Podcast: Who Won the 2017 Hip Hop Title Belt?

With another year in the books, Brock Benefiel joins Kiel Hauck to discuss who won the hip hop title belt in 2017 (surprise, it’s Kendrick). The duo also reflect on newcomers and movers and shakers in the genre that shaped the year, while looking ahead to predict what might come to pass in 2018, including possible albums from Kanye West, Childish Gambino, Chance the Rapper and more. Listen in!

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What hip hop albums are you looking forward to in 2018? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

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Most Anticipated of 2018: #1 Chance the Rapper Gives Us a Reason to Smile

Over the past two years, Chance the Rapper has maintained such a presence in the cultural zeitgeist, both as an artist and activist, that it almost feels like Coloring Book just dropped. Chance’s third mixtape still feels just as fresh and hopeful as it did upon its 2016 release, but that won’t stop us from wanting more.

In truth, now is the perfect time for Chance to strike again. His carefree and optimistic demeanor elevate him above the greater hip hop narrative and provide him with a unique voice – one that would be quite welcome as we enter another year. Throw in his passion for social justice and his quest to elevate the voices of the youth, and we might just end up with the album that 2018 needs most.

With his cultural cache at an obvious high, another surprise Chance mixtape might be just the positive fodder the internet needs to distract us from the daily flood of dread. Until then, we’ll just keep pressing repeat on “All We Got”.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Podcast: The Brilliance of Kendrick Lamar’s “DAMN.”

A new Kendrick Lamar album has officially arrived! Brock Benefiel joins Kiel Hauck to discuss DAMN. and how it fits within Kendrick Lamar’s discography. The duo discuss Kendrick’s growing legacy, the absence of a true rival, and the variety of sonic and thematic ground covered on the new album. They also share their favorite tracks from DAMN. and rank Kendrick’s full length albums. Listen in!

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What are your thoughts on DAMN.? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Podcast: Who Won the 2016 Hip Hop Title Belt?

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Another year is in the books, and 2016 was filled with a variety of great music. But who stole the show in the world of hip hop? Kiel Hauck and Brock Benefiel discuss the theory of the hip hop title belt and which rapper dominated 2016 the most, including Chance the Rapper, Q-Tip, Kanye West and more. Listen in!

Subscribe to our podcast here.

Who do you think won the hip hop title belt in 2016? Share your thoughts in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Top 10 Albums of 2016

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Check out our Top 10 Songs of 2016 here.

In 2016, the concept of an album became more ambiguous than ever. For some, it meant a collection of songs not for sale, but presented as a streaming mixtape. For others, it was a full multimedia experience across multiple platforms. In some cases, it was an unfinished product, subject to revisions as time passes.

Still, the concept of absorbing a musical experience, and the wonder that experience brings, remains constant. There’s little argument surrounding the many downfalls and frustrations that 2016 brought our way, but even in the midst of disturbance, we found solace in the music below. These albums not only spoke to our hearts and made sense of the world around us, in some cases, they provided a much needed escape.

Without further ado, the top 10 albums of 2016:

10-revolution-radioGreen Day – Revolution Radio

Revolution Radio restored the legacy of Green Day. Cohesive, poetically political and loud, Revolution Radio is the ultimate summation of the band’s last decade. Leading the charge with one of their biggest and best singles in years (“Bang Bang”), Revolution Radio forgoes the rock opera format, but maintains the political defiance that only Billie Joe Armstrong can pen. A masterful mix of aggressive punk and some of the poppiest songs the band has written (“Youngblood”, “Still Breathing”), Revolution Radio masks the undertones of classic rock that made 21st Century Breakdown so distinctive and makes each track feel like a callback to their entire career. – Kyle Schultz

9-lemonadeBeyoncé – Lemonade

In the spirit of making Lemonade from lemons, Beyoncé used 2016 as an opportunity to speak on life’s ills. Lemonade is at once deeply personal and relatable – an album that speaks to a very specific situation while being unafraid to reach beyond, becoming something political and powerful in the process. From the deep burn of “Pray You Catch Me” and “Don’t Hurt Yourself” to the mighty declarations within “Freedom” and “Formation”, Beyoncé delivers catharsis in a variety of vehicles. Lemonade is not only her most diverse collection of songs – it’s also her boldest artistic statement, embracing her identity in the face of affliction. – Kiel Hauck

8-home-inside-my-headReal Friends – The Home Inside My Head

Though Real Friends have been a very well collected and open band for years, The Home Inside My Head is their first great record. Establishing the band as one of the defining pop punk acts of the day, vocalist Dan Lambton’s open lyricism not only makes emo cool again, it takes a brutal look at the struggle with depression and loneliness in ways most of their peers will never touch. Though The Home Inside My Head features songs about girls, the thematic setting of coping with and understanding mental battles paints them in a light that finds Lambton trying to discover if his relationships are, in fact, crumbling apart, or if he’s disillusioned enough to not recognize that everything might be okay outside of his own perception. This is the record that marked Real Friends as one of the great bands of the pop punk revival. – KS

7-along-the-shadowSaosin – Along the Shadow

It only took 13 years for Anthony Green to reunite with his original brethren in Saosin, but boy, oh boy, was it worth the wait. The post-hardcore giants had plenty of time to craft what very well may be their final effort, but Along the Shadow puts to shame every band that attempted to follow in their footsteps. From Alex Rodriguez’s fury behind the drum kit to Beau Burchell’s squealing guitar riffs, the album truly feels like the perfect homecoming for Green’s signature croon. The band tries their hand at a few new tricks, but by and large, this record is about perfecting an already impeccable craft. “Our days it pays to keep from burning out / You used to care so much”, Green wails on “Control and the Urge to Pray”. If it’s a subtle nod at our collective need for nostalgia and comfort, so be it. Along the Shadow is a damn fine record, even without the history. – KH

6-materialBlaqk Audio – Material

Material is the Blaqk Audio album I’ve waited nine years for: Though Bright Black Heaven was a good album, it sounded dated by the time of its release. Material makes its mark as the most cohesive Blaqk Audio release, and Jade’s most diverse sounding in terms of writing. Thematically, one of Davy Havok’s darkest, Material manages to find the band’s poppiest moments (“First to Love”) and their most exploratory (“Annointed”). Where many electronic groups run the risk of sounding too similar to themselves, much less their peers, Blaqk Audio have forged their own stake in the genre deeper than most anyone else. – KS

5-i-like-it-when-you-sleepThe 1975 – I Like it When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It

Spurned by boy band comparisons, Manchester’s The 1975 went all in on their pop-drenched sophomore effort, I Like it When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It. What was once black and white is now awash in pink, fluorescent light. What was once aloof is now center stage and pleading for attention. Matthew Healy has become one of the most brilliant frontmen in rock, with his flair for the dramatic eclipsed only by his deep sincerity. Just as quickly as tracks like “Love Me” cause you to smirk, “If I Believe You” and “Nana” trigger a gasp. I Like it When You Sleep is deeply troubled and full of existential dread, but damn if it’s not an absolute blast to listen to. – KH

4-painkillersBrian Fallon – Painkillers

One of the biggest surprises of the year, Painkillers managed to completely revive Brian Fallon in ways most artists never see. Though Gaslight Anthem are easily one of the best bands of the last decade, it’s hard to argue that they didn’t sound tired on their last album. Fallon’s solo debut manages to capture the essence of a classic record while pushing a unique sound blending Americana and pop. Most importantly (and especially if you see him live), you can feel how much Fallon enjoyed himself writing the record. It’s one of the most impressive solo debuts of any artist, and one of the few albums where nearly every song should be a single. – KS

3-coloring-bookChance the Rapper – Coloring Book

“If one more label try to stop me / It’s gon’ be some dreadhead n****s in the lobby”. Chance the Rapper needs not what labels have to offer, paving his own way in his own way in 2016. What began with the most breathtaking verse of the year on Kanye’s “Ultralight Beam” quickly turned into a coming out party for the ages with the release of Coloring Book. From indie darling to hip hop royalty, Chance battled against a year of frustration by celebrating the joy of being alive. “Man, I swear my life is perfect, I could merch it / If I die, I’ll prolly cry at my own service” he gleefully proclaims on “All We Got”. Chance’s positivity (and smile) is contagious – one spin of Coloring Book and you’re hooked. – KH

2-californiaBlink-182 – California

California is everything I’ve wanted from Blink-182 for over a decade. It embraces the fun aesthetic of pop punk, experiments with itself and tackles the more uncomfortable moments of the band’s last few years (“San Diego”).  Most importantly, it sounds like the band themselves love it. The classic throwbacks (“She’s Out of Her Mind”) stand as tall as the more experimental moments (“Los Angeles”) without sounding as displaced or divisive as some of the past few albums. Matt Skiba makes an almost perfect debut sharing vocal duties with Mark Hoppus. Most importantly, for a band rediscovering themselves after such a tumultuous decade and learning to move forward with a new member for the first time, California marks a defiant line in the sand that gives faith to a loyal fanbase who has waited for something like this. In what might be one of the great comeback stories in music, Blink-182’s future, for once, is inexplicably exciting. – KS

1-blondeFrank Ocean – Blonde

In a year in which album releases were anything but traditional, Frank Ocean struck like a thief in the night. First, it was the streaming audio/visual experience of Endless, followed shortly by pop up shops selling Boys Don’t Cry magazines with hidden CDs inside. By the time Blonde finally hit the masses in late August, it was hard to know what to expect of an album four years in the making.

At its core, Blonde is a meandering blend of sexuality and existential philosophy that moves at its own pace. Frank’s intoxicating voice couples perfectly with his own sense of melancholy, inviting us into his most personal meditations without fear. Blonde is brave, to be sure, but it’s also the collective therapy session we needed in the wake of 2016. Who knows when Frank Ocean will return – for now, we’ve got plenty to chew on. – KH

Honorable Mention

A Tribe Called Quest – We Got it From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
Architects – All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us
Yellowcard – Yellowcard
Emarosa – 131
Kendrick Lamar – Untitled Unmastered

Posted by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Review: Kanye West – The Life of Pablo

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Attempting to review a Kanye West album requires a certain level of detachment. We’re far past a place of simply appraising a body of art – reviewing a Kanye record in 2016 is an all-encompassing exercise in exhausting dialogue and debate about pop culture, social issues, ideological stances, and the purpose of art itself. One may find it wise to leave their baggage at the door before entering the conversation.

As hard as it is to believe, the events surrounding the release of The Life of Pablo, formerly known as Waves, formerly known as SWISH, formerly known as So Help Me God, have been the most explosive and divisive yet. A disturbingly tactless tweet. The leaking of a tasteless lyric that opens old wounds. A fog of confusion surrounding the release itself, leading to larger debates about the rights of an artist and the suspicious motives of the involved parties.

You can stream The Life of Pablo on Tidal.

You can stream The Life of Pablo on Tidal.

As tedious as the ensuing shit storm proved to be, there were several critical conversations in which appropriate voices were elevated, not the least of which included the ongoing debate surrounding misogyny in hip hop, with West standing at ground zero. In the weeks and months to come, those conversations will continue, and some may find it wise to listen far more than they contribute.

Aside from those necessary discourses, two very elemental questions seem appropriate to ask regarding The Life of Pablo. “How good is it?” and “Does it even matter at this point?”

Sonically speaking, The Life of Pablo is one of the most robust and inventive releases we’re likely to hear this year. It’s much too soon to place the album appropriately within Kanye’s discography, but rest assured, Pablo is another rousing chapter in an ongoing career of musical excellence. Although slightly unfocused at times, the record is dense, full of variety, and perhaps unsurprisingly, full of surprises.

In the weeks leading up to its release, West revealed that The Life of Pablo would be a gospel album. While you could certainly argue against the album’s classification as a whole, there’s no denying that this is the latest chapter in a continuing story of the Gospel According to Kanye. Pablo is rife with religious imagery and worship that stands right alongside egotistical rants, sexual exploits and general revelry. Much like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, though, West’s psyche seems to crack and crumble underneath the weight of it all. Those moments of vulnerability once again prove to be Kanye’s most impactful.

The Life of Pablo opens with “Ultra Light Beam” – a track that truly lives up to West’s aforementioned billing, featuring a full gospel choir and even a short sermon from pastor Kirk Franklin. The track is breathtaking from start to finish, as West chooses to let a convoy of voices carry the song. Chance the Rapper is gifted with the spotlight for a full 32 bars, highlighted by the line, “I made ‘Sunday Candy’, I’m never going to hell / I met Kanye West, I’m never going to fail”.

That five-minute primer leads into “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” and “Pt. 2”, two connected tracks with rich beats and a dazzling chorus from Kid Cudi. It’s here that West first addresses the audience, singing, “Everybody gon’ say something / I’d be worried if they said nothing”. “Pt. 2” finds West sadly connecting his own mistakes with those of his young father. It’s one last sobering dose of reality before a windfall of braggadocio and macho escapism.

“Famous” will certainly be one of the most talked about tracks on Pablo, if only for his cheap Taylor Swift line. Unfortunately, Kanye’s own crudeness overshadows one of the strongest tracks on the record. Swizz Beats lays down a track for the ages, accompanied by a killer chorus from Rihanna. “Feedback” plays out in similar fashion, with a thumping beat that Kanye rides to perfection, spitting, “I been outta my mind a long time / I’ve been saying how I feel at the wrong time / Might not come when you want but I’m on time”.

“Highlights” grooves deep with soaring vocal lines from West, Young Thug and The Dream. It’s another rousing anthem in a string of tracks that make the 18-song album fly by. Repeated listens to this section are required to discover new textures and hidden gems underneath the surface. Whereas Yeezus tested our patience with spacey industrial sounds and grating screeches, Pablo is pleasing to the ear and full of movement without becoming overcrowded or bogged down. Think the poppiest moments of 808s and Heartbreak crossing paths with the thick production of Twisted Fantasy.

As the album makes its final turn, shit gets real. The party comes to an abrupt halt with the startling transition from “Waves” to the minimalist “FML”. In an updated version of “Welcome to Heartbreak”, Kanye reflects on his lifestyle, ego and disruptive behavior yet again, singing, “I been thinking / About my vision / Pour out my feelings / Revealing layers to my soul” right before The Weeknd chimes in with, “I wish I would go ahead and fuck my life up / Can’t let them get to me / And even though I always fuck my life up / Only I can mention me”. It’s a duet of epically broken proportions.

On “Real Friends”, Ye laments the chasm that exists between himself and his friends and family, longing for relationships founded on honesty and trust. The album’s proper ending lies in “Wolves”, a previously performed track that loses a slight amount of its original luster with the loss of Vic Mensa and Sia. This new version still finds West tearing at his inner wolf, ashamed of the thought of his mother discovering how he “turned out.” Newly recruited Frank Ocean now carries the song to its conclusion, sharing in the descent before closing with the poignant line, “Life is precious, we found out”.

The odd addition of five more tracks that do little to add to the album’s overarching themes or sonic direction are somewhat clarified when West declares them to be “bonus tracks” during an ad-lib section near the end of “30 Hours”. Since most were a part of the Good Friday releases leading up to the album, their inclusion here remains odd. If nothing else, we’re treated to a properly mixed version of “No More Parties in L.A.” featuring Kendrick Lamar.

The Life of Pablo is a sprawling epic – one that is perhaps Kanye’s most manic and enigmatic creation and one that’s difficult to digest if you’re sitting in the front row. It’s possible that the record is the least cohesive of West’s career, but as the sum of its parts, it’s another shining example of Kanye’s genius as a producer and engineer of sound. Ye leans heavily on the album’s guests, each of whom are allowed to bring their own personality to the mix. That he once again has managed to orchestrate a project at the center of the hip hop zeitgeist in a way that elevates his own genius is a thing of legend.

Even so, we’re left once more to deal with the aftermath once the record stops spinning. Kanye’s desire for admiration is constantly usurped by a self-fulfilling prophecy in which we, his audience, are supposed to hate him. Upon the release of Yeezus, I discussed the frustration of Kanye apologists who wish nothing more than to validate West in his artistic brilliance, but feel alienated by his cantankerous nature.

Perhaps no artist in recent memory has more openly battled his demons and confessed his sins than Kanye West. His journey of self-deprecation and self-improvement is chronicled throughout all of his work and in countless interviews. Nevertheless, there are still more mountains to climb, none more daunting than that of his continued misogyny. In order for the wound to heal, he’ll have to stop digging deeper, an act that is unfortunately his fatal flaw. How much longer you’re willing to deal with it is a personal decision. Me? I’m still undecided, but The Life of Pablo has me wondering, even as I nod my head to the beat.

4/5

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.