Members from KZSC’s Hip Hop Department decided to write about hip-hop albums we loved from last year. From finding obscure samples to dissecting layers in instrumentation, we hope you enjoy our analysis of albums from artists we love. The following reviews come from DJ Kuzco’s Poison, DJ Fodderstompf, Dylan Wagner, and DJ Lucky. Blogs are edited by Hip-Hop Director DJ Lucky.
Photo by Passion of the Weiss
The House is Burning
Written by DJ Lucky
Isaiah Rashad’s The House is Burning is one of the most consistent albums to come out in the past couple of years. The Chattanooga native released his third studio album on July 30 of last year, which was five years after his sophomore album The Sun’s Tirade was released in 2016. Though it’s easy to get lost in the album’s soulful samples and intoxicating melodies, Rashad addresses the several struggles he faced that explain his five year absence. He mentions his battles with addiction and depression right off the bat with the opening song “Darkseid”, and continues to bring light to the topics throughout the album.
What’s special about The House is Burning is the way Rashad is able to blend early 2000s southern rap with his modern sound. On the hook of Chad, Rashad pays homage to the late Pimp C by turning his iconic line, “If I wasn’t rappin’ baby I would still be ridin’ Mercedes” from a boastful verse on a hard-hitting sample to a laid-back verse on a very relaxed instrumental (original line from “Big Pimpin'”). Other highlights from this album include Claymore (feat. Smino), Headshots, and Wat U Sed (feat. Doechii & Kal Banx) which are all melody-heavy songs that act as intermissions from the seemingly gloomy reality Rashad has been living in. On HB2U, Rashad ends the album by talking about his hope to break familial cycles and wanting payback (likely from the time he’s lost due to his addictive personality). In the second half of the song, Rashad repeats the mantra “you are now a human being”, which is likely a sign that he accepts his flaws and trauma, and is hopeful for the future that awaits him.
Favorite songs: Darkseid, Claymore, Headshots, 9-3 Freestyle, HB2U
Written by DJ Fodderstompf
In 2021 renowned DJ, rapper, and producer Otis Jackson Jr., or more commonly known as Madlib, released a project called Sound Ancestors. This is the first solo album the Madvillainy counterpart has released in quite some time, featuring 16 songs worth of chopped up vocal samples, off-kilter beats and largely instrumental hip-hop. With deep cut samples like “Bargain Day” by Australian singer and songwriter Terry Britten (better known for co-writing Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got To Do With It?”), and a chopped up version of The Young Marble Giants “Searching For Mr. Right”, Madlib is simultaneously at his most cerebral and most simplistic on Sound Ancestors. This is encouraged by producer and collaborator Kieran Hebden, better known as Four Tet. Known for being an artist who has long been interested in nature soundscapes and minimalist production, Hebden was able to bring this unique background to Sound Ancestors to create both a hypnotic and melancholic sound. Sound Ancestors stands out because while Madlib is putting out music with the likes of Freddie Gibbs, Anderson .Paak and other acclaimed artists, he’s still finding time to push the boundaries and obscurities of his own sound.
Favorite songs: Hopprock, Two for 2 – For Dilla, Theme De Crabtree
Photo by okayplayer.
Written by DJ Kuzco’s Poison:
In 2020 the legendary Stones Throw Records dropped their second release from Los Angeles based beatmaker and producer Knxwledge. That album, “1988”, played something like a sample-pack from his massive Bandcamp account (an archive so voluminous, it seems, that albums must be titled as if they were lost file folders stored on some billion-terabyte hard drive). This year Knxwledge added a few more to the collection, including “HX.20” — but it’s not just a drop in a bucket. All the key components of great Knxwledge tracks are here: smoked-out drums right in the pocket, soulful-yet-borderline-cheesy vocal samples, and melancholic synthesizers whirring around it all; but what makes “HX.20” so special is the way these elements are blended perfectly together. On “breakitdwn”, for example, Knxwledge matches a warbly string melody with the vocals from Tevin Campbell’s 1993 single “Shhh” so effortlessly it puts the original to shame (the fact that the original was produced by none other than Prince makes the remix that much more impressive). The opening track “do4luhv” has to be the standout, though: it’s a meta-remix of a cover of Bobby Caldwell’s “What You Won’t Do For Love,” with a gorgeous backing of keys and echoing harp-like melodies that sound as though they were lifted straight from your dusty old VHS collection. Knxwledge remains one of the most consistently excellent producers on the scene, with a style all his own.
Favorite Songs: breakitdwn, do4luhv
Photo by Paris Texas Twitter
Written by Dylan Wagner
As hard as it is to pick a favorite project from 2021, Paris Texas’ EP “Red Hand Akimbo” is a clear standout for me. Dropped independently as a surprise release in October, the genre-bending bundle of songs was my introduction to the LA duo, who seem to have created their own unique lane in the underground scene almost effortlessly with a playful and energetic combination of rap and rock. Although I am not typically a fan of crossovers of this sort, it was immediately clear to me with “Red Hand Akimbo” that Paris Texas has found a way to tap into an extraordinary creative energy. The EP is just under 13 minutes of masterfully orchestrated mayhem in which Louis Pastel and Felix show off their lyricism and unique personal style, combining moody themes and lyrics with a generally lighthearted and humorous tone. The duo’s spirit is raw, chaotic, and perfectly suited for high-energy live performances, earning them a spot on Brockhampton’s world tour before the group broke up. Despite this tour being canceled, Paris Texas is sure to have another big year in 2022, including performances at festivals like Boston Calling and Governor’s Ball.
Favorite songs: Dr. Aco’s Miracle Bullets, RHM