June felt as though rap was tired of the grungy skronk rockers hogging all the fun and accolades in 2013. Save for Ghostface's Twelve Reasons To Die, we've had few reasons to celebrate hip hop, mostly due to let downs and delays (how much longer must we wait for Earl's Doris and Danny's Old). June was rap snapping out of an extended winter hibernation. The arms race in sales was a three-way showdown between Kanye West, J. Cole, and Mac Miller, but ultimately a repetition of history like an Ouroboros feasting on the Miami Heat roster.
Killer Mike and El-P became Run The Jewels for a victory lap leading into a summer tour together. Action Bronson rediscovered himself as a Queens native in a pair of Shawn Kemp Kamikazes, while Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire went through a similar, but existentially deeper revelation on Kismet. We won't bore you with further talk of eXquire's transformation informed by a lackluster EP, sobriety, and his mother's breast cancer, but the man has abanonded his high castle on Kismet. Killer Mike and El-P turned gaffling chains into a fashionable moniker, but eXquire explored the context and consequences of a chain-hungry culture on “Chains”. He shed himself of all the filth that had collected since signing to Universal and resumed his life as the Brooklyn-ite with a silver pen. If June was the month rap came out of hibernation, it was eXquire who had the anthem in “Illest Niggaz Breathin'”. Kismet is not without its flaws or trying moments on short attention spans, but a patient listener, much like a patient anything, will discover wisdom in eXquire's words.
The Best Album of June 2013
In our rooftop interview with Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire he talks about how he needed to kill the devil's advocate in the room. For him the advocate was a voice telling him to do his shit like Drake and 2 Chainz. With the release of Kismet, eXquire reveals tracks like “Orbz a.k.a. Some Wise Quote Drake Never Said” and “Chains”, which flexes a chorus of “motherfuck them chains / you'd think we've had enough of fucking chains”. “Noble Drew Ali” hinted at eXquire being on a different plane, possibly one more spiritually advised, and Kismet confirms the suspicions, but in a manner exclusive to the eXperience of Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire. While we await eXquire's major label debut, Kismet tides us over with 16 tracks unfit for radio and album art that would be banned from the shelves or sheathed in a black bar if this was anything more than a very serious mixtape.
The Best Music of June 2013 (in no particular order):
Natasha Kmeto, Crisis (Dropping Gems) It's easy to vouch for Kmeto's reported conservatory training when considering her abilities as a singer and producer, as a songwriter, along with an encyclopedic reverence for the source material. And if Kmeto can be dummied down to a transatlantic synthesis of West Coast RnB, techno and house from the Great Lakes and UK Bass, the burden of this reviewer probably involves lauding the overarching composition of her debut. Despite the genres she’s repurposed, genres typically propelled by singles, Crisis stands sturdy as a whole.
Cough Cool, 29 (Bathetic) With a hefty effort on the part of Cough Cool’s Asheville, NC-based label, it appears that 29 might hit quite hard. Or, really, as hard as any lo-fi, shoegazey album drenched in nostalgia, ennui, and melancholy could. It’s a record for the inherent aesthete, which doesn’t mean that it’s a difficult listen. The only thing difficult about 29 is how voyeuristic it feels—it’s one of the few efforts I’ve listened to in recent years that has legitimate claim to its bedroom roots. – excerpt from our Longtail feature with Cough Cool
El-P & Killer Mike, Run The Jewels (Fool's Gold) Produced entirely by El-P, Mike and Jamie trade verses through the 10-track download, making this collaboratively different than their work on Killer Mike's R.A.P. Music LP last year on William Street. It's in the name they chose. They are almost obligated to embrace the art of theft by allowing us to pirate their jams without the use of a switchblade or heater.
Ryan Power, Identity Picks (NNA Tapes) With the release of the full-length LP, Identity Picks, out on NNA Tapes, this track gives us a great insight at what will surely be a full-bodied, retro-ed out record with hints of sweetness so touching it's hard to hold back those smile creases. In “The Prize”, Power sings “we're fucking up” and it couldn't be more of a fib—the track is perfectly mild, giving each touch on the keys just enough pressure to make your big toe tap.
Deep Magic, Reflections of Most Forgotten Love (Preservation) This record is for fans of ambient music and philosophical chatter, but it’s also for admirers of contemporary art and attendees of night markets. The person who might not enjoy Deep Magic is one who doesn’t find purpose in patience. The exchange between artist and listener can be a munificent one if we let it, and in the example of Deep Magic’s best release to date, the delivery only hits harder if the listener remains open and willing to the sum of its ethereally woven parts.
Action Bronson & Harry Fraud, SAAAB Stories (Vice/Atlantic) Bronson’s well of extraordinary braggadocio remains plentiful with Marty Jannety, Mutumbo’s finger, Shawn Kemp’s Kamikaze shoe line, and Jose Canseco name checked, but SAAAB Stories serves as a reminder piece that he’s unique to the genre no matter how many times interviewees lazily reference the Ghostface comparison. Any kneejerk reaction to passively indulge in SAAAB Stories will lead to a blown ACL. The EP has its distractions – a Hot 97-worthy single (“Strictly 4 My Jeeps”) and marquee guest appearances from Prodigy, Raekwon and (groan) Wiz Khalifa – but I can’t help hearing Bronson fight against their presence to tell a story of a kingpin in a pair of Shawn Kemps.
Cream Dream, Collected (Crash Symbols) Long Island producer Teddy Ouwerkerk, aka Cream Dream, has an extensive collection of records and mixtapes, all bound by a love of Studio 54 and the ensuing disco house scenes that sprouted as the dust settled on a cocaine-sneeze. Knowing where to start is a pesky task, but Crash Symbols sifted through the pile, collected the choice cuts, and pressed them to cassette. If you live in Venice Beach or Miami and still own a drop top TVR 350i with a tape deck, this is your shit.
The Mantles, Long Enough To Leave (Slumberland) We’ve suspected Ty Segall of making a record to promote his next record and Thee Oh Sees don’t make records so much drop a new platter every time Jon Dwyer stands still. But these eager-to-please journeymen album dispensers have their opposite, who operate at such a pace that hiatus is a state of mind from which songs emerge. Willfully amateur, relishing in a sluggish release pace and respecting the maxim of making fans want more – The Mantles are scene underachievers, issuing their second album since 2006 this month on Slumberland following an acclaimed debut on Siltbreeze in 2009 and 2010’s Pink Information 12” for Mexican Summer the following year. Long Enough to Leave is an excellent record that warrants repeated listening, the curious idiosyncrasies of Michael Olivares’ vocal delivery continuously revealing themselves over time. I might still be deliberating on my favorite track when The Mantles issue another record in 2016, whereas I can’t remember any song titles from Slaughterhouse. – excerpt from our Bothering feature with The Mantles
The Everywheres, The Everywheres (Father/Daughter) There is something about this pscyhpop contribution from Nova Scotia's Samuel Hill and friends that hits a little harder and is more effective than every other poppy, vintage, high-toned record we've heard recently. The stylings are Brian Jonestown Massacre equivalent and have definitive vocal elements of Daniel Johnston.