As I mentioned in this column a couple weeks back, yesterday January 20, was a big day for music releases. With much-anticipated albums from Lupe Fiasco and Joey Bada$$, as well as releases outside the Hip Hop world like Marilyn Manson’s return with his ninth album, The Pale Emperor, let’s take a look at yesterday’s big drops and the early word on their receptions.
Lupe Fiasco, Tetsuo & Youth
Lupe quit Twitter in dramatic fashion this week, following a series of arguments on the platform, including a fight with Kid Cudi over Kendrick Lamar, speaking on Iggy Azalea’s place in Hip Hop and his tweeting of the lyrics to his song, “Lost Generation”. It is only the latest in a series of PR missteps on the part of Fiasco for whom a few select comments throughout his career have had a serious effect on his professional persona. On Tetsuo & Youth, Lupe has promised a return to the Fiasco we saw on his first two releases but he’s also said that the album only exists because the hacker group Anonymous demanded it from Atlantic Records. So what can fans really expect for his 5th release?
Though it doesn’t quite carry its way to a third perfect album for Lupe, it certainly elicits its fair share of “Lupe’s back” moments. On “Mural” for example, the second single and a big opening movement on the album, this line and others brought on flashbacks of double and triple rewinding couplets on The Cool:
A word game back up plan that can dam lakes
Backup the wordplay playing at the man’s stakes
Means I can still be the man if the dam breaks
And when the man brakes I’m reflectious, what they can’t face
The album is a sweeping and certainly artful offering, with its seasonal instrumentals providing breaks between the three separate segments, and the album cover a painting by the emcee himself. The political angle is consciously toned down from Food & Liquor II but that doesn’t mean he is able to ignore the social commentary that has become a defining characteristic. As a critic there are certainly things to find fault with on this album but as a fan there is far more to be excited about. What is clear to this Lupe fan is that he is a man in the middle of transition, not at the end of that road and Tetsuo & Youth leaves me with hope that the gloomy sense of finality around the album’s release will instead be the beginning of Lupe 2.0 (even if it takes him a while to get the hang of Twitter). While he’d like to think himself somewhere on the fringe on Hip Hop, he is far more central than he thinks and his fans that have been patiently waiting for him to find his stride again are here rewarded. Just like all good work from Mr. Fiasco, this album will grow on you and I predict it stands up as one of the best Hip Hop albums of 2015.
Joey Bada$$, B4.DA.$$
With all due respect to Wu-Block’s Hidden Gems, the other big release on yesterday’s Hip Hop front was the debut from Brooklyn’s Joey Bada$$ entitled B4.DA.$$ (yeah, that’s “before da money” and “badass”). Though we’ve heard a full third of the album with singles being released as far back as last August, there is still plenty of punch to pull in album sales. The emcee’s scruffy flow, often seeming to be making up the vernacular as he goes along, fuels a style and tone that sits over the work like a fine haze. Stripped-down production thrusts Joey’s vocals into the spotlight, full of references to the art-form to which he pays homage, from the visceral “Paper Trail$” to the esoteric but equally dope “Christ Conscious” to the album-best “No. 99”, recalling Tribe’s “Scenario” in tone and sample. “Confident” is a word aptly being used to describe the debut and the notoriously independent youngin’ shows advancement on a polished-but-not-too-polished portrait of Hip Hop as he sees it. Sometimes the best gifts are the ones we give ourselves and on his 20th birthday Joey Bada$$ gave himself a fifteen-track (plus two bonuses) stellar opening opus.
Outside of Hip Hop’s hallowed walls, yesterday also saw releases from big names in other genres. Sleater-Kinney, the all-girl punk rock trio returned for their 8th album after a 9-year hiatus, No Cities to Love, while fellow north-westerners the Decemberists dropped their 7th album, What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World. But yesterday many folks had their eye on the release of the ninth album from Marilyn Manson, The Pale Emperor. I was never much of a Manson fan during their Antichrist Superstar and Mechanical Animals heyday but those I’ve talked to who were have said this sounds like his best work in a long time, “vintage” even. Manson’s become a marketing machine over the past few years, deftly donning the role of jailhouse white supremacist Tully on Sons of Anarchy for the show’s final season and even collaborating with its creator Kurt Sutter for a song on one of the final episodes. “Cupid Carries a Gun” was the first song from The Pale Emperor to hit airwaves with the use of its “pound me the witch drums” chorus as the opening theme for the tv series Salem and the album’s first track “Killing Strangers” was used in John Wick (as well as its commercial). The band became the first to make use of the Genius.com for new music, making the album available for streaming on the site a week before its release. Having thrust himself back into the national consciousness through tv and marketing, The Pale Emperor is sure to not disappoint. The album kicks off with a vigorous trio of the previously mentioned “Killing Strangers”, the hard rock dance track “Deep Six” and its b-side “Third Day of a Seven-Day Binge” and doesn’t let up. Though perhaps lacking the level of depravity of his early work, the dark prince is still dark, still haunting in his morbidity, and though evolved, there’s no nostalgia or recapturing here. The month-long Hell Not Hallelujah tour (a quote from “Cupid Carries a Gun”) kicks off tonight in Washington, ending on Valentine’s Day in Las Vegas.