Happy Memorial Day Weekend! The unofficial start of summer is here (even if the weather in New York feels otherwise), so that (hopefully) means lots of good vibes and it also means lots of music festivals. This weekend has Boston Calling and Maryland Deathfest, and the opening of the free Surf Lodge shows in Montauk and the Summer Thunder series at Brooklyn's Union Pool. Check out our Memorial Day Weekend guide for more stuff to do in and around NYC.
Maybe because people in the music industry assume you'll be hitting more beaches than record stores this weekend, this week is pretty light on new releases. For that reason, I included a review of the new Your Old Droog album, an album I overlooked when it came out in March but have since been enjoying, so much in fact that we invited Droog and frequent collaborator Wiki to co-headline the next BrooklynVegan-curated Red Bull Sound Select show.
Check out my picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
Since Brooklyn rapper Jimi Tents' debut album 5 O’Clock Shadow dropped, he and his family were faced with some hard times. They were forced out of their home in East New York after the building went under foreclosure, which inspired the title of his new project, I Can't Go Home. His real-life struggles can be heard on the new album, which has him sounding more confident and more skilled than his debut. Like a lot of New York rappers, Jimi holds dear the values that this city's rap music has always held dear -- namely, lyricism. Parts of I Can't Go Home echo leaders of New York's current wave like Joey Bada$$ and A$AP Rocky, and like those guys, Jimi's got one foot in the past and another in the future.
Jimi's a storyteller, and he knows how to keep you paying attention to every line. He tackles the dark subjects like gentrification. He tackles the feeling of being stuck and needing to get out of a place or a thing that's limiting you. On "Below the Surface," which features a show-stopping verse from rising Chicago star Saba, Jimi tackles depression and suicidal thoughts. But I Can't Go Home has its fun moments too. A song that feels like an early highlight is "Rick Rubin," which is a genuine tribute to the Def Jam co-founder and also a head-knocker with an instantly addictive chorus. If you hear this one blasting out of car windows this summer, don't be surprised.
Possibly more than anyone else, Evan Weiss is the connecting tissue between emo's classic '90s era and its current wave of "revival" bands. He helped keep that sound alive all throughout the genre's mainstream boom (his album with The Progress, Merit, released during the height of Fall Out Boy/Panic at the Disco/etc, remains a classic), and he's worked directly with both pioneers and newcomers. At this point, he's nearly as influential as emo god Mike Kinsella, and has been in about as many bands as him (including one with him). One of his many, many projects is Pet Symmetry, a trio with two musicians from emo's newer wave, Erik Czaja (Dowsing) and Marcus Nuccio (What Gives, ex-Dowsing). For their sophomore album, Vision, Pet Symmetry signed to Polyvinyl, home of some of the most iconic bands in this genre of music, and Vision really holds a candle to some of the more classic albums on this label.
It was produced by Dave Downham, who also did both Beach Slang albums, and Dave helps Pet Symmetry achieve exactly the sound you need for punky, emo-ish indie rock. It's hard-hitting, and clear as day without sounding overly polished. Evan's voice still has that perfect tone for this kind of stuff (somewhere between Ben Gibbard and Mike Kinsella), and his melodies are always on point. Plus, after last year's Into It. Over It. album, excellent as it was, it's nice to hear him writing driving rock songs again. Pet Symmetry were kind of a jokey band when they started out -- see their punny band name and the punny name of their debut album Pets Hounds -- but while Pet Symmetry don’t fully abandon their sense of humor, Vision is serious stuff.
Swet Shop Boys' 2016 debut album Cashmere is a protest-rap album that came out at a time when a lot of people needed it. Released within a year of the UK's Brexit and Trump's election in the US, Pakistani British rapper Riz MC and Punjabi-Indian New York rapper Heems used the album to attack the racist stereotypes, profiling, and injustices that are all too prevalent for people with brown skin. Its opening track "T5" directly critiqued profiling in airport security, and it became even more of an anthem a few months later after Trump's "Muslim Ban." With all the excitement in the air from that album and Swet Shop Boys' powerful live shows, the trio (rounded out by producer Redinho) quickly banged out a new six-song EP, Sufi La, which sounds directly inspired by that excitement. It's louder and faster than Cashmere, and has Heems and Riz sounding even more fired up. Heems is spitting some of his best rhymes since his Das Racist days, and Riz -- though you may now know him better as an actor -- remains a beast at the mic as well. They get political like they do on Cashmere, but Sufi La is also Swet Shop Boys having fun (see a track like "Thas My Girl"). It's clearer everyday that the world needs a group like Swet Shop Boys. If you weren't already paying attention, let Sufi La change that.
Lil Yachty first caught my ear with his verse on "Mixtape," my favorite verse on Chance the Rapper's Coloring Book. In that song, he laid out exactly why people like him: "They fuck with me cause I'm different / New sound, new appearance." It's true. From the red braids to the heavily auto-tuned sound that has little to do with traditional rap, no one (except Lil Uzi Vert) really is much like Yachty. Curious to hear more from this young rapper who really cares about cover art, I checked out his Lil Boat mixtape but was mostly underwhelmed. And things only got worse from there. His big guest verses last year were on songs that sound like nursery rhymes (D.R.A.M.'s "Broccoli" and KYLE's "iSpy"). He covered "It Takes Two" with bubblegum pop singer Carly Rae Jepsen, and then he released his own bubblegum pop song "Bring It Back," one of the lead singles off Teenage Emotions. He said he "honestly couldn't name five songs" by Biggie and Tupac, and then called Biggie "overrated." This is not the kind of stuff that goes over well with someone whose favorite album of this week is by Jimi Tents.
Still, when listening to Teenage Emotions I go back to that line from "Mixtape." Why do kids go crazy for Yachty at his increasingly large shows? Why is this album so anticipated? Maybe his (presumably younger than me) fans really don't care what Yachty has to say about Biggie. He's only an insult to "real rap" if you convince yourself that Yachty's trying to make rap music and I don't really think he is. He raps a little on Teenage Emotions but a good chunk of the album is actual pop music. You'd be better off comparing him to Katy Perry (whose new album has just as many Migos appearances as Teenage Emotions) than Biggie. And pop music is fun. That Migos collab ("Peek A Boo") is kind of a jam, as is the YG/Kamaiyah collab "All Around Me" -- even if it mostly just gets me excited for the new Kamaiyah album. (And it has YG shouting, "I fuck with Lil Yachty!", as if to tell all these "real rap" whiners to go home.) So the main question with Lil Yachty is: Is he the new face of hip hop that some of us are too set in our ways to understand, or just bad? After listening to Teenage Emotions, that question remains unanswered.
Your Old Droog first picked up buzz for his 2014 EP that sounded so much like Nas that people actually suspected it was secretly Nas. If it seemed at first like Droog was one of those guys who aimed to revive the music their idols helped create, Droog tore that notion himself on this year's Packs. "I'm sick of these sycophants who wanna make their idols proud, I want my hero to hear me and shit his pants," he raps on "Rapman." If he sounds like Nas, he does it in the way Action Bronson sounds like Ghostface. His delivery may echo a classic MC, but his very loud personality is entirely his own. He's part of the current wave of New York rappers that pay tribute to their city's history, but also follow their own path. Packs is littered with references to New York's past, with its interpolation of "Sound of Da Police," shoutouts to the rappers of yesteryear, and comedic skits (voiced by Anthony Jeselnik) that don't tend to show up on rap records so much anymore. It also tells the personal stories that only Droog can tell, and it features two other leaders of New York's new wave, Heems and Wiki, plus psych-rap master Edan and current experimental rap king Danny Brown. It takes more than a Nas soundalike to compete with a team like that, and Droog's bars rarely fail to deliver.
Before Wiki appeared on Packs, the former Ratking member put out a collaborative EP with Droog this year called What Happened To Fire?. Over production from some of the best of the best (Black Milk, Statik Selektah, AraabMUZIK, Illmind, and more), Wiki and Droog proved themselves as a duo to be reckoned with on this EP, and it's why we're very excited to have them playing this Brooklyn show together. If you listen to one song on What Happened To Fire?, let it be the Statik Selektah-produced "Vigilantes." Wiki and Droog leave you hanging on to every word.
And here's What Happened to Fire?, released February 1: