Podcast: Who Won the 2009 Hip Hop Title Belt?

Crossover episode! In our latest podcast, we share another podcast (meta, right?) Kiel Hauck and Brock Benefiel recently launched a new show called Decade Rewind, and in the latest episode, the two discuss which rapper took home the hip hop title belt in 2009. In a year of transition for hip hop, a slew of new artists hit the scene (Drake, Kid Cudi, etc.) and would shift the sound of the genre. Meanwhile, hip hop greats like Jay-Z, Eminem and others were holding fast to the sounds that led to their success. Listen in!

Like what you heard? Be sure to check out Decade Rewind and give us a review! Subscribe here.

What was your favorite hip hop album in 2009? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Reflecting On: Lil Wayne – Tha Carter III

Tha Carter III is truly a hip hop time capsule, memorializing extreme highs and lows of the genre. The sixth studio album from Lil Wayne would prove to be his best, showcasing the lyrical acrobatics that made him one of the most revered rappers of a generation. Unfortunately, it also displays an unmistakable misogyny and homophobia that plagued the genre for decades.

One of the greatest albums of our lifetime also serves as a stark reminder of how far we’ve come in just 10 short years, and how much further we have left to go.

You can buy Tha Carter III on Apple Music.

Tha Carter III is littered with hits and distinctive moments that make it impossible to forget, but perhaps the reason the music still stands so vivid is because of Lil Wayne himself. Coming from the projects of New Orleans, Wayne began his path to stardom at a young age as a part of Cash Money Records’ rise to power in the late 90s. In the matter of a decade, Wayne had blossomed into a star full of personality and humor, reaching the peak of the cultural zeitgeist by the time of the album’s release. By the summer of 2008, Lil Wayne was larger than life.

It’s hard to imagine most artists cashing in on that moment as firmly as Wayne did with Tha Carter III. With a running time of over 76 minutes, the album is a behemoth full of moving parts and voices, but at its core, it’s a celebration. The production is slick, the stylized autotuned vocals drip with bravado, and Wayne’s legendary wordplay is on full display, even if the constant double entendres begin to wear you thin.

No song on the album captures this motif better than “A Milli”, a track about nothing in particular that astounded upon first listen and still seems impossible to comprehend. Rumored to have been recorded in one take as a freestyle, the song quickly took on a life of its own – too winding and crass for radio but a track that you had to share with everyone you knew the moment you heard it. Wayne’s punchline of, “I can turn a crack rock into a mountain” near the song’s end still causes my hands to raise involuntarily just as the ghastly Dennis Rodman line causes me to cringe.

Even with its bloated length, Tha Carter III contains enough entertainment to make the time pass quickly. From the fantastic opening of “Mr. Carter” with Jay-Z to the unforgettable beat of “Mrs. Officer”, the album’s standouts are peppered in between hidden gems. The production on “Lollipop” and “Got Money” is appropriately over the top and drenched in autotune, serving as a glimpse into the world of pop rap in the late aughts. When Wayne manages to slur out on the latter, “I’m a Great Dane, I wear eight chains / I’m in so much ice, they yell, ‘Skate, Wayne!’” it’s an outlandish reminder of the hilariously hypnotic grip he held on listeners with such ease.

In hindsight, Tha Carter III and Lil Wayne’s own brand of over-the-top revelry arrived just in the nick of time. Later that year, 808s & Heartbreak would turn the genre on a dime, ushering in a new era of emotive, existential hip hop, driven by minimalism and dark tones that lasted until Kanye himself teamed up with Jay-Z to Watch the Throne. Perhaps it makes sense that Wayne could never follow that thread, forever cursed with a million dollar smile and a penchant for a life lived at 100.

Instead, he continues as a cultural icon and a living example of a rapper existent on both sides of hip hop’s social journey. While Wayne could never fully deliver an acclaimed follow-up, maybe it wasn’t necessary. Even amidst its growing pains, Tha Carter III helped usher in a new awareness and interest in hip hop on a mass scale, evolving Lil Wayne into a multi-faceted, bonafide star in the process.

How we’ll reflect on the more difficult moments of albums like Tha Carter III, or even albums with a more recent release date, in another 10 years’ time remains to be seen. For now, we learn while we listen and continue to ask questions of the art we love.

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.

The Best Songs of 2017

You can view our list of The Best Albums of 2017 here.

In a year in which great albums were abundant, it goes without saying that great songs were aplenty. In just a matter of minutes, a great song can do a lot: It can take us somewhere blissful, it can make us think, it can change our perspective, it can help us forget. Our list of the Best Songs of 2017 have a little bit of everything.

Below, you’ll find songs from a variety of genres telling diverse stories. These tracks were anthems for overcoming, therapeutic outlets of emotion, ballads of love, and laments of the soul. No matter your druthers, we think you’ll find something to love. Take a look – and a listen.

15. Jake Bugg – “Southern Rain”

Jake Bugg is an extraordinary talent. Releasing almost an album a year since the start of his career, he has managed to tap into a multitude of genres while maintaining a distinct sound all his own. “Southern Rain” is a folksy ballad that manages to softly tell a story of grieving a fallen romance. However, the dreamlike soundscape and lyrics constantly remind that even in dark times, there is always something brighter just around the corner. For a song that sounds so light, it is dense with the sounds of mandolin, harmonica, keyboards, and the crisp tap of piano. Though Bugg’s lyrics stay melancholy, the music is so bright and hopeful that it promises relief. – Kyle Schultz

14. Harry Styles – “Woman”

“Woman” is one of the most enjoyable tracks on Harry Styles’ self-titled solo album. Regardless of the groovy sonic choice he made, the lyrics themselves follow a thematic trend in this year’s pop music of discussing a failed relationship. Styles’ vocal prowess shines all over the album but “Woman” is smoother than any other song. Reminiscent of psychedelic ‘70s rock, this track is easy on the ears and all around well-configured. It’s a lovely and promising example of what we can expect from post-One Direction Harry Styles. – Nadia Paiva

13. Dreamcar – “All of the Dead Girls”

DREAMCAR, the supergroup of AFI’s Davey Havok and the band from No Doubt, is a surreal project of pop and new wave rock. “All of the Dead Girls” is a true summer song dripping with beach-ready drumming and a bassline that slides beneath any 80’s montage of men playing volleyball. Havok’s sassy vocals describe the make-up clad “dead girls” that will “never blush” as he stalks the beach. For a singer known for delving into the darkest aspects of the psyche, Havok relishes in taking the haunted tangles of relationships into the sunlight for a stroll. Featuring a baritone sax and a cat’s howl, “All of the Dead Girls” is a truly unique song that never takes itself seriously from two bands that always are. – KS

12. Jay-Z – “The Story of O.J.”

Fans that waited with bated breath since the release of Beyoncé’s damning Lemonade would suffer little disappointment in Jay-Z’s 4:44. There’s a lot to parse through, but Jay makes each moment count, and such is the case with “The Story of O.J.” Jay uses clever samples and poignant lines to capture the struggle of blackness in a racist society, regardless of status, wealth or complexion. It’s an artful display of Jay-Z’s success viewed through the lens of a racist America and Jay’s own battle to push his wealth and progress into something even more lasting. It just might be the highlight of his surprising second act. – Kiel Hauck

11. Palisades – “Better Chemicals”

When Palisades left their electonicore leanings in the past for this year’s self-titled release, they didn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater so much as they refined the best parts of their existing sound. On “Better Chemicals”, the band forgoes cheeky electronics and samples for tastefully placed programming that elevates the track to another level. Vocalist Louis Miceli Jr. uses the opportunity to showcase his transitional ability that explodes during a chorus of, “Need better chemicals, I know / Cause nothing helps anymore, oh no”. It’s a jarring movement into serious territory for the band and a perfectly crafted track that crackles with rock energy. – KH

10. The Early November – “In Currents (acoustic)”

As one of the first singles after the band’s reformation, “In Currents” was a nostalgic pop song that meshed minimalistic instrumentation before exploding in a torrent of sound in the chorus. It showcased almost every aspect of what made The Early November’s sound so iconic. The stripped-down version on Fifteen Years only features a bouncing guitar and a theremin-inspired synth line that turns the song into an inspirational ballad. The true star of the song, though, is Ace Enders. Enders pushes his voice as hard as he ever has, while maintaining an emotional weight that seems impossible. The result is an acoustic cover that not only surpasses the original, it deserves to be remembered among the top of The Early November’s achievements. – KS

9. PVRIS – “What’s Wrong”

“Don’t need a metaphor for you to know I’m miserable”. That crushing closing line during the chorus of “What’s Wrong” sets the stage for a sophomore follow-up from a band overwhelmed with responsibility and possibility. PVRIS harness the best of their synth-laced melodic pop rock as vocalist Lynn Gunn lays bare her fears in the face of the band’s rise to prominence. “When did I get so pitiful / Just a goddamn corpse in a centerfold”, she laments, vocalizing the struggle of a female lead in the midst of a misogynist scene. It is at once a monumental sonic step forward for a band full of potential and a dark look inside the mind of an artist in doubt. – KH

8. AFI –” So Beneath You”

While other AFI songs have mocked and questioned religion, “So Beneath You” is the most aggressive and militant. Punk rock at its purest, the song teases the band’s hardcore influence. Jade Puget can write some of the most mystifyingly beautiful guitar lines known to man, but sometimes he is at his best when strangling power chords as Davy Havok just shouts at the sky. Rather than mock the idea of religion, Havok instead issues a direct challenge as he croons, “I won’t kneel, I won’t bow / If you’re there God, strike me down, strike me down / You won’t”. Challenging standards and demanding more of their audience than most bands, “So Beneath You” exemplifies what makes AFI such a beloved band and manages to be one of the year’s best rock songs. – KS

7. Lorde – “Hard Feelings/Loveless”

Much of Lorde’s Melodrama is based on the toll fame takes on an artist, notably in their interpersonal relationships. One of the most poignant moments is found right at the end of the first portion of “Hard Feelings/Loveless”, in which she reminisces on a past relationship, stating “I’ll start letting go of little things / ‘Til I’m so far away from you / Far away from you”. What is so impressive about this song is how seamlessly she changes from the topic of her own relationship to the topic of relationships in general in our digital world, and how we don’t always place the value on them that they deserve. It’s relatable and one of the most memorable tracks on a beautiful album. – NP

6. Halsey – “Strangers”

Amidst a brave retelling of Romeo and Juliet, Halsey uses “Strangers” as an LGBTQ love song, dropping the pretense of well-worn pronouns. Here, she and Lauren Jauregui trade lines of longing atop richly-inspired 80s synthesizers. “She doesn’t kiss me on the mouth anymore / Cause it’s more intimate than she feels we should get”, Halsey opens, before Jauregui’s response of, “She doesn’t let me have control anymore / I must have crossed the line, I must have lost my mind”. It’s a delightfully sensual, deeply danceable track of star-crossed lovers and an example of Halsey’s feel for the pulse of modern pop. There aren’t many that do it better. – KH

5. Kesha – “Praying”

“I hope you’re somewhere praying / I hope your soul is changing”, Kesha belts at her abuser on one of the year’s most emotionally powerful tracks. It’s a stark pivot for the artist herself, but an even more powerful statement in a year in which our culture begins to fully realize the deep claws that sexual abuse holds in our society. As the song builds towards its crescendo, Kesha finds the strength to flip the power imbalance that held her hostage for so long: “Cause I can make it on my own / And I don’t need you, I found a strength I’ve never known / I’ll bring thunder, I’ll bring rain / And when I’m finished, they won’t even know your name”. If chills don’t run up your spine, you must have held your head in the sand for the entirety of 2017. – KH

4. Liam Gallagher – “Wall of Glass”

For fans of Oasis, there will always be the eternal argument of which Gallagher brother is the favorite. While Noel has experimented with his sound on his own solo venture, Liam Gallagher’s first solo single is the best song Oasis never wrote. The rich layers in “Wall of Glass” are mesmerizing – the dance club beat, the bobbing bass line, the show-stealing harmonica, the ghostly back-up singers, and the sizzling guitar all hide beneath some of the best vocals Liam Gallagher has ever recorded. It’s a testament that the best sounds aren’t always found by pushing for something new, but by tilling what has already been laid as the foundation of expectation and kicking the shit out of it. “Wall of Glass” sounds like it aimed to be the best rock song of any year in the last two decades and pulls it off with style to spare. – KS

3. Paramore – “Fake Happy”

It’s no secret that Paramore drew inspiration from their experience with mental illness with the track “Fake Happy” from After Laughter. What sets it apart from other songs on the topic is its accessibility. Undoubtedly, many listeners will identify with the lyrical themes but also find enjoyment in the musical quality, most especially in the infectious bridge which puts a smile on even the most downtrodden of us. The music video (directed by the band’s own Zac Farro) shows that idea perfectly, and is the cherry on top of an already beautifully displayed picture of humanity. – NP

2. Kendrick Lamar – “DNA.”

Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. begins with a chilling short story before audio from a Fox News broadcast admonishes the message of Kendrick’s 2015 Black Lives Matter anthem “Alright”. Before the clip can reach completion, Lamar bursts through the door with “DNA”’s opening lines of, “I’ve got loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA”. Throughout the track, Kendrick flexes his varied vocal deliveries over a rattling bassline, juxtaposing earned braggadocio with self-deprecation as he inspects the inner workings of his soul. It’s the perfect opening to the year’s best record and an eardrum vibrating reminder that Kendrick’s talent surpasses his peers, both in execution and in content. – KH

1. Julien Baker – “Appointments”

It’s difficult to fully quantify the progression from Julien Baker’s debut to this year’s Turn Out the Lights, but if you were to point to a single track as an example, it would be “Appointments”. Atop a painfully lonesome guitar and piano, Baker lays out the private battle of depression and the strain it puts on relationships. Yet above all of the excruciating imagery is something more vital and more powerful – a will to overcome. When Baker lets loose with her belted vocals of, “Maybe it’s all gonna turn out alright / Oh, I know that it’s not, but I have to believe that it is” at the song’s conclusion, it’s a reminder that some small battles can be momentarily won – a perfectly humble message from one of music’s most exciting young voices. – KH

Honorable Mention:

Carly Rae Jepsen – “Cut to the Feeling”
Vince Staples – “Big Fish”
Taylor Swift – “…Ready for It?”
Acceptance – “Colliding by Design”
Haim – “Want You Back”

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Podcast: Jay-Z’s Surprising Second Act

With the release of 4:44, Jay-Z has added to an impressive second half of his career. On our latest podcast, Kiel Hauck and Brock Benefiel discuss Jay-Z’s career since the release of The Black Album and how he has maintained massive cultural relevance and fame despite his missteps. The discussion also includes Jay’s best albums and songs and how current artists like Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole have been impacted by Jay-Z’s legacy. Listen in!

Subscribe to our podcast here.

What is your favorite Jay-Z album? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Most anticipated albums of 2014

we_are_the_in_crowd

Now that all of the end-of-the-year lists are finished (wait, some people are still posting end-of-the-year lists?), we figure it’s time to look ahead to 2014. Surely, 2013 featured an incredible amount of fantastic music, but 2014 is shaping up to be pretty great itself.

Some of the albums on this list are being shrink-wrapped as we speak, while others are in the early-stages of creation or are simply hearsay. This is in no way an exhaustive list of the music to come in 2014, but simply an overview of the music we’re pretty dang excited about.

So go ahead – read on to find out what we’re looking forward to in 2014 and then hit the replies to share your most anticipated music of the new year!

We Are the In Crowd – Weird Kids (February 18, 2014 – Hopeless)

we_are_the_in_crowdWe Are the In Crowd made their mark on the scene in 2011 when they dropped their poppy, infectious debut album, Best Intentions. Since then, the band has toured relentlessly and grown from the new kids on the block to a force to be reckoned with. Weird Kids may prove to be a much more biting and aggressive release than their debut judging from lead single “The Best Thing (That Never Happened)”, which is just fine with us. Vocalist Tay Jardine possesses the chops and gusto that may lead to crossover success for this pop punk act. – Kiel Hauck

Blink-182 – Untitled (Sometime 2014 – DGC)

blink_182It’s been a little over a year since Blink 182 has released any new songs, and it seems like we’re due. Neighborhoods was a good return album for the group after their hiatus, but it lacked the charm that Blink is known for. However, the Dogs Eating Dogs EP seemed to have solved most of those issues and gave the band their lifeblood again. With the energy of their recent live shows as any indication, it looks like Blink 182 are finally back to full power, and with any luck, 2014 will be the year of the next great Blink album. – Kyle Schultz

Issues – Issues (February 18, 2014 – Rise)

issuesIssues rise in the metalcore scene has been a particularly quick one. This shouldn’t come as a surprise since the band is composed of well-known names in the scene and features a fresh kick to the nearly worn out genre. Fronted by screamer Michael Bohn and crooner Tyler Carter, Issues offers an alluring vocal back and forth with an added post-hardcore crunch and nu-metal-esque scratches and breakdowns. The band’s debut Black Diamonds EP sounded promising, but their recently released work in lead up to their self-titled debut sounds polished and punishing. – KH

Say Anything – Untitled (Sometime 2014 – Equal Vision)

say_anythingMax Bemis announced quite a while ago that Say Anything’s next album would be out in 2014 after taking a brief break this year. While his newer albums are a bit toned down from the explosive releases early on in the band’s career, any time a new Say Anything album is announced, it’s an exciting event. As Bemis changes his style slightly for each new album, it’s an experience sure to be enraptured in summersault guitar solos, extravagant chord changes and memorable lyrics. – KS

Chiodos – Untitled (March 2014 – Razor & Tie)

ChiodosBelieve it or not, it’s been nearly two years since Craig Owens announced his return to Chiodos. The promise of new music has hovered since then, and recent tours have given very little indication into what we can expect from the post-hardcore act’s fourth studio album. Surely the addition of guitarist Thomas Erak is an exciting one that should add a new flash and power to the band’s recordings, but little has been revealed about what the final product will sound like. One way or the other, we’re excited to hear what the band drops in March. – KH

The Early November – Untitled (Sometime 2014 – Hopeless)

the_early_novemberThe Early November have announced that they will have a new album out in the spring, which was an amazing early Christmas present. Marking the second release since the band reunited, this follow-up to last year’s In Currents will be a tough sell, but each release by the group has been able to top itself, so we have reason to be excited. With the recent debut of new song “Better That Way”, it looks like The Early November are not only sticking to their original musical style, but perfecting it. – KS

Frank Ocean – Untitled (Sometime 2014 – Def Jam)

frank_oceanAccording to Frank Ocean, he’s already hard at work on new songs to be included on his next album. It will be hard to top Channel Orange, but if there’s anyone out there that can keep our expectations high, it’s Ocean. His creative process is a mysterious one, leaving the possibility that we may not receive a new album this year, or even the next. With any luck, we won’t have to wait long to see what he has in store. In the meantime, we’ll throw on Channel Orange, which sounds just as fresh and captivating as it did upon its release. – KH

The Gaslight Anthem – Untitled (Sometime 2014 – Mercury)

the-gaslight-anthemThe Gaslight Anthem are busy as usual. They not only plan to keep pace in releasing a new record every two years, but they also just released the Here Comes My Man EP and are prepping for a B-side album this month. Keeping this busy though, each record the band has put out has been better than the last and has helped create a unique sound all their own; a healthy mix of Bruce Springsteen and punk rock. After the beauty of last year’s Handwritten, whatever Gaslight puts out is worthy of adoration and sure to be another entry in an already incredibly impressive discography. – KS

Kanye West and Jay Z – Watch the Throne 2 (Sometime 2014 – Def Jam)

kanye-jayzThe word was that once Ye and Jay dropped their solo albums, a follow-up to 2011’s Watch the Throne would be in store. Rumblings suggest that this may very well be the case, but when the album will emerge is a mystery. Regardless, we know well enough that Kanye’s Yeezus was one of the most impressive and unsettling albums of 2013, while Jay Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail was…well, underwhelming. However, these two seem to bring out the best in each other and we all eagerly await their next offering. – KH

Noel Gallagher – Untitled (Late 2014 – Sour Mash)

Noel-GallagherNoel Gallagher is sadly underappreciated in this country, as is his current band The High Flying Birds. But the former Oasis writer and guitarist is not only reported as writing a new record, but has claimed that it includes some of the best songs he’s ever written. As the genius behind most of Oasis’s legendary hits (“Don’t Look Back In Anger”, “Wonderwall”) that’s not only a big claim, but a battle cry to outdo his stellar debut solo album. It’s currently unknown whether it will maintain the orchestral acoustic ballads of the original album or revert to Gallagher’s trademark guitar rock, but it honestly doesn’t matter: his songs are just that good. – KS

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.