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Pazz & Jop Comments: It’s Bigger Than Hip-Hop

Popular music, at its top-dollar best, is either music to drive to or music to grill to; at its bestest best, it’s both. By my reckoning, track by track, the Carters’ Everything Is Love record is for: grilling, driving, driving, grilling, driving, grilling, grilling, driving, grilling. “Music has my kids sound asleep” might not be a lyric that will appeal to many, but it did to me as the year hit its crescendo, the hills on fire on every corner of America’s 8 1/2 by 11, the sky turning peach. “Summer’s light like summer’s night/It’s like Christ’s masterpiece” indeed.
— Daniel Brockman

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https://youtu.be/syi60tUIP48

On Room 25, Noname delivered on a sophomore album with a lot more dizzying raps than her first. It’s almost like she heard the masses talkin’ shit about her skills and went wild on this record. Who else’s pussy is writing a thesis on colonialism?
— Tirhakah Love

Not enough can be said about the weight of this genre-welding meeting of titanic Texas forces: On “Gone Away,” Bun B writes what is, in all likelihood, his final letter to UGK bandmate Pimp C, but does it in a way that’s broad enough to be applied to any lost kin; Leon Bridges delivers a somber and vulnerable hook, and Gary Clark Jr. cleans up with a solo reminiscent of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Little Wing.” They’re truly the Texas triumvirate, and it’s a wonder we aren’t talking about the magnitude of this collaboration more as a culture. What’s better, it all takes place over a beat cooked up by Big K.R.I.T., whose beats have, in the wake of Pimp C’s death, given Bun’s delivery an unmatched comfort and ease. Put this one right up there with UGK’s own “One Day” in the canon of Southern rap eulogies.
Sama’an Ashrawi

Black Panther: The Album, Music From and Inspired ByNo mere album can live up to the cultural impact of this extremely ambitious comic book movie, but it’s a great companion piece nonetheless.
— Carol Cooper

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A rundown of personal and social horrors that’s less frantic but also far less calculated than the 1975’s “Love It If We Made It,” Lil Peep’s Life Is Beautiful is far more devastating. “Tryin’ to keep your cool at your grandfather’s funeral/Finding out eventually the feeling wasn’t mutual/You were not invited ’cause you’re nothing like the usual” — damn, that’s bleak. And it cuts much harder than the “My girlfriend left me so I’m depressed and I’m gonna take lots of drugs to cope” lyrics Lil Peep specialized in, as sincere as they clearly were.
— Steve Erickson

Travis Scott’s world domination is more than just a crowning achievement for an artist who’s long been a critical darling, but it’s a clear statement that the South, and especially Houston, the nation’s most diverse city, has got something to say.

Drenched in Houston’s legend’s sweat, Astroworld is a referendum on hip-hop as a genre and an art form. The album is slowed down, tripped out, and bombastic, as Scott liberally references Houston’s past as a hip-hop hotbed while pushing it past its Screwston reputation. Astroworld feels both futuristic and classic at the same time, and that’s something only Kendrick Lamar has been able to accomplish in the last half-decade.

But there will be no Nobel Prize for Astroworld. No Taylor Swift collabs, no Marvel soundtracks. It’s all just too druggy. Too street. Too Southern. Too real. 

And maybe that’s how it should be. But, one thing is for sure, Travis Scott’s moment is now, and he’s going to run with it straight to the Super Bowl halftime show, and he’s going to keep running with it till someone comes to take it from him.
— Jaime-Paul Falcon

By my count, Kids See Ghosts is the seventh time Kanye has made the best album of the year. But it’s no accident that this isn’t the 2018 record he put his name on, or that he needed a co-host to pull it off, or that it’s impossible to remember a single word he says throughout  —  which, thank God.
Nick Farruggia

Drake, “In My Feelings”: Only in 2018 Atlanta could I drive crosstown from berating a Bush speechwriter in a Roman Catholic sanctuary to Aubrey & the Three Migos at State Farm Arena preaching a center-right message of Maya Angelou vibes featuring Future, Young Jeezy, and Trey Songz. Did it for the culture. But you can imagine compassionate conservative Michael Gerson kicking himself for not writing “I wanna thank God for working way harder than Satan.” Elevate.

The next morning I returned to work, where a sickle cell anemia patient almost hemolyzed to death. 2018!
— Maureen Miller

With Cardi B’s “Bickenhead,” nasty hos from across the globe finally get the anthem they so righteously deserve.
— Jessica Hopper

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The day Pusha T’s “The Story of Adidon” dropped was unforgettable. I listened as it rolled out on Funk Flex (the first major terrestrial radio event in a while!), and he kept stopping at every new bar, overwhelmed, and then he would replay it from the beginning. I remember wanting him to get through the whole song, but this approach made sense — it’s a lot to take in. An unbelievable achievement in diss tracks, and Pusha’s best work this year.
Evan Minsker

Childish Gambino, “This Is America”: Donald Glover’s incantatory recitation would work without visuals, but Hiro Murai’s video represents America in 2018 as acutely as the newsreel footage in Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman. Utterly unnerving.
— Kathy Fennessy

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I like Childish Gambino’s “This Is America,” but Earl Sweatshirt’s “December 24” gets the Gil-Scott Heron “Winter in America” mood more right than anything else I came across this year. (Which, my annual disclaimer, amounts to 1 percent of 1 percent of whatever hip-hop was out there in 2018.) It must be my shortest number one ever at 1:46 — I wish it went on for another 7 or 8 minutes. At the risk of sounding white-guy stupid, where does the opening genuine-dialect quote come from? I’ve Googled it, looked up the album credits, nothing. The significance of December 24 escapes me, too, but it feels right: aspirations, a plan, something that came up just short. Quote I came across in a Goon Sax interview: “Sad music is made for a reason and maybe it’s to repurpose something you’ve gone through.”
— Phil Dellio

The Carters, “Apeshit”In perhaps pop culture’s Blackest year — Black Panther, Kendrick’s Pulitzer, and Beyoncé’s own history-making Coachella set, for starters — Black America’s reigning monarchs deliver a worthy soundtrack.
— Trevor Anderson

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OUT COME THE WOLVES

Earlwolf the album may not be happening, but the duo of Tyler, the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt from hip-hop collective Odd Future spit their rhymes at Irving Plaza tonight as part of the Governors Ball afterparties. This may be your only chance to see their single, “Orange Juice,” performed live onstage — of the project, Tyler said in an online forum, “I’m not in the mind frame to do a whole album of that sh**. I don’t want to do it. maybe one day when I don’t want to make clothing and furniture and gay-ass fruity music about lakes and sh**.” Odd Future are known for their unhinged stage antics, so don’t miss this one.

Sat., June 7, 11:30 p.m., 2014

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Freddie Gibbs

If it weren’t for drug dealers, we wouldn’t have drugs. If it weren’t for the internet, we wouldn’t have viral mixtape downloads. And if it weren’t for Freddie Gibbs, Gary, Indiana wouldn’t be back on the map in our cold, post-Music Man / Michael Jackson world. More importantly, were it not for rappers like Freddie Gibbs, we wouldn’t be in the new golden age of rap. The street poet and hip-hop star built his following organically, bringing the block to his music through honest, uninhibited lyricism and just the right amount of braggadocio to make him exemplar of trill. (That’s true + real for those of you who’ve been hittin’ the haze too hard). His full-length Madlib-produced album Piñata is set for release on March 18 via Madlib Invazion, and will feature Danny Brown, Earl Sweatshirt, Ab-soul, Mac Miller and a host of others alongside Gibbs, so hop atop a kush cloud and float your way up to bust the Cocaine Piñata at one of the supporting tour dates.

Sat., March 22, 7 p.m., 2014

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HOODIES ON

In February 2012, Earl Sweatshirt returned to the U.S. from his forced sabbatical at a Samoan boarding school, only a few weeks before the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin. These two events are linked not just by their timing, but also by the shared image of the sweatshirt as a symbol for the young black male, its hood protecting his vulnerability from outside scrutiny while also making him an easy target for racial profilers. Earl’s strong full-length debut, Doris (2013), can, in fact, be listened to as a 
commentary on post-Trayvon America, with its ambivalent ruminations on family, fame, violence, and race. All of this is woven together by a deep lyricism and a preternatural talent for assonant rhyme, which, when supported by eerie beats 
that strike a balance between melody and texture, welcome repeat listens. This week he performs twice: Tonight at Webster Hall and on Saturday at the Music Hall 
of Williamsburg. With Rat King.

Thu., Feb. 20, 8 p.m., 2014

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BACK TO SCHOOL

When we first met Earl Sweatshirt, he was but a 16-year-old kid, sitting in a hair salon, blending and drinking the foulest-looking beverage imaginable and rapping impossibly dense bars. Three years later, the kid still might not be grown, but he remains wise beyond his years, spending the time in between at Samoan boarding school but returning stronger than ever, confident and self-aware both in life (a recent New York Times Magazine interview was one of the publication’s best in recent memory) and on the mic, dropping tiered metaphors like the one about how his interwoven verses are “36 fish netted like the hook was inefficient.” With Vince Staples.

Mon., Oct. 7, 9 p.m., 2013

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Odd Future

California’s Odd Future might be the closest thing modern hip-hop has to a collective in semi-continual ascendence. All cratered vulgarity and gross-out comedy, this crew is quietly domesticating its anarchy as it gear shifts from late teen mania to twenty something idols. Those turning out to Peter Rosenberg’s birthday bash are likely stoked to catch hyper-literate breakout member Earl Sweatshirt, but more conventional up and comers Meek Mill and Schoolboy Q are on the bill too.

Sat., July 20, 7 p.m., 2013

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ODD PRESENT

Earl Sweatshirt wasn’t the first rapper to blow minds before being able to cast a ballot—nearly 30 years ago LL Cool J was rocking bells at 17, and even he was far from the first—but few of any age have written songs as remarkable as “Earl,” a two-minute-and-thirty-second mission statement dense with internal rhymes and high school vulgarity. Three years later, Sweatshirt can vote but not drink, and the rest of the world continues waiting for his sure-to-be-hype second album. Tonight he headlines a Downtown Music Festival show featuring sets from Ryan Hemsworth, the Main Attrakionz producer who has been remixing everyone from the Backstreet Boys to spaced-out dance producer Monolithium, and Antwon, a rapper with a strong voice and an ear for beats.

Fri., May 10, 8 p.m., 2013

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‘Peter Rosenberg’s Night of Real Hip-Hop’ w/ Tyler, the Creator+Earl Sweatshirt+Raekwon+Asher Roth

With studio albums in the pipeline, Tyler, the Creator, and Asher Roth could have the rhymes to boot Hot 97 DJ Peter Rosenberg’s hated “Starships” from the airwaves, but what will happen when hip-hop’s cockroach-munching, diss-happy enfant terrible and the college-loving sultan of suburbia share one stage? Either a hip-hop freestyle battle to the death, with one flaunting his triceratops threesomes and the other his sorority girl conquests, or Roth tempting the Creator to quit being straightedge, doing some keg-stands, and forgetting about the whole thing. Featuring Earl Sweatshirt and Raekwon.

Thu., July 26, 7 p.m., 2012

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FRANK, THE CREATOR

After almost two years of languishing near the bottom of Def Jam’s 50-artist roster, Frank Ocean took matters into his own hands, releasing his Nostalgia, Ultra mixtape with old friends Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All earlier this year. Mixing original tracks with riffs on samples as unlikely as Coldplay’s “Strawberry Swing” and spawning a genuine R&B hit in the Tricky Stewart/Midi Mafia–produced “Novacane,” the tape ended up being the crew’s best since mysterious teen phenom Earl Sweatshirt’s eponymous Earl. Needless to say, his label bosses finally started paying attention and have now sent him off on the road in support of the tape’s upcoming, more official Nostalgia, Lite re-release.

Sun., Nov. 6, 9 p.m., 2011