Mick Jenkins – The Artful Dodger (prod. by Kaytranada & THEMpeople)

Chicago’s son Mick Jenkins regularly delivers us from a wave of mediocrity with releases that distance him from about 98% of music makers today. He seems to be so profoundly in tune with the blend of his voice, message, and production that you could put all of his tracks into a novel and it would read as an unwavering anthem for the betterment of your mind, spirit, and health. With the help of Montreal’s Kaytranada and Chicago’s THEMpeople, whom Mick Jenkins regularly collaborates with, we are lead through a masterful presentation of sound and rhythm that is full of life. Jenkins also nods at Kanye West with lines like “Mercy, Mercy me that Murcielago” and “I’m really just a southside nigga with a Nas flow” paying tribute to one of the greatest to come from this city. Mick Jenkins rarely upsets and with the help of Kaytranada and THEMpeople, he shows us once more why Chicago’s rap scene is nothing to take lightly.

 

Mick Jenkins – The Artful Dodger

BADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah – Sour Soul

2015 is crazy to me, already. With the anticipation of Donnie Trumpet and The Social Experiment’s upcoming release, Surf, as well as the release of Sour Soul, instrumentation in hip-hop seems to be at an all time high. I mean, when’s the last time you were excited for a trumpet players album to be released (even if it also means new Chance the Rapper)? But this direction is a necessary one that I think will lead to more instrumentation on hip-hop records. Kids who have been classically trained in orchestral instruments more and more are taking their talents and utilizing them in popular music. Above all else, albums like these are setting a new standard of concrete musical talent that in contemporary hip-hop.

It’s been a long time since I first stumbled upon BADBADNOTGOOD in an Odd Future forum covering songs off Tyler, the Creator’s debut album “Bastard”. Since then, they’ve worked with Tyler himself and performed with classic rappers like Pharoahe Monch. Now a couple of years into their career, they are releasing a full LP in collaboration with Wu-Tang’s own Ghostface Killah. What’s craziest to me about the young jazz group out of Toronto, Canada is that they’ve managed to connect with all these artists to create something so fresh sounding that I’m not able to compare it to much else. With Sour Soul in particular, BBNG does an unbelievable job of honing in the Wu-Tang sound in their instrumentation and composition while maintaining their own sound, too. Much like how ?uestlove has always sounded like a break beat in his live drum playing, BBNG finds their rhythm song in and song out on this project, at times making you forget that the music behind the lyrics is being played live. In “Gunshowers”, featuring Detroit rapper Elzhi, the production mixed with Ghostface’s signature vocal sound gives an undisputed Quentin Tarantino soundtrack type feel to the song. This could be me subconsciously feeling like this song would’ve fit great in one of the Kill Bill’s soundtracks (that coincidentally were put together by the RZA) but who knows.

And who could forget about Ghostface Killah!? I mean, damn! Dude has been around for over 20 years yet still is finding new talent to collaborate with, still generating hot fire. Whoever put this project together: THANK YOU. Seriously. The union of Ghostface and BBNG is one of those obscure pairings you know will somehow mesh together in an innovative way. With the always illusive DOOM feature, as well as TONS of love going to Midwest artists (including Chicago’s own MC Tree), Ghostface opted to forgo having a lot of big name features on each track, probably as an effort to create something more personal and real while empowering more “underground” artists. The numbers may not always show it, but the appreciation of supporting indie talent is always higher than when the big industry features dominate the album.

Overall, I think the production on Sour Soul blends all of the instrumentation and vocals into one healthy jazzy, hip-hop smoothie I’m already prepared to refill on. Though I’ll always love a solo BADBADNOTGOOD, it’s awesome to see three young talented musicians working with some of hip-hop’s elite players so early on in their careers. Maybe that’s why this album is so appealing to me? The blending of old school with new school to create something inherently greater than it’s parts.

Kali Uchis – Por Vida

The first of several projects coming out in 2015 I have been anticipating for quite some time dropped Tuesday and I couldn’t be more pleased. Columbian starlet Kali Uchis’ Por Vida is a tasteful amount of retro, as well as a healthy dose of modern. With production from Kaytranada, BADBADNOTGOOD, and Tyler, The Creator, Uchis’ blend of spliced beach rock and jazzy drum fills swirl together to create a one-of-a-kind musical soft-serve. In “Rush”, produced by Kaytranada and BADBADNOTGOOD, Uchis singing style is showcased to the fullest while the BADBADNOTGOOD dudes lay out some killer jazz jams and Kaytranada comes in at the end to put his touch on it all. To say I’m satisfied with this release is an understatement. Kali Uchis is a true artist in 2015 with impeccable talent for creating a vibe and a sound that not a lot of other artists seem to be able to get down like she can. Bravo, Kali. Bravo.