by AJ Castillo
Although there are still 3 months left in 2018, this year in rap is one that will not be soon forgotten. With highly anticipated releases from the likes of Drake, J. Cole, and Travis Scott, this year has been one of massive proportions in the industry. However, five albums in particular separate themselves from the pack.
When Kanye West returned to Twitter, fans knew that something exciting was bound to take place, yet no one could have expected this big of a year from the rap legend. Producing five albums including a solo work and a duo with his longtime friend Kid Cudi, West has once again shown that even with his age, he is still one of the top artists not only in hip-hop, but in music as a whole.
Reminiscent of the long gone GOOD Fridays, the famed label released four 7 track albums over five weeks this summer, and female standout Teyana Taylor produced eight tracks. Also known as the “Wyoming albums,” most of the songs were created and recorded in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where West also hosted two listening parties.
The star-studded lineup began with GOOD Music President Pusha T’s Daytona project on May 25th. As usual, Pusha used his talent in lyricism to paint a vivid picture of current events, his dark past, and his vast wealth over sample-heavy West beats on songs like “The Games We Play” and “What Would Meek Do?” featuring West.
The album also created lots of controversy and 2018’s biggest rap beef, due to the album artwork being a picture of the late Whitney Houston’s bathroom after her death, and Pusha T calling out Drake on the last track, “Infrared.” Overall, it was great for Pusha T’s first album in nearly three years, but did not gain the attention it deserved due to Pusha being lesser known by the mainstream rap audience.
Next dropped one of the most highly anticipated albums of the year, Ye by Kanye West. As with his other works, West gives the listener an in-depth look into his lavish yet human lifestyle, this time discussing topics such as mental health and his children on songs like “I Thought About Killing You” and “Violent Crimes”.
“Yikes” and “All Mine” also bring back memories and reminisce of Yeezus, with West using extremely explicit lyrics to describe his wealth and party lifestyle over hard-hitting, drum filled beats. “No Mistakes” and “Ghost Town” gave listeners the West and Kid Cudi collaboration they desperately needed, giving a great preview for what was to come the next week.
As with their previous collaborations, this superstar duo did not fail to deliver. A nice break from the first few songs of the album, these two tracks brought a classic West sound back, with uplifting beats and lyrics as well as beautiful contributions from Cudi on hooks and in the background, making them some of the best tracks of the summer.
OVO signee PARTYNEXTDOOR also made a considerable contribution to Ye, offering great supporting vocals on “Wouldn’t Leave” and “Ghost Town”. Ye was nowhere near the level of West’s previous albums, but it was a fresh sound that mixed the Kanye we know and love with a newer one. Though definitely not his best, it is still a strong candidate for album of the year.
After Ye, came a long overdue collaboration between two of the of music’s most influential creators: Kanye West and Kid Cudi. The duo, now going by the name of KIDS SEE GHOSTS, released a self-named album together on June 8th.
KSG was a rollercoaster of different sounds and styles that somehow all fit and came together to create something special. “Feel the Love” featuring Pusha T felt like a perfect intro to the album. With a dark beat and a near perfect verse from Pusha T, vocals from Kid Cudi, and something best described as noises from Kanye, it started the album with the hype it deserved.
The song set the tone for the next two songs on the album, “Fire” and “4th Dimension” featuring Louis Prima on the samples. “Fire” is a great example of the duos versatility, showcasing a beat that sounds like it was made from an electric guitar with heavy percussion. It also had the all-classic Kid Cudi humming adored by all. Sounding similar to a march with its percussion pattern, it was all over the place in the best way possible.
Next, “4th Dimension” started with one of the best beat transitions or drops this year. Going from a Louis Prima song to another march style beat, the drop was completely unexpected. The song has a sound almost identical to “Jesus Walks,” again utilizing a military march style percussion pattern and the use of vocals to match the beat. It was classic Kanye production, with even better verses from the two features.
The next track, “Freeee (Ghost Town, Pt. 2)” featuring Ty Dolla $ign, served as a good transition from tracks 1-3 to tracks 4-7. It was a breath of fresh air, bringing back an uplifting and carefree sound back from Ye. Just by listening to it you can tell everyone had a great time in the studio recording it.
After this track came three tracks that felt almost like an extension of Kid Cudi’s last album, Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’. This trio of tracks all had the same dark, spacey sounds and vocals as Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’. Although these tracks were simply amazing, Kanye’s verses felt somewhat out of place at some points. Due to the change in volume and pitch from Cudi to West, they didn’t flow like they would had they been Cudi solo songs. However, this is not to take away from the sheer beauty of the songs.
The three tracks: “Reborn,” “Kids See Ghosts” featuring Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def), and “Cudi Montage” combined to create a memorable finale for the album that combined the styles of Cudi and West very well. GOOD Music did not skip a beat with Kids See Ghosts, adding another strong album of the year contender to the exciting lineup.
The fourth album of the five was a collaboration that turned many heads. New York legend Nas teamed up with Kanye West as his executive producer for his first album since 2012, Nasir. A breath of fresh air for the 2018 rap scene, it brought back Nas’s old-school lyrical style with Kanye West’s unmatched production.
In my opinion, Nasir had some of the best production of the five and on any album in my recent memory. Many of the songs showcased West’s ability to use samples and vocals to create a beat like no other. Sampling songs and artists like the main theme for The Hunt for the Red October, Iranian artists Shahram Shahbpareh and Kourosh Yaghmaei, Slick Rick, and bollywood artist R.D. Burman, the production set the stage for Nas’s unmatched lyricism.
Many of the lyrics on the album had highly political statements, especially on songs like “Not for Radio” featuring Puff Daddy and “Cops Shot the Kid” featuring Kanye West. Each song sounded very different, creating an experience that did not get boring like some rap albums do.
My personal favorites, “White Label” and “Adam and Eve” featuring The-Dream were perfect examples of West and Nas linking to bring back an old-school feel.
Also worth mentioning are the two tracks “everything” featuring The-Dream and Kanye West, and “Simple Things.” These two tracks had a much different feel than the rest of the album. With West doing what he does best to use the human voice as an instrument, they add a nice chilled-out energy, with “Simple Things” finishing off the listening experience on a wonderful note.
To me, Nasir has not received anywhere near the attention it deserves. Whether it be that today’s listeners aren’t as interested in old-school rappers or the other albums coming out at the same time, it has been criminally underrated.
Rounding out the five releases this past summer is Teyana Taylor’s K.T.S.E. (Keep That Same Energy). Once again, the album featured Kanye West as the lead producer. And as usual, Kanye utilized his abilities to create great beats from the most obscure samples.
K.T.S.E. was a new sound to enjoy at the end of the five week long release period. Mixing West’s production with the sound of new-age R&B brought an album that has not been talked about much, but puts Taylor up there with the likes of other R&B artists such as SZA, Jhene Aiko, and Ella Mai.
The Kanye production on K.T.S.E. separates it from any other contemporary R&B release. The slower sound and pace of the album matches up perfectly with Taylor’s voice and style. To me, this is a great album to listen to for those who are new to R&B or trying to get into the genre. It takes out much of the pop-ish radio style in many contemporary R&B songs and albums, almost creating a bridge between a slower style of rap and R&B.
Tracks like “Gonna Love Me” and “Issues/Hold On” finally put Taylor’s underrated voice into the spotlight. While the production is great, it takes backstage to Taylor’s beautifully versatile voice. The melodies of these tracks and others such as “No Manners” and “3 Way” are nothing short of captivating.
Another song worth mentioning on K.T.S.E. is “Rose in Harlem.” One of my favorites, it showcases Taylor’s ability as a rapper as well. Her style on this track is quite similar to Beyonce in my opinion, which is always a compliment.
The final track of the album, “WTP,” has a very odd 80s synth-pop sound. It reminds me of the music my parents probably partied to, but for some odd reason it doesn’t bother me at all. The synth-heavy beat is also reminiscent of “Fade” from Kanye West’s 2016 album The Life of Pablo. Sampling the same type of music as “Fade,” it brings back the catchy synth lines from the 80s and 90s that are sure to get anyone moving.
Out of the five albums released, K.T.S.E. did get the least attention, but as with the others, it deserved so much more. It made me appreciate R&B much more, which is no easy task. Teyana Taylor is definitely a great artist for GOOD Music to have signed, and I hope for more great music from her in the future.
Overall, 2018 was a year of monumental proportions for all of GOOD Music. Not one of the five albums released fell short to me. Kanye West production on anything is exciting, but matched with all of the talent of the GOOD Music lineup, every release from the label this summer has a case for album of the year.
All five brought fresh styles and music onto the rap scene, which is slowly becoming watered down with copycats and repetitive songs. Hopefully this string of great releases is only the beginning for the legendary label, which has the potential to dominate the rap industry for many more years to come.