiz blows his smoke (“T.A.P.”) and gloats about fame (“Blindfold”) throughout the 18 tracks. TGOD kept his regular beatmakers on-board and he’s rewarded with refreshing production from the likes of Cardo (“California”), ID Labs (“Amber Ice”) and Big Jerm (Smoke DZA-featured “Rowland”). Wiz goes mostly for dolo on Allderdice but there are a few outside guests excluding the Taylor Gang fam (Juicy J, Chevy Woods, Lola Monroe). Wifey Amber Rose and the Bawse Rick Ross help pull off the odd pairing on ”Never Been Pt. 2″. Still in the mood? Light up with the smoker’s anthem “Mary 3x” and mind travel to a place you can only dream about. Sure beats being a nigga sitting in coach.
As you can see, this King is remembered in time more in the mixtape category. Maybe it’s because the Mississippi heavyweight is allowed to remain in his comfort zone. Armed with complete creative control, K.R.I.T. mans his own production and doesn’t hesitate penning his passion. Mr. Scott displays his vocals on the hook of the soothing opener “Wake Up Saxaphone” and joy rides over the UGK influence-sounding “Me & My Old School.” K.R.I.T. kicks it into high gear on the reflectful “1986″ and turns it up until the knob breaks on the soulful title track. On a serious note, the Def Jam artist addresses his label on “Handwritten”, tackles relationships on “Red Eye”, remembers lost loved ones on “Yesterday”, and shares motivation on the inspiring “Boobie Miles”. Southern hospitality at its finest.
Safe to say, New York Rap wasn’t in the greatest state in 2012. But coming through around Thanksgiving was Fabolous, one of our city’s most consistent spitters who surprised us with a strong sequel. Shit, Soul Tape 2 ain’t no turkey. Loso sets the tone and sounds inspired on the intro “Transformation”. He schools the ladies on “For The Love” and smooths things out on the St. Elmo’s Fire theme-sampled smoke break “We Get High”. Along with Pusha T, he explains how “Life Is So Exciting” and rejects the greedy gold diggers with J.Cole on “Louis Vuitton.” But what also really stands out here is Fab’s clever takes on Usher’s “Throwback” (“Want You Back” with more of Joe Budden’s Tahiry raps) and Rick Ross “Diced Pineapples” (featuring Trey Songz and Cassie). Guess the Big Apple still got something to believe in after all.