Curren$y & The Alchemist - Continuance

Curren$y & The Alchemist Revisit Classicist Tropes on Continuance

The pair's latest in a series of well-received collaborations is the hip-hop equivalent of cool jazz.

Curren$y & The Alchemist
Continuance (Jet Life Recordings/ALC Records)

Continuance is the latest in a series of well-received collaborations between Curren$y and the Alchemist; their last project was 2019’s Fetti with Freddie Gibbs. The duo’s music engages an audience in thrall to classicist tropes, from syllable-rich slanguage to sampled beats. In recent years, the Alchemist’s drums and bass lines have grown increasingly soft and unobtrusive, turning his productions into the hip-hop equivalent of cool jazz. On his best work, like his Haram project with Armand Hammer, he uncovers innovative twists on the formula, like heightening the ominous qualities of his melodies. His worst projects, like his Carry the Fire instrumental 12-inch and The Food Villain with Action Bronson, sound like hypebeast dross, mere fodder for colorway vinyl to flip online. Continuance lies somewhere in the middle: It’s not as impressive as Curren$y and Alchemist’s 2011 Covert Coup peak, but it’s pleasing to the ear. Curren$y flips through rhymes in a sharp New Orleans cadence like he’s working a gaming controller, tossing off casual observations about maintaining a successful career, weathering the pandemic, and enjoying expensive things in life. “My son is too young to know that he a prince/I’m so grateful I had him when I was rich,” he raps on “Kool & the Gang.” Meanwhile, Alchemist inserts dialogue from sundry films and other sources into his tracks. The effect is akin to smoking a blunt and happily dozing off to a Netflix movie. The guests include Boldy James, hotly tipped Detroit rapper Babyface Ray, Larry June, Styles P, Havoc, and Wiz Khalifa.

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MIKE, Burning Desire

Brooklyn rapper Michael “MIKE” Bonema is a prolific performer — this is his second 2023 project following Faith Is a Rock, a collaboration with Wiki and The Alchemist highlighted by the standout single “Mayors a Cop.” His tics have grown familiar, from his muddy, baritone flow and viscous diction to self-produced lo-fi loops, making it difficult to differentiate between his sundry projects. Burning Desire has a handful of WTF moments that abruptly shift the usual gears, particularly “African Sex Freak Fantasy,” a number produced by North Carolina musician Gawd that’s larded with distorted bass. Mostly, though, MIKE sticks to a well-established formula. Some of his beats are quite nice and buttery, like when he slows-and-chops Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love” on “Real Love,” and ends “They Don’t Stop in the Rain” with the Notorious B.I.G.’s chorus on “Crush on You.” His raps have a punched-in quality, a volley of bars that usually last around a minute or so, followed by a refrain to tie them together. (He compares his style to “a Sistine” on “Sixteens.”) The technique, so common among rappers in the 2020s, yields some standout lines, like when he raps, “I couldn’t cope with my feelings like Romeo” on “Snake Charm,” which is produced by Laron. Near the final third of Burning Desire, MIKE invites Lila Ramani of Brooklyn band Crumb to sing solo on “Should Be!” The haunting number feels like a palate cleanser and leads to one of the album’s strongest cuts, “What You Say You Are.” As MIKE raps, “I’m Michael Myers with the dreads,” he invokes the best aspects of his persona: A hungry striver full of Brooklyn swagger, trembling from the city’s elements and overeager to share his troubles. Not coincidentally, “What You Say You Are” lasts over three minutes and feels like a hearty dish instead of the minute-long nibbles that define so much of Burning Desire. The guests include Earl Sweatshirt and Larry June — both of whom deliver solid cameos — as well as British musicians Klein, Venna, and Mark William Lewis; experimental vocalist Liv.e, rappers Niontay and El Cousteau, and others. The evocative album art was illustrated by Ghanaian movie-poster veteran D.A. Jasper. MIKE released Burning Desire on his 10k label. * (Recommended)

Shabazz Palaces, Robed in Rareness

“All I want to do is see the girls get a chance/All I want to do is see the bros getting bands,” chants Ishmael Butler on the chorus for “Binoculars.” To that end, the Seattle rapper and bandleader stocks the 24-minute Robed in Rareness with younger prospects of varying experience, from relative unknowns like Royce the Choice and O FINESS to his son and melodic rap veteran Lil Tracy. None of them add much. Instead, the project’s success hinges on Butler’s bejeweled production, which weds electronic funk with spooky, spacey tones. Only “Gel Bait,” which sports an appearance from Geechi Suede of Camp Lo, brings much needed vocal aggression as the two complain about sundry opps and haters. This is Butler’s second major project this year, following an enigmatic outing as Lavarr the Starr on Illusions Ago. That excursion turned Butler into a singer, a shift he has toyed with since Shabazz Palaces’ excellent 2017 single “Shine a Light.” By contrast, Robed in Rareness feels a bit slighter although it closes nicely with “Hustle Crossers.” “Take me away from here,” he pleads in a melodic voice. “I’m lost in a dream.” Rapper/singer Porter Ray appears on “P Kicking G.” Robed in Rareness was released on Sub Pop Records.