Notable Releases of the Week (1/4)
Welcome back! Hope everyone had a great holidays/New Year's. If you haven't OD'ed on 'Best of 2018' lists yet, be sure to check out BrooklynVegan's Top 50 Albums of 2018 as well as Best Rap Albums of 2018, Best Metal of 2018, Best Punk & Emo Albums of 2018, and Bill's Indie Basement's favorite albums and EPs of 2018. If you're already ready for 2019 music, we aren't quite there yet (though we did just publish lists of 2019 albums we're anticipating and 2019 metal albums we're anticipating), but first this week's edition of Notable Releases will catch up on a few good albums/EPs that dropped around the time we were away for the holidays.
Check out my picks below. What was your favorite release of the last couple weeks?
Puerto Rican trap artist Bad Bunny became an arena-sized headliner before he even put an album out. He spent the past couple years dropping huge and sometimes award-winning singles, he started gaining a massive English-speaking audience when he appeared on Cardi B's unstoppable "I Like It" alongside J Balvin, and finally on Christmas Eve he surprise-released his debut album X 100PRE. It's not everyday that a debut album can be a surprise-released event album, but Bad Bunny pulled it off, and he quickly (and deservingly) had everyone talking about his rock-solid album. It's got a couple of his major hits like "Estamos Bien" and the Drake-featuring "MIA," but he really approached X 100PRE as an album, not a collection of hits, and the non-singles are just as addictive. He's got some more traditionally Latin-sounding music on the record, and he's also got songs that rival Migos' stuttering trap ("¿Quien Tu Eres?"), The Weeknd's pulsating pop ("Otra Noche en Miami"), and even blink-182's pop punk ("Tenemos Que Hablar"). The songs are addictive whether you understand the language or not, and to quote someone who does (Julyssa Lopez writing for Remezcla): "He doesn’t skimp on the lighthearted wordplay and tongue-in-cheek antics that have earned him a reputation as a carefree kind of prankster ('Tú robando en Macy’s y yo en el desfile,' a line on '¿Quién Tú Eres?' that references his Thanksgiving Day performance, might be one of his funniest burns on the album). But X100PRE also tackles headier subject matter, like domestic violence on 'Solo De Mí' and Puerto Rican resilience on 'Estamos Bien.' [...] He also repeatedly delves into his emotional state, offering more vulnerability than we’ve previously seen from him." It's a great, genre-defying, culturally important album, and proof that one of the biggest singles artists of the last couple years is capable of becoming a highly skilled album artist as well.
Experimental, underground New York rapper MIKE had a very prolific 2018, and he capped it off with the 13-track mixtape War In My Pen in late December. A lot of the music he released last year (and the year before) was great, but War In My Pen would be a fine entry point into MIKE's catalog and it won't be surprising if more people start catching onto him now. Not long before War In My Pen came out, Earl Sweatshirt released Some Rap Songs, which a lot of people agree is one of the best albums of the year, and Earl was strongly pulling from the same experimental New York underground that MIKE calls home on that album. Earl namedropped MIKE on the album, and he brought in other weird New Yorkers like MIKE collaborators Standing on the Corner and Navy Blue (who's also on War In My Pen), and came out with a collage of cut-up jazz and soul sounds that aren't far removed at all from the sounds of War In My Pen. If Earl helps turn more of the world onto this new weird era of New York rap, that'll be a pretty great thing, and War In My Pen is among the strongest and most accessible records to come out of this new wave of music lately. It's got a woozy, psychedelic production style courtesy of DJ Blackpower (who apparently is MIKE himself), and MIKE's rhymes may seem unassuming at first but they sneak up on you.
Ever since rapper/singer DeJ Loaf dropped her rock-solid 2015 EP ...And See That's The Thing, I've been eagerly awaiting her proper debut album Liberated which she's been talking about since 2016. She since released some proper singles that hint at the big, fleshed-out sound she's been saying the album will have, as well as a couple lower-stakes mixtapes where she continued to hone her craft (and drop some songs that probably weren't gonna make the cut for the album). Over the holidays, DeJ decided to tide us over with another six-song EP, and though this one seems like another low-stakes release, it's keeping me excited (and impatient!) for Liberated. It's split pretty evenly between her melancholic, melodic singing side and her tough rap side, and DeJ continues to be a pro at both sounds. The early highlight for me is "Who Gon' Stop Us" -- which shows off her more melodic side but lyrically is a boastful rap song -- but really all six songs are great. It's proof that DeJ continues to forge her own path, and that she's gotten even better at both singing and rapping since her initial breakthrough. Again, it's a minor, low-stakes release, but it's enough to keep you at the edge of your seat, waiting for Liberated to finally drop.