9.5 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


Tyler, The Creator
Flower Boy (alternatively, Scum Fuck Flower Boy)
(Columbia Records)
Release date: July 21, 2017

Flower Boy is the fourth album of rapper Tyler, The Creator and his first release with label Columbia Records. Although this album dropped towards the back end of July, Tyler made huge efforts to lead into its official release with singles “Who Dat Boy,” “911/Mr. Lonely,” and “Boredom.” The album features a variety of artists, such as Frank Ocean, Corinne Bailey Rae, Rex Orange County, Steve Lacy, and Kali Uchis, and it’s produced mainly by Tyler.

With the first release from the album, “Who Dat Boy/911,” the audience got a preview of Tyler, The Creator’s mature experimental sound. Where “Who Dat Boy” stays true to the bold, mosh-inducing Tyler, The Creator everyone is familiar with, “911/Mr. Lonely” gives a glimpse of Tyler’s wild compositions and wide-ranging use of instruments—here, from a classic jazz band to a synthesizer. Tracks such as “Where This Flower Blooms,” “See You Again,” and “Glitter” evoke the idea that Tyler has grown as an artist through his composition and lyricism. With “Garden Shed,” he offers a thought-provoking track of somber instrumentals and lyrics that invite the audience to analyze topics like sexuality and unrequited love.

Flower Boy insists that the audience pay close attention to the lyrics, the composition, and the amazing lineup of features on the project. Tyler may have not made the best impression in the beginning of his career, but Flower Boy showcases the work of a refined artistic talent.


Umii
This Time
(Fresh Selects)
Release date: July 26, 2017

The magic that emanates from Reva Devito and B. Bravo’s debut album, This Time, layers the eardrums with the airy, dreamlike R&B that made their previous collaborations instant hits. Luckily for listeners, their recent union supplies plenty of new songs to drift listeners into a place worth spending some time in.

“Dangerous” is an upbeat invitation to exciting romances that punctuates with a groove, blending perfectly with Devito’s polished harmonies. “Feelin It” plays for the sound system, utilizing the sparse rhythms and keys to accentuate the mood of the vocals and low-end notes. Incorporating Caribbean influences, “Don’t Let Up” keeps in time with tenderness, helping to close the gap between two orbiting bodies in no time. “Masquerade” moves like streetcars at night: trailing neon blurs while unfolding like a dream. “The One” calls upon the deepness that romantic love has to offer, making sure reciprocation is seen and understood between partners. With nods to R&B ballads from decades past, “Not Alone” is a nostalgic murmur into the heart of loneliness, quieting the emotions that rise from separation and reminding people that they always have a place in this world with someone, even if it’s just themselves.

Most singer-producer pairings are hit or miss, but there’s nothing lacking in Umii’s first release, just plenty of promise for the future. For people in the business of gifting great sounds to someone they care about, they don’t need to look any further than Umii’s debut.


Aminé
Good For You
(Republic)
Release date: July 28, 2017

Twenty-three-year-old Portland-based rapper Aminé has released a none-too-shabby debut album, Good For You, a collection that seems to fit right in with summertime. With his thrice-certified platinum breakthrough single, “Caroline,” rising swiftly in the Billboard Hot 100 chart, the previously anonymous rapper has successfully transitioned from one-hit wonder to one of hip-hop’s most promising up-and-coming rappers.

Good For You is as eccentric and fun as its bright yellow cover. Throughout the album, Aminé’s disposition is on display—sunny, fun, and just here for a good time. With a list of producers that boasts, for a start, Metro Boomin, Disclosure, and Jahaan Sweet, Good For You is a soundbed that’s easily digestible both melodically and lyrically. Aminé’s quirky lyricism, while not necessarily groundbreaking, is entertaining and paints a picture. “Wedding Crashers,” a standout track featuring Offset (of the trio Migos), is a catchy piece built on salt and pettiness for an ex-lover who’d—as the lyrics make abundantly clear—wronged him. The rap content, as with most of Aminé’s fellow 2017 XXL Freshman rappers, often identifies with the “young and reckless” lifestyle—but not always. While there are tracks like “Yellow” (which features Nelly boasting, “I wanna flex, I wanna show off / Humble when I’m blunt, but I gotta go hard”), there are also tracks such as “Turf” that explore Aminé’s growing dislike for gentrification in his homogenous hometown of Portland.

Whatever subject Aminé chooses to speak on, it’s guaranteed to be lively and vibrant. Overall, Good For You is a well-rounded debut that draws inspiration from greats like Drake, Kanye West, and Chance The Rapper. And it demonstrates a new level of complexity for this ever-evolving artist.


Vince Staples
Big Fish Theory
(Def Jam)
Release date: June 23, 2017

With an unfiltered voice that is as eloquent as it is witty, the outspoken Long Beach rapper Vince Staples may have (ironically enough) gotten lost in the internet sauce. For a while, his internet persona was geared towards generating content somewhere along the lines of “Vince Staples Reviews Health Snacks—and hates them all,” which seemed to take away from his actual music. His newly released sophomore album, Big Fish Theory, however, proves otherwise. With over 36 minutes of material, Vince Staples gives listeners Detroit techno- and house-inspired beats served over gritty bars and lyricism, a combination that pairs almost as well as smooth raclette cheese over rosemary potatoes. Though the electronic sound may offend enthusiasts of the ’90s hip-hop era, it serves to drive the album’s concept, which is to expose the “fishbowl” of the fragile rap ecosystem and the corruption of class and entitlement.

The album is a work cultivated by a host of producers, names such as Zack Sekoff, SOPHIE, Flume, Jimmy Edgar, and GTA. The sound is innovative, energetic, and approachable. Tracks such as “Big Fish,” “Party People,” and “Rain Come Down” are groovy, disorienting club bangers that utilize artists like Juicy J and Ty Dolla $ign to their best abilities. Staples’ most impressive (and surprising) feature is Kendrick Lamar on the Flume- and SOPHIE-produced track “Yeah Right,” a progressive track that masters high-powered verses with strange warped metallic snares and monstrous basslines. Big Fish Theory showcases textures of musicality and collaboration that emphasize Staples’ flow, weird personality, and succinct delivery.


9.5 Favorite Tracks Playlist

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