JTDJ: The Final Stretch
It’s showtime! Well, not yet, but we’re almost there. With the big showcase being tonight I felt compelled to close out the series with a bunch of the albums I meant to post throughout the week (but couldn’t because I was far too busy/tired, oops). So, without further ado, here’s the final collection of listening material for you guys:
Lauryn Hill - The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
Lauryn Hill is the Barry Sanders of hip-hop. Her leaving the game so early causes people to look back on her career in awe of what she was able to accomplish, but also get so caught up in her legacy that they don’t look at her work for what it was. Miseducation is a dope album, and if you’ve ever heard The Fugees then you know you’re in for a treat, but the fact that she was able to drop this album and have it still be in the discussion for greatest albums of all time speaks to her tenacity. Lauryn spits heavy on this thing. Lost Ones is just…fantastic. Still one of my favorite songs to this day.
Childish Gambino - Because The Internet
Gambino’s ambitious album/script combo might have made a few eyes roll, but it’s exactly the type of thing I could see Manny doing. Even though I didn’t delve deep enough to read the script; you can hear and feel the theme’s presence in this album from beginning to end. That’s what puts BTI up so high in my mind as far as recent releases go. Donald Glover is such a multi-talented multi-faceted performer. He’s got the ability to rap, sing, act, and tell a joke. He’s the perfect role model for a guy like Manny, and when people tell Manny that he can never do everything, all he’d have to do is point at Gambino for proof that it’s possible.
Beach House - Bloom
Now, I know what you’re thinking here: “But…this isn’t a hip hop album. Why must you lie to us?!”
First of all, I told you this wouldn’t be all hip-hop stuff! ANYTHING GOES IN MY HOUSE
Second, Beach House’s Bloom is on this list because I think it’s beautiful. I genuinely love listening to it and clearing my head when I need space for creativity. I honestly don’t even remember when or how I discovered Beach House, but I imagine they’re a band that Manny gets high to and chills out with in the background. They’re the perfect chill band to have in your playlist.
Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp A Butterfly/untitled unmastered (aka the TPAB b-side cuts)
I wanted to include untitled unmastered with this one because Kendrick has done such a great job of integrating a lot of those songs and ideas into his live performances/videos/snippets for TPAB related content. As far as the album itself goes; what more can be said that hasn’t already? Anyone that knows me knows how much I love Kendrick’s music and this album. Kendrick deals with the weight of being an influential voice in hip-hop, his community, and wonders often if he’s doing enough to even live up to promises he’s made to himself and others. It’s a very introspective and honest album while also offering a critique on America and our culture. It’s necessary for any up and coming rapper of Manny’s ilk to have this on the playlist.
Janelle Monae - Metropolis/The ArchAndroid/The Electric Lady
I knew I wanted Janelle on this list, but I really couldn’t pick just one of her albums to spotlight. Metropolis does such a great job outlining the struggle of becoming free. Of breaking out of a prison and a systemically prejudiced society to become a free woman for the first time in her life. The ArchAndroid highlights what that freedom means and how one’s story changes based on their perspective. In Metropolis her decision is made out of love, and AA does a great job of exploring that love, but at the same time exploring her desire for freedom of faith and expression.
Electric Lady is the first of these albums to truly reflect the feelings of the society in Janelle’s expertly built world. Cindi Mayweather has become a cult hero and we get to see the reaction of the citizens for the first time. It’s such a neatly woven narrative that I think it’d be a shame to listen to one and not listen to the others. I think a concept album is something that’s always been on Manny’s mind (much like BTI earlier in this post), but he gets much more enjoyment listening to them than trying to craft them. Janelle’s series, while another non-hip hop selection, is one of the most important selections on this list.
Jay-Z - The Black Album
The Black Album is Jay’s best work. IDGAF what anyone says or if they think otherwise. It all just came together for Jay here and I think it’s where most of Manny’s adoration for him comes from. No one can brag like Jay, and maybe it’s cause no one has what Jay does, but it’s mainly a finely tuned skill that he’s developed. Jay-Z is just good at bragging about shit. His confidence is on another level and that’s what Manny strives for. I don’t think he wants to be Jay or have what Jay has in the strictest sense, but he sees the drive and determination that’s present there. He sees the ability to be at the top of the game and stay there. That’s what he wants. With TBA Jay finally had an album that matched up with the hyperbole he regularly throws out. Every track is a stand out, every song has a moment of “maaaaan this slaps”, and Jay can get real raw and honest on this album. It’s just…the essential starter pack for a new Jay-Z listener. Don’t let folks show you anything else.
Outkast - ATLiens
There’s honestly not much I can say about Outkast’s first few albums that don’t amount to more than “they’re perfect”. So, yeah, you owe it to yourself to listen to this one. Big Boi and Andre 3000 are in prime form. Even though I have nothing wrong with Andre’s pop turn; he’s one of the GOAT at being a pure MC and the dude is just…abstract. For anyone that has an interest in rap and wants to be a rapper themselves, or just wants to hear someone kill the mic, this is a necessary release.
Lianne La Havas - Blood
This would appear to be buried on this list, but I genuinely remembered more of my favorite releases as I went on. One thing I hope is that people have kept up with this enough to understand that being recognized this late is more complimentary than anything.
Lianne La Havas was a new discovery for me sometime last year. Ever since I heard Blood I’ve been in love with her music. It’s the type of soothing I can imagine Manny needing to have in his life. Unlike Beach House; he doesn’t get high to Lianne’s music. It’s just naturally mellow and comforting to him, but also deep and profound enough to keep him invested. I love everything about Blood and Lianne’s artistic decisions. She’s one of the brightest stars in music right now and more people should pay attention to her.
Nas - Life Is Good
The final album on this list is Life Is Good by Nas. Now, if you know of Nas you might be saying “Why not Illmatic?”, but I’m tired of hearing about Illmatic. Yes, Illmatic is the consensus GOAT hip-hop album. Yes, Illmatic will always be compared to everything Nas does. But no, Illmatic does not have to be a black cloud over his career.
LIG is one of my favorite Nas albums ever. It’s THE album I think Manny would want to make at a later point in his life. Even though there are a lot of show references to Jay; Nas is the rapper that I think Manny ultimately wants to be. When you listen to Life Is Good and you hear the way Nas talks about his experiences you can hear the passion for his art. There’s something that spiritually connects Nas to hip-hop. He takes his art super seriously and his proficiency as a rapper over the years speaks to that. That’s what I think Manny wants to convey with his own songs. It’s not about the money (though we need it), or the fame, or the adoration.
It’s about representing the people of your community and saying “I’m the best damn rapper in the room and I know that more than anything”. Nas, fresh off a divorce, seems more comfortable on an album than he ever has. That’s what I think so many people strive for.
The songs are smooth. The stretch from No Introduction through A Queen’s Story is just sooo slick. And Stay through Bye Baby is the best stretch of love songs I’ve heard on a rap record. Whether it be about love lost or love found, the biggest takeaway from this album is Nas’ love for hip hop, and I think that’s what’ll make this album age like a fine wine.
That’s all for today, folks! I made this one longer than usual because it’s going to be up on my website, so excuse the length. If you’ve read through this all and got to this point…thank you. Seriously. It’s been fun. Hope you enjoy the spotify playlist featuring music from all the albums. THAT is my favorite part of doing this and all the music speaks for itself, so do that before/after/instead of reading this.