A$AP Ferg – Still Striving (2017) – B-
Sophomore album Always Strive and Prosper had ASAP Ferg striving to expand his lyrical and sonic palette and prospering less than half of the time. Still Striving then, perhaps self-consciously titled, course-corrects by dropping pretense and delivering what we came to Ferg for in the first place: banging beats, fire flows. Some of the time, anyway. 11 out of 14 of these tracks have guest features, and a high percentage of them don’t leave much impression. There was no way Meek Mill could match Ferg managing to keep up the rhyme scheme for as long as he does while still dropping clever lines (“Two birds on my boat, I’mma start / I’m kinda like Noah’s Ark”); Nav continues to be a non-entity, annoyingly accenting his already problematically heavily-processed voice on “What Do You Do”; some of the features on the remix of “East Coast” are just along for the ride. And most of the beats are forgettable or merely functional. But that still makes for a better average than Always Strive, even if it’s a safer way of going about it. And two posse cuts, if that weren’t enough. The first has five people detailing the various going-ons on top of and underneath their mattresses that’s sometimes as ridiculous as the summary sounds (“Her ass fatter than Action Bronson—pause!”). The other recruits Rick Ross and Snoop Dogg on a track that supposedly celebrates the east coast (with an accompanying music video of Snoop Dogg literally phoning it in that highlights how seriously Ferg took the title’s theme). And yet: this sort of disregard for regional constructs is what Ferg’s been doing since day one, and that’s maybe better exemplified by “Plain Jane”, a song that sneaks in lines like “Grandma had the arthritis in her hands, bad! / She was poppin’ pills like rappers in society” while resurrecting a two-decade old song.
Milo – Who Told You to Think??!!?!?!?! (2017) – B+
As someone who similarly wears out spines and ROM-drives, I’ve always liked Milo’s nerdy, introverted rap music. He has a way with language that I associate more often with poetry than I do with music; to wit: my head’s still spinning from how he somehow manages to casually name-drop philosophy and economics figureheads in a Digable Planets reference on “Paging Mr. Bill Nunn”. And because his third album contains shorter songs than ever, it’s more like a collection of poetry whereas his previous two albums were more like collection of short stories. As someone who loves the two formats almost the same, fine by me! And while Milo’s lyrical wit has remained sharp over the years, the beats he raps over have gotten better and better with every release, culminating in Who Told You To Think??!!?!?!?! as the best batch of beats he’s rapped over. (And mostly self-produced too!) Noteworthy details in the beats: the bass-line of “The Young Man Has A Point”; the bluesy riff of “Ornette Swan Song”; the guitar of “Embroidering Machine” around the halfway point. Not everything’s perfect: a lot of flashy lexicon, such as an unfortunate image of sipping breast-milk to complete a rhyme; the existence of “IDK”; how “Pablum” or its transition to “CELESKINGIII” could’ve been fleshed out. Actually, this might be the first Milo release where the beats are sometimes the best part of the songs: “Note to Mrs” a perfect ambient interlude that happens to feature Milo, with its chime-like keyboard and the gentle percussion brushing lightly underneath it; the coda of “Sorcerer” as the best part of the song. Not to write Milo and his friends off: you won’t find another rapper taking advantage of the similarities between “peon” and “peony” or rhyming “Salazar Slytherin” with “Salad bar, giggling”, to say nothing of how he strings together sentences like “How gracefully he fidgets with the ephemeral” or “While we tenured in this deplorable reality.” This album: Madvillainy wandering the streets late at night.
Paul White ft. Danny Brown – Accelerator [EP] (2017) – B+
I understand why someone might select the instrumental version of “Accelerator” over the one with Danny Brown; he raps in his high-pitched yelp in a manic manner and, in combination with the beat, there’s nothing to hold on to. Hits like a train, etc. But I think the rapped version is great because of that reason: the breathless flow in the chorus over-top the restless bass-line; the sitar thing that leads us there; the clop of the percussion throughout. (And a tasteful guitar solo!) “Lion’s Den” is less manic; the words easier to follow. The best bit is the orchestrated synth hook during the choruses. Solid single, padded out as an EP; at this point, I’ll take whatever Paul White and Danny Brown spoon-feed me: they’re practically Madlib and MF DOOM levels of greatness if not already there.