When Jay-Z’s debut album was released in 1996, he wasn’t a newcomer or rookie. He was a 26 year old self-made hustler, trying to get his label off the ground. While Nas and Biggie enjoyed instant success off the release of their highly influential debuts, Reasonable Doubt bided its time and aged like a fine wine, hitting platinum six years after its initial release. Slowly becoming an impactful record in hip-hop.
Hova embodies the rise of a kid from the ghetto, who stays true to his grassroots. If Illmatic and Ready to Die represent the grimy street raps on the hot NYC corner, then Reasonable Doubt represents the air-conditioned, executive business rooms where huge deals are done. Jay-Z’s biggest strengths have always been his wordplay and butter-smooth flow, and each song is unique in its own way while staying true to one core theme: a hustler’s ambition;
VERDICT — A near-perfect hustler’s LP. Jay-Z differentiates himself from his grimy, street-corner NYC counterparts. Showing us an authentic perspective from a businessman; a player; a kingpin; but ultimately, a man filled with as much regrets as clout.
Released during the golden era of hip-hop, Nas’ highly anticipated debut album sent shockwaves all through the music world — that are still felt to this day. From the locomotive roar all the way to “Nas’ raps should be locked in a cell/it ain’t hard to tell”, this album opened the floodgates for a large number of emcees.
Since its release, the LP has etched Nas’ name in stone as “rap’s greatest lyricist” and who in their right mind could argue? Clocking in at a little under 40 mins, Illmatic wasted no time in getting the Queensbridge native’s message to world. Lyrically painting vivid images of growing up in the ghetto and still committing to the hustle. Nas isn’t merely a quiet observer of the harshness around him, but a leader with a voice willing to convert those experiences into a 10-track CD.
We all love that “perfect” album, but to bestow that name upon Illmatic is an understatement. It feels more like a greatest hits collection, recounting an artist’s legendary rise to the top. That is the kind of maturity Nas conveys here, and at the young age of 20, he became the premier face of the industry.
VERDICT — An incredible journey into the heart of Queensbridge, where Nasty Nas perfects the art of storytelling. An unmitigated masterpiece compacted with iconic New York City anthems.
RATING: 10 — ELITE
BEST TRACK: Here’s the thing — they’re all so good!
Ah, the sophomore album. One that can make or break an artist’s career. Tackled with the ordeal of living up to its predecessor’s (good kid, M.A.A.D City) high standard, Kendrick’s intensely personal followup broke all the rules of conventional hip hop. If “good kid, MAAD City” is grandiose and operatic with its statements, then To Pimp a Butterfly is the grimy, ambiguous and subtle counterpart.
Hitting stores in 2015, Kendrick quickly became the talk of the town once more — becoming 2015’s best rapper off of the praise this album received. K. Dot blends a variety of genres ranging from funk, jazz and soul. Each track represents its own individuality, while all merging together to form the same message. To Pimp a Butterfly enlists Dr. Dre as its executive producer, once again overseeing the creation of an excellent, rule-breaking LP that supplants the quintessential sonic of the West Coast.
Its singles, “i“ “The Blacker the Berry”, “King Kunta”, “Alright” and “These Walls” were average commercially, but remain some of the most culturally significant songs of today. A true testament to the drawing power of the album, demanding intellect and patience from its audience in appreciating true art.
VERDICT — Kendrick Lamar backs up his masterful debut album with an equally quality sophomore, that asks questions and answers those who are mesmerised by it.
Future released Ds2 in July 2015, after a nonstop run of mixtapes through 2014 going into 2015. The 18-track LP is a culmination of Future’s autotune-infused legacy. As he explains on the penultimate song (assuming you’ve heard the deluxe version) “Kno the Meaning”: “my hard work finally catchin’ up with perfect timing”; The realest statement on the album, and one that resonates with his current thought process.
Metro Boomin’ is on a huge portion of the album, using Future’s flow as a platform for his bass-heavy trap. They’re frequent collaborators, and Atlanta natives who feed off of each other’s own vision. On the surface, Metro Boomin’ is under Future’s wing due to the decade-old age difference, but both artists are really in the same headspace and have creatively peaked at the same time.
This album transcends your average trap music, on this LP we see Future at his most emotional, self-destructive and versatile. There’s only a single feature on DS2. Future once again restricts who spits bars with him. That person who was granted permission to collaborate with him… Drake, who would eventually go on to ride a huge wave of momentum towards the backend of that year. Jumping on one of the most successful singles of 2015, “Where Ya At”: a wonderful precursor to their mixtape “What a Time to Be Alive”.
VERDICT — Barrier-breaking, unrelenting and versatile. This is Future at his most personal and self-destructive. Crafting arguably his greatest work to date and a true benchmark in trap music.
RATING: 9.3 – AWESOME
BEST TRACK: Where Ya At? (ft. Drake) — Wonderful precursor to their eventual 2015 mixtape. Certified platinum, it’s one of Future’s most successful songs.
The glorious, gospel-heavy opener signifies the commencement of the most anticipated album of the past few years. After a stretch of being shelved, delayed and name-changed several times, Mr. West is back! Showcasing the same ferocity and sexual angst that made his previous two efforts household names — while exposing a more personal, vulnerable and ever eccentric hybrid of Yeezy.
Some of the tracks leading up to the album’s release, didn’t even make the final (umpteenth) cut. The beauty of Paul McCartney-featured “Only One”, written from the perspective of Kanye’s late mother to her granddaughter, North West; and the intensity of “All Day”; Instead, West opted for music more sonically succinct to his project. Retaining the grounded “Real Friends” — which is arguably the best track on the LP; a revamped version of “Wolves”, featuring Frank Ocean; the club-banger “Fade”; a remix of Nike’s defamation, “Facts”; along with the MBDTF-inspired “No More Parties in LA”, with Compton’s good kid Kendrick Lamar.
Yeezy segues through each track effortlessly. Fluidly making the bold statements that have endeared him throughout his career. His jab at Taylor Swift on the fourth track “Famous” is questionable and ambiguous due to both parties’ statements differing in reference to the line, but it’s not like Kanye really cares.
VERDICT — With each album he releases, there is an unprecedented expectation level to reshape and revitalise the industry and his seventh solo LP is no exception. It is a master work featuring several prominent artists. One that pays homage to his legacy, character (however you see him) and determination. A little bit of old and new Kanye; a summation of his career and where he’s at right now.