In a year that was starting to wane, June happened. This month picked up where others had slacked off and I had to leave a few releases I liked off this month’s best albums list. Big Boi’s Boomiverse was an enjoyable release with one of my favorite tracks this year (Kill Jill). Beach Fossils dropped their best project yet with Somersault, and it was close to making the list. But above all I need to give props to Brockhampton, Saturation is a great album and nobody should sleep on it. They’re easily the best young crew in hip hop and they will make a name for themselves as the year goes on. Oh, and on top of everything, Jay Z’s 4:44 just came out but we’ll see if that makes it next month.
Let’s get down to the 5 best albums this month:
Benjamin Booker – Witness
Album Of The Month
Benjamin Booker’s self titled debut album established as one of the most talented up and coming acts in the blues rock scene. Four years later, Booker’s Witness shows his growth as an artist in both music and lyrics. Booker said he wrote the some songs while on a trip to Mexico where he observed the events that unfolded with the Black Lives Matter movement from an outsider’s perspective. These events lyrically inspired the album’s gospel influenced title track, Witness, which features Mavis Staple and is a testament to the injustice and protests that are currently happening.
If you’re looking for the hype type of tracks that were found on his debut, they are definitely still here such as the opener, Right On You. This time Booker adds some electronic elements to the intro before a potent riff. However, his best songs on Witness are the ones where everything slows down and allows Booker to truly work his vulnerability and songwriting which leads to beautifully written pieces like Motivation and Believe. Witness takes a softer approach when compared to his debut. Instead of the high energy punk/rockabilly/garage blues he became known for, Booker switched gears a bit to release an album which is more soul-centric while retaining the same rawness that gave him praise. His growth is clear and a true testament to his artistry.
Stand Out Tracks: Motivation, Witness, Believe
Joyner Lucas – 508-507-2209
I’m not exaggerating when I say that Joyner Lucas is the 2nd best story telling artist in this new generation of hip hop. The only one that comes close is Kendrick Lamar, and even then it’s two different types of story telling, similar to comparing two great authors. The level of detail that Joyner adds to his stories is uncanny, and his sophomore project 508-507-2209 (which he’s calling a mixtape) is loaded with narratives that back up my statement.
Take for example the heart wrenching I’m Sorry, where Joyner, in two verses takes the persona of a man who commits suicide and a friend/family member he left behind. The verses will tear at your soul. Even more so, what Joyner does better than anyone right now, is put out matching visuals that enhance the song. Do yourself a favor and watch the video for I’m Sorry, it only adds to the pain he’s rapping about. Keep It 100 is another song that has a video that truly makes the song better, as you get a visual representation of Joyner’s attention to detail. It’s a sight to behold.
Outside of his story telling, Joyner’s flow is flawless. Ultrasound opens the album as he effortlessly switches his style up. Joyner Lucas is the most talented up & commer in hip hop and people are finally tuning in even when major publications still manage to ignore his talent (What’s up with that XXL?). My only real problem with the album is that it runs too long, but Joyner’s skills make this a must listen and one of hip hop’s best albums of 2017.
Stand Out Tracks: Ultrasound, Winter Blues, I’m Sorry
Dan Auerbach – Waiting On A Song
Any fan that follows The Black Keys know that they have really drifted from recording gritty records in empty factories. Dan Auerbach’s 2nd solo album, Waiting On A Song, marks another step further away from that sound, but I do not mean it in a bad way. After opening up his own label and a recording studio in Nashville, he pays tribute to his new home base with an album that centers on throwback country soul. Auerbach recruits a few legends for this album including the Titan Of Twang, Duane Eddy, who joins him on two of the albums best cuts Livin’ In Sin and King Of A One Horse Town. The latter being an anthem to those afraid to take risks due to fear of failure.
Auerbach’s songwriting is best when it’s wit and ridiculous humor stand out, such as Stand By My Girl; a song which he declares his profound loyalty to his woman, due to fear of her killing him. This vision is complete as he describes how beautiful she would look at his own funeral. Waiting On A Song sounds like smoking a joint outside on a beautiful day, this album shines with it’s breezy summer mood through out the record and it’s a welcome departure from Auerbach’s previous material.
Stand Out Tracks: Waiting On A Song, King Of A One Horse Town, Never In My Wildest Dreams
Royal Blood – How Did We Get So Dark?
Royal Blood is a English duo which blew the doors open with their self titled album in 2014. How Did We Get So Dark? marks their sophomore return and little has changed. Ben Thatcher still delivers punishing drums while Mike Kerr handles the vocals and an absolutely great bass guitar which constantly fills up the body of the track. Royal Blood aims to prove they’re far from a one album wonder by still tearing up heavy riffs and composing the catchy choruses that caused their debut to be so acclaimed.
As you listen to their lead single, Lights Out, I wonder how such a monster sound emerges from just a duo. Hook, Line & Sinker features an intense crunched up riff right off the bat that never relents. HDWGSD doesn’t offer much change over it’s predecessor, it’s being more polished at times but their style remains intact. If you’re a fan of riff heavy rock, Royal Blood is the best young talent out in a genre that constantly gets unnecessarily overlooked in modern times.
Stand Out Tracks: Lights Out, Where Are You Now?, Hook, Line & Sinker
Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory
Vince Staples’ commercial debut, Summertime ’06, was critically acclaimed but I felt it was a bit long and not as focused as it could have been. That’s where Big Fish Theory comes in at a brief 36 minutes and gets right down to the point, to make your neck break and bust up your speakers. Big Fish Theory also has Staples experimenting with electronic sounds such as house and european EDM, and detroit techno. Zach Setoff produces a majority of the album, including Big Fish which is an absolute banger with an ear worm of a Juicy J vocal sample for the hook.
Kendrick Lamar finally collaborates with Vince on the bass heavy Yeah Right, which is co-produced by SOPHIE and Flume. Besides that feature, the album isn’t loaded with overbearing guest appearances. Damon Albarn, Ty Dolla $ign, Kilo Kish and A$AP Rocky all appear on Big Fish Theory but none take Vince’s spotlight with every guest spot adding more of a feel to the track rather than a name on a star studded guest list. Vince Staples managed to drop a record that stands out in today’s hip hop landscape and accents his strengths all while evolving his sound.
Stand Out Tracks: Big Fish, 745, BagBak