Nas – “Magic” review

This is the 15th full-length album from Queens icon Nas. For those who’re living under a rock, his first 2 albums illmatic & It Was Written are widely acknowledged as some of the greatest in hip hop history. I also wanna include stillmatic, The Lost Tapes, God’s Son & Life is Good. Then there was the Kanye West-produced NASIR & The Lost Tapes II, which I felt like they were fine additions to his catalogue even though the overall consensuses were polarizing. But for almost 2 years now, Nas has been working exclusively with Hit-Boy & both of them are a good fit for each other. King’s Disease earned Esco his first Grammy & the sequel that dropped over the summer was more superior in terms of quality, but are finishing off 2021 by dropping Magic.

“Speechless” is an unsettling opener to the whole album talking about getting his weight & safe up whereas “Meet Joe Black” takes things into boom bap territory advising not to fuck with him. “Ugly” incorporates some wavy synth melodies to detail some hardships & to confirm King’s Disease III is indeed in the works, but then “40-16 Building” is pretty much a glorious sequel to “Rare Form” off his last album.

Meanwhile on “Hollywood Gangsta”, we have Nas detailing being on top & surprising listeners with a bit of a quirky groove to the beat leading into the drumless “Wu is for the Children” talking about the special kind of things in life. The song “Wave Gods” with A$AP Rocky finds the 2 on top of an organ & some dusty drums to get charmingly boastful while the penultimate track “The Truth” makes me so happy calling out people on their bluff. “Dedicated” then finishes off the album with an incredible 2-parter about devoting his life to this shit.

Magic in my eyes is on the same caliber as King’s Disease II & only increases my anticipation for the 3rd installment of the series even more. Hit-Boy continues to expand on the production versatility that the predecessor displayed & Esco keeps showing how a late career MC should be spitting.

Score: 4/5

Big Sean – “What You Expect?” review

This is the debut EP from Detroit rapper & singer/songwriter Big Sean. Coming up as a protege of Chicago icon Kanye West & signing to his Def Jam Recordings imprint G.O.O.D. Music, he generated some buzz in the late 2000s by dropping the Finally Famous mixtape trilogy, but it wouldn’t be until 2011 when his profile significantly increased when Sean dropped a 4th installment as his full-length debut. This was followed up the next year with the highly acclaimed Detroit mixtape & then a sophomore album the year after that entitled Hall of Fame. However, his next 2 full-lengths Dark Sky Paradise & I Decided. were both mediocre in comparison to all those past efforts. Now the last time Big Sean dropped a project was in late 2017 with Double or Nothing which had INCREDIBLE production from Metro Boomin’ top to bottom, but Sean himself was SEVERELY lacking. He just fulfilled his G.O.O.D. contract last fall by dropping the surprisingly mature Detroit II & is re-enlisting Hit-Boy for What You Expect?, except he’s actually producing the whole thing rather than overseeing it.

“Chaos” is a shrilling yet triumphant opener about catching them Ws whereas “Into It” follows it up with an airy backdrop & some fast-paced snares boasting. “The One” appropriately samples the SWV joint “You’re the One” admitting he doesn’t know what it’s like for girls to not want him while the song “Loyal to a Fault” with Bryson Tiller & Lil Durk vibrantly speaks on betrayal. The penultimate track “Offense” with Babyface Ray & 42 Dugg finds the trio on their Detroit trap shit talking about being on top, but then “What a Life” ends the EP by picking up where the previous joint left off sonically & recapping on his life up to this point.

If you enjoy Detroit II like I did, then you’re gonna love What You Expect? just as much if not even more because dude is continuing to impress me more & more as of late. Sean’s songwriting is continuing to level up at an unbelievable rate & Hit-Boy’s production suits him like it did Nas on his last 2 albums.

Score: 3.5/5

Nas – “King’s Disease II” review

If you know a single thing about hip hop, then you should know who Nas is. His first 2 albums illmatic & It Was Written are widely acknowledged as some of the greatest in hip hop history, but I wanna remind everyone that those aren’t the only 2 good albums he’s ever made. I also highly enjoyed stillmatic, The Lost Tapes, God’s Son & Life is Good. Then there was the Kanye West-produced NASIR & The Lost Tapes II, both which received polarizing responses even though I felt like they were fine additions to his catalogue. Then came the Hit-Boy-produced King’s Disease last summer, which I maintain is what the untitled album should’ve been. However after winning his first Grammy back in March, the pair are reuniting for Nas’ 14th full-length album.

“The Pressure” is an airy boom bap opener saying he has to inspire people like he hasn’t already whereas “Death Row East” recalls his run-ins with Suge & the instrumental has a bit of a Middle Eastern flare to it. “40 Side” goes into more trap territory recalling the place where he saw it all while “EPMD 2” serves as a sequel to “EPMD” off [the Judas & the Black Messiah soundtrack], except Eminem & EPMD themselves actually pop up.

Meanwhile on “Rare”, we go back into boom bap turf saying he’s in the zone just before he & A Boogie wit da Hoodie talk about getting places poppin’ off when they pop up on the trap banger “YKTV”. The soul sample “Store Run” works in is sweet as Nas pays homage to those we’ve lost in the last 8 months leading into the nostalgic “Moments”.

“Nobody” has a bit of a jazzy feel in the production with him & Lauryn Hill about a place that you wouldn’t know problems whereas “No Phony Love” is a mediocre sex cut if you couldn’t tell by the title. “Brunch on Sunday’s” works in some keyboard melodies getting in his Esco bag whereas “Count Me In” drearily exposes who the fake really are.

The song “Composure” with Hit-Boy himself finds the 2 jumping on top of a jazzy beat talking about them raising the totem while the penultimate track “My Bible” gets spiritual from the lyrics to the gospel-tinged instrumental. Lastly, the closer “Nas is Good” brings back another soul sample to lyrically annihilate everything in his path.

I was a bit worried about this going into it because sequel albums usually don’t live up to the hype of the predecessor, but that is NOT the case for King’s Disease II. Hit-Boy shows his versatility as a producer, Nas sounds more sharper lyrically & it doesn’t seem like a bunch of leftovers from previous sessions.

Score: 4/5

Various Artists – “Judas & the Black Messiah: The Inspired Album” review

This is a brand new soundtrack album curated by California producer, rapper & singer/songwriter Hit-Boy. Coming up in the late 2000s under the wing of Polow da Don, he eventually become an in-house producer for the Kanye West-owned Def Jam Recordings imprint G.O.O.D. Music from 2011 to 2013 before forming his own label HS87 Music distributed by Interscope Records. But it goes without saying that 2020 was Hit-Boy’s biggest year yet, starting off when he entirely produced Nas’ latest full-length outing King’s Disease in it’s entirety in late August. This would result in a 3-peat for Hit-Boy, as he went on to produce nearly half of Big Sean’s last album Detroit 2 a couple weeks later & then lacing Benny the Butcher’s sophomore effort Burden of Proof from front to back a little over a month after. But to accompany the universally acclaimed political drama Judas & the Black Messiah hitting HBO Max & select theaters, the West Coast producer has amassed an all-star cast of performers to make music inspired by the motion picture.

After the 3-minute spoken word intro “COINTELPRO / DEC. 4” by Chairman Fred Hampton Jr., the first song “Fight for You” by H.E.R. talks about freedom over a glossy yet funky beat whereas the next song “EPMD” by Nas gets in his Escobar bag over an more aggressive instrumental from Hit-Boy himself. The song “Welcome to America” by Black Thought talks about dreaming as long as you’re breathing in the U.S. over a tribal beat from Sean C while the track “What It Feels Like” by JAY-Z & the late Nipsey Hu$$le talks about success over an instrumental with an ambitious atmosphere to it.

The song “Broad Day” by Hit-Boy talks about A&Ring the game over an angelic beat while the track “Plead the .45th” by Saba & Smino talks about remaining silent over a colorless instrumental. The song “Something Ain’t Right” by J.I.D & Rapsody talks about corruption over a calming beat from Cardiak while the track “Letter 2 U” by BJ the Chicago Kid asks to set this woman’s soul on fire over a tactile instrumental.

The song “On Your Mind” by Lil Durk gets confessional over a trap beat with some wonderful keyboard arpeggios while the track “Appraise” by White Dave talks about being the last hope over a cloudy instrumental. The song “All Black” by G Herbo talks about poppin’ out over some celebratory horn sections from Turbo while the track “I Declare War” by Nado Wick gets violent over an drugged-out instrumental from Cardo.

The song “No Profanity” by Pooh Shiesty perfectly lives up to it’s name as he talks about standing on what he believes in without cussing over a sumptuous trap beat while the track “Last Man Standing” by Polo G talks about leading Chicago the way Fred Hampton did over a wretched instrumental. The song “Respect My Mind” by Dom Kennedy talks about rising to the challenges over a hair-raising beat while the track “Revolutionary” by G Herbo & Bump J talks about “standing like a man” over a beautiful vocal sample laced throughout the instrumental.

The song “Teach Me” by SiR talks about having the wrong idea of love over a holy beat while the track “Contagious” by SAFE & Liana Ledé is a cliché romance duet carried by the spicy instrumental. The song “Rich N***a Problems” by A$AP Rocky details the cons of being wealthy over a jazzy trap beat & after the “J.A.T.B.M”. outro, the bonus cut “Black Messiah” by Rakim is essentially Fred Hampton’s life on wax backed by a soul sample from The God MC himself.

This is hands down the best soundtrack album I’ve heard in a while. I mean I’m not too big on soundtrack albums this day in age & I made that pretty clear when I gave a positive review towards the Conflicted soundtrack last month, but I consider this to be the Black Panther soundtrack on steroids from the guests & production to the subject matter.

Score: 4/5

Benny the Butcher – “Burden of Proof” review

This is the sophomore album from Buffalo emcee Benny the Butcher. Coming up as the leader of the Black Soprano Family collective as well as a signee to Westside Gunn & Conway the Machine’s label Griselda Records, he would make his presence known in the culture with his Butcher on Steroids that dropped on his birthday in 2017 as well as his full-length debut Tana Talk 3 on Black Friday 2018. This was followed up 7 months later by releasing The Plugs I Met but a little over a year later, he’s teaming up with Hit-Boy for Burden of Proof.

The title track that kicks the album off is pretty much Benny talking about expanding himself over a boom bap beat with some horns along with an outro from Pain in da Ass whereas the next song “Where Would I Go?” with Rick Ross sees the 2 talking about being big bosses over a heavenly instrumental. The track “Sly Green” talks about money ain’t changing shit for him over a beat that kinda has a JAY-Z feel to it while the song “1 Way Flight” with Freddie Gibbs finds the 2 talking about bitches over a soulful instrumental. The track “Famous” talks about how he still doesn’t feel like a celebrity over an climatic beat while the song “Timeless” with Big Sean & Lil Wayne sees the 3 talking about their legacies over an energized instrumental.

The track “New Streets” talks about only being concerned of what hustlers think rather than haters over a classy soul sample while the song “Over the Limit” talks about success over a smooth, cavernous instrumental & it’s great to hear The Madd Rapper during the outro. The track “Trade It All” talks about his desire to give up his wealth to see those he’s lost once more over a somber beat while the song “Thank God I Made It” talks about being grateful for where he is today over a lavish instrumental. The penultimate track “War Paint” with Conway the Machine finds the 2 spitting the usual pusher bars over a beat with hypnotic vocal loop hanging in the background & then the album finishes with “Legend”, where Benny proclaims himself as such over a delicate instrumental.

Even though I’d have to go with From King to a God for my Album of the Year pick so far, this is just as great in my personal opinion. The production Hit-Boy brings to the table is somewhat more glamorous & clean in comparison to Tana Talk 3 & The Plugs I Met, but it manages to suit Benny well as we get to hear him at his most mature.

Score: 4.5/5

Nas – “King’s Disease” review

This is the 12th full-length album from Queensbridge icon Nas. A man who really doesn’t need an introduction at this point because of the fact that his first 2 albums illmatic & It Was Written are widely acknowledged as some of the greatest in hip hop history. Other high points in Escobar’s discography include stillmatic, The Lost Tapes, God’s Son & Life is Good. Then after a 6-year hiatus, Nas returned in 2018 with the Kanye West-produced NASIR & then with The Lost Tapes II last summer. Both which received polarizing responses, but I felt like they were fine additions to his catalogue. However after leaving Def Jam Recordings & to celebrate his newfound independence, Nas is teaming up with California producer Hit-Boy for King’s Disease.

Things start off with the title track, where Nas talks about how he’s gracefully aging over an angelic beat. The next song “Blue Benz” ponders the value & worth of the stuff we buy over a lavish while the track “Car #85” fondly reminisces on his younger days over a calming boom bap beat. The song “Ultra Black” is a full blown Black Lives Matter theme with an instrumental kin to Life is Good & even though I appreciate the call for more black CEOs on the track “27 Summers”, it just sounds unfinished to me.

The song “Replace Me” with Big Sean sees the 2 getting flirtatious over a lush beat while the track “‘Til the War is Won” with Lil Durk finds both of them talking about single mothers over an atmospheric instrumental. The song “All Bad” with Anderson .Paak sees the 2 talking about their significant others doing them dirty over a piano instrumental with a funky ass rhythm to it while “The Definition” dives into the meaning of the album’s title & I love the uplifting feel to the production.

The track “Full Circle” is an immaculate Firm reunion down to the eargasmic beat & the Dr. Dre outro while the song “10 Points” talks about the meaning of being a king over a jazzy beat & the drums just hit so hard, that they’re bound to blow some speakers out. “The Cure” has the most dynamic instrumental of the entire album as Nas pays tribute to Kobe Bryant & Nipsey Hu$$le, but then the closer “Spicy” with A$AP Ferg & Fivio Foreign finds the 3 bragging over a trap beat that has a bit of a luxurious feel to it.

Not only is this better than the last 2 albums Nas has put out, but I’ll even go as far to say that this is honestly what the 2008 untitled album should’ve been. Nas’ gets on his pro-black shit which is perfect given everything that’s been going on this year & Hit-Boy nails it behind on the boards.

Score: 4/5

SOB x RBE – “Family Not a Group” review

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SOB x RBE is a hip hop quartet from Vallejo, California consisting of Slimmy B, Yhung T.O., DaBoii & Lul G. I first caught wind of them last year with the song “Paramedic!”, which was a personal highlight for me on the soundtrack for the near perfect Marvel film Black Panther. They quickly followed this up by releasing their first 2 albums with EMPIRE Distribution entitled GANGIN’ & GANGIN’ 2, but both of them were incredibly average. However after striking a new deal with Def Jam Recordings, they’re now teaming up with Hit-Boy to deliver their 3rd EP.

The opener “Chosen 1” has a spacey instrumental & while I can appreciate the message, it doesn’t even sound fully written. The next track “Both Sides” sees all 4 talking about choosing sides over an eerie bass-heavy trap beat while the song “Stuck in the Streets” gets murderous over a druggy beat while the titular song gets braggadocious over an atmospheric beat.

The track “Can’t Fold” viciously flexes their wealth over a hyphy beat while the song “W.Y.O. (What You On?)” is a buttery, mediocre sex tune. The track “Ran Off wit It” reminisces about all the crazy things they did before the fame over a smooth instrumental while the song “Young Wild Niggas” is self-explanatory & the instrumental is monstrous. The EP then finishes with “Scoring”, where the group celebrates their newfound success over a pretty piano instrumental.

This is EASILY the group’s best outing yet. The production that Hit-Boy brings to the table is more hard hitting than that of SOB x RBE’s last 2 albums & everyone sounds hungrier than ever.

Score: 3.5/5