Within popular music, for casual and devoted fans alike, it’s been hard to think of any music outside of Drake and Kendrick Lamar the past few months. Those two pillars have so commanded our attention that those deserving who would otherwise receive critical praise, have gone under the radar. Now that the dust is settled—though DAMN. remains in heavy rotation—these are the records you should catch up on.
Joey Bada$$—ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$
This article, admittedly, germinated from something Joey Bada$$ tweeted recently. His record ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ dropped a week prior to Kendrick Lamar’s punch-you-in-the-mouth exorcism DAMN. and didn’t receive the attention it rightly deserved.
I don’t believe Joey when he says he’s not referring to his record. That additional tweet seems more of a savvy PR move than honest admission. Regardless of sentiment, Joey is correct: the attention span of current music culture rings of ADHD, as fans obsess over anticipation of new music than the new music itself. Which is a shame because Joey’s album is 100 percent worth your time. It carries this duality of pain and healing, melodic and bust-your-face boom bap, singing and rapping, decent hooks and better bars. ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ is the type of rap album every conservative hip hop head shouts is missing from the culture. “What’s freedom to you? / Let’s talk about it, take a minute, think it through” are Joey’s first raps from the record. You’d be wise to listen.
The only cultural comparison I can make regarding Thundercat’s funky, delirious Drunk is the cartoon strip Calvin & Hobbes. Masterpieces in mashing the tragedy and comedy of simply being alive, and blending them together into an abstract oil painting full of juvenile humor. “I feel weird,” Thundercat wails throughout this record, full of misfit soul that will make you want to dance and cry at the same time. Thundercat’s tender falsetto quavers, drawing listeners ever closer to him, and he’s liable to whisper a secret or a fart joke, sometimes both at the same time. Drunk is majestic absurdity, and a new anthem for all the weirdos out there like myself.
Maggie Rogers—Now That the Light is Fading
The Maggie Rogers discovery story doesn’t require repeating but in case you’re somehow unaware: Last year, Maggie Rogers played her ethereal folk single “Alaska” during an NYU masterclass, and it made Pharrell cry. There’s more to the story, but Maggie’s EP, which I adore, never reminds me of Pharrell. Now That the Light is Fading instead reminds me of Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago, that seminal aching album that launched Bon Iver into stardom and Kanye West’s inner circle.
For Emma, Forever Ago’s legend derives from Bon Iver’s retreat into a Wisconsin cabin, ripping himself apart with just a guitar and his voice, then assembling it back together again. That record always places you inside that cabin: you feel the draft creeping in and that moody isolation cold winters can deliver. Rogers’ EP situates inside place, too, though her songs sounds like homes she’s building for herself. She accomplishes this in a track like “Alaska,” by including original samples, like found conversations in a Morocco marketplace or finger snaps. You feel like you’re right where Maggie Rogers is; through her records, she transforms the figurative into the physical.
Talib Kweli & Styles P—The Seven
If you’re not about bars, about that pure rap shit, this project isn’t for you. This joint EP from Talib Kweli and Styles P is lyrical warfare, full of fiery lyrics and grizzled MC knowledge. Kweli and Ghost both have tons to push off their chests. “Welcome to the conscious of the nation on hard beats,” Kweli raps to establish the tone of the project. He’s not wrong either: The Seven features the best production Kweli and Styles P have rhymed over in some time. This a project that proves rap isn’t dead, but alive and well.
What has been missing in pop culture for the past decade or so, undoubtedly, is youthful ennui. Teens and 20-somethings operating from left of center and speaking on adolescent anxieties of facing the world and falling in love. Web culture subsumed this perspective, but it’s returning lately, as it does here on Khalid’s American Teen and also last year with Kevin Abstract’s American Boyfriend: A Suburban Love Story. Both possess subversive pop instincts, though Abstract leans heavier into the hip hop world. Khalid sings from a more traditional forlorn teen perspective (he’s only 19), though his raspy croon can shrink and soar within a powerful moment’s notice.
He, along with Abstract, also confront techno worries of disconnect and discontent. Khalid’s breakthrough single “Location” begs a possible lover to “Send me your location”—i.e. drop a pin to his phone—and “I don’t want to fall in love off of subtweets,” sentiments only recognizable to those who’ve grown and loved in this digital era. It might remind you of a John Hughes movie, except with Uber and Snapchat.
Since seeing Rag’n’Bone Man at South by Southwest, I can’t stop referring him to anyone who will listen. He produces great pop music that doesn’t feel trite or manufactured, but weary and world-worn. He is like a cross between Adele and Ed Sheeran, except if that baby had a giant beard and swigged rum like a sailor. Remember all those noire-drenched bar scenes in True Detective season 2, where hopeless drunk Colin Farrell met with whomever and it was all moody and somber. Rag’n’Bone Man sings in that bar, except it’s incredible. That and he’s multi-generation, as in you could tell your parents about this guy and they’d love him as much as you did. In fact, you should do that. Call your mom—now.