Too many of today's rappers talk about absolutely nothing. However, when J. Cole released "Born Sinner," Jay Z released "Magna Carta," Kanye West released "Yeezus," Wale released "The Gifted" and Wyclef Jean released his mixtape "April Showers," hungry hip-hop customers ran to their computers and retail stores.
And after listening to all five CDs nonstop, this is my ranking:
1. Wale "The Gifted"
2. Wyclef Jean "April Showers"
3. Kanye "Yeezus"
4. Jay Z "Magna Carta"
5. J. Cole "Born Sinner"
The iTunes charts clearly disagree with my ranking (and Wyclef's mixtape is free). However, here is the rational for the order of the CDs:
1. Wale "The Gifted": I saw him perform live when he wasn't as popular as he is now. It was during the Sprite Step Off, but the music was too loud to hear his lyrics. Even one row away in the media box, he sounded muffled. Listening to him in a quieter setting when he can really shine is a better way to see his performances.
"Sunshine" is an incredible song, and it has an Earth, Wind and Fire feel. "Clappers" is a party track that should get everyone on the dance floor, but Nicki Minaj's verse could've been left off altogether. Both versions of "Bad" are equally good. This entire CD has quality beats and bars, minus "Rotation" and the hypocrisy in referring to himself by the n-word during "Black Heroes."
2. Wyclef Jean "April Showers": Wyclef is one of the few artists who reinvents himself and says something listeners can't predict before he opens his mouth. The mix CD has 33 songs so there was a lot to digest. The latter half of the songs were artists he's apparently co-signing.
Wyclef is a storyteller so of course there was music about his Haitian background, women in his life, dance tracks (there's always a stripper track), school shootings, racial profiling, Trayvon Martin, his presidential campaign in Haiti and a lot about music industry know-it-alls. There is no one like Wyclef so he has no competition in his lane, even with songs like "Gone Til November," which fans later found out wasn't even a love song.
Recommended tracks: "Kick Knowledge," "Bang Bang Bang," "Glow of a Rose," "Open Letter Freestyle," "Pop Your Belly" (if you know how to belly dance, it's that much better), "All Right Then," "Hope and Pray," "I Wish It Was Music" and "Started from the Bottom (Interlude)."
3. Kanye West "Yeezus": We've all heard "808s and Heartbreak." He never goes for the obvious, even when he does something as simple as bragging about his jewelry. You better believe if he does it, it'll be on a track like "New Slave" where he's pondering on whether he should brag without a jab. Most of the beats aren't wow'ing, but lyricism trumps instrumentals in the long run. The "On Sight" instrumental is a little out there, but the message is worth it.
2 Chainz was correct to say Kanye would have quotables on CNN, and "Black Skinhead" and "New Slaves" are probably the songs the "mainstream ratchet" artist was talking about. Those are the two songs where the beats are as superb as the lyrics. It's rare to get both from any artist, and judging from commercials that featured these two, it's no secret what the winning songs are.
4. Jay Z "Magna Carta": Although the song wasn't on this CD, I was frustrated with "Open Letter." He threw Pres. Obama under the bus. He caught heat from conservatives for going to Cuba and then released a song stating, "Boy from the hood but got White House clearance . . . Obama said 'Chill, you gonna get me impeached/But you don't need this shit anyway, chill with me on the beach.'"
Obama's camp had to explain that the lyrics weren't true, and he had nothing to do with Jay Z going to Cuba. And Jay Z's response about "clearance" on The Breakfast Club? was, "You believed that?!"
Every time this guy lies, he blames it on poetic license and being an artist but then will start trending topics saying "facts only." Similar to his book "Decoded," he is constantly blowing off his own flaws/mistakes but pointing a finger at anyone for doing some of the same crazy stuff. As the president's friend, why would we not believe he told Jay Z what was in "Open Letter"? Presidents and press secretaries shouldn't have to hold a press conference or go to the Correspondents Dinner defending misleading rap lyrics. Let's talk about Syria, endorsements, history, health insurance, immigration, gay rights, civil rights, the Trayvon Martin case, gun rights, employment, not somebody rapping about Cuba!
With that said, Jay Z is a talented, charming, funny, intelligent and business savvy guy. He's difficult not to like. Simple things like him acknowledging the other panelists on "Real Time with Bill Maher" will make some smile at his manners.
My usual problem with popular CDs is the beat is better than the lyrics. On Jay Z's CD, it was the opposite. Almost all of the beats were weak but I zoomed in on all the lyrics. There were points where the raps would've been better a capella. At some point it was difficult to tell if he was rapping for the sake of rapping or really meant it with songs like "Jay Z Blue." That song gives miserable women who hate Beyonce something else to run their mouths about. Felt the same way when T.I. made "Love This Life."
Recommended tracks: "Tom Ford," "F.U.T.W.," "Somewhere in America" (still feel like Miami strippers should be acknowledged for twerking two decades before Miley Cyrus), "Heaven," "Beach Is Better" (Best line: "I brought sand to the beach 'cause my beach is better/You can keep your beach/Cause that beach is whatever), "BBC" (Any track with Nas and Jay Z is a winner), "Nickels and Dimes" (Best line: "I've got a problem with the handouts/I took the man route").
5. J. Cole "Born Sinner": How many times can someone use a backwards compliment like "bad bitch" in one song. Didn't Lupe Fiasco already point out the hypocrisy in this terminology? Queen Latifah, too. Smart people shouldn't dumb their music down, and there were moments on this CD worth yelling "Pick up a thesaurus! Find another way to describe females." But then there are those songs that are really, really good. "Cole World" is a much better CD than this one (specifically "In the Morning," "Can't Get Enough" and "Work Out") though.
Recommended tracks: "Crooked Smile," "Let Nas Down," "Power Trip" and "Born Sinner"
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