J. Cole4 Your Eyez Only(Dreamville Records / Roc Nation)
J. Cole’s fourth studio album dropped on Dec. 9, the anniversary of his last effort, 2014Forest Hills Drive. While this new record shows some artistic evolution, it’s less cohesive than Forest Hills, more a collection of cuts than a proper album. This might be due to the lack of features on the album, which, paired with the track “False Prophets”—that Cole released a couple weeks before the album—serves to isolate him in a rap world that’s increasingly powered by collaborations. That’s not to say 4 Your Eyez Only is totally uninteresting: There’s a compelling narrative strung throughout several tracks, notably the tear-jerker title track, about and for the daughter of one of Cole’s dead homies. It’s a solid album, but, after all the hype and Cole’s extended hiatus, I was hoping for something a little grander.
J. Cole: 4 Your Eyez Only
Little SimzStillness in Wonderland(Age 101)
London-based Little Simz blew me away with her originality and rapid-fire flow on her 2015 album, A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons. This new album, released Dec. 16, moves in a different direction: We hear a slowed down, more deliberate Simz, crafting an album that rotates around this idea of “Wonderland,” a place full of expensive meals and first-class flights that Simz has fallen into since being discovered. While I greatly appreciate how cohesive this album is, I don’t appreciate that Simz largely ditches her machine-gun flow on Stillness in Wonderland in favor of singing—not her strong suit. The few tracks where she is rapping, “Picture Perfect” and “Shotgun,” are my favorites, because both give a glimpse of the “king of rap” that Simz declared herself to be on Curious Tale. Can we bring back that badass, Simz?
Little Simz: “Picture Perfect”
Various ArtistsBobo Yéyé: Belle Époque in Upper Volta(Numero Group)
I love picking up African compilation records. Africa’s underrepresented in my music library; I relish the chance to change that. This 3-disc collection is a peek into an era of peace and innovation during the 1960s and 1970s in postcolonial Burkina Faso (previously called Upper Volta), when elements of contemporary French and African music melded into percussive, swinging, big band jazz. The addition of guitars and trumpets to African percussion makes for a lively sound that includes French rock, orchestral jazz, surf guitar, and even rhumba rhythms. The first two discs are dedicated to the groups Volta Jazz and Coulibaly Tidiani + Dafra Star, respectively, while the third is composed of tracks from lesser-known Volta groups like Les Imbattables Léopards and Echo Del Africa. Some of the recordings are a little rough, but joy shines through on each song.
Bobo Yéyé: Belle Époque in Upper Volta: “Fintalabo”