J.Cole’s new album ‘KOD’ is a self-help guide for millennial hypebeasts

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J.Cole’s new album ‘KOD’ is not just for people with bookshelves, good credit, kindles and a 401K plan. Yes, it’s deep and lyrical enough for a traditional conscious rap audience. But this album is targeting another group.

…..millennial hypebeasts who follow trends with social media infatuations, seeking instant gratification from ‘likes’, quick success, and affiliating with what’s considered cool at the time.

The North Carolina MC is giving a free therapy session for the industry at the right time. ‘KOD’ is a self-help guide for anyone trying to make it from the bottom to the top. But this all depends on how the ‘top’ is defined and who’s defining it.

I’m not surprised this album dethroned the mainstream superstar Taylor Swift’s Spotify record. His title track ‘KOD’ broke the opening day record for most streams in the U.S. Here’s the breakdown: J.Cole’s KOD – 4.2m, Taylor Swift’s Look What You Made Me Do – 3.8m, Kendrick Lamar’s DNA -3.6m, J.Cole’s Photograph 3.55m, The Weeknd’s Call Out My Name – 3.5m.

 

The album leaves a lot to the imagination. For example: What does ‘KOD’ even mean? According to Cole, it could mean three things: kids on drugs, king overdose, or kill our demons. It all depends on how you interpret it. But all three title options have one thing in common – addiction. You’d have to listen to the album to pick up on how many forms of addiction he touches on. Here’s a hint – a whole lot.

When you see how successful the album already is with little promotion, it makes you wonder how a conscious rap project could be so relevant and get this kind of love? Because he’s talking about current topics. This 5th LP is different. It taps into a mentorship he sees missing in the industry and the hip-hop community.

While we love the hype and come-up of artists who rise to the top quickly, that comes with a price. Can they maintain that success? Will their fans continue to support them as they grow from their teenage years and into adulthood? Or are they just hot now and gone tomorrow? Cole – whether you agree with him or not – is breaking down the game to a microscopic level. It’s not meant to offend but just provide the kind of prospective you gain once you’ve been in the game almost 10 years strong.

Just think about it. Cole came up the same time we became familiar with Drake, Wale, Kendrick, Cudi, B.O.B, Big Sean, Wiz, Meek Mill, Big K.R.I.T, and so many other breakthrough artists around the year 2009. I call all these artists the baby GOATS. They’ve survived long enough to know their place in the industry, but also have seen so many changes, styles, trends, fads and ‘new waves’ while maintaining their authenticity.

The times and waves have changed. While I may personally embrace the new ‘freshmen’ class of hip-hop/trap music more than J.Cole, I know there’s still a place for conscious rap albums like KOD to take off and break records. It’s easy to criticize “SoundCloud rap” and “mumble rap” and dismiss it as ‘not real hip-hop’ but that’s part of the culture now. Just look at how successful it’s become.

In this album, I don’t think Cole has beef with the new sounds, he just wants to warn them about things to avoid (and he has a loooooong list throughout the 12 tracks). The good news is there’s enough room in the industry for a Migos album to sell millions of copies and for a Kendrick Lamar album to win a Pulitzer prize. That’s variety. And it says alot about the taste bud of hip-hop consumers – they love it all.

As I listened to Cole’s album, it reminded me of how the legendary producer NO I.D helped shape the style of Jay-Z’s 4:44 project. The beats weren’t overpowering. The lyrics guided you through the album instead of highly-produced beats that have a personality of its own. It’s a reversal effect from what we’re used to. Cole produced the majority of the album himself. Not surprised because it seems carefully stitched together. He sampled Junior Mafia’s 1994 classic ‘Get Money’, Kanye’s 2004 track ‘We Don’t Care’, the legendary Bill Withers’ 1972 song “Kissing My Love.”

My favorite track from the album is ‘1985’ because Cole takes jabs at the industry without coming from a rude place. He cares about the art as an artist and isn’t afraid to tell you how he feels whether you agree with him or not.

The big question in this ‘self-help guide’ of an album is, who in the industry will listen? Will it shift any artists’ direction? Will the audience he’s targeting even listen? I mean, they don’t have to. I do know one thing. When lyricism gets mainstream love, it makes you wonder why that’s so rare. I mean, just look at the Spotify numbers. I’m happy to see a time in hip-hop where a project like this can make a big splash. The industry is at an intersection right now. And with this album, Cole is standing in the middle of the intersection as a crossing guard trying to guide traffic to detour routes instead of the ‘fast lane’ he considers hazardous roads.

MY PREDICTION: Cardi B’s debut album ‘Invasion of Privacy’ could be the best-selling female hip-hop album of all time

CardiCardi B’s debut album ‘Invasion of Privacy’ is well on its way to break records on the Billboard charts. Early projections indicate the project could sell more than 200,000 units within the first week alone. No doubt about it, ‘Invasion of Privacy’ will quickly make it to the #1 spot on the Billboard album charts. This is something accomplished by only four other female rap artists – Nicki Minaj, Eve, Foxy Brown and Lauryn Hill.

While the projection is around 200,000 units in the first week, it could surpass Nicki Minaj’s ‘Pink Friday’ first-week sale of 375,000 units. It could also compete with Lauryn Hill’s album ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’ which sold an impressive 423,000 in the first week back in 1998.

The album has been out for a few days and it is already certified GOLD by the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America), due to the success of “Bodak Yellow” which was certified 5X multi-platinum towards the end of last year.

The album is one of the most powerful debut projects of this millennium with appearances from Kehlani, SZA, Chance the rapper, YG, Migos, 21 Savage and others.

Carbi B’s success story has captured the hearts of many millennials, reality tv fans and hip-hop enthusiasts all over the world. The “look at me now, I made it out of the strip club” storyline showed a humble artist who has embraced her journey as we watched her become a larger-than-life superstar brand. From her days on VH1’s “Love & Hip-Hop: New York” to becoming the chick with back-to-back radio hits, this is only the beginning for Cardi.

The critics wondered if her success would just amount to a 15-minutes of fame. Nah, not Bardi. Not if she or her dream team has anything to do with it. While you can distinctly hear her New York influence by the way she flows, her hustle is Atlanta.

Her promising music career has had a lot of hype and now she’s backing it up with numbers. Cardi B is here to stay.

The track “Bickenhead” pays tribute to Southern Rap with the 2001 classic “Chickenhead” by Project Pat featuring Three 6 Mafia & La Chat. The album also creatively fuses in samples from different generations to show Cardi can re-invent how we view the classics.

The list of hot tracks goes on and on with bangers like “Drip” featuring Migos, to “I Like” with a Dominican flare, and “Best Life” with Chance The Rapper. This album is worth listening to and putting on repeat. That alone says Cardi  B is no longer the underdog. Respect her hustle.

Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy tracklist

  1. “Get Up 10″”Drip” featuring Migos

    3. “Bickenhead”

    4. “Bodak Yellow”

    5. “Be Careful”

    6. “Best Life” featuring Chance The Rapper

    7. “I Like It”

    8. “Ring” featuring Kehlani

    9. “Money Bag”

    10. “Bartier Cardi” featuring 21 Savage

    11. “She Bad”

    12. “Thru Your Phone”

    13. “I Do” featuring SZA

 

What Mannie Fresh’s career teaches about ‘Homeboy Business’

cashmoneyFact: Mannie Fresh is one of the best hip-hop producers of all time. He may be too humble to claim that, so I’ll say it.

That distinct New Orleans signature sound that got the world’s attention would not have been the same without him. As a producer, the sonic architect gave us epic and memorable tracks like “The Block Is Hot”, “Go DJ”, “Number One Stunna”, “Back That Thang Up”, “Set It Off”, “Get Your Roll On” and many more. As a hitmaker, not only did he reinvent southern hip-hop, but he helped create the rise of (what appeared to be) an unstoppable dynasty.

The block was hot in the mid 90’s thanks to his Cash Money crew – Juvenile, Baby, Turk, B.G and this young teen who would become a G.O.A.T. It’s hard to believe Lil’ Wayne was just 16 years old when he graced the hook on “Bling Bling.” The song would foreshadow what was ahead – a lifestyle the group craved. The type of success that can take you from Holly Grove to Hollywood.

Before I go any further, let me just say New Orleans as a music scene was popping for several other reasons. Master P was making a name for himself after his success with ‘bout it, bout it’ as he crafted his own label with a down south gritty sound.

But now let’s go back to that “fly as a son of a gun, son of a stunna…”

With the success of Wayne and Cash Money, we got to see the undeniable creativity of Fresh. Because of him, New Orleans had its own identity as a Southern hip-hop scene. A city that in the 90’s competed for notoriety against the future mecca of hip-hop: Atlanta. The Southern region was demanding respect. And Mannie Fresh helped the region gain that. Same way Organized Noize and the Dungeon Family brought the spotlight to the A.

Mannie Fresh often times said the mid 90’s was a defining moment for the music business industry. Artists got to see how much money they could make as entrepreneurs and businessmen. They only got in it to get out of the projects. They learned that putting ‘the pain’ of their life experiences in the music could help connect them with people all over the country.

But one thing Mannie Fresh regrets is doing “homeboy business.” This is when artists and producers (who work alongside lifelong friends) don’t properly document business deals, songwriter and producer credits, royalties, publishing rights, etc. As soon as the friendship goes south, millions of dollars are on the line.

In his latest album, Rick Ross touched on this topic in the song “Idols Become Rivals.” In the track, Rozay said Birdman’s allegedly questionable business practices ripped apart the Cash Money dynasty. As a hip-hop fan watching it all unfold from the sidelines, Ross says he prays Mannie Fresh will bounce back from the legal issues with Cash Money once he left the label.

The entire industry realizes Mannie Fresh is one of the greatest. But he had nothing to compare his come-up to. He had to learn from his own mistakes on how to make the right kind of business moves. When you treat the beginning of your rap career like a hobby, there are opportunities you can miss out on that can be critical down the road. Like not having the rights to your instrumentals, lyrics or brand.

Learn from Mannie Fresh. Yes, trust your circle but make the right moves for  the longevity. So when you get hit with that “It’s not personal, it’s business”, you know the business is taken care of. Twenty years after making “Back That Thang Up”, the song continues to bring in revenue and get radio play. Something they might not have thought of as young moguls in the making.

I’ve listened to several interviews recently where Fresh tells aspiring artists to avoid “homeboy business.” Do it the right way. Loyalty is royalty. But at some point in your career, you’ll have to be able to separate loyalty from royalty.

As a hip-hop fan, I look forward to the day when a Cash Money reunion tour will be a reality.  Puff’s Bad Boy has been able to do that. And Cash Money was the Bad Boy of the South so here’s to hoping that will happen someday.

What rap legends have in common with Nina Simone

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Maybe this is why Nina Simone is one of the most sampled musicians in hip-hop music. Her art resonates with the underdog story. In addition to her remarkable talent, she remained unapologetically true to her authenticity. But being (and remaining) true came with a price.

The price Nina faced is waiting until time ran out to get wholeheartedly recognized for her cultural influence, daring take on social issues and incredible vision as an artist. What do I mean by this? Let me just make one quick example. The queen just got inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll hall of fame last year when she was qualified to be inducted in 1986.

How does that happen? I call that long overlooked. Just like what so many hip-hop legends experience during their lifetime. Not feeling widespread love ‘til it’s too late (unless you’re one of the lucky ones).

The reason why I’m making the comparison between Nina and rap legends can be best explained by Kanye West’s lyrics from his song ‘Big Brother.’

‘If you admire somebody, you should go ahead and tell them. People never get the flowers while they can still smell them.”

I wonder if the late New York rapper Craig Mack got a chance to smell the flowers. I spent the whole day reading beautiful tributes about Mack who helped lay the foundation for Puff’s dynastic label Bad Boy Records. He died at the age of 46.  

Although Craig Mack voluntarily walked away from the rap game, I wonder if being reminded of just how much love millions of hip-hop fans still have for him would convince him to bless the mic once again. Yes, he didn’t reach the success Biggie Smalls experienced as a labelmate, but he was a pioneer like BIG even if he didn’t make it as big as he could have.

Craig Mack joins so many others who probably didn’t get the praise they deserved for their creative contributions to hip-hop and so many other rappers who left us too soon.

Hip-hop artists often talk about the struggles of coming up as an underdog and not feeling the love throughout their career. Sometimes the love is felt when they’re no longer there to see the standing ovations. Sometimes the awards and mainstream recognition comes after they’re gone. Just like Nina Simone.

It’s heartwarming to see all the artists coming forward to say they were influenced by Craig Mack, how he gave them a solid foundation for success and how much he meant to them. If only he heard at least 5% of that just a few days earlier.

Here’s to the samples not created yet that may keep that legacy going for future generations to appreciate. Just like our queen.

Story by: Neima Abdulahi, instagram: @NeimerDreamer

 

[VIDEO] Atlanta hip-hop artist CyHi The Prynce releases debut album

Atlanta’s very own Grammy-nominated rapper CyHi The Prynce, who was signed by Kanye West back in 2010, now has an early Christmas present for us.

The Stone Mountain native has released his debut album “No Dope on Sundays.”

CyHi sat down with me and tells me his project has a deep message for the youth and is meant to motivate his fans to not fall victim to peer pressure.

“A lot of times we don’t have that dialogue between one another, because we feel we have to live up to this certain kind of status or certain tough guy. A status where if we had communication in our neighborhoods, I think that would lower a lot of different crimes,” he explains.

The album features some of the industry’s most successful artists like Kanye West, 2 Chainz and Schoolboy Q.

11Alive’s Neima Abdulahi asked CyHi how he chose the album title. The Prynce says it came from the spiritual message woven into the tracks. He goes on to explain how growing up in a spiritual household kept him out of trouble. Now he wants to help others do the same.

CyHi says “No Dope On Sundays” represents his growth in the music industry over the last decade and how he lyrically stands out from other artists.

“I always made my name off being myself. So, I kind of wanted to stay myself. I never was that successful trying to be somebody else. I just never tried, he said.”

The album is now available online.

Stillmatic’s 16th anniversary proves why Nas is your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper

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It ain’t hard to tell that Nasir Jones has transformed over the years. He came “straight out of the dungeons of rap” in ’94 to telling the critics he “will…not…lose” on Stillmatic. He went from taking shots at Jay-Z on the track “Ether” to squashing the beef and collaborating with him on his album “Untitled.” He went from only having a New York State Of Mind to wanting to open “every cell in Attica to send them to Africa.” Most importantly, he went from saying “Life’s A ****” to finally realizing that “Life Is Good.”

Nasty Nas has proven to be a timeless veteran with genius lyrics with socially conscious rhymes delivered with an old school battle-rap flow, laced with clever punchlines. Once he goes behind the mic, Young Esco doesn’t hold back. But here’s the thing. He already has the throne. That doesn’t mean artists like Jay-Z can’t have the throne either. I’m just saying there’s enough room in hip-hop for the G.O.A.T.S to all win and be celebrated.

The 16th anniversary of Stillmatic makes any hip-hop lover like myself realize that time moves fast. It also reminds me that Escobar doesn’t need to drop an album every year to prove anything. He has my respect and will forever.

Let’s face it. It was written that the self-professed God’s Son would be a street’s diciple for an unforgiving music genre, the same genre he pronounced dead back in 2006. But if he ruled the world, like he once said, it would come back to life. And his weapon of choice? Just one mic and lyrical artillery. His labors of love, from Illmatic (1994) to Life is Good (2012), will go down in history as some of the greatest albums produced by a hip-hop artist.