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Kendrick Lamar – The Blacker The Berry

Never one to be outdone, just as the Grammy’s discussion on social media was being overtaken with Kanye-related memes of his usual antics (albeit it was hilarious). Kendrick, who won Best Rap Song the night before froze everyone in their tracks with his latest track ‘The Blacker The Berry.’ With a tone distinctly opposite of his lead single ‘I’ Kendrick continues to parade around peace, despite attempting to reel in the hard-nosed listeners who loved him for his gritty, aggressive rhymes, which is exactly what we get here. With help on the boards from Boi-1da, with some mean drums to capitalize off of, Kendrick critiques the normalized trends of black America, comparing it with the history books of old showing the hypocrisy’s of everyone involved. The grand statements promote peace while criticizing those who rallied against the current race war yet have been involved in black-on-black crime. It’s a powerful statement for a single, and one we do not yet know if it’ll make it to his album. The chorus boasts Assassin, reggae star previously featured on Yeezus’ ‘I’m In It,’ which could finally push reggae over into becoming the next trend in Hip-Hop. A spiritual, mysterious instrumental outro that’s packed with soul sneaks in to end a brilliantly produced track.

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Jay Rock – Pay For It (ft. Kendrick Lamar & Chantal)

Jay Rock has been mysteriously silent since his debut album Follow Me Home came out in 2011. Well, not absent in a literal sense, since his domination at guest-features on songs like ‘Black Lip Bastard’ and ‘Money Trees’ has solidified him as one of the best guest rappers in the game. Ever since TDE’s rise he’s relegated himself to this role, despite being one of the original members of the label. He’s finally back at it with ‘Pray For It,’ featuring Kendrick Lamar. As per typical, Rock and Lamar focus on their place in the game and in the streets. Lamar’s place in the middle of the song provide a nice switch-up to Rock’s one-dimensional flows. The chorus, sung beautifully by Chantal, elaborates nicely the words of Rock in simplier terms. The inclusion of light drums incorporating themselves during the chorus, and outro along with swaying violins, helps distinguish the atmosphere of gritty street life with shades of sadness thrown in. Jay Rock’s album, currently untitled, should be released by the end of the year.

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Flying Lotus – Never Catch Me (ft. Kendrick Lamar)

Those anticipating the release of Flying Lotus’ You’re Dead, slated for release on October 7th, have been given the treat they’ve savored the most. That is, Kendrick Lamar, rapping over FlyLo’s stylistic brand of beat-making, rife with jazz-fusion and spacious IDM. Knowing not what the meshing of two current Hip-Hop greats would sound like, “Never Catch Me” is a pleasant surprise, capturing each artist in the midst of their obvious forte’s. Kendrick, per usual, spans his vocal range, swapping flows on a dime, all while maintaining the lyrical integrity his rapping insists upon. This is further instigated by Flying Lotus’ airy production, giving the rapper the space he needs to breathe effortlessly, devoid of any regulating beats that dictate the direction Lamar must take. Despite the good kid’s presence, FlyLo still dominates the track however, his techniques and sounds never being more apparent, especially on the latter third, as the track explodes into a cacophonous melody of constructed soundscapes.

Drake – Hold On We’re Going Home

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Few high profile artists are as schizophrenic as Canadian rapper/singer Drake. His latest release, “Hold On We’re Going Home” is the third teaser of his forthcoming third record and has little in common with the two previous ones. While “Starting From The Bottom” was a Lamar-influenced self-aware hip hop banger and “5 AM In Toronto” made little effort to present anything new to Drake’s discography; “Hold On We’re Going Home”, a joint effort with Majid Jordan (a hybrid of Majid Al Maskati and Jordan Ullman, a pair of Toronto producers formerly known as Good People), presents Drake in all-sung, disco-infused R&B mode that strays away from his usual repertoire. The somewhat nostalgic feel of the composition, paired with Drake’s silky smooth vocals creates the perfect R&B track that easily ranks amongst his best work to date. It’s reassuring to hear that he is still capable of tender soulful moments like this.

Drake’s third album, Nothing Was The Same is out September 17th.

SZA – Julia

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There is a lot to say about SZA; she is sort of R&B in a way that The Weeknd is R&B. I have previously referred to her as female version of Tom Krell, that still holds when considering her earlier releases, like the beautiful “Country” which builds on a clear yet subtle Empire Of The Sun sample. “Ice.Moon” was a track that certainly got my attention and after that there was no doubt of what a wonderful gifted musician she is. Her second EP S, released earlier this year, further substantiated this impression. The EP included the brilliant “Aftermath”, which sound and production wise could’ve easily fitted on Miguel’s Kaleidoscope Dreams, and the first version of “Castles” that contained a sample from Fleetwood Mac’s “Everywhere”. The track was later unfortunately taken down, almost certainly due to legal concerns. No matter, a new version is up now and it’s almost equally good. Up to that point, everything she’s done seemed effortless, filled with quirky creativity yet very much rooted in pop.

Yesterday it was announced that SZA signed to TDE (Top Dawg Entertainment), home of Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q and Jay Rock to name a few. So we don’t have to worry, she’s in good company. In addition to the announcement, a new Felix Snow and Dave Free produced track was premiered titled “Julia”. It is by far her most pop oriented to date, working almost like an 80’s R&B-pop (think Janet Jackson and you’re not far off), and even though it’s a bit less effortless and experimental, it’s just as good as anything she’s released beforehand (and as usual, the album cover is strikingly beautiful).

“Julia” is expected to be a part of her next EP titled Z.

Antwon – Dying In The Pussy

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Like Kendrick Lamar and A$AP Rocky, San Jose rapper Antwon has heaps of cross-over appeal, already proven on this years’ intriguing but grainy In Dark Denim. That record broke considerably from his hardcore past, paving way for a broader audience with a muffled lo-fi production aesthetic sampling classic 80’s R&B (think B:I.G’s Juicy) while flirting with everything from acid house to contemporary trends in synth-pop.

This is a rapper decidedly more comfortable of rapping over shoegaze or punk than jazzy drumbreaks or funk samples. Not that surprisingly then that indie label Suicide Squeeze is behind his latest release and Lars Stalfors, the producer and engineer behind Mars Volta, is the man behind the mix-table. On “Dying In The Pussy” Antwon turns darker; chockfull of cinematic Carpenter-esq textures, suggestive of a codeine-dazed Kavinsky creation. It speaks to his strength, marrying a fascinating drugged-up ambiance with  Antwon’s hardcore sexist lyrical content. Stylistically, “Dying In The Pussy” is a natural continuation of In Dark Denim and is on-par or even surpasses “Dark Denim” and “Werk 4 Me”, his two previous career highlights.

Highlights of In Dark Denim:

Kevin Gates – 4:30 AM

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Instant Classic

Just shortly after his uneven but at times brilliant 8th mixtape The Luca Brasi Story, Kevin Gates return with his strongest effort yet and possibly the finest hip hop release of the year. The production and vibe of “4:30 AM” is not unlike Kendrick Lamar’s masterpiece “Swimming Pools (Drank)”, it’s a track that could undoubtedly break Gates into the mainstream. The chorus is a laidback, sing-a-long friendly story, taking me back to the heydays of Nate Dogg’s west-coast swagger, while his intense, confessional narrative of his alleged shooting of a friend never fails to engage or feel authentic. On “4.3o AM”  he proofs why he should be regarded amongst the true storytellers of the genre.

“4:30 AM” is taken from his upcoming Stranger Than Fiction, his first major label release.

A$AP Rocky – PMW (All I Really Need)

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New York’s new superstar rapper finally got around to release his major label debut. Alongside last year’s three excellent singles, he T-Minus-produced “PMW (All I Really Need) stands as one of the true high-points on the albumd.  It feels like a darker, more twisted version of “Swimming Pool (Drank)” (Same producer). It has all the components that makes A$AP that edgy street-smart, commercially successful rap star. Stream it via Spotify beneath.

And here’s the video for the  previously released “Long Live A$AP”: