The Beat Box

Noteworthy Hip Hop – December 2019

This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #122. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.

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Fresh hip hop beats

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The end of the year is right around the corner, and what a year it has been for hip hop! In comparison to some other years this decade, 2019 felt a little on the weak side in my opinion, but that basically makes it an eight out of ten instead of a nine. But there is one major factor that bumps 2019 into the best year of the decade for me: I started writing this column!

Now, at the end of the year, I wanted to look back on some of the albums that I overlooked this year. For the most part, I tried to feature underground artists, but I certainly had to slip Lizzo, Freddie Gibbs and Danny Brown into my lineups over the months. The albums for the last month are generally a little more popular than the albums I’ve already featured, but their quality is just as high. Don’t worry though: I’m still not doing Kanye.

Dreamville – Revenge of the Dreamers III

For the last ten years, I would have said that TDE easily had the best lineup of any hip hop label. But, now in the final stretch of the decade, Revenge of the Dreamers III (ROTD) offers a compelling case that J. Cole’s Dreamville is making a move for the crown. In addition to the standard quality of any Cole project, ROTD features Dreamville artists Earthgang, J.I.D., Cozz, Bas . . . I could spend the rest of this column listing off the features on the album because it’s stocked with some of the top talents in the game (from both on label and off), and they all get a chance to shine. As you would expect from an album full of this quality talent, the verses, production and lyricism are all top-notch, but it also feels like a cohesive whole. Cole provides the sprawling tracks with a unified aesthetic and tone, creating something more than a group of collected tracks. Now if only TDE would release a label album, we could see who is going to rule the next decade!

Boosie Badazz – Bad Azz Zay

Boosie Badazz is nothing if not prolific. Bad Azz Zay is the second of three albums he released this year, but also my favorite. It’s produced entirely by trap-producer extraordinaire, Zaytoven, who provides beat after beat that elevates Boosie’s unique style. Lyrically, Boosie shows us why he is still in the game, proving that after a prison stint, a cancer scare and a lifetime diabetes diagnosis, he is nothing if not a survivor. The Baton Rouge native doesn’t pull his punches on any of his albums, and on Bad Azz Zay he goons out in the midst of an era where gangsta rap has taken a back seat to a more introspective style. Regardless of what’s happening around him, Boosie sticks to his guns and attacks the beats with ferocity, letting us know that no matter what happens, he’ll still be here.

Brockhampton – Ginger

I remember stumbling across Brockhampton back in 2014 when Spotify added their first track, “Dirt” to my recommended songs. “Dirt” was deeply embedded in the chopped-and-screwed aesthetic popularized in Houston, and instantly piqued my interest. However, I never would have guessed that the group that made that track would make Ginger. After a brief hiatus in which they kicked out their best emcee for sexual abuse allegations, the group’s latest effort continues their transformation into one of the top acts in the game. The album features their trademark back-and-forth verses from their large lineup of emcees, eclectic beats and presents a thoughtful set of tracks about abandonment, loneliness and the struggles of fitting in. This is a far cry from their first track that put them on my radar, but solidifies their reputation as “the best boy band since One Direction.”

Schoolboy Q – Crash Talk

Schoolboy Q has settled nicely into his role as an elder statesman of West Coast gangsta rap. However, after nearly a decade of high-quality releases, Crash Talk still sounds melancholic to me. Yes, there are upbeat tracks and he seems satisfied with his position in life, but Q still feels like he is balancing the tragic and the comic. Duality has always been at the core of his music: he is funny but depressed, he’s timely but timeless, he’s a student and a hustler. On his latest album, he growls with his unparalleled flow and revels in his role at the top of the game, but in the end, Q is TDE’s Tony Soprano, the west coast Paggliaci. Crash Talk keeps us on our toes, moving fluidly between violence, tragedy and comedy. Now, from the top, Q seems capable of balancing all of these personas, but to be honest, I like him best when he’s playing the comedy over the tragedy.

Griselda – WWCD

This is a late entry into the end of the year list, but the Griselda trio brought the heat on this one! WWCD features the three Griselda team members, Westside Gunn, Benny the Butcher, and Conway the Machine, and a handful of star features including 50 Cent, Raekwon, and Slim Shady himself (Griselda is an imprint of Shady Records). The album is a full on, gritty attack on the game, supplying a 1990s-style, drug dealing soundtrack for the next decade. Daringer and Beat Butcha supply grimy, drum-heavy beats that slide underneath the three emcees who bounce back and forth against each other. This is a street album that goes hard the whole way through. This is an album for people who miss Big L, and frankly, I think Big L would be proud.

Smell ya’ll in 2020!

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