First rap review of the year. Haven’t made up my mind about Kendrick Lamar, and to be honest anyone claiming they have is lying. A whole lot to parse there, not to mention there’s nothing immediately appealing music-wise—no club bangers with maybe “King Kunta” as an exception—though that’s not to say it’s without groove. I plan to pair that review with Earl Sweatshirt, because what’s more depressing than two young, brooding men who take themselves entirely too seriously? New Heems album is banging, though.
ACTION BRONSON – Mr. Wonderful (Atlantic): How can Brooklyn’s Arian Arslani deliver free verse in high tenor over retro-soul beats more reminiscent of Fishscale than ever before and have the gall to still insist you not compare him to Ghostface? Luckily for Bronson, the tunes are tight enough to withstand his decision to sing (thankfully over-filtered) in the three-song musical interlude. Only time he loses me music-wise is on arena-rock “Only in America.” Lyrically there’s a lot to be desired; no matter how much he dresses up his slut shaming with love for his ma, he’s still just a fat asshole. Wish he’d rap more about food like the old days than about hos—I doubt he knows as much about the second as he’d have us believe. B PLUS (***)
HEEMS – Eat, Pray, Thug (Megaforce): After the dual 2012 mixtapes Nehru Jackets and Wild Water Kingdom, our hero traveled to Southeast Asia to reconnect with family and subsequently ventured on a spiritual quest. What he brought back with him was a calm, cool rage against the oppressive system of a country he loves, of a country of which he is a proud citizen. Upping the ante from anthem “NYC Cops,” which explored a microcosm of the atrocities committed by the boys in blue against POC, to “Suicide By Cop,” where the city’s hellish gentrification is a slower form of suicide than the easy, attainable alternative, Heems wavers between the so-mad-I’m-sad and the so-vexed-I’m-perplexed, exploring his dualities of identity and temperament: “Sometimes I got game/Sometimes I’m mad shy/Sometimes I’m mad lame/Sometimes I’m mad fly,” a sentiment I’m sure many disaffected youths growing up on ‘hood streets can identify with, and that’s because the album’s themes rest on wrenching turns-of-phrase that perfectly exemplify the kind of discrimination brown-skinned people nationwide—to say nothing of those overseas—experienced; not safe in NY because “they kept calling me Osama,” wouldn’t have lasted near the partition “because of drones and Obama.” With song titles like “Al Q8a” and “Patriot Act,” the latter including a solemn spoken-word account of watching the towers fall and his community’s response in the face of a new form of disenfranchisement, Heems continues to be one of our finest parser of cultural ailments. A good American, in short. A MINUS