1. J. Cole – ATM
Satire has a hard job. Treading the line between point-less and preachy can be a death-trap for many rappers, but luckily for J. Cole, ATM is a perfect example of satire done right. Embodying the stereotypical trap rapper, Cole nails every cliché – the ‘stacking paper’, the ‘feeling blessed’, the ‘my teachers told me I wouldn’t amount to anything’ and finally the oh-so-insecure ‘I can f*** on your girl’. Not only does this satire attack these rappers, it beats them at their own game. Cole’s “Count it up, count it up, count it up, count it” (x6) hook is a clear parody of the repetitive D Roses and Gucci Gangs of this world, and yet it’s far, far catchier. ATM satirises its targets, whilst simultaneously making a better version of their music. And it’s got a phenomenal video that does exactly the same. What more could you ask for?
2. J. Cole – BRACKETS
As you can tell, this week is heavy on the Cole love. BRACKETS falls into an entirely different box, however, telling a depressing story of cyclical poverty. The track begins with a sample of comedian Richard Pryor, but swiftly droops in tone, descending into a critique of taxation. Cole ponders the poverty traps that his communities fall into – the “millions” he pays in taxes fails to give “the tools” impoverished communities need. The track ends with a despairing anecdote, where a mother’s taxes support the politicians that enabled her son’s death. After her son’s funeral, she comes to a depressing realization – “Wiping tears away, grabbing her keys and sunglasses / She remember that she gotta file her taxes”. This is a perfect example of the storytelling that made me a Cole fan in the first place.
3. Kamasi Washington – Fists of Fury
This is going to be a long one, so strap in for a near-10-minute odyssey of piano-based madness. Featuring slick basslines, romping pianos and x alongside his usual phenomenal tenor sax, the 37 year-old’s latest single is an absolute masterpiece. The track is jazzy in nature, but features a samba-influenced rhythm that gives Washington’s saxophone some added danceability. This, when combined with bold lyrics from Patrice Quinn and Dwight Trible, creates a track with an undeniable boldness. Quinn and Trible sum it up best – “We will no longer ask for justice / Instead we will take our retribution”.
4. Khary, Olu Bliss – Nimbus
Khary has been a long-time personal favourite of mine, having occupied a niche that I didn’t know I needed. Sounding something like a younger, bouncier Milo, Khary flies over tracks with a unique eagerness, Nimbus being no exception. After a mellow, hazy introduction, the instrumental kicks into gear, with Khary’s usual understated bounce taking over. It’s easy to get a sense of Khary’s personality here – a reference to Pokemon’s “HM03” gives a fleeting vision of nerdiness, while “counterfeit them MegaBus tickets” offers a slice of poverty. This is an undeniably fun track, well worth a listen for anyone looking for something upbeat this week. Besides, it features one of the funniest bars of the year – “Got a new girl, always looking for adventures / Had to let her know she ain’t f****** Johnny Quest”.
5. Kimbra – Everybody Knows
After the release of Gotye’s Somebody that I Used To Know, I was sure it was Kimbra’s time to blow. Well, time is a great crusher of dreams, and 7 years later, I can’t say I’m anything but disappointed. Regardless of her commercial ambitions, however, her music is still phenomenal. Everybody Knows, a standout from her latest album Primal Heart, begins slowly, but soon spirals into the funk and dance-inspired style she’s come to be known for. Whilst the subject matter is nothing new (Genius describes it as “maturing from a relationship that has hurt you”), the lyrics are tasteful and abstract enough to keep the subject matter fresh and exciting. I tend not to recommend ‘similar artists’ on these types of post, but if you’re a fan of Lorde you’ll feel right at home.