Arts and Entertainment

The Summer in Review: Hip-Hop Edition

Three highly anticipated hip-hop albums, “The Forever Story,” “Cheat Codes,” and “2000,” were recently released to varying success.

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JID: “The Forever Story”

JID’s long-anticipated “The Forever Story” finds the Atlanta rapper at his most refined yet. “The Forever Story” comes as a sequel to 2017’s “The Never Story,” and is, as he explained in an interview with Complex, “a good chunk of [an] origin story.” JID utilizes his signature effortless, breathy flows across the album in order to guide the listener down a carefully curated soundscape of maximalist trap beats infused with jazz, soul, and R&B.

JID hits the ground running with the fast-paced “Raydar,” which features humorous, 100-miles-an-hour bars over a heavy bassline, with a sample of a referee whistle spliced across it. This track, as well as ones like “Dance Now” and “Can’t Punk Me,” captures the listener’s attention with its pace and energy and allows JID to experiment with his voice and flow. “Surround Sound” is the pinnacle of JID’s effortless versatility, with an incredibly catchy hook and a verse that bounces across the chopped soul beat, as well as an incredible feature from 21 Savage, whose twangy, menacing voice and cold, calculated flows perfectly compliment JID’s technical precision. “Crack Sandwich” is another peak, with a chanted choral hook that breaks down into a slow, dripping beat and a personal verse that sees JID confronting the indulgent violence in his family and community. JID even delivers on slower cuts like “Kody Blue 31,” a soulful song that sees him urge the listeners to “swang on” over a string section and groovy bassline. Another highlight is “Lauder Too,” which is driven by an intense bassline and features interesting vocal shifts and a beautiful breakdown towards the end. JID’s dynamic adaptability is integral to the album, separating it from a standard hip-hop mixtape.

Despite these strengths, the album does tend to drag in some places, especially toward the end of the tracklist, which suffers from lack of sonic variety and bloated verses. The decline is most present in “Bruddanem,” which features a somewhat annoying hook, incessant repetition, and a feature from Lil Durk, whose punchy, autotuned bars feel out of place compared to JID’s smooth flows. Additionally, while some of the beats do just enough, others, like the boring looped string riff on “Just In Time” or the plunky guitar riff on “Bruddanem,” feel like they are completely lacking. Some songs suffer from one too many verses, as JID delivers stale, predictable lines that pad time and divert the listener’s attention.

Nevertheless, “The Forever Story” is an impressive album that sees JID playing to his strong suits and drawing from his infinite toolkit of flows, making it an easy and exciting listen.

Black Thought and Danger Mouse: “Cheat Codes”

“Cheat Codes” is the first collaboration between Roots emcee Black Thought and producer Danger Mouse that has been 10 years in the making. Black Thought raps with the confidence, maturity, and conviction of a legend, blessing the record with important pockets of wisdom on social issues as well as personal mental barriers. His raps are complemented by Danger Mouse’s incredible production. Each beat is simultaneously minimal yet full, perfectly blending heavy boom bap drums with more modern melodies and sampling.

“Identical Deaths” is the album’s highlight, featuring a smooth, laid-back beat filled with haunting atmospheric noises that linger just behind light, mournful chimes. Black Thought fits an extremely personal verse to match the intimate instrumental: “My witch doctor asked me what’s been blocking my chakra / I told him it was probably caffeine, chronic, and vodka.” “Belize” is another beautiful track, with a warm horn section and rippling guitar riffs, as well as a fantastic posthumous feature from MF DOOM, whose off-kilter flow perfectly juxtaposes Black Thought’s direct steadiness. A$AP Rocky’s verse on “Strangers” is a surprisingly effective intergenerational highlight, and the iconic duo Run The Jewels brings an aggressive energy to match the dense and muddled beat. The beautiful string swells on “Violas and Lupitas” are a perfect way to close out the majesty of the album, ending on a quiet, contemplative note.

One of the only flaws of the album is Black Thought’s low vocal levels, which forces the listener to strain to make out his lyrics, as they often get lost in the beats. More broadly, the album lacks a sonic and narrative climax, inhibiting it from reaching a clear peak. Ultimately, however, the incredible performances from Black Thought and Danger Mouse solidify “Cheat Codes” as a recent gem and a must-listen for any fan of old or new hip-hop.

Joey Bada$$: “2000”

Joey Bada$$ burst onto the scene with his 2012 mixtape “1999,” a pure hip-hop gem that the Brooklyn rapper released when he was only 17. The sequel, “2000,” attempts to live up to the debut but with mixed results. It relies on a nostalgic old-school backpacker mixtape aesthetic, but fails to stick out amongst other projects in its subgenre, lacking the youthful charm that made “1999” special.

Much of “2000” is dedicated to empty verses that only serve to take up space. From the early moments of the album, Bada$$ claims to be a part of a holy trinity with esteemed rappers Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole—big talk, but Bada$$ is yet to prove himself as an industry staple. There’s a lot of this empty boasting across the album; Joey wastes so much time saying that he’s one of the greatest that there are few moments where he actually raps at the level of one. “2000” also contains lots of corny bars, like the head scratching “can’t spell us without trust” on “Show Me,” or the entirety of “Welcome Back,” a song all about having sexual relations with another man’s wife, with a whiny, autotuned hook sung by Chris Brown. Moments like this on the album make Joey’s boasting seem even more undeserved and are pretty cringe-inducing.

The album does have high points, however, which arise when Bada$$ stops trying so hard to show off and gets to rapping. Take “Brand New 911,” for example, where Joey effortlessly slides over a bumping horn loop before Westside Gunn delivers a fantastic feature teeming with grimy Griselda energy, or “Where I Belong,” where Joey delivers classic old-school bars over a flute melody while showing some Brooklyn pride. “Survivor’s Guilt” is an introspective and profound track focused on the suicide of long time collaborator Capital STEEZ. This track is the heart of the tape, showing listeners a bruised side of Joey that contradicts much of his tough-guy act, one that simply mourns the loss of an old friend. Moments like these see Joey in his element, and remind listeners of the easygoing greatness of “1999.” The production on this album is notable as well, with lots of hefty drum beats and sprawling samples reminiscent of an older age of hip-hop.

While “2000” has many respectable attributes, it ends up failing as a strong and cohesive mixtape, working best only when Joey drops the braggadocious act and plays to his rapping strengths.