Big Sean wants you to realize how important I Decided. is: From the ominous intro of pouring rain to the voicemail interludes throughout, this project is presented as a grand personal opus, an album made in the mould of Drake’s Take Care. Sean makes every song feel large, utilizing expensive production, sing-rapping choruses that come off as calculatingly vulnerable, and indulging a six-minute track about the travails of fame. All of this worked for Drake, but Sean struggles under the heftiness of his vision.
It’s safe to assume that not many were all that ecstatic when Soulja Boy and Bow Wow announced their new project together, the mixtape Ignorant Shit. The Internet-era rappers are long past their prime—in fact, they’re barely even relevant anymore. Bow Wow announced his retirement from the rap game as recently as a couple months ago. The two rappers did collaborate once before, on the 2008 single “Marco Polo,” but afterward they beefed with each other (Soulja memorably challenged Bow Wow to a Lamborghini drag-race).
“Who said it was easy?/They can never stop we” sings the most put-upon recording artist of the last decade, who’s never stopped pulling up her people even as she’s endured pop culture’s repeated persecutions. It’s from the last song on what may be the 41-year old provocateur’s final album, AIM, and it’s as summative an emotional statement as “Borders,” the set’s opener and lead single, is a thematic one: This is an album that makes a negotiation between the commercial and personal sides of Maya Arulpragasm’s life and art its centerpiece concern.
If there were a kingdom for party music, brothers Swae Lee and Slim Jimmi of Rae Sremmurd would be its anointed princes. The two came out of nowhere when, last year, their debut album SremmLife went gold, fulfilling the promise of the two hits that preceded it, “No Flex Zone” and “No Type.” While the duo continued to dominate that airwaves that summer, it’s been surprising since to see this album cycle’s slew of singles go largely ignored. Not a one of these songs is bad, per say—they’re just nowhere near the sensations that those previous hits were. Two of them, “By Chance” and “Look Alive,” even come from long-time collaborator Mike Will Made-It, and possess his usual earworm choruses. But those tracks are also just painfully flaccid; they don’t have the same irrepressible energy of the trio’s past efforts. Both singles trade in the group’s exuberant nature to focus solely on the songs’ melodies, a limiting prospect that ends up plaguing much of SremmLife 2.
If SremmLife was a straight rager, with both the highs and lows that come with that kind of till-the-break-of-dawn blowout, the sequel is all afterparty.
So what happened? It might just be that the youngsters are turning down a bit. If SremmLife was a straight rager, with both the highs and lows that come with that kind of till-the-break-of-dawn blowout, the sequel is all afterparty. Kicking things off, “Start a Party” does its titular job exceptionally well, trading lines about bringing exotic women to the fray, and pausing to cuss out those who don’t partake in “smoking loud.” But virtually nothing else here from the duo hits with that intensity. Instead, high-profile guests like Juicy J (the king of the aforementioned Party Kingdom) and Lil John have to themselves effectively carry on the sound they ushered in. The stretch from “Came a Long Way” to “Do Yoga” (songs that feature no guests) sound particularly vapid, leaving behind Rae Sremmurd’s rap roots and venturing further into heedless R&B. This rings false coming from a group that proudly proclaimed there would be no available zone in which people could hate on them. In trying to broaden their horizons for new listeners, they’ve wound up betraying their core appeal.
One of the brainiest guys in jazz, Brad Mehldau is likened to classical composers as often as he is boppin’ piano men; he is famous for his heady liner notes, and nearly everything he does comes with a conceptual thrust. So if Brad Mehldau is going to make a box set, it’s not going to be a straight-ahead greatest-hits or rarities roundup, something made perfectly plain by 10 Years Solo Live—an expansive four discs of on-stage keyboard meditations in which each is given its own thematic framework.
That South Korean girl group 4Minute started 2015 with a self-conscious “revamp” of their brand isn’t surprising; this kind of maneuver is seen often in the landscape of K-pop. Just as the recent evolutionary timeline of the region’s popular music represents a condensed version of that of its western influence, the artists who populate this scene tend to progress their narratives quickly, launching “mini-album” campaigns several times a year that emphasize an awareness of whatever the current trend.
A lady of principle, Bettye LaVette boasts a rule of repertoire selection that neatly doubles as a life philosophy for the rest of us: She won’t give voice to any song or lay her hand to any labor that doesn’t strike her as real, or at the very least resonant with who she is as a singer, an artist, a woman, a human. And so she has developed a body of work in which every page and every chapter is rich in autobiography, despite the fact that she’s hardly penned a word of it herself.