September 19, 2020


By Kristi Kates | March 18, 2017

Khalid – American Teen – RCA
The Texan singer arrived on the scene last year with his first track, “Location,” and immediately found himself the subject of a long list of accolades. Can he live up to it all? Looks like it so far. The classically–trained vocalist soon revealed that “Location” was merely part of a full–length album he recorded before he’d even graduated from high school. The rest of the debut album is just as impressive, from the revealing lyrics of the title track to the love–lite ode “Saved” and the amusement–park soul of “Coaster.” ***

Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love! – Glassnote
Stepping away from the foundations of rap was a good decision for Donald Glover, aka Gambino. While he’s already proved himself a man of many interests, including acting and hosting festival shows, his past two rap albums just never seemed to “stick” like they should have, perhaps because this current musical approach, a blend of funk, soul and complex synth–psychedelia, is what Gambino is meant to rock. From the subtle details on “Terrified” to the thoughtful “Baby Boy,” there’s more to impress here than ever before, proving that Gambino might have finally found his niche. ** ½

Big Sean – I Decided – G.O.O.D. Music
Four albums into Sean’s career, we find him slowly gaining in confidence within today’s giant swell of standout rappers as he works to carve out a space in that lineup for himself. Fortunately, he’s moved pretty far from the trendiness of his earlier releases, which leaned too much on cliché; unfortunately, he still needs to finesse his skills, as he’s often eclipsed by guest collaborators like Migos (“Sacrifices”) or Eminem. But highlights like “Bigger Than Me,” with its outstanding refrain, remind us of Sean’s big potential. **

NF – Therapy Session – GBA Records
Digging deep into personal experiences and disappointments to construct his tracks, NF’s spiritual sound has caught on with a wide range of audiences that have discovered his emotive, quick–paced rap through such unlikely sources as VH1, ESPN, Monday Night Football and NBC’s Chicago P.D. NF is a master at fitting the rhymes to the mood of each song’s storyline, most notably on the social smackdown “Statement,” the introspective “Intro 2” and the small–streets feel of “Breathe.” ** ½


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