By Jonathan Martinez
In 2009, Kid Cudi released his near-classic debut album “ : End of Day,” which had fans and critics raving. Led by the catchy lead single “Day N Night,” Cudi introduced his stoner personality to the world. He then displayed his diversity and taste in music with such hits as “Make Her Say” featuring fellow label mates and Common and the upbeat “ .” A year later, Kid Cudi has emerged into a well known artist and has been slowly straying away from hip-hop trading it in for pop hits, alternative music, and a more mainstream rock-like sound. With his sophomore release, “Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager,” Cudi follows the same format as his debut, using 5 acts to tell his story, which includes a continuous cycle of themes about drugs, sex, and partying to depression, self-pity and loneliness. Backed up by production from Plain Pat, Chuck Inglish, Emile, and No ID, Cudi moves into a more dark and psychedelic state than ever witnessed before but still ends up somehow being positive.
Excluding such tracks as the extremely catchy lead single “Erase Me,” a tune about a girl who tries to forget Cudi but can’t, and “REVOFEV,” a somewhat politically driven track that calls for a revolution, “Man on the Moon II” is eerie, compelling, deep, but somewhat repetitive at times. On the first few listens, many of the songs sound too similar with Cudi crooning about taking on the struggles of being famous and a loner. Still the album is an utterly amazing, creative piece of work, and one of the more passionate, experimental albums in recent years. Also, Cudi keeps the features at a minimum but picks a very unique cast to help him establish the legend of Mr. Rager.
In the opening track of the album "Scott Medscudi vs. The World" Cudi recruits Cee-lo for the song's hook, and opens up, after a very space like intro, with the lines "What up, how is everyone doing, you are now in the world, I'm ruling, take a minute to adjust." These lines help create the setting of the album and informs us that we are now entering into Cudi's world or rather Mr. Rager's, so we must leave ours behind and meet him "on the other side." The next feature on the album is with the Hip-Hop and RnB Queen, Mary J. Blige, who actually appears on two tracks. Her soulful voice helps escalate the mood on the hooks of both "Don't Play This Song" and "These Worries "and allows Cudi to just rap for the most part. "Don't Play This Song" refers to Cudi's frequent trips to the land of drugs and sadness and how people aren't really helping Cudi when they tell him to be careful. "These Worries" takes a different route sonically than "Don't Play..." with Cudi rapping over a hard hitting drum but follows a similar path by discussing his constant fights with worries that weigh heavy on him physically and mentally as well as dealing with people who really don't care.
The next feature is arguably the best one on the album, which pairs rock rapper Cage and Kid Cudi along side a creepy St. Vincent sample that echos "I am a maniac." The chorus' words are not only extremely fitting to the album's craziness but it also allows the listener to focus on the intricate lyrics and repetitive melodies. "Maniac" is an amazing blend of rock, alternative, and hip-hop that calls for a repeat on almost every listen. "The End" is the that includes features and it is a star studded cast. GLC and , a long time friend and collaborator of Cudi's, help by each lending memorable verses while takes care of the chorus duties. Each rapper from GLC to Cudi add a different perspective on their verses, which ends up being intriguingly refreshing and one of the more unique songs on the album.
Other standouts on the album, include the anthematic ode to Bob Marley's and every rapper's favorite drug, "Marijuana," the rebellious "Mojo So Dope," and the repetitive "Wild'n Cuz I'm Young," where Cudi explains why he can do what he wants. "Mr. Rager" is one of the more compelling songs where Cudi takes on a persona to go on a deep, self-reflecting adventure.
The album concludes with "All Along," "GHOST!," and "Trapped In My Mind" which all paint pictures of Cudi's non-stop qualms, but each actually leaves room for hope, prosperity, and positivity. Cudi sings "I'm trapped in my mind, and I know it's crazy- hey, it's not that bad at all." This is a major breakthrough for Kid Cudi because he is learning to cope with his struggles while also realizing that his world isn't that bad- and he's right. His world isn't bad at all, actually his world makes for a great trip and an excellent album, although an emotional and captivating one, it is worth going back to.
The rise of Nicki Minaj was inevitable. From dropping mixtape after mixtape to featuring on everybody and their mama’s record she became the most anticipated female rapper in years, if not ever, and with good reason. Nicki is dynamic and animated on the microphone, (reminiscent of a young Busta Rhymes), has a versatile style, is a great lyricist, and like her male counterpart Drake, can sing and rap. Her media image and physical appearance may throw you off a little bit but do not fall for the gimmicks, Nicki is far from fake, in fact she is surprisingly vulnerable, reflective, and of course cocky as hell.
On the album's opening track "I'm the Best" Nicki displays the side of her we've come to love, the aggressive dominating female, but sprinkled with self aware lyrics like "I remember when I couldn't by my mother a couch, now I’m sitting at the closing bought my mother a house" and "All the girls will commend, as long as they understand, that I’m fighting for the girls who never thought they could win." "I'm the best" is the perfect segway into "Roman's Revenge," where Nicki trades venom spewing verses with Eminem. Both seem extremely comfortable and are fierce on the track and although, Swizz Beatz production is lackluster, the song is by far the hardest, if not the best song on "Pink Friday.”
After the braggadocios "Did It On 'Em," the CD becomes a very compelling piece of art, with the focus turning from "I'm better than you" rhymes to lyrics on the struggles of fame, how it feels to be a female mc in a male dominated world, and enjoying the moment of stardom. From "Right Thru Me" to "Moment 4 Life" the album is at its best, after that not so much. With the exception of "Blazin," featuring Kanye West, where Nicki shows off her incredible rapid fire flow but doesn't quite out match Kanye's wit and swag on the track, and possibly "Dear Old Nicki," a reflective 3rd person conversation between the new Nicki and the old one, the rest of the album is mediocre.
Minus the catchy but annoying "Your Love," the extremely poppy and simplistic "Check It Out" and the almost forgettable final track "Pink Friday" is an excellent debut. The album isn't too eccentric and contains just enough gritty and witty rhymes to be considered a hip-hop album. Although her debut is far from classic it still manages to demonstrate Nicki Minaj's true personality and promise to be an unstoppable force in years to come.
First Week Sales: 375,000
In 2008, Kanye West went against all odds and dropped his most personal album, 808's and Heartbreak, where he abandoned rapping for auto-tuned crooning mixed with electrifying, painful production. Since then, Kanye has had a few media lapses (*cough Taylor Swift *cough) and therefore disappeared for the most part from the very thing that made him famous, hip-hop. But in 2010 Kanye has returned, revived, with a fresher sound than ever before and with a relentless desire to claim back the throne that is rightfully his. With his new album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye has crafted another classic this time with help from a star studded cast that includes Jay-Z, Elton John, Rhianna, Rick Ross, Bon Iver, John Legend, Swizz Beats, and many more.
From the introduction track, “Dark Fantasy”, Kanye wastes no time setting the mellow mood. Thanks to help from RZA and No ID on the production side and Nicki Minaj’s narration, we begin our journey into Kanye’s mind and realize the deeper we dig the more complex Mr. West gets. We learn on tracks like “Power” that no man should have too much power and on “Runaway,” the most critical and self-reflective song on the album, that although Kanye is toasting to himself when he says “douche bags,” his knack for piano keys and experimentation is phenomenal and beyond any other artist, past or present. Other compelling tracks include “All of The Lights” and “Blame Game” which are probably the two best songs on the album.
“All of the Lights” starts off with a piano and a violin playing side to side one another until rapid fire drums take over. Kanye then proceeds to spit conscious raps that range from relationship abuse to Michael Jackson’s death. On “Blame Game” featuring John Legend’s smooth soulful voice, Kanye takes a simple relationship problem to another level by testing out vocal effects, his singing, and adding Chris Rock at the song’s conclusion. For nearly 8 minutes on “Blame Game” Kanye’s got you hooked on every word and sound, it is like nothing you’ve ever heard before. Ironically and thankfully that’s how the whole album is. Every track contains unexpected drops, perfectly done piano melodies, thrilling drums that excite the ears and speakers alike and most importantly memorable lyrics, even when they’re not Kanye’s.
On the colossal single “Monster,” Kanye delivers some of his best word play like “you ever had sex with a pharaoh, put the pussy in a sarcophagus” and “my presence is a present kiss my ass” but its Jay-Z and Nicki who steal the show. Don’t get it twisted though, Kanye holds down his own especially on “Hell of A Life”, where he describes his want for women and religion, and on the final track “Lost in The World” Kanye spits what maybe his most poetic lyrics yet, “You’re my devil, You’re my angel, You’re my heaven, You’re my hell… if we die in each other’s arms we’ll still get laid in the afterlife.” My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is just another chapter in Kanye’s legacy and it displays his genius at a time where music, to quote Rolling Stone, has us “lowering our expectations, surrendering our attention spans, settling for less, but West wants us to demand more.”
First week sales: 496,000
Lloyd Banks is one of the 21st century's best and most underrated lyricists when it comes to rapping. With his new album “Hunger for More 2,” the sequel to his debut album in 2003, he is not only ready to resurrect his career, he’s focused on displaying why he’s one of the best. With the smash hit “Beamer, Benz or Bentley” featuring Juelz Santana, Banks crafted the biggest hit of his career and gave fans a reason to believe, again. The next two singles “Any Girl” featuring Lloyd and “Start It Up,” which teamed Banks up with Kanye West, Fabolous, Ryan Leslie and Swizz Beatz, prove that he has found a comfort zone and can make radio friendly music as well as anathematic songs. The rest of the album, for the most part, illustrates that Banks hasn’t lost his edge, bringing some of the grimiest lyrics on hardcore production we’ve ever heard from him.
On the first three tracks of the album, Banks recruits fellow G-Unit members Tony Yayo and 50 Cent as well as D-Block’s Styles P, a new and surprising collaborator, to help set the very street-like mood of the album. Banks shows off his great word play in “Payback (P’s and Q’s) by saying “I got the drama kid and my Obama whip, bitches running up on my stage, Lil Mama shit.” As the singles and first couple tracks show, the album contains tons of features but that doesn’t mean Banks can’t hold it down by himself. On what may be the best song on H.F.M 2, “Father Time,” Banks, on his own, delivers an extremely catchy hook that contains an unexpectedly harmonizing bridge over a hard hitting drum and dark violin instrumentation. Banks boasts with lines like “shopping while I laugh at ya, rappers feed my appetite, metaphors will tackle ya, these n****z ain’t half as nice, playboy in my afterlife” showing that he hasn’t lost his touch at all.
Other notable songs include “I Don’t Deserve You” with Jeremiah who helps ignite the song by taking over chorus duties, “Home Sweet Home,” which contains a very credible verse from Pusha T, and “On The Double” where Banks gets his chance to brag about life in two’s. “Celebrity” although a good concept focusing on the troubles of being a star, is a little uninspiring and with Akon on the chorus, the song sounds a bit outdated as well. “So Forgetful” is another great song with a nice concept (it seems like this could be like a sequel or continuation of “Any Girl”) but doesn’t really fit in explaining Banks’ hunger pains. Minus the very minor things that could make Hunger For More 2 sound more polished, this is the album we all wanted from Banks back in 2006. Either way, we should be thankful that in 2010 Banks is not only still rhyming with precision but trying to expand his own brand. Hunger For More 2 is the perfect way to reintroduce and resurrect Banks’ career and more importantly leaving us the fans hungry for more too.
First week sales: 45,000