– „Here’s a write-up I promised a looooooong time ago. Would Swine be up for posting it? I compare three artists that share a common thread but each are quite unique in their own right,“ – Kevin wrote me
– Sure we’re interested. Kevin Loo from Deadset, who wrote for us a review on Tyler, The Creator’s IGOR, is a teacher of mathematics in Prague and very skilled music writer. After a long time, he finally delivers another brilliant piece.
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Hip-hop artists are pushing genre and content boundaries like never before, becoming near unclassifiable. Recently, three highly anticipated albums were released that demonstrate this expansion of the genre. Ginger by Brockhampton, All My Heroes are Cornballs by JPEGMAFIA, and uknowhatimsayin¿ by Danny Brown complement each other in their narratives and artistry, acting as a 2019 time capsule for this specifically weird brand of hip hop.
Trying to distance themselves from bandmate Ameer Vann’s controversy and departure in 2018, the world’s biggest boy band strip it back for a gentler approach than their previous efforts. Losing a core member and larger-than-life personality shook their core as a band, and Ginger is an attempt for them to regroup, with varied success.
BROCKHAMPTON – GINGER
The beats and production are a smorgasbord of ideas, and with at least 13 members on their official roster, it’s no surprise that it sounds disjointed at times. The album has been described as a sort of ‘group therapy’ with no real focus. Album opener “No Halo” is a bonafide ballad, over an acoustic guitar sample and laid-back summer vibes. While the next track “Sugar” continues to lull you into a relaxed mode, it proves to be a false sense of security, as the album careens through a myriad of ideas and narrative voices.
For example, “St Percy” features five vocalists alone, each sharing their own perspective on success. Kevin Abstract opens it with a reflection on how he’s still the same kid from school, while later on Dom McLennon dedicates most of his lines to talk of all the money they have now.
I’m the same one you seen in the classroom, ay
We was chillin‘ in the stall makin‘ crowds move, ay
Young K still posted in the A like a Brave
No chain, ya boys got what make my neck fuckin‘ bang
Other tracks like “Dearly Departed” go full sad-soul-boy on us, opening like a Childish Gambino or Tyler, The Creator b-side, before kicking into high gear with some heartfelt bars from Dom Mclennon, building to a crescendo with:
“Because you never learned how to be a man/And it’s not my fault, and it’s not my problem anymore/That’s just where you stand/That’s just who you are/That’s your cross to bear/You could talk to God/I don’t wanna hear, motherfucker”
BROCKHAMPTON – GINGER – 7.1/10
JPEGMAFIA – All My Heroes are Cornballs
While Brockhampton’s strength and weakness is in its diversity, JPEGMAFIA is a man of singular vision, even if that vision is chaotic and kaleidoscopic in nature. ‘All My Heroes are Cornballs’ is self-produced and purposely takes listeners on an auditory acid trip.
Opening track ‘Jesus Forgive Me, I am a Thot’ opens with literal white noise glitching, before it opens out into a chopped up soul beat over guttural noises and other mutterings, and then launches into borderline screaming dovetailed with autotuned crooning. It sets the tone for the rest of the album, an experiment in punk rap, proving that you don’t need to have a dozen members to sound like you have a dozen different voices.
A key characteristic of JPEGMAFIA is his use of punchlines and self-deprecating, absurd-style humour. This refusal to take himself too seriously is another hallmark of the new millennial school of music. With song titles like “Grimy Waifu”, “BasicBitchTearGas” and “BUTTERMILK JESUS TYPE BEAT”, it’s hard to look past the comedic value of a JPEGMAFIA release.
However, rather than being there for cheap jokes, JPEG manages to weave subtle political references, and even some self-reflection into his lyrics, belying a sharp and painfully self-aware intellect. He’s not just making sounds and noises for fun, he’s reflecting society in all its pixelated nauseating glory – something like the bastard child of ‘It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’ and Death Grips. One simple example is excerpt from “PTSD”:
Stop cryin‘, make something people impressed with
Don’t know how that feels, Young Peggy, no deal
Y’all deal look somethin‘ like Brexit
Bitin‘ crackers and wonder why you anorexic (Damn, Peggy)
If you can’t say it to my face, I don’t respect it (Wow)
All black, nigga schemin‘ like Uncle Fester
You got a show, but you showin‘ up in a stretcher
JPEG uses humour to question his career trajectory, as well as present a magnetic portrayal of an up-and-coming artist making sense of the world around him.
JPEGMAFIA – ALL MY HEROES ARE CORNBALLS – 8.5/10
Danny Brown – uknowhatimsayin¿
The third album worth examining is Danny Brown’s fifth studio album ‘uknowhatimsayin¿’. Now a highly successful and respected artist, the pessimism and uncertainty expressed by younger artists like Brockhampton and JPEGMAFIA are less noticeable. Danny has built a unique persona over the past decade, inviting listeners into the various dark recesses of his mind. This time however, it sounds almost like a celebration.
On this album Danny Brown fully embraces his persona and success, gleefully spitting some of the wittiest punchlines in modern rap. How can you listen to this on “Belly of the Beast” and not crack a smile?
I take a piss in that same sink you wash dishes with
You’re illiterate, ya Bisquick soft
I pulled the biscuit then you dipped like cocktail sauce
I eat so many shrimp I got iodine poison
Hoes on my dick ‚cause I look like Roy Orbison
Got a foursome with four fours and I called it a twelve
One was chubby, one was ugly, wack as hell (Ah)
That’s just one example out of dozens of hilarious and uniquely Danny Brown lines, all set against a backdrop of slick and multicoloured beats produced by Q-Tip. On paper, the two seem strange bedfellows, but on unknowhatimsayin?, they serve as the yin to each other’s yang. It’s an unlikely harmony that allows Danny Brown’s zaniness to not overshadow what he’s actually trying to say.
Moving past the trials he faced in mental health in the past, and now as a middle aged man, Danny Brown is finally more comfortable than ever as an artist. As a result, the record as a whole feels less abrasive and anxiety-filled – somehow more relaxed. However, calling a Danny Brown record relaxed is like calling a rollercoaster comfortable because the seats are made of plush leather. It’s still wild and enjoyable, but there is an added element of luxury that makes the whole experience somehow nicer.
With guest spots from other cutting edge artists like Run The Jewels, and also JPEGMAFIA, it’s a thrilling ride, and satisfying evolution for Danny Brown, that will no doubt make many best of lists by the end of 2019.
All in all, these three albums signify the crystallisation of a new era in hip hop. There are simply no rules about what you can rap or sing about, or how you can do it. Even the most niche of art-punk-rap-boyband artists will find their audience around the globe. While Brockhampton, JPEGMAFIA and Danny Brown all come from different generations, places and styles, the essence of their weirdness is to be applauded. We can only hope they will continue to inspire future artists to step out and make whatever the hell they want to.
DANNY BROWN – uknowhatimsayin¿ – 9.1/10
Text: Kevin Loo