It was not my intention to have three consecutive bird-based header photos.
But, alas, here we are.
quack. quack. quack. quack. quack. quack. quack. quack. quack. quack. quack.
“Apple of My Eye,” Rick Ross (JH)
“I honesty didn’t think there would be a chance that Rick Ross would ever win my week in a week where Drake dropped an album … An oddly genuine song from Rick Ross.”
Rick Ross is considered by most to have both entered and exited his prime earlier this decade. For a while he was even regarded by some as the best rapper in the game. These days, however, Rozay is often forgotten in that conversation for the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Kanye West, and newcomers like Chance the Rapper. (Some people put J. Cole on this list. I am not one of those people.)
With huge waves of young talent coming from places like Chicago and Atlanta, as well as the continual reinvention of popular rap music with infusions of dance/electronica/pop/gospel/soul/jazz/soup du jour/what she order/fish filet, it can be tough for an old-head like Rick Ross to stay relevant. This is especially true when the Miami scene’s most recent widely known contributions to hip hop culture are some tired-ass catch phrases on Snapchat.
Ross released the first single for his new album Better You Than Me (out this week) back in January; we featured “I Think She Like Me” as one of our weekly winners from our Week 3 post. We noted in that post that the single was akin to fast food — flavorful, familiar, sustaining — but nothing with an extreme depth of composition. The single nonetheless had me prepared for a solid Rick Ross album. Nothing too risky, a few tracks with clear mass appeal and notable features, and probably a little filler. You know, something you’d describe like this…
What we got was not this. “Good not great” would be a pretty big undersell.
Better You Than Me starts out with the track featured here, “Apple of My Eye.” The track features a mellow beat and an introspective Rick Ross rapping about some pretty personal issues. He paints the picture of a love/hate relationship with the rap industry, balancing a loyalty to his craft with the pervasive negativity surrounding commercialism. He talks specifically about personal difficulties, ranging from his history of dealing with seizures to past struggles with self-worth. He opines on broader topics, such as issues he sees with race relations and our current administration. He speaks about his struggle to maintain his rapper persona while trying to practice honesty with his only daughter.
To start the album this way signals that Ross has taken a serious approach. He’s smart enough to know that in this day and age, cultural importance and an honest realness are necessary assets for an album to be held in high regard. The approach pays off in a big way.
The album boasts a cavalcade of big name features — Nas, Gucci Mane, Jeezy, Future, Meek Mill, Young Thug, and Chris Rock, to name a few. Raphael Saadiq sings the hook on “Apple of My Eye” to add a classic R&B feel to Rozay’s flow. The production on the record is top notch, with Rick Ross-founded Maybach Music’s fingerprints all over it.
So, about that conversation regarding the best MC in the game? Rick Ross tha Boss would like to have a word or two.
“Passionfruit,” Drake (EJ)
Real quick, do me a favor.
- Play this song.
- Consider this image:
Okay, now that that’s out of the way…
More Life dropped, somewhat unconventionally, the evening of Saturday the 18th. There were some rumors floating that we were getting something new from Drake during March Madness (intentionally or unintentionally timed — Drake is a noted basketball fan), so this was a pleasant surprise, if not completely unexpected. But don’t call it an album. It’s a playlist. …OK?
The labeling of More Life as a playlist is actually pretty informative, and lends some understanding as to where Drake is at in his career. For one, this collection of tracks is, pragmatically, a playlist. Like most big-name rap releases, there is a plethora of well-known artists featured throughout. A few of the songs don’t feature Drake whatsoever, and several he contributes to only in a secondary role. There aren’t really any through lines that thematically connect the songs, unless you count Drake’s attempts at Jamaican/British accents as a theme.
But all of this could really be said about lots of “albums” out there. What makes “playlist” an apt designation here is its de facto appointment of Drake as a taste curator, a trend shepherd — an arbiter of the culture. It’s arguable that there is no bigger artist, in terms of attention paid to a new project, than Drake at this moment. At the very least, he’s 1(b) to the tippy-top-tier 1(a) Beyonce status. For him to use the scope of his influence on a project of this nature, which serves to highlight a diverse array of artists and sounds, rather than another swoll-bro self-indulgent overlong therapy session a la Views, signals a promising direction for Drake as his career matures.
So, about “Passionfruit.” Jake and I readily agreed that More Life definitely needed representation as a nominee, and there were several tracks that were considered. “Passionfruit” is maybe the most boring of all those that were considered — and this is coming from me, the guy who made the decision to choose it.
It was the best performing song from the album, landing at the top of domestic and international charts. But anyone who knows me knows that this is more of a liability than an asset for me when it comes to choosing favorites and recommendations — I tend to shy away from the massively popular.
So what is it about “Passionfruit” that led to its nomination? Well, the steel-drum-esque Koopa Beach vibe (referenced above) certainly doesn’t hurt. It really does give the listener a sense of island calm. The syncopation of the snare that pops up here and there is incredibly satisfying. Drake doesn’t rap at all, he just sings a very Drakey sort of simple melody, which is really what he does best IMO.
But this song is not best appreciated by breaking down its individual components. It’s best appreciated when you just let yourself sit back and enjoy it without overthinking it too much. It’s super confident elevator music that just happens to be really, really good. It’s Drake writing a new chapter. The next one? The right one? I don’t know, but I’m reading.
Two hip hop heavyweights throw down for the honor of weekly winner. It’s an odd juxtaposition, really, with Rick Ross showing surprising vulnerability in his lyrics, a play usually reserved for when Drake is sad that Rihanna won’t answer his texts. But while Rick Ross released his most interesting project in years, it’s not quite enough to overcome the sheer force of power that is More Life. Drake shattered his own record for most concurrently charting tracks this week. That gets him a shot at the belt.
Your weekly winner,
Drake ::: Passion Fruit
<<This is where you’d normally find an official video or an official lyric video or some sort of something, but since OVO is really not about that YouTube life, here’s a handy Spotify streaming thingy I guess.>>
“Feels Like Summer,” Weezer
- I love old Weezer. I’ve seen them in concert a couple times and have never been disappointed. That said, I don’t think I’ve really given a fair listen to anything new they have released in the last decade. This song reminds me of old Weezer and makes me think I should review more new Weezer.
“Portland,” Drake ft. Quavo & Travi$ Scott
- Certainly several songs I could have picked off of Drake’s recent release More Life. I THINK this one is my favorite but that seems to shuffle from day to day.
“1 Night,” Mura Masa & Charli XCX
- A very poppy song as you’d expect from Charli XCX. If you like her stuff you’ll like this.
- Spoon held the belt earlier in the year with the single “Hot Thoughts” and we’ve finally gotten the full album release. Spoiler alert, it’s great.
“Doing Good,” Milky Chance
- First heard of these guys with their 2014 song “Stolen Dance” which is great. I’ve only listened through their new album Blossom once but I’m really digging it.
“Netflix & Dusse,” Smino
- If you read the blog last week, you’re already familiar with Smino. blkswn came out on the 14th and I had already listened to it about a million times and formed many an opinion by the time I wrote that post. I initially heralded it as my album of the year (so far), and it still deserves some of that consideration, but repeat listening has revealed some flaws. It doesn’t quite play front to back as something greater than the sum of its parts, which to me is what makes an album great. But this, to me, is just a result of inexperience. Put this in the right producer’s hands, tighten the screws a little, and it becomes something truly special. Regardless of the album’s lack of cohesiveness, there are several excellent tracks worth talking about, “Netflix and Dusse” being one. It was but one of six or seven that could have ended up in this spot, and earns favor here for being the best fit for the playlist. Dusse is a brand of cognac by the way. I totally didn’t have to google that (I did).
“Do I Have to Talk You Into It,” Spoon
- What can I say? In terms of consistency, Spoon is probably the best band of the last 20 years. Let that sink in. Hot Thoughts, baby.
“Bad Things,” Milky Chance ft. Izzy Bizu
- This was a week for really good album releases, as evident by Jake and I doubling up on hons from Spoon, Drake, and here with Milky Chance. This is one of the poppier cuts from Blossom. The fun chorus and vocals from the lovely Izzy Bizu made it stand out for me. (Izzy if you could get back to me about that sushi date that’d be great. I just think we’re, like, a good match you know, and also you have the face of an angel kbye.)
“Ice Melts,” Drake ft. Young Thug
- My experience with More Life was a lot like Jake’s, as he illustrated above. Several songs occupy the carousel of album favorites. “Ice Melts” gets the nod for its prominent Young Thug feature (this dude is EVERYWHERE and I love it) and the line in the chorus that goes “a little less talk and a little more action” that I for some reason really like.
“Darling,” Real Estate
- Guitar-heavy rock music of this brand isn’t really at the forefront of popularity, but Real Estate proves that it still has its place when done well. Their sound reminds a little bit of The Byrds. Highlights from this one are the bouncy bass line in the verse, and the lovely clean guitar tone throughout, especially when its being piped through a phaser. I realize that the previous sentence means very little to most. Feel free to move along.
SHOWDOWN FOR THE BELT
I’ve already spent an appreciable amount of time in this post discussing Drake’s cultural impact, so I’ll spare you the dramatics. The top charting track from the top charting album…*cough* sorry, playlist….by the top charting artist can’t not bestow the honor of our championship belt. Drizzy from the top rope.
Did someone try and flex on the rap game?
Omar Lamar might have something to say about that…
Stay tuned, y’all.