The last couple weeks have seen the release of some major projects from some of hip-hop’s biggest stars. Here are my thoughts on DJ Khaled, Desiigner, and Lil Yachty’s new records.
DJ Khaled | Major Key
“Another one.” The most famous of all the DJ Khaled-isms. He shouts it out at the beginning of nearly all his songs, and it’s a proclamation of self-confidence: oh, this track is a huge hit? Just another one from DJ Khaled. He’s responsible for some of mainstream rap’s biggest posse cuts in the last decade, including “Out Here Grindin'”, which featured everyone from Rick Ross to Boosie Badazz, “I’m On One”, which included a star-making feature from a young Drake, and “All I Do Is Win”, which is absolutely inescapable at sporting events and has entered the upper echelon of hype-hop along Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” and Waka Flocka Flame’s “Hard In Da Paint”. Khaled is a master networker, someone who manages to bring together the biggest names in hip hop and R&B onto a record that is ultimately a compilation.
Aside from networking and ad-libbing, it’s unclear exactly what it is that DJ Khaled does. He doesn’t really produce music anymore. Because of this, his releases feel dissonant and disjointed — he rarely tries to make a statement with his music. But after his establishment as an internet meme through his Snapchat escapades, Major Key is the biggest release Khaled has ever curated. The features list is absolutely bonkers: Kendrick Lamar, Gucci Mane, YG, Future, Jay-Z(!), Nas(!!!), and many, many more. But unfortunately, the songs themselves rarely deviate from the pop rap sound that we’ve been hearing for the length of Khaled’s career.
As expected, Major Key‘s songs are extremely hit-or-miss. There are clear highlights. The solo Drake cut “For Free” (shoutout K. Dot) is way better than pretty much everything on Views. Drake just seems way more self-assured than he has in a while, and ends up taking himself much less seriously than he did on his own record. That quality, like it always has, complements him well. “Do You Mind”, which is the most populated track on the record with features from Nicki Minaj, Chris Brown, August Alsina, Jeremih, Future, & Rick Ross makes me nostalgic for the mid-2000s, when the boundary between hip hop and R&B was smaller than ever. Brown and Jeremih, in particular, lend their fantastic focal talents well to the track. Finally, the best pure hip-hop song is “Don’t Ever Play Yourself”, which rejuvenates some of the best pop rappers from the mid-2000s (Fabolous, Jadakiss, Busta Rhymes, Fat Joe) alongside a young man who is likely to fill that spot in upcoming years in Kent Jones.
There are bad tracks on this project as well, and a lot of them. Lead single “I Got The Keys”, featuring Jay-Z and Future, is obnoxious, and includes one of the worst hooks of Future’s career. “Jermaine’s Interlude”, a solo cut from J. Cole, makes him sound like he wants to be Anderson .Paak — and fails miserably. Finally, the single worst song on Major Key is the (ironically) unforgivable “Forgive Me Father”, which features Wiz Khalifa (ugh), Wale (ughhh), and Meghan Trainor (UGHHHHH). It’s just terrible — saturated gospel that might be interesting or inspiring to a midwestern 5th grader at best.
It’s clear that Major Key isn’t meant to be taken as a cohesive artistic statement, but that doesn’t forgive many of the really, really unnecessary filler on the album. DJ Khaled may have the networking skills of a label head, but his taste leaves a lot to be desired.
Desiigner | New English
“I got broads in Atlanta.” Those five words have catapulted Desiigner into pop superstardom. His song “Panda” — the best pure hip-hop banger of 2016, and possibly further — reached number one on Billboard’s charts, and he’s been the most high-profile member of XXL’s 2016 Freshman Class with his Timmy Turner freestyle. When Kanye West’s The Life Of Pablo dropped, if people weren’t talking about album’s more incendiary lyrics, they were wondering this: who in the world is Desiigner? They all wanted to know who hip-hop’s next superstar was. In my review, I predicted his superstardom. But with New English, he’s disappointed me — and just about everyone else.
I never understood the “Future clone” accusations when “Panda” was at the peak of its popularity. I didn’t think that a black person with a low voice was automatically a copycat of another black man with a low voice. But on New English, the comparisons are inescapable. Tracks like “Roll Wit Me” and “Caliber” are indistinguishable from many of Future’s recent stretch of AutoTuned crooning. And as someone who’s never been a huge Future fan, that’s really disappointing, especially with Future’s over-saturation in the last couple years. Plus, many of the tracks here are short and underdeveloped, consisting of just a hook and a verse — just like “Panda” was.
And that’s too bad, because there are good ideas here. The beat on “Monstas & Villains”? Absolutely bonkers. It’s pure grand, orchestral trap. But the track is 37 seconds long. Like, what’s the point? The only real highlights on this thing are “Da Day”, which is super foreboding and intense, and “Overnight”, which would’ve fit right at home on Travis Scott’s Rodeo — only it would’ve been like the eighth-best song on that record. Desiigner has a number one hit, and that’s more than most rappers can say. But until he starts showing more consistency, the reality of being a one-hit wonder is inching closer and closer.
Lil Yachty | Summer Songs 2
You either love him or you hate him. There hasn’t been anyone as polarizing as Lil Yachty within hip-hop in a few years. He’s only 18 years old. He sings more than he raps. His music has way more pop influence than he’d want you to believe. And he doesn’t take himself seriously — at all.
I’m one of the believers. Lil Boat, Yachty’s debut mixtape, is one of my very favorite releases of 2016. It’s infectious and filled with highlights from top to bottom. “Intro”, “Good Day”, “Minnesota (Remix)”, “One Night”, and “Out Late” are all delightful. Plus, Yachty has appeared on one of my favorite singles of the year, Big Baby D.R.A.M.’s “Broccoli”. A reviewer that I really respect has described Lil Yachty’s music as “dreamy rap ballads that make me feel good”, and I think that’s about as apt of a statement regarding his music as I can imagine.
So just a few months after Lil Boat, we get Summer Songs 2, Yachty’s second mixtape. And to be honest, I really don’t have a lot to say about the record. It’s just not as fun as Lil Boat. There are flashes, like on “First Day Of Summer”, “King of Teens”, and “Life Goes On”, but none of it comes close to Lil Boat‘s greatness. Songs like “IDK” and “Shoot Out The Roof” are just so forgettable, which is a major disappointment from someone whose music is generally anything but. This is a good collection of songs for summer ’16, but forgive me if I put it on the back burner once September rolls around.