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The Early Bird: Top New Releases 7-3-20 – 7-9-20 Reviewed

As we head into one of the most seriously bizarre July 4 weekends, rap albums make a big come back. The past couple of weeks have seen a constant realm #BLM inspired hip hop  singles (Noname heads the pack, H.E.R. and Lil Baby following closely behind her) but not much in the album division. That has changed. Pop Smoke, Lil Wayne, and a Gucci Mane are all must hears.  Add to that Kanye West’s new single and July 4th should keep you bopping.

Pop Smoke was murdered during a home invasion after he posted a picture of his LA mansion on his instagram feed which accidently included his address, he was 20 years old. Smoke was a deep throated rapper who took England’s drill scene, an even more violent take on grime, and brought it to New York and the US with the addictive “Gatti” and “Dior” and the “woooo” call. Without Pop Smoke New York Drill might stall the same way soundcloud rap did after Lil Peep and XXXtentacion passed (an overdose, shot dead -in case you’re keeping score at home), though there are a coupla disciples ready to take the helm and Fivio Foreign (the ay ay ay guy) first in line, as, following a coupla well received mixtapes, Smoke’s debut album Shoot For The Stars Aim For The Moon drops. Produced by 50 cents, the sound is Woo darkness and brutality and joined by a who’s woo of  featured stars to whom  50 gives a dirty sound a clean production. Quavo shows up on three tracks, both Lil Baby and Dababy on another, and Latin pop star Karol G makes an appearance. I love the sound completely and I love Pop Smoke’s voice, but every time I concentrate on the riches bitches and glocks lyrics I can’t take em seriously. Still, this is a loss for the rap community of the first order and while one assumes there will more in vaults, this is a real album and a labor of love. Two of his best songs aren’t here, but “Dior” shows (Grade: A-).

Gucci Mane (along with T.I.) invented Atlanta trap and has been dropping album after album since his release from prison in 2016, and his latest Gucci Mane Presents: So Icy Summer, a mix tape that is one of the his better post-2016 efforts (FYI:  “fourteen studio albums, two collaborative albums, four compilation albums, one soundtrack, seven EPs, 74 mixtapes and 84 singles”) with “Breasto” and anything including  the 25 year old So Icey Girl , who went from being an escort to being a very good rapper who I would love to hear a mixtape from, at the forefront (Grade: B+). No one has wasted their chances as completely as Lil Wayne has, drug addicted, former prisoner of the state, and record label fighting Lil Wayne drops his mixtape FWA from 2015 and it is so good it suggests Weezy’s skills are deteriorating as in is sincerely superior to Funeral from earlier this year, even if Funeral’s “Love You Fuck Yo” is better than anything here (Grade: B).

Remaining with albums, here are two live ones: Live at the Baked Potato by Soft Machine and  David Bowie’s Ouvrez Le Chien (Live Dallas 95).  Soft Machine never fully recovered from losing Robert Wyatt,  and I did say fully, their  live album from the LA club Baked Potato in 2019  in support of their 2018 release Hidden Details (an album I haven’t heard but if I can find it -it isn’t on streaming platforms). I am not a friend of UK  prog-rock, Yes and ELP stopped it dead till UK punk washed em away, and still, only King Crimson is better at the genre: the are post-1960s rock artistry without an ounce of pretension they fuel guitar and keyboards mood music plus add sax when necessary (Grade: B+). Bowie at hisariest on yet another live album, this one from 1995 so you know what to expect.  Still on albums, Paul Weller’s On Sunset is his best since 2017, a soulful, Style Councilish album, try “Village”  (Grade: B).

Kanye West’s “Wash Us In The Blood” is what Yeezus would have sounded like if he had found God earlier, all industrial strength noise and Christianity. Suggesting Christianity to beat back racism, Kanye joined the protest and so far it sure hits me as though nobody has a better idea then calling for the holy spirit to come down (Grade: A). Kanye is also on Ty Dolla Sign’s  Ego Death so I guess Ty is out of prison, and he has the people he needs to remain near the top of neo-soul, FKA twigs from the get go, fresh beats courtesy Skrillex and Kanye slaughters his verse (Grade: B+). Two years after Vale sinked “Sweet Blasphemy ” is prog-metal and not much (Grade: C+). Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire’s  – produced by Madlib (just finished with Noname’s song of the year), is 90s style rap about black masculinity (Grade: B). “Slow Grenade” is a change of pace for Ellie Goulding and the giveaway  that this is more song and less production kick is Lauv on the track (Grade: B).

Finally, Willie Nelson is the one hit wonder (“Crazy”) who appears to be anything but a one hit wonder,  has his latest piece of Americana with First Rose of Spring, a crushingly boring work… except his cover of Jimmy Dean’s “Just Bummin’ Around” is a goodie (Grade: C)


Sweet Blasphemy – Black Veil Brides (Grade: C+)

Ouvrez Le Chien (Live Dallas 95) – David Bowie – C

Slow Grenade – Ellie Goulding, Lauv – B

Gucci Mane Presents: So Icy Summer – Gucci Mane, The New 1017 – B+

Wash Us In The Blood – Kanye West, Travis Scott – A

FWA – Lil Wayne – B

Black Mirror – Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire – B

On Sunset – Paul Weller – B

Shoot For The Stars Aim For The Moon – Pop Smoke – A-

Live at the Baked Potato –  Soft Machine – B+

Ego Death (feat. Kanye West, FKA twigs & Skrillex) – Ty Dolla $ign, FKA twigs, Skrillex, Kanye West – B+

First Rose of Spring – Willie Nelson – C


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