By Thomas Johnson, June 8 2018 —
Pusha T – DAYTONA
The unreleased debut album by the Clipse, Exclusive Audio Footage, was supposed to be released in 1999. Recording sessions began as early as 1996, meaning Pusha has now been penning immaculate, dead-eyed rhymes about the the luxuries of selling narcotics for two decades. Considering how many shifts the popular rap landscape has undergone since the start of his career, it’s barely fathomable that King Push has been able to establish a niche refining his game without altogether changing his alchemy.
DAYTONA was released in Pusha T’s 41st year. It was produced in its entirety by Kanye West himself, the most reviled man to ever host a rap listening party in a red state. It can be played front to back twice in the same span it takes to prepare a baked potato. And it’s an almost perfect rap album. There’s no fat, no unnecessary accoutrements to hinder the conceit tethering the seven tracks together — Pusha T is a ruthlessly efficient stylist. On a per-minute basis, DAYTONA is one of the most thrilling rap albums in recent memory. It’s a micro-masterpiece. The King stays grindin,’ long live the King.
Father John Misty – God’s Favorite Customer
Father John Misty’s 2015 collection of magnum ballads, I Love You, Honeybear, struck a chord with alienated mid-twenties sweethearts because of Misty’s caustic wit and acerbic view that burdened each foray into the world of romance with inevitable misanthropy. The tension that held that record together was an eternal tug-of-war between the elation of love and the torture of literally everything else. Still, the unbridled affection of his wife made it all seem worth it. Until, that is, she left him.
God’s Favorite Customer finds FJM strung out after months holed up in a hotel room, nursing a bottle of whiskey and exorcising his marital demons. Unlike Honeybear and last year’s sarcastic opus, Pure Comedy, God’s Favorite Customer is not a strict concept album. Though recurring themes of desperation, substance abuse and depression are present throughout, what truly holds God’s Favorite Customer together is the return of his gallows humor, the ingredient missing in Pure Comedy’s masturbatory pretension. That this return to form coincides with his restored emotional investment isn’t happenstance. With the stakes rediscovered, God’s Favorite Customer is as funny, striking and painfully affecting as his best work.
Lorde Fredd33 – NORF: The Legend Of HBR
In 2018, nothing matters, least of all genre categorizations. Despite its label as rap, NORF: The Legend Of HBR is a blues album through and through. Traditional elements of the blues like the spiritual (“Sanctified”), work-songs featuring call-and-response (“I Need A Lick”) and powerful, religiously allusory chants (“Bel Biv Devotion”) provide the most noteworthy moments in Lorde Fredd33’s representation of Milwaukee’s north side. Fredd33 counts his melancholy money, laments the child-support payments he’s been court-ordered to make, then subsequently calls his peanut-headed toddler to let her know he’ll see her the next day. These are the juxtapositions that make NORF one of the more compelling releases this year.
The video for “Sanctified,” NORF’s intro, follows Fredd33 as he surgically tortures a hooded individual in an abandoned warehouse. A robed choir sing gospel around him as he caves in no-name’s crown with a rock hammer. “I feel sanctified,” they all bellow. It’s never explained why this is happening, but Fredd33 seems to take a sadistic delight in exerting his dominance. In his Milwaukee, violence is a detour in the path to success. Each leads to the other, though neither provide a reprieve from the cycle.
Bombino – Deran
A quick scan of Bombino’s biography reads something like a turn-of-the-century epic. Born Omara Moctar some 80 kilometers from Niger’s largest city, he fled to Algeria at the age of 10 to escape an insurgency caused by famine and refugee crises. There he began learning guitar, which he would bring back with him to Niger in his late teens. A decade later, a similar revolt reared its head and in response, the Nigerien government labelled guitars as symbols of rebellion. After two members of Bombino’s band went missing — they are speculated to have been executed in the federal government’s attempts to quell the uprising — Bombino was forced for the second time to flee his native country. The conflict was resolved in 2010 and with the blessing of the sultan, Bombino returned again to Agadez where he recorded and released an album named after the city. It topped iTunes’ world-music charts, introducing Bombino to the world at large.
Since Agadez, Bombino has released two albums, Nomad and Azel, which were produced by the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach and Dirty Projectors’ David Longstreth, respectively. His newest project, Deran, stays the course set by his previous work, though without the inclusion of a notable producer. This means that Deran’s aesthetic — acrobatic guitars, lush production and intricate layering — are products purely of its auteur’s vision. Bombino’s global success is a testament to the singular beauty of his talent, and though his career was born amid strife, you’d be hard-pressed to find an album matching its formidable grace this year.