Hip Hop

The Don Of Diamond Dreams (CD)

With the duo’s fifth album, The Don of Diamond Dreams, the eclectic and daring vision we’ve come to expect from Shabazz Palaces continues, this time reimagining hip-hop in a futuristic mold full of robotic vocoder, warped auto-tune, shimmering shards of refracted Funkadelic, and alien synthesizers. But the drums speak a universal and timeless language. It is hip-hop, dub, jazz, R&B, soul, funk, African, experimental, and occasionally even pop. The album features contributions from singer/keyboardist Darrius Willrich, percussionist Carlos Niño, Knife Knights collaborator OCnotes, Saxophonist Carlos Overall, and bassist Evan Flory-Barnes.

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UNLOCKED (CD)

In many ways, Unlocked is a victory lap for South Florida rapper Denzel Curry. Following last year’s wildly acclaimed ZUU, Curry teams up with rapidly ascending producer Kenny Beats for a brief EP. While most victory lap releases tend to give more of the same -- the idea that “this is what you all loved the first time” -- Unlocked follows a different trajectory. Extremely stylized within the technoshock aesthetics that dominated turn-of-the-millennium NYC rap, from EL-P to Nonphixion, as well as production techniques borrowed from RZA’s bag of tricks, Unlocked seems to exist as a freewheeling excuse to creatively, playfully pay homage to hip-hop’s past. The production by Kenny Beats is not the only callback here, as a track like “DIET_” finds Curry approximating DMX’s signature bark for the hell of it. Yet the result is nowhere near some bland retroism, as you can tell that Curry or Beats don’t seem particularly keen on truly wishing they were back in “the good ‘ol days” of hip hop. Rather, this is a clever juxtaposition of vintage sounds right alongside the multifaceted complexion of modern hip-hop. Just listen to the dense sonic collages that constitutes“Track07” and “’Cosmic’.m4a.” Don’t be fooled by the length of Unlocked: the ideas are overflowing, even if the running time is not.

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1988 (CD)

A quick glance at the bandcamp page for LA-based producer Knxwledge reveals a staggering display of productivity: well over 100 individual releases since the project began a decade ago. However, one might be shocked to learn that 1988 is only the fourth ever physical release by the artist, and just his second full-length album for Stones Throw, a label match made in heaven. The 22 songs that comprise 1988 continue the producer’s tradition of brevity, with any one beat rarely stretching over the two minute mark. Yet, in these brief nuggets of sound, Knxwledge is able to create an entire musical atmosphere all his own. Densely layering samples and various bits of dialogue, Knxwledge stretches his source material into a hazy fusion. Behold the genres imagined in the world of 1988: glitchy new jack swing, 8-bit jazz-funk, gospel over chopped & screwed soul, vaporwave hip-hop, chipmunk vocals over mafioso rap beats. And that’s only scratching the surface of this world of sound.

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The Sailor (LP)

Indonesian rapper Rich Brian continues to evolve his artistic persona on The Sailor, his sophomore release. Leaving behind the harder edges of his initial tracks and replacing them with a more personal and sonically malleable palate influenced by Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean, and Tyler, The Creator, Brian shows he is making the right strides to grow not only as an artist but as an adult (in a foreign country no less). While he may not may not be completely ready for world domination, The Sailor adequately displays he's developing the skills to continue his upward ascent.

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Our Pathetic Age (CD)

DJ Shadow’s new double album Our Pathetic Age is urgent, pleasurably menacing, and smart. The first half is instrumental and the second half features Nas, Run The Jewels, Sam Herring of Future Islands, Paul Banks of Interpol, and more. The atmosphere is generally dystopian, with moments of light accentuating the shadows, and glimpses of beauty peeking through the intensity of Shadow’s subject matter. Raekwon, Dave East, Pusha T, and Pharoahe Monch provide intelligent flows with unsettling lyrics as Shadow sets the vibe through moody synths and seamless sampling. If it sounds like a downer, worry not. Our Pathetic Age is perfectly suited for, well, our tumultuous age, in all its simultaneous fear and hope.

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