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Just guitar, bass, drums, and vocals for just three songs. Still a junior in undergrad, Lili Trifilio captures teenage turned twenties feelings newly nuanced after heartbreak, like a tongue learning to crave bitter and sour instead of sweet. “February” wallows in misery, missing a boy with a construction paper heart who couldn’t last until Valentine’s. In “Jenny,” the thrill of a summer day in Chicago with someone special becomes the indignity that they won’t admit their feelings. “Boys” is jaded by knowledge of the inherent badness of boys yet optimistic that this one will be different. Just perfect.
“If it wasn’t for the struggle, then I wouldn’t be me.” That line could define some rapper’s whole careers, and 2 Chainz drops it midway through a verse. He is an inspiration at his best on this album, awful cover art aside. The CD version (leave me alone) is more consistent, but reblogging that Drake mixtape track works. Pharrell collab, not. “Good Drank 2.0” is the better version though. The Trap Choir is a highlight in his live set too. No Lil Wayne feature / Collegrove reunion is a crime actually. I hope someone cool gets Shkreli’s copy of Carter V.
MIKE has traveled too much too soon. He raps about separation from loved ones and from a sense of self. Skype can’t replace cooking in the same kitchen but maybe he can raise the money to visit by broadcasting his hurt worldwide in rhyme. The sLUms production is Stones Throw chic, deformed samples fused together with drums and sax. MIKE’s sometimes-stilted delivery boils over into a flow all his own, like finishing a sentence with an exclamation point after beginning it with a stutter. “Fuck your clout, we on them clouds now,” he insists. No wonder the title mixes post-recession pep talk and familial blessing.
SZA’s debut will trick you into thinking you’re best friends. Solana Rowe sings like she’s spilling stories of last night’s hook-up over a wake-n-bake brunch, complete with voicemails from her mother and grandmother. Over warm beats that blend the TDE style with the Chicago neo-soul revival, SZA sings about combatting infidelity and inadequacy with sex and self-esteem. The way she tells it, even depressed cocaine robot Travis Scott seems charming. Isaiah Rashad collab album when? Bless her label for knowing she doesn’t need co-writers. This is how we will remember what it feels like to be “20 Something” in 2017.
Listening to Arizona’s finest feels like meeting the dudes in the dorm room next door. “See You Sweat” and “Boom (X3)” can easily slide into the early ’00s party playlist brewed up over Natty cans, Steppa hosting feet up and belly out while Ritchie pontificates about rap’s long history of ghostwriters. “North Pole” is the too-real talk that comes after guests have stumbled home, grief too strong to party away poured out as the sun rises on producer Parker Corey’s serene backdrop. The next morning, the crew channels their hangover into righteous protest on “Colors.” Can’t wait for next semester.
The best-case scenario of the dawning monogenre apocalypse. Ms. Yelich-O’Connor adds new ingredients to her Pure pop recipe, incorporating house piano and hip-hop drums like she actually, you know, listens to those genres. The noise solo on “Hard Feelings” makes up for Antonoff’s work on Reputation a hundred times over. Lorde fits hours of flirtation into her teasing delivery of “You know I think you’re awesome, right?” “Supercut” hollows out the modern curatorial impulse, a music nerd unable to cut her lover’s worst tracks out of the playlist. She’s given up on perfect places, but still chasing perfect pop.
A fever kept me from seeing him in my city, but I saw Buddy’s billboard in his native LA. Quite a consolation prize. This collab tape with Kaytranada is about party and bullshit, all you need. “World of Wonders” could have been named for the SEO-friendly Wonder Woman of the hook, but “I took her to a restaurant, told her order up whatever you want” is too confident to act that thirsty. The Canadian producer’s beats rival his work on his neo-disco solo album. The drums throb like an endless summer. It’s blacktop haze that you can dance to.
Tyler performs alone now. After writing and producing his best album, he’s the only one necessary. His whole career is on here, from the neo-Stevie chords to the moshpit riffs. The spacious arrangements feel like standards on the first play, like Solange’s last album. Wayne and Rocky sound invigorated. Frank shows up twice and even his idiosyncrasies feel like mere seasoning in the Creator’s dish. Despite his career success, Tyler raps plainly about being depressed, lonely, and queer. “Garden Shed” announces an utterly unguarded coming out with a guitar reverb fanfare. Deserves a Grammy and a UK visa.
Natia’s album is unmoored in time and space. The Los Angeleno’s chosen beats have East Coast swing. He writes about modern drug abuse, mental illness, and homelessness with an ageless clarity. The title is about practice, but Natia is confident enough to make it look easy, like the stars aligned. “Watch Your 6” is a crime story told with a proud smirk by the narrator, like Rod Serling minus the supernatural. It brushes past a failed hit in a portable toilet in the second rhyme in order to spend three minutes on revenge. The beat thumps like a warped VHS.
Sampha’s debut album is about grief, and like its cover, the beauty can seem unnatural upon repeat exposure. But its power comes from Sampha’s natural ability to portray so many moments in the same harsh hospital room lighting. “Reverse Faults” is a speeding car. As you sink into the passenger seat, the fear hits rock bottom at narcotic acceptance. By “Timmy’s Prayer,” the Londoner is looking beyond the living to write about his love. It’s a worthy successor to co-writer Kanye’s “Only One.” And for some extra credit, “No One Knows Me Like The Piano” sounds great chopped not slopped.