Listens for the Week #41-42: Nas, Saymo, Dero, J. Brown, Mar1asol, Patty Honcho, Taylor Swift + More
As the summer goes on, I’ve been listening to more music than ever, making up for the many months of infrequent listening by cramming countless classics into my daily schedule. From funk, to grunge, to Golden Age hip hop, I’ve been loving classics all over the musical spectrum, but as always, I’ve left room to see what exciting new releases have arrived.
My Favourite Albums This Week
1. Nas – Magic 2 (2023) [East Coast Hip Hop]
The latest project from Nas, as expected, is great. His lyricism is as precise as usual, full of clever lines, thoughtful verses, and memorable hooks. Beyond that, however, Magic 2 is nothing extraordinary for the Queensbridge rapper. The beats are slick and the rhymes consistent, but it doesn’t feel as bold, unpredictable, or complete as his last few projects. King’s Disease was a modernised leap of faith for Nas; its sequel was a sharpened version of its predecessor; Magic was a surprise drop with the MC at his most energetic; and King’s Disease III was that modern style perfected. The third instalment felt final, with Nas making a statement about his supreme ability by handling the whole project without a single feature. The epic finale of the King’s Disease trilogy, therefore, makes Magic 2 look tame by comparison. It’s far from a bad album, and the chemistry between Nas and Hit-Boy is still prominent, but after King’s Disease III, perhaps my expectations for the duo were too high.
2. Saymo – WORDS2KEEPYOUWARM (2023) [Underground Hip Hop]
WORDS2KEEPYOUWARM is a tight package of hip hop excellence from Saymo, with dozens of ideas squeezed into a concise ten minute runtime. There are only five tracks, the majority of which don’t even last two minutes. Despite the brevity of each song, the project has the weight of a full-length album – the level of detail within each track coupled with the seamless transitions from one song to the next gives the project a sense of cohesion many rappers couldn’t achieve in fifty minutes. As an MC, Saymo is instantly captivating, with a witty sense of lyricism, an array of slick flows and a smooth, laidback delivery. The production is fantastic, with notable highlights being the ominous piano loops on “Jerrz to Yerevan”, the swirl of distorted samples on “Half a Watermelon”, and the summery, pop rap glamour of “Andre AGASsi”.
3. Dero – A Lens Through My Life (2023) [Conscious Hip Hop]
As its title suggests, A Lens Through My Life is a soulful exploration of Dero’s past and future, rapping at length about his many struggles and his perseverant desire to succeed. The production across the album creates a cold, spacious atmosphere for Dero’s lyrics to shine through, switching up his flows over a range of calm, soul-inspired instrumentals. His pen game is where the record truly excels, and Dero seems aware of that himself, turning the interlude “MR. Still Caint Quit” into an acapella where the MC’s devastating storytelling is enough to keep the track engaging. Oozing confidence on every song, the Memphis-based rapper dominates each instrumental, crafting some of the most vulnerable and motivational hip hop of the year so far.
James Brown – The Payback (1973) [Funk]
The Payback is one of those classic albums that I adored the first time round, but for whatever reason, I have always been hesitant to return to it. After revisiting it this week, however, I’m certain I will have it in my rotation for months to come, as the record showcases some of the finest funk I have ever heard. With a seventy-two minute runtime but only eight tracks, each song is given plenty of room to breathe, with the dense, funky instrumentation slowly building as James rambles with his iconic raspy delivery. Whether he’s being heartfelt or comedic, no matter the theme, he always brings a ferocious performance, letting his thoughts stream into the microphone as if every song were a freestyle. Treading the line between spoken word and singing, Brown’s vocals are unlike any of his contemporaries, shouting his lyrics with traces of melody, but never quite enough to sing along. His vocals act like more of an instrument built into the production, adding to the summery, ever-changing soundscape of The Payback.
Something I Love
1. MAR1ASOL – Different (2023) [Contemporary R&B]
After just a few listens, I can confidently call Different one of my favourite R&B projects of 2023. The EP begins with “city bih”. Some soothing backing vocals invite the listener into the heart of the track where MAR1ASOL’s strong, emotive vocals float over a rich, summery instrumental. “givin u love” might be my favourite song on Different, with the infectious, high-pitched chants in the chorus looping in my head for hours after I’m done listening. In just five tracks, the singer accomplishes so much, flexing the strength and emotion of her voice, and showing off her innate talent to craft memorable hooks. In ten short minutes, Different showcases all the strengths of MAR1ASOL’s sound, leaving me anxious to hear where she takes her style next.
2. Patty Honcho – The Blaxploitation (2023) [Funky Hip Hop]
New Jersey rapper Patty Honcho ended 2022 with Action!, an EP that displays the MC’s talent, but ended too abruptly to leave much of an impact on me. The Blaxploitation is a huge improvement upon its predecessor – Patty has the same wisdom-packed bars and rhyme-heavy verses, but there’s a newfound energy to his performance as he raps over a range of funk-laced beats. The groovy basslines, vibrant horns, and shimmering percussion bring out an unhinged passion in Patty, delivering some of the finest verses of his career as he hops from flow to flow. In particular, his performance on “The Embodiment” stands out, with Patty swaying his words with the finesse of a saxophone meandering through a solo. Whether it be his intricate verses, his hypnotic hooks, or his expert choice in production, The Blaxploitation is undoubtedly Patty Honcho’s strongest work to date.
My Favourite Songs This Week
1. Taylor Swift – “exile” (2020) [Singer-Songwriter]
My favourite song from Taylor Swift, “exile” is a powerful duet wherein a melancholic piano melody gives way for some crestfallen vocals from Justin Vernon. Taylor brings an equally emotional verse, whose softer tone offers a nice contrast against the deeper vocals of Vernon, sonically conveying the divide between the ex-lovers as they sing about their bitter separation. The bridge is where the song reaches its emotional climax, as the two voices spiral around one another, with Vernon’s lines clashing against Swift’s, mirroring the very conflict that led to the relationship’s end.
2. JID – “Raydar” (2022) [Southern Hip Hop]
Kicking off The Forever Story, “Raydar” is the perfect opening that encapsulates everything brilliant about JID. Switching up his flow a dozen times, with several different cadences and deliveries, JID raps like he’s ten MCs in one, giving each one twenty seconds with the mic before passing it on to the next. In typical JID fashion, a sudden beat switch leads into the even more impressive second half of the song. After seeing it live just this week, it’s obvious that JID will go down as one of the best rappers of this generation.
3. Jessie Ware – “That! Feels Good!” (2023) [Dance-Pop]
The opener to my album of the year is a masterclass in dance-pop where all of Jessie’s strengths are on full show. Her playful, seductive tone adds to the sensual atmosphere of the song, with a funky bassline leading the listener through an ocean of lovestruck chants and excitable choruses, all of which fuse together into an almost unintelligible (but equally mesmerising) storm of sound at the climax.