This Week in Music: January 1-18

This week, I review — in descending order of quality — BØRNS’ Blue Madonna, Maxo Kream’s Punken, Berner‘s The Big Pescado, Dave East’s P2, Lil Skies’ Life of a Dark Rose, Camila Cabello’s Camila, Stefflon Don’s Hurtin’ Me, HoodRich Pablo Juan’s Hood Rich, and Money Man’s Grow God:


1980s nostalgia is very much in right now across all artistic mediums (because making people feel young by reminding them what they liked when they were but a wee lad has always been lucrative). Yet unlike other recent mindless rehashes, BØRNS’s Blue Madonna gets it the most right, with synth-heavy throwback producing and melodious bass-lines mixing with 21st century alternative electro to create something dynamically new. Dare I say, St. Vincent-esque…


I WILL OVERRATE ANY AND ALL HIP-HOP PRODUCING THAT DEVIATES FROM THE CURRENT OVERUSED TRAP NORM, especially the more minimalist variety on Maxo Kream’s Punken, whose bumping simplicity is reminiscent of my personally beloved G-funk, which is sorely missing in today’s overproduced landscape.


Unfortunately, the Wu-Tang inspired (minus the Shaolin influence) opening track — “G.R.E.E.D.”, which repeatedly references the legendary Staten Island group’s classic “C.R.E.A.M.” — is the sole moment of novel excitement on the entirety of Berner‘s The Big Pescado; the rest revels in generic laid back “stoner” vibes, which is snoozily enjoyable if you’re into that sort of thing (I am). The album cover art is the most creative component, an EARLY contender for the best of the year.


Given all the too-polished, impersonal overproducing nowadays, Lil Skies’ laidback, borderline amateur (in a good way!) — albeit monotonous — vibe on his Life of a Dark Rose is legitimately refreshing. Whereas most rappers have adopted a corporately stylized, slick, but sanitized sound, this album feels like a bunch of friends entertainingly fucking around in a home recording studio, harkening back to the roots of old-school rap.  


Similar to his Paranoia: A True Story from last year, Dave East’s P2 boasts smart, hard rapping over straightforward, uninspired beats that simply serve the lyrics instead of bearing their own noticeable artistry; this jazz-infused producing (ala Jay-Z’s 4:44) is secondary, subdued in the soundscape. The album admittedly does improve upon its predecessor (is it a sequel? Does P stand for Paranoid?), with more diversified, dynamic producing courtesy of buoyant, bouncier beats, as exemplified on “Thank You.” The sound effects on “I Found Keisha” might be its most inventive part. His next P album would be wise to build upon these improvements while retaining his signature, rather impressive lyrical stylings.


Like the rest of Camila Cabello’s work, too much of Camilla lacks a distinct pop identity…which she may never need to develop to remain successful, albeit ultimately forgettably so. The solution might be as simple as hiring better producers.


Stefflon Don’s Hurtin’ Me would’ve benefitted from more songs like “Ding-A-Ling,” — which is about exactly what you think it’s about — and less songs like the rest. To be honest, it would’ve made a better record — yes, Write All Nite‘s definition of record — with only “16 Shots” as a sonically-odd complement. Instead, the first two tracks — the title opener and its remix — are too-transparent attempts at appealing to the mainstream; let your freak flag fly, Ms. Don! Oh, and speaking of Write All Nite new music key, this is a four-song collection that runs 14 minutes; I think we have our first EP of 2018!


My friend (shout out Mikey B!) refuses to listen to any album by a rapper with a name as nonsensical as HoodRich Pablo Juan. His theory: Someone who’s THAT unaware of how such a ridiculous moniker makes them look definitely can’t produce quality output. I’m sure there are some exceptions to this overly-general rule — there always are — but at least for Rich Hood, the theory definitely applies!


Would Money Man qualify as one of my friend’s laughable names?


Is his Grown God thus derivative dreck, the epitome of in one ear and immediately forgotten out the next?


Ironclad theory so far!

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