Category Archives: Reviews

Favorite Albums of 2016 List

Back at it again with my favorite Hip Hop & R&B albums list.  Here are 15 projects that dropped in 2016 and remain in my current rotation.

Kendrick Lamar – untitled, unmastered

Unpolished and unapologetic, Kendrick Lamar‘s To Pimp a Butterfly scraps are auditory gems that continue to bring much-needed awareness to social injustice.

NxWorries – Yes Lawd

Anderson Paak and Knxwledge team up as NxWorries to deliver a highly enjoybale fusion of playboy persona with throwback Soul teeming with violins, horns and bass.

Kanye West The Life of Pablo

Hate him or love him, Kanye proves unpredictable yet again by taking elements of Gospel, House and Soul to create a first-rate album that integrates elements of the old Ye.

A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from here….Thank You 4 Your Service

Hip Hop legends reunite with vocals from the late Phife Dawg to create a modernized 90s masterpiece that now boasts the largest gap between No. 1 albums in Hip Hop history.

YG – Still Brazy

YG continues to represent his West Coast roots to the fullest with another project that showcases his vivid autobiographical storytelling skills along with G-Funk-inspired beats.

Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love!

An ode to acts like Funkadelic and Bootsy Collins, Childish ditches rap for a titillating 1970s psychedelic experience dripping with Soul and nostalgia.

Frank Ocean – Blond
After a four year hiatus, Frank returns with heartfelt lyrics that meld perfectly with otherworldly instrumentation comprised of guitars, organs and piano.

Mac Miller – The Divine Feminine 

Jazzy and enlightened, Mac Miller displays evident maturation celebrating love over sensual R&B instrumentation that sounds light years ahead of his previous work.

Chance The Rapper – Coloring Book

Filled with glory and praise, Chance‘s Coloring Book is dedicated to uplifting listeners in the style of church and Gospel that Kanye touched on with TLOP.

Kid Cudi – Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’ 

Kid Cudi revisits his early intergalactic style rapping his innermost feelings during a tumultuous year and reminds peers who originated much of Hip Hop’s current melodic sound.

Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition

The dynamic and unmistakable Danny Brown fearlessly compiles a vast range of out of the box beats and unabashedly raps over them with animated ease.

Solange – A Seat at the Table

Solange steps out with a beautifully empowering and transparent outlook on femininity and black pride expressed through airy ballads and minimalist production.

Travis Scott – Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight

Travis returns with another nighttime soundtrack filled with trance-like chants that will be easily be embedded in the listener’s consciousness upon first listening.

Rihanna – Anti

With countless hits under her belt, Rihanna details love, causal relationships and break ups to makeups in a cool and sexy way only she knows how.

ScHoolboy Q – Blank Face  LP 

Ominous and honest, Q delves into his past life as a Hoover Crip with OG cameos like E-40 and The Dogg Pound while simultaneously continuing TDE‘s current reign.

 

Concert Review: Lupe Fiasco – Tour For The Fans Show 1/18

lupefiascoSurprises and memorable moments were definitely in store for the hundreds of Lupe Fiasco devotees that filled Hollywood’s Fonda Theatre Monday night.  The Chicago rapper not only catered to the fans by performing a dazzling mix of his most beloved material, but he also unexpectedly made a guest appearance joining opener Billy Blue for “Chopper”  before his actual set began.

After standing through a melodic set from Boy Illinois, Lupe greeted the audience as he stood in front of a 1940s style microphone before opening with the poetic “Mural.” More material off of his latest album, Tetsuo & Youth, was performed including “Little Death” (with Nikki Jean and a live trumpet player), “Dots and Lines” and “Prisoner 1.”

The DJ soon cued a plethora of audio snippets of journalists and admirers naming their favorite Lupe songs.  As each one was cited, cheers ensued as he executed the first verse of each track with vigor and enthusiasm.  Album cuts dated all the way back to his first two albums (“The Coolest,” “American Terrorist,” “Hurt Me Soul,” “Go Go Gadget Flow”) and his well-known singles (“Daydreaming,”, “Paris, Tokyo,” “Superstar,” “Kick, Push”) were met with hardcore fans rapping along bar for bar.

Halfway through his performance, the beat for his freshly released track “Next To It” featuring Ty Dolla $ign dropped.  Like clockwork, the R&B crooner lit up the venue as he jumped on stage to sing its hook and also treated the crowd to a taste of his hit “Blasé.”

Perhaps even more surprising was the fact that Lu did his breakthrough “Touch the Sky” verse and unselfishly performed songs off Lasers, an album he has notoriously despised so much that he attempted to destroy every copy in existence.

As he closed with “The Show Goes On” and revealed that he added his LA tour date last minute, fans left more than satisfied and reminded of how Lupe’s decade-deep discography has stood the test of time.

Concert Review: Tyler, The Creator – Christmas Show 12/13

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After coppping GOLF merch and filing into hidden Orange County gem, The Observatory, fans escaped the cold with a rare late night appearance by former Odd Future frontman, Tyler, The Creator.  “It’s passed my bedtime and shit. Half of y’all got school tomorrow,” he announced around midnight.

As hands vigorously strummed air guitars on the screen behind him, he engaged in a performance of “Deathcamp” so explosive, he had to take a moment to catch his breath and admitted to almost fainting as he peeled off two jackets.  He kept the audience riled up delving into well-known cult classics “Tron Cat,” “Sam (Is Dead),” and “Domo 23,” but also mellowed things out with “Bimmer,” “She” and “IFHY” as the vibrant music video played in the background.

Light on his new material, the most notable track performed off of Cherry Bomb was “Smuckers” due to a richly orchestrated intro not heard on the album.  Between beatboxing into “Jamba” and berating the audience for requesting “Bitch Suck Dick,” he was handed a ring of lost keys and a license.  After reading the name on the ID and finally locating its owner, he proclaimed, “You irresponsible. You need to learn a lesson,” before thrusting it back into the endless abyss of people.

Taking a moment to acknowledge Jasper Dolphin‘s birthday, the audience sang to him before begging him to do a celebratory backflip.  The unexpected highlight of the show was during “Yonkers” when tourmate A$AP Rocky stepped out to make a cameo chanting “Golf Wang” as admirers shrieked with delight.

Closing with the bass-heavy “Tamale,” Tyler caused an all-out frenzy until Taco cued “Keep Da O’s” from the DJ booth.  After revealing he’d be taking a hiatus from performing, he wished the crowd a “beautiful fuckin’ Christmas” and walked off shirtless in his trademark Vans.

Album Review: Tyler, The Creator – Cherry Bomb

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After a four month hiatus on social media, Tyler, The Creator dropped his latest effort, Cherry Bomb, with one thing in mind: a tweet.  An observer commented that Tyler’s music sounded nothing like any of the musicians he listened to, and it apparently struck a powerful chord with the multifaceted artist.  Well-known for his cartoonish personality and violent rhymes, the Odd Future leader offered no inkling of his broad taste in music including acts like Stereolab, Nas and Marvin Gaye.

Though the self-taught producer displayed growth on 2013’s WOLF both sonically and lyrically, his production on Cherry Bomb easily trumps his vintage sound often composed of simple synths and snares.

After engaging in sessions with film composer, Hans Zimmer, his advanced skill set is noticeable as he layers elaborate instrumentation in the project’s opener.  “Deathcamp” contains hard bass, hammering guitars and intermittent screams as he pays homage to Rock god Iggy Pop and N.E.R.D.  The mellow sequel to “Bimmer,” “2Seater” contains pianos, organs, saxophones and orchestral violins that help detail a romantic drive with his girl before the beat switches into the whimsical “Hairblows.”

He dodges jailbait on “Fucking Young” (a likely nod to Pharrell‘s “Young Girl”) accompanied by Moog synthesizers fit for the legendary Stevie Wonder.  “‘Cause girl you’re perfect, but you’re too fucking young/And when temptation calls my phone, I never pick up,” Charlie Wilson croons.  “Keep Da O’s” with the aforementioned Skateboard P starts off as intense and piercing, yet somehow evolves into a slow Doo Wop beat that sounds influenced by The Flamingos.

A far cry from his earlier lyrics, “Kill People, Burn Shit,  Fuck School,” Tyler’s new thematic incantation, “Find Your Wings” aims to inspire his listeners similar to the way Pharrell’s “You Can Do It Too” spoke to him in his early years. The song is dedicated to discovering and pursuing one’s passion with lyrics like, “The sky’s your home, there’s no limit, you know you gotta/Find your wings.”  He harmonizes with frequent collaborator, Kali Uchis, over the beautifully serene Jazz track complete with xylophones and a feature from Roy Ayers.

Crowd favorite “Smuckers” is accompanied by Lil’ Wayne and Kanye West over a brassy beat, and he warns his audience about the glamorization of gang life with ScHoolboy Q and Toro y Moi on the brief, but pungent “Run.”  “Lies what they got on their plate, they gon eat you/They got a homie called Karma, he gon meet you,” he delivers rapidly.

The mixing on the album, however, has its flaws with vocals falling victim to the thundering production at times.  As a fan of raw and unpolished tracks (see last year’s “Diaper“), listeners are left struggling to discern lyrics as the bass heavy and Yeezus-like synths pulse over the chaotic title track.  The outcome, however, still manages to be both melodic and well-suited for his Punk-like performances.

Following the script-like album trilogy centered around a love triangle, Cherry Bomb seems to hint at Tyler’s upcoming film debut, WOLF, which was announced in 2013 after he shared the colorful trailer via Twitter. The end of the lust-driven “Blow My Load” contains a GOLF Radio contest giving away tickets to a triple feature movie with a censored one-syllable title.  A skit reveals him killing time before a film begins at Moon Theatres, and the album ends with the line, “It’s about to start,” as the unworldly “OKAGA, CA” laced with vocals from Leon Ware singing, “Let’s got the Moon,” comes to a close.  His stunning visuals for “Fucking Young” also incorporate cinema scenes and a large Moon Theatres marquee (4:41 mark).

A well-executed fusion of musical genres, Cherry Bomb, shows exceptional maturation, remarkable range and fearlessness choosing to harmonize instead of rap on multiple tracks.  It dazzles with its rich production, few samples and upbeat content that may leave hardcore fans yearning for Tyler’s trademark angst, but could potentially land him more album placements.  At 24, Tyler’s startling progression in a two year time frame has already surpassed some of his predecessors’ beat making techniques, and it will be utterly intriguing to witness how advanced his artistry will eventually become.

Album Review: Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

Kendrick Lamar kept a journal the week good kid, m.A.A.d city was released with the intention of remembering how he felt or what it was like to go back to his hometown of Compton.  His sophomore album, To Pimp a Butterfly, seems to expound upon the innermost thoughts likely penned in its pages and delivers it in rare form: honestly, aggressively and fervently.

Like his lauded debut album, he vividly paints cinematic scenes that can only be fully grasped by digesting the work sequentially, but instead of detailing his redemption from street life and sin, he exposes painful battles with temptation, self-love and celebrity.

Throughout the self-confessed roller coaster of emotions, K Dot expresses his wrath towards social inequality (“Hood Politics“) and the criminalization of Black males on the jarring “The Blacker the Berry” that would make artists like Dead Prez, Public Enemy and N.W.A. proud. “You hate me don’t you?/You hate my people, your plan is to terminate my culture,” he shouts jeeringly.

As the “biggest hypocrite of 2015,” the latter two tracks are juxtaposed by songs like the ethnicity embracing “Complexion” with Rapsody and the uplifting “Alright.”  Amidst the unforeseen conversation with God on “How Much a Dollar Cost” and the evils of Lucy (Lucifer) that surround him on “For Sale?,” Kendrick manages to find solace in the joyous live version of “i” while proceeding to break down the true origin of the N word.

Admittedly the most difficult track to record, standout “u” is engulfed in depression as he screams in his hotel room and reflects on relationships that suffered due to his fame.  He despises himself for not being able to veer his younger sister from pregnancy or visit his friend in the hospital before his untimely demise.  “Then he died, God himself will say you fuckin failed/You ain’t try,” he declares nearly shedding tears as he contemplates suicide.

The dramatic range is boundless and the score equally breathtaking. With minimal well-known Hip Hop cameos (sans Pharrell, Snoop and a short speaking role from Dr. Dre), To Pimp a Butterfly’s sound reverts back to his earlier brass-filled tracks like “Rigamortis” & “Hol’ Up.”

Severing all ties to radio and absorbing Miles Davis and Parliament Funkadelic instead, the album’s production is a kaleidoscopic mix of luscious instrumentation provided by bass god Thundercat, in-house producers Terrace Martin and Sounwave, and experimental beatmaker Flying Lotus accompanied by George Clinton (“Wesley’s Theory“).

Despite endless submissions from the industry’s elite producers, Kendrick executed his unrelenting vision.  The result is a rapturous blend of Funky electric guitars, keyboards, Jazzy horns, and strings that belong on the same astral plane ATLiens Outkast descended from.

Released exactly one day after the 20th anniversary of Me Against the World, the album comes to a powerful close with “Mortal Man.”  The listener learns that the gradual revelation of a metaphorical poem pertaining to the project’s title is being shared with his late mentor, Tupac Shakur, who encouraged Kendrick to continue his legacy in a dream.  The two discuss the current generation’s future, which Pac believes is “gonna be like Nat Turner, 1831.”

In a time where police officers still evade castigation for police brutality, Kendrick fearlessly carries the West Coast torch spreading Pac’s burning message of explicit Black pride, justice and revolution.

Whether it’s his conscience, social responsibility, or an epiphany he experienced while speaking to fans pondering suicide that led him to create such a complex and thought provoking masterpiece, one can simply hope that Kendrick will continue to compose projects that will not only spark stimulating conversations, but spawn change among the masses.

Top 10 Favorite Albums of 2014 List

It’s that time again.  The following list includes my personal favorite Hip Hop & R&B albums of 2014.

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Schoolboy Q – Oxymoron – Representing Hoover Street, Q brings West Coast Gangsta Rap on his first major label project with catchy, chant-like hooks and A-list guests. [My Review]

<Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Piñata – Gangsta Gibbs’ gritty lyrics sound exceptional over the raw and standout production Madlib is famous for.

Theophilus London – Vibes – Listen to a melodic and electronic alternative R&B album that boasts executive production from Kanye West and an appearance from Leon Ware.

Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2 – Rapper Killer Mike and producer El-P solidify their impressive chemistry as a duo on their hard-hitting sequel with unorthodox, but satiating beats.

D’Angelo and The Vanguard – Black Messiah – D’Angelo’s much-needed album feasibly addresses political issues and meshes various eras of R&B over upbeat instrumentation.

Big K.R.I.T. – Cadillactica – The self-proclaimed King of the South spits transparent rhymes, and his production manages to surprisingly resemble beats from Outkast’s classic, Aquemini at times.

PRhyme – PRhyme Royce da 5’9″’s raw lyrics over DJ Premier’s exquisite beats create an exceptional 9-track album you’ll need to play multiple times to truly appreciate all of its clever wordplay.

Flying Lotus – You’re Dead! – Experience a Jazz infused death trip accompanied by Kendrick Lamar, Snoop, and Thundercat interspersed among  psychedelic, funky and divine instrumentals.

YG – My Krazy Life – Take a trip  through Bompton with beats that embody the traditional West Coast sound reminiscent of classic acts like early N.W.A. and Tha Dogg Pound.

Pharrell Williams  –  G  I  R  L – Enjoy a feel-good, uplifting album rejoicing femininity from the legendary Pharrell Williams featuring everyone from Daft Punk to Alicia Keys. [My Review]

Pharrell Williams – G I R L Album Review

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As violins composed by frequent collaborator Hans Zimmer open Pharrell Williams’ second solo album, G  I  R  L, the first word that hits the listener’s ears is “different.” It is the quintessential word to describe an artist who has not only turned heads for his unconventional style (audiences are still gawking at his Vivenne Westwood Grammy hat), but also known for founding a company called i am OTHER.

For the past eight years, Pharrell has shied away from the limelight admitting his first LP’s lack of sales and direction left him discouraged. He was content with producing, making occasional features and scoring films (Despicable MeAmazing Spider-Man 2) and the 2012 Oscars with Zimmer.  After producing three of 2013’s hottest singles (“Blurred Lines,” “Get Lucky” and “Happy”), he became Billboard’s poster child.  Columbia Records took notice, and he hesitantly accepted their invitation to get back in the studio as a solo artist.

Announced no more than two weeks prior to its release, G  I  R  L continues the vivacious and warm tone of “Happy,” and it is absolutely contagious.  Embracing strings and chords that recall Disco and Soul grooves of the 70s, its tangible sound serves as a divine awakening from Pop music’s computerized coma. In an era where EDM and Dubstep dominated with its cold and synthetic melodies, Pharrell incorporates a key element that was too often neglected in recent years: instrumentation.

Like the title of his second track with Justin Timberlake, the reappearance of uptempo brass and Nile Rodgers’ riffs fit for The Jackson 5 make the listener feel “Brand New.”  Daft Punk add dimension to the danceable and feel-great “Gust of Wind,” and the guitar solo combined with soft keyboards on “It Girl” is pure ethereal ecstasy.

Now settled down with his wife, Helen Lasichanh, and 5-year old son, Rocket, at age 40, the lyrics on G  I  R  L are a far cry from the lavish life and fancy cars on his first effort, In My Mind. Similar to Beyonce, the album is a love letter to women with the intention of making them feel like they possess a super power. Citing females as “the cornerstone of existence,” he reveres them in songs like, “Lost Queen” and empathizes with them on “Know Who You Are” with songstress Alicia Keys singing, “Bad day, at work, crazy boss, crazy or worse/Finger pointin,’ but they depend on you.”

On the lusty “Come Get It Bae” with Miley Cyrus, he promises to satisfy his lover amidst a lively interpolation of Missy Elliott’s “Pass That Dutch.”  He boasts, “None of them boys know the first thing about your fantasy/And if they tried, they cannot do it just like me.”  He exudes sexual confidence aspiring to make his woman “Gush” as violins that sound like Puffy’s “I Love You, Baby play while he asks if she wants to “get dirty.”

Aside from harmonizing about the opposite sex, he also touches on his fascination with space (“My lucky star/I guess you came from behind the moon”) and praises uniqueness on “Freq,” a hidden track with former Pop princess JoJo. He proclaims the adage he’s always seemed to live by. “You see I’d rather be a freq than not bein’ me/Individuality makes life better.”

After listening to the album’s ten tracks, G  I  R  L, stimulates with it refreshing sound and unexpected star power that was kept as secretive as the creation of the album itself.  Though it instills a frustrating yearning for summer in March and “Happy” sounds awkward between two sexually charged tracks, the album shows a tremendous amount of growth since Pharrell became eminent for The Neptunes’ sound.

Long-time fans will be delighted to hear various motifs from his work like the electric piano on “Señorita,N.E.R.D.’s beloved clavichord and a reference to a 2003 track produced for Busta Rhymes. New fans of all ages will enjoy its universal theme of love and its sophisticated, yet fun production.  Sure to be award-winning, it is a brilliant and much-needed project by the man behind the boards who has created the majority of his masterpieces for everyone but himself.

ScHoolboy Q – Oxymoron Album Review

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Ever since the world got a taste of King Kendrick Lamar’s fiery flow, fans were left hungry counting down the days Schoolboy Q would offer a second helping from Top Dawg Entertainment via Interscope.  Once the home of his major influence, 50 Cent, and Death Row Records, his first major label release not only revives Gangsta Rap, but also carries on the collective’s torch solidifying them as one of the hottest rap dynasties in the game.

Like Get Rich or Die Tryin’, the 27-year-old LA rapper indulges in traditional egotism, hustling and drug use while also raising awareness about the social injustice taking place in impoverished neighborhoods. He raps about his grandmother exposing him to his first gun and his uncle selling his stereo to appease a drug habit, but the key difference is his motivation for doing dirt. He explains the album’s title was inspired by the fact that he had to engage in criminal activity to provide for his daughter. The former Hoover Crip, who once told RESPECT Magazine he hated rapping because it took away time from her, warms the heart by showing love for his four-year-old, Joy, who has appeared in multiple videos, on the album and its cover.

Keeping themes alive from his prior work, Q continues to glorify violence with shoot-em-up statements like, “Liable to drive-by on a summer day/July 4th will be in June,” and partakes in gangbangin’ with Jay Rock on Pharrell’s “Los Awesome.” He paints vivid scenes of the poverty and crime he observed growing up on “Hoover Street” and gets contemplative on the exceptional “Blind Threats” with Raekwon. “Why the ones who commit the worst sins live the best?” he asks on a mellow beat composed of a xylophone and somber strings produced by LordQuest.

On the slowed down “His and Her Friend,” Q addresses his battle with drugs by cleverly personifying Oxy and gets even more personal on “Prescription” where he recounts his dependency on pills. As Joy tries to wake him out of his stupor, he confesses, “Prescription drugs, I fell in love/My little secret, she gon’ kill a thug/My body numb, she like to give me hugs.”

Adding West Coast flavor and paying homage to Gangsta Rap’s origins, he collaborates with Pomona O.G. Suga Free to describe the sordid lifestyle of pimpin’ on “Grooveline Pt. 2.” He gets help from LA legend Kurupt and Tyler, the Creator on standout “The Purge,” but the track is more sonically suitable for an Odd Future mixtape.

Joints dedicated to getting faded like “Hell of a Night,” and the surprisingly suave “Studio” for the ladies with BJ the Chicago Kid balance out the work, but more importantly, give it considerable mass appeal.

Already peaking at the number one spot twice on iTunes, Schoolboy spares no feelings by warning fellow TDE member that he’s ready to steal his crown. On “Break the Bank” he spits, “Tell Kendrick move from the throne, I came for it,” over Alchemist’s production brimming with piano loops that sound like the score to a nightmare sequence.

Described by Q as “not for da insecure” and “darker as a whole,” Oxymoron’s stark tales from the hood linger on production less upbeat than his last album, Habits and Contradictions, and it does not quite match the stature of Kendrick’s good kid, m.A.A.d city. While Oxymoron definitely gratifies with its insightful lyrics and A-List guests, it is difficult to top the impact of listening to Kendrick’s original and captivating narrative for the first time. Fans expecting Q to broaden his standard range may be left hoping for fresh subject matter, but the overwhelming premature praise from both fans and critics alike may just make him a contender for man of the year.

Top 10 Favorite Albums of 2013 List

2013 was one of the best years for music in recent memory.  Here is a list of my personal favorite top 10 albums in no particular order.

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Tyler, the Creator – WOLF

Odd Future leader Tyler displays growth with a more sophisticated effort and an eclectic range of scintillating production. [My Review]

Quadron – Avalance

Coco O’s voice is absolute perfection over the beautifully arranged sultry R&B tracks produced by Robin Hannibal.

Pusha T – My Name Is My Name 

Solid lyrics over dense beats prove the dope boy from The Clipse can stand alone as a respected lyricist.  [My Review ]

M.I.A. – Matangi 

Always one to push the envelope, M.I.A. raps edgy lyrics over fun and upbeat tracks infused with international sounds.

Kanye West – Yeezus

Straying away from anything nearly resembling the current Hip Hop landscape, Kanye’s fearless experimentation shocks and delights at the same time. [My Review]

Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

The meticulously engineered project from the space-age Paris duo is a universally loved mix of dance music.

Thundercat – Apocalypse 

Flying Lotus’ colleague dazzles with Funk-y, yet futuristic basslines and melodic, heartfelt hooks that resonate in the listener’s head.

Earl Sweatshirt – Doris

19-year-old Earl’s long-awaited debut boasts brash and lyrically advanced content over eerily dark beats. [My Review]

Toro y Moi – Anything in Return

Chaz Bundick’s adventurous, yet mellow blend of genres and colorful instrumentation provide feel-good tracks with excellent replay value.

7 Days of Funk (Dam-Funk and Snoopzilla ) – 7 Days of Funk

This well-executed collaboration pays homage to the likes of George Clinton and Bootsy Collins with its retro snyth-heavy grooves.

 

Pusha T – My Name Is My Name Album Review

Pusha T - My Name Is My Name Album Download

Overt egocentricity seems to run rampant within the G.O.O.D. Music family.  As the release date for the frequently delayed My Name Is My Name crept closer, Pusha T held no qualms about prematurely naming it album of the year and boasted, “There is no production in the world that is better than this album.”  Even the almighty Yeezus – who recorded with him in Paris – made a rare exception to evangelize the accomplishments of his colleague during his “Everything is Pusha T” rant at a New York listening session.

Since basking in the limelight with mentor Kanye at the 2010 VMAs, the king of the coke flow has continued to relentlessly fight for respect as a solo artist since rising to fame as one half of the VA duo The Clipse.  With acclaimed verses on “I Don’t Like” and “Mercy” and three mixtapes including Fear of God and Wrath of Caine under his belt, his first studio effort My Name Is My Name easily trumps the aforementioned work.

Comparable to a one-two punch, Pusha commands attention with the ardent opener “King Push” and follows up with the menacing single “Numbers on the Boards.”  On the former, he spits, “This is my time, this is my hour/This is my pain, this is my name, this is my power,” over a haunting drumline with ad-libs that sound borrowed from “New Slaves.” His flow is effortless over the beat (originally credited to friend Joaquin Phoenix) by Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich’s son.

The subsequent track “Hold On” featuring Rick Ross is laced with beautifully somber piano chords, and its immense power immediately strikes the listener.  Pusha reflects on his escape from the drug game and its often inevitable imprisonment on the Kanye and Hudson Mohawke produced track.  “They praying for jail, but I mastered the pen/Descendant from kings, we at it again/Just hand me the crown, I’m active again,” he emotes.  Rozay raps about riches attained with dirty money overnight while professing his loyalty to his partner in crime repeating, “If you slip and you fall, I got you my *igga, hold on.”

“Suicide” featuring Ab-Liva of The Re-Up Gang produced by long-time friend and collaborator Pharrell Williams channels the glory days of Star Trak and sounds like a lost record from The Clipse’s sophomore album, Hell Hath No Fury. Comprised of a brilliant montage of sound effects (including gun spraying), hi-hats and a bassline that knocks particularly hard in the whip, the track is downright threatening.  Not only does it gloat about Pusha’s connects that will eradicate his enemies from existence for a mere $3500, but it also fires subliminal jabs at Drake from rival collective YMCMB.  The man audacious enough to diss Lil’ Wayne brashly declares, “I build mine off fed time and dope lines/You caught steam off headlines and co-signs.”

On “40 Acres,” he discusses his parents’ divorce after 35 years of marriage and co-signs his brother No Malice’s decision to become closer to God saying, “My better half chose the better path, applaud him.”  The juxtaposition of The Dream’s soft, melodic hook accompanied by gentle keys help add range to the album.  On another R&B infused track “Let Me Love You,” Pusha takes a page from Ma$e’s rhyme book and emulates his trademark flow from “What You Want.”  At times, his voice is so uncannily similar to that of the Bad Boy MC one might expect Total to join in on the hook instead of Kelly Rowland.

The outstanding “Nosetalgia” exemplifies Pusha’s lyrical dexterity with clever crack metaphors as he reminisces about hustling over a forbidding Nottz beat that samples BDP’s “The Bridge.”  Perfectly complemented by a verse from Kendrick Lamar, the Compton MC weighs in on the difficulties of witnessing his family caught in the eye of the 80’s drug storm.  The sharp-witted and fiery delivery between the two skilled MCs makes the track almost too hot to handle.

The final song tackles a topic never before addressed in the rap game.  As the record begins with prisoner type chants, snaps and a guitar, the acronym for the title is revealed as Pharrell sings, “I’m Sorry *igga I’m Tryin’ To Come Home.”  The narrative “S.N.I.T.C.H.” is based on an incarcerated friend who once called Pusha announcing it would be their final conversation before divulging specifics to the police to lower his jail time.  “Break your heart when the man you call your brother/Be the same one that setting in motion all them undercovers,” he expresses.  The personal recollection of betrayal adds to its validity and paints a realistic piece that resonates strongly with listeners.

With an accumulation of gritty street tracks, My Name Is My Name definitely delivers. Fans hungry for raw, “unpolished” and “unapologetic” lyrics will be left satiated with solid bars and first-rate production.  Though Pusha’s topic of choice has been slangin’ drugs for over a decade, he still manages to remain remarkably captivating on all 12 tracks.  Unfortunately, only two songs lack features, and the copious amount of guests is simply unnecessary.  Lines pumped with pompousness and the predictable Scarface references may also seem trite and difficult for non-hustling listeners to relate to, but the album will no doubt help Pusha finally rank on hottest MC lists and rap aficionados will continue to praise and play the album til the casket drops.