Weekly Album Spotlights, Sep. 2

Published September 2, 2022

Weekly Album Spotlights, Sep. 2

With a new month comes new content, and this brand new Weekly Album Spotlights series aims to provide write-up about a handful of albums every week, sometimes with another contributor.

This week, writer Jack R. and I are touching upon four albums that we wanted to discuss and have you consider adding to your rotation.

To keep things familiar, these articles will follow the same format as the “Favorite Hip-Hop Albums” countdown – if you haven’t checked that out, check either of the “Posts” tabs!

Write-up By Isiah C.

The Never Story – JID

2017Southern Hip-Hop40 min.

Realistically speaking, this slot could’ve been for the newly released The Forever Story. It almost was, but maybe we can touch upon that another time – great album, by the way.

It’s interesting how hearing a new record can immediately motivate you to revisit an older one, but that was the story of my past week. The Never Story is a very nostalgic experience for me, being one of my late-2010s favorites.

The hunger throughout is the deal-breaker. When an emcee is truly ready to put in work, they let it show with ferocity right away. The near-titular “NEVER” tells this story is simple words:

“Most of the niggas I came up with haven’t came up
And doin’ the same stuff, but I haven’t came up, this really ain’t none”

Now that JID has made it known that rapping was not his dream profession, this lyric holds more weight. Not only does he unfortunately have to see his hood continue to struggle with finding prosperity, but he doesn’t hold his way out to highly either – it wasn’t his number one option.

Regardless of those darker undertones, The Never Story isn’t remotely close to a morose experience. JID truly represents his Atlantan hometown with a collection of hard-hitting bangers amongst moodier selections; for every “All Bad“, there’s an “EdEddnEddy“. This isn’t to say he doesn’t remain introspective – because he absolutely does – but this was a successful debut because it stayed true to showcasing his bars.

The outro “LAUDER” is often cited as the best example of this – with a vicious southern flow reminiscent of early Outkast albums, JID drops three excellent verses on the J. Cole produced outro. Take this excerpt, for instance:

“So part of the reason I be so hard on my people
We never had it easy, never had a pot to pee in
I be on my knees praying till my onomatopoeia’s packing a coliseum
Ain’t no parking, I gotta see J.I.D
Gotta be there for my family, I gotta, can’t try to be
I could be out of my mind, thinking logically
No apologies for speaking how I feel, I silently swore solemnly
That I would be the guy to make my black people proud of me”

This may be the moment in The Never Story where listeners realize that JID can get intensely lyrical, which was a huge boost to his hype at the time.

Personally, it’s hard for me to point out a song I don’t enjoy on this record. It packs every vibe possible into forty minutes, creating an infinite source of enjoyment that can always be appreciated on a revisit. It’s important I integrate The Forever Story into my rotation, but my favorite in the catalogue is right here.

Write-up By Isiah C.

Reflection of Self: The Head Trip – Stalley

2019Conscious Hip-Hop33 min.

Now on the less popular side of things, Reflection of Self: The Head Trip is my number one priority of recommendation on this post. I cannot stress enough how underrated Stalley is.

What’s so cool about The Head Trip is that it truly feels like a shift in style. As one of his first self-released projects, Stalley felt no need to cater to anybody or even draw new supporters in. This release was for him, and hardcore fans could give a toast to that.

The production, which is solely handled by west coast producer Jansport J, sounds exactly like where it came from. Stalley’s unapologetically midwest cadence fits the soulful nature of these instrumentals a tad bit too well, making listeners wonder why the two hadn’t done this sooner. Jansport J also did an excellent job keeping the beats stripped down and minimal, which provides a properly hollow soundscape that fits the album’s themes.

A free-flowing structure defines The Head Trip, jam-packed with instrumental interludes reminiscent of what Pete Rock did alongside C.L. Smooth so many years ago. Sporadic soundbites inspire a sense of adventure, establishing a comfortability with so many raw verses. In tandem with Stalley’s distinct delivery, often accompanied by his signature pitched vocals, a mildly psychedelic sound is born and embraced. It is a sharp turn from the hard-hitting cuts of his mid-2010’s efforts, but that is simply a result of five years of development.

As a big fan of the Ohio rapper, this resonates with me heavily. It’s always pleasant to see musicians be honest about their mental state, personal growth, and backstory without fabrication. The second verse of “All So New” is immediate proof:

“Sat desperate for days trying to fill a page
My thoughts locked in a cage I started building rage
Marijuana and sage at my personal rave
Holistic psychedelics brought a mental change
Clear as the water my thoughts became pure
Anxiety and stress I had to endure
Was barely outside I kept it indoors
My sanity I had to fend for”

Lines like these set the stage for a transition to pure art, which has been further reinforced with every release of his since.

A lot of longtime fans said this was “that classic Stalley talking”, and they didn’t lie.

Write-up By Jack R.

Sometimes I Might Be Introvert – Little Simz

2021Conscious Hip-Hop1 hour, 6 min.

In 2021, Little Simz released her fourth studio album, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert – what followed was a realization from the world that she has been one of the best rappers in the world for nearly a decade. Her sharp lyrical ability and outstanding delivery have allowed her to continuously craft some of the best works the 2010’s has to offer, yet S.I.M.B.I. is a completely different beast. Simz somehow managed to level up her songwriting ability, reflecting deeply on her femininity, familiar trauma and most of all, her introversion. What resulted is an album that would sit at the top of almost any artist’s discography.

The album opens with “Introvert,” and it immediately makes a statement before Simz even says a word. With that sort of title, it’s hard not to expect a lowkey beat to mirror the introversion. Yet, instead we are met with bombastic drums and horns, almost like a war cry then matched with her vocals, sounding as bold as ever.

It’s hard not to be in awe of the strength that radiates from a track that really showcases the impacts of her introversion, as she manages to also depict the comfort she’s found in it – and how she actually draws power from it. It’s rare to find an introduction better than this one, as few songs really seem to fully encapsulate the essence of an album like it does.

As S.I.M.B.I. carries on, it refuses to lose the momentum that began on “Introvert”. While the energy may not always be on that level, the songwriting refuses to fall below the impossibly high standard set. Tracks such as “I Love You, I Hate You” and “Little Q, Pt. 2” see Simz as introspective as ever as she looks inwards on her experiences growing up. However, the 10th track introduces us to the arguable apex of her career.

Listening to “I See You” reminds me of the greatest romantic poets to grace this Earth. However, the likes of Keats have you suspending your disbelief to capture the extraordinary emotions of love; Simz takes the polar opposite route. The song explores the mundane, realistic and day-to-day workings of true love, and portrays the way it works in the most honest way somebody can. She immediately asks the person to take her as she is and overlook all of her mistakes. She continues on with a flurry of gorgeous lines, asking her love to help her through her pain, to grow with her and to simply be with her.

In a passing line Simz raps:

“Know I like my time alone but still don’t wanna be lonely”

…and I can’t give her enough props for centering her introversion in the context of a relationship and how it can impact one in just a singular line. The entire song is a deep dive into love, yet the song never oversells it. “I See You” shows the struggles of a relationship and how everyone’s flaws can impact it; yet, it doesn’t hide from the fact that if two people can work through and accept the other’s imperfections, they will reap the benefits of beautiful companionship.

Just three tracks after “I See You”, we hear Simz really diving into the comfort she takes in isolation. Yet, instead of showing off the audacious energy of “Introvert”, she tries a vastly different sound. Inflo produces a beat that is an absolute blast. It’s funky and soothing, and she decides to bless the beat by testing out her singing voice. The variety of sounds on this record is a treat, and this song is the perfect example. Simz sounds heavenly, despite the darker topics she addresses on this track. She really delves into how she finds comfort in her loneliness and how she would rather be away from everyone. “Protect My Energy” seems generally renowned as an upbeat track, which is just to a testament the musical abilities of Inflo and Little Simz – they turned a near-depressing song into a bop.

The rest of the album maintains the mind-blowing quality that started from the very beginning. It’s absolutely brimming with originality, honesty and just pure talent. I don’t think I can ever oversell just how incredible of an album S.I.M.B.I. is. In an era where certain artists seem to lose their authenticity, Simz refuses to follow this trend.

Her music is a direct reflection of her reality, and very few people can make the reflection as beautiful and vivid as she can. If you have yet to hear this record, I can’t encourage you enough to sit down and listen to it front to back; it truly is brilliant.

Write-up By Isiah C.

Off the Strength – Cookin Soul & Lord Apex

2022Boom Bap29 min.

I can’t keep up with Cookin Soul anymore. Those guys right there are one of my favorite production minds out, but it feels like they have something new released every time I check their page – and I mean that in the best way possible.

It was inevitable that I caught up with their content from this year, and when Off the Strength was recommended to me, I knew I had to dive in.

U.K. rapper Lord Apex – who owns the mic on this record – is a special kind of emcee. He mixes the unorthodox nature of an MF DOOM or Quasimoto (the latter of which inspired his stage name) with the high-energy, hardcore style of his local origin. The result? A gritty yet left-field delivery that unsurprisingly melts into Cookin Soul’s colorful production with ease.

Lead single “The Bullshit” draws you in pretty immediately; it’s absolutely one of the best tracks all year. From the eerie hook to shadowy instrumental, you’d think it dropped on Halloween. Regardless of seasonal ties, though, this is the perfect soundtrack to any golden age hip-hop fan’s day.

It’s almost mesmerizing how smooth each track is, to the point where it took me a couple listens to pick out some differentiated favorites. But repetition can be your best friend in music, and it eventually occurred to me that not only are these all some of Cookin Soul’s best beats, but Apex failed to settle for a moment of dullness.

Whether it’s the hard-hitting “Wagwan Dog“, jazzy “Like You“, or trap-influenced “M.I.M.S.“, variation defines Off the Strength. This is a valuable asset for a short project, as it manages to avoid the lack of development or character that can naturally attach to that.

The U.K. hip-hop scene remains gravely underrated, and these sort of collaborations are the key to their expansion and appreciation from American audiences. Cookin Soul, despite their Spanish origin, have an enormous following in the U.S. – hopefully Lord Apex can slither his way into that territory too, because he has the enticement.