It seems like we’ve lost a musician every single month this year. This past month Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington passed away. Rest in peace and thank you for all your musical contributions. At the very tail end of June, we saw Jay Z had dropped a surprise album which made it on this month’s list. Good music was in no shortage of diversity as artists like Lana Del Rey, Nine Inch Nails, Borealism, Chronixx and Niia all released solid albums. However, only 5 can make the list.
These are TMG’s 5 best albums from this past month.
Jay Z – 4:44
(Album Of The Month)
After all the hype and rumors, Jay Z’s 4:44 didn’t disappoint in the slightest. In some ways, 4:44 is the complete anti-thesis to his last album, Magna Carta Holy Grail. Jay no longer attempts to chase sounds or make club bangers. Sean Carter doesn’t waste a single bar in this album, like an expert marksman, every shot he takes has a purpose. In his 21 year career, Jay Z has never released an album as personal or as vulnerable as 4:44. The entire album is produced by yet another veteran in the game, No I.D., who provides soulful backdrops with hard hitting drums. Jay hasn’t rapped over this much consistent production since The Black Album.
Of course some of the viral moments relate to his infidelity to Beyonce, “You almost went Eric Benet, let the baddest girl in the world get away”. Through out the albums there are plenty moments like this where Jay just lays it all out in a way where his honesty cuts through to make the track bleed. On Kill Jay Z, he airs out drama between him and Kanye West before checking him in a ways that only a big brother could. Even where Jay shows off his usual braggadocio swagger, it comes off more as giving financial advice rather than bragging about his riches.
More so, if you want even more insight on this album, Jay has given his fans personal footnotes regarding each song in order to add more layers to the album. It’s a great move by the veteran that connects his audience closer to his mentality after releasing music for over two decades. This is definite grown man rap and an album that takes repeated listens to be truly appreciated. Jay shows maturity, understanding and humanizes himself to his listeners in ways that he had never done before. In his 14th album, Jay proves that he still has plenty left in the tank.
Stand out tracks: The Story Of OJ, Smile, Marcy Me
Sheer Mag – Need To Feel Your Love
Sheer Mag has been getting a lot of love online even without a strong digital presence. Up until a few months ago, you could only listen and purchase their three EPs on their Bandcamp page, where they also sold limited vinyl copies of each. Need To Feel Your Love is their definitive debut LP and a great introduction for those new to Philly’s underground riff kings. Sheer Mag is a band that brings a mix of old school garage rock, punk and power pop. Every song is backed by the Kyle & Hart Seeley, brothers who commandeer the band’s memorable bass and guitar riffs such as the album’s lead single, Just Can’t Get Enough. From the get go, the band drives a power chords that can instantly make your head nod.
The backbone of this band is Tina Hallway, the raspy lead singer who cuts through the tracks with her shrieking vocal chords. Although I must admit that her voice might be too much for some, with this album she’s refined her style and the best she’s ever sounded. Halliday can voice riots and revolutions with a single verse delivered in her punk soul vocal chords. Her lyrics are loaded with social and political references from the Stonewall riots to the gerrymandering that goes on in elections. Need To Feel Your Love should get a lot more listens as the year goes along, and Sheer Mag is a band that is just beginning to hit it’s stride.
Stand out tracks: Need To Feel Your Love, Expect The Bayonet, Suffer Me
Tyler The Creator – Flower Boy
Even though on the surface to the average listener Tyler has always had a very juvenile approach to music, in reality he’s always been on a real personal tip. Whether he’s talking about his estranged father or anxiety he deals with on a day to day, on Flower Boy he tackles a much larger personal issue; his recently admitted homosexuality. There are a lot of celebrities which would use this as a crutch or gimmick, but the truth is Tyler does not fall to that. In fact, he estates his sexuality so matter-of-factly that it seems he’s just venting to his fans. Flower Boy as a whole seems like a therapy session that Tyler is more than relieved to let out all these emotions that must have been drowning him for some time. Garden Shed is the moment where he really expresses everything, and backed by Estelle the result is one of the smoothest tracks in Tyler’s catalogue.
As usual, Tyler handles all production himself and presents a drastic change from the distorted cluster fuck that was Cherry Bomb. In complete contrast, Flower Boy is Tyler’s most melodic project as he steps up his production chops massively. A majority of the album has a real hazy chilled out vibe, but the bass heavy bangers that start mosh pits in Odd Future concerts are still present. Who Dat Boy is clearly the hardest song on the album and it features A$AP Rocky who shares great chemistry once again with the OF leader. Whatever issues Tyler was dealing when composing Flower Boy enabled him to make his best work thus far and it’s a welcomed sign of growth from one of the most intriguing rap personas this generation.
Stand out tracks: Who Dat Boy, Garden Shed, 911/Mr. Lonely
Damian Marley – Stony Hill
It took Damian Marley twelve years to release a follow up to Welcome To Jamrock, and it arrived to little fanfare. I have no clue why because this album is as solid as they come. Stony Hill is a 18 tracks of reggae fusion with R&B and hip hop that’s easily enjoyable. Here We Go sets off the album with a trap influenced reggae track and Damien shows his toasting hasn’t missed a step. The DJ scratches during the chorus also set the track apart from the rest of the album. Damien’s topics are easily predictable but that doesn’t diminish the quality of the music. Damien is joined by his equally talented brother on Medication, the expected weed anthem of the album which I’ve had on repeat for several weeks. Slave Mill offers social commentary over a melodic hook, “Walking home a child gets killed/ Neighbors free to shoot at will.”
Production was largely handled by Damien himself and its as well arranged as you can expect. Rich guitars and brass adorn the album along with it’s bass heavy reggae drums. Living It Up is a great crossover record with a catchy hook worthy of chanting on a good day, and the whole album holds up to this standard. The youngest Marley once again delivers a great album to bang out during the summer time.
Stand out tracks: Here We Go, Medication, Living It Up
Terrace Martin Presents The Pollyseeds – Sounds Of Crenshaw
Terrace Martin keeps flying under the radar even after earning a Grammy nomination with last year’s Velvet Portraits. Martin has worked behind the scenes collaborating on tracks with stars like Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dogg, Robert Glasper, among others. Yet the extremely talented West Coast producer has yet to run out of tracks and delivers another dope product along with his new band, The Pollyseeds. Sounds Of Crenshaw blends Martin’s Jazzy nature along with G-Funk and R&B. The Pollyseeds collaborate with rapper Problem, under the alias Chachi, on two tracks including Intentions which finds him harmonizing his grimey voice along Pollyseed’s vocalist Rose Gold. The duet works in a unique way and it serves as one of the albums best moments.
Sound Of Crenshaw is mostly an instrumental album and The Pollyseeds chemistry is undeniable. Robert Glasper joins the band for a cover of Janet Jackson’s Funny How Time Flies, before The Pollyseeds once again take charge by themselves on Mama D/Leimert Park, a horn heavy track backed by a boom bap drum pattern. On the tracks where other singers join, such as Believe, their voices always blend into the background and let the instruments do the blunt of the talking. Terrace Martin is one of the best producers this decade, and Sounds Of Crenshaw is another winning entry in his ever expanding discography.
Stand out tracks: Intentions, Mama D/Leimert Park, Believe