[tps_title]Albums #5 – #1[/tps_title]
5. Wu-Tang: A Better Tomorrow
Many agreed that the palpable tension between RZA and Raekwon would curtail A Better Tomorrow‘s release. As you are probably aware, after agreeing to kiss (figuratively speaking, apologies for the strange visual) and make up, Wu-Tang released an album worthy of all the hype. A significant year, 2014 saw the group celebrate twenty years in the rap game. However, their latest record is much more than some compulsory, nostalgia- infused offering: this is a record for the fans, the Wu-Tang’s ‘clan’ so to speak, the very people who were digging their sound back in the ’90s.
Naturally, we all wanted an album that could replicate the brilliance of 36 Chambers, but, like trying to avoid putting on weight at Christmas, some things are just not possible. It is important to remember one thing, however: debuts are notoriously difficult to match, especially when that debut is widely regarded as one of the greatest rap records ever released. Two decades on, although the group has evolved, even matured, some things never change, thankfully. Keep Watch, the first single released back in March, is classic Wu-Tang; melodic, honest, unapologetic, while Preacher’s Daughter sees Meth and Ghostface Killah combine to deliver one of the year’s most imposing tracks.
Clocking in at just over an hour, the album moves along smoothly, merging gritty narratives and infectious beats in old-school, Wu-Tang style. Yes, the Clan is now composed of middle-aged men, but the music still sounds so fresh and, most importantly, relevant.
Much like his close friend Kendrick Lamar, Q seems to specialize in music that is both compelling and lyrically lush. Meticulously produced, Oxymoron is an audibly alluring affair. Exploding violently, Gangsta, the opening track, pits Q vocals against harsh instrumentation, a battle that adds to the portentous tone. However, it’s not all antagonistically driven, as both Grooveline Pt.2 and Blind Threats display ScHoolboy in a much more versatile, creatively diverse light, and this is one of the things that makes Q and Oxymoron just so damn impressive.
The record is like an Eastern European backroad, full of twists and turns, and the occasional pothole. Much like the artist himself, the musical panorama is flawed, but these very flaws make the South Central artist so relatable, so inviting. With contributions from the aforementioned Kendrick Lamar and 2 Chainz, to name just two, one would be forgiven for thinking that Q might surrender the limelight. Think again – Oxymoron is all his, and ScHoolboy Q is at the forefront of Californian gangster rap revivalism for a reason.
3. Run the Jewels: Run the Jewels 2
While the duo’s 2013 debut was full of purpose, this year saw El-P and Killer Mike return with a more polished project. Compared with Run the Jewels 2, the duo’s recently released record, last year’s effort was simply an appetizer. In artistic terms, these two are just getting started; both El-P and Mike will be entertaining the masses for the foreseeable future. The lyrical content is harder, darker, even more cynical than before, a fact that the twosome address from the beginning. Sinister in the extreme, the demented beats and dystopian rhymes have EI-P and Killer Mike sitting firmly on the most dysfunctional throne imaginable.
2. PRhyme: PRhyme
Relentless in every sense of the word, this self-titled nine-song record delivers the lyrical equivalent of a Bruce Lee roundhouse kick.
PRhyme, a collaborative duo consisting of Royce da 5’9″ and renowned East coast hip-hop producer DJ Premier, specialize in the delivery of ominous beats, dissected and intelligently remodelled. Without wishing to sound insincere, the record is simply stunning. From the systematic beats to the throwback samples, two of the most articulate men in rap simply excel. Couple this with guest appearances from Killer Mike and Jay Electronica, to name just two, and you have a recipe for success. Royce, with his technically proficient rhymes, and Premier, a crafty cat of the highest caliber, are two men at the top of their game.
1. Ghostface Killah: 36 Seasons
Seductive beats; check. Melodic vocals, lush lyrics; check. Thematic consistentncy; check. Nine years, or 36 Seasons for you witty mathematicians out there, have passed since Ghostface treated us to tales involving Tony Starks, his alter ego. Unlike the famed Iron Man character, though, Killah’s second self is neither wealthy nor a superhero intent on saving the planet. No, Starks is a gangster, plain and simple, having returned home only to be betrayed and left for dead. Each song represents a different moment in that storyline. Ghostface, with help from a host of friends playing the roles of shady characters, ensures 36 Seasons plays out like a crime-driven blockbuster. Delivering tales of hardship, retribution, and tantalizing twists, with guest appearances from Kool G Rap and Pharoahe Monch, Wu-Tang’s most prolific artist drops one of his most complete records to date. With more than a dozen albums under his proverbial belt, Ghostface, with his absurdly animated, lyrical lexicon, never fails to entertain.