10.0 Album Picks

Curated for each issue of Content by Universal Grammar, Album Picks are highlights of recent music releases by some of Universal Grammar’s favorite artists. These picks read less like reviews and more like contextual introductions to each artist and their work: they aim to explore the cultural impact of the release itself in 300 words or less.

Caroline Beleno of Universal Grammar

Wherever It May Be
(Fete Records)
Release Date: October 13, 2017

Cheryl Chow is best known by the unique stylization of her name, “cehryl.” Originally from Hong Kong, she now resides in Los Angeles and has made a name for herself through the online music platform SoundCloud. After creating ample buzz on last year’s Delusions EP, cehryl dropped a new collection of sultry, cinematic slow jams in Wherever It May Be. Smitten with breathlessness, the songs on Wherever It May Be are full of gentle longing and unforgettable memories.

In “Side Effects,” cehryl breaks down a perfect love affair that doesn’t warp the feelings of those affected. Instead of turning away from the world, this romance pulls the intended audience close, like a healing drug, leaving listeners addicted to their newfound prescription. “Judgment Day” lays down the final days of a relationship approaching its end. Haunting and cautious, cehryl’s voice creates a finality that is beautifully absolute in its gentle resolution. The standout track from the EP, “Where We Marked Forever,” is the parting of a single flame from the fire, brightening and flickering alone until it is gone. The closing track, “Napalm,” feels like a personal confession that’s trying to find acceptance in an endless fray of unfamiliarity.

With lyrics and melodies that stay with you long after the tracks end, Wherever It May Be will find relatable ground between slow drives home and certain unshakable goodbyes. One thing is for sure: you won’t forget its effects on your soul.

The New Monday
(Ghostly International)
Release Date: October 6, 2017

Shigeto (Zach Saginaw) brings in new layers to his instrumentation and explores his dance music identity further with The New Monday. Drawing upon the resonances of the Bay Area and his ever-expanding sonic palette, Shigeto contemplates the merging influences of contemporary jazz and today’s evolving electronic sound.

“Detroit, Pt. II” continues Shigeto’s homage to the regional culture that has bred him. Infusing deep house rhythms with a perforation of keys and slick bass lines, this certified club hit will find itself played at parties everywhere. “Ice Breaker” starts off with the sparseness that has made techno such a signature sound in the world of dance music. Taking time to pause and reflect, “In Case You Forgot” is a reminder of the roots of black music and the spaces where these sounds belong. Tracks like “Barry White” and “A2D” expand on Shigeto’s versatility as a producer, molding his beats to singers and rappers without much difficulty. “Wit Da Cup” takes influences grasped from Ghetto Tech to Chicago Footwork, kicking up unique drum patterns for dance-ready warriors.

This new album is definitely for the progressive listener, in sound and in content. Shigeto is quickly becoming an artist that needs to be seen live. Whether he is DJ’ing or playing live, the sounds he exhibits on these songs are new gospels from the soul of the drum machine. Highly recommended.

Gucci Mane
Mr. Davis
(Atlantic Records)
Release Date: October 13, 2017

Barely two years ago, a slim Radrick Davis (aka Gucci Mane) was released from prison, and the world was presented with a new man. He was a stranger to the public eye. Fans speculated that he was a clone—an imposter miming the Atlantan potbellied goon whom many knew so well (much thanks to DatPiff). Since his release, Gucci Mane has produced projects such as Droptopwop and Woptober, both of which have been consistently safe for his image and have maintained a careful distance from the deep end of mainstream rap.

Mr. Davis is his latest body of work and showcases a newly developed charisma that is engaging and transparent but still true to his grimy Burrprint days. Like many of his albums, Gucci sets the tone with “Work in Progress (Intro),” with stylized stories of his darker days—and how he has finally mastered his hardships. While the album is embellished with features such as Nicki Minaj, The Weeknd, and Ty Dolla $ign, context-wise, the album could possibly stand on its own without. Though considered his highest charting single to date, “I Get the Bag,” featuring Migos, sounds like prolonged small talk and is undoubtedly hyped and forgettable. “Stunting Ain’t Nuthin,” featuring Slim Jimmy and Young Dolph, lacks a bit of substance as well, even though Slim Jimmy’s delivery is impeccable and could arguably be the strongest of the three. With a scatter of great tracks, Mr. Davis is a decent project and is transparent and engaging in context. While his musical comeback was a bit lackluster in comparison to his personal life turnaround, Mr. Davis is an album that helps casual listeners and longtime followers find common ground between the old Gucci and the new.

Lil B
Black Ken
(BasedWorld Records)
Release Date: August 17, 2017

It has been seven years since Lil B promised his cult followers a first official mixtape upon his departure from Bay Area rap group The Pack. And after a long line of unofficial (some questionable) mixtapes and a bit of online character building—it’s finally here. The 27-track mixtape, Black Ken, is an extended three-part journey, self-produced and designed to represent Bay Area hip-hop through Lil B’s hazy, kaleidoscope lens. For phase one, he presents eight tracks instilled with a hard-hitting ’80s gangster rap sound, to which Lil B delivers a surprisingly rhythmic freestyle flow. “Bad Mf” sounds like a resurrected rap song from the ’80s, but eccentric lines like “I sleep with the lights on / We don’t like broke b*tches where I’m from” and “You can’t see me / Even with glasses” are ironic and trollish, a feeling Lil B is too famous for evoking.

Mid-album, listeners are immersed in phase two—a five-track-long hyphy section. Songs like “Getting Hot” (in which he does a decent impression of Keak Da Sneak) and “Global,” featuring ILoveMakonnen, are reminiscent of his days with The Pack. However, by “Mexico Skit,” listeners enter the final phase, which Lil B uses to channel his “BasedGod” persona—sparse, strange, but well-meaning and positive nonetheless. “Zam Bose (In San Jose)” is a fun track that unexpectedly brings Latin flavor but barely any context. Whether listeners would like to admit it or not, Lil B is the unconventional rap artist/internet meme who has paved the way for many hipster abstract rappers today. Seven years in the making, Black Ken is a hip-hop study—an album of true self-expression and exploration. Lil B is a rapper who chooses to color outside of the lines and in the end is still something to talk about.

10.0 Favorite Tracks Playlist

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