There’s a lot happening in the music world, and we here at Heavy Blog try our very best to keep up with it! Like the vast majority of heavy music fans, our tastes are incredibly vast, with our 3X3s in each Playlist Update typically covering numerous genres and sometimes a different style in each square. While we have occasionally covered non-metal topics in past blog posts, we decided that a dedicated column was warranted in order to more completely recommend all of the music that we have been listening to. Unmetal Monday is a bi-weekly column which covers noteworthy tracks and albums from outside the metal universe, and we encourage you all to share your favorite non-metal picks in the comments. This week, we’ll be highlighting a few albums that struck our fancy over the past few months. Head past the jump to dial down the distortion:
J.I.D – DiCaprio 2
2018 was a banner year for underground hip-hop. While Kanye West, Cardi B, The Carters, J. Cole, Drake, and Eminem all released records to various levels of acclaim, few of them kindled the intense level of excitement that rap’s dimly lit corners provided. One of the best and brightest of 2018’s sterling underground contingent is Atlanta’s J.I.D, one of XXL’s Freshman Class of 2018 and a signee to the above-mentioned Cole’s Dreamville Records. His sophomore full-length release, DiCaprio 2, delivers on every promise made by his debut, and is one of the absolute highlights in the genre in 2018.
The most immediately noticeable aspect of J.I.D’s sound is his transfixing and utterly bananas vocal delivery. Mixing brash speed with a Kendrick Lamar-inspired inflection, there’s absolutely no doubt who’s rapping when you are presented with a J.I.D track. But being unique and distinct is not enough in today’s crowded rap game. Skill matters, and I would posit that J.I.D may be the single most talented rapper on a technical level in music right now. That’s not hyperbole, but cold-blooded truth. Let’s look at “Off Deez” as an example. Bringing the blazing speed of Twista or Busta Rhymes with diction that is as crystal clear as you’ll hear at this speed, the track is by itself an impressive example of the shear machine gun mentality that J.I.D brings to many of his tracks. But this only scratches the surface of the man’s talent. Switching up his flow several times in a deft display of vocal prowess, he verbally dances around a dark trap beat with effortless ease. So much so that J. Cole, who features on this track, delivers what may be the single best verse of his career just to keep up. J.I.D can seemingly inhabit any speed, cadence, or lyrical/emotional context that he so chooses with utter conviction, and it’s a wonder to behold. “Off Deez” is a lights out track that displays everything that makes J.I.D so compelling.
The best news is that the above paragraph is only focused on one track, and it’s not even the best one on this record. Equally emphatic exclamations could be written about “Westbrook”, “151 Rum”, “Tiiied”, “Hot Box”, “Skrawberries”, and a host of others. As a cohesive whole, J.I.D has accomplished something truly special on DiCaprio 2. It’s that rare moment when an artist, saddled by unrealistically high expectations, exceeds them in every possible way. The craziest thing is that I know that he has more in him than this. DiCaprio 2, for all its technical and musical wonders, is not the peak of J.I.D’s talent. Count on this man releasing some of the best rap in the game over the next few years. He is more than capable of burying his competition on a continual basis, and I cannot wait to bear witness to it.
Yvette Young – Piano EP
One of the things which most make an auteur is a signature sound. Aesthetics, common themes, lyrics; all of these are important but a signature sound might be even more important. It’s what allows us, in music anyway, to immediately identify the artist in question. It doesn’t have to be specific notes or even a specific instrument; rather, a signature is made up of a certain type of vibe or approach to the music which just immediately signifies it as the artist’s. The more the artist creates and, somewhat paradoxically, the more they move away from the sound through which we first knew them, the more we can get acquainted with their signature and learn to recognize them.
Yvette Young’s Piano EP is a big step forward for her in establishing her signature sound. The album, which is comprised of mainly piano with string accompaniment, has a very different feel to the work of Covet. This is only understandable, seeing how the instrument with which Young has come to be associated, the guitar, is completely absent. However, the EP very much has her name written all over it, in forms other than literal. First, he approach to note progression; you’ll find many passages on this album which, if translated to the guitar, would be familiar to you from the rest of her playing. This familiarity mostly lies in the kind of melancholic yet chipper mood that’s always accompanied Young’s music. The album is inherently bright but has this forlorn feeling to it, like a pretty lighthouse which, nonetheless, makes you think of faraway places you’ll never visit but long to return to.
Secondly, her approach to notes and their “amount” (namely, a lot) is present on this release as well. The tracks are verbose, diving in and out of several leitmotifs, scales, and progressions with often dizzying speed. But, like on Covet or on other works of her that focus on the guitar, the point is not in sheer technicality or the ability to play fast but rather on the clever uses which Young makes of the music. A good example is the second track, “reminisce”. There are several themes which repeat throughout it but listen carefully to the notes which Young sometimes skips or the ways in which the progression weaves around itself and, in conjunction with the strings, returns to meet itself not quite where it started.
All of this and more make this EP a worthy addition to a growing roster belonging to a promising young (no pun intended) musician. If Young can keep working at her signature sound, and exploring more forms through which it can be communicated, she should be set to develop into an impressive auteur, someone with a signature sound that immediately communicates her meaning. As it stands, she’s already a gifted composer and her albums are a joy to listen to; if you’re looking for that “not-quite-sad-but-not-quite-happy-staring-out-of-a-window-at-the-sea” mood, this EP is an instant and gratifying injection of it into your life.