With the halfway point of the year nearly upon us (July 1) hip-hop (and music in general) has already proven to be rife with quality material and plenty of Album of the Year candidates. While it’s too early to determine my favorites, Jay-Z’s latest album – and alleged response to Beyoncé’s Lemonade – 4:44 is sure to be in consideration.
In the meantime, while listeners try and finagle their way around the effective paywall the Tidal-Sprint partnership made to hear Hov’s tape, it’s time for another installment of Weekend Spins, featuring some projects that might be overlooked in favor of the Monarch of Marcy.
Kacy Hill – Like a Woman
G.O.O.D. Music’s 2014 signee Kacy Hill dropped her debut album Like a Woman on Thursday night, her first multi-track outing since 2015’s Bloo (EP). Across a featureless 12 tracks Kacy shows off her knack for allowing her vocals to guide compositions, all while occasionally phasing in and out of ethereal and psychedelic dream-pop sequences. Her gossamer voice belies her age; at 23 years of age her vocal control and honest approach to song making imply an artist with more than 2 years in the industry (though she did attend art school and play the oboe and sax early on).
The title track and lead single is a soulful ballad placed on top of soft piano keys and tempered percussion that highlights one of her most contemporary sounding cuts of the bunch. While “Hard to Love” is a fun pop-rock style production, the maturity in Kacy’s delivery yields both an accessible entry point for new fans while not ignoring her strengths.
Having enlisted the help of producers including DJ Mustard, Terrace Martin and Kanye West, Kacy presents a redefined image, one piloted by a sex-positive stance and is both pleading and immersive.
Like a Woman is available on Spotify and Apple Music.
Z-Ro – No Love Boulevard
After years of full length releases Z-Ro delivered his final solo album, No Love Boulevard. A legendary force in the both the Houston rap scene as well as the Rap-R&B crossover that has seen resurgence of late, Z-Ro’s tape exudes the longevity on which he thrived during his 20-plus year career. Harkening back to the relaxed yet expressive delivery of Rap-A-Lot Records’ mid-90s releases from the likes of Scarface or Chicago group Do or Die, Z-Ro avoids any notion of adopting production of the 2010s, instead favoring his trademark velvety vocals on equally flowing instrumentals.
Despite managing nearly an album a year for the last 20, Z-Ro returns with an elder statesman’s take on all things financial and the music industry. He prides himself on returning to label independence on “Devil in Me” singing, “If I would have signed that contract I’d be richer than rich, but if say die I’d have to die face down in that ditch.” Z-Ro very clearly has no regrets on his navigation through hip-hop’s evolution over the last two decades, finding peace throughout the album with his solitary approach to both music and life. In keeping with his unabashed honesty throughout the project, Z-Ro acknowledges fan interest in a Assholes by Nature reunion with ex-collaborator Trae tha Truth, saying on “They don’t Understand,” “They say you and Trae tha Truth need to squash the beef and get back to work, but I been hated so much I can’t even see how that would work.”
“Kiwi” stands out as the most unfitting of the track list, but is nonetheless the staple, overtly sexual R-Kelly-esque performance from the Houston artist. Though the “right cheek, left cheek” female adlibs on the hook are a bit jarring and even humorous, the track’s explicit nature is somewhat quelled by Z-Ro’s smooth delivery. Despite ending the album with the hard-hitting “He’s Not Done” whose title implies a future return to music, The Mo City Don effectively empties the pen on his rap career and signs out with a few handfuls of exclamation points.
No Love Boulevard is available on Spotify and Apple Music.
Illa J – Home
Continuing to forge his own music legacy 11 years after the death of his brother J Dilla, Detroit artist Illa J released Home, a 10 track outing of cozy and soothing tunes produced entirely by frequent collaborator Calvin Valentine. Training under vocal coach Betty Lane, Illa J relies more on his buttery singing than traditional rapping, a choice which meshes well with Valentine’s tightly constructed instrumentals. “I Know” commits to a best of both worlds approach, with the first vocal track using a rap-talked delivery while the track beneath it is Illa J’s falsetto singing of the same lyrics. To an extent Home does a better job of honoring Dilla’s memory than his most recently dropped J Dilla’s Delights Vol. 1 (comprised of beats from the vault), as Valentine definitely takes nods from Jay Dee’s work with acts like Mos Def and The Pharcyde and Illa J has direct experience carrying on the Yancey Boy lineage of Slum Village.
Home is available from Jakarta Records on Bandcamp as well as to stream on Apple Music