ALL: Hip-Hop 2023

Jay Worthy x Roc Marciano, Nothing Bigger Than the Program

New York rapper Roc Marciano is an underrated producer capable of making oddly hypnotic loops. On Jay Worthy’s Nothing Bigger Than the Program, he weaves a silent film score for “The Field,” and a drumless vocal aria on “The Plug.” His ideas don’t always work, but one must admire his audacity. Unfortunately, his collaborator, Compton rapper Jay Worthy, gives an unconvincing lyrical performance. Worthy can deliver an interesting crime narrative or two, like on “How?” But generally, his boilerplate verses about riding Bentleys, having sex with women, snorting cocaine, and claiming that “the pussy overrated” bore in their thematic familiarity. Worthy is frequently outclassed by his guests, particularly Port Arthur veteran Bun B, who dazzles on “Underground Legend”: “Don’t you be surprised when that throwaway leave you a hickey that won’t go away/It’s like you shaking a Coke, letting the soda spray.” Other guests include A$ton Matthews, Kokane, Ab-Soul, A$AP Ant, and Kurupt. The album was released on GDF Records and Marci Enterprises, with distribution by EMPIRE.

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. 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.