First impressions

Sounds and Visions from the Internet and Elsewhere

Lil Yachty, Let’s Start Here

Lil Yachty’s Let’s Start Here has earned notice for its decidedly space-y and vaporous tones, the result of a collaboration with Chairlift’s Patrick Wimberly, Jeremy “SadPony” Raisen and his brother Jeremiah (best known for work with Lizzo and Yves Tumor), and bassist Jacob Portrait of Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Yachty aims for Gen-Z psychedelic fervor: think Travis Scott, Tame Impala, and Swae Lee’s Swaecation half of Rae Sremmurd’s SR3MM. On “The Black Seminole,” Diana Gordon squalls as if mimicking Clare Torry in Pink Floyd’s “The Great Gig in the Sky.” For “I’ve Officially Lost Vision,” Yachty harmonizes, “I did way too much drugs, I’ve been swimming in space.” Texturally, Let’s Start Here is ear candy. Who doesn’t love laconic, shoegaze-y guitars? But it also seems banal. Given groundwork laid by similar explorers such as Andre 3000 and Kid Cudi, Yachty doesn’t commit much of himself. The predominant theme in this Urban Outfitters-bound soundtrack is molly-tinged dream-pop euphoria and coy sentiments like, “Meanwhile/You’re done/Had a little too much fun/I cannot stop touching you” on “We Saw the Sun.” Early praise for Let’s Start Here from industry mandarins such as Questlove and Apple Music’s Ebro Darden may have prompted backlash from a segment of rap fandom that objects to any whiff of maximalist stench. But give Yachty credit: He knows how to assemble and sequence an hour of shambolic melodic charms, even if his dusted symphony feels more like a wispy breeze than a desert storm. Guest vocalists include Justine Skye, Fousheé, and Daniel Caesar. Other producers include Jam City and Magdalene Bay. Tory Lanez's name is in the credits for "Paint the Sky." Do with that information what you will. Quality Control/Motown Records.

Thes One, Farewell, My Friend

In an L.A. Times interview with Oliver Wang, Thes One described former group People Under the Stairs as defined by their “outsider-ness.” He and high-school friend Double K, who passed away in 2021, made music informed by a community of rare breaks, and that sense of not being the “cool kids” in L.A.'s turn-of-the-Aughts indie-rap scene inspired bristling, ornery raps, adding tension to the sunshine melodies. Yet time heals old grievances, and Farewell, My Friend, a tribute to Double K, is unabashedly soft and yearning. The filtered jazz-funk loop on “Young Mike and Chris Floating Free” and the disco breeze of “Mike and Chris Leave for Their First Tour” are rendered in a nostalgic glow for those halcyon years. Musically, they’re a reminder of how crucial Thes One’s sound has been to the “chill hop” aesthetic, and why he deserves to be mentioned with more celebrated beat makers like Fat Jon and Nujabes. Sequenced like a tone poem, Farewell, My Friend is nevertheless familiar territory for Thes; even as he put out PUTS albums, he also issued instrumental projects like 2007’s Lifestyle Marketing. Double K’s edgy yet good-natured thug-isms are missed. The album includes contributions from keyboardist Kat010 and bassist Headnodic, both formerly with Bay Area group Crown City Rockers; drummer Paul Caruso, and guitarist Saint Ezekiel. Their musicianship take center stage on the second half of the album, particularly “The Bell Tolls for People Under the Stairs” and “Survivor Syndrome.” Thes One released Farewell, My Friend on his label, Piecelock 70.

Oddisee, To What End

Oddisee’s first album in three years find him deepening his skill as an arranger. His past experiments with live instrumentation on albums like 2017’s The Iceberg often felt stilted and monochromatic. But he develops a warm, pleasant sensibility through tracks like “Already Knew,” “Hard to Tell,” and the deep house grooves of “Try Again,” although some of the cuts also suffer from honeyed sung choruses that are too sugary. “Try Again” He mostly raps about his neuroses, and his distinctively gruff voice masks his no-frills approach to lyric writing. On “People Watching,” he calls himself an “introvert” who “became an entertainer as to hide in plain sight. The guests include Bilal and Freeway; “Choices” finds him in a cipher with Phonte and Kay Young, with singer Bemyfiasco on the hook. Toine Johnson delivers a memorable guest rap on “Bartenders.” The final track, “Race,” closes with a stirring guitar solo. Modern rap needs more guitar solos. To What End is the second release Oddisee has dropped on his own Outer Note Label; the first was 2020’s Odd Cure EP, which took stock of the ongoing COVID pandemic.

Skyzoo x The Other Guys, The Mind of a Saint: A Soliloquy

As a homage inspired by the FX series Snowfall and the character Franklin Saint, The Mind of a Saint kinda works. Skyzoo has a fussy style that leads him to crowd his beats with stanzas. “The revolution wasn’t televised, but it was spoken word/And I heard every part of it,” he raps on “Panthers & Powder,” one of the album’s stronger tracks. He’s a charismatic voice, even if one wishes he found ways to let the music breathe a bit more. The Other Guys, a D.C. production duo best known for their work with Lessondary crew like Von Pea and Rob Cave, pairs Skyzoo with the brightest melancholia this side of Apollo Brown. They set the mood at 3 p.m. on Saturday, but the subject matter seems to require more ominous tones. Lyrically, The Mind of a Saint stays in grind mode, save for the closing tracks, when Skyzoo aka Saint tries to reckon with the damage his drug dealing has caused. It closes with an ill-timed suite of 80s “Just Say No” arcana. One can’t help but compare it to American Gangster, a 2007 album where Jay-Z conjured heartlessness with ease. First Generation Rich/HIPNOTT.

“One Mic, One Gun”

The internet chatter over 21 Savage's impolitic comments on Clubhouse about Nas' relevance always felt a bit silly. 21 Savage tried to assert that the Queensbridge rapper may not resonate with today's youth; in the process, he seemingly impugned a golden-era cohort that loudly frets over its obsolescence. Given the circumstances, the duo's "beef-killing" single "One Mic, One Gun" is a pleasant surprise. Produced by Hit-Boy and released on November 29, it finds 21 continuing to backtrack his off-the-cuff comments, rapping, "When you turn a legend, no such thing as relevance/They must've forgot that I'm a new rapper that got integrity." Meanwhile, Nas adds, "I'm with 21 on my second run, this shit come with age," referring to his increasingly acclaimed King's Disease series. The two-minute song works best as a statement of generational and coastal unity. It's reminiscent of Nas's J Cole ode "Made Nas Proud," Jay-Z and Kendrick Lamar's "Bitch Don't Kill My Vibe (Remix)," and other numbers where the "Goats" try to connect with Gen Z on musical terms before time and taste pass them by.

Tame One and “Haagen-Dazs”

When Tame One passed away on November 5, obituaries summarily focused on his reputation as a graffiti writer, his longtime participation in 90s duo the Artifacts, his subsequent wanderings in New York's rap underground and participation in collectives like the Weathermen. Then there's "Haagen-Dazs," a track he and Artifacts partner El Da Sensei recorded with Dutch production team The Boulevard Connection for the latter's highly-regarded Fondle 'Em 12-inch EP. With its dusty piano loop and sharp turntable cuts by DJ Kaos, the 1998 song captures the essence of an era. El's "fact not fiction" diction serves as a setup for Tame One's unconventional flow. "I'm too bugged out to thug out," he begins, stop-starting between boasts, homage to cannabis, and "talking to God, I feel odd." True, Tame One was an unusually rare bird.

Hurricane G’s “Milky”

In his Complex obituary for Brooklyn rapper Hurricane G, Angel Diaz gives special attention to "Milky," an Erick Sermon-produced demo that features a closing verse from Redman. "Her unreleased song “Milky” is a late-night mixshow classic first heard on 89.9 WKCR-FM’s The Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Show," Diaz writes. "All that’s floating around are dusty cassette dubs on YouTube and it still stands the test of time." It's true: the song remains a testament to Hurricane G's sharp Nuyorican voice and a flow that swayed on and off beat with rope-a-dope grace, all while losing none of its impact.

To Sleep with Anger

The Charles Burnett film To Sleep with Anger has recently re-emerged this month via prominent samples in two songs this month. The first, KA's "We Hurting," finds producer Animoss referencing a performance of Ma Rainey's "See See Rider" at the center of the film. "I gone and bought me a pistol just as long as I am tall," Jimmy Witherspoon sings just before KA begins with the chorus, "We hurting so we hurt back." Meanwhile, soul-jazz performer Contour's "Pack Light" opens with the voice of Danny Glover as the devilish Harry: "If he was a friend, he would stop irritating people. But if he stops practicing, he wouldn't be perfect at what he does someday."

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