BlaQKout — DJ Quik & Kurupt (Mad Science):
The last time these guys were hip-hop household names — if even then — was when they were second-tier strivers enjoying the West Coast's Dre/Snoop-inspired moment. That was more than a decade ago, or multiple generations in hip-hop terms. But this ostensible comeback album is loose and fierce and unconcerned with proving a damn thing. BlaQKout's 13 tracks clock in at under 42 minutes with no skits, no fat, no fooling around. And it just so happens that the longest track — the 4:22 "Hey Playa! (Moroccan Blues)," wherein Quik introduces his West African sample unadorned for a few seconds before hooking a beat up — is not only the best thing here, but maybe the best hip-hop record of the year. That BlaQKout's not really about much of anything but itself just adds to the old-school vibe. ("Hey Playa! [Moroccan Blues]," "9X Outta 10," "Ohh!") Grade: A-
"Hey Playa (Moroccan Blues)"
Ghostdini: Wizard of Poetry in the Emerald City — Ghostface Killah (Def Jam)
: As his voluminous cameos on Raekwon's recent comeback Only Built for Cuban Link II imply, Ghostface is so far ahead of his old Wu-Tang Clan partners at this point that comparisons are pointless. Few if any artists in any genre have released more good music over the past decade than Dennis "Ghostface Killah" Coles, the burly rapper with the high-pitched flow and oddball yet decidedly downhome material, and I'm not sure if any have been as consistent. That said, this bizarrely titled collection — both his soul album (well, even more than usual) and his sex album (ditto) — is probably his weakest album, containing even fewer major songs than the odds-and-ends cash-in More Fish
. But, per usual, Ghost distinguishes himself by sheer force of comfortable-in-his-skin personality, whether describing his ideal woman ("Nice girl, that's clean, that was raised to cook/Be on the couch chilling, shorts on, reading a book/Biting on a pen, thin glasses on") or repping an athlete (dorky ’80s-era Jets lineman Joe Klecko!?). Statement of purpose here, with all the problems it suggests: "This ain't no R&B dick, this hood." ("Baby," "Stay")Grade: B
The Blueprint 3 — Jay-Z (Roc Nation):
Where 2007's American Gangster
was a high-mid-grade Jay-Z album about the criminal lifestyle he remembers, The Blueprint 3
is a high-mid-grade Jay-Z album about the celebrity lifestyle he experiences daily. Here Jay-Z's consumed by his unprecedented relationship with the leader of the free world, and how could he not be? But he still has enough swagger to be sly about it: "This ain't politically correct/This might upset my political connects" or "MJ at Summer Jam/Obama on the text/Y'all should be afraid of what I'm gonna do next." And he's got the world's best producers on retainer to help him turn these boasts into music. Given the see-saw act the quality of his albums have been since even before the original Blueprint
, this is better than we could have expected. ("D.O.A.," "A Star is Born," "On to the Next One," "Off That") Grade: A-
"A Star is Born"