Nick Hakim- Green Twins- It is rare that such a broad range of influences and genres culminate into such a cohesive and solid album, but Nick Hakim manages to do it. Born in D.C., Hakim was inspired by the music of his parents: Marvin Gaye, The Clash, and even South American folk music. The result is a jazz album with plenty of modern twists to be approachable by new listeners. His control and confidence when it comes to each note is powerful, and the uniqueness of this project makes it stand above many similar soulful jazz projects that came out this year. This is an album that you can listen to by the fireplace in your cozy robe and slippers while you read a book, but be careful that the warm chords and lyrics don’t have you dozing off (in a good way).
Vince Staples- Big Fish Theory- On his sophomore album, Vince is as clever as ever and continues to release progressive and unconventional music while still appealing to the masses. This whole album seems more accessible than his previous work Summertime ‘06, with a focus on “summer club like” bangers “BagBak”, “Big Fish”, and “745”. These songs and more leave listeners with thoughts on fame’s corrupting influence from a rising rap star who understands his reach and the limits of his celebrity. A standout track is “Yeah Right” where Vince and Kendrick Lamar question how famous and rich some rappers really are. Staples deserves a larger following, and new listeners should find this album to be an entry point into an already rich discography.
Tyler, the Creator- Flower Boy- This is easily one of the Prep News’ favorite albums of the year already, but it deserves a second look due to its Best Rap Album of the Year nomination. The 26 year-old LA based rapper said, “I think it would be tight if I won [the Grammy], just because it’s something different. And it’s no one speaking for that—those people… The “me’s” rarely is up there. I know if I win something, they’ll feel like they won something. I just think, I think it’s time.” l I can’t recall an album in recent years that is as accessible as it is thought-provoking and honest. Tyler produces the entire album, and while he can still craft off-beat bangers such as Who Dat Boy or Ain’t Got Time, the main tracks on display are the introspective songs that can still get a crowd moving. This is the album that Tyler was trying to make his entire career, and it’s his best yet.
King Krule- The OOZ- The third album from the London-based singer-songwriter is his moodiest and darkest yet, switching up his relaxed guitar playing from his 2013 work, “6 Feet Beneath the Moon,” for punk rock, tender jazz, and RnB-like poetry. If it sounds a little broad and unfocused, it is. This 19-track album tends to feature something akin to “musical sketches” rather than focused songs. King Krule keeps a breakup the central theme of the album as he blurs genres together with his crooning voice and raw emotion. Songs like “Dum Surfer” and “Half Man Half Shark” are similar to the raw, powerful tracks on his last album, while tracks like “Logos” and “Czech One” are ambient and sound improvised, almost as if he is “wandering” through his music. If you are new to King Krule, I would suggest starting with his last album, “6 Feet Beneath the Moon,” before tackling “The OOZ.”
Kendrick Lamar- DAMN.- Many know Kendrick Lamar as a fantastic concept artist, able to weave narratives with fantastic beats to create meaningful and fun albums. DAMN, Lamar’s 4th album, is a breath of fresh air that continues to break ground in storytelling. 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly was heavily layered with jazzy instrumentals and complex storytelling. If TPAB was a grand, political and spoken-word/rap odyssey, DAMN is a conventional but rich rap album. It is not as sonically or topically cohesive as his previous work. However, it seems more fun and relaxed, despite the subject matter is still very serious. Songs such as the punchy “DNA” and the even more political “XXX” are classic Kendrick, but “HUMBLE” comes out strong as a certified banger. A U2 feature would seem out of place, but this along with features from Rihanna and Zacari mesh well and add to their respective tracks. Kendrick’s, or “Kung-Fu Kenny’s”, subjectivity is on full display on this album. It’s a balancing act, between fate and destiny and the different perspectives Kendrick could have had. The album ends with a gunshot, and this serves as a stark reminder of all the “Kendricks” that could have been; the people that did end up dying through coincidence. This ending leaves listeners with a satisfying conclusion but leaves them thinking, as it rewinds to the intro track “BLOOD” and provides powerful and rich ideas about Kendrick’s idea of the human condition.