Brandon Soderberg



  • Future Brings Humility, Sincerity and a Nonsensical Kanye to the Stunning 'Honest'

    Future Brings Humility, Sincerity and a Nonsensical Kanye to the Stunning 'Honest'

    Over the past couple of years, Atlanta rap nice guy Future has reinvented the slow jam. His fearlessly soft songs are neither cloying for-tha'-ladiezzz "feminine" or sensitive-thug "masculine." Instead, heartening hits like "Turn on the Lights" and "Neva End" (both from his 2012 debut Pluto) stand alone as emotionally intelligent Möebius strips of Auto-Tune, chock full of decent, grown-ass man declarations. Consider something as small as the way he puppy-dog-whimpers the word "truth" on the title track of his sophomore album Honest: It vibrates out of his mouth and leaches across the track as "tru-ooh-ooh-ooh-thhhhhh," the pitch bumping up and down.

  • J. Stalin

    Stream J. Stalin's Fervid Bay Area Bangers on 'SID: Shining In Darkness'

    As the owner of Livewire Records, West Oakland rapper J. Stalin provides a place for the growth of incredibly creative, meat-and-potatoes Bay Area hip-hop. The label hosts gritty rubbery street music that navigates crack dealing devastation and grounded partying tracks with equal aplomb, with artists that range from Stalin himself to MCs like Shady Nate and Philthy Rich among others. Stalin's latest album, SID: Shining In Darkness highlights Livewire's impressive quality control and is arguably his most accomplished release since 2010's stellar Prenuptial Agreement. The immediate stand out is "Fuk That" which features Too $hort (who squawks out a refreshingly unsentimental verse about current economic hard times) and is pushed along by a bubbling twinkling beat from the Mekanix.

  • August Alsina's In-the-Pocket R&B Outshines Its Glitzy Guests on 'Testimony'

    August Alsina's In-the-Pocket R&B Outshines Its Glitzy Guests on 'Testimony'

    Last year, cooin' and oohin' street dude August Alsina arrived with one of the more mazy and rewarding radio R&B songs in quite some time, "I Luv This Shit." The focus of his 2013 concept EP, Downtown: Life Under the Gun, and a bonus track on Alsina's debut album, Testimony, "I Luv This Shit" is an elegantly wobbling wail about drinking and drugging too much.

  • Rap Songs of the Week: G-Side Triumphantly Return With 'Statue'

    Rap Songs of the Week: G-Side Triumphantly Return With 'Statue'

    August Alsina ft. Yo Gotti, "Ghetto"Right now the focus is on August Alsina for a hot minute because he acted like big dumb baby when he was on BET's 106 & Park on Tuesday — he didn't want to talk about some sort of beef he has with Trey Songz ("So, you're just gonna go against the grain... I just told y’all not to ask me that shit when I got up here."), which just, oh brother. But hey, Testimony, the debut from this The-Dream disciple (he riffs on Terius-isms the way Terius riffs on Prince) is R&B filtered through rap-like street savvy and its best moments — like "Ghetto" — mix and match the expectations of those two genres expertly. So pay attention to that instead.

  • The U.N.

    Stream Roc Marciano-Featuring Group the U.N.'s Reissue of 'UN Or U Out'

    Ten years ago the U.N., a rap group consisting of Dino Brave, Mike Raw, Laku, and most notably, Roc Marciano (before his solo career as the preeminent whispering, scowling rap hero), released a little record titled UN Or U Out. With production from heroes Pete Rock, Large Professor, and Roc himself (who took their sample-slicing heroics to an even more obsessive level), the release was never truly afforded the cult classic status it deserved. Blame that, in part, on its strange standing in mid-2000s hip-hop: Released by 456 Entertainment, a record label co-founded by MTV VJ and low-key canny tastemaker Carson Daly, it was a tribute to the grimy boom-bap that wasn't quite old enough to be considered classic, nor new enough to make a real impact.

  • SZA's Soft Focus Soul Slips Into the Background on 'Z'

    SZA's Soft Focus Soul Slips Into the Background on 'Z'

    From the kush-cloudy quiet storm production to the vague references to what may or may not be emotional turmoil, everything is just out of reach on SZA's Z, including SZA herself. The neo-neo soulster remains guarded throughout, her witty moments of lyrical specificity ("Your skin tastes like Brussels sprouts") tempered by typically embattled pop music platitudes ("Bring on the thorned crown/ Crucify me"). This album is willfully ambivalent: "Babylon" sits between Ginuwine's experimental pop-classic "Pony" and Rihanna's cloying, chintzy, oh-so-2012 "Pony" interpolation "Jump." "Hiijack," produced by Toro Y Moi, is half George Duke, half dubstep.

  • Chance the Rapper

    Rap Songs of the Week: Chance the Rapper and SZA Sing the Blues

    Drake, "Days In the East" Presumably designed to counter the controversy-starting, subliminal-filled "Draft Days," this typical Drake track is, well, probably about Rihanna. Though the way that Drizzy goes on and on about "her," it could just as well be about any other lady he simultaneously idealizes and condescends, you know? What makes this fascinating is how "Draft Day" and "Days" are conceptually connected tracks. Both are "day"-themed, the former samples Lauryn Hill while the latter samples Rihanna, they dropped in the evening and night respectively, capitalizing on when we're most prone to having have those especially frustrating feelings about a tumultuous relationship.

  • 'The Future's Void,' But EMA Has Some Answers on Her Acerbic Sophomore Album

    'The Future's Void,' But EMA Has Some Answers on Her Acerbic Sophomore Album

    Despite Erika M. Anderson having some harsh words for millennials and sporting a cautious attitude toward the all-encompassing terror brought on by the Internet, The Future's Void isn't anti-technology (you don't scoop up Tumblr artist Molly Soda for your music video if you don't have some sincere stock in this stuff). Nor is it all that condescending (though "Neuromancer," which sounds like Kate Bush covering NIN's Hesitation Marks and takes aim at selfie-takers, is like your cool older sister lecturing you and suddenly seeming not that cool anymore).

  • Drake

    Rap Songs of the Week: Drake Half-Steps Into Petty Beef on 'Draft Day'

    Asaad ft. King Louie, "Block Boy 2.0"When Philadelphia MC Asaad isn't cooking up one-sided beef with Pusha T, or trolling the Internet with the artwork for his single "Boss Status" (which featured a folk art-like illustration of Tupac um, mounting the Notorious B.I.G.), he's making some of the most multi-faceted hip-hop out right now. His core sound remains the gritty, soulful street rap that Philly built its name on in the early 2000s, but he's equally adept at eccentric trap music and Auto-Tune-moaned R&B gone dark-of-the-night soul. Weird stuff. On this remix of his single "Block Boy" from last year, featured on the controversy-courting rapper's new tape Flowers II, his swerving mumbling version of drill gets some swaggering support from Chicago's King Louie.

  • Tynethys

    Hear Tynethys' Smooth, Pulsing Slow Jam 'TFZ'

    Playful Sacramento soulster Tynethys' open-hearted slow jam "TFZ" finds the Main Attrakionz collaborator shouting out his mom and dad for staying together. He also compares himself to Bart Simpson's principal, Seymour Skinner, in a way that imagines a smoother Mac Dre (that is, if he were raised on '90s R&B). Produced by cloud-rap architects Friendzone (Main Attrakionz's "Perfect Skies", A$AP Rocky's "Fashion Killa," and Antwon's "Automatic" to name a few of their Internet hits), "TFZ" oozes along thanks to the East Bay beatmaking duo's signature bed of melting synths. Though, the track's wobbling drums and skittering snares suggest the song has some West Coast rubbery rap influence as well.

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