Childish Gambino — “Awaken, My Love!”
Donald Glover transcends all labels: he’s not a producer, writer, actor, comedian, rapper or singer.
He’s an artistic genius whose endless assortment of talents needs to be taken seriously.
(And I’m not giving such high praise to Glover simply because his latest album’s release fell on my birthday, Dec. 2… OK, that does play a partial role in it.)
Throughout Glover’s stint as “Childish Gambino,” his evolution and maturation as an artist has been prevalent, with his early, exuberant raps giving way to softer pop/R&B performances and ultimately, the incredible collection of folk, rock and soul in “Awaken, My Love!”
At first disappointed over Glover’s album not containing rap, I soon turned to loving the musical complexity within it.
With the recent birth of Glover’s son, the album holds a central theme regarding love toward his baby boy and the mother of the child.
Clear influence is drawn from artists of the 70s and 80s, with “Awaken, My Love!” mirroring various aspects of funk group Funkadelic’s album, “Maggot Brain," including similar instrumentals, song titles and even album art.
(Honestly, this album is like the lovechild of George Clinton and Prince, with elements of their musical mastery present in Glover’s attempt at reviving old styles.)
Glover’s incredible vocal range is shown off in various songs, especially the opening track, “Me and Your Mama,” where he transitions from falsetto pitches to violent cries as he describes the conflicting relationship with his lover. Elements of funk are present in “Have Some Love,” “Boogieman” and “Riot,” and “California” even carries a beachy tune. Beautiful instrumentals and soulful lyrics make “Baby Boy” and “Stand Tall” worth listening to over and over, and “Redbone” is straight up baby-making music.
(Is it OK to describe a song as baby-making music? Well I just did.)
Glover’s masterpiece is unquestionably my favorite from December, and is 100 percent worth a listen.
Post Malone — “Stoney”
“Stoney” was a pleasant surprise to me.
Post Malone’s debut album — which dropped on Dec. 9 — impresses all with an unexpected range of talent, as the “White Iverson” rapper shows his skills in rapping, singing and even guitar.
It’s difficult to pinpoint what genre his 18-song project represents — although he’s rap-first, Post Malone maneuvers his album through touches of folk rock, country, pop and hip hop. His music expresses an array of emotions — including the extreme highs (both literal and figurative) and intimate lows — that comes with his celebrity.
Overall, the 21-year-old’s debut was a hit, as it gave listeners a refreshing style that was perfect to chill to (it is called “Stoney” for a reason, you know).
J. Cole — “4 Your Eyez Only”
Released on Dec. 9, J. Cole’s fourth studio album offers a more nuanced style than his past works. “4 Your Eyez Only” shares the tragic story of J. Cole’s childhood friend, with the 10 tracks taking the listener down the journey that details his friend’s life. Struggling with a gang mentality, the friend escapes the drug trade, falling in love and settling down — all before an untimely death.
J. Cole’s standing among rap fans is shaky. Naysayers point to his past moments of lyrical ineptitude in songs like “Dollar and a Dream III,” where he proudly boasts the sophomoric line, “I let you feel like you the shit, but boy you can’t out-fart me.” His supporters, however, point to Cole’s more serious works, such as “Breakdown,” “Love Yourz,” and “Runaway,” as signs of the artist’s ability as a lyricist (and, of course, let’s not forget the fact that J. Cole’s “2014 Forest Hills Drive” went double platinum with no features).
J. Cole instead operates “4 Your Eyez Only” in a truly sincere and deeper level than in the past, enabling the songs to showcase the evolving attitudes shared within himself and his lost friend.
For both Cole and his friend, it was the maturation that followed love and fatherhood that lead to the understanding of what it means to be “real,” and the final track (which shares the same title as the album) concludes a touching tribute to his dear friend.
Gucci Mane – “The Return of East Atlanta Santa”
Before the Dec. 16 release of Guwop’s latest album, I only knew a few things about him:
1. He had a tattoo of an ice cream cone on his face.
2. Gucci loves to say “burr.” He says it a lot. (Like, a lot a lot.)
3. He spent time in prison, in which he was able to lose a noticeable amount of weight.
4. Because of this transformation behind bars, some fans believe that he’s actually a clone created by the CIA, with the real Gucci being cast aside in the dark depths of some unknown prison. (Yeah, I know.)
5. The man likes drugs.
Truth be told, “The Return of East Atlanta Santa” was my first time listening to any music from the Atlanta rapper. Here’s what I learned:
1. “East Atlanta Santa” is a dope nickname and you can’t deny it.
2. Opening his December album with “St. Brick Intro” was smart — especially by incorporating a remix of “Jingle Bells”.
3. The man really likes his drugs. His affection for drugs is apparent in “St. Brick Intro," where he raps, “I’m not on no romantic shit / But I’m cookin’ cocaine, candle lit.” To him, there’s nothing more romantic than, let’s just say, partaking in questionable activities under the soft glow of a lit candle. To his credit, that does sound wonderful (the candlelit part, not the making of illegal substances).
Kid Cudi — “Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’”
Scott Mescudi’s latest album, released on Dec. 16, is not short. At all. Not even close.
Covering an expanse of 87 whole minutes (which, somehow, isn’t even his longest project to date), Cudi basks in transcendent beats and rhythms, sharing his familiar melodramatic worldview within his lyrics.
However, despite his usage of incredible beats and various guest performances (Willow Smith, Travis Scott, Pharrell Williams and Andre 3000), Cudi’s 87-minute-long project seems to fall short of the artist’s potential, with the project dabbling in unnecessarily-long side due to Cudi’s prodigal nature.
Throughout “Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’,” Cudi stunts his impressive vocal range — but, in a 19-song project that expands over an hour in runtime, listeners can do without the minutes wasted by nothing but incoherent humming, moaning, breathing and muttering.
For example, “The Guide” — featuring Andre 3000 (in this instance, identified as Andre Benjamin) — is five minutes and six seconds long, which is generally lengthy compared to most songs. A good three or four of those minutes is comprised by nothing but Cudi’s humming and rapid breathing. Andre 3000, acclaimed by many as one of the better rappers to grace the industry, raps for a grand total of… 33 seconds. And the saddest aspect of that song, honestly, is that Andre’s verse is the best part of the song.
Regardless of Cudi’s shortcomings in production, songs such as “Frequency,” “By Design” and “Rose Golden” are great, and the entire project is worth a listen — that is, if you have the time for it.
Jeremih & Chance — “Merry Christmas, Lil’ Mama”
Fans of Chance the Rapper probably believed Christmas came early in the wee hours of the morning on Dec. 22 (I definitely was one of them) with the surprise release of “Merry Christmas, Lil’ Mama,” a nine-song holiday mixtape produced by Chance and Jeremih.
The Chicago duo offer uplifting melodies in “All the Way” and “Chi Town Christmas,” Jeremih’s typical smooth vocals in “Snowed In” and “Joy,” and softer, more somber tones expressed in “The Tragedy.” “Stranger At The Table” showcases Jeremih’s remix of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” singing “Oh baby give me one more chance / To get my shit together.”
With the duo offering a gift to the many fans who endured a pretty sorrowful year, “I Shoulda Left You” serves as an anthem that most people can agree with, with the central message (stated plainly by Jeremih) made clear: “Fuck 2016.”