By Thomas Johnson, February 9 2018 —
Migos – Culture II
Culture II feels more like a playlist than an album, making it an unfitting follow-up to last year’s instant classic. The first Culture was a precise distillation of everything Migos does well. Quavo, Offset and especially Takeoff still perform at a very high level, but Culture II lacks conciseness. It’s the fruits of a typically feverish Atlantan recording schedule, unfiltered and apparently unedited. Culture II is longer than — but just as entertaining as — some of the most popular comedies of the decade.
I’m not saying what the world needs is more Migos but it certainly never hurts. The Georgian three-piece has comfortably settled into the superstardom they’ve been destined for and it feels good to see them show up at the Grammys in matching gold-trim matador jackets. Twenty-four more songs is a blessing. Just like their mixtapes between albums, there’s treasures buried among the litter of verbal exercises. “Gang Gang,” “Walk It Talk It,” “Too Playa” and a handful of other cuts are stellar. Quavo continues to write undeniable hooks, Offset keeps rapping his ass off and Takeoff has arguably the best flow in the game. When a more deliberate sequel to Culture does arrive, it’ll be all the better because of dry runs like this.
Fetty Wap – For My Fans
The best songs on Fetty Wap’s self-titled debut were the ballads. “Jugg” was both club dynamite and adorable in a ‘let’s hold hands and dance’ kind of way and “Trap Queen” is one of modern rap’s best love songs. Those two tracks found trap and dance-floor harmony through Fetty’s sheer magnetism. His ballads were delivered with such exuberance that it was impossible not to like him. He should have won Best New Artist at the Grammys.
For My Fans: The Final Chapter, the third — and if the title is to be believed, final — chapter in his mixtape series, doubles down on those strengths. It’s front-to-back ballads, with Fetty stretching his singing even further. Previously, he had a tendency to fall back on the same one or two ad-libs. On For My Fans, he opts instead to stretch out his bars. He’s clearly put in some work rounding out his voice, adding a few more tricks to his trademark sound. Even some of his more adventurous experiments like “About You” are agreeable. The final suite is decidedly poppy but confidently so. Fetty’s got a good ear for melody and hearing him beam is a joy.
Scallops Hotel – Sovereign Nose Of Your Arrogant Face
Under his Milo moniker, Rory Ferreira’s work buries itself so deep into his niche interests that his lane has almost become his image. Though his workmanlike attitude in last year’s excellent who told you to think ??!!?!?!?! has its charm, it’s obvious that Milo is not the only mantle Rory wants to shoulder. This is the beauty of his Scallops Hotel alter-ego.
Not beholden to Milo’s ceilings, Scallops Hotel is an outlet for Ferreira’s inventions and Sovereign Nose Of Your Arrogant Face is his playground. It’s a low-stakes medium for Ferreira to really shoot the shit, whatever that may be. He gets to brag about his grassroots record store Ruby Yacht and his burgeoning family life. “A Method (JAW GEMS book a bender at the scallops hotel)” is a rumination on systemic violence before it’s a dark joke about social apathy. There’s a uniform disregard for structure or linearity, instead remaining a work of free-flowing art-rap. At only 23 minutes, Sovereign Nose sheds brief light on a brilliant mind.
Cadence Weapon – Cadence Weapon
Since releasing Hope in Dirt City in 2012 and receiving his third consecutive Polaris nomination, Rollie Pemberton has become something of a polymath. The former Edmonton poet-laureate released his first official collection of poetry, Magnetic Days, in 2014. In 2016, he narrated the Viceland series Payday and helped write and edit the script. Time away from his Cadence Weapon project has refreshed Pemberton’s perspective, which has lent itself to what is certainly his best album.
Despite now nesting in Toronto, Pemberton still identifies very much as an Edmonton rapper. His self-titled fourth album is still littered with references to the erstwhile city of champions, even if they’re filtered through a more metropolitan agenda. Cadence Weapon finds itself at the centre of a hub. “City life can be so grim,” he raps on “High Rise,” a trenchant satire of living well-above ground. It’s a smart mix of chest-puffing and yuppie caricature. “The Host” also tackles struggles of an urban nature, with Pemberton evoking a clueless, douchey DJ wannabe to the chagrin of his crowd.
Pemberton mentioned that he made a concerted effort to make music in line with what he listens to. Among a sizeable list of decorated songwriters, he mentions Future as a current influence. The Atlanta rapper, Pemberton says, made him rethink his own structure and delivery, resulting in the most streamlined, accessible album of his career. Cadence Weapon’s status will never be what it should be, but that takes nothing away from the legacy he’s quietly built as Canada’s best rapper.