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  • Writer's pictureEvan

Listens for the Week #46-47: D2x, Nonazz, Crimzon Merlot, Genesis Owusu, The Jacksons & More

Since most of the big names have dropped albums in 2023 already, the mainstream is becoming less eventful as the year goes on. Conversely, in the alternative and underground scenes, music is thriving more than ever, with some of the sharpest rap projects and ambitious genre-fusions releasing this past month.


My Favourite Albums This Week


Something New


1. D2x – Hotel 1105 (2023) [Conscious Hip Hop]


Following up 2021’s The Color Blue, Chicago MC D2x is back with his long-awaited sophomore album, Hotel 1105. In every regard, the rapper’s latest project is a step up from his last. His pen game is thoughtful and introspective, narrating his own come-up in the rap scene with an acute attention to technique and a confident flow that turns the whole record into an expression of motivation. On the production side, Hotel 1105 is gorgeous, embodying the soulful sound of the Midwest with a seamless blend of funk, R&B, and jazz samples. The opener, “Suite Life”, encapsulates the beauty of the album perfectly: a swirl of bass, synths, and echoing vocals loop under X’s swaggering verses, and when the MC is finished rapping, the instrumental swells into a beautiful climax of summery sounds. My favourite song has to be “Faith”, whose crisp percussion and hypnotic vocal sample create the perfect backdrop for the rapper’s reflective rhymes. Overall, Hotel 1105 is D2x at his most consistent, charismatic, and cohesive.


2. Nonazz & Crimzon Merlot – Train of Thought (2023) [Conscious Hip Hop]


Just two months after his foreboding collaborative record with Klwn Cat, GREYMATTER, Toronto-based rapper Nonazz is back with another fantastic project. Teaming up with Dubai producer Crimzon Merlot, Train of Thought is a soulful departure from Nazz’s last effort. The laidback, jazzy soundscape of the album matches well with the understated delivery of the MC, with his densely-packed rhymes floating over a dreamy array of instrumentals. Train of Thought starts strong with the title track, where Nazz adopts an almost whispered tone as he glides over a shimmer of hi-hats. The closer, “Clarity”, is definitely my favourite moment on the album. The beat is built up of these grand string samples, with a patter of piano notes flowing in and out of earshot while layers of vocal samples flood over the instruments. All the while, Nonazz delivers one of his finest performances to date, flexing his sharp ability as a storyteller as he masters the intricate production. While Train of Thought isn’t my favourite project from Nazz this year, it’s still a fantastic collaboration, with Crimzon’s elegant style adding depth and power to the rapper’s verses.


3. Genesis Owusu – STRUGGLER (2023) [Dance-Punk, Neo-Soul & Hip Hop]


One of my most anticipated releases of 2023, STRUGGLER is the sophomore album from genre-fusing prodigy Genesis Owusu. His debut album, Smiling with No Teeth, was an eclectic melting pot of ideas, where Owusu bounced from punk bangers to soulful ballads with the charisma and creativity to seamlessly fuse the opposing styles together. STRUGGLER is no different – leaning more into punk than ever, his vocals are harsh and explosive, rapping until he’s breathless on highlights like “Leaving the Light”, where his delivery overpowers the abrasiveness of the noisy instrumental. “That’s Life (A Swamp)” sees the artist go in a completely different direction, delivering a summery fusion of funk and electronica with the smooth, chirpy vocals to fit in with the upbeat soundscape. Dealing in themes of death and purpose, the sound of STRUGGLER shifts back and forth from soft to abrasive sounds, just as Owusu’s outlook on death evolves over the course of the project. No individual track can sum up the style of STRUGGLER because the album embodies no single genre. Like Smiling with No Teeth before it, Genesis’s latest record is another forward-thinking experiment in genre-fusion that never feels messy thanks to the singer’s boundless imagination.


Something Classic


The Jacksons – Triumph (1980) [Pop Soul]


Although Triumph is advertised as an album by The Jacksons, it really sounds like another Michael Jackson solo record. Whether it be the stunning opener “Can You Feel It” or the melancholic balladry of “Heartbreak Hotel”, Michael steals the show at every opportunity, rendering all other vocalists irrelevant as his effortless high notes always leave an impact. In MJ’s stunning catalogue, Triumph gets overshadowed since it was sandwiched between Off the Wall in ’79 and Thriller in ’84, but its highlights rival the finest cuts of either classic. The aforementioned “Can You Feel It” is one of the best songs of the 1980s, capturing the hypnotic funk of Off the Wall but with a cinematic punch that starts the album off on an incredible high. In only nine tracks, Triumph exemplifies all the glamourous danceability that made Michael Jackson – and the Jackson 5 – so legendary.


Something I Love


Michael Jackson – Off the Wall (1979) [Disco]


In my opinion, this is the best album in MJ’s catalogue. Thriving in the style of ‘70s disco, Michael’s animated vocals fit right in with the colourful arrangements and rippling basslines of the record’s sound. The album starts strong with the one-two punch of “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” and “Rock With You”, two of the best hits of Michael’s career where the intricate production is just as engaging as his charismatic performance. The deep cuts are just as spectacular as the hits, whether it be the mesmerising bass of “Get on the Floor”, the dreamy chorus of “I Can’t Help It” or the raging disco party of “Burn This Disco Out”. From front to back, Off the Wall is disco perfection, showcasing Michael’s dynamic ability as a vocalist as he delivers the most upbeat and consistent project in his discography.


My Favourite Songs This Week


1. Dom Archey, Che Noir & Backwood Sweetie – “Jewels” (2023) [Underground Hip Hop]


The first official release from Dom Archey, the producer makes a strong first impression with “Jewels”. The beat is a patchwork of soul samples sewn together to create a languid soundscape, perfect for MCs Che Noir and Backwood Sweetie who both rap with a cold, laidback delivery to fit the relaxed tone of the instrumental.




2. Missy Elliott – “Lose Control” (2005) [Pop Rap]


Among my favourite Missy Elliott songs, “Lose Control” is a timeless hit with a beat so hypnotic I have to replay the track a dozen times before I’m satisfied. Missy’s swaggering, raunchy bars are as impactful as ever, flowing effortlessly over a dizzying spiral of synths which make up one of the most bizarre beats she has ever rapped over.


3. Magdalena Bay – “All You Do” (2022) [Synthpop]


Since “All You Do” released back in August last year, I haven’t been able to stop listening to it. Mica’s warm, whispered vocals are simply enchanting, hooking me on every word as her soft voice matches the serene guitar-work. As strings, synths, and guitar harmonise for the chorus, the track’s lush climax makes this one of the most beautiful songs I’ve heard this decade.

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