With just weeks to go in 2018, some of hip-hop’s biggest names, both established and rising, sneak in some much-anticipated releases this week, with the common thread being progression from some innovative artists who are firmly grounded in hip-hop’s wide-ranging history.
From the west coast, we’ve got Anderson .Paak, following up his well-received sophomore album Malibu with Oxnard, the deeply personal ode to his home city. Anderson pulls from southern California’s funk traditions to make slick, groovy R&B-influenced hip-hop that sounds just as good at World On Wheels as it does at the local park picnic.
Meanwhile, from New York, Pro Era rapper/producer Kirk Knight returns with IIWII (an acronym standing for “It Is What It Is”), bringing the classic boom-bap-centered sounds his crew is best known for into a more futuristic setting after the insane success of his work with fellow New Yorker ASAP Ferg on “Plain Jane.” While Kirk is influenced by golden era New York rap, he’s intent on taking it in inventive and unconventional new directions.
From down south, City Girls draw on the Miami bass sound pioneered in the early nineties by 2 Live Crew and pair it with the ratchet, raunchy, go-getter anthems of their musical hero Trina on Girl Code, their second album on Quality Control Music after Period, the debut album that sent them skyrocketing to fame after being sampled on Drake’s Scorpion standout, “In My Feelings.”
Finally, there’s Jaden Smith, son of rap icon Will Smith, carving out his own legacy one introspective, heady mixtape at a time. After last year’s Syre proved that Jaden had the chops to match his famous dad’s standing in hip-hop, his intense promotion of The Sunset Tapes: A Cool Tape Story shows he’s focused on surpassing it. His theatrical performance at the recent Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival proves he’s got the following to do just that, but if his performance on this next tape matches the same level of energy, he might be doing it a lot sooner than anyone expected.
Anderson .Paak, Oxnard
Listen, we all know .Paak’s album is the highlight of the weekend. We’ve all been waiting for a follow-up to Malibu ever since, well, Malibu dropped in 2016. After a decade on the grind in and around LA, Anderson — formerly known as Breezy Lovejoy to longtime fans — finally got his due recognition. There was just one problem: We couldn’t get enough of his laid-back rasp and spicy pimp wisdom. Fortunately for us, the wait’s almost over, and judging from what Anderson himself has said about Oxnard, we’ll likely be back for more almost as soon as its out, too.
City Girls, Girl Code
Don’t let the anticipation for Anderson .Paak’s latest fool you, though. There’s still plenty to be excited about. While Yung Miami’s recent comments may put a bit of a damper on City Girls’ sophomore release — their second in the year after signing to Quality Control off their first song ever — the quality of the hip-wiggling bops on the group’s debut, Period, lends promise to their follow-up for more card-snatching, cash-grabbing, baller-tricking anthems.
Jaden Smith, The Sunset Tapes: A Cool Tape Story
It seems like a million years ago that Teen Jaden was mystifying the internet with his woozy, off-kilter wisdom and outright bizarre sartorial choices, but ever since his ‘locs were shorn last year, he’s been an absolute mic terror, proving that he can spit with the best. The true joy of Syre, though, was learning that Jaden’s quirky sensibilities lent him an effortless skill in curating a unique, progressive sound to match the righteous fury of his socially conscious raps. He’ll look to keep the streak going with The Sunset Tapes, which he’s been relentlessly plugging on his still-endlessly-entertaining Twitter.
Kirk Knight, IIWII
I chatted with Kirk a little about his upcoming album and how he’s handled the wave of success that followed the irresistible electromagnetic pull of “Plain Jane,” and was surprised to find out he’s still remarkably grounded. With IIWII, he wants to prove that “Plain Jane” wasn’t a fluke, but more than that, he’s out to show he’s just as well-rounded an artist as producer. With thoughtful insights into how lyricism should be incorporated into rap and a visible desire to grow beyond simple homage to boom-bap, Kirk’s IIWII is not to be overlooked.
I don’t want to say that LK47’s Wash & Set went criminally overlooked last year, but if cases were being caught, the exploding prison populations would be receiving an influx that might stress them to the breaking point. But fortunately, the rap world gets another chance to give the masked boundary-breaker her just due as Acrylic picks up where its beauty salon-themed cousin left off. With “Girl Blunt” making the rounds on Insecure, hopefully Leikeli’s bandwagon has gathered some new fans. If not, well, I’ll be taking the lead on the prosecution and sending everybody to hip-hop jail.