A$AP Rocky – “At.Long.Last.A$AP”
Release Date: May 26
I’m a huge fan of Harlem-born rapper A$AP Rocky. The guy has always made consistently great music, merging southern and east coast styles into a melting pot of drugged out, cloud-rap. His music is always the best when it’s distorted and layered into a haze, reflecting the ingested substances rather than simply stating any indulgences. “At.Long.Last.A$AP” is Rocky’s second studio album and it has more in common with his mellow 2011 mixtape “Live.Love.A$AP” than with its commercially successful successor, “Long.Live.A$AP.”
Don’t expect any radio ready bangers along the lines of “Wild for the Night” or “Fuckin’ Problems” on “A.L.L.A.” While there’s plenty of songs with bass heavy beats and lyrics revolving around girls, money and drugs, there’s a soul to this release that gives it an emotionally reflective tone. This inspiration comes from the death of A$AP Rocky’s longtime business partner, A$AP Yams, who died from an accidental overdose in January this year. It makes for some of the best music A$AP Rocky has made in his career, reflecting on death from the point of view of someone wrapped in fame and fortune.
The album, like the rest of Rocky’s catalog, is masterfully curated, featuring heavyweight artists like Kanye West, ScHoolboy Q, M.I.A. and Lil’ Wayne. It’s a busy album, one full of immaculately designed production and crazy good rap verses being thrown around left and right. Rocky’s come a long way as a rapper and he’s finally able to trade bars with the best of them. “At.Long.Last.A$AP” feels like a culmination of everything Rocky’s done in his career so far, working as a tribute to a lost friend and a reminder that he certainly is one of the best in the game.
Recommended Tracks: “Excuse Me,” “Electric Body” and “Wavybone”
Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment – “Surf”
Release Date: May 28
Contrary to initial belief, “Surf” is not the sequel to Chicago rapper Chance the Rapper’s excellent 2013 release “Acid Rap.” Chance is certainly here, rapping better than he ever has, but this is an album from The Social Experiment through and through. That Donnie Trumpet fella credited alongside the band? That’s Nico Segal, a trumpeter and lead of the band which has created one of the most summery and pure-fun “rap” records in sometime. Oh, and it’s completely free on iTunes.
Chance the Rapper is by far the biggest name attached to The Social Experiment group and he’s great, but it’s the features that make this album. Who knew that a song with both a Busta Rhymes and B.o.B feature would sound so great in 2015? But alas, “Slip Slide” is the perfect earworm and both of the rappers give their best performances in years. Big Sean, someone long seen as a joke in the rap world, even comes in with a solid verse on “Wanna Be Cool,” a track with the most Chance the Rapper-y groove ever. The Social Experiment brings the best out of everyone and the music constantly switches gears to fit each feature.
“Surf” is also like the happy-go-lucky successor to Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly,” an album widely considered the year’s best. Similar issues regarding racial equality and social justice are tackled, just in a manner that’s both thoughtful and celebratory. “Surf” isn’t as consistently astounding as “To Pimp a Butterfly” as there’s some filler tracks, but it’s a positive album that comes at a time where we’ve heard enough doom and gloom. This is a wonderfully crafted album that asks important questions while also not dwelling on them enough to ruin a good time.
Recommended Tracks: “Slip Slide,” “Go” and “Something Came to Me”
Hudson Mohawke – Lanterns
Release Date: June 16
UK producer Ross Birchard has been behind the scenes for too long. As Hudson Mohawke, he’s worked with Kanye West and formed TNGHT, a short lived collaboration with fellow producer Lunice that produced an incredible EP back in 2013. It’s crazy to see how much HudMo has done, but it’s even crazier to think that his debut album “Butter” came out six years ago. “Lanterns” is a blend of the trap-music HudMo popularized while also taking his style in a new, pop-oriented direction.
One criticism I can foresee “Lanterns” getting comes from the more pop-focused tracks. To be fair, Hudson Mohawke does not come out swingin’ with “Lanterns.” The weakest tracks are easily the first two pop-oriented tracks, “Very First Breath” and “Warriors.” They’re dull, corny and horribly paced as it really seems like HudMo can’t get the grasp on pop-formula one bit. Don’t let these two songs fool you. The incredibly awesome and soulful “Ryderz” that’s placed before those two songs represents the album far better.
There are two songs on “Lanterns” that elevate the album to a genuinely fantastic level. “Kettles” and “Scud Books” are placed back to back, with the former slowly building to the beautiful insanity of the latter. The transition is perfect and I’m a big sucker for solid transitions, making it pure bliss. The pop-tracks even ramp up their quality as the Miguel featuring “Deepspace” is pure pop mastery. Tracks start filling the album with wonderful insanity, such as the booming “Portraits of Luci,” and it becomes evident that the beginning was really just a test run. “Lanterns” starts out with a wobble, sticks the landing and puts on an eye-raising performance in the process. Stick with “Lanterns” and it rewards generously.
Recommended Tracks: “Scud Books,” “Ryderz” and “Deepspace”