By Eóin Donnelly
If you could overdose on anticipation, hip-hop fans all over the world would be strewn along hospital hallways, frothing at the mouth atop rickety stretchers just waiting for June to arrive. With the next four album release Fridays booked off work, it’s safe to say I’d be the first pair of feet rushed through Belfast Royal’s double doors. This Friday May 25th will bring Pusha T’s long-awaited King Push produced in its entirety by Kanye West as well as A$AP Rocky’s third album Testing, and the crazy thing is that that’s only to whet the appetite for the bonanza of rap ear candy that will be arriving just in time for summer. Travelling through the annals of hip-hop history, it’s borderline inconceivable that one month has promised so much as June 2018, and I’m about to tell you what makes it so exciting…
Kanye West- Love Everyone (June 1st)
June 1st. Where the fun begins. With the furore over his Donald Trump endorsement reaching fever-pitch in all corners of the media, you don’t even need to be a hip-hop fan to know that Kanye West is on the verge of dropping his eighth album. After King Push, it will purportedly be the second of five straight weeks of albums Kanye has either made or produced, all of which are apparently seven tracks long. Can he really spoil us that much? I’ll believe it when I see it. Not much is known about Love Everyone– will that even be the title?- but a video Kanye uploaded to Twitter last week revealed what appear to be two of the song titles (‘Extacy’ and ‘Wouldn’t Leave’). On his last album, The Life of Pablo, tracklists were being chopped and changed up until the last minute, so don’t be surprised if you don’t find those songs on here.
Kanye West is to controversy what a moth is to a flame, but even by his standards this album rollout has been difficult to watch. First, by voicing his admiration for Candace Owens, a black conservative commentator who described Black Lives Matter protestors as “a bunch of whiny toddlers, pretending to be oppressed for attention.” Next he shared a vlog from Scott Adams, creator of comic strip Dilbert and keen advocate for President Trump’s persuasive skills. To be fair, he’s got a point. To say the least, Trump’s oracy leaves something to be desired, but to deny that he can have a profound impact on his subjects is to avoid giving the devil his due. Giving Adams kudos was only a drop in the ocean compared to what Kanye’s Twitter feed would soon unleash. As they do in the increasingly bizarre digital world we inhabit, things got real surreal real quick, and next thing I know I’m watching Kanye West, the guy who once said “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” live on television, freestyling in a Make America Great Again hat. And then came the facepalm-worthy “slavery was a choice” comment on TMZ. I then woke up two new Kanye songs one Saturday morning, with one (‘Lift Yourself’) a troll song full of poop ad-libs and the other a back-and-forth debate with T.I. (‘Ye vs. The People’) where Kanye again hints at a future Presidency campaign. All I could say was, “Yup, we’re definitely in a simulation.” Thankfully, both songs appear to be left off the album.
Tweet by tweet, the ‘old Kanye’ appears to be vanishing before our eyes, but rightly or wrongly I do believe his heart is in the right place. I’m not going to boycott Kanye’s music, I’m not going to ‘no-platform’ his every word, I’m not going to denigrate his entire legacy because of how he exercises his freedom of speech. Kanye is not the most erudite guy, fumbling through conversations and arguments in real-time and struggling to articulate the plethora of grievances he has with society and how various models of perception subtly control us. Debating is not Kanye’s forté. He doesn’t even read. He has always expressed himself best via the medium of music, and there’s not many better at doing so. From his soulful, ultra-relatable College Dropout beginnings, to the Gil Scott-Heron sampling Late Registration, to the anthemic getting-out-our-dreams Graduation, to the lonely autotuned balladry of 808s & Heartbreak, to the modern Greek rap odyssey My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, to the rebellious, industrial prog-rap of Yeezus and to the schizophrenic oscillations between family and egoism of Kanye’s ‘gospel’ album The Life of Pablo, Kanye has always magnificently expressed the very different versions of who he is in a particular moment through sound.
For that reason, and as close to the bone as many of his latest public blunders are, we shouldn’t give up on him so easily. Kanye is lucky that his core fanbase as well as the black community at large are so patient and accepting of his flaws, as time and time again he has been welcomed back into their embrace no matter how much he tested the limits of fandom. In the court of public opinion, Kanye has already been tried and executed a hundred times over, but our love for him is always resurrected by the brilliant music he delivers every time. Let’s see if Love Everyone is as unifying as its rollout was divisive.
Kids See Ghosts (June 8th)
Of all the huge album releases in June, the eponymous joint debut from Kanye and long-time collaborator Kid Cudi is the one I’m most excited for. Unlike Love Everyone, there’s a full tracklist for Kids See Ghosts, with tracks including ‘Feel The Love’, ‘Devil’s Watchin’ and ‘4th Dimension’, which you just know is going to include some trippy Cudi hums over an eerie instrumental. As if all this isn’t enough, Kids See Ghosts will come with a short film directed by Dexter Navy, who has a burgeoning reputation for psychedelic videos including ‘L$D’ and ‘A$AP Forever’ with frequent collaborator A$AP Rocky. We know from Kanye’s ‘Runaway’ short film that he too is as much a visual artist as he is a master of sound, and I have no doubt he and Dexter will deliver a jaw-dropping optical hallucinogenic experience to accentuate the music. ‘Gorgeous’, ‘Erase Me’, ‘Welcome To Heartbreak’, ‘All Of The Lights’, ‘Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1’… there’s never been a Kanye & Cudi collaboration I didn’t love. After their public fallout and their shared experience of battling depression and suicidal thoughts in the latter months of 2016, Kids See Ghosts will hopefully be a heartwarming victory lap set to 808’s and heartbreak. I expect Lil Uzi Vert’s ‘XO Tour Llif3’ on steroids.
Nas- TBA (June 15th)
No matter how many times I’ve asked, I’m yet to find a Nas album produced entirely by Kanye West in my Christmas stocking. Until now. OK, the timing is a little far from the festive period, but I’ll take it. Hip-hop culture is full of interesting debate and divergences in opinion, but ask anyone about their opinion on Nas and you’ll get the same answer: dope rhymes, wack beats. He’s the man who wrote the line “I’m over their heads like a bulimic on a seesaw”, but Nas also picks beats about as badly as Ron Burgundy chooses beverages. Ever since Nas appeared on DJ Khaled’s 2016 album Major Key with ‘Nas Album Done’, poetry fiends have been up in arms clamouring to hear the next feast of rhymes from QB’s Finest in what will be his first album since Life Is Good six years ago.
Like Eminem, another legend of the game whose career has also been tainted somewhat by poor beat selection, at this point Nas arguably has more sub-par albums than he does classics. Finally, with Kanye West behind the boards, maybe we will have a Nas album where the beats can match the prose the Illmatic wordsmith adorns them with. He sure has a lot to talk about, with his ex-wife Kelis recently accusing him of physical and mental abuse, plus the King of Queens has a break-up with a certain ex-girlfriend to address…
Nicki Minaj- Queen (June 15th)
If Nas is the King of Queens, Nicki is the Queen of it. I mean, that’s how she put it herself. The pair broke up in January of this year, and are now slated to release their new albums on the very same day. It had to be on purpose. Those things just don’t happen by accident. They say Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and although it remains to be seen whether Nicki’s choice of release date was an act of brazen shade or the prelude to an all-out onslaught, you can bet your house on it that she’ll be gunning for the throne of Queen of Hip-Hop again. Queen is an emphatic, assertive and domineering album title, one that hints at Minaj’s belief in herself as the female ruler of rap and a musical direction where she lays siege to her opponents.
She emerged unchallenged, but in her complacent absence and relative creative inertia, Cardi B has swooped in to usurp her position as rap’s most in-demand female. It’s a shame that hip-hop still seems so preoccupied with hoisting the supreme female artist on a pedestal at the expense of all the rest, but an environment this competitive is sure to bring out a ferocity in Nicki Minaj that we haven’t seen since her meteoric rise to fame at the turn of the decade. If her new singles ‘Chun-Li’ and ‘Barbie Tingz’ are anything to go by, Cardi B may still have some work to do if she’s to consolidate her newfangled position at rap’s top table.
Jay Rock- Redemption (June 15th)
In a month full of exciting hip-hop, obviously Top Dawg Entertainment were going to put a horse in the race. Jay Rock is probably the worst member in the TDE staple- apart from Lance Skiiwalker of course- but that’s like saying Hawkeye is the shittiest Avenger. That’s not to diss Jay Rock, who I’m a fan of, but it is to diss Hawkeye, who I find about as exciting as standing on someone’s shoulders to watch Ed Sheeran sing ‘Shape of You.’ Yeah, I’m not a fan of him either. As much as I loved Jay Rock’s sophomore album, 2015’s 90059, he is yet to emerge with an aesthetic that truly feels his own. He can definitely rhyme, and his flow is as effortlessly belligerent as Roy Keane doing punditry, but what’s Jay Rock’s story? What does he care about? Who’s the man behind the cartoonish persona? Although Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q and Ab-Soul all learned their craft to some degree from the L.A. rapper, who has been with the label from the beginning, they have all since eclipsed him, each of them carving a distinct path within TDE and the music world in general.
Jay Rock’s third album has been highly promoted by the TDE top brass for some time, suggesting that it’s a meticulously crafted project that has went through several revisions. And with good reason. Redemption– which has a gorgeous cover might I add- could be make-or-break for Jay Rock, the moment where he becomes a star in his own right rather than famous by association. Early singles ‘King’s Dead’ and ‘Win’ already tease a more anthemic and direct approach than his pastiche take on West Coast hip-hop on his debut (Follow Me Home) and the dark, minimalistic and brooding 90059. Amidst a pool of lyrical sand tiger sharks, it’s about time TDE’s oldest member got out of the sandbox and showed who runs the playground.
Teyana Taylor- TBA (June 22nd)
The final edition of Yeezy Season brings us the second album of Teyana Taylor, one of the many RnB artists that I perceive as lost in the shuffle. I’ve only ever heard her music in sporadic fits of Spotify curiosity and nothing has ever resonated with me enough to return to. So, I’m not a Teyana Taylor fan, but so what? I’m still extremely excited to hear what her and Kanye West have cooked up in the studio. I’ve watched her speak about the album in interviews, and the way she talks about Kanye making beats from just banging the table and how it sounds like Mobb Deep is enough to let me know that the ‘old Kanye’ is more alive than we think. She also happens to be one of the sexiest women alive, and if she can deliver slow jams even half as sultry as the ‘Fade’ video we’re in for a hell of a treat.
Drake- Scorpion (TBA)
The one everyoneee will be listening to. Hyping a new Drake album would be the world’s easiest marketing job if it wasn’t so difficult to know which of his accomplishments to focus on. Do you focus on how he has more Billboard Hot 100 entries than any other artist? Or that he’s the most-streamed artist for the past two years running? You could spend an entire evening researching records Drake has beaten and he’ll probably have broken another one by the time you finish doing your Googles . It’s almost too obvious to bother saying so, but he is the biggest popstar on Earth. There may be more talented and more important artists, but nobody churns out hit singles quite like Drake, who at this point can put out a single with a hitherto unknown rapper (Blocboy JB’s ‘Look Alive’) and still nab a top-five hit, and where even two of his most formulaic tracks (‘God’s Plan’ and ‘Nice For What’) can garner a combined 15 weeks worth of chart-topping domination.
He is as Machiavellian as they come, a master at capitalising on trends just as they’re bubbling up to the mainstream, pushing them through his carefully-structured prism of solipsistic sentimentality twinned with boastful oneupmanship and melancholic navel-gazing that makes you feel like you relate to him no matter who you are. This is to say nothing of the music, a diaspora of global sounds that encapsulates the vivid variety and often overwhelming reality of being alive in the age where the internet exploded in depth and ubiquity. He’s done rap, pop, dancehall, RnB, trap, UK grime and even South African house, reaching every corner of the pop cultural hemisphere with his building-an-empire approach to making music. Will Scorpion be another exercise in auditory globe-trotting? Or will Drake be returning to his ‘sad rap’ roots? Or will we get a ‘socially conscious’ side to Drake we’ve never seen before? I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something tells me that a fire has been lit under Drake’s ass and Scorpion will prove a lot of his detractors wrong.
Of late, he seems reenergised, exploring a new sense of maturity and responsibility that being a black man with money has imparted on so many great performers before him. First there was giving away one million dollars to the ordinary families of Miami, Florida in the ‘God’s Plan’ video, and then came the female empowerment anthem ‘Nice For What.’ I sense that the best music is yet to come, but for a Drake fan who’s always longed to hear just a little more ‘we’ and a lot less ‘me’, two chart-topping smash-hits with uplifting social messaging is a pretty good place to start.
BROCKHAMPTON- Puppy (TBA)
Forget about hip-hop, BROCKHAMPTON are one of the must exciting acts in music. Period. It’s way too early to say what their ceiling is, but in less than a year the 13-strong collective have already cultivated a rabid, obsessive fanbase that it ordinarily takes years to gain. They’re no ordinary group, first formed via a Kanye West fan forum and tackling topics as emotionally charged as mental health, sexuality and race and still having fun doing so. The ‘internet’s first boyband’ are an eclectic bunch, and in bearface. they even have a member from Belfast. Moreover, their iconography is like nothing ever seen in hip-hop, and it’s no wonder when lead member Kevin Abstract is so central to the group’s artistic direction, directing all the music videos and setting tracks alight with his uber-millennial take on being young, black and gay in America. Unlike so many openly gay artists before him, Abstract does not pander for acceptance or wish he was different, preferring to express his sexuality pridefully and unapologetically in a groundbreaking style (see ‘JUNKY’ for the best example) that will surely have massive impact in the mainstream sooner rather than later.
Imagine living in an L.A. mansion with twelve of your friends and making music every day. Could life be any better? I’m so jealous of BROCKHAMPTON. The next generation of American teenagers will grow up not wanting to be the next Aerosmith or The Eagles or The Strokes but the next BROCKHAMPTON, a California-based group of diverse, creativity-oriented suburban youths that are essentially a liberal thinktank expressed in a hip-hop format. In both sound and lyrical scope, BROCKHAMPTON make music that feels like 2018, alternating at will between trunk-knocking hardcore hip-hop (‘HEAT’), pretty Frank Ocean-style summer RnB (‘Milk’) and West Coast G-funk (‘Hottie’) with plenty of clever social commentary subtly merged with teenage angst to boot. Their fourth album, Puppy, comes after the prolific, independently-released Saturation trilogy- two of which were on my 50 best albums of 2017 list- that earned them a $15M recording contract at RCA. Hopefully it will be the beginning of a new direction, with the Saturation trilogy’s original sound providing a strong foundation for everyone’s favourite group of weirdo rapping hipsters to hitch their spaceship to superstardom.
All in all, there’s more music coming out in the next few weeks than I know what to do with. Yeezy Season and Drizzy Season at the same time is almost too much. With all this good music coming out in such a short time how am I meant to think about my future? The exciting releases above may only be scratching the surface, with Travis Scott’s Astroworld also rumoured to be on the cards in the next few weeks. In addition, Compton rapper Buddy– who is behind my favourite song of 2018 so far -is due to drop his debut album, Anderson .Paak is seemingly gearing up to follow up his flawless, breezy vacation album Malibu and the world is on tenterhooks wondering what the ultimate polymath Childish Gambino might do next as the ultra-topical ‘This Is America‘ continues to catch the planet by storm.
It’s an incredibly exciting time to be a hip-hop fan, as the genre continues to push the sonic envelope and provoke cultural zeitgeist-defining conversation beyond the confined parameters of music. Just a few weeks from now, I’ll be lounging at the beach with my cherished Marley Get Together speaker in my new home in Melbourne, with nothing to worry about but the selection headache of what to play next. Summertime is coming, and the tidal wave of good vibes couldn’t be better timed. Time to sit back and unwind.